Thursday, March 31, 2016

It's an "anything goes" world. . .and that's NOT April Fool!

Everyone knows April 1 is April Fool’s Day, twenty-four hours of zany (hopefully fun) pranks. When I worked on the Rebellaire and the Campus Corral (my junior high and high school newspapers), we took that occasion to poke good-natured and always respectful fun at our favorite teachers. There might be a cartoon of the senior English teachers in witch’s robes and hats stirring a  cauldron and changing Double, double, toil and trouble. . .since we studied Shakespeare in their classes. One year we posed our most dignified teachers around a table in the teachers’ lounge with cards and poker chips in front of them and stray Aces tucked into collars and sleeves. Outrageous announcements from the principal and vice-principal, perhaps tinged with a little wishful thinking, found their way into print. We knew our limits (and our supervisors’ eagle eyes and slashing red pen), but I doubt we’d have crossed the line even if we could.
It disturbs me today that we live in an anything goes world. No one is immune to being taunted and ridiculed--celebrities, children,  political and religious figures, even people with physical and mental challenges or those who have experienced terrible tragedy. Audiences roar with laughter as late-night hosts spew over the airwaves what no one would have whispered publicly thirty, forty, fifty years ago. It seems the more outrageous and bizarre the monologue, the more hilarity it generates.
One wonders why. Is it the lure of attention? The meanness of spirit which seeks to wound another human being? Could it possibly be. . .money? It’s probably a combination of all three.
My father used to say, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.” And it doesn’t, at least beyond biting one’s tongue sometimes and smiling when you’d rather glare.
So my grandchildren are growing up in a society where they have no real role models outside their home. I think of the outstanding public school teachers and Sunday School teachers who, while they’d have admitted to being far from perfect, strove to instill in us kindness and integrity by example.
My mother used to caution me, “Fools’ names and fools faces [are] always seen in public places.” Is this country increasingly populated by “fools”?
I tell my granddaughters,

Please understand--there are a million words I’d love to take back. . .a thousand things I’d love to do better. . .but, please God, don’t let me be so mean and small of spirit I intentionally seek to wound a fellow human being for personal gain.
      I wish today’s children a kinder, gentler tomorrow. And that’s not an April Fool’s joke.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Showboat's a-sailin'!

Because I loved writing The Showboat Affair--and because I thought I needed an excuse to go back to Branson MO for another cruise on The Branson Belle--I outlined a second novel with the wonderful showboat as a partial setting: The Showboat Reunion. And that was as far as it got.
I did, in fact, return to Branson a couple of years ago but concentrated on The Landing, that wonderful, unending vista of shops and restaurants running along LakeTaneycomo. But next month I’m booked for five fascinating days to revisit many of the sites I enjoyed on the first trip, including (this time) a lunch cruise on The Branson Belle.
Inspiration for The Showboat Reunion? Of course! I’ve rethought the whole story and decided it will make a much better romance without mixing in murder. (I’ve been told I’m very good at killing people.)
So between now and the time I depart on this much-anticipated adventure, I plan a very rough draft of the love story in novella rather than novel form.
The Showboat Affair, published by The Wild Rose Press in 2011 under their Vintage Rose/Last Rose of Summer line, dealt with two people adrift on their own lonely seas until their boats collide and find their survival--emotional and maybe even physical--depend on each other.
Jean and Nick
So where did Nick and Jean come from? First of all, from my imagination, of course. But being older myself, writing “first love/puppy love/” is far removed from my own experience. Widowed at the relatively young age of thirty-four, I never remarried (and I’m okay with that), but there was a time, after I’d raised my sons, I might have considered it with the right man. And that right man became Nick Cameron, widowed attorney with only good memories of his first marriage which ended too soon. Jean Kingston is a composite of many women I’ve known whose marriages dissolved through no fault of their own and who had to reinvent themselves--something I’ve had to do since moving from single mother to simply single woman.
Moving on, where did the characters for The Showboat Reunion come from? My generation’s war was Viet Nam, so Col. Sid “Bull” Bullington (USMC, ret.) is one of the many men who left the familiarity of home as a young man and returned as a stranger who was old before his time. Sadly, the country didn’t welcome back these heroes as they’d done in the past, leaving even more scars on their souls.
Sid "Bull" Bullington

 Gail Callaway, twenty years his junior, lost her life in another war which her fiancĂ© died fighting. She’s one of those women who always did what she was told. While she dreamed in secret, she never dared to make those dreams come true. Most of my life, I could have been Gail. When I emerged from my own cocoon, family members found it inconvenient for themselves--and perhaps downright frightening.  

Gail Callaway

It’s always difficult for me to let go of my characters, but the showboat has sailed for Nick and Jean. Now it’s Sid’s and Gail’s turn. . .and I’m excited.

Photos purchased from Fotolia

Read more about The Showboat Affair 
and see a video trailer at my website. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Break a leg!

“A Writer’s List of Superstitions” by Bryn Donovan is a great resource for anyone looking for character quirks. While I’m not superstitious, I found a few on the list to which I can relate.

#20 - Unexpected deaths and other bad things come in threes.
The saying that airplane accidents come in threes had always stuck with me because I married a pilot. Once I asked my husband if it was true. His face froze, and he said, “Yes, it’s true. Every pilot knows it, and no pilot wants to talk about it.” Regretting I’d asked, I let the subject drop.
The night his plane went down, the den of our home filled up with people. For whatever reason, I remarked, “That’s two--there’ll be one more.” A young man who worked at the airport at which my husband was based immediately replied, “No, Judy, that’s three.” It seems I’d missed one.
Do I really believe it? To this day, I can’t tell you, but for years afterwards, if I noted two crashes in the newspaper, I wouldn’t have flown on a bet.

#31 - Eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for luck.   

Black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day was always a family tradition as I grew up. I usually crack open a can even if I’m eating alone, but it’s not for luck. It’s just the warm feeling that comes when one harkens back to childhood.

#35 - A black cat crossing your path is bad luck.
I’ve been in the car with my mother more than once when she stopped in the middle of the road and turned around rather than drive on where a black cat has just crossed. I don’t know if she really believed it or was just rattling my cage. Me, I’m going where I’m going--black cat or not.

#56 - Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.
I think all children have chanted this old line at one time or another. I remember doing it as I hopped over the spaces left for expansion between sections of a sidewalk. I also remember loving the sound of going over those “cracks” on skates!

Never tell an actor/actress “Good Luck”.
This one isn’t on the list, but I once had a young friend who acted in college productions--and who quickly set me straight: I could send flowers (and please do!), but the card should never, never, never say “Good Luck” but rather “Break a leg”!

Have you ever imbued your characters with a certain superstition? 
Do you have any of your own?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Life without television? Oh, yeah!

I remember when television first entered my life sometime around 1952 when I was not quite eight years old. The huge box--and even more gigantic steel antenna pole--graced my grandparents’ house next door to mine. At six o’clock every evening, the black and white test pattern magically changed to faces of real live people delivering the news, sports, and weather. Then the good stuff started!

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents anyway, so the television became an added draw. My grandfather was totally deaf, but he could see the television screen, and my grandmother literally wrote out everything about the programs and passed the clipboard across to his chair. I tried it a few times, but it seemed an impossible task.

“Sagebrush Theatre” with (Ithink) Buster Crabbe and Fuzzy St. John enthralled me. Sometimes, my parents came over, and we watched game shows or Bishop Fulton Sheen (though we weren’t Catholic). After the ten o’clock news, sports, and weather, a movie wound up the viewing marathon, and the television day ended with the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner”. Goodnight.

A few years later, my parents purchased their own television set. Sometime during my high school years, all-day broadcasting became the norm. I wasn’t allowed to watch at night until I could swear an oath my homework had been completed--although being terrified to show up at school without it was the only incentive I needed to finish!

My husband loved sports and watched anything remotely connected to same. One year for Christmas he bought me a portable B&W set so I could watch my old movies without bothering him. But--you guessed it--during the holiday season he moved it beside the big color set and had two channels going at once. Couldn’t risk missing anything, now, could he?

We had television throughout my sons’ childhoods. VCRs became the rage, so we could make sure nothing important went by the wayside. I did put my foot down on HBO and the couple of other movie channels available. Not only were they expensive, but I didn’t like the idea of my children watching what they showed.

Eventually the boys left home, and I wound up moving to another town to teach school. I took a television set with me--you know, the old kind where you had to turn the knob to change channels!--but I soon decided the expense of cable was something I could do without. I had a VCR and could check out movies from the library.

One son came to visit and wound up in withdrawal because of no TV. He rushed out, purchased a new set with rabbit-ears, and told me I could now get three whole channels. He was elated. I rarely turned it on, but he didn’t need to know that.

When I retired, I decided to get basic cable--until one night when I watched a biased mainstream media anchor bully a political candidate who’d agreed to an interview--and until one night when I was treated to three consecutive commercials: one on an STD, one on male “problems”, and the third on bladder control. #1 and #3 aren’t a problem for me, and, being female, I don’t need anything recommended by #2.  Then I figured out how much I was paying in a year to be subjected to these lovely visions.

Television left my house and has remained in exile permanently. My son thinks I should be committed.

Now  I have Amazon Prime and recently bought the Fire Stick accessory. I sit back and enjoy old (clean) movies and wonderful documentaries. And, if a documentary turns ridiculous, I can end it and remove it from my watchlist.  When I turn it off at night, I don’t feel I need to go bathe yet again because of what I’ve seen.

It’s a personal choice, but I get some satisfaction (a lot!) out of knowing I’m not contributing my ‘widow’s mite’ to the violent, graphic, obscene programming which abounds. I subscribe to the newspaper and can check out news stories on line--comparing them, deciding which is credible rather than being force fed the propaganda du jour.

I grew up with radio. Television was a novelty, then a seeming necessity.

But guess what?  Life goes on without it!

Monday, March 21, 2016

She knew the "ins and outs" !

When I taught in Ft. Worth lo the many years ago, I discovered Margaret Truman’s Capital Crimes Series and devoured every one I could find in the local branch library. Now I’m on my way through the books for the second time! It’s just been long enough to forget “who-dun-it” and turn the pages eagerly to find the next piece of the puzzle.

Margaret Truman, of course, was the only child of President Harry Truman and his wife Bess. Born in 1924 in Independence, MO , she was only 21 when her father became President after the death of FDR. She earned a degree in history and after a brief singing/acting career, she married Clifton Daniel who would later become editor of the New York Times. They had four sons. Before her death in 2008 at the age of 83, she had written nine non-fiction books (including biographies of her parents) and over twenty-five novels.

Because she had lived so long in the nation’s capital, she was familiar with the city and set her Capital Crimes Series there. Her first book, Murder in the White House, was followed by
Murder on Capitol Hill
Murder in the Supreme Court
Murder in the Smithsonian
Murder on Embassy Row
Murder at the FBI
Murder in Georgetown
Murder in the CIA
Murder at the Kennedy Center
Murder at the National Cathedral
Murder at the Pentagon
Murder on the Potomac
Murder at the National Gallery
Murder in the House
Murder at the Watergate
Murder at the Library of Congress
Murder in Foggy Bottom
Murder in Havana
Murder at Ford’s Theatre
Murder at Union Station
Murder at the Washington Tribune
Murder at the Opera
Murder on K Street
Murder Inside the Beltway
Monument to Murder
Experiment in Murder
Undiplomatic Murder
Internship in Murder

A few recurring characters populate many of the books: MacKenzie and Anabel Smith. He’s an attorney who now teaches law, and she left the practice of law to pursue her interest in pre-Columbian art. I find their interaction with each other and events in which they become involved quite fascinating. I especially enjoy “seeing” Washington, D.C. both geographically and “behind the scenes” through her eyes. Though the books are definitely fiction, it’s obvious she’s writing what she knows about.

The last four books, published after her death, also have the name of another author who worked with her. I read one of them but for whatever reason didn’t find the style as captivating. However, I’d recommend all the other “Murder” books. They’re available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.