Monday, January 30, 2017

Happily-ever-after...or never-at-all?

With The Showboat Reunion being released by Solstice in February, I’ll revisit the January release by the Wild Rose Press, Ruthann’s War one more time.

A World Forever Changed
It’s a vintage, May-December romance set just as World War II ends. The war changed everyone’s life in different ways, but the pre-war world had gone forever. Growing up in the post-war era, those years weren’t yet history for us but rather something we lived with every day. Many of our fathers had gone to war, and some didn’t come back. Rationing ended in the United States but not in the UK where groceries we took for granted were severely limited or unavailable. But both countries had to deal with men returning from service, expecting to find their old jobs waiting and instead discovering their wives had left home and hearth (often by necessity) for the marketplace.

The War to End All Wars
Drew Mallory, now superintendent of the Camden Schools, had fought in France during the first World War, popularly called the war to end all wars. For him, that past time became his present and his future as his leg injury worsened year by year, and he fought the inevitable amputation.

A Girl Left Behind
Ruthann Cooper, a self-admitted wall flower in high school, had fallen head over heels in love with a man in uniform, a young man whose plane never returned from its ninth daylight bombing mission over Germany. Now she wonders if she loved the man or the uniform and suffers a deep guilt because she no longer grieves his loss. She resists Drew’s overtures as much out of self-punishment as fear of causing a scandal in the small town of Camden where she’s been hired to teach. 

Once Upon a Time
Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. And they live happily-ever-after.
Not quite.
While the school community seems quite happy for their respected superintendent to find new meaning to his life outside the business of school, others seem determined to turn the relationship into a battlefield. The question is, who and why?

Drew stumbled to his feet. “Ruthann, I’d give my life to erase this horrible thing. I blame myself.”
She drew back as he reached to touch her. “Don’t. Please don’t.”
We’ve all been bullied long enough. We need to stand together now and end it.”
And you want me to be your Joan of Arc?” She sprang from her chair and retreated across the room. “I’ve already been burned enough, don’t you think?”
Listen to me, precious girl.” He followed her with his arms outstretched.
I’m not your precious girl or your Joan of Arc. I’m just a silly first-year teacher who should’ve known better than to get herself in over her head!” She heard her voice rising as if it came from someone else.
He stared at her and let his arms fall to his sides. “That’s what I should’ve done from the beginning, isn’t it? Leave you alone.”
She buried her face in her hands. 

"...a sweet love spending time with a friend..."

" wandering into the neighborhood Bijou Theater and watching a swift-paced movie from by-gone days..."

"...a clean, sweet, and enduring story of true love...not your typical predictable romance..."

Ruthann's War

A solid five stars so far...

Friday, January 27, 2017

As the crow flies...

As the crow flies…

What crow?
Where does he fly?
What does that have to do with a writer who has a blog deadline coming up and nothing but a blank page?

Well, let’s see if I can spin it. Here goes.

I’ve been talking about starting with an idea and adding ingredients much like in a recipe. That analogy works, because it takes lots in the pot to cook an entire, write a complete story. But it is that easy? I mean, here’s the idea, now toss in a few characters, some action, some crisis points, some resolution, and voila! A happily ever after emerges. It won’t make it past the editor or the beta readers.

You have to start at the beginning. (Charlie Crow takes wing.) You have to know where you’re going. (Charlie is looking for greener pastures.) You have to get there without delay. (Charlie has miles to go before he sleeps.) And you have to finish on time and satisfactorily. (Let poor Charlie find a good meal and a soft nest.)

When I started Ruthann’s War, I started with an idea and a general setting. When I finished the first draft, Charlie was still up there flying around pretty aimlessly. Back to the drawing board. I even considered nixing the happily-ever-after, but of course, that wasn’t a really an option. By then I’d fallen head over heels in love with Drew Mallory myself! And, alas, he was a figment of my imagination, so if I couldn’t have him, I had to let Ruthann have him.

I’ve been working on one novel (the great American novel, no doubt) for something like 40 years. Going back and re-reading the original on those little hard disks always fascinates me. Then I read newer versions and can’t decide if I like them better or not. It’s a pretty good bet the novel won’t ever be finished. Charlie is up there flapping his wings and cawing (chuckling) at me. He knows where he’s going—I don’t.

But let me suggest you visit Amazon and pick up a copy of Ruthann’s War.

She wanted to flee from the haggard, gray-faced stranger in front of her, but she couldn’t move.
Aggie told me you were upstairs packing. You should’ve gone last week instead of coming to school like nothing was wrong.”
I didn’t. . .” Her voice died away.
I told you to go, and you didn’t listen.” His eyes--colder than they’d been the day he tore up her contract--repelled her now where before they’d drawn her into his heart.
I’m sorry. I didn’t think. . .”
It doesn’t matter what you thought,” he interrupted her. “All that matters is that you and your pupils almost died.”
She stepped aside as he started laboriously for the door, his leg dragging.
I didn’t ask you to love me either,” she managed to whisper as he came even with her.
He stopped, but this time he didn’t look at her. “It was a fling, that’s all. A fling like Gwen said. Go home, Miss Cooper. I want you out of Camden permanently.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The secret's in the simmering sauce...

What to write?

 Last night, while bemoaning the blog needing to be written for Wednesday, a friend suggested the analogy of a pot roast—how starting out with something simple (i.e. the chuck roast) and adding one’s own touches (i.e. dry onion soup mix, baby carrots, green beans, and new potatoes), then simmering and stirring, magically transforms the ‘something simple’ into something spectacular.

This morning I’m reminded of the words of St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of the Church and patron saint of writers:
Here you have the same old flowers, but the bouquet is new,
simply because I have arranged it differently.

Simmering ideas

And so it is with all writing, from full-length novels to short blogs—you start with something simple (the idea), and then you add the plot twists, the characters, and the action, and ultimately you end up with a finished product that is, hopefully, the next best thing to a New York Times bestseller! The stirring and simmering, of course, comes with rewriting and editing—as long as it takes for the pot roast to be done—as long as it takes for the story to be truly finished to perfection.

I have a head full of ideas—and a filing cabinet ditto. That’s the beginning. Just as I take particular care with seasoning my pot roast, I am careful to select character names which match the traits I want to give them—the plot twists which will make the story both interesting and believable—the grande finale which will satisfy the most discerning palate and the pickiest reader.

Ruthann’s War began with the simple family fact of someone who married a man old enough to be her father—in fact, he was only a few years younger as Drew is six years younger than Ruthann’s father. I chose the post-Wolrld War II era since it’s the one in which I grew up, and I further refined the setting to that of a school community since as a retired teacher I know a little about that.

Of course, I had to insert a hint of mystery (is there really a ghost in the school bell tower?) because I like to craft inexplicable circumstances with which my characters have to deal. There are certain types of people I enjoy villainizing—which I probably shouldn’t—but I do it anyway.

Real-life characters

I like to show characters dealing with challenges, and so far I’ve covered blindness, Down Syndrome, a cerebral palsy-like difficulty, neglected children, struggling single parents, unfaithful spouses, and—in Ruthann’s War—a man with a devastating war injury which will result in the loss of a limb. I also think it’s important to work in the issue stupidity in classifying people due to race, economic status, and religion. These are current issues which (should) concern all of us.

Returning to St. Francis’ observation, flowers are flowers—stories are stories—but the perception all depends on how one arranges the stems in the vase or the words on the page.
And it’s definitely a challenge to come up with something new!

A peek inside

...I’m sorry I put you in this position, but for your sake, not mine. I know it’s been only seven weeks, Ruthann, but knowing you has changed my life.”
We’ve just fought one war,” she interrupted. “Maybe I’m still fighting mine. Fighting to find out who I am and what I want in life. That’s enough battle for me.”
You’ll fight many battles in your life unless, of course, you manage to live in complete isolation.”
She sighed. “I did sound rather dramatic, didn’t I?”
He took her cold hand between his warm ones. “No. Maybe just a tad bit sorry for yourself, and I can relate. The idea of not seeing you again makes me feel quite sorry for myself.”

New from The Wild Rose Press

World War II has ended, but now Ruthann faces a fight for her future
with a man she never meant to love...

also available at Amazon

"...a sweet love spending time with a friend..."

" wandering into the neighborhood Bijou Theater and watching a swift-paced movie from by-gone days..."

"...a clean, sweet, and enduring story of true love...not your typical predictable romance..."

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A different eternal love

I've been offline for a week or so due to computer problems--thankfully just an AC adapter replacement for "Penelope". (Doesn't everyone name her lappy?) But the situation pushed the decision on the purchase of a back-up computer, so yesterday I welcomed "Sam" into the fold. If you've read the Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series, you'll understand the monikers--and the fact that royalties from same paid for both! But I digress...and here is the blog intended for last Monday!

   With all the technology in our present world, it's difficult to hark back to a time when there was none. Some if us remember, but soon, like the Dodo, we, too, will be extinct.

   Writing "vintage" to fiction dictates staying true to the era, so of course you won't find any if the characters in Ruthann's War making calls on their cell phones or checking email. It was a simpler time, those post-war days when the world let out its collective breath and slowed the frantic pace of living like there might not be a tomorrow.

   The small town of Camden, Texas,  reconstituted the Fall Fest in the city park. Rationing and a wartime dearth of luxuries had changed the face of community activities. 

   "How do you like our annual celebration?" Drew asked Ruthann.
   She didn't look at him. "It's very nice."
   "We have something in the spring, too. Everything scaled down during the war with all the shortages, but now we're coming back."

   A new restaurant on the edge of town drew crowds for dishes unavailable during the war. War-themed movies continued to be popular in reruns 

   He reached for her hand across the table. "I'm sure you've seen Casablanca, but it's back at the Ritz for another run. Would you like to go on Saturday afternoon? Or we could drive out to Sorrells' Woods, and you could watch me paint--though I think watching Humphrey Bogart might be more appealing to you."
   "Actually, I always found Paul Henreid to be more suave and romantic."
   "So an older man does appeal to you after all?"

   With gas rationing eased, Drew and Ruthann could take long drives as they became acquainted, and their courtship included picnics the lake where Drew could pursue his love of painting. 

   On the first mild Saturday in March, they took a picnic to his hidden refuge at the lake. Ruthann refrained from mentioning his difficulty navigating the path from the car. She spread the blanket and settled down to wait while he painted. After a couple of hours, he called her to join him on the shore.
   "This is for us,"he said, gesturing toward the canvas. "I'm not much of a portrait painter, but I take my cue from the impressionists. " He chuckled. "I give the impression of folks."
   She rested her chin on his shoulder and gazed at the freshly created painting of two somewhat gauzy figures in the very spot where she'd set up their picnic. "It's us, isn't it?"
   "It's our present. I wish our future were clearer."

   Just talking over coffee, uninterrupted by  checking text messages on an iPhone, led to deeper relationships.

   ...spent several hours together in the coffee shop on Sunday afternoons.
   He laid his open hand on the table and smiled when she placed hers in it. "Tell me your dreams, Ruthann."
   "I don't know if I have any."
   "What about you? What did you want when you were growing up?"
   "Well, let's see. Mainly I wanted to have enough to eat and shoes to wear in the winter. And a good coat."

And problems didn't come with instant technological solutions 

   "I don't care about your leg. I care about you."
   "Have you thought about what life would be like with an amputee? They're not going to just trim the thing--they're going to chop it off at the hip. The leg's a mess."
   "Is that what this is all about?"
   "I'll have to learn to walk again and manage without the ability to bend at the knee--unless they've improved on peg-legs since the first time I saw one. I won't be able to drive. I might not be able to..."
   She put her hand over his mouth.
   True love, however, still triumphed, surviving years of tragedy and loss...and stronger, perhaps, because of them.

"...a sweet love spending time with a friend..."

" wandering into the neighborhood Bijou Theater and watching a swift-paced movie from by-gone days..."

"...a clean, sweet, and enduring story of true love...not your typical predictable romance..."

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A rush to fight and die...

Fueled by outrage and patriotism, many young men showed up at their local recruiter’s office on the day after Pearl Harbor. All males between the ages of 18 and 65 were required to register for the draft.  While 17 was the minimum age, many boys lied about their ages in order to join the service. In fact, in 1942 the General Education Development (GED) was established to help vets acquire a high school diploma since many left school before graduation.
However, if a young man wanted to apply for flight training, at least in the beginning, he had to be between the ages of 18 and 22 and have a high school diploma. Before Pearl Harbor a candidate had to have been in the top half of his class, but that requirement was dropped in November 1941 only a month before the United States entered the war.
From 1941-1945, 405,399 young men and women died, 1,076,445 were wounded, and 30,314 were listed as missing in action--a high cost. (*Other sources cite different figures)

From Ruthann’s War:

“Well, then, to make a long story short, someone I worked for encouraged me to go to college--or at least go for a teaching certificate--so I did. I liked teaching and kept going back to school during the summer terms until I’d gotten enough credentials to be an administrator. The future’s in our young peope, you now, more now than ever. We’ve lost too many of a generation during this last war, so it’s doubly important to nurture the ones we have left.” He stopped again. “I know your fiancĂ© died in the war.”
Ruthann nodded. “He flew B-17s out of England. He didn’t come back from his ninth mission.”
She watched honest sorrow fill his blue eyes. “Daylight bombing. It was the only way to get the job done, but our losses were tremendous.”
“Jack’s whole crew was lost.”
“I’m very sorry about that, Miss Cooper. After the first war, President Wilson said we’d set ourselves up for another one. I remember hearing him on the radio and hoping he was wrong, but it happened just as he said.”
Ruthann couldn’t speak past the lump in her throat, but she knew the memory of Jack didn’t put it there. Rather, something in Drew Mallory’s earnest words made her feel small and inadequate.

Additional Resources

Available at Amazon 
Also available for Nook 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Two Dead Bananas and the Hope Diamond

For several days, two dying bananas have pleaded with me to put them out of their misery. However, the banana bread recipe I like best calls for four with two eggs and a moist yellow cake mix. Failing to find two more dead bananas at the grocery store on Friday, I bought a small Jiffy cake mix and decided to create a new plot twist. It worked.

When I mentioned the improvisation to a friend almost in the same breath with the usual Sunday whine, “I have to come up with a blog for tomorrow!”, she suggested spinning off the idea of story plot changes with the necessity of changing the recipe for banana bread. I demurred…she said, “You don’t like the idea.” But then, suddenly, I did!

Several years ago I wrote The Legend of Diamond Springs to submit to a call-out for a series of books based on jewels. I submitted--then withdrew--it. Long story. It has languished on my computer since then. Just before Christmas, I treated myself to a mini-writing retreat at San Francisco Bread Company and, without really knowing where the story was going, revised/rewrote the first six chapters. Now I’m ready to go with what I have--much like the two dead bananas rather than four--and bake up a new plot based on the same premise--a family legend that a blue diamond really exists somewhere.

Probably the best known blue diamond is the Hope, but there are nine others equally desirable and expensive.
·        The Heart of Eternity Diamond
·        The Wittelsbach-Graff Diamond
·        The Imperial Blue
·        Blue Heart
·        Blue Moon
·        Mouawad Blue
·        Zoe Diamond
·        The Idol’s Eye
·        Winston Blue

You can read about all of them here.

The Hope Diamond, probably from India, has been around since the 1600s. It belonged to the Louis kings of France (XIV and XV) in turn but was stolen in 1792 when the royal jewels were purloined in a week-long spree. Sold and resold, it eventually came into the possession of wealthy American socialite Evalyn Walsh McLean from 1911 until her death in 1947. In 1958, it found a permanent home at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

At 45.52 carats and worth in the neighborhood of $250,000,000, it won’t be for sale to the highest bidder anytime soon! You can read more about it in the Smithsonian publication Hope Diamond The LegendaryHistory of a Cursed Gem (Richard Kurin, Harper Collins, 2006). The title gives you the idea that the famous diamond is shrouded in mystery, and perhaps it’s so.

Certainly Mrs. McLean suffered from multiple tragedies:  her son’s death in a car accident, her daughter’s suicide, the loss of her husband to another woman, and the death of a grandson in Viet Nam. Despite all of this, when she died at the relatively young age of 60, she did not think her tragedies were related to a cursed gem. An interesting aside is that the ex-wife of her second son married beloved actor Jimmy Stewart! And if you’re into the “cursed” thing, read about the 10 people supposedly affected by their dealings with the famous diamond.

Friday, January 6, 2017

From May to December. . .

Just released by The Wild Rose Press, Ruthann’s War features a May-December romance between the widowed school superintendent Drew Mallory and first-year teacher Ruthann Cooper. According to one article I researched, Drew’s and Ruthann’s relationship doesn’t qualify as a May-December romance because, at 47, he’s not in the “winter” of his life. But he’s old enough to be her father--only 7 years younger than her own father--and has a daughter around her own age.

Second chances always resonate with me, so Drew’s attraction to Ruthann, seeing in her his first and last chance for a close, happy marriage relationship, intrigued me He has a history, most of it rooted in tragedy and loss. She’s long-since finished grieving for her first love, a young pilot shot down over Germany during WW II, but she’s not sure she’s really ready to move on.

Both of them recognize the challenges presented by their age difference: family acceptance, having their own children, blending their family with Drew’s adult daughter, and age and illness. More mature and experienced, Drew understands the depth of the issues more clearly than Ruthann and cautions her to consider them before committing to him.

In the end, Ruthann is fighting a new war on two fronts: one against someone who doesn’t want her to marry Drew and the second, more critical, against Drew who’s had second thoughts based on what he knows she’ll face as the years pass.

My May-December sympathies emerged as a young teen after seeing the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific. Based on James Michener’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Tales of the South Pacific, the story of middle-aged planter Emile DeBecque’s courtship of young nurse Nellie Forbush in his own personal paradise now caught in the middle of a bloody war left me hopelessly in love with him--and with love!

On a literary level Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre also awakened my May-December sympathies as haunted Edward Rochester, master of Thornfield but not of his own soul, finds joy and lightness of life in the young governess Jane Eyre.

I also think of real-life love stories like actor Tony Randall who, after a long, happy marriage, lost his wife and eventually remarried a much younger woman. In the “winter” of his life, she gave him two adored children, a joy he and his first wife had never experienced.

Then there’s the beloved Jimmy Durante (“Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are!”) who also had a long and happy but childless marriage. After the death of his wife, he met and finally married a younger woman. The story goes--though I can’t document it--that they applied to adopt a baby girl, but child welfare objected based on his age. Supposedly the judge said, “I’ve heard this man sing Young at Heart. Adoption granted.” The little girl became the joy of his life.  

The Showboat Reunion, another May-December romance from my pen (or computer if you prefer!) is due for release by Solstice Publishing in February. Stay tuned!

And before you go, have a listen to September Song...

 Ruthann's War is available at Amazon 
 and all your favorite eBook vendors. 
for a limited time, find it at 
at 50% off!