Sunday, May 31, 2015

Daddy's 90th Birthday

This is my Dad.

Yesterday was his ninetieth birthday. He was born in Oklahoma County in the State of Oklahoma on May 30, 1925, Decoration Day.

Decoration Day had become a traditional holiday in the United States to commemorate the war dead following the Civil War which ended in 1865.  The name gradually changed to Memorial Day, not most commonly used until after World War II. It wasn’t officially called Memorial Day until 1967.

Daddy was born at home. He weighed just over ten pounds. His mother, Emma Mae Jarvis Weber, was a tiny little thing, barely five feet tall and not much more than 100 pounds.

His father, Lawrence Leland Weber, farmed with mules and took pride in his teams and his saddle horses. If he hadn’t already, and Daddy can’t be sure he hadn’t, he soon acquired a Model T Ford.

Daddy’s sister, Leland Mae was a toddler.

And Daddy was duly named Lawrence Alvin, making his initials LAW. Grandma felt that having initials that spelled something would be good luck.

Speaking of luck, his astrological sign was Gemini which holds that he’s supposed to be energetic, clever, imaginative, witty, and adaptable – all of which he is, plus courteous and kind. I’ve never observed him to have any of the negative characteristics Gemini are supposed to have.

Chinese astrology says that Daddy was born in the year of the Ox. People born under this sign are said to be hardworking, discreet, modest, industrious, charitable, loyal, punctual, philosophical, patient, and good-hearted individuals with high moral standards. All true of my Daddy.

In the real world that Saturday, the moon was in its first quarter. The high temperature that day was 87o, the low was 68o, and no precipitation. The Stock Market was closed for the holiday, but ended the day before at $129.95. That’s very low by today’s standard, but it was robust for then and on the rise. More importantly to Daddy’s family was the price of cotton – $19.62 per hundred weight. 1925 would be a good year for cotton producers.

There would be two more sisters, Virginia Ellen, and Thelma Grace.

Daddy grew up during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. His experiences were as a white child in a segregated community where most of the white people were related to him or related to someone who was related to him. His circle of friends came ready-made from birth. They were kith and kin.

In 1943, in the midst of World War II, he left school to join the Navy. He became a Seabee and served in the Pacific Theater of War. 

As with many young men of that time, it was his first experience away from home. Those young men were from all parts of the country, big cities, small towns, and the countryside. They were all there – young men from the Northeast, the Upper Midwest, the Deep South, the Great American Plains, and the West Coast.

They were farmers’ sons and factory laborers’ sons, longshoremen’s sons, doctors’ sons, bakers’ sons, and preachers’ sons. Some were single. Some were married with sons and daughters of their own. Each had joined the navy for his own reason, but all were there for the duration – until the war ended, whenever that would be. And again, Daddy’s circle of friends was ready-made.

When he came back into civilian life, he returned to Oklahoma County and his rural roots. He married a local girl, Peggy Hrdlicka. His Aunt June who was married to Momma’s Uncle Ray complained that she hadn’t gotten any new relatives out of the marriage. It was in fact the third of four marriages between Daddy’s family and Momma’s family.

Daddy farmed for a while and they had me. Then almost two years later they had my brother Matt. Each time the cost of our delivery was paid for by the sale of a cow.

Daddy was constantly on the lookout to improve our lot and it was pretty clear that he wouldn’t be able to buy his own farm so he went to work for the Rural Electric Co-op as a lineman. Then to Oklahoma Gas and Electric.

Then he bought a service station. For those of you too young to remember, that was a place you stopped at to refuel your car. You would stay in your car while an attendant came running out to fill your gas tank, wash your windows, check your oil, take payment for the gas (cash or credit only – no credit cards existed then.) He wished you a safe journey, thanked you, and invited you to come back.

They also took care of your car’s maintenance and repair – everything from washing and vacuuming to new windshield wiper blades to engine overhauls. These were where they made their money, not the gasoline sales. Those were basically come-ons to get your other business.

The service station didn’t work out, primarily due to Oklahoma’s “gas wars.” In today’s climate where you’re glad to get $2.50 plus gas, gas wars seem like a myth. The stations – and like today, there was one on almost every corner – would undercut each other on gas prices. This went so far as to get gas down to nine cents a gallon. That was cheaper than Daddy could buy the gas.

So he went to work for Sears, Roebuck selling household appliances. That was the first and only time Daddy dressed in a suit for something other than church. And from there to the City of Edmond’s Electric Department, then to Edmond’s Water Treatment Plant, then to Edmond’s new hospital as their Executive Housekeeper where he supervised the entire housekeeping and maintenance staff, then to Oklahoma Christian College where he again supervised the maintenance staff and grounds crews.

And finally, he retired.

He left the farm early on, but it was always with him. He gardened. He bought an acreage and gardened on a grand scale. He raised goats for milk, chickens for eggs and meat. He raised rabbits and two or three pigs, and a couple of cows at a time for meat. He had bees for honey. All before retirement. And after.

In all this time, he left Oklahoma County only for vacations. With the exception of living a short time in Payne County when he first went to work for REA. That’s about fifty miles away, an easy car trip home each weekend.

He added work friends and his family regularly added family friends to his circle.

Then after caring for Momma in the last few years of her life and living on his own in Oklahoma County, he and I joined our households. Three years ago we moved to Lakewood, Colorado, for my husband’s job.

Lakewood, a suburb of Denver, is more than half again as big as Edmond, the town we called home in Oklahoma. Denver is twice as big as Oklahoma City, population-wise. And we didn’t know anyone here. No ready-made circle of friends.

We have care-givers from Visiting Angels help Daddy five mornings a week now and we go to an exercise class Mondays and Wednesdays at Carmody Recreation Center. So when Daddy’s 90th birthday was approaching, I didn’t consider throwing a party because “who would we invite?” We didn't really have friends or relatives here.

Daddy’s close friends and relatives who are still living, live a long way away.

But Carol, one of Daddy’s care-givers, wanted to know what we were going to do for Daddy’s birthday and I told her I hadn’t planned anything. Well, she said she was going to do something anyway. And Yolanda, Daddy’s primary care-giver, said I should have a party for him and invite the people from our exercise class.

So that’s what we did. My husband, our daughter, her fiance, and Daddy, too. They all helped get ready for the party. Daddy and his care-giver Richard peeled and chopped apples for Daddy's famous apple pie. I baked -- cookies, the pies, a chocolate cake.

Daddy and I wondered who would come. How many would come? Would the sun shine or would it rain? Did we have enough food? 

They came and we had enough food. The sun shone. The house was full and guests spilled out onto the deck. Three of his care-givers (two with spouses in-tow) and lots of people from the exercise class came. Relatives from all over called to wish him Happy Birthday. He had a very good time. We all did.

And, you know what? Daddy has a ready-made circle of friends wherever he is. 

 Richard from Visiting Angel, Daddy, 
and Louise from Exercise Class.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bernhardt's The Game Master -- a review

Let’s start with full disclosure.

William Bernhardt is my writing guru. He’s a brilliant, tolerant, and persistent teacher. If you have a book in you, he can help you get it down in black and white. And it matters not whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, a memoir or a cookbook.

Also thrillers are not my cup of tea. I find real life to be tense enough. Thrillers are generally too disturbing for me.

Having said that, I just completed Bernhardt’s new thriller. The Game Master is fast paced and intense enough that I need it set to music like an Indiana Jones movie, so I’ll know when it’s safe to look.

It gets off to a rocky start with someone I don’t know being treated most unkindly. In fact, if I had known when I started what I know now, I’d have started at Chapter 3. That’s when BB, the Game Master shows up playing in the final round of the World Series of Poker.

Then an FBI agent shows up and the chase is on. Paired with his ex-wife Linden, BB must escape from almost every conceivable (and some inconceivable) threats to life and/or liberty which then lead to one breath-taking dash after another to the next threat.

Until BB comes face-to-face (so to speak) with my favorite character, Alex. Alex has the endearing innocence of a curious child while he wields unlimited and amoral power. Like a baby rattle snake – kinda cute, but completely lethal.

It’s a global scavenger hunt with the obvious end-prize being BB and Linden’s kidnapped daughter and the survival of humanity.

Games abound – some ancient, some modern, some for children, and some for intellectuals – all bearing clues to the next step. The games were interesting in themselves. The twists and turns kept me reading and guessing.

Now it’s time to take a deep breath and get back to cozy mysteries!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Edit, Edit, Edit -- an essay

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Editing -- this is my soap box and I’m gonna climb on.

You’ve got a great plot with an exciting opening line. Your characters are well-developed and recognizable. They are real. They elicit either admiration or scorn. Your setting is so natural and essential that the story seems to have grown there from roots to crown.

The sun is shining, your cat is happy, and your book is finished.

Well, no it’s not. Now you need a really good editor, or several reasonably good editors. And a whole raft of beta readers. Why? Because none of us is infallible. There’s grammar to check, spelling, and words, words, and more words.

Word processing programs mark questionable spellings and grammar. Don’t just ignore those markings. Consider them. If you don’t agree, look it up or ask someone who knows. Be sure you have a sound reason for choosing not to “correct” them.

If you use any kind of esoteric language at all, chances are your spell check will respond with alarm. That’s okay. Look it up. Be sure you’re right and add it to your dictionary. Then the next time that word shows up, it won’t be marked. Unless it’s misspelled. Then you’ll be glad you added it to your dictionary.

Then there’s continuity -- names, places, times, and who-what. Maddie Jenkins, who has eight children and lives in Farmerville which is northwest of Monroe, should never suddenly become Millie Janson who is driving north to Monroe with her ninth, red-haired child. Facts should be consistent even if they’re fiction.

And heaven forbid Miss Maddie’s husband should die in the war in the third chapter then in the seventh chapter she’s found dining at a posh restaurant with him. Unless, of course, you’ve established that she only thought he’d died and they were joyfully reunited in the fifth chapter. Or there's something paranormal going on.

Little facts often make as much difference as big ones to the believability of a work of fiction. How do you load a muzzle-loading gun? Do the pupils of a poisonous North American snake's eyes differ from those of a nonpoisonous North American snake? Does a woman’s blouse close right over left or the other way round?

These particular facts will be of no importance to your story, but your story will be salted with facts that do make a difference. And somewhere in your vast readership will be someone and, more likely, lots of someones who know if your facts are right or wrong. It’s important to get them right.

It’s always nice to have editors and beta readers who think you’re wonderful. It’s even nice if they happen to love you. But “nice” ain’t what makes you a good writer. Your editors need to either have broad enough knowledge bases to cover your weaknesses or they should be secure enough to recognize when they don’t know a subject well enough to confirm your description’s accuracy. They should look it up or call someone with expertise in the field. Or they should tell you that you need to look it up or call someone. Be friends with a research librarian.

Most importantly, your editors and beta readers need to be tough. They should believe that you want them to find your errors. Find where the story goes awry. Find that missing Oxford comma and the noun cum verb. They should bleed all over your manuscript, so you can fix it.

If you grew up wearing homemade clothes instead of the fashionable brand names, you’ll know how important it is that your book not look homemade.

Errors, inconsistencies, and confusion are not hallmarks of top quality. Original, handmade, and attention to detail are. 

Your name is going to be on your book.You may never wear a suit by William Fioravanti or drive a Maserati Ghibli, but people who do and everyone else should know that a book with your branding is top quality.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Not a Loser -- Flash Fiction

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“Wake up, dear lady.” He touched each of her eyelids.

She batted him away.

He dodged her open palm and touched her nose with his. “It’s breakfast time.”

She covered her head with a pillow.

“You’re not a loser,” he murmured.

“A loser?” She struggled to the surface of consciousness, shoving the bed clothes aside and him with them.

He sat on the floor, his tail wrapped neatly around his feet. “No, dear lady. You are not a loser. At least, you don’t have to be.”

She put on her glasses to see him more clearly.

“The cat is talking.” She shuffled toward the bathroom. “Cats don’t talk.”

“It is breakfast time,” he said quietly, insistently, and clearly. He followed her into the bathroom. Then into the kitchen.

“Cats don’t talk,” she mumbled and hit the start button on the coffee maker. She popped open a can of cat food and dumped it into his bowl.

He wound around her feet. In and out, humming his approval.

Coffee cup in hand, she pushed the start button on her laptop. He jumped to her desk, walking between her and the computer, caressing his back with her chin. She blocked him from the laptop and entered her password. He turned his back and sat an inch away from her left elbow. She knew she was being ignored.

“Just because you live here alone with me, doesn’t mean you’re a loser.”

“Of course, I’m not a loser.” She pushed him off the desk. “I’m a writer. And cats can’t talk. Leave me alone.”

In one smooth movement he bounded back to the desk top and sat flicking the tip of his tail. He looked at her screen.

“Playing solitaire isn’t writing.”

“And what I do isn’t your business,” she hissed.

“Yes,” he said. “It is. You’re my lady and when you’re not happy, it is my business.”

“I look at that screen and nothing comes,” she said. “I’ve lost the words.”

He slipped into her lap and gently touched her chin with his paw.

She stroked him, a tear sliding silently down her cheek. She reached across him to her keyboard while he settled into a rather big ball and closed his eyes.

“You’re not a loser,” he purred.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Atkinson's Case Histories -- Two Stars At Best

I listened to a review on NPR of Kate Atkinson’s newest novel, A God in Ruins. The glowing review described Atkinson as being capable of inspiring tears on one page and laughter on another. That is exactly the kind of writing I look for.

I’d never read Atkinson before, so I thought I’d give her a try. And when I found out she wrote murder mysteries, which I especially like, I decided to try the first of her Jackson Brodie series.

You know how disappointed you are when you eat meatloaf at a restaurant and it’s not as good as the meatloaf you make yourself at home? That’s how I felt about Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories.

When I started reading it, I realized I had seen it. On PBS’s Masterpiece Mysteries. And I enjoyed that production. I’m one of those people who say “the book’s better, but not in this case. The BBC production is much better. And not just because it’s set in Edinburgh instead of Cambridge.

Atkinson's skillful use of the English language is not enough to cover the mishmash plot.

Jackson Brodie, the main character has personal problems – a new divorce, a daughter he loves, and a wife he still doesn’t understand. He and his life are much more interesting than his Case Histories.

The construction of the novel was a bit disconcerting for me. The first case is the missing child case and its six significant characters. The second case is a seemingly random knifing of a fat lawyer’s daughter and his partner. In the third case Ms. Atkinson gives us a really great ax-murder. Each is presented as unrelated.

The only interesting constants are a crazy, old cat lady and Brodie’s sensible child.

The novel is predictable. And not just because I’d seen the TV production. The only real surprise was in the Michelle/Shirley story. And it was so out of left field as to be unbelievable.

Atkinson’s machinations to connect the stories are so obvious as to be irritating. And where we have been trained since Holmes and Christie that there are no coincidences, Atkinson makes such liberal use of them as to “gag a maggot” – to resurrect an admittedly disgusting phrase from my youth.

Immediately following the saccharine ending of Case Histories, I read John Lescroart’s Treasure Hunt. Lescroart does a yeoman job of giving us a mystery complete with a gathering of the suspects ala Agatha Christie. A gathering that had me holding my breath and laughing out loud.

He did indulge his writer-self following the exposure of the baddie. Which I enjoyed thoroughly. And, as always, he turned me on to other books I must read. In his Acknowledgements he names The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman. Years ago I read that his character Abe Glitsky reads Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, the first of which is Master and Commander. I have enjoyed reading O’Brian ever since.

I have a tradition of reading at least two books by any one author before I strike them off my reading list. Which I will do with Ms. Atkinson, but no more of her mysteries for me. You don’t have to follow that tradition unless you’re just hard up for something to read. If that is the case, I’d recommend the BBC productions instead of the book and/or visiting your public library for an unlimited banquet of good books.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Seniors Speed Dating -- Flash Fiction

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“I’m 72 and fit,” he said puffing his chest out like a strutting tom turkey. He was carrying what looked to be a good cowboy hat.

“Yes, you are.” She smiled and tried to recall why she’d agreed to do this – speed dating for seniors. She thought it was a running joke for the thirty-somethings. What was she thinking?

The man sat down and laid his hat on the table.

“Been married four times. The middle two were young and hot, just after my money.”

Her smile disappeared.

“Trudy, the last one was a beautiful woman. I knew her back in college. She took care of me. Elegant, you know?” The more he talked of Trudy, the softer his voice became. “But she died.”

His gentility disappeared.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She tried to redirect his attention for this ridiculous meet and greet. “What do you do?”

“As little as possible. I’m an old football player. Have some exercise equipment, but don’t seem to find the time to use it as much as I used to. You know what they say ‘Once you retire, you don’t see how you ever had time to work.’”

She thought about the blind guy – what was that? Two men ago? Maybe three. Eight minutes with each man. Too long for this football player, not long enough for Nathan, the blind guy.

Nathan still rode the Light Rail into Denver three days a week. He’s an accountant and still services half a dozen long-time clients. His daughter and two other young people (he considers 50’s to be young) took over the firm four years ago. But he still enjoys the work.

“What did you do before you retired?”

“Insurance. Almost got a degree in Petroleum Engineering, but my eligibility ran out. Then I got drafted.”

“Vietnam?” she asked.

“Nah. Dallas.”

“Oh, I see.” Five more minutes. “What do you like to do for fun? Travel?” she prompted him. Might as well encourage him to express his best side. “Eat out? Go to movies?”

“Sure. Travel. I got a Lexus RC F.”

She knew Lexus, but what was an RC F?

“Exhilaration from the asphalt up,” he quoted from what must have been a television ad.

It made her think of that Maserati commercial “I have a Maserati Ghibli, not because there’s room for my golf clubs in the trunk.” That’s when she changed channels, no matter what she’d been watching.

Nathan had said he walked or took public transport wherever he wanted to go. Or rode with friends.

“Where do you like to go when you travel?” she asked the former Cowboy.

“As a Lexus owner, I get discounts in the Napa Valley.”

“That’s nice. I like Napa.”

She and her Andrew used to meet his brother and sister-in-law there in the winter. Not as many tourists and nicer weather. The men liked steelhead fishing in the Napa River. She and Janine read and shopped. They all enjoyed the food and wine there.

Her dear Andrew drove a Subaru Forester. His knees were bad and it was hard to get in and out of those cars that sit close to the ground. He never would agree to surgery, kept saying he’d do it when they got bad enough, but he died before that.

Returning her attention to the speed dating that wasn’t nearly speedy enough, she asked “Where do you like to stay in Napa?”

“Oh, I haven’t been there.” He ran his fingers through a thick shock of salt and pepper hair, a bit long to still be considered stylish. “Don’t really know much about wine. I lean more to Bourbon and branch, myself. From what I hear there’s not much to do there. Been to San Fran, though. Played the 49ers there.”

“I see,” she said.

The blind man tapped her on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” she said to the oft-married, Lexus owning, former Dallas Cowboy. Maybe it was important. Or important enough.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

John Irving's In One Person -- A Rumination

I finished reading John Irving’s In One Person last Friday. I hurried up and read the last 40 or so pages and then it was done. And I was sad that it was done.

Since I took up writing seriously, I discover that I read like a writer. Much more analytically. I pay attention to the construction of a novel, the introduction of characters, the weaving of the different characters’ story lines into the overall fabric of the novel, and the movement of the main character through his own story arch. I watch as he is touched here and there, sometimes it’s a gentle nudge, sometimes a heave from a volcanic force.

John Irving writes from a writer’s point of view. Deus ex machine is oft maligned by writing teachers and editors as a writer’s escape from “having written himself into a corner.” Irving does it without writing himself into any corner. He quotes Shakespeare and talks about wrestling and small-town stereotypes. It’s all done with a wink and a nod and makes me laugh at the jokes like I’m an insider.

Much of In One Person is set in an all-boys prep school in a small town in Vermont. “we saw the cross-country ski tracks crisscrossing the campus. (There was good deer-hunting on the academy cross-country course and the outer athletic fields, when the Favorite River students had gone home for Christmas vacation.)” Billy’s grandfather and his grandfather’s friend like to deer hunt on cross country skis at night.

Of course, I know this will have significance later in the story, whether for good or ill I don’t know. But at this entry it’s funny. Complete with a disapproving game ranger who has no law with which to stop the activity.

I laugh. Because I love Shakespeare and lived in a small town in far southeast Arkansas with people not unlike those small-town Vermonters. Where deer hunting is an important foundation of the culture and young people hunt deer out behind the McDonald’s before school.

I have been told that I do not write reviews because I do not write about what the book is about. It seems to me that the book, if it’s a good book, will do that. It doesn’t need my help.

But in this case I can let John Irving tell you himself. “In One Person is about a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman.” And I will add that Billy Abbot is the first person narrator of this story. Irving goes on to say “Billy learns – in part, from being bisexual – our genders and orientations do not define us. We are somehow greater than our sexual identities, but our sexual identities matter.”

In a video on his website, Irving says “To really and truly be tolerant of everyone’s sexual identity, it’s not easy. This is a story about that.”

“Billy is not me,” Irving says. “He comes from my imagining what I might have been like if I’d acted on all my earliest impulses as a young teenager. Most of us don’t ever act on our earliest sexual imaginings. In fact, most of us would rather forget them – not me. I think our sympathy for others comes, in part, from our ability to remember our feelings – to be honest about what we felt like doing.”

I have often said that what I like about John Irving is that he does perversion and tragedy with such good humor. I will have to use a different word. Perversion carries too negative a connotation.

I am not alone in this shift of perspective. “From now on, the truly deviant will be the ones – the scowling churchmen and reprobates who cast everyone into hell – who cease to live their own lives while telling everybody else how to live theirs.” -- Esquire

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Progenitor Art and Literary Journal

My daughter Grace Wagner edited this year's addition of Arapahoe Community College's art and literary journal, Progenitor. Ryan Zimmerman was her co-editor. For some beautiful artwork, and some good poetry, nonfiction, and fiction click 2015 Progenitor. Do not be dismayed if you go to the home page and see the 2014 Progenitor cover. It is in fact taking you to the 2015 issue. (By the time you click this, that may be corrected.)

I am especially pleased to be included in this issue with my "Click" a piece of short fiction. And even though Grace is my daughter, the selection committee had no idea "Click" was by anyone related to her. They chose it because they liked it and not because they like Grace -- though I'm very pleased that they like her, too.

This is my first short fiction to be published. Many years ago I had poetry published in several literary journals. I couldn't afford to continue submitting poetry. In those days we didn't have cell phones and anything outside our area code was long distance. Not to mention that literary journals only paid two free copies of the issue your poetry appeared in. And there was no such thing as journals online. I couldn't afford the phone calls to brag and the extra copies to show.

I've also written for two small town papers in Oklahoma.

When I was in college I wrote a Women's Sports column for the Edmond Sun-Booster -- no pay, but I got to go to all Central State College's women's sports events. I wasn't good enough to make the teams, but I could write. and where there's a will . . . .

Years later when I was pregnant with my son I did obituaries, covered the local courthouse, wrote feature articles complete with photography, and edited the Women's Page at the Guthrie Daily Leader. 

For some reason I can't explain, the acceptance of this short story seems more important. (Maybe I'm entering my dotage.)

       "Dear Claudia Wagner, 
       The staff at the Progenitor Art & Literary Journal has accepted your submission for
        publication. Congratulations! Click has been accepted for the 2015 issue and will
        also be published in the online edition of Progenitor."

These were the magic words via email.

And they invited me to read three minutes worth of "Click" at the release party. Hooray!

The party was held in ACC's Gallery of the Arts. I got to meet Stephanie Rowden, the Fiction Editor, and visit again with the staff sponsor Dr. Kathryn Winograd.

             Stephanie Rowden, Fiction Editor       &               Dr. Kathryn Winograd,
                                                                                                    Staff Sponsor

They let me read early on the program which allowed me to fully enjoy the other presenters. We were surrounded by fine art, served with tasty infused water (which I needed before I read) and comestibles of the most enticing kind (which I did not need.)

And to repeat what I wrote so many times back in my Women's Page Editor days -- A good time was had by all.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Click -- Short Fiction

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This is an excerpt from my short fiction Click published in this year's Progenitor, Arapahoe Community College's art and literary journal.

She missed them. All of them. Her fine, serious, hard-working father. He was a cowboy. A real cowboy. His hat sweat stained and misshapen from rain and snow and worse. All from work, not bought new looking like that. What did some singer know about hats like that? They might know about hard living, but what did they know about hard work?

She could still see him and her momma two-stepping around the VFW Hall.

She didn’t understand how she’d become who she was. They’d never had much, but it always seemed they’d had enough. They just knew how to make things come out right.


She muted the TV. The sports news and a rerun that wasn’t that funny the first time it aired came and went. She didn’t care about sitcoms with their nice houses and fine clothes and stupid problems. She was waiting for 9:59. She touched the ticket nestled in her pocket.  Six numbers – 6, 23, 27, 42, 54, and 9.

The woman with the machines that spat out five white balls and one red ball appeared on the screen.


She turned the sound back on. The announcer said, “23.” She had that number, but one match paid exactly nothing unless it was the power ball number. That would be $4.00. Not even enough to buy a cappuccino at Starbucks.

The announcer said, “27.” She didn’t look at the ticket. It didn’t mean anything yet. Once she’d won $7.00 with three matching numbers and no power ball number.


The door knob turned and he came in. Walking pretty steadily.

“I’m going to take a shower then go to bed,” he said.

She glanced at the TV screen and saw the numbers 6 and 54. Four matching numbers. That was $100. She’d never won that much before. One more would be a million dollars even without the power ball.

She heard him start the shower.

No “sorry, I’m late.” Or “how was your day?”

A good thing he was taking a shower. Did he think she couldn’t smell the alcohol on him? And sex? Never mind the perfume. Perfume that probably cost enough to pay the damn gas bill so he could have a hot shower.


She turned on the light in the bedroom and took a blue velvet bag down from the top closet shelf. It was heavier than she remembered. She removed the Smith and Wesson Model 10 from its bag. It was worth four or five hundred dollars. The only thing she had worth anything. Her insurance. Not enough to pay the rent, but worth more than anything else she had.

Her father left it to her. Not a big gun, but big enough to do the job he’d always said.

She went back into the front room. The pistol grip fit her hand perfectly. She held it, cradled it against her bare arm like a baby, its metal silky smooth and cool.

This story was also awarded Honorable Mention at the 2015 Rose State Writing Short Course. Click here for the whole story.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

A New Character in Dead and Gone

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During the 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge I discovered a new character that I really liked. She was a present-day, tough-as-nails, gun-toting mama. ( See Briers and Brambles) She now has a name and some military restraint and is living in the future. She probably still carries. But it's likely a hand-held rail gun. Here she is introduced at the end of Chapter 1 with the start of building her character as she interacts with the main characters in Dead and Gone, a work in progress.

A tall, handsome woman with short brown hair entered the Command Unit. Whitaker called her over. “This is Sergeant M.D. Eisenhauer, our Interagency Liaison Officer. Ike, meet Detective Sergeant Hudson and Detective Sirocco.” He nodded toward Joe and Rafe. “They’re from Ceres Colony, out past Mars.” He turned to Macy. ““I’ve got some calls to make. Media’s breathing down my neck. If you’ll come with me.” Whitaker led the way out of the Command Unit. “Ike and Mac will get them started.”

Chapter 2

“I’m Joe.” He extended his hand to the woman. “Ike?”

She shook hands. “Like the President in olden times.”

“President?” he asked.

“You know, President Eisenhower? United States? Mid-twentieth Century? Mine’s spelled different.” She put her hands behind her and stood, feet shoulder width apart, military at ease. Her alto voice carried a hint of the local nasal quality.  “His was w-e-r. Mine’s the old fashioned German way, a-u.”

Joe smiled. None of this made any sense to him. The woman was talking some kind of ancient history. “Rafe here’s married to a History Prof.”

Rafe stepped forward. “As a matter of fact, she’s finishing up some research into Twentieth Century Earth right now. She’s in Mumbai, but she’ll be back tomorrow.”

Joe shook his head and grinned. A Manny Turrentine aficionado and an ancient history buff. Some cops have all the luck. “Okay, Ike. What are we working with?”

“One of our street officers took the initial information following a telephone complaint. The girl’s name is Danna.” She touched the photo in the center of the tracking wall and the pleasant looking young woman with shoulder length, dark hair and brown eyes turned from left to right and laughed. “She’s 178 cm, a little taller than average. Seventy-seven kilos,” Ike continued.

“The parents?” Joe asked.

“Daniel and Marlene Porter. Married.” She brought photos of them forward. “None of us know them, which should be an advantage. No preconceived views. We need to check out the girl friend, too. Where the girl was supposed to stay.”

“You got addresses or finding directions?”

“McAlister here is our Information Tech. She has everything we need.” Ike indicated the woman at the computer.

“Just call me Mac,” the IT said and proceeded to collect their contact information then forward what she had on the Porters and Isabella Turtle to their mobiles. “Daniel Porter is a big deal geneticist. He doesn’t do designer genetics. Not for the usual traits anyway – hair color, height, left-handedness. You know.”

Left-handedness? Joe was pretty sure he didn’t know.

“Anyway, he’s into intelligence.”

“As in information acquisition?” Rafe asked.

“Does he always talk like that?” Mac asked.

Joe laughed and clapped Rafe on the shoulder. “He sure does. And I bet with that red hair and mustache, you thought the scholar here was just another pretty face.”

Rafe arched an eyebrow. “Joe, is a jealous man.”

Eisenhauer crossed her arms and looked from one to the other, but said nothing. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

2015 April A to Z Blogging Challenge

The 2015 April A to Z Blogging Challenge has been both inspiration and tyranny. And I’m going to miss it.

Writing every day, except Sundays, has been interfering with my progress on Dead and Gone, the second novel in my Sci-Fi/Murder Mystery series. But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t enjoyed the daily distraction.

Using the alphabet as a prompt has been really useful. Last year I had more trouble thinking of topics that fit the daily letter. Maybe I tried too hard. This year has been no trouble at all.

Also, this year I was willing to use quotes from Murder on Ceres for three of the days – R, S, and T. Last year I felt each day should be something completely original. Not a reprise of something I wrote before.

And the best difference was that I didn’t end up in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, like last year. Emergency appendectomy? What other kind of appendectomy am I likely to have? And once having had it, it’s unlikely I’d have another.

Clear thinking equals clear writing, right? Right.

The best part of the blogging challenge is reading other people’s blog posts. The organizers suggested we read at least five other blogs each day, starting with those right around us on the sign-up list.

It took me a few days to find my friend and fellow William Bernhardt writing student Sabrina Fish. But find her I did, and glad to see her at that.

I feel like I’ve found a new friend in the Retired Librarian from Scotland. Her daily list of valuable things about a library reminded me of the Edmond Public Library in Edmond, Oklahoma, my own favorite library. And her quotes from people whose names started with the letter of the day sent me back to some writers I’ve long loved, but hadn’t read in a while – Archibald MacLeish, Lemony Snicket, and more. Oh yes, and Carl Sagan whom I keep close in my thoughts and on my bedside table.

There was the blogger who is a Rockies Fan so I know he either is now or sometime in the past has been a neighbor of mine. And the young woman in India who so beautifully describes places I had not known I would like to see. And the Daily Ghost Post from Storytelling Matters.

And. And. And so many more!

So, 2015 A to Z Blogging Challenge – how was it for me? Good! Very Good! How was it for you?