Wednesday, November 26, 2014

40 Years Later

I have a confession to make: I’m a news junkie.

Or rather a new confession: I used to be a news junkie.

Growing up my mother rarely watched the news. It embarrassed me how uninformed my mother was. It made me wonder—her lack of curiosity. She could care less what was going on in the world as she went about her daily life. If I ever tried to engage her in the broader meaning of life she might answer me with what we were having for dinner.

It’s not that she didn’t have opinions; she did; they just lacked any sort of basis in the real world. I probably gave her less credit than was due. This is probably the case with most mothers.

Lurch forward thirty to forty years later. It is so much easier today to be a news junkie. You don’t have to try very hard. Headlines are constantly shouting at me. There are 2 newspapers in Chicago and the commuter rag, The Redeye. That’s print, and I seldom see a real newspaper these days. But, also, there’s the ubiquitous Internet where information leaches into our lives even if all we do is check Facebook. Everywhere—on our phones, on our devices, on the device of the person sitting next to us—is information. Some of it can be total crap, but it is there. Thus, there is no reason to claim being a news junkie because how can you NOT be a news junkie in 2014.

But, before I left for a three-week trip to Sweden I swore off the news. The political ads alone were driving me crazy, yet it was the ISIS beheadings that wore me down. I could not stand one more story of some relief worker or journalist losing their head. Then there was the ebola outbreak aka freak out. It was ebola all the time if it wasn’t Ferguson all the time. Somehow somewhere there was always a bad story to tell. And the bad is REALLY bad. And this kind of news can run your life.

While in Sweden I was too busy to check news. Being in another country lets a person know that their news isn’t the only news. Other countries also have top stories. America and our fears aren’t the only story. Sweden has ghost submarines to worry about.

Since returning from vacation I have continued taking a vacation from the news. So the other night when the Ferguson Grand Jury announcement came over the wires (?) I was busy doing other stuff. The news still seeped into my consciousness, but it hasn’t driven me to despair. In all the world, in the whole scope of life there have been so many Fergusons, let downs, instances of injustice. And there will continue to be. All I know is we all must go on.

Meanwhile, instead of news, I sometimes check in with art. I’m not an art junkie, but art has become a solace. A place of refuge. It can also be disturbing, bring up tons of questions without answers, but the unknowable fills me in a way that isn’t chaotic or violent or raging.

Here is my latest obsession: Brown Sisters
Nicholas Nixon was visiting his wife’s family when, “on a whim,” he said, he asked her and her three sisters if he could take their picture. It was summer 1975.

Who told this photographer he should take pictures of the Brown sisters for forty years. Who ever said this is a good idea and will actually make you a viral sensation in 2014. The photographer, husband of Bebe one of the sisters, began this photographic journey because he simply wanted to chronicle life. After 40 years he has chronicled change. Looking at these bl/wh photographs reminds me of when I used to wear high waisted pants in the 70s and was embarrassed to be seen with my mother. They remind me that I am now that woman in the picture with lines around her unsmiling mouth and eyes. I have changed too. I am not who I used to be.

Thank God.

Today, right now, write a flash of where you’re at. Next year on the eve of Thanksgiving write another. After 40 years you will have a record just like the Brown girls, words that tell you who you are.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Another Thanksgiving excerpt from my YA novel, Beyond Paradise

On the eve of WWII Louise Keller and her family moved to the Philippine Islands. When the war broke out her father was away picking up the missionary school teacher in Manila and ended up separated from his family. Louise and her mother are eventually rounded up by the Japanese and placed into Allied internment camps for civilians. They are in one such camp—at a former university St. Tomas in Manila where this excerpt takes place. Louise has not seen her father for two years —since the war started—and has no idea where he is. Peter a young man the family met on the boat coming over is also interned at St. Tomas and is in possession of an illegal radio.

Thanksgiving in St. Tomas

I’ve heard it said that when a cup is mended it is actually strongest where the glue holds it together. Mother was like that—strong, but still fragile in places. We learned to lean on each other.
Peter brought us news of victories in the Solomon Islands. Little by little, island-hopping, the Allies were coming to get us.
Peter and I were often together, either talking at night on the stairs or coincidentally sitting next to each other at the Theater Under the Stars—the internees’ name for the camp theatricals. My favorite was “Take It or Leave It,” a quiz show we received prizes such as coconut honey, toothpaste, or similar luxuries for answering bogus questions. At first individuals participated, but later on groups battled it out—for instance, the Hospital Staff vs. the Sanitation and Health Committee or the Canteen vs. the Censors.
One evening Peter stopped beneath a lamp in the plaza and lit a cigarette. The thin smoke disappeared into the yellow light. “Italy has surrendered. That’s one down and two to go.”
“Gee, that’s great. Soon the Allies will be here.” The stars in the dark, tropical sky stood out like glittering crystals.
“Afraid not. At least not this year.” Already it was November, almost Thanksgiving. Nearly another year of war, and still no surrender in sight.
“I hope you aren’t taking too many chances. What if you get caught?”
He leaned back against the wall, letting out a long breath of air and blue smoke. “I’m not afraid of dying. I’d rather die young than whittle away like my father. He lives in a dreamworld, reminiscing about how great the war was, all the while hacking poison out of his lungs and humping around on a fake leg.”
“Still, it takes courage to run the risks you do. Why?”
“I take the risks for myself. I’m lazy, really. I don’t want to fight, but I don’t mind driving the Japs crazy looking for the bloody wireless.” He smiled his crooked half smile.
I thought about it and then went ahead and said it: “You are a true coward. You can’t even admit you do care about others.”

...For the rest of the story CLICK here

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

True love

He was in denial.
She was being optimistic.
He was living in the moment.
She wanted to stay real.
The doctors said it was terminal.

His friends fixed up the room.
Her friends walked the dog.
His mother got the kids breakfast.
Her mother kept the kids after school.
The doctors said it may be a matter of months.

They lived each day as if it were the last.
They all pitched in to stand together.
They made hay while the sun shined.
This, they said, is all we have.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Guest Post over at In Some Measure

"That thing I was looking for back then is the same thing I’m looking for today. Affirmation, fitting in, fulfillment. A calling. Daily, I’m reminded that I’m still walking, still chasing, still swimming through unknown waters, still grappling with large, looming questions."

Read more of my guest post by CLICKING HERE.

Plus only 14 more days until 365 Affirmations for the Writer. Isn't it great to be affirmed--

Thursday, November 13, 2014

365 Affirmations for the Writer

Out soon, just in time for Christmas:
 I'll put up links at Amazon and other Ebook distributors BEFORE THANKSGIVING

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Postcard Contest--or a Fun Writing Prompt

The 11th Annual Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest

This is a micro-fiction writing contest.
Here's how it works:
1) Send us a story and a postcard—the relationship can be as strong or as tangential as you like, so long as there is a clear connection between the story and the image.
2) If you don't have a postcard, just search on-line.
3) The story can be fiction or non-fiction; maximum length is 500 words.
First Prize: $500
Second Prize: $250
Third Prize: $150
All winning entries will be published in Geist and on

Monday, November 10, 2014

Submission Monday--start HERE!

·         Microfiction Monday Magazine Call For Submissions

  • Online submissions accepted year-round.
Microfiction Monday Magazine is seeking exceptional stories told in 100 words or less for publication every Monday. There are no restrictions on genre or content, just punch us in the chest with characters we can feel, images we can't get out of our heads, and stories that are complete despite their brevity. Artwork submissions are also welcome. For more information and how to submit visit

Friday, November 7, 2014

Thanksgiving Behind the Bamboo Fence

A million years ago I wrote a book. I send the manuscript to an editor. It was pulled from the slush pile and said editor called me. She liked it! There were changes. First it needed to go from a diary format to a prose narrative. That took re-working. After that I waited. Then MY editor sent a 10-page editorial letter with all kinds of comments and suggestions. Of course. I re-worked the novel. Then there were more changes. I waited. Finally, we had a book. I was so excited when I saw the cover. Then I saw galleys. Then there were advanced copies! After that I got a carton of books shipped to me. I was an author! Reviews came in. They were pretty good. I did readings and signed copies at bookstores.

Then a bigger publishing house bought my publisher, and 6 months after the book was launched it was remaindered.

But for some reason the house never optioned electronic rights and those reverted to me. Here is an excerpt from my historical YA novel. It is the story of a young girl and her family “stuck” in the Philippines after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and invaded the islands. All ex-pats from Allied nations were rounded up and interned in barracks and shacks behind a bamboo fence. CLICK at the right of this page for information on ordering BEYOND PARADISE.

On Thanksgiving Day 1942, I sat on the verandah that wrapped around the school building. It was the one spot to sit where I could see over the wall surrounding the grounds. That day I saw Japanese soldiers dismantling a small bungalow across the street. They methodically removed the corrugated metal roofing, being careful to save even the nails. Next they stripped off the gutters, beams, walls, and window frames. The removal of the bungalow brought into clearer view the city’s garbage incinerator. I saw its smokestacks puffing away.
I shook my head and looked down at my faded dress and mud-spattered feet. I wished there was one thing I could be thankful for. I was glad there were no more air-raid drills or bombings, but on the other hand we were prisoners. I was happy Mrs. Albright had had her baby. A healthy girl, but Rose was colicky and kept everyone awake at night with her incessant crying. I liked being able to spend more time with Daisy and Mae, but there were no other teenagers on the place who understood or felt the same way I did.
I closed my eyes and thought in despair, From whence cometh my help?
When I opened my eyes, there was Mrs. Urs approaching the fence with a package. She bowed to the guard, and the guard motioned me over to the fence.
“Today is your Thanksgiving, so I give you a little something extra.” Her voice dropped so that the guard wouldn’t hear. “I talk to Freddy. He says he is safe at Santo Tom├ís, a camp in Manila. He stay and take care of your father. Mr. Keller was ill with a fever.” A look of panic crossed my face. Mrs. Urs quickly continued, “But he is better now. He is getting adequate care, my Freddy tells me. My boy, he wants to stay a prisoner, stay with Mr. Keller.”
“This is indeed good news. Mrs. Urs. Thank you for the extra ‘package.’ ”
“Yah, the Japanese say we are free to go, maybe to Argentina, but I cannot leave like other Swiss.”
I watched Mrs. Urs go. I didn’t always understand Mrs. Urs or agree with her, but without her help we would have suffered terribly.
Our Thanksgiving meal was a banquet for poor, hungry eyes and also a feast for our empty stomachs. When we entered the small cookhouse, we discovered a turkey on a platter. Our “turkey” was a large squash called a camote, something like a sweet potato. This camote was naturally shaped like the torso of a turkey. The neck was the stem. Long bananas fastened on with copper wire stuck out like legs, and the turkey’s wings were made of slices of camote. Surrounding the “turkey” on a platter were red beans and rice, which looked almost like dressing.
The camote turkey was just a centerpiece. There was real meat with vegetables and fruits, donated by friends outside the camp. For a week the women cooked over an open fire in the afternoons, preparing one thousand pieces of chocolate-coconut fudge so that each of the 146 internees could take several pieces back to their rooms.
Mother and I ate on the verandah with Ann, Frank, and the girls. It was the closest I’d felt to home in a long time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

In Case I Forget

Things I’ve Collected

Rocks (of course)
Seashells (ditto)
Buttons found on my walks
State maps
Empty Skoal cans
Ruby red wine bottles
Cobalt blue wine bottles
Rusty license plates
Whimsically-shaped candles (particularly ears of corn or cows)
Odd light bulbs
Old keys (I’m afraid to throw them away!)
Thimbles (who uses these anymore?)
Vintage books with the name Jane in the title

If I look closely at my shelves littered with these random objects,
I will find myself.