Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Be My Guest - Tracy Krauss

Please welcome my Wednesday's Guest, Tracy Krauss. She is one of the authors who contributed to 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror, a collection of essays from 52 authors who look back and remember what they were doing 25 years ago. Some of the stories are humorous, others are more serious, but they are all fun to read. As part of the blog tour that started in September, Tracy is visiting me here today. For a complete blog tour list and information on how to win prizes, visit Stacy Juba's blog. She came up with the idea for the 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror project as a companion to her novel Twenty Five Years Ago Today.

Welcome to It's Not All Gravy, Tracy. First off, give the readers a short intro to who you are and what you write.

I am a high school teacher by profession, and an author, artist and playwright in my ‘spare’ time. I teach Art, Drama, and English – all things I love – so my day job actually meshes well with my other pursuits. I live in British Columbia, Canada in a small town called Tumbler Ridge, known for its many waterfalls and hiking trails. I’m a fairly new transplant here, though, having lived in many other places in the far north such as the Yukon, North West Territories, and the ‘polar bear capital of the world’, Churchill, Manitoba. I have four grown children, so I have more time for writing now than I once did. My novels are romantic suspense and my plays are comedy parodies.

-         Have you always wanted to be a writer, or have you come to writing after another career? What was that career?

I’ve always been making up stories, although at times these have been ‘realized’ through my art instead of the written word. My earliest ‘real’ play was written when I was in Grade Four at school. I read a book called Ghosts Don’t Eat Sausages and I was so enthralled that I wrote a play and convinced my friends to rehearse with me at recess. When our teacher saw what was going on, she arranged for us to present it to the whole school. It even made it into the yearbook! That was early validation, for sure.
I decided to go into teaching because I was looking for a way to make a living while still working as an artist. However, when I was home pregnant with my first child, I started writing in the afternoons while she napped and I guess the rest is history. My creative outlet changed and I haven’t stopped writing since.

-         What is a typical writing day like for you?

During the summer months I try to do my online promotional stuff in the morning before lunch and then after lunch I write for at least three or four hours. I often do one or the other in the evenings as well, but not always. Once school is back in session, I have to squeeze my emails etc. in after school and then hopefully still have the energy to write for an hour or so in the evening.

-         What is the most unusual or interesting research you have done for your books?

Probably the research into ‘intelligent design’ for my book And The Beat Goes On Even among non-religious researchers there is growing interest in natural phenomenon that is difficult to explain using typical evolutionary theory. I also came across some very interesting cultural information from an indigenous tribe in Zimbabwe which found its way into the book.

-         What is the hardest thing about writing?

The promoting. If I had the luxury of just writing and letting someone else handle that end of things, I would be happy, indeed!

-         If you weren't a writer, what would you be doing?

This is tough because I actually do other things that I love already – direct, teach, and do art. At one point I thought about becoming an interior designer and this thought still appeals to me. I pretty much need to be doing something creative. That’s what gives me energy. I absolutely abhor numbers and paperwork, so anything clerical or numerical is out of the question!

-         What other creative things do you do?

I am a visual artist working mostly in acrylics at present, but I actually majored in Intaglio printmaking in University. At one point in my life I was very focused on pursuing my career as an artist, and I did a fair bit of commission work, entered as many exhibitions as possible, and just generally tried to sell my art. Somewhere during ‘children’ that changed and I switched to writing. I also write plays and I direct an amateur theater group. We put on two major productions a year, so that keeps me very busy with rehearsals etc. 

-         Where do your stories begin? With character or plot?

I think my stories begin with the characters. I love characterization and I tend to develop pretty elaborate profiles for each one. Perhaps this comes from my work in theater. I love to delve deep into what motivates people, which then comes out in how they behave. Most of this back story never makes it into a novel, but it helps me to understand them and makes the subsequent writing easier. 

Tracy Krauss is a high school teacher by profession, and a prolific author, artist, playwright and director by choice. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Saskatchewan and has gone on to teach Art, Drama and English – all things she is passionate about. After raising four children, she and her husband now reside in beautiful Tumbler Ridge, BC where she pursues all of her creative interests.
About her book:
Marshdale. Just a small farming community where nothing special happens.  A perfect place to start over… or get lost. There is definitely more to this prairie town than meets the eye. Once the meeting place of aboriginal tribes for miles around, some say the land itself was cursed because of the people’s sin. But its history goes farther back than even indigenous oral history can trace and there is still a direct descendant who has been handed the truth, like it or not. Exactly what ties does the land have to the medicine of the ancients? Is it cursed, or is it all superstition? Wind Over Marshdale is the story of the struggles within a small prairie town when hidden evil and ancient medicine resurface. 

Visit Tracy:

Monday, October 29, 2012

Misadventuress of a Garden State Yogi Video Contest

This might be a fun video contest to enter.

Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi Video Contest
To celebrate the launch of his new book  Brian Leaf is hosting a video contest with the theme “Insightful Yoga Comedy.” Video entries must be related to yoga, funny, insightful, and one to three minutes long. Each contest entry will be judged according to how well it meets these requirements. The Grand Prize winner will receive $250 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi.Two runner-ups will each receive $50 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. Entries are due by 1/15/13 and must be submitted to Give it a try!

The Basics
Videos must be:
1. One to three minutes in length
2. Generally respectful of others. No videos intended to slander or harm any other person or their public image.

To enter, send a link to your video to along with your name, age, and city of residence. Write “Video Contest” in the email’s subject.
All entries must be received by midnight January 15, 2013.

Videos will be judged by Brian Leaf, author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, according to how well they achieve the contest’s themes (related to yoga, funny, insightful).

Winners will be announced on the Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi facebook page,, on Wednesday, February 20th at 3pm ET.

One Grand Prize winner will receive $250 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi.

Two Runner-Ups will each receive $50 and a signed copy of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi.

Must be eighteen years or older to enter. No purchase necessary. Decisions are final.

Good luck!!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hurrying Along

I'm running out of time. Down to the last few details before I leave town for several weeks. I fly to Michigan on Sunday, which for me means first a drive to Dallas tomorrow. There are no major airports within 100 mile radius of where I live, so traveling is a challenge.

So is flying when one has not done that in over 20 years. This means I get to experience the security checkpoints in a whole new way. I am NOT looking forward to that.

It also means I am limited on baggage. Geesh, I have to pay for my bag to fly???? I will be leaving a moderate climate in Texas which allows me to wear jeans and tee-shirts and a light jacket if needed. Going to a place where I will need sweats and heavy clothes. Thank goodness my sister is willing to share. There is no way I am paying for two bags to fly.

While I am gone, I will have limited Internet access, so I will not be posting on a regular basis, and may not be able to check on comments when I do have something new up. I've pre- scheduled some posts, so I will see how well that works. LOL

I will be back just before Thanksgiving and will be having company that week, so I won't get back to my regular routine until the following week.

Be good everyone, and above all, be happy.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Be My Guest, Brian Leaf

Please welcome Brian to It's Not All Gravy. And after you read this, please tell me how such an innocent-looking guy could get into such a predicament. 
Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi
An Excerpt from Chapter 26
Brian Leaf
 In Northampton I wanted to continue the work I had begun with my Princeton psychotherapist, Valerie. So I consulted the local holistic magazine Many Hands, with its vast directory of holistic practitioners. I paged through looking for a psychotherapist with a mindfulness bent and found a woman who advertised to include in her sessions not only meditation but also Ayurveda. I called and set up an appointment.

The following Tuesday at the designated time, I drove to the address she gave me. I found the door and went into the waiting room.

The waiting room was homey and very comfortable, if a bit messy. There was a sofa, a few chairs, and a coffee table with magazines and a few novels. There was also a half-full cup of tea on a saucer with a half-eaten English muffin. And oddly, on the carpet, someone had left behind a pair of woolen socks. Keep in mind that when you live in Northampton, Massachusetts, hometown of Augusten Burroughs’s Running with Scissors, this is of particular concern.

I flipped through a copy of Natural Health magazine as I waited.

That’s when the therapist, whom I immediately recognized from her photo in Many Hands, walked through the waiting room.

Two years earlier, at Ruby’s massage parlor in High Point, I was proud to have been so naive and pure. This time I was pissed. “How could I have missed this again!?” I felt like knocking my head like Will Ferrell in Old School: “Dang it! I’m such an idiot!”

My “therapist” was wearing a towel around her waist and nothing on top. Her hair was wet. She ignored me completely as she passed through, all business. She went through to her office, did not shut the door, dropped her towel, and put on her panties, as I watched and waited.

I could see past her, into the rest of her office, and plain as day, there was a big bed. It was not red velvet, mind you, it was more respectable than that, but it was still a bed in my naked psychotherapist’s office.

The possibilities raced through my mind:
1.   Sex therapist? It didn’t mention that in Many Hands

 2.   Some funky Ayurveda connection? One of the seven branches of Ayurvedic medicine is dedicated wholly to fertility, after all. No. Ayurveda may have remedies for fertility, and it may recommend employing nontoasted sesame oil on one’s penis and anus to protect against the wind, and it may advise the use of vomit therapy or even leeches on occasion, but I had not yet heard of Ayurvedic sex therapists, at least not in the United States.

3.   Maybe she’s just a free spirit. What do clothes matter, anyway? We’re all really just animals when it comes down to it. Maybe it frees up her clients. Makes them feel safe to be vulnerable when she herself has been so vulnerable and naked. This is Northampton, after all. In fact, I once heard of a totally legit, nonsexual, therapeutic massage style that was performed with both the client and the therapist naked. It was said to free up the energy and set everyone more at ease.

4.   And I considered the only other option: Prostitute? Maybe...
 Then, as in a Hitchcock film when the protagonist has a revelation and is shaken to the core with the whole frame spinning out of control, I suddenly realized that this was not, in fact, her office, and I was not, in fact, in a waiting room.

I was sitting, unbeknownst to her, in her den, and I had just watched her walk, naked, from the shower to the bedroom in her own private apartment. Her office had another entrance a few yards away from this one, which I now remembered seeing in the parking lot.

I was a Peeping Tom. She was getting ready for work, and as in a porn shop viewing booth, I had just watched her put on her panties. I was mortified.

I considered my options:

A. Approach her bedroom and fess up to what just happened. Maybe we’d share a hearty laugh.

No way. Much, much too creepy. She’d scream. She’d freak out. She’d call the cops.

B. I could quietly put down my magazine, stand up without making the sofa creak, tiptoe across the floor, and ease out the door to head for the other entrance, where there were likely to be no naked people.

I chose option B. There was a risk, though. Turning myself in would be better than getting caught as I fled the scene. Still, I went with B.

I made it out quietly and reentered the building through the correct door. A few minutes later, she appeared, fully dressed, and quite smartly at that, to welcome me in.

During the hour, we talked about my lack of friendships in town. And she never knew that I had seen her naked, that I knew she wore daisy panties.

Probably for the best.

I’m wondering now, though, fifteen years later, whether she’ll read this book and piece it all together.
Brian Leaf, M.A. is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at

Excerpted from the book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi ©2012 by Brian Leaf.  Published with permission of New World Library

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

This weekend my hubby and I went to see the movie "Alex Cross." There have been so many Cross books now, it is hard to remember what scenario goes with which book, and some of the elements in this movie hadn't been in any books, but that was okay. Overall, I liked the movie. Tyler Perry did a credible job as Alex Cross, and in some ways he suits the character better than Morgan Freeman did in "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came a Spider." I love Morgan Freeman's work, but he just wasn't Alex Cross.

Some critics are really panning the movie, so perhaps it is just a matter of personal taste. Tyler Perry is trying something so different from straight comedy, and some of the critics are saying he has not done that well in this movie. I beg to differ. There were a number of scenes that called for deep emotional reactions, and Perry gave them, especially the scene where he decides to lay down his badge and go after the killer. Granted, he does not yet have the depth of dramatic acting like Morgan Freeman, but he did a credible job here, and, in my opinion, will only get better as Alex Cross.

Now let's just see how Tom Cruise does as Jack Reacher.
Art courtesy of

While on the subject of reviews, I just have to mention this wonderful review of One Small Victory I saw this morning. Here is just a snippet: "I enjoyed this book very much. It is very well-written with good, accurate prose, a well-constructed plot and excellent characterization"

Doesn't it just make your day to get that kind of feedback? No matter how many books we write, I think all writers battle little doubts all the time. Will anyone like what I write? Susan Mary Malone covered the topic of those fears that plague writers in a recent post at The Blood Red Pencil.

Well, folks, we're coming down to the political wire. One final presidential debate airs tonight, and I can't resist the urge to ask the two candidates to please stop the bickering and attacking and interrupting and shouting and act like gentlemen.

This is Ruthie's take on the debates from the comic strip, One Big Happy: Ruthie is walking with her dog and says, "I wonder what would happen if n\Ninja Kitty met up with Buggy Crowspino. Would they get along just fine? Or would they get all nasty and start hissin' and peckin' at teach other?"
The dog just gives her a look.

"You know, like those guys on the TV debates."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review - Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi by Brian Leaf

Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness
Brian Leaf

Paperback: 264 pages 
Publisher: New World Library (October 9, 2012) 
ISBN-10: 160868136X 
ISBN-13: 978-1608681365

This is the way this delightful book is described on Amazon: "As a college freshman business major suffering from a variety of anxiety-related maladies, Brian Leaf stumbled into an elective: yoga. It was 1989. All his classmates were female. And men did not yet generally “cry, hug, or do yoga.” But yoga soothed and calmed Leaf as nothing else had. As his hilarious and wise tale shows, Leaf embarked on a quest for health and happiness — visiting yoga studios around the country and consulting Ayurvedic physicians, swamis, and even (accidentally) a prostitute."

My personal jury is out on whether the visit to the prostitute was an accident. Anyone who scarfs food from the free breakfast at Best Western when they are not a guest is suspect in my eyes. (smile)

Seriously, though. This is a wonderful book that I enjoyed immensely, and I even learned a few things - like there is more than one form of Yoga. I did not know that. I thought what I do now and then was about it.

I also learned that now and then does not have the benefits that daily practice of Yoga does. I highly recommend the book for anyone who is looking for a way to cope with the stress of our busy lifestyles, as well as have a book that will make you laugh out loud in places. Laughter is also a good stress release.

I will host Brian on Wednesday as my guest, so please come by and see what he has to say about getting naked in front of his therapist. In the meantime, you can check out the trailer for his book and consider making a video and entering the contest Brian is hosting.

The book trailer 

Since I live in Texas, I had to share this picture of Brian coming to our fair state
  Brian Leaf, M.A., is the author of eleven books, including Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, Name That Movie!, Defining Twilight, and McGraw-Hill's Top 50 Skills for a Top Score. He is the only man alive to have written both a yoga memoir and multiple test-prep guides. He is not sure if this is a noble or dubious distinction.

Brian is Director of the New Leaf Learning Center in Massachusetts, where he has helped thousands of students from throughout the United States manage ADD and overcome test and math phobias.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday's Odds and Ends - Funnies and Flowers

Before I get into the main part of this post, I want to ask if you have ever had trouble posting a comment here? On Wednesday, my guest, Mary Deal, could not leave a comment, and I know that was very frustrating as she wanted to thank me for hosting, as well as interact with visitors. I don't know anything about the technical side of what happens with the computer and programs and websites. I just know how to put words on a screen. Mary mentioned using an "atom" thing to try to post after she could not use the regular comment function. I don't have any kind of comment moderation set up. I've realized in visiting a lot of blogs that it isn't always easy to find where to click to leave a comment. For my blog, and several others I write for the comment link is at the end of the blog piece where there is a line:   6 comments:  Sometimes it will say "no comments" and you can be the first to leave a comment. (smile)

Let me know what your experience has been commenting here or on other blogs. 

In a recent letter to the editor in The Dallas Morning News a man suggested that the U. S. Postal service consider delivering residential mail on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and business mail on the other days of the week. Interesting proposal. It would save money, but would that work in this era of instant everything? People today would never have survived waiting weeks and sometimes months for mail to arrive way back when it was delivered by horseback and stagecoach.

Maybe we would all be better off if we took a few deep breaths and just.... waited.

Today I thought I'd share some great descriptive lines I copied out of a book I read. I made this note so long ago that I don't even remember which book the lines came from, and like a doofus, I did not write the book title on the note. I thought of just throwing the note away, but these lines are too good not to share.

"His eyes were ice blue. Hard. So sharp, Val could feel them cut."

"His eyebrows resembled a backwoods thicket"

I'm not even sure if the descriptions were of the same character, but they sure are vivid, and such a refreshing alternative to some of the common descriptions of cold eyes and thick eyebrows. If the author reads this blog post and recognizes the lines, I'd love a reminder of what book they came from.

Something just for fun from the comic strip Non Sequitur: The scene is a cemetery called Last Words Cemetery. One headstone reads: "Hey, why spend all that money on an electrician?"

Not so funny? Okay, how about this one from Pickles. Earl and his grandson are talking a walk. Nelson asks, "Grampa, do you and Gramma ever argue?"

"Argue? No. I can't say that we do. We disagree sometimes, though, and then she explains to me why she's right and I'm wrong.

"You might say we have one of those marriages where one person is always right and the other person is me."

Some time ago I noticed these wildflowers growing in and around a large branch that fell during a storm that blew through. This was on the side of the highway leading to our county road, so I had to be careful of traffic when I went to snap the pictures. I couldn't resist, though. It was so pretty.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Looking Back and Forward, Did I notice Your Book Blogfest

Please welcome my Wednesday Guest, Mary Deal, who is an award-winning author of six thrillers, a short story collection and a writers’ reference. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, Associate and Contributing Editor of a magazine and a newspaper columnist. She is from California’s Sacramento River Delta, has lived abroad and now resides in Hawaii.Her latest book is Down to the Needle

a suspensful story of a mother's search for her abducted child and the hope that the child did not grow up to be the woman on death row. It was a good read.
Mary Deal
To commemorate Stacy Juba’s book, 25 Years in the Rear View Mirror, my thoughts go back to about 1987. Then, I decided I had to stop traveling if I was to create anything with lasting value. But let me digress further.

In 1949 I was eight years old and studying geography and history. A light went on in my mind. I wanted to know about the world and knew that I would travel during my lifetime.

In 1959 I moved to my favorite city, San Francisco. After some time living there, I moved to Puerto Rico. By then, traveling was in my blood.

In 1969 it was back to San Francisco. Yet, meeting new people and cultures and having exception experiences was educational. I didn’t know how I’d use all this knowledge but I breathed it in on every breath. I moved to England for a year, then moved to Phoenix. I vacationed in Hawaii.

In 1979, I moved back to San Francisco. Yet, in the ensuing years, I remembered Puerto Rico and island living. I didn’t want to go back there. I wanted to see another part of the world.

So, about twenty-five years ago, judging from my major moves in every year ending in a 9, I wondered where I’d end up next. All the while, I’m telling myself that I have so much knowledge and experience that I should write books. I wanted to stay put and not go gallivanting off to some foreign land. I got my wish but still had to move.

In 1989, I moved in with my brother in Petaluma to help care for our aging, ailing mother. Once she stabilized, I moved back to San Francisco, then on to Sacramento where I found contractual work that paid enough to allow me to begin to pour out all this knowledge and experience into books and stories. I wrote every spare moment, sometimes sleeping only two to three hours per night. I finally found something I loved to do that seemed to overpower my desire to travel . Or so I thought – and I moved yet again!

In 1999, I was already living in Hawaii and, judging from my much traveled past, wondered what big move would spring itself on me since it was already a year ending with a 9. My strongest desire was to settle and write. I got my wish. My boss and I had moved to Kauai to flip houses damaged by Hurricane Iniki.  Although we didn’t move far, we bought a house and moved in as roommates. It was a 9 year. I had still moved.

Now, in 2012, after visiting all of the Hawaii Islands through the years, I feel Honolulu calling to me. I’ll probably move again and live there for a time. The next 9 year, 2019, is seven years away. Maybe I’ll stay here on Kauai till then. I could get much writing done. Plus I’ve started oil painting and photography with online galleries. I’m entrenched in my life here on Kauai. Maybe I won’t move again till 2019.  I’ve found I can write from any place or circumstance I encounter, and everything is fodder for my stories.

Presently, I push 2019 out of my mind. My books and stories have garnered some awards. I want more. I keep writing, no matter where I find myself.

Thank you, Mary, and now the other special for the day: Did I Notice Your Book Blogfest hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and  Ciara Knight. 

What I'm supposed to do is mention a book I recently read or heard about, then promote this on Twitter and Facebook and see how long it takes for the author to find the mention and come over to leave a comment. There are a lot of other bloggers participating, so this could get interesting as we all discover new books to read. Visit Alex's blog or Ciara's for a full list of participating bloggers.

The book I'm mentioning is  The Road to Chigger Flats (Baby Shark) [Kindle Edition] by: Robert Fate. I have this in my Kindle and plan to read it as soon as I can. I love the Baby Shark series, which features a most unusual female PI. Fate is a master at dialogue and creating unusual characters, and his books are good, quick reads. This is a short one, sort of a teaser for Baby Shark's Showdown at Chigger Flats, and is a good introduction to this terrific series that is set in 1960s Texas.   

Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday Morning Musings

Timothy Hallinan, a terrific author whom I discovered when I read and reviewed Breathing Water, has just received some good news about his latest, The Fear Artist. The book was chosen one of the Best Crime Novels of 2012 by Deadly Pleasures Magazine.The Fear Artist continues the Poke Rafferty series that just keeps getting better and better.

Congrats to Tim!

"Governor Goodhair", as some people refer to Texas Governor Rick Perry, is fostering another proposal that doesn't seem to be in the best interests of higher education. He proposes to cut funding for universities that are not graduating their students. That is just as bad as rating teacher's based on the student's test scores. Granted, the teachers and the educational institutions do have a responsibility to make sure that the learning environment is healthy and supportive, the staff committed and qualified. However, to put the full responsibility for outcomes on their shoulders is a huge disservice.

Students make poor choices all the time that affect their success, or lack of success. Parents make choices all the time that either help or hinder the ability of their children to succeed.

To punish the teachers or the schools does not seem like the right thing to do.

I do hope you will come back on Wednesday. I have a special guest, Mary Deal, who shares the pages of 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror with me. She has also written a thriller,  Down to the Needle, about a woman’s search for her abducted child. Could her daughter be that woman on death row?

Wednesday is also the day for the Did I Notice Your Book blogfest hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh and  Ciara Knight. There is still time to sign up to participate in the blogfest and you can do that at either blog. Here are some of the specifics:

Did I Notice Your Book Blogfest, October 17, 2012
Post about a book you’ve noticed.

You can choose a book that you’ve read, something you saw on a blog or social media site, Goodreads, or a sales website. Anything that caught your eye because of a great cover, blurb or reviews, but DON’T tell the author that their book has been noticed. Instead, shout out on social media sites, and encourage others to do the same, until the author finds his/her book.

Leave a blog comment at Ninja Captain Alex or Ciara Knight when the author finds their book.

Only two rules:
1) You can’t post about your own book.
2) The book shouldn’t be on the New York Times or USA Today bestseller list. This is your chance to shout out about a book that might not have been noticed by others.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Book Review - Losses by Robert Wexelblatt

By Robert Wexelblatt
ISBN: 978-0615669649
BISAC: Fiction / Literary
Published by Vagabondage Press LLC
Published: September 2012 
82 Pages / 25,000 Words / Language: English
MSRP $8.95 Trade Paperback / $3.99 Digital 

"A single father who is a new IRS agent, his cherished and imaginative little girl, a divorced woman having second thoughts about motherhood, a couple who think two ways about becoming parents, a mysterious and crooked financial wizard — these are the people from whose relationships, enterprises, gains, and losses this story is woven."

That brief description hardly captures the essence of this book, which is at times laugh-out-loud funny and then so deeply poignant one wants to pause and just absorb the message. 

Augusta, Gus, is the child who brightens and lightens the story when she appears, yet also has some of the sage wisdom of an adult. "Being grown up is pretty confusing, Daddy," she said with a droll Socratic grin.

This is the opening of this delightful book:  "One Tuesday afternoon in late March, I came home to find Augusta on the living room rug drawing furiously with marking pens. Like most children, Gus was a first-rate abstract expressionist up 'til the age of three, whereupon she was made into a fifth-rate realist. Now she likes to create what she calls 'designs'."

What an engaging introduction to a character that makes you want to read the rest of the story. I know I could not resist, and the rest of that opening scene sets a tone for the relationship between father and daughter that is close and flavored with humor.

The story is told in first person from the POV of the father, and the emotional ups and downs he experiences due to complications at his job, threats from his ex-wife to take Gus, and the problems his friend and co-worker shares with him are extreme. Nothing is held back when it comes to the emotional responses, and when the book is finished, the reader understands the title choice.

This is not a book to read looking for the commercial happy-ever-after ending. Life deals some harsh blows all around, but somehow is is satisfying just to share this journey with these people.

A truly literary work, I enjoyed the use of language and the carefully crafted narrative. There were many wonderful, unique descriptions, and one of my favorites was: "The sun hung in a basket from a hook driven into a whitewashed sky."

What is your favorite thing about a recent book you've read?


Robert Wexelblatt is Professor of Humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. An accomplished fiction writer, his essays, stories, and poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals. His most recent book, the novel Zublinka Among Women, was awarded First Grand Prize for Fiction and First Prize for General Fiction/Novel by the Indie New Generation Book Awards. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Celebrating my Friends

I love it when my friends have good news to share, and earlier this week I received this press release from Slim Randles:

Albuquerque-based writer and former mule packer Slim Randles will receive The Rounders Award at a reception October 16 at Governor Susana Martinez’s residence in Santa Fe. Named for the classic novel by Max Evans, The Rounders Award is given by the New Mexico Department of Agriculture to “individuals who have lived, promoted or articulated the Western way of life.”

 Former recipients include artist Grem Lee, novelist Max Evans, musician Michael Martin Murphey and humorist Baxter Black.

 Randles, whose weekly column “Home Country” reaches 2.2 million readers in 44 states, is also the author of nine books, including the national award-winning “A Cowboy’s Guide to Growing Up Right.”

  Also receiving the award this year is Santa Fe-based art dealer and raconteur Forrest Fenn.

Slim Randles
Since Slim has been so generous in sharing his columns with us, I thought it only fitting that we celebrate him today. This is quite an honor and so well deserved.

This has nothing to do with celebrating friends, but I laughed out loud when I read the following in Louise Penny's first novel Still Life.  A witness is explaining his aversion to violence to Inspecter Gamache and says, "I'm not a brave man, I'm afraid, but I can't tolerate killing. Killing anything. I have spiders in my home with names."

While I have learned to be more tolerant of spiders since I moved out to the country, I draw the line on naming them. Although our daughter once named a spider that built a home on her porch. Our grandchildren were young at the time, and our daughter used the presence of the spider as a science lesson, letting the kids chronicle the life of the spider as she spent the summer with them, laid eggs, and then went to spider heaven. Yes, that's what she told the kids. (smile)

Have you ever named a spider or any other bug? Do you run in terror from anything that creeps or crawls or flies too close?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday's Guest - Slim Randles

Some news to share before I let Slim Randles entertain you with his cowboy humor. First off, my friend, Irene Sandell, has a new book out.  Irene is a retired history teacher in North Texas, and she has a wonderful way of blending fact and fiction in her books. Don't you just love the cover?

I have enjoyed her work since I read her first book, In A Fevered Land, a look at the oil fields in West Texas and the people who worked them. I can't wait to read this latest one.

"Irene is first an historian -- specializing in real Texas History, the stuff you won't (always) find in the textbooks. She has captured a genre in her historical fiction that stands alone."  George Arnold, Author

On a personal note, Dan Wright has just written a wonderful review of One Small Victory, giving it 4.5 stars. "It’s brilliantly written and never once ceases with the drama, making you want to carry on reading to find out whether it has a happy ending or not." 

I always blush when someone uses "brilliant" in a sentence about me. Thank you so much, Dan.

Now, here's Slim.....

It was like buzzards circling the body.

The Jones kid, Randy, was out in the Mule Barn parking lot with the hood up on his car. He was staring down into it as a first-time parachutist would look out the airplane door. You never quite knew for sure what lay ahead.

“Looks like Randy’s got problems,” said Steve.

“Let’s have a look,” said Dud.

So coffee was left to get cold and the entire Supreme Court of All Things Mechanical – Steve, Dud, Doc, Herb and Dewey – trooped out to see what was going on.

They formed a powerful semi-circle of wisdom around the youth and his engine with folded arms and facial expressions that said, “It’s okay, Kid. We’re here.”

Dewey spoke first. “Having trouble, Randy?”

“Won’t start.”

Doc, who has the most initials after his name, said, “Give it a try.”

Randy ground the engine, but it wouldn’t kick over.

“Stop! Stop!” Doc yelled. “Don’t want to flood it.”

All Doc knows about flooding is that the animals went on board, two by two.

“Randy, I think it’s the solenoid,” said Steve, looking wise.

“Doesn’t have one, Steve,” Randy said.

“Sure it does. All cars have solenoids.”

“Not the new ones. Haven’t made solenoids in years.”

Steve’s expression said, “Young punks, what do they know?” But his voice said, “Well, what do you know about that?”

“Need a jump?” Dewey asked.

“Got plenty of spark,” Randy said.

Randy looked at the older men and then bent to the engine and smiled. His voice came floating up over the radiator. “Might be the junction fibrillator. Or it could be a malfunction of the Johnson switch. If I rerun the wire from the organ housing to the pump by-pass, that might get it done.”

When Randy looked up, all the men had gone back in for coffee. He smiled and called Triple A on his cell phone.
Brought to you by Home Country (the book). Read a free sample at

Monday, October 08, 2012

Parents - Stand Back

 I recently read an interesting article by Madeline Levine,  a psychologist, educator, and co-founder of Challenge Success a project birthed at Stanford's School of Education. She wrote about the dangers of overparenting and said that "Fostering autonomy is key to rearing successful kids."

Gosh. I knew that. Some years ago I even tried to market a parenting book that espoused that approach, but I guess people listen to a psychologist or some other professional before they listen to just a mom.

When my kids were young, I fostered lots of autonomy. I remember one day in particular. Our oldest was in first or second grade, and she forgot to take her homework when she left for school. The teacher called and asked me to bring the homework in. She knew I only lived a block away, and it would only take a few minutes to run over with said forgotten homework.

I said, "No."

There was dead silence for a moment, and then she asked why not. Did I not realize what effect not having the homework turned in would have on my daughter's grade. I told her I did realize that, but since I had no plans to follow our daughter to college with forgotten homework, I thought she should learn now to take care of her own responsibilities.

The teacher was stunned. Our daughter was not real thrilled with me for a few days, but they both got over it.

That daughter went on to make her way through some rough times, graduated from college, raised three wonderful children, and runs her own successful educational consulting business. She is one of the strongest women I know, and I'd like to think I helped her get that way.

One of the biggest concerns of parents today seems to be not wanting their child to be unhappy. Madeline says, "If you can't stand to see your child unhappy, you are in the wrong business."

She cautions against rushing in too quickly to shield our children from failure or trying to solve their own problems. That "deprives them of the tools they will need to handle the inevitable difficult, challenging, and sometimes devastating demands of life."

I know a mother's instinct is to protect her child, but sometimes it is better to stand back and let them build strength for themselves.

In Ms. Levine's 25 years of counseling children in Marin County in CA, she has seen an interesting trend. "The happiest, most successful children have parents who do not do for them what they are capable of doing, or almost capable of doing; and their parent do not do things for them that satisfy their own needs rather than the needs of the child."

Our role as parents is to raise children who are then able to step out into the world with confidence and an ability to handle that wide reality out there.

How do you balance helping your children when needed and giving them the freedom to fly? Do you believe in pushing them out of the nest?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Book Review - Fifteen Tales of Murder, Mayhem, and Malice

Paperback: 172 pages
Publisher: Nodin Pr (September 12, 2012)
ISBN-10: 1935666436
ISBN-13: 978-1935666431

This anthology is the work of the authors of The Minnesota Crime Wave, a group that includes Carl Brookins, Elizabeth Gunn, Pat Dennis, William Kent Krueger, and Joel Arnold, as well as ten other authors. The stories are all quick, easy reads; some of them have a touch of humor, and others have a touch of horror to them. Joel Arnold's "Blue-Eyed Mary" is one of those that had shades of horror, and the reader will be surprised at what a mother's favorite son will do.

There are bits of humor sprinkled throughout "The Horse He Rode In" by Carl Brookins. The story is told in first person by a short private eye,  Sean NMI Sean, who has a girlfriend, Catherine, who is six feet tall. His quips about being short are self-deprecating, such as when he mentions how people snicker when they see the couple walking the streets of Minneapolis. "I don't know why people in St. Paul don't snicker. Maybe they are more polite that people in Minneapolis."

For the most part the stories are well written and engaging. As with any anthology, there are always stories a reader likes better than others. I was enjoying "Stone Arch Bridge" by Judith Borger until the end. I liked the character of Kate and how she was so willing to help her friend, Anna who was being abused by her husband, but then the story took a turn that did not appeal to me. Other readers may not have a problem with it, though. It wasn't a matter of poor craft, just a plotting decision that I found hard to accept.

I dare anyone to resist reading a story titled "Death by Potato Salad", written by Jess Lourey. In it, Mrs. Bern, a well-known character from Lourey's Murder by Month mystery series attends the All Church retreat and meets Joe, handsome with his wide white moustache and tanned wrinkles. The retreat offers several workshops, and to keep tabs on Joe, Mrs. Bern goes into the Miracles with Mayonnaise workshop as that was obviously his first choice. Mrs. Bern should have been forewarned that mischief was afoot when the workshop leader mentioned that homemade mayonnaise can be deadly if not made properly. When Hiram falls dead in the kitchen, there are suspects aplenty and a bit of surprise at the end.

Fans of short stories will appreciate this super collection and perhaps find a new favorite author or two. I know I did.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Friday's Odds and Ends

Today I am over at Venture Galleries blogging about what it means to be famous, or maybe not so famous. 
Last month I read an article about the delay of the Ground Zero Museum in New York. It seems that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NY Governor Andrew Cuomo can't agree on whether the state or the city should pay the operating expenses of the museum. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie also has to sign off on the agreement because the World Trade Center is in an area controlled by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Complicated, isn't it, and so disheartening because these entities have been deadlocked for over a year on this issue. This is just another example of how politics can take something meaningful and make a mess of it.

There's a new term I heard recently - Superager. It is used to describe people in their 80s and 90s, and even older, who still have sharp minds and busy lives. They have no signs of dementia and often are very involved in comunity activities. Scientists are studying hte brains of these superagers as part of their research into Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. What is different about these folks and thos who enter into that murky mental state as they age?

One thing that has been discovered is that some parts of a superager's brain - mainly the the left anterior cingulate cortex - are much thicker than thier peers, or even some middle-aged people in the study.

According to Emily Rogalski,  a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, the anterior cingulate "is important for a lot of cognitive funtions, one of which is attention. It's possible that the superagers have particularly keen attentional abilities and that tose attentional abilities could then support memory."

Some of the superagers that were profiled in the story about this research had some common traits, primarily how they excercised their brains. Working puzzles, teaching classes, giving speeches, were all ways that they used their brains constantly. 

I hope writing and acting and directing work my brain enough. I want to be one of those superagers.

Speaking of acting, we open tonight in "War of the Worlds" a staging of the 1938 radio show starring Orson Welles. Some of you, who are also hoping to be superagers, may remember that drama that had so many people in the United States believing that Martians had landed in New Jersey and were about to take over the world.

Apparently, it was so realistic that people who had not tuned in from the beginning to know that it was the Mercury Theatre on the Air, thought all the news alerts were real. Here is a picture of one of our cast members, Mike Monk as the aviator hoping to save the world.
Photo courtesy of Michael Alford
 It has been so much fun putting this show together, and I get to have my acting fix for the year by playing one of the roles.
Photo Courtesy of Michael Alford