Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering on Memorial Day

I come from a long line of military men on my father's side. In a little cemetery in Fairmont, West Virginia there are headstones for a number of Van Gilder men who served in the U.S. military, going back to the Revolutionary War. I had the opportunity to go that cemetery a few years ago for a family reunion and I was amazed to see so many military men noted.

I had not known that there was a member of our family serving in every war and conflict throughout the history of our country. I felt both awed and thrilled to be in such company.

It was also interesting to note that not one of those men died in combat. They all served their time in the military and were able to come home. It was the same for my brother in the Viet Nam era and my son in Desert Storm. But other families have not been so lucky.

So it is those families that I think about today with special care. They have sacrificed much to protect our country and the freedoms we espouse.

Thank you.....

What about you? What does the holiday mean to you?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Guest Kenneth Weene

Hi, I'm Ken Weene and I am happy to be a guest here on Maryann's blog to tell you a little about my latest book, Memoirs From the Asylum.

There are many ways to discuss mental illness. Some authorities focus on the biological – such things as neurotransmitters, medications, and genetics. Others use psychology, which may mean exploring learned habits, irrational thinking, or psychodynamics – which often are about sexuality. There are those who choose a religious view and focus on driving out demons. All of these approaches and more can be found in our hospitals, our asylums. But they do not tell the story.

The real story is of lives – perhaps lived in desperation, certainly lived in deprivation, but still lived. The portrayal of those lives is the task of literature. Memoirs From the Asylum is my attempt to perform that job. Underlying it is one of the key ideas that I used during my career as a psychologist, the idiom of distress. It was always my belief that symptoms bespoke the great distress that individuals feel. Through symptoms people are able to speak of that for which they either have no words or for which they have words they have been told must never be spoken.

In Memoirs From the Asylum I try to capture the world of the hospital and the inner lives of its denizens, not just patients but various staff as well. Memoirs is the story of their pain and their small victories. It is filled with tales of retreat from the world and ultimately of reengagement in it. It is a book about incarceration and about freedom.
The world of mental illness is often funny – perhaps not intentionally but still funny. And it is tragic, sad and filled with irony as people who are attempting to find sanctuary are instead caught in a world of institutionalized irrationality. It is the basic material of literature.

A world of institutionalized irrationality – here is a short example, on of the main characters, a new resident, is being take to task by the head nurse:

"Never refer to a staff member by name around patients."

"I don't understand."

"God, residents." She sighs for the tenth time during their brief encounter. "You told Michelle that Mrs. Whittle had noticed that she looked a bit shaky."

"She did."

“I know she did. Of course, she did." Her tone is getting even more exasperated. "A good nurse notices those things."

"So what's the problem?"

"You should have said, 'nurse noticed that you look a little shaky.'"

"Why?" Unconsciously, he is scratching his left forearm. That had been where he had had poison ivy during the spring. It no longer itches, but under stress he still scratches. This morning he notices it is looking a bit raw. He wonders why, but dismisses it as a scrape. Tomorrow morning, he will notice it has gotten even worse, but he still won’t know why.

"That way they can pester."


"Ask 'Why did you say that?' You know, bother us."

Nurse Teraso stares at Buford – waiting for and not expecting to see comprehension. With a snort of exasperation she continues, "If ‘nurse’ said it, they don't know whom to bother."

"Rightttt." Buford’s tone makes both his uncertainty and dawning comprehension audible. He pauses for a moment and then asks, "Won't they bother everybody?"

"No, they get too confused."

He thinks that is a strange goal, to confuse the patients in a psychiatric hospital. On the other hand, he has been at the hospital for a week and has only been getting more and more confused himself.

Memoirs From the Asylum may be set in a psychiatric hospital, but it is a story filled with realistic characters, people who are wrestling with themselves and with their world. I hope it will bring smiles to your lips and tears to your eyes as they play out their lives.

Let me tell you briefly about some of those characters. Besides Buford Abrose, the resident in the excerpt above, there is a narrator who has taken refuge from the world and especially the Vietnam War, Marilyn a catatonic schizophrenic who watches a weird life unfold in a crack in the wall opposite her bed, Jamul, a young black man who was abandoned by his parents and who plays the air-guitar with great skill and verve, and Mitch whose Alzheimer’s Syndrome reminds us that we may all yet end up in the asylum.

Memoirs From the Asylum will introduce you to, and help you understand, the world of the state hospital, the universe of the mentally ill and their caretakers, and most importantly to that which goes unspoken in yourself.

If you have any questions or comments, I will be happy to respond.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Guest Coming Tomorrow

Tomorrow I will have a guest blogger, Kenneth Weene, who will introduce readers to his latest book, Memoirs From the Asylum.

I have not yet read his book, but the few excerpts I've read have me intrigued. Here is a SAMPLE from American Chronicle, where Ken was a guest blogger on May 14th.

Kenneth Weene is a New Englander by birth and disposition. He grew up outside of Boston and spent his summers in Maine. Although he lived for many years in New York and now resides in Arizona, Ken has never lost his accent nor his love of the northeast.

Having gone to Princeton, where he studied economics, Ken went on to train as a psychologist and to become an ordained minister. Over the years he has worked as an educator, pastoral counselor, and psychotherapist.

Married to Roz Weene, artist and jewelry creator, for over forty years, Ken is a strong believer in the joy of love.

Ken’s writing started with poetry, and his poetic work has appeared in numerous publications – most recently featured in Sol and publication in Spirits, and Vox Poetica.
An anthology of Ken’s writings, Songs for my Father, was published by Inkwell Productions in 2002. His short stories have appeared in Legendary, Sex and Murder Magazine, The New Flesh Magazine, and The Santa Fe Literary Review.
In 2009 a novel, Widow’s Walk, was published by All Things That Matter Press, which has also just published Ken’s second novel, Memoirs From the Asylum.

In his latest novel Ken answers the questions: What is it like to work inside a state hospital or to be a patient in such a hospital? What is it like to live inside the mind of such a patient?

The book has three central characters: a narrator who has taken refuge from his fears of the world, a psychiatrist whose own life has been damaged by his father’s depression, and a catatonic schizophrenic whose world is trapped inside a crack in the wall opposite her bed.

This is the interwoven story of those lives, a story that includes love, sexuality, violence, deaths, celebrations, and circuses. As the plot unwinds, the reader learns a great deal about the nature of futility, frustration, and freedom.

Please stop by over the weekend and say hello to Ken and read more about his book.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Please Keep the Libraries

The latest news from the city of Dallas indicates that the city is ready to cut library services and staff to meet a $130 million budget gap. The proposed cutbacks would slash hours at the central library in downtown from 44 to 24 hours a week . Branch libraries could also see a reduction by half, and 96 full-time positions could be lost.

I hope city administration can find a better solution to the budget problems.

When I lived in Omaha, Nebraska, there was a city budget shortfall, and one of the first things administration did was cut library services. I remember thinking how sad it was that children would not be able to go to the library several days a week. For some, the library was the only place they could find books to read.

Then I thought of the people trying to do research. Where were they to go? This was just as the Internet was getting popular, but lots of people still did not have computers. So where did they go to experience this new wonder of wonders? The library.

Libraries are a priceless natural resource and should not be cut. They are our connection to the past, as well as a place to be introduced to books and authors. I buy a lot of books, but I still go to the library to look for something new and different from what I read just for fun, and I know a lot of others who do the same.

To solve the funding problem, one solution would be to charge a minimal yearly fee to get a library card.

Would you be willing to pay $25.00 a year for a library card?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Fine Mess

All the news about the gulf oil spill brings to mind a signature line from old Laurel & Hardy routines, "It's a fine mess you've gotten us into, Ollie."

Stan Laurel would say that to Oliver Hardy when they had blundered into something totally ridiculous and the audience would roar with laughter.

But "It's a fine mess you've gotten us into, BP" draws no laughter.

The massive oil spill in the gulf that is now coming ashore along the coast of Louisiana and pushing into the marshland is a catastrophe that just seems to be getting worse and worse. It has shut down the fishing industry all along the coastal area, and it is now killing birds and other wildlife.

Meanwhile, BP and the federal government appear to be spending too much time talking and thinking and talking and thinking about what to do in between futile attempts to stop the leak. While they are doing that, any other efforts to clean up the oil or plug the leak -- that continues to pour thousands of gallons of oil into the water a day -- are put on hold.

A fisherman from Louisina said on the evening news last night that there are boats equipped for cleanup that are just sitting out there.

Last week Kevin Costner offered the use of equipment he developed for his film Waterworld that can clean the water of oil.

People who have ideas on how to stop the leak or clean up the oil, call BP with their ideas and they can't talk to anyone in charge. They have to go through a process of paperwork that can take several days.

Okay, I understand that there needs to be a chain of command, that people need to respect certain boundaries when it comes to the impulse to jump into a mess and try to do something. But in this case, I think a month is long enough for the chain of command to do its thing. And it hasn't.

So my suggestion is that anyone with an idea of how to clean up this mess and stop the leak should just, well, do it. Go down to the gulf with your idea and your equipment and get to work. After all, the ocean waters do not belong to BP or to the federal government.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Importance of History

We live in such a fast-paced world that sometimes we forget how important it is to look back on where we came from. History is so important so we can know what has shaped us as people, as society, as a country, and as a world. How can we possibly understand people from a different culture if we don't take a moment to see some of their past?

History was one of my favorite classes in high school and in college, and it has been a favorite for one of our sons, as well. Michael, who is now the Manager of the Austin History Center, could have had a full ride at several universities had he pursued math and science, but he fell in love with history when he was a senior in high school.

Prior to his senior year, Michael had planned to study aeronautical engineering and I remember him asking if we would be horribly disappointed if he changed his mind and studied history, with a long-range plan of teaching.

I was shocked that he thought he had to ask that question. I never realized that he thought his dream had somehow become our dream for him. Maybe because we were always so proud of his talents in math and science and because we were so excited about the offers that had come his way. But I assured him that this wasn't about us, or about money, it was about him pursuing a future that excited him.

So that's what he did.

His plans to end up teaching got derailed along the way while he was studying for his undergraduate and first masters degrees, so he decided to get another degree so he could work as an archivist. He would still like to eventually end up at a university managing a history center and perhaps teaching, but he is happy now at the Austin History Center.

If you would like to see a video about the center and meet Michael, click HERE

My interest in history and sociology has benefited me as a writer in so many ways. That "wanting to know what shapes us" is a curiosity that leads me to many story ideas.

What about you? Do you have a similar curiosity that impacts your writing?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fixing Financial Woes

I read this news item today: Prodded by national anger at Wall Street, the Senate on Thursday passed the most far-reaching restraints on big banks since the Great Depression. In its broad sweep, the massive bill would touch Wall Street CEOs and first-time homebuyers, high-flying traders and small town lenders.

This is a good first step toward easing the tensions so many people are feeling due to the financial crisis that just doesn't seem to be going away as quickly as hoped. It's sort of like that oil spill in the gulf. Things have been done to try to stem the flood of oil pouring into the water, but all efforts have had little effect.

Passing more legislation to control businesses and establishing more government agencies to enforce the new legislation is like BP's goofy idea to shoot golf balls into the broken pipe in hopes of stopping it up.

When are the people who have the power in Washington going to wake up and realize that it would benefit the economy if they CUT THE COST OF GOVERNMENT?

Excuse the shout, but I just had to get that out there.

Imagine the savings if there was a 10% pay cut for government employees who make over $100,000 a year.

And what about cutting the massive retirement packages that congressmen and senators receive?

Instead of trimming the fat at the top, the government looks at cutting social security, Medicare, and other services that so many Americans rely on for basic necessities. Kind of an upside-down approach I'm thinking.

If government operated the way the businesses in my small town operate, there would be a significant reduction in the national debt. Revenue in these small businesses goes into keeping the business running: Buying merchandise, paying for the basics of overhead, serving the customers. If there is anything left over, the owner may get a salary and perhaps put something into savings for retirement.

So, what about it. Do you think this would work for government?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review - A Journey to Die For

A Journey to Die For
By Radine Trees Nehring
ISBN 978-1-60364-020-6
Wolfmont Press, trade paper
296 pg., May 2010

Here’s a good example, if readers still need one, of a crime novel that fits comfortably into the fine tradition of fiction that relies on good writing, a fine plot, odd and usual suspects, and an interesting setting. The author relies on a good story rather than tortured or crass language, logical development rather than constant physical action.

Carrie King, a neighborly, bright, woman of late middling years, and her husband, Henry King, a retired cop from Kansas City, are exploring Arkansas history with a trip on a restored train to a small historic community on the shores of the Arkansas River. At the halfway point, passengers leave the train to enjoy a brief sojourn in the town of Van Buren. When Carrie and Henry reach the river and see a large historic mural to study, the possibility of encountering a dead body is the farthest thing from their minds. But alas, there it is. And then there are the buttons.

A charming and delightful mystery ensues. Nehring’s unerring ear for dialog and her sense of what constitutes a well-rounded character serve the reader well as the Kings travel between home, Van Buren, and Kansas City where Henry had a solid career as a police officer. There have been allusions in the past to Henry’s rather abrupt retirement and in a powerful emotional scene at the Van Buren police station, Carrie and readers will receive serious and deep insight into Henry’s secret.

In the fine tradition of traditional American mysteries, A Journey to Die for is an excellent and satisfying entry in this author’s “to die for” series.

Reviewed by:

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Swimming Does Count as Bathing

Since school will be ending soon for summer vacation I thought this excerpt from my memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck, most appropriate. This is from the chapter titled: Summertime Blues, Swimming Does Count as Bathing. Enjoy....

Once all the kids were in school full time, summer time took on a whole new dimension. When they were all little and underfoot, seasons streamed one into the other without much impact on family life. We continued doing what we always do, just changed clothes to suit the weather.

That all changed when the kids were all gone for most of the day during the school year, then suddenly, summertime came and there they all were, cluttering up the house. Every last one of them. Every day. All day.

Often, as the end of the school year drew near and I looked ahead to the days of summer vacation stretching endlessly before me, I had a feeling of impending doom. Maybe that was because we usually failed miserably on the first day of summer vacations. Sort of like time trials in car racing. If you make it through without a mishap, you've got a chance at the race.

I would barely make it through the first two hours of:

"I've been waiting all winter to watch this show. You can watch your dumb show tomorrow."

"That's not fair! You can't watch TV anyway. You didn't do your work."

"What are you? The resident policeman?"

"I'm just trying to help. Keep things running smoothly so Mom won't get upset."

Meanwhile I was in the other room suffering from terminal motherhood, expecting all the fuses to blow any second. I had visions of that kid walking through the entire summer in a black and white striped shirt with a whistle in his mouth.

Maybe I should have just let him have a go at it.

As the fight over the TV would increase in tempo and volume, I would have definite impulses to do violence of some sort. And just in case that went beyond the impulse state, I had a defense plan prepared.

By reasons of insanity: "Your Honor, no one in their right mind would ever throw a toaster at their own television without provocation."

Things went steadily downhill from there, and I questioned whether I would make it another day. Already I had laryngitis and I think I ruptured something in my throat. God wouldn't do this to me, would He? He wouldn't expect me to stumble through the summer without a voice to yell with?

I might have made it through that first day by sheer force of determination, if it hadn't been for this little kid who kept following me around asking me when we were leaving on summer vacation.

"We are on summer vacation!"

"No we're not! Vacation is going somewhere, and we're not going anywhere."

I wonder if a one way ticket on the next space shuttle fits the criteria of "going somewhere?"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Teachers Who Made a Difference

Kathleen Parker, a Washington Post columnist, and recent Pulitzer Prize winner -- way to go, Kathleen -- attributed some of her success to a special teacher she had in high school.

In her column on April 15h, she told the story of Mr. Gasque, her high school English teacher. Kathleen had been called on in class and did not know the answer to the question, but whatever she said made the class erupt in laughter. Mr. Gasque whirled from the blackboard. "No perfectly executed pirouette can top the spin executed by Mr. Gasque that day." she wrote. "Suddenly facing the class, he flushed crimson and his voice trembled with rage. 'Don't. You. Ever. Laugh. At her. Again,' he said. 'She can out-write every one of you any day of the week.'"

Kathleen continued her column by writing, "It is not possible to describe my gratitude. Time suspended and I dangled languorously from a fluff of cloud while my colleagues drowned in stunned silence. I dangle even now, like those silly participles I eventually got to know."

What a wonderful moment, and anyone who has been touched by a special teacher knows that feeling.

In her column, Kathleen encouraged readers to think about those special teachers that touched our lives, and maybe pay them homage.

So I want to thank Mrs. Henderson, my third-grade teacher who introduced me to the joy of books and reading.

I also want to thank myseventh-grade teacher, Mrs. Carpenter, for entering my story in the Scholastic Writing Awards contest. I didn't know she had done that until I was notified that I won an award.

And I want to thank Sister Honora, my high school English and journalism teacher who also encouraged me to write and keep on writing.

It's possible that I could have ended up where I am now - a voracious reader and a published author - without their influence, but I highly doubt it.

What about you? What teachers do you remember who made a difference for you?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sizzling Summer Sweepstakes

I belong to a promotional site along with a lot of other terrific writers, and lest that sound too boastful, I was trying to find a way to leave myself out of the terrific category, but there was no other way to write that sentence.

Anyway, Books We Love has a great contest every summer with ongoing weekly prizes and a grand prize at the end of the summer. This year we are giving away a Border's Kobo e-Reader as the grand prize. Weekly drawings are for e-books, and a copy of my One Small Victory is on the prize list.

Entry instructions for all prizes are on the Books We Love Web site: To enter the contest simply visit five of the author pages displayed on the Web page index and sign the guest book of the author you choose to visit. Then fill out the entry form on the Web site and click submit.

PRIZES: (1) Every week until July 31 we will draw one winner to receive their choice of an ebook from any one of our Books We love authors. (2) On May 31, June 30 and July 31st we will draw three winners who will each receive an autographed copy of one of the print books displayed on the page. (4) GRAND PRIZE: Borders KOBO EREADERS. On July 31st one lucky winner will receive a Kobo and their choice of any five Books We Love ebooks.

Enter Now:>

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Reaching a Milestone

I am a contributing member of The Blood Red Pencil blog, and I noticed today that we reached 800 followers. Good for us!!

The blog is written by a group of editors and writers who share editing and publishing tips. But it isn't always all about business. Sometimes we like to have a little fun, too. If you are not familiar with the blog, hop on over and check it out.

I have got to say that I have really enjoyed associating with this fine group, many of whom accomplish so much they make me stand with my mouth ajar wondering how they do it.

I have also learned a lot from all the experience and expertise gathered on one blog.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Watch Out For the Candy Police

A ten-year-old girl at an elementary school in Texas was given detention for a week for having a piece of Jolly Rancher candy. Apparently a friend gave her the candy and a teacher took it away, then the girl, Leighann Adair, and her friend were both given detention.

Over a piece of candy.

The girls had to serve detention during lunch and recess, and they had to write an essay about what they did and why it was wrong.

According to her mother Leighann was never in trouble before and the whole incident has devastated her. The mother, along with some other folks, think the punishment was extreme for so minor an infraction.

Despite protests, school officials are standing by the punishment. They say they have to be strict in order to enforce their no-gum, no-candy policy. Candy and gum, they say, can cause a mess. And according to the school superintendent, they were only following state guidelines to limit the amount of junk food in schools.

That's a good sound bite, but it is absurd. The state guidelines apply to what the schools can provide and endorse, not what an individual brings to school. And punishing kids for having a piece of candy is not going to encourage them to eat healthy. Save the harsh punishment for the serious infractions.

What happened to the policy of simply taking a piece of gum or candy away from a student, throwing it away, and reminding them that gum is not permitted in school? That was the way such infractions were handled for years. And if a student persisted in breaking the rule, then it was time to take more drastic action.

What do you think? Was this an extreme reaction?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Book Review

Random Victim
By Michael A. Black
ISBN: 978-0-8439-5986-4
Pub: Leisure Books, pb, 323 pages,
April, 2008

How did I miss this one when it first came out? I know the author, been following the man’s writing career. He gave me a copy of this book. Still, I only recently got around to reading it. And discovered to my chagrin what I’ve been missing. Delayed a really fine read. Here is Chicago, in all its grit and insouciance, its rhythm and its nasty side.

Chicago is part of Cook County, and they have a sheriff, a law enforcement presence, and all the problems an urban county can absorb. Comes now one Sergeant Francisco Leal, back after a drug bust gone bad, resulting in a grievous wound to his person. Leal, your basic resentful cynic, doesn’t enjoy busting bad guys to see them get off too lightly, and he isn’t always quiet about his feelings, even in front of the judge. Thus, “the Dark Gable Incident,” which gave Leal a certain cache, positive in some circles, but negative in many others.

We get a really good look at the simmering anger that lies under Leal’s professional demeanor and now he has a new assignment. Along with two young, inexperienced detectives and another sergeant, Leal is assigned to a politically sensitive case that is so cold, the detective’s fingers get numb just paging through the files.

Almost a year previously a major player, a judge Miriam Walker, went missing, was found dead some time later, and there were no arrests, no apparent motive, no leads.. A random victim, possibly of a carjacking? A very cold case. Now, elections are coming and the Sheriff is being beaten up over this still unsolved case. A team is assembled in an obvious political ploy, to re-examine the case and Leal is second in command, due primarily to his seniority. The team assembles with the initial understanding that there’s almost no upside to the situation.

The characters are precisely drawn, their actions methodical and deliberate and logical. The action and the tension are low-keyed for a long time, but the writing is so fine, I was drawn inexorably to page after page until the climax exploded off the page. This is one fine police procedural. Ultimately we learn that the assumption of randomness is not the truth.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyers, Bloody Halls, Devils Island

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my mother, and send her some virtual roses.

Ours was not a storybook relationship for many years, and it's only been in the maturity of my own adulthood that I've learned to appreciate all she did for me.

The product of an unsettled and emotionally unhealthy childhood, my mother came to marriage and parenthood totally unprepared. Being abandoned as a child and growing up in an orphanage hardly qualifies as a firm foundation for loving and giving. And that's what motherhood is all about. Loving so fiercely it-carries you through all the bad times, and knowing when and how to give your children back their lives.

My mother did all of that and more.

Not in the traditional sense, because she didn't know how, but in her determination and courage. When her marriage fell apart and she was faced with raising two kids by herself, it was almost like history repeating itself, except she didn't make the same choice her mother did.

My mother and her sister were put in an orphanage as young girls and didn’t see their mother again for many years. My mother kept us together as a family the best way she could, teaching us something about loyalty I overlooked for too many years.

During my childhood our home life was erratic and unpredictable at best, the makings of a best-selling novel at worst, but we survived. And through it all, she was there, trying and failing and trying again.

Now, looking back, I realize that even in her failings there was success. My sister and I are both reasonably mature, healthy adults and we didn't get there by ourselves. Sure we carry around a little excess emotional baggage from our past, but doesn't everybody?

Nobody is ever completely put together emotionally, and considering the odds against her so many years ago, I figure my mother did an outstanding job.

So I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you, Mom. Thank you for the years, good and bad, which have made me who I am, and thank you for showing me there's more to loving than saying the words we still too often find so hard to express.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Litigation run amok...

Time out from the work I am supposed to be doing. I just found this news item as I was looking around for things to post on It is so absurd I had to add it to my list of Some of the Stupidest Things I've Heard Of.

A federal appeals court has ruled that a former Michigan inmate who claims he was denied toothpaste for nearly a year can sue prison officials. They state that being denied the use of toothpaste impeded his constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment. Jerry Flanory, of Flint, says he developed gum disease and had a tooth removed in 2006 as a result of no toothpaste. The appeals court reinstated his lawsuit Thursday against officials at the Newberry prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

I have long believed that we in America are way too quick on the litigation draw, and I’ve never believed that other people should pay for our misfortunes. Not that I’m against litigation when it’s clearly warranted. There are times when legal action is the only recourse, but that recourse should not be taken lightly.

"Sue the bastard" should not be the first words out of our mouths when we hear about some accident or tragedy.

And we shouldn't be suing for something as absurd as losing a tooth.

What do you think? What are some of the absurd things people have sued for that you know of?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Ahem... Politicians, are you listening?

According to a recent national poll conducted by Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, people are tired of the way politicians conduct their political campaigns, as well as how they conduct themselves once in office. They are tired of the name-calling, personal attacks and denigrating comments.

Public discourse has reached such a shrill level it is sometimes seen as meanness, and according to the poll, that is turning voters off. If voters get sick of politics and sick of government, where does that leave us? Will they flock to the polls? Probably not.

Between 77 and 89 percent of the people who responded to the poll listed the following as unacceptable behavior:

  1. Belittling or insulting someone
  2. Comments about one's race or ethnicity
  3. Personal attacks
  4. Interrupting someone you don't agree with in a public forum
  5. Manipulating the facts about an issue
  6. Questioning someone's patriotism because they have a different opinion

The editorial in The Dallas Morning News that brought this to my attention quoted E.J. Dionne Jr.: "A Nation that hates politics will not long thrive as a democracy."

It went on to say that 95% of Americans believe civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy. So is it the other 5% that keep electing the same ol' same ol' to public office? Is it only the other 5 % who are swayed by the mud-slinging campaign tactics and debates that aren't really debates?

I'm throwing out a challenge to the politicians and to us, the general public. We can do better than what we have seen in recent years. No more yelling. No more personal attacks. No more "he's the enemy, she's the enemy."

Let's pull ourselves and our government together for the good of the people.

What do you think? What one thing would you like to see changed in public discourse?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Guest- Stephanie Burkart

I'm excited to be here at "It's Not all Gravy," the fifth stop on my mini blog tour for "The Hungarian." My thanks to Maryann for having me today.

Today my character, Count Matthias Duma has graciously agreed to be interviewed by intrepid (fictional) reporter Harry Douglas, who works for the London Sun. I hope you enjoy! Enclosed is a picture of Jonathon Rhys-Meyers, the inspiration for my character, "Matthias." (Author's note: Author Stephanie Burkhart is in character as Matthias and Harry.)

Harry: So, Count Duma, I heard you got your scar and unusual eyes in a carriage accident.

Matthias: How did you hear that?

Harry: The rumor mill.

Matthias: (rakes his hand through his hair) I hate that rumor mill.

Harry: I also heard a pack of gypsy wolves attacked you and turned you into a werewolf.

Matthias: (reluctantly) Keep that a secret. I don't want Lady Ashton to read about this.

Harry: So what's it like being a werewolf.

Matthias: Disconcerting. My eyesight is sharper. I can see in complete darkness. My sense of smell is very acute. I'm stronger than the average man, faster, and my sense of touch is very sensitive. I have a high metabolism requiring a special diet. When the moon is close to becoming full, I get fangs which secrete venom.

Harry: Venom? Really?

Matthias: The venom is more like a drug. It won't turn you into a wolf. It just numbs the skin. It makes one feel very pleasurable, in anticipation of the actual bite.

Harry: So, what do you do during the full moon?

Matthias: I usually stay within the confines of my estate. I like looking at the stars and I find the scent of roses help to calm me. I'm not a violent man and I do my best to curb those urges as a wolf.

Harry: Why doesn't Lady Ashton approve of Emily's nanny, Resa?

Matthias: I'm a widower, and Lady Ashton is my deceased wife's mother. She thinks Resa is a gypsy witch. The thing is, Lady Ashton is right, but I don't want her to know that. Resa knows what balms and elixirs to use to heal my body after a transformation.

Harry: Do you think you might get married again?

Matthias: I might.

Harry: Who is the lucky lady?

Matthias: Her name is Katherine Archibald. She has the most expressive eyes and I love running my hands through her long, curly hair. It's more than that though, she knows the kind of loneliness I've known. She believes in the stars like I do.
Harry: So, does Miss Archibald know what you are?

Matthias: No, but she will soon. I have every intention of telling her.

Harry: Well, I have an appointment with my dentist. I should be going. Have a good day, Count Duma. Thank you for the interview.

Matthias: Thank you.


He reached for her hand and motioned toward the door. "Can we finish this talk outside?"

"Under the stars?"

"Yes. I've always considered them our friends."

"All right." She was reluctant to go outside, but his eyes were insistent on it, and she felt her resolve giving way under his careful attention.

They exited through the den and walked out into the garden. The stars twinkled overhead. Unfortunately, the waning half-phase moon hung over them as well as over the nearby pond.

Matthias stopped near the rose bushes, taking her hands in his. He looked down into her eyes, his own simmering in tenderness. Her defenses slowly began to drop. Unnatural heat radiated from his body. She was keenly aware of his rugged masculinity.

"I recall that I told you when I fell in love with you -- on the night of your birthday. Do you remember?"


"I'm no ordinary man, Kate. I didn't expect to fall in love again. I wasn't looking for it. I didn't want it -- and then you stepped into my life with your smile and your easy acceptance. I allowed my heart to feel again." He paused. "You accepted my looks, my situation, and you dared to love me with your whole heart. What you said about trust and love, I've come to believe it."

"So why did you act the way you did?"

"I don't quite have a clear head when I'm ill." He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small box, opening it. A three-carat diamond in a princess cut sparkled up at her. She gasped.

"I do love you, Kate. Will you marry me?"


Check out "The Hungarian's" Book Trailer

Goodie Time:

I'll pick two winners out of those who post on today's blog to receive an autographed postcard of "The Hungarian's" Cover.

To qualify for the GRAND prize: You have to post on every blog in the tour. I'll put your name into the "hat." Then I'll pick the Grand Prize Winner's name out of the hat.

The GRAND prize: A coffee mug with "The Hungarian's" cover, a mousepad with the cover, magnets, and a set of autographed postcards.

The Hungarian is available 1 MAY 2010 with Desert Breeze Publishing. Here's A LINK to the site.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Guest Blogger Tomorrow

I hope you will all come back tomorrow and welcome Stephanie Burkhart to the blog. She is doing a virtual book tour to promote her historical romance The Hungarian, and will have an interesting post to share with us. Come and meet Stephanie and her central character.

Author Bio

Stephanie Burkhart was born in Manchester, New Hampshire. She received a B.S. in Political Science from California Baptist University in 1995. She served in U.S. Army from 1986-1997, spending seven years in Germany. In 1997, she deployed to Hungary for 90 days. Her interests include exploring European history and watching Dancing with the Stars. Stephanie lives in California and works for LAPD's Communications Division as a 911 Dispatcher. She's married with two young sons.


Katherine Archibald is in search of a grand adventure. A young woman in late Victorian England, she wants to open up a book store in London and travel Europe hunting down rare books. Love isn't on her map.

Enter Matthias Duma. The Hungarian count captures Katherine's attention like no other man before him with his unusual gold-malachite eyes, his exotic features, and his command of the night sky.

After a night of intrigue during Katherine's birthday, she discovers the map does include love in the legend, but will the map lead her to Budapest and the dark, brooding Hungarian she's just met?


Book Trailer:

Publisher: Desert Breeze Publishing. Link to book page

Monday, May 03, 2010

Taking a Break

The following is another excerpt from my humorous memoir, A Dead Tomato Plant and a Paycheck. So far, I haven't found an agent who loves it yet. Close, but not close enough. Sent another query out yesterday. Enjoy...

I remember a phone call we got from our son once. It was about a year after his first child had been born, and he called to tell us that his wife had gone to visit relatives for a few days and had taken their baby. So he was alone in the house - except for the dogs - for the first time since the baby arrived in their lives.

He sounded a little wistful as he talked about missing the normal routine of feeding, bathing, and entertaining his baby girl. Without his family at the house, he didn't know what to do when he came home from work, so he threw the ball for the dogs, but that diversion only lasted a few minutes. They are old and play time is very brief now.

But he also sounded - did he dare even say the word - free. He mentioned going out with a friend the night before and having a beer, also mentioning that he couldn't remember the last time he'd done that. Then in case we misunderstood the thrill in his voice, he quickly clarified that he's not entertaining thoughts of abandoning family responsibilities for nights out with the boys. It just felt good to revisit his carefree youth when he didn't have to worry about who might be worrying if he didn't come home at a reasonable hour.

I understood completely. When my husband traveled for business, I occasionally welcomed a brief respite from all that it means to have another person to defer to. If I didn't feel like cooking a regular meal, I could get by with soup and sandwiches for the kids. That was definitely not my husband's idea of a meal. I could read in bed at night for as long as I wanted without worrying whether my light was bothering him. And I could soak in the tub until I turned into a prune without holding up anybody's shower.

That didn't mean I didn't love my husband and enjoy his company. It was just nice to be alone now and then. And when I was finally able to say that to him, he admitted that those short business trips were like a vacation for him, too. He could actually watch an entire television program without some kid bounding through the room in hot pursuit of the brother who punched him for no reason.

I actually think those brief 'vacations' from regular family life can strengthen a relationship. When my husband returned from a trip were thrilled to be together again. Now he could fix all the things that broke while he was gone and I could practice my cooking again.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Bits and Pieces

I noticed I have picked up a few more followers here on this blog, and I am happy to have you here. I hope you find my ramblings worth your time.

When I was a child, all I ever dreamed about was being a writer. When I grew up, I became a journalist. Not that there's a whole lot of difference between the two in spirit, only in definition.

We who put pen to paper or fingertips to keyboard, do so out of a driving need to say something. Thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings stir around inside us seeking some sort of expression. For writers of fiction that expression comes through worlds they create.

For journalists it comes through worlds created for them to report on or to write commentary on.

And now we have this whole new world of blogging that is part journalism, part journal writing , and part commentary. We can find blogs on all kinds of topics and subjects and the wealth of information and expertise being shared is amazing.

I have enjoyed being involved in this new form of writing. It has been fun to meet new people through their comments on my posts, and I have reciprocated by visiting their blogs. I have learned a lot about writing through the expertise shared on so many author blogs, but I have also learned some things about gardening, cooking, simple home repairs and much more.

What about you.? What are some of the things you have learned by visiting blogs?