Category Archives: Memoir

The Magic Called Focus by Clayton Clifford Bye

The wind and the waves slammed into us with icy indifference. Air temperature plummeted to near freezing in a matter of seconds, and numbness began to crawl over the exposed flesh of my hands and face. I saw a brief flash of white as terror clawed at the corner of Danny’s eyes, then he turned wordlessly back to his oar. He was right to be afraid.

Things had started out well enough. We stopped at the Big Trout Lake weather office, where we both worked as meteorological technicians, looked over the current reports, got an updated forecast and checked both the barometer and the wind recorder. Everything seemed to be fine. We’d be fishing for walleye on the Bug River within an hour.

And everything was fine—until our motor quit. Even then, we had no reason to be alarmed. The skies were trouble free, and the lake was calm enough for rowing. All we had to do was backtrack in the shelter of a couple of islands and cross the quarter of a mile of open water which lay between them and the mainland. This done, we would be in sight of the village. Rescue would simply become a matter of waiting to be noticed. Such was our plan.

We were about a hundred yards from where we wanted to land the boat when the storm caught us. And even though a fast-moving wall of water (extending from the surface of the lake to the sky and preceded by a seething mass of ugly white waves) is hard to miss, we really didn’t have much notice. It wasn’t just one cell either, but a whole line of thunder clouds. They can move with remarkable speed.

I’ll confess I was concerned when the storm first appeared, but I wasn’t frightened. The fear didn’t really surface until a few minutes later, when we found ourselves being tossed around in ten foot swells that were crested with white-caps which looked like they belonged on the ocean. In the space of less than five minutes, and without moving a single meter closer to shore, Danny and I were blown a quarter of a mile south.

It happened that fast. One minute we were thinking about landing the boat and starting a fire to warm ourselves, the next minute we were being swept south towards thirteen miles of open water. This was something we definitely didn’t want to happen. Big Trout Lake is a killer when rough weather sets in. We both knew that once we hit the main lake there would be no avoiding capsize or the near-freezing water that would seal our fate. By the time a search party thought to look for as at the south end of the lake, instead of the west end, we would be goners. Yes, I think Danny had good reason to be afraid.

I suppose it was because of this train of thought that I just happened to be looking at Danny when it happened. I think I had some sort of notion that by focusing on him I could keep my own fear in check. And I was very much afraid. You see, the waves had gotten so large we could see through the curl of the white caps as they raged down toward us. The sight made my stomach knot up into an iron ball. When our boat was in the trough of a wave, my friend had to stick his oar upward into the side of the thing and pull with a clumsy down and backward movement. Similarly, each time we found ourselves perched at the crest of a wave, I couldn’t draw water with my oar. As for the sudden slip-and-rush down the side of each succeeding monster wave? That’s something I still don’t like to think about.

Anyway, we were at the bottom of one of these boat-crackers, and I was monitoring Danny’s every move. I watched in awe as his oar pierced the wave at no less than an upward angle of 45 degrees. He bunched up into a ball, pushed hard with his legs, rose up off his seat a little and arched backward. The oar snapped.

I can still see it clearly on the screen of my mind: Danny’s feet shot up past the top of his head as if they had been fired from the barrel of a pistol. He did a 360 degree flip in the air and then stopped abruptly when the back of his head connected with the front seat of the boat. I thought his neck was broken. But I didn’t have time to make sure. I checked for a pulse and to see if he was breathing. Yes, he was alive. He was also out cold.

At this point, we were about 200 feet from shore and only 50 feet from the last point of land that could save us from certain death. I have a vivid memory of the sinking feeling I got in my chest when I saw how quickly the remaining shoreline was disappearing. I also remember how angry I got at that response. In fact, I was so angry with my lack of faith in myself that I forced myself upright, stood there with the storm raging all around me and literally willed myself to stare for a long moment at a rock on the shore. I didn’t pay attention to such things back then, but what happened next is etched permanently into my mind. I asked myself a question. I asked “How can I do this?”

As long as I live, I’ll never forget the answer that popped immediately into my mind. It was a crystal-clear picture of me rowing with the passion and speed of a fiend, followed by a phrase that rifled up from the depths of my brain … “Paddle like a madman!”

It’s amazing what a focused mind will do. With no one to lean on but myself, and the only options being death or not death, I found myself determined to do whatever it took to drive our boat onto the rock I’d chosen as a target. I used my oar as a paddle, reefing on it with superhuman strength and the crazed fury of a madman. I dug so deep and with such tremendous force that I was continually lifted off my feet and slammed into the side of the boat. It mattered not. Nothing in the entire world mattered except hitting that rock. And so, I did.

P.S.
Danny was only unconscious for a minute or two and, other than a headache, he suffered no ill effects. We spent the afternoon, cold and wet, working our way back to our intended landing sight – on foot. Shortly before dark, and long before we reached our destination, we were rescued by a native fisherman.

 

Clayton Bye is an eclectic writer, an editor, a ghostwriter extraordinaire and a publisher of strangely different stories in multiple genres. He lives in Kenora, Ontario on beautiful Lake of the Woods. You can find many of his books at http://shop.claytonbye.com

Life in a Geological Camp in Africa by Trish Jackson

 

My husband worked as a geophysicist for a large international mining group in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He used scientific instruments to probe the ground and identify masses that were denser than the surrounding dirt, which often indicated large mineral deposits.

Our first child was six months old when we locked the doors of our house on the mine compound, settled the dog in the back of the truck, and headed out, towing our travel trailer. A caravan of trucks followed, loaded with the laborers plus all the equipment and camping gear. Rhoda, our nanny, traveled with us.

Empress Nickel Mine couldn’t produce enough nickel, and they needed to find more ore reserves.

This was our second geological camp since getting married. We set it up outside the mine compound on a low rise beside a picturesque dam. Our compound was made up of the travel trailer (our bedroom), the attached tent (patio), bolt-together metal hut (our dining room), kitchen (a pole structure with hessian sides nailed to it and a metal roof), the bathroom (with a tub like you see in cowboy movies), and the long-drop toilet. The hessian was painted with cement slurry which hardened into a thick crust to make it rain-proof.

The laborers set up their own encampment a few hundred feet away from ours, and David’s assistant, Arnold joined us with his travel trailer.

The horse stables on the mine offered free stabling for our horses, and accommodation for our groom, and we rode almost every day, and sometimes at night when the moon was full we would go for a moonlight ride around the lake.

Sam, our camp cook baked delicious fresh bread every day using an upturned metal bucket with hot coals heaped around and on top of it as a makeshift oven. Geologists and other mining personnel from all over the world visited us, and we got to meet some wonderful people.

David and Arnold built a raft out of empty oil drums. It tipped over most times they tried to get onto it. It was only later that we saw the enormous crocodiles that inhabited the lake. Ha ha.

Some evenings we would sing, and Sam and Rhoda would join in and harmonize with us as only Africans can do. It was awesome.

One of the laborers had a portable record player and only two records—My Sweet Lord by George Harrison and Joy to the World by Three Dog Night. He played them repeatedly as loudly as possible every evening. Whenever I hear either song, I’m transported back to that camp. I can smell the wood smoke, the mouth-watering scent of bread baking and the clean air. I can see the scrubby brush and thorn trees, and feel the vibrant essence of Africa.

To write about everything that happened would take way too long and would probably be boring, but here are a few memorable moments worth sharing.

Our first geological camp was on a farm. Bill Mills, the farmer, wasn’t too happy about it until we found a mutual interest in horses. After that, he and his two nieces often rode over in the evenings to enjoy a beer with us. We were invited to a farewell dinner at the farmhouse when our stay was almost up. The food was delicious, but I can honestly say it was the only time I’ve eaten a meal with horses standing in the dining room begging for scraps. Having a horse thrust its head between you and the next person while seated at the dining room table is a little disconcerting even if you love horses, but it will always be a unique and treasured memory.

One day in the second camp, a free-thinking goat broke away from the others in its flock, charged into our camp and jumped onto the kitchen table, sending pots, pans and crockery flying. An angry Sam chased it out, and not be outdone, it ran into our travel trailer and jumped onto the bed, where it stood with its horns ready to butt anyone who dared come near it. It took a while before someone was able to grab one of the horns and lead it out.

There had been a drought, and the Freedom from Hunger Campaign trucks delivered corn and sorghum to the villages scattered around in the trust land surrounding the mine compound. The recipients couldn’t eat it all, so they did what anyone would do with all that grain—made beer. Horses like the taste of brewers’ grains and it gives them extra pep and makes their coats shine, so we traveled from village to village collecting the masese as they called it to feed to our horses. Most times, the villagers were lying around on the ground too drunk to stand up, and brought new understanding to the term ‘paralytic drunk’.

The drought broke, and it started raining, and didn’t stop. The job was completed and we were supposed to go home. We packed everything up, but decided to wait one more day and spend New Year’s Eve 1971/72 at the mine, as they had organized a big party with a great band. The Umsweswe River flooded and rose so high it covered the bridge and made it impassable. No problem. The band was ferried across with all their equipment in a grader or a front-end loader. They played all night, because they had no place to go.

At six the next morning, tired and somewhat inebriated, we wound our way back to camp. The plan was to get a couple of hours’ sleep and then head out. When we arrived, we discovered that the dam had risen overnight and our camp was now across a large body of water on an island. We had no choice but to drive through the water. The waves lapped at the doors but we made it, hooked up the trailer to our little Daihatsu pickup and managed to slip and slide through the water and along the flooded, muddy tracks until we reached the paved road. Thankfully, the river had gone down a little and we were able to negotiate the bridge.

Soon after that, the bush war hotted up and the company instigated a policy whereby no women or children were permitted to accompany their spouses into remote areas.  It was fun while it lasted and those unique memories will always stay with me and make me smile.

Trish Jackson grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, Africa, and lived through some crazy adventures that sparked her imagination; including having to keep a loaded UZI by her side every night in case of an attack by armed insurgents. She loves all animals and often includes them in her stories. She’s happiest with her wonderful family members, or in her country home in Florida tapping out a new novel on her computer. Find out more at http://www.trishjackson.com .

 

The taste of war (Chapter 4 of A Different Warrior by Deng Atum with Kenneth Weene)

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Since there were no cows for us to watch, the four of us boys were playing in a swampy area not far from the village. It was the dry season and much of the water had disappeared, which made it a great place to hunt for snail shells. In the drier times, the birds could get to the snails which meant many shells for us to find. It was a competition to see who could find the most shells, the biggest, and the greatest variety of colors.

We made believe the snail shells were cows and took great care to clean and arrange them.

“I found the most,” Aleu bragged.

“Hey, I found something better,” Manyang shouted. We ran over; he pointed at a hole in the mud.

“A loung,” Aguek said. “You found a loung.

We used our spears to widen the hole and Manyang stuck his bith into the fish’s mouth. When the loung clamped down on the spear, Manyang pulled it from the mud. It was not a big loung, not much longer than my little brother was tall, but it would be a feast.

Lungfish are a great treat among Dinka men and boys. Women are not allowed to cook or eat them or snakes. It is feared that if a woman eats or prepares snake or loung, their babies will have small eyes and bodies like a snake. It is a great insult to tell a person that they have the eyes of a lungfish and is cause for a fight.

Aleu cleaned the fish, taking out its insides while the rest of us gathered grass, wood, and dried cow dung to make a fire. To start the fire, we used a spear shaft to drill into a piece of soft dry wood until it made heat.

We sat by the crackling fire and waited for the fish to cook. Aguek poked at the meat with a stick to see if it had become soft. Manyang and I made a mat of clean grass on which to place our treat when it was cooked.

Finally, we all agreed the loung was ready for eating. Before we could eat, Manyang made the proper sacrifices to God, to the totem of his clan, and to our ancestors. He took a bit of flesh, threw it to the ground, and said, “This is for DengDit.” DengDit is the highest of the Dinka life gods; he is the bringer of rains which make it possible to grow the grain on which the people live and the grass that feeds their goats and cows.

The next sacrifice was to Atem Yat, the snake. Manyang, his brother Aguek and I all were members of the snake clan, so he made made a gift of this bit of fish to the totem of our clan.

Before Manyang could throw a third bit of lungfish to the ground as a sacrifice to our ancestors. We heard gunfire erupt in the village.

Tap. Tap. Tap. All of us heard it and froze in fear.

“They came back,” Aleu yelled. “They came back. They came back again.” His shout startled all of us into a mad dash. Where? I would have run back to the village, but Aleu grabbed me and pulled me after our two friends. The four of us ran toward a neighboring village for safety; the people of that village were also running into the jungle. We joined them in their flight

One man was trying to bring his cows with him. The people were yelling at him. “Take the cows away! The Murallan will come for the cows; Take them away.”

A small red heifer decided it was time to play and began to run around in circles. The man could not catch the calf; she was too fast and ran back and forth. Now her mother was running after the heifer and all the cows were lowing. Aleu and I tried to help the man. I gathered some grass and tried to trick the little cow while Aleu got a wien to tie her.

People were afraid that the militia would hear the cows, so the man took them into the bush on one side of a stream while the rest of the people went and hid on the other. Aleu and I went with the man and his cows. Pulling on the rope which he had tied around her neck, Aleu kept the heifer close to her mother.

I prayed to the creator god, Nhialic Wai, who had created all the world, even the other gods, that the cattle would not make noise. Hopefully, my father’s god would guard us. I also prayed to Kan Wadit Atem Yat, my great-grandfather’s jok. Could his spirit protect us at this moment as he had protected our clan?

“Grandfather,” I prayed, “let me make it out of here. I cannot stand it anymore.”

The heifer yanked on her halter rope.

“It is your fault, Aleu. Why do we have to go with this cattle guy?” I complained.

“It is okay. The militias are not coming this way.” Aleu answered.

“How do you know?

“They will go directly to the wutPaRiak cattle camp.”

“Where is that?”

“It is to the west of our village. It is where most of the people have gathered their cattle for summer grazing. The Murallan’s informants will take them there.”

“Who are these informants?’’ I asked.

“They are traitors, Black Arabs or sometimes people the militia have captured.”

“That is not good,” I said.  “I have a bad feeling they might have passed through our village.”

“They might not have. Since they attacked us last week and burned everything down, chances are they didn’t see any buildings or huts.”

That made me feel a bit better. “How long will this go on?” This was, after all, my first summer in Korok Achieng and I did not understand what was happening.

“Until the end of the summertime. I thought you went through similar attacks in your village.”

“Only once in a while. I can’t stand this anymore. I hope my father will come soon and we can go.”

We hid in the bush for two days. The Arab militia had returned to that neighboring village with all the cows they had found. We could hear the cows mooing and the sound of guns shot into the air as the Arabs celebrated.

I was afraid that they would come into the bush where we were hiding, but Aleu said, “They already got the cattle they want and they want to go back home safe with our cows.”

In the cold night we huddled together and listened to the sounds of the jungle. There were many wild rats rustling through the tall grass. Aleu jumped up and used his tong to whack at the rats and drive them away from our spot.

Other people had taken refuge near us, and we could hear grownups quieting children and covering the little ones’ mouths and noses when they coughed or sneezed.

During the night, a group from the Sudan People Liberation Army attacked the Murallan. The SPLA was considered a rebel army by the government of Sudan, but they were the fighters who were protecting us Dinkas from the Arab militias; they were our heroes.

The night sky was lit with gunfire. The fight lasted about an hour. In the end, the Murallan ran off with some of the cattle. They shot their guns in the air as they rode away.

Many cows, frightened by the fighting, ran away and would have to be gathered in the coming days.

The SPLA soldiers stayed near the village waiting for morning when they would find and kill any wounded Murallan who had been left behind. There were no prisoners taken in this war.

In the morning there was some shooting and then quiet. Some of the men crept closer to the village to see what was going on. Aleu and I followed two grown men. One of them said, “Don’t come with us. You won’t be able to run if the militias are still in the village. Let us go first to find out what is going on there.”

We hung back and followed at a distance. From time to time, Aleu or I would climb a tree to watch the two men and see how far they had gotten and if it was safe. When we saw them talking with some of the SPLA soldiers, we ran up to hear what was going on.

“You boys don’t listen,” one of the men scolded. “What if these were militias and they captured us? They would have captured you, too. How would your mothers feel if you were taken by the Murallan? Who would take care of them and find them wood for cooking and food to eat? You need to be careful. Listen to your elders.”

We nodded as if we agreed, but I knew that Aleu and I would never hold back. Were we not Dinka men?

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The village was filled with dead. There were dead soldiers and militia. There were also many dead cows. Three men had been executed; their wrists were bound and they had been shot in the head. “Probably they were prisoners of the Murallan,” one of the soldiers said. “They were forced to show where the cattle were hidden, and when our soldiers came, the Arabs killed them.”

“They were lucky,” one of the villagers replied. “If you had not come, they would have been taken to be slaves.”

There were dead people and dead cattle everywhere.

One man had been shot in the head and had fallen on a dead cow. His blood and that of the cow had mixed in a pool of sticky red. The man’s head was blown open, and his brain was leaking from the wound and onto the the animal.

The villagers and the soldiers started separating bodies—people and cattle. The people of the village and the dead soldiers were taken to be buried. There was no time to bury the soldiers separately, so we dug one grave to hold them all.

A beny bith came to preside over the burying of the dead villagers. Everyone treated this man with much respect not just because he was able to speak to the gods but also because he was supposed to always tell the truth. As master of the fishing spear and the most important of Dinka spiritual leaders, a beny bith carries many spears. The beny bith’s spears were dirty. Long before, my father had explained to me that the biths of these sacred men must not be cleaned for to do so might cleanse them of their power.

The beny bith stood beside the grave holes and mumbled to himself. He asked the gods to allow the souls of the dead to join those of their ancestors. He took a spear with two pointed ends and shook it in the direction in which the surviving Arabs had gone. “The Murallan will not return,” he proclaimed.

Beny biths always speak the truth,” my father had said.

It was hard for me to believe his words. “If this man’s power can keep the Arabs from returning,” I wondered, “why have they been able to come to this village at all?”

When the beny bith had finished his praying and singing, he allowed the villagers’ bodies to be buried.

A flock of vultures and other birds had gathered nearby. The dead militia were thrown to them. The birds jumped up and down and fought over the dead bodies. First they attacked the soft parts, eyes, noses, gunshot wounds, and buttocks. Even in their feasting, they fought among themselves for the best bits.

An old man with no teeth, a bent back, and only wisps of gray hair on his head, tottered up leaning on a cane that was festooned with maroon ribbons. Dressed only in worn, holey, gray shorts, he carried a tobacco pipe and a black cow’s tail which he swished at the flies that had gathered beyond numbering and buzzed about the living and the dead. The old man stopped and watched the soldiers throwing the Arabs to the scavenging birds.

The old man coughed before each word he uttered. “They should be buried. Raanchol. They are human beings.”

One of the soldiers said, “Old man, you are crazy. These murallan would have killed you if they had found you. Let the birds eat them.”

Raanchol,” the old man responded.

One of the Murallan was wearing a strange armband. “What is that,” I asked.

“That is wals athar,” Aleu told me.

“Why is he wearing magician stuff?”

“It is supposed to protect him from being killed.” Aleu kicked a cloud of dirt at the dead man’s head.

“Oh.” I paused for a moment. “But he is dead now.”

“Let’s go,” Aleu answered. “Better that we stop looking at him.”

The dead cows were butchered and the meat was roasted. Everyone was given meat to eat. The old man would not eat.

I was given a piece of meat to eat, but when I tried to bite into it, I thought of the human brain and the blood that I had seen. I retched and wanted to vomit.

“Don’t do that,” Aleu whispered. “You will make other people throw up and they will not be able to eat the meat.”

I walked away and thought about all the death I had seen that day.

When it was time for us to go back to our village, the people gave Aleu and myself meat to take with us. Our family was very excited to see us. The meat was cooked by my sister Nuariak and my stepmother. Everyone ate it except me.

Aleu saw me spit out the meat. He looked at me, and I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I tried to shrug it off. My mouth was filled with the taste of war.

Author Ken Weene is also co-host of It Matters Radio.

Deng Atum, a survivor of the wars that led to the separation of South Sudan from Sudan. He is a leader of the South Sudanese community in Phoenix, Arizona. A Different Warrior is the story of Deng’s life as is being written in collaboration with Ken.

Before you write your memoir By Kenneth Weene

 

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As co-host of It Matters Radio, I am asked to read many memoirs. Some of them I find good; some are incredibly impressive; many, to be honest, I could do without.

Personally, I’ve never wanted to write a memoir. I’ve never thought my life complex or meaningful enough to warrant one. My preference has always been to stand back and observe while others took action and risk, which is not to say that I have no great moments of revelation to be shared. There have been a few, but not a coherent set that would make a memoir—not a full foundation on which to base a tale.

That said, I’ve noticed that most memoirs rest on the shaky foundation of post-traumatic stress. Often they are piacular, meant to make atonement for the guilt that accompanies the memory of those traumatic events. That guilt may be for harm done to others, for almost doing harm, for not doing right, or simply for ones own unacceptable actions. Whatever the nature of the remorse, it eats at the writer’s innards and demands expiation.

Of course, who among us is not haunted by at least one traumatic event from the past? Who among us does not remember at least one reason to feel guilt? I certainly have had my moments, but they don’t suffice for a memoir because they are not the thread that binds the meaning of my life.

To be effective, a memoir must go beyond the event and provide a grain, a consistent integrating pattern for the writer’s life. Horrible as it may have been, that one anxiety attack, that one experience of rape, that one moment of confronted rage: these are not sufficient for a memoir. A good memoir vibrates with continuity and repetition; it has a quality of pentimento in which the same themes and even events keep returning to the narrative flow—each time with deepened understanding. The therapeutic journal your shrink has suggested you keep, the one in which you write over and over about that traumatic event, that is not a memoir. It may be helpful to you, but it isn’t for publication.

Sadly, the availability of self-publishing has debased memoir more than any other form of writing. It is too easy to conflate one’s therapist’s interest with a waiting audience.

Even when you are cured, when you leave that last therapeutic appointment, your experience is not sufficient if there is not a clear repetition, a growing crescendo of experience.

But experience—even repetitive experience—without growth is not the stuff that makes a memoir work. Unhappily, there are many women—and men—who have been sexually abused. Starting in childhood and continuing into adulthood, they have suffered at the hands of others who have cared for nothing but their own gratification. A number of these people have decided that their stories are important. And they are, only not to the world. When faced with another version of that all-to-frequent gothic tale, I want to know how did the woman grow, how did she come out the better person. “I’ve learned to let go and go on with my life,” “I’ve accepted my savior and am healed,” or similar one-liner solutions to the devastation of such a life do not make a memoir. The cessation of your personal suffering does not mean that you are offering the world a lesson that deserves $14.99 on Amazon.

No, the lessons you offer must be part of a larger fabric of your story. You are weaving a tale. Just as weaving cloth, you need a warp and woof, so in weaving your tale the repetitive trauma must crisscross the growing awareness of who you are and who you are becoming to give a whole cloth.

Which brings us to yet a third essential element in memoir. If we go into a store to buy cloth or clothing, our eyes are drawn to patterns more than to the simple one color fabrics. That piece of cloth has to evoke something in us. To be stirred by a memoir, the reader must find something in its fabric that is personally arousing. That doesn’t mean it has to be something the reader has personally experienced, quite the contrary. I can read a well written memoir by a rape survivor and become very involved. I care about the person and am furious at the perpetrator. More importantly, I suffer with the author through their personal journey to wholeness and redemption. The key is that I can relate to the person, not identify with the experience. Indeed, I would be less interested in a story that I could find in my own life. I want a story that will take me to new places and ideas. Relatability is not being like me but in sharing our common humanity. For you to share that with me means that you have come across as real, as authentic.

How do I know that I am meeting the real you? How do I know that you are authentic? First, I look for a sense of humor and a realization of the irony that is in your life—as it is in every life. Is it not ironic, for instance, that the child of an alcoholic marries somebody who is marijuana dependent? Isn’t it part of the paradox of life that we all move not from the pot into the fire but from one pot to another? How about the man driven by his desire to succeed in business who is fleeced by the sharper predator? If the memoirist can’t see the irony and laughability of their life, how can they possibly be in touch with its meaning?

If I can relate to you, if I believe in you, then I want to read your story. But there has to be a story for me to read. That is the fourth key element in a successful memoir. Memoirs are not autobiographies; they are not a history of the writer’s experiences. They are stories that are being shared. They take the reader on a journey. That the road is personal and based on true events rather than being made up by the novelist’s mind does not make the storytelling less important.

Think about good fiction. No matter how much it focuses on the experience of a central character, there has to be a world in which that character’s life is set. Events cannot come out of the blue as if the world is at the mercy of whimsy. Motivation and complexity of character, appropriate richness of detail, and a narrative voice that fits with the content are some of the requisites for writing a good story. They are just as necessary for a memoir.

Recently, my abstract thoughts about writing memoir have been challenged by the experience of working with a man who asked me to help him write his story. From South Sudan, Deng Atum left his home at age eight and has not been back since. His journey has taken him on torturous routes replete with starvation and death. He has survived refugee camps. Eventually, he was sent by a charitable organization to the United States, where he has lived for many years. The events of his life are overwhelming and horrific. Clearly the stuff of memoir; but are they? Taking those events and shaping them into his story has been a consuming task for the past few months and we are far from finished.

With each chapter, I go back over the list of ingredients that I have laid out above: Trauma, check; growth, check; humanity and humor, check; and story telling, check. If they are all there, the memoir writer is ready to go on to the next chapter; each building on the ones before, a carefully crafted tale that will in the end intrigue, entertain, and enlighten. At least that’s the goal.

 

Novelist Ken Weene is also co-host of It Matters Radio

 

 

 

An Evening in 1964 Havana by Eduardo Cervino

 

Cuba

WITH the Cuban revolution in full bloom, and the deposed General Batista living in luxurious splendor amid European dictators of the time, the Castro brothers and their guerrillas force engaged in ridding the Island of all opposition. They did it in the name of the people. In time, Cubans will come to understand the code implicit in the rhetoric of the guerrilla force.

Traditionally many Native American tribe’s names meant The People, Us, Human Beings and the like. This inclusionary designation of their society indicated a subconscious acceptance of the value of human cooperation.  It was masterfully expressed in the motto Un pour tous, tous pour un (one for all, all for one) in the meeting between Catholics and Protestants in the 1618 Kingdom of Bohemia. Then, just as today, such noble ideals tend to foment disastrous consequences.

For the Castro guerrillas in the 1960’s and until today, the term The People had a narrow, less sublime interpretation. For them, THE PEOPLE referred to their supporters, their militias, and that part of the populace committed to serving the regime in exchange for privileges.

This earthbound, self-serving interpretation breeds resentment, division, and envy. It lowers the peoples’ essence until they become the masses, and a large portion of them devolves into a mob, and the mob turns into a sounder of swine wallowing in the mud.

In 1962, a friend gave me a copy of Animal Farm by George Orwell. After that I saw the animated movie. Dejected, I left the theater and rode home. I realized I was already a citizen of Orwell’s imaginary state. It scared me. Two years later, imagination and reality merged.

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The telegram arrived at the house on the second of April. I came home late. When opening the door, the grandfather clock’s gong marked the half hour past twelve. My sister Rita waited for me in the living room, listening to the huge vacuum-tube radio my mother had purchased before I was born.

“A soldier went around the neighborhood today delivering those envelopes,” she said without preamble, pointing to one on the mahogany table. “A small mob chanting political slogans followed him.”

“When was that?”

“This afternoon.”

I reached for and read my name on the manila envelope.

“Grandma and I heard the street noise from the dining room. All she said was, ‘bad news.’ Then we stood up and came to the living room.

“I looked out through the window, and recognized some of them. The soldier knocked at our neighbors’ doors. The mob quieted down and pushed each other to see who opened each door.

“Let’s go to the porch,” Grandma said, and we watched them come closer. The soldier was that red-haired guy you used to be friends with. Most recipients took the envelope and quickly shut the door; some acted nervously, except Rafael, our next-door neighbor.”

“What about Grandma?”

“You know her. She walked to the garden’s iron gate, looking at the soldier’s face like a general.

She said, ‘Good morning, Miguel.’ And smiled.”

Miguel and I had been friends since we were ten-year-old boys playing in the tree house in our mango tree. He dropped out of high school. I went on, but our friendship cooled. Now, at twenty-four, in fatigues and carrying a pistol, he had become a fanatical follower of the new strongman, regardless that he joined the rebel army after they won the war.

Rita continued. “He hesitated, and said, ‘Good morning. Here, take this and give it to him’. He didn’t even mention her name or yours, Ed.”

My sister clung to my arm. Together we ambled through the house in search of Grandma Josefina. colonial_havana

That day, I had worked until five in the afternoon. After that, I walked to the historical district, where four-hundred-year-old colonial plazas, palaces, convents, and military castles erected by the conquistadors, still stood. Massive, weathered wooden doors guarded the entrances to the moss-covered stone buildings. My favorite watering hole resided in the area.

Centuries-old cobblestones had been polished and grooved by horse-drawn carriage wheels. History’s ghosts prowled about me as I walked in shaded galleries supported by rows of stone columns and arches. On the Plaza Cervantes, pigeons refused to yield the road; the coo-cooing little beggars gathered around my feet.

Havana catedral

I plunged into the narrow streets beyond the plaza. Twilight shadows clawed their way up the walls. This evening, as in the yesterdays of my great-great-grandfathers, embracing couples inhabited the wide portals’ shadows.

I raised my eyes toward the still, cloudy sky. A seated, elderly, bronze-colored woman with a red scarf tied around her white curly hair stared at me from an ornate balcony.

She seems old and frail.

For a second, a flying bat distracted me. I looked at the balcony again. The woman was gone.

Old couples strolled the streets. They ignored the contemporary concrete sidewalks in favor of walking on the cobblestones that shared with them the scars of time. The balmy air wafting from the Bay carried the tang of the sea.

I can’t decide if I like that smell or not.

bodega

At the watering hole and restaurant, one could always be sure to find a quorum for a lively interchange of ideas, as well as rumors proliferating around the city like cockroaches in the sewer. Not all members of the group were present each night. I had been coming in for years.

No one knows when these reunions had started. Over the decades, faces changed but the tertulia had continued in the same locale.

Of late, although no one had requested it, the conversation was conducted in low voice. The political atmosphere dictated prudence.

Calvert Casey, the writer, was speaking when I sat. “Today at the paper they brought a new guy. All written material must be approved by him before going to press.”

“No surprise in that,” responded Carlos, a well-known young actor. “Since the beginning of the year, all television and radio programs must have socially meaningful content. ‘Young worker denounces brother for Contra-Revolutionary activities and becomes hero of the people.’ That sort of crap. Where have you been?”

“Not watching television, that’s for sure,” Casey said.

Raul, an abstract painter, interrupted, “They removed some paintings from the National Gallery. Non-figurative works, and…”

Casey interrupted: “All of them? Including the contemporary room?”

“Of course not,” said Raul. “They left the work of the young friend of you-know-who.” He tapped his left shoulder with the index and middle finger of his right hand.

Fearful of mentioning names, the people had developed a sign language. This gesture indicated the shoulder pads of a particular commander in the armed forces. The high-level officer was rumored to be attracted to young males of mixed race.

Irma, a singer-dancer with a contagious laugh and waist-length hair, smoked a cigar out of the corner of her mouth. She was explosive in manner, delicious in appearance, and free of spirit. Her voice had made famous more than one composer on the island. She exuded sexuality, but only the few of us she had invited to her inner sanctum knew her mastery over the world of satin sheets.

She drew on her cigar, blew a smoke wreath toward the high ceiling, and watched the fan blades dispel it. The ritual was meant to gather attention so she could speak uncontested.

“The painter you are talking about lives in my building’s penthouse. It’s being renovated. The officer in question comes around.” She drew on her cigar again. “By the way, both are married.”

Amador, a young musician, changed the subject. “You have noticed that tonight no one is playing. It’s the first time in two years the musicians have missed their show.”

We all looked in the direction of the small stage. With a lonely guitar on the chair by the piano, its silence was a loud call to the customers’ ears. Many came to drink and listen to the house trio—guitar, piano, and drums—whose records sold all over the world and with whom Marlon Brando had shared raucous nights of drinking and bongo playing during his Havana escapades.

“What happened to them? Do you know?” I said.

“They escaped the island during the night after their last performance,” somebody in the group said. I did not see who it was, and did not care about how he knew.

“Lucky bastards,” I said.

Raul looked at me. “Shhh, not so loud; the waitress has been paying attention to our chat.”

I glanced in the direction. “She is young, maybe eighteen.”

“The younger they are, the easier to train as throat-cutters,” Irma said.

Casey continued. “I’ve heard the UMAP is rounding up dissidents and homosexuals. So just in case, it’s been a pleasure to have known you all.”

“I can’t figure out what the State Security department has to fear from homosexuals,” I said.

He lifted his glass; filled with mojito, above his head. He had consumed several of those and his voice was beginning to garble. He kept gazing at the century-old marble table of the venerable bar and restaurant.

“As you can see, I’m practicing to drink my hemlock.”

The marble table had her memories too: I’ve heard thousands of stories. Famous hands, from Errol Flynn to Meyer Lansky and Josephine Baker, have dulled my surface. The poet’s pen, the artist’s pencils, have rested on me. Novels and plays have been written on top of me, but now, all I hear is sorrow—no creative ideas, no passionate prose are discussed around me. The times are changing, and fear is all I hear.

“Time for me to go,” I said. “Goodbye.”

 * * *

Cuban Author Eduardo Cerviño Alzugaray was born in Havana, Cuba. His latest novel, Cuba the Crocodile Islandis based on real events in the life of the author, and for that reason this work is published under his real family name.

The characters’ names, except his own, have been changed to protect the identity of those persons still residing in Cuba. Although a few of those persons have passed away, they are still present in the author’s memory, some with enormous, and others as a significant part of his spiritual growth.

The author has traveled extensively throughout the US, Europe, and Latin America. He has lived in several countries, but his principal residence has been in the US since 1968. He resides in Arizona with his wife and writing collaborator, Les Brierfield. The author appreciates with all his heart the time you may dedicate to reading his work.

You are invited to visit: www.ecbrierfield.com

Memories of Marcia

Fran & Sister

If you think that this article is going to evoke tears think again. My memories of my sister that I want to share with you I hope will make you smile, laugh or just plain feel the fun that we had being sisters. This story will make you understand just why my sister was so amazing, my best friend and had to invest in earplugs or a soundproof room.

I majored in music in college. I played both the violin and the piano and had to take other courses too. Keyboard harmony, transposition, strings, woodwinds and anything that involved the piano I really enjoyed. Opera and classical music having to be able to identify any part of a symphony, sonata or concerto when the professor dropped the needed on the record was really quite challenging but not s challenging as the two courses I dreaded the most: VOICE AND SIGHT SINGING! You have to understand I CANNOT SING! My sister on the other hand started in many musical productions such as Oklahoma, Carousel and the King and I to name few. She had a magnificent voice in the soprano range and she could dance like she was Ginger Rogers. Marcia was talented in all of these areas and I well let me explain.

At the end of the semester everyone had to prepare two programs to sing in front of all of the professors to determine how well you progressed. I progressed but not exactly the way they would like. I have perfect pitch in my head and can tell you if you are sharp or flat or off key. That’s in my head but when the notes come out and the words are sung it’s a whole other story. So, when I attempted to sing an Aria from Madame Butterfly I spoke the words quite well and refrained from torturing the audience. My professor agreed that I had this down pat but not exactly the right way so he agreed that I could create a program for the final that would make me shine in my own way.

You know how some call Help me Howard when they have a story to tell or others call Ghostbusters when they want to rid their homes of unwanted spirits I called Marcia Joyce who I knew could rescue me the same way Jon Taffer rescues bars. So, we sat down together at the piano in my mom’s house and planned what we hoped would be a great four song program to dazzle and wow an audience of about fifty students and five professors. Now, you have to understand that not only did my final grade depend on this program but the audience and the professors would critique it too. The pressure was on to create something spectacular and we did. At least I thought we did!

We practiced the songs with and without the piano just in case they would not let me use the piano to help me with the melody. I was told right before that there would be someone who would accompany everyone but not with the melody but in my case they would make an exception. See! I am special and you will soon learn why! We practiced several hours a day and then when my sister was at work we practiced using the tape she made so that we could work on the program on her lunch hour. She deserved more than just a medal for this.

When the day of the performance arrived I dressed for success or in whatever outfit my mom thought appropriate but that’s another story. I looked great I hoped: Hair, makeup, clothes shoes to perfection my mom and sister said. Too bad Marcia could not be there but I put one of those pocket recorders in my bag and another in my jacket pocket and turned them on before I sang so she could hear just how well I did.

Standing in front of all of these people was terrifying and conferring with the pianist that would play the songs in several different keys scary. They told me in order to see how wide a range my voice had. Well! It had a range but more like the gas jets on an oven or gas range!

For my first selection I chose to sing the song in the key of G with one sharp and then the same selection in C with no sharps or flat. Both major keys. The second selection I chose the key of F major with one flat and then C major again. The third and fourth songs I chose to sing in D major with two sharps and G major with one sharp. I sang all four songs to perfection I think. The audience was stunned. You could hear a pin drop! No one said a word. My professor had to grade my work on the spot and this is what he said:

I realize that your voice is unique and that you had to create a program that would be different. Everyone else sang arias and songs from well known shows or the radio but you sang four songs of your choice and considering the fact that you know you cannot really sing but your instrumental skills are first rate and I know how hard you and your sister worked I am giving you a B+ for your efforts and the same grade in the course. I will even offer you another B+ not to take the next class and just get the credit for it.

I think that was great. So, would you like to know what songs I wowed or stunned the audience with? I bet you are totally curious: For my first selection I sang: Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in both Keys that I stated above and if I do say so right on key. I THINK! The next song was Are You Sleeping? In French and English and the third Mary Had A Little Lamb and for my fourth song I chose something more difficult: America. Now are you not impressed! My sister when I called her was totally excited. My mom would have liked an A but she understood that this was more than I hoped for.

My sister and I went shopping that weekend and I bought her the outfit she wanted in her favorite store New York and Company and her favorite bag from Kate Spade. That’s the least I could do for her hard work and effort. Then, we sat down and listened to the tape and wherever she is now she is smiling or laughing or both. Miss you Marcia Joyce.

Your sister and best friend forever: Frani

 

My Bio:

Fran taught for 36 years in a public school in the Bronx. Fran was the reading and writing staff developer and dean. For many years Fran ran the musical shows and talent performances helping to showcase the glee club, dance groups and music groups in the school. Fran has three master’s degrees in education, reading and learning disabilities and administration and supervision as well as a PD in supervision. She is a member of Who’s Who of America’s Teachers and Who’s Who of America’s Professionals. She had her own network on Blog Talk Radio: MJ network in memory of her sister Marcia Joyce as well as her magazine in MJ magazine. She has written 12 books and is working on her next to hoping to have the release dates in the fall. Fran is an avid reader and loves spotlighting the work of authors when reviewing their books and posting her thoughts all over the net. Fran’s books are on Amazon and here is the link to all of them:
http://www.amazon.com/Fran-Lewis/e/B002F8Z87U

Sundowners with Baboons by Trish Jackson

 

Where do fiction authors get their ideas?  This is a question I am often asked. Usually I respond by saying the ideas come from our subconscious minds. Very often, for me, the story line for a complete novel is there and once I sit down and start writing it all just flows onto the computer screen without me consciously having to decide what to write.

Other writers have the same experience.

So where do our subconscious minds get their material? It can only be from our life’s experiences. Things we’ve seen, things we’ve done, things that have happened to us or others, things we’ve read about or seen in a movie. Some might say we draw on experiences from past lives.

When I first started writing, I knew I wanted to write romance, and I ended up writing a romance thriller or romantic suspense. Growing up in a country called Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe) in Africa I have experienced some unique adventures, so I wasn’t surprised. It did come as a surprise, though, when I found myself moving on to write a romantic comedy.

My redneck detective series is all set in the U.S.  and friends and family often ask why I’ve only written one book about Africa. I don’t have a definitive answer, except that I have lived in the U.S. almost half my life now.

I’ve decided I probably should go back to my roots and draw on some of my experiences of life in Africa for my next book.

Here’s one such story that could only have taken place in Africa …

In the tropics, the sun goes down sometime between five thirty and six thirty in the evening, winter or summer. If you are ever lucky enough to go on a photographic safari in Africa, the chances are you will go for an evening drive or boat ride and stop somewhere to watch the game take their last drink at sundown. Your host will open an ice chest and offer you a ‘sundowner’, traditionally a ‘pink gin’ or gin and tonic with a dash of Angostura Bitters, but any adult beverage taken at sundown qualifies as a sundowner.

My husband, David worked as the group geophysicist for a large mining corporation. One of his duties was to travel to remote areas to investigate private mines being offered for sale. One such trip took him way into the middle of nowhere, where a farmer named Bob had a gold mine for sale.

Rhodesians were known for their hospitality, so it didn’t come as a surprise when Bob invited David to sundowners and dinner at his home that night.

When he arrived at the farmhouse, he was a little hesitant about getting out of the Land Rover. Two full grown baboons wearing skirts were riding tricycles around the lawn. Bob came out to meet him and they stood and watched while Bob explained that he and his wife were childless, and to fill the void in their lives, they had ‘adopted’ three baby baboons several years ago.

Bob led David into the house to the bar adjacent to the living room and offered him a beer. The baboons ditched their trikes and followed. Bob introduced his wife and their baboon ‘daughters’, whose names were Anabel and Mary-Lou.

“Anabel is old enough to drink,” Bob explained while handing her a beer, and David watched her put the bottle to her lips and glug the beer down without pausing for breath.

“We have to chain Mary-Lou to the couch when she watches TV,” Bob’s wife said. “She gets a little over excited during fight scenes and attacks the TV.”

While they enjoyed their sundowners, the hosts showed David the photograph albums of their ‘children’ growing up. They had alas, lost their ‘son’ Peter, the third baboon they adopted. When David found out the baboons slept in beds in the bedrooms and used the toilets just as any children would do, he was very thankful he had declined their offer of accommodation.

At dinner time, Bob and his wife sat at either end of the table, and sure enough, the baboons were seated across from David. The cook served everyone with their food including the baboons, who had a special diet. They had better table manners than some human children. However, they were uneasy at having a stranger at the table. Although they had had their canine teeth removed, they were still big, ugly, and scary, and every time David looked up as he lifted a forkful of food to his mouth, the baboons ducked their heads at him and barked, which made it difficult for him to stop his hand from jerking.

After dinner they all retired to the bar again. Suddenly they heard a commotion in the kitchen. A huge 300 lb bush pig charged into the room and dove onto the couch. The cook had left the door open—big mistake! Bob tried to call the bush pig off but to no avail. Eventually he had to get something sweet to entice him off the couch and back outside. It turned out he had been bottle fed on the couch as a baby and had never lost the desire to lie on it. Not surprisingly, they had had to replace several broken couches over the years.

This story is all true, and needless to say—David declined the next offer to have sundowners with strangers who lived in the middle of nowhere.

Trish Jackson writes emotive romantic suspense focusing on small towns, country folk and their animals. www.trishjax.com

a

THE MIRROR THAT REFLECTS IT By Bonnie Hearn Hill

canstockphoto1175339

 I am climbing a steep staircase leading to the attic studio where a famed ballerina teaches dance. The light has drained away, making it difficult for me to find the right room. But I must if I am to study with this woman.

Finally, I reach the top of the stairs, and I see her. More than that, I become her. And I realize simultaneously that I am the teacher, and that I cannot walk. My crutches, scarred, wooden ones, lean against the wall, and I am sitting on the floor, my useless legs hidden beneath my skirt. I crane my neck, put my eye to the keyhole, and watch the class that I am supposed to be teaching.

It is a dream, of course, one of those morning dreams that lingers after I wake. I don’t need to analyze it or the ballerina on crutches. I have agreed to teach a class in writing for publication, and I feel like a fraud.

 

“It won’t be permanent,” Craig, the friendly school administrator had said when he asked me to take over a Tuesday-night adult school writing class because the real teacher had dropped out. Although I had published freelance articles in magazines, I had not realized my dream of selling a novel, and I had the rejection slips to prove it. Furthermore, I could not speak in public, and the few times I tried, I was silenced by chest-splitting panic attacks.

Yet something in me wanted to accept Craig’s offer, and I tried to talk myself into it. Only eight weeks. “It won’t be permanent.”

“I’ll do it,” I told him.

Tuesday had always been an optimistic day for me, an anything-can-happen day with blue Monday behind and enough of the week ahead for undreamed-of possibilities to occur. But who the hell did I think I was? How did I, a failed novelist, have the audacity to teach this class?

Before the first night arrived, I happened upon this Edith Wharton quote. “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

Just the mirror. I could do that.

As I drove the thirty minutes to the school that evening, a thought came to me. Focus. Like the lens of a camera. Not wonderful writing, not hopeless writing. Just in or out of focus. Sure, that might work. At least it was a starting place.

When I reached the campus about six-thirty, the downpour had stopped. I parked as close as I could to the classroom and carried my packet of registration materials inside.

I got about halfway across the parking lot, telling myself that it would be okay, when a panic attack hit me. I broke out in a sweat, and my legs turned to water. The anxiety that had plagued me since my early teens had left me alone as long as I avoided airports and shiny, waxed floors. This new undertaking must be as stressful as climbing into a jet. Why had I agreed to do it? And what was I going to do now? For starters, ditch the shoes.

I took off my high-heeled pumps and walked in my stocking feet toward the classroom. It was March. The parking lot was wet from the rain that had left its scent in the air. I didn’t care. My breathing began to return to normal.

“Something wrong with your shoes?” An African American man with short, neatly trimmed hair, immaculate slacks, and leather jacket the color of butter joined me. He held a briefcase, and the way he carried himself telegraphed authority figure loud and clear. All I needed: an administrator to check me out.

Panic attacks teach one to improvise around the truth in any situation. I once faked car trouble on the freeway when anxiety gripped me so hard that I couldn’t drive another mile.

“I always teach in my bare feet,” I told him. “Keeps me grounded.”

“Really?” The lie was so ridiculous that he believed it. “Are you the teacher for the writing class?”

“Yes.” I bit back the impulse to spit out my feeble credentials. “I’m Bonnie.”

“Walter.” He reached out and shook my hand. “My wife suggested it. I’m retired, and I guess she wanted me out of the house one night a week.”

I didn’t know yet that most people lie about why they’re taking a writing class or pursuing any heartfelt goal, for that matter. They’re not going to say, “Oh, yes. I’ve wanted to do this my entire life, but I’ve been too terrified to attempt it, and now whatever happens in this classroom—and with you, who are probably going to tell me that I’m no damned good—is going to make or break my dream.” I wouldn’t have said it, and neither did Walter.

He surveyed the empty room with its elementary-sized desks and box of yellow pencils on the podium.

“Want me to help you sharpen these?”

“I can do it,” I said. “We won’t need more than ten, maybe only five or six.”

He gazed steadily into my eyes. “What if no one else shows up? It happens a lot in these classes.”

“Then we can get some coffee and talk about writing.” I was almost hoping the scenario would play out that way.

Just then, another man came through the door. Then two women. And another.

“Is this the writing class?” asked a redhead about my age in a soft blue denim shirt. She had a San Joaquin Valley accent, one that echoed Southern roots.

“Sure is,” Walter said, and took the registration slip she handed him.

She looked at the pile of slips on my desk. “You need some help with these?”

I nodded. “Do you know what to do with them?”

“I can figure it out.”

Soon close to twenty students sat in those small desks and looked up at me.

Some moments are so clear and defining, that although we don’t know it at the time, they remain with us like visceral photographs. I can see those faces as clearly today as I did then. I can feel the red Macy’s dress I wore with its shawl collar and ridiculous shoulder pads, the black linen summer shoes I placed behind the podium. Most of all, I can feel the fear tightening my throat as I tried to swallow.

It wasn’t about me. It was about them. They were there for the same reasons I had ventured into similar classes, only to be disappointed by someone who didn’t know, didn’t care, or both.

The room began to blur. My hands grew cold and moist. For a moment, I was all hands, all breathing. Count the breaths, I thought, two, three four. Don’t let the panic take over, two, three, four.

Walter took the registration slips from my desk and handed them to the redhead with the drawl.

These people had come out in the rain to be here, two, three, four. You don’t have to be the light, two, three, four. Just the mirror, two, three, four. Just the mirror.

“This class is about writing for profit.” The words escaped my lips, and the students looked up from their desks. “Actually, most writers probably earn minimum wage, if you consider the hours of thought and torment they put into their work.”

The room was silent. What next? The reflection, not the light.

“First, I want to know about you,” I told them. “Tell me what you write or want to write and what you expect to get from this class.”

In the front row, between the redhead and the babe with the hot pink toes, Walter raised his hand. “Walter Smith, retired educator, high school counselor, and army major. I have a series of vignettes, and I’m looking for ways to improve them.”

He turned to the redhead, who was sifting through registration slips and money.

“Ella.” She ran her fingers through her short curly hair. “As you can probably tell, I’m from Oklahoma. I’ve been writing most of my life. Don’t know if I’m any good, though.”

“I’m Gladys, and I feel the same way,” replied a heavyset woman. “I can’t seem to stop though.”

“And you?” I asked a terrified-looking woman in the back of the room. Anxiety buzzed around her like static.

She looked down. “Gloria. I want to write bilingual books for children. Inspirational stories.”

“Do you read children’s books?”

“Oh, yes, but my English is not so good. I hope I am not too stupid to be a writer.”

She had spoken what everyone else, myself included, was feeling.

“I don’t think any of you would want to write if you had no ability.” Once the words were out, I realized that they made sense. “I mean, I don’t feel called to mathematics or brain surgery.”

Even Gloria laughed at that, and I wondered if I was right. Could their desire to do this be strong enough to propel them toward their goals? Could mine?

“Well, I don’t think I’m stupid, and I’ll bet you aren’t either.” The woman with the hot pink toes and jeweled gladiator sandals had what my mother used to call a whiskey tenor. She tapped the notebooks on her desk. “I’m Mary, and I have three finished novels right here. All I want from this class is for you to read them and tell me how to get published.”

Finally some confidence, but I had a feeling that might not be a good thing.

As the rest of the class members began to talk, I was able to respond to their concerns. I had knowledge within me, answers, that I didn’t know I possessed.

I’d never seen a writing class from this perspective. Instead, I had looked at it through the tunnel of my own need. Now, all of these tunnels were directed at me. I tried out my focus idea on them. I liked the lack of judgment in that word. An unfocused manuscript could be brought back into focus. It wasn’t a failure.

By the time the hour expired, more than twenty students had spoken and registered.

They clustered around me. “I want you to read my novels.” Nancy shoved her notebooks onto the podium.

“I brought a little poem,” Gladys said.

Over the sea of heads, I saw Gloria head for the door. Her long dark hair hid her face but not her fear. She glanced over her shoulder at me. “My husband called. I left the oven on at home.”

Before I tried to figure out why Gloria’s husband couldn’t just turn off the oven, Ella nudged closer. Dollar bills and checks fanned out in her hand. “Looks like this class is a go,” she said.

END

 

California author Bonnie Hearn Hill taught writing for twenty years, and this selection is from a memoir-in-progress. Her fourteenth novel, IF ANYTHING SHOULD HAPPEN, will publish in the UK in July, 2015 and in the United States four months later. She writes suspense dealing with social justice and women’s issues, and a film based on one of her books is currently in pre-production. Last month, twenty-five years after that first class, her student Gloria’s book was brought out by a large inspirational publisher.

 

 

For Love of a Good Book by Kenneth Weene

 

dreamstimefree_122041My introduction to books was not innocent—not in the least. I was three and curious. Specifically, I wanted to know where babies came from. My father, not the most comfortable of people, harrumphed, cleared his throat, and told me that he was too busy.

I resolved to get the needed information on my own. My uncle, who was in the Army, had stored his medical books in our attic. I had looked at them and knew those pictures contained the kernels of truth; but the words: what might those words tell me? All I had to do was learn to read. Sufficiently motivated, I easily mastered the task.

The joke, however, was on me. Those wonderful books filled with information were in Latin. Oh, well, at least I had opened the door to new and wonderful worlds.

Finding books worth reading was not easy. I really didn’t care about Dick, Jane, or even Spot. Quickly, I was reading the few adult books our home offered. It was a limited and strange assortment, mostly chosen to fill the bookshelf Dad had found on the street and brought home. Still, they were books and I devoured them. One of the unintended consequences came to light when at five I began attending Sunday school. Being Jewish, I was not expected to know the legends of all the national saints of the European countries, but I did. I particularly loved the saints who had killed dragons. To be honest, the rabbi reminded me a bit of a dragon, and I did have fantasies of slashing him with my great sword. But that is a different story.

Somebody suggested the library. What a wonderful place. One small problem, those darn Dick and Jane quality books. I was five and had read most of the Hardy Boys and had heard of books by people named Twain, Stevenson, Dickens, and London. When would I get to read them?

“Too young. Too young.” The refrain hurt my pride and interfered with my favorite leisure pursuit. Eventually, I talked my way into a grownup card. I was off and running—or at least reading. Unfortunately, I had no idea which books were worth reading and which not. Worse, there was no one to help me. Perhaps one of my English teachers might have helped, but I had been duly warned that if word got out, my precious card would be taken away. So I read a motley array of books; none of which, by the way, providing the information I had originally sought.

Some of those books were great and some were trash. At the time I had my own list of which were which. Now, of course, I have the lists of “great books” and “classics” to tell me what I am supposed to think of them—not that I give a fig about such lists.

What I do care about—what I cared about then and still do—was finding books that did more than entertain me. Keeping a kid occupied is easy. I wanted books that made me think and feel, books that made me expand, made me aware, made me alive. Because I found them—too often buried in the trash, but still there, my love affair with books went on and grew. It still burns today. I try to read at least one book a week as well as lots of other stuff. On a vacation, I can push that number up to one per day. Such is true happiness.

I suppose books have made other members of The Write Room Blog happy as well. For some, perhaps the world of books gave them a sense of safety in a difficult and confusing world. Maybe others were looking for rules and standards, models by which to live their lives. For whatever reason, I guess we all do love books; why else would we write so many of them? And, because we know that visitors to our blog also love books—Why else come here? —we take pleasure in giving some of our books away. Please join us in this celebration of words and writing and enter The Write Room Blog giveaway. May the book you read today give you pleasure for years to come.

Link to The Great Book Giveaway

As one of the founders of The Write Room Blog, Ken Weene takes great pride in the ongoing success of this group and thanks you for visiting today.

COMING SOON FOR THOSE WHO LOVE TO READ

Not only are the members of The Write Room Blog fine authors, but we are also prolific and wide-ranging. Here are some of the new books from the gang. Some are already available and others will be out soon. All are worth reading. So check the inventory, make your wish list, and get set for a good read.

1) From Frank Fiore “MURRAN” the story of a Black American boy coming of age in the 1980s and his rite of passage to adulthood. Trey is a member of a tribe in Brooklyn and is enticed into helping a drug gang. Eventually he is framed for murder and flees with his high school teach to the teacher’s Maasai village in Kenya. There Trey learns true Black African values and culture, goes through the Maasai warrior’s rite of passage, and becomes a young shaman. Returning to America to confront the gang leader who framed him, Trey teaches the values of the Maasai to his tribe in Brooklyn.

2) Suppose your acts and deeds in life were exposed?  What if darkness spread throughout the world, its evil feeding each person’s inner fears, terrorizing their bodies, minds and souls?  Monica Brinkman’s stand-alone sequel to “The Turn of the Karmic Wheel” aptly titled, “THE WHEEL’S FINAL TURN” takes us to Northern California where one woman holds the power to control the world’s destiny.  Brinkman presents a page-turning adventure of horror, the paranormal and spirituality. Watch for its release in 2015.

3) From Anne Sweazy Kulju comes “GROG WARS: PART 1.” Who will win the war for love and beer? A self-made German brewer endures the cross-Atlantic “coffin ship”, braves the savage-infested Oregon Trail and is threatened with Shanghai.  He becomes wealthy, but he would give it all for the love of his woman–while a lesser man would take it all and rid of the woman.  Let the battles begin!

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4) Chase Enterprises Publishing is now taking pre-orders for a stunning memoir from a woman who has lived nearly 40 years with the deadly disease, anorexia. Eileen Rand’s story, “NOTHING ON THE FIELD: A message of hope from a recovering anorexic” is a brutally honest account of her terrible struggle while also offering up hope to others with eating disorders. Clayton Bye, her recorder, recommends the memoir to anyone who has ever faced adversity in their lives or who simply wants to know what this killer disease is all about. Avoid the rush and order yours now at ccbye@shaw.ca.

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5) Discover the passion for not only cooking, but for enriching the joie de vivre! Recipes that create delicious entertaining and romantic conclusions. Whether cooking for two or more, these easy dishes will enhance any occasion and can turn an ordinary eating experience into a memorable event. Intermingled between luscious pictures of recipes, are gorgeous photos of men to spice the cook’s creative energy. A romantic story thread begins after the first recipe and concludes following the last menu suggestion of cheese and wine. “FRONT ROW CENTER’S PASSION IN THE KITCHEN” is a great addition to any cook’s collection and is the go-to book when desiring originality with a flare. Winner of multiple literary awards, Cynthia B. Ainsworthe delivers more than tasty meals.

6) Kansas, 1959. A traveling carnival appears overnight in the small town of Seneca Falls, intriguing the townsfolk with acts of inexplicable magic and illusion. But when a man’s body is discovered beneath the carousel, with no clue as to his identity, FBI Special Agent Michael Travis is sent to investigate.  Led by the elusive Edgar Doyle, the carnival folk range from the enigmatic to the bizarre, but none of them will give Travis a straight answer to his questions. With each new turn of the investigation, Doyle and his companions challenge Travis’s once unshakeable faith in solid facts and hard evidence.  In “CARNIVAL OF SHADOWS,” his powerful, atmospheric thriller, bestselling author R.J. Ellory introduces the weird and wonderful world of the Carnival Diablo and reveals the dark secrets that lurk at its heart.

7) Santa is better known then ever, and the world is getting busier. But he still has to deliver the presents. How will he get the goodies to all the children in time? Watch for the e-book and enhanced e-book of “SANTA’S DOPPELGANGER” coming soon from Stuart Carruthers.

8) Looking for a collection of multi-genre short stories, funny bittersweet slice of life experiences, essays and a smattering of poetry to laugh at, relate to and treasure? Be prepared for “DON’T PLUCK THE DUCK” by Micki Peluso, a reading experience to remember. Available soon on Amazon and everywhere enjoyable books are found.

9) “ANGELS VERSUS VIRGINS”. The twisted mind of author Bryan Murphy mingles with that of a teenage boy in this short, sharp tale of football and fanaticism with a bitter-sweet ending.

10) “SHADOW OF DOUBT” by Nancy Cole Silverman — When a top Hollywood Agent is found poisoned in her bathtub, suspicion quickly turns to one of her two nieces. But Carol Childs, a reporter for a local talk radio station, doesn’t believe it. The suspect is her neighbor and friend, and also her primary source for insider industry news. After a media frenzy pits one niece against the other—and the body count starts to rise—Carol knows she must save her friend from the court of public opinion. But even the most seasoned reporter can be surprised. When a Hollywood psychic warns Carol there will be more deaths, things take an unexpected turn. Suddenly, nobody is above suspicion. Carol must challenge friendship and the facts, and the only thing she knows for certain is that the killer is still out there. And, the closer she gets to the truth, the more danger she’s in.

11) Rosemary “Mamie” Adkins new book is “MAGGIE’S KITCHEN TAILS: Dog Treat Recipes and Puppy Tales to Love.” It is inspired by her dog Maggie, who rescued Mamie many times when she got into trouble with her blood pressure and diabetes, waking her when they crashed.  Maggie is now in training as a Service Dog.  She was severely abused as a puppy creating serious health issues for Maggie, which forced Mamie and her husband Doug to learn what foods were healthy and to create special recipes for their canine companion. Many of those recipes are included in the book; all of them are human grade and with added spices can be enjoyed by humans. A potion of each book’s sale will be donated to benefit animals suffering from the effects of abuse that are needing to be re-homed. Mamie’s co-authors for this book are her husband Douglas E. Adkins, Martha Char Love and Linda Victoria Hales. Copies can be reserved in advance.

12) “BACKWOODS BOOGIE” by Trish Jackson (just released on November 14th) is the third  book in Trish’s romantic comedy Redneck P.I. Mystery Series. Twila Taunton can’t allow gentle Pam Taylor to go to prison for a murder she did not commit, and sets out to hunt down the real killer, with the help of her quirky cohorts. When she discovers an illegal puppy mill, and a possible dog fighting ring, Twila calls on a vigilante biker gang and her long distance lover, Harland to help.

13) “VIRGO’S VARIANT” is Trish Jackson’s third story in her Zodiac Series, where each heroine belongs to a different star sign and exhibits the typical traits of her sign. “Virgo’s Variant” is a romantic suspense thriller about a reality show gone terribly wrong. It is available for preview on Amazon’s Kindle Scout program, where the power goes to the readers, who are the judges. If you have an Amazon account, please click on the link and if you like the story, Trish would love you to nominate it

14) Eduardo Cervino’s (writing as E.C. Briefield) upcoming novel “ALLIGATOR ISLAND” is based on his last years living in the Island of Cuba, during the Castro revolution. Revolutions, like alligators, have a nasty habit of eating their young. When moonlight bathes the Florida Strait, you might see Cubans escaping north aboard rickety rafts. The price of the perilous trip is fear, tears, and laughter if they succeed, or death for those who fail. These men and women carry nothing but dreams of freedom for themselves and hopes of prosperity for their children. The ninety miles between Havana and Key West may well be the most dangerous adventure of their lives. The spirits of countless Cubans who have drowned in the salty waterway cannot always steer away the sharks circling the flimsy rafts. This is the story of one such trip.

15) D. M. Pirrone’s “SHALL WE NOT REVENGE” is “a deeply nuanced mystery bolstered by fine writing and attention to historical detail” (Kirkus starred review, August 2014).  In the harsh early winter of 1872, Irish Catholic detective Frank Hanley must solve the brutal murder of an Orthodox rabbi.  Aided by the dead man’s daughter Rivka, who defies her community to help track down her father’s killer, Hanley unravels a web of corruption and deceit that ultimately forces a showdown with a powerful gambling king and nemesis from his own shady past.

16) Talk about homecomings . . . Thanks to suspended animation during his missions, Turtan, humanity’s greatest hero, returns to the space academy where he graduated 4,000 years before.  John B. Rosenman’s novel “DEFENDER OF THE FLAME” is Book III in his Inspector of the Cross series, and thanks to MuseItUp Publishing, it will blast into outer space this winter.  For 4,000 years, Inspector Turtan has traveled on freeze ships to investigate reports of weapons or devices that might turn the tide against our heartless and seemingly invincible alien enemy, the Cen.  If it weren’t for him, we would have lost the war and been annihilated centuries ago.  Now, at long last, Turtan believes he has found a way to defeat the foe and save us.  But is he only deluded?  Read the series and find out!

17) Set to be released by Christmas of 2014, “IT’S BAD BUSINESS” by R.L. Cherry is the second in the Morg Mahoney, P.I. series.  The investigator with a tongue as lethal as her revolver is back with a vengeance and the bad guys learn she is no wimpy woman.  She’s Morg, and that says it all. With a tip of the fedora to Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon,” the story even includes a Sam Spade who helps Morg at key moments.

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18) “THE MERRY-GO-ROUND MAN,” John B. Rosenman’s novel about three boys growing up in the fifties is now also available as an audio book.  It is narrated by Aze Fellner and available on iTunes, audible.com, and amazon.com.  If you think the fifties were conservative and innocent, think again.  Sex, violence, and mayhem abounded, and that was on a quiet night.  The story stars a boy with an Orthodox Jewish father who sternly discourages his two immense gifts.  Johnny is potentially an unbeatable heavyweight boxer and a sublime expressionistic painter.  The other two boys, a black kid from the ghetto, and a born Romeo with a gift for football, ain’t bad either.

19) John B. Rosenman is Bundling these days.  MuseItUp Publishing has just released “THE AMAZING WORLDS OF JOHN B. ROSENMAN” – Don’t put him down for being conceited.  The publisher picked the title!  It’s 592 pages and 4 complete, mind-blowing books.  Pre-order until November 21 at a special low price.  Science Fiction, Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and more.  Dark Wizard.  Dax Rigby, War Correspondent.  More Stately Mansions.  Plus The Blue of Her Hair, the Gold of Her Eyes, winner of Preditor’s and Editor’s 2011 Reader’s Poll for SF/F.

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20) Ken Weene’s “BROODY NEW ENGLANDER” is a collection of three tales set in Maine. Beneath the Down East quiet, emotions roil and passions burn. These are tales of desire, lust, and yes, of love. Stories of fidelity and deceit, of anger and repentance, of youth and aging, of birth and death. They celebrate the prose poetry that is life.

21) Coming soon from Ken Weene,  “TIMES TO TRY THE SOUL OF MAN,” crime fiction based on real events and including previously untold facts about the attacks of 9/11. It is also a story of coming of age in 1990s America replete with drugs, alcohol, sex, unrequited love, and the search for life’s meaning.