Tag Archives: Non-Fiction

The Music Never Stops by Sharla Shults

 

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As the Earth spins, music is in the making! Much like the rotation of the Earth never stops, music resounds every day, every night, naturally plus imaginatively. It, too, never stops. Whether captured within the sounds of nature, vocalized, strummed, instrumentalized or hummed, it is ever present. Its beginning is as old as time itself, its ending will come at the end of time.

Each Fa La La…Tra La Boom De Ay…Boom Boom ShaBoom…NaNa-Nana-NaNa… everything before and after, as well as everything in between resonates harmony. Have you ever thought where we would be without music? Can you imagine a world without melody? Even everyday occurrences carry musical tones. Where there is sound there is rhythm even from the clanging cogs of wheels definitely not ‘in pitch’.

Journeys through time can be fascinating, especially when it comes to the evolution of music. Diversity, as well as commonality, intrigues us. Take ‘beats’ for instance, the pulsations which give music its regular rhythmic pattern. Even the banging of pots and pans can be noteworthy! As with any musical composition, each note has a notevalue, or duration, (that is, how long the note should last). The duration of a note is counted in beats, i.e., a whole note lasts 4 beats, a half-note lasts 2 beats, a quarter note lasts 1 beat, etc. Patterns of a group of beats form measures. This, of course, is a very simplistic way of representing music but once the concept of measure and beats is clear, music through the centuries becomes all the more connected.

Music in the 21st century is up for grabs. Many songs from the 50s all the way through the 90s still remain popular. Of course, it was by way of the 20s, 30s and 40s whereby music evolved into a passion relative to survival as many listeners would so declare today. Not all music born with the times survives. But, with music comes freedom…freedom to enjoy listening to one’s preferred choice whether for the energetic vibes, relaxation or healing. What one perceives as music comes from within. What strikes the heartstrings of one may not even emit the tiniest spark for another. So diverse are music styles that only by experimenting with different genres can listeners discern for themselves what appeals, or does not appeal, to their particular tastes.

Have you ever taken the time to listen to musical hits year-by-year with focus on their evolution…changes, as well as similarities, in rhythmic patterns? What about the beat? Now is your chance. A video link is provided below offering you a journey through time with song snippets hit-by-hit of some of the popular tunes from 1890 to 2009. Understand this is put together by one individual so it is obvious neither all ‘hits’ nor all popular recording artists of the times made it into the video. That would be impossible in just under 15 minutes! It is interesting enough, however, how the music evolves rhythmically with the change in times and which are still considered popular today. Listen for the change in beat and the progression in rhythm.

VIDEO LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaqokusDbbs

By the way, the concentration thus far has been on popular music. There is one type of music, however, that dates itself before medieval times, has outlived all genres finding itself still being performed by the best of the best musicians. This is not hip swinging boogie-woogie mainly associated with dancing nor your rappers who present a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted nor the ever-present rock ‘n’ roll. It is classical…that which goes much deeper, remains intrinsic, and is the foundation for all that is considered truly music!

And the music goes on beating to the rhythm of the changing times… The music never stops! It keeps the sane man sane and lifts up the insane.

Sharla Lee Shults, author of inspirational and historical poetic writings – Echoes, Remembering and Awakenings – designed to awaken your thoughts and senses to echoes from the past as you remember discover and reflect.

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

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

 

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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.

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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.

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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

IT’S ONLY ONE DAY—EVERY DAY Hazel Dixon-Cooper

 

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January 20, 2016

The holiday season is over and if you’ve resolved to lose weight in 2016, you’re not alone. Each year, losing weight is the number one New Year’s resolution, and we blame our weight gain on the two months between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. However, if you are one of the 78 million overweight Americans—as I was 100 pounds ago—official holiday pig-out season began with Halloween. Unofficially, it never stopped.

Like you, I had great intentions, but in spite of those intentions, I repeatedly stuffed myself to the brink of illness right through New Year’s Day. Then repenting like a Saturday-night sinner at a Sunday-morning revival meeting, I rushed to the nearest gym or joined the latest lose-it-quick weight-loss program. Sound familiar?

But just as you begin to feel human again, Super Bowl Sunday roars up the driveway, tailgate flapping, loaded with hot wings, stuffed jalapenos and supermarket meat-and-cheese platters, and your resolve to eat healthy ends with the first mouthful of chili-cheese dip.

Oh well, it’s only one day.

Before you can wipe the last smear of wing sauce off your face, oops, here comes Valentine’s Day. Break out the chocolate and champagne. By the time you pick the caramel out of your teeth, St. Patrick swings by with a heaping helping of corned beef, cabbage, and green beer. Right on his heels, Easter drags in a basketful of chocolate bunnies. Before the dye dries on the eggs, Mother’s Day rings the doorbell. You take Mom out for a calorie-loaded dinner that is sure to raise both her cholesterol and her blood pressure. Yours too. But no worries. It’s only one day.

Memorial Day kick-starts summer with the first official barbecue of the season. Father’s Day is next on the menu. All Dad wants to do is flop in front of the sports channel and eat, and you are happy to accommodate him. Spread out the food on the coffee table, wrap a beach towel around his neck, and let him chomp himself into a heart attack. Hope the life insurance is paid up.

Summer appears with a bang on the Fourth of July, another grilling-and-chilling holiday. Mid-July through August is vacation time, and who counts calories at the beach? Instead, you tell yourself that is the only time you can truly relax, so you gladly live on sugar, carbs, and fat-laden non-food.

As soon you are home, Labor Day weekend and the last binge of the season arrive. When the kids head back to school, you head, credit card in hand, to the nearest diet center or gym. That lasts about four weeks, until Halloween creeps in again. You have come full circle and are about to take another trip into the Bermuda Triangle of holiday food benders.

Add to this list Hanukkah, Eid-ul-fitr, Kwanzaa, and a multitude of other religious or spiritual festivities, weddings, showers, anniversaries, birthdays, funerals, Sunday dinners, and other personal celebrations. The result? Out of a 52-two week year, most people resolve to lose weight the week after New Year’s and the week after Labor Day. Think about it. Two weeks out of an entire year.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, 300,000 people a year die prematurely from obesity-related diseases. Saying no to Aunt Fanny’s banana pudding cake or Uncle Ralph’s roasted beast with mango chutney is tough. We’ve all heard, “I made this just for you,” accompanied by a hurt expression. Out of guilt, and an ever-present craving, you eat the casserole or cake or candy. If you decline, they counter with, “It’s only one day.”

What can you do?

Well, you can continue to eat anything that anyone shoves your way and risk turning into an insulin-shooting diabetic stumbling around on your last three toes. You could eat yourself into a case of dementia, or be diagnosed with late-stage cancer because the fat hid the tumor.

Or you can begin to get healthy. One skipped order of French fries, one refused dessert, one trade from fried chicken to grilled halibut will start to turn your life and your health in the right direction.

One bite. One choice. One day at a time.

 

Hazel Dixon-Cooper is an internationally best-selling author. She is currently working on a memoir, CONFESSIONS OF A FAT COSMO GIRL, and can be reached at hazeldixon.cooper@gmail.com and through her blog https://fatcosmogirl.wordpress.com/ .

 

Mass Shootings and the Rise in Violence – By Delinda McCann

“I have no delusion that making assault rifles illegal or intensifying background checks for gun purchases will stop all gun violence. I have no expectation that terrorists and criminals will surrender their weapons or that the insane will not pull their triggers. However, I do believe that if Americans stop making believe that guns are somehow the answer, then those who might be suffering from the frustrations, rage, and mental illnesses that might lead to violence will be less prone to thinking that violence is an acceptable answer to their pain. As long as our culture glorifies violence, it will be the refuge of those who have no place to hide.” –Delinda McCann

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Some days we just have to ask ourselves, “What the Hell?”  Yesterday I needed to ask myself that question when I learned of yet another mass shooting and looked at the number of shootings this year.  I looked at the number of civilian shootings.  We probably should add the police shootings to the civilian violence if we want an accurate picture of the senseless violence happening in our country.

Those of us who have some experience in dealing with violence probably should start speaking up.  I’m old.  I’m tired and I don’t want to drive 45 miles to start walking the halls of our legislative buildings.  I’ve done that.  I’ve made changes in our government policy.  I guess I can do it again.  Wish someone else would start the dialog that needs to happen.

The dialog about mass shootings needs to happen in every community.  We need local government sponsored task forces to focus on gun violence.  These task forces need to bring together representatives from the legal system, mental health systems, disability systems, educational systems, and those citizens who work with at-risk populations.  At some point, when talking points are being identified, these meetings need to be open to the public for input.

I am not necessarily talking about gun control here.  I know one of the current major talking points is regulation of guns, which may be part of the solution.  I am more concerned with the social structure around gun violence.  We can perhaps make some progress through gun regulation.  This seems the common sense approach, but we would still leave the support structure for mass murder in place.  My preference is to go for the underlying issues that allow and promote senseless violence.

I am talking about how communities can address the topic of prevention.  Where do the perpetrators come from?  Where have the perpetrators come into contact with community systems?  Where have our systems failed that these angry people are running loose in society without appropriate support systems around them?  Can we identify the intervention touchpoints for violent mass offenders? We already know that they all have at least one characteristic in common.  Mass murderers do not have the cognitive filters that prevent the vast majority of the population from committing acts of violence.

We also know why some people do not have the filters necessary to prevent them from carrying out horrific acts of violence.  Prenatal exposure to various toxins can damage the brain in such a way that the brain cannot communicate within itself to built the filters that stop murderous rage attacks.  We also know that broken bonding can prevent the filters from forming.  Broken bonding can occur when a child is placed out of home, but it can also occur with a child who has undiagnosed allergies or multiple ear infections among other childhood situations.

The private sector very much needs to be involved in the dialog on gun violence.  What can the business sector do to make their communities more safe? Can they sponsor work programs to give disengaged youth a place where they belong?  Do they need to change policies for employees so they can be with their children as infants or when they are sick?

Churches are very much at the center of the issue and need to start working on how their policies promote, enable or prevent gun violence.  Churches can sponsor programs for children and youth to give youth another place to belong and succeed.  They need to examine their teaching to assure that they are not promoting hate and violence.

The entertainment industry needs to take a look at their ethical responsibility around the idea that violence is the solution to every problem.  Does exposure to violent video games really promote violence as some suggest or is the root of the problem exposure to a chemical?

At this point, we really don’t know why mass shooters and trigger-happy cops do not have the cognitive filters necessary to prevent violent acting out.  We talk about stress and mental health issues.  How do these play into the whole picture of what has become domestic terrorism?

We will need to address the issue of government agencies and businesses that do not want to find the solutions that will prevent mass violence.  We need to face the fact that some people profit from mass shootings, and they will shove people into walls and step on small women to keep their profits.  However, we shouldn’t let the lowest levels of humanity prevent us from building the type of communities where we can go about our business in relative safety.

I can make some guesses about what we will find when we start defining and exploring the problem.  The actual perpetrators are probably only the foam on a whole lake of slimy scum.  We will find manipulators and enablers.  We will find big money intent on perpetrating the problem.  We will find deniers.  We will find evil, lots and lots of just plain evil perpetuated by a sub-human species intent only on their own profits and prestige.

The good news is that there are more of us than there are evil people profiting off of mass shootings.  There are more of us than there are people without the brain connections to filter out violent behavior.  There are more of us than there are indolent government officials.  There are move of us, and we have made a difference in the past.  We have taken lead out of paint.  We have gotten labels on cigarette packages.  We got DDT banned.  We have cleaned up our air.  We have raised awareness about drinking when pregnant.  We can and will stop random mass shootings.

Please come back later this week for the second half of this article that outlines an action plan anybody can follow to move us toward a healthier society.

Delinda McCann is a social scientist with over forty years experience in working with at-risk populations.  She started with a program for migrant workers children, moved on to working with at-risk teens in a street program and finished working in the field of developmental disabilities and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  She has worked on committees for the State of Washington and been an advisor to several foreign governments. She currently writes novels that touch on social topics including politics and social justice.  Web site:  http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/index.html

 

The Rule of Five By Nancy Cole Silverman

 

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Someone once told me we couldn’t be friends because they already had their five.  I looked at them curiously.  I had no idea there was a limit to the number of friends one could have, but indeed with some people – particularly those living here in Los Angeles – there is.  Five appears to be a magic number for which people feel they are comfortable.

It got me thinking.  Could the same be true for my readers?  Was there such a thing as an ideal number of principal characters?

Writers know too many names on a page or in a scene can confuse the reader.  While there is no rule-of-thumb for the number of characters an author may use in a work, there is a limit to the number the reader is comfortable with before they begin to feel overwhelmed. Please note, I’m not talking about the over-all number of minor and reappearing characters in a book, but those that actually interact with the protagonist for the purpose of moving the story forward.

Hence my rule of five.

  1. Limit the number of primary characters to a handful. This frequently allows the author to add color and depth to their personalities.  Alice becomes not just the girl with blue eyes, but my former college roommate, the girl who got all the guys, etc.
  2. Consider combining the roles of principal characters. Do you really need five investigators?  Would two, maybe three be better, allowing you to show the conflict between them?
  3. Make certain your characters names are not too similar to each other. I’m good friends with Maryann, Marilyn and Madeline, but I’d never write a novel with the three of them in the same room. It’s too easy with today’s speed reader to slip by the names and mix them.
  4. Ancillary characters don’t always need to be named. Consider referring to them by their job description. For instance, the intern, the receptionist, or perhaps by a physical description; the pharmacist with the bulbous nose.
  5. First and last names are wonderful and frequently used alternatively, as well as a nickname. But make certain it’s used frequently enough that the reader will remember that Worm when used on page 192, was Marty’s nickname from high school that you introduced in chapter one.

Of course rules are made to be broken. Tolstoy was famous for the number of characters in his novels and their pseudonyms. I remember having to make a chart to follow all the characters in his books. But most readers today all multi-taskers, they may be watching TV, surfing the internet or perhaps even texting while reading your novel.  Keeping it simple may guarantee your reader will remember your book and even pick up the next.

Oh, and by the way, I ran into my I-already-have-my-five-friends the other day.  She wanted to get together.  It seems her BFF had moved away and she suddenly found herself with time on her hands.  She wondered if we might hang out.

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Nancy Cole Silverman says she has to credit her twenty-five years in radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. In 2001 Silverman retired from news and copywriting to write fiction fulltime. In 2014, Silverman signed with Henery Press for her new mystery series, The Carol Childs’ Mysteries. The first of the series, Shadow of Doubt, debuted in December 2014 and the second, Beyond a Doubt, debuted July 2015. Coming soon, in 2016, is the third in the series, Without A Doubt. For more information visit www.nancycolesilverman.com

 

 

 

 

Backyard Fossils by Michael Ajax

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It was a crisp spring morning when my son and I headed toward the pond in the woods behind our house. Heavy dew beaded on the thick grass and soaked our boots as we headed to the trailhead that attached to the yard. On both sides of the raised trail patches of soft muck awaited the unwary. Loads of deer traveled this narrow path daily, and their tiny hooves cut the fragile soil, making it especially soft and muddy.

Carrying a shovel, a cup, and a jar, we ducked under the curvy sassafras limbs and slogged forward. Our goal this morning was to capture some recently hatched tadpoles in the pond that formed each spring from the snowmelt and move them to a deep pond in the front yard. We hoped that a few of these frogs might choose to live there.

My son, about seven at the time, loved every excursion we made into the backwoods. A stand of aging shagbark hickories marked the front border of the woods and a pair of monstrous oaks stood at the far end near the creek that ran north and south. Every time we stepped out of the grassy yard, and onto the muddy path leading to the backwoods, it was like entering another world where nature made all the rules.

Since the backwoods had always been a low area, no farmers or developers ever disturbed it. Going there was truly like walking back in time to what Michigan might have been a thousand years ago—a wild and untamed thicket brimming with wildlife. Thick bushes and blossoming pussy willows blended with the wide cattails around the two acre water hole. Animal tracks, of various shapes and sizes, led us to the pond’s edge. Bending low, we spotted a few tadpoles swimming in the deeper water. As we expected, none were within reach. Not wanting to sink into mud up to our knees, we had a different plan. With the shovel, we would dig a small hole and make a tadpole swimming area at the edge so the tadpoles could swim to us. It seemed a perfect plan.

But as I began to dig, a few stones blocked the shovel. In truth, so many rocks were buried just below the soft surface that they threatened to foil my plan entirely. Not deterred, however, I dug even deeper. From below the murky water that rushed into the hole, a rock different than the others became visible. The first ones had been standard fare, mostly rounded field stones, dark in color, with bits of red or blue or brown in them. But this last rock was different. It was ivory white with long, sharp edges.

My son pulled the pale rock close and rubbed at the course, grimy surface with his fingers. Then his big eyes looked up at me. “What are all these tiny holes for?”

I couldn’t help but smile. “This is not just any rock. It’s sandstone.  All these tiny holes are the remains of an ancient sea sponge.”

“You mean this is a fossil? We saw some in science class, but they were tiny, not like this.”

“Fossils come in all shapes and sizes. At one point, ages ago, Michigan was under the ocean. Sponges and coral were some of the creatures that must’ve lived here.”

My son’s eyes gleamed. He knew this rock was special.

After cleaning more of the mud off the hardened sponge, we noticed that half a dozen tadpoles had entered the newly deepened section of the pond. Catching them with the cup was easy.

As we headed back to the house, I grabbed the shovel and cup. My son had his sponge fossil in one hand and the jar of tadpoles in the other. On his face he wore the biggest smile I had ever seen.

I knew this would not be the end of our fossil exploring, in fact, it was just the beginning.

 

About the Author

Michael Ajax is the father of two curious kids and the author of a novel about dinosaurs. He enjoys spending time with both his son and his daughter, telling them stories to challenge their imaginations—while also keeping them out of mischief. During one cross country vacation, Michael and his kids spotted a unique rock shop. They had to stop. With breathtaking fossils surrounding them, the topic of dinosaurs came up. The next few hours of their drive quickly passed as Michael told of a wondrous adventure that began in the Badlands. This story eventually became his novel.

Michael’s novel, Tomb of the Triceratops, follows three high school friends to the Badlands of Montana where they search for a paleontologist that claimed to have discovered a portal to another dimension were dinosaurs escaped to. What’s your favorite dinosaur?

Check out Michael’s website at www.michaelajax.com and get a look at his book on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/tombtriceratops

About family …

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What makes a family?  Our group blog begins with a poem about a man and his wife sharing quality time on an autumn afternoon. And then there are children. The next two pieces are true stories that will make you smile, if not laugh out loud. And if you’re a parent of small children, let this encourage you. You might be pulling your hair out right but someday you’ll look back and laugh.

The next contribution takes a look at parents and their feet of clay from the (now grown-up) child’s perspective. Then, on a more serious note, a man whose family moved all over the world reflects upon what family truly means.  Our last contribution is a movie lover’s praise for her favorite cinematic dysfunctional families—and for unconditional love. After all, isn’t that family at its best?

Rowan tree. Perthshire.

AT THE MARKET by Clayton Bye
The north wind is back
To cleanse both mind and soul
As a far away sun
Paints a pastel sky.

Elk sticks thicken breath,
A rich welcome to friends
Beneath a yellow tent
Of country wonders.

Pulled pork sandwiches,
Corn-wrapped parking meters,
Bright orange Rowan trees–
Make a pleasant lunch.

My heavy pumpkin
Offsets white and purple
That frost has left untouched,
Petunias in air.

Seagulls overhead,
No boats on the water…
Quick kisses and a smile
To end our summer.

Copyright © Clayton Clifford Bye 2009

 

Clayton Bye is a writer, editor, and publisher, and the author of poetry, essays, short stories and novels. He now focuses on his work as a ghostwriter who listens carefully to the customer and then skillfully draws out the story they want to get on paper. Learn more at http://www.claytonbye.com and http://shop.claytonbye.com

 

Family Matters by Dellani Oakes

 

You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. We’ve heard that often enough. I guess I’m fortunate. With very few exceptions, my family members are people I’d associate with even if we weren’t kin. They are wonderful, funny, intelligent people who make me laugh and feel good. We may go years, if not decades, without seeing one another, but we always have a great time when we get together.

 

The importance of strong family ties, is something my husband and I have tried to instill in our children. For the most part, I think we’ve been successful, though our children’s logic might have skewed our meaning somewhat…

 

When my oldest son was in third grade, he was more the size of a first grader. My daughter, two years older, wasn’t large either, but feisty and very protective. One day on the playground, a bully decided to assert himself by picking on my son. He accosted him on the playground, pushing him around. Before my son could move to protect himself, the bully pushed him again, knocking him down.

 

Suddenly, a banshee like scream grew louder and a little, brown haired missile shot across the playground. She tackled the bully, sending him face first into the dirt. She then proceeded to hit him, screaming, “No one beats up on my little brother but me!”

 

The assistant principal, who had witnessed it all, called me—laughing. “I’ve got your daughter here in my office.” He explained and added, “She’s mostly sorry.”

 

“Mostly sorry?” I asked, puzzled.

 

“Yeah, she’s not sorry she beat him up, she’s sorry she got caught.”

 

The assistant principal told me later, “She hit him with a flying tackle. Clipped him right in the knees. It was the prettiest take down I’ve ever seen.”

 

By some miracle (and the fact that the assistant principal and principal both liked my daughter) she wasn’t suspended for fighting, though the bully was. We had a talk about how that wasn’t the way to handle the bully, which made no impression whatsoever. She swore if it happened again, she’d do exactly the same thing. That was her brother and no one was going to smack him around—except her. She is still fiercely protective of all her brothers, though she’s the first one to give them hell if she thinks they deserve it. No, you can’t choose family, but given the opportunity, I surely would choose mine.

 

Dellani Oakes may not be a native, but she considers herself Floridian, and her writing reflects that. She’s written everything from historical romance, set in St. Augustine in 1739, to contemporary romantic suspense set in and around Daytona Beach. She enjoys writing, not only about family, but on a variety of other subjects as well. You can find more from Dallani at www.dellanioakes.wordpress.com and on Amazonhttp://tinyurl.com/kwt3ne9

 

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A Family Portrait by Micki Peluso

 

I smiled to myself when they told me about their plans. As a mother I believe even grown children should learn by experience. They kept talking, and I had to hang up the phone before spasms of laughter overtook me. My two daughters thought that taking all of their children to a professional photographer would make wonderful presents for the grandparents. They thought it would be easy. Ideas are always best in their infancy.

 

On the hottest December day in decades, the children were dressed in their winter finery, and off we drove to the Mall. Kelly is blessed with three boys, a good-natured five-year-old, a tyrannical terrible two-year-old, and a one-year-old with attitude. All three were all sick with low-grade temperatures and noses running like Niagara Falls. Endless nose-wiping with tissues on gentle skin resulted in red faces and grumpy dispositions. Makeup partially solved that problem.

 

Nicole, has a nine-year-old, Nicky, already protesting the humiliation of posing with his “baby” cousins, and a daughter, Bailey Rose who, at four, believes that one cannot be too rich or too beautifully dressed. Local clothing stores know her by name.
The photograph studio is seasonally crowded, with tykes of assorted ages running amok and babies wailing—not my choice for a fun day. The temperature, and parents’ tempers, keeps rising as appointments run behind. One-year-old TJ takes a power nap, while his two-year-old brother, Brandon, makes several escape attempts, one almost successful. At long last, my family is called for their shoot. Nicky, still disgruntled, is itchy from his woolen Christmas suit and has broken out in livid hives. He announces that he may throw up. His sister Bailey, the ‘Calvin Klein’ of the four-year-old set, insists that the tights she’s wearing are certainly not the ones she chose with her outfit and begins to remove them, much to her brother’s chagrin and Nicole’s horror.

 

The wannabe Ansel Adams, a smile permanently pasted on her face, manages to get all five children lined up. Brandon is sitting in the sleigh as the session begins. For reasons known only to her, the photograher decides this will not work and tries to remove him from the sleigh.

 

Did I mention Brandon has a bit of a temper?  He screams so loudly that the security guards rush in like Marines on a mission. TJ begins to suck his thumb, a habit he’s never exhibited before, and Christopher, his older brother, slinks to the floor in an effort to appear invisible. Nicky tries to pretend that he doesn’t belong with this family. Bailey has her hand on her hip, a glint in her eye, and one foot pushed forward—never a good sign. Now the future photo genius snaps the shot!

 

The photographer is determined to complete her job. She lines everyone up again for some final takes. It seems to be going well, until she snaps the picture at the precise moment Brandon, who now refuses to sit in the sleigh on principle, catapults backward off the platform. There are more blood-curdling screams, but he’s unhurt since he is a very tough
little boy.

 

By now the other parents are quietly moving away from my family, some actually leaving the store. The photographer makes one last attempt to catch the children on film. She is, if nothing else, courageous. All the kids are in place at last. It is a bit much to hope for smiles from them, so she clicks away at the exact moment Brandon once more falls backward off the platform. The shoot is over.

 

My daughters are not happy with the shots but I find them spectacular. TJ has a startled ‘Oh’ on his mouth, and it may take a while for him to recover from this experience. Christopher has a perpetual smile on his face, but it is rumored that he believes he was switched at birth. Nicky looks disgusted by the entire event, and Bailey is asking for a reshoot. All that can be seen of Brandon is his two legs sticking straight up—perhaps the best shot.

 

My daughters asked how I ever photographed all six of my kids.

 

“Are you crazy”?  I said. “I never took all of you out at once, except to church, until you went to school.”

 

Some things must be learned, not taught. Meanwhile my favorite picture with all the kids is a conversation piece, especially the kid showing only two legs.

 

Micki Peluso, author of the award-wining memoir . . . And the Whippoorwill Sang, is a journalist, humorist and writer of short fiction and slice of life stories, fiction and essays. ‘The Cat Who Wanted a Dog ‘ a children and YA story is about to be released, followed soon by her collection of short stories, called, ‘Don’t Pluck the Duck.’ See more from Micki at http://www.mallie1025.blogspot.com/

https://www.facebook.com/AndTheWhippoorwillSang

http://www.amazon.com/And-Whippoorwill-Sang-Micki-Peluso-ebook/dp/B007OWPBGK/ref=cm_cr_pr_pdt_img_top?ie=UTF8

 

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The Downfall of Diabolical Geniuses (aka My Parents) by Cody Wagner

 

If my parents wanted to rule the world, it would have happened. And you’d have no idea they were doing it. They wove a tapestry of sneakiness.  Case in Point:
Back in the 90s, there was no texting, no iphone; kids talked on the phone, landlines with cords. My family had one phone and five kids. Those are terrible odds. We fought over phone usage like crazy. Every second of second of every evening, someone was whining
about someone else hogging the phone.

 

So what did my parents do? Well, they could have sat us down and explained the rules. Or set up schedules of who could use the phone and when. Did they do any of that? Nope.

 

Instead, Dad installed a secret switch–at the back of their closet– that shutoff the phone.

 

I’m not kidding.  The phone suddenly and mysteriously started going out at 6:00PM every night.

 

The five of us threw absolute FITS. But what could Mom do about it? “It’s the phone company,” she’d say, shrugging. “I can’t do anything about it.”

 

And that was that.

 

At this point, you might be asking yourself: So what happened if a phone emergency arose?

 

Simple.

 

Mom would say, “Oh sometimes the lines get messed up. They feed into the walls just outside my bedroom. If I go mess with them, they may work.”

 

She’d disappear into the bedroom, shut her door, and we’d hear banging on the walls. After a few minutes, the door would open and she’d emerge, wiping sweat off her brow. “OK see if that works. If not, there’s nothing we can do.”

 

Lo and behold, the phone would work again! We thought Mom was an electrical genius. Little did we know she was a diabolical genius.

 

However, all my parents’ “geniusing” backfired my sophomore year in college. They had bought me a new car. By “new,” I mean a 10 year old piece of crap. But it was my piece of crap and I loved it.

 

My best friend at the time, David, lived out in the country. His house was off a long caliche road. For all you non-Texans who have never heard of caliche, it’s a firmly packed dirt road, not paved but the gravel is so firm, it’s the next best thing.

 

For some reason, my mom had an insanely irrational fear of caliche. Maybe she had nightmares about a caliche road hiding in her closet. Or perhaps she was molested by a caliche road. Either way, I was expressly forbidden from ever ever ever driving my car down that road.

 

“A stray rock could fly up and snap your axel in two.” Mom seriously thought a pebble could crack inches of steel. Let me just add to this little scenario the fact Mom didn’t even put gas in her car. She, who knew nothing about automobiles, somehow knew about “pebble axel”.

And there it stood. I couldn’t drive to my friend’s house.

So what did I do? I drove over there anyway—until the evening David ratted me out. We were all chatting in my living room.

 

“So you gotta hear what Cody said last night in my room,” David said.

 

Mom flew up out of her chair. “Your room?!” She glared at me. “YOU DROVE ON THAT CALICHE ROAD!”

 

David’s eyes went from normal to “deer trapped in headlights.”

 

I sat there saying, “Um…er…. Ummmmmm,” as my brain fumbled for an excuse.

 

The next morning, I had to work. I stumbled, half asleep, out to my car. Mom walked out with me.

 

“What are you doing?” I said.

 

“I have to run to the library.” She headed to her car and started it up.

 

Shrugging, I went to my vehicle. I turned the key and nothing happened. I kept trying, but still nothing.

 

A horn honked. Mom was waving from her car. “What’s wrong?”

 

I hopped out of mine. “It won’t start!”

 

“You have to be at work!”

 

I threw my arms up. “I know!”

 

“Well, get in and I’ll take you. Your dad can look at it later.”

 

Two weeks passed before my dad looked at my car. Two weeks to the day. And I was expressly forbidden from fixing it myself.

 

“I don’t want you or your friends messing something up!” Mom said. “You’ll wait for your father.”

 

Again, I had to wait exactly two weeks. And then, Dad fixed it in about five minutes.

 

The problem?

 

“The battery cable came loose,” Dad said.

 

Suspicious? Well, let’s examine the evidence:
  1. My car stopped working the day after Mom became furious at me.
  2. Mom just happened to be leaving at the same time as me so I wouldn’t be late for work.
  3. I wasn’t allowed to touch my car for exactly two weeks.
  4. The problem was a loose battery cable.
I think we an all know what happened: I was being punished. I was too old to be grounded, but, with a little Dad sabotage, my parents found a way.

 

I never looked at my parents the same after that. I’d always believed the random coincidences and excuses. But they’d taken it too far. Despite mom’s insistence the caliche road shook the cable loose, I knew what had really happened. And I wouldn’t let it go.

 

Years of needling later, Dad finally came clean. And my parents fell from their positions atop twin towers of diabolical genius.

 

Cody Wagner loves to sing, mime (not really), and create. He writes about topics ranging from superpowers to literate trees (really). His debut novel, The Gay Teen’s Guide to Defeating a Siren, will be out October 27th, 2015. He’s handing out cookie dough to everyone who grabs a copy. Check out his writing and see more of his wackiness at www.wagner-writer.com or find him on Twitter @cfjwagner, Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/wagner_writer, and Amazon at www.amazon.com/Cody-Wagner/e/B016NYGV40.

 

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MY FAMILY by Jon Magee

 

I am the youngest of six children. My father served in the British Royal Air Force, and my family moved frequently, from one part of the world to another. By the time I had completed my secondary schooling, I had studied in 14 different educational establishments. As a result, my siblings, along with my parents, were the core of my childhood relationships—how do you bond with a grandparent who lives on the other side of the world? With friends you see for a year or two?

 

My immediate family was the continuity from one experience to another. I remember the walks we took together through the hills and in and out of the caves that surrounded our home in Germany.  We lived under the threat from terrorism and military conflict in Aden. In Singapore, we climbed coconut trees to enjoy the fruit, along with the milk inside.

 

It was as a family that we would also develop a close bonding with people of different races and cultures. We shared picnics together, as if we were all part of a wider family. The colour of the skin was not relevant, but our relating together as people of the human race was.

 

When it came to Christmas, I recall soldiers being invited to the home to enjoy a family Christmas meal. They were stationed abroad, as we were, with no family at all to spend time with, not even brothers and sisters and parents. We had more than they had in terms of family, but together we shared some of what family is meant to be.

 

When returning from Singapore on the ship, the Empire Fowey, I recall my mum speaking of my gran and aunt, who we would be staying with for a few months. I looked from the ship wondering who these folks would be, what would they be like. My aunt met us, a stranger to me. I was not sure how I should be relating as a child, yet here was someone that was clearly important to my mother.

 

During those few months, I found there was nothing to fear. This stranger was not at all strange when I got to know her. She had warmth that would draw children to her, even if she never married and had children of her own. Then came the parting once more. I was a child that needed to move from country to country. A child that nevertheless discovered that family is not just siblings and parents, but also the people of the world wherever we meet and whoever they are, all seeking to know a bonding with the family of the human race.

 

Jon Magee is the author of From Barren Rocks to Living Stones and Paradise Island, Heavenly Journey. His writings reflect the depth of personal experience, having lived at the heart of much of the major events of late 20th century history. You can find Jon at https://about.me/Jonmagee.author.minister  and

 

MESSY FAMILIES by Linda Varner Palmer

 

I love movies about messy, aka dysfunctional, families. I know that sounds weird, but the idea of being loved unconditionally—no matter what awful things you do—intrigues me, the writer who tippy-toed through life doing what she was supposed to do because she wanted her parents to be proud of her.  Now I’m not saying that my family would’ve tossed me out if I’d rebelled. I had wonderful parents that I love and miss very much. What I am saying is that fear of disappointing them kept me on the straight and narrow. So I like watching a movie about a family that is all over the place.

 

The Family Stone is my favorite Christmas movie. Set-up: Mom’s breast cancer has come back, and she hasn’t told anyone but Dad, who is doing his best to pretend nothing is wrong so they can have a last happy holiday with their five grown children—Susannah, Amy, Ben, Thad, and Everett.

 

Susannah is happily married and pregnant with her second child. Her husband will be arriving on Christmas day. Amy and Ben are both single. Thad, who is deaf and gay, is in a relationship with an African American named Brian, who has come with him. Everett is dating Meredith and has brought her to meet the family. He plans to get his grandmother’s diamond ring and propose.

 

No one but Everett likes outspoken, fashion-conscious, foot-in-her-mouth Meredith. Feeling outnumbered, Meredith asks her sister Julie to join them. Julie agrees, because that’s what sisters do, and hops on a bus.

 

As the movie progresses, we realize the family is right about Meredith. She and Everett are not a good match. Julie, her sister, on the other hand, is perfect. Perhaps that’s why Everett can’t take his eyes off her. Does Meredith notice? Not so much. She and Ben, who helps her escape to a bar, seem to be oddly in sync. Can you see where this is going? Meanwhile, Thad and Brian are trying to adopt a baby.

 

By the end of the movie (one scene a year later), we see that this completely dysfunctional family has somehow survived not only the death of their beloved Mom, but also a complete shuffling of the roles they once played. With love, forgiveness, and acceptance, the family Stone has become even stronger and bigger than before.

 

Another favorite movie is Moonstruck, which is about two dysfunctional families. Mama and Papa Castorini live in a big house with their adult daughter, Loretta, Grandpa Castorini, and several dogs. Loretta has just accepted a marriage proposal from Johnny Cammareri, who has to return to Italy to see his dying-mother. Before he leaves, Johnny asks Loretta to find his estranged brother Ronnie and tell him that he wants to end the bad blood between them.

 

Loretta finds Ronnie, but he’s still angry with big brother Johnny for distracting him, resulting in the loss of several fingers to a bread slicer. Loretta naturally wants to repair the broken relationship and fix Ronnie, who is definitely damaged goods. Somehow they wind up in bed.

 

While a big full moon shines down on them all, Loretta goes to the opera with Ronnie, who has promised he won’t ruin her engagement by spilling the beans.  At the Met, she runs into Papa C with a woman who isn’t Mama C. Papa tells her he won’t tell Johnny if she won’t tell Mama. Loretta, already annoyed because Papa C doesn’t want to pay for her wedding, doesn’t know what to do.

 

By the final scene, Papa C agrees to give up his floozy and is forgiven for straying.   Johnny, who promised his manipulative dying-mother that he wouldn’t marry, has returned to the US and the Castorini home so he can break the engagement. He finds all the Castorinis, and his brother Ronnie, at the breakfast table. That’s a shock, but Johnny manages to break up with Loretta. He asks for his ring back. Ronnie promptly borrows the ring and proposes to Loretta, who accepts. Poor Johnny—so confused.

 

The best part? Everyone celebrates the engagement with champagne, even Johnny, because they’re all family now and that’s what families do. There are many other movies out there with the same theme. And I always take to heart the message that acceptance, forgiveness, and love—unconditional love—are what family is really all about.

 

Linda Palmer has been writing for pleasure since the third grade. She was a Romance Writers of America finalist twice and won the 2011 and 2012 EPIC eBook awards in the Young Adult category. Linda married her junior high school sweetheart many years ago and lives in Arkansas, USA with her supportive family. Learn more about Linda and her writing at www.lindavpalmer.com

THE HARDEST WORD —  By Bryan Murphy

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To write science fiction, even the dystopian kind, is to express optimism, for inherent in all science fiction is the claim that there will actually be a future.

The future in whose existence we can have most confidence is of course the near future, which has been shaped mostly by us old-timers. Because it is likely in many ways to be a dark future, today’s young people deserve an apology from us. So here comes one: “Sorry!” On behalf of my whole generation.

From my generation of Brits, it has to be even more heartfelt, because we had things so much easier than most people elsewhere, and therefore have more to answer for. We were born after the Second World War had ended; we had the National Health Service but no National Service; our politicians declined to send us to kill and die in Vietnam; we were nurtured on free school milk, given grants to study and found jobs if we wanted them. Naturally, we wanted more, though for everyone, not just ourselves. Indeed, we got more, but mostly for ourselves.

The end of those days of plenty was foreshadowed when a Minister of Education stopped milk being offered to the nation’s children and thereby earned herself the nickname “The Milk Snatcher” to rhyme with her surname: Thatcher, a word no longer connected with roofing so much as with a longing to return to feudal levels of inequality, a phenomenon that tends to favor the older generation, at least while pensions still exist.

To my eyes, today’s young people are showing amazing creativity, coupled with a superior resistance to bullshit, so maybe we can claim their education as our one success. Will that creativity and perspicacity be enough to guarantee them a future? Frankly, I doubt it. Our problem as a species, in my view, is that our technological evolution has far outpaced our social evolution. Nihilists who see the continued existence of human life as an optional irrelevance, from the left-behind “Neo-Cons” of yesterday to today’s “Islamic State”, are more than happy to use the former to forestall the latter, and their successors will have an even better chance of finishing the job.

So, probably, no future for anyone. That means that today’s science fiction is sheer fantasy. Dammit, I never set out to write Fantasy. To paraphrase Oliver Hardy: “This is a fine mess we’ve got you into”. Joking apart, to the youngsters, once again, sorry.

 

You can find ancient British author Bryan Murphy’s dark futures and other writings here: http://bit.ly/19vt7Ts as well as at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other major booksellers.