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Monday, March 16, 2015

Marking Time - A Book of Collected Columns


I have published a non-fiction book, Marking Time - A Book of Collected Columns, that readers of my fiction may not recognize as coming from the same author. My novels are graphic and gritty. My main characters are as much anti-hero as hero. My subjects are sometimes controversial.

By contrast, Marking Time contains 87 columns that run the gamut from humor to slice-of-life pieces to philosophical essays about larger issues. I write about people and pets, places and politics. I've worked as a bartender in a rock and roll bar, as a Mayor's secretary, a legal assistant, a machine operator in a factory and a transporter of prisoners, among other jobs, so my experiences encompass a cross-section of people - the movers and shakers; the cops, the courts and the criminals; the well-off and the down and out; the farmers tied to one piece of earth by love of the land and the musicians who live a gypsy life for love of music.

These columns are reflections about a rural Hoosier county in all its guises. Nature and human nature, the celebrations of our history, the bonds of family, the generosity and the meanness. Over the years, I have written honestly about my own struggles with life, warts and all.

Simply, Marking Time is about one person's effort to find beauty and love and laughter wherever it may be while acknowledging that there is darkness in the world as well.

Friday, February 27, 2015

New Book - Leaving the Gypsy Life


Leaving the Gypsy Life can now be purchased from Amazon or Smashwords.

Farren, Devlin, Nicky and Autumn Coffey's forebears came to America during the great Irish Potato Famine in the 1840's, when Ireland lost half its population. Unlike other immigrants though, these Irish did not assimilate but banded together in their own self-contained communities, mostly in the south, still speaking a language called Shelta or Cant. They were called gypsies and while, not ethnically related to the Romany gypsies, they did live a gypsy lifestyle. Originally, they worked as tinkers or knackers (knackers bought horses too old to work for rendering). In modern times, Travelers turned to home repair jobs, such as roofing or asphalting,  or they sold tools. The Travelers were looked upon with suspicion by both law enforcement and "settled people" and, in truth, some of them were scammers (though certainly not all). They did shoddy work or sold cheap goods and were long gone by the time their victims realized they'd been conned.

Patrick Coffey was known as the King of the Pickpockets while his wife, Shayla, was a cutthroat pool player. They and their four children spent most of their lives on the road, traveling to fairs and festivals, sporting events and concerts, anywhere their marks could be found, returning to the Traveler village of Shay's Knob in South Carolina only occasionally. It was a free and unstructured life for kids whose parents were nonchalant disciplinarians.

When Farren was 13, Devlin was 11, Nicky was 10 and Autumn was 5, Pat and Shayla decided to break with the Travelers so their children could grow up as normal American kids. They bought a farm in the North Carolina mountains, Persimmon Bend, and confined their travel to the summer months.

It was a drastic lifestyle change for the Coffey kids - attending school for the first time, going to church every Sunday, sleeping in the same bed every night. Each adapted in a way dictated by their individual personalities. Farren, dark and impassive, excelled by flying beneath the radar screen of attention. Christian, brightly blonde and charismatic, won over his new neighbors with his charm. Nicky, shyer and slower than his older brothers, happily settled into a life that was predictable. Autumn was satisfied to be wherever her parents and her brothers were.

Coming of age while being torn from the world as you've always known it, to be thrust into a completely different life wasn't easy for the Coffey children. This is their story.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Outrage over 50 Shades of Grey

I've read several of the reviews about the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. The most commonly expressed reaction seemed to be outrage. Feminists were outraged at what they deemed an exploitation of women. Conservatives were outraged by what they saw as prurient sexuality. One male reviewer was outraged at Anastasia for being what he considered a manipulative, gold-digging bitch. BDSM enthusiasts were outraged because they thought the film wasn't an accurate portrayal of their particular fetish. Some viewers were outraged because the movie didn't show enough graphic sex.

I read all three books in the trilogy. I thought they were fun and Christian was hot...and no, I did not suffer any feminist angst about enjoying them, even though great literature they are definitely not.

I didn't figure I'd see the movie, mostly just because I don't do movies much, but also because I thought they made a terrible mistake casting Jamie Dornan as Christian. He didn't fit my fantasy of Christian at all.

Recently though, I had someone give him kudos for being a terrific actor. "He'll convince you," this person (a male) told me. And also, I guess all those reviews make me want to decide for myself what my take is.

As to all the larger questions brought up by the critics, we might want to ask, not just about Christian, but why so many of our favorite characters are less than lily-white heroes. What was the other movie that recently came out and set box office records? Oh, yeah. American Sniper, for God's sake. I'm good with Chris Kyle....some of my best fictional friends are snipers but it is telling that the movie isn't about American Missionary or American Teacher or American Doctor.

Look at so many of the best-selling books. Their main characters are assassins (Jack Reacher, phone home!) or spies or rogue cops. Of course, we are always thrown the bone of patriotism or revenge or defense of friends and/or family as the justification, but still, these are all men can kill without remorse.

And look at some of the television we love. Tony Soprano - the guys on Breaking Bad - Jack on 24, to whom torture is just doing what you gotta' do - to mention a few. Confession: I rarely watch television and haven't seen any of these but I have heard about them. I'm sure there are more.

So, I'll stick up for both the 50 Shades books and for the movie and say, lighten up, people. They are fiction. Writers have the right to write anything they want. It doesn't mean they are pro whatever that is. Writers who write about serial killers aren't pro serial killing. Producers have the right to produce whatever they want. And readers and viewers should have the right to read or watch whatever they want....without having to listen to lectures or being talked down to.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Words Matter - Part 2 - The Military Just Loves Them Some Native Americans


A friend recently sent me this post on Facebook - "with all the recent banter...and continuing lawsuits...challenging the name of the Washington Redskins, I had not thought of this angle; 
but it actually strikes a very good point!
The federal government, which has Tomahawk cruise missiles and Apache and Lakota helicopters and used the code name "Geronimo" in the attack that killed Osama bin Laden; officially objects to the name of the Washington Redskins."
Most often my friend's and my on-going debates would be a better fit on my political blog - Red State Blue Collar - but I thought because this one dealt with words and the connotations of words, it would be more appropriate on this one. Because words do matter.
And, yes, just as my friend's post said, the U.S. Military has often named its planes and helicopters and weapons and even missions, such as Geronimo, after Native Americans. There are actually many more than just the ones listed here, over 20 of them - Black Hawk, Chinook, Kiowa, Cayuse, Creek, Iroquois, Choctaw, Shawnee,Cheyenne, Comanche and Arapaho helicopters as well as Huron, Ute, Seminole, Mohawk and Mescalero aircraft, along with the Navajo cruise missile. (Some of these are now retired and some were proposed but never used). 
Why do you suppose the American military has such a penchant for naming its proudest possessions after American Indians and is that reason a badge of pride or shame to the Native Americans thus "honored"? 
In my opinion, this is done because we still appreciate a view of Indians as bloodthirsty savages (as seen represented in countless old westerns) and that is the image we want to portray of our mightiest war weapons. Whooping, painted warriors on spotted ponies would race through your town to scalp you and rape your women and take your children to sell or enslave.
That's the same reputation we want our most wicked helicopters to have. We want our enemies to think there is no use trying to run and hide. We will find you and kill you. Our weapons are brutally conscienceless....just like uncivilized wild Indians. 
But you have to wonder why these naming decisions were made...because, in fact, though the poor Native Americans won some battles, their entire desperate struggle not to be taken over by the Whites was a rearguard action from the start. They never had a prayer of actually prevailing. 
So seeing how they were the big losers in the war between red and white in America, why would we name our ships and planes and missiles after them? 
You'd think we'd want to call them for the triumphant ones - us. Why not White Guy helicopters and Christian Caucasian drones and Pale Face Intelligence Aircraft? Why not Cowboy cruise missiles since in the game of Cowboys and Indians, the Cowboys were the good guys and always won. Oh, yeah, maybe the truth is contained within that sentence - the phrase "good guys". We were the good guys so we certainly wouldn't want those death-dealing weapons and aircraft named after us!  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Not Good-bye but Bon Voyage

There seem to have been more than the normal number of deaths in my little circle lately - friends and daughters and fathers. Whenever I know people are grieving, I can't help but think of my friend, June.

June had asked me to give her eulogy when she died and she had very specific instructions for what I was to tell her loved ones.

Seven years previous, she'd gone into cardiac arrest in the hospital and almost died. I say, almost, but actually she did die...for a while. During that time, she had an after-death experience and when she came back, she was exalted by it. During the remainder of the years she lived, she was joyful, as if she had a special secret knowledge that made life a different thing altogether than it had been before.

She told me all about it right after it happened, of course. I've read a lot about ADE's since and her experience was typical. She heard all the bells and buzzers going off around her, heard the intercom announce that help was needed in her room stat, heard the sound of feet pounding down the hall.

Meanwhile, her being went up to the ceiling and hovered, rather interested in the furious actions being performed on her body although she didn't feel personally involved. Eventually, she went out of the room and into the tunnel that is usually a part of after-death the end of the tunnel was the Light. And she made it there.

The most exceptional quality of the light, one she repeated over and over, was its welcoming warmth and the complete serenity she felt being bathed in it.

"Vic," she said, "no human on earth has ever felt absolute peace of mind. Even if your life is going well, you're anxious about something, be it money, your kids, your health but this was total...imagine the most stress-free moment you've ever had and multiply it by a million. That's what it is like in the light."

Suddenly though, she was back in her body. Her doctor was pounding on her chest.

"Come back, June, come back," he was urging.

"Just let me go," she pleaded, "let me go back."

He told her that all her children were on their way to the hospital and she surely didn't want to go off without seeing them.

That was another element that was so distinctive about the after-death experience, she told me.

"Time is completely different there, not at all like it is here."

So she told the doctor, "it doesn't matter, I'll see them again in just a little while anyway."

He reminded her that her daughter was pregnant with her first grandchild and she'd told him how much she was looking forward to being a Grandma.

She was able to return, briefly, and in the light her soul touched the baby's soul. She knew him, knew he was a boy and knew that if she left now, they would would miss each other as one departed and one arrived.

So she came back and she fought to live.

She told me what I was to say to her children and her friends at her funeral.

"Tell them please not to be unhappy and not to worry. Tell them not to say good-bye but wish me Bon Voyage for I'll be going on a trip to a place I've always wanted to go and soon enough, we'll meet again when they make that same exciting journey."

She almost glowed when she told the story of what it was like to die.

I tried to think of that when my little mother passed, that she was on a ship eagerly cruising to a fascinating destination. She was no longer old, her mind no longer broken by dementia. I tried to say Bon Voyage, rather than good-bye.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Who Does He Think He Is?

This is the New Year for us where I live. When we cross that bridge from December 31 to January 1, the land around us is snow-covered, the water is icy if not quite iced over. The wind bites.

I always thought Spring would make a better New Year since it is the time of new beginnings - new babies, new green growing things, new heart for people who yearn for the sight of colorful flowers and the feel of warm breezes and the fecund smell of an awakening earth.

Or perhaps, October, when the harvest is done and everything is butchered and canned and covered. The earth celebrates the end of its work year with a riot of color before it shuts down and goes into hibernation. People look forward to a time of rest before the hard labor of a new season begins, at least, that's the way it was when most of us lived by the rhythms of farming.

But no, here we are, celebrating on January 1, which is just a continuation of winter really...just two more long months of cold to look forward to.

There's no particular reason we have to celebrate the coming of a new year on January 1 except centuries of tradition. For generations, the new year came in March but our current new year was dictated by the Roman god, Janus, the ancient, two-faced god – for whom the month of January is also named. One face of Janus looked back into the past, and the other peered forward to the future and I guess that's how he earned the honor of naming the new year.

We could have changed it once pretty easily before the whole world was computerized and industrialized. An emperor could have simply declared it - "I hereby declare April 1 to be the start of the year forevermore", and we'd have complied - but I suppose it is too late now.

It doesn't really make much difference to a retired writer. If anything, the cold is more conducive to staying home with my nose to the grindstone of the computer than birdsong and roses would be but still, it's irksome because I resent that old Janus having the glory of being able to dictate the start of our calendar.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

'I Wonder What Rafe Has Been Up To?

I feel sorry for any author who doesn't write a series because no matter how much you may love  your individual books, it's not the same as having a character or group of characters that become so interwoven into your life, they feel almost like members of your emotional family.

Rafe Vincennes is that person for me. I have written eight books about him. My current WIP is about three boys who grow up in an Irish Traveler family. I love these boys and the research I've done on the Irish Travelers is fascinating. I am enjoying the writing of this novel very much but still, every now and then, the question drifts through my head: "I wonder what Rafe has been up to?"

Because Rafe is like a real person to me, more real than some actual humans I interact with regularly. I would write about Rafe even if no one ever bought or read those books simply to satisfy my own curiosity.

I admit that he's not everyone's cup of tea. Twisted men seem to be my forte. Almost all of my main male characters are anti-hero as much as hero and Rafe is even more so. People often ask me how I came up with him. Me - a plump, gray-haired, Grandma-aged, not-especially-adventuresome woman - and amoral racecar driver Rafe (although, of course, he does have a moral code, it's just not like yours and mine). The fact of the matter is that I didn't come up with Rafe, he came up with me.

In that way of his, he sauntered into in my head full-blown and flashed me that mesmerizing grin and said, "here I am" and seduced me. I never know what is going to happen in my books until it actually happens. Rafe has turned me off and turned me on, he's sometimes shocked and dismayed me. He's made me laugh and guided me through describing experiences I've never had. The few times I've tried to change him, soften his image a little, he said no. "I am what I am, take it or leave it."

I am a great Outlander fan and people have asked me how I think Diana Gabaldon has been able to write nine (enormous) novels about Jamie and Claire Fraser, not to mention the supplementary novellas. I would never claim to begin to compare to Gabaldon but I do think I know the answer to that question: she loves Jamie and Claire and she wants to know what happens to them next.