Sunday, November 24, 2013


By Linda Rodriguez

It was morning sickness that told me I was pregnant again in late 1944, though I don’t know why they call it that. I did all my puking in the evening, every time I had to cook up supper for the old man. Fry up pork chops, run and puke, fry up chicken, run and puke, cook up stew, run and puke. It didn’t matter what it was.
I finally told Mal—that’s my old man—he’d have to pick up supper and bring it home every night. Boy, he didn’t like that, said a wife was supposed to cook for her husband.  I told him you’ll wish you’d done what I said when you get a pork chop covered in puke on your plate. And that’s the last I heard of that. He knew I’d do it, too. I’m not some sniveling meek woman. You mess with me at your peril.
 Since we met as teenagers in the Ozarks, Mal and I had been married for four years, two little girls, and a stillborn baby boy. Maybe it was the loss of our little boy. Maybe it was just resentment at being settled down. Maybe it was a feeling of guilt because he was 4F and doing defense work in Kansas City, building bombs, instead of fighting with his brother and friends in Europe and the Pacific. But whatever was causing it, Mal started drinking more and getting mean. In that fall of 1944, he started running around with a bunch of single guys—or guys who might as well have been single for all the thought they ever gave their wives and kids.

My older sister, Naomi, shook her head and clucked her tongue against her teeth, looking at me with sad concern. I called it her “poor Dilly” face and hated it. She’d been doing it ever since I married Malcolm Kort back when I was sixteen.
None of our families had indoor plumbing or electricity back home, but Mal’s family was such hill trash they about lived in a cave. Mal was different, though—handsome as all get out and bound and determined to make something of himself. He promised me an easier life with electric lights and no more outhouses and pumping every drop of water, and here I was with a kitchen sink where I only turned a knob and hot or cold water poured out while I watched under the yellow glow of an electric light bulb hanging down on a cord from the ceiling.
“Dilly, you need to watch out,” Naomi said in mournful tones. “That’s a bad crowd he’s running with.”
Of course, I knew they were worthless shits. I’d heard a couple of them laughing about how they’d fooled the doctors into letting them stay home and not go to the front lines. I couldn’t believe Mal didn’t blow up at them, right there, what with his own brother over there dodging bullets and bombs. But he just gave a tight smile like he thought they were funny and smart, too.
After running with that crowd of rowdies for a couple of months, Mal started coming home liquored up and ready to fight over anything.  I didn’t want Naomi to find out about it, but it was hard to keep it from her after he smashed my big wood ironing board to pieces. I had to borrow hers so I could finish the drapes I was sewing for that rich Mrs. Conover. If I didn’t have them finished in time, that old witch would try to weasel out of my fees, I knew. I couldn’t think of a lie that Naomi would believe, so while I sewed and ironed pleats in damask, she spent that afternoon, trying to talk me into taking the kids and moving in with her and her husband. Of course, I couldn’t do that. I’d never have lived it down.

The first time Mal hit me, I was too stunned to say or do anything. I just gasped, trying to suck in air and failing. He looked as stunned as I felt and stared at me, his muscles popping out of his white undershirt while his eyes about popped out of his head. It was a moment neither of us had ever expected to see. We’d married for love, real love, even if Maejean was already on the way. We’d been crazy about each other. So what had happened to all that?
He apologized right away, even crying, while I was numb, almost paralyzed, and things went on as if nothing important had happened.
The next week, though, he came home in much worse shape. When he hit me that time, I hit him back. I wasn’t taken by surprise like before. I wasn’t the kind of woman to just cower as a man pounded her, so I tried my damnedest to fight back and give as good as I got. Since he was twice my size and had left his good sense on some barroom floor, he beat the hell out of me. Blacked my eye and bloodied my nose. I was a mess, but I learned I couldn’t fight him on his terms. So did he, apparently, so those times came more often while Naomi begged me to leave and come live on her charity. I had two girls and a baby on the way to think about, though. There had to be another way.
Christmas Eve came, and the girls and I waited and waited for him to come home to take us to candlelight services at church, but the time came and went for that with no Mal in sight. When he finally arrived, he was sloppy drunk and spoiling for a fight, I could see. I began to think I might have to give in and run with the kids to my sister’s house, after all.
His mouth was twisted in a snarl, and he started cussing at me from the minute he walked in the door and slammed it shut behind him. I was just coming out of the girls’ bedroom after putting them to bed and calming their disappointed crying, and I stopped in the hallway, staring at him and wondering how I could take the girls and get out of the apartment without him catching us.
“Don’t just stand there,” he yelled when he saw me. “I want some supper. Man comes home hungry from a hard day’s work, he’s got a right to expect his woman to have hot food ready for him.”
I hurried into the living room. “I didn’t know when you’d get here. I’ve kept supper warm for you. Come into the kitchen, and I’ll serve it up.”
As I turned toward the kitchen, he grabbed my arm and twisted it behind my back. I had to twist my whole body to keep him from damaging the arm.
“Don’t you give me that shit about being late,” he yelled and hit me in the jaw. “I come and go when and as I please, see.” He let go of my arm and hit me again. “I’m the king of this here castle, and you better by God remember that.” He kicked at me, but I managed to dodge it.
Suddenly, Maejean, our oldest and only four years old, ran between us yelling at him to stop hitting me. He swung wide and knocked her across the room. I ran to where she fell, screaming and crying, to the floor. Holding her, I looked up at him, and he must have seen something in my eyes because he muttered about being tired and headed to our bedroom and slammed the door.
I couldn’t believe that he would hit Maejean. His own little girl. I kept shaking my head over it all the while I calmed her down and made sure she wasn’t hurt real bad and sang her to sleep in her bed next to her sister’s crib. I stayed there for an extra hour to make sure she wouldn’t wake up and to make sure he’d passed out completely.
Then I went to my sewing nook in the living room where I made extra cash by sewing drapes and slipcovers for those rich bitches with money to toss around. I opened my sewing basket and pulled out my big, old shears that I kept nice and sharp so they wouldn’t tear the fabric. I opened the door to our bedroom where he was snoring and snorting away, dead to the world because he was dead drunk.
I stepped out of my shoes and tiptoed to the bed. When I got there, I crawled up on top of him where he lay on the bed in his jockey shorts and undershirt. I could have spit in his face for hitting Maejean, but I had a better idea. I had my shears with me.
I carefully cut away his undershirt leaving the hems hanging loose on his arms and the collar on his neck. I cut away his jockeys, leaving the elastic around each leg and his waist. Then I sat on top of him and waited for him to wake up.
It was a long night, sitting there, looking at his face, listening to him snore, wondering how I could have had children with that man. Finally, the sun began to lighten the room through the sheer curtains. I decided to wake him before the baby would be up and crying for me, so I slapped his cheeks.
When he woke with a start, looking around in confusion, I was on top of him with the point of those big, sharp steel scissors right at his nose.
I told him, “Mal, look at yourself.”
His eyes got real big when he realized I’d cut his clothes off him.
I tapped him between the eyes with the sharp tip of the shears. “If you ever hit me or the girls again, you better plan on never sleeping, ‘cause I will cut off a lot more than your clothes.”
He twisted his head around, but I tapped between his eyes with that sharp steel point again to keep his attention.
“You need to know this, Mal. I am serious.” I caught his eyes with my own and let him see how close he came to losing some part of himself while I sat there all night.
Then, I got off of him and let him run to the bathroom with his elastics sliding down his legs. I smiled as I heard him puking in the toilet. It was going to be one hell of a hangover.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


John Arnold playing Sherlock Holmes

In my January 8, 2013 post (, I described the wonderful experiences I’ve shared with collaborators and cast members in writing and directing original musical productions for our church’s drama ministry, the St. Paul's Players (

By July of each year, I figure out the story that we’ll be telling and rough out a script, noting the places where songs will occur. Then, I talk to my fellow composer/lyricists, John W. Henry and Frank Fusco, and divvy up the songwriting duties.
John W. Henry and Frank Fusco
For the most part, my numbers are standard musical comedy fare, often the first song that sets things up, some character studies, funny novelty pieces, and usually a dance. John has written our closing numbers for the last two years. He often creates songs expressing strong emotions that feature soulful and uplifting melodies. We tease Frank about being our “rocker” (he’s a member of the Thunder Pigs--check them out at, but his songs have ranged from rock to polka to mysteriously suspenseful to prayerful repentance.

John and Frank are talented guys. Equally talented is our arranger, Matthew T. Caine. Matt is the Director of Music at Lyttleton Street United Methodist Church in Camden, S.C. He has his DMA in Conducting from the University of South Carolina. With a very good nature, he transcribes the melodies we sing or play for him and tries to correct us in our musical errors. Sometimes, we let him think he’s right. Actually, for the most part, we’re a pretty agreeable group and appreciate the expertise Matt brings to our proceedings.
Dr. Matthew T. Caine
Last year, we did a version of A Christmas Carol called Once Upon a Christmastime (again, see the January 8, 2013 blog), with a cast of almost thirty, including a large number of children and young people. This year, for the first time, we have a cast of only adults. It’s the smallest cast we’ve ever had with just eleven players.

I guess I should have expected mostly adults when I let people know that our play would be based on the Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmesstory, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.” But, I had noticed the renewed interest among all ages in Holmes from the Robert Downey movies and the CBS and PBS series. Also, you can never be sure of the participants until you hold auditions. That’s another good reason to write your own production. You can tailor your script to the cast you have.
Watson (Jim Jarvis) and Holmes painting set

You might ask how a Sherlock Holmes story fits into a church’s drama ministry? If you haven’t read “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” please check it out at:

After discovering the guilty party, Holmes releases him because “it’s the season of forgiveness.” The story has a powerful message of the possibility for redeeming a life.
John Arnold and Brenda Byrd
We’ve enjoyed tremendously putting together our A Sherlock Holmes Christmas. The opening night dinner theater is sold out, but if you’re in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday, December 7, come to St. Paul’s at the corner of Bull and Blanding Streets for the matinee at 3:00 pm or the evening performance at 7:00 pm. No charge for an hour of entertainment that will get you in the holiday mood.
Susan Craft on set
Now, you may ask, what are the Tennessee connections mentioned in the title of this post? One relates back to our production from last year. The young actress portraying our Fan Scrooge, Ebenezer’s sister who comes to his school to tell him he will celebrate the holiday with family, was the delightful Emma Imholz. She had appeared in many local productions and some films. This year, she auditioned and was given the role of Fan in Dolly Parton’s version of A Christmas Carol, being presented at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Broadway World has a video featuring scenes from the Dollywood production. Our Em is in the opening and closing sequences of that video and we are so proud of her.

Please check out some of the footage of the Dollywood production with Em at:
Emma Imholz at Dollywood

The other Tennessee connection? The talented and versatile Judy Egner of Knoxville, Tennessee. You don’t recognize the name? Perhaps you know her as Kaye George, award nominated author of several short stories and three mystery series: Imogene Duckworthy, Cressa Carraway Musical, and People of the Wind (Neanderthal), whose Fat Cat series, that she is writing as Janet Cantrell, will appear in September 2014. Visit her webpage for more information.

Kaye George
Judy/Kaye/Janet, as well as being a wonderful writer is an excellent arranger and violinist. She kindly consented to write “A Hymn to Holmes” celebrating Sherlock’s affection for the violin as our pre-show music. We are proud to present its world premiere!

Support your local drama, singing, and dancing groups! What theatrical productions do you plan to see for the holidays?

Friday, November 22, 2013

How It All Started

How it all started 

Brett Battles’ novella, Becoming Quinn, is a prequel to the Jonathan Quinn novels.
Just before reading this novella, I read a really poorly written novel about the origin of an action hero. That author should read this author to see how clever and engrossing a back-story can be.  Battles started his story with a botched hit.  It was not at all clear who was targeted and why. 
The protagonist was a “cleaner” whose role was to make evidence of the murder disappear, leaving a false trail for the authorities.  When the situation deteriorated he had to act in haste, lacking enough time to double check his tasks and tie up every loose end.  Rookie Phoenix police officer Jake Oliver observed minor oddities in the crime scene, but his training officer assigned him to crowd control before he can share his observations with detectives.

Jake cannot shake the sense that the presumed story is somehow false.  With the help of another rookie policeman, he initiates a personal investigation that turns up other hints that the crime was not as obvious as it appeared.  When he finally tried to share what he has learned, the authorities were more interested in Jake’s failure to follow procedures than in what he has uncovered. 
The group that organized the assassination pressures the cleaner to eliminate Jake, but the cleaner has developed respect for the raw skills, intelligence and persistence of the untutored rookie. 
The cleaner and the rookie end up cooperating to face a common threat. Jake is presented with an opportunity he did not expect.

Anyone wanting to create a back-story for a character should read this book to see how well it can be done. What "origin stories" do you recommend?  

Thursday, November 21, 2013



I’m thankful for my good health. Oh, I have the few little things that come with age, but overall I’m in good health. My knees and feet aren’t exactly what they were ten years ago, but they get me where I want to go. Except for once in a while having to search for a word I want, my mind hasn’t deteriorated. At least I don’t think so. Some might not believe that.
Several days before  Christmas at my house.
I’m thankful for my family.  I’ve lost some through death over the years, including a son, granddaughter, a brother, my parents, many aunts and uncles and some cousins, too. But I still have three children, their spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, my siblings, two of their spouses. And I still have two aunts, two uncle and numerous cousins. Family is one of the richest blessings I could have.

Three members of my Red Read Robin book club at my house.

I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made over the years through teaching, book clubs, conferences, writing groups – both in person and online, and especially through Writers Who Kill. These friends mean a lot to me because we share the same interests; books and writing and often other mutual interests, too.

On the way to my back door.
I'm thankful for my home. It's old and not very large. Its floors creak and things in my living room shake a little when larger people walk across the floor or my dog bounds across it chasing a toy.The basement leaks during heavy rains and it's almost impossible to keep all the spider webs from forming, but the house is mine. I chose to buy it, and with my son's help it's been renovated into a comfortable home with a library. It's decorated with plants, books, pictures and things I've accumulated over the years that mean something to me.

Maggie with my two ponies near the pond.
I’m thankful for my small farm of about twelve acres. The old barn with hand hewn beams got a new roof soon after I moved in. It is home to my two ponies, seven hens, an old guinea fowl, who prowls the place as a watch bird, and currently one barn cat. My farm has numerous gardens I’ve planted and weeded – more or less. It has large pine and spruce trees around the house protecting it from winter winds and shading it in the summer keeping it cool so with fans I rarely need to use an air-conditioner.  I have a little goldfish pool near the house and a large pond beyond my house, and apple and pear trees and a blueberry patch.

I’m thankful for my woods I walk in almost every morning with my dog.  It’s a place for meditation, for coming up with ideas for poems, stories or my books. It’s a place where I see or hear things to interest me on every walk: a squirrel, a pileated woodpecker, fresh spring flowers or unusual fungi, turkeys, deer or even a bear I heard last summer for the first time.

I’m thankful that I have enough, but not too much money to live on. Yes, I have to be careful what I spend and sometimes I wish I had enough to help those in need with large amounts of money, but money could be a burden, too. Right now I don’t worry about anyone breaking in. Who would want to steal books? I have no expensive jewelry or anything worth a thief breaking in to steal.

I’m thankful I have enough food to eat, a warm house, a car that runs and a comfortable bed when there are so many without those simple pleasures.

I’m thankful for Mobile Meals. It gives me a sense of purpose other than my own pleasure, and also enriches me in both working with the volunteers who prepare, pack or deliver the meals. Even more I’m enriched by my contact with the people who receive them. I’ve come to dearly love many of those I deliver to, and am saddened when they disappear from my route either because of moving to a nursing home or through death.

I’m thankful for the parents, who gave me the important values in life; compassion, caring for others, a belief in social justice, honesty, faith, a sense of humor, an enjoyment of music, and a love of reading and learning.

I’m thankful that this Thanksgiving I’ll again be having a most delicious Thanksgiving dinner at my sister’s house with siblings and assorted nieces and nephews. It will not only include a scrumptious meal with everyone contributing some dish or other, it will be filled with laughter, joking and some memories of the past. But I’m also feeling a sadness for those forced to work this day in the big box stores who are moving Black Friday up to Thanksgiving Day. I wonder if those who made the decision will be working Thanksgiving, too. I doubt it.

What are you thankful for?  How will you be spending Thanksgiving?