Thursday, August 31, 2017


For my birthday, my youngest sister and her husband sent me a New York Times Bestseller titled GRANDMA GATEWOOD’S WALK; The inspiring story of the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail, by Ben Montgomery.
I figured it was because I had started hiking The
Appalachian Trail with another of my sisters and three of her teenage children when I was sixty years old. My sister and I had rad Bill Bryson's A WALK IN THE WOODS, and figured if he and his overweight out of shape friend Steven Katz could do it, we could, too. Especially since we had no intention of doing the whole trail only sections of it in Shenandoah National Park.

That first year I needed my tall nephew to lift my backpack from the ground and put it on me. I staggered out of the parking lot to follow my sister, nephew, two nieces and wondered how far I would actually be able to go. Unlike Grandma Gatewood, who had a canvas bag she made with very little in it except some essentials which did not include a tent, sleeping bag, self-inflating airbag, small stove, water filter, camera, extra clothes, or the food we were carrying. That first day the nieces and nephews were way ahead of my sister and me, although my sister, who was still in her early fifties moved faster than I did. When we met up with her children sitting on a large boulder playing cards. I slipped off my backpack. That day I needed help getting it back on, but by the second day I was able to swing it up in place myself. In six days with stops at the lodge to eat when we passed it, time spent setting up our tents, and the other things we were required to do like cooking and getting a large bag holding food, cooking utensils, toothpaste, etc. up in a high branch in a tree at night to keep it away from bears, we managed to cover twenty-six miles of the Appalachian Trail, The AT in Shenandoah National Park is 100 miles long.

I finished reading the book Grandma Gatewood’s Walk. What an amazing woman she was. She was the first woman to hike the whole 2050 mile Appalachian Trail in 1955 when the trail was not in good condition as it is today. Only a few men had done it prior to this.

Emma came from Callia County in southern Ohio. She grew up on a farm in a large family and didn’t go beyond 8th grade because she had younger siblings to care for. The saddest part is when as a seventeen-year-old girl, a man who was twenty-six, a teacher, and from a family that was much wealthier than her family kept nagging her to marry him, which she did. He bought a farm and she ended up not only doing far more work on the farm than he did, he was abusive and often blackened her eyes and left bruises all over her. She had 11 children by him, and loved her kids and was good to them. She often took off to the woods to walk just to get away from him. Eventually she divorced him.

In a doctor’s office one day, she read a National Geographic magazine about The Appalachian Trail and decided it was something she wanted to do. She held onto that dream until her eleven children were grown, married, and she had twenty-three grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. She was only five foot two inches tall, weighed a 150 pounds, was near-sighted. and had a mouth full of false teeth thanks to her ex-husband. The first year she went to Maine to start there, but wasn’t far into the trail when she got horribly lost in the Maine woods. When she was finally found by rangers looking for her, she flew home.

The next year, 1955, she headed south to start from the southern route. None of her children knew anything about it, but they didn’t worry about where she was because they knew she was a strong woman with a mind of her own. It wasn’t until they started getting postcards from her that they realized where she was, but they still weren’t alarmed or worried.

She only wore a pair of tennis shoes which wore out quickly, and she had blisters and bunions, but still she walked on. The trail wasn’t as well kept then and there weren’t as many lean-to sheltrs as there are today. Often, she slept on a pile of leaves with a thin blanket over her. She left the trail when she got close to a small town to stock up on food. Sometimes, especially when it was raining she asked someone if she could sleep on their porch. She met so many people while she was hiking. Some she shared the shelters with along the trail, and once she hiked along with a Boy Scout troop. She made a lot of friends along the trail, and then reporters in small towns heard about her and managed to meet her with photographers to interview her about why she was doing what she was doing. She gave short answers “Because I wanted to.” “I thought it would be a lark.” And others. Eventually, she was in newspapers all over the country, and one reporter from the New York Times, caught up with her more than once and she would take her out to eat, or pay for a place for her to stay before taking her back to the trail where she left off. Everyone wanted to know why she was doing this. She always gave them a short reply like “I like walking.” She became quite a celebrity in her own way. People figured out about when she’d be coming through their town on the trail near their town and would be waiting for her.


She made it to Mt. Katahdin and not in great shape. Her glasses were broke, her knee ached and back ached, but she made it to the top, and while there she sang “America the Beautiful.”


Emma Gatewood not only hiked the Appalachian Trail three times, but she hiked from Independence, Missouri to Portland, Oregon where huge crowds waited to see her. She especially loved Hocking Hills State Park in southern Ohio, and did much to make the trails better that she enjoyed hiking. A trail in the park was named for her. I’ve been there and it is a beautiful place.

I had read about her in a book my sister and I had read about the Appalachian Trail before we decided to do it, but not the details of this book which was largely taken from the journal she kept. Even though I never wanted to do the whole trail, for five or six years my sister and I went back to the trail in Shenandoah National Park and finished the whole trail. Sometimes just this sister and I with her son or daughter, and twice with my Washington sister, a brother and four teenage nephews, and another time my sister from Washington brought her husband, too. Would I still like to go backpacking? I still have all my stuff, but I have to admit I doubt I could carry a pack these days, and I don’t have anyone willing to go with me. Unlike Grandma Gatewood, I would like a hiking partner.

Have you heard of Grandma Gatewood?

Have you ever gone backpacking?

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Julia Buckley Interview by E. B. Davis

I happened upon Julia Buckley’s Pudding Up With Murder after reading a particularly violent mystery, giving me incentive to read a cozy, a necessary antidote. Julia’s main character, Lilah Drake, is a caterer and TV chef who moonlights by making dishes “undercover” to those who want to present Lilah’s dish as their own, which is why the series is deemed “Undercover Dish” mysteries. Pudding Up With Murder is the third in this Berkley series.

One of Julia’s writing talents is making secondary characters alive and differentiated from others. In this novel, we are introduced to the family of the victim, who had married three times and had multiple children amongst his three wives. At first, I had trepidation that I’d never keep the characters straight, but the problem never arose. I knew each character without pause, an event that rarely occurs, making it a seamless read.

Julia writes another series for Berkley, The Writer’s Apprentice series. I found a commonality between series—dogs! Lilah Drake has a lab named Mick who is also memorable for his congenial nature with humans and other dogs. He also possesses an endearing mannerism—he nods—a concurrence that never fails to bolster his owner’s faith in herself. Don’t we all wish we had a canine to cheer us on?

Please welcome Julia Buckley to WWK.                                                                            E. B. Davis

First—the dogs. Why do both of your Berkley series feature canine friends? Do you have a dog? Is Mick a yellow, black, or chocolate lab?

I do have dogs, and really always have had them in my life. My childhood dog, Buffy, was a beautiful and gentle creature, a mix of Beagle, Norwegian Elkhound, and German Shepherd.  A truly lovely animal with a plumey tail and wonderful coloring. She was my companion from about the age of three until I was in high school, and I still dream about her sometimes.

I didn’t get another dog until my oldest son was about six and campaigning hard for a canine. We finally settled on little Simon, a sweet Beagle/Russell mix. Everyone in the neighborhood knew him, and he lived a very long time—until my son was twenty years old.  Then we said no more dogs, but guess what happened? I wrote the Undercover Dish mysteries and fell in love with my own creation—Mick the Dog!  So when Simon died, and my sons started murmuring about how empty the house felt without a canine companion, I started lobbying for a Lab. We ended up getting a rescue dog, a Lab mix, and naming him Digby. He can’t nod like Mick the dog, but he is incredibly sweet and loyal.

What is Pine Haven, IL like? Is it very far from Chicago?

Pine Haven, like all of my settings, is fictional but based on various suburbs of Chicago. It’s far enough away to feel a bit rural, but close enough that Lilah can travel to the city. I imagine it being about forty-five minutes from Chicago.

Pine Haven is a mixture of all sorts of towns—the western suburbs that I drive through each day, but also the far south suburbs where I grew up. Every town is distinct, but all towns have enough in common that we can see our own hometowns in the ones we read about in fiction.

Lilah’s friend Ellie, who also happens to be the mother of her boyfriend, Jay, suffers from arthritis and can no longer cook like she used to do. Are most of Lilah’s clients in the same sort of predicament? Why do people want to take credit for Lilah’s dishes?

That’s a great question, because although I’ve hired caterers before, I can’t imagine telling people that I made the food. Most of Lilah’s clients are motivated by pride. Her friend Pet wanted to have a claim to fame at church events; another of her clients wants to have a recipe that his children will always remember him for, but he can’t cook; still another is a Boy Scout leader who wants the kids to think of this food, made with love, as being made by him. It’s nice, really, because it means that people want to show love through food, but they don’t have the talent to make that food memorable. That’s where Lilah comes in.

Lilah’s relationship with boyfriend Jay can be rocky. They’ve had jealousy issues. Don’t they talk enough or do they make too many assumptions about each other?

I think you’re right, and that this book shows Lilah and Jay need more communication. They innately love and trust each other, and there is obviously a strong physical attraction, but they have spent a lot of time brooding about one another instead of just hashing things out. They need to spend more time together, learning about each other and themselves. This book gives them a good start in that direction (although as you said, jealousy does rear its ugly head).

How has Ellie dealt with Lilah during those rocky times?

Ellie is wise, in that, aside from trying to get them together in the first place, she focuses on her individual relationships: she loves her son, and she loves her friend Lilah. Whether the two of them work out as a couple or not, Ellie knows that she will keep both of them in her life.
Marcus Cantwell dies of an allergic reaction to nuts during his birthday celebration. He also suffered from Achenbach’s Syndrome. I have Achenbachs in my family and never heard of the problem. What is Achenbach’s Syndrome?

I discovered this ailment through my mother. I think it comes from German lineage, because my mom was born in Germany and I have only ever found good articles about it written by German doctors (and of course its name is German). Basically it means that once in a while a blood vessel will burst in either a finger or a toe, and that digit becomes purple and bruised-looking. It does not affect the other fingers or even the fingernail.  It’s painful and makes the finger feel like an overstuffed sausage. I know, because it first happened to me at the age of forty, and it’s happened every couple of years ever since—always different fingers, and sometimes a toe. I remembered that my mother had it, and that’s when my research began. Now my brother has started to show symptoms, as well.

Luckily, it seems to not be related to strokes or any serious illness—just a weird little inherited malady that I decided would be an interesting detail to help describe Marcus.

Why does Lilah decide to hire Wade Glenning, the photographer the Cantwells hired for Marcus’s birthday celebration?

Lilah has never had professional photos taken of herself, and would normally not even consider getting them, but she wants to impress Jay and perhaps also make him even more attracted to her. She thinks these professional images might make him look at her in a new way.

Peach, a little granddaughter of victim Marcus Cantwell, reads Miss Moxie books, a children’s mystery series. Is this series real? Miss Moxie says in one of the books, “When something looks too black and white, you can be sure it isn’t right.” Do you agree?

Miss Moxie is fictional, but she’s based on books that my sons read when they were small. I love children’s literature, from the wonderful illustrations to the imaginative storylines and plucky main characters. I wanted Lilah to have a wise voice in her head, and wisdom often comes from children like Peach—or from the literature that inspires them. If Miss Moxie books were real, I would buy them.  J

Throughout the book, Lilah has lyrics running through her mind—anything from Green Day to the Beatles. She knows a lot of music from different eras. Is her subconscious mind bringing the lyrics to mind or is this something she does while cooking to lessen the tedium of some tasks?

The music is totally from Lilah’s subconscious, and if you’ve read the other two books you know that this is an essential part of Lilah—the music in her head. Lilah has always been a big fan of “retro” music, especially stuff from the 80s, which she likes to listen to with her landlord Terry. But she likes current stuff, as well. On any given day, it’s just about what her subconscious sends up, sort of like a Magic Eight Ball of music.

Why do people make assumptions about others? Is it a case of thinking to type or assuming they know more than they actually do?

I think all assumptions are made with the confidence perhaps all people have that they are smarter than most other people.  J  This over-confidence can lead people astray, because they’ll go a long way to prove that they’re right, or that their instincts are correct.

You’ve written other books/genres than the two cozy mystery series for Berkley. Tell readers about your previous writing.

Thanks for the opportunity! Most of my other books are only available on Kindle. I have a very early cozy series, The Madeline Mann Mysteries, which were orphaned by a publisher but received nice reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal.

I have a first in what I called the Teddy Thurber mysteries, about a high school teacher who solves the death of a former student. This isn’t entirely cozy, but readers have given it high praise.

I have a few stand-alone suspense novels and one YA novel called Ginevra Bond, about a psychic girl who must help the FBI.

What book will be your next release, Julia?

Pudding Up with Murder comes out in September, and after that I have one final Writer’s Apprentice novel under contract (possibly with more on the horizon), and I don’t know if that will come out before next summer. It’s called A Dark and Twisted Path.

On vacation, would your choice be beaches or mountains?

I’ve been to both, and love both, but I’d probably choose beaches. I grew up in the Midwest so I’m essentially a Plains girl, drawn to big skies and tall prairie grasses. There are lots of beautiful lake regions that combine forest, plains and water, and these places feel like a great combination to me. That’s how I ended up creating Blue Lake, the setting of the Lena London books.

Thank you so much for the interview and for reading the new book! I hope readers will enjoy it, as well.

They can visit me at my website (, my Facebook page called Julia Buckley Mystery Novels, Twitter (@juliabucks), Instagram (jellenbuckley), or Pinterest under Julia Buckley.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why I Hate Some People by E. B. Davis

In a blog I wrote last month, I mentioned that I had twisted my ankle after falling into a two-foot deep hole on the beach someone had failed to fill in while I scanned the waves for a drowning tourist. After a month, I was on the mend. Then, the knee above that ankle started giving me nasty pings. Knowing the knee connected by bones and ligaments to the ankle, I figured some of the impact I incurred in the original injury might have affected my knee. Also, in my body’s attempt to get rid of the ankle inflammation that fluid might had traveled up to the next joint—my knee.  After all, I had been walking strangely for a month until the ankle mended. So, I waited it out. At the beginning of August, I again was on the mend. I was planning on getting back to the gym. And then—

I was cleaning a spa located on a deck at a vacation house. As I walked down from the deck two dogs accosted me. The owner, the renter, was nearby. The dogs were aggressive, barking and growling. I said to the owner, “Sir, could you get hold of your dogs?” He didn’t react. He stood there looking at me as his dogs continued to bark and snarl. No tails wagged. It wasn’t until I again reiterated my request as more of a demand that he finally took hold of the dogs’ collars and took them into the house. He could clearly see I was frightened.

I like dogs. I have dog friends, Dinty, a Chocolate Lab, and Berry, a Goldendoodle. There’s a dog on our spa and pool route, Lilah, a Golden Lab, who I love. Oscar, the pit bull who is owned by the Deputy Sheriff living in my neighborhood, stops by when they go on walks. They are friendly dogs I know or have gotten to know since they are well behaved. But I’ve also had bad experiences with dogs I don’t know and who don’t know me. I’m not paranoid, but I am cautious—with good reason. Most dogs protect their territory and owners. It’s instinct. Why don’t some dog owners know and understand this?

The renters were staying for two weeks requiring us to return to the house to service their spa and pool. I thought if we went early, we might avoid the dogs. We arrived at the house, but kept our car in a common area beyond the rental house’s driveway. After we got out our equipment and as soon as we walked toward the house, the owner let the dogs out (with a clap of his hands). The dogs charged us. My husband’s response was to fight—he went toward them and made threatening motions. My reaction—flight—I opened my car door and dove in. As soon as the owner got our reaction, the dogs were called back into the house. I phoned my boss to report what had happened and told her I couldn’t service the house. While on the phone, I looked at the house. The owner and his friend were standing at the rail of the upper deck laughing at us.

It didn’t take more than an hour before my knee started swelling. When I dove into my car, I must have torn or stressed the joint. For what purpose did this happen? To be an amusement, fodder for the renter, who thought it was oh-so-funny that I was afraid of strange dogs. Nope, I don’t hate the dogs—I hate people—the owners. Not all, but I seem to attract sadistic sociopaths.

I’d like to externalize the experience by using it for fiction. But deep down I ask—how can you write about people when you hate them? If you have answers for me, please let me know. I’ve got time on my hands now that I must once again restrict movement to gain long-term mobility.

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Sherlock Holmes Book: A Review and a Warning

by Shari Randall

The Sherlock Holmes Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained series)
David Stuart Davies and Barry Forshaw, Consultant Editors

I was browsing the New Books shelves at the library when the spine of a book caught my eye. Gold letters on a Harris Tweed background proclaimed THE SHERLOCK HOLMES BOOK. A bold invitation from Dorling Kindersley Publishers, known for their fact stuffed books for kids. I pulled it from the shelf, intending a quick flip through. Before I knew it, twenty minutes had passed. This book, while certainly appealing to younger readers, is a feast for all fans of the great detective.

The Sherlock Holmes Book is part of DK’s Big Ideas Simply Explained series, which also includes books on Shakespeare, Philosophy, Economics, and Politics. The book is chock full of historical, social, and scientific background for the Holmes stories.

It's also full of spoilers.

The book begins with a short biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and then continues with biographies of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, and Lestrade.

The next section, the main part of the book, moves on to the tales themselves, all four novels and 56 short stories, devoting a few very readable pages to each. This section is delightful — but dangerous.

Delightful because of the broad ranging facts and intriguing historical tidbits that the editors share. Dangerous because these sections are rife with spoilers. The introduction states that this book is an “introduction” to Sherlock Holmes. But this book should only be read by those who have already enjoyed the tales. It’s stuffed with info graphics and information, but also spoilers galore.

For those who have read the stories, and especially for writers, the way the stories are broken down to their essentials, practically to their outlines, is intriguing and illuminating. In many sections, we see each clue and follow Holmes' fascinating trail of deduction. But if you plan to give this to someone new to the Sherlock stories, be sure to give them a book of the tales, also. As any reader knows, part of the fun is trying to solve the mystery yourself.

Among the fascinating facts you’ll find in the book:

In Victorian London, there was a notorious all female gang called the Forty Elephants. The gang was headed by a “queen” and led a successful shoplifting operation up until the 1950s.

At one time laudanum use was so widespread that it has been called “the aspirin of the 19th century.”

Conan Doyle never specified exactly what type of hat Holmes wore, but Sidney Paget, the illustrator of so many Holmes tales, provided the deerstalker since it was his own favorite headgear.

At a dinner party hosted by the publisher of Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine, Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde were both asked to write a mystery for an upcoming edition. Wilde wrote “The Picture of Dorian Gray" and Conan Doyle wrote “The Sign of Four.” That publisher had a nose for talent.

Each chapter begins with a quote. Is there a character more quotable than Sherlock Holmes?

“You see, but you do not observe.”
“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.”
“You know my method. It is founded upon the observation of trifles.”
“Danger is part of my trade.”

The book is rounded out by sections about the Holmes films and television shows, Holmes pastiches, and Conan Doyle’s other works.

A highlight of the book is the introduction by Leslie S. Klinger. In a book filled with graphics, snippets, flow charts, timelines, maps, facts, and factoids (no matter how fascinating), Klinger’s graceful foreword puts Holmes, Conan Doyle, and the entire Sherlock Holmes phenomena into context, fulfilling the “big idea” promise of the subtitle.

Recommendation: A fun addition to the library of those who can’t get enough Sherlock and have already read the stories. I just wish the publisher would put a SPOILER ALERT sticker on the cover.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Two Keys to Page-Turning Novels

Even Bears Sometimes Get Lost in the Woods
By James M. Jackson

Reviews of my Seamus McCree novels suggest many readers find them to be page-turners. Some even “complain” that they lost sleep because they couldn’t put the story down. I can sympathize. There are certain authors whose books I can’t put down—and it’s not necessarily because they are action thrillers.

I researched the issue and paid attention to how authors I can’t put down reel me in to reading just one more scene. “I’ll put the book down at the next white space,” I say, and two hours later I’m still reading. (White space is the term I use for a scene break or chapter break where there are a few blank lines separating the scenes (sometimes it includes a glyph) or—like with chapters—a new page where the next scene starts.)

I incorporated what I learned into Lesson 6 of my online course “Revision and Self-Editing.” Books that capture my attention and don’t let me go have two key components that books I can easily put down do not.

To keep me reading past the point I planned to stop requires a terrific “prompt” at the end of the scene. What makes a good prompt? There is no one way to do it, and if an author uses the same technique at the end of every scene, it could get as obnoxious as the cliffhangers of the 1914 serial Perils of Pauline flicks, where at every break the heroine is about to die.

The ending can be loaded with emotional punch, or a hint or premonition of change, or a question the reader wants answered. The scene can end with a line of dialogue that provides a twist or surprise. The POV character can make a promise (to another character or to herself) and we wonder whether she has really turned over a new leaf or what disaster will come from that decision. Whatever the actual content, it’s important to keep things open-ended. If there is no further suspense, there is no reason to keep reading. And if an author puts their POV character to bed and turns off the light, readers may decide to do the same. Zzzzzzzz.

An intriguing prompt is only half the battle. The terrific scene ending induces the reader to turn a page they didn’t intend to, but they aren’t yet committed to the next scene. That’s the job of that scene’s first few lines. They must set the hook to retain the reader while at the same time orienting him regarding who is in the scene (and who the Point-of-View character is), where and when it takes place, and what the first action is.

Lots of authors (including me in my early drafts) want to make sure readers understand the mechanics of the transition from one scene to the next. But, readers are smart. They know if the character was in California and plans to fly to New York, and the next time we see her she is in New York, she probably took the plane. Unless relevant conflict is involved, we don’t need to get her to the airport, through security and onto the plane, served tomato juice, deplane, grab a taxi, ring the doorbell, go through a long recitation of the last few days in California, etc., etc.

Let’s say we left our heroine worried about whether she was wise to dye her hair purple without letting her lover (who claims to adore her dirty blond hair) know. If the next scene opens with her lover throwing a fit about the dye job, the reader doesn’t care about the details of the trip. Or if the author wants a reaction scene to deepen reader connection with the character, she might cut directly to the heroine’s increasing anxiety as she self-talks her way through doing the laundry, waiting for her lover to get home.

Here’s another example to illustrate the point. Let’s say a scene ends with Barbara slamming out of her sister’s house (an action scene; her sister is named Molly). The next scene is set in a pub where Barbara meets her best friend, Trish, to kvetch (a reaction scene setting up the next action scene). Many authors would take the reader from the sister’s house to the bar: Barbara gets in the car, drives, parks, walks into the bar, her eyes have to adjust to the light, finally sees her friend in a back booth, smiles and waves and walks over, sits down and orders a beer.

I don’t know about you, but I start reading all that and think, “I don’t need to read this now,” and slip my bookmark in place (or close my Kindle).

But if the next scene began with dialogue like this (which assumes we’ve met Trish before), I could be kicking myself a half hour later because I still don’t want to put the book down.

“Next time,” Barbara said, “I’m going to rip her hair out and test her DNA.” She raised her mug high over her head to order another.

Trish’s hoot temporarily drowned out Lyle Lovett moaning from Lefty’s jukebox. “Oh, Molly’s your sister, all right. No one else can jerk your chain so bad. It ain’t even three o’clock and you’re already doin’ shooters with your beer.”

“You say so.” Barbara rolled her shoulders and a bit of tension released from her neck. Thank God she had called Trish. She had been in such a blind fury she didn’t even remember driving here. God, she hoped she hadn’t run that red light with the snitch camera like the last time she was pissed off at Molly. “Mama always said, ‘Don’t get mad. Get even.’ I owe her big, and I got a plan.”

“Oh Lordy,” Trish said. “What do I have to talk you out of this time?”

I’m sure the authors reading this blog could make this snippet stronger, but this example has accomplished a lot in a few lines. The author has defined the POV character (Barbara) and provided additional characterization.

We have a setting (Lefty’s — probably a bar, some place that plays Country music.)

There is a transition from the prior scene to this one as Barbara reflects on how she got here (and provided a speck of backstory about getting nailed for running a red light).

We know the scene objective (Barbara is trying to solicit Trish to carry out revenge).

We have evidence that Trish is going to resist Barbara and so we anticipate conflict between them.

Wouldn’t you want to know what the scheme is and whether Trish can talk her out of it. Of course, good authors make sure to vary their scene openings as well as their scene endings to keep them interesting and fresh.

Readers, does this jibe with your experiences, or is there something else that makes you read late into the night?

Authors, if you’re interested in learning more about Revisions and Self-Editing, the next month-long course starts October 1. You can find more information on my website at You’ll receive a discounted fee if you sign up before September 5.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Andrew - 25 Years Later – A Journey in Mindfulness by Kait Carson

Like most people, I had begun to feel a victim of the crazy pace of the world. It seemed my life was reactive not proactive. Much of my time was spent putting off anything that I wanted to do and instead dealing with endless lists of gotta dos. It was making me a) cranky, b) resentful, c) unhappy, d) all of the above. The feeling was exacerbated by our recent election that made it seem that the entire world was on a Tilt-A-Whirl and we were crashing ourselves to jelly against wire mesh walls with no end to the ride in sight. Each day brought new challenges. I needed a break.

Magazines and blogs around the New Year recommended something called mindfulness. I was already mindful of being out of control of my time and how it affected my mood. About the last thing I wanted was an app to reinforce that! Digging a little deeper and drawing on memories of the 1960s (it ain’t true. I WAS there, and I CAN remember it) I realized mindfulness was 21st century speak for meditation. So I bought an app. Headspace. The name called to mind memories of water buffalo sandals, Indian print skirts, and peasant blouses. It felt comfortable.

No Om-ing about it though, instead it’s a directed mediation, but the app does rely on the same principals of calming the mind, and setting it free. Before too long my creativity increased, I felt more in control of what I could and could not do, and able to look objectively at the things I couldn’t control and let them go. The program also reminded me that change in life happens not in sweeping arcs of time, but in the ninety degree turns of moments.

It was this newfound ability to connect the dots that gave rise to this blog. I’d planned to write about John Grisham and his early books.  Well, maybe next month. This month is about Hurricane Andrew.

For those who don’t remember—and if you weren’t living in South Florida on August 24, 1992, you probably don’t—Hurricane Andrew, the third category 5 hurricane to hit the United States since category record keeping began, struck Florida.

I lived in northern Dade (as it was called then) County. According to projections, Andrew’s intended landfall was in my neighborhood. My cat and I took shelter with a friend, inland, but still north, where we huddled in a windowless hallway watching a battery-operated TV while the wind howled outside and unknown objects struck the house. At some point, Bryan Norcross who broadcast on Channel 4 throughout the night, announced that the radar equipment for the weather service located at the University of Miami had blown off the roof and he was supplying updated data to them from a feed he had access to.

Throughout the night he gave instructions to people as to how they could stay safe, and in those pre-cell phone days, he took calls as he could from people in south Dade. People whose houses were blowing down around their heads. At around 3 AM Bryan Norcross announced, “People in Dade County are dying tonight.”

The howling abated at around 8 AM in north Dade and we managed to push open the doors and view the mess. Powerlines were dancing, limbs scattered everywhere, my friend’s white stucco house was now covered in a layer of green leaves, but with few exceptions, there was no structural damage anyplace we could see.  Reports from south Dade were grim. I called an elderly friend and got no answer, I called all of her neighbors that I had numbers for and got no answer, so I called Metro-Dade Police. They offered to track her for me and I gave them the information.[1] In return, I asked if there was anything I could do to help. The answer was swift. “Get your butt to the head of the Turnpike. A patrol officer will meet you there and escort you to the kill zone to help.” The kill zone. That’s what the dispatcher called it.

I went. I was led to Naranja Lakes. Ground zero. The place where three people died. The first duty, body recovery. There were simply not enough officers, not enough reserves, not enough volunteers able to get to work. No one was turned away in those early days and certainly not in the early hours. South Dade was gone. Officers had family priorities and they were honored. The volunteers worked identifying the missing (most had gone to seek shelter) contacting worried relatives, delivering food and water, providing first aid, doing whatever was needed until the cavalry arrived (shout out to the 82nd Airborne who setup camp at Naranja Lakes) and then we worked for them.

By late September offices were beginning to reopen downtown, people were beginning to get back to work. It took that long; the infrastructure was that damaged. South Florida was still under a curfew, rebuilding had not begun, but the supply lines had been established, tents and trailers were in place for shelter and things were getting a little easier. That’s when Comic Relief stepped in. A group of entertainers brought in by Cellar Door, Joe Robbie Stadium, Comic Relief, Estefan Enterprises, the Miami Dolphins, and the Florida Marlins took over Joe Robbie Stadium for one night.

Jimmy Buffett kicked it off. He came on stage, looked out over the crowd and said, “If ever a town needed a party, this one is it.” The concert was supposed to end at 10. Even though the curfew had been bent, it wasn’t meant to be lifted and the trip from JRS to south Dade was a good 45 minutes. A lot of us saw dawn break over Joe Robbie as entertainer after entertainer took the stage, sang, told jokes, told stories. It was amazing and for one night—the hurricane and the horror faded into the background. We were normal again. It was a turning point. South Florida came together that night. Tensions that were building eased, we remembered we were in it together.

South Dade these days is unrecognizable to what it was on August 23, 1992, when the area went to sleep. Miami-Dade County as it’s called now is a diverse place. The diversity did not come easy, but that moment in time gave us hope that it would come.

Somehow in this insane tilt-a-whirl world we have to find a way to come to a moment. A moment where we pause and see value in each other. A moment where diversity will be a cause of strength not divisiveness. Where we will be mindful of each other and we will build on that moment to a new reality. We can’t rely on our leaders to do it for us or to lead us to it. It needs to be a grass roots effort.

We need to be mindful that we are the key.

[1] My friend, Lois was safe. She had managed to get to her cousin’s in Naples after the storm turned her second floor condo into a penthouse! She checked in with Metro-Dade Police as storm refugees were asked to do and Metro-Dade shared the good news with me.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Champagne For One by Rex Stout: A Review by Warren Bull

Champagne For One by Rex Stout: A Review by Warren Bull

Champagne For One was published in 1958. It is one of thirty three novels Rex Stout wrote featuring his detective, Nero Wolf and his assistant, Archie Goodwin. Wolf was a stay-at-home detective, rarely venturing away from his New York brownstone home. Wolfe’s daily schedule was set up to include four hours each day with his orchids, gourmet meals, and as little physical activity as he can manage. It is not surprising that he weighed 1/7th of a ton. His luxurious home is also arranged to fit his interests and occupation with private space for him and built-in ways to listen to and watch visitors.

Champagne For One is an example of his detective style. He sends Archie out with the men he regularly uses as backup. Suspects come to his home for questioning and to plead their cases. The police cooperative reluctantly and with loud complaints, but they go along with the crime-solver. 
In this novel, as in many others, Wolfe solves an “impossible” crime by using Archie and others to do the legwork, by observation and by the use of his massive intelligence.  In the novel Archie is asked by an acquaintance to attend a formal dinner the mansion of a grand dame of society. Guests include six single men and six unmarried women who are in a charitable facility that helps unmarried women. At the dinner he discovers that one of the women has cyanide capsules in her purse. She has said that someday she may kill herself using the poison. Archie keeps his eye on the woman and on her purse. Nevertheless she dies in front of the group. Tests confirm she was poisoned.  Nearly everyone except Archie believes she committed suicide. Archie is convinced she was murdered. 

Was she murdered? If so how?  Archie watched her and her purse. Even if it was death by suicide, how did she get the poison? The questions are fair. Not having Wolfe’s brainpower, I did not guess the solution correctly.

 This is a series in which the characters do not grow or change. For example, Wolfe is the same age in every novel. However, I enjoyed visiting familiar characters in a setting I knew well. Nero Wolfe is one of the classic fictional detectives. This novel is well worth reading.

While working on this blog I learned about Rex Stout. The author was raised as a Quaker and had a strong sense of right and wrong. He supported civil rights and authors’ rights. Stout was on the original board of the American Civil Liberties Union. During the height of the McCarthy era he ignored a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although Stout was a staunch anti-Communist, Herbert Hoover included Stout on his personal enemies list. Many writers were on his list. Stout included social commentary in his mysteries.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Last week my Third Thursday Book Club got together to discuss the book The River of Doubt a true story by Candice Millard about Theodore Roosevelt’s dangerous trip down a river in the Amazon forest with his son Kermit and others. I had read the book five or six years ago, and last December when the book club met at my house to pick books for the following year, it was one of the books I picked for nonfiction. We’re not a large book club, but usually we have more than the five of us who showed up that day. One was not able to find a copy, another had read it years ago like I did. Although I reread it, she didn’t but as those of us who had discussed it, she remembered parts of it, too. Those of us who read it were glad we did and all agreed it was a page turner.

Quite a few years ago I had read T R The Last Romantic by H.W. Brands so I knew what an amazing and adventurous person he was. He was a war hero who led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill during the Spanish American War. There were so many other brave adventures he took on.

I remember seeing a reenactment of Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir at a local theater. He loved the out-of-doors and nature and like John Muir wanted to protect it. He loved people and the people loved him.

When he lost a second term as president in 1912, he became depressed and decided to take on a new adventure which was to explore and unmapped river never before explored in the Amazon forest that led to the Amazon River. Once he and those who went with him including Brazil’s most famous explorer, Candido Mariano da Silva Rondon who became a dual leader with Roosevelt. As dual leaders they mostly got along although they had different outlooks which created problems at times,

There were so many problems even from the beginning. The two men who Roosevelt trusted to put together the supplies they would need failed miserably. Native Indians with arrows that had poison arrow heads were watching from the forest. They had to make difficult portages around deep and fast rapids and waterfalls. They endured many diseases and starvation because even though they had guns to hunt mammals for food, the animals and birds were camouflaged by the thick forest. And all the while they worried about the natives because they could hear them and see their trails when they had to portage the canoes and dugouts around the dangerous parts of the river. They ran out of food. There were poisonous snakes like coral and anacondas who are not poisonous but quite large, and alligators, as well as dangerous fish in the river.

The book reads like a thriller, and even though I knew how it ended, I found it hard to put down not only because of all the dangers they faced and lived through, but the character of Theodore Roosevelt himself. It’s no wonder that in the year it was published it was picked as the best book of the year by New York Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, U.S.A. Today, Kansas City Star.

Washington Post wrote “A fine account . . . There are far too many books in which a travel writer follows in the footsteps of his or her hero – and there are far too few books like this, in which an author who has spent time and energy ferreting out material from archival sources weaves it into a gripping tale.”

Yes, it was a gripping tale even when I read it a second time and those in my book club who read it agreed it was one they had trouble putting down.

Have you read The River of Doubt or other books about Theodore Roosevelt?