Saturday, April 23, 2022

How Much and What Do I Read?

This month's round-robin question is about how much reading I do, both for pleasure and for a work in progress.

I love to read and love my Kindle! My Kindle has more than 40 books on it, and I carry it with me all the time, along with a recharging cord and adaptor for electric outlets. I read during breaks at work, or while traveling (if not driving), and while in bed before sleeping. I've already worn out two Kindles. 

I also read a lot of non-fiction, mostly in historical or science genres, but some are on various other topics like gardening, art, writing, psychology, and more. When  I'm gone, I sometimes wonder what will happen to my 1000 or so books. 

In the novel category, I love to read fantasy, contemporary romance, historical romance, or just historical stories, mysteries, and even general fiction. Becoming immersed in a story is satisfying as it generates all types of emotions, and becomes relaxing at the end when all (or most) problems are resolved. Stories I love I read multiple times.

I also read a lot of non-fiction. (Why do we call in non-fiction? Isn't there a better name, like factual or informative books? Something without the 'non' moniker.)

In history, I love reading about the earliest civilizations. In this category, I've read the Sumerians: A History From Begining to End, and I was fascinated by all the knowledge provided about a civilization existing from 5000 to 2000 BCE. I learned they came up with the concept of a 24 hour day, a 360-degree circle (a sexagesimal system which we still use today in our timekeeping), the year was split into 12 segments, they had a written language (cuneiform), they identified all the planets although the Greeks and Romans named them, and developed the zodiac. They had mathematical calculations to predict the future position of planets, multiplication and division tables, square roots, geometrical exercises, financial and loan contracts, and much more! I was so surprised to learn what humans knew over 4000 years ago and at the very beginning of humans living off the land in one location rather than roaming! Learning is one of the pleasures of reading!

I've read many non-fiction books for background information on stories I have had in progress.  For instance, for my novel Constantine's Legacy, I read numerous books on the Roman Empire, the Carolingian dynasty, and the dark ages that are now known as the early middle ages. While the novel is fiction, many facts about the era were needed. Not much fiction is written about this era, but like the Sumeria, I think much more information is now available.

Because I like to write science fiction, I also need some groundwork for basic science in those novels. While some science can be fictional, it cannot be science from this age, or else the book turns into fantasy. Admittedly, I've written fantasy, but sci-fi is different (or should be—I've read a few that were based more on fantasy than science—but that's writing for you). So I've also read information for story background data on how to bioform a planet for future inhabitation, how different police departments work (for books in a contemporary settingalthough policing has changed with time, too), and about various military ranks, and more on other various story topics.

I have to admit reading for me is more than a hobby—more like a passion.

Read more on this topic at the following author's sites:

Marci Baun 

Connie Vines 

Helena Fairfax 

Diane Bator 

Skye Taylor 

Dr. Bob Rich  

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Message Within the Story

The tension in all stories is achieved by the adversity the characters must overcome. This is what keeps the reader's attention and keeps them reading. This tension delivers messages about facing challenges, overcoming difficulties and differences, discovering love, and how to become an ethical and understanding person. The plot will also contain a message about how the characters reach a final resolution. 

Can a book have other messages? Messages that the reader must intuit? I think so, and in part, those messages might be what attracts the reader. What is amazing is that different readers can comprehend these messages differently.

Stories tell readers so much about humans, their characteristics, faults, and virtues. We are all different but all alike. A story can also reveal why individuals act the way they do. So reading might teach the reader understanding and how to deal with certain situations and people. 

I think all of my books have these messages. The funny thing is that I probably didn't plan or recognize all the messages, not even as the author. In the Black Angel series, it is about the heroine finding herself after her mind has been destroyed. In the Homeworld series, it is about finding a home. In the Aegis series, it is about belonging and acceptance as the person you are.  In Constantine's Legacy, it is about discovering a world-changing lie that cannot be stopped.

For other author viewpoints on this topic, visit the following posts:

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Clandestine -- Arcane Revenge

This month's Round Robin is to describe a flawed character you might use as a heroine or hero in a story. How did they become so flawed? How might their flaws affect the story and what will happen to them?

Arcane Revenge's anti-hero was once a good man, but what he has endured changes him into a conniving, hate-filled person who wants revenge.

I've been working on the Arcane Revenge story for a while. It has been a slow stop-and-go process with long hiatuses between writing episodes. This is a science fiction story about a rich man who was attacked, his well-known handsome face destroyed with acid, and declared an escaped prisoner. He ends up as a slave crewman on a spaceship. Much illegal finagling went on for this to happen. The ship, the Klester, was later damaged and abandoned with the ship headed for a collision course with the moon. The prison crew (more like slave), whose use by non-government ships had become illegal, was left aboard.  

Unexpectedly a solar patrol ship investigated the Klester's problem as it was on its destruction course. It was an unfortunate procedure, but companies were responsible for the deconstruction of their unstable ships, but it was cheaper to have the space police destroy them. If the Klester was purposely disabled, the company would still pay. Plus they could not let the ship crash into the moon. By chance, this patrol found the prisoners and saved them.  The legal crew had already safely shuttled to another ship and their names shortly disappeared from all records. Two of the nine found prisoners aboard the Kester were dead, six were supposed to be in a prison facility for minor crimes, but the seventh was a person missing for seven years—Carson Riese—the very wealthy owner of the now-defunct Riese Shipping.

Riese wakes in a hospital feeling depressed, hopeless, and detached from everyone and everything. Then he learns his family will visit him, and thinks, Oh God. His family? They wanted to visit him? Probably to tell him Riese Shipping no longer existed and his wealth was gone. His detachment turns to anger as he knows they have consumed his wealth although none had been named in his will. Plus, he knew that just before the attack on him, he had sold the ship that became the Klester. He had recognized it, so whoever trapped him knew exactly who he was. Now he doesn't want anyone to see him, not with his destroyed face. While his anger increases he thinks of ways to destroy those who destroyed him. He would make them pay somehow.

The problem I've run into is how to allow Carson to take revenge but remain, or return to, a basically good person, or at least one an audience can relate to without disgust or hatred. I still have not decided how the story will end, but want to have as many devious revenge and hopeful redemptive twists and turns within the plot as possible.

However, writing this post has made me reread what I have done and maybe even inspired me to finish it

Please read these author's post on this topic:

Connie Vines 

Skye Taylor 

Anne Stenhouse 

Marci Baun 

Diane Bator 

Dr. Bob Rich   

Judith Copek 


Saturday, January 22, 2022

COVID and Writing

This month's topic is how I am dealing with this COVID pandemic in my writing. My problem is I'm not...writing that is. Although fully vaccinated, for most of late 2020 through June of 2021, I've been at home.
While I've got books in progress, I have not made much writing headway. Generally speaking, I had been home in front of my computer most of the time during the last decade, even teaching online, but somehow it now felt different, isolating. 

Then a Dollar General opened up a mile down the road. I applied for part-time on the weekends, and because few want that time, I got the job. For the first time in two decades of living in Luther, I'm meeting many of my local neighbors, people I never knew. And I enjoy talking with them although I'm having a terrible time remembering all their names. As an added benefit, I'm walking two, three, or four miles within the store whenever I work. Since my local road is too icy to walk and the weather way too cold, I'm still staying in good walking it gets me out of the house!

With the suggested topic for this post, I began thinking about the idea of writing a story with COVID as part of the setting or topic. This led to some convoluted ideas, and I concluded that I don't think I would write a novel with COVID in the background as so many are dealing with the issue day-to-day and might be reading to escape the reality of COVID. As I wrote that down, I thought, but then again, maybe it would help them deal with this new world, its COVID threat, and the resulting social issues of the illness: limited healthcare availability, death of family and friends, isolation, vaccination, masks, and other disease-induced pandemonium. 

Any contemporary story would be marked historically by the mention of the pandemic, yet all contemporary stories are marked by time. Jane Austen's novels were contemporary romance stories (maybe the first?) as were Betty Neels, but today those stories are historical romances, so any contemporary story should mention COVID, right? Any mainstream story would probably be dealing with COVID, and the resulting social defiance and unrest. I couldn't do it as a historical novel yet, because the ultimate effects are not yet known. Then again, maybe a setting using the 1918 pandemic might work. What other genre might work? Horror? Mystery? Those are both out of my writing realm. Maybe I could translate the pandemic into a science fiction story? 

As you might note, I'm a little confounded by current times and issues. I hope this pandemic ends soon. Maybe I can return to normality, but I'm thinking a different normality lies ahead. So maybe just a short story...or two...or three?

Please visit these authors and read how they would deal with this topic in their writing:

Connie Vines

Skye Taylor

Anne Stenhouse

Marci Baun

Diane Bator

Dr. Bob Rich

Judith Copek

Saturday, December 18, 2021

My Family in My Writing

This will be kind'a short as our electricity has been out two days and is expected to be out at least another day and this computer or the wi-fi router may quite at any minute.;

Have I ever used one of my siblings as a character? No. They might not like the book or the character (even a heroic one) if they recognized I used them. However, they and everyone I know well affect my writing, probably unconsciously. They are the persons who taught me about human characteristics: personalities, emotions, behaviors, how they react to both good and bad situations. So while none of my characters are based on them, they are the basis for all I know about people. 

Sorry I can't write more, or even put down the participant's list (I will include this as soon as I can get on my own computer) but I did want anyone to think I hadn't forgotten the post. Only circumstances have interfered. I am glad that without electric or heat we don't have snow or very sub-zero temperatures.  I will visit all participant's blogs as soon as electric comes back. 

Here is the list of participants in this month's round robin:

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Evil Characters

Evil bings
This month the topic is to describe a flawed or evil character you have used or might use in a story. How did they become so flawed? What part will they play in the story and what will happen to them?

All of my stories have evil characters, or at the least self-serving motives over friends or family, or anyone else's needs.

In Stone House Farm the rejected fiancee of the hero and an ex-husband of the heroine want retribution. Not getting what she wants (his wealth and prestige) leads the ex-fiance to try to kill the man who didn't want her, and the ex-husband tries to get more money from his ex-wife.  

In Rogue's Rules, there are two evil characters. One is Morgan Dachs, who, to save his life and ship, traded thirteen fellow crewmembers to a slaver. Morgan's uncle-in-law, Durrant Rosche, uses the powerful Dachs name, and their wealth, for his personal gain. While they were bad, in Angels Tread readers learn it was another powerful person who was controlling them. And Admiral Ries Vaughn used his rank and power to get whatever he wanted.

In Constantine's Legacy, a high-ranking priest has a fraudulent document made that says Emperor Constantine the Great gave the Church his lands in Italy when he moved the court to Byzantium. He ends up trying to kill the story's hero who knows the truth.

The judgment on the good or evil of a person depends on many things. The world's human populations are complicated as well as their history. What's good in one country can be evil in another. During their early development, people lived in tribes whose individuals helped protect each other, but often annihilated other tribes. Our history shows this tendency continues between certain populations and countries. Individuals have the same tendencies. How each person is raised and their mental outlook has a great influence on whether they are considered a good or bad person. And certainly, like the Earth, they have polar opposites that can switch from good to evil or vice-versa for their own survival.

Part of writing is showing how a character's history and his or her outlook will develop how they can become evil. 

On the other hand, I have witnessed strangers bestowing great kindness. I was once ringing up a customer's bill, but her card wouldn't cover the cost. The man in line behind her said he'd pay it. And he did—over eighty dollars. This works in writing stories, too, as it shows how a character's behavior lets the reader judge their goodness or evilness.

Please visit the following who are also discussing this topic:

Anne Stenhouse 

Dr. Bob Rich  

Connie Vines 

Skye Taylor 

Marci Baun 

Diane Bator 


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Stone House Farm released!

This is a sort-of contemporary romance novel as it is set in 2009, when I originally wrote it. It is set in Manistee, Michigan, near the shores of Lake Michigan. 

Here is an excerpt from the story's beginning:

Amanda pushed through the glass front door expecting to have to plow past secretaries and assorted office henchmen, but as luck would have it, Wade Preston stood in the reception area talking with his partner, Edward Van Haitsma. Wade’s height and dark hair made a strong contrast to his partner’s shorter frame and fair hair. Both were good looking by anyone’s standard. Wade held a stack of papers. The two men looked as if they had just finished a heated discussion.
    “Whatever you want!” Van Haitsma said as he turned and walked away, his shoes pounding an upset rhythm on the refinished, highly polished oak flooring.
    Preston’s fiancée, Melissa Rillema, stood nearby with her arms crossed. A pout marred the perfection of her face. Since only the woman’s mouth moved, without a hint of frown lines, Amanda snorted, suspecting cosmetic injections. Melissa would make a perfect wife for Wade. Two beautiful, congenial rich rats running in a social superiority maze. Melissa’s long blonde hair rippled about her shoulders as she turned her head to glance at Amanda, then back to Wade who had walked over to her.
    As she strode forward to interrupt the couple’s private interlude, Wade looked over at her, anger etching his face. She checked her step before charging ahead. Hell, he had to expect a storm after the letter he sent her. As Wade watched her approach, his face firmed into what Amanda privately called the bulldog behind the businessman’s mask. It infuriated her to have to spend her precious lunchtime taking care of this matter. This time, she would talk to Wade Preston face-to-face and make her position clear.
    “Mrs. Carter, how can I help you?”
    He recognized her? His voice and demeanor were politely bland, but remnants of anger lingered in lines around his handsome features. He called her by her married name, something she had discarded after her divorce.
    She held Preston’s gaze with determination. As a freshman teenager in high school with hormones and the idealism of innocence, Amanda’s dream world starred the senior quarterback, Wade Preston. Back then, he had been oblivious of her.
    “It’s Ms. Blanchard, now. You can help me, Mr. Preston, by accepting the fact that I do not want to sell my property. Not now, and not in the future. Furthermore, I will not let you steal it from me.” Heads turned toward the sound of her angry tones. Most looked like employees and quickly looked away when Amanda stared back at them. Wade’s face deepened in color, his mouth and jaw set, his eyes darkening.
    She waved the envelope under his nose. He took it, looked at the address, and pulled the sheets from inside. His brows scrunched lower as he read.
    “You’ve received an offer at a fair-market price,” Wade said, his voice firm, low and controlled. Her temper eased slightly seeing the wrinkle between his brows as he looked at her letter.
    Melissa smiled pityingly at Amanda. “I would think in your dire circumstances, Wade’s offer was manna from Heaven.” Her tone one of pure condescension.
    “Stay out of this,” Wade said with a fierce gaze at his fiancée. Amanda thought Melissa’s smile more smirk than compliance and doubted the woman had even heard her lover.
    “What could you possibly know about my situation?” Amanda said. “And how does any of this involve you?”
    The smile never faltered. “I understand it is a very generous offer.”
    Amanda’s rage fired anew. Melissa had no part in this, and her opinion was not only unneeded but also unwanted. “Generous if I were willing to sell out what my family has worked generations to build. I’m not.” Amanda turned back to Wade Preston, grabbed the letter from his hand, and clutched it in her fist.
    His frowning gaze turned to Amanda, his brows lowering until they nearly touched. “I don’t know what you are alleging. As I said, this is an offer at a fair market price for your property.”
    “You missed the threat of an eminent domain seizure. I don’t care what dirty tricks you try with the bank, or the county Planning Department, or the Commissioners, or the township board. I will fight you every step of the way.”
    “Then you better hire a lawyer,” Melissa cut in with a practiced tinkling sound that substituted for a laugh.
    “Melissa…” Wade’s tone held a warning and his scowl deepened.
    Amanda kept her regard on Wade, hoping her expression said I am not backing down. If not pumped with so much adrenaline, she would never have felt so defiant, but Melissa’s confidence ate at her self-assurance. Her diffident side advised retreat. Having said what she wanted, she turned on her heel and swept out of the office, escaping any further humiliation.

Imagine Amanda finding Wade a chapter later lying in her snow-covered orchard unconscious and shot!

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Scariest Halloween

Halloween was always an adventure for mewalking the neighborhood in the dark of nightwhat could be scarier? Yet, I was always with my brothers and sisters, and because of the costumes didn't think any neighbor would recognize us. It was fun pretending to be hobgobblins. 

But as per the post previous to this one, I've experienced very strange things happening on Halloween. 

Now, because I live in the country outside a village on the backside of nowhere Michigan (but a beautiful area and friendly community), I no longer have trick or treaters coming to the house. I loved those who came to our door in Lansing, Michigan, and in Harvester, Missouri. Yet the scariest Halloween was crafted by my husband and the neighbor across the street on Teel Street in Lansinga neighborhood street with no businesses on it.

A few cars had been cruising down our neighborhood street at a very fast pace. It was dark and too many children still walked the sidewalks and frequently made unexpected street crossings. Bill and Dick decided to slow some speeders down. 

They made a fabric ghost and strung it between the two trees opposite each other on the street with drawstrings attached.  When a car came by going way too fast, they dropped the ghost on the car's windshield (only to a couple cars). One driver slammed on his breaks but kept going. Shortly a cop car showed up. A driver had reported someone threw something on his windshield. Bill asked, "You mean the one going way faster than the twenty-five-mile speed zone?"

The cop looked up and saw the ghost hanging, smiled, but said, "Don't do it again," and quickly left. No more speeders that Halloween night.

It just shows you what good hobgobblins can accomplish.

On the other hand, I made my daughter's witch-princess costume and took her to the local mall where a costume contest was taking place. She came away with first prize! Halloween is supposed to be fun!

Meridian Mall, 1977 best costume

Skye Taylor 


Marci Baun 

Connie Vines 

Dr. Bob Rich 

Anne Stenhouse 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Halloween 1995, Dad's Dying

“Hello?” I mummer, the phone’s ringer woke me from a deep sleep. My eyes squint to look at the clock: seven.

“Mom?” It’s Karen, my daughter. My mind clicks awake. This is Sunday, early morning for us. This is Karen, who I started phoning in the afternoon after waking her all too frequently at ten o'clock on Sunday mornings because of our locational time differences. Her voice is all-soft and tense, something is wrong voice. I’m instantly alert. “Grandma has been trying to reach you. It’s Grandpa. He’s dying. She tried to call you but couldn’t get through.”

I calm Karen while briefly profaning my mother for worrying my daughter. My mother, who has called my number weekly for decades without a problem. I curse myself. Mom must be in a real state if she cannot dial the phone. I tell Karen it will be all right. "We have expected this. It’s for the best." I hear the tears in her goodbye. She hangs up.

“What was that?” Bill asks from the bathroom door. He has showered and stands in the bathroom doorway drying himself. I explain. “What do you want to do?” he asks. 

“Call Jim.”  I looked up my older brother’s number and dialed the Tampa exchange. “Jim?”

“You got the call too, huh?”

“Yes. You going?”

“God, Robbie, I don't know what to do. You know how Mom gets. I’ve been up there so many times when Dad's been dying. I can’t afford to take more time off work for my father dying when he doesn’t.”

“I know.” I’ve not been able to go all the times my father had been supposedly dying. I’ve received many calls telling me to expect Dad’s death, only to wait days to learn he pulled through one more time. I listen to Jim tell of his dilemma at work. I listen, but my thoughts slip into another channel. Dad has been dying at least six times in the last ten years. Each time was very serious, the doctors telling my mother he would not pull through. Memories flash through my mind.

Shortly after I was married, Dad lost an eye in a freak accident with a dropped baby aspirin bottle smashing into the bathroom sink. The emergency room would not touch him. They made an appointment with him for a specialist. The specialist could not see him for two days. Well, with glass embedded in his eye, he could not see any way, but by the time the doctor saw him, it was too late. They tried to save the eye, but for the year it was left in, he was in such pain that afterward, he could remember nothing of that year. From then on he had a glass eye.

I remember on a phone call Dad told me he and mom had been at an event, and he went into a restroom to rinse the eye off, as sometimes things got in it. A man using a urinal ask if he were some pervert who liked to watch or if pissing embarrassed him. “No,” Dad told him. “I need to remove my eye.” The guy laughed in disbelief and wanted to see it happen. Dad told me with laughter clear in his voice, that he shrugged and took out his eye. The guy shouted and rushed from the restroom.

Years after that accident, he had five bypass heart surgeries in a time when you stayed in the hospital for weeks. At the time of the first one, I lived in Lansing, and I waited with my family in the waiting room for the long surgery. A migraine started and I remember little. On the way home I had to have Bill pull to the side of the road, so I could vomit. 

Then it was discovered he had emphysema. World War II soldiers smoked. It was the times, it was the war. My Dad smoked three packs a day until he lost his eye. While taking the pain medications he stopped smoking and stopped drinking a few beers (6-pack?) every night. Nothing tasted right.

That had been years ago. The lung specialist said the heart surgeon had to have known. “They had to physically lift these lungs out of the way to get to the heart,” he told my parents. “They had to have seen.” 

Too late again. Five years or more had gone by since the heart surgery and the emphysema had advanced. They gave him six months to a year to live. He lasted another decade, plus between bouts with pneumonia, he and Mom made trips to the Veterans Hospital in Detroit when the drugs became too expensive for him to afford. Dad had been self-employed, so had no pension, no health plan. Dad drove, scaring Mom because, with one eye, his depth perception was gone.

Years ago, when urban renewal had taken his Citgo service station, they gave him nineteen thousand dollars because that was all the property was worth. Riverfront property, one block off the town’s downtown area and on the main highway coming through town. It angered me. The town screwed him. Urban renewal destroyed my hometown as I knew it, and took the only livelihood I could remember my Dad having. For God's sake, what was he going to do? 

He got a job. He may or may not have been happy at it, I was living out of state and raising my own family, and time slid by unobserved. When he became too ill to work, he baked bread and peddled it around town to working women. Even his doctor took payment in bread. I think the doctor liked honey whole wheat best. Pies, cookies, great French bread, you name it, he made it. He taught my son Chris to bake during summer visits. My Dad never retired.

My intellect tells me nothing stays the same, but my heart believes nothing changes. The man who just yesterday swung me into his arms when I ran to him yelling “Daddy, Daddy” might be dying. It was hard to fathom. I haven’t heard a word of what Jim’s been saying for several minutes. Blanking out a conversation like this happens to me a lot. “Tell you what Jim. You’ve been there when I couldn’t. Let me go up and see what is happening. If things look really bad, I’ll call you. Okay?” We exchange a few more words and hang up.

Dad and four of his five kids -- that's me on the right.

Bill has been listening. He has to work and can’t come with me. I’m grateful because I want to be alone on this trip, I prefer experiencing my sad moments in private.“Give me the phone and I’ll get you tickets.”

After Bill gets the tickets, I call my new employer and let him know I’d be gone. A few hours later I leave Lambert Airport in St. Louis headed for Metro in Detroit. After reaching Detroit, I’m an hour's drive from home in Fenton. The small post-war brick house looks the same, a little shabby, but welcoming. Mom looks the same as my last visit: worn, her dark brunette now silver-white. Her eyes are sad, but she is glad to see me. The last few years show. You have to respect someone giving up everything to care for another person. I always think I subconsciously suspect them too; wonder if I could do it, would do it; maybe, but grudgingly.

Juli, Patty, and Doug, and his wife Jan are there, the hometown family. I remember Jan lost her mother not so long ago. I wonder if I remembered to send a condolence card; hope I did. I’m so bad at carrying through on social graces. These are the ones who carried the brunt of family concerns, visited the hospital, planned holidays, birthdays, done the day-to-day things only they and Mom know about--like mow the lawn, paint the house, fixing this or that.

"Come and see Dad,” Mom says. “I can’t keep pajamas on him. He kicks and shoves his way out of them. He doesn’t want anything on." She sounds so very normal. I don't want to go into the room.

He is laying in the small family room on a hospital bed. It began as a bedroom he had built on after the house’s original two bedrooms were inadequate with four children. One more would come, but Jim would be graduating and joining the Navy shortly after that. Pat and Juli enter. I suddenly realize I’m involved in a death watch. It seems so totally archaic. I want to leave. I don't want people, family, to watch me die. I am embarrassed for myself, nervous, and uncomfortable. You’d think I was the one waiting to die.

I stand by the bed looking at Dad. Mom says he has been dozing. A sheet covers him. His oxygen tube is missing. He must not need it any longer. His eyes open. "My God, Robbie!" he says half rising and then collapses back into the bed. His eyes close and in minutes he is asleep. I say nothing. What am I supposed to do? I greet Jan. I love incurably kind and comforting Jan. She can keep a conversation going with such ease. I suppose it’s a good thing. Doug can be very reticent. As can I. We talk, our voices low, around a sleeping man. Mom says, “Go ahead, Robin, talk to Dad, he can hear you.” I am speechless. What could I possibly say in front of everyone? The kids are fine, bla, bla, bla.

Meaningless drivel? The often trivial deliberation involved in everyday exchanges? I say nothing. Hours go by in which Dad remains the same. We change rooms, move to the tiny living room and conversation normalizes with the general catching up between visits too far apart. Funny things that have happened, kids have been kids. We laugh. We’ve done this every time I’ve visited. It’s familiar, it’s normal. Mom perches nearby, fluttering between the bedroom and the living room. 

In the back of my mind, my Dad's presence constantly lingers. He threads through our conversation. Dad anecdotes; everyone’s words echo “and Dad said,” or “then Dad.” The phone continually rings. Mom and Dad’s friends from a lifetime of living in the same town call. Food arrives at the door. Emogene brings a platter of cold meats and vegetables. She and her husband Howard were host and hostess at my wedding reception. Howard has passed on. Emogene is so shrunken and bent over with osteoporosis I’m surprised she can lift the huge platter she carries. Her smile remains exactly the same. Her voice holds the same cheeky buoyancy I remember. Others come, commonly saying, “I just can’t believe it. He told me he felt fine just the other day when I asked.”

Dad's common phrase was, “Feel fine, couldn’t be better,” even when he could hardly draw a breath. Even to the doctor. Even to his daughter. “Every day you wake up is a good day,” he’d tell me.

One of Dad’s fellow members of the American Legion arrives, another World War II survivor, grey now, shorter with age. He refuses to come in, his eyes water so bad he can’t speak. Just passes me a dish of food, waves away a thank-you, and leaves, one of the last of a dying breed.

It strikes me there is a generation passing here. My Dad turned seventy-five in April, and never thought to see seventy. Five sisters predeceased him, all before reaching sixty-five, most from cancer. They lived harder lives than I have had to live. I remember my Dad speaking of his Dad bringing home a bag of potatoes or a fifty-pound sack of oats in payment for a day's labor. That’s what he and his sisters ate that week. His dad took his children frogging and sold the frog legs for two cents each to Detroit restaurants. When Dad told the story it was an adventure, but actually, it was scrimping by during the Depression. He had a baby brother lost to measles. My Dad was lucky in many ways to have lived this long. He had been on duty Sunday morning at Hickam Field in the middle of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

Mom comes into the living room. The Hospice nurse has arrived, and it’s the one my mother particularly likes. The nurse puts a diaper on Dad who has been lying naked, sheet and covers kicked off. He doesn’t rouse. Before the nurse leaves, she and my mother chat, everyday inconsequential things interspersed with what will happen and what to do when it does—facts and information. The bureaucracy is as involved with the dying as it is with the living.

More hours pass. Evening comes. Mom insists on making dinner. No one eats much. I try sleeping on the living room couch and hope lack of sleep doesn’t bring on a migraine. I don't know where everyone else is. Occasionally, voices drift into my bouts of sleep, waking me. Midway through the night, I give up trying to sleep.

Juli is sitting with Dad. She has been giving Dad pain medications, coaxing them down a throat that is probably only working by reflex. “No. He swallowed them himself,” she says. “He seems to be doing better.” She gives him water. I look at Dad remembering the horrendous coughing, the excruciating pain, the emaciated body; all part of emphysema. He doesn’t cough now, just breaths very lightly. How much weight can you lose without dying? I bet Dad doesn’t weigh a hundred and ten pounds. I decide not to call Jim, but I hope Dad doesn’t wake, remembering he can’t even sit comfortably. The cartilage between his bones is gone --that cushion that makes moving, sitting, or standing endurable. Maybe I’ll call Jim in the morning. Let him sleep for now. I draw a chair up next to Juli. She talks and I guess I do too. She has seen lots of death. She worked on the oncology floor at McClaren Hospital in Flint for years before becoming a surgical nurse. Couldn’t pay me enough to do what she does, but Juli seems to love it.

Doug comes in. He stands at the head of Dad’s raised bed and whispers in Dad's ear for several minutes. He pats Dad on the shoulder and says, “Fly with the eagles, Dad.” 

Dad has an eagle’s nose and I think he became one in our minds. Doug steps away and Dad wakes, his eyes popping open. “Huh?” he shouts looking wild-eyed above his head. He falls immediately back into sleep or whatever it was he was in. I don't know if Doug saw as he left the room. 

Patty comes in. With only a small lamp on, the room is dark and warm, almost cozy. We three sisters talk in our usual comradery. I find myself petting my Dad's feet that are in easy reach. Feet generally are not attractive, but Dad's are beautiful. Thin, long, high arched, the toes perfect in size and order. They are cool but fleshy pink in color. When I mention this, my Mom, who has joined us, quips, “A good understanding.”

Doug returns. “I called Jim.” Oh shit.

“Told him death was eminent and Dad would probably be gone before he gets here.”Not true. Dad is doing better. His color even looks better. Don't tell me he is going to do this again. I’m afraid to even contemplate it. Could he pull through? I feel buoyed at the thought but counsel myself to expect the worst. I try calling Florida. No one answers. Jim must be on his way.

The hours pass. I am tired; feel the cold, shaky burn of exhaustion radiate through my abdomen, through my bones. So does everyone else; I can see it in their faces. I realize I probably look as bad as they do. Can’t sleep
don't want to, anyway. Want to be somewhere else. We gather around the bed again. Everyone takes turns talking to Dad. I finally blurt out something meaning I love you and burst into tears. That was unexpected. I cover my eyes with my hand and pull myself together. Now my jaw aches.

Bill calls. He has talked to our children. They are both okay. He has arranged airline tickets for them to come to the funeral. He is fine. The cats are fine. Went out and got Halloween candy. I’d forgotten. Today is Halloween.

Nine o’clock in the morning. Jim and his wife Gail arrive looking duly sober. I meet them at the door, Juli and Pat are close behind me looking over my shoulders. “Come and say hi to Dad,” I say. Jim blanches white. They come in and sit in the living room. I explain what has happened, while everyone talks at once. Even Juli thinks Dad looks better.“Damn,” Jim says. “Damn. They put a notice on the board at work, Jake's Dad is dying. Collected money. Lots of money. What am I going to tell them now?”

“It’s going to happen, you are just here early,” Mom tells him. Jim slowly recovers from the shock. “You know, Robbie, paybacks are hell.”

“I didn’t know how else to tell you.” Bane of my life, blurting out whatever, but calling him was not my fault. Two hours later Mom comes and gathers us. “It’s happening.”I wonder if Dad wants everyone watching him end his life’s journey. I don’t. Give me privacy. I think of a friend who died walking home from trout fishing. I wonder if he missed seeing or hearing his family one last time? Wonder if he looked up into the sky for a last glimpse of sun and clouds. I think that’s what I’d like to see. Let my family remember me when we last had a good conversation.

Juli, Patty, Doug, and Mom crowd around the bed, talking to Dad. They urge Dad on. Urge him to make the final transition. I know Dad wants this, wants to escape from the pain he has hidden for years from friends and from us. Mom is great. “Go John, just let go, fly with the eagles.” He still fights, drawing breath after breath. 

Jim and I sit quietly on the couch. Jim turns to me. “I feel kind of lucky. It’s not every guy who gets to see their old man draw his last breath,” he says. “I’m glad I came when I did.”I don't know what I said, or if I even answered. This is taking forever and I’m disgusted with myself for thinking that.

“It’s over,” Mom says, “he’s gone.” It seemed like there was a collective sigh of relief. We leave the room, each trying to find a moment of privacy. I feel myself crying. Mom hugs me, and Pat. I hug them back. “I’m not crying for him, but for myself,” I explain.

Things settle down to a sniffly, teary, depleted silence. Except for Mom. She rises babbling a list of things she must do. Call Hospice. Call this person or that person. Her way of dealing with her grief. Hours pass. The body can’t be taken by the funeral home until the Hospice nurse arrives and determines if the coroner should be called. The coroner? Yes, Hospice patients are allowed to die at home, but no one is supposed to help them along. It’s several more hours before the nurse can come. 

In the meantime, Juli bathes Dad. “I’m not leaving this for someone else to do,” she says. I reluctantly help her. “Actually, Dad had it pretty easy,” she tells me while she dries his body. This was easy? When we are done, I call Bill and tell him. He has already made arrangements. Karen is on her way and Chris should arrive sometime in the evening. Chris calls a short time later. He doesn’t have a suit. He is doing a Fellowship at the Culinary Institute of America. “Since Grandpa influenced your decision to become a chef, I think he’d like you to wear your Fellow’s jacket.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes.” I’m too tired to worry about other people's expectations of how we should appear.

I’m getting antsy with the body still lying in the house. Don’t know why, Dad is beyond pain or caring. The hearse from the funeral home doesn’t arrive until five, and it is already dark out. 

Jim and Doug are out on the porch, stopping Trick or Treaters and giving them candy before they reach the door. Jim told me he was having fun scaring the shit out of the kids. “Hey kid, you want to see a dead body?” Is this another one of Jim's tall, pull-your-leg tales? I expect many parents bypassed our house that night. Who would take their kids to the door of a house with a hearse outside, even on Halloween?

Jim gets his penchant for stories, mostly true but with slow gag lines, from my Dad, who every night over dinner told us stories. Funny experiences from his childhood, from the war, from work, mostly true but slightly slanted. 

With time and distance from childhood, I realize everyone has a different perception of events. A totally different reality. I often wonder about my Dad’s stories. He never mentioned the horror of what he saw on December 7th or those of the following years, not until recently, when he wrote an account of that day and some of the other events of the war and of his life. They were different from the childhood stories I heard, although each story brought a strange deja-vu of family dinner. If my house ever caught fire, I’d grab that loose-leaf book first. He wrote poetry too, but most of it was for the Consumer's Power linemen who came into the gas station to get their trucks serviced. As a young ‘lady,’ I didn’t get to read it, but not from choice. I remember starting to read once, but Mom pulled me away. “No, you don’t read that.”

Where Jim gets his twisted humor, I suppose. Then I think of Dad dying on Halloween. He would enjoy that. Something within the genes, then. I often feel I am the only humorless one in my family. Never thought up really good pranks, never enjoyed those played on me.

It was Tuesday afternoon before we could go to the family viewing. The morticians took years off Dad. I know it is makeup. Wax? Dad lays in a simple pine coffin looking like he did before emphysema ravaged him. It was a blessing to see him like that. After the ceremony part, he would be cremated. The Legion friend returned, bringing a flag to cover the coffin. Flowers were arriving and being arranged by the funeral home personnel.

One arrangement held small paper crows among the flowers. Dad believed one crow, among the many who came to eat bread dough gone wrong that he dumped in the backyard, was his dad, Carl. He called them Carl and the boys. Later, when I eventually arrived home in Missouri, and we got out of the car in the driveway, for the first time I noticed a crow sitting in the tall sycamore tree in our backyard. More deja-vu. 

We went to dinner that evening at a local restaurant, then returned for the evening’s public viewing.

Wednesday was strange. The funeral home is full. I don't count the numbers, it doesn’t matter, but it is noisy, the room filled with talk, even laughter. No hushed viewing this. Laughter frequently bounces off the walls with some tale about my father’s past doings. I walk by the adjoining funeral parlor. It is quiet and somber; a child’s funeral. I think how hard it must be for these mourners to hear even the muffled noise coming from the adjoining parlor.

We went back to the house after the viewing. Jim wanted a picture of me with Karen. I hate having my picture taken, but Karen and I arrange ourselves next to each other. Hearing movement behind me, I turn my head shocked to see Bill walk out of the bedroom. Jim takes the shot. "Paybacks are hell, Robbie," Jim says. Now there will be this picture of me floating around looking like death, head turned and mouth flopping open. Bill has his sheepish grin on. He likes giving surprises, I’ve never liked surprises. I even read the last chapter of a book right after the first chapter, since I like to know what I’m starting.
Paybacks are hell.

Back at the funeral home, it isn’t as hard to view him in his coffin. Dad now has a scouting pin on his lapel. Years ago he was troop club master for the local area. Later I learn my brother pinned it on him. Maybe I’m just past feeling, but I know part of it is because of the people around me. Sharing experiences, sharing life. We all sit through the service. It ends so fast.

We left my mother looking part relieved, part grieved, and still shocked. Already lonely, but the core of strength that has seen her this far remains. Chris and Karen are back on planes to return to their lives. Bill and I are on Southwest headed back to St. Louis. Of everything, I can’t help but remember Dad's feet.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

What Do I Like to Write?

This month's round-robin is on what other genres, besides novels, do I like to write.  Well, storytelling is what novels are about, and I like to write in the genres of science-fiction, fantasy, historical, and romance. While my stories can have a question or mystery involved, I don't think I would be good at writing a mystery novel. I do like to read them, though. In the fiction arena, I also have tried short stories and some flash fiction which tends to cover that ah-ha moment.

Yet reality calls to me, too. I like writing personal essays which also give me the chance to be creative, although in non-fiction, truth, as it is known, should prevail. Everyone has events in their lives or the lives of close ones that need to be shared. These can range from tragic events that can help others in similar situations cope with their problem, to family stories such as "The Pin" which I wrote about and investigated, or another post "Who Was Edna Ruth?" about my grandmother. Other stories can involve family memories which can seem like fantasy stories to readers but might also help bring back memories of their own past. These can also give warnings or cures to upcoming generations about problems they might face. These can be personal, family, or community events. Currently, the media has recalled many 9/11 memories of those personally involved. Personal narratives not only help others cope but also help keep a record of history.

I also like to write informative articles which range from book reviews to 'how-to' articles, which most of these round-robin articles fall into. Writing letters use to fall into this category, but few people now send letters as they prefer to make calls, texts, or emails, that are faster, easier, and more personable. However, the information is lost once the call is finished. It is from my father's letters that I learned what it was like to be a soldier in WWII, and letters throughout history have given readers new insight into that time. This type of communication includes diaries.

I don't know how many people write in diaries today but I have periodically written my life's events since the early 1980s. Now I can go back and read about many things that happened that I have forgotten.

Please visit these authors and read about their thoughts on this topic:

Marci Baun


Skye Taylor 

Connie Vines 

Dr. Bob Rich 

Judith Copek