The “Good Old Days”

When I was very little, I remember thinking that forty, thirty, and even twenty was old.  I couldn’t imagine being that age.  Surely someone at that advanced of an age would do nothing but sit around and talk about “the good old days.”  My parents, wanting to make sure I understood how easy of a life I had, what with color television and the invention of HBO, made sure to frequently tell me stories of their youth.  These stories mostly involved some version of how they had to walk to school uphill, in the snow, both ways, or some variation of this story that was meant to ensure I realized how tough their lives were in comparison to mine.  I can remember thinking that I would never be that person.  I would never be someone who would tsk, tsk at the poor habits or laziness of those younger than me when I was twenty, thirty, or (gasp!) forty.

I am now forty five years old and have begun to notice certain things that make me pause and shake my head in disgust.  And the thing is, it’s nothing really.  There aren’t any huge infractions or circumstances that make me want to leave this country for another.  There have been, however, countless times where I look at those younger than me and wonder how they’ve managed to survive this far with the stupidity they are demonstrating at the moment.

For example, youth today can’t count change.  For the most part, they are incapable of giving change back to a customer unless it is staring at them from the computer screen.  And if, after you’ve given them a twenty dollar bill find you have that four cents in your pocket?  Well, forget it.  They can’t figure it out.  They’ll look at you with a look between horror and confusion and say, “I already punched in the twenty.”

Then there’s this whole ‘can’t tell time thing.’  Even my own children will look at me with utter confusion on their faces when I answer their “what time is it?” question with, “Quarter of four.”

“What?”  They will cry.  “What do you mean, ‘quarter of.’  How many minutes is that?”

I will groan inwardly and wonder why our schools are not teaching the basic fact that the hours can be divided into four, equal fifteen minute increments.  But alas, our children can only tell time if they are looking at a digital letters on a screen.  It’s sad, really.   I shudder to think what will happen if, forty years from now, the power goes out in the nursing home and I’m relying on these bozos to give me my meds.  I can only imagine the scene as people who’ve never seen a clock with only twelve numbers on it, try to determine what time I am due for my next dosage.

And then, perhaps the most annoying to me is this business of not keeping a register of all your purchases and checks you’ve written.  With the age of on-line banking, most of our youth today feel they don’t need to keep track of, say, an outstanding check.  They simply look at the balance on the screen and assume they have said amount of money in their account.  What they don’t realize is that they’ve written a check for something that has dropped the balance in their account by several hundred dollars.  But these people go about their business as though they have more money than they actually do!.  The kicker is, if you are the unfortunate business to whom they’ve written their check to, you are the one to receive the astonished, angry call from the customer who blames you because their mortgage came out of their account and then you had the audacity to cash their check!

This has happened to me and I’ve actually had to tell grown men that they should keep track of all their checks so this sort of thing doesn’t happen in the future…But they don’t get it.

This past week, I took my fifteen year old to the bank in order to open a checking account for her.  The first thing I did was ask for one of those paper check registers.  I explained to her that while she can look at her balance on-line, the bank may not show the true amount of money she has.  I gave her the example of writing a check to a friend who, instead of cashing it, keeps it in her pocket for several weeks.  The money is, in essence, spent, but the bank doesn’t know about the check because it’s in someone’s pocket.

Imagine how thrilled I was when I saw the lightbulb go off above her head.

Others may not get the whole checking account thing, but my kid?  She’s going to get it.

Oh.  I’ll also teach her to how to tell time.  When my health is failing, I want to make sure someone around me can tell time and ensure I get my meds!

Donna Small is the author of three novels, Just Between Friends, A Ripple in the Water, and the forthcoming, Through Rose Colored Glasses.  Her books can be purchased here:!donna-small/c1ewn

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Filed under Donna Small, musings

Fast Times, Fast Cars

Sometimes I think I was born 10 years too late.   If I had arrived in 1945, I would have grown up living “American Graffiti” instead of just loving the movie. Poodle skirts, bobby socks, and pedal pushers would have filled my closet and Bill Haley would have blasted from my radio. As a teenager I felt drawn to Elvis (even went to see him in concert) and I often imagined myself dancing on American Bandstand.   All I wanted to do was to race into adulthood – fast times and fast cars called to me. During this time, I had my share of bad boys and it was one of those “bad for your heart” guys that first introduced me to the idea of drag racing. It stuck with me and when I created my list of 60 things to do before I turn 60, I was quick to put driving on a race track near the top of the list. I was thrilled to learn that it was possible to drive your own car at a local speedway and scheduled an evening to test my skills.

My companion for the evening, Art, was a car guy who had agreed to use his muscle car instead of risking the transmission on my leased Hyundai. He allowed me to drive the hour to the track to get a feel for his car. I was only interested in being behind the wheel and learning how to accelerate and brake. Art rattled on about the track, the rules, and something about the tires. While he used terms like “reaction time,” “stage area,” and “time slip,” I listened patiently, only wanting to get there and go fast. I nodded my head, asked a few questions, and channeled my inner Danica Patrick.

Arriving at the speedway I immediately began to take in the culture. More men than woman, more leather than denim. There were pick-ups, corvettes, and motorcycles. Young couples, old guys, long hair, and flag bandannas.   People knew each other, hoods were up as they chatted over carburetors and spark plugs. The evening air was chilly and the smell of gas was everywhere. The constant drone of racing engines provided the backdrop for the guy reporting race times over the PA system. When he wasn’t shouting results, the music ranged from the Beach Boys to Alan Jackson to Styx. A little something for everyone.

I was excited as we approached the line of cars, eager to take my turn.   But that anticipation quickly turned to frustration by the long wait…at least an hour before we could turn the corner onto the track. Really? Two cars could race at the same time, less than 20 seconds per run…what could take so long? It was a bit like being stuck in a traffic jam, not knowing what was causing the delay. I was anxious, eager to get going. I used the time to check out the group of guys gathered around their motorcycles. Greying beards gave away their ages and I imagined them as a group of accountants and attorneys also playing out their fantasies. I could almost see Pinky Tuscadero strutting her stuff among them, stomping out her cigarette with the tip of her stilettos!

Once we got to the front of the line, Art wanted to go first; it was after all, his car. I tried to memorize the details, the light signals that told him to hit the accelerator. Art sat patiently; knowing the exact spot from which to start. When the light turned green, he hit the pedal…hard! A concrete barrier separated us from the car in the other lane, so there was no chance of a collision. I watched the strip of pavement stretched out in front of us, watched as we sped by the grandstand. In just 15.25 seconds we hit 90 MPH and crossed the quarter-mile mark…the end. A brief thrill, slightly less than a roller coaster, more than a toboggan run. Would it feel different when I was behind the wheel? Would it be more of a thrill being the driver rather than the passenger? I would have to spend another hour checking out the businessmen in leather before I would find out.

Finally, it was time. As we turned the corner to take our place on the track, I noticed three young men sitting on the side of the pavement. They seemed surprised to see a woman my age in the driver’s seat but they smiled, waved, and offered an encouraging thumbs-up. I was nervous, worried when I rolled over the starting line and had to back up. Nervous when I looked at the light panel. That’s when it hit me. This wasn’t only about holding on to the steering wheel, it was also about holding on to all the excitement that surrounds me every day. It was about embracing what is in front of me and enjoying what happens on the way to where ever I am going. I gave a thumbs-up in return, and turned my attention to the race. When I got the green light, I gripped the steering wheel tight, pushed that pedal to the floor and took off!

It took me .6 seconds longer to cover that quarter mile than it did Art. But who cares? Not once did I look in the rear view mirror; what is behind me is behind me.  I paid no attention to the car in the other lane, because it wasn’t about winning the race. It was about taking notice of what was in front of me….what is in my path! In 15.85 seconds, I freed myself from my own expectations of what I should be doing at this point, freed myself from acting my age. It felt glorious!

The following week when I was enjoying dinner with Art, we reviewed the night at the speedway. I shared that I wanted to go back, but this time on his motorcycle! He smiled and held my hand as he congratulated me on a successful race. We did a couple of shots of hard whiskey to toast knocking drag racing off my list, and made plans for fly-fishing, hot air balloons, and shooting bows and arrows!

Maybe I was born in the wrong decade. Maybe not.   But as I approach my own 60’s, it is about living the life I have and not looking back at what I don’t.   Pedal pushers are now capris, saddle shoes are now Keds. I often dance the twist in my living room and I have tickets to see the Turtles this summer.   So much waiting for me….and I don’t need to get there fast.

Susan Emmerich is the author of A Girl on a Bike, available through Second Wind Publishing and Sometimes serious, other times humorous, this collection of essays on life transitions invites the reader to ride along on a journey that includes adjusting to an empty nest, aging parents, divorce, and again seeking love. The author resides in Cleveland OH where she continues to discover miles of new bike trails.


Filed under fun, musings, Susan Emmerich, writing

Turtle Conservation Article … By Maribeth Shanley

The following, Turtles Dig the Dark, is an article I wrote for a local women’s magazine called, WOMAN. The article, listed on the front cover can be found at http:/

July Issue of WOMAN with my article listed on cover.

July Issue of WOMAN with my article listed on cover.

I’m a huge animal advocate. So, when I first moved to South Carolina last year, I thought about volunteering for the turtle conservation season. However, because I desperately needed bi-lateral knee replacement, I decided it wasn’t a good idea. Instead, last year and this year too I decided to foster abandoned or injured ducklings for a local animal rescue foundation. I raise the ducklings (2 last year and 3 this year) in order to release them to the wild. The wild is one of two large ponds across the street from my house. We live on a loop which runs around the perimeter of the two very large ponds.

2014 female Mallard and male Muscovy

2014 female Mallard and male Muscovy

2015 3 Muscovy Ducks, 2 female and 1 male.  Picture taken over a month ago.

2015 3 Muscovy Ducks, 2 female and 1 male. Picture taken over a month ago.

For three years I did everything I could to avoid the operation. However, because my knees were causing me to become almost incapacitated last summer, I turned myself in to an orthopedic surgeon who performed the operation last October. Like so many who finally have the operation, my response to anyone asking is, “I should have had the surgery earlier than I did.”

I’m now participating in the 2015 Turtle Conservation Season!

Last Tuesday, my patrol partners, a married couple, and I had a full morning with lots of excitement. First, we found evidence of a turtle crawl which turned out to be a real crawl vs. a false one.

On a false crawl, the female turtle crawls up from the tide intending to lay her eggs, but becomes spooked causing her to abandon her mission as she turns around and crawls back into the ocean. We’ve witnessed one false crawl and two live crawls.

Today, as we walked our assigned portion of Huntington Beach State Park, north end, we saw the wire cage around the nest we found and marked last week. This morning, and soon after passing our nest, we spotted a new crawl with a huge pile of sand at the end of the crawl marks making it our second find for the season. I can’t describe the pride and joy we all experienced last Tuesday and again today. It makes getting up at 5 a.m. worth the torment. (I’m not a morning person. Well, for that matter, I’m not an evening person either. Instead, years ago I declared myself a middle-of the-day person!)

Turtle Nest found last Tuesday, wired off and marked

Turtle Nest found last Tuesday, wired off and marked

More Excitement: In addition to finding the nest last Tuesday, we also rescued a sea loon that became stranded up on the shore. After calling a local bird rescuer, we discovered that loons are known to fall asleep as they ride the waves during high tide. Because they are sound asleep, the tide recedes leaving the loon stranded too far from the low tide surf to make it back into the water. In the heat of the summer, the loon could become critically dehydrated.

Unlike other sea birds, their legs are not designed for them to simply stand straight up and walk out to the surf. Instead, their legs are designed more like oars with paddles at the end. Thus, they literally must be picked up and carried out to the ocean.

Since I am used to handling water fowl, I was the person who picked up the loon and sprinted down to the ocean. I put the bird down then realized her leg predicament because I put her down in water that was too shallow for paddling. So … I picked her back up and waded out to where the waves were hitting the tops of my knees before putting her down again.  As I walked back to shore, I turned around to see that the loon was as happy as could be. She was splashing around and joyfully flapping her wings as she bobbed on the waves.

Sea Loon

Sea Loon

So far this year, there are eight turtle nests identified and marked at Huntington State Park Beach.   Four (including our two) are located on the North end of the beach which ends at a jetty. If you consider that an average nest contains 115 eggs, about 50-60 days from now, there could be potentially 920 baby turtles scurrying down the sand toward the ocean. The only thing that would top finding two (maybe more to come) nests would be to witness a hatching called a boil.

I hope you enjoy the following article as much as I’ve enjoyed turtle patrol as well as writing the article.

Turtles Dig the Dark
By Maribeth Shanley

It’s turtle conservation season in South Carolina. The season runs from mid-May through October. I am one of the volunteers who walks the beaches in search of mainly Loggerhead turtle nests. As are most sea turtles, the Loggerhead is an endangered species.

As a volunteer, my day begins at 5 a.m. I walk the north end portion of the Huntington Park Beach shoreline. I am new to turtle conservation as is the couple I walk the beach with. We begin our walk immediately after the park opens its gates at 6 a.m. We walk from the north end walkway up to the jetty; about a 1.3 mile walk. Early morning walks are critical. If there are turtle nests, we need to mark and report them before the beach begins to populate with beach goers.

On my first day, my husband asked if I really wanted to get up that early. Groggy and slightly regretting the early morning rise, I simply replied, “It’s tough getting up this early; but, I may just be rewarded with seeing an actual nest, or, better yet, get to witness the baby turtles run to the ocean.”

As we walk the beach along the high tide line, we watch for crawl marks.   Like footprints in the sand, every specie of turtle in this area has a distinct crawl print.   Where land turtles have feet with claws, sea turtles have flippers. The footprints they leave look like swim prints. As they glide effortlessly in the ocean, they must use those same swim strokes to pull themselves along the sand to a safe area in which to dig their nest, lay their eggs then return to the ocean. Unlike birds, turtles do not stay with their nest. Once they’ve found a safe place to dig the nest and lay their eggs, their job is done.

Turtle Crawl in and back out to sea.

Turtle Crawl in and back out to sea.

So, why do sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach? Too, why is it so important for humans to respect the widely publicized “lights out” conservation requests?

Turtle eggs are alive!

They’re breathing organisms which must breathe oxygen to survive. Daytime heat deters the female turtle from laying her eggs during daylight hours. Once night falls, the sand cools down making her crawl bearable.

Lights out!

Imagine that you are a huge, 150-375 lb. sea turtle. In the water, you feel light. On land, you feel heavy, awkward, and scared. Any unusual activity deters you from laying your eggs. The only light you know is that of the sun and moon. You know the difference between natural and artificial lighting. Thus, any artificial lights, e.g., flashlights, phones and camera flash feels threatening.

Once you emerge from the ocean and begin your crawl, if you find your portion of the beach is safe, you crawl to an area above the high tide water line. There you dig your nest, lay an average of 115 eggs in the hole then scatter sand on top to disguise the nest. Loggerheads will lay an average of five clutches meaning they must do this several times during the season. Incubation for the eggs averages 50-60 days.

At the end of the crawl lies a camouflaged nest, marked by a marker

At the end of the crawl lies a camouflaged nest, marked by a marker

When a volunteer finds a nest, he/she marks it off with sticks that have colorful plastic tails which wave in the wind. Photos must be taken at many angles showing where the nest is located. Huntington Beach now has numbered markers so the volunteer can further identify where the nest is located. Once the nest is reported and found, conservationists fence it off protecting the eggs from predators.

Typically the female turtle will instinctively know where the high tide line is. Sometimes, however, she may become spooked causing her to dig her nest too close or even below the tide line. When that happens, the location must be immediately reported so the nest can be physically moved to a dry location. Turtle eggs are alive. If too close to the tide line and the nest fills with water, the eggs will drown.

One additional duty of a volunteer is to pick up trash left on the beach by humans. Plastic bags and pieces of plastic bags especially are detrimental to a sea turtle. The plastic looks like jelly fish, a delicacy of the turtle. If a bag or piece of pliable plastic is ingested, the turtle could choke and die.

The greatest reward for a turtle conservationist or volunteer would be to experience hatchlings emerge from their nest. Called a boil, the tiny turtles use a temporary egg tooth called a carbuncle to break through their eggs. Once out, they emerge from the nest and begin their scramble to the ocean. Most boils occur at night, when there is less exposure to daytime predators. However, because of the number of eggs, it could take several nights for all the turtles to surface to make their run.

Since the female turtle returns to the vicinity of her birth, the turtles that do make it to the water may very well, one day be the Loggerhead turtle who crawls back out of the ocean to crawl the shore of Huntington Beach to lay her eggs. The life cycle usually takes about 30 years for the female to mature and become fertile.

Next time you head to the shores, think about our turtle friends and other sea creatures. As you do, please remember to pick up ALL your trash and take it with you. Enjoy the beach and all it has to offer.


Filed under blogging, fun, Maribeth Shanley

The Way It Has To Be

You can’t copyright a title. That’s why we have so many books called The Chosen. I counted eight or more on the first three pages at Amazon. That’s why we have two movies called Bad Boys, two called Gladiator, three called Fatal Attraction. Titles are hard on me. I have several pages of them in my daybook. They’re all terrible.

So I borrow them. From writers famous and obscure. Literary borrowing. Gosh, that sounds so much better than outright thievery. The first title I stole was from a story by Breece D’J Pancake: “The Way It Has to Be.” I mean, borrowed. I saw the story in Rolling Stone, alongside that haunting picture from the back of the hardcover edition of his stories. This was the first I’d heard of Breece Pancake. His book had been published by Atlantic-Little, Brown only a couple of months before, February 1983. What was this wonderful story doing in Rolling Stone? Hunter Thompson, yes. But this little gem of compression and pain and broken dreams should have been in some literary magazine surely. I had a bookstore order me a copy of The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake, and I was never the same.

At the time, I was writing poetry in the master’s program at the University of Southern Mississippi. The Creative Writing Program was being run then by Frederick Barthelme, whose stories had been appearing in The New Yorker, along with work by Ann Beattie, Bobby Ann Mason, and Mary Robison, all tagged as minimalists. Of course, none of them embraced that term: it sounded dismissive, it didn’t represent what they felt they were doing. Critics jumped on them, using the term as a cudgel. I remember one article called “Throwing Dirt on the Grave of Minimalism.” Ouch.
I, on the other hand, really liked the minimalists. I was especially affected by Barthelme’s stories “Shopgirls” and “Moon Deluxe,” by Tobias Wolff’s “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs,” and by the ur-text of minimalism, Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Breece Pancake seemed to be working the same vein of neo-realism, what some were calling “K-Mart Realism” or “Dirty Realism.”

“Dirty” because the stories sometimes focused on poor or lower middle class characters, Carver’s drunken husbands, Ford’s misanthropic wanderers, Mason’s struggling West Virginians. The term “Dirty Realism” seemed to leave out several neo-realist writers like Beattie and Salter and Frederick Barthelme whose characters were often middle-class, college-educated, if nevertheless rootless. But the term did seem appropriate for Breece.

The characters in his stories are all economically marginal, small town West Virginians. They are caught between the past and the future. They want to move away, but can’t seem to break free. Their farms are being sold out from under them, and while they can imagine life elsewhere, they are stuck in ways they cannot fully fathom. There is a fatalistic determinism in Pancake’s writing, exemplified by the title “The Way It Has to Be,” the story of Alena, the story that first caught my attention. She has found a way out of West Virginia with her lover, Harvey, who has taken her to Texas in order to seek revenge for some unnamed wrong:

“She sat on a lip of step by the porcelain drinking fountain and watched Harvey’s head lolling against the car window, his holster straps arching slack above his shoulder. She felt her stomach twitch, and tried to rub her eyes without smearing. She didn’t want it this way, but knew Harvey would never change. She laughed a little; she had only come from West Virginia to see the cowboys, but all this range was farmed and fenced. The openness freed and frightened her.”

Harvey does, in fact, kill the man he was after, funneling the pair into a dead end that closes off the future for them. She tells him she will not go to Mexico with him, so he leaves and says he’s not coming back. She decides to stay in Texas and get a job, but he does come back, and she says again that she will not go with him:

“‘Nothin’s changed’ she said. ‘I’m stayin’ here.’
‘That’s it?’
She nodded. ‘I got a job, so I called home. Everything’s okay.’
‘Can we talk upstairs?’
‘Sure,’ she said.
‘Then let’s talk,’ and his hand brushed against the revolver as he reached for another cigarette.”

And so the story ends. And surely it’s Alena’s end as well. There is no escape in a Breece Pancake story.

Last weekend I decided to read the Pancake book again. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’m stuck in the past too. I have three copies: the hardcover I’ve had since ’83, the paperback I taught out of for three semesters, and another paperback I had put on reserve in the library. I picked up the one I had taught out of, started the first story, “Trilobites,” and found myself wondering at my marginalia, some interesting and insightful, some illegible, some downright obtuse. I got caught up reading my comments and that interfered with my reading the story straight through. So I started over.
And I had recently read a fiction writer encouraging other fiction writers to read more poetry. She said that she had read some Donne sonnet every morning for a week. Read the same poem every morning for a week, and I thought that was a great idea, so I decided to read “Trilobites” every day this week. And I did. It’s a damn good story.
The narrator, Colly, is stuck. His mama is going to sell the farm. His girl, Ginny, left for Florida. His father fell dead in the yard some years before. The ghost of the ancient river Teays flows under the town, a constant reminder of the permanence and transience of all things:

“I lean back, try to forget these fields and flanking hills. A long time before me or these tools, the Teays flowed here. I can almost feel the cold waters and the tickling the trilobites make when they crawl. All the water from the old mountains flowed west. But the land lifted. I have only the bottoms and stone animals I collect. I blink and breathe. My father is a khaki cloud in the canebrakes, and Ginny is no more to me than the bitter smell in the blackberry briers up on the ridge.”

In the course of the story it becomes clear that Colly is still haunted by his father: the image of the dry, dead eyes Colly saw when he turned the body over recurs. His father seems to look over his shoulder as he admits his failure at farming: there is blight in the cane. “I’m just no good at it,” he tells himself. “It just don’t do to work your ass off at something you’re not no good at.” And so he doesn’t fight his mother over the sale of the farm. Though he does tell her he will not accompany her to Akron where she plans to live after the sale.

But neither can he see any way out. Ginny comes for a visit, but she tells him she has a man in Florida. When they make love for old time’s sake, he breaks down and asks her to take him with her when she returns. They are in an abandoned train depot (Wow. Good one, Breece). “Colly, please,” she says and leaves him there.
Alone at the depot, rotted and falling down around him, he sees a train coming. One might think, There’s a way out, but “my skin is heavy with her noise. Her light cuts a wide slice in the fog. No stiff in his right mind could try this one on the fly. She’s hell-bent for election.”

What will happen with Colly we’re not told. “I’ve got eyes to shut in Michigan—maybe even Germany or China, I don’t know yet.” These are places his father had mentioned. Colly still carries some great inexpressible debt to the man. Personally, I think he’s stuck. I think he’s staying right there. But I’ve been wrong before: the story ends with himsaying, “I feel my fear moving away in rings through time for a million years.” That’s hopeful.


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Imagined Conversations: A Status Report Six Months In

Jay Duret

Jay Duret

At the New Year I decided to try my hand at cartooning. I had been drawing figures – mostly faces – for a few months and wanted to see if I could add text in a pleasing way. I committed to posting a cartoon a day, an undertaking which sounds painfully unambitious but then, well, I knew what I had to work with. And so I began with a New Year’s post on January 1.

Over subsequent weeks I kept the promised cadence, dutifully posting each drawing to my blog in a section called Imagined Conversations”. I also started an Instagram series under the name @joefaces. After a month at it, I wrote a brief report on the effort for this blog and posted it here.

In the months since I have continued to post. I have found a weird satisfaction in the daily ritual: once you become a daily poster and settle in the groove, your day does not feel complete without going through your workflow. It’s like writing in that way. You can’t produce a book on the strength of a mood, at least I can’t; you need to settle into a steady rhythm of daily tapping at the keys. I think of it as running laps.

My cartoons have touched a number of topics as I listened and took notes on the conversations that endlessly rattle around inside my head. Some dealt with writing:


Poetry Month

(I doubt that anyone reading this blog will have trouble filling in the blanks,  but on the off chance that someone skipped out on poetry class in 11th grade I will note the answer below.)

Some of my cartoons are part of a mental project of building a set of emoticons that have more to them than the stupid little circles and smiley faces and thumbs up that come in every text message. Wouldn’t it be better if those little nuggets of cuteness were replaced by drawings like this:


or this:



Some of my cartoons are just what came rattling along my train of thought that day:


Lean In

When I began the project I told myself that I would stop when it wasn’t satisfying any more. I think that was a good approach and I am sticking with it. But I confess to some surprise that after producing nearly 200 cartoons I am still interested in the project. If I had predicted at the beginning, I would have said that Imagined Conversations would have begun to limp in February and fall on the ground in March. Yet at the mid-year I am still working away. We’ll see how much longer I’ll last. In the meantime – thanks for the support. And if you aren’t receiving the daily postings, follow my blog or Instagram.

– Jay

* * *

Jay Duret is a San Francisco-based writer. Second Wind recently published Jay’s first novel, Nine Digits. See the trailer here. And for all puzzlers: These famous lines begin T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland: “April is the Cruelest Month”. No surprise that April is National Poetry month.


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Don’t Love My Characters, Please by L.V. Gaudet

where the bodies areI do not want you to love my characters.  I am quite serious about that.  I do not even want you to like them.  They are all fallible creatures who do not always do what they should.  They are full of idiosyncrasies, flaws, and sometimes downright poor judgment.

Revile them and admire them.  Root for them to win and cheer when they fall.  Get passionate about getting angry with them.  Pity them and feel vindicated at their suffering.  Share their emotions and their troubles, love them, hate them, and empathize with them.  But please don’t just love them.

A character who seems endearing, drawing you to their side in their pursuit of evil, might just reveal their true driving force is not entirely for purely good reasons.

The victim who you might sympathize with, rooting for when things get rough and cheering them proudly when they rally their strengths to pull him or herself out of trouble, may prove to be more the cause of the trouble than the antagonist is.

The bad guy, committing atrocious behaviors, pulling you into his web of evil until you despise him and want only to see his downfall come to him in a most inglorious way, might throw you with a show of tenderness.  He might just make you sympathize with him when you know you should hate him.

Making characters that draw the reader in is not about making the reader simply love or hate them.  They need to feel what the character feels.  They need to love, hate, and sympathize with that character.  Root for them even as they want to see them fall because you are supposed to want to see the bad guy lose.

Characters do not have to be all good or all bad.  In fact, I would say they should never be all one or the other.  They should be a complex layering of traits that include both.  Even the vilest creature has feelings; dreams and desires, loss and sorrow, loneliness and love.  They have a flaw and that flaw is their own emotions.  The gentlest of characters, pure of heart and soul, have a dark side beneath.  They are capable of anger and resentment, even of acts of revenge.

Every character should have a hidden back-story.  This is what gives them life.  Even the smallest bit player should have one.  That waitress who served the coffee looks tired, but really, she is sad.  You don’t have to reveal why she is sad.  That is just one more mystery that gives a little more depth to the scene where the true focus is your protagonist or antagonist.  Make the mystery of the waitress’s personal life draw on the personality of the character who is the true focus.  After all, your character did notice the lines of exhaustion hide a deeper sadness.

Drop hints and clues about your characters’ back-stories.  Make the reader feel they are slowly drawing the character out of their shell and learning just a little bit about them as they progress through the story.  Let the reader be drawn a little at a time into your character’s life, their personality.  Let them yearn for more, drawn to dig deeper into your character’s psyche as you see fit to reveal it.

The reader becomes more familiar with the character with each revelation, feeling a little closer to them like a new friend, wanting to know more.  As you draw out a little more back-story, those secrets add to the drive that pushes the story forward.  That simple story is no longer so simple.  What other secrets do the characters have?  What flaws?  What strengths?  What new lines of drama will wind into the story, adding more layers of sub story?


WHERE THE BODIES ARE (available now in paperback and eBook)

Detective Jim McNelly is perhaps the hero of the story, if anyone can be described as such.  He works with missing persons and homicide cases, taking each case personally as his own personal failure for not stopping the victimization of the victim before it could happen.  For a hero, he has a lot of flaws.  He is obese by as a result of his own failings, which is the cause of additional health problems and exacerbates his insomnia, which in turn causes him to feed his obesity.  He is no people person and doesn’t much like most people.

And yet, Jim McNelly honestly cares about his job and the victims.  He has a lot of back-story that has not been revealed, including hints dropped about his wife.

Detective Michael Underwood is a likeable kind of guy.  He is described as being the kind of guy who is just as at ease at grandma’s quilting group as watching sports with the guys.  Even the nervous and suspicious nurse Molly can’t help but feel a tingle of excitement at the idea he could possibly have an interest in her, as impossible as she knows it is.

Michael Underwood is perhaps a bit too obsessed with protecting their victim, an obsession that itself has its own back-story, almost a personality of its own.

Lawrence Hawkworth is an investigative reporter with the InterCity Voice, who is described as being a man of less than moral morals.  And yet he and Jim McNelly have a shared back-story.  He is the one person McNelly would trust with his life, despite McNelly’s dislike for the man.  It’s kind of a love-hate friendship, like unrelated brothers.

Jane Doe, the victim and the sole survivor of the killer’s madness doesn’t even know her own back-story.  Her own weakness, her amnesia, puts her directly on a path to her own destruction.  Or does it?  She has a surprising reserve of personal strength, something gained from her own unknown past.

Kathy Kingslow is a train wreck of a woman.  She is a weak creature who knows only one thing, how to survive an abusive relationship.  She does not even know how to escape one, if she could get up the courage to.  She also has the potential to become one of the most powerful characters in the story, if she can pull herself up off the floor and put a little courage into her spine.  She has a hidden strength, the killer’s own inexorably being drawn to her.

The Killer is nothing but evil, right?  The killer is driven by a compulsion, his reality blurred between past and present, with a dark secret locked in a fractured mind.  But he is also tormented by his own actions and desperate to stop killing.  The search for the killer will lead to his dark secret buried in the past.

The appearance of the mystery man is the embodiment of the ultimate back-story of Where the Bodies Are.  He enters the story just at the moment when the as yet unidentified killer is reaching a plateau of temptation by the dangling bait that is Jane Doe, the one victim who escaped alive.  He quickly becomes McNelly’s prime suspect in the kidnapping and murders of multiple women.   His arrival embodies the pivot point where the story climaxes and the killer is being drawn into the readers’ sight from the shadows of the story.  That back-story is revealed when you take a step back in time with The McAllister Farm to learn the secret behind the bodies.

THE MCALLISTER FARM (coming soon in paperback and eBook)

William McAllister is a hard man.  He demands respect from everyone he encounters and absolute obedience from his family.  His children respect him with the fear of a harsh disciplinarian.  He keeps his family apart from the community around them, not allowing them to have friends or participate in the community.  Visitors to his farm are threatened off, and his children know well the sting of his hand.  William is also absolutely dedicated to the safety and well-being of his family.  As stern as he is, nothing matters more to him than his family.

The entire community is distrustful and hateful towards William for his strange ways, but that does not stop him from doing what he thinks is the right thing to do without hesitation.

Marjorie McAllister is a frightened deer of a woman, always nervously wringing her hands.  She silently disapproves when William strikes the children, not brave enough to stand up to her own husband.  She leans on his strength too.  As desperately lonely as she is, his keeping her apart from her family and community is like a safety net for her.  She does not have to face awkward situations if she never leaves the farm.  But, when push comes to shove, Marjorie finds a hidden well of strength to stand against the hostility of the townspeople against her family.

Jason McAllister is the oldest child of William and Marjorie.  He has the expected problems of a ten year old who is different because his family is different.  He takes the brunt of the community’s sense of his family’s strangeness through his difficult interactions with the kids and teachers as school.  Jason is expected to be more man than child and it weighs heavily on him.  He is a troubled youth, something that his father comes to realize just how deeply troubled in the most disturbing way.

Sophie McAllister is the youngest child and as such has the childhood freedoms and innocence her brother Jason envies and is not afforded.  Naturally, this breeds some resentment in Jason.  She also in a way symbolizes the need each family member feels to protect the family as a whole.  Her very innocence acts as a contrast to the events surrounding her family.

Sheriff Rick Dalton certainly is not a favorite of the community when he fails to both catch the killer stalking young women in the area before another body turns up and listen to the needs of his frightened community.  A man of the cloth is threatened, the school principal is sent scurrying, and everyone except the sheriff seems to know just what kind of a monster the McAllister man is.  Or, Rick Dalton is simply a wise sheriff who knows that what appears to be is not always what is.

Book three, which is still a work in progress, will bring both of these stories together, finally revealing answers to some of the questions left hanging as the characters of both books are brought together in a disturbing conclusion that may very well leave a new trails of bodies.

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Link to reviews of Where the Bodies Are on Angie’s Diary

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The Cuban Connection in my Writing — by David Pereda

People often ask me at book readings or during blog tours, “Why do you write so much about Cuba?” “Is it a place that intrigues you?” “Do you have a business connection?” “Do you have a personal nexus, perhaps a wife or a girlfriend in Cuba or from Cuba?” “Have you ever visited Cuba?” “What is it about Cuba that stimulates you to write all these books with a Cuban background?” “What inspires you the most to write about Cuba?”

The answer is simple — and it’s personal, not business. I am Cuban.

Most people don’t know this, so this might be news to many of you.

Much like Cid Milan, the main character in my book However long the Night, I arrived in the United States — Tampa, Florida — when I was nineteen years old. Like Cid, I left a girlfriend behind named Sonia. Unlike the Sandra in my book, Sonia was blonde and blue-eyed and, hopefully, not pregnant since I never saw her again. Like the Sandra in my book, Sonia was the daughter of Spaniards, as I am. The love scene in However Long the Night between Sandra and Cid as teenagers in Santa Maria del Mar Beach in Cuba is, well, a poignant memory of my life.

I’ve been to most of the Cuban places I describe in my books with a Cuban theme. In fact, I’ve been to, literally, all of the places I describe in any of my books, be it Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, Australia, or Dubai. I’ve been to more than thirty countries and have lived in six – Qatar, Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba and the United States.

Several of my books have thinly-autobiographical passages of my experiences in Havana, Tampa, Miami, Dubai, Qatar, Rome, Paris, and Mexico. The Dubai scenes in my most recent book, Twin Powers, depict real locations and describe fictionalized, but real-life, people – more often than not with their salient traits toned down to make their fictitious characters “fathomable” for you, the reader.

One thing I’ve learned in my travels around the world is that life is often stranger than fiction. I have also learned that time allows you to look at the past from a different perspective.

That’s why I write about Cuba. I was born there. I left my childhood sweetheart there. My grandparents on my mother’s side are buried there.

Writers should write about things they know about. I know about Cuba.

Here is the Amazon link to Twin Powers, so you can check it out:


David Pereda is the award-winning author of seven novels, dozens of articles and a handful of poems. His latest thriller, Twin Powers, published by Second Wind Publishing in February 2015, has received rave reviews. Visit

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Romanian Romance? by Sherrie Hansen

My husband and I are going to Bucharest for Mark’s son’s wedding in a few weeks. Every time I mention our plans in conversation, people ask me if my next novel is going to be set in Romania. I have to admit that seeing Dracula’s castle and roaming around remote areas of Transylvania has captured my imagination. While researching our destinations, I learned of a forest that is reputed to be the most haunted place on earth. Deep in the woods, there is even a place where no vegetation grows, and where hundreds of people have gone missing. Some consider it to be a portal to another time. Even thinking about going there makes me feel nervous and unsettled. Sometimes I’d like to escape from certain realities of my day to day life, or at least, take a lengthy sabbatical. But what if I never found my way back home? I would miss my family and the people I love. But who knows what adventures or people I’d meet up with if such a thing were to happen… 

 Rainbow - Becky

I wonder if L. Frank Baum took a trip to some exotic locale before he wrote The Wizard of Oz? Were the Emerald City, the Yellow Brick Road, the scary forest, the Munchkins and the Wicked Witch’s castle pure figments of his imagination, or did a glimpse of this or that, or a travel documentary, or stories told by his grandmother prompt his wild literary adventures?


What inspires you? In my Wildflowers of Scotland novels, it was a copper, rabbit- shaped downspout on St. Conan’s Kirk on Loch Awe (Wild Rose), the legend of a Spanish galleon, fully loaded with gold, still believed to be at the bottom of Tobermory Bay (Blue Belle), and the melancholy melody of a bagpiper in front of Eilean Donan Castle (Shy Violet) that gave my muse voice.

 Shy Violet

When I was a child, it was the Betsy Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, and her tales of close friendships, the Crowd’s adventures, grand social events with dance cards and flowing lawn dresses, and extravagant hats with blue ribbons, that revved up my imagination and made me want to be a writer (check), live in a Victorian house (check), and wear all kinds of wonderful hats (check).   


When we visited Florida a few years back, a historic hotel, The Pink Palace, on St. Pete’s Beach, and a trip to the alligator-infested waters of the Everglades, made my mind start whirling.

Romania  Cerna 

So – will my next novel be set in Romania? There’s a spa with healing waters near the Carpathian Mountains – the Cerna Spa in Baile Herculane – that’s calling out to me. It’s in the opposite direction of the other places we want to see, yet I’m scheming in my mind to find a way to go there. Something about it… maybe it’s a story waiting to be born.     


Sherrie Hansen’s Bio:
Twenty-three years ago, Sherrie rescued a dilapidated Victorian house in northern Iowa from the bulldozer’s grips and turned it into a bed and breakfast and tea house, the Blue Belle Inn.  Sherrie has also lived in Colorado Springs, CO, Augsburg, Germany, Wheaton, IL, and Bar Harbor, Maine. She grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota. After 12 years of writing romance novels, Sherrie met and married her real-life hero, Mark Decker, a pastor. They now live in 2 different houses, 85 miles apart, and Sherrie writes on the run whenever she has a spare minute. Sherrie enjoys playing the piano, photography, traveling, and going on weekly adventures with her nieces and nephew. “Shy Violet” is Sherrie’s eighth book to be published by Second Wind Publishing.

Links: or

Books Titles: Wildflowers of Scotland novels – Thistle Down (a prequel novella), Wild Rose, Blue Belle, Shy Violet. Night and Day, Love Notes, and the Maple Valley Trilogy – Stormy Weather, Water Lily, and Merry Go Round.  


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Gay Marriage: A marriage, by any other name – Velya Jancz-Urban


(The perfect day to re-post this essay I wrote 4 years ago)

I attended my first gay wedding today.
I attended my first same-sex wedding today.
I attended my first homosexual wedding today.

What is the politically correct term for such a wedding? Who cares? Frankly, I don’t understand the furor and uproar over same-sex marriages. I was a guest at the wedding of two women who have been together for thirty-three years.

As our breathtakingly beautiful daughter handed out programs in the rear of the church, our twenty-four year-old son sat alone in the front pew waiting to sing for these two women in his rich bass voice. I sat on the truly uncomfortable pew in the austere little Congregational church, next to Jim, my one-and-only husband of thirty-two years, and thought about our marriage and this man.

He hates celery and he calls me “Wifely.” He made me whole again after our first baby miscarried. I don’t know who made him whole. He usually gets in bed first and every night when I go in the bathroom to wash my face, my toothbrush sits next to the sink topped with a minty white line of toothpaste – waiting for me. It’s there every morning, too.

As we prepared for the impending birth of our son who is now, incredibly, six feet five inches tall, our midwife gave Jim two jobs to fulfill during our forty-five minute drive to the hospital: Keep the car warm, for it was bitterly cold that January, and get to the hospital quickly. I had read somewhere that drinking a quart of whole milk at the onset of contractions lessened labor pain. So, I dutifully guzzled the milk as my body went into automatic pilot with a course set for childbirth, and just seemed to go along for the ride. Jim took the midwife’s directions to heart. He cranked up the heat and zipped down pot-holey Connecticut back roads I never knew existed. All the while, the quart of milk sloshed and bubbled until finally, like a human Mount Vesuvius, I erupted and threw up cottage cheese consistency clumps of milk all over myself and the floor of the car. Jim drove along in the eighty-five degree car while I was astonished and kept repeating the obvious question, “Isn’t that the smelliest barf you’ve ever smelled?” I told him to pull over while I chucked the pukey floor mat out the car door. He never complained and he insisted he couldn’t smell a thing, which I knew was a big fat lie.

When our son began to sing my attention returned to the front of the church. The mood changed when he smiled at the women and the spotlight moved briefly from them to him. The women, one a social worker and the other a successful businesswoman, prepared to exchange their vows. They have been together for thirty-three years. They have crow’s feet, graying hair, anxious smiles, and appeared nervous. They faced each other, holding hands and said, “You have been the steadiness that has kept me on an even keel over the years, and for this I love you dearly” and “I am a far better person because of you and love you more than ever.”

Wedding rings, the same rings they’ve worn for years, were “re-exchanged.” The Congregational minister offered the following blessing: “May your lives together be joyful and content, and may your love be as bright as the stars, as warm as the sun, vast as the ocean and as enduring as the mountains.”

How is this wedding different from any other? To me, marriage has nothing to do with religion or God – it’s about stuff like the waiting toothbrush and the clumpy throw-up. Why should anyone be denied such love because of gender? Same-sex marriages might make some people uncomfortable, but they can’t hurt anyone. Are people afraid that gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall?

Guests were teary, rice was thrown and we all walked down the country road to an evening reception at the home of the women.

I attended a wedding today.

Velya Jancz-Urban is the author of Acquiescence published by Second Wind Publishing.

Visit her at:

Velya Jancz-Urban, and her protagonist Pamina Campbell, have a lot in common. Both are teachers and hoodwinked Brazilian dairy farm owners, and both share a 1770 Connecticut farmhouse with a spirit woman. Velya has been married for 32 years, and is the mother of two grown children. She has a few too many rescue dogs and cats, is happiest with a fresh stack of library books, loves thrift shops, and is passionate about alternative medicine. Velya is the creator/owner of “How Cool Is That?!” (Hands-On Science) (, as well as the east coast instructor for the “Earth Balloon.” Her entertainingly informative presentation, The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife is a result of the research completed for this novel.


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Don’t Hold Your Breath by Calvin Davis

You work on your novel like a person possessed. It haunts you.

writer2You lie awake at night speaking to the characters. They talk to you as if they are made of flesh and blood and not the stuff of dreams and fantasies. One may haunt you that, nagging he is not satisfied with how you’ve portrayed him, that he deserves a more sympathetic treatment. He mumbles that another character, a minor one, had taken over the novel. He berets you for being an unfair author. Heavens, he even claims you, the writer, is guilty of gender discrimination.

Finally, he stomps his phantom foot and declares he wishes you’d never created him. He wants to leave the novel completely–and now!

At that point, the writer pulls rank and announces the he or she, not the character, is the boss and this character must stay within the confines of the plot–like it or not.

Such disputes between writer and his created children are endless, but finally after a thousand headaches and almost as many sleepless nights, the novel is finished. Your child is born, edited and reborn stronger. It is published in ebook format.

images (1).jpghackerThen, your troubles.begin. Some scoundrel hacks a website and steals the book you have sweat blood to produce. Guess what? He is giving it away. Giving. It. Away! Your labor is free to anyone who goes to this thief’s website. Often, these hackers gain the free-loaders confidential information in the process making a lot via identity theft.

You console yourself when you learn that the same thing has happened to most every author, even the great sellers, those with the letters after their names. NYT or USA Best Selling Author. A few years ago, Nora Roberts went before a senate committee to ask for protection against these hackers. Congress passed no new laws to protect authors.

So, what is the answer? I wish I knew. Maybe writers should hire platoons of lobbyists. Then, maybe Congress would listen. Maybe. Maybe not. My advice? Don’t hold your breath.


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