Monday, June 30, 2014

Funny Papers, Where Art Imitates Life, or Vice Versa

Funny papers, comics. graphics--whatever you want to call them, they’ve been around since the time of cave paintings. I didn’t get to read those early comics, but my memory of the funny papers does go back to the mid-forties. I was probably eight or nine when my sister and I took piano lessons for a year. Mrs. Duke gave lessons in her house, so after my lesson and while my sister was having hers, I curled up in a big stuffed chair and read the comics in the newspaper that was sitting on the coffee table. I didn’t know then, reading Katzenjammer Kids, Li’l Abner, Joe Palooka, Pogo, and others that it was the start of a life-long interaction with the funnies.

Walt Kelley’s Pogo was an opossum who lived in the Okefenokee Swamp with his swamp friends-- Albert the alligator, Churchy LaFemme--a turtle, Howland Owl, and others. Walt Kelley lived in Bridgeport, CT and in 1953 my family and I moved to Bridgeport, the home of P. T. Barnum. The name of Pogo’s boat is often called the P. T. Bridgeport. Pogo was philosophical; two of his great lines were, 1) We have met the enemy and he is us, and 2) A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a horse of a different feather. You can’t beat lines like that.

Al Capp’s Li’l Abner lived in Dogpatch with his parents, Mammy and Pappy Yokum. Pipe smoking Mammy Yokum could often be found saying, “If it makes you happy to be happy, then be happy.” Profound wisdom that my mother used to love to quote. In addition to Li’l Abner’s long-time girlfriend, Daisy Mae, Sadie Hawkins also lived in Dogpatch. Sadie was the homeliest girl in town so every year, her father organized the Sadie Hawkins Day Race where all the eligible men in town were given a head start, then the eligible women would take off after them, hoping to catch a man. By my sophomore year of high school, we had moved from Bridgeport to its suburb, Fairfield, CT. Our sophomore dance was the Sadie Hawkins Dance where the girls asked the boys to the event. Because I didn’t have to wait for someone to ask me, I asked a boy and got to go to the dance. Thank you, Sadie Hawkins.

Chic Young’s Blondie was also a favorite. My sister and I had a lot of paper dolls when we were young and among them were Blondie, Dagwood, their kids Cookie and Alexander, and even Daisy the dog, and her pups.

I still like to start the day with a smile and a few chuckles. Now I find that my favorites are Pickles and Zits. Jeremy, in Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman’s Zits, reminds me of my son when he was a teenager. One day he was five foot four and the next day he was six foot four and the apartment was no longer big enough for him and his long legs.

Brian Crane’s Pickles used to make me laugh because Earl and Opal Pickles were so much like my parents. I don’t know how or when it happened, but suddenly Fred and I are Earl and Opal, forgetting where we left our glasses, not being able to hear each other and accusing the other person of mumbling.

If old age is our enemy, then, we have met the enemy and it is us! Now that’s something to smile about.

Quote of the Day:  Don't take life so serious, son. It ain't nohow permanent."  Walt Kelly via Pogo.

 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sweet Lady...Dirty Little Murders

I have a special treat for you today.  I'm sitting here with my friend and author, Marcia Buompensiero. Marcia is the author of Dirty Little Murders and writes under the pen name, Loren Zahn.  Welcome, Marcia.  Let's start by finding out a little about you.
 
                     
Let's start with where you live, are you married, and do you have children?
I live in San Diego, California.  Married, yes to my long-suffering husband, Joe. For any writer, a long-suffering spouse is a necessity! My son Dave is a photojournalist with five Emmys under his belt for news reporting. He is also the inspiration for my mystery novel protagonist. My stepson Matt is equally talented and writes political satire blogs. 

How long have you been writing, Marcia?
Putting pen to paper—since grammar school. However, I really began crafting fantasies with imaginary friends as early as five. That got me into trouble and expelled—my first day—from kindergarten. It was during nap time when, armed with my mental storyboard inspired by my favorite Robert Luis Stephenson classics,  Robin Hood and Treasure Island, I stood atop my folding cot and incited my classmates to riot—or I scared them—memory is fuzzy on that.

What type of writing do you normally do?
My Theo Hunter mystery series fits the mystery/suspense/romance genre. I am also working on a fictional three generational family saga that incorporates actual events from my own family history.

Give us a brief synopsis of Dirty Little Murders.

San Diego – A sparkling city by the bay—but its shining image hides dirty secrets. Theo Hunter’s job is to dig them out. She's good at it—too good. But her career as an investigative reporter is nearly destroyed after her honest reporting embarrassed her newspaper’s biggest advertiser. She lost her job, reputation, and the man she loved.  As Theo begins to rebuild her ruined life, her friend Stella goes missing. When Stella’s body washes up along the marshy US-Mexico border, her death is ruled accidental drowning—Theo doesn’t buy it. Despite a police cover-up led by her ex-fiancĂ©, Theo unravels the dark secrets of Stella’s double-life and her connections to the city’s corrupt top officials. The political scandal she uncovers could bring down the city’s leadership. But before Theo can expose their corruption, she is thrust into the cross-hairs of a vicious killer.
 
What prompted you to write this book?
Dirty Little Murders is a work of fiction. While the idea for the novel’s elements was drawn from a real political scandal involving three San Diego city councilmen indicted for corruption several years ago, the murders were fictional and the characters are figments of my imagination. Any similarity between them and their exploits as depicted and any person living or dead is purely coincidental. As an author, I am captivated by the idea that real suspense and mystery happen every day in our lives. How well do we really know those in our communities and neighborhoods?  The people we work, live and play with? Nothing is as scary as the sociopaths who live among us. When self-preservation is at risk, they will gain our trust and stalk the halls of our daily lives, waiting for the right moment to catch us alone.

How long did it take to write it?
Less than one year. The basic outline, plot and scenes were developed in two months. The research, fact-checking, editing, and rewrites took another six months. Most writers will agree that editing is never done. Most books would never be published if someone (usually the publisher or editor) didn’t yank the manuscript from the author’s hands.

Do you have a favorite line from the book?
In one scene, Theo Hunter is describing a vicious political battle fueled by religious zealot extremists. She says, “I decided a long time ago, just because you go to church, it doesn’t necessarily make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

Is it published and, if so, when and by whom?
Dirty Little Murders was published in 2009 by Xlibris Publishing.

How can my readers get a copy of the book?
Thank you, for the plug! It is available on Amazon.com and Xlibris.com.

Tell us about your character, Theo Hunter.
Theo is a principled young investigative reporter dedicated to uncovering corruption. This gets her into trouble—professionally and personally. It complicates her love life with police detective Frank Marino who thinks she takes dangerous chances and wants her to quit her job. Their on-again/off-again relationship is awash in conflict. Theo is dedicated to her friends, especially her best friend Abby Archer. Abby is Theo’s true north when it comes to philosophy and judgment. If Theo followed Abby’s advice more she could avoid some near-fatal situations. But, then, we’d have no story. What’s the fun in that!

What’s next for you?
I am in final editing (yes, final—my editor says so) of the next book in the Theo Hunter series, Dirty Little Lies, which will be published in the fall of 2014. Here’s a brief synopsis:

All hell is about to break loose in San Diego. A retired priest is murdered and a note at the scene brands him a rapist. Father Tony Machado—a one-time student of the dead priest and now a US Navy Chaplain—thinks it’s a set up. When Father Tony asks his old flame Theo Hunter to set the record straight, she agrees to help against her better judgment. Theo interviews several men, upstanding pillars in San Diego’s social and business community, who were once students at a prestigious boy’s school where the dead priest taught for thirty years. The men all vouch for his reputation—case closed. Theo is about to wrap up her findings when one of the men is killed. Within days another is murdered. When she uncovers evidence that ties them and the murdered priest to a decade’s old unsolved crime, her gut tells her someone is trying to settle an old score. Theo narrow’s her suspects to two—one the killer, the other the next target. Finding out which is which puts Theo dead center in the killer’s sights.

What is your advice to would be writers?
When I started, I was clueless about the publishing industry. Make no mistake, it is big business. Anyone who hopes to be successful will find that even with a traditional publisher the author must be willing to do a certain amount of marketing on his/her own. Unless you are James Patterson, Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, you will have to learn to sell yourself as well as your work. The business of marketing may be daunting, especially to writers who are often reclusive, do your research. There are publications about all aspects of the business. Acquaint yourself with them. Step out of your comfort zone and meet fellow authors. Join writer critique groups and find a writers organization that will encourage and help you to grow. I found the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild (SDW/EG) to be a good fit for me. My association with its members who are professionals in the writing field has been a tremendous help.

What do you wish you knew when you started your writing career?
It would have been helpful to understand more about the publishing and marketing end of the business. As I said, research and reading about publishing will help to some extent, but my involvement with SDW/EG has taught me much more and exposed me to so many industry professionals who are willing and anxious to share what they have learned.

Oh, and don’t expect to make millions! Writing is a labor of love—which, as many authors will tell you, is its own reward.
 

Thank you, Marcia.  It's been a pleasure!
 
Quote of the Day:  There will be time to murder and create.  Thomas Stearns Eliot. 



Sunday, June 8, 2014

Family, Flame, and Fallen Heroes

Memorial Day and the following week was time well spent for us as I hope it was for you.  My daughter Cyndi, her husband Bill, Fred, and I drove to Connecticut to spend the time with family.  We first spent a few relaxing days in Manchester, CT with my other daughter Tammy Sue and her husband Curtis.  Sitting around a fire pit at night, listening to Curtis play his guitar, family reminiscences, it was all good.



Memorial Day we drove to Seymour, CT. to spend time with my son, Michael, and his fiancĂ©e Kari and her family.  It was the first time in years that I’d been with all my kids at one time and I cherished every minute of it.  That was, after all, why we moved to the East Coast.


Mike, Cyndi, Tammy, Me

We spent the following week in Fairfield, CT. with my sister, Donna, and her husband Joe.  They’ve been married going on fifty-six years and are the epitome of what a solid marriage should be.  I hadn’t seen them in six years and it was important I see them before any more time elapsed.  Donnie and I are in our seventies, Joe is eighty.   Time is not on our side any longer so we no longer have the luxury of saying, “Maybe later.” The time was now. 

On the drive back south, we stopped at Arlington Cemetery.  Cyndi and I had been there before but Fred and Bill never had so it was important we stop and look around.  No matter how many times I visit Arlington, I am overcome with the honor and respect and reverence that exists with every step.  
           

On the way to the Tomb of the Unknowns, we stopped at JFK’s grave site and the eternal flame.  Forty years ago when I visited Arlington, his grave site and flame were on a grassy area next to Bobby Kennedy’s grave.  I know it was on grass because as I stood there gazing down and reflecting, the lawn sprinklers came on and I got wet!  Now, the eternal flame is on a cement platform with marble steps leading up to it, surrounded by a wall with President Kennedy’s “Ask not” speech engraved in the wall.  Next to the marker for President Kennedy is the marker for Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis, their infant boy and a stillborn girl.
Bobby Kennedy’s grave site is now a distance away, on grass.    

A walk down a flight of stairs brought us to the Tomb of the Unknowns.  The guard is changed every half hour during the summer so we were there in time to witness the ritual. The precision, timing, somberness of the occasion are what speaks to us visitors.  The sentinel takes twenty-one steps across a rubber mat, turns and faces the Tomb for twenty-one seconds, turns and faces the length of the mat for twenty-one seconds, switches his rifle to his shoulder nearest the crowd to show he is protecting the Tomb from any possible threat, then begins his (or her) twenty-one steps and does the same thing at the other end of the mat.  This process has gone on, day and night, good weather and bad, without interruption, since 1927. Twenty-one stands for the highest honor awarded a fallen serviceman; i.e., a twenty-one gun salute.  On the Tomb are these words:  HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD. 


Arlington is a place everyone in this country should visit to get back to our roots of what makes this country great.  From Arlington Cemetery one can look out and see the top of the Washington Monument reaching high above the trees.  It is difficult not to feel patriotic in such a setting.  Forty years ago, the sprinklers did not extinguish the eternal flame, weather will not prevent the sentinels from guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns, and neither terrorism nor politics will extinguish the pride that is a birthright of every American.

Quote of the Day:  God Bless America!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Whistler's Mother's Day

Yesterday was most assuredly a “family” day.  Fred and I met with my daughter, Cyndi and her husband Bill and the four of us drove two hours southeast to Wilmington, NC.  If you were to travel east across the country on I-40, it ends at Wilmington which is right on the Atlantic shore.  


Wilmington is a charming little city, full of history and southern ambiance.  Certainly a writer’s and artist’s haven.  I wouldn’t say it was in the Deep South, but you could sure see it from there when you looked through the moss-covered trees.  


The city was established in 1733, first called New Carthage, then New Liverpool, then New Town, and finally Wilmington after Spencer Compton, Earl of Wilmington.  It is a subtropical climate with Cape Fear River slicing right through the middle.  Parts of Iron Man III were filmed at Wilmington.  There, so much for the encyclopedia version.  Now for the human version.

We took a guided trolley tour around the city’s historic district, and learned that a house with a red historic marker meant that the house was at least 75 years old.  A black marker meant it was at least 100 years old.  Almost every house had a marker of one color or another.  It would take a week just to walk around and check out every historic marker in the town.  But, here’s the one that fascinated me the most--a street marker showing the location of Whistler’s mother‘s home.  We’ve all seen the picture he painted of his mother, now we know where she lived.  I thought it was appropriate to see, on Mother’s Day, where a very famous mother lived.  :-)


After a short drive to the beach where we could see the white sand being caressed by  mild Atlantic Ocean waves, we ate lunch on a restaurant’s outdoor patio with gentle breezes blowing by. We then walked two blocks to a famous donut shop for dessert, Britt’s donuts, along a boardwalk populated by beach denizens.  Approaching the store, we saw a line and got in it.  We learned that there is always a line at Britt’s.  Britt’s has been around for over fifty years and is still going strong.  What is amazing is that they only serve one style donut, glazed, with coffee and soda.  Period. We watched them dip the donuts in the hot grease, turn them, then use a yard long dowel to take them out and line them up on the dowel,(like a curtain rod with curtain rings on it).  They then dipped the hot donuts in a glaze and hung them up to be sold.  We ordered a half dozen and ate the first two right there while they were still hot.  Oh my!!  

Lined up at Britt's Donuts

I spent the day with one daughter and got phone calls from my other two children while in Wilmington, so it was a day to be fully aware of my many blessings.

Quote of the Day: Life is beauty, admire it.  Life is bliss, taste it.  Mother Teresa




Monday, April 28, 2014

Our Own Bluebirds of Happiness

In California, Fred and I owned a little two ounce ball of fluff--a cockatiel. She was yellow and her name was Crash due to her most ungraceful landings on the floor. When we left El Cajon, we gave Crash to a friend who loved cockatiels and would take good care of our bird.

 
In Garner, NC we no longer own a pet bird, but we have some very special bird friends. There’s a bluebird and his wife that have started a nest in our birdhouse placed outside the kitchen window



where we can observe them.

The only bluebirds I’d ever seen were in Disney movies. It seems Cinderella and Snow White were young enough and agile enough to pop out of bed in the morning with a song on their lips. Their songs attracted bluebirds who flew in to help them dress. I have yet to train our bluebirds to help me dress, maybe it’s because I don’t pop out of bed with a song on my lips. It’s more like a creaky crawl with a groan.

We also have a bright red cardinal that comes to our bird feeder in the backyard but I’ve yet to be able to photograph him.  He gets jitterish and disappears as soon as I get my camera in hand. But the bright red against the green forest is stunning.

Since this column is supposed to be about writing, and since I want to promote my latest book, let me give you a brief snippet from Willard Manor that mentions birds.

Chapter Twelve
1908
Ruth and Esther were in the back yard, their mouths and apron pockets full of clothespins. The wind snapped the wrinkles out of the white sheets that hung on the line stretching from the apple tree to a maple tree. While hanging pillowcases, a loud ruckus interrupted the soothing sounds of birds chirping and honeybees buzzing. Esther turned toward the sound. “Good land! What on earth could be making that racket?" They walked around to the front yard and found Henry and Benjamin standing in front of a black automobile, both men grinning from ear to ear.

Benjamin looked at Esther. “What do you think, old girl? Do you like it? This is a brand new 1908 Model T Ford automobile!”

“Well I never!” sputtered Esther. “Who would have thought that we’d actually own an automobile in our lifetime?"

“Come around here,” said Benjamin, “Take a look at these headlights, solid brass they are, just like the side lamps, the horn…”

“My, my,” crooned Esther, “and just smell those leather seats!”

Ruth ran her hand lovingly over the car. “Can we go for a ride?"

Henry hugged her. “Wonderful idea! Let’s get the boys and go into town for ice cream."

Ruth and Esther removed their aprons, adjusted their long skirts and climbed into the back seat. By sitting close together, they had room on the back seat for Samuel and Thomas. Henry turned the crank while Benjamin started up the car, then Henry jumped in the front passenger seat.

Driving into town, the Willards and Wilburns wore smiles that couldn’t be wiped off. At the ice cream shop, customers in the store and passersby on the street stopped to stare at the automobile and ask questions about it. Benjamin and Henry became instant local celebrities as they proudly showed off their new Model T. They had entered a new era and style of living and were moving up in the world.
-0-
 
Quote of the Day:  Praise to thee, my Lord, for all thy creatures.  St. Francis of Assisi.



 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Nature - Up Close and Personal

Since moving to North Carolina we've learned that the weathermen here have a lot more work to do than the ones in San Diego.  About all a San Diego weather reporter has to say is, “Overcast in the morning, high in the mid seventies by afternoon.”  Day after day after boring day.  

Here, outside Raleigh, every day is different and the weathermen are kept on their toes. And surprisingly, they pretty much nail it every time.  If they say it’s going to start snowing at noon, by gum you’d better be prepared for snow at noon.  (We found that out the hard way.) 

Last Saturday night, we got an up close and personal look at the job the weathermen do in this area.  Fred and I were playing Yahtzee at the dining room table when my cell phone went off like a siren, warming us of a tornado alert.  Almost instantly, my daughter texted me that a tornado just went by their house in Lillington and was headed our way.  We turned on the TV and sat mesmerized by the accurate, street by street description of where the tornado was, every step of the way.  When it  got to the intersection of I-40 and I-42, we knew it was six miles away.  Then it got to I-42 and Benson Road - four miles away.  Then it was at Benson and 1010-a mile away.  By now, we were in our “safe place” as we’d been told to do which, for us, was our bathroom.  We kept the door open so we could look down the hall at the TV.  Pretty soon we heard that the tornado was a few streets over and on its way north to Raleigh so we went back to the dining room.  I must confess it was scary but exciting at the same time.  My first tornado alert!  The tornado did touch down at one place in Garner but not much, if any, damage was done.  We’re very thankful that we and my daughter and her family came through unscathed.  I have to say that the weathermen really work for their pay here.  

This Saturday Fred and I got up close and personal with four does that walked into our front yard then wandered around to our backyard and stayed around for an hour or so.  We threw bread out to them and they happily ate it.  We were able to sit in our rocking chairs on the back porch and watch them and take pictures of them.  They seemed to be in no hurry to leave; certainly we were in no hurry to see them leave.  After a while a fifth one joined them; none of them seemed particularly threatened by us.





Living in North Carolina keeps life interesting.  Now that the good weather is back, we’re loving it here.

Quote of the Day:  In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.  Aristotle

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Good News/Bad News Moments

I have good news and bad news today. The good news is that the temp has been in the seventies most of the week and we could finally go outside without a coat. The bad news is that this morning it was in the low thirties and only plans on getting about ten degrees warmer today. Back to a coat again.

More good news/bad news for you. The bad news is that Port Yonder Press rejected my novel, Willard Manor. I send my heartfelt thanks to all of you who kept your fingers crossed for me. You can uncross them now. The good news is that today I self-published my book on CreateSpace.



I’ve spent the last week experimenting with various cover designs and running them by my “test panel” for their input. What you see here is the final version. Shortly, you will be able to go on Amazon.com and see and order the book. It will also be available on Kindle in short order.

Willard Manor is historical fiction in that it covers generations of the Willard family as they interact through the years with the Civil War, the Underground Railroad, the Great Depression, Prohibition, World War II, Woodstock, and more. The house also undergoes changes over time with indoor plumbing, electricity, an automobile, a telephone, a television set, and much more.
Here is an excerpt from around 1910.
A knock on the door interrupted Ruth’s chore of folding clothes. She opened the door and saw a man in a work uniform standing there, a tool belt around his waist and boxes in his hands. “Ma’am, a Mr. Wilburn asked me to stop by and install a telephone at this location.”

“A telephone? For us?”

“Yes’m. He’s paid for it, wanted to surprise you, so if you could just show me what wall you want it on, I’ll come on in and install it."

Ruth called to Esther. “Mother, come quickly! Henry’s gone and ordered us a telephone!”

“Well, if that don’t beat all.”

Together the two women walked around the downstairs grinning and looking for the perfect spot.

“If it were up to me,” said the installer, “I’d put the phone on the kitchen or living room wall; someplace where you can get to it conveniently.”

“How about here?” asked Ruth, “In the foyer against the living room wall.”

“That’ll be fine. I just need to run some wires and get everything hooked up. Then I’ll show you how to use it.”

Ruth and Esther brought two kitchen chairs into the foyer. They sat and watched intently as the installer mounted the oak box with its black crank and mouth piece. Now and then Ruth took Esther’s hand and squeezed it out of pure delight and amazement. Then the installer called the operator and asked that the new phone number be called to make sure the phone worked. The ringing phone startled Ruth and Esther so much they jumped right off their chairs.

The installer said, “Now this here’s a party line, and that means not every ring is yours. When you hear two long rings and one short ring, then you can answer it. Any other combination of rings means it’s for someone else. Okay?”

“Okay,” said the women.


Quote of the Day:  Times do change and move continually. Edmund Spenser