The Year Came In; The Year Went Out

http://www.amazon.com/Tears-My-Mother-Rashbaum-Burt/dp/145020399X

The year 2017 started for me in Japan. I read on my Kindle during the long flights and the first book of my year was Burt Rashbaum’s Tears for my Mother. It is a vividly graphic account of a family struggling with their mother’s encroaching dementia. Alzheimer’s remains a dreaded word for many families. It spares no group the horrors of mind disintegration.

Rashbaum’s account was deeply personal. The characters were patterned after some in his own family. He tapped vividly into the reality of what it could be like to watch your own self slipping away. Significantly for me, the author is part of my own family, the Jewish cousin who married into one side of my husband’s family. I enjoyed a few days in this cousin’s Nederland, Colorado home last summer, rewarding myself with a writing retreat in the artsy mountain community.  Before I left, Burt and I had swapped books and I came home with another novel of his, the 2015 release of The Ones That I Know.

http://www.amazon.com/Ones-That-I-Know/dp/1511961716

Like Tears, this story is based significantly on events in Rashbaum’s life. One of the characters resembles him a great deal, and another resembles his wife. Through the pages of this book, I again found myself immersed in post-holocaust Jewish reality, which unless you’ve been there is hard to imagine. It tells the story of a group of neighborhood friends, who grew up together in NYC and lost touch as adults. They reunite when one of them publishes a book about their youthful adventures. The book examines how connections of family and friends possibly go beyond the grave and revisit the same group in a fresh incarnation. It explores life’s purpose, as well as its challenges. It is a snapshot view of a variety of contemporary issues that have a basis in historical drama.

At the end, after reading these books, I felt I knew and loved my newly found cousins much better.

The year 2017 was ushered in for me by Rashbaum’s novel Tears for my Mother. It is fitting to conclude this book journey series with The Ones That I Know. Through my reading adventures in 2017, I felt my family expand. My circle of friends has grown as well, and that’s no small matter in today’s uncertain world. We hear much about alternative facts, conspiracy theories, rigged elections, international threats and climate change. The news media is under fire. Our courts are being stacked by extremists. Our constitution itself is on shaky ground. If one thing is clear, I believe that “the ones that I know” have something to say. As long as our constitution stands we need to exercise our right to write, to share our thoughts and ideas, our hopes and dreams, our memories and fears.

Americans consider free speech to be a birthright. It is guaranteed by the first amendment. Free speech serves to hold the powerful accountable and for that reason we must defend it fiercely. Our freedoms and rights will exist only as long as we keep using them.

For all my writing friends and cousins scattered across the country—“the ones that I know”—I say, “Write on!” And may the force be with us all.

For those quiet moments of life: Poetry!

There’s nothing like a book of poetry to offer nuggets for your mind during quiet moments. Kansas is home to many gifted poets. I admire their skill in selection of the perfect words. Weaving those words into meaningful verse is a talent I don’t claim.

I have discovered poets who write for almost any occasion. There are those who have written light verse that can make me chuckle. (Max Yoho.) Others possess the vision of a trained photographer and the knack for painting word pictures. (Roy Beckemeyer) There are those who can analyze life and offer its lessons in verse (Ronda Miller), those who search history for clues to the future (Duane Johnson), and those skilled at sharing life in fresh language (April Pameticky).

There is a certain technique to proper reading of poetry. I’m still learning, but here’s what I suggest.

How to read poetry. . .

Find a quiet corner.

Choose a random poem.

Read, perhaps aloud.

                                        Speculate.

                                                  Visualize.

                                                            Empathize.

        Internalize.

Read the verse again.

Contemplate.

Illustrate.

Relate.

     Appreciate.

 

Hats off to the poets of Kansas.

 

Up next to conclude my book journey of 2017: Burt Rashbaum

Books of Inspiration

http://www.amazon.com/Wisdom-Chaser-Finding-Father-Feet-ebook/dp/B003AVMZAY

To be honest, I didn’t expect to get much from Wisdom Chaser: Finding my Father at 14,000 Feet by Nathan Foster. A loose page labeled “Disclaimer” had been inserted inside. It fell from the book the first time I opened it. I don’t know who wrote the disclaimer, nor how I even came to have the book. One paragraph of the disclaimer stated, “If you are easily offended or would presume that a Christian should never use coarse language—DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.” (Emphasis mine.)

Okay. Why not? Are there truly people so sheltered as to be offended by coarse language? How could a Christian book include such language?

I truly don’t recall any offensive language in the book, just the honest personal struggles of a young man as he strove to find his niche in the shadow of a great father. Some of those struggles resonated with me. I could feel the emotions Nathan described since similar ones had visited my heart at various times.

Turns out, Nathan Foster actually grew up in Wichita—another book with a Kansas connection. However I’ve never personally met either him or his father. His father, Richard Foster, wrote the afterword in the book and affirms his son, Nathan. “Nate’s skills in wilderness survival are exceptional. He has. . .led groups of at-risk teenagers into the wilderness. . .and back again.” Survival in the wilderness is a topic close to my heart.

Some of Nathan Foster’s points resonated with me:

“Pace yourself. Move slowly. Don’t stop.” Good advice as we head into another marathon year of resistance.

“Time, my most valuable possession, is quite possibly my only real possession.” And thus, to share time with another person is quite possibly, “the pinnacle of human sacrifice.”

“Capitalism depends on materialism to survive.”

“Building and cultivating relationships is the most important thing I will ever do.”

Like Foster, I often feel “immobilized by choices.”

And, “Lost potential is the byproduct of every evil in this world.”

Can we begin to measure choices by the extent to which they influence lost potential in ourselves and others?

An inspirational and thought-provoking book, I can recommend Wisdom Chaser by Nathan Foster.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Live-Kevin-Olson-ebook/dp/B00E7V3OTC

Learning to Live With It by Kevin Olson, was another inspirational book that has already been mentioned in an earlier post. (“Considering Heroes” December 7, 2017) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it again. I am full of admiration for Kevin and others who don’t let the poor hand they’ve been dealt stop them from making a positive impact in this needy world. They are our unsung heroes.

The Moon Butter Route by Max Yoho

http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Butter-Route-Max-Yoho/dp/0970816049

Speaking of comedy, I’ll put in another vote for a historical novel set in prohibition days in southeast Kansas. Topekan Max Yoho spun a good yarn about a boy coming of age during the later years of the prohibition era. The Moon Butter Route follows 12-year-old Wally Gant as he enters his teen years in the 1940’s. His first job was to assist with deliveries for the Strang Dairy, a place that didn’t just deliver milk, but also some of the finest moonshine (Moon Butter) packaged in painted milk bottles.

His adventures amongst the moonshiners and bootleggers—some lovable and some not—follow Wally as he finds love and fortune in a rough part of the state and of history. Told with good humor from Wally’s point-of-view, some of the shenanigans he describes are downright hilarious, which reminds me again how laughter can truly be good medicine for the ills of my soul.

 

Coming next: Books of inspiration

A Flynn McGuin Tall Tale

http://www.amazon.com/Rode-Wigglin-Flynn-McGuin-Memoir-ebook/dp/B074HFKVBC

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W  by L.A. Harder

Early in the year, a soft-spoken gentleman in the Wichita author’s group requested volunteers to test-drive a book he’d finished. I signed up, and promptly got distracted by daily life. The year was half over and I was thoroughly disheartened by the accrued crises before I downloaded a Kindle copy and started reading. I admit, I was dubious about a book titled I Rode for the Wigglin’ W. Some kind of western perhaps? Not exactly my cup-o-tea. But I wanted to support my fellow writer.

It wasn’t long before I wondered why I’d waited so long. Wigglin’ is not just a western, it’s a romantic comedy to boot. Loren Harder (as Flynn McGuin) soon had me laughing out loud—just the lift I needed amongst all the sour news and dire predictions of the year.

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W is good, clean fun, a modern tall-tale that you have to read to understand. I’m not going to give away any of its secrets since I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say it’s well-written (not a grammatical hiccup anywhere that I recall) and fast-paced. It’s written for folks of my generation, with sentimental clues from our coming-of-age years, but it’s clean enough to share with youngsters. And, it’s hilarious. Thank you, Loren.

 

 

Up next: A “ho-ho” from Max Yoho.

Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

http://www.amazon.com/Ike-McCarthy-Eisenhowers-Campaign-against-ebook/dp/B01HMXV2KO

Another true historical narrative on my reading list in 2017 was a new release by Simon & Schuster in the early spring. Given the rash of protests regarding the new administration’s reckless policies, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the release of David Nichols’ new study of Eisenhower, Ike and McCarthy.

Having spent time with Nichols talking about writing and sharing family stories, I was humbled to the extreme to read his well-written treatise on the McCarthy years. This infamous time in our history was over shortly before I was born, but the pages of Nichols’ book included names that would become significant players in world politics as I grew up.

What smacked at me most was the uncanny resemblance between McCarthy’s agenda and his tactics, and those of our current president. Most chilling was the realization that Ike, as a rational and intelligent leader, took clandestine steps to prevent a bid to the presidency by unstable extremist Joe McCarthy. In today’s world, the unstable extremist IS our president, and it is yet to be determined how—or even if—his influence will be checked.

We are tumbling into a deep, deep chasm with no end in sight.

Read Ike and McCarthy by David Nichols to gain insight into this repetition of our history.

Up next: Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part I.

 

Gloria Zachgo’s Suspense Novels

http://www.amazon.com/HUSH-GIRL-Its-Only-Dream-ebook/dp/B072XWVQMM

Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning books The Rocking Horse and Hush Girl: It’s Only a Dream were written by another new writing friend, a leader in the Kansas Author’s Club. Hush Girl, her latest novel, received the 2017 J. Donald Coffin award that my two books received the previous two years. Eager to read another award-winner, I was excited when the first sentence pulled me into the drama. It didn’t let go until the last page.

http://www.amazon.com/Rocking-Horse-Gloria-Zachgo-ebook/dp/B005MKKMVA

Told through the agonized confusion of a young woman in therapy, she reveals long-suppressed memories of her traumatic childhood while fighting present-day attempts to stop her efforts. When at last the truth becomes evident, she finds herself alone, facing an insane acquaintance in a death-dance to save her daughter.

 

Like Hush Girl, Rocking Horse explores an unwelcome truth hidden in the past. Each book follows the private conflicts of a child who witnessed violence and was a victim of abuse. As adults they struggle to reveal the past in order to face a brighter future. Down deep, each narrative is a story of desperate maternal love, sometimes reaching from beyond the grave. Broken families, mental health issues, abusive husbands, alcoholism—the ills of our ailing society are thrust upon innocent children. How they manage to overcome their past makes  suspense-filled rides through the pages of these novels.

If you need an escape from your own reality, Zachgo’s novels will transport you into another world in which you’ll find yourself cheering for the mistreated heroines to the very satisfying end. I recommend them as entertaining reads and look forward to more from this talented writer.

 

 

Taking Back the Bullet by Jim Potter

http://www.amazon.com/Taking-Back-Bullet-Trajectories-Self-Discovery/dp/097906970X

One of the best things about 2017 was expanding my circle of writing friends. Ex-cop Jim Potter is one of the most recent. He contacted me in October regarding the possibility of including his new release in the annual bookstore at the Kansas Authors Club convention. I met him in November during my presentation to the writers meeting in Hutchinson and found him to be outgoing and friendly. He enthusiastically endorsed my suspense novel and I found time to read his debut novel as the year drew to a close.

Taking Back the Bullet is a literary and contemplative sequence of character sketches in which a botched bank robbery changes the direction of each life.  Bullet is a drop from our collective society. Under a microscope, the drop reveals characters who represent a variety of today’s ills. In the book we encounter prejudice toward obesity, prejudice toward those struggling with mental illness, race related prejudice, particularly as it affects native Americans. We encounter issues faced by those with albinism as well as the LGBTQ community. Indeed, policemen, as much as teachers, medical personnel—and writers—see it all and gain insight into the many issues  our country faces.

Bullet is, as Potter explained, a wake-up call for today’s world.

The story is open-ended without a resolution to these issues, but it leaves the reader with hope when the main characters take steps that lead them in new directions.

One of the most fascinating features of Potter’s book is the section of character illustrations at the end. His wife, J. Alex Potter, an accomplished sculptor and art instructor, crafted a series of busts to bring many of the book’s characters into clear focus. Being married to a sculptor/art instructor myself, the photographs of her creations were especially meaningful to me.

I recommend Taking Back the Bullet: Trajectories of Self-Discovery as a revealing snapshot of the mosaic of ills we face in 2018. I hope that Jim Potter will write more, following these characters into their brave, new future, with hopeful and positive results.

Coming next: Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning suspense novels.

Book Journeys of 2017

A few days ago, my writing cousin and friend Paul Bishop linked to an article about the growing trend of young writers who don’t like to read. Say what?

It has always seemed obvious to me that reading comes first. For me it certainly did. I fell in love with books as a child. When I was quite young I realized that I wanted to not just read books, but write them as well. I was also convinced that the best way to learn the craft of writing was to read widely and voraciously. I learned what worked to hold my interest, to make my heart beat faster, and what gave me a sated feeling of contentment.

The time required to lose myself in a book is at a premium these days. Many things vie for my attention and steal my time. There is a yearning in my heart for that good-old solitude, the luxury of time to lose myself in other worlds presented in books.

A disconnect exists between my longing and the fast-paced technological existence of today. We’re on a course into uncharted lands, where stories are told in tweets and symbols. Youth seem to loathe time they spend alone with themselves, or in genuine face-to-face conversation.

I don’t understand the young ones any more than they understand me, and that is a sad fact. But it doesn’t mean my experiences and values are meaningless. I cling to my cherished books, realizing that those I have spent time reading have shaped the course of my life this past year, as they have every year.

I’d like to share a few notable reading experiences as the first days of 2018 unfold, books that were my companions through the tumultuous times of 2017. It is particularly satisfying to note that I actually know and respect many of the authors of those books. Other books were recommended by friends. I did read a few that I will not recommend, some written by very young writers that were ripe with spelling and grammatical errors. If only those young writers would just read a few really good books. . .

The first reviews will be shared tomorrow. Up next: Jim Potter’s Taking Back the Bullet.

Considering Heroes

Last month, my grandson’s elementary school celebrated “Hero” day. Each student was encouraged to invite a personal hero to share lunch with them at school. For the majority of children, that meant a parent. To children, their moms and dads are real life heroes.

I had to wonder, “What makes a hero?” My dictionary says it’s someone who is admired and emulated for achievements or character traits, someone who shows great courage. To have courage is to hold fast to one’s convictions and remain true to oneself even in the face of tremendous obstacles. Perhaps the definition of a hero could be stretched further to include anyone who makes life better for someone else by example or action.

With that in mind, I suggest there are those among us who quietly set the standard, folks who are easily overlooked because they may not have the appearance of a strong, invincible hero. Their strength lies within. Kevin Olson is one such hero.

I recently heard Kevin speak about his life at a writer’s convention. A man who suffered an irreversible neck injury as a teenager, he’s been confined to a wheel chair for almost thirty years. He remains mobile with the use of a long straw connected to a computerized motor on his electric chair. Exhaling means “go.” Inhaling means “stop.” Other subtle air flow changes create right or left turns.

Through the use of a mouth stick (a long pointer manipulated by his jaws) Kevin wrote a book, one tedious letter at a time typed on a computer keyboard. Learning to Live With It (xulon press, 2013) tells how his accident changed his life. It describes his hopes and prayers aimed at regaining the use of his arms and legs, as well as his disappointment to learn that would never happen. Rather than sinking into despair, Kevin learned to adapt to a future he would never have chosen.

Kevin found meaning in his life, not just in public speaking, but as a tutor and mentor to children. Through their innocence and honesty, he learned important metaphorical lessons as he was helping them learn and grow. In fact, it could easily be that his young friends served as heroes for him, even as he fulfilled that role for them.

Kevin describes several of the big lessons he learned from little people in the second part of Learning to Live With It, as well as several metaphors he’s associated with life in general. The inspirational book is filled with his faith in God and his love for life, though faced with desperate circumstances. We could all benefit from his optimism to face whatever obstacles make us stumble through life.

I highly recommend this inspirational book. It is available through http://www.Amazon.com.