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.

Your Dreams are Over

Tribute to a Friend who Died much too Young

J. Scott, your dreams are over,

Snared in your youth by the Big M—

            Heartless,

            Trickster

            Devil.

Your gentle tortured soul now free

            But

Your words live on in our troubled world.

The genius of your soul—

Kneeling in awe of the literary greats

F. Scott (you know) Fitzgerald

            Hawthorne

            Rowling

            Thoreau

            Bronte

            Tolstoy

            Huxley

            Tolkien

            Dickens

            Lee

Spouting quotes from the pens of the masters

You read long before.

Once.

Genius.

The journeys you drew me into

Expanded my understanding of family.

We are all part of

            The human one.

You took me places I’d never dreamed.

            Courtroom witness stand

            Visitation at a Maximum security

Lockup

            Pre-dawn in the empty parking lot

                        Of the Johnson County Jail

            911 emergency call for an

                        Ambulance

            Visits to a residential rehabilitation home

Through it all you shared your dreams

Your hopes

Your disappointments

Your fears

 

Your open, gentle spirit showed great devotion

To young Kassidy, a child sister ripped by cancer

From this heartless life.

“I love God,” she taught from her heart.

“And God loves me. That’s all there is

            To it.”

In your world religion rejected and

            Judged you

            Without mercy

For your deviations from the norm.

Kassidy showed you—God Is Love.

But not even she could stop Big M.

You searched for your place,

A home that would love you always.

On the journey, you befriended

            The friendless,

Fought for those

            In the margins.

You took up causes of those

With little voice.

And you wrote for them.

Because you were one of them

And they needed you.

The Pen is Greater Than the Sword, Scott. Or the Needle.

And your words live.

            Even if you don’t.

Big M stole you from those who care.

In this age of rigid conservatism

And legal discrimination,

The civic powers criminalized

Your disability.  Your addiction.

When you needed help,

They served you blame.

They pulled the rug of security

And assistance

            From under your feet.

And you fell.

Forever.

In your words, “Life is suffering. . .

            But God is Love.”

As your spirit takes its first

Hesitant flight in freedom,

May you find the Winds of that Love,

And may they bear you

            Ever higher.

                        Scotty.

The wind is blowing.

Rise up with it and ride.

Decades of Memories: Memories of Decades

Sunrise. Sunset. Sunrise. Sunset.

Swiftly fly the years.

One season following another

Laden with happiness and tears.

                        -Sheldon Harnick

So goes the song from Fiddler on the Roof.

Earlier this summer, I was honored to be asked to photograph the fiftieth anniversary reception of some cherished friends. Fifty years. Five decades. Half a century.

Some time after that, I realized with a shock that my summer of 1967 held momentous memories for me as well. I had just turned twelve. In early June I was fitted in a Milwaukee brace, a structure of total spine length, from chin to pelvis. This was an attempt to combat the progressing scoliosis (curvature) in my spine and I wore the brace 24/7 for the next two years.

Fifty years ago. Overnight, my life changed. Childhood ended in an instant. One day I was rolling down a small hill in a friend’s yard. The next, I met sadness, despair and heartache. My life was changed. There was no return. Events and encounters during that time of life shaped my personality in many ways, some subtle, others blatant. Before the summer was over, my family moved two states away from the only home I’d known. Trauma after trauma.

I’ve heard it said that without the sad moments, you’d never know when you were happy. This rings true. Happiness and tears go hand in hand.

Swiftly flew the years, though it didn’t seem so at the time. Jump ahead to 1977, one of the happiest times of my life, forty years ago. August 6, 1977 was my wedding day, a day when I started a new life with my best friend from college, Craig Winter.

It was a hot morning. We had discussed the idea of an outdoor ceremony, but Kansas in August can be brutal. Instead we chose the small Methodist church of my grandmother, and fed everyone homemade ice cream at our simple reception.

Forty years have flown by, filled with happiness and tears. Alone today in Nederland, Colorado, I honor Craig’s memory. Our marriage lasted seven and a half years, until the day he flew away, an angel struck down by cancer at age 33. But he left me behind with a beautiful daughter to raise, another experience filled with happiness. And tears.

I headed west a few days ago, bringing seven-year-old grandson Donte, Craig’s grandson, to visit his mama in Denver. Donte had asked to visit Craig’s resting place. In the innocence and openness of childhood, he wanted to know where I “planted” my first husband. We took the short detour to the country church cemetery outside Lincoln, Kansas on our way to Denver.

Donte honored the grandpa he’d never meet, days before the 40th anniversary of our wedding. Words do not exist to describe the poignancy of the moment.

Forty years. Four decades.

I remember, Craigie. Happy anniversary.

Tears for a Tree

 
Passed daily on my way to anywhere—
The world’s most beautiful tree,
Stately, spreading limbs, shading
Cattle on hot summer days,

Praying to the sun through winter’s dormancy,

Rustling leaves in a fresh spring breeze,

The symmetry—the shape—taking my breath,
My admiration, my appreciation, my awe.

Set in the valley downstream from our pond,
Water and sunshine in abundance,

A monument along the highway,
A monument to life, the perfect cottonwood tree.
 
But not quite.
 
Mired against a culvert passing beneath the pavement,
The roots incomplete, impossible to anchor against moving water
Or against steel.
One night rain poured in sheets

And the wind blew.
The gale caught those beautiful boughs and
Toppled the tree.
 
The entire tree.
 
Next morning the sun shone on the ruined giant,
Uprooted by wind where the roots found no anchor.

I cry for the tree. And I wonder:
How many times have I been seduced by the
Appearance of perfection?

How many times have I basked in the seduction
Of incomplete beauty?
 
How many times have you?
Have we all?
In the dearth of the stately tree,
May the dry crumbling leaves

And the severed roots and branches
Remind me that beauty may beckon
Though it is flawed with hidden imperfections.
Monuments which steal our devotion
May crumble in life’s storms.
 
Beware what we revere lest a wind come
And topple the monarchs we extol.
Nothing, but nothing, is without a fault
And danger
Waits within that which is most alluring.

Writing is Like Gardening

I was recently asked to share some tips on how to market an indie book such as mine. I admit marketing the books I’ve written is a big challenge for a reclusive person like me. Part of this endeavor is like gardening. First you prepare the garden plot, then you plant a few seeds.

How do you prepare the plot?

There is no better way to spread the word about your new book than to have folks tell others it is a page-turner. For this reason, it’s imperative to put your best efforts out there. Don’t release the book until every page, every paragraph and every sentence has been reviewed and polished by you and a team of readers you select.

Revise, revise and revise again. Tighten the prose. Make every word count.

Be willing to assist your friends in their writing also, giving good reviews for others in online avenues. Enter writing contests.  Receiving recognition for good writing can help spread the word.

Make your book stand out so that readers will tell others about it. The garden is ready. Plant a few seeds and see what happens.

Plant a seed. I notified groups of friends who may enjoy the book, my musical family and community, which extends around the world, as well as the writing community.

Plant a seed. I set up a blog to post memories about my writing journey, my book releases, and my life. In each relevant post I add links to the Amazon pages of my books so readers can access them instantly.

Plant a seed. A friend designed a banner to use as my cover photo on Facebook when the suspense novel was released.

Plant a seed. I started a mail Chimp account to share the news with my contacts.

Plant a seed. I scheduled a book release party in a local gallery and sent a press release to the local paper.

Invitations to present programs for others filtered in. Though I consider myself shy by nature my mantra when asked to share my books or my experience is “Never say no.” Unless I am already booked for their meeting date, I make myself available and put together a presentation that fits the theme of their meeting. To date, I have prepared and presented thirteen public programs, with two more on the calendar later this year.

Plant a seed. Alert for new ways to publicize the books, I was honored to present a sample of my work to Robin Macy at the Bartlett Arboretum earlier this spring. She had requested that I come tune an old piano at the Arb. (http://www.bartlettarboretum.com/) Coincidentally, she let me know that beloved folksinger John McCutcheon would be performing on the TreeHouse stage July 9. (https://www.folkmusic.com/)

Another seed: Since there is a significant sequence involving the Walnut Valley Festival in Sundrop Sonata in which McCutcheon is mentioned by name, I made plans to attend this event. I met him before the concert, shook his hand, and handed him a book.

Plant a seed. See if it grows.

Sometimes it takes courage for a recluse like me to even plant seeds. Courage, I learned at my home church last Sunday, means being true to your core. I am a writer at my core, and have always been. I’m a writer who loves pianos. This week at the national convention of the Piano Technician’s Guild in St. Louis, I pinned my writer’s business card to my technician name tag. (http://my.ptg.org/2017convention/home)

A little seed. Perhaps it will grow.

Writing is like gardening. First prepare your very best work. Then plant a few seeds. It’s an adventure to see what might grow from those seeds. Follow the leads and see where your journey takes you.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AZUMTZS
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00NUA5VVU

 

Grandmother’s Stories

I remember being fascinated by the stories my grandmother told of her early days. Horses and wagons. Moving to Kansas in a covered wagon. The tornado which destroyed their farmhouse a few months before my dad was born. The floods they endured after record cloudbursts up-river.

What kind of stories will I be able to tell my grandchildren? Or my children theirs? What could happen if we don’t take immediate steps to change the direction we’re headed? These might become the good old days of fairy tales and adventure stories.

Just imagine. . .

The silver-haired woman smoothed locks of the squirming girl child in front of her. “Hold still, Cam, dear. Two minutes. I’ll get your braids done.”

“Aw, Gran,” the child protested. “I hate when you fix my hair. It hurts.”

“The longer we wait, the more it will hurt. Shush now and sit still.” She combed the locks with knobby fingers, veins of age rising on the backs of her hands. “If only I had a comb.” The woman sighed.

“What’s a comb, Gran?”

“It’s a tool to help work out the knots in a little girl’s hair.”

“You used to have a comb, didn’t you? Years ago, when you were little?”

“I had many things, Cam.”

“Tell me.”

“We had plenty of combs and brushes for our hair. And our teeth.”

“Teeth! You combed knots out of your teeth?”

Gran laughed. “Not exactly. We brushed our teeth to keep them healthy.”

“So they wouldn’t fall out of your mouth, right?”

“You remember, child. Yes. We had a lot of things you’d never believe.”

“Like what?”

“Like cars, to drive us wherever we wanted to go.”

“On wheels?”

“With rubber tires. And we had a whole house for every family. And plenty to eat, with appliances to fix our food.”

“What’s a ‘plance’?”

Gran laughed. “Appliance,” she pronounced the word carefully. “Appliances were tools for a house. There were refrigerators for cooling our food to keep it from spoiling, and stoves to cook our meals. We had tools that would chop our food, or mix it up so we could bake cakes and pies in our ovens.”

The old woman’s fingers worked quickly, easing tangles from the child’s hair. She traced a part down the middle of her granddaughter’s head and tossed half the tresses to the front, across Cam’s chest.

“Tell me about the water,” Cam said.

“Oh yes. There was water, running from faucets in the kitchens and bathrooms—water to wash our food—and the dishes we ate on. We had water to wash ourselves. Even our hair!”

“You washed hair?”

“My yes. There’s nothing that feels so fine as a soft and silky head of clean hair.”

“And you could wash every day?”

“Every single day. Twice if we wanted to.”

“What about the flushes?”

“Our fancy toilets? Every family had one or two in their houses—special thrones for a privy. And you could flick the handle on the tank and flush your products down with swirling water.”

“Like magic.”

“It seems so now, little Cam. It didn’t seem magical to me then. When you have so much that is right at your fingertips, you get lazy. And you take it all for granted.”

“Like it will always be there?”

“Exactly. Like it was always there and always will be. Then something happens that shakes you awake and you realize how lucky you have been.”

Gran finished the second braid, knotted the grimy ends and tied a bit of twine around it.

“Tell me the story again, Gran. Tell me about how you lost my grandpa.”

Gran removed a polished stick from her own silver hair and shook her locks until they cascaded around her shoulders. “What—has Philip given you a day off?”

Cam grinned. “He’s off somewhere with the scouts. Tell me the story again.”

“About Grandpa Stefano?”

“Yes.”

“Ah. That story.” Gran combed her own hair, smoothed it into one long tress and twisted it to the top of her head. Holding it with one hand, she fished the polished stick from her worn skirt pocket and worked it through the twist until her hair was again secured neatly on top of her head. “I think you’ve heard this tale before. Where should I begin?”

“Where you always do.”

“Of course. It’s always best to begin at the beginning. Come with me, Cam. Let’s walk.”

Imagine the wasteland where Cam and her grandmother would walk. Then think of the huge wildfires we’ve seen each of the last two springs. Think of the erratic and unpredictable weather patterns. Think of the epidemic of earthquakes influenced by fracking procedures. We could be one, maybe two, generations from a life very different from what we now know. Our choices matter very  much.

Vote, while you still can. Vote for a candidate who respects the voices of the little guys. If we can’t change our leadership, our landscape and our future could look very bleak.

 

The Unknown Factor in any Book

This has been a strange week for me, reading two books simultaneously. Both are good books, and neither probably would have been one I would pull from a library shelf had I not encountered them individually somehow. However, I am not sorry to have read them. And reading them together produced a strange melding of thoughts from within, reminding me that the one unknown quantity in any book I might write lies with the reader. Active reading is a creative process, as much as the writing endeavor. Each reader will understand the content of a book, essay or poem within the parameters of her own personal history, making the read a unique experience for every person.

The two books I have been reading are On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder and Wisdom Chaser by Nathan Foster. Put them in the context of my need to search for building blocks to start bridging gaps in our current society, and interesting things happen.

If I find some things to remember in a book I read, I consider the book to be a great book. With Foster’s chasing of elusive wisdom, each chapter included some points he’d learned from climbing mountains with his dad. Described with poetic clarity, many of his points resounded in my soul. For example, Foster described a concept of time. “When we share our time, is this not the pinnacle of human sacrifice? . . .The only thing I have any control over is what I do in this fleeting moment. Time, my most valuable possession, is quite possibly my only real possession.”

And we fritter away so much of that precious treasure. Leaping to Snyder, I find a chapter exhorting us to “Be Kind to our Language.”  “Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.”

Ah. The internet. Fortunate is the person who hasn’t been lured into skipping from one site to another, conveniently linked together with the seeming purpose to see how long those webworms can keep you distracted from the rest of your life. Too often I tell myself “I have ten minutes. I’ll just check email.” And then–THEN–I see something that I just have to look up, and something else, and before I know it, an hour has passed and I’m almost late to an appointment. And I have accomplished nothing except wasting sixty minutes of my precious time, stolen by the internet.

The internet, a practiced thief. It is one of the best, for it steals your time with no apology whatsoever. A theft of time is perhaps one of the most heinous of crimes, for along with lost time is lost potential, those things you might have accomplished if you’d directed your efforts elsewhere. Where might we be now if we had not been seduced since childhood by the ease and temptation of impersonal connections online?

Select a book. Enlighten yourself. Escape with some well-crafted characters. But decide when to return to your life, and close the book with a book mark. To be continued. Books are great, aren’t they? Snyder recommended a few books to help us put today’s trending events into perspective. How do they compare with historical examples of other places at other times? And what happened to the people in those situations?

I recommend both of these books to any one who wants to exercise their own thinking while reading. Additionally, Snyder recommended Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, George Orwell’s 1984, Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, and even J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. 

Any book which places an endearing character complete with personality flaws woven into their compassion and integrity could give a reader pause to think. What would happen if it was you who faced some dire circumstances? Would you even recognize the threat? How far would you go to defend your principles? How much are you willing to sacrifice to assist someone less fortunate than yourself? How much time would you give to save a helpless child? Or an immigrant? Or a refugee?

Then there’s Foster: Giving someone our time and attention is the ultimate sacrifice. That is all we have to give, after all, and in the end it is the only thing we can decide how to spend.

Just my reader’s musings after pondering points from two good books.

Thanks for allowing me a few minutes of your time. . . .online even. May we all find a new direction.