Sunday, December 27, 2015

How Does Truth Penetrate?

Night-blooming Cereus behind my house 2014.

For Mikhail Bazankov: October 5, 1937-December 13, 2015.

THE OMENS ARRIVE XXVI. September 6, 2015

Yes, we fight for democracy in times
of corporate totalitarian power, and
for our environment willfully poisoned
in the name of greed, and we fight for 
our human right not to be harmed.  We
fight out of love.  We risk everything.  
We have Dante’s innocence of heart
and visionary prowess.  Even in exile 
we will fight and win.  –The Omens Arrive VII.

The cereus began its bloom work a week ago.
I watched, awed as always.  This plant has
lived behind my house or under my solar
tubes some twelve years.  It rarely blooms–
four times, and I missed one.  The Queen of
the Night chooses one night only, then collapses
limp.  Did I miss her this time?  She’s hanging
down.  Did she already give all she had?
Maybe.  I missed how sick you were, too,
but then your January letter didn’t tell me.
A friend wrote, hesitated to break the news
that you were dying.  Curiously, the cereus
bud arrived at the same time.  I won’t be able
to see you again or hear you say we are fools.
Your wife and son keep you alive–barely.  
You may slip away before my letter arrives
to say that my heart hurts.  I told you I
would continue to tell our story.  Our two
countries have again fallen into warrior
stances, but we who met and loved our
Russian neighbors know they love us.
The harm comes from overweening corporate
power and foolish politicians.  It is past
time to give up warring on other nations
and on our own people.  How does the truth
penetrate?  Certain souls stand fast.  The seers
of our twenty-first century must now 
summon all their courage, dig deep for strength
and raise their heads like the cereus does,
open their hundreds of petals, and tell the
simple truth: if we don’t learn to love
each other, we all die.


Mikhail at an art exhibit in Kostroma, Russia.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Carolyn Mulford's Show Me The Ashes

Review: Show Me the Ashes.  Carolyn Mulford.  Five Star, A Part of Gale, Cengage Learning, New York, NY.  December 16, 2015.  ISBN 13: 9781432831356. Hardback, $25.95. 319 pp.

In Show Me the Ashes, Mulford’s fourth novel in her “Show Me” series, P.I. Phoenix Smith quickly becomes involved with two investigations.  She hears the desperate tale of Beatrix Hew, a grandmother whose daughter Jolene confessed to killing Edwin Wiler in the Bushwhacker Den  bar where she worked, and then setting fire to the building.

The case had been closed by Boom Keyser, her best friend Annalynn Keyser’s former husband, who took the confession. Phoenix knows that Annalynn, now acting sheriff, doesn’t want to hear that her dead husband made a bad mistake, so she begins a secret investigation, feeling compassion for the ailing grandmother and her grandchild Hermione.  The third member of this trio of old friends, Connie Diamante, insists on helping Phoenix.

Then Annalynn asks Phoenix to help her investigate some local robberies, and to keep Connie out of it.  Keeping all these secrets, plus her CIA background from the general public, proves quite a balancing act for Phoenix.

Phoenix’s dog Achilles plays a star role in the whole series, and with each book, he steals more of the show.  Phoenix’s former CIA experience helps her unravel a very complex plot, as well as her knowledge of small town Missouri people.  She must interview all those involved in the year-old murder and arson case: the Bushwhacker’s Den owner, the dead man’s lover, the fireman who found arson, and others.

The transformation that goes on in Phoenix’s attitude from feeling that there’s no way she can help Beatrix to taking more and more risks to do just that, hinges on how Phoenix allows her compassion for the child Hermione to keep her motivated when it proves nearly impossible to prove a different set of circumstances and events that led up to the death and the fire than the seemingly obvious conclusion Boom had reached when the case began.  The child and her love of Achilles becomes the pivot that makes it possible for Phoenix to loosen her perspective in both investigations and discover the truth.

What I love best about this series is the opening up of the characters living in a small Missouri town.  The plots are always complex and hard for the reader to unravel, but the characters stay with me.  One fiction teacher I had years ago said that the sign of a good book was its memorability.  Did it stick in your mind? Carolyn Mulford’s characters stick in my mind.


Carolyn Mulford writes the award-winning Show Me mystery series. She set out to be a writer shortly after becoming a reader in a one-room school near Kirksville, Missouri, but delayed her writing career to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. That experience fostered a fascination with other cultures that led her to work as a nonfiction writer and editor on five continents. She moved from nonfiction to fiction and from the Washington, D.C., area to Columbia, Missouri, in 2007. Her first published novel, The Feedsack Dress, became the state’s Great Read at the 2009 National Book Festival. Next came Show Me the Murder, Show Me the Deadly Deer, Show Me the Gold, and (in early 2016) Show Me the Ashes. To read the first chapter of these books and of the upcoming MG/YA Thunder Beneath My Feet, go to Harlequin Worldwide Mystery published a paperback edition of Show Me the Murder in June 2015.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Launching The Sands of Gower

Coal ash fighters at the book launch of The Sands of Gower:
left to right, Shelton Bass, Dawn Crawley, Johnsie Tipton, Dean Tipton, in Judy's living room.

I learned early in my life as a writer, teacher, and publisher of books to go with what you have.  Never dwell on how many people are responding to your efforts, invitations, pleas.  Keep on.  When I look back on my life, every time I simply wouldn’t give up, I succeeded.  There’s that saying of Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM: “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

I invited about 200 people to my book launch on Sunday, December 6, for my new mystery, The Sands of Gower: The First Penny Weaver Mystery, and asked them to RSVP only if they were coming.  My friend Barbara Wefing from New Jersey, who lived here in the 70s and early 80s, visited me that weekend.  My friend and faithful reader/copy-editor, Carol Hay, said she was coming “with bells on.”  I also invited coal ash activists whom I work with these days. Four of them replied they’d be there: Dawn Crawley and Shelton Bass, who farm next to the Lee County coal ash landfill site; Dean and Johnsie Tipton, who live by the railroad line, also next to the Lee County site, at “ground zero,” as they call it.

I laid out the refreshments and the books.  Then we talked, but more about coal ash than about books.  Carol and Barbara got the full coal ash education.  Shelton entertained us with stories of all the polluting factories he’d worked in over the years and how careless the management was of the workers’ health.  They also described their farm, with goats, horses, mules, chickens, and their adventures riding horses in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Johnsie and Dean, who are expert at asking questions, and live near Dawn and Shelton, but were not yet up on all their neighbors’ adventures, kept up the questions, and then we were all amazed at the stories that poured out.  We stopped a little to eat minestrone soup and bread, and sample other goodies, though only Barbara had any of the wine she’d brought.  The rest of us had lemon balm tea or coffee.  Every now and then the subject of books came up, and Dean said if I wrote my books on travels in Russia, he wanted to buy that one.  It’s a few years off, but I do plan to.  The animal and people stories won out over the books.

The whole evening’s experience, from 4 PM until 7:30 PM, was a gift.  Carol had to leave, but the rest of us were happy, entertained, and amazed at all we learned about each other and worlds we hadn’t been in, worlds which take huge amounts of courage, knowledge, canniness, and sheer gall.

As the coal ash fighters in Lee and Chatham fight on to stop twenty million tons of coal ash from coming into our neighborhoods, let’s remember that.  Human beings can outwit and outlast their problems if they summon their wits and their core of resilience and faith, their indomitable spirit.


Buy Links: Both ebook and paperback

e-book only: In December only: $1.02 with coupon AB45F

From Hoganvillaea Books, $15, paperback, plus $1 tax, $3 postage. $19. PO Box 253, Moncure, NC 27559, USA


Left to right: Judy, Shelton, Dawn, Johnsie, Dean.  Photos from launch by Barbara Wefing.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Our Souls Held On

THE OMENS ARRIVE XXV.  August 30, 2015

Dear Mikhail, I wish I could send you
the zinnia flowers I brought inside
last night.  Their bold colors reassure.
How I labored for them.  The weeds were
two feet high, their roots tough to yield.
I sowed seed late, and then the weeds
returned with the seedlings.  So again
on hands and knees I weeded out grass.
As they began to bloom the voles
returned to their underground lairs, 
and the dog dug crazily despite my
command: “Stay out of my flowers.”
Yet here they are–petals of splendor: 
the deep red of blood when it hits
the air; the yellow of new gold; 
the nearly green white of certain
glass bottles; the deep orange of
the sun before it slips into ocean;
the light pink of a spring prom
dress, and the deep pink, nearly
red of a young girl’s blush.  Would
that I could put them beside you where
you work and sleep, battling now 
against time.  They tell me you are 
very sick, don’t go out.  I know
your passion to write because I
have it, too.  That’s where our souls
joined for the sake of our writing and
that of others, to save, publish, spread
word of the truth we knew and must 
tell.  I have had to live with you 6000
miles away, and yet our souls held on.
We couldn’t undo that deep a bond, 
nor did we want to.  I’ll finish the
work we began.  I’ll tell the story
to the whole world.  Believe, dear 
heart, that I will always love you.  
We may lose our lives but 
our love is here to stay.