Saturday, May 24, 2014


Like many of you, I've been listening to the news about the increasingly tragic and widening VA scandal. It made me angry. It made me sad. And then it became personal.

My nephew is twenty-four, maybe 160 pounds sopping wet. He has a ready smile and an "it is what it is" mentality about life. He joined the Marines as much on a dare as out of personal desire. His sister made a wonderful career for herself in the Navy as a chef, and when he threw out the idea that he might join the Marines, someone laughed at him, telling him he'd never survive Basic Training, and that was that.

He did survive Basic. His sister trained with him all summer to prepare him for the Marines' grueling demands. He was a mechanic by trade and served one tour in Afghanistan working on helicopters.

Having a trade didn't absolve him from the regular Marine Corps work like guard duty, honor tours, and time at the battle front. I knew he came home with PTSD, but it was only a few days ago that he opened up about what he had seen and done that left him unable to sleep or enjoy "down time."

I knew he had applied for his VA benefits over a year ago. His young back is in frequent pain from a fall off a helicopter, and he needs therapy to help him deal with the trauma of war, but months, and then more than a year have passed with no word from the VA that promised to be there for him when he got home.

He works a inadequate full-time job plus as many side jobs as he can find. He needs the income to pay his rent and other expenses, but mostly, he says he wants to be busy. He doesn't like to be idle. He doesn't want to give his mind a chance to think or remember.

So my nephew, like many vets in your circle, is in the VA nexus of neglect. They suffer silently for the most part, trying to appear as if they're doing fine, when in fact, they are hurting, aching, suffering over split-second decisions they or others made in a crazy place where the enemy doesn't play by the rules of morality to which our men and women are held to account.

So look around you today. If you know a vet, you probably know someone whose mind still returns to a place we do not want to fully understand. If they have been turned down or delayed by the VA, get out your pen and paper and join in their fight.

That's how we can best honor these men and women. Our brave ones.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Embark on a Star-Spangled Summer Adventure!

This summer marks the 200th anniversary of some profound American history, such as the writing of the Star-Spangled Banner, and the burning of Washington, including the torching of the White House, the Capitol, and the loss of thousands of irreplaceable volumes from the original Library of Congress.

I wrote my Free Men and Dreamers series to commemorate this great history, but sadly, budget cuts have forced the cancellation of many events planned to mark these poignant events.

So families, it will soon be time to hit the road and create your own Star-Spangled Summer Adventure! You visit local, state, or federal landmarks with your family, and we’ll provide some added incentive.

Here’s how you can enter:

1.       Visit five American historical landmarks, (even local landmarks count), between Flag Day, June 14th, and Defender’s Day, September 12th.

2.       Email photos of your family standing in front of a sign or building indicating where you went. Use this email address:

 That’s it!

Additional entries will be awarded for those who promote the SSSA by posting the official badge and link on your blog, Facebook page, or on Twitter. Additional entries can also be earned by submitting a brief, (250 words or less), testimonial recounting your experience on a leg of your “Star-Spangled Adventure.” These will be posted on my blog over the summer.

One family will be selected to win the prize package on September 13th. Prizes are still coming in, but the package now includes a Vivitar Digital Video Recorder; a $50 gift card to Bed, Bath, and Beyond; a commemorative set of the Charters of Freedom, suitable for framing; an autographed 5-volume set of Free Men and Dreamers, and other autographed books from authors in a variety of genres to keep your family reading all fall.
The promotion will launch on June 14th with Rafflecopter links where you can check off your participation.  Check back as we near that date.
So make plans to hit the road this summer, and let us see what great American history you find!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


While doing research for The Dragons of Alsace Farm, I ran across several articles describing the positive impact music had in bringing dementia patients out of their fog. My mother is now in a shared home with other people who, like her, suffer with dementia. I decided to put the theory to practice, so I'm assembling a selection of hits from their "happy years," the forties, fifties, and sixties, the years when these octogenarians were filled with the excitement of life and love.

I'm going to play these selections for them tomorrow, and ask them to share whatever memories they conjure. Cross your fingers for us. We'll see how it goes. I'll report back.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Melissa Lemon is one of the very talented authors in my writers' group. Because of that, I've had the privilege of pre-release glimpses of this fantasy treasure.
It's great.
She's bankable.
Get this one for your family.

Here is the synopsis: 

Trapped in a cursed sleep, the only experiences Princess Eglantine has are the ones in her dreams. There she meets Prince Henry of Fallund, a neighboring kingdom on the brink of war.

Meanwhile, Prince Henry's brother Duncan discovers a vicious beast imprisoned for murder. Captivated by her, he works to free her from both the prison bars she's locked behind and the ones surrounding her heart and mind. Sleeping Beauty and the Beast seamlessly retells and intertwines the classic stories of Sleeping Beauty and Beauty and the Beast.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


It's a sobering truth to admit that most of what we know about our parents will be drawn from personal experience. History won't consider most of our folks important enough to warrant extensive research for books or films, so what we see will really be what we get. And yes. That's sad.

By and large, it means we will remember our parents as we see them, as adults headed towards middle-age and beyond. We will know them, not for their hopes, but for their realities. Not through the folly of youthful day-dreams, but in the acceptance of their choices, and steeped in the dutiful fulfillment of their responsibilities.

Except for the senior high school portrait of my mother, every image of her records her as a mother, surrounded by at least a child or two, dressed in the budget-conscious attire of a woman stretching a tight income across ever-increasing needs.

Mom had the senior photo taken, but she never walked across the stage and earned a diploma. A few weeks after that photo was taken she talked her mother into taking her and a friend to Fun Land in San Francisco. A cocky nineteen-year-old soldier, far from his home in Maryland, stood by the entrance that boasted a grate rigged to blow ladies' skirts up, Marilyn Monroe-style. Mom and her friend crawled through a fence to avoid the wind gust, and the soldier spent the rest of the day following her around until she gave him her address. Six weeks later, she married that soldier. Her mother ignored the threat an irresponsible rush to the altar could pose because life at home held an even greater threat from an alcoholic step-father with a history of physical abuse.

All we knew of Mom's childhood were stories of that abuse, and the regret that she never finished high school. Her abhorrence over having her photo taken was legendary. As a woman of Portuguese ancestry, she blended in in her home state of California, but her dark eyes, black hair, and olive skin caused her to stand out in Dad's more Euro-centric state of Maryland.

Mom had a talent for drawing, which never had a chance to develop except as evidenced by the little drawings she sketched on everything from TV guides, to paper bags. She also expressed a love of reading and writing, and recounted how her teachers told her she was a smart girl who could be anything she chose to be. Those old stories went in and out of self-absorbed, young ears attuned to current concerns.  Even as children, we could see the irony of her choices, that she escaped an abusive father by marrying an occasionally heavy-handed husband.

Mom worked hard at home, turning dime store goods into a Christmas wonderland complete with baked goods by the dozens. She made a penny go as a far as a dime, and she drew great pride from the fact that despite the lack of a diploma, she was able to contribute to the family budget by driving a school bus.

As I grew up, Mom attributed all my scholastic accomplishments to my father, an electrical engineer, who escaped an abusive home of his own, and who successfully used the military as a stepping stone from a life of agricultural poverty. We bought the story. Mom couldn't do the "new math" our homework required, and Dad travelled a great deal of the time, so those who could figure the material out on their own survived, and those who couldn't, struggled.

It crushes me now to admit I accepted that image of Mom as a simple, uneducated woman. If I had had my eyes open, really open, I would have seen her bright intellect reflected in her choices and accomplishments.

She earned her GED in her fifties to encourage grandsons lacking scholastic interest. She wasn't a library regular. To my knowledge, she never had a library card, but she always accepted offers of free books, and she always seemed to have a stack of Readers Digest Condensed Novels on her nightstand.

Sometime in the sixties Mom came across a box of old historical books. I recall her her pride over this find--a series of diaries written during the Civil War, and a bio of an old pioneer and trapper--but my teen-aged mind was too preoccupied with boys and the latest edition of Teen Beat to be concerned about the details.

Years passed, Dad mellowed, he and Mom became devoted sweethearts, then he passed away leaving Mom depressed and alone.  After many difficult years helping Mom maintain her independence we received a diagnosis of early stage dementia, and we moved Mom off the farm. While cleaning out decades of collected memorabilia, we came across treasures squirreled away in corners long forgotten.

We found boxes of photos Mom was handed after her own mother's passing, photos of her as as chubby-cheeked child, and as a dressed-to-the-nines teen in home-sewn fashions that rivaled catalog vogue. In some, her eyes were bright and filled with playful anticipation. Family shots showed her as a timid, awkward young woman. I began to know my mother anew.

My father believed in slides and their semi-annual projected showing, but we found a few dozen rare, secret candid photos from our childhood that featured a beautiful, svelte Portuguese-American woman surrounded by children. Her eyes spoke volumes. She was a study in contrasts. Shy, confident. Soaking up happy moments like parched ground in some photos. Grim-lipped and stoic in others. We remembered those days. Our own maturation revealed more of Mom.

We also found the antique books, which have provided some of the most remarkable insights into who our mother really was, and probably still is, deep inside.

The diaries are difficult to read. The penmanship is flowery, as is the vernacular of the eighteen sixties. As a historical researcher and writer, I struggle with it, working hard to translate a few sentences. My mother read every page, even taking the time to insert slips of paper with her own notations within the pages. Her notes have been invaluable to me.

The old bio of the pioneer is likewise a challenging read. It features hundred of characters, many Shawnee or Iroquois, with the difficult spellings of those languages. It features the unfamiliar names of places changed by treaties and statehood, and yet, she read every page, many times I'd venture to say. Again, she inserted her own notes, written in her lovely hand, along the margins.

I begin to picture her, lying on her bed in the evening after we were all asleep with her books opened and her pen and slips of notebook paper beside her. On nights when Dad was traveling, having adventures in far away lands, Mom was having her own adventures. She was taking advantage of the opportunities available to her to learn.

The author in me is incredibly aware of the importance  of these discoveries, that Mom's treasured books were historical. She is likely the unrecognized root from which my love of history and the written word grows. Mom didn't write short stories or novels. She wrote about her life, her testimony, her walk with God. We found notebook after notebook filled with her grateful recounting of miracles wrought in response to prayer, and of those provided in a moment of urgency. Long notes were tucked into cards and letters to friends and children and never mailed. We have them all now.

We are finally discovering Mother, who she actually was in her heart, and what dreams she drew upon as she raised us. She left a silent, secret key to her heart in these letters and notes, cards and slips of paper. They are sacred now. I'm scanning them for the family.

She can't know that she's still teaching me, providing unspoken encouragement to do better in my personal writings, to commit more of my effort to the legacy I'm leaving for my family. I don't want the majority of that legacy to be scraped off Facebook pages and blog entries. Except stories like this one.

Thanks, Mom. Yes, you're still teaching. I guess you always will.

Happy Mother's Day to Mothers and Daughters Who've Merged Into One Soul