RUINED FOR THE REAL WORLD

I had been looking for a job that would let me flex my hours so Garry and I could spend time together. It was difficult. He worked terribly long hours, gone before the sun came up and not home until it was dark again. Ironic. Most people think reporters work “a few minutes a day” because that’s all they see on the news. Not true.

To get those few minutes of finished news on the air, they drag themselves through every kind of weather — blizzards, hurricanes, bitter cold, unbearable heat — and endless traffic, from one end of the state to another. They are often on the scene of the worst imaginable horrors before the first responders arrive.

And they have to look good while doing it. Without a break for lunch or even a bathroom. Someone once commented it’s like being in the army, just without the uniform.

75-OfficeHDR-CR-2

His days off were Wednesday and Thursday. That meant we had barely a few minutes after work to meet and greet each other. Everything else waited until vacation. By which time Garry was exhausted and needed two weeks of sleep to recuperate so he could go back to work again.

The good part of his job? He loved it. I think everyone in the news business is an adrenaline junkie. The thrill of getting the scoop, tracking down the story, coming up with a different angle on something every other station is also doing and sometimes, finding new information to crack open a case. Garry loved his work. He didn’t love every single moment of it, but he loved most of it, loved knowing he could make a difference, shine a light into a dark corner and fix something that had been broken.

When I married him, I married his work. No whining about him missing all the family events, never being around to help with the housework or the shopping. I knew from the get-go I’d be keeping his dinner warm for whenever he got home. That was the deal we made.

One day, I got a call. A major corporation was looking for a technical writer to create documents for various computer programs aimed at end-users. Entry-level stuff. For me, this was a piece of cake — with icing.

I went to the interview. Bad part? It was a part-time job, paying a retainer. I would be paid for 20 hours a week at $25 an hour, which was less than my usual rate. But it was a retainer. Freelancers know there’s nothing better than a retainer. I might work all 20 hours, or no hours. I would not be required to go into the office. Ever. I’d work from home or wherever I and my computer might be, including the back porch of the house on the Vineyard.

Although it was half the money I’d been earning, I could take free-lance gigs to make up the gap.

I took the job and never looked back. When I accepted it, I figured I’d be working most of the 20 hours. It turned out there wasn’t any work. Or almost none. Weeks and months went by. I would call to find out if maybe they’d forgotten me. Didn’t they want me to do something? No, everything is fine, they said. No problem. We’ll call you. Once in long while, they did call and for a few days, I worked. It was almost a relief. Even though it was writing I could do in my sleep.

For more than four years, I got a regular paycheck for which I did nothing much. I did other free-lance stuff here and there. I had to bring a laptop with me when I went on vacation, just in case. It was the dream job. I was getting paid and didn’t have to work.

One day, I picked up the Boston Globe and discovered the division for which I worked was being disbanded. Apparently someone noticed that no one in the department actually worked. So I called my boss, Anita.

“Anita,” I said. “I was reading the Globe this morning. Does this mean I have to look for a new job?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “We all do. But you’ve got three or four months, so you should be fine.” I couldn’t believe it. They were taking away the best job in the world. I was going to have to go to work, show up at an office. Stay there all day. What a horrible thought!

I went job hunting and found what would turn out to the best real job I ever had. The best colleagues and the greatest boss. But it was work. I had to think (a lot), learn (like getting a masters in advanced object linking in a couple of weeks), synthesize, design documents, write them. Back to meeting deadlines. Although my extended paid vacation had not lessened my skills. I was as good as ever, but never again would I feel comfortable in a 9 to 5 job.

Merely having to be in one place all those hours made me itchy. I got the job done — and done well — but I was ruined. No regular job felt right. Not until retirement would I find myself as happy as I had been during my retainer years.

DREAMING SPIES, BY LAURIE R. KING – AUDIBLE.COM

Dreaming Spies

Written by: Laurie R. King
Narrated by: Jenny Sterlin 
Length: 12 hrs 22 mins 
Unabridged Audiobook

I’ve been a fan of this series for some years. I have read all but maybe one or two of these wonderful modern Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell novels. I have enjoyed every one of them and hope Ms. King never stops writing them.

dreaming spiesDreaming Spies is the latest in Laurie King’s brilliant modern tales of Sherlock Holmes and his intrepid and scholarly wife, Mary Russell. While on a sea voyage to Japan — intended as a vacation — the journey transforms into a convoluted, multi-faceted hunt for a blackmailer, a priceless book, and a document that can save or destroy an empire.

As the intensity of the chase increases, Holmes and Mary form a peculiar alliance with a mysterious young Japanese woman. Twists and turns of plot abound. Nobody and nothing is who or what they seem to be. It’s impossible to know who is the hound, and who the fox.

I have always wanted to visit Japan and now, I feel as if I have. I was originally planning to read it as text, but this has not been a good year for my reading print. I finally gave in and acquired the audiobook. I’m glad I did. Jenny Sterlin, who has been the narrator on this entire series, is wonderful. As she always is. She will always be the voice of Mary Russell to me. The wife of Homes and the teller of this and all of Laurie King’s Sherlock Holmes-Mary Russell books.

You don’t have to read the books in order, though it certainly wouldn’t hurt if you did. Each book in the series stands on its own.

Laurie King is an exceptionally literate writer. The elegance of her language is one of her most attractive qualities as an author. In many places, her prose is almost poetry, lyrical and as silky as a rose petal. I recommend the book and the series. If you like mysteries which you cannot predict, enjoy vivid descriptions of exotic climes, I think I can say without reservation you will like her novels.

If you always hoped Sherlock might meet a nice woman, get married, and get a life — in these books he does exactly that. All of your favorite Holmes characters will drop by for visits. Holmes doesn’t lose any of his detecting abilities. He is still Sherlock Holmes … but more human and more humorous than he was in the old days. Meanwhile, the world believes he is fictional … and that’s the way he prefers it.

Dreaming Spies is a great read. Every book in the series is good. Absorbing, exciting, unpredictable. Beautifully written. Summer is coming. Take a few with you on your next vacation. Print or audio, you won’t be disappointed.

DOG BONE SOUP – A BOOMER’S JOURNEY, BY BETTE STEVENS

DOG BONE SOUP Launch Banner

DOG BONE SOUP is the long-awaited “rest of the story”of Shawn Daniels from the original short story, “Pure Trash.” It’s particularly long-awaited for me because as soon as I read the short story, I wanted to read this book. The only problem was, Bette hadn’t yet written it.

But she did it. Dog Bone Soup is available for your reading pleasure. And what a pleasure it is.

Bette has the purest, freshest writing style I’ve read in many a long year. Reading her prose is like peering into an exceptionally clear, deep pool. It looks like the bottom is close enough to touch, but those waters run deep.

Bette Stevens is a class act, an author who knows how to tell a story. Her characters are real, so true to life, they practically leap off the page. In Dog Bone Soup, style and the story are blended to perfection.

DOG BONE SOUPI’ve read a lot of books about rural poverty and for some reason, all those stories are set in the south. This is as far from south as you can get and a timely reminder that poverty is not regional. It’s everywhere, from the biggest cities to the hidden hamlets where tourists never go.

Shawn Daniels’ story is wonderful story. It’s growing up and coming of age for a poor kid in a dysfunctional family. His world is cold and hardscrabble. A drunken father, a vanishing mother. Foster parents with no love to share, teachers who can’t see past patches and poverty. Yet somehow Shawn forges a road of his own. Armed with courage, humor, and grit, he grows into a strong young man with solid values. And a future.

Sometimes, very little is enough.

No matter how it sounds, there’s nothing depressing about this story. How come? Because Shawn Daniels hasn’t a shred of self-pity in him. Despite the challenges he faces, Shawn is never down. Not depressed, discouraged, broken, or beaten. This kid has grit. Determination. A solid grip on his own worth.

Where does it come from? Mom, sometimes. A few others who see Shawn’s value and give him a hand along his path. A personal, hard-wired toughness that lets him see past the life he is living it to the life he wants — and for which he is willing to work. Mostly, it is Shawn’s own sharp intelligence which enables him to understand his world. It lets him trust his judgment without bogging down in unearned guilt. He makes smart decisions.

It’s a great story — and it’s far from over.

About the author

BAS Author logo stamp 2015Inspired by nature and human nature, author Bette A. Stevens is a retired elementary and middle school teacher, a wife, mother of two and grandmother of five. Stevens lives in Central Maine with her husband on their 37-acre farmstead where she enjoys writing, gardening, walking and reveling in the beauty of nature. She advocates for children and families, for childhood literacy and for the conservation of monarch butterflies (milkweed is the only plant that monarch caterpillars will eat).

Bette A. Stevens is the author of award-winning picture book AMAZING MATILDA; home/school resource, The Tangram Zoo and Word Puzzles Too!; and PURE TRASH, the short story prequel to DOG BONE SOUP.

WHEN THE MACHINES WENT DOWN

Dateline: Uxbridge, Massachusetts 

It was an ordinary day. A sunny day in southern New England. Cool. Almost crisp. The leaves had changed and shone bright yellow and orange. Autumn. The best time of the year.

An ordinary day. Except, we ran out of half-and-half.

72-Foliage-9-29-14_003

In most homes, this would have been no big deal. It would surely not have been an emergency requiring an immediate trip to town. But in this household of addicted coffee drinkers, no way we could get through 24 hours without half-and-half for our coffee. Someone — okay, Garry — would have to buy half-and-half.

The nearest shop only sells tiny containers and sometimes, has none at all. So it was off to Hannaford’s.

Hannaford’s is our grocery store. We don’t own it (I wish), but it’s the one we patronize. Not big or fancy. Even for Uxbridge, it’s a modest store, but that’s one of the reasons we like it. It’s part of a small Maine-based chain. Prices are pretty good and the produce is usually fresh. They offer locally grown products in season. You don’t need a special card to get discounts and they offer a 5% discount to Senior Citizens every Tuesday. Most important, they are close to home, easy to get to, and have ample parking.

I was in the middle of a book — I usually am — so I didn’t pay a lot of attention as Garry went out. Not a big deal. Just half-and-half. Maybe pick up something for dinner. He came back a couple of hours later, a bit longer than an errand like this should take. Garry looked amused. Maybe bemused.

“There is shock and confusion in downtown Uxbridge, today,” he announced.

“Shock and confusion?”

“Yes,” Garry said. “I thought it might be delayed PTSD from 9/11 or changing seasons. Everyone in Hannaford’s looked stunned.”

“Stunned? Because?” I questioned.

“The credit card readers were down. You couldn’t pay with your bank or credit card. Everyone had to pay cash or use a check. They looked shell-shocked. Thousand-yard stares. Stumbling, vacant-eyed around the store.”

“Holy mackerel,” I said. “I can only imagine.”

“You could see them mumbling to themselves. They kept saying ‘cash!’ I could tell they were confused and unsure what to do.”

“Wow,” I said. “How dreadful! What did you do?” I asked. Garry seemed to have survived with his sense of humor intact and brought home the half-and-half.

“Oh, I paid with cash. I had enough on me.”

He went off to the kitchen chuckling to himself. I hoped everyone would be okay back in town. A shock like that can haunt people for a long time. Cash. Imagine that. Everyone will be talking about this for weeks.

The day the machines went down at Hannaford’s. That’s huge.


Weekly Writing Challenge: LOCAL FLAVOR

GATHER YE ROSEBUDS

If you think getting old today is a bummer, imagine when really old was 45, and 50 was ancient. Rulers of kingdoms acted like spoiled teenagers because they were spoiled teenagers.

Gather Ye Rosebuds -2

During the 14th century (1300s) — the worst of the Black Plague years — many of the warring monarchs were not yet out of their teens. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen year-old kings waging war. Hormonal tyrants, the anointed of God, doing whatever they wanted (unless they got so far out of hand that their own family did them in).

So, my friends, gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Time is still a-flying.

Robert Herrick was a 17th-century English poet and cleric, best known for his poem To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time, generally know by its first line Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

BETTE A. STEVENS, AUTHOR – PURE TRASH AND DOG BONE SOUP

dog bone soupAnd now, there’s the rest of the story. DOGBONE SOUP is the long-awaited “rest of the story”of Shawn Daniels and his brother. Bette Stevens novel is now available for your reading pleasure. And it is a pleasure.

Bette has the purest, freshest writing style I’ve read in many a long year. Reading her prose is like peering into an exceptionally clear, deep pool. It looks like the bottom is close enough to touch, but watch out. Those waters run deep.

This author knows how to tell a story. Her style and the story are a perfect blend. Like the clear water, this author runs deep.

If I hadn’t come down with the flu, I’d be writing my review. In the meantime, here’s a good one from Barbara Ann Mojica’s Blog, GROWING UP MUCH TOO SOON.

DOG BONE SOUP is a wonderful story. It’s a coming of in a hardscrabble world, armed only with courage, determination, intelligence, and grit. Sometimes, that’s enough.


PURE TRASH: BETTE STEVENS – The Prequel

There are so many television shows and movies, not to mention sappy posts on Facebook and other social media sites about “the good old days” … kind of makes me a trifle queasy. As someone who grew up in those good old days, I can attest to their not being all that great. There were good things about them, but it was by no means all roses.

Good is a relative term, after all. If you were white, Christian and middle class … preferably male and not (for example) a woman with professional ambitions … the world was something resembling your oyster. A family could live on one salary. If you were “regular folk” and didn’t stand out in any particular way, life could be gentle and sweet.

The thing is, an awful lot of people aren’t and weren’t people who could blend in. If you were poor, anything but white or Christian, or a woman who wanted to be more than a mother and homemaker, the world was a far rougher place.

Bette Stevens
Bette Stevens

Pure Trash: The Story: Shawn Daniels in a Poor Boy’s Adventure: 1950s Rural New England is set in rural New England in the mid 1950s. It’s a sharp reminder how brutal our society could be to those deemed different or inferior. Not only was bullying common, it wasn’t considered wrong.

I remember how badly the poor kids in my class were treated when I was going through elementary school. How the teachers took every opportunity to humiliate kids whose clothing was tattered and whose shoes were worn. I remember feeling awful for those little girls and boys.

Not merely bullied by their classmates (who oddly, didn’t much notice the differences until the teachers pointed them out), but tormented by those who were supposed to care for and protect them. Bad enough for me and the handful of Jewish kids as Christmas rolled around. For them, it was the wrong time of year all year round.

In this short story, Shawn and Willie Daniels set off one Saturday in search of whatever they can find that they can turn into money. One man’s trash can be a poor child’s treasure. Bottles that people throw away could be collected and turned into ice cream and soda pop. Shawn is excited. It’s going to be a terrific day. Until the real world intrudes and Shawn is sharply and painfully reminded that he’s different … and not in a good way.

The story is about bullying, but more important, it’s about being different and being judged without compassion, without understanding or love.

It’s a very fast read. Only 21 pages, the story flies by. I was left wanting more. I want to know how the boys grow up. I want them to become CEOs of big corporations so they can thumb their noses at their whole miserable society. An excellent short story leaving plenty of room for thought.

Though set in 1955, the story is entirely relevant today. Despite much-touted progress, we still judge each other harshly based on appearance and assumptions. Everything changes … but maybe not so much.

For lots more information about the book and its author, stop by the authors’ website: 4 Writers and Readers. Pure Trash is available on Kindle and as a paperback from Amazon.

Crime and Redemption – From a Dead Sleep, John A. Daly

FROM A DEAD SLEEP
John A. Daley

Publisher: BQB Publishing — June 25, 2013
Category: Thriller/Suspense

Dead-Sleep-Front-Cover

Growing up in the secluded mountain town of Winston, Colorado – the middle of nowhere – carries its own burdens. Especially when you aren’t the kind of guy who gets much respect from anyone. Not that Sean Coleman has earned much respect. He’s always been a bully, even when he was in high school. His manners and personal habits are distasteful and he’s a drunk, the kind of drunk who gets mean then falls face down and lays there until morning.

The only thing that’s kept him going is his work as a security guard at his uncle’s company. It’s not much of a job, but Sean takes the responsibility seriously. Not far below his bad mannered alcoholic exterior, he wants to be a hero. He’s addicted to crime shows and he has an active — many would say overactive — imagination.

Whatever else is wrong with him, he’s no dummy. Sean is a keen observer of his surroundings, a man who notices small things, details others miss or dismiss. It’s gotten him into trouble in the past and it’s about to do it again. Early in the morning following a particularly unfortunate night of bad choices and heavy drinking, Sean is the sole witness to a bizarre suicide. The man is a mystery, a total  stranger — rare in a tiny rural town. Slowed by difficult terrain and his own sluggish, hung-over reflexes, his attempt to prevent the death are unsuccessful. Equally unsuccessful but much more embarrassing are his attempts to convince local law enforcement something really happened.

There’s not a shred of solid evidence. The body is gone, flushed away by the powerful current of the river into which it fell. Most people think Sean’s account is his imagination or an outright lie. Yet a there are some folks who know him well and harbor a nagging suspicion there might be something to his strange story.

Lacking a body or hard evidence, Sean finds he has become — again — the town’s biggest joke. But this time, he knows what he saw. He can’t let it go. When he finds a few scraps of evidence, he determines to follow the trail wherever it leads. He’s going to see this through to a conclusion. For good or ill. Because he’s been living a life he no longer wants. He needs a win, something to restore his credibility with the town, his family, and above all, himself.

Sean Coleman needs redemption.

With no money or even a cell phone, a credit card or a plan … armed with a fierce determination to prove himself and his father’s old 45 revolver, Sean embarks on a quest. It takes him cross-country to uncover a network of evil uglier and more dangerous than he imagined possible.

Sean Coleman is complex. An unlikely protagonist, a gray man in a black and white world. The theme reminded me of Clint Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” – the gruff, anti-social protagonist looking for salvation in a most unlikely way.

FROM A DEAD SLEEP is a page turner, an exciting, well-written thriller with a solid back story and more than enough plot twists to keep you guessing. Most interesting is the slow discovery of Sean as his personality is peeled back, layer by layer. Sean Coleman is not easy to like, yet you quickly find yourself paying him grudging respect, even admiration.

Enigmas are nested inside mysteries. It’s a lot of book and nothing is as it seems. The journey is well worth taking.

About the Author:

“Some writers are thoughtful. Some have style. John Daly has both. When I read his work, it’s time well spent.” – Bernard Goldberg, New York Times bestselling author of ‘Bias‘.

A lifelong Coloradoan, John Daly graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a degree in business administration and computer information systems. He spent the next fifteen years developing accounting software and Internet-based work-flow collaboration solutions.Daly-John

With a thirst for creative expression that went beyond the logic and absolutes of computer programming, John developed an interest in writing. His early work included newspaper editorials and film and television reviews for entertainment websites. He later became drawn toward more substantive commentary on world events. He currently writes political, cultural, and media analysis columns for the website of Bernard Goldberg, former CBS News journalist and The New York Times bestselling author.

John felt compelled to take his writing to the next level after watching a television interview with former NFL football player, Tim Green. Inspired by Green’s career transition from a professional athlete to an accomplished author, John found the motivation to begin work on his first novel, FROM A DEAD SLEEP.

FROM A DEAD SLEEP is the story of a profoundly flawed man who witnesses a tragic event that no one else believes, and that man’s quest for the truth and redemption. The mystery novel unfolds in the dense mountain ranges of Colorado where John has spent much time camping, hiking, and enjoying the outdoors.
John lives in Greeley, Colorado, with his wife and two children.

You can visit John at these websites:

 johndalybooks.com or fromadeadsleep.com

John on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JohnDalyAuthor

John on Twitter: https://twitter.com/JohnDalyBooks