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.

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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.

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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

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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

FILM CRITICS, FLOPS, AND FLYPAPER (2011)

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even for us is not a giant sum of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. In 2013, Storage 24,  the British sci-fi/horror flick grossed just $72 (in the U.S.) after it was released for one day, on one screen. In 2012,  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 – the lowest-grossing film of that year. Still, the all time loser is definitely 2006’s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl which grossed $30. You can look this stuff up. You might be surprised at how many films lose money on initial release, though some make it up later when released to cable and DVD. The bigger the initial budget, the larger the potential for disaster, so despite these horrific numbers, many movies actually lost much more money.

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900. For a Hollywood bomb, that’s small potatoes. The movie was universally panned. It opened in one movie house on two screens, then disappeared until it popped up on cable. Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. A couple of nights ago, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. If Garry thinks its funny, it’s funny. He has a discerning sense of humor.

Flypaper  is a good little comedy. A spoof. A farce. A parody of bank heist movies plus a bit of slapstick, technobabble, and some fine explosions. The dialogue is witty, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies the critics thought were great.

I do not understand critics and often wonder if we saw the same movie they reviewed. Sometimes, I wonder if they actually saw the movie at all or they read someone else’s review and are just repeating what they heard.

Flypaper features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. Okay, it isn’t Blake Edwards, but it’s the same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it is a good one and fun to watch. Certainly worthy of at least a straight to DVD presentation. I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from its studio. Showing it for a week in one theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a grand opening. It deserves better.

The reviews in IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate whoever wrote them never saw the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. I guess anonymity is not always bad. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t review a movie I’d never watched, or a book I haven’t read. Call me old-fashioned.

Critics heap praise on movies that are boring or worse. They pan movies that are creative, unique, and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one will be interested.

Back in 1999, Garry and I were visiting friends in Michigan. Our group consisted of a lawyer, an engineer, a TV journalist, and a writer. We decided to rent the latest movie on which critics were heaping praise. It was the must-see  movie of the year: American Beauty.

Touted as a masterpiece, there were barely enough adjectives in the English language to say how wonderful it was. It was beloved of critics and grossed more than $350 million, won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.

I couldn’t figure out what the movie was about and I doubt the critics knew, either. It was too “au courant” for anyone to admit they didn’t get it. After the fad ended, the movie disappeared. No one shows it on cable, no one rents it. It’s out of print. It was crap. Like in the story of the Emperor’s new clothing, no one wanted to be the first to point out the king was bare-ass naked.

About half an hour into the movie, our little group looked at each other and conferred. Was anyone enjoying it? No? We popped the movie out of the machine and moved on. Pop corn goes with conversation, too.

American Beauty reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Hollywood Ending. In it, a formerly prestigious director is broke and desperate for a movie project. He gets an offer to direct a big movie in New York. Because the offer comes from his former wife (Téa Leoni) and her current boyfriend (Treat Williams), he is reluctant to take the assignment, even though he needs the money and something to get his career on track. He finally agrees to do it and is immediately struck blind by some kind of psychosomatic ailment probably induced by anxiety. The production hasn’t even started yet, but he decides to fake it.  It costs $60 million and flops. But, there is a “Hollywood ending.” The movie becomes a huge hit in France. He happily proclaims, “Thank God the French exist.” He knows the movie is awful, the worst thing he’s ever done. He had no idea what he was doing, but the French read all kinds of deep meaning into it.

There will always be people to love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it.  We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does. It’s every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running amok. Everything that can go wrong does. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke.The pacing is appropriately frantic. The cast manages to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative. The more I write know about movies, the less I understand critics.

GETTING THE FORK FROM WORDPRESS

DAILY PROMPT:  Morton’s Fork

If you had to choose between being able to write a blog (but not read others’) and being able to read others’ blogs (but not write your own), which would you pick? Why?


I wish this were about Morton’s salt rather than the fork. I could get my head behind the salt, that cute round container and logo with the little girl and her umbrella.

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A no-brainer for any writer, I should think. I need to write. Because I’m a writer. If I could not write, something in me would die. What’s with the questions to which there’s no reasonable answer? These prompts have gone from uninspiring to depressing.

When asked “what are you,” I never say I’m a wife, mother, grandmother — or even a woman. I automatically answer “I’m a writer.” Because I am. Being a writer is embedded in my concept of “self-hood,” if I am not that, then I’m not sure what else I am. Writing was my profession, but I was a writer before I earned a salary doing it. I will always be a writer, and it has nothing to do with whether or not a sell my words … or even whether or not anyone else reads them. Whether or not I am still a professional writer is a different question.

Unlike other professions … probably this is true of all the creative arts … what you do is more than how you make a living. It’s the way you synthesize your world and experiences. It stays with you as long as you breathe, long after paychecks stop coming and often, even if the paychecks never start arriving. Writing is so deeply embedded in who I am that I cannot imagine not needing to write.  I think only death will stop me … and depending on how that works out, maybe not even then.

If there’s an afterlife, I’ll be writing and blogging about it. But not on WordPress. By then, I’m sure there will be a platform which actually wants its customers to succeed and won’t keep making it harder and harder to get the job done. But that’s another post for a different day.

Reading blogs is fun. Often inspirational and it lets me connect with other people … which has become an essential part of life. But there are other ways to connect — email, telephone, letters, etc. As for reading, as long as there are books, life goes on.

Writing can’t be replaced. Accept no substitute.