Thursday, May 28, 2009



In this life I'm a woman. In my next life, I'd like to come back as a bear. When you're a bear, you get to hibernate. You do nothing but sleep for six months. I could deal with that.

Before you hibernate, you're supposed to eat yourself stupid. I could deal with that, too.

When you're a girl bear, you birth your children (who are the size of walnuts) while you're sleeping and wake to partially grown, cute, cuddly cubs. I could definitely deal with that.

If you're the momma bear, everyone knows you mean business. You swat anyone who bothers your cubs. If your cubs get out of line, you swat them, too. I could deal with that.

If you're a bear, your mate EXPECTS you to wake up growling. He EXPECTS that you will have hairy legs and excess body fat.

Yep, gonna be a bear!

A friend of mine sent me GONNA BE A BEAR, and I thought it would be fun to share it here with you. Personally, I always thought it would be nice to come back as a cat. Oh, not a poor old stray that lives paw to mouth on the streets. No, I'd come back as a pampered house cat, the kind that rules the roost and has servants, not owners. Yep, I'd be the kind that sleeps anywhere she wants at any time of the day or night and eats only the finest cat food available, and that only when there's no steak or shrimp to be had. And if a mouse tried to steal my food, this is what I'd do:

Yeah, that would be the life for me. What about you? A bear's life or a cat's life? Or would you rather come back as something else? Certainly not as a penguin if this is the fate awaiting you!

Hmmmm. If dinner was that easy to catch, maybe I'd come back as a whale! :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day, Part Two

In Flanders Fields
by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918) Canadian Army
Written during the World War I battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.


Who's Son Is This?

Who's son is this?
Your boy or mine?
The fruit of love
plucked from the vine.
He's all our sons.

Who's son is this?

Your boy or mine?

From child to man in

too short a time.

He's all our sons.

Who's son is this?

You boy or mine

who rests in peace

for all of time.

He's all our sons.

"Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God"

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day, Part One

One of my most vivid childhood memories involves my family’s annual Decoration Day trip to St. Joseph Cemetery in River Grove, Illinois. Along with my widowed aunts and their children, we would attend services memorializing those who died in battle and whose final resting places could be found in a special section of the cemetery. Afterwards, the adults would attend to the family plot, cleaning away the debris of winter and planting flowers while we youngsters roamed among the graves. The day always ended with a visit to what I knew only as the "soldiers’ section". There stood row on row of white crosses, names, ranks, and dates of birth and death etched onto their stone surfaces. The grass seemed always cut to perfection here, and small American flags waved gently in the breeze next to each cross. To this day I can picture in my mind those endless lines of crosses and the solemn look on my parents’ faces as they gazed out over what was truly hallowed ground.

It wasn’t until 1967 that Decoration Day in the United States officially became known as Memorial Day. This latter name originated in 1882, but did not come into common usage until after World War II. The former name dates back to Civil War times when citizens on both sides of the conflict buried and maintained the gravesites of soldiers killed in local battles.

Following the war, commemorative services for the dead were held in numerous towns and cities both in the North and the South. Major General John Alexander Logan (pictured at the left), an Illinois veteran of the Union army, spoke at one such service on April 29, 1866 in Carbondale, Illinois. The General was profoundly impressed by the experience. Two years later, in his capacity as Commander of a veterans’ organization called the Grand Army of the Republic, Logan issued General Orders No.11, a proclamation urging a nationwide observation of "Decoration Day" by veterans.

"The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country… We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security, is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

"Let us, then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains, and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledge to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon the Nation's gratitude—the soldier's and sailor's widow and orphan."

Logan chose May 30th as the date for Decoration Day because it did not coincide with the anniversary of any Civil War battle. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Holidays Bill moving Decoration Day – now called Memorial Day – to the last Monday in May. Despite initial resistance to the law, the new date was eventually accepted by all the states and took effect at the federal level in 1971.

In the years since General Logan first proposed the observance of Decoration/Memorial Day, we have seen two great conflicts shake the world and numerous other ones claim the lives of young Americans. And while we live in relative peace at home, you need only look on the faces of Pearl Harbor survivor Houston James and Marine Staff Sgt. Mark Graunke to know that War, the Great Decider of life and death, still affects us as a people.

Which is why, when I recall my childhood and those long lines of white crosses, I think of General John Logan’s admonition to his comrades,

"If other eyes grow dull and other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain in us."

Memorial Day, 2009. A day to look back on our past. A day to honor fallen heroes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Magic? I Don't Think So!

Last week I was going to write about Bruce Springsteen’s concert here in Chicago. But then Amy Alessio contacted me about the on-line auction to benefit librarian and cancer patient Bridget Zinn. Bridget’s problems needed immediate attention, so my post on Bruce had to wait. (see previous blog)

Putting The Boss on hold might have been a good thing. I’ve had a chance to refine my thoughts and I see even more clearly now why Springsteen is as good a musician as he is. I also see why writers would do well to emulate him.

The photo to the left shows Bruce wearing a tee shirt bearing his name broken up by the word "Magic". If asked why that word applies to him, some people will say he has the magic touch when it comes to songwriting. Others will say there’s something magical in the way his music attracts people of widely varying ages. Then there are those who will refer to his concerts as magical events that live on in the memories of his fans.

There’s something to be said for all three of these views. Springsteen certainly is talented. And yes, his fans range in age from young teens to folks in their forties and fifties. As for his concerts, they’re hard to beat as pure entertainment.

But magic isn’t at the core of Springsteen’s success. What put Bruce at the top – and is keeping him there – is his commitment to the three P’s: passion, pride, and perseverance.

I was fortunate enough to catch part of Springsteen’s rehearsal prior to last week’s concert. It was an amazing performance. The music sounded great to me, but Bruce didn’t always seem satisfied. I watched him stopped the band in the middle of one song to discuss tempo with the piano player. It took two or three tries before both men were pleased with the timing. Then I saw him call a halt to talk over a guitar riff with another band member. The discussion went back and forth as chords rippled off their guitars like strands of spun sugar. In between these stops in the action, Springsteen strode back and forth across the stage listening closely to the contributions of every member of his E Street Band.

What I saw that night was a man who took pride in his work. The Boss wouldn’t relax until he and his fellow musicians were in perfect sync. Looking back on his history, I understood why.

Springsteen learned his craft young, playing guitar in several bands in the 1960’s. He had a passion for music that drove him to songwriting, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he caught his first big break when he signed with Columbia Records. His first two albums were only moderately successful sellers, and his career could have ended right there if he hadn’t had the courage to persevere. It wasn’t until 1975 that he hit the top 40 with his third album, Born to Run. After that it was all uphill for Bruce.

In the three decades between then and now, Springsteen and his E Street Band have become living legends in the field of rock music. A winner of numerous Grammy awards, he’s seen his albums go platinum and his concerts consistently sold out. None of this has been accomplished through luck or magic. Springsteen’s success is due solely to his passion, pride, and perseverance.

Previous careers, advantageous connections, or a stroke of good luck smoothed the path to publication for some writers. Most successful authors, though, can relate to Springsteen’s experience. It takes passion, pride, and perseverance to make it to the top in the book business. For those of us still climbing the ladder, those are three virtues to be nurtured.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bridget Zinn

I was going to blog about Bruce Springsteen today, but something else came up, something more important than my feeble thoughts regarding The Boss and his impact on my writing.

The woman pictured to the left is Amy Alessio, the Young Adult (YA) librarian at the Schaumburg Public Library here in Illinois. Amy is one of the nicest people you'll ever want to meet. She's also a talented writer with several short stories to her credit.

I've known Amy for some time now, but it was only recently that I got to work with her as a writer. Amy was asked by Echelon Press publisher Karen Syed to edit a collection of short stories dealing with missing people. My story, "The Case of the Fugitive Farmer", was one of 17 tales selected for inclusion in the anthology. MISSING was released in February and has been selling like hotcakes ever since.

When I saw an email from Amy in my mailbox this week, I presumed it concerned our May 23rd book signing for MISSING at the Borders in Deerfield, IL. I was wrong. Amy's message concerned Bridget Zinn, the young woman pictured to the right. Bridget is also a YA librarian, but she lives in Portland, Oregon.

Three things happened to Bridget in February. First, she got an agent for her young adult novel. Second, she got married. Third, she found out she had Stage Four colon cancer.

Bridget wrote this in her blog:
"I would like to add in here that I am a super super healthy non-smoking, non-drinking, carcinogen avoiding young vegetarian who wears sunscreen every day. I looked at the list of risk factors for colon cancer and it turn out that I don’t even have one. Not one risk factor. So that was a surprise. Then Barrett and I decided to get married. He proposed on my hospital bed, it was terribly romantic and we were married by the hospital chaplain the first possible moment we could be."

Bridget has the emotional support of her new husband to help her through the medical procedures needed to treat her cancer. But Bridget is facing the same ugly reality so many patients face today: her insurance barely covers the cost of her treatments. And that's where Amy fits into this story.

Amy answered the call of April Henry, a Portland author and friend of Bridget who wanted to do something to help her. April (pictured on the left) is well-known for her Claire Montrose series. Her first book, Circles of Confusion, was short-listed for the Agatha Award and the Anthony Award, and was nominated for the Pacific Northwest Bookseller's Award. Her fourth book, a stand-alone thriller called Learning to Fly, was named one of Library Journal's Best of 2002, and Shock Point, her first young-adult thriller, was a finalist for Philadelphia’s Young Readers Choice Award.

Along with other friends of Bridget, April organized an on-line auction to benefit the young librarian. Donations poured in from writers across the country and included everything from books to manuscript critiques. Amy's donation was unique. An avid baker and a collector of vintage cookbooks, Amy offered to compose a cookbook customized for the person bidding the highest amount on it. Along with the cookbook she's donating a copy of MISSING signed by most of the authors included in the anthology.

In her email to me, Amy asked that I publicize the on-line auction on my blog. Donations to the auction are now closed, so I can't offer a selection of my books to people bidding there. But I can help by asking you to go to and look at the items up for auction. You might find something you'd like to bid on and thereby help Bridget and her new husband cope with their mounting bills. If you'd like to know more Amy's donation, visit for a complete explanation of the cookbook.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Excuses? No, that's just life.

Okay. So I haven’t blogged in almost a week, and a friend of mine wrote to ask why. Was I sick? Gone on vacation? Run out of ideas for the blog?

"None of the above" was my answer. Just blame it on life.

After the rainiest April in memory, the lake in my backyard finally receded last week leaving the garden muddy but workable. I spent most of Friday and Saturday pruning trees and bushes, pulling weeds, planting summer bulbs, and transplanting overcrowded patches of plants. By Saturday evening I felt like I’d been clobbered with a 2x4. But the back and front yards looked beautiful. The new birdfeeder was in place and a mama and papa cardinal were presiding over the feast my husband had placed there for our feathered friends. The only thing left to do was mow the grass and write my blog, and that could wait until Sunday.

But Sunday was Mother’s Day, and the kids started arriving at eleven in the morning. Soon the house was filled with children and grandchildren, and all thoughts of writing vanished as I enjoyed a wonderful day with my family. When the last of them left later that evening, I collapsed on the couch with the chocolate covered strawberries my youngest daughter had given me and turned on the finale of Celebrity Apprentice. I wasn’t pleased by Trump’s decision on the winner, but it was an interesting way to end the day. My blog, I figured, could wait until Monday.

Then Monday arrived, and with it my 3-month-old grandson, Christian. Fred and I are official babysitters now as our daughter-in-law is returning to work. We have Christian only two days a week, but we’re fully equipped with a portable crib, a fold up swing, and an umbrella stroller for nice long walks to the park. Monday went pretty smoothly, except that we discovered Christian would rather sleep in our arms than in the crib. While he dozed, I mentally wrote my blog, sure that I’d post it later that evening.

But evening came, and with it a trip to Home Depot to select three new bushes my husband wanted to plant before the next series of rainstorms hit. By the time we got home and I sat down at my computer, my brain had called it a night. I penned a few dull lines, then deleted it all. Oh well, I thought, there’s always tomorrow.

Silly me. Christian was back again on Tuesday, and this time he’d taken a loooong nap at home before coming. He was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and wanted nothing else but to be held and played with all day. So we played indoors and out and had a wonderful time, but would he take a nap? No way! Oh yes, he’d fall asleep for fifteen or twenty minutes in my arms, but put him in the crib and he’d wake up almost immediately. No hour, or even a half an hour, in which to write a blog.

You had Tuesday evening, you say. Well, not really. Bruce Springsteen was in town, and I was working the concert. I got to the United Center in time to catch The Boss rehearsing with the band. It was awesome watching him strive for perfection on every song. As I stood in the shadows looking down on the stage, I thought of the perfect topic for a blog. I couldn’t wait to get home and light up the computer with beautiful words.

But it was after midnight when I pulled into our driveway. Too tired to type, I headed for bed instead. Wednesday morning I logged on to AOL only to find several dozen new emails and a book order. Promotion matters, so after answering my emails, I checked onto Twitter, then onto Facebook and MySpace. Then it was off to the post office to mail the book.

On returning home, my husband reminded me we’d planned to catch the 1 PM showing of Star Trek at our local theater. After a fast lunch, we were off to the movies. But guess what? The one o’clock viewing was only shown on the weekends. We’d have to wait until 4 PM to see what we’d heard was a great film. As long as we were out and about, we decided to go food shopping. An hour later I was unpacking groceries and mentally writing this blog. Could I get it down on paper before leaving again for the theater?

Well, I wrote part of it before the telephone rang and tore me away from the computer. So now, having seen the exploits of a young Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise, I’m finishing this blog while listening to the Cubs battle San Diego.

"Excuses, excuses" I suppose you could say. But I say, "The best laid plans of mice and men…"

Oh, yes. That’s life.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fun Friday

If 4 out of 5 people SUFFER from diarrhea....does that mean that one out of five enjoys it?

Why do croutons come in airtight packages? Aren't they just stale bread to begin with?

If people from Poland are called Poles, then why aren't people from Holland called Holes?

If it's true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the others here for?

If Fed Ex and UPS were to merge, would they call it Fed UP?

Why do they put pictures of criminals up in the Post Office? What are we supposed to do, write to them? Why don't they just put their pictures on the postage stamps so the mailmen can look for them while they deliver the mail?

Is it true that you never really learn to swear until you learn to drive?

As income tax time approaches, did you ever notice: When you put the two words 'The' and 'IRS' together, it spells 'THEIRS' ?

If birds that fly over the ocean are called seagulls, why aren’t birds that fly over the bay called bagels?

If tin whistles are made out of tin, are fog horns made out of fog?

And from the man on the street:
"Now listen up, people! It’s FUN FRIDAY, and that means it’s time for YOU to come up with your own never-before-asked silly question! That's right. I want YOU to post your question RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW! Anything goes on FUN FRIDAY, so don't be disappointing me, ya hear? Good. Now get to it!"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

People Who Don't Read

What is it with people who don’t read? Why are they so proud of themselves for never having picked up a book?

I was signing copies of my novels yesterday at an event in a suburb south of Chicago. As people passed by my booth, I’d ask if they enjoyed reading mysteries. A "yes" allowed me an opening to explain my series. A "no" often led to a discussion of the type of material they read, be it books, newspapers, or magazines.

I didn’t mind when a person said no, they enjoyed something other than mystery. It’s fine with me if other people enjoy romance or sci-fi or non-fiction books. What bothered me was the number of people who waved me off with "I don’t read" or "I’m don’t have time for books" or "I did enough reading in school".

It wasn’t just the words that aggravated me. It was the pride I heard in these people’s voices as they rejected the very notion of reading. These were BUSY people with BUSY lives and BETTER THINGS TO DO than WASTE TIME reading. Reading was dismissed as something fit only for school children and old people in rocking chairs.

I gritted my teeth and smiled the first few times these words were spoken. But I couldn’t keep my mouth shut when one woman pointed to her daughter and two grandchildren and said, "She has two kids. She has no time for books."

"Really?" I replied nastily. "I raised six kids and still found time to read."

What I didn’t add was, maybe that’s why all my kids have done well in life. They’ve learned that reading is not only enjoyable, but also makes them better educated and more informed citizens of this country.

I wonder how those two children will turn out with a mother who has no time for books.