Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas in Combleux

When I was a boy, my family lived in France.  Dad was an officer in the Army, stationed at a base in Orleans, a mid-sized city in the Loire Valley about fifty miles southwest of Paris.  This was in the early 1950s when American troops were still welcomed in France after the war to assist with the rebuilding efforts and to provide rear-area security against any possible Soviet aggression.


As a nine-year old, I had very little idea of the impact of the war to the people of France, other than noticing the bombed-out buildings in certain areas of Orleans.  But since we lived in Combleux, a little village on a canal outside of Orleans, we didn't see the rubble of war on a regular basis.  Our lives were confined primarily to making ourselves as comfortable as possible in a rundown old villa we rented, and trying to stay warm in the damp chill of winter.  At one time, the villa had been someone's country home, designed only for summer visits by its owners from Paris.  It was never meant to be occupied in cold weather, and consequently had no central heat.  There was a fireplace in the drawing room, but someone had bricked it up, making it useless.  So my dad got a local man named Couchard to build a new fireplace in an attached room once used as a stable, but he did such a poor job that the fireplace never drew properly.  Instead of going up the chimney, smoke poured into the room whenever we had a fire, and Couchard couldn't seem to fix it.  So it ended up another room without heat.  Finally, Dad got the Army to provide us with some old unvented kerosene space heaters.  We had to place them by cracked-open windows so we wouldn't asphyxiate ourselves.  Because these heaters were smelly to operate, we normally used them just long enough to heat up our bedrooms before turning-in each night.  Then we'd shut them off, close the windows, and go to sleep under a pile of blankets.  The only really warm room in the house was the kitchen, which became our family gathering place.  We would cook and eat there, play games, listen to Armed Forces Radio, do homework, et cetera.

Christmas of 1953 was very special to us.  Not only were we in France, we also had a new baby in the family, my little sister Jane, born earlier in the year in May.  She was round and happy, and lighted-up our lives.  When we first moved to the house, because of my mom's pregnancy, a local woman from the village was hired to help do the cleaning and cooking.  Her name was Andrea, and we liked her right away.  She in turn liked us, but when little Jane came along, she fell hopelessly in love.  Andrea became a second mother and more-or-less took over, which ended up leaving my mom more time for other things.  Needless to say, baby Jane grew very attached, and as she got older, would often spend the night with Andrea and her family when my folks got the chance to get away to Paris.     

That first Christmas with Andrea, she made a special potato-vegetable soup for us.  I remember watching in the kitchen as she boiled all the vegetables together - potatoes, carrots, onions, lettuce and celery.  After that was done, they went through a vegetable mill, or moulin as the French called it.  Andrea would pile them in, then crank the handle to mash them up over a large pot.  The result became a thick, nourishing soup called potage.  It was good on its own, of course, but was often accompanied by great chunks of crispy baggettes, buttered, along with swiss cheese and thinly-sliced ham.  Andrea pointed out that the soup's flavor was enhanced by washing it down with a good Bordeaux.  Mom provided her a glass, and she happily demonstrated.  The whole family ended-up loving potage.  It was the only thing we ate that Christmas eve, and it became our traditional Christmas eve meal from that time on.

After we finished dinner, and mom and dad had their requisite coffee and cognac - and baby Jane got passed around for goodnight kisses - we all bundled up to go to the local village church for midnight mass.  Andrea stayed behind with Jane.  The church was an old, stone structure that had probably been there a century or more.  It was located next to a canal that ran behind the village and emptied into the Loire River a few miles away.  The church's stone walls seemed to soak up all the moisture from the nearby water, and like most old churches and cathedrals of the period, body heat was all there was.  The sanctuary was like a refrigerator.  By the time we arrived, all the pews were filled, and we were forced to stand at the back.  I remember spending that long service stomping on the hard floor to keep my feet warm.  As the priest droned on in French and Latin, my mom and dad would take turns hugging me into the lining of their coats.  My older sister was just as uncomfortable, I'm sure, but she didn't complain, and stood miserably silent next to us.

When mass ended, we shook hands with a number of the villagers we recognized.  For the most part, they were friendly people, pleased to have Americans attend their church.  I noticed a few who appeared sullen, however, and in retrospect wonder if they resented our intruding on their services.  One of them, however, was Couchard, the fireplace builder.  He had his own reasons for being sullen, still angry with my dad because he never got paid the last installment of his fee.  He claimed he had been cheated, and this after witnessing for himself the malfunctioning fireplace.  I guess his view was my dad was expected to pay in full for shoddy work.  We greeted him in a yuletide spirit, but he turned away from us with an arrogant scowl on his face.  Les Americains vilains!

After church, we walked back home in a stiff wind, went into the stable room and sat around our Army-issued kerosene heater to open one present each before going to bed.  Months before, I had picked out several items from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue, as had my older sister, and hoped they would be delivered in time for Christmas.  As they were mailed directly through the Army post office, I wasn't aware when they arrived.  My dad had probably snuck them into the house one day when I wasn't looking.  Anyway, I watched patiently as my sister opened up a package containing a new cashmere sweater.  She tried it on, and paraded around in silly fashion to receive the obligatory compliments all teenage girls expect from their folks.  Then it was my turn.  I tore open a wrapped box about eight inches square, and found inside what I'd been wanting for a long time - and I hadn't seen it at Sears-Roebuck.  It was a ViewMaster, with about a dozen wheels of films.  Ecstasy!  I was overjoyed, and immediately began looking at 3D pictures of faraway places - jungles and mountains, full of color and drama, up close, like I was there - all the wonders of the world.  It was new entertainment.  It was escape.  And I was happy.

Mom and Dad smiled as my sister kept looking at herself in the mirror and I stayed glued to my ViewMaster.  Peace was at hand.  All was well in the family.  Christmas was a success.  And then - as was inevitable - came the smoke, this time not from the fireplace but from the kerosene heater.  A smelly cloud began covering the room.  My dad uttered a favorite four-letter word and threw back another cognac.  Damned Army, he muttered.  Mom laughed, and shook her head.  At least this time, she pointed out, he couldn't blame Couchard! 

We gave up on the stable room, turned off the heater, and rushed through the frigid house to our beds.  For awhile, I looked at more 3D pictures under the covers, then fell asleep thinking of Christmas and jungles and mountains ...and smoky old kerosene heaters.

See my books on Amazon:

DREAM TRAVELER 
www.amazon.com/dp/B009LTTMS2

THE LITTLE ROCK MESSENGER
www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK

ELECTRIC HIGHWAY
www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ81LU





      
        
         

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The House of Blue Lights

It sat alone in a field outside the city limits.  There was a porch running around two sides, buckled front wooden steps, a warped porch swing hanging by one chain.  It was an old house, a single-story, turn-of-the-century Victorian with missing windows and weathered siding. 

Like all old dilapidated houses, it seemed a perfect host for a legend, which went like this.  The house belonged to an elderly woman with scraggly hair and no teeth.  Her husband died mysteriously in one of the rooms years before. but no one came to remove the body.  The suspicion was it was buried somewhere on the premises.  The woman was said to wander aimlessly from room to room talking to the walls, trying to contact her dead husband.  She also kept a herd of feral cats, vicious things that would attack if anyone approached.  At night she would wail hideously, her screams echoing throughout the house.  That was the story, told and retold by every teenager in town.  It was gospel, irrefutable as far as kids (and some adults) were concerned.  Yet even as people described this old woman, over and over, no one claimed to have ever seen or spoke to her.  And how could they?  The house was vacant.  It looked abandoned.   Nothing moved - inside or outside.  People who lived on neighboring properties dismissed the story.  No one lived in the house, they said.  It had been deserted for years.  There was no old woman there.  There was no one there.  How could there be.  Because anyone living in the house would eventually be seen. 
They'd have to come and go, get groceries, pick up mail. 
They couldn't live there and stay hidden.  It was impossible.   

But the story of the scraggly-haired, toothless woman persisted.  True enough, there were never any signs of life.  Never, ever.  No old woman.  No cats.  No screams.  Well...not during daylight hours, anway.  But at night... so the story went...things were different.  At  night, something happened which no one could explain.  People had seen it.  Young people especially (of course).  And it was always on a dark night...moonless and cloudy.  Gloomy.  There was no old woman, or cats, or screams, but there was something else.  Lights.  Strange lights.  And they seemed to move mysteriously on their own, suspended in air, floating.  Blue lights moving inside the house, flickering eerily from window to window.  Blue lights, unnatural glowing orbs nobody could explain.  And so, over time the place became...the house of blue lights. 

I was eight years old when I first heard about it.  And it was all because of my sister and her current boyfriend.  He wanted to take her for a drive in his car.  My mother wasn't sure this was a good idea.  So being cautious, she forced sis to take me along as insurance, to prevent anything from happening in the car that
shouldn't. (I guess I was the 1950's version of birth control)  Much to my sister's irritation, I was the unwanted passenger, and I jumped happily into the back seat for my big adventure.  The boyfriend, as I recall, was some cocky teenager doused in after-shave who, for some reason, didn't seem too worried about having me along.  So, with my sister gritting her teeth, off we went on our drive.  It ended just out of town at the house of blue lights. 

Once there, the boyfriend told the story everyone but me seemed to know.  The old woman, the cats, the wailing, and the lights.  Then he instructed me to sit in the front seat (while he and my sister got in the back) so that I could watch closely for the lights.  I was told to never take my eyes off the house, or I might miss something.  It was very important, he said, that I keep looking, and never turn away.  And so I watched...and watched...and watched...and never did see any blue lights.  Saw no cats, and heard no wailing either.  But after what seemed hours of waiting to an eight year old (more likely less than thirty minutes) I did see something... a light, a very bright, white light streaming in through the back window, and I yelled excitedly, "I see it!  I see it!"  The boyfriend and my sister jumped apart like they'd been tasered.  I noticed they looked scared, and it made me scared too.  "Is it the light?  Is it?" I asked, nervously.  They didn't answer.  My sister began straightening her blouse.

A face appeared at the back window of the car.  "Looking for the blue lights?" asked the cop.  I nodded eagerly, and said I thought I saw one.  He smiled as he glanced into the back seat.  "Good for you, buddy.  Maybe you can tell these two all about it on your ride home."

The cop waited until we drove away.  I was disappointed.  I never actually saw the blue lights that night.  I just fibbed.  I wanted the cop to think I had.  But as I got older, driving out to see the house or the lights didn't seem all that important.  The legend had faded.  Other things had become more interesting to me, things like driving a car somewhere to park with a pretty girl - and not look for lights.

E-books available on Amazon:

DREAM TRAVELER 
www.amazon.com/dp/B009LTTMS2

THE LITTLE ROCK MESSENGER
www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK

ELECTRIC HIGHWAY
www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ81LU
          

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Feeling Fall in Smalltown, USA

I was at my favorite coffee place today, and everybody was talking about the cooler weather.  Well, it is October, and we do live in the mountains of North Carolina, so I suppose it's obvious that we're going to feel a chill in the air.  But that's not the point.  People always talk about the weather no matter how obvious the change.  It's what we do as humans, particularly as small-town humans.  We have opinions and observations about everything from weather to politics to who bought the old farm off Crab Creek Road.  It's who we are.  Inquistive, sometimes prying, but always interested in people and events around us.

Now if you've read any of my earlier blogs, you know I haven't always lived in a small town.  I'm a recent transplant from a big city - recent going on eight years, that is.  And although I'm not part of one of the local families who go back ten or more generations, I feel I'm fully vested in my town, and can speak with authority on what makes us locals tick - that is, what inspires us to live where we do and be who we are.  It's no mystery, of course.  There's no cipher to work out. You see, we just plain LIKE ourselves here.  We enjoy each other.  And when I say enjoy, I mean it in a sincere way, in a community way that speaks of commitment, fellowship and support.  Do I mean we are churchgoers?  Sure, many of us are devout, and some are closely defined by religion.  But the above qualities also reside outside of church membership.  Our commitment to each other can be found everywhere - in our local government, our music and arts community, our small businesses, our college and schools, and our many volunteers who donate time and money to sponsor activities for the library, the hospital, and most particularly, the children.  We are small enough to know what needs doing and to fill the gaps where we can.   

So, as Fall breaks out, bringing brisk temperatures and reminding us that Winter is on the way,  living in a small town is a good place to be.  And I especially like how people get into the spirit of the season: visitors coming in from surrounding states to enjoy the explosion of color across our mountains; corn stalks decorating Main Street for Halloween and costumed shopkeepers passing out candy to the kids; people gathering under a profusion of twinkling lights to enjoy our Christmas parade and all the food and camaraderie of the season.  It is this time of year when I feel happiest living where I do, feeling a spirit of a place much more profoundly than I did during my urban years. 

Do I miss the cultural diversity of big city life - the dining opportunities, entertainment venues, major league sports teams?  Not really.  Life is full of stages, isn't it?  We pass through the years and soak up what we want; discard what we don't.  Choice is a big part of living, after all, maybe the biggest part.  In the early stage of my life, big city life was important, brought me a career, marraige and family.  It was where I needed to be.  But my perspective shifted, and everything changed.  BIGness was no longer important.  SMALLness took over...and I'm very happy it did.

Happy Fall, everybody!

 
www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK                www.amazon.com/dp/B009LTTMS2
       

 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

New Book - DREAM TRAVELER - Synopsis

DREAM TRAVELER
www.amazon.com/dp/B009LTTMS2

See Interview at http://indieauthorland.com



Seventeen year old Jeff Hayden is confined to a wheelchair as a result of a back injury he sustained in a car accident that killed his mother. His father James Hayden, a successful biochemist and researcher, has been missing since before the accident. Now parentless, Jeff lives with his Uncle Hank, a former Navy SEAL, who is suspiciously guarded about what he knows regarding Jeff’s missing father. This trait causes friction, and Jeff yearns for the day he can be independent and away from his uncle’s aloofness.
 
Everything changes, however, when Jeff starts “dreaming” he is with his dad, with episodes so real he believes they must be more than dreams. His Uncle Hank is reluctant to talk about it, and suggests the dreams are simply Jeff’s way of mourning the loss of his parents. Then one day, prompted by a physical assault on his friends, the boy finds himself using unknown mental powers to “leave” his body and travel to their defense. This unexpected ability makes him realize he has a special gift - that maybe the dreams of his father were not dreams. Confronted with this discovery, Jeff forces his uncle to open up and reveal secrets he has kept hidden about his mother, and about his father‘s classified research. These revelations answer a lot of questions for Jeff. But they also lead to more questions when he learns that his “dreams” are really trips into a compelling and dangerous world called The Realm, a psychic energy network used by other travelers like himself. It is a place of abstraction and mystery, confusing, full of challenge, and frequently surprising. Once discovered, The Realm alters life inexorably for Jeff. But he realizes he cannot turn back. He can only move forward to look for answers to his past, and to seek whatever his future holds. 
                                


Friday, October 5, 2012

DREAM TRAVELER - Synopsis


                                                    www.amazon.com/dp/B009LTTMS2



Seventeen year old Jeff Hayden is confined to a wheelchair as a result of a back injury he sustained in a car accident that killed his mother. His father James Hayden, a successful biochemist and researcher, has been missing since before the accident. Now parentless, Jeff lives with his Uncle Hank, a former Navy SEAL, who is suspiciously guarded about what he knows regarding Jeff’s missing father. This trait causes friction, and Jeff yearns for the day he can be independent and away from his uncle’s aloofness.

Everything changes, however, when Jeff starts “dreaming” he is with his dad, with episodes so real he believes they must be more than dreams. His Uncle Hank is reluctant to talk about it, and suggests the dreams are simply Jeff’s way of mourning the loss of his parents. Then one day, prompted by a physical assault on his friends, the boy finds himself using unknown mental powers to “leave” his body and travel to their defense. This unexpected ability makes him realize he has a special gift - that maybe the dreams of his father were not dreams. Confronted with this discovery, Jeff forces his uncle to open up and reveal secrets he has kept hidden about his mother, and about his father‘s classified research. These revelations answer a lot of questions for Jeff. But they also lead to more questions when he learns that his “dreams” are really trips into a compelling and dangerous world called The Realm, a psychic energy network used by other travelers like himself. It is a place of abstraction and mystery, confusing, full of challenge, and frequently surprising. Once discovered, The Realm alters life inexorably for Jeff. But he realizes he cannot turn back. He can only move forward to look for answers to his past, and to seek whatever his future holds.





                                                   www.amazon.com/dp/B009LTTMS2
                                

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Dream So Real

Most of us dream, and when we wake up, we know we've been dreaming.  Nothing about dreams, most dreams, could ever be mistaken for anything else.  We know they aren't real.

Yet, the mind is very inventive.  For a moment, even a long moment, a dream can seem perfectly believable  as it performs miracles: bringing those from our past into the present; delivering the dead from their graves to talk and laugh as if they'd never left.  In one dream alone, we can be at home, on  a mountaintop, in the middle of the ocean, all in the span of seconds.  We can play any instrument, speak any language, push the boundaries of personal safety.  A dream can be deeply pleasurable or coldly terrifying.   

Dreaming, we are told, is important.  It is the mind's way of handling stress, of putting to rest the anxieties and fears of life's challenges.  Moreover, some transpersonal psychologists believe that dreams can be a window into new paranormal and transformational experiences, that they can bring cosmic awareness.  This branch of psychology grew out of the 1960s and 1970s when patients reported experiences that traditional theory couldn't explain.  At the time, there was a lot of experimentation with psychedelic drugs, which ended up skewing some patient symptoms.  Therapists had to learn to differentiate between a normal person's mystical experiences and that of a psychotic's delusional behavior.  Transpersonal psychology gave therapists  a new perspective and new language to explain specific symptoms.

Various schools of psychology have offered theories about the meaning of dreams.  Freud argued that all dream content centered on conscious wish fulfillment, whereas Jung thought dreams reflected both conscious and subconscious influences.  Parapsychology, called pseudoscience by some, investigates ostensible paranormal phenomena, like telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance and telekinesis.  Dreams figure into some of these fringe studies, including out-of-body (OBE) experiences, episodes which suggest that the mind floats apart from the body allowing the dreamer to see themselves in their physical state.  Some people have described very lucid moments of such "travel" beyond their bodies.  Acutely ill patients have also related near-death experiences where they are convinced they have left the physical plain for a metaphysical state called the astral plain, referred to as astral projection or soul travel. 

Although some parapsychologists treat OBEs as evidence that a soul or spirit can detach itself from the body to visit distant locations, traditional science remains deeply skeptical.  OBEs are considered rooted in nothing more esoteric than hallucinations which stem from various psychological or neurological factors. The empirical mindset will not acknowledge evidence that cannot be proved.  And yet, the physical world is filled with the unexplained.  There are many instances of phenomena that have confounded the scientific community.  Guy Lyon Playfair in his book, The Indefinite Boundary, speaks to this conundrum and offers the following observation:  "Science and the occult have always had a certain amount in common.  Each has tended in the past to assume that things exist because they must, and not because anybody has actually proved they do." In other words, proving it's not may be as difficult as proving it is.

So, are dreams simply the result of chemical reactions in the brain, or do they come from something less organically based?  Some of us are convinced we know the truth.  Others are not so sure. 

In my new book, DREAM TRAVELER, teenage protagonist, Jeff Hayden, who is physically challenged and confined to a wheelchair, discovers a psychic energy stream called The Realm, where the physical world is superceded and often diminished by a superior mental plain of existence.  Jeff's mother is dead, and his father has mysteriously disappeared.  The boy's uncle believes his father is dead, but Jeff doesn't, and experiences very realistic dreams of being with his dad in an undisclosed location.

DREAM TRAVELER now available at Amazon's Kindle Book store:
www.amazon.com/dp/B009LTTMS2


           

           
           

          

           

 
 
                                             

Monday, September 17, 2012

Reviews - THE LITTLE ROCK MESSENGER



                                                  www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK



A taut, riveting, deeply moving thriller...

"...Like Paul Gallico's brilliant novel, THE BOY WHO INVENTED THE BUBBLE GUN, this fine novel has as its protagonist a young boy who seemingly comes of age during a single bus ride.  The author somehow manages to bridge the gap between Europe in World War II and the American South during the civil rights upheaval of the 1950s.  And the formula works splendidly.  From the get-go the author has a difficult task: keeping a whirlwind plot moving while providing background information on the many disparate characters involved in the race to reach Atlanta.  In the hands of this talented author it not only works, but it is a novel that kept me reading at the edge of my seat right until the very end.  NOTE: as well as being a terrific thriller, this is a terrific novel for young adult readers to learn a few things about America's past during the civil rights era and before..."

- T. Bundrick


My First Review

"...The opening chapter hooked me immediately and held my attention all the way to the end.  The characters that populate the story are people you really care about, don't trust, dislike, understand, despise and root for.  The main theme of the story is justice, long overdue, but that makes it all the more compelling.  A secondary theme is Jim Crow and ethnic prejudice: in this book the victims are blacks and Jews.  It is the summer of 1956, when America was just beginning to hear about a man named Martin Luther King, Jr., well before the civil rights movement got moving, and some ten years after the Holocaust.  These two historical events merge in a bus ride from Little Rock to Atlanta, covering a three day period, and bring out the worst and best in humanity."

- Larry S. Miller


A Messenger of Faith

"People who take on a dangerous but worthwhile challenge are called courageous.  But a child who does so is extraordinary.  This is the stroy of one such child, a twelve-year old African-American boy living in the South of 1956.  As the story unfolds, the reader feels the heat of summer and the prejudice through the backdrop of a long Greyhound bus ride to Atlanta.  As the central character, the boy is asked by an old man he has just met on the bus to help deliver something important to a woman in Atlanta.  The boy struggles with his fears as a racial minority, and must choose between the safety of inaction and the principles of his strong religious upbringing.  This is a layered story, weaving a message of moral courage into a fast-paced plot that drips with suspense and intrigue..."

- William J.


Very well-written, reads like a masterpiece!

This is a story every American should read.  The author does a superb job of describing the prejudice and discrimination imposed upon innocent victims by our justice system and our society in the aftermath of World War II.  The reader relives the invasion of privacy of suspected Communists and daily degradation of minorities that hindered our country's progress during the mid-twentieth century.

Twelve year old Lincoln South boards a bus traveling from Little Rock, Arkansas to Atlanta, Georgia in 1956.  Lincoln takes one of the seats reserved for African-Americans in the back of the bus.  Lincoln is a sharp lad with keen intuition, whose mother has instilled a strong sense of right and wrong.  Two key players in the story join Lincoln in the back rows.  One is an arrogant, flashy young man running from the law and looking for trouble.  The other is a quiet, reserved foreigner on a mission to right a wrong administered by the Nazi Party during the war.  The foreign stranger attempts to return stolen goods to the rightful owner and realizes that he is being followed by a hired killer.  Both men trust Lincoln, befriend, and involve him in their problems.  Lincoln's involvement with these men makes him the messenger that will change future generations.

This is a very well-written story that reads like a masterpiece.  It is an informative look at life in America during the mid-1950s.

- Alle Wells



                                                   www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK

Monday, September 10, 2012

More Excerpts from DREAM TRAVELER

On October 5, my new e-book, DREAM TRAVELER, will be launched on Amazon's Kindle book site.  DREAM TRAVELER is a Young Adult, Paranormal Thriller centering on a physically challenged teenager named Jeff Hayden with  psychic-travel  and telekinetic abilities.  Each time he leaves his body, he enters a psychic energy network called The Realm, a place of mystery and abstraction, where the unknown is a constant challenge to survival.

Following are excerpts from the book:

 
            Later when they were driving home in the van, Jeff could tell Dwight was still troubled by the explanation he’d given him about the attack on Quint.  After all, it was a lot to swallow, even for a fantasy gamer like Dwight.  And maybe the more he thought about it, the more he realized how outrageous it sounded.  Why should anyone believe such crap?  How could anyone believe it?  There were irrefutable laws of physics, and what Jeff claimed to do had violated all of them. 

            Jeff suddenly hated what was happening to his life.  He was changing, becoming more serious and reserved.  And it wasn’t just because of his paralysis.  It was because of his mom’s death, his Uncle Hank and the traveling dreams - everything.  It was all making him more internal, more secretive.  He wasn’t the same boy he was when he and Dwight first met as freshmen.  Now he was different, very different, and he wouldn’t blame his friend if he decided to cut him loose.  After all, who would want to put up with such drama.  If their roles were reversed, he wasn’t sure he would.  

            So far, neither boy had talked on the ride home, then suddenly Dwight said, “How come you didn’t tell Klein what you told me?”

            Jeff shrugged, watching the road ahead.  “I didn’t think it was the time.”

            “But you told me.”

            “Yeah - I did.“  He thought a moment, then said, “You’re my best friend.  I needed to confide in someone.  I figured you wouldn’t automatically tell me I’m crazy - at least not at first.”  He turned to Dwight, trying to read his face.  “I don’t expect you to buy into it completely.  I know I’ve got to prove it some way…and I will.  Just give me a chance.”

            Dwight began shaking his head

            “Dude - you’re kinda weirding me out,” he admitted.  “It’s creepy.  I mean, how can you leave…how can you be…outside of yourself?  And don’t say it’s like Dream Masters.  You ain’t no video game.”

            Jeff sighed.  Nothing he said would make any sense, and he knew it.
          
                                                                 ***********
 
            Hank sat down at the kitchen table.  He looked tense.

            He said, “This thing that happened - it’s going to change everything.”

            Jeff didn’t reply, and slowly wheeled himself to the table.  Hank took another pull from his water, studying the boy.

            “Since your dad disappeared, I’ve worked hard to make sure you were protected,” he went on.  “But an incident like the one on Saturday can make that harder.  There are people who are…well, you have to be careful, Jeff.  You understand that, don’t you?”

            Jeff didn’t reply at first.  After what happened outside Reese Perry’s trailer, he and his uncle had spent a quiet day on Sunday mostly avoiding each other.  They didn’t say much of anything.  It was as though they knew they needed time to think.  Something new had come crashing into their lives, and there was a lot to absorb.  Everything was different.  Even things that always seemed normal looked skewed somehow.   

            Now Hank seemed ready to talk.  Jeff wondered if he had made some decision, and what it would be.  He knew what he thought should be the next step, but he wasn’t sure his uncle would agree.  

            Finally, he said, “Uncle Hank, my dad is alive.  I’m sure of it.  I need to try to reach him, to let him know we want to help him.” 

            The big man stared at his water bottle, looking troubled.

            “How can you be sure of what you’ve seen?  That it’s really him being held somewhere, and not just a dream?”

            The boy shook his head.  “I wasn’t sure before.  I admit it.  But now, knowing what you told me about mom, and knowing what happened on Saturday…it just has to be dad.  I can feel it.  I know I was there…with him…in that room.”

            Hank closed his eyes and sighed deeply.

            “Even if that’s true, what do you expect to do?  James could be anywhere.  It’ll be impossible to find him.” 

            “But I need to try,” Jeff argued.  “I need to get back there somehow - to be where he is - and listen to conversations, maybe look for something that can tell me his location, a landmark or something.”

            Hank took another swallow of water, then screwed the cap back on the bottle.  Jeff felt himself grow anxious, and wondered if his uncle really understood how important his dad was to him.  He saw his face settle in thought, hoping it was a sign of agreement.

            Jeff said, “He’s alive, Uncle Hank.  And you know that.  I can tell.”

            Hank looked at him soberly.

            “I want to believe it - yes.”  He stood and carried the water back to the refrigerator, then turned back to his nephew.  “But what does it matter, Jeff?  What you’ve experienced so far has been…random.  You admit yourself you have no control.  How do you expect to target the next event?  In order to find your dad, you have to be able to…navigate some way.  You’ve never done that before.”

            Jeff thought about this, and realized his uncle was right.  There was no way to know when he would travel next, or where it would take him.  The dreams he thought he was having of his father weren’t planned.  They just happened.  But why?  What had caused them in the first place?  And the incident at Reese Perry’s house.  Why had that happened?  Was it the sight of his friends being beaten?  Was it his own rage that had triggered something?  How had that worked?  And how could he ever plan such an event in the future? 

            He felt defeated, thoroughly frustrated, and it must have shown on his face.  The next thing he knew Hank had pulled up a chair next to him, and had a hand on his arm.

            “Jeff, you need to take a step back.  Maybe it’s best to take things slow, see what happens from here on - not get too far ahead of yourself.”

            Yes, of course, thought Jeff.  It was the same old advice.  The same old Uncle Hank telling him to be cautious, to resist temptation.  The man with the one-track mind.  Be careful.  Be safe.  Think before acting.  All the bullshit stuff.  What was his problem?  Hadn’t he ever been young?  Hadn’t he ever been impulsive, or passionate about anything?  Couldn’t he understand what Jeff felt? 

            “Look,” the big man went on.  “I know of a woman - a professor at Ridgemont University - not far from here.  She knew your mom and dad.  I’ve spoken with her a few times since James disappeared - and once since…since the accident.  I think she might be able to help.  If you let her, maybe she can give you some answers - open some doors.”

            Jeff realized he was gripping his chair so tightly his fingers had gone numb.  What did he say?  Had he heard his uncle right?  He looked over at him, his stomach churning with anticipation.

            “What - ?  Who is she?” he asked.

            “Her name is Dr. Sharon Xavier,” Hank answered.  “She’s a clinical psychologist.  She’s familiar with your dad’s research - with CIEP.”  He hesitated before going on.  “If we meet with her and you tell her about your dreams - the  traveling - she might have some insights that can help you.”

            “You’ve known about her all this time?”

            Hank sighed.  “Yes.  But I wasn’t sure - it wasn’t until recently that I felt I should call on her to help.  She’s a busy lady.  She has her classes and her research.  I’m not sure how much time we can get with her.  But I think it might be worth it.”

DREAM TRAVELER, coming October 5, 2012
An Amazon e-book.            

Available now at Amazon:

www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK                  www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ81LU

Monday, September 3, 2012

DREAM TRAVELER - The Power of Mind

On October 5, 2012, I will be launching my latest novel, DREAM TRAVELER. 

This book is a departure for me, a Young Adult, Paranormal story about a physically challenged teenager named Jeff Hayden.  Jeff has troubled dreams of his missing scientist father, very powerful and very realistic dreams.  After experiencing them a number of times, he realizes he is actually seeing his father, and learns he is alive and being held prisoner in a secret location.  He also learns that his "dreams" have nothing to do with sleep.  They are in fact trips through a psychic energy network called The Realm, a place of abstraction and mystery used by other travelers like himself.  This out-of-body experience allows Jeff to move from one location to another, and as such, it alters his life dramatically by freeing him from the confines of his wheelchair.  Although liberating, traveling presents challenges Jeff doesn't foresee.  The Realm, it turns out, holds secrets, and offers an environment as harsh and unforgiving as any in the physical world.

Following is an excerpt from DREAM TRAVELER.  Seeing his friends being assaulted outside his specially modified van, Jeff is frustrated by his inability to help them.  It is at this point that something happens, and he realizes fully his extraordinary gift of psychic travel:

   
            Inside the van, Jeff was enraged by what he saw.  His physical limitation only added to his anger.  He groped for the latches securing his chair to the floor.  If he could get free, get himself out of the van, he might be able to do something.  Dwight and Klein couldn’t do it alone.  He had to help them, somehow.   He had to get out there. 

            He heard the smacks of fist against bone.  The thuds of a boot against back and side.  Both boys were taking a cruel beating.  Both could end up in the hospital…or worse.  Reese kept trying to intervene, but was batted away.  It was too much.  He couldn’t stand it, couldn’t sit there useless, doing nothing, letting his friends pay for his stupid idea to drive over there.  It was his fault.  They should never have come.  He should have known better.  And for what?  To satisfy his curiosity?  To see how Reese lived?  Why?  What was it about Reese Perry?  Why should he care?  Because of him, Dwight and Klein were getting stomped on.  Because of him….

            And then quite unexpectedly, something shifted his perspective.  Everything looked different.  Energy surged through him.  Compulsion gripped him.  A need so strong, so overwhelming, he knew there would be nothing to stop it.  It possessed him, something he felt had been there all along, uncovered, exposed, a veil lifting from a secret strength that lay hidden inside.  There was a sensation of release, of buoyancy… an exhilaration…and then he saw himself in the chair, his face a mask of anger and indignation, a boy not yet a man, trying to be more than he could physically be.  He felt rage, frustration…and then it was gone, left behind with the boy in the chair.  The van was below him now, and he knew he was floating, a consciousness apart from who he was in the wheelchair.  He was…in two places at once…and now he saw his friends on the ground, writhing under the blows of their attackers - bloodied, bruised, faces twisted in pain.  Jeff watched…composed…still angry, but now resolved.  Something in him made him realize this couldn’t continue. 

            It happened fast - so fast Jeff was hardly aware of it.  And no one saw it coming.  Not Reese, and certainly not the boys or their attackers.  There was no warning, no sign that anything was about to change.  And all anyone knew was that Quint was suddenly on the ground, unable to move, shock on his face, groaning in pain and fear.  The pirate rushed to help, and went down too.  They both lay prostrate, calling for help, looking around in panic for whatever it was that pinned them down.  One minute they were dominating forces; the next, useless heaps on the ground.     

            Dwight and Klein took advantage of the situation, and hobbled back to the van.  Dwight cranked-up the engine, backed up quickly and turned around.  In five minutes they were racing down the narrow road for the main highway. 
 
DREAM TRAVELER - Coming October 5, 2012 
An Amazon ebook

Available now on Amazon:

www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK                               www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ81LU
 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Big City to Small Town

When I was in high school, I moved with my family from Memphis to West Covina, California, a suburb of Los Angeles.  Almost from the start, I loved California.  In subsequent years, I finished high school, went to college and ended-up working for a large energy utility in the corporate offices in downtown L.A.  As a young single guy, I became a big booster of everything California - the beach, the desert, the mountains, Hollywood - even the ever-frustrating freeway system.  Here I was , a southern transplant from Tennessee in the land of milk and honey and glitz, with a good job and a decent lifestyle, feeling smug and superior to the land of my roots.  I believed I had arrived.

As I grew older, married, acquired children and a house and a mortgage, I grew more settled and less smug.  Now don't get me wrong.  I was as happy as any family man can be.  I loved being a husband and father, going to school activities, soccer, T-ball, swim meets - all of it.  But at the same time, on my way up the corporate ladder (a journey which leveled-off well below the top), I also became one of the faceless millions on a daily one-hour commute into the city.  It started off in a car, fighting for space on congested freeways, scrambling for parking in over-crowded lots.  Then it progressed to a commuter bus, leaving the driving to somebody else, locking me into a rigid schedule of pickup and delivery.  Finally, the MetroLink train system was created, and I became an avid rail-rider.  Travel stress was greatly reduced, and the schedule far less rigid. Nevertheless, even with these transportation improvements, my life was still structured around a daily twelve-hour window of work and commutation, with all other activities crammed into weekends.  But it was just the way it was.  I knew we weren't going to move closer to the office.  And for the most part, I didn't mind, and neither did my family.  We adjusted to the routine like thousands of other families in our suburban community.  We adapted our priorities.  However...slowly, inexorably, my outlook was beginning to change.  The allure of big city life was on the wane.

Eventually, a corporate merger came about, and the headquarters offices moved to San Diego.  Ah! I thought.  A welcome change.  This would inject a whole new outlook on things: smaller city, easier commute, charming harbor and beaches, great zoo - everything less complicated and easy to reach.  More relaxed.  Life would be good.  And it was - for awhile.  Then after three years, I took the opportunity to retire early, and began working on my first novel.  At about this same time, my wife and I began to take a good look around ourselves, and asked, Is this it?  Is this where we want to live-out our lives?  Yes, the city had its pluses compared to L.A.  Yes, it had beauty and lots of recreation.  Yes, we had friends and family and a nice house.  But still...there was something missing.  It was one of those unexpressed feelings a couple can sometimes communicate to each other.  We knew we should be happy, and we were...sort of.  But we felt there should be more.


                                                                                             www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK

The answer came unexpectedly.  A good friend I had worked with over the years relocated to a small mountain community in western North Carolina.  She too had been an L.A. urbanite, but decided to relocate to the same area her sister and brother-in-law did after retirement.  On a visit to us, she described her new life in the Blue Ridge, and made us want to see this place for ourselves.  So a few months later, we took an exploratory trip, drove across the state, and knew immediately we were seeing our future.  Within a year, we sold our house and moved to our present home.  And we have  never regretted it.

I think lurking somewhere inside me there has always been a small-town guy.  I love the feel of community here in North Carolina, the sense of belonging and contributing to things we can see and understand.  There is something more personable, more friendly in our day-to-day lives now.  My daughter moved with us, and with our help, started a small business right in town.  Through her, we have gotten to know a lot of people, other business owners, local politicians, farmers, some whose families go back many generations, even as far back as the Civil War.  As a writer, I've gotten to know the works of Robert Morgan, Ron Rash, Charles Frazier, writers who've delved deep into the history and character of these mountains.  Reading them and others, and living here, I believe my own work has improved, and I'm sure it has to do with the local environment and culture.  There is a spirit to the place that is palpable, something absent in my former life as a city dweller.


                                                                                              www.amazon.com/dp/B004RJ81LU

Oh sure, small town life isn't perfect.  Our lives touch each other more.  People gossip, and pettiness isn't unknown.  But on balance, I think I'd rather put up with that than the frequent indifference of the big city.  This is not to say community doesn't exist in the neighborhoods of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.  I know it does, and there are nice people everywhere.  I've met a lot of them.  But my wife and I wanted something more, a sense of place, a special connection that you don't often find within large populations.  We wanted "small." 

And we found it.        



     



 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Book Excerpt - Memphis Bus Station in 1956

The following is an excerpt from my novel THE LITTLE ROCK MESSENGER.  The story centers on a twelve year old African-American boy who makes a harrowing Greyhound bus trip to Atlanta.  The year is 1956:

     Lincoln stopped to look for the Atlanta bus and saw that it would leave at twelve-thirty in the afternoon, in a little over an hour...

    Negroes weren’t allowed to use the seats in the main terminal, but he spotted a row of benches along the side of the building outside where he could sit with his lunch.  Other colored people had already congregated there, and he found himself next to an old woman who was hunched over and gnawing on a large peach.  She made loud slurping noises and paid no attention as Lincoln sat down with his suitcase, knapsack and bag of food.   
   
    He pulled out a package of foil-wrapped chicken, removed a leg and started eating.  His mouth watered at the flavor of the meat as he tore at it ravenously.  After the leg was finished, he gobbled up a breast, then crunched an apple until it was nothing but a brown-streaked core.  Once done, he tossed the bones and apple core into a trashcan, took a drink from a “Colored” water fountain, then looked around for the bathroom.  One of the men on the bench pointed toward an alley in back of the building, and said he would watch his suitcase while he was gone.  Lincoln thanked him, stuffed the bag of food in his knapsack and took it with him as he moved for the alley.

    Two women were waiting in line in front of him outside a door marked “Colored Rest Room”.  Neither of them responded as he greeted them courteously, so he began to occupy himself by surveying the area around him, noticing in particular the back of several old apartment buildings - ramshackle-looking places three stories high that needed paint and repair.  Along the alley next to them were rusted-out cars parked amid tufts of crabgrass and weeds.  They looked like they had been in the same spot for years, covered in a thick coat of dirt and grime.  Interspersed between the cars were dozens of banged-up metal trashcans, half of them knocked-over and spilling-out garbage. 

    As Lincoln studied the scene, he heard music come from an apartment window in one of the buildings, drums beating-out a rhythm behind a man’s high-pitched voice singing something loud and fervent.  Was it “Frutti Tutti” or “Tutti Frutti?”  He wasn’t sure which, but it was music new to him, something very different from the old hymns and gospel singing he was used to at home and at church.  In fact, it sounded like music Camilla would probably not like, something she wouldn’t want Lincoln listening to. 

    One of the women in the bathroom line began shaking her head, commenting on how shameful it was to listen to such music, how it turned young people away from the Lord’s teachings.  The other woman agreed, saying she had a nephew who listened to that stuff, and it was turning him bad.  She was sure the boy had been taken by Satan - that he would end-up soul-less and on fire in Hades.  All the young people would end-up soul-less listening to such trash, she emphasized, purposely cutting her eyes at Lincoln.  The other woman followed her gaze.  Lincoln looked away quickly, saying nothing.  

    By the time he’d finished in the bathroom, a longer line of people had formed, many of them looking anxiously at their watches, afraid of missing their buses.  There were now eight in line waiting to use the bathroom.  Two small boys were squirming uncomfortably, close to wetting their pants.  Their mothers pulled at them impatiently to be still. 

    Lincoln went back to the bench to sit down with his suitcase.  He removed his knapsack and put it on his lap, then began to think about the bag of food inside holding his mother’s generous provisions.  In his boredom, he thought about pulling something else out to eat, knowing there were four more pieces of chicken and another apple.  But he quickly decided against it.  His food had to last until he arrived in Atlanta, and he still had a long ride ahead of him.  He remembered his mother warning him to be careful about eating too much too soon.  What had she said?  There was a word she used that started with an “R”, he thought.  Yes.  She had said he must “ration” his food so that it would last-out the trip.  If he ate too much at once, he would find himself hungry later in the day – and then after that, he would be very hungry.  By the time he finally got to Atlanta, after hours of not eating, he would be in pain.  She said he must eat smart.  He must dole-out his food a little at a time – be wise about his situation. 

    At the moment Lincoln didn’t feel wise.  He was alone in a strange city, waiting to get on a bus to another strange city.  All around him were people he didn’t know, folks who didn’t seem to notice him, or care about the fact that he was only twelve years old and by himself a long way from home.  He always believed he was strong for his age, and lately had thought a lot about being grown up and out on his own. 

    The idea of being old enough to take care of himself, to be his own person and out from under the influence and protection of the indomitable Camilla was something Lincoln looked forward to.  He couldn’t wait to make this trip so he could show his mother he was becoming a man, that he was old enough to ride by himself five hundred miles by bus.  He thought the trip would prove he was no longer a boy, and that he could be independent of his mother and her daily supervision and guidance.  At least that’s what he told himself he thought.

    But now, looking at all the strange faces, hearing and smelling a place of cold utility where nothing resembled the comfort of his home environment, Lincoln knew he really didn’t know what to think.  It was all so different from what he imagined.  Maybe he had more growing to do, and hadn’t wanted to admit it.  Maybe he wasn’t ready for independence.  Not yet anyway.  Was he still a child then?  Was that what he was telling himself?

    He started to bite his lower lip in frustration, didn’t want to think about these things anymore.  He wanted to just get on with his trip to Atlanta and start his summer with his grandmama and his uncles, aunts and cousins.  There would be time enough to think about his future, what he would be as a man, and how he would live his life.  For now, being a kid was still all there was, and he might as well just give in and accept it.

Sample Reviews:

"A taut, riveting, deeply moving thriller...a novel that kept me reading at the edge of my seat until the very end...The author somehow manages to bridge a gap between Europe in World War II and the American South during the civil rights upheaval...the formula works splendidly."
- T. Bundrick, New York

"The opening chapter hooked me immediately and held my attention all the way to the end...The characters that populate the story are people you really care about, don't trust, dislike, understand, despise and root for.  The main theme of the story is justice, long overdue..."
- Larry S. Miller, California. 

"...a story every American should read.  The author does a superb job of describing the prejudice and discrimination imposed upon innocent victims by our justice system and our society in the aftermath of World War II...This is a very well-written story that reads like a masterpiece...an informative look at life in America during the mid-1950s."
- Alle Wells, North Carolina




                                               
                                                                                            www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bringing New Life to Past Experience

Writing fiction is largely about people and events that are born out of the imagination.  The writer shapes them to suit the storyline.  And yet, nothing created over a keyboard is entirely spun out of thin air.  There are too many ties to real people and events and smells of days gone by to not have them creep into the prose of a writer's latest work.  It is unavoidable.  We are what we've lived.  We can't divorce ourselves from the passions of experience, the pangs of heartbreak, the devastation of tragedy.  It  all seeps into sentences and paragraphs like rainwater into earth.

When I was in my teens, I worked for my uncle at his truckstop just outside of New Orleans.  This was in the early 1960s.  The civil rights movement was gathering steam, northern college students were in the South helping with black voter registration, and there was a lot of tension in the air, particularly in neighboring Mississippi.  I had been living in California, where social tolerance and local laws were more accepting of racial equality.  Although I'd lived previously in Memphis as a kid, returning South wasn't something I would have chosen to do.  My parents wanted to live in New Orleans, so I was conscripted to help them move.  Once there, I decided to stay for a year and earn some money working for my uncle before returning to school in California.

My truckstop job was pretty basic.  I pumped gas, changed oil and tires, cleaned restrooms, and occasionally got to move big rigs from the pump islands to gravel parking areas while their drivers ate burgers, drank beer and played pool.  My fellow workmates were both black and white, some redneck, some cajun, a few with prison records.  They came in all shapes, sizes and colors.  My uncle was ahead of his time - an equal opportunity employer.  We all worked together, sweated together, swatted mosquitos, fought flying beetles and lovebugs, and listened to Bobby Vinton and Brenda Lee over outside speakers.  In our world, on the job, there was no color divide.

Now, my uncle was no wise Atticus Finch type bent on fairness and social justice.  But he was pretty astute when it came to judging a person's worth, and he wouldn't tolerate mistreatment of any man because of his background or color.  He handled conflict calmly, and often with humor, which I came to admire.  Because unless you're dealing with a complete sociopath, a good laugh can relieve just about any potentially explosive situation.  A lesson I never forgot.

One of the memorable characters I worked with at the truckstop was a big black man named James Clayton.  This was a guy at least six foot-six, who chewed on an unlit cigar and waxed poetic about life's ups and downs.  He had a rich, baritone voice, an engaging laugh, and a habit of shaking his head at the stupidity he saw around him.  "That white boy ain't got the sense of a possum - and they gits' run over all the time!" he would say.  And we would all roar in agreement.  James had a down-to-earth wisdom, and a kind of nobility I never forgot.  He took people as they were, and was respected by everyone.

Drawing on experience enriches writing in a way that pure imagination can't.  It's a powerful influence that enlivens characters, provides texture, and garnishes the drama of setting and atmosphere.  During the time I worked for my uncle, well before I began to write in earnest, I knew that some day I wanted to capture the feel and essence of that truckstop.  I wasn't sure how, but the kinship I felt with the place and those people never left me.  I wanted to write a book about the South, about racial prejudice, friendship, and honor.  I promised myself it would be dramatic and at the same time authentic.  The characters would not ring false.  The situations would be credible.

Many years later, I did write that book.  It's not about a truckstop, but it is about the South.  My hope is it's turned out as promised.       

                                                                                                 www.amazon.com/dp/B003YOSYHK