Tempests in Teapots…..

Notwithstanding the naive factor of the question, “Why can’t we all just get along?”, a significant portion of the past two weeks has been spent caught up in situations where that is a central question. The simplistic bottom line answer is, “because of human nature”, but the point of “civilized behavior” is in millennia past we made the decision to try and seek resolutions with “win-win” or at least consensus. For those who have not yet read, To Play On Grass Fields, credibly managing this theme is part of what took me twenty years to write what is a very different book for me that was inspired by my time in Haiti during Operation Uphold Democracy in the closing months of my Army Career.

Anyway, as I have mentioned, my specialties for our weekly community newspaper does not include controversy. In a rare agreement (and really more to do with timing), I was pulled into a story where a local business through no fault of their own was thrust into a swirl of controversy. It had to do with a reporter most definitely for another paper sensationalizing a sensitive topic. The reporter allegedly returned and agreed certain phrases in the article might have been inappropriate. I hope everything does calm down. http://www.southdadenewsleader.com/eedition/page-a/page_89d65bb5-9dfa-5a89-ae1e-1eb14dffb8de.html

Okay, on to something far less nationalized. Of the different non-profit boards I sit on, a long-simmering issue erupted in one of them. In trying to draw more support for “Position A” than “Position B”, a group of people supporting “A” found what they thought was a loophole to involve some of us who normally would not be involved. The end result was a great deal of intense emotion being stirred up. A significant amount of time has been expended and it looks as if perhaps a reasonable resolution is in the works. I happen to have a greater degree of background into the controversy than one of the new individuals in the organization. He asked me to explain the background. I gave him the “short version” and he said he really wanted to try and understand. As I finished the
long version”, I used the worn phrase of, “It’s complicated.” He softly said, “No it isn’t. It’s pride and miscommunication.” Indeed, and doesn’t that so often apply?



The Year in France, Part III…

If by chance, you’re a first time visitor to the blog, Welcome, and do pop back and read Parts I and II for context.

The simple fact is like most not-quite-eighteen year olds, I did not recognize how much my ten months in France would change me, nor did it happen all at once. I mentioned previously I had to take an American History course by correspondence for my final credit to graduate from high school. In those days before computers and internet, “snail mail” was it. What none of us knew was the predilection for strikes in France (well, a number of European countries). That included the postal service and due to frequent delays in overseas mail, I was actually only able to complete half a credit instead of the full one. There was discussion about how we were going to handle this.

Now, “follow the bouncing ball” as they say. The town where I lived was predominantly agricultural around, but was a “college town” with Northwestern State of Louisiana. It was hardly a major university, but  because the primary public schools in town actually sat on campus grounds, there was a strong student teaching program. Additionally, for high school students, in junior and senior years, one could take selected freshman courses and receive credit without an actual grade. There was also the standard option to “test out” of certain classes. Once again, I don’t know how many conversations took place, but in the end, the decision for me to enter my freshman year without having graduated from high school was an interesting arrangement. I had, after all, been in attendance at an accredited university. I was given full credit for those courses and I tested out of two other freshman classes – one of which was American History. I therefore began college with almost enough hours to be a sophomore. At some point very late in that year, I received a certificate of completion (I think it was called) for high school. I suppose in the strictest definition, I skipped my senior year of high school, but I’ve never been entirely sure of the correct administrative category. In any case, I graduated from college not long before my 21st birthday.


The Year in France, Part II…..

Okay, this continues the explanation of my year – well, really ten months – at the university in Angers, France. After a somewhat circuitous routing flying Icelandic Air, our group arrived and we spent the first afternoon in Paris. A couple of staff members from the university met us with a bus. Despite the jet lag, we did get a quick tour of some of the highlights and one would think I could recall my very first meal, but I don’t. As I mentioned, I was the youngest of our group and when we later met the students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, that also held true. Everyone was basically indulgent with me, although in addition to being the youngest, I was also the one with the least French background. Most had of course taken multiple French classes, although my month in Canada had helped. In fact, my first day of class with our professor, she asked why I spoke French with a Canadian accent. Naturally, I wasn’t aware I was speaking with an accent.

Anyway, the program was set up as semi-immersion in the sense our professors did not speak English to us. You could choose to take this even further by living with a French family rather than in the dorm, but I wasn’t ready to go that far. My lack of French background did place me in the lower level class so only one other student in our Louisiana group was with me. As I mentioned in the last post, this part of the university was designed specifically for foreigners to learn French. We had students from Denmark, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, and probably another country or two. All the classes were the equivalent of college freshman level. We had a number of field trips as well as classes and we were able to travel on weekends and holidays. It was about a three hour train trip to Paris and so it was not uncommon to do so. I tended to not go off as much as some of the others, but after a while, one of the French girls invited me to dinner with her family and I went there maybe once a month. She was the only one who spoke English so it was good practice.

English was not widely spoken in town and so transactions in stores, at the post office, etc. did sometimes result in either misunderstandings or protracted time to accomplish something.

As for food, what a difference it was. Aside from the fact I never thought about eating horse, (and didn’t have that very often), it was doing things like learning to eat fruit with a knife and fork. Peaches are not all that difficult – an apple is a different matter. At the time, I wasn’t a coffee drinker and that’s one of my regrets. I had a lot of hot chocolate and hot tea.The experience quite simply changed my life and when I returned home, there was a bit of, “How do you get them back on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?” (Old WWI song for those who may not know of it). Also, as it turned out, my high school diploma and college credits were unexpectedly impacted. That will be the third part to this tale.


The Year in France, Part I….

If you are brand new to the blog, do read the July 18th post before reading this one. Okay, here’s what “got started” with the Canada trip. My uncle, the oldest of three children of my maternal grandparents, was a state legislator for a while. It was during the time when the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana was established and in addition to the summer program in Canada, there were either seven or nine scholarships made available for the coming school year to go to France. Angers is in the province of Anjou in the Loire Valley where many castles were built. The royals and other aristocracy would go to the castles in the summer to escape the heat of Paris and associated illnesses. Rather like our Midwest, there is less of an accent to the French spoken there than anywhere in the country. One part of the University was designed for foreign students and that was where Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s had their respective exchange programs. Anyway, all the scholarship seats had been given to legislators from South Louisiana parishes for them to award. One of them came to my uncle and explained he couldn’t award his scholarship without risking offending someone and he offered the allocation to my uncle. My uncle asked if it would be okay for him to offer it to me and after all, a little nepotism was commonplace in Louisiana.

The kicker to all this was I would literally have less than a month from the time I returned from Canada, I would have just barely turned seventeen and I would be the only high school student because the others were all at least 2 years older and already in college. Now, it so happened, I had all but one American History credit I needed to graduate from high school and my senior year would be almost all college prep elective classes. I’m not really sure who talked to whom since a number of conversations took place without my knowledge. The high school worked out a deal where if I would take the American History course by correspondence while I was in France, I could be credited and given a diploma.

Needless to say, I was stunned when the plan was presented to me and it was a whirlwind for prep and departure. If I thought Canada was an adventure (and it surely was), it was nothing compared to what I was about to enter into. That will be the next post.

How It All Started…..

A discussion the other day brought back memories of what was in all probability one of those sequence of events that truly changed my life. Quite some time back, the state of Louisiana created the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana. They had a couple of programs; one of which was a summer school in Quebec at the Centre Linquistique quite far north in Jonquiere. I had taken French my junior year of high school, but the price for the summer school was outside of our budget. My grandparents on my mother’s side had an arrangement about taking some of the grandchildren each summer on a special vacation. We were sort of grouped by ages and the same year this program was started was when my “group” would have gone with my grandparents, although I don’t recall now where it was supposed to be. Anyway, they gave me a choice of going with them or they would send me to the summer French program.

I will put this into perspective. I would be seventeen later that summer and while we had traveled some, certainly never to that distance, nor on an airplane. The program was set up for a month, I think, with classes every day, and trips around the area. The program culminated with trips to Montreal and Quebec City. Needless to say, this was an incredible adventure. The other thing to understand is Louisiana truly in divided culturally into North and South Louisiana. For those who like extra detail, Lecompte is the “dividing line”. North is predominantly Baptist followed by other Protestants with a smaller percent Catholic. It is piney woods and a fair number of hills, with relatively few bayous and swamps. South Louisiana is mostly Catholic and “Cajun”, less elevation, with far more bayous, swamps, etc. and what most people outside of Louisiana envision. The point here is the “preservation” of French had a stronger appeal in South Louisiana, so most of the students in that initial program were from the other parts of the state. I had quite an adjustment to make in the whole process.

In fact, it was attending that program that subsequently led to me going to France during my senior year of high school. I’ll explain that in my next post.

More on Characters….

I suppose each time I release a new book, I continue to have lingering thoughts about any new characters I created and it’s no different with Shades of Deception

I did break away from the “Shades” series to do other writing as I mentioned in the last post. Not that I wanted a break from Bev Henderson per se; it was merely because I became involved in a couple of unexpected projects. Anyway, this was one of those situations in which three different characters who were intended to be somewhat incidental “grew” in importance. In one case, the expansion of the role was a logical step to take based on Chapter One rather than introducing a new character in some later chapters.

The other two came about in an interesting way. When I was working through the proper procedures to follow when there is a fatality in diving (very low odds, but it does happen), one of the guys I was talking with asked a question about what character he was “enacting” for me. At the time, I told him he could be either the good guy or the jerk (using another term I won’t put into the blog). He opted for the good guy and that set me to thinking later about how I could modify the character to bring about a plot twist I hadn’t fully mapped out in the beginning. Since I chose to use the same method in Deception as I did in Shades of Truth of the reader knowing the killer early on, the intricacy had to come in how the truth was ultimately revealed. Changing the once “minor character” worked out quite well.

The final character “expansion” came about because I literally had a “gap” in tying up some loose ends and that’s related to an author’s choice of Point of View – POV. One of the early decisions an author has to make is what POV to use and I’m a bit old-fashioned in that way. I write mostly in third-person, although I actually enjoy first person more in some ways. (A subject for a future post.) In general, I tend to use “dual voice”  of the protagonist and an antagonist. That, however, doesn’t always sync well toward the end of the novel. I was running into that working through the final chapters for Deception and enhancing the one character’s role solved the problem.

A Range of Writing…..

Unfortunately my sister and brother-in-law had some flooding of their house in Houston last year and my nephew and his family had far worse. Happily, they’ve all recovered and as my sister and brother-in-law were re-shelving books, she logically keeps mine all together. Her husband apparently stopped and said something like, “I never realized she’s written so many.” Sis’s response was, “Yes, and in such a range.”

I’ve posted before about the difference in writing fiction and non-fiction and even within that, there’s a distinct difference in my fiction. (Okay, as I mentioned when I completed To Play on Grass Fields, that one is the exception to anything else I’ve written or am likely to write.) Anyway, I did not actually plan to do a series when I first wrote Shades of Murder. My original intent was to write different, stand-alone books. Entering more into the scuba community was what led me to make the decision to go with a series and when I created the character of Chris Green in Shades of Truth, I had not planned to spin a series off featuring her. I didn’t develop that concept until several months later and did set up Shades of Gold to account for the next step.

As I have also discussed in previous posts, the Small Town quilting series came about because I had wanted to write in the “cozy” sub-genre of fiction and until then, hadn’t come across a suitable theme – one of the basics in cozies. Notwithstanding the joy I derive from all of those novels, Irises to Ashes, is still in some ways my favorite and is a “stand-alone”. There are definitely a few autobiographical elements, but the story itself was fiction.

On the non-fiction side, those have been a combination of topics I was either simply interested in or felt my own experiences could possibly be of use to other people. The co-authoring situations fall into a slightly different category and I have no desire to ghost-write. I’m not saying “never” on that, but it would have to be a very compelling reason.


Science and Whimsy…

Okay, I have a great deal of respect for actual science and nothing short of contempt for “junk science”, but that is not the point of the post. We watch a lot of the “Deep Space Secrets” and “How the Universe Works” on cable because my husband has always had a fascination with space and had I been better at math and science, I might have veered toward astronomy although maybe more to engineering. Anyway, notwithstanding my respect, there are moments when I do approach science with a sense of whimsy. There have been a number of episodes about probes and looks at Pluto and what fascinating things they are discovering. Oh yeah? Well you guys were the same ones who “demoted ” Pluto from being a planet and now you want to be all amazed by it. I mean, is that fair? Besides, some of us didn’t care about your pronouncement. I grew up with Pluto as a planet and by golly, I’m not going to let some revised measurement change that.

There was a cute movie several years ago, “The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain”, with a similar theme. There was a small village in Wales quite proud of their mountain. I don’t recall exactly why, but an English cartographer came to the village for some reason and patiently explained it wasn’t really a mountain because it was a certain number of feet too short. After quite a bit of back and forth and naturally the potential for romance and a collection of quirky characters, the village came up with the plan to move enough earth to achieve the required extra footage. The ensuing activities and ending were as delightful as predictable.

So, the universe will not come to harm if I choose to continue to refer to Pluto as a planet and since I’m not a scientist, I can’t even have my credentials threatened. And for the record, I’m okay with still wanting Nessie to be real.

Another Memory Popping Up…..

Anyone looking at my overweight self would understandably be at least a bit surprised at the idea of me having done a half-marathon once upon a time. While I do have a regular work-out routine – just not hard enough to offset my  calorie intake – I have not in fact jogged hardly a single step since that half-marathon. The relationship was this.

Running is a requirement in the Army and the simple fact is, I’m not built well for running, even in my slimmer days. I have always been “curvy” and with being just under five feet tall, my short legs mean I have to take one-and-a-half steps to what a normal person does when running. Like many military members, I developed knee issues which of course one just deals with. Fortunately I wasn’t prone to shin splits, but I did also develop heel spurs which eventually cleared up. Anyway, as I was approaching retirement, one of my intentions was to swap from running to walking or other forms of exercise. However, I had somehow allowed myself to be talked into participating in the annual Kole-Kole Pass half-marathon. For those who remember WW II history, as the bombing attack at Pearl Harbor was underway, so was an attack on aircraft on the other parts of the island. Kole-Kole Pass is part of Schofield Barracks and the Japanese planes came through there. So, not only is it the 13 miles of a half-marathon, it is up and down the mountain. I was quite clear to the group that lured me into this – including my husband – I would jog, but walk up the mountain and they were going to have to hang around the finish line until I managed to make my way. As often is the case, there were festivities at the finish line and my companions said, “No problem.”

At least it was a beautiful day as we set off and I was very quickly passed by lots of people. I admit I wasn’t the last person to cross the line and sure enough, my little group was waving and cheering me on when I did finally arrive. The true muscle aches didn’t fully set in until the next day and I hobbled around for another few days.It was quite the experience and I admire anyone who chooses to do the long races.

Entering A New Phase…..

With June rolling around, I checked to discover that yes, indeed, I should be signing up for Medicare as I am within a little over 60 days from my birthday. There is a special provision for military because we no longer qualify to be seen at military facilities except in a very few places; none of which are near here. We don’t qualify for VA because neither of us have enough disability.Quite frankly, that’s not a bad trade-off.

Anyway, we have a special process we go through – well, actually I guess it’s just an additional step we have to take. I found the 44-page brochure I downloaded and will read through it this coming week. Once I’ve got that part figured out, I’ll go onto the government site to register. Several high school friends who post on Facebook have already done so. With an August birthday, I’m later in the year. Like most people “in the range” we have received a huge number of phone calls and mailings about all the different choices. I do hope it isn’t as confusing as it seems at first look. We currently have a supplement we have to pay, but they’re among the people we haven’t heard from. My impression is they don’t operate in that particular area. I suppose I should ask the direct question.

A friend who is approaching a birthday that shall we just say is above the 65 mark doesn’t like to acknowledge the number. She also hates to be reminded of the saying, “You only have two choices”, so we don’t make that comment. In actuality, you can choose to ignore your age and only respond to the question when it is needed for medical purposes. Although it doesn’t take any years away, it is an option.