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Looking Forward

Over the past few days, my inbox has been filled with notices of new posts by fellow bloggers. Most recap the past year and list their intentions for the year to come. But where have I been?

They say the Road to Hell is paved with Good Intentions. If that’s so, anyone who hasn’t posted on their weblog since September must be on that very road! In my defense, I’ve been slammed with projects over the past year. It’s my own fault. I need to go back to middle school and take that “Just Say No” workshop.

I won’t bore you with the many organizations I volunteer for, only say that I’ve threatened to go back to work so I can get some time off. With a job, you work 8 to 5, weekends off, and you can call in sick. A volunteer position owns you body and soul and is no respecter of holidays or even wee hours of the night. My advice to new retirees is to watch out for that “V” word.

No more complaining–in my writing life, I have been productive. Season of the Dove, my book on Kindle Vella, is doing well. Quest for Namai, the sequel to my YA book, Trials by Fire, will come out this month if I can get KDP to cooperate with my uploads.  

Coming soon…

Another project I’ve been involved in has finally come to fruition. Back in August 2020, the history museum in Gainesville, Florida began collecting material from local residents on their pandemic experiences. Someone got the idea to involve local writers, i.e. the Writers Alliance of Gainesville, with which I am intimately involved. The idea was to compile stories and artwork into a book which would chronicle the lives of ordinary people in these unordinary times. It sounded like a good idea, so I jumped in feet first.

Wise people test the waters first, but in reality, these waters were untested. Most of my partners in crime are writers, but this was the first time we’d taken on a project like this. It proved to be a learning experience. In our innocence, we thought we would have the book put together by December and published by January, 2021. Nope.

However, we persevered. After the vaccines came out, we worried the pandemic would be over and forgotten before we released the book. Dream on. Setback after setback, over a year after we started, Local Lives in a Global Pandemic: Stories from North Central Florida finally saw the light of day!

I was both unprepared for and pleased by the attention we received in the community. It feels good to be appreciated. It feels even better to have this project behind me.

In the coming year, you will hear more from me. I haven’t stopped musing over curious things. In the meantime, click on the titles of the books and links will take you to them. Enjoy!

BiblioBoard

IndieFlorida_AnthologyImage

I submitted my short story “Canebrake” to the Indie Author Project and just learned it is now available in Indie Florida. This is a collection of ebooks (mine is a short story) from independent authors, available exclusively on the BiblioBoard Library mobile and web platform. This collection is available to patrons of participating libraries in Florida. Here’s the link.  Unfortunately, my local library is not a member of BiblioBoard, so I haven’t been able to check this out yet. I’ve requested my library be added. If you have a library card for a Florida library, see if they they have BiblioBoard. If not, ask them to become part of the platform. You can also read the story here on my website. 

In January 2020, the Writers Alliance of Gainesville, of which I am a part, presented their First Annual Sunshine State Book Festival, featuring some 75 authors, several speakers, and reenactors of famous writers of the past. It was a resounding success.

January 2020 Sunshine State Book Festival

Once the excitement settled down, we began planning the second annual SSBF. Then COVID. Talk about deflating your balloon! It was not long before we realized there were to be no traditional festivals for quite some time. Time to regroup and get creative.

Why not a virtual festival? The advantage of a virtual event is that presenters and participants are not limited by geography. They can be from anywhere in the world. And they are. Most of our nearly 100 authors are from Florida, but some are from other states, and a few international writers are included.

Rather than sitting in a booth with their books displayed in front of them, authors videotaped short talks on their books. Instead of standing in front of a podium in an auditorium, guest speakers appear in videotaped presentations. In addition, we were not limited to a single weekend. Once launched, the festival could be live for months. And it is. Don’t miss it.

Please visit: https://www.sunshinestatebookfestival.com/

The planning stages for the 2022 Sunshine State Book Festival are underway. Hopefully, this will be a traditional festival, but we’re prepared for any eventuality.

Don’t forget to visit my booth:

https://www.sunshinestatebookfestival.com/au_pg1.html#Rogers

Happy reading!

I Was There

Sometime in our lives, we have an experience that words are inadequate to describe. I had one on 8/21/17, the day of the Total Eclipse. It was my first. I’d missed every other solar eclipse in my life by being in the wrong place or because of cloudy weather. I wasn’t going to miss this one. But summers are so busy. I traveled through eight states in three weeks. Serendipitously, a library in West Virginia had free eclipse glasses. I picked up a pair.

On my way home, I checked for available campsites at my favorite state park in South Carolina. They were booked. I returned to Florida a week before the eclipse, having made no plans, and my van needed TLC before it could make another trip. Despair was not an option.

 

Not my van, but definitely my sentiment.

 

Fate began to smile. My mechanic made the critical repairs in a timely fashion. When I told him where I was going, he said, “You must really like to drive.”

“No. I just like to go places.”

South Carolina campgrounds were full, but what about Georgia? Only about 100 miles from Orangeburg, Magnolia Springs State Park still had vacancies! Instead of a grueling six hour drive to Orangeburg, I faced a four hour trip to Magnolia Springs, followed by only two hours the next day. I made reservations.

Sunday afternoon, I headed north. With no rangers on duty when I arrived, I chose a campsite and enjoyed my evening at the park. Bright and early Monday morning, I reported to the park office, but the staff wasn’t ready to do business yet. I told them I was going to South Carolina to watch the eclipse. “You registered online?” they said. “Then just go! You can do the paperwork when you come back.”

I drove through fog, optimistic the sky would clear. There was little traffic on US 301 although the interstates were jammed. I arrived in Orangeburg at 9:45 and found a shady parking spot at Edisto Memorial Gardens. With hours to spare, I walked around the Rose Garden and decided this was where I wanted to watch the eclipse. Workers were busy mowing and weeding. I thought, what a great job they had—being paid to experience the eclipse!

When I returned to the parking lot, it was full. I’d been wise to get an early start. Half the cars, it seemed, had Florida tags. I strolled through the Sensory Garden and rang the farm bell. Then I went down to the Azalea Garden, where other folks awaited the big event. From time to time, I heard the farm bell ring. Despite growing numbers, the atmosphere was peaceful, friendly, upbeat.

I asked those I encountered, “Where are you from?” Many were from Florida. A mother and daughter from Orlando had driven all night and slept at a rest stop in their Mini Cooper. A couple of ladies came up from Georgia. One couple was from Denver but had been vacationing at Hilton Head. Family members wore matching eclipse shirts. Some had brought their dogs. All races were represented, and many nationalities. I heard accents I could only dimly place, and one group spoke German.

Every so often, I put on my eclipse glasses and looked at the sun. It looked like an orange cookie. The sky cleared and clouded again. Some expressed concern that we wouldn’t be able to see anything (Oh you of little faith!) but others were, like me, optimistic that the weather would be kind.

I walked through a sunny area where families had set up canopies. As I approached a scattering of trees, someone called my name! Who here would know me? It was fellow writer Jessica Elkins and her husband. They’d stayed in a motel in Statesboro, Georgia and were enjoying a little picnic of fruit and cheese and crackers. I joined them.

About 1:30, people wearing eclipse glasses stood pointing at the sky. The sun looked like someone had taken a bite out of the orange cookie. Over the next several minutes, the bite grew larger. Then a cloud occluded the sun and we couldn’t see anything. The cloud gave us some relief from the heat, but many were anxious we’d miss the eclipse. I kept saying, “The cloud will move on and then the sky will clear.”

Eventually, that cloud moved, but another took its place! Blue sky lay all around, but that cloud seemed happy to stay put.

The weather was kind. After a very long 20 minutes, the cloud went away and the crowd went, “Ahhh!” The sun now looked like a crescent moon. The light around us was subdued, as though clouds still shaded the Earth. The crescent grew slimmer. Around 2:20, I took leave of my friends.

On the way to the Rose Garden, I passed a group of Seminole Indians who were drumming and chanting. The light continued to dim. I sat down on the ground in the middle of the Rose Garden.

Dusk is falling.

By 2:35, the sun was only a thin sliver and the air was noticeably cooler. Dusk had fallen. Then it grew dark. The crowd cheered. We clapped with excitement. We laughed with delight. The drummers increased the volume of their chant. I took off my eclipse glasses.

In the sky was a silver white ring—the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!

Streetlights came on. At 2:45, a band of sunlight appeared on the north side of the garden. The crowd went, “Ohhh!” I glanced up to see a tiny jewel of sunlight on the edge of the silver ring. It was time to put the eclipse glasses back on.

Pictures don’t do it justice. (Photo by Jake McElveen.)

Daylight returned. People stirred, their eyes lit with wonder, exclaiming, “Wow.” “Cool.” “Incredible.” As I made my way back to my friends, I encountered a phenomenon that wasn’t visible on the lawn of the Rose Garden. The asphalt was covered with little crescents of sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees, as though the image of the crescent sun had been shattered into a thousand pieces and  projected onto the ground. A stander-by said they’d been present before the totality, facing in a different direction.

A Thousand Crescent Suns

There were no strangers. Everyone was overcome with awe. One said, “There are no words to describe it.” Another, “Words are inadequate.” A lady said she now understood why people get addicted to solar eclipses and will go anywhere in the world to see them. I’d heard that the experience was a life-changing event. It’s true.

Jessica began to talk about the next one, in 2024, and said she intended to watch it. Yes, I thought, me, too. The wonderment buoyed me all the way back to my campsite. That night, all I could think about was that beautiful silver ring that was the sun. It still remains in my mind’s eye.

The next total eclipse in Florida is August 12, 2045. I’ll be…how old by then? In the meantime, there are others in parts of the world I have yet to visit. On April 8, 2024, less than seven years from now, a total eclipse will begin in Mexico, cross Texas and Arkansas (where I have family), the Midwest, and into western New York and New England.

Arkansas, 4-8-24, here I come!

CANEBRAKE

This story appeared in the 2015 Bacopa Literary Review.  For more information on Bacopa, visit: http://writersalliance.org/bacopa-literary-review. You can order a copy of the 2015 issue through Amazon. It has more short stories as well as poetry and creative non-fiction. Happy reading!

Cattle Gap

Cattle Gap

Mario stepped off the school bus into the late August heat. “Remember, no TV till I get home,” Aunt Ginny, the driver, told him. “Make a sandwich and do your homework. I’ll be home in forty-five minutes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Aunt Ginny was his foster mother, not his aunt, but he didn’t want to call her “Mama.” He had a mother. He’d just finished the first week of sixth grade, but he felt so lost. Changing classes was a new experience, and there were so many new faces. He wore nicer clothes than he used to, but old classmates still treated him with contempt.

He should have gone to middle school last year, but he had flunked fourth grade. Not because he was stupid. He’d missed too many days. Last year, he did better. He learned to get himself up in the morning, even if his mother overslept or wasn’t home. He missed his mother.

Mario checked the mail and found a letter from his father in California. “Dear Mario,” it began. “I hope this finds you well. I am quite good, as is Cissy, and the kids. The social worker was here today to do the house check. She said she saw no problem with you coming here. It will take awhile for the paperwork to get to Florida, so we have to be patient. I’m saving money for a plane ticket to come get you.”

A joyful bark interrupted him. Aunt Ginny’s dog Skeeter bounded down the driveway and knocked the letter from his hands. Skeeter always came to greet him. Mario wondered what Skeeter would do after he left. By then, there might be new foster children to greet.

“Hey, Skeeter,” Mario stuck the letter into his backpack to read later. He paused at the cattle gap. This was a relic from the days when the old place had been a farm. The cattle gap was a grate made from railroad rails laid horizontally across a small ditch. Cows would not venture to cross, but it was no barrier for vehicles and most boys.

The ditch held a little water from yesterday’s thunderstorm. It looked like a good place for snakes to hide. Aunt Ginny had warned him to beware of snakes. What he feared even more than snakes was slipping and falling between the rails. He gripped his backpack, inhaled deeply, and balanced on the first rail.  Safely across, he let his breath out. He had never lived in the country before, and there were so many things to worry about.

Aunt Ginny’s farm now grew pine trees. Halfway up the driveway, Skeeter started barking again and dove into the palmettos that grew among the trees. Mario heard a great thrashing noise. Something big was in there. What could it be? A bobcat? A coyote? What if it was a bear?

“Skeeter! Come back!” But Skeeter was too busy to obey.  Mario set his books down and followed. A fine net settled over his face and he cringed. He brushed and sputtered to get the cobweb off. He wiped his mouth with his shirttail and brushed frantically over his head and shoulders. Could the spider be on him? It would be one of those enormous yellow ones that spun great webs between the trees. Aunt Ginny hated them and killed any she found in her yard. So they hid in the woods to ensnare unsuspecting boys.

He stepped forward. Skeeter stopped barking. Mario eyes darted around and looked down. Skeeter sniffed at a large gopher tortoise which tried to run from him. Its short legs flailed against a palmetto frond, which rattled against its neighbors, creating a noise way out of proportion to the size of the creature.

Mario let out a nervous laugh. “All this fuss over a little ole turtle!” He poked it with a stick and watched the gopher’s head and limbs draw into its shell. Maybe this would make a good pet. He carried it to the house, found an old washtub, and filled a dish with water. He’d ask Aunt Ginny what they ate. He never had a pet before.

Mario went back for his backpack and let himself into the house. He fixed a sandwich and poured a glass of iced tea before settling down at the kitchen table with his homework. Then he remembered his father’s letter. “I’m so looking forward to seeing you again. It’s been so long. You must be nearly a man by now.” His mother had called him her “little man.” He had taken care of her when she couldn’t take care of herself. After they put him in foster care, everyone treated him like a child. His first foster parents even made him go to day care. Aunt Ginny wasn’t so bad. She fussed over him, but she also gave him independence.

“I’m sorry I haven’t been more of a father to you,” the letter went on. “I didn’t know how things were with your mother.” Mario winced. He didn’t like people saying things about his mother. “You see, after we split up, every time I went to see you, we’d fight so bad, I thought it was best to just stay away. I thought sending money every month was enough.” Mario had not been aware of any money. His mother said his father was dead. He had a vague memory of a man arguing with his mother, but he was not sure if that had been his father or a stepfather.

His musings were interrupted by Skeeter’s frantic barking. Mario rushed out. There was a new noise, an intense buzzing, like that of a windup toy out of control. And there, on the ground, not two yards from Skeeter’s nose, was a coiled rattlesnake.

He dared not panic. He called Skeeter, who only kept barking and circling the snake, keeping a distance of four or five feet between them. What should he do? Call for help? But Skeeter could be dead before it arrived. His pounding heart drowned out the sounds of both snake and dog. Mario crept up behind Skeeter and grabbed his collar. He dragged him up the steps and through the front door. Skeeter was an outside dog and Aunt Ginny didn’t let him into the house, but this was an exception.

After the rattling noise ceased, Mario looked out and saw the snake crawling across the yard toward the back of the house. What if it got in the house? He ran to the shed and found a hoe. He tried to sneak up on the snake, but it turned back toward him and started to coil. Mario raised the hoe as high as he could and brought it down onto the snake’s neck with enough force to drive it into the ground. The body twisted every which way, but its neck was broken. Mario chopped with the hoe until he severed the head from the body. He trembled back to the porch and collapsed on the steps.

Then he remembered Skeeter and let him out. Skeeter immediately returned to the snake, but when it didn’t react to his barking, he began to sniff. Mario jumped to his feet. Maybe it couldn’t bite, but it still had venom on its fangs. He scooped up the head with the hoe and buried it in the garden. Only now did he examine the body. He’d never seen a real rattlesnake before and didn’t know they were so pretty. This one had diamond-shaped markings on reddish skin. He had seen belts and hat bands made from snake skins. The body was thicker than his arm and might be enough for more than one belt.

Warily, he picked it up. The skin was not slimy, but smooth and cool, like glass. Mario carried it to the back porch and got a knife from the kitchen. Although he had never skinned anything before, he’d seen it done. He cut off the rattle and put it in his pocket. Then he carefully separated the skin from the carcass, which he buried in the garden. He stretched the skin on an old board and nailed it down.

Only then did he truly appreciate his feat. The snake had been as long as he was tall. He shook the rattle in his pocket. Now he knew what a rattlesnake sounds like. The deadly creature could have killed him, but he had killed it. He marveled at how easy it was to kill. He stood up straight. Perhaps he was a man after all.

Suddenly, he heard the school bus out on the road. He put the skin and the tools in the shed and hosed off the back porch. The bus turned into the driveway. He washed the knife and put it away. He slipped into a chair and opened a book as the bus came to a stop in the yard.

A few minutes later, he heard Aunt Ginny say, “What’s this?” He had forgotten all about the turtle.

“I found him in the woods. Can I keep him for a pet? Do you know what they eat?”

She shook her head. “No, you can’t keep him. They’re an endangered species. The game warden’d throw us both in jail. You need to let him go. He’ll find food in the woods.”

Disappointed, Mario hopped off the porch. The motion jiggled the rattle in his pocket. Aunt Ginny perked up as though listening, but when she heard nothing more, she went inside. Mario carried the turtle with one arm and held his other hand over the pocket to keep the rattle quiet. After he released the gopher, he returned to the house and found Aunt Ginny brushing paw prints off the living room couch.

“What was Skeeter doin’ in the house?”

“Uh, there was a rattlesnake in the yard. I didn’t want him to get bit.”

“You left it alone, I hope.”

Mario couldn’t lie to her. His hesitation told on him.

“Empty your pockets,” she directed.

He had no choice but to show her the rattle. Her eyes bulged.

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“In the shed.” He told her the whole story.

“I don’t think it’d come into the house. It was just trying to get under the house where it’s cool.” When Aunt Ginny saw the size of the skin, she clutched her chest and hollered, “Holy Jesus! Snake that big could kill you!”

“Yes ma’am.”

“It’s a canebrake rattler. That’s why it’s so red. They don’t usually bother anybody. They usually just run away.”

“But it was trying to bite Skeeter.”

“Only because he was harassing it.  If you see another one, you and Skeeter stay in the house till I come home. Promise?”

“Yes ma’am.” He felt like a child again. He looked down at his feet.

Aunt Ginny put an arm around his shoulders. “Was you scared?”

“No ma’am. Well, maybe. I guess. I was afraid for Skeeter.”

“You were very brave to protect Skeeter. I’m proud of you for that.” Then she turned him to face her and put a hand on each shoulder. “But from now on, leave snakes alone. I can’t have a foster child bit by a poisonous snake.”

“Yes ma’am.” When he looked into her eyes, they were twinkling.

“What do you plan to do with that?” She meant the canebrake skin.

“Can I take it to California with me?”

“I don’t see why not.”

“What do you think my dad will say?”

Aunt Ginny smiled. “I think he will be very proud of you.”

In Memoriam

At the close of the day on April 30th, I turned my calendar to May. For nearly four weeks now, it has been staring me in the face, reminding me. I write birthdays on my calendar so I won’t forget to send a card. In May, I have a son, a sister, and two grandchildren with birthdays, and on May 27th, Aunt Carolyn. For the first time in my adult life, I will not be sending her a birthday card, because she left us in March.

I don’t send birthday cards to all my relatives. There are too many of them. I limit my greetings to my children and grandchildren, sisters and brothers, and my mother. Not other aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins. There are too many of them. But Aunt Carolyn was different.

She never married, had no children, but family connections were important to her. She sent gifts to each of my children when they were born and wedding presents when they got married. She also sent birthday cards, religiously. I received one from her every year, and every year, I made sure to send her one.

In my memories of Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa Masters, she and her younger brother, my Uncle Joe, teenagers at the time, would give me and my siblings each a present. It was the same every time: a coloring book, crayons, and modeling clay. These gifts, although predictable, were always appreciated.

Aunt Carolyn’s graduation picture

Then she went off to college, the first one in the family to do so. I remember once accompanying my grandparents when they took her down to Ladycliff, an all-women’s college right next door to West Point. A good place to grab a husband, you’d think, but she wasn’t interested. She went on to earn a Masters Degree in Social Work at Fordham University. (Grampa joked that she already had a Masters degree.) She was the first woman in the family with a career outside the home.

After we moved to Florida, I didn’t see Aunt Carolyn that often. When we visited my grandparents, she was usually in New York City where she lived in a tiny efficiency apartment. Occasionally, she flew south to visit us, and I went to NYC a few times. I remember touring museums with her. We also rode the Staten Island Ferry (that’s another story). When my boys were small, she accompanied us to the Statue of Liberty. We climbed into the crown, but Aunt Carolyn stopped halfway and sat in an alcove until we rejoined her. She wasn’t much for physical activity, until she had a wake-up call later in life. Then she began to walk regularly for her health.

She never failed to attend the annual Masters Family reunion in Owego, NY. I didn’t always make it, but when I did, I got to see her there.

The Masters family. She’s the redhead center back.

Aunt Carolyn was different from the rest of the family. Most of us are country people, but she loved New York City. She worked there as a social worker for over 50 years, not retiring until she was in her upper seventies. She was active in her church and had many friends.

On 9-11, I called to check on her. She lamented that she had intended to buy my son a wedding present on her lunch hour, but unfortunately, the store was no longer there. Where had she intended to shop? At the World Trade Center! The thought still sends shivers down my spine. I was so glad she didn’t go shopping before she went to work.

She was a very particular person. When she wrote a letter, if she made a mistake, she’d neatly cross it out and surround it with parentheses, then continue in her perfect handwriting. She loved literature and art and Shakespeare in the Park. She was also very opinionated. When I was in college, I’d make a remark about something, a particular poem, or a piece of art. In a calm, perhaps condescending, tone, she’d correct me. The funny things is, as I matured, I realized she’d been right. Her relatives loved her, but she did try their patience.

In later years.

This month, whenever I sent out cards, her address would pop out at me in the address book. How many times have I recopied her address from one outdated book to another, even though I had it memorized? When the current book needs to be replaced, there will be no need to copy her address again, and that saddens me.

You don’t know how much you will miss a person until they’re gone. I’m glad I sent her a card every year.

Happy Birthday, Aunt Carolyn. This year I’ll send you love, if not a card.

 

 

Recently, I watched the classic movie The Guns of Navarone with Gregory Peck. Set in the Aegean Sea during World War II, it’s the story of a small band of soldiers sent to take out a German fortress which is a threat to Allied ships. Of course, our heroes can’t just go in and destroy the enemy’s guns, they have to suffer through a series of ordeals on the way. And they can’t just keep the mission to themselves, they have to interact with innocent bystanders and beautiful women.

Gregory Peck, David Niven, and friends

I’m not here to tell you the entire plot of the movie, only one part that got me thinking. An officer gets seriously wounded, so they take him into a Greek village for medical attention. There are Nazis in town, and the villagers try to hide our heroes from them. When the enemy finds out, they destroy the town in retribution.

What caught my attention was that the Germans made the people leave their homes before they bombed them. It’s heartbreaking enough to have your home destroyed. It’s even worse when your life and that of your loved ones is put in jeopardy. At least the Germans spared the villagers’ lives.

Listening to the news about the war in Ukraine, we are shown a different scenario: civilians deliberately targeted, even when they try to evacuate, bombs dropped on hospitals and schools.

In the movie, the Nazis are hardly pictured as nice guys, but other than the SS officers, who are sociopaths, the German soldiers show a little compassion, first for the wounded American officer, then for the Greek villagers.

How true to life this is, I can’t say. The movie was released in 1961, nearly two decades after the war. By this time, hatred toward the Germans had softened. In fact, we were on good terms with them. Did German soldiers actually show compassion for their conquered foe? War creates atrocities. Can it also bring out compassion?

My father served in the Pacific theater in World War II. He wouldn’t talk much about the war, certainly not about combat. I don’t know what horrors he was exposed to, but although the rest of the world moved on and made friends with the Japanese, he harbored a life-long hatred of them. He even disapproved when his children bought Japanese-made cars.

His attitude toward other Asians was quite different. When one of my sisters brought home a Korean friend, he was okay with that. When I went on a tour of China, he expressed admiration for the Chinese people, if not their government.

But when he had personal contact with one of the enemy, he had a different attitude. Dad told about an incident when he was stationed in Hawaii. A Japanese soldier was being held prisoner in the camp. One day he tried to escape but didn’t make it out of camp before he was recaptured. For some reason, Dad expressed compassion toward that young man. He identified with the fear the Japanese soldier must have felt, being held captive by the Americans.

Dad in uniform. He’s the short one.

I grew up during the Cold War. In high school, one required class was Problems of American Democracy, in which we were indoctrinated against all things communist. (I don’t understand why some authorities think young people are just itching to go over to the “dark side.”) Perhaps that accounted for my reaction the first time I saw Red Army soldiers in China.

I was fascinated by the history and culture of China. One of the first historical sites we visited was crawling with Chinese soldiers. I felt fearful, paranoid, as though I thought they were watching the evil American tourists, waiting for a chance to arrest us. Actually, they were on leave, tourists like myself. By the end of the two weeks, I saw these soldiers for what they were, teenagers in uniform. Familiarity does not breed contempt.

Back to the war between Russia and Ukraine. We admire the heroism of the Ukrainians and ache for their suffering. We condemn the actions of Putin’s government. However, most of us don’t blame the Russian people. We sympathize with them because of what their government is doing to them.

In the throes of battle, compassion is in short supply. Yet we can identify with the hopes and fears of other humans, even in time of war. Perhaps if we cultivate more compassion, we can learn to avoid war.

 

The last time I posted, in early January, I was looking forward to our third annual Sunshine State Book Festival at the end of the month. As penalty for diligence and hard work, I’d found myself chairman of the committee. My equally hardworking comrades were putting the finishing touches on the Festival. We’d rented the Oaks Mall in Gainesville for Saturday’s event. Nearly 100 authors, both local and from elsewhere, were registered. I was one of them, with a new book to offer. Five interesting speakers were scheduled for the next day at the Matheson History Museum.

Then Omicron. As infection rates skyrocketed, so did our anxiety. Authors began to drop out over concern for their health. We, too, questioned the advisability of holding a large indoor event during a wave in the pandemic. We hated to change our plans, but people’s safety was at stake.

So much uncertainty. How long would Omicron plague us? What if we change the date and there is another surge of the coronavirus? None of had a crystal ball, but we had no choice. For the second time, COVID disrupted our plans. We postponed the festival.

That meant changing the dates with the Mall and the Matheson. Fortunately both were available on the 9th and 10th of April.

If, in January, we were ready to launch the Festival in three weeks, three months should have us uber-prepared, right? Hold on. When you’re forced to punt, you can’t score until your next possession. If your opponent is worthy enough, it can take a good deal of time and effort to get to your next possession. That’s where we found ourselves.

We had been advertising for months. Promotional materials had been printed and distributed. Not only did the registered authors need to know of the change, the public and local media had to be informed. A lot of leg (or laptop) work. Besides correcting things, we kept finding stuff that should have been done earlier, plus a few things that just weren’t going to get done. Let’s hope they’re not critical.

There you have it, my long-winded excuse for failing to post in over three months. We are supposed to be using our social media to promote the Festival. Have you seen anything on mine? Oh, I was waiting until the last minute, to balance out those people (you know the type) who are prompt with everything.

So, if you are anywhere within driving distance of Gainesville, Florida on the weekend of April 9th, there’s plenty of parking at the Oaks Mall. Pop in and visit the Sunshine State Book Festival. Look me up at table 47. I’ll have copies of Trials by Fire and my latest book Quest for Namai. I’ll also have bookmarks with the QR code to Season of the Dove, which is on Kindle Vella, but not available in book form yet.

On Sunday, don’t miss the speakers at the Matheson.

If you can’t come, check out my books anyway. You’ll be glad you did.

Fire

Have you heard of Kindle Vella? It’s a new thing, where stories are published by episode, much like in the old days when books were serialized in newspapers and magazines. For some reason, you can’t read these stories on your Kindle but on your phone or computer.

I was putting the finishing touches on my novel Season of the Dove when I heard about Vella. After exploring a few books on the platform, I decided my novel lends itself well to being serialized.

For you, the reader, here’s how it works. You go to Vella and choose what you want to read. Here’s a shortcut: https://www.amazon.com/kindle-vella/story/B09GLLRR87. You can read the first three episodes for free. That should be enough to let you decide if you’re interested. If you are a first time Vella user, you are then given 200 free tokens. Each episode costs a certain number of tokens depending on the word count. After you’ve spent your 200, you can buy more. For $1.99 you can buy 200 , but if you’re a serious reader, you can buy in larger quantities at a discount, up to 1700 tokens for $14.99, which could pay for several novels. The total cost of a book is about equal to what you would pay for an eBook or a print book, depending on how it’s priced.

If you like an episode, give it a thumbs up. That helps the writer. Once a week, you can give your favorite book a Fave, which lets other readers know it’s worth reading.

Season of the Dove takes place in the year 2123. Serious damage has been done to the environment, resulting in social and political unrest. Florida is hit by a Category 6 hurricane, which makes matters worse. The main characters, Rob Hardman and Rosa Ortiz, are caught up in the turmoil. Yes, this is a dystopian future, but it is not a tale of gloom and doom. I won’t tell you how it turns out. You’ll have to read it. You’ve probably guessed a love story is involved. In addition, there is a murder (or two or three) to solve, a good bit of adventure, and human interest.

Unfortunately, while a book is on Vella, it can’t be published in another form, so Season of the Dove won’t be available in eBook or hard copy until such time as I take it down and republish it.

I invite you to check out Season of the Dove. (Yes, that’s the link above.) If you wish, you can give me feedback in the comment section below. Happy reading!

No one can argue that this past year has been stressful. We all needed escape mechanisms to help us cope. I’ve tried several. After the shut-down last March, when COVID was still fairly new, I came across a list of streaming movies about pandemics to watch while quarantined. With ghoulish curiosity, I watched a few. Because those fictional accounts bore little resemblance to the existing situation, they provided a sort of comfort.

Netflix has a series, ominously released in January, 2020 before coronavirus became popular, called Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak. This documentary introduces the viewer to “heroes on the front lines of the battle against influenza” and showcases “their efforts to stop the next global outbreak.” Well, they didn’t stop this one, maybe because they focused on influenza and we were hit with a coronavirus. I watched a few episodes, but they were too close to reality, and I needed escape.

I seldom binge watch, but in the evening I’ll sit down to a movie or a couple episodes of a good TV show. Half the world found diversion from reality in Tiger King, but it was short lived. Science fiction is usually a good escapist genre. Even issues pertinent to our real world are disguised well enough to take us out of ourselves. I watched several seasons of Star Trek before I found Stargate SG-1.

If you are unfamiliar with the show, the Stargate is an ancient alien artifact that connects to other stargates throughout the galaxy by way of wormholes. SG-1 is a team of four adventurers. Each episode takes the heroes to a different planet where they encounter and surmount new perils. Each season, they save the Earth from impending doom. Good entertainment. Nothing, other than the occasional politics, to remind me of current problems.

The Stargate

Until I came to Season 9. A two part episode was titled “The Fourth Horseman.” Only after I watched the first part did it dawn on me that they were referring to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the Old Testament, the Fourth Horseman is Plague.

In the last century, when we were sending people to the Moon, NASA would quarantine returning astronauts just in case they picked up some microorganism that could wreak havoc on Earth. The SG1 team bopped from planet to planet without a care. Only occasionally did they bring something undesirable home, and then it was usually an alien life form other than a disease.

Main characters are not allowed to die, of course, unless they can be restored to life, but lesser actors are fair game. In Episode 10 of Season 9, a team of lesser characters brought back a virus. I should have stopped watching, but I was addicted to the show.

One man developed a fever and respiratory distress and died. Others began to fall ill and were quarantined. Unfortunately, a lieutenant with no symptoms had already left the base, and he was a carrier. By the time they reined him in, the public had been exposed. The CDC was called in.

Back at the base, even individuals who had no contact with the infected team began to test positive or fall ill. The virus was described as “airborne and persistent.” Efforts to contain it to Colorado (where the story takes place) failed and cases began to pop up in other states. Public transportation was halted. Citizens panicked as the contagion continued to spread.  Hospitals were struggling and waiting rooms crowded. Cases emerged in major cities. The US borders were closed. Contact tracing was put into place.

It was like watching a recap of the past year’s news. How was this supposed to take my mind off my worries?

The script writers seemed to have done their homework. They must have consulted with the CDC on how a pandemic would play out. That, or they had a crystal ball. If that was the case, why didn’t they warn us?

There was one difference—no one wore masks. The general ignored the advice of the physician and went to visit his suffering airmen. I yelled at the screen, “Put on a mask!” He didn’t listen. Next scene, the general was in sick bay. I should have skipped the second episode, but I wanted to see how our heroes managed to save the world this time. They were furiously working on a vaccine.

Remember the cigarette-smoking man in The X Files? The actor William B. Davis? He is the arch villain in this story. In an attempt to conquer the Earth, he had purposely infected the doomed SG team. However, I don’t think he was responsible for our recent situation.

The Archvillain

By part two, there were cases in Mexico and Canada. Other countries grounded air travel and closed ports. The Stock Market crashed. Work on the vaccine continued, day and night, as the contagion continued to spread. Finally, the vaccine was ready and being distributed. (No mention of testing for safety and efficacy.) This team of fictional crack scientists developed a vaccine in two episodes in 1995, but it took us months in 2020.

At the end of the episode, a news reporter said, “The final death toll of the pandemic has been estimated at a little over 3000 worldwide.” Only 3000? The reporter seemed to think that was a lot. Do you remember when ours was only 3000? As I write this, our death toll has surpassed 3 million.

How did I remember so many details? A writer must sacrifice for her art. After I thought about writing this post, I watched the episodes again and took notes. Besides, plunging into it gave me a morbid sense of comfort.

The rest of the series thankfully offered more escape from reality. Now I’ve resumed Star Trek. Captain Picard’s world, while beset with conflict and danger, gives an optimistic view of the future where self-interest and greed have largely been replaced by ideals of cooperation and benevolence. What better way to get your mind off your troubles?   

If you haven’t already, check out my video at the Sunshine State Book Festival and my novel Trials by Fire on Amazon.

The Long Haul

Recently, a phone conversation turned to—what else?—the pandemic. My friend told me that when she was a child, there were old ladies in her community whose hands shook. These women had been victims of the Spanish Flu in the early 20th century. They were in good health, living into their 90’s, but they had what was called a Parkinson’s disease, which was an after-effect of the flu.

Influenza virus

That set the wheels in my head spinning. Grandma Rogers’ hands shook. So did Aunt Hazel’s, her younger sister. At the height of the 1918 pandemic, they were 17 and 15. Neither they, nor other relatives, ever talked about the Spanish Flu or its aftermath. The only family member I knew of who had been affected was a great-great aunt in West Virginia who died of “pneumonia.” Family tradition was that she died of the Spanish Flu, which is very likely. In those days they didn’t have flu tests, and West Virginia was hard hit after infected soldiers returned from World War I.

Grandma Rogers and me

Could my grandmother and aunt have been victims of the Spanish Flu? Grandma once told one of my sisters that their mother, Hattie Brown, also had shaky hands. Three women in one family whose hands shook! When I was a child, I wondered if it was genetic, if I could have inherited it. I didn’t know about the Spanish Flu. Any time my hands were unsteady, I would worry. Needlessly. My hands don’t shake. Nor do any of Grandma’s descendants have this problem.

Hattie Brown, left, with sisters Sadie Smith and Fannie Houghtalen

Shaky hands didn’t hinder Grandma or Aunt Hazel from performing household and farming tasks. They even crocheted, did embroidery, and tatted. I have a beautiful table cloth Grandma embroidered and lace she tatted, as well as an afghan Aunt Hazel crocheted.

Aunt Hazel with Mutt, 1964

The Spanish Flu was misnamed. It was caused by the H1N1 virus, now known as the Swine Flu. It didn’t originate in Spain. It is thought to have crossed into humans at a pig farm in Kansas, but Spain got blamed for it. Due to censorship during the war, outbreaks in Europe and the US were not reported, but Spain was not spared, especially when King Alfonso XIII fell seriously ill with the disease. He survived, but due to the general perception that Spain was an epicenter of the infection, it was so labeled.

For more information, I turned to the internet. It took some digging and asking the right question. Finally, I found discussions about Post-encephalitic Parkinsonism, also called Encephalitis Lethargica, or von Economo’s Encephalitis, after the doctor who studied it. This syndrome had a variety of symptoms, including movement disorders (shaky hands). It appeared in epidemic proportions between 1916 and 1929, with over a million known cases, but has not been seen since. It coincided with the 1918 pandemic, but some victims didn’t develop it until years after they had the flu.

Parkinson’s Disease can be genetic, but not always. Virus infections have been known to cause Parkinson’s. In mice, H5N1 (related to H1N1) can enter the brain through the vagus nerve, causing inflammation and Parkinson’s-like symptoms. The mice seem to be more susceptible to later flu exposures, but vaccines and anti-viral medications can protect them. In humans, H1N1 doesn’t enter the brain, but can activate the immune system, causing inflammation, which can result in Parkinson-like symptoms.

Some victims didn’t develop Post-encephalitic Parkinsonism until years after they had the Spanish Flu. There is no hard proof to link the two, but there sure is a strong correlation. This Parkinsonism is thought to be a post-infectious autoimmune disorder.

Grandma was in good health, except for arthritis, and she lived to 96. Aunt Hazel suffered seizures as a child and diabetes in her later years, but otherwise her health, too, was good. What about their father? George Brown was a wallpaper hanger. Grandma once told me that when his eyesight got bad, he had to give up his vocation because he could no longer see the seams well enough to hang paper straight. So he went into farming. Now I wonder, did he also have the flu? If it left him with shaky hands, that too would have made it difficult to hang wallpaper.

George Brown with grandsons Russell and Donald Rogers, 1927

We cherish the stories our grandparents told us, but from time to time, questions arise that we wish we had asked. We didn’t think to ask about the 1918 pandemic, or whether Grandpa Brown’s hands shook.

We keep hearing about “long haulers,” COVID victims whose symptoms persist after they’ve “recovered,” and warnings that there may be long-term medical effects of the virus. My grandmother, her sister, and her mother were long-haulers. Their shaky hands were a cosmetic symptom that didn’t shorten their lives, but we don’t know what COVID-19 will leave sufferers with, and teenagers are not immune. The “Parkinsonism” didn’t appear in many early 20th century victims for years after the pandemic, so it may be a long time before we know what today’s victims will face. And what about a-symptomatic victims? Can they become long-haulers?

Another thing to consider is that subsequent virus infections can trigger Parkinson-like symptoms. Studies in mice found that immunizations and anti-viral medications could protect them. Does that mean we should get our flu shots every year?

Personally, I’m suspicious of flu shots because of the nasty ingredients in them, such as heavy metals. I got the COVID vaccine because I was more scared of the disease than of the nasty ingredients. My personal plan is to keep wearing my mask until the end of the pandemic (just in case), continue to socially distance, and keep drinking my pine tea. After we get through this, each flu season, I’ll rely on the anti-viral compounds in pine tea to keep me healthy. I don’t want COVID, and I don’t want to be a long-hauler.

Check out my award-winning novel Trials by Fire. Available on Amazon. You can read a selection from the book here for free.

Now that the holidays are behind us and life may settle down, it’s high time for me to toot my horn. Here’s the press release:

MARIE Q ROGERS WINS PRESTIGIOUS AWARD, ANNOUNCED AT
2020 FLORIDA WRITERS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE

The Florida Writers Association, Inc., (FWA) has announced that Marie Q Rogers won a prestigious Royal Palm Literary Award (RPLA). Her winning entry, Trials by Fire, won the Bronze award for Published Young Adult Novel.

The award was announced at FWA’s recent remote four-day annual conference. This annual competition was RPLA’s nineteenth. “This is the most competitive RPLA we’ve ever had,” said Chris Coward, RPLA chairperson. “The RPLA administrative team, judges, and entrants did an amazing job.” In all, the competition covered 28 adult genres and 5 Youth genres, with published and unpublished entries considered separately. “A win at any level can help a writer market their manuscript or published book, and the detailed feedback from the judges is invaluable for all entrants,” Ms. Coward said.

The Florida Writers Association, 1,800 members strong and growing, is a nonprofit 501(c)(6) organization that supports the state’s established and emerging writers. Membership is open to the public. The Royal Palm Literary Awards competition is a service of the Florida Writers Association, established to recognize excellence in its members’ published and unpublished works while providing objective and constructive written assessments for all entrants. For additional information, visit the FWA website: floridawriters.net, where you’ll also find more about RPLA and the complete list of 2020 winners.

And now, my friends, if you haven’t read Trials by Fire yet, this is a good time to order the hard copy or download the ebook and curl up with a cup of hot cocoa. My readers have ranged in age from 10 to 89, and so far everyone says they like it. You can purchase the book here or ask your public library to order it. After you read Trials by Fire, please take time to write a short review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

Most important of all, enjoy.

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