Getting a Life

Getting a Life by Linda Rodriguez

Yesterday I just crashed. I slept late. I couldn’t get myself moving on anything I had to do, not this blog post or a manuscript report that’s due, not my usual stint on the WIP, not any of the several business emails I needed to take care of, not trying to clear some of the clutter and mess that have collected in my house as I’ve battled illness and injury, taking care of a slew of freelance commitments, and preparing and teaching several workshops along the way. Usually I rise early, take a deep breath, gird my loins for the day’s battle with the endless to-do list, and kick into overdrive, but yesterday I couldn’t muster the energy or the will to do much of anything productive. This is not like me.

While driving recently with my husband past Kansas City’s Plaza, which is a premier pedestrian shopping mall/outdoor art gallery full of fountains, intricate and colorful Spanish tiles, ornate buildings, and beautiful sculptures, I reminisced sadly about the good times we used to have walking the Plaza and sitting on one of the many benches to watch the parade of people. I reminded my husband of the fun we had taking picnic lunches to some of Kansas City’s many great parks to enjoy after a refreshing walk. I waxed nostalgic over the weekend day trips we used to make to explore lovely small towns all around the Kansas City area—I’ve given many of their best features to my fictional town in my Skeet Bannion series of novels. The strange thing is that, though we don’t do any of those things any longer due to lack of time, we used to do them when I had an ultra-demanding, 60-70-hour per week university job. Now that I’m a full-time writer, however, I have no time to enjoy leisure activities with my husband or any of the other things I used to do to make a real life—cooking, fiberart, gardening, going to Shakespeare or concerts in the park, lunches with friends, etc.

How did this terrible imbalance in my life occur? Isn’t one of the joys of being a full-time writer supposed to be the flexibility of time that allows you to lead a fuller, richer life? How did I manage with that old job and all its hours and responsibilities to weave in time for recreation and fun, time with family and friends, time to feed the creative well inside me, yet now I can hardly find time to even wash dishes or do laundry, the minimal tasks required to keep us from sinking into total chaos?

If I were just writing my books, I would have time to enjoy some of these activities still, but I have to promote those books in an effort to constantly increase sales. Publishers are dumping, left and right, amazing writers who have received impressive reviews and award nominations because their sales are just not spectacular enough. So, I must work harder to try to get the word out about my books and persuade new people to try them. The writing and publishing (with its line edits, copy edits, and page proofs) when combined with the promotion and marketing (with its touring, social media, conferences, and events) are two full-time jobs. Since my writing career is still not earning enough to support me, I must take on freelance writing/editing/evaluating/judging/teaching contracts, yet another full-time job. It’s no wonder I’m so tired!

I’m hardly the only writer in this predicament. Writers who are far more successful and have been doing this for far longer than I have are facing the same dilemma. The Sisters in Crime listserv periodically rings with the cries of authors who have run out of steam trying to do all of this. Some are even seriously thinking of giving up writing, which they love, because they just don’t think they can do all of it any longer.

As a country, we are moving more and more to a freelance or independent contractor environment, where we don’t have paid vacation and sick days and where we can find ourselves working all the time—or feeling as if we ought to be. How do we make a go of this kind of career and still have any kind of life outside of work?

I’m the first to admit I don’t have the answers to that question. I will be spending my next few days trying to find some, however. How we spend our time is our actual life, even if we think we’re just doing it until we bring in enough money or reach a certain level of success. I intend to find a way to bring those elements of a real, lived life back into mine. Can I do it without shortchanging the efforts I need to put into my writing and promotion of my work to create a successful career? I’ll have to find a way.

How do you manage that career-personal life balance that can be so difficult to get right?

 

A Name and a Promise —T.K. Thorne

Rob Langford is probably not a name you are familiar with. He was a quiet, thoughtful man who wanted to make things better. When the FBI chose him to serve as Special Agent in Charge of the Birmingham, Alabama office, he came with an open mind.

And that changed everything.

Langford realized there was edgy and sometimes dangerous tension between the African American community and law enforcement. Rather than just accepting this as status quo, he wanted to open communications between them and invited several leaders from the Black community to come “talk.”

It wasn’t easy to garner enough trust for anyone even to show up at the FBI office. Finally, he found a man who acted as a mediator and made it happen. Still, it didn’t go well. One Black minister blurted out, “Why didn’t the FBI investigate the bombing of the church? The FBI never did do anything.”

The minister was referring to the 1963 bombing of a Black church in Birmingham, where four young girls were killed. It had been thirty years since the tragedy, but the scars were far from healed. As a newcomer to the city, Langford did not know how to answer the question, but he made a promise.

“I will look into it.”

He could have chosen to say, “That’s been thirty years ago; we aren’t going back there.” But he didn’t.

Reopening the case was a far harder task than bringing distrusting people in to talk. Investigators spent 18 months just going through the old files. Suspects and witnesses were aging and some had already died. None wanted to talk.

But they pressed on. Because of Rob Langford, that cold case was reopened. Because of him and the team of investigators and prosecutors who worked on the case, the remaining two Ku Klux Klansmen —who had planted that bomb on a Sunday morning while young girls got ready for services—were indicted and tried, found guilty, and spent the rest of their lives in prison.

It didn’t bring those girls back, but it gave closure to their families and to the community and to the world.

The deaths of Annie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Carol Denise McNair, along with the severe injuries of Sarah Collins and the bravery of the children who marched for their freedom and rights in Birmingham that same year, pushed Congress into passing the 1964 Civil Rights Act that made segregation in public places illegal in America.

Thank you, Rob Langford, for what you did. It was a moment when you could have turned aside, but you didn’t.

Rest in Peace, my friend.

George ‘Rob’ Robert Langford
May 7, 1939 – February 21, 2024

 Personal Note:

I was privileged to call Rob a friend and to write about his story and the story of the team that investigated and prosecuted this infamous case over a period of almost forty years in my book, Last Chance for Justice.

T.K. Thorne writes about what moves her, following a flight path of curiosity, reflection, and imagination. Check out her (fiction and nonfiction) books at TKThorne.com

What’s Next by Dru Ann Love

I co-wrote a short story. Have you read it?

What is next? People who have read our story asks, what are you writing next? My co-collaborator writes short stories and I’ve read one of them and he is quite good. As for me, I tried to think of something to write, but my mind is blank.

I will stick to reading books, unless an opportunity for me to collaborate with someone to write a short story happens again.

Other than that, I’m preparing for my first reader/fan convention that will happen at the end of April.

For writers, do you find it hard to come up with story ideas?

I found my bliss — in the bathtub

This is my second blog as part of the gang. I realize we’re still getting to know one another so I thought I would share a little something about one of my favorite activities. This piece originally appeared in The Globe & Mail.

 

I’m a splish-splash person. I relish the warm envelope of water that embraces you in the bathtub. I enjoy being able to put my head back, relax, and wash away the day. I like taking my time, meandering in my mind, and humidifying at my own pace.

I understand the appeal of showers. There is a functionality and practicality to stepping in, under and out. How efficient. How equally unimaginative and boring. In the shower, there is nothing to savour except getting the hell out from beneath 50 pounds per square inch of pulsating water. The fact that showers are measured in psi (as opposed to bubbles) speaks volumes.

Baths were a way of life in our house. There was a dangling thing above the tub that was occasionally used after my dad mowed the lawn in the relentless summer sun, but other than that showers were simply something other people took, mostly people we did not know. So, I grew up turning on the faucet, spreading out the bathmat, and stepping, gingerly, into a steamy pool of water with welcome delight.

I kept this tradition up even after I moved out of my parents’ house, into a marriage, and through the divorce that followed. It wasn’t until years later, however, that I discovered my understanding of the bath and its possibilities had been severely limited.

It started with a gift. I can’t remember if it was my birthday or Christmas. I can’t even remember who the gift-giver was (although they will surely go to heaven), but I remember the gift. Or rather, its life-altering implications. I’m sure the packaging said something underwhelming, like Bath Set or Bubble Break, and the presentation did not spark interest or inspiration. I opened the present to discover bubble bath, a bath bomb, exfoliating lotion and glove, and moisturizer. Two of these I’d heard of. The scent was lavender, which I associated with wrinkled aunts and my grandmother’s underwear drawer.

Turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

 

 

At the next bath, I decided to try out my new gift set. I filled the tub with steaming water, and the most wonderful scent filled the room. I smiled, bent down, and breathed deeply. Not my smartest move. Inhaling bubbles is not generally recommended. But it didn’t matter. I was happy. And about to get happier.

I stepped into the tub and unwrapped the bath bomb. This is never as easy as it sounds. For many manufacturers, I have since learned, it is a point of honour to ensconce the baking soda/essential oil blend in a plastic sheath that has no identifiable opening and the tensile strength of tungsten. I persisted. The result was a round, heavenly little orb that exploded when it hit the water. Gently, of course, and with a colour infusion that filled the tub with a lovely glow.

As with the bath bomb, I had to read the instructions for the exfoliating lotion and glove. Apparently, we have dead skin that sticks to us like a June bug on a hairy leg. The exfoliating duo will do away with it all. You feel the resistance of the glove on your skin. Perhaps even a snag or two. Then you feel softness.

That was my first shrine. That’s the word a friend once used to describe my bathing ritual, and it stuck. Indeed, when friends and family call, they’ll often ask if I’m about to enter the shrine. There’s an unspoken apology to this question. They really don’t want to interrupt this sacred time.

Sacred may be too strong a word, but it hits the mark. I’ve come to realize this time I spend with bubbles, bombs, and bath salts is as much about ritual and reverence as it is about self-care and luxuriating. I realized this one blissful Saturday night as I was about to lower myself into a meringue of eucalyptus suds and my husband strolled into the bathroom, lifted the toilet lid, and got ready to whizz.

He won’t do that again.

In the space between shock and despair, and a few choice words, I realized there is a rhythm to what happens between closed bathroom doors. There is a pattern and a process. Nothing is rushed, there is a natural flow to the shrine; there is room to inhale and time to exhale. When that natural rhythm is interrupted, I’m jolted. Getting back to bliss becomes more difficult.

The rhythm has also gotten more complex and sophisticated over time. Another friend once gave me a candle for Christmas, a gift I appreciated, but admitted to my husband that I was unlikely to use. He suggested I use it in the shrine (and all was forgiven). When that candle burned down to a wax blob, I mentioned to my father, a flea market regular, to pick me up a few more candles if he saw any on his weekly jaunt. A great believer in quantity, a belief he has passed on to his only child, my father arrived home with two over-stuffed bags of candles. All sizes, shapes, scents. All of me smiled.

Today, a shrine includes 10 burning candles: five small, three medium, two large. There is also a tealight candle that burns inside a Himalayan salt holder, another gift from a good friend. (I am blessed with friends who indulge my bathroom bliss.) In addition, I discovered aromatherapy, so there are now diffusers and candle tarts. And there is music, most recently with the chirps and tweets of birds in the background.

My commitment to ritual and reverence hit home when my husband and I decided to do some redecorating. The intent was to brighten and upgrade the kitchen and living room. Somehow, we found ourselves with the decorator in the bathroom. She had ideas. I love this woman.

The result: cabinets with inset lighting, a reflective glass sink, heated flooring. And a tub. This is not an ordinary tub. Who knew paradise came in porcelain. This tub has jets that shoot heated streams of water at select body parts, LED lights infuse a delicate glow, and there is a heated backrest for two. (Like anybody else is getting in this tub.) There is also an aromatherapy unit that sends little fragrant clouds aloft every 20 seconds. Poof.

The bathroom, and the tub in particular, is an expense I no longer attempt to justify. But I have spent some time trying to understand it. Logically I know that self-care is important. That taking time for oneself is time well spent. I’ve read the books (okay, an article or two) about the benefits of taking a breath, treating yourself, and finding space from the pressures of daily life. But that sounds clinical, and what happens in the shrine is anything but. It’s about connection – and distance. It’s about finding oneself – and forgetting about the self for a few hours. It’s about feeling pampered – and humbled.

The need to exit my universe and enter nirvana has, admittedly, led to some unfortunate incidents. There was the episode with the whizzing husband. An apology later – on his part – concluded that rather nicely. However, there was one night, lights low, candles lit, Himalayan salt lamp subtly emitting negative ions. I turned on the tap, poured the juniper bubble bath and Epsom bath salts into the tub and waited to be enveloped in a fragrant mist.

And waited.

Finally, I acknowledged to myself and the woman on the other end of the telephone line that I did not have hot water. Ultramar’s message centre assured me help was on the way. I felt a nudge of joy.

That did not last. The repair guy apparently wasn’t ruining his Saturday night because some woman’s bath water wasn’t hot.

Buddy eventually showed up. But by now I’m in my pajamas. Resigned, and a little ticked. Of course, the fuel guy needed a part he didn’t have in his truck, so why bother having a truck, I wondered. Bottom line: there would be no shrine until at least Monday. I did not hide my disappointment. Buddy did not hide his indifference.

He also noted I’d have to pay for the part and the emergency service call. I noted that was par for the course. Despite having a service maintenance contract to cover such contingencies as this, nothing has ever been covered except a furnace cleaning. I suggested to Buddy perhaps the company should simply call it a furnace cleaning charge. I think he flipped me the bird on his way out.

Monday came, of course. The water heater was fixed, the bath was full of hot, inviting H20. I stepped in and inhaled a heartfelt whiff of chamomile bergamot. But I breathed in more than the latest release from Bath and Body Works. I realized in that moment that my shrine, wrapped in relaxation, and reverence, is really about gratitude. It’s about being thankful to be here, and thankful to be.

Over the next few weeks and the candlelit shrines that followed, I came to understand that gratitude isn’t just about being personally thankful and appreciative. It is about extending that thanks to the world around you. It’s about grace.

I have taken that insight to heart. I remind myself to smell the rose water before I speak out; to soak up the moment before rushing to the next task; to turn off autopilot and turn on an aromatic awareness of what lies before.

And I have apologized to the man from Ultramar.

Susan, An Extraordinary Story—by T.K. Thorne

Susan had never told her family about her experiences. In fact, before Louisa Weinrib called her in 1990 for an interview, she she had never talked about what happened to anyone other than those who had gone through it with her. Hers is a true story of amazing strength, resourcefulness, and friendship.

Susan Eisenberg’s childhood was full of promise. An only child, she was born in 1924 into a family that proudly traced their Hungarian lineage back a hundred years. She grew up in the small town of Miskolc, where her father had a successful business buying and exporting livestock and grains for a farming cooperative.

Susan was aware of anti-Semitic sentiment, but it didn’t touch her early life. The Jewish community was well integrated into Hungarian society, and she had many Christian friends. She spoke Hungarian and German, loved to ice-skate and ski, and wanted to go to college, but by the time she was of college age, Jews could not attend.

Her loving and close-knit family gathered after synagogue at her home, where they also celebrated the Seder. On weekends, they offered a tradition of high tea for family and neighbors.

Trouble began in 1938 with a small Hungarian Nazi party that grew in strength, paralleling the party’s growth in Germany. After Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Polish refugees fled into Hungary, bringing what seemed unbelievable stories of what was happening in Poland. Without a birth certificate validating birth in Hungary, officials shipped the fleeing civilians back to Poland. An army friend confided to Susan that, in reality, the Poles were taken across the border and shot. Even when people began wearing brown shirts with swastika armbands and spouting slogans, Susan recalled, the Jewish community just ignored it.

In 1940 Hungary became an Axis power. Hitler, who invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, demanded that Hungary join that war. Susan’s uncle died when he was forced to walk with others into a field between the German and Russian armies to test for the presence of land mines. Her father was taken to a work camp. Released the following year, he was ill and depressed and died soon after at 44. After his death, Susan and her mother moved to the city of Budapest to live with relatives.

Although the Jews in Hungary suffered under tightening restrictions, Hungary’s regent protected them for a time from Hitler’s “final solution”—extermination—until Hitler discovered the regent was secretly negotiating an armistice with the US and the UK. On Easter Sunday in March 1944, Susan was having coffee with a friend on a cafe terrace and saw German panzer tanks rolling over the bridges into Budapest. The Germans occupied and quickly seized control of the country.

The Nazis rounded up her family members who were still living in the countryside. The relatives sent postcards—which Susan and her mother later learned the Nazis forced them to write—advising they were well and going to Thersienstadt (a concentration camp/ghetto in Terezin). All of them perished in that camp.

In Budapest, Allied forces regularly bombed the city. Everyone carried bags of food at all times, never knowing when they might have to run into the air-raid shelters. Jews were required to wear a yellow star patch on their clothing and live in designated housing. Restrictions dictated when they could leave the house and forbid them to go to public parks or even walk on the sidewalks. They could work only in manual labor positions. Jewish professionals, doctors and dentists, could only practice on Jewish patients.

Susan was 19, with light blonde hair and blue eyes. She pulled off the yellow star from her clothes and snuck out into the country to get food. Once, on her return, Germans soldiers in a vehicle, not realizing she was a Jew, picked her up. They asked for a date. Heart pounding, she agreed, lying about where she lived, and promised to meet them later. Safely home, she looked down at her clothes and realized that a closer inspection would have revealed the stitch holes from the star she’d removed.

When the Russian army was approaching Budapest, the Hungarian Nazis ordered Susan to report for labor with her age group and sent them to dig foxholes. Their Hungarian Nazi guards were 14 or 15-year-olds. When a young girl working at Susan’s side sat down and cried for her mother, those guards immediately shot her.

For two days and nights in the cold and rain, with no food, the guards ran them back to Budapest to work in a brick factory where she met two girls her age, Ferry (Ferike Csato) and Katherine (Katherine Goldstein Prevost). Susan pretended to be crippled and part of a group of sick and injured destined for Budapest and death. She escaped and made it to her aunt and uncle’s house, but the following day Hungarian gendarmes (police) rounded her up with others. The gendarmes forced even mothers from their babies to join with those in the streets.

Their Hungarian guards told them they were taking them to Germany to die. “The one who dies on the road is lucky,” they said. Over a ten-day period in October, they walked in rain, ice, and cold from Budapest to the German border (125 miles) to Hegyeshalomover. Thousands were shot for lagging behind or collapsing. A few country people along the way gave them a piece of bread. Others stripped them of their clothes. Guards kicked them. They slept in flea-invested hay.

Anyone who had anything of value traded it to the peasants for food. They fought for a share of rare carrot or bean soup.

One night, the guards packed them onto a barge on the Danube River. Overwhelmed by the press of dying people, Susan escaped by swimming to the bank in the freezing river. She begged a man she encountered to help her or just get her something dry to wear. He agreed but instead returned with police who escorted her back to the prisoners.

At the German border, they marched another ten miles to trains. Jammed into cattle cars, they traveled for days but couldn’t see out because black slats covered the cars. She was only aware of repetitive stopping and starting.

Finally, in October 1944, the trains arrived at Dachau concentration camp in Germany, their destination. The smell of the crematorium camp would stay in her nostrils for the rest of her life, as would the shock of her first sight of the skeletal prisoners who mobbed them, begging for bread. Guards beat the prisoners back.

The newly arrived assembled in a large open field, waiting to go in. But even with bodies being constantly cremated, there was no room for them in Dachau. Susan and her two friends, Ferry and Katherine, went with other girls to Camp Two and then Camp Eleven (nearby work camps). They slept in bunkers below ground on a wooden floor and a pallet of straw. Camp Two, they quickly learned, was the “sick camp.” The next stop for Camp Two occupants would be the crematorium in Dachau.

At the satellite camps, they were given striped uniforms. About 500 people lived in each barrack with a block leader in charge. Food came once a day in a big wooden barrel with hot water and big hunks of sugar beets. At night they received a piece of bread that “oozed sawdust and a piece of artificial marmalade.” At first, she couldn’t swallow it. The older inmates encouraged her to “eat it, no matter what.”

Each day, the prisoners were called out to stand, sometimes for hours, in the cold for a count and work assignments (Appell). “If you fell out, you were beaten or shot. If a friend was dying, you made sure that she stood up, no matter what, and wasn’t left in the barracks.”

In the first Appell, Susan was picked to work in a kitchen where she peeled beets. Germans brought in prisoners for punishment, hanging them from rafters and beating them. She and the kitchen workers constantly cleaned the blood from the floors. She hid beets inside her baggy shirt and shared it with her camp mates and the Muselmann—the starving, skin-and-bones prisoners resigned to their impending death.

Susan was transferred to different camps for work assignment. At one, German engineers of the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces), instead of SS troops, ran the camp. More humane, their military task masters distributed pieces of food to the workers, food that kept Susan alive. Barehanded and dressed only in the thin striped uniforms and sockless wooden clogs, Susan and her fellow prisoners pulled wagons of wood in the Bavarian winter mountains. Sometimes she was taken from the camp to wash clothes for German housewives. She also worked in the Sonderkommando (work groups at crematoriums) to remove teeth from the corpses of the murdered for the gold fillings.

Her health was deteriorating. She had lost weight and suffered from reoccurring high fevers. Typhoid broke out in the camp. There was no medication. To isolate the prisoners, the guards stopped letting them leave, throwing beets and bread over the fence.

In early March 1945, after the epidemics, a female guard beat her for speaking defiantly to a camp commander. People all around her were giving in to despair, but she refused to do so, vowing she would survive.

At another work camp, Susan joined women prisoners building an underground airplane hangar. They were forced to carry 100-pound bags of cement across a catwalk several stories high. The Muselmann went down instantly under the burden, falling to their deaths. “There was,” Susan said, “as much blood and flesh in that hanger as cement.”

An inmate orchestra played as she and other workers left the camp and on their return. Guards made the orchestra watch and play during beatings and hangings and while starved prisoners–who had tried to grab potatoes from a wagon—were strung up between the electrical barbed wire, potatoes stuck in their mouths.

Once, the Germans spruced up a barracks, putting in furniture and stocking it with people they found “not in terrible shape” for the Swiss Red Cross, who had come to inspect the treatment of prisoners. As soon as they were gone, the Germans took the untouched piles of canned foods, condensed milk, and chocolate the Red Cross had left for the prisoners.

One barrack’s occupants were expectant mothers. They were allowed to give birth to their babies and tend them. Then one day, without warning, all the infants were taken away and the women sent to the work groups.

To use the open trenches to relieve themselves, Susan had to walk through knee-deep mud at night, sometimes stepping on top of the bodies of those who had fallen there and died in the mud. Survival, she knew, depended on not allowing yourself to feel and thinking only of the moment.

Her last assignment was in a dynamite factory. By this time, the air raids were almost continuous. Landsberg, a nearby town, was under siege by the Americans. In April 1945, guards took her and her friends to the main camp in Dachau. They spent a night in the showers at Dachau, believing they would next be taken to the crematoriums, which were still “going strong.” But the next day, with thousands of young people, they were marched out of the camp. As they left, they could see the trains that continued to bring prisoners from other camps [to keep the Allies from discovering them], many already sick and emaciated. When the doors opened, dead bodies fell out. Inmates stacked them like mountains in front of the crematoriums to be burned. But the Germans had run out of time. The American guns were days away.

They marched from Dachau, walking at night and hiding in the woods during the day. Allowed to dig in the fields they passed for roots and potatoes, they ate them raw. All understood the guards’ orders were to march them into the mountains and kill them in the forests where the Allies would not discover their bodies. Guards shot in the head anyone who lagged or fell. Susan was sick and feverish. She could not walk on her own, but three friends, Katherine, Ferry, and another supported her, keeping her from collapsing.

As they struggled through the mountains and meadows of Bavaria, guards began deserting in the cover of night. American planes flew low enough Susan could read the insignia on the wings. The pilots, who surely saw the striped uniforms, refrained from dropping bombs.

Five days later, what remained of their group arrived at a work camp for Russian prisoners in the small German town of Wolfratshausen. The first task of their remaining Nazi guards was to take the Russian prisoners of war and shoot them. Knowing they were next, Susan lay on the roadside, too sick and exhausted to react. Then she heard a roar—the first American jeep of the Third Army coming down the road—liberators.

The German guards fled, but the liberators were combat troops, unable to care medically for the freed prisoners. The Americans moved on, and the liberated were left to fend for themselves.

Typhoid once again thinned their ranks. Her friends held out tin cans for food the passing American soldiers threw to them. Survivors that were able, brought supplies from the town and cooked soups. Reports that Americans fed and clothed German prisoners, playing baseball and basketball with them in the prison camps, ignited bitterness and anger. Many Jews took abandoned weapons and hunted the German SS who had tortured them and killed their friends and families.The sound of gunfire in the surrounding forests peppered the nights.

They spent the summer in the woods, slowly regaining their strength, then Susan, Katherine and Ferry trekked to a displaced persons camp. Although her friends wished to immigrate to Israel, Susan wanted to go home to Hungary. And they chose to go with her.

They walked to Prague, a journey of 145 miles, where a Russian troop train allowed them to ride. Arriving finally at their destination of Budapest, they found it devastated. Susan couldn’t find her house in the rubble . . . or her mother. They tried to find work. Inflation made money worthless. A friend of her uncle finally gave her a job in the ministry [government] which paid the workers in potatoes and bread. They lived in a room open to the elements; bombs had destroyed the windows and doors.

Ferry convinced Susan to go with her, Katherine, and two Sabra (Israeli) agents who were attempting to get fifty Polish Jewish children to Israel. The children had survived by hiding in Christian homes. Susan and her friends rode with them by train to the Hungarian border where they had to walk about 200 miles.

The friends, with the two Sabra agents and three other men, accompanied the children through heavy snow in the fields and woods. Twice, they paid off Russians who stopped them, but the third time, at the German border, they had to make a run for it. They abandoned all their belongings in their dash for freedom. Older children carried the younger ones. Russian bullets followed them. Once safely across, the children continued through Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Cyprus and then into Israel. But Susan still did not want to go to Israel.

Later, Susan said she regretted that decision and felt pride in what Israel stood for. “You know, even if you have to die, if you die on your feet fighting, it’s a heck of a lot different than to be shoved into a gas chamber [to] die like mice or cockroaches, or whatever.”

Susan lived in Germany for three years, then married a GI and came to America in 1948, becoming a U.S. citizen. She had two children, Diane and Leslie, and lived on Long Island, NY. Struggled with multiple health issues, she worked in various factories to pay her medical bills before getting a clerical job on Mitchel Air Force Base, which turned into a civil service career of 30 years.

She divorced and eventually married another serviceman. With his transfer to Maxwell Air Force Base, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama.

Ferry and Katherine joined relatives in America, and the three friends kept in touch for the rest of their lives. Finally locating her mother, who had returned to Budapest, Susan brought her to Montgomery in 1956.

Susan Petrov Eisenberg died in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2008.

Note: I had the privilege of compiling Susan’s story. She was one of the survivors who made Alabama their home after WWII. Others’ stories and a wealth of educational material about survivors and the Holocaust is available at the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center website—bhecinfo.org

T.K. Thorne photo T.K. Thorne writes about what moves her, following a flight path of curiosity, reflection, and imagination. Check out her (fiction and nonfiction) books at TKThorne.com

Let the Good Times Roll!

Even after the extra day for leap year, February is the shortest month. But that doesn’t stop these 29 days from being chock-full of things to celebrate. Especially this week.

Due to a quirk in the 2024 calendar, there’s a danger of overdosing on special occasions. I live in what’s often described as the most diverse city in the U.S., where owners of all kinds of businesses (bakers, costumers, bars, restaurants, and delivery services) are working overtime to cash in on money-making opportunities.

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Thriving Asian communities and hundreds, if not thousands of restaurants, are serving that continent’s exotic cuisines to the rest of us for Lunar New Year. The exact official date can vary from culture to culture, but highly enjoyable ceremonies abound, including special foods, fireworks, music, and the boisterous Lion Dance.

Sunday, Super Bowl LVIII

Unofficially dubbed the Taylor Swift Bowl, this celebration of grit and brawn was finally played. It was a good day for grocers and purveyors of fast food. Did you watch? Did your team win? And did you appreciate any of the over-priced  commercials? The BMW/Christopher Walken spoof made me chuckle, and the Dunkin’ Donuts spot was amusing, too.

Next up: Leftovers Day

Not an official holiday, yesterday offered a little respite from the clash and clatter. It also gave us a chance to work through our leftover flamin’ hot chicken wings and Chinese moon cakes. And it was Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a nice opportunity for quiet contemplation before the rowdiest hoopla of all descended upon us today.

Today: Cue the parades!

Cue the beads, the drinking, and the debauchery! Today is Mardi Gras! Fat Tuesday, when celebrants here and around the world are encouraged to laissez les bon tons roulez. So, let the good times roll! Wear the gaudy costumes and watch people behave badly. Catch some trinkets and cheap bling from a parade float. Eat, drink and be merry, and make sure to grab some King Cake while you can, for tomorrow is all ash and penitence. Unless you prefer to keep to fun going, because…

I ♥ U!

…tomorrow is Valentines Day! If, after indulging in all of the above, you’re still in the mood for rich food and booze (and your liver can take it), you can opt for a lovely restaurant in which to ply the object of your affection with oysters and champagne, and maybe some serious, not-so-cheap bling.

TGIWSBT!

Thank goodness it will soon be Thursday, which is National Singles Awareness Day, in which we’re encouraged to celebrate the joy of being alone. After the week we will have had by then, it feels like an appropriate antidote to the bacchanal we might have endured. A good day to tend to our spiritual side. Or, depending on how well your Valentine’s dinner went, perhaps to try a new dating service.

There’ve been countless Valentine’s dinners in my life, some more meaningful than others. But I’ve never attended a Super Bowl.

I have enjoyed local Lunar New Year celebrations (lots of noise and fun). I’ve been to a Mardi Gras ball and three years of parades in New Orleans: first, among the raucous street crowd (never again), second, from a private balcony on Bourbon Street, and another atop a float, tossing beads in my homecoming queen regalia.

Here’s hoping we all have many more special days ahead to celebrate. In the meantime, let’s try to make every day a celebration.

How about you? What’s your favorite day in February?

Gay Yellen is the author of the  award-winning Samantha Newman Mysteries include The Body Business, The Body Next Door, and The Body in the News!  Contact her at GayYellen.com.

2024 Because I Could Not Stop for Death by Juliana Aragón Fatula

 

Dear Reader,

Just so you know, I’ve switched to every other month so this is my first post and I’ll be back in April 2024.  As for what I’ve been up to lately, I’ve been away from home staying with a friend and working on my novel. I’ve made the changes suggested by my editor and have been killing my darlings. I’ve cut 1/3 of the pages and will be rewriting scenes that were too distracting from the plot.

This is my first attempt at writing a mystery novel. It’s taken me years but life gets in the way. When I’m away from home staying with my sister/friend who gives me a room of my own, I can write freely without interruptions. At home, I’m always distracted by my husband, the doggies, laundry, etc. Here I write and read and do research and enjoy the process as it should be with no one but me and my characters.

I have a fabulous editor who is working with me from Macondo. Macondo Writers Workshop is a weeklong experience for professional writers. The Macondistas recognize their place in our society. They are professional or master’s level of writers. I signed up for the writing workshop called Chuparosa con Ganas.  Translated this means butterflies with desire. I accidentally sent my editor an email with Chupacabras con Ganas in the subject line, oops. We had a good laugh.

Her notes to me were thorough and professional. She told me what I needed to hear. The good and the bad. I have thick skin and have done several workshops over the years and received critiques of my writing but as a poet, not a novelist. I’m learning and becoming a better writer because of listening to those master writers who critique my work and give me positive feedback. I’ve also critiqued writers and given my feedback on their writing. I enjoy the experience of workshopping. I miss the camaraderie and passion of working with other writers.

I was invited and accepted to blog for the Stiletto Gang, thanks to Linda Rodriguez, a Macondista. I met her at an AWP conference in Denver many years ago. She has been instrumental in my writing my first mystery. So I share a post every other month for the Stiletto Gang; she also writes once every other month. I’ll be her partner in crime.

It’s been a year from hell for me but I’ve taken my lemons and made margaritas. Emily Dickinson said it best.

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality.

We slowly drove—He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility—

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess—in the Ring—
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—
We passed the Setting Sun—

Or rather—He passed us—
The Dews drew quivering and chill—
For only Gossamer, my Gown—
My Tippet—only Tulle—

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground—
The Roof was scarcely visible—
The Cornice—in the Ground—

Since then—’tis Centuries—and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity—

Emily Dickenson 1830-1886

Last year I lost my only child, Daniel. This year I’m saying goodbye to my sister, Judy. The circle of life teaches us about death and makes us appreciate our loved ones while they are here on Earth. This post is dedicated to Daniel and Judy.

Juliana Aragón Fatula, a 2022 Corn Mother, women who have earned accolades for community activism and creative endeavors is the author of: Crazy Chicana in Catholic City, Red Canyon Falling on Churches, winner of the High Plains Book Award for Poetry 2016, and a chapbook: The Road I Ride Bleeds, and a member of Colorado Alliance of Latino Mentors and Authors, and Macondo, “a community of accomplished writers…whose bonds reflect the care and generosity of its membership.” She mentors Bridging Borders, a Teen Leadership Program for girls. No justice no peace.

 

crumpled paper with the words ideas

Where Do We Get Our Ideas?

by Sparkle Abbey

crumpled paper with the words ideas

People often ask authors where their ideas for particular books come from. And though it’s quite different from author to author, one thing we’ve discovered from hanging out with other authors is that most have no problem coming up with ideas for stories. In fact, most of us have far more ideas than we’ll ever have the time to write. Story ideas are everywhere.

Writers are innately curious and so a news story, a magazine article, even an obituary can spark a thought that turns into a possibility. The writer imagination is off and running and wondering “what if.” The news of the day may be a big fire at a local business. It could have been faulty electrical wiring, but the writer wonders what if it wasn’t. What if there’s more to the story? What if the fire was actually a cover-up?

Also writers are by nature observers. Yes, that’s us sitting quietly in the corner of the room or on the park bench. That couple holding hands while their body language says there’s something else going on. What’s their story? The three girls in a whispered conversation whose foreheads are almost touching. What secrets are they sharing? The elderly woman with her purse clutched tightly on her lap who keeps checking her watch. Who is she waiting for? And the guy on his phone that looks oddly out of place. Why is he dressed like that with a hat that shades his face? Is he undercover? Perhaps a spy?

Or wait maybe the elderly woman is the spy. Wouldn’t that be a great twist? The guy on his phone may be meeting someone and they’ve gotten lost. We imagine the three teen-aged girls in fifteen years. Will they still be friends? Still sharing secrets? What if they lose touch with each other? What if they don’t? What if a shared secret them keeps them forever bound together?

See how it works? There is drama everywhere, and secrets, and stories. As writers we are sponges for the bits and pieces that are story sparks. We get to bring those stories to life and give them twists and change them around.

Ideas are everywhere.

So now that you know how it works, the only thing to remember is when you’re having a conversation with a writer, and they get that far-away look, there is a good chance they have spotted a potential story across the room and they’re already coming up with ideas. Or the other possibility is that something you’ve said has been the spark, and you’ve provided the story idea.

Writers – Is this how it works for you? Have you come across an interesting story spark that you’ve yet to write?

Readers – How about you? Have you come across an idea that you thought would make a great story?

Do tell…

Mary Lee and Anita

Sparkle Abbey is actually two people, Mary Lee Ashford and Anita Carter, who write the national best-selling Pampered Pets cozy mystery series. They are friends as well as neighbors so they often get together and plot ways to commit murder. (But don’t tell the other neighbors.)

If you want to make sure you get updates, visit them on Facebook and sign up for their newsletter via the SparkleAbbey.com website

Our Addiction to Simplicity-by T.K. Thorne

A friend sent me a little story about someone who mocked a man for buying a fancy car, asking him if he realized how many people the money that he spent on the car could have fed. The man recounted all the jobs that were created to make/sell the car and noted that those jobs fed a lot more people than he could count.

Fair enough. But it ended with this:

“Capitalism is freely giving your money in exchange for something of value.

Socialism is having the government take your money against your will and give it to someone else for doing nothing.”

Sounds very uncomplicated and compelling. But let’s look deeper.

There is no doubt capitalism provides jobs. (But so can socialism or even communism.)

Jobs—or at least working and/or creating something—do contribute to a person’s dignity and self-worth.  . . .Unless that job pays so little, one is scrabbling to feed oneself or family and building a better life is out of reach no matter how hard one works.

Tying self-esteem to work is risky. Overwork can lead to burnout and diminished productivity. There are many benefits to meaningful work, though “meaningful” is defined differently for everyone. Not all work is meaningful in a positive way.

The adage that teaching a person to fish is a better choice than giving a person a fish, rings with truth. . . unless that person is too hungry to learn anything. Then he needs fish first and teaching second.

I’m not an economist, so I’ll stop there. My point is that we humans have a compulsion to simplify.

Why?

The answer to that seems to go back to the way we evolved. We needed shortcuts for everything to function and thus, survive.

My body/mind has figured out (thanks to billions of years of life’s experimentation) how to move to the kitchen when I’m hungry. If you think about what this requires, it is no easy feat. Thousands of complex electro-chemical interactions and coordination involving nerves, muscles, and tendons takes place. If I had to direct this with my conscious mind, I would fail and lie in a puddle on the floor. . . hungry.

The body/mind has shortcuts for almost everything. It takes effort to think through a statement, judge it, weight the “what-ifs?” What is true in one scenario might not be true in another. For example:

It is wrong to kill another. A simplicity that feels true . . . unless your own life is threatened . . . or if your government has decided that other is “the enemy.”

Life is complicated. That’s why we have lawyers.

Seriously, the mind loves simplicity. And it is not “wrong.” If a tiger is coming for you, simple is better.

But our world is also complicated and very divided. And each “side” clings to its precepts without room for expansion or allowance of deviation or “what ifs.” The human brain prefers shortcut belief/value systems, which are more efficient than wasting valuable energy on something it has already “decided.”

For example, I believe education is the fulcrum for elevating society, but I understand a child born into the stress of poverty and constant violence is not on equal footing, and that our world is better if it allows the potential of all to be fulfilled. I willingly give up a portion of what I earn and my time to try and rectify that, understanding that some beneficiaries to that funding and time will choose not to work for it. (I also support a system that primarily helps those who need it and will do their part, but I am not willing to give up on helping if that is an imperfect system.)

A strong military is the best defense, and all must contribute to pay for that, while understanding that human systems will often devolve to some waste and corruption. (I support a system that discourages and punishes that, but I am not willing to give up a strong military to eliminate it.)

I support hospitals administering care in life threatening situations despite the ability of the patient to pay for it. (See comment above re waste and corruption.)

These societal needs require systems that are, frankly, not simple. They could be simpler; they could work much better. But just opting out would cause many unintentional and devastating consequences. Let’s do the hard work, the creative work of figuring it out. Albert Einstein said, “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Do we have the imagination it takes to apply our creativity, technology, and will to the complex problems of our world?

That said, I leave you with a couple of truly simple things:

“Being kind and loving and caring really matters. The truths constantly change and disguise themselves, but being kind and loving and caring always counts.”—Jim Reed

“We can’t just hope for a brighter day, we have to work for a brighter day. Love too often gets buried in a world of hurt and fear. And we have to work to dig it out so we can share it with our family, our friends, and our neighbors.”​—Dolly Parton

T.K. Thorne writes about what moves her, following a flight path of curiosity, reflection, and imagination. Check out her (fiction and nonfiction) books at TKThorne.com.

Clicking Our Heels – Reflections on Being a Member of the Stiletto Gang

Clicking Our Heels-Reflections on Being a Member of the Stiletto Gang

As we begin a new year as the Stiletto Gang, we took the time to reflect on what we each like best about being part of the gang. We also wonder what you, our readers, like best about the Stiletto Gang?

Barbara J. Eikmeier –  I really enjoy the community and how I’ve gotten to know the other gang members through their blog posts even though I’ve only met one in person.

Saralyn Richard – Getting to know other mystery authors who share the milieu with me. We are all different, but we share many of the same values and aspirations.

Dru Ann Love – I like the variety of genres that the group writes.

T.K. Thorne – The comradery of the group. We support each other in lots of ways. And the fact that being responsible to others lights a fire under my butt to write something for my day… sometimes even on my day, but I get it done.

Debra H. Goldstein – I value the friendship and respect we have for each other plus the way we support each other behind the scenes.

Lois Winston – The comraderie and support I receive from my fellow Stilettos. Many have become dear friends, some personally and unfortunately, others only virtually.

Lynn McPherson/Sydney Leigh – It’s the comraderie. Writers supporting writers.

Gay Yellen – It’s the camaraderie. We may be separated by geography and backgrounds, but we share a kinship that seems to deepen as we reveal more about our lives, our thoughts, and our common goal to write good books.

Donnell Ann Bell – I love that the Stiletto Gang members are a great support group. Whether celebrating one another’s joy, or commiserating over someone’s loss, The Stiletto Gang are a compassionate, intelligent, and talented bunch. I’m proud to be listed among them.

Debra Sennefelder – Being a part of a group of wonderful, supportive writers. Community is everything in this business.

Anita Carter (1/2 of Sparkle Abbey) – I love the support and camaraderie of other women mystery writers. It’s a fabulous community! And I find great books to read.

Mary Lee Ashford (1/2 of Sparkle Abbey) – What I love best about being a Stiletto Gang member is the camaraderie and support that the group provides. The publishing business is brutal and having a group of fellow authors who understand and care is priceless.

Bethany Maines – Being exposed to so many great writers!