My first essay

Several months ago, I attended a writing workshop that prompted me to try my hand at essay writing. I wrote something I was happy with and, at the advice of several writer friends, sent it out to a few places. Then, as usual, I collected a series of rejects. Now, I get to add newspapers and magazines to my list of rejection sources, which is fine. Rejection is just part of the deal when you write for publication. When I did find a home for it, I was frankly, surprised that I’d finally received a yes. You’ll find it published on The Good Men Project, a place I plan to send more essays to as they come to me. But, considering it’s been MONTHS since I’ve blogged, I’ll post it here too. Let me know what you think of it. And if  you’ve already read it, I hope you’re not sick of seeing it. 

All I had worth stealing was my peace

He rifled through my drawers but the only thing he could find to tie my hands with was the charging cable for my Kindle.

I lay face down on my bed, listening to him tramping up and down the wooden stairs of my Baltimore row house, looking for things to steal. I’d already told him I didn’t have anything. No cash. No jewelry. Still, he searched.

I’d been in my office on the second floor, happy to have a day off to work on my latest novel. It was the first day of what would turn out to be sixteen days of a government shutdown and the reason why, every time there is talk of a shutdown, these memories come flooding back. That Monday, the day I was robbed, was the first day of my furlough.

I wasn’t supposed to be home.

On a normal day, he would have climbed through the tall, skinny window that faced the alley, torn open the screen, broken the slat blinds and found an empty house.

In my office, my brain had just settled into a creative mode. I’d written a sentence, maybe two when I heard the commotion downstairs, noise I at first attributed to my cats. But the ruckus was more than even their usual rambunctiousness could explain. So, I’d gone to investigate.

As I lay on my bed, my hands loosely bound behind my back, I heard him in the basement and pictured him pulling out each of the perfectly fitted baskets from my Pottery Barn coffee table. I heard him in the dining room as he wrestled with the finicky drawers in my antique china cabinet. I knew, no matter where he looked, he wouldn’t find what he wanted. I wanted him to take whatever he could find, anything and leave. I just wanted him to leave.

I’d finally convinced him to take my debit card. I gave him the four digit pin, repeating the number so that he’d remember it. He looked at that card, then looked at me. He knew. He wasn’t stupid. He knew that if he used that card, not only would they have my description of him, they would be able to trace his movements. I could see in his eyes that he knew this. He made another choice. He took the card, repeated the numbers, then marched me upstairs.

I wondered what he needed so badly that he would make that disastrous choice.

He could have just shoved me into my bedroom and closed the door. He could have warned me not to call the police. At that point, he still had a chance, still had an opportunity to recover from his bad decisions. Instead, he’d found my Kindle charger and used it to tie my wrists.

After about ten more minutes of rummaging around, I’d heard him leave.

It took seconds for me to free myself and dial 911. And it took seconds for the first officer to arrive. And just a few seconds more for my home to be filled with detectives and fingerprint people and more officers. Hours in an interrogation room, a metal chair, a metal table, questions, questions. Repeating the story to, first one, than another, than a third detective, describing the man over and over.

Shortly after he’d left my house, he’d used the debit card at an ATM, so of course, about three weeks later, he was arrested.

They called me in to pick him out in a photo lineup. I was nervous. When they showed me the six faces on the laser printed sheet, there he was, in the lower left corner. I stared him in the eyes in that black and white photo and saw the same sense of loss I’d seen when his gaze met mine after he’d climbed through my window.

He looked exactly as I remembered in that lineup photo. He’d worn jeans, a purple t-shirt, a dark hoodie and Timberland boots. I’d remembered he was tall, like my brother, Larry. He was slender, like my cousin Johnny. His skin was smooth, like dark chocolate, like my nephew Reuben and his hair was short cropped, like my cousin Billy. He was a clean, normal looking, black man in his late 20s or early 30s, like so many of the black men I know and love.

But this one had robbed me and tied me up. He’d had some sort of prior conviction so, after pleading guilty, the court sentenced him to 10 to 15 years behind bars. The numbers didn’t bring me any peace.

The memory that nagged at me was the look of shock on his face when he saw me, then he had looked up to the ceiling, as if to say to himself, “God damn it! She wasn’t supposed to be home.”

When I allow myself to remember that look, that curse to his fate, I realize that despite my nice home and nice furnishings and good car and steady job, not one bit of it was worth stealing or the price someone would pay to try to take it. He’d gone to all that trouble for absolutely nothing. If only he’d told me of his plans before he’d climbed through the window, I could have warned him he’d set his sights on the wrong target.

Of course, I never really felt safe in my house after that. And as much as he had searched, the only thing he’d taken from me, was my peace of mind.

Some might have the luxury of thinking that an arrested robber is our justice system at work. But to feel that way, you’d have to forget about what that system does to young black men who make the wrong choices. You’d have to forget about the lives that are ruined, about the men who are warehoused and used for slave labor, and then labeled and targeted and stuck in a perpetual loop of prison since no one will hire a convict and what do you expect a man to do when he has zero choices? And maybe that prior five year sentence had left him with no choices and his need was greater than the series of stupid decisions he made when he climbed through my window.

Sure he’d made his choices, choices that, if he’d been anyone else might have meant something completely different.

If he’d been some suburban young man who had been in a bar fight, would he even have had prison time on his record? Or would he have gone to jail, paid a fine, and been sent home? If he’d been a blond guy who’d broken into my house to feed an opioid addiction, would he have been given treatment instead of maximum security? If he’d been a collage athlete with a rich father and a lacrosse scholarship, would the judge have argue that ten years was simply too harsh a punishment for someone with such a promising future?

But he wasn’t any of those things.

When I think about the guy who robbed me, now, I think about the fact that he was tall, like my brother Larry, slender, like my cousin Johnny, with smooth, dark chocolate skin, like my nephew Reuben. And because he made the wrong choice at the wrong moment, because he’d found the only possible thing he could have used to tie my hands with, he’d have another conviction in a repetitive, life-ruining prison future, just like my cousin Billy.

Trifecta of creativity

How do you measure creativity? Is it liquid so you can measure it in a cup or a bucket and carry it? Maybe it’s wind since I often say someone’s creativity blew me away. Or is creativity something solid that smacks you upside the head?

Three things that carried, blew, smacked me this week.

First, is the novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. I’d never heard of it, but evidently it was a big hit and all the talk when it first came out in 2014. Not her first book, Claire North made a name for herself after this one came on the scene and I understand why. Continue reading

I keep saying yes

I once heard someone say, “My dance card is full.” I understood what they really meant was that they were overbooked, had too much to do, maybe had said yes one too many times.

There was a time when I lived by the creed that you could never have too many invitations to dance. If too many people asked, just bring ‘em ALL out on the dance floor! In my younger years, when I wore shiny silver platform shoes and dance shorts under my dresses for those times when I was flung over someone’s head, a good disco evening was when most of it was spent under the glitter ball, leaving your sweat on the multicolored floor of flashing lights. Continue reading

This is my rifle

**Warning** political rant – I know. as an author I’m supposed to keep my trap shut when it comes to this stuff, but feck it. I can’t right now.**

I’m a slick sleeve. I don’t have a combat patch. I don’t know what it’s like to hear a bullet meant to kill me as it zips by my head. I’ve never seen a fellow soldier killed nor have I ever killed anyone. The entire time I was in uniform, if you can imagine it, this country was at peace.  Perhaps my opinion about weapons, for those reasons, count for shit.

Despite the peace through which I served, I still had to fire a weapon at least annually. Every time I aimed my M16 at a human-shaped target, and every time I pulled the trigger, I felt mixed emotions. Part of me loved it. The power, the feeling of success for striking where I aimed –which was rare. I enjoyed the way I imagined I looked—all helmet and ammo pouches and dusty boots and that sleek looking weapon in the hands of a woman in the best shape of her life. I’d smile my wide, white smile, my dark brown skin glistening under a sweat stained helmet band and stroll out to the target, the business end of the weapon pointed down range, and count the holes I’d made. I’d analyze my shot group, which was usually crap, like I knew what I was looking at and knew exactly what to do to improve it. For most of my career in uniform I was a terrible shot.

But that didn’t stop me from looking forward to the times when we checked out weapons and spent a day on the range.

Continue reading

A different kind of writing contest

Once again, I’m helping best selling  author RR Haywood judge the semi-annual writing contest he conducts in his closed The Living Army or TLA Facebook group. The group, made up of a couple thousand mostly British, American and Australian fans of his Undead zombie horror series, has lately become populated with fans of his new best selling time travel series, Extracted.

His Undead series, which now numbers 26 books, each of them best sellers on their own, is the kind of series with which fans become obsessed and inevitably find themselves looking for like-minded readers. It’s that search for connection with others who share obsessions which spawned the TLA  group, many of whom have read the entire series a number of times, have listened to them in audiobook and spend days and days arguing over who should be in the dream casts for hopeful TV and movie adaptations. (Hint, hint, movie and TV producers. This series is screaming for TV time.) I reviewed one of the books in the series here. Continue reading

My best reads in 2017

best of 2017I was asked by Andria Williams to participate in her annual Women Writers Recommend Books blog post she puts together for her Military Spouse Book Review, site. I never turn down a chance to spread the word about good books. And 2017 was an especially busy reading year since I had to take any and every opportunity to escape from the reality of 2017 … if you know what I mean.

Some of the best I read this year were, Dinner at the Center of the Earth, by Nathan Englander, In Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen, A Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon and Janet Oakley’s expertly researched historical thriller, The Jossing Affair.

Andria told us to giver her our top three books of this year. An impossible task! So, I’m going to cheat and give you my top three picks, in no particular order, which all happen to be part of a larger series. Continue reading

I love soup

I love soup. Almost every day for lunch I eat a salad and homemade soup of one sort or another. I’ve been making soup for years and it’s nothing for me to whip up something on a Saturday morning, freezing some so that I have enough to last a few weeks. I thought I knew quite a bit about making soup.

Until I went to a, “Chef’s Table” meal on the cruise I took. Continue reading

New Release

The opposite of rejection is acceptance. I’ve had plenty of rejection in this writing life. The stack of letters I’ve saved over the years sits in a file drawer. I keep them, thinking one day I might go back and read them again, but I never do. I just collect more.

It’s partly because of that folder full of carefully worded and imaginative ways of saying no, that I’m so excited to be a part of The Sexy Librarian’s Dirty Thirty Vol. 2, released today. My story, ‘Spider Two Come In,’ is part of this steamy erotic anthology and I couldn’t be more proud.

Acceptance, no matter how rare, makes the rejections worth it. Continue reading

Interview – Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Too often, authors create one dimensional super-killers in uniform who cold-heartedly carry out his or her duty like a robot. The character perpetuates the myth that the military is filled with people who mindlessly do what they’re told regardless of right or wrong. Orders are orders, in these worlds and service members shouldn’t think for themselves.

I’m convinced authors regurgitate the TV and movie style combatant because the number of people who know and understand real military life is minuscule compared to those who haven’t served. People simply make it up, call it creative license and do whatever they think makes for the best plot.

Often times, these are the books I want to throw across the room.

TrackersOn the other hand, there are some who go the extra mile, do some research and present accurate portrayals of military members and veterans. They work at getting at the truth of what goes through the mind and soul of people trained to go to battle, why they do it, what their motivation might be, and how what soldiers do impacts them before, during and after their service.

Nicholas Sansbury Smith, while never having served in uniform, masterfully draws three dimensional characters in uniform in all of his books. Many readers are familiar with the soldiers in his bestselling Extinction Cycle series which features Delta Force teams up against a deadly threat and a world in collapse. Through the multiple books in this series, we watch a team of men who had fought side by side for years in hot spots around the world. They weren’t best friends. They didn’t all hang out together, but they knew each other professionally and, like most people who go into danger with weapons in their hands, their connections are visceral and organic. When they lose half their team in one encounter with a kind of threat they’d never seen before, it rips them apart. They drive on, they continue to function and Smith shows us what it takes to continue your mission even though you’re torn up inside.

Continue reading

It’s been a year?

Learning of his death was hard to believe. Even harder to believe is that it was one year ago today. RIP Prince.

I wrote this short story upon learning the news. I am reposting it here in remembrance of the legend.

Rock Star – A short story

“Two Tom Collins, two rum and cokes, one with lime, one with lemon and a Heineken. Anything else?”

“I’d like a water please.”

“Of course. Water all around.”

The five women would nurse their drinks slowly, mixing in sips of water, marking time until they found likely admirers to buy their next rounds. Marcie had observed the efforts of this group of girlfriends before in their sparkly dresses, platform shoes, big hair and flirtatious ways. While Marcie didn’t exactly approve of their strategy, she had to admit it usually worked for them. Sometimes, the men they lured tipped big to impress, so Marcie didn’t mind the women’s slow consumption. Considering the growing Friday night crowd, her patience would probably pay off.

The shiny silver dance floor reflected the fractured gleam of a large, mirrored ball onto a small group of line dancers, regulars warming up before the club filled with amateurs who would just get in their way. Continue reading

R. R. Haywood’s *Write A Chapter* Contest

You’re going to want to enter this contest.

If you read this blog at all, you know I’m a big fan of R. R. Haywood’s Undead series and that I love hanging out in his Living Army Facebook group. It’s a lively place with lots of motley characters who all have a love of the written word either as readers or as writers.

About six months ago, Haywood held a *Write A Chapter* Contest. He provided a prologue and then asked contestants to add 500 words to it. The one who made the best use of those 500 words was the winner.

Guess who won. Go ahead. Guess.

Yep. That was this girl (double thumb point).

Continue reading

A chat with the author of Chaos Theory, Rich Restucci

chaos-theoryIf you haven’t found it already, ‘Book Reviews N’ Stuff is a public Facebook group  started by R.R. Haywood as an offshoot of his The Living Army  closed page. It’s a great place to read honest reviews on a variety of books in a wide range of genres. If you’re an author, it’s also a place where you can go to request reviews. Just be prepared for the reviewers to be honest. They are not about sugar coating and since they aren’t being paid for their efforts, their reading time is precious to them. If they didn’t like your book, they will tell you and anyone following the page, what they really think.

One of the intrepid reviewers, Lyndsey McDermott, had this to say about Rich Restucci’s book, Chaos Theory:   The zompoc genre is very easy to do badly and it can be hard for an author to stand out amongst the crowd. The author manages to keep the action going, our interest held and aforementioned gripes aside, [Chaos Theory] was a good read which has the potential to be far better. It ends on a suitable cliffhanger leaving the reader eager for the sequel.

Lyndsey has a lot more to say about the book. You can read the entire review here. After reading Chaos Theory myself, I had a few questions for the author.  In his bio, Rich Restucci describes himself as “a practicing chemist and writer. His stories have been published in Dead Worlds 7 and Feast or Famine. He enjoys drinking beer, stocking up on weapons and supplies, and reading/writing anything zombie related. Rich resides with his family in Pembroke, Massachusetts.”

Me: In the acknowledgements of your book, you thank people for encouraging you to publish. Did you write this story without the intention to publish? Has the experience of publishing this series been what you expected?

 Rich: This book was written with the intent of publishing each chapter, one at a time, to a website in blog format. The website is zombiefiend.com. I did that for a while and the readers seemed to enjoy it. Several of the readers and many of my online friends told me I should self-publish it, which I researched. I compiled the blog posts and ended up going with Severed Press, who had already published my first novel, Run. Severed was excited to get a second story line from me, and their excitement got me excited. Insofar as my expectations, I really didn’t have any. I was hoping the book would be well received, and it seems to have been. I don’t think of myself as a professional writer, more of a hobbyist, so when the book began to sell, I was very happy. Continue reading

Two big things

First, a whole bunch of the Lei Crime Kindle World authors got together for a Valentine’s Day Facebook hop. Some lucky person is going to win a $170.00 Amazon gift card. You don’t want to miss this contest.

The sweet part, aside from thlei-crime-valentinese fat gift card, is that each Facebook post features a unique Hawaiian recipe –Get it? The sweet part? Since most of the Lei Crime stories take place in Hawaii, the recipes get you closer to the world. I want to try them all. Hawaiian king bread, Kalua pork and cabbage, Hawaiian pineapple Cake… So many yummy and fairly easy ideas to bring to the table.

All you have to do is visit some Facebook pages, leave comments and move onto the next one. Lots of us are playing. You can start on my page (www.facebook.com/mldoyleauthor) and go get familiar with other authors who write in the Lei Crime world. It’s a talented bunch who write mystery, romance, fantasy and much more.

The second big thing is the Association of Writer’s and Writing Programs (AWP) is this weekend. I’m so excited to be going back again this  year. I will be on a panel alongside some amazing veteran writers. I went to AWP for the first time last year and the experience had a lasting impact. I wrote about it when I got home and now I can’t wait to see some of the friends I made. Here’s a description of the panel I will be on. It would be great fun to see you there!

Friday, February 10, 2017

9:00 am to 10:15 am

Marquis Salon 6, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two

F110. The Middle Americans: How Flyover Country Responds to War. (, , , , ) By various measures, rural Americans are more likely to enlist in the US armed forces. Despite isolation from traditional centers of publishing and military power, voices with Midwestern roots have sprung forth like dragon’s teeth to deliver clear-eyed, plainspoken views of war, service, and sacrifice. The civilians and veterans of this stereotype-busting panel of published writers offer their insights regarding themes, trends, and markets in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

 

An interview with Susanne Aspley

granolaFull disclosure, Susanne Aspley is not just a friend of mine, she’s a sister. I say that because we served in uniform together and aside from blood relationships, wearing the same uniform while enduring service in butt-crack parts of the world can bring a closeness that is not achievable any other way.

Most recently, the butt-crack part of life we’re sharing is that of finding the right words to put on the page. We commiserate together, encourage each other, and now that she has released her latest work, I get to celebrate it with her and share in her excitement. I’m so glad the rest of the world can now read this book.

The first time Susanne handed me her work to read I was nervous. I knew she could write. I’d read plenty of her work as a journalist. I just didn’t know what she would do when it came time to write a novel. As it turned out, Ladyboy and the Volunteer was easily one of the best books I’d read in a while. Susanne won a bunch of accolades for it, deservedly so, and I couldn’t have been happier for her.

LadyboyOver the last year or more, like any good author, Susanne struggled with her latest book, Granola, MN. I’d get email and text messages from her screaming that she didn’t know what she was doing, that everything was shit. Weeks later she’d be happy that her main characters, Allison and Toby, had worked things out, only to grow frustrated with them again. All the while I looked forward to reading the story because I knew that if Granola was anywhere near as interesting and funny and quirky and brilliant as Ladyboy was, I’d be looking forward to hours of reading enjoyment.

I’m happy to report that Granola, MN, is Aspley at her best. It’s a story of love and healing told with a kind of humor that sometimes sneaks up on you and at other times smacks you in the face. She shows us a world through the eyes of someone who is unapologetic in her naivete which means she moves through life with an artless candor that is amusing and heartbreaking at the same time.

Just when you thought a topic might be something growing a little bit stayed, a little bit worn down, maybe something you thought you understood, Aspley gives us a completely unexpected viewpoint that makes it fresh and absorbing. I admit to reading this in small bits then going back to it like a treat I horded because I didn’t want it to be over. Lord knows, I needed a laugh at the time. If you feel like that at all, you’re going to want to read this.

Here is the blub:

Allison Couch has her hands full dealing with the assorted flakes, fruits and nuts in the small town of Granola. One summer morning, Toby Davenport moves back home. A young, black, Afghanistan War veteran, he has a heart of gold but a guilt-fueled addiction. Together, they take on parades, pit bull rescues, game show auditions, driving lessons, building inspectors, racism and falling in love. Heartbreaking, slapstick, and rambunctious, life never goes as planned. But there’s always hope, in Granola, Mn.  

It’s a fantastic book. One I hope you’re going to enjoy as much as I did. Here is my interview with Susanne. Leave a comment and win one of three AUTOGRAPHED trade paperback copies of the book.

But, before we get to the interview, Susanne and I will both be attending The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) in Washington, D.C. from Feb. 8 to 11. Susanne will be a panelist on Thur. Feb. 9, for Citizen-Soldier-Poet: Using Poetry to Bridge the Civil-Military Gap. She will share the panel with Tessa Poppe, Frances, Richey and Eric Chandler with Randy Brown facilitating.

I will be on a panel on Fri. Feb. 10, for The Middle Americans: How Flyover Country Responds to War. I’m looking forward to speaking with Randy Brown leading the discussion, along with Kayla Williams, Mathew Hefti and Angela Rickets.

I’m looking forward to meeting up with the thousands of authors and readers who attend AWP each year.

Now, here’s the interview with Susanne. And don’t forget to leave a comment to enter to win an autographed copy of the book. Continue reading