The Week of Darkness

“Mercedes Benz”
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?

Black Friday has become The Week of Darkness.

I don’t know about you, but I have far more things than I need or that are good for me.

Therefore, this Christmas I’m not buying gifts for you, my friends and family, and I’m asking you not to buy anything for me. Oh, none of you have been naughty. In fact, most of you have filled my year with joy and lifted me up when I’ve fallen. Some of you have very nearly smothered me in advice and love and concern. I thank God for showing me His love through you.

Most of us are generous with our gifts to those less economically fortunate during this season. We do what we can to keep Christ in Christmas, some of us work to keep God in Hanukkah, others strive to keep the teaching of Mohammad in Ramadan.

This year I challenge each and every one of you to double your efforts to feed the hungry, to help those in pain, to reach out to those who are having a year that’s maybe not quite as great as ours has been. We all have good intentions. But, sometimes we think about making that donation, or reaching out to that lost soul, but end up just dropping an extra five in the Salvation Army Santa’s red bucket and trying to feel good about our generosity.

This year I challenge us all to donate to one of the causes listed below, or to post one of your own favorite charities in the comments section. Please, share with me what you’re doing this year to keep this season one of joy and spirituality in the best sense of those overused words.

Soldier on Service Dogs provides trained service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Toys for Tots  Check out this video and donate, please.

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I write cross-genre. Or so the folks that need to know where to put my books on the Barnes and Noble shelf tell me. Since Barnes and Noble isn’t doing particularly well right now, and publishing in general is a kind of crap shoot, I don’t take that cross-genre label too seriously.
However, my newest book, The Perfect Victim, will be released in a few weeks and that’s got me thinking. You see this newest novel is labeled a suspense. And it is. It most surely is. And I’ve not written a suspense before so technically, this is a new genre for me.
But, in truth, I’m a story teller.
Some stories are funny.
Some are dark and gritty.
Some are suspenseful.
Some are fun and light.
Some open doors that make us uncomfortable.
Like life itself, stories are often a mix of all the above.
Those of you who follow this blog know my goal as a novelist is to reveal the truth by telling lies. I wrote The Perfect Victim in order to tell a deep truth. I’m not going to reveal to you what that truth is simply because there is no way I can do so without giving away the plot of the book.
But I hope the book will encourage discussion. I hope some of the scenes in the book make readers uncomfortable. I hope readers close the book with a better understanding of a complicated and difficult subject. I hope book clubs and teachers and librarians and police departments recommend the book and invite me in to discuss the truths revealed in the lies I told. I also hope the book entertains, draws readers into a world they might not be familiar with, and keeps them turning pages all night long so that they go into work the next day with a helluva book hangover and a desire to see what other books I’ve written.
Because in the end, the genre of a book matters little to me or to the reader. It’s the story that matters, it’s how well the lies are told.

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There Be Monsters


Yesterday Jan Morrill, the award winning author of The Red Kimono, and a good friend of mine, posted a blog about the beast within us all. Her point, if I understood it correctly, was that these monsters must be embraced by the writer of truth and exposed to the reader in all their awesome, horrendous beauty. As so often happens among good friends, Jan’s words came at a perfect time in my own life.
I too am struggling with the exposure of a naked, twisted monster.
The Perfect Victim, my seventh book, will be released next month. Those of you who are fans know my books are about relationships. Yes, the characters occasionally have sex. But there has never before in my writing been any need to take the reader inside the bedroom in order tell the story. In fact, it is my belief that we all have active, rich, layered memories of sexual encounters and exploits which generally far exceed reality. I do my best to lead the reader to the open door of the bedroom, invite them inside, and then back slowly away and let imagination fill in the nooks and crannies of the scene.
But for this latest book, The Perfect Victim, I had to bring the reader inside explicit sex. And not sex between two people who love and respect and desire each other but violent, twisted, power-hungry sex. Sex that has little to do with love and everything to do with domination. The book is about how our past so often dictates our present, how a child raised in an abusive household seeks comfortable, familiar patterns in their adult relationships. It’s also about healing and revenge and a woman who wrestles the past around until she can look into the face of the monster and strike a mortal blow.
The story cannot be told without the reader experiencing the peculiar mix of terror and shame, love and acceptance that is carried within children of sexual abuse.
One of the novel’s beta readers told me, “I put the book down over and over, wanted to walk away, but each time, concern for Mary (the point of view character) brought me back within minutes. I HAD do know what happened to her, was cheering for her every step of the way.”
I hope you will feel the same when you read this book, that you will be appalled and frightened and made uncomfortable by Mary’s choices and by the terror-strewn path down which these choices lead. I also hope you will come away with a better understanding of the complexities and long-term consequences for a child for whom trust is broken.
This was a difficult book to write and yet the words poured out of me and onto the page. The entire book was written in eight weeks. Two months of sixteen-hour days in front of a computer living inside the character. This one cost me to write. This one opened a very dark place inside, a place where there be monsters. Grotesque, open-mouthed, hungry beasts that burst forth from my psyche and spilled all over the page.
I hope you will read The Perfect Victim, allow yourself to be seduced by the twisted beauty of the monster exposed in this story, be caught up in the heroes quest, and healed by the transformation of pain into self-acceptance. Like Mary, we all have monsters within us. We also have heroes and saints. In the end, we must accept them all as part of who we are, or live a life where joy is tarnished by the past and dulled by secret denial.

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Aha Moment

Carry Me Home

When Mutual of Omaha sent me an email inviting me to participate in their Aha Moment, I knew exactly which moment I wanted to share.
But sharing that moment in a thirty-second commercial? Holy smoke, you all know me. I have no problem exposing my emotional vulnerabilities but it takes longer than thirty seconds for me to say good morning, let alone draw back the curtain verbally to reveal an epiphany.
Still, I put on my makeup, combed my hair and trotted down to Mutual of Omaha’s cute little Airstream trailer set up on the Fayetteville town square. Now, I do a bit of speaking in front of large groups and I’ve long ago gotten over any stage fright in front of crowds. But this was a whole new experience.
The technicians, a friendly young woman and man recorded my information and brought me inside the Airstream. Told to take a seat in a tiny, curtained alcove surrounded by equipment, I perched my butt on a narrow stool and wished I’d lost those twenty pounds I keep promising myself to lose.
“Just relax,” the lovely young woman said.
Two giant lights came on, and the temperature instantly leaped twenty degrees. My carefully applied makeup began to run in little flesh-toned rivulets. I blinked my eyes. Swallowed. Reminded myself that squinting would intensify those two gigantic vertical wrinkles between my eyes.
“Tell me your story.” A gentle voice said from between the two blinding lights.
Well, here’s the thing.
When I do public speaking, I count on, feed upon, desperately need eye contact from individuals in the audience. Inside this tiny trailer, I was looking into blinding lights. It felt a bit like talking to God. I took a deep breath and remembered the power of the experience I wanted to sharem aank into the strength of the individual man, and the incredible men in general, who gifted me with that moment.
And then I started to talk.
Jack and I were at the VA for one of his appointments. Married to a Vietnam vet, a Marine who stepped on a landmine just outside Danang in ’65, I spend a good bit of time at one VA facility or another. My Life with a Wounded Warrior, my latest book at that time, had just been released and was being used by the local VetCenter to help combat vets in our area of the world.
I was tired and hungry and at that point in a day of VA doctor’s appointments when I felt as though I’d been there forever and there was no hope of ever leaving. Seriously, there comes a point at the VA when I can actually hear Rod Serling’s voice in my head.
A very large man made eye contact with me from down the hall and his eyes immediately crinkled at the corners. Long, salt-and-pepper beard, hair tied in a leather thong at the back of his thick neck, black leather jacket with a small skull on one side and a 1st CAV patch on the other – this grinning man strode directly to me. It was crowded in that VA hallway, but folks got the hell out of his way. He never slowed, came directly to me and wrapped me in a hug.
“You wrote that book.” His breath warmed my neck.
“I did.”
“Thank you. Thank you for writing it and thank you for accepting and understanding us.”
He gave me one more breath-stealing squeeze and then turned and walked away.
I’ve written a lot of books. God willing, I’ll tell more stories and entertain more people as the years go by. But that day, standing in that crowded VA corridor, I understood that in writing that particular book, in exposing my own vulnerability– the pain and joy and challenges and rewards of living with a combat veteran with PTSD – I helped to heal both myself and others.
That was my Aha Moment.
Now, please, clink on this link and watch the video. Vote, of course vote every day from now until October 10th so that this thirty seconds can air on national TV and people will pause for just that brief moment and think about how we might all do a better job as individuals to welcome our warriors back home, to accept and love and understand them for the remarkable men and women they are.
Think too about how we all spend so much of our lives trying to look good to others, when really, it’s sharing our flaws, our imperfections and struggles that help best to heal ourselves and others.
I think that friendly young man and woman from Mutual of Omaha did a fine job of squeezing all that into thirty seconds, don’t you?

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pam pulling hair 002Usually I avoid social media tags. The last one required me to make a decidedly odd post on Facebook in order to support cancer research. How on earth the idiotic post helped cancer research I have no idea, but in the spirit of not wanting to invite the wrath of the cancer gods, I went along with the chain and confused the bejesus out of several friends.

But when my sister-writer Alice White asked me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour, I accepted the tag. More as a symbol of support for a fine writer than anything else. And then my husband had some health issues which required a hospital stay and a couple of trips to the ER and I managed to loose an entire state while making arrangements for a speaking engagement –there are so many Boone Counties in the south- and, abracadabra, the blog tour flew out of my head.

Alice emailed me this morning and asked, ever so nicely and even in the email I could hear her delightful British accent, if I had forgotten or was merely late with my post. Well, both actually. So here’s the post. I hope you find it as enjoyable to read as I found it to write.

Here we go.

First question: What am I working on?
Right this moment, I’m working on the presentation I’ll be giving at The Boone County Arkansas library next Tuesday night and The Boone County Missouri Historical Society on Saturday the 20th. Both venues asked for a straight author’s talk and because I write cross-genre and my last two published books are very different one from the other, I’m writing about what all of my writing has in common. From Ridgeline, a dark western about a tormented civil war veteran that would be perfect for a Quentin Tarintino movie, to Noisy Creek, a playful southern romp that explores friendship and aging and younger men–all my books are written in deep point of view with a rich sense of place. There are several other unique components to my writing style, but I’m not giving everything away for free, you’re going to have to drive out to one of the Boone Counties to discover them all.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Well, the answer to this question is partly explained in the answer to that first question. I write contemporary novels, personal essays, humor, travel memoirs,and westerns. In all these genres, as with all good writers, my style and voice are different from anyone else’s. My characters, with only one deliberate exception –Jeremiah, the civil war veteran in Ridgeline with what was then called soldiers heart and which we now label post-traumatic stress–my characters all experience the small daily joys that make us, even in bad times, get up in the morning and see what life sends us.

Why do I write what I do?
Ah, that’s simple. Because when the characters come to me, they will not go away until I get to know them, put their stories on paper, and give wordy flesh to their promptings. I write quite a lot about post-traumatic stress in combat veterans – My Life with a Wounded Warrior, Clueless Gringos in Paradise, and, of course, Ridgeline. But I don’t write ONLY about PTSD. I don’t write ONLY about any one topic. How tiresome that would be. For me, and for the reader.

How does my writing process work?
I know we writers like to pretend that our process is a mystery bordering on the spiritual, but honestly, I just sit in a chair, get out of the way, and let the characters speak through my fingertips.
The hard part is keeping my butt in the chair and not over-thinking everything and making the process complicated.
Along these same lines, people often ask me if I have a cure for writers’ block. Well, yeah. Write. Write through the so-called block. Write until the story comes to you.

That’s it. That’s the end of the questions. I hope you enjoyed this short diversion from my usual rants on cashew nuts or dog treats.
Let me know what you think, please. It encourages me to keep sharing. Besides it will make Alice smile and she needs a good grin about now.
By the way, Jan Morrill, Beth Carter, Claire Croxton, R. K. Burkett, and yes, even you Greg Camp, you’re tagged. If you can’t fulfill this mission, just send me a nasty email. I’ll file it with the rest of em.

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Truth is Complicated

dad and daughter dancing

Much of my writing features a strong father-daughter bond. My newest novel, Noisy Creek is no exception. I’ve talked before in this blog about my complicated and multi-layered relationship with my own father. Much of who I am today came from growing up with a complicated man who loved me to the best of his ability – my strength, my refusal to take guff from anyone, my belief in my God-given worth as a human being – all these came from Dad.

dad % me % vickie
But these qualities did not come to me gift wrapped in the pretty paper of a happy childhood. No, they came at the end of long, winding paths in woods that were very dark indeed. As an adult, I sometimes smile at the average, puny attempts at manipulation I see around me. Shake my head in wonder at people, people my own age who should know better, who still have not grasped the concept that we cannot control the choices of others or that our self-worth does not come from outside ourselves.
Dad did the best he could. And both his successes and his failures taught me to accept and love people for who they are, not who I want them to be. Still, fans are familiar with my need to recreate the father-daughter bond, to twist the truth just enough to reveal the deep-seated need we all carry for parental approval and love. Here’s an excerpt that shows how that need bubbled up from my past and ended up on the pages of my latest novel, Noisy Creek.

Ardell reminds me of the time when the two of us called Daddy from a pay phone in the gym where we were attending our very first high school dance.
“We hadn’t talked of nothing else for a week,” she remembers. “Made our own dresses. Yours was pale blue with a rounded collar edged in lace.”
I loved the way the rayon swished over my butt every time I took a step. “Lord, I thought I was the prettiest thing in the county that night. You were a mighty close second in that peach chiffon with the daring V-neck. That dress showed not a smidgen of cleavage but, Lord have mercy, that fabric did cling in all the right places and hint at the glory that was yours under that soft fabric.”
Ardell goes on with the reminiscing. “Mr. Crawley, the English teacher and junior class advisor, he put the two of us in charge of the punch bowl. That man was gorgeous, and didn’t we all secretly love him? Fresh from student teaching up near Oglethorpe and filled with ideas. That special afterschool reading group he put together where we sat around in giggling bunches reading Catcher in the Rye and Madame Bovary.”
The air up this high is crisp with the sharp astringent mix of pine and juniper. I reach across the limestone and take the hand of my best friend.
Her voice is low, almost rote, but she doesn’t flinch, keeps telling the story.
“Midway through the dance, right as Gary Mullens, the band’s lead singer, was yelling ‘I can’t get no-o sat-is-fac-tion!,’ Mr. Crawley asked me to go into the coach’s office with him. Said he needed my help to carry out more bottles of punch.”
Even after all these years, I can’t help making excuses for not being with her. “He told me to stay there. ‘Somebody needs to stay at the ole punch bowl,’ is what he said.
God, that man was good looking. If you had asked me just then, I’d have told you that Ardell and I would have done anything for him. I was young and once again wrong. Ardell came back from the coach’s office ten minutes later, her eyes shiny, and her lipstick smeared.
“Soon as I saw you, I called Daddy. Didn’t tell him anything. Just said we needed him to come and carry us home. Now.”
A lot of years have come and gone. Ardell and I have had ourselves a fair number of adventures and what gets called life experiences since that night. But we both agree that nobody has ever looked as big or as strong or as wonderful as Daddy when he strode into the gym that night. There was no big scene, and we never did find out what happened to Mr. Crawley. When we came back to school, Mrs. Finkle had taken over his afterschool reading group as well as his regular English classes. Rumors flew for a while there about why he’d packed up and fled the county, but the man was never heard from in these parts again.

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Killer Cashews


Some of you know all about how Jack and I moved to the country of Panama with two giant service dogs tethered to our wrists at all times. If not, here’s your chance–click here right this moment, buy Clueless Gringos in Paradise, and laugh yourself silly. One of the joys of living in a country where you did not grow up and where nearly everything is exotic and exciting is in sampling fruits and vegetable that you’ve never seen before in your life, or in experiencing them in a totally different way.
Cashews are a good example.
We had four cashew trees in our yard. When I first saw them, I actually said to a Panamanian friend, “Oh look at that fruit! That little thingie on the end looks just like a cashew!”
Well, I was speaking in childish Spanish so it’s possible I said nothing of the sort, but that’s what I meant to say. I once waved a handful of seedpods and flowers at two lovely old ladies I met while walking in the jungle and told them I was looking for my ass, when what I meant to say was that I was looking for treasure. Tesoro-treasure. Trasero-ass.
So, back to those cashew trees.
I was fascinated with them. I picked the fruit–which begins to rot about two minutes after it’s picked–and put it in my morning smoothie. Waited impatiently for the nut to be ready to harvest. The internet explained the roasting process. Roast the nut over an outdoor grill until no more oil came from the between the shell and the meat. Simple, right?
We had a giant outdoor grill. When I told my roasting plans to our gardener, Jose, he shook his head violently and went off with a burst of Spanish of which I understood only that I was not to roast them myself, he would do it. Well, since he didn’t even like me to pick my own fruit, I figured job security was his objection.
On his day off, I picked a hundred or so nuts, built up the fire and began my new experience. How fun! Roasting cashews from my own trees. Wouldn’t the folks back in foggy Humboldt County be jealous?
Gosh. There was really a lot of oil dripping onto the fire from those nuts. Made for a lot of smoke and for bad flare-ups. No problem. I put a large roasting pan under the nuts to catch the drips. Hmm. The pan filled fast and had to be wrestled from the coals and dumped every hour or so. This was a bit more work than I anticipated. Still, at the end of the day I had a lovely big pile of blackened cashews. I decided I’d let Jose do the cracking.
That night, Jack became amorous. Yes, that piece of information is important to the story.
The next morning I woke to darkness. Both eyes swollen shut, hands and arms covered with a rashy-burn so bad the skin peeled off in waxy layers. Jose arrived and went off on another machine gun burst and threw away all my roasted cashews.
Jack had a rash spreading from every single place I’d touched him the night after the cashew roasting. Think about that for just a moment. The redness and itching was like some creeping fungus. He developed a low-grade fever. His throat ached. We drove into Panama City and found a doctor. Stayed in the city for a week while he got steroid shots twice a day. He took steroid pills for two weeks. When the prescribed doses stopped, the rash came back. With a vengeance. Another week in the city. Followed by six weeks on sterioids.
Here’s a little fact I did not know about cashew nuts and that I did not find on the internet until after I’d almost killed my husband.
The oil between the shell of a cashew and the nut’s meat has the same molecular makeup as poison oak. Except it’s about a hundred times more potent.
Here’s a little lesson for any of you who travel or live in lands exotic and unfamiliar to you. When a local tells you something, listen.

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