I’m Still Here

And I find myself attempting to write poetry.

Window poem

A VIEW FROM MY WINDOW
It is raining outside my window.
Climate scientists predict New England will be a tropical rain forest in the future.
It’s not hard to imagine.
Average rainfall in Vermont is 36.7 inches.
Days w/ precipitation – 151.

Fog enveloped many of our days this year.
Literally.
And existentially.

It is 4 days to the midterm elections.
My younger daughter in Montana sends a text.
“If we don’t win the House we’re fucked.”
Indeed.
That is not exaggeration.

I light a fire in the wood stove.
And gaze out the window
Where the leaves have dropped and the rain pours down.
A stained glass piece made by a friend in Rhode Island hangs in the window.
Its prism captures rainbows.
When the sun shines.

Pheasant feathers to the right were given to me by my friend’s daughter when I visited South Dakota.
The turkey feather to the left was found in our backyard.
A local artist made the vase.

I brought the pine cone home from Colorado where my oldest daughter now lives.
I don’t know why I carried it home from the Rocky Mountains to the Green Mountains.
There are plenty of pine cones in my Vermont yard.
To the left of the pheasant feathers is a piece of wood Rich found in our yard in New Hampshire.
Where we once lived and raised our daughters.
He thought it looked like a bird.
It does.
If you have the ability to form new ideas.
To ask Why Not.

This found treasure came with us to Florida where we also once lived.
Then moved to the B&B in Connecticut where we worked as innkeepers.
There’s a long skinny piece of wood you can’t make out.
Below the crank that opens the window.
Discovered on a hike in Lake Tahoe when our peripatetic eldest child lived there.
We all agree it looks like a snake.

The views out my windows hold stories of our life and of a country we were once proud to call home.

I am older now.
My life savings won’t cover an exodus.
My daughters are here.
Out West.
Across the Great Divide.

I don’t know what the future holds.
I long to be home.
With a still life of a window
In a country I once knew.

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More From The National Civil Rights Museum

When we left the National Civil Rights Museum my husband and I were deeply moved. He said, “Every American needs to visit this place.” And he’s right.

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THE LORRAINE HOTEL: MEMPHIS, TN Rich and I were deeply moved by our visit to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. My husband is not a very sentimental guy or at least he’s not very good at expressing emotions. He was brought up in a family of nine, seven of them boys. Some of his older brothers were exposed to the problems within the Catholic church. I don’t talk about it often, it’s their story to tell and some of them have shared it with the Boston Globe. That’s Rich’s reflection in the window looking into the hotel room were Martin Luther King Jr. was staying the night before he was assassinated. From the time you enter the museum and travel through 500 years of slavery and through The Reformation, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, then the hotel room where you leave the building and cross the street to the warehouse where the sniper took aim, it is impossible to not leave here without being deeply moved. As Rich said when we left, “Every American needs to visit this place.” “And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!” – Martin Luther King Let’s make that happen in our lifetime, please. It’s shameful how things are moving backwards. #nationalcivilrightsmuseum #mlkquote #blacklivesmatter #messagesfromamerica #refectionsinawindow #untiltheroadends

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NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM – MEMPHIS, TN A visit to this interactive museum impresses upon the participant the power and necessity of protest and speaking up in a democracy run by We The People. From Rosa Parks to the diners that had “No Coloreds Allowed” signs on the door, acts of civil disobedience required bravery to make a difference. We need to be reminded of this every once in awhile when times of complacency and apathy set in. The Days of Trump were not an overnight occurrence. It was a decades long disaster in the making. #wethepeople #thislandisyourland #civildisobedience #teachyourchildrenwell #historymatters #blacklivesmatter #visitamuseum #blueridgeadventurevehicles #messagesfromamerica #untiltheroadends #thedaysoftrump

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If you enjoy the stories you’ll love the books. Under The Same has received wonderful reviews. I am deeply humbled and hope this book can reach more people because it’s message is so very important.

And I’m not sure what’s going on with my second novel, Take Me Home, but it’s having a resurgence of sales and picking up more reviews. So thank you to everyone who’s reading and reviewing.

bit.ly/sheilablanchetteauthor

 

A Visit to the National Civil Rights Museum – Part One

I’m sharing Stories From the Road over on my Instagram account and will start sharing them here too. I love using pictures and words to tell a story and it’s easier to post a short story over on Instagram, hit the Facebook and Twitter buttons, and get a one stop shop for social media advertising.

Typos are a problem because my old 2002 Subaru bounces along the highways and scenic byways. Late at night in a timeshare or hotel room I find myself lying in bed editing. I am the queen of typos even without the potholes and sudden stop and go of heavy traffic.

One of the highlights of our trip has been the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Here are the pictures and words:

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FROM THE ROAD: LOVIN’ MEMPHIS We were on the road from Asheville to Memphis for 8 hours. The air conditioning wasn’t working and Rich was cranky. We were trying to make it by 3 o’ clock because the National Civil Rights Museum closes at five. I don’t know where to begin with this story of Memphis. This city stole our hearts and if you’ve read my books you know I have a hard time telling a story in a straight line. But I’ll start at the beginning when we got to the museum at 4:15 and stood outside the Lorraine Hotel. My eyes teared up. We both felt we were walking into history. What a special, sacred place this is. It tells the story from slavery to civil rights. A complicated, sad, often shameful piece of history. It broke our hearts and as Rich said, “Every American needs to visit this place.” I took so many photos and I’ll share them but I’m going to start with this little girl, Sheila Malone, who spoke to Sheila Blanchette née McGowan and gave me hope to keep my chin up and keep fighting for what is right and just. This is what little Sheila Malone said the day she started 1st grade at one of the 13 Memphis schools to integrate: “I said, ‘If he calls me a nigger again I’m going to hit him.’ And when he got ready to say it, I hit him in the mouth…An he started to holler, ‘She hit me, she hit me!’ And the policeman said, ‘Well you shouldn’t have called her a nigger.” More stories to come from Memphis but right now I’m tired and deeply moved by this amazing American city. #storiesfromtheroad #memphisblues #americancities #blacklivesmatter #speakup #bebrave #teachyourchildrenwell #civilrightsmuseum #resist #historymatters #messagesfromamerica

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THE STORY BEHIND THE REVERSE COMMUTE

I thought if I wrote the story readers would understand and empathize with the struggle of the American middle class.

Five years later, Trump was elected and so many people were shocked.

“I didn’t see this coming. How could this have happened?” they asked.

I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Sophie?

Sophie is one of the main characters in my first novel, The Reverse Commute. Her husband is a blue collar worker. She wears a pink collar. They live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to keep their heads above water. Sophie would have seen Trump coming years ago, back when Ronald Reagan was President and busted the air traffic controllers’ union, among other things.

Sophie would not have voted for Trump. She would be a Bernie supporter who then reluctantly voted for Hillary.

How do I know this?

I am Sophie.

I wrote The Reverse Commute for myself. It was an act of self-preservation. I, like Sophie, was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Truthfully, I was standing before the abyss.

I lived in an old house built in 1728 along the Squamscott River just outside of Exeter, New Hampshire. Three squirrels frolicked along the rafters of my unfinished addition. The boiler blew up, the septic system crapped out, a tree fell on my van, and a year later another tree hit Rich’s truck. I had been laid off twice in my career. Rich’s work declined after the housing bubble burst. There was never enough money.

I drove a dented Hyundai with bumper stickers: New Hampshire for Obama and the Dave Matthews headless fire dancer. And yes, I did drive that car over a beach chair in the garage. My nephew saw this as a perfect metaphor for Sophie’s crushed dreams.

It is possible my entire life could be a metaphor.

I do wish on stars and I did have an erotic dream after watching the movie Blue Valentine starring Ryan Gosling.

My husband, Rich, is an easily distracted self-employed house painter and I worked as an Accounts Payable Royalty Specialist in a cubicle in a large old mill building in Ipswich, Massachusetts, forty-five minutes from my home in New Hampshire. I found the job after fourteen months of unemployment and $1200 a month Cobra payments.

Have I piqued your interest? Are you thinking about buying the book? Or do you need more?

I was friendly with the young man who sat in the cubicle next to me. His mother read The Reverse Commute and emailed to say, “The character Dan reminds me of my son.” Well yes, he should. When I moved to Florida she and I became good friends. We met at happy hours and Tuesday Trivia nights.

My books have continued to lead me to good friends.

My Dad did drive himself to a walk-in clinic while having a heart attack because he thought it was the flu. He told the ambulance driver to take him to Miriam Hospital instead of Rhode Island because they don’t charge for parking.

My friends and I did have weekly wine emergencies.

My dearest friend and cousin, Kathy, died of breast cancer at the age of fifty-one. We were roommates in Boston, we backpacked through Europe, and then the both of us ended up in the same small town of Stratham, New Hampshire.

John Irving once wrote about Stratham in Trying to Save Piggy Sneed:

“He (Piggy) lived in Stratham – on a road out of our town that ran to the ocean, about eight miles away….Now there was a town, Stratham! In small-town life is there anything more provincial than the tendency to sneer at smaller towns? Stratham was not Exeter (not that Exeter was much).”

John Irving also wrote:

“This is a memoir, but please understand that (to any writer with a good imagination) all memoirs are false. A fiction writer’s memory is an especially imperfect provider of detail; we can always imagine a better detail than the one we can remember. The correct detail is rarely, exactly, what happened; the most truthful detail is what could have happened, or what should have. Half my life is an act of revision; more than half the act is performed with small changes. Being a writer is a strenuous marriage between careful observation and just as carefully imagining the truths you haven’t had the opportunity to see. The rest is the necessary, strict toiling with the language…”

The Reverse Commute is not a memoir. It is a roman à clef, which is French for a novel with a key. A novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction. The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the “key” is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction. This serves to keep the author from incurring potentially expensive libel charges.

Some famous roman à clefs are: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tender Is The Night, Heart of Darkness, The Sun Also Rises, and The Devil Wears Prada.

I also gave the young girl in the novel some of my stories.

When I lived in Boston, my roommates and I hosted a Dead Celebrities Halloween party.

In another apartment I lived in on Commonwealth Avenue, one of the guys downstairs played the oboe in the Boston Symphony. He and his partner did convert their living room into a Japanese tearoom and invited us to formal tea ceremonies.

I spent a summer during college working on an assembly line at a Bic pen factory. I also called the labor board from a pay phone in the employee cafeteria. It was my Norma Rae moment.

There was some confusion, among some readers, about the alternating chapters. The book begins with a nameless girl on a train. She meets a handsome young man who is referred to as the Best Boy. He is an electrician and has ambitions of moving to Hollywood and working on movies.

The second chapter introduces the reader to Sophie and Ray, a middle aged couple struggling with middle class life during the Great Recession.

After four chapters or so, most readers quickly picked up on the fact that the following chapter would be back to the young girl’s story, then the next chapter would belong to Sophie, and so on.

I don’t know what to say about this other than I have changed the synopsis on Amazon and now introduce the book as two stories in one with alternating chapters. I didn’t want to change the concept of the nameless young girl and the Best Boy.  By the end of the novel, a majority of readers understood why I wrote it that way, and they didn’t have a problem following the story once they adapted to the rhythm of it.

The tricky thing with editing after the fact is that once you’ve seen the bad reviews you tend to overcompensate.

A few reviewers wrote that the ending was too perfect. The last chapter is titled Happily Ever After? The ending is meant to be ambivalent. I contemplated changing the chapter to Happily Ever After?????  Maybe some readers missed the question mark??? But the fact of the matter is, by the end of the book the reader knows what’s going on here, or should know after reading the chapter titled A Day Just Like Today. So the two endings – the young girl’s and Sophie’s with a question mark – again I don’t know what to say.

Maybe the book is meant for dreamers and magical thinkers. Read the book and then you tell me what you think about happy endings.

There were reviews that left me feeling sucker punched and ambushed.

“Throughout the story the liberal viewpoint is continually espoused. It sends the mistaken message that if only the government would take more action in the lives of the citizens, then everyone could live happily ever after. I kept waiting for the plot to show how their political ideology would actually help them attain their goals but never saw it.”

Of course, this woman also wrote:

“I guess one could say the book had happy endings but it seemed almost contrived.”

She was apparently another one who missed the question mark. I think she also missed the true spirit of the young girl’s story.

She wasn’t the only one to say the ending was contrived and I believe these reviewers were referring to a tragic event that takes place at a company picnic. Unfortunately, the company picnic that is a turning point for both women in the story was not contrived. It was real and if you link to this news article you will see yellow police tape in the photo. I was picnicking just beyond that cordoned off area when the accident happened. Like Sophie and the young girl, it was a turning point in my life, too.

I’ve thought a lot about why I wrote The Reverse Commute. I was after verisimilitude. The life I was living, and still am living in so many ways, is similar to a majority of unheralded American lives. Much of the dialogue and many of the scenes are based on real events. In all my novels I am writing about the world as I experience it in real time.

Flash forward five years. Trump is president. And here we are rolling back financial  regulations again. 57% of divorced couples cite money problems as the primary reason for the demise of their marriage. Do I really have to come right out and say a society that doesn’t take actions to improve people’s lives has dire consequences on said lives? Can’t the day to day struggle of the characters speak for itself? If the reader doesn’t understand the effect a nation’s politics has on its citizens’ lives, is it my fault?

I believe it is the job of the novelist to not just entertain but to observe the world and share the truth. The truth was always there in The Reverse Commute. After many blogs, pieces for the Huffington Post, and three more novels I felt I could do better by this little book. The love story with a message.

Over the past two months I have gone back to the original manuscript and the journals I kept that were also filled with sticky notes on which I scribbled things down in my cubicle. I wrote and I edited. The sentences are brighter and cleaner. The politics are back. The story is the same but closer to my original intent before the first edit I made after the nasty reviews. At that time I corrected the typos and removed some of the politics. I hate to admit it but I was intimidated by the bad reviews and the personal attacks. I am a much more confident writer now and I see this story for what it was, a middle class American shouting, “Hey, I’m out here struggling. Pay attention.

I learned to write in public, on my own. It’s not easy to speak up in a very divided nation. As one reviewer noted, “The other reviews were like republicans and democrats voting on a bill, “love it”, “hate it”. Wow, I had to see if this book sucks or is great. It’s great.”

I have no publisher to defend me, to prop me up when I get shit kicked. I don’t have a New York Times book reviewer to interpret and explain my positions. All I have is a passion, a drive, and a belief that for the reader there is a lot to be learned by imagining how another person lives when walking in their shoes for 300 pages.

I wanted to write a story about a woman who was trying to hold onto her marriage during difficult financial and political times, because that is what I was trying to do and I knew I wasn’t alone.

Let me be clear on something. This is not a book about politics. It is a real life love story with characters who have opinions and sometimes express those opinions.

I have reconciled myself with the fact that I may not sell a lot of books in my lifetime. I have never really understood the zeitgeist of the times I live in. I’ve always felt like an outsider standing in the snow looking through a window into a well-lit McMansion in the suburbs.

My younger sister and I discussed this. I told her I would leave the books to my daughters and maybe decades from now they could find a wider audience of receptive readers.

She replied, “In a different environment they will be found.”

I will admit it was not easy when I finally let the new edition go to the formatter. I must have read it twenty times then hesitated and checked it for the twenty-first time.

After I hit Send, I read an article in the New York Times that reminded me of a scene in The Reverse Commute. It’s in the chapter titled Tilting At Windmills. The young girl has just returned to work after being on vacation. Her co-worker tells her a sixty year old woman named Joan, who has worked at the company for sixteen years, has been let go.

For the record, I worked with this woman during my time in the cubicle. Joan’s story is truth. Months later she read my book. She is one of the readers who got it. She is also not the only ’employee at will’ who lost their job during my time in the cubicle.

“What? How can he do that?”

“He just can. It’s called an employee at will. She called Mandy at home later that night and told her all about it. She went in his office and one of the women from HR was there. That’s never a good sign. He had a list of his complaints against her, a review of her work so to speak. They went over COBRA and unemployment, which apparently she will be able to collect. At least he gave her that. Called it a layoff instead of a firing.”

“Oh, gee, that’s nice of him. She’s been here sixteen years. Suddenly she’s too slow?”

“When they were done dropping the bomb, Lou and the HR lady walked Joan to her desk. They gave her a box and watched her pack her belongings, the pictures of the grandkids and other personal items like those bobbing dashboard ornaments she collects. Then they had her hand over her door pass and escorted her out of the building….
Needless to say, morale is low right now and everyone’s scared. No one knows who’s next. We better get back to our desks, our fifteen minute break is almost up.”

When she got back to her cubicle she wasn’t scared, she was angry. She googled employee at will and discovered that it was a part of American law that stated either party could break the relationship for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all, as long as the company had not recognized a collective bargaining group or union.

Five years after writing that scene, the article I read in the New York Times addressed this very issue:

Bosses hold all the power in the at-will employment system that most American workers are subject to, under which they can be fired for “good cause, bad cause or no cause.” Employees who speak up risk everything — their jobs, their reputations, their livelihoods — while facing the unfair legal burden of having to prove their boss’s intentions. Until workers have the freedom from unfair firing, too many workplace rights will remain unfulfilled.

The alternative to at-will employment is “just cause,” which is the principle that an employee can be fired only for a legitimate, serious, work-performance reason.

The “just cause” system is typically part of union contracts. However, today only about 6 percent of private-sector employees are covered by a union contract. And there is a concerted effort to strip public-sector employees of many of their traditional rights and protections.

Similarly, workers may have a right to organize a union and collectively bargain, but in reality workers are often fired for organizing, and the laws against such practices — like all protections against unfair terminations — place the burden on employees to prove illegitimate intent.”

It took the election of Trump and the #metoo movement to get the Times to write this article.

I actually had another Amazon reviewer write this: “Don’t get her started on at-will employment.

I’d like to reply: “Oh no, please do get me started. I’d love to educate you.”

My oldest daughter called last night to tell me she road her bike ten miles to work at a country club where she waitresses. It was a slow night and after an hour they sent her home. I googled the minimum show up law in Colorado and discovered they don’t have one in the Rocky Mountain state.

Workers’ rights aren’t on the agenda in most places; only eight blue states have minimum show up laws.

My daughter biked the ten miles back to Fort Collins on a cold, snowy January night after making $9.30, the minimum wage in Colorado. If you want to know what this real life story’s connection is to The Reverse Commute,  Buy the Book. It’s in the chapter titled, A Backyard Wedding, that includes my story of the assembly line and the phone call to the Labor Board.

As one character in The Reverse Commute says, Let’s not forget, politics do affect our everyday lives.”

Or as Sophie wonders, “Was there a word for the way news events collide with your personal life? When she watched the news, it all seemed so removed. But she knew it wasn’t. The next day you could lose your job, your health insurance, your house, or all of the above. Your local school budget could be cut, bridges might collapse, your drinking water could be contaminated. Why do so many people say they don’t care about politics? Don’t they know they have to care? For their own good?”

All of my books are slice of life stories that contain characters with opinions. They are middle class Americans who have been affected by the politics of America since Ronald Reagan began to dismantle the New Deal. My entire adult life I have been a witness to this era of American history.

My writing is my small contribution at getting people to sit up, pay attention, and to care about politics and the lives of their fellow Americans. There is a new notebook. My daughter’s snowy bike ride has been recorded. Young people from Boston to San Francisco are struggling with college loans, exorbitant rents, and stagnant wages.

I’m here. I’m paying attention. I’m writing it all down. Stay tuned.

 

***The newly edited version of The Reverse Commute is available now on Amazon. Please buy it and if you enjoy it PLEASE write a review.  This little book needs some TLC.***

NEW Cover TRC

Notes From A Book Tour: For What’s It’s Worth

The Road-NY thruway

Driving Route 90 – The NY Thruway

My last day on the road I drove Interstate 90 East with the idea of standing on the shore of Lake Erie in early morning light. I could see the Great Lake from the highway so it didn’t seem like much of a detour and I had an early jump on the long drive ahead of me. The cheap motel I spent the night in had a lumpy mattress, a septic smell in the otherwise clean bathroom, and a noisy couple next door getting it on in a squeaky bed.

Hotel room in Erie

My hotel room – Lake Erie, PA

When would I ever be traveling along the shores of Lake Erie again? It could be sooner than I imagined, or never. I veered right and took the exit for North East, Pennsylvania.

PA Vineyards

North East, PA vineyards

On a quiet Sunday morning, I drove past miles of vineyards, pumpkin patches, apples, and signs proclaiming Jesus is Lord. There were dilapidated barns sitting beside dressed up barns advertising wine tastings. Pretty front porches with wicker chairs and sagging porches with peeling paint. Lights were on in kitchen windows, church parking lots were empty, for now.

Guns-better pic

Guns For Sale North East, PA

Guns are sold in a set back building situated between a liquor store and a hydroponic garden center. There were flags and more flags; waving on front porches, telephone poles, and wrought iron fences. Put there as if I might forget where I was, but the gun shop had already alerted me to the fact that yes, despite the hundreds of miles I had traveled over the past two weeks, I was still here, in The United States of America.

Market Place flag North East

On the outskirts of North East, PA

The drive to the lake was taking longer than I thought it would. Then I noticed the sign for Downtown Erie. Damn! I was driving west, not north, back to where I started before dawn.

What am I doing here? I wondered. What wild goose am I chasing this time? Alone in the early morning light on a quiet church-going day my frustration quickly turned inward. Did I accomplish anything on this Hometown Book Pop-Up tour? I’d sold a lot of books and earned enough money for food and shelter on the drive home but none of those sales would register in the records that keep track of bestsellers.  This is no way to make it to the New York Times bestseller list. As an Indie author, I can buy my own books at a discounted price for resale but those sales don’t count toward my ranking. I contemplated giving people who came to my Pop-Ups a bookmark and sending them home to order the book on Amazon but how could I pass up a sale when it was standing right there in front of me? Would they really buy it when they got home? I told myself there was always value in word of mouth, IF I could get the reader to write a review and recommend the book to friends and share it on Facebook.

Huskies Beer North East PA

Package Store – North East, PA

My car was a mess. I hated my pocketbook; a black hole where my phone, my reading glasses, even my overstuffed wallet, were easily lost. And then there was Siri who couldn’t find her way to Lake Erie. “I’m sorry. I can’t help you right now.” Was there anyone out there interested in helping me on this journey?

My Car is a Mess

A whistle blew as a train approached from the east. I turned around in the parking lot of an abandoned office park and headed back to the town of North East. Maybe I’d find some Messages from America on the quiet tree-lined side streets but as in so many other places I’d traveled through on this road trip there were no signs of hope and resistance.

Mammo month North East PA.JPG

Breast Cancer Month – North East, PA

Instead, pink ribbons were everywhere, reminding the women of this small town that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

The local election for Clerk of Records appeared to be the hottest race in town. Everyone was supporting the same candidate. I can’t remember his name and for all I know he could be the only guy running for office.

The town had gone back to their lives post-Trump. They had work to do, bills to pay, healthcare issues to worry about. They didn’t appear to be concerned about the obstacles that would create road blocks along the way; the efforts Trump and the Congress are making to cut healthcare, dismantle the EPA, and give giant tax cuts to the wealthy. The President’s lies, the mass shooting in Las Vegas. I saw so many flags at half mast over the past week, but the flags were raised again and life goes on. For the lucky ones.

Town center North East PA

Main Street – North East, PA

I parked the car in front of a wine and cheese shop, and took a walk through town. Around a corner I stumbled upon a magical alley where fire escapes and painted grapevines climbed red brick walls.

Alley 2 Northeast PA

An alley in North East, PA

I left the alley, looped around the block from the opposite direction, and then entered from the other side. I stood there for awhile and took pictures. I don’t know what it was about this alley but it made me smile and gave me a small measure of hope.

Doorway in alley Northeast PA

Doorway – North East, PA

It’s been over a week since I returned home. I’m trying to decipher the notes I took in North East. I’m trying to recall the hope I felt in the alley. I am now in Providence getting ready for a Hometown Book Pop-Up in Pawtuxet Village, my original hometown. The place where I grew up.

Hometown Book Pop-Up Pawtuxet Village

Hometown Book Pop-Up – Pawtuxet Village, RI -Carlos & Tesh at Shastea

Earlier this morning my daughter’s boyfriend, Kyle, invited me to join him on a hike to Ross’s Cliffs, just over the border in Connecticut.

The top of Ross's Trail Killingly CT

The view at the top of Ross’s Cliffs – Old Furnace State Park in Killingly, CT

We took the road I traveled when I worked at the inn and would drive to Providence to help my Dad after the fire at his condo. My mother’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse and times were hard but I enjoyed this ride through rural New England.

Ross’s Trail climbed through sun-dappled trees and I thought about the hikes I took in the Great Mountain Forest when I created Leo Heaton, the first character in Under The Same Sun who spoke to me.

Excerpt from Under The Same Sun:                                                                                                  “I hike a lot and when I’m alone in the woods I notice things. Tonal differences in rocks, peeled birch bark fallen from trees, a twig trapped on a rock in the middle of a swift moving brook. When the breeze blows through the oak trees, leaves dance, and to me it sounds like the rustle of silk. At night when I lay my head on my pillow, it’s just me and my thoughts. I worry about life and what the future holds for my girls. I never expected to be doing this alone so I have a hard time falling asleep, until I let my thoughts drift back to that rocky, primeval forest. Deep in those woods the world is sane and perfect.” 

Sunlight at Ross' Trail Killingly CT

Old Furnace State Park – Killingly, CT

I am having a hard time finding my way into this blog. I can’t remember why I wanted to write about my brief visit to North East. But during the hike, as always happens when I’m out in the woods or walking by the ocean, I found my way.

Maybe what I felt that morning in North East, after getting lost and doubling back to the place I started, was a rapt attention to the world around me. I was transported to an enchanted place where sanity and perfection were possible.

I left North East that day without seeing another soul except those at kitchen windows or in passing cars. I spoke to no one. The stores were all closed. No one walked the streets. The town could be anything I wanted it to be. Then I got in my car and drove an eight hour day, alone, across the entire length of Upstate New York.

Some combination of light, stormy weather looming behind me, clouds and sunlight, created a luminous stunning atmosphere. A glorious light, as if the world had been scrubbed clean and was new again. I could imagine anything. I could imagine America when it was new and full of hope, like a day in Philadelphia when a group of men from thirteen colonies imagined a place where everyone is created equal and there would be justice and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Hoosick Billboard

Billboard at the border at the New York – Vermont border

Just before I crossed the border into Vermont I saw a billboard with large letters that warned of heroin and impaired driving. I had seen similar signs throughout my journey. In Ohio there was even a hotline that drug impaired drivers could use to call for help.

I remember thinking we all share similar concerns and problems. We all have similar hopes and dreams. We truly do live under the same sun.

The problem is, not everyone realizes this. There are too many distractions and hardships, too many opinions, too many tribes that no longer have a shared vision, and too many news sources and politicians that support those divisions.

The hope I felt in the alley was a dream, the American dream, that was signed and sealed on a piece of parchment paper two hundred forty one years ago this past July 4th. We once had a common dream and like in The Wizard of Oz you were there, and you, and you, and me. We were all there.

These days it seems we no longer dream the same dream. Some don’t remember the  dream or misinterpret its message. There are those who are defeated and angry, they lick their wounds and blame their problems on someone else. Someone different. Someone foreign. They are vulnerable to those with enough power and stature to twist the dream to suit their own greed and self-interest.

 

As we approached the top of Ross’s Cliffs I wondered where the hope that briefly visited me in North East disappeared to. It was so fleeting.

Kyle

The Top of the Trail – Ross’s Cliffs

We stayed there for awhile. It was a perfect place to ponder. We imagined Mohegans and Pequots standing on this bluff watching for the white man’s approach. So called civilization on its way.

Peace Killingly, CT

Messages From America: Old Furnace State Park Killingly, CT

It could have been that I was hiking with Kyle, a Mohegan Indian, and thoughts of the retelling of history, the mistruths of the Native American story we were told, came to mind.

It also might have been thoughts of the recent visit I made to the slave quarters at Magnolia Plantation in South Carolina where the curators are finally telling the truth about that piece of American history.

Or it could have been the message on the bench where I sat and contemplated the beauty that lay before me.

“This bench is part of what’s left of my soul, that I carried on my back to share with this cliff and with those that are here for peace, and peace of mind. Thank you all who enjoyed it and left your mark, but whoever tossed it over this cliff once…you were seen and you are more than half found.”

It’s hard to imagine someone would hike this beautiful, spiritual place and toss a gift of  handcrafted beauty over the cliff. It’s hard to imagine the mindset of some of my fellow Americans these days.

Contemplating Ross' Trail Killingly CT

I met wonderful people on my book tour. I also heard horrible things on talk radio. I saw Confederate flags on highways in the Carolinas. Las Vegas happened. I came to the conclusion one on one there are many kind and generous people but America as a whole leaves me feeling sad and confused.

I can’t help but wonder if it was only a dream.

 

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NOTES FROM A BOOK TOUR: BE SAFE OUT THERE

PART TWO OF A  JOURNEY SELLING BOOKS IN AMERICA IN THE YEAR 2017

Jamestown, SC

Passing through Jamestown, SC

 

I wrote this blog on the eleventh day after the Las Vegas shooting. It brings to mind a quote I used in my recent novel Under The Same Sun at the beginning of a chapter titled I Heard The News Today .

“A thousand such simple tricks they played,
 and after eleven days returned to themselves again, not remembering anything that had passed.”
 ~ Robert Beverly’s History of Virginia

Once again the news cycle has moved on from another mass shooting. There are fires burning in the wine country of California, Trump is threatening NBC and other news organizations, Puerto Rico is without clean water and electricity, and North Korea looms large.

I don’t know what event Robert Beverly was speaking of. I found the quote after I finished the rough draft of Under The Same Sun. Rich and I had just left the inn after some contentious encounters with the difficult owner. We were recuperating. Rich was painting at a house on the Cape and I was trying to get back into my novel when I found Thoreau’s book, Cape Cod, on a bookshelf in our friends’ living room. This quote jumped off the page and helped me navigate the final chapters of Under The Same Sun.

If you want to know more, you need to buy the book and read it. I’m here to share Part Two of the stories and the people I met on a recent book tour through the South.

Lake Wylie, South Carolina

Lake Wyle, SC

Lake Wylie, SC

I met Cindy a few years ago. Her son and my daughter live together. We became fast friends. Rich and I visited her and her husband Ron last April in Lake Wylie and also at their pecan farm in South Georgia.

Cindy is a Mohegan Indian and was born on the reservation in Connecticut. Her son lent me his signed copy of Medicine Trail:  The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon by Melissa Jayne Fawcett, the current medicine woman for the tribe. Gladys was the medicine woman until she passed away at the age of 106. I brought the book to Cape Cod where some of the Mohegan beliefs and teachings made their way into Under the Same Sun.

After dinner, Cindy and I watched the 60 Minutes piece on the Hubble telescope. When it was over we talked about the Trail of Life and how the Mohegans may have come closest to understanding our existence after death.

When I woke up the next morning Cindy was already cooking grits and bacon.

“Something really bad happened last night,” she told me as I poured myself a cup of coffee. “I didn’t want you to walk in the kitchen and see it on TV. I thought I’d warn you first. There was a mass shooting in Las Vegas last night.”

I did not expect this to happen while I was promoting my book. I wrote the book because I want this to stop.

Flowers and Books

Flowers from Suzy – Lake Wylie, SC

We ate breakfast and watched the news with sad hearts. A good friend of Cindy’s dropped by with curlers in her hair. Suzy was getting ready for the Hometown Book Pop-Up later that night. She had three bouquets of flowers for us. She told me the story of her grandmother who had started a flower shop and how her adoptive parents kept it going and turned it into a thriving business. It seemed like such a sweet Southern thing to do, making sure we had fresh flowers for our event.

Later in the day Cindy and I stopped at the Market on Wylie wine shop where I met the owner. Barbara moved to Lake Wylie from New York. Her shop is lovely and she has the most amazing prosciutto, racks of lamb, fine cheeses, prepared meals, and wine. Cindy told her about the book. I gave her a bookmark.

“We have to do something together. A wine tasting book event,” Barbara told me.

I loved the idea. We are making plans for my return visit. “It is a win-win for the both of us,” we agreed.

Market on Wylie Wine Shop

Cindy and Barbara at Market on Wylie

The Lake Wylie Hometown Book Pop-Up was a huge success. I sold enough books that my sales carried me through the rest of my road trip.

The next morning I was the bearer of bad news when I met Cindy in the kitchen for coffee. Tom Petty had passed away.

Driving through the Smoky Mountains White Oak NC

Driving through the Smoky Mountains from Lake Wylie to Nashville

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

I met N. Frank Daniels on Facebook through another writer, Darin Strauss.  We became Facebook friends and chatted about books and publishing. Frank was putting together an online imprint and asked if I’d be interested in representing my generation – the baby boomers. When I mentioned I wouldn’t be far from Nashville during my travels we made plans to meet.

Cindy asked me how I knew Frank. When I told her, she said, “You be careful. Text me when your meeting’s over.”

When my daughters both heard about this they said, “Mom, you don’t meet up with people from the Internet.”

“We’re meeting in a bookstore,” I told them.

“Yeah, but still…..” They went on, continuing to lecture me.

Me and Frank Books-a-Million Nashville, TN

With Frank Daniels at Books-A-Million ~ Nashville, TN

Frank and I met at Books-A-Million. I talked about my book and he shared his first novel, Future Proof, which was originally launched on his Myspace page. The good reviews and a book tour he embarked on, similar to mine, got the attention of HarperCollins who picked up his book and sent him on a book tour to places like Chicago and L.A.

Life got in the way and it took him a few years to write another novel. By this time the publisher was looking for “more marketable, commercial writing”. Frank self-published his second book, Sanctuary, with CreateSpace.

At the time I met Frank I hadn’t heard from Politics and Prose, an Indie book store in DC, but a cousin of mine in Pennsylvania had tried to set up a Hometown Book Pop-Up at his local Indie Bookstore in Collegeville. He was given the same song and dance.

“We don’t sell books published by CreateSpace.”

We brainstormed. Frank currently works as a sales rep for a distributor. He delivers food to grocery stores and sets up displays. I told him I once worked for a distributor selling speciality food items. We commiserated about the receivers who rule the back rooms of supermarkets like crazed dictators of banana republics.

He also said, “I won’t ask how old you are because that’s rude but are these the worst times you’ve lived through?”

“Yes.”

I told him about my Dad the U.S. History teacher.

“I remember him being upset in 1968. The assassinations. The riots. The Democratic National Convention. He hated Vietnam. I was eleven back then. I think it was the violence that upset him. Now he’s worried about democracy, and I am too.”

“Yeah, me too,” Frank said.

Out in the parking lot we said our goodbyes. He was over a foot taller than me but we managed a hug.

“Be careful out there traveling solo,” Frank said. “Text me when you get to your hotel.”

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

Louisville, KY

Louisville, Kentucky

I checked into the Fairfield Inn in Louisville at one in the afternoon. Luckily, my room was ready. I asked the woman at the front desk about the waterfront area. She gave me a lot of info and a map.

“I guess I picked the right hotel,” I said.

“You did,” she said. “But don’t be out alone after dark.”

I walked the streets, took photos, then headed to the Riverfront Park. It was a muggy day and I was pretty sweaty when I saw Joe’s Crab House in the distance. It was three o’clock but I had skipped lunch so I walked another half mile, found a seat at the bar, and ordered a cold beer and the best crab dip I’ve ever had.

Ohio River Louisville, KY

Ohio River from Riverfront Park, Louisville, KY

The young woman tending bar told me she was working two jobs to save money for med school. We talked for a long time. I told her about my Messages From America and how I couldn’t find any south of the Mason-Dixon line. She replied, “Oh, you won’t find them. Everyone around here thinks everything’s just fine.”

I asked her about the bridge you can walk across to Indiana.

“It’s a long walk. You won’t be back before dark and you don’t want to be on that bridge in the dark.”

She told me she saw Bernie Sanders there, on the Kentucky side, after he won the primary in Indiana.

“I wanted to vote for him in the primary but I couldn’t because when I was eighteen and still living at home I registered Republican. It was too late to change my party. A lot of kids around here do that, they register Republican like their parents. I’ve since fixed that.”

I paid up and told her I was going to Whisky Row.

“I mean I have to try the Bourbon while I’m in Kentucky. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back, it took me this long to get here.”

I had told her about having visited forty-five of the fifty states and how Kentucky was one of the five I still needed to visit.

“That’s so cool. Just make sure you’re back at your hotel before dark,” she said.

Whisky Row, Louisville, KY

Whisky Row ~ Louisville, KY

Whisky Row was hopping on a Friday night. I met a couple on a pub crawl and asked which bar they recommended. They directed me to Sidebar, a quiet place, not quite busy at five o’clock. I asked the bartender for a local recommendation and he suggested Angel’s Envy. It was smooth and delicious.

I was still hungry and decided to try another bar before it got dark. The pub crawl couple had also recommended The Troll Under The Bridge so I walked over for a nightcap. Hey, you know, there was no book pop-up here in Louisville. This was strictly for me, a night in Kentucky to add to the bucket list. As my friend Midge said back in Isle of Palms, “vacation properly.”

Troll Pub Louisville, KY

The Troll Under The Bridge ~ Louisville, KY

The bar was below street level, no windows, dark and rowdy. The local couple was sitting on stools at a tall table.

“Hey,” he shouted. “Too quiet for you over there at Sidebar?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Us, too,” he said.

I took the last seat at the bar and ordered a Knob Creek and a wedge salad. The man sitting next to me had cerebral palsy and spoke haltingly. He told me he had returned to college at the age of forty and was studying political science at a small school I’d never heard of. He wanted to discuss current events. He was curious about my politics and polite in his disagreement. He expressed interest in my book so I gave him a bookmark although I didn’t think he’d buy the book.

“I better get going,” I said. “Everyone’s told me to be off the streets before dark.”

“They’re right but I think you might be a little late on that.” He looked at his watch. “It’s six-fifteen.”

I went out the door, doggie bag in hand. The wedge salad was an entire head of iceberg lettuce. I climbed the stairs to the dark street. How did that happen so quickly?

Whisky Row was just getting started for the night but one block away the streets were quiet. I had four blocks to walk to my hotel.

A black family turned the corner onto the street I was walking. The older woman used a cane and held her husband’s hand. A young couple walked in front of them. I hustled up behind them.

The older woman turned around and said, “What you doin’ out here alone?”

“I had an early dinner while it was still light and didn’t realize it got dark so quickly.”

“You walk next to me,” she said.

I sidled up next to her and we started a conversation. They were visiting from Atlanta.

“We’re here for the whisky,” her husband said. “What brings you here? You sound like you’re from Boston.”

I told them I had lived in Boston for several years and I also lived in all six New England states at one time or another. Then I told them about how I came up with the Hometown Book Pop-Up, visiting places authors don’t usually go. How I was visiting friends and taking my book to the readers.

“I like that,” their daughter said.

Everyone wanted a bookmark so I passed them around.

“Under The Same Sun,” the matriarch said. “I like that. How’d you come up with that name?”

“Well, like I said, it’s a story about small town America during the recent election and how we’re all in this together. We really do live under the same sun.”

“Oh indeed, yes we do” she said. They all nodded their heads.

We were now at the corner of the street where their Marriott was to the right and my Fairfield Inn was to the left, about a half a mile apart. The daughter looked up and down the street. There was no one around, just an old woman sitting on a lawn chair in front of a liquor store.

“It looks clean,” she said. “But I think we’ll walk you to the door.”

“Oh, I’ll be okay,” I said. “It’s well lit around here and it’s a busy street.”

“We’re going to walk you to the door,” the older man said.

I thanked them when we got to my hotel and told them to contact me when they read the book, the link to my webpage was on the bookmark.

“We sure will,” they all said.

Street art Louisville, KY

Walking Louisville, KY

There is no safe place in America. I didn’t intend to be out after dark but it happened. There’s a passage in Under The Same Sun, a scene where Emily Heaton and Henry Howard plan a camping trip in the woods on a summer night just before their senior year in high school. It’s a special night. They’re both nervous and find themselves talking about all sorts of things. Emily mentions her grandmother’s worries and fears. She tells Henry, “One thing I know for sure, I don’t plan on living my life within the confines of fear.”

A little later Henry kisses her on the cheek and says, “I like what you said about fear. It’s a crazy way to live your life.”

John Steinbeck once said, “Many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased.”

I believe this is also true regarding the people we meet on our journey through life. I believe we carry with us everyone we encounter and all the places we go. They make us who we are. They frame our stories and provide a compass. If we close our minds and judge before we experience we become one type of person. If we open our hearts and listen with open minds we will become someone else.

We live in difficult times that could possibly change us. These days are filled with fear, anger, judgement, and sometimes hate. But my compass directed me to the good people who are still out there. Kindness prevails.

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