Thursday, May 25, 2017

Why I Observe Memorial Day

This weekend, we will observe Memorial Day. The holiday began three years after the Civil War in 1868 as Decoration Day, a time set aside to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. The date of May 30 probably was selected because flowers would be in bloom across the country in the late spring.

The first large observance was held at Arlington National Cemetery. The ceremonies began on the veranda of the Arlington mansion, once the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Washington officials, including Gen. and Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant, attended. After speeches, children from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Orphan Home and members of the Grand Army of the Republic strewed flowers on both Union and Confederate graves as they recited prayers and sang hymns.

By the turn of the twentieth century, ceremonies were held on May 30 throughout the country. After World War I, the day was expanded to honor those who died in all American wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday. The date was also changed to the last Monday in May.

So, what does this mean for us?

Some communities hold parades. Local Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts place flags on the graves of veterans in cemeteries. Many cities and communities sponsor concerts and fireworks displays. And some families visit the graves of their relatives and friends.

For me, personally, this is a time to remember our fathers, both of whom served in WWII. Fortunately, neither of them was killed, but they gave years of their lives to the service of their country.

One family member, my grandfather’s older brother, Charles Methven, died on October 20, 1917 in Ieper, Belgium during WWI. The family then lived in Canada, and Charles served for Great Britain. He was buried in West Flanders, Belgium near where he fell. He was twenty-three years old.
When I hear Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s poem and see the poppies on Memorial Day, I think of Uncle Charles. The poem was written in the same place where Charles died.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

This year, I will once again remember those, including Charles, who went to war when their country called and who never came home.

This holiday will continue to focus our attention on those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy the freedoms we sometimes take for granted. They deserve our eternal gratitude and respect.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Thoughts of a First-Time Author

Today my guest is my friend, author Wayne A. Burt. I asked him how it felt to have his first novel published. This first-time author is ecstatic. Find out why.

To say I’m over the moon about getting my first book published would not be accurate. I'm over the galaxy would be more like it. I’ve been writing stories for thirteen years. I’ve always known it could happen, I even believed it probably would someday, but when it actually did, the wonderful feeling was unbelievable. Until you try, you have no idea how remote the chances are to get picked up by a publisher. Just to find one who accepts submissions is a challenge. Then to be selected over the hundreds of submissions they receive is a miracle. If I hadn’t sought out and met Larry and Lorna Collins, and joined Lagunita Writers Group, Catching a Wave to Sycar might never have come to pass. Lorna edits for Desert Breeze Publishing, so she made a recommendation on my behalf.

I received a gift of great joy. I feel complete. I created a happy allegory about God’s love for his children and his creation, and now it will be available for a long time. The granddaughter who inspired it has read it five times. Parents can share it with their children. Children will imagine what it would be like to fly like a bird or swim with a dolphin, and I hope they will understand what it’s like to be loved by their heavenly father.

Don’t ask me how I came up with the idea for this book. It just happened. I had read that stories with a magical element sell well. So, I waited for an idea. One day, this one popped into my head, and away I went. I believe in revelation. I’m my creative father’s son, made in his image.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received a gift of this nature. I’ve written Christmas carols I feel the same way about. All of us are blessings to those around us. This book is mine. And now it’s ours. Isn’t it fun?

Someone should write a book about how many different ways Wayne Burt can work the fact that he’s been published into a conversation. Perhaps, it’s shameful, but I think there’s no point in writing a book if people don’t read it. Right? It’s the salesman in me.

The marketing part of the journey is fun, too. Little girls are excited when I sign the book for them and write their names in the front. People want to buy it and support me as an author. I recently had a release party at my home, and my friends and family were all there to support me. It’s a kick being the center of attention.

I listen to a lot of audio books as I drive all around each day doing my sales job. Sometimes, at the end of the book, someone interviews the author. It’s silly, but I’ve always wanted to do it. I don’t know exactly why, but I love talking about writing. The process is fascinating to me. An idea for a story comes into your head, characters are created, and it’s like they come alive and become real, and their stories are revealed. Amazing. You can find this interview on my website http://www.wayneaburtauthor.com/writing-well.html.

The last thing I want to say is this book was a team effort, making the joy of this milestone in my life all the sweeter. When I started, I didn’t know how to use a computer. My first two novels were written by hand. I was encouraged to write by my sister-in-law Janet Powell, and was taught how to write by her daughter, Colleen. My grandchildren and their prodigious imaginations were a great source of inspiration. And the editing skills of Lorna Collins and the team of writers who belong to Lagunita Writers helped me polish the work for publication. Thanks to you all.

Visit me on my website: http://www.wayneaburtauthor.com/
You can also find me on Facebook:


The moment teenager, Sophia Anderson, paddles into the huge wave, she knows something weird happened. She just doesn’t know how weird. When the wave transports her to an island paradise in another world, she thinks she must be dreaming, but when she encounters a talking butterfly, and an amphibious girl from another planet, she’s convinced she's never been more awake in her life.

The butterfly is Truson, the lord of all worlds. The girl is Norie, an amphibious girl from the dying planet, Sycar. Truson calls them on an adventure, thrilling, dangerous, and as much fun as it is frightening. Can they rescue Sycar's people in time?

The book is available through Amazon and from the publisher: http://www.desertbreezepublishing.com/catching-a-wave-to-scar-epub/



Wayne A. Burt is a California native who married his high school sweetheart and raised their three children on the warm beaches of the OC. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees from Azusa Pacific University and Fuller Theological Seminary and worked with youth professionally and non-professionally for much of his life. He didn't begin writing for children until his own had grown up and moved out. His first published work, Catching a Wave to Scar, was written for his oldest granddaughter. His grandchildren's amazing imaginations sparked the ideas for the story.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

From Reality to Realistic Fiction


Interesting characters need realistic “warts.” Sometimes the best way to develop a character is to look at a real person. Let me explain how I developed (hopefully) one of the multidimensional people in my new thriller, Riddled with Clues.
My dog, Bug, a Japanese Chin, and I have done pet therapy at the local VA Center for years. This particular VA Center has a number of rehab programs besides a major hospital. It also offers multiple programs to aid homeless veterans in New Mexico.

On one visit to the VA, a ragged veteran sat and stroked Bug for several minutes without speaking. Then he looked at me and said, “What does this dog call you?”

I recognized this was a serious question and deserved a thoughtful answer. I didn’t smirk or giggle. “I think he calls me Mom.”

The veteran lowered his head close to examine the dog’s face and then resumed stroking him. After a minute, he nodded. “I think that’s right.”

Several months later, a neatly dressed man on the VA campus approached Bug and me. “Hello Bug and Bug’s Mom.” As he talked to me for several minutes, I realized this was the same veteran. He was well-educated but had experienced hard times not only in Vietnam but also in his personal life. He wasn’t pathetic; he had dignity.

His words replayed in my mind over the last five or six years. When I set this thriller, Riddled with Clues, at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque, I knew I would include this man as a major character.

Please note: HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) doesn’t allow health care workers or volunteers to identify patients. However, I don’t know the name of this man and I didn’t describe him in the novel as he looked. Everything about the character in my novel is fictitious, except for the description of these two brief incidents. I think these two incidents showed the mental state and personality of a veteran in rehab better than long descriptions. I hope you agree.
Now aren’t you curious to find out how this character fits into the plot? Note: I didn’t give you the character’s name. Here’s the blurb for Riddled with Clues:
A hospitalized friend gives a puzzling note to Sara Almquist. He received the note signed “Red from Udon Thani” while investigating the movement of drugs from Cuba into the U.S. However, he doesn’t know anyone called Red, and the last time he was in Udon Thani was during the Vietnam War. After Sara listens to his rambling tales of all the possibilities, both are attacked. He is left comatose. As she struggles to survive, she questions who to trust: the local cops, her absent best friend, the FBI, or a homeless veteran, who leaves puzzling riddles as clues.
The other character based on a real individual in this novel is Bug. Isn’t he a handsome devil?

I hope my story will give you ideas for developing realistic final characters.

Riddled with Clues is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938436237 

J. L. Greger likes to include tidbits of science and exotic locations in her Science Traveler Thriller/Mystery series, which includes: Riddled with Clues, Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (winner of 2016 Public Safety Writers [PSWA] annual contest and finalist for New Mexico–Arizona book award), I Saw You in Beirut, and Malignancy (winner of 2015 PSWA annual contest). To learn more, visit her website: http://www.jlgreger.com or her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008IFZSC4

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Keeping Characters Interesting

Marilyn Meredith (aka F.M. Meredith) has another new Rocky Bluff mystery! This is number thirteen in this series. She also writes a second series with many books. I asked her how she keeps her characters interesting in such a long series.


Since the Rocky Bluff P.D. series has reached #13, making sure the characters continue to be interesting is a challenge.

One way, of course, is to see their growth. Though all have grown and changed through the years, two characters have changed the most.

The first is Ryan Strickland. In the beginning, he was not a nice guy. He also was a big publicity hound, to the point of keeping a scrapbook of every time his name appeared in the paper. I can’t say too much more without spoiling it for someone who wants to start at the beginning of the series, but he has grown and become a much more likeable character.

Gordon Butler is the other character who has changed a lot. He has had some major challenges in various books, some to do with his love life, and others with bad luck. He became sort of a comic relief and garnered many fans because of it. I’ve probably had the most fun writing about Gordon Butler and his mishaps, but as he’s matured, circumstances have improved for him.

The Rocky Bluff P.D. has changed, too. Some people have left, including the police chief. A new chief has taken over and has been smart not to make many changes, though the department is still understaffed and underfunded.

I hope people will continue to read this series and enjoy learning about the characters and what is happening to them on the job and with their families.

F. M. aka Marilyn Meredith


Unresolved, #13 in the Rocky Bluff P.D. series:

Rocky Bluff P.D. is underpaid and understaffed and when two dead bodies turn up, the department is stretched to the limit. The body of the mayor is the first discovered. The second is an older woman whose death is caused in a bizarre manner. Because no one liked the mayor, including his estranged wife and the members of the city council, the suspects are many, but each one has an alibi.

Copies may be purchased from Book and Table by emailing bookandtablevaldosta@gmail.com with a 10% discount and free shipping as well as all the usual places, including Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/mdqfq27.
  
F. M. Meredith lived for many years in a small beach community much like Rocky Bluff. She has many relatives and friends who are in law enforcement and share their experiences and expertise with her. She taught writing for Writers Digest Schools for 10 years, and was an instructor at the prestigious Maui Writers Retreat, and has taught at many writers’ conferences. Marilyn is a member of three chapters of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and serves on the board of the Public Safety Writers of America. She lives in the foothills of the Sierra. Visit her at http://fictionforyou.com and her blog at http://marilymeredith.blogspot.com/


Up next, on May 7 I answered the question, Besides Blog Tours, What Else?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

More Surfing Memories

Last week, Larry guest blogged about surfing his most memorable wave.

I used to go to the beach, too, but after trying the sport once or twice, nearly drowning and being hit in the head convinced me it wasn’t for me. Since I chose to go along, I decided my role was to document Larry’s surfing.

I started out using an old wind-up 8mm camera. When the camera wound down, the filming slowed. I could only take a few minutes’ worth before it stopped altogether. From the first camera, we graduated to a battery-operated one. As the batteries started to die, the film slowed down, so the pace changed.
In about 1968 or 1969, we edited the bits and pieces together into four separate films, each about fifteen minutes long. We recorded “soundtracks” on our reel-to-reel recorder off-air from our RCA Wall of Sound stereo. Later we re-recorded the same songs onto audiotape. All the music, except for an updated version of “A Summer Place,” is from the same era as the films.

For quite a few years, we showed the films (with the “soundtracks”) to groups of our friends. We had surfing-themed parties where Larry narrated the movies.

In the late 1990s, I took the films and tapes to a service and had them converted to VCR tapes. A few years ago, I had them converted to DVDs. Unfortunately, Larry’s great narration is missing, but the films are fun to watch, even today.

The first one is of Dana Point in the days before the marina was built. Very few films were made at “Killer Dana,” so these are quite rare. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1Wqx_Oc-tA&t=1s.

This one contains some of our very favorite scenes of Laguna Canyon Road and Salt Creek Beach. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbmNu5NzIzU&t=47s.

Most of this film was shot when Larry and I were dating. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtdIN3A6LL8&t=5s.

The last of the old films was shot after we were married and features Larry’s brother, Casey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QSkZhkFX3Y&t=4s.

Larry now has a GoPro camera he can mount on his board, his head, or his wrist. He edited and assembled these films and selected and added the music. In these, he is surfing with his friend, Bob Schwenck. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgxBxvCvs-0

The photos in this video were taken by our friend Richard Zodnik. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQ9IBrw1LhA.

This is the most recent of his videos. They are surfing at Doheny Beach.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azqyEoNxwdI.


Hope you enjoy watching these as much as I did taking those I shot and also the ones Larry took with his GoPro.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Surfing A Ten-foot Wave, Sunset Beach, 1988

Larry K. Collins, my husband, co-author, best friend, and cohort in crime is my guest blogger this week.

Having surfed for the past sixty years, I’ve ridden countless waves. Many are forgettable. Still, a few will stay in my memory forever. Even today, I can close my eyes and relive every movement and feeling of the glorious ride.
I decided to describe one memorable ride. But to do it without the surf jargon and clich├ęs normally used to describe the sport and make it accessible to people who have never surfed or even seen the sport. Here is my attempt.

I’m sitting on my board beyond the surf line, facing out to sea. Twenty yards inshore, fifteen or more other surfers, most not even half my age, jockey for position on the incoming swells. I sit farther out, as my ten-foot surfboard allows me to catch waves earlier. They ride the shorter high-performance boards.
Even though I’ve done this countless times, my heart still races as I spot a swell building over the outer reefs, and see the wave begin to take shape. Others see it, also. They begin a hasty paddle out toward me. I turn and start to paddle, arms digging deep into the water. I’ll need speed to catch this one. I glance over my shoulder to position myself. It’s going to be steep.
As the swell lifts the board’s tail, I rise, my left foot forward, my weight pressing the nose down against the wind, right foot steady for balance, knees slightly bent to absorb the bumps and undulations of an ever steepening face.
Before reaching the bottom, I shift my right foot back and press hard on the right-hand rail. The board obediently sweeps right to line up with the wall of water stretching out before me. Two steps forward to the trim spot, the fastest position. I’ll need all the speed I can muster. Behind me, I hear the thunderous roar of the collapsing wave.
My hand dragging on the liquid wall adds stability. My heart’s pumping, mind awake, senses sharp. The wave arches over my head, and in a kaleidoscope of greens, blues, and whites, splashes into the sea beyond my board. I’m in the tube, the barrel. I’m steady in the eye of the storm. Water sheets from the roof above, hitting my face and chest. I blink to clear my vision and crouch lower to urge the board onward.
Then I emerge into the light, out of the tube, and back again on the green wall. Ahead, I see the wave collapse and another tube heads my direction. Time to get out. I sweep a turn to drive the nose up the vertical face, past the lip, and ten feet beyond. I kick the board away, so as not to land on it, and splash on my back into the warm Hawaiian water.
A quick breath, then I feel the pull of the leash attached to my ankle. I’ve made it over the wave. My board did not. I’m pulled backward and drawn below the surface, clawing at the water, struggling against the maelstrom behind me. Finally, the board slips free. I fight to the surface and pull myself aboard.
It’s not over. Another wave looms outside. I stroke for the rising horizon, lungs gasping for air. Oxygen-starved arms feel like I’m pulling noodles through molasses. Offshore winds feather the wave’s crest as I sweep up the wall, over the top, and down the back. Another thirty strokes, and I’m safe outside again. I let out a yell.
It doesn’t get any better that this.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

NYC Part VIII - Cruise and Farewell

This is the final blog about our trip to NYC. (I bet you thought it would never come.)

All day Sunday, we wore our ID tags to identify us as part of the choir group. These are similar to the images on the posters used to advertise the concert.

When I visited Kim last week, she showed me her signed poster. All of the choir members received them as a thank you for participating.

Following the concert, we boarded busses to take us to the harbor. This time, they not only held the choir, but also the orchestra and Michael’s entourage. We heard they had chartered ten of them. We were on the fifth one to leave the city.

We arrived at the dock and then followed the crowd to the far end where the largest boat, the Hornblower Infinity, awaited us. Clearly it was our destination since it was completely lit up.

We presented our tickets and then found seats on the upper deck. Food and drink stations were available on both decks. The buffets included beef, pork, chicken, lots of different salads. Separate desert bars offered a variety of choices (always Larry’s favorite part).

During the cruise, Michael W. Smith once again thanked everyone for their part in creating this fabulous evening.

The views of the lights along the harbor at night awed us. Many of the landmarks appeared different when lit up. The yacht took us to Brooklyn and then turned around and headed back toward NYC while we dined.

As we returned to port, the boat took a detour toward the Statue of Liberty. Even though we were unable to walk on the island or climb the statue, this view of Lady Liberty brought to mind the lyrics of “There She Stands,” which we had heard earlier in the evening at the concert. I confess, I was moved to tears seeing this symbol of freedom in person.

Soon we reached the dock and disembarked. Busses awaited us and conveyed us back to our hotel, tired and euphoric after one of the most memorable days of our lives.

Early the next morning, we met Kim in the lobby. Their flight was earlier than ours, so this was our last chance to see her before we left. After we kissed her goodbye, we asked the concierge to arrange for a taxi to meet us to take us to the airport.

After breakfast, we finished packing and went to the lobby. Our taxi arrived right on time. We had a delightful ride, so different from our arrival. During the trip, we enjoyed talking to our driver, Mohammed. This young man had relocated from Miami to experience the big city. He said he enjoyed meeting people from all over the world.

Once more, we had encountered a wonderful New Yorker—the perfect ending to our NYC experience.


Our flight proved to be uneventful. We were ready to be home, but it will take some time to fully process the whole experience. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

NYC Part VII - The Concert

After a short rest at the hotel, we changed clothes and made our way to Carnegie Hall. This time, we entered through the main entrance while the choir members went to the artists’ entrance.


On the way in, we picked up some of the cough drops we’d heard about during our tour. They use only those wrapped in wax paper rather than cellophane because they don’t crinkle during the performance.


Our tickets were in the center section, fourth row, on the aisle. Unfortunately, we were on the opposite side of the stage from Kim, but we spotted her occasionally behind the harp during the performance.

Before the performance, the church pastor, Jack Graham, made a surprise appearance. All the choir members were thrilled to see him there. The choir was introduced before Michael W. Smith took the stage. “If you have ever wondered what angels sound like, you are about to hear the closest thing on earth.” The director did not lie.

The show started with an acapella version of “Shine on Us.” (All music is hyperlinked to YouTube performances. The only one I could find of the acapella version of the Michael W. Smith arrangement of this song is from a high school choir. Kim verified the arrangement. Since their Carnegie concert was not recorded, I don’t have their version.)

During the rehearsal, the conductor/director, David Hamilton, worked with the choir to change from their usual all-out, full-volume style to modulate this song. As he worked with them, we heard a real transformation. Before the concert, choir members expressed concern about this piece since they would have no orchestra or piano to cover any errors. They delivered their best performance of the night. (Yes, I’m biased, but this is the type of choral music I most enjoy.)


This photo was taken during rehearsal. Kim is in the front row just to the right of the microphone next to the seated man. (I believe he may be the choir’s director.)

Finally, Michael W. Smith took the stage. The program began with the “Glory Overture.” This song made me cry during rehearsal. The actual performance was no different. There followed several songs he has recorded like “Great is the Lord” and “Down to the River.” (Video is with the Prestonwood choir at a performance in Texas. If you look closely, you may spot Kim.) More of his well-known songs followed, interspersed with some I hadn’t heard before like, “The Giving,” “Heroes,” and “There She Stands,” his tribute to the Statue of Liberty following the 9-11 attack. All of these have become favorites. The first half ended with “Gloria from Angels We Have Heard on High.”

During intermission, I made a quick visit to the gift shop. During our tour, I had spotted a few items I wanted to buy as mementos of this special trip. The most famous joke about Carnegie hall goes like this:
A performer (identified variously as Jasha Heifetz, Artur Rubenstein, or Jack Benny) was walking on the street in New York City when a passerby stopped him to ask, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer was: “Practice, practice, practice.”
The joke has become a staple at the hall, and many of their souvenir items feature the words, “Practice, Practice, Practice.” I bought myself a t-shirt and mug with the saying. I also got Kim a different mug, also with the same words.

Back in my seat, I was ready for the second half. It began with several of Michael’s well-known songs. They included a song he recorded with the Prestonwood choir, “We Are Alive.” (This song is available for purchase on the Prestonwood Choir CD Songs of the People.)

By the time we reached “Mighty to Save” and “Breathe,” the entire audience was singing along, whether or not it was the original intention. We looked around us. The hall was packed, and we thought some of the people near us might have come from the Brooklyn Tabernacle—including their choir members. The sound of over 2,000 voices plus the orchestra, choir, and soloist internalized the music. Powerful stuff.

The concert ended with “Agnus Dei.” The video is from a performance at Prestonwood Baptist Church prior to the Carnegie Hall weekend. (Kim is in the front of the very first choir shot as well as several other places in the video.)

Of course, by the end of this one, the audience was on its feet. The applause rolled on and didn’t stop.

As expected, Michael returned to the stage for an encore. Following a charming story and the first encore, he began to play the familiar chords of my favorite of his songs, “Friends.”

For many years, our church had a rite of passage for our graduating high school seniors. One Sunday, either in May or June, the high schoolers took over the worship service. They planned and executed the whole thing. The graduating seniors gave the message. Our high school adviser, Connie Mills, always chose “Friends” as the closing song for those special services. Every time I hear it, I am taken back to those wonderful days.

I sang and cried at the same time, along with others around me. I did not need to apologize.

For years, we had tickets for some of the great performance venues in Los Angeles: the Dorothy Chandler, Royce Hall, Ambassador Auditorium, Schubert, etc. We had a box at the Hollywood Bowl for three years. During those years, we heard many great performers like Itzhak Perlman, James Galway, Jean-Pierre Rampal, the Kings Singers, and on and on.

As we regained our breath at the end of the concert, I turned to Larry. “This is the best concert I’ve ever heard.” This was not an idle comment. He responded with, “yeah, and the second half was the very best singalong ever.”
Indeed, the entire evening was magic. But we weren’t finished yet.

Please enjoy the links to some fabulous music. Unfortunately, the concert itself wasn’t recorded or I would give you the link to buy the CD.
Next week, we wrap up our trip to NYC with a dinner cruise in NY Harbor.