Tuesday, January 17, 2017

And A Better Time

In the 60s, we were living in Oxnard--and despite the racial turmoil going on everywhere else, in our small part of the world, things were going fairly well.

We were definitely lower middle-class, and to be honest quite poor. Hubby was in the Seabees and poorly paid.We barely made it from month to month. We lived in a neighborhood with other poorly paid people--firemen and police officers. We were all buying our homes because in this particular tract, the down payment was only $100.

Our neighborhood was nicely racially mixed, using the terms of the time: white, black, Mexican, Filipino, and a smattering of others. Most of the schools were as racially mixed as was the PTA, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls.

My small Blue Bird group became Camp Fire Girls, and in Junior High swelled to 20 girls from all ethnic backgrounds and stayed together through high school. We had a wonderful time--we had many camp outs including back packing into the mountains, we visited Hollywood and went to free TV shows, on the bus to San Diego to a huge conference for high school age Camp Fire (Horizon Club), we put on musicals to make money, we had all sorts of parties, and our big and final adventure was a bus trip with our first stop at the Gene Pumping Station where the Colorado River water comes into California, we spent 3 days at the Grand Canyon and then we went to Las Vegas.

One of the exciting things about all this was most of the girls had never been out of California, a handful never out of Ventura County. We worked hard to make enough money to pay for our own Greyhound bus and for where we stayed in the Grand Canyon--plus our food along the way. 

Looking back, it was a great time. Most of those girls are grandmothers
now. I'm still in touch with many of them. And one has had a great singing career and is a back-up singer for Barry Manilow.

How I loved my Camp Fire Girls--and I learned as much or more by being their leader.

The little boy was my Makr--oh, how he wanted to be in Camp Fire.
We had a reunion, middle row, me and two moms that always helped.

And another reunion, with just a few--a couple of the moms and me.
Of course many of the girls had moved faraway--the reunion was in Oxnard at my daughter's house--and now she's moved too. Two of the women who helped me, have now passed away.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Doggedly Determined by Nancy Cole Silverman

After a year of being pet-less, my husband and I agreed it was time to adopt a new dog.  Last year, at Christmas time, we lost both our standard poodles to different cancers.  It was a devastating blow. But, we figured we had been lucky with them for as long as we had – nearly fifteen years – and we did our best to respect their memory and move forward.  However, as the holidays approached, I was determined to bring a little joy back into our lives. Something in the form of a wet nose, padded paws, and furry tail.  And, because I do believe fate interceded, we found a breeder with pups available post-holiday.


The pups were born November 5th , ten in all, and like I said, available for adoption between Christmas and New Years. However, there were problems. While the pups were fine, Ali, their mom, a three-year-old standard poodle show dog, was not.  The breeder was faced with some tough choices.  Ali couldn’t be bred again and would have to be re-homed. Did I want her?
Absolutely!  I didn't have to think twice about it. 

So, on December 30th  rather than return from the breeders with an eight-week-old puppy, puppy pads and a stack of manuals on How to Train Your Puppy, we brought Ali home. And she is....well, you decide.  That’s her picture above, and if it looks like she’s posing for the camera, she probably is.  After all, she was a show dog and the equivalent of Miss California when it comes to that type of thing.  But to me, she’s Ali, my new best friend.

If I sound a bit preoccupied, it’s because I am.  Not that I’ve time to be.  I’ve got a new book coming out later this year – WITHOUT A DOUBT, the fourth in the Carol Childs Mysteries and my final edits will keep me busy right up until mid-April. And then of course, because I am obsessive, I’m working on a fifth book in the series and a couple of short stories I hope to submit to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  But I’m taking a dog leg – you know, an alternate route – and going to allow myself a little play time.

One of my pet projects has long been working and writing about therapeutic riding programs for disabled children.  For years I had horses and worked with and reported on some of the fabulous things horses could do for a child who was crippled and unable to do anything more than sit in a wheelchair.  Through one of the therapeutic riding programs I worked with, I watched as some of their small deformed bodies were mounted on the back of a horse and held securely in place as trainers worked with the horse and child.  When I say it was heartwarming, I mean I could feel the blood rush to my heart and that I had tears in my eyes when I saw the smiles on their faces and their parents. For the first time, some of those sitting on the back of a horse were able to look down on their caretakers or see them eye to eye. 

I’ve never forgotten that experience, and after adopting Ali, it got me thinking about using her as a therapy dog. She’s calm, well-trained and I think it’s no accident we’ve found each other. If all works out, I hope to have her visiting children's hospitals and old folks’ homes before the end of the year.
How about that? Without even realizing it, I’ve just given Ali her first New Year’s Resolution. 
So, it’s going to be a busy year.  Between my crazy writing schedule and working with Ali, it’s an exciting time, but if you’ll excuse the pun, I’m doggedly determined.

Stay tuned.  Room for Doubt, the fourth of the Carol Childs Mysteries with Henery Press, drops July 18th.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Hidden Figures, the movie and memories it brought to mind

We loved "Hidden Figures". Besides a wonderful true story, it was a big reminder of the horror of segregation and how the press totally ignored these three African American women who actually made it possible for the US to go into space.

Watching it brought back memories of my feeble and totally unsuccessful attempt at pointing out how stupid segregation was back in the early 50s. Yes, I was a big ahead of everyone.

I grew up in Los Angeles CA and I never heard my folks talk bad about any race. No, I didn't grow up in an integrated neighborhood and the only neighbors of a different race were the Italians who lived across the street and had been there far longer than any of the rest of us.

When I first got married I moved to Maryland, and had my first exposure to racism. Believe me, it was a horrible shock. I won't go into all the things I heard and saw. However, I thought I could change things in a small way by doing the following:

I rode on the back of the bus.
I drank out of "colored" drinking fountains.
I sat in the balcony at the movies (it was where the "coloreds" were supposed to sit.
I tried to make friends, not successfully, with every black person I met.

Did it do any good? No. I quickly learned this is what the black people said about me.

"That's that crazy girl from California." Didn't stop me though. I was 18 and truly though I could make a change. I was a few years too early.

On a later visit back to the same area, by this time I had three kids, things hadn't improved much. I had to do some laundry so took my dirty clothes to the closest laundromat. I had never been in one before so asked for help from those around me. The women seemed reluctant to help me, but finally did. We chatted and I was asked where I was from. When I said California, glances were exchanged, and I was asked who I was visiting.

When I returned to my in-laws, I was asked where I'd done my laundry. When gave them the name of the business, I was told that wasn't proper, I 'd gone to the laundry for black people. 

My response, "My clothes got clean and everyone was nice to me." 

If you get the opportunity, be sure and see Hidden Figures.


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Lots of Rain in California, and the Rivers are Raging

We've had a big drought in California for too many years--and now we're getting lots of rain. The Tule River runs through Springville, my little town in the foothills. In fact the Tule flows/or rages, depending upon the time of year, behind our house. We are high enough, that we don't have to worry, but many homes are built right along the river, and for them, at times, it's scary.

There is a history of the Tule flooding and I heard many stories about it which inspired a story about flooding and mud slides which came out in 2012, Raging Water.

Raging Water Blurb:

A rash of burglaries and the murder of two women shock the mountain community of Bear Creek. Add a fast-moving thunderstorm that brings torrential rains and Tempe Crabtree, the resident deputy can forget about her days off.

Who would murder two harmless women? Did a drug addict simply want their medications or did they share a secret someone was willing to kill for?

When a massive mud slide blocks the road into town, temporary shelters are set-up, residents high above the river open their homes to friends and neighbors, tensions rise and tempers flare. 

The village of Bear Creek in many ways has a strong resemblance to my town of Springville though the fictional place is higher in the mountains. 

This is what the Tule River looks like now:

If you haven't read this book in the series yet, it's available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Dishonored and Forgotten - The Birth of a Book

               We became writers late in life.  I’ve authored several novels and a book of short-stories.  My wife, Carolyn, writes professional self-help books about parenting and communication skills, especially for children.  We often spend time pursuing separate writing interests, sequestered in our separate offices.   Often, collaboration involved nothing more than providing the first edit of each other's work. 

                One day we decided to take a break.  It was off to Galveston (a short twenty-minute drive) for lunch at a favorite restaurant, watching the ships plow through the channel to load and unload their cargo, including the human variety from cruise ships.  Tiring of that entertainment, we strolled Galveston's historic Strand district, browsing through novelty and antique shops. 

                In one shop, filled with posters, clothes, and items Carolyn calls antiques, but I classify as junk, we found a book of short true crime stories.  It described events that occurred in Texas years ago.  Shuffling through the pages, Carolyn pointed out a story about a 1953 Houston narcotics scandal in which police officers confiscated illegal drugs, then sold them back to the drug dealers.  She was returning the book to the shelf when I realized I’d heard anecdotal accounts of this event while a young police officer in Houston.  I'd never asked questions, but witnessed older cops tell the story (with a wink and a nod) of an officer committing suicide at the police station; the implication clear to me that it was more likely a murder, possibly committed by his fellow officers.

                Fascinated, we bought the book and embarked upon an extensive journalistic research project.  There were visits to public libraries to request and copy pertinent newspaper and magazine articles from the time, requests to Stanford University for copies of a federal agent's papers (donated to the library after his death), and internet searches to discover everything possible about the case and its participants.

We developed family connections for some of the characters who were involved in the case.  My blogs about the events prompted calls from some of those family members and other interested readers.  These contacts led to interviews with the daughter-in-law of a police chief, the son of a police officer who had known those involved, the nephew of the officer (who either committed suicide or was murdered at the police station), and a great-granddaughter of the pimp and drug-dealer who testified against corrupt police.

                One day Carolyn interrupted my writing as I prepared yet another blog about the scandal to declare that was time to write a book about the case.  She suggested that, for the first time, we collaborate on the telling of the story.  Even with all our research, we soon realized there were gaping holes in the lives of the characters and in the story itself.  It would be difficult to write a true crime account of the events.  

      So what would the book be?  How does one describe a novel loosely based on actual events, but that has considerable fiction interspersed to fill in those gaps?  Eventually it was decided.  We would refer to the book as a fictionalized account of the true story of Houston's first police drug scandal.  The gestation period for our new project had begun. 

                I would complete a few chapters, after which Carolyn would more fully develop the characters and the setting.  After two preliminary edits, we recruited beta readers to review the manuscript and make suggestions. 

Finally, just this month, on January 1, 2017, OUR BOOK WAS BORN.  A New Year's baby!  We titled it Dishonored and Forgotten, in honor of the police officer who may very well have given his life for having reported the illegal activities of his fellow narcotics officers.  We hope you share our joy in the new addition to our work.

Larry and Carolyn Ferrell Watts

Larry and Carolyn are Texas authors who have teamed up as authors for the first time to write Dishonored and Forgotten.  Larry has a BA in Labor Studies and is a graduate of the renowned Harvard University Trade Union Program whose mission is to help union leaders develop problem solving skills as well as discover ways to deepen public understanding of the value and importance of labor.

Larry’s career in law enforcement began in Houston, Texas, as a police officer. He became active in police labor issues and served on the board of directors of the Houston Police Officers’ Association and the National Association of Police Associations.  He retired after 21 years and began working for a state-wide association representing law enforcement officers throughout Texas, eventually becoming the chief of staff. After 20 years, he again retired, and began his first fiction novel, The Missing Piece about an Austin police officer involved in shooting a black citizen. Within a year, Watts was asked to assist the City of Austin develop a labor relations department.  Publication of that novel was postponed for two years while he fulfilled the interesting challenge.  He has now published five works of fiction and a book of short-stories.     His experiences are fodder for and add depth to his writing.

Carolyn worked for Continental Airlines for 16 years.  She was a flight attendant scheduler early in that career and worked in Continental's Public Relations Department before returning to school to attain a BS in Psychology and an MS in School Psychology. Her professional career has spanned positions in education, a non-profit counseling center and shelter for victims of domestic violence, and a private practice that enabled her to fulfill her desire to work with couples and their children. 

Carolyn has advocated for children, parents and families for over 20 years as a counselor and specialist in school psychology.  She is certified in marriage and family relationship therapies and in advanced therapies for treating trauma, loss and PTSD.   Her training in working with trauma was valuable in 2011 when she volunteered to counsel victims and first responders during devastating wildfires in Texas.

Dishonored and Forgotten is Carolyn's first venture into historical fiction writing.  She has previously written six read-play-learn-together books for therapists and parents to use while working with children.  She presents workshops to mental health providers and parents.

Larry and Carolyn live on the Texas Gulf Coast where they spend their time writing, enjoying family and attempting to capture all that life has to offer.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

I haven't had a whole lot of time to read--that's what happens when there's big holidays and I'm trying to finish writing a book of my own.

When I received a copy in the mail of Everything You Want Me to Be from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, I knew it would take me a while to read it. At first I read it in spurts, but as I got near the end and knew that it wasn't going to turn out the way it was headed, I couldn't stop until I finished.

The story comes from the three main characters: Hattie, a senior in highschool; the sheriff, Del Goodman, and the new  and not so happily married English teacher, Peter.

As the book progresses we learn about Hattie's obsession toward her teacher, his feelings toward her, about her family and her school friends, including her convenient boy friend, Tommy.

The author does an excellent job of getting inside the Hattie's head and her emotions, and her ability to manipulate everyone around her

As the story progresses, though it looks like everything is going to revolve one way, it takes a jolting twist--and then another. 

Though someone compared it to the bestseller Gone Girl  I think it was far better. The narrators were reliable in this tale--but the outcome was surprising, though believable.


Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year! 2017

On this day, January 1, 2017, we are continuing our New Year's Day tradition--for those in our family who love seafood, we are enjoying my special seafood gumbo. 

It begins with the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving which constitutes the beginnings of the broth with chunks of turkey.The bones are thrown out--celery and onions are added and cooked, along with a couple of cans of tomato chunks. I add a carton of chicken broth, and a big package of frozen okra. I season with a couple of shakes of Tabasco and salt. 

When it's near time to eat, I'll add shrimp and crab legs (I like the smaller ones best for this) to the boiling broth, but it doesn't really need to cook, I pull out the crab legs so people can take a couple.
It's served over rice.

Easy and really good!

After we're full we play a rousing game of Estimation.

As for resolutions, I don't do them. My hope and prayer is for a good year for family and friends. And of course I would hope for my books too.