One Small Step…

I’ve chosen July 20 for the release of my new novel, NOT KNOWING, very deliberately: It’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  Meg Fitzellen (my main character) knew that the moon landing was a significant event in the life of her father; she just had no idea how significant it truly was.

I watched the landing on a small black-and-white TV in the basement of a student hostel in Austria in 1969, while I was on a study-abroad trip. Not coincidentally, so did Meg’s father!

If you haven’t seen the CNN documentary yet, by all means tune in this Sunday, June 23!

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Remembering Loss

A writer I follow on Twitter made the point that Memorial Day is not a day for calling up your military vet friends to thank them for their service, but rather a day for remembering those who died in service to our country.
Technically, she’s right, of course. But I think maybe it’s both.
I think it’s also a day for remembering all of our returned vets who have committed suicide and those who continue to do so with alarming regularity.
I think it’s a day for remembering homeless vets.
I think it’s a day for remembering the dreams that died on the battlefield with lost limbs and lost sanity.
I’m especially vulnerable to such sentiments this year because my next novel delves into these issues and especially into the legacy of family hardship that follows along with them.
I honor those who have given of themselves in honorable service. But I also hope for a day when we no longer sacrifice our young men and women’s lives and limbs and dreams in the service of ill-advised wars and interminable conflicts.

Remembering Mothers

 

 

 

The memories that matter are not at your grave site. There I find only tears, sad faces, loss. No, the memories I seek are in the houses where life happened.

In the kitchen where we sat together shelling peas or on the porch where we ate grapes with ice while waiting for the postman or at the table where we listened to the radio and played endless games and you let me keep score or under the trees where we gathered pecans in autumn. Today I remember life. Happy Mothers’ Day!

Broken Things

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I broke a teacup today. Well, I didn’t exactly break it; it was broken when I unpacked it from the move. You can tell by the clean lines of the break that divided it into exactly four pieces that it was a pressure fracture rather than an impact. That would have shattered it and produced messy shards.
The cup was part of a delicate little tea set hand painted for my mother by my best friend’s grandmother in the late 1950s. Well, she was my best friend back then. After my family moved away in the summer of 1962, my best friend and I wrote letters back and forth for a while. We were in high school and by the time we both went off to college, we only saw each other a few more times. Now I don’t even know where she is or what her name is. These things happen to women. We change our names and move on.
One of my Facebook friends suggested I have the cup repaired by the Japanese technique that fuses the pieces back together using gold or silver, making the piece more beautiful for its accident, making the break a part of its history instead of the end of it. That didn’t seem right for this piece.
My friend Debra Broz said she could put it back together and make it look good as new. I’ve seen her work; no one would ever have known it had been broken. Except me. I’d always know. And I’d always know it was Debra’s art as much as my school friend’s grandmother’s art that created my teacup. That didn’t seem right either.
Another friend suggested I have one of the fragments made into a piece of jewelry. Maybe I’ll do that.
Or maybe I’ll just try to track down my school friend and we can talk about her grandmother and drink tea from the cups that didn’t break.

Retrospective

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The house where I lived for four years during high school no longer exists. The ground where it stood is now a paved parking lot for the Methodist Church across the street. That church is why I was there. My dad was the preacher. We lived in the parsonage.

The church is still there, white and solid and pretty as ever, with its proud historic marker out front, its claim to continuity and care. The town itself looks much the same as I remembered it, only older and with a few things missing. The old train station is gone. It was where the whole town used to turn out for pep rallies on Thursday nights before the Friday high school football games. Trains hadn’t stopped there in years. The old Baptist Church is a ruin, but there’s a new one.

I was back for a high school class reunion – our 50th. Like the town, we were all older and some members were missing. My folks had moved away shortly after I graduated high school, so I hadn’t seen these classmates in 50 years. It’s a strange feeling. We barely remember who we were back in high school and have no idea who each other is now. There were only 33 of us when we graduated; seven are gone. Out of the 26 remaining, ten of us showed up for the reunion. Others were too far away, in poor health, or had pressing obligations of family or work.

“I’ve been thinking about how much things have changed in the past 50 years,” I said to one of my classmates as we departed for our respective homes, some farther away than others.

“Yeah,” he said. “You know, in 1966 when we graduated, it was the class of 1916 having a 50-year reunion. They probably thought things had changed a lot, too.” That added a little perspective.

We talked a while longer. He lamented the local schools having been taken over by the Mexicans. Not just any Mexicans – the Raza Unida ones. He said it was hard to get help on the farms and ranches anymore. Our hometown was now just a bunch of meth labs and addicts. Some people send their kids to distant towns – smaller towns – so they can get that good country schooling experience. Some people, he said, think about selling their farms and ranches. “But where would we go?” It was a tough question.

I felt the distance between us. Not just the years, but the disparate experiences. I thought about the old story of the blind men and the elephant. We’re like that. We’ve experienced different slices and segments of life, so of course we draw different conclusions about what it all means.

He told me about an encounter he’d had a couple years back with a “colored man” coming through town. There weren’t any “colored people” in our town. According to what my dad heard when we were living there, the last black people in the town had been lynched.

This is where I went to high school. This is where I graduated 50 years ago. Things have changed a lot in 50 years. In some places more than in others.

The Encounter

nobodyREMEMBERS

Way of the Serpent opens with Jenda Swain’s encounter with an old woman, a woman Jenda doesn’t remember. “Of course you don’t remember,” the woman says. “Nobody remembers much of anything anymore.”

Shadow of the Hare begins with the same scene, but this time the reader is seeing it from the viewpoint of the old woman, Malia Poole, a dissident author and bibliophile. Here is what happens as Malia leaves the cafe where the encounter occurred:

Tears began to fall as soon as I was out on the street. I felt betrayed. Damn these disconnected memories! I have more memories than most people these days, but there’s that one year from high school—the period when I knew Jenda best—that’s always been a blank. At least until recently. It’s cruelly ironic that now I’ve reached an age when normal memories start to fade, these submerged ones begin to wash up like shards of sea glass on a beach. I write them down, cataloging them like curios of uncertain provenance, although sometimes I wish I could hurl them back into the ocean of forgetfulness from which they came.

After I left the café, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jenda. She felt like a key to something. I may not remember a lot about her, but I do know that up-tight little prude with the pressed lapels isn’t the girl I knew in high school. I’m pretty sure that back then she was a passionate Vintagonist. Something had happened to her, something very different from what has happened to me.

Preorder Shadow of the Hare.

You haven’t read Way of the Serpent? Free download continues through April 9.