Feeling How God Feels

Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20)  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Judith Slaying Holofernes (1614–20) by Artemisia Gentileschi  Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

I’m not God, but I play one in my novels. It’s no secret that my books are about flawed people who eventually get their acts together (as I’m an optimist). I think about Calvin’s idea of God choosing who to save. I’ve always hated this idea, but as a writer I find a weird parallel. Almost as soon as I think up a character I know if I’m going to save him or not. I’m not sure if it’s a decision on my part or just a sense, a knowing, that this character will move in the direction of redemption or in the opposite direction. All of my characters are jerks, wimps and selfish asses–so basically human. I love them. I create them. I fret over how they will get to where they need to go to be redeemed (I never know until I join them on the journey).

I fret over the other guys, too. The characters who seem bent on spiritual blindness, who do good things sometimes but for terrible reasons, who suffer abuse and have great excuses for being bad–but choose to stay bad. I root for these people, I do mental gymnastics to turn them around. I want them to change direction, but I’ve never been able to convince them of anything. Never once have I been surprised. I know from the beginning and it’s a sad thing.

I wonder if God is all powerful then why can’t he just change people. On a tiny scale I experiment with the same notion, but the resistance from the character is so strong and my coddling and begging make for a stilted story, an unreal outcome.

My untrained and insignificant brain knows more intelligent thinkers have better answers and impressive theories.

The past is my playground because fate and freewill matter little when looking back. Novel writing forces one to live in the present with predestination standing there at the finish line.




The most tragic day of Teddy Roosevelt’s life

Ephemeral New York

TRdiaryfeb14At the beginning of 1884, everything seemed to be going Theodore Roosevelt’s way.

The 25-year-old Harvard graduate, a descendant of a colonial Dutch family with deep roots in New York City, had already written an acclaimed first book, The Naval War of 1812.

He’d also been elected to the state assembly and was making a name for himself as an energetic and outspoken Republican who wouldn’t tolerate financial corruption.

His personal life was going spectacularly as well. In 1880 he had married the tall, willowy girl of his dreams, Alice Hathaway Lee (below).

Roosevelt was crazy in love with Lee and ecstatic that after a year of courtship she agreed to marry him.

AlicehathawayleefullOn a sleigh ride near her family home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, after they had become engaged, “the horse plunging to his belly in the great drifts, and the wind cutting my face like a knife,”…

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FICTION SERIAL (part eighteen): Nits Make Lice

After tussling with Colonel James, Lieutenant Weldon brings back Indian prisoners, ending the scout on a sour note.

The men followed as Weldon went off toward the supposed Indian camp. They made quiet time and chanced upon the faintest light from the smallest fire in a ravine. Weldon signaled for his men to crawl on their knees, and finally their bellies, as they inched over to the boulders that concealed their progress. The small camp had a few shelters. Two braves sat at the fire.

At Weldon’s signal the soldiers fired into camp startling, but missing the two. Weldon slid, walked and tumbled after them, shot again and caught one. Another went down, but the rest escaped into the darkness. The soldiers tore the shelters and ransacked them for whatever they thought worth taking. A mother and child huddled inside one, too panicked to move. Weldon grabbed the woman and tied her hands after passing the child to another soldier.

“Shall we take the heads of the braves to show the citizens?” asked a private.

“No, let’s get the hell out of here,” Weldon replied, taking the woman by her arm as the sun rose. “We have prisoners and injured men to worry about.”

Sending two more men to stay with the sergeant, Weldon led the rest of the party back to camp just as the men there finished their morning coffee.

The colonel and the reporter shielded their eyes from the morning glare as the men came in. A shirtless James stood sipping coffee, his suspenders hanging around his legs, but the reporter trotted up for news. Weldon brushed by him. The others were happy to give their accounts of the events so far.

“Weldon, again you defied me!” James yelled, scratching the peeling sunburn at his chest.

“Sir, the sergeant is hurt but safe for now,” Weldon said with the Indian woman in tow. “I suggest we start back as soon as possible for Camp Grant.”

“Weldon, make the preparations. I’ll see to the prisoner,” James said, spilling his coffee at Weldon’s feet and handing him the cup before pulling up his trousers.

Weldon threw the tin on the ground and went to get the men from the stream.

The Apache woman screamed when the colonel cut her clothes from her. “Take a good look at that quim, boys.” James laughed, inviting the boys to poke her with their guns. No one did. The colonel took her by the hair and dragged her to his wagon. A few of James’ cronies cheered. The newsman had stopped writing and watched with his arms folded and his face dumb as stone.

“What the hell’s going on?” cried Weldon running up. “Where’s the child?”

The writer reported, “Nits make lice as they say.”

James cursed from the wagon. Weldon and a few others jumped on back but it was too late. The girl fell out before them.

“That filthy bitch bit me!” the colonel announced, jumping down. He grabbed his pistol. The men pulled at James, but he was not to be deterred. The woman tried to run but James caught up with her and knocked the butt of his gun against her skull with a heavy thud.

No one laughed now. One man vomited as the woman lay oozing blood and brain.

“Private Darlington, get rid of this mess. Pick a friend to help you,” the colonel ordered. At that moment the poor private had no friends. He tapped Jones on the shoulder and received a savage look.

“By jinks, these Indians have soft skulls,” James said. “I hardly hit her.” He glanced at his audience and once at the lifeless woman, small and soft. “Weldon, get us out of here. I’m tired of this scouting business,” the colonel stated with a touch of emotion. “You got us into this mess, now you get us out!”

James ordered a large fire set to the wagons and anything else that could not be taken along. Darlington and Jones wrapped the woman in a blanket and rolled her over a steep hill until she hit rock. The ground was too tough to dig and there wasn’t time.



















19th century songs for little children

Pretty illustrations!

now and then

I keep going back to Project Gutenberg’s e-books to discover the new treasures regularly added to their collection.

Take, for example, this 1883 French book of children’s songs – Vieilles chansons pour les petits enfants.

The better known Frère Jacques and Sur le pont d’Avignon are included in the selection of over 30 songs.  I’ve selected three of the rhyme illustrations.  The original book would be wonderful to see as many of the images were coloured wood engravings. The first is a simple rhyme about a dance in single file. The second is about a mean person in possession of good quality snuff (ground tobacco leaves) and not sharing it.  The third is a sad tale of Michael’s mother who lost her cat only to discover that it has been kidnapped and sold for a rabbit.

Vieilles chansons pour les petits enfantsLa queueJ'ai du bon tabacLa Mere Michel

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Vieilles chansons pour les petits enfants, by Charles…

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What Are They Thinking?




As a writer I’m in awe of Norman Rockwell’s gift for telling stories without words. Yes, I love the details: a condiment tray, a rumpled jacket on the boy’s chair and the umbrella clutched by the man in the corner. What is that look on his face? The two fresh-faced young men are lured in yet wary (and possibly disdainful). Do they miss their lost innocence?

Uncared for by Augustus Edwin Mulready

Inducement: A Bedtime Story

“I was thinking about killing you. With a knife,” the little girl says.

“Really. Hmm,” I reply.

“NO, I mean I’m not really going to kill you. You’re a sweet person, but if I did kill you (with a knife) would you be in the hospital or dead?” she asks, flipping the pages of the story book we were reading.

“Well, first off, I’d never let you kill me, but let’s just say you did. I don’t know where I’d be, but you’d be in jail.”

Her eyes widen. “But kids don’t go to jail.”

“Yeah, they do. Juvenile detention is one place they go. So it’s really your choice. You could live with us where everyone loves each other or you could become a killer every time someone doesn’t give you a 5th brownie and land in jail with other kid killers.”

“Oh,” she says. “Well, I would never kill you anyway.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think so because then we couldn’t be friends–obviously. And you’d have no chance with Grant from Kid’s Bop because he seriously wouldn’t date a killer,” I point out.

The little girl mulls it over. “Adrienne, I think I see what your saying. Can we go to the library tomorrow and  maybe to Starbucks and I can get one of those cupcakes–you know the red ones . . .”

“Red velvet?”

“Yeah, because I really love them. Didn’t we have fun the last time?”


The little girl flips the pages again (we’d need to work on her handling of library books). “My mom tried to kill my sisters and I had to protect them. Did you know that?”

“Yeah, I heard something about it.”

“She kept our heads underwater in the bath tub and once she taped me to a chair and covered my mouth with silver tape and left me for days. I had to break free to go to the bathroom in the closet.”

I have nothing to say.

“So Adrienne, you know I love you and I would never hurt you. Did I upset you?”

“No, not really. I think I get where you’re coming from. But it’s safe here. See, we covered the windows so the wolves won’t get you, and there’s the dog lying there to protect you. Now what do you do if you’re scared during the night?”

The little girl sighs, plugs in her mp3 player and says, “I’ll knock on your door.”


**INDUCEMENT: With no words required, one person sets up a situation to make another person feel just what that first person feels.