My Life Mission Is Soon To Be Accomplished

MY MESSAGE TO EVERYONE is to NEVER STOP SEEKING PURPOSE! Never settle for what others think is enough for you.

For most of my life I drifted with that uneasy feeling of never finding a life purpose. As a purpose-driven person I dove deep into things I was only mildly interested in and relationships that were fascinating but dysfunctional. At the time these weird relationships and ridiculous career choices were only slightly amusing–to others. Family and friends thought I was successful enough. They thought I was too serious. I was doing pretty normal things fairly well, but internally I was in a constant state of unrest.

Then I wrote a novel about life, family, love and addiction. One hundred pages into the first draft I knew, I really knew, that I’d found my purpose–or that I’d finally listened to the inner voice given to me at birth. And now with the end of one long novel about an addicted soldier and his wife and a series about their offspring coming to a close after 5 books, I’m satisfied.

This doesn’t mean I plan to die from Lyme complications or that I’m tired of writing, but if I had to stop after I publish the novel I’m editing right now, I’d be okay. Before I was never okay. I was a caged tiger, a malnourished creative and a diamond in the rough.

Some people who like epic sagas loved THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD (a few didn’t). The next books  starting with WEARY OF RUNNING are shorter and possibly better, but I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to finish writing the series I’ve hardly talked about all the fun, sad and exciting characters who’ve become a second family to me. Now I know what happens to them all, and I can’t wait to share them with the world.

I don’t know where I end, but it’s okay. It really is.

My mission was to write imperfect characters. That I’ve done. Will readers understand the hearts hidden behind pride, fear, stupidity and a desperate need for love and meaning? I hope so. The mission was (and is) to take imperfect people and let them know they are loved. I love them.

My fantastic designer and I decided with the series nearing completion that it was time to re-do the covers. They so fantastically capture the spirit of the books I have a hard time not bringing them into every conversation I have with strangers.

Aren’t they beautiful?

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Fiction: Grace Before Meals

“Young man, you lost the girl to drink, didn’t you?”

“No,” William replied, folding his arms before him. “You’re wrong. She’s not my girl.”

The missionary raised his hands. “All right, I believe you, but you see, I desperately need a mapmaker—a real artist to capture the flavor of the tribes and the landscape. I need a first class cartographer to illustrate the routes we’ll be exploring. Captain Bourke said you were the one, and I believe him.”

“You don’t even know my work.”

“There you’re wrong.” The missionary laughed and pulled three wrinkled sketches of women from his bag.

William wanted to vomit. His most disgusting work in the hands of a missionary!

“These belong to you, I assume, though you didn’t sign them.”

“Where did you get them?” William asked.

“Father Diaz. He says that a man came full of regret at the way his life turned out and gave over his worldly possessions to the church.”

William scratched his head. “That sort of thing sells here, sir. I was sort of desperate for cash.”

“We’re not in the army, William. No need to call me sir. Technically, these drawings show talent–and misplaced use of it. The captain says you’ve had it hard at times, but he vouches for your character.”

“Really?” William leaned in, hungrily. He’d made such a mess of things in the army.

“So will you come? We can’t pay much, but . . .”

“Come where?” William asked.

“I’m not sure yet, but you’ll be fed,” Kenyon said.

“I don’t know. I have to think . . .”

Kenyon took the last sip of his non-alcoholic drink. “But I’m afraid that when we travel, spirits—in the form of liquor—don’t follow. We need to present our best side in order to convert.”

William sighed. “It’s not for me, sir. My leg . . . I don’t have much time for God, and I won’t convert people.”

Mr. Kenyon laughed again. “I would never ask you to convert people. How could you? You don’t know the Lord. This is purely a practical thing. In case you haven’t noticed, there’s not a wealth of talent here. We have no money to attract established artists, and you seem to be at loose ends—though you’d have a difficult time leaving behind the drink.”

“Do you think I’m that weak?” William asked.

The missionary didn’t answer. He adjusted the sack on his back and walked toward the saloon door.

William stood with his arms crossed. He was weak and pathetic and hungry. “Sir . . .”

“Come along and let’s eat,” Mr. Kenyon said with a generous wave of his arm.

The missionary wiped food from the dirty table at Matilda’s with his bandana. “Crumbs bother me,” Mr. Kenyon said. He ordered for both of them in a Spanish dialect that pleased the older lady who served them.

William said, “I’m not good at language.”

“English or Spanish?” Mr. Kenyon teased.

William was serious. “Neither, I guess. I’m like my father.”

“I’m like my father, too. He was a missionary, and so am I.”

“Well, that’s an impressive thing,” William replied, tapping his fingers on the table.

“I don’t know, but sometimes it’s lonely, hard work. I’m away from family and friends most of the time. Thank you again for joining me.”

“Well, I have nothing better to do,” William replied, but felt he’d been too harsh. “I mean, thank you for inviting me. Can I ask—why do you do it? Probably the Indians will die off and good riddance to them—so what’s the point?”

“I said that my life can be hard at times, but I love it. The Indians won’t die off. They’re strong and interesting in their way. I’m blessed to be alive at a time when there is such potential for the Gospel to change their lives.”

“What if the Indians want things as they are?” William asked.

“Most people like what they know. It’s easier, isn’t it?” Mr. Kenyon replied.

William stretched his neck, waiting for the food. A young Mexican girl with soft eyes brought their plates. William grinned at her, and she giggled before leaving them.

Mr. Kenyon asked, “Shall I say something?” It was more of an announcement than a question.

“Go ahead. If you want to,” William replied, but was aghast when the missionary took his hand for prayer. He glanced around and back to Kenyon, who bent his head with eyes shut.

“But thanks be to God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.”

William chuckled and turned to his food. “The only aroma I smell is of burnt beans and chilies.”

“Nourishment is from God.”

William dropped his fork on the plate. “Is that the way religious types talk all the time? Do you ever have normal talk or do you have to bring God into every little thing? It’s damned annoying—and off-putting, I might add. All those quotes from the Bible like you’re so smart and holy. If God didn’t pick such conceited men to preach His words He might get more followers. I think you’re a fake.” He considered leaving, but the food smelled so good. He sat for a few moments trying to come up with something to say. “Listen, I’m sorry about the joke.”

The missionary shrugged and continued eating. “Good stuff,” he said in between bites.

“Yes, it’s good,” William said as the hot food warmed his empty stomach.

Kenyon took a drink and said, “Missionaries are pretty ordinary, William. We talk about normal boring things, of course, but to be honest, I feel in a celebratory mood. A good meal, a new friend and finally a replacement for our last artist. For some, hearing Scripture is like a fork scratching china, but to me it’s poetry. I’m not much of a singer, but good words I can say. I am what I am. How people will judge me is of no consequence.”

With his mouth half full, William said, “I’m not really the person you’re looking for. Thanks for the meal, but . . .”

Kenyon unfolded the pieced together map William had made for Bourke. He passed it to William.

“William, here, you have a great gift. Whatever darkness you have in your heart, you made this. I’ve seen many a map, but none that captures the soul of its maker so beautifully. That map is a work of art. If you can put the world on paper like that, I can put up with your cynicism and less than stellar opinion of humankind—especially the religious types.”

William swallowed. “So you like the map? You think it’s all right?”

Kenyon gave him a sideways glance, wiping his forehead. “We have some supplies—paints and things—you can look at if you’re interested.”

“Um, what happened to the other fellow—the last artist?” William asked.

“He was killed,” the missionary said his eyes welling with tears.

PREVIOUS EPISODE

Fiction: Strong Medicine

Miss Peckham’s mistake was sympathizing with a drunk.

Someone pinched William’s arm. He shielded his eyes from the light of day as Miss Peckham stared down at him.

“Mr. Weldon, I sent you to get my things YESTERDAY. I expected you back YESTERDAY.”

William looked up with scorn. “Why should I care what you expect? You’re not my master.”

“I smell your master on your breath,” Miss Peckham said. “Now where are my things?”

William inched up, scratching his sweaty chest through his damp checked shirt. “In the corner—over there.”

Miss Peckham folded her arms. “Don’t fool with me, Mr. Weldon.”

William saw that the corner was empty. “Damn, I think I left it at The Buckskin.”

“You really are a moron like they say.”

William couldn’t deny it. He grabbed his boots, slipped them on and led her into The Buckskin. “We’re looking for a carpetbag I may have left here.”

The bartender handed it over to him. William considered ordering a drink, but thought better of it.

Miss Peckham took the bag and once outside inspected it. “Everything is wet!” She pulled out the journal of her travels and shoved it under William’s nose. “My work is destroyed! How could you, Bill?” she cried.

“I-I didn’t spill anything!”

“Of course not! Oh, I’m cursed! No matter how many times it happens, I’m still taken in by drunkards and bummers! You’re both. Lieutenant Fahy said as much. But you seemed so harmless!” She burst into tears.

Miss Peckham slumped onto the bench usually occupied by two Mexican alcoholics. “I was orphaned because of the drink. My father and mother both and no matter how I try I still land sitting outside a tavern with my life in tatters. All of my work ruined!” she cried again.

William sat beside her, half expecting to be hit. “I know how you feel, Miss Peckham. Honestly, I do.”

“I don’t want your sympathy. I don’t need it, and I’d rather you left me alone, now that you’ve ruined my life,” she replied and pulled a hankie from her sleeve.

William was tempted to point out that anyone with half a brain would never leave things in the hands of whores and drunks, but didn’t. “No, Miss Peckham—I mean, my father is worse than a drunk—he’s an opium eater and if he hadn’t quit the army he would have been drummed out. I hate him, but then . . . look at me.”

Miss Peckham wiped her tears and glanced at him. She laughed. “By golly, if we aren’t the most pathetic pair.”

William took a deep breath. “I used to think God wanted me for something.”

“God doesn’t exist. Science has won the day, I’m afraid. We’re just tiny parts of a long march to perfection.” She laughed again. “You said yourself that weak ones like us will die out for the good of the species.”

“The species? You are unusual, Miss Peckham, but I’m not able to completely give up on at least the idea of God.”

“Well, maybe with an education you would be,” Miss Peckham said, fanning a wet journal page. “Look, what has God done for you?”

“God expects decent behavior,” William said. “I’m just a rotten drunk. I’ll never forgive my parents. I’m not good enough for . . .”

Miss Peckham closed her wet book. “Who says you’re not good enough? You are what you think you are. That’s what my uncle always said. Listen, I’m sorry for you, but I want to be a great writer, not someone who allows self-pity keep her down. I’ll copy as many of my notes as I can into a new journal—so don’t feel bad. Your mistakes won’t finish me.”

“Well, can we remain friends then?” William asked.

“I can’t—no–I won’t be around your type anymore.” Miss Peckham stood and walked off without even a glance back.

William sat for hours, staring out at the awful little settlement with its wilted cottonwoods and dusty, filthy paths. People moved in slow motion. This was home. He had no parents, no friends, not one person to turn to. He had no work, no money and no inspiration as to how he might get some. He starved but could get no nourishment. Not a single person acknowledged him as all day he sat in the blistering sun until it fell with only the smallest relief. As a child William sat upon his father’s knee following the hummingbirds darting to and fro at sunrise in the desert. How William had admired his father then. Adored him even.

A man came and sat beside him. William held his breath in annoyance and considered rising but had no place to go.

The man spoke. “I’ve been watching you all day.”

William glared at him. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a statement of fact,” the man responded.

William waited for further explanation, but none came and so they both sat watching men unload flour sacks at the general store.

“This is an interesting little town,” said the man.

William chuckled. “Yes, it’s all very interesting.”

“You’ve been out here for hours—since the girl left you.”

“Hey, are you some kind of spy?”

“No, I was reading beneath the tree over there and fell asleep. When I woke up you were still sitting here.”

William shrugged.

“What’s your trade, son?” the man asked.

William took a good look at the heavy, bearded man and figured he was harmless. “I have no trade to speak of anymore.”

“Why are you here?”

“I ask myself that very same question. My father sent me for an adventure—to learn something, I guess.”

“Well, that’s nice,” the man said, stretching his legs before him as if he might stay a while.

“Not really. I’ve bungled it all. My parents and friends are ashamed of me—as well they should be.”

“That’s too bad.”

William rolled his eyes. “Yes, it is too bad.”

The man wiped his shiny forehead with a faded bandana. “Listen, I’m not one for hot climates. I’m going to get out of the sun. Would you care to join me? For a meal. I’ve no company as my associates went in search of artifacts, and I hate to eat alone.”

“I don’t know what you’re on about, or what you want from me, but I may as well tell you I’m broke—there’s nothing you can take from me.”

“I’m a little out of my element here in the desert and everyone is a bit intimidating. I just thought you looked trustworthy.”

William cussed under his breath. This man had lost his wits.

The man stood up. “Maybe you could point me in the right direction for a decent place to eat.”

“The only place in town is Matilda’s. It’s over there and it’s Mexican.”

“So have you decided you’ll come?”

William shielded his eyes from the last bit of sun. “I don’t even know you. Why would I eat with you?” he asked, his stomach grumbling.

“There’s not much to know. I’m a missionary. My name is Seth Kenyon, and I was told by Captain Bourke that there was a talented mapmaker and artist living here in town. Maybe you know him—a William Weldon?”

PREVIOUS EPISODE

Family Histories: The Musclehead’s Grandparents

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today’s post is from THE MUSCLEHEADED BLOG. Chris never fails to amuse me with his mix of humor, sex and vintage postcards. Here he writes about grandparents:

triangle

Note: this post might
start out sounding
like it’s about Math,
— but it ain’t.

Believe me,
if I really wrote a post
about what I knew about Math,
I’d sound more like this:a1
“2+2= ummmm– 22 ???? ”

Ahem.

 

Do you know the
old story of Pythagoras?

How,
when he figured out that:
” in a right-angled triangle
the area of the square
on funnythe hypotenuse
(the side opposite the right angle)
is equal to the sum of the areas
of the squares of the other two sides” ,
he exclaimed ” Eureka !! “,
which in the Greek language
means ” I’ve Found It ! ” .

( ok…
technically speaking,
he said: ” εὕρηκα “ ,
but that’s all Greek to me )

Anyhoo….

Well, I’ve had some εὕρηκα
moments of my own recently
and I’ve come to realize
a couple things…..

For most of my life,mad-widens-the-generation-gap I thought my grandparents
were kinda crazy.

I mean,
I loved them like nobody’s business —

My Grandfather had a cockeyed sense of humor that would come out at the oddest times —

— especially when things
were really going badly.

My Grandmother was one of
the loveliest women to ever live —
smart, beautiful, and
dare I say it — sensual.

Even well into her 90’s,
long after my Grandfather
had passed, my Grandmother
had male suitors sending her
flowers and gifts in the nursing home.

But it’s only been recently
that I’ve been figuring out,
that they really knew what
the hell they were talking about.

generation_gap

Take Prune Juice, for instance.

I’m not saying I would ever
drink this stuff, despite the marvelous effects that other mature ( ahem ) folks that I know are getting out of it.

Those marvelous effects —

Well, let’s just say
without them, you walk
around feeling sorta outasorts .

I used to think my grandparents
drank the stuff cause they liked the taste of it.

Shows ya what a kid knows.

NADA.

Young people figure icons
they’re hip to the jive,
they’re up to date and groovy —

And that older
people are square,
superstitious,
and old fashioned —-
just to be spiteful.

It’s only when you start walking
around in comfortable clothes,
unbranded sneakers,
and buy yourself a four-door car,

—- do you start to realize there’s
a method to their madness, man.

It’s the truth.

Cooking at home — there’s one.

I always figured why cook at home ,
— when you can go out to eat?

Until you’ve done it
10,000 times or so,
and realize….

record

What Grandmom used
to call ‘junk food’ —
turned out to be just that .

Hey– at home —
everything’s fresh,
the food’s better,
and the service don’t suck.

Have it your way anytime —
by doing it yourself at home.

You knew what was it
in the food, ’cause you made it.

It’s freakin genius, I tell you.

Now, my grandfather
didn’t trust banks.

He had survived the
Great Depression as a young man —

The runs on the banks,
the quick-rich-cum-suddenly-
poor jumping off skyscrapers,
the soup lines,
the whole rotten deal….

genAnd he remembered that banks are basically just a glorified Ponzi scheme.

So, he’d cash his
paycheck each week,
take the cash home,
divide it into little envelopes —
— one for the light bill,
one for the water,
one for the mortgage, etc.

Once he had put the allotted
amount of cash in each envelope,
he knew how much cash he had
left to spend for the rest of
the week on luxuries like
going to the movies, eating out, etc.

He never worried
about bank fees, borgcheck charges, balancing the books,
broken ATM machines,
credit card interest, or any of
the rest of the millarkey
I deal with on a regular basis.

Hey, back in the early 1970’s,
I had one of the first ATM cards ever issued.

The bank I was using
was the first one in Florida
to do the whole ATM thing.

I was really enthusiastic twiceabout the concept–
— cash from a machine —
24 hours a day !

Talk about technology.

But when I told him
about it, he just laughed.

Crazy old geez, I thought.

Stuck in the middle ages, poor guy.

Yeah.

Uh huh.

sexandcoffee

Somehow, over time,
we forgot what
those banks were,
and are about.

But he never did.

 

I remember how they’d
look at each other
with this special sense of ardor —
as if their passion
was what twitdefined them–
as man, and as woman,
when they were together.

I was asked to give her eulogy,
when my grandmother passed at age 95.

I explained that there were
two things that everybody
who ever met her knew about her:

that she loved her family
with all the intensity that
her heart and spirit could generate –

….. and that she loved life
with that same verve
and enthusiasm.

It pains me that I’ll never bond.igf
have the privilege of
knowing anyone like her again.

Yes, I adored the lady,
and I don’t mind telling you that,
or that I have a tear in my eye
as I write about her.

I’ve got a smile,
a smile that I reserve for only very happy times,
and only very special people —
———- and it’s her smile .

She thought that anything was possible,
as long as you had a close knit family.

The family was a necessary part of any meal,
so everybody had to be at the table,
right on time, at 5:00PM each day.

And Grace.

You had to say Grace at every meal.

I always thought
that was kinda hokey, spell
but I went along with it,
cause I loved my Grandmother and didn’t want to upset her.

But really,
I thought, God didn’t care whether I said Grace or not.

It’s only recently that I have realized…

We weren’t saying Grace for God’s sake.

We were saying Grace for our own sakes.

Learning to appreciate your blessings, the importance of family….

……… To understand the vagaries of time.

And I thank God I had them to learn these things from.

.

blondie

 

Save

Fiction: Whores Have Dreams Too

William hitched a ride to Willcox on the back of a supply wagon, singing all the way:

 

“It was once in the saddle I used to go dashing;

It was once in the saddle I used to go gay.

First to the dram house and then to the card house,

Got shot in the breast and I’m dying today.”

 

Why had he always fought so hard against dancing? Plain Miss Peckham enlivened a part of William he thought he’d lost. He jumped from the wagon just beyond the outskirts of the sleepy desert town and walked the rest of the way to the hotel and Ginny. William whistled past The Buckskin, not needing a drink to celebrate, and the usual loungers saw that a change had come over him.

A mule brayed in the rode as William walked up the stairs to the brothel and knocked at Ginny’s door.

“Morning, Gin—how’s things?” he asked, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek as he glanced around for Miss Peckham’s belongings. “I’ve come to fetch Miss Peckham’s luggage. What’s wrong?” he asked when Ginny turned away.

“Nothing, Billy. How was yer night? You look refreshed.”

“It was nothing like that, Ginny. Miss Peckham isn’t that way. . .” he replied suddenly uncomfortable. “Ginny, what happened to your arm?”

Ginny pulled her shawl over a makeshift sling. “I fell down the stairs last night.”

William laughed. “Oh, poor Ginny. You should be more careful. Does it hurt much? Would you like me to get you a strong drink?”

“No, I ain’t got any use for strong drinks—you know that,” Ginny answered with an uncharacteristic edge in her voice.

“Yes, you’re right. I should know better. Anyway, I need Miss Peckham’s things. Ginny, it’s been fun and all to spend some time, but . . . I don’t think I’ll be coming here much anymore. I mean, you can still count on me as sort of a friend.”

“Thanks, Bill,” Ginny replied. “But, you ain’t the type to count on—I hoped you might be.”

“When have I ever done you wrong?” William asked, avoiding the hurt on Ginny’s face. He scanned the room for something expensive looking that might be Miss Peckham’s.

“Bill, that Miss Peckham is no good.”

“Oh, Ginny, what do you know?”

“You think cause I ain’t educated that I’m stupid?” she asked.

William scratched his head. “No, I didn’t say—“

“Bill Weldon, you’re impressed with smarts cause you ain’t got none like you used to.” Ginny threw Miss Peckham’s carpetbag at William’s feet. “Look how this woman already has you picking up her scraps like a dog. I never would go and do that to you, Bill. I thought you’d see by now, it’s us that’s meant for each other. I like you as you come. I take care of you, and I thought you might take me as a wife.”

William wanted a drink and knew where Ginny kept it for customers. He took a long slug from one of the bottles and remembered a talk his father had had with him before coming out west. “Now you’ll be all on your own, and the fellows you’ll meet will tell you it’s all right, but if you take a woman . . . s-s-sleep with her . . . it’ll be awful hard to get rid of her. A part of her will linger . . . and bring you down.”

William took another long draw from the bottle.

“Give me the bottle, Bill, and talk to me. No one will understand you like me. I don’t mind if you drink and carry on; I ain’t concerned if people say you’re as dumb as a plank o’ wood. You never hurt me even once when you was drunk. We could get some land. I could work it—I’ve got strength. And you could make those drawings—do the dirty ones and I bet the miners would buy them.”

William stood appalled at the image presented. “Ginny, I can’t hardly care for myself. I don’t want a farm or babies!”

“What about me? Don’t you care for me?” Ginny’s chin quivered, and she took the bottle from William.

“I care, but . . .”

“Oh, you never cared! You used me! You always did, but I—I hoped—I can’t help I ‘m so ugly, but Miss Peckham is hardly better, and she’ll make a fool of you one time soon.”

“For the first time in a long time I feel good and hopeful, and you try to destroy that!” William said. “I don’t always remember things, but I’m not so stupid. Miss Peckham, who is a learned girl, recognizes that about me. You’re like a heavy stone on my chest keeping me down! It’s not my fault you’ve chosen to be a whore. I don’t know how you ever thought I’d marry—or have children with you! You’re crazy! Now, I need Miss Peckham’s things.”

“Fine! Here’s what’s left of them. And one thing, Bill Weldon. If you plan on marryin’ I may as well let you in on something. Now, I never said nothin’ cause I was a true friend and never wanted to make you feel down, but you ain’t no good at things. I mean to say, you’re fairly well repulsive in the act. Maybe it’s your crooked leg or the god-awful faces you make . . . anyway, experience ain’t improved you neither.”

“Shut the hell up!” William shouted. Ginny had gotten him good. His leg was hideous to look at, that much he knew. With Miss Peckham, sex was not the first thing on his mind, but it was an idea that lurked second or third. Maybe she just needed a dance partner and a man to get her things. William picked up the carpetbag, glanced inside and turned toward the door.

Ginny took a sip of the bottle and poured the rest into the bag as William fumbled with the door. She grabbed Miss Peckham’s leather journal from on top of her clothes press and shoved it into the wet corner of the large bag. “Oh, Bill, here—her book.”

William nodded a thank-you and closed the door behind him.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

the watch

Family Histories: Multi-generational Inspiration with Judith Barrow

Welcome to Family Histories, a series of guest posts by some of my favorite bloggers in which they explore family . . . and history. The families and the histories are sometimes the writers’ own and sometimes not.

Today we get a glimpse into JUDITH BARROW‘S inspiration for writing her family trilogy:

Thank you for hosting me here, Adrienne. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to talk about how places and occasions in my life affected the way I wrote my trilogy and then the prequel.

Pattern of Shadows

I think that a strong setting in a novel; one that sets the atmosphere and tone of the narrative, is imperative in creating a convincing story. Ultimately the goal is to persuade the reader to become immersed in the setting to the point of complete familiarity.

The background setting I use in my trilogy, beginning with Pattern of Shadows, is a German Prisoner of War camp during the Second World War.

I was researching for another novel when I came across records of a disused cotton mill, Glen Mill, in Oldham, a town in Lancashire in the North of England, and its history of being one of the first German POW camps in the country. This brought back a personal memory of my childhood and I was side-tracked.

My mother was a winder in a cotton mill (working on a machine that transferred the cotton off large cones onto small reels (bobbins), for the weavers). Well before the days of Health and Safety I would go to wait for her to finish work on my way home from school. I remember the muffled boom of noise as I walked across the yard and the sudden clatter of so many different machines as I stepped through a small door cut into great wooden gates. I remember the rumble of the wheels as I watched men pushing great skips filled with cones alongside the winding frames, or manoeuvring trolleys carrying rolls of material. I remember the women singing and shouting above the noise, of them whistling for more bobbins: the colours of the cotton and cloth – so bright and intricate. But above all I remember the smell: of oil, grease – and in the storage area – the lovely smell of the new material stored in bales and the feel of the cloth against my legs when I sat on them, reading until the siren sounded, announcing the end of the shift.

When I thought of Glen Mill as a German POW camp I wondered what kind of signal would have been used to separate parts of the day for all those men imprisoned there. I realised how different their days must have been from my memories of a mill. There would be no machinery as such, only vehicles coming and going; the sounds would be of men, only men, with a language and dialect so different from the mixture of voices I remembered. I imagined the subdued anger and resignation. The whole situation would be so different, no riot of colour, just an overall drabness. And I realised how different the smells would be – no tang of oil, grease, cotton fibres; all gone – replaced by the reek of ‘living’ smells.

And I knew I wanted to write about that. But I also wanted there to be hope somewhere. I wanted to imagine that something good could have come out of the situation the men were in.

And so the background of the trilogy was set against the camp, the fictional Lancashire town of Ashford, and a small village in Wales, Llamroth.

Living in the Shadows

I was never really part of the Sixties scene but I remember how much everything appeared to be changing during that decade. The old world sat alongside the new emerging world. A supermarket, the first in Lancashire to open was called Payless and was near the well-established Woolworths, with its uneven wooden floors, glass divided counters of anything and everything that was needed for the home, pick and mix sweets and stationery. And always, that certain dusty smell.

Hairstyles went from great backcombed and lacquered bouffants to simpler Mary Quant bobs. Much to my mother’s dismay (and to mine when I wasn’t allowed to play out for a week afterwards) I cut off my plaits in a fit of temper when I wasn’t allowed a fringe.
Music was for teenagers; the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cliff… and my all-time ‘to swoon over’ Elvis Presley; even though the records (the new 45s) belonged to my sister.
Clothes changed as well. The older girls no longer wore those voluminous layers of nets of underskirts that puffed out the dresses (I remember my sister dipping her underskirts in sugared water and drying them over an open umbrella to retain that shape– I never did find out what happened to them when she went out in the rain but I can guess!) Drainpipe trousers and suits for the boys disappeared and were replaced by flares and flowered shirts; the proper ‘gear’ for open-air concerts. Needless to say, I never went to even one of these. But one of my young characters did …

When Victoria jumped off the platform of the bus she could already hear the music. A group was playing A Groovy Kind of Love and she hummed along with it, studying the long queue at the entrance. Looking around she saw a gap in the fence further along the road and sauntered towards it. She stood, waiting for a couple to pass her, then quickly ducked through.
‘Got you.’ A strong hand held her shoulder. She looked up at whoever had caught her. He didn’t look official; he had a flowered full-sleeved shirt on and feathers stuck in a cotton band around his head.

She took a chance. ‘Get off me.’ Twisting away from him.

‘Whoa.’ He held up his hands in a gesture of submission. ‘I surrender myself to the hip Welsh chick in the red dress.’

Victoria couldn’t help giggling. ‘You’re not a steward or whatever, are you? You’re not anybody in charge.’

‘Only of myself.’ He grinned. He gestured towards the hedge. ‘Actually that’s the way we got in.’

‘We?’

‘Some friends and me.’ He looked around in a vague manner. ‘They’re here somewhere. Some of them wanted to see Hermann’s Hermits. Not my thing but one of them insisted. You like that group?’

Without wavering, Victoria said, ‘Oh no.’ She thought quickly. ‘Joan Baez is more my thing.’

He beamed. ‘And mine too. I knew we were fated to meet.’ He held out his hand, wiggled his fingers. ‘Want to look for my friends with me?’

Victoria took hold of his hand. This was going to be even more exciting than she thought.

A Hundred Tiny Threads

My grandfather was gassed in WW1. I only remember him vaguely as I was a small child when he died but my mother says I always made him laugh however ill he was. I only have one tiny photo of him; he’s standing in the back yard of the terraced house he and my grandmother lived in all their married life, in Lancashire.

I had a strange experience last year at a craft and book fair where, for some reason, there was also a medium. As I passed her she called me over and told me someone was trying to get in touch with me. She said not to tell her anything only to answer yes or no to what she revealed. I’m not a gullible person but I do believe there is more to this life than we know. What followed was an extraordinary ten minutes; she told me things only my mother had mentioned to me about my grandad; things I’d never discussed with anyone. Some details were especially private and important; some were mere trivialities; gestures and habits of his that I’d learned from family chats. At the end of the session (she wouldn’t take any money) she told me she had a feeling of great relief coming from him as though he’d been trying for years to ‘come through’ to me for years and this had been his chance to say how proud he was of me.

At the time of that event I’d been going through a bad patch; my mother, who had Alzheimer’s, had been on end of life care for some months. She lived over two hundred miles away and we’d been travelling to see her every weekend. The session with the medium took place the day before we were due to go to see her again. The last thing the medium told me was that she was getting a strong scent of daffodils even though it was not the season for them. Daffodils were my mother’s favourite flower. When I went home after the fair I was told my mother had passed.

I wrote this poem some years ago.

My Grandad
I look at the photograph.
He smiles and silently
he tells me
his story…

In my backyard I stand,
Hands wrapped around a mug of tea.
Shirt sleeves, rolled back,
Reveal tattoos – slack muscles.

I grin.
All teeth.
Who cares that they’re more black
Than white.
Underneath
That’s my life;
That’s the grin I learned
When burned
By poison
Spreading
Like wild garlic.
That’s the grin I wear
When I look
But don’t see
The dark oil glistening,
Blistering, inside me.
When I hear, but don’t listen
To my lungs closing.

I posture,
Braces fastened for the photo,
Chest puffed out.
Nothing touches me –
Now.
Later I cough my guts up –
Chuck up.

I trod on corpses: dead horses,
Blown up in a field
Where grass had yielded
To strong yellow nashers.
And in the pastures
I shat myself.
But smelled no worse
Than my mate, Henry, next to me
Whose head grinned down from the parapet –

Ten yards away.

He has perfect, white teeth.
Much good they’ve done him,
Except for that last night at home
When the girl smiled back.

© Judith Barrow

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COMING SOON from ADRIENNE MORRIS:

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Fiction: Adventurous Thoughts

As Thankful hung the last diaper, she heard Fahy’s laughter in the front parlor. Forgetting how she looked, she ran inside, trailing suds and sand behind her. “Thankful, you look a caution!” Fahy said with a grin. He liked the way she looked.

Thankful nodded his way but addressed her enemy. “Miss Peckham, Mr. Weldon was here awaiting your orders, and he was very sore!”

“Do you mean physically? Because we met him on officers’ row and he was cheerful as a bird in summer. Don’t you agree, Mr. Fahy?” Miss Peckham turned to the officer with a smile.

Fahy nodded in agreement then met eyes with his fiancée. “Miss Crenshaw, I was hoping you might be done with your chores so we could take a ride. I nearly have to get back to work, but our horses are warmed up.”

“Warmed up?”

“Yes, I hope you don’t mind that I let Miss Peckham ride Durie.”

“That horse needs firmer discipline and less feed. If he were my horse, he’d receive a sound thrashing,” Miss Peckham bragged.

Fahy gave Thankful an exasperated look. Thankful dug her fingernails into the soft wood of the little dining table. “It’s very pathetic that you must prove your masculinity by mistreating animals, Miss Peckham. Mr. Fahy never should have been such a gentleman to take you out, but you probably strong armed him.”

“I will have you know, Miss Thankful Crenshaw, that I’ve won at many women’s riding events in New York!”

“Isn’t New York famous for its corruption? It’s the only way you could win a horse show–or a beauty contest,” Thankful said.

Fahy stood with his cigar hanging from his mouth. Miss Peckham tossed her gloves and hat on the sofa and ran up the stairs to Thankful’s room. Fahy and Thankful listened to her muffled cries.

“Damn it, Thankful, that was low of you. Peckham’s no great shakes, and she’s a pest, but really—you’re better than to be so—well—so vicious.”

“She abuses my horse and I’m low?” Thankful asked.

“Well, I took the whip from her pretty quick,” Fahy said.

“Thank God for small favors.”

“Mrs. Markham said that you threw a tantrum over an egg . . .”

“Land sakes! Not even an egg gets by people in the army! I just hate Miss Peckham. She told me last night she was only being nice to William for his family’s connections to the military.”

Fahy laughed. “So what? I’m so tired of Bill Weldon. I don’t care a fig, and you shouldn’t either.” He pulled her close. “I love that you care so much about your homefolk and all, but a different man than me might get jealous.”

Thankful looked at his sunburned and freckled face and his impressive sun-bleached mustache. “My sweet lieutenant, you are the most attentive, kind person I’ve ever met. I hope one day we’ll have adventures of our own.”

“Adventures? You amuse me. Sometimes you really act your age.”

Thankful pulled away. “What does that mean?”

“Well, nothing exactly—you’ve got very romantic and naïve ideas. It’s adorable.”

“Miss Peckham has all the adventure she wants and . . .” Thankful began.

Fahy tapped her nose. “And she will most likely spend her life alone.”

“She has such a full life and . . .”

Fahy grinned. “I thought you didn’t much admire Miss Peckham? Anyway, won’t your life be full enough taking care of me?”

“I plan to care for you, but is that all?” Thankful asked, feeling sweat trickle down her spine.

“No, of course not. There’ll be children and we can take trips if you like.” Fahy looked worried. “Won’t I satisfy you?”

“Oh, Mr. Fahy, you already do. But I never have any larks with you. We both work so hard. I want to play a little more than I do now—don’t you?”

“Life is about work, I’m afraid. Childhood is almost over for you, Thankful. There’s no point clinging to it. That just makes the adjustment more painful.”

Thankful sniveled. “But when we are married won’t we still dance and ride?”

“Of course, silly,” he said.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

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“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

Fiction: Dirty Diapers

When was there a time when Thankful did not have to concern herself with diapers? Now as Thankful scrubbed shit far from her family, she wondered why she had traveled a great distance only to immerse her hands in dirty laundry water again. Her tantrum may have ruined a friendship with Mrs. Markham, who had been a kinder mother to her in a few months than Margaret had been in her entire lifetime. Either way—in Englewood or Arizona—she was pushing other folks’ strollers.

“Say! Anyone at home?” William called as he came around the back gate. “Oh, I wasn’t expecting to see you, Thankful.”

Thankful’s dress and her stylish apron hung sodden and dirty. “I live here don’t I? What do you want?”

“Um, well . . . are you all right?” William asked.

“I’m perfectly fine, William. You must be wrecked after the show you put on for the garrison last night,” she said, punching at the diapers in the basin and giving herself an uncomfortable splash in the eye.

“Funny thing; I’m right as rain,” William replied, tipping his hat back and leaning on the gate. “I always sleep well at army posts. My legs are sore, but . . .”

“Well, that serves you right—hopping around foolishly!”

“I can’t hop, Thankful, so I guess you’re wrong on that. As far as being a fool—well—I don’t mind if I was!” William laughed.

“Why are you here, William? I’m too busy for small talk.”

He didn’t seem to mind how angry and upset Thankful was.

“Well, yes, um, is Miss Peckham in?”

“No!” Thankful replied, huffing as she punched the wet diapers in the water. “She’s not in. She’s doing ‘research’ on the army species of man. She’s man enough—she needs no study.”

“Which way did she go? I wanted to know if she needed anything else from town before I head back.”

“Perfume and plenty of it!” Thankful said.

“What? Oh, your idea of a joke, I guess. Anyway, you don’t seem to know much so I’ll be on my way, Thankful.”

“Oh, yes, girls in trousers are much cleverer than the rest of us!” Thankful muttered as William closed the gate behind him, and was gone.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

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Fiction: Escape to Marriage

Working for the captain’s wife is no longer the lark it once was.

Thankful marched back into the Markhams’ finding Miss Peckham, dressed in one of Mrs. Markham’s plain visiting dresses and brushing out the matron’s long, mousy hair.

“Be a dear, Thankful, and do up the egg—fried—while Miss Peckham shows me the latest style.”

Miss Peckham stopped a minute appraising Thankful’s dark curls. “I could show you how they wear their hair in New York these days, Miss Crenshaw.”

“I know how they do hair in New York! I like to wear my hair my way!” Thankful responded storming to the kitchen.

By the time Mrs. Markham joined her, Thankful was in tears again. “Thankful, why are you so upset?”

Thankful shook her head. “I don’t care for Willy any more than a friend, but he’s from home, is all. That’s all it is, but Miss Peckham—I just hate her, and I’m sorry, but I can’t have her in my room. I work for that space, and it’s unfair that I should have to share.”

“Thankful Crenshaw, that is a very unchristian way to be, and I’m surprised.”

“Why should I have to be her slave?” Thankful asked rolling her sleeves.

Mrs. Markham laughed. “Don’t be so naughty. When you’re married, it won’t do to start fires with other women. Some army wives are just as—difficult as Miss Peckham.”

“I didn’t start anything! And I’ve never met anyone in the army as horrid as Miss Peckham!” Thankful said just above a whisper.

“Hold your tongue, Thankful. Miss Peckham’s a guest, and I hate to make mention of it, but your work here includes cooking.”

“Ordinarily I don’t mind that a bit. You know that!”

“You must never mind it when I have a guest,” Mrs. Markham said.

“But she got up late . . .” Thankful tried with no success.

Mrs. Markham folded her arms, but was distracted by Fahy’s knock at the door. Miss Peckham led him into the hallway.

“Morning ladies, I didn’t see Miss Crenshaw out on the grounds. I was wondering if she’s still unwell.”

Mrs. Markham met Fahy in the dining room. “Thankful is fine but busy making breakfast for our guest. I’ll tell her you inquired.”

Miss Peckham smoothed her hair back and grabbed her hat from the table. “Oh, Mr. Fahy, would you to show me around the place?”

“For Miss Peckham’s research . . .” Mrs. Markham added.

“Well, I suppose I could,” Fahy hesitated. “I’m free now for about an hour, if you’d like . . .”

Thankful jumped out from the kitchen. “Miss Peckham, here’s your breakfast!”

Fahy tried to greet Thankful, but the other ladies were in the way.

“Oh, Miss Crenshaw, dear, set it aside for me,” Miss Peckham said. “I’ll be back for it later.”

Thankful walked back into the kitchen and slammed the fine china plate against the counter, chipping it. She glanced behind her, found the chipped fragment and hid it in Miss Peckham’s burnt egg. After covering the plate with a cloth, Thankful untied her kitchen apron and pinned on the prettier one she’d made for walks with the children and hurried into the dining room just as Lieutenant Fahy escorted Miss Peckham out the front door.

“Thankful, dear, I’ve decided that today I’d like a stroll with the children,” Mrs. Markham said. “My nerves are shattered with still no word from the captain. But there’s a small bit of baby’s soiled things that need washing. Miss Peckham mentioned that she was highly sensitive to smells. You don’t mind, do you?”

“No, of course not. I love cleaning diapers,” Thankful said.

“Get used to it,” Mrs. Markham said with a smile. “Mr. Fahy wants plenty of children.”

“Well, I guess he’ll have them with someone else. I’ve told him I’d only like one, maybe. I’ve been sent off with my father to rescue babies from breech birth and all. I don’t want any of that!” Thankful declared.

“One baby?” Mrs. Markham laughed. “What’s the point of one? Immigrant families are having upwards of nine or ten.”

“It’s not my job to populate the world!” Thankful complained. “You and my mother are doing a fine job of that.”

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Thankful! Next you’ll be like our visitor discussing suffrage for women,” Mrs. Markham said tapping her closed fan once before opening it and using it to shoo the children out the door.

“I’m nothing like her! What has the vote got to do with anything in my life? I only don’t want so many little ones—is that a crime? And I don’t know why Mr. Fahy would discuss his plans with you, not me!”

“Mr. Fahy is a fine man, but he’s a Catholic and they don’t believe in . . .” Mrs. Markham whispered, “and with the Comstock laws . . .”

“My father is a doctor. I know all about how to prevent babies. I don’t want to hear any more about the lieutenant being Catholic! My mother is extremely upset over it–as if she is so damned religious!” Thankful bawled.

“Thankful, when you’re finished with the laundry, wet a rag and go to your room for a rest—you are over excited today.”

“I’m the same as I ever am! Why didn’t you send Miss Peckham to my room when she spoke her mind? I’m not your child to send to bed!” Thankful cried.

“Well, you’re behaving like a spoilt one. I’m appalled. I feel great affection for you, but you’re acting disrespectful,” Mrs. Markham said, pulling her bonnet ties tight.

“As you hinted over the cooking,” Thankful said, “I’m just your hired help. I should have realized it sooner before considering you to be a real friend. I won’t make that assumption again.”

“You’re breaking my heart, young lady. I didn’t realize how you resented your work here! I was doing you a favor!” Mrs. Markham said.

Thankful sobbed. “And I haven’t done you a favor? Watching the children and cooking and cleaning while you lounge drinking nice lemonade! But I never minded. I’ve been very grateful to you until this minute. You’ve humiliated me in front of the lieutenant and Miss Peckham. Why did I have to get her that egg? Toast was fine for the rest of us!”

“To lose your temper over a ridiculous egg confounds reason!” Mrs. Markham said. “I have my own more important troubles. I shouldn’t have to keep you and Miss Peckham from each other’s throats! I do love you dearly, but you are a shallow and insensitive girl at times. Miss Peckham shall be treated as a guest—and that is my final word on it.”

Thankful wiped angry tears from her eyes and turned to the laundry basket. She fed the stove and hauled water to be heated. She scraped and cleaned diapers made messy from the disagreeable diet and water of Arizona in the sandy backyard.

“I cannot wait to be married and able to do what I want for once,” she mumbled, filling the basin in the yard with the hot water.

PREVIOUS EPISODE: WEARY OF RUNNING

Excerpted from WEARY OF RUNNING. Read more about Buck Crenshaw, his sister Thankful and William Weldon’s  misadventures when you buy the book today!

“The second installment in The Tenafly Road Series definitely did not disappoint. With the introduction of new characters and the return of familiar ones, Weary of Running made for an exciting read. The protagonist, Thankful, is the real highlight of the novel. She consistently makes very poor decisions but in the end, you can understand why she has made every last one of them. The story ranges from love and romance to questions of faith and morality. It does all this without being preachy and explores many angles of different aspects of life. This is one of the best books I have read in a long time.” Amazon Review

“Buck Crenshaw is my favorite dysfunctional lovable character.”

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