Thursday, December 6, 2012

Angela England's Backyard Farming On an Acre

Angela England has long been an inspiration to me.  I got to know her online through mutual freelance writing endeavors.  

She is the true "Renaissance" woman, working with her husband to raise five children on a small plot of land in Oklahoma where they manage to raise diary and meat goats, keep enough chickens for eggs and free-range poultry, and foster an intensively productive garden for fresh fruits and vegetables--all while nurturing a writing and speaking career.  Oh, and she's a trained doula (someone who provides education and support to women going through childbirth) and a licensed massage therapist. 

 Along with her other freelance endeavors, Angela founded the awesome website in the spirit of guiding others in recapturing the lost arts of rural living.

Her most recent endeavor is Backyard Farming On an Acre (More or Less), a book filled with advice on eating healthy, saving money, and living sustainably in the space available.  The book has just been released this month by Alpha Books, a division of the Penguin group.

In her book Angela provides down-to-earth advice on acquiring land or using available space, garden planning, info on tools, soil, and maximizing harvest, including details on cultivating dozens of vegetables, herbs, fruits, and other popular crops.  She gives startup instructions on buying and raising chickens and other poultry for eggs or meat; goats and sheep for milk, meat, or fiber; and rabbits for fiber or meat, as well as the essentials of animal care. Don't have a clue as to how to preserve the food you plan to grow?  Angela's coverage on preserving is comprehensive. And if you are interested in beekeeping, she has a year-round guide for that.

Following is an interview with Angela that she so generously participated in via email.  Enjoy!

MCW:  What brought you to write the book Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less)?

Angela:  A friend referred her agent to my blog and I was approached about doing a similar title right before I had Vivian. While we decided not to pursue that title because of the impending delivery of my fifth baby, about a month after having Vivian I ended up signing the contract for Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) and now the book is being released two days before her first birthday.

I think this book is the culmination of my own continuining journey towards increasing my family's dependance on the status quo. We certainly aren't where we hope to be in the future, but we are striving towards that self-sufficient living model.

MCW:  Describe your one acre (more or less) farm. How long have you been working it?

We live on a quarter-acre within the city limits of our rural town. On that plot we were able to keep backyard chickens, a large garden, and for a time, milk goats. And of course - room enough for the kids to run amuck and chase the dogs around. Our set up is very similar to the first sample diagram I show in the book as a "what-if" possibility for people.

MCW:  What is the best part of small plot farming for you?

Without a doubt the best part is the unique sense of pride you get when you sit down to a meal and realize that every single thing came you and your own efforts. It happened recently when we sat down to a steak, baked potato, asparagus, and pecan pie dinner. Everything we had either raised, grown, or collected from wild-harvesting in our local area. Contrast that to the average American meal which includes foods sourced from 5 different countries.

MCW:  Did you grow up on a farm? What is your background?

My background is as far from small homesteading as you can possibly be. I grew up in Anaheim in Southern California, of Disneyland fame. Swimming pool, tire swing, manicured lawn, bay window. The whole nine yards. After my family moved to Oklahoma when I was a teenager, I met my husband. Through him and his family I learned more about the freedoms that come with country skills most people have long forgotten.

MCW:  Describe what you mean by "intentional and self-sufficient living" (which is the motto of your Untrained Housewife's Manifesto).

Intentional living to me is when you purposefully create the meaningful moments in your life. I think this is especially important when you have children, but for all can choose the things that you most enjoy. Sometimes it means breaking the easy habits - vegging in front of the TV and spending hours on Facebook in order to free up time to talk a walk with your family through the local park or wildlife reserve. Other times it takes that step of fear - putting on a swimsuit no matter how many babies your body has birthed in order to get your hair wet and splash your kids in the swimming pool. Choosing to make the moment more important than how we may or may not be judged by others gives us that intentional living I feel is so important.

The other aspect is the self-sufficiency. I think that true self-sufficiency is a misnomer, which I touch on in the Manifesto. Creating a truly fullfilling self-sufficient life is about decreasing our dependance on faceless corporations, while increasing our dependance on neighbors and community. Instead of buying milk from a big box, shipped hundreds of miles, and coming from who knows where, we drive to the local Amish dairy. We chat about the weather, and marvel at how quickly the kids are growing. We recognize each other and are recognized in return. And it doesn't matter much the price of grain in Timbucktoo because I'm just going to the other side of the county line to get milk at $2 per gallon from someone who's hand I can shake. That is a priceless feeling.

MCW:  In the book you write about everything from growing herb and vegetable gardens to raising chickens and goats to butchering and building skills. How did you learn so much about farming?

I learned a lot of doing a lot. By failing. By trying again. By listening and watching and spending time with others who are doing it. My father-in-law grew up with no electricity - in fact the homestead where my husband grew up didn't get electricity until 1980 and didn't add running water to the house until 1985. So the lifestyle there is very old-fashioned and I learned a lot just by being respectifully attentive and pitching in.

MCW:  Do you think urban and suburban dwellers will find things of interest in your book?

I hope that they will feel empowered to try! One the obstacles for a lot of people I've heard them express is the feeling that they have to do things "the right way". They can't get started yet because they don't have "all the stuff". One of the things I say in the book more than once is that I'm not a purist, I am a get-it-done-ist. If it can be built from the scraps of wood in the backyard, then that is what we use!

MCW:  You have five young kids. How do you find time to manage even an acre's worth of farming?

One of the best parts of living a hands-on, intentional lifestyle is that you are doing so as a family. No one is excluded! When Sidney is tilling the garden, and I am pulling weeds, the kids are having a contest to see who can find the most rocks and get them out of the garden. I cannot express how much they enjoy planting seeds, harvesting crops, and hearing what each vegetable is good for and types of nutrients found in each. I have time because it isn't something that is done apart from the kids, it is done side-by-side with the kids. Again, a priceless feeling.

MCW:  You also run the website Untrained Housewife. What is that all about?

Untrained Housewife is really a lot of what this book is about as well - helping people recapture the lost knowledge of past generations. We have amazing contributors who are DOING these things and share their wisdom for others to enjoy. It's all about empowering people to take whatever their next step is with greater confidence.

MCW:  What do you most want people to take away from your book?

One of the greatest goals of the book for me is to help people feel equipped for the next leg of their own personal journey. Whether that is planting their first ever herb garden, or starting a bee hive, or just eating fresh produce that is in season, this book will help them figure out that next step. In the introduction I call it a buffet of delicious choices - they can start with what tastes good to them first, and then branch out to new selections when they feel braver.

MCW:  Thank you, Angela!

Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) is available in paperback and ebook through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other popular outlets. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mystery Writers Galore at Legends of the Fall 2012

Last weekend I had the opportunity to spend all day Saturday lost in the world of murder and mayhem.  Mary Joy (co-author On the Road to Death's Door) and I were guest panelists in the this year's Legends of the Fall event at the Booked for Murder bookstore here in Madison, an annual celebration of regional mystery writers and their books.

Sara Barnes, owner of Booked for Murder, was an incredibly gracious hostess.  The store itself is a cozy, one room shop that is the frequent gathering place for book clubs, author events, and book launch parties.

Maddy Hunter, author of the wildly entertaining Passport to Peril mystery series, was the emcee. Maddy provided introductions for all the authors, kept transitions running smoothly, and made readers and authors alike feel incredibly welcome. 

For our panel in the afternoon, Mary Joy and I were thoughtfully paired with another local mystery writing couple (and a married couple!) Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden, co-authors of the intriguing, archeologically-based Murder at Lascaux.  The theme of our conversation with the audience was "writing with a partner," but we also talked about how travel and research are keys to creating the mysteries in our books.

All the other panels were organized into threesomes.  The day started with Marshall Cook, a retired UW professor and author of the Monona Quinn mystery series, set in a fictional small town in Wisconsin, Molly MacRae, who writes the Haunted Yarn Shop mystery series, set in Tennessee's Blue Ridge Mountains, and Sarah Wisseman, an archeologist whose sleuth is museum curator Lisa Donahue.  The theme for this panel was setting.  It turns out that for many mystery writers their stories begin with place.   Marshall Cook readily admitted that one of the reasons he created a fictional town for his books is that the town can "expand or contract depending on how big I need it to be" for a particular story.

The second panel, which focused on character, included John Desjarles, a UW alum now teaching at Kishwaukee College in Illinois and who authors the Selena DeLaCruz mysteries, Libby Fischer Hellmann of Chicago, author of A Bitter Veil, Toxicity, Set the Night on Fire and others, and New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger whose Cork O'Connor series is set in Northern Minnesota.  All three of these writers are intrigued with exploring the complexity of culture, bi-culturalism, and racism  in their books.  

Former Chicago police officer Michael A. Black, author of several police procedural series including the recent Sacrificial Offerings, Wisconsin attorney and short story writer Ted Hertel (My Bonnie Lies…), and former CIA analyst Bill Rapp who authored Berlin Breakdown provided insights to a grittier side of fiction as they discussed what it takes to write authentic crime, legal and private eye fiction.

Jerol Anderson, who currently lives in Cambridge, Wisconsin and writes the Jessica Tyson mystery series, fantasy writer Sean Patrick Little whose books The Centurion and The Seven are being considered for film options, and former priest David J. Walker who has authored 12 novels including Company Orders offered an eclectic mix of views, backgrounds, and experiences during their panel.

The daylong event was capped by writers Raymond Benson, who was commissioned to write several of the 007 novels between 1996 and 2002 and whose current Black Stiletto mystery series is being made into a TV series, Chicagoan Sam Reaves author of Mean Town Blues and who writes also as Dominic Martell, and Madison's own Norman Gilliland w hose voice is so familiar on WPR and has penned Midnight Catch which takes place in northern Florida of the 1920s.     

That's a lot of people being murdered in a lot of places under a huge variety of circumstances with a lot of fascinating sleuths unraveling the clues, righting wrongs, and setting the world back on its feet…only to go through it all over again to the delight of readers who love the thrill of the hunt and a bit of escapism.

If you enjoy a good mystery, check out any of the writers above. And of course…check out ours! On the Road to Death's Door is available in both paperback and e-format through the usual venues, including at Booked for Murder!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My First Blog Hop

I'm excited to be participating in my first Blog Hop.  A Blog Hop, I have learned, is a social media event in which a group of bloggers all sign on to post on the same day or sequence of days. 

When a reader (hopefully you!) participates, all he or she has to do is click on the "Celebrating Bloggers Blog Hop" icon above and it will take you to a page listing a large variety of blogs you can sample. 

Celebrating Bloggers blog hopThis particular Blog Hop runs from September 10 - 13, and I am scheduled to post about it on the 13th.  The focus of this particular hop is why we blog.  So…here goes!

Why I Blog

First off, I love writing. It is a form of communication that is as natural to me as speaking. Now, don't get me wrong--I'm not saying I'm a great writer, or even a prolific writer. But I seem to think most clearly when my fingers are poking at a keyboard.

I have written in a wide variety of genres, from journaling to magazine articles (both print and online) to videos and screenplays to novels.  I guess, like most writers, I want to be read. As it turns out, it takes great patience to get read in traditional print media. And, in traditional media, writers are at the mercy of editors and publishers when it comes to choosing topics to write about.

Since I enjoy journaling and I want to be read, a blog seemed to be a natural medium for me as a writer. Figuring out what to write about is no problem. Figuring out what to write about that readers might want to read is a whole 'nuther challenge.

Many bloggers write about their personal everyday lives. I leave that kind of writing to my journal and to emails to family and friends.  I figure most people in the blogosphere aren't really interested in the goings on of my everyday life.

However, I do think readers are interested in observations I make on life and culture.  One of my most read blog posts is about a belly dance recital I went to in which I discovered that belly dance is an art form that celebrates womanhood.  Recently, however, that post got surpassed after I wrote about spending Father's day inthe V.A. hospital with my 95 year old father who is a WWII vet and former P.O.W.  That post was a tribute to the medical personnel who work in that hospital as much as a tribute to my Dad.

Interestingly, a little piece I did on my reaction to reading the Steinbeck novella Of Mice and Men has drawn a surprising number of readers. It could be they are high schoolers googling the novel to avoid reading it. But I hope not. I hope students aren't trying to avoid reading this little book published 75 years ago. My reason for recently checking it out of my public library was because of an article I read about an inner city school teacher assigning the novel and the amazing reaction of her students when they'd read it. Of Mice and Men is a truly timeless treatise on human nature--something that surprised me--which was why I blogged about it.

So, that's why I blog. I am continually surprised by people and by things and events I experience or hear about or read about.  And I find it fun to ruminate and to write about what I have learned or about my reactions to people, their lives, and the things they do.

If you want to find out why other bloggers blog, click on the "Celebrating Bloggers Blog Hop" link and sample some other writers. You might find you enjoy the variety of observations, reactions, and celebrations found in the many blogs represented in this particular hop.

Happy reading!  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What I'm Reading Now: The Heirloom Murders

Kathleen Ernst is a Wisconsin author who may be best known for her American Girl books. She had written eight American girl mysteries featuring young heroines who are strong as well as smart. And in September American Girl will be launching its newest character, Caroline Abbot, created by none other than Kathleen Ernst.

However, several years ago Kathleen moved her mystery-writing skills to include adult novels.  She drew not only on her abilities as a writer, but on her own experience as an interpreter and curator of the nation's largest outdoor historical museum, Old World Wisconsin.  

The result of that experience is the character Chloe Ellefson, the fictional collections curator of Old World Wisconsin who finds dead bodies and solves their murders.

The Heirloom Murders is the second in the Chloe Ellefson series. The plot revolves around the missing Eagle diamond, a true-life gem unearthed in Wisconsin in 1876. That's my favorite part about reading a book like this one.

As I've said in other posts, I love books that teach me something new. The great thing about Kathleen's book is how she teaches about the workings of an outdoor historical museum without being obvious about it. Everything we learn about the gardens, how important heirloom seeds are (the fact that they exist at all!), and the various people who work on-site is woven naturally into the story. 

The Heirloom Murders switches its point of view between the main character, Chloe, and the young small town police officer, Roelke McKenna, who desperately wants a relationship with her, but doesn't seem to quite know how to go about getting her to commit.

Both Chloe and McKenna have complex personal histories that get in the way of a relationship, but also equip them with the skills and character traits that make them good leads in the kinds of murder investigations endemic to the "cozy" mystery genre. The plot is wonderfully tangled and kept me guessing as to who had done what and how the "suspects" were connected. 

The fact that I have visited Old World Wisconsin made the story more personal for me. But for those who haven't been there, Kathleen paints a picture of the site and the small towns nearby that puts the reader into the story.  

The Heirloom Mystery is a wonderful read for both mystery and history fans.  

Kathleen Ernst is also the author of Old World Murder and the Light Keepers Legacy

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Class of 2016 Mindset List

Did you know that today's college freshmen think blue M&M's have always co-existed with red and brown ones?

In their world Martin Lawrence has always been banned from Saturday Night Live.

Gene therapy has always been an available medical treatment.

And history has always had its own channel.

These are just a few of the cultural references that Professor Tom McBride and  Emeritus Director of Public Affairs Ron Nief, both at Beloit College in Wisconsin, have included in their Mindset List for the Class of 2016.

The popular and widely reported list contains 75 references intended as a humorous way to clue college professors into the "intelligent if unprepared adolescent consciousness" of their newest students. McBride and Nief have been producing their Mindset lists since 1998--when this group of incoming freshman were just four years old.

According to the list, one of the "cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall" includes this rather disturbing gem: A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss. Wonder what causes that? Could it be earbuds?

They have also never seen an airplane "ticket," and they can't image people carrying their luggage through airports--everyone knows you roll your luggage!  And this is not news to their parents: They watch television everywhere but on a television.

According to McBride in the promo material for their book, The Mindset Lists of AmericanHistory, one of the reasons they began the list was "to remind faculty members and the general public that entering college students have a particular and limited range of experiences.”

But I think it goes the other way as well. For instance, in the experience of today's college freshmen, genomes of living things have always been sequenced. What does it mean when the inquiring minds of tomorrow's scientists begin from the assumption that they can access the genome of any living organism they wish to study? And in their world, women have always piloted space shuttles and fighter jets. Not a bad thing, I think.

What's even more intriguing than the list itself is the interpretation of the author's finding offered in a "Guide" for college teachers and counselors. The authors seem to find today's entering college students to be tribal, addicted to technology, and nervous when not in touch with their cohorts via that technology. McBride and Nief question whether these young adults are spoiled by their parents or conned by them, having been "sent off to college to pursue the American Dream, only to find out that their career path will be rocky and their debt load burdensome."

But they do hold out hope as they report that "members of the Class of 2016 are subtly learning some good economic habits. The male members of the class are, not uncommonly, pretty good cooks of inexpensive organic food."

You can find the entire Mindset List  and the Guide in pdf format on the Beloit College website. 

So…it is true, my dear niece Samantha, that you and your new roomies have never eaten a tan M&M?  

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Madeline Island and the Apostle Islands

My husband took me away for a (too) short vacation to Madeline Island this past weekend.  Madeline Island is one of the Apostle Islands up on Lake Superior, just north of Bayfield, Wisconsin.  I have no idea why they are named the Apostle Islands, as there are 22 of them, but what's cool is that--except for Madeline--the islands are all part of the National Park Service's protected Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

View from our balcony on Madeline Island
[Photo: Peggy Williams]
Who knew there is such an idyllic vacation spot right in my own state?  A lot of people, apparently.  Turns out Madeline Island is quite popular and you have to plan ahead to get affordable accommodations--at times any accommodations.  We managed a two night stay at the Inn on Madeline Island, which offers a variety of housing options. We paid way more than we should have for a condo unit on the lake that could have accommodated my entire extended family if we'd been inclined to invite them. But this was our private weekend getaway.

Madeline is small, as vacation islands go.  It's just fourteen miles long, and from two to four miles wide.  So we were able to drive around the entire island during an afternoon's outing. However, very little of the drive included lake views; the roadway is mostly wooded, and a significant portion of the drive was on gravel.  Our question of whether there is much wildlife on the island was answered when a deer ambled out and crossed right at the exact spot where there was a deer crossing sign. Guess the wildlife there is pretty intelligent.  We also spotted a bald eagle, sandhill cranes, and a little weasel who had made his home, for better or worse, on the ferry dock. 
The highlight of our drive was Big Bay Beach at Town Park.  The beach is located on a spit of land--the thinnest of peninsulas jutting out from land on which Big Bay State Park is located.  That narrow peninsula creates a natural lagoon between it and the main island that is fed by the waters of Lake Superior.  The lagoon is lovely and quiet, a perfect place for kayakers. To cross the lagoon to the beach, you have to traverse a series of wooden foot bridges. The sandy beach, while narrow, is quite long and lovely for walking. We were there on a Sunday afternoon in August and there were surprisingly few people scattered along its edge.

The Town of La Pointe on Madeline Island is small, only about 230 people in the off season.  But it hosts a wonderful historical museum, a golf course, bike, moped, and kayak rentals, shops, and some good restaurants.  We especially enjoyed the Pub restaurant, associated with the Inn on Madeline Island, for dinner and late night pizza, and Grandpa Tony's for cheeseburgers for lunch.  The specialty in the area, of course, is whitefish.    

An old Ojibwe Indian cemetery across from the harbor gives an intriguing glimpse into the effects of Father (later Bishop) Baraga who created missions along much of the Lake Superior area.

What I thought was especially cool is that there is a Yoga retreat on the island, and besides all the local artists endemic to any peninsula/island life, the public is invited to participate in the Madeline Island School of the Arts, which offers weeklong seminars in writing, photography, painting and quilting.

The highlight of our weekend was the three hour sunset cruise around the Apostle Islands.  It's amazing to see so many islands of different sizes gathered all in one location and to think about the geologic forces that formed and shaped them and to hear the stories of the human forces that interacted with them for better or worse.  Devil's island is probably the most intriguing because of its many sea caves. Kayakers were exploring the watery caves as we motored by. 

Bayfield, the community on the mainland that hosts the ferry dock, is a fun little community in its own right, and easily twice the size, if not more, than La Pointe. There are quite a few more choices in Bayfield for dining, but our favorite restaurant there was Greunke's First Street Inn. The walls are filled with pictures of people who've eaten there (including John Kennedy, Jr.) and other memorabilia. And the food was fantastic, especially the in-season blueberry pie! 

Bayfield, Wisconsin [Photo: Peggy Williams]
There are no less than three bookstores in this little town.  For a little shop, Apostle Island Booksellers had an amazing choice of local and regional fiction and non-fiction, along with the usual popular and best sellers (I even saw Fifty Shades of Grey on their front table!).  And of course there are plenty of pottery and art galleries and studios. 

Bayfield is where you catch the lake cruises, both the bigger boats and the privately skippered sailboats, as well as much of the kayaking rentals.  For those who like musical performances, the Big Top Chautauqua is very popular.

Me…I'm happy to sit on the balcony or out on the pier looking out over the water and daydreaming, or just strolling the beaches.

Sunset from ferry dock in Bayfield, WI
[Photo: Peggy Williams]
I did find out that the little ferry that runs every half hour between Bayfield and Madeline Island can haul RV's.  So…guess where book number three of the On the Road mystery series will take place…! 

Happy travels!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What I'm Reading Now: Ordinary Angels by Bridget Birdsall

Some books provide escapism. Some books make you think.  Some books force you to confront emotions that are so raw you don't know what to do with them.  That's what Bridget Birdsall's book, Ordinary Angels, did for me.  I have never experienced the kind of personal grief or fear or confusion that Birdsall brings to the printed page. But I came to understand it just a little bit reading Ordinary Angels.

Birdsall's story of a family trapped by their own inner demons and the horrific death of a sibling is told in present tense using second person narration. That's right--second person. It feels as if you are lying in bed at night next to her character May O'Mally, listening in as she reminds herself of how her little brother was found dead in a neighbor's driveway and  how nobody knows who was responsible for his death and nobody will talk about it.  You imagine that she must tell herself that story every night of her life.

Indeed, Bridget Birdsall told me, as we sat chatting over cafĂ© mochas one sunny afternoon, that Ordinary Angels, though fiction, was a "semi-autobiographical" novel.  She wrote the book in order to make sense out of an emotional chaos that had dogged her all her life. So we listen in as May deals with her own guilt--the kind of guilt only a child can lay on themselves for not having saved a brother who couldn't be saved-- and we learn about growing up in a family where as the oldest child she had to take over responsibility for her siblings because her mother's addiction to alcohol not only kept her from mothering but caused her to be an abuser of the children.

The story is necessarily dark, but not brooding. Its themes are adult, but adults of all ages as well as teens and young adults in families dealing with addiction and abuse will identify with them. The story is intimate and raw, but uplifting and inspirational.    

Ordinary Angels is an amazing piece of literature. As I said, I have had the good fortune never to have experienced the kind of trauma or life that its characters experienced, but in my work as a teacher I deal with many children who have gone or are going through similar emotions.  As I "experience" life through the eyes, the words, and the heart of May, this book gives me a bit of insight, a path to empathy, a way to begin understanding my students whose lives don't match the comforting, loving paradigm of my own life. And the book gives me hope for them.

Ordinary Angels is currently only available in paperback, but can be ordered through Amazon or through local bookstores.  

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Heroes in My Eyes--Spending Father's Day in the V.A. Hospital

I am spending Father’s Day with my Dad in the V.A. hospital.  Kind of a crappy place for a guy to have to be on Father’s Day—in the hospital.  But if you have to be in a medical facility anywhere, this is the one you want: The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans hospital in Madison, WI, one of 152 V.A. Medical Centers throughout the U.S.  

V.A. hospitals don’t always come with a good rap. An ABC News report a couple of years ago said some were in “shocking shape,” describing horrendous conditions and incompetence in facilities around the country.  And certainly medical care for our military veterans has not always appeared to be a priority in Congress as evidenced by the number of closures of veterans’ medical facilities over the years and how hard communities have to fight to keep theirs open (just google “fight to keep V.A. hospital open” and see how many articles come up; too many for me to cite.)  But this hospital—the one in Madison—is awesome.

V.A. hospitals serve those who served our country. The men and women who use these facilities are the disabled vets, those whose lives were forever altered one way or another during their time at war. These people have faced situations most of us could never dream, or have nightmares, of.  Many other vets use V.A. hospitals and medical services for a variety of other reasons as well.

Walter P. Joque
U.S. Army Air Corps
My Dad, Walter P. Joque, served as a navigator/bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps (the forerunner of the current Air Force) during WWII.  In 1943, he was assigned to the 319th Bomb Group in the European theater and was stationed on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean.  On May 12, 1943 while flying his 33rd combat mission, his plane—a B26 Martin Marauder--was shot down over Italy, killing the co-pilot.  Dad managed to bail out, but his parachute didn’t open properly and the landing caused back problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.  Upon landing, he was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp.  At one point his mother and his family had been told he was killed when his plane crashed. I can only imagine the heart-break they went through, the joy at learning he was still alive, and the worry while he was imprisoned.  After the war, he was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre, among others.

Dad is a hero to our family: his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.  But he is not unique in this medical facility. Everyone here has their own story.  Some of the stories may not be as dramatic as my Dad’s, but by the very fact that they volunteered, gave up their private lives, and in many cases left their families and homes to serve in dangerous locations on behalf of our country makes each of them heroes.

The other heroes in this hospital are the doctors and nurses who serve the veterans, especially the nurses. They put in long hours and work with people who often have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms on top of their physical maladies. It takes a lot of patience to work with a 95 year old man with Alzheimer’s and a broken hip who’s reactions to pain and stress are more like those of a child than the hardened soldier he once was.  But that’s the reality here.
I don’t know about other V.A. facilities. I can only hope they are all as good as this one. The medical staff here treats this old man like the hero his family knows he is.  They care for him with dignity, patience and respect. And that is the least we can give our seniors, the least we must give our veterans.

Walter P. Joque
Sadly, in this political climate seniors are often shunted aside.  Social Security and Medicare are constantly on the chopping block, nursing homes are underfunded and in-home care attendants underpaid.  Communities and veterans have to fight to keep their medical centers open after having fought in horrendous wars to keep our country safe.  I sometimes think that as a nation we have lost our moral compass.  Our priorities have gotten mightily screwed up when we spend more time legislating what goes on in people’s bedrooms than finding solutions to ensuring that our seniors and our veterans can live out their lives in dignity, health and with a deserving quality of life.

But in this small part of America, here at the William S. Middleton Memorial V.A. Hospital I see heroes all around me: my Dad, the men and women who have come to this facility for care, and the medical and support staff who have dedicated their careers to providing that care. On this Father's Day you are all heroes to me. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Romance Writer Dave Thome Talks About...Romance

Money, sex, image…and love. Those are the key themes in Milwaukee writer Dave Thome’s debut romance novel Fast Lane. Wait a minute! you say.  He’s a romance writer?  But isn’t he a guy?  Yes. And yes.  Dave is also a journalist, a screenwriter, a hubby, and father of two.  But lately he is working to make his mark as a guy who gets it, who gets what women want…what they want when they read, that is. 

Dave Thome 
Dave published Fast Lane, as an e-book for the Kindle as well as in paperback, available through Amazon.  He recently granted me an email interview. I thought you might enjoy hearing what a guy who writes romance novels has to say about…well, romance!

MCW:  You are the author of Fast Lane, a romance novel.  What ever possessed you – a guy – to write a romance novel?

DAVE:  My wife, Mary Jo, and I have been self-employed as writers since 1999. At the end of 2009 we had our worst quarter ever: Only one client had work. Mary Jo knows a woman who writes erotic romances, which is the fastest-growing segment of romance, so she decided she’d try to write one during the downtime. I thought that if she could, I should, too. It turned out neither of us could. I laughed every time I tried to write a sex scene in the contemporary erotic romance style—which is the style of Penthouse Forum, but I liked the story and characters in Fast Lane and continued as a more traditional romantic comedy with romantic sex scenes.

I’d had some experience writing female characters; about half of the twenty screenplays I wrote before I turned to novels had female leads. No one ever said anything bad about those characters. Besides—who says men aren’t romantic?  
MCW:  What kind of reaction are you getting to Fast Lane?

DAVE:  Women who read it love it because the heroine, Lara, is strong even though she has doubts about her looks and her upbringing. The quirky side characters also have gotten rave reviews. Some readers have suggested I turn Fast Lane into a series, so I’m going to do that. 

MCW:  What were the challenges that you faced writing Fast Lane?

DAVE:  In a screenplay, you don’t have to worry about details, like what someone’s wearing. In a novel, apparently women readers want to know what everyone’s wearing all the time. I had to get used to that—and that meant knowing stuff about what women call their clothes and doing research about what they wear and where they wear it. I still don’t understand the difference between a sheath dress and shift or the rules about when it’s OK to refer to panties as panties (as opposed to “underwear”), but I have extensive notes and beta readers to help me.

MCW:  Will you write another romance?  

DAVE:  I didn’t think I would write another romance, but I like the characters of Fast Lane enough to proceed with a trilogy. I’ve got most of the planning of the whole arc of Lara and Clay’s story, and expand significantly on two characters, Sushma and Tiffany, in books two and three.

Beyond that, who knows? Three years a go I would not have predicted I would write any romances. 

MCW:  Do you consider yourself to be a romantic guy? 

DAVE: You could ask Mary Jo that, and she’d say yes. I’m also kind of a regular guy—I watch football and Pawn Stars and cuss and wear ratty sweatshirts and have a chair that only I’m allowed to use. For some reason, I think that stuff is also romantic. Kind of.

MCW:  What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for your wife? (Or anybody else, for that matter.)

DAVE: I gave Mary Jo bib overalls on the first Christmas after we met. That may not sound romantic, but it was 1979, she always wore bib overalls and she looked hot in them. But, if you want something more traditional, we rolled down the hill together behind the journalism school a couple of weeks after we met while at Marquette University. There’s a law school there now. Bummer.

MCW:  What do you do when you are not writing romance novels?

DAVE:  I write a column about car technology that appears in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel every week. Don’t ask me to fix your car; I don’t know how. Otherwise, I’ve written twenty screenplays and plan to turn them into novellas or put them up for sale as screenplays.

MCW:  What do you do when you are not writing?

DAVE:  There’s lots of TV I have to keep up on: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report every night, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Storage Wars, Mythbusters and Ancient Aliens. God forbid I should miss an episode of Ancient Aliens. Don’t worry about me. I also exercise every day. And cook dinner.

MCW:  What do you like to read?

DAVE:  I’m a slow reader because I like to read with a cup of tea or an Edy’s Frozen Fruit Bar between my exercise for the day and cooking supper. At least half of what I read is nonfiction, and that’s usually science or theology.

When I read fiction I’m all over the board. I read all of the Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games trilogy. 

MCW:  What keeps you going as a romantic guy?

DAVE:  I guess if you’re a romantic guy you’re a romantic guy. I don’t think I can try to not be romantic. 

MCW:  What do you most want readers to know about you?

DAVE:  I believe what I write in my screenplays, novels and blog. Women and men are equal. Not always the same, but still equal. Maybe not always physically—but there are female athletes who could kick my ass in just about any sport. Oh, yeah…and babies and menstruation. I’m glad I didn’t have to go through those things, because I’m not up to them physically. So, yeah…equal. 

MCW:  What are you working on now, or what do you plan to publish next?

DAVE: I started turning [my movie script] See You in Hell into a novella before I started outlining the Fast Lane sequels, and I’m gonna finish what I started. Hopefully, that won’t take too long, because I’m starting to feel like I’m ready to tackle a series.

MCW:  Is there anything I missed?

DAVE:  My blood type is A positive. That should cover just about everything, right?

My thanks to Dave Thome for sharing his experiences with romance, reading, and writing FastLane.  

To get more of Dave's wit and humor, check out his blog Man Writing a Romance. Readers interested in taking his novel for a spin can find it on Amazon.