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.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Musings Receives Illuminating Blogger Award!

I just found out that my post “Belly Dance: A Celebration of Womanhood was nominated for and awarded the Illuminating Blogger Award for “informative, illuminating, blog content.”

The Illuminating Blogger Award was originated by a lovely woman named C. J. who runs a blog called Food Stories.  On her website, C.J. says, “When I visit other blogs, I always learn so much from the informative content, blogging techniques or personalities, etc … I always learn something so I wanted to be able to offer this to everyone. This is a great way to pay it forward and meet new people!”   

I love that concept: pay it forward.

As a condition of accepting the award I am supposed to share one random thing about myself. Hmmm…well, here is something about as random as I can think of:  I once toured the White House in my bare feet! 

It was the summer after I graduated from high school. Richard Nixon was President. I was a rebellious 18 year old, and I had won a trip to Washington D.C. by writing an essay on the topic of  How to Make America Great, sponsored by the Pepsi Cola corporation (people who know me and my political leanings will understand the irony of that). Neither of my parents were able to accompany me on the trip, so my high school English teacher, Sister Benilda (yes, I went to Catholic school), who’d assigned the essay as part of a class assignment, went with me.  Much to Sister Benilda's chagrin, I refused to put my sandals on as we went started the tour of the White House.  As an arrogant teenager and a nascent tax payer, I was adamant that this was “my house” and I could do as I please. I have no idea how I got past security with my sandals in my hand. But I can only imagine that Sister Benilda to this day must grimace every time she recalls the embarrassment I caused her during her one and only visit to the President’s home. 

As for the Illuminating Blogger Award, I am honored and pleased to have my work noticed and acknowledged by another blogger. Thank you, C. J.  

And in the spirit of the award I hereby nominate and present the award to five other bloggers whom I find to be illuminating:
  • ElenaAitken – I love her motto: Don’t Forget to Breathe.  And I loved her “Somewhere Over the …Unifying Om” post. 
  • AuthorTonya Kappes – this cozy mystery and fiction author provides advice for authors like me looking to market and promote our  work.  In her "The Well Writer" piece she uses humor to encourage writers to take time to stay fit.
  • Parlez-MoiBlog – Kathleen Valentine reflects about writing, art, books, knitting, textiles, and life.  But in "Who Are These People???" she posts and reflects on fascinating old photos of people she doesn’t even know.
  • CherieBurbach  – Cherie writes books on relationships and dating, but blogs about a variety of artsy topics. I thought this one on “Golden Glass Sculptures with Solar Lights” was…well, rather illuminating!
  • Angler’sRest – Julie Goucher’s Ramblings & Obsessions of a Fisherman’s Wife caught my attention because of posts like "Carnival of Geneaology" in which she reflects on her love of geneaology.

Kudos to all these fine bloggers.  I hope you will check out their sites. And please leave a comment if you have other favorite bloggers that you’d like to bring to the attention of my readers.

And thank you again to C. J. at Food Stories for inventing the wonderful pay-it-forward Illuminating Blogger Award and for honoring me with it. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What I’m Reading Now: Copper River, a Mystery by William Kent Krueger

A teenage girl’s body floats down river, a cougar stalks the resort area, a man shows up with a bullet in his leg and a price on his head…all the elements of an enthralling mystery.  And Minnesota writer William Kent Krueger doesn’t disappoint in his 2009 novel, Copper River, set in Michigan’s U.P. and featuring his series character Cork O’Connor.

I’d seen Krueger speak as part of the Minnesota Crime Wave authors panel at the Spring Green, Wisconsin Literary/Mystery Festival in April.  I liked the picture he painted of his main character, a small town Minnesota sheriff who was half Irish, half Ojibwe.  But I was especially intrigued that he set the book in my home territory of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The story takes place in the fictional Lake Superior shore town of Bodine, just west of the very real city of Marquette.  Kruger describes it thus:
Bodine, Michigan, was the end of the line.  It lay near the terminus of thirty miles of poorly maintained county road that ran northwest out of Marquette along the shore of Lake Superior. It was Anatomy of a Murder territory, a place that despite its beauty was probably best filmed in black and white. For decades Bodine had been fighting a slow death.
While Cork O’Connor is the main character, the story is told primarily from the point of view of the teenager Ren (short for Renoir)  whose mother is Cork’s cousin, and occasionally from the points of view of other characters, like Ren’s mother Jewell and his best friend Charlie (Charlene).  That’s a risky thing for an author to do, since one of the reason’s we buy into a particular mystery series is because we buy into the main character.  But it was interesting to see this main character through the eyes of people who don’t know him very well, but whose very lives eventually depend on him.

Krueger takes another risk in the novel, in that he allows a secondary character, Dina Willner, a friend of Cork’s and a professional “security consultant” to carry most of the action.  This is risky, because it puts the main character in a bit of a passive role throughout a large part of the story. But the relationship, both professional and personal, between Cork and Dina speaks volumes about the main character and told us that he is anything but a passive man.  And I loved that this woman who came to help her wounded friend and his extended family was strong, confident and knew her business.

     “I’m not going to race you, Charlie. We’ve already been there. The thing that’s important for you to understand now is there’s no reason to run. You’re safe. We’re not going to let anything happen to you.” 
     “Safe? Because of you two? Grandma Moses and” –she cast a desultory look at Cork—“the gimp? If I believed that, I’d be so screwed."
     Dina paused, giving a few moments of weight to the girl’s words, evidence that she’d heard. Then she said, “One of the things I’m sometimes paid to do is protect people. I’m very good at it.”
              “Yeah? Bite me.”
     Dina tossed the spoon toward Cork, who managed a decent catch. “Stand up,” she said to the girl. 
     Charlie stayed firmly rooted on the sofa. 
     “Stand up and hit me.” 
     Surprise replaced the girl’s glare. “What?” 
     “You’ve been in fights before?” 
     “Sure. Lots.” 
     “Ever hit anybody?” 
     “Of course.” 
     “Then stand up and hit me.” 
     “You think I won’t?” 
     “I think you can’t.” 
     Charlie launched herself from the sofa. She went straight at Dina, who nimbly sidestepped. Charlie spun, her right fist in a fast, angry sweep.  Dina caught her arm, twisted, and sent Charlie down. The girl was so fast, she seemed to be back on her feet even before she’d hit the floor. This time she attacked with a kick. Dina danced back and the girl’s foot connected with air. Charlie’s own inertia caused her to lose her balance and she fell squarely on her butt. This time she sat there, breathing hard and staring at the floor. 
     “So,” Dina said dryly above her, “how about a little breakfast after that workout? 
     “I’m not hungry.” Charlie picker herself up and stomped toward the guest room at the back of the cabin. 
     After he heard the door slam, Cork said, “You didn’t exactly win her heart.” 
    Dina grabbed the wooden spoon from him.  “All right, maybe it was a little over the top, but she pissed me off, okay. I didn’t like her attitude. The important thing is that if the shit ever hits the fan, she’ll understand I can handle it. By the way, how’s the leg this morning, gimp?” 
     “Let’s just hope the shit doesn’t hit the fan. I’d be so screwed.” 
     “How about that omelet now?” She headed toward the kitchen. 
     “If I said no, would you beat me up?” 
     “Don’t test me.”
I had not read any of Krueger's previous books, but the backstory that led up to Copper River was revealed organically in bits and pieces throughout the novel in such a way that I learned what I needed to learn but never felt like I was being “told” what had gone on before. In fact, now I want to read the previous novel to find out exactly how the backstory played out.

The characters in Copper River are multi-dimensional.  The story has enough twists and turns that I had difficulty at times putting it down.  The only issue I took with Krueger’s story is that he several times referred to the characters as living on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, Michigan is indeed made up of two peninsulas, both of which are surrounded by massive bodies of water.  And yes, people live on the Keweenaw Peninsula or on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin.  But Yoopers think of the U.P. in terms of being part of the state—in fact there are some who would rather it be a state unto itself.  And Trolls (those who live below the Mackinaw Bridge) never talk about living in (much less on) the Lower Peninsula, they just live in Michigan. Is there a problem with a Minnesotan saying his characters live on the Upper Peninsula. Of course not. Unless you are a Yooper. Then you know the book was written by an out-of-stater.

Still, I highly recommend William Kent Krueger's Copper River. It’s a good read. It’s a suspenseful mystery. And it’s characters are well worth spending time with.