Joan Brownie
Life lessons

Looking Back: I Should Have Said Hello

I found this post from 2 1/2 years ago when I was searching through this website’s archives. Here, I wrote about a lesson I learned about race as a young child, one that certainly has influenced me as an adult. Given what is happening in the news these days, I wanted to share it again.

I don’t have many regrets in my life. I can think of a few things I’ve thrown away I wish I still owned, but no biggies there. There’s some stupid stuff I’ve said. I will admit, also, to mistakes I’ve made with relationships. The one experience that bugs me, likely prompted by the news these days, happened when I was a child.

I was eight or nine, perhaps, and a Brownie Scout. That’s a picture of me above, looking awfully skinny in my uniform. One year, I found out I could go to a day camp for free if I sold enough Girl Scout cookies. My enthusiastic parents, especially my Dad, went into full gear, hitting up the people they knew. They sold enough, so I could go.

It was my first experience away from home and school. I didn’t know any of the girls, but as the week went on, I got close to one. I will also note she was Black, which shouldn’t make any difference, but it does later in this story. We did the activities and ate lunch together. We acted like the silly, little girls we were.

Later that summer, I was with my mother and sisters shopping in downtown New Bedford — a lively strip then of department and other stores during those pre-mall days. We were walking along the sidewalk when I spotted my camper friend and her mother.

I remember the girl was happy when she recognized me. But what did I do? I passed by and pretended I didn’t know her. I recall distinctly she asked her mother why I didn’t say hello. I didn’t hear her response.

I knew then I did wrong. I should have said hello. I should have told my mother we went to camp together.

But I didn’t. And I wish I had.

Yes, I was a shy girl then. (That might surprise some folks who know me now, but I worked on it.) I lived a sheltered life in a small town. Also, being fully Portuguese, I am more brown than white. It was the fifties. But still… I ponder today what stopped me then from doing what should have been a natural thing.

Compared to what is happening now, my snub may seem rather small. But I believe it’s one of those lessons I had as a kid that has helped shape me as an adult. When it comes to my fellow human beings, I try to look for common denominators. I want to know about our different experiences. Certainly, living in big cities, small towns, and in multicultural Northern New Mexico has given me numerous opportunities.

But when it comes to that little girl, I honestly wish for a do-over, but sadly that’s not possible. Lesson learned.

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On Writing

Meet Sulley Ridge of This Strange Hell

C.J. Sutton, an Australian author, is the next to appear in a new series I call Building Character. But instead of writing about a character from his new book, This Strange Hell, C.J. decided to answer the questions for a setting. Well, why not.

By the way, This Strange Hell has an official launch date of March 15. This is the link to pre-order:  mybook.to/thisstrangehellProfile - Copy

Here C.J. delves into the book’s key location—Sulley Ridge.

Who is your setting?

Sulley Ridge is a fictional town located in the harsh Victorian outback in Australia. The town stands as one of the most important characters in This Strange Hell due to its importance in the story. Surrounded by eucalyptus trees and with a backdrop of the mountain ranges, the scene looks like a setting for the perfect weekend drive. But at the heart of the town there’s anarchy and decay. Ruled by a violent gang and classified as a lawless town due to a lack of stationed authority, Sulley Ridge is slowly rotting despite its resilient citizens hoping for change. Schools have been shut down, the clinic is an abandoned shack and no children now live in the district. Will this ever change?

Sulley Ridge is first presented as a hideout for a character on the run. But he soon realises that this faraway land is searing with pain…

What does it look like?

Located on the outskirts of a mountain range, Sulley Ridge has one main street with a general store, hardware store, newsagency and a pub. Citizens live just outside this strip in old homes with vast land for farming and crops. Eucalyptus trees line the streets and border the town, and car parts are frequently seen on the side of the road. The town has abandoned shopfronts due to the mass exodus from years prior, and looks like the setting of an old western.

What is the backstory?

Sulley Ridge was once a quiet town no different to a dozen others in the outback. Children attended school, locals farmed, and passersby entered the pub for a drink and a gamble. This all changed when a gang showed up offering locals an opportunity for more coin. Once the betting escalated into fight clubs, prostitution and drugs, women left with their children and the local police were brutalised. Sulley Ridge became a lawless town, attracting the worst kind of men. One night, when the local officer caught the gang leader with a sixteen-year-old girl, he used force to make a point. The following morning the officer was found dead in his front yard, ripped in half after being strapped to two cars that drove in the opposite direction. Officers left after that, as did many women with their children. The town is haunted by its past.

What is its role in your novel?

The main character, known only as the man, flees to Sulley Ridge to escape public scrutiny after tragedy in Melbourne. With his face all over the news, Sulley Ridge becomes the ideal hiding place for a man wanting to disappear. Sulley Ridge is the last place anyone will look, and the locals care not for outside politics; their own issues are too complex. As we learn more about its history and the present state of civil war, Sulley Ridge becomes the key piece on the board.

Why should readers care?

Sulley Ridge is slowly decaying. There are no children or authority, no doctors or schools, just people who are too scared to leave. Could this happen to an outback town in reality? Definitely.

A brief excerpt:

The narrow road opened slightly, becoming two lanes that snaked through a street lined by one-storey outlets. A general corner store, newsagency, abandoned café and hardware store were shut, the typical red CLOSED sign dangling from the door knob. Leaves blew through the street like citizens basking in the lack of humanity, but soon voices could be heard up ahead. A carpark was nestled alongside The Ginger Bastard, a pub with wooden logs stacked out front in a pyramid. A teenage boy was seated atop the triangular structure, smoking a thick cigarette and carving letters into the wood. His head shot up when the man’s footsteps became signals of approach.

A brief synopsis: 

A suited man runs from a burning tower in Melbourne as bodies rain down upon him.

Before the city’s millions can compose, he boards a train into the countryside. Hiding his identity and changing his appearance, the man finds his way to Sulley Ridge, a lawless town in the heart of the harsh Victorian outback.

The following day, a burned man wakes up in a hospital bed. Surging with rage, he speaks a name. Within an hour, the suited man’s face is across every screen in the country. It’s the greatest manhunt Australia has ever seen.

But as he tries to camouflage in Sulley Ridge, he soon realises the town has its own problems. Under the iron fist of a violent leader, the locals are trapped within slow and torturous decay…

As we learn more about the night of the burning tower, the connection between the suited man and the burned man threatens to leave a trail of destruction across the state.

Here is the story of a man on the run from his past, as the line between sanity and evil is danced upon.

Here is the tale of This Strange Hell.

 Here’s how to find C.J. Sutton on social media:

http://www.cjsutton-author.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cjsutton.author

https://twitter.com/c_j_sutton

https://www.instagram.com/c.j.sutton/

 

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Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Checking the Traps: How It Begins

In case you missed the Feb. 5 announcement, fans of my Isabel Long Mystery Series are able to pre-order the third book, Checking the Traps. Click on a box in Amazon, and March 22, the book will pop into your Kindle or other device. (Paperback fans: an announcement will happen soon.) Here’s the link for both: mybook.to/checkingthetraps 

First, a heart-felt thanks to anyone who pre-ordered the Checking the Traps. Now, let me interest those who haven’t with this blurb:

Isabel Long is banged up from her last case with a broken collarbone and her arm in a sling. But that doesn’t stop her from pouring beer at the Rooster Bar or taking her third case with Gary Beaumont, a local drug dealer, who once terrorized her. Gary is convinced his half-brother, Cary Moore, didn’t jump off a bridge known as a suicide spot. Somebody pushed him. 

Cary was a boozer who drove for a highway crew. But what interests Isabel and her ‘Watson’ — her 93-year-old mother who lives with her — is that the man wrote poetry.

The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his half-brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, he was that good.

As a journalist, Isabel did regular meetups with her sources for stories. She called it ‘checking the traps.’ She does the same as a private investigator, and this time, she’ll make sure she doesn’t get caught in one.

Yes, despite her injuries, the gutsy Isabel and her mother is ready for another cold case. Those who read the first two books will have met many of the characters in this one like Annette, Marsha, Old Farts (those snoopy men in the store’s backroom), and of course, Jack.  I loved being around them so much, I couldn’t let them go. But I have new ones, such as Cyrus Nilsson, a fictional famous poet who is a bit of a snake, plus other people Isabel meets for this case.

And now I will give you a peek at how the book begins. The chapter is called the One-Armed Bartender.

It’s Friday night at the Rooster Bar and Grille, and I’m behind the bar taking care of business with my one good arm. The other is in a sling. A broken collarbone and a few badly bruised ribs are souvenirs from my second case, that and the satisfaction I nailed the bastard who ran my car off the road. I’m right-handed, and luckily, my injuries are on my left side, so it’s a piece of cake, really, snapping the caps off Buds with the opener mounted on the back of the counter. I only need one arm to reach for beers in the cooler and drop empties into the carton below. I’m not able to deliver food or clean tables, but then again, I have a very understanding boss. You remember Jack Smith, don’t you?

Besides, my getup is a conversation starter here at the town of Conwell’s only drinking establishment. The Rooster’s True Blue Regulars, of course, are all aware of what happened two weeks ago, but being nosy New Englanders, they prod me for details. They can’t get enough of the story. I gladly accommodate them. They’re friendly guys and good tippers.

“Isabel, how fast were you goin’ when Pete hit the back of your mother’s car?” one guy asks when I hand him his beer.

“Last I looked it was eighty.”

“Damn. On that road? You and Barbie were lucky you didn’t get yourselves killed.”

Uh, that might have been Pete Woodrell’s intention when he tailed us in his pickup. His wife, Barbie, was terrified and screaming beside me in the front seat. I didn’t blame her. I felt like screaming, too, but I had to pay attention to the road.

Hold on a minute. I have a line of customers stacking up. The dinner crowd has come and gone, or come and stayed if they’re making a night of it. The kitchen is closed, and I hear Carole, the cook, cleaning inside. The Back Door Men, tonight’s band, are hauling their instruments and speakers through the side door. There’s a full house tonight, which makes Jack, who owns the joint, one happy man.

 Being the start of April, the snowmobiles are gone because the snow is pretty much gone. We are in the thick of mud season, at least on the back roads, so the Rooster’s floor is getting awfully gritty. That’s okay. The Rooster is almost a shack in the woods, no frills, except for the large-screen TVs for sports games mostly, the jukebox, and thankfully, a clean women’s room. Jack told me he’s getting ready to spruce up the bar’s interior with some fresh paint and a new toilet in the men’s room. He couldn’t recall the last time the Rooster was painted, oh, maybe when he first bought the place. As for the men’s room toilet, it’s probably an original.

“What’ll it be tonight, Luke?” I ask the guy in front of me as if I don’t know what he’ll order.

“Make it a Bud.”

I reach inside the cooler.

“You sure? We do have a fine selection of beers on tap.”

He smiles to himself as he reaches into his back pocket for his wallet. Most folks here pay cash for their drinks and meals although Jack started taking credit cards years ago.

“You think the murder charges will stick?” he asks.

I smile to myself, too.

“I sure as hell hope so.”

 

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Shelburne Falls, Mass.
Winter

Stay Warm

That’s what I’ve been telling people these days. As I write this post, the weather app says it’s minus-5, but it feels like minus-19 in the Western Massachusetts village where I live. Well, it is winter, and staying warm is on everybody’s mind these days.

So, I say “Stay warm” to the clerks in the stores where I shop, the person pouring my tea, and frankly, whomever I meet wherever I go.

I’m as prepared as I can be for this weather. Long johns and wool socks are now part of my everyday costume, well, except when I went for a job interview. (I suffered a bit wearing a suit, nylons, and dress shoes.) I wear a hat, scarf, and gloves when I venture outside. I don’t fool around.

As I write this, I can hear the furnace cranking. We have one of those programable thermostats so we have variable temps throughout the day and night. The thermostat’s set at 55 degrees at night because we like sleeping in a cool home. You know it was cold last night when the furnace had to kick in to maintain that level. That and the cat slept with us under the covers.

And then there’s the wood stove in Hank’s workshop, which is off my office. We’ll keep a fire going in there.

It’s good weather to work on the final edits of the next book in my Isabel Long Mystery Series — Checking the Traps — which has a March 22 launch. I also just received the next history book to copyedit for a university.

Still, we might just venture a walk down to the village for hot beverages and just to see how tough we are.

In this weather, I feel fortunate that I have a warm place to live. That’s not true for everybody, and this is where this post turns serious. I see homeless people whenever I visit a nearby city. During the last cold snap, a man and woman died in a tent in the woods. While the cause of their death hasn’t been officially determined, the weather must have been a factor.

I will admit to being a bit hard-hearted in the past when I was approached by panhandlers. Although I often don’t have any cash on me, I didn’t give when I did. My justification? They’ll spend the money on something other than food or a place to live.

But after those deaths, I’ve changed my mind. I plan to keep singles in my bag, and if someone is holding one of those cardboard signs, I will give what I can. I may not have a lot, but I certainly have a lot more than they do. How they spend it is their business.

“Stay warm.” I told that to the homeless woman huddled on the sidewalk when I gave her money the other day. She said, “I’m trying.” And, you know, I believed her.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: The frozen village of Shelburne Falls, where I live on the Buckland side.

 

 

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Author Interview, Building Character

Meet Enya of Agricola’s Bane

This post launches a new series I call Building Character, in which authors write about a character in their novel. Nancy Jardine is the first with Enya of Garrigill, a young warrior in her Celtic Fervour Series. Historical fiction fans can find the fourth, Agricola’s Bane, on Amazon: Nancy Jardine books

But back to Enya of Garrigill, I like this description: “Enya has strong features which are in keeping with her resolute determination.” She may be young, but she’s tough.

Here. I’ll let Nancy do the talking.

Who is your character?SONY DSC

Her name is Enya of Garrigill. Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of the Celtic Fervour Series, opens with Enya having passed fourteen summers and she’s already a well-seasoned Late Iron Age Celtic warrior.

What does she look like?

Enya has strong features which are in keeping with her resolute determination. Her wide brow is softened by arresting eyes the colour of a changeable grey winter storm, eyes which sometimes betray her tender years and physical immaturity. Strong cheekbones flank a long nose that sits above front teeth which overlap slightly. Her chin is neat but often used with great effect to display her single-mindedness. The light brown soft-textured hair that has a tendency to escape her lengthy hair braids feathers the edges of her oval face and lifts her to comeliness, especially when her rare humour surfaces. The circumstances she inhabits are highly dangerous, but when Enya gives her wholehearted trust and love, it softens an often stern appearance.

What is your character’s back story?

Enya is a second-generation Garrigill warrior, a clan member who as a small child fled from Brigantia (Book 1 of the series), her family’s flight northwards being to avoid inclusion into the Roman Empire when the Roman legions dominate Brigantia (currently Cumbria and Yorkshire, England). By the end of Book 3 of the series, the Garrigill clan have migrated to Taexali Territory (current Aberdeenshire, Scotland) where they fight a pitched battle alongside the Celtic warriors of Calgach against the Ancient Roman legions of General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola.

The battle is disastrous for the Celtic warriors of the north who flee to the safety of the Caledon Mountains when the battle turns in the favour of the Romans. Enya bloodies her blade at this Battle of Beinn na Ciche: her warrior status elevated. In the chaos of the final moments of the battle she becomes separated from most of her family members, though days afterwards she finds them sheltering in the foothills of the Caledon Mountains.

What is your character’s role in your novel?

Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of the series, opens with Enya determined to find her slightly older brother Ruoridh and her younger cousin Beathan who have not been seen since the Battle at Beinn na Ciche. Ruoridh and Beathan are not believed dead – there’s been no evidence of their corpses even ten days after the battle – and Enya is convinced she will be able to find them. The difficulty is that Taexali Territory is now flooded with Ancient Roman soldiers who are moving from temporary camp to AB 1000x625temporary camp in a north westwards direction. It’s hazardous for anyone to be moving around anywhere since the locals have mainly fled to the mountains after the battle. Along with Nith of Tarras and Feargus of Monymusk Enya sets out to find her kin; establish they are dead; or prove the lads have been taken as slaves by the Romans which is a distinct possibility. Along with her companions, she also has the perilous task of gathering information about the movements, and future military campaign intentions, of General Agricola’s legions. A spy captured can expect inevitable death!

Why should readers care about this character?

Enya isn’t only battling with separation anxiety from her lost kin, who are both very dear to her and in fact can be named among her best friends; she’s also a prisoner of her own developing physical emotions. She’s not yet chosen her first lover even though she’s reached childrearing status and battles with her developing sexual emotions. She finds herself torn between her developing romantic feelings for Nith who has been an almost foster-brother for the last couple of years, and her other travelling companion Feargus who now seems to be an orphan, his family having been decimated by the Roman usurpers. Her physical warrior strength is counterbalanced by her growing emotional maturity.

Give a brief excerpt featuring your character.

This scene is near the beginning of Agricola’s Bane. Enya and her scouting patrol encounter some Roman auxiliaries while on surveillance duty in woods near Ceann Druimin where her family have taken shelter.

When Enya reached Colm, the soldier she had speared to the ground squealed and bleated as he squirmed to free his upper arm from the entrapment, his attempt to break the shaft unsuccessful. Frantically swinging it in her direction, the young auxiliary whirled and bucked to avoid the slashes of her blade. As she raised her long knife anew, the end of the spear walloped against her jaw, the impact splintering the tip, the sudden pain excruciating. The blow was not sound enough to knock her over, but the jarring sent the man sprawling. Landing heavily on his side, he yelped when the pole cracked asunder, the spear tip still stuck firmly in his upper arm. Forcing him onto his front with one well aimed boot roll, Enya clipped away the shallow helmet neck-guard with her knife.

She had him at her mercy but she would give him none.

Striking repeatedly at the freed flesh with her long blade, which was not much shorter than the Roman’s gladius, a white hot rage engulfed her. Blood spattered and bone cracked.

Would her Celtic lands never be free of the Roman scum? The next cut was for Ruoridh. Another hack was for her cousin, Beathan, and more for Feargus’ dead kin from Monymusk. Her blade continued a repetitious slashing. Her brother would be found or avenged. Either way, she vowed to remove as many of the Roman usurpers as she could.

“Enya!”

Fergus’ noisy reprimand eventually penetrated her frenzy. Lowering her blade she stared at him, the thudding inside her chest almost engulfing her.

It was his palms cradling her shoulders and his soft voice at her ear that reminded her to breathe properly. “Enough. He will trouble Colm no longer.”

Synopsis of Agricola’s Bane:

A.D. 84 Northern Roman Britain

Nith of Tarras helps Enya of Garrigill in the search for her kin, missing after the disastrous battle at Beinn na Ciche fought between the Caledonian warriors and the mighty Ancient Roman legions. Enya soon has a heartrending choice to make. Should she tread Vacomagi territory that’s swarming with Roman auxiliaries to find her brother? Or, should she head south in search of her cousin who has probably been enslaved by the Romans?

Commander of the Britannic Legions and Governor of Britannia – General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola – is determined to claim more barbarian territory for the Roman Empire, indeed plans to invade the whole island, but finds not all decisions are his to make. It increasingly seems that the goddess, Fortuna, does not favour him.

The adventures of the Garrigill clan continue…

You can find Nancy Jardine at these places:

Blog: http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk

Website: www.nancyjardineauthor.com/

Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG& http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G

email: nan_jar@btinternet.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/nansjar

Amazon Author page http://viewauthor.at/mybooksandnewspagehere

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5139590.Nancy_Jardine

 

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