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WHAT THE WALRUS SAID--Our Authors' Blog--

There But For....

Joyce and I recently visited an old friend from Florida at her new home in Virginia—a "lifecare" facility, offering varying degrees of care depending on need.

 

Our friend's husband died, and soon after she contracted a disorder that, for all practical purposes, left her paralyzed. She didn't give up. Through rigorous physical therapy, and determination that amazed the staff, she regained her ability to walk and to care for herself. She graduated from "assisted living" status to "independent living."

 

She uses a walker, for fear she might fall, but—she walks.

 

We arrived for dinner and I stood in the dining hall looking at the legions of residents, many using walkers, many in wheelchairs, all frail. 

 

Our friend told us about her fellow residents—that man was a general. That woman was vice president at a bank. And that one was….

 

I felt great sadness. Partly, I think, seeing all these people who had declined, I foresaw my own eventual decline, and its inevitability unsettled me.

 

"All these people," I blurted out. "All so vital once, and accomplished, and now…how do they cope?"

 

Not my most diplomatic moment, with our friend standing beside me, leaning on her walker. Thankfully, she didn't point out my insensitivity. Instead, she stood silently, musing. Then she spoke, and I've been thinking about it ever since, turning it over and over in my mind.

 

She said just one word.

 

"Acceptance."

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Song

 

 

I walked into our pinewoods to look at felled trees—two years ago, a freak windstorm devastated this forest, leaving heaps of dead wood. 

 

I'd hoped to see infant pines and spruces pushing up through the tangle.   

 

I saw only dead trunks and limbs and branches.   

 

I'd been felled myself, a week before—sudden pain, ambulance, emergency room, long wait while physicians figured out what caused the agony, then a midnight emergency operation and—at three a.m.—wheeled into a hospital room.

 

Now I stared at dead trees.   

 

What happened to me could afflict anyone, anytime. You can't prevent it. It's that tangle of intestines writhing inside us. They can twist. Friends lost a dog to it. She died in two hours.

 

We're all Frankenstein's monster. We're stitched-together scraps. We lurch through life.

 

Staring at those fallen trees, that's what I thought.

 

Then, something happened, an odd little thing.

 

Suddenly—out of that dead wood—a song welled up, ineffably sweet.  

 

No big deal. Just some bird telling other birds he owned this woodpile, keep out. At least, experts say that's what bird song is about. I don't even know what bird it was.

 

But it wasn't about the bird. It was about that stunning music, welling up from the dead wood.

 

I suppose it didn't mean anything. Just an invisible bird singing. Or maybe it means whatever I decide it means.

 

So I'll be thinking about that.

 

--Richard

 

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WHAT DOES A DOG MEAN?




A friend asked me—why, in most of your husband’s novels, is one character a Pembroke Welsh corgi?

And the answer is: “It’s personal.”

Sometimes that dog character is Henry. Sometimes he’s Tobi. But his real name—he was a real dog—was Nosmo.

“Nosmo King,” in full, chosen by his previous family because they quit smoking and named him for a “No Smoking” sign. Not a name we liked.

Then we realized Nosmo could be a Hobbit name, like Frodo or Bilbo. So he became Nosmo the Hobbit.

He was preternaturally bright. Read More 

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APPARITION


Joyce awoke in the night and looked out the window. She saw a full moon, shining on fresh snow.

I lay half-asleep. Then Joyce gasped. I bolted out of bed to see what alarmed her.

“Something’s out there,” she said.

I saw only snow. Then, behind the pond, I saw a shape, indistinct in the moon-cast shadows, but something huge.

Massive shoulders hunched, it glided across the snow.  Read More 

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MURDOCK WISHES YOU HIS HOLIDAY BEST

Our good friend and frequent visitor, Murdock Morse, sends his holiday greetings to all.

Go romp in the snow, he says. It feels good!

--Joyce & Richard

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GRACIE WEIGHS IN TOO!

Gracie Duke--another good friend of ours--wants to second her pal Murdock's message: celebrate!

It's the darkest days of the year, she says. So get out there and bark! Bark for the return of the light!. Bark loud! It'll come!

Joyce & Richard

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REMEMBER THAT?


We’ve been doing some autumn cleaning, looking into attic boxes and little-used drawers and closets, and we’ve found that, never realizing it, for decades we’ve been hoarders of our own lives.

We’re human packrats, we’ve discovered, hiding away bits and pieces of the past, and then forgetting where we put them, or even that we ever hid them at all.  Read More 

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PARSING A THRILLER

I’ve been thinking: what does a story mean?

It’s because I just published a new novel, Caliban Rising—it’s a thriller, and I hope it means: “Keep turning those pages!”

You sneak onto a mysterious Caribbean island. Nice beaches, but nasty murders. Maybe you get hurled out of a Black Hawk helicopter, or fed to the island’s feral Bengal tiger. Also, there are creepy robots….

Will you survive?

Every thriller, I think, underneath, means just that: danger besets us.

We lead thriller lives.  Read More 

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BEAR-CUB LOVE, UNREQUITED



Just as we looked out Joyce’s home-office window, a large black bear hurried up our lawn.

Behind her, struggling to keep up, waddled a dutiful cub, worried Mom would outdistance him (or her—who knows?).

A moment later, at the lawn’s far end, a second cub burst from the bushes. This one stared in alarm at Mom’s receding back, then scrambled up the lawn after her and the dutiful sibling.

Now, her two cubs closely following, the bear stepped over the stone wall and started down the hill by the waterfall. At that moment, out from the bushes, burst yet a third cub. This latecomer eyed the rapidly disappearing family, then bounced up the lawn after them, jauntily—the naughty cub, the rebel, the I’ll-do-it-my-way cub.

Not that Mom seemed to care. She splashed full tilt across the stream below the waterfall, then disappeared into the pine woods, cubs hurrying behind. Mom, apparently, had an important date, probably with somebody’s birdfeeder, and if the cubs wanted to stay parented, they’d better keep up. No hover parent, this ursine tiger mom dished out tough love.

It brought back a memory: once I worked as a zoo’s bear-cub keeper. My twenty-eight charges lived in a broad round pit, with concrete walls they couldn’t scale. At the circular pit’s hub stood their nighttime cub cave, a stone igloo with an iron door. For climbing, they had a two-story dead tree, rising from the igloo’s top. They also had a little swimming pool, for taking a dip.

One of my responsibilities was warning visitors to stop dangling their toddlers down into the pit to pet the bears, an extremely bad idea, because my cubs were all little swatters. It was how they played and expressed themselves. I also cleaned the pit’s sand floor, but my hardest task was herding all twenty-eight cubs into their cave every night and shutting the door.

I’d get three in, go out for more. Meanwhile, the first three would seize the opportunity for a jailbreak.

Heading home in the evening, I’d stop first at my father’s shop—he tarred roofs and installed forced-air furnaces—where the two guys working with him always sniffed, then proclaimed: “Hey, do I smell bear?”

Here’s how tough my cubs were: once two of them got into a fight on top of their climbing tree, and one got swatted off. He plummeted two stories, bounced off the stone igloo, and sat on the pit’s sand floor, glaring up at his rival and literally shaking his fist, or paw.

I’d get home every night with new scratches on my arms. My cubs did love to swat.
They came in black, brown, and cinnamon, although they were just one species, black bears. They also came in assorted ages and sizes, from halfway to my knee (when standing erect on their hind legs) to just above my knee.

My littler cubs loved me. They’d stand up, throw up their arms (front legs) and beg to be lifted and held. Others regarded me with indifference. However, the biggest cub, whom I called “Gargantua,” hated me. I threatened his alpha-cub position, in his mind, and he wanted me to die.

He’d hide behind the igloo and when I passed by, from around the curve, a paw would flash out to swat.

Eventually I gave up trying to make friends and ignored Gargantua, who’d sit off to the side glaring at me. One evening, though, his glare seemed more thoughtful, as if he’d been pondering the situation. Finally, he made up his mind. I’m sure I saw him nod.

He walked to me and held up his front legs, as he’d seen the littlest cubs do, begging to be lifted up and held.

At last, I thought.

I lifted him up. I looked into his brown eyes, he looked into my blue eyes. His expression turned to triumph.

He gave me a powerful swat, on the cheek.

Then he jumped down and I could almost hear him sniggering.

Here’s what: I love bears, and I especially love bear cubs.

And the one I’ve always loved the most was Gargantua, who never loved me.

--Richard  Read More 
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CALIBAN RISING

This Caribbean island looks serene, but don't kid yourself

Lately I worry a lot about who to kill off.

Don’t call the police—I’m talking about characters in the thriller I’m currently writing.

I don’t mind offing bad guys, because they fully deserve it. Every one of them, believe me. It’s the good characters who trouble me, imaginary people I’ve come to like and respect.

I’m writing this novel, so I suppose I’m Zeus, and I get to decide who dies and who lives. However, the truth is that the story itself is king of the gods, with its own wishes and demands and requirements. Authors are soothsayers. All we can do, really, is divine what the story wants and do its bidding.

For instance, this novel started as a pure thriller, set on a Caribbean island, but I’m about midway through now and—all on its own—it’s taken on a faint sci-fi tinge, although nothing that couldn’t actually happen in the world today. Let’s just hope it doesn’t.

Caliban Rising is the novel’s title. So far, at least. Even in titles, the story will have its way, so we’ll see.

Anyway, back to the question of good characters dying. For some reason, in our real world, we’ve lately had a rash of people we know dying. People not yet in their fullness of years. Brain cancers, heart attacks, prostate cancer, rare disorders with unpronounceable names….

I suppose that what determines who dies too young is not goodness, not badness. It’s just how our story wants to be told.

--Richard  Read More 
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