Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorial Day . . . More than Memories

When my husband came home from Viet Nam, the first thing he did on debarking the plane was to stoop down and kiss the ground. He was that grateful to be home. Yes, protestors spit on him. And when he finally made it all the way to Philadelphia and fell asleep on his mom's couch, it was not a restful sleep. His mom came to wake him up by tapping his shoulder, and he decked her. He was still in combat mode.

When I met him in 1974, I could tell he was a vet. He always knew where all the exits were, and any loud noise caused him to go on the alert. Like the time a kid threw cherry bombs under our park bench on a Fourth of July celebration.

In 2004, we spent some time in Paris and spotted a peace march passing by as we finished our lunch at McDonald's. We walked with them. As the crowds dwindled, an old woman, bent with age and wrapped in a black shawl, asked Allen if he was American. She got down on her knees and kissed his hand. "Thank you," she said. "This is to remember all the soldiers who came to save us during World War II."

Later, I worried about my community college students who had served in Afghanistan. One dropped out after receiving reports his brain had multiple small tumors. Others confided they suffered from severe headaches and sleeplessness.

Service. Honor. Sacrifice. 

So it's no surprise that last week on PBS, John Yang and Dan Sagalyn reported that soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq are now suffering from brain cancers or lung disorders caused by smoke. Once diagnosed with cancer, these vets do not have long to live. Their families are struggling to get coverage.

The surprise is these vets have to fight to get the VA to recognize their illness as service-related. According to PBS, tens of thousands of soldiers need VA approval to get medical benefits or disability payments for these burn-pit related illnesses. Families have struggled to get that crucial VA approval. What about the vets who don't have anyone to advocate for them?

ACTION NEEDED: Two Senators (Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat, and Marco Rubio, Republican) have introduced a bill dubbed 'Burn Pit Legislation' that would set new eligibility requirements for these vets with cancer or lung disease. 

I hope you read the two links provided above.

With the current divide between Democrats and Republicans, do we have any hope such a bill could pass the House and the Senate? 

Is it time to write our Congressional representatives?

Friday, May 28, 2021

As May winds down . . . a book recommendation!

Sometimes I wonder if people realize what gifts they give passersby when they plant their gardens. 

As we slowly emerge from the isolation that pandemic brought, even ordinary life events can seem more challenging. At least, I've found it so as my husband recovers from surgery. So that daily walk has led me to discover some favorite spots along the way. That early blooming cherry tree has now given way to a climbing clematis, and the robins have returned, hopping their way across finally green lawns.

I'd like to tell you about a wonderful writer I know, Sandra Mason. She recently released her inspirational tale, Into the Fire! about what Big Ed Pulaski's life was like when he left home at age 15, and how he became that heroic forest ranger who saved 40 lives during the Great Fire of 1910. 

I would have enjoyed reading this fictional biography when I was a teen, dreaming of far horizons and adventure. I loved reading it now. Sandra has a unique gift of describing what life was truly like, and Ed Pulaski's generous spirit and work ethic comes through beautifully.

Sandra graciously answered a few questions to share with you. 

1. What inspired you to write Into the Fire!? I have always loved to tell stories, and to write. Actually I’ve done more poetry writing than longer stories. Into the Fire! is my first historical novel. And my first real book. I was researching the Pulaski tool for another project, and investigated the U.S. Forest Service Website.. I happened on an essay written by Edward Pulaski titled “My Most Exciting Adventure as a Forest Ranger.” It was very short, only about a page. I was captured by his adventure and thought “We have a real hero in our own back yard.” I was so inspired that I had to tell his story!

2. What kind of research went into writing this book? First, I explored the U.S. Forest Service website for anything I could find about the 1910 fire and Edward Pulaski. Then I made an appointment to visit the Forest Service Idaho Panhandle National Forests Headquarters in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho. They kindly allowed me access to their archives. Shawn Gibson, Forest Archaelogist, patiently walked me through the mountains of material they had on the 1910 fire. Then she turned me loose to explore on my own. I also did quite extensive reading about the 1910 fire, particularly Fire in America, by Stephen Pyne and The Big Burn, by Timothy Egan. 

I also visited Wallace, Idaho, particularly the Wallace Mining Museum. My husband and I hiked the interactive trail to the War Eagle Mine Tunnel where Ranger Pulaski and his men sheltered from the fire. It was an educational, inspiring, and beautiful hike. I researched railroad firemen, steam engines, horse shoeing, mule trains, mining, Buffalo Soldiers, Senators Heyburn and Clark, Joseph Gurney Cannon, Speaker of the House, President Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, first head of the U.S. Forest Service and others. The whole process was fascinating.

3. Any surprises along the way? I was surprised and delighted with how helpful the keepers of Idaho history were. They were generous with stories and ideas. I hope to introduce many others to the brave men of the U.S. Forest Service and firefighters in general. Now both men and women do that work.

4. What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Believe in your story, do your research, listen to other writers. And NEVER give up!


Sandra's shown here holding a firefighting axe that Ed Pulaski invented.

Find out more about Into the Fire on Amazon!

Thank you, Sandra! 

May June bring us all comfort, healing, and new adventures outside -- nearly mask free!

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

IWSG May 5: Surprises and Ripples . . .

You probably already guessed that the first Wednesday of the month belongs to the Insecure Writer's Support Group (IWSG), a lovely online community of writers who at least once a month share hopes and concerns. Our mission to support each other as we pursue our dreams! 

This month's question: Have any of your readers responded to your writing in a way that surprised you?

Yes! I was surprised when readers wanted to find out what happened to certain characters AFTER the story ended! For example, at the end of  Standing Stones (which introduced the McDonnell family), one couple, Dylan and Moira, are separated. Now, in 'real' life, sometimes such separations, regardless of intention, become permanent. For a long time, I thought that's what happened to Dylan and Moira. Book 2 in this series, Years of Stone, follows Mac and Deidre to 1840's Australia. Book 3, Rivers of Stone, tells what happened to Dougal and Catriona in 1840's Canada. Mind you, writing each story takes me about three years. 

Progress report: Readers really did surprise me by caring about my characters! And they truly wanted to know what happened to Dylan and Moira. With April being Camp NaNoWriMo (a writing challenge where you set your own goals), I can now report that I wrote an additional 15,000 words in April on Dylan and Moira's story. Hooray! Now for editing and, if all goes well, their story will go live before the year ends.

And Ripples: You may have noticed I haven't been posting so much here this month. Part of that is the Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, and part has been dealing with health issues in my family. Additionally, a family friend of many years died late in April, far too young at 43. Bright, curious, creative, he inspired many. 

As spring has finally come to the Great Inland Northwest, we are surrounded by flowering trees, tulips, daffodils, and green, green trees. I leave you with this: Cherish each day. Celebrate your own creativity, and nurture those you love!

 Flowering Ornamental Cherry Tree taken on one of my daily walks

The awesome co-hosts for the May 5 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, PJ Colando, Tonja Drecker, Sadira Stone, and Cathrina Constantine!  Why not visit the IWSG writers to see what everyone's up to? And join in!