Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Home World Reax coming in June


Wings is publishing my book Home World Reax this June.

I enjoy placing characters in new worlds of the future. In this story, Reax is a world whose initial colonist wanted to improve the human genome through selective breeding alone. Soon specific genomes chose names based on their lore from their initial home, Earth. These 'houses' chose the names of animals based on their history of Earth and what characteristics those animals showed. Maera is from Falcon House, the home of keen investigators and peace constables. The very fact Reax has a house specializing in police work tells you much about Reax's success in breeding better people, but in any world times and goals always change

Maera is a young woman abused by her caretaker throughout her childhood. She is smart enough to plan her escape.

Here is an excerpt from Maera's escape on the way home from "Engagement," an initiation Reaxan elites use, sending 'tyros' to foreign places for a year to earn their place in their house. Maera is making sure her best and only friend makes it home from Engagement, too.
~*~
Nothing seemed worse to Maera, as a halfbreed, than returning to Reax, not when freedom came within her grasp. No one from the Falcon or Swan Houses expected either of them to return, nor did the Genome Council’s Engagement Committee. They had purposely sent Sareen to this location, anticipating her failure. Well, not exactly this location, but one more hostile than this place, and me to one far more dangerous.Sareen would return, and they would accept her back, look closer at her genome, and perhaps scratch their collective heads. Luckily, she would not return. Her cavalier rearrangement of assignments would never come to the council’s knowledge. Her situation of being ‘unseen’ and marginalized ended. Now she began a life dedicated to achieving her own goals.

Sareen’s Engagement dislocation they would attribute to a mix-up in assignments, and who but the swaggering Wolf House’s Vulk, one of the councilor’s sons originally assigned an easy location on Ubret, should serve Sareen’s much harsher assignment? The young man most likely had survived his Engagement, so his merit would certainly increase. Maera grinned at the thought. That young man had bragged about his easy placement location. It made a lie of the committee’s claims of fair assignments based on assessments.

Which made her own return too dangerous an act of defiance. She wondered if her house had specifically asked for a terminating assignment. Did hateful Uslina have influence there? Had the Genome Council cleansed the houses of unwanted genomes throughout the ages through this ploy? She believed it. House tyros who refused placement went to the gen’rals, condemning their children to life outside any house.

It no longer mattered. She could not afford to go back, not after all her illegal snooping and modification in protected databanks, nor did she want to return. She wanted escape. Freedom. Her homecoming would have sparked an investigation, and even one tiny thread unraveling could entangle her in a mass of trouble. Her failure to return would please many. They would call it proof she did not deserve house recognition.

If Falcon House had unintentionally taught her anything, it taught her survival. And self-reliance, she amended. Truth to tell, her house accepted neither her genome half nor her wild, unknown half. From her aunt’s harshness, she had learned how to avoid and escape bad situations, how to help herself, how to prevent others from discovering she helped herself, and most important, how to keep secrets… and how to discern them.

Learning the Genome Council orchestrated who passed Engagement only confirmed her suspicions. It did not matter anyway. She did not care about the members’ secrets, except how they might have affected her and Sareen. That she achieved—safe return for her friend, self-determination for herself.

She heard Sareen approach and stop next to her. Maera turned her face toward the far off horizon, giving Sareen time to recover from the last segment of their walk. Finally, she lowered her gaze to Sareen. Her friend’s gaze looked downward, encompassing the port, her tired satisfaction in her
achievement apparent. Maera could not hide the self-satisfied smile she felt cover her face.

“I’m not joking, Sare. I’m not going back. That life is for you and the other genome pures.”

“You should not use that gen’rals slur, especially as we go home,” Sareen said in a very soft, non-confrontational voice of warning. “You don’t know who you could offend.”

Maera shrugged. A few unmentionable gen’rals had helped her survive. She started brushing the dust off her pant legs. Thoughts of past hurts and future dreams wrapped in a tumbling jumble of anticipation she could taste. “Anyhow, even if I did return, they’d probably only find cause to send me to the gen’rals. You know they would. I wouldn’t even mind that, not the supposed shame, or nothing else.” She looked at Sareen, “Except I have other plans.” Her voice throbbed with an excitement hard to hide.

Sareen’s distressed gaze made contact everywhere except Maera’s eyes, showing her evasive agreement with the prognosis. Maera raised a hand over her eyes to look at the view below them. The port spread in a vast meadow of architecture, machinery, and paved confusion, the only place on Ubret where technology reigned. People going places and doing things filled the area.

Maera wanted to run, jump, and leap her way there. She side-glanced at Sareen, read the stubborn look, and then looked at the spaceport again. “It’s just, Sare. Really it is. I want this. You want to go
back. That’s just, too.”

“I’ll go with you. We can’t waste a miracle.”

Sareen’s words, barely above a whisper, interrupted Maera’s speeding anticipation. She spoke without thought. “No miracle, Sare.” Then she realized her admission. Sareen still believed their meeting a sheer accident.

~*~
Nine years after Maera's escape, Reax has suffered a civil war and a devastating plague that has decimated the population. The colony is in a dire situation, and Raven Jencet, formerly of Eagle house and now of Raven House, is sent out to bring this successful soldier and financier home, but he considers her a renegade traitor.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Establishing a Story

At first when I thought about this topic, I thought I didn't have any established method for organizing a story. Thinking about it I discovered maybe I do, I just approach it from a different angle each time. It's like a macramé where an assortment of threads are wrapped, knotted, or twisted together and in different directions to create a finished design.

For me, usually a vague, downtrodden female character arrives first. That sounds very gender divisive, but in defense of my genderism, I do tend to write for female readers, and also want to relay that I have recently had a male character emerge along with a story idea and a crew of associates. Since I've been writing, I've also had secondary characters from one story attract my attention, which has led to their own story and the creation of a series of related stories. I think good stories are made to promote growth of thought and ideas for both reader and author, so maybe this is normal.

After characters comes determining a rough story idea and where the story will take place. I do tend to follow the advice in Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale, Chistopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, and Joseph Campell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces, so one of the next steps is to find characters who will become allies, antagonists, mentors, gatekeepers, or other archetypes. I often worry about my characters being too much alike since they are coming from the same brain, so I have used John M. Oldham, M.D. and Lois B. Morris' Personality Self-Portrait, Why You Think, Work, Love and Act the Way You Do, to help structure some of my characters.

Then I think about a world where these characters and their story takes place. From my previous stories, I have already created my writing worlds based on different readings, too. One is a galactic world and another a fantasy Renaissance type world for stories. I continue to use these worlds, but new locations pop up in these two very different types of worlds. World creation takes place in any Earth-bound story, too, because all locations and local cultures differ. If these do not have a ring of truth for the reader, they will be disenchanted with the world.

I've read about authors being either pantsers or plotters, but think I am a blend of the two, leaning toward being a plotter. I do map out a general outline from start to finish including all my ideas about the story and where it might go, including points of tension, the trials and triumphs, but once I start writing things always go in very different directions during the process. Sometimes I need to take a break from a story and think about what has happened and where those events might lead. It can be a slow process.

Please visit these other participants and read their views on this topic:
Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Beverley Bateman
Margaret Fieland
Connie Vines
Judith Copek

Thursday, April 19, 2018

April Fools

The end of March had been going out like a lamb, until the last day. I knew when we had a heavy snow storm on that last day, April Fool's Day had struck early. With Easter also being on April first, it was a double jibe. I didn't expect it to last throughout the month. April is supposed to indicate an end to winter's vagaries, at least it is here in Michigan. Today, the 19th, is one of the few days with sun this month.

Yet that first storm was only a predictor for a wild and woolly April. One storm after another has blown through the Midwest and up into the Great Lakes Region. Traverse City has had about 30" of snow. This was not feather-light, fluffy snow but heavy half-ice snow.

Last week I heard a talk on NPR with a local climatologist. He said this was part global warming and part Michigan's tendency to have weather flip-flops. Well yes, that's true, and April has always been an unpredictable month... but I think in some respects it was a cosmic slap to wake us all up as to what fools we have been. We should have taken the warnings of global warming serious fifty years ago when scientists talked to President Lyndon Johnson about the dangers of carbon dioxide's increase in the atmosphere.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Rowing

The view from my seat
on the machine. It looks
like a mean comic robot
image from this view.
Michigan weather, being what it is, I decided to start using the rowing machine I’d abandoned two years ago.  I found stationary rowing so boring, looking at the same furniture and stuff hanging on the walls in the room, no TV in the room, and I couldn't read and row. At that time I could get up to 200 strokes and my mind would say “enough!”

I used to walk a 2 mile route three times a week, and at least when I walked the landscape was always changing, but I did not walk in winter. The roads were too slippery, snowmobiles whizzed by me at unbelievable speeds, and I hate the cold.  I always tell myself, "I'll walk again next summer." I didn't, though. I stopped walking due to the weather, but I knew I needed to do some type of exercise because I spend way too much time in front of my computer.

I’ve never been athletic. I enjoyed walking in summer, and for a number of years rode horses taking lessons in dressage and hunt seat jumping, but competitive sports? No. High intensity sports? No. I’m a klutz. In high school while learning basketball in gym class I gave a girl a concussion when I tripped over my own feet and my head banged into the back of hers. Rowing, however, is supposed to be a great form of exercise; it effects 80% of all the body's muscles and doesn’t put stress on joints.

This January (no it was not a New Year’s resolution) I decided to return to the rower. The good part is I don’t have to travel to use the machine, and I can use it rain or shine or severe snow storm.

I started doing 100 strokes three times a week, but not on a regular basis. In that time, and being slightly obsessive-compulsive, I learned I rowed about 24 to 26 strokes per minute, so 125 strokes was five minutes. I began doing five minutes at least once a day, but two weeks later tried for that length twice a day.

I had read where any exercise activity didn't have to be done in one long-haul episode to be effective, but each short activity accrued into the same result. I became driven to complete at least two sessions a day. By the second week in February I was doing one ten-minute session in the morning and a second five-minute session in the evening, every day. The only way I could get through it was watching all the information on the machine’s small screen: number of strokes increasing, supposed number of calories burned (always very minimal), number of strokes per minutes, time elapsed. 


Have your ever noticed how slow time passes when you watch the minutes tick by? I found the manual and learned how to change the readings to just follow the number of strokes. Still too slow and boring. Fourth week into February with consistent rowing I discovered some interesting things.

First, I found if I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breathing, and/or counting my strokes, the motion relaxed me. Nothing mattered but moving. It emptied my mind. Is that some form of meditation? Whatever it is, it helps me control my wayward brain, and I'm surprised how fast strokes accrue when not watching the numbers.

Second, I noticed when my eyes were closed and my mind blank, my mind started listening to my body and I concentrated on doing the stroke correctly and actually sensing what muscles I used.

Third, a week ago I felt muscles in my legs; hard muscles, for the first time ever. Now I feel them whenever I move. It motivates me.



Fourth, I learned it doesn't matter if I keep an exact schedule, only that I do it at some time during the day.

Fifth, I learned it is better to row on an empty stomach. It's much easier, and I can look forward to the reward of eating afterward. The bonus is I probably won't eat as much as if I'd eaten before rowing.

The first hundred strokes remain difficult, as my mind doesn't want to cooperate with my body. It constantly informs me of better ways to spend my time. I just close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing or counting strokes, sometimes I just enjoy feeling my body work, or find I enjoy listening to the noises around me. Once I get to two hundred strokes in one session, my mind enjoys the motion. It is relaxing and peaceful, and makes me continue.

  Six weeks ago I was doing fifteen minutes a day (375 strokes). Last week I did four sessions of 200 strokes. Wow! 800 strokes in one day! (I know any consistent, long-time rower reading this is laughing at this low rate, but they are probably not as old as I am.) Each week I found it easier to do and each week my goal increased. Now I'm averaging twenty-six minutes a day, or 4500 strokes a week, which is equivalent to exercising three hours a week. I’m hoping to keep going, so sitting out even one day scares me because I might quit all together. A few days ago I did 500 strokes in one session, no heavy breathing or inordinate exertion involved. I'm working towards three and a half hours a week. I’m not there yet, but I’m working towards 750 strokes a day, 350 in the morning, 250 midday, and 200 in the evening. Last Monday I did 650 strokes in one setting! Yay!

I'm hoping all this will help get more blood to my brain to help keep it working. It already gets more air into my lungs, but I still have to urge myself to go use the machine. One part of my mind tells me I have better things to do, but the compulsive part of my nature tells me that I must row. I feel comfortable in knowing I can meet my goal in two, three, or four short daily sessions. For a non-athletic person my age, it feels like a major accomplishment.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

A Story's Conception

Where do my ideas for stories come from? The truth is I don’t really know, but from somewhere within my mind. Once an idea or character emerges, much thought takes place on how to tell the story. Are my stories part of me? Of course, I just hope they don’t expose too much of me.

I know my first character haunted my thoughts for a year before I ever started writing, but she didn’t actually appear until the third book in that series. She had to come from my imagination, but where does that start? Somehow when she showed up it made me think about telling a story, where it would take place, and what would happen. When I had that sorted out, she didn’t fit in the story, but other characters did.

Once completed, the first story gave me characters who led to other stories. Since then, I often think of situations and the character who will tell that story together, often while taking a walk myself. Walking lets me empty my mind from everyday distractions. Walking is where unexpected characters still show up.

Usually I like to thread a story around an issue existing in today’s world, but let the telling take place in ‘another place and time.’ Human life on Earth and their societies have very…interesting…practices, some quite bizarre, even despicable, to others living here. Many human practices from our history (love reading history) also often show up in my stories.

I believe writers write and readers read to learn about all the contrary and magnanimous aspects of human beings.

Please visit these author's to learn where their inspiration comes from:

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Learning from Fiction Characters

The thought of how creating characters changed me didn’t occur to me for a long time. 

While writing I don't think about characters coming from my mind.  And as a writer, I have not consciously developed them from people I know. I thought it would be too embarrassing for me to have someone recognize themselves as one of my characters. Yet my characters have subtly changed me, something that went unnoticed.

Obviously in writing fiction an author has to use characters to carry the story, so an author has to develop those characters in a believable manner. When I began writing I used books that broke down different human personality profiles and the characteristics of those personalities. I still often go back to using those templates. That said, while writing I still had to be my characters and determine how they would act in any particular situation. I also knew this would not necessarily be how I’d behave in that situation, so I had to think from the view of my character’s personality or imagine myself as him or her.

I’ve always been a people watcher, but after several novels, I, oddly, began to understand how those people were behaving, and also began to be more accepting of people and their behaviors and reactions. Of course, some people are so misaligned I would never make them a friend—but perhaps a villainous character. This awareness that also made me more wary than I used to be. 

I didn’t think a lot about this until I was asked to teach a college interpersonal communications class. While developing my class I was reading the textbook and came across a section on the difference between empathy and sympathy. We all show sympathy, or concern and compassion, for another person’s situation based on our own experience,  understanding, and viewpoint. Empathy differs. Empathy allows someone to put themselves in another person’s situation, literally to experience that person's viewpoint. Empathy includes understanding how they might think or feel. In other words, empathy allows someone to briefly become another person, to put themselves in the other person's shoes, providing understanding of that person's dilemma or problem, or to feel their regret, grief, or other emotion. This expands the ability to communication in a meaningful way with that person. Empathy allows a person to be less egocentric and increases their understanding of another person and to perhaps communicate with each person in a more caring manner.

All along my fiction writing has been developing my empathy through my characters, and I didn’t notice it. Did this all happen from writing? I doubt it, but it certainly magnified the ability. I think reading introduces empathy, too. That is a huge effect for characters to instill on anyone.

Please visit these authors and read their views on this subject:
Connie Vines
Skye Taylor 
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Marie Laval
Judith Copek
Dr. Bob Rich
Rachael Kosinski

Fiona McGier 
Beverley Bateman

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Viewpoints in Stories


Viewpoint and voice are important decisions in all types of writing. In fiction writing, where the author wants the reader to become involved emotionally with the characters or with the plot, this choice is often critical.

First person narratives are often filled with “I + verb” repetitions, which the author has to work to eliminate, but it is very intimate and the author can easily get the reader into the character’s mind. Matter of fact, the reader can easily become the character because whenever we speak about ourselves, we use first person. When a person reads "I", their mind can confuse it with him or herself. I’ve written one story in first person and read many novels in this viewpoint. I’ve also read novels where two first person viewpoints are used. It is difficult to switch between characters in this instance. I believe I read an Andre Norton story that each chapter switched between the hero and heroines’ first person viewpoints.

Second person is far more difficult. Most people use ‘you’ when talking to another person, but I , and probably many other people, talk to myself in both first and second voice, and in novels it is often a character talking to themselves. Again, this voice often allows the reader to become the character, but it can lead to confusion, too. It is growing in usage. One famous book in the viewpoint is Johnny Got His Gun written by Dalton Trumbo in 1938. It tells the story of John Bonham, a World War I solider who wakes up in a hospital and soon realizes he has no arms or legs, no eyes, no ears, and no tongue. It is very visceral.

Third person is most often used in novels, which makes it familiar to most readers. Omniscient viewpoint lets the author tell the story. This allows letting the reader know what any character thinks in any scene. While I’ve read many novels using this viewpoint, I find myself not quite as involved with the characters themselves.

I prefer to use third person in character limited viewpoint. This method allows the same reader intimacy as 1st person, but perhaps more limited, because the character tells their story through their own viewpoint and senses not only through dialogue but through their thoughts. Different characters’ viewpoints are possible with a demarcation to show the reader where the narrative switches from one character to another. The trick is for the author to remember that they are in one character's viewpoint and not to introduce information the character could not know.

Please read the following authors' viewpoints on this topic:


Dr. Bob Rich       Connie Vines       Helena Fairfax       Fiona McGier

Judith Copek       Marci Baun       Anne de Gruchy      A.J. Maguire     

~*~

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What makes a character memorable?

I think both public reactions and personal reactions determine this quality. Memorable characters appeal on a gamut of many different levels. Some are memorable because they are so good or loyal, some because they are a mixed bag of good and bad qualities, and some because they are just evil. Often the current social climate endears one character to that society. If the character fulfills the social needs for a certain type of person of any age, it creates the memorable character. The character can be strangely different or resemble a familiar person everyone seems to know.

Those publically well remembered usually come from mass media such as TV or movies, because the character comes alive in these media. I think sometimes this can depend and reflect more on the actor playing the part, bestowing the character’s personality and actions on the actor even if that isn’t what the actor’s personality embraces at all. Other memorable characters come from acclaimed books or lore.

These characters’ haunting presence may last only while a particular society needs that character's example, but sometimes something engrains the character in society for a much longer time. The ancient gods of mythology are memorable characters entrenched in society. So is Sherlock Holmes. Usually the character shows traits the public admires, most often some form of extreme courage or perseverance. Sometimes they just exemplify what everyone would like to be like.


On a personal level the character usually appeals to the mind’s psych. Those characters speak on a personal level so are remembered. Because I like fantasy, science fiction, romance, history, mystery and suspense, I remember fantastical characters, Darth Vader, Scarlet O’Hara, Angelique, . . . and the list goes on. 

Please visit these blogs and get the author's take on this topic:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Novel Celebrations

The round-robin topic this month is on holidays and celebrations and if they've been included in any of the author's novels.

I come from a large family who always centered holidays on family traditional gatherings. We always spent Christmas Eve with my maternal grandmother and extended family, and Christmas afternoon with my paternal grandmother and extended family. Thanksgiving was a cornucopia of food often with guests. We also lived in a neighborhood safe for trick or treating, so selecting Halloween costumes was major fun along with the gathering of candy. I think I passed these traditions on to my children. This background makes me enjoy celebration-themed movies and books, yet I also believe the inclusion of a holiday must advance the purpose behind of the story's telling.


Celebrations must increase novel sales, otherwise few would be published, yet every October new 'Christmas' themed romances emerge. I've also read a few themed around Halloween, but usually the romance is tinged with a spooky mystery. I enjoy them. Many people must, because Hallmark dedicates the holiday-themed movies to year-round showing on their TV stations.

In science fiction and fantasy, holidays are a little harder to include than in historical or contemporary stories. I have used a series of double-day holidays in my fantasy Magic Aegis. These were similar but different from what celebrations in the current world's reality. These were part of this particular story which had a world built on numerology after a catastrophic ending to a former civilization, and each holiday had a meaning. The idea began with a day of hand-fasting, and continued from there.

The only other time I included a holiday in a story was the science fiction world of Crewkin. This was a fist day celebration similar to New Years Day, where the main character felt ostracized by the rest of the ship's crew, so she volunteered to do ship's duty while the others celebrated.
 

As I attempt to write contemporary and historical stories, the likelihood of  including holidays increases. These days of celebration, depending on the day, are about remembrance, relationships, gratitude, sharing, joy, and love, and so help cement purpose into story lines.
Please visit and read these authors' posts on this topic:

Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich
Helena Fairfax
A.J. Maguire
Anne de Gruchy
Diane Bator
Rachael Kosinski

Marci Baun


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Setting and Time

All novels take place in time, at least as far as I've experienced. I've written in historical time, contemporary (which becomes historical the older the publication date becomes), and in the future time frames. Even if the exact time isn't mentioned, often other details give away this information. 

Which do I like best? Future, as I may have already mentioned in previous posts, I see science fiction as folklore placed in the future. Fairy tales and mythology gave readers the experience of completely imaginary characters and settings long before novels were invented, and I think science fiction (and fantasy) does the same. Like those ancient story forms, the story's setting is what makes it important, and this is probably true for each time frame. The problem  with future time frames becomes having at least a backbones of real science, which can take some research. For instance, I once had to look up how to bioform a planet and if it were even possible.

I thought contemporary wouldn't take much research, but soon learned different places around the country and world, even around my home state, have different laws, different customs, different slang words, road systems, weather patterns, landscapes, etc. To get the setting to feel right to the reader, those details must be correct.

The historical I wrote took a lot of research. My own perspective on historical novels means what happens and the details of society must be accurate, which can mean volumes of research.

Each time frame takes research as details are important in creating a believable world setting, but as I've already said I have found historical requires the most research, so are my least favorite to do. However, since I've learned about one period, I feel like I just have to write more in that period. Why waste all that work?


Please read the following authors' post on this same topic for an expanded view on the topic.

Marie Laval  
Anne de Gruchy 
Skye Taylor 
Dr. Bob Rich 
Anne Stenhouse   
A.J. Maguire  
Judith Copek 
Victoria Chatham 
Beverley Bateman 
Heidi M. Thomas 
Marci Baun  
Helena Fairfax 
Diane Bator  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Memory Full of Characters

This month's topic is about characters I have found memorable. Usually I remember stories I like by title, series, or author best. I can remember many series I enjoyed, but could probably not name their characters.

I think I've read books since third grade--a helluva long time ago. In those early years I loved reading about animals, so it is not surprising that animal characters remain lodged in my mind. 

Because I was drawing horses at the time, horse characters in particular have synapses links within me. Anne Sewell's tile character in Black Beauty has a comfortable residence. While a children's book, Sewell, writing in 1857, wanted "to induce kindness, sympathy, and an understanding treatment of horses," which I think I picked up on, especially near the end when I learned what the horse Ginger endured. I think these characters induced a respect for all animals in me, not just horses. I read all of Walter Farley's Black Stallion books, too, and Will James' Smokey, the Cow Horse. Indelible mental imprints occurred. 

In my teen year's Johnny and Rab in Esther Forbe's Johnny Tremain made me appreciate history and I continued reading more of it, but more in actual European history. This lead me to read the Lymond Chronicles about Lymond Crawford in the 16th century.

Literally thousands of characters have come and gone since then, but I remember Mary from Georgette Heyer's The Devil's Cub. Mary was a strong and resourceful woman in very trying circumstances, which I believe was an enlightening viewpoint on gender in novels. I'm sure Heyer would be very surprised at all the sex involved in the Regency Romance genre of books she engendered.

What? Only three animals and two humans out of all the reading I've done? I'm surprised. After I'm done here, I'm sure other characters will arise from their mental tombs, but these are the ones I remember best.

Of course, having spent so much time with my own characters, it is hard if not impossible to forget them. Often they throw me flashes on another story line they deserve. Maybe someday, I tell them. Right now I've got to work on the ones I have started.

For differing viewpoints, check out the following author's blogs on this topic.

Anne Stenhouse
Heidi M. Thomas
Victoria Chatham
Diane Bator
A.J. Maguire 
Judith Copek
Beverley Bateman
Fiona McGier
Skye Taylor
Rachael Kosinski

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Who Was Edna Ruth?

What started me writing this essay was memories combined with photographs of my grandmother and trying to reconcile my knowledge of my grandmother and who she was as the person I knew. Here's my ramblings in my  personal narrative essay.

Memories

“Go Fish.”

Grandma always has the slightest smile and a spark of challenge in her brown eyes as she says those words. I frown and look at the cards I hold, but end up drawing from the deck placed between us. Grandma taught me how to play when I began coming to her house to spend the night, now we always play several games at the dining room table. I’ve had plenty of practice. Now her brows crinkle together like my Mom’s do when thinking. She makes her play. Grandma gives no quarter so wins more often than I do. She wins this hand, too, but she doesn’t crow about her win. She says, “Better luck next time, Bobbie.”  Losing is hard.

Mom told me Grandma calls me Bobbie because Robin is a boy’s name. I haven’t figured that out yet.

Often when I come to spend the night, my cousin Kenny stays at Grandma’s too. Sometimes my cousin Peggy stays. If Peggy is there, we sleep together in the big double bed in the guestroom. If my brother Jimmy stays, then he and Kenny sleep in the guest room, and I sleep in the single bed in the spare bedroom, which is really a short cut from the living room to the bathroom and bedrooms. It has a door that opens into the living room. The opposite side corner has an opening into the small alcove off the kitchen but it has no door. So the house is a bit like a merry-go-round divided by one main wall between front rooms and back ones: dining room to living room in the front of the house, to spare bedroom, to hall alcove to kitchen, and through the kitchen back to the dining room. Great place for games of chase, if you don't get caught. Two doors in the alcove lead to Grandma’s bedroom and the guest bedroom with the door to the bathroom separating them. The alcove is very small and compact.

One of the best things about staying with Grandma is walking in the late afternoon to Dolan’s store, which is just down on the corner of Armstrong Street where it comes off Silver Lake Road. Since Grandma cannot walk outside, she never comes outside, whoever stays at her house gets to walk to the store by themselves and buy their own bottle of soda, or sometimes an ice cream cone. She usually gives Kenny or Jimmy some change as they are oldest, and we will return with an ten-ounce bottle of our choice of pop: Coca-Cola, 7Up, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, or Faygo Orange, Grape, or Red Pop, and whatever Grandma wants. Once back at the house, Grandma has dinner prepared, often goulash, which she has had me help make before the walk to Dolan’s, but sometimes she makes the best ever hamburgers, only she calls them hamburgs.

After supervising us grandkids in cleaning up the kitchen, Grandma will push herself erect from the kitchen table and move as slow and cautiously as a turtle, taking one careful step at a time, holding onto furniture and putting a hand against walls to get to her chair in the dining room. Once there, she spends the evening playing endless games of Solitaire.

From her chair in the dining room, she can see the TV in the far corner of the living room. Kenny and I, or Peggy, or Jimmy, sit in the living room and watch TV. Grandma lets us stay up for as late as we want, sometimes as late as 11 pm, but Grandma insists on watching her favorite programs like I Love Lucy, Ed Sullivan, Perry Mason, and The Red Skelton Show.

Reality?

To me she was always Grandma, or Grandma Smith since I had a Grandma Jacobs, too. I’m not certain when I learned her name was Edna Ruth. Even later I learned she had been Edna Ruth Williams, the youngest of the eleven Williams children. Edna was a popular name at the time seldom heard today. It was a Hebrew name meaning rejuvenation, pleasure and delight.

Not until much later did I learn she had multiple sclerosis (MS). Mom may have told me doctors diagnosed Grandma in her forties, which is common with this disease. In MS, the immune system attacks the sheath covering the nerves in the brain or spinal cord and eventually destroys the sheath. It causes a pain described as an electric shock and results in numbness in affected limbs. Researchers believe an undiscovered environmental factor begins the disease in those susceptible to it, but that is not the only mysterious factor. MS is a strange disease. It affects more women than men with an unknown cause that can cripple people yet sometimes goes into years of remission, as happened to Grandma.

She rarely left her house. If Grandma left her house at all, Grandpa and Dad carried her. They clasped hands behind her back and under her thighs to form a chair. With one on each side of her, they carried her down the porch steps and to the car’s back door. There they helped her stand and move into the car and onto the seat. I saw it done once. Her fright and discomfort were obvious to even me at my youthful age. Grandma was very fearful at leaving her house and at having to have others help her. Mom told me this was because she refused to be seen in a wheelchair. That only happened years later.

In the summer, she sat outdoors on her screened-in porch and listened to the blackbirds squawking in the tree between the porch and the street, or watching, according to her, her nosy neighbors. In the winter she was always sitting in her chair at the dining room table, where she either embroidered pillowcases Mom bought at the 5 and Dime in town, or played solitaire.

Mom visited nearly every day, often bringing her four children to visit with her. I’m sure Uncle Tom and Aunt Helen who lived next door to Grandma also visited frequently. Now I believe someone had to help clean the house and do laundry, and I’m guessing Aunt Helen did so. After Grandpa died, Grandma called the small grocery store in downtown Fenton owned by Harry Lemen for her groceries. He would go on to be Fenton’s mayor. Henry delivered her grocery order to her house. To me he looked as old as Grandma did. Mom and Aunt Helen accomplished all the rest of her shopping. The only other company she ever had visited Thursday on pinochle night. 

On pinochle night, the window shades came down in the dining room (as if the neighbors didn’t notice the same cars in her driveway once a week), a green felt cover was placed on the dining room table, and three or four old friends sat down at the table to play cards. Once Grandma told me they played pinochle, but from the shouts of glee at winning and those of displeasure at losing, I think they played poker, too. They always were very loud.

Usually grandchildren did not visit on Thursday nights, so I’m assuming Aunt Helen and Mom knew what happened on pinochle night, like I now suspect they planned grandchildren’s’ regular visits. I stayed on pinochle night several times once I reached age ten. I was at least old enough to make my own sandwich for dinner. I used Grandma’s over-sharpened knife. Over sharpened in that it had been sharpened so many times it literally redefined the shape of the blade into a thin, bendable scythe. Once I used the knife to cut a slice of ham. The pre-packaged small rounded ham wobbled, and the knife continued in a downward arc to cut my left hand’s first finger. The voices coming from the dining room prevented me from saying anything, even shouting in pain. Grandchildren did not interrupt the game. I washed the cut in the sink and found a Band-Aid to cover the wound. I went through many bandages before the bleeding stopped. That, I think, was my last night at Grandma’s on pinochle night, and I still carry the scar on my finger. I never told my Mom about it.

One time an ambulance took Grandma to McClaren Hospital in Flint. A few days later Mom took me to the hospital. At the reception desk the attendant asked my age. My Mom lied. She said I was twelve just so I could see my Grandma. Our visit was short. When Mom and I came into Grandma’s hospital room, Grandma, lay in the hospital bed nearest the windows looking very pale surrounded in white sheets. She looked at my Mom and said, “I’d rather see your ass than your face.” I don’t remember Mom’s response but shortly we were back in the car going home. I never even had a chance to say, ‘Hi.’ Grandma was like that with Mom. I never understood why.

After leaving the hospital she came to my house and slept in Juli’s twin bed in our shared girl’s pink bedroom. Juli, younger by five years, went to sleep in the boy’s room with Jim and Doug. It’s strange that I don’t remember Grandma ever leaving that room, not for dinner or socializing in our tiny living room. Did she? She must have!

After Grandma went back to her house, I don’t remember going to spend the night as often as before, but her five younger grandchildren were probably taking up their older siblings’ visitation duties. I was fourteen and in junior high school and other things crowded my mind.

One of those times I did stay, as I was lying in the guest room bed, I heard Grandma call my name from her bedroom. She needed help. I opened her bedroom door. It opened into a space only large enough to allow the door to open against the wall with the double bed directly ahead. Grandma was naked, sitting on the edge of her bed, trying to hold on, but she was sliding off. She wore a panicked look. The room was small, the double bed taking up most of the room. Grandma, hanging with her hips off the bed, and her vanity table positioned just to the right of the door, filled that tight space. Since I couldn’t walk past the vanity table, I took a step up onto the bed. My movement left Grandma gasping in fear and grasping the mattress’s edge even tighter. I grabbed her under her arms and pulled her onto the bed.

She collapsed back against the bed in relief saying, “Thank you.” I know she was relieved and embarrassed. So was I at seeing my Grandma naked. I slipped off the bed on the other side of the bed and walked the small space around the bed, pushed the chair under the vanity table and left the room; another event I never mentioned to my Mom.


Gone

She died two months after I graduated high school. I don’t remember her funeral, but have a vague memory of her with her slight ‘go fish’ smile lying very peacefully in her coffin. That could be just a dream vision, too. 

The doctors asked the family for permission to autopsy Grandma to see if they could discover why she went into remission for so many years. The family refused, Uncle Tom saying, “She’s been through enough.”

Grandma in curlers with 1st husband??
A short time later Aunt Helen and Mom cleaned out Grandma’s house. Only then did Mom and Aunt Helen discover Grandma had been married before she met Grandpa. She still had a photo of her previous husband in her dresser. He was handsome. She was pretty, smiling either coyly or shyly, I’m not sure which, with strands of her hair wrapped around an ancient type of rollers I had never seen before. They found her wedding ring but I don’t know if they found annulment papers. Maybe he died, but I never learned his name. If he lived, it had to have been an annulment because Grandma was Catholic. Inside her small dressing table drawer they also found a rock-- just a plain rock, smooth, grey, oval, and of no special mineral content. No one knew why she kept it. She could not have gone outside to pick it up anytime within the past thirty years or so, and she kept it among her valuables. What did it mean to her? These things hinted at a person unknown to me. I never heard her talk of her past, not even with Grandpa.

The family put the rock in the backyard, restoring it to nature.


Searching

Ten years later I started researching the family genealogy. Mom showed me many photos of her family. One held a black and white image of Grandma as a very young woman. She stood with two other young woman at Belle Ilse, which is just off Detroit in the Detroit River. She looked vibrant and beautiful, her eyes sparkling with happiness. She laughed at the camera and wore a 1920s wide-brimmed hat and a tight-waisted dress that looked white in a black and white photo. I felt she looked like she might start dancing at any moment and looked nothing like my Grandma. She looked so different from my mental image of her. It shocked me. Who was this woman?


Grandma on far right with sister Lizzy in Detroit. Other remain
anonymous. Brothers and sisters maybe or friends?
Who were the men and women with her in other photographs? My mother had penned names to some of the images, but most faces in the photos were unlabeled, like so many family history photos.

I have another family photo book six inches deep of very expensive photos taken in New York by a famous photograph in the late 19th century. “My dad,” or “My cousin,” or some other vague name epithet lies written under a few, but no name of whose photo book it was. Not one real name in the book. Most photos like this remain the forever-more-unknown.

I knew nothing about Edna Ruth’s life before she became a recluse. Neither do my other family members. Not even her daughter seemed to know much, or at least Mom never talked about her own childhood experiences.

In almost all of the photos where I guessed Edna Ruth in her late teens or twenties, she was laughing or wearing a beautiful smile. Yet my Mom told me that after her mother’s mother died, her father didn’t feel he could raise his last child, so he provided a monthly stipend to whichever of her older siblings would take care of her. Mom told me they passed her around depending on who needed the financial aid the most. She was born in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, where her family lived. I have a photo of Great Grandpa and his wife. He is wearing a sheriff’s badge. How did she come to meet and marry my Grandpa in Detroit?

I know she also faced heartache. Her youngest son Kenny died in battle during the Korean War in 1952. Grandpa fell ill in 1956 on a pinochle night, vomiting blood on the green felt table cover. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital, but he died of cirrhosis of the liver caused by diabetes.


Grandpa and Grandma -- when?
I can grasp that Edna Ruth was a proud woman who didn’t want anyone to see her as a cripple in a wheelchair, although her younger grandchildren remember her sitting in one. I can remember her walking slowly and carefully by herself, later using a walker, and then the wheelchair with a red leather seat. How this disease had disrupted her life! And yet, I have her long, jet beaded, 1920s flapper’s-style necklace. Its long length of black iridescent woven beads intrigue me. Had she loved partying and dancing?

I’m guessing MS changed Grandma dramatically. Her previous life remains a mystery. My mother was a good mother, so I suspect her mom must have been a good mother, too. Yet I remember the hospital room and the way Grandma treated Mom. If Mom had talked to me like that, I would have cried. My Mom didn’t, at least not in front of me. What happened? Was this an illness related reaction? Did Grandma suffer from some form of depression, another effect of MS? Was this disease or personality related?

I think Grandma liked a challenge, I know she loved card games, and I know she endured hardships, probably with little complaint. I only know a small portion of who Edna Ruth really was--my version of Grandma. Do each of her nine grandchild have their own version of Grandma? Probably.

Had she suffered melancholy as she waited for her occasional visitors, played her card games, had grandchildren spend the night, and watched TV programs? I don’t ever remember seeing her reading a book, or even remember seeing a book anywhere in her house. Why did she choose to live such a lonely life? A life filled with a constant struggle just to clean herself, dress, and walk. I have many unanswerable questions. Yet I know she laughed.


Who Was She?

Edna Ruth, with love, from your granddaughter.
This made me question what I know about anyone, even myself. What do we hide from each other? What do we chose to expose and why? Must everyone who knows one particular person come together to deduce who that person truly was? The only time I know this might happen is at a funeral and even then, missing people possess important pieces of the deceased family member or friend’s information.

I recently read I was a different person to everyone who knew me, met me, or even just exchanged a short verbal or nonverbal communication with me. Supposedly everyone’s genes and experiences make them unique, even if they share similarity to another person. So if everyone who encounters anyone makes a judgment based on their own perceptions of that other person, then a unique persona is created for everyone I meet, rather like the bubble universes theorizes. This perception can change with time and the number of encounters with a certain person, but may never match an individual’s personal conception of him or herself. I’m beginning to accept the truth of that statement. I suppose this puts my wondering about who my Grandma really was in a different perspective, but I would like to have known more about her and known many more people who knew her through various times in her life. 

Looking back I only know a small personal portion of my Grandma, which I hold as a treasure. Edna Ruth has preserved her privacy as she chose. However, right now I have get into the kitchen. I have the strongest urge to make some goulash. Grandma’s recipe, of course.


###

After reading this my brother Jim said, "I have many memories of her. She wrote me weekly while in the service. The memory that has fused to my mind is when home on leave and told her I was going to Viet Nam. She threw her arms around my neck and cried, "no, no please, God." I understood because of her loss of Son, Kenny in Korea." 

I didn't know that, which just goes to show what I said in the next to last paragraph seems to be true.