Sandra Johnson – A Woman Inspired

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Sandra Johnson

Sandra Johnson’s book Flowers for the Living comes with a warning from a reader “the author is going to stab you in the heart with her garden shovel,” but, the warning continues: “and when the last drop of blood is shed, you will find a seed planted there that will blossom…” And with that you have your first kernel of understanding who Sandra Johnson is.

We met at a book event in Atlanta, where I had the great fortune to share the stage with Sandra, the event’s featured author. While I began the day knowing little more than what her website disclosed, I left feeling as if I had known her my whole life.

Shortly after the event, I returned to the Internet to read more about Sandra and then, even more intrigued, shortly after that I read Flowers for the Living in a single sitting. Only then did I come away with the sense of having peeled back one layer of a rosebud. Sandra is a multi-layered person, and one who draws from a place deep inside to write. A place filled with inspiration and worldly experience.

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Because I believe my own writing is born of imagination rather than the more profound gift of inspiration, I have a fondness for people who can grab something from their core, their past, their heart, and bring it into the light to examine and write through their struggles, producing something that as Sandra says is “beautiful and true.”

This philosophy is central to Sandra’s approach and one she is documenting in a new self-help book that is a guide for people to journal their way to wellness.  She says, we need to examine where we came from and where we are headed to know who we are.  The approach is something Sandra has used in counseling inmates with severe psychiatric illness in a South Carolina correctional facility. The working title for the book is Finding Peace Within:  A 365-Day Journal for Balance, Clarity, and Serenity.

Sandra has been rewarded for tackling tough subjects—in the most recent case advocacy for those who need psychiatric treatment while incarcerated, and earlier for Standing on Holy Ground the story of the rebuilding of a South Carolina church firebombed in a racially motivated incident. She realized an author’s dream, reviews and mentions in O:  The Oprah Magazine, Publishers Weekly, USA Today, and Southern Living and invitations to speak across the country.

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Somehow, though, I suspect having satisfied her own quest to create something “beautiful and true” was the greater reward.

Of course, all this is in the past.  And, as anyone who strives to better themselves knows, Sandra is moving on. She’s writing historical fiction set in the south in the 1700s. It’s no surprise that the protagonist of Luna is a fierce, strong willed woman who perseveres though enslavement and separation from everything she loves during the Civil War to return to her family.

Another heady and inspirational topic and one that deserves Sandra’s keen eye and big heart.

Read more about Sandra on her website: sandraejohnson.net

 

Janet Metzger – The Sound of Janet

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Getting to know Janet Metzger is like learning to solve a Rubik’s Cube—aligning the puzzle’s edge pieces, corner pieces, and center pieces to form the finished pattern. And, after hours of twisting and turning, looking at her from one angle then another, setting her down, and picking her up again, I am only now beginning to see the person that is Janet.

When we first met, I knew little more about Janet than that she narrated books. It wasn’t until months later when we sat down to talk by phone that I noticed her voice. Despite having to travel from satellite to satellite and down the line, her words arrived as they had begun, warm, unaccented, and full of expression. It is a voice eminently suited to narration.

During our conversation, I met the other Janets, the ones on the other pieces of the cube: Janet Metzger the Actor, Professor, Producer, Jazz and Cabaret Singer, Vocalist, Comedienne, and Plate Spinner.

Her website, where she promotes her book narration enterprise, proclaims, “It’s all about the story.” As a writer, I agree, as far as books are concerned, the story is all important. And though no voice can make a poorly written story a bestseller, a well-written book read by a voice like Janet’s, with proper elocution, dialect, intonation, and passion, can be magical.

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Janet did not start her career as a book narrator, though. Her journey through life has been a long and winding road, but always a road paved with sound, whether words in a book, bars on a sheet music, or dialog on a stage.

She remembers receiving a tape recorder as a gift from her father.  Young Janet lost no time in capturing the sound of everything around her, from birds outside her window, to leaves rustling in the wind, to the voices of everyone she knew and some she didn’t.  She explored each of these sounds, internalizing them, absorbing their tone and timbre, and learning to shape her voice.

Janet studied music and though classically trained in French and Italian “art” songs and German lieder, she also sings in Russian, Portuguese, and Spanish as well as eastern European languages. She became a vocalist, singing cabaret and jazz. (Listen to a clip from her performance “Janet Live at Churchill Grounds” here.)

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It was natural for Janet to turn to the theater. But acting alone was not enough for Janet. As an early feminist, she was frustrated by finding few plays written by women. And so, Janet launched a theater company to produce plays by women. What’s more, Janet made it to television and the big screen. (View a clip of Janet performing alongside Jeff Foxworthy and Denzel Washington here.)

Janet’s experience in the theater brought her to teaching and law school. Today, as Adjunct Professor at Emory University School of Law, Janet Metzger teaches courses for budding lawyers on Courtroom Persuasion.

Lawyers must be masters of communication to hold a judge’s attention and to mold and motivate a jury. Often, at least at the outset, it’s a matter of helping students conquer their nerves. Janet counsels them to embrace their nerves, to understand that butterflies and sweaty palms are normal and to connect with the audience by watching their faces for signals of what is working.

Janet’s advice applies to authors as well as lawyers.  Authors need well-developed communication skills to pitch literary agents, do book readings, and speak to book clubs. And for an author considering narration, Janet says, narration is much more than reading, it’s giving life to a writer’s words.

Janet knows. She’s won an “Earphones Award” by Audiophile for her narration of As Close to Us as Breathing, a novel by Elizabeth Poliner. And she has narrated books for emerging authors and a number of noted authors, including Claire Cook and James Patterson, to name two.

As our conversation came to a close, I asked Janet if we’d omitted anything important. She thought for a moment, and then added she also bakes a mean pie.  With that, I realize I have a new piece to fit in the cube.  And I suspect, if we had more time, I’d discover others.

Read more about Janet Metzger on her website at: janetmetzger.com

Linda Sands – A Woman Walks Into a Bar

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Linda Sands stands six feet tall in four inch silver stilettos when she’s strutting her stuff, five feet ten inches in her western-style boots zipping in and out of Nashville honky-tonks during the annual Killer Nashville conference, five feet eight barefoot on the beach in Florida, and ten feet off the ground in the cab of an eighteen wheeler (more about that later). And yes, she’s a blonde. But don’t think for a minute Linda is the stereotypical blonde on the wrong end of “did you hear the one about” fame.  You would be sorely mistaken.

Linda Sands is an Atlanta-based writer who earned her stripes the hard way, with gritty, determined writing and non-stop savvy promotion.  She’s the winner of the 2016 Georgia Writer of the Year Award and two Silver Falchion Judge’s Choice Awards from Killer Nashville for her noir mystery, 3 Women Walk Into a Bar.

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Exuding confidence wherever she goes, Linda dares to use a numeral at the front of her title. Think how much less interesting “Three” Women Walk Into a Bar would be. And, just as you’re asking what kind of novel is it anyway, know that the three women in the title are dead on page one. That alone takes a lot of bravado. What are you going to do for the other 291 pages, some would ask.

Her readers answer. In quotes from a handful of reviews: weird and irreverent, peppered with humor, sexy, funny, multi-layered, spunk, as fresh and deliberate as a sucker punch in the face, a bit noir, a bit off-beat, and a heckuva good time. That’s what they say about the book, not Linda, or maybe it’s both.

Best of all, though her ratings run the gamut from great reviews from great writers to the “not for me’s,”  Linda keeps on smiling and keeps on writing. It’s just my opinion but I think that is one element of Linda’s secret sauce. She doesn’t look back and just keeps on rolling.

Rolling, literally. Her latest novel Grand Theft Cargo takes us into the world of eighteen wheelers. Research for the novel included face-to-face and in-the-cab interviews with long-haul truckers. At the outset, Linda wanted to create a coffee-table photography book in partnership with a friend and photographer, but the stories kept growing and the idea for her novel featuring trucker Jojo Boudreaux and her co-driver Tyler Boone was born. What? You thought maybe a trucker named Sally or Jane?  Not in Linda’s book.  Prepare yourself as the cover says for “a secretive highwayman, explosive house bombs, singing telegrams, flaming mice,” and more…

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What a romp ahead!

In Linda’s words, “There’s more to come.”

Read more about Linda Sands on her website: lindasands.com

Beth Terrell – Lady With an Alias

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Jared McKean is a private investigator with a past. He falls for women in distress and in Racing the Devil, Terrell’s first in the PI series, he finds himself in bed with a black-and-blue bruised woman in a halter top in less than 15 pages. The sex is “all animal ferocity and passion, sweat and thrust and howl and moan.” Ten pages later, he’s wanted for murder and you are not going to put this book down.

It’s a beginning that startled me, having met the author Beth Terrell (pen name Jaden Terrell) six months earlier.  Beth is soft-spoken, maybe a bit on the shy side, and nearing middle-age, not at all the in your face, no holds barred writer of a private “dick” novel — that’s what the soon-to-be dead woman called Jared.

Beth confessed she took the pen name Jaden thinking the name had more of an edge and element of mystery to it than her given name. She also uses a “headshot” on her social media that begs you to want to know more and is light years away from what she Beth says is her cherub-faced school -teacher appearance.  She’s probably right, but after reading Racing the Devil, Beth’s writing stands on its own, her real name and real face are irrelevant.

Beth knew she wanted to be a writer from the time she was eight years old. And, when stories about hard-boiled private investigators called, she schooled herself in the genre by reading everything she could find. She also attended the local Citizens Police Academy, the FBI Citizens Academy, the Tennessee Bureau’s Citizens Academy and Lee Lofland’s Writers’ Police Academy–one experience not being enough to satisfy Beth’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge.  Then, too, she’s a member of nearly every crime writer’s organization I know, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Private Eye Writers of America. For many years, Beth served as the Special Programs Director of Killer Nashville, the mystery/thriller writers’ annual conference in Nashville.

Oh, and did I forget to mention Beth holds a Red Belt in Tae Kwan Do?

The softer side does come through, both when she exposes the kinder side of Jared McKean and when Beth explores the tortured relationship McKean has with his ex-wife, a woman he can’t forget—at least as far as I have read.  That side of Beth comes from a career in special education, a passion for ballroom dancing, and a certification in Equine Massage Therapy, the latter explaining why horses make frequent appearances in her novels.

You don’t have to take my word for how well written her PI series is or how devoted she is to her craft.  Beth is a Shamus Award nominee, and winner of the Magnolia Award for service to her local chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

A Taste of Blood and Ashes is the fourth installment in Beth Terrell’s series.  It is available on line and in bookstores everywhere as are the other installments, if like me, you are starting with the first.

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I want to be Beth Terrell when I grow up, but for now, I’ll just count myself as one of her many friends on facebook and in real life. She has come to my rescue at a book signing in Nashville—a city where I barely knew more than a handful of people—shouting out my event across her network. I couldn’t ask for more.

Read more about Beth Terrell on her website.

http://www.jadenterrell.com/

 

Mari Ann Stefanelli – A Woman in Motion

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I chose a seat beside the window overlooking the parking lot outside Mittie’s Cafe & Tea Room. From my vantage point I hoped to spot Mari Ann Stefanelli as she arrived. We’d met a couple of weeks earlier, briefly and in low light at a local book event. She had been surrounded by friends—some old, some new—and was all eyes and smiles as she drifted toward me and then effortlessly away through the crowd.

I wondered whether I’d recognize her in broad daylight. Distracted for a moment by the waitress, I turned back to the window in time to see a woman approach but too late to glimpse her face.  Head down, the woman hurried up the steps and through the door, hurrying because she was late, or because she was anxious, or because as I soon learned Mari Ann is always in a hurry. She extends her arm and offers a warm hug, and her auburn locks flow behind her head and around her face as if she she’d come from sitting for Botticelli.

It was Mari Ann. Definitely Mari Ann. I could not have mistaken her.

Mari Ann takes her seat and offers an instant apology for keeping me waiting, though I’d only just arrived, a genuine thanks for agreeing to meet on short notice, and a warning that she might have to take a call, and gosh it’s so nice to get to know each other, and…

In minutes, it is as if I’ve known Mari Ann all my life.

She graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in public relations. Her subsequent career led her to meet, interview, and write about people; and her clients ranged from local politicians to those in cancer prevention, and others in the pharmaceutical industry. Mari Ann married, had, and raised two children. Though life was good, like a character in a novel she was dealt her fair share of obstacles. First came the loss of her beloved mother and later an almost fatal illness that Mari Ann believes was triggered at least in part by her mother’s passing and her inability to grieve at the time.

She struggled for years to overcome these demons, nearly losing everything before pulling her life together piece by piece. And when things were their darkest, a mentor and later friend helped Mari Ann discover or rediscover writing.  Her first inclination was to use her skills to help other authors in small ways, editing, advising, and coaching.

In 2014, Mari Ann applied what she knew and what she’d learned to create the business she calls The Writer’s High through which she provides, as her website says, “editorial services for writers at all stages of their creative journeys.” She also holds writers retreats each year under the same name. As we talk, I learn the events are much more than a simple respite from daily life, they are a coming together of like-minded individuals to inspire and sustain each other.

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While developing the agenda and inviting the right featured authors and workshop leads consume much of the time she spends on retreat planning, Mari Ann says finding, explaining, and advising interested retreat participants is the most challenging part. Attendees need to be comfortable in each other’s company and to feel part of a larger and ongoing community of inspiration and support. Belonging and trust are key to retreat members being able to share their often buried thoughts, fears, hopes, and dreams.

And now, stronger for having experienced the ups and downs of life and having spawned something she is passionate about, Mari Ann has returned to her own writing. In the few spare moments of her days, she is hard at work on a memoir she hasn’t been able to write, a memoir of facing down dark memories, enduring loss and being unable to grieve, then learning how and when to grieve,and finally to pull yourself up as only you can.

As if I needed proof of who she is, Mari Ann’s magic worked right before my eyes.  By the time we’d finished our lunch of Mittie’s famous chicken salad and sipped copious amounts of tea and lemon-laced water, our tête à tête had expanded to include a woman dining alone at the next table. We discovered the three of us had much in common, and when the woman left she was no longer a stranger. In her hand, she held business cards, bookmarks, and phone numbers for advice for her daughter who is a budding journalist.

I am quite certain similar situations happen to Mari Ann wherever she goes and whatever room she enters. I remember that little cloud of people surrounding her when we first met and realize it was simply Mari Ann gathering a room full of disparate souls and making friends of them all.

Delighted to count myself as one of Mari Ann’s friends, I’m checking my calendar for an opportunity for another lunch.

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For more information on Mari Ann Stefanelli, visit her website, thewritershigh.com, where you can also learn about plans for The Writer’s High Retreat in March 2017.

 

Janet Evanovich – By the Numbers

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The acknowledged queen of the mystery genre enters the room to a round of applause.  She takes the stage, sits down, and comments about the phallic-shaped mic in her hand and how it reminds her of Ranger a character in one of her books. Only one person can get away with that. Janet Evanovich.

By adhering to my rule of reading no more than a single book by any author (except for … well, that’s another story), I have missed the evolution and intrigue that surrounds Evanovich’s most famous character, Stephanie Plum.  Plum is a female bounty hunter who has a pet hamster Rex and several love interests, including Ranger.  And as legions of Janet Evanovich’s fans the laughter rippling across the room attest, Stephanie Plum is as loved and real as the author herself.

Smart dialog and sexual banter fill much of Evanovich’s writing, including this snippet from Hard Eight:

“He [Ranger] stopped in front of my parents’ house, and we both looked to the door. My mother and my grandmother were standing there, watching us.
“I’m not sure I feel comfortable about the way your grandma looks at me,” Ranger said.
[Stephanie] “She wants to see you naked.”
“I wish you hadn’t told me that, babe.”
“Everyone I know wants to see you naked.”
“And you?”
“Never crossed my mind.” I held my breath when I said it, and I hoped God wouldn’t strike me down dead for lying.”

Entertaining?  You bet. In a televised interview, Janet Evanovich said she thinks of herself first as an entertainer and added delights in providing devoted readers vicarious thrills. I imagine she means both in bed and in hot pursuit of a criminal on the lam.

If there’s a secret sauce in writing mystery, then Janet Evanovich has discovered it, bottled it, and dips from it whenever she sits down at a keyboard.  And that is often.

She even has an app.  Yes, there’s an app for All Things Evanovich.

And there needs to be to keep up with Evanovich’s 68 books. They include a dozen romance novels, the genre in which Evanovich started and never truly abandoned, nine co-authored novels, and five series, including 27 in the Stephanie Plum series. Even if you haven’t read a Plum novel, you have likely seen the covers and the clever titles, beginning with One for the Money then Two for the Dough and on to the most recent Turbo Twenty-Three.

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Along the way, Evanovich penned a book on writing, How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author, and a graphic novel — which Evanovich advises is great fun but hard to translate to “bottom line” results.  Take heed, that’s advice from a woman who has combined an in-born sense of business with a knack for writing.  Her husband, son, and daughter, and, I suspect,  many minions behind the scene make the Evanovich enterprise hum.

Across Evanovich’s website are games, puzzles, contests, pet pictures, numerous places to sign up for her newsletter or get a sticker with her signature to place inside your copy of one of her novels — please send a self addressed stamped envelope. And, of course, you’ll find buttons that link you to a shopping cart.

So, with all she has accomplished, what does Evanovich, regret? At the writers conference I attended, she said she misses the time spent talking to fans at book signings in bookstores across the country. Today, the mere rumor of an appearance can shut down a Walmart for hours.  I think I can imagine that, if I close my eyes real tight, I think I can.

Things she promises: Stephanie will always be young and beautiful, Rex will always be by her side, and Ranger, well… I’m waiting for Sixty-Six and Sex to decide.

Read more about Stephanie Plum and, oh yeah, Janet Evanovich at evanovich.com

News and Gifts and a Word from Our Sponsors

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I can easily fill pages with words about fictional characters, perfect strangers, friends, relatives, associates, anyone other than myself. And my guess is readers of this and other blogs would prefer to read about anyone but the blogger behind the blog.

But I’m allowing myself this luxury and begging your indulgence because I have news and I bring gifts.

First the news (and a brief note from our sponsors):

My latest novel, The Martyr’s Brother, will be available next week.  That’s the official date, but (yes, here it comes) it’s already available on Amazon and on a pre-order basis through my website (ronasimmons.com).

Okay, phew, that’s out of the way.

Here’s where you ask, what’s the book about and why should you fork over a few hard earned dollars to buy a copy then devote an afternoon or day of your time to reading the book?

At the most basic page-turning level The Martyr’s Brother is a cat and mouse story of a young man from the Middle East intent on committing an act of terror in the US and the woman who must stop him. But if you peel back the layers, the book is also the story of the impact an act of terror has on the people it touches.

And then there’s your retort. You ask, what do I know about terror? To best answer that, I’ll use the words of my protagonist, Alicia Blake.  In the book, she says, “people had forgotten there was a day in the not too distant past when they’d not seen or heard of bombings, and suicide vests, and snipers.”

I am fortunate to have lived in a time and place where terrorism didn’t happen in our backyards. I hope people don’t forget, and I pray that terrorism does not define our future.

Do you prefer to watch a video or what’s known as a “book trailer” to convince you? Check out the video I created on YouTube (Book Trailer: The Martyr’s Brother) or perhaps the podcast of me reading the first page.  (Reading from The Martyr’s Brother)

And now the gifts:

I’m taking a different tack in releasing the book. Trying to be “social” and tech-savvy, I’m holding a virtual book launch party on Facebook. The party will feature all the trappings of a real world book launch: music, libations, hors d’oeuvres, special guests, lots of chatter, and yes contests, prizes, and gifts.

To join the party, go to my Facebook event (Launch Party ) on October 26 from 4 pm to 7 pm (Eastern). Say hello and congratulations by commenting on the page, join the conversation, and stay as long or as little as you like. Everyone wins something. And a few will take away gift certificates and copies of The Martyr’s Brother.

Thank you. And, for the next post, we’ll be back to our regular programming!

Mary Burry – A Bucket List Life

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When I met Mary Burry, I knew her story would inspire.

Deciding what to do with your life is not simple.  Not for most of us. Some face the daunting task in high school when they have to decide whether and where to go to college, or perhaps in college, when they have to elect a major.  Or when they graduate and have to apply for a job. Few people have a clear view of what they will do for the rest of their lives even at these points.

But Mary Burry, a friend I interviewed a few weeks ago, is not like most people. She had a plan and she lived it. When we sat down to talk, I knew her story and perspective would inspire people, perhaps even cause a few to confront their own future.  As a child, Mary was so moved by a documentary on Albert Schweitzer that she decided then and there to one day practice medicine in a foreign country—not foreign in the sense of France or Italy, but rather in places tourists rarely visit, even the adventurous ones.  She would practice medicine in desperately poor and strife-ridden countries facing disasters of epic proportions. Countries where whole populations’ lives were at risk and where resources to deal with the challenges were lacking.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer was a French-German theologian and founder of Lambaréné, a leper colony and safe haven for Africans suffering from disease and injury.  He practiced medicine there, in the Republic of Gabon, while following his philosophy embodied by the expression “reverence for life.”

Years would pass before Mary took her first step toward her goal. First she had to get a medical degree, and after she married for the second time—to a like-minded and equally courageous doctor—they agreed to see their children through school, pay off their debits, and arrange their lives to allow for time off from their own busy medical practices.

Mary broke ground (or the glass ceiling in today’s parlance) when she entered medical school–she was one of only a handful of women in her class.  That alone was enough for some individuals. But to Mary, it was just the next step in her life. She never spent a moment thinking about discrimination, looking for a “safe space,” or worrying about being the oddball in class.  Mary was busy pursuing her goal, and she had complete confidence that she could do anything.

Anything except choose a specialty.

In medical school in the 60s, the accepted path for females was women’s health or pediatrics.  But Mary had a problem. She liked everything and didn’t want to be pigeon-holed.  It took a rotation through the radiology department for Mary to find her calling.  Radiology presented a unique opportunity at the time, before scientific advances and technology  changed medicine.  Radiology provided a high degree of patient contact, the compelling part of women’s health and pediatrics, but it also took a holistic view of the patient, which was the more interesting and challenging part. Unfortunately that changed over time.  Today, Mary says, “I spend most of my day staring at a computer screen in a darkened room, rather than with patients.”

But the pieces of Mary Burry’s life puzzle fell in place.

The kids were grown and graduated from school.  The house was paid off. And both Mary and her husband Tom Hoggard’s medical practices were humming along.  That’s when, Mary remembered her childhood ambition. And that’s when the call came.  Medical Teams International, a faith-based organization, operating out of Portland was on the phone.  They had a desperate need for medical help in Somalia.

That night, Mary and Tom watched the television news coverage of Somalia. Forget that Somalia is on the other side of the world. Forget that Somalia and the US were not exactly on friendly terms.  Think 1993, the year of Black Hawk Down. Think conflict, poverty, starvation, and disease.

And then, say yes.  Mary had to go.  Albert Schweitzer was calling, too.

About as close as Mary had come to the conditions she anticipated was her honeymoon in Peru where she “roughed” it on an adventure tourist excursion.  But tourism is tourism, a vacation is a vacation; Somalia was the real deal. Instead of hospitals, the volunteer team of doctors practiced in whatever facility, makeshift or permanent was available. Instead of hotels, Mary and Tom and their fellow medical volunteers sheltered and slept  in a former brothel. Running water was a luxury that no amount of money could buy. And instead of people going about their business or frolicking at the beach, people were dying. Masses of people were dying, injured in local fighting, starving, or sick from exposure to infectious diseases after drinking unclean water.

There was no time to think about personal danger. There was medicine to practice.

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Mary Burry, a radiologist, had to wear many hats while abroad. Here she assists by administering anesthesia to a patient in Papua New Guinea. Photo Credit: Tom Hoggard.

Several exhausting weeks later, when Mary and her husband left Somalia, they had mixed emotions.  So many people needed so much more than two people could give.  But, Mary felt she had made a difference. She had reached a hand out to help someone in need, as Albert Schweitzer would have done. She would go back.

In the subsequent years, whenever there was an earthquake, a flood, an epidemic or any other natural or man-made disaster, Medical Teams called. And Mary and Tom went. They always had a bag packed– one tiny carry on, ready for anything they’d need in Afghanistan, Albania, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kosovo, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, the Philippines, and Turkey. They had a bucket list unlike any other.

Given the place of women in many of the cultures where Mary worked, I was curious how Mary, as a female doctor, was received.  Mary started by saying, she and her female counterparts had made a decision to practice as they would anywhere–without headscarves or other locally accepted covering,  treating men, women, and children alike, taking charge, or following the lead of a local doctor, whatever the situation demanded.  Their approach had much to do with their treatment.  “We were seen as doctors first and women second. It was almost as if we were a ‘third sex,’” Mary says.

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Mary Burry, surrounded by local villagers, reviews a patient X-Ray inside the Iraqi village’s mosque. Photo Credit: Tom Hoggard

 

Mary never lost sight of the fact she and her counterparts were invited guests in the countries where she worked.  Both she and Tom were careful to work with the local authorities and to treat the local doctors, nurses, and technicians with respect.  They made a practice of requesting the local staff’s counsel before taking a course of action.  This approach, she learned, was not at all what the local group had expected.  One technician told her he had expected the American doctors to tell everyone what to do and how to do it, but that was not the case.

At the end of more than one of her tours of duty, Mary was humbled by the expressions of gratitude she received and pleased to have earned the respect of the local staff.  One Iraqi doctor confessed “he was ashamed.” As a doctor, he thought he was better than the rest of the staff of technicians, nurses, and aides, but Mary and the other American doctors treated everyone as equally important and deserving of respect. In another case, a Pakistani doctor told Mary how before the Medical Teams personnel arrived, he had thought ill of the Americans, expecting them to be arrogant and proud. He credited Mary and her team with changing their views. As she described the experience, Mary wiped away a tear. She said, the Pakistanis didn’t know that she also had the opportunity to see these often puzzling and desperate but proud people as people first. It went both ways.

In the years after she left, Mary has kept in contact with a handful of the doctors she worked beside. They say, her legacy endures.

How gratifying is it to sit on this side of life and look back to see you did what you had set out to do and made a difference in the lives of so many other people in a way that so few people could.

If you have the better part of your life ahead of you, perhaps it’s time to add a few meaningful things to your own bucket list.

. . . . .

This post first appeared on The Huffington Post.  Click here to connect to read other posts on my Huffington Post Blog Page.

 

Page Cash – Mom’s Lives Matter

 

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Deputy Page Cash of the local Sheriff’s Office hijacked my story. I’d approached my local Sheriff’s Office asking to interview one of the Office’s Deputies. With the recent turmoil between law enforcement and civilians in the headlines, I wanted to dig into the issues and meet the people in whose hands we’ve put our trust and our lives. We met at a local restaurant, Deputy Cash with her badge-laden uniform, multi-radio communications systems squawking, and bullet proof vest, insisting on facing the door, and me with my list of interview questions.

Two minutes in to our discussion, I put the questionnaire aside.

In a way, I found the story I was looking for—the story of how one person (in this case a woman) followed a call to serve her community and made a difference in untold numbers of lives along the way. She’s someone who gets up every morning, puts on her uniform and goes back out on the streets, because she can help and it’s what she does.

With sunny blond hair and clear blue eyes, Page looks nothing like what I expected a Sheriff’s Deputy to look, though beneath her Deputy’s paraphernalia, I had the distinct impression Page could hold her own with most people she comes across. Page later told me she was one of the first girls to play on the boys’ football team, though she preferred basketball and softball to football. She has a tough exterior and admits to having been a wild child, at which point I picture a ten-year-old girl in a schoolyard brawl, and Page emerging on top. But, Page turned her life around. She held a corporate job in the insurance industry for fourteen years before she decided she could do more.

She entered the ministry and visited China and the Philippines as a missionary from her church then returned to Atlanta in the early 2000s. Penniless but determined to continue ministering to others; she worked tirelessly, on call 24-hours-a-day. Page was drawn to the most desperate populations, the homeless, addicted, and at risk, many of whom she’d meet, feed, and clothe where they lived. Often, as a result, she found herself under highway bridges in some of Atlanta’s most crime-ridden areas. Her natural affinity for the work and the trust she developed among those she helped earned her the nickname “Momma Page.”

Somewhere along the way, Page says, God told her to fulfill her childhood ambition to be a cop. Then, once she joined the Sheriff’s Office, he planted the seed of an idea in her head: Teen Interception. Page mulled the concept over and eventually approached the Sheriff’s Office requesting to launch a program to help at risk teens; teens she said were destined for life “under a bridge, in jail, or at the morgue.” Today, Page coordinates the Sheriff’s Office Teen Interception Program a seven-week program held two to three times each year. The program’s goal is to help teens avoid destructive behaviors and point them in a new direction. One of the keys to making a difference in these young lives is their parents’ participation. And though, Page encourages parents to attend the program, she confesses, many don’t or won’t get involved. That’s when Deputy Page Cash becomes “Momma Page” again.

The Teen Interception Program is just one part of Page Cash’s job. Though she wishes she could devote all her time to the program, Page has a hundred other things to do, just like the rest of the Deputies in the Office.

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Our short visit ended–though I suspect it’s not our last–we rose from the table and Page gave me a big hug, a genuine heart-felt and comforting hug. Yes, there are “bad apples” out there among society’s authority figures, whether in law enforcement, the ministry, education, or the military. There are people who have done irreparable damage to those who trusted them, but they are the exception. Rarely do we celebrate the good ones like Deputy Page Cash.

. . . . . 

For more information about the Teen Interception Program, visit the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office website at forsythsheriff.org or email Deputy Cash at jpcash@forsythco.com, or keep your eyes peeled for a Deputy with a wavy blond hair at the wheel of a Sheriff’s Office vehicle.

. . . . .

This post first appeared on The Huffington Post.  Click here to connect to read other posts on my Huffington Post Blog Page.

 

 

 

Miss Jane Marple – A Role Model

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Last month I profiled Nancy Drew and Carolyn Keene, the pseudonym for the group of authors of the series of detective novels featuring the ingénue detective extraordinaire.  This month, I’ve journeyed to the other end of the spectrum to spotlight Miss Jane Marple, Dame Agatha Christie’s much loved cozy mystery sleuth.

A “cozy” mystery as I had to learn is distinguished from other mysteries and thrillers by an amateur sleuth who solves mostly domestic crimes. The crimes often occur in rural settings and violence and sex are left to the imagination, well, well off stage. Dame Christie is credited with inventing the genre and perfecting it in the character of Miss Marple. The aging crime solver appears in twelve of Ms Christie’s novels that span the period from 1927 to 1976.

While I didn’t use Miss Marple as inspiration for Alicia Blake, the amateur detective and soon to be professional police woman in my upcoming thriller, there are similarities between the two characters. For the most part the two share a reliance on intuition.  Feminine intuition to be exact. The decidedly feminine trait was much used by Christie. In Murder at the Vicarage (1930), Christie compared the skill of intuition to “reading a word without having to spell it out.”

Christie had forty years to hone Miss Marple’s skills, but even at the outset, Miss Marple demonstrated the uncanny ability to take an idle comment from casual conversation and connect the dots, solving crimes that eluded her professional male counterparts. Often, Miss Marple put two and two together while relaxing in a comfortable chair, knitting, or in her garden with a pair of gardening shears in hand. Other times, she stayed in the background and listened while those around her chattered away. From everywhere clues dropped like rain, but only she noticed. And, as every Miss Jane Marple reader knows, if a male character thought he had the crime solved and explained how he believed the impossible unfolded, watch for a roll of Miss Marple’s eyes or a shake of her head. He is inevitably not even close.

In Nemesis (1971), the last Marple novel, Jane had aged. Nevertheless, she was just as much at work as she was in her earlier days. Christie described her as “old fashioned,” prone to taking naps, and with a rheumatic back that prevented her from working in her garden, but she still knits and she still solves a crime. All it took was a glance at the obituaries in her favorite newspaper to spark a memory and, by page two, Miss Marple was off and running, or perhaps, ambling down a lane in St. Mary Mead.

She had “a scent for evil, in the evening of her days, her peculiar gift,” Christie said.

Agatha Christie

More than 125 years after Miss Christie’s birth, the literary world is re-examining the prolific writer, casting her in a more modern light as a feminist, an identity others claim she would have resist.  Though Christie brought women characters out of the shadows and gave them center stage, they remain in their decidedly female roles, chock full of feminine intuition.

That’s not a bad role model for my own protagonist. Watch for more news about my upcoming thriller, scheduled for release this fall.