Barbara Bush – First Lady of Words


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barbara bush

Barbara Pierce Bush   White House Portrait by Herbert E. Abrams

I imagine in the coming days stories of the former First Lady Barbara Bush will fill the airwaves and spread across the internet. This week her family informed the public the Bush family matriarch is no longer pursuing medical care for her life-threatening illness. Instead, she is choosing to spend her days in comfort care and to be among her family. More likely, she’ll be the one providing comfort.

So, there’s no better candidate today to profile than everyone’s favorite First Lady, dubbed fondly “First Mom.” For as long as she has been in the public eye, Barbara Bush has been the epitome of the perfect mother and wife. She is blessed with family-oriented values, refined, unquestioning, strict, and loving.

Besides those admirable qualities, during her tenure in the White House she was a champion of literacy, something that evolved from her own love of books and the Pierce family’s obsession with reading. And, she is an author.

bush memoir

Barbara published her memoir in 2015, telling the story of her life. The book covers her early years, growing up in Rye, New York, meeting and falling in love with George Herbert Walker Bush, standing by her husband in good times and bad through political campaigns and the White House years, and starting life again when the two left the Washington.

As a member of the Greatest Generation, the former First Lady was witness to many milestones in our country’s history and folklore. In her book she mentions the Charles Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Amelia Earhart’s flight, the Hindenberg disaster, and World War II. Her focus, however, was her family and her beloved lifelong companion, George.

Barbara credits her mother with advice that sustained her throughout her own, saying “You have two choices in life. You can like what you do or you can dislike it.” Barbara says she chose to like it.

Many would say it wouldn’t be hard to like what you do being brought up in the rarified atmosphere of Rye and in a home with a staff. Then again, as the saying goes, privilege and wealth can’t buy happiness.

“We always lived in happy homes,” Barbara says.

I wish the First Mom much happiness in her remaining days.

Nandita Godbole – The Ingredients of a Woman


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Nandita Godbole

The first thing you should know about Nandita Godbole is how to pronounce her name, the right way, the given way, the Mumbai way—Mumbai being where she was born. It’s “nun-dee-tah goad-bow-lay.” Of course, if you were from India, you’d know because there are several famous actresses with the same first name.

In Atlanta, the city Nandita now calls home, she may not be a household name—not yet. Maybe soon though. Nandita is best known here as a cookbook author and frequent speaker around town.

We met at a local literary festival where I had the pleasure of moderating a panel of three local cookbook authors, including Nandita. Now, let me say, all three were fabulous cooks, authors, and entertainers. But, something about Nandita captured my attention.

Perhaps it was the exotic spices she described, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and mace. Even writing the words now brings those soft scents to my nose.

Perhaps it was the saree she wore for the event. A translucent aquamarine, sparkling with teardrop-shaped inlays of teal.

Perhaps it was her husband and daughter in the audience who snapped photos and beamed the entire time Nandita spoke, though they no doubt had heard Nandita say the same words before. Their pride in her and her achievements was obvious.

Whatever the reason, I took Nandita at her word. “The curry you think you know,” she said, “is nothing like any one of the dozens of curries available.” With that, I visited her recipe website (, “cracked” open a copy of Crack the Code—Nandita’s book whose cover proclaims the reader can “cook any Indian meal with confidence,”—and dove in. With Nandita’s spirit whispering encouragement over my shoulder I did manage to make Fish Cakes with Herb Butter, if not as lovely in its final presentation as her illustration, at least as tasty as I imagine hers would be. It was a matter of following the detailed instructions and mouth-watering illustrations in the book.

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I would be remiss to portray Nandita as simply a cookbook author. Like the code in her book, Nandita is a layered and complex woman. She studied botany in India, came to the US to study landscape architecture and became a cookbook author and, with the release of her newest book, Not for You, a memoirist.

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It’s in the writings of her memories of India and family and traditions that we can see some of what makes Nandita who she is and perhaps what intrigued me at our first meeting. In the book Not for You, over the course of the tale of three generations of her family, Nandita tells of the ingredients of her life, Love. Marriage. Denial. Crisis. Fear. Abandonment. Determination. Food. Comfort. Home.  It’s the “code” and explains how food became central to her life and her identity.

For more on Nandita, visit her websites and crack open your own copy of one of her books.
See for her recipes
See for posts on dining, travel, and her cooking classes
See for how to purchase her books
And a list of her upcoming appearances around town is included at

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.


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.


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:


Janet Metzger – The Sound of Janet

Rubik Janet

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.

janet in studio

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.)

janetmetzger album

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:

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.

3 women

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…

grand theft

What a romp ahead!

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

Read more about Linda Sands on her website:

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.


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.


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.


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,, 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.


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

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 (

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.


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.


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.

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