Saturday, April 22, 2006

What I'm Reading

This past week I've received several similar emailings from people concerned that our friends in Washington have a plan to control the internet. Internet search engines are one focus and for some reason, Google was singled out in the emails I received. Except for checking the weather, reading blogs, and monitoring a handful of favorite sites -- all of which I've listed in my links here -- I don't do much surfing or searching. Now, I fully understand why politicians might want to protect children from internet predators or monitor sites that might result in loss of human life. But with all the other problems in this country, I can't for the life of me figure out why our elected servants worry about which search engine or phone company or ISP we use.

I read one blog maintained at a personal website because I admire the writer's style. is the URL to Eric Burton's mostly political blog. Burton is a news junkie who examines the issues and writes about them honestly from his point of view as a citizen and taxpayer. I'm not surprised that these daily blogs are often picked up by newspapers in his area for op ed pieces because they're well and thoughtfully written. Burton sometimes labels his blogs rants, but I find them to be informative and a lot more even handed than the news stories I watch.

As a book reviewer, I'm privileged to read books that might not be best sellers but are excellent just the same. Many books I read for review are just as good or better than those on the New York Times best seller list. Today I'll give a brief thumbnail of recent standout reads.

The Revival by Max Yoho is delightful. Max Yoho is the King of charming humor. In my experience as both reader and reviewer, he has no equal. My grins, chuckles, and outright guffaws started in the first paragraph of The Revival. And Yoho's humor is not politically correct, which only adds to his appeal as writer and storyteller. This story of revival week in rural Kansas of the 1950s, with the Methodists and Holy Rollers competing for souls, is just downright hilarious. You can find Yoho's books on Amazon, or at

For those who love poetry, Chopin's Piano by Charles Ades Fishman is amazing. ALL of Fishman's poetry is amazing, but this book might be his best yet. No modern poet shares his essence with greater generosity than Charles Fishman. His spirit burns with rage and grieves with inexpressible sorrow; this book is glorious and beautiful, haunting and horrifying. Every place humans starve, burn, or wither, Fishman's heart is there. You can find Charles Fishman's work on Amazon or at his publisher's website,

I'm still reading The Passion of Mary Magdalen by Elizabeth Cunningham. This one may already be a best seller. The book has more than 600 pages and I've devoured every page. The premise is that Celtic princess Maeve Rhuad and young stranger Yeshua -- Jesus of Nazareth -- are lovers in youth and love each other passionately throughout their lives. Characters include numerous biblical icons -- Mary mother of Jesus, John the Baptist, the twelve apostles for example -- presented as they might have been in everyday life. Bible-believing Christians will reject this fictional story because every character, including Jesus, has feet of clay in various ways. But the lost years of Jesus not examined in the Bible are accounted for here. This book is surprising, touching and tender so far in its portrayal of devotion between God's Son and a woman forced into slavery and prostitution by the Romans.

That's enough for now. In the near future I hope to read Dispatches from Kansas by Tom Parker. His blog of the same name is exceptional and listed in my blog links. Parker's book is available on Amazon so I will order it there OR maybe schmooze him into trading books with me. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Wolves I Feed

Ahem. Gentle nudges have come my way recently via cyberspace, hinting that I mention poetry in my blog but never post a poem. Actually, I promise THOUGHTS on prose and poetry, but guess I can be brave and post a poem. I've been working on a book of poetry for a long time now "by spells and spurts" as Mother used to say -- taking my time. The Wolves I Feed is the working title, taken from an old Cheyenne parable in which an elder teaches children that the wolf they feed becomes strongest. That is, whether they feed hate, anger, envy, and cruelty or love, forgiveness, joy, and kindness, that part of them grows and thrives. Like most humans, I've occasionally fed the wrong wolves and my poetry reflects that. This book of poetry may never be published. In truth, my poetry is raw and undisciplined, but to satisfy those wishing for samples of my work, I've chosen one that's had positive comments from critics. This poem originally appeared in The Nisqually Delta Review:


Today my memory celebrates
low rolling ancient mountains folded
in upon themselves, fog fingers rising,
swirling, creeping through the hollers
in a dance primordial. My first vision
of those wild Kentucky mountains
haunts me. Back then my heart and expectations
changed, expanded to absorb the sight
of fog and forested granite wonders.

Skin remembers that first misty baptism.
Ears recall the sound of dripping branches
in the forest, nose breathes the scent of leaves decaying
underfoot. And there was silence broken
only by the muffled sound of squirrels seeking
walnuts and birds skittering from limb to limb.
Deep in the woods the sounds of motors
or a din of human voices couldn't penetrate.
Spirits walked the forests. I could feel them.

We can't go back except in fragments
of fond memory. The mountains have been gashed
and dynamited into gravel, making way for modern
roads. And those insulating forests
are no longer havens for the fog, the birds
and squirrels or me. They've been leveled,
clear-cut, eliminated, leaving an open wound
upon the mountain that even time,
my prayers, or hope can't heal.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

History and book signings

Back when he was a young husband, my grandpa worked as a laborer building roads in Minnesota. He and Grandma Esther Clara had two children by then. Those of you who regularly read my blog know they lived in a raggedy tent through a harsh Minnesota winter while Grandpa helped build those roads.

Grandpa was in Iowa, working as a hired hand and sparking Grandma in 1914 when the Great White Way was built in Kansas. Highway 9, which passes through Grandpa's home town of Frankfort KS, was the Kansas portion of the Great White Way and stretched from Chicago to Colorado Springs. The inaugural run of this dusty winding highway was May 1914. This year on May 13, that run will be re-enacted on a modern highway instead of dirt and gravel. You can read all about the planned celebration in Lori Parker's blog found at

The Frankfort Kansas Public Library invited me to do a book signing for My Name is Esther Clara as a part of the celebration. I'm excited about this honor because I spent many happy times in Frankfort as a child, swam and played in the park there, enjoyed visiting my great grandparents and other real life characters in the book. If you live anywhere near Frankfort, Atchison, Concordia, or points in between, consider joining in the re-enactment -- which ends at the city park in Frankfort -- and come see me at the library. You don't even have to buy a book. Just stop by and say hello.

Networking is a wonderful thing. At some future time, not yet decided, I'll do a reading and signing at the Blue Rapids Mercantile in Blue Rapids Kansas. Tom and Lori Parker own the Mercantile. Both have interesting blogs listed in my links or discussed here or both. Grandma and Grandpa had many friends in Blue Rapids at one time, and visited the cemeteries there every Decoration Day. I'll be so pleased to take their story with me to Frankfort and Blue Rapids.

Stay tuned for full reports of both adventures.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Husker from "OZ" travels cyberspace

How does a native Kansan, now living in Nebraska, travel the highways and byways of cyberspace without a net? How did I find myself in England, Germany, Italy, Israel, Australia, and zoom across time zones without jet lag? I got my first computer in 1995 but only recently discovered many of the wonders available to me. Maybe I'm just slow on the uptake.

I've always wanted to visit Australia. A writer, teacher, wife and mom -- Maureen McMahon -- made that visit possible. You'll find me listed under "Ask the Experts", along with dozens of other writers, reviewers, publicists on her website: Maureen has enough helpful information available on her site to keep you busy for several days. I connected with Maureen via Fran Silverman, a writer from New York. Fran's helpful newsletter boasts 1500 subscribers -- writers, publicists, publishers, editors, ghost writers and book coaches from around the world. Fran's website is

A recent blog described my interview at WPSU-TV in Pennsylvania. After that program aired, it was available in streaming video on their website. Curious friends and colleagues in England, Arizona, and Germany watched that streaming video on their home computers. For a decidedly UNphotogenic woman like myself, the thought that anyone anywhere saw my interview is scary, but I'm grateful for the opportunity.

When The Alley of Wishes second edition was released by Dandelion Books, it was featured at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany and The Israeli Book Fair. My mind boggled, knowing a book I wrote was featured in such diverse parts of our world.

Cyberspace has been very good to this old country girl. Not only have I been around the world and back without leaving the comforts of home, but I'm BLOGGING!! So when I wax eloquent about the past and wishing I could see Earth as it was before modern technology took over, just bear with me. Even if visiting the past were possible, I'd still want to email you or write a blog about it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

back from my Nebraska Sandhills adventure....

This past week I attended a nursing retreat in North Platte NE. I'd never visited North Platte or seen the Sandhills so really enjoyed the vistas. Nebraska is not flat and featureless, as many people imagine in other parts of the country. The terrain is diverse and often spectacular, especially at sunrise and sunset when changing light creates shadows of gold, rose or purple on rolling prairies, sand dunes, or rocky outcroppings. That hills of sand can support wild flowers and prairie grasses seemed impossible to me, until I saw them with my own eyes. Today, cattle graze the sandhills grasses, but my imagination took me back two hundred years when only indigenous tribes, buffalo, antelope, and game of every kind inhabited the region. No fences, just grass and rolling dunes into the horizon in all directions would have greeted human eyes, with wind, rustling grass, and birdsongs the only sounds. Riparian woodlands thrive along each small creek and river winding through the sandhills. Any one who thinks Nebraska is flat and treeless should see these hardwood forests growing in the prairie grasslands.

This time of year the sandhills cranes return to their ancient home along the Platte River. They feed in corn stubble and shelter in trees growing along the Platte. The weather turned cold and snowy during my trip so I didn't get to see the cranes in their natural state. They huddled in the corn stubble, hunkered down against the gusting winds, so I couldn't see how large they are while walking.

The Sandhills Convention Center in North Platte hosted the nursing retreat, which was sponsored by the Good Samaritan Society. If you are ever in Nebraska and near North Platte, the Convention Center is beautiful, peaceful, and pleasantly appointed. The rooms were clean, the food great. My stay there was a joy. I've lived in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky and visited the mountains of central Pennsylvania, both beautiful. But I was born and raised in the plains of Kansas and Nebraska. If you've never visited the sandhills or the central plains, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Open your spirit to vistas that look much the same today as they did 200 years ago.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Lan Samantha Chang and other thoughts

If you haven't heard of Lan Samantha Chang, she's the new Director of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her credentials are exceptional and include two works of fiction published by W.W. Norton. I read the Q & A with Ms. Chang and Poets & Writers Doug Diesenhaus with interest, and was especially impressed by one quote:

"The best writing reveals the texture and the depth of the consciousness that wrote it..."

Occasionally, while reading poetry and prose for review, the author's heart and spirit shines through so clearly that their words stun me to silence. With rare exceptions, most of the books I review are by un-famous poets and writers. But being unknown does not mean their writing is inferior. Far from it. Excellent writers and poets who are unknown simply have not been effectively promoted, have not found an agent, or have been rejected out of hand by A-List publishers who are looking for another Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, et al. So I was pleased to see that quote from the Director of one of the most prestigious writing workshops in the world. Now if a few writers I know could just attend the Iowa Workshop.............

See, I avoided shameless self-promotion this time!! But I do want to warn those who follow my blog that I will be gone for nearly a week. I'll be absent from the internet from April 5th through 11th so I hope none of my faithful following have withdrawal. I shall return.

Saturday, April 01, 2006



In yesterday's blog when I ended by saying I would give things some "balanced thought" and get back to you, that was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek hint -- like when Grandpa used to say he'd chalk it up to the dust and let the rain settle it.

Based on the emails I received in the past 24 hours, my tongue-in-cheek humor didn't hit the mark. Readers in UK wished to see the "shitehawk" that called my book shlock publicly shredded. A fan in Germany stands ready to do battle if I stop writing. Others were less kind, making certain anatomical reference to the person in question and the horse they rode in on. A writer in Arizona sternly took me to task for even considering rewriting my book. Aston and Joshua posted encouraging comments to my blogs.

It's comforting to know my fan base -- although small -- is loyal and vocal. For their reassurance I will state emphatically that my books will remain as written. The Grass Dance, The Alley of Wishes, and My Name is Esther Clara say exactly what I wanted them to say when I wrote them. The poetry book publisher has gone out of business so my poems in Color of Laughter, Color of Tears may eventually find their way into a new book. Otherwise, unless Knopf or St. Martin's buy the rights for my books from the current publishers for big bucks and subsequently ask for editorial changes -- a MOST unlikely scenario -- my books will remain as they are.

So I did give that criticism of The Grass Dance some balanced thought and came up with exactly what I said today in this blog. I will NOT be rewriting my books. But in the meantime I need to work on broadening my humor, take lessons from Letterman or Leno maybe.

Thanks for the kind words, all of you who appreciate my writing and support me as a friend or colleague.

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I enjoy good writing by writers and poets who are not famous. My mother said I was born a hundred years too late. The older I get, the more I realize how right she was.

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