Memorial Saturday Outing

 

Keaton with his dog

Keaton with his beloved dog, Denny

 

Looking for a great outing for your Memorial weekend? Take a Saturday drive out to Sweet Home, Oregon and enjoy a sunny day of half marathon events honoring fallen hero Keaton Coffey. Cheer the runners coming in, fill your belly with good food–and ice cream–and, if you dare, challenge yourself to a few pull-ups on the outdoor bar. It’s a beautiful, lush green venue with a small-town feel, a silent auction, face painting for kids and more. For directions and details, go to 5th Annual Hero Half.

It’s been five years since Keaton was killed in Afghanistan. In his honor, I’m posting this article from the three-year anniversary of his death. Never forget.

Remembering on Memorial Weekend

 

Keaton with buddies on fun run.

With his buddies, Surfin’ USA

 

A funny story came up at the memorial for my cousins’ son, Cpl. Keaton Coffey (US Marine Corps). Though the story is not related to surfboards, this picture (with Keaton clowning on the far right) best illustrates the mood. A fellow Marine, Keaton’s roommate, repeated it to the hundreds upon hundreds packed into the church that day to honor a fallen hero. It was about a time when the Marine had gone on leave one weekend, and when he came back, he said, he caught Keaton red-handed, eating his last piece of cake, a coveted slice he’d looked forward to. The Marine was incredulous and said something to the effect of, “Really, dude? You’re eating my cake?” And Keaton, his mouth full, simply replied, “But it tastes really good with milk.” The story struck a chord–for several reasons. It was a moment of levity amidst so much pain; it showed Keaton’s sense of humor, the dry wit that mirrors that of his dad, a former firefighter; but more than anything, how even the simplest moments can end up taking on so much meaning, becoming forever engrained in our memories.

Keaton and Brittany.It’s hard to believe three (now five) years have passed since Keaton was killed, in Afghanistan, in the line of duty. He had so much to live for… just 22 years old… only two months shy of his wedding to Brittany Dygert… the only son, the only child of Grant and Inger Coffey. Keaton was so proud of what he’d accomplished as a Marine. It’s beyond painful, even now, to contemplate the loss, to those who loved him so deeply and to his country.

Keaton Coffey with his dog Denny.I love this picture too, because it shows how much even his dog, Denny, adored him. Look at that paw stretched around Keaton’s shoulder! The pair were a team, trained to go first into danger to sniff out explosives and save countless other lives. But danger was everywhere in Afghanistan. As it turns out, it was a bullet and not an explosive that killed Keaton. Denny survived, and, thankfully, my cousin, Grant, Keaton’s dad, and his mom, Inger, have the option of taking Denny in his twilight years as their pet.

Keaton Coffey honored.The day Keaton was laid to rest whole communities lined the streets near Boring, Oregon, his hometown, for the procession. The sight of it and the throngs of Marines in uniform, veterans on motorcycles, firefighters and fire trucks at the funeral nearly brought me to my knees. Keaton was a beloved son, a source of pride, one of their own.

But Keaton is also one of yours, in the end, whether you knew him or not, for he gave everything in service to you and this country.

On this Memorial Day weekend, I’m glad you took a moment to read this and remember Keaton, and if you’d like to extend a hand in his memory, give to Wounded Warrior Project and/or Keaton’s Memorial Scholarship Fund.

It was May 24th three (now five) years ago, a few days shy of Memorial Day, that Keaton was killed. For that reason, Memorial Day and Memorial Weekend have taken on new meaning. I trust, as do his parents, that Keaton is now at peace, smiling down on us. And so does the Marine buddy, once miffed at Keaton over something as mundane as a slice of dessert. As he said to Keaton at the memorial, he’d see him again one day, and then he admonished him, “Save me a piece of cake.”

Musings on the brain

img_3014Billowing snow streamed fast as the wind from a sepia skyscape, snowflakes dancing and shifting in gusts the way they do, the way you’ve seen them. Only they weren’t falling against a night sky, but against my own eyelids, in my own, resting mind. After hours of snow outside and inch after inch of it piling up, I awoke one morning to the view of a blizzard– before I’d opened my eyes. My brain was creating torrents of entirely new, phantom snowflakes, like a movie reel in my mind.

Has this, or anything like it, ever happened to you?

I’ve had a similar experience a few times in my life after repetitive activities, most vividly after picking strawberries when I was a kid. Have you been there? Getting up before dawn to catch the berry bus, spending the whole day in the dirt under a hot sun, picking enough berries to fill a flat, then picking more…

strawberries-handfulSometimes the phantom berries came in the morning, but mostly at night: there they were on the backs of my eyelids with their jaunty green stems, as plump and red and individual as any of the real berries I’d picked. But I never got the sense that this was a replay of an actual moment. I don’t have a photographic memory–far from it. It seemed, instead, like my resting mind offering an answer to repetitive stimuli. A reminder, maybe, of what I’d done all day? An organic, creative download?

I like to think it’s the power of imagination, how, after taking in berry after berry all day long, the brain says “I can do that–see? Look at all these beautiful berries!” The phenomenon reminds me of dreaming, how our minds, when free to roam, can conjure up incredible detail, even when the setting or events don’t make sense.

A recent dream of my own comes to mind when I found myself at a birthday party for a good friend. There I was, in a festive atmosphere, a table of food laid out before me, my friend happy and laughing, her guests seated all around. Oddly, they were young women I’d never met–who don’t exist that I know of–yet there they were, around that table in full detail: their clothes, their hair, their features, the sound of their voices and the way they moved. None of it was real, but it didn’t matter–and I’m sure you know the feeling, your mind just keeps making it up as the dream progresses.

Incredible, right?

img_3053The morning I saw the snowflakes, as I lay there newly awake but with my eyes still closed, I thought about writing this article. Some of the words came to mind, and I considered how the ideas might flow and connect. I even came up with a closing paragraph that felt right–until I got up, neglected to jot it down and, within a few minutes, forgot every word.

So that’s where I’ve ended up, musing about the brain’s creativity–and fallibility. The last time I posted here, I mentioned a certain end-of-the-year deadline for my next novel, now three-quarters complete. Alas, that deadline has come and gone, and I still need several more months. There you have it, fallibility.

But it’s all good, as they say, as long as the creativity keeps coming. One day soon I’ll have a manuscript ready for beta readers–and myself–working up to that final edit. I can see it now: after hours of careful reading and flipping page after page, it’ll be words on my eyelids, flowing past.

Endings and beginnings

Craig and Karen.

Craig and Karen Potts

It’s been a rough year. My sister recently lost her husband, Craig Potts, father to their only son, Chris. And the pain is still raw. Craig’s death came just a few months after we lost our mother, Hazel: two dearly-loved souls passing in just three month’s time.

 

Hazel Coffey.

Mother Hazel

 

Though we’ll always have fond memories of their personalities and the years spent together, it’s still difficult to believe that we’ll never see them again in this life. Both are endings that are hard to bear–and yet, what choice do we have? We take deep breaths and live one day at a time.

Changing with the seasons

Endings–and beginnings–are on my mind. Just this morning, I took my daughter to the airport for a flight to her junior year in college. And later today, my son and his friend, who boarded in our home during an internship, will pack up and leave the house to drive south into their senior year of college. It will be quiet around here without their comings and goings; the washer and dryer will get a rest, and the meals I cook will shrink again to portions for two: my husband and me.

Yet every ending is a beginning: the beginning of life without the ones we’ve lost, the beginning of new adventures and relationships, of news from children and friends, of chapters we’ll add to our own lives. A while ago, as I sat writing this, the high school bus stopped on the street outside to take this year’s students–no doubt some new–off to their second week of classes.

While beginnings are hopeful, they aren’t often easy, obscured as they are with distractions of the unknown: What challenges will come? Will the good times outweigh the hardships? You can try to live right, make lists, load up your phone calendar, invest in the latest technology, you can plan and you can pray, but nobody’s ever going to develop an app that shows you the future.

The day to day

Autumn leaves in the sun.As for me and my writing endeavors, I start the new season with a plenty of unknowns. I recently invested time interviewing with literary agents. It went well, though I’m still waiting for something concrete. Meanwhile, I continue to work on my second novel–talk about beginnings and endings. My goal is to finish it by the end of the year, and I wonder: Will I get there? Will it be what I envisioned? If only there was an app for that.

Outside, the summer is coming to a close, my days of writing on the patio numbered for the year. The high in Portland will climb past 80 today, but the morning was brisk, and the trees, already tinged with red, tell us what’s coming.

What will the future bring? How will I handle it? How will we all handle it? Yet another ending offering a place to begin…

Books for summer reading

I’ve combed through internet book sites and read dozens of reviews of recently released books to come up with the following list for summer reading. These are books that I would like to read based on online descriptions and, particularly, reviews from actual readers. What I’ve found in recent years, is that you get the best reviews not from book jackets or professional writers, but from real people, lots of them, who’ve taken the time to leave comments online that are sometimes pithy, sometimes eloquent but, as a whole (and given enough reviews), brutally honest. It was no surprise to me that what I ended up with was a list of books with Amazon ratings of 4 &1/2 to 5 stars. What was a surprise is the number of books this year I ended up choosing that are nonfiction. I found only two recently-released works of fiction I would like to put on this list, and I’ll begin with those. Happy reading!

Fiction

Learning to Swear in America copyI’m leading with Learning to Swear in America, by Katie Kennedy, because I love the premise and its everyday reviewers are calling it funny, delightful, touching, intelligent, charming and streams of other positive words. It’s actually a Young Adult crossover, science-based story about a Russian teenager come to America to help stop a deadly asteroid hurtling toward southern California. The boy genius and protagonist, Yuri, has to work with a group of mostly older men, thus the title, Learning to Swear in America. The book is just out, so not a ton of reviews yet, but so far, it’s chalking up raves and 5 stars.

bob-proehl-a-hundred-thousand-worldsNext is A Hundred Thousand Worlds: A Novel, by Bob Proehl. While I’m not a comic book fan, I’m intrigued by this coming of age story about a boy and his mom traveling cross-country (with a couple of friends) to various comic-cons. What better way to see superheroes than through the eyes of a child? By all accounts, it is well-written, and, ultimately, a story of endearing love between a mother and son.

Nonfiction

Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach.Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach, is a wry look at attempts to tackle the unusual challenges military soldiers face, and already the book is a best seller. There are chapters on everything from hearing to heat, diarrhea to genital transplants, even one about repeated attempts to develop a shark repellent. Roach, the author of several other books, is adept at researching odd topics and delivering the information with her signature brand of dry humor.

The Gene: An Intimate History.The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee is another early best seller, a readable biography/history of those tiny yet all-important bits of information in DNA that make us unique. The book begins with Mukherjee’s own family history of mental illness and explores deep questions, including, If we manipulate genetics to eliminate issues, will we also end up changing who we are? There are so many implicationsand possibilities. By telling a story with what is described as a beautiful narrative, Mukherjee moves past what might otherwise be a tedious look at DNA to create an intriguing biography of the microscopic yet miraculous gene.

Switched On, by John Elder RobisonSwitched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening, by John Elder Robison is yet another science-related release (can you tell I love science?) More specifically, this is a memoir of Robison’s awakening from autism syndrome after brain treatments that allow him, for the very first time, to fully recognize and experience emotion. Robison’s response to the treatments, while not universal, provides hope for others living with autism. Reviewers say the memoir reads like a medical thriller, leaving you anxious to learn what the next treatment will bring.

Kill 'Em and Leave, by James McBride.And finally, Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul, the latest release from National Book Award Winner James McBride. A biography of The Godfather of Soul, the book takes you on a journey through interviews with Brown’s friends and collaborators who knew him as a man of contrasts: a musical perfectionist with an enormous creative flare, a neatnik as well as a hoarder, and a man who had many lovers yet battled loneliness. The title of the book comes from Brown’s own words. When he was asked why he never hung around after a performance, he said, in pure James Brown style, it was best to “Kill ‘Em and Leave.”

I hope you find these books of interest. Since they are new releases, they’re primarily available electronically or in hardcover, though not yet in paperback. If you’d like to recommend something you’ve enjoyed or can’t wait to read, leave a comment below, and may the rest of your summer be filled with many relaxing moments lost in a book.

Tribute to a love affair

Clayton and Hazel in sunset.My sisters and I lost our mother last week, and my father lost his wife of nearly 66 years. I wasn’t going to write about it. The emotions are too raw; it seemed I would always be able pick up the phone and call her—“Hi, mom!”—or hop in my car and drive over there. Who else can love you, so unconditionally, like mom?

Now, as I move through each new day, I keep thinking: am I really, in this life, never going to see her again? Or share a meal? Or hear her voice? It seems impossible, surreal… like I said, raw.

Clayton and Hazel Coffey on their wedding day.

 

But it occurred to me: there’s also a love story here that brings a smile to my face, the love affair between my father and mother. I confess I haven’t put much thought into it over the years—who does with their parents? But sitting with dad just the other night made me pause and take it to heart. It was the day after mom had passed and we were eating dinner together, a solemn meal over a beautiful bouquet of sympathy flowers, and I asked dad to tell me again how they’d first met.

 

I’d heard stories about their courtship, of course. The one about the drive-in movie is a family favorite, when a teenage Clayton finally built up the courage to turn to Hazel and say “I like you,” and Hazel responded, “I like you too.” But I didn’t remember how they first made contact. It was risky to ask about it, so soon after my mom’s death. I didn’t want to cause him more heartache. But he didn’t seem to mind the question, and while the story he told was brief, he delivered it with a smile.

Hazel at 16He said he’d seen my mom in the school library (they both went to Portland’s Franklin High) and decided to ask her out. So he had a friend who knew her call ahead to tell her about him, then he telephoned with the big question: Would she go on a date with him? As they spoke over the phone, so the story goes, my mom couldn’t place Clayton and wasn’t even sure she’d seen him before. But the mutual friend had reassured her he was a good guy, so she said yes to a double date then hurried to tell her sister Bobbie and mother Bessie. All three—Hazel, Bobbie and Bessie—were curious: would Hazel know this mystery boy when she saw him?

Clayton Coffey in uniform.

 

Scheming together, the three came up up with code words Hazel would use as she left on the date. If she’d seen him before, she’d say “Goodbye,” if she hadn’t, she’d say “Goodnight.” The conclusion of dad’s little story went like this: On that fated evening, when he arrived and Hazel came out, ready to go, she shot a big grin back to the house and said “Goodnight!” –she’d never seen him before!

 

Hazel and Clayton with a young Amelia and Macklin.

 

That was the beginning of a relationship that lasted nearly seven decades. Within two years, they were married, my father at age 19 and my mother, 18, babies really, though dad had already been in the army in post-war Germany.

 

Sisters in brown outfits, circa 1968.

Coffey daughters (clockwise from upper left) Karen, Sally, Linda, Marcia

 

Over the years they had daughter after daughter, and their life together brought great joy, but also pain and grief. For the sake of my parents’ privacy, I’ll skip the details. What matters now, what really strikes me, is the incredible endurance of their love.

 

Hazel Coffey.

Mom wasn’t well for quite some time before her passing. When she was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, we considered options for memory care, but my father’s wishes were to keep her at home, with him. It wasn’t easy, especially for dad, but with help from his four daughters and an absolute angel of a great-niece, Melissa, we were able to make it work, and mom was well cared for. Then, about two weeks ago, she suffered a stroke. We all knew the end was near, and as we said our goodbyes, I told mom what I truly believe: that God has a place, reserved just for her.

 

It was during those days that I finally understood the depth of my parents’ love. They’d been through so much together, good times and bad, but what I saw in the end was how their relationship had evolved through tumultuous times from youthful attraction to everlasting devotion.

There was a moment I’ll never forget that I’m blessed to have witnessed. It was after the stroke, when mom could barely speak, and dad, in a chair by her bed, began to sing to her. Dad was famous in our household for singing over the years, often striking up tunes with us kids or one of his brothers, so I eased back, away from the bed, to sneak a few pictures. The funny thing is, as he sang, I realized, I’d never heard the song before.

Hazel grasping Claytons hand.

 

“Remember this one?” he’d asked my mom before launching into the tune. I had no doubt she understood. She looked him square in the eye and did what had to have been difficult for her after the stroke: she lifted a pale, weak hand and grasped his.

 

What my father proceeded to sing was a love song, nothing short of heartbreaking. It was written, I found out later, by Floyd Tillman and popularized by Patsy Cline. I’ll leave a link with Patsy Cline’s rendition below. There really isn’t much more to say. Once you hear it, the same words dad sang to mom, you’ll understand.

Patsy Cline “I Love You So Much It Hurts”

Sno Cone Blue sightings

Reading The God of Sno Cone Blue on the train.Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl, once said that she had yet to see a reader enjoying her novel out “in the wild,” but that she’d love nothing more than to be able to “tap someone on the shoulder and say, you know, how are you liking the book?” I second that! While I haven’t seen my book “in the wild” either, I have had a few close calls, the closest just last week: my husband, Ed, on the train home from work. He noticed a woman nearby cradling a book. Nothing unusual there, of course, until he saw the title: The God of Sno Cone Blue!

Immediately following, he sent me a “Guess what?” text. Wait–no, I take that back, he texted the whole family, our two kids included: “The God of Sno Cone Blue is right next to me on train(!) A woman is reading it(!)” The exclamation points are mine. No idea why Ed left them out.

Naturally, I couldn’t let a moment like that pass: only a few colorless words on my cell phone screen? “Take a picture of it, by golly!” I texted back. Poor Ed. (And, yes, I really did text “by golly!”) Then I added: “Ask her how she heard about it and tell her you’re my husband!” Again, poor Ed. And poor woman!

Ed did take the picture, as you can see from the image above. Turns out my dear reader was a good sport and, I might add, has very good taste in books. A few days later, she sent a note to my Contact page identifying herself as the woman on the train and saying not only had she finished the book, but she “loved it!” Her exclamation point, not mine. It was, in the end, a very fine point on a very fine moment.

Marcia selling The God of Sno Cone Blue at HomeWord Bound.While I’m at it, I’d like to highlight another recent Sno Cone Blue siting, though it didn’t come, as they say, out of the blue. It happened at a literary event for Community Partners for Affordable Housing (CPAH) when I had the honor of joining eleven other Portland-area authors at a book signing and auction at the Oregon Zoo. 18 years in the running, the event celebrates local authors while raising funds to help alleviate our local housing crisis.

 

Sheila Hamilton and Mitchell S. Jackson.

 

Portland’s own Sheila Hamilton, All the Things We Never Knew, was the featured speaker, along with Mitchell S. Jackson, The Residue Years. We all sold stacks of books, got a chance to talk to avid readers, and watched CPAH race past its fundraising goal, which was really fun to witness. The Portland Society Page even posted an article on the event which you can read here.

 

 

I saw many copies of Sno Cone Blue roaming the auction that night, and a few cracked open, but, alas, I can’t quite call that “in the wild,” even if it was at the zoo.

Finally, here’s a list, with links, of the other Portland-area authors at the HomeWord Bound event. I’m sure they’d love for you to check out their books. Happy reading! David Banis & Hunter Shobe, Arthur Bradford, Valerie Geary, April Henry, Bart King, Margaret Malone, Liz Prato, Ellen Urbani, Ruth Wariner.

You’ve got (snail) mail

Carol's letter up close.Imagine you open your mailbox, and inside, among the coupons and bills and glossy fliers is an envelope addressed to you. Not only is your name front and center, it’s written in trailing ink, with the subtle flaws of actual handwriting. The envelope is thin, but weighty enough, and you recognize the return address instantly: a friend, maybe a lover, or maybe an enemy. The rest of your mail suddenly can wait—the rest of the world can wait, for you’ve just gotten a letter, and nothing is more important than tearing it open to read it.

Dying art

I love letters, even if, in this digital age, they’re a dying art. What could be more personal and heartfelt, than a beautifully-crafted handwritten letter? I love the thought of them, the look of them, the feel and even the smell of them, not unlike the smell of a book. Which is probably why I chose letters as a vehicle for my first novel, The God of Sno Cone Blue. (The second novel is coming along well, by the way, though never as fast as I’d like.) Those of you who’ve read my first book know that my main character Grace receives letters written by her mother before she died. I guess I always knew the mother’s story would be a source of mystery and interest, but I never anticipated just how much. The main comment I get from readers? “I can’t wait to read the next letter!” And yes, I get it.

Dracula book cover.

 

Oddly, letters aren’t as common in literary fiction as you might expect. Epistolary novels that come to mind include: Dracula (Bram Stoker, 1897), The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis, 1942), Up the Down Staircase (Bel Kaufman, 1965), The Color Purple (Alice Walker, 1982), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky, 1999), and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, 2008) to name a few.

 

Modern conveniences

text messaging on a smart phone.

Few of us bother with handwritten letters anymore. I’m as guilty as anyone. The most I write by hand these days is a list of to-do’s, a phone message or a miles-long grocery list. Today we use laptops, phones, email and text, which hardly come close. Scant effort in, brings scant reward: What time you off work? Five—you? Five-thirty. K, what’s for dinner? I thawed a chicken. K, see you then.

Sigh.

Yet we know there’s no turning back. We’re out of practice—and patience. And we love the convenience technology brings. Even now, if I’m sending a letter the “snail mail” way by US post, I type it up, to spare my fingers, and print it out. Did I just admit that? Yes, I did.

For posterity

Letters spread out on a table.But I’d like the think there’s still a place for handwritten letters, where the effort we put in truly counts. What if, as in my novel, we wrote missives to the people especially dear to us, to be opened after we’re gone? What better way to say I love you than I cared enough to put pen to paper, recount these memories, express these sentiments, in my very own handwriting, just for you?

It sure beats an email.

 

–As always, please feel free to comment below–

 

Small victories and Annie Bloom’s

Annie Bloom's bookstore.Do you shop at your local bookstore? If you want to support local businesses, it’s the way to go. I’m pleased to say that my novel is now in Annie Bloom’s, a beautiful, independent bookstore in Portland’s Multnomah Village.

It’s a wonderful place to shop for books and cards and everything in between–now add to that signed copies of The God of Sno Cone Blue. (Psst–Don’t tell anyone, but the price is lower than what you’ll pay online.)

It’s a small victory for self-published authors like myself to get their books on bookstore shelves. The publishing world has been turned on its ear by the digital age of online shopping, not to mention self and indie publishing–all of which makes it more challenging for ‘brick and mortar’ bookstores to thrive. So, if you haven’t been to Annie Bloom’s or your local bookstore in a while, pay them a visit. You’ll find something you love and gain the satisfaction of supporting commerce in your own neighborhood.

Small victories keep us going

Writing, like many endeavors, always takes longer than you anticipate. You know that dinner recipe that promised a preparation time of 20 minutes, then really took 40–or 60? That’s what writing feels like. I’m in love with the story of my second novel, and the chapters are falling into place–If only I could get them to fall faster! Alas, one of these days I will finish that final scene.

The God of Sno Cone Blue.In the meantime, small victories with Sno Cone Blue keep me inspired. More than a hundred reviews on Amazon so far give it an overall rating of 5 stars. And the novel continues to be a favorite with book clubs. Hard to believe, but I’ve had the pleasure of making more than 50 author visits to book clubs to date, and I continue scheduling them. Somehow we always manage to have a blast. Wine, women and great conversation–what’s not to like? If you’re interested in scheduling an author visit (or Skype for long distance), drop me a line on my Contact page. I’d love to hear from you!

Back to bookstores for a moment and one more small victory. For my readers who are local, I’m the featured author at Jan’s Paperbacks in the Aloha/Beaverton area this month. On Saturday, February 27th, I’ll be signing copies and chatting with readers from 11am to 2pm. I’d love it if you could stop by. Come get a signed copy for less than the online price. Bring a friend–or a whole book club!

It takes a neighborhood to raise an author

Cedar Mill Living review of The God of Sno Cone Blue.Word of mouth here, a thumbs up there, either globally or from one street to the next, that’s basically what I mean by It takes a neighborhood to raise an author. My latest example? A full page review saying, “The God of Sno Cone Blue will tickle your funny bone, exercise your love for twist and turn mysteries and cause your mind to race with questions….” It’s written in Cedar Mill Living, a publication with a small but focused audience–and I’m thrilled.

Why?

This is how word spreads about a good book: from reader to reader, publication to publication, and book club to book club. Because I’m self-published I’ve had multiple doors slammed on me–figurative doors, yes, but nevertheless, slammed hard all the same; if they’d been doors of solid wood, I’d look like a boxer after a 10th round knock out. This is despite the fact that self-publishing is the future of publishing. The good news is, there are other doors in this ever-expanding neighborhood of mine that keep flying open to reveal excited readers.

Examples please

Book clubs are first and foremost. They’ve embraced Sno Cone Blue like a long-lost cousin at a family reunion. And I’ve had a blast sharing my story with them, chalking up 45 author visits to various groups so far, most of them book clubs, but also civic-centered and philanthropic organizations as well. The women and men I’ve met along the way have been impressive: doctors, lawyers, educators, accountants, artists and authors–even a former bathing suit model. (Okay, I admit, I peeked at her photos.)

And my readers never cease to amaze me with their questions and insights. Believe me, no two book clubs are alike, nor do they operate the same way.  I continue scheduling, so drop me a line on my Contact page if you’re interested in an author visit. If you’re near Portland, I’m happy to come in person or, if not, I Skype for long distances.

Beyond book clubs

The novel continues landing excellent reviews. Besides the latest endorsements in print, Sno Cone Blue is fast approaching 100 reviews from readers on Amazon. The vast majority (83 percent) rate it 5-star and the remainder, 4-star, which is awesome. Based on the comments you’ll see there, readers are moved by the story, appreciate the depth of the characters and, best of all, don’t anticipate the twist at the end.

What’s next?

For Sno Cone Blue, I expect doors to keep opening… In the meantime, I’m staying busy with novel number two, progressing chapter by chapter as I look ahead to estimate editing and publishing dates. In fact, I just finished a shoot for a promotional video you’ll see down the road, probably in spring. Mum’s the word at this point what it will look like, but suffice it to say you’ll get a good laugh out of it–at my expense! Hints are buried in the novel’s subject matter and description of its heroine, a skilled cliff climber.

The next novel will be called Skipping the Light, and it’s a new genre for me: Dystopian society in the vein of Hunger Games, with the added twist of time travel–yes!–written for Young Adults with Adult crossover. How’s that for a change from a mother-daughter novel?! Not to mention it will be the first in a trilogy to keep me–and readers–busy for years to come. I’m excited and passionate about the story, so stay tuned for news on the new book as the chapters add up.

Thanks for being a part of my neighborhood, and drop by again soon.

Remembering on Memorial Weekend

 

Keaton with buddies on fun run.A funny story came up at the memorial for my cousins’ son, Cpl. Keaton Coffey (US Marine Corps). Though the story is not related to surfboards, this picture (with Keaton clowning on the far right) best illustrates the mood. A fellow Marine, Keaton’s roommate, repeated it to the hundreds upon hundreds packed into the church that day to honor a fallen hero. It was about a time when the Marine had gone on leave one weekend, and when he came back, he said, he caught Keaton red-handed, eating his last piece of cake, a coveted slice he’d looked forward to. The Marine was incredulous and said something to the effect of, “Really, dude? You’re eating my cake?” And Keaton, his mouth full, simply replied, “But it tastes really good with milk.”

The story struck a chord–for several reasons. It was a moment of levity amidst so much pain; it showed Keaton’s sense of humor, the dry wit that mirrors that of his dad, a former firefighter; but more than anything, how even the simplest moments can end up taking on so much meaning, becoming forever engrained in our memories.

Keaton and Brittany.It’s hard to believe three years have passed since Keaton was killed, in Afghanistan, in the line of duty. He had so much to live for… just 22 years old… only two months shy of his wedding to Brittany Dygert… the only son, the only child of Grant and Inger Coffey. Keaton was so proud of what he’d accomplished as a Marine. Its beyond painful, even now, to contemplate the loss, to those who loved him so deeply and to his country.

 

Keaton Coffey with his dog Denny.I love this picture too, because it shows how much even his dog, Denny, adored him. Look at that paw stretched around Keaton’s shoulder! The pair were a team, trained to go first into danger to sniff out explosives and save countless other lives. But danger was everywhere in Afghanistan. As it turns out, it was a bullet and not an explosive that killed Keaton. Denny survived, and, thankfully, my cousin, Grant, Keaton’s dad, and his mom, Inger, have the option of taking Denny in his twilight years as their pet.

 

Keaton Coffey honored.The day Keaton was laid to rest whole communities lined the streets near Boring, Oregon, his hometown, for the procession. The sight of it and the throngs of Marines in uniform, veterans on motorcycles, firefighters and fire trucks at the funeral nearly brought me to my knees. Keaton was a beloved son, a source of pride, one of their own.

But Keaton is also one of yours, in the end, whether you knew him or not, for he gave everything in service to you and his country.

On this Memorial Day weekend, I’m glad you took a moment to read this and remember Keaton, and if you’d like to extend a hand in his memory, give to Wounded Warrior Project and/or Keaton’s Memorial Scholarship Fund.

It was May 24th three years ago, a few days shy of Memorial Day, that we lost him. For that reason, Memorial Day and Memorial Weekend have taken on new meaning. I trust, as do his parents, that Keaton is now at peace, smiling down on us. And so does the Marine buddy, once miffed at Keaton over something as mundane as a slice of dessert. As he said to Keaton at the memorial, he’d see him again one day, and then he admonished him, “Save me a piece of cake.”