Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Explore Beyond The Usual™: My First Post

Recently I was invited to participate as a guest blogger on the Explore Beyond the Usual™ blog which is dedicated to spiritual, metaphysical and astrological topics. Because many of my books and stories deal with spiritual and metaphysical topics, I was excited to be able to write about how a writer of fiction researches these subjects. This is my first post but there will be more in the future as I blog about spirituality and the paranormal in my work:


A Novelist's Quest for Authenticity in Writing about the Paranormal

In 1987 I moved from Camden, Maine, to Salem, Massachusetts, and immediately I was mesmerized by the quantity and variety of businesses serving the paranormal community. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, I might have read my horoscope in the newspaper but, until I got to college in the late 1960s, I knew absolutely nothing about metaphysics. Moving to Salem was an eye-opener because there were psychic readers, Wicca shops, and other such things everywhere. I quickly discovered Pyramid Books and I spent a lot of time there both buying books and attending lectures and classes. I was fascinated.

 Read the rest: Explore Beyond the Usual™

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Re-post: The Legend of Mary Opelt's Woods

I have received a lot of inquiries about "Opelt's Wood" in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall. People want to know if it is a real place. It is definitely based on a real place so I am re-posting this blog post from this past August. Enjoy! 

Last week I was in Pennsylvania visiting my family and, while I was there, I had an opportunity to spend a little time revisiting a few of the places that served as the settings for some of the stories in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall. Probably the most significant was Mary Opelt's Woods which was my model for Oliver Eberstark's Opelt's Wood throughout the stories. I grew up across the street from Mary Opelt's Woods and it was our playground for most of my youth.

The original inhabitant was a woman named Mary Opelt. I have heard that she had a brother who drove a team of oxen but I really don't know anything about that. But she was a strange woman, I have been told, who had a lot of cats. My father told me that she used to walk down Cherry Alley behind his house every day when he was a kid. She would go up to the convent where the sisters would give her lunch. He said she dressed all in black and did not smell very good. I don't know about these things but when I was a kid I could show you exactly where her house once stood.

Some of the stone foundation was still visible and it was in the middle of a thicket of brambles. There were rosebushes and lilies of the valley, daffodils and Stars of Bethlehem all growing riotously in a jumble. There were big clumps of chives and other herbs. There were blackberry and raspberry bushes and lots of apple trees and one pear tree. Sometimes we would dig in the ground around the foundation and find treasures – broken teacups and old shoes and spoons. Once we found this oddly shapped little glass thing shaped like a chalice. We took it home and Mom said it was an eye cup, that people used them to wash their eyes.

So I took some pictures of some of the entrances to Mary Opelt's Wood as they are today. I did not go into the woods – somehow it seemed I did not belong there now. But these are the woods that were my childhood playground and which inspired Opelt's Wood, Oliver Eberstark's home.  

From the top of Vine Road.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Guest Blog by Jeff Provine

Parlez-Moi Blog is honored to support Carnival of Cryptids, a Kindle All-star anthology with all proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Jeff Provine's "Where is Captain Rook?" is one of seven stories in it:

Prewriting "Where is Captain Rook?"

When I first heard about Carnival of Cryptids, I knew I wanted to write a story about the ancient South American giant ground sloth, the mylodon. Giant prehistoric mammals have always fascinated me since seeing them in the back of one of my many dinosaur atlases as a kid with their huge saber teeth, various spikes, and general woolinesses. My interest in mylodons exploded after hearing a clip on History Channel mentioning mylodons may have existed long enough for conquistadores to fight one while exploring for lost cities of gold in the Amazon. I took the notion of modern heroes taking on ancient beasts and aimed to write a story about three Indiana Jones types trading quips and bagging a mylodon on a trek through the rain forest.

While delightfully pulpy, when I outlined my story to my then-fiancée-now-wife, she said it sounded good, but what was the point? "The point is…" I began, and paused to grab the first word that could come to mind to cover that I had no idea. "Imperialism."

I went back to the drawing board. As much big-chinned fun my original story may have been, it didn't have any staying power. It needed a major overhaul to have anything in it with staying power. Since I'd picked "imperialism" in my panic to answer an English-major's question, I decided to go with it and make the story about something instead of just an overly straightforward hunter-chases-his-prey.

Rather than the Great White Hunters as the heroes, I switched the perspective to their guide, a local riverboat captain. João Paulo Nativo needed to be interesting in and of himself, so I made him the embodiment of Brazil's diversity. On the one hand, he is moderately wealthy with his own boat; on the other, he was practically enslaved to those he guides into the rain forest. He is a caboclo, someone of mixed native and Spanish heritage. The setting could stay as the 1930s, which worked all the better since the Rubber Boom in Brazil was long over, and the jungle had begun to retake much of what the imperialists had tried to carve out of it. Paulo would be the voice showing the blurred dichotomy of civilization and the wild.

By the time the captain was rewritten, the story didn't need the three leather-jacketed protagonists, and they were merged into a single Great White Hunter named Captain Rook ("rook", of course, being a term for "thief"). He was an experienced adventurer, but there is always that feeling of lost when exploring over a new horizon, whether it be the Amazon or a new grocery store. I decided to kill him. It gave a great example of the hubris in so much of imperialism. Now the story became a frame story of Paulo recalling this final adventure of Captain Rook.

My original story was a fisticuffs-laden tale with lots of one-liners, but after its many rewrites, the final story proved far more interesting. Interesting is what stories are all about: new ways to turn old ideas on their heads.

Instead of just a story, give it layers of complexity through unlikely heroes, whether they be riverboat captains or children abandoned in the woods stumbling upon a house made of candy. Make it about something. Light reading is great and a wonderful thing, but there is no law saying that light reading can't have depth, too, if the reader wants it. I didn't expect to write a story dripping with discourse on the dangers of imperialism and attempting to exploit the unknown for profit, but it certainly can be analyzed that way. And, if the reader prefers not to analyze, then there's no worries. It's a great adventure story anyway.

When writing, find the new twist. Do what hasn't been done before. Give the guide a try instead of the fedora-wearing heroic type. He may surprise you.

~ ~ ~

"Where is Captain Rook?" is one of seven stories in Carnivalof Cryptids, a Kindle All-star anthology with all proceeds going to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Jeff Provine is also author of YA ebook Dawn on the Infinity and the This Day in Alternate History blog, asking what if things in history had gone a little differently.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Photographer John Thomas Grant Featured in American Cemetery Magazine

Rockport's John Thomas Grant is a very talented photographer who specializes in cemeteries. His work is beautiful, heart-wrenching, and poignant. Recently his photography was featured in American Cemetery Magazine. This is from his blog: Grant's Cemetery

American Cemetery Magazine - John Thomas Grant

 I hope that you enjoy my feature interview in the recent January issue of American Cemetery Magazine, published by Kates-Boylston. Many thanks to Sharon Verbeten for the warmth and relaxed atmosphere. You made it very easy to open up. My thanks also to Thomas Parmalee, and everyone at KB for letting my work fly.
Now let us see if we can read it.

You can see more of his work on his photo web site. You can buy John's book, Final Thoughts: Eternal Beauty in Stone, on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

kboards Guest Blog: Story-telling as Tradition - thoughts from author ...

I am the guest blogger on Kindleboards Blog today:

kboards: Story-telling as Tradition - thoughts from author Kathleen Valentine ...: Today we're pleased to bring you this guest post from author Kathleen Valentine! Back when I was in college a classical Liberal Arts education was considered to be incomplete unless it included classes in subjects the student might never have chosen. The purpose was to expand horizons and introduce us to new ways of thinking. Because I was an Arts major I was required to schedule classes in music, theater, and literature, in addition to the art and design classes that were my particular interest. I learned a lot. One of the classes I scheduled was called “Oral Tradition” and it was one of those experiences that can change your life....

Monday, January 21, 2013

How To Build A Wind Turbine

Do not try this at home!!!

I admit watching this made me dizzy but it is also pretty incredible! The video below was shot by my friend Clare's sister Ellen and it shows all three of Gloucester's new turbines in operation. I think they are just amazing!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

#SampleSunday: Meet Miss Cecelia McGill

Cece McGill is the heroine of my newest novella, The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild. She's one of my favorite characters of all time:

II - Cece

Growing up with a doctor for a father and a mother who devoted her time to volunteering wherever she was needed, I had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to learn needlework. When I started college in Boston the word “hippie” was new to most people and it was only a few years after the famous Summer of Love. I majored in biology because my father had dreams of me following in his footsteps, but that was not to be.
Although Boston was little more than an hour commute from Pitts Crossing, I managed to convince my parents that, by sharing an apartment with three other girls, I would save commuting time and, thus, have more time to study. Maybe I would have wound up becoming a doctor if I had actually done that. However, what I did with those two hours, and quite a few more, was hang out in Cambridge or on Boston Common listening to music, talking, and smoking pot. I imagine the four decades worth of high school students I went on to teach would find that quite amusing—cranky old Miss Cecelia McGill, decked out in love beads and tie-dyed granny dresses, getting stoned out of her noodle on the swan boats in the Public Garden.
It was a time of experimentation for most of us: sexually (the less said about that, the better,) spiritually (my socially-committed, Unitarian parents endured my fits of Buddhism and Wicca,) and politically (perhaps you would enjoy hearing about my relationship with Abbie Hoffman, but that will have to wait for another day.)
Then a transformative thing happened—someone left a copy of the first Woodstock Craftsman's Manual in our apartment. The cover was bent in half from being used to roll joints but I picked it up, paged through it, and lost interest in everything else. Within days I had filled our little apartment with cords and wooden beads, and was making macramé plant hangers, bracelets, and shoulder bags. I even made a macramé hammock that I still have up in my attic somewhere. I moved from macramé to candle-making, then on to tie-dye, soap-making, and different kinds of needlework.
For awhile I was also in love—or as close to being in love as someone like me is capable of being. His name was John MacKenzie, but everyone called him Mac. He was a big, hearty, easy-going boy with a wild mop of curls that turned blond in the sunlight and a thick beard that was the color of the hay he had grown up bailing on his father's farm in New Hampshire. Mac was the first person in his family to go to college and he planned to be a veterinarian. We met in a series of science classes. In no time we were studying together, then hanging out together, then sleeping together.
It was Mac's idea for me to spend the summer in New Hampshire at a crafts commune near his father's farm. So, when spring term ended, I went home with him. That was the happiest summer of my life. I spent my days with my fellow craftsmen producing endless amounts of hippie artwork that we tried to sell at craft fairs and at roadside stands. I spent my nights with Mac. But, as I've said, the less said about that, the better.
In recent years I have noticed that there is a nostalgia among young people for that era. They buy tie-dyed clothes on eBay and Etsy, listen to the Grateful Dead and the Rolling Stones, and, when they find out I was an enthusiastic participant in those years, they ask endless questions. Of course, when I was teaching I had to at least pretend to be a respectable member of my community but, now that I am retired, I don't mind spinning a few yarns. They are largely borrowed from Richard Brautigan and Tom Wolfe novels because, quite frankly, there's not a lot I remember—that seems to be a common affliction among my contemporaries.

Read the rest of the story: The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild on Kindle or Nook.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Guest Post: Pat O'Brien's "Oh, Shit!"

I always talk about growing up around great story-tellers in my hometown of St. Marys, Pennsylvania. From time to time my friend, Ray Beimel, has written stories about things he experienced for me to post here. This post is from Pat O'Brien, whose father, Jack, was a popular and well-loved writer for the local paper. Pat lives in Idaho now but was a policeman for much of his career, first in California, then in Alaska. He also served as my "technical consultant" for Henry Werner's police procedures in The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall.  I think you will enjoy his story-telling skills!

Oh Shit!”

Pat O’Brien

Shit! Shit! Shit!” Under the circumstances it was the best I could do. 

We’d all graduated from the San Diego Police Academy and had gotten our first assignments for the Field Training Program. We would be assigned to three different parts of the city on all three shifts for three months each rotation. We would be trained and evaluated daily by our FTO (Field Training Officer) who’s observations and evaluations would decide if we would be able to become a regular officer. The Daily Evaluation form was two-sided. On the front was a list of about 50 items that were scored 1-5 or not observed. On the back side was a section for overall performance, the thing we did best during the shift, the thing we did worst during the shift and room for additional comments. 

The stress was incredible. We had to stand for inspection every day, our uniforms, report case, weapons and assorted paperwork all had to be in perfect order. We were expected to be knowledgeable in the city, state, criminal, civil and traffic laws. We were expected to demonstrate textbook officer safety, be a part-time therapist, marriage counselor, preacher and tough guy. Sybil had it easy. We were expected to be creative, innovative, display solid interrogation techniques, good rapport with the public and give the Mayor a ticket if at all possible. We were given daily “hot sheets” with photos and summaries of crimes in our area the past 24 hours. We were expected to keep abreast of this material and be able to talk about it. We had to inspect the car to make sure no weapons or contraband were left behind from the previous shift. 

Learning the streets, housing projects, major intersections, convenience stores, fire stations, and hospitals within our patrol areas was only the start. My hardest part was learning the streets. Much of my time in the right hand seat was spent with my nose buried in the Thompson Brothers City Map book. As we would cruise around my FTO would pull to the curb and say, “Back at the 7-11 there were three teenagers standing out front. What did they look like?” I would have preferred him to just shoot me in the knee. Another FTO, later on, would holler real loud, scream down some streets, pull into an alley at high speed, hit another alley and slam on the breaks. “Okay, you’ve just been shot at. Where are you?” Again, the other knee was up for grabs. Just as we got to know our area we would get sent to an entirely different part of the city on a different shift, to start all over again. It was maddening. 

My first FTO was Michael Dennis, a seven-year veteran. We were working the eastern part of the city on the day shift. It was not an especially busy area. We had a few gangs and dope houses but the major crimes were burglaries and car thefts. About three months prior, two officers had been ambushed on Paradise Valley Road, right in the middle of our area, and were injured, but not severely. Their patrol car had 47 bullet holes in it. Stark reminder that it can hit the fan at any time. Mike was very good and told me the first three days he just wanted me using the map book to learn the streets and landmarks. He chatted on all shift about the locals, traffic codes, “what would you do” scenarios and pointed out things I needed to observe. Driving around as a civilian and driving around as a police officer are totally different things. 

You have to be aware of your compass directions, the street you are on, the hundred blocks and what streets are coming up next. You also had to monitor the radio and keep in mind where all the other units in your squad are and what they are doing as well as looking around at what is going on with the bad guys, and observe traffic for violations. We also had to make sure our presence was known to possible criminal types, so we were always getting out to find out what a group of guys were up to, who really didn’t want to talk to you or cooperate with you. It was a balancing act between being the Alpha male and not disrespecting them, which could end up in an ambush, all on their terms.

Thursday was the first day Michael was going to let me drive the police car. He would handle the radio traffic the first half and I would take it the second half. I was really excited and couldn’t wait to get to work. Before I took over we went to a large warehouse parking lot to practice panic stops. No automatic breaking then, it was all manual. We practiced staying right on the edge of adhesion and avoiding locking up the tires and hydroplaning. That gave us maximum traction, and unspokenly, didn’t leave skid marks that would allow the traffic units to know how fast you were going if you got into a wreck. We practiced panic stops for about 45 minutes. I was ready.

It really wasn’t what you’d call a good day. I hit a kid on a bike. 

Just hang on now, as bad as it seems I do have a little wiggle room here, and naturally I’m going to put as much blame on him as possible. I had been behind the wheel about 20 minutes and had probably gone through two sticks of Old Spice when suddenly we got a radio dispatch to a multiple-car accident, injuries unknown. We were dispatched code three, lights and siren. Mike fed me directions as I drove. It was a three-lane road and I had moved into the middle lane when I saw two kids on bicycles on the right side of the road about a quarter mile away. They turned around and looked at us as we were approaching. I reduced my speed as we got closer to them, and when we were about 50 yards away one of the kids decided to cross to the other side of the highway. He pulled into the closest lane and then into the middle. I dynamited the breaks, turned hard to the left to avoid him, but he kept on the same trajectory as me. 

I left enough rubber on the road to vulcanize a Zodiac. As we got closer and closer I could only swear. I hit his rear tire. He went airborne over the handlebars and hit the pavement running at Mach 1. He never fell to the ground, and thank God, didn’t get a scratch on him. His bike however had placed itself under the right front tire of San Diego City property. We got out and made sure the kid was okay, called for Paramedics to be sure and had dispatch send another unit to the accident as well asking for a Traffic Unit to come investigate ours. 

I wish I could tell you what my FTO said. Thank God it was my work Friday. There was no damage to the patrol car, so after the traffic unit finished with all the photos, tape measurements, skid mark measurement, etc. we headed back to the station. I wish I could tell you what my FTO said. I think I heard “Burger King” in there somewhere. Between, I’ll call it talking, to me, reminding me of the panic stop exercises we’d just done and some uncalled for remarks about being able to walk upright and chew gum, it was a long trip back to the station. 

The next day the shift Lieutenant knocked on my apartment door to hand deliver my letter of reprimand and administer a stern lecture about my future as a police officer. After he left I was totally humiliated and crestfallen, so I did the only thing an honorable man could do. I went to the 7-11, picked up three 12 packs of Coors, a box of Swisher Sweets, went back to my apartment and had some of my buddies over for a poker game.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mid-January Musings

Once the holidays are over and we settle in for winter, I always find myself in an odd frame of mind. Part of me loves the feeling of being snuggled in to spend as much time as I like reading, writing, knitting, sewing, and just day-dreaming. Part of me gets annoyed that I am not accomplishing more.
Photo by Fr. Matthew Green

Thanks to the success of my books over the past year and a half, I've had the luxury of not having to work nearly as much as I used to. Well, let me re-phrase that, I don't have to work at my design business as much as I used to. I still do some jobs but the pressure to keep hustling up new work isn't there. Now I use that time to write and to promote. I probably spend more hours at my desk than ever – not good for the backside, that's for sure. But what I spend my time doing has changed.
Photo by Renata Greene

Reviews are coming in for The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall collection and I'm excited about that – they have all been very, very good so far. The Monday Night Needlework & Murder Guild is now available for Kindle and Nook and has been selling pretty well so far. I am hard at work on The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge, the sequel to The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic. And I've started rough drafting a possible sequel to the Secrets of Marienstadt stories which I am tentatively calling The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk. It takes its name from a scene in which Oliver and Gretchen are sorting through an old trunk that belonged to Gretchen's Great-great-great grandfather Bartholomew Fritz which Oliver immediately recognizes as a Bucktail cap worn by the famous Civil War era Bucktail Regiments of Sharpshooters. The ideas are flowing faster than I can keep up with them.
Photo by Hammond Castle Museum

I have been making lots and lots of vegetable soups. Last night a I made a creamy soup with mushrooms, onions, and turnip bulbs and greens. It was delicious and there is plenty left for lunch. So far we have not had a lot of snow and what we have had is pretty. The pictures in this post were taken by different local photographers.

So we are well into winter and have not been terribly inconvenienced so far. The writing goes well, books are selling, and there is music and books and lots to do. I wish all of you productivity and contentment.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Guest Post by Ray: 21 Days with the Marines

Our good buddy Ray Beimel in Pennsylvania sends this:

21 Days with the Marines

In the summer of 1970 I was a Midshipman 2nd Class in the Penn State Navy ROTC unit. Our summer training was in two parts. First we went to Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base for three weeks of training in amphibious warfare conducted by the Marines. Then we went to Corpus Christi Naval Air Station for three weeks of aviation training. That part was dealt with in a previous story. This one is about my time with the Marines.
I took the 12 hour bus ride to Norfolk and somehow ended up at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. I have no memory of getting to the base from the bus station. I imagine there were shuttle buses. After checking in, I was assigned to Alpha Company. We were arranged in alphabetical order so this company was guys with last names starting with A, B, and C. We were housed in barracks that had been built in World War 2, reputedly to house Italian prisoners of war. We had bunk beds and a wall locker. We started off looking like sailors, wearing dungarees and chambray shirts with the Dixie cup hat adorned with the blue stripe that marked us as officer candidates. It was commonly called the VD stripe since real sailors would tell the hookers in seaport cities that the guys with the blue striped hats had venereal diseases.
The Marines in charge of Alpha Company were Major White and Gunnery Sergeant Morningstar. Gunny said he was a “Semihole” Indian but the truth of the matter was that his family name was Morganstern, German for Morningstar. Morningstar was a good man who knew how to take care of his men and get the job done. Major White was not.
I no longer remember the exact order of events so this will be episodic. Shortly after everyone arrived, jobs were assigned. I was the Mustering Petty Officer which meant I took roll call in the morning. I had a little notebook that I wrote all the names in and then carried it with me all the time. It was an easy gig that involved five minutes of work in the morning. At this remove I can’t recall who the Company Commander was or any of the other billets.
The first thing done was to march us to the supply building where we were issued three sets of battle dress utilities or BDU’s. Marines never refer to them as fatigues. The saying was something to the effect of “the Army wears fatigues because they get tired. Marines don’t.” Of course they had been worn by many people over the years. I don’t know how we got the right sizes but mine did fit for the most part. I was issued a cap that was frayed. Someone in authority gave me trouble about that to which I replied “issued to me, sir!” End of trouble. We also were issued an ammunition belt, shoulder straps, backpack, canteen, steel helmet, and M1 rifle. For the rest of our time there, we were dressed like Marines.
The M1’s were working models and we had to learn how to field strip and clean them. Alpha Company was lucky in that among our members was Ali Arab of the Iranian Navy. He had been a soldier in the Iranian Army and was familiar with the M1. He taught us what to do ahead of the formal instructors who were baffled when they discovered that “ignorant” midshipmen already knew what to do. I think they regretted losing an opportunity to yell at us. Yelling at the midshipmen seemed to be the reigning hobby for most of the Marines we encountered. I hasten to add that Gunny Morningstar was not among those. He was one of the very few who was interested in teaching us something useful.
The mess hall was not too far away but it was hardly worth the trip. The food was not good. It was adequate in quantity but not all that appealing. The tables were of a very old style with the hard circular seats permanently attached. Still, being young men, we ate everything they served us even as we complained. The hot food was lukewarm, the cold food was lukewarm. If it was usually crispy, there it was soggy. If it was usually soft and chewy, there it was crispy. I cannot remember one good thing about the food except that it was there at every meal time.
Major White was a runner and thus we became runners as well. Every morning we got up and ran. Most of the other companies ran three miles. We ran five. We ran in combat boots and often enough ran on sand. Inevitably many of us ended up with painful shin splints. There was a day or two when White was away and our morning run was three miles. That felt good by comparison.
Every day we went to some kind of training exercise that had to do with amphibious warfare. A few wonderful days were in air conditioned classrooms watching movies and listening to lectures. But mostly it was outdoor stuff.
There are a lot of ways to invade the land from the sea. We did all of them. One day we were told to carry swimming trunks with us. We marched down to the boat basin where we were issued kapok life jackets, the big ones that were designed to keep you afloat on your back with your head out of the water. The midshipmen were loaded into LCVPs, Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel. These were the same kind of landing craft that put the GIs ashore in Saving Private Ryan. They hauled us out into Chesapeake Bay perhaps a half mile, stopped the boat, and told us to jump in and swim to shore. This would have been easy except that they said “no backstrokes.” The life jacket wanted you to be on your back so it was hard to swim. I managed a usable side stroke and got to shore without too much trouble.
Another day we turned out in swim trunks again. This time we learned to invade by rubber boat. Seven men were in each boat. There was a proper way to launch a boat. Three men were on each side. The first two were “Ones,” the middle two were “Twos” and the farthest aft two were “Threes.” The odd man was the coxswain. We held onto the side ropes while carrying our paddles in our free hand. Running into the water, as soon as the boat was floating, Ones jumped in and yelled “Ones in.” Then “Twos in” and “Threes in.” Finally “Cox in” at which point we snickered like Beavis and Butthead and said “he said cox.”
We paddled out into the bay so far and then turned around and paddled ashore, reversing the procedure and laughing again when “Cox out” was heard. I think we did that evolution a number of times until the instructors were satisfied. In this case, we were taught by petty officers from the Navy’s Underwater Demolition teams. This was fun. Sailors generally treated us much better than Marines did.
Another fun day was watching the demolition people showing off their explosives. They blew stuff up with big charges and little ones. They showed us that they could blow one leg off a chair without disturbing the others. The only bad thing about that was we didn’t get to actually blow anything up by ourselves. We decided that C4 plastic explosive was just about the neatest thing ever invented and we really wished we could have some to play with. And we would not have minded getting to play with primacord. But the explosives guys had enough sense to not allow us anywhere near that stuff.
One of the harder days was spent down on the beach doing what was called small squad tactics. Some gruff voiced Marine told us the Corps had only two tactics, the frontal assault, and the single envelopment. We got the impression that this Marine thought single envelopment was for pussies. Somehow I ended up being the squad leader. You could tell that I was the squad leader because I had a piece of masking tape on the back of my helmet. First we learned how to move up on an objective by a few of us moving and then dropping down to provide covering fire while others moved up. They taught us to dive forward on the sand, planting the butt of our rifle, breaking our fall with that and then rolling over and assuming the prone firing position. We were not issued blank ammunition so we were told to yell Bang! Bang! to simulate firing. In each squad one member was the grenadier armed with a single shot M79 grenade launcher. While the rest of us were going bang bang, our grenadier was imitating the sound of the launcher by yelling something like “blook!” A Marine came up and started yelling at him and asking what the hell he was doing. Our grenadier said he was launching 40mm high explosive grenades. The Marine said “are you shooting them out your ass?” But really, blook was a closer imitation of the sound of a real grenade launcher.
So we ran across the beach yelling bang bang and diving into the sand while Marines in a machine gun nest fired blanks at us. I suspect the whole exercise had a lot more to do with entertaining the Marines than it did with teaching us anything. Of course, the correct course of action was neither the frontal assault nor the single envelopment. The right thing to do is what wise Marines have always done when close to the ocean. Get on the radio and give the coordinates to the nearest cruiser or destroyer’s fire control officer. Wait a couple of minutes for destruction to rain down and then continue the advance. During a break some midshipman asked the Marines why that wasn’t done. He got yelled at. That was me.
Our next training event would be at Fort AP Hill. But before we could go there, we had to impregnate one set of BDU’s with a tick repellent solution. We were issued a can of concentrate, a galvanized garbage can, and a mop wringer. We mixed the solution in the trash can, immersed our utilities, squeezed them with the wringer and hung them up to dry. When dry, they were stiff and smelled bad. We were ordered to put them on, and bring nothing else but our belts, canteens, and ponchos. We were piled into old Norfolk city buses and taken to the fort for an abbreviated version of the Navy’s SERE training. SERE stood for Search Evasion Rescue Escape. We had been briefed about this by upperclassmen while still at Penn State so I was a little bit better prepared than most. I had some candy bars and a penlight stashed in my BDU pockets. I knew we wouldn’t get much sleep so once on the bus, I stretched out on the floor using my poncho as a pillow, and slept the whole way.
Once there we were formed into ten person elements. We had a piece of colored cloth pinned to our uniforms. I was in the Brown element. We were given a military compass and a topographic map. It was getting near dusk. We had to hike through a forest to a point on the map where the safe zone was. The instructors wore gray work clothes with red stars on their caps and spoke in faux eastern European accents. They were not allowed to hit us so ten pushups was the equivalent of getting smacked by a rifle butt. We were turned loose and headed for the safe zone. Being an old Troop 99 Boy Scout, the navigation was easy. But along the way, we got stopped by the bad guys. They gave us a hard time, made us take our boots off and throw them away, gave us several rifle butts, and then turned us loose again. Luckily some guy in our element had a penlight and we found our boots right away. We got close to the safe point but we heard noises so we went to ground, heads down so we couldn’t be seen. Another element walked right over us and got captured. We lay quiet while they got abused. When the coast was clear we hiked into the safe zone. It was marked by a gray Navy ambulance. The instructors told us what our next objective was. I took the map over to the ambulance and by the illumination of the tail light, I came up with a plan to avoid getting captured again.
I explained my idea to the other guys and they all were for it. Once we were sent on our way, we walked directly away from the objective and disappeared. When the ambulance and instructors left the area, we got on a road that led to a gate that was locked. We scrambled over the fence and found ourselves on the side of US Route 305. It was full dark now and traffic was light. We got into the median strip and jogged. The bad guys were driving old Jeeps with the 75 horsepower four bangers that made a very distinctive noise. We ignored the rest of the traffic but when we heard that sound, we went to ground. Once we were as close as we could get to the safe spot, we climbed over the fence and back onto the fort proper. We found a big laurel thicket and crawled under. We slept for three hours and then headed for the safe spot. So what did we get for successfully escaping and evading? We were taken to the prisoner of war camp like everyone else. We did get some slack time because one of the elements got lost in the swamp. We laughed because they were led by a big Marine Option mid from Villanova. They finally were found and then the harassment began.
We were interrogated. Well, no, the big doofus from Villanova was interrogated. He got all macho and pissed off the instructors and did a couple of hundred pushups. Because he got his element lost and ate up so much time, the rest of us didn’t have to put up with much in the camp. The prisoner stockade was littered with C ration cans and empty M1 clips. The wise midshipmen picked up as many clips as they could and put them in their pockets, for later. After they got tired of giving the Villanova doofus a hard time, they issued us a C ration but no way to warm it up. I don’t remember it being all that tasty. Then we got a bus ride back. Those of us in the Brown Element had some bragging rights because we avoided getting caught by the bad guys again. Some of the tight-assed mids thought we had cheated but I put it this way. “If you can beat the instructors you can beat the enemy.” That notion would be coming up again.
The training schedule was 6 days so we had Sundays off. We could also go off base at night. Most nights we were too tired to do anything but walk down to the Burger Chef and eat. Virginia Beach was just down the road and on weekends we would catch a bus right by the gate. We could get a free lunch at the USO, spend a day at the beach, and get back to base having spent little money but having a good time. There was a really important rule though. You got in big trouble if you got sunburned at the beach. The concept of SPF hadn’t been invented yet. Either that or we didn’t know where such could be bought. So we wore t shirts most of the time. We would go body surfing or wander up and down the beach looking at women. And on Monday it was back into training again.
We went back to the boat basin where we were taught to drive LCVP landing craft. For most of us it was pleasant to be around sailors again. You could easily tell the midshipmen who were taking the Marine Option. They were seasick. This was one of the best days. Everyone got a turn at the wheel as we tootled around Chesapeake Bay. No Marines yelling at us, just patient sailors showing us how to steer an unwieldy watercraft.
Another day we went to the obstacle course. There were two at Little Creek. We ran the easier one. The other was for BUDS trainees, that is, Basic Underwater Demolition/Seals. This was and is the hardest training in the Navy. SEALS weren’t yet the darlings of the Navy like they are now but already had a reputation for being tougher than any other unit. We walked through the course once and then we had to do it. It was fun in a slightly post adolescent macho male way. There were walls to climb over, logs to walk on, ropes to swing on, and more. I don’t remember his name but the Marine who walked us through was colorful and funny. He often spoke of what was going to happen in “our young lives.” I remember one very well. “Sometimes in your young life you are going to encounter an obstacle and overcome it and then you will find another obstacle right behind that one.” This was how he explained the double wall. For months afterward, we would start a statement with “sometimes in your young life.” He also told us to keep a low profile when going over a wall lest we get shot in the ass. Keeping a low profile became another catchphrase.
We went to the rifle range to learn to shoot the M16. First was a classroom session with the only senior Marine officer who never served in Vietnam. He was a goofy beggar who had us giving “tiger growls” whenever he felt the need to hear one. He and the other Marine instructors somehow forgot that we were smart and motivated and had already spent some time in the fleet. They treated us very condescendingly. Out on the range, most of us shot well. We used the 20 round magazine in older models, the ones prone to jamming. It’s always fun to shoot, especially when someone else is paying for the ammunition. Most of us had a good time except for that tiger growl business.
Another day we were issued gas masks and taught how to use them. Then we put them on and went into a room that was filled with CN tear gas. This is the milder stuff. CS gas is the bad stuff. Having been briefed on what was going to happen next, I mentally took a range and bearing to the door. The instructor told us to take off our masks. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, pulled off the mask, and started walking toward the door. I got outside with just a little discomfort. The guys who breathed in the gas with their eyes open were in much worse shape. Even though it was the milder CN gas, more than a few ended up barfing. At Penn State the juniors gave us sophomores a complete briefing about what we would experience at Little Creek and it was extremely useful. Apparently they didn’t do that at the other schools.
Since this was amphibious warfare training, we had to learn how to invade via helicopter. Once again we strapped on all our gear and went into the field. We were taught how to enter a CH-46 Sea Knight, what to do during the flight, and how to exit into a hot landing zone. After a couple of rehearsals, we loaded into the chopper and were flown out to a waiting gator freighter, as Navy amphibious transports are called. We exited and walked around topside, waited a bit, and entered the helicopter again. We were flown back to land. As soon as the ramp dropped we charged out into a circular formation, dropped and prepared to fire. The big Marine Op from Villanova provided another bit of comedy to the affair. When his platoon landed on the amphib, they charged out and set up a perimeter on the flight deck of the ship. I did not witness this but imagination will fill in the details of how much he was dressed down for that foolishness. He managed to piss off the Marines and got yelled at by them. And then he got yelled at by the Navy flight operations people on the ship.
We were told to pack up our gear and fall out to board buses again. This time we were going on a riverine warfare tactical exercise. Again on the city buses but this time a shorter ride to a facility on the Chowon River in southeastern-most Virginia. This was hard by the Dismal Swamp. The site was a lightly forested sandy area right on the sluggishly slow moving river. Our trainers were members of the 1st Battalion of the 6th Marine Regiment. They were mostly Vietnam veterans and they looked upon us as a group sent there for their entertainment. The opposing forces were BUDS trainees, about the only guys harder than the Marines. We were taught how to patrol, how to respond to an ambush, and other useful tactical things.
We were issued all the blank ammunition we wanted. Those of us who had saved those old M1 clips to the jeers of others now showed that we actually knew something. If you had no clips, you had to load your rounds one at a time. This was not easy in the dark. If you had clips, you loaded 8 rounds at once. You still had to work the action as the blanks didn’t have enough power to operate the semi-automatic loading feature. But you could make a lot more noise than the other guys. And you didn’t have to resort to bang bang like the guys who didn’t take a lot of blanks. I had dozens of rounds in my pockets and lots of clips in my ammo belt. I could load them in the dark while walking. So when it hit the fan, I was ready to do some shooting.
After some instruction, we were told to dig two man fighting holes. I don’t know how these things happen to me but there was a real shovel lying around that I picked up right away. The rest of the mids had to dig using their helmets. My hole buddy was a guy we called Benny. Between the two of us, we shortly had a deep hole. The digging was easy because we figured out which was disturbed sandy earth and which wasn’t. We dug our hole where others had dug before. In the time allotted we got our hole deeper than anyone else and I had read enough about fortifications to know to put in a fire step. We could stand in our hole and our heads didn’t stick out. When it came time to shoot, we stood on the fire step and didn’t expose much of our bodies.
Once we were dug in, we had to go on a patrol at dusk. My M1 was loaded with 8 rounds, the safety was off. I didn’t know what else was going to happen but I knew I was going to do some shooting. We started down a trail through the piney scrub. Benny was on point, I was right behind him. Looking ahead, I saw a trip wire. I yelled at Benny so he wouldn’t step on it. One of the instructors came up and told him to step on it. The game was rigged. The trip wire set up a flare and the BUDS trainees opened up on us. We did as instructed, turned toward the ambush, took three steps, and opened fire. Those poor bastards with no blanks had to go bang bang. The ones with blanks but no clips could fire maybe one round every 8 seconds. The guys with clips (mostly country boys familiar with firearms) were firing as fast as a bolt action Springfield but with 8 shots in the clip. We got barked at a lot and at this point I don’t know just what they were trying to teach us. But it was fun shooting. After that it was full dark and we went into our fighting holes.
After dark, the BUDS trainees tried to infiltrate our position. They had M16s with blank firing adapters so they had more firepower than us. And they had artillery simulators. These were about the size of a 16 ounce beer can. They whistled and then exploded making noise but not making any shrapnel. You weren’t supposed to actually hit people with one. They would approach, throw some simulators, do some shooting while we fired back. Then they would retreat. Well, most of them retreated. One of them went to ground only about 10 feet from our hole. Benny and I were feeling our oats and when we spotted him, we started throwing pebbles at him. I suppose we hit him half a dozen times. He finally crawled back into the night. When the next attack started, he returned and threw a simulator right into our hole. Once they started whistling, it took about 5 seconds before the explosion. So Benny and I had plenty of time to bail out of the hole and hit the deck. Once it blew we jumped back in and started returning fire. This went on through the night. We were supposed to be alternating watching and sleeping but Benny had a bad cough from a cold or flu or pleurisy or something so I told him I would do most of the watching.
In the morning they fed us something. It might have been C rations but I really don’t remember. We were loaded onto an LCVP and went up river. We charged ashore when the ramp went down and came under fire from a machine gun nest. Leaving part of the squad to put down fire to keep the BUDS distracted, I led a fire team in a single envelopment and got close enough to the nest unnoticed that we could have shot them with squirt guns. Just as we were about to take them out, we were called back. This really pissed me off. Applying what we were taught, we were on the verge of success in taking out the nest, but were not allowed to do so. From here it turned into a clusterflop. A simulator exploded in the air and temporarily blinded a mid. The Marine officer lost control and went into a full bore linear panic, or so it seemed to me. We were ordered to retreat back to the boats. It was not an orderly withdrawal and two of the mids were captured by the BUDS. No attempt was made to rescue them. As we chugged back down the river in the slow landing craft the BUDS ran circles around us in the MSSC, a medium SEAL support craft. It was powered by 2 427 cubic inch hemi engines and was faster than anything Steve McQueen owned, if you know what I mean. The two captured mids were tied to the mast, stripped to the waist.
When we got to the base, the two captives were released but the Marines made them dig a foxhole for the full size fire truck that was there in case of brush fire. The rest of us had free time. They told us we could go swimming but the sight of swimming snakes near the landing craft suggested that would be a bad thing. So we sat around and waited for the bus. It was an unsatisfactory experience. There was a debriefing by the young officer who lost it earlier. When we suggested that he did badly, he got emotional, barked at us, and made excuses. We lost a lot of respect for Marines from that operation. Later, we got word that the group that was supposed to be training us were all busted and punished for things they did to other groups.
There was one final evolution in our training there. We were taken by LCVP to the USS Newport, LST-1179, somewhere out at sea off the Virginia Capes. We boarded by climbing up the cargo nets. We were berthed in the Marine compartment in racks stacked 4 high. Sailors were only stacked 3 high. Then we went to the mess decks. Dinner of course was greasy pork chops, gravy, and mashed potatoes. This was the traditional meal guaranteed to make Marines seasick. But we weren’t Marines. We were squids in green suits so we were fine. Later that night, the Newport unrepped from the USS Antares. Unrep is Navy talk for underway replenishment. No Navy does this better than the US Navy. Two ships sailing parallel only a few yards apart, passing cargo from the stores ship to the warship. The midshipmen were pressed into service handling the stores as they came aboard. The boxes and crates were slid down ramps to three decks below. At each deck, each had to be picked up and carried to the next ramp. There were boxes of lettuce, frozen beef, canned vegetables, all kinds of foodstuffs. After the unrep was over, we racked for the night. In the morning we were going to invade Virginia.
Before we went to the ship, we were issued one M60 machine gun per platoon. This had a blank firing adapter. Midshipman Caldwell was our machine gunner. He took his role seriously, asking to be called Machine Gun Caldwell. He begged, borrowed, or stole as many belts of ammo as he could find. He wore a double bandolier over each shoulder. He wore a belt made of bullets, and he even had a hat band made of 7.62mm rounds. The rest of us were issued blanks like before and the prudent ones among us had full clips.
After breakfast, we assembled on the helicopter deck and waited. Tony Cassano and I played Gin while the other guys slept or talked. Finally we were taken down to the well deck and loaded into amphibious tractors, commonly called amtracs. These were the old ones with the ramp in front. Someone later figured out that the door in front made it too easy for the enemy to know where the Marines were coming from. Thus the new amtracs have the door in the rear, or stern as we would say. There were benches against the outer bulkhead and we sat there wearing the big kapok life vests, our rifles between our knees.
The way these things were launched is that the diesel engine was fired up and the driver steered the huge boxlike vehicle to a ramp lowered from the stern of the ship until the amtrac fell off the ramp into the ocean. The gaskets in the roof hatches leak a bit and salt water came in. I had the good luck to be in the same amtrac as the aforementioned Major White. We had hardly gone 50 yards before he was puking in his helmet. The rest of us chuckled inwardly because we weren’t ashore yet. Of course, there were nudges and pointing as he ralphed, yakked, upchucked, and blew chunks. Normally we would be sympathetic to someone being seasick because some of us had experienced it. But it was Major White after all and this was all the revenge we were going to get for those long morning runs in the sand.
There was a little bit of a lurch when we hit the beach and the amtrac started moving faster. They are much more agile on land than in the water. All we had to do was run out when the ramp went down, fire off our ammo, get on the bus, turn in our gear, dress like sailors again, and we would be off to Corpus Christi. But the Marine driving our Amtrac had to get one last shot at the mids. He dropped the ramp right in front of a large briar patch. We had to run through the tangled branches before we could start shooting. Machine Gun Caldwell had us link all his ammo belts together and he held the trigger down and fired all the rounds without stopping. I am glad I would not be the one cleaning that weapon later.
And that’s my 21 days as a Marine. By and large, we enjoyed the business. It was disappointing that so many Marines and BUDS chose to give us a hard time instead of treating us as eager students and future leaders. Later, after all the military Mickey Mouse at Corpus, we looked back on Little Creek with something like fondness. I enjoyed it most when we were able to beat the system, to fool the instructors, to show initiative and good problem solving skills.  

Monday, January 14, 2013

Welcome To The Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild

Sometimes things happen in a person's life that make it downright impossible to sit back and do nothing. I'm not that far from seventy now and have been retired from teaching Biology at Pitts Crossing High School for a few years. I am unmarried, which has always been just fine with me, and am an accomplished needleworker. I own a lovely seventeenth-century house which I am proud of, have many friends, am an excellent cook, and consider myself an asset to my community. I think most people would agree with that. I'm a proud and happy member of Miss Serena Pitts' Monday Night Needlework and Murder Guild. I am also a murderer.
Truthfully, I thought being a murderer would be somewhat more thrilling than it has proven to be. Planning and executing the event was interesting enough but, once everything was tidied up, it was just a matter of sitting around and waiting to see what happened next. Nothing much has. Of course, there is a part of me that longs to say, “You know Larry Anderson didn't really move to California to write screenplays for television. He's buried under my cellar floor.” But that really wouldn't be prudent, would it?

Thus begins my newest novella, The Monday Night Needlework and MurderGuild. It is a novella of 30,000 words and is my very first foray into writing a “whydunnit.” It is a genre that I happen to like but had never attempted before. My friend Susan Oleksiw first told me about whydunnits, a variation on the popular whodunnit, in which we know right from the beginning who committed the crime, we just don't know how or why.

One of the earliest, and certainly the most distinguished whydunnit is Dostoyevsky's Crime & Punishment. The objective in a whydunnit is to build a case that the crime is justified and explore the personal and psychological reasoning of the perpetrator. In the case of my new story, I tried to enhance it with some dark humor and some small town charm.

Basically, the story is this: a group of older women are all members of a needlework and book group founded by Miss Serena Pitts in the town of Pitts Crossing, Massachusetts. Every Monday evening the ladies come with their needlework and cookies to spend the evening working together, exchanging gossip, discussing murder mysteries and generally having a lovely time. One of the most enthusiastic members of the group is Miss Cecelia McGill, a retired high school teacher. Cece, as she is known to her friends, is a spinster who loves needlework and loves her friends. So, when an unscrupulous and heartless seducer begins romancing members of the group, wooing them with sweet words then taking them for as much money as he can, Cece is quite upset. When it looks like there's no way to stop him, Cece takes matters into her own hands.

I love these ladies and I love this story form. It is now available for both Kindle and Nook and I look forward to hearing people's reactions.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

#SampleSunday: Treat Yourself to the Best

In my 2006 collection of love stories, My Last Romance & other passions (FREE today for Kindle) there is a story called "Treat Yourself to the Best." In it a young woman named Fifi, who grew up in a large, loud rural family, has moved to the city and married. She's always been a little embarrassed by her boisterous family but her city-born husband loves them, which baffles her. In one scene they return to her home to help in a sausage-making party. When I wrote the scene I described her father's workshop envisioning my father's. I had not read this story in years, probably since before my father died. Last night I re-read it and had a total meltdown reading the description. For me it is a sweet memory. I hope you will enjoy the read, too.

from "Treat Yourself To The Best" in My Last Romance & other passions:

"Let’s go, guys," my father says swallowing the last of his coffee. "If that’s Thad we better get him before he comes in the house or it will be an hour till we can get him moving." He looks at me and gives me the wide, beaming smile that is mine alone. "Coming, sweetie?"

For years I felt guilty about the obvious fondness my father saved for me. I knew fathers were like that with daughters but I felt bad for Andie until I realized she was oblivious to it. It isn’t easy being sensitive in this family.

"We’re going out tonight with Simon and RuthAnn," I tell Tim as we tramp across the snow-packed driveway.

"Sounds like..." His words are cut off by the rumble of a monster red truck that screeches to a halt in front of us.

"Fifi!" Thad bellows as he jumps down from the cab. He grabs me round the waist and scoops me up over his shoulder laughing.

"Put me down!" I scream and I wonder how many times we have been through this, as Thad tips me halfway down his back threatening to drop me on my head. But it is impossible to be mad at Thad. He is nearly as tall as Bart but bulkier with a beer belly that seems to be growing as he moves farther into his forties. But unlike Bart and Simon’s sober dark seriousness Thad is as blond and radiant as a choir of naughty angels.

"Tim," he says holding out his hand to my husband with me still squealing and kicking, "good to see you. How come this one isn’t knocked up yet?"

"It’s none of your business, Thad." I get in a good kick connecting with his ribs.

"It’s up to her," Tim says. "I’ll knock her up any time she wants me to."

"Aw, bullshit," Thad turns still carrying me to walk beside Tim toward the barn. "You know women. You can’t wait for them to decide. All they know for sure is that whatever you are doing is what they don’t want. Have you learned to cook yet?" he says to me.

"Put me down." I grab his hair and kick him again this time hard enough that he drops me. "Fuck you, Thad. I can cook."

"Oooo la-ti-da," he flaps his hand in a limp wrist gesture and minces a few steps, "What can you cook? Dainty little cucumber sandwiches and tea. I’m talking real food, Fif, steak and onions, roasted venison, apple pie. Chili." He pronounces the last word with reverence, as though it were a sacrament.

"Come on, Tim," he says dropping a big arm around my husband’s city shoulders as we enter the barn. "We’ll teach you the manly arts today. Go rinse casings," he says shooing me away.

In the ground floor workshop, the woodburner roars. Two pots of spices in water simmer on it filling the air with fragrance. Simon, sleeves rolled above his elbows, energetically scrubs the surface of a long, battered wooden table. In a corner Bart is unpacking and assembling the heavy cast iron grinder that has stuffed thousands of pounds of sausage over the years. Dad is drawing mugs of beer from the spigot on the side of an old refrigerator converted to a beer keg and passing them to three old men, his lifelong buddies, who sit on sawhorses already spinning the yarns of great hunting adventures from decades gone by.

"Wow." Tim’s eyes widen. I try to see Dad’s shop with Tim’s eyes but this place has changed very little since I played here as a child. Every inch of space is in use. Tools hang from the rafters, which support stacks of lumber. Jars filled with screws, nails, nuts, and bolts hang from their lids nailed to the beams amid extra saw bands, clamps, spare kerosene lanterns and things for which I can provide no explanation. Massive metal blocks of machinery sit like rocks. I know the names of most of them and have even used a few—table saws and joiners, turning lathes and drill presses, a towering band-saw in a wooden casing that my father has covered with fifty years worth of newspaper clippings, children’s drawings, photographs, holy cards, cartoons, instruction sheets and letters printed in crayon. Dear Papa, one written on crumbling paper in faded lavender reads, I liked working with you in the shop today. I liked learning how to drill holes in boards and help you hammer nails. I hope you will let me help you again tomorrow. I love you. Fifi.

Over everything – over the leathery books and the drawing tables filled with Simon’s meticulously rendered sketches, over the wood pile beside the stove and the rack of worn ‘Richie coats on the wall, over the bench where Bart loads his 30.06 shells and Dad’s stacks of hunting magazines and tool catalogs, is the soft mist of sawdust that gives the room its fragrance.
from "Treat Yourself To The Best" in My Last Romance & other passions