Reader Review – Opal

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Wow, just finished “Opal,” and am genuinely impressed. I wasn’t sure what to expect, except I figured it would be entertaining . Years ago I read “Mama Makes Up Her Mind,” by Bailey White, plus all of her other humorous books about quirky Southern characters; and I thought that was where you were headed as I delightfully dove into the first few stories: and then—I discovered to my great fascination that you were plying deeper waters and weren’t afraid to bring out all of those demons and dilemmas and sordid secrets that we Southerners hide beneath a veneer of manners and customs, rituals and politeness, good food and religion, and a baffling protocol that has strained for centuries to keep everything in its place, under a semblance of order.

Southern culture is baffling to outsiders, and sometimes even to me, a direct descendant of a Confederate soldier. In this book you treat your characters with respect, but you make them confront the monsters that hide behind the facade of orderly daily life, even if they have to do it reluctantly. You understand these people, and you have affection for them, but you are on a mission to make them lift the veil of pretense that hides conflict and finally confront their inability to resolve their differences with the real world (even if you have to lock them overnight in a storm cellar).

I see the influences of other Southern writers, such as Harper Lee, Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and, of course, there ARE some Bailey White-type moments in these stories, but the writer I am most reminded of is E. Annie Proulx. In her novel “The Shipping News,” she takes a cast of quirky characters and forces each of them to confront their worst fears, to face their personal phobias; and each one of them successfully does so. In the end they come out as stronger, better, and happier people.

Your characters often go through something similar, and the way they rise to the occasion offers a blueprint for all of us, whether we be introvert or extrovert, Southern or normal.

Thank you, Diane, for these stories which not only excel as stand-aloneness, but when woven into the complete tapestry of a book, represent a significant contribution to the literary world.

Devoted – a short story

The following is a true story about my first kitty Scarlett and my very unpleasant eye surgery. Caution — tissues might be useful.

Kitty Scarlett the First had been my boon companion since I rescued her as a scraggly kitten from a Humane Society shelter. Like the ugly duckling evolved into a beautiful swan, Scarlett’s rag-tag baby appearance slowly transformed her into a lovely, silky-coated Maine Coon, a most special breed of cat that I’d never heard of.   

As she matured, Scarlett met me at the door upon my return from work. She snoozed on my lap as I watched television or worked on the computer. She curled against my body as we slept at night. Her world was divided into two distinct groups: my mommy and not my mommy. Her disdain for “not my mommy” individuals couldn’t be missed. She wasn’t unkind to others; she simply didn’t require them. Scarlett was fifteen when fate presented
me with a nasty eye surgery. The recovery required eight weeks face down. That meant nose to the sheets. Chin to the chest and eyes down when I became able to sit up. In preparation for the operation, my husband and I searched online and ordered a foam wedge designed for such face-down recuperation. It had a hole in which I’d rest my face, and air holes around the sides for obvious reasons.

I don’t remember much about the first couple of post-op weeks. There were salves and drops to apply and pills to take — all with great regularity, but with different schedules. Mike, my husband had to keep a log of when he needed to do what. There was pain and just plain discomfort from the face-down position. It was weeks before I slept for more than two hours at a time. And about that long before I was aware enough to ask about Scarlett’s whereabouts. Mike said that her food and water were provided and regularly disappeared, but he hadn’t really seen her.  Her usual household napping places had been vacant. She must have been hiding under or in something during that very confusing time for her.

Time passed, and pain lessened. I tolerated the days and weeks of lying on my stomach with my face stuck in a foam wedge. I began listening to books on CD. I learned to reach out my arm to the bedside table, and locate the proper buttons to listen to or stop the book. Blessedly, it sometimes put me to sleep like a child listening to a bedtime story.

On one of those afternoons, I heard Scarlett jump onto the foot of the bed. I felt her sit down and pause, most likely processing the unfamiliar scene. I spoke her name. Scarlett considered, and then carefully walked up my legs to lie down on my back. She covered me from waist to my left shoulder. She didn’t weigh a lot, but gave me warmth like a familiar shawl. Scarlett stretched her right forearm over my shoulder and forward toward my chin. I’ve seen her in that position, so I knew that she crossed her left paw over her right, and rested her head on the extended arm.

I could feel her sweet, steady kitty breath along my jaw. Because her head was just below my left ear, I could hear her soft purring. I don’t know how long we lay like that, but I know we both dozed off and on, and enjoyed our renewed closeness. I also know that she was there as much to give comfort as to receive. It was perfect love.

Three years later, at age eighteen, there was a night when Scarlett became partially paralyzed and must have known she was dying. She managed to crawl up onto the bed and curl up against my tummy so she could be close to me for her last night on earth. My precious Scarlett the First passed away the next morning.



New Poem — Mother

There she is again,
As always when I least expect her.
In the storefront window
As I look at my reflection.
In the mirror when I check my hair
And sometimes when she looks back
I see that she’s getting gray.
She looks at me through a misty windowpane
And holds my gaze.
When did the child become mine?
When did I become her?
Where did I go when I became my mother?

Book Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from the story ‘The Ravine’ from my newest book, Our Mothers and Daughters. It starts like this —

:

The windshield wipers slapped at the downpour, but couldn’t poke a hole in the curtain of water. Clare leaned forward, straining to see the difference between the center line and the shoulder. They were on their way home from the lake house, driving on a worn, two-lane highway. Clare’s back cramped from the strain.

“Are we all right? Can I turn on the radio?” asked seven-year-old Ivy.

            “Shh, don’t talk now.”

            “But, I’m tired of this.” Seven had become a whiney year for Ivy.

            “Quiet! Not now.”

            The car began to shimmy, then fishtail. The tires hydroplaned, and the car headed for the shoulder where it took flight.

            Clare cried out, “No, no, no, no.”

            Ivy screamed.             It only took seconds before the car tilted to its right. It slammed onto the downside of the hill, and made a complete three-sixty rollover. Once again right side up, it slid scarily down the embankment. If Clare had been able to listen, she’d have heard the sounds of underbrush and small trees banging against and under the lurching vehicle. Twenty feet down from the highway, the car slammed against a tree large enough to stop it.”

hmmm — What might happen next? My books are available online at Amazon.com.

A Book Review

Look what I found! I was checking Youtube because Mike had just added my TV interview to our other videos, and I ran into this book review video about my first two books. Christina Welburn Huber is a book review blogger who became a friend. She did this review before Our Mothers and Daughters came out, and I was thrilled to view it.

Holiday Gifts

Started your Christmas shopping? A good book is a terrific present for your friends to curl up with on chilly winter nights. My newest book, Our Mothers and Daughters, can be ordered through any local bookstore or online at Amazon.Your book-loving friends will thank you.

In this book, you’ll learn more about Opal Pratt’s mother. You’ll also meet the little girl too savvy to get into the predator’s car, the mother struggling between her teenage daughter and invalid mother, the pre-teen who discovers that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, the mother who meets the adult version of the baby she put up for adoption, and many more. There is sadness and laughter, failure and success, and loss and discovery – everything that is life