Celebrating the Two-Headed Beast: A Toast to Time

New Year’s Eve…one foot in the past, one in the future. We watch a ball drop, twine arms and sip champagne and the months of the old year wind out behind us like a scroll. January…weather alerts and bowl games. February…does he/she love me, does he  not? March…the winds blow, carrying the faint aroma of rebirth before the cold clamps down again. April, T.S. Eliot’s cruelest month…but you get the picture. Twelve months gone. Our past is written, at times in lyric poetry, often in doggerel, but it is known. Notice I don’t say knowable, for hidden within those 365 finished days are secret troves of revelation and understanding, of growth and wisdom. We just need time to discover them all.  And time is what the new year brings us.

At midnight, that most arbitrary of moments arrives. One tick of the clock and we begin a new set of days, each one linked in a chain of events as yet a mystery. The future becomes a red carpet rolled out before us. A golden doorway beckons. One glance backward and we forge ahead, at once timid and bold. Who among us knows what to expect? Nothing is guaranteed, not even the next minute. Stepping into the unknown is an act of courage. No wonder we fortify ourselves for the journey.

On my writing desk, I keep a calendar, one with large blocks in which to record the mundanities of my day to day life. At the end of each year, I catalog the trips to the dentists, the days I pay bills, flight arrangements and meetings. Then, I go back through the pages, remembering the lunch dates with friends, the theatre excursions, the books I have read, all my walks in the wild. I total those precious hours when joy, not obligation, visited my life. And in the summing up of days gone past, I set a pattern for the days to come.

The Romans had a god for this, Janus, whose two-headed likeness dwelt in both realms. Past and future were not disconnected but merged, their gift to us double- faceted. The coins of our lives bind us to past and future, to what was and what shall be. We cannot have all work or all play, all joy or all sorrow. Life, in all its complexity, demands our attention. Yet we do have choices, to be positive or negative, to strive for the mountaintop or dwell in the cellar. The past may be etched in stone, but the future is a blank canvas.

This new year, I intend to borrow an activity from a writer friend and create a poster board on which I will paste a collection of items that represent my future, a visual representation of the goals, activities and paths I wish to pursue. Then I will hang it above my work desk, a reminder of the road I wish to take. Why such a project? Because before I can reach those goals, before I can walk those paths, I must dream them.Seeing them hanging there will serve as a tangible reminder of the year to come.

In the aftermath of the New Year’s Eve mania, I will lay me down to dream the future into being, welcoming as much of life as I can, facing the storms and the rainbows to come with as much strength as I can, thankful for the opportunity to go forward one more time.

Happy New Year!

Attention, Mystery Readers: Here’s a list of recommended books to gift to yourself or to others on your list…Happy Reading!

Editor’s Holiday Picks Ranges From 
Mystery to Romance
Hollis George Lists His (And Your) Favorites
Readers look forward to the Reading List of Hollis George, the celebrated anthologist and editorial director of Absolutely Amazing eBooks and The New Atlantian Library.
While not exactly as influential as Oprah’s Book Club, Hollis George has been picking favorites since the mid ’60s when he was a book editor with a major newspaper. Over the years, he has moved to the other side of the desk, choosing books to be published, but his Reading List remains popular among those who have received it on an ongoing basis.
While Hollis usually does his picks in the Spring, we’ve encouraged him to tear a few months off his calendar and suggest some books you might want to read now.
We admit his picks are eclectic, the product of a wide-reaching and broad-thinking mind. Nonetheless, we never fail to find a book or two that appeals to our own reading tastes.
Herewith are the AAeB titles that are stacked on Hollis George’s bedside table. The comments are his:
                           

1. Coyle’s Folly

by Ben Kelley. Not since early John Grisham have I enjoyed a legal thriller so much. Can’t wait for the next book in this new courtroom series. Here a determined attorney named Tim Coyle and his paralegal assistant (his wife Moira) take on a big automotive company hiding crash test results. Even if you see the ending coming, it has some unexpected surprises.
              

2. The Dark End of the Rainbow by J.E, Irvin. How could any whodunit fan pass up this First Place Winner in the annual Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Competition? Detective Joe Zetts must solve the puzzle when a teenage druggie disappears with the high school principal’s newborn baby. This book deserves its Jerry bobble-head statuette.

3. Square Grouper by Lewis C. Haskell. This was a runner up in the Jerry Awards, a tight mystery by a new talent. Here you’ll meet Ernesto ‘Finn’ Pilar, a former Navy SEAL who has packed it in to kick back in Key West. That is, until a run-in with drug smugglers (“square grouper” is the name for bales of marijuana floated ashore) requires his special training to clean up the mess.

              

4. A Footnote to History by William R. Burkett, Jr. This sci-fi master returns with a time travel tale that yo-yo the reader on from a newlywed’s death to his life as a clone in a battle between future and past.  Burkett delivers the irony of “the rule of unintended consequences.”

5. The Karma Chronicles: The Coming and The Second Coming by C.J. Daniels. A new science fiction voice, Daniels proves he’s a fan of classic sci-fi with this two-book introduction to a boy with the ability to avoid death by reincarnating himself and his spirit-guide dog. Yes, they must save the world.

    

6. Lost Planets and Rediscovered Science Fiction Manuscripts edited by Shirrel Rhoades. While we’re talking sci-fi, let’s not overlook this important anthology, a collection of all-but-lost or forgotten short stories by such writers as Ray Bradbury, John W. Campbell, Philip K. Dick, C.J. Daniels, and William R. Burkett, Jr. Even a once-anonymous scientification story by Edgar Allan Poe.

7. Zoo in a Book edited by George Davidson. Okay, I’m a sucker for animal pictures and this first title in the new Look-See series has animals a-plenty! But much more important is the subtle message that this is a better way to view exotic animals than keeping them caged in a zoo.

     

8. Chandler: Circle City Slam by Bill Craig. One of Craig’s bestselling mysteries is always on my nightstand. Usually it’s one of his Marlow books, but I have to admit I’m becoming a fan of his new Chandler series, a hardboiled dick working in Circle City (that’s Indianapolis to you).

9. Bad Tidings by Robert Coburn. To think, only a couple of years ago, Coburn was a retired adman dividing his time between traveling and playing the saxophone. Now he’s a hot new mystery writer with two series going — the Jack Hunter stories and this one, tales of Sheriff JT Wainscot of St. Julian Parrish, in the backwaters of Louisiana. Here he tackles a murder at Raquelle Harbor’s annual Pirates Festival.

     
10. The Mortician’s Road Trip by James D. Loy. If you like picaresque mysteries with a touch of lunacy, you’ll want to read this tale about a funeral home director who makes spare change by selling human skulls. They make great candleholders!

11. A Book of Facts: a novel by G.R. Alexander. Not your typical storytelling approach, this novel is told A to Z. As I said in an early review, “You’ll have a hard time pigeonholing this book. But you’ll be talking about this innovative work for weeks after you finish reading it.” Try it.

                                 

12. Season of Revenge by Renee Kumor. Being that it’s almost Christmas, I have to toss in a holiday offering. This is the seventh book in the River Bend Chronicles and to my surprise I’m getting involved in the lives of Lynn Powers and her friends and neighbors. At first I thought this series was simply going to be a tale of romance for woman, but after a few murders, betrayals, and heartwarming surprises I was hooked.

Thanks, Hollis. Nice to know what keeps your Kindle Fire blazing at night.
Twelve titles, twelve days of Christmas.
Twelve quick Christmas or Hanukah presents for your friends … or yourself!
All of these titles, of course, can be found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, KoboBooks, Apple iTunes, or go to the Absolutely Amazing eBooks online bookstore . . . (or simply click AbsolutelyAmazingEbooks.com). All of these ebooks are priced at only $3.99 each. And paperback editions are available too.
– Shirrel Rhoad

Tea and grAttitude – 2015

My internal clock ticks off the last minute of sleep and, bingo, I’m awake. Others in my birth family share this early-riser phenomenon. No matter how late we stay up, the need to rise at dawn is overpowering. Padding through the silent house, I try a little socks slide on the hardwood, channel my inner child and greet Eos with joy. Then the ritual takes over.

Several actions must occur before I can move on with the day. Graycie, the cat who adopted us, follows me to the pantry. When I give the command, she sits, favors me with a nose-bump kiss and receives her treats for the day. If I forget (trust me – I try never to forget), she  torments me with leg rubs until I give her just enough cheezy tidbits to meet her requirements. Then, unless I have demanding or pre-emptive chores or appointments, I fill her water dish, consider my breakfast options (should I eat pre-writing or post?) and sprint upstairs to my writing space. Surrounded by the approving stares of authors young and old, I run my hand along the spines of my books. I pause to give a mental fistbump to my Jeremiah Healy bobblehead – part of the prize for winning the mystery contest named after him. Receiving his ghostly thumbs-up, I perch on the edge of my chair and put in my words for the day. No part of me complains. I am lighter than air and twice as exuberant. This is my passion. This is my joy.

When light fills the sky and the story takes a break, I return to the kitchen for tea and gratitude. Mine. For the gift of a new day, the grace of a fresh twenty-four, the chance to make the moment count. Many of my friends keep journals, recording faithfully the emotions and events of their days. I’ve tried to be a journaler. This endeavor always begins well but ends badly. I misplace the notebook. I forget to make an entry. I lose track of the date. Not that I don’t have a shelf of said volumes, most half-filled, bulging with notes or ticket stubs or cards attesting to my statement that I really did attend an Eagles’ concert, did once have a drink at Senor Frog’s, did meet Elizabeth Strout the year before she won the Pulitzer for Olive Kittredge. Now, see, I’m digressing, distracted by memories and thoroughly unable to maintain that intense journal frown.

Instead, I plug in my internal memory bank, still my restless muscles and listen for the voice of a character to tell me where we’re going this morning. I eat, and drink and return to that special internal place that calls me to account. Perhaps your space needs music or movement, but my writing thrives best in the quiet nest of dusk and tea and words, accompanied by the grateful beating of my writer’s heart.

Of Carnage and Compassion and Common Sense

Tis the holiday season. Amid all the preparations, we reel from the ongoing attacks by people intent upon forcing their way of worship onto the greater mass of humanity. The awful events from around the globe – Beirut, Paris, Afghanistan, California – regale us with images that haunt our dreams and create fear in our hearts. Reacting to that fear, some among us advocate for policies that will throw us back into history, force us to retreat from our empathy and understanding into bigotry and hate. I am reminded of the story of the First Christmas, when a Jewish couple, Mary and Joseph, sought shelter, and the promise of the coming birth of their son evoked a similar response.

King Herod, fooled by the magi regarding the birth of the child long prophesied, “ordered the massacre of all the boys two years old and under in Bethlehem and its environs, making his calculations on the basis of the date he had learned from the astrologers.” (Matt. 16, The New American Bible) And so it came to pass that slaughter of the innocents marked the flight of that family into Egypt. Our Christian history, intimately connected to that of the Jewish people, acknowledged in the ongoing history of Islam, presents us with a Christmas horror story that is echoed in the awful events we witness today. Fear, it seems, is always with us. What, then, can we do with this tendency to act upon that fear, this knee-jerk response that sees us flinging away our belief in the fundamental rights of others and espousing actions that we have vowed never to repeat: internment, religious testing, torture, war?

The three great western religions have, at their core, very similar tenets: do good works, care for others, atone for your sins, worship. Especially during this holiday season, those things which we have in common ought to be stronger than the differences that separate us. Think of the use of food as a gesture of hospitality and respect, light as a beacon in the darkness, gifts as a tangible way to show how we care for others. Compassion for others is a hallmark of God/Jehovah/Allah’s presence in our hearts and in our lives. Whatever explanation you choose to follow on your own spiritual path, the similarities are so much stronger than the differences.

As a mother and a grandmother, an educator and a writer, I long for one clear explanation for the horror of a massacre like the one in San Bernardino. There is no place in my heart to explain how a mother and father abandon their six-month old child to a grandmother’s care while they murder co-workers, friends, fellow inhabitants of this fragile earth we share. I cannot understand strapping a bomb to my chest and blowing myself up to harm innocents shopping or eating or simply living their common, solid lives. I cannot imagine stabbing a starnger on the street as a way to draw attention to my hatred. No God I seek, no prophet or messiah, would promote carnage for its own sake. Somewhere in this vast mine field of conflicting fanaticisms there must be a moment when even the most radical of warriors sees the light, when the blood already spilled becomes enough, when the spark of wonder and curiosity that informs the human soul prevails over destruction and death. This is my prayer…that the carnage stop, that compassion rule and that common sense reassert itself as we work together to bring this current crusade to an end. For it is a crusade – of light against darkness, of good against evil, of truth against deceit.

As the season unwinds, I wish for all of you peace, as I wish it for myself and my family and for the world. Can we not start now, today, to make such a wish reality?