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New (to me) Author Profile

It’s always exciting to meet a new author (new to me anyway) who lives in my vicinity and writes in the same genre (well, almost) as I do. Now you can meet him too…

James Reid

James Reid, Author

I met James Reid through a local writers group – the Writers Guild of Texas, where we are both members. I didn’t know initially we were in the same group because I don’t attend every meeting even though I should given the interesting and educational workshops they conduct. So when I finally attended a meeting (ah-hem!) and met James, we chatted and decided the value of a good writers group is well, invaluable. James followed up our brief discussion of “the value of a good writers group” with a blog post that I found wonderfully affirming.

Please take a moment to cyber-travel to his site and read what he has to say. And when you’re done, hyperlink to Amazon and check out his five-star rated murder mystery, Monsters Behind the Gates. I read it and wow!, two thumbs up.

Loving Lady Lazuli – A Book Review

I do most of my reading in the early morning hours between two and four a.m. So since I’m sacrificing valuable sleep to engage in my absolute favorite pastime – reading – I want to make sure the book is really, really good. And I’m happy to share I’ve only had a few misses. Most of the stories I’ve read this year have been great, enjoyable, recommendable. As is the case with Loving Lady Lazuli by Shehanne Moore.

loving-lady-lazuli

When you have a story where the heroine has a wicked background and the hero, too, there are soooooo many interesting ways the story can work itself out. So many interesting ways for the characters to grow and change…or not. So many interesting ways to put a nice, red bow on the ending. And that’s exactly what Moore has done: created an interesting story that is ripe with potential and the fulfillment of expectation; one that doesn’t disappoint.

Page three puts the main characters—Devorlane Hawley and Sapphire—in a forced encounter, which we quickly learn is not a first for them. Their attraction is rekindled immediately, and readers, hold on to your e-readers because it goes fast from there. In the next few hundred pages, there’s lies, sex, betrayal, bloodshed, sex, conditions, misunderstandings, sex and finally, love (breathy sigh!).

I won’t spoil your enjoyment by sharing story details but I do want to point out that this is a historical fiction novel. Moore expertly blends English customs, various dialects, and factual points of history into the telling of the tale. All combined, it adds even more depth to a story pregnant with strong story conflict, a cast of savory and unsavory secondary characters, humor, and an ending to please.

You’ll be glad you read this one and here’s an additional bonus (drum roll!)…it’s book one in the London Jewel Thieves series. That means there are more gems (characters and books) to come.

Loving Lady Lazuli is a creatively-thrilling and engaging read. I hope you’ll join me on this wickedly jeweled reading adventure.

To learn more about Moore and additional titles she’s written, click here.

Happy reading and happy holidays!

Halloween Reading

In about three weeks, one of my favorite holidays occurs–Halloween. Naturally, it’s a favorite because I am a paranormal/supernatural writer. Naturally, it’s a favorite because I am a paranormal/supernatural reader. So considering all this, I thought it appropriate, not to mention fun, to feature a paranormal book this week. I choose…

maledicus-final

Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I

by Charles F. French

The paranormal/supernatural genre chose me through weird circumstances so I am always curious how other authors fell into this particular genre. I posed this question to Charles and his response is below. I hope you find it as revealing and interesting as I did.

Why I Write Horror, Paranormal, and Speculative Fictioncharles-french-maledicustee

“I am Charles F. French, a writer of speculative fiction, including horror, paranormal, and young adult fiction. I have had an interest in the genres of Gothic, horror, and science-fiction since I was a youngster. As a young teen, I read Dracula by Bram Stoker and The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells, and these books immediately appealed to my youthful imagination.

I continued reading works in these genres throughout my life, including in my academic studies, as well as for pleasure. Now I teach some of these books in various courses as an adjunct professor at Muhlenberg College and Lehigh University.

One of the great strengths of books in these genres is that their authors are able to make social critiques about their real worlds but offer them as metaphor in the fictional environment. The plots capture the readers’ attention but then often go deeper into discussions of life and societal concerns. Mary Shelley, in Frankenstein, deals with such issues as limits of scientific research, abandonment of children, the position of women in the 19th Century, and justice/injustice.

While I am not placing my writing on the level of Mary Shelley, I hope that I both create a compelling story and also include important themes. It is in the writing of speculative fiction that I can work simultaneously on both creating interesting plot and characters but also speak to matters that I find important about the world. But always, story comes first. If the piece is not interesting, if I lose the reader, then nothing else will succeed.

I believe that in Maledicus: The Investigative Paranormal Society Book I, I have created a novel that will capture the readers’ interest and imagination and also aid them in considering important thematic issues.”

I am in total agreement with Charles’ thoughts on writing and reading paranormal/supernatural fiction, and am pleased to feature his book. If it’s been a while since you’ve indulged in a paranormal read I can think of no better time than now, what with Charles’ new book and Halloween. Click here to purchase your copy. Go on, I dare you!

Book Review – Not by Design

Not by Design “Not by Design” is the latest offering from multi-published women’s fiction author Carol Balawyder. It is a sequel to “Getting to Mr. Right,” which you should read if you haven’t. “Getting to Mr. Right” is the story of four women who meet at a support group (the focus of which is women who have men/father issues) and form lasting, sincere friendships.

“Not by Design” is Felicity Starr’s story. She is one of the women in the support group, and she has it all—looks, youth, a rich father, talent, true-heart friends and the love of a handsome, successful man. She is living a fairy tale life in France, studying art and pursuing a career in art, while enjoying an active social/love life. But even fairy tales are wrought with obstacles and that’s exactly what our heroine encounters—one setback after another. There’s the death of her father, a dwindling bank account which brings on financial woes, an art career that has stalled, and the painful decision to end her relationship with her fiancé and call off the wedding. But that’s not all. The biggest blow of all—a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). With all this dumped on her, Felicity makes the hard decision to release her dream of being an artist and living in France. She returns home to Canada to try and piece a life together.

The move back home is met with more bitterness. She fights to recover her reputation in the work world. She has disagreements with her mother and step-mother. She gambles on several romantic interests and loses. And, she must make a slew of difficult choices in regard to her living arrangements and medical treatment, decisions made more difficult because of her limited funds. One wonders if Felicity will ever catch a break when…help arrives. At the strong suggestion of her doctor, she attends a MS support group meeting and finds the support and acceptance she so desperately needs. With the encouragement of the group, she shares her medical condition with her friends, who surround her with love, care and acceptance. The end of the story details the good life Felicity has finally secured. No, it’s not the one she would have designed for herself, but it works. She’s happy.

This is a story that will take you low on the scale of human emotions and then pick you up. You will feel despair, then happiness; fear, then joy. This emotional seesaw is achieved in part by the story’s conflict—dreams and desire versus medical and financial worries, a situation many readers may relate to. I certainly did. And then there’s the overall story question: are we willing to release our version of our dream or life in exchange for an uncertain version? This is the question Felicity struggles with throughout the story but I dare say it is one many readers struggle with as well.

There are many things to appreciate about this story. It is inspiring, well written and has relatable characters. But the one aspect I appreciated the most was the focus on MS. Reading about the symptoms, the various treatments, the expense, and how it requires life adjustments was a real education. Thank you Carol for that.

I finished reading the book and shut down my e-reader thinking, I can’t wait to read the remaining sequel. The other three—“Café Paradise,” “Missi’s Dating Adventures” and “Not by Design”—have been purely enjoyable. Check ‘em out and see for yourself.

Justice True, Crime Fighting Vamp

A few months ago, I was in Bowie, Texas as part of the Texas Writes program. Texas Writes sends published authors to rural libraries throughout Texas to conduct workshops on writing. These libraries and their patrons don’t normally receive instructional workshops because of budgetary constraints. When I learned this, I jumped at the opportunity to present a workshop on editing. It was great fun! The librarian was so welcoming and I met so many talented writers and authors.

One of the authors I met was Dianna M. Castro. I enjoyed conversing with all of the authors and writers but particularly Dianna because we both write in the paranormal genre. Her novels feature vampires; mine, spirits. When I learned Dianna had a published book I rushed to buy it and just recently finished reading it.

Below is the review I wrote on her book, Forever Justice. If you’re looking for a vampire story to read as a warm-up to Halloween (it is less than five weeks away), this is the one.

Forever Justice by Dianna M. Castro

…is the story of vampire, Justice True who has been around for centuries and throughout those centuries has worked as a U.S. Marshal. She mostly works serial killer cases as well as violent, sexual crimes, and has a stellar arrest/conviction record. In this story, we follow Justice as she investigates three deviants who are committing ruthless, bloody murders, targeting women and children. As if that isn’t enough stress, she is also searching for the “master” vampire who bit her, turning her into a vampire against her will, so she can kill him.

I was immediately hooked into the story with the author’s portrayal of how Justice was “turned.” There was good description, strong characterization and equally strong rationale (internal conflict). However, as I continued reading, moving from Justice’s past to the present, I discovered that her vampire life paled (no pun intended) significantly. It was greatly overshadowed by her criminal investigations, which resulted in a story that did not have enough balance or tense, suspenseful conflict to make it a page turner. Yes, there were scenes that snagged me (usually when tracking the criminals), but I wanted more conflict between protagonist (Justice) and antagonist (Alexander). In addition, I wanted to learn more about her vampire sect, the movements and background of Alexander, his family, etc. Knowing more about her opponent and pitting them against each other would have created amazing page-turning conflict. I will say though that the crime storyline was developed well enough to make the book worthy of finishing.

Forever JusticeA variety of cast members gave this story added dimension. A bevy of law enforcement officials were offset by ordinary citizens–senior citizens, teenagers, victims, family members, regular Joes, etc.–a diverse group that provided moments of laughter and awww. I was bothered by the naming of her second string characters though. In most cases, their names were a direct correlation to their profession, an obvious character trait, or a situation the character was in. This practice I found too obvious.

The author was, however, creative in how she handled the conventions of the vampire culture. I was curious how she was going to handle a law enforcement officer working nights when the bulk of criminal investigations takes place during the day. She did an excellent job of answering this and other questions related to travel, sunlight, garlic, drinking blood, invitations to enter a home or business, biting, physical strength, turning friends and family into vampires, and her long tenured career.

I must warn you…this is not a book for the weak of heart, mind or stomach. There are a number of gritty scenes and the details are disturbing.

When I finished the book, I felt like this could be a series and I do believe the protagonist’s strength and enough crime (unfortunately) exists to sustain a series. However to embark on a series, the author will have to strengthen the supporting cast and ramp up the tension.

Paranormal readers who enjoy a good vampire story…this one is for you.

It’s Official…Lyrical Darkness

I am so excited!!!

Today, Lyrical Darkness, an anthology of short stories based on songs which have dark lyrics, is available for pre-order. I’ve had other book releases (2014 – Voices from the Block & 2013 – Fuller’s Curse) so why am I even more excited about this book? Because Lyrical Darkness is my first attempt to create a story from a song.

When Donnie Light, the publisher of Lyrical Darkness contacted me about participating in this anthology, I of course said yes, yes, yes, but I was very nervous. I had never created a story from a song before. My previous stories were all culled from life experiences, inspiration and imagination; they were never so intentional.

To make it easier for us, Donnie allowed us to select our own song and he put a 10,000 word limit on the stories. The ten  contributing authors, all paranormal writers, scurried to find the right dark song that would generate 10,000 words, a plot and characters. And our work continued at a feverish pace through the holidays to meet the February 2015 deadline.

Below is the cover for Lyrical Darkness. Beyond this inviting cover are eleven dark short stories based on disturbing song lyrics; samples of which include “Angie Baby,” “Hotel California,” “Smooth Criminal,” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (this is the song I chose, click here to listen). I am proud to be a part of this collection and I hope you will read our take on these songs. May I suggest a visit to YouTube before or after reading so you can compare the story to the song?

You can order the ebook today and the print/paperback version will be available June 15th.lryical_SMALL

Thanks for being part of this journey with me and oh, by the way, happy Black Music Month (June)!

Happy Mother’s Day

A mother’s day short story for the women who invest in the lives of others.

Between 2:00 A.M. and 4:00 A.M.

by Ann Fields

 -1-

I remember the first time it happened. It was a Tuesday night, or rather Wednesday morning, when my eyes popped open at 3:14 a. m. My mind was alert even though I had just released sweet sleep. At first I laid there, relaxed, staring at the ceiling sorting through reasons why I was awake. But, the longer I laid there fully awake, the more agitated I became as my thoughts shifted to the loss of sleep, my early morning workshift, and whether I would be any good for my patients or the surgical staff. After about an hour, I finally gave up on sleep and my unproductive thoughts and rolled out of bed.

I aimlessly roamed the house from room to room, making out shapes in the dark but not really focusing my eyes or my thoughts on any one thing. Deciding my mindless wandering might wake Mother, I headed for the kitchen, thinking along the way that a cup of chamomile tea sounded heavenly. As I passed Mother’s grandfather clock in the hallway, I noted I still had over an hour before time to prepare for work. So after putting some heat under the teakettle and while waiting for the water to boil, I began sorting a huge stack of junk mail that I had ignored for months. Minutes later, I fixed a cup of tea and while enjoying it finished with the mail. Then I took the tea to my bedroom where I wrote a couple of long overdue thank you notes. At 5:45 sharp, I put away my stationary and turned to dressing for work. I was surprised that I didn’t feel sleepy or cranky. Inclined to be a pessimist, I thought for sure I would have a bad day at work but thirteen hours later when I left the hospital, I realized it had been a good day.

And so started a new routine in my life—waking between two and four in the morning, rising to do variations of housework, light organizing and handling correspondence while enjoying a hot drink. I didn’t wake every morning but at least four or five of the seven days. Sometimes I would catnap before turning to the task of dressing for work, but most times I just called the lost sleep what it was—lost.

One morning, about a month after I had settled into my new routine, something happened that adjusted my routine and made my life richer. That morning in the breakfast nook, while polishing silver and repeating Spanish phrases after a heavy-voiced man on a language CD, I glanced up and was startled by the presence of my mother who looked just as surprised to see me.

“Mother,” I gushed in a shaky voice as my heart pounded in my chest, “You scared me!” I paused, taking deep breaths to slow my heart rate. “What are you doing awake? Did I wake you?”

Mother recovered much quicker than I. She smiled a small smile and touched me lightly as she passed by on her way to the cooktop. “I see I’m not the only one God woke up.” She spoke in a hushed tone as if there was someone else in the house to be mindful of. There wasn’t.

Stopping at the cooktop, she suspended the lukewarm teakettle in the air. Lifting a brow she asked, “More tea?”

I nodded yes and while she added more water to the kettle and placed it on the flame, I stripped off the yellow house gloves, ejected the CD, then powered down the computer, complaining the whole time. “I don’t know why for the past months I’ve been sleeping so poorly. Almost every night I wake up at this ungodly hour.”

Mother joined me at the table and I moved my cleaning supplies to the side, launching into a narrative about my sleep—or rather, sleepless—habits and nocturnal activities. I ended my monologue with a fact. “I didn’t have this problem in my twenties.”

Mother’s smile reappeared and curved appreciatively. “Age can bring on changes we never anticipate.” Her smile faded as her face took on that serious look she adopts when she’s about to tell her children something once and only once. “There are a number of reasons you could be waking. You’re either too worried, too busy, or you need the stillness and silence of the night to learn something. I suspect for you, all apply.” Her eyes narrowed and seemed to laser straight through me, forcing me to fidget a bit. “You’re always busy, Ellen. Working long hours at the hospital, volunteering at church, helping out family and friends. Worrying about others. When do you slow down? When do you relax or just take time to sit and think and be still?”

“I have down time,” I protested.

Mother deadened her stare then shifted her gaze to the computer and silver cleaner. I followed her eyes and it hit me like a sledgehammer to the brow. She was right. I was busy, constantly on the run, shuffling here, there and yonder, checking off items on an endless ‘to-do’ list. Never sitting still. Never “being.” Always “doing.” Even in these quiet hours.

Convicted, I looked at Mother and her expression had softened, a sign that she was proud of me for coming into truth, for learning an important life lesson. One I would have missed had I been sleep. Through Mother’s challenging words I learned that life was not meant to be filled with “doing” every single minute of every single day. At some point, at some time, I was supposed to “be.” I was supposed to dream and rest and enjoy the things I loved such as facials, going up against Mother in Monopoly, and line dancing with the girls. The other things–responsibilities and obligations–were not supposed to rule my life; they were not the things that qualified me as being engaged in life.

This life lesson shook me and I sat there in dismay, wondering how my life had tilted so out of whack. Why, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d read a book or identified the constellations through my telescope or toured small towns in the Hill Country. And yet, those were some of the things that made me feel alive, that made me “be.”

I sank deeper into my mind, still wondering, and missing the act of Mother getting up to answer the call of the kettle. She refreshed my tea to which I absently said, “Thank you.”

Her reply, however, was not offered so carelessly. “God doesn’t wake everybody up, Ellen. Consider yourself blessed.” The seriousness of her words and tone baited me out of my private thoughts and held me. I stared at her, understanding there was a deeper meaning to her words, which at the moment evaded me. I could have taken the shortcut and asked Mother to explain herself, but I’d been raised by the woman and knew shortcuts weren’t her way. She expected her children to think and this she emphasized now by picking up her teacup and heading for her bedroom.

I sat there, alone, tossing and turning Mother’s words and finally after a few minutes, I got it. Her meaning. I was being given a chance to enact my new lesson, a second chance to get life right, to reorder my life, and I tell you, I didn’t waste one minute taking that chance. Smiling, I stood and hastily put away the silverware and cleaning supplies. Since I was still far from sleepy, I went to my bedroom with tea in hand like Mother, and selected one of the many unread books on my bookshelf. For the first time in a long time, I escaped into another world and loved every minute of it.

-2-

Several weeks later on a Thursday at 2:10 a. m., I languished on the sofa, reading a New York Times recommended thriller when Mother walked into the living room. I had gotten used to seeing her at this time of morning. Not every morning or even weekly, but often enough that her presence didn’t startle me anymore. Nor mine her.

“I’m putting water on for tea. You want some?” she asked.

“Sure,” I answered, rising from the couch and following her into the kitchen. While she handled the water and kettle, I secured cups and tea. Then we parked at the table, waiting for the whistle.

“What Scriptures you reading?” I asked Mother, pointing at the large, black Bible which she’d carried into the kitchen and placed on the table.

“I was reading Paul’s letter to the church…” She patted the heavy Bible. “…the part about not forsaking the assembly of men. It made me wonder why you joined St. Barnabas.”

I scrunched my face, perplexed by Mother’s comment. She, of all people, knew St. Barnabas was my…our home church. I’d been raised in that church as had my brother and sisters. Why wouldn’t I be a member? “What do you mean?” I asked, needing more information before even attempting a response.

“After college… Why didn’t you visit other churches, other denominations before rejoining?”

Now I was really confused! Why would I need to visit other churches? St. Barnabas was not only the church base for our immediate family but also our extended family. It was full of aunts, cousins, grandparents, nieces, uncles, nephews, and more, including ex-family members who were exes because of divorce or common-law separation. In addition to family, there were a fair number of professionals and “working Joes” who mixed well with our people and so, too, were considered family. So why go anywhere else? And as for other denominations, well, the Episcopal doctrines suited me just fine. Even Redeemed Episcopal—the church in Houston I had joined and attended during the six years I lived there to study surgical nursing—playing lax and loose with the doctrines and practices didn’t dissuade me from the Episcopal way of life.

Speaking hesitantly because of my confusion and my uncertainty about where Mother’s line of questioning was taking me, I answered, “Because St. Barnabas is home. It’s…it’s family and I’m surrounded by love.”

Mother’s facial expression remained bland, giving no hint or clue to the point behind her words. The teakettle sang and she stood, snagged it. She poured the boiling water into our cups and returned the kettle to its resting place. I sat impatiently throughout and even afterwards as she sank into her chair and then dunked her teabag up and down several times before letting it rest inside her cup. Finally, just as questions were about to erupt out of me, she sat back and pinned me with that same serious look from the last time she challenged me to think about my life. I had enough smarts to squash my impatience, sit forward and wait for the lesson. It didn’t take long.

Mother leaned forward and curved her hands around her cup. In a low, thoughtful tone she said, “Sometimes, Ellen, love is not enough.” She shook her head, saying, “Oftentimes tradition is not enough.”

I crooked my head, frowning, and feeling like a parrot asked, “What do you mean?”

“Some people do things because that’s the way it has always been done. Some people do things because others tell them to. Some do things from the heart. I want you to be a heart person.” She laid a hand against her heart, repeating, “I want you to be a heart person.” She let her hand fall and sighed sadly into her cup. “Unfortunately, the problem with being a heart person is it requires you to be courageous, to say no sometimes, to risk looking like a fool at other times. Not everybody is that brave especially when it comes to family.”

“Are you saying I should join another church? …that I shouldn’t worship with family?” I still struggled with Mother’s lesson.

“Ellen, only you know if St. Barnabas is where you should be.” Mother paused to blow steam out of her face before sipping cautiously. She replaced her cup in the saucer and said, “But if God directs you elsewhere, it’ll be a hard break. But you’ll survive, and love will continue to surround you because you’ll be living from the heart which is where real life is lived.” Again, she placed a hand over her heart and in the unfilled moments that followed, I noticed Mother’s hands. Really noticed them—the length of her fingers, the white crescent-shape at her cuticles and the darkened knuckles. I looked down at my hands and saw that they were identical to hers. Indeed, as I considered our similarity further, I conceded that of the four of us, I had more of Mother’s features and ways than my brother or sisters. Even though it’s never been discussed, I’m sure that’s one of the reasons why Mother agreed to move in with me after Daddy died. Another reason was her diminishing health, which I, as a healthcare professional, could better manage than my siblings. There were other reasons but the important thing was they all combined to make it possible for Mother to be here in our kitchen at 2:35 in the morning, with me staring at her hands.

For a few moments longer I continued to study Mother’s hands, then suddenly, the full meaning of her words opened to me. I, not family or friends, was responsible for making my life one of truth, and truth could only be obtained from the heart. My heart. I sat back, amazed that yet again Mother had taught me a valuable lesson, one that would forever guide and shape my life. And yet again, it was a lesson I would have missed had I been sleep.

I looked up, smiled at Mother and she smiled back.

“How did you get to be so wise?” I teased. But she and I both knew there was honesty in the teasing.

Mother didn’t reply immediately. Still smiling, she stood up, tucked that heavy Bible under her arm, picked up her drink, and said, “I’ll let you and the Lord work out the rest.”

“Goodnight, Mother.”

“Goodnight, dear.”

She left, leaving me a priceless gift—time to sort out how to incorporate it, the lesson, into my life.

Because living a life of truth based on heart decisions didn’t just apply to church membership, I thought about the other areas of my life—relationships, career, lifestyle, home, neighborhood and more. I wanted to know if I had made heart decisions in those areas or if my decisions had been influenced by other people or circumstances. Unfortunately during my short review of those areas, all of my major decisions began stepping on one another, entangling themselves and confusing me, so I reached for paper and pen. I wrote down a few questions that I hoped would help me analyze my past decisions and guide my future ones:  How does it feel? …right? …wrong? …indifferent? What’s influencing me? Have I prayed about it? I sat back and reflected on those questions, decided they were good guideposts, and then went to work, retreating backward in time to evaluate 32 years of living to determine if I was living a life of truth.

-3-

Over the next several years, I had plenty of opportunity to apply those questions to life decisions, and they worked beautifully. I felt good about the life I was living. I also felt good about the new dance Mother and I had naturally fallen into:  frequently rising before dawn, meeting in the kitchen, drinking hot tea, and exchanging words that sometimes led to me learning another life lesson. I should be one hundred percent truthful and admit that not all of our shared time occurred in the kitchen. Some mornings we met in the living room. Like the morning after my thirty-eighth birthday, which also happened to be three months to the day that I was to marry Dwight Araylio Grant, a great man I had met at work and fallen in love with. We planned to marry at St. Barnabas; it remained my church home, a decision that had passed the questions test, and a decision that Dwight fully supported. When I walked into the living room, Mother was seated in her recliner with the richness of Nat King Cole’s voice serenading her.

“Your favorite?” I asked and as soon as I did I admonished myself, I should know my mother’s favorite singer. And her favorite candy, hobby, dress, Scripture, and so on. But I didn’t and why was that? The answer shocked me and made me feel an inch tall. Sadly, I had never taken the time to see Mother as a woman or as an independent, multi-dimensional being. All these years, Mother had been simply the vessel that had birthed me, a stick figure with no emotions, dreams, or interests outside of nurturing her children. How selfish of me to not see that Mother was a real person who, like me, had goals, fears, peeves and preferences. How crazy and lacking on my part to have taken her for granted, to have dismissed the woman behind the “mother” label.

Stunned and shamed by my answer, I drifted unconsciously into the seat across from Mother and studied her—the slight rounding of her shoulders, the dark veins that scribbled across her legs, the silver-white of her hair that had been gray at some time and dark-brown before that. I stared at her tight face, which made a lie of her 69 years and marveled that at 69 she moved and lived like one much younger. With her eyes closed and her head tilted back, rocking in time to Cole’s smooth piano playing, I could almost imagine her as a young woman, my age, with a husband and four small children. Almost. And since I couldn’t quite get there on my own, I asked, “Mother?”

Mother, or rather Vera Jo Jones Askey, her birth and married name, opened her eyes and raised her head, meeting me eye-to-eye. “Hmmm?”

“What was your life like at my age?”

Instantly there appeared that secret smile of hers, the one that hinted at something magical to come. Closing her eyes again and laying her head back, she answered, “It was good. It was busy, hectic at times, but full of love. Good memories.”

“Tell me about it,” I requested, curling my legs under me and settling in as if anticipating a bedtime story.

Her smile widened as she rewound her life’s tape to 31 years in time and began sharing her sunup to sundown days, telling me about the joys and challenges with Daddy’s career as a policeman and her own as a restaurant cook, and rewarding me with tales about the happiness in raising her children as well as the difficulty in releasing them to themselves and a topsy-turvy world.

Mother talked for hours and I hungrily gobbled up every word that came out of her mouth and fired off one question after another. For the first time in years, I was late reporting to work and didn’t care. Mother, opening her complete self to me, gave me something far greater than a job that I loved. She gave me herself.

-4-

As our dance between two a. m. and four a. m. continued so, too, did Mother’s sharing of herself and teaching of valuable life lessons. Our time together was the icing on my cake of life; a life of overflow and abundance, more than I could have dreamed or wished for. Five years into marriage, Dwight and I were solid in our partnership, yet evolving as a couple and family unit year by year. We had made my house into our home. We had a beautiful daughter, Chloe. And Dwight loved Mother as if she were his own. I lacked nothing, including personal growth which I attributed in great part to Mother’s expert teaching.

Through her sometimes direct and at other times indirect instruction, I learned the lesson of quality over quantity. She taught me the difference between church folks and Christians; between religion and spirituality; between preaching and the inspired words of God. I learned that being patient with people and circumstances truly yielded the best results, and that multi-tasking is foolish; it simply creates opportunities for “do-overs.”

I learned more lessons than these over the years but interestingly, the place of our dance changed from the various rooms in the house to Chloe’s room. In the two years she’d been in our lives, Chloe had brought a deeper, broader, more loving dimension; one we could not have achieved by any other means. Mother, too, was deeply awed by Chloe and although she told me that often, she showed it more.

The first morning we met in Chloe’s room, the weather was terrifying. Lightning, fast-paced rain, and loud smacks of thunder awakened us shortly after four. After registering the lack of danger, Dwight rolled over and fell back to sleep. I couldn’t. With Chloe on my mind, afraid that Nature’s fury had woken and frightened her, I sped through the dark house to her room. Mother was already there, standing quietly at her bedside, staring down at Chloe, who slept peacefully–her tiny fists curled in defenseless balls; her rounded stomach rising and falling steadily; her pouty lips slightly parted. That morning, the lesson was not spoken, but was no less clear—a heart grows larger when it encounters love in its purest form.

After that morning, we became regulars in Chloe’s room. Sometimes, Mother would take charge of making and serving tea; most times, I did. When we spoke, we used small, timid voices and rarely did we wake the little one. Ohhhh, but those times when she awakened, Mother and I raced to her to love on her.

One morning, Mother did not meet me in Chloe’s room, but that didn’t concern me since our meet-ups weren’t scheduled. There were often mornings when she slept while I hovered over Chloe and vice versa. So I didn’t think anything of caressing and praying for Chloe by myself.

I picked her up out of her bed and transferred both of us to the rocking chair. I had not been rocking and touching her long when she stirred awake. To Chloe, a simple touch meant time to eat or play; this time she chose play. I happily obliged and sometime later when I happened to glance at the pink and yellow bunny clock on her nightstand, I knew I was in trouble. I had spent far too much time playing with Chloe and with Dwight out of town at a conference I would need Mother to prepare Chloe for daycare while I dressed for work.

With Chloe on my hip, I rushed to Mother’s room.

Knocking, then barging in, I pled, “Mother, Mother, I need your help.” I crossed to her bed and rubbed her shoulder, hoping to gently wake her. She didn’t respond to my voice or my touch so I shook her and repeated, “Mother,” and seconds later, “Mother?” I bent lower, examining her face. I saw that it had taken on a more heavenly glow and her sleep, well, it had become eternal. I straightened and stared down at Mother’s profile, hugging Chloe closer to me.

I don’t know how long I stood there before I backed out of Mother’s room to call 911, my husband, my siblings and my job. But I do know the tears and anguish didn’t come then. They didn’t come when Chloe and I returned to Mother’s room to sit on the side of her bed to memorize her peaceful, lovely face. The tears didn’t come during the funeral preparations or the homegoing service or the burial.

The heartache and loss finally hit me months later when I woke between two a. m. and four a. m. and without thought, shuffled to the kitchen, put the teakettle on the heat, and pulled down two cups. Looking at those cups, the tears came and came and kept coming, filling both cups and more.

-5-

Many, many years later when Chloe moved back home after completing her undergraduate studies, I happened upon her one morning between two and four. She sat at the table in the kitchen with her head in her hands and with what looked like reams of paper before her. I knew without flipping through them that the papers related to her as-yet-unmade decision to either return to college for an advanced degree or find an entry-level position in her chosen field of study—psychology.

“Chloe?” I called quietly, hoping I didn’t scare her.

She jumped even though I’d been gentle with my voice. I understood. It had been that way with me and Mother our first time.

“Mom,” she gushed, “You scared me. I hope I didn’t wake you.”

I smiled, thinking, almost my exact words. “No, dear, this is my usual haunt. Welcome.”

She looked confused and my smile grew. I crossed the room, turned the heat under the teakettle, and pulled down two cups.

THE END