What a thrill to learn that my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, is now a finalist in the 2016 Kindle Book Awards. Many thanks to Camel Press and Loiacono Literary Agency for believing in my story about family secrets, redemption, second chances, and scars of war.
To see the complete list of finalist and semi-finalist, click here.
“Adventure, history, and the drama of school life intertwine in this engrossing tale of a fifth-grade boy struggling to find his place after his best friend abandons him. Find out what happens when Sam’s class takes a trip to Mount Vernon, where he accidentally buys a bossy three-cornered hat that sweeps him off to the eighteenth century and a warm friendship with George and Martha Washington.” Schiffer Publishing, Ltd.
Q&A with the author
Kathleen: I admire how you weave historical facts into the narrative that features Sam, a modern day fifth-grader from Bethesda, Maryland, as he travels back in time to meet George Washington at various stages of his life. How did you come up with the concept for this story that is targeted toward middle grade readers but is clearly enthralling for adult readers as well?
Deborah: Thanks so much, Kathleen! I thought it would be fun to look at various presidents—starting from the beginning, with George Washington–in a way that combines history and fiction. This is the first in what I’m hoping will be a series, called The President and Me, featuring modern-day kids who end up taking amazing time-travel journeys to the past, while also dealing with their 21st century problems. For example, Sam is no longer on speaking terms with his lifelong best friend, Andrew, which is clearly very painful for him. So the story goes on parallel tracks, I guess, with the time travel interspersed with the modern-day interludes. I’ve heard positive reactions from both kids and adults who have read the book, which makes me very happy!
KMR: As a middle-age woman and reader, I found myself totally caught up in the story. How did you get into Sam’s head to create such a believable character?
DK: I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the book! To answer your question, it probably helps that I have an 11-year-old son! (The book’s wonderful illustrator, Rob Lunsford, based the pictures on my son—although my character Sam is not based on one person in particular.) Being around kids that age is certainly a plus. But part of it also probably comes from having been a voracious reader my entire life, and remembering so many wonderful books I read when I was younger.
KMR: The magic hat is an important “character” in the story. When I think of the hat, I visualize a wise but slightly grumpy old man leading Sam on a journey. Did you know from the beginning that you would use personification to make the hat come alive?
DK: Yes, I figured it would be fun to have a somewhat curmudgeonly talking hat as one of the main characters. I think some of my inspiration came from magical creatures in various books, particularly the Half Magic books by Edward Eager (some of my favorites!), which often included grouchy magical beings of various kinds.
KMR: The story held my interest from the opening line to the clever ending. How long did it take you to finish the book, say from the earliest concept to publication?
DK: I’d say overall it took a few years from beginning to end. Lately I tend to think about book projects for a while before actually starting to write them. While this is not my first book, it’s my first children’s book—and my first published fiction book! I have various unpublished mystery novels hidden away in my closet. Maybe I’ll go back to them at some point!
KMR: I admire how you introduced an important moral question in the story when young Sam asked his teacher, Ms. Martin, “How could George and the founders of this country have had slaves, anyway, when they were writing things like the Declaration of Independence?” Have you heard from any of your readers about this? And if you the author could travel back in time, what would you say to George Washington about slavery?
DK: Thank you for asking that. I’ve heard from readers that they really appreciate my including the issue of slavery in the book. Honestly, it never occurred to me not to include it. It’s such an important topic, and it’s one that I think about all the time. I would certainly want to ask George Washington—and other early presidents like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison–that very question.
KMR: What were you like in the fifth grade? Did you daydream much or were you super studious? Have you always been interested in history and politics and what was your favorite subject in school?
DK: I spent a lot of time in fifth grade reading, playing kickball, and attempting to do gymnastics. I guess I would say that I daydreamed AND was studious, although I’m sure the two conflicted at times! I have always liked history. My favorite subjects when I was in school were English, history, and languages, and I majored in history in college. So it goes way back!
KMR: You are an accomplished journalist and author. Did growing up with a famous father, renowned journalist Marvin Kalb, have an influence on your career choice? As a kid, what was it like watching your father and your uncle, Bernard Kalb, on national television?
DK: Oh, definitely! My father and my uncle have always been role models for me, both personally and professionally, and it was an incredible experience to work on the book Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama with my father. As a child, it was oddly natural for me to see my father on the CBS Evening News and wave goodnight to his picture on the TV. As I recall, the two shows I was allowed to watch back then were the CBS Evening News and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood!
KMR: Your book is dedicated toboth of your parents. Can you tell us a little bit about your mother, Madeleine?
DK: Yes, she’s also a writer, so I got that gene from both sides! She is an incredibly meticulous editor, and clearly another one of my role models as a person and as a writer.
How do you juggle your writing, reading, and author interviews while also raising a young son?
DK: It’s a challenge to balance everything, but I’m really enjoying it! I often find that I get so caught up in reading other people’s books and interviewing authors that I forget to write anything of my own. I need to set some deadlines, I think! And my husband and son are very understanding and supportive about all my hours at the computer. I want to thank you, as well, for your own generosity in getting the word out about your fellow writers!
KMR: What was it like to have a book signing at Nationals Park, the ballpark where the Washington Nationals play baseball, especially since a key scene in the book takes place there?
DK: So much fun, especially when George the Racing President, one of the Nationals’ mascots and a character in the book, showed up in the store and spent half an hour reading the book and holding it up for everyone to see!
KMR: What are you working on now?
DK: Book 2 in the series, which features Sam’s neighbors, Ava and J.P., who travel back in time to meet John and Abigail Adams. The tentative title is The President and Me: The John Adams Bobblehead.
About the author:
Deborah Kalb has worked as a journalist and freelance writer in Washington, D.C., for more than two decades. She has focused on covering Congress and politics as a writer and editor for various news organizations including Gannett News Service, Congressional Quarterly, The Hill, U.S. News & World Report, and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. She is the co-author (with her father, acclaimed journalist Marvin Kalb) of Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama. Deborah also has a blog, deborahkalbbooks.blogspot.com, where she interviews authors about their books.
A graduate of Harvard University, where she majored in history, Deborah received a master’s degree in American Studies from Yale University. With this book for young readers (with crossover into the adult market), she is drawing on her knowledge of presidential history and taking it in a different direction.
Winner of 2016 WILLA Award and Winner of 2015 Reading the West Nonfiction Award
“Both enjoyable and edifying.”—Library Journal
“Ladies of the Canyons shows the way in which O’Keeffe and others were just the latest in a tradition of audacious women who carved a well-traveled path of freedom and challenge.”—Bookslut
My thoughts on this exceptional book:
Long before artist Georgia O’Keefe and patron of the arts Mabel Dodge Luhan fell in love with New Mexico, other gutsy women from privileged families back east set out to explore “The Land of Enchantment” and claim it as their own. But their names were lost to history until recently.
Just as Natalie Curtis Burlin left the comfort of privilege in New York City to capture the songs of the Hopi, author Lesley Poling-Kempes left the comfort of sitting on her literary laurels to dive into the past and recreate the lives of some remarkable women who blazed new trails in the American Southwest. As I savored this engrossing and educational tale, it was almost like the author had gone back in time and accompanied her subjects as they bounced along in lumbering touring cars or trotted on horseback under the blazing sun, taking notes that would become The Ladies of the Canyons:A League of Extraordinary Women and Their Adventures in the American Southwest.
Even now, a year after the release of this amazing book, I like to envision the author seated at a place of honor in a tiny casita a few blocks off the plaza in old Santa Fe. “The Ladies” are all gathered around Lesley when Natalie Curtis Burlin bustles in and offers her special guest a nice cup of tea. And with piano music drifting in through an open window, Carol Bishop Stanley (founder of Ghost Ranch), stands up and declares, “Dear Lesley, we knew you would come. It was just a matter of time.”
Q&A with the author:
Kathleen: After reading Ladies of the Canyons, I am in awe of how you gathered your material buried in archives and private collections and assembled it into an intriguing story. Can you describe your process? How do you puzzle together bits and pieces of the past into a narrative that feels alive?
Lesley: For Ladies of the Canyons I knew I had to begin by finding and making sense of the stories/biographies of the four main characters, Carol Stanley, Natalie Curtis, Alice Klauber, and Mary Wheelwright. Because they lived a century ago, it meant visiting in person many of the places they lived, and also locating the physical archives that held what scant scraps they left behind in diaries, letters, journals, paintings, and music. I kept notebooks about each of the women and also a massive timeline that showed where and how they intersected with major events of their time and also with each other. It took about two years to gather the material together, and another two years to write their stories into one narrative. The ladies came alive for me about halfway into the research as my connection to their lives strengthened and I began to get a real sense of who they were as people. They began to feel alive in my life and time.
KMR: How long did it take you to write the book, and were you ever overwhelmed as you sifted through historical documents?
LPK: About four years. I was overwhelmed daily, truly, every day, by the size of the task and the amount of material involved. I never let myself look too far ahead. I just kept to the page before me. I likened it to laying track over a very long and often forbidding distance.
KMR: I’m a huge fan of your novels Bone Horses and Canyon of Remembering. As both an historian and a novelist, can you describe the differences between writing fiction and nonfiction?
LPK: The freedom I feel when writing fiction cannot be overstated. I do research for my novels, but not to the extent I do for nonfiction. And living in ‘fictionland’ for months at a time is liberating and often just good fun. It is hard work, as all novelists know, but without the sense of intense responsibility that goes with writing history and biography where getting the facts right, and documenting sources and etc., is fundamental to the success of the book. The contrast – working on a novel for a few years after working on a book of nonfiction – is satisfying and therapeutic.
KMR: When you first started researching your nonfiction subjects for Ladies of the Canyons, did you have any idea that the story would take you (and the reader) from New York and Boston to the desert Southwest and all the way to Paris?
LPK: I did. I had glimpsed the stories of the ladies while writing the book Ghost Ranch and knew Natalie’s and Alice’s stories would involve Europe, New York, and San Diego, and Carol’s and Mary’s stories would involve Boston and environs. Still, I had to give myself a crash course in the birth of Modern Art in Europe and the US, and also read up on everything Victorian, especially as that era affected women.
KMR: Art plays a big role in this book. You come across as someone very comfortable at writing about art, music, important historical events, and even former presidents. Does this come naturally to you or is it a skill you’ve acquired over your career.
LPK: It comes naturally because I’m curious about art and music and the intersection of historic events with common and uncommon folks. I live in Abiquiu within the cultural landscape that extends to Santa Fe and Taos. Many remarkable and creative people (O’Keeffe tops the list of local lights) have come to work and live here over the last century. And the making and celebration of art has been part of daily life since prehistory and the culture of the Pueblo people.
I have always admired the life of TR Roosevelt and being able to include him in the story of Ladies of the Canyons was a wonderful gift. I read most of Roosevelt’s writings about his time in the American Southwest, and studied his opinions and the evolution of his policies and thoughts about and toward Native America so that I could place his time with Natalie and Alice in the desert Southwest into historic perspective. Natalie Curtis and Roosevelt’s relationship was fascinating to piece together. And theirs is a great story, too, one that had never been told. Finding the archival photographs and rare film footage of Curtis and Roosevelt together in Hopi land in 1913 was among the most affirming and satisfying moments of my writing career.
KMR: What are you working on now? Last time we chatted, you mentioned that you were eager to get back to work on the sequel to Bone Horses. I’m looking forward to reading your next novel.
LPK: Yes, I am writing the sequel to my novel Bone Horses. Ten years have passed in the town of Agua Dulce and there are some familiar characters and also several who will be new to readers. I love being immersed in this fictional place in northern New Mexico. It’s challenging – I find the first draft of any sort of book, fiction or nonfiction, extremely difficult. But writing, completing, and publishing 6 books have given me one gift: faith in my ability to get through a messy, awkward, crappy first draft. I know how to rewrite (and rewrite and rewrite) my first drafts into something coherent and hopefully beautiful.
I recently completed my first historic novel, Gallup. Set in World War 2 New Mexico, this novel is based on the screenplay written by Robert N. Singer with whom I share co-writer credit on both the novel and the screenplay. I’ll keep you updated on the development of the film and the publication of the novel, both of which I hope will happen in a few years.
Lesley Poling-Kempes is the award winning author of fiction and nonfiction books about the American Southwest, including “Bone Horses” winner of the 2014 WILLA Literary Award for Contemporary Fiction and the Tony Hillerman Award; “The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West,” winner of the Zia Award and recently optioned for a US-UK television series; “Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu,” and “Ghost Ranch.” Her first novel “Canyon of Remembering” was a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist.
“Ladies of the Canyon: A League of Extraordinary Women & Their Adventures in the American Southwest” was released in 2015 and won the Reading the West Award for nonfiction, the WILLA Literary Award, the Silver Medal for US History from the Independent Publishers Association, and is a WWW Spur Award finalist.
South Carolina contributed two brigades of infantry, two regiments of cavalry and several artillery batteries to the Battle of Gettysburg in July of 1863. Their veterans related accounts of heroism and fear, triumph and loss for the remainder of their lives. These are their stories.
Kathleen: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?”
Keith: Ha! I’m not sure I’ve proclaimed it yet. Seriously, I suppose mentally it would have been somewhere in my early thirties. Of course it can be tough keeping yourself convinced during all the starts and stops you encounter in the early stages until your first big break. Then you realize that this supposed break is just the camel’s nose under the tent. That is followed by years where you sometimes believe that this is all of the camel you will ever manage to infiltrate into the vaunted big tent. I am far from having “arrived,” but there does come a day when things start falling into place and you have the feeling that there are serious people who know who you are and take you seriously. So who knows, maybe my camel might find his way into the tent after all.
KMR: Please describe your journey as an author and your road to publication. Take us from those early days of your first efforts to “award-winning author.”
JKJ: Great question. I have a page on my website, called “My Journey” in which I make the statement, “I dreamed about writing even before I realized that was my dream.” I have wondered where this desire actually comes from, and I think that it relates back to my childhood as an introverted farm boy who spent hours playing alone. To entertain myself, I would spend long periods playing alone in the yard, the cotton fields or the woods. To pass the time, I would make up stories to tell myself. This evolved into writing the stories down. Writing is a wonderful form of expression because it is about the only one where you can take the time to shape it into exactly what you are trying to say and don’t have to get it right the first time, but more than anything, it is about the only way to say these things without interruption.
KMR: What fascinates you about the Civil War and how do you approach your research?
JKJ: It is hard to put my finger on exactly why I have this fascination. I have always had a strong interest in genealogy, and it’s interesting the historically significant things that one runs across while researching that. In school you get the quick over with the basic facts, dates, people and places. In my day you got between one and two weeks for this. Now I understand high schoolers get less than two days. So, kids today spend less than 90 minutes of class time studying one of the most devastating and profound periods of our history. That said, even in my student days, it was not really enough to make it interesting, so I dug deeper on my own and that is when the more personal stories began to emerge.
When you can connect these events to real people and you can begin to understand the relationships they had with one another and the ties they had to the places they lived and the ties they formed with the places they fought, that is when it all begins to come alive. That is when you begin to understand that these were real people who lived real lives, experienced real joy, suffered real pain and grappled with real fear. In most cases, depending on whether they survived the war, they lived anywhere from eighteen to eighty years, but what happened during those four years defined their whole lives. Reading the stories told by the common soldier about his family back home, about the men he served with and those times he had to push down his fear and go forward, because that is what was expected of him, makes me all the more aware that these were real people just like me. They had mothers, wives and sisters back home who worried about them and in all too many cases grieved over them. Past wars are so often both glorified and trivialized to the point that we forget the humanity of those who did their duty and suffered the consequences.
JKJ: Good old-fashioned leg work. Various online newspaper archives and archives of public domain books – memoirs mainly. There are hardbound copies of the old Confederate Veteran Magazine in libraries. This was the official magazine of the United Confederate Veterans.
KMR: What do you want the reader to take away from reading this story?
JKJ: Good question. I guess mainly that these were real people with real lives. Had it not been for the upheaval of war, they would have been tending their farms, minding their stores or working at their law practices. There are any number of things these men would have rather been doing and they frequently said so in their letters and diaries. Every life is a story. History class teaches us about dates, places and names. These things are the metadata of life, but they are not really what we live. People live relationships and interactions. These are the things that make up the stories that are our lives. No one lives life alone and these real people who witnessed history were no different.
KMR: If you’d been alive during the Civil War, would you have kept a diary?
JKJ: You know, keeping a diary and journaling are things I always mean to do, but don’t. If I were alive at that time, and so far away from my loved ones, I expect I would have. In those days the soldiers didn’t have Skype or email, so letter writing was their only means of communicating with home. Along with letter writing, many soldiers kept diaries, something that is not only frowned upon today, but is usually forbidden due to security concerns. I believe there were two primary reasons they did this. One was boredom. Except for the times they were in battle, they mostly drilled or pulled guard duty, then they had long hours with little to do. The other was therapy. They needed a way to sort out the things they had seen and done. These men were forced to witness things that no person should ever have to see and worse, do things to their fellow human beings that we as a species are not wired to find acceptable.
So, I imagine given the same landscape, I would do much the same.
KMR: Can you recall the first story or book you read as a child that had an impact on your life?
JKJ: Probably Baa, Baa, Black Sheep by Colonel Gregory Boyington. Pappy Boyington has been criticized for self-aggrandizement, and I have little doubt that he was guilty of that, but the first person perspective of a man who had a front row seat to history and the plainspoken way he had of relating these events really grabbed me.
KMR: How do you juggle your day job with research, writing, and marketing and promoting your work?
JKJ: Probably not very well. I do have an advantage of living and working close to some good research libraries. That said, sometimes I will research at lunch or after work in the library. Most every evening I am trying to do something toward the cause of advancing my writing. I speak a lot before history and heritage groups. Some large, but many small. The fact is that you have to put yourself out there and you can’t be too picky. I have learned that the help you seek comes from the most unexpected places and frequently, the places you expect help from never materialize.
KMR: With your busy schedule, when do you find time to read for pleasure? Do you think we writers can ever really read for pleasure or are you always studying the writing?
JKJ: I usually read just before bed. I am a lifelong insomniac, so reading is about the only way to calm my mind to allow sleep to come easy. Being a writer does make you a bit of an automatic critic. I have learned to turn loose of some of the overly judgmental side and lose myself in the story. There really are two parts to writing, one is the mechanical side of writing where you allow your inner Grammar-Nazi to run free and you beat people over the head every time you run across a sentence with passive voice. Making writing as tight as you can and avoiding passive voice is important, but I believe that if you never take any liberties with language, then every book will read like a technical manual and the imagination will never come out to play and let the real story emerge.
KMR: What are you working on now?
JKJ: Well, for one thing I am updating Georgia Remembers Gettysburg with additional material, maps and photos to become Echoes From Gettysburg: Georgia’s Memories and Images. Also on the history front, I am gathering material for books on the Battle of Gaines Mill and for Alamance County, North Carolina in the Civil War.
On the fiction front, I continue writing short stories, and I am about to start work on revising a political thriller that I wrote the first draft of several years ago.
Keith Jones is the author of four books, one novel and three histories. He is a two-time winner of the Gold Medal for History from the Military Writers Society of America. His articles have been published in Georgia Magazine and Gettysburg Magazine. He also has short stories in journals and anthologies. To read more about his work, visit his website.
To read the complete article on how Grammy® Award-winning vocalist Leslie Ellis and I collaborated on the audio edition of my novel, Johnnie Come Lately, click here to order your print or digital copy in the September/October 2016 issue of Southern Writers Magazine.
The little book that grew wings and learned to fly continues to ride the thermals. Many thanks to Readers’ Favorite reviewer Michelle Stanley for thinking my novel worthy enough for a 5-star rating in 2015.
First edition released from Leatherneck Publishing in October 2008. Thanks to the late Neil Levin for believing in me and this book which won a Silver Medal from Military Writers Society of America in 2009. Thank you to MWSA Founder Bill McDonald for the stellar review. In early 2010, the book was featured in USA Today, The Associated Press, Military Times, and many other publications.
E-Book released from Navigator Books in 2011 with a new cover featuring a missing man formation of A-10 fighter jets affectionately known as Warthogs. Thanks to Maria Edwards and Jeff Edwards for giving the book new life.
Second edition (print and e-book) released from Deer Hawk Publications in 2014 and represented by Jeanie Loiacono, President of Loiacono Literary Agency. Thanks to Aurelia Sands at Deer Hawk for giving my book a new home.
A huge round of applause to all of my readers over the years who were kind enough to invite my characters into their busy lives and then went above and beyond by posting reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and spreading the word to friends and family.
This is a Blue Star Service pin. I wore it everyday my youngest son was deployed to a war zone halfway around the world. I proudly display this same symbol on the back of my vehicle. After all these long years of our nation fighting the war on terrorism, it’s sad to know that many Americans do not know the significance of this symbol and what it stands for.
I felt at first like I was dreaming. When I received the message from the International Women Writers Guild (IWWG) that they wanted me to be a presenter at their upcoming conference, I could hardly believe it. It isn’t often that a small-town Southern writer is asked to do such a thing, especially in Pennsylvania, far from my home in Alabama. I’d dreamed of this for three years, submitting several proposals in hopes of garnering a spot. And now, I was to be the presenter of two workshops at the IWWG conference at Muhlenberg College in Allentown!
Once I arrived, I felt that familiar sense of place, a college campus buzzing with activity. I walked around the Commons relishing memories of the campus in my hometown where I’d taught for many years. The first workshop went even better than I could have imagined. I shared a part of my life with those in attendance, and every day thereafter, we shared, we talked, we cried, we laughed, and we healed.
On my fourth night there, I was laughing with my roommates, all of us gathered in my room, when my phone rang.
“Mama,” the voice on the other end sobbed, “she’s dead, Mama. Rachael died.”
I thought I must be dreaming again. No, this couldn’t be true. Rachael, my son Matthew’s fiancée, was only thirty-six years old.
“Mama,” he struggled again amidst his sobs. “She’s dead. Rachael died tonight. Do you think she will go to Heaven?”
My heart broken and shock setting in, I remember very little about the rest of that night. But what I do remember is this: I dreamed that Rachael and I were standing on an immense, glimmering white sidewalk. I tried to pull her forward, but she resisted. I reached for her again, and she relaxed. We walked together up that shining white sidewalk. At the end of the sidewalk, a shimmering—almost blinding—white light glowed, and in the background, I thought I could see two immense white wings. Rachael looked over at me and I nodded. She stepped forward, off the sidewalk, and into the light.
I left the conference early to be with my family. And with that dream in my mind, now I could answer Matthew’s question.
“Yes, honey, she did go to Heaven, and the angels were waiting for her.”
In loving memory of Rachael Headrick, a young woman tortured by demons: a mother, a daughter, and a loving partner now safely home in the loving arms of angels.
Joy Ross Davis is of Irish descent and a student of the lore and magic found in the hills of Tennessee. After a twenty-five year career as a college English professor, she traveled to Ireland and worked as a writer and photographer, publishing numerous travel articles and photos for an Irish travel agency. She has been a contributing feature writer for a local newspaper and has published articles in Southern literary magazines. She lives in Alabama with her son and beloved dogs. She loves to speak at conferences, book club meetings, and events to share her connection with angels and the stories behind her books. To learn more clickhere.
An hour before I attended my 40th high school reunion in Clovis, NM, my agent notified me that my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, is a semi-finalist for literary fiction in the 2016 Kindle Book Review Awards. What a thrill to learn of this honor in the town where my writing roots took hold my junior year on the high school newspaper, The Purple Press.
Thanks to every person over the years who believed in me as a writer.
To see the complete list of semi-finalist, click here.
Grammy® Award-winning vocalist Leslie Ellis has sung with many artists including as a featured vocalist with Celine Dion on “My Heart will Go On” and Thomas Dolby on his latest album “Forty.” She sang the original soundtrack “Six Times Around the Sun” for the CBS mini-series, “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town,” and she’s done countless TV/radio jingles and song demos for SONY Music.
In 2007, her self penned “The Flyer Song” was adopted by the US Navy and made into a video tribute to the troops and their families. She’s had dozens of cuts by other artists including The Bellamy Brothers and NYC based singer/songwriter David Ippolito.
As an actress, Leslie has appeared on television and the Broadway stage including leading roles in CATS, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, and CITY OF ANGELS. She’s performed roles in the films “My Name Is Wallace” (2007) which was invited to the Cannes Film Festival; “The New True Charlie Wu”; The feature film “Unconditional” and “Happy New Year Mr. Kates.” She won a best actress award for her roll as Tiffany in “My Name Is Wallace.”
Audio book narrating and production are a part of her world as well, so look for her on Audible.com. Leslie has released three solo albums, “Standing at the Moment”, “Leslie Ellis,” and “Making the Best” available on Working Jane Records. Leslie performs live across the USA and Europe with hit songwriter Casey Kelly.
When I married in 1985, my husband was still fighting the war in Vietnam, although it had been over for years. In his mind, though, the war raged on, year after bloody year. As a civilian, he was an attorney, but as a young enlisted man of 19, he was a member of the elite Green Berets.
He’d left an unhappy home and enlisted when he was 18. He took to the military life and within a short time, he gained the respect of many of his fellow enlisted men. He became an expert target shooter, won several awards, and because of his skills with a weapon, was eventually called into the Green Berets. It was his crowning glory.
And this is where his story stops. Dead still.
His memories would become clouded, he said. Dates, times, and places lost all of their continuity, but not all of their power over him. He was enlisted in the Green Berets to be a “cleaner.” It was his job to advance into areas to make sure that they were clean….devoid of any living soul. It was his job, he said, to clean up. He couldn’t remember anything else.
There were nights when he screamed in his sleep, nights when he woke enraged, terrified, fighting back an enemy. Even though he loved me, at night in his dreams, I became that enemy he tried to choke, beat, and strangle…the enemy that must be crushed. When he was in that killer mind, there was nothing I could do. It didn’t happen every night, not even once a week, but when it did happen, I’d be caught unawares, terrified and defenseless. And he would be exactly the same….caught unaware, memories flooding his mind of terrified screams and pleas for life.
He was a big man, my Jack, tall and broad shouldered with powerfully muscular arms. They were arms that could hold and comfort and arms that could break a neck or crush a windpipe. He was a good man with a generous heart, but at night in those horrible dreams, he became the hunted, the soldier defending his life, striking out at anyone in his path.
By day, he was a successful lawyer winning every case that came his way. But by night—no matter how much medicine he took–he became again a member of the Green Berets, that young man whose job it was to “clean” every area.
Our marriage was not a successful one, but by some miracle, our love for each other stayed strong. When he passed away in 1993, I was at his bedside, listening with tears in my eyes as he breathed his last words, “Joy. Joy.”
The author is a student of the lore and magic of the back hills of Tennessee. She writes imaginative fiction featuring unusual angels as main characters. She has lived and worked in Alabama for most of her life. She has a Ph.D. in Creative Writing, and for many years, taught English at a local community college. She retired to become a caregiver for her mother who suffered from dementia. For several months in 2007, she lived in Ireland and worked as a travel writer and photographer. She lives in Alabama with her son and three rescue dogs.
What an honor to interview Parris Afton Bonds and Rita Clay Estrada for the May/June 2016 issue of Southern Writers Magazine. Many thanks to Editor-in-Chief Susan Reichert for accepting my proposal and to Gary Fearon, Creative Director, for coming up with a beautiful cover. To read the complete interview, click here to order your copy now.
Autographed books make perfect gifts for those you care about. If you’re in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Saturday May 7, stop by Barnes & Noble in Southlake, TX from 1-3 p.m. and meet authors Diane Yates (Pathways of the Heart andAll That Matters), Drema Hall Berkheimer (Running On Red Dog Road), Jan Morrill (The Red Kimono), and Kathleen M. Rodgers (Johnnie Come Lately andThe Final Salute). We’d love to see you there.