Last Christmas, my husband and I were running errands when we spotted a saxophone player seated in front of a grave at a cemetery near our home. I pulled out my cell phone and grabbed a photo and shared it on social media. Facebook friend and artist Don Dean was so inspired by the image that he painted this watercolor during a recent lunch break.
With Don’s permission, I’m sharing the painting along with his commentary on Facebook. In Don’s words:
As I worked through this piece, I had all sorts of questions in my mind. Who is he playing to? What song is he blowing on that Sax? At first I thought this was a sad scene, maybe playing for a lost friend or brother or maybe his mom and pop.
As I continued to work a different story developed in my head. This is a happy scene and he’s blowing Dixieland. Maybe he’s playing for his old crazy Aunt Bertha who was the “Last of the Red Hot Mama’s” in New Orleans back in the sixties. He’s blowing for all of us old Cats that ever got drunk and sweaty drinking pitchers of Miller High Life in some old smoky bar on Bourbon Street. He’s blowing for all of you that ever drank too many Flaming Hurricanes or Mint Juleps at Pat O’Brien’s.
He’s playing, “When the Saints Go Marching In”
Happy St. Patrick’s day. Don’t drink too much green beer.
Thorndike Press calls Johnnie Come Lately “contemporary, issues-driven women’s fiction featuring warm and spunky Johnnie Kitchen and her family.”
The hardcover large print edition releases today, February 21, 2018, and received top billing under the publisher’s “Clean Reads” line on page 22 in the February 2018 catalog.
Many public libraries carry large print books. Check with your local library to see if they’ve ordered the large print edition of Johnnie Come Lately. Make sure you mention the book is available from Thorndike Press.
You can order the hardcover edition at the following booksellers:
My third novel, Seven Wings to Glory, gets top billing in Thorndike Press’s March 2018 catalog. Thorndike Press is the leading large print publisher in the United States. The book releases in hardcover large print March 21, one month shy of the anniversary of the original publication in 2017 from Camel Press.
I wrote this novel under contract on a tight deadline. I’m thrilled that Thorndike bought the rights for the new edition, and I’m equally thrilled to see the blurb from Southern Writers Magazine.
Thorndike Press will release the prequel, Johnnie Come Lately, in hardcover large print on February 21, 2018. I posted about it here. Both hardcover copies are available at most online booksellers, including Amazon, B&N, BAM, & Indie Bound. Libraries can order directly from Thorndike Press.
Meanwhile, back at the writing desk, I’m working on my fourth novel which deals in part about the family of a military pilot missing in action since 1972.
What’s the best way to review a book written for children? With the help of children, of course. And when the subject matter leans toward the somber and serious, in this case prisoners of war and service members missing in action, I enlisted the help of two children who live in my subdivision, a civilian community far away from bombs and bullets.
William is an athletic seventh grader who tells me he enjoys reading books he can check out from the library. His third grade sister, Kaili, loves to play dress up and wasn’t shy about speaking up as we discussed many of the tough themes in author Nancy Polette’s latest book for middle-grade readers, N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A to Z (Elva Resa Publishing, 2017) and illustrated by Paul Dillon, the son of a WWII POW.
A few years ago, this brother and sister duo, along with another neighbor boy, showed up on my doorstep with homemade cookies and handwritten signs for my youngest son before he deployed to Afghanistan. To my knowledge, this is the closest these kids have come to personally knowing a soldier going off to war.
So, with William seated to my left at my dining room table and Kaili to my right, we began to discuss the stark and haunting images on the book’s cover. William pointed out the guard tower and informed his sister that there was probably a soldier up in the tower with a gun pointed down at the men huddled in coats. Kaili mentioned the snow and how cold the men looked. Then she mimicked an invisible guard up in the tower and said gruffly, “I’m warning you, don’t try to leave.” Throughout the reading of the book, she put herself into the story, imagining what it would be like to be taken prisoner, to be held against her will, and wondering if her family back home would know her whereabouts and if anyone was trying to save her. That’s what a good book does: it invites the reader to participate.
As we turned to the first page, I started to explain how the book is organized using a word starting with each letter of the alphabet. Kaili chimed in and said, “Yeah, it’s sort of like another book that might say, ‘P is for Princess or M is for Monster.’” And so we began with Artists and how “artwork reflects the hardships of prison life.” In a few brief paragraphs, the author explains how a British soldier held captive by the Japanese in 1942, fashioned a paintbrush out of human hair and used berry juice to depict the harsh treatment he and other prisoners experienced during the war. Although the guards confiscated many of the secret sketches, some of the sketches survived and show the hardship and sometimes death that prisoners endured at the hands of the enemy.
Later in the book, the images of barefoot children in threadbare clothing with downcast faces, and imprisoned behind barbed wire, prompted a lively discussion about Internment Camps and concentration camps during WWII. After William read a few lines out loud from that section, we talked about what it would be like if tanks and military trucks started rolling up and down our street and yanking people from their homes. Since my intent wasn’t to scare the children, I reassured them that hopefully our present and future leaders learn from the mistakes of the past. I appreciated that the author and the illustrator didn’t candy-coat this dark aspect of our world’s history, and the presentation of the material was age appropriate and tasteful.
One illustration shows a prisoner’s hands all cut up and bruised as he sews a crud American Flag out of scraps of material. This led to a discussion about why a prisoner might put his or her life at risk to create symbols from home. Another section talked about how Americans held in captivity during the Vietnam War created “Tap Codes” that help them communicate with other prisoners throughout camp when communication was forbidden. We role-played this part. I held up a notebook to represent a wall dividing two cells in a prison camp. William pretended to be in one cell and Kaili in the other. They couldn’t see each other or speak, not even a whisper. Then they each took turns tapping on the table, and we all three marveled at how prisoners in real life came up with secret codes to communicate. We studied the “tap chart” in the book showing letters of the alphabet and how they corresponded with the number of taps that spelled out words.
In the section, Missing In Action, a special team of investigators searches through a roped off area on a hillside deep in the jungle at what appears to be the sight of a military jet crash. The hillside is bare in places and we imagined what might have happened to the pilot and crew when the plane crashed decades ago and was never found until now. Between the illustration and the author’s explanation, we learn that every effort is made to recover and identify the remains of those missing from battles dating back decades.
At some point in our discussion, I had Kaili run into my home office and bring back a small black and white POW-MIA flag I keep on my desk. We talked about the symbolism of the flag. Then we remembered that a neighbor down the street flies a POW-MIA flag everyday, along with the American flag, on a tall flagpole in his front yard. My hope is that these children will glance up every now and then when they’re riding their bikes past the house and think about the meaning behind the black and white cloth with the silhouette of a man, a watchtower, and barbed wire, flapping in the wind.
When we turned to the section about Sacrifice, I hesitated. A part of me wanted to shield these kids from the truth. In the first illustration, a uniformed honor guard stands next to the casket of a fallen service member while members of the guard fold an American flag to present to the family. On the next page, we see the family seated near the gravesite; several generations are represented. A handsome Marine kneels before a woman as she receives the flag. A young boy clings to her side while a little girl a few feet away looks on.
As the kids and I took turns reading the short passage that accompanies this section, I realized at once why this book is so important. Military kids of all ages understand the sacrifice for the most part. Many of them have lived through the trauma of sending a parent to war, and all too many have experienced the grief that comes with sacrifice, be it death or a disability. But how many civilian kids have been sheltered from the harsh reality of war? How many civilian parents talk to their young children about those who serve in the Armed Forces?
N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A-Z should be in every elementary and middle school library in this country. One of the goals of the book is to tell the military story to the civilian sector of our society. The book is ideal for a classroom discussion or for families who are looking for meaningful ways to honor veterans in their communities. This book can serve as a guide to help parents and educators teach children about service and sacrifice.
Librarians might consider ordering this book for their school or city libraries. Suitable for ages eight and up, patrons of all ages and backgrounds can benefit from the information presented in straightforward easy to read language. A discussion guide and a glossary explaining a few military terms are included at the back of the book.
As my young neighbors left to go home, I watched them through the eyes of a military wife and mother who’s sent loved ones into harm’s way. My hope is that more Americans can teach their children about the true cost of freedom. Reading this book is a good place to start.
Nancy Polette has written more than 170 books! She spent five years researching the life of Virginia Hall for her middle grade biography, The Spy with the Wooden Leg: The Story of Virginia Hall and worked alongside the president of the Jefferson Barracks POW-MIA Museum president to create N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A to Z.
Paul Dillon is an accomplished illustrator and cartoonist whose work has appeared in more than thirty children’s books. He digitally painted the illustrations in N is for Never Forget: POW-MIA A to Z, a middle-grade nonfiction picture book honoring the legacies of prisoners of war and those missing in action. Paul is president of the Jefferson Barracks POW-MIA Museum. His dad was a WWII POW.
Elva Resa Publishing, a military spouse-owned company, is the leading US publisher of resources for and about military families. Elva Resa’s mission is to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Kathleen M. Rodgers is a former frequent contributor to Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. The author of three novels, she is working on her fourth novel, which deals in part with the family of a pilot missing in action in Vietnam.
I’ve been sitting on a secret since May. I’m thrilled to announce that Thorndike Press, the leading large print publisher in the United States, will release my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, in hardcover large print library binding February 21, 2018. The sequel, Seven Wings to Glory, will follow on March 21, 2018. This is a dream come true and will help my books find a whole new audience. Thorndike Press calls both novels “contemporary, issues-driven women’s fiction featuring warm and spunky Johnnie Kitchen and her family.”
Johnnie Come Lately received top billing under the publisher’s “Clean Reads” line on page 22 in the February 2018 catalog. To view the catalog, click here.
To pre-order either title, please visit the publisher’s website
Check with your local library to see if they carry large print books. Ask them to order both books.
I am deeply grateful to Camel Press, the original publisher forJohnnie Come Latelyand Seven Wings to Glory, for making all of this possible. Both books are available in paperback and e-book. Johnnie is out on audio.
Books make perfect gifts for all occasions. The2017 Holiday Catalog from Southern Writers Magazine showcases a variety of books to choose from. The online catalog is free. Clickhere to find the perfect book for someone on your gift list or why not treat yourself to a good read.
If you haven’t read my latest novel, Seven Wings to Glory, I hope you’ll give it a try.
Members of Colleyville Book Club welcomed me for a lively discussion about my latest novel, Seven Wings to Glory. We talked about the characters and how they each dealt with issues of war, racism, and family secrets in the town of Portion, Texas, a fictional suburb located near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
After I read a brief excerpt from chapter two (the inciting incident), we each opened up and shared our own experiences dealing with discrimination and intolerance. A big thanks to hostesses Tari Sanchez Bauer and her daughter, Mandie Bauer, for selecting my novel for their October pick. The club will donate their copies to the library as a “book club kit.”
Thanks to all of you who’ve read my books and offered your support. Thanks to Camel Press for believing in my work.
Military Writers Society of America held its 2017 conference at the historic Menger Hotel in downtown San Antonio, TX. The hotel is located across the street from the Alamo and a couple of blocks from the Riverwalk. The weekend was packed with informative workshops led by speakers and panelists on a variety of topics pertaining to writing, editing, publishing, networking, and marketing.
On Friday, I participated on a panel titled “I’ve Written My Book, Now What?” During my ten minutes at the podium, I discussed the pros and cons of working with literary agents and why each writer must find a path to publication that fits his or her needs.
Don Helin served as the moderator. Dennis Koller and John Trudel each discussed their author experiences in an industry that is constantly in a flux. Members in the audience asked lots of good questions afterwards.
MWSA Vice President Bob Doerr organized this year’s conference. Bob did an outstanding job selecting the location and hotel.
MWSA Book Awards Director John Cathcart and his team of reviewers/judges selected the top books that received Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals. To see the complete list of winners, visit the MWSA website.
If you’d like to learn more about Military Writers Society of America, please visit our website. I’ve made lifelong friends since I joined MWSA in 2008. Even my husband, Tom, enjoys coming to the conferences.
PS: Thanks to Jeanette Vaughan and Sandra Linhart for taking the photos
In late January of 2017, Diane Nine, President ofNine Speakers, Inc., an established literary agency based in Washington, D.C., offered to represent my future work. At the time, all I had to offer Diane was a one paragraph premise describing the novel I planned to write. I am forever grateful to Deborah Kalb, an author and journalist I admire and respect, for recommending me to Diane.
My work in progress is my fourth novel (if you don’t count the two half-baked manuscripts in a bottom drawer). I hope fans of my first three novels, The Final Salute, Johnnie Come Lately, and Seven Wings to Glory, will embrace my next story starring a brand new cast of characters in a contemporary setting I’ve longed to write about, my native New Mexico.
I’m about a third of the way in, and I hope to have the story complete by the end of this year or shortly thereafter. Because I’m building this new book from scratch, it’s taken me a while to get to know my characters. I’m finally at that point in the story where my characters are waking me up in the middle of the night or nudging me in church to scribble notes in the margins of the bulletin. Don’t tell the preacher. 😉
Thanks to all of you who’ve followed my career over the years, whether you’ve read my books or my work in Family Circle Magazine and Military Times. Every day when I sit down to write, I remind myself that I live in a country where I have the freedom to explore controversial subjects and to express my imagination.
Last September I was invited to Senior Circle Book Club in Granbury, TX to discuss my second novel, Johnnie Come Lately. When I mentioned that my third novel was releasing a few months later, they invited me to come back with the new book.
Today I had the pleasure of speaking to this warm and attentive audience. After I read a few passages from the opening pages of Seven Wings to Glory, several members asked questions about my writing process and how long it took me to write my third novel. One lady was curious about the title. I got a kick sharing how the title came to me in a dream.
We also talked about two of my favorite subjects: dogs and the military. A few of the women in the group came up to me later to tell me about their loved ones who’ve served in the Armed Forces. One lady who’s not pictured in the photo remembers her early childhood when her family lived on land which is now part of Fort Hood, the massive Army post located in central TX.
After my talk, I signed books and we enjoyed some delicious refreshments. Many thanks to Cory Johnson, Director of Senior Circle, for making the arrangements to have me back for the second visit.
Members of the “Second Thursday Book Club” at the Mary Lou Reddick Library in Lake Worth, Texas, rolled out the red carpet and welcomed me for a lively discussion about my third novel, Seven Wings to Glory. We also talked about its predecessor, Johnnie Come Lately. After I read a couple of brief passages from both novels, I took questions from the members. As an author, it’s thrilling to be in the company of a group of readers and listen to them discuss your characters as if they are real people.
Two of the members, Dolly and Emma, both have close ties to the Grapevine, TX area where I set my fictional town of Portion. Emma grew up on a farm which is now buried under Lake Grapevine (Portion Lake in the story). Dolly remembers attending barbecues as a child on land now under water. Several members of the book club went back and read my first novel, The Final Salute, after reading the other books.
As a native New Mexican now living in Texas, I was thrilled to learn that one of the members (Barbara) is from Roswell, NM. I was presented with a bouquet of flowers after the discussion.
A huge thanks to Lara Strother, Director of the Mary Lou Reddick Public Library, for the invitation. I appreciate my dear friend, Drema Hall Berkheimer, author of Running on Red Dog Road, for recommending me.
Dogs play an important role in my life and in the lives of my fictional characters. All of my dogs have served as inspiration for my canine characters in my last two novels, Johnnie Come Lately and Seven Wings to Glory.
I’m working on my fourth novel and soon a new canine friend will appear to show my characters the way.
For years I longed to visit the historic Castaneda Hotel located next to the railroad tracks in Las Vegas, New Mexico. My maternal grandmother, Olga Berg, left the security of her Iowa home in 1928 and came to Las Vegas, NM to work as a Harvey Girl for the Fred Harvey Company. She spent two years at the Castaneda before transferring to the Harvey House in Belen, NM, now home to the Harvey House Museum. She also worked special functions at the La Fonda in Santa Fe and the Alvarado in Albuquerque.
Thanks to Kathy Hendrickson of Southwest Detours, I got to walk in Olga’s footsteps and imagine what it was like to be a young girl far from home, donning the starched black and white uniform, and serving hungry train passengers at all hours of the day and night. With my husband Tom by my side, we entered the hotel lobby with our tour guide and stepped into the past.
While Tom and Kathy Hendrickson chatted at the long counter, I was pulled across the room by a lone black and white photograph hanging on a wall to my right.
As I approached the photograph, my heart began to race as I honed in on the Harvey Girl with deep-set eyes and a quiet smile in the center of the photograph.
I knew instantly it was Olga, my beloved grandmother! But just to be sure, I whipped out my cell phone and took a picture and sent it to my mother back in Clovis, NM. Within seconds, Mother texted back and said she was certain the young woman was her mother. I also sent the photograph to my two sisters and both of my grown sons. We all agreed the young woman had to be Olga.
I spent the rest of the tour thinking about my grandmother and wishing I’d asked her more questions about her days as a Harvey Girl before she married a railroader and became the mother of a daughter and two sons.
Olga Berg Lamb passed away on March 17, 1978. Until her last breath, she was always waiting on others and she knew the proper way to set a table.
As we walked up and down stairs and entered quiet rooms now occupied by ghosts of the past, I tried to tap into the Harvey Girl spirit. These women were more than glorified waitresses working at trackside lunchroom counters and dining halls across the west. They were risk takers! I wish I had half their gumption.
Author’s note: The Castaneda is currently under renovation. One day soon, this grand dame will shine again and welcome travelers looking for comfortable lodging and a link to the past when passenger trains ruled.
Olga’s younger sister Nellie Berg answered the Fred Harvey call and came to New Mexico and Arizona years later to work as a Harvey Girl. A large photo of Nellie graces the museum in Belen, NM.