Archive for May, 2009

It takes some kind of courage to run a bookstore, and another kind of bravado to start up a literary festival in light of the current economic conditions and the overall bad news about the book industry.

None of that deterred Farris Yawn, however. Yawn’s Books in Canton, Georgia recently kicked-off the Literary Celebration in collaboration with the Canton Festival of the Arts. While the weather was less than cooperative, Yawn said that many of his customers stopped by the store the next week saying, “Let’s do it again next year.”

River Jordan and Karen Spears Zacharias were two of a multitude of authors featured on panels throughout the weekend. Join Karen as she interviews River Jordan about her stunning new release, Saints In Limbo.

Q: There is a myth in Saints In Limbo about angels falling out of heaven. Did the novel originate with this myth? Was this really something you’d heard growing up or was it something you conjured up all by your lonesome?

River: I do my best work conjuring in my lonesome. The novel originated with this image I had of Velma sitting on her porch. That was it. I knew it was her birthday and that something special, and unusual was coming in a whirlwind. The Angels fell from Heaven on their own accord. ‘Course, I think there is something about that back there in the beginning of days in the Bible.

Q: Reviewers are calling Saints In Limbo classic Southern Gothic. Was that your intent?

River: I never seem to intend anything as a writer but Lord knows, I’d like to. I guess my only intent is to really tell the story that’s asking to be told. If reviewers are saying classic Southern Gothic, I count myself in good company. I used to walk around searching for my genre the way some people do a mate. I needed genrematch.com or something. Then an editor looked at a manuscript of my first novel years ago and said the same thing – Southern Gothic. Maybe that’s the case but it was never my intent.

Q: The rock given to Velma True by the stranger at her door transports her beyond the boundaries of time and death. It has similar qualities as the Terrasact in A Wrinkle in Time, although its purposes are quite different, aren’t they?

River: When this gift was given to Velma it wasn’t clear to me what its purpose was. I don’t exactly know things in advance when I’m writing. What Velma taught me was that our lives are made up not of years, or days, or even minutes – but moments. Possessing those fully can be powerful medicine.

Q: There’s a beautiful scene of physical longing between Velma and Joe in the barn. Does it take discipline as a writer to stop short of offering today’s readers the solicitous sex they are so accustomed to? Or do readers ever express disappointment that you didn’t write such scenes in salacious detail?

River: Okay, first to be very honest, I’m laughing. People – you know, people, always say sex sells. So, I used to joke that I would start my next novel with a sex scene. But it was really a joke. Reckon I just don’t feel compelled to write them. However, I do know something about old people. I had grandparents and great-grandparents that were a huge part of my life. Both living with us and taking care of them in all manner. What that taught me was a level of understanding, compassion, and comprehension.

What I guess I’m saying is, I know something about growing old and it doesn’t take much to imagine what it would be like to be growing toward what you think are the end of your days and then to suddenly find yourself so very, much younger, newly married, and staring at your husbands naked, sweaty back in a barn. ‘Nuff said I guess so I don’t add salacious details. It’s repossessing that moment with full awareness and passion that makes it so special.

Q: Saints In Limbo is published by WaterBrook, billed as the inspirational imprint of Random House. Do you worry about being branded an “inspirational” writer? Would such a brand be an accurate description of your work? Or of this work specifically?

River: Honey, I was raised by the tribe of Eeyore. I can worry about anything and everything. As a literary southern writer, I would like my work to find it’s way to the hands of people who will embrace the story being told. In that respect, I don’t want to be branded anything that would keep any reader from picking up Saints In Limbo and discovering what lies inside those pages. So, I think that the work, my writing, can be brandied Southern Gothic more than anything else.

Often us southerners embrace the dark side in our writing but I just run my toes through it. The light is more evident in my stories. A prevailing sense of hope, of hanging onto love, if nothing else. I think that’s where the inspirational tag sneaks in.

Of course, one of the greatest compliments anyone has ever given me is, “River, you inspire me.” And I hear that frequently either in reference to a novel or to a speaking engagement. But what I inspire people to do seems to run the gamut between calling their grandmother, to going fishing, or writing their memoir. I’m just a mixed bag of stories. There seems to be something for everyone in there.

Q: The writing in Saints has an ethereal quality, very reminiscent of Toni Morrison in that haunting way. Who are the writers that have shaped your style of writing?

River: So many writers have influenced me in so many ways but I think it was listening to all those old people telling stories when I was a little girl that had the greatest influence really on my writing. It was the poetry of their words, their southern cadence, their dreams, faith, and even their superstition. It’s that dark house on a stormy night, the creek on a hot summer afternoon, and porch talk at firefly time. Moonshine under the moonlight and people who had faith in God always even in the middle of a lot of poverty and pain.

Q: The redemption in Saints isn’t in the plan of salvation or even in the magical rock, but is found in the act of surrender, of letting go of the fear. Tell us about how the title came about. What does it represent to you?

River: I flat out stole the title from a friend during conversation. I was telling her a story (surprise) and she said-“oh, like, saints in limbo, right?” And then my eyes did that cartoon bugged out thing because I was half-way through the novel and I just knew that was the perfect title.

I think we are all everyday ordinary saints and we’re all transitioning from one thing to another whether we like it or not. And a lot of times in life it seems like we are just stuck on our druthers. I think that’s when men go fishing and women dye their hair. Or vice-versa. I don’t want to give anything away because the novel really hits on the title deeper into the story.

Q: You appear to have an easy knack for phrasing. I loved your line about Rudy, Velma’s errant good-for-little son. You said “Manhood was not his number.” And that, he had “bedded a paper-chain of women.” Do you labor over such descriptions or do they rush in as you write?

River: I have to show up and be willing to listen, but they just come out like that. I’m so thankful for that.

Q: How long between the inception of a novel to a finished draft for you? River: All my life. Really. For this reason. Those voices I heard as a child come floating back up full force. Then that’s all mixed in with Dr. Yolanda Reed of the Loblolly telling me something wise, such as, “Just listen to the story, that’s all. Just listen.” And then of course Velma’s place is none other than my daddy’s old homestead, a real place that took no time to create at all.

I worked on Saints In Limbo for three years but that’s no tried and true formula. On the other hand, I have a novel I’ve been carrying around now for over seven years but it’s not the right season yet for that work. I love the process. I think the most important thing is when I get that fist little snap, something inside catches my attention, and I keep testing that image or voice to see if it’s true. If so, and the character keeps talking, then they’ve got me. I’m in there with them for the ride no matter how long it takes. Three months of no sleep and absolute solitude or ten years makes no never mind. I do start out writing on a new novel for just a few hours a day but when the story picks up momentum- I’m gone, living there in my mind all the time and might as well be writing it all down all day, all night long.

Q: What are the non-negotiables for you when deciding to commit the remaining hours of your life to reading a book? What does that book have to offer you? And how do you incorporate that into your own writing?

River: The remaining hours of my life? Okay, now I’m distracted and thinking about my funeral. I think I’ll have boiled peanuts and really good music. Maybe a live band. Okay – back to reading. I want to read something that sets my soul on fire. I want to read words that tell me what it was to have been human and to set my feet on this planet for even just a little while. I want to carry some truth away about this life that I didn’t recognize before. To connect to another person’s life in the process. To cry, fight, laugh, love, and live more passionately than when I first turned that page.

I want the story to carry me somewhere wonderful whether it’s South America, or a riverboat, or even if it’s only a backyard on a summer night. And it doesn’t matter if it’s wonderful contemporary voices southern and otherwise, or the older voices of Mark Twain, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Conner, Harper Lee – the list goes on into eternity. Just give me that great story. Carry me away. The words can be soft or sharp, biting or butter, I just want the passion of the writer to be so intense that the words are like a white, hot light on the page.

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In the Dog House

I’m giving Poe the silent treatment. He has gotten into so much trouble this week, or gotten me into it, that I’ve decided that ignoring him is the best form of discipline. Poe hates to be ignored. He’s like Konnie that way.

Typically, Poe and I get along just fine. He’s content to while his mornings away while I work as long as I promise to take him for a hike up the Butte in the afternoons.


Here’s Poe on an afternoon this week, looking out over Hermiston. I even walked him to parts of the Butte where there are no trails just so he could be Dog of the Mountain from every vantage point.


He walked right out the edge of this ledge, to get a better view of the pool below.

This was a good day for Poe and for me. A day when everybody gets along and nobody causes anyone else any grief. That wasn’t the case for most of the week. On Tuesday I had to drive over to Tri-Cites, Wash. If you squint real hard and peer off into the distance in that bottom photo you can see Tri-Cities. It’s up 30 miles up the road, across the Columbia River, which is just about five miles north of the ledge where Poe and I were standing.

I had to go up there to return the new laptop I’d bought after spending an hour with the salesclerk and trying to find one with a sturdy keyboard because that Dell I owned previously was a put together by a 2-year old from left over legos. So I finally decided on a computer, bought it, brought it home and downloaded my files and then discovered the “Y” didn’t work. ARRRGGGHHH!!!

Tuesday morning I called the company where I bought the computer and they assured me that I could just bring it back and they’d replace it and give me a $25 gift certificate for all my troubles.

Poe hates it when I go off and leave him home alone. He’s like Konnie that way.

I’ve been gone so much lately that he literally begins to pout if he sees me packing a bag or grabbing my purse and car keys and not the dog leash. He knows that means I’m going somewhere other than the Butte and he can’t go. Like on Monday when I left him to go to Portland to speak and he had to stay the day in the kennel.

Since this was going to be a quick trick, I relented to his pouting and told him he could come along but he’d have to behave and stay in the backseat. He agreed. The ride up was pleasant. He stood with his hind legs on the backseat and his front ones on the console so he could help me watch for errant drivers and deer crossings. He doesn’t bark much (except for when the yellow school bus arrives every afternoon). The weather was perfect. Somewhere in the 70s. I found a parking space right next to the store’s front door. Rolled down the back passenger window enough to give him some air but not enough that he could hang his head out the window.

“Wait right here. I’ll be right back,” I told him.

He nodded.

At the counter, I asked for Maria, the gal I’d talked to on the phone. Some fellow took my computer and said he’d call for her. Five minutes later, I walked over to the customer help counter and asked for Maria again. They did call for her. She approached with the new laptop box (a good sign) and she and three, count ’em three, other guys tried to figure out the code for exchanging one laptop for another. They kept sliding a card through the computer, over and over again. Ten minutes passed. I walked over to the doors and checked on Poe.  He was fine.  

Not known for my patience, I finally said, “I am beginning to understand why they call it the Geek Squad.”

They grinned and continued trying to run their cards through the scanner. Then a loudspeaker called for the owner of the BMW with the Oregon plates.

That would be me, I said approaching customer service again. “What do  you need?”

“Talk to that lady there,” he said.

“Can I help you?” I asked the lady with the long curly hair.

OMGosh. The woman lit into me like a match on a dishrag. She started yelling and screaming at the top of  her lungs. I was so startled at first I had no idea what I’d done. Then I heard the tell-tale words “abuse” and “animal cruelty.”

I was so taken aback I put up my hand and turned and walked away. Back to the Geek Squad who had finally figured out how to run their scan card and had my computer ready to go. I picked it up and walked out the door. The woman followed me the entire way, yelling and screaming.

“I’ve called the police. They are on their way,” she hollered.

I wanted to say, “Lady, I worked as a reporter in this area. The police around here have way too many gang problems to worry about, I doubt they paid any attention to you and your rantings.”

But good for me, I didn’t say a word about that. Instead, I just said, “Girlfriend, get a flipping life. My dog is just fine. He was only in the car for 15 minutes, 20 max.”

She screamed back, “You were in that store 35 minutes. Me and others watched you the entire time.” As she said this she swept her arm out across the parking lot, which was mostly empty of cars and if there were any other people spying on me and Poe I didn’t see them and they didn’t come forward.

She was not deterred. “I have eight dogs,” she yelled. “You NEVER, EVER leave a dog in a car without the window rolled down.”

“The window is rolled down,” I noted, without yelling.

She continued her rant about animal cruelty and how I didn’t know how to care for my dog. I said something about “Yeah, well you probably take care of your dogs and neglect your children.”

Then I drove off. To the nearest Starbucks to get something to calm my nerves. I got Poe a cup of water. He put his nose into it and looked at me as if to say, “What is that? Where’s the Oatmeal cookie I ordered?” He didn’t take one lick of the water.

“Oh, brother,” I said. “Did you see that woman ranting at me? You are supposed to be dehydrated by now and on your last leg.”

Poe let out a long sigh.

He does that a lot. He’s like Tim that way.

I still have the cup of water from Starbucks sitting on the kitchen counter as a reminder that what we think others need may not be what they need at all. We keep offering them water, when what they really need, apparently, is deli meat.

I’m sick with some stupid flu. It hit me yesterday afternoon. One minute I was fine. The next I felt a familiar wave of morning sickness. That’s what it felt like, anyway. That was followed by sweats, chills, body aches and overall puny feeling. I tried to get some stuff done but all I really wanted to do was lie down. Tim and I had planned on going on a date last night.

Instead he went to one bedroom with a book and I went to the other with a book. He didn’t want to get whatever I had, which I think came from him in the first place.

We both read for a few hours. I figured Poe was with him. He figured Poe was with me. Instead Poe was downstairs feasting. He’d used his elongated snout to open the frig door where he proceeded to eat everything within paw distance. This included one whole polish sausage in its wrapper and two unopened bags of deli meat, the expensive kind. When he tired of that he ate the entire bag of deli cheese. Good thing I had the wine in the cupboard or that would be gone, too, I suppose.

He hasn’t moved his fat tail off Tim’s chair all morning. I’m still achy so I doubt I’ll get up to the Butte today, but even if I could, I wouldn’t take Poe.

I’m not speaking to him.

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I told you I’d come back to the funny story I heard at the Canton Arts Festival.  Author Cathy Lee Phillips shared that when she was a  young girl she couldn’t wait to get her first bra. She begged and begged her mama for that bra until her mama wearied of the girl’s pleadings gave in and bought her a training bra, even though she didn’t need one. For the uninitated, a training bra is called that because it’s just training boobies that don’t  yet exist.

So the next day after she got the bra, Cathy was in class. Always the first to answer any question the teacher asked, she was waving her arms trying to get the teacher’s attention when that bra snapped like a slingshot and came  up through her shirt, slapping her in the face. Cathy says that’s how it is sometimes when we are pleading with God for something. Sometimes the very thing we plead for will slap up right upside the head.

I had a wonderful time in Georgia. Laughed my butt off at Cathy’s story. She’s funny. She was just awarded Georgia Author of the Year. Check her out.

The Canton Festival wasn’t all that well attended but there was rain hampering attendance and well, that’s the way it goes with festivals the first year out. But the folks at Yawn’s Books did a great job and they’ve invited me to bring Double-Wide to their store when it debuts. So we’ll make a return trip to Canton soon.

The best part of any of these events are the people and the books I find. I got to spend a little bit of time with my friend River Jordan. If you like southern gothic literature, you must check out River’s new book Saints in Limbo. I am nearly finished with the book and it’s seriously one of the best I’ve read in awhile. River is a beautiful writer and she can weave a story. You might keep River’s sons in your prayers too. One is serving in Afghanistan, the other in Iraq.

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With River in Canton and Jackie Cooper.
Prior to the Canton Festival I had a few booksignings. I visited Horton’s Bookstore, the oldest Independent Bookstore in Georgia. Dorothy, the owner, claims there’s a ghost that roams the store. She gave me a personal tour of the place, even taking the time to point out the Mason Jar lid that was wedged into the floor to cover  up some hole that had been there when the bookstore was a grocery. 



Carrollton, where Horton’s is located, is a wonderful old southern town. If you go there, be sure and visit downtown, and stop in to say hello to Dorothy and her friends.

And you must, if you get a chance, go by FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, Georgia. Long-time friends Ellen & Jackie have created the most amazing store. It is stunning, like a gleaming showroom of bookstores. 

This piece was my absolute favorite. I want it in my home.

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Sit back and enjoy a walk through Fox Tales

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With Ellen  & Jackie

 If you don’t support your local Independents currently, please consider doing so. The difference between an Independent bookstore and the box chains is like the difference between the music of a Dodge commercial and that of Grey’s Anatomy. You can be sure on Grey’s you’ll hear a tune you’ll like that you’ve never heard before. On the Dodge commercial you’re going to get the same tiresome, even annoying, tune.

I did manage to squeeze in one other visit before my return to Oregon. I met the writer Diane. She’s a friend from FaceBook. She came to my hotel and we shared coffee before she rushed out to her day job as a middle-school teacher.

I’m not much for tattoos but Diane had the best tattoos I’ve ever seen:

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Ladybugs on her feet. Aren’t they wonderful? I love the whimsy of them. And as I told Diane, I was taught that whenever you find a Ladybug it is God’s sign that you are in the place you are supposed to be. I guess for Diane that everytime she takes a step, she’s in the place God intended.

And there’s another:

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Diane said she had the word “Beautiful” inscribed on her arm to remind herself that she’s beautiful. And she is too. She’s got Nicole Kidman’s beautiful thick  hair and skin so flawless it’s almost translucent. 

It’s hard to see our own beauty and worth sometimes. Our standards for it are so skewed. We think who we are is who we see in the mirror but that’s not who we are at all. That’s only a June Bug shell.

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Before I climb up on that high horse of mine, let me come clean. Yes. I played Spin-the-Bottle as a young girl. It was a routine summer activity on Friday and Saturday nights in the trailer park where I grew up.
Kids would gather at the deep end of the swimming pool during the noon-day heat but once the sun went down for the night, we’d hide in the shadows behind whatever trailer sat empty that week. We formed a cross-legged circle in the dirt, girls on one side and boys on the other, trying to avoid the bunkers of fire ants. With every spin I made I hoped like heck that the bottle’s neck didn’t point to the boy with the double-fanged teeth.
If our parents knew what we were doing, they never said. To be honest, I think parents who raise children in 12-by-60s in the steam of a southern summer are just thankful to have the television cut off and a moment of quiet. Whenever we were on Mama’s last nerve, she used to tell me and my brother to go play in the freeway. She was joking, of course, but just barely.
I blame Brother John for introducing me to the whole Spin-the-Bottle affair. No. Not that way. Sick. Get your mind out of the gutter.
Brother John was simply pimping me out. He had this major crush on Sara and the only way he could figure out how to spend time with Sara was to include his icky-little sister, who just happened to be Sara’s best friend.
It wasn’t a perfect plan. It’s not natural for a brother to include his sister in his sexual exploits, but it was the best Brother John could do, considering the constraints of childhood friendships.
Sara never really liked Brother John. She liked his friend Joe. But the only way she could figure out how to get cozy with Joe was to start with Brother John. Well, you get the picture.
Our idea of cozy, mind you, didn’t include discarding any clothing. It didn’t even include any slobber-swapping. That would have been far too nasty. There was a lot of heavy breathing but that was more the result of nerves than passion.
Even if our parents weren’t paying attention, we knew God was and if he got upset with us, well, shoot, he was liable to do more than break a switch off a tree; he could burst the dang sky open and rain down locust and lightening.
The rules were clear, if unspoken. Nobody ever did anything beyond a dry-run to first base. Now I can’t be sure how Yankees conducted their Spin-the-bottle routines but I can’t imagine that Yankee parents are any different than one that raised me. So for the sake of argument, let’s just assume the rules for Spin-the-Bottle are universal.
Far as I can recall the goal of Spin-the-Bottle was never to get nekkid. In fact, I’m pretty sure if anyone in our circle of friends had stripped off their Haines, he or she would have been targeted as a creepo pervert. We would have gathered the next week in a circle to hold hands and pray for their eternal soul which was surely damned.
All this to explain why it is that I am completely flummoxed by a study that claims “sexting” is no worse than Spin-the-Bottle.
You know what sexting is, right? It’s all the rage among school kids these days. They take photos of their undressed privates and then send them out via cell phone, making them about as public as the emperor who strode through town nekkid as a jaybird. (Thank you, Paris Hilton for the legacy you’ve passed along to a new generation.)
Peter Cumming, an associate professor at York University in Toronto, has concluded that parents ought not get their panties in a wad over sexting. Cumming says this practice is as harmless as Spin-the-Bottle. (Somebody might want to give this professor the crib sheet on sexual education. He apparently was absent for part of that semester.)
Professor Cumming warned that sexuality is a part of human nature and as such it’s natural for kids to want to experiment.
Yeah. Well, it’s natural for them to want to chase their siblings with butcher knives, too, but I never encouraged that. They are your children, so do what you want to, but don’t go blaming me if your child ends up with a life sentence. I tried to tell you.
Mr. Smarty-Pants Cumming claims that “a distinction has to be made between nudity and porn.” He says kids who get caught sexting should not be considered a sex offender.
Like I said, you do what you want to, but any child who comes around me or mine trying to swap out a looky-see is going to met with the sharp end of my wrath. And, buddy, I’m here to tell you, that’ll put the fear of God in the most hardened sinner.
Just ask my four children.
You don’t need a piece of parchment or a year-long study to reach the conclusion that taking photos of your privates and passing them along to your buddies or complete strangers is just plain stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid, as Gomer Pyle used to say.
(You reckon this is what they mean when they talk about the “Dumbing Down” of America?)
Professor Cumming doesn’t think such behavior is harmful to children. He doesn’t even think nude photos of children are pornography. Makes a person wonder what somebody like the muddled-brained professor would consider pornographic, doesn’t it?  

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Without question Susan Boyle has the gift of a songbird. What I love most about her though is she’s just so much herself. I hope the commercialization of Boyle doesn’t take away her spunk.

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Driftwood summerDriftwood Summer, the latest release from author Patti Callahan Henry, tackles the always complicated relationship between sisters, but it also confronts the troubling reality of economic hardships many Independent Booksellers are now facing. Henry says this drama unfolded in a quinky-dink fashion. Join Henry as she takes a moment from the preparations of the launch of her book to answer questions posed by author Karen Spears Zacharias.


Q: In your latest novel, Driftwood Summer, you weave a complex tale of the three Sheffield sisters. You, in fact, dedicate this book to your sisters. How much of your own relationship of the Holy Trinity of Sisterhood did you draw from?

A: The Holy Trinity of Sisterhood – now that’s funny! We definitely weren’t a “holy” anything. I didn’t use any of our exact experiences, but I don’t think a writer can avoid using the implicit emotional memories of sisterhood’s dynamics. I purposefully made each sister very different from who we (Patti, Barbi and Jeannie) are really like as oldest, middle and youngest.

Q: Which of the Sheffield sisters do you most identify with?

A: I identify with all of them. I know that sounds like a bit of a cop-out, but I wove so many features into each individual sister that I can’t identify with just one more than the other. I was extremely careful not to model a sister after myself or my other two sisters, and therefore I ended up combining characteristics in a mixed-up version of all of us in all of them.

Q:  Just like Riley Sheffield, proprietor of Driftwood Cottage Bookstore, many of our Indie bookstore owners are in over their heads financially. What made you decide to confront this issue?

A: This is one of those “synchronicity” things I just can’t explain. It was not a conscious decision on my part to tackle this difficult subject. I began a story in the same place I always do – a feeling, a lump in my throat, a “what if”. And then I took two of my favorite things – beaches and bookstores – and combined them into a story. I knew this was a story about three sisters facing each other, their family, their town and their past and I set them inside a bookstore.


Q:  How did you go about the research? Was there a particular bookstore owner that you turned to for insight? Or a couple of them?

A: When I was on book tour last year, I used the opportunity to interview bookstore owners, watch the customers, and listen to the great stories that come from bookstores. Depending on the area of the country, every bookstore owner had a particular insight into the business. Some are competing with WalMart and Target and others are battling a sinking economy in their area. Hopefully I combined the majority of the concerns, and also the joys of bookstore ownership! The dynamic that impressed me the most was that these stores are anchors for the town or area in which they thrive. They are gathering places, places where book clubs meet, friends talk and friendships are formed. A sacred place in many ways.

Q: It’s not uncommon as a writer to run into a bookstore owner who wants to write their own book someday. Some of them have done just that. Do you ever have a hankering to quit writing and open your own bookstore?

A: I have dreamed of owning a bookstore just like The Driftwood Cottage, but I am also realistic enough to know it is just that: a dream. I don’t believe I could run a bookstore and continue to write novels. I’ve watched the commitment and dedication that it takes to keep an independent bookstore afloat, viable and interesting. I think, for now, I’ll channel that passion into my writing.

Q: Describe for us your favorite bookstore from your childhood.

A: The library was my favorite bookstore. I spent innumerable hours huddled inside air conditioned libraries, picking out my books for the week, browsing the shelves, and imagining all the worlds and words contained in the pages.

Q: Riley and her sisters, along with plenty of support from the community, rally to save the bookstore from demise. What are some real things we can do to help our local Indies stay in business?

A: This is one of those “take it for granted” issues. I believe many people love their independent bookstores, but don’t understand the problems the bookstore is going through. Readers are very upset when a local Indie shuts down, yet they don’t understand the things they could have done to prevent the bookstore’s demise!

I think the best things we can do to help save our local Indies are to visit them, buy our books from them and spread the word about them. Buy Local: it’s not just a slogan, but a real way to save our Indies and help the local economy thrive. Visit the events that take place at the Indies – from art classes to author lectures. And spread the word to friends as I don’t believe most people understand the plight of the Indies.

Q: Riley and her sister Maisy are complicated women, who, at times, compete against each other for the Martyr of the Year award. Do you think that’s common among sisters? To compete for the “Who’s suffered more, me or you, distinction?

A: I would like to believe this isn’t true, but I do think there is a battle that is often waged in sister’s actions and words. We all want to believe we are contributing to and helping the family, yet unconscious needs often drive our ways of relating. Yuck.


Q: As the mother of three daughters myself I thoroughly enjoyed the way you captured the emotional tug between the love and loyalty and jealousy and strife of these sisters. Do you think that strife is inevitable in the kinship of sisterhood?

A: Absolutely I believe that strife is inevitable in the kinship of sisterhood. It is how we individuate, how we come to know self and family. We work through problems: talk about them, solve them, joke about them and then hopefully somewhere along the way love each other while becoming individuals of strength.

Q: While the love interest between Riley and Mack is compelling, it is really the love between Riley and her son Brayden that is truly captivating. Riley believes her refusal to identify the father of her son is in everyone’s best interest but in the long run it’s a selfish and very costly decision, particularly for Brayden. We do that a lot though don’t we? Convince ourselves that we’re protecting others when what we are really doing is protecting our own selfish interests.

A: Denial is a powerful force in our lives. I think we all “tell” ourselves tiny untruths (or large lies) to live with our choices and actions. Riley believed, truly believed, that she made the best choice for Brayden and for herself, yet when a new circumstance arose (the grandparents showed up), she understood the selfish motivations behind her choice. I think it is often this way: a new circumstance in life causes us to look at our life in a new way, from a different angle and then our choices change.


Q: Both Riley and Mack are at that age when their parents are facing challenging health issues, yet, those illnesses become a gift in an ironic way. You were a nurse in your former life. Did you witness that often? Where the illness became an unexpected gift to a family that had been distant from one another?

A: I believe illness is often one of those life circumstances that can break open our heart to new understanding. We can be moving along in our life and believing certain patterns and ways of living are working when an unexpected event causes us to stop, look and become aware. I hate this very fact of life – that often the very hardest circumstances cause us to grow and change for the better.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: It is a mother-daughter story with a bit of a magical twist. And as Forrest Gump says, “that’s all I have to say about that.” For now.

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The similarities between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam, the war that my own father fought and died in, have been the topic of much debate. Everyone it seems has an opinion about it, from the local news anchor to the barrista at the local coffee shop.

They claim both wars were poorly conceived and poorly executed. Both misguided and hastily entered into. My friend and fellow compatriot military correspondent Joe Galloway says the parallels between Vietnam and the war in Iraq didn’t begin overseas, but in DC. Never one to mince words, Galloway doesn’t shy away from putting blame where he thinks it’s most deserving.

“It took Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon nearly a decade to fail in Vietnam,” Galloway said. “Cheney and Rumsfeld could do it in Iraq in a year.”

I suppose the wrangling over these wars and others to follow will continue long after you and I give up the ghosts of our nightmares past.

At least I hope they do, because for me FREEDOM means living in a country where wars should always be a matter of fierce debate, not a matter of accepted fate. But it’s not the similarities between these wars that I want you to consider today. Rather it’s some of their differences that I bring you:

– Today’s troops eat better. They don’t have to raid the chicken house in hopes of having a hot boiled egg. Their meals are often catered by American contractors. Although to be fair, the Vietnam veteran did have a better choice of drink – warm Tiger beer instead of blue Gatorade.

– Unless he was a career soldier, the Vietnam soldier did not have to serve more than one tour. He could volunteer for more, and many did.

– During Vietnam, exceptions to military service were rare. Today only one-half of one percent of today’s population serves in uniform. They carry the burden of freedom for the rest of us, over and over again, on multiple tours to the front lines. Many of those troops serving and dying are women.

– An average 66,800 causalities were carried off the battlefield of Vietnam during the peak years between 1966 and 1969. The average for Iraq during it’s peak between 2004 to 2008 was 6,500. There are a lot of reasons for that, but it’s due in part to the small percentage of people caring the burden for the rest of us.

– During the Vietnam war military widows and their families were given 30 days to vacate military housing following the death of a loved one. Today they are allotted a year.

 – The death benefit for families during Vietnam was $10,000. It had remained unchanged since World War II. Today Gold Star families receive up to half-a-million dollars, as long as their loved ones pay for and plan for that option.

These changes are a direct result of the advocacy work of Vietnam Veterans and their families and military organizations like VVA, DAV, American Legion, VFW, Gold Star Wives, Gold Star Moms and many others.

There’s one final difference. When my father died in 1966, I was 9 years old. I was in college by the time that war ended. From the time he died until I was in my late 30s I did not talk about my father or how he died. I felt a shame I could not explain. As if I had done something very bad that had caused his death.

Throughout my growing up years, Vietnam veterans were vilified for doing what America’s policymakers had called them, alas, commanded them to do – serve their country. Vietnam veterans were treated with disdain, and their families were treated even worse. Right here in Oregon, war widows were threatened by so-called peace activists.

As a child I didn’t understand that the people burning effigies of soldiers weren’t necessarily mad at my father. As a child I couldn’t make the distinction between the soldier who served and the unpopular war he served in. And neither could most of our citizenry. We weren’t only at war in Vietnam, we were at war with ourselves.

It took me buckets of tears and hours of prayer to sort this all out but I’ve finally come to a peaceful place. A place where I proudly speak the name of my father – Staff Sgt. David P. Spears – and of the life he gave for his family and his country.

Contrast that to my friend Destre Livuadais. Destre’s father, Staff Sgt. Nino Livaudais, was killed in Iraq. Destre and his brothers Carson and Grant spend a week during the summers with my husband Tim and I. We go hiking. We make trips to the Hermiston’s library and pool. We watch the pelicans feed at McNary Dam. Sometimes at night, after I’ve read Destre and his brothers a bedtime story and said a prayer with them, my heart aches so badly I find it difficult to breath. I see in Destre the child that I was, the child who misses the father who loved her.

Destre was 5 and living in Alabama when his daddy died. He’s 11 now and lives in Salt Lake City. During his last visit to our home I asked Destre if he tells the other kids about how his father died.

“No,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it hurts to talk about my dad,” he said.

“I understand that.”

“And there’s one more reason.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Because the other kids think it’s cool when a soldier dies in war. I know it’s not. I know it hurts.”

If Destre’s right. If kids think it’s cool to die in war, how then do we differ from the jihadists?

A Vietnam veteran friend recently shared these words with me. They were penned by his son, who has been serving on the front lines in Iraq:

Looking through the eyes of those before my generation, I see strength. Combat medic, supply, infantry, or whatever you may have done. You have seen the horrors of war. Families awakened in the middle of the night, houses blown into particles, kids running through the street because their family has just been killed, your friend dying in your arms. When I look at myself, I know that my eyes have not seen the worst. Only a glimpse of what happened to you. So as I lay in bed at night, why do I have nightmares?

 As a nation we have learned some hard lessons. Because of the promise you made to your fallen comrades, to never forget, today’s soldier is given a warm send-off and a hero’s welcome home. Just as it should be. Just as it should have been when you and my father served.

But as Vietnam veterans and their families, our mission will never be complete until we help this nation understand that for children like Destre and men like this young soldier serving now the pain of war continues long after the bombing stops.

Thank you for your faithful service to this country – then and now.

Welcome Home, friend. Welcome Home.

Copyright by Karen Spears Zacharias.2009.



Vietnam Memorial, Portland, Oregon




With Roger Fuchs and his beautiful family. That FNG pin stands for FINE NICE GIRL, the vets tell me.



That’s the 25th Infantry standing guard.

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