Angels, Venus, & Sin City

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Book recipe:

Mix two angels, Venus, and a famous, licentious city. Add salt. What do you get? Angels at the Gate: The Story of Lot’s Wife. Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. Lot’s Wife actually started with Noah’s Wife, my first book. Unnamed in the Bible, Noah’s wife merited one brief mention. (What was she, chopped liver?)

I never planned to write about Biblical women, but she deserved more. Her story won a “Book of the Year” award for historical fiction. I thought I was through—as a biblical novel chef—until a sarcastic co-worker asked, “Noah’s wife, huh?”

“Ye-es.”

“What’s next?” he said, raising an eyebrow, “Lot’s Wife?”

Stunned, my first reaction was No way!  Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was supposed to be that story’s hero, the only “righteous” man in a sexually sinful city, yet he offered to give a lustful mob his two virgin daughters. Way too dark for me.

To write Noah’s Wife, I wove scientific and historical evidence about the flood and culture with my own imagination to create a central realistic, strong character in a story I felt was more believable.  (Plus, Lot’s Wife would require lots (no pun intended) more research. Abraham’s time period was four thousand years later than the flood.   

However, like Noah’s wife, Lot’s wife was unnamed in the Bible. She also only got one line in Genesis, albeit, a more famous part—she looked back at the burning city of Sodom (against an angel’s command) and was turned into a pillar of salt.

 

iStock_000011600738_LargeWhat could I do with a bizarre ending like that? And who would the angels be?  Can’t carefully craft scientific and historical basis for everything else and just have angels flapping around!

 It was the last question that really grabbed me. Apparently, I love a challenge. I started reading this very cool book called Uriel’s Machine that made a fascinating case connecting Stonehenge culture, ancient worship of the planet Venus, references in the Dead Sea Scrolls, angels, Solomon’s Temple, and eventually the Masons. And we’re not talking mystic stuff, but theories extrapolated from real data.  Did I mention I was fascinated?

stonehengeVenusAbout a year later, I was ready to start writing this book I had refused to consider writing. I’d researched the time period of Abraham, the various theories about what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, who the freakin’ angels could actually have been, and now I had a pristine blank computer screen staring back at me.

. . . Well, almost, if you take away the cat.

a-cat-on-computer

I realized I knew nothing about my character, the most important element of a story. No clue what her life was like or what was going to happen to her (other than the salt thing). I moved the cat off the keyboard and, for a long time, I stared at that screen. I got up and made some coffee and returned to staring at the screen. Repeated this a few times, sticking cold coffee in the microwave.  Eventually, I decided to follow my father’s lead—  The first occasion he ever had to be in a hospital, he found he could not sleep. When he complained, they brought him a sleeping pill, which he considered far too tiny to have any impact.  “I waited,” he said, “and didn’t even get sleepy. I waited and waited until, finally, I gave up waiting for it to work and went to sleep by myself.”

Hmm. I gave up trying to figure out what I was going to write, moved the cat off the computer again, and just put my fingers on the keyboard.  Here’s what they typed:

“If the path of obedience is the path of wisdom, it is one not well worn by my feet. I am Yildeth, daughter of the caravan, daughter of the wind, and daughter of the famed merchant, Zakiti. That I am his daughter, not his son, is a secret between my father and myself.”

Really?  How interesting.  I wonder what happens to her. . . .

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Related Posts:

Noah’s Wife &  The Titatic       Why Noah’s Wife Had Aspergers
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Noah’s Wife & the Titanic

Crowe and ConnellyWhen it comes to your floatation devices, you can’t get more famous than the Titanic or Noah’s ark—but the connection doesn’t stop there. Oddly enough, the link is Robert Ballard the explorer who found the long-lost, sunken Titanic.

TitanicUnlike the notoriety of the Titanic and Noah—both have movies now, for God’s sake! (pun intended)—Noah’s wife, although she does get a role in the Noah movie, received just a brief mention from the only known written documents about the Middle East flood stories. The Bible merely states that she went with her family into the ark. The lady doesn’t even get a name, although all of her sons do.

An even older source, a stone inscription discovered in ancient cities in what is now known as Iraq, is the Mesopotamian epic poem, Gilgamesh, which says pretty much the same thing, although the names are different. The Biblical story credits mankind’s sin for calling down God’s wrath and the great flood. In the Gilgamesh story, the gods are angry at mankind—not for being wicked, but . . . (wait for it) . . . for making too much noise.

Filling in the Tabula rasa of the life of Noah’s spouse was an irresistible lure for me. As a humanistic Jew, the siren call lay in the challenge of writing a story that wove my imagination onto the structure of the Noah tale in a believable, historically accurate setting. I wanted to tell the story of what might have really happened, given the foreknowledge of how the tale was eventually written down in the 6th -5th Centuries BCE by Hebrew scribes. That required a study of the roots of Judaism (and what might have been motivating the scribes) as well as studying available archeological evidence about the culture of the time. I took literary license to give Noah’s wife a form of autism known today as Asperger Syndrome, in order to portray a unique perspective on the culture she lived in.

Normally, a researcher relies on long-accepted works and theories, but archeology is a living science about the dead. Theories and assumptions are being overturned daily in the Middle East with the advance of scientific methods and new discoveries. Only with the Internet can a writer hope to keep up.

But where to start?

The Biblical dating system is fraught with problems and to use it requires buying into a creation date that belies generally accepted current scientific knowledge. Instead, I looked for evidence of a prehistory flood and stumbled on the expedition of Robert Ballard. He was searching for proof of a drowned civilization in the Black Sea, a body of salt water forming the northern border of Turkey. That caught my attention. The Bible mentioned Mount Ararat—a mountain or mountain range in northeast Turkey—as the ark’s resting place. But why was Ballard there?

I learned he was following the trail forged in the late 1990’s by two geologists, William Ryan and Walter Pitman* who had gathered core samples from beneath the Black Sea. The long collection tubes acted as time capsules, capturing history in the layers of sediment, and every location they dredged told the same story: Something catastrophic happened, about 5500 BCE, that changed a small body of fresh water into a salt sea, reversed the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and flooded a large area in the Middle East. That could account for both flood stories. Ballard’s sophisticated cameras confirmed the geologists’ theory by locating underwater ruins off the Turkish coast that fit the time period.

I was hooked.

Four years later, the novel Noah’s Wife was born.

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Noah’s Wife is available anywhere books are sold. Now also an audio book on Amazon.com, Audible.com and ITunes.

NOAH'S WIFE COVER for AUDIBLE for web

 

* Noah’s Flood, The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History (Simon & Schuster, 1998)

 

 

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Love and A Bony Butt

DuneI fell in love the moment I saw his bony butt. I have no idea why, except I knew he was to be mine, though a friend had arranged this meeting and first choice was hers. He was big and moved with an easy, if unsophisticated, grace that made him a joy to ride. Only four years old, he had not filled out yet. His registered name was Nikka Doone Sugar Bars.  I called him, Dune, after a book by one of my favorite authors.  He was a bay—brown with black stockings, a little white chip on one heel, a sweet face with a sickle-shaped splash of white on his forehead and bright, kind eyes.

For reasons I would never understand, but never regretted, my friend passed him by, and Dune was mine.  Over the twenty-six years we were together, he saved my life twice and just about got me killed an equal number of times.  I fell off him more than once and pay for it now with various aches and pains, but I don’t regret that either.

Like some men, Dune pretended he was not interested in affection and had to play hard to catch for at least a few minutes.  In the early days, before we moved to the country, I would get up before dawn and drive out to the farm where I boarded him, ride, get home, shower and go to work. One day I walked into the barn and saw him down in his stall.  He lay still and didn’t get to his feet when I approached, as instinct would have normally urged him to do.  My heart sank.  Only a sick horse would stay down like that.  Then I noticed a tiny furry head looking over his back.  Just after that, the straw near his hooves stirred, and I realized barn kittens had come in to snuggle during the cool of night, and my big horse was afraid to move lest he hurt them!  I knew then he was a special boy.

He was a gentle giant with children as well as kittens, though he never cared much for dogs.  I taught several kids how to ride over the years, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that Dune taught them.  When a child led him, he walked slowly and carefully, his head lowered to the top of the little human’s head, and each foot placed as if on an eggshell.  If a child was on his back, I had to chase him with a stick to get him to move faster than a walk, and that would only be successful for a few feet, then he was back to a steady walk. On the other hand, the moment I got in the saddle–Katie, bar the door!  He loved to run and to jump, though apparently only with a rider, as I never saw him do either in the pasture.  All I had to do was lean forward and grab his mane, his signal to let ‘er rip, and we were off.  I usually aimed him at a long uphill grade to be sure I could rein him back in. The blood of race horses pulsed in him, and it was a thrilling, humbling experience to sit atop that explosion of power.

We had many adventures.  Somewhat idiotically, I rode him most of the time alone. We tried a show once, but he was so excited, he neighed at every horse he saw, his whole body vibrating so hard I had to grab the saddle.  Most of the time, it was just him and me—jumping over a barrel, exploring a path in the woods, or making our own path.

Once, a loop of vine caught me and swept me off backwards. The reins caught behind the back of the saddle, pulling Dune’s head up and back.  Trying to get away from this pressure on his mouth, he backed, slipping in a pile of dry leaves. I had landed painfully and couldn’t move, and I felt his hooves all around me and brushing my back.  But even in the awkward, frightening position he was in, Dune knew I was there and danced to keep from stepping on me.  Then he stood, trembling, waiting until I could come fix the problem.  On another occasion, he got tangled in barbwire. Although many horses would have panicked, he stood patiently through the night, waiting for me to come get him out of the mess.

Another time, I made a poor decision, taking a path in the woods that turned out far steeper than it looked.  Halfway up, it got worse, and then for a short distance, it was an almost vertical cliff. We were in trouble.  We couldn’t turn around; if we stopped or slowed, we would have fallen over backward.  I didn’t think we could make it, but I did the only thing I could—I leaned low and grabbed his mane and told him it was up to him to save our bacon.  He never hesitated, taking that impossible incline with a bold heart and, somehow, scrambled us over the top.

I didn’t think I could write about him.  It has only been a few weeks ago that I had to put him down, and it wasn’t the way I would have had my old friend go. He was in a lot of pain and didn’t want to move, but when I asked him to–just as he had crossed scary bridges and rushing creeks and too-steep inclines–he did . . . because I asked him.  I just hope I was able to spare him some pain. I am not sure I believe in heaven, but I hope somewhere he is waiting for me, and when it is my time, we will gallop up a long hill together again.

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Tribute to Allie

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A Street Angel

snowstorm_0The last few days an unexpected snow storm blew freezing rain, sleet, and snow across the south. In a matter of hours, thousands were stuck on slick roadways, in their offices or the home/business of a stranger. Many angels unveiled their secret wings.  This is just my encounter:

As we made our tedious way along residential back roads yesterday in bumper-to-bumper traffic, trying to get out of town, we encountered a downhill slope ahead. Ahead of us, an African American man gestured and approached the passenger window of the car in front of us. I would like to think that my reaction had more to do with his demeanor and intimidating size than the color of his skin, but I don’t know. All I know is that my first thought was that he was taking advantage of the situation in some way, trying to solicit money, as some people do in congested traffic intersections.

As we watched, however, we realized that he was literally pushing the car as it slid sideways on downhill ice, trying to keep it in the roadway, and had probably been doing that for hours in the bitter cold. His own feet kept slipping, and I caught my breath, because that car could have knocked him down as it slid, but he just grinned and shuffled back to push it again. When the car ahead of us finally made it safely down, a hand with money reached out the window to him. He just laughed and shook his head, filling me with simultaneous pride and shame. It was only one small act of selflessness from an anonymous person in a day filled with such, but I will never forget it.

Do you have an angel encounter story?

If you like this post, you may also like:

The Wise Win Before the Fight 

Morhei Ueshiba

Morhei Ueshiba

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The Reader’s Mind: A Writer’s Most Important Tool

I am handicapped.  Might as well admit it.  It’s a fact well known to my dogs.

The walk down our driveway to the barn is one I take every morning to feed the horses.  Pugsly and Glenny always go with me, and every morning they bounce with excitement, as if they have never been the route before.

Morning Walk

Morning Walk

Glenny is off on a mad dash, tracking something he has no hope of catching and wouldn’t have a clue what to do with if he did.  A clump of grass arrests Pugsly’s attention.  He freezes to digest the story about an intriguing creature that, perhaps, passed by in the night.  I’ve no idea what he smells, but urine (I understand) has a rich tale to tell—what particular animal, its sex, its health, what it has eaten . . . for all I know, what it was thinking at the time!  To my dogs, I am a pitiful, handicapped being, ignorant of the ever-changing world of scent . . . and hearing impaired as well.

My loss.

But observing the fascination with which they explore the world of our driveway, I am determined to open my own senses to this path I walk daily.  It is the same everyday, but it is different—different wildflowers bloom, changing out the colors.   Last night’s rain and the morning sunlight string dew pearls on pine needles and halo a spider’s silk design.

weblichensA suggestion of movement catches my eye—a slug on a wet fence pole.  The intricate pattern on its back mimics the variations of wood, making it almost impossible to see.  I never knew slugs came in anything besides basic black.  Also, for the first time, I note the forest of devil’s matchstick lichens that inhabit the top of another rough-hewn post, making a tiny world of deep crevasses and red-topped spires that exists right under my nose.

I get some satisfaction that my dogs missed these things.

As a writer, I know it is important to note the small as well as the large.   It is my job to make a scene real, so the reader can imagine it and be there in the story with the characters.  With the possible exception of people on the autistic spectrum, our brains screen out an enormous amount of detail, focusing the limited capacity of our attention on what it determines is important.  This process is enhanced in moments of tension—hence, the phenomena of perceiving only a narrow field of vision (like the end of a gun barrel) in an emergency.

Directors do the same thing with film, choosing certain angles or shots of facial expressions, telling details that give us much more than what we are actually seeing.  Even the music that plays gives us subliminal hints about how to interpret the information pouring into our brains.  We have evolved to attend to specific details and populate the rest of the world around it.  A skillful writer will often direct the reader’s attention to a small detail, describing it in a way that makes the whole environs pop into the reader’s reality.

The lantern bobbed with the ship, leaking a shifting orb of pale light into the dark corridor.

Did you hear the creak of the ship; the slap of waves on the hull?  Did you smell the sea?  Feel the sense of mystery or suspense?  If you did, all of that was created by your own mind, the most powerful tool in a writer’s arsenal.  Every moment is comprised of thousands of bits of information.  A writer cannot possibly describe them all and does not need to.  Sometimes a whiff is all it takes….

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To Dream the Possible Dream

I have a dream

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King urged us to judge people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.  There is no question that poverty and lack of equal education can affect the course of people’s lives, and we should be putting research, resources, and wisdom toward changing that, but there have been many people from those circumstances, of various shades of skin, whose character has been a shining light to our world.

There are times when I am ashamed to be a human being—when I see what our thoughtless consumption and greed are doing to our ecosystem or how we treat each other.  But when I consider those people who live to their potential, especially those who have done so despite the challenges of their circumstances . . . I am proud to be.

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The Wise Win Before the Fight

Morhei Ueshiba

Morhei Ueshiba

Violence surrounds us—in the media, in our entertainment and sometimes even in our homes.  From the streets of Chicago, to the wars in Iraq and Syria, to video games—violence is a way of life.

Must it be?

“Those who are skilled in combat do not become angry.  Those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid. Thus the wise win before the fight and the ignorant fight to win.” –Morihei Ueshiba

Anger is oft a child of fear. The bond between fear and anger melded in our long-ago past when many of our choices boiled down to Flight/Fight.  Chronic anger is often a component of depression because our mind/body doesn’t know the difference between a “real” danger and one that originates from our mind and/or body.  I awake from a nightmare panting, sweating, my heart racing.  My fear is as real as if I faced a physical snake crawling up my leg.

When a remark from a loved one makes me angry, I can usually pursue the emotion to its roots of fear.  How dare he say that? [Anger] If he can say that, does he really love me? [Hurt] And if he doesn’t really love me, what if he leaves me? [Hurt/Fear] And if he leaves me, will I grow old alone and miserable!  [Fear]  –A logical progression, but not a rational one.

We are evolutionarily programed to make those leaps, because in the world of the tiger-in-the-forest, we had to act quickly. We didn’t have time to ponder the root of our anger/fear, so our brains aren’t good at that.  We deceive ourselves very easily  Seeking the roots to anger and pain is an uncomfortable journey. It is easier and feels better (and safer) just to be mad.

In our society, the expression of anger is more acceptable (especially for men) than the expression of fear, and seeking power can be a way to manage fear.  Can a whole society be fearful?  As Master Ueshiba implied, uncertainty begets fear.  In a war zone (of any kind) one’s environment is fertile ground for fear. Subtle fears can infiltrate their way deep into our psyches; our relationships are riddled with fear mines.

Our cultures, as well—across the world young people are finding roadblocks to education or that their education is not an easy ticket to a job.  Frustrated and disenfranchised, they can turn to the sense of belonging and purpose offered by gangs, freedom fighters, or terrorist thugs. In many poor neighborhoods around the world, people have always been in economic crises, possessing neither the skills nor the hope of ever having the skills to succeed.  Fear of all sorts is an intimate and constant companion.

Is it any wonder our world is full of tangled expressions of anger and fear?

In Master Ueshiba’s Way (the martial art of Aikido) one learns understanding and compassion for one’s attacker.  Does this make the practitioner a “bleeding heart” who allows the blow to fall?  No, absolutely not, but in understanding, one can choose whether to break bones or step aside and allow the attacker’s force to bring him where he can do no harm.

One does what is necessary, not out of anger or fear, but out of compassion and understanding.  Compassion is not a passive emotional reaction but a call to responsible, rational action. Acting from a place of compassion, rather than anger, frees us from the tyranny of emotion that can eat us from inside and steal our happiness, and allows us to make good decisions.Aikido

Of course, “what is necessary” is not always an easy question to answer.  Perhaps the more fear, the more drastic the definition of “necessary.”  Was it necessary to drop an atomic bomb on Japan?  So many innocent people suffered terribly, yet it ended a horrible war.  History may classify Vietnam and Iraq as mistakes, but is all war a mistake?  What would have happened if we had not entered WWII?  Are the actions we are taking in the Middle East “necessary?” Perhaps. I don’t pretend to have the answers, only to suggest that we look behind anger and fear to find compassion and understanding for our enemies, so that we may know them and ourselves, and be among “the wise who win before the fight.”Violence surrounds us—in the media, in our entertainment and sometimes even in our homes.  From the streets of Chicago, to video games, to the Sudan, violence is a way of life.

Must it be?

“Those who are skilled in combat do not become angry.  Those who are skilled at winning do not become afraid. Thus the wise win before the fight and the ignorant fight to win.” –Morihei Ueshiba

Anger is a child of Fear.   The bond between fear and anger melded in our long-ago past when many of our choices boiled down to Flight/Fight.  Chronic anger is often a component of depression because our mind/body doesn’t know the difference between a “real” danger and one that originates from our mind and/or body.  I awake from a nightmare panting, sweating, my heart racing.  My fear is as real as if I faced a physical snake crawling up my leg.

When a remark from a loved one makes me angry, I can usually pursue the emotion to its roots of fear.  How dare he say that? –>Does he really love me?–>What if he leaves me?–>I will grow old alone and miserable!  Most of the time, of course, I don’t bother seeking those roots to my anger and pain, as that journey itself is uncomfortable.  It feels better (safer) just to be mad.

In our society, the expression of anger is more acceptable (especially for men) than the expression of fear and seeking power can be a way to manage fear.  Can a whole society be fearful?  As Master Ueshiba implied, fear is born of uncertainty.  In a war zone (of any kind) one’s environment is fertile ground for fear.  More subtle fears can infiltrate their way even deeper into our psyches; our relationships are ripe with fear mines.   Our cultures, as well—in Saudi Arabia and India (particularly for women), in Europe and China, more and more young people are finding their education is no longer an easy ticket to a job.  Highly trained/experienced workers in the U.S. and Europe have found themselves jobless in the recent economic crises.  In many poor neighborhoods around the world, people have always been in economic crises, possessing neither the skills nor the hope of ever having the skills to succeed.  Fear of all sorts is an intimate and constant companion.

Is it any wonder our world is full of tangled expressions of anger and fear?

In Master Ueshiba’s Way (the martial art of Aikido) one learns understanding and compassion for one’s attacker.  Does this make one a “bleeding heart” who allows the blow to fall?  No, but in understanding, one steps aside and allows the attacker’s force to bring him where he can do no harm.

Uisheba 2One does what is necessary, not out of anger or fear, but out of compassion and understanding.  Of course, “what is necessary” is not always an easy question to answer.  Perhaps the more fear, the more drastic the definition of “necessary.”  Was it necessary to drop an atomic bomb on Japan?  So many innocent people suffered terribly, yet it ended a horrible war.  I don’t pretend to have the answer, only to suggest that we look behind anger and fear to find compassion and understanding for our enemies and for ourselves, so that we may be among “the wise who win before the fight.”

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A Hand; A Fist

hands-clip-art-10

What kind of world allows young American football players to feel comfortable making a video about raping an unconscious girl?  A world where the defense against a brutal, fatal rape of a student in India is that “respectable women are not raped?”  A world where a young Pakistani student is shot for going to school?

Today, NPR’s Diane Rehm discussed the political objections and support for the Violence Against Women Act and the daily attacks on women throughout the world.   This while we are all still reeling from the Sandy Hook massacre of children and staff at an elementary school.

What do these two subjects—violence against women and a mass shooting—share?  They are both about power.  In most individuals, the drive to power funnels into positive channels—a determination to make a business successful; craft an environment that ensures the best future for our children; cure disease; explore space or the ocean or the world of the quantum; render a painting that reflects our deepest emotions; or find the words that move a reader.  That is power.

There are also negative channels—the malicious release of a computer virus, the poisoning of trees: the sabotage of a fellow worker; the punch of a fist; the pulling of a trigger; even when the gun is aimed at the aggressor’s own head.  These acts are also efforts to establish or regain power.

Why do we struggle so to be the master of our environment, our emotions, or influence?

Survival.

In the millennia that shaped us, if we were not wired to seek power, we would have been eaten.  In an earlier post, The Most Important Question, I explored the question of whether our basic nature has evolved since we became “human.”  Recently, a research project added to that discussion when scientists found that the human hand, so intricately designed to manipulate and experience the world was also uniquely evolved to become a weapon, as a fist. We aren’t going to erase our nature, and if we did, we might loose all the best that we are or can be in the bargain.

What we can do, what we must do, is civilize ourselves with laws and education and support safety nets. We need to make abusing power, be it physical, emotional or political, unacceptable; to encourage a world where “success” is culturally defined by making the world a better place.

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It Started With A Cow

2010_heifer_logoIt started with a cow.

Giving is a force of nature at year’s end. The urge is strong to dig into the pocket or pocketbook for a handout or even step into McDonald’s to pay for a hamburger.  Not saying this is a bad thing, but it is giving a fish instead of a fishing pole.  It’s a temporary fix and, in some cases, may even be empowering poverty when that dollar(s) for [name your heart-rending need] actually goes for drugs or alcohol or keeps someone surviving on the street instead of seeking help.

What’s a person to do?

First, research your local agencies.  Your community needs you, but make sure the agency that “gives a holiday meal” also does more significant intervention, or you will be perpetuating the fish/fishing pole conundrum.  You can also participate in supporting an incredible organization like Heifer.  It started with a cow.  A man recognized that people needed a “cow, not a cup.”  The organization not only gives livestock to those in need, but teaches them skills and “empowers them to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity…   [By] linking them with markets in their area, they help bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty.”

The organization has been endorsed by Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.

I’m in!  Between now and December 24th (midnight CST) I will give $2 to Heifer for every comment posted here.  You can leverage your words by visiting and commenting at Nathan Bradford and checking out the links to other participating blogs there.

Happy Giving!

Post Script:  Thank you everyone who posted a comment.  I sent Heifer a check for $50–that’s a calf to a needy family!

Posted in It Started With A Cow | 51 Comments

The Next Big Thing

In school, my study method of choice was “The Cram.”  The further behind I got, the more motivated I was.  So, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to find myself writing two books  at the same time.  (Can somebody get me an appointment for a mental evaluation?)

When I was invited to answer questions about the Next Big Thing, i.e., my “work in progress,” I was torn about which one to talk about.  Of course, I waited until the last moment (see above) to make a decision and get to it, but after staring at the fork in the road for a while, I decided to go with Robert Frost and choose the path less traveled or, in this case, the work less known.

Extra Bonus:  This post is part of a “blog chain.”  That means you get a wealth of blogs and exciting new writers  to explore!  I was invited by Debra H. Goldstein.  Be sure and check out her blog and those of the next links in the chain listed below the interview.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

1.What is your working title of your book?
Last Chance for Justice:
How Relentless Investigators Finally Solved the Birmingham Church Bombing Case

2.Where did the idea come from for the book?
In 2004, recognizing that time was passing and people from the civil rights era were aging, Birmingham held an event called “The Gathering,” where everyone associated with the 1963 Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing–victims’ families, civil rights supporters, investigators, attorneys, and the community–came together to tell their stories.  I attended and heard the two FBI investigators who worked the last case (late 1990’s) speak. The inside story was fascinating, and I realized  so many people had misconceptions about this case—the bombing that killed four little girls and had a major impact on the course of history.  There were three major investigations of the bombing over the years; the final one took five years, involved thousands of files, and some real heroes to bring the last two living suspects to justice.  I thought: This story needs to be told!  About five years later, I got that opportunity.

3. What genre does your book fall under?
It’s non-fiction.  My debut novel, Noah’s Wife, is historical fiction so, fortunately, I had experience doing research for a major project, and I certainly called upon it in writing this book!

4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Ha!  You are asking the wrong person this question.  I barely remember the names of my family!  I need two determined, but somewhat quirky good guys to play the lead parts.

5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In Last Chance for Justice, a Birmingham Police detective and an FBI agent team up as reluctant partners on a 37-year old cold murder case, the last chance to solve a brutal bombing that killed four innocent girls and changed history.

6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Chicago Press Review is publishing the book!  We hope to have it out by the Fall of 2013, in time for the 50th anniversary of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Three years.  Interviews began in July of 2009 and continued until 2011, when I began trying to organize the notes.  (Just thinking about that task makes me shudder.  The actual writing was absorbing, but I am not an “organizer” by nature.)  The first draft of the manuscript was “finished” in the spring of 2012.  I continued to work on it until late 2012 and expect to do more work when the editor gets his hands on it.

8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Many people have written on the subject of civil rights, both historically and personally.  Frank Sikora was a Birmingham reporter who wrote Until Justice Rolls Down, a book about  the case, and he went into depth regarding the first conviction (1977).  My book covers that, but focuses on the last case (1997-2002) and the two investigators assigned to it.  It contributes unknown details to the story, because I had the opportunity for in-depth interviews  (approximately 20-25 hours), in addition to critical written documents, and because I was able to bring my own understanding of law enforcement into the writing.

9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
As I mentioned, hearing the stories of the two men who actually worked the case sparked my interest, along with the realization that one of them was someone I knew personally. More than that, writing this book was a reconciliation of two divergent aspects from my personal background.  I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama and my family strongly supported civil rights. (The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross  on my grandparent’s front yard for their involvement in the bus boycott.) I was only a child during the years of tension, but it is a part of my heritage. I also (to the great surprise of my family) became a Birmingham Police Department officer and spent a career there.  It may seem an odd coupling, but both backgrounds gave me a unique perspective.

10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
On September 15, 1963 four young girls primped in the basement ladies lounge of the oldest black church in Birmingham, Alabama preparing for their church Youth Day. Without warning, a powerful explosion ripped through the outside wall, snuffing out their futures and setting the community ablaze. Everyone knew members of the white-robed Ku Klux Klan were responsible, but by the 1990’s, over a decade after the bombing, only one suspect had gone to prison. When the homicide case was reopened in 1997, no one thought there was any real chance of convicting the remaining suspects, especially the FBI agent and Birmingham detective assigned to the case.  Over time, their initially chilly relationship grew into a close partnership and together they built a case on the two remaining suspects and helped answer questions that have long haunted the case:

  • How  was key evidence  uncovered that convicted the last two suspects, Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Blanton?
  • What was the mystery behind the FBI informants who claimed they saw the bomb being planted?
  • Why did it take so long for justice to be achieved?

The book should be available in the Fall of 2013. If you’d like to stay in-the-know on it, sign up for my quarterly Newsletter HERE.

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