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A Candle for Dina; A Prayer in Honor of the Power of Art

Dina Babbitt 2A number of years ago, I was agonizing over some of my own really bad prose in a cafe in San Francisco, when I overheard an older couple shooting the breeze in Czech at a table next to me.

As a Czech speaker myself, I really can’t resist the urge to approach people who are conversing in my native tongue. Its harsh consonants and lilting vowels put a spell on me, and before I know it, I’m introducing myself and making off-color jokes.

That day was no exception.

Although the couple in question was still enjoying a pair of chocolate croissants and sipping espresso, I interrupted their breakfast and chatted them up long enough to meet their son, whom they were visiting from Britain. By the end of our little coffee klatch, we had exchanged contact information and I’d invited them to come to our apartment for an authentic Czech meal of duck, sweet and sour cabbage and dumplings.

They did and we had a marvelous time.

As an added bonus, their son, a psychiatrist, painter, MD. lover of opera and wearing costumes on any given day just for the fun of it, went on to become a friend. Our acquaintance with this true, British eccentric, along with great memories of good times had, also provided us with a unique opportunity to meet an extraordinary woman.

You see, our friend’s aunt, Dina Babbitt, was – and I don’t know how else to describe it – “famous” in holocaust circles. As a young art student, Dina, along with her mother, was deported first to Terezin, then Auschwitz. A lot of Czech Jews traveled this route during World War II. They would initially spend some months in the Nazi “showcase” camp featured in the German propaganda film Hitler Gives the Jews a Town, and would then be transferred to camps that had dropped the pretense of acting like anything other than death factories.

Ironically, it was Dina’s expulsion from the less barbarous Terezin that would save both her’s and her mother’s life.

Auchwitz 2

Once installed in the section of Auschwitz called Birkenau, where most of the inmates were interned, Dina was asked by a friend to help make the family camp appear less depressing. It was for the children’s sake more than the adult’s – a way to buffer some of the harsh realities around them and allow a few simple moments of joy and play into their lives.

Her efforts did more than that.

A gifted painter, Dina recreated a scene from the Disney classic Snow White on the cheerless walls, providing the children with glimpses of their favorite fairy tale and giving their parents a reminder of their own God-given humanity. Perhaps even offering some hope. A smile, after all, is an expression of hope, and you couldn’t help but to smile at the sight of Dina’s mural.

Dina Babbaitt snow white

The inmates, of course, were not the only ones watching.

Dina’s images caught the attention of Dr. Joseph Mengele – Auschwitz’s Angel of Death, as he was called. Mengele had begun medical experiments on at that time mostly gypsy inmates and was dissatisfied with photographs he’d had taken of his victims. He would later complain to Dina that photography was for peasants and could never be considered a real art form.

But he had much higher esteem for Dina’s talents and ordered her to come to his infirmary to draw and paint his macabre handy-work.

Dina agreed, but only on one condition. She told him that she would kill herself in the electric fence surrounding the camp if he didn’t save her mother’s life as well.

Mengele narrowed his eyes and grinned. “What’s her number?” he said.

Dina babbitt mengele

Dina told me this story and many others on the day I got to spend with her at her rustic home in Bonny Doon, near the Santa Cruz mountains. She lived deep in the woods because even after all this time, she was still afraid that Mengele could hunt her down and kill her because she’d known him so well and could identify him. After the war, he had fled to Argentina and never been captured.

“It’s nonsense,” she said. “He’d be over a hundred years old by now, but I can’t put my fear to death.”

It was an interesting choice of words.

“So, why did you invite a stranger like me to your house?” I asked her. I had been told how wary she was not only of Mengele, but of people she didn’t know.

“I wanted to speak Czech, of course!” she told me with a wink.

And she did, to my great pleasure, tell me story after story in her elegant Czech throughout much of the day.

Dina Babbitt mengele victims

“I could never have survived without my mother, nor she without me.” Dina said.

She went on to explain how she and her mother had lived through a death march together. Dina, sick with dysentery, was trying to hide her condition from Nazi guards who would shoot anyone who was too tired or ill to continue. Anyone with visible signs of disease. In a moment both comic and tragic, Dina’s mother slinked out of her underwear in a sexy way and handed them to her daughter so that she could wipe the diarrhea off her legs. “Happy Birthday,” her mother said, and the two of them burst into fits of laughter right there during the march. That, in and of itself, nearly got them killed.

She also reminisced about her marriage to Art Babbitt, whom she had met in Paris after the war, when she was interviewing to work as an animator for Warner Bros. Babbitt, in one of those remarkable coincidences that somehow seem commonplace in wartime, had been an animator on Disney’s Snow White and the inspiration for the mural that would spare Dina’s life.

Dina Babbitt 8

They married shortly after and went on to live what Dina described as a “very Hollywood” sort of life. She rolled her eyes when she said it, telling me about the end of their marriage as well.

“He had a woman,” she said. “And I discovered this. ‘She means nothing to me!’ He told me over and over again.”

I was struck at how there wasn’t a trace of self-pity in her voice as Dina recounted her husband’s betrayal.

“What a stupid thing to say,” she went on. “I told him, ‘If you had said – I’m sorry, Dina, my heart took me to her. I couldn’t stop myself. I love her – then maybe then I could have forgiven you. But you dishonored our marriage for someone who meant nothing to you? A passing pleasure? Tell me, I said to him. If they come for me again, will you show them where I’m hiding because our marriage means so little to you that you would risk it for a girl who means nothing?”

Dina left her husband and their glamorous life without looking back.

There was, however, one thing that Dina could not stop looking back on. In the early 1970s, she became aware that several of her paintings of Mengele’s medical experiments were still in existence. They had been confiscated by the Polish government after the war and were to be used as part of a permanent installation at the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum complex.

Dina Babbitt 6

She was invited to view them, and, she thought, take them with her back to her home in California. But the Polish government had other plans. The paintings were part of Poland’s national historical heritage, they told her. Incredulously, they also explained to her at one point that if anyone had any real claim to the paintings, it would be Mengele’s heirs.

Dina would not stop fighting for her right to her paintings. They had been created with her soul’s blood in exchange for her mother’s life. Their subject’s eyes would haunt her dreams until the day she died.

Dina Babbaitt 4

But despite the help of numerous Jewish groups, national and international publications, illustrious intermediaries, and even the American government, it was not meant to be.

Dina Babbitt, survivor of Auschwitz and death marches, reluctant chronicler of the Angel of Death, died of cancer in 2009 without her paintings in her possession.

Dina Babbitt

Tonight, in honor of you, Dina, in honor of how art can save lives and inspire hope under even the most dire circumstances, in reverence to mine and my husband’s one quarter heritage, we’ll light a candle and say a prayer on this first night of Hanukkah.

Recommended: Cold War Bunkers – East and West


1977_film_saturday_night_fever_travoltaI was going to post something else entirely this week, but then this gem from Espionart popped into my mail box. How could I resist a tour of Cold War bunkers, including one Albanian bunker built (between 1972 and 1978) to look like a Disco wonderland. I guess they were just hoping to be Staying Alive (heh.)

Originally posted on ESPIONART:

Recently the public got its first glance inside Albania’s most important Cold War era bunker, located just outside the Albanian capital of Tirana. Built 100m below ground between 1972 and 1978, the top secret complex boasts 106 rooms over five storeys. It also features a bedroom with red satin sheets for former communist dictator Enver Hoxha, as the bunker was intended to house the government in the event of a nuclear attack by the West.

Such was Hoxha’s paranoia that over the course of his 40-year rule he built some 700,000 bunkers across Albania. A team of enterprising students is currently planning to convert those along the coastline into a series of “bunker-and-bed” hostels for adventurous tourists.

Bunkers and nuclear shelters abound across the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, from Bunker-42 next to Taganskaya metro station in central Moscow to Military Installation D-0 in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


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A Little Something to Get the Holiday Season Started

coincidence storyI want to tell you a story.

It is one that may renew your faith in humanity and in the powers of healing. Or it might merely make you smile. But that’s enough, don’t you think? A heartfelt smile is certainly more enduring than all the holiday decorations that spring up overnight like tufts of dandelions this time of year.

I’ll start with a little back story.

There’s this woman I knew some years ago. I met her in Prague and her name is Cathy. Like me, she has a pretty extraordinary family history.

Cathy’s Czech grandfather invented the electric tram car and his name is all over Prague. I’m pretty sure he has streets named after him in every major city in the Czech Republic, as a matter of fact. Even a fountain. So, after democracy swept away the Iron Curtain a couple of decades ago, Cathy found herself in Prague managing the restitution process for her family.

coincience Krizik fountain

(This is the actual fountain named after Cathy’s grandfather.)

Restitution, for those of you who might be scratching your heads, is a lot like it sounds. It’s a process by which the Czech government returned properties stolen by the communists to their original owners. In Cathy’s case, there were run-of-the-mill estate hand-overs – a nice house and such, but also more interesting articles like letters between her grandfather and Thomas Edison that detailed shared best practices as they both endeavored to invent electricity.

Imagine holding one of those and recognizing the handwriting. Kind of takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

Cathy was also trying to secure an art collection that had been languishing in a museum – an institution that was not at all happy about relinquishing some of its most prized pieces and would hold on until the bitter end.

But the law prevailed, the museum acquiesced and Cathy found herself tapping her foot to Czech muzak while she sat in a waiting room of sorts, biding her time while one of the big auction houses appraised her grandfather’s art collection. It was there that Cathy met a man who was also waiting for word on an art collection.

But his story was a little different from hers.

The gentleman sitting next to Cathy was a Czech Jew and the single surviving member of his family. Many like himself had returned home after harrowing months or years in a concentration camp only to have their hopes dashed once again when their country was essentially handed from one tyrant to the next. The Soviets, while not as single-minded about their hatred of the Jews, didn’t exactly treat them well. There were show-trials and gulags and all manner of persecution that often left the remaining members of once large families with little to hold on to.

coincidence post 2

And when communism fell, the restitution process didn’t have much to offer them either. Most of the looting of Jewish property had been done by the Nazis and in the majority of cases there was neither the will nor the ability to broker those returns.

But this Jewish fellow Cathy had met was apparently not one to wallow too much in self pity. When the laws forbidding free market pursuits were abolished, he and his son started an import/export business that was already in full swing by the time he made Cathy’s acquaintance.

This is where his story gets interesting.

A few weeks earlier, this man and his son were in Germany on business. They were meeting with one of their biggest customers and got invited to the man’s home for dinner. And a lovely home it was.

They were greeted in the foyer and brought into the great room, where they were to have a drink and probably a nibble or two before making their way into the formal dining room.

But the Jewish father couldn’t nibble. Nor could he drink or utter a word beyond the most basic pleasantry. It was not like him. He was a man who struck up conversations easily – the way he had with my friend Cathy – and who was hardly a stranger to the people in whose home he was dining.

His odd behavior continued throughout dinner and dessert, until finally, as he was being ushered out the door, his customer inquired about how he was feeling. Was he ill perhaps?

The Jewish man shook his head, but finally spoke. He explained that when he entered the great room in this fine house, he was faced with gazing upon his own father’s art collection hanging on the walls. These were works the man remembered well – ones that had been stolen from his father after he and his family had been deported to their various death camps.

He left his host speechless, but not without anything to say.

You see, the Jewish man was awakened the next morning by the front desk staff of his hotel. Apparently, a very expensive art collection had been delivered to them at the crack of dawn.

Without a lawyer being called, or an investigation undertaken, or a police officer summoned, the customer had spent all night wrapping each individual work of art in order to return the collection to its rightful owner. It was an exchange as simple as a handshake, and a rarity where this kind of money is involved. Especially since the Jewish man had no way to verify his claim, and the business he did with his German customer couldn’t have been more than a fraction of what the collection was worth.

It was a simple act of faith and reparation between two sons, and one we rarely see portrayed on our various partisan news channels.

bloody hand rose

But it’s an act we can carry in our hearts as we begin the rigmarole of shopping and putting up trees, parties and eggnog, travel and family entanglements. It’s a way of starting the season off with a spirit of common humanity that shows how grievances – no matter how great – can be bridged in ways that are far less complicated than we often make them out to be.

A Thanksgiving Love Letter to Writers…and the Indie Revolution

thanksgiving 3My blog posts are usually for readers, not writers, but in the light of the coming Thanksgiving holiday I thought I’d make a bit of an exception. That’s not to say that I don’t think readers will find my “love letter” interesting – you will, swear! And I’m so grateful for each and every one of you who take time out once a week to read my musings, buy my books and browse through the quirky photographs I like to post.

It’s just that I want to take this time to say a very big thank you to all of my writer friends and colleagues who have been so supportive to me over the years.

I also want to thank the Indie Publishing Revolution, which I believe has done great things for all writers and readers alike – breathing life into publishing, allowing readers their say, and giving aspiring storytellers a real chance to either sink or swim.

To quote Carly Simon, “These are the good ole days.”

Given how hard we writers are all working and how quickly publishing is changing – sometimes on what feels like a daily basis – I also thought I’d take a moment to write a brief retrospective on what I’ve seen at the Indie Revolution and why I believe it has made us writers better people.

And what an amazing journey it has been so far.


A little over a year ago, one of my fiction writer colleagues was feeling so down in the dumps that he quit all of his writer groups and left social media altogether. He said that ultimately, he just felt a diminishing return. Here’s a guy who had always worked really hard to help his fellow authors, but when it came time to promote his debut novel, he felt other writers’ efforts fell short.

He was probably right. I think a lot of authors silently agreed when he stated his reasons for leaving the virtual watercooler. He basically said – no hard feelings, but I’m just not getting enough out of this to stick around.

But then something happened.

A long thread of conversation erupted that not only urged this colleague to reconsider, but let loose a flow of good will and a stream-of-consciousness dialogue that outlined what is for me the main reason to participate in writer groups and spend some of my precious marketing time on others: it’s the support and camaraderie of other writers.

This, I realized, was a significant change for me.

I’ve been writing in one form or another for a long time. It took me what felt like forever to build my network and fortify my reputation. In the days before social media, I did it the old fashioned way. I drank with people, had lunch, wrote college essays for people’s kids, picked brains, had my brain picked, and shmoozed at every kind of event where someone might need the services of a really good writer. And that worked well for the kind of writing I was doing.

But then – like many of you – I set my sights on fiction.

This was only a few, short years ago, but it was also before the days of indie writers and social media, so it feels like the Paleolithic Era.

And what a different era it was.

I was living in San Francisco at the time, and one of my friends invited me to a wine and cheese gathering for what was (and maybe still is) THE writing group in that city. She said she’d introduce me around and that I should mingle with some of the other fiction writers there – many of whom were beyond aspiring and had actually arrived. I gave her a resounding “yes!” and tagged along on the strength of her considerable credentials.

But while I had a great time sipping wine, cracking jokes, and ogling people with star agents and lucrative publishing deals, the whole thing left me a bit cold. I started out in theater, which has an extremely supportive culture; I then migrated into teaching seminars and more business-centered writing, where people frequently help each other out. Yet, when I entered the world of published (with a capital “P”) book writers – I was surprised to find a circle of otherwise thoughtful and talented people who appeared to subscribe to Gore Vidal’s notion that “It’s not enough to succeed; others must fail.”

I listened as a memoirist and newspaper columnist savaged a man who they both agreed was a good friend of theirs. What did this guy do to deserve it? He got an hour – yes, a full hour on Oprah. Shouldn’t that be cause for a party? But no, the conversation went something like this:

“It was a perfect venue for him,” said the columnist. “He’s always been a little light on content.”
“Did you read his book?” the memoirist asked.
“No, but Laurel said it was thin.”
“Oh, she read it?”
“No, but I think one of her friends did.”

This was by no means an isolated incident. In one conversation after another, I listened as writers slapped-down, disparaged, damned with faint praise and otherwise insulted the work of their colleagues.

bullet-proof vest

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about all writers. I’m a writer and some of my very best would-scratch-the-eyes-out-of-anyone-who-looked-at-me-sideways friends are writers, too. They have been there for me like no one else – scraping me up off the floor after a devastating rejection letter, pouring me an expensive whiskey at the mere sight of a potential victory, introducing me to people who could help me in my quest.

What I’m talking about is the prevailing culture of book writers – fiction and non-fiction alike. Even the adorable Anne Lamott, celebrated novelist and memoirist, admitted that when one of her friends got a bad review it “felt like Christmas.”

But that culture has changed dramatically in recent times. And we have the Indie Publishing Revolution to thank.

In defense of the writers of yesteryear (as in, only a couple of years ago, really), our previous system felt like a zero sum game. After all, there were only a few seats at the big table and nearly every writer had to run a gauntlet to get there. And after they had busted their buns making it through several unpublished manuscripts, piles of letters that begin with sentences like “While this writer has talent, unfortunately…” and actually got a publishing contract, they then had to sell books right out of the gate or – buzzzzzzz – get disqualified.

Now that the barriers to entry have been largely removed and even Big 5 authors have to learn the marketing game, we writers have finally been given permission to act like colleagues instead of rivals. We can share best practices, share readerships within our genres, share both victories and disappointments without feeling unduly exposed.

In my San Francisco days, I would have never asked a mere colleague to promote my work. A friend – yes – but a colleague? Uh-uh. Not only would they have probably found an artful way to decline, but I would have had to make peace with the knowledge that they were going to rip me to shreds to all of their friends. Whether they’d read my work or not.

Fast forward and here we scribes are, day after day, baring our writerly souls to virtual strangers in our various online support groups without a second thought.

What happens when you get a troll? You take it to the group, and a swarm of whoever is available on that day will negate, report, counter-review, comfort and basically do whatever they can to help. For non-writers out there, a troll is basically a stalker who has usually not read your work, but is intent on taking you down with bad reviews and basic bad-mouthing just for the sport of it, I guess. Did you make it into the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest? You can count on people who have probably never even met you to read your excerpt and write a killer review.

Does everyone always pull their weight? Well, no. Is everyone supportive? To be honest, most trolls are usually other writers who are out to torpedo the efforts of a colleague. Trolls, however, are in the minority and I pity the troll that gets outed. They will be virtually eaten alive for their shameful behavior.

The painting SATURN by the Spanish artist GOYA.

Do feelings still get hurt and petty arguments flare up from time to time? Of course. We’re human.

But in a profession where it can take twenty years to become an overnight success, it sure is nice to spend that time with people who aren’t hoping you never get there. On the contrary, there’s a feeling that your success – to some small degree – is theirs; a belief that if one of us can make a real living at this, maybe we all can.

So, in that spirit, Thank you, fellow writers, from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, readers, for giving new writers a chance and for taking the time to write reviews once you’ve read our work. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate your efforts. And thank you, Amazon – you’ve not only turned publishing on its ear, but have almost single-handedly delivered to me a hugely supportive group of friends and colleagues. People who have flown across oceans and borders to attend a reading of my novel, who have invited me on their blogs and into their homes. People who have shared with me and let me into their lives. That has been the greatest blessing of all.

me, Christoph and Catalina

P.S. THE BONE CHURCH will be on sale for $2.99 on Amazon starting Black Friday (Nov. 28th) and ending on December 2nd. Get it while it’s Cold!

On Making a Man

Velvet Revolution b & wThis is a year of milestones for my family. My husband and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary, the Velvet Revolution just marked its 25th anniversary, and our oldest child, a son, will be turning thirteen.

For those of you who may be a bit fuzzy about the Velvet Revolution, I’ll give you a refresher course: The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent series of demonstrations in Czechoslovakia that culminated in an end to 41 years of communist rule, followed by a peaceful conversion to a parliamentary republic. It was truly one of democracy’s great days and one I can’t look back upon without getting all verklempt. Not a single shot was fired.

As for the other two milestones, I think a fifteen-year wedding anniversary is pretty self-explanatory. But for those of you who don’t have kids, I’ll enlighten you a little bit about what it’s like when the first one turns thirteen.

I’m sure you’ve heard, but thirteen is when all the fun begins.

boys smoking

Or not.

Given all that is at stake, it’s crucial to me that we start the teen years off on the right track, and I decided that a mother-son trip back to the old country was in order. The country that I only narrowly escaped being born in – which I like to remind my children would have disqualified me from ever being President here in the US of A. That little civics lesson is an added bonus.

I was a bit apprehensive about spending a week alone with my son on a tour that didn’t involve any of the usual activities that he values in a vacation. You know – beaches, fishing, and a lot of lounging around.

A trip to the Czech Republic is a very adult vacation. One filled with history and family. And in this case, one even infused with work. My son not only got to watch me perform a reading of my novel, The Bone Church, at a Prague bookstore, but listen in as I furnished a lengthy interview to Prague Radio that included a good deal of rather delicate family information he’d never heard before.

I knew our week would be jam-packed, exhausting and utterly alien to him. My hope was that my son could walk away from our week in Prague with something of his mother to take with him through his more challenging years. During a time when he’ll be breaking away from my loving embrace – as he should, taking his own council or the advice of his friends over mine – as he also should from time to time, and springing, swelling, sometimes snowballing into the man he will become.

I’ve given a lot of consideration to what kind of mother I want to be to my son. To the kind of man I want to raise and unleash on this world. I’ve thought about everything from discipline – I’m a fan, to independence – a necessity in my point of view, and character – absolutely essential. My husband and I once disqualified an excellent private school for our children when we learned about an incident where a bus driver had refused to drive an inch until an overly exuberant teen was able to control himself and sit down.

We would’ve shaken the man’s hand, but the school gave the driver a pink slip after the disruptive and disrespectful student’s parents complained.

becoming a man 3

I just want so much more for my children than a culture of entitlement and a single-minded obsession with self-esteem. Especially when I’ve seen how in my own life, my sense of worth has come far more from opportunities to exercise morals and principals, and an ability to acquire skills and sharpen talents, than even a thousand you go, girls. The fact that my husband and I love our kids beyond reason is table stakes. It’s the other stuff that can be more challenging in an age when parents are terrified of not providing the perfect environment for their children’s future success.

I suppose we’re no different in that regard. We just go about things a little bit differently.

Believe me, we are not the kind of parents who fetishize the “good ole days” of child-rearing. We don’t want to bring back the wooden spoon and tell our kids they’ll go blind if they masturbate. But we also don’t want them to grow into adults who believe the world will accommodate their every grievance. Or conversely, for obedience to be their defining characteristic because they’ve never been allowed to fail. We strive to create an environment where our children are allowed the critical landmarks of growth that come from making mistakes and getting into danger every once in a while. The kind of danger that comes from being permitted to ride their bikes unsupervised or watch a horror movie or settle a dispute without adult intervention. We don’t always succeed.

becoming a man 4

In my own, crazy Cold War family, I saw how vital it was to address important, scary, complex and adult issues. To not shield children from the existence of death, evil and all manner of barbarity. These were talked about in great detail at my dinner table when I was coming of age, and those tales – far from scarring me – did nothing but deepen my empathy and enrich my understanding of humanity. Even if they did disturb me. Keep me up at night sometimes. Make me cry.

The world is a beautiful mess and my parents never tried to clean it up too much for me. Nor did they ever clean my room for me. That’s been a positive force in my life.

So, back to our trip to Prague. I viewed it as a launching pad for my son’s young manhood and a vehicle for our relationship to make the adjustment from “mommy and me” (ok, he hasn’t called me mommy for a pretty long time now), to just “me and mom.”

Our relentless, almost psychedelic trip to Prague came on with gale force wind – beginning with catching a Czech film about the Prague Spring as it was being shot. A lucky break, we ran into a film crew as we strolled around Vinohrady, where we were staying, and got to pose for pictures in front of vintage cars, tanks, actors costumed in late 1960s groovery and fog machines.

We walked until our feet ached, trolled the castle dungeon and its accompanying torture museum, and shopped for souvenirs on the Charles Bridge. I let my son ask me anything he wished about marriage and sex; about our friends who had gotten divorced and why. He even got the opportunity to hear his grandfather tell the story of his and my mother’s defection. How, like in the movies, my father found himself crawling in the grass only to come nose to toe with a pair of boots, then look up into the eyes of a border guard and the barrel of a gun. It was a first for me, too, as I’d only heard the story from my mother’s point of view.

I took him to my mother’s village to stay with family friends – warm, kind people who treated us like one of their own, and strolled with him around our family farm, which had recently been sold to a brewer. Sprawling and once stately, it had been in our care since before the American Revolution. And now, it was gone.


At home, my son dresses like his friends – terribly. I mean truly – with unkempt, unwashed hair, pants that are either too big or too small, t-shirts and dirty underwear. He’s a sartorial disgrace and he knows it.

“Part of the herd, mom,” he says.

But in Prague, he allowed himself to look great. His hair was washed and finger-styled. His clothes were neat and masculine. He even let my friend Beth dress him in a vintage coat and tails with a tie pin for a night on the town. He stared at himself in the mirror and saw the man he will one day be.

“Wow,” he said. “I look good.”

becoming a man 6

And on our last night, I took him to an authentic, French burlesque show.

Along with my two equally middle-aged girlfriends, Nancy and Beth, we dressed him up, teased him, let him take a ceremonial sip of beer, and educated him about the style of theater he was viewing. And don’t worry moms and dads, it was all tastefully done. He’s seen more skin on his friend’s moms at our local pool than he did at this very chic and sophisticated burlesque show. He just loved that while he was the youngest one there, he still wasn’t treated like a kid.


The next morning, as our plane began its taxi down the runway, my son looked out the window and said, “Come on, mom. On the count of three – goodbye, Prague! We’ll miss you.”

I swear, my heart skipped a beat.

I’m hoping that our son’s passage from boyhood to manhood will be as peaceful as the Velvet Revolution. I would like the inevitable transition of power to go without bloodshed, police intervention, or too many tears. But I don’t want it to be easy for him either. Or easy for us. We don’t grow that way. Or at least don’t grow enough. Sometimes we need the trouble of a rough and tumble journey in order to become anyone worthwhile. A guy a girl can depend on, a friend can respect, and a child look up to. You don’t become that man without having to defend yourself or others, breaking a heart, or having a heart broken for that matter. And it’s a journey that for the most part, a boy has to make on his own terms.

becoming a man 7

Chaos, John Dolan, and One Helluva Scavenger Hunt

chaos 4John Dolan is back in the Cold and I couldn’t be more delighted. And this time he brings with him a co-conspirator, the illustrious Fiona Quinn, with whom he has written a brand-spanking new thriller: CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

‘CHAOS’ is a psychological suspense, a mystery, and a love story – loaded with irreverent humor, and viewed through the lens of obsession.

WARNING: This book contains references to Judas Iscariot, a dwarf and a performing monkey. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.

What is here or there is that I’m about half-way through the book and having just a raucous of a good time. It takes a lot of cojones to write a book with someone you’ve never met and I admire Fiona and John for taking the leap. I admit I would be admiring them less if the book was terrible, but since they’re pulling it off, I say, Mazel Tov!

Here’s the elevator pitch:

Sean hears voices in his head.
Travis snorts cocaine.
Teagan thinks she’s the next Lady Gaga.
Avery has the boss from Hell and a mother with dementia.
And Goose thinks he can catch a serial killer.

As vivid a pitch as this is, I wanted more. So, I decided to send John on a scavenger hunt. Are you ready, John? Here goes!

1. Go to YouTube and find something that will illuminate readers about the voices Sean hears in his head. This can be a movie clip, song, comedy skit, anything.

John: Easy!

2. In reference to “Travis snorts cocaine” – I would like a tasteless photograph that will tell us a little bit more about this Travis fellow and a brief explanation of the photo and how it pertains to “Chaos.”

John: Here’s a photograph I took of a pile of white powder. Of course, it’s not cocaine. Where would I get that from? If I knew a red-bearded dwarf – like the one in ‘Chaos’ – of course it might be a different story.

Chaos 2

3. Find me a song that would play in the opening credits of “Chaos” were made into a movie.

John: Theme tune to ‘Chaos’ – ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ by Blue Oyster Cult. I did think about ‘The Birdie Song’ because of the Twitter connection. But no. No, no, no. Hell, no.

4. Get Fiona to write a short, 4 line poem about Hell.

“Hell is empty and all the devils are here,”
From the Tempest we were warned.
But thwarted efforts to endear,
True Hell is the fury of a woman scorned.

John: Yeah. She’s every bit as pretentious as me :)

5. I’d like an image of your favorite serial killer and brief statement about how he or she has inspired both you, personally, and your work.

John: This is my favourite cereal killer. Those nuts will do for anyone with the relevant allergy. How has it inspired me? Hmm. Well, it inspires me to stay regular.

chaos 3

Links for Chaos Launch

John Dolan
Twitter @JohnDolanAuthor

John Dolan

Fiona Quinn
Twitter @FionaQuinnBooks

chaos Fiona

Buy Links on Amazon



Get it before the voices in your head turn just plain mean!

Featured Artist: Thierry Noir

berlin wall pieceFeatured Artist: Thierry Noir.

Twenty-five years ago – almost to the day – the Berlin Wall came down. It was a blessed day. One that my family had waited for, prayed for, never gave up hope would come.

Before my next post, I’d like to take a brief time to honor that day, and to honor the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. My late father-in-law was a World War II Marine Corps veteran of the Pacific theater. Our dear friend General David Bellon USMC is a four time veteran who spent the greater part of the last dozen years in Iraq and Afghanistan. God Bless the USMC, God Bless all Veterans, God Bless America and God Bless us all.


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