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StrangeDreams, Ancient Languages and the Touch of a Long-Lost Love


Without further ado, here’s that excerpt of Savage Island I promised you last week! It’s from Chapter 5. This scene comes right on the heels of a casual dinner at Will’s father’s plantation, where an ancient legend about Nin’ti was recounted by Dr. Cornelius Kandinsky Neville, archaeologist extraordinaire.

Nin’ti, for those of you who might be scratching your heads, are rather extraordinary souls. My lovers in Savage Island, unbeknownst to them, are Ninti. They share a deep and powerful devotion that puts them both in mortal danger, while propelling them towards a remarkable fate that ensures they will live infinite human lives…and suffer an equal number of deaths. Together they must solve a mystery that spans the ages, or risk losing one another forever.

Here, they agree to meet alone, in order to talk about a series of peculiar dreams they’ve been having….

savage island wattpad

I don’t know why I listened to Will Tongahai when he told me to meet him at the plank. Should have ignored him for many reasons, but the most immediate one is that it’s damned dark out here at night, even with a big old moon, and I can’t bloody see well enough where I’m going. I do, however, catch sight of the plank up ahead. A contorted branch of rock that juts off the plateau, it dangles over the sea, illuminated by unfettered moonlight and a heavy dusting of stars. It’s a rather hypnotizing formation and I forget to even try to look where I’m stepping. For the damned second time I twist my ankle and but good.

“Bugger,” I say, bending down to give it a rub.

A shadow looms over me, long and lithesome, a black stain on a turf of dark indigo grasses.

“Your bones were broken and I was holding you.”

Will’s voice comes from behind me. Soft, like a sad melody. He’s close enough that I can feel the heat of his body and I don’t know how it is that I didn’t hear him walking up.

“The sand was blowing all around us, lashing our faces, obscuring the sun and turning the day into night.”

“Was that your dream?”

“Yes,” he says.

Will puts his hand on my shoulder. His touch is like warm water and I shiver.

“My father says that around a full moon, dreams are made up of memories.”

I look out at the man in the moon, suspended high above the water. “Aren’t all dreams made up of memories in one way or another?”

“I suppose so,” he whispers.

His finger trails up my neck inciting a legion of goose pimples and making my skin feel tender all over. I grab a fist full of grass to keep steady.

“Is that where your tattoos come from? Your dreams?”

His finger stops, resting gently at the base of my skull.

“Images of funeral pyres and night skies, like this one. Oceans of sand and flowers I’ve never seen before. They were all I dreamt about after I went away to school. Every time I closed my eyes.”

He places his hands on my shoulders and my breath quails. I know he can hear it. Slowly, his fingers tiptoe under my collarbone, where he lets his palms rest. They’re all hot and damp, like he ran all the way here to find me.

“There you are!”

It’s Ku, and I just about fall over.

“Oliana’s been looking for you, Will.”

I stand up, wobbling on one foot like a jack-in-the-box.

“And you’re here, too.”

“I stumbled,” I say, stupidly. “My ankle.” As if that’s an excuse to be out in the dark, alone with Will.

We all go quiet in one of those awkward silences.

“The moon will do that,” Ku says, finally. “It’s probably a good thing there won’t be a full one at your hair-cutting ceremony, eh, Will?”

Will sticks his hands in his pockets and looks down. His braid of hair overlays his backbone in the way of those spiny beasties in the outback. The ones that are all muscle with brilliant skins of fantastic colors.

“You’re actually going to have one of those?” Part of me hates to think of Will cutting his long hair. It seems a part of him. But on Niue, hair-cutting ceremonies are crucial for a boy’s journey to manhood. It makes a male child a man in the eyes of his Niue elders.

“Will was supposed to do it before he left for school, but he wouldn’t,” Ku tells me. “Told his parents a boy becomes a man when he takes on a man’s responsibilities. Not when he cuts his hair.” Ku slaps Will’s arm. “That what you’re going to do Will? Take on responsibilities? Maybe make an honest woman of my sister?”

My flesh runs absolutely cold and I look up at Will, my mouth gaping like an imbecile’s.

“There’s nothing dishonest about Oliana and I,” Will says. “We were children.”

“She cried her eyes out when your mum and dad shipped you off to England.” Ku shrugs, crossing his arms over his chest. “And now, here you are.”

“And here I go,” I say, just about wanting to vomit. I test out my ankle and thank God it’ll do. I’m not staying here another second.

“Wait,” Ku says. “I’ll walk you back in case you fall again.”

He rushes up to me, but Will Tongahai doesn’t follow. Damn him! Instead, he walks onto the plank and stands at its very edge, his silhouette stamped onto the face of the very moon that’s inked onto the back of his neck. His head is turned away from us and facing out towards the sea.

“Ah’kwara patu ve,” I call out to him. The words just spill out of me and I cup my hands over my mouth. My heart bats in my chest.

“What’s that gobble-dee-goop?” Ku asks me.

Will cocks his head and I know he understands. Even if he can’t possibly. Even if I’ve never known the words I spoke and can’t imagine where they came from. I only know they were in my dream, and I wrote them down this morning as soon as I opened my eyes.

They mean, I was born for you.

Savage Island wattpad 4

I’m going to be posting some tantalizing weekly snippets of Savage Island. Tasty morsels of adventure and romance that are more than a bite, but less than the whole cake. If you want the whole damned cake – and it’s going to be a good one – the kind of cake with butter and cream frosting, a layer of pudding in the middle, colored sugar crystals and candied violets. Oh, and sparklers. I love a cake with sparklers! Well, if you want that whole cake you can either wait until Savage Island comes out late next Spring, or you can click on over to my Patreon page, where for the price of a cup of diner coffee, you can not only read a new chapter every week, as well as get behind the scenes commentary, history and photos, but enjoy lots and lots of other artsy stuff, too. Things like my mini-vlog, Writing on the Brink, lots of vintage art and photographs, new original essays, and even some pictures of my dog, Barney. It’s a whole world of magic and meaning curated for you.

Vic Bar

Patreon, for you newbies, is a terrific and reasonable way to enjoy the work of your favorite artists. There are so many really good artists out there doing their best to provide quality, meaning and magic – not fast food. I’m one of them, and I’ll tell you, it ain’t easy. It takes a colossal amount of time – much of which is spent working for well under minimum wage. Please think about supporting the artists you love!

And if you want to add a cherry to that cake we talked about, a third of my Patreon goal will go to Camp Holiday Trails, a summer camp for kids with special medical needs. My daughter’s a camper and it was an awesome experience for her, where she met great friends and was able to do all the things “regular” kids do at their camps.

So, check it out and see if you like it – There are some public posts, too, so click here for access:  Patreon is world in and of itself!


Love at First Write: You will know my name! A Writer’s Thoughts on Monikers and Aliases.

So what’s in a name, you might ask? Everything. Imagine this: The name’s Bond, Jim Bond. NO! As writers, we struggle to get the names of our characters right. So how do we approach this naming business? Listen here and find out!




Even Cowgirls Like Me Get the Blues

Country by Cactus BlossomsI’ve made no secret of the fact that since moving to rural Virginia, I’ve become a major  country music fan. While I’m not one of those people who loves anything written about a pick up truck and a pair of cowboy boots, I’m also not one of those purists who won’t listen to anyone after Hee Haw ended either. I love Zac Brown and think Carrie Underwood’s a lot of fun.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because for once, we’re not going to be talking about this music-lover’s seemingly radical conversion to honky-tonk. Not much anyway. We’re going back to my roots in sweet home Chicago, where the blues still manage to find an authentic home, and aren’t treated as a cute nostalgia act.

Howlin' Wolf Portrait Session

The blues are to my home town, Chicago, what the movies are to Hollywood. Hollywood has glamor and the onus of excess, plus a healthy splash of nihilism. Chicago lacks the luxuriance of its slick cousin, but makes up for it with a style that’s built of grit, the faith of Job and cool. Violence and corruption are in that city’s bones, but so is resilience. Chicagoans are above all survivors, which is why I believe the Blues continue to thrive there, packing festivals and venues with tourists and locals alike, even though this genre of music has long gone out of fashion in the actual music industry.

Maybe it’s because the Blues have managed to transcend their genre.

Many who go to hear Melvin Taylor or Buddy Guy would never dream of putting them on their iPod. They go because when you step into a Blues show, you step into another world. One of old school heroes and villains, rain-slicked alleys, and a sense of the vogue that gives dignity to even the most down and out cast of characters.

chicago blues white

The Blues have a distinctive sense of place and time. You won’t find them in Bali or in California’s wine country.  The Blues belong on the streets of big cities with mafias, crooked politicians and vibrant African-American communities.

And even its most modern artists and aficionados seem somehow to have stepped out of the past. Or more accurately, they were simply left behind. Forgotten, forlorn, foregone. Because unlike the glitz of the California movie set, the Blues belong to regular people. The ones who didn’t make it and never will.

It’s for that very reason why I prefer listening to the Blues live, rather than putting them on at home – which is exactly the opposite of how I feel about most of my music. Going to hear a Blues show is like going to the theater for me. One that combines my favorite literary genre – Noir – with the razz-ma-tazz hang-over of Big Band Jazz. The Blues have the energy of Big Band, the technique, but is no celebration of living. No, the Blues is more akin to a bender than a night out on the town. The kind of self-abusive leisure that cements camaraderie among losers.

Blues Brothers

Blues and Noir inhabit the same universe, stalking the same joints and living through the same long nights. Sometimes barely. They go together like whisky and cigarettes.

How many contemporary genres of music and literature can you say that about?

I mean, really.

Though born roughly of the same time, the psychedelic youthalopolis of the Beatles and the old school world of James Bond have little in common, seeming to exist in separate universes altogether. Just try to imagine someone on LSD and wearing bell-bottoms stepping into the same joint as a slick spy who drinks top shelf martinis and sports a tux. Or Snoop Dogg trying to belong in the world of Harry Potter? Or Kardi B in Outlander (although Kardi is a national treasure, dammit, and I’d take her anywhere)?

The blues and noir walk hand in hand through yesterday and today, seeing the same events in roughly the same way. They eat the same foods, drink the same rot-gut liquor and would vote for same political candidates, if they thought voting would change a damn thing in their lives.

So, tonight, instead of the usual Lyle Lovett soundtrack that I like to play while I’m fixing dinner, I’m going to put on some Miles Davis. Because I’m feeling kind of blue, but in a good way.

Coming soon…more snippets of Savage Island!!!

If You Hate Passionate Kisses, Don’t Read Any Further! (Savage Island, Chapter Three)

Breath_Kickstarter_paragraphheaders_WIP01-1_STORY_smallThe one side of Will Tongahai’s face is aglow in firelight. The other blends entirely into the night, making him look like a handsome ghoul. His thick, long braid of hair snakes over his shoulder and down past his breast. It’s fairer than it looked at a bit of a distance. The color of raw honey, instead of the shiny black of most Niueans. But then he is half British.

“Quite a change from Sydney,” he says.

Will is tall, taller than me at any rate. My eyes look in to the hollow at his throat.

“You been to Sydney?”

He shakes his head, and the torchlight flickers for a spell over the whole of his face.

“Then how would you know this is a change from Sydney?” I ask him.

“Well,” he says. “Just a good look at you for one thing.”

Will Tongahai turns on his heel and saunters towards Vogel and Neville, his broad shoulders barely sheathed by the worn, white linen of his shirt. He wears it that way on purpose, I guarantee it, and feel sorry for the girls here who beg for his attention. Quite clear he’s only interested in himself. There he is chatting up who could be the damned enemy for all we know. The three of them hover around Mum’s drinks table, and I stride over plucking a coldie from Mum’s cooler.

“Angelie!” Aunt Kitty slaps my hand, making me give it back.

The three of them turn and Will Tongahai grins big as a moonslice.

“He got one,” I say, pointing to him.

“He’s nearly eighteen,” Mum says, Aunt Kitty standing behind her, arms all folded in a see, I told you so way.

“And I’m sixteen and will be seventeen.”

“Months from now!” Mum clarifies for everyone to hear. “Besides, he’s a young man.”

“Not old enough to join the Navy, I hear.”

I can feel the three of them staring at me and that Neville bursts out laughing – a deep, throaty laugh that’s all plush new velvet. My cheeks burn hot, because I know I shouldn’t have said it. I mean, at least Will tried to join the war, and damned near would’ve succeeded if his roommate hadn’t ratted him out.

Mum takes a deep breath and tells Aunt Kitty to go fetch a bottle of rum for Dr. Neville. So, it’s Dr. Neville, is it? She uncaps the beer Aunt Kitty practically pried out of my hands and gives it back to me. I look her right in the eye as I take a long, deep swallow of the ale, which I hate and she knows it.

“Go set an example and sit down,” she says. “It’s time to eat and everyone’s just standing around.”

I nod, heading towards a banquet flanked by long-stemmed torches with bulbous heads consumed in blue and orange flames. They’re almost as bright as city streetlights and make the dining area the one place where you can actually see where you’re stepping.

“You must be Angelie.” A Niuean girl about my age comes up carrying two jugs of fruity wine.

“That’s right,” I say. I take one jug to help her out and wince. It’s sticky and gums on to the front of my dress. “Great.”

“Sorry about that,” she says, biting down on her lip. She’s got those big eyes like they all do here. “I’m Oliana.”

“It’s ok,” I tell her. “At least it’s not red wine.”

She giggles nervously and I give her my friendliest smile. We then take the jugs to a sideboard laid with palms and try to corral some of the elders into sitting down.

Something of a feast has been thrown together in honor of our new guests. We got one of those, too, when we arrived, although this one looks a bit more…more, I have to say. I sit down at the head table – the longest one – and wait, my eyes grazing over all the varieties of roasted fish. They’re surrounded by various preparations of taro, coconut, yam and breadfruit. There’s even some smoked ham and scary-ugly platters of giant coconut crab – alien things that Pacific islanders are convinced ate Amelia Earhart after she crashed.

“That’s why there was no sign of her,” they say.

Those give me the creeps and I will not eat them, no matter how good Mum claims they are. Of course, Will Tongahai plops down next to me and picks one right up. He dislodges its abdominal sack – a thing filled with a thick, oily fluid – and goes to work slurping it down.

“It’s good,” he tells me. “Tastes like peanut butter.”

I know it’s impolite to grimace when someone’s eating, but I can’t help it. “Well, I’ve never had peanut butter.”

“Hmm,” he says. “Come to think of it, neither have I.”

Oliana hovers near Will, clearly dying to take a seat next to him. In the end she chickens out and takes the chair next to me.

Dr. Neville and Max Vogel sit directly across from us and allow me to serve them.

It’s rather quiet on our end of the table as we start to eat. Clearly the travelers are starving. The other side of the table is all chitter-chat and Albert plays his nafa in a low beat. He strums his fingers over the top of the drum, while shoveling food into his mouth with his other hand.

“You going to drink that?” Will says. I notice his beer has been empty for some time.

“I was, yes,” I say. He waits as I lift up my beer and put it to my lips. Counting to three, I chug the whole thing down and place it back on the table with a thump. Will signals a local boy and asks him to bring us two more.

“Since you like it so much,” he says.

Dr. Neville sits back and dabs his napkin at the corners of his mouth like he’s some sort of gentleman. Max Vogel, on the other hand, places his elbows on the table. His banana blonde hair is blown back by the same swift ocean breeze that makes the flames around us shudder.

“Kandi,” he says to Neville in his short, German clip. “Mr. Tongahai tells me we can set up tomorrow morning. Claims the weather should be perfect all day.”

By Mr. Tongahai, he must mean Will’s father, the plantation owner.

“What are you setting up?” I ask.

Dr. Neville removes the statue from his bag again and places it on the table.

“You see this?” He says. “My father found it in a street market in Egypt. Paid almost nothing for it.”

“Is it an Egyptian god of some sort?”

Neville smiles, his teeth as white as Chiclets. “It’s not Egyptian at all. Much older.”

“Sumerian?” Will Tongahai offers.

“Older even than that. At least that’s what he believed.”

I look the thing over, its strong thin body punctuated by an elegant pair of clawed feet that look quite at odds with the way of the head. That is all ferocity and intelligence.

“Like the essence of life itself,” Will Tongahai says, as if picking the words from my mind.

“Correct, young Will.”

“If you found it all the way in Egypt,” I say. “Then what’s it got to do with here?”

Max Vogel chimes in.

“It’s carved from a type of rock that I am convinced exists deep beneath the desert floor in certain parts of the Sahara. Such a substance would be difficult to excavate under normal circumstances and quite impossible to access in these troubled times.”

“And what, you think this substance could be found here, on Niue? We’re all the way on the other side of the world.”

“Ah, but we weren’t once,” Dr. Neville says. “Have you heard of Pangea?”

I shake my head.

“It’s a theory that holds all current land masses were once a supercontinent back before they broke apart during the Triassic and Jurassic periods. That was over two hundred million years ago. Such a continent would have placed where we are right now rather close to the origins of the substance this strange little statue is made of.”

I touch my finger lightly to the statue’s head and feel a slight shock, like when I used to touch the metal railing at our old apartment just after rubbing my feet over the rug.

“But Niue didn’t exist back then,” says Will Tongahai.

“Oh, it did,” Max Vogel says. “It was much bigger, in fact. A real land mass. As Pangea broke apart, it was submerged into the Pacific. It broke the surface again many millions of years later when the volcano on top of which you now live became extinct and this coral atoll was formed.”

Will Tongahai chugs his beer like it’s water, and I feel a sick compulsion to do the same. No, in fact, I one up him and pretty much finish mine, ending with a burp that takes me by complete surprise. Dr. Neville and Will Tongahai bust up and I can’t help but join them. Even Max Vogel allows the corners of his mouth to turn up just a little.

“So, you’re here to find more of what this statue is made of?” I ask, suppressing more burps.

“Perhaps,” Dr. Neville says. “We’re here to take geological samples anyway. Dr. Vogel is one of the top geologists in the world, and he seems to think we have a decent shot.”

He pets the head of his statue and if I didn’t know better I’d swear the thing’s been staring at me this whole time.

“May I?”

Dr. Neville hands the figure to me and I’m struck immediately by how warm it is. The heat from its core spreads from my hands into my wrists and up my arms, flooding my chest cavity like a gush of hot tea. All at once, I feel a searing pain in my face and my ribs, then my hips as if my bones have been broken by a series of heavy, wrathful blows. In the next twitch of time, the pain is gone as if it never was, and I’m left breathless.

“Are you alright?” I hear Will Tongahai say.

His words seems remote, like an echo.

Pinpoints of sweat break out all over me.

I start panting.

I can’t speak.

It’s as if my heart stopped and started again.

Everyone is looking at me.

I drop the statue on the table and rise up. Unable to manage any sensible excuses, I hurry off, tripping over the knobs of coral that pimple the way to the shore. Once there, I hobble along, arms out like airplane wings to keep balance, until I just can’t go any more. I’m breathing so hard my head is spinning. In the distance, I see the Arches of Talava – two of them anyway – the moon shining on them like a reading light. The water hisses and sputters as it hits the rocky beach just a few feet away.

“Hey,” I hear from behind me. “Hey, Angelie!”

I guess Will Tongahai knows my name.

He comes up next to me, his dark skin seeming blue in the alien glow of the island night.

“What is it?” He asks.

I glance up at his face and he’s looking at me with real concern. I feel bad that I just up and ran away like that.

“I think I had too much to drink too quickly.”

That smile of his again. “Impressive how you practically gulped the whole pint in one go. Took me some practice to get that good.”

“Well, maybe I’ve had some practice, too.”

“Hardly!” He says.

Now I want to wipe that smile off his face with the palm of my hand.

“What do you mean hardly?”

“I mean that until tonight you’d never had more than a sip of beer in your life, and that much you hated.”

He crosses his hands over his chest and tips his head to his shoulder, as if weighing me.

“You know that do you?”


“Well, I know you’re a little prince on this island, and I bet a big city like London was a shock to you. So much competition.” I practically spit out that last word.

“I was in Canterbury, actually.”

“Oh, well, Canterbury then.”

“You know what else I know?” Will steps closer and I clench my fists, planting my feet on the rough skin of beach. There is no way I’m stepping back. Not one single step.

“Can’t wait to hear,” I say.

He drops his cheeky smirk and gets very serious all of a sudden. “You’ve never been kissed.”

For a moment, he and I just stare one another down.

His eyes actually pierce the darkness even though they must be the color of mahogany. But I see these ribbons of amber curling around his pupils, and crimson threads as well. Sumptuous and royal. Damn they’re beautiful. And damn him. He stands there, none at all backing down. Comfortable, immovable, like a Rodin sculpture. While I feel as wayward as a mermaid. I don’t know what makes me do it. A kind of fury, I guess. A low rumble of temper that starts like faraway thunder and grows. I veer towards him, taking his face in my hands. I press my small lips against his very plum ones, sweet and wet as if he’d just licked them. And I do it hard.

Will lets me at first. Damn bugger, I even feel him grin while I kiss him. I’m about to push him away – I swear I am – when he takes the back of my head in his palm and brings me close in a deep, deep kiss that goes even deeper as he bends me back. It’s none at all like I ever imagined being kissed. Not tender the way Humphrey Bogart kissed Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. Will’s kiss is wild. It’s like the wind Aunt Kitty is so afraid might sweep me off the tops of the arches. The kind that blows my hair this way and that, scoops the breath right out of my rib cage. Every stroke of his tongue – on my lips, the roof of my mouth – is a star burst of sensations. Right when I think I can’t take another moment, his hand slips down my neck and his hot breath drifts over my cheek as we pull apart. His eyes are incandescent, even this close, and they wander over my face like he’s known me all my life.

Yes, I think to myself. Will Tongahai has most definitely kissed before.

Savage Island first kiss

Patreon is a terrific and reasonable way to enjoy the work of your favorite artists. For as little as the price of a cup of simple diner coffee, you’ll gain access to stories like Savage Island as well as book excerpts from novels-in-progress, essays, and so much original art and content that’s been curated just for you! One-third of my Patreon goal will go directly to Camp Holiday Trails, a great summer camp that caters to children with special medical needs. My daughter camped there again this summer and had a ball!

New Love at First Write: Beauty is about so much more than a pretty face or a hot body. In great stories, we use beauty to inspire empathy, to foment passion, to find the weakness in another human being and destroy them. It is truly an awesome tool and on this LAFW we talk about how to use it and use it right.


Another Dispatch from Savage Island

Chapter two from my new BREATH inspired novella, Savage Island is here. This story is like Indiana Jones meets Twilight with a little bit of Outlander thrown in for good measure and I so hope you’re going to enjoy it!

Breath_Kickstarter_paragraphheaders_WIP01-1_STORY_smallI elbow my way around a group of islanders, all bunched up together and gaping out at the water like they’re waiting for fireworks to start. The barge is closer now, lit up, a dozen or so lights marking its shape like a constellation of stars. The Big Shipper.

And there’s another boat. This one coming from the barge, illuminated by an unblinking eye of a light beaming from its stern. Bullying white, it even outshines the image of a full moon reflected on the surface of the bottomless, black water just past the coral reef.

Albert starts to thump his palms on his nafa – bum-bu-bum-bu-bum – and the hair stands up on my arms. He’s Mary’s son – the friendly woman from the post office. Long limbed, Albert’s built like he should be tall, though he’s a good bit shorter than me. Victoria, his sister, stands next to him all plump and pretty with a shock of curly black hair that hugs her skull like a bathing cap fixed with floppy rubber roses. She starts to sing Haku Motu. Out of tune.

“Welcome Max Vogel,” I say, mostly to myself. “I’m sure you’d much prefer Deutschland Über Alles.”

All around me there’s whispers mixed up in English and Niuean, which is how most of the people on this rock talk.

“You want a coldie, Will?” I hear mum say from behind me. Half the blokes on the island are named Will. “Swan Lager that came in from the last barge.” Leave it to her to bring refreshments.

Will, whoever he is, apparently does want one, and I hear the pop from the bottle cap as mum opens the beer.

“Fakaue,” says a soft voice more man than boy. It’s thanks in Niue. Glug, glug, glug, he must’ve drank up half the beer in three seconds flat.

Ooooo. It comes in unison from the folk around me as the boat comes up to shore and the front line of Niuean’s get a load of her passengers. I struggle forward, pushing through and the first thing I see is a neat helmet of very blonde hair – obviously blonde even in the dim glow of torchlight. This hair is perched on top of a square and lean face with the prominent bones of a predatory bird. The body, of one Max Vogel I presume, is as upright as the pressed uniform of a general, and he is everything I’ve imagined a German to be and more. Except for the way he’s dressed. A simple shirt and pants, light in color – maybe powder blue. Very casual, like he’s come on vacation.

But that’s not the strangest part.

With him is a man. Skin as dark as the night sky, the whites of his eyes like pearls. His clothes are not nearly as pale as Max Vogel’s, and seem somehow more serious. He’s crouched behind the German, his forearms balancing on his knees as if he’s thinking deep and hard about something.

“Fakaalofa lahu atu!”

A young man, Niuean, but with his waist-length hair plaited in a long braid, walks into the shallows to greet the boat. Wet to his thighs, the frothy spray of ocean water splatters his linen shirt and makes it cling to his chest. The Niuean girls are all watching him like he’s Frankie Sinatra.

“That’s Will Tongahai,” Aunt Kitty pants into my ear. I didn’t know she’d come up behind me.

“Is he the one who just returned from London?”

Aunt Kitty nods. “Only a month ago from some fancy boarding school. Got sent back here for trying to join the Royal Navy to go fight in the war, for heaven’s sake!”

The only person who’s been talked about more than Captain Cook since our arrival on Niue is Will Tongahai. He’s the grandson of missionaries from the London Missionary Society – damned Protestants as Aunt Kitty likes to say – and his mother married Nukai Tongahai, who owns the biggest plantation on the island. It’s always a big deal when a native son leaves here for the big, wide world and comes back. They’re treated as if they’ve returned from Mount Olympus and are half-god now or something.

And Will Tongahai, half-god, that is to say half-British, which is pretty much the same thing on Niue, is extending his hand to Max Vogel and the African bloke who’s come with him.

“Cornelius Kandinsky Neville,” I hear the African say.

What the bloody hell kind of a name is that?

This Neville bloke scans the crowd and his eyes fix on me like I glow in the dark. Makes sense, I guess, as I’m only one of a handful of folk who are obviously not from here. Will Tongahai turns his head to see what Neville’s looking at and his eyes find me, too. He smiles and I feel naked all of a sudden.

“Hello,” I say.

“Hello.” Will Tongahai and that Neville fellow say it almost at the same time. Max Vogel says nothing, concentrating instead on stepping out of the boat without slipping on the cauliflowered bottom of the reef.

“Who have we here?” Neville says. “More English?”

“Australian,” I say. “Sydney.”

“Ah, I love Sydney. One of the great, but little known cities in the world.” He speaks British English but with an accent I can’t quite place.

“Not little known to Australians,” I tell him.

He smiles all friendly, as if he finds my cheekiness cute or something. Will Tongahai’s eyes brush my face like he expects me to look at him the way all of those girls do and there’s no way I’m going to do that.

“What brings you to Niue?” I ask Neville. He glances over at Max Vogel who’s now waded the few feet up to shore and is blotting his pants dry with a towel.

“Same thing that brought me to Sydney,” he says.

“What’s that?”

He reaches into a sharp-looking leather bag, expensive but well-worn, and pulls out a little statue that’s only a mite bigger than his hand when held out flat. It’s got a bird’s head and wings, the mouth of a lion with its teeth bared. Odd, but I kind of like it. Cornelius Kandinsky Neville tosses it up and catches it, gazing at it like a long-lost love.

“Archaeology,” he says, pronouncing every syllable.

Love at First Write

I’m trying my damnedest to write a hero and heroine who will knock your socks off. I want to build a world that you’ll want to step into as if through a magic door. One you’ll want to live in, fantasize about, die in (I mean die metaphorically, of course).

My characters have big, big journeys ahead of them. They will live and be killed countless times while endeavoring to achieve their quest. And if you’re not gasping for air at the end of certain pivotal chapters, I’ve failed.

That’s why I started Love at First Write. I want to think through and talk through what I’m creating. I want to make sure it’s the best it can possibly be. And I want you to be on this grand odyssey with me.

This week, we’re revisiting Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces and talking about what makes a heroine, specifically, unforgettable.

Savage Island…It’s Not Just a Story, It’s a World

Breath_KickstarterHeader_final_mediumIf you’ve been following my blog or any of my other shennanigans, you probably know that I’ve been in the process of writing an epic – and I mean epic in scale, adventure, romance, thrills and, and…well, lots of stuff – series. It’s called BREATH and I’ve just sent the final manuscript off to my editor for a last go-over-with-a-fine-toothed-comb. In the meantime, as I wait to begin the book launch process, I’ve found myself feeling restless and missing my characters something terrible. I’ve been pining for them while I drive car pool, while cooking dinner, in the shower, and late at night as I stare up at my ceiling and listen to the rain as it pelts our metal roof.

Finally, I could take it no longer!

Last week, I set about starting to write a novella that revisits the characters of BREATH in one of their previous lives. Once again, I’m feeling happy, fulfilled and like I want to take a break every couple of hours just to dance around my office. I do hope you readers will enjoy this as much as I do, and I’d really like to share the first few chapters with you over the next weeks and get your input.

Breath_KickstarterHeader_WIP01-2_retouchJust to remind you of what BREATH is all about in the first place, let me give you a short summary: Nif and Sherin are Ninti. They share a deep and powerful devotion that puts them both in mortal danger, while propelling them towards an extraordinary fate that ensures they will live infinite human lives…and suffer an equal number of deaths. Together they must solve a mystery that spans the ages, or risk losing one another forever.

BREATH is a story of lovers, killers, curses and destinies. It’s about the people who lived history, but it’s also a tale of those who unearthed history in order to preserve and understand its legacy.

You get to travel with Nif and Sherin during their adventures, but you’ll also be present alongside the past and future archeologists who are driven to solve the puzzle of their existence.

egypt-karnaktemple_nationalmediamuseum_flickr_3588098691_94d9a69c5e_oIf you’d like to know a little bit about what, specifically, is inspiring me to write this novella, let me begin with a short poem:

You are the poem I never knew how to write, and this life is the story I’ve always wanted to tell. – Tyler Knott Gregson

That’s it, in a nutshell. But if you’d also like to know a bit about what I hope to illuminate, both for myself and for readers, I’d like to give you a very short excerpt that will eventually make its way into this novella…somehow…if it kills me:

Without love and some tiny glimmer of faith – perhaps faith in God, faith in the great tapestry of which we are but one stitch, faith in goodness – it is a hopeless, numbing experience. A rational experience. And I would never wish a strictly rational mind on even my most bitter enemy. A life blind to magic, limited in its comprehension of art and unmoved by the possibilities of the imagination. Isn’t that a form of death? It certainly seems like that to me. –I wrote this one.

Without further ado:


Savage Island, Chapter 1

By Victoria Dougherty

On the island of Niue, it’s hard to believe a whole world is at war. The sky is as blue as Aunt Kitty’s eyeshadow, and whale song erupts any old time from the endless plain of ocean surrounding us. Those giant doves of the sea, cooing at us like gods of an ancient world. “You’re not of this Earth,” they seem to say. “You’re one of us now.”

One of us. No, I’m not. And never will be.

No doubt the villagers here will still trickle in to Matapa Chasm if Hitler and Hirohito have their way. Just as they are now. I see Mary, the plump-bottomed woman who works at the post office. White perfectly square teeth with a big space between the front two – she smiles at me and waves before beginning to undress. Everyone’s been very welcoming, I have to give them that. And they have every reason to be. Matapa chasm, carved out by the sea, its porous rock walls, dark as cigarette ash, will remain sheltering and remote no matter how many people die in Europe and the Orient. The fresh, cool waters will beckon these people just as they did the ancient Kings of this place centuries ago. Toes will dip daintily into the crystalline waters, as my toe is doing right now.

“Come for a swim,” the waters will say. No need to whisper. We’re far, far away and nobody will hear. Certainly not the dreaded Axis.


It’s Mum.

“I’m coming!”

“Lunch is ready! Fish.”

What else?

“Don’t want it to get cold!”

Aunt Kitty’s always afraid of things getting cold. Sandwiches, in her estimation, can get cold. So can potato salad.

I trudge carefully over the rough swells of rock, picking my shoes up off of Donald Duck, a rather big hunk of million year-old coral that’s formed in the shape of Mum’s favorite Disney character. A sign, she says, that we made the right choice in coming here. I remind her there was no “we” about it. This was entirely her idea. Aunt Kitty came along because what else was she supposed to do? We’re all she’s got.

“I saw one of those lion fish,” I tell them.

Kitty gasps. “In the chasm?” Her eyes dart over to the pool.

“In a rock pool near the Arches.”

Kitty shakes her head while Mum serves the fish onto banana leaves, careful the filets don’t break apart.

“Those are poisonous, Angelie!”

“Venemous,” I say. “And none at all deadly. Even if one of them had poked me, the worst that would happen is my foot would swell up.”

The lion fish are like everything on Niue. Beautiful, but with a murderous appearance.

“And don’t you go climbing around those arches again. Anyone can see you from above!”

Now the very sky has become a danger. See, two days ago, only a week after our unceremonious arrival on this rock, a V formation flew high over Alofi Bay. Only they weren’t birds. Mum trained her binoculars on them and recognized the markings.

“God Save the Queen!” Aunt Kitty called up to the sky, wielding her yellow cotton handkerchief. The one she cried into all the way on the journey from Sydney, wringing it over the railing – her tears dispersing into the ocean brew, same as we’d done when we left the harbor, becoming only a dot on the horizon until vanishing altogether.

“They’re Yanks,” Mum announced, passing the binoculars to her.

“They’re Allies,” Kitty countered.

Ever since, word has spread and there’s nothing but talk of the war. And that’s all it is. Talk, talk, talk. What else is there to do here?

“Those things are sharp all over and a good wind can come and blow you right off the top.”

Aunt Kitty’s still on the damned arches.

“You know they used to call this place Savage Island. For years and years, they did!” Aunt Kitty bites into a flaky chunk of parrotfish and her eyes bulge. She pulls a thin, white bone out of her mouth as if it’s proof of the hidden perils that surround us.

“They only called it Savage Island because of Captain Cook,” Mum says, laughing. “I imagine that from his perspective it was rather accurate, but it’s a good lesson not to judge things by the way they look.”

The islanders drove him off three times back in the 1770s – they’re very proud of that here and take every chance to tell you about how they painted their teeth a bloody crimson with skins of red banana, and jumped and screamed to all insanity. You know, like savages. Cook could see them up close, as his ship was only fifty feet or so from the beach. Deep water there. We’re on a rock after all, and the short shelf of coral reef drops off into a blue as deep as the Queen’s sapphire.

Last even remotely interesting thing that’s happened here, I imagine.

“Savage Island. Hard to believe Nuie was ever called that,” I say.

Mum tisk-tisks me.

“Angelie, we’re in a lovely place far away from the war. A place where people need us.”

I’m this close to rolling my eyes.

“We’re on a rock and everyone here seems to have been doing just fine without us. The people who need us are trying to keep the whole world from being consumed by evil!”

I give one big huff and Mum kisses the top of my head.

“Strawberry blonde, but all strawberry in temperament. Just like your dad.” She nudges me to eat my fish. “And we’ve given our share to the war effort.”

I pinch a piece of fish and place it on my tongue. Delicious. Fresh and salted. A hint of coconut. I tell Mum how good it is, since I feel like such a shit.

By “our share,” Mum means my brother and father. They died nearly two years ago now on a merchant ship that was sunk by a Japanese submarine. It was just after the attack on Sydney Harbor, and although there have been no attacks since, and boats like the one dad and Jamie went down on have by and large managed to keep away from the likes of the enemy, most of Sydney has been sure that at any time the Emperor himself will show up at their very front doors with two Samurai, lop off their heads, and bring them back to Tokyo as souvenirs!

“What’s that?” Aunt Kitty asks. She stands, her freckled nose tipped up and pointing out to sea.

Mum turns around and squints her eyes. “A barge, I think.”

“I thought those only come once a month.” That last one came only a day or so after we arrived.

Mum shrugs. “There was a big hullabaloo at the post office today, that’s all I know. A man named Max Vogel is coming to the island.”

“Vogel,” I say. “A German?”

Mum nods.

Aunt Kitty crosses herself. “What’s a German doing here?”

Mum takes a serving of bread fruit passing me a slice. “That’s what everyone wants to know.”

Stay tuned for Chapter Two, next week…


And in the meantime, here’s a lovely photo of Matapa Chasm on the Island of Niue

And here are the Arches of Talava, also referenced in Chapter One:

Face the Music…and Dance!

If you ever come over to our house, you’ll notice we’ve got music on. I mean ALL THE TIME.

“It’s like you people have your own soundtrack that follows you around,” a friend once told me.

Now, I love music. I always have. But my husband takes it to a whole other level. Jack seeks out rare finds from eclectic artists and enjoys everything from classical piano and violin concertos to the twangiest, most Hee Haw country music you’ve ever heard in your life. He loves 80s British New Wave and Cole Porter equally. You never know if he’s going to put on a Gregorian chant or an Irish jig. And he really loves Jazz. So much so that it takes up the lion’s share of our collection of tunes, one comprised of some seven thousand songs.

His joy over that little known clarinet solo or quirky folk gem can range from infectious to tyrannical, depending on who you talk to in our household. There are simply some genres of music that won’t get play on his fancy stereo, and if you dare put them on, you’ll never hear the end of it.

Death metal, for instance, which our teenage son and his friends have developed a strange affinity for. You might be right there with him on that one, but Jack’s also got a lyrical jihad against rap, anything by Madonna, songs and artists featured on yoga class playlists, electronically enhanced voices, The Who, but not Pete Townsend, most Simon and Garfunkel songs – except for the five or so he thinks are great, and well…you get the picture.

band taking groufie picture on brown sofaI won’t. I CAN’T listen to that sh*t,” my husband says.

But his particular brand of fascism can be forgiven for the unique aura of enchantment it has brought into our lives. Jack’s become famous for choosing just the right songs for the playlists he makes for friends, and knows how to strike exactly the proper mood for romance, the birth of a child, a new job, a gloomy afternoon, the arrival of a dear friend. It’s thanks to him that our children (death metal aside) have a broad repertoire and are highly attuned to quality musicianship.

Our daughter Charlotte can sing Corcovado in Portuguese.

Our son Eamon knows the words to every IRA fight song that’s ever been recorded.

Our youngest, Josephine, is just nuts about Bing Crosby.

Music is the one area of balls-out snobbery that we indulge in unapologetically and actually encourage.1103On a constitutional level, my husband’s obsession with music has been as elemental to our survival during the worst of times as hope. It’s been a method of prayer that’s not only connected us to the greater world and kept us from feeling sorry for ourselves, but kept us bound to each other.

No small thing.

A few years ago, we went through a violent storm of events that lasted about five solid years. I’m talking unrelenting stress that started when we learned our third and youngest child was going to be born catastrophically ill. In what seemed like a New York minute, this head-spinning health crisis was compounded by an economy that crashed and burned, sending our business into a tailspin that cut our income by about eighty percent. It dragged us so far into a black hole that we honestly thought we might end up having to feed our children through Catholic Charities if something didn’t give. It was that bad. And all while our daughter was fighting for her life and we were trying to pretend that things were relatively normal for the sake of our two older children.

It was right in the middle of this personal Waterloo that Jack brought Herb Alpert and Lani Hall into our lives.Lani Hall Alpert & Herb AlpertThis married duo was a part of my husband’s early childhood, as his introduction to music came mostly from his seven (yes, seven) older sisters. Herb and Lani’s respective 1960s bands, Tijuana Brass and Brasil 66, were to the non-hippie set what The Doors and Jefferson Airplane were for the “tune in, tune out, drop out” crowd in those days. Aspirational, fun, optimistic and sophisticated, they offered a wholly uncynical groove during a time when everything seemed to be up for grabs and the whole world felt like it was on fire.

And suddenly, our world was on fire.

On our darkest days, Jack and I swayed in our kitchen to Herb and Lani’s cover of Irving Berlin’s Depression Era hit Let’s Face the Music and Dance. We clung to each other, swinging like a single hanging rope, not knowing if our little girl would survive or if we’d get to keep our house. But we knew we had each other. That had to count for something.

We’d blast Tijuana Brass, clapping and jumping around with our healthy son and daughter, dissolving into giggles at the end of every long day spent pushing our proverbial boulder up our proverbial mountain. We couldn’t afford to the leave the house that we were probably going to have to give back to the bank, but with Herb and Lani’s help, we made a daily party inside those four tentative walls.virginia-46And then one day, when we were still neck-deep in trouble, our avatars announced they were coming to Washington DC for an intimate concert at Blues Alley – a time-honored red brick and linen tablecloth jazz and supper club.

Not only could we not afford the tickets, but DC was anywhere between a 2/1/2 and 5 hour drive away from our home – depending on traffic. So, we’d have no choice but to spend the night.

“We’re going,” my husband told me.

“We can’t,” I said.

“We have to. This is about our future, and we need an infusion of magic.”

Music has magic and my husband and I believe in the voodoo of such hidden, natural forces. People who believe in magic believe in destiny. And Herb and Lani, despite the fact that we had medical bills up the wazoo and barely any clients who could afford to pay us, that we were charging our groceries and unable to pay our mortgage, felt like they were written in our stars.

“Have a little faith,” my husband said.

So, with our kid having just finished some pretty grueling medical treatments, and our business bleeding money like a slit throat, my husband and I got dressed up, packed our overnight bags and road-tripped to Washington DC. We blasted Spanish Flea and Zorba the Greek from our car stereo, shaking our butts in our seats. We pantomimed to Casino Royale, as if we were in an Aston Martin on the hills of Monte Carlo. Jack crooned up a damned fine This Guys in Love With You, just for me. It was the closest I’d felt to being nineteen since I was nineteen.

As for the show, it gave us a window into our best selves.

Not only did Herb and Lani sing and play with the joy and exuberance of their youth, but showed us what love could look like for us thirty or so years down the line. It helped  remind us that our parents had survived wars, deaths and penniless moves to distant countries.

This is nothing,” we said to ourselves and each other. “It shall pass.”

In the meantime, we got to enjoy two artists who made us feel as if our recovery – emotional, financial – was an inevitability.Throughout the show, Herb Alpert looked at his wife, Lani Hall, like they’d just met. “Imagine getting to listen to this voice every morning in the shower,” he told us.

Then, as if on cue, Lani sang what had become for us what John Williams’ Indiana Jones theme was to that franchise.

There may be trouble ahead
But while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance

Before the fiddlers have fled                                                                                                     

Before they ask us to pay the bill and while we still have the chance

Let’s face the music and dance
Soon we’ll be without the moon, humming a different tune and then
There may be teardrops to shed
So while there’s moonlight and music and love and romance
Let’s face the music and dance!

“You’re my knight in shining armor,” Lani said, nestling her curly hair right under her husband’s chin.

I feel the same way about my guy.

There was a palpable feeling of love and a common core of humanity that floated through the club the way rich tobacco used to. Evident in the tapping of fingers on the nightclub tables, spontaneous laughter at Herb Alpert’s signature trumpet blare, and dreamy smiles at the couple’s naked joie de vivre.

Republican Jack Kemp was in the audience, and Herb, a die-hard democrat welcomed him as a dear friend, asked him to stand up and take a bow for his service in our government. Those were the days, right?

When the show ended and we walked to our hotel room that night, we didn’t give a single thought to how much we’d had to shell out for our indulgence. We put our daughter’s precarious health in a mental lockbox and placed it on a high shelf, far away from where we could see it.

“Tonight was divine providence,” Jack told me.

Indeed, that night was the start of a creep upward for us and our sick little girl. One that wouldn’t take off into a run for a couple of more years, but that we felt as deeply and as surely as we did a desire to make a life together on our very first date. We were right on both counts.

New Love at First Write! When asked about the secret to their happy marriage of some forty plus years, Lani Hall said, “Communication. Great conversations.” Apropos of today’s post, I’ve got an LAFW for you about Dialogue and the Art of Conversation. Hope you enjoy it.


The Tale of a Country Mouse and City Mouse…Updated a Bit

char miceWe decided to forego our middle child’s usual summer camp this year, opting instead for a City Mouse – Country Mouse adventure with one of her best camp friends. A girl named Isabel who lives several states away in the Big Apple.

For one week, our country girl will spend her time roaming New York City. And when it’s done, her buddy will come here to Virginia, where we’ll show her rural America.

My daughter will see culture with a capital C, the wisdom of crowds, Harlem and Coney Island. High self-esteem and high fashion. Swanky digs and homelessness. What it’s like to view America from the top of the world. Look down on it, some might say. Either way, it’s a view worth contemplating. New York is a place that looks around corners and glimpses the future.

Isabel will experience slowness, colonial history, lush mountain views. Berry bushes and poison ivy. Southern accents and southern hospitality. Live music and home-cooking. Beautiful old houses with ghosts and stories. Ramshackle homes and Confederate flags. All of this surrounded by patches of land where real, live battles were once fought.  Ordinary grassy knolls soaked with the blood of local sons. We live in a place that knows its past.char vaMy husband warned me from the outset not to try to compete with the Great White Way and its surrounding boroughs. “It’s a banana split of glitz and glamor,” he said.

So, I opted more for an outdoorsy kind of experience. The kind that offers a bit of romance in an old-fashioned To Kill a Mockingbird kind of way. But without the courtroom drama and wrenching shadow story.

I took them tubing down the James River, for example. Floating by hay bales and listless cows that had wandered down for a drink in the humid ninety-degree weather. Isabel screamed at the sight of every dragonfly – I’d forgotten what an assault the bugs are around here to someone who’s not used to them.

We ate barbecue at local joints some nights, but mostly wound up eating at home, which is what we do. Outside at a long picnic table that lies under a thick awning of wisteria, surrounded by torchlight. The music blared from our kitchen – a vintage mix of jazz and country, and the fireflies blinked their secret codes.  Later, the girls splashed in the stream behind our house, and we told Isabel stories about how our kids used to love to fish for crawdads when they were little. Clichéd as it is, these simple pleasures are still a childhood hallmark of rural life.

207But we’re not completely out in the sticks. We live a few miles from Charlottesville and I dropped the girls off “downtown” one day to show Isabel around. True, we’ve got zero skyline, but we can offer a glimpse of what towns used to look like, say, two-hundred years ago.

In the stifling heat, the girls walked Courthouse Square, “the mall”, and “the corner,” visiting University of Virginia’s campus. Founded by Thomas Jefferson, it has a distinctly country gentleman vibe that the smart and hip student body try their best to offset. Even shout down, when they’re so moved.

Then to shake things up a bit, we drove down to Williamsburg to the big water park. Our plans for the colonial museum were thwarted by a rainstorm, which neither of the girls viewed as a tragedy.

“For Isabel, just being in an actual house, with family dinners and big family dynamics will be an experience,” her mother had told me. Back in NYC, it’s just Isabel and her mom.

To be sure, staying in a house, especially an old one like ours, is an odd experience for a girl who’s used to living within the sheltering walls of a nice, new apartment complete with a doorman. Add to that the fact that siblings are loud and sometimes really annoying. Brothers push sisters – figuratively and literally. Sister scratch brothers and know how to play the victim. Layers of love, grievances, insults, memories and secret jokes pile-on, present in each and every interaction.

“You are so NOT sick. Mom is supposed to take us to Lexington today!”

“Who ate our ice cream? We bought that with our OWN money you $#*&!!!”

“And oh my God, what happened to my bathing suit?”

The hustle and bustle of our family home can be as intense as any walk down a city street, and sometimes all the girls wanted to do was lock themselves for hours in our daughter’s room. Just to escape the household, or certain members of it.Jo monsterAs for New York City, our daughter’s experience was nothing short of life-changing. Or rather, life-envisioning. Isabel’s mother showed the girls the time of their lives, doing all the touristy things she and Isabel never get a chance to do because they’re too busy living there.

The girls hung out with Isabel’s friends, went to The Met, played at an arcade in Times Square, visited the Statue of Liberty, ate real ethnic food and saw Hamilton! Since we hail from a hotbed of  American revolutionary sedition, our daughter knew most of the characters so well that she could extrapolate on Lin Manuel Miranda’s depiction of our Founding Fathers and the political climate in which they lived and fought. That made her feel smart amongst the New York sophisticates.NYC Broadway“I know this is going to sound weird,” Isabel’s mom ventured. “But has Charlotte seen many African-Americans?”

Don’t laugh, it’s a reasonable question – especially at a time when the urban-rural divide is pretty great in our country. Most young Americans these days haven’t grown up with many family members who have an understanding of small-town life that isn’t based on a weird amalgam of coastal snubs and nostalgic old movies.

Add to that fact that last year, in the sip of a Mint Julep, we went from being known as a lovely college town region with a rich, American history to the place where activists from the far corners of the political spectrum got it in their heads to hold a riot. It cost one young woman her life. Locals refer to it as “the mess” and that’s about the most accurate description I’ve heard.

“Yes, she’s known plenty of African-Americans,” I told her. And I so appreciate that she asked. We can’t be afraid to get to know each other again in this country. Pose questions that might seem awkward.Statue of Liberty black and white“I love New York so much mom,” our daughter told me via text. “I want to live here. No offence”

None taken. I get it.

In big cities, particularly one like New York, the kids are cooler and have real style. They mature faster, too. It’s hard for my city friends to wrap their heads around the fact that my youngest, a rising middle schooler, still believes in Santa. That our children actually like pick-up trucks and are comfortable around guns – even if my husband and I have never owned one. They know how to drain the sweet stem of a honeysuckle flower and have no problem picking up a snake. As long as it’s not venomous. They know how to spot those, though.

City kids on the other hand know how to take public transportation by themselves, aren’t intimidated by strangers, and don’t just have big dreams, but fully expect them to be delivered. They stand up tall, confident they live in the best place on Earth, and that everyone they meet would change places with them in a heartbeat. They’re world-wise, connected. When they look out their window, they don’t see a mountain; they see the whole globe.

But there’s an underlying benefit to being raised in the country that may not reveal itself to our daughter until she’s much older. There’s a sense here of the dominance of nature. In a land of fields, mountains, overgrowth, swarming insects, wild animals, flash floods, and felled trees, it’s hard to see yourself as the center of the universe.Charlotte gazing outWe feel the warm embrace of the local, the importance of community. Not long after we moved here, our youngest was born desperately ill and total strangers whose only connection to us was as “neighbor” brought us food, took our older kids for the day, bought school supplies for our son when we just plain forgot. These folks were black and white, working class, middle class and rich. Everyone pitched in.

I can tell you, if we’d stayed in San Francisco, where we were living before moving to the Charlottesville area, we would’ve had a much harder time. Friends would have certainly come to our aid, but neighbors? Some of our neighbors there couldn’t even be bothered to move our wet clothes into the dryer from our communal washing machine. They just plopped them on the floor. Many of them didn’t say hello when they saw us on the street. Just a nod, if it so happened that our eyes chanced to meet. I’m not saying there aren’t great neighbors in a big city – I’ve had plenty – I’m just saying that there’s a code in less populated places. When you know someone’s hurting, you step up.

All that said, New York was hands down the winner for these girls. I knew it would be. But I’m good with the way things turned out. This experience, right down to its essence was less about activities than about love and families and two girls trying to figure out how to be in the world. For both the country and city mouse, each week provided a stratigraphic layer that will settle with time, and reveal itself as they age, teaching both girls about place and people. About themselves. And that’s what it was all about all along when we adults cooked up this mouse 2For a look at fact, fiction and writing WAY outside of your experience, please have a look at Love at First Write. It’s my vlog all about the miraculous, challenging, wonderful and epic process of storybuilding.

And if my work moves you, please visit me on Patreon, which is a terrific and reasonable way to enjoy the work of your favorite artists. For as little as the price of a cup of simple diner coffee, you’ll gain access to original fiction, as well as book excerpts from novels-in-progress, new essays, and so much original art and content that’s been curated just for you! One-third of my Patreon goal will go directly to Camp Holiday Trails, a great summer camp that caters to children with special medical needs. My daughter camped there again this summer and had a ball!


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