Thank you for checking me out. I haven’t updated this website since 2012 because I was writing, writing, writing. I now have six published novels and another in the revising, editing stage. Now I must answer questions from many of you about some back story in what I call THE ADVENTURE OF FICTION.
Trigger point: How real is it?
ONCE TO EVERY MAN
Sometime in the early 1960s I saw a news article about a racially motivated injustice in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika (now Tanzania). I’ve forgotten the details of the crime and punishment, but I remember how startled I was by the irony of the name of the city on the shore of the Indian Ocean – Dar es Salaam. Its translation is haven of peace. I had always written poetry, but the metaphor of that name seemed to require a bigger framework. I began to imagine what kind of peace might be needed by travelers, neighbors, natives, friends and possibly enemies in that exotic and unknown to me place in East Africa. I had no plans of my own to walk in those streets or learn to speak any of the natives’ languages, only to write an imaginary story based on that metaphor.
What unfolded was a surprise to me and an unfamiliar urge to put the story on paper. The characters wrote their own story after I created them. I gave them the conflict, the potentially estranging occurrences in the time and place, their definition: a young, white, female Christian missionary; an atheist-leaning, British, male photojournalist; and a native, black, “Christianized” man who is drawn to the other two as well as to his pagan roots in a time of burgeoning tribal conflicts with the British-controlled government.
I was not very interested in the historical aspects, provocative as they were, but in the idea of the meaning and the consequences of the passionate friendship that develops among the three, the possibilities of love, generosity, sacrifice, betrayal, and forgiveness that might define their lives. These three – Reena Pavane, Jim Stone, and Dakimu Reiman – gave me all those situations and views into their troubled world, and I scribbled everything down as fast as I could, crying for them at the first ending which concluded Part One of the current novel. But I put the hand-written, partially typed-with-carbon-paper-copy manuscript on a shelf and went on with my life – teaching, raising and showing horses, riding in endurance races, running, trying to find a church that fit my evolving feelings on that matter, singing in community choirs, writing and publishing more poetry, gardening, and reading. Life was full and satisfying.
In 2011, I happened across the yellowed pages of that novel and fell in love again with Reena, Jim, and Dak and let my husband read it for the first time. He said, “You have to publish this!” I could say the rest is history, but that would be the easy way out. Things got very complicated. I didn’t like my ending; I didn’t know how to collate what I wrote with the Chicago Manual of Style (one of the writers’ bibles); I needed to develop my characters more; I needed a mystery, a motivation for the friends to reconcile after years of separation. One night a young, black man spoke to me in my dreams. He said, “For as long as I can remember, my father has been wanted for murder.” It was the perfect lead-in to Part Two! The young man did not exist in Part One, except in his mother’s womb, but I didn’t know he’d been there until he spoke to me fifty years later!
He (Kiiku) is the son of Dakimu Reiman who is now on trial for killing two white men – one the son of the British major, John Sommers, who Dak worked for in the 60s while blacks were trying to get whites out of their country. Dak has been reunited with his old friends Reena and Jim in 1985 and now has a black girlfriend, Reena Pavane, who had been named after the white missionary Reena. The women have met and formed an uneasy alliance because they both love Dak, but the white Reena has history with black man. Well, read Part One for details!
I won’t tell you how it ends, except that it ends in Dar es Salaam with a hard-won “peace” for all. I was almost happy with it.
Then, I went to Africa! In February, 2012, I shelved the manuscript again and boarded a plane in Seattle, changed carriers in Amsterdam, and landed at the Kilimanjaro International Airport with a totally open heart and mind. I had never wanted to travel outside the U.S., but I was driven to follow in the footsteps of those characters in the place where they met, loved, lost, and were reunited. I was not disappointed. The spectacular landscape, the warm people, the thousands of animals and birds, the dawns on the Serengeti, the rain storms in the Ngorongoro Crater, Masaai villagers dancing around us, and our native guides hugging us with complete abandon served to change my life. Check out a few photos here if you wish.
After two weeks on safari, my sister and I left the Sierra Club party and flew to Dar es Salaam – the absolute dream of my life, the port of peace on the Indian Ocean. It was a busy, colorful town where people had to run to clamber on the buses; buildings towered half-finished above the pot-holed streets; soldiers directed traffic at all hours, and market stalls lined the sidewalks filled with fresh vegetables, pottery, paintings, leather products, and intricate silk and linen weavings. In the post office and the restaurants we were the only white people, but we felt safe and welcomed. I felt as if I had come home.
In Part Two of Once to Every Man, the once-killer-now-remorseful Dakimu Reiman seeks a religious kind of absolution which his new friend and lover, the black Reena, tells him he will find in the Catholic Church – maybe in her own church, St. Josephs, with the help of her own priest, Father Amani, whose name means peace in Swahili. In the novel I describe the church, the wooden doors, the stained-glass windows, and the steps leading up and into the cathedral. So that first morning in Dar, I asked our hired native driver to take us to a Catholic church. He said, “Oh yes, I know place,” and he drove us to a small, non-descript building with a plain, white cross. I said, “No, that’s not it.” I was looking for St. Joseph’s! Then the dear man drove to another church he knew, and I could barely believe what I saw. Are you sitting down? There was St. Joseph’s cathedral, right there in the heart of Dar es Salaam. Yes, its name was St. Josephs! The priests invited us in. There were the stained glass windows just as I had described them and the altar where Dakimu is offered his first communion. Here are the photos I took while feeling that Dak and Reena could walk in at any minute and slip into the picture!
Because of that experience, I have always had African priests in my novels, even the stories set in northeastern Nevada, which at the time I wrote those, my second and third novels, they were not going to be related to the African saga. Of course, my muse had different ideas! There is Father Amani and later, Father Azenwa – one from Tanzania and one from South Africa. To my utter delight, quite by accident recently, I met a woman from Vaughn, Montana, who was interested in my novels, and since she was Catholic, I mentioned the priests and the Catholic themes in my stories. She gave me a long look before she said, “In my town there are two native, black African priests at two different churches!” Can this be true? Right here in Montana where I finally pursued publishing my first African story and wrote five other novels with African priests as characters, there are two African priests about ninety miles from where I live?
My priests do not always follow the rules. Will these Montana priests give me a sacrament or a blessing? Will they understand how Amani and Azenwa hold the hearts of my characters in their hands and perhaps readers’ hearts as well? I believe even atheists can be blessed for real by a good priest. Will this shock or disturb them? Will they allow me to share their reactions to my stories with you? Stay tuned!
ARK FOR THE BROKENHEARTED (Sequel to Once to Every Man)
The year is 1993. Dak is still wanted for the killing of David Sommers. He has been hiding in Arusha at the center for handicapped artists called Shanga. Back in Dar es Salaam, his estranged girlfriend, the black Reena, is raising his now seven-year-old daughter, Safina, whom he knows nothing about. Reena, in the opening, sees Dak’s son, Kiiku, hiding among some broken-down buildings by the street market and becomes alarmed. She has tried to make a life without Dakimu and has not told Safina much about her father.
Soon after acknowledging Kiiku in the marketplace, Reena admits to him that Safina is his half sister. The girl is a bright, curious, generous child who befriends a lonely white girl, Suzanna Farley, at a British military post where she’s been invited by the white girl’s father to visit the horses. Suzanna has a terrible birthmark on her right cheek and should be starting the second grade but has never been to school. Her mother, Felicia, is petrified of black people, but Suzanna is quite infatuated with Safina and longs to be the black girl’s friend. Neither child really knows her own father, and that’s where the theme of absent, secretive, damaging, denying, and yet sometimes remorseful and reconciling fathers begins.
Suzanna’s biological father is DAVID SOMMERS, one of the white men Safina’s father, Dakimu, killed in self-defense in 1985! The girls only learn this after years of cherished friendship and attempts to keep their heads above the dark waters stirred up by the adults in their lives.
Kiiku has had a few good years with his father on the run but has veered away from Dak’s remorseful ways, joining a militant group called the Chui Clan.
Safina determines to find her father herself if no one will tell her where he is.
Suzanna’s stepfather is the British major, Fulsom Farley, who married Suzanna’s mother, Felicia, when she was pregnant with the girl and who has been chasing the fugitive Dakimu for years.
Father Amani knows everyone’s secrets but cannot reveal them.
In this novel, the power of Safina’s and Suzanna’s friendship rises above the secrets and brings the adults closer to their own resolutions.
A wild leopard, a metaphor of hope and trust (and whatever the reader wants to make it), appears to Dakimu and will guard him and the people he loves through this and the next novel, Thirst. Enjoy the photos. He is very real, at home with humans and uncaged.
This story begins in the same time and place that Ark for the Brokenhearted ends. The narrative is told by a black African youth, Askari, which means soldier. He was separated from his mother at the age of five and has never known who his father is. After marrying the British teen, Suzanna Farley, and they have a daughter, Askari dreams of reconnecting with his mother and discovering who his father might be. He guesses the man might be white because he and his new child are very light-skinned.
The novel is defined by absent and unknown fathers, and these mysteries have shaped the desires and the personalities of all the characters. The leopard, Chui, even disappears for a while and then shows up again with a male cub, seeking the companionship and care of his aggrieved humans.
In their searches for truths about their fathers, the characters struggle with depression, abuse, betrayal, sacrifice, joy, and peace. Askari’s and Suzanna’s mixed-race daughter, Kivuli, grows up amid the adult tangle of uncertainty, pain, death, and murder. But her parents and her white grandfather stand strong with love and faith, Catholic and pagan, and try to shield her from the consequences of their mistakes. She learns that her grandmother, Askari’s mother, is a Masaai woman whose own father had abandoned her on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater when she was a year old. The woman, Iyeala, comes to live near her son and his family and brings some stability to Kivuli’s childhood.
Kivuli receives the gifts of education, art, music, horses, and love, but from a very young age is curious about her great-grandfather, Askay, who left Iyeala and her brother, Tanal, and went off with a white couple to America to work on their Nevada ranch and never returned. Kivuli’s father has also tried to discover more about Askay, but in a scene the reader may have already expected, Askari comes face to face with his father – a man he has known for many years, but neither man knew who the other was. The plot thickens, so to speak!
There is a lot I could say about Thirst. The themes are controversial and sensitive. What is absolution? Who can gain it and how? How can fathers who have not always done the right thing teach their children how to be in a contradictory world? How does homosexuality and adultery fit with these mostly traditional, religious characters? How does the priest handle these “failings?” Are they failings or just part of the human condition?
The reader may come to his or her own conclusions. There are no right or wrong answers given by me as the author. I chose my hero, but you may not agree with what that character does. You may be disturbed by the gay abuser, the murder, the adultery, or the abandonment of children. I propose that this fiction is very real, and we should not look away.
Thirst ends in the city of Dar es Salaam. But the stories do not end.
WHAT LOVE HAS DONE
Teen-aged Kivuli is sent to America by Askari and Suzanna to meet the Nevada family who embraced her great-grandfather Askay to see what love has done. The Nevada family, the Roses, have had their own story in my 2nd and 3rd novels, Almost Paradise and Dancing in the Red Snow. They have had pain and tragedy, healing and forgiveness of their own. (See blogs about those novels.)
Kivuli lands in America when she is fourteen on the first page of this novel now in progress. Her internal purpose is not clear. Her father has said she could be an ambassador to the people who loved Askay, but the girl knows that disturbing things have happened to the Roses. (I won’t tell you how she knows these things here.) But I will reveal that she has discovered that her great-grandfather made a terrible mistake when he lived with the Roses, a mistake that allowed a horrific crime to occur in their lives which they are still not quite over. Kivuli wonders if she could “fix” that mistake somehow without revealing what Askay did.
She asks questions; she confides in the local African priest; she searches the Internet for clues to the Roses’ past and that of a crazy older woman who caused most of their pain. But Kivuli learns that their pain is not caused by the mad woman alone. The Roses have issues with forgetting, forgiving, understanding the role of faith, denying, over-protecting, and berating themselves for their own mistakes.
What Love Has Done covers one year in Kivuli’s life in America – her friendships (gay and straight), her blunders, her horse experiences, her strange relationship with the “mad woman,” her special relationship with the Native American, Henry Dancing Horse, her discoveries about her great-grandfather, her musings about her own mother back in Africa, and her proper place in the Roses’ healing.
If you like metaphors, you’ll find one on the book cover. When I’m certain of the particular photo, I’ll print it here. It will show a cosmic phenomenon that symbolizes the contrast between America and Africa and the blending of the distinct but not always harmonious traits of human hearts that can, with a little “time,” find a spectacular way to love.
I wrote the first chapter of this novel as a short story. The scene becomes a metaphor for this novel and its sequel, Dancing in the Red Snow. A young, female wrangler trained in dressage and round pen horsemanship is hired by Julian Rose to manage his guest ranch horses. She seems to work magic in the round pen, and her boss is drawn to her from the beginning.
Unknown to the young woman, Mr. Rose has been involved (still married to, in fact) a schizophrenic who has killed two of his best horses and tried to kill him. He is quiet and distant, rarely warming up to strangers. He takes note, however, that his troubled horses seem to find a measure of safety in the pen with Serena, so he says at the end of that first chapter, “I can’t wait to see what you’re going to do next.” And she replies, “Neither can I.”
So I asked myself what might she do next? Of course, the characters always come through for me and leap into next without much prodding from me! I literally didn’t know what was going to happen as Serena has come from a lesbian relationship but begins to want to heal the horses and the lovely, mysterious Julian. And I had no idea this story would come back to haunt me with ties to my African drama.
I wrote the character of Askay, Julian’s Tanzanian cook and companion, with no thought that he would be the great-grandfather of the African girl, Kivuli Farley. How could I? I was three novels away from having that brainstorm. Askay dies at ninety-one, but his character gets fully developed after that with pieces of his found journal and the memories of the Americans he knew. His writings touch the lives of his African family in Thirst and in What Love Has Done.
Almost Paradise follows the journey of Serena Skye, Julian Rose, their son, Hank, Julian’s finally ex-wife, Miranda, and a seventeen-year-old girl, Liana, who seduces/abuses Hank when he is twelve. Then I guess I kind of throw the whole enchilada at the reader. There are gay characters, Native Americans, Mexicans, Catholics, an African priest, Tanzanians, a mentally ill person, and a lawyer. In the round pen, rank, untrained, and abused horses can find a way to trust, feel safe, and respect the human again through methods variously called “pressure and release,” “reward the slightest change,” “getting the horse to think it’s his idea where you want his feet to go,” “give the horse a job he can do, reward, and build on that,” and “horse whispering.” But Serena must discover how to use these methods on humans, especially the schizophrenic and the child abuser but also her very troubled, distrustful boss, Julian, whom she loves.
In this novel, the “way” with horses works with humans who need it, and new, strong relationships grow out of potentially disastrous ones.
But hold on. I’m not through with you yet! You didn’t think it was going to be that easy, did you?
DANCING IN THE RED SNOW
In this sequel to Almost Paradise, Julian’s and Serena’s son, Hank, must battle alone the bitter humans that resisted the “lessons” and have gone off the deep end.
Enter Liana! Hank is married now, to Susan Sun, an Iroquois woman he met in college. She, incidentally, has a small part in my first novel, Once to Every Man, as a child in a New Mexico orphanage. So the connections begin. (The time-line works; don’t fret trying to figure it out. It took me several sleepless nights and many sheets of paper that ended up looking like they’d been scribbled with math equations when I finally had to collate all the characters from the African and the American stories. If you find a discrepancy, don’t tell me!)
Liana has felt betrayed by Hank and is bent on “exacting revenge” (her words.) She kidnaps his four-year-old daughter, Sunny, and keeps her for eight years. There is no “horse whisperer” to help with this, and after Sunny is found, reeling from the years of mental and physical abuse, she turns to the Catholic Church and an African priest (what else?), Father Azenwa, for answers. Her parents fear they have lost her again to the ritualistic Church, but Sunny’s path leads her to self-examination, to giving the gift of her spirit to others, and to facing the demented Liana again.
One of my dear readers said after finishing Dancing in the Red Snow, she’d be in the grocery store or on a walk and suddenly be in the novel with Sunny and Liana, feeling their struggle, and the rest of the world would fade away for a moment. She added that she couldn’t seem to resolve their pain in her own heart. (My best example of how real fiction can be, bless her!)
So now Applause. Yes, there is a Tanzanian in the novel, but neither he nor any of the other characters is related to my other novels. No, wait! Melissa Wells’ mother, Barbara, was Miranda’s lawyer in Almost Paradise! And Melissa tells her friend Sela, the protagonist, a story about the schizophrenic her mother had to defend in a Nevada courtroom. (It surprised me too.)
This is probably the most personal, most real story for me. Some readers have suggested it is autobiographical. It takes place in Southern California where I was born, raised, and educated. All of the place names are actual roads I’ve traveled, beaches I’ve ridden on, and canyons I’ve hiked. My grandparents had a small farm in La Puente; I broke down hauling horses on Conejo Grade; I had a close friend, actually a former student, Lee Henderson, from a school where I taught in Ventura; I rode my horses on the beach at Hope Ranch in Santa Barbara, enjoyed meals at the Opal Bar and Grill on State Street, and showed horses at the Earl Warren Showgrounds. But there the similarity ends.
This novel really began as a series of short stories titled William and Angela: A Quantum Crossing. The idea for those stories began with an odd dream I had about an actor missing his lines while on a shoot in the Arizona desert. He developed a blinding headache, and a minor character actress got him outside to an old couch on the porch of a saloon where she reached a hand out and wiped away tears from his face and spoke softly to him. The director said, “Cut! That works,” even though they had scrambled the script. The actress is very real to the actor who has had a stressful, debilitating time of it lately, but when the movie is finished, he can’t find the girl. And no one remembers an actress by the name she has given him – Angela Star.
That story, with more fleshing out, of course, led to eleven others (the known dimensions of the quantum theory!) and the Angela character to have lived for two hundred years to be with her illusive love, William, who for ten stories only lives in the present, in his actual age in each story. You can read these stories without looking at anything else in the entire novel.
Looking deeper, I’ve had many special people in my life named William – my mother’s father, William O. Massie; my much loved and admired university choir professor, J. William Jones; and an actor to whom I dedicated the “William and Angela” stories, William Shatner, because he is the epitome of a fine horseman, which my story protagonist, William Hathaway, is. I can’t name all the Williams, but the protagonist of Applause is William Langley, teacher of poetry and creative writing at U.C.L.A. I think you can see where I’m going with this.
Sela Hart, is mesmerized and half in love with Langley and has been since he visited her high school Senior English class and read his poems to the wide-eyed teens. Sela is now almost thirty and a graduate student who has finally gotten in one of Langley’s classes. She begins turning in the short stories about William and Angela which cause lively class discussions, but the professor is still reeling from the death of his lesbian wife of twenty years in a car accident on Conejo Grade and resists at first the charm of this new student.
But after Sela’s third short story crosses his desk, Langley invites her to take a drive with him one Saturday and surprises her by going to the Santa Barbara Zoo, the setting of that story. They sit on the same bench and watch the same endangered white rhinos in their California enclosure. In Sela’s story, William Hathaway takes his two daughters, with whom he’s been estranged, to that exact spot where at the end he puts his arms around his girls and says, “Things that are so rare. . .need to be protected.” Of course, that line has layers of meaning for both William’s, Sela and Angela, all the students who hear the story, and you who read it. What’s endangered in the short story – the rhinos and the actor and his daughters – parallels what’s endangered in the novel – the professor’s well-being, his acceptance of having loved a gay woman without receiving the kind of love he needed and facing her tragic death which he feels responsible for because he let her drink and drive the night of the accident, Sela’s hope for a relationship with her teacher, Angela’s ability to keep fighting through the waters of the Chalice River after she drowns to be with William Hathaway. . .well, I don’t want to tell you the story! I want you to read it!
You might consider the metaphors: Sela’s grandmother raises the only blue rose in the world, called Applause; Sela’s eyes turn the blue of the blues she stands next to – the ocean in its various moods, the Mustang Langley buys her and ultimately wrecks on Conejo Grade, the sky under which they are wed. What can you find?
The novel has poetry too. Many works are by the students in Langley’s class with themes of gay love, horses, the ironies of history, lives that disintegrate, and lives that are saved. After the story is told and all the metaphors converge, I include two of my poems to two very special people: one to my own amazing poetry teacher and friend, Joan Raymund, and the other to my dear, dear friend, Lee Henderson, sadly both deceased.
Last year, Lee’s ninety-eight-year-old mother, Dorothy, died. We had remained close friends after Lee died in 1991. She had read Applause just a few weeks before her death and told me she loved that Sela’s best friend was modeled after her son. Hey, any of you Buena High students or faculty, remember the cheer leader, Butch Worden? None other than Lee Henderson. Now I’m hoping with the power of social media to reach out to Lee’s only child, Chloe. I would give anything to be able to speak to her and tell her what I know about her father. I think she might live in Chicago and be about thirty.