Buy My Books! (Or Read for Free)

How’s that for shameless self promotion? Thanks to everyone who has already acquired one or both of my published works, the novel Beloved Lives and Undeniable, the anthology that contains my novella “Wasting Water”. And to all who are about to buy them. I appreciate the support.

But if you’re broke or are not willing to spend money in anticipation of further impending apocalypses, you can read my newest book for free (Yes! Free!) by going to https://tapas.io/series/The-Gingerbread-House

Tapas offers free serialized novels, comics and other such fun stuff. You can subscribe for free, tip the authors in some cases, and in other cases the authors can have ads on their pages. I’m still working out all the ins and out of it, but so far, so fun.

My novel is The Gingerbread House , a mystery that is being released as a series, two episodes a week. Here’s the summary:

Philly MacPherson is stuck in the Midwest with a struggling tea and herbs shop, a surly cat named B. Bub, and the responsibilities of being a “public” witch. While she might be up for advising possibly-pregnant teens and Ouiji-board-haunted college boys, she’s a little less prepared for the wealthy Lawrence Michaels asking her to banish a destructive ghost from his 150-year-old house.

Meanwhile, a local missing persons case might be just another runaway wife, or something more sinister involving a homeless veteran with PTSD or the missing woman’s jilted lover. When Detective Wilmount of the local police finds his search keeps bringing him back to The Gingerbread House, Philly and the detective decide to join forces to solve more than one mystery. 

The story has a cat (of course), a witch, haunting, romance, Tarot, tea and herbs, mystery, a good-looking police detective, and what is sometimes called magical realism. The latter means nothing that happens in the story is out of the realm of everyday life, if your life contains a few inexplicable things from time to time.

I had a lot of fun writing The Gingerbread House, and I hope readers will enjoy it. If you subscribe, you’ll be notified when new episodes come out, and I’ll get nice praise and angel kisses.

Image: The Gingerbread House cover. By Marilyn J. Evans.

In Context

Those of you who know me know I’ve been going through a rough patch due to the sudden death of a close friend. The tragic car wreck that took her life left her daughter and son-in-law and her friends stunned. As we have tried to sort out her belongings and deal with finding homes for horses and cats, we’ve also tried to find the best places to take her most important things. Some will go to charities, some to friends and relatives. But the hardest things are the most personal ones.

When people in the midst of disasters are asked what they try to save first, often it is family photos. These have no monetary value, you can’t eat them or wear them, yet they have great value to their owners, so much so that people sometimes risk life and limb to save them. But the thing is, without someone who knows who and what those photos represent, they are random pictures, pictures of strangers or strange places with little or no relevance to anyone not familiar with their context.

When my father passed away, we were going through a building used for storage of long neglected items and found some boxes of old photos. I took some of these to a family reunion so I could ask my father’s last living sibling, an older sister, who the people in the photos were. She knew some of them, but not all. I wished that I had known about these pictures when my dad was alive so I could have asked him to tell me the stories they contained, but now everyone who knows is gone.

In our home we have a screen saver for our computer that runs a slide show of all of our archived photos. I haven’t labeled all those pictures, but I think I should, otherwise we may in time forget the circumstances that the photos represent. There are lots of people who love to hate on Facebook, but I have found I really enjoy posting pictures of family and friends, of places I’ve gone and people I care about. It is a record not only of the pictures but of the context for those pictures.

Let me share this bit of wisdom: share your photos with people you love and tell them the story behind the picture. Give them context so they won’t some day just be random pictures that no one will understand or remember, stories lost for all time.

Image: Brother-in-law, Vestal, NY. By Father-in-law.

The Strangest Apocalypse

I grew up in the 1950’s and 1960’s when we were all pretty certain that sooner or later someone would drop a nuclear bomb on us. We went from the naivete of duck and cover to building underground bunkers with at least two weeks supply of food, medicine, and other essentials. The reasoning was that after two weeks, the radiation levels would be sufficiently low to allow us to emerge and get back to whatever was the new normal. That was before the days of really dirty bombs that could Chernobilize a nation and render it unfit for humans for centuries.

Perhaps this childhood was the cause of my life-long love of disaster and post apocalyptic books and films. I am prone to critiquing the characters and assessing how well or badly they addressed their particular disaster. I loved the TV series “Doomsday Preppers”, and even follow some on-line “prepper” sites. I have on occasion contributed articles when I felt I had anything useful to add to the conversation. My novella, “Wasting Water,” is an environmental, post-apocalyptic story that originally started as a how-to article for dealing with climate change, but I realized would make better fiction.

I’ve always kept a full pantry and freezer, know how to forage and garden, can come up with sour dough yeast and bake on a stone, if required. I even have a zombie apocalypse plan. But what we are dealing with in the days of Covid-19 is not what I think anyone was expecting.

This is a strange apocalypse where there is plenty of inexpensive gasoline and lots of food and supplies except for the rolling shortages–in my neighborhood, first toilet paper, then bread, then flour and yeast. But so far the supply chain is unbroken, and if you wait, the shelves are restocked in a few days. Contrary to everything we came to expect of an apocalypse, the way to avoid danger during this strange time is to stay home and amuse yourself.

It is safe to walk the streets and in the parks, enjoying spring, as long as you stay six feet away from everyone else. So far, there are no raiding gangs or angry mutants, only friendly dog walkers and neighbors eager to say hello. People put teddy bears in their windows so children in their neighborhoods can be comforted and amused as they walk by with their parents. Children, sent home from schools, are being taught remotely by sometimes frantic teachers learning to navigate on-line classes for the first time. The National Home School Association (https://nationalhomeschoolassociation.com/) has dropped it’s annual fee to $10. If children who got their meals from schools still need them, organizations are doing everything in their power to see that they are fed. As businesses close, food pantries, restaurants, churches, and volunteer organizations do their best to help those who have been laid off to have what they need.

Books, movies, concerts are all free and available on-line or on television. Museums give virtual tours, zoos have live cams of penguins and otters. People share information and comfort on line or by phone. Drive-by celebrations are held for any occasion that once would have drawn a crowd, helping to maintain social distance. Restaurants have switched to carry out and curbside pickup. The news is uninterrupted, there is water and electricity.

Our heroes are health care professionals, but also grocery store workers, trash collectors, anyone who keeps us safe and cared for. No novel or movie in my experience ever foresaw the level of mutual support and cooperation that has occurred during this pandemic. But we have had our villains–hoarders, deniers who encourage people to gather under unsafe conditions spreading the illness, incompetent or self-serving politicians.

Although this is unlike the horrific scenarios of the apocalypses we expected, hardships and loss of life are real and will continue to grow, nor has the worst passed. We may yet see the people who think an arsenal is necessary in the face of any crisis have their opportunity to protect their stores from the desperate. But in light of what I’ve seen so far, I think we will find ways to aid and support one another rather than “hunker down” and turn away those in need. The question we seem to be asking most often during this strange apocalypse is not “How can I protect what’s mine,” but “How can I help?”

The novella “Wasting Water” is in the anthology Undeniable: Authors Respond to Climate Change, available from Alternating Current Press or Amazon

http://www.press.alternatingcurrentarts.com/2020/02/undeniable-writers-respond-to-climate-change.html

http://www.amazon.com/Undeniable-Writers-Respond-Climate-Change/dp/1946580155

Image: Forsythia. By Marilyn Evans.

Doing Good

In 1902, the Agriculture Department’s Chief Chemist, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, began what he called “hygienic table trials,” but soon the Washington Post reporter George Rothwell Brown came up with the name The Poison Squad. Dr. Wiley was attempting to prove that additives and adulterants in everyday foods were unsafe and unhealthy. In doing so, he took on powerful industries and their bought-and-paid-for government supporters. It took years of fighting, issuing reports, doing the right thing, but it wasn’t until Sinclair Lewis published The Jungle in 1906 that headway was finally made. Dr. Wiley’s story is told in Deborah Blum’s book, The Poison Squad, and in the  documentary based on the book (you can watch it in it’s entirety at the American Experience website https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/poison-squad/).

One of the many things that disturbs me is that over one hundred years later, the same excuses are being used to prevent doing the right thing. The arguments go: changes will adversely affect business, it’s too expensive, the people advocating for change are misguided radicals or alarmists, and other common protests. Special interests still buy off politicians, seek to cut funding to watchdog groups, delay, sue, ignore the law–whatever it takes to not do the right thing.

Writers have a unique opportunity to draw attention to bad behavior. Certainly journalists and writers of exposés do this, but writers of fiction sometimes make far more headway in capturing the attention of the public, raising awareness, and calling people to action. Sinclair’s novel was written to draw attention to the inhumane working conditions of the meat packing industry, but in exposing it his disclosures inspired  changes in hygienic practices. Science fiction writers have a long history of asking questions, proposing worst case scenarios, making us look at ourselves and the people we trust but maybe shouldn’t. Fiction puts us in the story so we can see the real costs of failure to do good.

I feel strongly that truth has great value, that lies once told take on a life of their own and can cause real harm. I believe doing the right thing s may sometimes be difficult but is never the wrong way to go. I am proud that my writing has been included in the anthology Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change. I am proud to be one of the voices saying, take notice, this is important, we need to act. It is my personal goal to always try to write with truth and compassion. Though I may not always succeed, I will always try to do good.

Image: The Members of The Poison Squad. THE U.S. FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION/FLICKR/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Why We Walk

My friend, Chris, used to read Lord of the Rings in its entirety every autumn. She stopped for a while, but is back to it this year, although she started later than usual and is reading it through the winter. The appeal to me of LOTR is the journey. I’ve always loved any story that involves a long trek on foot. I have the same passion for movies that depict grand journeys.

Sometimes the algorithms work, and Amazon Prime offers you movies like the ones you just watched that might interest you. That’s how I got sucked into watching several documentaries on hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, the Camino de Santiago, the Hayduke Trail, the Appalachian Trail, and others. What I’ve found interesting about the people who take on these really long journeys is why they do them. Often they are looking for something, usually wildly different somethings. Some are looking to escape, some to spend serious time inside their own heads, some are running toward something. I don’t think anyone who starts one of these great treks is the same person when the journey is done. All of them seem to find something, but it isn’t always what they expected to find when they started.

There was a time when I would have aspired to hike one of these trails, but old age and sin have taken their toll, so not likely in this lifetime. That’s not to say I won’t try something less ambitious–the Katy Trail, perhaps. Maybe I haven’t started one because I don’t have a good enough reason yet. Just walking to walk doesn’t seem like sufficient justification to ignore everyone and everything and walk for a couple of weeks, although a walk across Missouri in the spring seems like a pretty good reason all by itself.

Of course, I can’t help but make a comparison to why we write. I suppose there are as many reasons to write as to walk. The beauty of crafting words is perhaps comparable to scanning a spectacular vista. Spending days inside your own head, plumbing the depths might reveal the means and motives of a character. Writing for redemption, for amusement, for adventure, to find out who we are.

I’m not sure I’ve taken the really grand trek in my writing yet. In many ways, I feel like I’m still at the trail head. But as I write more, I think I’ll be moving on down the road, and perhaps some day, when I’ve reached a stopping point, I’ll have found something transformative. And when I do, I promise to share.

And speaking of writing, I’ve just read the final proof of my novella, “Wasting Water”, that is due out this spring in the anthology Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change. It’s been a long time coming, but finally seems to be on its way.

Image: Chris and Marilyn walking at Dragonfest in Colorado, 1999. By Jonathan Hutchins.

The Year Gone By

The year that we just got through, 2019, was the fiftieth anniversary of a bunch of things. In 1969, men walked on the moon, Woodstock happened in a bigger way than anyone imagined it would, the first troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, the Stonewall Riot occurred, Sesame Street premiered, and a lot of other pretty remarkable things happened. And, by the way, I graduated from high school.

I sometimes think getting old is the price you pay for not dying, and while it’s not really punishment, there are days that feel like it. When I went to my fifty-year high school reunion in the early autumn of 2019, I found a lot of old people there. Not me, of course, I’m not so very old, or maybe….

My graduating class was just under 200 people. Some of them are dead, some didn’t come. Some people I wouldn’t have known without their name tags, some looked nearly the same. In all, it was a slightly frustrating experience because you can’t really summarize fifty years of life lived in a few minutes. I haven’t stayed in touch with any of my fellow graduates, so there would have been a lot of ground to cover if I’d tried to reacquaint myself with everyone. Still, it was interesting.

I grew up in a smallish town and went from kindergarten through high school with many of the same folks. At the ten year reunion, I saw little kids running around and knew exactly who their parents were because they were the spitting image of their parents at the same age. It was eerie.

This will probably be the last reunion for my class, but I’m glad I went. I’ve always thought my greatest accomplishment was escaping the small town I grew up in, but it was nice to go back and revisit the place. There is nothing to go back to now except my father’s grave. I have no friends or family there. Still, it’s where I’m from, and it gave me a lot of the foundation for who I am. But more than the place I’m from, my family gave me myself. I was reminded of this when, after the reunion, I went to visit my father’s last living sibling, my Aunt Virginia, and many of her children and some of her grandchildren. It was good to be reminded where so much of my personality was formed–my cousins have the same sense of humor as my dad. They get my jokes.

So this autumn, I got to revisit my roots. Now, going into 2020, I’ll have the opportunity to grow and change and experiment and, now and then, even go back and remember who I am and where I came from.

Image: Bittersweet, squash and pumpkins at the Chillicothe Kid’s Day Parade. By Marilyn Evans.

Only God Can Make a Tree

I’ve probably mentioned this before–when I was a scientist, I saw a tree as a living entity with a paleobotanical history, a structure, metabolism, reproductive cycle. In short, I loved it as only a botanist could. Then I learned to oil paint. Suddenly I had new eyes, artist eyes. Now I saw a tree as texture and light and shadow and a play of color that changed with the changes of the day. I had learned to love it as only an artist could.

But I have recently acquired a new addiction. I have discovered woodworking. I’ve flirted with it for a while, but with the aid and abetting of my husband, I’ve begun to acquire the tools, the patterns, the materials for yet another hobby. And I have begun to see trees in yet another way. That dead branch doesn’t have to be fire wood. It could be almost anything. I just never knew it before, I could never see with a woodworker’s eyes until now.

We all know knowledge is a dangerous thing. It makes us do crazy stuff. It opens worlds. For a writer, the fun part is often that once you know the things you get the joy of telling someone else about them. They say write what you know, but learning, research can lead to a whole new “what you know.” And once you know, don’t you have to share?

One of my favorite mystery writers, the late Dick Francis, worked with his wife who apparently loved doing research. Mr. Francis started writing his stories in the racing world, a world he knew well. But later he  and his wife took me into other amazing worlds, each one described in a way that drew me in, convinced me he knew what he was talking about.

Lately I’ve gotten a little crazy about learning new things. I’ve been experimenting with “going back to school”, but by way of home schooling. It’s like this: every day I spend an hour studying Spanish, an hour in gym class (exercising followed by yoga), then at least an hour writing (English class). Home Economics is all the cooking and other household chores. That leaves time for Science–watching “Nova” or some other appropriate video– then Shop when I do my woodworking. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in a day if you’ve got a schedule. Not sure how long I can keep this up. I might become a drop out, but so far, I’m having a lot of fun.

I like having all these eyes. I like seeing things in a new way, and I like how old things, old friends like trees, become new again. The trick is the sharing part, sharing well and letting everyone else have the fun of discovery.

Enough English and writing. It’s time for shop.

Image: Sunset through trees. By Jonathan Hutchins.

“Wasting Water” Update

I’ve heard from Alternating Current Press at last. The anthology Undeniable: Writers Respond to Climate Change will be published no later than the spring of 2020. If the editing process goes smoothly, they hope to have the collection published in winter 2019 for a holiday release. That will change if the editing or printing process does not go as planned, but the release would be no later than the end of this winter. They want the book on their table for next year’s AWP writers conference and book fair in March 2020, so it will definitely be completed before then. Being the good and dutiful author that I am, I’ve already sent the latest version of my novella, “Wasting Water” with edits and corrections. There will probably need to be a few more changes, editors being how they are (always right), but that shouldn’t be a problem.

In case you’re interested, the 2020 Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference where Undeniable will be featured is March 4-7 in San Antonio, Texas.  Here’s the link.

https://www.awpwriter.org/awp_conference/bookfair_overview

I considered going, but I’ll probably use my time and money closer to home. HOWEVER, if anyone wanted to pay my way…just sayin’.

Anthologies are notoriously slow to get to publication, but I’m glad this one is finally on it’s way. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for an early holiday release!

Creating Legacy

I just finished reading Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik of Wired magazine and his wife, Monica Murphy, who has degrees in public health and veterinary medicine. The book is entirely fascinating, but one of my favorite parts was the description of Louis Pasteur and all his work with vaccines. I always knew Pasteur was awesome, but I never realized how totally awesome. His legacy includes vaccines for anthrax, rabies, and (with a significant contributions by Emile Roux) chicken cholera, not to mention saving the French wine industry, as well as establishing the method for purifying and protecting food that bears his name: Pasteurization. Add to this his establishing the Institut Pasteur and all that it has accomplished both during his life and since his death, and you can’t help but be impressed.

Within the same day of finishing Rabid, I came upon a story about J.K. Rowling and what is likely to be her legacy. Beyond the beloved Harry Potter universe she has created, she has donated hundreds of thousands of her millions to charities, especially those that preserve families and aid orphans. Being someone who knows what struggling to survive is like, she is giving back in a significant way. I contrast this with the probable legacy of another extremely rich person recently in the news–Jeffrey Epstein. I think that people will not remember him as fondly.

I’m not sure people think much about their legacies. In a television program I like a lot called “A Craftsman’s Legacy”, the host, Eric Gorges, asks each person he spends time with two questions: do you consider yourself a craftsman or an artist; and, do you think about your legacy. Some folks are conscious of what they are leaving behind. Someone who creates a body of work or has trained a lot of students tends to have an awareness of their effect on the world and that it will linger after they have gone. Some people think about their children as a legacy who will carry on their genes and names, their looks and maybe their mannerisms, perhaps even their businesses and skills. But whether we realize it or not, everything we do “leaves a mark,” and people don’t often act as though they understand that. Abuse often begets abuse as families of abusers can attest. Kindness and generosity, often the same. I see my father in my family members and hear his humor and turns of phrase. He was a man who loved his children unconditionally, and I’m happy to say I think that legacy survives in his children and in the people whose lives he touched.

I’m not sure what my legacy will be. Nothing from my days as a researcher is significant as far as I know, but at least a few people lived and didn’t die because of things I did in the lab. I have some writing, fiction and non fiction, that may last a while, for better or worse. I have had students, and they have had students, so I think that’s good. It’s hard to say what will survive after we are gone. I’m no Pasteur or Rowling, but I hope my legacy will balance on the side of leaving things better rather than worse after I’m gone. Maybe between now and when I fall off my perch, I can add to that legacy in a positive way. Best get on it.

Image: Stable dog (not rabid) at Harrowway House, Penton Mewsey, Hampshire, UK. By Jonathan Hutchins.

Getting It Right, Getting It Wrong

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics (1949).

The wonderful actor, Rutger Hauer, died recently. I’ve loved him in so many movies, but Lady Hawke and Blade Runner are two my friends have been talking about a lot. In Blade Runner (made in 1982), Mr. Hauer plays Roy Batty, a replicant or bio-engineered being. The film takes place in 2019 Los Angeles. Some people are noting Rutger and his character, Roy, died in the same year. The film has flying cars, bio-engineered people and animals, and references to mining operations in outer space. Here in the real 2019, we don’t much have those things. Blade Runner was based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, first published in 1968. Dick’s version of Los Angeles was post nuclear war, and the story takes place in 1992, then in later editions, in 2021. So far, we’ve avoided nuclear war, and we still don’t have replicant pets, although cloning is making strides.

Sometimes stories of the future get it wrong, sometimes they get it right. Sinclair Lewis, in his 1938 novel It Can’t Happen Here, was probably thinking about Huey Long when he wrote his story of a potential totalitarian regime in America, but the satire bears an uncanny resemblance to the rise and rule of Donald Trump.  Orwell, Huxley, Wells, and Verne got some things right, perhaps more right than most other science fiction and futurist writers, but predicting the future and how we will live in it is hard. Some things we think will change don’t or do so very slowly, other things change at an unimaginable pace. Dick Tracy’s two way wrist radio, introduced in 1946, is a more accurate description of today’s technology than many science fiction stories of a similar era.

Even near future predictions can be tricky. Throughout the 1950’s, we all expected nuclear war, nuclear accidents, and the results these things would bring. We weren’t expecting global climate change. Now that we’re experiencing it, we may still get things wrong. In my novella, Wasting Water, I was expecting massive droughts throughout the United States. Instead, we seem to be having floods, followed by droughts followed by severe storms, excessive heat, excessive cold, and who knows what next? The droughts may come and stay yet, but it’s hard to predict. It would be nice to be right, but I wouldn’t wish that on my planet.

In 1949, it was hard to predict that computing would become what it is today, not a 1.5 ton machine, but portable, readily available, and ubiquitous. I often wonder what breakthrough will make the next unpredictable leap in technology, the next science fiction moment. It may be decades in the future, or maybe just around the corner. Perhaps we’ll get those flying cars yet. After all, we got our Star Trek communicators.

Image: Even with Abby standing on them, none of my computers weighs 1.5 tons. By Marilyn Evans.