Timothy Schaffert

On December 26, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Nebraskan’s Debut is Tale of Love, Redemption

By Jody Ewing
June 6, 2002
Phantom Limbs

Schaffert's seriocomic debut novel is set in a rural Nebraska junk store.

In a story that rises out of the sparce Nebraska landscape, Timothy Schaffert delivers a textured, eccentric and redemptive tale about two young women searching for wholeness and love. “The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters,” Schaffert’s seriocomic debut novel, tells of two sisters on the cusp of womanhood, struggling to understand their father’s suicide as well as their mother’s abandonment of them many years before.

Mabel and Lily live in a rural Nebraska junk store they’ve inherited from their grandmother. They’re bound by their loyalty to each other, and by their haunting urgency to reconcile their own versions of the past so they might fully move forward with their lives. Lily, in what she believes is a wild choice, steals a car with her boyfriend and heads to Arizona to finally confront her mother. Mabel stays behind, seeking to commune with her father’s ghost.

Schaffert, who grew up on a farm in Nebraska and is currently editor in chief of The Reader, Omaha’ alternative newsweekly, says the story of the girls stayed with him and was destined to become a novel.

Two Little Neighborhood Girls

“When I was in college I lived in the same neighborhood as two little girls that I would see out with their father,” Schaffert says. “One day I saw them racing to keep up with their father as he was walking at this quick pace. They were running like the devil to keep up. They went into a store, and I was passing as they were coming out. I saw the one taller sister, and she looked as if she were trying to remain collected, while the younger sister was just a mess. She was sweating, and you knew they were both just dreading this having to run to keep up with their father again back to their house.”

The next time Schaffert saw the sisters they were walking hand in hand with their father on a cool, spring evening, dressed in their winter parkas.

“That intrigued me, this family that seemed to fluctuate between chaos and overprotectiveness,” says Schaffert. “I started thinking then about the two sisters, and I’ve always been fascinated with relationships between sisters.”

Eventually he wrote a short story about the girls. And then another. Finally, he decided he had to write the book. The result is what The New York Times writer Janet Maslin calls “a colorful, not unduly precious world in which everything seems to mirror the sisters’ idiosyncrasies.”

Nebraska’s Colorful History Abounds

Nebraska’s history comes to life throughout the pages as Lily and her boyfriend take off in the very Packard used by notorious killers Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. Schaffert says he based the novel’s location on Aurora, his small hometown in rural Nebraska.

Though the book deals with issues such as loss and abandonment, Schaffert says he means for it to be funny, too.

“The thing I really want people to realize is that it’s not a dark novel despite the details and tragedies of the girls’ lives,” he says. “The book has a light side as well. The events that take place in the novel help them get to a place where they can appreciate each other more and not just see the tragedy when they look at each other.”

“My Favorite Kind of Book”
Timothy SchaffertPhoto by Rodney Rahl
Timothy Schaffert

Schaffert began writing when he was a child, first writing comic books, storybooks and eventually plays. He graduated from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and earned his MFA through the University of Arizona’s creative writing masters program. While attending school in Tucson, he lived near a junk shop run by a couple who lived amongst their goods. The store eventually became the prototype for the antique shop in his book.

Schaffert says the title is kind of provocative in terms of metaphors and relationships.

“It’s representative of the psychic connection that the sisters have, the closeness they have,” he says. “Just the idea of when someone close to you suffers a loss or has something terrible happen to them, you feel that pain as well.”

The idea of the book, he says, is that the sisters must come to terms with their grief and put the tragedies of their lives behind them in order to embark on fresh lives. He already has started a new novel, and says he is getting a grip on the characters and trying to define their idiosyncrasies.

“That’s my favorite kind of book,” he says. “The one that can make you laugh and still deal with serious issues.”

For more information visit timothyschaffert.com.

Natalie Collins

On December 19, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Novel portrays world similar to Mark Hacking case

By Jody Ewing
October 14, 2004

Collins paints an authentic, disturbing portrait of a vast organization's violent and colorful past.

On Oct, 1, Salt Lake City police confirmed that the body they’d found in a landfill was that of Lori Hacking, the 27-year-old pregnant woman reported missing by her husband Mark on July 19. Up until Lori’s disappearance, Mark, 28, had spun a web of lies that included graduating from the University of Utah and his acceptance to medical school at University of North Carolina. Neither proved true, and the former psychiatric hospital orderly now has been charged with Lori’s murder.

Well before the Hacking case made national headlines, author and journalist Natalie R. Collins penned a novel familiar to many young men and women raised inside the strictures of Utah’s fundamentalist Mormon community.

Wives and Sisters,” published this week by St. Martin’s Press, depicts a world eerily similar to that of Mark Hacking. The parallels between the deceptions Hacking built around his education and the lies perpetrated by Collins’ character “Mark Peterson” are remarkably uncanny, right down to the same first name.

As a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a lifelong Utah resident, Collins paints an authentic, disturbing portrait of a vast organization’s violent and colorful past.

Natalie Collins
Natalie Collins

Sheltering system enables offenders

Collins’ novel opens with an ominous first line that sets the stage for her dramatic tale: “I was six years old the first time I had an inkling God would not always protect me.”

It moves quickly to a shallow creek where 6-year-old Allison Jensen plays with her best friend, Cindy. One moment Cindy is there; the next a bearded man holds them both at gunpoint and suddenly Cindy is gone. When no leads emerge, Cindy is given up for dead. Several years later, still haunted by her childhood friend’s disappearance, Allison suffers a brutal attack that forces her to fill in the gaps of a patchwork memory.

Determined to bring her attacker to justice, she finds herself on a collision course with powerful community leaders bent on covering the tracks of a sexual predator. She must uncover the truth before they find her first and keep her from piecing together the tragic past that haunts her life.

“Writing this book was very cathartic for me,” said Collins in an interview from her Utah home. “I had told my parents that I was going to write my memoirs. They were deadset against it, for reasons I never quite understood.”

Collins decided to “fictionalize” her story, though she says it represents many events throughout her life. Like the character Allison, Collins shared a sinister experience at age six, which she says inspired the novel’s opening.

“I was held at gunpoint with my sister when we were very young children,” she says. “Although the perpetrator was apprehended, charges were never filed because pressure was put onto my parents not to do so.”

In her extensive research of the history and teaching of Mormonism, Collins – who worked 11 years for The Salt Lake Tribune – found amongst its leaders a “protect the Church at all costs” mentality, an ideal she says leads to a sheltering system that enables offenders to abuse their victims repeatedly and without consequence.

That sheltering system reared its head once again months before “Wives” was published. The Latter-day Saints (LDS) hierarchy asked St. Martin’s Press for advance copies long before they should have known it existed. There was no catalog, no listing of the book, no promotion of any kind. There was, however, Collins’ website and her prominence in the ex-Mormon community. She also belongs to an ex-Mormon mailing list, whose members have long suspected that the LDS Church monitors the list. Collins finds their watchful eye “a little bit creepy,” but adds it isn’t surprising.

Her first novel “SisterWife” focused on a central Utah polygamous cult and the lengths to which they’d go to bring about a prophecy, though she says her purpose has never been to say, “The Mormon religion is bad.” Rather, she believes that Mormons are “living, breathing, human beings who love their neighbors, shoot their neighbors, sleep with their neighbors, and sometimes even marry their neighbor’s daughters – all four of them.”

‘They’ve been lied to all their lives’

As a young LDS woman, Collins remembers being hit with the fact that she was not responsible for her own salvation; according to church doctrine, she could not get into heaven without first marrying a man.

“Mormon women are given two roles: they are wives and sisters,” she says. “While Mormon men can be elders, brothers, bishops or presidents, the women – no matter what calling they hold – are called ‘Sister.'” The ultimate goal is entering the “Celestial Kingdom,” where the men become gods, heading up their own little kingdoms and populating them with wives and spirit children.

Collins’ parents forbid her to explore other religions, and at age 18 she left home and the church, moving to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah.

“The fundamentalist Mormons are living the LDS Church the way [founder] Joseph Smith Jr. taught it,” Collins says. “They believe the mainstream church to be the apostates. The fundamentalists, however, have evolved into horribly abusive communities where young girls are basically sold as chattel, and young boys are thrown out so they won’t compete with the old men who need more wives.”

Collins laments the fact that so many Mormon women do not see this, nor understand their own strength, their own importance or their own ability to stand on their own merits and be recognized for what they do.

“It’s not hard to brainwash a Mormon woman. You are told over and over again what your role is,” Collins says. “‘There is where you fit.'”

What the church views as “absolute truth,” is something Collins compares to “The Wizard of Oz” in the scene where Toto the dog pulls aside the curtain, revealing the Wizard’s true identity while an authoritarian voice booms “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”

“Ex-Mormons aren’t listening anymore,” Collins says. “They can finally see the man in the box, and they’re mad as hell that they listened all those years. They’ve been lied to all their lives.”

Hacking merely tip of iceberg

Collins says that a closed, patriarchal society abuses not just its women but also its men, who many times cannot meet the “very high ideals”: They have to go on a mission. They have to come home and get married. They have to go to school and make a lot of money to support all the children they have to have.

“Not everyone can live up to this. The ‘Mark Hackings’ and [character] ‘Mark Petersons’ of Utah are very, very numerous,” Collins says. “There really is very little ‘give’ for Mormon men in the LDS society. The pressure to take your family to the Celestial Kingdom is intense, and there is a very real pressure to make the most money and be the best businessman in the LDS Church.”

The penchant to “protect the Church at all costs” also means dealing with punishment within the Church system. The result is offenders not always brought to justice, and pressure upon church members not to pursue litigation or even criminal charges against other church members who may be “trying to turn their lives around.”

When a case makes national news, however, the LDS hierarchy is quick to wash its hands and downplay the perpetrator’s involvement with the Church.

“Mark Hacking’s being Mormon will be nothing more than a sidebar, everyone will ignore it, and it will go quietly away as he is put down as nothing more than another abusive husband. This, of course, makes me angry,” Collins says. “There is a reason this happened. He could not live up to the requirements and bonds of patriarchy. If you fail – well, there will be no failing. The disappointment of friends, family members, loved ones is enormous. Almost more than one can bear.”

While Collins believes Mark Hacking should be punished to the fullest extent of the law, she says she understands “the society that created Mark Hacking, and the Mark Hackings before him.”

Through “Wives and Sisters” and its empowered protagonist, Collins hopes to encourage both men and women to question what is offered up as “absolute truth” and be strong-willed enough to find their own middle road.

“You realize that you could have been there all along,” she says. “And it’s a good feeling.”

For more information visit www.nataliercollins.com

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Richard Lewis

On December 18, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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‘Flame Tree’ explores cultural, religious differences

By Jody Ewing
August 19, 2004

“The Flame Tree” is available online and at area bookstores.

Born in Indonesia to American missionary parents, Richard Lewis developed two loves early on. The self-proclaimed “water rat” surfed and spent as much time as possible exploring for new surf spots in the 13,000-island archipelago. His other love, however – reading stories that explore other cultures – would prove not quite as plentiful.

Growing up in Bali in the ’60s and ’70s, books were hard to come by and there was no television or book stores. Lewis’ only reading material consisted of what tourists brought for vacation and left behind. Yet it fueled his young imagination, and as a first-grader he penned his first adventure story about a yawn that traveled around the world.

After graduating from college in the United States, he returned to Indonesia to write a story as universal in its message as the cultures in which he had lived.

In his compelling debut novel about a young Christian boy and his parents in Islamic Indonesia before and after 9/11, “The Flame Tree” is a poignant narrative about what it means to maintain faith, friendship and tolerance in an increasingly hostile world. With expansive and uninhibited prose, Lewis tells the story of 12-year-old Isaac Williams, the blond, blue-eyed son of American missionary doctors who gets caught up in an international crisis.

‘Forgiveness trumps vengeance’

“‘The Flame Tree’ is, at its simplest level, a straightforward story about a friendship between a Christian and a Muslim boy, caught in the teeth of religious tensions,” said Lewis in an e-mail interview from his Indonesian homeland. “Of course, larger issues are inevitably involved – issues of religious tolerance, understanding, and forgiveness. The forgiveness aspect was pretty big for me, because I believe forgiveness trumps vengeance, every time.”

Despite their background and dissimilar religious beliefs, protagonist Isaac is certain his friendship with Ismail Sutanto is as solid and enduring as the majestic flame tree in the yard. But as violence escalates following the events of 9/11, the peaceful coexistence between Muslims and Christians – as well as Isaac’s friendship with Ismail – is shattered when Americans are forced to evacuate and Isaac is taken hostage by an extremist Muslim group. The experience embitters young Isaac, who knows he should forgive those who hurt him but feels his bitterness will cripple him forever.

At New York’s Trident Media Group, literary agent Scott Miller found the story, written for ages 12 and up, not just a powerful read but a valuable learning tool for both teens and adults.

“‘The Flame Tree’ examines the Islamic faith and the thorny issues of Christian-Muslim interaction through the innocent eyes of a boy,” said Miller. “It is a timely book, perhaps the first of its type to come out post September 11. Above all though, this is a moving, lyrically written novel about forgiveness and redemption.”

Exploring the issues, not propaganda

Lewis says the seed for “The Flame Tree” took root pre-9/11 in 1998 when Indonesia went through a severe economic and political upheaval. Lewis cut short a surf trip, and while waiting for a flight back home to Bali he imagined a young American boy caught up in the riots. He wrote much of the novel by hand while looking for surf, the salt water splotching the notebook.

Lewis left for a surf trip in September 2001 with his book nearly complete. He wouldn’t see the news about 9/11 until two days after it happened. Given his novel’s theme and the inexplicable events of 9/11, he felt it an essential fit to the story and revised the novel to include the tragedy.

Author Richard Lewis

“As a novelist, I want to explore issues, not present propaganda,” said Lewis, whose story features an Islamic teacher targeted by the U.S. as a terrorist associated with al Qaeda. “I come from a Christian evangelical background, and it was strange and informative for me to examine the issue of proselytizing from the other side of the fence. I tried my best to be fair and even-handed.”

By turns shocking, revealing and ultimately uplifting, “The Flame Tree” is a coming-of-age tale about upholding one’s own beliefs while learning to embrace the ideas of others.

“As adults,” Lewis says, “it’s so hard to lose acquired prejudices, in part because the most pernicious prejudices are those we are sure we don’t have.”

Visit Richard’s website at www.richardlewisauthor.com.


Gwyn Hyman Rubio

On December 18, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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To the Beat of a Different Drummer:

Icy Sparks

By Jody Ewing
July 26, 2001

Gwyn Hyman RubioGwyn Hyman Rubio

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Tourette Syndrome

People often go to great lengths to keep secrets – they lie, become evasive, or masquerade a truth by outwardly displaying the opposite of what they feel. Secrets become more frightening when admitting they exist means risking being cast as peculiar.

Author Gwyn Hyman Rubio brings this issue to the fore with a child’s-eye look from the inside out on how it feels to be dissimilar in a uniform society.

Icy Sparks,” Rubio’s first novel and the March, 2001 Oprah Book Club pick, tells the story of 10-year-old Icy Sparks, a bright and curious child who begins to croak, pop her eyes, and experience other unexplained symptoms. Set in Eastern Kentucky in 1956, Icy’s behavior is the source of mystery, confusion and deep humiliation.

As an adult, Icy discovers she suffers from Tourette Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder characterized by tics – involuntary movements or vocalizations that occur repeatedly in the same way. Narrated by an adult, Icy looking back, the story captures not just the challenges of being an outcast but the struggles one goes through in a seemingly endless search for answers.

Rubio, who does not suffer from Tourette Syndrome (TS) herself, grew up with epilepsy, another neurological disorder. She says she wanted to write a book about a child who felt different.

“I grew up in south Georgia, and had epilepsy as a child,” Rubio said from her home in Kentucky, her home for the past 23 years. “People thought it was strange behavior for a child, but I was actually having small seizures. It wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my 30s.”

She wanted to write a story about a little girl who didn’t fit in, but wasn’t quite sure what problem to give the girl. Then she ran across the essay “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” written by the renowned Dr. Oliver Sacks.

“It was about a man with Tourette Syndrome,” Rubio said. “It talked about how creative art heals him, and I thought it was a good metaphor – the healing power of art. I thought at the time that I would use Tourette Syndrome as a metaphor for people who are different.”

Shortly after reading the essay, Rubio learned that the Tourette Syndrome Association (TSA) was holding a conference in Lexington, Ky., a mere hour from where she lived. She decided to attend. When a surgeon gave a speech about how his tics stopped when he entered the operating room and the healing power of creating, she knew it was a sign. She had to write the book.

Icy Sparks

Icy Sparks was chosen as an Oprah Book Club Pic for March 2001.

Still, the little girl didn’t have a name. Then one day, while walking through the cemetery with her husband, their eyes fell on a marker named “Icy.” A few markers down, they saw “Sparks,” and her heroine was born. She began writing the novel the very next day.

Published in July 1998, the book garnered modest sales until being chosen as an Oprah book club pick for March 2001. At that point, sales soured, bringing awareness to a disorder that, even in the 21st century, is as much still misunderstood as it is often stereotyped.

There is no “typical” case of TS, as symptoms cover a spectrum from mild to quite severe. They range from eye blinking, head jerking and throat clearing to yelping, self-injurious actions and uttering words or phrases out of context. The term “involuntary” used to describe tics also is confusing since most people with TS do have some control over their symptoms.

What others may not recognize, however, is that the control or stifling of tics, which can be exercised anywhere from seconds to hours at a time, often merely postpones more severe outbursts which eventually must be expressed.

The Oprah book club discussion explored this very factor. Rubio chatted with three others on a panel, including a teacher who’d kept her disorder a secret from everyone except her husband and doctor.

“She was a French teacher, yet kept all her tics under control while she taught,” Rubio said. “She said it was like tensing up all the muscles in her body, and by the end of the day she was exhausted.”

Other co-morbid syndromes, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, add additional elements to a disorder, which makes it more difficult for people to comprehend. Coprolalia (profanity), while the most spectacular of the symptoms, actually is seen in only a minority (15-30 percent) of those with TS, yet often is the hallmark TS stereotype.

For Rubio’s book discussion, Oprah formatted the first half hour of her show entirely to TS awareness, showing clips from interviews of others who lived with TS, including children and former professional baseball player Jim Eisenreich.

The ex-L.A. Dodgers hitter had symptoms of TS by age 6, but didn’t know there was a name for it until he was 23, then playing for the Minnesota Twins. Eisenreich founded the Jim Eisenreich Foundation in 1996 for children with Tourette’s and has played a significant role in educating the public about the disorder.

Rubio is no stranger to dealing with special children, having worked as a preschool program coordinator while serving in Costa Rica with the Peace Corps.

She’s no stranger to writing, either. Her father, Mac Hyman, wrote the bestselling “No Time for Sergeants” in 1954 when he was only 31 years old.

“Throughout my life, I flirted with writing but never really embraced it,” Rubio said. “Not until I graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, did I decide to get serious about it.”

Rubio says “Icy Sparks” is a book that can be read at different levels, whether as a person with Tourette’s or the parent of a child who has it. Still, there is one message she hopes will shine through.

“People should embrace the part of them that’s different,” Rubio says. “It’s not something to be ashamed of. We all have parts of us that are different that we would rather keep hidden, but often, those differences bring us together more than our likenesses.”


G.M. Ford

On December 18, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Black River Runs Deep with Lies, Corruption, Justice

An Interview with G.M. Ford

By Jody Ewing
August 15, 2002

It’s been said that when it comes to the legal system, there’s no justice, “just us.”

Black River

Black River

No one knows this better than Seattle’s G.M. (Jerry) Ford, a former college Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and now full-time detective novelist. Since his 1995 debut novel “Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca?” — the first in his Leo Waterman series — Ford has cranked out a mystery each year underscoring greed, power, moral responsibility and the circuitous road to comeuppance.

Black River,” Ford’s eighth novel and the second in his new series, places Frank Corso — a disgraced New York Times journalist — at the center of Seattle’s most sensational murder trial. Mobster Nicholas Balagula has been charged with 63 counts of murder after the collapse of a new children’s hospital that he cut corners to build. Now a reclusive crime-writer, Corso is chosen to cover what looks like an easy victory for the prosecution. But sociopath Balagula isn’t about to go down easy, having escaped punishment before by jury tampering and unexpected deaths of witnesses.

The case doesn’t become personal, however, until Corso’s former girlfriend, photojournalist Meg Dougherty, is attacked after stumbling upon a connection between Corso’s story and one on which she’s working. Thus begins a plot-twisting story where guilty parties will pay, by hand if not by law.

G.M. Ford
G.M. Ford

Ford, who taught English at high school through university levels for over 20 years and a mystery writing class through the University of Washington, became interested in crime fiction after reading the Hardy Boys series at age 10. Later, The Washington Post Book World would call Ford’s ‘Leo Waterman’ character “the most likeable private eye to make the scene since Travis McGee.”

As Ford’s new loner protagonist hits the streets in search of justice, Weekender writer Jody Ewing asks Ford how Corso came about and the people who interest him — and Corso — most.

As the second book in your new Frank Corso series, can you tell me how the idea came about? Was there any particular catalyst?

Since “Fury” was my anti-serial killer book, I was looking to do something that didn’t involve one. I wanted to tell a story of a man who presumed that he was above the law; who saw the law as little more than the whining of the weak and who believed he could subvert the system in any way he chose and get away with it. That’s why I chose the Black River for a metaphor for nature’s way of evening things out…for the tendency of what goes around to indeed come around.

Of the two series, how would you say Leo Waterman and Frank Corso differ most?

Leo’s a much nicer guy than either Corso or myself. Leo represents the part of me that has a tendency to laugh first and worry about things later. Corso’s the writer part of me, who likes to stand in the corner and watch — the part of me that files away the movement of a hand or the tilt of a head. Corso’s the loner in me. The one who sits in front of a keyboard month after month, living in his own little self-manufactured world, while ignoring what the rest of his species look at as reality.

In “Black River,” how would you describe Corso’s journey and revelation?

Corso looks at a situation (Balagula’s ability to subvert the criminal justice system) and decides that the only way things are going to work out right is if he takes charge and makes it happen. As is often the case, when one pushes reality, reality has a knack for pushing back. In this case, Corso is put into a position where his own ethical code gets tested and he finds out that the distance between himself and those he considers his enemies is not as great as he had imagined.

What types of (real-life) people interest you most, and how do you go about developing them into characters?

People at the edges of society. Somebody once said that we have a leisure class at either end of our society. They’re right. Those are the people who interest me. The folks in the middle are the matrix (the yogurt) in which the story (the berries) takes place.

Your books address evil or wrongdoing on a variety of levels. That said, Anne Frank once said that in spite of everything, she believed people were basically good. Do you agree? If so, why, or why not?

I believe she’s right. I believe people have an innate sense of what’s right and wrong. No matter how old we get, every one of us occasionally says: “that’s not fair.” Doesn’t matter how many times we’ve been told that life’s not fair. Doesn’t matter how many times our own experiences prove it to us. We still have this sense of how things should be.

How do you work through a roadblock in your story?

When I encounter a stoppage, it’s my muse telling me that she doesn’t like what I’m about to write next and isn’t going to let me continue until I get it straightened out. At that point, I go looking for a scene that she will let me write and I write that. What I know for sure is that whatever means it takes to break out of the doldrums, will only take place with your ass firmly planted in front of your keyboard. You’d be amazed what seven hours a day staring at the outline on your screen will do for writer’s block. Coupla days of that and you’d rather write than eat.

Have you planned a set amount of books for this particular series?

Seems to me that somewhere between six and 10, series books begin to sound stale as hell to me. I’m about ready to write stand alones.

Why do you write?

On the Macro level: I’m a storyteller. That’s what I do. On the Micro level: I just love making sentences.


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Shane Osborn

On December 15, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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A Talk With U.S. Navy Lt. Shane Osborn

By Jody Ewing
August 7, 2003

Shane OsbornCourtesy Photo
Navy Lt. Shane Osborn


The Details

Who: U.S. Navy Lt. Shane Osborn
What: Signing copies of “Born to Fly”
Where: Waldenbooks, Southern Hills Mall
When: Sunday, Aug. 10, noon-2 p.m.

It began as something simple: a son of America’s Heartland, a ride as a toddler in a war-surplus Piper Cub plane — a boy with a dream. It became an extraordinary story of courage, perseverance, overcoming impossible odds and the making of a hero.

On April 1, 2001, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Shane Osborn was piloting an EP-3 ARIES II reconnaissance plane in international airspace over the South China Sea when two Chinese F-8II fighters intercepted the slow-flying plane. One Chinese pilot — Wang Wei — began to harass the American plane, coming dangerously close twice before finally colliding with the EP-3’s outer propeller.

The collision split the Chinese plane in half and inflicted catastrophic damage on the U.S. EP-3, blowing debris from its nose, chewing up propeller blades, damaging the fuselage, and throwing it into a steep, near-inverted dive plummeting toward the ocean. By the time the plane has fallen nearly 8,000 feet, the superbly trained Osborn somehow regained control, landing the crippled plane on the Chinese Island of Hainan, where he and his 23 crewmembers immediately were taken into detention.

For the next 11 days, Osborn endured nearly round-the-clock interrogation while shielding his crew from the ordeal. Though he refused to meet Chinese demands, the Norfolk, Neb. native and his crew were freed when the US and Chinese governments reached an agreement for their release.

In Born to Fly: The Untold Story of the Downed American Reconnaissance Plane — published in both adult and young adult editions — Osborn recounts his life-long love of flying and the fateful events that led him to receive the Navy’s highest airmanship honor. Throughout both books, the University of Nebraska naval ROTC graduate speaks of faith, courage, and dedication to one’s country. Osborn will sign copies of the books at Southern Hills Mall’s Waldenbooks on Sunday as part of a Red Cross fundraiser.

In a telephone interview from Seattle, the newly married Osborn spoke about his commitment to country, service, and why he was ‘Born to Fly.’

What did you most hope to accomplish by writing this book?

The thing that was most significant to me was the opportunity to maybe open up some eyes, to not only adults but some younger people with the young adult version, and let them know the importance of having goals and working towards them and more importantly, serving your country. I looked at it as an opportunity to maybe plant a seed in a young person’s head about serving when they graduate high school. I believe it’s very important that we have good men and women serving to maintain this country’s freedom. We’re going to need more of them in the future, and, especially today, I think people realize it and appreciate it.

Can you describe for the Weekender the events leading up to the collision, and what thoughts were going through your mind after it happened?

It was pretty much a standard reconnaissance mission. It wasn’t rare for us to be intercepted, however; in recent weeks they’d become more aggressive in their intercepts. That day we knew right away that it was going to be a very aggressive intercept when they joined up on us the first time and they were inside of my wingspan. We’d never seen nor heard of that happening, where they are only inches away from my propellers.

That happened twice, and so we had a pretty bad feeling that third time when the jet came to rejoin up on us. There were a lot of people in the back looking out; I couldn’t even see him coming because he was coming from the left side and I was in the right seat. I could hear it in their voices that this was not going to be good. When he hit us, we kind of all had a feeling that this might happen at that point. We didn’t know what was going on, why he was being so aggressive and dangerous that day. You just kind of had a feeling in the back of your head that something was going to go wrong because he had already almost hit us twice. When he came back the third time, that’s when we had the collision.

How would you describe those 11 days where you were interrogated and held against your will, and how did you hold up despite the constant sleep deprivation?

All my life I’d wanted to serve and talked to everyone about the importance of serving our country and how proud I was to do it. Now, all the sudden I was put in a position where I was responsible not only for myself, but for 23 other lives. It’s a very intimidating situation, so you’re either going to step up and take it or not. There’s no real choice there but to do what you need to do to get those 23 people home to their families. So it was very intimidating; you don’t want to show them that you’re scared, but inside you’re scared the whole time. Long interrogations, no sleeping and things like that start to get to you but you just kind of have to re-cage yourself. It tests all your beliefs, and you just keep praying and hoping that it will be over soon.

What kind of impact did this have on your family?

(Laughing) A pretty heavy impact, I would say. I aged my parents significantly along with myself during that time. But we’ve always been a very close family, so you could say it brought us closer but we were already close. It wasn’t a change there, but they didn’t regret it at all, either. They knew that since I was a little boy that this is what I was going to do and that there were risks involved. My mom wasn’t too happy seven months later when I left to go to the war in Afghanistan. She understood, though, but wasn’t too happy with me heading off to war that same year. She asked me if I had got enough, and I told her, ‘well, I’ll let you know when I get enough.’

What type of response have you received from young readers?

Excellent. It’s been great. I love going out and talking to kids of all ages. I tell them my story and tie it in, hopefully with something they can relate to. I get e-mails, letters, all types of stuff and I answer them all. I already know of a few that are now in the naval academy and going to college in ROTC programs, and it’s good to hear because they kind of update me with what they’re doing. It’s pretty cool to have the opportunity to help someone out in that way.

How do you define a hero?

To me it’s a word that was used so much I didn’t even want to be associated with it just because of some of the other areas in our culture that we associate with the word hero. Nowadays, I think we’ve been reeducated as to what a hero is. To me, a hero is anyone who serves, not just in the military, but anyone that does a selfless act is a hero in my book.

Did you have a hero as a child?

My mother. I didn’t look up to sports, athletes. I enjoyed sports, but I never looked toward movie stars or athletes or singers as heroes. I was lucky enough that my mom worked at the veteran’s home as I was growing up, so I got to spend a lot of afternoons after school and weekends talking to veterans. So those are the people I looked up to most.

What was the best piece of advice your father or mother ever gave you?

(Laughing) It was pretty much my mom, and there was a lot of it. She just had a steady sense about her, and she taught me by example by how she worked and lived more so than anything. But it would probably be, ‘Do whatever your heart tells you.’

More on the Red Cross Fundraiser


Jerry Buck

On December 15, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Former AP columnist pens Hollywood murder mystery

By Jody Ewing
April 15, 2004

A Blood Red Rose

Jerry Buck’s new novel digs into the mystique shrouding the lives of Hollywood’s biggest players.

Former Associated Press columnist Jerry Buck has seen it all. In New York, he covered the birth of cable television, the videocassette, the growth of political reporting, the end of cigarette advertising and the constant death and phoenix rebirth of drama, comedy and reality TV.

In Los Angeles, he covered virtually every star, show, writer, director and producer – as well as their feuds, achievements and scandals.

A Blood Red Rose – A Pete Castle Mystery,” is Buck’s new novel about what he saw and heard and reported, as well as that which couldn’t appear in print. At its heart is the romantic, atmospheric mystique that shrouds the lives of Hollywood’s biggest players.

Jumping from non-fiction to fiction is something Buck has witnessed before; friend and former AP colleague Thomas Harris authored “Silence of the Lambs” and other Hannibal Lecter novels.

“When you’re writing for the papers, actors make things up and try to make them sound real,” said Buck in a telephone interview from his home in California. “Now I make things up and try to make them sound real.”

The result is a page-turning novel that reads like art imitating life. Movie idol Jack Newhall is murdered at his famous Deauville mansion during the wrap party for the movie “Love’s Lonely Quest.” For the next four decades the unsolved murder bubbles in a cauldron to become a legend – providing fodder for countless theories, a ratings booster for television stations, and a cottage industry for a self-appointed Hollywood guru who claims to be in contact with Newhall’s ghost.

Things turn deadly when producer Clark Kester asks screenwriter Pete Castle to write a script for a television reality program recreating the murder. Kester dies during a rehearsal in exactly the same way on the site of the original murder. As Pete races to solve the ancient murder – and prevent more from happening in the present – he finds arrayed against him all the forces of Hollywood.

“I wrote ‘A Blood Red Rose’ ten years ago, and at that time Pete Castle was a private eye,” Buck says. “It was called ‘The Butler Did It.’ But somewhere along the line, it got where there were too many private eyes so I turned it into a mystery.”

As with solving crimes, getting novels into print also takes time and dogged perseverance.

“I have three or four others written in the Pete Castle series,” says Buck. “I was writing and my agent was circulating them, but no one wanted funny mysteries.”

Things changed a year ago when Buck’s agent suggested he e-mail an editor with a particular novel.

“I sent it, and he said it was very good but wasn’t a mystery, it was suspense. So I told him, ‘I have a mystery,'” Buck says.

Buck sent the mystery and “A Blood Red Rose” finally found a home. And, Pete Castle – screenwriter – made his debut as Hollywood’s newest sleuth.

Though screenwriting is not part of Buck’s extensive scribes, he’s hardly new to the mechanics of the profession; his son, Scott Buck, is an Emmy-nominated writer and co-executive producer of HBO’s hit series “Six Feet Under.”

In addition to lots of practice, becoming proficient in different writing mediums means paying attention and fine-tuning listening skills. Through his interviews with novelists like Norman Mailer and Sidney Sheldon, Buck picked up advice he later applied to his own writing.

“I liked to interview authors when they had something new coming out, like Arthur Hailey and his ‘Airport’ books,” he says. “I could always get pointers from those people even though they didn’t know I was picking up pointers.”

It also takes time, says Buck, to unlearn newspaper writing.

“With newspapers, you’re telling the reader. With novels you have to show,” he says. “And in novels you save the best for last. In newspapers the best comes first.”

Mysteries present their own set of challenges. If you don’t know “whodunit” when you start the novel, you’re in big trouble, Buck says. One has to know how the book begins and ends, and have some vague outline somewhere between the two.

Buck calls “A Blood Red Rose” an irreverent look at a very complicated business.

“People think they know what’s going on [in Hollywood] but they don’t really know,” says the Louisiana native. “It took me years and years to figure it out. It took five years just to learn about the ratings.”

Today’s hottest misconception is reality TV, which Buck refers to as “reality TV run amok.”

“It’s staged reality,” says the Hollywood writer and insider. “Scripted reality.”

A Blood Red Rose is now available in bookstores and at online retail sites including Amazon.com.

This article first appeared in the Weekender on April 15, 2004.


Jeannette Angell

On December 15, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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From college lecturer to Callgirl and back

A talk with author Jeannette Angell

By Jody Ewing
October 7, 2004



People want to talk about it, and they ask the same questions over and over. How did you get startedWhat’s it really likeWhat kind of girls work for the service, and what kind of people use it? They can’t get enough information on what seems to them a semi-forbidden world.

The job is working as a callgirl for an escort service — a world caricatured by pornography and speculated about by almost everyone.

It’s also a world where Jeannette Angell — with a doctorate in social anthropology — spent three years working as a $200-an-hour Boston callgirl by night while working as a university lecturer by day.

The French-born Angell, who earned her master of divinity degree at Yale and her doctorate from Boston University, has written a studious, yet insightful account of those years in her memoir “Callgirl,” a behind-the-scenes look at one of America’s most mysterious and misunderstood professions.

Jeannette Angell

Jeannette Angell

Angell’s decision to work as a callgirl had more to do with rent than research. She’d just begun a new semester teaching a series of college lectures when a live-in boyfriend vanished, having first wiped out her bank account along with her prepaid salary. Boston’s rent didn’t come cheap and was also due. She needed lots of money, and she needed it fast.

The mid-level escort service, run by a woman whom Angell calls “Peach,” stood out among the ads in that it required a minimum of some college education. Angell imagined the worst, but found most clients an invisible, unremarkable group of men: lawyers, stockbrokers, those about to be married and even university faculty. There were others, however, who insisted on degradation. “You’re just a whore,” a man named ‘Barry’ tells her. “You do what I say.”

Angell kept her second job secret from those with whom she worked, and after confiding in a few close friends discovered the damage stereotyping breeds. She’d eventually give up her night job, but not before creating a new university course, “The History and Sociology of Prostitution,” which explores both the history of prostitution and how mainstream society interacts with it.

In an e-mail interview from her Boston home — where Angell lives with her husband and stepchildren — she talked about “Callgirl” and the most violent elements in society.

Imagine that a person who doesn’t know anything about you or your novels is about to pick up a copy of “Callgirl.” If you could tell them just one thing before they started reading it, what would you say?

One of my teachers in grammar school, a nun, used to say, “La vie, c’est bien compliqué.” I’m not sure what that meant to me at the time, but it’s become the guiding principle of my life, my writing, my interactions with others. Life is very complicated indeed, and that’s what makes it both difficult and interesting. Stereotypes, racism, xenophobia — most negativity in the world comes out of the natural human desire to oversimplify. Life isn’t simple, and that’s what “Callgirl,” “The Illusionist”…*all* my books are about. That life is more complicated than it appears, and that people really do their best, most of the time, to work through those complications.

What does “Callgirl” attempt to do, and for what kind of reader was it written?

Callgirl is a window, an opportunity for readers to see into a world they would otherwise never know and to experience it from the inside. That’s really all. I think that once one has read the book, it will be a lot less easy to make hooker jokes, for example. Most of our hatred comes from ignorance. Once one knows people from the excluded group (be they people of another race, religion, political party, or profession) it’s a lot harder to hate them. So “Callgirl” was written for all the people who dismiss sex workers as criminals, nymphomaniacs, people of loose morals. Just to have them read the book is a step in the right direction.

What provokes you to begin a book: an image, a character, a setting, a feeling?

Almost always a character, almost always that character or characters in a situation that puzzles me. “The Illusionist” began when I read a newspaper account of John Demjanjuk’s arrest for crimes against humanity; his son was quoted as hotly protesting his father’s innocence. Well, I remember thinking, of *course* he’d have to say that, how could anyone accept that a loving parent might also have been a torturer and murderer? “Wings” and “Flight” are both about a family’s choices during two world wars — again, I found myself wondering about how women were responding to and dealing with their families’ participation in various facets of the wars. I start with people and then examine how they think and feel and behave under pressure.

What types of characters interest you most? What sorts of stories?

The ones that we can’t figure out. The ones that haunt us, that we can’t get out of our minds. My upcoming novel, “In Dark Woods,” came out of another newspaper account. I read years ago of a woman whose child was murdered and who became subsequently obsessed with the killer throughout his trial, to the obvious delight of the media. What was going on in her head and her heart? Perhaps that’s why I’m fascinated by history, because it’s filled with people behaving in ways that I find inexplicable, and I spend far too much time wondering how they came to act as they did!

You were born and grew up in France at age 21 — can you describe any differences in culture as far as how they, vs. the U.S., view prostitution?

There’s a whole different take on sexuality in general, so naturally there’s trickle-down to the issue of prostitution. The United States has never shed its Puritan past. Just compare this country’s reaction to President Clinton’s well-publicized extra-marital affair with France’s reaction to that of President Mitterand – his wife and his mistress both attended his funeral. I think that sexuality in general and prostitution in particular are more accepted components of life than they are in the States. In the US, everybody knows it happens but nobody wants to talk about it, as though somehow the very articulation might make it real. In France, it’s discussed. French people don’t make a distinction between the intellect and that which is sensual; it’s all part of the human condition.

Your friendship with Sophie addresses “the addict’s gift of the silver tongue” — of making those who care about them believe they can help or cure the addiction. When does one say “enough,” and how does one know they are doing the right thing?

Well, my description in the book shows that I had no idea how to answer that question, back then. Sophie haunts me to this day. I’ve learned a lot since then about dealing with addicts, and know that one ought to say “enough” from the beginning. Help is not doing what that person wants you to do, or even what you want to do — help is getting them into rehab. Period. I didn’t know that at the time. In many ways, despite the sophisticated veneer I liked to assume, I was very naive.

In Chapter 11, while talking to a student, you say that parents want their children to be independent thinkers, yet don’t realize their children may make choices that are different from their own. In this Baby Boom parent era, when it comes to social issues (racism, sexism, etc.), is it possible for an educated child to really get through to an uneducated parent whose beliefs were firmly planted by their own uneducated parents? If so, how?

Given the issues in family dynamics, I don’t know if that’s possible. My father-in-law is racist. He’s also in his eighties and very ill. Am I going to change his mind? Doubtful. I’d rather invest my time trying to touch people who still have time and reason for change. We’re all to some extent the products of our environments and upbringing. I’ve not accepted much that my parents believed to be true, but I also realize that they gave me the tools with which to think critically, and that made all the difference. Perhaps we can teach everyone — parent, child, friend, acquaintance — best by example.

In today’s society, the “perfect woman and perfect sex” are as close as one’s computer and an Internet connection. “Callgirl” addresses this ‘perfect woman’ myth; she’s there to please the man and has no needs, no desires, no demands of her own. Since neither prostitution nor Internet-based sex will ever disappear, how does today’s intellectual woman compete with that “perfect woman” myth?

I think that the fantasies will always be part of being human, because we’re none of us exactly what others want us to be — and nor are they perfectly what we want, either. Women do the same thing, you know — look at the success of romance novels: those are women’s PenthousesPlayboysHustlers. Face it, we all have fantasies of what our perfect partner should be like. Ideally, we learn that those are in fact fantasies and that real life is — you knew this was coming back — more complicated. It’s when that line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred that there are problems. I think that the divorce rate has to do with that line being blurred, that people are disappointed when their partner isn’t a fantasy but a real person, and so they seek out someone whose very newness holds out the possibility of becoming the fantasy… until that person, too, becomes real, and the cycle repeats.

Your reference to Emma Goldman’s phrase — “The most violent element in society is ignorance” — is more critical today than ever, yet people continually base opinions on ads they see on TV or ethnocentric ideals. When it comes to ignorance, what is its biggest danger?

Its biggest danger, I believe, is that ignorance is blinding. We fall in love with what we believe, and become resistant to change, to seeing a different viewpoint, to the point of not even acknowledging that there may even be another valid viewpoint. When that happens, we’re blind — blind to ourselves, to others, to what matters. And if one of the goals of life is connection, then this has to be its opposite, because it disconnects us from the rest of humanity.

You recently appeared on Oprah. Can you tell me about that experience, and what you learned from it?

“Still naive after all these years” would sum it up nicely, I fear. I believed what I was told by the producers, and I should not have done. They indicated that I would be promoting my book, and instead I was presented in a sensationalist, tabloid format. Oprah herself surprised me by not reading the book and by the personal nature of her attacks (after the show, in the green room, she made a point of embracing all of the other participants — then looked straight at me and walked away). It’s unfortunate that the show chose to go down the sensationalist route, and ironic that I was essentially being accused of being immoral; I found what they did to be far more immoral.

If prostitution were to be legalized, how do you perceive things would change?

Women would be safer. There’s no question about that in my mind. Right now, sex workers are extremely vulnerable because they have few choices in finding safe employment and no recourse when something goes wrong. Sex workers would participate in their communities through taxation, as do other professions. Would the stigma disappear? That’s another issue, though it has been my experience that the people who voice their disgust with prostitution the most loudly are the ones who are the most titillated by it — so that is, indeed, a different question. I strongly believe that it should be legalized and regulated, which in essence has nothing to do with the morality issues: there are plenty of other things that are legal but, to my mind at least, not moral at all.

How has your own life changed since the book’s publication?

It’s interesting — it’s the first of my books to have changed anything in my personal life. Usually I write a novel, it gets published, people read it… life goes on. In one sense, it’s a job. But this time was different. It’s understandable, of course — it’s the first book I’ve written that is about me, per se, rather than about how I write or whether I can tell a good story. Many of the reactions I’ve received have been about me, personally; and I’m learning to deal with that.

Why do you write?

If I may borrow a phrase from Toni Morrison — “I’m just trying to look at something without blinking.” That really sums up my writing — I look at things and try and figure out why they are the way they are, and the way that I do that is by writing about it. I’ve always thought better with a pen (or PowerBook!) in hand.

Anything else?

Best questions of any interview I’ve done — and I’ve done a great many! Thank you for allowing me to think.

For more info on Callgirl and the author’s other novels visit: jeannetteangell.com.

Excerpts of this article first appeared in the Weekender on October 7, 2004.

Copyright © Jody Ewing, 2010


Debbie Bernstein LaCroix

On December 15, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Book, education vital in treating Alzheimer’s

By Jody Ewing
October 3, 2002

10 Signs of Caregiver Stress

Too much stress can be damaging to both you and the person for whom you are caring. The following stress indicators, experienced frequently or simultaneously, can lead to more serious health problems. Learn to recognize signs of stress in yourself. Taking care of yourself will help you be a better caregiver.

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Social withdrawal
4. Anxiety
5. Depression
6. Exhaustion
7. Sleeplessness
8. Irritability
9. Lack of concentration
10. Health problems


Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease

Though a change in memory is normal as we grow older, people with Alzheimer’s have problems severe enough to have an impact on their work, social activities and family life. They include:

1. Memory loss
2. Difficulty performing familiar tasks
3. Problems with language
4. Disorientation to time and place
5. Poor or decreased judgment
6. Problems with abstract thinking
7. Misplacing things
8. Changes in mood or behavior
9. Changes in personality
10. Loss of initiative

It begins with something simple; one forgets the name of a daughter’s new husband or has trouble balancing the checkbook. Later, an everyday task may feel strange or the street coming home seems unfamiliar. Eventually there might be mood swings — from calm to tears to anger — for no apparent reason, and finally one seeks answers to the many unanswered questions.

The warning signs often add up to Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain and the most common form of dementia. Approximately 4.5 million Americans have AD and an estimated 16 million will have AD by the middle of this century — 2050 — unless a cure or prevention is found. First described in 1906 by German physician Dr. Alois Alzheimer, the disease once considered rare is now the leading cause of dementia.

Dementia — though often used synonymously with AD — is an umbrella term for several symptoms related to a decline in thinking skills. Common symptoms include a gradual loss of memory, problems with reasoning or judgment, disorientation, difficulty in learning, loss of language skills and a decline in the ability to perform routine tasks.

Tina Stroud, president of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Big Sioux Chapter in Sioux City, says their primary role is to provide education support and advocacy on behalf of caregivers and the community. They accomplish that through a wide range of services and lots of education.

“Our other role is really to help families,” says Stroud, who works with families to delay nursing home placement for as long as possible. “But we do realize that that’s also a reality for most people, so we also are there with them every step of the way through that transition.”

Transitions also include education, from the young child who doesn’t know what is happening with a grandparent to adult children faced with choices and learning to deal with caregiver stress. In addition to support groups and in-home respite care, the Big Sioux Chapter also has partnered with a local writer for an Alzheimer’s book written exclusively for children. It’s all part of an ongoing effort, says Stroud, to plan along the way for how AD will impact relationships and lives.

The Need for Education

AD has a very gradual onset, and that’s where the difficulty is, Stroud says, with the disease and actual point of diagnosis.

“Most of the time people will start to realize they’ll become a little bit more forgetful,” she says. “You and I kind of forget things, but this is starting to impact their lives. They realize something is not quite right.”

Debbie Bernstein LaCroix witnessed this progression as a teen-ager when her grandmother was diagnosed with AD. As an adult, Bernstein LaCroix struggled to remember things about her grandmother before the disease had taken hold. After the birth of her son, Bernstein LaCroix suddenly realized how she could make that happen — if not for herself, for others.

“I was just sitting there one day thinking what would I do, or how would I explain it to my son if one of my parents would get Alzheimer’s, because they say it’s hereditary,” says Bernstein LaCroix, whose grandmother has since died. “They have such a close relationship that I would want him to remember my parents as they are now rather than how they would be.”

The result was Bernstein LaCroix’s first book “My Grandma Can Do Anything,” an illustrated story for children that captures and explains the different stages of the disease. In conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Big Sioux Chapter, Bernstein LaCroix wrote the story while Terri Hecker of California penned the illustrations.

“The goal of the book is to not only explain to the child the different stages, but to also tell them when visiting grandma, what they can do to help their grandparents by remembering,” says Bernstein LaCroix. “For instance, going through a photo album, or sharing different memories they’ve enjoyed with their grandparents.”

The last page contains a journal that children can fill out to keep track of special memories.

“It’s a wonderful book,” says Stroud, “and we also have a brand new program where we’ve developed a children’s curriculum. The pilot program includes going into the school setting and educating elementary-age children about what’s going on with grandma and grandpa.”

In addition to their continuing education, the Alzheimer’s Association has a resource library, a 24-hour helpline, a family assistance program and works to address other disorders that also cause dementia.

Dementia’s Many Faces

“There are other dementias that can be sudden,” says Stroud. “For example, if they have multi-infarct dementia (MID).”

A common cause of dementia in the elderly, MID occurs when blood clots block small blood vessels in the brain and destroy brain tissue.

“That’s a vascular form of dementia so they have a stroke and it’s just immediate,” Stroud says. “Signs show up immediately, then they kind of plateau off and then they have another stroke and then they decline.”

Others include fronto-temporal dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and Huntington’s disease. Similar to AD, all these disorders involve disease processes that eventually destroy brain cells.

Ellen Nichols of Dakota Dunes began noticing symptoms in her father a few years ago when he became more forgetful and asked the same questions over and over.

“We didn’t necessarily suspect Alzheimer’s at first, but he went in for testing because of his memory,” says Nichols. “He initially was diagnosed with dementia, and eventually with multi-infarct dementia.”

The difference, Nichols says, is that her father knows that he has it, he knows it is something you die from and he’s going to know during the process what is going on.

“The doctor said that in a way, it’s going to be more difficult than if he actually had Alzheimer’s because people with Alzheimer’s generally don’t know they have it,” she says. Nichols, who is married with two small children and is expecting her third child in January, is in the process of moving her father into the suite she and her husband built onto their home.

Nichols has spent the last two years preparing for the move and setting up a support system to manage caregiver stress. She hopes to keep her father in the family environment as long as his condition allows.

Learning to Ask for Help

“One thing that I always wanted to do was spend time with my dad, and it’s interesting that now I get to spend lots of time with him,” says Nichols, who credits her father with devoting his life to helping other people. “I’m also learning that this isn’t going to be like Dad moving in with us, it’s going to be like an Alzheimer’s patient moving in. It’s my dad, but it’s not the same as Dad. It’s just different.”

Nichols arranged for two girls to come to her home at scheduled times throughout the week, and also hired a cleaning woman so she could get her needed rest. But, she says, these things cost money.

“People say ‘I can’t afford to hire somebody,’ but I can’t either,” Nichols says. “So we’ve cut out cable, I don’t go for coffee as much as I’d like, and we just make cuts in other areas so we can afford to do these things.”

Nichols is not alone. More than seven of 10 people with AD live at home, and family and friends provide almost 75 percent of home care. The remainder is “paid” care costing an average of $12,500 per year, with families paying that almost entirely out-of- pocket. Neither Medicare nor most private health insurance covers the long-term care most patients need.

Nichols credits the Alzheimer’s Big Sioux Chapter for steering her to resources and directing her to other agencies.

“It used to be you just did it yourself, and we can’t afford to keep doing it all by ourselves,” says Nichols. “They [Alzheimers Association] know everything. I can just call and ask and they’ll direct me. Sometimes I just need to vent or whatever, and they’re awesome.”

They also help dispel the myths behind the disorders, which Nichols says is so important.

“Alzheimer’s is a disease, it’s not a character defect,” she often explains to others. “He’s not doing anything just to be malicious, it’s a disease and he’s the victim of it, not you.”

Stroud says another myth is that there’s no hope. “I’m here to tell you that there is a little bit of hope,” she says. “Research has come a long way. We may not be able to cure the disease today or stop it, but we can sure impact a person’s quality of life and make sure they have the best possible life for their remaining years.”

For More Information visit the National Alzheimer’s Association’s website at www.alz.org or the Big Sioux Chapter at www.alz-sioux.org or call 800-426-6512.


J.A. Jance

On December 14, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Author J.A. Jance a sleuthing success

By Jody Ewing
July 24, 2003
J.A. Jance

J.A. Jance

Mystery writer J.A. Jance knew she wanted to be a writer before she finished second grade. After reading L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” series, a bestselling author was born. Yet it would take more courage than destroying a wicked witch before the South Dakota native found publishing’s Emerald City.

During the 1960s at the University of Arizona, a professor refused Jance entry into the creative writing classes, citing that girls “ought to be teachers or nurses” rather than writers. Jance then married a man who was allowed into the program, went on to get her degree in English and Secondary Education, and in 1968 wrote her first book.

“It was sort of an ‘out there’ children’s book, and would have been edgy in 1968,” Jance said in a telephone interview from her home in Seattle. “I received a nice letter from an editor in New York, saying if I would make some changes she would consider publishing it.”

Jance showed the letter to her husband.

“He read it, handed it back to me and said, ‘there’s only going to be one writer in our family, and I’m it,'” Jance recalls. “So I put my writing away, and other than writing poetry under the dark of night I never tried writing again until I was a single parent, with two little kids, no child support, and a full-time job selling life insurance. I wrote from 4 o’clock to 7 o’clock every morning.”

While Jance’s dream of being a writer came true by believing in herself, her former husband’s didn’t. He died at age 42 of chronic alcoholism — a year and a half after Jance divorced him — without ever having published a thing.

Jance now has 30 published novels, including Seattle’s J.P. Beaumont series and Cochise County, Arizona’s Joanna Brady series. Her two sleuths finally met up in last year’s “Partner in Crime.”

Partner in Crime was Jance’s first novel featuring the sleuths from both her Seattle-based J.P. Beaumont series and her Cochise County (AZ) Joanna Brady series.

“Over time, I’ve had two very distinct groups of readers; the ones who read Beaumont and the ones who read Brady,” says Jance, who alternates between her Seattle residence and one in Tucson, Ariz. “My publisher came up with the idea of trying to get both sets of readers to read the same book at the same time by me writing a book with both of them in it.”

Fans also had asked if the two would ever meet, though Jance’s initial reaction had been to dismiss the whole idea.

But when four prisoners later escaped in real life from Arizona’s Cochise County Justice Center with one captured years later in Tacoma, Wash., Jance suspended that disbelief and set her own crime in motion to bring her characters together.

The book was fun to write, says Jance, and indeed had the effect of merging her sets of readers. Fans of both series grabbed up “Partner in Crime,” and now are reading the others. It resulted in a tremendous bump to the backlist.

“Because I have stayed with the same publishing house all these years, all of the books are still in print and readily available in paperback form,” Jance says. “When I do get a new reader, they can go back and read all of them.”

In “Partner in Crime,” Beaumont teams up with Brady to investigate the murder of local artist Rochelle Baxter in Bisbee. The artist’s next of kin turns out to be the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, where Baxter, aka Latisha Wall, was an industrial whistler-blower in the federal witness protection program pending testimony at a trial.

Furthering the plot is the use of sodium azide, a fatal chemical used in car air bags. Though Jance doesn’t set out to write “issue” books, she says she uses issues as frameworks for her stories. It works; readers buy up her novels at the rate of 30,000 books per month.

“They’re sort of ‘stealth’ issues,” says the author. “I write about things I’m interested in and things I know about. Alcoholism is in my books because my first husband died of chronic alcoholism. When I read about [sodium azide] in my alumni magazine, I thought, ‘Whoa, this is dangerous stuff! How come I never heard about it before?’ So I put it in the book, and now a lot more people who never knew about it know about it.”

In Exit Wounds, Jance takes on a discomforting social issue: hoarders.

In “Exit Wounds,” Jance’s new thriller released on July 22, she tackles two other discomforting social concerns: “hoarders,” who take in large numbers of animals by convincing themselves they are saving them when in fact they are unable to feed or care for them, and “coyotes,” the people smugglers who take money to bring illegal aliens to the U.S. and who then abandon their charges to die of heat prostration or suffocation.

Jance — who first learned of hoarders through her sister, head of animal control for Pinal County, Ariz., — says that although she writes crime novels she steers clear of using real crime events.

“I learned early on that real murders affect real people,” says Jance. “It’s not just the person who is dead, it is all of the people connected to the person who is dead. I’m interested in how those people respond to this watershed occurrence in their lives, how they deal with the aftermath of a death, how they handle a funeral and how they handle the grieving process.”

The author met with family members from a serial homicide case in 1970 in Tucson, and says the people are still broken. “They never get over it, ever. It doesn’t go away. That’s one of the reasons I stay away from true cases,” she says.

Instead Jance focuses on characters she finds interesting, which usually include police officers. “It’s clear to me that police officers are people before they’re cops,” she says.

In “Exit Wounds,” she wants readers to remember that it is only a story, and it’s there for entertainment.

“Maybe they’ll learn something along the way,” says the longtime dog lover and owner, “but my real job is to entertain.”

For more information visit: www.jajance.com

This article first appeared in the Weekender on July 24, 2003.

Copyright © Jody Ewing