Tuesday, September 30 2014
Today we are pleased to have Ben Cameron visiting with us at Blogging on the Beach. He is the hero of Skye Taylor’s latest book, Loving Meg and the third son (by mere minutes) of Sandy and Nathan Cameron of Tide’s Way, North Carolina. The baby of the family, Jake Cameron, was with us earlier this year when his book, Falling for Zoe, came out, and Will, Ben’s identical twin, will hopefully stop by for a visit next year when Trusting Will is released.
So - Welcome, Ben. We know you grew up in Tides’s Way and come from a big family, that you’re married, to Meg, of course, and have two sons, Rick and Evan. But who is Ben Cameron? Tell us about yourself.
You know, my wife and I had a discussion about that not so long ago. She seemed to think that my job was who I was, but I think I got her turned around. At least I hope I have. Meg is the light of my life. She has been since I first met her. She was my best friend’s kid sister, and I had to pretend we were just friends for the first few years because I was way too old for her. But it was worth the wait. We’ve been married for ten years come next June and I can’t imagine life without her. Being a dad is another big part of who I am. Until Rick was born I never had a clue how terrific fatherhood could be. I have a fantastic dad of my own, but being a dad is even better.
What do you do for a living?
I raise and train German Shepherds for police work. It does keep me pretty busy, but I love working with the dogs, and I love seeing them succeed. I’ve got a new project in mind, too. It’s a long story how I got involved, and I’m sure that’s not what you’re interested in here so I’ll skip to the punch line. I want to enlarge my operation to include training dogs to work with returned veterans who are struggling with PTSD and other disabilities brought on in their service to our country. It’s be awhile before I can get it up and running, but eventually I want to have a home where the veterans will come to be paired with their dogs and training can happen. From what I’ve discovered having a service dog often can make the difference that all the drugs and psychiatric work can’t in helping these guys get their lives back, and I can’t think of anything more rewarding that making that happen.
Didn’t Meg just return from Iraq. She’s been in the Marines for most of your married life, but this was her first overseas deployment. That must have been difficult for you and the boys. What was the hardest part for you?
All of it. (Ben shakes his head and a cloud passes over his face.) I hated watching the news. It just made me more afraid than I already was. I knew she was out there, accompanying conveys along roads that those bas— sorry, terrorists love to booby trap with IEDs. So, I didn’t watch the news, and I tried to stay busy and not worry. But the hardest part was probably the nights. She tried to call as often as she could,and she’d time it when she knew I was climbing into bed. I’d lay there in the dark, clutching the phone to my ear, listening to her voice and wishing desperately that she was laying next to me instead, and that the nightmare of her being gone and in danger was over.
Have you ever told Meg that?
Yeah. I’ve told her, but I’m not sure she understood how really hard it was for me being left behind while she went off to conquer her world. I told Will, too. He’s my twin you know. He’s the other half of me. I told him everything. Or most everything.
What’s it like being an identical twin?
You mean being the other half of me? (Ben chuckles) Will says the same thing. He thinks I’m the better half and if only he could be a little more like me, he’d be a better man. But I think it’s the other way around. Will is a lot like Meg and I admire that – that ability to strike out into the unknown – to take on a task that seems far bigger than it might have seemed at the start. Something bigger than just themselves, but they stick it out. They put themselves out there and do jobs others can’t. Me? I’ve been on the same path all my life. Everyone, including me, knew where I was going with my life since I was just a kid. And there wasn’t anything dangerous or adventurous about it.
What started you on your path in life so early?
You sure you want to hear this? It’s not all that exciting. Not when compared to the places Meg’s been.
Well, when I was maybe nine or ten someone gave my dad this dog, Taffy. We’d always had dogs as long as I could remember, usually more than one at a time, and Dad was always the one who trained them. But Taffy just seemed like she was going to break him. I think she was a golden retriever, but so inbred there’s no doubt where her less than stellar brain capacity came from. She had one ear that popped up and flopped over half way up – the other hung down like a retriever’s is supposed to. It gave her this really silly goober look. Very fitting, considering.
Anyway, one day Dad was trying to teach her to stay. He’d take her out to this spot about 20 feet from the front steps and tell her to sit. She was great at sit. Then he’d give her the signal and verbal command to stay and he’d turn his back on her and come over to the steps. By the time he got there and turned around she was right behind him grinning up at him as if he’d told her to follow instead of stay. Finally, I asked Dad if I could try. He handed me the leash and said go to it. Neither of us really expected much. But I walked out to the magic spot and told her to sit, put my hand in front of her nose and said stay as sternly as I could with my little kid’s voice and headed back to the porch. Dad was sitting with his elbows resting on the step behind him watching, but even before I got to him, he sat up and looked from me to somewhere behind me. I turned around expecting to see Taffy right on my heels like she’d been on dad’s every time. But I was gobsmacked. She was still sitting where I’d left her. I called her and she dashed toward me so fast she ran me down. And that was when me and everyone else knew I’d end up training dogs for a living.
Marrying Meg was another thing everyone knew long before it happened. Long before Meg knew it anyway. I grew up in my parents house by the sea and I told them I was always going to live there too. I saw this spot of land when I was still in college. I didn’t have scratch for money, but I begged my dad to give me the down payment and I worked two jobs all through college to make the mortgage payments. So, you see, Will and I are like the other half of each other. He’s Alpha. I’m Beta. He’s the adventurous one. He’s impatient to see new things, go new places, meet new people all the while I’m living the life I planned out years ago. I’m so settled down I can’t imagine life any other way. Will’s still trying out every new extreme sport that catches his fancy and dating lots of really nice ladies but not settling for just one. Although I really hope he finds his Miss Right. I’d like him to have what I have with Meg.
I know you’re a busy man with things to do and places to go, even if they aren’t far from home or dangerous, so I’ll let you go. But we’ve enjoyed having you. Thanks for coming.
It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Tuesday, September 23 2014
If any of my history teachers from all those years ago could catch a glimpse of where I’ve ended up, jaw-dropping, eyebrow-raising surprise would be their primary reaction. I was far better at math – where if you understood the concept, you could work your way through the problem. But memorizing anything was torture. Back then, in most of the classes I labored through, it seemed like there were always lists to be memorized: generals in a war, presidents of the US, major events in an era, or where and when treaties were signed. Back then history was old news, and I was still too young to appreciate the fact that what we don’t know about our pasts generally means making the same mistakes in our future. So, I left high school behind, happy to know I’d never have to labor through another history book.
But one thing I always did love was reading, and as a young adult, I discovered Georgette Heyer who at the time was the queen of the Regency romance market. Luckily for me, she was prolific and had been around for many years so it took me a while to plow my way through all her popular romances. Then I moved on to her other books, mysteries and historicals. And that’s when I discovered The Conqueror, one of Heyer’s historical novels based on real people and real events. Suddenly, William, the Bastard Duke of Normandy became a flesh and blood person to me and in all the years since I read that book, remembering his conquest of England on the battlefield of Hastings in 1066 has never been a problem. Nor were many of the other facts about that fascinating, powerful man. Soon, I was scouring the library shelves for other books about England’s history. At one point in my life, I could have reeled off the entire line of kings and queens from William I to Elizabeth II, and I can still probably come pretty close. How was it that this history-phobe had become a history nut?
By then I was a mother of four and very caught up in raising my family. Otherwise, I’d likely have gone back to school and become a history teacher because I thought I had the secret to making history relevant. Heyer had recreated the world that William lived in and made him come alive for me and suddenly I cared. I wanted to know when he became king and how and I wanted to know so much more. My personal heritage includes a large chunk of English ancestors, but the Scottish ones fascinated me more, so I began to delve into Scottish history. William Wallace and Roy Roy were my heroes along with the long line of Stewart Kings, even though many were anything but heroic. The sad tale of Mary Stewart and her treatment by Elizabeth I was the stuff of legends, but Mary was pretty much the author of her own fate and I loved reading about the Scots right up to their sobering loss at Culloden in 1746. It was only thirty years later that America plunged into her own war of Independence and it occurred to me at this point that studying and understanding my own American history should become my focus.
But since it was a hobby and not a course of study with attendant tests and grades, I was free to pursue it whatever way I liked and for me that meant reading dozens of historic “novels.” Novels because the authors had injected thoughts and dialog into the telling, but with thorough research and diligent adherence to the true facts. The American history my many teachers had once tried to pound into my head became a part of me without all the effort and endless rote of memorization that had turned me off before. I admit I am still very much a hobbyist rather than a true student of history, and I tend to jump from one interesting period to another skipping the boring parts in between, but now when I visited historic sites I viewed them differently. As a child, I had visited the Custis Lee mansion that sits on the hill above Arlington National Cemetery and giggled helplessly as I rolled down that hill with my cousins. Today there would be no giggling, rolling kids because the eternal flame that honors JFK sits at the foot of that hill, but now I can imagine the generations of Lees and Custises and descendants of George Washington himself living in that stately home and understand some of the anguish that went with the creation of that cemetery. I won’t bore you with the incredibly long list of places I’ve been where history has suddenly become very real for me, but one thing is certain, once that spark of interest was created, the rest all fell into place.
Now my focus is on creating that spark for my grandchildren. Following my own circuitous path to an appreciation for history, I give them age appropriate historical novels where historic figures become real people with families and friends and pets and favorite meals. Then I take them on a field trip to the places they just read about. Maybe none of them will become history teachers or historians, but I hope in some small way to make American history come alive for them. To make them care about the frightened farmers who stood their ground on Concord Green. To help them understand the despair George Washington felt when he knelt in the snow praying for his soldiers at Valley Forge. I want them to know the value of the things so many have struggled and fought for over our country’s 200+ year history. How else can we place a value on what our country has become today?
My grandson and I watched a re-enactment at Fort Ticonderoga and got up at 4:00 in the morning to see a handful of “colonists” face the might of the British Army at Lexington. We visited Old Ironsides and learned what it was like to be a sailor in the War of 1812, we hiked up Bunkerhill Monument and visited Paul Revere’s house, Old North Church and Faneuil Hall and dozen’s more neat places. Now I’ve a new crop of grandkids old enough to capture their fancy with the right book. We’ve visited Washington’s Crossing in Pennsylvania, Valley Forge, the Tea Party museum in Boston and Mount Vernon and Williamsburg. And we’ve only just begun.
Since I moved to St Augustine, Florida, I now live in the oldest continuously occupied European city in North America. At every corner there is something of historic importance here, from the landing of Ponce de Leon to the takeover by the British, to Flagler and his hotels and the African American struggle for equality. One simply can’t move around the city without noticing it. But even if you could overlook the brick and mortar remnants of history, St Augustine loves to re-enact and celebrate everything. We have Sir Francis Drake plundering the city and pirates looting it every year on the anniversary of those events in history. We welcome Pedro Menendez de Aviles ashore every September and have Spanish Night Watch and British Night watch annually as well. It’s pretty much impossible to ignore the history of this little city and I’ve got a section of my closet where garments more suitable for the 1600 and 1700s hang so I can participate instead of just watch. I’ve worked as a 1740s Spanish tavern wench, dined at British Night Watch as a Scottish lady and attended Mass with Aviles and his entourage.
American history is rich and diverse and full of stories of gallantry and sacrifice. If, like me, you came to an appreciation long after you left off sitting at a desk in school, what sparked your interest? What caught your attention and wouldn’t let go? Was it programs like the multi-part series on the Roosevelts on PBS, or was it a story like Killer Angels by Michael Shaara who made so many of those who fought and died at Gettysburg become real people with loves and lives beyond the war and those horrible four days of battle. Leave me a comment below – I’d love to hear what fascinates you about our long and incredible history.
Tuesday, September 16 2014
An elderly gentleman in my neighborhood stopped to chat on his early morning walk one recent morning. I don’t usually see him at that time of day because I’m usually still in the sack. The reason for my being up that day was a bulging disc complicated by some serious arthritis in my lower back and the resulting pain had been waking me up well before daybreak. So, when David mentioned that he noticed the sun had come up again, I glanced toward the gorgeously tinted eastern sky and thought, but of course it came up. It always comes up.
It comes up whether the sky is clear and we can see the resulting glory of its rising or not. It comes up even if our heads are still buried in our pillows like mine usually is. Of course it came up. Then it occurred to me that what David was saying was that it came up again for him. None of us are getting any younger and every new day is a gift. Such a huge and wonderful blessing and how easily overlooked. We chatted for a while longer before he went on his way and I turned to come back into my house to fix some breakfast. But somehow, that comment started a ball rolling for me.
For the rest of the day I noticed blessings in places I far too often overlooked, especially during the last two weeks of pain and sleepless nights. There were other neighbors also up earlier than my usual and they all called out a cheerful good morning as they passed. What blessing. I have wonderful neighbors. I fixed my bowl of cereal and carried it out to the deck to eat while I read the paper. But instead of reading the paper with it’s discouraging list of world problems and local mayhem, I watched the sea turn from the early morning pearl to bright blue as the sun rose higher in the sky. What a blessing to live here where I get to see this every day if I so choose.
As the day progressed there were more blessings. I have other neighbors who stopped long enough to say Hi and a dog who refuses to let me miss any such opportunity for socializing. I’ve a UPS driver who knows Duff by name and always calls out to him as he passes. Although that day he stopped to deliver a package. He called to Duff and told him to go get his toy, which Duff did, then he threw it for Duff to chase. Then he gave me my package, which turned out to be my box of author copies of my just released new book. I opened them right there while the UPS driver played with the dog and I showed him my book and gave him the elevator speech. Turns out his daughter served in the Army, in Iraq, and dealt with many of the same issues my heroine had. What a blessing to share that moment with this man who I know only by his smiling face and his job as my UPS driver.
There is a family of siblings whose mom used to live just down the street. They come from all over and even though she is gone, they still come to visit this wonderful little island. I wrote before in my blog about their habit of strolling down the road to the edge of the ocean to say goodnight, and it’s just as cheerful a sight today as it was then. Another blessing to my day to hear their loving, spirited chatter as they share those special moments together.
I got emails and FB messages from several friends who were checking in on me to see how my back was. Friends are a blessing and that they took time out of their day to think of me another blessing. I wasn’t so happy with the agent at my insurance company who blithely reminded me that there is generally a 5-business-day turn-around time on authorization for treatment. Didn’t she understand that I was in pain? But perhaps she did. She put me on hold while she took the time to check the status of my request and discover it had been processed. She advised me to have the doctor’s office call later for the approval. It was a blessing that she didn’t hold my pain-induced snippiness against me and that she took the time to check on it. It’s a blessing I have insurance in the first place, although that’s another thing I tend to overlook far too often. Along with a roof over my head and food in my fridge, a safe place to sleep at night and freedoms beyond the imagination of much of the world.
My son called me that evening to check up on me, too, and his wife did so via our family chat. They remembered me in the midst of their own crisis. Her father died unexpectedly and they had to travel a thousand miles away to deal with the crisis leaving their three kids at home because Noel’s mom is wheelchair-bound and was very dependent on Noel’s Dad. I should have been able to fly up and help out, but due to my back was unable to and it frustrated me no end. But even without me, Alex had back-up. His brother gave up his long weekend at the summer place to stay at the house and care for the kids along with his wife and daughters. My sister came down that first night the children would be on their own after the nanny left. My oldest daughter drove down to care for them at night the following week. The nanny, God bless her, kept life on schedule, marking important things like Natalie's first day of school. My middle daughter’s husband flew down in mid-week to help with the packing up of two lives because Noel’s mom couldn’t stay there on her own. He also drove the motorcycle all the way from Tennessee to Maryland and with plans to sell it for my son and daughter-in-law (it was just one of so many things they were dealing with and Joe opted to take that off their plate.)
In fact, as I thought about it, when Alex and Noel had to fly out to Tennessee with no forewarning and for such a difficult task, all their siblings pulled together. When I think of what a wonderful bunch of kids I have, I am humbled. They are truly the biggest blessings of my whole life.
Here's my biggest blessing a few years back They've grown in number too many to count
Bobbi, Jeff, Alex, Rebecca & Lori (in front) My kids, their husbands and wives, my grandkids, their
sweethearts, and so many more...
So, yes, the sun did come up that morning. And I was there to see it.
Tuesday, September 09 2014
AJ McGuire tagged me in the “Meet My Character Blog Tour” and, of course, now I’ve got to tag someone else. I’ve also realized that the questions asked here, don’t even come close to telling you who my character is. But just to make it easy for those who follow, I’ll leave the questions along and just expand my answer at the end. So, I tag, Joel Jurrens, Heidi Sprouse and Mary Ann Mogus. Good luck and have fun!
1) What is the name of your character? Is he fictional or a historic person?
Matt Steele and he’s very much a fictional person.
2) When and where is the story set?
The story is set during the final few months of a presidential election, mostly in Washington DC but also in a few other locations as well.
3) What should we know about him?
To start with, Matt Steele is a little different from most of the clowns we currently have running for office at the federal level. He is a man of honor and integrity, something that has guided him throughout his political life, but this time, he will be faced with a choice that means putting his political life on the line for a matter of honor. If he follows his conscience, it will probably cost him the election. Both of his opponents in the tight race for the White House also face a moment of decision. Those decisions will mark the character of the man and ultimately bring change to an unsuspecting Nation.
4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his life?
Just month shy of election day and closing in on his closest opponent, Matt Steele is given a photograph that suddenly jerks him back to a time he has done everything to forget, and to emotions he does not want to relive. He’s trying to keep the momentum going in his race for the White House, but his personal life is falling apart. Right now this is the last thing he needs, but right now is when it’s happening and it’s hard to ignore.
5) What is the personal goal of the character?
He wants to be president of the United States of America, but he doesn’t want to have to sacrifice his personal integrity to get there.
6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
This book is already available. Whatever It Takes, first published in 2012 is now available for Kindle and Nook for only $4.99. If you’re old school and want a print copy the best place to order is at Wings-epress.com.
7) When can we expect the book to be published?
It’s out and available. Kindle, Nook and Print
But as I was saying this doesn’t really tell you much about Matt Steele. Before I start writing a story, after I’ve created the basic main characters, I sit down and start writing their story. From the time they were kids or even from when they were born, right up to where the book will begin. In the case of Matt Steele, I wrote over 10,000 words – Before I began writing the story that ended up in print, I knew that Matt was a typical boy growing up in a small Maine town during that time when Andy Griffith’s Mayberry was a common kind of place. A time when mom’s wore dresses and baked cookies to be devoured when kids got home from school. I knew he was an adventurous kid who accepted a dare from his best friend to ride a chunk of ice down the river as it broke up in the spring, went swimming in the local water tower and played cowboys and bad guys, running over the low slung roofs of an abandoned chicken house. He was a typical boy, smart and inquisitive who could have gotten better grades in school, but was more interested in the things that came after school. Matt Steele’s biological father never knew he had a son – Matt was conceived in the emotional goodbyes before he shipped out to Europe and his father killed, never knowing he had a son. His adoptive father could not have treated him any different had Matt truly been of his blood, and as much as Matt loved that man, there would always be the questions about his real dad. When Matt reached high school, it was his best friend, Sam, who was outgoing and eager to date. San enthusiastically drew Matt into this new life that included girls, arranging a date for Matt whenever he was unable to screw up the courage to do his own asking. But when they went off to college and Matt spied the quietly beautiful Eve sitting the far side of the lecture hall, Matt knew this was the woman he would someday marry. It was actually his relationship with Eve that planted the seeds that would eventually propel him into the political world. That, along with the growing awareness that good men, honest men, seemed to avoid politics, leaving the running of the state and the country to men with ambitions uncurbed by notions of service and humility and honesty. I could tell you so much more about Matt Steele – How, as a raw young lieutenant, he was terrified by the hellacious reality of war and yet, in spite of his fear, learned how to be a good commanding officer. How he enjoys reading the Sunday paper scattered all over the covers of his bed, before getting up and going to a late mass and having breakfast at a diner on the way home. Or how much he wishes that the busyness of his political life had not robbed him of so many precious moments with his wife and children. Somehow his daughter has forgiven him all the times he could not be there for a recital, or a birthday or a father-daughter dance, but his son has not and that estrangement haunts Matt. He tries to reach across the gap that divides them, but never quite connects. And all of these things, important seemingly insignificant make up who Matt Steele is and color the decisions he will make in the book, Whatever It Takes.
Tuesday, September 02 2014
If I ever had any idea of holing up here in my little bungalow by the ocean and becoming a recluse, I rescued the wrong dog.
When I first met him, a fluffy little ball of black fur that had been plucked off the streets of New Orleans along with his mom and siblings, he was cautious with all new people and terrified of men. I attributed it to his being born in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and all the havoc that created. Puppies are imprinted early in life and I’m sure that a scene of devastation peopled mostly by men trying to salvage what they could from the disaster was not the calm quiet environment most puppies are born into. It’s a wonder his mother was able to scavenge food enough to keep her little family alive and thriving until they were rescued.
Before long, however, he made friends with my son and my dad and they became two of his favorite people, but still, men he did not know were all suspect, as well as some women. Kids he's always been fine with. (He not only lets them pat and hug him, but dressing him up and trying to ride him are fine too. He responds by trying to lick their faces off.) He was slow to make new friends pretty much the whole time we lived in Maine, but then we moved to Saint Augustine, Florida. Not only is the climate warmer here, but so are the people. Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me that Duff made a complete turnaround.
I should perhaps explain for those who’ve not seen my cozy little bungalow by the sea, that we live on the corner of Old A1A that runs right along the edge of the water and a side street that dead-ends at the ocean. Summerhaven is a miniscule barrier island – if you blink as you go over the bridge coming onto this island, you will discover yourself on the next bridge taking you off of it when you open your eyes again. It’s a fun, friendly and very unique little island and everyone goes by my house on their way to the beach.
That’s when Duff’s social personality kicks in. He barks at a couple of the dogs that pass by, but for most of them, he dashes madly back and forth on the deck just inside the fence in some kind of mock game of chase. But humans are different. He hurries to the gate at the end of the deck and pops up to put his paws on the gate to say HI! And many of them stop to give him a pat. If they are friends, he absolutely must come in the house to find a toy to show them. Not that he’s going to give it to them, but apparently in his mind showing is good enough and if they reach for it, it becomes a game of keep-away – one of his favorites. He’s been like this for most of the time we’ve lived here.
But in the last year, he’s decided that this social thing needs to include me. Even when I am hard at work on a book, my mind focused on the computer screen and my fingers flying over the keyboard, he dashes in to whine at me to alert me that we have company. If I ignore him, he begins thrusting his nose under my wrist very effectively putting an end to any progress on the book. So, of course, I give in and get up to go out to greet whatever friend has stopped by to say hi.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my neighbors and I enjoy spending time chatting for a minute or five or even longer. I just need Duff to remind me of that fact sometimes.