Traditional Book Review: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by @RuthWareWriter #bookreview

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the third of Ruth Ware’s novels that I’ve had the pleasure of reading and, at this time, it is my favorite. The novel is a modern mystery with a Gothic, even Dickensian atmosphere. Hal, or Harriet, the narrator, is an orphaned waif, barely subsisting off the business her mother had started, that of a Tarot Reader. Worse, she owes a loan shark money, too much to ever pay back. Hal then experiences what most orphan fantasies consist of: a letter stating that she is (essentially) the long-lost heir to an inheritance. Hal believes this to be a case of mistaken identity, but she’s desperate. She doesn’t ask for much, only to survive. So she goes off on her adventure, to play the part of a missing granddaughter in the hope that, if she plays it well enough, she’ll be able to pay off the loan shark and live a comfortable if lonely life.

As with her previous novels, Ware gives us an unreliable but likeable narrator. All we know is what Hal knows, although most of us are old enough to know better where Hal isn’t. She’s tough but naive. She’s very good at acting, but still flubs her lines. At the first, the reader wants to protect her and even supports her attempt at fraud if only to save her own life. Better still would it be that Hal really is the missing granddaughter.

Nothing is ever that simple. Hal finds herself in a setting worthy of Daphne Du Maurier. An old, run-down mansion; an attic room with locks on the outside of the door; a menacing housekeeper; and an eclectic group of uncles that Hal might or might not be able to trust. Ware skillfully twists the many threads of family secrets, and there are quite a few. Hal’s own connection to the family is the deepest secret of all. Again, the reader only knows what Hal knows, and by the time Hal has finally pieced everything together, it is nearly too late.

The ending is satisfying and somewhat expected because it was hoped for.

Mystery and family secrets aside, one of the themes of The Death of Mrs. Westaway that I found most intriguing was that of family. Hal’s close relationship with her mother, her shaky relationship with the men who might or might not be her uncles made me think about what ties families together. Hal has had no connection with this family ever, as far as she knows. She is a stranger to them; yet, the mere idea that she might be the daughter of their missing sister is enough for them to embrace her, to some degree anyway. Without that blood connection, she is nothing to them. Yet, Hal is the same person, whether related to them or not. The rather quaint saying–“Blood is thicker than water”–is tested over and over in The Death of Mrs. Westaway. For me, the novel reveals just how tenuous family ties can be.

When it comes to family, I am most often observer, least often participant. I have three siblings, 3, 11, and 13 years older than me. I am close with my middle sister, but not the other two sibs. I keep in touch with them (okay, one of them), but I don’t share my hopes and dreams, my fears and frustrations. The less said, the better.

Contrast this with one set of cousins, a gaggle of sisters and brothers relatively close in age and, despite being thousand of miles apart from each other, have a closeness that would be the envy of best friends.

Into another set of cousins, a stranger appeared. A secret son, the oldest of his half-siblings but unknown until after their mother’s death. In head-spinning quickness, he was welcomed into the family, embraced even by those relatives he might never meet.

Another family, unrelated to me, a small unit, where a rift between brother and sister has led to permanent estrangement, where one sibling washed her hands of the other and, as far as I know, has never looked back. The brother shrugs at the memory and moves on.

I’ve often thought that what brought families together and kept them together was shared experience. At least, that gives them an advantage. I’ve physically drifted away from most of my extended family, to the point where our shared experiences begin and end with my adolescence. Not my most favorite time of life, not a time that I want to revisit when I visit them.

This meditation on family is a result of having read The Death of Mrs. Westaway. I’ve been turning it over in my head for a long time. I envied Hal. Of course, she is about forty years younger than me, not overly burdened with a past she’d just as soon chuck into a river. Perhaps it’s that sense of her being a stranger, unknown to her presumed uncles, herself a blank slate that she writes her own story on. She is, as far as we know, committing fraud and while that is a frightening experience for her, I could also imagine it being a freeing experience as well. To rewrite oneself, one’s past, one’s family.

I’m not saying I want to rewrite my family; only that I often imagine what families are like outside of what I know. Even as a kid, I would wonder what it was like to be that popular girl in my class, or the one who was taunted because her family was poor. Most often, how would I be different if I had grown up in a different family. Would I be different? People have always been objects of curiosity for me. That’s why I write and that’s why I read. For me, families are the stuff of stories.

I’m curious: How does family figure in your writing? Or do they?

Posted in Book Review, Reading | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Ambushed by Dead Sea Secrets #MondayBlogs #humor

The following post was originally written in February 2009 and published on this blog in March 2013. Since I’ve gained a few new followers since 2013, here it is again. .


I had just wanted to get some fresh air. I had been indoors, attending training and conference sessions, for almost five days straight. It was early December, in Atlanta, and dark after 5 pm. I just wanted some fresh air, but it was too dark to stroll around the hotel grounds, so I decided to risk the rush hour traffic and walk to the mall. Malls are supposed to be good walking places, or so I’ve been told, since I usually avoid malls. I’m a bit agoraphobic. I don’t like crowds, especially, the unorganized, almost zombie-like crowds of malls. But I wanted some fresh air, and to get out of my hotel room, and maybe, just maybe, buy myself a treat since I was feeling homesick and probably suffering from SADS.

I smiled easily at the shoppers I passed as I went through the glass entrance doors. I didn’t know anyone here. I could browse and stroll with a great cloak of anonymity. I turned a corner, looking straight ahead, wondering if the mall had a Barnes and Noble or a Borders, and was prepared to bulldoze myself through the opposing traffic of shopping zombies, when she caught my eye. A diminutive young woman dressed in a black long-sleeve sweater and tight black pants, slinked around a kiosk, calling out to me, “Have you heard of the Dead Sea salts?”

She had a thick accent, almost a caricature of the Jewish accent heard on sitcoms. I thought, “Seinfeld?,” and stopped as she cautiously touched my arm. She was smiling and holding a bottle of lotion. She went on about the Dead Sea, and its salts, and how this line of skin care was Oprah’s favorite. Did I know about the Dead Sea? I said yes, and felt myself pulled toward her kiosk, although she did not touch me. It was if the kiosk had caught me in its tractor beam, and I floated toward it, the young woman still talking about the miracle properties of the dead sea minerals.

She buffed the nail on my index finger, making it shine as if it had just been lacquered. I admit I was delighted. My nails are usually so dull, I said, and nail polish doesn’t stay on. She rubbed oil into my cuticles and admonished me to never use nail polish or to cut my cuticles, not even to push them back.

“That’s very unhealthy,” she said in a tone so serious that I wanted to laugh. We bantered about the cost of the nail care kit that she wanted to sell me. “How much is it,” I asked, with a smirk suggesting that I knew it would be too much. “A million dollars,” she said, “but, for you, forty dollars. It’s such a deal.” I grimaced. Fourteen dollars was more like it, I thought but didn’t say.

“Lemme show you something else. You will love this. All my clients love this.” She grabbed my hands, positioned them over a basin, and then spritzed them with water. “This is so wonderful. You will thank me for this.” She seemed genuinely excited and I wanted to be excited, too, but I could feel myself flag. It had been a long day, a long week, and I had only wanted to get some fresh air. She put a small scoop of oil and salts in my hands and told me to rub. A lemony scent drifted up to my nose, and the rubbing, the gritty, oily sensation, made me pine for my hotel room and the bath I could take if I could only get away from this tiny woman who had thrown a spell over me.

She was very close to me, her straight dark brown hair often brushing against my shoulders. Her movements were quick and sure, and I began to feel like a solid lump of dough next to her. She never stopped talking. She never stopped her spiel. She rinsed the oily salts off my hands and then applied a thick cream that made my skin feel smooth and plump and soft.

“And how much does this cost,” I asked in a monotone voice. She responded with her usual “A million dollars, but, for you …” She explained how she could give me her discount and that she would give me her phone number so I could always call her when I needed to order more.

“Don’t buy from online,” she said, shaking her finger at me. “It’s much more expensive online.” She turned her back to me, and I looked quickly around, wishing there were more people in the mall, wishing I could step back and disappear into a sea of people. She swung around, her large dark eyes filled with delight as she asked, “Do you use eye cream?”

Before I could answer, she was dabbing at the skin just around my right eye, telling me how thin the skin is there, how it needs to be pampered, how you should never rub that area, and how this miracle gel will make my wrinkles disappear. Then she grabbed a mirror, wanting me to see the difference between the skin of my right eye and my left eye.

What I saw made me want to weep. The wrinkles around my eyes were nothing compared to the pallor of my skin and the deep criss-cross of lines across my neck. I was 52 but I suddenly felt and looked much older. The woman prattled on, seemingly oblivious to the horror I felt at my reflection. She put the mirror down and began to stack little boxes next to the cash register, again saying what a good deal she would give me, how I will bless her for this in six weeks time. I was rooted to the spot and felt my only means of escape was to pay the woman.

Pay her whatever she wanted, pay her anything if she would just let me go. She handed me a receipt. Four hundred dollars. My price of freedom was four hundred dollars.

I managed to get back to my hotel room without being seen by any of my fellow conference goers. The bag handles left deep grooves in my pampered palms, and I felt so humiliated, so ashamed at spending so much on so little.

In my room, I laid out my goods on the bed, opened up my laptop, and waited for it to boot. When my browser was up and running, I typed “Dead Sea Secrets” into the Google search bar and began my quest. I hadn’t wanted any of this stuff. I had only wanted fresh air. But I needed to know if at least I had gotten a deal.

Posted in Memoir | Tagged , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Published (Again) and Procrastinating #MondayBlogs #procrastinating

As I mentioned some time ago (and where does the time go …), my little-short-story-that-could, “No More Tomorrows,” was being published again (be still my heart) by Z Publishing House in their new anthology America’s Emerging Writers. You can read my announcement here.

I love Z Publishing 🙂

Because the manuscript turned out longer than anticipated, the anthology for America’s Emerging Writers was broken into two volumes. My little-short-story-that-could is in Volume One. Below are the links to both volumes of America’s Emerging Writers. Consider purchasing one or both. They hold some seriously good writing.

Volume One on Amazon:

Volume One on our website:

Volume Two on Amazon:

Volume Two on our website:

So what I have been doing since receiving the kind of news that would make any other writer start submitting like crazy?

Not a whole lot.

I’ve been reading … books. I just finished Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. A sweet story. A little scary in some parts, but the kind of scary that makes you shiver and want to read more. And then I finished it and felt a little unsettled, the way I feel when I’ve finished a book by a “big” writer and am left wanting. I’m now in the middle of the latest installment of a long crime fiction series and experiencing hope and anxiety. Hope that the end of the novel will make me glad I persevered. Anxiety that it won’t and that I’ll be left musing about the contractual demands that some writers are expected to meet. A book a year. A book a year. Fail that and you have to pay back your advances. Publish before your book is truly ready for prime time, and you may lose your readers.

I’ve been knitting .. a lot. I recently finished a shawl for my sister (her third one from me, talk about being spoiled, but then she does live where they have snow and cold in the winter). Next up is a button-down shawl for myself (maybe),

a cashmere watch cap for my husband (belated birthday present and because it’s late, I’ll probably knit two although the second one will be in a merino-yak-alpaca yarn),

a lap blanket for my mom,

a sweater for a friend’s granddaughter (maybe … still haven’t settled on pattern or yarn).

Whenever I start knitting like this, I know I’m procrastinating, avoiding writing. Thankfully I’m still being productive, but not in words. Unless you count all the writing I do in my  head while I’m knitting.

Or walking. I’ve been walking a lot, trying to lose a bit of weight and burn off nervous energy. On my neighborhood walks, I’ve developed an acquaintance with a local resident.

My friend, a young red-tailed hawk making eye contact with me as if to say, “Go on, you. I’m scouting for squirrels.” Now I did zoom in with my iPhone camera but that utility line was maybe a few feet above me, fairly low for a hawk to be hanging out nonchalantly, surveying his kingdom. I walked for about forty-five minutes, looping around our few streets so I passed by him three times. Even as I headed home that evening, he was still out there, on the wire.

I like hawks. They keep the squirrel population in check.

I haven’t not been writing at all. I was in a seriously boring meeting the other day and took that opportunity to jot down some ideas for my WIP. Felt rather proud of myself, but I haven’t opened my journal since and it’s been over a week now.

I’ve also taken up studying Spanish through Duolingo and French through Babbel. More procrastination but, hey, I might die multilingual at this rate.

I have an essay that I fidget with every so often. But it’s a personal essay and why would anyone want to read a personal essay from me? That’s my problem with personal essays. I envy anyone whose personal essays are published and read and enjoyed, and yet somehow I don’t think I should write them. But I want to.

I also bought a kit to make trivets using hemp yarn and embroidery hoops.

Oh, and we have a new washing machine! The old one which wasn’t very old was leaking. Seriously leaking. We put a drip pan underneath it and sucked up water, trying to stave off the inevitable. I didn’t want to plunk down several hundred dollars for one of those fancy, digital, 300+ cycle machines.

I only need one cycle.

But the old machine just got worse even though my husband tried several times to fix it. And we couldn’t suck the water up properly so it was starting to seep into the back wall. One day while I was at work, dear husband got fed up and went to Home Depot and bought the least expensive, most efficient washing machine they had. I was so relieved he went without me. I hate shopping for appliances.

It took about three weeks to get it. My goal now is to use every one of those new-fangled cycles. It even has one for “Bedding.” I’m in love. So I’m doing a lot of laundry too.


How do you procrastinate? And do you feel guilty when you do? Or is it just part of the writing life?




Posted in Books | Tagged , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Little Short Story That Could #MondayBlogs #justwrite

My little story “No More Tomorrows” continues to surprise me. First that it was accepted at all by Z Publishing House for their Florida’s Emerging Writers series. Then that it earned two positive reviews by writers I deeply admired: Carrie Rubin and Luanne Castle .

Now it’s slated for another publication, again by Z Publishing House. A few days ago I received this email:

Hello Marie,

It is our pleasure to invite you to join our upcoming nationwide edition of the Emerging Writers series. Out of the more than 2,000 writers who were accepted into our 2018 Emerging Writers series, yours is one of 136 writings we would like to publish in the nationwide edition, America’s Emerging Writers: An Anthology of Fiction.

I had to give permission for the reprint. Ha ha ha … you know I didn’t have to think about that for long. You can count in seconds the time it took me to respond.

So I’m feeling grateful, thankful. The past two weeks has been difficult with one tragedy after another, some very close, some very far but just as heartbreaking. Although my little short story doesn’t change anything–it won’t bring back lives or restore homes–it is, for me, one tiny bright spot. “No More Tomorrows” comes from a place deep within me, a place I feel I can still touch although it no longer exists in the real world. It’s a reminder that sometimes I should just write.

But first let me thank you, my dearest writing community, my blogging friends who have been traveling with me on this weird-ass journey of writing, sharing our fears and joys, giving each other advice and propping up. As I’ve said before and will say again and again, I couldn’t, wouldn’t be writing without your support. So now I’ll …

Just. Write.


Posted in Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , | 24 Comments

Veterans Day 2018 #VeteransDay

To honor my many family members who have served in the military …

To honor my dear surrogate grandfather, Ted Albers (RIP), who was drafted into the Army at the age of 34, captured at the Battle of the Bulge, and held as a POW under the end of WWII …

To honor my husband, a Vietnam-era Navy veteran who flew in P3s looking for Russian submarines …

To honor them, I’ve made a donation to The New York Bar Foundation’s fundraiser to assist veterans in need of legal services (

Don’t just thank a veteran for his or her service. Hug them. Hold them close and tell them you love them. Support them. Make sure what they fought for is not denied to them.

Posted in Blogging | 9 Comments

Reaching for the Stars: Prose Poem? #MondayBlogs #yoga

I felt the staccato snap of each vertebrae in my spine as I lengthened and then twisted my torso in Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and wondered how much longer I could keep looking up at the ceiling before I lost all feeling in my neck.

The yogi urges me to take two more waves of breath and then release—slowly—back up to Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Two).


Then I am exhorted to drop my right arm down and behind, grazing the back of my left thigh with my hand, and lift my left arm, shining my heart to the ceiling for Reverse, or Proud, Warrior.

I inhale,

then exhale,

then inhale and slowly straighten my left leg for Stargazer, my favorite pose because it reminds of you.

I imagine us both reaching for the stars, me metaphorically and you literally with your fancy camera and telescope.

The shutter of your camera snaps in time with each of my vertebrae.


I wrote this a few years ago in an online poetry class. I don’t know what you call it, if it’s a poem or just a bunch of sentences. The form was originally one paragraph but I like this better. I was practicing yoga one night at a local studio and, yes, thinking about my husband who was out in the wilderness taking photos of the stars.

Posted in Poetry | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments


Warning: Strong language, grief and rage.

When you grow up in as large an extended family as mine (my mom was one of 12 children), tragedy and premature death is fairly commonplace. In no particular order:

  • A three-year-old cousin dies in an accident on the family farm.
  • A cousin and two of his friends drown in a canoeing accident; another cousin in the canoe (only about 10 years old) survives because a bystander was able to fish him out of the river. The collateral damage from this accident extends far and wide among my family and beyond.
  • An aunt dies of a heart attack while driving. She’s the first of the 12 siblings to die, but she was only in her 50s.
  • An elderly aunt is killed by a train as she crossed the tracks after picking up her mail.
  • A relative contracts rheumatic fever which weakens her heart. She’s told she should never have children when all she ever wanted was to have children.
  • Colon cancer ran amok through various aunts, uncles, and cousins for a time. Some survived, some didn’t.

With all these tragedies, guns were never involved.

I grew up in an area where guns were and still are plentiful because people like to hunt. I don’t like guns, never have, and they scare me because of their power to maim and kill. Yet, while I was growing up, it seemed that guns were only used for hunting or target practice or killing rats. They weren’t carried around like accessories. They weren’t valued for how many rounds they could fire off at a time. You can’t eat deer that’s riddled with bullets. My stepfather who liked to recall his hunting days before he became disabled scoffed at the idea that anyone would use an assault weapon to hunt deer. Simply put, he thought it was cheating. If you were a true hunter, he’d say, you’d try and level the playing field as best as you could. Of course, he was the kind of guy who would track deer for hours in the dark and cold and snow. And he would eat the deer because why else would you hunt?

Why am I writing all this?

Because for the first time in my life, I personally know someone who is dead because someone else took a gun and shot her.

Her name is Dr. Nancy Van Vessem. She was my primary physician from about 1994 to 2001. She was practicing yoga at a studio when she was shot and killed. She was only 61. I am only 61. Maura Binkley was also killed and she was only 21. Only. Twenty. One. Let that sink in.

Several others at the yoga studio were wounded.

Last night (Friday) we decided to watch the local news before going to bed. The first news story was of a shooting at a yoga studio. I practice at a yoga studio. The film footage showed a building with a long balcony. It looked similar to the building where I practice. It was several minutes before the reporters finally announced the studio name and location.

It wasn’t my studio. Of course, I was relieved. I had been sitting all those fucking long minutes running through the names of instructors who might have been teaching that night. But the relief wasn’t enough to keep me from shaking, from feeling shock settle in because the yoga community is a small one, and Tallahassee isn’t as big of a city as it likes to think, and I knew that somehow I was going to be connected to the dead and the wounded. I wasn’t going to be several degrees removed.

But when I saw the names in the paper this morning, when I saw Dr. Van Vessem’s name, when the memories of her treating me came flooding back …

I don’t want to get any closer than this. I don’t want the next cycle of violence to include one of my relatives or coworkers or close friends.



Damn it, people! Where do we draw the fucking line? I still don’t understand why the massacre of little children at Sandy Hook wasn’t a game changer. I still don’t understand why we didn’t rise up like Australia and say enough is enough. We’re better than this!

Sure, the shooting in Tallahassee last night was possibly a domestic issue (don’t you just love how violence against women is trivialized by the word “domestic”?). No doubt some will argue that we shouldn’t conflate a domestic shooting with shootings at the Tree of Life or Parkland or Sandy Hook.

Why the fuck not??

Tell me how one is worse than the other? People are dead. People who were just going about their business, going to pray, going to practice, going to school, for fuck’s sake.

How is it that a domestic incident is something we’re supposed to shrug off as if “that’s life. Just a crazy guy with a gun. Nothing you can do about that. Just move on and forget.”

We shouldn’t forget. We won’t forget.

What if we chose to not shrug it off? What if we, as a nation, said we were fucking sick and tired of anyone dying senselessly, prematurely, violently? What if we, as a nation, said we were fucking sick and tired of anyone who survives a shooting having to spend the rest of their lives possibly disabled, with PTSD, survivor’s guilt.

I want to have joy in my life. But, you know, it’s really hard when every day someone’s joy is ripped away from them because of gun violence. Yeah, gun violence. Some say guns don’t kill people. Guns are designed to kill people. That’s what they do. I’m not talking about the kind of guns that are used for the sole purpose of shooting game.

I’m talking about the kinds of guns that people buy for the sole purpose of shooting people. The people who claim it’s for self-defense. Right. So how do I protect myself from you?

How does a toddler protect himself when he finds his daddy’s gun in the glove compartment?

How does a 13-year-old sister protect herself when her 9-year-old brother shoots her dead because of a video game?

How much you wanna bet this lowlife obtained his gun legally? Florida is not a model state for gun laws. Our laws are too lax, have too many loopholes. People obtain guns in Florida and then use them to commit violence in other states that have stronger gun laws.

It’s supposed to feel good blowing off some steam, giving in to a rant. But I don’t feel good or even better than I did when I started writing. This post won’t bring people back to life.

That’s another aspect of our gun-loving nation that I don’t understand. When you shoot someone dead, that’s it. They’re gone and you can’t get them back, can’t turn back the clock, say it was all a misunderstanding, you didn’t really mean to kill them. The damage is done and it’s permanent. I’m not saying people aren’t killed by knives or other weapons. But there is a surety with guns, a confidence that guns will kill the most people most of the time. And that’s why they are used.

I want this to stop. I don’t want to live my life in constant fear because some people think their ownership of guns is more important than the lives lost because of guns.

Outside of my house, my yoga studio has been a sanctuary, a safe place for me and others. There, no one is judged and all are welcome. We honor the light we see in others as they honor the light they see in us.



Comments are closed because I want to grieve and not have to defend or reiterate what I’ve written here.

Posted in Gun Control | Tagged , , , ,

Views From the Road: The Kindness of Strangers #MondayBlogs #humanity

Here we are at long last. The finale. The End. If you’re just joining me, feel free to take a detour to my earlier posts about our trip to California and Nevada. The best way there is to visit my last post (just click here) and pick a link.

This is not going to be an easy post to write, but I have a story to tell. During our sojourn in Nevada, we had an experience that could have ended very badly. It didn’t because of the kindness of strangers.

Remember this lovely landscape?

This was once lakefront property!

Yes, it was once lakefront property, but it hasn’t been for thousands of years. The day we were here it was hot and dry. The air was so dry that when I slap a mosquito off the back of Greg’s leg, the blood dried on my fingers in seconds. Maybe even milliseconds. We had been guzzling water since we arrived in Nevada, yet we never felt hydrated. To protect my skin from the sun, I was wearing long sleeves and long pants. Greg was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. We were hot and thirsty, but we weren’t worried. We had plenty of water in the car.

As we left Grimes Point, we decided to pull over to the Petroglyphs Trail. It’s a nice spot with shaded picnic tables and a paved parking lot. We walked the short trail and then headed back to the car.

I had the car keys. I had driven us over from Grimes Point, all of one mile. I was feeling smug that I finally had had a turn at the wheel. We were fixing to leave and head back to Reno. I opened the truck of the rental car, ditching the bag in which I carried water. The keys were in my way. My pants pockets were a bit too snug and my red Baggalini waist pack was stuffed. I rested the keys in a groove on the inside of the trunk, at eye-level, and fussed with our stuff. Once satisfied I had made everything more neat and tidy, I closed the trunk. It popped open. Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was dehydration. Maybe it was just the “out-of-sorts” feeling I had had since arriving in Nevada. Whatever the reason, I lost my temper and pushed the lid down hard until it latched.

I reached for the keys and froze. The keys were in the trunk. I had just lock the keys in the trunk. I screamed. I tried to open the trunk with my fingers, hoping, praying that it hadn’t latched. But it had and I could sense it mocking me for being so dangerously stupid. I screamed again. Greg was walking toward me, not running because he could imagine what I was screaming about. I had locked us out of the car which held all our water and snacks, our jackets, his eyeglasses.

We were about 100 yards from Highway 50, the Loneliest Road in America. Now I was in shock. It was about 5 o’clock. I looked at my husband in his shorts and T-shirt and wondered how we could protect him from the sun which still bore down on us. How would we survive? We were out in the middle of nowhere, in an unforgiving arid landscape, several miles from Fallon. In another climate, we would have just started walking. In this climate, that wasn’t an option. Not without water.

Greg was all calm and reason. He didn’t scold me. He didn’t tell me I was stupid. I was already doing that anyway. He was confident that we’d be okay. First things first. Let’s see if we can hitch a ride to Fallon.

I know you’re wondering, why didn’t we just call for help? Remember how our cellphone service abruptly dropped when we were in Fallon? Apparently Fallon is Verizon country. No AT&T service. Nothing. Zip. Lesson learned: Always have a burner phone just in case.

We went out to the highway and Greg coached me on how to stand and hold out my thumb. Several people passed us. I lost hope very quickly. I didn’t think we looked like criminals, like a Bonnie and Clyde just waiting for some Good Samaritan that we could rob. But who picks up hitchhikers these days?

I was scared. What if nobody stopped? It was so hot and so dry. I have had heat exhaustion before, but I was more worried about Greg. He’s fit but he has a bad back and he wasn’t dressed for a cold night under the stars. And it would get cold.

After what seemed like an endless 20 minutes, a beat-up old truck with pine logs sticking out its backend slowed and pulled over. We ran … or rather trotted over. Greg got to the truck first and had explained our situation by the time I hobbled up. The driver, a middle-aged man with long wispy blond hair, welcomed us in. “You looked kind of desperate,” he said when Greg told him about all the other cars that had passed us by. I stayed quiet, trying to keep down  the panic that still filled my chest. Greg made small talk with the driver, discussing how Fallon had changed over the years, the Fallon Naval Base, planes. I missed most of their conversation, too preoccupied with what we would do next. Also, thanks to my overactive imagination and steady diet of horror stories and crime novels, I worried that the driver might be an incarnation of Ed Gein … except he seemed too friendly and laid back to be a serial killer. Then again, so was Ted Bundy. But Ted Bundy was handsome and our driver had seen better days. But I digress.

The driver suggested we either go to the Sheriff’s Office or the Fire Department. He dropped us off on Main Street and wished us luck. We were effusive with our thanks, and I imagine he would enjoy telling his friends about the two senior citizens he had picked up.

We set out for the Sheriff’s Office. We walked and walked. We found a building where the Sheriff’s Office had been and were directed by a sign to another address. We were disoriented and found it difficult to navigate the streets. Finally we turned a corner and saw a group of law enforcement vehicles. Then Greg confessed that he didn’t really want to go to the Sheriff’s Office, didn’t want to get law enforcement involved. Better to leave them as a last resort.

Across the street we saw fire trucks. Bingo! Just as we turned another corner to find an entrance, a siren went off. A door opened and a group of rather fit and handsome men filed out in a hurry. We ignored them and they ignored us and as the last men left, Greg managed to grab the door. We slipped in, hoping someone was still inside. No one. Zip.

I hustled back outside. I started calling to the men who were now suited up and coming back to get into their fire trucks, Greg behind me saying it was too late. At first I thought they were ignoring me when one (the most handsome guy … all chiseled chin, tanned and blue eyes) came out and said, “Can I help you, ma’am?” Greg explained our situation and when he said our car was at Grimes Point, the young man winced. “We’ve got a call. We have to go, but I’ll let you inside. One of the guys in there will help you.” We thanked him, got back into the building where at least it was cool and there was somewhat potable water, and waited.

I searched the building, hoping I’d find someone, anyone, but it was vacant. Apparently everyone had responded to the siren. I used the women’s rest room more than I needed to . . . just in case.

We debated waiting at the station versus going back out to look for a phone. Greg wanted to find the CVS, confident that they would sell Tracfones. There were no landlines in the fire station that we could find. One of the fireman had left his cellphone behind, but we didn’t want to touch it. We wanted our own phone. Greg suggested that I wait at the fire station while he went in search of a cell phone. I nixed that. No way was I going to let him out of my sight.

We set off, figuring that we could always come back to the fire station.

We found the CVS. They don’t sell phones. The young woman at the counter began to list all the other stores that did sell phones when I interrupted her. “We don’t have a car. Our car is locked at Grimes Point. We need a way to call for help.” I spied a landline near her. “Can we use your phone?”

For the next 45 minutes, Greg worked with a roadside assistance service. We had gotten the 800 number from a sticker on the back of the car. My heart lifted when Greg turned to me and said it sounded like they could find someone local to unlock our car. I almost broke down when he said, “He can be here in 10 minutes.”

We agreed to all the fees, understanding we would be set back by a couple of hundred dollars. Considering the alternative–breaking a car window–it was a small price.

While we waited, Greg cautioned me that the tow truck driver might not want to take both of us, in which case I’d have to wait for him at the CVS. I agreed but knew that I’d hang onto the back of the vehicle if I needed to in order to stay together. In less than 10 minutes, the tow truck driver arrived. He was cautious, even slightly suspicious, but when Greg agreed to all the costs, he let us both in.

On the ride to Grimes Point, my husband made small talk with John (at least we got his name). I even chimed in a couple of times. John was full of stories. Back in his late 20s, he was looking forward to a great military career when he was hit by a drunk driver and left paralyzed for a long time. No one thought he would ever walk again, but look at him now, 30-some years later and he’s doing just fine. He told stories about picking up “burners” (attendees at Burning Man) that made my stomach flipped. I wish I could remember more detail, but I was singularly focused on getting into the damn rental car.

We got to the car and John gave us a lesson on how to properly break into a vehicle without scratching the paint. He popped the door open, Greg found the release button for the trunk, and the trunk lid popped and lifted. I ran to the trunk, found the keys right where I can put them, and clasped them to my chest. I looked up and there was John, backlit by his headlights, his head thrown back as he laughed with joy at me hugging the keys.

You all can imagine how the rest of the night went. We thanked John, Greg slipped him a tip. We got back to Reno about 10 pm, split a bottle of wine, and made a small meal of cheese and bread. I cried, finally able to release the fear I had felt.

We were very lucky and trust that, in the future, we’ll at least check for cellphone coverage when we go to places unknown.

The silver lining of this experience was how complete strangers were willing to help us. The truck driver who thought we “looked kind of desperate” and gave us a lift into town. The women at the CVS who let us use their phone. John who could have blown us off or charged us a hell of a lot more than he did. I know that being white and (relatively) old worked in our favor. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe there are people out there who just see that you’re kind of desperate and need help and so they help. Without question. Without judgment.

I know there’s bad people in the world. I might even live next to one or two. But there are good people, and Greg and I met four of them that night in Nevada.

Thank you for reading this story. As a reward, here’s a time lapse of the Milky Way over Lake Tahoe, courtesy of my fit and handsome husband.


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You asked for it: Yesterday Road now available in paperback!

This is the kind of news flash I like to see! Kevin Brennan’s Yesterday Road is now available as a paperback! Yesterday Road is where I fell in love with Kevin’s writing. For a hint as to why I fell in love with his writing, read my review: But even better than that, read Yesterday Road for yourself:
You’re welcome, readers 🙂


Yes, I’m delighted to announce that you can now display Yesterday Road, my first indie novel, on your bookshelf. Check out the paperback edition over at Amazon.

When I first decided to dabble in self-publishing, I decided to go strictly ebook. Just testing the waters. And it worked well for Yesterday Road, because I could focus on the ebook in terms of marketing and building my so-called brand. It helped me learn the ropes. I was glad I did it that way, because I was pretty intimidated by the whole thing, and keeping it as simple as I could made it all seem doable.

For my next two books, though–Occasional Soulmates and Town Father–I went ahead and had paperbacks made. Both of them turned out beautifully, thanks to covers and interior design done by the incomparable Max Scratchmann, Edinburgh’s favorite idiosyncratic artist and guerrilla poet…

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Views From the Road: Grimes Point and Petroglyphs #MondayBlogs #Nevada

Well, we’ve finally arrived at the penultimate post on our trip to California and Nevada. If you need to catch up (and it won’t be for the faint of heart), you can begin here with The Devil’s Slide and Mussel Rock, then take a drive up to Mt Hamilton and the Lick Observatory, come back to the bay and spend some time at the beaches, and then you’re off to Reno, Nevada. Last week we spent a bit of time at the W.M. Keck Earth Science and Mineral Engineering Museum among other places.

Today we are going to Grimes Point via Virginia City. We had originally set out to go to Carson City and from there to Grimes Point. Once we got out of Reno, my husband (who was as usual at the steering wheel) decided to do a little exploring first. We picked up Highway 50 and drove a little ways when he said, “Let’s go to Virginia City.” So we did.

Virginia City is an interesting town, definitely catering to tourists but with some nice local establishments. Like this place where we ate lunch and enjoyed some ice cream.

I suspect if we lived in Virginia City, we’d be at The Roasting House a lot. Our sandwiches were delicious, the ice cream (Maple Pecan) was yummy and the service was great.

And though there was the tourist element, it was fun checking out the old brick buildings and looking (as always) at mineral and fossil displays.

The day was getting on so we finally tore ourselves away from Virginia City and headed to Highway 50. Even though in previous posts, I’ve complained (and complained) about the heat and aridness of Nevada, I find the landscape to be peculiarly appealing to me.

Heading out of Virginia City

Twisty, winding roads always make me a bit nervous, both as a driver and a passenger; however, my husband recommended an app for my iPhone called Hyperlapse which I decided to try out. Heh heh heh. Even though we were going much slower than suggested in the video, the time lapse does capture how I felt.

Well, soon after that fun ride we found ourselves in Fallon, Nevada. I’ve never been to Fallon but Greg had often been there for work. About 30 years ago. It’s changed a bit since then. Lots of casinos where there once were none. Schools were letting out and the traffic was godawful. We both get tense in traffic congestion, especially in unfamiliar places so we stopped at a CVS to get our bearings and some eye drops for Greg. It was at the CVS when we realized that we no longer had cellphone service. None. Zip.

We got back on Hwy 50 and the hell out of town. Our moods lifted as the highway became less populated.

We finally made it to Grimes Point, about a mile down a rocky dirt road past the Petroglyphs Trail. Amazing to think that this area was once filled with water.

And that my husband allowed me to keep him in the video. Will wonders never cease. Of course, as he already knew, he was in shadow so, yeah, you can’t pick him out of a lineup.

The following slideshow is a mashup of both Grimes Point and the Petroglyphs Trail. Both areas have petroglyphs (duh), but the Petroglyphs Trail is located nearest Hwy 50 off a paved section of road. The importance of these details will be evident in my last Views From the Road post. For now, enjoy the slideshow, and thanks for coming this far with me.

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