Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Whew, What A Year!

I'm sitting in the quiet lull of Christmas Eve, in that golden hour between finishing the dinner dishes and leaving for a late-night candlelight service at church. My husband is comfy in his chair, the dogs are asleep, and the kids are upstairs building the mother of all forts in the game room.

All is well in our house this holiday season.

But beneath my content runs the cold undercurrent of understanding how fast life can change. For proof, I need only remember the gathering we attended today where three of our immediate family members were fighting cancer--the youngest barely thirty years old.

My mom lives two thousand miles away. Last week when I hugged her I was stunned by how small she's become. She's facing a daunting life change, and it scares her. I can't do anything to halt the change. All I can do is put my arms around her and say, "We've got you, Mom. Whatever happens, we'll make sure you're okay."

In a few hours we'll open jammies and drink hot chocolate and say goodnight. But my beautiful kids are growing older, and the days of wondering when Santa will come have been replaced by teenage humor and tempered expectations.

The only constant in life is change. Part of my appreciation for this holiday comes from knowing it'll be the only Christmas 2014 I'll ever experience.

Wherever you are tonight, whatever emotional place or geography or stage of life you find yourself in, I wish you a peaceful Christmas Eve surrounded by those you love.



Saturday, July 5, 2014

What Stories Do We Tell Ourselves?

This is a post I found on Tumblr about the subconscious stories we make up about people based solely on factors like race and gender. It's eye-opening (and depressing, and a little scary...)

Oh yeah, and Happy Fourth of July!


Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: Wolverine Bros. Freight and Storage

Wolverine Bros. Freight & Storage: A Conway Sax MysteryWolverine Bros. Freight & Storage: A Conway Sax Mystery by Steve Ulfelder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Conway Sax is a complex character, and this book shows him at his brutal best.

When his friend and fellow barnburner, Eudora Spoon, asks Conway Sax to go to California and rescue her son, he can't say no. The book opens with a scene worthy of Richard Stark's Parker series--and includes Sax hefting a buck-naked Kenny over his shoulder and walking out of a gang hideout.

This is the fourth book in the series, and in my opinion, the most straightforward, enjoyable read. The first, Purgatory Chasm, was a heartbreaker. But I like Sax better now that he's come to terms with his core failures as a human. He sucks at relationships, but he's great at breaking heads.

As with his previous books, this author's writing has a throwback feel reminiscent of the best Noir writers of the fifties and sixties. This character is old school; a retired race car driver and recovering alcoholic with a destructive streak.

I dare you to read the first page and stop. If you're like me, you'll look up four hours later and wonder what happened to your afternoon.

Cheers...and Happy Reading!

T.D. Hart

View all my reviews

Monday, May 5, 2014

Baton Blog Hop

My plotting friend and partner-in-mischief, Rhenna Morgan, tapped me for what she calls a Baton Blog Hop: basically a game of tag for writers. The idea is to answer four questions about your writing, then tag another fool author to do the same.

But first you need to know about Rhenna Morgan and why you need to go--right this minute--to her blog and bookmark it as a must-read.

The first time I met Rhenna, she was fresh off a wild night with Nickelback. Since I have an honest-to-God picture of me with the band (fifteen seconds of ecstasy that cost more than I'll ever admit) I was sure I'd met a kindred spirit.

I'm certain the first words out of her mouth were irreverent and funny, though I don't recall what they were. I do remember hearing about the fantasy she was writing (her first) and thinking, "Damn, I wish my first story had been that good."

Turns out I have very good taste. Last week, Rhenna sold UNEXPECTED EDEN to a major freaking publisher--and they want to see the next two in the series. So if you're into fantasy with a hot streak of romance (you'll need a cigarette afterward, believe me) watch for the release of UNEXPECTED EDEN in December.

Now for the questions:

What am I working on?

Right now I'm finishing revisions (for the third time? Fourth?) on a Noir Mystery about a San Diego homicide detective who investigates the murder of a rock star she had a crush on as a teenager. Seventeen years ago my character's sister disappeared from a crowded beach, and the singer's voice was literally ringing through her speakers the moment she realized her sister was gone.

The working title is LIFE FOR A LIFE.

Next up is a thriller about a young man whose father died in prison after embezzling forty million dollars from the mob. The FBI thinks my character has the money. So does the mob...and they want it back.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Noir is making a comeback and there are some amazing writers out there right now. But if I had to point out differences, I'd say my work focuses on character more than some.

When I'm planning a story I imagine the protagonist first--who he is at his core, what emotional baggage he carries--then plunk him down in a terrible situation and see what happens.

That's why I loved HBO's TRUE DETECTIVE. Those guys would be interesting no matter what crime they solved.

Why do I write what I do?

Noir is all about redemption. Take the film Casablanca. Rick is a selfish, fucked-up drunk who gives up the only woman he's ever loved to help defeat the Nazis (and save her husband's life). Having more than a passing experience with those character defects, I'm drawn to the idea of using bad for good.

Also, I have weird ideas about what constitutes "Happily Ever After."

How does my writing process work?

I'm still refining it. My first book took foreeeeevvverrr. I knew if I wanted to do this for a living I needed a better protocol.

I tried Napoleon's strategy on the second (show up and see what happens--also known as 'pantsing') and still wasn't happy with the time from start to finish. I outlined my third, and the rough draft took about half as long as previous books. So I guess I'm a 'plotter,' though my characters like to deviate from the freakin' plan at the least convenient times.

That's the cool part, though--when you're writing according to your perfect little outline and your character does or says something you didn't expect.

Another neat addition this year is that I began working with Ed Stackler, editor for the incredible Greg Iles, whose book NATCHEZ BURNING is winning rave reviews. Ed has a way of drilling down to what's important. When you know your characters and the obstacles they're facing, writing what happens next is easy (Ha!)

Well, that's it. I'm going to tag two of my favorite writers, Mary McIntyre Coley and Jackie King. Hopefully next week you'll learn how these lovely ladies construct their novels of suspense!

Cheers...and Happy Writing!


Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Valiant Legacy

The other day, my friend Mark Darrah showed me a piece he'd written for Tortoise Tracts, an occasional publication dedicated to discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

As a side note, like Mark, I took Oklahoma History, graduated from high school in Moore, OK, and attended eight years of college at Oklahoma State University. The first time I heard about the race riot was during the reconciliation meetings in Tulsa a few years ago.



In June, 1921, Tulsa's Greenwood District was burned to the ground by an angry white mob. The caption on the photo says it all:

Mt. Zion Baptist Church engulfed in flames:

Mt. Zion Baptist Church, aftermath: 

Tortoise Tracts
Vol. 10, Issue 1 February, 2014 © Mark S. Darrah

A Valiant Legacy

The year is 1966. May. The place: Taft Junior High School in Oklahoma City. The seventh grade social studies teacher has spent the first two-thirds of the hour talking about Communists. Then, she says, "And we have Communists right here in Oklahoma City..."And she lambasts as Communists a group of ministers who have signed and presented a petition to the local school board demanding respect for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting children from being forced to say government required prayers in public schools. 

The filing of the petition made the headlines of the front page of The Daily Oklahoman. The Court's ruling had already been demonized by its shorthand summarization as "prohibiting prayer in school." In this Cold War time, when billboards read "Impeach Earl Warren," this act of courage by this small group of ministers constituted for many --the social studies teacher included --not only apostasy but also treason.

At the end of the hour, a seventh grade boy walked to the front of the room, looked the teacher in the eye, and said, "My father signed that petition and he's not a Communist." He turned and left.

The boy's father was reprimanded. He lost his church. His family was uprooted from their home. This father was by no means a radical. He had voted for Richard Nixon in the 1960 presidential election. He worked hard, paid his bills, tried to be a good citizen. He simply believed that compulsory prayer is no prayer at all, that prayers required by the government profane the sacred.

Later in his new residence as his family mourned the loss of familiar surroundings and friends, that father sat in the dark and wondered whether he had done the right thing.

"The building had just been completed the month before," my friend Dean says. He and I stand on the bottom floor of the Mount Zion Baptist Church in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. "The church had taken out a loan to build it and then it all went up in flames except this basement. Let me show you something.” Dean leads me into a recessed area and he points to black scars on cement walls. "You can still see where the fires burned. The insurances wouldn't pay because they said it was caused by a riot and they didn't have to. The church members met in this basement for years until they were able to pay off the debt and build another building."

Like other public school students of my generation, I had to take Oklahoma history in eighth grade. My textbook had been silent about this. The most devastating racial violence in American history had taken place within walking distance of where my junior high school teacher taught a saccharine version of my state's past.

That official story also left out the chapter on the Ku Klux Klan's domination of my state in the 1920's. During this decade, the KKK was strong not only in South, but also in the Midwest where it had the largest number of members. It was vigorously anti-Catholic, anti-African American, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant. According to its literature of the day, this secret society of self-proclaimed knights was committed to protecting the "purity of white womanhood" and to organizing "the patriotic sentiment of native-born white, Protestant Americans for the defense of distinctively American institutions."

The Klan recruited heavily from white Protestant churches and fraternal orders such as the Freemasons and the Knights of Pythias. Over thirty-five thousand people attended a Klan induction in Oklahoma City in 1922. One year in the 1920's, all five candidates for Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives were members of the KKK. Church ladies formed auxiliaries to restore and preserve "traditional values and morality" and to support their husbands' nocturnal commissions.

Klan members, disguised in white robes and hoods as the ghosts of the Confederate dead, abducted and physically punished those whom they believed engaged in public indecency, drug use, immoral behavior, wife beating, bootlegging, and other assorted sins. In Oklahoma, martial law was declared to stop the Klan's vigilante beatings, whippings, and castrations.

In the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, thirty-five square blocks of the African-American community were destroyed, over 100 people were killed, and an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, the result of white mob violence. The governor who declared martial law was immediately impeached.


When I wrote a family history for a college class in the 1970's, I asked my living grandmothers and grandfather this question: What was the most significant event of your lifetime?

Each answered: World War I.

Each thought this war had forever corrupted the morals of the country.

These days, my sister, brother, and I go through family heirlooms accumulated by my parents and their parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Many were Masons and members of Eastern Star. All were devout white Protestant Oklahoma Christians.

I wonder how close I got to touching the robes of the Ku Klux Klan.


I remember a discussion I had with my grandfather during the latter years of his life. He had come of age in the Oklahoma of the 1920's and had political ambitions like his father before him. By the time of our talk, Grandpa had had a stroke. He didn't get animated much anymore, but when I asked him whether he had any dealings with the KKK, he lurched forward and said, "They were all a bunch of cowards. They tried to get me to join. I told them I wouldn't have anything to do with them."

The wonderful thing about learning is that you deprive no one else by taking what you learn. The wonderful thing about teaching is that you don't lose what you give away. Teaching is also the only gift you can give that lives into eternity. Something you teach becomes another's who teaches it to another and to another, and on and on and on.

You see, my grandfather had a son who signed a petition demanding that the Oklahoma City School Board respect the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court prohibiting government-mandated prayer in school. And that son was a minister, who was reprimanded, who lost his church, whose family was uprooted, who later sat in the dark and wondered whether he had done the right thing. But let me ask you today, would my brother --that seventh grade boy who told his teacher that his father was not a Communist --have had the courage to do so had he not been taught by example?

From The State Sentinel (Stigler, Ok), Oct. 5, 1922

Keota, Okla. Oct. 5 – 
Last Tuesday night The Keota Knights of the Ku Klux Klan held a meeting west of Keota and a class of twenty-one were initiated. Out of these twenty-one, eighteen were farmers and the other three laboring men. There is some propaganda going over the county that nobody but "high-collared" men can belong to the organization. This is absolutely false.

Tortoise Tracts
Tulsa, Oklahoma 74114

Keep your eyes open for the publication of Mark Darrah's upcoming collection of personal commentaries A Catalogue of Common People.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When You Say Yes to One Thing...

...You're saying no to something else.

Easy concept, right? So why has it taken me darned near fifty years to figure it out?

We're looking at moving to a better school district for our kids. Problem is, I really enjoy my corner of the planet: The Writer's Barn, my garden, my manicured horse pastures and lawn. Yes, we're fifteen miles from decent shopping and forty minutes away from my middle kid's school. But it's quiet out here. In the spring, we're visited by rabbits, bobcats, and the occasional deer. In Summer, we sit on our back patio every evening and watch fireflies while our kids prowl the woods behind our property. Every Fall, I mulch my garden and vow to do a better job pulling weeds next season.

So why do I bitch--daily--about the drive?

Maybe because I haven't truly grasped the concept that when I say yes to one thing, I'm voluntarily saying no to something else.

For a control freak like me, taking ANY option off the table is the worst kind of torture. I hate to hear no, and my coping mechanism is to 'find a way,' which works about a well as you'd expect.

For example, when we built this house, I didn't want to waste money on rent. We sold our house in town, I found an RV, and for eight months we camped; me, my husband, our infant son, and our seventy-pound dog. But RVs decline in value. Propane is expensive. And weathering an Oklahoma storm season in a fifth-wheel trailer with a baby and a thunder-shy Doberman will cure you of the camping bug. Forever.

But I face the same problem with every situation. When I decide to write a thriller about the guy whose former girlfriend wants him to help find her low-life husband, I'm saying no the other dozen stories residing in my outlines folder.

When I say yes to being out of debt, I'm saying no to a new car, and when I say yes to a writing retreat, I'm saying no to being debt-free sooner. When I say yes to living in the country, I'm saying no to low gas bills and short drive times and great schools.

In the end, if I wind up saying yes to city living, it means saying no to The Writer's Barn, to my garden and visiting wildlife; saying no to my manicured horse pastures and lawns, to my fireflies and peaceful mornings. It means saying no to rototilling, to watching my tulips bloom, to harvesting peaches from the trees I've planted. And that makes me sad.

So, I suspect this will be a year of Trying to Find A Way. This time I plan to do better with praying for help, trusting the universe, and accepting the results.

Hopefully my solution won't involve anything that remotely resembles camping.

Cheers...and Happy Writing!