TREATS OR TRICKS? SCARY HALLOWEEN-TYPE ASSUMPTIONS

There was a time after my kids reached legal adulthood when I greeted Halloween with a sigh of relief. No longer did I need to hustle creative juices, time, and money to try to outdo other moms and grandmas in costuming little ones, but also I was relieved from guard duty over teen hijinks like t.p.ing neighbors’ houses or underage drinking. In those days, my eyes used to achieve maximum blurriness when I paced the floor and watched the clock in trepidation.

But after that early epoch, as I attempted to sink into a cathartic calm of middle age, an adventurous friend appeared on my doorstep one October 31. I forget how old she and I were, but I’m sure in the range of 40. Neither of us had been invited to an adult Halloween party, the type featuring hard liquor and harder attempts by married folks to connect with a “swinging” temporary partner. She, however, was rarin’ to go out on monkey business.

Her idea—cobble together a costume out of whatever we could lay our hands on and try to pass ourselves off as children to our friends and neighbors. What astonishment we’d create when we revealed ourselves.

Since we both are short, barely breaking five feet, we weren’t much bigger than the early teen rabble-rousers we saw coming to the door during the evening’s later hours. She’d supplied herself with charcoal and eyeshadow so we could disguise our faces as well as dressing herself in a wig, and shabby old clothes she’d retrieved from discards in the closet. I raided my husband’s stock of outdated outfits, we smudged coloring on our jaws like five o’clock shadow and around our eyes like weary laborers, and off we went.

In front of the stop, we paused to plot. We agreed to slump and hunch a bit and pull our hats down. We figured we resembled 13-year-old boys dressed as bums. I still doubted we’d fool anyone, but I beat on the door, mumbled “Trick or treat,” and held out a bag. She did the same, but she disguised her voice better than I.

Our friend, who was also a neighbor and whom we saw almost every day, didn’t bat an eye. She hauled out the candy, loaded our bags (it was late in the evening, so she had a lot to get rid of), chatted a bit about Halloween mischief, and escorted us to the exit. That’s when we revealed our true persona. We’d buffaloed her completely.Halloween 

And so it went at each of the half-dozen or so homes we visited. We hoodwinked every single person, and we gathered a load of sweets that I did not share with my family later. I’d worked too hard for my booty.

In addition to being a fun anecdote for my personal history, our little adventure convinced me that people see what they want to see, not what’s really there. I don’t think our costumes and makeup were particularly artistic, but not a soul really looked at US.

Since that time I’m never surprised if a homeowner shoots his own child during the night, thinking he’s battling a thief; or if a policeman guns down a dark fuzzy character figuring he’s stopping a murderer; or if a hit-and-run driver flees the scene assuming he’s collided with a squirrel or cardboard box.

In these days of “rush-to-judgment,” whether that’s the perpetrator responsible for the violence or the ever-disapproving public judging it, it’s waaaay too easy to make accusations or even take action based on unfounded assumptions. Let’s think a little before we do so. A teacher once told me, “Never assume, it makes an ass of u and me.” Something to consider.

 

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LESSONS LEARNED TOO LATE IN LIFE

        In the here and now, time confuses me. It seems to creep by in the here-and-now, while the past flies in my memory.

A trip to Pennsylvania pushed this thought to my mind. There the back roads meander through well cultivated fields while tidy historic homes and moderate suburban housing developments break the monotony of greenery. If I recall, the Pennsylvania landscape, the environment, is the product of only about 300 years of man’s presence.

Then I remember I’m connected to five generations myself. My grandfather was born in 1897, my younger grandson in 2011. That’s more than a century, the equivalent of five sets of generations in this amount of time. So a relatively small number of generations separate me from the beginnings of contemporary civilization in this country. Time doesn’t just fly, it zooms.

The strange juxtaposition in my thoughts comes from thinking how I’ve missed my opportunity to gain information about my family.

I knew my father had lots of stories because he told us some of them. One frequent narration concerned his hanging on to backs of trucks to joy-ride when only three. What I don’t know, because I never asked, were details like: was he with a brother? Did his parents find out? Was he punished?. Most likely. I think perhaps he was very like my second grandson. Always ready to try something risky, always laughing with a full body guffaw. I remember my dad this way in my childhood but not after I grew up. Then he seemed gruff, even angry. After seven children, a divorce, the rebellions of those children, the failure of a business, he surely had enough reasons to be frustrated and angry. But why didn’t I ask more questions when he was still here? Now I never can capture these details or get to know him as a person, not a father. This is my first lesson learned too late in life.

Then I think about our country. Three hundred years ago, pristine waters and air, burgeoning plants and animal life crowded the continent. Of course if we’d halted any development at that stage, I wouldn’t be here. But comparing my idyllic view of the past with the crowded, frantic, even destructive landscape I see now, I shudder for our future.

In one area of Pennsylvania, a pipeline has been proposed to carry high-pressure natural gas. This development would go near lots of residents and businesses. According to a homeowner, there are no methods available to individuals or local government to question the proposal or insist on safeguards. Once the pipeline’s in place, like any other creation, it might be destroyed or explode, endangering locals.

This isn’t a fantasy. In Colorado, just last year a house explosion killed two. This was caused by odorless gas seeping from a cut-off underground pipeline into the house through French drains and a sump pit. The pipeline was too close and not regulated enough to prevent the accident and subsequent needless deaths. New legislation will, I hope, rectify the situation. Too little, too late.

Is this the case in Pennsylvania example, too? I don’t know. All I know is that some opportunities don’t reoccur. Over and over and over we’re told development and growth are “progress.” We’re told we must sacrifice landscape, native flora and fauna, even human safety for improvement. In less than 250 years, since the establishment of the U.S., we have managed to make human presence felt everywhere

Is continuing in this manner wise? Will this become another lesson learned too late in life?

THE DANGER OF PRECOGNITION: when a nightmare becomes real

I’ve always wished I possessed extrasensory perception. I was particularly keen to have telepathy or teleportation, to read people’s minds or instantaneously transport myself across miles. Alas, this was not to be, despite hours wasted focusing with all my might, eyes clenched closed, on the feat.

I recently realized, however, that I may have experienced precognition all unaware. Because the incident happened years ago when I was a child, and fulfillment of its prediction didn’t occur until recently, I failed to recognize the episode for what it was.

When I was about thirteen, I had a particularly vivid dream. In it I was sitting in the driver’s seat of a car next to another person. We weren’t driving, not surprising since at the time I didn’t know how to. We could see through the windshield, however, and the sight amazed and terrified us. While inside the vehicle we couldn’t move, experiencing a paralysis, outside the world continued to function. In fact we were passing through time, years, and the landscape flashed by in fast-motion. We sat frozen as we saw empty prairies become layered with streets, then housing developments, then business buildings, finally skyscrapers reaching up to the heavens. A sense of horror, terror, seized me. More than anything, I wanted to break loose of my immobility to escape.

There was no resolution to the dream. I woke and retained the general impression for years. In fact it inspired in a convoluted way a still-to-be-published novel.

More than that, it laid the groundwork for a continuing nightmare in my mind, one that appears to be taking shape in my hometown and nearly everywhere across the nation. With what appears to be a great deal of pride, the Denver Post reports Denver’s City Council is set to approve planning for huge development smack in the middle of what now is an amusement park and a sports arena.  A massive tsunami of thousands of people to live and work there, crowding our streets, putting pressure on urban design which even now resembles solid blocks of ugly, depressing architecture.

I fear in the not-too-distant future, the entire country will resemble the horrendous developments of southern California and the megalopolis of the East Coast. This is no way for humans to live, not if they wish to encourage decent relationships and positive lifestyles for all. Surely no one, not even the perpetrators of the rude, violent, threatening behavior that accompanies modern conditions, would willingly accept this horror. If you’ve ever been on a New York subway in rush hour or in front of the Colorado state capitol where a park has been laid waste by trash, human excrement, foul language and behavior, you know what I mean. In our mad rush to equate constant growth with “progress,” we’re laying waste to ourselves, our culture.

Somehow all those years ago, my unconscious must have received the information about the impending tragedy. So I obtained my goal of achieving precognition, to my sorrow.

The Writer’s Gift: Guest appearance by author Mary Cunningham

I still remember my third grade teacher giving me one last piece of advice before summer vacation. “Mary, whatever you do, don’t stop writing.” I wasn’t sure, then, what she meant. Had I been writing in third grade? What made her think I should keep writing?

Finally it hit me, and sure enough, forty-some-odd years later, my first book was published. I’m a slow learner.

During those “between” years I read and I read. I’ll never forget the summer I discovered sports biographies. A whole set of them! Probably due to my yet-to-be-discovered OCD, I read them in order – A-Z.

I tore through the biographies in record time. Patty Berg, Jim Brown, Althea Gibson, Pancho Gonzales, Byron Nelson, Warren Spahn. Each book put me into the game, the match, the tournament. I was there swinging a golf club with Patty Berg or running for a touchdown with Jim Brown. Then, the unbelievable happened. I finished Babe Didrikson Zaharias. Finished. Caput. A through Z. There were no more. I was crushed.

I muddled along reading Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and then got bored with the writing and storylines I considered beneath my reading and comprehension level.

As luck would have it, around that time my aunt replaced the ancient librarian (Miss Georgia Stockslaver – yes, that was her real name!) who had been in her position for, oh, around 108 years, give or take a few. What a refreshing change! Nothing against Miss Georgia, but she single-handedly destroyed my older brother’s love of reading. It was the summer after his fourth-grade school year. He took “The Bears of Blue River” to the front desk to check it out. Miss Georgia wouldn’t let him read it. “This is a Fifth Grade book. You’ll have to wait until you’re in the fifth grade!” It was late July, just over a month away from the start of his fifth-grade year. My brother, who had a bit of a stubborn streak, left the library and to my knowledge, never returned.

Back to my reading boredom. Between my eight grade and freshman year, the new librarian, my beloved Aunt Gertrude, began setting books aside she thought I’d enjoy reading. Knowing my love of time travel and science fiction, she suggested H. G. Wells. I imagined flying on rocket ships to the moon and, especially, taking a time machine that could send me any place my heart desired in history or the future. This book, no doubt, led to my 5-book middle-grade time-travel series, Cynthia’s Attic.

Slowly, but surely, my love of reading gravitated to writing, thanks to my dad. My first appreciation for his writing began to grow when I’d go with him to do interviews for his daily human interest column for the Courier-Journal. I’d listen to his subjects talk about their lives, their work, their interests and they didn’t seem all that interesting to me. The questions and, especially, the long-drawn out answers made no sense. How could anyone put a cohesive story together from this mish-mash of material.

But as Dad formed stories from information he’d gathered on his notepad, (That was before tape recorders became small and manageable), then spend hours editing before he submitted it to the newspaper editor, I discovered a writer’s true gift: To pull out words, sentences, and paragraphs from rambling statements and situations, and make them interesting and exciting. My dad had that ability to write characters and scenes that just jumped off the page and grabbed the reader. I aspire to that.

As writers, we love our writing, don’t we? Nothing makes us happier than to write a line of poetry or prose, sit back and say, “Wow! That’s good!” A few years back I had the honor of listening to Georgia author, Terry Kay, give a keynote address and something he said has stayed with me ever since. I’m paraphrasing here. He might’ve used a bit saltier language: “I don’t care how your writing makes you feel. All that matters is how it makes the reader feel.”

If you’re a writer and would like to be remembered, the most important advice is to make your readers feel something.

 

MARGARITAS, MAYHEM & MURDER: Mayhem & Murder: Synopsis

Andi’s step-mother is a real piece of work! But is Ruby a murderer?

Andi Anna Jones, so-so travel agent/amateur sleuth, puts aside her resentment of her father’s widow and books a 60th birthday cruise to Cancun for Ruby and three friends. Never does Andi imagine the cruise will lead to the murder of a has-been lounge singer—or that Ruby will be the main suspect.

Flirting with more than danger after arriving in Mexico, Andi connects with the charming local sheriff, Manual Rodriquez. After an embarrassing night involving the sheriff, too many margaritas, and a Mariachi band, a chance to check out an eyewitness to the murder leads her to Las Vegas.

In Vegas, a mysterious meeting in the Bodies Exhibition, a body preserving in the prep-room, and an evasive owner of a dance studio, give Andi clues to help Ruby. But when Andi is mercilessly drugged and locked in a storage room, she realizes dear old step-mom isn’t the only one in jeopardy.

 

REVIEW BLURBS FOR MARGARITAS, MAYHEM & MURDER!  

“If Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum were a travel agent, she’d fit right in working this case alongside Andi, a wanna-be detective readers are sure to love.” —Regan Black, USA Today bestselling author of the Escape Club Heroes and Knight Traveler novels.

Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder...WOW. Snappy dialog, quirky characters, opens with a curious bang and yanked me through the pages. A fun, fantastic read. “—Jean Rabe, USA Today Bestselling author, Piper Blackwell Mysteries.

“Grab a margarita and hold on tight; you’re in for a wild ride.” —Karen MacInerney, Agatha Award nominee and author of the Dewberry Farms Mysteries

“Charming, lively, and unpredictable, Margaritas, Mayhem & Murder excels in a vivid story mystery fans will relish.”—Diane Donovan, Senior Editor Midwest Book Review

 

PURCHASE MARGARITAS, MAYHEM & MURDER: 

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B076N6KBM3

B & N Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/margaritas-mayhem-murder-mary-cunningham/1127355519?type=eBook

 

FIND MARY ON SOCIAL MEDIA: 

MARY CUNNINGHAM – Author Bio 

Author, Mary Cunningham, grew on the northern side of the Ohio River in Corydon, Indiana. Her first memories are of her dad’s original bedtime stories that no doubt inspired her imagination and love of a well-spun “yarn.”

Childhood experiences, and a recurring dream about a mysterious attic, inspired characters, Cynthia and Augusta Lee, for her award-winning middle-grade series, Cynthia’s Attic. The setting is in her childhood home in Southern Indiana. Family stories and ancestors comprise the storylines. There are currently five books in the series: The Missing Locket, The Magic Medallion, Curse of the Bayou, The Magician’s Castle, and Legend of Lupin Woods.

Through a horrifying stint as a travel agent and more rewarding experience teaching travel and tourism, she received inspiration for the character, Andi Anna Jones, travel agent/amateur sleuth, Mary’s latest adult mystery series. She’s currently writing Book # 2 of the series, along with another middle-grade series, The Adventures of Max and Maddie, an historical time-travel, and a biography about a former Army brat/University of Connecticut women’s basketball player who started a non-profit foundation to create scholarships for children of deployed veterans.

Cunningham is a member of The Georgia Reading Association, and the Carrollton Writers Guild.

When she gives her fingers a break from the keyboard, she enjoys golf, swimming and exploring the mountains of West Georgia where she makes her home with her husband and adopted, four-legged, furry daughter, Lucy.

Always Time for a Story: Short Story Month Is May

I’ve stumbled across another commemoration of interest to me. I have no idea who names these “official” dates, but they succeed in focusing some public attention on their distinctive topic. This one is Short Story Month, which, in case you don’t know, is May.

A short story is, by definition, fiction. It drives me crazy to hear wanna-be writers describe a work as “a fiction short story.” Don’t need the term “fiction.” Still, better to talk about short stories than not, even with a superfluous word.

Superfluous words are what short stories don’t have. They enable us to read tales about imaginary people, events, locations minus the length of novels or novellas. Why does this appeal? As we become more inundated with electronic media, videos, selfies, instant photos, self-published discourses, and every form of communication ever dreamed of, some of us feel we’re losing control. Our time is not our own.

But short stories abbreviate their length. While writers hate to be limited by rules or even guidelines, short stories are, indeed, shorter than novels. They still have characters, settings, themes, and conflicts. Some have mystery, romance, puzzles. So they have essentially everything a novel can have but in a manageable amount.

I’ve heard of book clubs whose members are so strapped for time, they’ve turned to only reading short stories. The best writers in the world have created short stories. They’re handy to read when you’re traveling and are squeezing in some recreation on a trip. It’s easy to be introduced to a new writer in a short story. Their succinctness has an appeal all its own. Another favorable point: publishers and publications are starting to post free online short stories to encourage readers to sample their wares.

The day when a writer could actually make a living writing short stories is long gone. The market, however, is still strong, if you don’t mind creating for extremely low pay or, even more likely, none. Literary journals are the home for most.

If you’re interested in my short stories, I have links on my website to some you can read.

Take some chunks of time this month to sample new short stories or re-visit old ones. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allan Poe, the list is fascinating and apparently endless.