Aya Walksfar, Author

To write is to create new realities with words

CAN DARRINGTON SURVIVE?

During the disastrous Darrington-Oso Mudslide disaster relief professionals learned important lessons from the Darrington volunteers.  Greg Sieloft was one such official. Follow the link and read how one small town’s response to the biggest disaster to hit the state of Washington, changed a man.

http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140413/NEWS01/140419725/6-days-in-disaster-zoneOso_landslide_(WSP)

Explanation of photo: The chopped hillside to the right of the photo is the 900 foot hillside from which the slide occurred. The hillside broke like some giant cleaver had severed part of it and created that sheered face.

The water in the foreground is the Stillaguamish River and as you can see, it is blocked and backed up from the slide across it.

In the background and to the left in the photo is a squiggly gray line that leads back into the slide–that is Highway 530, the major route into and out of Darrington. We are still not sure how much of the one and a half mile of highway still exists beneath the mud.

With the blockage of Highway 530, Darrington faces severe economic hardships. The Hampton Mill that employs upwards of three hundred workers struggles to survive the increased costs for bringing in raw material and sending out their finished products. Increased fuel costs drive local families to despair as the long roundabout route that must now be traversed to go to work and to take children to school, breaks strained budgets. Tourist revenue, always an important part of Darrington’s economy with everything from the famous Bluegrass Festival to smaller festivals and musicians and artists, has been completely halted. Without Highway 530 open, tourists will not be stopping in this small town on their way along the scenic Cascade Loop and on to Eastern Washington. Where last summer thousands of happy tourists drove through, stopped, ate, rested, and bought from Darrington artists and merchants this summer promises to be one silence and isolation.  Highway 530 is not expected to be open even to local traffic for upwards of three months.

Can this small town survive? Only time will tell.

Photo courtesy of WSP.

UPDATE: DARRINGTON-OSO MUDSLIDE

WHAT ABOUT DARRINGTON? FIRST HAND UPDATE ON MUDSLIDE

The small town of Darrington, Washington struggles with the impact of the Oso Mudslide.

The mudslide that occurred on March 22 crossed the major artery, Highway 530, that connected the small town of Darrington with “down below”, as the natives call it—Arlington and all points from there. The tidal wave of mud and debris swept from the north side of the Stillaguamish River, scooped up the river then slammed into the south side of the narrow valley. It rushed up through a small valley between two hills then swept back north, carrying everything in its path to total destruction. That mudslide continues to play havoc with the small community of Darrington.

Highway 530 is currently buried under thirty feet of mud and debris and completely closed. What that means for the small town of Darrington is isolation and potential economic ruin, especially with summer looming close. The Bluegrass Festival, the largest of several festivals hosted on the Darrington Bluegrass Grounds, normally brings tourists and dollars to the economically challenged town. With Highway 530 blocked the festivals may face an impossible obstacle. Such festivals are important to this small community’s financial health.

The small businesses in our town, as in most small towns, have a very slender margin of profit. With the increased cost of transportation of goods, that margin of profit may become non-existent. The Hampton mill that employs three hundred of our Darrington community members—a large employer for our area–faces greatly inflated costs for transportation of goods which negatively impacts the company.

For other citizens of the Darrington area, what this highway closure means on a daily basis is that a short thirty minute trip to Arlington’s Haggen’s or Arlington’s Safeway stores has become a trip of over an hour and a half to a Safeway or Haggen’s in Burlington to the north and west of our town. The one hour round trip to the grocery store is a minimum three hour round trip on a dark, windy road.

In addition to the pain and grief of lost loved ones, the Darrington-Oso Mudslide means that Mom and/or Dad must now be away from home an ADDITIONAL four to six hours due to the added commuting distance and the nature of the scenic route which they must traverse twice every day. The increased cost of fuel thins already-stretched budgets and adds to the tremendous stress being experienced.

So when you send prayers for Oso…please, don’t forget Darrington. Call us by name both in your prayers and in your donations. Don’t forget us. We’re the survivors on the EAST side of the Darrington-Oso Mudslide.

Darrington Proud. Darrington Strong. Darrington Doers! We Git ‘Er Done!

BOOMER, NEW INFORMATION

Several hours after learning about Boomer, it is now understood that Boomer DID NOT survive the landslide, but rather walked two to three miles from his current home to the devastated area. Why?  Why would a dog walk that far to some awful place? Boomer’s former owner lived, and died, at that site. Boomer’s former owner, the brother of Boomer’s current owner, lived in a home wiped out by the mudslide. So, last night Boomer returned to the area where he had once been loved; an area that claimed the life of his first human.

No, the miracle we thought had happened, didn’t happen. A different miracle, a different testament of love happened. A dog crossed over two miles of extremely rough, dangerous terrain to the area where he once lived.

Dogs don’t forget; dogs grieve, and like the rest of us here in Darrington, maybe Boomer simply felt called to pay his respects to his former owner; felt called to “do something” in the face of such tragedy.

 

Last night, stumbling through the alien landscape of the #Oso mudslide devastation a horribly dehydrated and seriously injured dog was found. The dog who is slightly larger and a bit heavier-bodied than a German Shepherd was named Lucky because the animal rescue workers believed he had survived the worse disaster in Washington State history–a #disaster rivaling the explosion of Mount Saint Helens.  He was transported to the Darrington Rodeo/Bluegrass Grounds to our Animal Rescue Site to rest and be assessed overnight.

0403boomer-dog

This morning, two Darrington Volunteers, Hiliary Schultz and Carolyn Yost transported Lucky to the Arlington Animal Clinic after pain killers had been administered to make the rough trip bearable for the seriously injured dog. The temporary, disaster route is a potholed, rough graveled, one-lane roadway. It bounced their vehicle as the tires crunched the gravel up and down the mountainside behind and adjacent to the swamps and mud of the devastated area where excavators diligently dug and crews watched for the uncovering of human remains. They delivered Boomer to Arlington Animal Clinic.

For a few hours, we believed Boomer had survived a disaster that had claimed the lives of our friends, family and neighbors. For a few hours we rejoiced. A cheer rang through the firehouse as we crowded around the brand new laptop that had just been donated to our disaster relief efforts yesterday by Microsoft. As the story about Boomer came on screen, a cheer rang off the walls of that cavernous building. Volunteers and fire department personnel threw arms around each other laughing and cheering.

When Trudy LaDouceur, District Secretary of Darrington Fire District #24 said, “This is so great. I am so sick of death,” she spoke for all of us.

Amidst sorrow and loss; pain and grief, for a few hours we believed that a miracle occurred last night: Boomer walked out of the deadly Oso Mudslide, and brought hope and healing to the hearts of Darrington’s people.

Tonight, we know that didn’t happen. A little bit of our hope slid away, a slippery dark eel sliding into the muddy swamps of that alien landscape that swallowed the lives of those we loved.

http://www.king5.com/community/blogs/the-pet-dish/Boomer-the-dog-found-Oso-slide-253832561.html

Here is the updated report on Boomer, the dog who “felt called” to traverse the deadly landscape where once a person he loved had lived. We here in Darrington understand that feeling; it is the “call” that takes our volunteers to that debris field, day after day.

http://www.king5.com/community/blogs/the-pet-dish/Boomer-the-dog-found-Oso-slide-253832561.html

YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

BOOK RELEASE EVENT ON FACEBOOK March 19-26: https://www.facebook.com/events/770876499591749/

LOTS of fun and PRIZES! DON’T MISS OUT!

YOUTUBE LINK

READ FOR ANIMALS, anthology by authors, poets, artists and animals lovers to help #animals.
The money collected from the sales of the book is donated to animal shelters and hospices.
The ebook is available from Amazon:
http://www.facebook.com/l/UAQHJ7lzaAQGM8ZrISKjrB7HjHr-6HWpk8GuA6TBb_BmGdQ/www.amazon.com/Read-Animals-Anthology-help-animals-ebook/dp/B00IXUCXJ0/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1394624244&sr=1-1

CREATESPACE COLOR PRINT
https://www.facebook.com/l/7AQGGwwApAQFq1iDnFFFGCI_eNpdY1jLmG9rtakjCzL94LA/https%3A%2F%2Fwww.createspace.com%2F4711142

Erika Szabo: The moving force behind the creation of Read For Animals
“All my pets were either adopted from #shelters, or they found us. We live in the Catskill Mountains and unfortunately the “summer people” who rent a home or own one, often bring #puppies and #kittens with them for the entertainment of their #children for the summer. When autumn comes, they move back to the cities where pets are a nuisance or not allowed in the apartment building. Some of them just close the door behind them and leave the animals outside to fend for themselves. Since we moved to the country from the Bronx over 20 years ago, eight cats and three dogs have found us and stayed with us until they had to go to animal heaven.

I want to help animals in need, any way I can. Being a writer, I decided to use my God given talent for storytelling to help struggling animal shelters. Our furry, feathered and scaly friends need our help to survive.

I wrote some funny and true stories about my pets, and about fox pups that grew up in my backyard. I invited a few author friends to join me in this project to publish a book, Read for Animals, and to donate the money collected from the sales–after publishing fees–to different animal shelters every three months.”

Contributors to this book:
Authors, poets, animal lovers: Erika M Szabo, Lorinda J. Taylor, Cindy J. Smith, Jeanne E. Rogers, Zrinka Jelic, Patrick O’Scheen, Kristine Raymond, Shebat Legion, Sandra Novelly, Shannon Sonneveldt, Julie Davis Dundas, Linda Whitehead Humbert, Debbie D. (Doglady) . Artist: Klarissa Kocsis

BLOG: http://www.readforanimals.blogspot.com/

FACEBOOK PAGE: https://www.facebook.com/ReadForAnimals

YOUTUBE LINK

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AN UNEXPECTED HONOR

The Lighthouse Award

I’d like to thank #AllisonBruning at  http://www.allisonbruning.blogspot.com for nominating me for The Lighthouse Award. Never heard of it, but love what it stands for: #bloggers who like to help people! It always feels so good to be recognized.

There are gifts given to every person. How we use those gifts determines what kind of human we become. Writing is one of my gifts. For me, writing is about helping others: it provides mental relaxation, adds to knowledge, highlights important issues, provides role models and most of all, gives us hope.

Another gift is my love for Mother Earth. In 1996, my wife and I purchased 12 acres of abused farmland that we named Wild Haven. What had once been forested wetlands had fifty or so years before been logged, the pathways of water changed and made into farmland. The farmland was then abused by overuse and negligence. By the time we bought it invasive weeds controlled eleven acres of the 12. Bodies of dead animals and birds lay scattered like discarded rubbish. The people that had owned it loved to kill, not to eat but to destroy. Not even a bird flew over the land until our medicine man came and cleansed it. The first bird to return was a hummingbird. Now we host 68 different species of birds over the course of a year’s time as well as a number of mammals such as coyote, fox, rabbit, possum, raccoon, deer, an occasional cougar, and a black bear who loves our fall apples. Three species of salmon now call our creek a pathway to spawning grounds. In 2001 the National Wildlife Federation certified our farm was Wildlife Habitat. In 2002, we have won a county award for Wildlife Farm of the Year. In 2003, we won the Washington State Award for #Wildlife Small Farm of the Year. #Conservation is the gift we give to the generations yet to come. What kind of world will we hand on?

Gnarly apple tree To see more photos of Wild Haven, go to http://www.pinterest.com/ayawalksfar  Look at Jaz Wheeler’s Farm board.

The third gift I have been graced with is the ability to look at writing of others and see where I can suggest changes that will make it stronger, clearer. I don’t do the polish editing like my wonderful editor, Lee Hargroder Porche, but what I call developmental editing. I help clarify timelines, pick up on dialog that isn’t realistic and other details that can make an author’s work a bit more real.

The Lighthouse Award requires that a blogger:

• Display the Award Certificate on your blog.
• Write a post and link back to the blogger that nominated you.
• Inform your nominees of their award nominations.
• Share three ways that you like to help others.
• Nominate as many bloggers as you like.
When I think about all the people who #blog and who make helping others a large part of their lives, there are too many to list. But here are some that I nominate for The Lighthouse Award:
#RubyStandingDeer at http://www.rubystandingdeer.com  whose Native American series is a spiritual journey
#ErikaSzabo at  http://www.authorerikamszabo.com who tirelessly worked to bring to us the Read for Animals book and event
#WiseandWildWomen at http://wildandwisewomen.com whose entire goal is the uplifting of women
#JenWilliams at with http://myraysoflight.wordpress.com who constantly brings forth issues we need to consider
#JumbledWriter at  http://www.jumbledwriter.com whose blog and subjects are all about conversations that help people consider timely issues
Please visit these wonderful blogs. You’ll be glad that you did! Be sure to CLICK and FOLLOW so you don’t miss new posts!
To share in the conversations, join Aya on http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar
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To see some really cool photos click over to http://www.pinterest.com/ayawalksfar

INDIE NOVELISTS: POSITIVE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN?

I write about, blog about, tweet about and facebook about strong women, women who make a difference in the world. Just as women impact the world, the world—especially the world of words—impacts women.

One part of that world of words is novels. Thousands of #women read, daily. After a difficult day at work, they go home, grab a cup of coffee, toe off the mandatory high heels and kick back with a good book. Unfortunately, many novels depict women as weak, unsuccessful without a man, unhappy when not involved in a relationship, indecisive and in need of rescuing.

Print on demand and ebooks have blown open the publishing industry. There has been a great influx of #indie #authors. Will these authors simply repeat the same formulas that undermine women’s self-image or will they redefine female characters?

This week, I asked my guest, John Dizon, indie author of several books, how he portrays the role of women in his novels.

John's avatar

Aya: John, I noticed in your books that the women play a definite secondary role to the men. Many male authors seem to have strong male leads in their novels, with very few strong female characters. How do you choose the gender of your lead characters?

John: It all depends on whether a major female protagonist can support the novel. I take pride in the fact that most of my novels feature strong female protagonists, and that more than a couple are recognized as women’s fiction. Obviously I won’t create an unrealistic world in which women are stronger than men, especially in action/adventure. I came close in “The Brand”, in which the pirate queen Belen and the Mohawk princess Nightshade were feared by most of the males they interacted with. Sabrina Brooks of “Nightcrawler” has everyone thinking her masked alter ego is a male. These are exceptional woman, however, and I don’t write novels about Amazon worlds. I deal with reality and make a strong female as realistic as logic dictates.

Aya: On the subject of strong female characters, I noticed in Vampir that Celeste is portrayed as an attorney with some strong moral codes about helping her client, yet in the end she divulges all of his information. Throughout the book, Celeste gets herself into some bad situations, and she is rescued by others, usually her boyfriend, Shea. Why did you choose to have her rescued rather than having her rescue others?  And why did she go against her original code of ethics?

John: We’re dealing with a number of different narratives in “Vampir”. From Page One, Radojka commits suicide and leaves Celeste holding the bag as she’s accused of smuggling the weapon into his cell and possibly even doing the deed. At the least she may end up being disbarred. Plus the fact that Count Radojka is being revealed as a serial killer and mass murderer after she had taken him on as an elderly client needing his estate issues resolved. She’s treading deep water, being held in psych care at the MCC, and is hoping her boyfriend can save her. I could have had Shea as the lawyer and Celeste as the cop, but a lot of it wouldn’t have worked, especially in the partnership with Bob Methot as an NYC detective. Ninety percent of the women I personally know (and I know some tough women) would have never condoned such abuses of authority and police brutality. 

Aya: In the end Celeste is judged mentally unstable and hospitalized.  Was there a reason for that as versus having one of the male characters seen as mentally unstable? Could there have been a different way of handling that line of story logic that would show her as a stronger, rather than a weaker, character?

John: Again, if we reversed the roles we would’ve had Celeste going way over the top in condoning Methot being Dirty Harry on steroids. Another thing is to consider the genre. Whether we like it or not, there’s a lot of sexual tension in the vampire genre, which would have been released had it been about Shea as a ‘gentleman in distress’. As far as the hospitalization, it can be seen that Celeste’s personality begins changing drastically throughout her incarceration, and in the last line we find out that she has actually been possessed by one of Radojka’s demons. That was my prompt for “Vampir II” if I can overcome my critics! (big grin)

Aya: How do you define a strong female character? What attributes would she show in a novel?

John: She’s got to be very attractive and physically gifted (which is all about self-confidence and capability), above average intelligence, eager to compete in a man’s world and have a kind heart. Princess Jennifer of “Tiara” is probably my most feminine heroine, but even though she’s kidnapped and nearly killed, her spirit never breaks. Bree “Nightcrawler” Brooks is very feminine, but when she pulls on that balaclava she’s the toughest of all. At the other end of the spectrum, Debbie Munson of “Hezbollah” and Bridgette Celine of “The Fury” are hell on wheels. They would give Belen and Nightshade the fight of their lives.

Aya: Which of your female characters do you believe display the traits of a strong female? And why? Which traits make her as strong?

John: I’ve got to go with Bree Brooks. She is America’s oldest virgin (at 24) despite the fact she was a party girl and a police academy trainee before she took over Brooks Chemical Company after her father’s death. She’s ridiculously old-fashioned but, paradoxically, is street-wise and has the charm and people-smarts to excel in a man’s world. What makes her a role model is her indomitable will and her desire to help others. She can sit on a pedestal and have the world at her feet, but she continually risks her life to save the planet, one person at a time.

Aya: Do you believe that words matter? If so, what impact do you feel the portrayal of women in novels as being physically in need of protection, mentally unstable even when they are telling the truth, has on the self-esteem, on a subconscious level, of women who read those novels?

John: This is where authors encourage readers to discuss works of redeeming social value, and raises the bar for us to write such works. This interview, in itself, has been a litmus test and a wonderful opportunity to discuss my work from a female perspective. I would hope that women engage in discussion of my female protagonists and determine whether they are realistic, and whether novels such as “Nightcrawler” and “Hezbollah” qualify as women’s fiction. Most importantly, I would want the work to be recognized as portraying women as overcoming obstacles in male-dominated environments. I would be walking on air if I got an e-mail from a female reader telling me she resolved an issue by asking herself “What would Bree Brooks do?” or “What would Debbie Munson do?” Belen or Nightshade — not so much.

One novel that deserves particular mention is “King of the Hoboes”. Veronika Heydrich goes undercover and is forced to live on the streets to infiltrate the Hobo Underground. Her boyfriend, Evan, desperately tries to keep track of her, but is nearly killed in the process. The dynamic in this novel is showing the continuing ordeal that homeless women in New York City deal with on a daily basis. There are enormous discrepancies and gender discrimination within the homeless community as well as the City’s attitude and levels of accommodation. People have no idea how dangerous it is for homeless women and children in NYC, and Roni’s experience helps people understand that situation. They are in great need of special attention and this must be addressed and resolved in the very near future.

Aya: How can we as novelists help increase female self-esteem?

John: I don’t think you ever want to portray any of your protagonists in a weak light unless you’re trying to make a point. Rummaging through my anthology, the only ‘weak’ female protagonist is Jana Dragana in “Wolf Man”, and she’s portrayed as such because she’s been victimized as a beautiful woman who finds work as a model and ends up in a downward spiral through drug addiction. Yet she grows stronger as the story unfolds, and at the end it is Steve Lurgan who fails the test. She’s able to overcome her addictions, but Steve ends up committing suicide because he can’t endure living with the werewolf curse.

Whoops, did I just lose a couple of sales with that spoiler???

Thanks for the invite!

Aya: The views expressed in this interview are exclusively the views of author John Dizon. What did you think of John’s answers?

What do you think of John’s definition of a strong female character (see definition below)? Do you agree/disagree with his definition?

John: “She’s got to be very attractive and physically gifted (which is all about self-confidence and capability), above average intelligence, eager to compete in a man’s world and have a kind heart.”

Leave a comment!  I appreciate hearing what you think. What readers think is important to me!

http://www.facebook.com/johnreinharddizonUSA

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/John-Reinhard-Dizon/e/B00DU9JNUQ/ref=s9_simh_gw_p351_d0_al1?_encoding=UTF8&refinementId=618073011&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0AB5Z09XS0QSWD2JXD0Y&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=1688200382&pf_rd_i=507846

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REACH OUT AND TOUCH, A #STORY

REACH OUT AND TOUCH

“Take a little time out of your busy day/To give encouragement/To someone who’s lost the way
(Just try)/Or would I be talking to a stone/If I asked you/To share a problem that’s not your own
We can change things if we start giving/Why don’t you
Reach out and touch/Somebody’s hand
Make this world a better place/If you can…” Diane Ross 1970

The wrinkled, smudged envelope lay stuffed among my junk mail. I studied the faded words. Neither the handwriting nor the no-name return address rang a bell. The barely legible postmark read: Ukiah, CA,  but the zip code had faded out. The date stamp read: Aug 21 20…  The rest of the year had smeared into  blue oblivion.

As I trudged back up the potholed drive, I wiped the liquid August heat from my brow with the tail of my dirty t-shirt. The mystery letter provided a good excuse to take an iced tea break. Inside the old two-story, clapboard farmhouse, I reached toward the sink sideboard to flip on some music. My hand groped empty air then I recalled that the DVD/CD player had been one of last night’s casualties.

No-last-name-revealed Susie, a girl who couldn’t have been more than fourteen that I’d brought home from the Seattle streets the week before ran off sometime during the night. Three hundred dollars in cash and the compact disc player ran off with her. It’d been a long time since that had happened. The missing material items didn’t hurt as much as the feeling of failure.

Maybe Tim had been right. His shouted accusations from six months earlier still gnawed at me. “Just because you can’t have kids, doesn’t mean my life should be embroiled in chaos created by other people’s juvenile delinquents.” His lip had turned up in that hateful way he had as he’d shouted, “Do you really believe you’ve changed a single one of those brats’ lives? All you’ve accomplished is to wreck our marriage!”

Life would certainly be simpler, and quieter, without rebellious teen girls and angry parents who stormed up to my door in the middle of the night. They refused to take their child home, yet demanded I turn her out. Facing aggressive abusers at fifty is a lot scarier than at forty.

The month before Tim stormed out of my life, I’d had to call the police on a stepfather waving a handgun outside my back door. After the police hauled the man off, Tim issued his ultimatum. “Sandra, it’s either me or those damn girls. One of us isn’t staying here.”

How could I close my door against #girls whose only other choice was often sex for food?

I carried the letter into the living room and folded onto the faded sofa. One foot tucked up under me, I took a sip of lemony tea then set the glass on the scarred cherry wood end table. Carefully, I slit open the envelope. A sheet of yellow tablet paper with scrawled lines fell out.

“Dear Sandy,

It’s been ten years since I split in the middle of the night with all the cash I could find as well as the clothes you bought for me. I hitched a ride with a trucker from your place in Bellingham to Mom’s house in Ukiah. Two weeks later I caught a bus back to the streets of #Seattle. I’d picked a fight with Mom. Mays, of course, grounded me. The truth: my running had nothing to do with Mom or with my stepfather, Mays. I just couldn’t seem to get comfortable anywhere.

After living with you for those eighteen months, I viewed street life differently, somehow. Maybe it was those late night gab sessions that you, Stoney, Jaimie and me used to have. Slowly I realized that none of us street kids were the glamorous outlaws whose personas we tried to don. Those outlaw clothes hung on us like baggy rags. Just scared, hungry, stoned kids running from one thing or another, but not running to anything, except a dead end life.

Eight months after I hit the streets again, my best friend, Lydia, died from an overdose. She lay dead, there on the filthy mattress in the back room of a crack house next to me. I woke up from my own drug run and felt her cold arm against mine.

As tears rolled down my face, I could hear you telling me the first time we met on First Avenue in Seattle, “It’s up to you, Michelle. You can stay here on the streets where there isn’t any future, except death of one kind or another, or you can walk away now and with work become anything you want to become. It’s your choice.”

When I dragged home, neither Mom nor Mays ever said a word. Back at school, whenever I felt like quitting, I’d recall how you took me in and told me I could make my life count for something good. You peered through the caked on makeup, the green hair, all those piercings and saw me. I promised myself that I’d write when I became someone you’d be proud to know.

So, I’m writing.

When I received my degree in psychology, Mom and Mays helped finance the opening of a halfway house for street girls. We call it Phoenix Rising. It’s not much. Five acres and a rambling old farmhouse that Mays and the girls are helping me remodel. In the pasture are two horses, Lost and Found, both from auction, both headed for slaughter. They keep company with a goat named Bad Manners. Our orange housecat was a feral kitten a friend of mine live trapped, injured and flea ridden. Her name’s Welcome and that’s what she does to every girl who walks through the front door. Our lab mix came from the local shelter. We named her Friend, and she’s been one to every living thing on this place. Every day those animals keep teaching me the lessons I first learned from you, lessons about having an open heart, believing in others, and giving.

Currently, ten girls live here. Kathy and Melody have been here since a week after the house opened. Kathy’s a computer genius who has already been scouted by a couple of colleges. Melody plans to attend a nearby vocational tech school to learn carpentry.

Sandy, do you remember that night about two weeks after I arrived when you and I were standing, leaning on the top rail of your pasture fence? I told you that a person needed a nice car, good clothes, a fine house and money if they wanted to be happy.

You studied me for a few minutes then turned back to stare out at your Arabian, Angel, prancing across the field. Then in that quiet voice of yours, you told me that after your baby had been born dead and the doctor said you could never have children, you swallowed a handful of pills. The nice house, the fancy clothes and the big car couldn’t give you a reason to live.

Your friend, Rachelle, found you and rushed you to the emergency room. She stayed with you for days. The day you were discharged, Rachelle drove you down to First Avenue then on up and around the university district. She pointed out the street kids as she drove then she pulled over to the side of the road and turned toward you. In a furious voice, she said, “Of course, you can have kids! There they are!” She’d swept her arm to include a young girl probably no more than thirteen huddled in a doorway and another young girl panhandling on a corner.

“There are your kids. If you don’t claim them, if you don’t reach out and touch their lives, who will? And if someone doesn’t give a damn, they’re going to die. Same as your baby died, but for a whole lot less reason.”

You looked at me then. Tears glistened in your eyes as you told me, “The important things can’t be purchased. They can only be handed on, from one person to another, a priceless inheritance.”

Sandy, thank you for my inheritance.

Love, Michelle Dryer.”

Double-checking the phone number on the letter, I smiled as I punched it in.

“Hello?” An older woman’s voice answered.

“I’d like to speak with Michelle Dryer. This is Sandy Harmer.”

“The Sandy from Bellingham, the one Michelle stayed with for a while?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“I’m Eleanor. Eleanor Dryer. Michelle’s mother.”

“Oh, I thought the number on the letter was Michelle’s. You’re not going to believe this, but I just received a letter from Michelle that apparently got lost before it wound up here. In it she told me about her halfway house for girls, Phoenix Rising.”

“That letter must be almost two years old!” Eleanor gasped.  “Michelle…” I heard a catch in the woman’s voice, a hiccup much like a strangled sob. “Michelle was killed a bit over a year ago.”

“Killed?” I sank back against the couch.

“Andrea, a little thirteen-year-old, was sent to Michelle by a street worker. The mother and her drunk boyfriend found out where Andrea was and showed up one night. They tried to force her to go with them, but Michelle got Andrea loose then the boyfriend pulled a gun. Michelle jumped him and yelled for Andrea to run.

“Poor child, she ran to the house and called the police and before she even hung up she heard a gunshot. She ran back outside. Her mother and her mother’s boyfriend were gone, but Michelle had been shot. She…she died before the ambulance arrived.”

“I’m sorry. So sorry,” I whispered as tears trickled down my cheeks.

Eleanor sniffed, cleared her throat. “It’s a great loss to all of us. Mays was devastated. He and Michelle had grown very close.”

Tim’s angry words echoed in my heart, “If you keep playing around in other people’s business, you’re going to get yourself or someone else hurt!” Now, Michelle was dead.

Almost as if she could read my mind, Eleanor said, “Sandy, we want you to know how grateful we are that you were part of Michelle’s life. We could’ve lost her on the streets, but we got to share our beautiful daughter’s life. We’ve been blessed to see all the good that she’s done.”

“I…I feel like I somehow got her…her killed.” My throat ached with tears and sorrow.

“Why, Sandy, you should see the girls who came when they heard. Some of them were just girls Michelle talked to on the streets, and others she helped in some way. And, the girls who lived here when it happened, they all stayed on with Mays and me. Said this was home. I don’t think we could’ve gotten through this year without them.” I heard her sigh then she said, “The life Michelle lived because of you was so much better than the life she would’ve lived without you. Thank you.”

After I said good-bye to Eleanor, I laid the phone softly back on its’ cradle and wandered outside. I headed up to the barn. Across the miles and years, Michelle had reached out and touched someone. Had renewed yet another person’s faith and given hope where hope seemed gone.

This time that someone was me.

The End.

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Sketch Of a Murder

Wealthy, prominent men sexually mutilated and gruesomely murdered.  Governor Marleton forms a unit, the Special Crimes Team, to take the heat and to hunt down the killer. The unit, seen as the Siberia of law enforcement, is comprised of misfits and loners, cops who’ve pissed somebody off.

Sergeant Nita Slowater, a mixed blood Native American, knew she should never have knocked that reporter on his skinny, white ass. Now she’s stuck as the second-in-command of the Special Crimes Team. As if that isn’t bad enough, her superior, Lieutenant Michael Williams, a black man, is in a constant state of PMS and riding her case.

If they can’t figure out a way to get along, more men will die at the hands of the self-dubbed Avenger.

The only bright spot in Nita’s life is her unlikely friendship with a homeless black woman, Molly the Pack Lady. Then Molly dies and wills her artwork to Nita.

Within the old woman’s art lies the key to the killer’s identity, but will Nita discover it before an innocent man dies?

Buy it here:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sketch-of-a-murder-aya-walksfar/1117236577?ean=2940045338806

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/sketch-of-a-murder/id731202197?mt=11

Good Intentions

Bev Ransom thinks her life can’t get any worse after her father dies unexpectedly. At least she has her friend and employer, Rene Lawson, an intriguing older woman whose past is shrouded in mystery. Then, on a day like any other, Bev goes to work and by evening, Rene is dead.
Devastated and unable to let go of another loved one, Bev becomes obsessed with unraveling the mysteries that surrounded Rene. When she uncovers a twenty-year old secret, Bev’s world is shattered. Is there anyone she can trust?

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Street Harvest

What do the bodies of two young children have in common with the murders of two adult men? Eleanor Hasting, a black bookstore owner and child advocate, knows these killings are linked. How can she convince Lieutenant Michael Williams, head of the Special Crimes Team? Someone is abducting street children and their bodies are showing up sexually abused and manually strangled. Psychic and member of Missing Children’s Rescue, Jaimie Wolfwalker, is prepared to do whatever it takes to locate and rescue the missing street children. The law be damned. Jaimie’s attitude and methods place her on a collision course with Sergeant Nita Slowater, second-in-command of the Special Crimes Team. Four dedicated people struggle to come to terms with each other in their desperate search for clues. Every day brings more missing children, more young bodies. Can they stop the monsters before another child disappears?

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