He passed a large skating rink and a children’s train track. When he wandered under an arch, Guy discovered a Christmas Market. His inner child gasped with delight.
Rows and rows of wooden market booths had been set up to create lanes.
At last distracted from visions of doom and gloom, he watched a gigantic nutcracker swallow a continually rotating nut.
A larger-than-life music box twirled on a roof top, the ballerina and her dancing bear partner going ’round and ’round. Real fir boughs and even little trees bedecked the stands.
The roofs were wrapped in shiny paper with tinsel ribbons and bows that transformed them into oversized gifts. Big Saint Nicholases drove twinkly sleighs pulled by reindeer whose heads bobbed.
He discovered a large fountain, turned off for the winter and surrounded by German food booths. Candles burned everywhere.
Guy looked at their pale flames and shivered. Flames, like those of a crash site….
He took a deep breath, and all at once the day smelled of almonds roasting in sugar. Customers laughed and chatted, indifferent to the cold. A couple stood in the frigid air and shared strawberries dipped in chocolate. The girl nibbled from the skewer her boyfriend held. Men and women stood at little tables with beers, and some people cupped steaming mugs.
There is an old saying that ‘good things come in threes’. Right now this is true for my writing at bookoftheday.org ! I am in the unique position of being featured 3 times around the site. Broken In: A Novel in Stories is one of the books of the day. Tsunami Cowboys stayed on the ‘Trending’ list for weeks, and remains on the The Trending Jumbotron Top Ten page (http://bookoftheday.org/top-ten/). And I have an author page. It’s not often that a writer gets to share news this good! Please take a look at the site and explore the pages. In our electronic age, clicks add up.
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!
I’d been warned: the 5-Star reviews couldn’t last forever. “Be prepared,” people cautioned me. “Trolls are out there and sooner or later one of them will pan a book. It’s going to be ugly.” I don’t check for reviews on Amazon much as I take the long view. Writing a book is a slow process, and building up a list of reviews can take a while. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive consistently solid, glowing reviews.
I got my first 1-Star review. The German guy says Tsunami Cowboys is the worst book he’d ever read. He didn’t finish it. And, after page 56, HE BURNED IT.
WTF? Really?? In the 21st century, people are still burning books?!?
I went into shock. I was horrified. Shaken. Ashamed, even. In my worst nightmares, I never ever ever imagined someone would actually destroy my words like this. Until now, it was beyond my powers of imagination.
I got out a copy of the book. What could possibly be so offensive? I opened to page 56 and the peak of a chapter in which Coreen, one of the main characters, is trapped in a cult and can’t get out.
Ok…. Maybe the troll was upset by the topic. I sure was; that’s why I wrote about it. If he’d made it to the end of the book he would have learned the following: I’m religious. I believe in God. My heroine’s story continues well past the page where he stopped reading.
If he’d bothered with the author’s Afterword, he’d have learned my personal reasons for even including this thread in my book.
I’m appalled that someone would be so hateful. I questioned everything I am doing as a writer, and worried about the consequences of exercising my voice. Then I remembered: I just went to a high school reunion. It was a fantastic weekend spent seeing wonderful people again. By far one of the most lovely is a woman who was a missionary.
She’s read both my novels. At the reunion, she made a point of telling me that the story of Coreen and the cult disconcerted her, and she had to put Tsunami Cowboys down for a while. It hit a little too close to home. But, she said, she picked it back up a few months later, read it to the end, and liked the story I told very much.
So that reassures me.
Words contain a lot of power, more than we realize. My encounter with the troll really brings that realization home to me, and in the future I will pay closer attention. His other reviews have the same ugly caustic tone, so I’m not alone. I’m not sure if that makes me feel better, or worse.
As my dear writer buddy Nancy Carroll remarked: “You’re now in good company, Jadi. Think of the books that have been burned through the ages.”
Think about them.
NOTES:  http://www.ala.org/bbooks/
 I swear it just came to my notice that this is Banned Books Week: September 27th – October 3rd.
We flew down to Tunisia for a week in September exactly a year ago. I’d planned to write about Hammamet’s lovely laid back tourist vibe, the gorgeous beaches and how much fun it was viewing the Mediterranean from the Africa coast for the first time.
I didn’t want to obsess on the fact that a few weeks later terrorists shot tourists in a museum down the road from the souk we visited. I definitely don’t want to think about the beach where tourists from around the world were murdered in cold blood this summer. It’s less than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the hotel we stayed in.
Those cowardly acts have nothing to do with what Uwe and I experienced. I took notes as I sat on our sweet balcony, and here is what I wrote:
“The tourists are international. Every body size and shape, every age is represented. We see groups of Italians, French, Egyptians, Algerians, Germans and Brits. Women in black leggings, head scarves, and long sleeved tunics sit by the pool. Two men (young Arab males) hold hands and spring into the pool at a running jump. Kids run and play everywhere I look. Old folks in wheel chairs are pushed by family members.
The French and Italian tourists live up to their reputations with their rule of remaining poolside until 6 p.m. Then they go to change for dinner at 7.
Lots of Middle East tourists are traditionally dressed in modest clothing.  They swim in the ocean fully dressed! But there are also single Arab women in bikinis, or young couples on holiday.”
“Paragliders are pulled by boats, a yacht and sailboat or two glide by, an endless panorama of ocean spreads from left to right. Without talking about it we head past the pool to go down to the lounge chairs under sun umbrellas on the beach. Uwe reads and I edit the manuscript for my second book Tsunami Cowboys. I’m beyond happy: I’m in an exotic locale with fun stuff to notice all around me and I’m doing good writing work. Each afternoon around 4 I stop and swim in the ocean.”
Our hotel was about twenty minutes from the center of Hammamet.
Sometimes we strolled into town for dinner; some nights we had a drink at the hotel and picked one of the restaurants there. We did a couple of tours, to Tunis, Sidi Bou Saïd
and the ancient city of Carthage. 
I bargained for sandals at Tunis’ souk ,
and harissa and couscous spices at an outdoor market.
Touristy? Sure. But here are more of my notes from that week: “Everyone smiles and says hello in the hotel. We’re all here to relax and co-mingle. I have the lovely experience of being welcomed as an American – and when was the last time that’s happened lately – the locals intrigued to learn where I’m from, and even more intrigued to hear that I live in Europe.
I think that’s partly because not many Americans make it to the area, or maybe our hotel books more Europeans and Arabs. Certainly on our charter flight from Germany I’m the only Ami on board! Tunisians are delighted when I assure them that yes, I am enjoying my first visit to their country.”
We learn that Tunisia’s population of 8 million has swelled by an additional 2 million people displaced by wars. Tunisia is a democracy in an unstable part of the world. The Tunisians on the coast are hospitable, curious, worldly. And I want to go back.
I want Tunisia without terrorism.
NOTES:  A sign by the pool read “Clothes clog the drains! Bathing suits only, please!”
 Carthage made the fatal mistake of challenging Rome. The Romans burned it to the ground, killed all the men and sold the women and children into slavery. Then, to make sure everyone got the message that it was a really bad idea to go against Rome, they sowed the area with salt so that nothing would ever grow again….
 The shopkeeper held a lighter to the bottom to prove that they were made of camel and not plastic.
Event: The laying of a Stolperstein for Luise Lepman
Man in cap: “I didn’t expect the ceremony would be so rote. He put in the stones like it was just assembly line work, just one of many.”
Jadi: “The whole point is that they’re not made in a factory. He makes every single one of them by hand.”
Man in cap: “And I didn’t know that his project began as performance art.”
Amy: “That’s how it began in Berlin. He’s been deeply involved in making Stolpersteine for over twenty years.”
Man in cap: “I’ve looked at his website. If you can get past the fact that they were all murdered, some of his subjects’ lives were pretty outrageous.” The man in the cap turns without saying goodbye and heads fast down the sidewalk.
Today I want to tell you about several remarkably modest people, and one remarkable project.
Amy Matney began as a massage patient and became a friend. She’s a charming, unassuming woman from Virginia. Just listening to her accent is to hear music.
Amy works with teenagers at the Patch Barracks high school. Last year she got her students involved in the international Stolperstein project. Started by the German artist Gunter Demnig, Stolpersteine are literally ‘Stumbling Stones’. These blocks or stones commemorate the last free place victims of the Nazi regime resided before being deported or murdered. 
Amy told me, “The students I counsel have every advantage. I want them to learn compassion as well. This project was a great way to get them to think about history and the world, and those less fortunate.”
For 120€ or about $140, anyone can sponsor the laying of a Stolperstein. Amy’s students went into historical archives and researched potential subjects. Once a month the students sent out a newsletter reporting the progress of their research. They chose Luise Lepman, a woman whose family had strong connections to America.
In a moving ceremony on the morning of May 23rd, Ms. Matney, the students and their families, the commander of the base and well-wishers gathered in front of the last place Luise Lepman was known to live.
Luise boarded a deportation train on April 26, 1942. Not a single one of the 285 people forced to take that train survived.
The students talked about their experience and Susanne Bouché, the Stuttgart liaison for the Stolperstein Project, spoke.
And then, in respectful silence with no fanfare, Gunter Demnig placed the Stumbling Stone in the sidewalk.  I helped Amy hand out long stemmed roses. The witnesses laid them beside the stone.
As Amy and I talked after the ceremony, the stranger in the ball cap came up to us. I’m not sure if we were more startled by his callous words “If you can get past the fact that they were all murdered, some of his subjects’ lives were pretty outrageous” or the complete lack of understanding the comment showed.
This is why we need projects like the Stumbling Stones, and people like Herr Demnig and Ms. Matney. 
NOTES:  After you notice the first one, you start seeing Stolpersteine everywhere. They honor the dead and remind us that we always walk with and through history.  Herr Demnig places each Stumbling Stone by hand. He installed three Stolpersteine in Stuttgart on May 23rd.  Ms. Matney’s school will sponsor a Stolperstein each year.
To this day the city of Munich refuses to allow them to be placed.
She placed her unbandaged left hand over his on the table top. “Don’t think I’m only a cynic. If I lost my faith in nations, I find huge bravery and kindness in individuals. I kept my faith – and how can that be, after what religion did to my country? But I did. I believe in God. You saved my life so I am saved again. It’s more than a woman could hope for.” She squeezed his hand. “How long do you stay in Stuttgart?”
For the first time his regret about leaving had to do with a person and not with his phobia. “I should take a train tomorrow. Actually, I’m scared to fly,” Guy admitted. “I was in a forced landing once. I’m afraid of being in another.”
“Why fear a statistic chance? Why worry about an abstraction?” Nadia’s shoulders rose and fell in the Eastern European’s shrug, a slow, weary movement that expressed the futility of every question. “Think about the poor people who are in tsunamis. Or a war zone, where real fear is to think, how do you keep walking on the street as a rocket hits somewhere near, or you hear thwack!, and the person in front of you falls down? First you think, this time it isn’t me. It took years for me to stop looking over my shoulder. Stuttgart is civilized, but even here I stumble over Stolpersteine.”
Guy shook his head. “Never heard of it.”
“Them. Come, I will show you. There are some up around the corner.” Nadia refused to explain further.
She insisted on paying the bill and tucked her arm in his as the two of them headed up the Königstrasse. She led him to a stop in front of a store. “What do you see?”
Guy saw Europeans out Christmas shopping, happy people laughing and drinking glühwein, store windows filled with beautifully displayed consumer goods. Was it something special about the storefront? He shifted his weight and his heel came down on an uneven spot in the cement. When he glanced down, Guy saw gold cubes embedded in the sidewalk. He squatted to get a better look. Königstrasse 60, a stone with the name of Clothilde Mannheimer, another beside it for Jakob Mannheimer.
Nadia crouched down next to him. “The Mannheimers lived in this building. They were moved by train to Theresienstadt and died in the concentration camp there,” she translated. “These are their Stolpersteine, their stumbling stones. Wherever we go, we stumble over reminders of the past. The stones make sure we don’t forget the dead, these make sure that people today can’t push the dead from our memories.”
Guy traced the imprint of the names. The little golden cubes were weightier than their size. “Are there more?”
“All over Germany. Other countries, too. The Stolpersteine groups wish to mark the last free place where the persons lived, not where they were sent. Sometimes a family asks for a stumbling block; sometimes a local group did research for victims. And Stolpersteine are for everyone. Especially the Jews, but also the Behinderte, the ones with handicaps,” she corrected herself, “the mentally slow or physically handicapped. And gypsies, Communists. All were killed or did have to leave.”
“Knowing all this it wasn’t hard for you to become a German citizen?”
She gave another slow Eastern European shrug. “I gave up my old passport a decade ago. It was less hard than I expected. My home country is one in the heart.”
– from my chapter “What A Guy” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com. This link will get you there. I will post more on this extraordinary street art project shortly.
Ronnie’s coworker Yoshiko Sakei appeared in the next vision. Yoshiko came to the States for college and ended up marrying Erik Gross. She became an American citizen forty years ago. She’s nearing retirement, and she and Erik plan to move to Honshu. Yoshiko feels a secret guilt: she’s enjoyed the irresponsible freedom of a Japanese person living outside the home country.
Yoshiko tells Erik, “Let’s go back and care for my parents.” Erik likes the idea, because a Western man in Asia has lots of advantages. Gaigin aren’t expected to fit in.
They sell their home and plan to move as soon as Yoshiko stops working.
The vision shifts. Zen landscapes,
crowded city streets with tall buildings,
monks in yellow,
geishas in colorful kimonos,
salarymen in somber business suits all kaleidoscope through the dream. A few exquisite pieces of lacquer ware and a hand painted folding screen decorate a small space.
Yoshiko and Erik sit at a table across from an old Japanese couple with gentle smiles and parchment paper skins. The four of them drink tea. In the next scene they lie asleep in blankets on spotless tatami mats.
All four open their eyes as the light wood of the house splinters into match sticks. They look shocked in Ronnie’s direction – and the dream blows apart.
The ground stops convulsing and a gigantic wave with the salt of a billion tears engulfs the collapsed dwelling. Fires burn as poisons spill out into the land, air and waters.
It’s absolute devastation as far as the eye can see, whether on site or from across space and time. Ronnie sees the word TEPCO but has no idea what it means. A disaster is on the way, and her friends and every soul within hundreds of kilometers are doomed to die. Whether the death of one person or ten thousand, the outcome is unchangeable.
This dream of Japan contains only destruction of life and property and an aftermath that will linger, terrible, for generations. She can imagine what poisons are released; she can imagine, but she doesn’t want to.
Ronnie wept in great gasps and needed long minutes to convince herself that she wasn’t in the dream earthquake. All the same, she’d experienced a tsunami of the soul.
A disaster was going to strike northern Japan. What the hell could she do with the information, call the Prime Minister and warn him that he needed to put Japan on high alert? Contact TEPCO, whoever or whatever they were? Could she warn Yoshiko and Erik not to move, or to bring Yoshiko’s aged parents to them instead? She had nightmares for weeks.
Ronnie acknowledged the vision’s finality with a heavy heart. She went to going away parties and contributed to the fund for Yoshiko’s retirement present. She took part in the long goodbye with a smile whenever they met, knowing the parting would be final. When they left for Fukoshima, their absence felt like they were already dead.
That early farewell to Erik and Yoshiko pushed her into a deeper process of farewells. Ronnie was detaching more and more, from everybody and everything. She couldn’t be sure when the next person she knew would show up in a vision.
– from my chapter “Precognitious” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com,amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. This link gets you there.
Uwe’s photos of our trip to Japan and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.
I laugh and say I’m a travel tramp. A new place to see? How soon can we leave? After a holiday is really just the break before the next trip. But a few months ago I was working very very hard to finish my second novel. In my family we’re One-Tracks, and when we’re focused on a project the outside world vanishes. For the first time in our marriage, this year Uwe had to bribe me to go on vacation….
“How about a week on Madeira?” he suggested. “You can write while we’re there. What do you say to a working holiday?”
We were on the island a decade ago, and I liked the idea of returning. A place has a personality. You just can’t talk about the Greek islands or the Tunisia coastline without making mention of the quality of light and blue paint contrasting with whitewashed stairs and walls. My visit to Uwe when he was working in northern Sweden was all about snow and the aurora borealis.
Madeira means verticals. This Portuguese possession is located 520 km (280 nautical miles) from the coast of Africa. It’s lush. Madeira advertises itself as the garden island, and it’s a paradise of vivid flowering plants and trees.
Madeira is also impossibly steep.
We took the cable cars from the capitol of Funchal up to the various parks and botanical gardens. Later we rented a car and went exploring. Achadas da Cruz (Porto Moniz), population 159, on the northwest corner was a delightful highlight. The fields are down on the waterfront. To reach them the farmers use the cable car known as teleférico, a descent of 500 meters or over 1,500 feet. Prior to the opening of the teleférico in 2004, they made a steep hike of 5 kilometers down to their fields. Now, that’s dedication!
While the teleférico is popular with tourists and costs only 3€ for a one-way trip, the cable car really is used by farmers to transport crops.
Madeira was voted Europe’s Leading Island Destination in 2013. There are ample opportunities for hiking along the traditional water canals known as levadas. The island’s famous for Madeira wine, forests of bay laurels, and black scabbard fish.
The black scabbard or Espada Preta is one ugly fish. It is found only in extremely deep waters like those of Madeira’s coastline. The fish are abundant in waters between 800 and 1300 meters deep; adult fish swim at depths of 200-2000 metres and easily live and feed at substantially greater depths. Almost nothing is known about its life cycle!
A dish of black scabbard and bananas is the island meal (it’s okay. We preferred the fish cooked other ways: with garlic and wine, or in a fish soup, or…) The fish has no scales, and the delicate flesh melts in your mouth no matter how it’s prepared.
Prepare to meet Todd, a hero with dangerous fantasies. Coreen, trapped in a cult. Ronnie, dreaming other people’s futures. Guy, waiting for disaster at a Christmas Market. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train with a seductive stranger. By turns terrifying and funny, this is the story of people riding life’s waves… the tsunami cowboys.
It’s official: My new novel Tsunami Cowboys is available in paperback and eBook versions. Look for it on Amazon around the world. The following links will get you there for the US and Germany:Tsunami Cowboys (for Amazon.com) Tsunami Cowboys (Amazon.de)
I’m excited and proud and tired and floating on air. This book is the results of the last two years of writing. Thanks for your encouragement and support. It has made this journey a real pleasure.