Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Patricia McLinn: Old Favorite, New Friend

Back in the day, I subscribed to just about every category romance line out there. I read so many, I soon recognized the authors who were my favorites. Patricia McLinn was one of these - I especially liked her series set in Chicago, but I loved them all.

When I didn't see any new Patricia McLinn books for awhile, I got curious and sent her a message via her website. Life had intervened, and for a few years I had to do without my McLinn fix. We kept in touch and I finally met Pat in person at Lori Foster's Get-Together in Cincinnati in June 2009. In a wonderful coincidence, Pat had moved down my way and she even joined my RWA chapter.

I am a serious fan, as you can see here. I interviewed Pat at Romance: B(u)y the Book and I've been eagerly awaiting her next release. I've been waiting a LONG time, so I'm thrilled to share this news from Pat:

Hi Becke,

Not sure if you saw my newsletter. Just in case you didn't, I wanted to be sure to let you know, because I promised I would when I (gasp!) had a new book available. ,g>


Okay, everybody hold on to your chair now, I don't want anyone falling over in shock and hurting themselves. Yes, I have a new book out:

PRINCIPAL OF LOVE -- through AWritersWork.com: http://www.awriterswork.com/McLinn_Patricia/principaloflove_pmclinn.asp
This is the "autumn" book in the Seasons in a Small Town series.


Meet Josh Kincannon, high school principal, single father of three, and thus, as he reminds himself ruefully, essentially celibate back into misty memory and forward into the foreseeable future.

After three months of trying to work with Vanessa Irish via phone and e-mails, Josh believes he has an accurate picture of Zeke-Tech's CFO:

Conscientious? Oh, yeah.
Intelligent? Absolutely.
Agreeable? Not so much.

Then he catches sight of her wild, vibrant robe and begins to wonder what other elements might form a portrait of Vanessa Irish. Every time she goes into her I'm-so-boring-I-disappear-against-white-walls act, he remembers that vibrant, wild fabric hanging on the corner of a door and he gets curious. And the more curious he becomes, the more he discovers about her that has him feeling things a whole lot hotter than curiosity. Things that threaten that celibacy claim, scrape against his high school principal job and shake up life with his three kids.

Numbers, that's what Vanessa knows. Not all this interaction with people that she's been pitched into. Especially interacting with Josh Kincannon. Why does he insist on drawing her into his town, his life, his family? And the biggest question -- what kind of man is this, who not only looks at her, but /sees/ her, when that's the last thing she wants?


 AWritersWork.com is starting a program of offering a book for sale to benefit charity. I'm thrilled that MATCH MADE IN WYOMING is the first one. All of my proceeds from sales of MATCH at www.AWritersWork.com will be divided among 4 animal rescue groups:

Best Friends Animal Society
Tri-State Collie Rescue (this is where I got my current rescue collie, Kalli)
A reader's choice group (will be selected at random from among nominations of those who purchase MATCH at AWritersWork.com ) 

MATCH MADE IN WYOMING is dedicated to those who rescue animals (along with family furries), and features my Riley's alter ego "Sin." As one reviewer said, the dog threatens to steal the stage in MATCH. (That was ol' Riley to a T.).

You can read the 1st chapter of Match at the link below. Better yet, you could buy a copy, help those rescue groups and nominate one important to you!

Buy a book, help a pet!

Pat McL

-- A Writer's Work . . . is here!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bending Reality: When Pen Pals, Fictional Characters, Virtual Friends and Real Life Collide

Hard to believe, but I used to write letters almost every single day. Longhand. *shudders* Well, sometimes longhand. When I could get my hands on my dad's old Royal typewriter, I preferred to use that, but mostly I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote.

Even though I now avoid longhand whenever possible (you would shudder, too, if you saw my penmanship), I still have a callous from all those years of letter writing.

When I lived in England years ago, instead of keeping a journal, I wrote letters every day - to my parents, to my brothers and sisters, to my friends and all my other relatives. And when I moved back to the U.S. I wrote to all the friends and family I'd left behind in England.

I still write to some of my elderly relatives who don't have computers, but not nearly as often as I communicate with those who have Facebook and email accounts. I heart my computer - I don't deny it.

I LOVE that I've reconnected with my old friend Ian on Facebook - he lives in Scotland, but we worked together in London some thirty years ago. We've sent Christmas cards to each other for years, but now it's like he's in the next room.

It's the same with my friend Linda. We've been friends since we discovered our mutual love of the Beatles in sixth grade and we've stayed in touch all these years. But we never really felt connected until Facebook brought us together again.

Jim, Pat, Felicia, Bonnie, Bunny - friends from middle school and high school who had seemed so far away are there whenever I click the page, even though Bonnie is in Rio or other exotic places.

Facebook is fun, but I do have some fond memories of writing to pen pals and watching every day to see if the mailman would bring me a letter. My first real pen pal, Lilann, was slightly older than I was; her mother was a good friend of my aunt's, and she lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I'd met her when I was 15 and we corresponded for years after that. I remember when she wrote about her father's death at an early age, and when she decided to go to nursing school. We lost touch for years, and then met again about ten years ago. When her mom died this year, it was like losing a piece of my youth.

My most memorable pen pal lived right down the street. Her name was Kerry, and we met in fifth grade. We were dorks, by any standard. The day she was introduced as the new kid in class, I saw a very short girl with straight brownish-blonde hair and heavy bangs, cat-eye glasses and, as I recall, a leopard print dress. (I had one like that later, so I'm not sure I trust my memory of that.)

I was quite tall and very skinny, with masses of freckles and long red hair that I wore in two braids. I HATED that I'd been named after Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; I fit her description a little too well. I would have preferred Loretta Young as a namesake, with her looks to match. Instead, the boys called me "Mr. Green Jeans" because, well, I actually had a pair of green jeans. See what I mean? Total dork. (That's a picture of Mr. Green Jeans with his friend, Captain Kangaroo, below.)

We both were obsessive readers, although our taste differed - Kerry adored Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House series, while I was into Alfred Hitchcock short stories and anything with a mystery. We made up stories about the Russian spies across the street (they had a ham radio and foreign names, and my parents think they might really have been spies - it was the Cold War era, after all), and when another neighbor dug a trench for some plants, we convinced ourselves he was hiding bodies under them.

Those were wonderful times. We hid in the furnace closet when her three older brothers had wild parties that inevitably ended with the police showing up, and we willingly ran errands for her brothers, for a small fee. My house was overrun with younger siblings; to me, her house was the most fascinating place on earth. We were young voyeurs, always spying on the teenagers and, as I recall, sometimes taking notes.

Kerry and I clung to each other when we saw a double feature of Two on a Guillotine and Psycho (and it was the former that terrified us . . . the slowly turning doorknob . . . eek!), and when my brother and his friend Alan put some of my Beatle cards in a mousetrap, we retaliated by making Poison for Boys out of everything in her parents' medicine cabinets. (We poured it all into baggies and lobbed them at the boys from our bikes; last time I went by our old house there was still no grass growing where the PFB had landed.)

So, if Kerry lived right down the street, how did we become pen pals? Well, it wasn't exactly us. We made up an imaginary friend named Lillian P. Potter. She had a brother named Georgie, and she lived in Moonstone Manor in Scotland.

Whenever we felt the urge, we'd write a page or two in Lillian's POV (although we had no clue what point-of-view meant in those days) and mail it to the other with the Moonstone Manor return address. This went on for years. I would LOVE to find those letters, but unless Kerry has some, I think they've all gone the way of other childhood ephemera.

Kerry and I were inseparable all through middle school, but by the time we reached high school we'd begun to grow apart. It wasn't until we were out of school and I was married that we reconnected again, and then, every so often, Lillian would resurface to send a birthday or Christmas card.

By the time we became mothers (Kerry's a teacher now, with two grown sons and a couple of grandchildren), Lillian had grown up, too. I'm sure she's frolicking in the Highlands with some brawny, shirtless Scot in a kilt and having mysterious adventures every day. (Hey, it's my story, despite the fact that Ian will go into hysterics when he reads the bit about the brawny shirtless Scot.)

Lillian is not forgotten, though, and when the Harry Potter books came out, I liked to imagine he was a descendant of Lillian's.

I could hardly believe it when it was revealed that Harry's mother was named Lillian. Could it be??? Perhaps one of our letters went astray and was returned to Scotland, where it was found by an aspiring author with a vision of a bespectacled boy floating in her head. Stranger things have happened . . .

So, back to pen pals vs. Facebook, reality vs. virtuality. (If there is such a word.)

I think it's all the same, really - pen pals, virtual friends and friends we see in "real life." Characters in books are just another form of virtual - and only somewhat imaginary - friends. To those of us who live between the pages of books, reality is a little bit virtual, too.

At least, that's what I like to imagine.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Into the Unknown with Dan Dare, Kemlo, and a Cast of Thousands

MARTY’S MEMORIES - Part One (The Early Years)  - for Jessica and Jonathan......

My childhood memories are not often sparked by encounters with now.

When I think about my childhood days - I see them like black and white newsreels - with splashes of colour from the fantasy comic world of heroes, spacemen and aliens found in Eagle comics - and later in Marvel and DC.    I can remember living in a world inside my head that was full of  heroes like Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future,

- Kemlo, the Space Cadet, a kid with his own spaceship - AWESOME!!

- Tom Swift, and his amazing adventures involving his own inventions......

Becke can remember so much more of her childhood than I can, I think it may be because she had younger brothers and sisters that kept her “rooted” in the present moment - my younger brother and I are nine years apart - two only children, as I recall.

I don’t feel too bad about that - perhaps I should. But I do know that my “virtual life” in my fantasy world developed into a gifted imagination - which has helped me a lot in life, by helping me see things from alternate perspectives - from “outside the box,” you might say.


I grew up (from birth to 15) in England, South London to be specific, in various suburbs with such typically “British” names as Brockley, Upper Norwood, and Penge, although my mother would always claim that we lived in Upper Sydenham (pronounced Siddenhum) - it was a class thing with her.

My family moved around various places in South London and Kent for most of my childhood - so I often was the “new boy” in class - so it was tough to make lasting friendships. We moved a lot because we lived in flats while I was growing up. We could never afford a single family home - those were either the luxury of the upper middle class or the “gift” of the government for those with a lower income. It had always seemed a little upside down to me as a kid that my friends, who my Mum and Dad assured me, came from “poorer” circumstances, had nice little houses with their own rooms and back gardens, while I had a tiny room in a flat with no separate garden.... I was quite sure that getting a “council house,” was not as demeaning as my parents made it out to be..

I was a chubby kid, and wasn’t very good at sports - nothing’s changed there. But as a kid it made me feel a little outcast and shy. So I used to play with a few close friends or I played with my imaginary “hero” friends. I liked them a lot better than the real ones anyway. My imaginary friends would never ask me if I wanted to play a game - then not pick me for their team....

My favorite games always involved me being some kind of hero - I liked masks, capes and gloves and anything that added realism to my secret identity. Don’t get me wrong, I did have friends who liked to act out these fantastic adventures with me - we’d lose ourselves for hours being these “invincible” avengers of justice. We’d wreak havoc among all the imaginary villains that would challenge our powers.

I used to love “Saturday Morning Pictures” - which was the British version of the kid’s matinee - where I’d sit through a bunch of cartoons and an invariably long and boring western film, waiting for the 10 minute serial episode of Commando Cody in “Radar Men from the Moon," or “Crash” Corrigan in the “Undersea Kingdom.”

As soon as the lights came up I’d rush home and put a box with eyeholes on my head and somehow attach the control unit from my train set to the front of my shirt, and spend the rest of the afternoon running and jumping into the air in my back garden -

“Look out baddies - it’s Commando Cody and his Rocket suit!!”


I lived my fantasies mostly in black and white until the arrival of colour comics from America - they were even more real - amazing!!

There were DC Comics with Superman, Batman & Robin, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Aquaman - and my personal favorites The Flash, The Atom, and the little known Metal Men (who to this day I owe for helping me pass a difficult science test). Because of that comic, I knew the melting points of various alloys, because The Metal Men’s weakness, (all heroes have them), were geared around that very issue.

They all were the coolest heroes EVER....

Then one day I was at the local newsagent and discovered the world of Marvel comics - OMG!!!

There was The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Ant-Man, Giant Man, Hulk, Sub-Mariner, the list goes on and on - then I found my favorites amongst those - Iron Man and Thor........

So many super-heroes, so little time!!

Every month there seemed to be a new super-cool, super hero that I could add to my expanding imaginary world. 

Those were great days.....


I do remember my best friend from those days (just in case you think I NEVER had any) - his name was Michael O’Farrell and he lived at the end of our street - he was an Irish Roman Catholic - from a VERY Irish, and very Catholic family (lots of kids) for those days. His father seemed mean, although it might have just been his way. I know that he did not look too kindly on his son being friends with an English PROTESTANT boy - ironic now as I look back, but in those days I wasn’t even sure what a Catholic was - although I did know that we, so-called Protestants, were supposed to hate them, and vice versa....

In my childish understanding I thought that being Protestant just meant that you didn’t really believe in anything - it seemed that way - my parents didn’t go to church unless there was a funeral or a wedding - although my Dad definitely had a lot of Bibles that he never appeared to read!!! Being Catholic appeared to mean that you had more kids than you could handle so you yelled at them all the time!!

Michael and I were inseparable - he came on holiday with me a few times - we had such fun playing together. I was friends with him for several years, until we moved away. I hope he remembers me as well as I remember him. I wonder if he’s still around.

That takes me up to about age 10....... just like any good serial..... there’s much more to come. Stay Tuned............

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Ben and Me, Traveling Back Through Time

Happy almost-Independence Day to all my friends in the U.S. of A.! My husband and I celebrated the gorgeous day by driving down to East Fork Lake State Park in Bethel, Ohio. The lake is beautiful, the weather was glorious and we had a great time.

We decided to explore a little before returning home. Bethel isn't all that far from our home, but we rarely get down that way. We were intrigued by the retro look of the downtown area, so we stopped to browse through some of the stores.

That's when things got weird. There was a Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store on the corner -- when I was a kid, a lot of people called it the "five and dime." Now, as far as I knew, Ben Franklin had been out of business for a long time. Several people I know used to work at their warehouses, and I thought they'd all shut down. Shows how much I know.

Here's what Ben Franklin looks like now, Main Street USA-style:

Here's what the stores used to look like - this is one in Pennsylvania:

And this is the store we visited in Bethel today:

I even found a YouTube video about a Ben Franklin store in Oberlin, OH:

First, the backstory - let me tell you about Ben and Me. Not the famous book by the same name, which I read about the time this story starts, but good old Ben Franklin's 5 and 10 store in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

(Yes, there really are elks in Elk Grove.)

My family moved to Elk Grove Village on May 18, 1959, shortly before I finished first grade at Armstrong School in Chicago. I went to Rupley School in Elk Grove for about a month, and by the time I started second grade Ridge School had been completed.

The town was just being built by Centex, and there wasn't a lot to do. My family would drive out by the cornfields and watch planes take off by the newly expanded O'Hare International Airport, and my friends and I would chase the mosquito-spraying trucks, probably inhaling clouds of DDT.

We had no lawns, but there was so much clay in our backyard, I was able to make a rather nice ashtray for my dad for Father's Day and some kind of bowl for my mom on Mother's Day. The sidewalks were built above the grade, and when a torrential rainstorm hit, all the neighborhood kids had the unusual opportunity to swim in our front yards.

Besides the elks, our other claim to fame was in nearby Des Plaines, where our local hang-out was the first ever McDonald's.

That first year, a tornado turned the sky green on September 20 and damaged 16 homes. It was an interesting introduction to the town I lived in until I got married in 1971.

Back to Ben Franklin. The big shopping area back then was on Arlington Heights Road, and included the Maitre'D Restaurant, Suburban Drugs, Elk Grove Bowl and a Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store. Jarosch Bakery was also there - and it still is today. (I worked there when I was 16 and they made my wedding cake, so I have to give them a plug.)

Things were different back then, so it wasn't unusual for my brother and I to walk the two miles to Ben Franklin to spend our (sporadic) allowance.

It was always a tough decision. I usually saved up my quarters until I had at least a dollar to spend. Sometimes I bought books; Big Golden Books cost a buck - Quick Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound were among the ones I bought - and Trixie Belden, too.

My brother sometimes bought model airplane kits, and I remember buying a small cardboard box filled with teeny, tiny pink plastic dishes, cups and saucers made in China or Japan - they cost less than a dollar, but I treasured that set more than any expensive toy I owned. Then there was the penny candy and other cool stuff - wax lips, wax syrup-filled Coke bottles, jaw breakers, Mary Janes, Boston Baked Beans. Ah, the days when I could eat that crap without feeling guilty!

Anyway, as you can see, Ben Franklin isn't a store to me, it's a piece of my childhood. So imagine how disoriented I felt when I walked into the Ben Franklin in Goshen, Ohio today and found I had stepped back in time. The first aisle had a big display of ladies' hair nets, in packaging that clearly hadn't changed since the 1950s. I think it probably was the original stock. Below those was a large display of flowered hankies, similar to the ones my grandmother used to give me when I was about six years old.

When we walked into another part of the store, I could practically hear the Twilight Zone theme playing. There were the boxes of model cars and airplanes my brother used to buy, and I swear some of them had been there since those days. There were paper doll books older than my daughter, and a child's ironing play set from the year my daughter was born: 1983. In the card section, they had vintage-looking cards and gift wrap so old they are back in style.

I love this store! I don't know how any store today can stay in business with a selection like this, but I guarantee I'll be going back there again -- with my kids, next time. I'm sure they would be as fascinated as my husband and I were by this flash into the past.

Thanks for the memories, Ben Franklin. And what a long, strange trip it's been!