Tuesday, June 5


Old Hag or Young Woman?
Look at the image on the left. What do you see? It's an old hag--right? She is looking forward and down, with a white hood covering the side of her head and her brown bangs hanging over her eyes. The flesh colored triangular shape, bottom center, is her chin and the line above it is her mouth. 

Look again--now what do you see? It's a young woman--right? She is looking away from us, her brown hair is pulled up under a white scarf that is fashionably draped over the back of her head. The flesh colored triangular shape, bottom center, is her chest and she is wearing a brown ribbon choker.

Perhaps this is how many women (and men) perceive growing old. They look in the mirror and see an old hag and wonder what happened to the handsome young person that used to look back at them. I believe how we react to getting older is the true key to life-long happiness. The old hag exists only in our minds. She is actually an attractive woman whose face reflects a multitude of experience and wisdom. Old age is simply another destination on life's highway and the trip is merely another adventure to embrace.

On my recent birthday, I was reminded of the changing perception of that particular "number" as we age. My thirteen-year-old granddaughter called to wish me a happy birthday and asked me how old I am. I told her and, after a long pause, she blew out a breath.

"Wow!" she said. "I'm glad you're still alive."

I pulled out the book "I'm Still Me After All These Years" that hit the market last year. The anthology contain some wonderful insight into how other seniors are living life to the fullest and showing by example that age truly is only a number.

While re-reading "Still Me" I was reminded of an incident in my own life several years ago that may be relevant to what I am trying to say. My husband and I went out to dinner with another couple. The wife was actively NOT celebrating her birthday that day. She was bemoaning the fact that another year had passed and she was getting old.

I studied her as she talked about the extra five pounds she'd gained since her wedding day, her "poochy" tummy, and saggy double chin. (She looked great to me.) I knew she was older than I but, up until that moment, I had never been concerned with my age except when I couldn't wait to turn sixteen so I could get my driver's license.

I was hesitant to ask her age, she seemed so sensitive about it, but she opened the door by asking my age. I told her my "number" and her eyes widened with shock. She said I didn't look it. She said I was so lucky to have "good genes" and I should enjoy it while I could.

I recall that was the first time I thought about the inevitability of growing old and it bothered me. Deep down, I was glad I was my age and she was the older woman.

Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you--she was twenty-four and I was nineteen.

If you could pick any time (or any age) in your life to relive, when would it be and why?

Check out "Still Me After All These Years," to see what 24 seniors have to say about life in their golden years:  

Wednesday, June 7


It's the first Wednesday of the month and time for all Insecure Writers’ Support Group members to answer the monthly question posed to us--or write about whatever else is on our mind.  If you are a writer and have any insecurities about your writing, this is a fantastic group. Come join us. 

This month's question: Did you ever say “I quit”? If so, what happened to make you come back to writing? Here is my (previously published) tongue-in-cheek answer, with a little bit of fact woven in between the lines...

By Jane Doe
(aka Valerie Capps)

Have you ever wondered why authors use pen names? I'm sure as writers we can all produce a list of reasons, but I have a theory that the word "Mother" would appear somewhere on most of our lists.
At fifteen years of age, I felt I had found my niche in life. Journalism was in my blood. I joined the school paper, and the words seemed to flow naturally from my pen. My English teacher encouraged my writing and even submitted one of my fictional manuscripts, a short story about a teenage girl contemplating suicide, for competition. It placed second. I was thrilled, at least until my mother read the story. Then my budding career came to an abrupt halt.
Convinced that I was the girl in my story, Mother watched me for signs that I might attempt to kill myself. She hid the prescription medicine, bought an electric razor, and suggested that I shower instead of bathe. She would even creep into my room late at night to make sure I was still breathing.
Mother showed my story to anyone in the family who would take the time to read it. If someone happened to mention it was well written, she would lower her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and remind him or her that "normal" people didn't think of such things. You couldn't just make up something like that!
After a while, the family furor died down, but I was left with insecurity about allowing anyone close to me read my work. My constant self-censorship significantly hampered my creativity. I finally confided my problem to my English teacher, and he told me a lot of authors felt the way I did. He suggested I assume a pseudonym, on the premise that what my mother didn't know wouldn't hurt her. He assured me that many great writers did this and pointed to Mark Twain as an example. I silently wondered if Mr. Clemens had also had a problem with his mother.
I took his advice, and things went well for about a year. Then an article I had written for the school paper on drug abuse was reprinted in the local paper. What was worse, they printed my real name! It was right there in black and white for God and the world, and my mother to see!
Needless to say, Mother was convinced my information had been obtained first hand. Using a fictitious name, she took me to a doctor (in another town, of course) for counseling. He assured her that, considering the state of the world in the mid-sixties, I was within the range of normalcy for a sixteen-year-old and was not on drugs. Mother wasn't convinced, and once again I suffered through weeks of covert surveillance as she searched for signs of a drug overdose.
To Mother's relief, I finally gave up the fight and let my dream of becoming a journalist fade into oblivion. I settled into a nice safe career in business and started raising a family. The years passed and, as people are fond of saying, time healed the void left by my "lost love." Or so I thought.
One day we bought a new computer for the office. I installed it and to check out the word processing capabilities, I typed a short anecdote about a paranoid computer and let it fly across the Internet. The phones came alive as coworkers and friends intercepted my tale. Everyone loved it, and I was hooked--again!
I wrote a short story and dropped it in the mail. It was accepted, published, and I promptly received a check for my work. After all, this time, dare I believe I still had the knack? To prove to myself that my first publication in nearly thirty years wasn’t just a fluke, I took keyboard in hand and pounded out another story. Once again, my work was published. I was on a roll!
Somehow my mother, who rarely reads anything but the local paper, got word that I was writing again. She boarded the first bus out of town. (She has never flown—she insists that it is impossible for anything as massive as a plane to stay airborne.)
Mother traveled across three states, arrived at the front door with a suitcase in hand and announced that she had just dropped by to see how we were doing. Mother stayed a week, and for perhaps the first time in our lives we actually talked. After all those years of tension and resentment, we finally reached an understanding. Mother agreed to accept that I was a fictional writer and my stories could possibly be the product of a very active imagination. In turn, I assured her I would always use a pen name when I wrote anything that might shock Aunt Mary or the Reverend Brown. Elated that I had finally removed the major stumbling block to a successful writing career, I put Mother on the bus for home.
With the problem of Mother solved, I finally began a romance novel that had been bouncing around inside my head for several months. My inhibitions gone, I proceeded with total abandon and was so excited with the results of my work that I let my husband read part of my first draft. It included a sizzling sex scene.
“Hey, Honey,” he said, his forehead furrowed into a concerned frown as his gaze quickly scanned the pages of my manuscript, “just where did you come up with this story . . . “
# # #

Monday, March 6


Did that really happen?

I recently read a research study that showed our recollections of past events are, at best, half correct. It said that every time you revisit a memory, it becomes altered in some way. That's why eye-witness accounts of a crime are not reliable. A few years ago, I would have argued that point with my final breath. It's my life, I lived it, and I know what transpired because I was there when it happened!

Now that I'm well-established in the senior citizen group of Baby Boomers, I find myself reflecting on things that happened decades ago. My memory of past events are clear and factual--or so I thought. Case in point, the day my youngest child was born.  It was a few decades ago, but I've revisited that memory several times over the past years, and it hasn't changed one bit. Or has it?

"The baby" (we didn't know the sex yet) was due on February 13th. Her father, a big football fan, grumbled that "it" would probably be born early and he'd miss the Superbowl game. She WAS born early--on Super Bowl Sunday! .January 27, 1974. I'd swear to it. I remember the event as if it happened yesterday.

My husband was in the waiting room watching the game while I was laboring to bring our daughter into the world. My obstetrician was home watching it on TV. Most of the hospital staff and patients were gathered around TVs watching the action.

An intern delivered my daughter while a group of student nurses scurried to help. Good thing I had taken Lamaze classes--by myself, of course. That training was my saving grace. She exploded into the world hating football, just like me, because no one was there to welcome her except a stand-in doctor and her exhausted mother. It was us against the world--and football!

The problem is, Google and newspapers say that Superbowl VIII was played on Sunday, January 13, 1974. WTH is that all about? Someone must have rewritten history when I wasn't looking. That's the only thing that makes sense. I was there. I remember it all very clearly, and it still makes me angry. In fact, I still hate Superbowl Sundays because of it! The real question now is, if the masses weren't watching the football game, where was everybody?

Do you have a clear memory of an event that someone else tells you, "Sorry, Dear, that isn't the way it happened."?

Tuesday, December 20


Old Friends
"Hey, Girly," the old man shouted from his wheelchair as I walked by his open door. "Hey! Come here! Girly?"
I was tired and wanted to go home. I silently chided myself for thinking about ignoring his plea. With a sigh, I pasted a smile on my face and stepped into his room.
"Look at this." He held out a tattered card. "Ain't it somethin'?"
I took it from his hand. A cartoon-style sketch on the front of the card showed a World War 2 soldier with a bugle inserted through a military tent doorway with a Christmas wreath hung above the opening. It said, "Christmas Greetings to an Army Man."
"We hit Omaha Beach together in '44," he said. I looked down at him and his eyes briefly clouded with the long ago memory. He was quiet for a moment before he continued. "When the war ended, we went our separate ways. I never laid eyes on him again. It was me that sent a card that first Christmas we was home. It was 1945."
His lips curved in a gummy smile. "He sent it back to me and said he didn't waste his hard earned money on Christmas cards. I kept the card and sent it to him again the next year--that would've been '46. I said 'me neither.' He sent it back to me and we been sending it back and forth every year since."
I carefully opened the worn card and looked at the notations inside. The first entry simply said, Merry Christmas, 1945. The second entry said, Don't waste hard-earned money on tomfoolery such as this. The third entry said, Me neither, 1946. After that, the only notations on the card was the year with "ditto" marks beside it. 1947", 1948", 1949"...
My gaze traveled over the entries. Year after year, the dates were scrawled, until every millimeter of the inside space was covered. I turned the card over and continued to scan the dates with accompanying ditto marks scribbled on the back.
"Look!" The old man giggled with child-like glee as he pointed toward familiar ditto marks beside this year's date. "Tough old goat's still alive and kickin' same as me!"
I handed the card back to him. He took it from me with a reverence reserved for a prized possession worth a fortune in gold. I patted his shoulder and wished him a Merry Christmas. He nodded in response and turned his full attention to the treasure in his hand. No doubt reliving his life experiences represented by the dates on the dog-eared card. 
As I left his room I heard him softly whisper to the card: "Merry Christmas, old friend."

Monday, October 31


Happy Halloween! Although I've never seen a ghost, I have had a ghost-like experience. Today seems like a good day to share it with you.


The ad said: Three bedrooms, two baths, brick ranch on level lot, with a garage and fenced backyard. Move-in ready. Priced to sell.
We pulled into the driveway, looked at each other and smiled. The house was everything we were looking for--and at a bargain price. My husband climbed out of the car and followed our agent around the outside perimeter to check the structure while I went inside to inspect the living area.
I stepped through the front door and was immediately struck by two things. The beautiful hardwood floors made a striking first impression. The atmosphere of the room, however, felt oppressive. Although it was a hot day, a chill swept through me.
As I toured the house, my unease grew. The master bedroom had a great view of the backyard, but something about the room made me apprehensive. I backed out and crossed the hall to the guest room. It was smaller and cozy, but the tension in my shoulders and the chill in my bones remained.
The bright, cheerful space of the third bedroom drew me in with its colorful artwork. The neutral tones of the rest of the house were at odds with this room. This room was unique. It had obviously been a nursery, and it was adorable. As I stood there admiring the hand-painted pictures, I thought I heard the muffled mew of a cat, or maybe it was a wounded animal. It almost sounded like a baby's cry. I cocked my head to listen and heard it again. I opened the closet and found it empty. It sounded like it was in the room with me, but maybe it was coming from under the house. Something to check out before we left.
As I stood there, a vague sense of sadness enveloped me. I wasn't sure why I suddenly felt so despondent, but the feeling grew stronger with each passing moment. I had the strangest thought that if I stayed in that room another minute, I'd lose myself completely to the feeling.
I felt lightheaded, nauseous, and cold, but at the same time, my skin felt as if it was on fire. I stumbled from the room, hurried down the hall to the kitchen and stopped at the sink to splash water on my face. I stood, and the excess ran down my face and onto my blouse. The voices of my husband and our agent drifted through the closed kitchen door as they entered the attached garage. He sounded upbeat. I could tell he liked the house by the tone of his voice. I smiled and pushed my ominous feelings aside, silently chiding myself for being silly. I decided I must be coming down with the flu or a nasty bug or something.
I turned around with my back pressed against the sink and waited for them to enter the kitchen via the closed door to the garage. As I stood there, I studied the opposite wall. Something about the color of the wall looked odd. It was darker than the rest of the room. The paint looked as if an amateur had attacked it with a stiff brush to glob on a thick layer of color instead of the smooth, professional finish of the other rooms.
I walked over to the wall and reached out to touch it. When my fingertips made contact with the surface, a sharp pain stabbed the center of my chest. I gasped for breath and leaned forward with my hands on my knees as my husband and the agent entered the room.
"Are you okay?" My husband rushed to my side and grabbed my arm to steady me.
The pain was gone, I straightened and looked up at him. The sadness I had felt earlier hit me again with an emptiness so intense it brought tears to my eyes. I blinked them away, nodded, and turned to stare at our agent. The woman stared back at me, her forehead furrowed with concern.
I'm not sure how I knew, but at that moment I was certain there was something about the house she hadn't told us. Something sinister. It was a beautiful property, but something was very wrong. I could feel it.
"What's the story about this house?" I blurted out. "Where are the previous owners? Why is the price so far below market value?"
She lowered her eyes from my accusing stare and looked everywhere except at me. Her gaze still averted, she finally spoke.
"Tennessee sellers aren't required to disclose a property's history," she said. "Disclosure requirements are for property conditions or defects only. It isn't necessary to volunteer information about stigmatized properties. But--"
"What do you mean by "stigmatized" property," I interrupted. I had never heard the term.
She took a deep breath and said, "You know. Things such as murders, suicides, hauntings, and the like, but since you specifically asked I'll tell you what I've heard." 
She hesitated.
"Go on," I said. The woman was beginning to get on my last nerve.
"Well," the agent said, "the house may be, uh, slightly haunted."
"Slightly haunted?" I laughed. The sound was more of a derisive smirk than an expression of amusement. "You're joking!"
She shrugged, shook her head, and then proceeded to tell us about the young father who shot his girlfriend while she was holding their baby. It had happened in the kitchen. Mother and child were killed instantly with one bullet. The father turned the gun on himself. All three bodies were found lying in front of the blood-splattered wall where we stood.
Attempts to rent the house resulted in complaints about strange crying sounds in one of the bedrooms or loud firecrackers going off at odd times or cold spots that were impossible to heat. The owner (grandmother of the father), unable to deal with the tragedy and ongoing reports of unusual happenings, walked away and left the property to be repossessed by the bank.
Our agent called it a Stigmatized Property. I still refer to it as The Murder House. Call me superstitious if you must, but we passed on the bargain dream home that day. I've heard the house is currently on its fifth owner since the tragedy.

What would you have done? Would you have purchased the house?

Monday, October 24


On January 23, 1897, Edward Shue sent a young boy to his house on an errand. When the arrived, he found the body of Zona Heaster Shue. She was lying at the foot of the stairs, stretched out, feet together, one hand on her stomach. The boy ran home to tell his mother, who summoned the local doctor/coroner.

By the time the doctor arrived, Edward had moved Zona's body to the upstairs bedroom and placed it on the bed. He had changed her clothes to a stiff-collared, high-necked dress and draped a veil over her face. His actions were very unusual because, at that time, it was customary for local women to wash and dress a lady's body after death. The doctor briefly examined the body and left. He listed the cause of death as an "everlasting faint" and Zona was promptly buried.

According to local legend, four weeks after the funeral Zona appeared to her mother, Mary Jane Heaster, and said her husband, Edward, had killed her. Zona returned to her mother over the course of four nights to repeatedly describe her murder. She said Edward broke her neck. The ghost turned her head around until it faced backward to demonstrate. At Mrs. Heaster's insistence, Zona's body was exhumed. An autopsy verified the ghost's account was accurate, and Edward Shue was arrested for the murder of his wife.

During the trial, the prosecutor stuck to the facts and skirted around the key witness (Zona's mother) testimony regarding the appearance of her daughter's ghost, fearing it would make her appear unreliable. The defense, however, pounced on the issue hoping to prove Mrs. Heaster was indeed unreliable--if not mad. But Zona's mother did not waver in her account, and the tactic backfired. The jury believed her, as did the community.

Edward Shue was convicted of murder and sentenced to life. He died in prison on March 13, 1900. This history-making trial is the only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer.

Mrs. Heaster never recanted her story. Zona's ghost never appeared again.

Do you believe her daughter's ghost appeared to Mrs. Heaster, or do you think a mother's love and instinct was the driving force behind gaining justice for Zona?

Thursday, October 20


"Naked Came the Stranger" by Penelope Ashe is about a so-called perfect couple who live in New York. When the wife (Gillian) discovers her husband (William) is having an affair, she decides to pay him back by cheating on him with a variety of men.

If you are a writer, you have probably heard about this book, although you may not know its title.

In 1969, everyone was talking about this great new book, so I bought it, read it, and then wondered WTH? I thought it was worse than terrible, but who was I to criticize something that everyone else thought was the best thing to come along since "Lady Chatterley's Lover"? It spent thirteen weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, so it must be good--right?

To me, it was nothing but a compilation of sex scenes broken into chapters with a non-existent plot. I have nothing against explicit sex scenes, but I do need a story to go with them. This book was just boring. Disappointed, I shoved it onto a bookshelf and forgot it.

In October 1969, "Naked Came the Stranger" was revealed as hoax meant to poke fun at the American literary culture of the time. (Especially fans of Jacqueline Susann's "Valley of the Dolls.")

Author and Newsday Columnist, Mike McGrady, organized the project on the premise that any book could succeed if it had enough sex thrown in. To assure the story line was inconsistent, a group of twenty-four journalists was chosen to write different chapters of the book. The authors were told to create terrible manuscripts that contained a lot of descriptions of sex. Anything well-written had to be edited to make it deliberately inferior.

"Naked Came the Stranger" became even more popular after the hoax was revealed and has since become a cult classic. All-time sales have topped 400,000+ copies.

Have you heard about or read "Naked Came the Stranger"?