Name This Country If You Can

Can you name the country from these photos?

Some hints…It is the safest country in the world to travel. In 2019, the country held a funeral for a glacier. If you lived there, you’d want to have the vehicle on the right to manage the interior roads.

The Speed of Parenting

 

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Babies don’t arrive with a user manual. Everything you do as a parent requires on-the-job training. Those blessed with wonderful role models to follow will find themselves speaking words they didn’t like hearing when they were children. Those who didn’t have great role models live in fear of becoming their parents. As a parent on the mature end of the spectrum, I realize Each significant stage in her life accelerated her more.

Events I felt unprepared for kept me humble and alert.

As soon as she could crawl, she headed off to stick a wet finger in an electrical socket. As soon as she could walk, she took off and dared us to catch her. Then there came roller skating on four wheels. When she finally mastered her two-wheeler, she demanded the training wheels come off. Faster and faster. Once, she tried to outrace me on her two-wheeler and screamed in shock when I caught her. Back then, I could keep pace with her.

When my 1-year-old daughter Jessica reached that greet-the-world stage, she enjoyed a trip to the grocery where she could shout “HI” to everyone we passed. Through the aisles, we traveled while kind strangers returned her greeting. I could tell from their reactions that these mothers and grandmothers had been through this before. Jessica was my only child, so it was new territory for me. I gave her a bottle, and she drank for a while. In the aisle with the paper goods, I stopped to find paper towels.

Jessica sat up in the cart and shouted “Hi” to the back of a gray-haired man.

The man did not respond. Jessica repeated it louder. As I tossed the paper towels into the cart, the man turned around.

He had a high collar with a microphone device hanging around his neck. He raised the device to his throat near his tracheotomy tube, then a deep vibrating robotic voice said, “Hello, little girl.”

Jessica’s eyes widened, and she held out her bottle.

“Any little girl who would give her bottle to a stranger can’t be all bad,” he rasped in his mechanical voice.

She stared and blinked.

The dear gentleman smiled and said, “Bye-bye.”

He had walked to the far end of the aisle when Jessica rose in the cart, grabbed her throat and growled, “BYE-BYE.”

The man turned, laughing silently then disappeared around the end of the aisle.

In another incident, my daughter, then six, pointed to the tattooed forearm of the giant man in front of us in line at McDonald’s, addressing him in her usual loud voice.

“Does your mom know you draw on your arm?”

His leather clothing squeaked as he turned and looked down.

I held my breath.

He answered in a gravelly voice, “Yeah. And she was really mad.”

Then there came roller skating on four wheels. When she finally mastered her two-wheeler, she demanded the training wheels come off. Faster and faster. Once, she tried to outrace me on her two-wheeler and screamed in shock when I caught her. Back then, I could.

Then in-line skating. She learned how to ski on water and snow, faster and faster leaving me behind.

Then there was the hockey game. My husband was supposed to go. Our daughter, at age nine, was excited about going to a grown-up match with him. An hour before the game, he called to tell me he’d been summoned to the emergency room to treat a dear friend of ours. I was the stand-in, the second choice, but she agreed to go. Having never been to a hockey game before, we were enjoying the game with confused interest as the padded men skated from one side of the rink to the other. They often slammed one another against the high Plexi-glass walls in their fight for the puck. It was a lively crowd.

The couple behind us appeared to be season ticket holders who enjoyed their beer. They wore the team colors from head to toe. They shouted advice to the players. Then my daughter started asking questions I couldn’t answer, so I suggested she watch and listen.

Later, she elbowed me. “Hey, mom. I know what they call that guy at the net.”

“Oh?”

“He’s the pucker,” she shouted.

Beer sprayed on my back and neck. “Um, I don’t think so.”

“He is too. That man at the end of our row called him that.”

So long ago she was my little girl. Then life sped in fast-forward mode until she was driving my 4Runner on suddenly narrow streets. She skidded up to her first stop sign.

“Whoops.”

“Let’s try it slower next time.”

Punctuated with eye-rolling, she said, “Yeah, okay.”

At 15, my daughter was driving for the first time with her learner’s permit. No longer on the vacant roads of new housing developments, we were on the real streets with real traffic. I was calm. We had wonderful auto insurance. Memories raced by, leaving me in awe of the changes in my little girl. We were on the way to pick up her friend to spend the night. She searched for a different radio station while she strayed over the yellow line. We were alone on the road, but I needed to alert her.

“Look up at the road.”

She did and swerved back into the right lane. “Whoops.”

“If another car had been coming, you would have known it by the loud crunching sound of metal on metal.”

A dramatic sigh blew from her clenched teeth. “You’re making me nervous.”

“You’re scaring me. Is this your best driving?”

“Nooooooowa.”

“Show me your best.”

“Can’t I listen to the radio?”

“Nooooooowa,” I mocked.

She snorted.

New speeds. New dangers. I was imagining her accelerating out of my sight when we reached her friend’s house. My baby was in high school, and too soon, she’d go off to college.

She turned off the car and handed me the keys.

“Do you want to drive home and show your friend how well you’re doing?”

“Can I?”

“Sure. Just keep doing your best.”

“Thanks, mom.” She kissed me on the cheek and hopped out of the car. It was the first spontaneous act of kindness from her in weeks. I nearly cried.

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart; that’s for sure. I could only hope my car and my heart would hold up for the next few years. That night I could hardly hear the roar of the engine over the pounding of my heart. Parenting is the most challenging job in the world because you have to teach your beloved child how to live without you.

Cherish the ride. Eventually you might get to watch when it’s your child’s turn to be a parent. It’s worth the wait.

Becoming Bold

Earning my pilot’s license was the boldest thing I have done since kissing Steve Gadow in seventh grade. Kissing Steve put me in the majority of girls in seventh grade, but earning my pilot’s license put me in a minority. An underwhelming six percent of the pilot’s licenses are held by women.

Why do so few women fly?

I’ll tell you.

The first reason that some women don’t fly is because of how they are introduced to aviation. When my husband earned his license he took me up for a ride. Being a guy, he thought like a guy and believed in his heart that demonstrating a simulated engine failure and recovery would instill confidence in his plane-handling abilities. Being a woman, I thought it was a ride in Hell’s theme park. I’ve met a dozen other women who were similarly introduced to aviation and most stayed away afterward.

It took months for me to get near another small airplane. Hubby intended to buy a plane and so eventually, I’d be a passenger again. I vowed not to be a helpless one ever again. I hired an instructor to teach me how to radio for help and land the plane. Dear Instructor Don Kohler walked me through radio work, reading the instruments for heading and altitude, and landings. Lots of landings. He demystified the panel of blinking instruments, knobs, and do-dads. His patience gradually built up my confidence and knowledge.

photo of Don Kohler

I confided in Don that aviation seemed an all-male club, so he introduced me to the legendary Betty Skelton, an aerobatic pilot whose Pitts Special airplane rests in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space collection. Back when women were expected to become teachers, wives, nurses, or secretaries, and mothers, Betty became an aerobatic pilot. Elegant, stylish, and bold, Betty’s passion for flying inspired me. Her plane’s N-number tells how she felt about aerobatic flying–22EZ. I decided to obtain my pilot’s license.

I told Hubby my intention. Well, I hadn’t seen him that excited—with his clothes on, anyway—in years. Who would’ve thought 110 low lead fuel would be an aphrodisiac?

Resources

A second large obstacle for women who want to learn to fly is resources. Flying is expensive and it costs time. Women tend to carry the heavier loads of parenting in terms of time. So to take lessons, certain factors had to converge in perfect synchronicity: the availability of the rental plane, good weather, my daughter’s presence at school, and the availability of the instructor.

After six months, I passed the written and practical examinations. Later, after being stranded in Claxton, Georgia due to cloud cover, I trained for and earned my instrument rating. Free to punch through clouds, I embraced flying. Now Handsome tends to work the fact that I’m a pilot into conversations. It always gets a double-take response and raised eyebrows. Never mind that I bore him a daughter and worked at a bank to support us through his grad school years. He brags that I’m a pilot? Men. Go figure.

We enjoy life at 8,000 feet. We’ve flown from central Florida as far south as the Cayman Islands; as far east as Crooked Island in the Bahamas; as far west as Las Cruces, New Mexico; and as far north as Mackinac Island, Michigan. We’ve flown to see the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque. We’ve visited Big Bend National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns because we could fly to them. We fly up to North Carolina to enjoy cool summertime weather and brilliant autumn foliage. We take turns to prevent a wrestling match for the left seat, which is where the pilot-in-command sits.

Fear

The largest obstacle for women in aviation to overcome is fear.

I have lost friends in airplane accidents. When traveling at 175 knots, 8,000 above the ground and things go wrong, fear can destroy judgment. Firefighters, police, Special Forces soldiers, and fighter pilots all say that the single greatest way to overcome fear and panic is through training, practice, and knowledge, because when an emergency happens—and it will—people revert to their training. Training is what enables us to shove emotion into the backseat.

I’ve experienced a few attention-grabbing events. Don taught me simple aerobatics: loops, rolls, and spins. In a spin you have to do the exact opposite of what instinct dictates to safely recover from the spin. It takes many practices to overcome the urge to follow instinct. Near Muskegon, Michigan the hydraulic line to the gear motor broke, so I hand-cranked the gear down and we landed safely for repairs. I’ve had a cylinder fail, and software go haywire, and watched a gyro tumble, but through it all, training trumped emotion. What began as boldness—to learn this new skill set and become licensed—has grown into steady confidence.

Being bold enough to learn to fly has been deeply rewarding. In 2004, I flew to Marathon in the Florida Keys to resupply friends who had lost power and food after a hurricane. In 2005, I brought my pastor to Pascagoula, Mississippi, so he could inspect the relief efforts of a smaller church post-Katrina to determine whether or not our larger church should send funds. Though I looked out of place among the military pilots and the jet pilots ferrying in FEMA representatives and supplies, I felt at home.

Flying has enhanced my marriage, not just because we can travel farther by taking turns at the controls, but because we are doing something we both enjoy. The world of aviation is still male-dominated, but I have to say everyone has treated me very well.

Being bold has paid off handsomely for me personally and professionally. We have a choice. We can live boldly or look back and wish we had.

—–

This article previously appeared in Skirt! Magazine, their BOLD issue, August 2016.

Harvest Time in the City of New Orleans

For five years I watched for a certain homeless man like others anticipate the first robin in springtime. He came out with the perennials in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. A frail, aging black man, dressed in thrown-away clothes, he stood for hours on the lawn of the public library on the corner of Tulane and Loyola Avenues. Neither soaking rain nor scorching sunshine moved him indoors. He endured like a displaced scarecrow.

Having grown up in Wisconsin, where the homeless sometimes freeze to death, I wasn’t accustomed to seeing guys like him or pretending I didn’t. For the most part he was deliberately ignored and he ignored in return. Could he see more than shadows and motion through the white film of cataracts? Even other ‘street people’ avoided him, sleeping instead in the remote seats of the air-conditioned library during the day while this scarecrow stood outside on the lawn.

His five-foot frame stooped as his overcoat flapped against his orange and green plaid shirt and brown pants. The crotch of his pants sagged halfway down his thighs, pants unsupported by his rope belt or his shrunken frame. Stick-like shins stuck out beneath the tattered ends of his pants then disappeared into large, unbuckled, black rubber boots. His wrists extended into knobby, gnarled fingers, the kind that grew from years of painful arthritis or repeated injury. Thick, yellow nails and hard, dry calluses covered his stubby fingers.

Like a scarecrow overseeing crops, this shrunken form drove birds, squirrels and other timid souls away. He had somehow defied the efforts of weather and the natural process of decay that recycles things. Three wild patches of yellow whiskers sprouted from the furrows on his face. It was a sign that something grew from the living humus. The horrific smelling rot of his body and clothes refuted the life still clinging to him. It drove people upwind off the sidewalk into traffic.

What kind of tragedy or mental illness drove him to become so detached from life? I didn’t understand. As an officer at the largest bank in the state, I aspired to absolute yuppie hood. I had the status job with the window office and overpriced, covered parking. In my late twenties, a college graduate, I was making enough money writing user manuals and designing training aids to convince myself I couldn’t afford to pursue my real goals in life. I couldn’t afford to write a novel, to risk failure. I had plenty of time.

The Scarecrow, as I came to think of him, communicated through simple gestures – an open hand, a shrug, a nod. He was harmless, small, old and pathetic, which made it easy for me to approach him from upwind. By giving him an apple a day on my way to work in the Big Easy, I thought we both benefited. He gained a little food and I felt noble for doing a good deed that could not be repaid. Ignoring him would have eaten away at my conscience.

One day during the second spring he didn’t bob his head in response to receiving the apple. Of course, it was a small thing, a tiny change in a familiar routine, but it got my attention. For the first time, I spoke to him.

“Do you like apples?”

He nodded then bared his naked gums.

Chagrined, I said, “What do you do with the apples?”

His pants had crusty, stiff folds that scraped together like sandpaper as he shuffled along on the grass. By the time we reached the Times-Picayune States-Item vending box there was a scruffy-looking man standing by it. Scruffy and I looked at each other suspiciously, while Scarecrow placed the apple on the box.

Scruffy suddenly smiled and held out his hand to me. “You the apple lady.”

I presumed it was a question. “Yes.” We shook hands.

“Why you been giving him apples?”

“I like apples.” At that moment I envied all tunneling animals. No such escape for me.

Scruffy laughed and handed grapes to Scarecrow. For the next three years he got bananas, oranges and grapes from me. I enjoyed our daily ritual. It gave me purpose and a feeling of being needed. The giant corporation I worked for proclaimed it needed its people even after profits fell below projections and they handed out pink slips at Thanksgiving. My colleagues called the layoffs ‘getting the bird’ because the pink slips came with the customary coupon for a Thanksgiving turkey. Did I really belong in a place where managers called their people resources?

In mid-May of my fifth spring of feeding this nameless, toothless soul, he disappeared. I asked at the library. They didn’t know. I called a friend who worked a few blocks away as an intern at Charity Hospital, also known as the Big Free. After Kay complained that someone had stolen her wallet while she was sleeping in the doctor’s lounge, I asked about Scarecrow.

“You’ll have to be more specific,” she said, “Short, old, black and unkempt sounds like half the crowd here.”

“I don’t know his name. He probably weighs ninety pounds and has no teeth. He has cataracts. Wears huge black rubber boots.”

“Oh, that’s Stinky. I haven’t seen him lately, but I’ll check on it and get back to you. Why do you want to know about him?”

“I haven’t seen him lately. I just wondered.”

“Tell me you don’t give those guys money.”

“I don’t give those guys money.”

“Good. Let me remind you that some of them are reality challenged and addicted.” A high-pitched tone sounded in the background. “Blast, the ER’s tugging my leash again. Gotta go.”

I went back to my office where two MBA interns, wearing identical Brooks Brothers suits, introduced themselves. They had been sent as test dummies to take the computer-based training lesson for the new system scheduled to go on-line in a month. The fruits of years of labor would soon be harvested. These men were representative of the typical loan officers at our bank, only twenty pounds lighter. They couldn’t type and they feared computers. Like the upcoming software system, these guys were models of impersonal efficiency. At the rate they poked their keyboards their thirty-minute lessons took an hour. I was tempted to reveal that the secretaries we used to test the lessons earned higher scores in half the time, but the male ego is such a fragile thing. I bit my lip.

That night at 6:00 p.m. the phone rang in my office. Managers often called after hours to identify the ‘dedicated’ employees, so I played along delivering the full official telephone greeting according to company policy.

After a long pause, Kay said, “I was waiting for the beep to leave a message. I thought bankers had better hours.”

“Sure we do, Kay. Just like all doctors have time to golf.”

“Well, I found the chart on Stinky. He’s a fifty-year-old John Doe. He died two days ago. No friends or family. So he went unclaimed.”

Unclaimed meant his body could go to one of the medical schools in town for cadaver lab, dissection by the numbers. I didn’t ask.

“Thanks for checking.” Fifty?

On the way to the parking lot I passed his spot on the lawn and saw crows gathered there. The man disappeared like plants after a harvest. I cried all the way home. There I began my writing career in earnest–with a letter of resignation.

Scarecrow had died years before he was buried. Just as he was waiting to die, I was waiting to live. Bribed by luxury, I had given up living and hadn’t realized it. Scarecrow showed me the high cost of postponing goals and dreams. This was real life in the grownup world. No guarantees for a second chance. No do-overs.

In his last years, he hadn’t voted or paid taxes. Gallup hadn’t polled him. Census takers hadn’t counted him. Presidents and fashions had changed without him. Out of work, out of hope, out of time, he had waited through his season with outstretched hands and quietly disappeared.

He taught me that the safety net from failure is not money. It’s faith.

__________

This essay first appeared in Tampa Bay Sounding is a publication within the high IQ organization Mensa. For a while I had a column in it. This essay was also featured on the website WritersCollege.com as an example of the essay format. I changed the name of a friend in this true first-person story so she wouldn’t face the wrath of the hospital administration for discussing a patient. This is a true story from a time when I lived in New Orleans.

Who Are the Loopers?

Kimberly Russo is the Director of America’s Great Loop Cruiser’s Association.

Meet Kim Russo. She’s the Director of America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association (AGCLA). I called her out of the blue over two years ago to ask questions about the AGCLA, or Loopers. The questions could not be answered by browsing their website. I needed to know more about the spirit, the camaraderie, and the collective nature of the Loopers. I knew one couple. Were they the norm? Who are these people who live on boats?

You see, I hit a snag in the plot of my third novel.

Research

As a plotter, I had planned out certain events in the story to happen a certain way. Inspired by movies like The Guardian (2006) and Finest Hours (2016), I wanted to feature the Coast Guard in my book. In my mind, the nearest Coast Guard station in the story was supposed to be involved in the search for a kidnap victim. I had planned for them to gear up, arm themselves, and launch a search mission.

Then I visited the actual station mentioned in the story.

It was an Auxiliary Coast Guard station manned by retirees who taught boating safety classes and did boat inspections. They weren’t allowed to carry weapons.

Egad. I needed boaters willing to risk their own safety to help FBI agents find someone being held hostage on a boat in the 10,000 Islands of South Florida.

On 9/11, an untold number of men and women launched boats toward Manhattan to rescue strangers. This unplanned flotilla sprang up because boaters saw a need and were willing to risk themselves to save others. A poignant video tells about this. “Boatlift, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience” is narrated by Tom Hanks.

I needed to know the group character of the Loopers. As the Director of a huge boating group, Kim would know the character of her group. She told me about their website and newsletter and the Great Loop Radio Podcasts. She told me about Harbor Hosts and the kinds of activities that happen when Loopers find one another in the same harbor. The Loopers can track one another through their own mobile app “America’s Great Loop Cruisers.”

Looper Image

The popular image of people who live on houseboats comes from TV shows like “Miami Vice,” and movies like African Queen. In books, John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series features a womanizing private investigator who lives on a houseboat. Other Florida authors have written crime stories set on boats, such as Carl Hiaasen’s Skin Tight and James W. Hall’s Off the Chart. Charles Martin’s 2013 novel, Unwritten, features a loner who lives on a houseboat. In all these stories, houseboat dwellers come off as loners, con men, pirates, outcasts, and people who live on the fringes of society.

Kim said, “The typical Looper is nothing like the impression you might get of those who choose to live aboard a boat from movies, TV, or a lot of novels. AGLCA members tend to be very social and lifelong friendships often form among them because they all share a common interest…The Great Loop. And because cruising the Loop is seasonal (you want to be on the Great Lakes in the summer when it’s warm and Florida in the winter when the northern part of the route is frozen), there are several boats cruising in the same direction at roughly the same pace, so you tend to run into the same people repeatedly, making it even more likely that you socialize with others along the way.”

I asked about the demographics of the AGCLA membership.

Kim said, “My guess would be that 90% or more of the boats out there cruising the Loop are retired couples. But we are seeing more and more Loopers who don’t fit that ‘typical’ demographic. Over the past few years we’ve had about ten different families cruising the Loop, and technology is making it easier for folks to do the Loop while still working. It’s also become more common for people to single-hand all or parts of the Loop if they don’t have a friend or family member willing to serve as their crew for all 6,000 miles of the route.”

Do they come from military or civilian backgrounds?

Kim said, “I would say that we have a higher percentage of military members than other groups our size. We also seem to have a higher percentage of people from technical occupations, like pilots and engineers. However, we have school teachers, nurses, firefighters, politicians, yoga instructors, you name it. The Loop has been called ‘the great equalizer’ because once you’re out there cruising, it doesn’t matter what you did before, how old you are, or how big your boat is. Everyone has the same challenges and triumphs.”

I met Kim Russo in Stuart Florida.

I sent Kim an eBook version of West of Famous for her opinion. She read it and I got to catch up with her in Stuart, Florida on March 5th when she was on her way to Trawler Fest. I asked what she thought of how the Looper community was depicted in the book.

Kim said, “I would say that the Loopers depicted in West of Famous were very true-to-life. Besides being friendly, most Loopers are super helpful and are generally willing to assist others they meet along the way. It’s a pretty close-knit community so they look out for each other and lend a helping hand whenever they can.”

Paul and Caryn Frink earn their Loopers gold burgeePaul and Caryn Frink hosted me during my research. They earned their gold burgee after finishing their first loop in 2018. Kim will get to meet them at the The AGCLA Spring Rendezvous in Norfolk Virginia from May 5 to 9.

“I have not met Paul and Caryn Frink,” Kim said, “but I’m really excited because they volunteered to speak at our upcoming Spring Rendezvous, so they’ll be sharing their knowledge of the inland rivers with our attendees. They’re covering the details of the route from Chicago to the Tennessee River, including things to see, places to go, hazards to navigation, and more.”

Looper Rendezvous

“We have two Rendezvous each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. Each are about four days long and include two seminar tracks: the route sessions (like the one Paul & Karen are presenting) and a Looping 101 track that covers topics like weather, marine electronics, handling emergencies aboard and provisioning. In the afternoons, the action moves out to the docks where there are typically 50 to 60 Loopers boats tied up. Many of the owners will allow other attendees to board their boats, which gives those so are still planning for the Great Loop some wonderful ideas on the type of boat they might like to purchase, and to ask questions of the owners. It’s also a very social time with many enjoying ‘docktails’ as they tour the boats in the marina. Meals are also included, so the event offers a lot of time to socialize as well as a large amount of educational content.

Kim said more about the Looper community.

“They are honestly the most kind and fun group I’ve people I’ve ever had the privilege to spend time with,” Kim said. “I find them to be a ‘self-selecting group of really nice people.’ I say that, because the Great Loop is not for everyone. Someone who is very high-strung or ‘type A’ may not enjoy it as much as those who are laid-back and easy going. It doesn’t take long on a boat to realize that mother nature will determine when you travel and when you don’t, and you have no control over mechanical issues that might arise, for example. So those who are intent on keeping a schedule or maintaining control of every aspect of their life may quickly weed themselves out. So overall, the AGLCA community is group of really fun-loving people who are out there enjoying the adventure of a lifetime!”

Seeker

If you go, look for SEEKER, a lovely Nordic Tug, docked at the Waterside Marina. She’s the boat in West of Famous and her owners are Paul and Caryn Frink.

Florida Writers Association Conference 2018

This was my first Florida Writers Association Conference as faculty. They put me to work. I led workshops on Crafting Memorable Dialogue for the adult attendees and then for the youth attendees.

Florida writers conference

The Florida Youth Writers conference ran concurrently with the adult workshops.

Oh, and FWA President Alison Nissen also interviewed me for a podcast. Yep, I was busy. The conference had 600 people.

The powers that be also assigned me to serve on a panel discussion titled “Bring it on Home to Me–Nailing the Ending.” Going into the conference I considered the free room and tuition as the biggest perks. Then I learned the identities of the other authors on the panel. Excuse the fan squeal.

THE PANELFlorida writers conference panel

Author Samuel Staley

Sam Staley, our moderator, is an award-winning author of a dozen books and hundreds of articles. At the conference, he also taught workshops on “Show Don’t Tell: Learning to Love and Trust Your Readers” and “Deepening Story and Character with Foreign Language.” Sam kept the panel talking with a series of questions. He also kept order when multiple questions rolled in from the writers in the audience.

Florida Writers conference faculty

Author Linda Fairstein

Linda Fairstein is the 2018 National Guest of Honor. She won the Nero Wolfe Award for Excellence in Crime Writing in 2008, and in 2010 received the Silver Bullet Award of the International Thriller Writers. Her 20th book in the Alexandra Cooper series comes out in 2019. Published in crime fiction and true crime, she writes with knowledge and authority. She served in the office of the New York County District Attorney, where she was chief of the country’s pioneering Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit for twenty-six years. In that position, she supervised the investigation and trial of cases involving sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and homicides arising out of those crimes. Producer Dick Wolf based the long-running TV show Law & Order: SVU on her unit and the character of ADA Alex Cabot.

She also taught a workshop titled “Turning Your Professional Experience into Fiction.” In addition to her crime writing, she launched a children’s series called the Devlin Quick Mysteries.

Florida Writers conference faculty

Author John Capouya

John Capouya was the non-fiction author on the panel. He teaches journalism and nonfiction narrative at The University of Tampa, including their Creative Writing MFA program. Previously, he was an editor at Newsweek and SmartMoney magazines, New York Newsday, and the New York Times. His book Gorgeous George is in film development. His third book, Florida Soul – From Ray Charles to KC and the Sunshine Band, came out in 2017. The day after our panel, he taught an insightful workshop called “The End.” He presented eight ending techniques and how to close the circle of meaning in a story.

Florida Writers Assn conf faculty

Author John Wilkerson

John Wilkerson authors science fiction thrillers with a side order of campiness. At the conference, he taught a workshop titled “Emotional Mechanics of a Fight Scene.” Having thirty plus years of martial arts training pretty much makes him an expert on this topic. He also served as a moderator on the panel discussion of “Who’s Laughing Now? Being Funny is Serious Business.”

Our panel discussion on endings got spirited. The attendees asked questions that sparked polite debate on what makes an ending satisfying. We discussed genre considerations for endings. Romance demands HEA or Happily-ever-after. American readers prefer justice to prevail in crime novels. Literary stories can go either way. We discussed endings of books that disappointed us as readers.

I remember reading Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. In the original story, mermaids turned into sea foam when they died. One mermaid wanted a soul so she wouldn’t turn into sea foam. This little mermaid earned a soul by saving the life of a human. Then she died. Her soul went to heaven. Her death WAS the happy ending. Well, then Disney came along and changed the story and the ending to fit a romance. Oh, well.

One gentleman asked if the bleak ending of his coming-of-age book about a young man’s search for his father would work. The panel agreed that the ending, even a tragic one, works when it suits the trajectory of the story.

THE AWARDS BANQUET

The awards banquet ran Saturday night. The dessert and the genie in a bottle theme made the event even more festive. The gentleman who asked about a sad ending was Gary Robert Pinnell. He collected 3rd place award for his unpublished historical fiction “A Most Invisible Boy.”

So there. Even the judges agreed.

Florida Writers Association awards banquetI also taught a workshop on writing for magazines and paid blogs. The magazine writing workshop was at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. Surprisingly, it was packed. Working at a writer’s conference has been thrilling and exhausting. I’m off on vacation in the Smokey Mountains with Handsome. And a few great books.