MICHAEL BARRINGTON – Almost Executed in West African Civil War

Michael was born in Manchester, England. He lived in France and joined a French Order of Missionary priests. He spent ten years in West Africa, several of them during a civil war when he was stood up to be shot. He spent a year living as a hermit in Northern Ireland, was a teacher in Madrid, Spain, and as part of the British ‘brain drain’ taught at the Univ of Puerto Rico.

The owner of MJB Consultants, he flew all over the world monitoring and evaluating humanitarian projects and has worked in more than thirty countries. He is fluent in several languages, an avid golfer, and academically considers himself over-engineered, having three Masters’ Degrees and a Ph.D. On his bucket list is to pilot a helicopter, become fluent in Arabic, and spend a week’s retreat at Tamanrasset in the Sahara Desert.

Michael lives with his French wife, who designs and paints the covers of his books, and a Tibetan terrier in Clayton, California.

His latest novel, The Ethiopian Affair (May 2022), begs the question: Is there a plot to abduct the US ambassador to Ethiopia? MI6, the CIA, and NISS (Ethiopian Secret Service) are faced with discovering the truth.

He has always been a writer, and his first book, The Bishop Wears No Drawers (2017), is a memoir of his time in Africa. Let the Peacock Sing (2020) is a historical novel set against the backdrop of the French Resistance during World War II. His second novel, a coming-of-age book, Becoming Anya, was published in November 2021. Michael also writes fiction and nonfiction articles for several magazines, including Alive East Bay and The Big issue (UK). He is a feature writer for the Mt Diablo Gazette.

Do you write in more than one genre? My first book is a memoir of ten years spent in Nigeria as a catholic missionary priest, where I was stood up to be shot. My second book is the historical novel Let the Peacock Sing.

What brought you to writing? I have always been a writer, mainly nonfiction and academic articles on philosophy and spirituality. Retirement gave me the time to develop my craft and let my imagination run wild.

Tell us about your writing process: I treat my writing like a job as if I am employed and quite disciplined. I usually spend six to eight hours a day on a book, either writing or doing research. I take breaks with a round of golf and vary my writing by producing fiction and nonfiction articles for various magazines.

With fiction, I usually have an idea with just a couple of specific points, and the rest of my process depends entirely on my characters. As they grow and develop, they tell me who they are, what they want to say, and what they are doing.

Nonfiction: It depends on my mood and particular interest at a given moment. I occasionally do book reviews.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The only challenge I have as a writer is that there is insufficient time to write all the stories and characters in my head.

What are you currently working on? I am five chapters into a novel comprising six different stories, all intertwined with links to two main characters. It’s fun and challenging.

Has an association membership helped you with your writing? Not really. I joined CWC because writing is a lonely business. I started the Writers Connection, where a group of us could meet to socialize and talk about anything related to writing.

I read more biographies than novels. Who’s your favorite author? Depends on the type of book. Thrillers: John Le Carre; Literary: Edna O’Brien & Jose Luis Borges. Paul Theroux is, for sure as a travel author.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Love/romantic scenes are particularly difficult to write, just to get the language balance and sensitivity right. My wife, who is both a painter and psychologist, is always the first to review my drafts and gives me excellent feedback.

Do you have subplots? Always have several subplots. That’s a major part of the fun and challenge in writing.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? Yes. I believe that almost every author, especially early in their career, base some characters on their own experiences. We often write from what we know.

What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Sometimes it’s difficult to access or find all the information needed about a character. For example, I needed a great deal of information about the French railways during World War II. There are lots of bits and pieces, but that complete history has still to be written. I have researched French archives and come away empty-handed.

Where do you place your settings? Depends. I write a lot about places and countries I have lived in, especially France, Ireland, Spain, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Latin America.

What is the best book you have ever read? Henry Kissinger: 2 Vols. The Whitehouse Years, and he was writing in a second language. From the point of view of command of language and style, Mark Kishlansky’s A Monarchy Transformed: Britain 1603-1714.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? My head is full of characters wanting to tell their stories. I’ll just keep writing because I must. I would like to see my book Let the Peacock Sing turned into a mini-series, and I am working on that.

How do our readers contact you?

Majb7016@gmail.com

Website: www.nbwriter.net

Facebook: Michael.Barrington733

Twitter: @Mj_Barrington

6 Comments

  1. Valerie Brooks

    What a wealth of material, Michael! You need three lives to complete all the works you have in you. I was going to mention the same thing Debra mentioned about being a spy. I know, I know, you can’t say anything.
    Best of luck with your work!
    Valerie

    Reply
  2. Alfred Garrotto

    Michael’s an inspiration to those who know him. As a fellow writer, I’m in awe of his pool of experiences from which he builds his work. I’m grateful to be in his writing community. I mostly listen and hopefully learn from him.

    Reply
  3. Debra Bokur

    Michael, the only thing missing from your resume is “international spy.” But I suppose most international spies-turned-author don’t publicize that, correct? Your books sound fascinating!

    Reply
  4. Glenda Carroll

    The life you’ve lived is made for writing stories.

    Reply
  5. Marie Sutro

    Having your spouse as the first reviewer is a special gift!

    Reply
  6. Michael A, Black

    It sounds like you’ve got a lot of experiences to drawn upon. I had a friend who was in country during the Nigerian civil war and he said it was brutal. Congratulations on surviving. Best of luck to you in your writing.

    Reply

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David R. Evans USMC 2113468 – Thank You For Your Service

The last post here was a fictional account of a soldier returning from the Vietnam War. This post is a letter written by a Vietnam War Veteran. I have not changed a single word.

While going through my diary I ran across a letter I wrote shortly after returning from Vietnam and thought it might be of interest to some who would take the time to read it or not. Let me know what you think.

 

I am a Marine and from the day I entered boot camp in 1964 I was taught that Marines are fearless.  From the moment I landed in Danang Vietnam in October of 1967 I feared for my life. Can I put a date on incidents that increased that fear no not really. The memories of my thirteen months in Vietnam are locked away in my mind. On occasion when I am asked to remember those days I do so with reluctance.

My first thought of dying was probably in November of 1967 when the sirens went off and I heard the screaming sound of rockets overhead and the explosions of 120mm rockets as they impacted on the flight line. I grabbed my rifle and helmet and ran for the bunkers on the flight line in the revetments. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to run that fast. With my fellow Marines we dashed the hundred yards to the bunkers as rockets landed all around us. When the rockets struck the shrapnel flew around us, it was pieces of fiery gold metal, and somehow we ran faster. On one occasion a rocket struck an aircraft ahead of me and the explosion knocked me back. I dodged to the right and angled to the bunker away from the exploding A-6.

These attacks occurred on an irregular basis throughout my tour.

On one occasion when I ran for my position at the bunker at the entrance to our hangars a rocket struck the aviation fuel tank 29 yards from the command bunker and the tank exploded and burned all night long. The sides of the tank seemed to melt as the tank collapsed. I remember seeing a man on a bicycle pedaling by as if the devil himself was chasing him. We laughed at the time but I thought afterwards how I emphasized with the man and felt his fear.

On a weekly basis I would travel to the Air Force’s side of Danang’s airfield and I saw the open sided sheds that were 15’ high and filled with shiny aluminum caskets. They were the dead waiting to be transported back home. That sight still haunts me as I think of the 50,000 men killed in a futile war.

I remember hearing that a truce was declared between the North Vietnamese and the US only no one told the Viet Cong. They kept on attacking. In January of 1968 during Vietnam’s Tet or New Years the Viet Cong began a massive assault on South Vietnam. We heard they had overrun Hue and several other Marine bases. Our turn came shortly after. The rocket attacks intensified, on one occasion the  rockets struck all around as we were in the chow hall. I dropped my utensils and ran for the nearest bunker. I tripped on the wooden sidewalks leading to the bunker, falling face down and splitting my lip when my teeth smashed through my lip. My partners scooped me up and carried me to the bunker and later to the medical center where the Corpsman stitched my lip . I remember him saying “Your mouth is dirtier than your asshole!” When he saw the startled look on my face he said there were more germs on my lips than on my anus

My friends joked that I should get Purple Heart for being injured during combat. I thought of all the Marines out in the jungles being wounded and killed by bullets and booby traps and thought my injury paled in comparison to their traumas.

One night during a rocket attack a missile struck the bomb dump at the end of the runway and blew down dozens of our tin roof screen sided huts. There was  a mushroom cloud rising into the sky and I thought they had finally gone the final step and dropped an Atomic bomb on us and I would surely die a horrible death from the radiation. Shortly after they hit the Flare dump in the same area and I saw the most spectacular fireworks show I had ever seen. We were standing on the top of our bunker between our huts photographing the explosion dressed in our underwear, a flak jacket and helmet when the First Sergeant came up to us and told us to get our ass’s inside the bunker. Shrapnel was whizzing all about us piercing the side of our hut and the sandbags of our bunker. I still have pieces of shrapnel as a reminder of how close I came to being maimed or killed.

When the Viet Cong over ran the base we ran to our bunkers on top of the revetments and began shooting at the black pajama clad Viet Cong as they ran down the run way caring satchel bombs to throw under our aircraft. Suddenly bullets started striking the metal below our sand bags. We discovered it wasn’t the Viet Cong shooting at us, it was the Air force. I thought that it would be a hell of a thing to be killed by “friendly fire.”

Speaking of “friendly fire” shortly after Martin Luther King was killed back in the States a black soldier went berserk and began firing a M-79 grenade launcher into our living area scaring the hell out of me and every other Marine in the area. Fortunately he was captured before he could complete his revenge attack on the “white people” who had assassinated his hero. Was I scared, hell yes I was scared every day I was “in country.”

The last thirty days were the worst. Rumor had it that more men were killed in the month before they rotated back then any other day of their tour.  The happiest day of my life was when the plane carrying me home lifted off the runway in December of 1968. When I flew over the San Francisco bay to land at the SF airport a lady commented on how muddy the water was and I said “yes it is but it’s my home and I’m so glad to be back here alive and not in a silver box!”

My first wife can testify to my lingering fears; when a siren would go off and I would jump out of bed and run for the door. She caught me and held me till the fear and shaking stopped. My second wife can tell you how movies about the war in Vietnam would ignite those old fears so bad that she wouldn’t allow me to watch those films.

I was in Country during the intense spraying of “Agent Orange” to defoliate the jungles to expose the trails and hiding spots of the Viet Cong. Did this cause the degenerative nerve disease Multiple Sclerosis? I don’t know and I don’t think my Neurologist Doctor Joanna Cooper can say for certain. The cause of MS is still unknown but the possibility is there.

I returned to the States in December of 1968 and was advised I would get an early out in December instead of May 1969. I was still credited with a full four years of service. I received a letter from Sgt Major at Treasure island advising me that Marine Corp in its infinite wisdom promoted me to Staff Sergeant, added a metal and then invited me to Treasure Island to accept the stripes and ribbon. I declined seeing an re-enlistment pitch coming.

David R. Evans USMC 2113468
David R. Evans-6580
USMC 1964-1968 Semper Fi
OPD-1969-1995

 

7 Comments

  1. Wanda

    So glad that you made it home safely. One of my brothers enlisted in the Army. He was 19 years old at the time. Like you said, the last month is when more guys don’t make it. In my brother’s case, he came home but with multiple bullets still in his body. He was left for dead by the Viet Congs. He had a bullet in his groin, shoulder and behind his left ear. I can’t remember where he was operated on but he had a scar from shoulder to shoulder, about 2 inches wide and an inch deep. The one behind his ear, they couldn’t operate on because it was too close to his brain. Apparently, the body’s way of protecting itself is it formed a capsule over the bullet. Fast forward 30 years, he was out hunting and he heard something snap. He went to the hospital and they did x-rays and found shrapnel free foating at the base of his spine. Surgeons in our area did not know how to deal with his injury and he refused to go to the VA. His usual headache was a severe headache one afternoon, he asked his wife if his life insurance was paid and asked her to take him to the ER. He walked into the hospital, told the doctor what was going on. They sent him for a Cat Scan and when he came out he was in a coma. The shrapnel deteriorated his brain stem. They put him on life support and all of us siblings took a week to convince her that my brother wouldn’t want to be kept alive like that. He told us repeatedly that He didn’t want that. He lived a few more hours after he was taken off life support. So, even though he was given 30 more years life, the Vietnam War eventually took his life.

    Reply
  2. Violet Moore

    David,

    I wish I could have been there to welcome you home.

    Reply
  3. L. Todd

    Welcome home, David. So glad you made it.

    Reply
  4. Wanda Dean

    David, When reading your horrifying account of your time in Vietnam, living a
    tortured life, I just kept wondering how you emotionally survived it all!…I don’t know
    what it takes, but you have done it! For young men to go through such an unbelievable event day after day after day of “running for your life”,for your country, and then coming home to folks that didn’t understand or care, when you needed at least a thank you, or a kind word of what you went through, makes the healing process, just even that more difficult if not impossible. I just want to thank You for all you did for me, and for our country! And I thank you for sharing your story that is so important for us to know. I hope you are doing very well. I care!!!

    Reply
  5. George Cramer

    You might add a message I sent to a fellow Marine about “Coming Home.”

    “Johnny,
    About two years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant and had one of my many USMC hats on when a tall guy dressed in motorcycle chaps & a vest with USMC & Vietnam patches on them. He pointed to my cap and said, “you in ‘Nam?” When I said yes, he said, “Welcome Home.” That was the first time in 40 years that someone uttered those words. This was completely opposite to my reception at the Oakland Airport on returning from Vietnam in 1968. Here I was met with cries of “baby killer” and spit.”

    David R. Evans-6580
    USMC 1964-1968 Semper Fi
    OPD-1969-1995

    Reply
  6. Dan Oates

    I’m glad you made it, Dave. I was a member of the Amtrak unit at T.I. they probably wanted you to re-up with. I have a couple of friends who relate similar experiences, one who is fighting his third bought of Agent Orange-related Cancer. I was a member of the Amtrak unit at T.I from 63-69 and feel lucky to this day I was not called up. A few years after discharge, I too, joined the cops for the next 30 years. Five in Ontario and 25 at San Mateo Co. Sheriffs. I hope you are well and safely retired, you have given enough.

    Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Glad you made it back, Dave. Semper Fi and thank you for your service. You exemplify the best of us. It’s because of men like you that our country remains free.

    Reply

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ALBERT VANDE STEEG – Discusses the Lives of Cops AND Life Under Nazi Occupation

Good morning. I am Albert vande Steeg, an immigrant from the Netherlands. My careers include ranch hand, police officer (detective) contractor, and a builder of missionary buildings in fourteen foreign nations; Europe, Africa, South America, and the South Pacific.

Cops have many stories that relate humor, intrigue, serious crime, and danger. Most of these stories are told when cops get together and they “one-up” each other. Others are told at family gatherings. When the stories are good and told well, someone will say, “you should write a book.” That is what my former partner said, and six months later, The Black Band had its first draft.

Yes, it was a struggle to get published. Having no experience and no writers club or conferences to guide, I found the Writer’s Market with all the publishers and agents listed. Reading this taught me how to persevere. Six months later, the contract was offered, and nine months later, The Black Band was published by Oak Tree Press.

The Black Band has been rewritten and titled “The Canopy.” Many of the stories found in the book originated at the cop bar, The Canopy. That is where stories were told and retold over mugs of beer and giant “Texas” cheeseburgers.

 

Writing about places is easier if one is familiar with the setting, so the descriptions are natural and real. Maps are used to correct street names and create a community the reader will identify as genuine.

Finding names for characters posed a real difficulty. Remembering created names of people not known brought a memory fog to writing. The solution was to name all the good and liked characters the first name of a friend or person that is admired and the last name of another such person. The bad guys then became people who are not liked or admired, again mixing first and last names. That is easy to do when doing police work.

For instance, there was a particular thief who stole calves from farmers. Knowing that many farmwives use the cash they receive from selling calves for their grocery fund, I was offended because my early years were spent in hunger during WWII. His name and that of a Sergeant who stole a pistol from the evidence locker became the name of the calf thief.

Speaking of hunger reminds me of that time enduring the pangs of hunger and the fear of living under the Nazi occupation, a story told each year to the fifth graders at our local elementary school.  Having heard the war and immigration story, these students and their teachers suggested that it would be a good read if written.

That was the birth moment for writing The Dutch Winter. I knew how it started and how it would end; the plot and stories would flow as writing began for a historical novel. It had to be a novel in order to include the many stories told by parents, uncles, and aunts and historical accuracy for locations and events.  The research was done by touring the sites in Holland and subscribing to a group that publishes Dutch war events, and I interviewed people who lived during that time.

Since there is a retirement home with many Dutch residents nearby, it is easy to find people in their nineties who would tell their stories over a nice lunch at their favorite restaurant.  There I found a spry ninety-three-year-old lady who carried messages for the underground resistance as a girl of sixteen. She was a lovely lady with great humor who cried when telling of the horrors she experienced.

The Dutch Winter is not limited to one hero or heroine. The Dutch were patriotic and brave in their zeal to resist Germany and protected the lives of the underground fighters and Jews from capture and extermination in concentration camps.

Another main character is a Dutch patriot that returned to Holland from Minnesota to fight the Nazis. He is paired with the girl who delivered messages, and they fight side by side, and, as every story needs some romance, they marry.

That required that I know where he came from and be familiar with his hometown. I chose a small country town where a friend was born and raised. Along with a map and internet search of the town, Pease, Minnesota became real.

To ensure that the cities, streets, and places in Holland were spelled correctly and placed geographically, I secured maps of these places to verify accuracy.

All my writings bring the characters to life with their beliefs and practices. During WWII, it took faith in God and strength of character to survive hunger and fear. Thirty thousand Dutch died of starvation during the winter of 1944-45. The majority were grandfathers who gave what little they had to their children and grandchildren and then searched for food and died on the streets, too weak to continue.

That patriotism and spiritual strength is evident in The Dutch Winter.

The Dutch Winter and The Canopy are available to order at any bookstore or Amazon.

My website is Albertvandesteeg.com  and my email is albertvandesteeg@gmail.com

2 Comments

  1. Thonie Hevron

    Thanks for this informative post, Al and George. I’m definatley interested in the Dutch WWII novel. I’ll see you at the conference.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It’s great to hear from you again, Al, and I’m looking forward to checking out your books at the upcoming PSWA conference. Having met you before, i can say are a true gentleman in every sense of the word. I’m glad you’re telling these stories of suffering and sacrifice. As you said, they need to be heard. Good luck to you.

    Reply

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BARRY HAMPSHIRE – England – Arabia – U.S.A.

I was born in London, England, a few years after World War II. I watched London being patched back into a vibrant commercial center. Sights of bombed-out buildings and devastation still linger in my memories.

 

 

At age 26, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work for Aramco (an oil company.) I worked there for four years and traveled widely in the region. I grew to love and be intrigued by the local people and their culture.

Years later, as I neared retirement, my family requested I write down some of the many stories I had told over the years. One theme kept appearing in these pieces, my driving a Chevy Blazer from London to the eastern province of Saudi Arabia – a journey of 5,500 miles in 15 days. That became my first book, a memoir, Journey to Self, published in September 2019 – available on Amazon.

While working on that book, I said I had no idea how to write a novel. It seemed overwhelming. However, after one workshop, I saw I had the basic framework for a fictional story. Having never been one to shy away from a challenge, I started work on it. My story is set around a Syrian family and covers themes such as:

  • most Syrians, most Muslims, like ourselves, want to live in peace – that is not fiction,
  • how to counter a ruthless dictator,
  • the roles of men and women in Syrian society,
  • how to hold grief, love, and fear while fighting for your life,
  • how people, despite their dire circumstances, can imagine a hopeful future.

In the past few weeks, I have received feedback from a group of beta-readers, and so far, there have been no show-stoppers but plenty of words of encouragement. While working through the multiple drafts of this first novel, I started work on the sequel: Syrian Rebirth – Ahmed’s World. This is now a completed initial draft. I have in mind the third and final book in the series, Syrian Rebirth – Fatima’s World.

Syrian Rebirth – Rashid’s World.      Rashid wished his family to be safe. He joined the fight against Syria’s brutal president. How would that affect him, his family, and his country?

What brought me to writing: Writing is a way for me to purge demons that hindered me for too many years. I learned to read as a child, but I truly hated and, in some ways, feared it. I read my first book for pleasure when I was 26 years old. To many people, that may sound horrifying, but it was my world as a youngster. Numbers and logic were my saving graces. I became a computer software engineer for a career. Reading never became a pleasurable activity for me. I missed reading the classics, much to my detriment.

Over the years, I have displayed some competence in various artistic mediums: drawing, painting, woodcraft, story-telling, and cooking. Then I started writing, and it became a passion. I have taken many classes, and some teachers have had a profound impact on my writing.

Tell us about your writing process: I arise early each day and make my wife’s coffee (a survival technique I learned early.) Depending on the priorities of the day, I make time most mornings to review and edit what I worked on the previous day. I try to dedicate an hour or two each day to writing new material or making revisions to pieces that are my focus at that time. If I do not manage to find time, I do not judge myself but try to use my sense of frustration as an impetus for the following day.

Do I kill popular characters? Yes. My novels are thrillers. I think in my first novel, more characters are dead than alive in the end. And several of the dead are good/popular characters. One of my favorite characters in that first novel is among the dead, and I still grieve their loss. Reading that section still causes my eyes to tear up. A few beta-readers admitted they cried when that death happened.

How do you raise the stakes for the protagonist? One of my teachers frequently tells me to keep winding up the tension and never let it go. I understand this and try to do that. But I do find when a sub-plot comes to its termination, then along with that, some of the protagonist’s tension is released. So in my novel, the tension is more like waves with spikes along them. Even though some tension may be released at times, it still adds to the overall tension.

How did I come up with Character Names. Most of my main characters are Arabic. So names like Joan, Paul, Marge, and Randy are inappropriate. Thankfully, lists of Arabic names can be found on the web. I have selected names with which I am comfortable, and I hope readers will not trip over. I have tried to have each name start with a different letter for easier recognition. In the forward to each book, I have listed out the main characters and their relationship so that readers have a quick reference, e.g. Rashid is married to Fatima.

Do I outline, or am I a pantser? At heart, I am a pantser, but I will admit that I have my thoughts reasonably outlined in my head before I tackle a section. What fascinates me is how my mind conjures up a scenario that appears on the page/screen without me consciously thinking about it. Sometimes, as I fathom out how to write a section, I will realize in my wordy/ugly first draft I left a hook or a character that will allow for a smooth continuance of the current storyline.

Sources of Expertise / Advice. I have read posts, articles, and books about the book’s locations, particularly from current day journalists. Also, I found a local Islamic Center and talked with one of the leaders about these novels. He gave me some useful information and encouraged me to continue working on them. He agreed that, basically, Syrian refugees are people who have been forced out of their homeland by violence and intimidation. They are desperate to find a safe environment in which to raise their children. They are no more inherently violent than we are.

Going forward, I have plenty of work integrating the comments that I received from beta readers and improving the readers’ experience of the novel. After that, I will reach out to a few agents and publishers. If those connections raise no interest, I am prepared to self-publish, which I did for my memoir.

A reader of this post may be able to assist me with achieving one of my next steps. Does anyone know a Syrian or a person from the Middle East who may be willing to read the revised beta draft of the novel? I would be appreciative if anybody could suggest a female as the book addresses gender roles in Syrian society. But I am looking for any person from that region who may be willing to review the revised draft.

My website can be found at:   www.BDHWrites.com

My blog can be found at:        www.BDHWrites.com/blog

My email address is:               BDHWrites@gmail.com

12 Comments

  1. Jeannine Stein

    This is a nice interview and I enjoyed learning more about you and your writing process. You are way more disciplined than I. Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your pieces.

    Reply
    • Barry Hampshire

      I’ll admit I did enjoy the interview. It forced me to sit back and think about who I am and how I want the world to see me. We all wear masks at times. How much of our true self are we willing to share.

      Reply
  2. Cecilia Pugh

    Who doesn’t admire a gutsy person that struggles n succeeds. Bravo!
    I would imagine the experience has made you more compassionate…and…what a gift for a writer who, through personal experience, now has a edge in choosing the right words to touch the hearts of his readers.

    Reply
    • Barry Hampshire

      I’m not sure if I succeed that often. There are many attempts that deserve to reside on the cutting room floor. But once in a while, I strike gold. That is the reason I write. When I say “strike gold,” it is as you say, words to touch the hearts of readers.

      Reply
  3. Marlene Dotterer

    What a powerful story, that you never read for pleasure until well into adulthood, and now you are working on your third novel! It’s wonderful that you finally caught the bug and never looked back. Good luck bringing it all to fruition.

    Reply
    • Barry Hampshire

      A writing coach once told me that one of my greatest strengths was my persistence. It is another way in which a characteristic of mine manifested. As a youth, I climbed mountains and took long wild country hikes. In adulthood, I ran marathons requiring long-term, focused training. In my middle years, I volunteered as a hospital chaplain walking alongside the sick and the dying. They all took persistence and here I am again.

      Reply
  4. BLynn Goodwin

    Before I knew about dyslexia, I had a high school sophomore ask if he could keep his copy of Catcher in the Rye. He returned it six weeks later and told me it was the only book he had ever finished. Maybe some day he will find this page and read your book.

    Reply
    • Barry Hampshire

      Perhaps Catcher in the Rye should be on my reading list, but if I put that on the list then so many others should join it. Where do I begin? That’s the trouble with aging. Who knows how much time and so much still to do. Do I sound jaded? Yes, composing this is an excuse to not read. Got to go……..

      Reply
  5. Barry Hampshire

    I think I recall the name of that boxer, and I will take your comment to heart. Being a writer takes being knocked down and standing up again. Rejection is a constant state of being, but I relish those moments when I am given a compliment that shows my work has impacted another person’s thoughts – that is why I, and I believe most writers, write.

    Reply
  6. Alfred J. Garrotto

    Keep on keeping on, Barry. You have so much tell us about that maligned region of the world. Looking forward to reading your novels.

    Reply
    • Barry Hampshire

      I have been told one of my strengths is to keep on keeping one – persistence. But, you are so correct about this region of the world being maligned. Having lived in the Middle East, I recognized the amazing culture and history that these people share. It should be celebrated, not feared.

      Reply
  7. Michael A, Black

    I remember Mustapha Hamsho, a boxer in the 80’s that they called “The Syrian Buzzsaw.” He never won a championship, but he had a lot of heart. Good luck with your book. I hope it can increase understanding of this area of the world.

    Reply

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SHELLEY RILEY – From the Kentucky Derby to Fantasy

Shelley Riley had a deep love for horses from an early age, and this love took her from humble beginnings at the Alameda County Fairgrounds to the storied barn area of Churchill Downs.

 

The story of Casual Lies began on a snowy January day in Lexington, Kentucky. While attending a thoroughbred sale, Shelley glanced up and made eye contact with a tiny, fuzzy eight-month-old foal that nobody else seemed to want. And the rest is the stuff of fairytales.

That nondescript colt went on to take Shelley and her husband Jim, an accomplished horseman in his own right, on an adventure of a lifetime. They went on to compete in all three Triple Crown Races—another first at the time. By finishing second in the 118th running of the Kentucky Derby in 1992, Casual Lies rewarded Shelley with the highest finish for a horse trained by a woman in the history of the Kentucky Derby. A record that still stands thirty years later.

In Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure, Shelley gives the reader a fun look behind the scenes of what that adventure was like for her and Jim.

Why did you wait two decades to write your memoir about Casual Lies? It would have been far different if I had written the memoir right after the Triple Crown. I had a lot of material, mainly since I’d been writing a Daily Diary for both the Daily Racing Form as well as one for a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper. By waiting, the book became less a purge and more of a cathartic remembrance of a remarkable horse who electrified my world for far too short a time.

In 2012, I joined the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writer’s Club. My thought was to go from writing special feature articles for local newspapers and get an idea of how to finish a middle-grade novel that I’d started many years before. Instead, I was encouraged to write a memoir. It was the best advice I’d received since Charlie Whittingham had encouraged me to run Casual Lies in the Kentucky Derby.

Two things happened by sitting down and rereading the daily diaries I’d written. I reconnected with the things that made my horse special. I remembered all the fantastic things that we experienced because of Casual Lies. Truthfully, it’s still hard to believe it really happened.

Using the equity in our house, I’d bought a tiny colt that nobody else wanted. I shared how he grew into a headstrong, charismatic horse that took us on a journey you couldn’t have replicated if you had all the money in the world.

Fans from all over the world have read Casual Lies – A Triple Crown Adventure. You’ll laugh, you might cry a little, and trust me when I say I had no trouble poking fun at myself.

Although Casual Lies didn’t win the Kentucky Derby, he still holds a place in history. But for me, he was my bright-eyed and mischievous Stanley.

So how did you go from writing a memoir to penning Sword and Sorcery Fantasy novels? When I was a kid, I was an avid reader. But each book always had to have something to do with horses. As I grew older, my taste in literature became increasingly eclectic. Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Wilbur Smith, Larry McMurtry, Steven King, Dean Kootz, etc. the list would be endless. But my all-time favorite, as it turns out, is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, with Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove a close second.

A perfect book doesn’t come with enough pages. A good story involves a fellowship that you can feel a part of. For me, a good story is one where you find yourself invested in the fellowship’s success, you’re a part of the team, and when the story comes to an end, you’re loath to say goodbye to your new friends.

I love writing short stories. I find that a thought or an image often triggers my inspiration. The idea for Into Madness – The Born from Stone Saga came from pictures I took of gargoyles situated atop a gothic cathedral when I was touring Europe.

It was one of these shots that brought about Mystislav, a dragon made of stone, who comes to life under a full moon. He flies across the city and lands on the donjon tower of Carolingian castle. Mystislav hears the cries of a newborn babe and . . .

It wasn’t a short story, but it was a strong beginning for a YA Fantasy. As it turned out, the beginning was the easy part. Now I had to write a story. It took over four years.

Tell us about Into Madness, your first book in the Born From Stone series. The marketing blurb goes like this; After a decade in hiding, captured, and imprisoned, Ravin Carolingian is left to question everything she thought she knew about herself.
Still, as the line between ally and enemy blurs, one thing becomes clear. If Ravin’s going to help the Carolingian people, she must first escape the evil that walks the halls of the place she once called home.

As a reader, I like strong characters, adventure, and scenes that engage the reader’s senses. So that is how I chose to write this story. It never ceases to amaze me how the characters occasionally grab the bit and runoff—going in an entirely different direction than I had first imagined.

So what is the title of the second book, and when is the release date? The second book is Hearts Divided, and the third is The Reckoning. Hearts Divided is nearing completion. I have been receiving good-natured demands for the release date. Words in bold type like; NOW! and TOMORROW? have been hitting my inbox. Those types of demands tend to light a fire. Every writer knows that you don’t want to piss off the reader.

16 Comments

  1. Violet Moore

    Hello Shelley, I am pleased to see you featured on George’s blog. It’s one of my favorites for meeting new writers and refreshing friendships with others.

    I enjoyed reading Casual Lies but being an advanced reader for Into Madness was an adventure into a new world.

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Hi Vi, It’s been a minute, for sure. We need to get together on the phone and compare notes. Your comments on Into Madness were invaluable and greatly appreciated.

      Reply
  2. Rhonda Lane

    Had to refresh my memory, so I watched a video of the ’92 Derby. Casual Lies almost had the Derby winner Lil E. Tee. So close.

    They both shot out in front of the rest of the pack, including the hotshot favorite Arazi.

    Here’s the video: https://youtu.be/5mBQxqtsyTc

    I can’t wait to read the book about it.

    Both Casual Lies and Into Madness are on my Kindle.

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Thank you, Rhonda. I must confess that whenever I watch the replay of the race, I still hold my breath. So close and yet . . .

      Still, first or second on the day, I was a winner for having the uncommon good fortune of having horses in my life and Casual Lies in particular.

      I’m thrilled that you’re going to read my books. I hope you enjoy them both.

      Reply
  3. Vinnie Hansen

    It was fun to read this and get to know you better, Shelley. You gave your horse a great name. Who knew that it would become a book title?

    You are the third person I know who has taken inspiration from gargoyles. The other two are Gigi Pandian and Kirsten Weiss, both of whom have gargoyle characters in one of their series.

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Thank you, Vinnie. As a prolific writer yourself, whose excellent work I’ve become familiar with, you understand how important a title can be to our finished story. A superb runner tends to make for a great name in horse racing. A few come to mind; Secretariat, California Chrome, and Seattle Slew, to name just a few. But all horses have to be named before they run their first race. I dedicated an entire chapter in the memoir to naming thoroughbreds, and I gathered a few fun stories about how some of the better-known horses came by their names. Also, thanks for the heads-up; I will check out Gigi and Kirsten’s books.

      Reply
  4. Marie Sutro

    Congrats on a wonderful story, and on making Derby history!

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Thank you, Marie. I wish I could say that it was a dream come true, but in reality, I never even imagined that in over two decades of racing, I would one day saddle a horse in the Kentucky Derby, let alone all three legs of the Triple Crown. And then along came a horse that wouldn’t be denied. That was a miracle.

      Reply
  5. CINDY SAMPLE

    Your story is so fascinating, Shelley. I’ve just downloaded CASUAL LIES. I can’t wait to read it.

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Thank you, Cindy. I do hope you enjoy reading Stanley’s story. Around the barn, Casual Lies was called Stanley. I’ve often said I should have named the memoir The Horse With Two Names. I tried to give the reader a look at all the things you don’t get to see on the day of race telecasts. Which means I had no problem poking fun at myself.

      Reply
  6. Linda

    I am among those readers patiently waiting for the release of Hearts Divided.

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Oh, Linda, how you pile on the guilt and bless you for it, for I need both the carrot and a liberal amount of the stick.

      Reply
  7. Michael A. Black

    Shelley, your personal life sounds like an adventure. It’s interesting how you gravitated to fantasy. Good luck with your writing and your horses.

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Thank you so much for your comment, Michael. Adventure is the perfect word to describe my life. I’ve often thought about how different it might have been if my father hadn’t bought me my first horse for $250. To go from riding a mixed breed mare near Moffatt Field in the 1960s to saddling a horse in the Kentucky Derby, even I find that hard to believe.

      Reply
  8. Donnell Ann Bell

    Fascinating interview, George and Shelley! That’s some serious love for horses to use the equity in your house. Thanks for introducing us to Shelley, George! Best wishes on Casual Lies!

    Reply
    • Shelley Lee Riley

      Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment, Donnell. And yes, buying horses with borrowed money is not something I would do now. Still, at the time, and with many years ahead of us, it didn’t seem like such a risk. When we first started training horses, many years before Casual Lies came along, we would buy horses on what was called a run-out. By way of explanation, with a run-out, a set price is set for the horse in question, and then they were paid for through their future earnings. If there were no earnings, the breeder received nothing. We only did that one time, and we didn’t make any money, nor did the breeder. Usually, the horses you could buy on a run-out weren’t very well-bred. But it was a start, and we learned a lot from that experience. I treated every horse that came into my barn the same, no matter the pedigree. A good horse can come from anywhere. Look at this year’s Kentucky Derby winner. He was claimed for $30,000 and went on to win the Run for the Roses.

      Reply

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ANNE HAMILTON FOWLER – Memoir Author With an Inspiring Story

Anne Fowler, only child of Audrey and Stewart Hamilton, was raised in Toronto, where she attended Leaside High School and Toronto Western Hospital School of Nursing. In 1962 American Airlines beckoned her to Dallas, Texas, and life in the sky as a flight attendant. Twice divorced, Anne first married a young minister from Louisiana and then long-time best friend Dr. Bob Fowler of Toronto. They raised a daughter and son who later produced one grandchild each… a grandson and granddaughter. In 2001, Anne retired, closed her company Hamilton Enterprises and left behind a thirty-year career in Human Resources. She relocated to El Progreso, Honduras, to volunteer at a clinic where ophthalmic and dental care are provided for patients who lack the funds to be treated elsewhere. During this time, Anne developed the Visiting Doctor program for international ophthalmologists, started the Healthy Living Education project in local elementary schools, and helped with a variety of clinic and community activities. In 2005, after purchasing property in the small north coast village of El Porvenir, she built Hamilton Benest House, a home that provides accommodation for visiting dentists, doctors, teachers, and other volunteers. Her major program in 2021 is Phase Two of the Healthy Living Program. This annual dental program, conducted by two Canadian dental teams, provides dental care for over 1,000 elementary school students. Anne’s programs continue to thrive, and she is still developing community initiatives designed to improve the lives of Hondurans. Anne divides her year between El Porvenir and her Haliburton cottage north of Toronto

I began writing my memoir I’ve Worn Many Hats the summer of 2019 when two of my best friends moved out to British Columbia. I knew there would be a big hole in my summer at the cottage, so on a dare, I started writing. The process turned out to not only alleviate boredom during Covid lockdown but provided a benefit I couldn’t have foreseen; it forced me to look at some “incidents” in my life. Incidents which I had never really faced and a process that would have given me true closure. A blurb about the “plot,” which covers 81 years of my life, appears on the book’s cover.

Is there another book in my future? Probably not. Although it’s been suggested by readers that I develop a storyline “spin off” from one of “my adventures,” not sure that I have the stamina! I am still pretty busy half the year managing and developing new projects in Honduras, the current one being a community mobile library. The other half, I am acting like a true retiree sitting on the dock at my cottage or murdering the game of golf!

One of your questions that I WILL answer is whether or not an association membership helped me or my writing and the answer is yes. A little bit of back story here… up until last Spring, I always told everyone that “I would join Facebook over my dead body.” My family said I had to do it for marketing purposes, so I did. But where to find “friends”!!? I scoured FB lists and friended hundreds of writers/authors because I believed that they “might” be a help in my finishing the book and could give me advice. The resulting support proved to be a really interesting experience; surprising and somewhat overwhelming! I heard so many stories about other authors’ experiences trying to write during Covid I entertained the possibility of writing another book titled “Writing in The Time of Covid.” I have joined many authors groups on Facebook. I have been invited through these memberships to participate in a number of things, such as author takeover days, interviews, and numerous blogs. Feedback has been positive with many questions asked (especially about my work in Honduras) and has undoubtedly increased book sales. Although frankly, making money was not the primary purpose of writing, any profit will go towards my Honduran projects. The book was self-published on Amazon this past October. Here is the publishing info

My contact information:

Web site: https://anne.honduranhope.net

Email: anne.fowler@xplornet.ca

Facebook: Anne Hamilton Fowler

Link to a video interview that I made in Oct/21: https://youtu.be/Zs-SZXzH6Lg

For Canadian readers:  Paperback – https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1778350321
eBook – https://www.amazon.ca/dp/BO9HDN55FV
For US readers:  Paperback – https://www.amazon.com/dp/1778350321
eBook – https://www.amazon.com/dp/BO9HDN55FV

 

4 Comments

  1. Anne Fowler

    Thank you Michael. who knows, after I settle back into cottage life for the summer, I may regain my inspiration!!!

    Reply
  2. Anne Fowler

    Thank you Gail! I appreciate your support and comments.

    Reply
  3. Gail

    I’ve Worn Many Hats is a fascinating story about a fascinating person who continues to make the world a better place!

    My hat off to you Anne Fowler!

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    you are a truly humanitarian person and personify the best in us. God bless you for your work and best of luck to you in your writing. I hope you do decide to write that next book based on one of your adventures.

    Reply

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