Thursday, February 28, 2013


The novels I write about crime and the devastating    effect it has on families, whether it’s the family of the victim or the perpetrator, are fiction. But the fiction is often painfully, horribly close to the reality. For the last several years, I’ve been following the case of twenty-seven-year-old Ryan Ferguson most recently through the television news show, 48 Hours. If you aren’t familiar, Ryan was convicted in Columbia, Missouri for the 2001 murder of local reporter Kent Heitholt based solely on the testimony of two ‘witnesses’ who have now admitted they committed perjury. There are even members of the original jury who, based on this new evidence, now feel Ryan deserves a new trial. Yet he remains locked up, a victim of the Missouri so-called justice system. I’ll go a step farther and say, forget a new trial, Missouri needs to free this man immediately. You see, in addition to the recanted testimony, none of the considerable DNA evidence found at the scene belongs to Ryan. Nor does any of it match Chuck Erickson, the co-defendant who one day, two and a half years after the murder was committed, at the age of nineteen, began telling friends he had a dream about having done it. Someone called the police about Chuck’s “dream” and they picked him up. From that point forward, Chuck was basically fed information until his “story” sort of fit the facts. He had no independent information about the crime. You can watch the disturbing police interrogation of this very troubled kid here. This entire case is a travesty. Anyone with a brain can put it together. But as recently as this past October, Ryan’s latest appeal was denied. The judge’s explanation makes little sense. I think it’s fairly simple to understand what’s happening, though, that it has to do with the egos of the people involved from the police to the prosecutors to the presiding judges, who are unable to admit mistakes were made, that, in fact, a grave miscarriage of justice has taken place. Every time I see anything about this story in the news, I want to stand up and yell: Come on, people! Let Ryan go home!

The one ray of hope in all of this is that Ryan is now represented by Kathleen Zellner, who has obtained the exoneration of 10 wrongfully convicted men.

I’ve written stories from both sides of the crime, the guilty side and the innocent side, and I am, in fact, currently working on a novel about a family caught in circumstances similar to Ryan’s, where the son in the family is wrongfully accused. And something that has struck me just recently as I’ve watched Ryan’s father, mother and sister interviewed, is that regardless of which side the family is on—whether your child is the one who is guilty of the crime for which he or she stands accused, or innocent of it --  the expressions of shock and grief look the same. The tears on either side are the same. But somehow, when it’s your kid, when you know he’s innocent, I’ve got to believe that’s the harder, more difficult tragedy.

I admit to feeling as strongly as I do to some degree because I have two big, handsome sons like Ryan, too, who are near him in age, and I can scarcely allow myself to imagine the hellish nightmare this would be if it were one of them locked away for forty years and my family who was enduring the nightmare. My heart goes out to Ryan who is losing days of the freedom most of us take for granted for something he didn’t do. And my heart goes out to his parents and his sister, whose suffering is the collateral damage of this ridiculous and horrible mistake. But here’s the thing, I’m not sure when I’ve ever seen such courage and grace. Ryan bears no hard feeling, no ill will. He has even said something to the effect that anger won’t do anyone any good. He has managed to remain hopeful, although in the face of this latest denial of his appeal, he admits to feeling discouraged. Still, his demeanor is so calm and direct. He makes me proud to be a human being. In the end of every novel I write, I pose the question of forgiveness, whether it’s possible. Ryan Ferguson, and the way he’s handling what is an utterly unforgiveable situation with such courage, is the answer.

Please visit the website that is set up in his name here. Visit and “Like” his Facebook page, if, like me, after reading the facts, you can agree Ryan should be set free.

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Beautiful books & wine missing smiling faces....
I woke up this morning and could have immediately kicked myself. Not for waking up. That’s a good thing! But for what I didn’t do last night. You see, I have this wonderful critique group, T.J. Bennett, Wanda Dionne, Joni Rodgers and Colleen Thompson. (You should check out their books for some great reads!) We meet, regularly; all of us try to get together twice a month. We read and discuss pages of current writing projects, which is good, but we also talk the writing biz and sometimes that is what is so sorely needed … a place and people to talk to about the vicissitudes of the writing life, the changes in our fortunes as we wend our way, each of us on our journey. We talk over our struggles to fit our writing lives into our other life responsibilities, like the demands of family and other employment. Sometimes it’s difficult for someone outside of your field, whether it’s writing or something else, to understand the particular process that’s involved, how it works, how and under what conditions it’s accomplished. Writing a book is like that, requiring of a certain, highly individual process. There are five of us in my critique group and each of us has a different way of getting a book done, and because we’re doing the same sort of work in the same field, we can commiserate, support and encourage each other in ways that are so meaningful. It’s so relieving when you’re feeling low about your job, to have somebody, or in this case four somebodies, who are familiar with the territory, to help you talk the trouble through.

But it’s also thrilling to have four somebodies to celebrate the highest, most exciting moments, too. I can’t say in words how much it has meant to me to share the joyful launch of  EVIDENCE OF LIFE with my critique sisters. They were there, literally, from page one and saw the novel through more incarnations than I can remember. If my blood, sweat and tears is wrought into every page, so is theirs. They are tireless, generous and loving midwives to my process, which brings me to our meeting last night and the reason I’m upset with myself this morning.

Yesterday boxes filled with the final copies of EVIDENCE OF LIFE came, and the book is beautiful. I held the fruit of all my labor in my hands. I think I may have danced a little happy dance with it. Earlier this week, I had picked up the lovely wine bottled in its honor by Gary Rodgers, the husband of critique partner Joni Rodgers. I knew I was hosting last night’s critique meeting and I had it all planned. I would serve each of my partners a signed book and a glass of wine with a frozen blackberry as a condiment.  (I have Jerusha, Joni’s lovely daughter to thank for the condiment idea!) And I did. And it was lovely! But did I take a picture? Even one photograph to commemorate the occasion? No! Can you believe it? And it was such a lovely moment, and it won’t ever come again. And all I have now is this rather sad “morning after” picture … a box of books, a few bottles of the wine—posed. So sad. So now I’m sending my critique sisters my apologies. They earned their books and bottles of wine, but I should have made a picture. They earned that, too. It was a Kodak moment if ever there was one, only Kodak and I were asleep at the wheel. But before I drag off to sit deeper in my slough of despond, and in case you’re wondering, the wine was wonderful. And the frozen blackberry added this little piquant kiss of the summer sun … it was just lovely! And you didn’t take a picture? No, I didn’t … honestly, what was I thinking….

Monday, February 11, 2013

EVIDENCE OF (Celebration) LIFE

EVIDENCE OF LIFE: in a bottle!
Today, I brought home the wine, a lovely pinot gris, that my critique partner and generous friend, Joni Rodgers and her husband, Gary, made to commemorate the momentous occasion of the debut on March 26th of EVIDENCE OF LIFE. The bottles are small and labeled with the book cover artwork. Gary made the wine. Joni designed the gorgeous label, (She also sampled the wine as it was being bottled. Somebody has to!) and Jerusha, their daughter, helped to sterilize and put in the corks. It was a true family effort, and I can’t say how much it means to me to be given such a wonderful gift in honor of my book and its publication.

Winemakers: Gary & Jerusha

When Joni first proposed the idea of bottling a wine, I was intrigued and thrilled by the idea, but actually seeing the end result is something else! The bottles are so artistic and stylish, such an elegant tribute to the novel. Unique, like Joni, Jerusha and Gary, themselves. Joni says that doing this for me, to honor EVIDENCE OF LIFE, is her and her family’s way to share in the joy. I think joy was poured into each bottle, and I treasure each one and the lovely thought that went into them, along with Joni, Gary and Jerusha too. Thanks so much, you guys!! I’ve been so lucky to have the benefit of so much encouragement, enthusiasm and support from so many people who have helped to bring this dream into being. I’ll be keeping a handful of these little bottles to remember this occasion and to remind me of just how much good is in the world, and how, sometimes, when your dream comes true, it can exceed your wildest expectations. It can knock you right out of your socks. Yep, I’ll be treasuring this and finding a new pair of socks!

Sunday, February 10, 2013


Went for eggs & sugar, came back with foxgloves!
Antique Rose: Duchesse De Brabant 1857
Down here in Texas, we had scarcely any winter, and now, the week of Valentines Day, we are having spring, which is absolutely my favorite time of year until summer, when the night settles late and the oncoming darkness is laced with the song of crickets and tree frogs. When I had a pond, I also had a bullfrog. I loved him for the bass notes. Then I love fall when the light goes more quickly from the day and somehow the earth seems quieter, more contemplative. And I’m glad for the very short days of winter that keep me inside, tucked up reading and dreaming of something new I want to write.
Kramer's Supreme Camellia Standard
But now I’m in love with spring. All winter, what little there was, I’ve been immersed in a project that is entering its final stages, but every day for the last week or two, spring called; the song renews every year, and every year I respond as if I never heard anything so lovely before, or as if I’m still the person who was raised in more northern climes, standing awestruck at the sight of my mother’s daffodils blooming through the snow. Spring gets into the very air. It’s like a half forgotten melody. The feeling of it bubbles from a center that is both known and unknown, everywhere, and nowhere that’s fixed. It meets every sense with its irresistible invitation that whispers, Come outside. Come and play. Hey, I’m growing out here. Don’t you want to see? Come and smell this rose, that sweet olive. Look at this fat Magnolia bud that I have brought about just for you, or at least it seems that way. And that fat bud is as soft as cotton. The unfolding petals will be like satin and its scent will be something between sugar and lemon. Looking at it, my mouth waters and I am beauty-drunk, saturated with joy. I have an urge to skip.   

So, out I went one day this week and found that all this life was beginning, renewing itself without me, in spite of inattention. The photographs show the proof. Evidence of life abounds in my garden. And very soon, it will abound in bookstores, too! I wonder, when spring is oncoming, what is your first awareness? What is the very first inkling you have? The one that makes you pause and say to yourself: I have to go outside. I'd love for you to leave your answer in a comment....