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This article appeared a few weeks before Wait a Lonely Lifetime, my debut novel, hit the libraries and online booksellers. Amazon Publishing had already purchased Avalon and my career as a published author was already on shaky ground.

March 23, 2012

Cover art for Wait a Lonely LifetimeThe forthcoming publication of my debut novel, Wait a Lonely Lifetime, with Avalon Books calls for some attention to the hero of this book:  U.S. Army officer, Eric E. Wasserman, who doesn’t feel comfortable in civilian clothes.

I admit, when I see a man in uniform, I look twice. I don’t know if this is a genetic anomaly or a primordial instinct but there is something about a human male impeccably dressed, starched, buttoned and tied that unleashes a basic response from me: instant & rarely unjustified trust, a sense of security and protection as well as a recognition of pride and courage.

Medal of Valor presented to US soldierThis could be because so many of the most trustworthy, dependable men I have known have been the uniformed kind. This could also be the reason I have made my hero, Eric Wasserman, uncomfortable out of uniform when he first meets the love of his life and why he chooses to wear only military garb when they next meet.

His choice to return to Army life after a brief stint as a civilian has as much to do with the story development as with my own military-philia, having a long, proud history of U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force family members. Eric came to life when I saw him as a gawky, ex-GI out of his element among art college students.

 Readers of Wait a Lonely Lifetime will recognize this scene.


Readers of Wait a Lonely Lifetime will recognize this scene.

Eric Wasserman is a fictional character who embodies all I can imagine of the best of the male of our species: characteristics I have observed throughout my life; characteristics that are embedded in their genetic coding. My first novel for Avalon is my way of saying thank to people who have been important in my life – both familiar and unknown.Feeling out of our element is something we all share at one time or another. Eric’s second-in-command, Lt. Cleonina Jones, forces him to face his desertion of the only woman he has ever loved, Sylviana Innocenti, and take responsibility for his part in the unhappy outcome.

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nasturtiums2bWhen I was a teenager, my mother asked me to help her in the garden with weeding as part of my contribution to family life. Chores were bad enough, but weeding was about the worst on any Saturday. Chores were a part of being a member of the household and I did my share, unless it was outside crouching around the flowerbeds, dodging worms and insects of all sorts. Not to mention the dirt.

How things change. When I had a place of my own, a garden became a worthy pastime. At that stage, I was most interested in growing vegetables, never mind the dirt and worms. Worms are good and I had no problem picking them up, cherishing  and being grateful for them.

If you have read some of my earlier articles about Pomegranate nurturing, you will have an idea of how I have connected cosmospoppies2bgrowing plants with my writing, such as the article, Compost. I even connected gardening, children and my writing when I was still able to entice my two eldest to love helping Mommy.

Now I live in an apartment in the city and have left my garden, my pomegranate and compost to the care of others. Two years later, I’m caring for another garden — on a much smaller scale. The inspiration for this garden was as a tribute to many beloved members of my family who are no longer with me.  I have written about some of them here. My father was the subject of an article about learning life lessons, as was my sister-in-law. My mother is a constant feature and undercurrent.

This year, the deaths of my only brother and one of my nephews inspired me to plant a living memorial to all of the people who are gone from my life.

The first photo is of Nasturtiums, in memory of my father. Nasturtiums are for patriotism in honor of my father’s service in the U.S. Army and his bravery in the face of great disappointment and ill-health.  The second photo is of California Golden Poppies, in memory of my mother. Poppies are for nurturing in honor of my mother’s dedication to her children and so many other children for whom she cooked in school kitchens.

mixforhummingbirds2bThis photo is a mix which is beneficial to hummingbirds – we have a few in our area – in memory of my brother whose heart was broken and his beloved wife who lived with Cerebral Palsy and Parkinson’s Disease without ever asking ‘Why me?’

As you can see, these wild flowers are taking their time to get a good start on life on my balcony. Our weather here is mild but foggy. We had sun on Saturday but not for long.

This photo is a mix which is beneficial to bees – I haven’t seen many this year in the lower western corner of the city – and is in honor of my youngest nephew whose brief life had been full of enthusiasm, wildness, a love of life and too many misunderstandings.  My heart breaks when I think of him, just nine months older than my eldest. mixforbees2b

This mix seems to have some very strong contenders and many which are not having any of it. It remains to be seen what the bees will think of it once the flower blossoming begins.

You may have some doubts about my gardening ability when you realize that I started these at the end of August. I showed little knowledge of the cycles of nature, right? That’s true. But as fortune will have it, all of these plants thrive and can be planted in the later part of the year — something I didn’t know when I chose them! Add to that the fact that my city has a unique micro-climate and will be very warm in the coming month of October.

abirdofautumn2bWe may not have much of a summer (the coldest winter Mark Twain ever spent was a summer in my town) but it’s likely to be in the 80s until mid November. And if you doubt that, here is one of the many rewards of a garden of whatever size or kind.

This solo visitor made a thorough exploration of each of my planters and found what he was after — the insects that put me off gardening in the first place all those years ago!

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My introduction to the life story of Helen Keller was through the film, The Miracle Worker. With the help of the acting brilliance of Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, I watched the impaired little girl transform not only herself but her family and teacher by her determination to overcome the loss of sight and hearing because of an illness in her infancy.

If you have seen this film, maybe you had the same reaction to Helen’s bravery when she, faced with the desertion of her teacher, breaks free of her family’s indulgence of her impairments and proves she is capable of learning.

In the film, she stumbles from one object to another in her front yard, naming each as her teacher had signed them to her, giving her utmost effort to vocalize words she has never heard.

During those moments in the film, I cheer for that little girl, fighting all the odds, including the people who loved her most, to be more, have more, achieve more than anyone believed she could, including her teacher.

By her supreme effort to prove she is capable of more than being a sightless, voiceless creature to be pitied, Helen is transformed into a heroine and a champion of those less fortunate.

That story, the legend the film created, has always inspired me and probably, with the help of women in my life and in my family who, in spite of adversity, kept faith with themselves, gave me the foundation that has seen me through my own, though meager in comparison, adversity. Women who, for their families and friends, follow their dreams, protect and provide for their children, stand by the men they love, even if they fall short of reaching their life’s goal, never give up. Always adjusting, altering, sacrificing to meet the needs of the people they love.

These qualities are part of what make us all capable of heroism, at least in the eyes of those we love. When my father returned home as a veteran, there were no jobs. Despite his experience as an Army officer, the only work he could find was as a farm laborer, picking potatoes. He had to provide for his wife and children and he did this back-breaking work to ensure than none of us went hungry. While he was bending beneath the weight of this burden, my mother was working nights in the canning factory.

My mother’s memoir of her WWII experiences is Following the Troops. She was proud of my father, even when she was run out of Boston because of him.

I’m an author and I write about women who, despite uncertainty, disadvantage or disappointment, take on life on their own terms, finding the men they need along the way, chasing them down when they have to.

Men like Eric Wasserman, women like Sylviana Innocenti.

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I’m proud to announce that my mother’s long awaited memoir of her experiences and journeys during World  War II is available at Smashwords, Amazon and Kobo. Soon on Barnes & Noble.

My mother entrusted the stories in Following the Troops to me in 1991 while I was working on Parachutes and Petticoats. Although I was one of the editors, including my mother’s autobiographical writing wasn’t going to happen. Parachutes and Petticoats was about Welsh women’s experiences.

When I began editing Iancs, Conshis a Spam, the same argument stood with my publishers, Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press.

My mother wrote these stories to be published and, although twenty years have passed since I promised I would, I did give her, and my siblings, the privately published volume in 2003, for her 90th birthday.

Virginia Verge Verrill died in August, 2005.

This book is her story.

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Sylviana met her friend’s steadfast stare for a long, dry moment. “So, you think he’s dead.”

“Sylvi, it’s been fifteen years. That’s what happens to lots of soldiers.”

Sylviana looked over the balcony of the restaurant onto Ghirardelli Square . “How did you know? I mean, how did you find out what happened, what Eric did?”

Aggy pushed her fork around her salad plate for a few moments. “He was kind of cute, and I didn’t think you were interested. Turns out he wasn’t interested in me either—and not in the kind of life we were all leading then, anyway. I don’t know how I heard or who from, Sylvi. Someone gave me his phone number—Steve, maybe—but I only tried calling him once. A few months later, I just heard from someone that he’d packed in his job at the insurance company and re-enlisted. So what else but dead can you expect? All these guys are just cannon fodder for one bigheaded politico or another. Didn’t you know he’d gone back into the Army? Steve brought him to the parties—didn’t he tell you?”

“Steven hardly mentioned his name after Eric disappeared, like he had never existed.” Sylviana rubbed the side of her nose and along her cheekbone.

“And you’ve been carrying a torch for this guy for how long? Since your divorce was final?”

“Since I met him, Aggy. Since that first party at Frankie’s show.”

“Holy cow, Sylvi. That’s some torch. The whole time you were married to Steven?”

“It wasn’t like that, Aggy. I loved Steven—it’s just that, since the divorce and dating a few guys, I can’t get Eric Wasserman’s face out of my mind . No one else has come close to what I felt the first time I saw him.”

“You sure had a funny way of showing you were interested in him, Sylvi.”

“What do you mean? I talked to him for hours. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.”

“Maybe, but never without a pack of baying wolves around you. Poor guy couldn’t get very close.”

“That’s not how I remember it,” Sylviana replied.

“Then you’ve been dreaming. Eric was about the hunkiest   jarhead any of us had ever seen, and the only girl he saw in the room—you—scarcely seemed to give him a glance. Once Steve Langdon came on to the scene, that was it for you.”

“But that’s not true. I didn’t talk to Steven. I talked to Eric Wasserman—endlessly—though he barely said a word. I probably didn’t give him a chance to,” she moaned.

“That’s not the way I saw it. But it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? If Eric’s not dead, he’s probably married with a family,” Aggy told her. “Dumb guys like him do that too. Don’t know a good thing and can’t stay out of trouble.”

There was nothing else Sylviana could say to Aggy. Her best friend from kindergarten had always been radical, cut-the-corn and get on with it, anti-war, anti-nuclear, anti-fascist, anti-establishment. Sylviana ran her fingers around the base of her wineglass. Her daughters were safe at home with her parents, and she was baring her soul to the only woman she knew who wouldn’t laugh in her face.

She knew her ex-husband’s military record. She knew his unit members and a couple of the people he hadn’t written out of his life the day his discharge came through. Eric Wasserman was the only one who’d appeared on the scene and stuck around for a few weeks, come to a few parties, captured her heart, and then disappeared forever. Steven Langdon had been quick to let her know that he wasn’t going anywhere out of her life fast. He’d swept her off her feet with his avid courtship, and months later, marrying him had seemed like the best idea at the time. Twelve years and two little girls later, she’d asked for a divorce.

During her lunch hour, the Monday following her talk with Aggy, Sylvi pushed open the door of the Army recruiting office four blocks from her office. The soldier at the desk glanced up, gave her a quick smile, and looked back down at his paperwork. When his eyes indicated a chair in front of the desk, she positioned herself on the edge, folding her hands over her shoulder bag.

“I’m not here to enlist,” she said, then wished she hadn’t.

The recruitment officer didn’t smile. “No, ma’am.”

“I’m looking for someone.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we don’t have that kind of information here. Classified, unless you’re family.”

“I’m not family. He was a friend. He is a friend.”

“Sorry, ma’am. Can’t help you.”

“If I was family? If we just lost touch? Circumstances? Relocated?”

He studied her face for a while. “There are a couple of groups that reunite service families, ma’am.” He pulled a card from a drawer and laid it on the desk in front of her. “They won’t tell you anything outright, but they may be able to contact the soldier you’re looking for. It’s up to him then.”

Sylviana drew the card toward her and couldn’t conceal the trembling of her hand. “Thank you. You’re very kind.”

“Good luck, ma’am.”

April 10

San Francisco

Dear Eric,

I know you won’t remember me, but we met about fifteen years ago. My name is Sylviana Innocenti Langdon.

The letter had been on Wasserman’s desk for two days, in his pocket for another, then held unopened in his hand for half an hour before the feeling that one of his unit had shoved a bayonet into his gut and was twisting it around finally subsided. Ten more minutes passed before his thumb ripped through the last fraction of glue, but his hand was still shaking so badly, the single sheet of pale blue paper refused to be taken out. He finally worked it free, crumpling a corner, and smoothed it on his thigh. As soon as it unfolded, he read her married name, and the bayonet jammed straight through to his spine.

“Captain?”

He lifted his eyes from the blur of ink. “What is it, Clee?”

“It’s Martinelli, sir. Wants to know what to—”

“Tell her, I’ll be right there.” He shoved the letter back into the envelope, pressed it down into his pocket, and felt the barbs driving into his chest. He took it out and tossed it onto the desk. The envelope skittered across the surface and caught in the pages of the duty roster, face up. S.I. Langdon, 81 Hill Street, San Francisco.

Why is she doing this?

“Where’s Martinelli?”

“Down by the vehicle dump.”

“What’s she doing there?”

“That’s her assignment, Captain.”

Wasserman looked at his second in command for a moment. They’d been a team for two years. He knew Lieutenant Cleonina Jones as well as he’d known any one of his lieutenants. Better. Whatever was going on, she wasn’t part of it. “What does Martinelli want to know? Never mind. I’ll go down. Need a walk, anyway.”

Clee walked back to her desk, shuffled through papers, and watched Captain Wasserman through the open door until he was out of sight at the end of the camp before she leaned over enough to see into his office and the letter on the desk that hadn’t come from his sister. “Sure is pretty handwriting.”

Eric was nowhere near the dump by the time he raised his eyes. Not a word from Steve Langdon for three, almost four, years and now, this. What kind of joke is this? The vehicle dump was on the other side of the camp, camouflaged in trees and under nets—coolest spot in the valley, now that the winds had died down. The combat support unit captain straightened his back and headed in the direction he’d meant to go, keeping his eyes on the vineyards on the hillsides.

Martinelli wasn’t in sight. He ducked under the strips of camouflage and called the second lieutenant by name. The wheeled creeper swept out from under a truck . Hard to believe anyone that small could be such a good mechanic. Of course, everyone was tiny compared to six feet four inches. Captain Eric D.D. Wasserman. Even the biggest of the combat unit didn’t look him straight in the eye without tilting his chin a bit.

Martinelli jumped up in front of him and dusted off her backside. Her grin broke through the fog in his brain—pure, fresh, San Francisco fog—and he grinned back. She pointed in one direction at the oily wreckage of a truck and hooked her finger at a ratchet-jockey in the other. Whatever the private had failed to fix , he wasn’t owning up to it until Martinelli had raked him through the eastern European dust for a good half hour.

“Well? Who’s it from?”

“Who’s what from, Angel?” Clee shoved the drawer of the cabinet with her hip and pulled her CO’s office door shut so that Private Angel Watts couldn’t walk in.

“Don’t be coy, Jones. Everyone in the unit knows he’s gotten a letter, and it’s not from Lodi. Scuttlebutt says he’s got a sweetheart out there.”

“Scuttlebutt is wrong.”

“Scuttlebutt says it even smelled nice.”

“Scuttlebutt wouldn’t know a good smell from the latrine.”

“The least you can do is tell me if he opened that envelope yet.” Private Watts sidled to the door and cupped her hands to the rippled glass.

“What are you talking about? He opened it—ages ago. What do you think? He’s some kind of kid?”

“What’s in it?”

“How should I know? Whatever it is, it’s private. Just like everybody else’s mail.”

“Let’s have a look,” Angel said, clamping her hand around the doorknob and easing the latch free. “You’re going to know, anyway, sometime.”

“No way,” Clee hissed, yanking the door solidly against the frame. “One, I would never do that to him. Two, he’d know the second he opened the door.”

“Well, how are we going to know what’s going on?”

“Just like every time, everything, and everyone else, Angel. We’ll find out when Captain Wasserman is good and ready to tell us.”

That didn’t happen before mail call put another pale blue envelope on the CO’s desk, on top of company and field dispatches, requisitions and requests. Eric didn’t meet Clee’s gaze but felt her staring at him, drilling a hole in his neck with her cocoa brown eyes, the same color as her skin. He didn’t flinch when he pushed the square aside. He didn’t even look up when she sighed, folded her arms, and went back to her desk. All the clicking and clattering on her keyboard and the constant whirr of the printer didn’t break through the blank in his brain, like it had been blown out. All he could do was slide documents back and forth, stare at lines of type he couldn’t read, wait for something to catch him before he dropped like a grenade, that moment before the sound of the explosion hit him, when the ground just rocked.

“Are you going to take this call, sir?”

“Yeah, put ’em through. Who is it?”

“I told you, sir. It’s the colonel.”

“Yeah, yes, right. Afternoon, Colonel.”

“How’s it going down there, Eric?”

“Good, sir. No problems.”

“We’ve got some civilians coming down from NATO this week. It’d be good if you can show them a pretty picture, something the press won’t hash and trash.”

“We’ll do our best, sir. Not a problem.”

“Good. Glad to hear it.” The colonel paused, then hummed for a moment. “Eric, anything going on I should know about?”

“No, sir. Nothing I can think of.”

“You’ll let me know, right? Whatever it takes. Whatever you need.”

“Yes, sir. We’ll get the job done at this end.”

He held the receiver to his ear for a few seconds, letting the dead, empty silence take over for what was really going on. Everyone, from his CO to his youngest rookie, knew something was going on. Captain E.D.D. Wasserman had gotten two letters from Stateside in less than two weeks. His sister wrote him letters once, at most twice, a year, sometimes with more than an eight-month gap between missives. That was it. No bank statements arrived. No demands for payment. No complaints from anyone that he didn’t write. He hadn’t even heard from Steve Langdon the way he usually did around his wife’s birthday, not for a couple of years. His hand was steady until the moment he unfolded the first letter on his desk, and he forced his eyes to focus on the lines Steve’s wife had written.

April 10

San Francisco

Dear Eric,

I know you won’t remember me, but we met about fifteen years ago. My name is Sylviana Innocenti Langdon. We met at a party here in SF. I don’t know if you and Steven are still in touch, and you will probably think I’m crazy, but a few events over the past few years have given me reason to think about those times.

A friend of mine, Aggy Tarkingdon, mentioned the party, and we talked a bit about you, just remembering faces, and we both wondered what you were doing now. You will think I am insane when I tell you that it became a kind of quest.

A very nice recruiting officer for the Army took pity on me. Just so you don’t go gunning for him, I won’t mention his name, but he gave me the name of a group to contact.

If you get this, I would be happy to hear from you, Eric. Let me know what you’re doing—if you want.

Fondest regards,

Sylviana

She had olive green eyes and dark brown hair that swept across her shoulder blades like silk, thick waves of heavy silk, and she was wearing something blue, some long dress with pant-legs instead of a skirt. He had stood inches away, wondering how she’d gotten into it and how he could get her out of it. Every guy in the room had been thinking the same thing.

What could he write? She was married to his best buddy, the guy who’d taken the bullet that had his name on it. If Steve Langdon hadn’t gotten in the way of that bullet, he would not be feeling this pain now. Wasserman sucked air hard into his lungs, clenched his jaw, and slapped his hand onto the second blue square, ripped his thumb through the flap, and tore out the blasted, scented, bayonet-wielding letter.

© Leigh Verrill-Rhys 2012

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As part of my Virtual Launch of Wait a Lonely Lifetime published by Avalon Books and now available on several online bookshops, Sandra Carey Cody posted an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel on her website: SandraCareyCody. Use the following link and click on the Guest Excerpt tab.

Sandra Carey Cody is one of my fellow writer colleagues at Avalon Books, writing in the Mystery genre. She has very generously offered to host this excerpt and I am happy to be able to share some of her books with you: Put Out the Light (2005); Consider the Lilly (2008); By Whose Hand (2009). Her most recent book for Avalon is Left at Oz (2011).

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As part of my Virtual Launch of Wait a Lonely Lifetime published by Avalon Books and now available on several online bookshops, Sandra Carey Cody has posted an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel on her website: SandraCareyCody. Use the following link and click on the Guest Excerpt tab.

Sandra Carey Cody is one of my fellow writer colleagues at Avalon Books, writing in the Mystery genre. She has very generously offered to host this excerpt and I am happy to be able to share some of her books with you: Put Out the Light (2005); Consider the Lilly (2008); By Whose Hand (2009). Her most recent book for Avalon is Left at Oz (2011).

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