My heart goes out to the grieving family of George Floyd, following his senseless murder. The family has pushed for communication and change through peaceful methods, in hopes that there will be a solution this time. I share their hope that it can become a reality.
Unfortunately, the recent protests and unrest take me back to the seventies, and it saddens me to realize how much and how little civil rights have progressed. In my own little bubble, I've been able to convince myself from time to time that it had indeed progressed, but headlines and news insist otherwise. Past injustices of racism continue to rear its ugly head.
As a naive high school student, my first day began with riots. Inner city students had been bused to our new school with little to no say in the matter. Lock-downs were commonplace that first week of school. I had been bused the previous year and hated it, so I empathized. I knew that the long bus ride made extra-curricular activities difficult unless you had a car. But I hadn't realized that the rebellion went so much deeper.
Sitting in class one day, a fellow classmate gave a speech that I had difficulty wrapping my head around. She literally shook as she told about her uncle getting stopped for a crime he didn't commit. He was the same dark color as the assailant, and was in the vicinity of where the crime had taken place. When her uncle insisted he was innocent, he was beaten severely then held in custody without any legal counsel. He was only released when the assailant attacked again and was captured. There were no apologies or offers to cover her uncle's medical bills. Enraged family members tried to help him financially, but felt helpless going against the system that repeatedly abused its power. Even the best law enforcement were seen as threats, and back then, cameras did not exist on every street corner, place of business, or on the police officers themselves. When she finished her speech, you could hear a pin drop. That classmate is now a judge, making changes to that very system in her own way.
A year later, as I walked to class with a friend who shared the same schedule as me, we found ourselves cornered in a stairwell. I don't remember all of the insults thrown our way by a kid, who I didn't even know, but I'll never forget the words he spat at my friend, "You're nothing but an Uncle Tom." It felt as though I'd been punched in the gut, but the hit landed harder with my friend. The words had put an ugly spin on a friendship, and in a split second, had moved us from laughter to tears. We were so shocked, we couldn't speak, couldn't defend ourselves. It was as though the wind had been knocked out of us. When I later reflected on the incident, I tried to understand what had happened. I wondered if some members of the Black community were so immersed in years of anger from oppression, that they couldn't let it go , couldn't move toward change. Instead, they lashed out at those who tried.
Years later, when my children had grown, I was once again taught another lesson by my neighbor. She explained to me one day, when I'd been complaining about the difficulties of raising teenagers, that it's much more difficult for parents of black teenage boys. For example, she refused to let her son wear a hoodie for fear that he'd automatically be seen as a thug when walking down the street. She and her husband, as many black parents did, felt it necessary to drill their son on how to act if he was approached by a police officer. There was a whole list of behaviors he needed to learn from them, so they could keep him safe from those who were supposed to be protecting him. The injustice of a classmate"s uncle in the seventies still existed.
Don't get me wrong, there has been progress, but when another black man lies dead, I have to realize the progress hasn't been nearly enough. There have been many lessons this naive individual has learned about the Black community's struggle for civil rights, but I've learned those lessons only because someone was willing to teach me. It scares me, though, to know how much I still have to learn about social injustices. I can only hope that there will always be a brave individual who is willing to patiently talk with me so that I can understand.
- M.A. Koontz
To the doctors, nurses, other medical personnel, and first responders on the frontlines in the war against COVID-19:
Today I want you to know that I am praying for you. As you rush into work, not knowing what your shift or the next 24 hours will bring, know this -- today you are not alone; today I am praying for both your physical and mental well-being. Religious or not, my prayers are for you, for isn’t there a spirituality in the healing care you give to others?
As you become aware of the growing number of patients infected with the coronavirus that you’ve already encountered within that first hour on your job, please also be aware of me praying that you will not lose faith. Though you struggle to accept yet another loss of a life, I pray that you’ll feel the gratitude of others whose family member’s or friend’s lives you played some part in saving. And when you feel despair, I pray you’ll recall the fragile life of an individual who, because of your dedication, can now return home.
Today, as you go about your selfless work, I pray that your immune system will win its battle against the cough, the contaminated surface, or the feverish hand that reaches out to you. May it fight as hard against this infectious virus as you fight against each day’s growing challenges.
I also pray that the growing pain in your feet, back, hips, and legs will subside today as you stand for far too many hours caring for those who cannot stand or lift their heads. As paramount as it is for you to ease others’ pain, so it is with my prayers in asking for God to ease your pain.
And today, when your brow furrows as you start to worry how long your supplies of masks, gloves, or ventilators will last, I pray that those needs will be provided. You have enough to worry about. Let the power of God, through prayer, touch those who can fill those needs to do so expediently.
And finally, at the end of the day, when you’re feeling spent, I pray that you’ll allow the embrace of God’s strength, peace, and love to fortify you. Even if your experiences of the day leave you feeling alone with the overwhelming weight of the world on your shoulders, know that today you are not alone. You are in my prayers.
With my deepest appreciation and respect,
Anyone else out there among the #WritingCommunity ever been accused of being ADD when it comes to their writing? When the experts in publishing and writing are screaming (dramatic, I know) the importance of developing your own brand and focusing on one genre, I have found myself going against the suggested rule.
For marketing purposes, I understand it, really I do. When a writer is consistently writing in the same genre, it is easier to build a following. It makes sense, whether an author is self-published or traditionally published, the more you become known as an author of a specific genre, readers of that genre will seek out your books (hopefully). But I wonder how many of you suddenly find your creative mind veering off that set path, and then find yourself hesitating because of this suggested piece of advice: "Stay in your lane!"
Full disclosure, I am a rule follower — to a point. When an idea pops into my head, and lingers at the forefront of my thoughts, I feel compelled to write it. The excitement of delving into a new mode of writing can be exhilarating.
For example, I started writing children's stories for the children's page of a newspaper. This meant deadlines and limited word counts, but great feedback from readers. One woman even called every Koontz in the area to tell me how much she enjoyed reading the stories with her grandchildren. Maybe it was that sort of ego-boost that led me to try a new media — magazines.
One day, I noticed how much my Mom enjoyed reading the magazine Country. I thought how fun it would be to write a story with a familiar setting, her parents' barn. The motivation was the surprise on her face when she would see my story on one it's pages. With mixed emotions, however, the story was printed in another of the publisher's magazines, Country Extra. So of course, I was motivated to submit other articles and stories that were published in Country.
I'm really not clear how I decided to take the next leap toward writing a novel, but perhaps it was the desire to be challenged (or the ADD). Knowing this would be a huge learning curve, I enlisted the service of a developmental editor. Wise decision. Lauren Taylor Shute with #LTSeditorial guided me, and probably rolled her eyes at me on more than one occasion before #ShardsOfTrust was completed. Bolstered by this confidence, I flew solo on my next book, #TheCryBeyondTheDoor, which has been recently released.
But passing an old cemetery one day, once again I felt that tug of inspiration. I desperately wanted to use this to write a short story for the #SistersInCrime Indianapolis chapter's upcoming anthology. I recently learned it will be published sometime this year in a book titled Murder 20/20.
At least I stayed with suspense/mystery genre, right? Still, there was this story that my granddaughter and I had been tossing around, and who can pass up the excitement of a third grader? This time, learning site words was among the plethora of new items to tackle on yet another learning curve. And doing it all via long distance was not as difficult as I expected. It took extra time, but we developed a method for our cooperation, with ideas flowing back and forth. It was so much fun! So add a third grade chapter book to the varied list, as I begin the query letters.
Through it all, perhaps the best writing process, for me, is one that allows inspiration to lead the way. In the end, it's about writing what you love. What process works for you? I would love to hear about it. #ThursdayThoughts
— M.A. Koontz
Christmas is almost upon us, and I find myself wondering how that's possible. The last couple months at our house have been filled with ups and downs, which I'm sure many of you have experienced time and again. Although some might say, "c'est la vie," I prefer not to brush past those peaks and valleys so quickly, but rather, reflect on them. When I do, I find I'm grateful for both, because without the valleys, the peaks would be mere hills to stand on.
Life took a downhill turn near Thanksgiving, when my father-in-law passed away. He was a good man who'd led a full life, and I am grateful to have known him. Though he will be missed by his family and friends, at Thanksgiving we could all be thankful for the joy and lessons he shared by example.
At the same time, my new book, The Cry Beyond The Door, was to be released, but it was not meant to be. The timing was lousy, but some pleasant surprises have occurred this month in spite of the setbacks. Two book signings went well, and another local book store agreed to carry my books. They're also graciously planning to host a book signing for me in January. Then I was asked to speak at an event at Ft. Wayne's new Promenade Park Pavillion this summer as part of the Sundays on the Riverfront program. That could be a high and low all rolled into one!
So many people I've encountered recently have had no idea how their presence and smiles have set my course this Christmas on an upward path. From family, to friends, to complete strangers, each have given me the gift of joy. I don't know if they were experiencing peaks or valleys in their own lives, but I appreciate them for providing me with a push or tug along the way. If you were one of these people, I'd like to thank you. I sincerely hope to pass it on to others this Christmas and into the New Year.
Have a blessed Christmas, and remember to spread the gift of joy to others. It costs nothing, yet means so much, for we never know if the person we meet is in a valley, standing high on some summit, or somewhere in between.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of The Lucky One, compliments of Lori Rader-Day and HarperCollins Publishers. I couldn’t wait to read it, and immediately settled in for what I was certain would be a great read. I was not disappointed. Edgar Award nominated Rader-Day has done it again.
A delicious plot-twisting story with a surprise ending, The Lucky One is a suspenseful story told from the viewpoints of two characters, Alice and Merrily. Their confusion and disjointed lives are reflected in Rader-Day’s writing style, setting the mood for both characters and plot. If you enjoy roller coasters, strap yourself in for the ride she takes you on, complete with one of those thrilling loops that will leave you breathless. — M.A. Koontz
I really enjoyed the way Kate Flora steadily built suspense throughout this novel. It definitely kept me turning pages to see what was going to happen next — a great example of a book that is hard to put down.
I also appreciated Flora's female protagonist, especially how she created an imperfect character, one that could take charge without waiting for her knight in shining armor. Despite that, her character still had a vulnerability to her that softened her dynamic nature.
The main character, Thea Kozak, searches for her adopted sister's killer, and finds her life is turned upside down as each new secret is revealed. Clues that expose an ugly truth force her to look at her sister and her family in a new light. When she follows the same dangerous trail her sister had taken that got her killed, nothing is as she expected. She questions whether she'll ever be able to find her sister’s murderer, or if she’ll end up as another murder victim instead.
Review by M.A. Koontz
Ta-Nehisi Coates provides an intimate view of the slave culture in #TheWaterDancer at a time when the Underground Railroad was building in strength and numbers. Written in the first person perspective of Hiram Walker, his struggles to recall the events of his parents' disappearance unfold into the story of the "Tasked" and the "Quality."
His life begins as a slave at Lockless, a tobacco plantation in Elm County, Virginia, where he and others from "the Street" continually experience torture, humiliation, and anger at the hands of their masters. Enraged by the injustice, he discovers a gift within him – one that can lead many to freedom – if only he can learn to harness its powers.
I must admit, I struggled with the prose in parts of this story, as well as the meaning behind specific sections. This is exactly what makes this novel a great read for a book club. There is no shortage of material to discuss.
I would like to thank Carrie Vrabel with the #ACPL for the Advance Reader's Edition of this amazing novel.
I enjoyed the way Stokes built suspense throughout this novel, keeping me anxious to see what would happen next. His protagonist, Teri, is an unlikely main character, which I found refreshing. After she witnesses a murder, she's determined to find justice at her own risk, but didn't count on putting the lives of others at risk as well. Stokes does an excellent job of demonstrating Teri's impulsive nature, along with her increasing strength and resilience. A great read!
I hesitate to share with readers a particular lesson I learned from two maple trees that are growing strong in my front yard, but I can't help myself. I guess it never ceases to amaze me how much I have learned over the years, through working in the garden or simply tending to the landscaping surrounding our house. Nature's lessons tend to sneak up on me. Perhaps it's the physical aspect involved, or maybe it's the quiet time spent in union with the earth and it's life force. Regardless, I think I cherish the "ah-ha" moments that emerge, and I definitely remember the lessons better than if someone had lectured me on the specific topic.
When we moved into our previously-owned home in Indiana, two maple trees were struggling to survive. They were little more than saplings, so I went into my full-blown nurturing mode. I spoke with experts from the local nursery, and purchased the appropriate fertilizer, along with a bag that zipped around the base of the trunk. It allowed a slow trickle of water to soak into the roots on the dry days of summer.
I treated both trees equally. Soon, though, I noticed that one had dark, rich, green leaves, while the other was a much paler green. Obviously, I hadn't put enough fertilizer on the tree with the lighter foliage. Hence, I proceeded to carefully mix the recommended fertilizer again into a bucket of water and dumped it around the base. It had worked so well on the other maple tree, I was certain it would do the same for this one. Instead, I watched in horror as the tree began to wither. It made no sense to me, until it finally did.
One day, while clipping a few more dead branches out of the struggling tree, I noticed something I should have noticed long before. I had been so busy treating the trees equally, that I hadn't paid attention to the fact that they weren't the same. Although both were maples, they were two distinct varieties of maple trees. The one with lighter green leaves, actually had variegated leaves, that were meant to be lighter in color. The tree was meant to have leaves with two-toned lighter shades of green, not dark green. I had nearly killed this tree because I'd ignored it's uniqueness. Finally, I stopped fertilizing it, and simply watered it. Eventually, it flourished as well as the dark-leafed maple tree had done.
The experience made me think of people. Sometimes I lump us all together and expect each individual to react the same way to situations. After all, we're all part of the human race, right? But as much as we're all the same, we're also each uniquely different. Whether it's two kids from the same family with different personalities, or people within our neighborhoods or communities, in spite of shared experiences, each one is unique.
The monumental task, then, is to learn how to nurture one another by embracing who we are as individuals, not who we are expected to be because of family, culture, religion, etc. It requires both time and patience, and sometimes mistakes. Yet the effort is well worth it. Maybe we'll know we've gotten it right when we each begin to flourish like those two maple trees, with roots firmly planted and possessing the ability to thrive. It will require some serious master gardening skills. Good luck honing yours. May we all be master gardeners, nurturer's of one another.
Author Dawn Hosmer does an amazing job of building suspense in her thriller, "Bits & Pieces." In this first person account, the reader is submerged into the minds of both a young woman with a special gift, as well as a killer. The deaths of four female college students and a search for their killer, creates tension and mystery throughout. The story will keep you guessing until the very end, where it delivers a surprise twist.
Her main character, Tessa, has a special gift that feels more like a curse, when it drives her to the brink of insanity. A mere touch can give her "bits and pieces" from the lives of others in flashes of color. Relationships become complicated. Compelled to solve four murders, will her gift be a hindrance or an asset along the way?