The Nastier Side of Book Publicity


Teens and book publicity

What is the impact on young teens of inappropriate book publicity?

Serious writers read. . . a lot!  I am no exception. I love books, print or ebooks, fiction or nonfiction; it doesn’t matter to me. It’s the ideas and insights that are put forth from knowledgeable and/or creative minds that count. Because I am a fast reader, I consume book after book, and some time ago, decided to review the books that I read.

When Goodreads.com came into being in 2007, a perfect venue became available for people like me to share the books that they love. In addition to books that I purchase or that I borrow from the library or from friends, many of the books that I review come through Netgalley.com, a website for publishers and authors to promote their books to reviewers, libraries, and others who might help give books exposure.

Most independent book reviewers are honest in their assessment of the books that they review, so that a potential reader can assess whether or not to spend their precious time buying and reading any given book.

The Dark Side
There is a dark side to this lovely scene, and perhaps it has been there for a long time, but it seems to be getting more reckless, and more uncaring about the audience that trusts them to give a fair review of a book. Let me give you an example.

I have been getting requests from book publicists to review books that they have been hired to promote. These promotion campaigns are not cheap, sometimes running into tens of thousands of dollars to promote a single book nationally, and even internationally, to radio, televisions talk shows, columnists in newspapers and magazines, movie agents, and more. These requests for reviews come to me probably because I give short, tight reviews that show a reader when a book is worth their time.

For publicists, I only agree to review traditionally or indie published books that might be of interest to me personally and that are sent to me by mail in hardcover. I do this for free, so the least a publicist can do is send me a hardcover copy that I can donate when I’m finished.

The most recent book sent to me by a fairly large publicity agency sounded good in the email description and looked good on its book jacket when it arrived. Upon examining the book, I was shocked at what I saw. The cover of the actual book was blank with no information, not even on the spine. The margins on the inside pages of text were too narrow. The leading between the printed lines of type was too wide. When I began to read the text, I was appalled at the quality of the writing: cliches abounded, transitions between ideas were confusing, and most troubling of all, the author was using the same names for different characters in this thinly disguised biography masquerading as a novel. One had to re-read whole paragraphs to follow the story line. I cannot emphasize enough how badly this book was written. Yet the book jacket was well-illustrated, and the promotion copy was professional, a very attractive and appealing come-on to a potential buyer.

Before contacting the publicist to say that I could not give this book a good review, I went to Amazon.com to check what other reviewers had said. Of the four reviews, one had given it a four-star and three had given this book a five-star.  What was up?

If you click on a book rater/reviewer’s name, you link to all the other reviews that this person has given, an interesting exercise; try it some time.  Three of the book raters had reviewed only this book and no others, implying that they might be friends of the author. The fourth was a prolific reviewer giving almost all of the books he reviewed five stars with only a sprinkling of four stars. The subject line of his reviews consisted of over-the-top hyperbole such as: Brilliant! Uniquely entertaining! Thought-provoking! Delightful! Delicious! Magnificent! Beautiful! Excellent! The reviews themselves were general, and one didn’t  learn much about the subject matter of the books. Is this author being paid to give high ratings to books? It didn’t seem as if he had actually read them.

The Impact on Younger Teens
My seventeen-year-old granddaughter (pictured above) is smart. She’s been reading since she was a very young child and undoubtedly has read things over the years that I and her parents would question, but she is analytical about the books she reads and the movies that she sees. She sees THROUGH things to hidden motives and agendas.  Not all teens are so blessed.

Beginning in middle school, kids become exposed to commercial publications outside of school. With a little spending money, they can buy and share with one another anything on the Young Adult shelf at the local bookstore. Take a look at these sometime. These shelves are filled with  “will-they-won’t-they-OMG-they’re doing-it!” books written simplistically to sell to young teens. Is it any wonder that boys and girls think it is all right to engage in sex at a young age? People who are NOT their parents or teachers are telling them that it is okay. So who listens to authority figures such as parents and teachers anyway! Kids, beginning at about age thirteen, have entered the separation-from-parents stage of child development, and society at large is giving them clear signals as to how they may behave if they wish.

Ah Romance
Readers love romance stories. It’s one of the top selling genres that is produced. Yet, romance and explicit sex are mutually exclusive. You can have one without the other quite easily even though today’s writers don’t seem to understand that. A beautiful romance is emotionally fulfilling and can leave a reader reflecting on it for long after the book has ended. A well-written and deeply insightful romance can be a treasure.
Titillating sex? Fun to read maybe, but utterly forgettable when the paragraph ends.

It’s All About the Money, Right?
If you want to sell a book, throw in a lot of sex, or if it’s only a little bit of sex, make sure it is exceptionally explicit. I wrote a sex scene in my novel Ambiguousand I just now went back to review it to be sure that I still feel that it was appropriate to the story.  Ambiguous is based on the true experiences of “Rick,” a young man in the Air Force in the 1950s struggling to hide his attraction to another airman. The sex scene comes about two-thirds of the way through the book after Andy discovers Rick’s feelings toward him, becomes so horrified that he becomes radically homophobic, and seduces his girlfriend Estelle to prove that he is a real man. In my opinion, the scene is necessary to show the innocence of both Estelle and Andy, and how this could go so terribly wrong. In this case, writing the scene was not about selling more books, although I’d certainly love to do that.  It was about showing the outcome of Rick’s lack of control regarding his buddy Andy. If you read the book, please let me know if you think the scene was justified.

The publicity scam is when agencies indiscriminately accept any book that an author will pay big bucks to promote, whether or not it is worthy. That’s why these campaigns cost so much. The authors are buying their way into the public eye, and the publicists are doing their best to help them. Who can blame them? They are just doing the job that they are being paid to do. If you have the money, you can do it too. We all need to be aware of what is happening here. It’s not necessarily the best or the most relevant book that makes it onto Oprah or The Daily Show. It’s the one with the most money in its publicity campaign. Some of these are wonderful books: Short Nights of The Shadow Catcher was one that I had the privilege to review through Netgalley and it received wide publicity, deservedly so. Too many others are publicized simply because they have the money to hire professional publicists.

All the rest of the hidden gems that traditionally published or indie published authors have written must find their own way to rise to the top of the pack of merely-average books, corny books, misleading books, and just plain awful books.  Some have done it. It’s difficult, but not impossible.

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When an Author has an Agenda


1-19-2014 6-34-14 PMA few days ago, I finished reading a couple of books: Project Cain for young adults, and its counterpart: Cain’s Blood for adults both published by Simon & Schuster in 2013.  I’m a rather prolific book reviewer, and these were sent to me by the author Geoffrey Girard for review.  The two books were written in tandem, same story, different points of view, and although the YA book was cleansed of the most egregiously gory scenes, it’s still pretty graphic.

Here is part of what I wrote in the review:

“Jeff Jacobson’s father sat down on the bed with him one day, and told him that the people whom Jeff had thought were his parents for the past sixteen years weren’t his parents at all. Instead, Jeff had been cloned eight years before from the DNA of serial killer Jeffery Dahmer to be developed in a vat of liquid as an eight-year-old boy. Then “Dad” left an envelope of money on the bed, walked out the door, and Jeff never saw him again.

“What follows is the most horrific, awful, gut-wrenching piece of gory fiction that I have ever read. I didn’t like it. It was painful to read. Nevertheless, I gave it a 4-star rating because author Geoffrey Girard is a good writer who, in my opinion, accomplishes his agenda of exposing the monstrous experiments that the United States government has either carried out itself or has sanctioned over the past century. Much of the actual information that the author refers to while the fictional story moves along, and his killer clones reek havoc on themselves and others, can be checked on the Internet.

If you like this story, you’re “sick.” If you want the information that Girard imparts, read it anyway.”


While I was reading these books and writing the Goodreads.com reviews of them, I couldn’t stop the many thoughts that went through my mind.  Here are some of them in no particular order:

1. I am old enough to remember when serial killers David Berkowitz, Ed Gein, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and Dennis Rader, were caught and occupied the news for weeks and months. The memories of reading about these monsters and their victims in real time still haunt me. Ed Gein lived only a couple of hours from my home town in Wisconsin. John Wayne Gacy tortured and killed teenage boys when I was a mom raising teenagers. The young boy who tried and failed to get two policemen to help him escape from Jeffrey Dahmer was evidence to me that even the police couldn’t always be convinced of horror happening right before their eyes. Dennis Rader was an active and respected member of a church as was I at that time. I view these situations very much from my own personal perspective, and they frighten me, even now.

2. Geoffry Girard in his Cain books focuses on the crimes, the killers, and the system that created them. There is little empathy demonstrated in the narrative for those who fall victim to the killer clones. For the most part the victims are simply bodies, alive or dead, used to show how horrible that slicing, dicing, stabbing, beheading, crushing, burning, and other murderous means can look, smell, and sound. But those fictional ordinary teens that were enticed by a Facebook invitation to a private home for a party were somebody’s children who were loved and cherished. Should this have been given such short shrift?

3. The agenda in this over-the-top violent story is clearly to alert readers to the way the U.S. Defense Department of the United States government has misused its citizens by allowing experiments to be performed upon them without their knowledge or consent: Injecting them with infectious diseases, for example, just to see what happens.  See the article at http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41811750/ns/health-health_care/#.UtxbTRDnaCgAuthor.

Other government experiments deal with creating weapons to destroy our enemies. Never mind the collateral damage of killing and maiming innocent people.
Girard states in Chapter two:
“It all probably sounds a little far-fetched. Stupid, even. Believe me, I know. But what if I told you an Air Force research lab in Ohio recently admitted to secretly working on bombs filled with synthetic pheromones/aphrodisiacs to make enemy troops “turn gay,” and also on methods to create giant swarms of bees? Or that the Navy spent twenty million dollars teaching bats to carry explosives? Or that over the past forty years, the United States military has publicly admitted to working on everything from invisibility and time travel to ghosts, weather control, mind control, LSD bombs, talking dolphins, sound weapons, and telekinesis. And that’s just what they’ve admitted to. Now imagine what they haven’t.”

You can Google each of these. I did.

4. Do I, or anybody else for that matter, need to be exposed to this incredible fictional gore to get the message that there is evil in the world and that some of it is perpetrated by our own government? I don’t. I am personally aware of it as are most of you, and also of the psychopathic serial killers that are out there. As a writer, I’ve been reading a lot about psychopaths (sociopaths), and have learned that the vast majority do not become murderers. First of all, there are far more of them among us than we have previously thought, and although they lack conscience, their predominant traits run more along the lines of seeking control, seeking constant stimulation for their ever-present boredom, impulsive risk-taking, and charismatic charm.  Woe to the parents who give birth to such a child and love a child who cannot love them back, but whose youngster will learn all the manipulation needed to get what is wanted.

5. Geoffrey Girard’s companion books Project Cain and Cain’s Blood will undoubtedly stir controversy, and rightfully so. Sometimes that is what is needed to begin a dialogue that will have some impact on the issue being confronted, in this case, our government’s cavalier attitude toward “them-n-us.” Our enemies are not people, so therefore find creative ways to kill them. Drones anyone? How about some research on a better way to bring peace among nations? Among people? How about some research on ways to maintain peace over the long haul? Maybe even forever? –So that we as human beings can deal with more important issues like earthquakes, tsunamis, climate change, energy needs, population balance, and on and on and on!

I know one thing that reading these books did for me. I’m DONE watching stupid formula tv shows, no matter how exciting, that exploit mayhem and gore.

I LOVE good stories, and love to read them on paper and in ebooks. I love good stories on tv and in the movies, but for me, they have to be original and well-thought out. I want to learn something new, to gain new insight if I am spending my time on someone’s creation.

Having said that, it raises the bar for my own writing. I’m not a great writer; I’m still learning and experimenting. I didn’t graduate from an MFA program although I’d love to do so even at this advanced age.  Yes, there is an agenda in my writings too, but it may be less obvious than that in Geoffrey Girard’s novels. I’ll let you figure it out for yourself as you read my books over time.

Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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The One a Day Solution


I’m overwhelmed. I can’t think. I can’t plan. I don’t have writer’s block; that’s never happened to me, but something is going on. Something else.

60 years agoAmong the many tasks of ordinary daily living, I am also trying to convert an eBook to print. It’s okay. I know what to do and it’s ready except for the cover and the illustrations. To do the cover properly, I’m trying to transfer my graphics skills to Adobe Photoshop from Corel Photopaint. The learning curve is higher than I expected. I’m hiring out the interior illustrations to my grandson, and haven’t yet seen how they are going.

My author website http://halleson.com/ needs to be revised to incorporate responsive design so that it can be seen more easily on smart phones. I’ve always used Dreamweaver so that part is okay, but I want to try learning Adobe Muse so that all future updates can be more efficiently done. I’ll start that as soon as I get a handle on Photoshop.

I had two new books published in 2013 and the marketing of them is suffering. All authors, whether independently or traditionally published must market and sell their own books or the job just doesn’t get done. I know how to do this, but just can’t find the time to stay on top of it. I keep trying to organize and re-organize to make myself get to it on a regular basis. People who read my books like them, but word-of-mouth marketing is super-slow, and I don’t want to depend on that.

The next novel in my God’s Child stories is aching to get written, prodding me, making me HURT. I know where the setting will be and have glimpses of the evil that protagonist Silje Reiersen will have to confront. Silje is dying to get started on this next journey, and doesn’t want the the author’s boring marketing tasks to delay her coming alive again.

I do book reviews at GoodReads.com. Since I’m a fast reader and love stories of all kinds, this is a joy. Supposedly, I’m in the top 1% of their reviewers. I read in bed before I go to sleep and in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Finding time for this is not a problem.

Blogging is important, and trust me, I’ve got plenty to say. So just DO IT Halleson!  Stop procrastinating.

I’d like to get my drawing skills up to par. It’s all spread out on the dining room table.

I began taking piano lessons last summer, and work at squeezing in the practice time.

Since I’m more or less elderly, I sleep a lot.

My eyes glaze over when anybody tells me in detail how busy they are, so I really try to avoid doing that to anyone else. Especially, I’m less than tolerant of writers who whine about how tough their lives are. Yeah, me too. It was never an easy thing to be a person who MUST write, yet constantly struggles with the doing of it.

I know I ought to focus. I know I ought to narrow down my interests to free up time for writing, but I also know that I’m highly unlikely to do that. I refuse to give up a single thing. I will NOT. My father always told me that I was stubborn. Why should I prove him wrong?

Thanks to all of you who suffered through this long discourse of frustration. I believe the solution is to do a little of each of my projects each day. Just a little moves each one forward. (Did I mention that I do mending for family members and sewing for myself?)  The biggies, such as writing the next novel will get more time each day, much more time. There I said it. I wrote it down. Now I am committed. I must begin the next novel right now and finish it in a timely fashion.

Watch for the next God’s Child novel toward the end of the year, right after I return from a trip to Norway to visit the land of my ancestors.

Unraveling thumbnail

Click here to see Halleson’s most recent book.

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Update on the Protagonist in “Ambiguous”


Postcard revised 180 dpiIf you have read my most recent novel Ambiguous, you know that story was based on the experiences of a friend of mine who was struggling with gender identification during a time when it was dangerous to come out as being gay. The novel which follows his real life experience very closely during his three years as an air traffic controller in the Air Force is told from his, Rick’s, point of view in Book I. The other two “books” included in the novel are told from the point of view of two of his air force buddies.

Rick (not his real name) was a young man then, full of life, and unafraid of adventure. He’s retired now, and has shared with me many of his experiences and relationships since his disastrous obsession with his pal Andy who narrates Book II.

After he left the Air Force, Rick married a beautician whom he loved dearly, but he was shattered when their child died soon after birth. Rick’s attraction to men couldn’t be stifled, and as much as his wife tried to understand and be supportive, they finally divorced.

Rick had many relationships through the years, but it was from the last long-term relationship that he contracted HIV. His partner had betrayed him, and did not tell him that he had gotten HIV from one of his occasional partners. Rick didn’t find out until he suddenly became deathly ill with flu-like symptoms. He says, “I knew right away what was happening. We had lost too many friends. I knew what it was.” He confronted his partner, and the two of them went their separate ways. Yet later, when his former partner was dying, Rick helped to care for him.

Rick is an AIDS survivor, and it hasn’t been easy. The AIDS cocktails have had to be changed numerous times and it may need to be done again. He has developed a terrible scabbing skin condition all over his body that, at first, was diagnosed as psoriasis, but nothing has helped to treat it. He is in constant pain and can’t sleep. Tomorrow he will see a new dermatologist who believes that it might be a reaction from two of his medications that are incompatible with each other. A biopsy was sent to a lab, and hopefully they will find out what is really happening and will be able to treat it.

During the many years that I have known Rick, I’ve found that he is intensely compassionate and loyal to the people that he cares about. He is gruff, has very rough edges, does not hold his liquor very well, and former roommates, both gay and straight, are likely to tell you that he is impossible to live with. But you couldn’t ask for a better friend.  I sincerely hope he is able to overcome this latest challenge.

RZH

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What’s Up With These Middle-Aged Children?


Back in the mid-1980s when I worked as an admissions counselor in a retirement home, I noticed the differing ways that middle-aged “children” behaved with their elderly parents. While some seemed to have a respectful parent/child relationship, many others (and I do mean MANY) could barely have a civil conversation where they actually listened to each other as they spoke with me about the parent possibly moving into the retirement home. I portrayed some of these relationships in my first novel The Death Called Change.

OldLadyProfile007Now that I, myself am, what some people might call elderly, I’m hearing the woes of my friends here at the retirement home, where I happily live, regarding their middle-aged (roughly 45- to 65-year-old offspring).

More than a few fellow residents have children who don’t speak to them, either from time-to-time, or permanently. When a man and wife recently died here at the home within weeks of one another, no memorial service was held for either one; they hadn’t spoken with their children in years. Another resident told me that her daughter regularly blows up at her for reasons that the mother can’t determine and then doesn’t call or visit her mother. The relationship resumes only when the mother reaches out to the daughter in a way that the daughter finds acceptable.

There comes a time when the parent/child role may reverse, when the child, out of OldManProfile008necessity, becomes the dominant player in the relationship. For some, this role reversal is accepted, may come suddenly or may be gradual over time as the parent acknowledges a need for help, and the child is willing to step up to the task even though there might not have been been emotional closeness over the years.

Generally, the elderly parents have done the best they are capable of doing in raising their young children through teens and into adulthood considering the problems in other areas of life that they have faced, but the kids don’t always turn out as the parents hoped. Serious mental illness in a grown child devastates parents, as they try hard to help, spending money needed for their own retirement years, always asking themselves, “What did I do wrong?” Grown children may become substance abusers or inattentive workaholics or too intellectual to relate to their less educated parents. The rift between middle-aged offspring and their elderly parents can take many forms and may happen for a whole variety of reasons.

But let’s not blame the adult children for all of this. I’ve met elderly folks who are perpetually cranky, bossy, and downright mean. I try to avoid those who are cleverly manipulative and passive-aggressive who always strive to get what they want no matter what it costs those around them. If I’d had parents such as this, I would have fled too.

So what is one to think about all of this? I believe, and you the reader may disagree, that grown children will help themselves by coming to terms with a dysfunctional relationship with their parents BEFORE the parent dies, because when the parent is no longer on this earth, forgiveness, understanding, and peace-of-mind is so much harder to achieve. However, if the parent is entrenched in their narrowness, in their selfishness, in their meanness, confrontation won’t help; there is not the likely possibility of insight into themselves with change in behavior. In this case, the children might try to emotionally distance themselves enough to say, “This is how my mother or my father is, but I am not my parent. I am myself, and I am now free to make my own choices and to make my own achievements and mistakes without the judgment of my parents.” Having now found their true independent selves, the children are also free to be loyal to their parents through their old age, doing what is needed to see that the parents are properly cared for without themselves falling back into the emotional traps that had been set for them in the past when they were vulnerable youngsters. They’ll be doing the right thing and can continue into their own old age free of guilt regarding their parents.

For the elderly who are angry or sorrowful regarding the behavior of their middle-aged offspring, it’s very hard to endure the disappointment that they feel. All around them they hear others bragging about the achievements of their children and grandchildren, and it would be easy to sink into a silent morass of personal shame.  Here’s a tip: Although we never stop actually BEING parents to the people to whom we gave birth, we CAN let go of feeling responsible for them. If we truly did the best that we knew how to do in raising them, however imperfect, its up to them now to figure out how to live their lives in the world in which they find themselves. We don’t really ‘get’ that world anyway.

Then just relax and watch the soap opera unfold. It might not be one you would have chosen to watch, but it’s better than getting enmeshed in a story over which you no longer have any control. Work at not feeling guilty or even disappointed. Move on, and create a life of your own. You’ll feel better, and be more fun to be around.

RZH

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Shutting Down or Becoming New?


Once upon a time, long long ago, I created my first website http://gettingtomaybe.com/.  The whole idea of “Getting to Maybe” was that if, in one’s thinking, he or she can get to “maybe,” then there is hope.

GTM bannerIt was a website of essays, poetry, and book reviews by people whom I met along life’s path who felt that they had something to say, but who didn’t necessarily consider themselves writers.  People from all walks of life wrote for this site, and it generated a fair amount of readers and comments over time.
Rabbi David Rosenn wrote about the environment.
Elizabeth Holding gave us a new way of looking at illness in her essay Ways to Love, Not Fight Cancer.
Mehdi ben Aribi described marriage and divorce in Islam.
Amanda Gonzoles told us what it was like to grow up with a disabled sister.
Anonymous castigated Illinois colleges for encouraging students to get degrees in education knowing full well that there were no jobs available for them upon graduation.
Andrea Glaser Das wrote a series of excellent parenting articles.

Many more people, including a couple of children, wrote essays for Getting to Maybe. Several Christian pastors submitted sermons. It was fascinating to read and fun for me to do. My rules were only: 1) Writers needed to email the copy to me so I wouldn’t have to key it in (although I broke that rule sometimes for older people who weren’t computer literate), and 2) I edited copy only to the extent  that writers would not embarrass themselves with punctuation or grammatical errors. Otherwise it was their message in their own words. In those early days, I spent a lot of time finding or creating graphics to accompany the essays.

It was a good website, and served a purpose in that it allowed the voice of extraordinary “ordinary” people to be heard. The problem was that I was the only person handling all aspects of the site.  I recruited the writers, created the graphics, edited the material, and uploaded to the website.  When that was the only site I was doing, I could handle it, but then I also created the first website for my then-employer (an ad agency does it now), and time was getting away from me. Getting to Maybe languished.

A couple of months ago out of the blue, I got an offer to buy the web domain name.  I thought hard about whether or not I should let it go, but in the end agreed to negotiate a price.  The domain name is valued at $500, and I could use the money. The potential buyer offered $350. We settled on $400, and then I got silence from the potential buyer. He has said that he still wants to buy it, but is having some trouble coming up with the money. So I still own it, and am still thinking about whether or not I should let it go.

Getting to Maybe (http://gettingtomaybe.com/) needs a radical overhaul. It was programmed many years ago in a fixed style without using CSS, and looks small when seen on a sizable screen. If I decide to keep it, I will need to rebuild and re-purpose it. Should I do that? I have some vague ideas about how to bring it into my goal of building a platform for my current writings, but need to get my life a bit more organized so that this can be regularly kept up. It’s not easy being a person with many interests knowing that what’s required is to let some of them be sacrificed for the greater goal, which is writing, a very time-consuming task in itself.

If you are a writer and you are reading this, I would appreciate your thoughts. What would you do?

RZH

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WWII Coming Home


Two of my second cousins were coming to visit us.  I didn’t know what to expect.

It was 1946, and I was nine years old living on a farm in Wisconsin with my parents, my aunt and uncle, their two boys, and live-in hired hands. The house was crowded. I shared a small bedroom with the hired girl.

Before the war, Artie, one of the two brothers coming to see us had worked for my father and uncle as a hired farm hand. He was a nephew of my Aunt Louise, a nice guy in his late teens then, but we hadn’t seen him since 1940 when he was drafted into the army.  We’d gotten a few short letters over the years, but weren’t told where he was or what he was doing in the war. None of us knew what Artie and his brother Orville would be like now after all these years, what they would look like.

Finally a battered old car pulled into the driveway, and two men got out.  They walked up the hill to the farmhouse with our big German Shepard sniffing them and following.  Did he recognize Artie? Is that why he didn’t bark when they got out of the car?

The day was overcast, gloomy, and threatened rain.  We had no electricity, so even in early afternoon, the kitchen was rather dark.  Even so, the kerosene lamp wasn’t lit, that was done only at dusk, when night was falling.

Artie and Orville entered the kitchen and stood quietly for a moment before sitting downAttribution: Bundesarchiv,Bild 101III-Roth-173-01/Roth,Franz/CC-BY-SA at the kitchen table with the family.  Throughout the visit, they didn’t say much.  (Norwegian-Americans introverts can be silent, and it is socially acceptable, as there is usually at least one extrovert who loves to carry the conversation.) Nobody asked them about the war or what had happened to them.  All we knew, and all we ever knew was that Orville had spent a couple of years in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

Both of the brothers were men now, not the teens that we had once known.  Artie seemed healthier than Orville who was dark-skinned from the sun, thin, and kind of scrubby-looking. That’s about all I remember.  They drank coffee and ate molasses cookies and home-made-bread bologna sandwiches, and then left.

As I was growing up, I saw Artie around town sometimes. He had started a taxi service with an old used car driving people between my hometown Westby and the next town Cashton where all the taverns were. It was a good thing to do as the drunks could be driven home instead of causing accidents on the curve in the highway near the small farm my father had purchased next to the larger farm where we had once lived with my aunt and uncle. Once in awhile we’d hear a big crash on the highway, my father would rush out to help while my mother called the sheriff in Viroqua. Artie’s business thrived.

I never saw Orville again.  I heard that he was drinking heavily, but somehow he married and began to raise a family. Alcoholism was common in the countryside in those days, accepted stoically as a part of who one was. There was no help offered for it, and certainly nobody recognized PTSD if that’s what Orville had. If he pulled himself out of it, he did it on his own.

Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #137811/Yaroslavtsev/CC-BY-SA 3.0Whenever Memorial Day comes around, I think about Artie and Orville. To this day, I have no idea of what they experienced during those years somewhere in Europe during World War II. Whatever they did and whatever was done to them, it wasn’t and isn’t right to force those kinds of experiences on young men and women. Not to Americans, not to Syrians, Europeans, Africans, Asians, or to any of our world’s precious young people.

I remember our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, but then I wonder about how to maintain the peace that they fought and died for, not just in America, but all over the world.

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