I just finished reading Comfort Zone: A Tale of Suspense by Stephen Bentley, former undercover British detective, now crime author. The book is different than Bentley’s previous novels. Comfort Zone is a thriller and a crime story, but not as fast-paced as The Steve Regan Undercover Cop Thrillers Trilogy or Mercy: A Detective Matt Deal Thriller. Comfort Zone is more complex.
Phil Mercer is one of the most intriguing characters I’ve read about in a long time. Mercer is a British veteran who returns home from the war in Afghanistan and studies law, then becomes an attorney in London. He is also a murderer who is not completely evil even though he’s done evil things. He defends the poor and underprivileged citizens. Phil Mercer is not a one-dimensional character. The author writes about the humanity of a person who has taken the lives of other people. Like when watching a tragic play, I felt sympathy for Mercer at various times and then cringed at the murder scenes. The novel is also a mystery because the parts of the story come together in the end, similar to how the different parts of Mercer meld into one. I think he comes to accept his fragments and acknowledges them.
The title comes from the name of a parlor game at a dinner party that Mercer gives for his friends and colleagues in the legal profession. He’s invited them because he wants to show off his cooking skills and to play the game he’s invented. Every detail of the menu, the wines, the guests and the game is planned with precision.
Phil Mercer suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) from his war experiences. His role as an attorney is stressful, but he’s able to do a good job. The author uses Mercer’s military background to explore issues that many veterans experience such as long-lasting, even permanent, mental, and physical illnesses. Many serious traumas may cause PTSD, but since Mercer is a combat veteran, his wartime experiences continue to influence his life. War always has an enemy no matter whose side you’re on, and Mercer’s nemesis haunts him when he attempts to live a normal life. The opposing roles of Phil Mercer, a murderer given in to the temptation to kill, and an attorney, driven by order, logic, and law, make for a unique protagonist. Bentley does a great service in the way he writes about Mercer’s interior dialogue, hallucinations, depression, and memory problems. He does not make Phil Mercer a stereotype of a mentally ill person. Mercer is a sympathetic character; one who is approachable for the reader. I liked Phil Mercer so much that I can visualize his character in further novels by the author.
Told through flashbacks, dream sequences, and various points of view, Comfort Zone is a first-rate story. Crime novel fans will be entertained by Comfort Zone. I highly recommend reading this book. I received this book from the author as an ARC.
The release date for Comfort Zone is August 3. Pre-order price is 99 cents/pence. Paperback is coming soon.
J. C. Penney used to have a store right on the Circle in Indianapolis. The front was curve around from one corner to the next like all the buildings, a hundred windows facing the street. I counted them, but I could be wrong. Mommy wasn’t sick that day when we rode the bus downtown to the Circle. She had clothes on, clothes to go outside in, not the long gown she kept on all day. And she did not have on the old corduroy robe she wore in the kitchen. We had breakfast that day. Mommy cooked boiled eggs and made buttermilk biscuits. The table was wiped clean that morning and the place mats had not a speck of food anywhere. The ashtrays were empty, and the vodka bottles were pushed down deep into the bottom of the trash can.
My little sister Josie sat next to me in her own chair. The big ugly men hadn’t come in the night before to take up all the chairs, to take up all the room. There was no hurry. We had enough food to fill our stomachs-hot cocoa, not warm water in our cups. The neighbors stared at Mommy and me and Josie. Cissy was with us, but not yet born. She was in Mommy’s big stomach.
Doors opened quickly soon as we stepped out on the porch. There were so many curtains pulled back so the old women could watch us on our way to the bus stop. The only one who said hello was Mr. Dombrowski. His wife was dead a long time ago from a disease that ate her brain. That made me feel scared every time he told me. Every morning, he’d stroll by our house and yell to me, “Tell your mother she’s pretty!”, then he’d keep on going. He never came into our house, never slammed glasses down hard on our kitchen table, or never talked so loud that I couldn’t fall asleep. Mr. Dombrowski didn’t play the record player loud and he never dropped cigarette ashes on me or my sister. He never burnt us accidentally when we passed him in the hallway with a lighted cigarette sticking out of his fingers. Our neighbor never drank all our orange juice or left stinky whiskey bottles out on the counter. I never had to push his drinking glasses away or the ice-cube trays just a bit so I could use the toaster. I didn’t have to spend many minutes listening to his stories as he clenched my elbow. He had not made Mommy spend all her money for those things they needed for their parties.
I never had to search on my knees for any of those shiny black capsules dropped on the floor from Mr. Dombrowski. He didn’t enter our home, so he couldn’t do anything stupid like that. Josie thought the pills were pretty and swallowed three of them one morning that some other man dropped on the floor. That morning, Mr. Dombrowski held the door open for Mommy as she rushed to throw Josie in the back seat of the station wagon. He sat with me on the steps outside, brought me butter and bread with lemonade, and then a thermos of soup later on for dinner. He made a bed for me on the porch swing with a pillow and blanket until Mommy brought Josie home.
But that other morning when Mommy took us shopping, he winked at us three girls going downtown to Monument Circle. The old women in their aprons carefully watched us. When we got to the corner, I turned around. Two of them with their tightly-permed curls whispered and pointed in our direction.
The driver smiled because he didn’t know us. Mommy had on lipstick and I carried my little white purse from Easter. We three were quiet until the bus finally pulled up on the Circle.
“Watch your step young ladies” the driver called out to us, then we were caught up in the middle of a crowd. They were waiting to get in to the doors of J. C. Penney’s Back to School Sale. Mommy let us choose our favorite candy. She let us eat it in the store even though we were not supposed to. The sales lady measured our chests, our waists and shoe size.
Mommy said with authority “My daughters each need two new uniforms with slips, underwear and everything. They need new shoes also. And where is the Infants Department?”
We had more food for lunch in the coffee shop with all the turkey and dressing we wanted. I asked for extra mashed potatoes and gravy. There was chocolate milk and butterscotch pie. The men and women in the other booths talked nice to each other. They told jokes, laughed and grinned at us in a friendly way.
Our last stop was the sewing department. Mommy bought fabric for new living room curtains. Josie and I sat at the tables flipping through page of patterns for dresses. Josie hadn’t cried all day. I left her for a minute. Those little spools of thread caught my eye. I chose pink, my favorite color and a package of shiny gold safety pins from the display tables. I opened up my little purse and put them inside. Then I returned to Josie still sitting and looking at pattern books.
Mommy got each of us by the hand. The bag of fabric dangled from her elbow. At the door, she let us buy gum balls from the penny machine. We stood in the crowd waiting for our bus, the one that would carry us back to our neighborhood. Father O’Brien came up and tapped Mommy on the shoulder.
“Fancy seeing you ladies downtown! You’re looking fine. God bless you.” He said he had business at the government building, and then he hurried away. But then he turned around, came a little closer to us and smiled.
“Hope to see you, Mrs. O’Brien, and the family this Sunday.” And he blessed us again.
It was nearly dark, almost supper time when we stepped off the bus at the corner. Mommy had made meatloaf in the morning. Now all she had to do was pop it into the oven. None of the neighbors saw us come home. I begged to peel the potatoes. Josie sat at the table with her coloring book.
“Mommy, shouldn’t you take off your hat to cook supper?” She came over to me and gave me a great big hug.
My mother was the best cook in the world.
“Perhaps some day I’ll crawl back home beaten defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.”
Should I Give Up Writing?
That is the daily question. It never leaves. I am a writer. I’m also sick with incurable illnesses. Lately I’ve been considering giving up writing altogether so that I’ll have less stress and anxiety. Marketing my work especially causes stress along with the painful feelings of rejection. That makes my depression worse. The coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine adds fear to my problems. My vivid writer’s imagination makes me wonder if the world is coming to an end.
Making a list is a favorite method to clear my head, pros in one column and the cons in the other. I’m using my list to write this blog so hopefully it makes sense. Here are a few reasons why I’m tempted to quit writing. That’s the important thing in this post. I am tempted to abandon writing. Let’s examine the negatives first. Actually, I’m the one doing the examining; I just need some sympathetic readers to hear what I have to say.
I don’t receive much validation as a writer or appreciation of my work. I realize other writers may be in my situation. That’s a logical statement. I can understand perfectly why people want to point out someone else’s problems, but I don’t like it. If I get any feedback on my writing, it’s about what’s wrong with it. But logic is cold and impersonal. The lack of validation about my writing causes me to feel bad.
Opening my email to find another rejection message for something I submitted to a literary journal or contest makes me feel hopeless. Getting turned down after all the energy and time I spent on writing, sending it out and most of all, waiting for a reply, is one of the worst feelings. Their replies are many times the same. I receive a short answer like this: “Sorry, but we have decided that our publication is not the right place for your work.” I spend the day after that rejection, wondering where is the right place for my work? Is there really such a place? Does it exist or am I dreaming? Should I give up and stop writing? Should I throw my writing in the trash can like I did when I was twelve? Or burn some poetry like I did at age twenty three? Maybe tear it into strips and soak them in water so nobody can laugh at my writing ever again? I did that on my fortieth birthday. Should I dump the entire mess into a box and seal it with duct tape until later? When is later?
Anger is a powerful emotion and I get sick when I’m mad. I want to scream and sometimes I do. Those stupid editors don’t know poetry or fiction when they see it. They’re too dumb to appreciate my work. It’s good! They publish trash and garbage and silly stuff. I can’t tell anyone my opinions why the stuff that gets published is trash because I’ll lose what little friends I have. Well, they’re not really friends in the real sense, but Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, email and writer group friends. Online friends.
Justifications are easy to find. Quitting will lessen the negative feelings and expectations. I can have more time for other activities such as reading for fun and baking. I can have time to paint and draw. I’ll stop feeling guilty for using so much time marketing my writing. I can just read what I want without having to read boring articles such as “Give Your Readers What They Want!” or “One Hundred Proven Ways to Get More Reviews!” Haha! Reviews are another problem that cause me trouble. I have a few reviews. If I say how many, that will make me feel like people will laugh at me. Obviously, people didn’t care enough about my book to write a review, and they probably didn’t even read it if they bought it. Then I remind myself that the average person doesn’t write book reviews. Authors know how important reviews are. I’ve sold a small number of books and again, if I tell you the number, that will prove how worthless my writing is. How worthless I am. Won’t it?
I have life long mental illness. I have schizophrenia which is a very serious illness with acute symptoms. Disassociation, identity problems, lack of awareness, hallucinations, psychosis, lack of affect, paranoia. Not all of these symptoms are the same for all. I’ve had them in the past, but only a few now. They come and go. There’s always the possibility of relapse. The medicine has terrible side-effects. One is I can’t see good because it causes blurry vision at times. I can’t write or read with blurry vision. Trouble walking, tremors, oversleeping-these are terrible.
I have epilepsy that’s manageable now. Some studies have suggested that schizophrenia and epilepsy are interrelated. The anti convulsive medicine can provoke seizures. How crazy! Having a seizure wears me out for days. I have damaged heart valves which brings on fatigue and reduced energy levels. These problems have led to other issues. Testing revealed that I have mild cognitive problems. In my case, that’s forgetfulness, or sometimes not recognizing people I know. Occasionally, I go blank when I’m writing and don’t know what word to choose. The same thing happens when I talk. It’s not a case of trying to use the best word at the time. I mean I can’t think of the name of a certain object or action. An example is I want to make a peanut butter sandwich but I forget what to call the stuff inside the jar. If I am alone no problem. But I’ve had trouble naming the peanut butter when other people were there. I’m aware of what I’m doing and I realize I can’t think of the name of what I’m spreading on my toast. I say “stuff” or “this” and use pointing to make myself understood. When my brain pauses like that, it makes it so hard to communicate. Writing is a solitary activity but I’m still slow. It may take me a week to complete a blog post like this one, stopping and starting as needed. (It took a month to finish this one. Damn you virus!)
Should I Stay Or Should I Go?
Funny thing is my writing has gotten even better as time goes on. It improves with each story or poem or book. Even writing a blog post improves my writing. The act of writing gives me more practice, just as practice with a sport or hobby makes you better. As the advertisement says, Just Do It!
My depression makes me introverted. It’s impossible to interact with people when I feel that way, so participating in writing groups and social media gets me “out of myself.” A positive aspect of social media is the ease of communication for people like me. Writing a sentence or two as a reply is still writing.
My dad used to motivate me when I was confused. That’s another result of depression and mental illness-confusion. What to do now? What to do next? The future? Dad always said that I don’t have to do anything except take care of myself, be a good person and stay close to God, and that gave me some direction. ( I’m not including working for pay, or taking care of children or home in this part.) I don’t have to write that blog post or article. I don’t have to submit a story to a journal. I don’t have to enter that contest. I don’t have to answer that email if I don’t feel like it. The knowledge that I don’t have to do certain things gives me hope out of darkness. If I just want to sit and think, that’s okay. If the only strength I have is reading in bed, that’s okay. If I don’t feel strong enough to say a word that day, that’s okay. My family understands. I try to at least say good morning but sometimes I can’t handle any more than that. When people talk beyond my comfort level it feels like a bunch of sounds beating on my skull forcing themselves into my brain. On the days I feel better, I can write. If I don’t write for a month or more, that’s okay.
I know that I’d feel worse if I give up writing. Today is a good day. I can use the logical side of my brain easily. I don’t want to make a decision that I’ll regret later. I know that I have the power to give up writing if I want to, but I don’t want to give up. But I will make a decision and that decision is not to give up. Today.
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I found this photograph of Yellow Gorse, a bush with beautiful flowers that grows wild in Ireland. I still have to find out what kind of bird this one is. He or she is magnificent! Credit: Richard Steel / naturepl.com
“Was all our pain and suffering worth it? Is the pain and suffering of childbirth worth a baby? You decide. Would I repeat my long voyage to America and womanhood even if success was not assured? You bet. Water leaves its source not knowing which obstacles it will encounter. All it can do is behave according to its nature: finding a path here, making a path there, pooling its strength when needed until it can break free. Ultimately, it reaches the sea, the mother of us all. That sea gave birth to the person I became in America. I am thankful to be its daughter.” Hiep Thi Le
This memoir by Hiep Thi Le tells the story of her life as a young girl living with her parents and siblings in Vietnam during the 1970s. The author narrates the story beginning at the age of eight where they live in a stilt-hut on the shore of the Song Hang River. In the poor village of An Hai, her father made his living as a fisherman. He was also the village healer because he’d studied with the Buddhist monks at Marble Mountain. She tells about learning the song about her village and how Father Dragon lived in the sky above their house with Mother Fairy and how she loved playing with her little sister Dimples. Hiep was confused as to why her cousin Nhanh disappeared due to his “dangerous opinions.” By being a good listener, she learned why so many neighbors and villagers disappeared to be “re-educated.” Gossiping and complaining were forbidden by the men who wore yellow stars on their hats and who came storming into their village unannounced. These things were talked about by family and neighbors while they all hid in their bunker when the “booms and the tat-a-tats” came near to their forest home. Hiep listened to everyone, and learned a secret from the oldest woman in the village. Some of the people who were gone now lived under the White Dragon and the Dragon’s name was America. In 1979, Hiep’s mother put her and little sister Dimples (Le) on a boat that would take them to Hong Kong to search for their father who had disappeared several years before. They located him in a refugee camp and then made their way on a long, dangerous voyage to America.
The theme of a young and innocent girl leaving her village to escape to America is familiar to readers, but this one is unique, just as all memoirs are different. Each person who writes their autobiography has a story unlike any others, a never-before told life story.
I really loved this book. My favorite genre is memoir and biographies. To me, stories of real people are better than fiction because they are true. Recording a person’s memoirs ensures the person lives on in history. The author continues to live for their family and even for readers who’ve never heard of them. Just as Holocaust survivors have written their stories, and are still writing, there will come a time when those survivors will all be gone. Readers will have to depend on what’s already been recorded to learn about that era. In the same way, survivors of the Vietnam war are recording their stories for future generations.
While attending University of California at Davis, Hiep and her sister answered a casting call for the movie Heaven and Earth. Oliver Stone chose Hiep for the role of role of author and humanitarian Le Ly Hayslip. The film was based on the books When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace, which Le Ly Hayslip wrote about her experiences during and after the Vietnam War.
Hiep’s memoir, Daughter of the Sea: My Voyage to Freedom and Womanhood, was unpublished at the time of her death in 2017 at the age of 46. Her good friend, Jill Powell, published the book posthumously in 2019. Heip will write no more books. I would recommend this book to adults and all readers over the age of eight, the age Heip was when she left her village home. You will not regret learning Hiep’s life story.
Hiep Thi Le, the actress known for her acclaimed role in Oliver Stone’s 1994 film Heaven and Earth opposite Tommy Lee Jones, died December 19 of complications from stomach cancer, Deadline has learned. She was 46.”
Ramos, Dino-Ray. “Hiep Thi Le Dies: Oliver Stone’s ‘Heaven And Earth’ Star Was 46.” Deadline, 20 Dec. 2017, deadline.com/2017/12/hiep-thi-le-dead-obituary-heaven-and-earth-actress-tommy-lee-jones-oliver-stone-1202230318/.
REX/Shutterstock. Hiep Thi Le photograph.Product details
Paperback: 148 pages
Publisher: Matchstick Literary (November 1, 2019)
“For every item that carries the darkness of humanity there’s one that holds the light. And that light is worth believing in. Not just in others, but in yourself as well.”
C. M. Rayne
Poetry Journal Editors,
re: Ridiculous submission requirements
Isn’t that discrimination
if you only publish ‘people of color’?
Purple orange lilac gold
silver beige ivory olive green ebony
pearl copper bronze magenta
turquoise emerald ruby opal yellow
jade burnt sienna or sapphire,
my favorite color in the box.
Yes, there is hate, disease, war, disasters and poverty. But there is something few people know about, and if they know, they may not care. CENSORSHIP. Social Media is free and fun. But what happens when ‘Someone’ or a group or organization restricts or takes away your freedom to say and write what you want? Or think what you want? What if someone decides your thinking is wrong or that you are guilty of passing along news that should be hidden? What if it’s decided by a group that you had ‘false information’? Would that bother you, or would it even make a dent in your life? Do you wonder why I am so adament about the value of books and reading? The printed word lasts for millenia, potentially forever, unless, Unless, someone destroys that book or page. Do you know that stone tablets have been found with words or symbols (letters of the alphabet are symbols) from thousands of years ago? We have books from hundreds, thousands of years ago. Are you aware that Bibles, science books, love letters, political communications, religious texts and literature have been discovered and are kept in libraries all over the world? Do you know that events which actually occured in history are being erased or revised to reflect one point of view? I am not talking about political points of view. I am talking about gradually erasing something from the public’s mind so that they will forget, and therefore, future generations will NOT KNOW these true events. If you have never read the book 1984 by George Orwell, you must. Don’t say it’s just some dumb old book your teacher made you read in high school. The book is one of the scariest books ever written! No demons, no monsters, no serial killers are the antagonists here. Only humans who in the future (1984 has already been here) control the population by Changing The Language into a completely new language, Newspeak as it’s called. Changing the language therefore changes people’s thinking. You have likely heard quotes from this book used in the news or other places. “The Future is Now” “Big Brother Is Watching You” and more quotes. It’s a twisted, perverted method of twisting and perverting humans’ thinking until humans have lost control of their free will. God gave us free will. This control by evil people has already begun. You may not have noticed. Education, government, family, media, and especially religion has been infected by getting people to change their ways of thinking. Our language, our vocabulary, has changed so rapidly. Who would have thought a word such as ‘Trans’ would be used everyday?Trans=transport, bridge, carry, and the word is the root of other meanings. We have been transported into a time when evil is out in the open. Pornography can be instantly accessed on phones and computers. Sexual violence is the norm in movies, movies about demon worship, demon friends for children as pushed in kid’s toys, stuffed demon toys for infants. I am not inventing this stuff. There’s more, more, more! Please don’t laugh. All of this applies to your children, grandchildren and future generations. It is very difficult to fight evil, but we must. Read the Bible, read quality literature, don’t waste your precious time on junk. What started my speech today? I received a ‘Message’ from Facebook stating that I posted ‘Incorrect Information.’ I did not write the ‘Right facts’. I relayed ‘Untrue data’. What does this message from Facebook sound like to you? Censorship. A media organization censored my communication. I could write many books about this topic. If a friend told me what I said was incorrect, that is different. Facebook, Twitter and other social media allow evil things which I won’t get into now. My mistake or error according to Facebook is actually so trivial that you’ll laugh. I will tell you later what it was. I wanted you to reflected on Censorship. We don’t get our heads cut off for saying the wrong thing AS OF NOW! Keep reading! Thanks. 📗📘📙📚📔📒📑📓📕📖📰📜☺