Sunday, September 29, 2013

Remember the Blizzard of '78?

Step back into the world of the 1970’s. Jimmy Carter is in the White House, and it’s a time of paisley prints, shag carpeting, green plaid sofas, five and dime stories, and quarter burgers at McDonalds. Remember when McAlpin’s and Shillito’s were popular stores in Cincinnati? When bell-bottoms, tie-dye tee shirts and maxi dresses were the latest fashions? When life was “groovy” and sometimes “heavy,” and the police were called “the fuzz”? Right on.

This is the world of Roses are Red, Diamonds are Blue, a new historical suspense novel by Donna Alice Patton, author of two children’s books and numerous articles for magazines and newspapers.

The story opens with a phone call from a dying man, Peter Barkley, giving his wife Laura a cryptic clue about the location of the priceless Anastasia Diamond, which is missing from the Wainwright Historical Museum where Peter is curator. 

Gripping the phone receiver for dear life, Laura realizes her husband has been shot. He is never coming home again.
A missing diamond, a fire at the museum, the death of the curator—the news reports somehow cast suspicion on the late Peter Barkley. 

Without Peter’s support, Laura and her twin daughters are reduced to living in near poverty while menacing characters keep harassing them with break-in’s, threatening messages, and even bombs. Laura desperately wants to find the Anastasia so that Peter’s name can be cleared at last. These dangerous men want to find the diamond to sell it on the black market.

Only Laura can solve Peter’s clue and find the diamond. But how can she keep her family safe and also maintain her life’s creed of total independence? When practically everybody is a suspect, who can she trust? The suspense keeps snowballing in this page-turner until the story culminates in the famed blizzard of ’78.

Donna Alice Patton is a regular contributor to History Magazine and the author of two mysteries for children, The Search for the Madonna (set during the Great Depression) and The Gift of Summer Snow: A Tale from the Garden of Mysteries.

Now an established writer, Patton talked in a recent interview about how she got started in writing. “I’ve always felt I was born to write. Even before I understood that books were written by real people, I had this feeling that making up stories was something I was meant to do. As a little girl my happiest moments were ‘writing’ episodes of my favorite TV shows in my mind as I lay in my bed at night.”

How did she break into print? “I spent years writing stuff (not very good) and submitting to every publication I’d ever read or seen. (Usually breaking all the rules and showing off as a complete newbie.) My first actual published pieces were Letters to the Editor of the Cincinnati Post and also some funny quips in the Cincinnati Enquirer at age eighteen.”

Roses Are Red, Diamonds Are Blue was released this year as an e-book by MuseItUp Publishing. It's available online from the publisher, at -- for Kindle or Nook or as a PDF file.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

               Or. . .The Divine Travesty

On my summer vacation, I went straight to. . .well, it was the Pastor's idea, actually. He thought that maybe if a group of us visited Hell, we would be more fervent in evangelism. Car-pooling was Sister Samantha's idea, though one wiseacre suggested we could go in a handbasket. Cute.

It doesn't take long to get there--especially in a car full of screaming children--so we quickly reached the outskirts, a frenzy of freeways, smoke-stacks, and everlasting road construction. At first, we thought it was Chicago.

We drove through a maze of slums and suburbs until we reached the Motel Six-Sixty-Six at Sulphur Springs. Our agent had booked us on the economy plan.

Since the next day was Sunday, we looked around for a church. No problemo. Hell has every denomination you can think of. So we picked a place that was serving brunch. The service was long and boring, and although God's name came up in songs and liturgy, no one seemed to know much about Him. It wasn't really all that different from back home.

Monday, we toured the correctional facility at Pitchfork Falls.

Walking down the long linoleum corridor, we heard a hideous screaming. When we came to the first open doorway, I thought the flickering lights were flames, but then I realized the room was filled with projectors casting ghoulish, strobing images on the walls and the faces of the damned--fuzzy, distorted images of palm trees, tropical sunsets, and water-skiers.

"Have no pity, " said the tour guide. "In their lifetime, these wretches lured innocent victims into their homes and subjected them to endless vacation slide shows."

The next room was filled with radios--hundreds of them--all screeching at full volume, while tormented souls writhed to the wail of rock, rap, and sports-casting. In life, they had played blaring boom boxes outdoors on quiet residential streets. Oh, if only they could go back and undo their wrongs. 

On second thought, naaaaa.

We saw room after room of agony and pain. In one, former ministers sat chained to hard benches listening to scatter-shot sermons that never came to a point. My husband squirmed when he saw men sitting for hours in buckets of ice water. Their crime? Leaving the toilet seat up. And when I saw those poor disfigured women branded with bar codes, I vowed never again to shop at a discount store without making sure each item in my cart has a price on it.

They were all there--dishonest auto mechanics, telephone solicitors, check-bouncing Congressmen, and the tech support people that leave you on hold for eternity. There is a God, and He's mad.

I don't think we're going back next year. It's getting too touristy and practically everybody goes there for the summer. But we've got some great slides of the trip, if you'd care to flip the light switch.

Well, on second thought, let's skip the slides.

DISCLAIMER: This piece was written just in fun. No actual theological doctrines were harmed in the writing of this parody of Dante's Inferno, Volume One of The Divine Comedy. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Monsters 101

Medusa, Daleks, Dementors--monsters! We love ‘em.

Seems like every culture throughout history has monsters. Big hairy, scary things that come from the sea, the deep caverns of earth, or outer space.  

A dragon from Thailand

Here are just a few examples that I hope will show the amazing scope and variety of big, bad bogeymen and behemoths.


The face of Medusa, from Greek mythology, was hideous, and her hair was a tangle of venomous snakes. If you looked at her, you turned to stone. Now, this is an aberration worthy of the name monster. Bonus points for the turning-to-stone thing. (Incidentally, the hero Perseus beheaded the Medusa and used her head as a weapon, until he later gave it to Athena as a decoration for her shield. There's no accounting taste.)

Medusa, now marketing a unique
 line of hair care products


The storm-monster, Iya, is a character in Lakota mythology. He is a son of Inyan, the creator, and younger brother of Iktomi, the spider. He eats everything in his path—people, animals, trees, houses, whole villages—nothing is safe from his insatiable appetite. Faceless and formless, he is a tornado, a hurricane, a snowstorm, a rainstorm. He is thunder and lightning. He is wind and hail. Although he is dreaded, he is not seen as evil, since he is merely performing his assigned task. Iya lives under the water, and when he travels, he carries a tipi--painted with magical symbols--that holds all the storms like a quiver holds arrows.

Iya, blowing off steam


And the award for most artistic monster goes to. . . .

In Chinese mythology, the Shen is a shape-shifting clam-monster—a giant, pearl-producing clam who lives on the bottom of the sea. He belches bubbles that rise to the surface of the water and turn into mirages of stunning mansions and other architectural marvels. While this was doubtless disorienting to sailors, I’m afraid we have to give the Shen low marks in Scary, Ugly, and Dangerous. He might make the cover of Architectural Digest, but when it comes to scary, he is Frank Lloyd Wrong.

The Shen, Monster with an artistic flair


Bl-yuck! The Bal-Bal, of Philippine mythology, hangs out at funerals and graves the way Ralph and Potsie hang out at the malt shop. Basically, he steals corpses and eats them. Once Bal-Bal has eaten a body, he puts the trunk of a banana tree in the coffin to try to hide his evil deed. This sharp-clawed monster, as you might guess, has breath that could peel paint at fifty paces.

A "haunt" of the Bal-Bal


The Loch Ness Monster, a cryptid said to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands, is the best known of all lake monsters. Is it a dragon? A sea serpent? A plesiosaur left over from the Days of the Dinos? There have been several sightings since the first in 1933, and even a few photographs, all disputed by the scientific community. Nessie is perhaps the most famous subject of cryptozoology, the study of animals whose existence has not been proven.

Nessie's first photo shoot


[Cue creepy music.] Zombies are corpses that have been raised from the dead by some sort of sorcery. They are able to walk and talk, but they are controlled by a master. The Zombies have their roots in African and Haitian mythology, and have been greatly popularlized in horror films and lately, in humorous tv commercials.

Undead, over-acting

The Daleks

Although the British sci-fi series Dr. Who has its share of people-flashing-fangs and heads bobbing from serpent necks, it is the Daleks who pose the greatest threat to the Doctor, the human race, and the space-time continuum. The Daleks are cyborgs created by the scientist Davros, who merged a race of extraterrestrials with robotic shells. Purged of pity and compassion, the Daleks know only hatred. They look rather like giant salt and pepper shakers, and their whiney battle cry is “Ex-ter-mee-nate.”


So why do myth-makers invent monsters? Sea serpents and trolls and Cyclops and Balrogs and Dementors  and fire-breathing dragons and blood-sucking vampires and giant, radioactive grasshoppers?

I think it’s because we all have monsters to face in our lives, giants too big for us to slay in our own strength, forces beyond our control—atrocities committed by human monsters, diseases of the body and mind and sudden disasters and night terrors and death. Monsters are real, and the myth-makers put a face on them so that we can see them and understand them better.


One of the roots of monster means “to show.” We see this connection in the word demonstrate.  For ancient sea-faring people, sea monsters personified the very real dangers of stormy seas. In a more modern example, the dementors in the Harry Potter books suck all the joy out their surroundings. That sounds a lot like depression. Monsters in mythic tales show us our fears and challenge us to face them. To summon our courage. To use our wits. To seek Heaven's help. To conquer monsters with what we have at hand. 

We face monsters in stories so that we can better face the monsters in everyday life.