The One Less Traveled

rose black background

I know a man. He would say he’s ordinary, but I know he’s extraordinary. He took the road less traveled, and for me, it has made all the difference.  From him, I’ve learned the truth about love and sacrifice and humility.

I thought I learned all about those things growing up. I’d learned about love from soap operas and reality tv. I’d offered sacrifices to my brothers– “You drank out of my can of Pepsi? Well, I don’t want it anymore. Just keep it.” I’d experienced humility in gymnastics class when I took an unanticipated dive off the balance beam while uttering a few choice profanities. When I got married and had children and I learned more about love, but I still didn’t understand it.

Then I met a man. He has a friendly smile and a self-deprecating wit that can convulse a crowd with laughter while pointing out with laser-like precision, the folly and humanity of each of us, himself included. But he never leaves it there; he teaches us how to overcome those things if we desire. He treats every person with respect, no matter how stupid I think their question or remark is. He controls his snarkiness with a skill I can only marvel at (not being able to control my own).

He always makes time for me and anyone else that needs him, or wants him, or dislikes him enough to want to tell it to his face. People come to him to be unburdened and he welcomes them day and night. (He meets less often with happy, contented people; they don’t need him.) At his feet, we dump our sorrow and grief and anger and confusion and addiction and ignorance and hatred. When I’m with him, I know I’m the center of his attention, no matter how full his inbox is or how deep the garbage around him.  And when I leave, my burden is always easier to bear.

He spends his days knee deep in the misery that pools around him. I glimpsed it once, before he knew I was there. He was slumped in his chair, his head in his hands, the burdens of other’s squarely on his shoulders. And when I sat across from him, I could see it in his eyes and feel it in the air. I knew he didn’t get enough sleep and went many times without a meal.

Many people love him, but aren’t interested in him or his life or what he goes through. And I wonder if he sometimes feels alone amidst the humanity pressing about him constantly. Sometimes, even though you know you’re not alone, loneliness wraps around you and through you like a shroud. And I know, although he hides it well, that he longs for a moment of solitude.

I witness others watching him the way I watched my brothers around my can of Pepsi, hoping to catch him stumbling or better yet, falling down. They’re so intent on him as he journeys down his narrow road, they fail to see how often they themselves trip over the debris littering their own wide road. He faces the animosity aimed at him from every direction with unflinching humility, but I wonder how it affects him when he tries to sleep at night.

I could not walk in his shoes; it’s hard enough walking in my own and they’re much smaller. But he treads with a joy and humor that belie the things he hears and witnesses day after day. I’ve heard people ask him if he regrets his life. A look  of sincere astonishment crosses his face. Then he breaks into a smile that I’d call radiant if it didn’t sound so cheesy, and he says simply, genuinely,  “No. I love being a priest.”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost two paths diverged

First posted in March 2012

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Thirty Second NaNo Break

NaNoWriMo Thirty Second Stretch

*WARNING:This stretch routine is not meant to take the place of a potty break.

1. Pectoral stretch and eye relaxation-Find a wall corner/doorway within view of computer screen. Keeping eyes focused on computer screen, stretch pecs as shown, switching arms after ten seconds.


2. Hamstring stretch and eye stretch-Move to the floorStretch as shown, switching legs after ten seconds. Stretch eyes by looking up at computer screen.


3. Imagination stretch and cardio-Run in place. Imagine you’re with Hugh Jackman and you look great in your bikini.


4. Take a deep breath, exhale, and continue writing.

Another NaNoWriMo Thirty Second Break coming soon.


Hey, Boo.

I was excited. My two youngest children were skeptical. With great fanfare, I had presented each of them with their own copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. I informed them that it was one of the best books ever written and they would love it. And to sweeten their dispositions, I promised a movie party after we’d finished the novel. The movie was as good as the book. Oh, and we’d buy lots of junk food to eat while we watched it.

Truman Capote took this photo of Harper Lee.

Truman Capote took this photo of Harper Lee.

I’d read it with their older siblings, now it was their turn. Even though they were older (twelve and fourteen), we read aloud together. That first day, we got our books and sprawled in the family room. Before diving in, we read some information about the time period the story was set in and what things were like when Harper Lee actually wrote it. We read about the trial that inspired her. Their eyes glazed over and after the history lesson, they escaped without ever opening their books.

I wasn’t worried. I knew they’d love it. How could they not?

Dill, Scout, Jem, To Kill a Mockingbird


The next day, I read the first chapter aloud then we discussed it. Once again they disappeared as soon as we’d finished. A tremor of apprehension went through me. Maybe they wouldn’t like it. But by the time we got to the fourth chapter, my daughter was asking if we could read “just one more chapter.” “Yes,” I’d answer. “Tomorrow.”

We discussed every chapter, real discussions. Not tooth-pulling sessions of I don’t know. Of course, we laughed too (Pass the damn ham was one of our favorite lines.) Harper Lee has a way of preparing the reader, subtly and with ineffable grace and humor, for what lies ahead.  By the time we came to the end of the book, we were reading three or four chapters per day at my children’s insistence.

To Kill a Mockingbird

The day we finished the novel was bittersweet. My daughter cried out, “No, it can’t be over. I want to read more. Is there a sequel?” There is no higher praise for a book or an author. As for me, I was sad that my last journey with my children and To Kill A Mockingbird had come to end. But my son told me not to worry. “You can read it to our kids someday.” As much as I’d love that opportunity, I think my children should read it to their children. It’s a marvelous journey to make together and they may learn something new. I learned after reading it for the bizillionth time that the callousness that comes with maturity is a survival instinct. Most of us aren’t strong enough to survive life’s ugliness without it.

In the coming years, as they struggle to mature and  make sense of the chaos that is life will my children say, “To Kill a Mockingbird showed me that fear begets cowardice, hypocrisy and prejudice go hand-in-hand, and courage forges the metal of integrity”?  Of course not, but the tender, bright hope that the story ultimately reveals buried under the layers of callused adulthood will echo through their minds when they need something to hope in: Hey, Boo.

Boo Radley, To Kill A Mockingbird


Not For the Faint of Heart

I loved a boy in high school. My family moved to a new town in the middle of my freshman year, and I saw him for the first time at the bus stop. I could see his house from my bedroom window. The worst night of my life was the night he took another girl to the homecoming. I cried as I listened to mournful love songs (they were “our” songs) and stared at his house for most of the night. When I finally did get to sleep, I woke often and thought of him with that girl. Then I’d get out of bed, look out my window at his house, and wonder if he was home yet.

I knew his phone number, address, license plate number (I still do) and his birthday (I’ve forgotten it). I knew he liked cross-country and track and math. He seemed quiet and a little shy, although I heard he could be arrogant. I think he had blue-green eyes. That’s all I knew about him.

I didn’t know what kind of music, books or movies he liked. I didn’t know what he was passionate about or what he could have cared less about. We only spoke a handful of times and I’m sure he didn’t know my name (if he did, he certainly didn’t know about the “e” at the end). He inhabited (or at least orbited) the center of my universe for my entire high school life, even though he graduated two years before I did. He broke my heart and the only thing he ever did to me was to not notice me.

I wonder about those days. In moments when time and maturity can put the past on ice,  I tell myself it was infatuation. But when I revisit it honestly, all of it, without the bandage of distance, I know it was much more than that shallow word infatuation. But I still don’t know if it can be called love.


First posted in 9/11


Lung Leavin’ Day


cancer survivor, Heather Von St. James

Heather and Lily

There’s a lot more to this picture of Heather Von St. James and her daughter Lily than you see—battle scars, miracles, loss, courage, humor and triumph. Well, the courage and humor shows in their eyes.

Their journey began in 2005. Shortly after Heather and her husband Cameron welcomed Lily into the world, Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Doctors told the new mother that she had only fifteen months to live.

If you’ve never heard of mesothelioma, you’re not alone. Those most familiar with it are the ones diagnosed with it. Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly form of cancer that attacks the lining of the body cavity called the mesothelium. And the pretty, delicate gossamer in the photo below is the killer responsible for it.

Asbestos Fibers


Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that lies dormant in the body for 20-50 years after exposure. Mesothelioma treatments are available, but for many people a cure is not possible. Yet nine years after her diagnosis, Heather is counted among the survivors. Her recovery from the disease is clinically unique because of her young age at the time of her diagnosis. Typically, patients are older and even with treatment, have a 6 to 9 month median survival rate. Fighting the battle wasn’t easy for Heather, Cameron and Lily. It was won with great sacrifice. Namely, one of Heather’s lungs.

Heather writes:

I was a candidate for a surgery called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. It’s a huge surgery that includes the removal of the affected lung, pleura (the lining around the lung where the cancer was), the left half of my diaphragm and the lining of my heart; both my diaphragm and heart lining were replaced with surgical gortex. My sixth rib was also removed so the surgeon would have better access to the chest cavity. This is no routine surgery, and it was made worse by the fact that I was a new mom. My baby would be turning six months old two days after my surgery.

Choosing to laugh instead of cry, Heather, Cameron and Heather’s sister knew that a sense of humor was crucial to alleviate fear and successfully defeat the cancer. When Heather learned her surgery was scheduled for Groundhog’s Day, she nicknamed her tumor Punxsutawney Phil. As the radical surgery approached, Heather and her family decided it would be a day to celebrate. After all, it was going to save her life. Hence, February 2nd was christened Lung Leavin’ Day (the day her lung left). The celebration has grown every year since 2005, and recently Heather, Cameron and Lily started using the occasion as a fundraiser for mesothelioma cancer.

Roses and fireworks


Today, September 26, is the official Mesothelioma Awareness Day. Join Heather Von St. James in her crusade against this deadly disease  by sharing information about it with others.

For more information:

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Heather Von St. James Blog

Asbestos Facts and Statistics 


Show and Tell

Showing vs. Telling:
A writer’s guide

Anton Chekhov, Buzzfeed, writing tips


Courtesy of Buzzfeed.com


Location, Locaction, Location

“Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who’s here? Who’s coming?…” -Eudora Welty

My husband and I went to Connecticut a few years ago. One of my favorite TV shows at the time, The Gilmore Girls, was set in the small town of Stars Hollow. The highlight of my trip would be a pilgrimage to that town. It was, after all,  just as important a character as Rory or Lorelei, and most of the time I liked the town better than the Gilmores.

Stars Hollow, Connecticut, Gilmore Girls


It devastated me to learn that Stars Hollow didn’t exist, except on a Warner Brothers lot.

Setting can be a very powerful, integral part of any story. More than just a backdrop, the location can be a threatening antagonist or a stalwart friend. It can arouse feelings in us, love, terror, frustration.

Imagine Harry Potter without Hogwarts:

Hogwarts, Harry Potter

DuMaurier’s Rebecca without Manderley:

Caroline, Fontaine, Manderley

Or Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See without Saint-Malo:

All the Light We Cannot See, Saint-Malo, Anthony Doerr


I wanted  A Voice Among the Thorns to be set in a small Michigan town. I googled towns in southeastern Michigan, looking for the place that would be a fuzzy blanket for some of the characters, a stifling little pond for others and an escape from reality for another. As soon as I saw Rudds Mill, I knew I’d found my town. The fact that it disappeared long ago didn’t bother me. I’d create the town—geographical fiction, if you like. And the first place I imagined? Candy’s Coffee Shop, of course.

A voice among the thorns,

The site of Rudds Mill.


Black and White

dead rose

I was born in a hospital in Detroit and I’ve lived in its suburbs for most of my life. Although I love it here, there’s a dark thread running through the fabric of the area. Some call it racism. That’s not what I call it. Don’t get me wrong, racism exists. It’s rampant and it’s ugly. But there’s something else going on disguised as racism. And it’s distracting us from the real problem.

I was assaulted when I was in high school. I was lucky enough to get away before I was badly hurt. The neighbor I went to school with wasn’t so lucky. Driving home from work one evening, he was attacked in his car while stopped at a traffic light. I don’t remember how long he was hospitalized.

My best friend had her car window smashed out with a crowbar. That’s how they unlocked the doors. After a brutal sexual assault, they used the crowbar on her head. I went to the hospital soon after it happened. I remember her clothes and hair were covered with blood and shattered glass.

I vaguely remember other tragedies, but not enough to go into detail. A classmate’s older brother shot at a gas station. A friend mugged and beaten walking home from work.

More recently a good friend of my daughter’s was attacked. Her jaw was wired shut and her eye socket crushed. Healing and rehabilitation took months and many surgeries. Will the psychological wounds ever heal?



Earlier this year a clerk was shot in a local gas station in broad daylight. When two young boys went in to buy some pop, they discovered the body. My son and daughter happened to be driving by that gas station just as the police arrived.

Now let’s talk about another resident of the Detroit suburbs, Steven Utash, whom I’ve never met and many have never heard of.  Utash, a 54 year-old-man weighing 155 pounds, accidentally hit a ten year-old boy with his truck. He got out of the truck to check on the boy, who was not seriously injured. Utash, on the other hand, was attacked by a mob of thirteen to twenty men. He was so severely injured that doctors put him in a medically induced coma for TEN days. The few men caught taking part in the bloody rampage will spend less time in jail than Utash will spend recuperating.

Now we’ll have a quiz of sorts. What color did you imagine the people you were reading about? Be honest with yourself. Nobody else will know your answer. Have you heard of Steven Utash? Michael Brown? Should the color of any single person mentioned above have any bearing on anything?

Here are the stats: With the exception of Michael Brown and the Middle Eastern gas station attendant, all of the victims were white. The guy who assaulted me was white. The rest of the attackers were black. This is not meant to imply all violence is done by one race of people, or that I condone violence against certain races. This is simply my experience.

We can allow ourselves to ask these questions: Where is the outrage for these innocent victims? What if the skin color had been reversed? What if Steven Utash was black and his assailants white? Or Michael Brown white and the police officer black?

But that’s focusing on the wrong issue.

The problem here isn’t black or white. It’s violence. It’s crime and punishment.




The True Story

another cropIn my relentless quest for knowledge, I came upon a shocking discovery that shattered basic truths of my childhood.

I offer you the truth about  Cinderella.

Cinderella’s father was a weak, shallow man who gave into his young daughter’s every whim, avoiding confrontation and discipline at all costs. Cinderella’s fits of rage at being refused anything were legendary throughout the near countryside. Her mother was the only person courageous enough to use the phrase, “No, you may not.” with her.  Although the tantrums, screamings and tears were trying, Cinderella’s mother did not fear them.

Her mother died and Cinderella became more difficult. Her father realized he could not control her. Leaving Cinderella in the care of the servants, he traveled the far countryside in search of a new wife. There was not a woman in the near countryside who would have him.

cinderella in the ashesIn no hurry to return to his enfant terrible, he wooed every woman unfortunate enough to cross his path. In the course of his meanderings, he happened upon a widow with two well-behaved daughters. He pursued her, hoping she could tame Cinderella. His dash and charm soon won the widow over and he insisted they marry without delay. The widow, hoping to include his daughter in the merry festivities, wanted to postpone the nuptials until Cinderella could be sent for. However, fearful the widow would change her mind after meeting Cinderella, he insisted upon haste. They married, and with her two daughters journeyed to his home.

Whisperings among the townsfolk began soon after their arrival. The father, maintaining he must be about managing the estate, was rarely at the manor. The stepmother was left with the care of her wayward stepdaughter. She would not treat Cinderella differently than her own daughters, nor would she tolerate Cinderella’s behavior. Rumor had it that Cinderella had finally been made to comb her hair, say “Please” and “Thank you”, and clean her room (she only allowed servants in to serve her breakfast in bed).

When she turned sixteen, the battle between Cinderella and her stepmother began in earnest. Soon the countryside near and far was abuzz with the goings-on concerning Cinderella. She was hanging out with a bad crowd, spending nights in the forest smoking and drinking. She lost interest in her appearance, wearing rags and not bothering to wash off the ashes from the rowdy bonfire parties she attended.

Things came to a climax when Cinderella pilfered gold coins from the stepmother’s hidden drawer and some of her stepsisters’ jewelry, then went on a three day bender. She tottered home ragged and smelly.

At her wits end the stepmother grounded Cinderella for a month, going so far as to post foreign mercenaries outside Cinderella’s doors and windows. The stepmother recalled a recent brouhaha when another young girl’s lover had been caught climbing up to her bedroom on her hair. As an added precaution, Cinderella was locked in the highest tower of the manor, because her hair didn’t quite reach the ground.


Then an invitation to a ball so grand that it took place over the course of three nights, arrived from the palace. The dates? The last three days of Cinderella’s grounding. Although Cinderella begged, cried and threatened, the stepmother remained firm. Cinderella would not attend the ball.

Cinderella’s father returned home after hearing disparaging remarks about his character and neglect of his family, and unsettling rumors of his daughter’s escapades. He was outraged by his wife’s decision to keep Cinderella from the ball. Still, she would not be swayed. She really cared for the girl. Maybe missing the ball would force her to come to her senses.

Cinderella’s father refused to attend the ball with his wife and her daughters. He spent the evening drinking with an old friend, Charles Perrault, bemoaning the sad turn his life had taken and wishing he could leave behind an untarnished legacy. Charles was empathetic, well aware of the trials of marriage and of raising teenagers.

The next day, Charles, inspired by the father’s plight and intrigued with the notion of  rewriting the father’s history, penned a short but captivating work of speculative fiction, Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper. He was so pleased with the results, he included it in his Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes de ma mère l’Oye(Tales from Times Past with Morals: Stories of Mother Goose). Concerned that the inaccuracies might tarnish his own reputation, he published the work under the name of his son Pierre (Perrault) Darmancourt. The rest is history.

Or is it? The cruel deception of Cinderella’s rags to riches story renders suspect all the fairy tales we have come to love and believe. I, for one, will read them will a little more skepticism than I once did.


A Voice Among The Thorns

Dawne Webber Young Adult Fiction Novel

A seventeen-year-old girl forms an unlikely friendship with a reclusive, unstable young woman who possesses a unique gift of sight and discovers the meaning of being true to oneself.


A Voice Among the Thorns

Seventeen-year-old Jersey Alexa (Jax) Mason is allergic to drama. But that’s what she gets when her boyfriend dumps her on a crowded dance floor. She would have preferred a text message. Amanda Rosenbaum’s reappearance and rumors of her time in the “looney bin” help take Jax’s mind off the break-up drama.

Amanda ran away when she was seventeen and Jax was four. Thirteen years later, Amanda returns to their sleepy town of Rudds Mill to live with her mother. Jax escapes to Amanda’s moss-covered patio when things get tense at home. She’s drawn to the fragile, unstable Amanda despite the fact that they spar over everything. Amanda has one foot in this world; the rest of her lives in a dark place inside her mind. But she’s aware of things that Jax has never considered. Important things about hope and life. And she knows all about the secrets Jax hides. How can someone so lost in her own world see inside of Jax’s?

Ethan, the new guy in town, starts hanging out on Amanda’s patio too. Chemistry sparks between him and Jax, but Amanda cryptically predicts they’re not meant to be. They try to blow her off. Amanda’s crazy after all. And she can’t always be right. As summer marches towards autumn, Amanda slips deeper inside herself, battling her mysterious past. Jax and Ethan need to save her before she disappears altogether.

This is my latest project for those of you who’ve been asking (and those of you who haven’t). It’s a contemporary young adult novel but, with all due respect to Ruth Graham, anyone can read it. At this point, I’m seeking representation by a literary agent. I’ll be posting updates, and bits and pieces about it on the A Voice Among the Thorns page.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.


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