A Mouse In My House


I could hear a mouse under the bed. Crisp little maneuvers, poking around the books and pictures stored down there. Now, I am not afraid of mice, that’s more of a snake issue, but still, this little varmint rooting around wasn’t exactly relaxing.

I woke my husband, and he didn’t complain or resent my waking him so late. He doesn’t like home invasions any more than I do. Instead he hopped up and found a mouse trap on the porch, slapped peanut butter on the trip latch, then just as promptly hopped back into bed and fell asleep.

Now, sleep wasn’t so easy for this girl–conking out after such a creepy discovery. I rolled to my side listening as that little critter resumed his inventory of my stuff.  My stomach tensed some, waiting for the steel of death to suddenly snap. It might as well have been a grenade with the pin pulled out. I simply couldn’t  twiddle my thumbs waiting for that deadly crack.

That huge comfortable couch in the living room soon beckoned to me. I grabbed my pillow and extra blanket, bedding down away from that condemned rodent. And though my eyes were closed, my mind remained wide open, still anticipating that sudden snap. Extra pillows seemed fitting, and I piled on those that were in reach. While fussing around, trying to get comfortable, I heard that final smack, and thought that maybe sleep could now finally find me.

My mind wandered, just drifting here, floating there, eventually focusing on my second installment of River of January, The Figure Eight.” I’m a little stuck in 1938–big things happened all at once and I need to get a grip on my approach. Helen was stuck in New York at that moment and Chum was flying around the Midwest. She needed to do something besides nothing, so I researched a little of what was happening on the stage. Well, I found some memorable plays, movies and concerts while she was waiting for him. And those events were the destination of my sleepy thoughts.

Bam, right between the eyes–the thesis of my entire work hit me. It was me doing the hopping now, and I leaped off the couch, fired up my laptop and pounded away. Holy smoke-a-roonies! I thought inspiration came while trying to think, not while trying sleep. And I loved the direction my absent thoughts took me. But, alas, no . . . I am not spilling the beans here on that midnight epiphany. For that readers must wait for the second book. 

For now remember River of January is for sale. (click the title, it takes you right to the webpage)

I owe that dead little vermin so much!

Friday Forum

Part of the River of January presentation features a slide show. I provide additional information, not directly addressed in the book, and answer questions. We sing a couple of songs from the era, (yes, strangers singing together) and chat informally when the show is over.

Here are a couple of the pictures I use, with brief descriptions.


May, 1934, The London Palladium. Helen with comedy team, Jans and Whalen.


New York City, Roosevelt Field, October, 1933. Air Race Victory

For more images from River of January click to the website www.river-of-january.com

Order today for great summer reading.

Who Was Big?



My son just text me with bad news. His kitty, Dusty died at the animal hospital about an hour ago. And on Memorial Day of all days!

He was a huge Maine Coon Cat, and had character in abundance. The poor fella was so enormous, (not fat, mind you) that he couldn’t fit into the nooks of his carpeted kitty tower. It wasn’t for lack of effort either. Leveraging into those little tunnels and rooms provided him with a constant daily challenge. Dusty, you see, didn’t understand his bigness. His lack of personal awareness was part of his charm.

When Dusty wanted in your lap, which was often, the sitter became immediately aware of his bulky girth. And more than his physical size was the size of his gentle heart.

That gi-normous lug was also the family’s goodwill ambassador. A thudding leap accompanied by a throttling chainsaw of a purr welcomed all visitors to his home. Forget the meow though. His tiny little squeak reflected more his self-awareness. A sweet little kitten trapped inside the body of the Incredible Hulk.

Though ole Dusty wasn’t with us long, he leaves big paw prints on all of our hearts. Of all the massive bones in his massive body, not a one was mean. He was a good kitty. Clint and David, and the rest of us who loved him will keep his memory alive long after this Memorial Day.

Who Was Big?

Dusty Was.

Good Times Bad Times






This is not a blog about Led Zeppelin. I have shamelessly used this title and image to get your attention. I am sort of sorry, but not really.

This blog however does concern the song title, “Good Times, Bad Times.”

At a book publishing seminar I attended a while back the speaker warned that marketing books was much more difficult than writing books. I didn’t believe her, or more accurately I couldn’t allow myself to believe her. At the time I was slinging rubbish into my manuscript and worse, knew my style was bad.

A couple of years later here we are–River of January is complete and I am finding that wise facilitator’s words haunting me. I think we are doing everything right, talking about the work whenever and wherever I can find a platform. Book stores, libraries, service clubs, book clubs, pushing the story on friends–you get the picture, Those who have read River, for the most part, ooze with enthusiasm and push me to complete part 2, The Figure Eight. And I am trying to get back into that writing zone, communing with Helen and Chum, by studying their mementos, listening to Chum’s taped interviews, and brushing up on the historic background of their lives. But there is this big problem in my attitude toward the second manuscript . . . plunging into the marketing angle again, when I have only sold around two hundred books with the first one.

My husband is a good cheerleader, claiming that everything with the book is good, and that we will meet our goals. We will sell books, and the public will respond in a positive manner. I think he might be right, the whole package is gorgeous: cover, interior design, pictures, font, paper color and yes, even the style and especially the story.

So Good Times must certainly follow this funk in the process of publication, and leave behind the episodes of Bad Times.

So once again consider River of January. It’s a pretty good read, even if I say so myself.

El Dorado



In the far west lay the Kingdom of Idaho. It is a vast, lovely realm; rich in scenic wonder, mountainous regions covered in timber, and a verdant plain of abundant fertility. The kingdom, in truth, a land of ceaseless beauty and bounty.

And the people are free in this land. And if a subject ever questions that truth, they only need ask Idaho’s barons who, every two years, remind them of their autonomy.

By regularly invoking the peasants liberty, these insulated aristocrats have much to gain.

The lordly use many devices to sway the masses. These powerful figures often array themselves in the garments of Idaho’s historic past–recognizable symbols of western freedom. Stetson hats, Tony Lama boots, lasso and horse in hand parading potent images of liberty to the populace. These cagey barons cleverly propagandize, through these symbols, the peasants good fortune in living in such a utopia.

And the powerful do not suffer challenges from the foolish–other non-barons holding competing beliefs. In fact, the most strident pretenders are set up for mockery, and honest contenders are marginalized and disenfranchised. These barons know what is best for their Kingdom.

Meanwhile the realm decays. The highways and byways, prove perilous, pocked in ruts and potholes. The young are packed into schools in overwhelming numbers, to be promoted through the education system with no regard for learning. The vulnerable, the sick, and others outside the barons’ understanding have no voice in this Kingdom of Idaho.

Still the barons persist in flourishing the images of freedom to placate the peasants in the domain. Indeed these humble folk predictably embrace this idealized portrait of their land, and reassured, most gleefully continue to support the Kingdom’s seated nobility.

The subjects residing in this beautiful realm live satisfied that they are, indeed, the freest, and luckiest, and the most independent folk around.

Their leaders, flourishing the domain’s revered symbols every two years, remind them so.

Eyes of the Beholder


Is he trying to hold her hand? I have stared, examined, and analyzed this snapshot a zillion times and wonder what Grant is thinking about Helen.

Pictured above was the Vaudeville team of Garrett & Thompson–a team of hoofers out of Los Angeles touring Depresson-era America. Cracking jokes, singing, and of course blending in Helen’s ballet talent, the two traveled from here to there earning scarce cash to get by.

River of January  is not a romance novel (not that there is anything wrong with those). However the story does include the twenty-something search for love, finding flirtations along the path to adulthood. Grant Garrett became Helen’s first passion–the team leader, writer, and choreographer. She was very young, just eighteen, when she fell under the spell of her partner.

Since the publication of the book, I’ve asked readers their views on this chapter, on Grant Garrett. One young lady admitted she had a “crush” on Grant. A man-friend dismissed the dancer as a “cad.” Many others simply want to know what became of this debonaire song and dance man. (I smile and reply “Book Two).

His letters reveal much on his growing ardor concerning Helen. He fell hard for her and desperately wanted to make her his wife. But that never happened. What does that say about Helen? What does that reveal about the smitten suitor? Was it love? Was it for the moment? Was he actually a cad?

That is the beauty of releasing a book. It immediately becomes the property of the reader, and in more ways than a purchase. All whose eyes rake the pages decide for themselves the quality and nature of the characters, and their intentions.

As for me, I too have a crush on Grant. His letters entertained me all through the research for this creative nonfiction work. A handsome face, and razor sharp sense of humor, and an eagerness for success are hard for this writer to resist.

Now for my pitch: If you have read River, please comment on the smooth operator pictured above. I’d love, LOVE, to hear your opinions on his character.


My Rock, My Refuge, My Library


There was only one entrance off of the main arterial into the library parking lot. It wasn’t quite 10:00 AM yet, but spaces were filling up fast.

On foot, bebopping up the sidewalk, dressed completely in black, ear buds stuffed under his stocking cap, was the happiest Goth in creation. His belly jiggled over his black jeans, keeping time with his silent/screaming music.

A young mother followed close behind, a stack of books awkwardly vised under one arm, and she clutched her baby with the other, cautiously balancing both loads. Both visitors gathered at the same sealed entrance. The time was 9:58.

Old, young, the well dressed, alongside tattooed Walmart shoppers were preparing for their morning visit to the public library. How wonderful.

As the doors finally slid apart, this mass of incongruous patrons flocked inside, striding with purpose and authority to their appointed places. A no-nonsense aura filled the air as each card holder claimed their chair, booth, or computer to commence their daily routine. If ever there existed a bastion of perfect democracy it is America’s neighborhood lending library.

Visits make a lot sense. The facility is clean, climate controlled and the interior is well lit for reading and research.

Libraries offer a multitude of services for their diverse patrons. For those suffering unemployment this destination gets them out of the house, providing an opportunity to search job openings on the internet, and perhaps check out a DVD or two at no cost. For the troubled homeless, the safe interior means sanctuary for rest, or to catch up on some reading, without fear of harassment or victimization. Mothers with young children make use of programs such as story-time, organized games and crafts–providing a respite from too many hours of home-bound togetherness.

My own elderly parents check out their limit of books every two weeks at their neighborhood library. They, too, wait in the parking lot–my Dad’s Impala idling in a disabled spot by 9:55 AM. When those doors glide apart Mom and Dad, canes in hand, hobble as quickly as they can, joining the solid wave of democratic folk utilizing their library privileges.

Benjamin Franklin cemented the true intention of America’s experiment in democratic equality. This famous civic innovator understood the power of public institutions to tie people together from all walks of American society. In was, in fact, Franklin who established the first lending library in Philadelphia back in the day. As a true visionary, Mr. Franklin set the course for general literacy, by establishing these literary gathering places. If he could see what I saw in that library parking lot, his legacy still vibrantly active, he would certainly feel most gratified.

We can all stay as long as we like at the library, as long as we follow some common rules of conduct–just like out in society. And librarians can be real tough on people for violating standards of behavior. They stop kids from running through the stacks, enforce time limits on computer use, insisting internet hogs log off for the next guy, quiet the boorishly loud, with their self important conversations. In the end, their policing allows the rest of us to make the best use of the place.

A library card is the ultimate equalizer–leveling the richest to the poorest among us. No amount of status or money can keep the rest of us in the neighborhood out, because no matter who you might be, my card equals yours.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” a memoir. Also available on Kindle.