Eternally Elaine: Goodbye, My Book Club Friend

A few nights ago while thumbing through my Facebook feed, I saw that my friend Megan Krome had shared someone’s post. I clicked—and what I read shocked me. Megan’s mom, Elaine Muirhead Hagebush, had died.

The impact of her death didn’t really hit me until the next morning. Elaine, you see, was also my dear friend. I knew about her debilitating migraines, the medicines she’d taken, the new ones she’d tried, and how the meds sometimes made feel like she was on a rollercoaster. But I’d had no idea that Elaine was so sick she’d been hospitalized.

We first met online, on Jan. 13, 2011. Elaine reached out to tell me how much she enjoyed my memoir. She knew about Sister of Silence because she was immensely proud of Megan, who created the stunning book cover. That would not have happened, had Megan’s dad and Elaine’s husband, David, and I not been on the same flight months earlier. I still consider that serendipitous meeting one of the best things ever—because it led me to Megan and her amazing artwork. And later it led me to Elaine, who was simply delightful.

Elaine and I met in person in July 2011, when the Bollinger Book Club gathered together inside her home. She was an avid, engaged reader who loved sharing her thoughts and feelings about the books she read. And Elaine was so enthusiastic about Sister of Silence that she practically turned into my public-relations genie. And when Elaine waved her magic wand, she connected me to her bookworm friends throughout California and beyond.

Along the way, we bonded over recipes and funny stories and tales about our children and, oddly enough, our love of chinchillas. We also talked about domestic violence and its impact on society. That’s how she became board president for Samantha’s Sanctuary, my (now defunct) nonprofit. Elaine was happy to take on that role because she cared deeply about helping abused women and children.

I loved Elaine. She was warm and witty and whimsical and compassionate. She also showed a high degree of emotional intelligence, which is exceedingly rare. Elaine didn’t judge you: she just loved you. She made me laugh and brightened my day with her zany sense of humor, which usually involved a hilarious pet tale.

Like the one about Kayley. The soft-as-silk chinchilla had been relegated to sleeping in the hallway since, Elaine said, “her nocturnal ramblings” kept Elaine and David’s other two children, Rachel and Chris, awake. I told Elaine how Avery, our chinchilla, had chewed through the wooden handle on an antique dresser. She said Kayley did the same to a closet door. “We now have a nice ruffle up and down the door. It’s beautiful really,” Elaine said.

Then she regaled me with another story of an “amazing feat of rodent naughtiness.” I couldn’t stop laughing as I read Elaine’s words, when she wrote about how Kayley had sprayed a family member during the holidays.

It was her exuberant cheer, her desire to befriend others, that made Elaine such a gift to us all. Over the years, I have often recalled that evening in the Hagebush home, surrounded by Elaine’s family and her dear book club friends. And the way she reached out to area bookstores and librarians, promoting my book. All because she wanted to. Because that’s the kind of friend Elaine was. She had no hidden agenda. She wasn’t just nice—she was kind.

I still remember how much fun we had, how hospitable Elaine was, and how she invited me to join her online book club, named—what else?—Elaine’s Bookshelf. There, I met an archeologist, Doug McIntosh, and then his wife, Julie, and their daughter, Dagny. Meeting Doug led me to his parents, who graciously offered to let me use their brand new guest cottage while I was in the Los Angeles area in 2012. They gave me lodging and friendship, taking me to dinner at Knotts Berry Farm. Elaine did that.

Ditto for introducing me to her dear friend Andrea Souza. We became friends while exchanging my books for Andrea’s amazing artwork inside a Tracy, Calif., coffee shop. Then there are Kim and JoAnn and Jocelyn and Tatiana, Miriam and Brenda and Mary. . . . and the list goes on. It is endless, really. Women who knew Elaine, her book club friends, formed from real-life and online friendships. Women who knew her far longer, and who are even more brokenhearted than I am, that this lovely lady is no longer with us.

Elaine loved all kinds of books. She also loved my writing, and kept urging me to write more books. So I did. Not just because of her, but largely so. Because it’s important to know that people want to read what you write. That you have a voice others want to hear. Elaine encouraged my writing efforts, and that spurred me on.

As I sit here reading her words, I can hear Elaine’s voice telling another tale: the one about how she toppled over backwards and fell down the stairs. The vacuum cleaner landed on top of her, sending her to the hospital. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but the doctor found some kidney stones while she was there. “Never trust a Hoover,” Elaine wrote.

No one but Elaine could tell a story like that and end on such a deadpan note. She was a natural-born storyteller. So please, wherever you are, whatever you are doing today, please pick up a book, and read a page or two, or even three. For Elaine.

* * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Call to Action: Let’s Save My Home

I’ve donated thousands of copies of my books—and I’ve never asked anything in return. Until now.

I’ve handed out my paperback books to friends and neighbors, coworkers and fellow BART passengers, libraries, schools, shelters for abused women, waitresses who gave me excellent service, and waitresses who simply looked like they were having a rough day. I’ve also given away thousands of free downloads, especially my memoir, Sister of Silence. (In fact, until recently, it had been free for more than one year.)

I’ve helped other people, too, like John, the man who sat outside in a snowstorm this year, trying to collect enough money from passing drivers so he could replace his broken wheelchair.

Now, faced with the prospect of losing my home, I need your help. Without it, I cannot keep writing the books you want. The ones about love and loss and depression and domestic violence. The ones that portray the darker side of life, while holding out hope and showing that laughter makes everything better.

Pretend I’m Harper Lee, since her friends gave the famous author enough money to live on while she wrote To Kill A Mockingbird. You can be my sponsor, benefactor, a patron of the arts, if you will. This centuries-old practice has helped support famous artists, musicians, and sculptors such as Beethoven, Vincent van Gogh, and Picasso.

So why not me?

Wikipedia describes patronage as “the support, encouragement, privilege, or financial aid that an organization or individual bestows to another. In the history of art, arts patronage refers to the support that kings, popes, and the wealthy have provided to artists such as musicians, painters, and sculptors. . . .”

This practice continues today, with NPR, the BBC, and great museums and art collections around the globe. As does the practice of artists giving back to their generous patrons.

I’m asking for you to be my patron, or benefactor. But not indefinitely, just until I save my home. And I will gladly give back to you!

In today’s world, a home is a precious commodity. Not everyone has one, and many people lose theirs every day. I know this well, having driven past many tent cities in Oakland and Berkeley, California, while searching for my own daughter in 2016. I could hardly drive by without crying, because it broke my heart to see those ravages of once middle-class families. Especially since the loss was through no fault of their own. Instead, it’s due in large part, my good friends there told me, to giant tech firms like Facebook, Google and Apple, whose presence in Silicon Valley has led to skyrocketing rental prices in the Bay Area.

Not many writers, or artists of any kind, can afford a home without help from their parents, a spouse, or someone else. People who joke about writers getting a “real job” are not always joking. They may believe that we creative sorts simply don’t want to work, that they enjoy having other people pay their bills.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I was paid advances of $12,500 and $10,000, respectively, for the last two true-crime books I wrote. Many days, for months on end, I worked 18 hours a day, simply to meet my deadlines. While working on the Skylar Neese case, I even wrote all night long, for two nights in a row. My literary agent all but ordered me to stop writing and go to bed. “You’re killing yourself,” she said, when she called from 3,000 miles away to chastise me.

I don’t like not earning enough money to support myself, but as a writer, I’m far from alone. And while my husband was alive, it wasn’t a problem. His income mostly covered my expenses. I say “mostly” because toward the end of his life, our income was dramatically reduced. With his death, it evaporated completely.

A local attorney, after hearing my plight, took this case. And he’s counting on me to pay him—but I need you to help me do that. Because I can’t. Not when my book royalties are less than $100 a month. Not when every day is spent trying to fight this battle, leaving me no time to even substitute teach. That’s why I’ve begun a GoFundMe page and I’ll keep it up for as long as I need to—but not a minute longer.

There, I offered to send a free ebook to everyone who donated at least $20. For $40 or more, I will send you a signed, printed copy of one of my books. I want to show my gratitude for your patronage. But to do that, you must send me your email or mailing address. GoFundMe does not provide it. Please don’t forget!

Until then, I think Alice Brown, who donated to my campaign, said it best:

Can everyone that sees this donate JUST $5? Five meager bucks. This weekend, you’ll spend five bucks on candy, booze, flowers for your mama, whatever. Can you spend $5 on someone who is about to lose her home?! I want you all, right now, to think of The Terminator (Arnold): ‘JUST DO IT!’ Daleen only needs 3400 more people with a heart/soul to send in $5. Hell, I’ve seen you all send out cute videos of your dog being chased by a chicken with views over 50K! Can you do any less here? PLEASE! Send this link to EVERYONE on your contact list and ask them to make a $5 donation AND ask them to forward the link onto their contacts. Would you want your mom to lose her home over a legal technicality? Do what’s right, right now. Don’t wait. Send $5 lousy bucks. It’s Easter for crying out loud! Don’t make me lose faith in humanity any more than I already have. $5 stinking bucks.

Writing is my chosen form of art, but I can’t do it without your support. Please consider becoming my benefactor, so I can continue writing the books you love.

* * *

Dear Readers,

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 2016. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April 2016.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

‘Shatter the Silence’ Book Cover to be Revealed Saturday

Last week I said I would have a major announcement for you. Actually, I have two.

Shatter the Silence, the sequel to my memoir, Sister of Silence, finally has a great book cover. I know you’ve been waiting very patiently to read the continuation of my life story, and I can’t thank you enough. I truly appreciate your loyalty! (And I hope you enjoy what I fully expect to be an 80K-word book.)

This is one of two possible photos that will end up as cover artwork for my compilation of old Vintage Berry Wine columns.

After a great deal of work, I believe we’ve nailed it. And it only took traveling 1,800 miles to Florida, where I met another author, who introduced me to her cover designer. The pieces quickly fell into place and now, voilá, the book you all have been awaiting (for far too long) has a cover. It’s not what I initially expected but I think Christina at #CBB Productions did a great job. It’s perfect. I love it! And hope you do, too.

That isn’t all. As of today you can pre-order Shatter the Silence through Smashwords, which is the distributor I’ve chosen. Smashwords is pretty cool, because it sends my books out into the world, to places like Apple iTunes, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and elsewhere.

And in four more days—on Saturday, March 19—I’ll share the cover for Shatter the Silence right here. Plus, there’s a bonus; if you order now, it’s only $2.99. But right after its May 7 release, the price goes up to $3.99.

That still isn’t all.

Back in December, I promised to have my compiled newspaper columns, Vintage Berry Wine, to you in book form by year’s end. That didn’t happen. In large part, again, because we couldn’t come up with the perfect book cover. In part because those old columns came in at more than 90K words, which was much more than I ever anticipated. Now, though, the cover is almost completed, and will—as my columns did—feature my ornery brood. Here’s the best part—Vintage Berry Wine will be released April 2, one month before Shatter. I don’t have the preorder link yet but I will Saturday, and will share that and the pricing details with you when I reveal the Shatter cover here.

* * * *

What a hot, hectic weekend it was! At least it was here in southeastern Florida, where thousands of college students have flocked to these sandy beaches, making my Starbucks run a little more difficult. Still, I get why they come here. And if this wonderful warm weather keeps up, I may have trouble dragging myself back to West Virginia.

I’ve been spending time at the beach myself, just walking in the sand. Hard work, that is. And Sunday, I found an Olympic-sized pool right around the corner, so I swam laps for an hour. Then, today, I enrolled in a super fun dance class with a great instructor. At this rate, my legs will be toned and slimmer in no time. Goodness, at this rate, there won’t be much left of me to return home!

See you Saturday!

* * * *

My last Florida book event, complete with a discussion about my latest book and why innocent people end up in prison, a Q&A, and a reading, was Saturday, March 12, at Barnes and Noble in Jensen Beach. More dates will follow, which you can find on my Facebook page.

My fifth book, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister, was released November 17. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

“American Pain” a Fascinating True Tale of Greed, Addiction, and Pill Mills

If you don’t know anyone who’s been addicted to narcotic painkillers, you’re fortunate. Sadly, most of us do, or did, in the case of an addict whose addiction ended in death. It’s not a pretty topic—but it certainly is a crucial one.

Last fall I joined a local writer’s group made up largely of WVU professors. We email each other pages of our current project and meet once a month to provide feedback. It’s probably the best writer’s group I’ve ever been involved with, and I enjoy it immensely. One of the members, John Temple, was working on a nonfiction project he was under contract to finish. The early drafts of American Pain: How A Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic really grabbed my attention. In part because I lost a sister to drug abuse, after she got hooked on those nasty painkillers, and also because I’ve had several surgeries myself and almost every single time I was sent home with a prescription for an opioid—which is a synthetic form of opium. Most of the time, I didn’t even need to fill the script. Other times, if I did, I rarely finished the pills, and flushed those that remained down the toilet.

John Temple, a WVU journalism professor, signs copies of his new book, American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed American’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic at his August 31 book launch. [Photo by Benyamin Cohen]

Then, on Monday, August 31, 2015, I attended Temple’s book launch at the WVU Law School. There, a three-member panel composed of a psychologist, an attorney, and Temple, discussed the painkiller epidemic. I thought I knew how addiction worked, but I learned even more that night. For instance, the more painkillers you take, the more pain you have. That’s the word from Dr. Carl Sullivan, director of the West Virginia Addiction Training Institute for the last 25 years. Once the brain becomes accustomed to painkillers, any real or perceived pain seems even worse, which prompts the user to feel like he needs more pills at higher doses. It’s a vicious cycle that turns many people into addicts and eventually leads them to heroin.

Sullivan knows addicts. Prior to 1985, most of his patients were alcoholics. But in the 1990s, pharmaceutical companies began pushing drugs like OxyContin, saying that opioids were safe. They pushed them right into West Virginia, which has a large worker’s compensation population, due to such dangerous jobs as cutting timber and mining coal. At the same time, pain became the fifth vital sign doctors would check when examining patients. Because pain isn’t easy to quantify, and it’s impossible for doctors to confirm if a patient doesn’t have any, “doctors felt compelled to treat it,” Sullivan said. The result was a perfect storm here in Appalachia and elsewhere. “Opioids in West Virginia were just flowing like water,” he added.

We can thank Purdue Pharma for this change in the medical community. In the early 1990s, Purdue developed OxyContin, a controlled-release pill. It would replace MS Contin, one of their other drugs, used only to treat cancer patients. As Temple writes in American Pain, “Purdue wanted OxyContin to be prescribed to a much broader array of patients and for a longer period of time.” So Purdue began a major marketing campaign: first, they educated the American public about the problem of untreated pain. Then, they provided the solution—their new drug!

When West Virginia figured out what was going on with pill mills, Temple said, it became one of the first states to clamp down on the problem, which included patients who would doctor shop and buy far more painkillers than they needed. “The drugs may go away but not the addiction, so you go where the drugs are,” Temple said. Thus the reason West Virginia residents, like many people in southern states, began driving to Florida to get their fix.

The morning of the book launch, Sullivan treated 23 patients. All of them were addicted to opioids. These and other addicts have symptoms that include an intense craving for painkillers, being restless, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, and thinking only about one thing: getting more drugs. “Without treatment, nothing good happens,” Sullivan said, “squalor, death.”

Not long ago he felt hopeless. Since then, new treatment programs are helping people addicted to painkillers. The clinical psychologist said he “feels more optimistic in 2015 than in a long time.”

Who would believe that this painkiller epidemic started, in large part, because of a construction worker–and felon–in Florida? The story of their American Pain clinics and the drug-dealing doctors who worked for them is amazing! Temple spent three years writing his book while on sabbatical from WVU, where he teaches journalism.

Not only is his writing crisp and clear, but Temple also cites fascinating numbers that help tell the story of this American epidemic. For instance, Temple says that during one period, Florida doctors bought nine times more oxycodone (the main ingredient in OxyContin and other painkillers) than doctors in other states. “That’s nine times more than the other forty-nine states combined,” he says. Records from the Drug Enforcement Agency show that in “one six-month period,” Temple says, “Florida doctors bought 41.2 million doses while every other physician in the country collectively purchased 4.8 million doses.” In fact, he says “four of [American Pain’s] clinic’s full-time doctors ranked among the top nine physician purchasers of oxycodone in the country.”

American Pain got its start, in part, from a health care industry that comprises 18-percent of the U.S. economy, according to Valerie Blake, a WVU associate law professor. That’s huge, and it’s climbing. When the pill mills were pumping out pills so fast almost no one could keep count, Florida then had virtually no laws regulating health care, Blake said. And the state certainly had no database to help track patients who were “doctor shopping.” Nor did it have any laws that stipulated who could or couldn’t own a medical clinic, she added.

Enter the George brothers, Chris and Jeff, and their construction worker buddy, Derik Nolan. Not even knowing what they were doing, they ran their little operation haphazardly, but over time they learned what the DEA looked for, when determining if a clinic could be busted for dispensing too many drugs. And they began implementing changes accordingly, until their company became a major player in the narcotic painkiller industry.

Astonishingly, though, when Chris George checked out the DEA’s own 2006 policy, he found that the federal agency would consider suspicious any doctor who “prescribes 1,600 [sixteen hundred] tablets per day of a schedule II opioid to a single patient,” Temple wrote. With numbers that high, it’s clear to see why the George brothers and Nolan thought they could get away with what they were doing.

American Pain is an important book about an epidemic that is far from over. Not only did Temple dig into the DEA’s own puzzling actions of allowing pharmaceutical firms to manufacture more pills than ever, but he did so while weaving together a powerful and sometimes even funny story about the three Florida construction workers who became so wealthy and powerful they were mafia bosses in their own right. Bosses the FBI brought down, when a female agent named Jennifer Turner took an interest in the construction workers’ clinics. Turner and her fellow agent, Kurt McKenzie, worked for more than a year to bring the case to trial. According to Temple, McKenzie says the only “other investigation that took the same toll on him . . . was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.”

There is one other important thread Temple wove throughout his book: the victims of American Pain’s pill mill practices, many of whom died. Like the Racine, W.Va., man, who smashed his Camaro into a pickup truck while high on oxy. Or the Tennessee man who died in a Boca Raton motel, two days after being treated at one of American Pain’s clinic.

But Temple’s story about Stacy Mason, a young concrete worker from Kentucky who drove to Florida to get oxy so he could cope with back pain from a serious vehicle accident that made it impossible for him to work, will leave you longing for justice for all the victims of this terrible epidemic.

Many times, Temple got in his own car and drove up hollers in backwoods Kentucky to interview the Mason family for this book. Their story, like those of the other addicts Temple writes about, will make you angry that so many senseless deaths have occurred because of greedy pharmaceutical companies. Be prepared to settle in for a long read, because American Pain is an addictive read. And it will captivate you, making it almost impossible to put down.

* * * *

In November, I will have five books, Guilt by Matrimony, about the murder of Aspen socialite, Nancy Pfister. My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at BenBella Books, Nellie Bly Books, Amazon, on iTunes and Barnes and Noble.

For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.

Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!

~Daleen

Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

Free E-book Promotion, or How My Book Went to #2 Beside E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades Darker” in 3 Days



Actually, Sister of Silence sat in the #3 free spot on Kindle for most of the second day—right next to E.L. James’ third book in the best-selling trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, before climbing one more notch to #2, where it sat beside Fifty Shades Darker.

Which is why I’m asking: Readers, can you help me get it to #1? In just over 48 hours, the Sister of Silence e-book (which is also available in paperback for traditional book lovers like me) will be free. Again. This time I’m hoping we can send it straight to the top. And I’m pretty sure we can at least equal the 33,703 downloads that occurred in late May. Except this time, we only have two days.

That’s why I’m asking everyone I know, and who knows me, to please download the e-book if you haven’t already. And ask your friends to do the same: send them an email with the link, post it on your Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler or even Pinterest pages, and let’s see what can happen with such a concerted effort.

Last time, even the number of Amazon reviews increased: there are currently 75 reviews, with an average of 4.5 stars. Prior to the May giveaway, there were 47. Now there are 28 more! I’m hoping the same thing happens this time, because reviews are key to selling books for authors like me.

A quick word about the Fifty Shades trilogy. Last week I was writing (on speculation they would accept it) a piece for The Daily Beast about the books and what I think their incredible popularity says. It initially looked like the Beast was going to take the piece, but then the editors nixed it. At the time my book (also about sexuality, among other things) was sitting beside two of E.L. James’ books, I had no clue about their similar connection. Otherwise, I would have included something about it in the blog I posted just after the free promo ended.

Since then I’ve done my research. So I now realize the significance of that ranking. (At the time, as I commented on Facebook, I thought it rather ironic since Fifty Shades of Grey, the first book, is about a fictional woman who wants to be dominated; mine is about a real woman who wants anything but.)

Not coincidentally, the first promo occurred Memorial Day weekend, as a tribute to the women and children who end up as prisoners of war—the domestic kind—in their own homes. That’s domestic terrorism at its worst.

The promo I’m asking you to participate in this time is different. It starts at 12 a.m. July 24 because that’s Amelia Earhart Day. While many readers know my book is about overcoming abuse and empowerment, people who haven’t read it yet won’t know it’s also about the huge role aviation played in my life.

While one Sister of Silence reader remembered that my dad promised to teach me to fly but then didn’t, that isn’t the most important aviation element: it’s that the lure of flying was so strong, the desire to reach that goal so intense, that I eventually accomplished it myself. That isn’t in the book, of course, but reading between the lines, the reader might realize that that’s exactly what I would go on to do.

A male friend told me he believes the Shades of Grey trilogy ultimately finds its fictional heroine, Anastasia Steele, “progressively empowered.” Perhaps that’s something these two books have in common—a progressively empowered heroine—and the deeper reason Sister of Silence found a spot beside Fifty Shades Darker.

I’m happy to give readers something more than fantasy and an unrealistic view of female empowerment. And personally, I’d take a real-life empowered heroine over a fictional one any day.

* * * *

Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

If you want to read more than 70 reviews, go to Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.

What Pearl S. Buck, Blueberries, and Bovines Have In Common

This morning I woke up from a dream in which I was trying to find a colorful clause to go with the verb “giggled,” as in “like a little girl.”

That’s what happens when you go to a writing workshop taught by Jim Minick, author of several books, including The Blueberry Years. (While at Jim’s site, be sure to check out his wife Sarah’s baskets; they are exquisite!)

The workshop was held yesterday, in conjunction with Allegheny Echoes, at the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in Hillsboro, W.Va. And it was wonderful, educational and hopefully made all of us better, stronger writers.

“Giggled like a little girl” is a metaphor, but it’s also a cliché, which is a worn-out, overused metaphor. Good writing doesn’t have clichés. At least, it shouldn’t.

Now a confession: when Jeannette Walls looked at Sister of Silence, she kindly pointed out a few clichés—which I didn’t even realize I’d used. (That was offset by Walls saying the writing in a piece about my father’s ashes reminded her of Nora Ephron, may she rest in peace.)

So a workshop that focuses on how to write better by using strong metaphors, rather than weak clichés, is rather important. (Plus, I finally saw Buck’s birthplace, and finished reading The Good Earth while in Hillsboro, which seemed apropos.)
I also met Courtney Smith, a New Yorker who migrated here and whose friends ask why on earth she would want to live in West Virginia.

“Because when you pass someone in a car and they’re waving at you, all five fingers are engaged,” Smith, a Lewisburg resident, said.

Smith is the playwright who wrote Welcome Home, about Pearl Buck, Oscar Hammerstein, and James Michener. Together, they created the Welcome House Adoption Program for Asian children born to American servicemen.

There were several highlights during this trip into the bowels of West Virginia, where you could easily get lost in the mountains, if you’re not careful. One such highlight involved my overnight lodging, in a quaint little home perched on the side of one of those mountains in Richwood. Jolie and Jay Lewis live there with their two children.

I met Jolie at the West Virginia Writers’ Conference this year, and she encouraged me to attend the writing workshop. It seemed fitting that I do so, since I could also see the house where Buck was born. In addition to seeing the house, I learned that she would write (and pluck grapes) while sitting in the upstairs balcony, and that she won her Pulitzer for The Good Earth when she was 40, her Nobel when she was 46. (Just more proof that older is better!) I also learned she had a daughter who had to be institutionalized, and who could have been the basis for O-Lan and Wang Lung’s own daughter, known as “poor little fool.”

Tour guide Ruth Taylor didn’t tell our group this; I just surmised it as I reflected on the story while driving home. What she did tell us was that Buck wrote her short stories to help pay for her daughter’s care, which makes her no different than many writers I know, whose chief concern is just being able to pay the bills.

But back to the Lewis homestead. Light pollution doesn’t exist in their corner of the word: when I went to bed, I saw a sky full of stars. Neither does noise pollution: when I woke up, I was surrounded on all four sides by West Virginia forest, which effectively blocked any noise that might have come from nearby people or vehicles, and provided a serenity unseen by city dwellers such as myself. (Ironically, the Lewis property is in city limits and will be for sale soon, at quite a good price.)

I thought I would be back on the road much earlier than I was, but a stop at two local places slowed me down. The first was the Pretty Penny Café, which was once an old general store. The food is great, as is the wait staff. My waitress, Eva, who had also read (and loved) The Good Earth, gladly snapped a photo of me as I finished up the book.

Then I had to get one for the road—a coffee to keep me awake—and Jolie recommended the Dirt Bean in Marlinton. She said it was a coffee shop and a mountain bike shop. She didn’t tell me there was a swimming pool inside. Turns out the owner uses it and the massage table there in her other business, involving the healing arts. (There’s a wall separating the coffee customers from the bikers; it effectively hides the swimming pool from view. I wouldn’t have known about it, had I not needed to use the loo, located all the way in the back.)

To reach Hillsboro the day before, I drove down Interstate 79 and Route 19, then routes 39, 55 and finally, 219 south. For the return trip, intent on a visit with my mother, I opted to drive through Elkins for a change of scenery. (Driving on Rt. 219 and then Rt. 92 north, it’s fewer roads and miles, but not really any quicker.)

I was still in Barbour County, not having crossed the Preston County line, when I saw them in the distance and decided it might be best to slow down: bovines, big and black, lumbering precariously close to the road. I slowed enough to notice the open gate that enticed first one, then the others, to escape in pursuit of what was, undoubtedly to them, an exciting evening field trip.

I looked behind me as I passed and sure enough, the first one was in the road. The biggest problem was the upcoming knoll in the road, which would block them from view as easily as a solid wall hides a swimming pool from a barista. (I hope you’re proud of me, Jim!) So I pulled off the road at the very next house and sure enough, it was the home of the farmer whose cows had gotten loose.

After the initial shock of learning his runaway cows were content to stand smack dab in the middle of a long straight stretch of Rt. 92, and that the gate was open, the kind but harried farmer yelled for his wife, grabbed his britches from the porch and thanked me for stopping. Very pleasant fellow, britches or no. When I left him he was wearing his britches and running toward his cows.

Several minutes later I arrived in Independence. Mom was sitting in the back yard playing on her iPad and sipping a beer when I arrived. We sat and chatted for awhile, then we went inside so she could show me her new kitchen.

But first she had to take care of the dogs. There are five, and they are loud. So while we sat outside, they remained inside. She went to put them outside when we went in, leaving only the two true house dogs inside. One of the two is “Mama,” a four-year-old Puggle (pug and beagle) my mama rescued from the pound. She’s hefty, weighing in at 19 or 20 pounds. And she’s shown no inclination to bite before. (Maybe she didn’t like my perfume.)

We were entering the front door when Mama growled and jumped, high enough she could sink her canine teeth into the flesh above my right knee. On the bad side, it did break the skin. On the good side, Mom is in tight with the local animal control officer, so of course all Mama’s shots are in order.

I’d like to say the evening ended on a high note, but that’s as high as it got. Thus ended my mountain sojourn to Peal Buck country. If you haven’t been, you really should go. As Lewis said, although Buck only spent a few years in West Virginia, her Presbyterian missionary parents, Absalom and Caroline (Stulting) Sydenstricker, grew up here, and as their daughter, she was profoundly affected by their Appalachian heritage.

There are some people who would say the good folk of Appalachia are not so different from the poverty-stricken Chinese Buck wrote about. I am one of them.

PS: If you’re interested, a few pictures are posted at my Facebook page; I have yet to figure out how to insert them into my blog posts, without creating textual problems in response.

Disclaimer: Daleenberry.com is a Website that doubles as blog, which means it’s a combination of hard news, like the kind I reported on during my journalism days; commentary, which means my opinion—good, bad or indifferent—will be found sprinkled liberally throughout; and op-ed, which is a combination of facts and opinion. Enjoy!

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Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note: Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. She has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment.

Berry speaks at conferences around the country, most recently at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs in March 2012.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”

To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.
If you want to read more than 70 reviews, go to Amazon.

To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.