I Found My Heart – In San Francisco

The last time I visited Lombard Street was in 1997. Until Friday morning, when I drove down the famous, curvy street, again – almost 20 years later. Have you ever noticed how, when you live in an area, life is so hectic you don’t often visit the local landmarks? And how, when you return as a tourist, you do?
san-fran-lombard-sunrise
You have to make time then, because time is all you have.

I’m not exactly a tourist, though. I was born here, in this land of the “flakes, fruits, and nuts,” as some people say. And I’ve lived, and worked, here before. As I am again.
streetcar
I left West Virginia in August, intent on a cross-country road trip but then uncertain where it would lead me. I still don’t know my final destination, but it will be here, somewhere in this state. I’ve decided to stay here. For years, I’ve been torn between two coasts – and four children. My two daughters who live in West Virginia, and my son and his sister, both of whom live here. It’s been difficult, to say the least, and every time I returned from California, I felt like I left my heart behind, somewhere in San Francisco.

So it was time. Time to pull up stakes and return to the place of my birth, like my father did before me, when he traveled from California to West Virginia in 1969. But my situation is different. I have two adult children here. Who, although adults, need me. And whom I need, just as much. I miss West Virginia and the people I left behind. But nowadays, social media and Skype make it easier than ever to live a continent apart.
lombard-curves
When I drove across the Bay Bridge Thursday afternoon, I never dreamed I would enjoy a culinary feast of the finest kind. San Francisco, you see, is one of a few cities where dining is an experience. Nor did I know that a handsome young fellow intended to take me to the Embarcadero for oysters at Water Bar. A place which he says, “offers the best seafood in the city.”

Or that, after appetizers, he and Glenn, a new friend, planned to cook lobster for me. Talk about a day of new and exciting experiences, unlike any other. We dined in the living room, on salad, sourdough bread, and the sweet meat of the crustaceans, dipping it in drawn butter. All while watching Finding Nemo, an irony not lost on any of us.
oysters
I didn’t expect to spent the night, but it turns out there was an empty bed. So Friday morning I woke up in a strange place, memories of a delicious dinner in the most romantic city in the world swirling around in my mind. And love filling my heart for the two men who made it, one of them my son.
zach-me-water-bar
As I left San Francisco, heading north to my temporary home, I wanted two things: a good, steaming cup of java, from one of the corner coffee shops that can be found throughout the city, and a sunrise photo. When I checked my GPS, I was delighted to learn that Lombard Street was only ten minutes away. How could I possibly pass it up? I couldn’t.
live-lobsters
I arrived at the perfect time, just as the sun’s early morning rays touched the steel beams of the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance and bounced off the windows of the Lombard Street homes below me.

But it was perfect for another reason: I met Terry, a woman who lives on this famous street, and who greeted me and the only other person around with a smile. “Isn’t it a glorious day to be alive?” she asked us. He was German and his photography equipment was that of a professional. And although he didn’t speak English, the amazing sunrise we shared transcended the language barrier, as he snapped a photo of Terry and me.
san-fran-lombard-terry
Life is good. Very, very good – and it’s just beginning.

Editor’s Note: My website is being revamped, and more changes are in the works. So I hope you’ll pardon the mess and be patient, as I iron out all the kinks.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. 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.

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!

You Just Don’t Understand: What Clinton Really Said About Benghazi

All human leaders are fallible, to a greater or lesser degree. They will lie and steal and make deals behind closed doors – or grope women, just because they can.

That said, I couldn’t quite understand why the Benghazi incident continues to have such an impact on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. So I began digging. And, after looking at the language Clinton used during the Benghazi tragedy, I recalled a fantastic college course I took, which used as its textbook You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation, by Georgetown University’s linguistics professor Deborah Tannen.

In that book, Tannen helps us understand the underpinnings of conversation between men and women. What I learned most from that class, and Tannen’s book, is to listen carefully to what people say. And what they don’t.

Here then, my reporter’s hat on and pencil in hand, is my neutral takeaway:

Then-Secretary of State Clinton did as she was told by a superior – likely President Obama – by linking the Benghazi attack to an anti-Muslim video. BUT, if you pay attention to what Clinton did NOT say, you can read between the lines quite easily.

After reading a summary of the Benghazi attack in The Atlantic, and another one from NBC News, about the Republicans’ report on that tragedy, as well as FactCheck’s detailed and thorough timeline of the Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack, this is what I believe.

But please, don’t take my word for it. That would be a mistake. Instead, put on your thinking cap and, using FactCheck’s hour-by-hour timeline, see for yourself.

Roughly about 10 p.m. that same night, Clinton issued her first public statement about the attack. BUT, her use of the word “some” as in, “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” tells me that SHE did not believe that to be the case.

This proves true when, one hour later, at 11:12 p.m., Clinton sends an email to her daughter, Chelsea, saying this: “Two of our officers were killed in Benghazi by an al Qaeda-like group: The Ambassador, whom I handpicked and a young communications officer on temporary duty w a wife and two young children. Very hard day and I fear more of the same tomorrow.”

That email wasn’t discovered until 2015. However, let’s talk about what it does show – a woman clearly in pain, over a loss she considered personal. And that email seems to tell the greatest truth about what the U.S. administration knew, and when they knew it.

So why did Clinton lie to the American public? Or did she? Maybe she just repeated the party line that an anti-Muslim video inspired a mob attack.

I think this is more likely: In ensuing public statements, Clinton continues to distance herself from that very stance, using the word “some,” as in “some people – but not me,” she is trying to tell us – believe the video inspired the embassy attack.

That singular phrase is very telling. For if Clinton believed the anti-Muslim video was responsible, or knew that for sure, she would have used the pronoun “we.” Yet she didn’t.

However, President Obama continued to tell the American public, on late-night TV and other shows, such as The View, that Benghazi was the result of a mob attack due to the religious video.

Could that be because he was up for reelection?

In a nutshell, President Obama, as the top dog, should be blamed for misleading the public – not Clinton – who was simply following orders. And who risked being axed, if she broke from the party line and told the truth. And let’s be honest: she wouldn’t be the first whistle-blower to lose her job, would she?

So, perhaps for Clinton, it came down to this: What good can I accomplish then, if speaking the truth gets me fired?

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my memoir was released May 7. 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.

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!

Mission Accomplished . . . 5,800 Miles Later

I crossed the California state line in San Bernardino County at 3:18 p.m. October 2, not far from where the Mojave Desert meets the San Andreas Fault. “Not far” being a relative term for a woman who had already logged more than 5,000 miles on her Toyota Prius – much of it on Route 66.

Even in spite of earthquake warnings, it felt good to be home. For anyone who doesn’t know, I’m a California girl by birth, born in a city made famous by the song my parents sang to me as a toddler. Those same parents laughed at the idea that yes, the Golden State might really be hit by an earthquake that would knock it into the ocean one day. Turns out, as I arrived in California, the fear of another earthquake loomed large. That’s okay. I survived one earthquake here in 1999. I was driving on I-580 near Pleasanton, and never knew it happened until I heard my coworkers discussing it.

Driving through the desert, my car’s thermometer told the tale: it was a balmy 99-degrees outside. I was surprised, though, at how cool it felt. No doubt the dry climate was responsible, for 99-degrees in Florida (or West Virginia) would have drenched me in sweat.

Speaking of sweating it out, during my trip west I listened to the audio version of The Girl on the Train. Can you say red herring three times really fast? It was one of the most twisted tales I’ve ever heard (or read). Nothing was as it seemed.

I haven’t visited California in a while, but since two of my four children are here, I’ve been trying to return for the last three years. So I’m long overdue. But I’ve been a little busy, writing several books during that time, so no wonder it’s taken me this long. I drove through miles and miles of desert, thinking about the direction my life has taken, and looking forward to seeing my son and daughter again, when several hours later, my car’s odometer hit 130,000 miles. Not long after I holed up for the night in a little motel in Ventura, California, one block from the beach.

The next morning, I woke up in time to see the sunrise, roll up the cuffs of my pants, and enjoy a barefoot walk on the beach, where I collected beach stones and watched seagulls at play. When I returned, a woman named Cheryl caught me snapping photos and offered to take one of me standing in front of the motel’s colorful mural. In return, I gave her a copy of one of my books and we parted friends.

After I got on the road, I drove by vineyards and fields full of crops, passing migrant farm workers along the way, before hitting Highway 1 and winding my way up California’s rocky coast. I stopped at Pismo Bay, where I watched pelicans swoop and dive, as a pod of whales swam in the open waters. Further north, I dropped by Morro Bay, where sunbathing sea lions entertained me. As my little car climbed higher and higher along the coastline, distant memories of Monterey and Carmel and Big Sur returned, and in my mind’s eye I saw my four children, running into the surf, hiking through the redwoods and sequoias, and posing for the graduation photos I snapped along the water’s edge.

This coastal drive is, hands down, the most spectacular in the country. Wild and wonderful and unspoiled, with only a few commercial businesses along the way. (And nary a restroom along one particular two-hour stretch, which left me rushing to the ladies room when I finally happened upon one.)

By 4:30 p.m. I was crossing the Bixby Bridge, a suspension structure not unlike the equally impressive New River Gorge Bridge I left behind in West Virginia. I stopped along the road at several places, my shutter snapping away, and even climbed down a narrow, rocky path that offered a closer view of the magnificent architectural feat. The fog hadn’t yet moved in, so the views were breathtaking.

After spending an hour there, I tried to make it to John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which I last visited in 1998. Alas, I arrived too late. Plus, I had many miles to go before reaching my destination.

That didn’t happen until 10:30 p.m. – after the first near-miss of my entire trip. I was traveling about 70 miles per hour on I-680 north when a car parked on the berm pulled directly into my path. The driver had not gotten up to speed, so he was probably cruising at 30 m.p.h. Regardless, he was going far too slow to avoid a collision, so I instinctively jerked the wheel and cut across one lane, grateful when the driver on my left did the same.

Other than that, I wasn’t pulled over once, nor did I run out of gas (despite a close call). In fact, the only downer during my time on the road occurred when I realized it was probably the first and last time I would experience such a journey. For the most part, I found friendly folks throughout the country, and came away with so many new stories I’ll be hard pressed to find time to tell them all.

All in all, from North-Central West Virginia to the southern most tip of Florida and back up, and clear across the wild, wild West, I drove 5,799 miles, going from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean in 34 days. The journey of a lifetime, it’s one everyone should be so fortunate to experience.

And I loved every single minute!

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at 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.

Winding My Way through the Past, and the Petrified Forest

Last time I blogged, I promised I’d write about the drive from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monterey, California. Well, I completely forgot about the miles between Albuquerque, New Mexico and Flagstaff. So Monterey will have to wait.

Let’s begin this leg of the journey with a story: when I was younger, I was famous for running my car out of fuel. I wound up stranded along the side of the road more times than I can count. Usually, that meant calling a friend for help. Or a husband. Not this time, though.

I had so much fun at the balloon festival that I left 90 minutes later than I planned, at 10:30 a.m. After dropping by Cracker Barrel to rent an audiobook, I stopped at Garcia’s Kitchen for brunch. There, I ordered sopapillas, which I hadn’t eaten in two decades. Not since the last time I was in Texas with family. I split open the delicious pockets of deep-fried dough and filled them full of butter and honey. And was I on Cloud Nine!

My book on tape kept me occupied, and awake at the wheel, since I’d gotten up at 3 a.m. to see the balloons. Before I even knew it, I had driven through Gallup, New Mexico, and then finally, crossed into Arizona. Where I found myself smack dab in the middle of the Painted Desert and the Petrified National Park – which carried me back to my childhood days, when my parents, my sister, Lisa, and I visited on a family vacation.

It felt like déjà vu, and when I snapped a quick photo of some pieces of petrified wood inside the shop for tourists, I was certain I had been there before. The clerk said I was actually standing in the original building, which had been much smaller. But yes, it had been there since the 1950s. How’s that for a good memory? Even as I grew more bleary eyed by the moment.

I didn’t plan to drive through the entire park, just wanted to grab a few photos and then hop back on I-40. But a nice park ranger said if I wanted to keep going, the road would lead me back to the interstate 20 miles or so later. And I’m so glad I did. It was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring portions of my entire journey.

Having logged quite a few miles already, I really wanted to break early for the night, but every motel I passed was full. Then, as I left Winslow, I realized I had forgotten to fill my gas tank. My digital dashboard said I the tank would be dry in less than 15 miles. I hoped I would find a gas station somewhere soon, since I was already on the entrance ramp and in the midst of traffic.

I was wrong.

I even exited again, not long after, when a sign with the word “Shell” held out the promise of fuel. That sign lied – plus, I was the only soul there. So I headed west on I-40 again. By the time I drove 16 miles past the zero on my dashboard indicated the tank was “empty,” I feared each successive minute would find me stalled along the road. It wasn’t late, not quite 8 p.m., but the traffic on that stretch of lonely highway was sparse. And pitch black!

So when a road sign with the words “Twin Arrows Resort” appeared, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Surely, where there was a resort, there would be a filling station, right? Nope. Not a single one. Instead, bone weary, I drove into the parking lot of the resort, which turned out to be a Navajo Casino. And there, the nicest young man, a valet attendant, used his walkie-talkie to contact hotel security. He wasn’t sure they would have unleaded fuel, though, or how long before security would arrive, so he suggested I grab a coffee from the café inside. Considering I’d been awake since the middle of the previous night, I did just that.

Now for a confession: I’ve been inside a couple of casinos throughout my life. But I have never even operated a slot machine, much less played blackjack or any other game. Not once. (I have, however, learned that I am a gambler. I’ve gambled twice now, on husbands. Let’s just say I didn’t hit the jackpot either time.) Instead of playing the slots, I wandered around looking at the luxury all around me, and felt compelled to take a photo of the lobby chandelier, which looked like it was created from beads of oil.

Thirty minutes later, the casino manager gave his approval and a sweet security guard poured unleaded fuel into my tank. I wasn’t even a paying casino customer, but they refused to take a nickel of my money to cover the cost. Someone has since told me that’s true western hospitality. Call me a believer.

I made it to Flagstaff after another 30 miles, and by then it was close to 10 p.m. I checked into a motel and fell into bed. All in all, I’d driven 430 miles. Leaving another 800 or 900 to go.

I hope y’all will join me next time, when we finally cross the California state line and wander up the most beautiful coastline in the country.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at 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.

Driving Through the Wild, Wild West

Leaving Mississippi last Monday, I turned my little car west and drove across miles and miles of flat Texas land, thinking of my father and our trips south to see him each summer, before his death in April 1999. While Dale Berry’s final resting place is in our family plot somewhere up a holler at the top of a Jackson County, West Virginia, mountain, those Texas tumbleweeds I passed will be forever synonymous with the man he was.

It seemed appropriate to stop in Mesquite, Texas, for the night. After all, we used to light up the limbs of a tree by the same name, grilling many a burger and steak for family cookouts. My grown children may not remember, but nothing much beats the flavor of mesquite, when it comes to wood smoke and meat.

I got on the road quite early Tuesday morning, planning to reach Cochiti Reservation by nightfall. Twelve hours later I did, and found myself in the home of a local artist who graciously let me have the run of it for my visit. I felt like I was in a Native American art gallery, and it was exquisite.

Wednesday morning began with a big breakfast of huevos rancheros, which took me back to those authentic Mexican meals we used to eat in Texas. (And which my mother, herself the daughter of a chef and having been raised in the Southwest, often cooked for us.) Then was I in for a real treat: Lee Maynard chauffeured me to the top of mesas and all over the Jemez Mountains, turning into a tour guide as he pointed out such local sights as Cochiti Dam, the artisan town of Santa Fe, Bandelier National Park, Valles Caldera, formed by an ancient, mega volcanic eruption, and Los Alamos, not far from where the Manhattan Project was developed. And where we ate the best sushi ever.

Before I met Lee several years ago at the Annual West Virginia Writer’s Conference, he was more of a myth than a man. Once we became acquainted, it was easy to see that he was down to earth and really no different than most Appalachians. So I was happy to have him as my tour guide, and we enjoyed bouncing story ideas off each other. If there is anything a writer loves, it’s having another writer to talk literary shop with. He regaled me with accounts about the area’s colorful history and even deadpanned for the camera, striking a similar pose to one I took while holding my first book.

That wasn’t as good as it got, either. The New Mexico sunsets I captured with my iPhone were absolutely, hands down, among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. A Facebook friend wrote, telling me that the locals say, “the sky is on fire.” And so it was – every single night. If you’ve never been there, you really don’t know what you’re missing. (You can still make this year’s event, which lasts through Oct. 9.)

I didn’t plan to stay in Cochiti as long as I did, but after learning that the largest balloon festival in the world was slated to begin in a few days, I hung around. I hit the road at 4 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, making it to the fairgrounds just in time for the 7 a.m. mass ascension. Where 550 balloons took to flight, providing a view of the sky unlike any other.

My trusty little iPhone captured some great photos, but I only wish I’d known about the Canon booth before my morning began. The company will loan you any number of its high-powered 35mm cameras, for free, and all you need is an SD card, which lets you take away as professional a photo as you’re capable of shooting.

Hot air balloons have a longstanding legacy in my life: I read Around the World in Eighty Days as a child, rode in one as a passenger in 1988 as a green news reporter, and again a year later, at the Mountaineer Balloon Festival, and then finally, in 2002, I got married in one. In Las Vegas. So for decades, I have dreamed of seeing the Albuquerque International Balloon Feista. It was all I ever thought it would be. And more. I snapped photos of colorful silks covering the ground, of balloons in various phases of inflation, and of people watching the giant spheres as they magically floated up, up, and away. (For many more photos, check out my Facebook page and group.)

And next time I go – after experiencing this year’s festivities, how could there not be a next time? – I will be shooting with a 35mm.

Although this journey has come to its end, my last day on the road was simply amazing. I hope you’ll join me next time, as I travel from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monterey, California. And to all points in-between.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at 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!

Day 32: Stopping to Smell the Roses

I’m nearing the end of my long, literary journey, having driven more than 2,500 miles to date, from West Virginia to Arizona, and complete strangers have turned into new friends, as I stop and smell the roses – both literally and figuratively. The roses, you see, are the people I meet along the way. Each one unique, with his own fragrance or other gift of beauty.

Like Mandy (not her real name), a single mother of three who did what I did when her children were in danger: she took them and ran. But to do this, Mandy had to give up an excellent job. Although she’s since found another one in Pascagoula, Mississippi, her situation isn’t ideal. And her take-home pay isn’t enough to live on. So she and her brood currently live in a shelter. Not ideal circumstances. Not by a long shot. This woman is not only lovely inside and out, she is kind and smart and clearly a good parent. I met her when I stopped for the night in Mississippi. Even though she was at work, she didn’t have a babysitter so her children were with her. Undeterred and determined to provide for them, she went about her duties while they looked after themselves, until the middle child came up and politely interrupted us.

“I need a time out,” he said, after admitting what he’d done to one of his siblings.

I believe you can tell a large measure about a parent by her child, and that blew me away. How many children honestly admit their mistakes – and ask for discipline? I observed Mandy’s kids while they were there and found them to be quiet, well-behaved and very respectful. Clearly their mother has done a remarkable job. In fact, other guests were enjoying their company, too. Immensely.

But I was taken back in time to 1988, when I covered my first homeless story. Then, a woman and her daughter were living in the mother’s car, after also escaping an abusive relationship. It dawned on me then how dangerous it is for homeless children, whose parents may have to leave them inside a vehicle while they go on job interviews, or who are trapped inside a shelter and often targeted by homeless predators. Those dangers are above and beyond the daily psychological and emotional stressors, of not having your own home to go to. Of not having a routine, or a safe place where you can simply be yourself.

That first story taught me something, so since then I’ve given away my leftover (and utterly too large) restaurant portions to the homeless, and tried to help them in other ways. I know that the biggest percentage of homeless people are themselves either runaways, military vets, or mentally ill. Some of these folks also have addiction issues, often self-medicating to try and relieve their pain. This is yet another danger for the children exposed to these problems.

I’ve also been homeless myself, for a couple of brief moments in my life, but never to the point where I had to rely on a public agency for temporary housing. I was fortunate, because friends and family came to my aid. Mandy? Not so much. Like many women who protect their children when abuse comes into play, her family turned its back on her. Thought she was crazy to go to such lengths to keep her little ones safe.

There is a very long waiting list for Section 8 housing, which is all Mandy can afford, so I’d like to ask for anyone reading this who knows someone in the Pasmagoula area to reach out and help me find Mandy and her children a nice, safe home. So they don’t have to continue living in a shelter, which is not conducive to safety or good health – especially for little ones. You can contact me directly, using Facebook or Twitter or my contact info.

I believe people naturally want to help others. They just have to know when a need exists, and what they can do to help. I believe no one wants to let a hard-working mother like Mandy and her three little ones live in a shelter, so let’s help them.

We can do this!

Note: The photos accompanying this blog were taken on the road, at coffee shops or rest stops, or simply (and safely) while in traffic. Next time, I’ll share some of the stories – and more beautiful scenery, captured with my iPhone – during my visit to the Cochiti Reservation and Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you’d like to guess where I’m going next, and why, I’m hosting a contest at my Facebook group page.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at 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!

The Florida Keys: Six Days in Paradise

My literary journey is taking on a life of its own, as I discovered that this trip is really about the writing. I’m on a quest for a story, of which I don’t know the topic or the title.

And as I drive these highways and byways, grieving upon hearing news about the shootings of more black men, the New Jersey bomber, and the upcoming 75th Annual Preston County Buckwheat Festival, which I’ll miss, I’ve found that Florida is one big state, with many more miles to traverse than I ever knew. After a few days in Pompano, I headed further south to someplace I’d only ever dreamed of – the Florida Keys. A fan, who became a friend, arranged for my lodging at Trumbo Point. What a treat! My stay gave me pause, as I thought about all those nearby military pilots and my father, himself a Navy man, as I gazed out the window from my room with an amazing view.

Unfortunately, my visit to Key West coincided with a massive motorcycle event, so the drive down, made mostly on a two-lane road, was slow going. So it took every bit of four hours to make, having started in Pompano. But it was also soothing and peaceful, with 360-degree views of the water. Plus, I found the most delicious Cuban café, where I ate shredded beef, rice and beans, and fried plantains for lunch. Once I reached Key West, the traffic was quite congested. And sometimes too loud. Still, it wasn’t that bad, and I was simply grateful to be able to snap hundreds of photos of some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I have ever seen.

During my three days in Key West, I was on the hunt: for the homes of great writers, the perfect keepsake, and the best (tart!) key lime pie, which I found after sampling the Key-inspired pie at three places. All of which offered slices sweeter than I cared for. I finally found the one for me, at Key Lime Bakery. By the time I left the last key in a long chain of islands, I came away thinking I might one day move there, like Judy Blume. (Whom, sadly, I didn’t meet.)

The Earnest Hemingway House provided one of the more interesting (and hottest) afternoons. There, I learned more than I’ve ever known about the man, the writer, his many wives – and his cats. I was as interested in the felines as the man, because my favorite childhood pet was a grey polydactyl cat named Big Foot. But ironically, I found that Hemingway and I have something in common: the tour guide told us the author of Old Man and the Sea, among dozens of other poems, short stories, and books, didn’t like the fact that it took Hollywood for his writing to bring any kind of financial success.

I was disappointed to leave Key West, just two by four miles in size, but knowing I was stopping in Key Largo made my parting less painful. There, I interviewed Chuck Kinder and Diane Cecily for an article I’m working on. Kinder’s coming-of-age story about Jimbo Stark, The Silver Ghost, was just released in paperback – 37 years after it first came out in hardback. Needless to say, the retired Pitt professor is ecstatic about this new development.

To say that meeting Kinder was the highlight of my trip is an understatement. Hearing his thoughts about the writing process was icing on an already very rich and fattening cake. But seeing his devotion to Cecily, and hers for him, was priceless. And now, I feel like I have made new friends for life.

Next time . . . more points, and people, as I turn my little car west.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at 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: Ms. 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.”

Where the Open Road Leads Me

I haven’t quite gotten the hang of writing from the open road. You would think it would be so easy: just walk into your hotel room, open your laptop, and begin writing, right? Not so much. At least, not for me. I’ve struggled to find a balance between driving, interacting with people I meet up with, or on, my trip, and writing regularly. Hopefully, I’ll get into a regular rhythm soon. Until then, here are a few more nuggets from my journey.

In early September, I drove from West Virginia to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, my only companion an audiobook. The Lineup, edited by Otto Penzler, was the perfect read for a crime writer. Listening to accounts about other crime writers, like Alexander McCall Smith and Michael Connelly, I found tons of inspiration for my own work. Plus, it helped pass the hours spent behind the wheel.

After Myrtle Beach, the open road took me even further south, so I stopped in Savannah, Georgia, for a night. After wandering around in the intense heat and humidity the next day, all day, my energy was sapped and I didn’t make it to Pompano Beach, Florida, like I planned. Instead, I stopped for the night at a Wyndham hotel in St. Augustine, Florida. (Where a roach marched across my nightstand table as I was climbing into bed, while the lights were still on. Talk about setting the scene for a poor night’s sleep.)

The next day, after calling Israel (a fun first!) to conduct an interview for a feature article I’d been assigned, I complained to management, was given a $20 discount, and continued driving south on I-95. Munching on boiled peanuts and Cajun-coated pecans along the way, I went straight to the beach when I arrived in Pompano. It was 360-degrees of brilliant sunshine.

As the waves rolled in and back out again, I thought about some of the folks I’d met on my journey. Like Atlanta, who has worked at an ice cream parlor since she was 13. She’s 21 now, but still loves her job. Already a hard-working employee, one day she will be a successful business owner. Wait and see.

I thought, too, about those people I’d only seen in passing, like the fellow who was taking his children to a sports game over the weekend. We chatted only briefly at a coffee shop, after I commented on his shirt. He let me take a photo, which is shown here. Its message is something every parent can relate to.

Then there was the Florida Highway Patrol officer who blocked traffic with his police cruiser, crossing three of five lanes to toss two huge bags of what looked like clothes or bedding, obviously fallen from a vehicle, over the guardrail. He did that to help protect us from harm. From what could have been a very serious, multiple-vehicle pileup.

He and other emergency workers – police, fire, and rescue – provide a crucial service. In one way or another, they keep the peace. Protect us from anarchy. Even from death. In these turbulent times, we need to remember that the majority of police officers are decent humans, just like us. Who hate the actions of their incompetent and corrupt colleagues – who give the good guys a black eye – even more than we do.

I was reminded of this when I returned to Pompano and the apartment where, last March, I wrote about one such good, even great, police officer. That book, while a love story, also provides a powerful example of the fine work done by such men and women in blue. If all cops were like him, there would be no national news coverage of police shootings like the most recent ones in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina. In fact, if every police agency in America would model their teams after him, that coverage would drop dramatically.

If you’d like to read more about my trip of a lifetime, including my foray into the Florida Keys, where I visited Hemingway House and met many other amazing, gracious people, please tune in next time.

* * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at 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: Ms. 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.”

Destination South: My Long and Winding Literary Trek

I’m on a long and windy literary tour, which, thanks to Hurricane Hermine, has already featured one unexpected detour. While not taking Route 66, which is what I once planned to do, years ago, I am stopping to smell the roses where I can, meeting and writing about people who inspire me along the way. Yes, this is another trip altogether. An entirely different journey.

It felt as hot and muggy in Morgantown, W.Va., (when I hit the road August 31) as it does now in southern Florida, where I arrived Saturday night. Having just returned from a 7 a.m. walk on the beach, I can tell you the air hangs heavy around me, as warm and wet as tepid bath water.

My first stop when leaving my beloved Almost Heaven was Coonskin Drive in Charleston, where my cousin and I made an exchange: her books, which she loaned me, for my pearl earrings, which I forgot at her place in July. My window was open as she reached inside to hand me a tiny package. “Since I wrapped them in tin foil, we don’t want anyone to think we’re doing a drug deal,” she said as we both laughed. (In southern West Virginia, drugs are no laughing matter. Just ask state officials, who sued big pharma for piping the deadly opioids into the state.)

My first week on the road included a five-year overdue stop in Raleigh, N.C., to see friends I met in 2005, who have since become family. There, I heard the most fascinating stories about 1940s North Carolina, when segregation was still a way of life, as a young black woman from the North tried to acclimate to the South, after moving there to live with her husband’s sharecropper family.

My next stopover was in Myrtle Beach, S.C., to visit a friend whose husband is very ill. I landed just ahead of Hermine, which had, by then, been downgraded to a tropical storm. We watched as the rain and wind blew in, and pools of water rose high enough for neighbor children to frolic in. While there, I was again reminded how no one can advocate for your health and welfare better than a family member. And in today’s medical minefield, they must — or risk the consequences of wrong diagnoses and other serious mistakes.

Seeing a fisherman try to reel in a stingray, only to cut the line after a lengthy battle with the giant creature so it could escape, was the highlight of my time there. Next to seeing my dear friends and chatting over ice cream cones while walking along the beach.

After a small mishap involving melted coconut oil that leaked all over my toiletries (Does anyone remember my 2009 honey-in-my-suitcase incident?), and two broken nails – one on my foot, another on my hand – I left Myrtle Beach later than planned, arriving in Charleston, S.C., Wednesday afternoon. There, I stopped to see the DuBose Heyward House, which is on the National Historic Register. Heyward wrote Porgy, the novel that later inspired George Gershwin to create Porgy and Bess, the opera. (I have yet to see it, but it is definitely on my bucket list.)

I took another detour to drive through Botany Bay, a wildlife preserve which features live oak trees lined up along the lane leading to it, stationed like bowing butlers facing. I hadn’t eaten since morning, so I drove east a few more miles, stopping at the edge of the ocean at Edisto Beach. There, I had a meal at a little place where the décor was bright and cheery, and reminded me of my sister, Lisa, who would have turned 50 that day, but for the drugs that ravaged her world.

Because I didn’t make Savannah, Ga., until 7 p.m., I missed seeing Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home. Instead, I stepped through a triple-hung window and onto the balcony, fully enjoying my “room with a view,” as day turned to dusk. Thursday morning, I took a tour of the splendid old city, and did so in a pair of slacks, a loosely woven blouse over my tank top. By 10 a.m., I had shed the blouse. By noon, I shed my pants, after buying – and donning – a sundress. Still, the temperatures were sweltering, and I was reminded of the scene from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, where Vivi Abbott Walker and her friends try to cool off in a convertible one sweltering summer night.

Looking at the gardens from my room with a view in Savannah, Georgia.

I had so much fun walking around the shops and watching the people, and winding my way down (and then back up again, nimble as a billy goat with my new knees) some very steep stairs to River Street, that I barely made the last O’Connor house tour of the day. And that would have been a shame, for there I learned that Mary Flannery and I have in common a book that surely helped formed her into the writer she became, and possibly did me, as well. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which the tour guide said Flannery performed as live readings for her friends in her bathroom as a little girl. (I also love peacocks, although I’ve never raised them, as she did.) I could not leave without purchasing a copy of the book whose title made such an impact on me as a short story, A Good Man is Hard to Find. It is sad that she died so young of lupus, but what an incredible wealth of written works she left behind.

Next time, please join me as I make my way to other points south, as this literary trek continues.

Flannery O’Connor childhood home

The bathroom where Mary Flannery entertained her friends as a little girl; “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” is in the background.

The mantle in Mary Flannery’s bedroom features family photos.

My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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) and Pretty Little Killers , released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18, 2014, issue of People Magazine.

You can find these books either online or in print at a bookstore near you, at 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: Ms. 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.”

USPS Gives New Meaning to “Gone Postal”

I am currently without address. Unlike people who are without country, however, it isn’t that I don’t have one. I do. It’s just that the United States Postal Service and I can’t agree on where that is.

The problem began in February, while I was in Florida on book tour. I quickly found it wasn’t cheap or efficient to have someone pick up my mail and forward it to me. So I drove to the local Pompano Beach Post Office and filled out a form for mail to be temporarily forwarded there. By late March, I still hadn’t received a single piece of mail. Even the medical records my doctor tried to send me directly were returned. The envelope carried a stamp reminiscent of an Elvis Presley song: “Not at this address. Return to sender.”

Apparently, according to the USPS, I wasn’t in Florida. (I have no idea where they thought I was, given my umpteen trips to the post office to try and find out why I wasn’t getting any mail.) I knew then another trip to the post office was in order. Once there, a manager suggested I fill out yet another forwarding form. So I did.

By the time April wound down and I returned home, I still had not received one piece of mail. After arriving back in the Mountain State, I drove to my local Morgantown Post Office. That’s where I learned that none of my mail had been forwarded. It was all waiting for me right there. As it turns out, if your personal address doubles for that of a business, which mine does, the USPS won’t forward any mail.

It would have been really nice if someone in Pompano had told me that in March. That day I put in a quick call to the manager who had been helping me, and asked her to make sure that any and all forwarding orders had been stopped. After about fifteen minutes on hold, she returned to the phone and told me she herself had rescinded the forwarding order. Life was good. Or so I thought.

Apparently not. Because when I went to pay my box rent recently, I discovered that the box was closed—because in its infinite wisdom, the USPS decided I was living in Florida. So, effective July 29, two days before my one-year rental expired—someone decided to forward both my personal and business mail to Pompano.

I tried to file an online complaint with the USPS, but, as has happened again and again these past six months, they rejected it. Repeatedly. I don’t know if there’s a conflict between their site and my Mac, or my Safari browser or the ISP, but whatever glitch occurred ultimately led me to pick up the phone and dial 800-275-8777. I reached a USPS customer service rep, who told me to give them two days to fix the problem. And hopefully return my mail here. Wherever “here” is.

If that doesn’t happen, I guess my mail will just have to sit on the beach sipping mojitos, and wait for me to come and collect it.

* * * *
My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, a love story and the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir was released May 7. 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. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s 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: Ms. 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.”