Thinking of a World War II Veteran

As we near Memorial Day, I am thinking of my friend Barney Sneed, who went to World War II, as an eighteen-year-old from Oregon. As one of General Patton’s foot soldiers, Barney walked through Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany.  
Barney died last year at the age of 97, a spry, fit man until his last few days. 

Although he was somewhat reluctant to talk about his wartime experiences, he did tell me stories about that time—and of his sadness when his friend was killed at the end of the war. Barney and his friend sported identical mustaches, with plans for a grand “shave them off” celebration when they returned home to Oregon. In memory of his friend, Barney wore a mustache for the rest of his life.  

Several years ago on Memorial Day, when I was still living in Kansas, I wrote Barney a letter, thanking him for his service. He called me when the letter arrived to say that no one had ever thanked him for his wartime service. When I moved permanently to Oregon, I was blessed to have Barney as a dear friend.  

So, my very dear Barney—and all the men and women who have served in the military, past and present—I offer my heartfelt thanks on this day of remembrance.

Coquille Point

The Pacific Ocean off the southern Oregon Coast is a splendid tapestry of colors, shapes and hues, endlessly changing. I took this photo off Coquille Point in Bandon on a rain-washed day when the sky was as purple as mulberries. A lone beach walker is enjoying the low tide. The air teems with mystery at this time of evening, an inspiration to a writer.


"Winding Sheet" Ancestor

The rather stern fellow on the back cover of A Winding Sheet is a distant relative in a painting that hangs on the wall in my library. When I was a child, I spotted the badly mildewed and torn painting in the attic of my great-aunts. They told me that the man was a “distant relative,” and the painting had come from Atlanta, Georgia, to Gainesville, Texas, with my great-grandfather.

Years later, my mother gave me the painting, and I had it restored. A flinty stare from a disapproving face emerged from dark mildew and with him an imaginary history. He might have been Octavius Wolfe, my heroine’s twisted great-grandfather. He is not, of course, but he wants to tell a story; no one is alive today who could remember his own story, so I put him in mine. Mea culpa.

My gifted cover artist, Debbie O’Byrne of, who has designed all the covers for my novels, sent me several cover options. The painting didn’t seem to work well on the cover, so she put it on the back of the cover. Here is a cover with him on the back.

Beachcombing for Agates


For three glorious days in late April, my nieces from the Bay Area visited me on the Oregon Coast. The temperature climbed to an unusually balmy 75; the wind retreated back to the North Pole; and, the ocean threw up hordes of agates

Searching for agates (no commercial value) has become a passion. The tiny, clear, amber ones are like tears from the sea. The larger, coated agates hide their beauty until my flashlight reveals their trapped sunlight.

I like to imagine the agates, hidden in the Coquille River’s banks, nestled there for a millennium until the winter storms wash them into the Pacific where they are splendidly polished.

When I pick up an agate, I think of the ancient volcanic lava that formed these lovely stones millennia in the past—and prize the fact that my hands are the first to touch that particular treasure.

What Wondrous Love

Like one of Walpole’s heroes of serendipity, while at the Nashville Southern Festival of Books, I happened upon the unexpected. I wandered into a session about folk music by the authors of Wayfaring Strangers. One of the songs they chose to illustrate about how music travels with immigrants was the old hymn, “What Wondrous Love.”

When I was a teenager, I found a letter in our old family Bible dated 1840 from an ancestor about her sister’s death in Dardanelle, Arkansas. The dying woman made a last request: “Bring my neighbors to my bedside and ask them to sing my favorite hymn, "What Wondrous Love," around my bed as I leave this world.” According to the sister, the neighbors came, sang, and her sister died peacefully.

My ancestor’s request in faded ink haunted me until I found the old song. (Not an easy task before the Internet.) What a delight to hear a Scottish singer, backed by a fiddle, singing “What Wondrous Love” at the book festival.

The 27th Southern Festival of Books in Nashville

Nashville’s celebration of the written word, October 9–11, 2015, left me almost speechless. With many concurrent sessions running through the three-day festival, both writers and readers could be easily overwhelmed by the options: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, and Southern cooking.

At first, I focused on sessions featuring novelists, but I was led astray by a delightful presentation with music: “Wayfaring Strangers: The Musical Voyage from Scotland and Ulster to Appalachia.” Just being able to wander from room to room hearing writers talk about the writing process was such a treat.

Some recurrent themes struck me as memorable: the importance of writing by hand, not just on a computer; letting characters, not plot, move the novel forward, and rewriting until a sentence glitters on the page.

The ambiance of Nashville defies description. Music fills the air, and the sense of a treasured history is everywhere. Best of all, I experienced the Southern Festival of Books with long-time friends who live in Nashville. What great and good fortune!