Wednesday, July 16, 2014

"Motorcycle," A #YA Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Dad, I’d like to buy a motorcycle. OK?”

“Over my dead body, Rick. Better my dead body than yours.”


“Let me tell you a story. Your Uncle Chris had a best friend in college, Bert. Funny guy, nice guy. Our family loved him, and Chris did, too. They kept in touch after college, later saw each other only rarely because they lived far apart.

“While Uncle Chris was in graduate school, he got the shocking news that Bert and Bert’s girlfriend were killed riding a motorcycle. A truck stopped suddenly right ahead of them, and when Bert braked, the motorcycle skidded, sliding under the truck rear, with the riders running into the back of the truck, killing them instantly.”

“That’s terrible!”

“It has been about thirty years since it happened, and Chris still thinks of it, still is saddened by it. Bert’s family was devastated, as were his girlfriend’s relatives. Death of your child, your spouse, your best friend– these are shocks you never fully get over.”

“I’d be careful.”

“Careful is not enough. With only two wheels for control and guidance, you are in trouble if even only one of them hits a pothole or a large bump or a greasy patch, which may have happened in Bert’s case. I know from riding a bicycle that having one of the wheels rub against a ridge is enough to cause a spill.”

“True. That’s happened to me.”

“As an EMT, I have gotten called to some of these accidents. Even with helmets on, motorcyclists are easily injured in incidents that a car’s passengers would walk away from unharmed. Hospital wards for paraplegics and quadriplegics are populated largely by war veterans and ex-motorcyclists. I will not allow you to get a motorcycle, and that is final.”

That put an end to the motorcycle discussion.

Many things are exciting because they are dangerous. The following year, at Rick’s graduation, there was a short memorial speech and a moment of silence for two of his classmates who were killed, not in a motorcycle accident, but in a car crash.

The old saying that applies? “Better safe than sorry.” Or perhaps a new one, “Four wheels are better than two.”


One of our fifty such instructive short stories for young readers.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review of Memoir HIGH TIDE


Bill Searcy has thrown it all away. Almost. His memoir– HIGH TIDE: A Story of Football, Freefall, and Forgiveness– tells of Searcey’s going from being a fractious fatty in middle school to an all-American high school football star of prodigious size and strength and a first-string player on Coach Bear Bryant’s national championship University of Alabama [Crimson Tide] gridiron teams. He missed starting some games because of troubles he caused due to late-night partying, booze, babes, and cocaine. These four horsemen of his own apocalypse bedeviled him for decades, costing him a pro ball career and his marriage, leaving him sleeping in his car and desperately trying to score drugs to get high and to suppress pain and depression…the period of freefall.

Four decades after his college days, “for the first time in what seems like an eternity, I have my own place, a basement apartment in Birmingham. At this writing, I drive a truck and sweep parking lots for $85 a night.”

What saved him from death on the streets were the efforts of religious social workers, who took him in, helped him understand and overcome his obsession with drugs, and gave him an outlet to channel what he learned from his experience into helping others overcome their addictions. What brought him from being a four-hundred-plus-pound giant to a man who could shop for normal-size clothes was a six-month reality-TV endeavor at Hilton Head, NC, where his days, and especially his meals, were scripted and supervised.

The book is well-written, with the help of Kelly Wittmann. The people are interesting, the descriptions evocative, Searcey’s story touching, even as he makes it clear he did it to himself. To those given much, much is expected. He was given intelligence, athletic ability, and the willingness/determination to endure the incredible training regimens required of world-class athletes. His hard work was almost undone by his addictions. He credits God and those who led him to God for a life now worth living.

Searcey’s dedication is revealing: “For my son Woody– the best son a dad could hope for. Though I love you more than words could ever say, I at least hope this book will keep you headed in the right direction and off the path I was once taking.”

Others tempted to pursue “better living through chemistry” by getting high should heed the lessons of this memoir.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review of Novel THE HARD SWIM


Novelist Keith Dixon’s leading man, Sam Dyke, is smart, tough, likable a detective with a heart and with scruples, living with his formerly estranged son and his own most recent girlfriend.

Dropping in on an international conference of translators, to serve one of them with a subpoena, Sam Dyke meets the lovely and mysterious Chantal Bressette, who has brought with her a cryptic World War II diary partially written in code by a former French Resistance fighter. She hopes to find a translator. Instead, she finds trouble. Just in time, Dyke subdues sinister Connell Steele, a hit man whose stream-of-consciousness comment opens the novel: he “had wanted to take her with him, but now he would have to kill her.” Unfortunately, Steele is not acting alone; he has lots of back-up help. Quickly the chase is on.

Through Britain and, near the end, deep into rural France, Sam and Chantal are pursued by the hired thugs of British political big-wig Gideon Blake, who is desperate to gain possession of the diary, fearing the contents will subject the Blake family, and thus him, to public humiliation and the loss of an near-certain, coveted political promotion.

There is a bit of rocky romance: Sam and Chantal’s warming up causes Sam’s current consort a corresponding cooling.

Throughout we are given strategic and tactical analysis, ethical deliberating, and believable hand-to-hand action. What’s not to like?

This is the third in this Sam Dyke series by Keith Dixon. I can hardly wait to read the first two, ALTERED LIFE and THE BLEAK, both of which I have obtained for my Kindle.

Friday, July 4, 2014


Good News / Bad News about Marriage

You probably have read that about half of marriages in America end in divorce, as do half of second marriages. Such discouraging statistics are mistakenly high, as Harvard-trained social scientist and best-selling author Shaunti Feldhahn demonstrates in her recent book, The Good News about Marriage.

The continuing controversy over legitimizing same-sex marriages shows that many Americans– on both sides of that issue– still view marriage as an important institution, more important than our shockingly high out-of-wedlock birth statistics might indicate. Rates matter. The higher the divorce rate, the less special the tradition of marriage, as compared with simply “shacking up,” and perhaps the less it makes sense to try to support marriage.

Feldhahn and her research associate, Tally Whitehead, analyzed many studies that attempted to determine the fraction of first marriages that end in divorce and the fraction of subsequent marriages that do likewise. Getting this right is a statistical challenge, akin to the medical specialty of epidemiology.

Simple approaches are often wrong. Imagine trying to determine your probability of dying eventually (=1.00) by comparing the number of births per year versus the number of deaths per year. A young population will have more marriages (and births) per year than divorces (and deaths) and the reverse will be true for an elderly population. Separations and second marriages complicate the marital statistics further.

Correctly estimating the fraction that fail is important, however. A large likelihood of divorce makes marriage less attractive and makes those in shaky marriages more likely to give up than try to save the union. Feldhahn and Whitehead argue persuasively that only about one-fourth of all first marriages end in divorce as do about one-third of second marriages, results more encouraging than the one-half fraction often cited.

These researchers encouragingly note: “In multiple surveys, 91 to 97 percent of respondents say their marriages are happy….In another poll, 93 percent said they would marry their spouse all over again….Most marriage problems are not caused by big-ticket issues, and simple changes can make a big difference.” Even in troubled marriages, almost all the spouses involved claimed to care about their partner’s well-being. “…in 82 percent of struggling couples, one partner is simply unaware of the other spouse’s unhappiness,” a problem much easier to solve than “addressing major systemic issues, such as addiction….”

The book is well written and a treasure trove of valuable information on the topic. Readers interested in the details will want to refer to the book, which includes 134 footnotes, most with references, and several tabulations.

Professionals interest in the health of the institution of marriage will find much to encourage them here. A case is made, as well, for the value of religious belief and observance in strengthening marriage and reducing divorce. More material on achieving successful relationships and marriages written by Ms. Feldhahn is advertised at the end.

On the other hand, even if only one-quarter of first marriages fail, this is a shame. Worse, though not within the book‘s purview, is that the rate of out-of-wedlock births has skyrocketed over the past few decades. Perhaps these researchers will address this next. I would buy that book, too.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review of GENEVIEVE: Based on a True Story...

This is an inspiring novelistic treatment of the biography of a remarkable woman who triumphed over her disabling multiple sclerosis. Written by one of her daughters, Mary Laurienti, and one of her grandsons, Jerry Laurienti, it tells of the life-long struggle of a gallant, usually cheerful even playful, woman whose motto was, “Mrs. Can’t Never Tried,” exemplifying to all who knew her what it means to show grace under pressure, through her courageous persistence despite pain and disability. Readers will be impressed and inspired.

Multiple sclerosis [M.S.] strikes about one in a thousand in the USA, twice as many women as men [suggesting a connection to the X chromosome]. This auto-immune malfunction ranges in severity from occasional annoyances to full-fledged quadriplegia, the condition my own wife has endured these past ten years. On the average it shortens life an estimated half-dozen years. The most common type, the relapsing-remitting version that Genevieve battled, can cause its victims to become bedridden, but often they can recover partly over months or years, as she did. As we get older, we are more and more likely to know someone with multiple sclerosis, although a minority choose to hide it, rather than risk adverse consequences in the workplace.

The marriage of this heroine and her husband survives the stress of her severe disability and of separation due to his difficulties finding work during the Depression and World War II. Genevieve’s determination to preserve their union is matched by Martin’s, and the novelists make clear that he is much to be admired, too. Without her extended family’s help, particularly the care of Genevieve and of the children, her survival and flourishing would have been nearly impossible.

Actual writings of the people on whom the story is based are included and the authors add an epilogue telling the reader how several main “characters” fared after the period covered by the book. The novel format allowed use of descriptions and dialogue that could not reliably be claimed to have been remembered.

Interesting, informative, inspiring, this story is well worth reading. The authors deserve our thanks for this tribute to an extraordinary woman and her fine family.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review of Phil Truman's Novel GAME

Grit, Guts and Glory on Gridiron

Good guys sometimes win.

You don’t have to love football to love this book, but you probably need to like football and slice-of-life descriptions of small town living.

I greatly enjoyed Phil Truman’s novel, having myself played some high school football for a small town in New York a decade before the period covered by GAME, the seventies, but thousands of miles from the Oklahoma home of the high school team coached by the protagonist, Donny Doyle, ex-Marine, and former college football star.

They take football mighty seriously out West, but some of their other social attitudes were rather benighted. Recruiting three highly talented non-Caucasian players helped take the team toward the top, while winning mixed reviews from the home folks and derision from their opponents.

Whether the trio will be enough to help Coach Doyle’s beat their arch-rivals will depend on their injuries and on the attitude of a mountainous black defensive tackle with a bad attitude.

With many interesting, often attractive, characters and a persuasive depiction of small-town life, this novel could pass as a memoir. It is dedicated to two fellow members of Truman’s high school football organization who lost their lives in combat, and it ends with an epilogue that follows the most important characters through the rest of their lives’ stories.

I loved it. It even explained to me how the quarterback we had my senior year just joined our school for that one semester, something that had puzzled this naïve teammate of his until now.



Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fire Drill? --- a Middlegrade Short Story

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

The fire alarms sounded at Tess’s middle school.

The Principal’s voice came over the public address system, “This is a drill. All students and staff will evacuate the building as though there were a fire. There is not a fire. Repeat, all students and staff will evacuate the building immediately.”

When they left the school building, they found the school buses in place, and the Principal directed the students to go into the buses they usually used, with those students who walk to and from school to go to whatever buses had extra room. This was unlike any fire drill they had ever had. It was a bit disorderly and even more puzzling.

Soon, fire engines and police cars came to the school. These first-responders entered the building cautiously, accompanied by two large dogs. Again, this was different from any prior fire drill.

On the buses, the students were talking excitedly.

“Why are we waiting so long to go back into the building?”

“Why are the police here?”

“What are the dogs for?”

Tess thought she knew. “I bet it’s a bomb.”

That caused excitement. Soon all the kids were saying it was probably a bomb. They were glad to be safe on the buses.

After about half an hour, the police and firemen and the two dogs left the school building, and the students were allowed back.

When Tess got home, she told her brothers, Rick and Tim, and her mother about what had happened at school and waited eagerly to ask her father about it.

Mr. Williams arrived just before dinner. A fireman and emergency medical technician [EMT] with friends on the police force, he would be expected to know what had happened.

He told Tess and Tim and Eric and Mrs. Williams, “Around one this afternoon, the school got a call from someone claiming he had hidden a bomb there. The voice was young, so it was likely to be a prank, but the Principal did not want to take any chances and decided to have the school emptied out so the police and firemen and the bomb-sniffing dogs could check out the building. When nothing was found, everyone was allowed back in.”

Mrs. Williams, a teacher at the school, added, “We were told it was a drill, and that there was no fire. We were made to think it was a fire drill, but later it was clear it was not. The next time they announce a drill, some are going to think it is another bomb or bomb threat.”

“Yes, calling it a drill, making it seem like a fire drill, kept everyone calm, but the next time, who knows? I think ‘honesty is the best policy,’ as the saying goes, but I understand why the Principal chose to do what she did.”


One of a series of fifty instructional short stories for young students.