November 2023 Story Sparks

It came as a blow to them. It came to me as a gift.

It was our first year on the ranch and funds were scarce and so were jobs when you live seven miles from your mailbox and 11 miles from a paved road.  But we’d made the bed we found a bit lumpy just then.  For them, the decision was a disaster not of their choosing. That we intersected for three months that summer in the 1980s helped me understand the true meaning of being a veteran.  But I’m ahead of myself.

An aluminum plant in the Columbia Gorge had closed. The (mostly) men who worked there were out of a job many had had for 15 years or more, straight out of high school.  It paid well and they could support their families and still have time and money for toys: snowmobiles, boats, motorcycles, travel trailers. There’d been threats of closures in the past but this one was real. The plant was perhaps the largest employer in the gorge area and its shut-down affected families up and down the Columbia River in two states.

The company paid for some transition resources to help these (mostly) men find jobs or go to school. One of the resources was a week-long class where they’d be videotaped in a mock interview with debriefing; have a resume they could present; identify their work and personal strengths; and experience classes on anger management, grief, stress and change.  The classes would be limited to 20 attendees per week. The community college provided the curriculum and contracted the instructors. All the classes were held in Goldendale, Washington (50 miles from our ranch).

Enter me! And the neighbor down the gravel road who, if you read Homestead,  was known as “The Renter” where the Dirty Dozen escaped calves were trapped on Christmas Eve while back at our ranch, our daughter-in-law went into labor. Early. Quite a day and that day we met the renter, Evan, who was a gifted photographer, had grown up in Cameroon (his parents were missionaries) and who like me, was looking for work. We were hired to present the curriculum to these mostly angry, upset, grieving men.

There were laughs and even tears in our 8 hours a day together. I learned so much! About aluminum (they loved being the teachers) and about the role of work in people’s lives. Many knew they’d never be able to earn the wages that had been paid during their years working there. For some of the men, they saw this forced layoff as an opportunity to go to school, start a business they’d dreamed about but thought it was too risky. But now, forced to make a change, were willing to walk through another door. It was our hope to encourage each attendee to see the possibilities and identify what they had control over at a time when much seemed out of their control.

People were at different sites along the grieving trail and one man challenged we instructors to make him happy. It was an opportunity for us to explore how happiness was our own responsibility and didn’t belong to another. (By the Thursday of that week he asked if he could bring his wife and adult child to the discussion on change).

One of our tasks was to help them prepare resumes so they could look for other work. Here’s where I was truly schooled. We listened carefully to their stories to see the skills that they had beyond the aluminum world. Some worked on the emergency team, for example, and with a little encouragement, began to identify skills it took to be effective with such a group and that those skills were transferrable to other settings and occupations. Decision-making. Ability to work in a team. Reliability. Trustworthiness. Bravery at times. It was hard work in a hot setting and they had done it for years.

“So should I put down that I served in Viet Nam?”  This was an early question about the resume build.

“Why wouldn’t you do that?” I asked.

“Because employers will think I was involved in drugs.”

“What?” I was stunned. “What do the rest of you think?”

To a man they all said they KNEW they’d been denied an interview at one time or another because they put their Viet Nam experience on the resume.  And that being a Viet Nam vet was nothing to be proud of.

It had never occurred to me that someone who had served their country would be ostracized and mistreated when they came back home.  I had family who had served in Viet Nam, World War II etc. Since then I’ve read, viewed films, listened to interviews that informed me that their return from Viet Nam was nothing like the return for WWII or Korea. Now I wonder about the return for Iraq and Afghanistan service men and women. All veterans deserve to be honored.

What did we decide in that summer of the 1980s? Remember, this was before the creation of the Viet Nam Memorial where since 2008 more than 60 million people have visited it to see the names of those veterans who never came home.  Some of the men decided to include their service with notations of the skills their service could bring to a job. Others decided to leave it off and be ready to talk about the inevitable question of “what were you doing during those years?”  We decided that not telling everything you know is not a lie on a resume — or in a memoir.

But I’ve never forgotten how naive I’d been and how much I came to appreciate veterans after those classes. Veterans Day now always reminds me of those hardworking (mostly) men. And I often wonder where they are and how their lives have changed. They certainly changed mine.  If you know a veteran this month, give them a call, send a card, let them know wherever they served, they did the work that was theirs to do and we are grateful. Even though this Sparks will come out after Veterans Day, every day can be made Veteran’s Day.


Ebook Deals

Last month my Florida story was an ebook prize. This month it’s the Change and Cherish series. Check out the graphic below to see which days offer a reduction for which title. Emma Giesy would be so happy to have you discover her Aurora Story.


Word Whisperings

Mrs Planksy’s Revenge by Spencer Quinn

A few years ago, we got a call from one of Jerry’s grandsons. He didn’t sound quite right but he explained that was because he’d been in an accident and his nose was broken. That was why he was calling, really, because he was in jail and needed $2500 and then it would all go away and once he was out he’d get the money back. We wanted to help! Of course! Things transpired. We got the money and sent the numbers of the cash cards to the number required. But then we got suspicious (a little late!). I called to get his case number at the courthouse in Atlanta and it didn’t exist. It didn’t make sense that he’d get the money back, either. And finally we called his dad (he hadn’t wanted us to do that, so embarrassed was he!) We got our grandson’s phone number and called him.  He was at work! I called the credit card company and they were able to stop the transfer. It took six weeks but we got a check back. We felt foolish even though we dodged a bullet with that scam. In this delightful novel, Mrs. Planksky’s Revenge, Mrs. Planksky finds herself in much worse shape but she — though newly widowed — has a plan.  Stephen King said  “I absolutely loved this book.”  There’s no horror in it! It made me laugh. It was a quick read but give yourself time to keep turning pages!


Natalie’s Update

The Healing of Natalie CurtisThe screenplay I’ve been working on for The Healing of Natalie Curtis has been read by an actual producer who made some small suggestions (like make George a little more manly. I gave him a knife to clean his fingernails. Besides, it seemed to me that a man who worked on a ranch in Houck, AZ, was kind, wrote poetry and put his life on hold to help his little sister heal, was quite manly. What do you think?) Anyway that producer and my film agent (who has become my collaborator) are meeting with investors the week of November 14th.  It’s a long shot, we know, but it’s still exciting. If you’re inclined my agent is asking for prayers that doors will open and that she can walk through with Natalie’s story.  Thank you. And if you were creating a more manly character, what would you have them do?



Three weeks before her due date, a great-niece prepared to arrive in a breach position. There was an emergency C-section, a rush to a NICU with mom not able to follow for two days; grandparents taking breast milk to baby hooked up to leads and monitors and needing help to breathe while dad hovered over her. Great news!  She’s at home, doing well and this will be a special year of Thanksgiving. Being grateful is actually brain-changing. When we take the time to be thankful in all seasons — both science and scripture tells us —we create new brain channels that makes us more positive and happier. So, find some daily gratitude time. It is the season and apparently, it always is!



In the local paper there were several ads for Advent Calendars. They had themes like Lego Advent and wine Advent Calendars.  They were expensive too. Looking closer I saw that that each day of Advent — the season of anticipation where Christians ponder the miracle of Jesus birth — offered something of the theme. The wine calendar was $139 and each day you got a bottle of wine!  I was..aghast at the creativity of marketing. But it was wasted on me. I’m hoping for reading a poem every day of Advent.  The Psalms and Mary Oliver are on my list. Contemplating miracles needs neither Legos nor wine.


Staying Alive

The novels I’m working on are set on the Oregon Coast in the community of Cannon Beach better known in1888 as Ecola. So I’m dreaming of birds and beaches.  Then, serendipitously, a friend sent me the following video. It’s 47 seconds long but it’s a delight. Here’s hoping you find small delights this November and express to those you love your gratitude for them. Especially a veteran. Do it on Thanksgiving. Or do it today,

Until next month —

Warmly, Jane

P.S. I often get requests from those wishing a book list of my titles. Incidentally, Wikipedia has some errors. Visit my Bibliography webpage for the real scoop.