Why I Write

What makes a person want to write?  That takes time, inspiration, research…..and “seat of the pants” work.  I have now completed six novels, the Briana Fraser series, and thought I’d share some of the “inspiration” part with you—in case you might want to write or wondered why I did.

My writing partner, Sharon Owen, writing as Sharon St. George, has penned a series, published by Camel Press, in part featuring Northern California medical facilities, eastern cities, and travel to the Azores, in search of the truth about an injured young man, then for a lost girl, and into a string of dangerous accidents, including a mysterious death. The titles so far: Due for Discard, Checked Out, Breach of Ethics, and Spine Damage.  She was careful to have characters with particular skills, employment abilities and difficulties, plus challenging relationships with each other, including a romance, making her novels realistic. I liked what she’d done with her website; I asked if I could “imitate” her site. She agreed.

As a voracious reader of mysteries, especially those placed in dangerous locales, I have written a series about an Ashland, Oregon bookstore employee and Shakespeare Festival volunteer, who reluctantly signs on to assist the U.S. government with “problems” in foreign nations. (The titles so far: “Argentine Assignment”, “Belize Barter”, “China Caper”, “Peru Paradox”, with “Mexican Marimbas” and “Russian Ruse” following in short order.)

My main “hero” characters aren’t saints, nor geniuses, but they love their country and take dangerous risks to complete “assignments” given to them by their government to help make a difference for that country. Even my anti-heroes, except in the Mexican novel, aren’t intrinsically evil, but they won’t win any cheers; maybe a bit of sad recognition or understanding.

Important to me was to develop novels that portrayed at least my vision of, respect for, and appreciation of the people of the countries in which I placed the action, including the problems the people of those countries face—poverty, power, anti-law attitudes, pride—even the religious goals of a group of nuns in Peru! Other action includes a bull fight, a contest that perhaps portrays human struggles to succeed in a dangerous world! (And I have spent considerable time in these countries.)

Other struggles are faced by the human characters in the novels, all presented in the culture, climate, church affiliations, courage, and conviction of the characters as they fight to fulfill their assignments.  Ashland gets a big “plug” because of my love of the town and for Shakespeare. And for the deer who each spring make national news as they flood into the small town (and in my yard when I lived there!) by the hundreds.

My hope is that readers will enjoy and appreciate some of the “atmosphere” of the countries mentioned earlier, as much as I did in reliving the days, weeks, even months I’ve spent in those wonderful places. But it’s always nice to come home!

 

 

 

 

China Caper Now Available for Purchase

china-caper-by-chloe-ryan-winstonSomeone is stealing priceless historic artifacts from China, a nation and population proud of their heritage. Briana Fraser—an Ashland, Oregon book and travel shop owner who’s no stranger to adventure—is tasked with discovering how these valuable artifacts are being stolen and sold to collectors in other countries—and by whom.

Suspects are abundant, especially those in Briana’s tour group, seen by authorities as the best source of the thefts—as well as good spy cover for our heroine. With her history background, Briana is the ideal cultural spy, but she’s still less than prepared for the danger she encounters in her search to unmask the thief. Her adventure takes Briana to the famous terracotta soldiers, the Forbidden City, and the massive Great Wall. And her up-to-date look at a long-mysterious country, now opened to the West, is an added aspect to her search.

With typical Briana fervor, she tackles the task, putting herself and her new friends in danger. To save her life and speed up the mission, she is joined in China by her former partners from Professor Phillips’ secret semi-spy operations to help solve the caper. But as things heat up between Briana and one of her partners, events conspire to get in the way of romance.

China Caper is now available for purchase on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon and on NOOK and in paperback from Barnes and Noble.

Getting Cash from a Chinese Bank

Anyone planning a trip to China should know it will be one of the most fascinating, memorable and valuable of trips.  Things are delightfully different from our lives: the involvement of children in social activities, which gives them great confidence as adults; the pride in culture that we’re missing a little in ours; the recognition that hard work can be its own reward; and the visible drama of history and culture that is apparent on city streets in that country.Chloe China post 1            Chloe China post 2

Chloe china post 3

Of course, one needs to be prepared for such a trip, and I thought I was, until the day I went into a bank in Xian and tried to withdraw some money.  Was I out of money?  No. Then what was the problem?  My brain.  I couldn’t recall my magic number.  I looked at the wall behind the money machine.  There were no helpful numbers written on that wall.  It was, like most Chinese businesses, sparkling clean.

I did all the things I usually do when “stumped”: start with numbers, start with places where I’d used the machine successfully, pictured walking up to my ATM machine at home.  Twenty minutes, and considerable underarm perspiration later, something clicked in my now-desperate memory…the right four digits.  And I walked out with the money, without resorting to a bank robber’s mask, gun, or getaway car!

The “moral” of this example of my stupidity?  To remind you to write your ATM number somewhere in your wallet or luggage, so you can retrieve it before going to a bank.  Of course, disguise it, but not enough so that you won’t recognize it. I’d suggest keeping it in your shoe, but that is a very bad idea. Foot sweat will blur the numbers.  Have a great trip!

Peace Corps Visit to Africa

A recent ad in my International Travel News magazine caught my eye—one huge advertiser was advertising trips to Mauritania with the slogan “New.” I settled in for a memory trip as I paged through the article, wishing I’d written it.

I made a trip to that West African country 25 years ago to visit my Peace Corps son stationed in that almost unknown land.

Then my trip really started as I had watched our school’s French teacher disappear down unlit stairs with three police escorts—because he’d refused to get the required shots before going to this out-of-fame country.  I refrained from saying “I told you so,” but it kept repeating in my mind.  I’d warned him that he needed the shots, but in typical French fashion, he’d waved off my advice.  I didn’t see him again until we were both back in Tulare, CA.

To describe the trip from Senegal’s capital on a small airplane only marked the differences, challenges, and even some concern that I found.  First of all, I had two large suitcases, really large ones, filled with peanut butter, boxes of “add water” meals, son’s clothes he’d asked me to bring, as well as my own possible needs, and anything else I thought I’d need, the names and quantities beyond admitting to now.

Seated next to me on this dangerous-looking airplane was a nice man from the United Nations.  He was to work on a plan to bring needed supplies of varying kinds to the medical facilities that were next-to-absent in Mauritania.  The conversation was interesting, but it didn’t calm my concerns about my ability to adapt to this country for the two weeks I planned to be here.  A few days in my son’s town, then I planned to take him to Senegal for a few days’ R and R, then we’d part there, and he’d fly back to his duties in the small village a long taxi ride from where his site was into Mauritania’s capital city. He’d decided that a trip by “taxi” from Nouakchott to his village would not be very comfortable for me, so he took a few days’ “leave” to join me in the capital.  Right off the bat, the taxi situation was almost funny, but more on that later.

When I climbed down the swaying steps of the wobbly ladder placed against the side of the plane, the wave of heat was almost overwhelming.  Yes, I knew it was summer, but that was the only time I could travel; school duties kept me tied at home.  After a brief hug, we picked up the two heavy suitcases, took a ride on some sort of mechanical vehicle that wouldn’t quite fit the name “car” in order to get to the home where he had stayed when he first came to the country.

It was a comfortable home, but that was probably the last time one would use the word “comfort” in any of its forms for those living here.  Introductions became the byword of any time I was in public.  The most fun was when we visited the family with whom he’d spent most of his time.  Two late-teenage daughters were delighted to check out my clothing, my shoes, my haircut—then we all ran out of things to talk about.

I’d noticed the girls had colored lines on their arms and legs, so I inquired about them.  Thinking that I was “taken” by these, they asked if I wanted them to color my hands and legs, too.  Of course, I agreed; conversation picked up right away.  (Those lines—henna art—remained with me for several weeks, creating considerable conversation at home.)

Mark had responsibilities that my visit couldn’t interrupt, and rightly so.  One day the phone rang.  It was the embassy, I guess, warning me to remain inside and everyone in the house should stay inside; there was to be a demonstration.  That sounded interesting.  Soon a ramshackled truck began passing the house, with white-garbed men (this was a Muslim society, so women didn’t count; I think that has changed a bit since then) yelling and waving sticks and some things that didn’t look like sticks.

One day, a French fellow who knew Mark asked if I’d like to drive out to a fishing village.  Of course, I said, I’d be delighted, since I could tell Mark was feeling some stress from trying to entertain me (when there was nothing with which to entertain anyone) and do his work.  I also had some packages to deliver to other Peace Corps volunteers, packages from their parents who had learned via the Peace Corps grapevine about my trip.

The pickup needs no describing; I couldn’t do it justice anyway.  The driver, Franz, seemed delighted to show me all the sights on the way to the fishing village.  I had one package to deliver on our way back, but I didn’t want to leave it in the pickup, which obviously had no way of locking the doors in case we got out to walk through the village.

Franz assured me that no one would steal the package. “Just leave it in the pickup,” he said.

“But someone will take it and it’s not mine; it’s from the parents of one of the volunteers.”

“No one will take it.”

I wondered if this was what they called a standoff. “But,” I kept insisting, until he finally said,

“Here’s why no one will take it. A thief gets his hand cut off.  And they have to make sure which hand, because one hand is for shaking hands and the other is for wiping oneself.”

It took me about two seconds to realize what the one hand was for. And I knew that hand would never be used for shaking hands with others or for eating. But I couldn’t resist asking, “What if the thief stole again?”

He shrugged, always a Frenchman.  “They cut off the other hand.”   Then I realized how awful that would be.  The man wouldn’t be able to work—nor to eat—nor to wipe himself. And, equally serious, would instantly be identified as a thief….even with just one hand gone, but now with two.   A thief had more problems than I’d ever imagined.  How did he earn a living without hands, I asked Franz.

He shrugged; the French do that a lot. “His family has to take care of him….and he’s disgraced within the family. So he dies sooner than he would have.”

I decided to leave the package and go watch the fishermen bring in their catch.  And that was truly something.  Huge waves, tiny boats, extra-large fish, blue, white-capped waves, and the bright sun overhead.  Where was a camera when I needed one?  But my son had forbidden me from taking pictures, because in the old tradition, something that was true in some U.S. Indian tribes, the taking of a photo meant “stealing one’s soul.”  No pictures.

And no one stole the package either.

I met some other volunteers and gave the rest of the packages to the right offspring.  I went to bed early that night.  Sometime during the night, evidently someone entered the house and stole several thousands of dollars from the owner of the house.  But no one seemed upset about it the next day, when the theft was discovered. I thought we should take up a collection to make some effort to return some funds to the woman.  That idea was shot down so fast, I thought my head would swim.  I never knew the reason.  Had she lied? Was she hoping I’d take up a collection for her?  Was everyone afraid?  Who knows?

We went back to Nouakchott, where I found the days to be too long, so I asked if I could help out in the embassy or whatever it was called.  I spent two days compiling some sort of lists, which even to my math-challenged brain, didn’t add up. So I told whoever was my superior there that there was a $250,000 discrepancy in the fund report.  He shrugged.  I wasn’t asked to return the next day.  Hmm.

The heat was terrible.  I decided to take my son down to Dakar for a few days, and he rec’d permission to do so, where he’d then put me on the plane home.  So, we flew (yes, again) to Dakar, stayed in a lovely hotel, ate food I could recognize, which hadn’t always been the case in Nouakchott, did some shopping, and my son lazed around the pool.

When we were away from the hotel, however, he took on a different persona.  Watchful, more guarded, careful….not because of me, but because of possible theft.  We saw a case or two of that while we walked around the city.  This city had been one of the major departure places for African slaves being shipped to the U.S. and probably to England.

There were some things I noticed, which may have changed by now.  I love to bring home from my travels things that the people in the country produce for sale to visitors.  None there. When driving outside the city, there were signs that intrigued me:  Train crossing ahead. (There was no train, period.) Watch for autos merging or merging traffic. (No autos; no traffic). Stadium ahead.  No stadium in sight. (There may have once been a stadium, donated by Spain?) But there were no trains, and few autos.  It was as though someone, with a kind heart, had rounded up signs we might see in the U.S. and Europe and “donated” them to Mauritania.  And one didn’t want to ask questions, because that might have been seen as being critical.

This all was at least 25 years ago; things may have changed by now.  My son met and married another Peace Corps volunteer, Judith, and they have two wonderful children: one is a French (yes, of course) teacher; the other is nearing the end of law school. At my son’s wedding, several parents of Peace Corps volunteers came up to thank me for taking the gifts to their own children.

If anyone is considering volunteer work, which is needed everywhere, but one wants a foreign experience, nothing beats the Peace Corps.  And one doesn’t have to eat worms any longer, as we thought was once a requirement.  Just a good sense of humor, patience (lots of that), and a desire to help others in some way…..look into the Peace Corps.

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Children in China

One of the most satisfying opportunities to have in China is to attend some sort of event—a wedding, a school graduation, a birthday party, or even spring harvest. In our country, we miss the boat without having the kinds of celebrations those events create in China, particularly where children are involved.

First of all, color dominates, and it’s usually red, a pure bright red signifying success and joy.  But, best of all, is the children are included—front and center—in the happenings, not just as restless observers, but as active participants.

As a result, Chinese children grow into confident adults, able to appear in front of a group with calm smiles—unlike at many events here in the U.S. where children are eliminated from “grown-up” activities, perhaps often present, but not truly participating. Then they get into trouble for “horse playing.”

When in China, I frequently observed children under the age of 12 or 13 who calmly introduced programs, sang or danced without noticeable flaws, and received quiet praise without the “ah shucks” response  of many of our children.  As a result, they grow into adults without having that aura of confidence and skill that carries them well into their futures.Schoolkids in China

Perhaps because of that lack of integration, for want of a better word, I have the same “ah shucks” attitude when someone appreciates, approves, or applauds something I’ve done or written or said.  My response—because I grew up in an era of “children should be seen, not heard”—my lack of social skills hasn’t been helpful.

I believe—after many observations of a wide variety of social events in China—where children are seriously included in whatever the activities might be, that they develop the social skills of confidence, manners, appreciation, and even joy when included in what we consider adult happenings.

In U.S. audiences, where children are hushed, scolded, spanked even, there seems to be that loss of confidence that carries over into their own adult lives.  If children are not included, it is quite apparent that they will become restless, leading to shushings, spankings, and even removal from the scene.  Then everyone is unhappy.

When in China, dealing with things domestic and diplomatic, I was always amazed by what I sensed was an unspoken assurance emanating from the people with whom I had contact.  After a time, and after attending many celebrations of varying kinds, my conclusion is that we should include more often, isolate less frequently, our children and grandchildren in our celebratory events.

That does not mean we should praise poor performances; we already give meaningless medals for mere attendance at an event, or false recognition for children who don’t really participate, but sit as observers.  Now there is a tenor of change working its way through such an emotionally damaging policy.  Pictures of children, who realize the medals they just received were meaningless, ripping up the scroll or breaking the plaque, or stomping on the medal, have surfaced in recent months.

Children who don’t realize the lack of value in such empty recognition often falter and fail as adults who face the real world. The results then aren’t good. We need to get children involved like the Chinese do….early and often.  And—happily wearing lots of red.

 

How to Volunteer with Global Volunteers – And make a Difference World-wide and in the U.S.

One of the most inspiring, helpful, enjoyable, and worthwhile things to do in one’s life is to become a volunteer in some activity—there are many avenues.  One such avenue is an organization, Global Volunteers, which has for several decades offered such uplifting—and downright personally satisfying—opportunities.

Brief background:  a young couple—two lawyers—were getting married, and the wife-to-be was given the task of planning the two-week honeymoon.  The husband was dreaming of lolling on a beach somewhere; the wife had slightly different ideas.  “One week for “lolling” she said, the second week “for helping other people who needed help”—but she allowed it could be in a foreign country.

Years later, their fulfilled dream is Global Volunteers, sending volunteers of all ages to countries around the world and to places in the U.S. where help is needed.  Not an easy task.  You will recognize places as holiday travel for many of us, but China, Hungary, Honduras, Mexico, among many other countries, now became a two-week, a three-week, or a month home for Americans eager to help with farming, schools and colleges, orphanages, clinics, hospitals, foreign government agencies…..now wherever a need is, GV wants to be there.  Today, there are new programs to Vietnam and Cuba! (I am so tempted with the latter!)

Age is never a factor.  Teams with high school students, (Mexico), teams with an 81-year-old woman, (Hungary), teams with the wide variety of ages between those two, and with a similar variety of skills, and of interesting cultural or business backgrounds to share in the evenings over dinner.

Even the training program in Minnesota was fun.  The wife, mentioned earlier, demonstrated something by using a large black frying pan and an egg.  I now don’t remember what the scene meant, but laughed at her energetic abuse of that egg.  And we learned! (I didn’t want to be hit with the frying pan!)

A fellow Hungarian volunteer at least a decade ago, is still a good . . . no, a great . . . friend of mine today. A fellow volunteer in Mexico, now a retired special education teacher, is still a wonderful friend. We’re talking many years. Besides the children and the others we met—and fell in love with—we grew to appreciate the happy energy of our American colleagues.

Let’s talk cost.  A volunteer pays:  program cost depending on length of program which includes all housing and meals and in-country needed transportation. Volunteer pays the cost of transport to and from home to volunteer site, and personal incidentals, of course.  (The transport cost may…may…be deductible.  It used to be, but always check with your tax person….maybe today even part of the program cost is deductible. Note use of “may.”)

An attractive new catalog has just been published, which has great pictures of the places included for the upcoming year.  As you browse it, think—besides of the great good you could do—of the cultural, historic, and visuals that you will learn and see—no cost for that!

I could talk forever about GV.  Also, they do not know that I’m writing this, nor have they asked that I do any “recruiting” for them.  This is just my own experience with the 8 programs I’ve been on with them.   Their address:  Global Volunteers 375 E. Little Canada Road, St. Paul, MN, 55117-1628     Think about it!  Chloe  

Chloe digging with Global Volunteers

Chloe digging with Global Volunteers


 

     

The Precious Green Coat

Not everyone has one; not everyone needs one; not everyone wants one–but I have, did need, and wanted a green Chinese coat.  When you read those words, you are probably thinking of a silken robe-like coat which would keep only a slight breeze at bay.

No….this is a coat.  But you are half right.  I was in China, my first trip–and it was November. It doesn’t take a genius to look at a globe and know that a light sweater won’t do the trick if one needed to be warm in any country at that late-year date.  At that time,  China still had two kinds of shops:  one for the locals and one for wealthy locals and visitors.  I went into the local shop…..and there it was…..a traditional, heavily-padded coat and it just oozed warmth when one looked at it.  

I paid $10 US for the coat; over two decades later it still hangs in my closet. I’ve worn it once in public–in a late November high school football game in California’s Central Valley.  I was “on duty” as a supervisor of what few Tulare Union students had followed the team, and, to make things worse,  basketball is my game and I truly dislike football.  But I was warm!

Someone told me later–a “friend”–that I resembled a large green elephant seated in the grandstands that night.  I’ve tried to “spin” that as a compliment, but never succeeded.

It takes up a great deal of room in my closet, and I’m trying to “cut down” on “stuff.”  I’ve taken seven or eight packed boxes of books to the local library; I’ve sorted through “brilliant things” and I’ve re-written and actually tossed some of those; I’m left with the closet—and the green coat.

I will not give it up.  It’s a part of China’s history—and part of my history.  Perhaps I’ll lose enough weight not to be confused with an elephant if I ever wear it in public…..which I won’t…lose weight or wear it.

The other item you should take with you when in China is a head scarf.  Not to honor churches you might enter; that won’t be a problem.  It’s to have it handy in case one of those breezes doesn’t “loft”, they blow off of what in Russia are called the “steppes”……I don’t know what the Chinese call those chilling winds, but I call them “truly cold.”  However,  I’m sorry, I won’t loan you my green coat.

 (A much more complete picture of China, its culture, etc., is found in “China Caper,” a novel  coming out in the fall.  Briana, the US courier–whom you met/will meet in the current “Argentine Assignment” and this fall’s “Belize Barter”–is on the trail of individuals who are stealing a part of China’s history–its artifacts.)