The ExPat Returneth

Thursday, January 31, 2013


I'm very pleased to present the cover for the upcoming May release of my second Cherry Tucker mystery, STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW (Henery Press).

Cherry Tucker’s in a stew. Art commissions dried up after her nemesis became president of the County Arts Council. Desperate and broke, Cherry and her friend, Eloise, spend a sultry summer weekend hawking their art at the Sidewinder Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-Off. When a bad case of food poisoning breaks out and Eloise dies, the police brush off her death as accidental. However, Cherry suspects someone spiked the stew and killed her friend. As Cherry calls on cook-off competitors, bitter rivals, and crooked judges, the police get steamed while the killer prepares to cook Cherry’s goose.

A big thank you out to my publisher Henery Press and my editor, Kendel Flaum. She peeked at my Still Life Pinterest board and look what I got! She's amazing.

Look for STILL LIFE out May 21, but stay tuned for various giveaways starting in March. 

What do you think of the cover? 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Risk Taking Heroines

Last year Author Sherry Isaac asked me to write a piece on my favorite heroines. I love Sherry's Wildflowers blog. Her writing is beautiful and poetic, but grounded in reality. My writing waves at hers from the other side of the tracks, but I'm an "other side of the tracks" writer. Hope you enjoy my take on Risk Taking Heroines first posted for Sherry Isaac.

When I begin playing around with a new story idea, I start with a “what if” scenario, but then immediately begin imagining my heroine. My heroines come from varied backgrounds, look and speak differently, but they all have one thing in common. They are risk takers. In fact, all my favorite heroines in books, movies, and musicals (Yes, musical!) are risk takers. And I didn’t even realize this until I sat down to write about my favorite heroines. Huh.

But did I hear you say, aren’t all heroines risk takers? And I’d say, no. I don’t count the gals who are thrown into a situation and deal with it the best they can. I’m talking about the girls who take the bull by the horns and play offense. 

Now I’m a fan of Jane Austen. She writes a great love story. PERSUASION is probably my favorite. I swoon for Captain Wentworth and I love Anne, but she will never make my heroine list because she’s not a risk taker. Our heart breaks for her because she’s so full of self-sacrifice, but there are times when you want to slap her. 

In comparison, Jane of JANE EYRE is a risk taker. She doesn’t have much choice in her early life, but I love how crabby she is about her circumstances as an orphan. She gives her horrible relatives the nineteenth century version of the Forget You. She’s willing to risk her heart with Mr. Rochester, seek the truth about his (Spoiler Alert) crazy wife in the attic, and then dump him for having a crazy wife in the attic. And then return when he’s at his worst (and crazy wife is dead). Risk taker. Love that Jane. 

Lucy from the LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE (and other Narnia tales). Does she flinch at the sight of another world through a cupboard? Maybe a little, but not enough to stop her from following and helping the fawn and dragging her siblings back to save Narnia from the evil White Witch. Named my daughter for her.

Honor Harris from THE KING’S GENERAL by Daphne du Maurier. She’s a foolish risk taker as a teen lover to Richard Grenville. She stands up to his nasty sister Gartred, walks for miles in the middle of the night to tell him she’s supposed to marry someone else, and has no problem making out with him after getting sick from roasted swan at a party. That takes guts. And then turns Richard down when she becomes crippled. She’s so prideful. Later, she’s willing to face down soldiers (to the detriment of her relatives) to hide Richard’s son and Richard. And in the end, she’s willing to risk a broken heart. Honor makes Scarlet look weak. She can’t walk but she can kick some English Civil War butt.

Moving forward in publishing time, my next risk taker is Claire Randall from OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon. Did I hear you sigh without even mentioning the name Jamie Fraser or the word kilt? From her background as a nurse in the war, to keeping her head after falling through the “way back machine” stones, to acting on her instincts in marrying and saving Jamie, and her pig-headed moves to try to get back home, Claire Randall makes one risky move after another. Again and again and again in each subsequent novel, too.

Best risk taker heroine in a musical? Annie from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN? Maria from WEST SIDE STORY? How about Anna from THE KING AND I? Think of the historical implications of a nineteenth century widow taking her son to live in Siam (Thailand) and stubbornly facing off with the king on issues related to personal freedom, female liberation, and slavery? He’s a king! Dang that girl has guts. Plus she can sing and dance.

You can see why my heroine, Cherry Tucker from PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, had to be a risk taker. She doesn’t always make the best decisions. She can be headstrong, opinionated, and mouthy. She has issues with falling for beautiful men. But she’s willing to put herself on the line to seek justice. And a good plate of hot wings.

Friday, January 18, 2013

5 Silly Questions with Hortense Duckworthy from BROKE by @KayeGeorge

Today on 5 Questions, I welcome the character Hortense, Imogene Duckworthy's mother and a retired librarian, featured in the cozy mystery BROKE. Whereas previously threatened by the male characters I've interviewed, Hortense offers me a cunning linguistic dance. More like a Jitterbug than a Tango I'm afraid.

Imogene Duckworthy is twenty-two and has a job (PI assistant) and a new car (used).  She loves her mother, but it's time she was on her own.  The problem is her daughter Nancy Drew Duckworthy’s pet potbelly. Not a lot of rentals in Wymee Falls will permit a pig, even one as cute and charming as Marshmallow. Jersey Shorr of Shorr Realty manages to find something but there are rumors that the house is haunted.  Immy tells herself she doesn’t believe in ghosts. She signs the contract and plans to move in before Halloween.  What she doesn’t plan on is the very real, very dead body in the bathtub.  And the fact that the most logical murder suspect is her Uncle Dewey, fresh out of prison.  Immy can’t allow her long-lost relative to be railroaded for a crime he (possibly) didn’t commit, can she?

1. If one of my characters told you "I ain't fixin' to do nothing," you would tell them...

This is an opportunity for edification, not to be passed up. I would
comment that it’s admirable that you are commencing to accomplish
something. When responded to with a blank look, I should launch into a
lesson on double negatives.

I think you're going to get a lot of blank looks. Maybe some threats, too.

2. Garden party or Hen party?

I do not consider myself an avian. Neither am I flora, but I would
prefer to have horticulture at my festivities than fowl.

I get the feeling you don't like simple answers.

3. If I had to write a singles ad for you, what would it say?

Erudite, discriminating, mature woman seeks suitable companion.
Fortune-hunters need not apply. That is an inside joke, you
understand. My pecuniary position is not one which would attract gold

I get the feeling you don't date much.

4. Your daughter and granddaughter are held captive by a pirate. The police are of no use to you. You only have the use of two items from your kitchen (your choice).What do you do?

If brigands of the high seas were to abduct Imogene and Nancy Drew, I
should be in absolute despair, devastated and distraught. If I could
recover sufficiently to gather my scattered wits, I should arm myself
with a large butcher knife and the fire extinguisher. I understand
that the latter could serve am implement of suffocation. It would also
be necessary for me to convey, with myself, a remedy for the nausea I
incur when my vestibular region is disturbed due to the horrid rolling
motion of waves, were I to board the actual vessel myself.

Brigands, I like that. I have no idea what you just said, so I'm pretending you answered the question. Moving on...

5. As a retired librarian, the book you would recommend that best
represents you is...

It would have to be a weighty tome, as I carry a bit of poundage on my
person. Perhaps the complete works of William Shakespeare?

Oh my goodness, you are too funny. And...I don't think you realize it.

Let's play Madlibs! I need a:
noun butterfly
feeling ebulliency
action verb to eviscerate
adjective mellifluous
vehicle pachyderm
type of furniture Louis XV

The butterfly felt ebullient that night, after Immy had eviscerated time in the mellifluous old pachyderm, even if it did have an unwanted dead body in the Louis XV.

Wow, you're middle name must be thesaurus! I love words with double l's. You eviscerated that sentence pretty good(which the readers can track down in the excerpt below).

BROKE is available in paperback on Amazon, Untreed Reads, and in ebook on Kindle, Nook, Sony, and Smashwords.

Kaye George is a short story writer and novelist who has been nominated for Agatha awards twice. She is the author of three mystery series, the Imogene Duckworthy humorous Texas series, the Cressa Carraway musical mystery series, and the FAT CAT cozy series with Berkley Prime Crime (the last two will debut in 2013). She reviews for "Suspense Magazine", writes for several newsletters and blogs, and gives workshops on short story writing and promotion. Kaye lives in Texas, near Waco. You can find her at  

And now for a sneak peek at BROKE!
The singlewide felt cramped that night, after Immy had spent time in the spacious old mansion, even if it did have an unwanted dead body in the bathtub.

"You have a perfectly good abode right here, you know. Are you sure your fiduciary situation permits you to lease such a place?" Hortense asked. She tucked her topmost chin into her others to create a stern look toward her only child.

"It's the cheapest one I looked at, Mother," said Immy. She handed her mother the listings page Jersey had given her for the house.

"This photograph is not flattering," Hortense said.

"I wanna see!" Drew jumped onto the green plaid couch beside her Geemaw. She pressed her chestnut curls into the soft, pliable flesh of Hortense's upper arm. "It's a haunted house."

"It's, well, it looks very nice on the inside," said Immy. "It has a Great Hall." She emphasized the grand words so her mother and daughter could both appreciate the place. "The owner, Mr. Tompkins, will let me do anything I want to it. I can have Ralph put up a fence for Marshmallow."

"Are you certain you wouldn't become ill in such a domicile? Is it drafty?"

"No. I didn't feel any openings. And I can't even see how those men got in."

Her mother gave her the Librarian Look. "What men?"

"Oh, I didn't tell you?" Immy perched on the edge of the recliner and twisted a strand of hair between her fingers.

"You just arrived home. You haven't told me anything, except that you signed a rental agreement for this, this...."

"Haunted house," supplied Drew.

"Well, it does need painting," Immy admitted. "And some porch railings are missing."

"And others precipitously leaning. Does the roof leak?"

Immy assured her mother that it didn't, although she had no idea. If it did, Ralph could fix it.

A distinctive knock sounded on the door. 

"Unca Ralph," Drew squealed. She squirmed off the couch and ran pell-mell toward Ralph Sandoval, who had opened the door and stepped inside after knocking. 

He used to wait for us to open it, Immy thought. He's more and more like family, which isn't a bad thing.

"You failed to make it in time for the evening repast," Hortense said. Ralph was a huge fan of her cooking and often dropped in for supper.

Immy's mother had resumed cooking not long ago, after many years of fast, frozen, and canned foods. Not only Immy, Drew, and Ralph, but his boss, Saltlick Police Chief Emersen, were the beneficiaries of Hortense's rediscovered kitchen talents. The police chief was developing a fondness for her cooking, but Immy thought he was also sweet on Hortense herself.

"The Yarborough twins were taking pot shots at possums," Ralph said, "and managed to put out two of the neighbor's windows. Had to take them in to sleep off their drunk." His broad, placid face looked tired.

"The Yardburr twins drunk?" Drew said. "Again?"

"Drew, dear," said Hortense, trying not to laugh. "Would you like to show Ralph your Barbies' new outfits? Run and get them, please." Drew ran to get them.

Immy gave her mother a weary look. "You bought her more Barbie stuff?" Immy didn't think Barbie was a good role model for a four-year-old, but she seemed to be the only person in the world to hold that opinion.

"She gets such joy from them," Hortense said.

"Yeah," Ralph said. "She's fine. Let her be. By the way, I think we have a relative of yours at the jail."

"What do you base that supposition on?" asked Hortense. She turned her head so sharply her chins swung and wobbled.

"Well, his name's Duckworthy."

"He's in Saltlick?" asked Immy.

"The Wymee jail is overflowing this week. We said we could take him. He should go before the judge in a couple days."

He caught sight of the listing page Hortense had laid on the coffee table. "What's this?"

Drew returned with an armful of tiny clothing and gave the picture a glance. "A haunted house," she said.

"It apparently comes pre-supplied with men," said Hortense.

Ralph looked confused. It wasn't too hard to confuse Ralph. But Immy quickly took that thought back as unfair to Ralph.

"I was just about to explain that to Mother."

"Yes, please do," Hortense said, leaning back and folding her fleshy arms to receive Immy's answer.

The situation brought to mind the chapter on Interrogation in her dog-eared, second-hand copy of The Moron's Compleat PI Guidebook. She had to be careful when being questioned with Ralph around. Being a Saltlick cop, he knew all the tricks. The best tactic here, she decided, would be to use chapter four, to turn the tables and answer with questions.

"Why have I never known that I had an Uncle Dewey? And that he was in prison?"

Hortense unfolded her arms and sat forward. "Uncle Dewey? Dewey was in your house?"

"I have another Unca?" asked Drew. "Is he a ghost?"

"No, he's a real person. He's Mommy's uncle," said Immy. "Would your Barbies like to wear some of their new clothes?"

After Drew ran back to her bedroom for some Barbies, Immy told Ralph and Hortense about finding Dewey Duckworthy sleeping in the house.

"He was hauled in for trespassing, unfortunately. That Jersey Shorr is mean."

"I was there once, when I was ten," said Ralph. "There was a rip tide or something."

"Jersey Shorr," said Immy, "is the real estate agent that showed me the place. She didn't have to call the cops. He was leaving."

"How do you know he wouldn't have come back?" said Ralph. "How did he get in?"

"I can't figure that out. There's a lockbox on the front door and I didn't see any broken locks or windows. But we didn't finish looking after we found the dead guy."

"The dead guy?" Hortense's voice rose.

"The dead guy?" echoed Ralph. "Your Uncle Dewey was dead? I thought he was the guy we have in jail."

"No, there was a dead guy in the bathtub. It looked like he had a broken neck. Vance called the cops that time and they chased us outta there."

"Who's Vance?" asked Ralph.

"Oh, just one of the other real estate agents."

From Ralph's suspicious raised eyebrows, Immy figured she hadn't pulled off the casual air she had hoped for.

"I had to go back to look at the house again and Jersey couldn't come with me, so Vance offered. Naturally, him being a real estate agent, too, I took him up on it. He had to get the lockbox off and...." She was babbling.

"What's he look like?" asked Ralph.

He must have sensed something in her talk about Vance.

"Oh, I didn't notice much. Just a guy."

Drew saved the moment by returning with three Barbies dressed in crisp new clothing. Two in bathing suits, one in fur coat and hat with knee-high boots.

Ralph admired the dolls for a few minutes until his beeper went off. 

"Gotta go. It's the chief."

"Good heavens," said Hortense. "It's a busy evening in Saltlick."

"Yeah." Ralph grimaced. "There's something about Friday nights when the high school has an away game. Nothing to do."

Friday, January 11, 2013

5 Silly Questions with Benedict Arnold from THE GREEN EYED DOLL by @JerrieAlexander

Today's 5 Silly Questions is a real dog. Actually a fictional dog named Benedict Arnold from Jerrie Alexander's THE GREEN EYED DOLL. Considering The Green Eyed Doll is a dark romantic suspense, I chose the dog's point of view for my silly questions. The serial killer was unavailable.

My name is Benedict Arnold. It's an odd name, but I don't mind. After the gentle lady started coming around, my new master gave it to me. I was living in his barn when he moved in and found me. I don't trust men, but this one feeds me, and the lady likes him, so I stick around. Anything is better than the last place. That master beat, kicked, and called me Stupid. I got out of there the first chance I had. 

I sense big trouble. I don't understand. Don't know what to do or how to help. The lady stopped coming around and my master acts angry, but I think he's just sad.  

Thanks Benedict. Here's your first question.

1) If I wanted to do a B&E at Catherine's house, which would distract you more: a raw porterhouse or a dead raccoon?

A dead raccoon, for-sure-for-sure. The scent is intoxicating. Shoot, I'd throw myself down on top of him and wallow. You could come and go with me noticing!

My dog, Biscuit, feels similarly  Nothing like the fresh scent of road kill to get him to roll.

2) Catherine and Matt are held captive by another serial killer (as opposed to the Green Eyed Doll killer). You can see them tied up in a basement through the small, ground level window. You also smell blood. How do you save them?

For Catherine, I would crash through that window, chew through the rope, and rip out the throat of anyone who tried to stop me. Matt??? Meh...not so much. He does feed me, but we're still working on that trust thing. 

So if Jason shows up, I know to hide behind Matt.

3) Who would you rather face in a dark alley: the evil cat from Dogs v. Cats or rabid Lassie?

Bring on rabid Lassie. You've heard I'm too sexy for my shirt? Well, I'm too sexy for my fur. The ladies love me. I'd cure Lassie with my TLC. 

Didn't realize you'd take it that way. Moving on...
4) What do you look for in an owner?

Someone I can trust. My previous owner beat me, which is why I have trouble trusting men. You have to earn that from me, and it ain't easy!

5) Which trick would you best recommend for my Cairn Terrier, Biscuit? Mind you, he's pretty stubborn and not a quick learner.

I'll teach him to do the 'beggy' face. He'll sit on his haunches, tilt his head to the side, let his tongue loll out and give you the sad eyes look. It's a great trick, gets a treat every time.

Biscuit's pretty cute as is. Not sure if I want him to learn to beg. I was thinking more along the lines of the dog that fetches beer from the frige in that old Superbowl commercial. 

Catherine McCoy is running from her past. She’s been on the move for a year, hiding the secret and guilt in her heart. When she lands in small-town Texas and meets Sheriff Matt Ballard, he ignites a flame she thought lost forever.
Matt has scars of his own. He left the big city after an undercover operation went bad and his partner was killed. Now, as Matt hunts for a serial killer who paints his victims like porcelain dolls, Catherine becomes a safe haven for him. Two tortured souls finding comfort in each other’s arms—until he uncovers her secret, and their bond of trust is broken.
When Catherine disappears, Matt races to find her, fearing the murderer has found his next green-eyed doll. But the killer has a surprise coming. Catherine will fight to the death before she’ll be a victim. But will her determination be enough?
The Green Eyed Doll is available at AmazonBarnes and Noble, and The Wild Rose Press.
Jerrie Alexander. A student of creative writing in her youth, Jerrie set aside her passion when life presented her with a John Wayne husband, and two wonderful children. A career in logistics offered her the opportunity to travel to many beautiful locations in America, and she revisits them in her romantic suspense novels.
The characters went with her, talked to her, and insisted she share their dark, sexy stories with others. She writes alpha males and kick-ass women who weave their way through death and fear to emerge stronger because of, and on occasion in spite of, their love for each other. She likes to torture people, make them suffer, and if they’re strong enough, they live happily ever after.

Jerrie lives in Texas, loves sunshine, children’s laughter, sugar (human and granulated), and researching for her heroes and heroines. She loves hearing from fans at

And now an excerpt from THE GREEN EYED DOLL.
Catherine paced and argued with herself. Should she stay or go home? She’d told Matt he’d need a friend after the first woman went missing and now this. She couldn’t imagine the pressure he must be under. Her plan was to have a hot supper waiting for him. She’d basted and basted until the roast withered and fell apart. The once firm potatoes? Mush. The gravy was a light brown paste. 

Benedict Arnold stood and trotted to the back door before Catherine heard Matt’s pickup. The dog was glad to know Matt was home, too. She leaned back against the kitchen counter and waited.   

“Hey.” A lame greeting, but seeing him stunned her speechless.

 Dark circles and cold, weary, blue eyes marred his Michelangelo face. His black hair fell in disarray and looked like he’d raked his fingers through a number of times today. His chiseled jaw and chin were dark with a long day’s stubble. With a couple of long strides, he pinned her between him and the counter. He framed her face with his hands, closed his eyes, and lowered his forehead to hers. They stood in silence for a long time, unmoving, their bodies not touching. Fear for the missing woman radiated off him.

His anguish, more than she’d planned for, hit her hard. His dedication and concern, traits she admired, shook her conviction that no man could be trusted. His tenderness, something she’d never had, touched a long-neglected place in her soul. 

In that small space of time, where no one else in the world existed, Catherine’s heart found hope. Tears, she’d promised herself never to shed again, slid unchecked down her cheeks. But these tears weren’t because of her pain or grief. She cried because Matt suffered and grieved for the missing woman. She slid her arms around him, stroking his tense muscles. 

“Hey, yourself.” He leaned back and studied her face. The warmth behind his eyes returned as he wiped away her tears with the pads of his thumbs. “Were those for me?” 

She nodded and emotions swirled in her head. Catherine struggled to regain her perspective. “I have to remove no more tears from the Never list.”

“Why would you hold yourself to such a never?” 

“The only thing crying gets you are red eyes.”

“Okay, tough guy. Maybe someday you’ll trust me enough to explain. Why’d you break a rule for me?”

“The worry for Annie Travers in your eyes broke my heart. I’ve never known anyone with your compassion and dedication.” 

“Careful.” The corners of his mouth lifted. “You’ll be calling me John Wayne again.”

“Same soul.” She pushed a lock of black hair off his face. He caught her wrist in his hand.

“Stop, Catherine. I’m nobody’s hero. I failed miserably in that department.”

Questions for Jerrie or Benedict Arnold? 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Building Universal Studios Japan, the Reunion

Originally from California, the married couple Lorna Lund and Larry Collins both worked in Osaka on the Universal Studios Japan theme park. Larry was a Project Engineer, responsible for the Jurassic Park, JAWS and WaterWorld attractions. Lorna was the Document Control Supervisor in the Osaka field office. Their memoir of that experience, 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park was a 2006 EPPIE finalist, named as one of Rebeccas Reads Best Nonfiction books of 2005, and is available in ebook, paperback, and hardbound formats. Lorna & Larry now reside in Dana Point, CA, where Larry enjoys surfing and Lorna spends time with family and friends. They both continue to write.

Their other publications include the mysteries, Murder…They Wrote and Murder in Paradise (Whiskey Creek Press), Lorna's Ghost Writer (Oak Tree Press, 2012), and Larry's collection of short stories Lakeview Park (2011). Lorna's short stories through Whiskey Creek Press are found in the anthologies Snowflake Secrets  (Whiskey Creek Press), a finalist for the Dream Realm and Eric Hoffner awards; Seasons of Love (2009); Directions of Love, winner the 2011 EPIC eBook Award for best romance anthology; and An Aspen Grove Christmas (2010). All are available in ebook and paperback, and are available from the publishers, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, their website ( and other online book outlets. Follow Lorna’s blog at

You Can Go Home Again

Ten years after we completed construction of the Universal Studios Theme Park in Osaka, Japan, our team was invited back for a reunion celebration. The planning began a year ahead, and quite a few of us made arrangements to be in the park in March 31, 2011 where we would be given complimentary tickets and join for a celebration party followed by special seating to watch the nighttime parade.

Then, just two weeks before we were scheduled to leave, the earthquake and tsunami struck. Since we had hosted six Japanese students on homestay programs prior to going to Osaka, and had acquired quite a number of additional ‘children’ during our sojourn in-country, they were our first concern, followed by our fellow Japanese teammates and their families. Over the next couple of days, we were able to ascertain that they were all safe, but the question of the reunion remained.

We contacted our friends in the park and asked if we should cancel or postpone the event. We were very concerned about taxing the country’s resources.

“Oh, no,” they answered. “We are on a separate power grid, so there are no issues here. And we’ve had a severe drop in attendance. We need your tourist dollars.”

The only people who actually cancelled were those whose airline tickets were through Narita airport. It was closed for some time following the earthquake. Since the majority of us were booked into Kansai, our flights ran as scheduled.

We had lived in Takarazuka, Japan for thirty-one months from the summer of 1998 through February of 2001 during park construction. We were the first of the California employees to relocate and among the last to leave. We were curious about what we’d find when we returned.

We had booked our hotel room at a property next to Universal Studios Japan to make our access to the park and public transportation easy. We arrived at night, and all the lights were on making it look like a fairyland. As we got our first glimpse of the place we had dedicated nearly three years of our life to (in Larry’s case, nearly four), Lorna began to cry. It was even more beautiful than we remembered.

The next morning, we woke early and walked to the park entrance before opening. Watching families arrive and the kids’ excitement fulfilled all our hopes and wishes for what the venue would mean to the Japanese people.

After watching the crowd eagerly rush through the gates, we decided to make our ‘pilgrimage’ to Kyoto. This beautiful old city had been one of our favorite places while we lived there, and its close proximity to Takarazuka made it a frequent excursion destination.

We boarded the train to Umeda station in the heart of Osaka. We were both stunned at how little everything had changed, and even more that after ten years, we still remembered which platform and train to take. Somehow the trip felt even easier than when we were living there.

We spent most of the day doing what we loved best: walking the streets and alleys, poking into the little shops and elegant stores, visiting the regal Heian Shrine, walking through elegant gardens, and buying souvenirs at the Handicraft Center.

The next day, our precious Japanese son and daughter, Toshi and Kae, arrived from their home in Yokohama. She had been in California as a student in 1998, just before we left for Osaka, and the couple was married in our home in Dana Point. They were among the ‘kids’ we were most worried about since they lived closest to the earthquake. During the first day following the disaster, we were able to contact them and discover they had walked home from work. When we asked about damage to their new condo, they just answered, “It is messy.” Even though we knew they were okay, ‘Mom’ felt a whole lot better when she was able to hug them!

When we planned the return trip to Japan, we contacted our good friend and neighbor in Takarazuka. As soon as she knew we were coming, she immediately invited us to a ‘sukiyaki party’ in her home. She had honored us in this way whenever we had guests from home, and sitting around her table was one of our most treasured memories. We also shared all the American customs and holidays with her, and our lives had been enriched from our cultural exchanges.

Even though we had been warned by a very close Japanese friend not to mistake friendliness for true friendship, Lorna and Misayo became fast friends. Her daughter, Kazue, often acted as translator since her English was about on par with our Japanese, and neither of us was very competent. Nevertheless, we communicated easily and well, even when Kazue was not present.

When we arrived for lunch, having once again remembered every stop and connection, Kazue escorted us through the locked gate and into their ‘mansion.’ She called out to her mother, who quickly emerged from the kitchen with arms outstretched. “Besto friend!” she cried as she embraced Lorna, who replied in kind in Japanese.

What a glorious day spent with friends. It was as if no time had passed.

And the same was true when we queued up for park opening in the early morning of March 31. As team members arrived, we greeted each other with handshakes and hugs. (Very un-Japanese!) As we entered the gates, all the cast members as well as office employees lined the entire entrance street. What a thrill to see so many of those people who had shared the frustrations, excitement, and elation of bringing this world-class tourist destination into being. It remains the only theme park in history to be completed ahead of schedule and under budget. The credit must go to those folks, American and Japanese, who dedicated themselves to making it happen.

Throughout the day, while we rode the rides and visited all the shops and venues we had contributed to, we ran into more and more of our fellow team members. Each one had been a special gift to us ten years earlier, and our shared memories continued our bond.

A large crowd met for dinner and to celebrate our accomplishment. The evening was much too short.

When we’d returned from Japan in 2001, we began writing a book about our adventures. 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park was published in 2005. Several team members had asked us to bring copies to the reunion, and we’d done so. But instead of selling them, we asked folks to make a generous donation to the Universal Studios earthquake relief fund. And they did so. Our donation was the books we’d brought with us. Since many of the people in attendance had been involved in the story, they were curious to read what we’d said. From their later response, it would appear that they had enjoyed re-reading about all the adventures.

Many of us felt that we hadn’t had enough time together at the celebration, so we met at a buffet restaurant the following evening, our last in town.

Throughout the trip, Lorna had been trying to find a significant souvenir of this extraordinary trip, but had found nothing. During dinner, one of our Japanese team members withdrew a small box from his pocket and gave it to her. When she opened it, he explained, “This is a fifty-yen coin. The word for the five-yen coin means ‘relationship.’ So this means ten times that much.” The coin had been laser cut so that only the beautiful decorations remained as a lacy design. What a perfect gift and remembrance!

Before our departure the following day, we met another of our Japanese daughters, Yuka, and her good friend, Yoko, for lunch. Both had stayed in our home during visits subsequent to Yuka’s first homestay. Events had come full-circle because Yuka was working at Universal Studios Japan.

We returned from our all-too-brief stay feeling an incredible sense of accomplishment and love for our ‘kids’ and co-workers.

The only sad note came several months later when we learned of the death of the precious friend who had given Lorna her lovely gift. It is now even more special.

We could and did go ‘home’ again, and it was joyous!

Questions for Lorna and Larry?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

99 Cent #Sale for PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY

Y'all! Portrait of a Dead Guy is on sale on Kindle for 99 cents as well as the other Henery Press titles through the holidays.  Click for the link for Amazon KindleKobo and for Barnes & Noble Nook.
Here's a gift to yourself that won't take a chunk out of those gift cards you received in your stocking!