Welcome Loretta, I am excited for this book and know other readers will love it too.
Hello, Shelley! Thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog today.
My first book, Death and the Redheaded Woman, is a cozy mystery about the adventures of redheaded auctioneer Wren Morgan and Death (pronounced "Deeth") Bogart, a disabled Marine combat vet turned private eye and part-time bounty hunter. I thought you might be interested in the story behind why I made Death a former member of the Corps.
Jerry Dean Hicks, one of my nine half-brothers, was fifteen years older than I. I was only three when he joined the Marines and was sent to Vietnam. My early memories of him are sketchy at best. In his absence, a big teddy bear he'd given me (Jerry Bear) stood as his avatar. He was a distant ideal -- strong and brave and not entirely real. A proud young man in a dress-blue uniform in a picture in the Camp Pendleton yearbook. A fun almost-stranger who got leave one Christmas and showed up unexpectedly.
Someone taught me the words to the Marine Corps Hymn and I remember perching on top of my swing set and singing them to the summer sky. I told people proudly that my big brother was a Marine.
War is not kind to anyone. Indeed, if war is anything, it is unkindness made manifest. Jerry was wounded in action twice, but I believe his deepest wounds were ones that left no physical scars. He returned a troubled young man to a troubled nation, cast off his medals, grew out his hair and joined the peace movement.
I saw him briefly when I was in my mid-teens. He hitchhiked across country, from Oregon to Missouri, with a big hound dog named Lady for a companion. He looked so different, a long-haired hippy in ragged denim, that Mom didn't even recognize him at first.
We thought that he had come home to stay, but he was struggling with addiction and alcoholism. He found it difficult to hold down a job and, before long, he returned to the West Coast.
I didn't see Jerry again until the spring of 2000, when our mother suddenly passed away. For the first time we met and talked as two adults. I liked him. He was intelligent and funny and warm and kind. If our ages, and war, and distance hadn't intervened, I think we could have been really close. He'd fallen in love with a woman named Bobbie and with her help he'd gotten clean and sober. He worked for the Oregon Department of Conservation. He and Bobbie ran a private, no-kill animal shelter from their home in Deadwood, Oregon and he was active in raising awareness of those soldiers who are still MIA/POW, and the quest to bring them home.
Tragically, he'd lost Bobbie to a brain tumor less than a year before Mom died.
A couple days after the funeral I drove him to the airport and we hugged goodbye with promises to stay in touch and visit more. Life, however, intervened, and that was the last time I saw him. He kept up the animal shelter for as long as he could, but a few years later he was diagnosed with Parkinson's and in October of 2011 he passed away. He was just over a month shy of his 61st birthday.
And...I never really knew him. But looking back on his life now, I have tremendous compassion for that idealistic young Marine and for the troubled man that war twisted him into. And I have tremendous respect for the strength with which he overcame the obstacles in a difficult life and the grace and dignity with which he lived out his final years.
That's why, when I was writing Death Bogart, I chose to make him a former Marine. Now, mind you, Death is not Jerry. But he wore the uniform as an homage to Jerry.
And if the Army and the Navy/ should ever look on Heaven's scene/ they will find the streets are guarded by/ my United States Marine.