Samples of my Writing

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Novels by Liz Hartley

1 In Experience

Spring’s Promise

A perfect camellia blossom in every little girl’s favorite color: pink.

Spring is a season of hope, as I learned many years ago as I recovered from illness in Japan. And hope is needed this spring as the world faces a pandemic. This spring in Oregon has come with unusual gifts.

The days of April in Oregon are usually spent under gray skies, and we count the days until the Fourth of July when our rainy season typically releases its grip. The only compensation we get in April, but it’s substantial, is the explosion of spring flowers. You name it, we got it: snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils, hellebores, tulips, daphne, cherries, flowering quince, flowering red currants, rosemary, ceanothus, bleeding hearts—and that’s just what’s in my yard.

But this year, when so many of us are confined at home, the weather in the Willamette Valley has given us a boon: blue skies and warm temperatures. We’ve all gone gardening mad. Neighbors are putting in gardens and planting. There are piles of compost and the smell of fresh-turned earth everywhere.

The Northwest Editors Guild had planned a “Stet Walk” just before we were all sent indoors, and I’m sorry we had to miss that. It’s been great weather to get outside. Everywhere you turn there are walkers, runners, bikers, and the flowering shrubs and trees are putting on flamboyant, welcoming displays. There is no doubt that these are dark days, as the sight of masks and gloves reminds us. Times ahead will remain dark with illness and deaths as the days go by. People have lost jobs. For freelancers, work is hard to come by. For all of us, money is tight. Yet the warmth of the sun, the smell of the spring earth, and the beauty of flowers and leafing trees can give us hope and a few moments of respite from the darkness that we need, this blessed spring.

2 In Writing Life

The Haunted Office

If you work at home, there are many ways to procrastinate. (If you are a not a procrastinator, you are not normal. My opinion.) I have engaged in most of them. But I was once pushed out of my office by a ghost.


Let me just say that my house is not haunted. Before this happened, I’d lived and worked and procrastinated here for several years. I didn’t need help from ghostly ectoplasm.

I’d just come home from a working trip to Seattle. But before I left the city, I decided to take the Underground Tour, essentially a walk through Seattle’s kind of creepy basement. Sorry, Seattle, but, meh.

When returning from a trip like this, I’m always slow to get into the work groove. But by the third day home, I was ready to get to my desk. Ideas were firing, and it was time to start putting them down. I went into the office, sat down…

And found myself standing in the hall.

While it’s not unusual for me to procrastinate by heading to the kitchen, I ran down the usual list of reasons not to work:

Food? No, I’d eaten.

Beverage? No, my water glass was sitting on the desk.

Bladder pressure? No, I didn’t need a bathroom break.

Avoiding work? No. I really wanted to get started.

So, what was I doing in the hall? I almost couldn’t remember getting there.

I turned and went slowly to the door of my office.

There was a…pressure…in the room keeping me out. It was like a balloon of air filled the space, stopping at the door. It was more than a little unnerving, but, hey, it’s my house. So I went in.

Sat down. Waited.

I had the strangest feeling that the room was facing the wrong way. Like it should be turned 180o toward the south. The source of the “presence” seemed to be in the northeast corner of the room. This time I was very aware of the insistent pressure on my chest pushing me toward the door. Not malevolent. Just determined.

Seattle, dang it. You’d given me a ghost.

Yes, I took the Haunted House ride at Disneyland, the one where, at the end, they make it look like you have a ghost in the car with you. I’m here to tell you that’s what happened. Apparently whoever designed that ride knew all about this kind of thing.

But it was obvious I was going to get no work done that day. (Pre-laptop.) So I got up and left the office.

Bill Murray wasn’t available so, who ya gonna call, right?

Fortunately, I have a friend whose family is very much into ghosts and ghouls and things that go bump in the night. Two of her brothers are ghost hunters.

Within the hour, I had five ghost-busting enthusiasts at my door. One checked the exterior of the house to be sure there wasn’t any outside reason for whatever was happening. The rest gathered in my office.

My friend, sitting on the floor, said she had the strangest feeling that the room wanted to turn 180o toward the south.

I hadn’t told her about having the same sensation.

Her husband said it felt like the presence was focused in the northeast corner of the room.

I hadn’t mentioned that, either.

And then he went and stood in that corner.

Every one of us felt the energy drain from the room into the floor at his feet.

My office no longer felt like it was facing the wrong way. There was no more feeling of pressure.

My friend’s husband then asked me if I had a picture of a polar bear. I swear.

I happened to have one (!). Do normal people just happen to have pictures of polar bears? I did, on a postcard a friend had sent from Alaska. I also had a Gund stuffed polar bear, a gift from another friend. My friend’s husband told me to put them in that corner and the ghost wouldn’t come back.

Listen, the man had just gotten rid of the ghost. Was I going to question him?

That is why, if you look at the photo of my office on my website, you will still see a polar bear in the corner. Better safe than sorry, right?

And he was right. The ghost hasn’t come back.

My advice for everyone working from home? Get a polar bear. You’ll never have a ghost push you away from your desk.

2 In Family

John Walton Thompson II

john-obit-cropped-3My brother, John Walton Thompson II (b. August 6, 1954), passed away on September 14, 2016. He was 62. He would have hated that I have revealed both his middle name and the “II,” the “two-th,” after his name. He hated the Walton, for reasons obvious to anyone old enough to remember the television program “The Waltons” and “John-boy Walton.” Our family was sworn to never reveal his middle name–an old family one foisted on my father and my brother by our Grandmother–to his friends. (Sorry bro, but if you’d wanted to keep these secrets, you should have stuck around.) It was ironic that, after 9/11, “John Thompson” became a suspected terrorist name, and when John wanted to fly, he found it easier to use “J. Walton Thompson.” Continue Reading →

0 In Travel

Hangs Thereby a Tail

Assyrian bas relief. British Museum.

He was a tall, thin man in his early fifties, with long graying hair retreating from a high forehead, and an erect aristocratic bearing better suited to a baronet than to an artist and professor of art history. He gave no hint that he harbored the kind of curiosity that leads to mortality in felines. Continue Reading →

0 In Humor

Dandelions from Hell

Photo Tiia Monto via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Tiia Monto via Wikimedia Commons.

My friend spotted an unusual coffee table at the Portland Saturday market a few months ago. It was one of those knobby burl-type affairs topped with a sheet of glass. The identity of the creamy white wood mystified her.

“Dandelion root,” responded the furniture maker when she put the question to him.

“What?” she said. “Dandelions don’t have roots that big.”

“Nope. Normally they don’t,” he replied. “But then this here is Oregon dandelion root.”

She stalked off with scarlet cheeks, certain he was putting her on.

He wasn’t. Continue Reading →

0 In Travel

Off the Beaten (Brazilian) Track

When asked which side of the road Brazilians drive on, one must in all honesty reply, “Both.” Drivers weave from one side of the road to the other avoiding potholes and each other in an intricate samba guaranteed to age the uninitiated. In true Brazilian style, all of this takes place at speeds as high as the condition of the road allows. It must be admitted, however, that with death appearing to be imminent those speeds always seem magnified. Continue Reading →

0 In Flash fiction

The Voyage of the Beagle: A Very Short Tail

It was the dogwatch when the crew slunk across the poop deck, tails between their legs. Old Scratch led, lifting his leg on the mainmast as he passed. The captain contemptuously exposed a canine.

“Me and the others decided, Cap,” barked the old sea dog, pulling out a dog-eared document. “We all put our paw prints right here.”

“He made us, Cap’n,” whined Wiggles, crouching low and piddling on the poop.

“You yellow dog!” Scratch snapped at the cur. “Longer rations, Cap. And that keg o’ doggy biscuits you got buried.”

“I’ll give you a short leash, you hound!” growled the captain.

“Meet our demands, Cap,” said Scratch, “or you’ll wish you had fleas!”

“No dirty mongrel threatens me,” the captain snarled.

The lookout yelped, “Ship ahoy! Flying a cat’s paw!”

The sight of the floating cat house made the crew pant, tongues hanging from their mouths.

“To your stations, you dogs,” cried the captain. “There’ll be enough little Friskies for all! Bring her around! Hoist the Jolly Rover!”

As the skull and Milk Bones rose, the pack trotted off, Scratch dragging his tail.

The captain watched him go. “I’m gonna run that puppy through one day,” he muttered.


0 In Sports

Batter Up!

Pitcher Scott Proctor, Photo Keith Allison on Flickr

Pitcher Scott Proctor, Photo Keith Allison on Flickr

I’m famously sports inept. So who would have thought I’d have something in common with major league pitchers who hurl hardballs at 95+ miles per hour? Turns out, our Achilles heels may be our shoulders. I have managed to wreck each of my shoulders at different times—not, I can assure you, by throwing a ball at any speed.

Everyone who has suffered a shoulder injury knows that it is painful, incapacitating, annoying (when it is the result of nothing in particular or your own stupidity–my personal cases), and that the recuperative period can be long. In the case of major league pitchers, they invite disaster on a daily basis simply because of what they do, how often they do it, and the force with which they do it.

However, apparently a small change in the height of the pitcher’s mound may lead to longer careers and less risk of injury. Unfortunately, I don’t work on a pitcher’s mound, so this discovery can’t help me.

Science Friday on April 3, 2015, featured a program on baseball, as spring is finally here bringing spring training and the opening of the baseball season with it. Among others, host Ira Flatow interviewed William Raasch, Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, who doubles as the team physician for the Milwaukee Brewers. Raasch explained that research funded by the MLBA discovered that by reducing the height of the surface from which pitchers pitch, they might be able to reduce the risk of injury to—and lengthen the careers of—pitchers.

While helping pitchers rehabilitate, it was noticed that they felt fine when practicing their throws on flat ground, but when they moved to the pitcher’s mound, they discovered they were not as healed as they thought. The pitching mound is just 10 inches high. (Of course, on television, it looks much higher, but then wheels on cars also turn backward on TV.) Apparently that is enough to make a world of difference. It is, explained Raasch, a matter of timing. The pitcher’s arm is rotated differently at the time the front foot makes contact with the ground.

Don’t expect the pitcher’s mound height to decrease any time soon. Baseball players are rated as among the most superstitious of sports figures. Trying to convince them to give up the advantage—even it’s only psychological—over the batter will be impossible. And don’t try to get him to alter his pitching performance, either. If the pitcher has a quirky pitch that puts his shoulder at risk, but gets batters out, says Raasch, it’s unlikely the pitcher will give that up and possibly end his career earlier than a dicey shoulder.

0 In Experience

A Moving Experience, or, The Relocation Blues

One day I was in a car with friends when we stopped at a light in front of a local book store. “Didn’t that used to be a restaurant?” asked one friend. “I think so,” said another. A third then reeled off three different types of restaurants that had occupied the space before the current business.

I’ve lived in Salem for 22 years and during that time that store has always been a book store.

When people do this, I feel like Jason Bourne—awakening to find I have no past. Before I bought my house in Salem, I had lived no place longer than 4 years. We moved eight times while I was in school. A couple times we moved after only a few months.

The worst moves were the last two we made as a family. The first time, I was 14 and had just graduated from a two-year middle school. I’d bonded into my first group of really close friends. Leaving them was like an amputation.

We moved across the country to a small town in Ohio. Rather than moving on to high school, I was thrown back into junior high because the only middle school in town included ninth grade. Most of the girls in the very cliquish school had already known each other for two years—many of them had been friends since elementary school. I was an outcast, fitting in only with the rest of the outcasts.

Three years later I was looking forward to my senior year. I had found a group of girls I really clicked with. I was beginning to trade sidelong glances with a couple boys. I had already ordered my yearbook and had my class ring. Then my father announced we were moving back to California.

The high school I left had a student body of about 800. The California school had a student body of more than 2400; my new graduating class was larger than the entire student body of my previous school. As I went from class to class, I never saw the same faces twice. I saw my brother in the halls once. He gave me a half wave of recognition and the quirked smile of a drowning man who sees his fate and is wryly resigned to it. Then he disappeared into a sea of anonymous faces.

My brother was in the same situation I’d landed in three years before. He had been about to move into high school with a couple of close buddies when he was wrenched away from them. It was unfortunate that, being teenagers with different personalities, we had drifted apart. I had already suffered the loss he was about to endure. We could, perhaps, have helped each other through this one.

I gritted my teeth and finished school. I went through the graduation ceremony only because I knew it meant something to my parents. It was meaningless to me. I didn’t know any of the students and didn’t care. I never bought a yearbook or another class ring. What was the point? I didn’t belong there.

When I moved out at 20, I was glad to be on my own, mistress of my own future. I went through a lot of apartments, but when I bought my house my roots sank into the ground. My brother, too, stopped moving as soon as he was able. He’s been in his home for almost as long as I’ve been in mine. Neither of us is willing to give up the friends and sense of place we’ve established.

People say kids are resilient, and to some extent that’s true or none of us would survive. And there are times when a breadwinner has to move–and move long distances–taking his or her family along. An economy during which jobs are in short supply is one of those times. These moves even kids can understand, if the situation is explained to them, even if they don’t like it.

Often, however, the command to relocate comes from a corporate office, made by executives only looking at the company’s bottom line rather than the effect the move will have on the family group involved. It’s not unusual for employees to understand that, if they do not make the move, the health and vigor of their careers will suffer. The economy and the American focus on corporate climbing being what they are, many, if not most, choose the job and hope the quality of family life will survive.

It’s not unusual, however, for a person to decide to move across the corporate chess board on his own, driven by the dream of becoming a knight or even a king. Although his dreams and plans figure prominently, or even primarily, too often his spouse’s and his children’s dreams, needs, and desires for security are not considered or respected. And when they are not, there will often be a price to pay in a trail of lost and broken pieces.