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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Where Would You Live? Book Club Discussion

This is the fifth in a series of blogs for book clubs and discussion groups who are reading my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven. Weigh in below, or send me an email through my website letting me know the results of your book club or group discussion.

If you had the opportunity to start over, where would you choose to live? This is a dilemma that Charleigh faces in A Thin Slice of Heaven. Born and raised near Boston, she knows nothing else. But with few family, few friends and a husband who has just informed her - in a text, no less - that he's leaving her for another woman, she finds herself with the opportunity to start over.

How would each of these factor into your decision to move someplace else?

1. Language - The ability to communicate with others should not be overlooked. Yet I am fascinated by HGTV's series, House Hunters International, and how many people move to countries where they do not speak the language. How would this influence your decision?

2. Culture - Every country has it's own unique culture. How would that persuade you for or against a particular locale? For example, I am an animal lover and I would never want to move to a country where bull-fighting or cock-fighting or similar sports are legal. I also could never live in a country that raises dogs and cats for human consumption.

3. Food - This may seem like a given, but religious and cultural influences often dictate what can or cannot be eaten. Consider, for example, that in some cultures eating beef is considered barbaric. Others subsist on meats, seafood and vegetables that cause Americans to recoil. How much emphasis would you place on this?

4. Money - In some areas of the world, it's customary to spend $5,000 US per month for a one-bedroom apartment or studio. In other areas, $5,000 would get you a palace. And in still others, $5,000 would support you for an entire year. How would you consider the monetary factors? There is also the matter of employment, unless you are independently wealthy or can live comfortably on a nest egg. What type of employment would you need to receive to make the move worth your while?

5. Acceptance - Some countries may welcome tourists but inwardly dislike outsiders. Others welcome newcomers with open arms. How important is it for you to make friends and fit in? I had a friend years ago who volunteered her time and money to help build houses in a third-world country. When she arrived there, however, she found the people to be extremely judgmental. They disliked the very people who had come to help them. She never returned - would you?

6. Housing - I have to admit, I have grown quite fond of large rooms. Extra bedrooms have been turned into a study, a guest room and a massive closet. What if the place you wanted to live had one or two bedrooms and 1,000 square feet was spacious? Would that satisfy your needs? What if glass windows and locking doors were unheard of? I've heard of people who moved into homes in the middle of jungles or in remote areas. How would that impact your decision? Would you prefer city living, suburbs or country? Apartment, adjoining home or detached home? Yard or no yard?

There are also areas of the world in which gated, armed communities and barred windows and doors are the norm. Could you adjust to such an environment?

7. Amenities - I lived in the Washington, DC area for most of my life. I was accustomed to museums, festivals, a variety of shopping, restaurants of every cuisine, national parks and monuments, and much more. What do you have where you currently live? Could you live without them?

8. Climate - I would love to think my snow-shoveling days are over. I once lived in central Virginia where ice storms knocked out my electricity for several years in a row, and always at Christmas when I had a houseful of guests. For others, a mountain scenery is valued high enough that snow and ice are the norm and completely acceptable. Others prefer the heat and humidity of the tropics, while still others prefer a climate of moderate temperatures year 'round. How much would climate factor into your plans?

9. Government - Some governments are quite liberal, others conservative and still others can change rapidly with coups. How much emphasis would you place on a stable government or its policies?

10. Crime - I knew a gentleman from Europe who made America his second home, and his European friends could not understand why he wanted to live in a country that was so accepting of crime, particularly murders. Some cultures have grown accustomed to high crime and consider it the norm, while others find any crime to be socially unacceptable and often barbaric. Cultural influences often go hand-in-hand with high or low crime rates. How would this factor into your decision?

What other considerations would you give to moving to a different country or culture? What would cause you to remain where you were, or influence your decision to relocate?



Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book Club Discussion: Sexually Appropriate

This is the fourth in a series of blogs for book clubs and discussion groups who are reading my book, A Thin Slice of Heaven. Weigh in below, or send me an email through my website letting me know the results of your book club or group discussion.

A Thin Slice of Heaven was a complex book to write because every scene has more than one meaning and more than one context. This includes the intimate love scenes which take place between Charleigh, who is stranded in a castle in Northern Ireland and Sean, a man who died more than a hundred and fifty years earlier.

In the first intimate scene, Charleigh questions how physical love can even be possible:

When her palm reached his face and her fingers followed the line of his jaw, she asked hesitantly, “How is it that I can—?” She stopped herself. Maybe she didn’t want to know. Maybe if she knew, he would disappear and she would be left alone in this massive castle. Perhaps if he wasn’t here, the moon and the stars would seem to disintegrate as well until she was left with nothing but the inky blackness of a night that would feel too long and too painful to endure.
He placed his hand atop hers. “I am not going anywhere. I swear to you.”
Their faces were inches apart. The heat from his body was immense. She could see the fine pores in his skin, the individual hairs on his brow, the smiling lips that beckoned to her to kiss them.
“Do you know what an aura is?” he asked.
“You mean like colors around a person? A halo?”
He shrugged. “It is—a bit more like an energy field. Close your eyes.”
She didn’t want to close them. She didn’t want to tear her eyes from his face. “Promise you won’t go away?”
He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. “I promise.”
As she closed her eyes, he continued, “Can you feel your skin?”
“Just where you’re touching me.”
“And if I were not touching you? Say, the skin on your neck. Do you feel it there?”
She giggled. “No.”
“Then you cannot truly feel where your body ends, can you?”
She lay motionless for a moment. “No.”
“The truth is, m’ dear, you do not end at your skin. Your presence reaches beyond it. There is an energy field that encircles you.” A moment later, he said, “Do you feel anything different now?”
“I—oh, it’s my imagination.”
“Tell me.”
“Keep your eyes closed now.”
“I feel a warmth.”
“Just above my torso.”
“Be more specific.”
“Between my neck and my breasts.”
“Open your eyes.”
She opened them slowly. He had shifted soundlessly until his torso lay inches from hers and just above her. His shirt gapped open until it stopped just an inch from her.
“My energy field is far greater than yours just now,” he went on. “I can regulate it. When I do not wish to be seen, I can pull back.”
As she watched, he began to fade from view. “No,” she blurted. She thrust her hand out to pull him back but her fingers went straight through him. She felt a burst of energy pulse through her fingertips, unlike anything she’d ever experienced before.
      “When I do want to be seen,” he continued calmly, returning to a state as clear as she saw herself, “I can become like flesh and blood.”

 Charleigh is taken step by step into the act of sex with a ghost. But the scene means far more than that. The intimacy shared between them triggers memories deep inside her. Little things like a lock of hair falling forward, the sound of his breath against her ear, the touch of his hand against hers. As the book progresses and they move from lovemaking in the bedroom to sex in the solarium, the memories rise to a fever pitch: the sight of a butterfly suncatcher, the vision of making love in the grass atop a cliff overlooking the ocean, even the memory of the moon overhead during their most intimate moments... It becomes those memories welling up inside her that will take her the rest of the way along her journey - a journey she doesn't realize she is taking until the very end.

Spoiler Alert: If you have not read the book, stop here.

Toward the end of the book, Charleigh realizes that she was Sean's wife in a previous incarnation. Part of her process of dying and passing through the veil to the other side meant reuniting with her one great love - her soul mate. It is through his undying love for her coupled with the intimate moments that can only be uniquely shared between two people that awaken memories within her.

When they meet on the parapet as two spirits at the end of the book, they discuss this intimacy:

“This was all part of our plan?” she asked.
“Aye. We discussed it in great detail.”
“Then why don’t I remember it?”
“It is amnesia; yes, it can affect you here just as it could on the other side. You have been through quite a shock. When you returned as Charleigh, you could not recall your life as my wife at all. You had to live as Charleigh Dircks. It has been only a few days since you arrived here; only days since you passed over. Everything will come back to you, I promise; every last memory… in time.”
She nodded wordlessly, allowing his words to sink into her consciousness. “You’ll help me remember?” she said at last.
“Of course I will, just as you helped me when I passed well over a hundred years ago.”
“And the sex—” she began tentatively.
Sean laughed out loud, a boisterous laugh that shook them both. “Ah, yes. In the days before you left for your incarnation as Charleigh, it consumed all our time. You made me promise to make love to you as soon as you passed through the veil—a promise,” he hastened to add with a lopsided grin, “—that I was more than happy to oblige.”
“I remembered things when we made love,” she said, a blush creeping into her cheeks.
      “I hope you remembered our love for one another. That is what I wanted you to remember most of all—that our love transcends time and place so that you would want to return to me.” 

A Thin Slice of Heaven is many things to many people. Those who have lost loved ones have contacted me, letting me know how much comfort there has been in reading this book. Each of us has felt a loved one after they have passed over; each of us have heard their voice, if only for a moment and only in a whisper... Each of us has spotted something that had meaning to us both: a particular type of sunrise or sunset, birds or animals we enjoyed - in Charleigh's case, it was the butterfly suncatcher. Each of us has felt that brush past us, that feeling that someone was at our shoulder, watching over us, and that inspiration that led us somewhere we least expected.

That is what this book is about... It is the eternal love; the soul that never dies.

Buy A Thin Slice of Heaven in paperback at any fine book store, or online at amazon. It is also available in Kindle, Nook, in iBooks and all other eBook formats.