Set amid the scenic red rock beauty of Sedona, Arizona, Sedona: City of Refugees is the story of a widowed middle –aged newspaper reporter searching for God and herself amid the rubble of her life. Kathleen Sullivan Buckley writes profiles for a small newspaper about various characters that inhabit the tourist community. Running parallel to her articles is Kathleen’s own story: She is a fallen-away Roman Catholic attempting to deal with her loss of faith; she feels spiritually buffeted by her married lover’s powerful born-again Christian beliefs and the persistent philosophies of the New Age that constantly swirl about Sedona This novel is a biting look at a modern-day American tourist community caught in the throes of change. Sedona—considered by many to be more stunning than some of America’s national parks—draws more than three million tourists a year. But beneath the surface splendor of the scenery, Sedona is torn by deep conflict, with each political and spiritual faction hustling their individual philosophy.
Jack Berens is a passionate man, a fun character to write about. I once worked for a guy like this and, after a while, his passion for his work as a newspaper publisher became more than I could handle. I had more in my life than he did, and I needed to focus on my family.I quit, but not without regret.
Jack tries to explain to Kathleen his view of how a community newspaper should be run. His view, however, is different than hers, calling Sedona a city of refugees where new residents and tourists alike feel Sedona is a slice of heaven.
This look at Jack Berens, the owner of a new community newspaper in Sedona, is a portrait of a boss I once worked for. There really was no way to describe him without using he word "driven." He lived for the small newspaper he created without much of a life other than that. He was exasperating, but I loved him as a dear, dear friend.
...until they are easy. Mulling over her life as she has an expensive lunch with her friend, Carrie, Kathleen is confronted by a rather impetuous man who wants her to work for him at his weekly newspaper--once again in Sedona. This is a scene out of my life when such an impertinent man approached me many years ago to work on his weekly newspaper.
Long ago, when I was still in high school, I worked on Saturdays at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner putting together the Youth Page--short info about what was going on at various high schools in Los Angeles. There was a woman editor there--a real character who used rough language and smoked small cigars and probably had a bottle of scotch in her desk. I was so impressed by her...and that is the woman I write about in this small segment.
Kathleen's closest friend, Carrie, gives her some advice while they have lunch at Rene's at Tlaquepaque. It was meant with the best of intentions, but Kathleen rejects it outright. No, she does not need to find a "good man."
The surroundings of Rene's at Tlaquepaque causes Kathleen to wonder how she lived her life with her husband, Scott, realizing soon after the marriage that he was a womanizer.
Kathleen has met her friend, Carrie, in one of Sedona's most elegant restaurants--Rene's of Tlaquepaque. When she looks around at the patrons, she sees the president of the local bank and remembers the hell he had put her through when she needed a loan after leaving her husband, Scott. This was a hard scene to write since it's true.
Kathleen, having just visited her late husband's grave, has carried her sour mood to lunch with her long-time friend, Carrie who pulls no punches. Carrie is really telling Kathleen to get hold of herself, to move on. The scene is set at Rene's at Tlaquepaque, a glorious French restaurant. The inside of the restaurant is described as it was when I first move to Sedona, lo three decades ago. The decor has changed a bit, but the food and the service is still divine!!! I love it there!
I have lived in or near Sedona for almost three decades and, just like my character Kathleen, I love Tlaquepaque. It is a beautifully styled arts and crafts village that looks as if it had been whisked from Mexico, sycamore trees and all into the heart of Sedona. Yes, the shops have expensive do-dads--blown glass and turquoise jewelry and clothes to die for, but the atmosphere of Tlaquepaque is wonderous. Come visit!!!
An interesting scene to write. The cemetery in Sedona where this scene takes place is a bit weird. Although the scenery around the graves is that of spectacular red rocks, it is, in essence, a terribly lonely place. No grass, no real flowers--mostly fake silk or plastic flowers that are faded. In this scene, Kathleen considers forgiveness for her late husband, but then she remembers what a counselor told her about "using" hatred instead.
I couldn't have written this scene without having personally experienced it. When one is in love, nothing seems to matter until one is suddenly faced with a decision that alters that love...just a little, just a little. Putting pen to paper that says you are wealthy in appearance only sinks in as the marriage begins to crumble.
We all want some kind of peace after someone we loved has died. We hope by going to the graveyard that peace will come. In this scene, Kathleen's hope for inner peace only brought up the memories of how much of a bastard her husband was.
It's always difficult visiting the grave of a loved one for the first time. The kind words said at the funeral are blown away and all there is left is the grave, covered over by grass or dirt, depending if the graveyard is Forest Lawn or a small community graveyard no one keeps up. I conjured up this scene as I stood in the middle of this graveyard. And, yes, the metal of the shed rattled in the wind!
This graveyard is located in Sedona off Hwy 179. Although there is the beauty of the red rocks that surround this place of the dead, it's a bit creepy. Of course there is no grass, only the red dirt that Sedona is so famous for, the dirt that can stain a pair of white slacks. Some people stick artificial flowers in the ground which look pretty for about a month and then the hot sun fades them and they really look fake. This is where Councilman Sy Birch is buried, the very nice man that Hwy 89A is named for. And no...we are not related, but I liked him very much during the time I worked for the City of Sedona.
The children of Scott Buckley have given their approval for their uncle to bring up evidence that Scott was under the influence when he signed a new will that gave his assets to his second wife, Kathleen. The two sisters know there is the possibility the community of Sedona will be shocked by that admission, but shock is better than losing their father's estate.
Money, and what it can do, is very much the focus of this chapter. The daughters of Scott Buckley decide they can't live without it and change their minds about proving their father was under the influence of alcohol when he changed his will to include his second wife, Kathleen.
The two sisters, Natalie and Jessica, are about as different as wine is to whiskey. While having lunch at the magnificent Enchantment Resort in Sedona, they verbally attack one another over each of their lifestyles. Natalie's concern always has to do with her spiritualism and environmental protection of the land. Jessica, on the other hand, is concerned about money and her newest sexual partner.
Philip is trying to convince his nieces that they need to contest their father's will by saying Scott was under the influence of alcohol when he left his entire estate to his wife, Kathleen. It's a rude awakening for the two sisters. They need their father's money to live the lives they love.
Ah, yes, the two sisters finally show their claws. One is a sexual predator and the other is seeking good Karma. This scene was a delight to write!!
I've lived in or near Sedona for a long time--almost thirty years. My characterization of the two sisters is a combination of many people I've met or interviewed when I was a reporter for the Sedona newspaper. They are rather "outsized," but I think the reader gets the point--one is very New Age, the other is part of the wealthy tennis crowd.
I've always loved Enchantment Resort, tucked away in a canyon far enough from the busy tourist trade in Sedona. It seems Sedona is miles away, when it really is only a 15 minute drive. When I thought about writing this scene, there could have been no better place than the ritzy Enchantment. This is the first real introduction of Philip Buckley, Kathleen's brother-in-law. He's nasty, but as I mentioned previously, writing about a nasty character is much easier than writing about the book's protagonist.
Kathleen touched her husband's coffin and realized how empty her life with him had been. All she wanted now was peace.
This description of Kathleen's brother-in-law and the two step-daughters was a delight to write. I thoroughly understand why actors love to play nasty characters. They can get their teeth into the part. It's the same with me. I modeled the part of the brother-in-law after a boss I once worked for. He would stand in the doorway of his office and stare at me, making sure I was doing my job. So, this was how I got my revenge: I made him a nasty character in this book!
The kind words the priest said about her late husband did not console Kathleen. She knew better than anyone who Scott Buckley was--most certainly not the philanthropic businessman members of the community remembered. He was, in her opinion, a man who cared only about his reputation, fed by his greed.
I enjoyed writing this scene. It shows the animus of Kathleen toward her late husband, In her view, the kind words of the priest are the result of large yearly donations from the Buckley family.
I have never forgotten the funeral mass for my husband. This scene is a close replica of my emotions--not because I was grieving for him; in reality I was grieving for myself.
Although there are parts of this novel that never happened, as I have mentioned previously, this funeral for my husband is recreated as truthfully as it happened. Yes, it was indeed a bad day.
The black straw hat is a great prop for this scene, with Kathleen pulling its large brim down so she can't be seen. In reality, I had never worn that hat before, but found it in the back of my closet. Little did I know how much I would need that hat as the funeral began.
I really do believe art imitates life. This funeral scene is lush, describing how the community reacted to Scott's death--and how they treated Kathleen. Next week's Bubble will show her emotional reaction to being shunned.
This scene is laying the foundation for what happened when Kathleen entered the Catholic Church for her husband's funeral.
I chuckle a bit after reading these two paragraphs. I needed a character that Kathleen could visualize as one of the people causing such emotional pain. Father O'Malley fit the bill.
As I read this scene aain, I wonder how I managed to get through a day that was truely terrible. While the majority of this fictional novel is just that--fictionl--the funeral is true to what I experienced. I have not written it in any way different than how it happened.
This is an important scene. It's the crux of Kathleen's hatred. Time to buy the book...
A tough scene to write. Scott suddenly tells Kathleen what he thinks she should do in the community to smooth over the land trade with the US Forest Service. His anger builds and his drunkenness kicks in.
I enjoy writing about someone who is pretty full of themselves. The character of Scott--he is prideful about himself and his business and his standing in the community. As a newspaper reporter, I came across a lot of the Scott types.
The only person that is real in this novel is my cousin Charlie, who appears in this scene at the funeral of Kathleen's husband, Scott. Charlie was the bane of my existence when I was a kid--teasing me endlessly, beating me at Old Maid, and telling me the mechanics of sex, much to my dismay as I hit him as hard as I could, not believing a word of what he said. I love him dearly..
This scene was easy to write because Sedona is breath-taking, no matter what season of the year. I fell in love with this community many years ago; however. I have learned through living in Sedona that it's a complex place, filled with people who believe the red rocks are spiritual, while there are those who know the scenery brings tourists, which brings wealth--or the semblance of it.
While this book is written as fiction, some events are fairly close to what I have experienced. While this scene in front of St. John Vianney Catholic Church is enhanced a bit in order to grab the reader, further on, there is an absolute truth to what happened inside the church. Keep tuned!!!
The 1980s was an era filled with glamour as Hollywood took over the White House—a period of fluffy hairdos, and red outfits à la Nancy Reagan, outsized wealth, and popular TV soap operas that subsidized the idea of affluence. As a single mother raising two sons on top ramen because much of my salary as a newspaper reporter went to day care and babysitters, I fell under the radar of an older, wealthy businessman. I came to love and marry him because I believed he would be kind to my kids and we would have a good life together. But when I arrived at John’s home after the Maui honeymoon, I found my step-daughter had fired the housekeeper, my two young sons were subdued after a week in her care, and the personal belongings of my husband’s late wife filled the master bedroom. It was the beginning of a tumultuous decade, as I found my way among a deceptive family filled with the pretense only a founding dynasty could have in a small agricultural community fifty miles north of Los Angeles. While my children and I enjoyed the benefits of living in a seemingly wealthy household, I came to realize my life was no different than the soap operas of Dynasty or Dallas that gratuitously filled the national passion for greed, guile, and deception. If one’s life can be a duplication of a decade, then I was the perfect example.
This moment that I met my second husband is still so vivid in my mind! I remember distinctly every second of that meeting. And, yes, it was to become a Pearl Harbor of my own making!
An unbelievable lucky streak! Within a week, I landed a new job where the hours were from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. I would be able to be home with my children in the evening instead of covering a long, dreary city council meeting!
To be truthful, I couldn't believe what I had just done--I had quit my job in an instantaneous reflex of anger at my editor who had told me to "type faster." What a mess I put myself in--a single mother with two sons and no job!
If this scene sounds a bit far fetched...it isn't. It's true and I lived it--a signature moment that changed my life.
The moments I write about in this excerpt were extremely difficult. They were the foundations of chaos that I found myself in.
Yes, I was late getting home from my classes at Pierce College. And dinner wasn't the best...but throwing the dinner plate full of food against the wall? And yes, it was the beginning of the end.
I went back to college when I was 33 years old. If I had to do it again, I probably would think a bit harder about the effect of that decision on my marriage. At the time, I wanted what I wanted what I wanted.
Every writer has a story as to how they became a writer. This excerpt explains mine...
That old cliche about life being unpredictable is more than true, at least it certainly has been in my life. Since I was a teenager, I wanted to be a journalist. Missteps and bad decisions changed that when I was young, but in my mid-thirties with two young children, I convinced my husband that I could go back to college, get my degree, and still be the wife whose kids were well-behaved, the house was clean and dinner on the table the moment my husband stepped in the front door. Hmmmmmm......
Yes, it's true. Pauline, the small Hispanic lady who became my housekeeper, was a Godsend to me. Somehow she made me feel comfortable in my husband's house because she just did what she knew how to do--clean the house. I was emotionally paralyzed because my new husband told me not to touch anything in his house. All I wanted was to clean out closets that had not been touched in years, so I could find room to move into the house. It was Pauline who gave me the kick in the pants to pay no attention to what John had said.
During those first few months in John's household, I was either sick from walking pneumonia or paralyzed with fear that I would do something wrong. I was in a household where my step-children hated me and my new husband refused to give me the backing I needed to become part of the family. My only salvation was my housekeeper, Pauline, who managed to make me feel that I was not loosing my mind. It was her influence that helped me get through the roughest of times.
Since my husband had told me I could not touch anything in his house because it might hurt his grown children's feelings, I decided to do nothing, hoping John would realize the predicament I was in--I couldn't move in with closets filled with junk. However, when my house sold and all my belongings were finally coming to John's house, I faced the ire of my 25-year-old step son and the love he held for his mother's belongings. Another moment in my marriage to John that has never left my memory...
This excerpt shows more of my husband's family and how they took over the house during the pro-football season. It was only then, while I was sick, that I understood what a terrible mistake I had made, believing money and prestige would equal a loving family environment for me and my children. Wrong.
In a cloud of antibiotic haze, I finally began to know my stepchildren as I viewed them from my sick chair. It was only then that I began to see the complexities of an incestuous family.
A horrible, horrible moment in my life when I tried to clean the cluttered closets in the house of my new husband. I was simply told not to do it, and that's when I began to believe I had made a terrible mistake by marrying John.
I didn't know my new husband; I may have thought I did, but we were on our best behavior during the courting stage. I suppose I should have lived with John before I made the mistake of marrying him, but I was old-fashioned in that respect; I simply did not want my sons to ever think less of me. As the old saying goes, one never knows anyone completely. I, on the other hand, did not know my husband at all.
I never paid much attention to foreboding remarks or the future as told by an astrologist before I married John. I should have. Both forecasts should have hit me between the eyes. They didn't however. I was naive enough to believe love would solve everything.
As a single mother, I was afraid of many things--not arriving on time at the day care center and being charged for the extra minutes, which I could barely afford. In this excerpt, I write of an incident that has never left me. I acted like I was out of my mind, and in a way, I was.
My vision of a happy life was to be home with my sons while they grew into maturity. I believed my new husband was open to change and new ideas. He was an entrepreneur who liked to think up new ways to enhance his grocery business. Nothing seemed impossible to him, and I thought I could help him make his business even better. Unfortunately, I had a lot to learn.
Although Veronica's husband is the owner of the only grocery store in the rural town of Moraine--and its butcher--he was much more than that. He loved playing politics over the glass meat case as he gave his sage advice to those who had come to believe that he knew what he was talking about.
When my boys told me about their new step-brother hitting them in the back as they ran past home base while playing baseball, I felt a shock. On one level, I wouldn't let myself believe that Jack, who was thirteen, would do such a thing. On the other hand, I realized it would be an easy way for Jack to express his anger at his new step-brothers. I hoped I could deal with it, but at that moment, I wasn't sure I could handle much of anything. I wanted to talk to my new husband about it, but felt it was too soon--after all, I had been in my husband's house for less than a day.
My boys were so happy to see me when I returned from my wedding and honeymoon on Maui that I silently shed a few tears. This was a new life for them as well as for me. They had questions--why is it such a big deal to be a Stewart? And, more important, did they have to call their step-father "Dad?" Navigating this mine field seemed straight-forward at first, but I soon learned that in the Stewart household, nothing was straight forward.
My sister-in-law came to my rescue when I found the clothing and personal items of John's late wife still in the master bedroom and bathroom. She corralled my step-daughter to clear out the musty items that had been molding in the drawers for three years. I felt she was an ally. I couldn't have been more wrong.
This moment is clearly etched into my mind--finding the clothing and personal items of John's late wife still in the master bedroom. They had been there for three years, never moved since the day Gloria had died. It was like I had hit a brick wall and wasn't quite able to pick myself up. It was indeed a foreboding of how I was going to fit into my husband's household.
I remember this moment vividly. My step-daughter had fired the live-in-housekeeper while I was marrying her father in Hawaii. While I understood that my boys needed to move into the housekeeper's room, certainly the housekeeper could have been retained to work in the house one day a week. But that wasn't the case. It was a move my step-daughter made to tell me I wasn't in charge of the household--she was.
Veronica had a surprise when she returned from her Maui honeymoon--her boys were unusually quiet, not their usual boisterous greeting whenever she had come home from work. She had been gone a week and suddenly realized she had held a false belief that somehow her sons would be melded into John's family.That was a terrible mistake.
My father-in-law really detested Ronald Reagan, whom he viewed as an actor who would bring America down to its knees. The argument between my new husband and his father was symptomatic of their relationship.
Alma had been given so much jewelry by her husband in their sixty-plus years of marriage that she could have opened her own jewelry store. I'll give Alma credit, she proudly wore all her diamonds.
My family was entirely different than John's family. No one in my family had been married as many years as Alma and John. Their relationship was awe-inspiring. They loved one another unconditionally. Unfortunately, it was a smothering kind of relationship that affected everyone else.
As I review this scene where Veronica is faced with a difficult decision, I think back to that moment when I faced the same decision. I was outmaneuvered and I knew it--first by my husband-to-be and also by his smooth-talking lawyer. Indeed, I should have paid attention to my intuition; I had gotten myself into a corner and there was little I could do about it.
This scene in the lawyer's office is exactly as it played out in real life. My signing that pre-nup changed the trajectory of my life.
When I married John, it was the beginning of the Reagan era, where fluffy hair and puffy sleeves and "Dallas" was the talk around the water cooler. Nancy Reagan and her Hollywood pals were the prime example for the American woman. I wanted what they had. The ease of the credit card became an addiction of sorts.
My grandmother certainly never let a chance go by to pass on her views of life. She was an ambitious woman who pushed her seven children into show business. As far as she was concerned, it was just as easy to marry a rich man as a poor man. That lesson came to haunt me as the years of my second marriage to a "rich" man became more difficult.
Wedding nights are strange events--at least for me. Either it's wonderful or it's terrible. Frankly, love affairs are far better!
How well I remember John as he stood solidly behind the meat counter of his grocery store, his hands in his pockets or wrapping up a big order of steak for the politician he was talking to. It was a mixture of marketing his product which included his high-end beef along with political bullshit.
Everything was so different--standing on the beach on Maui to take our wedding vows, inviting ten strangers for our wedding dinner--I wasn't sure where I stood in all of this. Unfortunately, I would soon find out.
I kept thinkig as I watched this woman chew her gum that never in a thousand years would I have picked her to act as a witness--although her point of view was that she was tmy Maid of Honor. I mentally shrunk from her wishing that she would simply disappear.
I still remember the gal who served as bridemaid. I have no idea how she managed to weasel her way into doing that except John and I needed witnesses and she volunteered. I don't remember the other witness at all. That evening, all of those who were invited to attend our wedding dinner were waiting outside the restaurant when we arrived. It was a lesson I never forgot: John loved parties, and it sure as hell didn't matter who was there.
This opening of my memoir is as clear to me today as it was in 1980. It was the beginning of a tumultuous time where I soon discovered my husband's reason for marrying on the shores of Maui was because he did not want his adult children to be upset. By doing that, he put into place their inability to ever accept me as their father's wife.
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