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Childhood Stories

There’s a reason I keep writing no matter what speed my life may be running at on any given day. Words strung together in books have always given me the ability to dream of bigger things and even the courage to go out and try.
I’ve been blessed to have four books published, www.WallisJones.com and each time there have been plenty of readers who have said that I helped them let go of what no longer worked for them and dream, too.

We talk a lot about our purpose for being here in this life and yes, you can even do that with a thriller. Maybe even have a little fun. I’ve come to believe mine is to be of service in whatever ways I can figure out. So far, translating the common man’s dream into something worthwhile, something doable and something that’s even full of a little God-magic wrapped up in a page-turner has been mine. Not the big, change a country, build a corporation dreams. The smaller moments that stay in your heart.

It’s a message that I took in from the very start.

My first experiences with books and stories are three of the strongest memories I have as a child. The very first one was the first time I walked into a library, the Philadelphia library and found out they let you check out as many as you could carry, a parent’s rule, read them all and bring them back for more. My world opened up that day and I found out there were a thousand possibilities when it came to living a life.

The second has to be explained a little bit. We were so poor when I was growing up that my father talked a friend of his who worked at a local bank to lend him a hundred dollars so he could buy us a used black and white television. We screamed with delight when Dad brought the set home. So, when a Reading is Fundamental bookmobile came through our neighborhood and the driver told us we could pick out any new book and keep it, I felt like a little big of magic had settled over us that day. I took my time and tried to choose a book that I could read over and over again. I still have it and read it to my son when he was little.

The third memory is my brother, Jeff and myself when we taught ourselves to read, Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss. We had the book read to us so many times we knew what part of the story went with what pictures and on our own figured out which words went with the sounds. That’s when I understood a secret about books. They have their own power to transform. They don’t know if you’re rich or poor, beautiful or an ugly duckling, a wealthy doctor or a poor cabdriver, and they don’t care. A book will take you on an adventure whenever you’re ready, regardless of how you see yourself and as a bonus may even change the definitions.

Books made it possible for me to envision a way to become someone I couldn’t even define yet. They gave me the faith to set out when I couldn’t find it anywhere else and the hope that somehow things would all work out.

I’ve seen it happen just often enough. A lost human being feels like they’re the only one who has ever felt this much pain. They don’t know how to reach out for help but then, inside of a story some writer concocted out of whole cloth they see every emotion or secret or hope-for happy ending that they’ve kept bottled up inside, acted out, and they start to believe – maybe there’s more to this world.
That’s why I keep writing and that’s why I’m so grateful for every writer out there who struggles to tell a good tale. It’s why I’ve started a series, The Wallis Jones Series so that I can get to know the characters better right along with the readers and keep on writing.

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batgirls2My big summer project has turned out to be redecorating my Chicago apartment. It all started because I told my landlord I was moving in order to gain a dishwasher and a vent above the stove. He countered with an offer to put both of them in and then some. That has created an interesting discussion among my friends about women and comic books that has been more disturbing than you might have thought possible.

By the time the renovations were done the kitchen was taken back to its foundation and that made my old furniture suddenly seem a little shabby. Before I knew it, I was updating everything else. What emerged was a more accurate picture of me that as it turns out is a cross between a little science, a lot of DC comics and some sci-fi for good measure. I already knew that but apparently most of my friends were caught off guard.

bat ironThere’s a few classic DC comic posters, an amazing bat signal an artist cousin of mine cut out of iron and a few insects suspended in glass that are hanging in the kitchen. There’s more but you get the idea.

Any nerd girl would feel right at home.

Several friends have commented that I had created every ten-year-old boy’s dream home but they missed the point. This place was a celebration of the nerd girl.

The nerd world at large is just starting to catch up with the women’s movement from forty years ago. All of a sudden, women who are into gaming, science, sci-fi and graphic novels are speaking up about being ignored or even put down by their male counterparts.

I’m one of those nerd women and it’s about time we defined ourselves instead of always standing in the background. It’s about time because frankly we’ve been here all along. I not only watched the original Star Trek series in its first run, I dreamed of being Captain Kirk, not Lieutenant Uhura. Gene Rodenberry felt he was being ground-breaking by having a multi-cultural cast and including women in bigger roles, and he was but that doesn’t mean that his female audience in the 1960’s wasn’t dreaming about leading the charge.

We aren’t a new creation just catching up with all of the guys. Think Marie Curie, the pioneer in physics and radiology or even Sally Ride, the youngest and first woman astronaut in space. We’ve been around for awhile and we’ve been making contributions in environmental science, biology and even comic books, although that’s been an even harder glass ceiling for us to break.

Gail Simone, former lead writer for DC Comics’ Batgirl was fired last December and many believe it was because of her outspoken comments about the disproportionate number of women who are maimed, raped, beaten and murdered in comic books and movies. She called it ‘women in refrigerators’ and was even roundly chastised in social media, which is a disheartening comment about how male readers may see women in general. Largely disposable accessories.

A population that was most likely bullied during their formative years ought to have a little more compassion for a similar group. Nerd-boys ought to stick up for us more but if they continue not to, we can become our own super heroes more and keep speaking up for ourselves, and use our purses to get our point across in a way that has proven to be effective.

Comic Con was this past weekend in Chicago and my entire family was there, as usual. There was artwork I would have liked to buy but the ridiculous portrayal of the women isn’t something I want to display in my home. It’s been reported that Simone will soon be the lead writer for a new Tomb Raider series, which is good news for not only my older generation but little girls who can grow up with a better idea of what’s possible that goes beyond the label survivor. Maybe we can start to look for the super heroes we admire and support them by buying their stories and artwork and just rescue ourselves. More adventures to follow. Tweet me @MarthaRandolph and tell me your own super heroine story.

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Mom Leontine (Tina) Elaine Carr: June 1, 1926 to April 18, 2013

On Wednesday night my mother, Leontine Carr, Tina, died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 86 and finally got to dance with my dad, Dabney Carr again. He had gone ahead of her in April of 2005 to get things ready. That was their usual system but she had missed him every day of those eight years. She was happy and having a good time right until the end, always entertaining someone with her stories and more and more Mom was remembering her younger days like what it was like to have a grandfather in rural Georgia who owned a candy store or to be a young mother with so many kids. There are five of us and my oldest sister, Diana did a great job of looking after Mom these past eight years, Linda and Cary kept in constant contact and sent presents along with my brother Dabney and we all visited and made sure she knew we loved her. She made a point her entire life of telling everyone else how much she loved us. In the end, that’s all there is. Dance with Dad in peace, Mom and we’ll do our best to honor your life in the way we live ours.

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From left: Mary, Katherine, Mimi, me, Linda, Libba and Tammy. Great women who are part of the Class of '77. Go Green!

It took me 35 years to get back for a high school reunion at my alma mater, St. Agnes School, class of ’77. In the intervening years the school merged with our brother school, St. Stephen’s and has become known more by its initials, SSSAS. A rose by any other name is still a rose and I owe a lot to my high school, like my profession.

Miss Meyers, a history teacher, took me out into the hall and gently taught me how to take copious notes. When I got there in 9th grade I had no idea how to do that and that talent would serve me well, years later as a journalist. Mrs. Fuller was the first person to tell me I was a good writer and submitted an essay I wrote to the school magazine and then told me about it. She correctly gathered that left to my own devices I’d have stuck to the middle of the pack and not sent in a single word. Her faith in me would come in handy years later when I sent my first novel, Wired around and would get all of those letters of rejection. Miss Levins taught me about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and her favorite, Faulkner and set me on the road to being a published novelist.

All of the teachers at St. Agnes never gave out multiple choice questions and instead we had to work out math problems by hand and write essays, a lot of essays. The answers had to restate the question and then build a concise argument that led to a logical conclusion, every time. Not only did that make me a strong writer, I became good at looking at a problem or an opportunity from every angle looking for solutions.

My favorite moments this past weekend, though are the ones where I realized 35 years can go by but in the end it doesn’t matter. Time compresses and suddenly I realize these women are a part of my family and I really need to do a better job of staying in touch with many more of them. More adventures to follow.

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Photo by F.C. Photography

It was a fairly quiet weekend, thank goodness. I got the bike back out again and went across the street to the church parking lot to practice starting and stopping and staying upright. This time I started to remember a few things from my childhood, like not pedaling in a tight curve and just letting myself lean into it. There are still a few muscle memories but honestly that one may be it.

It only took about 15 minutes before I was bored with that and the streets of my neighborhood beckoned. Once again, much like the swimming from earlier in the week, I was surprised to find out how much joy I got out of riding a bike around my neighborhood and stopping to say hello to friends. Walking doesn’t do it for me like that one bike ride.

Just like the swimming, I am connecting to some part of me that likes to run, bike and swim just for the fun of it. I didn’t even know that was supposed to be possible at 52. What’s even more interesting, at least to me, is the simpler my life gets lately, the happier I am. I may be applying that principle to a few other things as well.

Not a lot more got done this weekend. There was a sweet moment of being at a friend’s 65th birthday party in her backyard with all of her friends, enjoying their company on a hot summer night. It was a nice way to spend a Sunday evening. More later, I’m sure when the week starts to wind back up again.

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Martha and Louie today

My grown son, Louie, has a radio show, Late Night with Louie (I’m the mother of the new Howard Stern) and one night I was listening when someone asked if he came from a broken home.

Somehow he managed to get to be 23 without ever hearing that phrase and said, no. The guest then said, oh your parents are still married and Louie answered, no, they got divorced when I was two.

When the guest told him that’s the definition of a broken home, he set her straight. Without any attachment to that broken phrase he explained how happy and full his childhood was and he refused to accept that anything was broken. I couldn’t have gotten my ear any closer to the speaker as I marveled at the moments we sometimes get as parents when we catch a glimpse of something wonderful.

Life as a single mother with Louie was wonderful and constantly surprising. Thank goodness I knew he was smarter than I was. That’s what made it possible to look out a window and see him on his small tricycle, legs out to the sides, whizzing down our very steep driveway, his curly hair straightened by the wind blowing past him, and not worry. Or watch him attempt to pet every living creature, sometimes getting nipped by the geese down by the lake in the process, and not worry. Eventually the geese gave in and let him pet them, and he gently stroked their heads and chatted with them. They would turn their heads slightly and look at him till he was done talking.

He did get nipped a little hard once by a garden snake and it made him mad, very mad. His three-year-old self whipped the snake into a half-knot, for which he felt instantly sorrowful and he came to get me to help untie the snake.

“What?” I asked, in the middle of vacuuming. “You did what?”

“I tied a snake in a knot and I need you to help me untie it,” he said, calmly. His entire little person fully expected me to handle the situation.

I turned off the vacuum, still looking at his calm expression, wondering if maybe this all meant something else and I would find something else tied in a knot. Tied a snake in a knot?

There on the front step was a long black garden snake slowly, very slowly, untying itself from a very tight half-knot.

“Help it,” Louie said. [click to continue…]

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The cooler temperatures will return. Until then, imagine yourself walking down this snowy sidewalk.

The heat of August that can make the air wavy always makes me think of ice blue snowflakes quietly falling and the ping, ping, hiss of a radiator because that’s what I long for when the temperature bounces around in the 90′s or if you’re in Texas right now, the triple digits. So, here’s at least a few memories from a great snowfall in Philadelphia back in the 60′s when the weather knew what it was doing.

Sometime around the beginning of November in  1960′s Philadelphia cold weather would swoop in quickly and stay until early May. The ground would freeze rock solid in mid-November and put an end to most of my animal funerals for awhile. Religion was a part of my life from the moment I was born on a Sunday and Dad, an Episcopal minister, was busy working, my three older sisters lined up in the first pew so he could keep an eye on them. My biggest fear as a child was to die on a Saturday with a whole week’s worth of sins built up. Fortunately, as an Episcopalian, we had direct dial, no middleman, could confess to God directly and were forgiven as soon as we felt we were. I felt I was as soon as the prayer was over. The other important part of religion for me was that everything should not only be buried, but have a proper funeral, no matter how little of it was left after the cars and the neighborhood cats and the birds were through with it. Even if I had to use a stick to scrape what was left into one of Mom’s shoe boxes.

All of the deceased, mostly rabbits killed by the Daft’s cat, or dead birds, same killer, were buried in shallow graves across the street from the Dafts in the perpetually empty lot. Even when the ground was soft we got tired of digging pretty fast and were always satisfied with holes deep enough to cover the box. I was able to get everyone to participate through at least one prayer before boredom would set in and kids would scatter back to their bikes. Sometimes I couldn’t get anyone to help, not even Jeffy, and would be forced to hold services alone, but I’d still do it, too worried about the jackrabbit’s soul to just leave it where I found it. But every November I was forced to give up undertaking till spring and would try not to notice any of the road kill in the street, whispering silent prayers for them anyway.

The winter of ’67 was a blizzard, an official blizzard. I didn’t walk through the snow as much as I waded. Fat, soft flakes gently fell, and fell and fell until the snow reached my waist. Everything stopped and became so quiet. Schools and businesses closed, which in the north is no easy trick. [click to continue…]

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First Baptist Church in Little Washington, VA (Photo by David Hoffman)

I have always said I’m from two big cities, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., which is true, and now I’m from two more, New York and Chicago. However, that short rundown leaves out one small footnote. For a few years as a small child I lived a very small town life from a time that’s harder to find these days, in a special little place. The sense of community and safety I found there at three years old amazingly, I have kept for the rest of my life and serves as a reminder to me with my own son.

It was the early 1960’s and my family of three older sisters, one little brother and two parents lived in Washington, Virginia. Little Washington, bumper stickers proudly said, along with ‘ski’, in a very excited way. There was just the one slope, but it did have a towrope and was better winter entertainment than most tiny towns had.

My late father was the new rector at Trinity Episcopal Church, Bromfield Parish, in Little Washington, Virginia. His first church, fresh out of being ordained a full minister. It had taken the Diocese of Virginia, where he was from, where his family had always been from, a bit of doing to find a church large enough to be able to support all of us. He was making $4,000 per year, with a wife, four girls and a boy, finally, soon to appear.

Little Washington was a small place, even for rural 1960’s Virginia. To the south was Sperryville, six miles away, to the north, Front Royal, nineteen miles away. Warrenton was to the east and to the west stood the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine. If I stepped out into our yard at the rectory I got a full view of the range.

To get around the mountains we had to drive to Sperryville and keep going. On the other side was the town of Luray and the famous Luray Caverns, full of stalagmites and stalactites.

Grocery shopping was done in the nearby town of Culpeper, a half hour’s drive in the old green Chevrolet with the rounded hood, sharp ornament hanging off the end, pointing us in the right direction. Cars were still known by who made them. There were no Windstars or Mustangs. The Chevrolet was just another of the old cars Dad learned how to keep on the edge of being able to drive.

The rectory in Little Washington sat near the jail separated by our large, wide backyard. The jail was always occupied, mostly with a drunk sleeping it off. One man refused to ever leave, realizing he had it better with a roof over his head and home cooked meals made by the jailer’s wife, Janie Burke. He traded his living expenses by working in the garden. He was always around, afraid if he left for too long they might lock up his cell behind him. [click to continue…]

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