All posts by reneelroberson

5 Podcasts You Don’t Want to Miss

These days, I listen to podcasts more than I listen to music while I’m working out, doing chores around the house or driving. I find my podcasts through word of mouth from friends, social media ads and from other podcasts. If you’re looking for new podcasts to binge, here are a few of my recommendations!

For the Person Looking to Pivot.

Second Life. Hosted by Hillary Kerr, this podcast features weekly interviews with women “who’ve made major career changes and fearlessly mastered the pivot.” The first episode I listened to featured musician/actress Mandy Moore, and after that, I was hooked. I love hearing all these stories of how women paved their own way and found the ultimate joy and happiness in their careers. From nutritionist and celebrity health coach Kelly LeVeque to journalist and former CNN Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin, these interviews are full of inspiration and encouragement.

For the True Crime Junkie

Cold. If you’re obsessed with true crime, chances are you’ve heard of the Susan Cox Powell story. Unfortunately, you also know her body has never been found, and all of the key players in the case are no longer with us. This in-depth look at the case, from the beginning of Susan’s relationship with her eccentric husband Josh Powell to the day she disappeared, takes the listener all the way to present day. I binged all 18 episodes in about a week, if that tells you anything about how addictive it is. This podcast features never-before heard audio with both Josh and Susan Powell and Josh’s father, Steve, who had an unhealthy obsession with Susan. This podcast is stunning and riveting all at once.

For the Budding Entrepreneur

Goal Digger Podcast. I started listening to Jenna Kutcher’s podcast as a way to get tips on personal development in my marketing day job. What I got was so much more. From interviews with movers and shakers in the business world (again, mostly women), to tangible podcasts like “Launch Your Dream Biz in Just 90 Minutes Per Day,” I come back to this one again and again while I’m exercising because it’s so full of motivation and enthusiasm.

For the Person Obsessed with Eating Healthy

I love, love, love The Hungry Girl, and her podcast “Chew the Right Thing,” is just as practical and delightful as Lisa Lillian, the woman behind the brand. Each week she and her team members Jamie and Mike tackle topics like “The Top 8 Ways to Overcome a Weight-Loss Plateau” and “The Breakfast Awards Episode,” which are full of great product reviews and tips. Warning though, they have a taste-testing section in each episode that might make you ready to head to the grocery store and have a snack after you listen.

For the Seeker of Great Storytelling

Imagined Life. This is storytelling at its finest. Co-hosted by Robbie Daymond and Virginia Madsen, each episode walks you through an immersive journey of a world-famous person. The hook? You don’t get to find out who the person is until the very end—unless of course, you guess the person first! So many of these episodes surprised me and even had me shedding a tear or two! My personal favorite: “The Handler.”  

I’m always on the hunt for a great podcast. What are some of your favorites?

5-Minute Memoir: The Keychain

The keychain was bright red and made of plastic, probably purchased at one of the gift stores in the mall. I customized it with different colored letters spelling out my first name and added a plastic music note for fun, because I had always loved to sing. My mom had put our single house key on it, for the days I had to walk home by myself from the bus stop.

Even though I couldn’t have been any older than 8 or 9 years old, there were days my mom had to work and I used the key to let myself into our house on a rural country road in central Texas after getting off the bus. I would make myself a snack, and curl up on the couch with a book and our fox terrier PeeWee while I waited for my parents. An only child, I was used to time alone when my parents had to work and I didn’t mind it. The only thing I minded was that one house on my route had two large dogs that often barked at me aggressively from behind a large metal gate, making me quicken my pace. Occasionally my grandmother would pop in from her home a few miles away to check on me.

On this particular morning, my mom was still home when I tucked the key into the pocket of my pink shorts and made my way down the road about ¼ of a mile to the bus stop. I could see the other neighbor kids in the distance, standing on the corner and chatting. I was so focused on watching them that I didn’t notice the gate in front of the house with the two barking dogs was wide open. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the two dogs stand up from their spots in the yard, low growls reverberating in their throats.

My heart was in my throat. My skinny arms and legs trembled, as I tried to gauge the distance from the house and the bus stop, and back again to my house. Did I have time to make it to either place? A voice in my head told me to stay calm. I weakly said, “Hey doggies. Hey good doggies. It’s okay.”

That’s the last thing I remember before being toppled to the ground in the dirt driveway. I was too frightened to scream. I could feel their teeth pulling at my clothes, grabbing at the pocket of my shorts that held the keychain. As I struggled for breath I could see the flashing lights of the bus stop down the road, and the kids at the bus stop piling into it.

Then it was gone.

After feeling a sharp, searing pain in my leg, the dogs stopped their attack as quickly as they had started it. I stumbled home, sobbing, and was so shaken when I made it to the front door I didn’t even reach
for my key to open the lock. I repeatedly rang the doorbell until my mom opened the door with surprise.

The rest of the morning was a blur. My mom loaded me into her pickup truck and drove straight into the yard of the house with the two dogs, laying on the horn as the dogs circled the vehicle, barking. She honked the horn until a sleepy-looking young man came into the yard, and she rolled down her window.

“Your dogs attacked my daughter!”

He shook his head. “They wouldn’t do that,” he said, yawning.

“Look at her leg!” my mom continued, her voice shaking with anger. “It’s got a huge bite mark in it!”

I don’t know how the rest of the conversation went. The next thing I knew, we were arriving at an Urgent Care, where a kind nurse cleaned my wounds and asked me questions. I seem to remember getting some type of shot, but I don’t know what it was for. That night, my step-dad took photographs of my leg, which was black and blue with one clearly visible set of teeth marks in the middle of it. I reached my hand into the ripped pocket of my shorts, pulling out my plastic keychain. It had visible teeth marks in it from the attack.

My existence changed from that day on, even though I don’t know what ever happened in the squabble between my parents and the owners of the dogs. I have a vague recollection that my parents brandished the photos and were able to get the medical bill taken care of, but I could be making that up. I do know that my mom drove me to the bus stop in the mornings for a while after that. And that in the afternoons, I dragged my feet slowly down the road, breaking out into a cold sweat whenever I approached that house, praying the gate was shut, and closing my eyes as the dogs barked at me.

The keychain remained in my pocket, teeth marks and all, reminding me that although I had thought I was growing up in my independent time after school, I was still just a little girl after all.

True Crime Wednesday: Unsolved Murders podcast

It’s like a match made in heaven. A podcast that features a look at unsolved murders (some are so obscure that even a true crime buff like myself has never heard of them), but this podcast has a twist. Hosted by actor Carter Roy and voice artist and coach Wenndy Mackenzie, this podcast features reenactments of the stories that are much like the radio dramas of centuries past. Instead of sitting around a radio in the living room, I can pop in my earbuds and listen to tales that will make the hair stand up on the back of my  neck while I’m exercising or doing chores around the house.

I was especially creeped out  when I listened to the two-part episode of The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders. 

And the case of Dorothy Jane Scott, who received months of creepy phone calls before finally disappearing from a hospital parking garage one night. And then the creepy calls continued–except they were then directed at members of her family.

I’ll admit the very first time I heard an episode of Unsolved Murders (E103 The Skeleton Under the House-James Gilmore) I wasn’t sure how I felt about the voice actors’ portrayals. I thought it was a little cheesy, but after awhile, it grew on me. After all, it is more interesting that listening to 45 minutes of a podcaster reading a script about a missing person in monotone voice. (True story–I won’t name names, though.)

What may be frustrating for some is that these cases are, for the most, unsolved. But the co-hosts do a good job of presenting pretty viable suspects in most cases, along with their own theories, and I haven’t found them to be too far-fetched. The good news is that I’ve only recently discovered this podcast and I have a whole stockpile of episodes to catch up on!

 

 

Book Review: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon the powerhouse that is Rachel Hollis. It may have been on Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love podcast. Lately, I’ve been finding so many interesting people on podcasts! Anyway, I was inspired by Rachel’s story. She graduated early from high school, decided not to attend college, and instead headed to Los Angeles to conquer her dreams and marry Matt Damon! The last part didn’t really work out but she did find A man of her dreams (David Hollis) and kicked off a successful career in event planning, wedding planning, and now entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, and creator of Chic Media.

After following Rachel on social media, I kept hearing about her latest book, Girl, Wash Your Face. The title intrigued me. When I heard that it was a motivational book geared towards women I was also intrigued. I was going through a slump in my life at the time where I felt like I sucked as a writer, in my professional career in marketing, and generally in life.

So I picked up the book one day while in Target. And I’m glad I did. Rachel’s writing voice is just like the voice you hear on her blog, Instagram feed, and in clips from her conferences and speaking engagements. She is authentic. She is blunt. She is encouraging. She made me feel like I am worthy of my dreams, and anyone else’s opinion of me isn’t my business. Wow.

The book basically follows 20 different lies she tells herself and why they aren’t true. Most of these related to me (although instead of wanted to marry Matt Damon, I may have had my eye more on his buddy Ben Affleck). These lies include things like “I’ll Start Tomorrow” or “I Am Defined by My Weight” or “I Need a Hero.” I think I especially loved the chapter titled “I Need to Make Myself Smaller.” It actually inspired this blog post over at WOW! Women on Writing.

When I got to the chapter on “I’m a Terrible Writer,” these words struck me the most:

When you’re creating something from your heart, you do it because you can’t NOT do it. You produce it because you believe your creation deserves to be out in the world. . . But you can’t MAKE people like or understand it.

I feel like this a lot. Sometimes I feel like people think I’m strange because I’m obsessed with true crime and missing persons cases. But that’s where my passion lies, along with writing literature for teens. Since I read Girl, Wash Your Face, I have been so prolific it’s not even funny. I’ve written a new short story and submitted it to a contest. I dragged an old YA manuscript out and have been line editing it so I can start querying agents. I picked myself up after an abysmal critique from a freelance editor on a second YA manuscript and am trying to figure out to make the opening sing and not bore people. I’m seeking out opportunities in professional development to help me succeed in my day job in theatre marketing. I’m ON FIRE!

So if you need a good dose of motivation, I recommend you check out this book. It worked for me, and I’m passing it along to a friend I’m seeing tomorrow night. I hope she enjoys it as much as I did.

The Curious Case of the Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders

It’s a story I’ve heard about in the past few years and it’s like something out of a horror film. A group of innocent young girls say goodbye to their parents at Camp Scott in Oklahoma in 1977, and three of them are murdered in the night before the adventure even begins.

A camp counselor found three sleeping bags containing the bodies of Lori Farmer (age 8), Michelle Guse (age 9) and Denise Milner (age 10) on the morning of June 14, 1977. The girls had been sexually assaulted and murdered, and then left on a trail not far from the tent they had been sleeping in during a thunderstorm the night before.

I heard about this case in more detail in a two-part episode the Unsolved Murders: True Crime podcast ran called “The Oklahoma Girl Scout Murders.” The case made my heart break on a number of levels. For one, these three girls were sleeping in a tent all by themselves on the night of the murders. During a storm, which had to have been scary. They were writing letters home, the contents which were later published. During the investigation, officials discovered a counselor had heard odd sounds in the middle of the night coming from the direction of the girls’ tent, including a guttural moaning.  She got up with a flashlight and investigated the noise, but couldn’t find anything. Another scout reported hearing a scream coming from the direction of where the three girls’ were sleeping in their tent.  Another counselor remembered hearing a girl cry, “Mama! Mama!” I know the 1970s was a different era, but there sure didn’t seem to be much in the way of security for a place responsible for caring for such young girls. (The families of the victims did eventually sue the organization that owned the camp, but they lost).

A first degree murder warrant was being prepared Thursday June 23, 1977 for Gene LeRoy Hart in connection with the slayings of three Girl Scouts near is from the Tulsa Police Department. Undated photo. (AP Photo)

Camp Scott was evacuated and shut down the day after the murders. A local farmer called police and told them he had seen a man hiding out in a cave near his property, which made them suspicious. A convicted rapist, Gene Leroy Hart, had escaped from police custody in 1973 and had never been captured. Law enforcement wondered if he could have been involved in the Girl Scout murders. When they checked out the cave, the found evidence from the camp, including a roll of tape (like tape used on the girls’ hands) and a pair of sunglasses that had belonged to one of the camp counselors. They caught up to Hart in an abandoned cabin 10 months later, and he went on trial for the murders.

Many in the community rallied behind Hart, a former high school football star, including members of the Native American population who felt he was being railroaded because of his ethnicity. DNA testing was not as sophisticated as it is today, so the samples taken from the murder scene could not be definitively tied to Hart. The case was purely circumstantial, and he was eventually acquitted. He did have to return to prison for the 1973 rapes of two pregnant women. In 1979, only two months after his trial, he died in prison of a heart attack.

There are people in Oklahoma who think he got away with murder, but that karma worked its magic in the end with Hart dying so quickly in prison. Others wonder if there could have been another killer, or killers.  A boot print was found at the crime scene that wasn’t linked to hart. A re-test of DNA in 2008 was inconclusive, as too much time had passed with a degraded semen sample. The current sheriff in Mayes County has raised more than $30,000 for a new round of DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene that still remains.

Hopefully, with a renewed sense of interest on the case and advances in technology, the families of these three young girls will find some closure soon.

 

 

 

 

Reading, Travel, and the Inspiration for a New Story

Normally I try to reserve Mondays for book reviews and I’ve read a lot of great ones in recent months! Of course I snatched up The Perfect Couple from one of my favorite authors Elin Hilderbrand when it became available in June. I read it over vacation and it was the perfect escape. I also finally finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed (it had been on my Kindle forever) and checked out the motivational book Girl, Wash Your Face by one of my new favorite motivational speakers/entrepreneurs, Rachel Hollis. I’ll try to get some of these reviews put up in the next few weeks.

But for today, I’ll try to provide an overview of what I’ve been writing about the past several months. I’m working on revising my contemporary young adult manuscript, Under My Skin, and am putting the final tweaks on another manuscript, Between, before I finally start shopping it around to agents! A few months ago I entered a short story I wrote, “The Name You’re Not Supposed to Call Women,” in the 2018 Women’s National Book Association Writing Contest in the Young Adult Category. Imagine my surprise when I received notification that it won an Honorable Mention (fourth place). I am so proud of this story, as I wrote it to help process an experience I went through in my late teens. You can read the final version here.

I had a wonderful family vacation in July on the gorgeous Anna Maria Island off the Gulf Coast of Florida.

I’m still dreaming about that place, and grateful that a visit to the The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Fla. inspired yet another short story, “The First and Last Time I Ever Saw a Clown Cry.” I entered it in a flash fiction contest and anxiously await the results. Here is a snippet from it:

I don’t remember exactly when the first hints of smoke hit us, or when Mother and Father realized we were in trouble. Father scanned the crowd until he spotted the grotesque orange and red flames shooting up one wall of the tent. Soon, screams of “FIRE” were reverberating throughout the crowd. The band stopped playing. Throngs of people began thundering up and down the rows of metal bleachers while trying to figure out the quickest exit. I clutched Mother’s arm as she tried to talk to Father over the mayhem. We couldn’t get down the stairs of the bleachers fast enough and were crushed from behind by the people trying to force their way through the crowd.

Tomorrow, I’ll be at WOW! Women on Writing blogging about the importance of seeking out professional development in your career. Be sure to stop by and check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Absurd Alligator Story: An Update on the Disappearance of Mike Williams

When I first heard about the disappearance of Florida resident Mike Williams on “Disappeared” a few years ago, I couldn’t help but hear the alarm bells go off in my head. Nothing in the story felt right with me.

Williams, a 31-year-old real estate appraiser, went missing on Dec. 16, 2000 after his wife told police he had failed to return from an early-morning duck hunting trip on Lake Seminole. It was his wedding anniversary, and he and wife Denise were supposed to have dinner plans that night. His truck was found at the lake, and his fishing boat was found in the water, but there was no sign of Mike. Upon an initial search, authorities believe Williams fell into the water and drowned, and was possibly eaten by an alligator.

Here’s the thing that made me pause. His wife didn’t seem to be sad that he went missing. In fact, even though Mike was her high-school sweetheart, after the birth of their daughter a rift grew between Mike and Denise and Mike’s family. They reported that Denise didn’t seem to be interested in maintaining a relationship with them. Mike tried to keep the peace by taking their toddler to visit his family, often without Denise. After Mike’s boat and truck were found, Denise seemed ready to move on with her life and presume Mike dead. Mike’s best friend Brian Winchester was often by Denise’s side, consoling her and trying to explain to the police his theory about how Mike died.

Mike’s mother Cheryl, however, was not so quick to presume her son was gone. She consulted with experts at Florida State University who theorized alligators would have been hibernating in the cold December weather–they wouldn’t have been out in the waters while Mike was duck hunting. But she was warned by Denise’s family that it was time for Denise “to move on.” In fact, six months after Mike went missing, Denise put together a memorial service for Mike and petitioned the courts to pronounce him legally dead. This usually takes at least five years. She won her case, and received more than $2 million in Mike’s life insurance. But guess who had sold Mike the hefty policy? That’s right. Brian Winchester. He sold it to Mike about six months before the disappearance. Cheryl also never saw her granddaughter again–she was told if she kept looking into Mike’s disappearance that would happen, and Denise followed through on the threat.

In the episode of “Disappeared” that I watched, I found it interesting that Denise and Brian chose not to participate in the episode. They declined to answer any questions from producers. They also got married a few years after Mike’s disappearance, once Brian was divorced from his wife. The mystery of what happened to Mike may have remained unsolved if Denise and Brian’s marriage hadn’t eventually fallen apart. (I mean, what do you expect though? Look at the circumstances that led to their marriage!) They separated in 2012. In 2016, Brian got desperate and held Denise hostage in her car at gunpoint for several hours, trying to talk her into a reconciliation. Upon her release, she pressed charges and Brian was arrested. In October 2017, he was sentenced to 20 years for the kidnapping. The day after he was sentenced, investigators finally found Mike Williams’ body buried in about six feet of mud near a boat landing not far from his mother’s home. He had been murdered. And on his wedding anniversary. It doesn’t get much colder than that.

He had probably never been at Lake Seminole in the first place.

At the beginning of this month, I was shocked to come across a news article that Denise had been arrested for conspiring to have Mike murdered. This was the first I had heard about the divorce, the charges against Brian, and the discovery of Mike’s body.  In a way I can’t help feel like it’s karma that finally caught up with Denise Williams. It makes me sick to think about the three childhood friends (they had all gone to high school together–and Brian and Denise may have even known each other since preschool) and the plot to kill a man who seemed like a hard worker, dutiful husband and doting father. When he signed that insurance policy he thought he was probably just doing the right thing and having a plan for his wife and daughter in case anything ever happened to him. I’m glad the truth finally surfaced, although it won’t surprise me one bit if it comes out that Denise told Brian she or her daughter were being abused. And Brian decided to be the hero. I can only hope his conscience led him to tell investigators where Mike’s body was, and not just the temptation of a plea deal.

I hope the Williams family can finally find some peace now.

 

 

True Crime Wednesday: An Update on Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman

Jay and Laurene Bible know their daughter is dead. Now, they just want to bring her home once and for all.

This case has always baffled me. In 1999, Sixteen-year-old Lauria Bible only wanted to spend the night at Ashley Freeman’s home in Welch, OK, eat cake, and celebrate her best friend’s 16th birthday. But hours later, the Freeman home burned to the ground, and as investigators sifted through the rubble, they found the bodies of Ashley’s parents, Danny and Kathy. Autopsies revealed the Freeman’s had been shot to death.

The girls were nowhere to be found. Laura’s purse was found on the property, though, with $200 cash inside along with her driver’s license. Her car was also still parked in the driveway.

When I first read about this case, I was perplexed. Had the two girls managed to escape the fire? If so, where were they? All sorts of conspiracy theories floated about. Danny Freeman had a history of being involved in drugs. Was it a drug deal gone bad? He had also been feuding the local sheriff’s department and was planning to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the county. His son Shane had stolen a pickup drug and been shot and killed during the pursuit. Or was it a murder-suicide and the girls saw what happened and fled?

Over the years, Jay and Laurene Bible tracked down every lead they could think of, only to be met with heartbreak at each turn. A death row inmate claimed to have murdered the Freemans, kidnapped the girls, murdered them and then abandoned their bodies in a mine shaft. After an exhaustive search of the mines he pinpointed, he finally admitted he had made the whole story up.

Ashley’s surviving family members moved to have her legally declared dead in 2010.

Last week, there was a huge break in the case along with an arrest. Investigators arrested a man named Ronnie Dean Busick, who they believe killed the Freemans as part of a drug dispute and then kidnapped the two girls. Two other suspects, Warren Phillip Welch and David Pennington, were also implicated but both are deceased. The arrest of Busick comes after old case notes were discovered. Apparently, over the years, different women who were involved with the three suspects claimed they knew the two girls were abducted, held captive for several days, raped, and then murdered. These witnesses were said to have been in fear for their lives, which was why they never came forward officially. One woman has claimed to have seen a briefcase full of polaroid photos of the girls, some with Busick posing with them. No actual evidence of these photos has been found.

Investigators and the Bible family are now hoping for closure and to find out where the girl’s bodies are so they can have a proper burial. So while there are answers, but closure has yet to be found.

Book Review: Crossing the Line by Ellen Valladares

When I got the e-mail about Ellen Valladares and the blog tour for her new YA novel, Crossing the Line, I jumped at the chance to review the book. A teenage girl ghost from the 1980s? A mystery? A young journalist as the protagonist? I couldn’t not check out the book, as these are themes near and dear to my own heart.

Thanks to Crystal Otto with WOW! Blog Tours for offering me the chance to participate! You can check out an interview with the author here.

About the book:

Laura, who died thirty years ago, enlists the help of a tenacious high school reporter named Rebecca, who is very much alive. Rebecca, although skeptical and conflicted by her supposed encounters with a spirit, determines to learn the truth about Laura’s tragic death. As the clues unravel and their worlds collide, Rebecca finds herself at a dangerous crossroads.

Laura, now pulled back into everything she left behind when she died – her old high school and memories of her life and death—has been in training for this exact moment. And nothing means more to her than succeeding at her assignment.

It is her one chance to make sure that what happened to her does not happen to anyone else, and especially not to her new friend, Rebecca.

About the author:

Ellen Wolfson Valladares is an award-winning writer/author, workshop facilitator, community volunteer, and mother. A native Floridian, she grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Florida. She has worked as an editor, public relations professional, and freelance writer. Her first book, a children’s novel entitled Jonathan’s Journey to Mount Miapu, received several awards, including a Mom’s Choice Gold Award and the 2009 Coalition of Visionary Resources Visionary Awards Book of the Year award. She also has a meditation CD, entitled “Healing and Manifestation with the Archangels.”
Today, Valladares continues to work as a freelance writer. She also enjoys coaching high school students working on their college essays and helping other writers realize their dreams. She has been married to her husband, Manny, for 30 years and they have two sons, Gabriel and Michael, two dogs, Flash and Chili Pepper, and a crazy cat named Zelda. They live in Weston, Fla.

Paperback: 300 pages

Genre: Fiction/Young Adult

Publisher: WiDO (March 2018)

ISBN-13: 978-1-937178-99-4

Review:

This book had everything I enjoy in a novel–relatable characters, paranormal elements, mystery, romance and a time period the features the  music and fashion I adored.  But Crossing the Line turned out to be so much more than that.

I knew from the opening pages that there was more to Laura’s death than met the eye. Through alternating chapters, the reader is able to learn more about the character of Laura, and her murder at the hands of a female classmate. Throughout the course of the novel, Laura is a student at “The Academy,” or how the author presents the Afterlife. As she learns various ways she can reconnect with the living, she also receives a mission that requires her to reach out to a modern-day student at her former high school, Rebecca.

When Rebecca first makes contact with Laura through a Ouija Board (remember those?), she is understandably frightened. But through her sleuthing skills and help of her journalism teacher, she starts to investigate Laura’s death and her long-standing feud with the girl who murdered her, Katie.

Valldares is a masterful writer and plotter, and I enjoyed reading the story through the alternating chapters of Laura and Rebecca’s voices. She skillfully tied the characters of the early 1980s to present day (I won’t get into too much here but there were plenty of surprises on that front!) and I could easily understand how a teenage boy could could cause friction among two female students. The mission Laura is on is also woven into the novel in a way that flowed seamlessly.

And not to give too much away, but I was also glad to have the chance to hear from the character of Katie herself, but I won’t reveal exactly how.

I look forward to sharing this book with  my own teenage daughter. I know she’ll love it.

 

Book Review: Ashes in the Ocean by Sebastian Slovin

Today I’m hosting author Sebastian Slovin in support of his touching memoir, Ashes in the Ocean: A Son’s Story of Living Through and Learning From His Father’s Suicide, during his blog tour with WOW! Women on Writing.

Here’s what you need to know about the book:

Vernon Slovin was a legend. He was one of the best swimmers in his home country of South Africa, and for a time in the world. He prided himself on being the best. The best in sports, business, and life. He had it all, a big home, athletic prestige, fancy clothes and cars, and a beautiful wife and family. Everything was going his way until it all came tumbling down. He lost everything, including his own life. In the wake of his suicide he left his wife and two young children.

In this riveting memoir, Vernon’s son, Sebastian Slovin chronicles his experience of living in the shadow of a suicide, and his journey out of the darkness and into the light. Slovin shares his quest to uncover why his father took his own life. A pilgrimage that led him around the world and eventually back to himself.

Ashes in the Ocean is a powerful story about facing one’s fears and choosing a different path.

Paperback: 222 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Nature Unplugged (March 2018)
ISBN-10: 978-0-692-05119-1
ISBN-13: 978-0692051191

About the Author:

Since he can remember, nature has been a central part of Sebastian’s life. He was fortunate to grow up in the beach community of La Jolla, California, and spent his childhood mixing it up in the ocean. As a young boy, he lost his father to suicide, which would later deeply inspire his path in life. As a young adult, he had the opportunity to travel extensively and experience many of the world’s great surf spots as a professional bodyboarder. Through his travel, Sebastian developed a deep love and appreciation for our natural world, and at the same time was drawn to the practice of yoga.

His love for yoga led him to study at Prana Yoga Center in La Jolla, California, and his passion for nature eventually led him to pursue a BA in Environment and Natural Resource Conservation at San Diego State University. He also holds an MA in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego.

He lives with his wife Sonya in Encinitas, California. He and Sonya have a business called Nature Unplugged, which focuses on cultivating wellness through healthier relationships with technology and a deeper connection to nature. When he is not writing or working on Nature Unplugged, Sebastian enjoys swimming, bodysurfing, surfing, and stand-up paddling (pretty much all things) in the wild Pacific Ocean. Find Sebastian Online:

Website: www.sebastianslovin.com

Amazon Author Profile:  https://www.amazon.com/Sebastian-Slovin/e/B078XN8XZL

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SebastianSlovinAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sebastianslovin

Review:

From the opening pages of Ashes in the Ocean, I was pulled into Sebastian Slovin’s personal and heartfelt memoir. My heart raced as I read through the description of a popular annual swimming race in California and how Vernon Slovin would deliberately enter the heat of the race with the younger competitors just to challenge himself. I could easily picture his beautiful young family cheering him on from the cliffs above. The scene is the perfect way to introduce the determined, physically fit man constantly seeking perfection and the acknowledgement that he was the best at anything he set his mind to.

There are some people who are born to be one with the water, and Vernon Slovin was one of them. He passed this legacy down to his son, Sebastian. The description of the ocean waves and pristine beaches in picturesque La Jolla, California throughout the book made me want to transport myself there—as did the later chapters featuring beaches in Australia and South Africa.

Because his father’s suicide occurred when he was only six years old, it was many years before Sebastian had the context in which to explore the dynamics in his father’s personality that would lead to such a catastrophic end. For years he and his mother and younger sister struggled to pick up the pieces, to survive without the sheltered and prosperous world Vernon Slovin had tried to insulate them in.

Although he was young when his father took his own life while staying with family in Australia, Sebastian grew up hesitant to discuss “the elephant in the room” with his mother for fear of opening up old wounds. He also feared, deep down, that because of his genetics and history of his father’s mental illness he too would have no choice but to succumb to a suicidal end.

Once in high school, though, Sebastian continued to cycle through the emotions many deal with after losing a loved one to suicide—confusion, guilt, and anger. To help process his lingering questions, Sebastian embarked on personal research project in the hopes of filling in the unanswered questions he had about his father’s life and death. With much of the dogged determination his own father had possessed, he met with his father’s former swim teammates, friends, and business partners. With each e-mail, conversation, and long-distance correspondence, he learned more and more about the competitive swimmer who was recruited from South Africa to compete at the college level in the United States.

Vernon took the same skills and drive that made him successful in swimming and translated that to his business life. During one of Sebastian’s interviews with one of his father’s friends, he started to understand that his father had an almost unhealthy obsession with “winning” and achieving his goals. He would shut out everything else while he worked to achieve them. Because of this obsession, he didn’t know what to do when he failed, which he ended up doing in his career as a stockbroker.

It’s clear both the legacy of his father and the shadow of his death affected Sebastian in more ways than one. He shared the same passion for water, and competed for many years in professional bodyboarding at beaches all over the world. When he discovered yoga, he became convinced he had to be the very best teacher and took all the certifications necessary to become a master instructor. It was only while sidelined after a serious hip surgery (where he re-injured himself after trying to get back in shape too quickly) that he realized he was following directly in his father’s footsteps once again.

Sebastian’s memoir is a thoughtful exploration of the deep ties we have to family and how we must shape our own destinies, regardless of what we think are the legacies left behind for us.