Friday, December 18, 2015

Guest Blogger Journalist William Sanders . . .

Christal Cooper

William Sanders and His Memoir
Staying A Multi-Generational Memoir of Rescue and Restoration

I am married and my wife and I have two (almost) grown daughters.

I spent 20 years as a writer and editor at daily newspapers, the last 12 of which were with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. I won various state and regional writing and reporting contests, both as a sports writer and a features writer.

I sat down one evening and started writing my story. The problem was, I didn’t know a lot about my early childhood and some events that forever shaped my life. Our family kept secrets buried away so we wouldn’t have to deal with them. That was the way things were in the 70s, and my dad carried that through the decades. 

                   Cindy's high school prom 

And Cindy (older sister) and I respected him, and his heroics, enough that we never asked him to open up and tell us what really went on in the years of 1971-73. When I started writing, I didn’t expect him to be as forthcoming as he was. Nor did I expect to find others who I hadn’t seen in 40 years to surface. All of a sudden, I had material for a memoir.

                                  Father and son, William Sanders 

My memoir Staying A Multi-Generational Memoir of Rescue and Restoration was published by Heart Quest Publishing on June 9, 2015.

Lauded by TrueFaced's John Lynch, bestselling author and fellow Atlantan Jeff Foxworthy, bestselling author Andrew Farley and Third Day lead singer Mac Powell, Staying A Multi-Generational Memoir of Rescue and Restoration is a memoir of hope, faith and love, but it is full of gritty and authentic moments every parent will find relatable.

                              John Lynch 
                                         Jeff Foxworthy 

                                              Andrew Farley 

                                                     Mac Powell 

I recall, "Sitting in the backseat of a car driven by my abductor, a crazy woman I used to call mom, the six-year-old me pleads for something I had no expectation of getting. Mercy.

Sitting beside me is eight-year-old Cindy, my sister, comforter and fellow victim of a plot that would forever shape the course of our lives. She whispers to me that things are going to be okay. I guess in the longest of long runs, she was right.”


                                              William at age 11 

Cindy and I have always been close, particularly after we both started families. We did then, and still do, talk two or three times a week, about things that matter or about things that don’t, like the TV show we watched the night before. She lives five hours away. But even when she lived 10 minutes a way, ours has been more of a phone relationship, often during my long commute to or from work. We rarely talked about our past – maybe once or twice a year. When I decided to write the book, she was on board and encouraged me throughout. She told me things that she’d experienced that I cannot believe she hadn’t told me in the 30 years of our adulthood.

                                      John Lynch and William Sanders 

August 1971
t is my first memory of attempting to control an uncontrollable situation. I have just turned six years old, and I’m not yet good at controlling much of anything, particularly something that is rocking my fragile heart and scaring me in a way that I’d never known.
 I don’t remember any specifics about life before this day, August 5, 1971. Actually, I don’t even remember how this day started, or exactly how I had found myself in the backseat of this car, sitting next to my sister Cindy, who is about to turn nine years old, and who is far too young for what is about to be asked of her.
 “Let us go home and pack something,” I said to my mom, who had disappeared until today almost a year earlier. “Or we can do this another time. Just take us back home, and we’ll figure it out from there.”
Those may not have been my exact words, but tearfully, that is the exact case I’m making for why Cindy and I should not be kidnapped. Of course, I have not rehearsed for such a situation, so I’m neither convincing nor effective. It’s also the first time I remember failing.
“Oh no, Bill. We ARE going to the airport and we ARE going to Tampa. Today. Now,” said Charlotte, from the driver’s seat, with her mother, a weak, small browbeaten woman sitting in the passenger seat next to her.
It takes 45 minutes to drive from Nana and Pop’s house to the Atlanta airport. Cindy and I had lived with my grandparents and my dad now. About six months ago, while Dad was at work one day, my mom had dropped us off at a neighbor’s house one morning and left. She’d made the same drive to the same airport all alone, gotten on the same plane to the same city and out of our lives for what all I knew would be forever.
This was the first time I’d seen her since.
Now she’s driving me away from whatever semblance of security and innocence I had been clinging to the last half year. I’d been abandoned way too recently to have the level of security and innocence a little boy should have.
But with every passing mile on Interstate 75 and then Interstate 85, and then with the 500 miles through the air, we’re getting so far away I’m not at all sure that I’ll ever be able to fully find my way back. Mommy is taking us headfirst into a lifetime of fear with the windows rolled down.
This is not an ugly custody squabble playing out. It is not a case of a good mother who would go to any extreme to be with her kids, even if it meant skirting the rules or the laws. Of course I couldn’t verbalize it then, but on some level I know, even at this tender age, that the backseat of this car traveling down the highway is ground zero in a battle of good versus evil. 
This is more akin to abduction by a stranger. I recognize this woman as my mom, but I don’t really know her. I certainly don’t know what she is capable of and I don’t have a single memory of her ever acting motherly.
So while I probably don’t even know what kidnapping means, I know with as much certainty as a 6-year-old boy can have that I am in trouble. There is no way Nana and Pop, or especially Dad, would be OK with this. And neither am I.
I cry on the way to Atlanta’s Hartsfield International Airport. Cindy does not. Instead, she is doing what the older sibling is supposed to do in the midst of chaos and crisis. She is trying to comfort me.
“It’s gonna be fine, Bill,” she says, at first talking loud enough for Charlotte to hear. “We’ll get on an airplane, go to Florida and be home before the weekend is over.”
Then, quieter, almost whispering and only for me to hear, she says it again.
“We’ll be OK. It’s our mom. We’ll be OK.”
This is Cindy’s first crack at telling a lie for the sole purpose of making someone else feel hopeful. And like my first attempt at controlling a situation, it’s not working.
“We’ll get there and you’ll see that it’s not so bad,” the woman formerly known as my mom says. I’m not sure if she quit being mom when she first left us, or whether it was sometime over the ensuing six months, or if it happened 20 minutes ago. “We’re calling your Nana to tell her the plans. She won’t mind. Neither will your dad.”
“Liar,” I think to myself but don’t dare say out loud. For that one moment, I was equal parts scared for myself and mad that she would say that and expect us to believe it.
“We’re staying with Mary Ellen at her apartment. You remember Mary Ellen. She adores you and Cindy. And there’s a beach in Tampa.”
Mary Ellen. I’m no longer equal parts mad and scared. I’m 100 percent scared again.
“Can we go back home first?” I asked.
“No, we’ve got to get to the airport.”
“When are we coming back home?”
“We’ll see.”
Charlotte’s mother, “Gan” to Cindy and me, keeps quiet.
As we walk through the Atlanta airport, I think about finding a policeman and running to him. But I don’t. That takes courage, and right now, for the first time, I can tell that I don’t have it.
We make our way through the airport terminal without a scene. We get on a plane and two hours later, we are in Tampa. Tampa might as well have been Tokyo. Or Mars. It’s that distant and unknown to me.
 The woman formerly known as my mom, Charlotte, is beauty queen material with blonde hair and a charming first look. As promised, this beauty queen drives us straight to Mary Ellen’s apartment. Mary Ellen is a short, stumpy, frizzy-haired woman, with Brillo-like hair, and is not a beauty queen in anyone’s pageant. I think she is somewhat familiar to me, which is to say I recognize her, but not much more. But she will become a major player in our story. And despite what my mom had just told us, she certainly doesn’t adore Cindy or me.
Also as promised, Gan calls Nana.
Of course I didn’t hear the call, but I’ve been told it was short: “Era, Charlotte has taken the kids to Tampa. They belong with their mother.”
What kind of grandmother aids and abets such a bold abduction? By all accounts, she’s neither a bad person nor a strong one. Perhaps she’s under duress herself. Maybe she’s seen enough in her own daughter to not want to be on her bad side.
Nana holds it together, at least for now, and calls the hotel where Dad is staying in Greensboro, N.C., for a business trip.
“Billy, Charlotte has kidnapped the kids,” Nana said. “They’re headed to Tampa. I just got a call from Alice Burns.”
 What’s a dad do with that kind of phone call? Fall to pieces? Not yet. Follow his instincts? Yep. And for a father, that almost always means rolling into action – immediately.
 Heartbroken, scared and erratic, Dad drives to Charlotte, N.C., and catches a flight to Tampa. He asks Nana and Pop to leave their Atlanta home and make the nine-hour drive to Tampa.
  No one knows exactly what their assignment will be once they get to Tampa. They’ll worry about that once they are all en route.
All of this is happening on a Thursday, I think, though I can’t swear to it.
Our jail cell in Tampa is a bedroom with two twin beds. The first night we are there, Cindy and I are awake at midnight, watching the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on the small black-and-white TV. Six-year-olds don’t really get into The Tonight Show, but it’s what’s on, and it’s providing some background noise and some needed distraction. I’m sleepy but afraid to go to sleep.
“Isn’t it cool that we get to stay up so far past our bedtime?” Cindy asked. “We’re watching Johnny Carson. We never get to watch Johnny Carson. We’re going to be OK, you know. I promise.”
Cindy doesn’t believe that, mind you. But what she believes isn’t important at the moment. Someone has to take care of me. So it is going to be an eight-year-old – but at least it is an eight-year-old who is going to be nine in 11 days. And at least she loves me, and sometimes even likes me.
“Go to sleep,” she said. “I’ll talk to you until you fall asleep. And I’ll be here when you wake up. And we’ll go back home soon, maybe Sunday.”
The next thing I remember, it’s Sunday morning. Friday and Saturday may have been unremarkable, but I don’t recall. But on this Sunday morning, Cindy wakes up not feeling well, probably an emotional wreck from the events of the past few days.
“Stay home with Mary Ellen,” Charlotte told Cindy. “Get dressed, Bill. We’re going to church.”
In what bizarre world does the kidnapper take the kid to church? But then again, nothing about this scheme was playing out in an expected way.
Mary Ellen smokes all day and drinks a good bit. She is scary looking, and with her gravely and gruff voice, is scary sounding. She looks disheveled and old, much older than 31, which is what she is. This is going to be Cindy’s babysitter. But for now, that is Cindy’s cross to bear. I had been told to get dressed, and that’s exactly what I was going to do. I figure a woman capable of whatever it is she is doing isn’t one to be disobeyed.
So with Cindy still in bed, I get dressed, which means the same clothes I’d been wearing for three days.
It had been raining that morning as we walked into Hyde Park United Methodist Church. I don’t remember a thing about the service or what the church looked like on the inside.
I don’t remember praying at church that morning. I can’t imagine I’d have needed to though. If God wasn’t already at work on behalf of one of His children, then I’m not sure what I could have said to convince Him.  Again, I didn’t have those skills anyway. I was at the mercy of others, dependent on grace, even though I didn’t yet know what the word meant.
I hadn’t for a second questioned that I’d been wrongfully taken from my home. God didn’t need me to tell Him my story, lay out the desperation of my situation. He knew.
 I vividly remember the parking lot, though, and walking through it after church. The dark clouds that had escorted us that morning have broken and the sun is out.
I get into the front passenger seat, and because it is humid, I roll down the window the instant the door shuts.
I never saw him coming.
Between the moment in which I got into the car and when Charlotte is able to pull out, a pair of arms reaches through the open window, grabs me, and yanks me out of the car.
People in the parking lot are screaming as they walk out of church. Women use their umbrellas to beat my savior upside his head.
“Someone call the police!” a woman was yelling.
“Stop that man!” screams another, while grabbing at me.
A large, green Chrysler, which is the most familiar thing I have seen in the last 72 hours, is parked off to the side, the engine running, the nose pointed toward the parking lot exit.
I came out one car through a window, and moments later I am being shoved through the door and onto the floorboard of another car. Then the man jumps into the driver’s seat and speeds away.
 “Stay down,” I am told. “Don’t let anyone see you. The police will be looking for us.”
Things aren’t always as they seem.
Everyone in that church parking lot was certain they had just seen a kidnapping. Of course, the real one was 72 hours earlier.
What they were seeing was a rescue, a dangerous, selfless act that could have left him arrested, assaulted, or worse. The odds that such a reckless, seemingly random mission would succeed, even if performed by a trained private investigator or, heck, for that matter a Special Forces Op, had to be close to zero.
The fact that it is my 61-year-old paternal grandfather pulling this off requires God’s careful orchestration.  Success for him and my grandmother, his accomplice waiting in the Chrysler, looks like this:
 – They’d have to hope the intel they had gotten that Charlotte had taken us to church was accurate.
– Pop would have to find me in the parking lot, snatch me, get me into his car, hide me beneath blankets on the floorboard and drive to a friend’s house in Tampa, where we’d all switch cars, and drive to the Orlando airport.
– He’d have to get through security clearance in Orlando and get us on a plane.
– Then he’d have to hope police weren’t awaiting the plane’s arrival in Atlanta and get us through, then out of the Atlanta airport and to our midtown Atlanta home.
The information was accurate. He succeeded, and it helped that he’d had the forethought to grab Charlotte’s keys from the ignition and throw them under the car, preventing her from giving immediate chase.
He also succeeded in hiding me in one car, and then another, and getting me through two major city airports and eventually back to the home I was taken from three days earlier.
Indeed, God was intervening.
But what about Cindy?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

L.A. Photographer and Poet Alexis Rhone Fancher Remembers Her Son Through Poetry . . .

Christal Cooper

* Article with excerpts – 1,594 Words
All excerpts are given copyright privilege by Alexis Rhone Fancher and KYSO Flash.

Poems & Photography by Alexis Rhone Fancher
“Dealing With Death One Poem At A Time”

       Los Angeles based photographer and poet Alexis Rhone Fancher’s second poetry collection, the chapbook State of Grace:  The Joshua Elegies, has been published by KYSO Flash in October 2015.

       The collection, accompanied by Fancher’s photographs is focused on the dying, death, and grief of her son Joshua Dorian Rhone, who was born one month premature on December 14, 1980.

                      Joshua & Jeffrey Sedona Arizona 1989

“After he was born, the nurses brought him to me in a bassinet on wheels.  He had the most intense brown eyes I’d ever seen.  We stared at each other for a very long time.  Soul to Soul. I wrote “Baby Boy Blues” about my feeling of unease about the future – like those old women knew something I didn’t.”

Baby Boy Blues

When he was born,
the old ladies peered
into the cradle,
cooed and clucked.

“If he lives,” one of
them whispered.
“he’ll be a real looker.”

       The feisty and strong baby grew to be 6’4, and led a full and healthy life.  
       He was always generous, and kind to everyone. Incredibly handsome - from birth. We’d be shopping in the mall, and girls would walk up to him and hand him their phone numbers, written on small pieces of paper, neatly folded, and beg him to call. After he died I found a ton of those notes, crammed in a drawer.”

       It wasn’t until 2005 that Fancher and Joshua recognized a growth forming on Joshua’s right arm, mid-way, near the elbow.
       “It was growing at a very fast pace.  We went in to have it looked at and were referred to the oncology department of UCLA.”
       It was during the exploratory surgery on his right arm at UCLA Hospital in Santa Monica that Joshua was diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue tumor most often found in young adults, with known propensity for local recurrence, regional lymph node involvement, and distance metastases.  The outcome was not good – death within two years.  

       My son was a free spirit, and in love with life. He loved sports more than anything - baseball, hockey, and martial arts - but his great passion was basketball. In the days before the amputation surgery, he played basketball for hours and hours. He was positive, and self-deprecating, and without doubt the most courageous man I have ever met.”
       Joshua died on September 14, 2007 in the presence of his mother and other family.
       Two weeks after her son’s death, Fancher had a hurtful encounter with a casual friend who inquired if she was over her son’s death.  This experience scarred her and made her son’s death even more painful to endure.

 “The poem “Over It” was written in response to the utter thoughtlessness of a friend two weeks after my son died. However, I didn’t write the poem until 2012. It took that long to digest it.”

       Two weeks after he died,
a friend asked if I was “over it.”
As if my son’s death was something to get
through, like the flu.

Excerpt, “Over It”

       The first poem she wrote from the collection is “The Supermarket And A State of Grace” while studying under the great Jack Grapes.

                                       Jack Gilbert 
       When I was choosing what to include in the chapbook, “The Supermarket And A State of Grace” set the tone. It could be considered a prose poem. I thought it served as an Author’s Note, as well.”

The supermarket is a good place to grieve.  I can roam from aisle to aisle, safe behind dark glasses.

-Excerpt, “The Supermarket and a State of Grace”

       In “Dying Young” Fancher was dealing with Joshua’s dying and her confidant Kate O’Donnell’s losing cancer battle at the same time.

                               Kate O'Donnell  

       “I wanted to write a poem for Josh and Kate.  Put them together closely, as they were in real life.  They had a special bond - we moved in with Kate after Josh and I left his dad when he was three- he called her “Aunt Kate.” The poem began with images in my head: fresh linens, the vision of my son, in that cabin in the woods, alone and reflective; Kate, “reverting back to source,” me, at midnight, sipping camomile tea; Josh’s beautiful girlfriend, Amy, standing alone in a yellow dress, waiting. 

                      Kate O'Donnell 

The poem was my way of working through this double dose of grief, by juxtaposing their stories. Kate passed away in January of 2014. I miss her terribly.”

Kate O'Donnell 

Kate's Kitchen 

Dying Young

Midnight, and again I’m chasing
sleep:  its fresh-linen smell and
deep sinking, but when I close my eyes I see
my son, closing his eyes.  I’m afraid of that dream,
the tape-looped demise as cancer claims him.

My artist friend cancels her L.A. trip.  Unplugs the
internet.  Reverts to source.  If cancer
will not let go its grip then she will
return its embrace.  Squeeze the life out of
her life.  Ride it for all it’s worth.

By the time his friends arrive at the cabin
my son is exhausted, stays behind while
the others set out on a hike.  He picks up the phone.
“Mom, it’s so quiet here.  The air has never
been breathed before.  It’s snowing.”

It put on Mozart.  A warm robe.  Make a pot
of camomile tea.  The view from my 8th floor
window, spectacular, the silver moon, the stark,
neon-smeared buildings, their windows dark.
Sometimes I think I am the only one not sleeping.

My artist friend wants to draw the rain.  She
wants to paint her memoires, wrap the canvas
around her like a burial shroud.

Tonight, a girl in a yellow dress stands below
my window, top lit by a street lamp, her long shadow
spilling into the street.  She’s waiting for someone.

I want to tell my friend I’ll miss her.
I want to tell my son I understand.
I want to tell the girl he won’t be coming.
That it’s nothing personal.  He died young.

       I always work directly on the computer. “Dying Young” was written quickly, maybe in a few hours, but was repeatedly revised over several months before I felt it was finished.”

                      Kate O'Donnell and Alexis Rhone Fancher

“Dying Young” was accepted for publication by Broad Magazine, along with “Death Warrant,” in early 2014. It has since been republished by Cadence Collective, and in Sybaritic Press’s Oscar Wilde Anthology. It was a finalist in last year’s Poetry Super Highway poetry contest.
In the fall of 2014 Fancher gathered all her poems about her son and put them together in a chapbook at her Los Angeles studio that she shares with her husband, whom she calls “Fancher”.

“At that point there were only 10 poems, so I kept writing. I told myself when there were an even dozen; I’d submit the chapbook for publication. Those first ten poems had taken over six years to write!”

Fancher assumed her chapbook was completed and sent it out to publishers.  It was accepted by KYSO Flash Press, which Fancher described as a happy collaboration.

 “I have the great good fortune to be working with Clare MacQueen, who is a first-rate editor, as well as being a knowledgeable, considerate publisher who is her word.

                          Clare MacQueen

Additionally, she, too, has lost a child, her daughter, Kelley, who passed away in 2011. So there was that bond as well.”


After the book was accepted for publication Fancher continued to write poems about her son:  she wrote “When Her Son Is Dead Seven Years”, “When You Think You’re Ready To Pack Up Your Grief”, and “Never Forget Why Your Wrist Throbs” in September of 2015.”

Never Forget Why Your Wrist Throbs

Look, when the insurance runs out,
the ulna sets itself

that clutch-at-the-railing/tumble down
two flights of Victorian stairs,
babe in your arms, your wrist

eagerly sacrificed to save him.

Twenty something years later,
after the boy gets cancer
and dies,

your body remembers,
hoards its wounds like a black hole,    
Your right wrist thicker than your left
that knobby protrusion
a talisman you rub

while the blame feeds on itself

Even now you know his death
was your fault

Even now your body
yearns for him,

the arthritic ache that pulses an
image of his face,

a supernova, each time it rains.

       Along with the poems, are Fancher’s photographs, focused on the Los Angeles skyline, a photograph of Joshua, and a self-portrait.

“The self-portrait I chose for the back cover/author photo I shot at a restaurant, shortly before my son died. In that photo I look like a train wreck, which was
precisely the way I felt. Every time I look at that photo, it takes me back to that devastation.”

       To overcome this devastation, which still persists to this day, Fancher continues to write poetry about her son and practices transcendental meditation.
       “I have practiced T.M. for decades.  It has always helped to center me. I believe in a higher power. I pray upon occasion.”

       It is during these moments of T.M, that Fancher experiences “signs” everywhere that Joshua still exists and is close to her side.

       “A psychic assured me Josh was close at hand.
Whether any of that is true, I have no idea. I keep an open mind and heart.

I took classes with Dr. Brian Weiss, a noted psychiatrist and believer in past lives. He wrote a bestseller called Many Lives, Many Masters.

He says we incarnate time after time, and that Joshua and I knew each other before and will again. I want him to be right.”

       You can reach Fancher via email at