A writer's celebration of older women

I Am Not My Characters (But Maybe I Am)

Since the publication of my novel Deep Blue several weeks ago, I’ve been asked by people who’ve read the book, “How did you come up with your characters? Is Claire supposed to be you? Is anyone else based on a real person?”

Not to be enigmatic, but my answer is always, “Yes and no.” Honestly, I don’t know how to create characters who don’t have something of myself in them. At the same time, they are all unique individuals. But for those of you who are interested, here’s how I came up with my four main characters. Let’s start with the women.

Claire is the sensitive artist, a hippie who is more concerned with staying true to her art than making a lot of money. She has a fun-loving approach to life (a lot like me) and doesn’t take herself too seriously. Part of that attitude stems from being a cancer survivor (also like me) who cheated death. We share the same mantra: Nothing is worth more than this day. Claire and I try to make the most of life, having almost lost it.

However, Claire is more loving and compassionate than I am, and much more of a risk-taker. I don’t know if I would’ve packed up and moved across the country to be with a man going through recovery, even if he is a hottie like Rob. She is willing to put it all on the line for someone she loves. Some might find that attitude foolish, but I believe her to be admirable.

Denise is the only character in the book based on a specific person, my BFF since the eighth grade, Diane Baird. Their careers are eerily similar. Both have devoted themselves professionally to helping abused and neglected children. However, Denise doesn’t allow the often horrific cases she deals with to overwhelm her. She has the uncanny ability to compartmentalize her job and not take it home. Most of the time, anyway. As far as her personal life goes, Denise would like to have a man, but she doesn’t need one to feel complete. She’s not about to jump into a relationship with someone who lacks emotional maturity.

Artie is more or less the male version of me. He often hides his feelings behind a wall of cynicism and sarcasm because he is distrustful of others. He finds it hard to censor himself, so he frequently shoots off his mouth before he thinks about what he’s saying, much to the dismay of the band’s public relations person, a control freak who can’t control him. Unlike me, Artie has more talent and ability than he knows what to do with, so his ego frequently gets out of control.

He’s not a mean person, though. Just like almost every other human, he wants to love and be loved. He’s just not certain how to go about it.

Rob is a composite character, created from bits and pieces of others. When I began researching the book, which is set in the world of classic rock and soul music, I was surprised to re-learn how many of the singers and musicians I admire are Jewish: Paul Simon, Donald Fagen, Carole King, Carly Simon, Amy Winehouse, Billy Joel and Bob Dylan, to name a few. So Rob became Jewish. I based him in New York because I wanted to accentuate the differences between him and Claire, who is a WASP from Colorado. Yet, they share the same free-wheeling approach to life, one of the things that draws them together.

Rob is my alpha male: charming and charismatic, even though he’s not handsome. (Claire herself makes that comment, although she finds him “oddly appealing.”) He’s a foodie (like my husband, Tom) who enjoys cooking, and he’s crazy about his family.

Although he’s made some huge mistakes in his life, I think his weaknesses serve to make him human, and therefore more desirable.

He never wanted to be a singer, but it’s his distinctive raspy voice that helped propel Deep Blue into rock and roll history. Throw in some Joe Cocker and Michael McDonald with the soul of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and a touch of James Brown, and you’ve got Rob’s voice.

My husband asked me recently who I think could play Rob in a movie based on my book (like that could actually happen) and I said, “No one.” Not in my mind, anyway.

So, there you have it. The other night I dreamed I was at a party. I wandered through the crowd asking others if they’d seen Rob and Claire. Someone put their hand on my shoulder and asked in a gentle voice, “Kathleen, you do know that they’re not real, don’t you?”

I’m not so sure about that. I’ve lived with these people for three years, learning to understand their wants, needs and motivations. I’ve cried through their struggles and rejoiced at their successes, so in my mind they are real and will continue to live on. And if you want to know what they’re up to, stay tuned for Deeper, Book Two in the Deep Blue trilogy, which will be out next spring. More music, romance and a whole lot more drama!


Deep Blue featured in the Winchester Star

Authors delve into romance and coming of age in new novels

Posted: November 6, 2015

The Winchester star

WINCHESTER — In 2013, while unemployed and bored, author Kathleen DuHamel read through the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy.

Between the content and the age of the characters, it didn’t grab the 63-year-old Winchester resident.

She then began checking out popular romance novels.

“I had a hard time finding believable romance novels for women my age,” DuHamel said.

Despite being a lifelong writer, DuHamel had never written a novel, but she decided it was time to give it a try.

Now, DuHamel has published her first novel, “Deep Blue.” She will be signing it from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Winchester Book Gallery at 185 N. Loudoun St.

There will also be a signing by author Roger Engle of his memoir “Goodbye Mister Fifteen” from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

DuHamel said that she would characterize her novel as a love story, but “there’s romance, a little bit of suspense and a lot of drama,” she said.

Unlike most romance stories, hers is about characters in their 50s and 60s. This fits into a genre known as Mature Romance, or Hen Lit.

“It’s kind of an up-and-coming niche,” DuHamel said. “I really like to celebrate the lives of older women.”

“Deep Blue” tells the story of Denver artist and cancer survivor Claire Martin, a woman who has just about given up on finding love. Her life takes an abrupt turn when she meets soul singer Robert Silver, headliner of the legendary band Deep Blue.

Silver seems like everything Martin wants — smart, with a self-deprecating sense of humor. But the musician has a checkered past that he still struggles with, including a history of panic attacks, drug abuse, a stint in rehab and the death of his wife.

When these demons resurface on tour, jeopardizing both his life and the band’s future, Martin has to decide if she is going to take a risk and stick with him.

“Deep Blue” is the first in a trilogy following these two characters, DuHamel said.

Since it’s release, the story has received a lot of good feedback, she said, especially from residents in Denver, where she used to live.

Copies of “Deep Blue” will be available at the signing.

Robert Engle will be signing his coming-of-age memoir, “Goodbye Mister Fifteen,” from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday at the Book Gallery.

A continuation of his first memoir, “Stories From A Small Town,” this newest book tells the story of Engle as he turns 16 and prepares to receive his ticket to freedom: a driver’s license, according to

He’s ready to push the boundaries of his small town, but he discovers that the long-anticipated perks of adulthood — adventure, opportunity and love — are tempered by responsibility, hard work and sacrifice, according to By the end of the decade, Engle has a new card in his wallet: a draft card.

In his matter-of-fact tone, Engle delivers a story where character, humor and a strong work ethic help him remain steady in the face of an increasingly uncertain future.

Copies of “Goodbye Mister Fifteen” will be available for the signing.

For more information, visit

— Contact Stephen Nielsen at snielsen@winchesterstar.comFollow on Twitter @LifeWinStar

Several Shades of Gray

Like many women of my generation, I’ve been coloring my hair for decades. It started in junior high school when my friends and I experimented with Summer Blonde, a spray-on liquid that was supposed to result in blonde surfer-girl highlights. It never worked well, but it was the cool thing to do. We tried the same thing using a lemon juice concoction, with less than satisfactory results.

In high school I graduated to permanent hair color in an attempt to make my mousy medium-brown hair something it wasn’t. Once I managed to turn it orange, an unfortunate result of cheap drug store hair color in a box. Another time I tried “frosting,” a ridiculous process that consisted of putting a rubber skull cap on your head and pulling out small strands of hair through tiny holes in the cap using a plastic crochet hook. The strands were then covered with a gooey mess that was supposed to make them light blonde, except it tended to seep through, creating blobs instead of the delicate look promised by the picture.

I just couldn’t leave my hair alone. During the punk era of the ‘80s I colored it dark brown, almost black, for a while, then tried out a “cellophane” technique that added an almost imperceptible purple sheen. Pretty, but it never lasted long. So I moved on to henna, which achieved the desired color but made my hair feel like straw. I finally settled on permanent red color, thinking it fit my feisty personality, and it stayed red for two decades, enhanced with blonde highlights. Every six weeks or so I was back in the hairstylist’s chair getting my roots touched up. I probably could’ve paid for a European vacation with the money I spent on my hair over the years.

About a year ago I began to rethink the whole hair coloring situation. It started when I spent a week in Colorado with my best friend, who I’ve known since the eighth grade. One of the first things I noticed was the fact that she’d stopped dyeing her hair. The blonde highlights were gone, replaced by silvery gray mixed with her natural brown. To my surprise, it didn’t make her older. It looked good, and age appropriate. We went out to dinner with her friend Mary, a lively 60-something with naturally gray hair, who didn’t look or act old, either.

Maybe they’re on to something, I thought. My red hair had begun to look harsh and unnatural. Then I began a Pinterest board featuring positive images of older women. Many of them had gray, silver or white hair. And they all looked beautiful.

Fashion magazines insist that “there is no reason to accept aging gracefully” and that “natural gray hair tends to make people look older.” Really? Try telling that to Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep or Emmy Lou Harris, all of whom look fabulous. So fabulous, in fact, that some younger women have adopted the trend. You even see runway models sporting fashionable gray hair.

That was enough to convince me to make a change. A few weeks ago, I took the plunge, went to my hairstylist and asked him to strip off the red color so we both see what was underneath. I really had no idea what we’d find. What I discovered was light brown hair laced with gray, not bad at all. He added some white-blonde highlights to blend it all together. Not quite all natural, but I’m getting closer.

Maybe it’s the aging process that brings us to the realization that we can be exactly who we are. No pretense, nothing fake. And if having gray hair is part of a fashion trend, all the better. People tell me I look younger, another unexpected result.

Several years ago, musical artist India Arie wrote a song called “I Am Not My Hair.” While her lyrics dealt primarily with the cultural stereotypes associated with African-American hair (or no hair), she also made a larger statement about loving yourself as you are.

I’m not my hair, either, but I have to admit that I love my new grayish color. Trendy or not, it suits me and where I am in my life at the moment. “Yeah, I’ve been through some stuff,” it seems to say, “but damn, I still look good!” No longer young, just more myself. An aging baby boomer at peace with herself and her changing looks.

Character Interview: Robert Silver of Deep Blue

Originally from Music Daily Online, Aug. 28, 2013.

By Demitri Chastain

Deep Blue Does Denver

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Robert Silver and Art Hoffman bring their big band to Red Rocks Amphitheater on Sept. 1 for a sold-out show. From a hotel room in Cincinnati, the voice of Grammy-winning Deep Blue talks about being on the road, the band’s future and his surprising life off stage.

Q. You’re on tour again and we’ve heard rumors that there’s a new album in the works. You guys seem busier than ever. Have you given any thought to slowing down a bit, or retiring?

A. I don’t see retirement in my future. What would I do? I’ve been a professional musician for almost 40 years. This is all I know. I can’t see myself just sitting at home. For one thing, I’d get fat. And bored. I’m a Type-A, or so I’ve been told. I like juggling multiple projects and staying busy.

Q. What are you doing differently on this tour? Are you trying out any new material?

A. We might try out a couple of songs from the new album, but mostly we’ll be playing fan favorites, plus a few tunes from other artists we admire. We almost always include something from Al Green, James Brown, a little Marvin Gaye and John Lennon. Our audiences have certain expectations, so you’re always gonna hear Somewhere to Fall, Minefield and our other hits.

Q. What can you share about the new album?

A. It’s called Touchstone. All original tunes, more of the soul-infused rock we’re known for. I expect it will be out next spring and we’ll promote it during our upcoming European tour.

Q. Tell us what life is like on the road in the 21st century.

A. Man, you are dating me {laughs}. When Artie (guitarist and musical partner Art Hoffman} and I first started out, we spent a lot of late nights riding in a bus, going from gig to gig. Now we have the luxury of flying to our tour dates. It saves wear and tear on an old dude like me.

Touring is a surreal experience, any way you look at it. You live for that two hours when you get to play music and do the thing you love. Then, after all the cheers and applause have died down, you go back to an empty hotel room. And it’s usually too late to call home.

On the road, it’s great to have people do things for you, like bring you food, fix your laptop when it goes down, make sure your wardrobe is taken care of. Then you get home and you still have to take out the trash and buy groceries like anyone else. It’s like being thrown back into an alternate universe.

Q. Other than taking out the garbage, what’s it like when you’re home?

A. Robert Silver goes back in his box and it’s back to being Rob again. I’m actually a pretty quiet guy off stage. I’ve lived alone since my wife died a few years ago (long moment of silence). I’m a basketball fan and I just can’t give up on the Knicks although they’re painful to watch at times.

And I really like to cook. I could spend all day hanging out in my kitchen with some new recipes (laughs) and trying them out on unsuspecting friends.

Q. You and Art Hoffman have one of the most successful partnerships in music history. When most rock duos have wound up hating each other, you still seem friendly.

A. We’ve always gotten along and respected each other’s talent. We may bicker like an old married couple, but we’ve never come across any issues that were serious enough to come to physical violence or cause a split.

I think we both consider ourselves lucky to be able to do this for a living. We thought we’d form a little rock band, write some songs and see what happened. Neither of us ever expected Deep Blue to last so long. And over the years, we’ve become co-dependent. The band couldn’t exist without both of us. I may be the front man and the voice, but when we’re on stage, Artie takes no prisoners. Anyone who’s seen our show knows that.

I read an article recently about a famous rock duo, who will remain nameless. They can’t stand each other. They never communicate unless they’re on tour, and then it’s always through their people. I can’t imagine what that would be like. What if I couldn’t bounce ideas off Artie? He’s more like a brother to me. A sarcastic pest of a brother, but it wouldn’t be the same without him {more laughter}.

Reprinted from the Denver News, Aug. 28, 2013

By P L. Harlow, staff writer

Denver Painter Joins Art Festival Lineup

This week we’re profiling Denver landscape painter Claire Martin, 58, one of only five Colorado artists chosen for the annual Denver Art Festival, a world-class juried show held over Labor Day weekend in Civic Center Park. We caught up with Martin recently in her modest Berkeley Park studio.

How did you feel when you found out you’d been picked as one of only 200 exhibitors selected from thousands of applicants across the country?

I jumped up and down and did a little happy dance when I got the email. Of course it felt great to have the jury recognize my art, especially after some of the harsh comments I’ve received from local critics. They haven’t exactly been kind. I’ve worked very hard over the past several years to get to this point in my career. And I’m honored to be representing my home state of Colorado.

How would you describe your style of painting?

Initially, I was inspired by the European Impressionists, Van Gogh in particular. I work mostly in oils and acrylics. I describe my style as contemporary, very colorful and highly stylized. My work isn’t something that most people walk up to and “get” immediately. You have to look closely before the painting begins to reveal itself.

You’re a rare Colorado native. Tell us a little about your background.

I grew up in Denver when it was little more than a cow town (laughs}. Now it’s a thriving metropolis that still retains some of its Western character and charm, although I really hate to see many of the old buildings being torn down in the way of progress.

I went to East High School and CU Boulder where I received my M.F.A. Aside from a couple of years in New Mexico, I’ve lived in Colorado all my life. I spent many years working as a graphic designer for some of Denver’s larger advertising agencies before going out on my own a few years ago.

You started your business in the midst of a severe economic recession.

Yeah (more laughter). I’m sure several people, including my immediate family, thought I had lost my mind. But I believed I could make it work, and I’ve always been a bit of a risk-taker.

You’re also a cancer survivor. How has that changed your outlook on life?

It might be more accurate to ask how has it not changed me. In my case, surviving a life-threatening illness put everything into sharp focus. Life is short, and if we don’t have the courage to go after our dreams, who’s going to do it for us?

I have a favorite quote from Goethe: ‘Nothing is worth more than this day.’ It’s become my mantra. I repeated it to myself daily when I was going through chemo and radiation and I still try to live by it. Take each day as a gift and make the most of it. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow.

What inspires you?

The natural world that surrounds me. I try to see the beauty in ordinary places and objects. One of my paintings, Snowfield, was purchased last year by the Denver Art Museum. It’s my version of an aerial view of a snow-covered field on Colorado’s eastern plains that I first saw on a winter flight coming home to Denver. A local art critic said it looked like a bowl of chocolate chip ice cream. But the chips are actually cows. If you look closely you can make them out, along with a water tank and bits of fencing. I was moved by the rhythm and pattern of the animals in the snow and I felt compelled to paint them.

And music. I love the soul, rock and folk music of the 1970s. My best friend and I still go to concerts to see and hear our favorites from that era–bands like Hall and Oates, Deep Blue, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs and the great Motown groups. So much good music was being made back then. I know I’m old school but I just can’t get into rap and hip hop.

What scares you?

Like most cancer survivors, there’s always an element of fear in the back of my mind. What if my cancer reoccurred? Would I have the courage to endure what I did before? But I try not to let that fear stand in the way of moving ahead with my life. I have so much I want to accomplish with what’s left of it.

A couple of years ago you were named one of Mile High Magazine’s hottest singles over 50. Any change in your status?

{Laughter} Well, that started out as a joke. My best friend Denise Hrivnak is mildly obsessed with trying to manage my love life. She sent my photo to the magazine and the next thing I know I’m in the article.

I got a lot of Facebook friend requests from it, but at the moment, the only man in my life is my cat, Miles. I’m not sure Mr. Right is out there, and at this point I’m not willing to settle for less.

Are you and Denise still friends?

Oh, yeah. We’ve been friends since we met in eighth grade sewing class. No one on earth knows me better than she does.

What can we expect to see next weekend at your festival booth?

I’ve completed a series of ‘rainscapes,’ images of historic buildings and places around Denver that no longer exist. I painted all of them on rainy days. I love how the colors of the landscapes are reflected and distorted by falling water.

Like tears for their demise?

You certainly could say that {smiles}. I guess people will have to come out and decide for themselves. In any case, I’m looking forward to a great weekend surrounded by some fantastic artists.

Pre-orders for Deep Blue are available now on Amazon..

The Healing Power of Female Friendship

Last summer, my BFF and I took a road trip, an entire week carved out for ourselves away from spouses, kids and the pressures of work. Imagine two graying baby boomer women who’ve known each other since junior high school and still haven’t run out of things to talk about. Thelma and Louise revisited, my husband called it. Except we didn’t kill anyone.

Granted, it wasn’t supposed to be a pleasure trip. My mother was in the hospital in Oklahoma City, suffering from renal failure, and I worried that at 95, she wouldn’t pull through.  I live in Virginia and Diane lives in the Denver area, so getting together even under the best circumstances is difficult.

“Fly to Denver,” she urged me, “and we’ll drive to see your Mom together. I’ll go see my cousin while I’m there. You don’t need to do this by yourself.”

We’re not talking about a leisurely drive. From her house it’s a 1,300-mile round-trip trek requiring an overnight stay both ways. During the hottest part of the summer. To Oklahoma, of all places, never high on our list of must-see destinations. If you ask me, making that kind of offer represents true friendship.

Off we went in her sleek little Volvo, packed with clothes and makeup, cell phones, a laptop computer and a basketful of CDs, mostly vintage stuff.  We rocked out to ZZ Top and waxed nostalgic over Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark. We stayed in decent hotels and treated ourselves to good dinners and libations. The highlight was seeing one of our favorite bands, Steely Dan, in concert in downtown Oklahoma City. I couldn’t afford it, but we went anyway. Life is getting shorter all the time and sometimes you just have to cut loose.

I spent my days in the hospital waiting for the latest word from Mom’s doctor while my BFF worked out of our “guest cottage” at my mother’s assisted living facility. Fortunately, Mom got better. By the time the two of us headed back to Denver, the crisis had passed. She was scheduled to be released from the hospital and sent to rehab.

I’m not sure how I would have handled the stress without my bestie. But that’s the thing about female friendships that makes them last. We’re available for each other, if not physically present, always there in spirit. Sometimes it’s about encouragement, other times a shoulder to cry on. Or just to say, “Yeah, I know how you feel,” because at our age, chances are we’ve been there before.

In my novel, Deep Blue, the lifetime friendship between Claire and Denise is one of the story’s central elements. Claire, who’s all but given up on love, meets the man of her dreams but she’s apprehensive about his controversial past and his lifestyle as a touring musician. Denise is the person she goes to for support and guidance. When, early in their relationship, Rob makes an unfortunate remark about his late wife being “irreplaceable,” it’s Denise who gives her friend an objective look at the situation and helps her realize the extent of his grief.

After Denise’s long-term love relationship crumbles, she finds consolation with Claire (and a chicken pot pie), who promises her she’ll move on and “fly higher.” And she will.

They’re fully aware of each other’s flaws and shortcomings. They make allowances for each other. They are each other’s family in the truest sense of the word, with none of the pettiness and bickering that ruins many less mature relationships.

Scientific research tells us that friends help us live longer and better. A Harvard study found that the more friends women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and more apt to be leading a happy life. Not having close friends or confidants, the researchers concluded, is as detrimental to health as smoking or being overweight.

I know the study’s findings have been true for me. When Diane and I returned from our road trip, we both commented that we felt revitalized, despite the stressful circumstances. I think it’s because we bring out each other’s best self.

As many of us have discovered, when you’ve passed the halfway point of life, time becomes your most precious commodity. There’s none of it left to waste with people you don’t care about. When I sold my novel, my BFF was the first person I called with the happy news. “I knew you were meant for this,” she told me, as if it were pre-ordained. Those few words of encouragement kept me smiling for the rest of the day.

OMG! I Got a Book Contract! Now What?

Tom and I were about to sit down to dinner a few weeks ago when I compulsively checked my email one more time and opened a message that took me by surprise, to say the least. It was a response from Imajin Books, the publishing company that was reviewing my manuscript, Deep Blue.

Don’t get your hopes up, I warned myself, expecting yet another rejection. I’d been turned down by at least half a dozen publishers during the past year and although I did get some positive feedback on my plot and characters, no one had been willing to take a chance on a debut novelist whose book didn’t fit the format of a conventional romance novel. Deep Blue is a little outside the lines, just like its author–an often humorous love story with characters old enough to qualify for AARP membership. Hen lit, they call it in the publishing industry. The older sister of chick lit.

I had to stare at the phone screen for a few seconds until it sunk in. I’d been offered a publishing contract. Me.

It’s not merely the fact that this will my first published novel. Deep Blue is also the first novel I’ve written. Period. For years I’d dreamed about becoming an author but it wasn’t until 2013 when, unemployed and bored, I sat in front of my computer screen, typed “Chapter One” and never looked back. I’d recently finished reading a wildly popular “romance” trilogy featuring a despicable male character who takes advantage of a naïve young woman. I was so turned off by the premise that I told myself, I’m going to write a book that I would like to read, even if no one else does.

No one sells their first book, I was told by people in my writing group. Or their second one. These works are merely practice until you get good enough to be published. Many uber-talented writers struggle for decades and never become published authors, so I know I’m among a fortunate few. That thought sort of blows me away and scares me at the same time. What if I’ve already peaked?

“Now what happens?” my husband asked after I’d signed and returned the contracts. To tell the truth, I didn’t really know. I didn’t “workshop” Deep Blue like other new novelists, I didn’t attend a lot of writers’ conferences where I could’ve pitched my book to a potential agent or publisher. None of it. I’m a 63-year-old neophyte in the publishing world, anxious and excited, hoping that my marketing skills will help make up for a lack of experience.

Next came writing the back cover copy–a headline and two paragraph summary designed to intrigue potential readers–and getting it approved by my publisher, Cheryl. Today I finished a line-by-line first edit of the book, trying to get my dashes, hyphens and elipses in order before sending the manuscript off to my editor, Todd. We expect to go through a few sets of revisions before agreeing on the final product.

I’m beginning to think writing Deep Blue was the easy part, compared to what comes next. My biggest challenge will be implementing a marketing program that connects the book with its readers through social and conventional media, book signings and other events that will make it stand out in the crowded, competitive indie-book marketplace. I only have one chance to get this right and I want to do everything I can to insure its success. Then, who knows? I’ve already written a sequel and a third book is in the works.

My goal was not to write a best-seller or win any prizes in literature. Instead, I wanted to offer a story that would appeal to women of my generation, those of us who know that falling in love later in life feels just the same as it did when were young. And so does heartbreak.