Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Risk Pool by Richard Russso

The Risk Pool by Richard Russo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm about halfway through The Risk Pool, but I thought I'd make a few comments about it now because a couple of other books have leap frogged it on my reading list.

This book was a choice for my book club. Unfortunately it was picked during the Christmas season, so a number of the members didn't have time to finish it. One woman didn't like it at all, but most of us felt it was well written, but not captivating. I was in that group. I liked the characters and the descriptions were exciting. But for me it read more like a collection of short stories than a novel. That isn't a bad thing. There are lots of good books out there that have a similar feel. The Greer Agency by Harris Tobias is a wonderful example of one I enjoyed. In the case of The Risk Pool I felt that each individual anecdote was fun to read but had a beginning, middle, and end. I loved the story of how Ned was kidnapped by his father, Sam, and taken on a fishing adventure, especially when his mother, Jenny, greeted them by shooting up Sam's car. And the relationship between Father Michaels and Jenny is fascinating in another story.

What the book lacks for me is a strong thread to pull me to the next anecdote. There are the relationships between Ned, his father, and his mother. And there is also Tria, a girl he's started to take an interest in. But at this point those factors aren't enough to keep me involved.

A number of different writers have told me that there are only a few basic plots that cover all stories. (The number of plots seems to change depending on who is telling me this fact.) I believe that's a dangerous way to think. It's the subtleties of plots that pull readers forward. The same thing could be said for relationships or anything else that makes up good writing. There are, after all, only twenty-six letters. So haven't all stories been told by now?

My wife tells me the plot of The Risk Pool gets more interesting after Ned grows up. That might be true and I do intend to finish this novel. I enjoy Richard Russo’s writing. But I’ve heard that Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs are both much better.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris

Holidays on IceHolidays on Ice by David Sedaris

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If I had skipped the first story in this collection, I would be writing that I am not a David Sedaris fan. But SantaLand Diaries is fabulous. After that, the collection goes downhill quickly. There are some interesting subtleties in Dinah, the Christmas whore that have to do with observing the narrator learn that he doesn't know his family as well as he thought he did. But other stories such as Seasons Greetings to our Family and Friends and Front Row Center With Thaddeus Bristol use forced humor in a way I didn't find amusing. In both these cases he develops a narrator who is racist or culturally bigoted, then in his effort to portray that character as way over the top he gives the reader offensive behavior that is supposed to be funny. I didn't think it was.

But SantaLand Diaries alone is well worth the price of this book. (I listened to the audio version, which I would recommend. David Sedaris has a wonderful speaking voice and so does his sister, Amy.) In this piece the humor is largely self deprecating and in the cases when he turns his attention to other elves or adults waiting to see Santa, the people mostly deserve to be the subjects of our laughter. Some of the elves are aspiring dancers or actresses. He branches off to talk about an elf who once appeared as an flamingo dancer on One Life to Live. He also give us a Santa who take himself too seriously and an elf who fancies himself a ladies man. I was alone in my car when I was listening to this and I was laughing out loud.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Multitasking books and other things

I just finished one of the three books I was reading, The Help. People who know me know that multitasking is not one of my strengths, so reading more than one book at a time is unusual for me.

I’m on the road close to two hours a day. It used to be a burden until I started listening to audio books regularly. I download most of the novels I listen to from the library. North Carolina has a digital collection that is available to people with cards for the Greensboro library and the Forsyth County library and I use both those systems.

So last week I was in the middle of a print copy of The Risk Pool by Richard Russo, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The Risk Pool was my book club’s selection for this month as well as the one I was enjoying during my actual reading time. The Help is the choice for next month. I borrowed a set of CD’s for that one. And Middlesex is the latest book I’ve downloaded from the library. Since that one isn’t on a schedule it is the one I’m starting and stopping along the way.

In addition to these three novels, I’m also halfway through writing my own book, a sequel to Motherless Soul that is coming along well, but is still at least a year away from completion.

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I try reading (and writing) multiple books simultaneously. It’s a process I’m enjoying.

One other note - Since this is the holiday season reading isn't my only multitasking. I've been helping Toni get ready for our family Christmas and preparing for our church choir's musical presentation which this year will include Pergolesi's The Magnificat, a difficult piece that has been a fun and satisfying challenge for our choir.

I love this time of year, but it can be exhausting.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I'm about halfway through the audio version of Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help. The book has some of the strongest characters in any of the books I've read recently. I love that about it.

I grew up in East Orange, New Jersey and was in high school when the Newark riots occurred. I suppose coming of age in that environment is one reason why race relations has always been a subject of interest to me. Two of my short stories dealt with the subject: Clay in Alaska Quarterly Review (1989) and Child By Design in Eclipse (2006). But even now race is still a complex, fascinating, and sometimes disturbing subject. My children were in high school during the nineties, in Greensboro, NC and although things had come a long way some of the same issues still existed. And they still exist today, even with Barack Obama in the white house.

The Help is set in Jackson, Mississippi during the Kennedy administration and it is about race relations. Skeeter is a young white woman from a wealthy farming family. She is part of the country club society, but she doesn't quite fit in. She is tall and hates her hair, among other things. Apparently this low opinion of her appearance has affected her confidence. She has rarely dated and has given up on that aspect of her life. She's decided to become a writer and to help her achieve this goal she has chosen to document what it is like to be a maid from the viewpoint of the local help.

I love the fact that Skeeter's goal is to be a writer. Adding to the civil rights discussion that is going on at the time is only a byproduct of what she wants. But she was raised by Constantine (an African American maid) and, in many ways, was closer to that woman than to her own mother. She seems to be a decent person with an open mind. At the same time she's turning her back on white friends who have been good to her over the years. I love the complexity of what Skeeter wants from life and I feel I know her.

There are other wonderfully developed characters in The Help, including two of the maids, Aibileen and Minny, who join in Skeeter's project for reason that are just as complex and fascinating as Skeeter's reasons. There's also a young white woman, Celia, who is from a poor background. She puts an entirely different spin on the subject of race relations and on the desires of women in general.

So far, the men in The Help are not as interesting as the women. They have been mostly secondary characters up to this point. But there is one in particular whom I think will become more important as I get further in the book. That's only one of the things I'm looking forward to finding out in the second half.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book Signings for Motherless Soul

Motherless Soul has been out for more than a year now and it has turned out to be an amazing year. Of everything I've been through, including starting this blog, the most fun has been the book signings. The amount of people that have come out to individual events has ranged from under ten to over fifty, but every signing has been a chance to meet unique people and to discuss the themes of my book with my readers.

The topics include parent child relationships and the eternal nature of the human soul. There have also been some very interesting discussions about the Civil War, since much of this "Past Lives Mystery" is set in that era and my great grandfather fought in that war and won the National Medal of Honor.

My next two signings are in Winston-Salem, NC:
1. On January 12 from 12 noon to 1:00 I'll be talking about Motherless Soul at the central library on fifth street.
2. On January 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 I'll be holding a signing at Barnhill's at 811 Burke St. This event will also be a wine tasting, so it should be a good way to spend a Friday night.

For those who can't make the Winston events here are a couple of video links: one that talks about my book signings and another that is a reading from the book.

NC Book Tour

Reading from Motherless Soul

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

Cold Sassy TreeCold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cold Sassy Tree is the story of Will Tweedy, a young man growing up in a rural Georgia town in the early 1900's. There is an emphasis on his relationship with his grandfather, who is the owner of the general store and a very important person in the town of Cold Sassy.

Olive Ann Burns's writing is clear and sharp with a simple style that makes its own comments about the simple lifestyle of those years. To me it had the feel of a Zane Grey novel.

The story kept me turning the pages, especially toward the end. But it was Burns's handling of bigotry that most intrigued me. It felt as if it was a very accurate portrayal of life in the rural south during that time. There were African Americans in Cold Sassy, but for the most part they were ignored by the whites. They were the cleaning ladies, cooks, and helping hands who were always available to help, but never asked for opinions. I felt as if there was an entirely different society existing in that town, one the readers don't get to see. That was one type of bigotry.

The other example of bigotry came in the relationship between members of the town's society and the mill workers (Lint Heads). The mill workers were poor and often dirty. Burns had one of her characters point out that they were dirty because they couldn't afford bathrooms the way the townspeople could. Will has a relationship with Lightfoot McLendon, a mill girl, and gets caught kissing her. He keeps saying he wants to go back to see her and talk to her, but the reactions of his family along with his own prejudices seem to be too much for him.

Will's grandfather is the only one who seems to be brave enough to set his own rules to live by. This is true in his personal life as well as in the way he deals with the mill workers. It is wonderful to see him through Will's eyes.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Interview of Jen Knox - Author of Musical Chairs

Musical Chairs was the first work I read by any of the other authors at All Things That Matter Press. I was blown away by the honesty in Jen's writing. Her book is a memoir of a young woman growing up in a blue collar family. She covers conflicts with her father, panic attacks she suffered through, her choice to dance at a strip club, living with a boy friend and his porn addicted father, and many other dark places she was led to through binge drinking.

Jen Knox writes both fiction and creative nonfiction. She never writes poetry, not on purpose (she asked me to include this detail), but she enjoys reading it. Jen is a graduate of Bennington's Writing Seminars and currently works as a Creative Writing professor at San Antonio College and Fiction Editor at Our Stories Literary Journal. Jen is here today to answer a few questions about her current title, Musical Chairs and her experience as an emerging writer.

Steve: Jen, tell us, what compelled you to write a memoir?
Jen: Hello. I didn't want to be bothered with plotlines. I'm kidding! I wanted to tell my story because it's a hell of a story, and although it's a hell of a story, it's not unique. Teenage girls, especially those who are prone to depression or anxiety, have it tough to begin with. There is a lot of confusion during this time, and when a person is depressed, the desire to 'escape' is prevalent. If undiagnosed, however, the dilemma compounds. It's common to seek escape. My family wasn't perfect, no, but I was not abused. Yet, I was sure that my life would be better, if only I got away from my parents. My memoir is about the tumultuous journey that follows this decision. Honestly, I did not set out to write a memoir. When I began writing, when I returned to college, I wrote fiction. Meanwhile, my personal stories were surfacing in the characters. Once a phenomenal teacher introduced me to the art of essay and memoir, I decided to give it a shot. Memoir is a tough genre, but incredibly rewarding.
Steve: In telling your story, has it made life easier or more difficult for you?
Jen: Interesting question. I can't say my life has become any easier, but I do feel as though the process of memoir writing, if taken seriously, allows more perspective on the past. I have received quite a few unsolicited diagnoses from readers. I suppose they might've been solicited, in a way, seeing as how I chose to publish, but either way, I had some really interesting responses. One man accused my father of molesting me, he said it was the sub-text he had read in the book. This did not happen, and so for my father to read this review was incredibly painful. Moreover, I have had quite a few people accuse me of being an amoral person, a person who "needs Jesus" or some other sort of saving, and this can be a little tough to take. The truth is, I'm very happy now, and I wouldn't trade my decisions for anything. My memoir was important because it gave voice to my younger self, a girl many other girls may relate to. And the positive feedback I've received, those who've told me that they have a similar story but are ashamed to share it; those who tell me that I am a tough girl for having the courage to change my lifestyle; those who have also abused alcohol or drugs, they make up for anything negative others might say. They are my audience.
Steve: What is your favorite color?
Jen: Gray-blue, like the sky just before it storms.
Steve: Did you experience writer’s block during the writing process? If so, how did you overcome it?
Jen: No. I wrote the draft in a summer. It took five years to revise and refine. I did have many days in which I didn't want to revise though, but it's my feeling that if a writer hires a ghostwriter for a memoir, it shouldn't be considered a memoir.
Steve: What advice can you give to those who suspect that they too could be suffering from some form of mental illness?
Jen: Talk to someone you trust. If you don't feel comfortable talking to someone, then write it down. Record how you feel and when you are most depressed, and then bring this information to a reputable psychologist. I am not a huge advocate of quick fixes, and I highly suggest that a person who wants a lasting cure pay close attention to how the mind works; study for yourself. The fact is, depression is not a rational thing, and so you cannot fix it with a quick, rational cure. It takes time and support. There are support groups and physical tools that will help, such as regular exercise that helped me immensely
Steve: What was the most difficult part of the writing process for Musical Chairs?
Jen: Figuring out which scenes to cut and which to include. It seems that a memoir would be easier to write than fiction, because the story is already there. But life doesn't follow a clear narrative path, and therefore a writer must impose one--this is no easy thing! The structure of memoir requires a lot of reworking and adjustment in order to maintain integrity and best tell a personal story.
Steve: Did you ever feel that by distancing yourself from your family, you might be able to avoid mental illness?
Jen: No. I feel as though distancing myself from my family did give me more appreciation for them, but I was a depressed little kid; it was with me long before I could name it. I strongly believe that mental distress, to a certain degree, is chemical. This doesn't mean that a person cannot find a personalized cure, and it doesn't mean I advocate medication as a quick fix, but it does mean that it's not wholly sociological.
Steve: How long did it take you to research, write and have your memoir published?
Jen: Five years, in total. A few months of writing; years of fact-checking and research; more years of revising.
Steve: What do you hope that your readers will take away from your book?
Jen: I hope that they will better understand what it is like for a young girl to deal with depression. I hope women will read this book, and chose to tell their own stories (in whatever way) rather than staying silent. Behaviors repeat if we don't address them, and the dangers that exist for a teenage girl will not go away. Awareness, however, can decrease a girl's odds of endangering herself.
Steve: Do you have any new books planned for publication in the next few years?
Jen: I plan to release a collection of short stories in early 2011 with All Things That Matter Press. It's entitled To Begin Again. I am currently working on a novel entitled Absurd Hunger. I hope to release this one in 2012, but I'm not sure this is realistic. We'll see.
Steve: Thank you, Jen, for your time. Musical Chairs can be purchased at at:
Check out Jen Knox's website and blog:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire - Stieg Larsson

The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2)The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am enjoying Larsson's trilogy and after reading this one I'm already looking forward to the third. This was more of a traditional thriller, which some readers might like. I preferred the "Dragon Tattoo" plot, especially the hunt for Harriet Vanger. But this also had its share of interesting twists.

There were two things that I did not like about this book:

1. Very few of the plot complications were resolved. I suppose that's to draw the readers into the next book. If so, it's working with me.

2. Some of the characters accomplish things that are almost superhuman. In the realistic context of the book I found those events to be unbelievable.

But even with those objections the book pulled me in and kept me turning the pages.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flashes From the Other World by Julie Weinstein

Julie Weinstein's new book, Flashes From the Other World is a collection of very short fiction - Flash Fiction. Her writing is clear, concise and colorful. Check out her story Camp Ghosts at Her book is filled with perfect stories for moments when you want read but you don't have a lot of time: doctor's offices, plane rides, or just evenings when the dinner is cooking and you're tired of watching the news. Here's an interview Julie did. I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I did when I read this.

Why should I read your book?
If you like magic realism, short stories collections, and characters that are quirky, offbeat and full of unusual surprises, then you’ll love Flashes from the Other World (All Things That Matter Press, Fall 2010).

The story collection is in the magic realism vein. I think of it as reality that is slightly bent as opposed to science fiction, which is completely bent. Stories of this nature have a subtle and bewitching way of blending the out of the ordinary with everyday life. In my writing, it's often a surreal landscape where the question of what is a dream and what is reality blur. Along those lines, it can be a place where the intangible becomes tangible, whether it's a ghost or a flower, vegetable or a grain of sand talking.
My story collection, Flashes from the Other World is packaged under the loose umbrella of paranormal, relationships and the surreal. There’s no telling which character in this collection you’ll identify the most with whether it’s those in search of love, or others questioning reality, or all the ghosts that stop by for a spell dispensing mischief and mayhem, or the talking animals including one that befriends Elvis, or the lovers that take what they need of each other and from other people’s weddings, or the wise snail finding its true color or a whipped can of cream espousing theories on the way the universe works. And along the way you will find delightful mini-trips that will touch your heart, even if they tug at your funny bone first.

What do you like about writing?
I love the play of words, the language, the chance to meet and know new characters, the enticement, the seduction of inspiration, the playful expression of creative energy, the chance to see whole new worlds unfold and all the surprising characters and stories that emerge along the way.

How do you reach your muse?
The muse is everywhere whether it’s words I hear at a coffee shop like “the Gorillas, “they weren’t photographed” or a key phrase heard at a party, “they might have trans organs,” or all the random words heard while I run on the beach, like “what’s that washing ashore it looks like split pea soup?” Or all the unusual things I see like a manikin’s body without the head being carried at the center of a shopping mall, or a pair of men’s jockeys left by a car tire, or the odd configurations of words that suddenly amuse or entertain me, like dichotomize or flummery, making me realize that I should use them in a story whether or not I have a clue how a character will respond to them. They simply must be written about, because they can be.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing in one form or another all my life. One of my earliest stories featured a lady bug with Kafkaesque tones I wrote at the age of nine. Anything involving words I jumped at the chance to create from high school to college to work life from poems, essays, marketing material – anything became a story. The past ten years I’ve seriously focused on fiction. My love of writing fiction began first with short stories, novels, and flash fiction and lately it’s an exploration of both mediums.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?
I write both short and long fiction.
What I love the most about flash fiction is that I can experiment more with language and take bigger leaps of the imagination. It’s easier to see the end of a story in short form than it is with a longer story. Novels are often multiple stories within stories, so it’s much more complex to navigate the various plots and twists. But then there’s the full development of a character’s psyche and life and that can be very exciting to see play out with all the layers that build upon each other. I do that thematically with much of my short fiction in Flashes from the Other World whether it’s the exploration of the paranormal to the intangible forms of nature having their say…I like to give voice to characters that are not typically heard.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
Stories are our humanity. They are our existence whether imagined or not. The writing and reading of stories brings us closer to others through the imagination, the heart, the soul – the everything! Stories allow us to move beyond ourselves and into other places and back again.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?
Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Isabelle Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, T.C. Boyle, Alli Smith, Zadie Smith, Aimee Bender, Joyce Carol Oats, Katsuo Ishiguro, Alice Sebold and Barbara Kingslover.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two?
I write by intuition. Logic occurs after the initial idea is explored, then I go back and find the core and linear structure of the story.

Now here is a really weird, but fun one...what trash item did you see that inspired you to write a story?
In one of my stories I found a whole character when I saw a manikin head on a dumpster.

What projects are you working on at the present?
I am working on two story collections. One is a paranormal collection with a clairvoyant gal as the central, reoccurring character. It explores her life with her Grandmas, ghosts and friends from the age of five to about twenty. The other collection has a sensual tone and explores various single women’s journeys with dating and relationships.

To learn more about author Julie Weinstein visit her website at, or and her blog at

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rachel's Children by Jean Rodenbough

Jean Rodenbough has put together a wonderful collection of essays and poetry concerning life as a child during World War II. She's linked the elements of her book with a narrative that describes what was going on during that difficult time. Some of the descriptions are personal and some cover current events from those years. This interview is a chance to get to know Jean as an author. Her book is available at Amazon.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you believe you achieved them?

I felt compelled to write about the time of World War II, in part because I was a child during that time and lived in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese military. My purpose in gathering the stories of other children and their experiences was to illustrate the need for an end to wars, in light of the horrors perpetrated on non-combatants as well as the military.
There has been a growing volume of books which deal with that time, and I wanted to tell the story from my perspective as presented by the stories.
The test of whether my goal has been achieved will be the reactions of the readers of the book.

Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?

I met Walter Falk, who now lives here in Greensboro, whose name was given me as one of the children in the Kindertransport, a rescue operation for (mostly) Jewish children in Germany and Poland, sending them to Great Britain, most of them to England but also to other countries in the British realm. Once the war began when Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the program was ended. Walter and I have become friends and after getting his story, detailed previously in a feature by one of the writers for the local newspaper. We now meet occasionally and share our stories and also current activities. He is in his mid-80’s and remains active and interested in news events here and elsewhere in the world. His wife died a few years ago, and he lives alone in his home.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?

Making decisions about what to include. I found a number of collections of stories told by those whose childhood was spent in the midst of that difficult time. At first I extracted some of their experiences, but then realized these stories had already been made public, so I took them out of the book and simply summarized their circumstances. Instead, I was able to get stories from those I knew personally for the most part, and made their experiences the relevant ones. I still had to decide what to include and how to use them. The book took such a long time to write chiefly because of these decisions.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Aside from the sense of accomplishment in fulfilling my goal of writing about the children of that war, I had a variety of other good feelings in writing it. I felt strongly about making a case for never having another war, a hope that so far has not been fulfilled. Another major enjoyment, or at least satisfaction, was using my poetry as commentary on events and situations described. There are times when poetry can speak to deeply emotional conditions of hardship better than prose, whether in narrative or in historical detail.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ghost Runners by Robert Rubenstein

Warning: If you go to Amazon and check out the first few pages of Robert Rubenstein's book, Ghost Runners, you'll be hooked. It is immediately clear that this writer's words are backed by passion. Here's his interview:

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
When I was in my teens, I met a girl whom I loved. In her house, at night, I discovered some of the secrets of a kiss. I also heard the sounds of her father moaning loudly in his sleep. Laughing, my girlfriend told me it was just the war and the camps and the memories of death. So, as a teenager, I was introduced to Nazis. Almost thirty years ago, I learned of the story of two American Jewish Olympic runners who were not allowed to compete in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Had it been German anti-Semitism, it would have been understandable. But it was Americans, not Germans, who took their only Jewish Olympians off the team. The questions plagued me: Why? Could history have been changed, the ensuing Holocaust halted even for one day if these Americans ran? What happened to that twenty-one year old runner who seemed to just disappear?
So slowly did truth emerge: the complicity of American corporations: IBM, Chase, GE-the lists kept growing. Whom had they been serving? After all the years, I saw the vehicle that could answer those questions. The theme that had escaped me had reappeared like a ghostrunner.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?
I have a tendency to imagine too strongly and to follow an extraneous thought to distraction. If left to my own, I would write fantastic gibberish. But Historical Fiction sets the measured tones I need to stay on track. It allows me to write within a timed and known setting. I also love the possibilities of history, to wonder about the ‘Butterfly Effect,’ to see if I could blow my breath into the known and change, by the winds or celestial flows, the way things were to the way things might have been.

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc. come from?
When I was younger, I didn’t have many toys. I was a prolific reader. Like other kids, I liked to read whole series of books. I had intimate encounters with Tarzan in the jungle. I tried cases with Perry Mason. I was smitten with the Hardy boys. But even earlier, I loved when my father came home with the newspaper. The written word, for me, has always reminded me of a happy home.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?
No matter the path, the spirit cannot avoid suffering. How two young men deal with misfortune is a lesson for us all. It is not the sorrow but the existential choice to give that woe a greater meaning, a far reaching implication. In my story, Joshua Sellers is transformed by the process of his separation from an American dream betrayed by his own countrymen. He finds redemption in the alien surroundings of our indigenous natives and in the joy he has in passing on the gifts he had, but could not use, to disabled children.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
In GHOSTRUNNERS I wanted to address a wrong that does not go away. It has stayed in the public debate without modern challenge. The complicity of American corporations and certain names whose lineage is well known has still not been brought to American justice. I wanted to create controversy and bring the deplorable adoration by many Americans to Adolf Hitler under the light of dialogue and public scrutiny.
I also wanted to give body to an American hero, Sam Stoller. Sometimes, it is not the successful that should be remembered, but the ones who had the promise, but were not ever given the chance for glory.

What was the hardest part of writing this book?
Good, good question. Even fictionalizing with good intentions, people who have lived and died, the author owes a great debt to their memories and must be cautious before attaching one extraneous word. In GHOSTRUNNERS I could never be certain how to portray brave, decent men like Frank Wycoff or Foy Draper, Jesse Owens or even Charles Lindbergh. When I thought about their descendants, I did not want to trespass even lightly on a memory. One of the two protagonists was a beloved figure in sports, Marty Glickman. I would have wanted to contact his family for permission. I hope I portrayed his likeness with humility and love. Lastly, Sam Stoller was the forgotten Olympian, his life’s journey still unknown. I hope I put some flesh around him. I hope my words may find his descendants well.

Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if your book?
My book is about the possibilities of what diversity could have done in sports to vanquish Hitler and his ideas of racial supremacy during the infancy of the evil of Nazism. Blacks and Jews and Native Americans: no master race could subjugate them for too long.

What projects are you working on at the present?Presently, I am working on a story of thwarted desires amid the beauty and violent history of New Mexico. Can one truly find happiness in a land of unsettled accounts? When the harmony of the mountains is disturbed, a secret group of Natives must extend their old influence on young, wayward braves. OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY is just that: a love story of the permanence of forgotten events or shallow passions, shifting with the sands of unremorseful times.

What's your most memorable childhood memory?
Ducking for cover under my desk to escape nuclear war in a fifth grade fire drill. I was not going to let the Russians get me. I held my head and did as I was told: I didn’t talk to my neighbor. I didn’t look at the glass windows. And I was saved.

What do you do for fun?I love to visit the National Parks and the southwest. I love to swim in the ocean.

What did your character do that totally shocked and surprised you and caused you to revisit your book?
When Joshua Sellers walked over to the Fuhrer’s Loge and raised his fist to deck Hitler out, I was as shocked as anyone. But I bought Joshua’s explanation. He really didn’t want to hit Hitler. He just wanted to give him a love tap from the Jewish nation.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

This book tells the story of Rachel, the daughter of a Danish woman and an African American man. It is a powerful story dealing with racial issues. Rachel's mother, whom she calls Mor (mother in Danish), does not see race until she moves from Europe to America. After that it becomes such a powerful force to her she takes a desperate action to protect her children from being black. Rachel is the only member of her family to live through that act.

Rachel is biracial so she encounters bigotry from both sides. She is dismissed by the other students at her school because she acts white. Characters of both races are fully developed with failings as well as good qualities.

There are some coincidences in the story that are a bit of a distraction, but those aside, it is a beautifully written work filled with a great deal of power. It is written in a non-linear fashion that confused me a bit until I got used to the style. After I understood the time shifts I liked the choice to write it that way.

My one objection to the story was the treatment of a minor character who was homosexual. This was the husband of Rachel's aunt, who had died of Aids before the story began. He was described as funny and as willing to be with anyone. This struck me as odd in a book that handled other prejudices so well. I brought up the issue with my wife who said she felt the comments were simply true to the characters who spoke them. I suppose that's true, but I was still disappointed in the way that issue was dealt with.

Overall, I felt this book was wonderful. I would recommend it to anyone. I read it twice.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brooklyn born Vic Fortezza is the author whose interview I'm posting this week. His book, A Hitch in Twilight is twenty short works in the style of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock. What I find most interesting about Vic is the way he goes out on the streets to talk about his writing with anyone he can meet. This is what storytelling should be about, one on one contact with the reader, like a medieval minstrel. Technology has helped us get closer to people all over the world, but in many ways it has hurt our ability to talk the people who live close by. I love the fact that Vic is doing this with a book styled after TV shows from the fifties.

How long have you been writing?
Since 1975. I wrote three novels before I attempted a short story, Rude Awakening, which was based on the strained relationship of my immigrant parents. It was published in 1988 by Unknowns Magazine out of Atlanta. Thereafter, getting stories into print was sporadic until 1999, when I finally heeded the advice of friends and went online. I was amazed how easy submission was. I sometimes heard from an editor the same day, as opposed to a year or more using snail mail. It also saved me the expense and annoyance of dealing with the post office. It may have been the best thing I’ve ever done - ever.

What projects are you working on at the present?
I’ve completed a short story of 1000+ words, Oblivious. I will read through the file a couple of more times to make sure it’s as good as can be. It’s about the dangers we all face that we are completely unaware of, most of which never occur. It was probably influenced by the TV show Criminal Minds, which is extremely unpleasant but is to be commended for its uncompromising nature and reluctance to put things into a tidy politically correct context - except for its occasional playing of mopey songs at the end.
I’ve also submitted a novel, Killing, to All Things That Matter Press. It encompasses many aspects of the theme. Of the nine novels I’ve written, of which two have been published, I believe it is the most meaningful. I don’t know if anyone has ever examined the theme to such an extent.

What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
I’ve been a teacher’s aide, a bartender, a messenger and, for nearly 25 years, a data entry person and supervisor at the Commodity Exchange in Manhattan. I worked in the madness of the pit and at the podium trying to manage the three circus that the open outcry system, which has largely given way to electronic trading, had been. It was a wonderful place for a writer, as the gamut of behavior could be observed. I even wrote a raucous novel about a year in the life of a supervisor, Exchanges. Trouble is, it is so vulgar and politically incorrect I don’t know that any publisher would touch it.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
During Christmas break my freshman year in college I spotted Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment on a rack at a newsstand. My two best campus friends, who were really intelligent despite the fact that they were football players, had mentioned him a few times. I was prepared for the humiliation of not being able to understand the book. To my surprise, I not only understood it but was amazed and frightened at how I identified with the main character. Prior to this, it was almost strictly Batman and Superman comics.
I also admired Henry Miller’s fearlessness, although in the end he may simply have been the world’s greatest pornographer. The novels I respect most are those that get life right, like Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, perhaps the most beautifully written of all.

Who's your best/worst critic?
I beat myself up pretty well about all aspects of my life, even something so silly as a once a week round of golf.

What's the last thing you think of before you fall asleep at night? First thing in the morning?
I often use a budding short story as a means of counting sheep. In the morning it’s about seizing the day, hoping for at least one book sale on the street.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
90% of my work is mainstream or literary. I’m fascinated by the bittersweet mystery of life, by what makes people tick, by peeling away as many of the layers of personality as possible. The other ten percent is borne of the love I had for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock as a youth. I’ve never found it difficult to differentiate between the two.

Vic's Website:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel:
Vic's 1st Novel:
Vic's Blog:
A Hitch in Twilight on Kindle:

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Flashing My Shorts by Salvatore Buttaci

This week's ATTMP featured writer is Salvatore Buttaci, author of Flashing My Shorts. His short fiction is at times funny and at times powerful. His book is the perfect read to take on a plane or to carry along with you for any random reading time that might come along.

Here are Some Things That Matter to Salvatore Buttaci

What does your muse look like?

When I was a teen-ager I wrote a short story called “Man with Wheels” that told my version of the literary muse who visits writers and presents them with ideas for poems and stories. He had wheels for legs and feet, and you knew he was there because the spinning sound of his wheels matched the sound of ideas spinning in my head, trying so hard to escape to pen and notebook. He wore a dark-blue sharkskin suit, his eyes were lunar yellow, and in his arms he carried a flower basket filled with words that obediently, at his command, assembled themselves into sentences or lines, then paragraphs or stanzas until…eureka! before the writer’s eyes, without need of editing or revising, lay the finished story or poem. Then the man with wheels would roll out of sight until once more he’d be needed to break through the haze of writer’s block.

Of course, the story was meant to be humorous. To me it was as absurd as Erato, that muse lady in blue gown, from whom writers expect some inspiration. I find the whole idea of a muse hilarious. I rate it up there with the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus.

Sometimes writers find it difficult to admit that the writing craft is a gift, something to be developed and improved over time. They will attribute their work to a sudden burst of inspiration that, once down on paper, becomes sacrosanct and unchangeable. I saw this often when I taught writing on the college level. Students would write a story or nonfiction article, and despite my red-penciled suggestions, my proofreading signs, they would prefer taking the low C than aim for an A by making the work better. It was almost as though they felt guilty about tampering with that inspired first draft.

Ding dong, the muse is dead. She was never born. She does not exist. The blue gown, the diadem in her long blond hair, her svelte beauty…all of it an artist’s rendition of what literary inspiration might look like if personified.

When I think “Muse,” I remember that story of my younger days. The man is out there someplace spinning his wheels. In his arms he balances his word basket and waits for me to raise my hand and beckon him towards my writing space, but I leave him stranded out there, all revved up and nowhere to go.

I believe inspiration comes more easily when one is committed to writing. It is hardly enough to write occasionally. In fact, the more often a person writes, the more easily the writing flows. Daily writing comes highly recommended by those bestselling authors who ply their craft hours a day, including weekends.

While there exists no writer-friendly muse, with or without wheels for feet, there are words locked inside our minds that beg for release. I imagine they are all packed like treasures in huge wooden chests, waiting to be opened, to be set free, to fly from the castle hall in which they have been imprisoned. Freedom via the open window or the heavy wooden castle door is attained by daily writing, the reading of books about the craft of writing, building a vocabulary, and the books of successful writers.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?

We often gravitate towards what we ourselves enjoy. Writing has always been a passion of mine…fiction, nonfiction, drama, and poetry, each for different reasons. But brevity has always been my objective. I keep poems to a maximum length of 40 lines. Rarely have I exceeded that length. As for fiction, while it is true that I have written two novels, full-length plays, and short stories between 5,000 and 10,000 words, my favorite kind of writing is fiction under 1,000 words. This is not to say flash fiction is the easiest to write because of its brevity, just as saying as much about the haiku would not be quite true. As
I see it, the job of the flasher (pardon me, the flash-story writer) and the haikuist becomes more difficult because their goal is to fit a world of a story or emotion or imagery into a confined space of either 1,000 words or less, or 17 syllables or less. The flash and the haiku demand that certain criteria be achieved. Certain elements that define them must be written into them or they fail within the context of their limited space.

Flash fiction appeals to me because of the challenge it presents. I must tell a story with a hook of a beginning, enough of an enticingly descriptive middle, and a satisfying conclusion. Editing becomes paramount as the writer strives to reach the final draft. All unnecessary words, sentences, and paragraphs need to be given the literary boot because what does not add to the flash detracts from it. A flash is not simply words no longer than 1,000. It is a story with the same requirements as its taller brother, the short story, and giant brother, the novel. The flash is the iceball packed solid and hard. The short story and the novel are snowballs, but none of the three can fall apart once the thrower sets it sailing.

In my collection of 164 short-short stories, Flashing My Shorts, I tried hard to vary the stories so that readers would encounter different characters with different motives, different situations and settings, within different genres. My intent was to be true to myself and provide precisely the kind of book I love reading, one filled with humor, horror, crime, love, science fiction, time travel, alternate history, post-cataclysmic. I wanted them to run the gamut so each flash would stand apart from the next one.

The same holds true for my poetry. When I wrote A Dusting of Star Fall: Love Poems
India: Cyber-wit Publications, 2006), I included those poems I felt that readers could and would relate to. Over the years of our marriage, I’ve written and given Sharon a small book of my love poems to commemorate her birthday, St. Valentine’s Day, and our wedding anniversary. One day I asked if she’d mind if I shared the best of those poems in a book others as well could read. She said yes and so did Cyber-wit Publications.

What motivates the kind of book I’ve written has been, “What would I enjoy reading?” I can’t even conceive of writing a book I myself would not bother to read.

You ask how I balance writing poetry and writing fiction, my two main kinds of writing. That’s a good question. I think each involves a different mode of thinking. With fiction I first imagine in my head…set the scene, so to speak…of what the story is about. I see the characters, the problem to be resolved, the time and place of the action, some dialogue, and finally the resolution in what might be something you’d see in a minute YouTube video. Next, I dream up the strongest hook I can to start the flash ball rolling. Then in a conservation of words, I tell the story with an equal balance of narration, description, exposition, and dialogue. Lastly, I dream up the strongest possible ending.

With poetry it’s entirely different. I sit at the computer keyboard and screen and type out the first line or two that pop into my head from wherever the poem stuff is stored! For example, I’ll type, “four fingertips gripped the eaves/she held on for not-so-dear life.”
And then I continue to type until the first draft is done. I have no clue where I am heading. It’s like a train ride into dark night. I won’t know where I am going until I get there. Sometimes I am not happy with what I find and I highlight, then delete, the entire poem. Sometimes I save the best line or more. And there are those times when the poem’s first draft satisfies me enough that I don’t mess with it.

Usually I write two or three poems daily, as well as one or two flash stories. I carry a pocket notepad where I jot down any ideas that come to me or new vocabulary I read or dialogue I hear. In this way I keep myself stocked with the raw materials to write more and more poems and stories.

How long have you been writing?

My wife tells me, “Please don’t tell them again how you started writing! I’m dreaming it in my sleep!” But the truth shall set us free, so here goes. I was nine and it was a day before Mother’s Day. I had no money to buy my mother a gift. I had money, but I’d spent it on green grapes and a strawberry malted, all of which cost me back in 1950 only about 40 cents. If I hadn’t been so selfish, I could have bought her a napkin holder from Schramm’s Hardware for 30 cents and had enough left over to buy another malted.

I took a sheet of school loose-leaf paper, folded it like a greeting card, drew a heart on the front and wrote HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, MA. On the inside left page I wrote a quick poem called “To My Mother.” On the right side, I wrote, “Love, your son Sal.”

Of course, my sisters gave me the evil eye because, unlike them, I had no gift, only a greeting card, one I didn’t even buy. But when Mama opened my card and read my poem, she started to cry.

“Ma, what’s wrong?” one of us kids asked.

“It’s beautiful!”

“The card?” asked Joanie, hardly believing Mama would love it more than the kerchief she bought her.

“This poem your brother wrote.”

Then Joanie and Anna read it, but it didn’t impress them much. Anna was in the 8th grade and read so much better in school. Joanie was in the first grade where “Roses are red, violets are blue” type poems probably outshone my attempt at poetry.

When Papa heard Mama crying, he came into the kitchen, wanting to know “What’s going on?”

“It’s beautiful!” my mother repeated, then handed the poem to him.

Papa read it aloud. Honestly, the poem was, pardon the oxymoron, “pure crap.” But he had tears in his eyes too. What gives? I wondered.

My father, who had studied in the seminary back in Sicily, was well versed in the works of Dante in their original tongue. He held the poem high in the air and waved it like a flag. “This is better than Dante!” he said. “Your poem is beautiful.” I thought to myself, one more beautiful and I will eat my poem and throw up. “Would you write a Father’s Day poem for me?”

I smiled. “Pa, we got a whole month.”

“Go write it now,” he said. “I can’t wait that long.”

My parents encouraged my writing from that day on. If they caught me doing nothing, they’d ask, “You did all your homework? You studied for that test?” And when I said yes to both, one or the other would say, “Then go write a poem or a story. We want to hear it.”

There were times I would rather have relinquished my title back to Dante, but they kept after me. “Got a poem? Got a story?” They never said, “I’m too busy to read or hear what you wrote. Ask me later.” My parents would actually stop what they were doing, sit down and either read my work or ask me to read it to them.

Because of their praise and belief in me, I tried to learn more and more about good writing. On Saturdays I’d go to the library and read books of poetry or how-to-write books. I’d keep a notebook of what writing tips I’d find and incorporate them into my own writing. I’d keep a special notebook where I would jot down new words and their definitions. I’d arrange them in alphabetical order. Then I’d memorize them and use them in my story.

In high school I wrote for the school newspaper and was elected editor-in-chief of the yearbook. At 16 I got my first essay published in the Sunday New York News. That same year a very short poem called “Charlatan” was published in Bardic Echoes. It went like this:

You promised to mend my broken heart.
Instead, I was treated and released.

So writing became part of me. I wrote to please my parents and my teachers, and to assuage whatever sorrows came in my life. When my father died in 1987, I filled three notebooks with memories of him. I suppose it was weird of me to think somehow I could keep him alive that way, but published stories of him do bring him back to me and I get to share him with readers who never had the pleasure of his company. [For example, see “Papa’s Gold Coin” in Cup of Comfort for Fathers, published in April 2010.]

How long have I been writing?

Sixty wonderful years!

What projects are you working on at the present?

I’ve nearly completed the editing of my follow-up collection of short-short stories, which I will submit to Deb Harris for consideration. I have a feeling she is going to love this one too!

Next I will be editing two novels, one of them called Carmelu the Sicilian; the other is called Denver-under-Dome. The first tells the story of a Sicilian-born American movie actor and the other is an alternate-history time travel scifi.

What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.

In 2007, I retired from nearly 30 years teaching on all levels of education. Prior to that, I was a marketing exec for a New York City mailing list company. In my younger days I worked in an airplane factory as a power, sensitive, and radial driller of aeronautical pistons. I was also a questioned document examiner for a time, and part owner of a janitorial maintenance firm.

They have all impacted on my writing because I have found material in my workplace experiences to fill several books!

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

As a boy I read the poems of Rosa Zagnoni Marinoni, poet laureate of Arkansas, back in the 1950s. She more than any poet hooked me into writing poetry. Later in life, in addition to a myriad list of international poets, I favored Leonard Cohen of Canada, Caesar Vallejo, Pablo Neruda, Salvatore Quasimodo, and the old bard from Strafford-on-Avon!

As for novelists, I favored Hemingway, Dos Passos, Goldman, and Mickey Spillane. Now some interviewers wonder why Spillane. I tell them few could write with the ease of Spillane who told a story as though I were his only reader. I also like Follett and Folsom.

What's the last thing you think of before you fall asleep at night? First thing in the morning?

After kissing my love goodnight, I say my night prayers, asking God to make me a better person in the morning and to heal all those in need of His mercy. The first thing that comes to mind in the morning is a quickly fading dream I quickly jot down in my notepad by the bed.

Who's your best/worst critic?

My wife Sharon is my best critic. She can hear me recite a poem or story and know exactly what’s either missing or needs to go the way of the garbage bag. My worst critic is myself because sometimes I can’t let go of the story or poem and say to myself, “Enough already! The damn thing’s done!”

List, in one sentence, the three questions you'd ask your favorite author over lunch.
In one sentence, answer them.

I’d ask him how much of the book was his own writing, not the editor, did having an agent help him to become successful, and how much of what you write comes from his own life.

The book had several more characters and one or two other subplots, which the editor found too cumbersome and deleted them.

After two of my books started earning money, I hired an agent to save myself the grief of promoting my work, which gave me more time to write.

Quite a bit of what I write is based on personal experiences, and that’s why I advise writers to be observant, to notice everything, record them and internalize them into their writings.

What's your most memorable (not necessarily your favorite) childhood memory?

It was the day my father asked us if we knew how much he loved our mother. “I’d give up my right arm for her,” he said to us. The image of Papa with one bloody arm shook us up a little, but then he added, “because that mother of yours would give both her arms for me!”

Or now here is a really weird, but fun one...what trash item did you see that inspired you to write a story. In one of my stories I found a whole character when I saw a manikin head on a dumpster.

In my childhood the little girl next door passed away from pneumonia. One night shortly after I saw her mother come out to the garbage can, lift the lid, and toss into it two or three dolls. I didn’t write the story until recently and put it into my upcoming flash collection about a woman of the streets who never has time to buy her little daughter a doll. She spends all her money on expensive perfume. When the child develops pneumonia, she leaves the doctor with her child, and runs out to buy her that doll. She brings it home but her daughter dies in the interim.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
Now that I am retired, I write about four hours in the morning and two at night.

I’d write more hours, but I love my wife and need to spend time with her. If I lock myself up at the computer, she’ll forget who I am and I’ll spend the rest of my days alone.

Salvatore Buttaci can be reached by e-mail at or you can check out his blog: or
or you can go to, click on BOOKS and type in “Flashing My Shorts” and read the reviews.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Remember Me by Sophie Kinsella

I'm in the process of reading Remember Me? for a second time. It's unusual for me to reread anything, especially light reads like this one. But the book was fun, so I recommended it to my book club. It will be the subject of our discussion at the November meeting. I'm rereading it with enough time to give some thought to what I want to say about it. I'm thinking of leading with the question "What event would be significant enough in your life to cause you to completely change your personality?" That should get the talk rolling.

Here's my review from the first time I read it:

This is the third Sophie Kinsella book I've read and the one I enjoyed the most. Kinsella creates strong female characters that seem to come off a bit flaky at first. But, as her books move along, the strengths and talents of these young women become evident. Remember Me? does not differ from that pattern.

Lexi Smart is out clubbing with her pals on a rainy night. When she tries to run to catch a cab, she slips and falls down a flight of stairs. She wakes up in a hospital thinking it is the following day, but soon learns that three years have gone by. The stairs are ancient history. This time it was a car accident that caused her to hurt her head.

Lexi has become a different person than she was on what still feels like the previous day. She needs to find out about her relationships with men, including the husband she doesn't remember. She also needs to discover what happened with her career and why her mother, sister, and friends all treat her differently than they had before. It is as if she's inhabited a stranger's body.

The book is a light read and quite funny at times. A few of the supporting characters are one dimensional, but all the mains ones are fully developed and believable. The plot catches the reader and at times it is a hard book to put down.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

God's Vacation by Michael Davis

Michael Davis is a retired special educator. His book, God's Vacation, has been accepted by All Things That Matter Press and is coming out soon. I enjoyed reading his blog - - and learned that he and I have a lot in common, especially regarding his concern for environmental causes. Here are some of his answers to the ATTMP interview questions.

Why should I read God’s Vacation?

Everyone should read God’s Vacation which will be available soon at All Things That Matter Press, because it will rock your boat and stimulate your mind and soul. Don’t forget to wear a seat belt; it’s a wild ride.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?

God’s Vacation is my primal scream. It’s my message in a bottle to a world hell-bent on destroying itself. Although the message is hard hitting, it is also hopeful.

A lifetime of spiritual, philosophical, political and psychological awareness is contained in this action packed novel.

Do you listen to music while you write, or do you require total and utter silence?

It depends. If I’m writing a vividly emotional spiritual scene like when Gabrielle first realizes she is God, I don’t want music to clutter up my mind. On the other hand, if I’m describing a confrontation between insurgents and the government brownshirts in God’s Vacation, I’ll turn on Jimmy Hendrix’s Machine Gun or the Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man.

What do you like about writing?

I love creating my own world. It’s like having God-power, but really, I’m at the mercy of my muse and he’s the one creating God’s Vacation. Every time I think I’m in control John sets me straight.

What does your muse look like?

That’s a tricky question. If I describe how John looks somebody is going to call the men with the straightjacket to come get me. On the other hand people might want to know what he looks like.

John is a short and slender old man with thick orange plastic framed glasses, who wears a baseball cap and a 49ers jacket. He’s usually in my dreamscape, but he can show up anywhere. He never says much, but I know what he means.

That’s it for John.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m working on a book titled, The Spiral Vortex. It’s about a man who has an extraordinary experience and unlocks the secret of the “tree of life.”

I also keep up a blog called God’s Vacation and write poetry whenever the muse moves me.

Mr. Davis can be reached by e-mail at, or you can check out his blog:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford is often called a comedy. There are humorous parts of the book, but it certainly is not funny throughout. And some of the humor might come from readers who do not respect the type of women portrayed in the book.

It was first published in 1851, so it gives a good feel for that time. It is the story of a handful of aging women who live in Cranford, England. Today Cranford is part of Greater London. Back then there was more separation.

Some of the women in the story have never married, some have lost their husbands, and one marries while the story progresses. This isn't important. Cranford is about the women, not the men. It is about their interest in class, in propriety, and in fashion. But mostly it is about their interest in each other. This is a book about friendship. I loved it for that.

When one of the women dies, her sister always remembers her and talks about her with respect and love. When that same sister loses her fortune, her friends secretly devise a method to provide her with money without embarrassing her. And her servant works out a way to offer her a place to live. It was a wonderful statement about humanity and what is most important in the nineteenth century as well as the twenty-first century.

I recommend this book for people who want a break from actions thrillers or stories about vampires and just want a chance to get to know some sweet people.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dave Hoing - coauthor of Hammon Falls

Dave Hoing wrote Hammon Falls in collaboration with his long time friend Roger Hileman. Their book, as with all good stories, is about strong characters and their relationships. Most of the story takes place during World War II. It is a novel inspired by a real life story of a sickly child born to an unmarried couple. This interview is a chance to learn a little more about Dave Hoing.

How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
My friend Roger Hileman (and later co-author on Hammon Falls) wrote a screenplay called Rainbow several years ago. I thought the story was interesting, but then went on to my own projects. A few years later when I read Louise Erdrich’s The Master Butchers Singing Club, I was reminded of Roger’s screenplay and realized what a cool novel it would make. So I contacted him and asked if I could write a novelized version of it. He responded with an enthusiastic yes, but asked if we could collaborate. So we did.

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I’m a professional member of SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America), and that’s the field in which I’ve published the majority of my short stories. However, I find myself moving away from speculative fiction and rarely write it anymore. My first love is literary and historical fiction, although mysteries are a guilty pleasure (which I don’t actually feel guilty about ).

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing/etc.come from?Being born. Seriously, I’ve always loved books—so much so that not only have I worked in a university library for the past 32 years, but I collect antiquarian books in my spare time. (I’m trying to get at least one book from every year since the beginning of printing. At one point I had every year since 1577, and a number of nonconsecutive years older than that, including my pride and joy, a Latin book on oratory printed in 1474. Hard times forced me to sell the best part of my collection, but I still have every year since 1690, plus a few older.)

How long have you been writing?
The dinosaurs have died out since I started writing.

What kind(s) of writing do you do?
I’m primarily a short story writer, although I have greatly enjoyed writing our novel Hammon Falls. I also write music, but other than the occasional wedding song for friends, most of my compositions have been for my own amusement.

What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?
It’s how we learn to know ourselves, “ourselves” being the entire community of humanity.

How does your book relate to your spiritual practice or other life path?
I’m a spiritual person only in an intellectual sense. I’m fascinated by the study of all religions, philosophies, psychologies, and spiritual pursuits, but as for personal beliefs, I just haven’t found anything that seems even remotely plausible. But sometimes the search itself provides the meaning.

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
Well, just first to finish the damn thing. I have a bad habit of starting novels but then losing interest. So simply putting that final period to Hammon Falls was a victory in itself. Finding a great publisher for it was a nice bonus. The most important goal, though, was to pay homage to Roger’s ancestors, whose lives inspired the characters and storylines in our novel.

Can you share some stories about people you met while researching this book?
Roger was the primary research guy on this. However, I used the names of my friends and student employees at the library for some of the minor characters. That was great fun for me and for them (and hey, they got a free, signed copy of the book out of the deal).

What are some of the references that you used while researching this book?
See previous answer—although working in a university library as I do, I did make many forays into our Archives for information about local history.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?
Free-form preciseness, I hope, or perhaps controlled anarchy. I write without an outline, having in mind only a beginning, ending, and theme when I start to write. In the first draft I let the characters indulge themselves and take over the writing for me (and I’m sure my fellow writers can relate to this), but then I go back and rein them in, making sure everything is consistent, from plot to setting to the actual prose itself, and every little detail in between. In other words, once my characters have had their fun, I put their lives into literary order. And I’m an obsessive reviser. Nothing is ever, ever, ever, good enough. (Ask Deb—she was very patient with me even as I made changes even after ATTMP accepted Hammon Falls.)

What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The time it took—over a year, plus another year and a half of revising. But, unlike my short stories, where writer’s block is too frequently an unwelcome visitor, I never once bogged down with Hammon Falls.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Everything, especially working with Roger and learning his family history. I also came to know and like (most of) the characters, as if they were real people. Roger’s creation Aubrey is the kind of person I would love to know in real life, and my own character Lewis is quite appealing, too.

Are there vocabulary words or concepts in your book that may be new to readers? Define some of those.
Not really. Hammon Falls has a somewhat unusual structure, in that it doesn’t unfold in a linear, chronological way, but so far no one has had any trouble following it.

Are there under-represented groups or ideas featured in your book? If so, discuss them.
One of the characters in the book is a middle-aged African American gentleman in 1912 Iowa (the character Lewis, mentioned two answers ago). He’s a secondary character, but he steals the show whenever he’s “on stage.”

Are there misconceptions that people have about your book? If so, explain.
That it’s self-published. Man, I hate that! I don’t begrudge any writer who wants to go that route, but I will not pay to publish my work. Not ever.

What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn't so?
Well, not subject or genre so much as setting. Go to either coast and say the word “Iowa.” Note what kind of amusing (read that: infuriating) stereotypes they give you.

What is the most important thing that people DON'T know about your subject/genre, that they need to know?
My job is to tell a story. People can think/believe/know anything they want. I’m more interested in moving them emotionally than intellectually. In other words, I don’t want to try to make them know anything. I want make them feel. There are no difficult concepts in Hammon Falls, but if we teach readers anything, we hope it’s knowledge gained through an accumulation of small emotional scenes.

What inspires you?
I never know until it happens, but anything is fair game. I’ve even written two short stories solely around short Latin phrases I thought were cool. BTW, one of these, “By This Sign”—original title “Ad Te Omnis Caro Veniet” (unto thee all flesh shall come)—will be published in the upcoming ATTM anthology. The other, “Ne Cadant In Obscurum” (lest they fall into darkness) will be out anytime now in the British anthology PostScripts 22/23: The Company He Keeps.

How did you get to be where you are in your life today?
Serendipity and survival.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?
Oddly enough, it was two authors I can barely stand to read anymore. Like most young writers, I tried to emulate the big name authors. Hence, in my fantasy phase, one might have noticed a (badly done) Tolkienesque flavor to my writing, especially the dialogue. I also liked Vonnegut’s “bounce around” style in novels like Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five. As I matured, I tried to move away from stylistic imitation to perceptual imitation. Now, if I could just once, in some tiny way, capture just a fraction of Shakespeare’s insights into human nature, I would be ecstatic. So, after all these centuries, it’s back to the master for me. I haven’t come close yet (who has?), but it’s a worthy goal, eh? (Of course, I wouldn’t mind having J.K. Rowling’s bank account, either!)

What did you find most useful in learning to write?
Writing workshops.

What was least useful or most destructive?
Writing workshops.

Are you a full-time or part-time writer? How does that affect your writing?
Both. I write fiction part-time, but my real-life job involves writing training manuals and policies, etc. (And for this fiction writer, that’s like dying and going to hell!)

What are some day jobs that you have held? If any of them impacted your writing, share an example.
I’ve been a clerk in both grocery and convenience stores, a security guard—from which I got exactly one short story—and, several times, a fiction editor for various small magazines. Throughout it all, I’ve worked in the University of Northern Iowa Library, where my title is Library Associate. (And no, I’m not a librarian. Contrary to popular perception, not everyone who works in a library is a librarian. In fact, in academic libraries like mine, it’s fair to say that most are not.)

For those interested in exploring the subject or theme of your book, where should they start?
The old-school guy inside me would say, naturally, the library. But the Internet works, as long as the sources are reputable. There are also the county hall of records, museums, diaries and, perhaps best of all, conversations with older people who lived during that era. Those memories are priceless, and deserve to be preserved!

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?
Ebooks are the way or the future, but as an antiquarian book collector, I will never lose my love of the printed book. Conventional publishing is great, but difficult to achieve. POD has proved to be a very pleasant surprise to me.

What do you think is the future of reading/writing?
Same as it’s always been, only in different venues.

What process did you go through to get your book published?
We spent better than a year looking for an agent, without luck. Happily, I came upon ATTMP, and it has been a wonderful experience.

What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Read it, and find out. ;)

How do you find or make time to write?
As the Nike ad says, Just do it. Lose the excuses for not writing, and write.

Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Summarize your writing process.
Both. As I explained before, intuition first, then logic. I start with a premise, know the ending, give the characters a lot of latitude in the middle, then revise, revise, revise! Did I mention revise? Free-wheeling is great and gives the piece a spontaneous, unexpected feel, but that’s not enough. If you have any hope of making it stand out, then revising is essential. If you do it right, you can make it controlled and spontaneous.

What are some ways in which you promote your work? Do you find that these add to or detract from your writing time?This is a learning process, and I’m still on the low end of the curve. We’ve used newspaper articles, radio interviews, our website, and social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc., to market. But we’re still learning the ropes. Hopefully we’ll get better at this. As for adding or detracting to my writing, honestly, marketing is a pain in the ass. But it has to be done—and if it has to be done, then it might as well be done right.

What is your role in the writing community?I write. I submit my work. I sometimes edit. I offer critiques if asked for.

What do you like to read in your free time?I’m interested in virtually everything except internal combustion engines, so I read about virtually everything except internal combustion engines.

What projects are you working on at the present?
Well, I just finished editing a book for Deb & Phil, and I’m about to begin an oral history project with a professor at the university where we both work. That will be fun.

What do your plans for future projects include?
I desperately want to write another novel, but I haven’t found the right subject yet. Perhaps a mystery set in early nineteenth-century America (because that is my weakest area of history, and a novel would force me to research it).

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?
Question: Where can I buy your book?

Answer: ATTMP website,,,,, and probably others. It’s out there. Avoid the rush and get your copy now.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Interview of Ken Weene - author of Widow's Walk and Memoirs from the Asylum

Widow's Walk was one of the first books I read from All Things That Matter Press, other than my own. I felt it was a wonderful, thoughtful story that said a great deal about the role religion plays in people's lives. It made me pleased that I had chosen ATTMP as my publisher. Now I'm thrilled to be presenting an interview of the author, Ken Weene.


1) Why should I read your book?

Since your children or grandchildren will undoubtedly be reading Memoirs From the Asylum in school in years to come, don’t you want to be ahead of the curve? How can you pass on the chance to read a book that has repeatedly been called one of the best books of the year – and not just by the author and his relatives?

2) Are you a cat or a dog person?
Although we had many dogs when we were younger, I have never thought of myself as a dog person. My totem animal has always been the moose, but my friends and family usually refer to me as a friendly bear – except when around salmon, when I can get quite greedy.

3) Do you listen to music while you write, or do you require total and utter silence?

It truly varies. When I listen to music, I like classical, country-western, and some cross-cultural music – interestingly much of it from India and Pakistan. Sometimes I like to have the TV in the background; it’s the equivalent of white noise – totally meaningless.

4) How did you become involved with the subject or theme of your book?
Memoirs From the Asylum is at one level about mental health, which has been my life’s work. At another level it is about fear, freedom and existential choice: that is some of the basic substance of my life. My previous novel, Widow’s Walk, is about faith and the conflict between religion and spirituality and between love and responsibility: again basic strata of my and most readers’ lives.

5) What do you think most characterizes your writing?
I am passionate about my characters. I want to understand them, to listen to them, and to recreate their voices with fidelity. Most of them I like, and I become quite upset when bad things happen to them. Of course there are others whom I dislike and wish had never come into the lovely worlds of my books.

6) What was the hardest part of writing this book?
I had a difficult time getting the denouement of Memoirs From the Asylum underway. I knew how the book ended, but I needed an event to make things change., a tipping point. Then a friend of mine, playwright Jon Tuttle, mentioned an event about which he wanted to write a play. A circus elephant had gone berserk and killed somebody. The town in which this happened tried and executed the elephant. The image of the berserk elephant was what I needed.

7) What projects are you working on at the present?
I have one book ready to go – written and first edit done. It is a conspiracy novel that takes place in New York just before 9/11. It is also a book about life goals.

Currently I’m writing a novel that is very different. It is primarily a simple story written in a poetic voice; however it is also partly a work of science fiction. At the bigger level that book is about sex, procreation, and the worth of life.

8) List the three questions you'd ask your favorite author over lunch.

I’d ask Kurt Vonnegut: What does writing mean to you? Do you care if people read your books? Who’s paying for lunch?

My answers if I were asked those questions:

I write to make people think and feel; therefore I need them to read what I have written. Let’s split the bill.

9) What's your most memorable (not necessarily your favorite) childhood memory?

Read Memoirs From the Asylum and you will find some of my childhood projected onto the narrator. His mother is modeled on mine. I would particularly direct the reader to the dance classes; they are right out of my childhood.

10) Here is a really weird, but fun one...what trash item did you see that inspired you to write a story. In one of my stories I found a whole character when I saw a manikin head on a dumpster.

Did you create this question just for me? Memoirs From the Asylum is about life in a dumpster. What is a psychiatric hospital, especially a state hospital, but a giant human trash heap? One goal of this novel is to get readers to see the flotsam and jetsam of society as human and meaningful instead of seeing them as some kind of subhuman creatures or even worse as caricatures.

You can learn more about me and my work at

I have trailers for both Widow’s Walk and for Memoirs From the Asylum.

The Memoirs trailer is:

The Widow’s Walk trailer is:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

This book and the movie based on it have been hyped a lot, so I had to see what all the talk was about. I felt the novel was well written and very intriguing in places.

There are two main plots in the book. The one, a quest to discover what happened to a woman who had disappeared forty years earlier, is wonderful, with twists that keep surprising and revealing strange facts about the woman's family. I was caught up in that story and couldn't put the book down at times.

The other, the battle between the journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerström, was not as interesting. I thought this plot went on too long.

The book has both graphic sex and graphic violence. Most of the time those are one and the same in a way that is disturbing. But given the subject matter I felt the scenes were necessary.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book is the title character, Lisbeth Salander. She is an extremely intelligent woman with a photographic memory. But her antisocial behavior leads others to think of her as slow and to treat her poorly for that reason. Following her relationship with Mikael Blomkvist was fascinating.

I intend to read the other two books in the trilogy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Human Trial and Human Trial II - Timothy N. Stelly, Sr.

Timothy Stelly books are exciting predictions of what the world would be like in the aftermath of a thermal war. Daron Turner leads a small resistance fighting the intergalactic aliens who have attacked the Earth. Here's this week's interview and a gimpse of the man who gave us this adventure.


Why should I read your book?

TS: Because HUMAN TRIAL and its sequel, HUMAN TRIAL II: ADAM’S WAR are stories about people whom we all know, will root for and whom we can compare our sense of values to. They are a cross-section of America. The book asks the reader to ponder what they would do in a similar situation. While the book is of the sci-fi genre, it focus more on human behavior and group dynamics.

Are you a cat or a dog person?

TS: Cats. Outside of cartoons, or the movies The Uncanny and Sleepwalkers, when have you known felines to turn on their owners or maul someone?

Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre?

TS: Actually, it chose me. My usual genre is social and political satire, and crime or family dramas. However, HUMAN TRIAL was inspired by a dream: An optical one and my desire to write a book about good v. evil and the group dynamics involved. The next two parts of the trilogy were inspired by T.C. Matthews who informed me that today’s better-known sci-fi works are trilogies. Also most of the people who read the initial draft were not sci-fi readers, but critiqued the manuscript anyway. Since then, I have banged out another sci-fi tome (A Junkie’s Paradise) and an anthology of Stephen King-esque stories (Strange Pictures.)

What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?

TS: I wanted to present two enemies: The earth’s assailants (and I kept them unseen as long as possible), and then the proverbial “enemy within,” portrayed as mankind’s tribal instinct and personal prejudices. I tried to juxtapose the two to let the reader determine in his mind what is the biggest threat to man’s survival. I also wanted to have an impact on how the reader looks at the things around him or her: and I get e-mails all the time from readers who state that every time it gets hot for any length of time, they think of HUMAN TRIAL.

Second, many of the people who read HT are reading the sequel, HUMAN TRIAL II: ADAM’S WAR, and have told me that the sequel is even better than its predecessor.

What do you think most characterizes your writing?

TS: Brutal honesty interwoven with humor. My work allows the reader to think, because it raises the question, “What would I (the reader) do in this situation?”

What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn't so?

TS: That science fiction has to place the emphasis on “science.” Not true. I try to create an ever-so-slight exaggeration of reality or what is possible. From there I add the human variable and let them work out how the dilemma is overcome. Luke Rhinehart’s Long Voyage Home is an excellent example of this.

How did you get to be where you are in your life today?

TS: My parents shaped my future. They filled out home with books and all the other tools needed to be creative: Paper, pens, crayons, staplers, jigsaw and crossword puzzles, art paper, scissors, glue, scotch tape, a reel-to-reel tape deck, typewriters and even a mimeograph machine. I have ten siblings and we also collaborated on creative projects—even making our own board games.

I have relatives who have written scholarly tomes, a script fot the TV series Good Times, and others in my family who oil paint (portraits and landscapes), and who are excellent singers. When people visited us and we were all at hoime, it was like watching a talent show. And as Walter Brennan might say, “Dat’s not brag, brudda…that’s fact.”

I also had wonderful teachers who actually took an interest in my writing and intellectual development.

Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

TS: My literary influences are an eclectic lot: Rene Guy De Maupassant, Richard Wright, Donald Goines and Stephen King. The latter is big oin character development, which I think drives a story; Goines was not afraid to “tell it like it is,” nor was Wright, who wrote about many intriguing but flawed characters; and Maupassant’s short stories (The piece of String; the Cake; Old Toine, et al) showed us the “complex simplicity” of life.

King has definitely influenced the writing I’ve done over the past three years—from three sci-fi novels, a horror novel and an anthology of unusual short stories.,

How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

TS: The printed book might not be dead yet, but it is comatose and has undergone an amputation. I like the print model is something you can keep on the shelf at home and literally pass down; whereas e-publishing has an impersonal quality. However, ebooks are the future, and the first hint of that truth was when the hyphen between e and book was eliminated.

As for self-publishing, I don’t really think that’s for me. I was elated to be published the “traditional” way, and I have enough rejection letters to prove it.

What do your plans for future projects include?

TS: I have my two “babies”: A semi-autobiographical coming of age novel, People Darker Than Blue, which interweaves the stories of two cliques—one black and one white—at a desegregated high school in the 1970’s. The second is a crime-drama titled Under Color Of Authority, about a desperate small-town police chief who hires soldiers of fortune to clean up the streets, where two competing gangs have not only endangered the citizenry, but have bought off some of the towns law enforcement officers.

As for sci-fi, I am getting ready to shop A Junkie’s Paradise, the story of a viral pandemic that wipes out half the earth’s population until it is discovered that those with immunity are the dregs of society. Also I have my sci-fi anthology, a compilation of 18 stories that address everything from a man who wakens to find himself as the lone remaining human being to a septuagenarian serial killer to drunken women who conduct a lynching. I just recently finished a “zombies in the hood” tale titled, The Undead.

I have a number of screenplays, and have developed two ideas for television shows: Of the latter, one a comedy centered around movie critics and the other, a family comedy that I call a cross between “What’s Happening!” and “Married…With Children.”

Will the "mechanical" standards of writing hold? Grammar, sentence structure, etc.? Does it matter? Why or why not?

TS: God no. We now live in a world of texting where kids are encouraged to spell words incorrectly! Who’d have thought that being a bad speller might someday be a good thing? Okay, jokes aside—no, grammar and punctuation are a dying art. They don’t teach it in school (at least, not very well), and the poor quality of writing (particularly in urban fiction) is creating a new generation of authors antagonistic toward acumen and accuracy.

What question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has? Write it out here, then answer it.

Q: “When will we see your work on the big screen?” The answer is simple: When the public no longer accepts Hollywood’s regurgitation—sequels and passing off TV shows from the past as “new blockbusters.” Today there is a dearth of creativity in Hollywood. The scripts are formulaic and pigeon-holed and too damn expensive to make. For example, Judd Apatow is doing is what Adam Sandler was doing ten years ago, and Sandler is doing what John Hughes and John Waters did--although with more crudity.

Black cinema is deemed “unsaleable” unless it starts a rapper, or brothers posing as ne’er-do-wells who live by the gun. (The exception being Tyler Perry., but his work is geared toward black women, a demographic all its own.) Occasionally we’ll see a reworking of the blaxploitation genre, but few real meat and potatoes dramas; another Shaft rather than Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored.

Personally, I’d match my story, The Undead against Twilight or Zombieland and let moviegoers decided which is the fresher tale. I’d pit Human Trial I or II against Independence Day any day; or either of my TV shows against the schlock that today passes as “comedy.” The art of joke writing has been replaced by crudity and men being portrayed as buffoons. Okay, let me jump off my soap box….I have some rewriting to do.

Mr. Stelly can be reached by e-mail at, or you can check out his blog: or you can go to, click on BOOKS and type in “stelly human trial” and read the reviews.My essays can be found at