Karen DeGroot Carter: deft, inclusive, wise

I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Karen DeGroot Carter because she contributed Barbie-girl, a short memoir, to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood anthology. Karen and I recently completed an interview via email, and the more I know of her, the more I am drawn to her unique mix of intelligence, insight and humility.

Now for the interview:

Karen_crop4.jpg.opt141x141o0,0s141x1411. I get the impression from perusing your website that you feel a kinship with all the folks who play a role in bringing books to life—not just writers, but also the editors, publishers, agents, publicists, reviewers, booksellers and readers. This is a very inclusive view, and not necessarily a perspective all writers share. Have you always seen these people first as book lovers and secondarily as the roles they play in the publishing process? How does this inclusiveness inform your writing life and business?

I believe this view of the publishing industry stems from my employment in the creative services and marketing departments of Ingram Book Company, a major book distributor near Nashville, in the early 1990s. I learned a lot about the publishing industry while working there. While I started out producing employee newsletters at Ingram, I eventually progressed to working on marketing projects and writing executive speeches. I learned about the American Booksellers Association and the Book Industry Study Group and was impressed by the fact that the industry was driven by people like me who simply loved books. Eventually I also helped manage company book signings and other events for visiting authors as diverse as John Grisham, Ivana Trump, LaVyrle Spencer, Oliver North, H. Jackson Brown, children’s author and illustrator Helen Oxenbury, plus others. Interacting with authors and sometimes their publisher’s associates made me realize the industry attracts a wide range of fascinating people who love what they do.

I believe this inclusiveness has had the greatest impact on my eagerness to network with and learn from other authors and just about anyone else who works in the publishing industry. Since I include self-publishing in the industry this includes not only reps and editors in major houses as well as literary agents but those who write, edit, format, publish, and promote all types of books. My broad interest in the industry also contributes to my editing business as I receive referrals from many of these people and almost always end up completely engaged in each project I take on, regardless of its genre. There’s something about the collaborative creative process that fuels my drive to help make authors’ manuscripts shine.

2. I just purchased the ebook of your first novel, One Sister’s Song. Obviously, I liked the way you presented the book enough to want to read it. What did you enjoy about writing the book, and what do you think I’m likely to enjoy about the book when I read it?

OSS cover shadow only.jpg.opt219x330o0,0s219x330First of all, thank you so much for buying my book! One Sister’s Song was a labor of love that took 10 years for me to write, revise, and see published. Writing it was a learning experience that introduced me to the many benefits of joining a solid critique group and workshopping stories. I was then fortunate enough to sell the manuscript to a small publishing house here in Denver, Pearl Street Publishing, and to work with a great developmental editor there who guided me through filling out scenes and adding some extra dimensions to the narrative.

While I think you’ll enjoy the primary story of Audrey and her nephew and the struggles they face as they cope with a recent loss and issues related to their mixed-race family, I believe most readers are especially intrigued by the parallel history running through the book related to the old farmhouse Audrey recently inherited from her sister. Working this layer into my novel required extensive research into the abolitionist movement, especially in upstate New York where I grew up. I’ve always loved research so this requirement only added to the fun of writing One Sister’s Song.

3. You’ve recently completed a second novel. What is it about and why did you write it? Will you publish it through a traditional publisher or self-publish? Why?

Set in the 1970s in upstate New York (I obviously love my home state!), Under the Humming Tide is about a woman with a daughter with Down Syndrome and an autistic brother no one knows about. When she learns her brother may be forced to leave his home in Maine, she travels there to reconnect with him after 13 years in the hopes of learning from him how to better cope with some of her daughter’s worrisome new behaviors.

This book was inspired by friends with children with special needs. I am always impressed by parents who somehow manage to not only cope with the daily challenges of raising their families, but to do whatever it takes to help their children thrive even when significant obstacles are thrown in their paths. When such efforts result in the parent’s growth and strength as well, they become fodder for a compelling story.

My friend and literary agent, Cicily Janus of Janus Artistic Services, is shopping the book around to publishers. I would love to see it find a home with a publishing house that cares about the story, but will certainly look into self-publishing options down the line if it doesn’t sell. I love that authors have so many options today and honestly believe the self-publishing route is a great way for those who are willing to actively self-promote to get their foot in the door of the industry.

4. You wrote that you promote tolerance and celebrate diversity on your blog, Beyond Understanding. How did this issue come to be central to your life, and why is your blog devoted to it?

This issue is near and dear to my heart thanks to my husband and his family. My in-laws married in 1964, when interracial marriages were still illegal in some states. My husband and his sisters are half French Canadian and half African American. They grew up near my town and were some of the few students of color in their very large high school. Through the years I’ve learned from my husband about the discrimination he’s faced, and at times I’ve witnessed it first-hand. When it came time to promote my novel, which includes some scenes based on my husband’s experiences, I launched my blog, BEYOND Understanding. BEYOND Understanding eventually took on a life of its own and expanded to cover numerous topics related to diversity. It also includes a growing list of resources that promote tolerance and celebrate diversity for others interested in researching these issues.

5. You also write short stories and poems. Are you working on any chapbooks or collections right now?

I do hope to someday put together a poetry chapbook, though I’m afraid my poetry has been set aside for some time now. It was so gratifying, however, to see a poem I wrote about my son 20 years ago recently published with beautiful artwork in the online journal When Women Waken. Another poem written many years ago was published earlier this year on MountainGazette.com. Such publications do inspire me to revisit my poetry soon and to add to the dozen or so poems I’ve written that I believe are worth publishing. Poetry is such an emotional outlet for me; I always enjoy returning to it and wonder why it’s taken me so long.

I’ve been writing short stories for many years as well, and recently started working on a novella that I hope will fill out my current collection-in-progress. While my short stories have won recognition in Writer’s Digest and Glimmer Train Stories competitions, they have yet to be published in literary journals. So one of my goals is to continue to increase my submissions, though I find this takes a lot of time away from my other work. Luckily I’ve found the website Duotrope.com definitely helps on that front.

Sisters-prelim-cover-v2-460x6846. What drew you to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found project, and how did you decide what to submit?

I loved the idea of joining a legion of sister writers in a project devoted to sisters. And I was thrilled when my essay “Barbie-girl” was selected for publication in the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology. I’m from a large family and my one older sister, Lisa, has been a force in my life for as long as I can remember. She is also one of the strongest people I know who has reinvented herself and her career many times over. This essay honors her and all other strong sisters who lead and inspire the rest of us to plow through challenges, confident that such efforts will in some way have a positive impact on our lives and the lives of those we love.

7. Where can people find out more about you?

My husband thinks it’s fun to Google my name and see all the links that pop up. I’ve been active online since the early days of blogging, so there are plenty. Many of those links as well as some personal writings are on my author website, KarenDeGrootCarter.com. For information on my editing service, readers can visit my Karen Carter Communications web page. I’m also a regular on Facebook, where I can be reached at http://www.facebook.com/KarenDeGrootCarter. I love to connect with other book lovers!

Karen’s last sentence sure looks like an invitation to connect. Why not reach out to her on Facebook or through her website? And if you’d like to pre-order Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood, just send an email to info [at] word forest [dot] com.

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Ella Preuss: a writer soaring

UnknownElla Preuss is a vibrant young writer I’ve been getting to know on Facebook. In addition to being a prolific writer, Ella is also a take-charge kind of person who knows quite a bit about how to make the most of social media. Here’s the interview we did via email recently:

1. Since we met on Facebook earlier this year I’ve learned that you are a versatile writer with not just one, but two, series of novels in the works. One is The Black Comet Chronicles, a young adult dystopian series; the other is the Into the Light series in the more recently coined new adult genre. Why did you pick the young adult and new adult genres? And how is it that you came to be working on these series simultaneously?

For me, it’s always been young adult — ever since picking up the first Harry Potter book and reading it as it morphed from a MG into a YA series. As a teen, I devoured everything I could find, and I started falling for the genre. I started my first novel, a paranormal YA, at sixteen. It went through various changes, until Kami Garcia’s and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures came out in 2009, and after reading it, I was devastated that my book was practically the same. It had dreams that turned into reality, the same kind of magic I was writing about, a very similar family structure. It was as if I had drawn from their imagination to write my story! So I shelved my book, convinced it wouldn’t do me any good to keep writing it. But I did keep reading. More and more each year.

Finally, I decided, there aren’t any more “original” stories left, are there? There are just takes on them, depending on each author. So at nineteen, I sat down, brought out my novel, renamed it Insomnia, made a bunch of structural changes, and finished it at over 100,000 words. It was my first long novel, and while I knew it wasn’t perfect, I loved it just the same. Still do.

Then came The Hunger Games and the Shatter Me series, both dystopias, both two of my favourites. And both with strong female leads. I became interested in exploring a dystopian world from a male POV, something I still haven’t seen in the genre. There seems to be an overflowing amount of female leads who fit a certain mold, and while I love that, I can’t help but think the male figure has been pushed to the sidelines, condemned to work as the love interest who helps the female lead however he can. I aimed to change that.

In The Black Comet Chronicles, I tell the story of Milo, a young cyborg thrown in the middle of a brutal war between humans and an anarquist cyborg group known as the New Revolt. Milo’s seventeen, a crucial age, I think, and I wanted to explore his feelings, his actions in the face of danger. I’m revising the first book in the series, and I honestly don’t know when I’ll publish it, but I’m aiming for next year.

But since the market is to the brim with dystopias, and readers seem to be getting tired of them, I decided to try something new. And that’s how I ended up writing new adult.

I can do things in this new genre that wouldn’t fit in a YA novel, but also, I think it serves as a way to explore our characters under a different light.

first-darkness-teaserMy NA novel, The Darkness That Haunts Us, is written from a dual POV, both Megan and Isaac have their own chapters. Here, I could play again with stepping into a female and male POV, this time, in the same book. Both my characters have struggles of their own, and I loved teasing the readers by dropping hints every now and then, until in the end, it all becomes clear, and I come full circle with my character’s developments.

I’m getting ready to publish Darkness any day now! University keeps getting in the way.

2. As a young writer thriving in Argentina, what would you like people in North America to know about your life that we’re likely to be clueless about? How did you become so fluent in English? And how does being bilingual (or maybe even multilingual if you know more than two languages) help you as a writer?

I was five when I told my mum I wanted to learn English. I don’t remember why, but I really wanted it. I was lucky to have been accepted at such a young age in an English language institute with three other five-year-olds. Back then, my textbooks featured a green alien and little to no words, leaving more room for colours and shapes (although I’d learned to read at three-years-old). We learned British English, the same way you learn Spanish from Spain and not the Spanish spoken in Argentina, because they’re the “correct and original” versions of the language. I remember once I wrote “favorite” in my workbook, and my teacher made me write “favourite” all over a notebook page. (And now I cringed while writing Darkness, because I decided to write it in American English, being that it’s set in Chicago. I had to make sure “neighbor” was rightly written, because to me, it’s missing a letter.)

You’re definitely used to it, being native speakers and living where you live, but do you know how culturally bombarded by the USA the rest of the countries are? That’s one of the reasons non-English speakers get used to North American idioms so quickly. (And I’m a firm advocate of the usage of the term North American, as opposed to the simple American. I’m American too, you know!) We turn on the telly, and bam! Dozens of Northern programs. I grew up watching Veronica Mars, Smallville, Law and Order, and the like. Listening to that foreign language. And going back to the language institute and being scolded when I didn’t speak in a proper British accent. That nonsense stopped when I turned seventeen and Oxford realised that not everyone could speak like that, and honestly, they didn’t need to. But I’d already picked up the British aspects of the language, and I graduated from the institute being laughed at by my classmates who said, “I wanted to sound foreign and posh.” That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I started reading in English as soon as I could. I’d underline the words I didn’t know, look them up in my dictionary, and re-read the chapter, understanding everything. Took me a month to read HP 6 this way. I was 13. So I guess I started expanding my English vocabulary way more than my Spanish one. It’s why I feel more comfortable writing in English. I try to write in Spanish occasionally, but I just can’t.

I wouldn’t say that being billingual has helped me much as an author. It has opened doors to me in the Northern market. The indie movement in English speaking countries is better developed than in Argentina, and I can start publishing as soon as I want and know that I’ll be read. Here, I don’t have that chance. Sadly, Big Publishers still rule the market.

I love learning languages (even inventing them). I speak a bit of French (it’s easy to me because it’s a Romance language, like Spanish), I understand Portuguese because it doesn’t differ much from Spanish, and I’m learning Japanese and Russian because I love the challenge of learning new alphabets.

3. You mentioned you also enjoy photography. Do you find that pursuing photography enriches you as a writer? If so, how?

That’s kinda funny, because I actually enrolled in uni to become a director of photography. In case you don’t know, they’re the ones who decide how films will look like based on the director’s wishes. They choose lighting compositions and the colouring of the final product. Basically, when you watch a film, you’re watching the visual decisions of a DP (approved by the film’s director). I love photography, and I had a friend who’d enrolled in film uni, so I decided to drop English translation and switch degrees. In Argentina, you enroll in uni for the career you want to have, we don’t have that two years of deciding what to pursue. Or is it three years? So at 18, I dropped English, a career that was definitely going to be depressing for me, and I had to wait till the following year to go back, this time, to enroll in film school.

All this time I kept writing. And soon I realised that I didn’t want t become a DP. As much as I love photography, I could care less about the sensitivity of film or the amount of kilowatts needed for a certain light setting. So I switched again, this time, to follow the scriptwriting career. Now I feel more at ease, in my element.

4. You recently told me you are a Goodreads librarian. What does a Goodreads librarian do? And how can writers use the site to connect with readers and vice versa? What other social media sites you enjoy, as well? Why is that?

I’m a little OCD. I need to see everything organised and properly defined. And I love Goodreads (GR). So when I started seeing that summaries were awfully written, or that there were things that needed changes, I applied to be a Librarian.

Being a GR Librarian comes with a lot of responsability. You can’t do anything you want unless you want to be banned from the site. Major changes have to be approved sometimes. What I usually do is correct the spelling of summaries, erase unnecessary lines, add covers when they’re released, add little details like website info and such. And we can create new profiles for books. Librarians make sure these profiles are complete, so that when others look for them, they can find them easily.

Authors can apply for the Goodreads Author status. It’s like a regular profile, but it features the author’s books and gives readers the chance to follow them and friend them. GR is a great tool, I believe, in promoting upcoming releases. Readers can add as many books as they want to their Want To Read list. Their friends will see this action and possibly follow the link their friend has clicked, creating more exposure for the author’s book.

I use it to keep track of what I read. There’re others who’ll tell you that GR is where authors die in agony. A newbie author can spend hours refreshing the page, waiting for more readers to add their book to their lists, share comments and review, and more importantly, waiting for a rating. The horror! To authors, I say, don’t waste more time than needed on GR. Spend that time building a community in FB and Twitter. Tumblr’s getting big in the book blogging world now, too. And it’s so much fun.

5. What drew you to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology? What would you like readers to know about Soaring into Space, the story you contributed to the anthology?

I think that what drew me to the anthology was the idea of sharing stories that came from the heart. All of my stories do, but I wanted to do something special for this book.

I started writing something contemporary, and it gradually morphed into a story with fantasy elements. I can’t seem to be able to escape from my love of magic. I’d like you to know that it’s a story based from my own experiences, a story of strength. I don’t hold grudges against the people who have wronged me. I simply pity them now. And I wish I were able to help them be better.

6. Where can people get in touch with you and learn more about your work?

You can find me all over the internet, seriously! I’m on Facebook (three times!), Twitter, Tumblr, and I have my website/blog.

My FB: https://www.facebook.com/ella.press

My FB Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorEllaPreuss

My FB Photography Page: https://www.facebook.com/ellapressblog

My Twitter: https://twitter.com/EllaPress

My Tumblr: http://ellainthetardis.tumblr.com/

And my Website: http://ellapreuss.blogspot.com.ar/

Unknown-1Ella Preuss is a 22-year-old writer from La Plata, Argentina. When she’s not reading or creating stories, you can find her with her camera in hand, capturing life’s sweet, brief moments. Ella’s writing a dystopian young adult series titled The Black Comet Chronicles, and The Darkness That Haunts Us — the first new adult novel in her Into the Light series — is getting ready to be published soon.

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Ruth Stotter: brilliance in motion

To celebrate the range of creativity featured in Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood, I’ll be posting  weekly interviews with writers who have contributed to the anthology.

I’m thrilled the first interview is with Ruth Stotter, a master of live storytelling who founded the Dominican University Certificate-in-Storytelling program. Ruth is also a prolific writer, publisher and educator. She contributed the short story Dear Rachel to the anthology.

1. What do you think motivates you? Have you always been an on-the-go trailblazer, or did something along your life’s path light a fire under you? And what would you like to convey about your creative journey so far?

IUnknown am easily bored and enjoy challenges. I remember earning all of the Girl Scout badges by myself the summer I was about twelve years old. One was called something like “Theater” and the requirements were to cast and direct a play and have it performed before a live audience, including doing the publicity. So—I did it. My Girl Scout leader told me at the end of the summer that badge was intended for an entire troop to take on, not one solo scout. In my teens, I put on a fashion show which involved contacting stores for the clothing, choosing models, setting up a stage set, and writing the script.

I mention these, as it seems to me that I have in my DNA enjoyment in creating and constructing new avenues of activity. Pondering and producing products—such as a poem, a novel, a book, an origami figure—is, for me, energizing and psychologically satisfying.

2. When we met, you were directing the Certificate in Storytelling program at Dominican University in San Rafael, an endeavor that enriched countless lives, including mine. Since then, every time I check in with you you’re up to something brilliant and new. Leading a workshop at the National Storytelling Network conference this summer and publishing the mystery eBook, Murder on the Croquet Lawn are just two of your recent adventures. It seems you wrote and published that book as a lark, but the book has found an appreciative audience. What has the experience been like for you? Do you plan to write more eBooks?

51yboqXExgL._AA160_When a friend told me about creating an eBook on bookbaby.com, I immediately thought, “I would like to do that!” I enjoy reading mystery novels, so I decided to use that genre with the plot focusing on the game of croquet—an activity my husband and I have been enjoying for nearly ten years. Bookbaby.com was the perfect venue for me, as they make book production affordable and offer many services such as cover design and editing. Included in their service contract is distributing your manuscript to eBook providers.

It is important to recognize that it is up to the author to do publicity. I mailed postcards ordered from Vistaprint to croquet clubs around the world and sent emails out to friends, family and colleagues. And, lo, people downloaded the book and wrote reviews. I suspect it helped that I made the price affordable: $2.99. I have more recently taken up playing bridge and learned that there have been actual murders at bridge tables. So, a book describing these events is percolating.

Sisters-prelim-cover-crop3. Dear Rachel, your contribution to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood anthology, uses dark humor, in the form of a fictional letter, to explore competitive aspects of sisterhood. Do you often use dark humor in your live storytelling and writing? Please elaborate. Do you have any tips on how writers and storytellers can use dark humor effectively?

Humor is a mysterious commodity for me. I often get laughs when I least expect them and no laughter when I think something is hysterical. I remember being at a book club where I was the only person who thought Lolita was a humorous read. When I wrote the piece for Sisters Born, Sisters Found I wanted the letter writer to have total innocence about her horrific behavior, past and present. What made it especially fun to write is that there is truth in some of my supposed fictional descriptions.

4. Why did you submit your short fiction to the Sisters Born, Sisters Found anthology? 

So much of the creative process is lonely—pondering the plot, rehearsing a talk, sitting at the computer re-working texts—so, in a hard to explain way, for me publication in fictional anthologies and scholarly books produces a sense of being part of, belonging to, a community. When I heard about this publication I thought long and seriously about my two sisters and our relationships. I also thought about sorority sisters in college, as well as women in my life that I consider “sisters.” Although family relationships are universal with much in common,  each is unique. Exploring the mystifying theme of sisterhood through memoirs, poetry, essays and fiction sounded affirming, enlightening—and best of all—entertaining.

5. Where can people learn more about you?

Just ask! I am nothing, if not, loquacious! Also, there are interviews available online, and many of my publications are available on Amazon.com. If anyone would like to be alerted about performances and/or workshops, my email is speakingout2@comcast.net.

UnknownRuth Stotter studied Speech Pathology, Psychology and Folklore prior to creating the Dominican University Certificate-in-Storytelling program. She has performed and conducted storytelling workshops on five continents, authored and contributed to numerous books about storytelling and folklore, and for six years produced The Oral Tradition—a storytelling radio show on KUSF-FM. In 2011, Ruth received the Oracle Life Time Achievement Award from the National Storytelling Network. Her training as an outdoor educator led to her authoring Little Acorns: An Introduction to Marin County Plant-Lore. Ruth is currently a competitive croquet player and kayaker. She is the youngest of three sisters.

Sisters Born, Sisters Found: A Diversity of Voices on Sisterhood is slated for publication in November 2014. You can receive both ebook and print versions of the anthology, along with a host of other rewards, by participating in the crowdfunding campaign at http://sisters.pubslush.com. Go ahead, join the fun!

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Every Imperfection

I found this little story on my hard drive. I suspect there are a fair number of other stories I’ve written, stuffed away and forgotten. How about you? Do you create things and then forget about them?

Every Imperfection
by Laura McHale Holland

She tries on four outfits before settling on a fifth; he dons the slacks and shirt he’d picked out the night before and walks downstairs to make coffee.

She styles her hair with blow dryer, gel and brush, but then scowls into the mirror, throws the brush and dryer down and yanks her locks into a ponytail. He pours coffee into two travel mugs. She rushes to the kitchen. He hands her a mug.

“Thanks.” She takes a sip, sets the mug down, lifts her jacket from the back of a chair and puts it on.

“You look lovely today,” he says.

3320158920_1b9e9d1ba1_z“Liar,” she taunts. She dips her fingers into a bowl of hard candy, knocking two pieces onto the counter. She stuffs one, wrapper crinkling, into her pocket for later.

“No, seriously, you look lovely today.”

“I’ve got that meeting this afternoon about that stupid case,” she says.

“The Redland job?”

“Yeah, the one I blew big time.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong; everybody knows that.”

“I did everything wrong.” She slips her purse strap over her shoulder and steps toward the door.

“Um, you forgot your coffee,” he says.

She slinks back to the counter, picks up the mug. “I don’t know why you stay with me. You could do so much better.”

11.154 - hair glowHe looks at the wisps of hair already working loose from her ponytail, the little scuff marks on the toes of her pumps, the drop of coffee sliding down her mug toward her jacket, the piece of hard candy she’d knocked to the counter inadvertently when reaching into the dish. He aches with love for her every imperfection.

“Let’s go dancing tonight,” he says.

“Dancing?”

“Yeah, you know, salsa or something.” His smile is broad, confident.

“Only if I still have a job at the end of the day.” She strides to the door and opens it.

“I’ll call Jason and Trish. They’re always fun.”

“Whatever.” She shrugs, slips out the door and tromps down the front stairs.

He leans over the counter, picks up the stray piece of candy, unwraps it, pops it into his mouth. It’s lemon and honey. Sour and sweet. Like her.

 

Photo of wrapped lemon candy by Donna DesRoches; used under Creative Commons license.

Photo of pony tail by Sean Garrett; used under Creative Commons license.

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Smokin’ story collections!

Short story collections have enriched my reading lately. What strikes me most about the books I’ve read is how creative the authors—or in the case of one anthology, the authors and editors—were in framing their projects. It’s not just writing style that distinguishes some of these works; it’s also the concepts behind the books themselves.

I’m talking about Sleeping with the Gods by Jean Wong; Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls by Susanna Solomon; Times They Were a Changing edited by Kate Farrell, Linda Joy Myers and Amber Lea Starfire; Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish; and The Wrong Sister by Caroline Leavitt.

Here are my thoughts on each:

Sleeping with the Gods

41VHqa61UEL._SS300_Many of us read about the ancient gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome in Bulfinch’s Mythology, a book that was required reading for middle and/or high school students. (I don’t know if it still is required but perhaps my friend Lysle and other educators can weigh in on that in comments to this post.) Jean Wong shakes up those deities of old and throws them into the 21st century to great effect. She selected nine gods or goddesses and used each as a point of departure for a story. The deities have contemporary personas and become deeply involved with unsuspecting humans. The results are stunning. The stories take us to various locales around the world, giving Wong a chance to subtly demonstrate not only her knowledge of the gods and goddesses, but also her ability to convey the flavor of different cultures. The biggest thing on display in this collection, though, is Wong’s wild imagination. Sleeping with the Gods is cohesive, surprising, slightly disconcerting—a delight to read.

Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls

41ue8nc1R9L._SS300_Occasionally, I’ll come across a book with a premise I love so much I wish I’d thought of it myself. Such is the case with Pt. Reyes Sheriff’s Calls by Susanna Solomon. Her inspiration was the Sheriff’s Calls section of the Point Reyes Light, a newspaper covering the goings on in rural West Marin County, California. She selected entries from June 2011 through December 2012 (for example, TOMALES: At 8:20 p.m. a woman said she saw a car full of costumed people, possibly burglars, on her ranch” and “NICASIO: At 4:40 p.m. a baby dialed 911”) and used each to create a story. What she wound up writing is a series of interrelated tales that create a fictional realm so quirky, intriguing and appealing, I wanted to drive there in my Ford Escape and stay for a long visit. These stories sparkle with life; they combine humor, depth and compassion; they are deeply affecting and memorable.

Times They Were a Changing

61x1+wynT7L._SS300_I know I’ve stumbled upon a rich reading experience when long after I’ve put the book down, it comes to mind from time to time. I read Times They Were a Changing: Women Remember the 60s and 70s months ago and enjoyed the anthology in its entirety and, yes, it reached my heart. A combination of prose and poetry, the 48 works included are all personal, vivid and compelling accounts of aspects of life for women living in the 60s and 70s. As someone who came of age during that era, the book is a potent reminder of the promise and turmoil; the victories and strife; the music, the costumes; the love, love, love that was in the air. And there is something strong and solid, yet gentle, about the language of the book and the messages it contains. The memoir that keeps drifting into my mind is “Altamont” by Amber Lea Starfire. I wish I could say what it is about that particular one that struck me so deeply—perhaps it was because as a teen I slipped into many a car packed with friends (as Amber did) and went on adventures that changed me, but usually not in the ways I expected. I believe there is enough variety in this book—edited by Kate Farrell, Linda Joy Myers and Amber Lea Starfire—that there will be selections that deeply affect just about everyone interested in this period in history.

Our Love Could Light the World

51Y5+2PYW5L._SS300_The thing that binds together the stories of Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish is that they are all about one family, the Dugans. The parents’ divorce is a catalyst that causes upheaval, pain and ultimately growth for them and their five children. Now, that sentence could describe just about any family going through divorce, but this is not a generic tale. The particulars of this dysfunctional and not particularly likeable brood are fascinating enough to engage and keep a reader’s interest. I wanted to know every detail about them as I read. However, for me, this book was ultimately not satisfying as a short story collection. I think it would have worked better had the writer decided to shape it into a novel. The parts of the whole might stand alone. I don’t know. I read them one after another in rapid succession, and they seemed like chapters in a book that didn’t quite come together.

The Wrong Sister

28---Medium_image_resized_200x320The Wrong Sister: Stories by Caroline Leavitt is an ebook consisting of two short stories. Nothing connects the stories except their author. And what a fine author she is. Her characters are complicated and uniquely flawed in ways that makes them intriguing. I felt like I was drawn deep inside the families at the center of each story. A young man enters the lives of two sisters in the first story, The Wrong Sister, and the drama unfolds seamlessly to a surprising conclusion. The second story, The Last Vacation, which explores a daughter’s relationships with her parents, also unfolds seamlessly to a surprising conclusion, one that I found especially poignant. The characters I met on these pages seem like real folks whose paths just haven’t happened to cross with mine.

51vA42tlbhL._SS300_Thinking about these books makes me want to write and publish another collection of stories someday. The elements that connect the stories in The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song, which I published in 2012, are that they’re all flash fiction and I wrote them over the course of a year, posting one per week on this blog. I don’t have any ideas yet about what the concept behind a new collection could be. I also have projects on my plate right now (an anthology on sisterhood and a sequel to Reversible Skirt) that will keep my publishing calendar full for the next year or so.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of these books, here’s a link to a page containing these reviews on Amazon, where you can purchase them with a few clicks.

One more thing. A mini memoir I wrote is posted on Sonia Marsh’s My Gutsy Story website. I’d appreciate it if you’d hop on over there, read my story, and, if you get there before June 11, 2014, vote for my story. She runs a contest each month for the readers’ favorite story. If I win, I’ll get to pick a prize from those offered by a list of site sponsors.

 

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Looking through the blinds

looking through the blinds
by Laura McHale Holland

IMG_1006lower branches shorn
the redwood stands
beside brick, steel, glass
high above the building
the tree is whole
made to last
it will outlive
our desks, computers
smartphones, copiers, deadlines
we are but blips
looking through the blinds
at eternity

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Photo by Laura McHale Holland

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Flash fiction: Have you noticed?

While I was proofing my newsletter last week, some phrases caught my eye. It seemed as though they could be the beginnings of stories. So I decided to grab a couple of them to work into a short piece. I lifted “Have you noticed?” and “Often they come in groups” from the newsletter text.

Here’s the result; it could be the prelude to a story. Where would you take this? If it ignites a story within you, I’d love for you to share it in a comment.

Have You Noticed?
By Laura McHale Holland

2527415732_73af88d345Often they come in groups, skittering through yards in the wee hours. They climb—light, swift, translucent—over redwood fences, down terraced slopes, up stucco walls.

They hover in cypress trees, swing from maples and oaks. Peeking through our windows, they watch us turn out the reading lights, roll over in bed.

They long to feel the weight of gravity pull them down to the ground, to feel the thrill of lips locked in love one last time. Have you noticed? Do you sense them now? The ones who are waiting, caught in between, the ones who watch us breathe.

Photo by Kristel Jax

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Why not write quick book reviews?

Brief book reviews have merit

Do you post book reviews online at Amazon, Goodreads and other such sites? I do so only sporadically. I’d like to get in the habit of writing quick reviews after finishing books I’ve enjoyed. (I shy away from doing negative reviews, and if you’d like to comment about that, it could lead to a spirited discussion.)

To make this task more doable, I’ve begun making my reviews short. Very short. I’m not a professional reviewer. I just want to contribute a little something to the discussions about books I like. I figure this means I don’t have to follow any particular format or satisfy any preconceived notions of what a book review should be.

In case you’ve been holding off on penning reviews, I’m going to paste in a couple I’ve done lately to demonstrate how brief they can be.

Slip by Tanya Savko

8264803I highly recommend this novel because I learned so much about autism from reading it. The book provides an eye-opening view of what it’s like to parent an autistic child while also coping with all the other things a parent might have to deal with—an unraveling marriage, divorce, betrayal, issues with extended family, a low paying job that’s not anywhere close to your dream job, financial woes. Tanya Savko has created believable characters who learn from their struggles, and she manages to impart wisdom while also shaping an engaging narrative that comes to a satisfying close.

Oleander Girl by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

15802866If I could give this book more than five stars, I would. It is beautifully satisfying on many levels. The writing is lyrical, the plot is original and absorbing, the characters are captivating and believable, the book illuminates social issues without doing anything close to preaching, and combined, these elements form a magical work that surpassed my expectations, which were high because I’ve read other books by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and enjoyed them. The young heroine Korobi embarks on a journey that transforms her, as well as those she loves in deep and moving ways.

So, why not write some quick reviews of your own? And if you choose to review my books, well, I would be most grateful.

Next week, I’ll post another Belinda Blue Brown episode.

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Strange visions

Here’s another Belinda Blue Brown episode draft. What do you think?

Strange Visions
By Laura McHale Holland

140132287_c49cec39d7As if I didn’t have enough to sort out, what with Velda Sue supposedly askin’ for me and me not bein’ sure if I should call her because we’ve got this complicated history, and then I find out that my Bernie’s been at it again, you know, befriendin’ odd characters, folks who aren’t anywhere near the norm. This time it’s Dunderhead. We’ve all been callin’ him that since grammar school, so nobody remembers his real name. Well, actually, that’s not true. Like I said, sometimes I lie, even to myself. His name is Dave Dunderfield, and we just started callin’ him Dunderhead way back when we were small, and maybe that’s not so nice. I mean, I don’t—and this is the truth—I don’t know how it got started. I just know that’s what we’ve been callin’ him ever since forever, and I just pray to the gods that be that I’m not the one who thought that up because, golly gee whiz, I don’t like to think of myself as someone who would do something like that. But like they say, kids can be mean, and maybe I was too. Heck, right now I might be mean as a hornets’ nest and maybe nobody wants to tell me that to my face. I sure hope not.

Now, as far as Bernie makin’ friends with Dunderhead goes, I’ve tried to keep my mouth shut and not say somethin’ stupid I’ll regret later even though Dunderhead is undoubtedly not workin’ with a full deck. I mean he can’t look anybody in the eyes more than a second or so, and he’s hard to understand, too, because he hoots and snarls between his words, not that I’m some sort of social marvel, but I can at least carry on a conversation without lookin’ cross-eyed and makin’ everybody within earshot start fidgeting and tryin’ to figure out how to get out of the room. But my Bernie, he didn’t have anyone to hang with after his mail route anymore since Jake the Wolfman’s demise. Oh, it still makes me sad to think of Jake gettin’ eaten up by his very own wolf-dogs, and I know it makes Bernie sad, too, and a little scared because we own four wolf dogs ourselves now, and we sure don’t want them jumpin’ on us, or on our little niece Pansy when she comes to visit, either. But then Bernie saw Dunderhead in town one day, and Bernie, being the amiable guy that he is, asked Dunderhead how he was, and Dunderhead said he was in a bad way because his daughter had gone off and left him with his grandbaby to care for. Dunderhead said he didn’t think his daughter had left of her own free will either, and he said he thought it was the same with our own Glory. Well, Bernie was fit to be tied because we never talk to anybody except ourselves about Glory’s disappearance, and Dunderhead knew things about Glory, like the note she left, that only the family would know. And so Bernie and Dunderhead got to talkin’

4500129501_452b2b6bcd_nNow Dunderhead is one of those conspiracy theory nuts, too—it seems every flood, every bombing, every killing, every spill is a government plot in his book. Plus he’s always said he can see things happening when he’s not anywhere near. He gets little glimpses of scenes, and frankly, that creeped all of us out when we were younger, you know, having our very own cross-eyed, barking, psychic quack right here in North Bend, but Bernie got drawn in a few months ago now, and he started going over to Dunderhead’s home in the woods just outside of town. Now, his home started out as a cabin long ago, way back when going back to the land was more of a thing with young people, baby boomers, you know, and so Dunderhead and his wife, Clara, a real pretty gal who drowned in a river one day tryin’ to save a hound of theirs that had gotten swept away in a strong current, and that was a sad one for sure, because Dunderhead had to raise their four kids up himself. They were rangin’ at the time from about six years old to sixteen. Now, it’s the one who was six at the time who just up and left after she’d had a baby boy, just a few months into it, just like our Glory. Dunderhead says this is way too much of a coincidence. He thinks it’s some kind of plot he doesn’t quite understand, but he had a dream of a time-share condominium place way down on the Gulf Coast somewhere, you know, where they have all those hurricanes and such, and he looked online and found just the place he’d seen in his dream, and it was practically right on the beach. You could see the waves lap the shore from the window, and there was an opening for the top unit on the fourth-floor. Now, a strange thing about this building is that it looks like it was carted off from some place in Europe. It’s made out of some weather beaten stone and has one of those steep, slanted roofs. It’s so tall and narrow it makes me dizzy just to picture it in my mind, and its long windows have shutters, each one a different color, so it’s a strange mix of ancient and modern, and it has flowers on each windowsill, too, and a wrought iron gate with a flickering neon sign that says Welcome, and it seemed just not to belong on the beach in the Gulf Coast. But Dunderhead convinced Bernie we should go in on this time share. He was sure there’d be clues about our missing girls, and I said then and there that was a bunch of hooey, but you know what a pushover I am when Bernie turns on the charm, even after all these years together, and so we, and I’m still havin’ a hard time believing it, we bought a share in this place on the beach in the middle of nowhere, even though people are sayin’ time shares are a thing of the past. I guess me and Bernie and Dunderhead are a thing of the past, too, much as I hate to admit it.

4591881136_d8b4989f4f_nAnyway, after a while I did warm to the idea of spendin’ time there when it’s not otherwise occupied, just not during hurricane season because, well, that would be foolhardy, now wouldn’t it. So we took our first trip there just last week, and, oh, we had a time. Even passed through New Orleans and stopped in the French Quarter and had beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde. Think of that, us folks from North Bend doin’ somethin’ like that. I wanted to visit the graveyards where everybody’s in a crypt above ground, too, but Bernie and Dunderhead squelched that idea real fast. Dunderhead said there were too many voices cryin’ out for help in a place like that and he wouldn’t be able to think clearly if we got too close, so we had to skedaddle. I didn’t mention how it’s kind of questionable whether he ever really thinks clearly anyway.

When we got to the condo, it was all postcard quiet and peaceful. We had the entire beach as far as the eye could see to ourselves, except for one other resident who came and went, a guy who had a gold tooth right in front. Who has gold teeth these days, anyway? Dunderhead said that man was up to something no good. Bernie, of course, didnt’ believe that, and he got to talkin’ with the man and found out he was there year round unless there was an evacuation on account of hurricanes or oil spills or somethin’, but after a while the cold look in the guy’s eyes even gave Bernie the creeps. Dunderhead said it wasn’t safe to stay around him. So Bernie didn’t talk to him after that, and we all just sort of nodded if we were comin’ or goin’ in the lobby at the same time as that man was. Mostly he didn’t make any noise, except every now and then we thought we heard footsteps and murmurs in the unit below us. Other than that, our stay was uneventful, and before we knew it our week had whizzed by, and we were all packed up, car loaded and ready to go home. Gold Tooth pulled in just as we were about to drive off. The side door to the van was open, and there were ropes in there, and I got a vision of our Glory all tied up, and I wondered why I would picture somethin’ like that. And then I got real worried that Dunderhead’s weird vision stuff was rubbin’ off on me, so I closed my eyes and shook my head and tried to will that disturbing vision away.

And now, back at home I keep havin’ visions, things I’d never before pictured, like someone sneakin’ into Jake the Wolfman’s spread, climbin’ into the enclosure where his wolf dogs were sleepin’, and feedin’ them critters somethin’ that drove ‘em crazy enough to attack poor Jake when he came out to feed ‘em in the mornin’. Now, that’s even scarier to me than the notion of the dogs turnin’ on him for no reason at all, because that’s somethin’ that happens every now and again, but someone messin’ with the dogs so they’d go crazy on Jack? That’s downright twisted. And I picture Glory sometimes too in a room with other young women, all of ‘em tied up in ropes just like that man had in his van, and that’s makin’ it hard for me to sleep at night. I haven’t told Bernie. I don’t want to worry him. I did finally tell him about bringin’ our wolf dogs inside to spend the days with me, and I suppose I’ll have to tell him about these strange visions. I thought maybe I should go see my HMO doctor, too, you know, because maybe there’s a pill I can take to make this stop, but then I thought about side effects. I don’t want to spend my days sittin’ in a chair, lookin’ out a window and droolin’ if it comes to that. I mean, what kind of life would that be? So I decided against spillin’ out all this stuff about visions to a doctor. My Bernie. He does have a way of pullin’ me places I never thought I’d go, you know, bringin’ out things in me I sure never thought were there. I think I’m goin’ to have to pay a visit to Dunderhead myself and see if he’s been havin’ these visions too and ask him what they could possibly mean. And then once I can get a good night’s sleep again, maybe I’ll be able to pick up the phone and call Velda Sue. I sure could use a friend right about now.

Photo of head by TheoJunior; photo of window by ]babi]; crypt photo by wallyg

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That shocking proposal

Here’s another Belinda Blue Brown episode draft. The more of these I write, the more loose ends there will be to clean up when I pull them together into one document. I hope you enjoy that I’m sharing a bit of the writing process here. In the end, I don’t know if the whole project will be a keeper, but that’s part of the fun.

That Shocking Proposal

3160916013_9492d737b9_tMy friend Velda Sue, well, she goes by Suzette now, and since we haven’t spoken in, oh, thirty years and since I only heard about her plight third-hand, I don’t suppose you could say she’s my friend anymore. But, jeeze, we’ve known each other since we were tykes runnin’ barefoot in black earth that seemed a whole lot moister way back when, you know. Oh, that dirt. It smelled so good we didn’t just make mud pies, we tried eatin’ ‘em out in my backyard one day. And my mama, she came out to hang laundry on the line and saw that mud all around our mouths, and us chewin’ up a storm.

She hauled us inside, stripped off our clothes and dumped us in the tub real quick, nothin’ harsh about it though. She was speedy but never the punishing’ type, thank goodness. Neither was Velda Sue’s mom. They lived right across the street from us, so it wasn’t long before Velda Sue’s mom came over, and the two of them were laughin’ about our mud pies over Sanka coffee in the kitchen and my mom’s special-recipe pound cake that tasted a whole lot better than mud, come to think of it.

And when Velda Sue and I were gettin’ bored splashin’ in the tub, it was her mom who came in, gave us each a good scrubbin’ and dressed us in matching sundresses, and told us to play inside for a while, at least until our dads came home from the Good Days Bakery, where they both worked as supervisors—my dad in the cookie department, and her dad in the bread department. So Velda Sue and me were like sisters, twins almost, born just a day apart, and we went to the same school and took the same ballet class and played on the same softball team and all that. I thought someday Velda Sue and me would live across the street from each other and raise our babies up together, just like our mothers, but, you know, I could tell by high school that wasn’t gonna happen. I just didn’t want to admit it.

See, my pa died in an auto accident when Velda Sue and me were ten. Her dad was driving, and he survived without much damage, just a few bumps and such. But my dad went right through the windshield. And it turns out he didn’t have any life insurance, and Mama had no marketable skills, so it wasn’t long before we moved in with my grandma and grandpa on the outskirts of town. So Velda Sue and me didn’t go to the same school again until high school, and, well, by then let’s just say we traveled in different circles. She was gorgeous and blonde and real coordinated, made the cheerleading squad all four years, which was like being a rock star or some kind of goddess. Now I was slim enough, I guess, but shaped sort of like a pear and not at all coordinated. Plus my wardrobe was, um, limited, and back then clothes mattered, a lot. So, Velda Sue and I would say a quick hi sometimes if we passed each other in the halls, but that was all.

2700730806_e04642e0d7_tBut then, here’s the thing, we did become friends again for a little while, not the best of friends like when we were kids, but friendly for sure. After graduation, she went off to some fancy school in the East, and I went to school in California, a junior college outside of San Francisco where my uncle worked, so he pulled some strings to get me in tuition free. I got my AA and did the books for a music store for a year or so after that, but then, well, okay, I’ll admit it, I missed my mom and my grandma and grandpa, who were gettin’ up in years, and they all missed me, too. I kinda missed my brother and sister, too, and even North Bend, though I never figured on that. When I got on that Greyhound headed west, I thought I was goin’ away for good.

About a year after I returned to North Bend, Velda Sue came back to town, too, and it turns out we both showed up to volunteer for this thing called VISTA on the same day. It’s kinda like the Peace Corps only folks work in America, not in other countries, and it seems a lot of folks in North Bend are underprivileged, according to the government, so there was plenty for volunteers to do right here. And you know who else was volunteering? None other than my Bernie, but of course he wasn’t my Bernie back then. And Velda Sue and Bernie and some other volunteers and me, we’d go together to Paulie’s Diner after work, or throw parties, and so we had a little social group goin’ that was pretty fun, and it turns out Velda Sue, she fell for Bernie.

Now, I’d had a crush on Bernie since when I first saw him standin’ by his locker freshman year. Oh those big brown eyes and that sheepish grin of his, they did me in, but I kept it to myself, so when Velda Sue said she had the hots for him, I didn’t have any claim on him, so I figured they’d be an item soon enough. She said she wanted to settle down with Bernie and that she’d had it with all those fancy guys back east. So I wished her well and said Bernie’d be lucky to have her, which I thought was true. And one day she got all dolled up with eyeliner and eyeshadow and sparkly lipstick and a skimpy knit dress that hugged her curves just right. She’d gotten wind of Bernie’s having bought an expensive ring at Carolina Jewelers in town, and she said her heart was all aflutter because her dream was about to come true, and soon enough we were all at our regular booth at the diner, and Bernie got down on one knee, and he pulled out a ring, and he proposed, but he didn’t propose to Velda. He proposed to me. And I was like to be flabbergasted, and so was she, and she stormed off. I ran after her, but she yelled at me that I was a traitor, and worse stuff I won’t repeat, and she said to leave her alone.

Well, my feelings were hurt, and I stood there, mouth open a mile wide, while she got into her Corolla and started the engine, but then I thought of Bernie back in the restaurant, with all the food gettin’ cold, and so I turned around and came back to the booth. He was slinked down real low and our friends were saying stuff like, man, that’s a bummer, gosh, that didn’t go so well, did it. And so I sat down next to Bernie and I admitted I’d had a crush on him for a long time, but I didn’t really know him, and he didn’t know me, so maybe we could back up a bit and get acquainted, and if maybe after a while he felt I was still wife material and vice versa, we’d get engaged. And Bernie, being his wonderful self and all, he said of course. A year later he proposed for real at the very same booth at Paulie’s, and we got married a year after that, and had our reception at Paulie’s, too. By then Velda Sue was back in school, studying abroad somewhere, and I didn’t think I should invite her. She never believed that I hadn’t somehow intentionally stolen Bernie from her.

imagesNow I’ve heard from my mama, who heard from Velda Sue’s mama, that Velda Sue is back at home and in a real bad way. She won’t talk about it, and she won’t go out. All she does is watch Lifetime movies and eat carmel corn and D’Giorno pepperoni pizzas. And my mama said Velda Sue is askin’ about me. Now I still have her old phone number memorized, even though I tried to forget it because I was so jealous of her, and I’m tryin’ to decide if I should call her. I did pick Bernie over her that day when I gave up on following her and returned to him in the restaurant. I could have pounded on the car window, told her she had to let me in, but maybe it was a little like how she picked her popular friends over me in high school, and maybe I was getting back at her in ways I didn’t even realize at the time. But I swear I wasn’t trying to win him or anything before that shocking proposal. The thing is, though, how do I know if Velda Sue’s really askin’ for me or if my mama’s just havin’ some fantasy about Velda Sue and me being buddies again, which I tell you, is about as likely as a cow jumpin’ over the moon.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Laura McHale Holland

Comments are welcome. If you don’t see a comment section below this post, go here.

Mud pie photo by derringdosGreyound bus depot sign by kuyman.

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Belinda Blue has her say

Belinda Blue Has Her Say

Laura was on the verge of starting another blog project, writing one memoir vignette per week, but I talked her out of it. She’s finally going to step aside and let me have my say, and I’m rarin’ to go. Some of you might remember me as Bernie’s wife, the one who took a shine to two orphaned wolf-dog pups, abandoned because a bunch of grown-up wolf-dogs in their pack killed their owner, or should I say caretaker, Jake the Wolfman, who was my husband Bernie’s fast friend. You can read an edited version of that story in The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song or you can check out the first version, the one that came right out of my mouth, in this blog’s archives.

4726800475_4d9b0697cb_nAnyway, I think you’ll be happy to know that after adopting only two more wolf-dog pups—that we had to drive all the way to Montana to get, by the way—I have vowed not to get any more of them, no matter how thoroughly mesmerizing they are. And that is no small commitment, I have to say, beause it’s like standin’ by a big bowl of Jay’s potato chips and dip at a party and being able to grab only two. Near to impossible, right? You can always walk away from the food at a party, though, and I can’t exactly walk away from our pups. So I’m living with that discomfort of longing for more a fair amount of time, but I do my best to put the thought of bringing more of these critters home out of my mind.

 Now, I really just brought up the wolf-dogs in case you might remember me. I have lots of other things to talk about, like number one, I have a name. I’m not just Bernie’s wife, although I am happily married and proud that he’s been my husband all these years, decades now, in fact, and I did take his last name, Brown, when we got married, which went against the women’s lib stuff I felt a kinship with at the time, but all the gals in North Bend were still taking their husbands’ names when they got married, and pretty much still do for that matter, and I saw no reason to stick out like a neon No Vacancy sign on a dark road. I’d been away from town for a while and just wanted to blend back in like a spoonful of honey in Lipton tea.

3208710439_2f0983a22b_mBut sayin’ I’m Mrs. Brown, even though I am, would be pretty much the same thing as sayin’ I’m Bernie’s wife, and that doesn’t sit right with me, so I’ll let you know I’m Belinda Blue Brown, well, actually Belinda Blue O’Brien Brown, O’Brien beng my maiden name, which I like better than Brown but never use anymore. I’m just Belinda Blue Brown to everybody in North Bend, even though I don’t like having two colors in a row like that.

Now you might think my folks gave me the middle name Blue because I have blue eyes or something, like Bonnie Blue Butler in Gone With the Wind, but that isn’t so. My eyes are gray, no speck of blue in ‘em anywhere. My middle name is Blue because I was a blue baby. Nowawdays they call kids with certain heart defects and some environmental disease blue babies, and they might have been called that back in the 50s, too, but there was also a group of Rh positive babies born to Rh negative mothers who were called blue babies. We had to have transfusions as soon as we were born, you see, because our moms developed antibodies in their blood that attacked us. Some of us didn’t survive, some of us were left with brain damage, and some of us turned out more or less okay, and as far as I can tell I am in the third group.

Why my folks commemorated the whole ordeal in my middle name, I have no idea. There’s a vaccine now that they give Rh negative moms when they’re pregnant and right after delivery, too, and that takes care of the antibodies problem. So what my family went through is a thing of the past. See, my older sister, Corinna Mae, was Rh positive, but she came out just fine because my mom hadn’t built up enough antibodies to harm her. Then I came along and needed a transfusion. Next, my brother, Bobby Jerome, was born real small, and he needed a transfusion worse than I did, but eventually he turned out as normal as anyone. But the fourth child, Bessie June, she was one of the unlucky ones. She didn’t live more than a day, and so my folks just stopped having kids after that. “I just can’t bear the heartache of losin’ another baby,” my mom said. And my dad said, “Heck, five mouths to feed in this family is plenty anyway.”

There’s just no explainin’ why some people do the things they do, like namin’ their kids after a medical crisis. I’ve made a number of odd choices myself, though, so who am I to complain or criticize anyone for what they do, you know? That is, unless it falls into the category of those awful criminals the good people on CSI and Law and Order and NCIS and Criminal Minds are always tryin’ to bring to justice. I have no idea why I like to watch those shows. I know they drag me down, turn me into Eeyore, and this is usually right before bed. God only knows what those shows are doing to my dreams. So I guess I need to walk away from them, like walking away from the potato chips and dip at a party—and yes, we still eat potato chips and dip in North Bend, a town that’s a little too far from anywhere to even be a blip on the map. That’s what our Town Council says anyway, although there’s something odd about those folks. See, it’s the same families generation after generation on the council, and the kids look exactly like their parents, all of the kids born to council members, I mean, so it’s like we’ve had the same people on the council for more than a hundred years.

Plus every time the council meets, there’s always the same amount of money in the treasury, no matter what the expenses have been; month after month, year after year, it’s always a surplus of $15,034.62, which is either reassuring or freaky, depending on how you look at it. Another thing about North Bend is there are no road signs pointing folks our way, so unless somebody’s been brought in as a guest, or is a returning citizen like I once was, nobody from outside ever comes here. There are other things going on, too, that are a little unusual, and maybe I’ll tell you more, unless folks find out what I’m doing and decide to slap me down on account of their privacy concerns, but half the people here don’t even know what a blog is, so I think I’m okay on that score.

4824921852_fdc956c156_nSo I’ll be tellin’ you some stories about my life here in North Bend, which is a little place that you might not think is worth the time, like what’s her name, oh yeah, Gertrude Stein, you might say theres no there there, but wherever people are, there are stories, right? It’s just a matter of digging around and finding ‘em. I don’t know if I’ll be any good at diggin’ up stories, and I guess I should let you know I’m a liar half the time, and sometimes I know I’m lying, and sometimes I don’t realize I’ve lied ’til months or years later, and after a while it’s hard to keep track of what’s real and what isn’t, but I do intend to come back here soon, because now that Laura has let me out, I’m not going to let her just stuff me away in a corner of her mind like she has been doin’. No siree! I’m gonna blab because I want someone to know I existed and that no matter how peculiar a place North Bend is, I believe we’re all doing our best, that is, when you take all the factors shaping us into account.

Jay’s potato chips photo by Thomas Hawk; No Vacancy photo by Anthony Citrano; Gertrude Stein statue photo by tattoodjay.

Note: If you don’t see a comment section below, click here to leave a comment. Also, in the right-hand sidebar, you can sign up for my newsletter and/or blog updates. They are two different things.

Copyright (c) 2013 by Laura McHale Holland

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Telling stories from The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song

The-Ice-Cream-Vendors-Song-cover-small2-e1351566579176I have a little something different to share today: a video clip!

Last Monday I was one of several Sonoma County authors invited to share our work at Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa. I decided to tell two stories instead of read them. Ideally, with storytelling, the text is a guide, but you tell the story by heart, not through memorization, leaving room for the story to unfold in new ways during the telling. The stories didn’t deviate too much from the original text at this event, but if I continue to tell them, they will evolve in subtle ways with each telling.

Here’s the link: http://youtu.be/9K9ZM-0_DTw. I will welcome your feedback!

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Obsidian Waves

I wrote this story in response to Lillie McFerrin’s five-sentence fiction prompt, midnight. She typically posts a new prompt weekly at http://lilliemcferrin.com, and I enjoy participating when I can.

Obsidian Waves
By Laura McHale Holland

4268314137_5a3ef92ee3_nHer name wasn’t even Midnight. That’s just what I called her because her face was framed with obsidian waves, and she painted her nails and lips to match. She had an air of mystery about her, too, especially when she would play her flute by the streetlight after dark, and I would watch from my bedroom window and sway in time to her music.

She was my Midnight, you see, until some guy rolled up in a BMW one night and said, “It’s time to come home, Paula.” And so she left.

Yet some nights when I’m about to fall asleep, I sense her music in the air; I rush to the window, but in the streetlight’s glow, the sidewalk is bare; she is never there.

Photo by Horia Varlan

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Delilah

My website is being revamped, and I haven’t had access to it for a while. The site isn’t quite ready for prime time yet, but I do have access to the Dashboard now, so here’s my first post of 2013. I hope you enjoy this story draft and look forward to your comments. I also hope creativity and happiness abound for all of us in the year ahead.

Delilah
By Laura McHale Holland

She climbs out of her VW bug and walks down the block. Late afternoon light bathes the abandoned houses on either side of the street, houses where she and her childhood friends lived, where she skipped rope, played hide and seek, climbed trees, threw water balloons.

All the families. Gone. Paid off. No more barefoot babes running through the grass, no more parents weeding gardens, trimming hedges. Tomorrow demolition will begin so a high tech corporation can expand its campus. A local business success story.

She reaches the last home in the cul de sac, walks by the rusted camper her mom couldn’t sell in the driveway, sees her mom’s cat, Delilah, perched on the living room windowsill. She trudges up the porch steps, pulls a key from her pocket, unlocks the door. Inside she is greeted by the smell of pot roast, a dish her mom hasn’t cooked since her dad’s fatal heart attack four years prior.

“Here, Delilah, here kitty kitty,” she calls. She checks every room, every closet. No cat. “It’s your last chance, Delilah” she calls. “Mom’s going to be really unhappy living in that big old house without you, you silly old cat.”

She steps onto the front porch, closes the door, tosses the key onto the sun-scorched lawn. Soon she pulls her VW away from the curb, rounds the corner and heads toward her mom’s new home. Amid tufts of brittle grass, Delilah pounces and bats the old key back and forth between her front paws.

Note: When I first posted this, the story ended with Delilah in the back seat of the car, having climbed in undetected before the car pulled away.

Photo by Lilachd

 

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A memorable character beautifully rendered

Huachuca Woman is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, with some scenes breathtaking in their elegant use of language and their strong emotional impact. The main chacter, Jo, recounts her life’s adventures to two of her grandchildren who have come to visit the ranch on which Jo has spent most of her life. The story moves back and forth from 1952, when Jo is an old woman, to various episodes from her sometimes heartbreaking and often exciting life lived in the shadow of the Huachua Mountains of the American Southwest. Jo is compelling. The historical detail is rich, and for the most part, woven in seamlessly. And the author has succeeded in making a slice of American history come vibrantly to life through Jo’s eyes.

As I read, however, I felt the story dragged at times, as parts of some scenes seemed to be written to impart historical details that served to provide informmation, but kept the story from moving forward. I also noticed an anachronism or two, for example, a young adult in 1952 said “way cool.” It was common for people to say “cool” in the 1950s, but “way cool” really didn’t come into use until much later in the 20th century. I think this terrific book could have used just one more edit to tighten up a few scenes and details.

This is a book written with great care and skill, though, so I wouldn’t want my quibbles to stop anyone from picking it up and giving it a read. It’s well worth the time.

 

If you’ve read this book, I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments. If you have thoughts on this review, I’d love for you to share those, too.

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