Weather Report, Jan. 22

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OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “FROELICH’S LADDER,” BY JAMIE DUCLOS-YOURDON, “LUCKY SOUTHERN GIRLS,” BY SUSANNAH EANES, AND “JESSIE,” BY PATRICIA DEAN ROBERTSON, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHOR PAGE.

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Dear Blog Followers:

Down below, you’ll find some information about the three books that will be featured on Snowflakes in a Blizzard (snowflakesarise.wordpress.com) this week — “Chasing the Powhatan Arrow,” by Michael Abraham, “Souvenirs and Other Stories,” by Matt Tompkins, and “Dancing With Dandelions” by Zelle Andrews.

First, though, I’d like to request a small favor.

No, I’m not going to ask you for money, or try to sell you anything. Rather, this involves a project I’ve begun, a book to be titled “Writing in a Crowd: Authorship in the Age of Amazon.”

I’m excited about it, because it’s going to be different. It won’t be a book telling anyone how to write, or how to market something they’ve already written. Nor will it be a philosophical journey into the zen of creativity (well, OK, maybe a little).

Instead, think of a long table with hundreds of writers seated at it, perhaps with coffee or wine and cheese, and a lively conversation jumping from one writing-related topic to another. This “conversation” will come from many of the 370-plus authors who have been featured on Snowflakes in a Blizzard since May of 2015. My job will simply be to supply the narrative mortar tying all their quotes together.

So what does this have to do with you? Well, the first chapter is titled “Why We Write,” and it turns out that the reason most authors gave for doing what they do is the opportunity to connect with an audience. As singer Brandi Carlile tells us:  “These stories don’t mean anything, if you’ve got no one to tell them to.”

Thus, Chapter Two is called “Why We Read.” Obviously, those of you who follow this blog are readers (and, in many cases, writers). Therefore, I’d love it if you could answer a few questions on your reading habits and philosophy. If you want to attach your name to what you give me, I may well quote you in the book.

My e-mail is writersbridge@hotmail.com. And thanks in advance.

  1. What factors make you like a book?
  2. What usually bothers you about books you don’t like?
  3. Do you tend to stick with authors you’ve already read?
  4. Do you put much credence in book reviews?
  5. Could you share a story about a book that proved a strong influence on you in some way?

UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD, JAN. 23-29.

“SOUVENIRS AND OTHER STORIES,” BY MATT TOMPKINS.

In this collection of six short, surreal stories, six different narrators cope with circumstances beyond their control: a father evaporates, a family of mountain lions prowls the basement of a newly built home, a laser eye surgery causes optical hallucinations, an apartment spontaneously fills with mysterious objects, and more.

“CHASING THE POWHATAN ARROW,” BY MICHAEL ABRAHAM.

Chasing the Powhatan Arrow is a travelogue in economic geography from Norfolk, VA to Cincinnati, Ohio, following the route of the Powhatan Arrow, a passenger train operated by the Norfolk and Western Railroad from the end of World War II until the mid-1960s. The book’s chapters are each of the train’s stops along the way (e.g. Norfolk, Suffolk, Petersburg, Blackstone…), where in each one the author interviewed mayors, delegates, CEOs, and entrepreneurs, but also street people, hobos, and panhandlers, to learn how their communities were faring in the modern economy, especially as it related to the bygone era of passenger rail.

“DANCING WITH DANDELIONS,” BY ZELLE ANDREWS

This is a sequel to “Paisley Memories,” which was previously featured on Snowflakes in a Blizzard. Zelle writes:

“Twelve years have passed in Tess Cooper’s life and Paisley is a pre-teen. Tess’s world is changing as she jumps at an opportunity to move out and become independent. Finally, she can raise Paisley own her own. Aaron, sweet, Aaron is still around. Tess’s relationship not only evolves with Paisley, but with Aaron at a rapid speed that she isn’t sure she’s ready for. I’ve thrown a hint of romance in this book. It is full of humor and real life situations. You get a chance to get in Tess’s mind as she is finally own her own, but drawn to a man that she thinks will steal her independence…if he will still have her.”
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Froelich’s Ladder

Froelich's Ladder by [Duclos-Yourdon, Jamie]THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “LUCKY SOUTHERN WOMEN,” BY SUSANNAH EANES AND “JESSIE,” BY PATRICIA DEAN ROBERTSON, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.

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THE BOOK: Froelich’s Ladder.

PUBLISHED IN: 2016

THE AUTHOR: Jamie Duclos-Yourdon.

THE EDITOR: Laura Stanfill.

THE PUBLISHER: Forest Avenue Press (“Literary fiction on a joyride”).

PictureSUMMARY: Froelich nurses a decades-old family grudge from his permanent perch atop a giant ladder in this nineteenth century madcap adventure novel. When he disappears suddenly, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked adventure across the Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs.

THE BACK STORY: Although it’s my debut novel, Froelich’s Ladder was the eighth book I’d written in 12 years. At the time, my wife and I were pregnant with out first child (more so my wife than me) and I was petrified by the notion of becoming a father. I hoped to envision a world where, despite grim circumstances and the occasional unsavory character, people generally take the time to help each other; that was the kind of world I wanted for my son.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Froelich’s Ladder is a work of fabulist fiction—after all, the titular character has lived on top of a ladder for the past twenty years. Readers who enjoy fantasy and whimsy, grounded in a historical context, will have fun with this “nineteenth century madcap adventure novel.”

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“From the first page to the last, Froelich’s Ladder brims with color, intrigue, and verve. At once a fantastical, madcap adventure and a poignant meditation on independence and solitude, it’s the kind of book that captivates you quickly and whisks you high into the atmosphere. I was in thrall to the surreal Oregon landscape, populated by tycoons and grifters, cross-dressers and hungry clouds. This debut is clever, irreverent, and ultimately unforgettable.” – Leslie Parry, author of Church of Marvels

“Half (extremely) tall tale, half picaresque quest, and all entertaining, Froelich’s Ladder paints a picture of the American frontier that’s more original—yet perhaps more true—than any I’ve encountered in a long, long time. Readers who appreciate the cockeyed historical vision of writers like Charles Portis, Thomas Berger, Richard Brautigan, and Patrick deWitt need to add Jamie Duclos-Yourdon to their to-read lists today.” – Steve Hockensmith, New York Times bestselling author of Holmes on the Range and The White Magic Five and Dime

AUTHOR PROFILE: Jamie Duclos-Yourdon, a freelance editor and technical expert, received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona. His short fiction has appeared in the Alaska Quarterly Review, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and Chicago Literati, and he has contributed essays and interviews to Booktrib. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Froelich’s Ladder (Forest Avenue, 2016) is his debut novel. SAMPLE CHAPTER: https://www.amazon.com/Froelichs-Ladder-Jamie-Duclos-Yourdon/dp/194243619X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1514243184&sr=8-1&keywords=froelich%27s+ladder

LOCAL OUTLETS: Powell’s City of Books.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and anywhere books are sold.

PRICE: $15.95.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: info@jamieduclosyourdon.co

Lucky Southern Women

Susannah EanesTHE BOOK:  Lucky Southern Women.

PUBLISHED IN: 2014.

THE AUTHOR:  Susannah Eanes.

THE EDITOR: Rachael Stern.

THE PUBLISHER: Propertius Press, a small literary press in Virginia.

SUMMARY: The rural landscape entwines around the lives and loves of two strong, yet troubled women, a beautiful contrast to the beliefs they absorbed as children. Only in moving beyond the past can they forge a way ahead not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. In so doing, each finds something vital that will give them the power and resilience they need to meet the greatest challenge of all. Lucky Southern Women explores the marks that fundamentalist religion has left on the lives and outlooks of two best friends, close as sisters, yet far apart in the ways each deals with her own moral compass. Frank, practical Phoebe and elusive, romantic yet wise Sophie.

THE BACK STORY: I worked for a regional government agency in Alabama in the 1980s, and much of the experiences of life there was so different from what I’d experienced growing up in Virginia. I found myself taking notes from my daily encounters and putting them in a journal, including the stories some of my coworkers and friends told about their own lives. I kept in touch with some of these friends, and we wrote letters back and forth after I left there. I also met a couple of folks from Alabama who shared some of their stories. All of them seemed so different from what I had experienced, and yet – somehow familiar and understandable. Years later, while my children were small, I pulled out these old notes and letters and started writing, working in newspaper clippings and other stories I’d gathered about the region. After twenty years and over a hundred re-writes, this novel was the result.

WHY THIS TITLE?: It comes from something one of the characters says while explaining her view on life, and is met to be juxtaposed to what is immediately evident, that the characters at first appear anything but “lucky” – so it seems quite tongue-in-cheek, but by the end of the book, it takes on a more nuanced meaning.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The book is set in the South in the late 1980s, a time and place of nostalgia for some these days, and it describes characters that I think many folks might relate to or want to understand better. And Alabama has been in the news lately, so there’s that.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“To say that the main characters and narrators in LUCKY SOUTHERN WOMEN, by Susannah Eanes, are aspects of the same duality is to risk stripping the story from its rich complexity. Yet it is difficult to see Phoebe and Sophie as irreducibly distinct. Friends since pre-adolescence, these two Alabama natives evoke light and shade, fire and water, yin and ying. They are, essentially, two aspects of a culture whose icons include opposites such as Scarlett O’Hara and Harriet Tubman. But it is not far-fetched to conclude that their differences help cement their relationship. Cool headed, grounded, analytical Phoebe needs dramatic, romantic, fanciful Sophie to jolt her out of her primness. Sophie, on the other hand, needs Phoebe to be her to remind her of the advantages of seeming balanced and conventional. In Eanes’s South, the tendency to deviate from conventional morality is not forbidden. What is forbidden is the act of flaunting one’s unusual proclivities.

“Both Phoebe and Sophie know very well that until further notice, life is all about appearances. Adultery is not as huge a sin as making one’s extramarital dalliance public. Anyone can be mentally ill, fragmented, irreparably scarred as long as they do it discreetly. Sweep the oddities under the carpet, wear pretty silk dresses, go to church on Sundays, and keep the community from having to deal with unpalatable realities such as incest and spouse abuse, and everything will be as sweet as pie. This knowledge is only a small part of what these friends share. Both yearn for profound changes. Both want to transcend poverty and emotional neglect. Both want to overcome the obstacles placed in their paths by inadequate families—here Eanes joins William Faulkner and Eudora Welty as a chronicler of magnificently quirky, if not out-and-out crackpots—both want, above all stability, respectability and and a good economic situation. That marriage is the only solution they find for their problems seems anachronistic a good couple of decades into American women’s struggle for equality. Eanes prepares the reader to understand that in her charachters’ south, time does not move as rapidly as it does up North. Red Level, Alabama, is impervious to its passage. Trapped in the past like a fly in amber, it is “…as dry, dusty, and dead-end a place you can have… Here nothing has changed since Prohibition, and people seem downright proud of their ignorance.

“As in all good stories, neither Phoebe nor Sophie are static characters. They grow and they change as they progress towards their dreams. They marry, they have children, they get jobs and they begin the process of becoming adults. Phoebe, the more ambitious of the pair, believes that education is the key to an independent life. Sophie, the autodidact, the dreamer, the poet, thinks that love’s transformative power is the answer to the questions she has begun to ask about her life. Being a doctor’s wife, owning a clothes shop, raising perfect children is not enough. She craves the intoxication of an earlier romance, a reprise of the all consuming passion she felt for the former beau she traded for stultifying domesticity. When she meets him again, seven years after he joined the army and left her to wait for him like a southern Penelope, all hell—a discreet kind of hell, mind you– breaks lose. Just as Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, and other literary adulterers, she sees her dull husband for what he is. An affair with her former beau is an unavoidable cataclism – and if the cataclism comes with the gift of a Porsche, who can blame her?

“Sensible Phoebe reacts to these shenanigans by going into full Jimminy Cricket mode. She tries to make Sophie see sense, she tries to remind her of family responsibilities. She knows it is no-go, but she persists in face of Sophie’s obdurate insistence in crashing and burning. Sophie, in turn, wants none of Phoebe’s mealy-mouthed advice. She has found her raison d’etre and as far as she is concerned, it is all out of her hands anyway. She bears no responsibility for the aftershocks that will result from her emotional quake. This is not a simple romance. This is an act of God, it is predestined, it is unavoidable.After all, she and her lover are not flaunting convention. If she “…. hasn’t been the perfect wife she has at least been discreet and put on a public face that would do credit to any church-going woman.

“Eanes’s skill in making Phoebe and Sophie into real people is admirable. She tells their story loving and gracefully. She mixes heartbreaking lyricism with clear-eyed analysis of the social conditions that shape her characters and she shows the reader inner and outer landscapes of surpassing sadness and enormous beauty. These are perhaps her greatest strengths as a novelist—extraordinarily musical language, amazing descriptive power, and the ability to create landscape and characters that refuse to fit a single category. Yes, her Alabama is harsh, it is behind the times, it is often unpretty. It is also strong, resilient, nurturing and unforgettably lovely. Her Phoebe and Sophie are Protean and therein lies the universality that carries them beyond the American South to make them citizens of the world. Richtexts welcomes Eanes to the ranks of Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Dorothy Parker.” —Clara Castelar, writing at Richtexts, a book review blog.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Susannah Eanes is a certified land-use planner and cartographer by education and has an extensive background in public service. Having minored in ballet in college, she also modeled and taught ballet and modern dance for several years. She writes poetry, fiction, non-fiction and personal essays, publishes book reviews and blogs regularly, and works in local government as floodplain manager and zoning administrator.

Ms. Eanes was born and raised in a small town in Virginia at the foothills of the Blue Ridge. Beginning with the faithful keeping of journals at around age ten, Susannah expressed herself best in the written word, contributing poems and prose to several small publications throughout her school years. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and has completed major coursework toward the Master of Science in International Studies. She earned an international certificate in French language and culture at the Université de Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France while a high school student.

Winner of a Virginia Highlands Short Story Writing Award for “The Burning of Nellie’s Mountain,” she has produced short stories, poems, and non-fiction articles for several journals and regional publications, and has served as editor of an international alternative energy newsletter. She is the author of several novels and is a member of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, the Writers Guild of America East, Roanoke Valley Writers, and the Virginia Writers Club. An avid musician, historian, animal lover, and naturalist, she practices yoga, loves needlework, and lives with her family in her beloved Virginia mountains.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: In their own way, Phoebe and Sophie are doing their best to make the world a better place. Religious belief and personal history wars with sanity and wisdom in this novel of love, freedom, and the enduring strength of friendship. The book explores the deep mysticism of family history, deception, and forgiveness in the tale of two women who are forced to confront the legacy of their youth, set in the deep south of the last decades of the twentieth century, and written in the unique language and viewpoints of the characters themselves.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Sample chapter is up on my Goodreads page, here’s the link:  https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/282898-lucky-southern-women?chapter=0.

LOCAL OUTLETS:  The publisher’s website! www.propertiuspress.com.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Also Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iStore, and all major retail and online outlets.

PRICE: $3.99 ebook, $16.99 paperback.

CONTACT THE AUTHORhttps://www.facebook.com/susannaheanes/

Jessie

Jessie: The Adventures and Insights of a Nineteenth-Century Woman by [Robertson, Dean]THE BOOK: Jessie: The Adventures and Insights of a Nineteenth Century Woman.

PUBLISHED IN: 2017

THE AUTHOR: Dean Robertson

THE EDITORS: Dean Robertson and Alison Daniels.

THE PUBLISHER: Kindle Direct Publishing.

SUMMARY: “Jessie” is the story of a young Philadelphia woman, born in 1840, coming of age during the American Civil War. Jessie Ashmore is restless, opinionated, and delightful. She is often accused of being too serious. She is twenty-two years old, and she’s in a bit of a rush to figure out who she is and what she wants. When it comes to the choice between a husband and an adventure, Jessie wants both. When it comes to the fight for women’s rights and an end to slavery, she wants to be involved. She’s just not sure how much. When it comes to sex, she’s pretty sure she likes it. When she has to choose between two men who have asked for her love and her hand in marriage, you will struggle with her. Jessie’s story will keep you turning pages, and entries from her journal will show you her heart.

Dean RobertsonTHE BACK STORY: Two years ago I published a work of non-fiction that involved research into the life of a local woman. Before moving to Norfolk, Virginia, at the age of twenty-five, she lived in Philadelphia. I did everything I knew to do, in libraries, on the Internet, on the telephone, and even contacted her family in Norfolk, but I never found one single piece of information about her life in Philadelphia. So I decided to imagine it, and that’s what this novel is. It involved a huge amount of research about Philadelphia, a city about which I knew nothing and, specifically, Philadelphia during the period in which the novel is set, 1861-1865, the years of the American Civil War. I had no idea where her family lived, what their social or economic level was, nothing. I looked at Philadelphia neighborhoods that existed during the period and arbitrarily decided that her father was a member of the new middle class, the owner of a fine tailoring shop. I made that decision by researching likely professions in that class at that time. I wanted to involve the Society of Friends and got lucky because there was a Quaker Meeting House very near the neighborhood I had chosen. It is still there, both a historic landmark and a functioning Meeting House. I researched the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement—both of which were centered in Philadelphia. I looked up clothes, furniture, you name it. I’m sure I still made a good many mistakes, but I finally decided this was a novel, after all, and not a history text book. It was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I looked up 19th century names and was delighted to find “Jessie” which happens to have been the name of my favorite aunt.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? It’s a pretty straight historical novel in some ways, but I think its strength and the thing that makes it just plain fun to read it that the characters are eccentric and interesting. Jessie is a delight; I think any reader would like her. There are some sad, serious, even disturbing scenes in the book so I’d issue a warning.

REVIEW COMMENTS: None yet. I’m waiting for a couple of folks to finish reading.

AUTHOR PROFILE: On paper, I’m a 71 year old retired English teacher and I don’t know how to make that sound like other than it is. I spent 35 years in independent high schools and private colleges and I loved every minute in the classroom. That said, I expect my eccentricities make Jessie’s look fairly tame. I have raised llamas; I have kept bees. I have tattoos. A recent comment from one of my neighbors was, “You are the oddest person I’ve ever met.” I don’t think she gets out much. I am the single mother of one son who, at 45, just had a son (with some co-operation from his wife). I am just the worst kind of doting grandmother. I never had the slightest idea of writing. My retirement plan was to catch up on my New Yorkers. Then I wrote this nonfiction/memoir that just sort of happened, but I was completely convinced—and had a lot of very good reasons—that I wasn’t capable of writing fiction. Since the publication of my co-authored novel, Memory Is the Seamstress, I am a writing fool. I have just put the finishing touches on the sequel to Jessie.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: The great-granddaughter of the woman who is the inspiration for this novel said to me, when I told her what I was thinking about doing, “Maybe imagining her is how you will find her.”

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

Chapter One Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1840-1862

Jessie

Jessie Augusta Brynley Ashmore found herself in a familiar situation, one of many that made her realize how badly she wanted to change her life. These occasions usually involved doing something she didn’t want to do, which had the immediate effect of reminding her that she needed to figure out what she did want to do. Today, for example, Jessie was on her way to the dressmaker, and she would rather be doing almost anything else. It was time to make some decisions. Unfortunately, she wasn’t a very decisive person when it came to decisions about giant leaps into unknown territory, or nearly anything else. She was fine with the giant leaps. It wasn’t the leaps that stopped her; it was all that pondering. No doubt about it: Jessie was a bit of a ponderer.

She wasn’t an anarchist. She wasn’t Joan of Arc. She couldn’t cut her hair off and go off to fight Rebels. And like most women who were twenty-two and unmarried, she lived at home with her parents. It wasn’t unusual; it was just that Jessie, being Jessie, was finding it unusually unsatisfying.

She was brave enough to attend lectures and help out at the large Arch Street Meeting House of the Society of Friends (commonly called Quakers), brave enough even to prepare food or roll bandages for the soldiers coming home from the war down south or to bring meals and what she could offer of comfort to the widows of those who didn’t come home. But she never quite had the courage to go against her father’s wishes and work with the Quakers on behalf of the abolitionist movement that had spread like wildfire throughout Pennsylvania.

He had sat her down one day, taken both her hands in his, kept his pale blue eyes a little averted, as he always did, and said,

“Jessie Augusta, you must listen to me and do what I ask on this one thing. It is a dangerous world out there right now. You are the light of my life, and I could not bear it if anything happened to you. Make tea at the Friends Meeting House and wipe the sweat from our soldiers’ faces. Don’t put yourself at risk trying to help slaves come up from the South; feelings are running high and people are getting hurt. Do I have your word?”

“Yes, Father, you have my word.”

The conversation ended, and the subject was never brought up again.

Jessie had never played any part in helping a runaway slave to escape capture, had never worked with the near-mythical Underground Railroad, that finely-tuned system by which a man who had fled his slavery in one of the southern states was passed from person to person and house to house and, finally, to safety and freedom.

The problem, and one that had prompted her to promise, without argument, to do what her father asked of her, was that along with the growing support for the slaves there seemed to be increasing—sometimes violent—opposition to the slave owners. Some of them had been hurt by Pennsylvania abolitionists when they came looking for their slaves; Jessie had even heard that one slave owner had been killed. Working for the Underground Railroad was now a risky business.

Franklin and Augusta Ashmore were typical of a large part of the population; they supported the idea of abolition but had never harbored a runaway slave or helped to “discourage” a slave owner in pursuit of his runaways. Franklin had a family and a business, and those were his priorities. He knew that he had asked Jessie to stay clear of a completely justified and very popular cause; he also knew it was dangerous, and Jessie was his oldest daughter and his favorite.

This was, of course, terribly frustrating for Jessie and, in her more frivolous moods, Franklin Ashmore’s favorite daughter sometimes dreamed of running away altogether and joining up with one of the travelling theater companies. There were the medicine shows and the minstrel shows although, honestly, she thought that selling phony tonics and making up in blackface sounded equally distasteful, and what there was of the burlesque was mostly in New York and was, she had heard, more than a little racy. Although she longed to break the restraints she felt were binding her, Jessie had been

brought up in a particular way and, in spite of her resistance to its rules, she couldn’t help believing that proper young ladies didn’t go into show business of any kind.

Besides, when she thought seriously about what was possible and about what she wanted—about what suited her best–Jessie realized that she probably wasn’t cut out for hiding runaways or fighting their owners. What she was doing wasn’t just some second-rate activity she’d adopted because she lacked courage. She was actually happier setting up the Meeting House for visiting speakers; she was excited about her first few times sitting with returning soldiers, just listening to them right now, or writing letters if they asked, but it was a start, and she liked it. And occasionally, she had the chance to talk to a grieving widow. She thought she might be good at it. There weren’t many people doing those jobs and none that she knew of who were doing them with a sense of their importance. Although she might not understand yet who she would become, without realizing it, Jessie was discovering who she was.

Jessie Augusta Brynley Ashmore was named after her mother (Augusta) and a distant cousin of her father (Brynley Walter Ashmore), who had run off with the pastor’s wife and was seldom mentioned at family gatherings. Jessie’s mother (called Gus) had just liked the way “Brynley” sounded, and he really was a very distant cousin.

From Jessie’s Journal What I Like About my Mother

I like that my mother has chosen to be called “Gus,” a man’s name, really, rather than the very proper “Augusta,” and my very favorite thing about her is that she chose to add “Brynley” to my string of names, when she knew perfectly well that “Brynley” was that wild cousin of Father’s who did something terrible—I heard the rumor that one day he just up and left town with the preacher’s wife, and has never been heard from again. And she gave me his name for no better reason than she wanted to do it. I overheard Father grumbling about it once when he and Mother were having one of their infrequent disagreements, but I’ve never heard a whisper since. My mother, Gus, is a quiet woman who never talks much or offers a strong opinion except to lecture me about the dressmaker, but it’s funny. No one ever seems to want to cross her. She’s smart, and not too beautiful, and she got a husband and he loves her and she pretty much does what she wants.

So I’m still trying to figure out that whole situation. Meanwhile, I can tell you that I don’t think nearly as much about getting married as I do about having an adventure. And so far I haven’t seen any evidence that one can do both.

No one seemed quite sure how they had come up with “Jessie,” but the name stuck and the older she got the more entirely it seemed to suit her. As for having three given names, it was a tradition in certain branches of her family, and not uncommon

among her friends. At least two of the girls she knew in the neighborhood had a string of names just as long, but Jessie was secretly proud of the history of “Brynley.” She felt it set her apart, even if no one else knew about it.

She was born in 1840 in the Society Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia was a city of neighborhoods, and Society Hill was one of the oldest, dating back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. The Ashmore family lived in one of Philadelphia’s signature row houses. The house had been a gift from a relation of Gus’s father, when Gus and Frank married. Society Hill was a wonderful place for a child to grow up—street after street of the brick rows, two and even three-story houses that gave the place a delightful look that Jessie described one day when she was five as “just like a painting.” The thing she didn’t like was that name, “Society Hill,” which the more well-heeled residents liked to think meant exactly what it sounded like. They would have been disappointed to know the truth.

Jessie, on the other hand, was delighted when her father told her the real story. Society Hill was started in the eighteenth century when a group of merchants who called themselves the Free Society of Traders obtained a piece of land and started building; people around the city called it “The Society’s hill.” For Jessie this meant it wasn’t entirely a place for people with money. In fact, Society Hill was really a neighborhood laid out in layers, much like those huge cakes with icing in the middle that her mother was teaching her to make. Her house was more-or-less in the middle, and she was curious. Finally, she asked permission to explore.

“Now, Father, you know I can be trusted to go exactly where you tell me I can, and nowhere else. I will be happy if you give me a small number of streets I’ve not visited before, then I’ll set out one morning and walk around and I will come directly home once I’ve seen those streets. Maybe then you would consider giving me a few more streets on another day.”

Jessie did not have her sister Alice’s way with their father, in fact wouldn’t have even considered tilting her head and looking up coyly from under her eyelashes—a little performance Alice had already mastered at the age of seven. At eleven, Jessie’s accomplishment was the development of a slightly exaggerated sense of her own dignity. Alice’s wiles would have been beneath her. So she stated her case, folded her hands in her lap, and waited for her father’s response. Of course, he said yes. So Jessie set out to investigate, and even with the limits her father had set, she found some of the back streets and alleys with their much smaller houses and a few of the free-standing mansions of the truly wealthy. And she began to realize that there were many different kinds of people in Society Hill. It was a bustling neighborhood with just about anything anyone might need, including the large clothiers that her father owned. She knew that all the most prominent men in the city came to Franklin’s for their suits and shirts.

Franklin Ashmore was part of the new merchant class and was very successful as the owner of one of Philadelphia’s largest and finest clothiers. He didn’t talk about it much with his children—although Jessie was interested from an early age and asked endless questions—but Franklin had started out as an apprentice in a small tailor shop. She knew there had been a job at a local stable that her father had left when he married her mother and that when Gus’s Aunt Morris had offered to set Frank up in whatever field he chose, he had thanked her but refused. It was important to him to decide what he wanted to do and then to find a way to do it on his own. At seventeen, with no training or significant work experience, an unpaid apprenticeship was the best he could hope for. The conditions were harsh, but Frank had learned the trade well and could still, years after he had opened his own prosperous clothing establishment, sew the neatest button-hole in the city. He sometimes demonstrated this for his workers and was always gratified by their reaction. And he was able to say to them, without qualifications, that he had done it all himself and if he could do it, they could do it.

Jessie knew they must have plenty of money, although her mother always told her it was best not to mention such things. Mentioned or not, they had enough for a small staff of servants to take care of the house and gardeners to maintain the extensive grounds. And the Ashmores were known for parties in which the candles were lit, the rugs were rolled up for dancing, and supper was served late. She could recall the conversations overheard from her parents’ bedroom before every party, “I hope everything is the way you like it for the party,” Gus would say quietly, followed by some grumbling from Father about this or that not being as nice as the last time. Then Mother’s firm, clear voice, “I gave the money that the five additional servants would have cost—the exact amount—to the Society for the Care and Support of Young Women with Children.” And with what Jessie knew was her sweetest smile, Gus would say, “I’m sure you will agree dear, since you have always been in the lead in collecting the funds to maintain that program.

“Now button me up in the back, and let’s go down to greet our guests. Oh, Frankie, for heaven’s sake. You will ruin my hair and get me too flustered to greet anybody. Stop it now!”

And they would laugh quietly, then the door would open and they would walk down the staircase to be, once again, the best host and hostess in Society Hill.

As a young girl, although she was never interested in these parties, or in the almost identical ones held in her friends’ homes, Jessie had considered them a harmless kind of entertainment. But when she was a bit older she had begun to notice people on the streets outside her neighborhood who seemed not to have proper coats in winter or wore shoes with soles that had pulled loose and were flapping, and she had found herself becoming more and more disturbed by those parties. She didn’t understand why her parents weren’t disturbed, as well. They cared about the poor. They donated money to groups that helped them; they volunteered at some of the places that gave out free food on holidays. It was too confusing, and she finally decided just to ask someone. One morning after breakfast she went looking for her mother. She finally found her in the

scullery, an unusual place for her to be when Cook’s girls were clearing up. Gus was scratching her head and looking frustrated and tired.

“Mother, do you have a few minutes for a talk?”

“Of course I do, my dear. In fact, let’s make a pot of and sit in those very comfortable chairs in the morning parlor; the sun should be coming through the windows right about now. And I must admit I could use a break.” Great pots of tea, mugs filled liberally with milk before it was poured, were essential for any serious discussion in the Ashmore household. Whether those discussions took place in the parlor or in the kitchen, they seldom occurred without tea. After they had settled into their armchairs and Gus had poured, Jessie—feeling a bit self-conscious—began.

“Mother, have you ever noticed the people on the street right around the corner when we leave the neighborhood—the ones who don’t have very good clothes or have shoes that are falling apart or sometimes don’t look very clean? Have you seen them?”

Gus was very quiet for what seemed to Jessie like a long time before she answered.

“Yes, Jessie, of course I have seen them, I have noticed them. Yes. Did you want to ask me something about them, because I probably don’t know much, just that they are very unfortunate.”

This time it was Jessie who waited to speak. “I know you and Father give money to help poor people, and I know you sometimes go down to hand out free food. I know that.”

“Yes, dear. We do.” The conversation stalled, but Jessie picked it up.

“Mother, do you like the parties that you and Father give. I mean, do you enjoy them? Do you think you’ll go on having them or—I guess I mean do you want to go on having them?” Jessie was aware that her mother had gotten very still.

“Jessie, where are you going with these questions? I’m happy to answer them, but they do seem random and I can’t quite understand what it is you want to know.

“I guess it doesn’t matter. Here are my answers. I sometimes enjoy the parties, but I often don’t. The house gets uncomfortably warm with so many people, and they do talk a great deal, not always about anything interesting or important, and all that talking makes a terrific noise. I frequently have a headache after everyone has left. In fact, sometimes I slip upstairs to bed while they are all still here. I don’t believe anyone has ever noticed.”

“And will you still have them, Mother, since you don’t like them much?”

More silence. It seemed to Jessie that there was a great deal of silence in this conversation.

“I expect we will, Jessie. Your Father likes them very much, and as long as he wants to have them, we will have them.”

Gus knew exactly what Jessie’s questions meant; she was aware of the terrible discrepancy between her own life, with its lavish parties, and the lives of the people

Jessie was describing. It made her weep with anger and, since she couldn’t do anything about it, she had made it a habit to take a different route out of the neighborhood.

And that was that. Jessie sensed that talking about the parties had upset her mother, and so she stopped. But after the questions, and the answers, she went away still unhappy, still with no understanding as to why her parents, who cared very much about the things one should care about, didn’t see that all the money spent on all those parties could be given to people who needed it. She also went away with a rush of anger about those long tables laden with food, perfectly balanced at either end with cut glass punch bowls reflecting candlelight, and the house suddenly filled with unfamiliar servants. She knew this wasn’t the right time to say that. She was afraid it might never be the right time.

Jessie Ashmore was not a beauty, by any means, but she was a wholesome-looking girl, dark-haired, a bit shorter than the average, with good legs and an ample bosom. In spite of what many called her “eccentricities,” people liked Jessie, and Jessie liked people. She was easy to please in everyday matters, not inclined to fuss over chores or to complain about small inconveniences. Granted, she was a bit stubborn when one of her pet “causes” was the issue, but still everyone who knew the Ashmores was surprised that Jessie was still single and confident that any day now she would marry, and marry well.

Not that marriage particularly interested her. Although she would never have dared tell her mother, Jessie sometimes imagined herself as an entirely independent woman, and she knew there were ways of accomplishing that. She didn’t have a sum of inherited money to start her off, and people generally assumed you couldn’t make it without that. But Jessie had some ideas. Her first choice was to become a writer, a real one, who turned out brilliant essays on the political topics of the day or clever observations about the society around her. Perhaps she could write a novel. She would even be willing, for an adequate salary, to write sentimental pieces for Ladies Home Journal on subjects like the purity of a mother’s love or the beauty of a baby’s toes. Jessie was willing to compromise.

Naturally, she would rather not, and there was always the dream of writing for Godey’s Lady’s Book, the most popular monthly magazine in the entire country, published right in Philadelphia. She had heard they had a policy of hiring women and the current editor, a woman, published three issues a year that were entirely written and illustrated by women. Thinking about Godey’s gave her hope, even though she suspected getting work there wouldn’t be as easy as it was in her dream.

Or she imagined supporting herself entirely as an illustrator. She had heard that there were a few women artists now in England who were sketching the latest outfits for some of the top fashion magazines, and Jessie saw no reason not to be among the pioneers in Philadelphia. She had always liked to draw and, in fact, she had excelled at it. Educated in all the subjects thought suitable for a young lady, Jessie had learned to

play the piano, to sing, to do needlepoint or turn a hem. She could dance. She knew how to arrange cut flowers or make a centerpiece for the table. But what she loved was to use the chalk or paintbrush and to see a picture emerge on a piece of paper or a small canvas.

A well-bred young lady was supposed to be educated enough to carry on a conversation in polite company, talented enough to be entertaining, but never an expert, never an intellectual, never too serious. Above all, never a bluestocking. Fortunately, though Jessie was reasonably intelligent, she had never been much of a scholar. Unfortunately, there were other impediments to her finding a suitable husband. Although she did manage to keep her most outlandish ideas safely tucked between the covers of her journal, she could sometimes be too outspoken. The men in Jessie’s world wanted a woman who at least appeared to be a little fragile and in need of their protection, and Jessie’s attempts to appear fragile and needy were unconvincing at best. They had been known to inspire uncontrollable laughter from her family.

In spite of her best intentions—and Jessie’s intentions were almost always the best—she simply could not be counted on to curb her tongue. Many a prospective suitor had shied away when challenged by her strong opinions on slavery or the war or women’s suffrage. And she was especially daunting when she got started about rolling up her sleeves like Florence Nightingale—bathing half-naked soldiers and wringing out bloody bandages.

How often had she heard,

“Jessie, my dear child, there are plenty of ways to help the war effort without that kind of thing.”

Her main problem seemed to be that, all things taken into consideration, she was just entirely too serious. Everyone was concerned about the war, especially since the Confederate army had gotten closer to Philadelphia than anyone had thought possible, but Jessie seemed to take everything a little too much to heart.

From Jessie’s Journal A Brief Note on Spinsterhood and Marriage

I am twenty-two years old and, if I say it myself, an unusually thoughtful and serious person for my age, and yet I often find myself behaving and being treated like a young girl. I wonder if it can really be just because I am unmarried. The spinster occupies a peculiar place in the world I inhabit. She is at once seen as a shriveled-up old maid and a perpetual girl—always a virgin. Admitting I don’t exactly know who I want to be, I am sure it is neither an old maid nor an adolescent. Somewhere in between I believe there lies a whole country where a woman is just herself.

My mother often asks me, in an exasperated tone of voice, “Good heavens, girl! Do you not want to find a husband?” My answer, were I to answer honestly, is that I don’t know

if I want to find a husband. I think the truth is that a husband will have to come and find me.

Like any young woman of two and twenty years, however, Jessie Ashmore wasn’t all Worthy Causes and Lofty Principles. She did sometimes dream of falling in love – really in love, with a splendid, dashing young man, at least just once. Her heart longed for a little bit of romance. She was not yet resigned to the prospect of its never happening. She just didn’t want to end up like every married woman she knew, and sometimes they did all seem just alike. It wasn’t that she had anything against being married. She just didn’t want to be married like that.

There had to be a way to have it all. And she paid close attention to the stories about women like Mary Ann Evans, who was publishing novels under the name George Eliot, and who now lived openly with her lover right in the thick of Victorian England. Evans really did seem to suffer from every possible obstacle to romance—she was too intelligent, far too serious, extremely talented, and physically unattractive. Yet hers was one of the great love stories of the century. Jessie couldn’t quite see herself flaunting the conventions to that extent, but she did feel she was prepared for a bit of adventure, should it come her way.

Today, she had a busy day planned. There was this dreaded visit to the dressmaker, and then, much more inviting, a lecture at the Quaker Meeting House. Unfortunately, it was beginning to look as if she might be late to both.

“So, madam,” she said to herself quite loudly, “Do you really believe you’re going to do anything about changing your life? Anything at all? I, for one, wouldn’t bet on it!”

Jessie hated it when she scolded herself! Her mother did quite enough of that. And, besides,

“I expect if I just wait, that adventure will come looking for me one of these days.”

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon.com, in two formats

PRICE: Kindle EBook: $2.99; Paperback: $10.00.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: pdroberts1@gmail.com. I have abandoned the social media, I’m afraid, but I love getting emails from fellow writiers (and fellow readers).

My website/blog is http://pdrobertson.com

I blog on everything that comes into my head, lots about writing. One of my favorite things to do, when I have time, is long elaborate book reviews that go out to all the social media. So scroll down the categories to Book Reviews and take a look at a couple.

Weather Report, Jan. 15

confederation flag painted over female face

OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “SEEKING THE OTHER SIDE,” BY JANE OLMSTED, “TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS,” BY CAITLIN HAMILTON SUMMIE AND “BARACK AND THE ANTI-PC,” BY TOM ERSIN, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.


This week, we offer you two very different looks at the American South. One comes from Susannah Eanes, who says about her novel “Lucky Southern Women”:

“I worked for a regional government agency in Alabama in the 1980s, and much of the experiences of life there was so different from what I’d experienced growing up in Virginia. I found myself taking notes from my daily encounters and putting them in a journal, including the stories some of my coworkers and friends told about their own lives. I kept in touch with some of these friends, and we wrote letters back and forth after I left there. I also met a couple of folks from Alabama who shared some of their stories. All of them seemed so different from what I had experienced, and yet – somehow familiar and understandable. Years later, while my children were small, I pulled out these old notes and letters and started writing, working in newspaper clippings and other stories I’d gathered about the region. After twenty years and over a hundred re-writes, this novel was the result.”

Meanwhile, Dean Robertson enters the Snowflakes ranks for the second time with “Jessie: The Adventures and Insights of a 19th Century Woman.”

Unlike Susannah’s southern exposure, which was gathered pretty much in real time, Dean had to imagine her Jessie, a woman whose connection with the South came during the Civil War and from above the Mason-Dixon line:

“Two years ago,” Dean writes, “I published a work of non-fiction that involved research into the life of a local woman. Before moving to Norfolk, Virginia, at the age of twenty-five, she lived in Philadelphia. I did everything I knew to do, in libraries, on the Internet, on the telephone, and even contacted her family in Norfolk, but I never found one single piece of information about her life in Philadelphia. So I decided to imagine it, and that’s what this novel is. It involved a huge amount of research about Philadelphia, a city about which I knew nothing and, specifically, Philadelphia during the period in which the novel is set, 1861-1865, the years of the American Civil War.

“I had no idea where her family lived, what their social or economic level was, nothing. I looked at Philadelphia neighborhoods that existed during the period and arbitrarily decided that her father was a member of the new middle class, the owner of a fine tailoring shop. I made that decision by researching likely professions in that class at that time. I wanted to involve the Society of Friends and got lucky because there was a Quaker Meeting House very near the neighborhood I had chosen. It is still there, both a historic landmark and a functioning Meeting House. I researched the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement—both of which were centered in Philadelphia. I looked up clothes, furniture, you name it. I’m sure I still made a good many mistakes, but I finally decided this was a novel, after all, and not a history text book. It was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work.”

The third selection this week comes from Jamie Duclos-Yourdon, a quirky and intriguing novel titled “Froelich’s Ladder.”

The main character, according to Jamie, “nurses a decades-old family grudge from his permanent perch atop a giant ladder in this nineteenth century madcap adventure novel. When he disappears suddenly, his nephew embarks on a rain-soaked adventure across the Pacific Northwest landscape to find him, accompanied by an ornery girl with a most unfortunate name. In their encounters with Confederate assassins, European expatriates, and a general store magnate, this fairytale twist on the American dream explores the conflicts between loyalty and ambition and our need for human connection, even at the highest rungs.”

UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD, JAN. 16-22

“FROELICH’S LADDER,” BY JAMIE DUCLOS-YOURDON.

Froelich’s Ladder is a work of fabulist fiction—after all, the titular character has lived on top of a ladder for the past twenty years. Readers who enjoy fantasy and whimsy, grounded in a historical context, will have fun with this nineteenth century madcap adventure novel.

LUCKY SOUTHERN WOMEN,” BY SUSANNAH EANES.

The rural landscape entwines around the lives and loves of two strong, yet troubled women, a beautiful contrast to the beliefs they absorbed as children. Only in moving beyond the past can they forge a way ahead not only for themselves, but for their loved ones. In so doing, each finds something vital that will give them the power and resilience they need to meet the greatest challenge of all. Lucky Southern Women explores the marks that fundamentalist religion has left on the lives and outlooks of two best friends, close as sisters, yet far apart in the ways each deals with her own moral compass. Frank, practical Phoebe and elusive, romantic yet wise Sophie.

“JESSIE: THE ADVENTURES AND INSIGHTS OF A NINETEENTH CENTURY WOMAN,” BY PATRICIA DEAN ROBERTSON.

“Jessie” is the story of a young Philadelphia woman, born in 1840, coming of age during the American Civil War. Jessie Ashmore is restless, opinionated, and delightful. She is often accused of being too serious. She is twenty-two years old, and she’s in a bit of a rush to figure out who she is and what she wants. When it comes to the choice between a husband and an adventure, Jessie wants both. When it comes to the fight for women’s rights and an end to slavery, she wants to be involved. She’s just not sure how much. When it comes to sex, she’s pretty sure she likes it. When she has to choose between two men who have asked for her love and her hand in marriage, you will struggle with her. Jessie’s story will keep you turning pages, and entries from her journal will show you her heart.

Seeking the Other Side

THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “TO LAY TO REST OUR GHOSTS,” BY CAITLIN HAMILTON SUMMIE, AND “BARACK VS. THE ANTI-PC,” BY TOM ERSIN, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.

——————————————–

THE BOOK: Seeking the Other Side

PUBLISHED IN: 2015

THE AUTHOR: Jane Olmsted

THE EDITOR: Sena Naslund

THE PUBLISHER: Fleur de Lis Press, Louisville, Kentucky

SUMMARY:  Seeking the Other Side presents a quest for understanding and connection. Roughly half of the poems were written after the death of my youngest son, at age 20. Divided into three sections that are only partly chronological, the poems attempt to reach across the lines we draw between things. I realized in compiling the collection, that touching is a powerful way of reaching out, as well as of receiving. Touch may be physical, of the hand or of the eyes or ears—any of the senses—but it can also express a spiritual longing, loneliness, as well as humor and joy, embodied and known to us as a rapid heartbeat or a bubbling sensation or a dark weight. The act of reaching out is one of bridge-building, and I can almost visualize the arches as they rise and fall between us.

Image result for Jane Olmsted + poet + photographsPart II—“Tree Forms”—contains the poems of my 2011 chapbook by the same name, with some exceptions and minor revisions. I began the series about a month before Casey died, when I was on sabbatical camping in the Rockies and searching for some answers to those sorts of questions that keep us wondering and seeking. I began photographing the trees, which were beautiful or strange, peculiar and sometimes ugly, at least at first glance. Many of them seemed to be telling a story—or was it my own story they were giving back? When I returned home my fascination with “tree forms” continued, and this section offers poems that came to me, in some cases, when sadness was the only place I could recognize.

The Requiem poem that ends the collection was inspired by the most fantastic of the trees, the bristlecone pine, situated on the shore of Lake Haiyaha, fed by Chaos Creek. Every photograph I took of the old bristlecone looks as if it belongs to a different tree, such are the turns and twists of its limbs. I imagined it as a family tree. Remarkably, the pinus aristas is the longest lived of organisms, reaching 4,000 years and more. What might such a tree have to say about the sudden and violent end of someone so young? The seven-part poem is inspired by Johannes Brahms’ Requiem, which was my mother’s favorite piece of music, and what I listened to repeatedly over the first two years. The other poems in the final section—“The Casey Poems”—tell a story of healing, another “side” I desperately needed to find from the place of suffering. These poems seek understanding, beauty, most eloquently expressed in the small, the simple, the truly sacred.

THE BACK STORY:  After Casey died, I was flooded with powerful images and words and feelings. I longed for my son, and the continual pull from the world outside often made me feel crazy. The only way to reckon with the incredible weight of loss was to go into it. That’s how I thought of it: I must go inside where I can be with him. Music helped—Brahms’ Requiem in particular, but any sacred or melancholy music helped me go “to that lonely place.” I sat in my “serenity room” (wishful thinking) and wrote and revised and crafted, imagining that each poem was a letter sent to that  impossible place, a plea, a cry—all those ways we call out when silence is the only answer. And then perhaps we begin to hear, to see, within the silence we thought was complete. The collection emerged, and by pulling in other poems, I could see that though my seeking Casey is probably the most powerful part of the collection, it is in a context of lifelong reaching for understanding and affinity.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I call this collection “seeking the other side” as a way to reinvigorate (in myself at the very least) what acquisitiveness and obsessive work habits deaden—the capacity to connect in some way with the Other, even when that turns out to be a part of ourselves. I hope in these poems to reach through or across the boundaries that keep us ignorant of truths beyond the readily apparent. I think of the “other side” not just as what’s across the line between life and death, between myself and my son, but as what’s across any other real or illusory line that stifles access to the fullness of life.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone who has suffered loss might find the collection helpful—and as one of the poems shows, there is no one who hasn’t suffered loss. In “Memento Mori,” Krsa, the grieving mother went to the Buddha for help. She wanted him to take away her pain. She would not relinquish the dead infant in her arms. Rather than providing relief, the Buddha sent her away, telling her to ask for mustard seeds, but to take them only if they had not lost someone. This one had lost a daughter, that one a father, here an uncle, every step along the way a son, mother, sister, friend. Realizing the community of grief, her sorrow abated—perhaps enough to relinquish the corpse in her arms.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“I know this hole, but how?/I have to kneel to look through,” writes Jane Olmsted in her powerful collection, Seeking the Other Side. The “hole” quoted refers to the literal cavity that has caught her attention, yet Olmsted’s looking at the negative space of a great loss, too—a loss that must be lived with, if not understood. This poet ruptures the cliche, asking “Would the glass remain half-full if a fist/ripped out the heart and settled/into that slippery absence?” There are no answers metaphor or pathetic fallacy can provide, only more thoughtfully shaped questioning, “habits of noticing,” “strange pronunciations/of familiar places.” Poems about memory, loss, and the self’s adjustments are collected with poems about trees and the forms of trees, which provide arms and roots to what feels devastatingly vacant. In life as in thought, “there is cavity involved,” yet, as this poet makes beautifully clear, there is form and shape and listening: “if you have no answer,/ go then to the lonely place—/I will meet you there.”  –Lisa Williams, author of Gazelle in the House

Electric with love and grief, the poems in Jane Olmsted’s Seeking the Other Side bear witness to what we might think unspeakable: the murder of the poet’s twenty-year-old son. But they bear witness to life as well, from the oak tree outside her Kentucky window to the bristlecone pine by Chaos Creek in Colorado. So deep is her relationship to nature that she writes herself into that oak tree, feels the roar of its cambium and the “tubes of xylem” fill her spine. In the final poem, a requiem, she takes on the wind-twisted torque of the pine as she reaches for her lost son “until the winds/have turned me full/and then it is I who turn the winds.” Inhabiting the mythic and the forensic, immeasurable loss and precise post mortem calculations, Olmsted’s poems stand up to the terrible facts of her son’s death, her struggle to survive it and to behold him whole in memory, dream, and through “a sacred portal between this world and / this same world made better.” –George Ella Lyon, author of Many-Storied House

Born out of the heartbreak that accompanies a devastating personal loss, these poems transcend the personal and reach for the other side of grief, seeking “a crackling testament to our joy.” Mourning her youngest son, Casey, taken suddenly and senselessly from her and from this life, Jane Olmsted unflinchingly shows us “how a nanosecond can hold a swirling cosmos of befores and durings and afters.” These are, ultimately, poems that celebrate, savor, and affirm life. –Tom C. Hunley, author of Plunk

Well, here is “God’s plenty” (as John Dryden supposedly said of Chaucer) indeed. How well this assessment applies to Jane Olmsted’s “seeking the other side.” The riveting cover design comes from Yvonne Petkus’ “Braced” and partially echoes the book’s motifs. . . . There is so much here. An introduction by poet and Western Kentucky University graduate Maureen Morehead is sensitive, thought-provoking and thought-assuaging. She writes (for one tiny taste of this elegant essay): “And it becomes a language that Jane Olmsted assumes for her private journey toward light, as these are ultimately sacred poems and those of us who enter them walk with the poet on sacred ground.” Olmsted treads lightly nowhere. There is no corner of grief too dark for her to enter. Her courage reminds me of a line from Robert Frost’s “Mowing:” “Anything but the truth would have seemed too weak.” I am made happier and enriched and consoled by her honesty and by the brilliance of her talent.

Please forgive a personal note: I knew Casey. I loved Casey. How vividly I remember him bringing his new baby girl down to the Women’s Study House to present her to Trish Jaggers and me. I always kidded Casey about looking like a Greek god, told him he should become a model. Now he tenderly lifted his baby from her pretty, little pinkified nest and moved toward the window for better light. How lovely she was! And Casey was even more handsome, as if his face was lit from within by his love and pride. Ah, god. Jesus and Buddha. Casey honored them both. — Mary Ellen Miller, author of The Poet’s Wife Speaks

AUTHOR PROFILE:  Writer: Jane Olmsted’s poems and stories have appeared in Nimrod, Poetry Northwest, The Beloit Fiction Journal, Adirondack Review, and Briar Cliff Review, among others. Her chapbook, Tree Forms, was published in 2011 (Finishing Line Press). Her essay, “The Weight of a Human Heart,” won Memoir Journal’s prize for the guns issue, in the fall of 2013. She has written a memoir (circulating) about the loss of her youngest son and the long slow process of recovery.

Teacher: Olmsted is professor and head of the Diversity & Community Studies department at Western Kentucky, where she teaches graduate courses and coordinates the MA in Social Responsibility & Sustainable Community. She lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Mother: Jane is the mother of three sons and the grandmother of two girls and one boy. She and her philosopher husband have custody of their younger granddaughter. Their family includes three dogs, two cats, three outdoor goldfish, an occasional mouse, and countless birds.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Since Seeking, I have not stopped. I wrote a memoir, titled after one of the poems, “The Tree You Come Home To.” The first half tells Casey’s story—something I realized I hadn’t attempted in the poems or in the second half of the memoir, which is comprised of my journal entries that trace the four years or so after it happened, focusing on my own thought processes. Casey’s story is powerful, difficult. He suffered from depression and addiction from about 12 years old. The story of how this came about and how Casey struggled and through sheer strength of will stopped all the substance abuse, but only after years of try-and-fail, is important to share. Too often we assume the causes of problems, falling back on easy assumptions. No child should have his or story trivialized into statistics or jargon. No family is peremptorily free from or doomed to trauma, no matter how rich or poor or educated or ignorant. All of us must struggle with our own accounting—our guilt, remorse, forgiveness. I hope these poems speak to others who are making their own way, as we all must, through the rough terrain.

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

The Shape and Size of Things

They say that a heart is the size of a fist.

And that a blue whale’s tongue weighs

as much as an elephant.

What does that tell us about the elephant?

Or the whale? They are big.

They belong in different places.

Would the glass remain half-full if a fist

ripped out the heart and settled

into that slippery absence?

A fist gnarled with rage, hungry for love,

might think that a ball of flesh and bone

could take up residence in this home,

without causing a stir—

How could it know, floundering

at the end of an arm, shaking at the skies,

zounds! zounds!, balled against the eyes,

burrowing into someone else’s flesh,

or clutching the pillow from the depth of sleep . . .

I want to whisper to the fist: mention the marrow

the affinity of bone and liquid,

then ask, Is there room at the inn for me?

The Tree You Come Home To

In the story I used to read to you

about the runaway bunny,

Mother Rabbit is always the very thing it takes

to bring her bunny home.

A page hangs in a poster frame on your wall—

“If you become a bird and fly away from me,

I’ll be the tree you come home to.”

Now that you have said, “I will die and

leave this earth and you behind,”

Mother Rabbit just wags her carrot and I don’t know what shape I can pour myself into that can possibly bring you home—

Shall I become a wisp of light and scent

so you will recognize the angel who embraces you?

If I become the place where your shadow feet can still leave an impression,

would you know me as the path you take to find yourself at god’s feet?

Beside the shivers of worm trails

and carcasses of insects,

I reach inside and grasp the place that weeps, so you will know in the way that spirits know

the weight is yours, is mine.

LOCAL OUTLETS: 
Fleur-de-Lis Press, Spalding University, 851 South Fourth Street, Louisville, KY 40203; (502) 873-4398 or louisvillereview@spalding.edu.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon

PRICE: 

$16.00

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Jane Olmsted, jane.olmsted@wku.edu.

To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts

THE BOOK: To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts

PUBLISHED IN: 2017

THE AUTHOR: Caitlin Hamilton Summie

THE EDITOR: Marc Estrin

THE PUBLISHER: Fomite — a fantastic literary small press out of Burlington, VT

SUMMARY: In these ten elegantly written short stories, Caitlin Hamilton Summie takes readers from WWII Kansas City to a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood in New York, from western Massachusetts to woodsy Wisconsin, and from the quiet of rural Minnesota to its pulsing Twin Cities, each time navigating the geographical boundaries that shape our lives as well as the geography of tender hearts, loss, and family bonds. Deeply moving and memorable, To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts examines the importance of family, the defining nature of place, the need for home, and the hope of reconciliation.

Caitlin Hamilton SummieTHE BACK STORYA number of these stories were written in 1992-1995, and the last one was completed in 2015, so the book took me 25 years to write. There were lots of happy interruptions along the way, of course, but I’m hoping my next book won’t take quite that long!

WHY THIS TITLE: I didn’t want a story title to be the title of the collection. Also, the best story title is actually the title of my novel-in-progress (the novel is linked stories.) So I paged through the book and chose five phrases from stories that I thought fit the book’s themes and passed them along to Marc and Donna at Fomite. They felt To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts was the strongest of the five, and I agreed. The title fits every story.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: People who don’t like short stories have told me that they like mine, and that is very gratifying and humbling. Readers seem to find the deep emotion and honesty in my characters a powerful combination. Also, for all the sadness in my book, there is always hope. That sense of redemption is meaningful to me, and I believe it’s also meaningful to readers.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“What is remembered; what is missed; what will never be again . . . all these are addressed with the tenderness of a wise observer whose heart is large enough, kind enough, to embrace them all without judgment. . . . intense and finely crafted  . . . . her stories reach into the hidden places of the heart and break them open to healing light, offering a touch of grace and hope of reconciliation.”—Foreword Reviews, starred review 

“The stories center on the complexity of family relationships with such empathy and humanity that novelist Steve Yarbrough called the book “nothing short of magnificent.”… Summie grounds readers in reality just as they become lost in her beautiful prose…. To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts does not shy from life’s hardest moments, but its sorrow is not gratuitous. Summie is a writer who approaches life as a whole, both good and bad, rooted in history and place, and her elegant prose shines in this collection.”Chapter16.org (also appeared in The Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Her compelling writing reminds us of the power of a well-delivered narrative….Summie’s stories emphasize [our] shared humanity, and there is something accessible, recognizable and timely for everyone.”—The Vail Daily

 “This debut collection works together to form a Cubist portrait of grief….Summie’s ghosts linger.”—The Minneapolis Star Tribune

 AUTHOR PROFILE: I earned an MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University. My short stories have been published in Beloit Fiction Journal, Wisconsin Review, Puerto del Sol, Mud Season ReviewHypertext Magazine, South85 Journal, The Belmont Story Review and Long Story, Short. Most recently my poetry was published in The Literary Nest. I also have completed picture books and a middle grade novel. I lived in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Colorado before settling with my family in Knoxville, Tennessee. I co-own the book marketing firm, Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, founded in 2003. The firm is probably best known for its work with new and emerging voices in fiction. Over the course of my career, in-house and solo, I have launched Emily St. John Mandel, William Gay, Susan Vreeland, Kim Church, Bren McClain, and many, many more wonderful writers. My writer website is caitlinhamiltonsummie.com.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Thank you for giving me the chance to share my stories with you!

SAMPLE CHAPTER: (Provide link). Here is a link to my story “Growing Up Cold,” originally published in HyperText Magazine and then included in my book.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Union Avenue Books, Barnes & Noble

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Libraries, Gramercy Books, Parnassus Books, Beaverdale Books, Park Road Books, Milkweed Editions Bookstore, Amazon, bn.com, IndieBound

PRICE: $15.00 print, e-book $4.99

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: https://caitlinhamiltonsummie.com/contact/ or @csummie