The Day the Music Died



THE BOOK: The Day the Music Died.


THE AUTHOR: Susan Lynn Solomon.

THE EDITOR: KC Sprayberry.

THE PUBLISHER: Solstice Publishing.

SUMMARY: Amanda Stone, a rock and roll icon, vanished at the peak of her career in 1986. She surfaces in her hometown of Niagara Falls soon after the death of Emlyn Goode’s mother. Stone asks to see Emlyn, she says, to share memories of her high school friend, Anne Goode. What Stone actually tells her bounces Emlyn’s life on its head. When later that day Stone is murdered, a shaken Emlyn must use her ancient relative’s craft to solve the crime by disinterring the secret of what drove Stone from the spotlight thirty years before. If Emlyn fails, she’ll never know if what Stone told her is true.

THE BACK STORY: Emlyn Goode, the narrator, is a direct descendent of Sarah Goode, who was hanged for witchcraft in Salem. Possessing, or perhaps, possessed by her ancestor’s Book of Shadows, Emlyn attempts to use the ancient craft to solve another crime.

Related imageWHY THIS TITLE: The murder of a rock and roll icon mean the end of her music… Or did it?


Susan Solomon’s cozy paranormal murder mystery novella, The Day the Music Died: An Emlyn Goode Mystery, is breezy, fast-paced and highly entertaining. I’ve read other books in Solomon’s Emlyn Goode Mystery Series, and find following these two amateur sleuths as they solve the mysteries that seem to fall in their laps a lot of fun. Solomon’s cast of characters, which includes both women’s love interests and Emlyn’s sleuthing albino cat, Elvira, become more well developed with each book, and they’ve come to seem like old friends. I’m looking forward to the next book in Solomon’s mystery series. The Day the Music Died: An Emlyn Goode Mystery is most highly recommended.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Formerly a Manhattan entertainment attorney and a contributing editor to the quarterly art magazine SunStorm Fine Art, Susan Lynn Solomon now lives in Niagara Falls, New York. Since 2007 many of her short stories have appeared in literary journals, including, Abigail Bender (awarded an Honorable Mention in a short romance competition), Ginger Man, Elvira, The Memory Tree, Going Home, Yesterday’s Wings, Smoker’s Lament, Kaddish, and Sabbath (nominated for 2013 Best of the Net). A collection of her short stories, Voices In My Head, has been published by Solstice Publishing, and her latest short story. A finalist in M&M’s Chanticleer’s Mystery & Mayhem Novel Contest, and a finalist for the 2016 Book Excellence Award, Susan Lynn Solomon’s first Solstice Publishing novel, The Magic of Murder, has received rave reviews, as has the novelette, Bella Vita, and the novel, Dead Again all stories that continue the adventures (and often missteps) of these characters. In the new Emlyn Goode Mytery novelette, The Day the Music Died, Ms. Solomon once more demonstrates that murder can have sense of humor.


WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon. PRICE: $2.99.



Memory Sickness

Image result for Phong Nguyen + author + photosTHE BOOK: Memory Sickness, and Other Stories


THE AUTHOR: Phong Nguyen

THE EDITOR: Dana Curtis


SUMMARY: Short stories that take place in Providence, Rhode Island, and revolve around the lives of the downtrodden and the underclass of that city.

THE BACK STORY: These stories were inspired by real people that I met and heard about while living in Providence, Rhode Island.

Memory Sickness by [Nguyen , Phong]WHY THIS TITLE: “Memory Sickness” refers to a particular kind of cultural trauma that occurs when an individual is displaced.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: To immerse yourself in the abundance and diversity of life in Providence, Rhode Island.


“Dead-on in its depiction of modern malaise, MEMORY SICKNESS will burn in your own memory forever, assuring you of the sickness we are. Phong Nguyen has crafted stories with zero at the bone, stories of how the child is father of the man, of what we do to one another in this world, and what we do to ourselves. His Providence, Rhode Island, seems borne into being by the bastard offspring of Denis Johnson and Mary Gaitskill: a place of danger, horror, and the dim hope necessary for our survival. This book will scar you.” —  – William Giraldi, author of Hold the Dark

AUTHOR PROFILEPhong Nguyen is the author of The Adventures of Joe Harper (Outpost19, 2016), Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2014), and Memory Sickness and Other Stories (Elixir Press, 2011). He coedited the volume Nancy Hale: On the Life and Work of a Lost American Master (Pleiades Press/LSU, 2012) with Dan Chaon. He teaches fiction writing at the University of Central Missouri, where he also serves as editor of Pleiades. His own stories have appeared in more than 40 national literary journals, including Agni, Boulevard, Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, Mississippi Review, and North American Review. He lives in Warrensburg, Missouri, with his wife– the artist Sarah Nguyen– and their three children.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: This was my first book, published in 2011. If you enjoy it, please read Pages from the Textbook of Alternate History (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2014) and The Adventures of Joe Harper (Outpost19, 2016).


WHERE TO BUY IT: or Small Press Distributors

PRICE: $19 or less


Nobody Cares

Thomas StevensTHE BOOK: Nobody Cares: The Ultimate & Only Self Help Book You Will Ever Need.


THE AUTHOR:  Thomas Stevens

: Prognathous Press, Ann Arbor MI, a small independent imprint.

SUMMARY: Hilarious yet imminently practical, Nobody Cares riffs on health, diet, education, banking, working, entrepreneurism and relationships. Whether you’re a young adult of 17 just trying to figure out what you’re doing with your life or a bitter and deluded crank in your 40s, 50s or beyond, Nobody Cares is a no-punches pulled tour de force in self-sufficiency.

THE BACK STORYAngered by the injustices of the modern world–particularly in America–Thomas Stevens poured the totality of his emotions into this screed. At once a primal scream and wake up call as well as a pared down practicum to getting through life’s travails.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Because it’s true that unless something either benefits or is adversely affects one, nobody cares.

Written in substance and spirit when the author was a cynical 17-year-old who thought he “knew it all” yet updated and edited for a contemporary audience, Nobody Cares is a unique approach to “self help,” unlike any other in the genre.

REVIEW COMMENTS: Verified Amazon purchasers said:

“So relevant and smartly written. No beating around the bush about how the world is and how not to be run over by it. I recommend it to everyone!!” — Gail Combs,. Texas.

“This is one powerful little book. There’s more to it than meets the ey, and it honestly feels like a secret weapon for taking on the world and everyonwe in it. As an author myself, I love the punchy styler and the tough truths that Nobody Cares tradesa in. But for all that it’s as hopeful and inspiring book, twelve chapters that cover everything you really need to know in order to deal with what life throws at you. They really should be teaching this stuff in our schools. Great for all ages. And laugh-out-loud outrageous, too.” — Kevin Irish, Detroit.

“Very sophisticated, yet written with intellectual skill and humor. I would classify this as a ‘diamond in the rough,’ each page a gem of guidance, certainly apropos to our current time. I would recommend parents to gift this no-punches-spared, releveat, guiding-light book to their young men and women … as a life reference.” — Marie Magillacuddy, Limerick, Ireland.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Thomas Stevens is a former investigative journalist and adman (madman) who finally had his fill of the world and decided to lay down the law in this book.

 “My book deals in blunt, even nasty realities of the world, but it’s also likely to draw howls of laughter from it’s extremely satirical tone. It’s really meant for young people as well as old and it’s my hope that Nobody Cares provides inspiration, wisdom and value–as well as entertainment– to whoever reads it.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Free sample chapter available by going to


Also available online at Barnes & Noble or directly at

PRICE: $19.95 paperback, soon available as an eBook and Audiobook on

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Twitter: @vonstipatz Instagram: vonstipatz



Weather Report, Sept. 18

Image result for Susan Lynn Solomon + photos



“For those who like this sort of thing, this is just about the sort of thing they’d like.”

The above quote, often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, was supposed to have been a gentle jibe directed at a friend who had given him some poetry to read. But I prefer to put a more positive spin on it, using it to emphasize the subjectivity involved in reaching a readership.

Like just about anything else — food, movies, music, politics, religion or hair color —  an appreciation for writing is all about personal taste. I have enjoyed books that my wife Gail would never have picked up, for example, and vice versa. At the same time, we have enjoyed other books together.

And so it is with this week’s Snowflakes offerings.

Do you like novels containing witches and witchcraft? Murder mysteries? Books about pop music? Susan Lynn Solomon’s “The Day The Music Died” checks off all three.

Solomon’s novel is a fun read. but “Memory Sickness,” by Phong Nguyen, is a bit more somber. His collection of short stories was inspired, in part, by some of the down-and-out characters he encountered growing up in Providence, RI.

Finally, those of you who roll their eyes at traditional self-help books might enjoy Tom Stevens’ “Nobody Cares,” a helping aid produced by a cynic.



Amanda Stone, a rock and roll icon, vanished at the peak of her career in 1986. She surfaces in her hometown of Niagara Falls soon after the death of Emlyn Goode’s mother. Stone asks to see Emlyn, she says, to share memories of her high school friend, Anne Goode. What Stone actually tells her bounces Emlyn’s life on its head. When later that day Stone is murdered, a shaken Emlyn must use her ancient relative’s craft to solve the crime by disinterring the secret of what drove Stone from the spotlight thirty years before. If Emlyn fails, she’ll never know if what Stone told her is true.


Short stories that take place in Providence, Rhode Island, and revolve around the lives of the downtrodden and the underclass of that city.


Tom writes: “Nobody Cares is the hardest hitting little self-help book ever written—a sarcastic cudgel designed to wake the dead and bitch-slap the complacent among us on issues including unemployment and under-employment, the disappearing social safety net and the massive societal disruption caused by Globalism, Corporatism and the Information Age.

“Hilarious yet imminently practical, Nobody Cares riffs on health, diet, education, banking, working, entrepreneurism and relationships. Whether you’re a young adult of 17 just trying to figure out what you’re doing with your life or a bitter and deluded crank in your 40s, 50s or beyond, Nobody Cares is a no-punches pulled tour de force in self-sufficiency.”










Contract City

Contract City by [Falkin, Mark]



THE AUTHOR:  Mark Falkin

: Harrison Demchick, Jen Herchenroeder.

: Bancroft Press (Baltimore)

SUMMARY: The year is 2021 and the money is still green. The fully privatized city of Tulsa, OK, is home to Sara Paige Christie, a teenage girl with her heart set on a film career in L.A. and her camera trained on the graffiti-covered walls of the city’s outskirts. In pursuit of a documentary subject that might propel her from college hopeful to film school admittee at USC, Sara has focused her ambitions upon a singularly ubiquitous tag―WH2RR??

From the facades of storefronts to the walls of public restrooms, the tag is appearing nearly everywhere. Its stark all-capital letters and demanding question marks have captured Sara’s imagination, even as the private security personnel of Free Force Tulsa (FFT) scramble to eliminate the marks with power washers, gray-overs, and full censorship, stripping even photographs of the tags from the locally accessible Internet. Sara has no doubt that there is meaning hidden in plain sight, and she sets off on a mission to find the person behind the mysterious tags while balancing an already full life: her final exams, her wild best friend, a physical fitness test that threatens her GPA, and a family that seems almost oblivious to what’s happening just down the street from their suburban home. With the exception, perhaps, of her father.

PictureA retired Marine turned FFT investigator, Sara’s dad has been on the trail of the graffiti artist for his own professional reasons. And if he knows what’s going on, he’s not telling Sara. And they’re not the only ones on the hunt…Tensions are rising in town and beyond. Between the machinations of the city’s home-grown megachurch, Chosen Hill, and the movements of a growing camp of homeless citizens parked just beyond Tulsa’s comfort and security, life in Tulsa is about to become very interesting, and Sara just might be in the right place to catch it all on film…… but only if she survives.

: I knew for a couple of years before starting to write this book—which was written mostly in 2009-2010—that I wanted to write about something that truly scared me and that the reason it scared me is because it does happen, has happened and could happen again. Massive social upheaval is real and scary. Riots are scary. I wanted to tell a story of a middle America family caught in such times in a not too distant, recognizable, and most frightening of all, possible, future. I saw a family, particularly a girl and her dad. The girl was a filmmaker. The dad was a disgruntled policeman. Their worlds were going to collide.

Six years later: See: Trump, #Charlottesville.

I do just enough to achieve a semblance of verisimilitude and to move the story forward. I do not try to become an expert in a given subject matter.

WHY THIS TITLE?:  A contract city is a fully privatized city.

There are no, or very few, serious books for teens in the dystopian space. This one is. But it’s a crossover. It’s a gritty, grown-up book, story-wise, prose-wise.


“In Contract City, Mark Falkin dreams up a near dystopian future that is already eerily upon us, where privatized services are becoming standard fare, where fear is now palpable and our sense of security comes with a price.  I happened to come across this fine book in the fall of 2016, and in many ways it’s been a sobering glimpse into the age of Trump.” ―Oscar Cásares

“If you’re a not-so-young adult who appreciates this genre, Falkin’s book is a must”
Dallas Observer

“Falkin offers a timely and discussion-worthy look at where the U.S. might be headed, wrapped in nonstop (and profanity-laced) action . . . With twists turning until the end, it’s hard to put this down.”  ―Booklist

“Falkin focuses as much on wordcraft as plot twists, which elevates this believably futuristic tale” ―Austin American-Statesman

“Contract City is an engaging mystery, but also works as an action-filled adventure, a futuristic story, and a cautionary tale about censorship, inequality, and justice . . . Though the subject matter can be gritty at times, the book is entertaining, thought-provoking, and most of all—a timely reminder that the society we live in may not be so far away from becoming the society described in Contract City.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

“Falkin animates his story with timeless themes and honest illustrations of what often feels like uncharted terrain bridging childhood and adulthood. Contract City is an engaging, suspenseful portrayal of a world that, although imagined, feels all too familiar. The pursuit of truth and the courage required to right a wrong, especially when those in the wrong are the mightier majority, is a provocative notion that should be planted and nurtured in the minds of all readers, regardless of age, but especially of the YA genre.”
Foreword Reviews

“This is an interesting take on the popular dystopian style. The omniscient narrator’s language is elegant, almost out of place in such a gritty world, but the vernacular of the characters’ dialogue is realistic. Teens will identify with the protagonists here, who are concerned with the same issues: sex, alcohol, smoking, school angst, and friendship. VERDICT An additional purchase for any high school library.” ―School Library Journal

“A novel rife with engaging characters and rich with powerful ideas and implicit warnings about an all-too-believable future, Contract City is the very best kind of page-turner.” ―Suzanne Greenberg

“I loved this book. Just incredible. Read it cover-to-cover & couldn’t put it down. The story is crazy-good. Rich, fresh, & spellbinding. The world he creates in Contract City is so real, you can touch it. Truly fabulous writing.” ―Martha Louise Hunter

“Powerful, ambitious and compulsive, Mark Falkin’s futuristic setting left me nostalgic for a world where I still live. Sara is one of those characters—real, raw, vulnerable—who I would follow anywhere, even down paths as dark as this one.” ―Mary Helen Specht

AUTHOR PROFILE: Mark Falkin lives with his family in Austin, where he is a writer, literary agent and recovering music attorney. His 2015 novel Contract City was nominated for Whiting, Shirley Jackson, YALSA, Edgar, PEN/Hemingway, LA Times, and other awards, was an Austin bestseller, and is in screen development in Los Angeles. His next, an apocalyptic horror novel, The Late Bloomer, is forthcoming from California Coldblood Books. It in no way involves zombies, viruses, nuclear holocaust, asteroids or aliens.

Contract City completely presages what we have been and are now going through as a country.


LOCAL OUTLETS: Bookpeople (Austin); B&N (Austin, Round Rock); B&N (Tulsa)

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: All the usual suspects online.

PRICE: Hardcover list: 22.95 (Amazon: 12.51; 6.99 ebook)


Because It Is So Beautiful

Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West by [Reid, Robert Leonard]THE BOOK:  Because It Is So Beautiful: Unraveling the Mystique of the American West


THE AUTHOR: Robert Leonard Reid

THE EDITOR: Oriana Leckert

THE PUBLISHER: Counterpoint Press

SUMMARY: Because It Is So Beautiful is a collection of nineteen essays, fifteen of which have appeared in earlier books of mine, four of which are new. Each essay centers on the majesty and wonder of the American West, and each inquires into the central theme of the collection, namely, the duality of nature. My favorite quick explanation of “the duality of nature” comes from Edward Abbey, the great poet of the Southwest, who was once asked by a tourist if he could identify a certain plant the tourist was admiring. Said Abbey: “Well, people call it creosote. But what it is, no one knows.”

THE BACK STORY: As a man who once earned a degree in mathematics (by the skin of my teeth, I should admit), I for a long time looked at unexplained phenomena as something like genial trout lollygagging in the sun and waiting patiently for some passing logician to throw in a line and haul them out. Today I suspect I was only about half right. Climbing mountains for a quarter century softened me up by introducing me to the melodies and hues of the natural world; opening my heart to the enchantments of the American West finished the job. I do not argue for a rejection of reason in favor of transcendence, rather for an incorporation of both in any effort to understand the world. Surely, scientists should strive to answer every question that presents itself to them. They would be well-advised, too, to read self-help manuals on how to handle disappointment and failure, to prepare themselves for the day when they complete their grand explication of the universe and discover that half of its pages are still blank.

WHY THIS TITLE?: “Because It Is So Beautiful” derives from something Barry Lopez said in a talk he gave many years ago, something that had a profound impact on my understanding of myself as a writer. I tell the story of that event in the first essay in the book.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I think the ideal reader would be someone who understands that scientists are doing important, crucial work on understanding global warming, resource depletion, the origin of the universe, and a hundred other areas of importance—and who, nevertheless, sense somewhere down deep that science can never explain aesthetics, ethics, values, quality, form, feeling, motives, intensions, soul, consciousness, spirit, and a hundred areas of importance. (I owe the list to the Scottish psychiatrist R. D. Laing).


“Calling Robert Reid an outdoor writer is like calling Thoreau a writer about pond camping … Reid has been writing classic American essays full of Twain-like humor and Emersonian moral force for forty years now. In this collection we find him in his calmly formidable prime.” — Robert Roper, author of Nabokov in America and winner of the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature.

“These 19 selected essays by Robert Leonard Reid are stirring, witty, gorgeously written paeans to the wilderness. It’s a wonderful, must-read collection.” — Ron Hansen, National Book Award finalist, author of Mariette in Ecstasy and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

“With lyricism, charm, and trenchant observations, [Reid] inspires readers to meditate on the importance of being alive, of being responsible for the landscapes we inhabit.” — – Sascha Feinstein, author of Misterioso, winner of the Hayden Carruth Award in Poetry

AUTHOR PROFILE: As many who are reading this already know, it’s hard to make a buck as a writer. (An aside: More than half of the books published in the United States last year were written by twenty people—Steel, King, Patterson; you know who they are. The other half were written by the other million or so of us.) I’m a member of the other million or so. Over a 35-year period, I’ve written ten books and published five, published some 100 magazine articles, essays, and short stories, and seen produced four works for the theater. My average annual income from this quite respectable output has been around $1600. (No, I didn’t leave off a zero.) I write because I can’t not write. I write to honor a great man, a painter whom I was fortunate to know many years ago. When I told him I was going to quit teaching high school math and become a writer he sent me a note that said the following: “You may not compromise. You may do nothing less than heroic work. You bear the mantle of Whitman and Dickinson. You sail the great waters with Dante and Milton. You must be the best goddamned writer who ever lived.” Oh, about that annual income: For most of the aforementioned 35 years, I’ve written the stuff I love to write from 5 a.m. to 8 or 9. The rest of the day I’ve earned a living as a freelance mathematics textbook writer.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: No one who reads Because It Is So Beautiful will be surprised to learn that I despair of the assault on America’s wildlands that has begun under the current regime in Washington, and which will continue for at least three more years. I’ll be writing about this issue as well as related issues in my twice-a-month blog, “Four-Fold Visions of the American West.” You’ll find it on my website Recent posts address captive breeding of California condors, Bear Ears National Monument, and the death of my 15-year-old golden retriever, Goldie.



[Late May, a campsite in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 30 miles south of the Arctic Ocean. The site is bounded on one side by the Kongakut River, now rampaging in spring runoff, and on the others by several smaller streams. My friend Shaun Griffin and I call our habitat “the island.”]

Above the Kongakut, gulls endlessly patrolled the air space, cool and cocky as top guns. Never were more than two or three of the birds to be seen, but rarely was there a time when, glancing toward the bare hillside on the far side of the river, I didn’t have my view momentarily tweaked by the sight of one of them slipping diagonally across my field of vision.

Gulls I knew, but most of the birds that inhabited the island were new to me. Northern Alaska is the Grand Central Station of the bird world. Millions of birds representing some seventy species visit each summer from around the globe—semipalmated sandpipers from Brazil, bluethroats from India, smews from Russia, northern wheatears from Egypt, wandering tattlers from New Zealand, loons and pipits from the American Midwest. Birds like Alaska.

Because the island is a spell north of tree line, the birds that summer there must build their nests on the ground. Tramping about, I had to watch my step for fear of accidentally crushing a clutch of eggs beneath my boots. Several times I unintentionally walked too close to a nest. Suddenly I was aware of a screeching sound, then a pesky dive-bomber-of-a-thing strafing my head and making repeated runs at my nose and ears. Not ten yards from the campsite, a semipalmated plover contrived for herself a nest of pebbles and dead grasses. In it she deposited four lovely brown-speckled eggs. So successfully were she and her digs camouflaged that several days passed before I stumbled onto the nest.

It was a valiant life she led. Rain, snow, foxes, photographers: they meant nothing to her. Because her headquarters were so close to our camp, it was inevitable that several times a day one of us would pass nearby. Each time, she put up a terrible fuss and rose fiercely to defend her nest. Pulling herself up as tall as she could (not very tall, as it happened; maybe six inches), rocking back and forth from one foot to the other, she dared the intruder to take another step. Such courage! A human being must look like a battleship to a plover. She held her ground successfully, and the last time I saw her she was still at her post, her eggs and her resolve unbroken.

Except for a few year-round residents—ptarmigan, ravens, snowy owls—the birds on the island had traveled great distances to get there, none more so than the Arctic terns. Shaun and I found a pair of them nesting not five minutes from our campsite. The two had appropriated a snarl of sticks and twigs that looked as though it had probably begun life as part of a very disorderly shrub upriver, then got swept away, finally running aground on a spit of sand and gravel at the island’s edge. The nest reminded me of Le Corbusier’s famous church of Notre-Dame-du-Haut in France; it had the

same curvy boat shape sweeping up to a peak at one end, the same sense of the calm and the primitive teetering on the edge of chaos.

In such a place the terns settled down to a short but event-filled residency. She was a beautiful thing, and both of them knew it. The male worked his tail feathers off for her. Not yet having laid her eggs, she spent most of her time perched very still and regally on the steeple of the church, pretending not to know her mate. Terns are of the same lineage as gulls but generally smaller — perhaps a foot in length. The Arctic model wears a trendy black beret down to its eyes; below, the head is white. The bill is a nasty-looking red dagger as long as the bird’s head. The breast, back, and wings are mostly gray. The tail is long and narrow; in flight it opens into a two-pronged fork.

What a fuss the female’s partner made, and what he wouldn’t do for her! Hour after hour he took to the air in search of insects, small fish, snacks and desserts of every description. North and south he prowled, east and west, long angel wings carving marvelous love letters in the sky. Spotting a delicious minnow in the river below he would hover for a few seconds, reading his instruments, furiously beating off gravity with his wings. Then he would fold them and drop like a flaming arrow to the water.

He rarely came up empty. Obviously pleased with himself, trophy dangling from his bill like a hipster’s cigarette, he rose into the air. He always took the long way home—three or four extended swings across the river, swooping down at the right moment on each pass so that his mate would see him cutting his fancy route. She, of course, feigned indifference—but was anyone fooled? Hardly! On his arrival home she shivered like a bumblebee. But the drama was not yet over: now he would hover above his darling, his back arched, his wings pumping, and she would look straight up and crank open her bill, and he would look straight down and take aim, and then—bingo! —he would poke his catch into her mouth, as though it were his tongue and they had just discovered French kissing.

Sometimes the lady’s beauty and the male’s excitement and their pleasure in each other overcame them, and he would mount her and flutter above her, and she would flutter below, both of them quite flushed with passion. As far as I could tell, this orgy of spooning and feeding and fluttering and carrying on continued twenty-four hours a day. They were quite a pair; they knew how to enjoy life.

What they had done to reach their cozy love nest by the river defies reason, common sense, and quite possibly the Second Law of

Thermodynamics. The annual migration of the Arctic tern is one of nature’s great stupefactions. The birds summer in the Arctic. They winter a world away, in the pack ice off Antarctica. Twice a year they fly from one end of the earth to the other, some eleven thousand miles in each direction; with added mileage for normal deviations from a straight line, each bird logs close to twenty-five thousand miles annually. That is a distance equal to the circumference of the earth. Arctic terns have been found wearing leg bands placed twenty-five years before. A twenty-five-year-old tern must have seen some two-thirds of a million miles pass beneath its wings—to the moon and back and then some. All this by a creature weighing no more than a bran muffin.

How to understand such a journey? It seems to me that the migration of the Arctic tern is most usefully viewed not as a record-setting flight, or an oddity of nature, or one stage in the life cycle of an interesting bird, but rather as a work of epic poetry—The Odyssey of migrations. Understanding the journey—no, not understanding it: glimpsing it, tentatively, distantly, imperfectly—requires not a map or an odometer but an imagination, the more fanciful the better. After all, beyond mileages and flight times—beyond what one might learn in Guinness World Records 2016—we know nothing. We have no photographs of Arctic terns in clouds. We do not know if they sing while they fly, or if they chant tern-ish chants. We do not know if they fly in a vee or in a straight line, or in long-swoops left and right, or in roller-coaster curves up and down. We do not know if they travel with other birds who happen to be going their way—sandpipers, say, or cranes—and we do not know how far they fly each day, and we do not know how they apportion their time. Do they fly for a few hours, then stop somewhere to feed for a while, like most birds? Or do they fly for days before taking a breather? We do not know.

Imagine them over the coast of British Columbia. Do they fly in tens or twenties or hundreds, or do they fly alone, each bird miles from its neighbors? How high do they fly? Small birds sometimes fly as low as two hundred feet on their migration paths; we could see them if we looked up, which we don’t. Big birds fly higher, a mile or two or three.

A mountain climber in Nepal did look up and was amazed to see a goose flying over Mount Everest. That’s up there. Arctic terns are medium-size birds, so you would expect them to fly one or two miles up. But they fly so much farther than other birds—maybe they fly higher too! Maybe they fly

in the stratosphere, at the altitude of test pilots and ozone holes. I know, there’s not enough oxygen up there to keep a bird alive. But this isn’t just a bird, it’s an Arctic tern! Maybe they store oxygen in the hollow quills of their tail feathers, and sip it when they get thirsty. There are big advantages to flying in the stratosphere. It’s less crowded up there than it is down below with the riffraff. Plus, you can see Antarctica sooner. Imagine them over Peru. Peru! A storm front is ahead. Do they see it? Do they care? Perhaps they’ll fly above it. Perhaps they’ll fly through it. What’s it like in a storm cloud? Is it cold? Is it eerily silent? Is it dark and scary? Do Arctic terns worry about falling behind schedule when they’re flying through storm clouds? No one knows.

Imagine them over Patagonia. What do they do to pass the hours? Film director Stanley Kubrick once speculated that dolphins spend their free time solving complex mathematical theorems. Do Arctic terns play games or write poetry or find new solutions to the longitude problem? They would be good at that. In any case, no one knows.

Bulletin! We know this: Arctic terns love the sun. Arctic terns know the sun better than any creature on earth. The birds summer in the Arctic, where the sun is above the horizon twenty-four hours a day. They winter in the Antarctic, where the sun is above the horizon twenty-four hours a day. Late in the summer, as the long days begin to move south from the Arctic, Arctic terns move with them, following the light. Late in the winter, as the long days begin to move north from the Antarctic, Arctic terns move with them, following the light. As bats and worms spend their lives in darkness, Arctic terns spend their lives in light. They go where the light goes. Does this explain their inexplicable journey—that they love the light? No one knows.

Years ago, when I first imagined that I might someday like to write a book, I came up with a vegetable-stew-of-an-idea for a novel that involved Arctic terns, the legendary blues singer and guitarist Robert Johnson, and the notion that Earth is a spaceship forever crisscrossing the cosmos, calling at various interesting destinations as it goes. As I saw it, Arctic terns would symbolize the indomitable spirit, Robert Johnson would symbolize art, and Starship Earth would symbolize the hope for eternal life. It all made sense until you tried to write a novel about it. Mine, if I had ever written it, which I didn’t, would have been all symbols. It represented everything: struggle, hope, art, life, death (what else is there?)— and so it represented pretty much nothing.

What I had was more a novel idea than an idea for a novel. It happened

that, at the time, I was interested in Arctic terns, I was interested in Robert Johnson, and I was interested in space travel; so I tossed the three willy-nilly into my stew and figured that that was how you outlined a book. But when I tried to turn my outline into pages and chapters, I had no idea what to do. I had no characters and no plot. I couldn’t find a single connection among my themes. My novel collapsed under its own weightlessness.

I hadn’t thought about the book for years. One day as I watched my beautiful, giddy terns whooping it up beside the Kongakut, I suddenly recalled my masterpiece in all its weirdness. It occurred to me that the reason the project had foundered wasn’t the lack of a plot or of characters or of connections among its themes; it was that I had chosen the wrong form for my material. What I’d dreamed up wasn’t a novel at all. It was a song. What’s more, someone else had dreamed it up before me. His name was Robert Johnson, and the song was “Honeymoon Blues.” It was about spirit, art, and the hope for eternal life. Johnson wrote it during the 1930s. He recorded it in 1937, six years before I was born.

Robert Johnson spent the bulk of his brief and mostly unlucky life (he died at the age of twenty-seven, probably a murder victim) in the Deep South, a long way from the island. Nevertheless, on the evidence of “Honeymoon Blues,” it’s clear that he would have recognized the place at once if he had suddenly been transported there. He would have seen that the Kongakut is just a big old guitar strumming a heartfelt blues down the rocks and gravel bars of the valley, and that sometimes the song is fast and wild, and sometimes it’s slow and peaceful. He would have known that the island is the words of the song, and that some of them are joyful, and some of them are sad. He would have understood that the theme of the song —and the theme of the novel I never wrote—is simple human yearning, for a good and a happy and a useful life that will never end.

I could probably have figured out most of that if I had been in some other wild and musical place. But I needed to be on the island, situated among its multitudinous vagaries and curiosities, to discover something I had never known before. And that was that no one is willing to go farther or to search harder for a good and a happy and a useful life than the little birds with the black berets and the forked tails. Robert Johnson was no ornithologist but he came to that same conclusion, and decades before I did. Even more amazing, he knew the name of one of the birds. She was the one who spent her days perched on the steeple of the cathedral at the edge of the river,

pretending to be bored. Her name was Betty Mae, and he wrote his song for her.

“Honeymoon Blues” by Robert Johnson

Betty Mae, Betty Mae, you shall be my wife someday.

Betty Mae, Betty Mae, you shall be my wife someday.

I wants a little sweet girl, that will do anything that I say.

Betty Mae, you is my heartstring, you is my destiny.

Betty Mae, you is my heartstring, you is my destiny.

And you rolls across my mind, baby, each and every day.

Li’l girl, li’l girl, my life seem so misery.

Hmm hmm, little girl, my life seem so misery.

Baby, I guess it must be love, now, hoo mm, Lord that’s takin’ effect on me.

Some day I will return, with the marriage license in my hand.

Some day I will return, hoohoo, with a marriage license in my hand.

I’m gon’ take you for a honeymoon–

in some long, long distant land….

This was the island. It was a peaceful, earnest place where life unfolded effortlessly and seamlessly, where you could drop in at an arbitrary moment and get swept up in the flow and the feel of the place, as though you were part of the plan, even if you didn’t understand a word of it, even if you didn’t know that there was a plan. Where you felt a kind of deliverance from everything that had come before your arrival, and where mysteriously you could find the patience to await whatever was to come next. Each moment was the same as the last; both had a familiar shape and sound and taste. But each was different, too, for it always brought something new—a breeze, a crocus wakening on a logjam, the plaintive cry of a curlew, blue clouds crowding over bare brown hills. Lichen and wolf, plover and ground squirrel: each was inventing a life, each was going about a business I couldn’t fathom but which I understood to be quite important. The island was a diligent, deadly serious place, but one without airs.

If there was a purpose here it was new life—new buds, new eggs, new creatures large and small; and, to my mind at least, new beginnings. One particularly exuberant morning, watching the grand preparations for the

next generation of every kind, I realized that I was witnessing nothing less than the first day of creation. The Sioux believe that all animals came from the same valley. Now I knew that they were right, and the valley was here. The world was being born before my eyes.

And such a nursery the parents had contrived! Icy mountains to grace the walls, lullabies of wings and waters, spinning mobiles of gulls and dragonflies, cuddly blankets of phlox petals and willow buds. Twenty-five years earlier, an Alaskan homesteader had told me this was going to happen: “In spring, when you first hear the water trickling and the birds singing … there’s power in that that’s greater than anything I know. It teaches you something. You know that you’re not alone, that you’re a valued part of something that’s bigger than anything you could ever understand.”

And, millennia before that, that old backcountry traveler Isaiah: “Let the wilderness and the dry land be glad, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom… let it rejoice and sing for joy….”

WHERE TO BUY IT: Sundance Books, Indie-Bound, Powell’s, Amazon, Barnes & Nobel

PRICE: $26 list but with big discounts at several of the above retailers.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I’m newly on Facebook and haven’t a clue about what I’m doing. More comprehensible (to me) is email. I’m at A free book to the first person to decipher “birdortree.”

Vanity in Dust

Vanity in Dust (Crowns & Ash Book 1) by [Low, Cheryl]THE BOOK: Vanity in Dust


THE AUTHOR: Cheryl Low

THE EDITOR: Laura Harvey

THE PUBLISHER: World Weaver Press

SUMMARY: In the Realm there are whispers. Whispers that the city used to be a different place. That before the Queen ruled there was a sky beyond the clouds and a world beyond their streets.

Vaun Dray Fen never knew that world. Born a prince without a purpose in a Realm ruled by lavish indulgence, unrelenting greed, and vicious hierarchy, he never knew a time before the Queen’s dust drugged the city. Everything is poisoned to distract and dull the senses, even the tea and pastries. And yet, after more than a century, his own magic is beginning to wake. The beautiful veneer of the Realm is cracking. Those who would defy the Queen turn their eyes to Vaun, and the dust saturating the Realm.

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From the carnivorous pixies in the shadows to the wolves in the streets, Vaun thought he knew all the dangers of his city. But when whispers of treason bring down the fury of the Queen, he’ll have to race to save the lives and souls of those he loves.

THE BACK STORY: I had the idea for this world brewing in me for a long time. I write what I want to read and that’s the only real explanation I have for it. I obsessed over the world and the characters in my head before I put them into words.

WHY THIS TITLE: Vanity in Dust, the title, is a description of the world and the people in it. They’ve turned their magic into poison to give themselves comfort and beauty but lost all meaning. And dust here ends up having a double meaning because the drug of choice in the Realm is pixie dust, sprinkled in every cup of tea.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: It’s a dark fantasy about a city ruled by a terrifying Queen and governed by strict hierarchy and absurd social order. They drink tea to get high, eat cake for every meal, and sit in a library pretending to read books with no words. Dueling is a pastime, whispering is a sport, and there will be bloodshed and broken hearts.


“A deliciously decadent debut that will make you reconsider the world within which we live–because how different are we than Low’s drugged-up citizens of the upper crust?” — -Sara Dobie Bauer author of the Bite Somebody books

AUTHOR PROFILE: Cheryl Low might be an Evil Queen, sipping tea and peeping on everyone from high up in her posh tower—a job she got only after being fired from her gig as Wicked Witch for eating half the gingerbread house.

…Or she might be a relatively mundane human with a love for all things sugary and soap opera slaps.

Find out by following her on social media @cherylwlow or check her webpage, The answer might surprise you! But it probably won’t.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: (Provide link).

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, World Weaver Press, Barnes&Noble website, Kobo

PRICE:   Paperback $13.95  Ebook $4.99