Mall Flower



THE BOOK: Mall Flower.

PUBLISHED IN: September 2015.

THE AUTHOR: Tina Barry.

THE EDITOR: Robin Stratton.

THE PUBLISHER: Big Table Publishing Company outside Boston.

SUMMARY: Mall Flower is a collection of poems, short and flash fiction and hybrids of the two. Some of the themes I explore are alienation, loss of a parent, divorce, sexual awakening and its decline. I tried to provide the reader with a balance of light and dark, often in the same piece. There are playful pieces, such as “Mall Flower,” about a teenager’s sexual awakening while strolling the mall, and darker yet still humorous works, like the flash “Going South,” that focuses on my family’s last trip to Florida before my parents’ divorce.

Tina BarryTHE BACK STORY: I’ve been writing fiction and non-fiction since 2001, then switched to flash fiction and poetry around 2010 when I started working on my M.F.A. in creative writing at Long Island University, Brooklyn. After I graduated, I took a look at what I had amassed and realized that I had a loose story arc that I could build a book around. After that, I weeded out a lot of writing that didn’t support the themes.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I grew up in suburban New Jersey, hence the title Mall Flower. I liked the contrast of the awkward, retiring “wallflower,” with a “mall flower,” that suggests a kind of artificial blooming, and in my poem, a teenager who isn’t the least bit shy. Mall Flower, though, is about much more than malls.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?  Both male and female readers have told me that they laughed as much—sometimes more—than they cried.

The book appeals to both poets and readers of poetry, as well as people who find poetry too esoteric. The pieces are accessible to everyone.

REVIEW COMMENTS:  With a sort of precision and attention most poets would reserve for the mapping of a butterfly wing, Barry dedicates both her short fictions and poems to something equally perplexing and full of beautiful angles and confusing symbols – she points the magnifying glass so that it reflects the sun against the sheen of plastic, the semi-precious, the hair-sprayed, fast-food fed realities that usher many of us into and out of days, years, and even decades of longing for genuine connections. — Jen Knox, After the Gazebo, The Glass City

Tina Barry’s aptly-titled Mall Flower shimmers with delicate and gritty insights. Barry is a writer of great warmth, intelligence and wit; the poems and stories in her delightful debut collection will move and surprise you. —  Jessica Hagedorn, playwright and author of the novels Toxicology, Dream Jungle, The Gangster of Love and Dogeaters.

Mall Flower by Tina Barry is a collection of minimalist stories and poems about ordinary characters undergoing extraordinarily loss. A child, hungry for attention before her parents’ divorce, rakes the hair on her father’s legs with a doll’s comb; a family in need of saving, prays to a god in a pink negligee; outside a sweetly wallpapered bedroom, a neighbor’s dead deer is trussed to a child’s swing set. Brassy, unbeautiful, but very cool characters. No matter how hard they try, they falter with their “crowns tilted at unflattering angles.” They are us. And how fortunate we are to have Barry’s amusing voice bringing us these beautiful quirky stories. — Barbara Henning, A Day Like Today, A Swift Passage, My Animal Eyeball, and Cities and Memory.

Tina Barry is a master of the image that packs it all in: social commentary, pathos, humor, you name it. In her stunning debut, she revels in the glorious absurdity of growing up and getting old. No matter how outrageous Barry’s poems are, no one would ever doubt their truth. There’s an exactness to her images and a candor to her voice that–even as it’s whispering–screams authenticity. You should enjoy reading Mall Flower everywhere poetry is allowed: the public pool, the bedroom, even the food court. — Joanna Fuhrman, author of six books including The Year of Yellow Butterflies, The Emotive Function and Pageant.

AUTHOR PROFILE:  I lived in Brooklyn for three decades before moving to a small village in upstate New York in 2015. I thought my husband and I would be exotic, but it seems like so many of the people we meet are just like us— “cityits,” city idiots—negotiating this new, and mostly wonderful life.

My poems and short fiction appear in numerous journals and anthologies, such as The Best Small Fictions 2016, The American Poetry Journal, Drunken Boat, and the forthcoming Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, Lost Horse Press. I’m a writing tutor at a local college and a teaching artist at the wonderful The Poetry Barn. My writing has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and several times for the Best of the Net award.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: When I wrote Mall Flower, I hoped that its stories would resonate with anyone, regardless of their gender or backgrounds. I’ve been told they do.


Mall Flower

I’ve blown out my shag haircut

and it’s big.

BIG-big. Cool

With the mirrored halter-top

and jeans chopped into shorts.


I’m psyched for the mall

And its food court, where I strut

the aisles on swizzle

stick legs

past Jahn’s green whipped cream,

past Beefsteak Charlies,

past the crepes at Magic Pan,

past the Nut Shoppe’s chocolate turtles

To buy cigarettes at Mr. Pipe

where Scott wears an afro

and a Star of David,

ties a red bandana

to the loop of white overalls,

and asks me to meet him

behind Cinnabon

where I wait, back pressed

against cinderblocks,

face tilted to the sun,

knowing, as I suck

the smoke in deep,

that I’m a fox.

A total fucking fox.

Going South

We left suburban New Jersey

Our last trip to Miami before Dad switched families. My younger sister and I filled in every Mad Libs blank with “tits” and “ass” so Mom would yell and make noise in the car.

At a lunch counter in Pennsylvania, the waitress asked a man with a Popeye tattoo if he wanted a plate of spinach. It was the only time Dad laughed.

At a motel in Delaware

My sister held my head underwater in the swimming pool. I heard shadowy sounds, then the glug of a motor working unnoticed.

At night we peeled back the synthetic quilts on our beds. From my parents’ bed: Mom’s restless feet. I watched my sister not sleep.

The woman in the motel’s office read palms. Mom had a short love line.

In Georgia

A giant peach teetered like a swooning moon atop a water tower. We bought gifts in a roadside shop: A bikini patterned with peaches. Straws filled with peach-flavored sugar. We sprinkled the coral grains over our stuffed animals’ fur. They looked glamorous twinkling in the moonlight.

Dad slowed down to watch cotton pickers bowed in the heat. They stared back.

Beside the pool

At the pool in the hotel in Miami, we sipped Shirley Temples, took turns curled beside Dad on a blue-striped chaise lounge. I smacked my sister’s face. She had taken too long raking the hair on Dad’s legs with a doll’s comb.

Dad wouldn’t take us to Sea World, so Mom bought dolphin-shaped pool floats and took pictures.

Returning to Jersey

My sister threw a deck of cards out the car window. We watched them spiral tightly together down the highway, then blink out like dead stars as the wind drew them apart.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon (, Big Table Publishing Company and me. Please don’t purchase it from halfcom, or any other site where the book is being sold illegally. Neither I nor my publisher makes a penny on those sales. PRICE: $14

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:,, @tbarry188,,

Attention Please Now

Attention Please Now: Stories by [Pitt, Matthew]

Matthew PittTHE BOOK: Attention Please Now


THE AUTHOR:  Matthew Pitt

THE EDITOR: Sharon Dilworth was my editor, and also selected the manuscript for the Autumn House Fiction Prize (for which I’m forever indebted to her).

: Autumn House Press. Based out of Pittsburgh, the press publishes poetry and creative nonfiction in addition to fiction works. Some authors on their list include Ada Limón, Steven Schwartz, Sarah Gekensmeyer, Samuel Ligon, Martha Rhodes, and Chelsea Rathburn.

SUMMARY: The characters in this story collection strive to blend into the background only to wind up emerging from or being prodded past the scrims of convention. Some do it bravely; others with reckless abandon. In “The Mean,” a cancer-stricken, high school math teacher’s plan to live out his days in quiet moderation shatters, after he befriends a gang of stoner dropouts. In “Au Lieu des Fleurs,” Parisian prankster-anarchist Mouna Aguigui visits a grieving office worker in his bowl of soup, nudging him and others to commit madcap acts of agitation. In “Kokomo,” a young boy living in a rural Indiana community becomes attuned to a piercing hum a noise that may presage apocalyptic events. And in the title story, a public-address announcer entertains crowds by airing the local baseball team’s dirty laundry for the entire stadium to hear. Throughout the people inside these eleven stories are jolted awake, alert, and alive by patchwork alliances, bracing humor, and episodes of surreal grace. Matthew Pitt is a writer who understands and explores the strange balance between the serious and the comic, the quirky and the familiar. Irresistibly complex, always imaginative, these stories showcase an immensely talented writer grappling with the ironies and difficulties of life in the new century.

THE BACK STORY: Why did you decide to write it? How did you research it? How long did it take to write? Whatever you think might be of interest.

WHY THIS TITLE?: In a literal sense, the title invokes baseball games at Busch Stadium during my childhood, where the St. Louis Cardinals public-address announcer, John Ulett, would announce new hitters with the phrase: “Your attention please, now batting for…” (etc.). But what really drew me to the phrase is the blend of urgency and politeness/propriety, which I think of as a mirror for many of the main characters in these stories.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? One thing I endeavor for in my fiction is to quiver and blur the hard edges of realism, and I would be delighted if a reader, after putting down the book, noted and enjoyed that element of quirky play.


“The central characters of these remarkable stories are oddly ordinary and inordinately odd: that is to say, they are each uniquely qualified to speak for life outside of fiction. Pitt allows them to build the worlds they inhabit from their very particular understandings of what life is, thus endowing their narratives with unpredictable outcomes, and startlingly unexpected revelations along the way. Attention Please Now is a collection possessed of a genuine fictional beauty.” — Chuck Wachtel.

“For sheer intelligence and range the stories in Attention Please Now cause us to sit up and take notice. Matthew Pitt is a writer who deserves our attention, gaining it through the power of style and imagination, keeping it through strength of mind and heart.” —Janet Peery.

A remarkable debut by a brilliant young writer.” –Brian Morton.

“The world in these taut, finely wrought stories is and is not the world we know. Pitt pushes his characters to the edge of the possible with a fabulist’s eye for the strange, potent detail and the realist’s sure grasp of human emotion. A piquant, funny, original debut.” — Rachel Pastan.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I started writing stories in the second grade—my first effort, a mix of swashbuckling sci-fi, featuring heroic, talking snacks, entitled “Tales of the Pretzel Force” (still, amazingly, unpublished).

I grew up in the great Gateway to the West, St. Louis. After college in Massachusetts, I bounced around the country Los Angeles, Austin, Washington D.C., New York, and Mississippi, getting to know the inside of U-Haul vans very well. For nearly five years I’ve been rooted in Fort Worth, where I teach creative writing to some deeply devoted students at TCU.

My stories have appeared in dozens of journals and anthologies, including The Southern Review, Oxford American, Epoch, Conjunctions, Cincinnati Review, Southern Humanities Review, Colorado Review, and Best New American Voices.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: An Excerpt of “Golden Retrievers,” from Attention Please Now:
Golden Retrievers

“Even before August, summer was smothering the dogs of L.A. June’s heat wave shocked Orange County. The forecasters laughed it off. It’ll peter out, they predicted; but it didn’t. A tractor-trailer filled with Pacific fish jackknifed in July, leaving Hollywood and Vine smelling of mackerel and eel and smelt roe, a foggy, murderous scent the street cleaners couldn’t erase. A scent the dogs could neither locate nor escape from. They ran down Gower beside their owners, actors trying to shed water weight in the heat. They ran across bridges which rose above rivers; when the dogs saw the barren riverbeds they howled. Their tongues swelled as they begged licks of Evian from their masters’ palms.

Then came August 5th—and the meltdown of Susie Light’s Hollywood career. On the evening of the 4th, Susie shut out the lights at Peticular Bliss, her kennel for the dogs of stars. She’d just finished preparing sixty meals: fifteen low-cal, eleven no-fat, nine vegetarian, and twenty-five more assorted rations, all done up with capers, coated with twists of lemon, and spooned into colorful, Fiesta-style ceramic bowls. The next morning Susie knew something was wrong by the smell outside the bedding area. Food. Food? But the dogs always ate what was given them. She unlocked the door. A pulse of heat lurched at her. Her hair fizzed, her lungs felt thin: The air inside was grim and splintered with stillness.

Susie walked the aisles, pawing fur, checking for heartbeats, holding her breath in hope of hearing theirs. A minute later, a recorded, eerily perky, female voice filled the otherwise silent room. It came from Ab’s suite. Ab Doberman, a Pinscher belonging to an aerobics instructor who taped two shows for ESPN2: Lose the Fat! and Living With Fat. The instructor insisted that Ab wake up in the morning to her programs. Susie approached Ab: His rangy body lay stiff on the carpet and his face was a queer void, though his nose was still slightly moist, like a stick of butter left out to soften. She bent down and petted his fur. You liked Desert Palm Bottled Water mixed with a protein supplement that made it look like split pea soup, and you liked to hear your owner feeling the burn. Could you be dead too, baby?”

Autumn House
Barnes and Noble
PRICE: $17.95CONTACT THE AUTHOR: at his website,

Matthew Pitt — Author of Attention Please Now

Away at War

THE BOOK: Away at War: A Civil War Story of the Family Left Behind


THE AUTHOR: Nick K. Adams

THE PUBLISHER: Strategic Book Publishing

SUMMARY: Away at War is a companion novel to my last book, My Dear Wife and Children: Civil War Letters from a 2nd Minnesota Volunteer, the annotated collection of 100 letters sent by my great-great-grandfather back to his young family on the Minnesota prairie from September 1861 to September 1863. This new book is the story of that family – his wife, two daughters 5 and 7, and an infant son – as they struggled to maintain the homestead until his promised return.

The storyline comes directly from the soldier’s letters, for he responded to their farming problems and questions, their descriptions of daily activities and events, and their longing for his safe return. All that information became the basis for the scenes and letters I created to portray what life was like during the same two-year period of the letters, for The Family Left Behind. Minnesota’s harsh seasons dictated the cycles they had to follow, and even with the help of family and friends, the hardships and responsibilities were almost beyond them.

THE BACK STORY:  After publishing the battlefront story of war in My Dear Wife and Children, I felt compelled to tell the other side of the story: the struggle for survival on the home front. It seemed to me that the family’s heroism in the face of abandonment was every bit as real as the soldier’s in his confrontation with the Rebels.

Since the family’s letters were not preserved, I began lifting out of the father’s letters everything he wrote in response to his wife’s and daughters’ communications of problems, accomplishments, activities, visits, fears, and joys. My own homesteading experiences provided much of the background information, augmented by numerous books and articles about mid-nineteenth century farming practices and an early history of Fillmore County.

Two years were required to produce the first draft and major re-write before presenting the manuscript to an editor for final polishing.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?: While the stories of and from Civil War battlefields are often written and studied, not much has been published about the war’s personal effects on the families who were at least temporarily separated from the men who went to fight, either to preserve or divide the Union. Those already interested in the Civil War may find the insights presented in this story rewarding, while young readers, looking for additional Little House on the Prairie style literature, may find it quite engaging.

REVIEW COMMENTS:  In Away at War the reader is introduced to the other side of war, the terrible impact, the pain and anxiety, and the untold suffering it causes family members who are left behind. This novel explores the life of a family without their hero, exploring a far greater conflict than what readers get in general fiction…a moving chronicle of the experience of war, a compelling story with relevant historical references, a vivid picture of what life feels like without someone who’s at the front. Very strong themes, including family, loyalty, war, and suffering. A well-crafted story that will entertain and inform readers. It reads like a real piece of history!

This book helped to awaken an interest in me about the Civil War… Nick K. Adams did a spectacular job in keeping the book historically true, while still making the story interesting with fictional elements. I finished this book with a greater understanding of the pain, suffering, and independence the Civil War evoked in the families who had soldiers who went to war. There were times when I found myself shedding tears in sympathy and other times that I marveled at the strength of the family. Overall, this was an emotional book for me that I greatly enjoyed reading. Readers Favorite Book Reviews.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Nick K. Adams grew up in Los Angeles County and now lives in Lakewood, WA. After retiring from a career in elementary education, he continues to speak at schools, libraries, service clubs, and Civil War Round Tables. He is also an avid Civil War re-enactor, as it was his great-great-grandfather who wrote the letters as he fought to preserve the Union. His previous books are: The Uncivil War: Battle in the Classroom, and My Dear Wife and Children: Civil War Letters from a 2nd Minnesota Volunteer.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: You are invited to the author’s website ( where you are able to read Chapter One.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Independent bookstores can order Away at War for you (POD) through Ingrams or other major distributors.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Away at War is already available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble Bookstores, and should soon be offered at the Fort Snelling Bookstore (St. Paul, MN), Minnesota Historical Society (Minneapolis, MN), and the Chickamauga National Battlefield Bookstore (Ft. Oglethorpe, GA).

PRICE: $19.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Please feel free to contact me for any reason at:

Weather Report, July 17

Lobster, Cook, Food, Seafood, Healthy



First of all, I want to let the world (or that tiny portion of it that might care) know that Snowflakes in a Blizzard will be taking a short vacation break.

Among other things, I’ll be exploring the wilds of darkest New England with no computer, no laptop, and a phone that does nothing but make phone calls. During that time, I won’t be friending anyone, keeping track of my fantasy baseball team or reading any of Donald Trump’s tweets. I even may eat a lobster at some point.

Anyway, that means next week will bring a pause in this blog, the posts to resume the week of August 1. What better time for a snowflake to briefly melt away than July?

But that still leaves this week, when we will offer a peek into the minds of a master of untamed imagination (Matthew Pitt), a flash fiction/poet (Tina Barry) who looks at real life through her own unique prism and a student of the Civil War (Nick K. Adams) whose specialty is making the past come alive in surprising ways.

In other words, a little bit of everything, new and old. These are the debut books for Matthew and Tina, although both have a long list of published stories in a variety of  literary magazines and anthologies. As for Nick, we featured his previous novel, “My Dear Wife and Children,” in March of 2016.




Writers Tina: “Mall Flower is a collection of poems, short and flash fiction and hybrids of the two. Some of the themes I explore are alienation, loss of a parent, divorce, sexual awakening and its decline. I tried to provide the reader with a balance of light and dark, often in the same piece. There are playful pieces, such as ‘Mall Flower,’ about a teenager’s sexual awakening while strolling the mall, and darker yet still humorous works, like the flash ‘Going South,’ that focuses on my family’s last trip to Florida before my parents’ divorce.


The characters in this story collection strive to blend into the background only to wind up emerging from or being prodded past the scrims of convention. Some do it bravely; others with reckless abandon. In “The Mean,” a cancer-stricken, high school math teacher’s plan to live out his days in quiet moderation shatters, after he befriends a gang of stoner dropouts. In “Au Lieu des Fleurs,” Parisian prankster-anarchist Mouna Aguigui visits a grieving office worker in his bowl of soup, nudging him and others to commit madcap acts of agitation. In “Kokomo,” a young boy living in a rural Indiana community becomes attuned to a piercing hum a noise that may presage apocalyptic events. And in the title story, a public-address announcer entertains crowds by airing the local baseball team’s dirty laundry for the entire stadium to hear. Throughout the people inside these eleven stories are jolted awake, alert, and alive by patchwork alliances, bracing humor, and episodes of surreal grace. Matthew Pitt is a writer who understands and explores the strange balance between the serious and the comic, the quirky and the familiar. Irresistibly complex, always imaginative, these stories showcase an immensely talented writer grappling with the ironies and difficulties of life in the new century.


From Nick: “Away at War is a companion novel to my last book, My Dear Wife and Children: Civil War Letters from a 2nd Minnesota Volunteer, the annotated collection of 100 letters sent by my great-great-grandfather back to his young family on the Minnesota prairie from September 1861 to September 1863. This new book is the story of that family – his wife, two daughters 5 and 7, and an infant son – as they struggled to maintain the homestead until his promised return.

“The storyline comes directly from the soldier’s letters, for he responded to their farming problems and questions, their descriptions of daily activities and events, and their longing for his safe return. All that information became the basis for the scenes and letters I created to portray what life was like during the same two-year period of the letters, for The Family Left Behind. Minnesota’s harsh seasons dictated the cycles they had to follow, and even with the help of family and friends, the hardships and responsibilities were almost beyond them.”

The Big Bang Symphony



THE BOOK: The Big Bang Symphony.


THE AUTHOR: Lucy Jane Bledsoe.

THE EDITOR: Raphael Kadushin.

THE PUBLISHER: Terrace Books (trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin press).

SUMMARY: Three women — a geologist, a composer and a galley worker — take jobs in Antarctica. As they each fall in love and into trouble, their lives become more and more entwined — until one crisis binds them in friendship for life.

THE BACK STORY: I love writing about how extreme landscapes change people and whole communities. In this book, I especially wanted to write about the crazy beauty in Antarctica and how that affects the choices people make. Everyone writes about survival challenges on that southern continent; I wanted write about the emotional challenge. I got two National Science Foundation Fellowships to travel to Antarctica to research the novel and was lucky enough to get to spend time at all three American stations, including South Pole Station, and also in a field camp where scientists were studying penguins, climate change and cosmology.

Lucy Jane BledsoeWHY THIS TITLE? One of my characters is writing a piece of music about the Big Bang. She is also trying to come to terms with an absent father who is an astrophysicist. The title points to my interest in finding the ways people connect with one another around their reach for beauty and meaning, on this planet and beyond.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Lots has been written about the history of Antarctica, but very little about the people living and working there. This is a people story, and specifically features three women on that wild continent.


“In this compelling novel, Bledsoe captures the deadly beauty of the southernmost continent … a well-balanced humdinger of a story keeps this unusual novel hurtling along like a skidoo on the ice.” — Kirkus Reviews.

“This is rich storytelling, full of gutsy characters, drama and transformation, reminding us of the awesome and ultimately untamable power of nature, and, as vulnerable, highly social animals, our place in it.” — Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

“Bledsoe skillfully orchestrates the lives of an intriguing set of characters gathered at an outpost in Antarctica … Bledsoe uses the locale’s incredible beauty and high potential for drama, danger and self-discovery for insights small and great as the women react to the sun’s breathtaking glint on the ice and, conversely, to the power of an unmerciful environment that so quickly turns deadly.” — Booklist.

“For everyone mesmerized by Werner Herzog’s Antarctic documentary, Encounters at the End of the World, Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s rippingly good new novel, The Big Bang Symphony, provides a return trip into the minds of the scientists and misfits who choose to work in the extreme cold of the McMurdo Station … (Bledsoe) keeps things moving. She packs her book with lively, libidinous, oddball characters, the very most alluring and dangerous of which is the beautifully realized frozen landscape. Don’t miss this chance to feel like you’ve spent a seaaon there.” — Band of Thebes.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Lucy Jane Bledsoe’s new novel, A Thin Bright Line, was just released. She’s the author of a collection of short stories, a collection of narrative nonfiction and four novels, including The Big Bang Symphony. Her recent short story, “The We of Me,” published in The Rumpus, was chosen by ploughares Magazine as the best story published in lit mags that week.

Her fiction has won a Yaddo Fellowship, the 2013 Saturday Evening Post Fiction Award, the Arts & Lertters Fiction Prize, the Sherwood Anderson Prize for Fiction, a Pushcart nomination, a California Arts Council Fellowship, an American Library Association Stonewall Award amd two National Science Foundation Artists and Writers Fellowships. Her stories have been translated into Japanese, Spanish, German, Dutch and Chinese.

Lucy loves teaching workshops, cooking, traveling anywhere, basketball, doing anything outside and telling stories. She’s traveled to Antarctica three times, as a two-time recipient of the National Science Foundation’s Artists and Writers in Antarctica Fellowship and once as a guest on the Russian ship, the Akademik Sergey Vavilov. She is one of a tiny handful of people who have stayed at all three American styations in Antarctica. She has also stayed in a number of field camps, both on the coast and in the Transantarctic Mountains, where scientists are studying penguins, climate change, and the Big Bang.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: See the Amazon page.

LOCAL OUTLETS: I like to direct rteaders to their local independent bookstores. If you don’t know where one is, you can find a close one at Or order from Powell’s Books at

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

PRICE: Varies.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: I can be reached, including e-mail, via my website: OR my Twitter account: @LucyBledsoe. OR my Facebook account:









Cinnamon Girl

THE BOOK: Cinnamon Girl

: 2016

  Lawrence Kessenich

: Anne Rasset (now an independent editor:

Lawrence KessenichTHE PUBLISHER: North Star Press “is a family business with nearly half a century’s commitment to quality in books, relationships, and service, and the publishing of books that matter.”  

SUMMARYCinnamon Girl is a novel about family conflict, love, sex, drugs, protest, and the end of the 1960s—literally and figuratively—in the lives of young Americans on the home front during the Vietnam War era. It will resonate for those who lived through this era and intrigue those who wonder what the era was really like.

I wrote Cinnamon Girl because I lived through the tumultuous era it describes and felt that the home front experience had not been adequately represented in fiction. I protested the Vietnam War, had intense family conflicts—especially with my father, was involved in a complicated love relationship that reflected the era, smoked weed, and occasionally experimented with LSD and mescaline. We wanted to change the world, and I believe we did in some important ways, even if we didn’t achieve everything we wanted to achieve and didn’t turn out to be the total idealists we thought we’d be as adults. 

Much of what happens in the novel is drawn from my own experience and the experiences of people I knew, but I did have to go back to some original sources—such as the “alternative” publication Kaleidoscope magazine—to find some details about Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin branch there in 1969 and 1970. It took me about a year to draft the novel and another six months to revise it. 

WHY THIS TITLE?: The title is taken from the song of the same name by Neil Young, who is one of the representative musicians of that era. It is a song I associated with the woman in the “complicated love relationship” I describe above, so it seemed appropriate for the main character of the book to associate with the woman he becomes involved with.

I have found that Cinnamon Girl appeals both to the generation who lived through this era and to younger people who wonder what it was like to live through it. As the Baby Boom Generation—the largest population cohort in the history of the nation—moves into retirement age, more and more of us are looking back on our youth and pondering our generation’s role in the social upheaval of “The 60s.” For young people today, the Vietnam War era is as far back as the World War I era was for us as young people, and it is a fascinating era of tremendous change. I believe that this novel presents the widespread upheaval of that era—political, social, and personal—in a dramatic context that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.

“Cinnamon Girl, poet and playwright Lawrence Kessenich’s first novel, recreates the dreamscape of the late 1960s in subtle, successful tones. John Meyer is working his way through college, navigating the shoals of a conservative family, radical student politics and a complicated love affair with all the aplomb you might expect from a 19-year-old.

“Kessenich remembers the trials of being young; Try this, or not? Believe this, or accept the status quo? Risk a forbidden emotion, or remain cocooned in a world that may well cease to exist before you turn twenty? There is excellent art in this story of a Milwaukee boy tuned in to the societal television show of student violence, experimental drug use and the changing moral code and wondering: How does all this apply to me?

“Low-key and insightful, Cinnamon Girl is a lovely tale of youth’s travails, told by an artist still in touch with those turbulent feelings and times.” — Alex Beam, Boston Globe columnist and the author of The Feud: Vladimir Nabokov, Edmund Wilson, and the End of a Beautiful Friendship                                                               
“In this haunting, perfectly observed debut, poet extraordinaire Kessenich shows that he’s a skilled novelist as well. Whether you’re of the Vietnam era or not, Cinnamon Girl will remain seared in your memory.” — 
Steve Ulfelder, Edgar finalist author of Purgatory Chasm                                                    

“Milwaukee, 1969—student protests, draft deferments, family dissension, free love… Lawrence Kessenich, a novelist with keen muscle memory, takes us on a spirited journey to a time and place in some ways as distant as ancient Rome and registers the first tectonic shifts that have left us a divided nation today.” —  David Payne, award-winning novelist and author of Barefoot to Avalon

E: I have been writing since childhood, but for a long time after I became “serious” about it, in college, my relationship to the writing process was a stormy one.  Part of this stemmed from the fact that as a child I used fiction to avoid confronting the world. I dreamed of what I wanted to do, instead of doing it. For a long time, I wanted as much to be a writer as to actually write. This realization hit me while I was in grad school in creative writing, and it led me to leave grad school and go into book publishing, where I could be involved with writers but not have the pressure of trying to be write myself. 

But I was never able to leave writing entirely behind. While an editor, I wrote poetry and one novel (which I promptly decided was no good). It wasn’t until I had children and started writing stories for them that I relaxed about the writing process and got my overly vocal internal critic off my back.

But my internal critic hasn’t been banished; he’s been integrated. In his proper place, he’s essential to my process.  When I have completed a piece, when the joy and glow of creation has waned, when I have had some time to disidentify with what I’ve written, my internal critic steps in and gives good and fair advice about what could be better—and now he even says what he likes, sometimes.  

So, writing has become the form of meditation that I’ve always known it could be. When I write I transcend my everyday experience. I don’t reject life any more, as I did as a child; I simply step aside from it—disidentify—and immerse myself in a timeless creative flow. The words seem to come through me, rather than from me, and the experience of being the conduit for them is delightful.

The first thing a story needs to be is entertaining. Readers need to care about the  characters in a book, care about what’s going to happen to them next. I’ve had a number of readers say that they couldn’t put the book down, that they just had to know what was going to happen next. So, although this book has something to say about a historical era, it is, first and foremost, an engaging story about Michael, Claire, Tony and Jonah, about how they interact with each other and with a world that is changing rapidly and dramatically.



Television lights flared on behind the police line, blinding us. For a few seconds, it was eerily quiet. I heard a siren in the distance. Then they charged. Time seemed to stand still. I saw their clubs waving over their heads, but in the penumbra of TV lights it all seemed unreal, like a war movie in slow motion with the sound track cut out. Then one of the TV riggers stumbled and fell, dousing his lights, and I snapped back to reality. It was only thirty or forty policemen against 200 or so of us, but we were bareheaded and wearing jeans and sneakers and they had helmets and billy clubs and jackboots, and they meant business.

We all realized simultaneously what was happening. Somebody yelled, “let’s get the hell out of here!” and everybody ran for it. a couple of people fell, and for all I know got trampled, if not by their brothers and sisters, then by the cops. Some of the cops were yelling and had their clubs up high, ready to bring them down—happily—on a hippie head. Someone near me was foolish enough to taunt them, but I just kept running.

I headed for the bluff that overlooked lake Michigan, where the underbrush was thick around the trees. I reached the verge as a smaller guy slipped through an opening in the brush just ahead of me. We crashed down the hillside together, barely keeping our feet, branches whipping our face. at the bottom of the hill, we emerged from the vegetation at a gallop and, exhilarated by the chase, continued through the lit park and across Lincoln Drive and out onto the broad beach, collapsing on the damp sand at the water’s edge.

As we lay there on our backs, panting, unable to speak, I gave my confederate a closer inspection. he was lean and wiry and wore a black t-shirt and black jeans. he had a high forehead and a shock of black hair, pulled back in a ponytail, a roman nose, and a thick goatee. his deep-set brown eyes brimmed with mirth, even as he struggled to get his breath. Laugh lines etched their corners, although he was clearly no older than I was. When he’d caught his breath, laughter overtook him, the goatee jumping as he howled into the darkness. I stroked the anemic blonde hair on my own chin and smiled.

“Goddam cops,” he finally said. “When it comes down to it, you just can’t argue with ’em.” He turned on his side and extended his hand. “Tony Russo,” he said.

“John Meyer,” I replied.

We shook, joining palms and grasping the heels of one another’s hands.

“Most people just call me Russo,” he added, running his fingernails through his scalp, maybe combing out sand.

“Want to smoke a ‘j’?” he asked. he dug into his jeans pocket and pulled out a crushed cigarette pack.

I looked around warily, and then felt embarrassed by my caution.

“Why not,” I said. “The cops are all busy cleaning up the park.” Tony extracted a joint from the pack, but it was broken in two places.

“Shit, this is no good,” he said. “Let’s get a few hits off of these pieces, then we’ll go back to my place and do up a decent one.”

“You live nearby?”

“Brady Street. above Headroom.”

“Is that your shop?”

“Nah. I couldn’t run a business if I tried.”

He struck a match and lit a piece of the joint, taking a long, deep hit as he did, he handed the joint to me, and I took a good hit myself. It was smooth and sweet.

“Nice stuff,” I croaked, holding in the smoke.

“Yaaaah,” said Tony, breathing out luxuriously, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland with his hookah. “I got it from my friend Jimmy. He knows some South American dudes who get the stuff from home.”

The piece was nearly burned up after two hits. Tony told me to toss it or eat it. I popped in into my mouth, putting out the live coal with saliva, and swallowed it. Tony was already lighting the second piece.

“You have roommates on Brady?” I asked.

He smiled but couldn’t answer right away, because he was holding in a hit. He held out the piece of joint to me. I took another hit, too, drawing some of the sweet smoke up my nostrils. Tony exhaled and laughed.

“You might say I have roommates,” he said. “A wife and a kid.”

I blew out my hit. “No shit? A wife and a kid already?”

“Claire and I have been married almost two years, now, and Jonah’s six months old.”

The dope was beginning to make me feel everything in an exaggerated way. My chest ballooned with every breath of fresh lake air. My eyes were wide, taking in the sparkling lights across the bay in South Milwaukee. The sound of lapping waves was captivating.

“It freaks me out, sometimes,” said Tony. “Hey, man, watch yourself.”

I looked down at my hand, which seemed as if it was detached from my body. Then I felt the heat of the coal on my fingertips.

“You want to eat it?” I said.

“Pop it into my mouth.”

I did as he asked. It sizzled on his tongue. he chewed it up as he set about lighting the last piece of the joint.

“You meet Claire at UWM?”

“Uh-huh. You go there, too?”

“I’m an education major . . . I guess.”

“Hey, me, too. But you don’t sound too sure about it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I guess not. Seems right for now, though.”

“How about Claire?”


“That’s ambitious.”

Tony nodded agreement as he toked on the freshly lit joint, and then handed it to me. I sucked in a small hit, then snorted a few more to fill my head with the lovely aroma. I was getting good and stoned. I handed it back to Tony.

 “Let’s split,” he said.

We started walking along the beach, not saying much, just enjoying our buzz with the soft breath of a breeze off the lake and the whoosh of cars on Lincoln Drive. It was perfectly clear, stars shining through the glow of city lights. Out on the horizon, where the sky darkened above the water, stars massed like fireflies. We walked right by the Brady Street footbridge, which would have taken us more directly to Tony’s apartment, and continued on past the floodlit marina, past the old Coast Guard station with its tall white mast, devoid of flag for the night, past the duck pond lined with willows swaying sensuously.

We followed Lincoln Drive as it curved up toward downtown, then turned onto Prospect Avenue and headed back toward Brady Street. Prospect was a busy street lined with shops, apartment buildings, gas stations, and the occasional private home. It followed the bluff above the lake, but the roar of traffic shattered our meditative mood.

“That was nice stuff, Tony. Thanks for getting me high.”

“Not bad, is it? It’s a perfect night for it, too. I could get used to this kind of weather.”

We passed an old church with a half-timbered parish house attached to it. On the wall beside the house’s entrance was a carefully lettered wooden sign that said “Draft Counseling Center.” We noticed it simultaneously.

“Bummer,” said Tony.

We walked in silence for a minute under the garish yellow glow of the streetlights. Tony tugged his beard thoughtfully.

“What would you do if they drafted you?” he finally asked.

“God, I don’t know. There’s no way I’d join the army with that dumbass war going on, and I sure couldn’t deal with prison, so I guess I’d have to go to Canada. But that scares the shit out of me, too, running off someplace where I don’t know anybody, not being able to come back and see my family. I can’t see faking insanity or pretending to be a conscientious objector, the way some guys do—there are wars I’d fight in. What about you?”

“Pretty much the same. I’d try hiding out in this country before I’d run off to Canada—maybe somewhere out West. There’s a lot of open space out there. Like the song says, ‘Any way you look at it, you lose.’”

A pall hung over us for the next few blocks. Then we turned onto Brady Street and walked silently past 1812 Overture Records, Age of Man, The Silver Shop, B.J.’s Antiques and other storefront businesses until we came to the Headroom head shop below Tony’s apartment. We peered in the window at paraphernalia, ranging from tiny alligator roach clips on beaded leather thongs to a huge, freestanding glass bong. our mood brightened immediately.

“Maybe you should get to know this guy, Tony.”

“I should. Maybe he’d give me that bong for my birthday.”

He unlocked the electric pink door next to the storefront and we entered a dark stairwell.

“The light’s busted, so watch your step.”

My moods are vulnerable to my environment, especially when I’m high, so I felt like my whole world had gone dark as we climbed the steep steps. I kept a hand on the wall, which was covered with peeling paint. Tt the top, Tony slipped his key into the door, and while I wondered how he’d managed to find the keyhole, he jiggled it until it turned, then pushed open the door.

Maybe it was just a function of standing out in the narrow, dark stair, looking into the bright expanse of the room, but the place seemed like a shining refuge in an ominous realm. In truth, it wasn’t all that bright, just a couple of lamps casting pools of yellow warmth on the shabby rug and furniture. In the far pool was a ratty green couch with a woman perched on its arm, her long bare legs crossed. She wore a short, lacey white dress, and a magazine rested on her lap. She held a cigarette in her hand and the smoke from it caught the light of a standing lamp beside her, obscuring her face. She looked like a Vogue magazine version of an impatient bride waiting for her groom. As we entered, she swung her head toward us, her long, straight, strawberry blonde hair sweeping away the smoke to reveal a lovely, pale face with green eyes and a few freckles sprinkled like cinnamon across her nose.

“What are you doing home so soon?” Tony asked her.

“The shower was cancelled at the last minute,” she replied. “Rosie got sick. So Katie and I just sat around here and drank beers.”

“Bummer. How’s Jonah?”

“Fast asleep, thank God.”

“Oh, hey,” said Tony, “this is John. We met at the park. John, Claire.”

She focused those green eyes on me. They caught the light and glowed like cat’s eyes.

“Hi,” I managed to croak, my throat suddenly dry. I swallowed to wet it. “Tony and I just happened to choose the same hill to run down. We almost got our heads bashed.

“Bashed?” she said, concern in her voice. “Did it get that bad?”

“We didn’t let it. We all scattered like leaves to the wind, huh, Tony?”

He was already reaching into a small rosewood box on the mantel for more weed.

“It wasn’t worth getting our heads busted for that pissy little park. This’ll

blow over, and we’ll be sitting at the fountain smoking joints in no time.” He sat down on the couch, spread out some of the marijuana on an album cover and began to clean it, picking out seeds and stems. I just stood there staring at Claire, who had finished her cigarette and was stubbing it out in a big green glass ashtray on the sofa. She leaned over and started rummaging around in her fringed leather purse on the floor.

“Hey,” Tony said to me, “sit down and make yourself at home, will you. You’re making me nervous.”

Claire sat back up, a fresh cigarette and a pack of matches in her hand.

“Do you want a beer?” she asked.

“Sounds good.”



She lit her cigarette before getting up. As she held the match to it, I noted the contrast between her delicate wrist and her full breasts, revealed by the scooped neck of dress. It was an extraordinarily sexy combination. When she rose and went toward the kitchen, I had to stop myself from following her.

“Hey,” Tony said to me, “if you’re not going to sit down, why don’t you put on an album. anything you want.”

“I was listening to Neil Young,” called Claire from the kitchen. She pronounced it “Yun.” “Would you mind playing ‘Cinnamon Girl’ once more?”

“Happy to,” I called back.

I went to the stereo, which sat beneath a screenless window that looked out onto Brady Street. In an apartment across the way, illuminated by a blacklight, a strobe flashed in time to a rolling Stones tune. I fixed on the throbbing light and sound, completely spacing out for a few minutes.

“Hey, man,” said Tony, “are you going to turn that thing on, or what?”

“Huh? Oh, ya. Sure.”

I found “Cinnamon Girl” on the record label, clicked on the turntable and poised the needle over  beer in each hand.

“I want to live with a cinnamon girl,” Neil Young sang, “I could be happy for the rest of my life with a cinnamon girl.”

Claire handed my beer to me and smiled, then set Tony’s on an end table and went back out to the kitchen for her own.

I sat on the floor, across from Tony, who had rolled several thin joints. he lit up the first one and passed it to me. I took a long, languid hit. When Claire came back into the room, I handed it to her, my fingertips grazing hers as I did. She took a couple quick hits and announced that she was going to change her clothes. Tony suggested that she take the joint along, which she was happy to do. He handed me another and put a match to it.

“You live on the East Side?” he asked as I toked on the fresh joint.

I held up a finger to indicate it would take me a moment to answer, and passed him the joint. Then I blew out the smoke, feeling the gentle collapse of my lungs as I did.

“I still live with my folks up in Whitefish Bay. It’s not ideal, but it’s free, and they mostly leave me alone.”

“I can dig it.”

“You both work?”

“Claire’s an aide at a nursing home near UWM and I work at the docks—when they’ll take me, that is. You’ve got to go down there every morning, take a number, and wait around to see if they call it, unless they’re so busy that everybody works. The longer you work there, the lower your number gets, because guys are always quitting, but you’ve got to go every morning.”

“Must be tough work.”

“It’s either really tough or no work at all. And it’s all day, too, so I have to take night classes. Sometimes I think I’m crazy to try to—”

A pair of motorcycles roared by on the street below, drowning out his words.

“—but the money is so damn good, I hate to give it up, especially with the kid.”

We smoked in silence for a few minutes. Neil Young was singing about a man needing a maid. Claire came back into the room wearing a bright red tube top that outlined her breasts and ragged, cut-off jeans that displayed her slim, tanned legs. her feet were bare. I paused in mid-hit, my eyes wide. The jeans were cut off so high that the white pockets peeked out below. Her long, golden hair was pulled forward over her right shoulder. She sat down beside me on the floor, smelling of sweat and herbal shampoo. I felt the vibrations from Neil Young’s guitar go right into my chest and down through my body.

“Should I light another ‘j’?” asked Tony.

“Not for me,” I said. “I’m buzzed.”


“Not right now.”

We sipped our beers for a while without speaking. The album ended, and there was a break in the traffic below, so, for moment, it was almost quiet. Then a sudden breeze sprung up, rattling the Venetian blinds, and the traffic noise resumed.

“You live around here?” asked Claire.

“In Whitefish Bay, with my folks. But I work part-time at Siegel’s Liquor Store, over on Oakland, delivering booze and stocking shelves. It doesn’t pay much, but the hours are flexible, so it’s good for school. I hear you work at a nursing home.”

She was pulling another cigarette from her pack of Kool 100’s.

“Colonial Manor—just up the hill from Siegel’s, as a matter of fact.”

“I’ve noticed that place. do you like it?”

She lit her cigarette, shook out the match, and tossed it into the green ashtray, which sat on the floor in front of her.

“It’s a living,” she said.

Tony took a cigarette for himself and offered the pack to me. I didn’t smoke much, but it seemed like the thing to do at the moment, kind of like Indians passing the pipe to a new friend. I took one. Tony struck a match and lit mine before lighting his own.

“I can’t imagine working in a nursing home,” I said. “You must have to deal with a lot of disgusting stuff. I admire you.”

“I’m not sure I can deal with it, either.”

“You should see her when she gets home from work sometimes,” said Tony. “She’s so wasted and bummed out she can hardly move.”

“But at least you’re trying,” I said. “That’s more than I could do.”

Just then, the doorbell rang. In my stoned condition, it took me a moment to comprehend what the sound was.

“Who could that be?” Claire asked Tony.

“Who else? Kolvacik. He must have had to take Mina home early tonight—probably to avoid getting his legs broken by her old man.”

Tony went to the window, leaned out, and called down, “Kolvacik, you thoughtless slob, go away. We’re in bed.”

“So what?” Kolvacik called back. “We’ll just make it a threesome, like always.”

Claire smiled at me and took a sip of beer.

“In your dreams, Kolvacik,” Tony shot back.

“Come on, Russo, let me in. I promise to keep my hands off Claire, okay?”

Claire laughed.

“Come on, Tony,” she said, “let him in before he wakes up Mrs. Rosetti. She’ll call the landlord again.”

Tony turned back to us.

“Ah, she’s deaf as a post,” he said. “She only calls if she sees something she doesn’t like. But I’ll let him in.” He put his head out the window again. “Sit tight, Kolvacik. I’ll be right down.”

He went out the door to the stairwell, leaving it open behind him.

“Tim’s an old friend of Tony’s,” said Claire. “They’ve known each other since they were kids—and that’s just about how old they act, sometimes. Tim is fun, though. You’ll like him.”

“Holy shit,” Tony exclaimed from the bottom of the stairs. “What the hell is that thing?”

“It’s a conga drum, dipshit,” said Kolvacik. “Imported from darkest Africa.”

“What do you plan to do with it?”

“Eat breakfast off of it, what else? Come on, Tony, take the chain off, will ya. You’re stoned, aren’t you?”

“Me? Nah.”

“Well, in that case, I’ve got an even better surprise for you.”

Kolvacik’s voice dropped to such a quiet level we couldn’t understand what he was saying.

Then Tony said, “Well, why didn’t you say so? You can throw that ugly drum into the dumpster next door, but bring that shit up here.”

“No way,” said Kolvacik, as they started up the stairs. “Love my hash, love my drum. This stuff’s going to help us make beautiful music together.”

My first impression of Kolvacik as he came through the door was that he wasn’t much taller than the drum he carried in front of him, chest high. thin, short legs in jeans appeared below it, and a small head with wild, frizzy black hair and dark, beady eyes peered over the top. The drum was made of dark wood carved with African figures and had an animal skin with the fur still on it stretched over the top. Kolvacik plopped it down on the carpet and gave it a few loud, quick raps.

“Remember, kemosabe,” he intoned, “I’m leaving the safari at Nairobi.” Then he looked at me.

“Who the hell are you? Whoever you are, if you’re thinking about getting into Claire’s pants, forget it. She’s already promised if she ever has an affair, it’ll be with me. right Claire-bear?”

I blushed, but Claire just laughed. “right, Tim,” she said.

Tony closed the door and shook a finger at Kolvacik.

“You touch my woman and I’ll cut you up in little pieces and bury you inside that ugly drum, you hear me, boy?”

Kolvacik put on a look of horrified innocence.

“But, Tony, baby, I thought we were friends. Friends share and share alike, right? Come on . . .”

“You ‘come on’ enough for both of us,” said Tony, then turned to me. “John, this is Tim Kolvacik—a certified maniac, in case you haven’t noticed. Tim, John Meyer. We met at the demonstration tonight.

“Oh, man,” said Kolvacik, “don’t tell me you actually fought the cops over that dippy little park? What a waste of time. I, on the other hand—” He reached into his pocket and extracted a small foil package. “—was using my time wisely, scoring a gram of pure Indian hash.” He set the foil on the drumhead and pulled it open. “Look at how dark this shit is.”

We gathered around to admire the hash. As much as I was put off by Kolvacik’s big mouth, I had to admit he wasn’t exaggerating about this stuff. It was dark and rich, smelling of wild flowers and earth.

“Care to sample it?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Tony. “That weak weed we’ve been smoking is already wearing off.”

“Then, let’s party!” cried Kolvacik. “But, hey, where’s the music? What is this, a morgue? We need sounds, Russo, I want Santana full blast, or you aren’t touching this stuff. I’m not sharing it with a bunch of nuns. I came here to break in this drum and, by God, I’m going to break it in!”

We snorted a few small pieces of the hash by sticking them on a pin and lighting them. It was exhilarating stuff—not too hard on the head, but plenty of body rushes. Before long, we were following Santana’s beat, Kolvacik on his conga, me on Tony’s bongos, and Tony on an end table. We beat our hands raw while Claire danced around and around the room, hypnotized by dope and sound.

Why the neighbors didn’t call the police, I’ll never know. I’d have thought even deaf Mrs. Rosetti could have heard us. and we kept it up well past midnight. It was Jonah who finally stopped us. We paused between albums and heard him crying pitifully from his bedroom. Claire went to him immediately. Tony decided it was a good time to cut the music and go help her, and even Kolvacik had the good sense not to protest.

“The natives are restless, man,” he said to me after they’d left the room, a small-toothed grin splitting his hairy face.

I smiled weakly. He began tapping his conga lightly with two fingers, glancing up at me occasionally, though he avoided eye contact. I sensed that he was studying me.

“These are good people, don’t you think?” he finally said.

“They seem to be.”

“They are—you can take that from me. You plan to be friends with them?”

“Maybe. How the hell do I know? I just met them tonight.”

“You know. It’s bullshit to say you don’t know. Do you or don’t you?”

I reached for Claire’s cigarettes and fumbled the pack as I tried to pull one out. The hash and the drumming had made me speedy, and Kolvacik’s questioning wasn’t helping any.

“What do you want from me, man? Sure, I’d like to be friends with them. Is that okay with you?”

He drummed all ten fingers on the conga, making a sound like the drum roll before a firing squad execution. He looked right through me with those beady black eyes. I had to look away. he ended the drum roll with one good thump of his palm.

“Just don’t fuck with them, you hear? They’re the best people I know.”

I still hadn’t succeeded in freeing a cigarette. I stood up, the cigarette pack still in my hand, then threw it down.

“Hey, man, get off my case, will you? I don’t know what your problem is, but I don’t like being threatened. You take care of your business, and I’ll take care of mine.”

I was trembling a little. I went into the kitchen for a glass of water and found Claire walking Jonah back and forth along its narrow length. Only the dim light on the stove was on. If possible, she looked even more beautiful in that light. Tony was nowhere in sight.

“Is Jonah okay?” I asked quietly.

“Fine. I like to walk him in here when the refrigerator is humming. It seems to calm him down.”

Jonah was a fine-boned, brown-haired doll in baby blue Dr. Denton’s.

I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to take him in my arms.

“May I hold him?”

Claire looked a little surprised, and then pleased.


She handed Jonah to me carefully. His big brown eyes fluttered open for a few seconds, but he stayed asleep. He felt warm and vulnerable against me. He smelled of milk and baby shampoo. It was so cool, holding a baby. The whole damn person, right there, practically in the palm of my hand. I knew I’d been held like that, too, but who can remember that far back? For a minute I spaced out on how big a person would have to be in order to hold me like I was holding Jonah. Seems like that was what I needed most, to be held. Then I flashed on holding my little brother, Steven, who’d been born when I was a freshman in high school. Steven always smelled that way, too.

Mingled with those familiar baby smells were others. Maybe I was hallucinating, but I thought I could identify my own sweaty odor, the green smell of the underbrush Tony and I had run through, the sandy smell of the beach, and all of them overlaid with the pungent perfume of the hashish. But there was another, far more exhilarating one. It took me a few minutes to figure out that it was the musky scent of the body that had given birth to the baby in my arms, the smell of a woman, Claire’s smell. I took a deep breath, savoring it.

My website (where you can get a signed copy with, if you wish, a personal message): 
PRICE: Depends on where it’s purchased.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Write me through the “Contact me” feature at the bottom of this page on my website: http://www.lawrence-write


Unassisted Living

Unassisted Living by [Gustafson, Jim]THE BOOK: “Unassisted Living.”


THE AUTHOR: Jim Gustafson

THE PUBLISHER: Big Table Publishing, Boston, MA

SUMMARY: These poems spring from winter in Southwest Florida. In the constant warmth, it is easier it seems for the elderly to deny the truth of life’s closing snow. Some poems drift north to youth and disquieting memories, others return to reflect on nature, the nature of things, and the natural progression of relationship and time.

Jim GustafsonTHE BACK STORY: When I turned sixty-seven years old, I decided to return to graduate school and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa, which is just 130 miles north of my home in Fort Myers, Florida. Being surrounded by much younger students fanned my smoldering awareness of age. The poems in “Unassisted Living” come from my reflections and observations during the years of my graduate studies.

WHY THIS TITLE?: “Unassisted Living” comes from my ongoing internal battle about the seemingly inevitable decision that so many confront when their activities for daily living become limited and they must find a place where they can be “assisted.” My mother spent her last years and died in such a place. Indeed, that place is just up the road from where I now live. I drive by it every day, wave to her, and contemplate living there when I become a burden to others or can no longer be trusted and safe.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Poetry is a conversation between the reader and the speaker of the poem. I hope readers find this dialogue thoughtful, challenging, and occasionally humorous.

REVIEW COMMENTS: “The work here covers the great swath of a fully lived life, pairing wisdom and nostalgia with a reminder that our desires never diminish as we age. The end result is a book teeming with insight and generosity.” — Steve Kistulentz, Author of The Luckless and Little Black Daydream.”

“Gustafson is distinguished by his discerning eye and his journeying spirit.” — ~Sandra Beasley, author of Count the Waves and I Was the Jukebox.

“With courage and deftness, Gustafson’s muse nobly refuses the tendered lies so often associated with time and aging. These songs of experience remind us that “each moment/is a different stream/never the current.” Quietly outraged gifts, these are. Gifts, indeed.” — Donald Morrill, author of A Waiting Your Impossibilities

AUTHOR PROFILE: Jim Gustafson holds a M. Div. from Garrett Theological Seminary in his home town of Evanston, Illinois and an MFA from the University of Tampa. He is the author of a poetry chapbook, Driving Home, (Aldrich Press, 2013), and a collection of essays, Take Fun Seriously (Limitless Press, 2008), and Unassisted Living (Big Table Publishing, 2017). In previous lives, Jim was a Vice President for CBS Radio, a clergyman, pastoral counselor, bartender, janitor, and drummer. He currently teaches creative writing at Florida Gulf Coast University. Jim and his wife Connie live in Fort Myers, Florida where he reads, writes, and pulls weeds.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I think poets write because they must. I think, too, that poems arise from pain and struggle. I know when I write, I tend to drift to what is unresolved within. I suspect the unresolved is universal and art in any genre is an effort to speak, if only in a whisper, to that issue.


Unassisted Living

Don’t ever assist my living,

set me out by the road instead.

Let someone who finds something

they can use pick me up,

carry me away.

Don’t ever buy all my clothing

exactly the same. Don’t make white

the color of all my socks,

shorts all navy blue, or shod me

with cheap beige canvas no-lace shoes.

Don’t ever tie a bib around my neck

to feed soft food with a spoon

and mistake my expression

for gratitude.

Don’t ever lift my pants

around my thighs to stuff

them with my diaper

covered ass.

When I can no longer flush

my waste away, freshen your own

air with scented spray.

Don’t ever put me in a shower

chair so you can wash me

with thin, latex-covered hands.

If I cannot stand to soap

myself, let the dirt cells spawn

their crusty layer upon my skin.

Don’t ever suggest I walk

with more than a cane.

Three legs should be plenty

to make one’s way.

When that is insufficient,

roll me like rug to the curb,

where I will wait unassisted,


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