Weather Report, Feb. 11

Image result for river images free download(Photo from River’s Edge)

Our two currently featured books, “Echolocation,” by Kristin Berger and “Listen,” by Francesca Varela, can be found by scrolling down below this post, along with the first Tuesday Replay. Or, click the author’s name on our Authors page.


No writer is an island — at least not as far as the three authors featured this week on Snowflakes in a Blizzard ( are concerned.

Robert Vaughan (“Addicts & Basements”) is doing his part to push his craft past traditional genre and style limits. According to his author profile on the Snowflakes template, he “teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction at locations like Red Oak Writing, The Clearing, Synergia Ranch and Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He leads writing roundtables in Milwaukee, WI.”

Julie Babcock (“Autoplay”) teaches in an interdisciplinary program at the University of Michigan. And Bonnie Hearn Hill (“The River Below”) says she is “proud of the number of writers I have mentored.”

Those who can do, the saying goes, and those who can’t teach. But it’s also possible to have it both ways.



Tessa and Claire are two friends who work for a Central California river conservancy group. When a car containing a gun and bloodstains floats to the top of the river, Tessa begins thinking she sees a woman in the water – but Tessa has been experiencing what may be early-onset dementia. Her husband, a prominent criminal attorney, is in denial and distracted by the biggest case of his career. It’s up to Claire, an environmental scientist with a secret of her own, to find out what’s going on.


Writes one obviously impressed reviewer: “Julie Babcock’s first poetry collection is a wonder. Bringing together everything from Billy Idol to Philomel, these poems’ brilliant turns twist with a darkness and haunting hilarity rarely seen in a poet so young. Autoplay makes the state of Ohio not just a place of historical concern, but a character in its own right, witness to the joys and terrors of aliveness. At the same time, Babcock uses myth and fable to confront cultural assumptions of gender in poems that reinvigorate violated space (the body, the land, the sky) with trauma-forged resilience. “We are all twenty-five feet in the air,” Babcock writes. “Anything could happen. Any of us could break or go to fun.” The beautiful terror shifting subtly through Autoplay will not let you go.”


From another review: “A fast-moving fusion of microfiction and free verse that peers into the places where people keep things most deeply hidden. A fascinating study of human attachment and loss.”






This week’s other featured book, “Listen,” by Francesca Varela, can be found by scrolling down below this post, along with the First Tuesday Replay. Or just click the author’s name on our Authors page.


THE BOOK: Echolocation


THE AUTHOR:  Kristin Berger

THE EDITOR: Sandra Klevin & Michael Burwell

THE PUBLISHER: Cirque Press, and imprint of Cirque: A Literary Journal for Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

SUMMARY: From both the visible and invisible margins of life, from the Oregon forest to high desert, from lake to river, the poems of Echolocation, by Kristin Berger, seek to reconcile memory and loss with a world still very much alive and beating. In a time of diminishing truth and light, this book locates beauty and holds space for its returning.

See the source image

THE BACK STORY: Echolocation was written over the course of 18 months, from the autumn of 2016 to the summer of 2018, drawing it’s landscapes from my home-ground of the Oregon Cascades and the High Desert, and as far-roaming as the Senoran Desert and Mt. Lemmon. But the book didn’t begin to take shape until the winter of 2018. Cirque Journal editors, Sandy Klevin and Mike Burwell, had put the call out to previous Cirque contributors for manuscripts to be published in their new press – I knew they would take good care with the poems, had a wide and loyal readership, and would support the publication with readings and publicity. And it seemed like a perfect way to help support an independent small press launching itself into the big literary world.

WHY THIS TITLE?: One of the book’s themes is being lost or invisible, what happens to memory and love, and how we find each other, like a river finding the surface after disappearing. Species that navigate that darkness and find their food and each other have always been totems of sorts: bats, moths, nightjars, whales, wolves. We send our signals out and wait for replies, our bodies wait, in disrepair and repair, and orient ourselves to new paths – sometimes those paths double back and history repeats. Love not lost after all.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? If you want like lyrical poetry rooted in nature – which is all of it: roads and cigarettes in the ditch, backyards and mountain lakes, strip malls and lemon trees – that also tells a story, then you might find some poems here that you connect with. That might tell part of your story.


“If we have forgotten that poetry is a call sent out into the world to rediscover and name our hearts, minds, and bodies, Kristin Berger’s beautiful new book of poems reminds us of poetry’s good and necessary work.  Berger’s Echolocation leads us into that work, honestly and elegantly inviting us to know our own lives and landscapes.” — Annie Lighthart, author of Lantern and Iron String

“Echolocation hovers over the earth as bat, as moon, as astronaut. Hope for the future flutters like prayer flags, “How does the earth tilt towards a deaf darkness while the body, somewhere, aches towards bloom?” Only Berger seems to be able to hold this tension, this unknowing, so deftly throughout her luminous book. Berger convinces us that the world is always on fire and love is the rain. “Let’s inhale this rare thing, like a blessing,” she pleads. “We need hearts in various stages of repair and despair to keep the world beating.” In every page of Echolocation Berger sings the moment into its full beauty, and we hold our chests thankful, hoping.” — Claudia F. Savage, author of Bruising Continents

“In Kristin Berger’s words you will find an almost archetypal love story— between the speaker and her beloved and between the lovers and the natural world. Berger tells us that, “to love like this/ [you have to] know how to kneel in the ruins, like children, unfound and pleased.” The exquisite descriptions of natural phenomena lend a lushness to the poems’ stark truths. Absorbed, with the speaker, in the intense pain of love ending, the reader will believe the sorrowful news that “[w]e may never get what we want in this lifetime.” And yet the beauty that permeates these pages will inspire her to go on.”– Ann Tweedy, author of The Body’s Alphabet

“Kristin Berger’s Echolocation is ‘pastoral’ in the sense ascribed to Elizabethan drama. It portrays the natural world as a stage that ornaments and is infused by grand love affairs. Readers who want their poetic romances anchored in vivid, concrete imagery won’t be disappointed. But others who seek deft concision and memorable phrasing will be more pleased. For all the poems’ intuitive appositions and palimpsests, Berger doesn’t just build intriguing lists of things. Instead, she cunningly evokes intimate experience and sensibility with ‘namings of parts’, in the manner Henry Reed employed…Berger’s Echo has a tremendous power to put us in the throes of a love that has already become natural history.” — Manny Blacksher, Poetry Editor for Light: A Journal of Photography and Poetry

AUTHOR PROFILE: Kristin Berger is the author of the poetry collections Echolocation (Cirque Press, 2018), How Light Reaches Us (Aldrich Press, 2016), For the Willing (Finishing Line Press, 2008), and Refugia, published in the spring of 2019 by Persian Pony Press. She is the former editor of VoiceCatcher, a non-profit that publishes and promotes Portland-area women writers and artists. Her long prose-poem and collaboration with printmaker Diane Sandall, Changing Woman & Changing Man: A High Desert Myth will be published in 2019/2020. She lives in Portland, Oregon, where she co-hosts the Lents Farmers Market Poetry Series, which has brought over 40 local emerging and established poets to the street.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: With this book, I hoped to be honest, use language in new ways, stretch myself poetically and also enlarge my heart. To be present with pain and beauty. To witness what’s possible through poetry, and underneath it.



Let’s work this out in the dark.
I find you, you find me.
A snapshot under a streetlight’s warm brim,
small furred mouths taking
moth bodies whole.
Intimacy is blood in the pitched chambers,
trace and return, the long-foretold
figure-eight of oxygenated rush.
It requires blind faith.
Work and pump and beat—
See where the heart strikes the scaffolding of ribs,
its shape as clear as a rubied bell,
clapper suspended like a bird
waiting for its note to fly back?

(first published in Santa Ana River Review, Jan. 2018)

LOCAL OUTLETS: (in Portland, Oregon) Another Read Through, Mother Foulcault’s Bookstore, Like Nobody’s Business

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: My website (signed);  Amazon

PRICE: $15 list



THE BOOK: Listen


THE AUTHOR: Francesca G. Varela

THE PUBLISHER: Homebound Publications [], which is one of the premier independent publishers in the country. Homebound strives to ensure that the mainstream is not the only stream. In all of their titles, they hope to introduce new perspectives that will directly aid humankind in the trials we face at present as a global village and enrich the lives of their readers.

SUMMARY: Listen tells the story of May, a piano-genius college freshman who dreams of becoming a brilliant composer. In her school’s practice rooms, she meets Conner, an undeniably unattractive junior, and she is immediately captivated by his raw musicality on the piano. As May tries to navigate college life and fulfill her music dreams, Conner pulls her toward the natural world, toward her own wildness, and, ultimately, toward the wildness within her music as well.

THE BACK STORY: Listen began with an image in my head. I imagined a piano in the forest. Far out somewhere, in a cabin, sat a nice grand piano by a string of windows. I wrote Listen by imagining the journey to that piano.       Music and nature don’t immediately go together. Classical music, especially, comes from an era in which man was considered divine and separate from the natural world. Nature, at its best, was admired from afar as a beautiful machine.

And yet, nature is inherently musical. There’s evidence of this in birdsongs, and in wind caught in cottonwood leaves. Waves at the shoreline; even the quiet nothingness of a desert tundra, in its own way, is a type of music.       I started playing piano when I was eleven years old. Well, that’s not entirely true—that was just when I started taking lessons. I was drawn to the piano long before, ever since early childhood. I spent hours on our little toy keyboard, playing Mary Had A Little Lamb and TwinkleTwinkle Little Star. If a friend had a piano in their house, I would float toward it, entranced, and play until they coaxed me off. By middle school I had my very own Everett piano, weekly lessons, and an unbreakable love for the instrument.

Classical music was always my favorite to play, but I didn’t listen to it much until I was in college. There was, really, something divine about classical music, though not in a haughty way. To me, classical music was not refined or civilized, but a wild, creative thing, which transcended all borders. It was pure emotion. It was time travel. Listening to Mozart’s symphonies was much like standing beneath a redwood tree, one that had lived for thousands of years and held within it airs and waters of lost days.

Creativity—like writing—had long represented to me a way to connect with the natural world. I didn’t see why music would be any different. This, I realized, was something that had never been done before, at least as far as I knew. Music and nature. Of course folk-music and the music of many indigenous peoples has some very obvious roots in the world of nature, but classical music seemed a removed, tidy thing. I wanted to question that, and to explore it. I also wanted to draw attention to the world around us. I hoped to invoke a sense of longing for freedom, and wildness, and wild places. And I wanted readers to feel that this was tangible. In all my writing my ultimate goal is to inspire both emotion and action. I want to call everyone back to nature. Back to themselves, really. There is a place of overlap between nature and the inner, creative voice of writers, artists, or musicians. This is the place of instinct. Listen was my way of saying, don’t question it. Listen to yourself and to the wild Earth, and let them guide you.

WHY THIS TITLE?: I originally wanted the title to be For Those Who Listen, inspired by the George Santayana quote: “The Earth as music for those who listen.” My publisher thought that might be too pushy, though, so we shortened it simply to Listen.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Listen is on the edge of young-adult and adult fiction. The characters are in college, sure, but the writing style and character development appeal to a wider audience. Listen is also unique because it looks at the human place in nature, and the relationship between human art and the more-than-human world.


Listen, Francesca Varela’s latest novel, is a coming of age tale about a young woman learning to find her place in a world that does not always recognize beauty—of nature, of music, and of those who do not look and act as we expect. Her prose is simple yet profound, with a rhythm that speaks to the themes of nature and music in Listen. This is a work that I’ve been waiting for: a young author speaking to the struggles and questions of her generation. And as much as anything, Varela is suggesting that what we need now is to listen—listen to the sound of the leaves blowing in the wind, the streams flowing, the birds singing. And, as the title suggests, we also need to listen to what this talented and insightful young author is saying.” – Theodore Richards, author of The Conversions.

“Human life is complicated; luckily there are stories to help us navigate important passages. The transition into early adulthood is particularly challenging, and Listen provides a template for being faithful to core personal gifts while maturing into the passion that will actualize them. Why bother with the struggle at all, especially when most of ones peers seem content with sleepwalking into their lives? The deeper truth is this: if we default on this critical life stage, we may not get another chance to become what we are meant to BE. And that is the great tragedy of human existence. May this story inspire the reader’s own journey.” – Rev. Gail CollinsRanadive, author of Chewing Sand.

“May, a gifted musician, knows early in life that she is different than her peers, that she doesn’t quite fit in. Any teen can identify with May as she struggles to find her true path as she enters college to study piano. She is a loner who is comfortable with herself, but life becomes more challenging when she falls for fellow music student Conner, another loner whose beliefs, looks and non-traditional ways are outside the norm. Will these kindred spirits — breakers of stereotypes — succeed in navigating the troubling waters of early adulthood and stay true to themselves? Francesca Varela’s skillful and colorful storytelling sings as she keeps us guessing until the end.” – Gary Cornelius, author of Dancing with Gogos.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I still remember the day I announced my decision to become an author—it was third grade, and we were assigned to write a one-page story about the planet we were studying. I had so much fun writing “My Trip to Neptune” that I ended up with a 10-page story complete with crayon illustrations of aliens and space goats.       All throughout school, I loved writing, but it wasn’t until I discovered my passion for the natural world—until I had something to say—that I felt ready to write a novel. I wrote my first book, Call of the Sun Child, during the summer between high school and college. When I signed the publishing contract, I was only 19. The book came out when I was 21, and now, by age 26, I’ve published two others—Listen, and my newest novel, The Seas of Distant Stars. The natural world continues to be my biggest inspiration.

For the last two years, I lived in Salt Lake City while working toward my M.A. in Environmental Humanities from the University of Utah. After graduating in spring 2018, I returned home to Portland, Oregon, where I now work in communications at an environmental non-profit called the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and continue to write environmentally-themed novels.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: You can read the first chapter of Listen on Amazon [].

LOCAL OUTLETS: Listen is available at most local indie bookstores. In the Portland area, you can find it at Mother Foucault’s Bookshop, Another Read Through [], and Books Around the Corner [].



First Tuesday Replay, Feb. 5

This feature has a two-fold purpose: 1. To allow those recently added to our followers list to discover books they might have missed and 2. To make sure previously featured authors and their work aren’t forgotten. If you’d like to learn more about any of the books revisited here, simply click on the “Author” page, then on that author’s name.


Shrink Wrapped is a collection of a dozen short stories with a common theme running through each, unifying them as a whole. These stories attempt to tug at the reader, raising questions, asking the reader to consider a perspective on human suffering outside trite, contemporary notions of sanity and insanity. Each story offers an existential opportunity to ponder over human tragedy. It’s my intent to make the stories personal, at least personal enough to where the reader might imagine to him or herself, “that could have be me, my parent or my child.” Too often we distance ourselves away from those with mental illness; my goal with Shrink Wrapped is to give the reader a front row seat to its daily experience.


Writes one reviewer: “The centerpiece of this book are the characters and their messy, complicated and screwed up lives, and yet there are bright flashes of goodness and humanity that light up the darkness. The author handles these complex relationships with a deft hand and never stops surprising the reader along the way as secrets are revealed. The dialogue is pitch perfect, raw and at times laced with profanity but that’s the way people speak in Rainytown, a place where dreams die hard and gossip trumps hope. The class divide between Frankie and Callie looms large and is brilliantly depicted throughout.”


Liz didn’t mean to start a sex strike…but she’ll use it to end a war and win an election. Liz A. Stratton is running for President of the United States to end the unpopular war in Mesopotamianstan. Everything goes as planned until the first debate when Liz’s competitors patronize her. She loses her temper and declares that if every woman in America withheld sex, the war would be over in weeks. So women all over the country actually “close the store.” Now the fun starts.

Closing the Store is a retelling of a the Ancient Greek farce — “Lysistrata,” by Aristophanes, but before you dismiss it as being too high-brow, know that Lysistrata is one of the lewdest plays in the classical canon.


The book relates the life of Hall of Fame football player “Bullet” Bill Dudley. The most versatile player in NFL history, Bill played 8 positions in every game in a single season.  It chronicles the steadfast sense of purpose Bill brought to the game, his family and his community.


Lázara Maria Soto, 17, lives in the Tremé neighborhood of New Orleans. Her parents cook crystal meth in their bootleg lab, Candyland. Her brothers sell it to kids in the high school parking lot. She would love for her parents to live an honest life. She would love for her brothers to stop making fiends out of her friends. But out of fear and complacency, she does nothing to stop them—’til one day she overhears her brothers plotting to kill a fifteen-year-old if he fails to repay his drug debt before midnight at Candyland. Unable to bear the burden of the boy’s murder on her conscience, she embarks on a crusade to save the boy, first alerting the boy’s father then confronting her brothers, and, finally, seeking help from a New Orleans cop. When all efforts fail, she steals a handgun and surprises her brothers during their rendezvous with the boy at Candyland—unleashing consequences she never expected or could ever have imagined.


In the next generation, our addiction to entertainment will order up a technological marvel; full immersion into virtual reality. This global network of experiences will allow man to share in the wonders of the imagination in ways he could not have otherwise fathomed. It will come with an unexpected side-effect. Neural stimulation will rewire the brain to suspend all disbelief in the waking state and usher in the age of mind over matter. Reality and fantasy will become one in the same, and all hell will break loose… To survive, we will have to fight fantasy with fantasy.

What man imagines, he creates. What man creates, shapes the world. What shapes the world, reshapes man. Soon he will imagine the impossible, And this too shall come to pass.


Weather Report, Feb. 4

See the source image

Our currently featured books, “Byrd,” by Kim Church, “Ember,” by Brock Adams and “Without Leave,” by Deborah Fleming, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.




Listen tells the story of May, a piano-genius college freshman who dreams of becoming a brilliant composer. In her school’s practice rooms, she meets Conner, an undeniably unattractive junior, and she is immediately captivated by his raw musicality on the piano. As May tries to navigate college life and fulfill her music dreams, Conner pulls her toward the natural world, toward her own wildness, and, ultimately, toward the wildness within her music as well.


From both the visible and invisible margins of life, from the Oregon forest to high desert, from lake to river, the poems of Echolocation, by Kristin Berger, seek to reconcile memory and loss with a world still very much alive and beating. In a time of diminishing truth and light, this book locates beauty and holds space for its returning.

Adds the poet: “With this book, I hoped to be honest, use language in new ways, stretch myself poetically and also enlarge my heart. To be present with pain and beauty. To witness what’s possible through poetry, and underneath it.”


This week, we will revisit “Dreamtime,” by Alan Martin, “Crooked Moon,” by Lisette Brodey, “Shrink Wrapped,” by David Liebert, “Closing the Store,” by Maren Anderson, “Bullet Bill Dudley,” by Steve Stinson and “Candyland,” by Vicki Salloum.







Byrd by [Church, Kim]

This week’s other featured books, “Without Leave,” by Deborah Fleming, and “Ember,” by Brock Adams, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Author’s page.




THE AUTHOR: Kim Church.

THE EDITOR: Guy Intoci.

THE PUBLISHER: Dzanc Books, a nonprofit press that publishes innovative literary fiction and promotes excellence in creative writing through mentorships, awards, and national and international workshops.

SUMMARY: “You and me, we aren’t like everybody else.”

Kim ChurchAddie Lockwood believes in books. Roland Rhodes believes in blues guitar. Coming of age in the small-town South of the 1970s, they form an unlikely friendship.

They meet again in their disillusioned thirties, this time in California, where Roland’s music career has landed him. Venice Beach is exotic, a world away from North Carolina and Addie’s cloistered life as a bookstore clerk. Over a whirlwind New Year’s weekend she falls in love with the place, if not with Roland.

When she comes home pregnant, reality sets in. Conflicted, unready to be a mother, she gives birth and surrenders her baby for adoption without telling Roland, and without imagining how the secret will shape their lives.

Told through sharply drawn vignettes and Addie’s letters to her absent son, Byrd is an unforgettable story about making and living with the most difficult, intimate, and far-reaching choices.

THE BACK STORY: Years ago I was having dinner with a man who told me, as casually as he might have asked me to pass the salt, that he’d fathered a child who had to be given up for adoption because he and the mother – both in their 30s – had “waited too long.” I don’t know why he told me; it was an unexpected story delivered in an offhand way. All I could think was, what about the mother? What a different story if she were the one telling it — assuming she would tell it. How would that feel, going through life without the child you’d carried and given birth to? Doing it by choice?

I didn’t know any woman who’d gone through this. I’d never even read about such a character in a book. There are books about mothers; books about women who want to be mothers but can’t; books about women who are somehow forced to give up children.

But not, to my knowledge, a book about an independent, capable woman deciding to give up her child.

So I wrote one.

With Addie, I set out to write a character who is profoundly ambivalent about motherhood, and whose decision not to be a mother is tested in the most profound ways.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Byrd is the name Addie gives her son at birth.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Most of us came up in the era of choice, and I believe in choice. But little has been written about what choice means. This book looks at how Addie – a character who “could be your sister, your roommate from college, a friend in the neighborhood” – comes to make her choice; how that choice shapes her life and the lives of others; and how she learns to live with it. The novel’s unique structure – short chapters interspersed with Addie’s letters to her absent son – allows the reader to become intimately acquainted with the characters.


“Brilliant writing – lively and heartbreaking at every turn.” – Jill McCorkle

“Unforgettable and gripping.” – Bookpage

“At its root Byrd is about heartbreak, loss, and being lonely. The triumph here is that Kim Church’s remarkable skill turns these dark human realities into the stuff of praise song, and plain song, and blues song. It made me shout and holler. What a truly lyrical achievement in prose.” – Randall Kenan

“A riveting debut.” – Ron Rash

AUTHOR PROFILE: I work as a civil rights lawyer – work that, for many years, completely consumed me. When I was in my thirties, my father died unexpectedly, and it was as if someone had written in the sky, Life is short, Kim. Whatever you mean to do, do it now.

That’s when I returned to my first love: literature. I started writing fiction.

My stories, poems, and essays have appeared in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward, The Sun Magazine, The Believer Logger, INCH Magazine, Shenandoah, Chicago Tribune Printers Row Journal, Painted Bride Quarterly, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. I have received fiction fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Millay Colony for the Arts, and

Vermont Studio Center. I have taught workshops in diverse settings, from conferences to classrooms to homeless shelters to death row.

My debut novel, Byrd, won the Crook’s Corner Book Prize, was a finalist for the Chautauqua Prize, and was longlisted for the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, among other awards.

I still practice law in Raleigh, where I live with my husband, artist Anthony Ulinski, and our orange cat Carlos.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Writing Byrd took many years. Much of that time I felt I was fumbling in the dark, unsure where I was going or why. Only later did it occur to me that I’d been working through my own questions and regrets over motherhood. I am not a mother; that’s the biggest what-if in my life. What if I were? Who would my child be? What would our relationship be? What would my child be doing right now? With Addie, I pushed the question even deeper – what if you knew you had a child in the world who was a stranger?

SAMPLE CHAPTER: “Up on the Roof” in The Nervous Breakdown,

Links to other excerpts:


Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh, NC

Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

The Country Bookshop, Southern Pines, NC

McIntyre’s Books, Fearrington Village, NC

The Regulator Bookshop, Durham, NC.

Page 158 Books, Wake Forest, NC.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, IndieBound,

Audio book available on

PRICE: $14.95.


Without Leave

THE BOOK: Without Leave


THE AUTHOR: Deborah Fleming

THE EDITOR: Carlos Steward

THE PUBLISHER: Black Mountain Press, Asheville, NC

SUMMARY: A man who goes AWOL from the Navy and an artist and college dropout meet and fall in love in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco during the summer of 1967.

THE BACK STORY: This narrative chronicles the stories of two alienated young people during 1967-70—David, who goes AWOL from the Navy where he’d hoped to find training and focus for his life but finds only boredom and disillusionment during deployment on an aircraft carrier, and an artist, Diane, who drops out of college after a rape and the death of the black man she loves—who meet and fall in love in the Haight-Ashbury region of San Francisco in 1967 only to find they cannot escape their past which not only threatens their new-found way of life but also challenges their belief in their ability to free themselves from the society they reject.

Image result for Deborah Fleming + author + Without Leave + photoThrough the trials of hippie life David realizes he cannot be free while a fugitive and Diane realizes she cannot be free in a segregated society at war with itself. After witnessing a near-fatal stabbing, David returns to the Navy with the intention of obtaining a discharge based on mental incompetence; while in the brig prior to court martial, he comes to the conclusion that achieving personal freedom means he must complete his obligation, rejects the Navy’s offer of administrative discharge, and, after telling Diane not to wait for him, serves the remainder of his hitch, performing heroically on another aircraft carrier.

Diane returns to Colorado where she had previously stayed with her best friends, a married couple who separate soon after she arrives, and with the not-yet-divorced husband has an affair which results in pregnancy. Upon learning that he does not want another child, she goes home to Ohio where she has a son. When she tries to finish her degree she is caught up in the campus riots at Ohio State and returns to San Francisco where she once again meets up with David.

WHY THIS TITLE: The title comes from the phrase “absent without leave,” describing a military deserter, but it also suggests incidents in the novel where characters become separated and never see each other again.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Most people who were young in the 1960s are still alive, and many who did not live through those years want to read about them. The 1960s were some of the most interesting and tumultuous years in American cultural history.


Deborah Fleming uses flashbacks and thought-provoking cultural and psychological exploration to trace the personal growth and relationship of two characters from vastly different life situations. David, a Navy recruit with mixed feelings about both the military and the unpopular war in Viet Nam, goes AWOL in San Francisco in 1967. There he plunges into the life of Diane, a college dropout with a tragic past who, along with her counter cultural friends in a Haight-Ashbury commune, protest the intolerance of society by living outside its rules. The reader travels with these characters across the United States from California to small-town Ohio during the turbulent sixties and from young adulthood to a moving final resolution of personal identity and relationship. An enormous amount of research, both into the military system and the social milieu of the 1960s, clearly went into the framework for the story of David and Diane. The events portrayed at The Ohio State University are disturbingly accurate, and the slowly unraveling trajectories of David and Diane’s relationship as they discover their own true identities are believable and intriguing. (unsigned Amazon review)

Historical Novel Review (2016): Deborah Fleming has set this heartbreaking love story during the turbulent late 1960s, the era of the Vietnam War and student unrest. The details of life on an aircraft carrier and the antics of sailors on shore leave are both mesmerizing and hilarious. The desires, aspirations, and disappointments among the youth of the period are well illustrated. Scenes of life in the commune bring readers into the lives of the residents there, sharing their tokes. Although covered in more detail than seems necessary for the plot, the student riots at Ohio State and the actions of the National Guard are narrated well. In particular, a scene depicting the famous photograph flashed around the world, of a girl kneeling with outstretched arms, is skillfully embedded in the story. Despite the unimpressive cover, the novel would be of great interest to those wanting to learn about this turbulent period, especially members of the younger generation who didn’t live through it.

Midwest Book Review: Exceptionally well written, this deftly crafted novel is consistently compelling from beginning to end and clearly documents author Deborah Fleming as an impressively gifted storyteller. One of those all too infrequent novels that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book has been finished and set back upon the shelf, “Without Leave” is very highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library General Fiction collections.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Deborah Fleming has published two collections of poetry, two chapbooks, one novel, one book of essays, and four volumes of scholarship. She is editor and director of the Ashland Poetry Press and practices sustainable gardening on her farm in northeast Ohio.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: The novel places brave people in the landscape of the turbulent 1960s—the hippie experience and the antiwar movement—and addresses the existential question of freedom of the will.

Reviewers have commented on the language of the book, but none so far has analyzed its unifying imagery or allusions to myth. If it has a theme, it is that no “right” decision can be made when one is required to take part in an immoral war.

Unlike some novels of the time, this narrative takes the protagonists seriously and tells the story of hippie life in Haight-Ashbury during the summer of 1967 and of a Vietnam-era deserter who returns to the Navy determined to finish his hitch. The story adds to the body of literature of the era. In tone and focus, the narrative most closely resembles Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, without the multiple perspectives of that book.

Some readers have suggested that it belongs among the books that should be made into films.


LOCAL OUTLETS: Ashland University Bookstore, Ashland, OH; Main Street Books, Mansfield, OH

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Black Mountain Press website, Ingram Distributor.


Dr. Deborah Fleming
Professor of English 
Editor and Director of the Ashland Poetry Press 
Ashland University
401 College Avenue
Ashland OH  44805
419 289 5789
selected works: