THE BOOK: Hineni, My Walk Into Beautiful Life.


THE AUTHOR: S. Joshua Mendel.

THE EDITOR: Penelope Jewell.

THE PUBLISHER: Ebookit.com, E-book version. Paperback version produced upon demand from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, etc.

SUMMARY: In Hineni: My Walk to Beautiful Life, the author chronicles his journey of healing and personal growth; learning to understand and accept himself as a gifted, hypersensitive, and gay mystic.

Mismatched to the norms and demands of his family, home religion, peers, and society, the author was a depressed, immature, and fearful recluse for 26 years of his life. Contemplating suicide at age 21, he heard a Voice. Learning to listen and follow that Voice, the author set upon a four-decade journey of recovery and healing, employing a range of traditional (and untraditional) religious and spiritual thought systems. In a Vision, this nontheist, birthright Jew realized to his surprise that The Voice guiding him on his journey was Jesus.

Hineni: My Walk Into Beautiful Life is an intensely personal and frank autobiography; an ethical will of how the author became a whole, human being, and what he learned and is still learning on his journey.

THE BACK STORY: Beginning in January 2013, my internal Guide (aka The Voice) “said” to me: “You need to write about your life!” This was not a casual thought but an ongoing Call that would not leave me. I would hear this throughout my day and later, it would wake me up at night!

I made up a host of reasons and excuses for not writing; for example: “I’m a nobody.” “Nobody wants to know the maudlin events of my pitiful life!” “That would be a big job.” This was a big dodge and a holdover from my childhood: “We don’t air our dirty linen in public!” (sigh…)

As noted in my book, it becomes excruciating for me not to listen. One day in March 2013, I remember myself opening my arms, looking up to the sky, and saying: “OK I give up; so what do I write about?” To my surprise (and why do I still get surprised?), six subjects popped into my mind: 1) God; 2) Religion, Rite and Ritual; 3) Sex, Love, and Intimacy; 4) Health and Disease; 5) Life and Death; and 6) Poverty and Wealth. Six months into this effort, I heard: “You forgot something: Work.” (At the time, I thought: “What the heh, what’s another six months?”)

WHY THIS TITLE? I completed the first draft of the book (what my author friends call “the barf draft”) in late March 2014. It was a set of essays over 350 pages long and with hundreds of footnotes. My initial readers told me that there was much good (even amazing) in what I wrote, but it was not a good read. In its present state, few would take the time to glean the wheat from the chaff. One friend told me that the working title I had for the book was confusing and dead wrong for the content.

I didn’t want to hear those comments. . . and I didn’t want to rewrite something I had just spent over a year writing! But I must have been willing to listen. I was on a bus, thinking about the comment on the title of the book. All of a sudden, the word Hineni came to my mind.

The Hebrew word Hineni (“hee-nay-nee”) is found in numerous places in the Bible. It is often translated into English as “Here I am, Lord”. Hineni is the response a number of biblical figures give God when they are called to carry out something important, and often, important. Often, that Call is something that makes no rational sense. But it is compelling!

In retrospect, The Voice was telling me a lot more than a better title for the book. It was telling me that I had reached a state of Grace in the writing. From now on, this book would be Co-created. The Voice was not a bit shy in taking over the editing and creative processes. Vignettes that I had shoved in the back of chapters came forward as the drivers of the narrative. By the second chapter, I realized that Hineni was going to become the story of my life; not some dry collection of topical essays. This is a lot of words for a process that went quickly and Grace-fully. I rewrote the entire book in three months!

The “second half” of the title revolves around my Hebrew name, Chaym Shayna. That name translates into English as “Beautiful Life”. Growing into the truth of my name is the touchtone and gift of what I call my uncovery.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? This book is my testimony to the Truth that no matter how disabled and/or scarred one might be by nature, nurture, interactions with others, and life events, there is the possibility to “uncover”; to heal. More than that, there is the amazing potential to use that experience in the healing of others and this world. This healing; this gift does not from the head or from logic. It comes from a courageous opening to Spirit. . . Hineni.

The connection with Spirit is aptly named Grace, which I do NOT see in a religious context. Grace is the ability to let go and enter into an indescribable connection with Everything. I think my book shows that Grace is the natural state that exists for everyone. Nothing and no one can destroy this Truth. . . if you judge by my life, not even that person. My deepest hope is that in reading this book, the reader will find that Connection within themselves, and follow no matter how strange the Direction they receive. As I demonstrate practically in numerous places of the book, that’s when the miracles start happening!

After I wrote the book, I realized that having a mystical mind was a closet more hidden and denied by me than being gay. It is also far more misunderstood in our society. We have such mistaken notions about mystics. . . we think they are perfect people who always know the answer, say the right word, and always do the right thing—the first time. They don’t have feelings beyond love (they never get angry), and they don’t have normal human urges, including sexual feelings. My book—my life—shows that mystics are fully human, with all that that entails. I think it also shows that “being spiritual” and living full out in this world need not be in conflict.

Finally, from my editor, Penelope Jewell: This book can start a reader thinking about places s/he have been spiritually, as well as the places s/he might go. The author clearly shows that life is a journey; not a destination. That the tools and guides on that journey are personal integrity and inner guidance. And that any time or effort spent learning in any community or spiritual discipline is never a waste, because any and all efforts and understanding get incorporated in who that person is becoming. . . and we are all “becoming” until we leave the planet.

The reader is encouraged—and challenged—to ask what s/he knows and believes on the basic questions of being human. . . being a spiritual being having a human experience.


“While categorized as a gay book, Hineni is a good read for anyone on or open to an epic spiritual quest. You will most assuredly find resonance somewhere in the text and dare I say become a better person in exchange for the time you spend with it. Who can’t relate to outsider status, addiction (in this case to money), butting heads with family, and breaking away from parental influence. While Mr. Mendel dances frequently with self-importance, he mostly delivers on being a new age mystic, healer, and guru. A book that can unabashedly transform lives.”  — Michael Benson, LyBrary

From Amazon:

“Josh writes of his life openly and with honest clarity. His has been a life of learning which can teach us much if we open to listening and learning. Put your own words to the truths he shares and carry them forward in your life.”

“This book is both insightful and inspiring! I could not put it down until I read every last page from start to finish. In this masterpiece of a biographical journey, Joshua Mendel opens one’s mind in a very honest, thought provoking and poetic reflection of his life. He writes from his brilliant mind, depth of knowledge and experience (as well as sharp wit) as he is clearly a very spiritual being who speaks from the depths of his heart, of his many adventures, experiences and spiritual growth as a human being.”

“A frank and beautifully written account of self-discovery. Along the road to find out how to connect to life in a spiritual way, Mendel makes some unusual discoveries. As a refugee from a mid-western Jewish suburb, this book reminded me of why I needed to strike out on my own and meet a bigger world. But as Mendel makes clear, learning to live passionately and truthfully can be a long and sometimes dirty process- like digging in a mountain to find a diamond. Read it!”

AUTHOR PROFILE: This is my first and perhaps only book. However, I maintain a regular blog on my website, http://www.hinenibeautifulife.com.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I published this book for a number of reasons. First and foremost, The Voice told me I needed to do that! Second, IMHO, we read too much about the lives of the rich and famous. While entertaining (and everyone has moments of challenge and inspiration in their lives), I don’t think these chronicles help most of us, or very much. In these books, we regular schlubs rarely see a clear path or a challenge to our own growth. Many readers have told me that my story is their story. That in reading the book, they have grown in their own life. . . and are being challenged to do so.

“Spirituality” is an inside job. My hope is that in reading my book, people will realize that. . . and become willing to do the work to make themselves and this world a place of peace, joy, and beauty!

SAMPLE CHAPTER: Samples can be found at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. (Type “Hineni My Walk” in the search line.)

LOCAL OUTLETS: None at this point. If you are in the Cleveland, OH area, I have some books for sale. You can save on taxes and shipping that way.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Ebookit (electronic version only), Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google. PRICE: The ebook version is $9.95; $15.95 for the softback paper version.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: My website http://www.hinenibeautifulife.com offers a portal for sending me questions and comments.

The Kudzu Kid

Kudzu Kid 2THE BOOK: The Kudzu Kid.


AUTHOR: Darrell Laurant.

EDITED BY: Joe Coccaro.

PUBLISHER: Koehler Books, Virginia Beach, VA.

SUMMARY: After hotshot investigative reporter Eddie Fogarty overreaches on a story and is fired by his large metropolitan daily, the only bounce-back job he can find is editing a weekly newspaper in backwater Southside Virginia. In that unlikely and alien setting, he finds culture shock, redemption, romance, and the biggest story of his life.

Darrell LaurantTHE BACK STORY: Despite spending more than 40 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist, I never took a journalism course in college. Rather, my training was provided by my first newspaper job, with the West Columbia/Cayce Journal in Lexington County, SC. This left me with a warm feeling for journalism on the gut level that never left me.  Perhaps “The Kudzu Kid” is my way of giving thanks.

WHY THIS TITLE? Kudzu, as you may or may not know, is an imported vine that has literally overgrown large swatches of the American South.  When Fogarty decided to begin writing a column, he called it “The Kudzu Kid” because he saw unmistakable similarities between himself and the plant — like kudzu, he said, “I come from somewhere else, I’m really annoying, and I cover everything.”

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? First of all, I hope, for fun. Although this book has gangsters, a murder or two and even a few witches, it is less about the plot and more about the characters. And as a former newspaper columnist, I couldn’t help but inject humor everywhere I could. The idea is to tear down the original Fogarty –angry, arrogant and dismissive of small town life and culture — in order to rebuild a better version. Moreover, at a time when so many Americans are willing to castigate and demean “the media,” this book shows that profession at its best and most courageous.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Like Eddie Fogarty, I was a northerner (raised in Syracuse, NY) who was drawn south by the newspaper business. After the West Columbia/Cayce Journal, I worked to Charleston, SC and then Lynchburg, VA as a sportswriter before becoming the local columnist for the News & Advance in Lynchburg. Prior to The Kudzu Kid, I wrote two non-fiction books, Even Here (about a series of murders in Bedford County, VA) and A City Unto Itself: Lynchburg, VA in the 20th Century. My wife Gail and I moved to Lake George, NY last year to paint (her), write (me) and take care of my 91-year-old mother.

For the sake of full disclosure, let me add that I am the founder of Snowflakes in a Blizzard.


“Very well written with authentic views of the newspaper world of large and small towns along with their cultures of politics, corruption and crime. A little bit of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll adds to the feel of real life. The believable story of a broken career, a landfill relocation dilemma and a world inhabited by some quirky characters creates compelling reading.You might think you know how it’s going to end, but you have to read it to see if you can tie up all the loose ends.” — Liz Mitchell.

“There are so many reasons why Darrell Laurant’s ‘The Kudzu Kid’ is a great read that it might be impossible to list them all. But I’ll try.First of all, his novel about a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper in New Jersey who winds up as the editor of a small-town Virginia weekly is true to life. As a former reporter for newspapers in the Cleveland suburbs who wound up editing an Upstate New York weekly for a few years early in my career, I can say without reservation that Laurant has deftly captured what it’s like to run a small-town paper as an “outsider.” His lead character, Eddie Fogarty, is never going to be accepted as a local not only because he’s “not from around here” but also because he’s a Yankee in a part of the country that still refers to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.”

In my case, I was a city kid dropped into the middle of dairy country and the first time I heard the term “cow pie” I thought it was the quaint way people there referred to a hamburger or maybe meatloaf.
Like Fogarty, I also tried to install my ideas of “big city” journalism on a community that really wanted nothing more from its newspaper than columns written by local correspondents about who went where for Sunday supper and pictures of proud hunters posing next to dead deer. Like him, I wasn’t all that successful.
Secondly, Laurant also captures what it’s like when actual news breaks out in a small town; news that is going to affect people you know and may even like. The publisher of the fictional Southside Echo warns Fogarty that the bigger the newspaper the easier it is to write about people who are caught up in circumstances that might lead to their disgrace. Writing for a small town newspaper, however, makes telling those stories not only hard but also heart wrenching in some cases because they aren’t anonymous names on an arrest warrant but your neighbors.
Laurant has an easy writing style, honed to a fine edge by his own years spent as a journalist, and his tale of Fogarty and the community he covers flows easily from page to page. There are multiple story lines in ‘The Kudzu Kid’ but the reader doesn’t get lost following them. This is a tribute to Laurent’s ability to tell a story in a seamless fashion. He blends stories about sexual improprieties, small-town politics, and even a little romance into a narrative that never leaves the reader wondering what’s going on.
His characters also read well: No super heroes, no Amazon warriors or supremely evil villains populate the pages of his novel. Instead we see regular people going about their business in a believable way. It’s easy to relate to them: The arrogant big city reporter turned small-town editor; the dreamy poet who never quite left her hippie days behind; the cranky sheriff and the local politicians who see nothing wrong with getting their share of the government pie are all folks you might meet at the grocery store or have a cup of coffee with one morning.
Just as important is the fact that the news events Fogarty covers as the editor of Laurant’s fictional weekly paper are equally true to life. Some authors might inject a terrorist into the mix or maybe a fantastic plot to focus the world’s attention on a small Virginia town. Laurant doesn’t do that. Instead, he makes his readers care about a dead body found on the side of the road, a football team trying to make the state championship game for the first time in a very long time, and the prospects that the county might have to spend a fortune building a new landfill.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some danger involved when Fogarty turns his attention to some of these issues. The dead body, for example, was a murder victim and the proposed new landfill might have some pretty shady characters involved in its construction.
I could go on but I won’t. Let me just say that this is a truly excellent novel, written with care and precision by an author who knows his way around a newsroom and who, more importantly, doesn’t waste your time dragging in a lot of extraneous details that wouldn’t help the narrative but would slow you down.I highly recommend ‘The Kudzu Kid.’ — Michael Billington.
AUTHOR’S COMMENT: The best thing about this book was that it gave me the chance to use a lot of great stories I had accumulated during my years in newspapers. As we know, very few novels are all fiction.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Available on Amazon.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Givens Books in Lynchburg, VA, Baines Books in Appomattox, VA.
OTHERWISE: The Kudzu Kid is listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
PRICE: $8-$14 in stores, $10 on Amazon, $3.99 on Kindle.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Please do. You can reach me at writersbridge@hotmail.com.




Weather Report, Feb. 15




Most of us who are writers have heard that nagging mantra hundreds of times. And, truth be told, there is some validity to it.

On the other hand, what about all those sci-fi and fantasy authors climbing the best seller lists? Or the myriad novels focused on vampires (does anyone really claim to know one)?

Moreover, the Internet has expanded the definition of “what we know” considerably. I’ve never been to the Amazon, but if I wanted to write a novel about exploring it, I could no doubt find enough information on-line to pull it off.

Still, the Internet can only give you what other people have seen and experienced. It’s not quite the same thing as being there yourself.

Our three books this week all involve writing about familiar and personal subjects. I’ll start with Tim Bridwell, author of “Sophronia L.”

“I like writing about people in foreign environments, far from home,” says Tim, who currently lives in Paris, “yet I’ve been goaded to explore places and characters familiar to me. The place I am ‘from’ is Martha’s Vineyard Island (see photo above). Raised year-round on the Vineyard, it never seemed like a place I would want to write about; there were always more interesting places for me, and they were all off-island.

“Some years away from the States, I began thinking of what makes the Vineyard unique. The first thing that stood out for me was the island’s 19th century deaf community, far larger than anywhere on the mainland. There seemed to be no stigma attached to the condition, with rates of intermarriage between deaf and hearing partners equal to the norm. Their homegrown sign language was widely used by all islanders. Martha’s Vineyard was also highly involved in the whaling industry, from Edgartown, its whaling port to the east, to Gay Head (Aquinnah) on the far western side, home to the Wampanoag tribe with their renowned harpoon skills.”

So Tim built that into a narrative that has a strong ring of authenticity, even though the setting is 150 years ago.

Meanwhile, memoir writing pretty much defines “writing about what you know.” For Joshua Mendel, author of “Hineni,” the subject was, for a long time, too close for comfort.

“Beginning in January 2013,” he recalls, “my internal Guide (aka The Voice) ‘said’ to me: ‘You need to write about your life!’ This was not a casual thought but an ongoing Call that would not leave me. I would hear this throughout my day and later, it would wake me up at night!

“I made up a host of reasons and excuses for not writing; for example: ‘I’m a nobody. Nobody wants to know the maudlin events of my pitiful life!’ ‘That would be a big job.’ This was a big dodge and a holdover from my childhood: ‘We don’t air our dirty linen in public!’ (sigh…)

“As noted in my book, it became excruciating for me not to listen. One day in March 2013, I remember myself opening my arms, looking up to the sky, and saying: ‘OK I give up; so what do I write about?'”

And finally, there is my first novel, “The Kudzu Kid.”

It took me nearly 10 months, but I always knew I wanted to include one of my books in this project — not as some sort of personal payback for having put it together, but because I’m hoping it might give me some insight into how Snowflakes in a Blizzard  is working  (or not working) on an individual basis.

Moreover, the book revolves around a subject that’s close to me. Although I spent nearly 40 years in the newspaper business, I never took a journalism course in college. Rather, my early education in that regard came from two years with the West Columbia-Cayce Journal, a now-defunct (not my fault) weekly newspaper across the river from Columbia, SC.

To me, weekly newspapers are journalism at its gut level, and incredibly important to the communities they serve. A lot of the news they print won’t appear anywhere else.

I remember once seeing a masthead atop a weekly that said it all: “The Only Newspaper That Gives a Hoot About Jackson County.”

Yet as my main character, Eddie Fogarty, finds out, when an unpleasant story has to be written, there is nowhere in a small town to hide. Everyone knows who you are, and where to find you.

The best part of this book was that I got to use dozens of great stories from my journalism career — some that happened to me, some I heard about from other reporters, all safely “fictionalized.” I moved the venue from South Carolina to Virginia, but Virginia is where I spent most of my time in the newspaper business.

It’s what I know.




Sophronia Lambert, a schoolteacher on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, lives a quiet life—that is until Nantucket whaling captain James Folger comes ashore. Realizing he is the man who killed her deaf brother, she decides to pursue vengeance—first at home, then at sea—sailing to the far side of the world as his bride.

As she grapples with madness and morality, Sophronia’s quest mirrors that of her island community: to find a way forward amidst the pressures of a brutal industry, a nation mired in Civil War, and a past darker than the ocean’s abyss.


Mismatched to the norms and demands of his family, home religion, peers, and society, the author was a depressed, immature, and fearful recluse for 26 years of his life. Contemplating suicide at age 21, he heard a Voice. Learning to listen and follow that Voice, the author set upon a four-decade journey of recovery and healing, employing a range of traditional (and untraditional) religious and spiritual thought systems. In a Vision, this nontheist, birthright Jew realized to his surprise that The Voice guiding him on his journey was Jesus.

Hineni: My Walk Into Beautiful Life is an intensely personal and frank autobiography; an ethical will of how the author became a whole, human being, and what he learned and is still learning on his journey.


After hotshot investigative reporter Eddie Fogarty overreaches on a story and is fired by his large metropolitan daily in New Jersey, the only bounce-back job he can find is editing a weekly newspaper in backwater Southside Virginia. In that unlikely and alien setting, he finds culture shock, redemption, romance, and the biggest story of his life.












Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit



THE BOOK: Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit: Poems

PUBLISHED IN: October 2015

THE AUTHOR: Susan Swartwout

THE EDITOR: Jennifer Geist

THE PUBLISHER: Brick Mantel Books

SUMMARY: A Southerner by birth, Susan Swartwout’s writing is steeped in the gothic elements of life in the Deep South, a celebration of difference and uncommoners—odd beauties who embellish our plain lives. These poems explore the lives of freaks—celebrities of Southern fairs’ sideshows—such as conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker’s married lives, the Fat Lady’s work schedule, Tom Thumb’s Barnum-warped ego, all parallel to the hidden desires and plots of the rest of us. Our exterior normality belies the internal twisted landscapes—how complicity and silence echo abuse, how depression infects entire families, how a five-year-old learns to use words as weapons, how human need dispels language’s boundaries. From circus oddities to real-life boogeymen, from Louisiana to a Central American village, earth has no dearth of the gothic’s strange fruit, illuminating the complexity of what it is to be human.

THE BACK STORY: I’ve always celebrated difference–of color, creativity, gender, style. My poetic interests are how those differences manifest themselves within quotidian life, molding “difference” into girders of similarity that bridge the false waters of “not one of us.” The freak shows of the mid 1900’s in the South were a starting place, but I found difference to celebrate in other countries, other ages, and from living much of my adult life in the Midwest, difference such as the willingness of people in a remote Central American village (but not so remote that the Coca Cola Company couldn’t appropriate them) to spend a week’s wages to buy a Coke for the “sideshow” of an American painting murals in their church.

WHY THIS TITLE?  My Mississippi grandmother had a description of a person who was different, who didn’t match the standard qualifications of attractiveness. She’d say, “She’s a odd beauty,” meaning that the individual was indeed beautiful, but in a unique way. That phrase stuck with me. The “strange fruit” in the title comes from a poem by Abel Meeropol that later reached fame as a song by Billie Holiday. It seems the Southern flip side of odd beauty, a dark phrase for unaccepted difference and death rather than celebration.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT:  Many people are unfamiliar with the sideshow and circus freaks (as they call themselves) such as Charles Stratton, the Bunkers, Celesta Geyer (respectively, Tom Thumb, the Siamese Twins, and Dolly Dimples) or with the carneys who move and market the shows. And I imagine that few people have lived in a Honduras village that is a two-hour mule ride away from any road that could support a jeep or ATV. The poems give readers a short vacation to places very different from the American quotidian and to the magnificent Others therein.


“These vivid poems celebrate the carnivalesque, as M. M. Bakhtin would have it, the sacred and profane blending an edgy verbal gumbo of ‘kindled envies.’ Desperate changelings, this cast of misfits and saints hankers always to be other than who they are and to be anywhere other than where fate plunked them down. Swartwout renders ‘paradise parodied in such odd / beauty,’ that locale where spirit covets the body’s blood riches. Her gift is the flesh and funk of us given wings.” -Kevin Stein, author of Wrestling Li Po for the Remote and Poetry’s Afterlife: Verse in the Digital Age

“In Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit, Susan Swartwout’s discerning eye and musical ear offer a cast of characters ranging from Tom Thumb and The Fat Lady to related oddities beneath the surface of ‘normal’ life. From these well-crafted poems comes her view of the human condition as a Chang-and-Eng bond between beauty and deformity, comedy and tragedy, good and evil, reality and illusion, love and loathing. Beneath all this, abides the closing poem’s death-lipping blue catfish, ‘whose pale / blue skin mimics high heaven rising / from the river darkness like a heavy soul / or salvation.'” –William Trowbridge, author of Put This On, Please and Ship of Fool

“Susan Swartwout’s riveting poems take us from the time we are ‘born into our language’ through to adulthood. With an unflinching eye and a lust for invention, she exposes the curious beasts that men and women can become in whatever forms they might unexpectedly take. Through her keen lens we see the often unseen, seasoned by the ‘sweet venom’ her poems deliver.” — Sally Van Doren, author of Possessive and Sex at Noon Taxes

AUTHOR PROFILE: Susan Swartwout is Professor of English at Southeast Missouri State University, founder and publisher of Southeast’s University Press, and editor of the semi-annual journals Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley and The Cape Rock: Poetry. She is the author of several books, editor of 6 anthologies—including the military-service literature series Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors—and has published over 100 poems and essays in anthologies, collections, and literary magazines. Her writing awards include the Stanley Hanks Award from the St. Louis Poetry Center, New York’s Rona Jaffe Foundation Award for Poetry, the Davenport Award for Fiction, a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship, and Seattle’s Hedgebrook Writers Fellowship.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Many people I’ve met are reluctant to write their stories. They aren’t sure how to begin. Just write every day. Writing is a practice that must be performed regularly. Find workshops in which your work is critiqued by people doing similar kinds of writing, and you in turn must critique the work of others, in a diplomatic, responsible manner. Workshops will inspire you and require you to consistently work on your writing and revising. Be serious about your writing, and not just in a big rush to get something/anything in print no matter how poorly it’s prepared, nor so self-critical that you give up. Never give up. Your writing is your history.


This poem won the St. Louis Poetry Center’s Hanks Award:

When our eyes have opened to shadows in mote-thick air of the circus tent,

when old men’s droning of what circus once was and mothers’ sibilant

scolding to restless children has slowed to a barely perceptible pulse,

the carney throws back the bedsheet curtain, strides to stage’s edge

where he pauses, above us. In the growled breath of a crank caller, he twangs

his whiskey-hard speil: what you are about to see … nothin’ ever like it

on earth … tenderest part of the body… beyond human understandin’ … Electra.

From behind the bedsheet shuffles a scrawny woman whose bones knuckle

creped skin, her face the lined mask of a thousand farm wives: she reveals

no opinion. The carney’s arms and yellowed grin refer to her widely: door

number three: his prize in the faded two-piece swimsuit, Marilyn of canvas

roadshows. She stands mute, like the woman in Anderson’s tale who feeds

and feeds the world until she dies in moonlight, reborn a romantic

instant in villagers’ eyes as a lovely girl—mistaken and taken for what

she never was. We sit silent, praying for transformation to save her from us.

The carney reveals a cattle prod and the timepiece that is our breathing halts.

He waves the rod like a flag: it sings, whines to be fed—she is hypnotized.

The tenderest part of the human body, says the carney. He slides the rod,

horizontal, in front of her, not touching. Our nerves become her. Before her

breasts, then level with pelvis, he pauses the rod the tenderest part and moves

upward as if he would stroke her—for us—as if he would enter her on stage.

Rod at her throat, her tongue takes its cue, appears automatically in a curve

as if taking a bow the tenderest and he lays it down: rod onto flesh. The fake

smoke of his hell and susurration of his pardon that keeps her tied to this place

rise over her head like a benediction, resigning all faith in the tenderest part.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Southeast Missouri State University Bookstore or contact the author

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Brick Mantel Books, Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble Online

PRICE: $14.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: sswartwout@semo.edu

Beneath Still Waters

THE BOOK: Beneath Still Waters


THE AUTHOR: Cynthia A. Graham

THE EDITOR: Kristina Blank Makansi and Donna Essner

THE PUBLISHER: Blank Slate Press, an imprint of Amphorae Publishing Group LLC

SUMMARY: Hick Blackburn, a reluctant sheriff with a troubled past, is called to the scene of a gruesome murder. With nothing to go on except the victim’s race and sex, the task of discovering who she is and how she died challenges all of Hick’s investigative skills. But Hick faces a deeper challenge. The vision of the victim has left him shattered, a reminder of a war crime has tried to lock away, a crime that has begun to eat away at the edges of his life, destroying him one relationship at a time.

Set in the wake of World War II, Beneath Still Waters is a lyrical and haunting tale about the loss of innocence, the resilience of love, and the lengths to which people will go to survive.

THE BACK STORY: Beneath Still Waters is the culmination of thought … thoughts about war and those sent to fight and also about the notion of deciding who is worthy of life and who is not. I think too often war is romanticized. Rather than John Wayne type heroes, I wanted to portray the effects of war on the young men called to serve – the disorientation of being thrust from small-town America into a war zone. I wanted to write something that clearly showed the personal, individual cost of war.

WHY THIS TITLE? The title refers to both the water where the victim is discovered, and Hick’s state of mind. The saying “still waters run deep” is indicative of the inner turmoil he tries to disguise.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: I often describe this book as an “accidental mystery.” At its heart, there is a crime to be solved and through this crime the reader will be able to examine issues of life and death in small town America. Although the protagonist has lived through some dark moments, at its heart, Beneath Still Waters is a story of love, compassion, and community and stands as a reminder that there is no one beyond redemption.


“When the headless body of a baby girl is found in the swamp near Cherokee Crossing, Arkansas, it is up to Hick Blackburn, the town’s reluctant sheriff, to uncover the truth about the infant’s death. But the body isn’t the only thing that the still, murky waters of the Arkansas slough dredge up. The body stirs up powerful emotions in Hick – from the horror he faced and committed during WWII, to his tenuous relationship with his former fiancée – and in the town itself, making everyone reassess the place they call home and the balance between good and evil inside them all.

“Beneath Still Waters is Southern lit at its finest and most poignant. On the one hand we have Hick Blackburn’s struggle with his role in his family – his broken-off marriage with Maggie, and his relationship with his sister and brother-in-law (also his deputy) – and, on the other hand, Hick’s doubts about his place in the community. He didn’t want to be sheriff, and now he isn’t sure he wants to chase down the killer of the baby, as it might just be a young girl in town and he wants to avoid scandal. Cynthia Graham’s writing is crisp and to the heart. Her characters are true, honest, and quickly become a part of you. This book is a page-turner that will keep you guessing about the identity of the killer until the very end. And, yes, there is a mule within the pages of the story, but it isn’t dead. Highly recommended.” – Historical Novel Society, Editor’s Choice

“From the moment you step into the world of Cherokee Crossing, Arkansas, you will find it unforgettable … First-time novelist Cynthia A. Graham has succeeded in creating a setting and characters that flow in perfect synch.” – Claire Applewhite, author of the ‘Nam Noir series

“When the badly decomposed and headless body of a baby is found in the swamp, Sheriff Blackburn is, at first, reluctant to investigate. He suspects the perpetrator was probably a frightened teen and no good will be served by finding them. Since returning from duty in WWII, Hick has been trying to leave his past behind including giving up the woman he loves. And this baby has brought back memories of those days, memories he has been trying very hard to forget. But it becomes clear that he must find justice for this baby and, as he digs deeper into the crime, he begins to realize that he must confront not only his own past but the secrets lurking just under the surface of this small southern town. Beneath Still Waters by author Cynthia A Graham is much more than a simple murder mystery. It a beautifully drawn portrait of a post-war southern town as well as the stress returning soldiers experienced as they tried to reintegrate into civilian life after the trauma of combat. The characters are well-drawn and complex and, for the most part, very sympathetic. Graham makes you care about them, to feel you know them or want to and you care about the outcome, not only of the murder but of many of the other people in this small town who have been touched by it if only peripherally. This is a story about secrets and deceits, yes, but also about love and healing and community and it keeps the reader engaged from the first sentence to the last.” – Maxine, Goodreads reviewer

AUTHOR PROFILE: As a child, Cynthia A. Graham spent every weekend and vacation in the cotton belt of Missouri where she grew to love the mystery and beauty of the stark, delta plain. Today, Cynthia lives in St. Louis where she graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Missouri – St. Louis with a B.A. in English. She has won several awards for her short stories and has been published in both university and national literary publications. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Missouri Writer’s Guild, and Sisters In Crime.

Beneath Still Waters is her first novel.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: http://blankslatepress.com/authors/cynthia-a-graham/beneath-still-waters/

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Blank Slate Press, Your local independent bookstore

PRICE: $14.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: graham@cynthiaagraham.com.

Double Identity

THE BOOK: Double Identity.


THE AUTHOR:  Jaye C Blakemore

THE EDITOR: Judith Jordon

THE PUBLISHER:  Outskirts Press.

SUMMARY: Identical Twins and Secret Lives…with Deceit, Murder, and Revenge! A passionate romance between charismatic French vintner Cecile Cardin and elusive billionaire art collector Paul Allenwerth leads to the birth of beautiful twins Gillian and Julianne, who are separated at the age of three during a mysterious divorce, and raised in completely different environments: Julianne absorbs the life of a small French winery, and Gillian lives in lonely luxury in New York City. Cecile and Paul take their shocking secrets to their graves…but they also leave their daughters with great wealth, an empire to run, and a strongbox that reveals a legacy they could never have imagined. As Julianne and Gillian learn of their parents’ past, and a family history steeped in unimaginable courage and tragedy, they must come to terms with the gifts and challenges that their parents have bequeathed to them, while making their way as independent women in the changing world of the 1970s. Only one twin will have the perfect life…but both will skyrocket through incredible journeys. Double Identity is a richly characterized, inventive thrill ride with plenty of suspense and romance!

THE BACK STORY:  I was traveling and as I went to bed this story started to come to me.  I laid in bed and the more I thought of this story the more in depth it became. I finally had to get up and start writing everything down.

The more I wrote the more that just came. Three months and 97,000 words later I had completed my first novel.  I am asked so often: Isn’t that a big book?  I had to put so much detail into every part of the novel, I truly wanted the readers to be able to envision exactly what my mind was seeing. Now, at the same time I had only expected the readers to be myself and maybe my family.

I became so involved with the characters I started to feel like they were a real part of my life. I even talked of them to family and friends and would try to explain what they were up to.


WHY THIS TITLE? The title came to me at the same time the book/story idea did.  I knew from the day I first started writing it the name, I also did something I do not hear from fellow authors I am friends with, I had the book cover created early on and looked at the cover daily.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: This book earned Jaye Blakemore the “Best New Author” award from the Dionisio “Best Of” Awards. Wrote one of the judges: “Jaye C. Blakemore is exceptionally talented and from a man who does not typically finish most murder mysteries due to constrained, traditional plots this book was remarkable because both the romance and actual murder itself supplemented this great story telling rather than defined it which is a refreshing new realm of innovation for contemporary novels. Double Identity is magically entwined with twists and turns of an imaginative, creative writer as the story is told from two character’s (twin sisters) points of view. Authentic character development, mystery, romance, passion with an unexpected ending made it wonderfully entertaining”.


DOUBLE IDENTITY is a one-sitting book, or at least you’ll try to read it in one sitting (it is 318 pages long!). You won’t want to put this one down. From page one, I was captivated!  Two twin girls, Julianne and Gillian, are separated at age three and eventually inherit a family fortune, along with a host of family secrets. Though twins, they have grown up differently and thus apply themselves differently to the world, and to the fortunes, and misfortunes, which await each.

Jaye C. Blakemore captures the times brilliantly—the 1970s. Her verse pulled me into the page and kept me there. Characterization is tremendous. I’ve read a lot of books lately, and this plot is truly unique. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in recent years.”  — Frank Scozzara.

“Just awesome, I loved it. I don’t read story type books much, I normally read self help but being I know the author I wanted to read what she had written. Boy was I surprised, I stayed up all night reading it and just loved it. I felt like I knew each and every character well by about half way through. I am so looking forward to her next book which I know she has all ready written, hehe I was blessed to be able to design the cover for her so getting to know the book and the characters was very important. I really could not believe what an awesome writer she is. Kudos my friend you did a fantastic job on this wonderful book.” — Elsie Roach.

“Wow; in this day and age with so many pressures from all sides, there is NOTHING like curling up with a book to take you away from it all. As a writer, I tend to read everything with either a weary contempt or a burning envy…but every now and then, you read something with sheer exhilaration, because you’re just so happy a piece of art is out there in the world for everyone to enjoy. 🙂 The characters are complex as is the plot, which will keep you on your toes (one of those “Okay, it’s two AM and I’m just going to read ONE more chapter…k, it’s 2:45AM…” (you get the idea) until you get to the “WHOA DID NOT SEE THAT COMING” ending!!”

I know what I’m getting for stocking stuffers and/or Secret Santa gifts; I know what I’m recommending to people for the same. Thanks Jaye C. Blakemore for reminding us all reading is an adventure to be cherished!!

I don’t normally write reviews BUT felt the need for this one. I’m super picky on books and this one kept me intrigued. The pace was fast and kept me guessing. Turning the pages was easy because the words created such vivid images and I felt like I was watching a movie! MUST READ!

A good read! Without revealing too much: the author plays a nice game with misleading the reader in his expectation how the story will go on. After about a fifth of the book I thought I know what would come – but I failed. Parts of the story reminded me on Fifty Shades but the plot of the story is much different. As the ‘art of writing’ of the author is awesome to read and easy to follow, I surely can recommend this book.

AUTHOR PROFILEJaye C. Blakemore has always enjoyed her vivid imagination, which has enhanced her enjoyment of travel, allowing her to relate deeply to the places and sights she has encountered across the United States. She has visited every state capital and many Civil War battlefields, as well as Arlington National Cemetery. Jaye C began writing Double Identity in hotel rooms at night during her travels, and before she knew it, writing was her new passion and vocation. Jaye C also enjoys live theatre, stargazing, fishing, and outdoor adventures. She is currently working on two more books, and looks forward to connecting with her readers.

AUTHOR COMMENTS:  I have had more fun both writing and promoting Double Identity.  Most new authors that I have spoken with tell me promoting is a lot of work, I have however found it is an in creatable journey.  I have met some of the most wonderful people along the way, had I not written the book who knows if I would have met the people I have.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: http://www.amazon.com/Double-Identity-Jaye-C-Blakemore-ebook/dp/B00XV5BV5E/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449333990&sr=1-2&keywords=double+identity#customerReviews

 LOCAL OUTLETS:  Book Garden 559-592-2538 keeps autographed copies in stock

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon  http://www.amazon.com/Double-Identity-Jaye-C-Blakemore-ebook/dp/B00XV5BV5E/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1449333990&sr=1-2&keywords=double+identity#customerReviews

Barnes and Noble  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/double-identity-jaye-c-blakemore/1121380314?ean=9781478753803

 PRICE: Paperback 21.95  hardback 29.95  e-book on Amazon 3.99.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: JayeCBlakemore.com 

Weather Report, Feb. 8





This week, we’re opening another door, featuring our first book of poetry.

And naturally, being us, it’s probably not what you’d expect.  Susan Swartwout’s Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit doesn’t conform to the common ideal of beauty with poems about flowers and rainbows, but challenges us to find it in unlikely places — like a carnival sideshow from the last century.

Says the Southeast Missouri University English professor: “I’ve always celebrated difference — of color, creativity, gender, style. My poetic interests are how those differences manifest themselves within quotidian life, molding ‘difference’ into girders of similarity that bridge the false waters of ‘not one of us.’

“The freak shows of the mid 1900’s in the South were a starting place …”

Poetry is going to be a regular part of our rotation in 2016.



Cynthia Graham’s novel, “Beneath Still Waters,” also uses darkness to shed light. It’s a tale of a small-town Arkansas sheriff trying to unravel the death of an infant whose body is found in a swamp.

Writes Cynthia: “I often describe this book as an ‘accidental mystery.’ At its heart, there is a crime to be solved, and through this crime the reader will be able to examine issues of life and death in small=town America. Although the protagonist has lived through some dark moments, at its heart, Beneath Still Waters is a story of love, compassion, and community and stands as a reminder that there is no one beyond redemption.”



But Sunday is Valentine’s Day, after all, so we have to include a book with some romance. Enter Jaye C. Blakemore’s “Double Identity.”

From the Amazon blurb: “A passionate star-crossed romance between charismatic French vintner Cecile Cardin and elusive billionaire art collector Paul Allenwerth leads to the birth of beautiful twins Gillian and Julianne, who are separated at the age of three during a mysterious divorce, and raised in completely different environments: Julianne absorbs the artsy bohemian life of a small French winery, and Gillian lives in lonely luxury in New York City. Cecile and Paul take their shocking secrets to their graves…but they also leave their daughters with great wealth, an empire to run, and a strongbox that reveals a legacy they could never have imagined.

As Julianne and Gillian learn of their parents’ past, and a family history steeped in unimaginable courage and tragedy, they must come to terms with the gifts and challenges that their parents have bequeathed to them, while making their way as independent women in the changing world of the 1970s. Only one twin will have the perfect life…but both will skyrocket through incredible journeys. Double Identity is a richly characterized, inventive thrill ride with plenty of suspense and romance!

Happy Valentine’s Day.
















In Her Mother’s Shoes



THE AUTHOR: Dawn Lajeunesse.

THE EDITOR: I’m a big believer in thorough editing. Writers are too close to their own work to be objective and to see the typos/grammatical issues. My first two books both were edited by Mark Spencer and Terri Valentine.

THE PUBLISHER: Dog Ear Publishing

SUMMARY: Author Meredith Fields’ formerly placid suburban existence is shattering, and she’s not entirely unhappy about it. She feels guilty over placing her mother, Katherine, in a nursing home. Her husband, Keith, wants a divorce. She’s emotionally estranged from her children. And her next book is overdue.

As she sorts through her mother’s house before selling, she finds clues to Katherine’s shadowy past. She begins to understand why her mother related so poorly to her children and is shaken by parallels in her relationships with her own children.

When Meredith finds a journal she kept in her twenties, she is reminded of the love she once felt for Keith, and the extent of her loss settles in. A series of crises forces them to confront their relationship, but will it be enough to put Meredith on the path to mending her shattered family and life?

THE BACK STORY: Like the main character, Meredith, I had an inconsistent relationship with my mother. I knew she’d had a troubled childhood, but I didn’t understand the impact on her until I was middle-aged. Also like Meredith, I had access to boxes of letters that my mother had exchanged with friends and my father during World War Two, and gained considerable insight through those letters and family stories. Once the research was done, the story flowed fairly quickly, given that I was working full time and commuting three hours/day—a little less than a year. Although the story is fiction, there were enough similarities to reality to provide me with both understanding and closure.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Meredith had to walk in her mother’s shoes to see that as her mother’s behavior toward her children was impacted by her own troubled parental relationships, so Meredith was repeating her mother’s behaviors with her own children. That understanding enabled her to heal both herself and her relationships with her son and daughter and opened her to more meaningful emotional connections.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I think many people, particularly women, can relate to troubled mother-child relationships. The story points the way to understanding and healing.


“In Her Mother’s Shoes by Dawn Lajeunesse is a touching, deeply satisfying story about a critical part of a woman’s midlife journey, which includes a journey where she must also face her past…. The story is a snapshot of real life. Women everywhere will appreciate In Her Mother’s Shoes.”

…Writers’ Digest Self-Published Book Awards…Score: 5 out of a possible 5

AUTHOR PROFILE: After years in the health care field, I finally pursued my writing passion. I published my first novel, Autumn Colors, after my fiftieth birthday, followed a few years later by In Her Mother’s Shoes. I’m currently hard at work on my third novel, working title Gram and Me. I live north of Saratoga Springs, NY with my husband, Dennis and Border Terrier, Nala. We can be found frequently paddling our canoe on Adirondack lakes and rivers, biking the roads of northern NYS, cross country skiing, or climbing one of the beautiful mountains surrounding us.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “My novels come from real life experience—some my own, some from people close to me, and sometimes just from someone or something I’ve observed. The settings are places I know and love. I maintain an active presence on social media, blog periodically (when I have something worthwhile to say!), and keep my website (www.dawnlajeunesse.com) fresh and current.”

LOCAL OUTLETS: In Her Mother’s Shoes can be ordered through any bookstore, or ordered through Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Dawn+Lajeunesse), Barnes & Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Dawn-Lajeunesse?store=allproducts&keyword=Dawn+Lajeunesse) and is formatted for iPad reading.

PRICE: Paperback $12.99 ($10 at shows and signings); e-book $2.99.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Website: http://www.DawnLajeunesse.com – go to Contact Me page;

LIKE and/or message me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dawn-Lajeunesse/101765559916470?ref=bookmarks

FOLLOW me on Twitter: @mtnwriter77

CONNECT with me on LinkedIn: Dawn Lajeunesse, Author


Tuesday Replay, Feb. 2



A coming of age story of a high school senior whose family has fractured and he finds himself at a new school in the isolated mountains of North Carolina. He is a good athlete, so fitting in is not a major problem. He is recruited for the nationally-prominent square dance team (winner of three national championships) because mononucleosis has decimated the squad and he adjusts well, loving the sport.

The book concentrates on Eb McCourry’s adjustment and growth in light of a number of challenges. He faces violence, pedophilia, uncertainty about his future, his first love, the poverty of his past and finds inspiration in a crusty old coach who takes him under his wing.


It is a book with strong women characters (the square dance coach is based on the legendary Kay Wilkins) and pits country vs. city, wealth vs. poverty, heritage vs. ambition.


Refuge is the story of Cain, Abel, Lilith—the sister Cain desires to marry, and what happens next. It deals with sibling conflict, a relationship we would consider to be incest, fratricide, immorality, cutting, attempted suicide, revenge, and redemption. It’s gritty.

Back-cover Blurb: Intent on total destruction, Satan notices Cain’s obsessive lust for Lilith and the dark roots of jealousy growing deep in his soul toward his do-gooding brother Abel. Satan goads Cain to the point of madness, barraging his mind with thoughts of hatred, lust, and futility. In a blinding rage, Cain wrecks everything. Wracked with shame, he flees into the vast wilderness, unable to possess the one thing he truly desires – Lilith. His life is destroyed. Will he ever find his way back? He longs for refuge. Can he ever find God again?


Late one night in a busy St. Paul hospital, a nurse midwife drags Hannah Larson out from behind her reception desk to assist with a birth.  When Hannah witnesses that baby tumble into the world, her secure, conventional life gets upended by a fierce desire to deliver babies.  So begins Hannah’s journey away from her comfort zone. In a midwifery apprenticeship in New Mexico, she befriends a male midwife, defends a teenage mom, and learns to trust women’s bodies, then moves back to Minnesota to start her own illicit birth practice.  Hannah’s need to stay safe proves both an asset and a liability: homebirth isn’t legal in Minnesota in the 1990’s; to deliver healthy babies, Hannah risks jail time, her community’s respect, and her career.  The key to unlocking her fear rests in one birth—her own. Hannah, Delivered tells the story of how inexplicable passion, buried strength, and professional skill deliver one woman from fear into a rich and risk-filled life.


Sam and Sarah are the elderly owners of a farm in central Iowa that turns into a private retirement community when it also becomes home to a disabled friend, a destitute neighbor and a recent retiree. Married nearly 50 years, Sam is a former lawyer suffering from congestive heart failure. But he knows there’s nothing wrong with his wife’s heart. Sarah is an ex-English teacher and a resourceful farm wife who flinches at nothing in the service of those she loves. She’s also a “murderer.”

Sarah’s “victim” is a lifelong friend more full of mischief than life. He comes to spend his remaining days with Sam and Sarah when it’s clear those days are numbered by a painful degenerative bone disease. Determined to commit suicide while still physically capable of it, he bargains with Sarah to postpone his plan by extracting from her a promise to “help” him when the time comes. He argues that her assistance would constitute an act of mercy similar to that she performed for her cancer-riddled old dog; it would be “the last best thing” she could do for her friend.



Seeing Mt. Everest was Eric West’s dream. It wasn’t on his bucket list… it was his dream. In 2011, he arrived in Nepal armed with nothing more than a mindset he called Showing Up. Showing Up seemed to change his luck; the more he was present, the luckier he became. He would see Mt. Everest (and eventually go on to climb it), meet true love, and change his destiny forever, all within moments of each other. How could this possibly happen? Embedded in that question lies the simplicity and potency of Showing Up.

West’s adventures began as a college exchange student in London, England. He went on to become a school teacher in Tokyo, Japan. Later as a captain in the billion dollar mega-yacht industry, he visited exotic destinations via luxury yachts most landlubbers only saw on the cover of glossy travel magazines. But his dream was to one day visit Mt. Everest. Armed with no climbing experience, he showed up in Nepal. Within days he met a Dutch climbing guide he would later marry. Their high-altitude romance set in motion plans to climb the flanks of Everest together the following year.


After the death of her daughter in the first book of the series, Maxine “Mad Max” Davies’ new role in life, full-time grandparent raising two grandchildren, takes her into post-Katrina Mississippi, nature’s newest wasteland. While she gets used to raising children again, she also learns to live in a region where most of life’s conveniences vanished in the storm and tidal surge. She must protect her grandchildren as well as help others in this new environment. Along the way, she encounters racism, murder, modern-day slavery and child abuse.

Way Opens

Patricia WildPUBLISHED IN: 2008

THE AUTHOR: Patricia Wild

THE EDITOR: Joyce Maddox

THE PUBLISHER: Warwick House Publishers, Lynchburg, VA

SUMMARY: Way Opens chronicles the journey that began when I wondered: “What happened to the two African American students who desegregated my Lynchburg, VA high school in 1962?”

Way OpensTHE BACK STORY: In “Quaker-ese,” my desire to find Reverend Owen Cardwell, now a Baptist preacher and Dr. Lynda Woodruff, now a retired college professor (Physical Therapy) and to allow myself to be open and faithful to whatever might then unfold is called “a leading.” So Way Opens took seven years, and many trips to Lynchburg, and many interviews with Lynda and Owen, and many books to discover and to read about African-American history and white privilege, and lots of stumbling around before it was ready!


“The old Quaker expression ‘Way Opens’ describes the serendipitous unfolding of God’s will for a person or community. For accomplished Quaker writer Patricia Wild and for us, her readers, way opens unexpectedly, sometimes painfully, and at last redemptively in this powerful, beautifully crafted spiritual memoir. From the very first page, we are drawn into a twisting odyssey of faith confronting the complexities of white privilege and American racism. Patricia Wild writes prose like a poet and tells stories like a trusted friend or favorite neighbor. Her gift is humility, tenderness, humor, humanity, and a wisdom born of experience and struggle. Way Opens establishes Patricia Wild among our finest contemporary spiritual writers, Quaker and otherwise. Profoundly moving, healing, and inspiring, this book bears eloquent witness to the pain of past and present, and the promise of our future.” — Alexander Levering Kern, Executive Director, Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, Northeastern University, Boston, MA

AUTHOR PROFILE: Flower Valley Press, Gaithersburg, Maryland, published my first novel, Swimming In It, in 1998. From 1998 until 2008, I was a much-read columnist for The Somerville Journal. In April, I finished Welling Up, the sequel to Swimming In It, and now seek a good home for it. Presently I’m working on the third—and perhaps the last—of this series: Buying Water. I spend every Wednesday with ex-offenders, a direct outcome of my leading. (You’ll have to read Way Opens to understand why.) On most Tuesdays I post blogs re spirituality, white privilege, and inter-connectedness on my website (http://www.patriciawild.net). I have also written for “First Day Press,” an online Quaker magazine. I am a mother, a grandmother, a member of Friends Meeting at Cambridge, and an active volunteer working on environmental justice issues with Mothers Out Front.

(http://www.mothersoutfront.org) My husband and I live in Somerville, MA.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Obviously, Way Opens predates the Black Lives Matter movement. How I wish that the issues I raised in my book weren’t so timely in 2015!


Chapter Two: “What did I know, what did I know?”

Winter mornings in Fayetteville, (NY) I’d lie in bed listening to the tinkling sound of my mother’s silver belt buckle as she began that day’s chores. A multi-tasker before the word had been invented, my bustling mother always completed dressing on the run, threading her belt through her pants loops while gathering that day’s laundry. My nose red with cold—we always slept with our windows open—I snuggled under my thick quilt and waited: Would my mother approach my chilly bedroom to rouse me for school? Or was it, as I fervently hoped, a snow day? If so, my efficiency-expert mother, a basket of laundry on her hip, bypassed my room and proceeded directly down the stairs to fix breakfast for my father.

So, in the early hours of Sunday, January 28, 1962, when a freakish snowstorm dumped almost a foot of snow on Lynchburg, our family reacted almost with relief. So much of Lynchburg, Virginia, bewildered or depressed us. But snow? We knew snow.

“This’ll melt by noontime,” my father, who turned forty-seven that day, confidently predicted. Nevertheless, my parents decided to forego church. Lynchburg’s Unitarian church, a tiny, lovely stone structure perched midway up downtown’s steep hill and only accessible by staircase, was attended by a handful of parishioners, many of them fellow Yankee transplants. My parents, my father in particular, felt strongly that our family had a responsibility to consistently show up. But in his mind, the precipitous and unplowed streets of Lynchburg and snow-ignorant drivers posed too much of a threat. The Wilds would stay at what was now home, a boxy, roomy, split-level just off Peakland Place.

Foregoing church also meant foregoing the Hotel Virginian for a birthday dinner for my father. A short walk from church, down the Monument Terrace staircase to the corner of Church and Eighth streets, the Hotel Virginian was our favorite place for Sunday dinner. The hotel’s genteelly shabby dining room, the African American string quartet softly playing in one corner, its traditional fare, and scarcity of diners—we sometimes had the dining room to ourselves—allowed the six of us to relax in an atmosphere both Southern, yet accessible. Going to the Hotel Virginian after church and always ordering chocolate parfaits for dessert became a family tradition. Strangers in a strange land, the Wilds were as hungry for tradition and for ritual as we were for the hotel’s tasty beaten biscuits.

Dressed in our church clothes and seated around our favorite round table, serenaded by the dining room’s Black, tuxedoed musicians playing something by Strauss, perhaps, my family knew we looked good; our pervading sense of alienation made us intensely self-conscious as if constantly watching ourselves in a large mirror. “Wouldn’t this make a great picture?” my brother Paul often asked on family outings.

Yes it would: There sits Al Wild, successful executive with General Electric, a tall, handsome man whose well-tailored suit minimizes the considerable weight he’s gained since marriage.

Beside him is my mother, Pat, nearly as tall as her husband, a stunning woman whose keen blue eyes search out table-manners transgressions on the part of her four children. After her initial depression when we’d first arrived, my mother has regained her considerable energy. Recently, in addition to civic activities, a busy social life, and playing golf, she has begun classes at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.

Paul, at age fourteen, is still pubescent; after three years in Lynchburg, his sweet, boyish face retains the deer-in-the-headlights bewilderment that, for reasons he cannot understand, he and the rest of us live here.

Deborah, age nine, is blonde and sturdy; she wears a white-collared, smocked dress and, as she has done since she was three, glasses. Determined to hold her own as the third

oldest, Debby has recently memorized a series of joke books and, no matter what topic may come up at dinner, can deliver two or three appropriate jokes, some of them actually funny.

Benjamin, age seven, has outgrown his natty sailor outfit and now wears a suit like his father and older brother. Wide-eyed, curious, Benjy studies the Hotel Virginian dining room. Of all of us, only Benjy actually acknowledges—and wonders about—those well-dressed, dark-skinned men just feet away from where we eat.

At seventeen, I am a teenaged version of my mother; we even share the same name— although I am now known as “Pepper.” “Patty” until I was ten, I’d acquired my new name at a Girl Scout camp on Cape Cod. That fall when our family moved to Fayetteville, I’d told Linda Lloyd-Jones that my name was Pepper; she and the other fifth-graders believed me. In Lynchburg, where family names are often first names, my puerile name rarely merits comment.

Because of the snowstorm, however, there would be no Hotel Virginian dinner that cold, late-January Sunday. Instead, my mother made pancakes and we settled for a cozy day inside.

“Can I stay in my pajamas all day?” Debby, always testing parental limits, requested.

“Why not,” my father answered.

I spent the afternoon sledding with friends and went to bed that night hoping for a snow day but awoke to everyday weekday sounds.

Which meant I had a problem: What would I use for a coat on such a wintry day? The week before, when driving back to Lynchburg after a week’s skiing near Pittsburgh, I’d carelessly left my warm woolen coat in a restaurant in Pennsylvania. Although my father always provided Paul and me with door-to-door service, his Buick convertible’s heater didn’t really begin to function until after he’d dropped us off at E. C. Glass. “The car got nice and warm right after you two left,” he’d tease us at dinner. What to wear?

An unexpected snowstorm and the petty, trifling concern over a missing coat; these I clearly remember over forty years later. What I cannot remember is any conversation or discussion of what was about to happen on January 29, 1962. Everyone in Lynchburg knew what was about to happen. For weeks, the two Lynchburg newspapers, both owned by the ubiquitous Glass family, had trumpeted that, like it or not, two African American students would begin classes at E. C. Glass that day. But as I recall, during the weeks leading up to that historic event, neither my family nor my U-U church community discussed the two Black students’ pending arrival. Not even in the privacy of our home did my family talk about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown decision, “separate but equal” schools, the Freedom Rides, segregation. “We didn’t do enough,” my mother says sadly, now. Like polite guests obeying Lynchburg’s house rules, we kept silent.

I can remember—with great embarrassment—one family conversation, prompted by an early civil rights demonstration in Lynchburg in the fall of 1960. Dressed in a pastel shirtwaist dress, a matching cardigan over my shoulders, tasseled loafers from Coleman’s Shoe Store, and white gloves, I’d taken the bus downtown that day to do a little shopping. Like most teenagers in my neighborhood, I received a generous allowance; I also ran a successful children’s party business. So I could afford to shop for clothes at upscale Miller and Rhoads or Baldwin’s department stores, buy a new silver charm for my already jangly charm bracelet at Buckingham-Flippin jewelers, then consume a coke and a packet of peanut-butter Nabs at a Main Street drug store lunch counter.

On the day I’m remembering, the usual downtown crowds were joined by ten or twelve neatly-dressed African Americans who silently walked in a circle on Main Street in front of Woolworth’s Five and Ten. That evening at dinner, I proudly told my family what I’d done to “support” these silent civil rights walkers, who were protesting the store’s segregated lunch counter.

“I bought a pair of sunglasses,” I announced. “It was hard to find anything in that store that I wanted so I finally just bought sunglasses. With white frames. Like Jackie Kennedy wears. Only white.”

My father, my Republican, anti-labor, business-executive father, slowly lowered his fork. “You crossed a picket line?” he asked incredulously, then gave my mother a look I knew well. Can you believe a daughter of ours could be so stupid? this look said.

“What’s a picket line?” I asked. Only then did it occur to my parents that their teenaged daughter genuinely had no idea what she’d done. Gently, they gave me a brief lesson on the labor movement: on boycotts, picket lines, and strikes. And, of course, given their background and upbringing, my mother and father talked about feather-bedding and malingering and how labor leaders were, in their opinion, often members of the Communist Party. Did they mention that it was to avoid unions that GE had moved all of us to Lynchburg? Of course not.

What my family did not discuss that evening in 1960, and what wasn’t being discussed around dining room tables all over the nation that night was the cruel injustice of Jim Crow, why sit-ins and Freedom Rides were happening, and most important, why people who looked like our family could sit at a drug store counter, take a seat in the front of a bus, attend well-equipped, well-maintained schools, without hesitation, without question.

On the morning of January 29, 1962, having put on a warm sweater and my ski jacket, I emerged from my father’s still-frigid Buick, my brother beside me, and walked up the slushy sidewalk to school. Do I remember police cars parked in front?

Of the two of us, Paul was far more likely to actually meet and to share classes with Owen Cardwell and Lynda Woodruff, who, at fourteen and thirteen, respectively, were to begin ninth grade at Glass that day. A senior, I saw no sign of “the two Negroes” walking through Glass’s commodious hallways that morning, nor, thankfully, did I see any attendant violence.

It was at lunch that day that I first saw Owen Cardwell, tall and thin, just as he emerged from the food-serving area and, carrying a laden tray, walked slowly toward the cafeteria’s long tables. The way I remember it, Owen approached one table and the two or three boys who’d been sitting there immediately jumped up and moved away. Owen sat down to eat alone.

Yankee transplant, sneered at for being “tacky,” I knew what it felt like to be a reviled and despised outsider. From Mrs. Mulfinger’s Reader’s Digest, I knew what had happened when German citizens remained silent in the face of Hitler’s oppression. Indeed, sitting in my piano teacher’s living room, I’d always imagined that if the Nazis came to my German village, I’d bravely do whatever was necessary to protect my Jewish neighbors. I knew I was supposed to walk over to Owen’s table and sit beside him. But I did not.

Thirty-seven years later, during a phone call from Lynchburg, Virginia, I told that shameful lunchtime story again. My first novel, Swimming In It, had just been published by the Flower Valley Press in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Like many authors working with small

presses, I had discovered that much of the publicity and promotion for this fledgling novel were to be largely my responsibility. Because my book’s red-headed protagonist, Jewell McCormick, had been born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1962, I’d hoped Lynchburg residents might want to read her story. So I mailed a copy to a nameless “Arts Editor” of the city’s newspaper, The News and Advance. A couple of weeks later, Darrell Laurant, Yankee-born columnist for the Lynchburg paper, interviewed me over the phone.

In Swimming In It, the fictional Jewell, having been sexually abused by her mother’s tenant, flees from Lynchburg at age fifteen. Most of the novel takes place in Somerville, Massachusetts, a working-class city adjacent to Boston and Cambridge and where I have lived since 1979. Why, Darrell asked me, had I chosen to have Jewell born in Lynchburg?

“I lived in Lynchburg from 1959 until 1962,” I told him.

“GE?” the reporter asked.

“GE, indeed,” I replied.

Like Jewell’s mother, I told him, I’d attended E. C. Glass High School; several of my classmates, including five of my friends, had become pregnant our senior year. Jewell’s mother’s experiences as a pregnant high school student were written from my memory of those friends.

“Oh,” noted Darrell, who’d written a book on Lynchburg history, “then you were at E. C. Glass when it was integrated!”

Darrell’s use of the word “integrated” reminded me of a passage from Swimming In It when Jewell challenges her mother’s use of the same word:

“How can you call that ‘integration’? I [Jewell] asked. I’ve looked at your yearbook a hundred times. And all I ever saw was one skinny, frightened black kid tucked away in a corner somewhere.”

She [Jewell’s mother] looked at me like she always did: like she was contemplating hitting me hard. To my relief she merely shrugged her lovely shoulders. “All right,” she admitted. “It was only a couple of negras but it was a Big Change, Jewell. I’m telling you. A Big Change.”

Perhaps it was speaking to someone from Lynchburg that made me realize that the “skinny, frightened black kid tucked away in a corner somewhere” was not a fictitious character like Jewell or her mother but an actual, flesh-and-blood person. Maybe it was

thirty-seven years of guilt. Or perhaps my impulse to tell my humiliating high school story to Darrell Laurant, a stranger and a reporter, was divinely inspired. For whatever reason, the cotton batting of obliviousness, defensiveness, denial, and inattention which usually surrounds me in matters of race was momentarily removed and I was able to be open and honest.

Yes, I told Darrell, I had indeed been at E. C. Glass that January day in 1962 when the first two African Americans entered the school. I then told Darrell Laurant my cafeteria story. “My inaction that day has been a pivotal moment in my life,” I told him, only realizing as I said these words that they were indeed true.

“I can help you find Lynda Woodruff, at least,” the Lynchburg reporter offered. “Lynda Woodruff’s mother and stepfather still live in town.” Darrell also offered to send me a copy of his book. Months later, having read Darrell Laurant’s A City Unto Itself: Lynchburg, Virginia in the 20th Century, in which Lynda Woodruff was frequently quoted, I labored over a letter to the former “Negro desegregator” which, with trepidation, I finally mailed to her. “I hope I hear from you and understand if I don’t,” my March 2000 letter ended. For I knew that no matter how carefully I had tried to craft my letter, my words might irritate or anger this unknown woman. And Lynda Woodruff might very well resent being reminded of her experiences at E. C. Glass High School.

Six months later, in August of 2000, I received a letter on North Georgia College and State University stationery and a business card from Lynda Woodruff; Dr. Woodruff, according to her card, was a professor of physical therapy at the Dahlonega, Georgia, university.

“Over the years I have had many letters like yours,” the college professor wrote, “have met people in Lynchburg who were there but didn’t step forward, and have even worked with those who called me Nigger and threatened to kill us.” Her letter also contained Owen Cardwell’s address. I wrote to Reverend Owen Cardwell immediately.

That same summer that Dr. Woodruff’s much-welcomed, revealing letter arrived, I’d been wrestling with the sequel to Swimming In It, entitled Welling Up. Emulating Daisy Newman’s writing technique, I had brought my fictitious characters, Jewell McCormick and the other women from her Somerville homeless shelter, to meeting for worship every week.

The resulting novel had been an easeful, Spirit-led process from the first page until the end. For Welling Up, however, every word, every scene, every plot turn was uphill work. At first I thought my fears about writing a second book were holding me back. For I’d heard stories from other writers how second books are often judged more harshly than the first. But one day, while working on a scene between Jewell and her mother, which took place at a posh Lynchburg country club, I noticed something. While the scene featured the two White characters, my attention, like a wayward movie camera, kept focusing on the African American men in the background: the caddies waiting in the shade of a large pecan tree near the club’s parking lot, the attentive waiter—based on Boonsboro Country Club’s Malcolm Jefferson—in his impeccable white uniform. Who are those Black men? I wondered, staring at my computer screen. What are their stories? Could those caddies actually support families with their earnings? Who was Malcolm Jefferson? Why, I wondered, were those dark-skinned men so much more compelling to write about than the fictional Jewell and her mother?

One Saturday morning in September of 2000, the phone rang; it was Reverend Owen Cardwell, “the skinny, frightened black kid tucked away in a corner somewhere.” Dr. Cardwell, now a Baptist preacher in Richmond, Virginia, spoke with a deep, resonant, Virginia-flavored voice; the fourteen-year-old who’d sat alone in a high school cafeteria, the man I’d treated as though a fictitious character in my book spoke without anger, without rancor, without bitterness. The gentleness of Reverend Cardwell’s voice made me cry.

As it happened, I had picked up the phone that morning, car keys in hand. When Reverend Cardwell called, I was about to drive to Greenfield, Massachusetts, to celebrate poet Phil Sosis’s eighty-sixth birthday.

Phil Sosis was my first husband’s stepfather. Although technically not related to him, my daughter Melissa nevertheless considered Phil her grandfather. At Phil’s party, Melissa staged a reading of an interview she’d conducted with her grandfather. Most of the party-goers knew that Phil had spent several years of his childhood in a New York City orphanage; his well-wishers knew Phil to be a gifted poet. They remembered that his résumé included union organizer and factory worker and, later in his life, teacher and vocational counselor. Melissa’s staged interview—with her fiancé Dave Arons reading Phil’s words—revealed one of her grandfather’s lesser-known roles: as a member of Paul Robeson’s honor guard at a 1949 Peekskill, New York, concert. When the African American singer, branded “Un-American”

for his progressive views, had been threatened by American Legion members, courageous men like Phil Sosis surrounded the performer, shielding Robeson from possible attack or a sniper’s bullet.

“I was on the stage,” Dave as Phil Sosis read to the birthday party crowd. “I volunteered to give my life for him if necessary.”

Many of Phil’s birthday guests, it turned out, had either attended Robeson’s Peekskill concert or knew people who had been there; during lunch, many people told their own stories of that infamous day in 1949.

Listening to their lunchtime stories, that morning’s phone call with Reverend Cardwell very much on my mind, I was struck by how many stories, both of unspeakable oppression and of personal courage, don’t get told. Like most Americans, for example, I’d known next-to-nothing about the Paul Robeson concert in Peekskill until I heard Melissa’s interview with her grandfather. So many of the stories, I realized, center around African American history and Black people’s day-to-day experiences.

In the quiet of Quaker meeting the next day, this growing awareness, called forth by Owen Cardwell’s gentle voice and the Paul Robeson stories, deepened. As with Pirandello’s play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, when thwarted creative expression assumes human form, stories of the African American experience pressed at me, nudged me during worship. “Tell us,” they seemed to whisper.

Is this my ministry? I asked Spirit. Is this what’s called “a leading?”

According to my journal, that same Sunday, The Boston Globe quoted a Black Muslim’s condemnation of “the white devil media.” (That I’d failed to note this man’s name but instead labeled him tells the briefest of stories.) I read this African American man’s denunciation with growing excitement. A published novelist, a columnist for the local paper, a free-lance writer for a couple of fairly prestigious publications, well-connected to other writers and film-makers, I had access to that so-called white devil media. I can use my Whiteness to tell these stories. “I feel so empowered,” I wrote in my journal.

Two days later, I received a phone call from Friends General Conference’s book-catalogue coordinator. The umbrella organization for unprogrammed meetings like Friends Meeting at Cambridge, FGC offers a number of resources to Quakers such as teaching materials, workshops, books and pamphlets, and every summer, conducts a Gathering of Friends conference for Quakers from meetings all over the country. Because Swimming In It hadn’t sold well at that summer’s Gathering, the coordinator explained, my novel would not be listed in the upcoming FGC catalogue.

Like most writers, I am no stranger to rejection. As a one-person Swimming In It promotion, distribution, and sales manager, I knew how difficult it is for a first novel, published by a tiny press and written by an unknown, to be noticed. Nevertheless, that phone call crushed me. Me! One of Daisy Newman’s writing daughters! Me! So eager to launch this fledgling writing project! After a couple of tearful days, I handed over my disappointment and hurt to Spirit. Eventually it came to me that the publishing business is just that: a business. Quaker-affiliated businesses, like any business, have to pay attention to the bottom line.

While more at peace with FGC’s decision, my faith in my just-begun leading now seemed shaky, however. Did that unexpected phone call mean that what seemed Spirit-led wasn’t? I asked Spirit. Does this news mean that I am not doing what God asks of me? “Thy will, not my will,” I prayed over and over. And waited.

Meanwhile, Dr. Woodruff, Reverend Cardwell, and I began an e-mail correspondence. Let’s write a book together, someone suggested. And like that messy little girl with her braids undone, the younger me who never walked if she could run, I responded with enthusiasm.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Quaker Books (https://www.quakerbooks.org/search/Way%20Opens)

PRICE: $15.00

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Wildwoman@Mindspring.com (Put the word “Snowflake” in the subject line.)