Weather Report, Oct. 9



I don’t normally take issue with dictionary definitions, but I think the Cambridge English edition has it all wrong with “fiction.”

That word is defined therein as: “The type of book or story that is written about imaginary characters and events and does not describe real people or deal with facts.”

That definition is, in itself, fictitious. Just consider Helen Benedict’s novel “Wolf Season,” one of the offerings this week for Snowflakes in a Blizzard (

The book deals with the effects of war — not only on the combatants, but also on the families, refugees and other civilians who are touched and damaged by it. Although it would be nice if war was a only product of the fictional imagination, it is actually an inescapable and harsh reality. Therefore, Helen set out to discover what was true, so that she could faintly disguise it as fiction. She writes:

“I had many adventures researching Wolf Season. Most were moving, some sad, others uplifting — I am always amazed by the resilience of women and children. The Iraqi mother whose teenaged son had been killed in Baghdad, yet who laughed when her 9-year-old, Mustapha, upon hearing I am a British writer, asked me if I’d written Harry Potter. The woman soldier who lives in the woods with her wolves, and who peppered her speech with extraordinarily colorful sayings that inspired me to create Rin Drummond. The young Iraqi woman who had lived through torture and near death, but was so eager to advise me about Naema Jassim. I also had a wonderful time at Wolf Mountain, where I was virtually alone with several wolves for many hours, watching them play and sleep and eat.”

(Note: Wolf photo from Pouted Online Lifestyle Magazine).

I am also proud to say that this week’s Snowflakes edition includes a book by Faulkner. No, not William — one of our few rules is that featured authors must be alive. This Faulkner is Steven, and the bio on his template reads like that of a character from a novel:

“Steven Faulkner grew up in the Sudan and Ethiopia in Africa, and later in Arkansas and Kansas. After dropping out of college, he married, had children, and worked a variety of jobs: driving dump trucks and concrete mixers, carpet cleaning, roofing, newspaper and doughnut delivery, and spent fourteen years as a carpenter.

“He returned to school and acquired the necessary degrees from the University of Kansas and now teaches Creative Writing and American Literature at Longwood University in southern Virginia.”

Steven’s “Bitterroot” represents a different sort of alchemy from “Wolf Season,” a mixture not of fact and fiction, but of present and past. The book chronicles a trip he and his son took along the old Oregon Trail, alternating their experiences and observations with accounts of what happened there more than two centuries earlier. The connection is almost seamless.

And finally, continuing this week’s theme of mix and match, Tyler Flynn Dorholt has woven prose, poetry and photographs into his debut work, “American Flowers.” He writes: “I think that people can read one or two poems, and look at one or two photographs in the book, and wherever their mind goes experience more fully their own memory. I think it’s an odd debut book, in both its size and approach toward the poem, but I feel as though these poems and images allow another avenue into a reader’s memory bank, or a chance to think differently about something new or fresh to them, and thus the reader can trust themselves to open pages, even randomly, and sit with themselves inside of them. Plus the photographs are somewhat of a bonus.”



After a hurricane devastates a small town in upstate New York, the lives of three women and their young children are irrevocably changed. Rin, an Iraq War veteran, tries to protect her little daughter and the three wolves under her care. Naema, a widowed doctor who fled Iraq with her wounded son, faces life-threatening injuries. Beth, who is raising a troubled son, waits out her marine husband’s deployment in Afghanistan, equally afraid of him coming home and of him never returning at all.

As they struggle to maintain their humanity and love, and to find hope, their war-torn lives collide in a way that will affect their entire community.


A modern father and son travel the Oregon Trail with that remarkable 19th-century traveler Pierre Jean De Smet who leads them to the Rocky Mountains where they join Lewis and Clark during their difficult crossing of the continental divide—several weeks that almost killed them. Along that trail they meet the Nez Perce tribe who helped save the lives of Lewis and Clark and their “corps of discovery”. On the return trip, father and son join the Nez Perce in their long flight from General O. O. Howard and the U. S. army.

This is a travel book like Blue Highways or John Graves’ Goodbye to a River, with vivid accounts of historical events along the way: the Chinese Massacre in Rock Springs, Lewis and Clark’s miserable climb through the Bitterroots, the Nez Perce battle at Big Hole, the Battle of the Little Bighorn from the perspective of a Sioux boy who lived through it.


American Flowers is a book of prose poems, with black and white photographs. Split up into six parts, the book also includes photographs of the original handwritten poems, which separate each section, and is 250 pages long.











THE AUTHOR:  Kate Kort

THE PUBLISHER: Brick Mantel Books.

SUMMARY: Laika desperately wishes for a new life. At fourteen, she’s hardened and independent, living on the streets of southern California. She’s finally free of her volatile home but yearns for true stability.

As Graham, a waiter at a local Russian restaurant, watches Laika steal and struggle to survive, he sees there is something else going on. Something dangerous. An insidious disease that gnaws at her mind and drags her deeper into a world of chaos and delusion.Laika brings to light the often-shrouded world of paranoid schizophrenia. It also examines the socially stigmatized issues of homelessness, addiction, and PTSD, in the hopes of fostering greater awareness and compassion.

Image result for Kate Kort + author + photographs[THE BACK STORY:  “Laika was a story that flowed easily out of my head (unlike my first book, Glass, which was a more difficult process). I had a general idea of what I wanted to write about: teen homelessness. However, once I started writing, I knew this had to also be a story about mental health and compassion. It took about four months to get everything down on paper, with only a few light revisions to follow.

“Since I chose to write about schizophrenia, a subject I have no personal experience with, I knew research would be crucial. I wanted to treat the subject with the weight it deserved, without falling back on cliches or stereotypes. I started by reading personal accounts, memoirs, and medical guides. I then spent hours on online message boards where people living with schizophrenia, as well as their loved ones, could post questions and discussions. This was the most helpful resource for me; I was able to look in on a world which is completely unfamiliar to most, sometimes asking questions, mostly just listening.”

WHY THIS TITLE?: I love characters (especially protagonists) with unusual names. I chose to name the book after her because it’s (clearly) her story, and while her narration may become unreliable and disjointed and detached, she is still there, always.

Laika is not a story you have heard before. It brings an unexpected character into an experimental narrative, and I feel readers are looking for something like this to challenge them. It’s quirky yet heavy, and that balance makes the read enjoyable as well as revealing.

:“In Laika, Kate Kort explores the title character’s world with heartbreaking clarity. The novel’s electric prose and beautifully rendered characters thrum with delicate fear and sadness as readers bear witness to Laika’s growing mental illness. Along the way, Kort doesn’t pull any punches, and that’s precisely why the novel is so powerful. By faithfully representing Laika’s illness—by making it real on the page—Kort has crafted an important and sagely empathetic examination of mental illness’ all too real human cost. At turns gritty and tender, Laika is a powerful and necessary novel.”—James Brubaker, author of Liner Notes and Pilot Season“Kate Kort’s Laika grabs the reader as few YA novels do.  In fact, it transcends the genre by creating two characters—Laika and Graham—who represent the dark side of an American life few like to acknowledge.  A street kid haunted by psychological demons, Laika survives by her wits in a world that doesn’t particularly care for damaged kids.  That is, until an equally damaged adult takes her under his wing.  Told in second-person—a point of view that can feel annoying in less skilled hands—Laika offers a relevance that seems particularly important now as our health-care system comes into question.  We can only wonder how many more Laika’s we will see.”—Michael C. White, author of Resting Places and Soul Catcher

“Kate Kort’s second novel, Laika, is a chilling yet moving exploration of an embattled girl’s plummet into paranoid schizophrenia while living homeless on mean city streets. The novel keeps the reader close via an unexpected point of view, brilliantly rendered. Laika could be one more tragic runaway if not for Graham, a middle-aged man with his own psychic battle and a huge heart, who illustrates the novel’s (and life’s) greatest lesson: to be decent human beings, we must care for those who suffer, no matter how damaged we are ourselves.”—Susan Swartwout, author of Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit
E:  I was born in St. Louis, MO but now live outside of Portland, OR with my husband and three kids. I have always loved writing and majored in English at Truman State University. My first novel, Glass, was published by Brick Mantel Books in 2015.

A few other things about me: I have a serious sweet tooth. If I see a dog I have to pet it. I’m Jewish. I love: ice hockey, Bob Dylan, babies, nature, Indian food, Frasier. I don’t love: spiders, rain (I know), loud noises, flying.

AUTHOR COMMENTS:  Mental health is a topic that I feel can’t be talked about, read about, thought about enough. I wanted to give a voice to a minority population that is often grossly misunderstood. I think readers will come away with renewed compassion for those living with mental illness, and a greater sense of what that looks like.


You walk quickly through the crowd going up Forty-Fourth Street. Once you’re gone, you never look back. Never. You cross over Jackson Parkway, then cut through the alley west to your place on Matthias.

You’re pretty sure he’s on to you.

The back alley’s deserted as you throw your backpack through the window and climb in after it. Everything’s quiet except for your ragged breathing. You’re thinking, Should have taken Delaney this time, or at least doubled back through Brighton Hills. You tack the scraps of black fabric back up on the window and collapse onto the milk crate that keeps you a couple of feet off the damp cement floor.

It’s August and it’s hot, but the basement air cools your sweat and slows your mind a bit. That one waiter was looking at you. You’re sure of it now. He’s there all the time, must work about fifty hours a week.

You think you’ve gotten good at sleight of hand, blending in, disappearing, but this time…

You jump off the crate and dump the contents of your backpack onto the dingy carpet remnant you’ve been sleeping on. A few slices of hard bread, half a baked potato, two pieces of cold boiled pork and a golden apple, all wrapped in red cloth napkins. Not bad for three in the afternoon. But you can’t really enjoy it now. You eat a slice of bread and carefully place everything else in the sectioned-off wine box in the corner of the room.

You stand up on the milk crate and slowly push back the makeshift curtains, scanning the gritty road. Nobody in sight. You’d know if someone had followed you.

Should have just gone the extra half-mile to Delaney. You pick up the city map off the carpet and study it. You’ve spent weeks learning the streets, alleys, restaurants, markets, everything. It’s hard to see the intersections anymore because you’ve scribbled over them so much, planning routes and detours and diversions in an endless effort to quell your fear. You wish your hair wasn’t red—so noticeable against your pale skin. You might try to steal some dye. You could at least find some scissors and cut it. Maybe you’ll do that.

Now you think maybe you should stop going to Yevgeny Alekseev’s—that it’s too dangerous. There are plenty of new places for you to try, but new places generally strip you of good sense and lock your heart in panic. You like low-risk, calculated, practiced.

But after this long, after starting to face the possibility that you screwed up and landed in the wrong city, you still can’t stop looking for her.

You pull the crumpled photograph from your back pocket. Lena Nikolskaya Mishnev. You’ve seen it a thousand times, but still, you study it. A grainy snapshot of two little girls, both looking sullen and sitting on the front steps of their apartment in Novgorod, staring off past the camera. Their father, Kolya, took the picture and your mother, Anya, left it for you. Your dad said it was the only photograph she had of herself with her older sister from when they were young.

They eventually left and both settled in America, along the same coast, but you’ve only seen Lena once since your mother died. Your father gave you the photograph after a couple of years and you asked if you could visit her, but he acted offended and said he wasn’t about to drive down five hours to see a near stranger who barely spoke English. But when you were eight your father finally told her she could come visit. She sat on your moldy couch with a glass of iced tea made from tea bags she’d brought herself and told you she’d be there if you needed her. Somehow it sounded harsh the way she said it, with her thick accent and terse speech, but she took your hand and looked you in the eye. She said your dad wasn’t himself, that even after four years he needed more time to grieve and you just had to stay out of his way. You took the advice to heart, but eventually ran out of ways to be invisible.

So here you are, in the biggest city that’s roughly five hours south of your home, the place with a promising Russian population, the block with the freshest Siberian tomatoes and Georgian cheese. The market that must be the best in the city.

You frown, bringing yourself back. The waiter noticed you. He was pretending to clear tables at the other side of the restaurant but he was watching. Once you met his gaze you got out of there, but it was probably too late. He’ll remember you. He’ll remember your long hair and your torn jeans. He’ll remember your faded pink shirt and the scar over your eyebrow. He’s probably put it together you’re the girl who sometimes hides under the white baseball cap and broken sunglasses.

Or maybe he won’t. Maybe he doesn’t even care. Maybe he steals, too. Maybe he’s got a lot of other things on his mind and what does he care if some kid takes a little food now and then? You decide not to worry about it because you’ve gotten pretty good at this and you’re not going to make any more mistakes.

You lie down on the carpet and fall asleep because the black fabric that covers your only window blocks out all the light, and hardly anyone ever passes through the alley off Matthias.


Hey, did you see Ches in language arts this morning? He kept looking at you. Did you see when Mrs. Klein told him to focus and he got all red? Too bad he’s such a dick. But if you like him I’ll ask him out for you. I know you like Tommy, but sorry that shit’s not happening. (I love you so I give it to you straight) See you in Health (fuuuuck, I didn’t do the reading…again.)


You don’t know why you keep the letters. You’ve got probably twenty of them

in the bottom of your backpack, all folded into excruciatingly small triangles, and all from Britt. You feel bad, not saying goodbye to her. You hope she’s not looking for you—that she’s not hounding the police, telling them all your secrets and hoping they’ll do something about it. You should have let her in on your plan, but it just seemed too risky.

            You think about your friends, how they’ll be starting high school soon. They must have forgotten you by now. Everyone except Britt. You think about the last time you talked to her—the day after that terrible night with the light bulb—when she wanted to know why you weren’t at school. You composed yourself and told her you were sick and it was pretty gross so you probably couldn’t go at all that week, but she saw through your bullshit and said you didn’t sound sick. She said you sounded like something had happened. She said she could come over and “fuck shit up” if you wanted her to, but you laughed and said, “no, thanks”. She always could make you laugh.

            You read a few more letters, but they start to make you feel queasy so you fold them back up and put them away. You think about practicing your Russian but your mind’s racing too much to focus. It’s late and you find you don’t have much left to give at the end of the day. You don’t talk to people or follow a schedule or rush to meet deadlines, but it’s still exhausting. You have to be invisible. You have to eat. You have to convince yourself you made the right decision. You have to force away enough darkness from your mind to allow you to get up each morning. But sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you sleep all day and wish you’d never wake up.


Morning always catches you by surprise. Your watch says 10:37 a.m. and you think it’s probably within an hour or so of being accurate, so you get up and eat one of the pieces of pork. Saturday. You sigh. You know it’s easier to blend in, but you still hate how crowded the city is on the weekend.

Behind the decrepit furnace you find your hard plastic water bottle and pour some water into the lid. You splash it over your face and don’t even bother to wipe it off. You pull out the mirror you took from District Pharmacy eleven blocks away and glance at it uncertainly. Not as bad as you thought—you just look tired. Your eyes are hollow and watery, with no real color to them. Vaguely blue maybe, but more gray. Prison-gray. Dickens-gray. Suicide-gray.

You want to go to Yevgeny’s but it wouldn’t be smart. Maybe Northside Diner instead. No market, but plenty of outdoor seating and unobservant staff. And you could still pass Yevgeny’s on the way.

You decide against the hat and just pull your hair back in a disheveled ponytail, then throw on your thin khakis and gray tank top, calculating it had been over a week since you appeared at the restaurant in that combination.

But it doesn’t matter because he’s not even there.

It seems your eagle-eyed waiter friend finally took a day off. That’s fine. You just keep walking, glancing as you always do for Lena’s face, more confident than ever in your decision to trek up to Northside. Should never get stuck in a routine anyway.

 You hang out on the public bench across the street from the diner, pretending to read yesterday’s paper. You wait for the large party to clear out. All older women. Probably some bible study group or Mahjong club. They’re taking up about half the patio, so when they leave you’ve got to be quick before the waitress comes out to clear. It’s not like it’s stealing, though. They’ll just throw it away.

You jump the small, decorative fence and mechanically go to work wrapping biscuits, fruit, sandwich remnants, anything, in napkins and sliding them into your backpack. None of the employees see, but a few customers are watching you. You don’t worry about it, though; they always watch. They watch you and get this really sad look and start whispering to each other, but that’s all they ever do. They never get you in trouble. They never help you.

You take the long way back, walking the side streets and cutting through the park, which you normally hate to do because you have to pass all the families, but not today. The weather’s nice and you’ve got a few days’ worth of food so you feel all right. You scan the ground as you walk, looking for loose change or anything discarded that could potentially be of use. You never know.

You hadn’t believed it when you saw that busted cardboard box on the side of Forty-Ninth Street, completely full of old books. The Fixer, Brave New World, Things Fall Apart. They were too hard but you read them anyway, and you’ll read the rest. You thought they were probably some kid’s lit class rejects and you carried the box back with you, equal parts grateful to and infuriated by whoever dumped them there.

But you pass the familiar blocks leading to Matthias Avenue and understand not every day can be as lucky. A few cigarette butts, grimy trash, and newspapers are all you see. End of the line. You cut through the alley to the back of your warehouse, glance around, then slip in through the window.

You set out the food. Not bad, but most of it’s perishable so you eat more than you usually would—fruit salad, half a BLT, some fried fish—and put the rest away. You almost feel full and it’s unnerving. Like you’ve done something wrong.

You rifle through your box of books, but don’t feel like starting anything new. Sometimes you wish there were a few easy Boxcar Children or Tom Quest books in there for you to read when you just want to relax. But you’re in no position to make demands.

The old, tattered notebook catches your eye as you scan the warehouse. You don’t want to write, you haven’t for months, but you pick it up anyway.

There was a time when you drew a lot. The beginning of the journal has several sketches and pictures done in colored pencil or oil pastel that took you hours. They aren’t great and they aren’t creative—the earliest ones are mostly drawings of animals, then actors and musicians you liked—but you remember getting lost in them. You needed them.

You’re now aware of a faint whine in your ears. Now that you’re focused on it, you feel like it’s been there since you got home. It’s annoying and you look around for the source. You get up and walk by the furnace, the water heater, the steam pipes, but nothing’s been working in the warehouse for a long time you guess, except the lights. The lights. You pull the cords and turn them off one by one until you’re in darkness. You stand a minute, two minutes, breathing heavily. You think maybe it takes a while for the electricity to completely shut off, but after ten minutes you still hear the noise. Quickly, you pull the cords and bathe the room in light again. You don’t want to think about it anymore.

You think about stealing money for a bus ticket. You’ve never done it before, actually robbed someone. The idea makes you sick, but you think about it anyway. Maybe you could take the money from restaurant tip jars or street musicians’ cups. Maybe you could sell something—those books you found. Maybe you could beg. But whatever it is you do, the pull you feel, the drive to do it comes from that gnawing fear that’s been eating at you for weeks: you’re in the wrong place. There’s no one here to help you. Your aunt is probably hundreds of miles away, if she even stayed in California, and just because your dad mentioned five hours and vaguely indicated south doesn’t mean he had any idea what he was talking about. Maybe she’s back in Novgorod. Maybe Kolya gave her the money to come back, if he’s still alive. If any of them are still alive. You swallow against the knot in your throat and focus on your plan for tomorrow.


You walk by Yevgeny’s the next day and casually pull an apple from the brimming basket in the outdoor market. You keep moving and don’t look at anyone. You’re not sticking around today. You head south on Lowry to Seventy-First and turn left. There’s a farmer’s market on Ames Avenue every other Wednesday and you think the heat will keep the crowd away this afternoon.

There’s not much to look at on Seventy-First; it’s a pretty desolate street with only a few open businesses and apartment complexes, but it’s oddly crowded. You frown, periodically glancing up at the people walking by, trying to pick out details from their appearances to let you know why they’re here. But every time you look up at them, they meet your eyes.

It startles you each time. What do they want? You’ve never had people on the street pay attention to you. Why would they?

But there it is again. You briefly dart your eyes toward a man in a business suit and he looks at you directly. Meaningfully. You shake your head. It’s just your imagination. But you can’t even lift your head without someone staring. Your face starts to flush but you feel cold and clammy. You stop in front of a reflective window to study your appearance but nothing seems off. This is wrong.

You turn to go back home. You thought you’d try a different place, out of your routine, in hopes of finding Lena, but there’s something fucked up about Seventy-First and now all you want is to be back on your own shitty block.

“I’m leaving, all right?” you mutter to yourself, hoping to break the spell and send the onlookers back to wherever they belong.

You walk hurriedly now and don’t look up at anyone, but they’re not through with you yet. You start to hear them. They took that continual, soft hum in your head and turned it into low whispers. You frown and shake your head, but you’re walking so fast it almost causes you to lose your balance. You take a breath and force yourself to slow down. You count to ten. More breaths. You look around. There are fewer people now, and no one’s looking at you.

I just need more sleep. Some coffee. I need to get home.

You pass Douglass High School, their marquee advertising a back-to-school barbecue next week. You’ve bailed on your adventure for today, so maybe you’ll try that. You just need some rest, that’s all.

Things quiet down as you move back west. You turn on Jackson for a while, so you can get away from Seventy-First, then keep going down Forty-Ninth until you get to Matthias. You feel the apple in your backpack. At least you’ve got a good store of food and didn’t need to go out today anyway. As usual though, a pang of guilt accompanies the satisfaction.

You think back to the first time you got in trouble for stealing. First grade. Your teacher kept bins of random toys in the classroom for everyone to play with at certain times of the day. There were marbles, beads, wooden shapes, plastic connectors, and coins. A bin of real coins to practice counting money. So one day you had a thought, kneeling there on the bright orange carpet, pretending to count change while the other kids built towers and strung beads. You knew you didn’t have much money at home; your dad was always upset about the bills that came in the mail, the broken air conditioner, the doctor’s visits and school supplies you needed. You put a nickel in your pocket, just to see what would happen. You went home and put it under your bed.

The next day you went to school and everything was normal. Nobody said a word about it. So you took a few more. It was a big bin and there were lots of coins, so it didn’t seem to matter how many you took; there were always plenty left. After a few weeks you stopped taking the change, and decided to count what you had under your bed. Ten pennies, twenty-three nickels, sixteen dimes, and twelve quarters. You had never actually learned how to count money, so you weren’t sure what their full amount was, but it seemed huge. You felt incredible. You had figured out a way to help and things would start to turn around.

You put the coins into one of your socks and held it for a moment, impressed by its weight. Then you carried it out into the kitchen where your dad sat, reading Belden’s company handbook at the table. He was starting a new job, again.

“Hey,” he said, looking up. “You’re not hungry yet, are you?”

You shook your head, smiling. You set the sock down on the table.

“What’ve you got there?”

“Come see,” you replied, still grinning like an idiot. You were so proud of yourself.

He got up and came around the table. He was already starting to frown but you ignored it. You were still good at ignoring things back then. He dumped the coins onto the table and you kept watching him as he stood there, as he tried to figure it out.

“Where did this come from?” he asked finally.

“Is it a lot? I knew it was a lot.”

“Where did you get it?” His voice was low and controlled.

“From school.” Your happiness was beginning to deflate. This wasn’t at all like you had imagined it.

“They give you money at school?” he demanded.

You didn’t want to tell him. If you had been a little older and a little smarter you might have come up with something fast, but it’s hard for six-year-olds to switch gears when they run into trouble.

“It’s from the toy bins,” you mumbled. “We’re supposed to count them. There are still a ton left,” you added.

“You stole money from your classroom?” he shouted. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Your eyes were fixed on his handbook so you wouldn’t have to look at him and see how big your mistake was. But he didn’t like that either. He hit you, probably to make you pay attention to him. It startled you and you cried, but he hit you again and you ran into your room.

You came out a couple of hours later because you were hungry. It might have been past dinnertime, you can’t really remember, but when you got to the kitchen you saw the coins had been returned to the sock, which was waiting for you at your place. Your dad was still there, reading his handbook, but he was now accompanied by a bag of pretzels and a bottle of gin. He looked up.

“You’ll put it back tomorrow,” he said evenly. “Don’t let anyone see you.”

You nodded. Maybe he didn’t need help after all. Maybe this job would be the one that stuck and things would start to get better. Maybe he’d start to forget about your mom. Maybe he’d start to like you.

You finally arrive at your warehouse on Matthias. You’re happy to be home, and even though it’s early you don’t plan on going out again. You climb through the window.

You freeze. Holy Jesus.

It’s a box.

There’s a box sitting right in the middle of your floor and you have no idea where the fuck it came from.

You look around frantically. Someone’s watching you. Someone’s been in your place and now they’re watching you.

Everything’s quiet. You stand on the crate and look out the window but no one’s there. You look at the box like it’s a bomb. Maybe it is a bomb.

You start walking around the warehouse, silently. You’re shaking again. You investigate the corners, go up in the crawl space, look behind empty crates and boxes stacked against the wall. There’s nowhere else to hide. You check outside again, desperately searching for the slightest discrepancy in the alley’s appearance. Nothing.

It’s the police or the state or somebody. The more you think about it the more you believe it’s true and your heart sinks. They’re going to send you back.

Your eyes water and you glare at the box but decide if they’re playing some game with you, then it’s already over and you can just open the goddamn thing.

You walk over, sink down to your knees and pull back the cardboard flaps and look inside.

“What?” you murmur aloud to the empty room. You pull out a loaf of saran-wrapped banana bread and study it with distrustful curiosity. It looks homemade.

You slowly remove the contents of the box and set everything down around you on the floor. A Tupperware container filled with potato soup, an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, three bottles of water and a jar of peanut butter. You laugh out loud but your heart’s beating fast. The room gets a little darker and you grab for the empty box, clutching the sides. You throw up, coughing and sputtering, tears brimming in your eyes.


Brick Mantel Books:


PRICE: $16.95


Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. My email address is, my website is, my Twitter handle is @katekort543. Thanks!


Giving Paws

Giving Paws: Having a Service Dog for a Hidden Disability by [Thompson, Martha L.]THE BOOK: Giving Paws: Having a Service Dog for a Hidden Disability.


THE AUTHOR: Martha L. Thompson.

THE EDITOR: Joe Coccaro.

THE PUBLISHER: Koehler Books – Virginia Beach, VA.

SUMMARY: When Martha’s doctor recommends that she get a service dog to help her contend with the disabling symptoms of her chronic illness, she thinks it is a great idea. She has lived with dogs for years and works at a zoo, so she believes in the healing powers of animals. She adopts a Chihuahua/Dachshund named Henry, gets him trained and fully expects the quality of her life to improve.

Martha L. Thompson

Henry is smart and learns his tasks well, but his small stature and undeniable charm draw attention to Martha that she is not ready for. People want to know why she needs a service dog, and ask “What’s wrong with you?” Trying to explain her illness is embarrassing and awkward, and Henry’s presence is a constant reminder that she is disabled. Consequently, her symptoms get worse.

Martha wants to retire Henry early, but he perseveres. They trudge forward and she learns to advocate for people with “invisible disabilities.” Instead of shying away from questions, she uses them as an opportunity to teach people about the therapeutic benefits of service animals.

With time and effort, she passes through the initial awkward period and starts to experience unexpected gifts of Henry’s devotion. His charm breaks down cultural and social barriers and enables her to have friendships with coworkers who once intimidated her.

The most surprising outcome of having Henry by her side comes after several years. During their time together Martha becomes willing to accept her physical and emotional limitations, and as a result experiences a new freedom. Although her goal with Henry was to remain strong enough to work, it is with his help that she sees it would be in her best interest to stop working entirely. She gradually lets go of the unrealistic, unmet expectations she has had of herself and begins to explore the next phase of her life.

THE BACK STORY: When I embarked on the process of obtaining and training a service dog to help me, I believed life would get easier, but I was wrong. My shame about being sick and my self-consciousness were aggravated by the presence of a cute dog by my side, but Instead of jumping ship I decided, with Henry’s help, to learn all I could about service dogs for people with “invisible disabilities,” and try to increase awareness. Writing a book seemed like the most practical way to do it, especially since I’m shy by nature. The idea of making a You-Tube video or doing a podcast was intimidating, but I could write.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Originally, I called it My Big Ugly Service Dog, as a joke because I believed I wouldn’t have had so many problems with Henry if he had been a big, “normal” sized service dog. But the title would have confused people, and didn’t grab the attention of the intended audience. Although some agents thought my first title was clever.

Anyway, GIVING PAWS: Having a Service Dog for a Hidden Disability is a more practical title and it gets to the point.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Anyone who has loved a dog or cat understands their instinct to snuggle with us when we don’t feel well, but not everyone knows how dogs can be trained to assist people with all kinds of maladies and disabilities. My book will be invaluable to anyone who could benefit from having a service dog. It will be particularly helpful to those with “invisible disabilities,” who are considering getting a service dog. The process is not as simple as putting a vest on the dog and bringing them everywhere they go. There will be obstacles, and my story offers solutions and lessons on how to keep going despite the bumps in in the road.

There are a few books on the market about training service dogs, but none that tell a personal account that include all the highs and lows.


“Martha L. Thompson’s book, Giving Paws: Having a Service Dog for a Hidden Disability  ss a soul-baring, honest, compelling account of living with physical and emotional challenges and how a service animal can literally help someone continue surviving.”—DEAR ABBY

“Martha Thompson’s Giving Paws is a powerful, deeply personal journey into a better life beside a service dog for invisible disabilities. Challenged by health, public perception, and a deep sense of ethic about the partnership, Thompson forges a life–and a book–that many readers will find compelling, indeed.” — SUSANNAH CHARLESON, NYT bestselling author of Scent of the Missing and The Possibility Dogs.

“Giving Paws is a gem of a book, as entertaining as it is educational. Readers will fall in love with Henry, a little dog with a big heart—and an important job to do.” — BRENDA SCOTT ROYCE, author of Monkey Love,  Champion’s New Shoes and Bailey the Wonder Dog.

“With compelling honesty about her chronic illnesses, Thompson offers keen insights into the therapeutic relationship with service dogs. She is an engaging guide into the expanding world of animal assisted therapy.”  — JACQUELINE SHEEHAN, Ph.D., fiction writer, essayist and psychologist. Author of Tiger in the House, The Center of the World, Picture This, Now & Then and Lost & Found.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Martha Thompson spent the first twenty years of her professional life performing as an actor. A graduate of the Juilliard School of Drama and Marymount Manhattan College, she toured more than eighty U.S. cities as a member of John Houseman’s Acting Company. She also performed at Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre in New York, The Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference in Connecticut, The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and many regional theatres throughout the country.

When physical and emotional illness disabled her, Martha was forced to retire from acting. Inspired by her love for her German shepherd, Gus, she explored career options that involved animals, which led her to volunteering, and eventually working at a local zoo where she coordinated volunteers and wrote and edited a weekly newsletter called “ZOONOOZ.”

Her first book, The Oxygen Mask Rule: How My Battle with Anorexia Taught Me to Survive, published in February 2012 by CreateSpace, was a Finalist in the Women’s Issues category of the 2012 International Book Awards.

Martha lives in Los Angeles and continues to heal with the help of her husband Don, her service dog Henry, another beautiful dog named Cassie, four turtles, two Bobwhite and three Button quail.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: By telling my story I hope to increase awareness of the use of service dogs in the treatment of “invisible disabilities,” and inspire people to be more understanding of, and have more compassion for people who suffer with these illnesses.

I also hope to give encouragement, insights and guidance to anyone with an invisible disability who is considering getting a service dog.


WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT:, PRICE: Hardcover: $26.95, Paperback: $10.13 and Kindle: $9.99


First Tuesday Replay, Oct. 3


For Love of Charity by [Parker, Wanda]“FOR LOVE OF CHARITY,” BY WANDA PARKER.

Charity, raised with wealth and privilege has her world shattered when her fiancé runs away before the wedding. With determination, she reinvents herself from a lady to a frontier lad, to join a trader to find her fiancé Robert. During the long journey carrying a heavy pack, and masquerading as a young boy, she learns the hardships and dangers of frontier life, from bear attacks, rogue white men, and fierce Indians. She also learns she has the inner strength to be a survivor.


Making History is a comprehensive, easy to use, fun method of exploring the times of your (or someone else’s) life against a backdrop of historic events. It illuminates personal power, providing an antidote to the apathetic assumption that one person cannot make a difference. It contains detailed historic timelines from 1930 through 1989; vibrant true stories full of humor, tragedy, and excitement; thought-provoking questions to help the reader discover how they contributed to and participated in the events of their time; and easily accessible information arranged in eight categories, which are: Economics and Politics, The Social Fabric (race, gender, and morality), War and the International Scene, Technology and Science, Crime and Disaster, Arts and Entertainment, Lifestyle Activities (food, fashion, toys, sports, etc.) and The Weird and Trivial (scandals and gossip, comics, slang, pets, etc.)


“The title for this book came from a vision I had of actually walking with the trees. I saw myself coming over a large green hill, hand in hand with huge, gnarled, old trees. They were laughing and would occasionally lift me up and swing me so my feet left the ground. I felt as though I could fly. I was totally safe and filled with limitless joy and peace. This vision came at a time when my life seemed anything but, and so it gave me the internal knowing that I required to start listening again — to the sound of water trickling over the rocks, fireflies in flight, snow as it fell and the ancient, wise whispering of the trees. Walking With Trees is a record of this journey. I like to say to those who call it my book, ‘I was the vehicle that allowed it to come through.’”


The story of twin brothers, who at the age of 22 are orphaned and have no other family. Aaron has just graduated college, David has Down Syndrome. They now have to start their adult lives together, without the help from their parents or older sister.

This is a novel that gives humanity to people with developmental disabilities.

Them That Go by [Mushko, Becky]“THEM THAT GO,” BY BECKY MUSHKO

A secret revealed, a mystery solved, a life forever changed.

In 1972, seventeen-year-old Annie Caldwell, who has the “gift” of animal communication, wants to be normal, but she’ll settle for being unnoticed. Annie’s brother died in Vietnam, her mother is depressed, and her father drinks. Her only friend is elderly Aint Lulie—who lives in the same holler and understands the gift because she has one, too: “The first daughter in ever’ other generation has always been blest with a gift, though some think it a curse.”

As they sit by the fireplace in the evenings and tell each other stories, Aint Lulie shares family history with Annie, including a relative’s mysterious death and how some of their ancestors came to settle in the area: “There’s always been them that go and them that stay in ever’ generation.”

When a local girl goes missing, Aint Lulie’s and Annie’s gifts can help solve the mystery—but if Annie speaks up, she can no longer go unnoticed.

Them That Go is an Appalachian coming-of-age novel rich in tradition, superstition, family ties, and secrets.


A true story of tragedy, despair, and hope for the future after surviving a childhood of bullying. Debut true story on homosexuality, religion, overpopulation, and a boy’s desire to fit into a society that has marked him as an outcast. A teenager tries to make sense of his life. He has turned cold, withdrawn, and depressed. He is different, and everyone knows. He is gay, living in a town that does not understand him. He lives in a family that does not know how to support him. He is abused emotionally, physically, and sexually for years. No one cares. No one helps. Then on one dark rainy night, everything changes. Share in this story that debates religion, overpopulation, the human condition, and lays the case for the greater acceptance of the LGBT community.






Weather Report, Oct. 2



This  week’s Snowflakes in a Blizzard offerings have, at their core, two very different kinds of disabilities.

Martha Thompson’s “Giving Paws” tells the true story of her experiences with service dogs, and how they have helped her cope with a lifelong health issue.

For most of us, the term “service dog” probably brings to mind the image of a blind person clutching a cane, attached by a leash to a stout German shepherd or collie named Duke, or Prince. Except that Martha Thompson’s four-legged aide is, of all things, a chihuahua/dachshund mix who answers to “Henry.” And her disability — anorexia — is not immediately evident.

Martha writes: “Anyone who has loved a dog or cat understands their instinct to snuggle with us when we don’t feel well, but not everyone knows how dogs can be trained to assist people with all kinds of maladies and disabilities. My book will be invaluable to anyone who could benefit from having a service dog. It will be particularly helpful to those with ‘invisible disabilities,’ who are considering getting a service dog. The process is not as simple as putting a vest on the dog and bringing them everywhere they go. There will be obstacles, and my story offers solutions and lessons on how to keep going despite the bumps in in the road.”

Meanwhile, Kate Kort’s “Laika” is fictional, but no less real in its treatment of paranoid schizophrenia.

One reviewer, James Brubaker, wrote: “In Laika, Kate Kort explores the title character’s world with heartbreaking clarity. The novel’s electric prose and beautifully rendered characters thrum with delicate fear and sadness as readers bear witness to Laika’s growing mental illness. Along the way, Kort doesn’t pull any punches, and that’s precisely why the novel is so powerful. By faithfully representing Laika’s illness—by making it real on the page—Kort has crafted an important and sagely empathetic examination of mental illness’ all too real human cost. At turns gritty and tender, Laika is a powerful and necessary novel.”

This is Kate’s second appearance on Snowflakes. Her first offering, “Glass,” also demonstrated her remarkable ability to slip inside the head of someone with debilitating mental challenges and help us understand them.



When Martha’s doctor recommends that she get a service dog to help her contend with the disabling symptoms of her chronic illness, she thinks it is a great idea. She has lived with dogs for years and works at a zoo, so she believes in the healing powers of animals. She adopts a Chihuahua/Dachshund named Henry, gets him trained and fully expects the quality of her life to improve.

Henry is smart and learns his tasks well, but his small stature and undeniable charm draw attention to Martha that she is not ready for. People want to know why she needs a service dog, and ask “What’s wrong with you?” Trying to explain her illness is embarrassing and awkward, and Henry’s presence is a constant reminder that she is disabled. Consequently, her symptoms get worse.

Martha wants to retire Henry early, but he perseveres. They trudge forward and she learns to advocate for people with “invisible disabilities.” Instead of shying away from questions, she uses them as an opportunity to teach people about the therapeutic benefits of service animals.


Laika desperately wishes for a new life. At fourteen, she’s hardened and independent, living on the streets of southern California. She’s finally free of her volatile home but yearns for true stability.

As Graham, a waiter at a local Russian restaurant, watches Laika steal and struggle to survive, he sees there is something else going on. Something dangerous. An insidious disease that gnaws at her mind and drags her deeper into a world of chaos and delusion.Laika brings to light the often-shrouded world of paranoid schizophrenia. It also examines the socially stigmatized issues of homelessness, addiction, and PTSD, in the hopes of fostering greater awareness and compassion.


This month, we will revisit “For Love of Charity,” by Wanda Parker; “Making History,” by Kim Pearson, “Walking With Trees,” by P.R. Lowe, “Indivisible,” by Randi Sachs, “Them That Go,” by Becky Mushko, and “Faggot,” by Frank Billinglsey.








Where To?



THE BOOK: Where to? A Hack Memoir


THE AUTHOR: Dmitry Samarov

THE EDITOR: Bill Savage and Naomi Huffman

THE PUBLISHER: Curbside Splendor

SUMMARY: An illustrated work memoir about twelve years driving cab in Chicago and Boston between 1993 and 2012. The book starts with the author’s very first fare and ends with his last, in between are chapters devoted to the inner workings of the cab industry and memorable customers, colleagues, and civic events. In all, it is a portrait of city life from a vantage point which will soon disappear entirely due to the taxi business’s impending doom at the hands of the ride-share racket.

Image result for Dmitry Samarov + author + photographs

THE BACK STORY: This the follow-up to Hack: Stories from a Chicago Cab (University of Chicago Press, 2011) and a summing up of the author’s cabbie career after he decided to walk away.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Where to? was what I asked anybody who got into my taxi. Hack is the old-fashioned term for a cab driver. Memoir to make sure readers realize this isn’t fiction (as they did when I included the word Stories in the title of my first book.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Anyone interested in eavesdropping on people while they’re en route to somewhere else and not paying attention. Those with interest in the city of Chicago and, to a lesser extent, the city of Boston. For those who get bored with reading the words, there are many pictures to get distracted by.


“Captures better than a surveillance camera the pureed blend of good and bad that makes up actual life.” Pete Beatty, Belt magazine

 “Funny, touching, observant, philosophical, sad, world-weary, artful and wonderful are the stories that pepper this book. There has never been a cab driver like Dmitry Samarov and, since he’s given up for keeps late-night for-hire driving, there never will be.”—Rick Kogan, hall-of-fame reporter for the Chicago Tribune

“With his gorgeous pen and ink drawings and funny, tragic, and all too true stories, Samarov’s chronicle of his adventures as a Chicago taxi driver is by far the best ride you’ll ever take in a cab.”—Wendy MacNaughton

AUTHOR PROFILE: Dmitry Samarov was born in Moscow, USSR, in 1970. He immigrated to the United States with his family in 1978. He got in trouble in first grade for doodling on his Lenin Red Star pin and hasn’t stopped doodling since. After a false start at Parsons School of Design in New York, he graduated with a BFA in painting and printmaking from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1993. Upon graduation he promptly began driving a cab—first in Boston, then after a time, in Chicago. He no longer drives a cab. You can see more of his work than you ever bargained for at and subscribe to the newsletter he sends out every single Monday at


LOCAL OUTLETS: Myopic Books, Pilsen Community Books, Seminary Co-op Bookstores

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: All the usual online outlets or by contacting the author directly, should you want a signed copy.

PRICE: $15.95


Memory is the Seamstress

Memory Is The Seamstress: The Story of a Family by [Allison, Patricia]THE BOOK: Memory Is The Seamstress


THE AUTHOR: Patricia Allison, the pen name of the two co-authors, Dean Robertson and Alison Daniels

THE EDITOR: Alison Daniels and Dean Robertson

THE PUBLISHER: Kindle Direct Publishing.


Eighty-six-year-old Samantha Leaf has kept a terrible secret for decades – one that now threatens to destroy a well-known publishing empire.

In the early part of the twentieth century, Charles Leaf came out of the mid-west to New York, carrying only a dream. He opened a bookstore and founded a dynasty. He longed for a line of sons to carry on what he built. But his only heir, Charles Junior, is a disappointment, and the future of the business is in jeopardy. That all changes when Samantha Tyler, an exotic and ambitious young woman of twenty-two, comes to work for Leaf & Sons, enchanting both men.

Memory is the Seamstress begins in 2017. Samantha is eighty-six, and the family has convened to deal with an impending lawsuit. Something from Samantha’s past has come back to haunt them. As the mystery unfolds, we learn about the players in this high-class game of deception, ambition, love, marriage, and madness. At the center of the family, and the decades-long secret, is Samantha and, around her, the men in her life: Charles Senior, her father-in-law, mentor, and friend, who made her his heir; Charles, the husband whom she could never fully love until it was too late; Charlie, her son, devoted to his mother but determined to make his own mark; Charlie’s son, Gordon, the outsider looking to take control of the company; and Gordon’s son, Bennett, on the verge of young manhood, and falling in love for the first time. And, on that list of men is Samantha’s other secret – her love for the artist Isaac Raffael, who shares Samantha’s guilt. The stories of all these characters is woven into the tapestry of this complex family saga.

THE BACK STORY: This novel has a pretty interesting back story. One morning in March 2017, Alison sent Dean an email in which she related a disturbing dream from the night before. She had dreamed about her father and her fiancé, both now dead, and she wrote, “I do not often dream of the dead.” Dean responded with expressions of sympathy; she was familiar with the experience of not being able to escape from a disturbing dream. She then wrote, “I want you to read that last line out loud and listen to it. ‘I do not often dream of the dead’ would make a great opening sentence for a novel.” Alison responded by saying she was considering it as the first line in her memoir, to be followed by, “But I wonder if they ever dream of me.” Dean sat and stared at the two lines together, then responded with what would become, virtually unchanged, the opening paragraph of the novel.

That was on March 12 2017. On the 13th of June, the two women uploaded the book to Kindle Direct Publishing. Three months, soup to nuts.

Dean had never written fiction and had been convinced for the fifty years of her adult life that writing fiction was one of things she couldn’t do.

Alison, who wrote fiction for many years, had stopped writing altogether over twenty-five years ago and had long since resigned herself to never writing fiction again.

Writing Memory was a transformative experience for both of them.

WHY THIS TITLE? At some point, when they started discussing a title, Alison said that when she wrote fiction in the past, she always liked to use a quotation from a well-known author, so they started looking in all the likely places. A friend of Dean’s had just sent her a long passage from Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando:

“Memory is the seamstress, and a capricious one at that. Memory runs her needle in and out, up and down, hither and thither. We know not what comes next, or what follows after. Thus, the most ordinary movement in the world, such as sitting down at a table and pulling the inkstand towards one, may agitate a thousand odd, disconnected fragments, now bright, now dim, hanging and bobbing and dipping and flaunting, like the under-linen of a family of fourteen on a line in a gale of wind.”

It came down to that or something from “Hamlet.”

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? It is a well-written character-driven novel, so the first assumption of both authors was that no one would like it except maybe a few English teachers and a couple of friends or relatives. They have changed their minds. Someone would want to read it because it’s one of those sprawling family sagas that always turns into a great made-for-tv movie; there’s a mystery to be solved, and the book opens right up with a teaser; and, it does have a cast of characters who are either funny or tragic or annoying or infuriating, but not even one of them is boring or ordinary. Two reader responses come to mind. One, a recent houseguest, picked up the novel just to have a look at it, started reading, curled up in a big armchair, with breaks only for meals or the powder room, and read it through to the end. Her comment, fairly self-evident, was “I couldn’t put it down.” Another reported that she went to bed at night thinking about the characters.

REVIEW COMMENTS: “If we ever stop tinkering with it and uploading to Amazon, it’s possible people might have a chance to write reviews.” Meanwhile, there are the two word-of-mouth ones above and these two from the Amazon site,

“EUREKA! Someone finally wrote a novel for people who understand the difference between producing fiction and WRITING fiction. Thank you Patricia Allison for restoring my faith that fiction can be more than formulaic best sellers.”


“I don’t usually read fiction but this was of interest to me. The character Samantha was interesting as were her family relations. Good job Patricia.”

AUTHOR PROFILE: Patricia Allison is the pen name of two friends—Dean Robertson and Alison Daniels–co-authors of Memory Is The Seamstress. They grew up in different parts of the country, in very different circumstances. They have entirely different writing histories. They brought two distinct sets of skills to the writing of this first novel, both of which were essential for its completion. One author has been writing for fifty years, the other for barely four. One author has published previously, the other has not. One author plots meticulously, the other plunges in. Both hold graduate degrees, neither of which is in writing. One is a country girl, the other an urban dweller. Neither is a spring chicken. Both are entirely ruled by their animals, many of whom inspired the names of the novel’s characters. Patricia Allison divides her time between Virginia and New York.

Alison Daniels, who now lives in Norfolk, Virginia, commutes once a month to New York, where she owns a co-op in Queens and has a job in Manhattan. She is a native New Yorker and has worked for the same company for over twenty years.

Dean Robertson has lived for four years in the Ghent neighborhood of Norfolk, Virginia, and grew up on a hundred acres of north Georgia woods in a log house her parents built. She left home at seventeen. She has lived and taught in Kentucky, Michigan, California, and Virginia.

Alison and Dean met at a book club in Norfolk in 2012, each thinking the other was both interesting and eccentric – and both were right.

Writing as Patricia Allison, they are experimenting with a variety of approaches to collaborative writing.

Since Memory, each of them has written one novel alone, both published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, both under their pen name of Patricia Allison. Alison’s novel, Fortune’s End, is a reconsideration and revision of a twenty-year-old manuscript that was waiting for her, literally, in a box in the back of a closet. Dean’s first effort on her own is called Jessie: The Adventures and Insights of a Nineteenth Century Woman, and is her complete fabrication of the early life of a woman she spent a year researching, with little success.

Currently they are working on two more solo works. Dean’s is a sequel, Jessie: More Adventures and Insights; Alison’s is In Sycamore Hall, a psychological murder mystery set in a co-op in Manhattan, where the normal disagreements among tenants flare into violence.

Once those are published—or uploaded, as it’s called—they will sit down together and plan the next book, which they intend to write together.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Dean writes: This is a tough one for me because I had no goals or larger ideas, or any ideas at all, about Memory. It was an accidental novel, and it’s a miracle it ever got finished. Alison and I had at least several truly terrible arguments every week, sometimes several in a day. In a way, the writing of the novel was, for me–understood only after the fact–about two things: writing and friendship. In retrospect, I would say that Memory is a novel about how we relate to each other within families and, ultimately, what “family” means. It is about integrity, both personal and professional, about forgiveness and about love. Those are all such vague terms, really. At the end of the day, this novel was all about the characters. I fell in love with several of them and was heart-broken to let them go.

Alison writes: For me the writing of this novel was a revelation. Writing tends to be a solitary pursuit and previously I had always written in a vacuum without benefit of feedback or editing. As a writer partner Dean pushed me not to be “lazy” in my choices and I think I pushed her to focus on letting characters speak for themselves. As a result I believe our characters come alive on the page. Trying to share a vision for character and story was a challenge, and Dean and I are both strong-minded women, and the clashes over ideas, writing styles and structure could be brutal. It is truly a test of friendship to learn to work collaboratively without constantly stepping on each other’s toes. We survived it and the end result is a better book, I think, than either one of us would have written alone about this particular lively group of characters, who span the generations and have their own unique voices. It’s not often that a single novel can combine both literary aspirations and a lively and emotional story.


Memory Is The Seamstress A Novel by Patricia Allison

Chapter One Two Lunches

Manhattan May 2017

The woman at the carefully laid table in the small, overpriced Manhattan eatery, looked directly at her companion and said, just loud enough to be heard, “I do not often dream of the dead.” She was in her mid-eighties, tall and very thin, cheekbones showing the outlines of a face whose beauty even the ravages of age and a lifetime of taking her looks for granted couldn’t hide. Her Chanel suit, years out of date, was frayed at the collar, which reflected not a lack of funds but her refusal to be stylish.

“I do not often dream of the dead,” the old woman repeated, talking to herself now. “But I wonder whether they ever dream of me.

“I am, after all, a woman who has blood on her hands.”

“Samantha.” The well-dressed man across from her tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice, “We agreed you weren’t going to talk like that, you were going to stop using that kind of language.”

Gordon leaned forward with what he hoped was his most convincing smile and went on. “Whatever happened, it was a long time ago. This whole situation seems like a fuss over very little, but I won’t know that for sure until I get enough details from you to put it to bed. If you can just help me out here, Samantha, I can sort this out quickly and I, for one, have no intention of ever mentioning any of it again. However, as of this minute, I am operating in the dark.”

He looked away to give her a chance to digest what he’d said and spotted his father, Charlie, approaching the table, just a little late, as usual. Charlie cleared his throat and nodded in Gordon’s direction but didn’t speak. It was typical of Charlie to stay disengaged as long as possible. As the only son of Samantha and Charles Leaf Junior, Charlie—as he’d insisted on being called–had learned early in life that his mother, for whom he felt great love laced with a sensible amount of caution, was not only famously beautiful but a woman whose presence alone could draw you into situations you’d rather avoid. Today Charlie was determined just to observe.

He looked at the two people at the table and for just a second felt like turning right around and heading home. “Here they are: The same players, the same roles, the same script. There’s Gordon leaning in just a little too close, too eager to get his point across, to be the one who saves the day. And Mother–she does so wish to be somewhere else.”

“Charlie, my dear, so very grateful you could find the time to join us for lunch.” Samantha held out her hand, ignoring Gordon’s look of growing desperation and annoyance at the conversation’s veering off track.

Taking only a little offense at the slightly scolding tone, Charlie—torn between irritation and affection–took the outstretched hand, noticed again the enlarged veins and translucent skin of old age, bowed a little more deeply than necessary, and kissed his mother’s fingertips. “Samantha, you know I wouldn’t have missed it.

Have you and Gordon ordered yet?”

“We thought we’d wait for you and Bennett so we could all take a look at the new menu together. There’s plenty of time, but why don’t you go ahead and order a round of drinks? I’ll have my usual. You do remember?”

“Well, let’s see now . . .”

“Charlie, stop that teasing. You’re not old enough to start forgetting things yet!”

And the familiar dance was performed again between the aging, elegant, demanding matriarch of the family, and her stubbornly independent son, two peas in a pod, worthy opponents who enjoyed the combat and were much more alike and cared much more deeply than either of them would admit.

Charlie had agreed to attend this lunch gathering because it seemed to involve the family’s business interests and because he was, frankly, curious about the details of whatever lurked in his mother’s past. Gordon had insisted that the family all meet together. “Poor Gordon,” Charlie mused. “It’s a rare opportunity for him to be in charge of a situation, and he’s playing it for all it’s worth.”

As he pulled out his chair, Charlie could see his grandson, Bennett, coming through the door. Bennett, at seventeen, created the same kind of stir entering a room that Samantha still did, even at eighty-six. His was an almost flawless beauty, and he moved with a dancer’s grace. Just home from his boarding school for the short break between exams that always held the promise of the long summer vacation ahead, Bennett was considering making a couple of trips to look at colleges. Uncertain of his own interests, he knew he always had the option of going to work at the Leaf Foundation so he tended to worry about very little. Bennett had the character so typical of young men educated in any one of the East Coast prep schools—that combination of charming boyishness, a sense of entitlement, and an unexpected maturity and competence when they were needed.

Unlike his grandfather, Bennett headed straight for his great-grandmother. With his biggest grin, and ignoring Gordon’s disapproving look, he grabbed her in a bear hug. “Samantha, you look more beautiful every time I see you, and if you weren’t my ‘great,’ I’d propose on the spot.”

Samantha, normally unflappable, was a fool for this beautiful boy, and she actually blushed. “Bennett, one of these days you are going to go too far and I’ll have to report you—to whomever one reports such audacity. Go and sit with your grandfather and order yourself something to tide you over until lunch.”

After the interruptions by his father, and then by his son, Gordon took a deep breath before trying to talk to Samantha again. He wished fervently to be anywhere but in this chair, trying to figure out what to do with this woman, who he was sure was going dotty, and—to make matters worse—he was certain his father would exit unobtrusively at some point, leaving Gordon with a bill he could scarcely afford.

Striving to keep the tension out of his voice, he turned to his grandmother. “Samantha, it really is important that you answer a few questions before we try to explain the situation to everyone else. Can you give your attention to this a while longer?”

For just a split second, Samantha looked at Gordon as if she had no idea who he was, then said in a deceptively soft voice, “Of course, dear. Now what was it you needed to know?”

And it was possible, in moments like this, to understand why Samantha had enemies, why this lovely woman, adored by the men in her family who were gathered around her, would be roundly disliked by those who – like her grandson Gordon – were the recipients of her casual condescension. Samantha never raised her voice, although it had taken her a few years to curb what had been a white-hot temper in her twenties. She never said anything directly unkind. She didn’t have to. She was the master of the unkindest cut of all. She could, by the turn of her head, or the slightest edge in her voice, dismiss you entirely. And in the Leaf family, to be dismissed by Samantha Leaf – who wasn’t really a Leaf at all, but in fact an interloper – to be invisible to her was to almost cease to exist. Gordon, uncertain in her presence for as long as he could remember, had to muster every bit of his courage to try and get his grandmother to face facts. “First of all you can’t go around talking about having blood on your hands, for heaven’s sake! Especially with this lawsuit pending.” “Oh, the lawsuit,” Samantha looked bored. “There’s nothing to be done for it. And it really doesn’t matter what I say. There are people who have always resented me… perhaps with good reason.” “Reasons that legally are no more than suspicions, and you must be careful not to reinforce those suspicions with careless talk,” Gordon shook his head and all but rolled his eyes. “I’m your attorney as well as your grandson and I’ve been reviewing what little I know. You are going to have to provide me with more information, Samantha. Even the best attorney can’t operate without the facts.” “Dad, do you have to bother Samantha with all this?” Bennett interrupted. “I thought you were going to settle it.” Bennett’s handsome face, with its sideways look of arrogance, softened today by genuine affection for Samantha, often irritated his father. In Gordon’s opinion, his son frequently carried the day based solely on his looks and that facile charm. He had it entirely too easy. “Oh sure,” Gordon replied sarcastically. “I’ll make it all go away, like magic. Bennett, I specifically wanted you here to talk some sense into her. I need full cooperation, full disclosure, if we are going to beat this thing. I absolutely cannot go into a negotiation, let alone court, and get blindsided by something your great-grandmother conveniently forgot to tell me.” Of the three generations of men now seated at the table, Gordon was the only one who looked out of place. Charlie, just over sixty, already slightly stooped, his thinning hair turned gray, dressed in last year’s tweed jacket over a wrinkled Brooks Brothers shirt, was casually confident as he nodded to a few of the waiters who clearly knew him. He was still his mother’s son, a comfortable insider, although – by choice – not involved in the Leaf businesses. At the other end of the table Gordon’s young son, Bennett, whose startling physical beauty really did make any other credentials unnecessary, glanced around with a

complete sense of belonging exactly where he was. And of all the men, he was the one who most closely resembled his great-grandmother. He had Samantha’s cheekbones and her untamable hair, the same deep brown that Samantha’s had been before it finally turned white when she was in her seventies. Gordon had invited Bennett because he was a favorite of Samantha’s – and therefore was the most likely candidate to convince her to listen. Bennett, who really was fond of Samantha, laid a hand over hers. “You’re going to cooperate with Dad, aren’t you, Samantha?” “Now, Bennett, my dear, you don’t need to bother yourself with this. Your father already knows my position. I deny nothing. I admit nothing. Let the chips fall where they may.” Gordon leaned back in his chair, exasperated. “That attitude could very well land you in more trouble than I care to imagine–even at your age! Not to mention bankrupting you.”

Samantha stared at him, and finally smiled. “Bankrupting you, don’t you mean, Gordon? You’ve already seen to it that I have no part anymore in the company.”

“Because it had become too much for you,” Gordon argued. “But it’s still your legacy. You don’t want to see it destroyed due to your own stubbornness!”

The old woman closed her eyes. “My legacy,” she murmured. “I might have hoped for a different one.”

Samantha was tired. She looked all of her eighty-six years and more, as she sat, a woman of another time, not so tall nor so beautiful as she once had been, but still a presence, a force in the room. An onlooker would have instinctively felt that this frail old woman was the one in charge, even though she sat, head slightly bowed, not speaking, surrounded by three generations of the men in her family.

Two Lunches

The Cloisters 1967

“I wish Isaac were here,” Samantha thought, and the familiar mix of pain and loss twisted her heart as always, no matter how many years passed. He would know what to do. He would have been able to talk to those people and put things right. Isaac had a gift for conciliation, making friends of enemies with little effort, while she… How had Isaac phrased it? “You bristle like a porcupine whenever anyone disagrees with you, Sammy. Always ready to take offense and do battle.” And she had laughed and admitted it and stopped being angry at whichever inconsequential person had made some tactless remark. Yes, Isaac’s influence had softened her – for a while, in another time and place. It was hard to believe that had been more than sixty years ago. The speed with which her life had rushed by sometimes left her breathless. When she was young, she had thought she

knew it all; she had believed the golden moments would last forever. When she was twenty and twenty-five and even thirty, she had not understood that everything changes.

She remembered the last time she and Isaac had been truly happy together: a day in early spring, the time of year in New York when a slight hint of winter lingers, but at mid-day, the sun can warm you for an hour or two. It had been, deceptively, a season of hope.

After a chilly morning, the day had turned into a kaleidoscope of light clouds and sun, and much warmer than expected. Isaac called early to declare it a day for a picnic, no excuses accepted. He would pick her up at the Algonquin at precisely 11:00. He would have a taxi and they would ride out to the Cloisters where they could walk and have some privacy. In fact, he knew just the spot. Isaac really did always know just what to do.

So Samantha Leaf, thirty-five years old and the wife of Charles Leaf Junior, sole heir to the Leaf portfolio and chairman of the Leaf Foundation–the entity set up to manage not only the publishing company but the funds her father-in-law had designated to support aspiring authors; Samantha Leaf, mother of Charles the Third, called Charlie, had risen languidly from the sofa and headed upstairs to wash her hair, soak in the deep old tub full of hot, perfumed water, put on an afternoon dress—she thought the navy linen that she was told matched her eyes–and prepare to meet a man she loved for lunch in the country.

That day was like so many other days over the last twelve years when Samantha and Isaac had spent an hour or two browsing the shelves of a bookstore, or sharing a box of popcorn at the neighborhood theater or, like today, heading somewhere out of the city to picnic, or eat at a roadside diner, or just to walk, sometimes silent, sometimes talking desultorily about their lives or arguing some point in a book they’d both just read.

They had made it up to the Cloisters, where they had walked, eaten the basket of cold herbed chicken, fresh green salad, and small red potatoes that Isaac had packed, and had stretched out in the pale sun, side-by-side, drifting in one of the long silences with which they had become comfortable over the years. Samantha, always the more restless of the two, spoke quietly. “Isaac, tell me the truth. Did you find one single thing amusing about that ridiculous movie we saw last week?”

Isaac sat up and looked down at his hands before he responded, “Sammy, tell me the truth. Are you seriously asking me a question about a movie that was so god-awful I can’t even remember the name of it? Really? On a day like today, when we could be discussing the Botticelli exhibit at the Met or last month’s execrable performance of ‘Aida.’

“To tell you the truth,” he continued with that insulting ‘art critic’ tone in his voice, “I thought it was just about the funniest thing I’ve seen in years!” And Isaac looked up at her from beneath those ridiculously long eyelashes and exploded into near-uncontrollable gales of laughter at his own humor. He would just get a grip on himself,

when something would set him off again.

Samantha looked at him with the affection of more than a decade’s friendship. She had never known a man who, on his best days, enjoyed his own humor as much as Isaac.

“Samantha? Where’ve you gone? You look like you’re miles away.” It was Bennett, this time really worried. She smiled slightly to reassure him.

“Just letting my mind wander a bit, my dear… one of the privileges of old age.”

“And who’s Isaac?” Bennett asked.

Samantha started. Had she spoken his name aloud? To reassure her great grandson, she shook her head slightly and said, “He’s just someone I knew a long time ago.” She thought, but did not say, “Someone I almost killed.”


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