Sit and Cry

THE BOOK:  SIT AND CRY: Two Years In the Land of Smiles. 

PUBLISHED IN:  2017

THE AUTHOR: Burgess Needle

THE EDITOR: My manuscript has been read and critiqued by so many friends and colleagues, it would be impossible to list them all.

THE PUBLISHER: Wren Song Press.  This is a small press located in Middlebury, Vermont. It is owned and operated by Win Colwell who did a thoughtful , creative and intelligent job of formatting the text, placement of photographs and designing the front and back cover of my book.

SUMMARYSIT AND CRY is a day-by-day account of the author’s life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand in the late 1960s. The narrative offers the reader insights into rural Thai life and culture, the impact of the Vietnam War, the angst of living in a completely strange environment, the struggles of trying to communicate in an alien language, loneliness and the desire for love or at least physical contact. We join the author as he eats fried morning glory leaves, enormous duck eggs with gigantic orange yolks and some of the tastiest, and hottest, food on the planet. Needle tries to sleep beneath an all-too-short  mosquito net and wonders if the giant Dookeh lizard above his head will ever loose its grasp of the ceiling. The narrative paints a picture of an area surrounded by red clay dust, unfamiliar smells, constant humid heat, buzzing insects, and the lack of America’s creature comforts. Yet all of this is overshadowed by the affection, the curiosity, and the countless small kindnesses of his fellow teachers.  The kind people of Nang Rong Village, each of whom is laboring for their own survival, reach out to welcome him We are also with him as he experiences intestinal distress and as he struggles to make a home for himself home in The Land of Smiles.  Just as we develop an affection for his Thai room mate, we find our casual preconceptions dropping away as we sense our own affection for these village folk and get a tiny peek at how others see us. This memoir also documents a critical point in time, the late 1960s, for Americans in southeast Asia. Whether or not one lived through the turbulent Sixties, this volume offers a singularly unique perspective on that era.

THE BACK STORY: This book is based on journal entries and letters back home to family and friends in the States during the two years I lived in NE Thailand. The first few drafts of this book included fairly sparse, chronological descriptions of day-to-day activities. As time passed, I gathered more letters and discussed my experiences with other volunteers. I re-read the narrative and began to fill in some entries with memories that came back to me over time and that were shaken loose after poring over a collection of photographs I’d taken with my tiny, Canon camera. As a member of the Southern Arizona Writing Project I learned the importance of specific details, local color and the need for a story’s forward momentum. There was never any doubt in my mind I was working on a book, but with passing decades I began to wonder if all my experiences would ever see the light of day on published pages. Then: I retired from public education; my wife died; I reconnected with a girlfriend from half a century ago and moved from Arizona to be with her in Vermont. Marcia comes from a family of writers and within the happy milieu of Vermont’s climate and her constant reassurance that my manuscript was worth finishing, I managed to end up with a finished product. A local publisher, Win Colwell, took it from there and helped with formatting and art work until that wonderful moment when everything went to the printer and I soon had the joy of seeing the shiny cover and over three hundred pages of text to reflect to the world my experiences so long ago in a place so very far away.

WHY THIS TITLE? The name of my Thai village, Nang Rong, literally translates as Sit and Cry. Those who read the book will get the back story of how the village received that name. Thailand is also known as The Land of Smiles. Thus: SIT AND CRY: Two Years in the Land of Smiles.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?  This book is a carefully crafted memoir, in a traditional format, of a place and time that no longer exists.  The author’s experiences are recalled in precise detail and recorded for the purpose of preservation more than entertainment. The narrative will be appealing to a large cross-section of readers because of the way Needle summons back experiences in deep, sensory detail. As his old self gradually changes in new surroundings, Needle’s cultural evolution will appeal to even a casual reader. Anyone who has lived overseas for an extended period of time, especially other Peace Corps Volunteers, will be attracted to reading about rural Thailand’s sense of being almost half a century ago and what it felt like to be in a village that suffered its first traffic fatality, suddenly had 24 hour a day electricity and began replacing banana leaves for plastic baggies – all within a two year time frame.

REVIEW COMMENTS: 

I am not a memoir reader, but having read Burgess‘ poems, I knew his book would keep my interest. Sit and Cry is so much more than a memoir; it’s a history lesson, it’s an authentic glimpse into Thai culture, as well as a time capsule of what it was like for those early Peace Corps volunteers. My parents were also Peace Corps volunteers in the sixties, and Burgess‘ book provided me with insight into their experience in a personal way I was unable to receive from them first hand. I taught English to students in a very poor community in Tampico, Mexico in 1999, and his descriptions of the challenges associated with being the only teacher who did not inflict corporal punishment – and the feeling of “this could take years” – rang so true for me.

“”I marked a passage every other page that I wanted to reread – such as the description of his joint birthday party with his lovable roommate, Wisut: “Strangely enough, the one song everyone knew and joined in to sing together was Hava Nagila. We surely live on a united planet.

“Sit and Cry is a testament to our capacity as human beings to grow and adapt, to find the “familiar” in what was once foreign. I have already recommended the book to friends and family!” — Amy Rusk, Tucson-Pima Public Library

One of the best Peace Corps memoirs. Starts out as a fish out of water narrative and ends with Needle becoming a mensch on the Mekong, comfortable in Thai culture. The book is organized as a day to day account so the reader gets a sense of the kinds of encounters experienced by an English teacher in a remote Thai village in the 1960’s and the development of the author’s strategies to succeed and survive. Needle has as a keen observant eye for people, Thai culture. and what Malinowski called the imponderabilia of daily life. Very well written.” — Roger Neustadter , Professor in the Social Science department, Northwest Missouri State University. Peace Corps Volunteer [Thailand XVIII)

“I read these stories and I can smell Thailand. Burgess Needle has the gift of bringing the reader into his world, letting us taste his food, making his friends ours. The attention to detail is extraordinary, and the author’s sensitivity does him credit. None of us can go back and live someone else’s adventure, so I’m grateful for this generous glimpse into a great exotic journey.” — Bonnie Marson, author [Sleeping With Schubert]

AUTHOR PROFILE: I was born in Boston, but grew up in Newton, Massachusetts. My B.A. in English is from the University of Massachusetts in 1967. After graduation I joined the Peace Corps and taught English as a Second Language in the village of Nang Rong, Thailand from 1967 to 1969. Following Peace Corps, I worked at a variety of jobs including: a factory that produced cans and a factory that produced rolls of plastic. Common sense eventually prevailed and I moved to Tucson, Arizona where I attended the University of Arizona and earned an M.Ed with a minor in School Library Science. For the next thirty years I happily worked as a school librarian at various sites within the Tucson Unified School District. My students remember me for my scary first person presentations on the life and times of Edgar Allan Poe. The ceiling of my school’s library glowed with constellations, so I presented book talks that dealt with the mythologies of the stars. During the 1980s I co-edited a poetry journal (with Michael Rattee) titled Prickly Pear/Tucson and for a few years was a co-facilitator with the Southern Arizona Writing Project. My first collection of poems, Every Crow in the Blue Sky, was published by Diminuendo Press in 2009. My second collection. THAI COMIC BOOKS, was published by Big Table Publishing, 2013. I am currently working on a novel. After my wife died, I reconnected with a hazel-eyed woman of great wit, charm and beauty, named Marcia. We’d been together half a century before in Vermont. Thus it was, in the great loop of life, I sold my Tucson home and moved back with her to the Green Mountain State where we happily abide with woods all around and the sound of rushing water coming through the bedroom window.  My poetry and fiction has appeared in Connotation Press, Blackbox Manifold (UK), Concho River Review, Raving Dove, Boston Literary Magazine, Centrifugal Eye, Iodine, Blue Lake Review, Nutshell (UK), Liquid Imagination and DeComp among others.

AUTHOR COMMENTS:  After I retired, my bucket list included publishing: a collection of poems; my Thailand memoir; a novel; a collection of short stories and a play. The poems are out [see: EVERY CROW IN THE BLUE SKY]; my Thailand memoir has been published [see: SIT AND CRY: TWO YEARS IN THER LAND OF SMILES]; I have a published collection of short stories being considered for publication and I’m fine-tuning a novel that’s already received a positive review from KIRKUS.  Somewhere in a dusty, hard-drive there is an almost forgotten, three-act play, I need to resurrect and bring back to life. Along with my new life and love in Vermont, these accomplishments have made me a very happy man. Consequently,  I hope Vishnu does not wake up any time soon and make me disappear along with everything else.

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

                      Journal Entry — May 14, 1967

I woke up to the sound of roosters crowing. Boston was 12,000 miles and a few hundred years away. Intense sunlight poured into my room. For some reason hundreds of scraps of magazines and newspapers were scattered around my house, so I worked my way out of my morning’s daze by stumbling around picking them up. My stomach felt queasy. I drank quite a bit of water from the rain barrel (they did say rain barrel, didn’t they?). At noon, someone from the school came by and asked if I would like to walk with him to the market. He seemed to be so familiar with me I was too embarrassed to ask his name. I threw some water on my face, slicked back my hair and walked with him through my new green world to the shops. I bought an iron, a radio, a shirt and a very solid bicycle. Even after forking over the equivalent of $35 worth of baht I still felt rich. The shopkeepers seemed undecided about what degree of deference I deserved, but they were certainly friendly and laughing with my fellow teacher. In all the conversations I heard that morning, I identified no more than a few nouns.

Even though there were dogs barking, children laughing and the wheels of buffalo carts squeaking around me, there was also a strange stillness I didn’t recognize at first: no traffic, no horns, no planes. As I pushed my new bicycle back home I came face to face with a small crowd of officials, including: the Buriram Police Chief, the commander of the border patrol, the Nang Rong Police Chief, his lieutenant and a few other local officials who all seemed eager to shake my hand. With the exception of the lieutenant, everyone spoke to me in a mixture of Bangkok Thai, local slang and what I took to be Cambodian. I just kept nodding my head and saying thank you. Eventually, most of them took off and I was left with the lieutenant who said, “They are all very happy you will go to the party at the Police Chief ’s house.”

       “I will?”

       I was not at all happy with this turn of events because I didn’t want the townspeople to associate me with either police or military.

       “Yes,” he said. “You told them you would be happy to go and you thanked them very politely. They think you are very smart.”

       “I’m afraid I didn’t really understand everything they said,” I admitted.

       “Don’t worry. Mai pen rai. Do you know what that means?”

       “Yes, it means ‘never mind.’”

       “Yes, and it’s true. Don’t worry about anything. Everybody likes you.”

A policeman came by later that evening and escorted me to the chief ’s house. About a dozen or so officials were already there, along with the headmaster and many from the police force, and they all insisted I have a drink. From the back of the room, my headmaster seemed to stare right through me. I tried to keep the whiskey as diluted as possible with soda water and ice. The chief shouted for everyone to be quiet through a microphone connected to a pair of huge loudspeakers. He pointed to me and I think he said a few nice things about Peace Corps and how smart I was. Everyone applauded.

       “The party is for his birthday,” the lieutenant whispered in my ear. “Hold up your glass and say something and I will translate.”

       I held up my glass, the lieutenant got everyone’s attention and I toasted the chief his good health and happy birthday. The translation took much longer. Much, much longer! Big applause. The chief walked over and gave me a great, big hug. We all retreated to another room where tables were already loaded with food. I sat with the lieutenant, the chief and a group of civilians, which might have included the nai amphur or mayor. There was fried chicken (okay), bamboo shoot soup (edible), something that looked like chicken livers, something that looked like cabbage, but burned off the outer layer of my palate. Then, I remembered it was called som tam.

The headmaster looked at the others then back at me as if explaining it all to me for the first time.

      “This is made from green papaya crushed with a handful of palm sugar, lime, fish sauce, peanuts and chilies.” He said that this is different from the Bangkok type because people in the northeast add pla ra (pickled fish sauce). I chugged a glass of water with lots of ice, then went back to more Mekhong whiskey which began to taste pretty good.

      “Som tam is a special plate because of what is in it,” the headmaster said. “The dish has the five main tastes of all Paak Isaan cooking: sour lime, hot chili, salty and savory fish sauce, and sweetness from palm sugar.”

     “I did not understand all of that,” the chief said to the headmaster. “You are very smart with English.”

     “That is why he is Adjan Yay,” the lieutenant said to his boss.

     As if he suddenly realized he might have insulted him, the lieutenant gave a slight nod, quickly got to his feet and walked away.

     I pointed to some gray and blue orbs that looked like eggs and asked the headmaster if these were the famous 100-year-old eggs I’d heard about in America. He translated and everyone laughed.

     “What are they called in Thai?” I asked him.

     “Ah, I think you do not have this in America. There are no words. If I told you the Thai words it would sound unusual.”

      “Please try.”

     “These eggs are preserved in clay, ash, salt, lime and rice hulls for a long time, but not 100 years!”

      “What are they preserved in?”

      “The Thai words for this are khai yeo maa. It means egg urine horse. I think you must eat some more.”

     He explained to the others and they watched as I carefully cut an egg into quarters, raised it to my mouth and gagged as a powerful smell of ammonia hit me. I put it in my mouth then grabbed a glass of whiskey and swallowed it like a pill: a big, greasy, foul smelling pill. They all applauded.

      “Do you like ahan Isaan?” the headmaster asked. “The part of Thailand you are in now is called Paak Isaan, so the food on this table is called ahan (food) Isaan.”

     “Yes,” I said in Thai. “It is delicious.”

        Everyone applauded then suddenly quieted down and I realized the chief was holding out his microphone to me.

     “You will please sing a song for us,” he said.

     “Excuse me?”

     “Please sing a song. Do you know ‘500 Miles?’ Miss Charlotte used to sing it.”

     So, that’s what the former volunteer sang at parties, but I had no singing talent. I coughed. The speakers boomed my cough around the room. Chairs moved so everyone now faced me directly.

     “…if you miss the train I’m on you will know that I am gone…”

     They applauded and asked for more. These were undoubtedly the most polite people in the world. I remembered a Thai song we practiced during training called “Nam San Dyyn.” I only knew a few lines, but they all quickly joined in when I began. Everyone beamed.

     “You are very smart.”

     I took another swallow of Mekhong and sighed. The party lasted until two, at which time a small group left for the local red light district and I bicycled home. Every pothole  sucked me in and I was positive every shadow held a cobra ready to strike. There were no street lights or house lights except for a few dim kerosene lanterns. I skidded on a soft shoulder and fell. No damage, but I almost shrieked at the feel of vines on my face.

I scrambled back on my bike, made it home, ran into the bathroom where I threw water on my face and crashed on my little cot. Rolling over, I turned on my radio and picked up the U.S. Armed Forces station in Pleikou, Vietnam and fell asleep to the Rolling Stones singing “Ruby Tuesday.”

Within an hour I sat up and waved off a cloud of mosquitoes. Back in the bathroom I peered at my face in the cracked mirror and saw my cheeks were swollen and pocked with dozens of tiny red welts. I found some ragged and torn mosquito netting in a corner, wrapped it all around my head, sneezed several times and fell into a fitful sleep. Although it must have been at least 90 degrees in the room, I kept several loose blankets over most of my body for protection. Roosters yanked me back to consciousness at dawn’s first light. I began to have thoughts about my immediate future. School started in a few days. What will I do then? I have this horrible feeling that I’m perpetrating some terrible fraud on everyone here. What will I possibly be capable of doing in a room filled with Thai students who probably know as much English as I know Thai? What if they don’t know any English at all? What will I do then?

WHERE TO BUY IT:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and directly from the author

PRICE: $12.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

    Burgess Needle may be reached at: burgessneedle@gmail.com

     His Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/burgess.needle

     Amazon page site is: https://www.amazon.com/Sit-Cry-Years-Land-Smiles/dp/0975370693/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509984626&sr=8-1&keywords=sit+and+cry+two+years+in+the+land+of+smiles

     KIRKUS REVIEW Site:  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/burgessneedle/sit-and-cry/

      Author Intervieew site:  https://thisiswriting.com/tag/burgessneedle/

    THAI COMIC BOOKS [Poetry collection site]: Burgessneedle.com

 

Advertisements

The Ice Dragon

The Ice Dragon by [Scharhag, Lauren]

 

THE BOOK: The Ice Dragon

PUBLISHED IN: 2013

THE AUTHOR: Lauren Scharhag

THE EDITOR: Self.

THE PUBLISHER: Self.

SUMMARY: There’s nothing Kenneth Vogel hates more than Christmas. Then he meets a dragon. Suddenly, Christmas doesn’t seem so bad . . .

THE BACK STORY: There are two sources of inspiration for this story. First, was Neil Gaiman’s short-short story “Nicholas Was.” (Read it– it’s less than 100 words.) I first read the story in his collection, Smoke and Mirrors. It included a brief introduction in which Gaiman said he wrote it as a Christmas card to send out to close friends. Ever since, I’ve been enamored with the idea of writing Christmas stories to give away as gifts. My favorite gifts have always been handmade. Mind you, my stories will never be 100 words or less, or even 1,000 words or less– that’s just not how I roll. Well, “The Ice Dragon” was my first successful attempt. (The next year, I wrote The Winter Prince. I’m hoping to write at least one more someday, so I’ll have a nice little box set.)

Lauren Scharhag

The other source of inspiration was my co-author, Coyote Kishpaugh. Way, way back when we first sat down to start writing the Order of the Four Sons series, we had a good-natured argument. Coyote, as an old-school fantasy geek, wanted dragons somewhere in the story. I didn’t. I thought it was too cliché. Anything but dragons, I said. The argument went something like this:

He: Dragons?

Me: No. No dragons.

He: Just one dragon?

Me: NO! No dragons!

He: Just a little dragon?

Me: NO! DRAGONS! EVER!

We’ve stuck to the No Dragon rule in O4S– zombies, fairies, mermaids, chimeras, undead psychopaths, yes. But no dragons. So, for my first Christmas story, I wrote this little dragon story for him to read to his kids, who, at the time, were still young enough to enjoy such things.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The dragon in question breathes ice as well as fire.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Um, hello? There’s a DRAGON. In case you weren’t aware of this little thing called Game of Thrones, all the cool kids are into dragons.

For realsies, though, it’s a classic children’s story, in which an underdog makes a great friend and goes on a journey with real stakes. Lessons are learned, some new understanding about life is achieved, and there’s even a bit of humor. It’s something adults can enjoy right alongside their little ones.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“Absolutely enchanting . . . My 10 year old student absolutely loves this book.” –Amazon reader

“Brilliantly woven and heartrending, a thoroughly enjoyable expedition. I’m not going to compare it to other books, the style was unique to me. Do buy this book, it’s not only good, I dare to say it’s important.” –Amazon reader.

“Scharhag packs a lot of action and adventure within the pages of this short book. Primarily written for youngsters, it is an endearing story that parents and grandparents alike will enjoy as well. The descriptive passages bring to life the dragon’s lair and the ice swan and this reviewer wanted the story to go on. So will you!” –Amazon reader.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Lauren Scharhag is the author of Under Julia, The Winter Prince, and West Side Girl & Other Poems, and the co-author of The Order of the Four Sons series. Her work has appeared in multiple magazines and anthologies. She is the recipient of the Gerard Manley Hopkins Award for poetry and a fellowship from Rockhurst University for fiction. When not writing, she can be found hanging out in prisons or embarking on art pilgrimages. A recent transplant to the Florida Panhandle, she lives with her husband and three cats.

SAMPLE CHAPTER:  Gracie led him over to the tree, where one package remained, wrapped in silver wrapping paper with a blue ribbon.

Gracie picked it up and handed it to him. “Here,” she said. “This is for you.”

Somewhat awkwardly, he opened it. Inside was a solid gold ornament of a swan. Inscribed on the back was, Merry Christmas from the Calls.

“Look,” Gracie said, taking the swan from him and looping it on the blue ribbon from his present. “You can wear it like this. And look—”

She took his hand and led him through the dining area. She went up to the table where her father was sitting and removed two of the holly wreaths from the centerpieces. Then she led him through the dining area, off to the side of the lobby, through a pair of glass doors.

They stepped outside into a kind of little flagstone courtyard, enclosed by a wrought-iron rail. It was very quiet. They couldn’t even hear the band playing inside. In the spring, it must have made a pretty little garden, though at the moment, there were just little evergreens in the stone pots, trimmed with ribbons. It was very cold. The black wrought-iron was icy, its pointed spokes encased in a thick, crystal layer. But Gracie didn’t seem to mind the cold, so he didn’t either.

They walked over and stood beside the rail. “This is my favorite place,” Gracie said. She took one of the holly wreaths and put it on his head. “I crown you the Christmas King,” she said. Then she put a wreath on her own head. “And I’ll be the Christmas Queen.”

At that moment, a light snow began to fall. Both children looked up, Kenneth astonished, and Gracie pleased. As they looked, both of their hands touched the rail.

Suddenly, the railing moved. They jumped back as it rose and curved up, the spokes forming the ridges on a lizard-like back. Clawed feet appeared, a pair of bat-like wings, and finally, a head. It turned towards them, blinking, its nostrils quivering.

The mouth opened, revealing a slithery black tongue. Fire shot out.

It was not a very big dragon, only a little bigger than a cat, so there was not a lot of fire, but all the same, Gracie screamed, and she and Kenneth jumped back.

The fire melted the dragon’s wrought-iron center so it flowed like molten black blood, flooding the icy body with darkness. The black solidified into hard, rubbery scales, the ice melting into a mottled blue and white pattern over the black.

It stood for a moment, still balanced on the wrought-iron poles that made up the gate, and then the dragon lifted one great forepaw, then a rear paw, flexing, seeming to test its new body. Then it yawned, stretching like a cat, its rear arching into the air, claws splayed.

At last, it sat up on its forepaws and turned to Kenneth and Gracie, blinking its great black eyes. It flicked its black tongue, and lashed its long, blue-white tail, which had one great black spike on the end of it.

“Thank you, children,” the dragon whispered in a low, purring voice. “I’ve been asleep ever so long, and now, I would like nothing more . . . than a snack.”

With that, it leapt off the gate, spreading its webby black wings, and launched itself straight at them.

Both Kenneth and Gracie yelled this time, and leapt out of the way. But the dragon was not after them.

With a snort of its great nostrils, steam shot out and gusted the glass doors open. The dragon flew inside the shopping center.

Kenneth and Gracie stared after it for a moment, utterly aghast. Then ran in after it.

WHERE TO BUY IT:

Amazon (ebook and paperback):

https://www.amazon.com/The-Ice-Dragon-ebook/dp/B0050DPITA/ref=sr_1_3?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1326471996&sr=1-3

Createspace (paperback):

https://www.createspace.com/4577010

Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/377958

Barnes & Noble:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-ice-dragon-lauren-scharhag/1110986596?ean=2940045447249

PRICE:  e-books – $2.99

Paperback – $9.99

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

Email: laurenscharhag@gmail.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurenscharhag

Weather Report, Dec. 4

Image result for Ice Dragon + photos + free

OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “PRAYER BOOK FOR THE ANXIOUS,” BY JOSEPHINE YU, “STONES,” BY MARK SEELY AND “LETTER TO MY FATHER,” BY G. THOMAS COUSER, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.

———————————————————————————-

Snowflakes in a Blizzard always looks a little different at Christmas time.

For example, I don’t put up any posts over the last two weeks of December, for the simple reason that they would probably get overlooked amidst the holiday chaos.

Instead, I usually highlight four or five books on the site (snowflakesarise.wordpress.com) for the first two weeks of the month, instead of the usual three, and also take a month off from the “First Tuesday Replay,” which will resume on Jan. 2.

Finally, at the bottom of this post, several Snowflakes authors are offering special holiday deals on their books. As I say every year, books make great stocking stuffers.

Our offerings this week include a collection of short stories (Cyn Vargas’ “On the Way”), a couple of very different memoirs (“An Incredible Talent for Existing,” by Pamela Jane and “Sit and Cry,” by Burgess Needle”), and a Christmas book about a dragon.

UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD, DEC. 5-11

“THE ICE DRAGON,” BY LAUREN SCHARHAG.

We don’t normally feature children’s books, but this one is obviously timely. A versatile writer, Lauren has been previously featured on Snowflakes for her novel “Under Julia” and her poetry collection, “West Side Girl, And Other Poems.”

Lauren writes:

“There are two sources of inspiration for this story. First, was Neil Gaiman’s short-short story “Nicholas Was.” (Read it– it’s less than 100 words.) I first read the story in his collection, Smoke and Mirrors. It included a brief introduction in which Gaiman said he wrote it as a Christmas card to send out to close friends. Ever since, I’ve been enamored with the idea of writing Christmas stories to give away as gifts. My favorite gifts have always been handmade.

“Mind you, my stories will never be 100 words or less, or even 1,000 words or less– that’s just not how I roll. Well, ‘The Ice Dragon’ was my first successful attempt. (The next year, I wrote The Winter Prince. I’m hoping to write at least one more someday, so I’ll have a nice little box set.)”

“ON THE WAY,” BY CYN VARGAS.

“My stories don’t have happy endings. I enjoy Disney movies, but I don’t want to write them. I write about real life. A sense that if you are courageous enough to explore and delve within parts of yourself you have never before, that there is where growth lies; to live is to grow. These stories will resonate with those that have fought personal battles and come out stronger. For those going through something right now and are looking for hope. These stories will (I hope) make the reader feel less alone.”

“AN INCREDIBLE TALENT FOR EXISTING,” BY PAMELA JANE.

It is 1965, the era of love, light—and revolution. While the romantic narrator imagines a bucolic future in an old country house with children running through the dappled sunlight, her husband plots to organize a revolution and fight a guerrilla war in the Catskills. Their fantasies are on a collision course. And then, just when it seems that things cannot possibly get more explosive, her wilderness cabin burns down and Pamela finds herself left with only the clothes on her back.

From her vividly evoked existential childhood to writing her first children’s book on a sugar high during a glucose tolerance test, Pamela Jane takes the reader along on a highly entertaining personal, political, and psychological adventure.

“SIT AND CRY,” BY BURGESS NEEDLE.

SIT AND CRY is a day-by-day account of the author’s life as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand in the late 1960s. The narrative offers the reader insights into rural Thai life and culture, the impact of the Vietnam War, the angst of living in a completely strange environment, the struggles of trying to communicate in an alien language, loneliness and the desire for love or at least physical contact. We join the author as he eats fried morning glory leaves, enormous duck eggs with gigantic orange yolks and some of the tastiest, and hottest, food on the planet. Needle tries to sleep beneath an all-too-short  mosquito net and wonders if the giant Dookeh lizard above his head will ever loose its grasp of the ceiling.

The narrative paints a picture of an area surrounded by red clay dust, unfamiliar smells, constant humid heat, buzzing insects, and the lack of America’s creature comforts. Yet all of this is overshadowed by the affection, the curiosity, and the countless small kindnesses of his fellow teachers.  The kind people of Nang Rong Village, each of whom is laboring for their own survival, reach out to welcome him We are also with him as he experiences intestinal distress and as he struggles to make a home for himself home in The Land of Smiles.  Just as we develop an affection for his Thai room mate, we find our casual preconceptions dropping away as we sense our own affection for these village folk and get a tiny peek at how others see us. This memoir also documents a critical point in time, the late 1960s, for Americans in southeast Asia. Whether or not one lived through the turbulent Sixties, this volume offers a singularly unique perspective on that era.


HOLIDAY SPECIALS

You can go to our Author page, click on the author’s name, and see all you need to know about that particular book. Then, if it interests you, drop the author an e-mail and arrange to purchase a signed copy.

Persis Granger will sell her Adirondack Gold 1890s novel series (designated as YA, but holding appeal for adults as well) at the special two-book seasonal rate of just $12, plus the cost of mailing, Books will be signed unless requested otherwise. If you wish a gift subscription, please give dsetails. See the book info at http;://www.persisgranger.com/Books.htm. Do not use the shopping cart for this holiday, but contact the author directly at PersisGranger@aol.com to receive the discounted price.

Scott Arthur Jones writes: “I’d like to offer all three of my books as part of your Christmas list.  The deal would be $8 and I pay shipping.  The three are Jupiter and Gilgamesh, A Novel of Sumeria and Texas (this one just won Eric Hoffer awards in 2 categories), The Big Wheel and A Rising Tide of Peopole SDwept Away.

(Note: The last two books were featured on Snowflakes).

From Kate Kort: “I’d like to offer LAIKA for $10 (includes shipping) for November and December.” katekoprtt@gmail.com.

Lina Landess (linalanderss@gmail.com) is offering “Heart Breaking Open” for $8.95 plus shipping.

K.E. Lanning (kelanningautrhor@gmail.com) says “I’ll offer a signed print of my novel, A Spider Sat Beside Her, for $9.99 (it’s normally 12.99)  including shipping for the Christmas event.”

Melinda Worth Popham is offering both the softback and hardback versions of Grace Period:  My Ordination to the Ordinary” for $15. IOn the case of the hardbackl, that’s a 50 percent reduction. Her e-mail is melworth2@gmail.com.

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

Prayer Book of the Anxious

THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS, “STONES,” BY MARK SEELY AND “LETTER TO MY FATHER,” BY G. THOMAS COUSER, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHORS’ NAMES ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.

————————————————

THE BOOK: Prayer Book of the Anxious

PUBLISHED IN: 2016

THE AUTHOR: Josephine Yu

THE EDITOR: Dana Curtis

THE PUBLISHER: Elixir Press

SUMMARY: Prayer Book of the Anxious addresses themes of anxiety and loneliness, spirituality and religious doubt, community and compassion, family and marriage. With a mixture of humor and pathos, the poems explore the tension of religious incredulity in conflict with spiritual yearning. The collection seeks to remake religious customs and retell the stories of saints to provide comfort to a secular life. Echoing the incantations and language of Catholic prayers, poems such as “Prayer to Joseph: For the Restless” are not religious in the traditional sense, but instead locate faith in empathy and community. According to Tupelo Quarterly, “Yu’s poems find holiness, not in the heavenly, but in the earthly, the fleshly, the human.”

Image result for josephine yu poet + photosA number of persona poems in the collection examine the ways people cope with worry and loneliness, like a fortune teller who foretells heartbreak (“The Fortune Teller Knows She’ll Never Marry”) or the lepidopterist who dreams of exotic and unattainable species of butterflies (“Why the Lepidopterist Lives Alone”). In other poems, simple rituals like scooping out a litter box (“How Do You Say”), filling a bird feeder with seed (“The Thing You Might Not Understand”), or offering a spouse a glass of water (“Why I Did Not Proceed with the Divorce”) become acts of love, sustaining friendships and marriage. Kim Addonizio, author of The Poet’s Companion, notes that within this collection “you’ll find weeping and gnashing of teeth, grief and profound loneliness, in words that ‘throb on the page like nerves.’ There’s also a belief in transformation, and in moments that can only be called grace: the upwelling tenderness for strangers, getting stoned behind the school library, embracing a lover from behind as he washes the dishes.”

THE BACK STORY: In ninth grade, I was flipping through my English textbook during science class and came across a poem called “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton. The speaker’s unpitying admission that she had “gone out, a possessed witch, […] lonely thing, twelve fingered, out of mind” seared me to the bone. I didn’t know quite what I’d read, but I knew I wanted more. I sought out “more” during high school, then college, and I had the luxury of “even more” during my masters and doctoral programs, when I wrote most of the poems in this book.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The manuscript was first called The Optimists’ Birthday. Poet Barbara Hamby, my PhD mentor, suggested Prayer Book of the Anxious instead. I stubbornly held out, submitting the manuscript with its original title for two years. But eventually I realized Barbara was right (she’s always right): Prayer Book of the Anxious better highlights the themes of the book, while still emphasizing its optimistic tone. After all, prayer (saying “please” to the unknown and expecting a response) is a truly optimistic endeavor.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? I enjoy poetry because it is a form of meditation, a focusing of attention that often results in a new understanding. In a culture that encourages distraction, poetry demands reflection, which is a spiritual act. As French philosopher Nicolas Malebranche wrote, “Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul.”

I have found inspiration, knowledge, and joy in poetry. I hope readers of Prayer Book of the Anxious take pleasure in its humor and enjoy the company of the often anxious, sometimes lonely, but always hopeful daughters, saints, narcissists, and lovers that congregate in these pages.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“Both bawdy and reverent, tender and frustrated, Yu’s poems, which are often humorously titled, maintain a curiosity that is almost rapturous—a questioning always followed by the infectious satisfaction of solving the puzzle.”  —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“In Prayer Book of the Anxious, Josephine Yu explores the tenacity of the human spirit, in all its quirkiness and fallibility. Her poems reveal holiness in paying attention to the earthly and human rather than the heavenly and angelic. These poems revel in human empathy and desire for community.” — Tupelo Quarterly

“These are smart, savvy poems, but they are also humane in the best sense of that word: interested in the human and compassionate to all beings. Josephine Yu asks the right questions: ‘What animal am I?’ and ‘Ready to go home?’—and the answers she gives are always those of an anxiety-born attention, not just to the self but to all of humanity.” — Sarah Kennedy, Contest judge, 15th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Awards

“This beautiful collection begins with a poem about lying, to which one says, ‘Yippee!’ A poet’s lies beat today’s headlines hollow, and Josephine Yu has assembled here a cast of winsome, slightly off-center characters to help with all that prevarication: a lepidopterist who lives alone, a fortune teller who knows she’ll never marry, saints and dreamers of every kind. So many poetry collections are monotone—not this one. A hundred voices bubble out of these pages, each one beseeching you to listen. You’d be crazy not to.” — — David Kirby, author of The House on Boulevard Street: New and Selected Poems

AUTHOR PROFILE: Josephine Yu grew up in Atlanta, so naturally she calls all soda “Coke.” After college, she got a job at Coca-Cola, but once the novelty of the ICEE machine in the break room wore off, she returned to Georgia State University for her masters in creative writing. In 2007 she dragged her husband, Royal, to Tallahassee, so she could earn her PhD at Florida State University. She’s now a faculty member at Keiser University, where she teaches writing and literature. She also volunteers at Big Bend Hospice, providing respite care and reading to patients. Some of Josephine’s favorite things are board games, Christmas movies, and senior dogs—especially her own good dog, Sissy. She is also quite fond of her husband, who is from Wisconsin and calls Coke “pop.”

Josephine’s poems have appeared in such journals as Ploughshares, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, and Best New Poets. She won the Ploughshares 2013 Emerging Writers Contest, Meridian’s 2010 Editor’s Prize, the New Letters 2010 Poetry Award, and the New Letters 2010–2011 Readers Award for Poetry. Prayer Book of the Anxious is her first book.

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

Prayer to Saint Joseph: For the Restless

by Josephine Yu

Saint Joseph, stepfather of Christ, patron of moving, patron
against doubt, lead us not to Seattle or LA or SoHo
when unease thickens like lime calcifying

in the porcelain basins of our chests. Lead us not
into the temptation of sublets or studio walk-ups
that get good afternoon light in our imagination.

Patron of real estate agents, deafen our ears to the call
of subdivisions with shorter commutes and condos
our lovers will swoon to enter, with brass-fixtured bathrooms

they will never lock themselves in to weep.
Patron of immigrants, let us think not on the president
of Kazakhstan, who moved his capital to a frozen steppe

and there built an aquarium and a glass pyramid
of dark-loamed, path-stitched gardens. Let us not be quick
to split when we bankrupt our small countries. O patron

of travelers and wheelwrights, when the wallpaper ripples
in the humidity of our malaise and the carpet is worn
to a sheen by our pacing, stop us before we put our houses

on the market and bury your statue in the backyard
for luck. You who know the summons
of the journey, remind us of the friend who left town

in the middle of the week, abandoning
a mattress and a lease, and whom we later learned
stepped off a bridge, holding hands with his loneliness.

Still our hands as we pack. Remind us the roughest fabric
of the self will end up folded like a sweater
in the suitcase, pilled and raveled and transcendent.

The Fortune Teller Knows She’ll Never Marry

Because she wakes one morning with hands
so swollen even her father’s class ring
can’t be worked over the stiff knuckle.
Because weevils writhe in her canister
of rice and the dough under the cheesecloth
veil refuses to rise and she draws three times
a worn Five of Cups from the tarot deck.

So when she traces a hopeful woman’s
sloping heart line, she returns her folded bill
and foretells: “You give your love too easily,
you toss it like pennies into a well.
You’ll come to know no more thrilling sound
than your own heart breaking like the crest
of a wave or the clapper of a glass bell.”

 

 

LOCAL OUTLETS: Please support your local independent bookstores and ask them to order Prayer Book of the Anxious.

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

https://www.amazon.com/Prayer-Book-Anxious-Josephine-Yu/dp/193241858X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511544844&sr=8-1&keywords=prayer+book+of+the+anxious

PRICE: $17

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

I’d love to hear from you! Email me at josephineyupoet@gmail.com, find me on Facebook, or visit me at josephineyupoet.com.

Stones

Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity by [Seely, Mark]

THE BOOK: Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity.

PUBLISHED IN: 2017

THE AUTHOR: Mark Seely.

THE EDITOR: Robin Stratton.

THE PUBLISHER: Big Table Publishing.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, outdoor and natureSUMMARY: Set against the backdrop of an aging psychology professor’s struggle with testicular cancer, Stones is a lyrical and intellectually muscular exploration of the violent disconnect between our evolved human nature and our civilized reality. The underlying theme is that the really big problems we face—everything from diabetes to climate change—can be traced, ultimately, to a fundamental mismatch between our civilized lifestyles and our physical, psychological, and social expectations for a very different kind of life. Within each of us lurks a marvelously complex and powerful being, but much of who we are has been stunted and redirected in ways that are neither healthy nor, ultimately, human.

THE BACK STORY: I have a background in evolutionary psychology, and I am extremely interested in the mismatch between modern civilization and our evolutionary expectations for a hunting-gathering lifestyle. I incorporate this “mismatch” theme in many of the college courses that I teach. The moment I was diagnosed with cancer, I began to jot down my reflections and observations in a journal so that I could have a personal record of my physical and emotional state—the psychologist in me just couldn’t let the opportunity to collect data slip by. In the meantime, I had a loose collection of short essays and aphorisms that I had been compiling for two or three years.

One evening, a couple of days after a clean CT scan, I came home from a work-place gathering where I drank way too much wine, and I was feeling frustrated about the inane conversations I had been drawn into with some of my colleagues. For whatever reason, I sat down and typed what became the opening paragraph of the book. Stones came from the merging of my cancer journal entries, the collection of essays and aphorisms I had on the back burner, and some of my favorite evolution-themed psychology lectures.

WHY THIS TITLE?: The title, Stones, is both metaphor and pun. Metaphorically, it evokes strength, toughness, and durability. It also calls to mind the primitive and the foundational. There is an ancient, rock-solid core to our human nature that is still present and persistent, biding its time, lying in wait just beneath the thin and brittle layers of strata deposited by a few hundred generations of civilized life. As a pun, well, Stones is, in part, a chronicle of my struggles with testicular cancer.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Stones is unique in that it provides a rarely voiced  male perspective on cancer. The vast majority of books about cancer are written for women or from a female perspective. But Stones is not solely a cancer memoir. It is an exploration of much more universally applicable—and deeply personal—issues concerning the physical, psychological, and social effects of living with modern global civilization. Modern society is a serious problem for us in many ways, and there is no way of dancing around that fact. But the ultimate message of Stones is one of empowerment through knowledge, specifically through self-understanding.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“You will find it hard to put down this remarkably engaging and thought-provoking book, and will never look at cancer, civilization, and the human condition in the same way. Mark Seely’s writing grabs you from the first sentence and gently leads you, step by step, to a fuller but alarming understanding of who you are—maybe it is time to blow up the computer and move to the woods.” — Dr. Donald Johanson, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind

“What do an ailing human body and our planet have in common? Plenty. Mark Seely deftly explores the connections in Stones, combining a psychologist’s insight into human behavior, a teacher’s skill for making complex information understandable, and a poet’s gift for beautiful syntax. Equal parts memoir, history, and cultural philosophy, Stones examines what it means to be human in today’s world, from planetary crisis to personal mortality. You may not agree with all of his conclusions, but Seely will definitely make you think.” — John Sheirer, author of Make Common Sense Common Again and Loop Year: 365 Days on the Trail

“With Stones, Mark Seely invites us to take a journey around the world, back through history and into his own body. The very real problem of civilization, as an opiate for the masses, far greater than anything mere television could conjure up, is writ large in this fascinating tale of survival, whatever the challenges.” — Keith Farnish, author of Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis and Underminers: A Practical Guide for Radical Change

AUTHOR PROFILE: Mark Seely is a writer, social critic, professional educator, and cognitive psychologist with a PhD from the University of California, Davis. His essays have appeared in Fifth Estate Magazine, Free Inquiry, and Snowy Egret. He was formerly employed as Associate Professor and Chair of Psychology at Saint Joseph’s College in Northwest Indiana, where for twenty years he taught statistics, a wide variety of psychology courses, and an interdisciplinary course on human biological and cultural evolution. Originally from Spokane, he acquired an abiding curiosity and reverence for the natural world as a young child while fishing with his father and grandfather in the lakes and rivers of the Pacific Northwest. His hobbies include hiking, tending a four-season organic garden, drinking copious quantities of homemade mead, and playing the mandolin—from Bach to bluegrass. He now resides in Lynnwood, Washington, and teaches in the psychology department at Edmonds Community College.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I know there are a good number of folks who are as disgusted as I am about the horrendous impact our culture is having on the natural world. And I think we all recognize that how we are living our lives these days doesn’t quite feel right. But I’m not sure that very many people would say that civilization is the problem—not just the specific way that we do civilization, but civilization itself, as a template for our social interactions, and as a way of structuring our lives. And I’m not sure that very many people share my belief that the solution—if there can be one—involves embracing our evolved predilections for much more “primitive” (read: authentically human) physical and social circumstances. But I could be wrong about this. The feedback I have been getting from people who have read the book suggests that these notions might be a lot more prevalent than I think they are.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: http://www.markseelybooks.com/chapter-4-the-worst-mistake/

LOCAL OUTLETS: WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, or get a signed copy from me by visiting markseelybooks.com PRICE: $16:00 CONTACT THE AUTHOR: If you would like to talk in person, I am easy to find and would welcome the human contact. Otherwise you can email me at mail@markseelybooks.com or find me on Facebook.

Letter to My Father

PUBLISHED IN:  August 2017.

THE AUTHOR:   G. Thomas Couser.

THE PUBLISHER:   Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield

SUMMARY: Having wounded my father with a hurtful letter when I was twenty-three, I felt somewhat responsible for his later mental collapse. When he died, I found personal documents that revealed facets of his life of which I had known nothing. Too traumatized to grieve properly, much less to probe Dad’s complicated history, I boxed the documents and stored them—for over thirty years. When I finally explored my father’s rich legacy, I achieved a belated reconciliation with a man I had not really known.

G. Thomas CouserTHE BACK STORY:  see summary.

WHY THIS TITLE? The title refers both to the hurtful letter I wrote my father at the age of 23 and to the memoir itself, which I conceive of as trying to achieve a posthumous reconciliation—a kind of atonement.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: As a friend of mine said when I described the book to her, “Well, everyone has a father.” I can’t claim my story is universal, but two aspects of it resonate strongly with those who’ve read it: one, the hurtful letter (or remark) to a parent (not necessarily a father) that haunts the parent-child relationship; two, the “box in the attic” that contains documents that illuminate the lives of the parent. In my case, I came to know my father much better long after his death than I had growing up as his son.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “Crucial parts of it concern the very different deaths of my parents: my mother’s death from ovarian cancer—just as she was celebrating ten years of remission from breast cancer, and my father’s death, which I view as a quasi-suicide. He drank himself to death while suffering from treatment-resistant depression. Readers have found these chapters especially moving.”

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“Couser’s family memoir goes deep into his father’s hidden earlier life, as revealed in a cache of letters he left behind. The book probes his complex relationship to his father, including unresolved guilt, anger, and yearning for connection. This is a fascinating depiction of the process of writing a family memoir, which requires detective work, the emotional challenges of mourning and grief, and finally a metaphorical saving of his father’s life, yielding hard-earned meaning, discovery of reasons for admiration and gratitude to his father, and continuing sadness. A leading scholar and theorist of autobiography, Couser can also tell a good story in a moving way.” — John D. Barbour.

“This is a remarkable book. We have too few memoirs about fathers, and Thomas Couser fills the gap admirably. The book is carefully and sparingly written with a great deal of restraint but it conveys a depth of emotional complexity and engagement which is rare. This is a book which anybody interested in memoirs, and in what it means to be a father or a son, should read.” — Prof L.P. Swartz.

 
AUTHOR PROFILE: I am professor of English emeritus and director of Disability Studies at Hofstra University. I have published six academic books on various aspects of life writing, including Memoir: An Introduction (Oxford UP, 2012). During my academic career I published several personal essays but never thought I would ever write a memoir until I opened the box in the attic: my father’s “archive” proved worthy of sharing.

 

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

Prologue:

In My Father’s Closet:

Life, Death, and Letters

When I was 23, I killed my father–with a letter.

Not literally, of course. This is not a confession—at least not of a criminal act.

In the summer of 1969, I returned to my home in Melrose, Massachusetts, from Oxford, England, where I’d spent the year doing graduate work in English. I was stunned to learn one day, quite by accident, that my hitherto well-behaved father, a respected high school English teacher, had begun to drink secretly, to a degree that imperiled his job, his marriage, and his health. That fall, from a New Hampshire prep school where I was teaching, I sent him a long letter confronting him about his drinking and reflecting on our relationship, which had been severely damaged by this revelation. I intended it as a kind of long-distance intervention–an attempt to get him to acknowledge the seriousness of his situation and to change his ways. I felt I could express on paper things I would have difficulty saying face to face. I hoped my letter might initiate a healing dialogue between us.

Whatever my intentions, the letter proved counterproductive. Dad was devastated by it. Or so my mother told me; he declined to discuss it with me. So instead of initiating dialogue, I foreclosed it. Worse than that, I further damaged our relationship. I came to regret writing it.

*

Five years later, in November of 1974, my mother died from ovarian cancer at the age of sixty-five. Eight months after that, Dad died of drink and depression at the age of sixty-nine. At

that time, I feared my letter might have accelerated his decline by undermining his self-esteem. I regarded it as toxic, if not fatal.

That summer I gradually emptied the house in which I had grown up and prepared it for sale. Doing so compounded my grief. Having lost both parents in quick succession, I had to purge our home of the material traces of our family life, leaving it an empty, echoing shell. The only consolation in this dispiriting process was my discovery of a trove of personal documents in a closet behind Dad’s bed. From a quick perusal I learned things I hadn’t known, or even suspected, about him:

· In his thirties he had earned a private pilot’s license.

· Before he met my mother, he had had a decade-long romantic relationship with a woman named Rody.

· At the same time, he was in love with his best friend’s sister, who was married and the mother of a small boy.

· That best friend–and sometime roommate–was probably gay.

· His two other closest male friends in his twenties and early thirties were also evidently gay.

· In the summer of 1941, only months before he married, he had looked into joining the Royal Canadian Air Force.

· Immediately after his discharge from the Navy at the end of World War II, he had applied to join the FBI.

· In the early 1950s, he had applied for a job with the CIA.

His archive, as I came to think of it, disclosed much more than these discrete facts about him. The quantity and quality of the personal correspondence revealed that he had lived a good

deal of his early life in, or through, letters. An adventurous three-year stint teaching English in Aleppo, Syria, generated letters to various parties–his family, his close friends, and his church. His military service in the South Pacific at the end of World War II produced letters to my mother. He was a fine writer, and he cultivated friends who took pleasure and care in writing. It was no accident that he saved so many letters: he and his friends, male and female, took correspondence very seriously. He may have been most intensely alive when he wrote his letters; he certainly is most alive to me when I read them.

*

Not all of the letters in the archive were new to me, however. Among them was that lethal letter I had written him six years earlier. I recognized it right away; though yellowed with age, the Eaton’s Corrasable Bond™ paper retained its crinkly feel and glossy surface. But I was shocked to find it. Given his inability, or refusal, to respond to it in any way, I presumed Dad had long since disposed of it. His retaining it suggested that he may have valued the impulse behind it, even if he found my words painful. Nevertheless, when I discovered it, I was unable to read it, fearful of the guilt it might trigger, a kind of toxic blowback.

After sorting the documents, I placed them in a carton and sealed it. That carton accompanied me through several moves. When I settled in the house I still occupy, I stored it in the attic, where it would be out of sight and, hopefully, out of mind.

I did not touch that box for more than thirty years.

*

As I approached the age of sixty, however, I was keenly aware that I was nearing the age at which my father had fallen into a deep, lasting, and ultimately fatal depression. Fearing the same fate, I had always dreaded turning sixty. There was a strong family history of depression:

my sister’s suicidal depression in periods of great stress, an acute depression of my own in my twenties, and my recent diagnosis of chronic mild depression.

In addition to my biological clock, I heard my biographical clock ticking. I felt the need to come to terms, at last, with the sad ending of Dad’s life. I felt ready–sort of–to confront the documents I’d been avoiding for so long. So I retrieved the box from the attic and, with moist palms, opened it.

With thirty years’ perspective, I was able to read through the letters calmly and appreciatively. I found myself transported to the past, eavesdropping on intimate conversations. Doing this initiated a long-deferred process of reckoning with Dad’s complexity and my very conflicted feelings about him. Unbeknownst to me, he’d had a rich and gratifying life before he married in his late thirties. The contents of the archive have given me extraordinary access to his complicated emotional life during his early adulthood. It shed light on some mysteries, too. Excavating his past in this way also led me finally to a compassionate sense of why he succumbed to depression in his prime.

*

All parents elude their children’s complete comprehension, of course, but compared to my mother, my father was quite opaque to me. He always felt a bit remote; we were certainly never friends. I am therefore all the more grateful for his archive, my true patrimony. Purposely or not, he left behind a trove of personal documents, some quite intimate, which have enabled me to know him differently than I had when he was alive–even, perhaps, to forge a posthumous rapport with him.

I have come to think of this memoir, then, not as a mere record of my father’s life, which was quite extraordinary in some ways, but as a letter to him–a letter that might make up for my

letter of 1969, which so damaged our relationship. (In order to write this letter, of course, I had to reread that one. But I put that off as long as I could.) I consider this memoir an expression of love and affiliation. That is not to say that my father would have wanted to read it: there is much unpleasant truth in it. But as his letters have spoken to me, I have at long last written back to him, in the spirit of recognition and reconciliation.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Bank Street Books in Mystic CT. Savoy Books in Westerly RI.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Rowman & Littlefield, Amazon, or any other bookstore.

PRICE: $29.99

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: g.t.couser@hofstra.edu

Weather Report, Nov. 27

Brown Paper Envelope on Table

 

OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “JUST ANOTHER SIDEKICK,” BY TARA LYNN THOMPSON, “AMERICAN ANGER,” BY H.L. HIX AND “CHILDREN OF HAMELIN,” BY DAWN SINCLAIR, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN  BELOW THIS POST, OR BY CLICKING THE AUTHOR”S NAME ON OUR AUTHORS PAGE.

———————————————————————————-

When I first began writing newspaper columns a few decades ago, I was initially reluctant to venture into private territory.

“Why,” I wondered, “would anyone care about my life?”

Then one of my editors gave me this insight:

“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “If you brag about your kid and what a great Little League baseball player he is, you’ll turn your audience off. But if you write about what it’s like to be a little league parent — the constant shuttle to practices, the coach you don’t agree with — a lot of your readers will relate.”

I followed his advice, and discovered that the personal columns generally prompted the most feedback.

True, that line between personal and universal remains a thin and wavy one. Nevertheless, each of this week’s featured authors on Snowflakes in a Blizzard (snowflakesarise.wordpress.com) have succeeded in securely planting a foot on each side of that boundary.

G. Thomas Couser’s memoir, “Letter to My Father,” revolves around a long-ago family dispute and a long-overlooked box of letters and documents hidden away in an attic, some of which prompted this cathartic book.

Writes the Hofstra University professor: “As a friend of mine said when I described the book to her, ‘Well, everyone has a father.’ I can’t claim my story is universal, but two aspects of it resonate strongly with those who’ve read it: one, the hurtful letter (or remark) to a parent (not necessarily a father) that haunts the parent-child relationship; two, the ‘box in the attic’ that contains documents that illuminate the lives of the parent. In my case, I came to know my father much better long after his death than I had growing up as his son.

Meanwhile, Mark Seely’s “Stones: Meditations on Human Authenticity,” uses a personal crisis — his bout with cancer — as the jumping-off point to exploring larger issues. In his template, he explains:

“Stones is unique in that it provides a rarely voiced  male perspective on cancer. The vast majority of books about cancer are written for women or from a female perspective. But Stones is not solely a cancer memoir. It is an exploration of much more universally applicable—and deeply personal—issues concerning the physical, psychological, and social effects of living with modern global civilization. Modern society is a serious problem for us in many ways, and there is no way of dancing around that fact. But the ultimate message of Stones is one of empowerment through knowledge, specifically through self-understanding. ”

Finally, “Prayer Book of the Anxious,” by poet Josephine Yu, also applies personal references to larger topics.

“A number of personal poems in the collection examine the ways people cope with worry and loneliness, like a fortune teller who foretells heartbreak (“The Fortune Teller Knows She’ll Never Marry”) or the lepidopterist who dreams of exotic and unattainable species of butterflies (“Why the Lepidopterist Lives Alone”). In other poems, simple rituals like scooping out a litter box (“How Do You Say”), filling a bird feeder with seed (“The Thing You Might Not Understand”), or offering a spouse a glass of water (“Why I Did Not Proceed with the Divorce”) become acts of love, sustaining friendships and marriage.

“Kim Addonizio, author of The Poet’s Companion, notes that within this collection ‘you’ll find weeping and gnashing of teeth, grief and profound loneliness, in words that ‘throb on the page like nerves.’ There’s also a belief in transformation, and in moments that can only be called grace: the upwelling tenderness for strangers, getting stoned behind the school library, embracing a lover from behind as he washes the dishes.”

UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD, NOV. 28-DEC. 4.

“LETTER TO MY FATHER,” BY G. THOMAS COUSER.

“Having wounded my father with a hurtful letter when I was twenty-three, I felt somewhat responsible for his later mental collapse. When he died, I found personal documents that revealed facets of his life of which I had known nothing. Too traumatized to grieve properly, much less to probe Dad’s complicated history, I boxed the documents and stored them—for over thirty years. When I finally explored my father’s rich legacy, I achieved a belated reconciliation with a man I had not really known.”

“STONES,” BY MARK SEELY.

Set against the backdrop of an aging psychology professor’s struggle with testicular cancer, Stones is a lyrical and intellectually muscular exploration of the violent disconnect between our evolved human nature and our civilized reality. The underlying theme is that the really big problems we face—everything from diabetes to climate change—can be traced, ultimately, to a fundamental mismatch between our civilized lifestyles and our physical, psychological, and social expectations for a very different kind of life. Within each of us lurks a marvelously complex and powerful being, but much of who we are has been stunted and redirected in ways that are neither healthy nor, ultimately, human.

“PRAYER BOOK OF THE ANXIOUS,” BY JOSEPHINE YU.

Prayer Book of the Anxious addresses themes of anxiety and loneliness, spirituality and religious doubt, community and compassion, family and marriage. With a mixture of humor and pathos, the poems explore the tension of religious incredulity in conflict with spiritual yearning. The collection seeks to remake religious customs and retell the stories of saints to provide comfort to a secular life. Echoing the incantations and language of Catholic prayers, poems such as “Prayer to Joseph: For the Restless” are not religious in the traditional sense, but instead locate faith in empathy and community. According to Tupelo Quarterly, “Yu’s poems find holiness, not in the heavenly, but in the earthly, the fleshly, the human.”