People and Peppers

 

THE BOOK: People and Peppers.

PUBLISHED IN: March, 2015

AUTHOR: Kelvin Christopher James

PUBLISHER: Harvard Square Editions

SUMMARY: Gossipy, intimate, and provocative,set in Trinidad and New York City, People and Peppers gives a diverting peek into the nuances of a Caribbean island’s callaloo of inter-racial and multicultural social mores. James’s main characters are complex, motivated, and fun to know. Tall and handsome, the main protagonist, Vivion K Pinheiro, is the bastard of a half-Portuguese, half Afro- Haitian woman, and an attractive New Yorker with carrot-colored hair who danced beautifully. Accomplished as well, Vivion has earned national prestige as a scholar and athlete. As a young man trying to realize dreams, he can be selfish yet thoughtful, deceptive yet generous—no real villain, just a callow fella getting over by pulling the tricky strings of privilege and personal charm.

An important factor in his dream actualization is Vivion’s doting, wealthy mother to whom he confessed an ambition to construct an ecologically sensitive, self-sufficient house on countryside property she bought for him. He imagines the finished structure to be surrounded by a pepper farm that grows Moruga Red Scorpion peppers—the hottest on the planet.

A significant stubbing-stone to his ambitions though, is a habit of dodging difficulties—when the goings get tough, Vivion’s gone. How he deals with this failing is only one serving of this fine novel. Of other satisfying portions is the influence of the women in his life. In earlier novels, James’s female characters have been admirable stalwarts and he doesn’t disappoint here. Andaluza, the mother, is an indulgent one. Nikki, the lover, is a strong other. This empathetic novel superbly speaks to women’s compassion and tolerances in the name of love. So let’s live with Vivion as he discovers and submits to the sublime effects of romantic love and father issues.

BACK STORY: In the summer of 2014, I had just finished a short story collection that my reader decided was a pippin. I got the opinion while sitting on my terrace where my two potted Habañero pepper plants were showing off some serious produce: twenty-two colorful fruits between the two. Also, the day before that, it was announced that Trinidad had produced the hottest peppers on the planet; Moruga Red Scorpion. So out of the blue ‘Pippin’ and ‘peppers’ connected with a fellow who planted them. The rest was easy.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ THIS? Read it for the pleasure of its lilting voice, the use of language. Learn about a different culture and its mores without spending on a plane ticket. Become acquainted with fun characters with attitudes and strengths and failings and quirks just like people you already know. This story is fit for all audiences.

REVIEWS:

James (Fling with a Demon Lover, Secrets, a novel) turns a love letter to Trinidad into this stylish literary novel filled with sensuous prose and colorful setting. Twenty-something ex-athlete Vivion K. Pinheiro, now a farmer in Trinidad, cultivates a five-acre patch of specialty spicy peppers called Moruga Red Scorpion. He flies off to New York City in search of a distributor to market and sell his prized pepper crop to restaurants. Meantime, his live-in girlfriend, Shanika “Nikki” Grant-Ali, discovers she is pregnant with their child while she’s pursuing her lucrative career as a much sought-after portrait painter. The other strong, independent woman in Vivion’s life is his wealthy mother, Andaluza Ashaki Pinheiro, a real estate mogul, who spoils her only son by deeding him a former cocoa plantation. She also indulges Vivion’s other whims by bankrolling the construction of his “dream palace,” where he grows his hot peppers. While in New York City, Vivion meets and befriends jolly Hideo Arata, “the hot pepper baron of Japan,” and invites him to come and inspect his pepper-growing project. The protagonist’s passion for agriculture and ecological issues help to add the needed character depth to the rich-kid stereotype. “– Pubnlisher’s Weekly, March 2015..

“Vivion Pinheiro is growing a crop of the hottest peppers in the world. However, this charming feckless Trinidadian fellow has a problem. He hasn’t figured out how to market his crop. Known for his lack of follow-through, Vivion is often rescued by his wealthy mother, Andaluza. Sometimes he just takes off. Now, however, Vivion has Nikki, his live-in girlfriend, and he just can’t shuck all his responsibilities entirely. Then, when Vivion takes a trip to New York to try to find a buyer for the peppers, Nikki becomes friendly with Andaluza and the story, like Vivion’s peppers, gets spicier.” — Library Journal.

“James (Secrets; A Fling with a Demon Lover) introduces readers to the crazy quilt of ethnicities, cultures, and religions that make up the island of Trinidad. He writes in a Trinidadian lilt that is catchy, charming, and much like calypso. Following Vivion around New York is like trying to do the limbo. How low can he go without hitting the ground? And observing the group of smart capable women who keep Vivion on track is a salute to feminism at its most delightful. This is a romance with life well worth reading.”—Aandrea Kempf.

“I am happy to recommend Kelvin Christopher James’ latest novel People and Peppers: a Romance to a wide general readership. My enthusiasm is based on two factors. First, the book presents an engaging “problem”: the love affair between an attractive young, unmarried pair, who, it turns out, will soon be parents. This could become, in the hands of a lesser writer, a very turgid business. But James has the knack for telling his story with the quality that Italo Calvino, in his Six Memos for the Millennium, suggests as a primary virtue, i.e. lightness.

It is this lightness that leads the reader into an evermore intimate engagement with the characters and the playing out of their lives. It also permits James to deal with quite

serious material of a personal and social nature – what James Baldwin calls “the price of the ticket” – in a way that acknowledges the vicissitudes of history, including colonialism, without derailing the essentially joyful forward momentum of his tale.

Second, People and Peppers serves as a transparent, and therefore very effective, introduction to contemporary life in Trinidad and Tobago. James conveys a great deal of cultural – and culinary – information by weaving it seamlessly into the “romance.” I finished this volume with a lot more knowledge about this two-island nation, its people and customs, than when I began, without feeling I’d worked hard to gain it.

A third factor, one that arises from the timing of the book’s publication, gives it a measure of added value, particularly in light of the issues raised into public discussion by the recent police shootings of black men in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City and elsewhere. Trinidad and Tobago, while hardly free from social conflict, have an entirely different perception of “race” than we are used to in the U.S. It is instructive to find oneself, via James’ culturally-informed writing, living, albeit fictionally, in a society where race, that very real and deadly absurdity, is not the dispositive factor in people’s ways of seeing or dealing with one another. The genetic and cultural “callaloo” of T&T makes reduction to “black” or “white” impossible, so James’ characters, while hardly blind to skin color, hair texture or any other distinguishing feature, must, in the end, come to terms with one another based on – to paraphrase Dr. King’s words – the content of their characters.” — Eric Darton (Divided We Stand: a history of the World Trade Center) Jan. 9, 2015 NY City.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Trinidadian-American, Kelvin Christopher James holds a B.Sc. with honors in Zoology and Chemistry from the University of West Indies (St. Augustine, Trinidad), an M. A. and a Doctorate in Science Education from Columbia University Teacher’s College. He lives in Harlem, New York City.

Kelvin abandoned formal schooling at an early age to support his family. He was the sole assistant to Dr. Gaston. P. Blair, a researcher of Red Ring disease—which still destroys coconut trees at bearing age. Working at the Central Experimental Station in Centeno, these two were first to explain basic data such as life cycles and transmission of the nematodes (Aphelencus cocophilus) which cause the disease. Young Kelvin’s contributions as science photographer, all-purpose technician, and “developer of devices” were duly acknowledged by the scientific community. This appreciation for the ways of science helped him win a full scholarship to the University of the West Indies. another of his high achievements was being selected to represent the nation as an Olympic athlete (400 sprint.)

Always with a love for travel, Kelvin eventually visited New York, found that it offered opportunity as varied as its communities, and decided to mingle. The bubbling New York literary brew he encountered led into actually writing short fiction and some poetry. Several pieces were published in notable magazines, and praise from that medium grew his confidence and soon he was absorbed by the craft. In 1980 he abandoned his supervisory job at the chemistry laboratory in Harlem hospital to write full time.

In 1989, Kelvin was awarded a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in fiction. Villard Books of Random House published Jumping Ship and Other Stories in 1992, and

then Secrets, a novel, in 1993—Secrets was first runner-up in the Commonwealth Writers Prize that year. A Fling with a Demon Lover was published by HarperCollins in 1996. In 1996, he was granted a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in Literature. He has published novels, The Sorcerer’s Drum, Web of Freedom, Meek, the Mooch, and four short story collections through Amazon’s KDP. People and Peppers, a romance by HSE who should also publish Augments of Change next year.

Website is at www. kelvinchristopherjames.com

AUTHOR’S COMMENTS: “This novel’s purpose is to entertain the reader who wants a pleasant vacation from her/his world. The author recommends readers to relax and have fun.”

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

AT A MOMENTARY PARTING OF THE LADEN CLOUDS, just as Vivion stepped outside, brilliant moonlight illuminated the quiet night. He slid the front door to until the lock clicked shut, then turned for the grass and rubber-tiled path that led to the front gate. Then all at once he was smiling ironic at the cartoon panel a beaming full moon presented him—his shadow on the wall as a humpbacked scoundrel creeping away from a crime.

But hold up right there! This full moon was lime-lighting a false scenario.

True. His backpack was crammed to its over-stressed zippers, and granted, he was sneaking out of his marvelous palace. But rather than villain of the plot, this time he was, more or less, the selfless gallant who—by leaving this most comfortable nest and fleeing into uncertainty—was saving a damsel from distress while, at the same time, keeping a parent sane. All of this valiant action being done with the sole aim of delivering his closest persons from the evils of bitterness and strife.

Yes! To Vivion a ‘Hero’ label sounded just about right.

Consider that practicing selfless restraint, he did not mention his personal need for breathing space. Neither did he bring up a commanding urge to breakout from the physic cage called Comfort in which he felt entrapped. And then standing out like a flare, there was the situation regarding his over-exuberant pepper-farm venture: due in equal parts to last year’s experimenting and this year’s favorable weather, in a few short weeks he’ll be rewarded with five acres of ripe, high-grade produce. Five acres of ripe hot peppers! Hundreds of pounds of produce! All that abundance.

And only couple weeks ago Vivion realized he had no working idea of how to effectively trade them.

As far as getting them off the trees and transport ready, he could depend on Mr. Maharaj, his head gardener, to get pickers and packers, but although months ago he had seen the signs of a bumper crop, in his elation he had not taken the thought a step farther. He had not made arrangements with either wholesalers or large-scale vendors to deal with his experimental successes.

Now, no matter Vivion’s best moves, the endgame seemed doomed. He had one last play to make, but however that might turn out, right now it was time for a break, a reliever. So though disappointed to the max, he was leaving the troublesome scene to an

emergency expert. A veteran who was swift at assessment and solution—who had worked for him since forever used to be an anxious day.

Mother, once more, would have to take care of his mess.

When he got to the gate cut into the two-foot thick hibiscus fence, the smile lines bracketing his broad mouth were curved grim and downward. He tightened his lips as he gently latched the gate and turned left into the moonlit gravel lane through the woods towards the main road. He paused there for a moment, drew in a deep breath and squared up his shoulders resolute, then was fast away.

Above him, black clouds were low and building, erratic beams of moonlight shone through, and a rising wind was playing pitch and toss with overhead branches, making their shadows restless as swelling waves. Quick strides pushing the road behind, Vivion kept best as possible within the branches’ swaying shadows. Branches that rustled with damp whispers forecasting rain. Vivion had figured for that, though. The junction a mere quarter mile on, even if it did rain, he’d still have had time either to get a bus or a taxi—some sort of regular transport—or else get lucky. He did feel that whatever came up, he’d have time to manage it. Although—and he grinned at the thought—he didn’t mind rain at all! Night was bad enough, but a wet night would definitely keep Shanika from coming after him, not his Nikki.

Regardless of weather, he didn’t expect she would though—he had taken steps to make it so. He had left his study door closed, and the overhead light on, and the computer playing light classics as he did when busy. Also, since moving in six months ago, she had shown herself to be a late sleeper. And lastly, in consideration for over-concern at his sudden absence, he had left a note under the computer keyboard that read:

“Nikki, sweetheart, not to worry. Just a thing I have to do. Be back in a few that might take maybe three weeks, hgs&ksss.”

Truth be told, he did have strongest feelings for this fine woman!

Arrived at the junction without incident, Vivion stood sheltered in the deep shadow of a giant mango Rose tree. Long minutes passed with him tense, waiting for what he didn’t know. All at once he was feeling vulnerable. While getting here, not wanting to seem furtive to any who might’ve chanced on noticing, he had worked his will at not looking back. Right now though, just standing still, lurking in shadows, did not at all support that earlier strong-willed poise. Driven by a sudden frantic urgency, he just had to know if he had been followed. So he turned around and as far as squinted eyes could focus, searched the moonlit track he had walked. Then he blinked and closed his dried out eyes, rested them a bit before he had them again straining and staring through the opaque moonlight.

He took good time to check and double check and give tenuous doubts space to materialize. And after all that thorough effort, Vivion sighed and nodded as, in general, he had to agree with himself that everything was everything, that all seemed safe.

The gravel-covered track he had trod made the foot a ‘T’ with the asphalt paved main road, a blacker than black divide that curved to the left around a low rise fifteen or so yards away. From his present position under the aged mango Rose tree he was able to see headlights from traffic in both directions on the main road. On the other hand, anyone coming up the lane would eventually discover him. But on yet another hand, there were

no trees or convenient shadows alongside the main road. He fidgeted for a bit before murmuring “Better safe than sorry” and started up the main road around the low rising curve. Up because that was the direction of the busy town, the nightlife place where taxis would be available even at this late hour. He walked and kept looking back until he was well out of line sight of the junction, and then stood there in the open. Again feeling exposed, Vivion made quick assessment of his surroundings and shrugged. Worse come to worst, he could jump down and hide in the deep roadside drain.

Right now all to do was wait.

His thoughts returned to Nikki and how she’d take his absence. She’d most likely blame Mother, assume the worst. See her as inciter supreme. Or she might paint herself as the thorn that pierced a beautiful mother-son balloon. With her painter’s tendency, she’d create a tragic palette of hopeless colors. And she’d be dead wrong.

Mother wasn’t so.

At the beginning when they first got together, Vivion was showing her some photos of his sweetheart, and as he halfway expected, a main concern was his sweetheart’s coffee brown skin. “She kinda dark, not so?” said Mother as she took the photo and angled and refocused it to suit her critical vantage.

On it right away, Vivion invented: “That deeper color is due to the sheen of Dougla skin. The natural oils from the mix of Indian and who ever. Nikki lighter brownish in real life.”

Mother had moved on, assessing another shot. “She hair look nice though,” she said. “How it so long and black and curly, hmm, it remind me of mih own”—tossing her salt-and-pepper mane back as she added—“when I was younger.”

By the end of that visit Vivion found out that Nikki’s independent spirit also reminded Mother of her younger self. Which was seriously rare respect for a ‘nowadays’ woman, which was Mother’s word substitute for decadent and worse. Another winner was that Nikki’s special talent as a successful artist ruled out her using Vivion as a cash cow, a gullible catch that’d set her and her family on easy street. They were already there.

That sort of grasping woman had no chance with Mother; not with the hardships in sweat and soul she had survived to be who she was, and of which she spoke in aloe-bitter tones.

Vivion’s biggest surprise was his gradual understanding that Mother’s chief objection to his woman had more to do with her preference to them living together unmarried. To his mother’s mind this clearly showed how Nikki had been influenced by slack, foreign ideas she picked up at those New York schools he told her of.

Fact is, it wasn’t ‘foreign ideas’ at all. From what Nikki had related to him, most likely it was the unexpected money resulting from her talent that was sort of the spoiler. On the one hand it firmed up her stubborn, independent nature to do things her way, or not at all. On the other, it spurred her sympathetic spirit making an instinctive generosity casual—she could always sell another painting if needs be.

Which was hardly likely.

Because Nikki’s major cash flow bubbled from kind acts done years before while she part-timed in a nursing home for senior ladies in New York City. There, for fun much more than profit, she painted pleasing portraits of her charges. Developed a technique of invigorating the paintings—pieces which were always well-received, and much

appreciated. Built herself a reputation and a following, too. Then as it happened, with sad goodbyes to all that, she returned home to Trinidad with her parents.

It turned out, though, that financed by one of those elderly ladies, a family member—a brother or a son—opened a business in Toronto making nostalgic portraits similar to Nikki’s. “Memory Lane Portraits” was its name. Two years after being back home, in the packet of legal documents and a postage-paid return envelope they sent Nikki, lawyers explained that since she was the inspiration and model for the business, the original financer had insisted Nikki receive a ten percent share of all profits. The letter went on that the majority shareholder group was eager to have the documents signed, sealed, and delivered ASAP.

A postscript stated that the group regretted being unable to travel to her beautiful island nation and take care of the matter personally.

Nikki’s father Osman, in imam manner, thought he smelled a rat in the urgent tone of business, but hadn’t the energy to pursue his suspicions. So his thinking being that ten percent of anything is better than no percentage at all, he advised Nikki to sign and send the papers.

This backed by an “Okay” from a friend’s lawyer uncle, Nikki signed the papers. Two months later she got a check from Canadian Royal Bank. A cover note explained:

The attached cheque is due part payment of profits from Memory Lane Portraits; Inc. for the last two years. Because of legal clauses regarding payout limitations, checks of similar amounts payable to you, or your legally designated payee, will be arriving on or about the second Monday of every third month. After three years, due payments will then equal the current market value of Memory Lane Portraits; Inc.

Thanks for your business. Have a nice day!

The check was for twenty thousand Canadian dollars!

Nikki didn’t bother multiplying by six for exchanged T&T dollars. Past pure astonishment, she was moved to shedding grateful tears as a humbling question overwhelmed her mind, “Who was that sweet and generous old lady?”

When a few weeks ago it first occurred to him that he was unprepared for the expected bounteous crop, he took his concerns to Mother. Found her in the rocking chair on the verandah, cold of eye and standoffish. “You couldn’t see that coming?” she said. “Well I could see it coming like a slap to mih face. But you have eyes for something else. Not so? You like a jackass led by a short carrot,” she goaded. “You not seeing this far ahead!” She snapped fingers for emphasis.

Vivion breathed out his patience as a sigh. “Okay Mother, you’re right. No need to gloat. I didn’t think ahead. I was so caught up in the day-to-day. I just didn’t think—”

Mother interrupted, “So your girlfriend couldn’t remind you? I hear she living there day-to-day too, like a owner. What you having she there for? Eh? Is the saltfish you like so?”

Vivion thought to stop right there. Not say another word. He now realized her heading. A couple months after Nikki moved in, Mother’s displeasure had turned to puzzlement when Vivion bragged that in New York Nikki used to get thousands of dollars for her paintings, that her work was praised in important magazines, and that she had a following of cognoscenti up there.

With furrowed doubting brow, Mother had asked, “You serious, Vivion? Who dream you that dream? Anybody could make up fairy tale. You think everybody who go the New York get a fortune? You think it have gold in the streets up there?”

Vivion had kept check of his temper. He didn’t say that she herself had bragged about the opportunities found in New York. For who had the brains to see, she had proclaimed, a gold mine of ideas was there. It was where she got her idea to build the block of two-storied two-and-three bedroom townhouses that made her rich! It was there in New York that she got the contractors and building plans from Trinidadian immigrants turned US citizens!

And more important than all that, it was most likely in New York that she met the pale-skinned father he had never known!

But though angry and defensive, Vivion didn’t say any of that. Instead he insisted, “This is not old talk, Mother. Is bald truth. I checked on the Web. It there for anyone to see. People, experts, say she paints portraits that capture nostalgia. I could tell you the quotes by heart. One critic say “she returns youth and bright promise to aging faces.” Is about how she uses color and brush strokes and stuff like that. Technique and whatnot. I don’t really know. But clients love what she does. They go crazy for it. They pass over big bucks. Mother, look. You gotta get this. The two years since they moved up to Tamana Valley, Shanika Grant-Ali, yes, my Nikki at twenty-five is most likely the richest young woman in the area. I mean, who you think pay for that eight-room ranch house the family living in. Who you think pay Dr. Mason for the land to build on?”

Mother sucked frothy contempt through her teeth. “So why don’t she take she rich backside and go live she rich life with she own rich kind. Why she have to move in with my gadabout son in the fancy future-house that I build for him?”

“Mother, don’t bring up that stale house stuff. I know what I do same way I know what you do. And about Nikki, we went through that already. I tell you the truth that she moved in because I didn’t mind, because I couldn’t tell she not to, and because I weak for her. That’s it! Simple!”

“So you happy she here then?”

“Yes, Mother, most of the time. Sometimes I still like mih solitude. But listen to me!” he pleaded as she had started for the back door screen. “You gotta listen and believe!” he said earnestly when she stopped and turned around. “We get along. We really do. She is the first woman I know who let me be me, myself. She totally on my side. She at ease around me. Public or private, she bold enough and makes moves I like. We give each other space when we busy into we own thing. When we have to. She like to work upstairs in the back room facing the creek and the forests. The tall immortelle trees swaying mournful. I prefer down here looking at the openness. That’s what I like about her. Plus other things. Like how both a’ we like to cook. She know every Indian dish on the planet. Some she learn from she father, some she invent. To me that’s great. Listen to this. Sometimes we cooking different meals and exchanging with each other to taste and judge. It does be so funny. You should hear what does come up when we try to describe tastes and smells. The comparisons alone, you have to laugh. I telling you, Mother, we does have a good time. Really.”

“So then why you don’t marry up this woman and make she respectable? Why you don’t give me a respectable grandchild and give she a respectable child instead of letting people throw bad eyes at she for living here in sin with a no account man.”

At that, Vivion’s ire fought back. No account! Sin! Who, what was she talking about? She who only believed in Eshu and Haitian obeah. She who has a mudada voodoo doll sitting over her mirror. Who was she to make judgment? In any case, what he cared about sin would prance through a needle’s eye. And as far as no account went, not cent from her, he had earned himself a free University education. He also had had choice whether or not to represent the nation in international athletics. That don’t sound so no account.

Still braking his exasperation, he stood up and said, “Mother let’s not get into that, okay. You might have a thing about people and respect. Especially about bastards. But I don’t. I grow up bastard and I doing fine—“

“—only because of yuh mother’s efforts at the expense of she pride and dignity!” she interjected.

Temper taking over all at once, Vivion got loud saying, “Mother, I say we not going down that road. I know you went through harsh times. You suffered. You went to New York on vacation and come back with a light-skinned baby boy, a Yankee child that is me. I get that. You come back to social disdain and so forth. That was how it was in your day. But that time pass. It ent so no more. It not all the way gone but it on the way out. Look, I understand why Nikki parents abandon ship because she living with me. That’s their choice made from their ancient ethics of their ancient times and religions. In a way they same as you. But since they don’t feed or fend for she or me, I just don’t give a damn! Why should I? Why should we?”

“So is you and she against the world, eh? And that’s why you feeling big tall man enough to shout down yuh own mother?”

And that’s how that discussion had died, or more exactly, passed out from exhaustion, to be revived and contested some other day.

Tuesday a week later Mother surprised him. It was a sticky afternoon and he was staring blankly at the dark green hibiscus fence that shielded the front of the ground floor from the road when, with her white wide-brimmed hat aslant at the usual rakish angle, she pushed open the fence gate and sashayed through. Vivion smiled. A dainty picture in a sleeveless red dress with a shirred full skirt, she looked half her age. Loosely knotted at her narrow waist, accenting her hour-glass figure, was a wide black belt. White socks and black sneakers completed the outfit. From walk to wear he could see her good mood.

Knowing that although she had the password, she’d still ring the doorbell, he sprang up and went to the door so that as she got there he opened it and smiling wide, greeted, “Hey, Mamita. What la Señora en rojo doing looking so fine out here among the forests and farms? Come on in out of the heat.”

Despite his awful, affected accent, she entered, unpinned her hat from her hair and fanned her face with it. She replied, “So I have to explain mih self for taking a stroll?” Her tone, though, was playful.

Vivion turned from the fridge and exclaimed, “Mother! Don’t tell me you walk all the way from the junction.”

“Well, what else to do? After I get off the bus, ten minutes I waiting for a taxi and none ent coming. In this heat to boot. So I start walking and that was that. I end up reaching.”

Vivion handed her a tall glass of cool coconut water with a dash of Angostura bitters. “Poor thing,” he said. “This will make the pretty little lady feel better.”

“Thanks, boy,” she said, “coconut water is a true thirst blessing,” and downed half of her drink. Then she put the glass on the table and gathered up her hair in a bun. “Sometimes this hair could be a burden, you know,” she declared with a sigh as she reclined on the cool leather couch.

As they sat and chatted and drank beverages, it occurred to Vivion that Mother had come by on the only day that Nikki was away socializing with her artsy folks. He got to wondering if it was deliberate, the thought so distracting him that he didn’t hear a question put to him. “What you say, Mother?”

“Is not what I said. Is what have you other minded? What’s on yuh mind?”

“Is nothing, Mother,” he said. Then, as he created an appropriate one, added, “Nothing bad. I was only wondering if you in a mood to see how the peppers thing working out. Would you? Please?”

“In this heat?” said Mother, her raised eyebrows almost joining in protest.

“It will only take five, ten minutes and look at the thermometer. It saying 80. So it cooling down some already,” he returned with a clever cower that was part disappointed shrug and part accusation.

“Well, okay,” surrendered his mother. “But not a minute more.”

Vivion was overjoyed. This was her first visit since more than two years ago when earth-moving tractors had just finished forming beds and banks and drainage canals that converted open land into an organized garden. Now it was a well-functioning farm, a sea change difference from the fiascoes of the first year. The pepper project was all around wonderful, and success was in the air like a happiness buzz. In high spirits he was ready to show off the fruits of his ingenuity and determination.

As they were passing the bee hives, he crowed, “Mother! I telling you straight. Look at them hives. Best investment I could’ve made. Even I was only guessing it’d work. You have to admit you was thinking it wouldn’t. Eh? Not so? Now look at how them pepper plants flowering. Eh! Lavish. Lavish is the only word. And you taste how the honey different, kinda tang—?”

“Vivion,” Mother cut in with a voice dry as dust, “as far as I remember, it was me who buy those hives from a Chinese fella down by the wharf, and it was the same me who had Mr. Ramdeen workmen install them. That’s all I remember ‘bout your wonderful hives.”

At which point, atmosphere and ambience made it clear that the tour should end, so Vivion responded, “You feeling the heat like me? What you say we go back in the palace, eh? It definitely cooler in there.”

Head held high, Mother cut him an ambiguous look, tossed loose strands of her salt-and-pepper mane from her shoulder, and started for the turf-grass track back to the house.

Both of them sweating beads, sneakers off on the back porch, they slid the blind open and entered the air-conditioned living space. Vivion went to the fridge, poured them tall glasses of their preferences; Mother drinking fresh coconut water with a dash of Angostura bitters, he the same with a heaped tablespoon of powered skim milk swizzled in.

Then they sat savoring the quiet cool as from outside came sounds of Nature going about business. The wind creaking branches that shrieked their glee like school children at recess. A woodpecker knocking out a nest somewhere in the bamboo stool by the creek. It was hammering with a rhythm, four or five volleys of a neat quick rat-a-tat-a-tat beat, then a stop so sudden your ears missed the beat and waited. Hoping, as maybe the working bird took a look around, checking if he had drawn unwelcome attention.

Then he’s back on the job. Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat.

“I wish that bird would stop its confounded noise!”

The protest startled through Vivion’s reverie, “What?”

“That blasted bird is hammering me a headache!” said Mother.

And Vivion realized that she was still vexed. Maybe about the bees. For the first time it occurred to him that this might be the reason she had shunned the palace. But he couldn’t have this. Right away he decided to make amends. Things were going too blue skies nice to have such a slight matter throw up clouds.

“Mother,” he said. “I want to say I didn’t forget how much you did with the bees and the house and everything. Is that I just don’t talk about it. But I does feel about it. And one thing certain, I feel grateful.”

He spoke the last like a plea and watched as she sipped her coconut water while over the rim of her glass she gave him a long complicated look; at the same time soft and indulgent, yet with a tinge of petulance.

Eyes holding his, she sipped and sipped her drink then, finally, looked away as she said, “Look, boy. Don’t take no horrors from me. Okay. Is only the heat that get to me. I know you appreciate what I do. Is just . . .” and she left the thought hanging there in the quiet room.

Even the woodpecker was waiting in silence.

At which Vivion, feeling forgiven, said cheekily, “I know what. Is the smell of them bee-hive honey that you set off. Them bees’ product too sweet even for you.”

Seeing her genuine smile, he went over to her, bussed her head and said, “What you say I give the old Queen a refill, eh?” and took the glass from her hand.

Smile grown wider, she said with mock severity, “You’d better stop that stupidness right there, right now. One thing I too old for is foolery!”

“But Mother you know I ent joking. You know you is the queen around here. You know any and everybody will do whatever for you. Goes without saying. Me! Moi! All I have is ideas. Like putting in we own bees to do we own pollinating. That is part of my Integrated Self-Supportive System for superior ecological management. You know, like using the river for irrigation and hydroelectric energy, like setting up the overflow as a tilapia fish pond. Remember when I tried that? But what ever I think up, I never forget you is the M.M.I.H. My own personal Mistress of Making It Happen.”

Merry as a songbird, he hugged his mother around her neck, and although she made no accommodation to ease the awkward embrace, Vivion could breathe in her pleasure.

Outside, the woodpecker returned to nest building.

WHERE TO BUY:  Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Ingram, Brodart, Baker & Taylor

PRICE: $22.95 (USA)

CONTACT AUTHOR:  yokelvinc@kelvinchristopherjames.com

Twitter @KeloJames

 

Threads


T
Mary WrightHE BOOK: Threads

PUBLISHED IN: 2014.

THE AUTHOR:  Mary Howard Wright

THE EDITOR
: Jamie Rand, Virginia Tech.

THE PUBLISHER
: Xlibris 

SUMMARY: Adventure and necessity calls to Fletcher Broce. He heeds and leaves his familiar homeland, Germany, to go to Virginia to  work in the coal mines. A farmer by trade, he has much to learn. He leaves behind his beautiful bride, Rachel and their two young sons, his parents and a brother and sister-in-law. He hopes to earn enough to bring his wife and children to America. He realizes this move might mean he’ll never see his mother, father and brother again. He goes with everyone’s blessing. Fletcher manages to secure a job on a merchant ship to earn his passage. He longs to be reunited with his family. The few letters to and from his homeland keep him going. Finally, the big day comes when he is able to return to Ellis Island to welcome his family to the beautiful New River Valley that has stolen his heart. What should have been a wonderful reunion turns tragic when he learns of his wife’s dark journey to America.  

ThreadsTHE BACK STORY: On June 29, 2012 a powerful Derecho storm hit our church in Dublin VA. It tore off the roof of the fellowship hall, ripped loose the gas line to the HVAC and dumped water into the building, causing much damage. The building was so severely damaged, services couldn’t be held there much of the time. About half the congregation and the Pastor left in the next six months. A decades old church body was on the brink of extinction with eroded finances, ensuing mold issues, a slow response by the insurer, etc.

And, in the midst of it all, I was given this book, an inspirational, historic fiction to write. It had nothing to do with the church storm, but I dedicated half of any profit from my book sales to the church building fund. I never had writer’s block. The story was a gift. 

While the book is a work of fiction, I wanted to keep the vibrant Appalachian culture and rich history of the area authentic. The research took about 4 months and the story about 5 months. I talked to living history books, people who related their family recollections. I pored over historical register information. This may sound unusual, but I looked at thousands of pictures from various archives. The pictures brought the backdrop to life for me. I studied the faces of immigrants stepping off the ferry at Ellis Island. I observed their attire, their belongings they toted, the children, the elderly. I saw despair and fear in many, but in others that little glimmer of hope…hope for something more.  

WHY THIS TITLE? This book is the first in a series that will be 4 or more books. I see this family’s life and struggles as a part of a Tapestry which is the name of the series. The essential raw material is thread, so Threads became the title for Book 1. Once I got started, I needed a pattern or a design for their story, thus Designs is the upcoming book. From the design begins a pattern or highlights begin to emerge, book 3 will be called Brocade. In the course of anyone’s life, certain events or times stand out and are immediately apparent to both others and ourselves. Those events in and of themselves may overshadow the background. What essential values do we cling to? Who were our ancestors? How did they influence the people we are today? The 4th book in the series will be called Heirloom. All the stories, the rich ancestry, the culture make us an heirloom to future generations. Something precious passed down from one family and cherished by the next.


WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Readers have told me that they can see their own family in the pages of my book, can relate to the local area references and are intrigued by the little known historical nuggets the book reveals. Some have even asked if I wrote about their family home or family member. 

REVIEW COMMENTS

“Fletcher and Rachel’s love spans from Germany to Blacksburg, VA where they move. This first book describes when they fell in love, their journeys on the ship from Germany, and Fletcher getting things together in Blacksburg to have his family come over later. He works in the Big Vein coal mine in Montgomery County, VA in order to save enough money to be able to afford to bring his family over from Germany to be with him. The trials they face, the hardships they endure, and their growing love for each other are realistically portrayed. I enjoyed this glimpse into life in Germany before coming to America and how their life started here in Montgomery County, VA. Fletcher and Rachel’s story is about life, love, sickness, death, faith, and hope.”

“I look forward to reading the other books in the series. Wright drew me in with her story and her life-like characters. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series to see what happens. Each chapter is preceded by a scripture reference. I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about their ancestors from Germany and what they went through to come to America, has ties to the Montgomery County area of Va, or those who enjoy a great story about the early settlers. — “Must Love to Read,” on Amazon.

“I finished reading the novel “Threads,” last night, just could not put it down. I must say I loved it. Mary has written one of the best books; I rank it to be equal to the first book I ever read and loved; that kept me reading, “The Covered Bridge over Madison County.” What a masterpiece Mary; so much heart and soul you put into this 1st series. I thought of it all day, you really surpassed talent on this one. The story was so faithful and heartening, it felt real, and surreal. I don’t know how Mary got all those episodes in one book, but she did. She poured out so much of how things were, I could feel it! It was kept so clean in such a Godly manner, even through the hard moments. How Clyde made himself a better life; and the rape assault. How wonderful you turned ugly into something so special. And even managed to get in some Real Estate moments; that was nice. And what the value of a dollar was then. Wow, I sometimes wish it still were. Such a caring wonderful family setting; even though I knew the mother knew; made me smile. Smiling face with smiling eyes It ended so beautiful; I was thrilled they found a home just right. The book touches me also, because my Grandfather worked the mines back then. What a struggle of a life it had to be. And for us who live so well now and don’t even know it; well, they should read this book. Oh how technology has softened us. I found myself feeling like your characters; how they felt; how they hurt; how they kept moving forward. How family had the real meaning “family,” together all the way. I fell in love with the characters and I will always treasure this book! Anticipating reading Series 2. It ended so well, makes you want to follow the dreams of these people and watch them grow. A definite wake up story. Thank You Mary for sharing such a wonderful story. — Deborah Cruise.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I grew up poor in Montgomery County VA, the first of 8 children in 12 years for my mother. With a step-father who was always on the road driving tractor trailers cross country and a mother working long hours to support us, tensions escalated on the home front. All children were removed from the home and placed in either foster care or up for adoption in the late 1960’s. I had the blessing of a loving foster family who nurtured me and made me feel like I could do anything my heart desired. I loved to read and read every book I could get my hands on. Necessity made me a banker and a Realtor but passion drove me to write. I run a real estate company, NRV Gateway Realty and write whenever time and inspiration meet up.    

AUTHOR COMMENTS:
 My book is a “good, clean” read. A child could read it and delight in knowing what and approaching snowstorm smells like, a teen could pick it up and appreciate the love story between the pages, an adult or a senior could find themselves reminiscing about bygone times. I think my book manages to evoke nearly every emotion at one time or another. The characters are real to me, and I hope I bring them alive for my readers.


SAMPLE CHAPTERhttps://books.google.com/books?id=3PAuBQAAQBAJ&pg=PP1&lpg=PP1&dq=threads+by+mary+howard+wright&source=bl&ots=jNkbWYqFRJ&sig=UTfWTWDkCTG0P9eBBvhVoN7DK6I&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjP8sGGpd7JAhXCYyYKHSRSAdAQ6AEIQDAF#v=onepage&q=threads%20by%20mary%20howard%20wright&f=false 

LOCAL OUTLETS: Directly from the Author, iane’s Hair Care in Christiansburg, Chapters Bookstore in Galax

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

PRICE: $19.99 – Paperback

$29.99 Hardcover

$ 3.99 E-Book

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Mary@NRVGateway.com; 540 392-8908.

 

Weather Report, Jan. 18

OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “CLOSE,” BY ERIKA RASKIN, “RELATIVE STRANGERS,” BY MARGARET HERMES AND “MOMMY WRITINGS: MOMMY, DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH?” BY SUZANNE McMILLEN-FALLON, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.

UPCOMING, JAN. 19-25

This week’s books are all about warm — in the case of Kelvin Christopher James’ “People and Peppers,” very warm. We also offer two very different novels revolving around southern families– Talya Tate Boerner’s “The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee” (Arkansas) and Mary Howard Wright’s “Threads” (a historical novel set in Southwest Virginia). Read them, and dream of spring.

“PEOPLE AND PEPPERS,” BY KELVIN CHRISTOPHER JAMES.

Our very first featured book last May was Brian Simpson’s “Island Dogs,” about a rollicking bar on the Caribbean island of Antogia.  Now we’ve come full circle with Kelvin’s spicy Trinidad romance in which the world’s hottest pepper is one of the central characters.

Writes Kelvin, who is working on a string of well-received novels set in his native Caribbean: “Gossipy, intimate, and provocative,set in Trinidad and New York City, People and Peppers gives a diverting peek into the nuances of a Caribbean island’s callaloo of inter-racial and multicultural social mores. James’s main characters are complex, motivated, and fun to know. Tall and handsome, the main protagonist, Vivion K Pinheiro, is the bastard of a half-Portuguese, half Afro-Haitian woman, and an attractive New Yorker with carrot-colored hair who danced beautifully. Accomplished as well, Vivion has earned national prestige as a scholar and athlete. As a young man trying to realize dreams, he can be selfish yet thoughtful, deceptive yet generous—no real villain, just a callow fella getting over by pulling the tricky strings of privilege and personal charm.

“Read it for the pleasure of its lilting voice, the use of language. Learn about a different culture and its mores without spending on a plane ticket. Become acquainted with fun characters with attitudes and strengths and failings and quirks just like people you already know. This story is fit for all audiences.”

“THE ACCIDENTAL SALVATION OF GRACIE LEE,” BY TALYA TATE BOERNER.

The Accidental Salvation of Gracie Lee is southern fiction set in the Mississippi River delta region of Arkansas in the 1970s. The protagonist, ten-year-old Gracie Lee Eudora Abbott, is the daughter of a hardworking cotton farmer who, in Gracie’s words, drinks too much beer, is mean as the devil himself, and is probably going to Hell. Mature and perceptive beyond her years, Gracie is unwilling to be seen and not heard. Her mind is crammed packed with questions—simple questions about day-to-day things and bottomless thoughts like why she was born to Lee and Anne Abbott instead of Elvis and Priscilla Presley. As Gracie tries to understand and save the world around her, she often lands in trouble, even in a place where nothing exciting ever happens. Themes of Accidental Salvation include coming of age, loss of innocence, man versus nature, family struggles, end of life issues, isolation, and salvation. There is humor too. Regular, real-life, laugh-out-loud humor.

“THREADS,” BY MARY HOWARD WRIGHT.

Adventure and necessity calls to Fletcher Broce. He heeds and leaves his familiar homeland, Germany, to go to Virginia to  work in the coal mines. A farmer by trade, he has much to learn. He leaves behind his beautiful bride, Rachel and their two young sons, his parents and a brother and sister-in-law. He hopes to earn enough to bring his wife and children to America. He realizes this move might mean he’ll never see his mother, father and brother again. He goes with everyone’s blessing. Fletcher manages to secure a job on a merchant ship to earn his passage. He longs to be reunited with his family. The few letters to and from his homeland keep him going. Finally, the big day comes when he is able to return to Ellis Island to welcome his family to the beautiful New River Valley that has stolen his heart. What should have been a wonderful reunion turns tragic when he learns of his wife’s dark journey to America.  

NEWS AND NOTES

Katya Mills, whose novel “Girl Without Borders” was featured on Nov. 17, has developed a very proactive way of publicizing her work. On her blog, “K Is Silent,” she regularly does on-line video readings in a unique style.

And this from Charlotte Rees, author of “Did Ancient Chinese Explore America?” (July 7): “Did I tell you that a high school US history textbook is coming out in 2016 that shows my father’s map and mentions his research and mine? Yes!”

 

 

Close

THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOKS. “RELATIVE STRANGERS,” BY MARGARET HERMES AND “MOMMY WRITING: MOMMY, DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH,” BY SUZANNE McMILLEN-FALLON, CAN BE VIEWED BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.

Judith Raskin 2THE BOOK: Close.

PUBLISHED IN: 2014

THE AUTHOR: Erika Raskin.

CloseTHE PUBLISHER: Harvard Square Editions, an indie publishing house run by Harvard alumni, is dedicated to bringing out provocative literary fiction.

SUMMARY: Close is a novel of family and suspense. Wry single-mom Kik Marcheson is dancing as hard as she can — teaching at the university, struggling with the family’s finances (which may soon include having to return the long-gone advance for her unfinished second novel), and coping with her increasingly challenging daughters.

Doone, the oldest, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence; Casey, the middle child-slash-good girl, is slowly coming undone and little Tess, the quirky kindergartner, has somewhat alarmingly introduced an invisible playmate into the family constellation.

When Doone’s activities can no longer be ignored, a TV therapist offers a hand. Caving to Casey, Kik sets aside serious misgivings and agrees to let the family participate.

And then things go from bad to terrifying.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Despite their issues the Marchesons are engaging and sympathetic. When catastrophe strikes, their narrative becomes one of pounding tension. (A personal aside: During a huge, crazy Raskin-Family vacation I was sitting next to one of my niece’s friends who was reading the novel. When her arm shot out and knocked the air out of me I knew exactly what page she was on.)

THE BACK STORY: Close is the love-child of two of my passions: writing and watching TV. A few years ago I started (guiltily) rubbernecking at therapy shows – trying to understand how seemingly nice people ended up baring their deepest secrets to the whole country. Then I began to wonder how the experience itself would alter their trajectories. Close was born.

By providing a shifting point of view between teens and their mom, the novel appeals to young adults on up. Judith Viorst called Close “a cross-over book like The Fault In Our Stars.”

WHY THIS TITLE? It’s a play on different meanings of the word.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: I penned Close because I found myself worrying that people were being exploited during moments of despair — for ratings. One of the questions the book asks is whether family therapy should be a spectator sport.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Both of my parents were authors and though I took the long way around the block I eventually joined the family business, writing both fiction and real life. I’ve been married to my college crush for thirty-five years. We have three (adult) kids and a grandboy.

I’m finishing a book of linked short stories and I edit the fiction section for the arts quarterly, Streetlight Magazine. My second novel is coming out in 2017 with St. Martin’s Press.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“Raskin easily balances humor and drama in this novel about parenting, reality TV and family…A welcoming and nuanced novel…”

5 Stars, Foreword Reviews

“…a poignant and edgy story of a divorced-family dynamic through complex characters and the real life struggles of parenting and adolescence.”

5 Stars, LitPick

“This book is all about relationships between people and knowing when to forgive and when to let go. It focuses on the theme of trust and what happens when that fragile trust is broken. CLOSE by Erika Raskin is a great read for any teenager…”

Teenreads

SAMPLE CHAPTER: http://www.amazon.com/Close-Erika-Raskin/dp/0989596036 – reader_B00NRU12MA

Copyright © 2014 by Erika Raskin

Chapter One

Sometimes the dread was just a light tapping on the edge of awareness. Other times it was a howl in that dark space between anxiety and terror. Kik was lying in bed listening to the roar, waiting for her sixteen-year-old daughter to sneak in.

Again.

The strange maternal emotion of heartache-slash-outrage wasn’t helping anything either.

Doone knows Thursday is my worst day at work!

Kik was looking at grueling back-to-back sections of Creative Writing. In the best of circumstances, teaching the class of fragile-shelled freshmen took lots of careful tiptoeing. Doing it on no sleep was going to be a crapshoot. There could be casualties all over the place.

A sudden scream pierced the quiet.

“Mother! Help me!” Tess wailed. “Hurry, hurry!”

Kik leapt up and ran into the hallway, heart charging her ribs. She almost plowed into fourteen-year-old Casey, who was also racing towards the kindergartner’s room.

“What is it?” Kik panted, as she groped for the light. “What’s wrong, Tess?”

“Someone is trying to get in the window!”

“Oh, honey, no, no!” Kik soothed, scooping the child into her arms. “It was only a bad dream. We’re all the way up on the second floor! No one can reach up here!”

 

Right then there was an angry rap on the glass and the three of them jumped.

“See!” Tess cried, two parts misery, one part triumph.

“It’s a branch, sweetie. It’s really windy out.”

“Well, I do not like it!” the five-year-old announced, pink-flannelled chest still heaving. “I would prefer if you could make the tree stop. Please and thank you.”

Kik and Casey exchanged a bemused look over the little one’s head. Tess’s odd diction, including a staunch refusal to use contractions, cracked them up. With the exception of Doone, everyone found it endearing.

“Perhaps Sister might have a cozy in here?” Tess asked, already scooting towards the wall. “It will help me to understand that it was only the tree knocking. Not a very scary man like I was worrying.”

Kik shuddered.

“I’ll stay in here if you let me brush your hair tomorrow, Tessa-messa,” Casey negotiated.

“We should discuss that in the morning,” Tess demurred. “I am awfully tired.”

“And on that note,” their mother smiled, bending to kiss them. “Good night, my lovelies.”

Kik’s daughters were variations on the same doe-eyed, olive-skinned theme. But Tess had insane corkscrews that bounced from her head and Casey’s mane fell straight down her shoulders like a satin scarf. While Doone was clearly related she’d modified her appearance with piercings and a chop-cut dyed a flat, mother-torturing black.

Kik returned to her room and glanced at her own reflection in the mirror. Her resemblance to the girls was evident.

In this light, the forty-three-year-old thought glumly.

She pushed Bean, the aging black Lab, over to his side of the mattress and got back under the quilt next to him. In the process, she accidentally allowed her gaze to settle on the family portrait Doone had done.

Back when she still sort of liked me.

The oil was a dead-on rendition of the four of them stretched across Kik’s bed, hanging onto Bean like a pool raft. The painting’s boundless artistic promise could induce hope or despair depending on how Doone was doing.

Kik quickly looked away, went back to waiting. Her frustration was intensified by the nowhere-to-be-found cordless phone, which emitted another strangled, too-brief warning from its undisclosed location. Missing for nearly a week, the battery was about to die altogether.

And then the stupid thing will be gone forever!

The concept of lost drove her crazy. Kik was pretty sure she could remember every item she’d misplaced since elementary school.

She checked the clock again and actually groaned. Not only was her first class looming, so was the compulsory dinner party at the new chairman’s house, an event Kik had been dreading since the invitation popped up in her inbox like a suspicious skin mole.

She suddenly remembered she’d forgotten to ask Casey to babysit and felt a rush of guilt.

I wish I didn’t have to rely on her so much. But who knows what would happen if I left Doone in charge?

The tears that had been threatening since her eldest’s missed curfew suddenly spilled.

Why is everything so difficult now?

When Casey and Doone were small, the Marchesons’ light and art-filled house vibrated with kids and classic rock and craft projects spread for days at a time over the dining room table. Kik threw elaborately themed slumber parties for the girls, baked bread and made pizza from scratch. She sewed matching doll dresses and nightgowns. Doone’s

storms blew over quickly. Life was messy and loud and full of laughter. Kik wrote and wrote. And though it didn’t sell a lot of copies, her novel got good reviews. Which led to the great teaching gig. Everyone seemed happy then.

Even Owen.

The past was crammed with haphazard snapshots that Kik was sure could be separated into two albums: When My Husband Loved Me and After He Stopped. The first picture in the second volume would be the celebratory dinner she’d made in honor of Owen becoming the youngest full professor in the Biology Department. He’d come home from work that night and steadfastly plucked offending ingredients from a dish that she’d spent hours on.

“You eat raisins in restaurants, Owen!” Kik had complained, hurt. “You like curry!”

“Please don’t tell me what I like,” he’d said, continuing to Balkanize his plate. “I guarantee you have no idea.”

From that night on his voice downshifted into the somnolent whisper of the Permanently Disappointed. Kik responded by dancing as hard as she could. She struggled to keep the house cleaner and the girls quieter when he was home. She stopped sleeping in sweatpants. She bought him the high-end road bike he’d bookmarked on the computer.

But her husband remained detached.

The solution came to her a few weeks later when she peeked into a stroller at the park and saw the balletic movements of a newborn. The sweet dance of the infant triggered contraction-strength longing and Kik had been shocked by the clarity of the answer. That very night after the two girls went to sleep, she propositioned her husband.

“Owen, let’s have a dessert baby! Remember how much fun it was when Casey and Doone were teeny? How happy we were?”

(How much you loved me in their glow?)

“What do you think?” she’d pressed. “Wouldn’t it be great?”

“No.”

“No it wouldn’t be great or no we can’t?”

“Both. Either.”

“Can we at least talk about it?” He just shook his head, went into the kitchen. Kik followed. “Owen, please. Let’s talk about it.”

“There’s nothing to discuss. I said no.”

In a culmination of unnamed fears and frustration, she picked up a dirty plate and pitched it towards the sink. A mound of spaghetti landed on the floor. When Bean ran in to lap it up, Owen tripped over him.

“Yeah,” he hissed, limping back to the bedroom. “It’d be a great idea to bring another baby into this.”

Her breath caught. “What’s this?” she repeated, trailing him. “What do you mean?”

Owen dropped onto the edge of the bed. His eyes looked feverish.

“Kik,” he whispered. Then he put his hand out. All of their worst news had been shared with their fingers laced. Owen’s brother’s death. Her father’s.

Heart pounding, she refused the touch.

“Kik, we need to talk.”

She shook her head.

“I didn’t mean for it to happen.”

Kik froze. Her throat felt tight. An unfamiliar voice finally came out. “You didn’t mean for what to happen?”

“I’ve fallen in love with someone else.”

She could hear her pulse beating in her ears but was unable to get her mouth to work.

“Say it again,” she eventually whispered.

He did.

“Who is it?”

“Her name’s Vivy. Vivy Karr.”

“The one who wrote that article about your funding? Last year?”

The duration of the deception added to the injury. In a fleeting, piercing moment Kik imagined the unfolding of the whole relationship. She envisioned all of it. The first time Vivy went to Owen’s lab to interview him about his big oxygen transport grant. The instant mutual attraction. The phone call for unnecessary follow-up questions and the easy decision to just finish the interview over a coffee. A long coffee. Leading to chatty emails and teasing texts. And then lunch. And then more lunches that could be written off as innocent since they took place in public settings. But private topics would have already been broached. Tentatively at first, eventually breached with abandon. The first time he put his hand on the small of her back. And then the inevitable admission of feelings and desire.

Kik began to sob so intensely she couldn’t breathe. Owen tried to quell the volcanic spasms with a tight hug.

“You’ll be okay, Kik. You will.”

“But I love you, Owen! I love us,” she begged into his chest. “What can I do?”

“Shhh,” he whispered, holding soundly. He stroked the back of her neck and the unexpected tenderness became a kiss. And then a forlorn passion overtook them both.

Afterwards, Owen began shoving things into a suitcase. He was frantic. Shirts unfolded between drawer and bag. Sock balls rolled under the bed.

“Is the embassy falling?” Kik asked, stunned by the frenzy to escape. “The rescue helicopter leaving?”

“What?”

“Are you afraid I’m going to keep you captive? Or are you feeling guilty for cheating on your girlfriend?”

He didn’t respond and she went to splash cold water on her face. She felt drugged. The medicine cabinet was open, the blue case holding her diaphragm at eye level. She gasped. Owen came in and saw what she saw. His scientific brain did a quick calculation.

“Where’s the spermicide?” He grabbed the tube and applicator from the cupboard and thrust them at her. “Here! Put some in!” Panic caused his voice to rise and crack. “Call your doctor! I’ll run into town and get the emergency contraception. I can’t believe this! It’s the exact wrong time of the month for you to have unprotected sex.”

His desperation woke up her fury. “You know what, Owen? I’m done trying to please you. It’s my body. And you can just get out. Now.”

Disgust chased shock across his face.

It wasn’t an end-run to trap him. It was just an attempt to control a little piece of her careening world. But Owen’s ovulatory prediction was accurate, of course. Their third daughter was the product of his exit interview. Basically, Tess was conceived while her father finished packing.

 

Kik declined Owen’s weak offer to reprise his role as labor coach. It was Kik’s sister, Maddie, who eventually accompanied her to the hospital. And it was Maddie who asked the hospital chaplain to speak with Kik when she cried for two straight days following her C-section.

The newly-single working mother-of-three eventually reached equilibrium. What most hastened her journey back was the discovery that Vivy left town shortly after Tess was born. The departure of the Other Woman provided a liberation of sorts. Kik still got to hate her. But at a safe, non all-consuming distance. (Which isn’t to say she didn’t regularly search the web for the reporter’s byline in order to chart her geographic and professional shifts.)

For a long time, Kik engaged in full-length reconciliation fantasies starring herself and an earlier, more relaxed Owen. And even though there was a conveyor belt of middle-aged women who appeared one after the other to wave from the car when the girls were being transported by their dad for weekend visitations, Kik’s imaginings always ended with her magnanimously agreeing to let him come home.

Then last year she saw another one of Vivy Karr’s bylines. In the Charlottesville paper. The Mistress was back in town. Owen reconciled all right.

With the woman who broke up our marriage!

Kik was looking at the clock again when the back door finally creaked open and Bean, who’d slept through the earlier crisis involving the knocking tree, suddenly jumped from a dead sleep to the floor. He never barked at Doone’s stealth entrances because the pragmatic vegan carried sandwich meat in her backpack to keep him quiet.

Kik listened to the dog’s nails make a happy clicking sound all the way to the kitchen below.

I should go down, too; have it out!

But her last conscious thought before slipping sideways into sleep was that of surrender.

I am lost. And, as Tess would say, getting loster.

The fading cries of the wayward phone entered Kik’s dreams, a child gone astray calling for its mother. She awoke a few hours later, fractured and exhausted, to the radio announcer excitedly calling for afternoon snow.

Perfect.

The mere prediction of precipitation could wreak havoc, triggering a full-on child-care scramble. Kik was sure her sanctimonious new boss would be monitoring everyone to see which members of the faculty had things under control — and which poor planners had to cancel classes and scurry home.

Why can’t Owen just pick Tess up if school gets out early? He’s tenured — I’m tenuous!

But her ex wouldn’t offer to leave his lab and Kik wouldn’t ask. She knew the rules. Owen’s graying ponytail of false advertisement disguised the rigidity that had come to characterize him. He took the girls on the agreed upon days.

Well, Casey and Tess, anyway, Kik thought. Doone refuses more often than not.

Kik steeled herself for the morning dance with her eldest. The last parenting manual she surreptitiously read, hunched over by the bathrooms at Barnes and Noble, recommended children deal with the results of their own behavior. Which made sense in theory only. Because the

eventual outcome of Doone not getting up would be Doone flunking out. Which seemed pretty extreme.

“Rise and shine,” Kik said, knocking first on Tess’s door.

“We’re downstairs,” Casey called from the kitchen below.

“We’re downstairs!” Doone mimicked snottily from across the hall.

Kik’s shoulders crowded her ears in nervous anticipation of the impending struggle. She took a deep breath.

“Please get ready, Doonie. Dress warmly, though! It’s supposed to be really cold.”

“Thank you, Weather Channel chick.”

A myriad of responses flashed. Many included storming the room and snatching the teen out of bed by her hair. Before she became a parent, Kik never would have guessed that boundless love plus fathomless worry added up to deeply pissed.

Doone’s behavior had nose-dived after the divorce. Not that she had ever been easy. Her school struggles began before she even lost her first tooth. Mysterious challenges that defied labels — and therefore treatment.

“Unspecified learning disability,” according to the ridiculously expensive school-recommended psychologist. “Low tolerance for frustration.”

Very helpful.

Kik received countless calls ‘inviting’ her to come in and meet with the pre-school team. The teachers were concerned about Doone’s tantrums when paper would rip instead of cut. Or when regular milk was provided instead

of chocolate. But what most troubled them was her flitting from one learning station to the next, never alighting anywhere for very long.

Not me, Kik had wanted to say. Give me a short attention span over hysterics any day.

She went to dress, choosing a blue sweater and gray pants with an elastic waistband. Comfort clothes that didn’t cut into her softening midsection or self-esteem. Then she brushed concealer on the bags under her eyes and wondered why puffiness didn’t smooth out laugh lines. Kik didn’t really mind those, though. She thought they made her look kind.

The two younger girls were down in the kitchen, Tess mid-monologue.

“And not only that! I shall also be asking Santa for jewelry. Pierced earrings. And a locket. But he knows that because I asked last year. He just forgot. And some more movies from before my time. Black and white ones, too. And perhaps a hamster. Did you know soon it will be my turn to bring Pinky home on the weekend? We used to have two hamsters at my school but one of them dieded.”

“I think I heard about that,” Casey responded.

“That is the problem with hamsters, you know. They die.”

Kik smiled as her middle daughter changed the dicey subject. “You look pretty, Mom.”

“Not haggard and peri-menopausal?”

“Ew,” Casey laughed.

“Oh, Mother!” Tess said, eyes wide. “I forgot to tell you that I discovered the phone. It was in my doll bed all along!

Underneath all sorts of items. I think, perhaps, Harperly put it there. She can be quite naughty at times.”

“I’ve noticed.”

Harperly was Tess’s imaginary friend who had recently taken up residence. Kik played along but found something slightly off-putting about her baby suddenly having long conversations with, and about, thin air.

Because, basically, the idea of invisible playmates is creepy!

“I’m just relieved you found it. I thought we’d have to have another search party. Did you put it in the charger?”

“No, but Casey did.”

Which reminded Kik to ask about babysitting.

“No problemo,” the teen answered. “I’m just going to be doing homework.”

“Thank you, sweetie.” Kik put a mug of water in the microwave, then noticed Tess had on her snow boots, apparel she generally refused. “Look at you! I’m so glad you’re wearing those, babiest-girl! Otherwise I’d be worried all day about your piggies being cold!”

“Casey said she would give me a dollar for each one if I did not cry.”

“Thank you,” Kik smiled at her middle daughter. “I know that was no mean feat.”

“They are not mean,” Tess shouted. “They just do not like to be sweaty!”

When Doone finally turned on the shower upstairs, Kik put her cell phone in her bag and kissed the younger girls goodbye. Little by little her shoulders unbunched as she passed the sprawling horse farms on the winding back roads into Charlottesville. The rolling hills, even in their

denuded condition, were her own private tranquilizers, and by the time she turned towards campus she felt calmer.

Kik decided to spring for parking rather than getting amped up again racing from her appointed space in Siberia. She pulled into a close-in lot and hustled over to the little kiosk graffitied with the esoteric musings of uber-educated attendants, handed the cute kid her keys, and ran across the street. Although rushing, Kik still noticed the elegance of the postcard-pretty college grounds, replete with red brick buildings and balconies held up by smooth white columns. The school’s beauty always left her cold, though.

It had been built on the backs of slaves.

The classroom had a frat party vibe when Kik arrived. She smiled at the sudden quiet and carefully examined the reading glasses hanging on her chest. She’d learned from an unfortunate encounter with a sesame noodle that accessorizing with eyewear was tantamount to strapping on a highchair tray.

She smiled again at the group.

“Okay. So, a) I apologize for being late and b) I really enjoyed your essays about character identification. I was impressed by how many of you independently chose biblical figures as literary corollaries.”

Luke, an adorable lacrosse player who probably got young teachers in trouble back when he was in high school, raised his hand. “What about you? Would you say you’re most like the protagonist in Heading South?”

Kik actually felt herself blush.

Did he read my book?

“I’m sure we share some characteristics.”

“Such as?” Luke pressed.

“Let’s see. We both worry about things like how many participants a prayer chain actually needs. We’re both seriously steadfast. Think Horton Hatches the Egg. And our hair color is the same. Though I’m not crazy about her cut.”

Everyone laughed.

She kept glancing out the window throughout the day, praying for the forecasted snow to start falling.

Mandatory attendance at Martin’s party will surely be waived for inclement weather!

But the temperature aggressively stayed in the high forties all afternoon and Kik raced home after her last class. Casey and Tess were sitting at the kitchen table in the glow of the TV that lived on the counter. It was tuned to The Dr. Price Show.

“Who’s on, Case?” Kik asked.

“This woman who’s addicted to plastic surgery. She’s had like forty operations.”

“Yikes,” Kik leaned towards the small screen, squinted. “She does look good, though.”

“Mom!” the teen laughed.

“Kidding. What’s Price say?”

“That this kind of thing makes him sad.”

Out of all the therapy shows that Casey had a baffling affinity for, Kik kind of liked the British import. While the other TV shrinks reminded her of medicine men pitching product from the back of their horse-drawn buggies, Price didn’t go in for the self-aggrandizing hype. He seemed more interested in helping his guests. More than once she’d gotten sucked into watching an intervention done by the

stoop-shouldered shrink with the nice eyes, and ended up in tears.

She bent over Tess, busy lining up a battalion of crayons in front of a coloring book, and kissed her head.

“Where’s Doone, Case?”

“Um, she texted. She’s studying with a friend.” The obvious lie was repeated without commentary.

Furious, Kik grabbed the landline and tried to call Doone but went to voicemail. “It’s me. You do not have permission to be out tonight! Especially after last night! I want you home now.”

For icing, when Kik went to change she discovered her strappy stiletto had been shoved inside a stretchy sock. Probably thinking it was some kind of new toy, Bean had chewed a good quarter inch off the shoe’s heel. She hobbled downstairs and asked Tess if she’d been playing in her closet.

“I might have done,” the little girl said earnestly. “It is just that I do not want your things to think I have forgotten about them! I have not visited in quite some time.”

“Casey, is it noticeable?”

“Don’t worry about it, Mom. No one’s going to look at your feet. Just try and enjoy yourself, for once!”

“I did mention where I was going, didn’t I?” But she was taken aback. “You’re my rock, Case. Thank you.”

“Am I a rock?” Tess asked. “Or am I still a gravel?”

“You are my helium balloon,” Kik said.

The temperature outside had dropped and a noisy funnel cloud of papery leaves danced across the unpaved driveway. Kik shivered. She just wanted to cozy up on the couch, be close with the girls.

All three of them!

Dread tapped her on the shoulder and she took a deep breath to try and shrug it off.

She steered the car onto the curiously named Dick Woods Road, then into the dark template of a heavily wooded, half-built community. It was clear that like Charlottesville proper, nothing made sense layout-wise. Street names changed willy-nilly. The bumper scraped ominously and Kik suddenly feared becoming seriously lost, her body not discovered until spring by heavy equipment drivers.

If the party wasn’t at Martin’s, I’d just bag it.

Her phone rang.

“Mommy!”

“What, sweetie?” Kik smiled in the dark. Tess had learned everyone’s numbers while she was still in nursery school. And used them freely.

“Casey says we cannot make brownies and I have a very large yen for them!”

“Did she say why not?”

“Because she has to work on a Spanish paper. Even though she could do that after my retirement at eight o’clock!”

“Let me talk to her.”

“Arghhhh,” Casey groaned in Kik’s ear.

“Hi baby. Listen, it’s probably in your best interest to go ahead and just let her make them. The mix I got the other day, all you have to do is add water.”

“All right,” Casey sighed. “Are you at the party?”

“No! I can’t find the freaking house. I’m beginning to feel like Meriwether Lewis out here. I’m pretty sure I’ve crossed parts of the county no one else has.”

“Oh, Mom. Poor you.”

Suddenly a parade of parked cars leading up to a McMonticello petulantly facing the woods instead of the street, appeared. “Wait a minute — I’m here!”

“Good luck,” Casey giggled.

Mindful of her fragile heel, she stepped carefully along the Shuster’s candle-lined path. As far as she was concerned the homey touch with the luminaries was akin to a well-decorated waiting room outside an oncology office.

The lead-up might be nice. But for the most part you’re hosed as soon as you cross the threshold.

When Martin joined the faculty just two months before he said his tenure would be characterized by camaraderie and gentle stewardship.

An enormous, big, fat, mean lie.

He’d been making a concerted effort to distinguish instructors from the real professors, dropping in on so many of Kik’s classes “to observe” that the last time he slithered into a seat she had a nearly insurmountable urge to peg him between the eyes with an eraser.

The rumor was that Martin planned to bring in more degreed faculty, ratchet up the qualifications of the department as a whole. Perhaps even phase out instructor-level teachers altogether.

Which would be just perfect. Then what will we do?

A sleek sports car with the vanity plate BSTSLR was parked near the top of the drive.

This just keeps getting better.

Though not an actual member of the department, Dorian True, the polka-meister of prose, the walking embodiment of self-promotion, and the reigning Southern champion of shiv insertion, had apparently wormed her way onto the guest list. Kik hated everything about the self-appointed doyenne of the Charlottesville writing community: her gaudy sentences, the plots she recycled from one book to the next, and the bizarre braid that sat on top of her head like a basket lid.

Kik tried to do that deep breathing thing from yoga but couldn’t remember if it was inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, or the other way around. She’d had to flee class when she got intractable giggles after the guy on the adjoining mat let one rip during downward dog. She never went back.

The door swung open before she knocked.

“Klara! I’m delighted you could make it!” the mini-man pronounced.

“Sorry I’m late, Martin,” she lied. Behind him a hideous copper contraption poured water down the wall like a plumbing emergency. “Nice fountain.”

“Thank you, my dear. We had it custom made by one of Japan’s most renowned water sculptors.”

“Lovely.”

Not.

An awkward silence grew.

“Can I offer you a rum toddy?”

“Please!” she said a little too desperately. A table set with a crystal punchbowl sat right inside the foyer. Little glass cups hung from it like shrimp hors d’oeuvres. “What

a great idea, Martin! Entryway cocktails! I should try it at home — steel myself for what lies ahead.”

The compact little man stared at her appraisingly and Kik put the drink to her mouth to prevent further logorrhea. Ever since his appointment she’d been plagued by her landlord dreams. She hadn’t had them for a couple of years. The recurrent nightmare was an actual replay of the security deposit walk-through of her first apartment. The landlord had opened the oven and gasped as if he’d just discovered the remains of a voodoo sacrifice.

The dreams first started right after Owen left, stealing sleep night after night. It took therapy to understand they were about inadequacy. And humiliation. It wouldn’t require a return to the couch to uncover the reason for their comeback.

Martin Shuster had arrived like some academic avenger after the laid-back former Chair had had a debilitating stroke. It was a widely known secret that Martin had been the search committee’s second choice. The first had withdrawn his name at the last minute after being accused of taking credit for intellectual property not his own.

Kik had been amazed by how much a new manager could screw things up. She used to love going to work. It was like summer camp for artsy adults. Now there was backbiting and paranoia and serious job insecurity.

On Monday, Martin stopped her in the hall and casually mentioned that he was going to assign a full professor to help her edit the students’ award-winning literary journal. Kik had been speechless. She’d been the faculty advisor since the inception of Or Perish. Her eye twitched just

thinking about it again. Behind her the doorbell rang. She turned.

“Hi you,” she grinned.

Parrish Boudreaux beamed back.

“Go join the party, you two,” Martin commanded. “There’s just one more tardy guest.”

“Micro-manager taking attendance?” Parrish muttered when they were out of earshot.

Kik giggled.

“Hey, girl, I heard you won again. Congrats!”

“Thanks. It’s been the bright spot of my week. Oh, who am I kidding? Year. The bright spot of my year.” She took a sip of her drink. “Martin’s probably trying to think of a way to rescind it. Decree that the students can only vote for their favorite tenured faculty.”

“You know if you sat your little butt down and finished your novel it’d be a non-issue. Your stock would soar. You’d get a promotion.”

“Are you trying to push me deeper into the abyss?”

“Why don’t you get in touch with your agent over Christmas?”

“Because I haven’t written anything!”

Suddenly Dorian waved grandly from the sunroom off the kitchen. “Mr. Boudreaux!”

“The barnacle’s here?” he whispered, jovially waving back.

“I’ll protect you.”

“She can rub up against me all she wants — just don’t let her talk.”

“I don’t know,” Kik said innocently. “I’m kinda interested in what she’s working on these days.”

“I’ll kill you dead, woman. Do. Not. Get. Her. Started.”

One of their favorite games was Six Degrees of Dorian True, throwing out topics ranging from spontaneous combustion to gastric bypass, just to watch her divert conversational traffic back to herself. Dorian had even commandeered a recent article on a poet’s death. Kik and Parrish had taken turns reading it aloud. Dorian talked to the reporter about how she and the departed came up together, describing the literary salon for the ‘myriad of successful writers in Charlottesville’ that they had co-hosted for years (first Kik had ever heard of it), finally segueing into how she’d be dedicating her next novel, Country Roads, Shining Stars, to the deceased. Parrish said all the obit needed was an order form and Kik had almost wet her pants in the faculty lounge.

“How long do we have to stay?”

“Just stick with me, young lady. And seriously, podna. You’d better pace yourself in the drink department. Office parties are factored into job evaluations.”

Her anxiety shot up but bumped against Parrish’s wandering attention.

“Hey, is that Cisco’s wife over there?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

“Packed some pounds on, huh?”

“She had twins, Parrish.”

“Did they leave one in?”

She shook her head and in return he did his slow grin thing. Which didn’t generally work on her. But she looked away just in case. Women tended to pulse around him. He was tall and lanky with a Cajun accent and dark brows that

arched high over dancing brown eyes, making him seem perpetually bemused.

“Forty-nine more minutes,” he said.

“Until what?

“I blow this pop stand. I’m catching an obscenely early flight to New Orleans.”

“You’re leaving me here? What time is your flight?”

“Seven.”

Kik snorted. “Want a wake up call?”

“Couldn’t you just nudge me?”

“Aren’t you ever afraid it’s going to snap off?”

His hands flew to his crotch in the universal male sign for the world coming to an end.

Kik laughed. “Anyway, as you never tire of mentioning, I’m a day older than you. Which means I’m about two decades past my prime.”

“No such thing, darlin’. Hey, you wouldn’t be able to take care of Orbison for a few days, would you? He hates the kennel.”

“Uh, no? That’s all I need. Your flamboyant mutt harassing Bean all weekend. How’s Colette?”

“Good. I won’t be, though. Patsy awaits.”

“What’s going on?”

“Just the usual.” His struggles with his ex had been percolating for years, ever since Patsy took their little girl back to visit family in Louisiana — and stayed. Parrish not only learned about the marital dissolution long distance, his wife also came out to him during the same conversation. In one of life’s little ironies, the world’s biggest heterosexual flirt had inadvertently married a lesbian. “How’s Doone?”

Kik shrugged her pain.

“Oh well. We’re a pair. Let’s go mingle. Consider it a wise career move. None of your usual marginalia. Laissez les bons temps rouler!”

“Whoa. What do you mean wise career move?”

“Come along.” He led her towards a resolutely middle-aged woman in a red and orange quilted jacket who was sauntering around like she owned the place. He introduced himself.

“I’m delighted that you were able to come tonight, Parrish!” the woman in the tea-cozy barked. “Martin was telling me you’re going to teach song writing when your sabbatical is over?”

“Yes. And the Build-a-Novel course,” he smiled. “Allow me to introduce Kik, which is acronym-ious for Klara Isabella Kaufman.”

“Marcheson,” Kik added, “is my last name.”

“She’s one of the stars of the Mixed Arts Department,” Parrish went on. “Just won the Faculty Prize in fact!”

“Pleased to meet you,” the woman pinched out.

The insincerity was so unmistakable Kik felt hot shame. She mumbled appreciation for the dinner invitation and could have cried with relief when her cell phone began ringing in her purse.

Kik excused herself and walked back towards the quieter kitchen. “Hello?”

“Mom, I’m sorry to bother you again but — ”

“Is something wrong, Case? Is it Doone? Did she get home?”

“No. But, um, Dad just called and, um, Vivy just got asked to be on The Suzanna Show tomorrow about an

article she wrote and Dad wants to know if I can go, too. He said it could be an early birthday present.”

“You want to go on a trip with your father’s girlfriend?”

“Dad’s going, too.” The three words contained a world of hurt.

“Casey. I’m sorry. You should definitely go. Really.”

“Are you sure? Because I won’t if you don’t want me to.”

“Honey, I do. I want you to go.”

Please let me have sounded more sincere than Mrs. Shuster.

“Thank you, Mom!”

Kik immediately began worrying about how this would play out with Doone. Tess’s exclusion could be chalked up to age — but what about Doone’s?

Oh, who am I kidding? I can barely get her to go out for dinner with him. He hasn’t even seen her since she began stretching her earring holes to National Geographic dimensions!

Martin tapped a spoon on a wineglass to announce dinner. The guests were ushered into a huge dining room where beskirted chairs brushed the floor with mauve hems and candle centerpieces sprouted from rings of gold-tipped pinecones.

“It’s like walking into one of Dorian’s paragraphs,” Kik whispered to Parrish, a tad too robustly. Their assigned seats bookended the woman.

Martin asked the room to bow heads for prayer. Beneath the heavy tablecloth Parrish’s fingers began doing itsy-bitsy spider up Kik’s thighs.

“Cut it out,” she hissed.

His face remained in placid contemplation until Martin finally sat and waiters appeared with salad plates.

“Are those anchovies?” Kik whispered.

“Stop pouting. It’s unbecoming.” He turned to the woman on his right, abandoning her to Dorian.

“So, Kik, how are you?”

Here we go.

“Fine, thanks. How are you, Dorian?”

“Very well. You’ll appreciate this — I just had the most interesting discussion with my editor. Oh! That reminds me! I saw a copy of your little novel — ”

Little novel!

“— at the library sale. I picked it up for you since it’s out of print. It was on the last day so it was 75% off. You owe me a quarter,” she laughed merrily. “I’ll put it in your faculty box next time I’m there.”

Kik’s face smoldered as Dorian plowed on.

“Anyhoo, what I was going to tell you was that some of the mid-list authors are throwing absolute hissies about not getting enough post-pub support. They’re all over. Tweeting and posting, complaining — ”

“Why shouldn’t they complain? The whole system is rigged, Dorian. Do you really think you and Nina What’s-Her-Name are the only novelists in the country?”

“I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”

Right.

“It’s just that there are all sorts of really great writers out there who either can’t get published or who are buried by marketing for better-known authors.”

“Careful, dear,” Dorian patted Kik’s arm, all Southern comfort and false concern. “Someone could get the idea the dinner wine came from sour grapes.”

That’s it. Game on.

“Anyhoo, Dorian, I’m really glad we’re sitting together because one of my students asked a publishing question and I was totally stumped.”

“Fire away.”

“She wanted to know the ethics behind a writer having the same friends she thanks in the foreword provide the blurbs on the back cover. She mentioned the objectivity factor. And the thing is, she brought in one of your books! As an example,” Kik said, lying through her teeth. “How should I have answered?”

“You could have just explained that the more successful an author is, the smaller the peer group.”

Ok, that’s a wash.

“Hey, I enjoyed that article about you, Dorian.”

In spite of the flying knives, the woman’s cheeks pinked up. “Which one?”

Parrish squeezed Kik’s knee before she could answer, choking off what he knew was coming.

(Your friend’s obituary!)

Then he and Dorian started talking about the Charlottesville Book Festival and Kik checked out. She suspected the annual literary event had been designed to make her feel like a failure in her own backyard. Successful authors, agents and publishers made a pilgrimage to town putting on panel discussions about all things writerly. It generally set off a career-related depression.

Perfect.

She excused herself and walked quickly down the hall in search of a bathroom. Her unsteady gait pushed the weakened stiletto to its limit and the thing snapped off altogether. She sat on the toilet lid awash in apocalyptic sadness, and unstrapped both shoes.

What is wrong with me? Why would I take on Dorian True?

Kik closed her eyes. Eventually a knock startled her from her stupor.

“Just freshening my make-up,” she announced, lest anyone think she was in there so long for some bodily function. At least she didn’t have to flush. When she opened the door Parrish was waiting with her purse and both of their coats. While he helped her into hers, he nodded towards the vanity where a bonsai tree, pebbles and a miniature rake sat in a tiny jade saucer.

“Small man, small garden?” he asked.

That got a smile.

“You okay, Klara?”

“More or less. Mostly less.”

“C’mon beautiful. Let’s go.”

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harvard Square Editions PRICE: 17. CONTACT THE AUTHOR:

Erikaraskin.net

Twitter.com@erikaraskin

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Erika-Raskin-Author/

Relative Strangers

Margaret Hermes 2THE BOOK: Relative Strangers

PUBLISHED IN: 2012

THE AUTHOR: Margaret Hermes

THE PUBLISHER: Carolina Wren Press. The mission of CWP is to seek out, nurture, and promote literary work by new and underrepresented writers, including women and writers of color.

SUMMARY: A collection of short stories, Relative Strangers won the Doris Bakwin Prize for Writing by a Woman and a special second place award in the 2012 Balcones Fiction Prize.

Relative StrangersThe fourteen stories are thematically linked by their close examination of relationships. In the title story, relatives are shocked by revelations about the buried pasts of family members. In ”Transubstantiation,” a long-wed couple discovers they are strangers to each other. In “Meet Me,” a much younger couple is all too willing to believe they are strangers to each other. “The River’s Daughter” explores an uneasy relationship between siblings: “Even though I came first, once Carrie was on the scene I never came first to mind. I bore the distinction of being both the oldest and an afterthought.” With effort, they’ve managed not to let men come between them, but the river of the title threatens to permanently separate the sisters.

Sometimes the connection, or misconnection, is cross-generational, as in “For the Home Team,” where a boy is sent away to his uncle’s farm during the breakup of his parents’ marriage. When Daniel bemoans his father’s absence and silence over the course of the difficult summer, his uncle replies, “Sure, sure. He is stupid. I mean no disrespect. Men are stupid is all. They don’t know how to act.”

Daniel tells us he was glad to find that he and his uncle were somehow “excluded from this society of morons.”

The characters in Relative Strangers – ranging from a high school valedictorian fascinated by bees to a boy who goes through sexual awakening against a backdrop of bigotry — experience warmth as well as alienation, humor as well as heartache.

The collection is meant to draw the reader in with characters and settings that might seem familiar but never ordinary. I grew up in Chicago and live in St. Louis and some of the stories are set in those cities, while others take place on a South Carolina farm, in a hospital in Duluth, at a baseball game at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, in a mythical town in the Missouri Bootheel, in a suburban nursing home, or in a nameless village in Eastern Europe where “everything was heavy — the coats, the shoes, the sky, the hearts.”

THE BACK STORY: These stories, published singly in literary magazines, were written over many years.

“Meet Me” (see sample chapter) took about two hours, plus subsequent airbrushing. I had asked my partner to just pick a title for a story out of the air. I wasn’t feeling inventive and apparently neither was he. In a hurry, he declined and began to lay out plans for the afternoon. “Meet me–” he said and I said, “That’s it!”

On the other hand, “Growing Season” took two years. That’s a story enriched by fragments from other people’s pasts. Various men among my acquaintance shared details from their youth that lodged in my memory and gave heft to the boy who matures over the course of the story. I worked long and hard on the structure to achieve a flow – an undercurrent really – between two forms of bigotry, religious and racial. So the innocence lost in this coming of age story is more than just sexual.

WHY THIS TITLE? The stories in this collection are tied together by a common theme. In some fashion each explores the many ways in which people remain unknown to one another. I think we’re all strangers from time to time to the people who should know us best. How we get through that — or run from it — intrigues me.

The title story was originally called “Family Matters” and that was the rubric I intended for the book. Then I became aware of Rohinton Mistry’s novel by that name and abandoned it. I tried “Family Business” and a couple other clunkers before I settled happily on Relative Strangers. I love that it suggests both people who are merely acquainted and relatives who are estranged from one another.

An additional benefit is that the title inspired my artist daughter, Lucy HG Solomon, to create the striking image that the publisher used for the cover.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Change is what really drives my interest in any story. In theatre, I am not a fan of the one-person show. I want to see a character develop on stage, not see them at the end of their development or hear about how they developed into what they are now. The change can be internal – an epiphany – or external. Ideally, for me, a story will have both.

In the first of two connected stories, “Second Lover,” the change, apart from the change in the primary relationship, is in what the first person character is willing to accept in order to have a physical relationship; in “Foreign Exchange,” the following story, or the story within the story, it’s in how the protagonist views herself.

Aside from being intrigued by the way the characters – people! — develop, I hope that readers will be drawn to the writing. I am an ardent admirer of the short story form, the spareness and precision of it.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“Relative Strangers is a stunning collection of stories. Every single story is vivid and memorable, and yet, equally powerful is the collective thematic effect. So many of these characters are strangers within their own families and their own lives – people thought to be  dead are resurrected and another’s survival is akin to death.

Change, loss, alienation; it’s all here. But so is humor and compassion and a fresh spin on the way people deal with the most vulnerable aspects of life. The range in vision is also powerful as we view – in one story – the adult world through the eyes of an adolescent who senses in his mother’s tremor ‘an earthquake unsettling my world’ and then just as easily we view life from the other end of the spectrum as characters look back on the change and loss and choices that shaped  everything  in life that followed. This movement between innocence and experience is constant, as is the weighing of love against passion and lust. Margaret Hermes is a wonderful writer and this is a moving and powerful collection.” —Jill McCorkle, Doris Bakwin Contest Judge

“Stories that feature a keen understanding of what makes people tick, but not click, in a dysfunctional America…sprinkled with tender and provocative examinations of familial relationships.” — St. Louis Beacon

“Hermes’ descriptions are colorful, her dialogue believable, and her word-play wondrous.” 
 — Walrus Publishing

“The stories are short, but the characters’ histories are deep and immediately intimate to the reader; Hermes has a knack for inviting the reader into her prose with brevity amid description. There’s something about the way Hermes’ characters portray themselves to their external worlds while battling their conflicting inner selves that makes them so human, so relatable, and yet so intriguingly dysfunctional.” – Los Angeles Review.

“Hermes rewards readers with deftly drawn portraits and an economy of language that perfectly matches her short-story template.” — St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday book section:

AUTHOR PROFILE: My short stories have been published in a wide range of literary magazines and university journals and occasionally anthologized (Under the Arch, Antares Press; 20 Over 40, University Press of Mississippi). My published and performed work includes a mystery novel, The Phoenix Nest (Contemporary Books), and book and lyrics for a stage adaptation of an Oscar Wilde fable, The Birthday of the Infanta, commissioned by Metro Theatre Company. (I think of the latter as a musical tragedy for children.)

As a child growing up in Chicago I was much read to, and then evolved into a voracious reader. It helped that I had no sisters, four athletic brothers, and myopia that went undiagnosed until I’d become a hopeless bookworm. But I also inherited my aspiration.

My mother grew up with a passion for books in a small coal-mining town. Having no library and no wherewithal to purchase books, she began writing her own in grade school. Mostly tales of adventure in the American West. They were written on butcher paper and shared with friends and their families. Instead of becoming an author, she turned herself into a full-time housewife and mother, so somebody had to take up the pen.

A resident of St. Louis, I am a longtime advocate of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. When not writing fiction, I’ve written about the dangers of radioactive wastes and worked on behalf of a better built environment as well as for clean streams, the preservation of parkland, and the protection of wilderness areas.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: Most of the stories in Relative Strangers contain slices of the real. For some, no research was needed, but the opening story, “The Bee Queen,” was inspired by an incident that haunted me since childhood. Planning to write about that vivid event involving wasps, I decided to spend an afternoon at the library familiarizing myself a bit with stinging insects. That research stretched out not only over time but into my main character. The facts that fascinated me gave rise to Bette who also found them fascinating, even if most of those facts didn’t make it into the story.

“Transubstantiation” emerged from a horrific event that befell friends. Writing about that was difficult on so many levels. I wanted to examine the transformative effect of calamity on individuals and relationships, the notion that even if the victim returns to her former life she can’t resume it: she is forever altered. I didn’t want to turn the couple I knew into characters, so I was acutely conscious of choosing attributes that would distinguish the husband and wife in “Transubstantiation” from my friends. That complicated the telling of the story.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s “Parings,” a fable that came directly from a dream.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: the 5th and shortest story in the collection:

Deborah’s knee protested with each step she took down the basement stairs. She tried balancing the laundry basket on her other hip, but the pain persisted. She was afraid she was going to have to give up running. Another part of herself gone.

Some of the changes were the by-product of marriage – the loss of autonomy, the compromises in taste. Some were the direct result of Rob’s asking her to change: she gave up smoking; she took up bicycling. Other changes were harder to pinpoint, or to pinpoint their cause. Did people find her less interesting and attractive simply because she was married now, settled? Because she and Rob had settled for each other? When she was single, and even engaged, she felt the eyes in a room, men and women’s alike, appreciating or appraising her. Lately, she felt invisible.

Mechanically, she set about emptying the pockets of Rob’s pants. This was one of the changes he’d failed to make to accommodate her. Pens, stamps, his watch, antacid tablets were but a few of the items she had rescued. Kleenex was the worst offender. When it disintegrated in the wash cycle, the bits would be distributed over the entire load in the dryer and adhere like elfin flecks of papier maché.

She pulled dimes and pennies from his left pocket and a book of matches from his right. A tilted silver cocktail glass with three bubbles rising from it shimmered on the black matchbook cover. On the flip side was printed Christopher’s in silvery script. Deborah frowned at the object in her palm. She didn’t know of a place called Christopher’s. And why would Rob, the anti-smoking crusader, be carrying matches from there or anywhere? She fumbled with the matchbook and the lid slid open revealing a scrawl of blue ink against the white interior: Meet me.

Deborah sat down on the concrete floor amid the piles of laundry. Was he cruising bars? How long had this been going on? Was it just the one woman or was he a serial pick-up artist? Who was this person she was married to?

She thought about how he, more often than she, was too tired or distracted for sex. Now there was a context for his tiredness and for what was distracting him.

Maybe he, too, had never been to Christopher’s – yet. Maybe the matchbook was her way of choosing the place for their next assignation.

She tried to stand, but the pain in her knee radiated to her ankle.

Suddenly her first suspicion rebounded within her. Cruising bars. What if he wasn’t chasing women after all? Christopher’s. It even sounded like a gay bar. No wonder she had never heard of it.

A wave of nausea hit her. She lay down, her cheek against the cool concrete. Well, the difference in their sexual appetites was accounted for. She had hated him for those moments while she believed he was seeing other women, but now she didn’t know what she felt. Revulsion, yes, and anger that he’d deceived her. But pity, too. For the two of them. Her last conscious thought before retreating into sleep there on the basement floor was that they would have to talk about this but she didn’t know how and she didn’t know when.

* * *

When Rob returned from taking the last of their garden tomatoes to his mother, he found Deborah sitting at the kitchen table folding laundry, one leg propped up on another chair and an ice pack draped over her knee.

“What happened?”

“Nothing,” she said. “At least nothing I can be sure of. “ She pushed a stack of his underwear toward him. “I think it’s probably the running.”

Rob heard the sadness in her voice. He wasn’t surprised. Deborah was addicted to running like he was addicted to caffeine. “It’ll be okay.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze.

“You think?”

“You’re doing all the right things.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Rest. Ice. Just give it a little time.”

“You know, I won’t be able to go biking tomorrow.”

“I guess not.” Rob was disappointed. They had signed up for the Labor Day ride months ago. “So we’ll go next year.”

“We’ll see. Anyway, you’re going tomorrow.”

“Not without you. We’ll do something else.”

“Rob, I know how much you were looking forward to it. I’d feel a lot worse if you didn’t go.”

“Are you sure?” he said, already gone in spirit, coasting down a hill on a curving county road.

She nodded. “The one thing I’m absolutely sure of.”

The next morning, in semi-darkness, he packed his pannier while she slept – trail mix, wrench, sunscreen, windbreaker. He rummaged through Deborah’s purse for the essential gadget – the little can of pepper spray attached to her key ring. Too often he’d been chased by dogs while biking along country roads. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use the spray, but he was taking it. Before his fingers found the keys, they hit upon a familiar, disturbing shape. He drew a matchbook from the leather folds. “Shit,” he said softly.

She had promised him she’d given up smoking. How could a runner continue to fill her lungs with smoke? And lie to him about it. He hated deceit more than anything.

He looked at the cover. Now she was going to bars without him. Looking for a safe haven for smokers, he supposed, a smoking club with dues to be paid later in the cancer ward.

He wondered where this Christopher’s was. Near her office probably. That would explain why she was late getting home twice last week.

He flipped the lid and in the dim light squinted at the hasty scrawl. So that’s what the late nights were about. And now the farce of the injured knee. She wanted Rob out of the way. She’d have the whole damn day to meet him.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Relative Strangers can be purchased online from the publisher’s website http://carolinawrenpress.org/relative-strangers

It is also available from Amazon.

PRICE: $15.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: hermes.margaret@gmail.com http://www.facebook.com/relative.strangers

Mommy Writings: Mommy, Would You Like a Sandwich?

Mommy, Would You Lie ...THE AUTHOR: Suzanne McMillen-Fallon.

THE EDITOR: Kathi Anderson.

THE PUBLISHER: Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency (SBPRA). SBPRA is a “help-publishing” company that offers book publishing and marketing services for all genres.

SUMMARY: “There’s one thing I know – God exists.” At age nineteen, MaryAnne McMillen severed two vital nerves at the base of her skull when she suffered a near fatal fall. This was followed by an out-of-body experience, life after death, in which she heard the words, “It’s not your time.”

Suzanne McMillen-Fallon IIWhen the two nerves fused together, MaryAnne was left in unrelenting, excruciating pain. Being the mother of a young son and married to a philandering brute of a husband when the accident occurred, the family disallowed the use of any medicine because it was against their religion. After fourteen years of agony, doctors were finally able to perform a unique surgery known as intraspinal rhizotomy. This story weaves together the idea of family and faith, while also creating a sense of longing in the reader’s own life for something bigger than themselves. Mommy’s Writings is the extraordinary memoir of the love between a mother and her young son, and a great-grandmother whose intense devotion to the two of them kept their little family together. It is a story of faith in God, of forgiveness and acceptance, and of gratitude.

THE BACK STORY: As it’s written in Mommy’s Writings’ Conclusion: “With this novel, I’ve fulfilled what I perceive as a heavenly Father’s purposed plan for my life. It gives my soul rest (Ps. 139:13-14).”

While the story reveals an existing intrigue underwent by the McMillen family, some of the characters’ names have been changed, so as not to inflict harm upon people still living.

“Because God is, this story belongs to everyone. (St. Matthew 22:21 [AV]; Mark 12:17; Luke 20:25). For, as awareness is, so is God consciousness.”

This is a lingering tale of a mother’s head injury and her vulnerable four-year old son’s love for each other. Together they are tethered by an intense unyielding great-grandmother’s love for the two of them that further binds them to their home in Warren, Ohio. As written in Mommy’s Writings’ Preface, “What began as a private writing for my son Chad is now a tie that binds a family’s times and inspires the love of God.”

WHY THIS TITLE? While his mommy lies in bed, and as it’s written in the book, “The afternoon’s sun warmth is felt through the bay window, as its soft radiance brings a pillow to rest over my head. It will ease my eyes from the remaining daylight that somehow adds to the spasm’s cruelty, which is ever more callous today. I accept my thoughts, for God carries me now.

Surely, another pill will do some good.

“Mommy, can I play with my cars?”

“Yes, darling son. I’d love it if you would.”

I won’t sleep, but I’ll probably lose consciousness, as thoughts of a heavenly Father’s loving compassion then cradles us.

Lord, God Almighty, I’m so fragile – as if I’m barely alive – but I’m not afraid. Please don’t let your little child Chad be afraid for his mommy.

My thoughts are on Chad, what little I can think; and as tears well-up and make their presence known, soft facial tissue holds the tears escaping into an emotion of God’s presence, which embraces and helps my precious little boy accept that mommy’s okay. I hear Chad’s sweet, loving voice as he retrieves his toy Matchbox cars from the parking bay he used earlier in his play atop and across the bedcovers, to drive over superhighways and onto their destinations. It is this which somehow has me feel a child’s innocence and compassion.

“Chad, I love you bunches.”

“I know, Mommy! I love you bunches too!”

This is my child. Unexpectedly, my son parks his little Matchbox cars in the parking bay and then stands thoughtfully. Chad looks deep into my eyes as he walks the length of the bed to place his one hand into mine, having his other arm on the edge of the bed that leans in toward me, and all the while our eyes keep within each other’s world.

“Mommy, would you like a sandwich?”

My child, with his little man ways, then places another tissue to catch my tears.

“A sandwich, Mommy?”

Chad’s a child who isn’t even five years old. How does this relate to hope or faith?

“Thank you, Chad. Perhaps a little later.”

“Mommy, don’t you know? I’m here to help you feel better.”

Life isn’t fair—God is. But when a child must furnish compassion to his mother, life is upside down. My thoughts remain quietly within.

Dear God . . . Why?

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The book will change your perspective on life: with enlightenment, as in the words of Sartre’s reality, “I think, therefore I am. No matter, the mindset. ”Does God exist?” “What’s life all about?”

This true story novel does not proselytize. I’m not a religious person. I believe in God. The story is based on my life, what was experienced on February 14, 1969, in an out-of-body experience, life after death, in which I heard the words, “It’s not your time.”

In Mommy’s Writings, it begins with my simple words to a friend, “I’ll help with your gifts, but first let me open the garage doors, Cynthia.”

“MaryAnne, lift up on the center latch to open them.”

I step out of the car and onto the pavement to stand before my friend, whose car’s headlights are bright in the nippy night air against a sky’s brilliant star backdrop, which are now a part of me. I can’t see her through the headlight’s intensity, but knowing Cynthia, she’s smiling. I glance upward, where the stars almost feel like you can touch them in such night clarity, which reminds me of life’s treasures: our friends that are given to us by a higher consciousness whose intention gives such blessings to his creations. I think, Treasure life.

I turn and open the double-door garage, and then, in a single step backward into a cement pit, my life changes forever.

REVIEW COMMENTS:

“This book has touched my heart to see what a mother will go through just to make sure her child was safe and raised to the best of her ability. The trials and errors we go through in life can sometimes Feel like we are alone, but always remember God is with you, as Suzanne has taught me.” – Jeffrey Miller.

AUTHOR PROFILE: In Washington State, my second husband, Gene D. Fallon, retired. With our focus then on writing, I worked part time for Hallmark Retail, Inc. (Andrews’s Hallmark, and then Amy’s Hallmark), and attended to Fallon’s failing health. He was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; with our commuting for his care at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance building, shortly after moving to Mukilteo, Washington in 1996. It’s in Fallon’s latter days, when his strength was little and he slept mostly, that the novel “Mommy’s Writings: Mommy, would you like a sandwich?” flowed through me. It was inspired. As I could see his resting form, a body slowly weakening from a fatal disease, but never removing away from him his loving nature. The injections I gave him finally were of no earthly use, and Gene David Fallon died on 12-1-2003; but not before his reading of my creative work, Mommy Writings Series Book 1.

It’s in my marriage to Fallon, during those years, when the dear Lord had me learning the writing process. “Would I have accomplished this work without my patient husband’s support for his Suz? Let’s just say, with his love and respect that his Suz finds strength in two hearts now released as one.”

Yes, I knew I’d someday write this story. In spite of the head injury, and the permanent brain impairment, I live with. Yet, it’s like author Darrell Laurant shared with me in his October 15, 2015 e-mail, “…there are also the wild cards of prayer and personal determination.” And it’s true, this I know.

When defining who she is, Suzanne McMillen-Fallon writes, “Mother of Chad C. McMillen and author.” In her younger years, she was an artist. After the 1983 surgery, she is a published writer of poetry and prose, and co-authored the book Shadows of Yesterday with her late second husband, Gene Fallon. Her next book, Parallax Crossroads: Finding My Way (Copyright January 25, 2012) continues the Mommy Writings Series.

Suzanne McMillen-Fallon was previous business owner and CEO of the Center for Communication Arts, Inc. in Orlando; having been associate director of Television Workshop, Inc. with Gene Fallon in Cleveland, Ohio. Past business experience includes apartment house ownership and management and a family-owned business affiliation in the oil and gas industry.

Ms. McMillen-Fallon has a background in the performing arts in theatrical production at the famed Youngstown, Ohio Playhouse; developing an amazing role-playing ability than used as a teaching technique in Florida, where becoming the instructor’s protégé, she acted out parts audiences easily related to.

SAMPLE CHAPTER: See Amazon.

LOCAL OUTLETS: E.G. Toledo-Lucas County Library: http://www.toledolibrary.org; Sno-isle Regional Library System, WA State: http://www.sno-isle.org; NOLA Regional Library System: http://www.neotoday.org;

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Mommy Writings Series Book 1, Mommy’s Writings: Mommy, Would You Like a Sandwich? – A True Story (ISBN: 978-1-60976-456-2) By Suzanne McMillen-Fallon is available for $24.50 and can be ordered through the publisher’s website: http://sbpra.com/SuzanneMcMillenFallon or at http://www.amazon.com or http://www.barnesandnoble.com.

Wholesalers: This book is distributed by Ingram Books and other wholesale distributors. Contact your representative with the ISBN for purchase. Wholesale purchase for retailers, universities, libraries, and other organizations is also available through the publisher; please email bookorder@sbpra.net.

PRICE: $24.50.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: a.smf@att.net; Google: suzcc88@gmail.com; Twitter handle: Suzanneasmf; Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/suzanne.mcmillenfallon

Weather Report, Jan. 11

THIS WEEK’S FEATURED BOOKS, “AFTERMATH LOUNGE,” BY MARGARET McMULLAN AND “GLASS,” BY KATE KORT, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN DIRECTLY BELOW THIS POST, ALONG WITH THE MONTHLY “FIRST TUESDAY REPLAY.”

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UPCOMING ON “SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD”

This week is about families. All kinds of families — supportive, connected, broken, and in transition. And the subject is examined through three different lenses, ranging from a  collection of short stories (“Relative Strangers”) to a novel (“Close”) to a memoir (“Mommy Would You Like a Sandwich?”).

JANUARY 12-18

Judith Raskin“CLOSE,” BY ERIKA RASKIN.

Close is a novel of family and suspense. Wry single mom Kik Marcheson is dancing as hard as she can — teaching at the university, struggling with the family’s finances (which may soon include having to return the long-gone advance for her unfinished second novel), and coping with her increasingly challenging daughters.

Doone, the oldest, is swimming in the deep end of adolescence; Casey, the middle child-slash-good girl, is slowly coming undone and little Tess, the quirky kindergartner, has somewhat alarmingly introduced an invisible playmate into the family constellation.

When Doone’s activities can no longer be ignored, a TV therapist offers a hand. Caving to Casey, Kik sets aside serious misgivings and agrees to let the family participate.

And then things go from bad to terrifying.

“RELATIVE STRANGERS,” BY MARGARET HERMES.

The characters in Relative Strangers – ranging from a high school valedictorian fascinated by bees to a boy who goes through sexual awakening against a backdrop of bigotry — experience warmth as well as alienation, humor as well as heartache.

The fourteen stories are thematically linked by their close examination of relationships. In the title story, relatives are shocked by revelations about the buried pasts of family members. In ”Transubstantiation,” a long-wed couple discovers they are strangers to each other. In “Meet Me,” a much younger couple is all too willing to believe they are strangers to each other. “The River’s Daughter” explores an uneasy relationship between siblings: “Even though I came first, once Carrie was on the scene I never came first to mind. I bore the distinction of being both the oldest and an afterthought.”

The collection is meant to draw the reader in with characters and settings that might seem familiar but never ordinary. I grew up in Chicago and live in St. Louis and some of the stories are set in those cities, while others take place on a South Carolina farm, in a hospital in Duluth, at a baseball game at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, in a mythical town in the Missouri Bootheel, in a suburban nursing home, or in a nameless village in Eastern Europe where “everything was heavy — the coats, the shoes, the sky, the hearts.”

“MOMMY, DO YOU WANT A SANDWICH?” BY SUZANNE McMILLEN-FALLON.

“There’s one thing I know – God exists.” At age nineteen, MaryAnne McMillen severed two vital nerves at the base of her skull when she suffered a near fatal fall. This was followed by an out-of-body experience, life after death, in which she heard the words, “It’s not your time.”

When the two nerves fused together, MaryAnne was left in unrelenting, excruciating pain. Being the mother of a young son and married to a philandering brute of a husband when the accident occurred, the family disallowed the use of any medicine because it was against their religion. After fourteen years of agony, doctors were finally able to perform a unique surgery known as intraspinal rhizotomy. This story weaves together the idea of family and faith, while also creating a sense of longing in the reader’s own life for something bigger than themselves.

Mommy’s Writings is the extraordinary memoir of the love between a mother and her young son, and a great-grandmother whose intense devotion to the two of them kept their little family together. It is a story of faith in God, of forgiveness and acceptance, and of gratitude.

.