Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit

 

OUR OTHER CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “BENEATH STILL WATERS,” BY CYNTHIA GRAHAM, AND “DOUBLE IDENTITY,” BY JAYE C. BLAKEMORE, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST.

THE BOOK: Odd Beauty, Strange Fruit: Poems

PUBLISHED IN: October 2015

THE AUTHOR: Susan Swartwout

THE EDITOR: Jennifer Geist

THE PUBLISHER: Brick Mantel Books

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

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

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

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

REVIEW COMMENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From behind the bedsheet shuffles a scrawny woman whose bones knuckle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRICE: $14.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: sswartwout@semo.edu

Beneath Still Waters

THE BOOK: Beneath Still Waters

PUBLISHED IN: 2015

THE AUTHOR: Cynthia A. Graham

THE EDITOR: Kristina Blank Makansi and Donna Essner

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW COMMENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

Beneath Still Waters is her first novel.

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

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

PRICE: $14.95

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: graham@cynthiaagraham.com.

Double Identity

THE BOOK: Double Identity.

PUBLISHED IN: 2015

THE AUTHOR:  Jaye C Blakemore

THE EDITOR: Judith Jordon

THE PUBLISHER:  Outskirts Press.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

REVIEW COMMENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: JayeCBlakemore.com 

Weather Report, Feb. 8

 

OUR CURRENTLY FEATURED BOOKS, “WAY OPENS,” BY PATRICIA WILD and “IN HER MOTHER’S SHOES,” BY DAWN LaJEUNESSE, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, ALONG WITH FEBRUARY’S “FIRST TUESDAY REPLAY.”

UPCOMING ON SNOWFLAKES IN A BLIZZARD,  FEB. 9-15.

“ODD BEAUTY, STRANGE FRUIT,” BY SUSAN SWARTWOUT

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————–

“BENEATH STILL WATERS,” BY CYNTHIA GRAHAM

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

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

————————————————–

“DOUBLE IDENTITY,  BY JAYE C. BLAKEMORE

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Her Mother’s Shoes

THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED BOOK, “WAY OPENS,” BY PATRICIA WILD, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, ALONG WITH THIS MONTH’S “FIRST TUESDAY REPLAY.”

PUBLISHED IN: 2012

THE AUTHOR: Dawn Lajeunesse.

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

THE PUBLISHER: Dog Ear Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

REVIEW COMMENTS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FOLLOW me on Twitter: @mtnwriter77

CONNECT with me on LinkedIn: Dawn Lajeunesse, Author

 

Tuesday Replay, Feb. 2

THIS FEATURE HAS A TWO-FOLD PURPOSE: 1. TO ALLOW THOSE RECENTLY ADDED TO OUR FOLLOWER’S LIST TO LEARN ABOUT BOOKS THEY MIGHT HAVE MISSED AND 2. TO MAKE SURE PREVIOUSLY FEATURED AUTHORS AND THEIR WORK AREN’T FORGOTTEN. IF YOU’D LIKE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ANY ONE OF THE BOOKS REVISITED HERE, SIMPLY CLICK ON THE “AUTHOR” PAGE, THEN ON THAT AUTHOR’S NAME.

“CLOG,” BY DAN SMITH. ORIGINALLY FEATURED JULY 28, 2015. 

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

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

 

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

“REFUGE,” BY MELINDA INMAN. ORIGINALLY FEATURED JULY 28, 2015.

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

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

“HANNAH DELIVERED,” BY ELIZABETH JARRETT ANDREW. ORIGINALLY FEATURED JULY 31, 2015.

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

“THE LAST BEST THING,” BY KATE SEBENY. ORIGINALLY FEATURED JULY 31, 2015.

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

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

 

“SHOWING UP,” BY ERIC WEST. ORIGINALLY FEATURED AUGUST 7, 2015.

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

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

“UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: A MAD MAX MYSTERY,” BY BETSY ASHTON. ORIGINALLY FEATURED AUGUST 7, 3015.

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

Way Opens

Patricia WildPUBLISHED IN: 2008

THE AUTHOR: Patricia Wild

THE EDITOR: Joyce Maddox

THE PUBLISHER: Warwick House Publishers, Lynchburg, VA

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

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

REVIEW COMMENTS:

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

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

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

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

SAMPLE CHAPTER:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why not,” my father answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“GE?” the reporter asked.

“GE, indeed,” I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PRICE: $15.00

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