Eight out of 10 people believe they have a book in them. Do you need help getting yours out?
Eight out of 10 people believe they have a book in them. Do you need help getting yours out?
Join me in July for a Virtual Journaling Camp! Journaling Campers will write for a minimum 15 minutes per day and in a month will have collected 31 pages of dazzling, original journaling prose. Camper registration fee is $99. For this you get:
To register, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
See you at camp!
Tom Dury’s debut novel, The End of Vandalism, is a quiet book about ordinary people living in rural Minnesota. Not much happens in Grouse County, and that’s kind of reassuring in a time of climate change, uncertainty, and uncivil presidential elections.
Originally published in 1994, The End of Vandalism was compared to the works of William Faulkner and Sherwood Anderson. At the heart of this fine novel is love, a love triangle actually, between Grouse County sheriff Dan Norman, his sweet and somewhat remote wife Louise, and her former husband, Tiny Darling. Beautifully written and artfully crafted, Dury’s novel lures the reader in for a glimpse the human condition up close.
Dan Norman is a good man, an upright citizen. He manages the criminal element of Grouse County, which isn’t much. He mainly performs worthy acts, and discourages the criminal element from disturbing the pervading goodness of his town.
“One fall they held the blood drive in the fire barn at Grafton. Sheriff Dan Norman was there mainly as a gesture of good will, but one of the nurses didn’t make it , so Dan agreed to place the gauze in the crook of everyone’s arm. “And I thank you,” he would say.”
Louise is an enigma. She runs Keeborg’s Photo Studio, but doesn’t seem driven by her work. She enjoys photographing the local kids’ graduation photos and certain elected officials, but she seems to sleepwalk through it all.
These are people that you feel you somehow know, or are maybe related to. Mary, is Louise’s mother, is everyone’s mother. On the day she marries Dan, Louise is at Mary’s house, preparing for the ceremony. She negotiates with Mary’s neighbor, Heinz Miller, about whether he will attend her wedding. It’s a toss-up. Heinz is hiding out from his wife at Mary’s house, watching the Twins playing the Tigers. Heinz’s wife has discovered a bad bet he made and he isn’t anxious to be outed at Louise and Dan’s nuptials.
The lyric quality of Dury’s prose is at once calm, and compelling as he spills the secrets and trials of the citizens of Grouse County. All of the large and small moments are given equal weight, so that that the daily motions of life in rural Minnesota all become monumental, as when Louise dresses for her wedding:
“She brushed out her hair and put on her dress. It was yellow with white flowers and a low back. She tied a rose-colored ribbon in her hair, spread her arms, and turned toward the mirror. Her hair was long and brown, and the ribbon made it look coppery.
After she and Dan marry, Louise moves a small trailer onto the farm property where they live. She fixes up the trailer as a place for Dan to retreat to when he wants privacy, but instead, she occupies it. She sleeps in the trailer at night and during the day they live as any married couple, sharing meals, making love, discussing current events.
When Louise suffers an unsuccessful pregnancy, she becomes untethered. She travels with Mary to visit her aunt and uncle, Carol and Kenneth Kennedy, who run a campground on Seldom Lake, in Minnesota. They intend to stay just two weeks, but they extend their stay to four. At the end of a month, Mary returns to Grafton, and Louise stays at the lake. Eventually Louise’s heart heals for the loss of her stillborn daughter, and she returns to her husband.
“Dan like the colors of her hair and skin, the long smooth arc of her back, the sound of her breath. He thought that he would never know anyone like her. . .wrapped in each other’s arms and seeming to summon everything that had happened to them, good and bad. Their lives rushed in at them, and this is what they were holding on against.”
In the end, The End of Vandalism isn’t about vandalism at all. It’s about the gift we give to the people we love, every day. Whether we realize it at the time or not.
For anyone who has watched firestorms devour entire towns; who has watched farmland wither and die for want of water, who has wondered if our current lack of water is not just temporary, but indeed the Mother of All Droughts, Claire Vaye Watkins’ debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus is familiar territory.
In a hazy future, LA-born Luz lives in “Laurelless Canyon” with her boyfriend Ray. They are squatters in a once-famous starlet’s once-elegant house where Luz spends her days dressing up in discarded ball gowns. Ray makes lists, scavenges for gasoline, food, anything worth trading for something else.
“Your people came here looking for something better,” Ray tells Luz. “Gold, fame, citrus. Mirage. They were feckless, yeah? Schemers. That’s why no one wants them now. Mojavs.”
In Vaye Watkin’s future, California is a wasteland. The rivers are dry and the underground aquifers are dust. The sun blazes and when it does rain the air is so hot the water evaporates before it reaches the ground. The state is dry as death and anyone with any money at all has long since abandoned it.
Vaye Watkins’ prose is powerful, and her narrative true. The story is as real as it is terrifying, because in a place where water has become mythic, geography is all that’s left.
“They ate crackers and ration cola and told stories about the mountains, the valley, the canyon and the beach. The whole debris scene. Because they’d vowed to never talk about the gone water, they spoke instead of earth that moved like water.”
One night, Luz and Ray go down to the bonfires, a place where the climate refugees gather to drink, dance, forget. Down among the drifters and the druggies, the drinkers and the plain dangerous, Luz finds a strange toddler who whispers in her ear that her name is Ig, and she says “Don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell, okay?” The child appears to belong to a clutch of grifters, or to no one at all. Driven by instinct she doesn’t understand, Luz picks up the child and tells Ray they’re taking her home.
Luz and her family escape Los Angeles, heading east, seeking a place more hospitable, somewhere safer, somewhere with water. Their car breaks down in the midst of a borderless sand dune so vast it spreads and grows with all the desiccated bits of earth and stone and mountain that was once the Central Valley.
They join a band of misfits led by an enigmatic leader who is either a visionary or a madman, or both. The collective lives on the edges of the dune, surviving somehow as an outpost of civilization, moving their temporary desert city as the sand shifts and threatens to swallow them alive.
Gold Fame Citrus is a complex story of connection and belonging, of outcasts and survivors, of climate change to the extreme, and about the very small scrap of nature that humanity manages to cling to, in the most adverse conditions. Part science-fiction, part cautionary parable, it is a book worth reading if ecology means anything at all in the future of the West.
Cynthia Gregory is an award-winning author who lives and writes in the Bay Area with her rescue pup, Winston The Wonder Dog. Her new book, An Inspired Journal: the Art & Soul of Creative Nonfiction, on Green Tara Press, will be available in 2016.
That you can never truly know another person is the central truth of Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel, The Girls of Corona Del Mar, but the book is so much more than that. It is also a coming of age saga, one where the narrative begins with two golden-skinned teens in sun-drenched Corona Del Mar, and it ends years later and universes away.
At the onset, best friends Mia and Lorrie Ann share lives as intertwined as any pair of young girls. So close are they, that they can’t see the stark difference between them as anything but symbiotic. Mia’s divorcee mom scrapes by in a second-rate apartment to make ends meet. Even after she remarries and Mia’s brothers come along, they remain planted in the same spot, as if by gravity. Lorrie Ann’s parents conversely, a divinely bohemian couple, sink roots steadfastly in love and music. To Mia, Lorrie Ann’s family represents the happy ideal of an intact family.
It turns out that Mia gets pregnant in high school, and naturally, it is to Lorrie Ann that she makes her confession. Seemingly chaste Lorrie Ann, the saint to Mia’s sinner, helps her through the subsequent abortion. At the end of high school, Mia is the one who goes to Yale to pursue a degree in the classics, while Lorrie Ann becomes pregnant herself, and chooses to give up on dreams of college to have the baby.
But Lorrie Ann’s baby is born horribly deformed and from then on, she can’t seem to catch a break. She marries her baby daddy, who when his restaurant job can’t cover the requirements of his special needs family, enlists in the army. Then he is deployed to Iraq and is killed. Poor and struggling, Lorrie Ann eventually loses custody of her son.
Alternately, Mia becomes a scholar. Fifteen years later, their two lives intersect in Istanbul, where Mia and her fiancé, Franklin, are transcribing ancient narratives about the Sumerian goddess Inanna. Lorrie Ann calls Mia out of the blue and Mia goes to the marketplace to meet her, only to find her old friend traveling with a clutch of jet-setters, and addicted to heroin.
The reunion is predictably strained. Mia is just beginning to realize that she may be pregnant. She confesses as much to Lorrie Ann, who promises to keep the secret until Mia comes to terms with which path she will ultimately choose. Mia is afraid to tell Franklin, who is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. She is afraid that he won’t be ready to be, much less want to be, a father. But Lorrie Ann betrays her confidence and reveals all. One could say that as her friend, Lorrie Ann does what she feels is in Mia’s best interest. She can clearly see how much Franklin loves Mia. One could also say that as friends go, it isn’t Lorrie Ann’s secret to reveal to the fiancé of a friend she hadn’t seen in a dozen years.
Friendship. Betrayal. The nature of love, and the powerful lure of ancient mythology. Thorpe’s novel is a deep and layered journey, and for anyone who has ever deeply loved a bestie, it is well worth the exploration.
Who knew publishing was such a dangerous and glamorous profession? Though A Murder of Magpies is journalist Judith Flanders first novel, her whip smart bravura and droll sense of humor make this Murder a fun read.
“Oh, just kill me now!” I didn’t shriek that out loud, just clenched my teeth more tightly. It was eight thirty, and already the day couldn’t get much worse. I’m always at my desk by eight not because I’m so wonderful, although I am, but because it’s the only time of day when no one asks me anything, when I can actually get on with some work, instead of solving other people’s problems.”
Meet snarky book editor, Samantha (Sam) Clair. Sam has managed a fine career in the publishing business, working with a stable of writers, several of whom churn out predictably good best sellers. San is a sensible kind of gal. She’s the type of no-nonsense person who, when a meeting is disrupted by an unexpected visitor, will deal with it in her own sensible way.
“It was probably a friend of a friend, or someone who’d got my name somehow and was trying to flog a manuscript, no doubt about how his mother had abused him, or proving that his great-great-grandfather was Jack the Ripper. We don’t have to deal with real live members of the public often, but every now and again, one sneaks under the radar.”
One of Sam’s favorite writers, gorgeous Kit Lovell, is a reliably gorgeous writer. Kit covers fashion and can dish about the great design houses with the best of them. But this time, he’s written a potentially libelous biography of a fashion icon whose death appears to have been murder. While covering the human interest story about one of the largest and most respected fashion houses in Europe, Kit unintentionally uncovers an international money laundering ring. Big fashion is inextricably linked to big money and neither are pleased with Kit’s revelations.
The manuscript proves incendiary. Before long, Sam finds herself embroiled in a hot mess. Kit vanishes, a copy of his manuscript is stolen, a courier is killed, and Sam’s flat is ransacked. This is quite a lot of excitement for a woman who spends her days reading books.
After the break in Sam begins to investigate her good friend and best author’s disappearance. Companions in her quest include her corporate lawyer mother, Helena–who is astonishingly adept at untangling the kinks of the criminal mind—and a hunky police detective, Jake Field.
As a single professional woman, Sam is aware of her options. She’s had relationships, and is currently satisfied with her quiet job, and her quiet flat, with its quiet upstairs neighbor, Mr. Ridigers. She tolerates her young coworkers with a thin layer of patience while plotting ways to get her authors placed on the best book club lists. A romantic entanglement with a cop isn’t exactly her cup of tea.
In the end, Sam and Helena and Jake solve the murder of Kit – and Helena uncovers hard evidence to corroborate Kit’s fashion house money laundering scheme. Sam takes Jake as a lover, much to Helena’s approval.
Murder of Magpies is a great, fun, smart read. Don’t miss it.
A good book is a thing of beauty. A good book that makes you laugh at a sweet, goofy, human’s folly, and you have a party wrapped in a book jacket.
Peter Mehlman’s debut novel, It Won’t Always Be This Great, is quite possibly the sweetest, funniest novel orbiting the planet of mid-life crisis well, ever. Though Mehlman is no writing novice, he wrote for the Jerry Seinfeld show and rose to executive producer at one point; this is his first work of full-length fiction.
In It Won’t Always Be This Great, we meet a 50 year-old Long Island podiatrist who throughout the book remains nameless, just as he is about to hit stride in messy patch of mid-life angst. Dr. X is father to two amazing kids, lovely, precocious, 14 year old Esme, and son Charlie, who while hovering at the cusp of tweenhood, makes adorably naïve pronouncements about how the world appears to work, and according to him, how it should work. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE
It is just after World War II, and Tom Sherbourne returns to his native Australia seeking solace and normalcy after enduring the horrors experienced as a soldier on the Western Front. Kind, thoughtful, and meticulous Tom lands a job as lighthouse keeper on the island of Janus. It’s lonely work, but Tom enjoys the routine, and quiet accountability of helping to assure the safe passage of cargo and passengers off of Australia’s shoreline. He sets about making repairs to the Light, and keeps strict and meticulous records of all activity on Janus, as is his responsibility. Tom can be trusted to do a job well, and he takes great pride in being a man to be counted upon to do the right thing. To his great good fortune, if not his great surprise, Tom meets Isabel Graysmark while on leave from Janus. Isabel is everything Tom is not: gregarious, creative, outgoing. Isabel doesn’t so much seduce Tom as declare that their match is right and inescapable. An epistolary courtship follows and on his next leave from the island, Tom and Isabel are married. They return to Janus a couple, starting their life together in their own little island world. Isabel suffers a series of pitiful miscarriages, each one stealing a little more of her light.
And then one day a rowboat washes up on the island carrying a dead man and a live baby. Of course, Tom is inclined to report the incident, as is his natural and assigned responsibility. But Isabel, having lost three babies and one only recently, has been delivered an infant in need of a mother. She convinces Tom to delay reporting the body and the baby. Eventually all lines blur and Isabel names the baby Lucy and insists she is their own. As much as he loves her, Tom cannot totally reconcile baby Lucy as his; instead arguing that she belongs to someone, somewhere, who surely grieves her loss. Isabel has no such qualms. She considers Lucy a gift from God, and being mother to the little girl in all ways feels as natural to her as breathing. Like all secrets, Tom and Isabel’s slowly unravels.
On a trip to the mainland Tom encounters a woman whose child was lost at the same time that Lucy was found. Tom is devoured by guilt. On the night before the Sherbourne family is to return from the mainland to Janus, an anonymous note is found in the grieving mother’s mail box. A cryptic hand-written message assures the woman that her daughter is loved. A second trip to the mainland, a second hand-written message, and the Sherbourne’s story dissolves like paper in water. Baby Lucy is reunited with her birth mother, while Tom claims all responsibility for the deceit to protect Isabel. Following her betrayal, Isabel suffers an emotional breakdown, rejecting Tom. Lucy is torn from the loving embrace from the only mother she’s ever known, and is inconsolable, rebuffing this stranger who now possesses her, her birth mother.
The Light Between Oceans is about finding one’s way in uncertain waters. It is a book that deftly examines the choices we make, and living with the inevitable outcomes. It is about love and courage and doing the right thing. It is a book not to be missed. Cynthia G.
Inspiration comes in the most interesting places. Donna Tartt talks about hers, and what it took to write The Goldfinch. Watch the interview here and leave a comment!
Author Louise Erdrich offers what may well be the best writing advice. Ever. Listen, then leave a comment for the rest of us to chew on. Then get back to that manuscript, baby.