Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Monograph by Chris Ware


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Having been in the inhospitable Texas heat and away from the cozy gloom of winter for years, I longed for the reassuring grey hopelessness of my childhood Nebraska winters.
Monograph by Chris Ware


Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Midnight Line by Lee Child


Congratulations to Maria McMichael, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Big Christmas 2017 Book Giveaway.

This week, there’s only one book up for grabs, but oh what a book it is: The Midnight Line by Lee Child. This latest installment in the long-running Jack Reacher series is among the best of the bunch. I wholeheartedly agree with Kirkus Reviews when they say: “The book is very smart...and suggests something that has not been visible in the series’ previous entries: a creeping sadness in Reacher’s wanderings that, set here among the vast and empty landscapes of Wyoming, resembles the peculiarly solitary loneliness of the classic American hero. This return to form is also a hint of new ground to be covered.” I have a SIGNED copy to put in the hands of one lucky reader. Will it be you? Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


Lee Child returns with a gripping new powerhouse thriller featuring Jack Reacher, “one of this century’s most original, tantalizing pop-fiction heroes” (The Washington Post). Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not? So begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness. The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Midnight Line, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Dec. 14, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 15. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Sunday Sentence: What’s Wrong With You Is What’s Wrong With Me by Christian Winn


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


The index finger is in my pocket feeling like a soft twig, or a bent piece of stale licorice in my warm palm.

“The Evidence of Reno” from
What’s Wrong With You Is What’s Wrong With Me by Christian Winn


Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Big Christmas 2017 Book Giveaway


Congratulations to Lara Maynard, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers.


This week’s contest is another big box of books, full of random, eclectic, sure-to-delight reading gems. Specifically, ONE lucky reader will win a copy of ALL the following books:

Faith Fox by Jane Gardam
The Shape of Ideas by Grant Snider
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
The Extraditionist by Todd Merer
Bookshops by Jorge Carrion
Rise of the Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste
How I Lost You by Jenny Blackhurst
Keeping On Keeping On by Alan Bennett
Brave Deeds by David Abrams (print + audiobook)

Keep scrolling for more information about each of the books....

Faith Fox is the story of a motherless girl named Faith and her family and close friends, all of whom are determined to see her live a happy life. Faith’s mother died in childbirth; her overworked father cannot raise his child alone; and her unconventional grandmother refuses to acknowledge the child whose birth took away the daughter she loved. And so a motley crew of family and friends converges to see that Faith is brought up correctly. The concerned parties include Faith’s uncle, who runs a commune in northern England; the Tibetan refugees who have moved in with him; and the splendidly bickering paternal grandparents. What ensues is a brilliant comedy of manners set equally amidst high society and low. Faith Fox is a story that explores the wonder of the human heart in all its thunderous eccentricity. Gardam has mastered the essence of age and youth and above all noncomformity. Her memorable characters are sure to delight.

What does an idea look like? And where do they come from? Grant Snider’s illustrations in The Shape of Ideas will motivate you to explore these questions, inspire you to come up with your own answers and, like all Gordian knots, prompt even more questions. Whether you are a professional artist or designer, a student pursuing a creative career, a person of faith, someone who likes walks on the beach, or a dreamer who sits on the front porch contemplating life, this collection of one- and two-page comics will provide insight into the joys and frustrations of creativity, inspiration, and process—no matter your age or creative background.

As rich, wild, dark, and beautiful as its Yorkshire setting, Elmet is a gripping debut about life on the margins and the power—and limits—of family loyalty....The family thought the little house they had made themselves in Elmet, a corner of Yorkshire, was theirs, that their peaceful, self-sufficient life was safe. Cathy and Daniel roamed the woods freely, occasionally visiting a local woman for some schooling, living outside all conventions. Their father built things and hunted, working with his hands; sometimes he would disappear, forced to do secret, brutal work for money, but to them he was a gentle protector. Narrated by Daniel after a catastrophic event has occurred, Elmet mesmerizes even as it becomes clear the family’s solitary idyll will not last. When a local landowner shows up on their doorstep, their precarious existence is threatened, their innocence lost. Daddy and Cathy, both of them fierce, strong, and unyielding, set out to protect themselves and their neighbors, putting into motion a chain of events that can only end in violence.

When the world’s most notorious cartel bosses get arrested, they call Benn Bluestone. A drug lawyer sharp enough to exploit loopholes in the system, Bluestone loves the money, the women, the action that come with his career…but working between the lines of justice and crime has taken its toll, and he desperately wants out. He’s convinced himself that only an insanely rich client can guarantee him a lavish retirement. When the New Year begins with three promising cases, Bluestone thinks he’s hit pay dirt. But then the cases link dangerously together—and to his own past. Does the mysterious drug kingpin Sombra hold the key to Bluestone’s ambitions? Or does the key open a door that could bring the entire federal justice system to a screeching halt and net Bluestone a life in jail without parole?

In the spirit of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s The Language of Flowers--and with a touch of the magical--The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a spellbinding debut about a wondrously gifted child and the family that she helps to heal. Sisters Rose and Lily Martin were inseparable when growing up on their family’s Kentucky flower farm yet became distant as adults when Lily found herself unable to deal with the demands of Rose’s unusual daughter. But when Rose becomes ill, Lily is forced to return to the farm and to confront the fears that had driven her away. Rose’s daughter, ten-year-old Antoinette, has a form of autism that requires constant care and attention. She has never spoken a word, but she has a powerful gift that others would give anything to harness--she can heal with her touch. She brings wilted flowers back to life, makes a neighbor’s tremors disappear, and even changes the course of nature on the flower farm. Antoinette’s gift, though, comes at a price, since each healing puts her own life in jeopardy. As Rose--the center of her daughter’s life--struggles with her own failing health and Lily confronts her anguished past, the sisters, and the men who love them, come to realize the sacrifices that must be made to keep this very special child safe. Written with great heart and a deep understanding of what it feels like to be different, The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a novel about what it means to be family and about the lengths to which people will go to protect the ones they love.

In The Unbelievable FIB: Over the Underworld, friends ABE and Pru race to stop the chain of events foretold in Norse myth to lead to Ragnarok--the war that ends the world. It’s been a year since friends ABE and Pru joined Mister Fox’s Fantasy Investigation Bureau to save their hometown from an invasion of Viking gods and giants. Life has been incredibly ordinary ever since. Then the Norse Allfather, Odin, appears with terrible news: Baldur, his favorite son, has been murdered--the first step in a fated chain of events that leads to Ragnarok. Over the Underworld, the second book in the Unbelievable FIB series, takes ABE and Pru on a thrilling new adventure. They outrun trolls, explore Asgard and the Viking underworld, and try to outsmart the Queen of the Dead herself to save the world--and survive seventh grade.

Jorge Carrion collects bookshops: from Gotham Book Mart and the Strand Bookstore in New York City to City Lights Bookshop and Green Apple Books in San Francisco and all the bright spots in between (Prairie Lights, Tattered Cover, and countless others). In this thought-provoking, vivid, and entertaining essay, Carrion meditates on the importance of the bookshop as a cultural and intellectual space. Filled with anecdotes from the histories of some of the famous (and not-so-famous) shops he visits on his travels, thoughtful considerations of challenges faced by bookstores, and fascinating digressions on their political and social impact, Bookshops is both a manifesto and a love letter to these spaces that transform readers’ lives.

With action-packed storytelling and inventive twists on Caribbean and West African mythology and fairy tales, Rise of the Jumbies is a breathlessly exciting tale of courage and friendship. Corinne LaMer defeated the wicked jumbie Severine months ago, but things haven’t exactly gone back to normal in her Caribbean island home. Everyone knows Corinne is half-jumbie, and many of her neighbors treat her with mistrust. When local children begin to go missing, snatched from the beach and vanishing into wells, suspicious eyes turn to Corinne. To rescue the missing children and clear her own name, Corinne goes deep into the ocean to find Mama D’Leau, the dangerous jumbie who rules the sea. But Mama D’Leau’s help comes with a price. Corinne and her friends Dru, Bouki, and Malik must travel with mermaids across the ocean to fetch a powerful object for Mama D’Leau. The only thing more perilous than Corinne’s adventures across the sea is the jumbie that waits for her back home.

In How I Lost You, a woman without a memory struggles to discover the truth about her past and her identity in this cerebral and dark thriller reminiscent of works by bestselling authors S.J. Watson and Ruth Ware: I have no memory of what happened but I was told I killed my son. And you believe what your loved ones, your doctor and the police tell you, don't you? My name is Emma Cartwright. Three years ago I was Susan Webster, and I murdered my twelve-week-old son Dylan. I was sent to Oakdale Psychiatric Institute for my crime, and four weeks ago I was released early on parole with a new identity, address, and a chance to rebuild my tattered life. This morning, I received an envelope addressed to Susan Webster. Inside it was a photograph of a toddler called Dylan. Now I am questioning everything I believe because if I have no memory of the event, how can I truly believe he's dead? If there was the smallest chance your son was alive, what would you do to get him back?

Alan Bennett’s third collection of prose, Keeping On Keeping On, follows in the footsteps of the phenomenally successful Writing Home and Untold Stories. Bringing together the hilarious, revealing, and lucidly intelligent writing of one of England’s best-known literary figures, Keeping On Keeping On contains Bennett’s diaries from 2005 to 2015―with everything from his much celebrated essays to his irreverent comic pieces and reviews―reflecting on a decade that saw four major theater premieres and the films of The History Boys and The Lady in the Van. A chronicle of one of the most important literary careers of the twentieth century, Keeping On Keeping On is a classic history of a life in letters.

Brave Deeds is a compelling novel of war, brotherhood, and America. Spanning eight hours, the novel follows a squad of six AWOL soldiers as they attempt to cross war-torn Baghdad on foot to attend the funeral of their leader, Staff Sergeant Rafe Morgan. As the men make their way to the funeral, they recall the most ancient of warriors yet are a microcosm of twenty-first-century America, and subject to the same human flaws as all of us. Drew is reliable in the field but unfaithful at home; Cheever, overweight and whining, is a friend to no one―least of all himself; and platoon commander Dmitri “Arrow” Arogapoulos is stalwart, yet troubled with questions about his own identity and sexuality. Emotionally resonant, true-to-life, and thoughtfully written, Brave Deeds is a gripping story of combat and of perseverance, and an important addition to the oeuvre of contemporary war fiction. (As a bonus, I’m also throwing in a copy of the audiobook version of the novel, in case you’re one of those readers who likes to ingest their books through the ears...)

If you’d like a chance at winning ALL THE BOOKS, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Dec. 7, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 8. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Ever since my father died a few years ago, my mother and I lived together politely.

“Black-Eyed Women” from The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen


Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers


Congratulations to Tammy Zambo, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.

This week’s contest is for The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers, now out in paperback from Algonquin Books. Diane Chamberlain, author of The Silent Sister, had this to say about the novel: “Susan Rivers sets this spellbinding, haunting human drama against the backdrop of the Civil War. Told through exquisitely crafted letters and diary entries, the delicious pacing leads to revelations both intriguing and unnerving. I was sorry to reach the end of this stunning debut.”  Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


“All I had known for certain when I came around the hen house that first evening in July and saw my husband trudging into the yard after lifetimes spent away from us, a borrowed bag in his hand and the shadow of grief on his face, was that he had to be protected at all costs from knowing what had happened in his absence. I did not believe he could survive it.”
When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away? Inspired by a true incident, this saga conjures the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel as her views on race and family are transformed. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how that generation--and the next--began to see their world anew.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Second Mrs. Hockaday, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 30, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 1. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The End We Start From by Megan Hunter


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


We are told not to panic, the most panic-inducing instruction known to man.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter


Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Freebie: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan


Congratulations to Barbara Tricario, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: the new Penguin Classics edition of Picnic at Hanging Rock, the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay.

This week’s contest is for Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. One lucky reader will win a new paperback movie-tie-in edition of the 2008 novel The Washington Post Book World calls “A compelling family tragedy, a confluence of romantic attraction and racial hatred that eventually falls like an avalanche...The last third of the book is downright breathless.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


In Hillary Jordan’s prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband’s Mississippi Delta farm—a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family’s struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not—charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion. The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale.

If you’d like a chance at winning Mudbound, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 23, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 24. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Woodsburner by John Pipkin


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


At every square and intersection in Boston, she heard shouts from vendors hawking oysters and fresh fish and hot corn and raspberries and milk and sweet doughnuts fried in pig fat. Everywhere the air smelled of cooking, as if America were one vast kitchen, and it seemed she need only breathe to fill herself with food.

Woodsburner by John Pipkin


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Chasing Spiders With a Pen: Gary Reilly’s War



by Mark Stevens

I know jackshit about war. In particular, Vietnam.

I had a low draft number but then the draft was cancelled, right when I was thinking about Canada. Or some other escape. Bone spurs? A high school friend had died in Vietnam. It scared the hell out of me.

I’ve seen the movies and I’ve read the books:

Platoon. Saving Private Ryan. Deer Hunter. Full Metal Jacket.

Matterhorn, Tree of Smoke, Dog Soldiers, Going After Cacciato.

But, still, I can only imagine.

I watched the Ken Burns documentary and tried not to throw anything at the television; all those lies.

Goodreads has a list of 280 novels about The Vietnam War. Would that do the trick?

I doubt it. Can art really capture the mental toll of war? I’m sure it comes close, in many cases.

It’s the same with coming home from war. I have no idea what it’s like to come home, to have seen so much death and killing and to have survived. I’m sure surviving is better, right?

The statistics suggest maybe, maybe not.

My friend Gary Reilly knew. He served in Vietnam. He was an MP at an airfield called Qui Nho’n. One year “in country,” not even in combat, and I believe he carried it around with him for the rest of his life.

Gary didn’t talk much about the war when he got home, in 1971. The war was winding down, but war is war. If you’re fighting, you’re fighting. By the end of 1971 “only” 151,000 U.S. soldiers would be in Vietnam; down from a half-million at the war’s peak.

I didn’t meet Gary until 2004, 33 years after he came back from Vietnam.

A couple weeks ago, I emailed Gary’s longtime partner, Sherry, to see if her recollection was the same as mine—that Gary didn’t talk about that year. Sherry agreed. She wrote: “Gary did not like to talk much about being in Vietnam. He would have nightmares sometimes that he associated with Vietnam, but he didn't talk about that much either. Sometimes he would wake up at night, yelling and trying to get the spiders off of him. He would say in his nightmare he was in Vietnam, being attacked by bugs. That was a recurring nightmare. He did talk sometimes about how he never took advantage of an ‘RnR’ that he may have been entitled to because he said once he left Vietnam, he would never be able to return.”

Gary didn’t talk much about those spiders, but he had an outlet: writing fiction. Shortly after returning from Vietnam, Gary took classes at the University of Colorado at Denver. The teachers were impressed with his style. Encouraged, Gary sent one story called “The Biography Man” off to the prestigious Iowa Review. It was published. And re-published the next year in the fourth volume of the Pushcart Prize Anthology. That particular story had nothing to do with Vietnam, but maybe it gave him a boost of confidence to keep writing.

On second thought, I doubt he needed it.

Gary was going to write.

And write.

“The Biography Man” was the first—and only story—that Gary published in his lifetime. (It’s a beauty; I’ve never read anything like it.)

One story—that was it.

When Gary passed away in 2011, however, he left behind 25 full-length novels.

Three of the 25 novels featured a character named Private Palmer, an MP who went to Vietnam and was part of the war. The first, The Enlisted Men’s Club, takes place at The Presidio as Palmer waits for the call up, unsure if it will come. The second book, The Detachment, takes place in Vietnam. And The Discharge finds Palmer at home in Denver trying to find a foothold back in civilization. The books form a seamless trilogy of one man’s journey to war—and back.

I’ve read all three—several times. I still know jackshit about what it’s like to go to war. I don’t have nightmares about spiders.

All three novels feature the war—getting ready, living with it, and dealing with the aftermath. Palmer is jaded. He finds ways to endure, to survive military stupidity and “shit jobs,” as he calls them. Palmer has his avoidance schemes, but in all three books he finds ways to connect with others, to assert or maintain his humanity.

As I write this, there are 1.3 million men and women in active duty in the U.S. armed forces. There are 10,000 stationed in Afghanistan, a war that has been going on since long before I met Gary Reilly for the first time. There are thousands in Bahrain and Kuwait and tens of thousands in South Korea and Japan, which could be a hot spot any moment, and of course now we know they’re in Niger and all over Africa, too.

We ask the soldiers to bear that weight but we really have no idea what toll that takes, thinking daily “what if?” Do they know what they’re getting into? Do they? They’re all okay with dying for the cause, for the country?

Some soldiers look down the barrels of their weapons. They are there to kill. Others are in what’s called “the rear.” During Vietnam, if you served in the rear, you were a REMF.

I didn’t know that acronym, or what it stood for, before a review of The Detachment was published by a book reviewer for the Vietnam Veterans of America: “Reilly gives the reader an immersion in this aspect of the Army throughout this fine novel of service in the rear. I add it to the short list of worthy novels of the REMF in Vietnam. Service in the rear was the majority experience, although it is seldom given respect or space in the Vietnam War canon.”

REMF: Rear-echelon motherfuckers. Support troops.

Gary Reilly didn’t see action. He was pure REMF.

Reilly didn’t see action and, of course, neither did his alter-ego, Palmer. (Even from his close-up vantage point for war, Reilly saw no need to take his fiction beyond what he had seen with his own two eyes; Palmer’s world was no more expansive than Reilly’s own.) Palmer didn’t see direct combat, but he saw the consequences of war all around him. The war came to him.

And took a toll.

We all know about that toll—the mental health, the injuries, the empty holes in families, the lost potential. I won’t go into detail here, only urge—if you’re curious—to read Gary Reilly’s view of Vietnam.

I’m not the only enthusiast of Gary’s work. As mentioned, the book reviewer for The Vietnam Veterans of America wrote a rave. Booklist praised Gary’s work as well. Here’s a note from a review of The Detachment: “Palmer’s mission is so banal most writers would not describe it, but Reilly describes it, and the result is that rarest thing in fiction, originality. His novel is a harsh and startling corrective to those foggy old vets who elevate their undistinguished service into something glorious.”

Ron Carlson raved (“Catch 23 or 24”) as did Stewart O’Nan (“classic.”) Both amazing writers if you don’t know them. O’Nan edited The Vietnam Reader.

Ernest Hemingway said to “write one true sentence” to get rolling. If you wrote one true sentence, you could take it from there. Hemingway was opposed to ornaments in writing.

Reilly left behind tens of thousands of true sentences. Here’s one paragraph from The Detachment:
The building shivers as a soft boom rolls across Qui Nhon, across the evac hospital, across the airfield, and the 109th, and beyond. Palmer sets the paperback down and sits absolutely motionless, waiting for another explosion. The VC must be tossing mortars again. He suddenly wants sky over his head, wants to be able to see everything around him, feels trapped inside this box of a room and wants to get out, to be able to see if there’s somebody he has to shoot at. He’s glad he’s good with the .45. Barely made sharpshooter with the M-14, but then he might be better with the M-16, a crazy spring in its butt to absorb the kick, probably thought up by the genius who designed the briefcase handle. Palmer scoots his chair back and stands up, casually turns and begins strolling down the aisle between the beds where men are sleeping. Nobody but himself seems to have noticed the boom. Maybe it takes more than the gentle shiver of a building to alarm infantrymen. Probably more attuned to real danger than Palmer ever will be.
That was Gary’s writing about war—chasing away the spiders with the work of his pen, one true sentence at a time.



Note: To date, in addition to Gary’s Vietnam novels, Running Meter Press has also published eight novels in The Asphalt Warrior series, comic adventures about a Denver cab driver named Murph. Three of the eight books were finalists for the Colorado Book Award and a reviewer for National Public Radio declared them “huge fun.” More about all of Gary’s work: www.theasphaltwarrior.com

Raised outside Boston, Mark Stevens is the son of two librarians. By law, he was required to grow up loving books. And writing. He was the 2016 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series—Antler Dust, Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire. The last three books were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award. Trapline won (2015). Stevens is president of the Rocky Mountain chapter for Mystery Writers of America and serves on the national board. He also hosts a regular podcast for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire “irresistible” and Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire novels, said, “Mark Stevens writes like wildfire.”


Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Freebie: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay


Congratulations to Jennifer Oleson Boyd, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s debut collection of short stories To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts.

This week’s contest is for the new Penguin Classics edition of Picnic at Hanging Rock, the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay which inspired the riveting, haunting, and unforgettable 1975 film by Peter Weir. The new Penguin edition includes an introduction by Maile Meloy (author of Do Not Become Alarmed). Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


A 50th-anniversary edition of the landmark novel about three “gone girls” that inspired the acclaimed 1975 film and an upcoming TV series starring Natalie Dormer. It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned.....Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.

If you’d like a chance at winning Picnic at Hanging Rock, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 16, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 17. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Smoke of Horses by Charles Rafferty


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Famous people have been dying all week, and the Christmas tree just stopped drinking.

“Forecast” from The Smoke of Horses by Charles Rafferty


Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Freebie: To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie


Congratulations to Jane Rainey, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Freebird by Jon Raymond.

This week, I am especially pleased to offer up a copy of Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s debut collection of short stories To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts to one lucky reader. Here’s what Peter Geye, author of Wintering, had to say about the book: “It’s been a long time since I read a collection of stories that amazed me from cover to cover, but that’s what Caitlin Summie’s To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts did. With the grace and elegance of a master, Summie lays bare our vulnerabilities and desires and hopes in equal measure. The result is one stunning story after another, each as lovely and heartfelt as the one before. If you’re a fan of Grace Paley or Ann Beattie or Tobias Wolfe, you’ll surely find something to love in these pages.” Keep scrolling for more information about To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts...


In these ten elegantly written short stories, Caitlin Hamilton Summie takes readers from WWII Kansas City to a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood in New York, and from the quiet of rural Minnesota to its pulsing Twin Cities, each time navigating the geographical boundaries that shape our lives as well as the geography of tender hearts, loss, and family bonds. Deeply moving and memorable, To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts examines the importance of family, the defining nature of place, the need for home, and the hope of reconciliation.

If you’d like a chance at winning To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. This contest is limited to U.S. addresses only. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 9, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 10. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Monday, October 30, 2017

My First Time: Melissa Fraterrigo


My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Melissa Fraterrigo, author of the novel Glory Days, now out from the University of Nebraska Press. Melissa also wrote the short story collection The Longest Pregnancy. Her fiction and non-fiction have appeared in more than forty literary journals and anthologies from Shenandoah and The Massachusetts Review to storySouth, Notre Dame Review, and Prairie Schooner. She has been a finalist for awards from Glimmer Train on multiple occasions, twice nominated for Pushcart Awards, and was the winner of the Sam Adams/Zoetrope: All Story Short Fiction Contest. She is founder and executive director of the Lafayette Writers Studio, in Lafayette, Indiana, where she also teaches classes on the art and craft of writing. To learn more visit melissafraterrigo.com


The First Time I Read to My Dad

I was nervous the first time my dad came to a reading. It was for my first book, the short story collection, The Longest Pregnancy. The reading was held in my hometown library, in one of the meeting rooms with glass doors that I used to walk past on my way to the children’s section with its bright tables and mini stage and bathroom with a toilet that fit my child-sized bum perfectly.

My father brought me to the library most weeks when I was a child. We would enter the building together and he’d walk me to the children’s section, then send me off while he went upstairs to check out thick tomes with images of WWII bombers involved in firefights or a Civil War battlefield, with the close-up of two soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. Guns and flack jackets. Hardtack and government-issued cigarettes. Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force.

Despite never serving his country, my dad has a great reverence for this sort of factual writing, as showcased by the books he selected. I, on the other hand, loved the imaginary world of fiction. Stories took me away from our small suburban town with its bland brick bungalows and staid expectations. At home, I had two choices: I could be a nurse like my mom, or a teacher. But inside the pages of a book, I could be a girl on the frontier or own a talking poodle with a scheme for getting rich.

My dad and I both loved books yet had vastly different tastes.

Alas, reading fiction was a fine past time for an eight-year-old, but it was not something to study in college and certainly not something to focus on during graduate school. So while I gave in to my father and earned the steady teaching degree he advised, the gnawing urge to write never left me and I decided to pursue an MFA in creative writing at Bowing Green State University.

“Fiction is not real,” my dad told me, the day before I left for Bowling Green, Ohio, where I would begin my graduate studies. Fortunately, by then, I had all but stopped listening to him.


So here we were back at the Lansing Public Library nearly a decade after I began graduate school, celebrating the release of my first book of short stories. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. My dad sat beside my mother in the front row. My nerves were frayed. One of my preschool teachers held her hands in her lap and next to her was the neighbor whose kids I used to babysit. One of the librarians introduced me and the reading started off like any other. I began to read “Scar Serum,” a story about a portly girl who becomes enamored with her neighbor, an inventor. Mr. Carpone’s latest invention is a serum that remedies wounds in an instant and in order to test the serum, Mr. Carpone must remove some of the protagonist’s clothes and place her in exceedingly challenging positions.

Now, nothing energizes me more than reading my work and experiencing the immediacy of the audience; only this time, as I read, I felt like I stood inside a sauna rather than the library. Sweat trickled down my armpits and along the backs of my thighs. I felt it pooling in the crevices behind my knees and I began to drift off. I felt otherworldly. I arrived at the place in the story where the protagonist is at her most vulnerable. And so was I, as I read the line “. . . her underpants were white and generous.”

Words still slid from my mouth, but I could not rid myself of the thought that my dad was sitting a few feet away, legs and arms crossed, while I rambled on about a character’s undergarments.

I tried not to look at him or my mom. I reminded myself to stay calm. I was almost finished. I could do this. But these entreaties were not enough. Soon my vision narrowed and grew dotty and someone brought me a chair—or did I simply walk into the audience and sit down? I do remember taking a seat and helping myself to a tissue from the little plastic packet my mother extended to me. I dabbed my face. Breathed. After a few moments, I again stood and finished reading the story and then as my preschool teacher and neighbor and other members of the audience applauded, I glanced at my dad. His grin was wide and unmistakable, the warmth of it so bright that I immediately matched it with my own. And as I stood there dopey faced with glee, I looked away. Later he hugged me and told me he was proud of me. He didn’t need to say it. I knew how he felt, but I thanked him regardless.

I no longer think I have as much to prove to my dad. He knows that I’ve spent much of my professional life writing and teaching others about the craft, and while I know what I create will never be as vivid to him as a battlefield, I’d like to think he respects my work. Regardless, readings can still be a little nerve-wracking for me and with the release of my new novel I don’t want to take any chances. The truth is I need to find a way a nice way to encourage my dad to stay home.


Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Since their argument, they have addressed one another with the caution of a bare foot avoiding shards of glass.

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer


Friday, October 27, 2017

Friday Freebie: Freebird by Jon Raymond


Congratulations to John Smith, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: the new novel by Eric Rickstad, The Names of Dead Girls.

This week’s contest is for Freebird, a novel by Jon Raymond which came out earlier this year from Graywolf Press. I have a new hardcover copy of the book to give away to one lucky reader. Here’s what Benjamin Percy (author of The Dark Net) had to say about the novel: “No one writes sentences so graceful and characters so achingly real as Jon Raymond. Sometimes sad, sometimes hilarious, oftentimes at the same moment, Freebird is the gripping story of a dysfunctional family through which we better understand these dysfunctional times.” Keep scrolling for more information about Freebird...

The Singers, an all-American family in the California style, are about to lose everything. Anne is a bureaucrat in the Los Angeles Office of Sustainability whose ideals are compromised by a proposal from a venture capitalist seeking to privatize the city’s wastewater. Her brother, Ben, a former Navy SEAL, returns from Afghanistan disillusioned and struggling with PTSD, and starts down a path toward a radical act of violence. And Anne’s teenage son, Aaron, can’t decide if he should go to college or pitch it all and hit the road. They all live inside the long shadow of the Singer patriarch Grandpa Sam, whose untold experience of the Holocaust shapes his family’s moral character to the core. Jon Raymond, screenwriter of the acclaimed films Meek’s Cutoff and Night Moves, combines these narrative threads into a hard-driving story of one family’s moral crisis. In Freebird, Raymond delivers a brilliant, searching novel about death and politics in America today, revealing how the fates of our families are irrevocably tied to the currents of history.

If you’d like a chance at winning Freebird, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 2, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 3. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Monday, October 23, 2017

My First Time: Roz Morris


My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Roz Morris, author of Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction. Roz is an award-nominated novelist (My Memories of a Future LifeLifeform Three), book doctor to award-winning writers, has sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter and teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian. Not Quite Lost is her first collection of essays. Visit Roz at her website, her blog, Facebook and Twitter.


My First Distraction

Many creatives don't confine themselves to one field. If you've got inventive urges in one discipline you might well have them in others. And you might easily be led astray.

My first major distraction project came in the 1990s. I was working as a sub-editor on a magazine and was supposed to be guarding my weekends to write The Novel. This was The Novel I could then use to dazzle an agent. I hoped it would start the writing career I’d begun to seriously aim for. But the manuscript was a monstrous mess. On a Saturday morning, I’d sit at the computer, open the files and they would make no sense. Characters, plot and my intentions were like a language whose vocabulary and grammar I’d forgotten.

I was an ideal candidate for distraction.

In my teen years I had been a music dabbler. I’d spend long hours at a piano, writing songs. Later I was in a student band. Afterward, writing fiction became the chief creative obsession, but occasionally I strayed back to music. When I discovered a friend (day job in high finance) was also a recovering teen musician, I couldn’t resist a Saturday making glorious noise. Just one.

Stephane came round with his keyboard. I blew the dust off my upright piano. We hit a hitch immediately. Stephane was classically trained and my hamfisted key-bashing couldn't keep up with his jazzy polish, though he was too polite to say so. What could we play that would be bearable? There, on the sideboard, was inspiration. My husband, an author, was putting together a proposal with an illustrator for a series of books for children. We spread out the artwork on the dining table—enchanting pictures of a green garden with roguish and lovable creatures.

Stephane and I composed a piece of music for one of the pictures. I figured out a melody. He added the professional zing. It was such a buzz that we wrote another.

The composition became a major task. Weekend after weekend, my tough-as-gristle novel sat untouched on my hard drive. Meanwhile Stephane and I wrote signature tunes for all the characters. Something slinky for the fox. A languid musical yawn for a sleepy cat that lived on the garden wall. Upstairs, husband and artist worked on the proposal, and when they needed a break they amused themselves with a cup of tea and a slice of home-made music.

Finally, the itch scratched, I went back to my novel. I’d like to say the musical detour had given my grey cells a refreshing break, but the novel was more opaque than ever.


My second distraction project was much more recent. I had now mastered two novels into published form and was on my third. I came back from holiday, sleeves rolled up for serious revision. I knew my manuscript needed a lot of time and understanding. But when I opened the file, it seemed to be mumbling from a far-off land where nothing made sense. I took the coward’s way out. I spent five days designing, typesetting and printing a personal recipe book, just for me.

It was such fun to use my professional know-how for sheer amusement. Curating the content from scrappy scribblings. Finding a use for the photos of dinner parties. Writing jaunty back-cover copy (If you see this book in use, keep calm and drink more).

Happy explorations; joy in the act of creativity; gratitude for whatever inspiration came on the day. It was so carefree. Writing my novels wasn’t like this, but I realised it had been in the earliest days. Once writing became my vocation, my commitment and even my bid to leave a little significance behind me, there were expectations. It could never again be taken lightly. There was the possibility, always, of failure. The distraction project, on the other hand, was an airy lark. Forgiving of inadequacy. It could never disappoint me.

But when I returned to my novel, some of that new ease remained, like a glow from a good holiday. In making a quick, cheeky book for myself, I’d reminded myself I was naturally creative. I was a person who could make something out of nothing. In using grown-up tools for play, I’d remembered the simple satisfaction of making books. I learned not to take myself so seriously. I also felt more masterful when back in my proper element.

Alas, other work got in the way. Consultancy and teaching derailed my plans again. I struggled to keep connected to the novel. A year on, I returned from another holiday, having cleared some time and....

I wrote a lighthearted travel memoir instead. My biggest distraction project yet.

I blame my husband. He spotted that I had a travel diary. Make it into a book, he said.

Don’t be silly, I said. I write novels. And anyway, those are just doodles.

But I can resist anything except temptation.

Editing the travel diary was more work than I imagined. It took much longer than a week or two. But it became my most rewarding detour yet.


I was used to writing big stories. My fictional characters endure immense turmoil. My real life isn’t like that, for which I must be thankful, but that meant the events in my travel diary were of a light and low-key hue. What’s more, they couldn’t be tweaked to create more drama. All the interest would come from presentation, interpretation, performance. How another person’s eccentricities help you discover your own edges. How a house being demolished is a reckoning with a childhood. The language of the personal essay.

Fast forward a few months, and I am back to the novel with more tools in my belt.

This travel diary was the tune-up I needed. It strengthened my repertoire, like cross-training. I’ve found narrative shapes in surprising places. I’ve let the mystery of a moment or a place speak for itself. I’ve noticed more how small events can shift your comprehension, or a reader’s. And, most thrillingly, I’ve seen that a novel is, in some ways, a personal essay for the characters.

And, for the first time, one of my distraction projects has grown up into an actual, presentable thing—Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction. It has reminded me that this process is frustrating and demanding, but so satisfying too. And that it always starts with play.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Smoke of Horses by Charles Rafferty


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


The sunlight in the leaves is dazzling and wild, sharp as broken vodka bottles.

“An Adulterous Spring” from The Smoke of Horses by Charles Rafferty


Friday, October 20, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Names of Dead Girls by Eric Rickstad


Congratulations to Michael Cooper, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller.

This week’s contest is for the new novel by Eric Rickstad, The Names of Dead Girls. I have a signed copy ready to put in one lucky reader’s hands. Here’s what others have been saying about the book: “Eric Rickstad is the rare writer who can wrap a dark, gritty story in smooth, poetic prose. If you haven’t discovered his work yet, The Names of Dead Girls is the place to start. It’s a taut, masterful thriller and a terrific read.” (Alafair Burke, New York Times bestselling author of The Ex) Keep scrolling for more information about the novel...


New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Eric Rickstad delivers another Canaan Crime novel and features once again detectives Frank Rath and Sonja Test as they track a depraved killer through rural Vermont. Every murder tells a story. Some stories never end....In a remote northern Vermont town, college student Rachel Rath is being watched. She can feel the stranger’s eyes on her, relentless and possessive. And she’s sure the man watching her is the same man who killed her mother and father years ago: Ned Preacher, a serial rapist and murderer who gamed the system to get a light sentence. Now, he’s free. Detective Frank Rath adopted Rachel, his niece, after the shocking murder of her parents when she was a baby. Ever since, Rath’s tried to protect her from the true story of her parents’ deaths. But now Preacher is calling Rath to torment him. He’s threatening Rachel and plotting cruelties for her, of the flesh and of the mind. When other girls are found brutally murdered, and a woman goes missing, Rath and Detective Sonja Test must untangle the threads that tie these new crimes and some long-ago nightmares together. Soon they will learn that the truth is more perverse than anyone could guess, rife with secrets, cruel desires, and warped, deadly loyalty. Mesmerizing, startling, and intricately plotted, The Names of Dead Girls builds relentlessly on its spellbinding premise, luring readers into its dark and macabre mystery, right to its shocking end.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Names of Dead Girls, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 26, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 27. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Monday, October 16, 2017

My First Time: Eric Rickstad



My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Eric Rickstad, the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Canaan Crime Series: Lie in Wait, The Silent Girls, and, his newest novel, The Names of Dead Girls. Dark, disturbing and compulsively readable psychological thrillers set in northern Vermont, the series is heralded as intelligent, profound, heartbreaking and mind shattering. His first novel Reap was a New York Times noteworthy novel. His fifth novel, What Remains of Her, is poised to be the most addictive and creepy read of the summer of 2018. Rickstad lives in his home state of Vermont.


The First Time I Knew I Had to Write

I can’t remember a time I did not read. Long before it was ever expected that kids “graduate” from kindergarten with the ability to read, I was reading at the age of four. In the fifth grade, I attended “literary luncheon” with the school librarian. Twice a week, instead of having lunch in the cafeteria, ten 5th graders met with the librarian in the principle’s conference room to discuss the merits of Encyclopedia Brown, The Secret Garden, Charlotte’s Web, Danny Champion of the World, and Freckle Juice.

I always wrote, too. When I read, I wanted to know how the writer did that, how she used words to manipulate my emotions so I felt sad or happy or scared, or conjured images as real as any object in the physical world. So, I wrote. Yet even with the influence of all the wonderful authors, my “writing” was not with purpose or intent or passion. I was in grade school after all, so my writing did not come from inside me. I mimicked the writing of authors I liked, and was typical gruesome kid stories, rip offs of stories such as Roald Dahl’s “Pig.” My version of “Pig” was missing the social satire —way over my head at the time—and concentrated on the gore and horror, putting a man through a bubble gum maker instead of an abattoir, stretching and torturing him until he came out the other side as a wad of bubble gum, got chewed by a cat, spat out on a sidewalk, stuck to a shoe, and so on.

Then, one summer day when I was still in junior high, my older sister’s boyfriend popped a cassette tape in the player as he drove his rusted, primer gray convertible VW Bug down the highway, and said: “Listen to this.”

The opening piano notes of a song played, and a voice sang, the words combining to create a story, a magic, of the likes I’d never heard.

The screen door slams/ Mary’s dress waves / Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays.

I saw Mary in her dress. I saw her standing on the porch. By the song’s finale, I saw her graduation gown lying in rags at their feet. I felt the lonely cool before dawn and heard their engines rolling on. I felt her aloneness, and the narrator’s aloneness and desperation and sincerity for something different, something more.

As the album continued, I felt the earnestness and fleetingness of youth and love, and their often broken promises. I felt the pain in the words. The lust and sadness. The struggle. The triumph. The loss. I felt the shots echo down them hallways in the night. I felt the hot sun and the mysterious nights and the complete freedom yet imprisonment of driving with no place to go. I had not yet lived any of these things, and I say I felt them because I did not really understand them. Yet, my gut and my heart felt it all, were awakened by the lyrics in a way no novel or short story had awakened them. That album reached me because of a deep loss in my life. My father had left my mom and three sisters and me a few years earlier, and that void, the pain and loneliness of it, was understood and respected in the words I heard blasting out the car speakers.

I saved up and bought the album and I played it over and over and over again trying to decipher its mysteries. I fell asleep listening to it, and awoke to the stylus of my cheap record player scratching in its endless final groove, cssuuusssh cssusssh csusssh, and before I rose from bed, I’d pick up the needle’s arm and set the needle back at the beginning to start my day.


Lyrics such as Barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge / Drinking warm beer in the soft summer rain and The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all / They just stand back and let it all be cut to the quick. I knew nothing of this guy Springsteen. But I knew he meant it. He got it. He understood; and as I began to read about him, I saw comparisons in our lives of growing up working class poor, and our estrangement from our father’s, our loneliness and sense of being observers, outsiders, and a shared urgency to put all of it down on paper, into stories that tried to make sense of it and of our place in the world. He took the common and spun myths out of it. His lyrics made me want to write. For the first time. Really write. Even though I was incapable of doing it justice at that age, I knew I had to write what was within me. Let it explode on the page, however awful the adolescent writing was, however convoluted or self-pitying, or navel gazing, or juvenile. I had to write, because those lyrics also made me feel I had something to say, that we all do.

So, I wrote. And I’ve never stopped. I wrote, and learned how to “show” and not “tell” by listening to Born to Run, Darkness on the Edge of Town and Nebraska thousands of times. I wrote, influenced by lyrics that possessed a singular voice, deep internalized emotion, a keen sense of place and story, and a lingering sense of mystery as to how the precise combination of words can resonate so powerfully. There is a magic to it.

I’ve tried to bring those essential elements to everything I’ve ever written, and it’s that combination I seek and admire most in novels and short stories I read, no matter how dissimilar they may be in many other ways. To give readers a sense that they’re reading a story or novel no one else could have written but me, a novel or story that impacts them, makes them think or feel, is a joy. If any of my stories or novels holds up to retain a sense of mystery, I’ve done my job well. After so many years of listening to Born to Run, even though each lyric and note was memorized long ago, their mystery remains. The magic remains.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Midnight Line by Lee Child


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Right away he saw Billy was a hardscrabble country boy, maybe forty years old, lean and furtive, like a fox and a squirrel had a kid, and spent half the time baking it in the sun, and the other half beating it with a stick.

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday Freebie: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller


Congratulations to Kristen Lodge, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash.

This week’s contest could be called a Freaky Friday the 13th Freebie. I’ve Monster Mashed a couple of books together just in time for Halloween. One lucky reader will win the Penguin Classics Deluxe edition of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller. So, there’s one for you and one for the kids (or, depending on your age, one for you and one for the grownups). Keep reading...if you dare...


First up is the deluxe edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the haunting adventure about ambition and modernity run amok. The Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of the 1818 classic has an introduction by Elizabeth Kostova and cover art by Ghost World creator Daniel Clowes. Mary Shelley’s timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror.



Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them is, as the title claims, a handbook for beating nightmares from the New York Times bestselling authors of the Nightmares series, Jason Segel (also star of that TV show How I Met Your Mummy) and Kirsten Miller. Nightmares. They come in all shapes and sizes, from gargantuan lizards to teensy creepy-crawlies. No matter their form, we know all too well, they are truly terrifying. The good news is that every Nightmare, no matter how ferocious, mysterious, or hairy, can be defeated. And this book will tell you how. Everything You Need to Know About Nightmares and How to Defeat Them is your one-stop guide to battling anything that goes bump in the night. Whether you’re being chased by zombies or stalked by evil twins, this handy book will give you all the tools and tips you need to put your bad dreams to bed for good Keep a copy under your pillow and you’ll never fear Nightmares again.

If you’d like a chance at winning both books, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Oct. 19, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Oct. 20. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

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