Kiddies Can Be Curious

This week I’m beginning something new – something I’m barely aware of – books for kids, i.e., kid lit. I’m starting it off with a new series begun by a civil engineer from Atlanta – Sammy Powell. In my estimation Powell has natural storytelling skills for this age group, and as a result he’s a pretty darned good writer. If you can’t support his books directly, please tell your friends who can to see this website.

Thanks, Bob

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The Fox Tree – The Amazing Adventures of Sara Rae and Little John Polk, by Sammy Powell

One carry-over from our evolutionary roots is our innate curiosity. We learn by instruction at home, at the office, at school – and as do animals, by forays into the seemingly unknown worlds manifested by curiosity. Fledgling children’s books author, Sammy Powell, plays up this theme in the first of his The Fox Tree Chronicles.

Sara and Little John Polk discover a pair of magical arrowheads and wonder how they work as they turn them, rub them. Suddenly they find themselves in a time warp – but in the same place as before. They are quickly taken captive, afraid they’ll be half-hanged and beaten near death. But through youth’s wits and pirate dumb-foundedness they once again seize the day and end it at home with an extraordinary tale they can entrust to no one. Still, curiosity pushes them on toward Book 2.

Mr. Powell has crafted an artful tale for people in the 6 to 8 year-old age bracket; doubly impressive for a first effort. His vocabulary challenges but doesn’t intimidate, his story line makes it easy to travel in that fey world, but doesn’t overwhelm, as a barrow full of hobbits might. Powell, a working civil engineer, who moonlights with a rock band, has yet another talent to add to his resume.
My rating: 18 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Revolutions and Writing

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It’s been said that the best creative writing comes from periods when political and social revolutions are happening. I suppose the drama of a revolution is a part of that, and the intellectualizing or rationale for the revolution generates situations and characters that writers can easily work with. But a quick survey of modern revolutions and their run-ups reveals different sorts of creativity.

Nothing much in the way of literature came directly out of the American revolution, but in its aftermath, as American society began to settle in, we had novelists Melville and Hawthorne, poets Whitman and Dickinson. The French revolution? Here think foremost of Hugo and Marat, who wrote their stories amid the revolution’s action. And similarly in Russia, the great writer Tolstoy. However, preceding the Soviet Union’s dismantling – a relatively gentle revolution – we have firebrand novelist Solzhenitsyn and poet Yevtushenko.

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In later years, the literary medium changed. The Cuban revolution and the U.S.’s almost-revolution of the fifties and sixties brought a new form of creativity to the fore: songs. Things were happening so rapidly, in the U.S. particularly,  that songs quickly written, recorded and put on the airwaves were the best way for energy to coalesce about the day’s drama.

In South Africa, the grander literature preceded the revolution outright, in the novels of Coetzee, and Gordimer, to name a mere pair of many.

And so we see the great fertile literary periods of the twentieth century were in times of ideological change and consequent revolution. What will this century bring, with its social media and blogs – something new and as yet undeveloped?

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Kirkus Speaks About Intimate Things

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Coincidentally, today’s the day I received a review of In This Love Together – Love, Failing Limbs and Cancer. When you’re writing about things as intimate as a marriage, inseminated deeply with love, you’re never sure if you see the width and breadth of the forest for at least one of the trees comprising it. The review seems a good one, but a couple of twisty phrases had me unsure. (This is quintessential writer’s insecurity – comes with the territory.)

So I felt the need to gather a second opinion, from the one person who had almost as much to do with the book’s compositions I – Connie May Fowler. Connie’s opinion? It’s a rave review – you should celebrate! So to kick off the celebration (to be followed by a very necessary, spring cleaning scrub-down, fore and aft, of my condo), here’s what Kirkus has to say about the memoir:

Mustin (We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile, 2014, etc.) offers an emotional, articulate memoir of his late wife’s fight against cancer.

The author, a longtime engineer, had already gone through a rocky marriage and a sour divorce when a former co-worker, Becca, reentered his life. She was an outdoorsy, practical, and attractive environmental specialist who was still healing from a previous marriage herself, and the two began seeing each other romantically. As Mustin notes, dating in middle age isn’t very different from the blissful giddiness and insecurity of dating in one’s 20s, and eventually he and Becca married at a courthouse on a workday afternoon. But 17 years later, his 64-year-old wife developed a cancerous tumor on her tongue. “My thoughts resist the linearity of chronological order,” the author says as he explains his abstract narrative, which starts the book with the onset of Becca’s illness, backtracks to the day that they first met, intersperses well-researched facts on cancer, and weaves through events in the couple’s marriage with the randomness of human memory. It’s a brilliant storytelling device—the reader struggles to understand new contexts, details, and narratives, just as the author himself struggles to make sense of a maddening terminal illness. Mustin’s love for and frequent awe of his wife is evident in every detail of this remembrance. Even when he frankly points out her shortcomings, such as her somewhat taciturn air and her difficult relationship with her mother (which he discovered during a particularly uncomfortable holiday visit), his reverent tone gives his words a rosy, warm hue. The details of Becca’s squamous-cell carcinoma are unsparing, yet the author balances them with delicate, loving vignettes of their life together, including unexpected moments of romance, which gives the book a disarming eloquence. Their relationship was not perfect, as Mustin makes clear; their flaws, insecurities, and reluctances often got the best of both of them. Yet as he writes their story, he articulates how their difficult journey revealed their true love, in spite of it all.

A memoir that balances clarity, precision, and emotion while telling a tragic story.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

The Memoir Of A Beloved

The death of a beloved is an amputation.
~ C. S. Lewis ~

I’m fortunate. Not many writers are in a position to have two books launched at about the same time. While things are being worked out with Omonomany Publishing for final publication of my WWII fictionalized biography, The Third Reich’s Last Eagle (some early readers wanted maps included in order to follow the advances and subsequent retreats of Germany’s Wehrmacht), I’m the daddy of a memoir.

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The memoir, In This Love Together – Love, Failing Limbs, and Cancer, is perhaps a final honoring of Becca, my deceased wife. A brave soul, she subjected herself to too many radiation treatments of her squamous cell carcinoma for later chemo treatments to do her any good. She lived for many months with a feeding tube and tracheostomy in order to stay alive. A most giving person, she made cookies for the cancer doctors and technicians in her last months.

One day she stood before the kitchen counter where we generally prepared food, intent on her batter, occasionally rocking side to side. She hadn’t fallen yet, but I knew it was coming.

“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “For crying out loud, they don’t expect cookies from you.”

“I know.” She didn’t turn, kept working her dough.

“Okay, so why do it?”

“I want to.”

For a second she swayed like a pine on a breezy day. “You okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“What can I do to help.”

“Nothing.”

I sighed, softly, so she wouldn’t hear it and claim petulance on my part. “Just be careful. Sit if you need to.”

“I will.”

The oncologist who had urged her into a second round of radiation, the radiation that proved insufficient to stop her cancer, but which had destroyed the surrounding tissue, graciously accepted her portion of the cookies, along with a scarf Becca had woven. After she died, I received a too-late card of thanks from this doctor.

Following Becca’s death it was my turn: heart surgery, followed by replacement of a failed knee replacement, and several months of physical therapy, which did little to aid the leg, which had atrophied in the interim. Romance entered my life again, then fled rather than see me through my mourning. And just as engineering work had gotten me through an earlier divorce, writing – this memoir, in particular – got me through the long months of loss.

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I had an odd bill of hers to accommodate as the months passed, but the nettlesome item was returning again and again to the cemetery management to have them honor their agreement to put Becca’s death date on her gravestone. It took two-and- a-half years to accomplish that, and as I stood before the completed gravestone, I had an odd realization. Somehow the fates had aligned to free me from my mourning.

I’ve heard from older, wiser persons that once you love someone, that love never goes away, and now I know the truth of that. But love does strange, counterintuitive things, too. Somehow, standing before her grave, I could swear she was whispering to me that it was time to move on.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

 

The Prisons of Home

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A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

The world of fiction is an organic, living one. That is to say, in regard to Kline’s fine book, there is a growing number of ways to write a biography. (Having written and soon to have published a similar biographic novel about one Hans Ulrich Rudel, I can attest to biographical life within just such a world). The author has chosen an interesting real-life character, Anna Christina Olson, who suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, a highly misunderstood neurological condition. But the book is also in equal parts about the generation of Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting of Olson, Christina’s World, and about life in early twentieth-century Maine.

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Told from Christina’s point of view, present tense, Kline explores what is known of Christina’s interior life, her family life, and the book explores an early-on romance between Christina and Walton, who later abandons her, leaving her as emotionally damaged as she was increasingly physically incapacitated. Too, Andy Wyeth weaves his own role into Christina’s life, and with him there, Kline’s novel directs itself inexorably toward the famed painting.

The deeper reach of this novel explores the ways in which home can become a prison, in this instance for Christina and her brother Al. Ironically, however, Christina’s stubborn avoidance of assistance and sympathy places her in the town of Cushing’s limelight. Kline’s recognition of this, coupled to dialogue passages that are among the most realistic this reader has experienced, makes this a book lending itself to the deepest understanding of the human condition.

My rating: 20 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Jones I Never Anticipated

I think I’m an addict.

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No, no, not what you have in mind; not street skag and not the more commonly accepted uptown coke. Certainly not opioids, although I have a longstanding prescription for a small amount to help me deal with persistent knee and leg pain.

It’s writing, I think. It’s my compulsion to write that has me jonesing now, and I don’t like it.

“You’re a good writer,” my next door neighbor urged last week, “but you need to learn how to market your stuff.”

It’s true; I feel fortunate to be working with two publishers simultaneously, but neither of them seems willing to do the marketing for me. Well, that’s not completely true. The publisher of my bio-fiction novel, The Third Reich’s Last Eagle, senses he has a winner in the book and has promised big money to promote it, but he shows a propensity for not being able to say no to the river of suggestions from pre-publication readers who seem determined to make the book theirs, not mine. The current kerfuffle is that there’s a demand for maps in the book to orient the reader. This would double the book’s cost, and so R.R, as the publisher calls himself, has delayed the book’s launch.

 

The oddball-ness of my  story collection, Collateral Damage and Stories, which is already in print, must have amused someone at Kirkus. That book review agency has awarded the collection a “recommended review” status (not a “starred review,” but halfway there) and will be shoring it up with some pub in an “Indie Books Worth Discovering” gambit.  I guess their sensibility for good writing must be close to a bullseye; our local newspaper book reviewer gave it a heavy dose of praise in a half-page article.

And my memoir, In This Love Together, is set to hit the streets. I’m anticipating more kind words from reviewers and readers, thanks in large part to some precious and astute help Connie May Fowler gave to the project. I’ve decided to have this one published by Gridley Fires Books, a company I’ve set up to declare myself a business and to handle special books like this. It’s about my two decade marriage to my late wife, Becca Gifford, and the grief and struggle we faced with her terminal cancer. I plan to use this book in a unique campaign to  raise awareness of cancer in its many forms and, hopefully, goad cancer researchers to do more to provide cures for this awful family of diseases.

Years ago, I thought that this modest level of success was the goal of my creative writing commitment. Not so, I’m discovering. That I seem to be basking in the glow of minor league success seems a bit hollow at the moment, although I will gladly commit to doing the best I can to promote these books. I may even draw a few more words of praise for my efforts, but I know even now that my jones lies elsewhere.

It’s writing; that’s where true satisfaction lies for me. I’ve often said that I’d write anyway, but I’ve never realized just how true that is. The act of writing daily adds a degree of purpose to my life that I never really anticipated. How is this so? I’m still not quite sure. But I do know I need to write the way I need food and drink and air. I may gain some philosophical and psychological handle on all this eventually, but I’m not now in full pursuit of success in the traditional sense. As a traditional motivation. Yes, I will chase it, simply because that’s the way this hand is played, but it’s quite ironic that the act of writing is for me both the means to satisfaction and the end result.

But what to do to be rid of this moment’s unsettling, this crankiness that leaves me snapping at friends and family? Well, it’s obvious, don’t you think? I need to find a way to get back to writing. Soon.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Rock ’n’ Roll, Minute by Minute

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Testimony, by Robbie Robertson

As with so many music fans, I loved The Band’s music. It harkened to history, but while doing so it had a way of being contemporary. I had thought the bandmates would have done that on purpose, but no, they weren’t that self-aware. Instead they loved old fashioned rock ’n’ roll, gospel, folk music, and country equally, and allowed those influences to meld into their musical sound. Robertson’s book is all about himself, but underlying that is the history of rock. And as such it’s a form of cultural digest of the ‘sixties and early ‘seventies.

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Many will read this book, anxiously flipping pages hoping to get a whiff of the famed dispute between Robertson and drummer/singer Levon Helm. Robertson alludes to some of that issue, referring to Helm’s heroin addiction and emotional volatility, but it’s clear the author didn’t wish to dig up those bones after so many years. What Robertson did is detail virtually every moment from the time he joined Ronnie Hawkins’ band, The Hawks until The Band dissolved temporarily after the famed Last Waltz concert. The book seems overlong, Robertson’s accounting too detailed, but I don’t think this was a random occurrence. The life of any artistic person is that way—days and nights uncounted of planning, sketching, noodling on piano or guitar as one attempts to squeeze from latent skills a creative expression of some vague idea that just won’t let go of the artist.

By Robertson’s accounting and as a sixteen year-old, he attracts by chance the notice of Hawkins and refines his guitar chops and performing persona with Hawkins’ band, The Hawks. During the next couple of years, the band adds Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson. Robertson details the years that follow their abandoning Hawkins to back up Bob Dylan, and then venturing out finally as The Band. They aren’t part of the “peace and love” crowd; they carry blackjacks and pistols, and in one instance toy with holding up a high stakes poker game. They drink heavily and abuse drugs. And still they manage to develop their individual crafts and merge them into the unique musical vehicle that is The Band.

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Robertson’s writing voice is much the same as his speaking voice, colored with street and back-alley musical lingo that manages to be highly expressive while forgoing purple prose. As such, this is a memoir that’s unusually well written. Robertson manages to draw the reader into their shabby but creative world, and this reader felt compelled, with the reading done, to re-watch The Last Waltz with a whole new appreciation of their quirky, highly improbable musical world.

My Rating: 18 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.