Marriage and Loss in a Novel

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This sort of thing has happened numerous times in cases of national conflict: a spouse disappears in the fog of war and is assumed dead. The spouse waiting at home finds love with another, only to be informed later that the lost one is alive. This is part of Jakob History’s conflict in our futuristic, dystopian novel, We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile, from which the first-person segment below was drawn.

What would you do in such a case?

“Jakob,” said Takira, “you seen the gloom. A ghost, yah?”

She’d always claimed that ghosts were a big deal in the Jamaica Isle where she was born, as much a part of life as she and I but having no faith in what I can’t see, I didn’t know how to provide a tender reply. Besides, my thoughts wouldn’t leave Abraham. While we Citadelians have always bent to doing whatever necessary to preserve our culture, believing that in the end it would somehow spread, that the Outliers would slowly see our way of life as the better one, Abraham seemed as insistently sure as a bluejay’s song that the Outliers’ primitive state was humanity’s future. For the first time ever, his boasting infected me and I felt our way of life truly threatened. I looked down, hands trembling. I tried to reply to Takira, but my mindfever-constricted voice wouldn’t allow words.

Takira has a way of sensing mindplague, the state our pre-Debacle ancestors called depression, or its twin, anxiety—our word for that: mindfever—and so she hugged me to her. She blocked the wind’s sharpness from me and her warmth began to penetrate. Her pulse, her breathing, began to circumscribe mine, to calm the fever that had invaded me

“You got to talk to me, Jakob,” she said, “you got to tell me what you feel.”

Feelings. This was what she always wanted from me, something from my depths, but being who and what I am, I had no way to put words to that. I could only reply in blunt fashion, tell her about the woman, and maybe we could go on from there. Coughing my throat clear, I said, “Did you see the woman standing by the third vehicle?”

She pushed away a bit, her arms on my shoulders, and gave me an odd look. She nodded.

“That was my first mate, Diana.”

Now she pushed away altogether, her feet tapping against the floorboard to some anxious inner rhythm. Were we back home, this would have launched her into minutes of freeform body movements. She was forever telling me her feelings about this and that, but it amazed me how, when words managed to elude her, bodily expression took over, pressing her into some whirlwind dance. Finally she steeled herself enough to swallow and say, “Oh, mon, no. Diana be dead. You tell me so, long ago.”

I nodded, and for the first time since we’d been together I couldn’t look her in the eye. “I thought she was,” I said, eyes to the vehicle’s floor. “She disappeared during an Outlier attack. We found bodies, decapitated, mutilated men and women with parts missing. I walked among them, picked out what I thought was her remains.”

“Then this woman, Jakob, she be a mistake. She not your mate.”

Looking up, I said, “I’m sorry, but it really was Diana.”

She edged to the far side of the seat, the wind luffing her dreadlocks as if they were frizzy clumps of windstormed grasses. Tears fluttered into waves on her angular cheekbones. “If that woman be your mate, then what am I?” Her eyes flitted, made her seem as desperate as a mouse in the presence of a hawk. She began to cry, moaning loudly enough for Harald to turn and frown. I reached, hugged her to me. She was alien to Citadel, an immigrant still fumbling with our ways, and I was sure she’d become unmoored if she were to feel our mateship had failed her. I’d find out some morning that she’d gone, had climbed aboard a refugee plane for some distant place, and that was the last thing I wanted.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Takira was born on a faraway isle she calls Jamaica. She’d come to the mainland as an orphaned teen, had been enslaved by a fruit picking consortium, had escaped and stowed away on a ship bound for Africaland, which was her place of milk and honey, as the Book of Ancient History refers to paradisiacal places. She’d gone to school there, somewhere in coastal Africaland, where she could commune with the sea. She’d learned to read, write, and cipher there, and had made a lot of currency as a barterer of gems, gold, and other metals the Africaners deemed valuable. She’s a trusting one, too trusting by our standards, and she lost all her gains to a man of scurrilous practices, the man from a place she calls China. Still, she managed to successfully sue him and collected enough to return to Jamaica Isle. There she learned a form of magic and dance she called religion: suppositions of invisible and superior beings, something we forsook after the Great Debacle.

She tried to explain her odd belief in such unseen things to me many times, but I simply don’t understand the need of some minds to wander beyond rigorous physical and mental examinations of reality. Too much imagination at play there, that’s my take on it. At any rate, Jamaica represented her past, her poverty, so after another year she left again for mainland America, spent her currency purchasing a certificate of freedom and trying to establish a business similar to the one she’d had in Africaland. But she quickly realized the mainland no longer contained enough mineral resources to support such a business. Impoverished once again, she caught a refugee flight, ended up somewhere called Pacific, and then two years ago she disembarked at Citadel Field, on our southwest border. After a week of her wandering about in our city, we encountered one another at a midday meal. We talked, and that was the beginning of our mutual history.

So I held her close, luxuriating in her tenderness and warmth, I confess, and whispered that she was my mate, my only mate, that I would rather have her as my mate than any woman I’d ever met.

Her crying stilled, she sniffed, pushed away, and nodded. Then she swallowed, said, “Jakob, what be this about? Why she there this day?”

“I wish I knew.” Then something hit me. I tapped Harald’s shoulder. “Take us to Slaughterhouse.”

Visit my website here to find out more about WE ARE STRONG, BUT WE ARE FRAGILE or to buy the book. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

And here’s the trailer for the book:

A Word or Two About Sam Witherspoon

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Sam Witherspoon is the central character in my prize winning book of short stories, Sam’s Place: Stories. He’s had a few hard knocks, and he’s not had much luck at business and love. In this passage, his best customer and troublesome friend, Donnie Wimple, is beginning to challenge Sam about his life:

“I believe I’ll just shoot some more pool,” said Donnie.

Sam edged his chair a step closer to the heater. Before long he nodded off. Donnie continued to line his shots. Finally Sam woke and lumbered to the restroom. Returning, he drew a cupful of draft and selected a packaged sandwich from the small refrigerator behind the bar.

“It’s almost noon,” he said. “You hungry yet?”

“Thirsty’s more like it.”

Sam drew another cupful and handed it across.

Donnie licked at the foam and then took a long pull from the amber liquid. He eyed Sam. “Kind of sad, y’know?”

Sam turned to peer at him. “What is?”

“I ain’t judging, and that’s a fact. But lately you been looking like your dog’s done up and died. The pity is, you ain’t got nothing to your name ‘cept that mangy ol’ hound. A dog’s good to have around, I guess, but they’s just so much a dog can do for you.”

“Least he’s quiet some. He don’t yap my ear off like you been doing.”

Donnie chuckled. “Maybe you do need to spend time singing some hymns.”

Sam said nothing. He finished eating, and as he turned toward the trashcan with the sandwich container, a scowl darkened his face. He eyed Donnie and began drumming his fingers on the bar’s top. “I got my trailer,” he said at last, “and my dog ain’t dead. Anyway, I got this pool hall, so that’s that.”

A trailer:

Visit my website here to find out more about SAM’S PLACE or to buy the book. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

The Secular and the Sacred, One More Time

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Fields of Blood – Religion and the History of Violence, by Karen Armstrong

Armstrong’s confession here lies in the growing opinion among the general populace that institutionalized violence, such a war, genocide, or slavery, is the engine that drives religion. Not so, says the author; both secular and religious worlds have known their share of violence.

She begins with the pre-modern world, in which there was little separation within a culture between religion and activities we today place in the secular world. Violence in the premodern world was between cultures, with no assessment of blame for such violence on any subset of a culture. I’m skipping a lot here, but Armstrong believes as technology and the Enlightenment’s tool of reason began to separate a culture into subsets, the secular world, while espousing a lot of high-minded thought, had a dark side: the Enlightenment was the purview of the well off, and that group had little to say about slavery, the subjugation of poorer peoples and cultures. Meanwhile religion, while espousing similar high-minded ideals, favored war and genocide to protect its ability to develop and preserve those high-minded ideals.

I find a lot of fault with Armstrong’s reasoning here, but this is a book review not a philosophical debate. Her history, while accurate, homes in on only those facets of cultural development that might support her thesis. Still, her arguments are detailed and well documented. In the end, however, the failures of human social development seem not to be either secular or religious; instead, they’re the failures within the psyche of humanity itself

This isn’t a casual read; it’s academic in nature, and if you’re a proponent on one side or the other of the secular-sacred debate, you might want to pore over this book for weeks on end.

My rating: 16 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Things That Lie Hidden in the Other

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The Girl On The Train, by Paula Hawkins

A new family moves in next door to you. You see them come and go, notice that there are two teen children, that the husband leaves for work in a suit, with a briefcase, at precisely 7:30 AM each day That the wife has a green minivan, that the husband drives an old VW, that the kids (boy and girl) share an aging Toyota. Then one day, the police arrive. The son has killed the mother. Did you see that one coming? no, of course not. How could you?

This, then, is part of the human condition: no matter how intimately you know another, there are things that lie hidden in this other person. And this is the project that Paula Hawkins takes on in this extremely well written novel – along with the willingness of each of us to build an illusory world about the little we know of another person.

Rachel is The Girl On The Train, once married to Tom, who has had an affair with Anna, has divorced Rachel, and Tom and Anna have had a child together, Evie. Down the street live Megan and husband Scott. Rachel lives in another locale, sharing a flat with Cathy, and Rachel is jobless because of her excessive drinking. But each day Rachel rides the train into London for reasons known only partly to the reader. As the train passes, Megan’s and Scott’s house, Rachel fantasizes about them. They seem the perfect couple until she sees Megan kissing a strange man in the back yard. Then Megan goes missing. Is she dead or alive? If she’s dead, was it murder? If so, why? And who murdered her?

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Hawkins solves these issues by allowing Rachel, Anna, and Megan their own chapters, presented to the reader in first person, present tense (something I consider writerly dangerous, but which Hawkins pulls off perfectly), each revealing things about themselves – and their connections to one another. Her pacing of the story is near-perfect, and one page flows into another as streams into a river.

The women are the prominent characters in Hawkins’ hands, the men more or less supporting roles. Still, while this book will see extended duty in women’s book discussion groups, men will be mesmerized by it as well.

My rating: 19 of 20 stars

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

The Biz of Books

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To be committed to the profession of writing today requires both an ability to write well and a business sense unique to each writer’s goals.

For me this has meant starting my own publishing arm. My promo efforts, which include a solid website, a thoughtful blog, and a strong social media presence, have seemed lacking without my own formalized business. Now my efforts fall under the umbrella of Gridley Fires Books, LLC. While this means extra payouts and attention to business details, it also means I keep sales money that would have gone to middle men in other arrangements.

This may not be your preference; it takes both time and money. For me, it’s worth it.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Fiction as Reality That Makes Sense

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We writers know we have to compete in a changing market, and with the prominence of MFA program graduates, plus the added complication of self-pub writers, it’s easy to get lost in the crowd. And with the digital revolution – e-books, etc. – the publishing industry is twisting in the wind.

In the past year, too, I’ve discovered that fiction (most of what I write) is losing readers to non-fiction. There are apparently a host of reasons for that, which I won’t try to enumerate here, but this does add to the challenge of becoming a financially successful fiction writer (caveat: most writers, including myself, are virtually compelled by our natures to write; thus the money issue is only the capstone to writing as hobby/craft/profession).

What are we fiction writers to make of this drift to non-fiction? Certainly, we can encourage teachers, writing facilitators, professors, and others to teach the values of fiction to the reading public. And of course, to write the best fiction we can, to keep learning about the craft of writing. The best fiction, it’s been said is more real than reality; it helps reality make sense.

Visit my website here. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.