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.

 

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Rationalizing Self-Publishing

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Once established as a hybrid writer, why would you publish your own work, other than for monetary reasons? And by the way, self publishing isn’t always going to CreateSpace, iUniverse, etc. In my case I’ve bitten the bullet and established my own publishing business, Gridley Fires Books, LLC, and that’s strictly for monetary issues. But let me ask the question another way. How do you decide that publishing your own writing is the way to go?

Here’s an example:

After my wife died of cancer and my mourning had quieted a bit, I resolved to write a memoir—an accounting of her cancer travails, beginning with her first inkling of the disease and ending with her death and burial. I wanted to memorialize that time for personal, emotional reasons, but I also wanted to do it to help understand the treatment process and why it came about that a cure or remission wasn’t forthcoming. In mapping that time out, largely with the help of notes taken, hospital reports, and insurance documentation, I quickly realized that I couldn’t write that story clinically. There was too much of our personal relationship to grapple with. And so the story I wished to write would become something of a true memoir. Still, there was a need to have some rather clinical segments in the proposed book, so I inserted several “Just The Facts” sections, in which I gave technical information about cancer treatment, home care, necessary equipment, and various bits of advice to both cancer patients and those caring for them at home.

You can see this isn’t a conventional structure for a memoir. Plus, I had wanted to use the book, once published, to increase awareness of cancer issues, such as early screening, the treatments themselves, and how to deal emotionally with a loved one suffering cancer. Thus it will, within a few months, be published under Gridley Fires. My campaign for cancer awareness will begin with a few select cancer sufferers receiving courtesy copies.

An unconventional structure for a very unique and specific use – and that virtually compels publishing oneself rather than through conventional channels.

 

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 German Interlude

 

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The House By The Lake, by Ella Carey

Genre blending is the new passion in writer land. We’re mixing non-fiction with fiction, memoir with fiction, fictionalized essays, and perhaps more I can’t think of at the moment. The skill in writing such blends into a cohesive whole is no small feat, and Ms. Carey has done a good job, in her case, of merging history with fiction.

The story is in two parts, alternated. First, grandfather Max asks Anna to go to his old home in Germany and retrieve a mysterious object that’s suddenly grown dear to Max. The rest of this part of the story has her doing so, with the help of German lawyer Wil. The second part is essentially a series of flashbacks to Max’s early life in Germany prior to WWII, and his love affair with a now-mysterious woman, Isabelle.

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The book is at its base a romance novel, easy fodder for reading groups and clubs. Still, Ms. Carey structures her story well and steers fairly clear of the romance cliches. The manner in which she alternates in time takes some getting used to, but the separate parts begin to cleave to one another as the story progresses. This is Ms. Carey’s second novel, and it shows the skills necessary to develop strong characters and blend them into fictionalized history.

My rating: 17 of 20 Stars

 

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The Writer’s Temperament

Okay, you’ve dabbled at poetry. You’ve written a short story or two, and then you’ve been fortunate and had a memoir piece published. Now you’re considering a novel. Okay, so what are you: poet? Short story writer? Memoirist? Novelist?

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I tried a parse these questions in this post, perhaps successfully. Perhaps not. But every writer needs to know his/her temperament. i.e., one needs to know oneself, the filter through which the words and stories come.

Take the time to do that. It’ll make your writing stronger.

 

 

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Art Leading the Way

 

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Longtime writers, with some modicum of success, usually write such books as J. M. Coetzee’s here. Writers often dredge the pages looking for writerly insights, but as is the case here, other intellectual disciplines can also benefit from such writing. The bottom line seems to be that the best of creative writing asks the questions pertaining to the human experience and leaves the answering to science.

 

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The Folly and Fog of War

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I’ve often heard that the ones who see the wort of war don’t talk about it; it’s the “hang-backs” who see the glory, the romance to such nasty business. Still, time can heal somewhat, and so can a decades later memoir of conflicts such as the horrendous ones on the Eastern Front of WWII. 

Such a book is William Lubbeck’s At Leningrad’s Gates, a German infantryman’s recollections of the German siege of Leningrad. The siege was eventually unsuccessful, despite Hitler’s desire to raze Leningrad and to turn the city’s site into a lake. Lubbeck waited until 2006 to have his book published and gave as much of an account of both sides’ experience as I’m sure he could manage. 

Military types are almost never long on viewpoint in such cases; the duties and trials of combatants all but forbids it. But Lubbeck gives as broad an experience as he can manage, and it’s a much better read than that of many historians. I urge you to read it; in Lubbeck’s hands this conflict tells much about the folly – as well as the fog – of war.

 

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Sometimes Telling the Truth Hurts

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One of the reasons readers seem so obsessed with nonfiction, I think, is that we all know that revealing our individual embarrassments hurts. We want to bare our souls about the things we keep hidden, but even thinking of doing so hurts. So we turn to those brave souls who have done this through the medium of memoir or personal essays. And Joan Didion, as in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, was a master of such self-disclosure. If you’re ready to learn by her example read this book of hers.

 

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