Seized by Lynne Cantwell: a review

LynneI expected to enjoy Seized, the first book in Lynne Cantwell’s Pipe Woman Chronicles, because I am a fan of Ms. Cantwell’s direct, journalistic writing style and wry wit from her Indies Unlimited blog posts. What I didn’t expect was that Seized kept me up late several nights in a row because it was so hard to stop reading. The story started easily in the realm of the familiar, with Naomi, a smart mediator who seems to have it all: the powerful job, the handsome boyfriend, and the best friend who understands her better than she understands herself. But wait…we know that nothing comes easily in fiction without consequence. So things twist up a bit when said best friend urges her to tag along on a New Age adventure. Several rounds in a sweat lodge release more than perspiration, including a visit from White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman, a mysterious Native American spirit that weaves in and around Naomi’s life, tasking her with a near-impossible challenge for a mediator…no, for anyone. Lynne’s writing style (and choice of first-person narration) is key here. I became deeply invested in Naomi’s future, and the author rides a nice, believable, and relatable line between the protagonist’s cynicism with the happenings around her and her faith that it’s all for a greater good. The story is smart and thought provoking, the fantasy element sophisticated and well integrated into the storyline. Never did I feel that this was fantasy with a story attached or vice versa. It just worked so well. I’m eager to read the rest of the series.

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It’s Boomer Lit Friday!

The-Jokes-On-Me_Cover_webHi, everyone. It’s Boomer Lit Friday, the Passover edition, where we explore books about…yes, you guessed it. And no, I don’t mean matzoh balls. Please pop over to Shelley Lieber’s website to catch snippets from the other twenty-some authors participating in this week’s Boomer Lit Blog Hop. What the heck IS Boomer Lit? Glad you asked. You can learn more about that here.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit from The Joke’s on Me. Frankie’s sister, Jude, has already left to attend Seder at her third ex-husband’s weekend place in Phoenicia [just up Route 28 from Woodstock]. Frankie intends on meeting them there later, after the suspiciously familiar local kid they’d hired to do yardwork gets picked up by one of his parents. The parent who shows is also suspiciously familiar.

—————

“Dad, this is Frankie. Jude’s…I mean Ms. Goldberg’s sister. She lives in Hollywood.”

I literally could not move or speak. Of all the ways I imagined seeing Joey again, this scenario didn’t make the list. I was always fresh and beautiful, coming to congratulate him on his perfect game. We’d go back to my place for drinks, and I’d show him my Oscar, my Emmy, and my pair of Golden Globes. Our reunion was not supposed to be in my mother’s house, with me coated in dirt, sweat, and grass clippings, and introduced by the son who should have been ours.

Joey’s eyes crinkled amusement at the corners. “Really,” he said. “Frankie, huh? Cute name. Short for something?”

“Something.” My muddy knees turned to jelly. The road map of his years had begun to etch into his skin, gray feathered his temples, but I saw the boy in the man’s face when he smiled.

I saw the boy remembering the girl.

—————–

Special April Fool’s Day contest! Dream up an April Fool’s prank and enter on this post. Best prank wins an e-copy of The Joke’s on Me.

A Little April Foolishness

The-Jokes-On-Me_Cover_webEver play a great April Fool’s Day joke? Switch the contents of the sugar bowl with the salt shaker? Stick down all the desktop items in your office mate’s workstation with double-sided tape? Pfheh. Amateurs. Let’s get serious. I’m giving you a fictional unlimited budget. Punk away in the comments below.

You have until April 2 at 5:00 p.m Eastern time. Best idea for a prank wins an e-book copy of The Joke’s on Me for either Kindle or Nook.

Have fun!

Wicked Awesome Indies: Vote and Win!

RCABPnominee

Have you voted yet for your favorites in BigAl’s Books and Pals Readers’ Choice Awards? Fear not. Voting continues until March 31.

You may have (ahem) voted for a certain novel in the contemporary fiction category, and I thank you for that down to my toes. But there are lots of other categories, and each vote gives you a greater chance in the drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card.

MrPFor instance, K.S. Brooks has been nominated in the childrens’ book category for Postcards from Mr. Pish:  East Coast Edition.

About the book: Mr. Pish, the lovable Jack Russell Terrier, leads readers on an expedition down the East Coast of the United States in Postcards from Mr. Pish Volume 3. With each new discovery, the traveling terrier sends a postcard with full-color photographs and engaging text geared to promote outdoor learning and literacy. Mr. Pish’s enthusiasm inspires young and old to read, explore and learn in a fun way.

music-speaks-187x300In the Short Story Collections/Anthologies category, my author and editor friend, LB Clark, has been nominated for her anthology, Music Speaks. It’s a pretty fabulous undertaking for a charity that helps musicians, and it includes short stories by two of my favorite writers, JD Mader and David Antrobus. Learn more about the book and the foundation here.

DavidAA pretty commanding author and editor himself, David Antrobus also received a solo nomination for his outstanding memoir, A Dissolute Kinship. Read my review here.

LynneHave you read Lynne Cantwell yet? She’s been nominated in the Speculative Fiction category for Seized, the first book in her Pipe Woman Chronicles. I’m well into this fascinating story and eagerly anticipate starting on the rest of the series. This book is currently in the running for an ABNA award.

Voting automatically enters you into B&P’s giveaway. You can learn all about that here. Voting ends at midnight, April 1, and final results will be announced the morning of Wednesday, April 3.

Thank you!

[Voting notes: The form doesn’t like Internet Explorer. Once you get to the site, log in with Facebook or your e-mail address. Click on the downward-facing arrow in each category to see the books nominated. Click the open circle to the left to make your selection and “Enter” to register the vote. Clicking on the title will give you more info about the book.]

Challenging Your Preconceptions

iStock_000002423329XSmallEunice Scarfe, a Canadian author and professor, led (and presumably still leads) a popular workshop at a women’s writing conference I used to attend regularly. We were given prompts: a few words, a sentence. We were to write whatever spilled from our brains and when time was called, draw a line beneath what we had written. Under that line, she asked us to write what images, emotions, and conclusions that exercise had stirred up.

One prompt she gave was “my mother’s hands.” Start with your own hands, she suggested, and drift back through the generations, to your mother’s, and her mother’s. I looked at my little paws and thought about my mother’s hands, the relief river map of the crisscrossing tendons and blood vessels, the elegant fingers, the carefully-coiffed nails. And then I looked back at my own. I had a hell of a time getting inspired. So I wrote about my mother’s hands, and the strength within them no one would suspect, and what the years and the Florida sun and had wrought upon her skin. But the words came in lumps and had no connection to my ten digits.

Eunice called time. I looked at my paltry prose, my weak words, and felt…uninspired. So that’s what I wrote below the line. Uninspired. Nothing. Feh. And I looked at my hands again. Still nothing. My hands are small, unlined, with squarish palms and utilitarian nails kept short through years of training on piano keys, typewriters, computer keyboards. Then Eunice invited women to line up against the wall if they wanted to read their wanderings to the class.

I chose not to. I listened, still thinking of my below-the-line comments, when I took another look at my squatty little hands. I realized why I had not connected with this exercise. My hands more closely resembled my father’s. And that was my biggest revelation of the week. Even though our faces, our noses, our eyes, our hair, so much the same that nearly everyone gasps and says, “Oh, you are your mother’s daughter,” I am more like my father than I’d ever considered.

What am I writing below the line for these few freewritten paragraphs? That it’s good, every so often, to have your conclusions about yourself challenged. Good as a writer, good as a daughter, good as a human.

Drawing Breath a Nominee for Readers’ Choice Award: The Voting Begins!

RCABPnominee

Click on the shiny badge to go to the B&P page, where you can place your vote! Thank you!

Some of you may know this already, but among the world of indie authors, getting a review from BigAl’s Books and Pals is no small accomplishment. According to statistics released by the site, “In the twelve months ending February 28th, 2013, BigAl and the Pals received over 1,400 books to consider for review. Almost 300 of them were selected, read, and reviewed.”

I’m completely humbled down to my toes to know that two of those titles were mine, and one of them, Drawing Breath, has been selected as one of the books they felt stood out as an exceptional example of indie writing. (Their words, not mine, and they’re enough to make a girl do a Snoopy dance and then collapse upon her fainting couch. Smelling salts, anyone?) Continue reading

A Wicked Good Cause

164414_10151540378282269_288214114_nMost of you might have seen video or print coverage of the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Sandy on the metro NY tri-state area last fall. Some of you have lived it. Some of you are still living it, long after the reporters packed up and went home. Heck, some of us up in the Hudson Valley are still recovering from Hurricane Irene, which literally wiped two small towns off the map in August 2011.

Yes, lives were destroyed. Businesses. Homes. Schools.

Libraries.

Who really thinks about the libraries? They’re just…self-perpetuating, right?

Turns out that raging floodwater, mud, and books don’t mix so well. Imagine how multiple branches of a large metropolitan library system would fare.

Last November, author K.S. Brooks, now stationed in an undisclosed part of the Pacific Northwest and who once lived in these parts, had an idea. She founded Indie Authors for Hurricane Sandy Libraries.

“This is a great opportunity to connect libraries in need to authors willing to donate books. We work closely with the library systems to make certain they receive the genres they need,” says group founder K. S. Brooks.

Along with almost a hundred other vetted authors from all over the world, I was happy to be able to donate copies of Drawing Breath and Don’t Tell Anyone to the cause of rebuilding the libraries’ inventory.

Learn more about Indie Authors for Hurricane Sandy.

It’s Boomer Lit Friday!

Don't-Tell-Anyone_cover1Happy Friday! Once again, it’s Boomer Lit Friday. Every Friday, a bunch of us who like such things post snippets from our “Baby Boomer Books,” and the lovely Shelley Lieber has graciously offered up her blog where you can see what other authors are up to. Here’s a teensy bit of Don’t Tell Anyone. Please hop over to the Boomer Lit Friday blog and read and comment on the other participants. Enjoy, and I hope you have a lovely weekend.

——

 

“You’ll do it,” Estelle said.

“Me?” A fist tightened around Liza’s stomach. “Oh, no. I’m not—”

“Adam and Charlie won’t. They’re too softhearted. Good boys, but weak-willed, like their father. May he rest in peace. So you’ll have to do it.”

“What are you saying?” Liza glared at her. “That I’m cold-hearted enough to…kill a person? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Oy, no, of course not. I’m saying you’re practical. You’re a practical girl. At least that’s what Adam says about you. You’ll know how to do it.”

Liza threw up her hands. “So what do you want me to do? Push you out a window? In front of a bus? Hold a pillow over your head?”

Estelle appeared to consider her options. “The pillow would work. I saw Cary Grant do it in a movie. Or you could get me pills. People take pills. Marilyn Monroe took pills. Some people think it was the Kennedys, but I know it was pills.”

So You Want to Be on a Competition Reality Show?

An actual Madagascar hissing cockroach. In case you've been wondering.

An actual Madagascar hissing cockroach. In case you’ve been wondering.

If you’ve ever watched a reality show contestant choke down a Madagascar hissing cockroach smoothie or bungee-jump off a bridge, and thought, “I can do that,” maybe you’ve considered applying. ‘Cause it looks so easy, right? Sure, from the safe, plushy tentacles of your sofa. But you’ll need more than good hair and an inspirational backstory to succeed at these modern versions of Lord of The Flies. Before you create your Survivor audition video, choose your partner for The Amazing Race, and make an appointment for full-body waxing, consider these other things you ought to do as well: Continue reading

A Better Place to Be

20091209-133006-772185If you’ve ever read any of author Chris James’ blog posts, you know that he normally ends with a video of one of his favorite songs. Normally this is something from Genesis’ discography. I think he has a side deal with Peter Gabriel, but I could be wrong. This week, he ended with a songwriter close to my heart: Harry Chapin singing “Cat’s in the Cradle.”

I’ve adored Harry Chapin since high school. He was a New York guy; he and his brothers, Tom and Steve, were born upstate near Watertown and some of his family still lives there. I’ll get to them later. Harry eventually landed on Long Island and that’s where he died, playing chicken with a truck on the Long Island Expressway. My father and stepmother were huge fans and still are, so I got the privilege of hearing him perform live three times: at a college in Newburgh (he loved playing colleges), at the Civic Center in Poughkeepsie, and at the Hudson Valley Winery in Highland.

At the winery, three days before my seventeenth birthday, is where I finally got to meet him.

After the performance—spectacular, by the way, and he played the extra-extended version of “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” but only after the audience begged—we stood in line to meet him and get autographs. My parents had been involved in fundraising for Pete Seeger’s Sloop Clearwater Project, among other causes, so I’d been to a fair number of small-venue concerts by then. Enough to know if the guys in the band didn’t really give a crap about meeting fans, that it was just an obligation because you paid for your ticket and it was good PR to act like you cared. Some didn’t even hang around long enough to do that. Harry Chapin didn’t have to stick around and meet fans. He’d played in London. He’d played Carnegie Hall. He’d been on Johnny Carson. But he hung around. He cared. He shook hands. He listened to stories. This was what, he’d said, inspired the songs he wrote. He traveled around and listened to peoples’ stories.

Meanwhile, as I waited with my father, I sneaked glances at Harry, cowed and amazed at the easy way he engaged with people, like he was born to it. Like that one person he was talking to was the most important one on the planet. When it was our turn, my dad shook his hand and thanked him for his music. I think I might have said something, but I was terrified. I think I asked for his autograph. He signed the front of my T-shirt (collarbone level, no straying hands), made an innocent-yet-slightly-naughty joke and smooched me square on the lips, right in front of my father.

Then I bought all of his albums.

Three years later, he died.

Almost exactly a year after that, I met a guy from Upstate New York. His last name was Chapin. Yes, they were related. There are a lot of Chapins running around up there, in that Watertown/Black River area. Some look exactly like Harry, I mean a freakish resemblance, down to the cleft chin and twinkling eyes. The hole in the family still pulsed, a raw wound. The cousin I met listened to my albums so frequently I thought I’d have to replace them, and I was not allowed to speak while Harry sang.

The relationship did not end well and the less said about it, the better. But for a long while afterward, I could not listen to Harry Chapin. I’d let my sweet, lovely memories be subverted by some bad associations. And one day, years later, I found a cassette tape of his greatest hits in a box long forgotten.

My car was old and still had a cassette deck, so I popped it in and cried all the way through. Not for the Chapin cousin. But because I’d denied myself the pleasure of Harry’s songs and stories for so long. And because fate and a tractor-trailer denied us more of them.

Here is one of my favorites. Thank you for reminding me to focus on the good memories, Chris.