THE ROCKY ORCHARD and THE READING

I am very proud to announce that THE ROCKY ORCHARD (May, 2020) has been awarded the SILVER MEDAL in the highly competitive Literary Fiction category, READERS’ FAVORITE AWARDS.

AUDIO BOOKS

The audio book of THE ROCKY ORCHARD has been recorded and is in the final stages of production. Actor and voice artist Danielle Joy Foley did an outstanding job narrating the book — bringing life to the characters and beautifully capturing the spirit of the book.

Watch for details about the audio book release, and take a listen to the sample below:

THE READING

I am actively working on my next book, a novel with the tentative title The Reading.  The book opens with an older author named Esme reading her work to an audience. An unexpected — and unrecognized — visitor attends her reading and brings events of forty years past squarely into her present.   The foreground story of Esme reflecting on a year of her life is loosely based — in theme and in structure — on the J.D. Salinger short story for which the character is named (“For Esme — with Love and Squalor”).  Running in the background is the idea that the author bore witness to things in that one year of her past that she believes foretold the awful mess we are in today (Trump, divisions and their resulting strife, inequity, the handling of Covid-19, etc.). Hence, the title The Reading also implies an experience that divines the future.  The J.D. Salinger short story and The Reading are ultimately tales of hope and recovery, though set against a background of loneliness, alienation, and trauma.

Here is a sample from the new book:

“Are you like her at all?”  

            “Would it kill you to talk in complete sentences, with complete thoughts and all?” I said to Tom. He had come over to where I sat — happily alone at a dining table in the massive dining hall — set his tray down and stood behind the chair, as if his final decision to sit rested on my answer. 

            “’I purely came over because I thought you looked extremely lonely,’” he said.

            “Oh my lord,” I said.  “Do you seriously have the entire story memorized? The whole thing? It sure seems like you do.”

            “Nah,” he said.

            “It’s weird.  Kids our age don’t know that story.  Generally speaking.”

            He shrugged, pulled out the chair and sat down. 

            “Are you a Salinger fanatic or something?” I asked him.

            “Nah,” he said.  “I wouldn’t say so.”

            “I still think it’s highly odd.  Seems like someone who’s got such an exceptionally close relationship with a lesser-known J.D. Salinger story is the kind of person who should be in my English seminar thing.  God knows it’s a whole passel of weirdos in there.  Not in an awful way, really.”

            Tom took a salt shaker from his jacket pocket and proceeded to pour an ungodly amount of salt across every single thing on his plate.  “It would save time if you just took the top off,” I said.

            “You didn’t answer the question,” Tom said.

            “What question?”

            “Are you anything like her?”

            “Like who?” I asked.

            He cocked an eyebrow and stared at me.

            “I’m wondering if I might be able to get credit for this.  Deciphering the subtle cues and clues of Tom…hey, what’s your last name?”

            “Donahue,” he said.

            “…deciphering the secret language of Tom Donahue. 101.”

            “You’re witty, then,” he said.

            “Please notice that I have four cups of coffee on my tray, whereas you have three glasses of milk,” I said.  Which means that I have not forgotten your question.  I think you are asking me if I am anything like Esme, the character in the story Esme, at least that’s what I think you meant.”

            Tom winked at me while shoveling forkfuls of differently flavored salt into his mouth.

            “I have a decent vocabulary,” I said.  “Otherwise, you’ll have to decide for yourself.”

Imposter!

Leonid_Pasternak_001

Writer and literary agent Nathan Bradford said in an article, “Nearly every writer I know is afflicted at some point by the sense that they are a complete and total imposter who does not deserve to be writing a sentence, let alone a whole novel.”

After a writing gap of several weeks on my fifth novel – due to the holidays, a major move to a new home, and getting my fourth novel into production for its June 2nd launch, I was not surprised to re-read what I had just written this past Tuesday and believe that it was possibly the worst, most amateurish, trite, overreaching piece of trash that anyone had ever wasted time on.  Grandiose, perhaps; but when I go into self-loathing mode, I go all in.  It’s completely consuming at the time.  Paralyzing.  Soul-wrenching.  But it is also familiar.  Which, I am sad to say, does not make it any easier.  Just more familiar.

By the time Cheryl Strayed wrote her second book, Wild, doubt and self-loathing were so familiar to her that she thought, “Okay, so this is how it feels to write a book.”  There’s nothing to do but push through, as best you can. A contest of will with one’s self.  A contest where the need to write edges out the paralysis of doubt, even if the margin is a slim, fragile hair.

That same Tuesday, I came up with a totally different idea about how to begin the chapter I was working on.  A bit later, I realized that the original material could work well as a later addition to the passage.  That’s how any given day of writing can go.  The entire gamut from despair to satisfaction, many times over.

Here is a sample of the passage from my fifth novel, tentatively entitled The Reading:

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Rooms have stories to tell.  Some hold on to their stories; the rooms are grim and tight-fisted and fearful that their stories, their precious histories, will be stolen from them and they will be left with nothing.  Other rooms are dying to tell you about their past.  It leaks out everywhere – the place where broken paneling reveals the tattered stuffing within the walls  where a chair toppled during a drunken argument.  The chip on a faded picture frame of an equally faded painting holds the memory of an exuberant toast given during a bachelorette party, though the marriage was fraught with deception from well before the wedding itself.  The exact places where much-varnished wood has been rubbed raw by a bartender who polishes endlessly when conversations sadden him past the point of endurance.  He sidles along the bar, moving away from the words.  He rubs, and he rubs.

This was a friendly room.  Old, tired even, but welcoming.  A room that stretched out its hand and let you know it was pleased that you had come.  Nonetheless, I was nervous before that reading. No rhyme or reason to it.  No way I could ever uncover something that explained why I was so  nervous sometimes – jumpy and clammy and hands shaking – and other times, I wasn’t nervous at all.  I would feel comfy and relaxed, and like every single person staring at me was a kind and kindred soul who wished me nothing but the best.

This was one of the nervous times.  I got there early. I always get there early.  I like to check out the room, feel the feel of it for a time.  Because rooms do hold their histories, and they do tell their stories, if you take the time to pay attention, look around, and  listen to the walls.

I sat down at a table near the far back of the lengthy room.  But the far back turned out to be the far front,  as it was right next to the spot where a tall, wild-haired woman was setting up a microphone stand.  I supposed that I was sitting a few short feet away from where I would  be standing when I read from my latest book.  That’s why I was there, in that room, trying to settle into the accumulation of what had occurred in all the time before I was due to stand in front of the microphone, which was still in the future as I was thinking all of this.

 

 

Whip-poor-will

Here is a new section from my WIP novel tentatively titled, The Rocky Orchard.  Enjoy!

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I lie awake for a long time.  It is the first time I have ever slept in the big bed – my aunt’s bed.

We climbed the stairs hand in hand, after everyone left: Woo, and my parents, and the little cousins grown tall and round but no less like fairies than always.  We wanted this night, our first night as married lovers, all to ourselves.  I lie here like a child on Christmas Eve, wanting to fall asleep so the morning will come faster. And being completely unable to fall asleep because I am too excited.  I listen for your first light snores.  I listen for them every night, as you always fall asleep before I do. Even when you tell me in the morning that you tossed and turned for countless time before you could fall asleep, I know better. I hear the snores.  They thrill me.  They comfort me.  They make me feel like I am safe, like I am trusted.

You shift your head and nuzzle into your pillow.  You clear your throat.  One half of one snore escapes your mouth, and your eyes open wide as you say, “Oh my God, a whip-or-will!”

I laugh out loud.  You are a collector of bird songs.  I am used to this.  You stubbornly remain in bed each morning until you hear at least one good, clear unusual bird song.  Not “trash birds” as you so adorably refer to the rowdy collection of sparrows, starlings, wrens and even robins that inhabit western Pennsylvania.  Many a morning have I opened my eyes to you saying, “Not a damn thing but trash birds this morning.  I’m staying put until something better comes along.  Even a cardinal.  Might even settle for a mourning dove.”

“Did you hear it?” you ask me.  “I mean, it could be a mockingbird.  Could always be a mockingbird who’s imitating a whip-or-will, but I’m counting it as a whip-or-will.”

I laugh again and trace my finger down the center of your face.  A fire comes into your eye.  You reach your hand around the back of my head and you pull me to you.  We make love, again.  Not like the first time tonight, not while we were still at the stop of the stairs, tearing at each other’s clothes, dropping to our knees on the raw oak floor.

We take our time.  Even in the dark of the country night, we see one another.  Our bodies are not nearly as naked as we are, in so many ways, on the night of our wedding.

I am the luckiest person in the world.

 

Painting by Kazimir Malevich

 

Dew

Early morning dew on grass

I hope you enjoy this snippet from my novel-in-progress, “The Rocky Orchard.” And if you’re in the same general vicinity of the U.S. that I am (Chicago), I hope this snapshot of a glorious summer day provides a bit of comfort against the brutal cold!

There was not a cloud in the sky the next morning, the sun dazzling the first second it burst over the horizon.  The morning dew, heavy on each individual blade of grass, lit up into a sea of sparkle as millions of dew drops reflected the sun’s rays.  Mazie opened the porch’s screen door and let it slam its completely-familiar slam behind her.  She needed to feel the carpet of wet grass outside on her bare feet.  She kicked a foot hard into the grass, sending a fountain of droplets into the air.  She watched their arcs of ascent and fall.  The power of the early sun combined with the chill of the dew on Mazie’s feet sent a thrill through her entire body.  The eerie silence of yesterday’s fog had been displaced; the forest erupted into raucousness, birds seeming to have increased their volume in jubilant recognition of the day’s beauty. An industrious spider had spun an intricate web that ran from the screen door to the nearest bush, and each of the delicate strands glistened with dewdrops.

dew.spider

Mazie kicked once again into the grass, and when she looked up to watch the droplets spray into the air, there was the old woman, walking stick in hand, standing at the near end of the orchard, no more than twenty feet away.

“Oh, hey!  Hey there.  Hello.  Sorry, I don’t know your name,” Mazie said.

“Lula, dear. My name is Lula,” the woman said.

“Holy Cow,” Mazie said.  “My mother had an Aunt Lula – my great aunt!”

“Well, it was actually a rather common name way back.  Sometimes short for Luella and sometimes for Lucretia, even Louise or Talullah.”  Lula tapped her walking stick against the bottoms of her shoes to knock off the clumps of dirt, and she adjusted her hat.  “Funny thing is: my name isn’t any of those.  It’s Eulalia.”

“Eulalia!” Mazie said.  “That’s beautiful!  I’ve never known anyone named Eulalia.”

“Oh, I’m glad you like it, dear.  Can’t say that I was ever nearly as excited as you seem to be.  Not that I ever heard anyone call me that.  I was Lula as long as I can remember.”

“I’m not sure that I can call you Lula,” Mazie said. “Sometimes we just can’t stray too far from the ways that we were raised, I guess.”  Mazie smiled.  “My parents would faint if I called an older person – a person who was older than me; I hope I’m not offending you – my parents would die if I called you ‘Lula.’”

“Are they here, dear?”  Lula pretended to crane her neck and did a quick, exaggerated scan of the area.  “I hadn’t seen them.”

“No,” Mazie laughed.  “All alone here.  Just me.”

“Then I think you should call me Lula, and I should call you…?

“Mazie.  My name is Mazie.  Not short for anything.”