Friends know that I’m partly the odd product of trying to maintain a skillset that straddles the world of marketing and advertising design as it was in the 1970s, and today’s digital age. When I began to pursue my career in the graphic arts, I lugged examples of my work around in a big, zipper portfolio. Back home, I had a colorful collection of marker pens, mechanical lead holders and non-photo-blue pencils scattered across the top of a big sloping desk. To the side were reams of bound drawing paper, tissue, semi-transparent visualizer paper. Several small cabinets with wheels scurried about the office to serve whichever need was critical for the project at hand, their tops stained from generations of leaky Rapidograph pens and India ink.
In one corner stood a huge, blue, sit-down Goodkin 5B, which was a glass-backed box camera of sorts, used to project a scaled image of an object or photograph from a moving focal plane/copyboard, through a tilted glass back and onto a sheet of paper. It’s hard to imagine the amount of work that went into a rough layout rendering. Precisely ruled lines measured to typographic x-heights (lower case letter heights from baseline) to simulate text on a page. Scaled Polaroid prints from a photo shoot to simulate the shots to be used, until the processing was complete and “chrome” proofs could be generated from the film separations. Stacks of cut-up Photostat prints, saved to recover the silver from them. Haberules, Pica scales, linen testers. Type spec and copy marking. Did I mention reams of paper? Collaboration was the rule. I collaborated with agency account men, copywriters, printers, even paper salesmen.
Fast forward forty years, and all the tools and toys have changed. Many of the prime jobs of that day no longer exist. Now, visualizing any concept and sharing it around the room is streamlined, and AAs – authors alterations – once the bane of agency life, are now no biggie. Markets numbering in the hundreds of millions can now be pitched instantly with advertising that is tailored to the prospect’s interests. Those same prospects can be pitched simultaneously across a variety of media and those potential buyers are better known now and more tightly targeted than ever before. My end of the design job has changed in no small measure, due to the proliferation of digital technology and communications, but…
the core of that business is exactly the same as it was long ago. I remember a famous comedy sketch in which Mel Brooks, assuming the character of the 2000 year old man, holds up a rubber chicken, while shaking it and calling out, “You wanna buy dis? It’s a chiggen!” Presented as the moment when advertising was created, this sketch drew a great deal of laughter. it’s still basically the same game, with three players: the seller, the product (rubber chicken) and the buyer. All marketing comes down to these three. Bells, whistles, flashy tools and new mediums don’t change that in the least. All they do is refine the seller’s call. Refining that call for better response, and especially a measured response has created and supported entire industries in the arts, in communications, in printing. The list is long, but the idea behind it is simple: position your product so it can be seen by your prospect, then teach your prospect about your product in such a way that they will be motivated to buy it.
Writers who hope to publish their writing are faced with a sudden immersion into this business. They often rebel against the idea of having to act like a hawker, talking up their book all the time, sending out hundreds of pitch letters. The business of publishing a book is usually seen as not as comfortable as all the work that went into writing it. Writers don’t want to have to be pitch-men. They often see themselves as above that. Besides, that’s why a writer struggles to find a publisher. It protects them from having to don the striped jacket, straw hat and cane, and stand like a sideshow barker, pitching the crowd, right?
Well, not really. Publishers’ Marketing budgets for debut books are generally pretty tame, if not meager. As a result, all writers who eventually want to see their work published need to come to terms with the concept of transformation.
First, a writer gets an idea, then they begin to work with the idea, to see if it could sustain a longer written work. Sometimes that becomes an entire book. There are notes, there are outlines. There are lists of plot devices and character interactive charts. There are references, research notes and piles of correspondence. There are the un-numbered hours of beating on a keyboard, then doing it again, then doing it again. Then fixing it again. Then fixing those fixes. Finally… after the writer’s patience and courage has been tested, after their skills have been stressed and their fingers numbed… they have a manuscript.
This is a magical moment, literally, when one thing becomes another. The idea of a book or story, even the work involved in forming it into a cohesive whole, is still just an idea. Even if it the most artistic, creative idea it remains an idea. But a manuscript? A manuscript – the chief component of a book – is a product. Remember the rubber chicken?
This sudden transformation is something that writers can use, much to the salvation of their psyches. The idea for a book can consume you. It can become obsession and remove you completely from your life. It can isolate you. Ideas are scary.
But marketing a product is just a job. Switching hats is a skill that requires practice, so getting used to the idea of your child, the fruit of your labors becoming a lowly product is the best place to start. After that point, you follow the concepts laid down over the centuries. The old concept still works. You polish your goods, you find out who your market will be, you narrow the market down to the most likely suspects, then you position your product where it can be seen.
If you choose to market your product to publishers and agents, it will be the same job, and learning the steps to the marketing dance will pay off when the time comes for that discussion. The one where the publisher’s publicist explains all the things YOU will have to do to get the product to sell. If you choose to self-publish, you’ll just have to learn to wear yet another hat, but in either case, once you’ve accepted your work as product, you can get on with what you need to do, and free up your inner spirit for the next inspiration, the next idea. Every successful company has more than one product, and so should every writer. In fact, the idea of developing new products constantly while marketing existing products is now considered the most productive, profitable road to travel. In business as in the arts, but then, it’s all really about business. At the end of the day, from the time of the seller standing on a stump until now, writers or storytellers, need to know how the marketing hat feels, in order to do the best job for their work, and for their readers.
It’s an old, old hat, with an odd fit. It takes getting used to, but it will serve you well, and both your writing and your readers will thank you for taking the time. So, writers, learn to love the transformation. Learn to pare time down into even smaller slivers. Let’s get out there and sell books! Your inner writer can remain at home at the keyboard, where it’s much safer.
My grandson’s a couple of years younger. His hair’s usually pretty messy. He loves sports, too. When the first clear images of suspect number two – the kid with the white hat – come through the net, I was stopped by his eyes. They were eyes I’ve seen before. Lots of teenage boys have eyes like that: deep, full of anticipation, some hurt, some joy. The eyes of someone’s son.
Despite my anger at the senseless evil act at the finish line of one of the most joyous gatherings in America, despite the media’s conclusion – possibly correct – that he is the one who set that bomb down on the pavement, I wonder. How could evil live inside so cleverly hidden? So perfectly normal in appearance, yet the thinking so twisted, so full of rage, that the murder of innocents including a boy of nine would be the result?
We’ve seen so much of it lately. The toll of its excesses have been like a nightly accounting on the TV News. The looks of shock and complete loss of comprehension something we recognize now, something we’ve seen before all too often. When I think of my grandsons, all grandsons, all daughters, all sons, I’m repelled by these images of blood on the sidewalk, of blood on the classroom floor. I know that those academics who specialize in these crimes will analyze and dissect, but the truth of it will elude them as it always does.
We live in a dangerous world. It seems like a new awareness, but really, it’s always been dangerous. Somehow though, the face of evil was something you saw far away, in dark places, in war-torn places, in impoverished places but not in neighborhoods that could be your own. Not in places that could be where your own children attend classes. Not at finish lines of races your family members might have run. Not in the eyes of someone’s teenage son.
A kid who watched Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones, just like me. A kid whose Twitter account in all its banal silliness was made public today.
Wednesday, after the bombing, he tweeted out “I’m a stress-free kind of guy”, and maybe he was feeling relaxed, completely disconnected from any connection to the evil that we saw in the TV News. But that’s how it wins, isn’t it? Entering into a place where it doesn’t belong, and turning someone’s son into a monster in our midst, completely removed from human kindness, while we remain blissfully unaware. One moment, living next to us, sharing our reality; and the next, passing into a dark, isolated place where nothing has value, nothing survives.
And it’s as if all the ancient beliefs and protections and amulets and charms might have had their purpose, but we’ve forgotten how to use them. If a devil exists, he lives in this kind of act, perpetrated by someone who was human, but who has become something else, seemingly in a heartbeat. We seem powerless to sense it or to stop it, because it so often rises up from within ourselves. From within our communities.
I’m beginning to realize that what’s often called superstition, or blind ritual or mindless conjecture has its use, in giving comfort to those who remain after. Any comfort right now would help us mend, but is there any left that would work for us here, in the hard, clear light of the present world we’ve made? If we cry out, who will hear us now?
Saille Tales is proud to announce we are producing our first book by a new author, W.T. Durand. Back to Santa Fe will be released the first week of this November, and is in the final editing stages now. The initial release will be on Smashwords in all eBook formats, followed by Amazon for Kindle, and then by a print version of the novel. Here is the short version of the pitch, giving you the basics…
Second chances can get messy… Irish-Mexican-American Sullivan Ortega returns to his empty childhood home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to pay his respects to the last of his family, his sister Maggie, killed in a single-car crash. He’s driven to try to put his life back together, but he’s saddled with a terrible temper. He has few prospects or real friends, a taste for too much beer and not just a few run-ins with the local police. Most of the time, he just doesn’t feel comfortable in his own skin. While bringing his pain and anger under control, he finds a series of tormenting clues left on his doorstep. It seems Maggie’s death was no accident. Investigating the shattering details of her hidden sexuality and tangled connections in the world of fine art, antiques and the scramble for status, Sullivan struggles with long avoided questions. He uncovers things about his family that have been buried for many years.
Preliminary Cover Art: Let us know what you think…
Today, we have the rare pleasure of discussing a unique author’s approach to historical fiction. Doreen McNicol, whose latest release for Kindle, The Starlings of Chatham Street , has been called, “heartwrenching, and an incredible story.” Readers have commented that they were captured from the very beginning of the book, and that they could feel what was in the characters’ hearts. The book’s well-deserved praise reveals a writer of unusually meticulous scholarship who can make settings and stories spring to life with her pen.
Q: Doreen, Your third book, The Starlings of Chatham Street illustrates several of the most cruel social aspects of the Victorian Period in England. What drew you specifically to the workhouse tradition and structure?
A:I have always believed that history is there to learn from. If I come across something in history that I have either misunderstood or knew nothing to little about it, then I feel a powerful desire to learn more. If I feel shocked or mortified by what I’ve learned, the story will begin to write itself within my mind.
The Victorian workhouse was something I knew was some place no one would want to go to, but I never really knew exactly why until I looked into it. Once I opened that door and learned about them, there was no going back. I knew it was something that would create the most dramatic and most powerful backdrop for my novel. I think it important to throw near impossible situations at my characters. To endure such hardships creates incredible strength, which is something that I hope that each of my characters find within themselves.
Q: I found your characters so well drawn, I could understand fine nuances in their relationships with each other and their connections with the tiny part of the outside world they were able to interact with. Did these characters’ behavior come from personal relationships in your own life? Does your heritage color your writing in any way?
A: Friendships are perhaps some of the most enduring things in my life. I come from a large family, but as my siblings moved off to form their own families, I found the relationships with my friends more and more invaluable. Some of my friends have seen me through the darkest times in my life and remain like sisters to me as a result, all these many decades.
As for my ancestry, it actually comes from all over the British Isles as well as Germany and Poland. McNicol comes from the Scottish side of the family. My ancestors moved to England in search of better work before making the move to the United States and then onto Canada. Knowing that most of them had to overcome some great challenges does color my work, I think. If they hadn’t made the difficult choices to move onto a new life in new countries, I wouldn’t be here today. I thank each and every one of them.
Q: The nature of life as a female inmate of the workhouse is so unrelentingly devoid of hope, and devoid of comfort, it’s incredible that you could find any redemption there at all. What in your research for the Starlings, gave you the idea that life went on in a unique form within those grey walls? Is this subject also brought into your first two books, Rachel Wicks and Rachel Blackburn?
A: It is due to the human spirit that I believe life went on in this form, inside the walls of a workhouse. I can’t imagine working side by side with someone, suffering everyday with meager rations, poor housing and degrading emotional abuse
and not feel some kinship with them. Despite the fact that it was human behavior that subjected these inmates to their lot inside the workhouse, I do believe that people are good. I believe there would be comfort in the form of a compassionate gesture, in a word of encouragement, or perhaps only in an understanding glance. When we are knocked down the most, without hope, what greater gift could there be? You would have to remove all communication, including the silent forms such as looks and touch, to remove all hope, I think. Knowing you are not alone in your suffering always helps.
I did use this in my first two novels as well. Rachel Wicks is a character that grew up inside a workhouse. She knew this world most of her life, so when she leaves the workhouse and is thrust into the household of a wealthy husband, she is completely alone. Not even her husband helps her once he reveals his true cruel nature. There are no kind words, no kind gestures or glances. She is viewed as a parasite because of her rank in society before her marriage. In the second novel, Rachel Blackburn, she must face her husband’s family and again try to find compassion and hope for her future, but this time more for her daughter than for herself. Her life may have changed locations and financial standing but she still must find the relationships that give her strength to move forward.
Q: I also enjoyed your presentation of the “reversal of fortune” concept, and enjoyed how both your characters, Victoria and Eva, their fates cast together, into the workhouse for very different reasons, find a way to cling to a shred of dignity through their work. Can you elaborate?
A: I truly believe that human dignity is indelible. I think it as important to our nature as breathing and eating. It is only through breaking the human spirit that this can be lost. It seemed the most natural thing to me to give them the dignity they have. I know
if I were in their shoes, I would do the best I could and hold onto as much of my dignity as I could. For me to lose that, I would give up on life completely. I have to think it must have been that way for the true inmates as well, otherwise why would they ever want to leave the workhouse, like so many did. Charlie Chaplin was a fine example of this. He entered two workhouses before he was nine years old and I don’t think it ever left him. He brought dignity to his most famous role as the Tramp, never letting his audience forget he deserved their respect despite his place in society.
Q: I was taken by your title and its reference to the nuisance birds. Beginning with the Irish famine in the 1840s, the diaspora out of the UK, for many people considered a nuisance to the greater society, resulted in large populations removed from the culture they were raised in. Cast out, on foreign shores, left to re-create their lives. Did this play a part in your initial thinking about writing this book?
A: Yes, it did completely. I don’t believe there is a single person in this world without value and to know that societies, both past and present feel there are those that can be discarded is very upsetting to me. Given a proper chance to try, I believe everyone can show their true value. There is incredible hope to be gained when in the presence of someone who has completely overcome the odds.
A perfect example is the convicts sent from England to what is now Australia. They were cast off for simple crimes, in most cases. They were sent away to build a colony on the other side of the world. England, as a whole, really never wanted them back. They saw no value in any of them except as cheap labour. They were wrong of course, because so many of those convicts went on to build an amazing country, one that is strong and proud today. To narrow this down a bit more, I’ll give one person as an example. Mary Wade was arrested for stealing another girl’s frock and selling it. She was supposed to hang for this offense. She was only ten or eleven years old at the time. Her sentence was commuted to life and she, along with a shipload of other female convicts were sent to on The Lady Julianna to Sydney Cove with the second fleet. There she lived and worked, building a nation and along the way she started her family. At the time of her death she had over 300 descendants She didn’t go back to England. She stayed and worked hard to create a new world. She had value. She had incredible value, not because she was merely having children but she helped give birth to a whole new country. Mention her name in Australia and I think you’ll see how much value she had. She’s remembered for being a founding mother and not as a thief.
Q: Doreen, how did you come to writing fiction? Did you also use your writing skills in a commercial career beyond the keyboard?
A: I grew up in a house full of kids so I learned pretty early on that if I wanted positive attention, I had to be entertaining. I told stories to my sister Donna and brother Frank to keep their attention. My mother dared me to write a book when I was 13, but I confess I only got as far as a page and a half. I started writing again when I was 17. I just wanted to see if I could do it so my plan was to keep it to myself. A friend discovered me writing less than an hour later. She grabbed it and read it. I was so embarrassed I thought I would sink right into the floor under my desk. Luckily, she didn’t laugh. She handed it back to me and said it was good. I thought that would be the last of it. I thanked my lucky stars she had lost interest and began writing again but I was wrong, she came back the next day to read more. From there it caught on until all my friends were reading my story and soon a few of their mothers. I told myself they were just being nice until the day I came into the library and heard them talking about my villain as though he were real. They had no idea I was there. I knew then, I wanted to write forever. After I left school, I truly did carry on for myself. I finished my first novel by the time I was 19. I had my love of writing but I didn’t have the confidence so I put off really trying to publish for a long time. One day, I finally had to remind myself that I would never know if I was good enough if I didn’t try. I’m very glad I did. As for writing for commercial reasons, I never did. I just never considered it before. Its that confidence thing again, I guess.
Q: What’s ahead for you? Will we see the Starlings again, or will you turn to another setting and cast of characters? Do you see a series evolving from the Starling characters?
A: There will be more for my Starlings in Australia. They have many more trails to overcome. Australia was several decades old by the time the girls get there but there were still so many growing pains for the colony. My Starlings have to struggle to find new lives for themselves in this new land, facing more impossible odds trying to find happiness for themselves.
I also will be putting forward another set of characters in a series entitled, Parts Beyond The Seas: The Unwanted. Like Mary Wade was in real life, my new set of characters will be sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay. This is a series that starts in England with the arrests of my characters. It follows six women through seven years of their lives. Like Starlings, they have impossible situations of overcome and like the Starlings, they must rely on each other for the strength they need to survive. Their story begins nearly fifty years before Starlings. They will be in a fictional second fleet on a ship called the Capricious. I choose not to write about the real second fleet since I feel the men and women that truly lived it have been exploited enough. I didn’t feel right using their pain for my profit. I cannot fictionalize their stories. I would ask anyone who wants to learn about these truly inspiring people to read books like The Floating Brothel by Sian Rees and The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes, to name a few. They tell their stories brilliantly.
I will also be publishing my novel set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, set in the years just before the 1906 earthquake. This book follows Feng Xiu Li, a girl sold into slavery by her brother. She is taken to a brothel where she becomes the obsession of the brothel owner, her master Chen Wei. This novel is entitled, Red Upon the Wind. This and Parts Beyond The Seas: The Unwanted will both coming out later this year.
Doreen McNicol’s readers are anxiously waiting for her next book. More information about the author and her craft can be found on her website and in the Amazon Kindle Store, where her eBooks are an amazing value starting at $2.99:
A beautiful, clear blue anchorage lies just beyond the inner harbor at Watch Hill, Rhode Island. We visited it almost every year when we were cruising the area. It is protected from the waves of Rhode Island Sound by a stunning, white sand beach that stretches some two miles out from the carousel at Watch Hill. Completely unbroken by any construction, it defines what a New England beach should be.
Beyond it, a deep water channel carries frequent ferry traffic to and from Block Island and fishing boats and pleasure craft out into the Sound or towards Newport, which lies East. We always enjoyed quiet evenings there, despite the sandy bottom which offered only reasonably good holding ground. We never tested it in a blow.
One day, walking around the carousel and out towards the strand we found a marker which made reference to the hurricane of 1938. My wife has a family story of that storm and how one of her great aunts survived by riding the roof of a house all the way from Montauk to Brooklyn. Some one hundred miles. But reading the story of Napatree that day and in days to come as I read online, researching the history of the beach, the nature of the anchorage changed for me, forever.
Looking out along the sand, it’s hard, today, to imagine that this was once a lively town. Extending from Watch Hill, Napatree boasted some twenty thousand residents. It was a quaint, picturesque New England beach village. At it’s terminating point, once stood a sizeable, stone fortress that guarded the entrance into Watch Hill, Fisher’s Island Sound, the Pawcatuck River and many Connecticut towns. Today, you’d only realize it was once there if you noticed the low, regularly shaped rocks, covered in sand and beach grass sod above the high tide line.
The 1938 Great New England Hurricane, was the first major storm to strike New England’s shore since 1869. A late September storm, it swept up towards Long Island as a Force Five Storm, downgraded to a Force Three when it struck Long Island, but it was estimated to have killed as many as 800 people. It destroyed 57,000 homes, including every single home and building in the town of Napatree. The storm surge simply swept the beach clean, filling the Watch Hill harbor and the tidelands with debris, survivors, the dead, and all their belongings.
I had heard the anchorage referred to as “the kitchen” from time to time before I learned about what the storm had done to Napatree. When asked, they would say, “Oh, somebody’s always pulling up a coffee pot or something on his anchor – lots of junk in there.” I don’t remember anyone from the local community ever making reference to the disaster of 1938 at all.
From that day on, we decided to leave the anchorage behind Napatree alone. I could just imagine my anchor dragging through the lost possessions and even possibly, the last resting place of someone never found – there were a few of them, according to some of the records. Life goes on, and Watch Hill rebuilt. Today it is a popular tourist destination. A beautiful place to spend a long weekend. Napatree was left bare and it reverted to nature so completely that most who walk the strand have no idea at all of the homes and streets they are passing over.
Recently, after seeing what even a lesser storm can do to wood frame houses here on Long Island and in New Jersey after Sandy, watching the videos of the rebuilding efforts along Fire Island and South Shore Communities, I was thinking about Napatree. A few
years ago, a hurricane devastated the mansions built along the barrier island in the L.I. Hamptons. A section of damaged homes was isolated from the rest of the community when the road that carried the local traffic was bisected by storm waters. It has since been rebuilt as have the damaged homes. Insurance money covered much of the cost, but not all, and premiums and taxes have gone up for all of us, whether we were affected or not. Recently, there has been news that there is local pressure for the Federal Government to close up a new inlet in Fire Island cut by Sandy’s surge. All of that has surprised me. It is almost as if those who live near the ocean upon sand, must maintain a diligent denial of the facts and of the history of where they live. Almost as if they are playing a high-stakes casino game.
The sea, driven by storm conditions, is not a threat that can be turned aside. We need to stop thinking that the odds are in our favor. Those beautiful stretches of pristine sand, like Napatree, are part of the sea’s domain. Ultimately, the sea will always return and reclaim them, or move them or reshape them. It matters very little what man has built upon them or used them for or invested their labor in preserving.
As long as the sea heaps up angry, wind-driven water, none of man’s works situated along the shore will be completely safe. We can tweak our noses at nature, and shout out our intentions to deny the sea its own, but in the end, we will lose the game. I hope that realization will eventually take hold. That it won’t need the kind of losses borne in 1938, or in 1900, when a hurricane nearly swept Galveston Texas into the bay with nearly 8,000 killed; before we come to our senses and learn the lessons that the sea keeps trying to teach us.
The need for some kind of touchstone has always been part of my fiction writing. When I was a third grader, I made a small village in modelling clay, complete with citizens, animals, trees and a stream with an arched wooden bridge. The bridge brought the road from away into the heart of the gathered small cottages and buildings. Attached to the plywood mounting board was a story I had written, describing the bridge’s significance to the tiny villagers. I know, I know… I should have been outside, tossing around a football or baseball, but I was as proud of the little clay village as I would have been of socking a home-run over the backyard fence. When it won a blue ribbon in an exhibit of student “art”, my mother framed the picture of it and the ribbon. Much to my continual embarrassment, it hung upon the wall in the dining room for years afterwards.
The idea that stories attach to things and places has always intrigued me, so when the time came to begin work on a new, untitled novel that tells the story of a merchant seaman torn between two cities and two lives, it only seemed natural for me to start looking around for my tweezers and paints.
The main character, Walter Reilly is loosely based upon a family figure that was not regarded very well either during or after his life. His only pride seems to have been in his work, but eventually, that, too, dissolved. His trail was only uncovered a few years back, leading thousands of miles away from his beginnings, and the tale of a soul destined to wander and never truly find where he belonged, firmly took root.
We only know a few things about his professional life. One was that at one time, he was the youngest man to carry a full, unlimited tonnage captain’s license in the US Merchant Marine. The other was that he served upon a 195 foot, ocean-going tug during WWII. We uncovered lots of information about that tug, from her building and commissioning near New Orleans, to her eventual breaking up in Aberdeen, Washington in 2009; but of his earlier commands and journeys, nothing has been found, so far.
Unwilling to accept defeat in my research, and being a fiction writer, I decided it was time to create the story around his first command, which I decided, would be a harbor tug, working off Red Hook, Brooklyn. He became my character, Walter Reilly, for reasons that the story would reveal, but first, I needed something to help me climb inside his skin and ride along to his eventual last berth, in the Canal Zone. After a few weeks of re-learning how to put a model ship together, I christened her, the Gayle Fleming, after my grandmother. She’ll ply the trade around NY Harbor in the mid-1930s with Mr. Reilly at the helm, until…
Until I figure it out, of course. I expect that I’ll soon begin to hear some whispered scuttlebutt around her decks, which will tell me how Reilly ends up down in Panama, but for now, we’ll just keep her close and watch for smoke from her stack.
New Home Review by Brian Clegg — popular, UK based science writer
Brian Clegg, author of a growing series of science books including Light Years, A Brief History of Infinity, The God Effect, Upgrade Me, Ecologic, Before the Big Bang, Inflight Science, Build Your Own Time Machine and Gravity, took time from his busy schedule to read my 2012 novella, Home. He posted his review on B&N, Amazon UK and Smashwords, giving the book five stars. I am very grateful for his comments and encouragement. I would suggest that any of my readers who have an active interest in some of the really, BIG questions remaining in the universe, read his work. It is enlightening and engaging.
From his blog site: Arriving Home… I don’t get to read a huge amount of fiction any more, which is why it is particularly enjoyable when I do. At the moment I’m drifting back towards science fiction, which I had abandoned for quite a while, and had an enjoyable weekend with Richard Sutton’s Home.
I thought to start with this was going to be a typical ‘stranded in space/revert to savages’ type novel, but in fact Home is much more about what it is to be human, and what it would be like to be dependent on a largely superior race. As someone brought up on Star Trek, I thought Sutton’s humanoid and interbreeding aliens were very reminiscent of the Star Trek humanoid universe, complete with its explanation of early shared origins – and I don’t say this as a bad thing.
Home is a gentle, enjoyable read. If anything it could have done with a bit more menace, but because a lot of it is about inner exploration (I was slightly reminded of Heinlein’s early inward looking phase, before he got too self-indulgent), this isn’t a problem.
Overall this was a very enjoyable book, that would appeal to anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction. It is self published, but definitely at the positive end of that spectrum – well edited and as good as any traditionally published title. (And the ebook version is very reasonable.)
Alphie McCourt’s new book is a gathering. It brings together poetry, songs and memories in prose, then weaves them into a bright tapestry. This was a read of a single seating for me, made all the more enjoyable by the unexpected pleasure that familiarity can provide. My own smile began in his arrangements of words that speak both the language of Ireland, the author’s birthplace, and the language of New York, the author’s home. Many of the places he mentions are places I spent time, too, when I was myself a stranger, just arrived. The Celtic races have all been travelers over time and geography, and finding the key to home — wherever it lies, is a characteristic they seem to share. That and maybe a willingness to find fun and laughter easily and then pass them on.
The McCourt family name, of course, carries a certain level of literary cache, and for many of us, it is one that endures. My own work was nurtured to full expression through the rhythms and songs living in the words chosen by the author’s older brothers. So, here is another voice in that hale chorus. I’m grateful that Mr. McCourt was able to combine the lyrical and the gritty, the mundane and the elaborate, sadness and celebration together in this slim, jewel of a volume. It brings me a new voice that I may have heard before, but probably not as clearly. It sinks right into that place inside where I know it will still be heard for some time to come.
Heartscald is currently available on Amazon, for the Kindle from Pillar International at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00B2JVBXS
A very special Saint Patrick’s Day Interview with the author discussing his book, A Long Stone’s Throw, his memoir of growing up there and here, can be found on the Writer’s Voice website with Francesca Rheannon Visit here…
Warning: If you don’t appreciate political opinion, read no further
We receive a lot of email. Quite a bit of it is politically or socially pertinent to issues we have an interest in. From my childhood in the 1950s, I’ve seen the country re-shape itself several times. One highpoint was the Civil Rights movement and the courageous leaders who passed laws that changed lives. The future was re-cast more than once as I grew.
However, once I became an adult with a family to support, the absolutes of the American Dream fled faster and faster from my grasp. The promises made to a child looking to the future were shiny and exciting then. Now, what few promises children are learning, leave them little but mountains of debt and a lottery that may or may not reward them with a career that will sustain them. Even the value of education has come into discussion as our leaders choose to remove funding for the very programs that seemed to make a difference, or show little understanding that their words of encouragement are completely hollow. A culture based upon empty phrases and hidden agenda has replaced leadership as a concept.
A few days ago, it became clear just how far the new culture of indifference and agenda has come. My wife responded to an email survey from a socially-conscious research organization, asking her to explain all the ways that the recession has made life difficult, or increased stress. She wrote a few paragraphs detailing how hard it’s been to even hang on to what we have, let alone improve our lives materially. I know our experiences are not all that different from many of our neighbors. Educators, small business owners, mid-level executives, tradesmen. Twenty years ago, we all had a measure of happiness and a feeling of security based upon work we did. Now, none of us is exempt from worry. The increasing levels of stress, borne with increasing clarity upon a belief that the future will be worse than the past, has affected our health as it has affected the health of most Americans. Mentally and physically.
When she attempted to post her short essay to the internet, through the surveyor’s website, she was directed to a page requesting a $25 donation. Pay to post. That revealed a whole, new level of cynicism and disconnect, requiring people who were asked to reveal their unhappiness and the financial stress in their lives to pay for the privilege.
For many young men and women, in their high-school classes, it is now a stretch for them to dream of an exciting, secure future. The norm now makes the dreams I grew up with seem like fantasy. Fewer of them than ever will be able to attend college, or even feel that continuing their education is important to their adult lives. Remaining debt-free is no longer a remote possibility for most of these students. Many more will see the only option that will bring them a degree of security along with a measure of dignity, will be to enlist in the military.
As President Dwight Eisenhower made very clear in one of his last public statements, the looming danger of the Military-Industrial Complex (his words) had to be dealt with to secure a safe, secure future. Instead, it has been nourished and given free rein to the point where American Foreign Policy is beginning to resemble product placement marketing.
War with no end is the result, and with few jobs and little job security, there will be no shortage of foot soldiers. As our elected representatives continue to bow and scrape before the demands of corporate masters, as our laws are changed to provide better profit environments while ceasing to protect us, as our leaders reshape their positions based upon which payout will be greater or to chase the goal of consolidating their power, the slide has already begun.
America was founded upon a broad spectrum of values, but most were rooted in belief that the people should create and manage their own destiny. Colonists had chafed under the harness of feudal masters for countless generations, so these new principles were bold and appealing. Unfortunately, while a great deal of lip-service has been promoted over the years since, about the constant vigilance needed to preserve our experiment, most of it has lately taken the form of sending troops overseas to “protect our interests” while here at home, the security of the individual and the safety of the future have been steadily eroded.
The price of freedom, has indeed risen. As America becomes a neo-feudal state, controlled by billionaires and the corporations that serve them, most of us will never enjoy even a taste of the freedom our fathers enjoyed. The only freedom that will be left to us, is to choose “paper or plastic” or which reality program or movie we’ll watch to deaden the feeling of futility. If this all sounds depressing and alarmist, it’s because it is. We need to wake up now, before we wake up so firmly under the yoke we won’t be able to even read the writing on the wall we’ve chosen to disregard. Across the nation, the big-screen TVs will flicker in the home windows of a nation of serfs.
I Hope It’s Not The End