Peter Pollak

PETER POLLAK

Aulthor of The Expendable Man (2011); Making the Grade (2012); Last Stop on Desolation Ridge (2012); In the Game (2014); & House Divided (2015)

Emily St. John Mandel’s Utopian Dystopia: A Review

2/23/2017: Why do I call Emily Mandel’s Station Eleven a utopian dystopia? Her story echoes the tradition of dystopian novels from 1984 and Brave New World to more recent books like McCarthy’s The Road and Veronica Roth’s Divergent by positing a pandemic that wipes out the vast majority of the earth’s population in a matter of days, but the ending, which I will get to, is more optimistic than most.

(Continue reading)

Gary Garth McCann

GARY GARTH MCCANN

Author of the novel The Man Who Asked To Be Killed and five stories, most recently “Incorrigible,” Erotic Review and “The Yearbook,” Mobius

2/20/17 WALKER PERCY’S THE MOVIEGOER AND MIKE ALBO’S HORNITO: CAN YOU TELL WHICH QUOTE IS FROM WHICH?

I often read two or three novels at once. Reading Percy’s The Moviegoer and Albo’s Hornito, I read a passage and thought I’d picked up one book rather than the other. Both present a young man chasing sex and the meaning of life while also interacting with his elders and friends and working in an office and revisiting his childhood. When I finished both books, I noticed that many passages I’d marked in each could fit either, to some extent. Which left me struck by the similarity of the quest of the protagonists, although really quite different men.

Can you tell which of the quotes below belong together? The answers are at the bottom of this post, as is a little more information about the protagonists. (Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

I recently took part in a program called “The Craft of Writing Mysteries” at the Perry Hall Branch Library. I was one of five mystery authors on a panel that also included Milly Mack, Austin Camacho, Michelle Markey-Butler, and Kate Dolan. Michelle writes medieval mysteries and brought in a slew of medieval weapons and other items, allowing the audience to touch and hold them—carefully, of course.

I won the raffle that day, and you’d think that I, being on the program, would defer the prize, a basket of mystery-related items, so it could go to someone in the audience. But no, I did not because included in the basket was The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. As stated in the Introduction to this tome, this book is a “panoramic collection of stories and novels from Black Mask magazine (1920-1951).” Black Mask introduced the hard-boiled detective and published such authors as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, John D. MacDonald, Cornell Woolrich , Earl Stanley Gardner, and many more.

The Perry Hall program began with an entertaining slide show on Maryland’s role in the mystery put together by Millie Mack, author of the Faraday Murder Series.

Maryland’s claim to Edgar Allan Poe, often called the founder of the detective story, is a bit tenuous. Poe was born in Boston and spent most of his life in New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond, but he did die in Baltimore in 1849 at age 40. The cause of his death is unknown and has been attributed to any number of factors, including alcohol, brain congestion, cholera, drugs, heart disease, rabies, suicide, or tuberculosis. He is buried in Baltimore, and a museum in Baltimore is dedicated to him.

In 1949 on the 100th anniversary of his death, (Continue reading)

Sally Whitney

SALLY WHITNEY

Author of the novel Surface and Shadowplus short stories appearing in journals and anthologies.

 

2/10/2017.  MAX PERKINS–THE EDITOR EVERY WRITER YEARNS FOR

Most fiction fans know about Maxwell Perkins’s role in paring down Thomas Wolfe’s sprawling narratives to shape them into manageable novels. Fewer people are familiar with the massive influence Perkins had on other iconic American fiction writers and on the literary standards of the early 20th century. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, the National Book Award winner by A. Scott Berg, tells Max’s story with all the color and style worthy of its subject. Filled with details and personalities, the biography reads like a novel, following the brave exploits of its central character. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

2/7/2017 – Can Books Still Change the World?

So, I’ve been reading Frederick Douglass’s autobiography. I like to keep up with the latest fads and, as President Trump pointed out recently, Douglass “is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job that is being recognized more and more.”

Douglass is probably the most famous abolitionist of all time, and his work was widely recognized in the years before, during, and long after the Civil War, including by President Abraham Lincoln, whose response to Douglass’s criticism was to invite him to the White House to talk about their differences. Over time they developed a strong friendship and at least a partial reconciliation of their views. Lincoln listened, changed, and came to appreciate Douglass, and the feeling was mutual. (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

02-04-17 FINDING NOVELS

What led you to pick that novel you’re reading? A friend’s recommendation? A book review? A bookstore display? Did your book club make you do it?

Last month I put out an informal poll to find out if social media made a difference in the way people were finding novels. I discovered some intriguing new ways to find reading material—plus a few surprises. (Continue reading)

2/1/17 Guest Blogger Mike Albo

2/1/17 GUEST BLOGGER MIKE ALBO

AUTHOR OF THE NOVELS HORNITO, MY LIE LIFE AND THE UNDERMINER: THE BEST FRIEND WHO CASUALLY DESTROYS YOUR LIFE (WITH HEFFERNAN) AND OF THE NOVELLAS THE JUNKET AND SPERMHOOD: DIARY OF A DONOR.

DURING THIS GROSS TIME HERE IS WHAT I AM LOOKING FORWARD TO…READING
We have experienced a paradigm shift. For artists and writers, the big question has become —  how do you express it?
I have been working on a levon for about eight years now. (Levon is novel spelled backwards. My pal, the fantastic writer Maud Casey, made it up. It’s to help you not say you are working on a novel which is hard to say without sounding like a jerk to yourself.) (But I’m nearly finished! Please let me live to see the day when I can call it a novel!). It’s science fiction. Oh, I mean “speculative fiction”. That’s the preferred term these days.

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Gary Garth McCann

GARY GARTH MCCANN

Author of the novel The Man Who Asked To Be Killed and five stories, most recently “Incorrigible,” Erotic Review and “The Yearbook,” Mobius

1/29/17 INTRODUCING OUR FEB 1 GUEST BLOGGER MIKE ALBO, NOVELIST, HUMORIST, PLAYWRIGHT, POET, STYLE COLUMNIST  “…Her face screwed up into a scribble.”  “I feel like I pollute when I show too much mood, so I smile, even when I ache inside.”  “Each time I meet him I pretend I haven’t met him, because he doesn’t remember meeting me because we are being casual, and casual means you are waterproof and no one face soaks into you”: all in the poetic prose of the novel Hornito, My Lie Life,  my introduction to Mike Albo and why I fell in love with him as a writer. An M.A. from Columbia, Albo offers two novels, two novellas, three plays, several solo stage performances, screen performances, along with contributions to, among others, the New York Times, The New Yorker, New York Magazine, GQ, and The Village Voice. His work as a style columnist for the NYT inspried his novella, The Junket. We look forward to his contribution here at LLNB on Feb. 1!

Garry Craig Powell

GARRY CRAIG POWELL

Author of  Stoning the Devil

Echo and Narcissus by John William Waterhouse

Writing in the Echo Chamber

Much hand-wringing and self-examination has taken place since the US Presidential election about why so many people, political pundits and journalists included, were blindsided by the result. The ‘echo chamber’ as a metaphor for social media has been the most frequently cited cause. Nowadays most of us, the argument goes, get our news from Twitter or Facebook feeds. This is true, not only for the millennials, but equally or almost so for older generations. Because most of us are reading ‘news’ (more often opinion, when it comes down to it) from our friends, who are likely to share our views, there’s a danger that our prejudices are never challenged and that we live increasingly in a world that bears little resemblance to reality. As an academic, I can confirm that this is the case for most professors, who are hardly better informed on matters of global economics and politics than the elusive and mythical ‘man in the street’. (Or woman.)

But if this is true of our political life, isn’t it true of our cultural life, too? Have we thought deeply enough about the consequences of reading literature that’s written by people like us, too? (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

20 January 2017 – Toward Compassion

Words matter. It would be surprising if I as a writer didn’t believe that to be true, since words are my entire stock in trade. Words have meaning. A shared understanding of the meaning of words is what allows us to communicate and function as a society. Words have shades of meaning, too—nuance—and understanding that nuance allows us all to send and receive exactly the message that’s intended.

There are roughly 130,000 words in the English language. It’s said that Shakespeare had a working vocabulary of 54,000 words, which was not out of the ordinary for an educated man of his time. In comparison, modern Americans have a working vocabulary of about 3,000 words. As we continue to pare back our words, nuance is lost. Shades of meaning are jettisoned, the subtle distinctions sacrificed, pounded out into the blunt instrument of whatever fits into 140 characters.

Words affect us. We may teach our children, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” as a lesson in resilience and the mature ability to walk away and elect not to engage, but we also know the power of words to hurt, as well as to heal. Certainly, we expect the leaders of our country, our shared community, to understand that fundamental truth and act accordingly.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit in the last year, and wildly more so since early November. Because I knew that I would be posting this essay today, I selected a few books to read that seemed to cut to the heart of the things that keep me awake at night. (Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

1-17-2017: Novels and History’s Bloody Details

I have a friend who retains nothing from the way history is usually taught in classes, so she reads historical novels about the periods she wants to learn about. The novels make the history come alive for her so she can remember it.

I understand this. Many years ago, in planning a trip to Haiti. I tried reading nonfiction about Haitian history, but I simply couldn’t retain the salient facts. Then I read a lurid novel called The Black Sun by Lance Horner and Kyle Onstott. In the novel, a young American from Boston travels to Haiti as the bloody revolution begins in 1791. The revolution ended in 1804 with the triumph of the black slaves. The major figures of that revolution, especially Henri Christophe, Toussaint L’Ouverture, and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, are vividly described in the book. Dessalines became the first leader of Haiti after the revolution. The novel described him as a brutal revengeful man and that was the way he ruled. This was confirmed in reading nonfiction about Haiti’s history, where it seemed every succeeding president was more brutal than the last.

We also read The Comedians by Graham Greene, a novel set in Haiti during the regime of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, a brutal dictator of Haiti from 1957 to 1971. The novel was later made into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Duvalier’s vicious security police were known as the “Tonton Macoute.”

We visited Haiti during Duvalier’s last year as “President for Life.” When we arrived at the Port Au (Continue reading)

Sally Whitney

SALLY WHITNEY

Author of the novel Surface and Shadowplus short stories appearing in journals and anthologies.

 

1/10/2017. BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA

Take a beautiful sea setting, add a few endearing but complex characters, top it off with serious moral dilemmas, and what do you get? The Light Between Oceans, an excellent debut novel by M.L. Stedman.

Set mostly at a lighthouse on Janus Rock, an island off the coast of Australia, The Light Between Oceans tells the story of Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, the lighthouse keeper and his wife, who live alone on the island, visited only once a season by two men who bring them supplies. This isolated existence suits Tom, who believes that if he can get far enough away from people and memories, time will heal the mental and emotional wounds he carries from fighting in World War I, especially the nightmares that remind him of the blood on his hands. He is a meticulous lighthouse keeper, always making sure the light goes on and off at the correct times and recording everything he should in the leather-bound log. (Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

12/17/2016 – The Pen is Powerful

Happy Holidays! As I contemplate the dismal political scene in this country, I am reminded of a quote from a 19th century suffragette whose name I don’t remember: “Take up your pen and save the world.” Or as Harriet Beecher Stowe said, “It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.” She did that in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that helped change this country.

In a google search of quotes on this subject, I found a column on Goodreads.com that features a number of quotes about taking up the pen. Most of them are banal or cynical, but here are a few that echo the quotes above. (Continue reading)

Janet Willen

JANET WILLEN

Author of Speak a Word for Freedom: Women against Slavery and Five Thousand Years of Slavery

books-secret-chord-pb-lr12/7/16 — The Secret Chord: A New Look at an Old Book

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks has everything — love, hate, jealousy, violence, intrigue, battles, and faith. And why shouldn’t it? It’s a retelling of the biblical story of David, though the word “retelling” doesn’t do justice to Brooks’s success in breathing new life into the three-thousand-year-old character many readers think they already know.

David is familiar to us as the man who killed the giant Goliath, united the people of Israel, played the harp, and wrote many of the Psalms. That’s about all I remembered of him when I opened the book. The novel so intrigued me that I’ve since reread the biblical accounts to see how they differ from Brooks’s. (Continue reading)

Terra Ziporyn

TERRA ZIPORYN

Author of The Bliss of SolitudeTime’s Fool, Do Not Go Gentle, and the new novel Permanent Makeup as well as many nonfiction works including The New Harvard Guide to Women’s HealthAlternative Medicine for Dummies, and Nameless Diseases.

12-04-16 IS HISTORICAL FICTION HISTORICAL?

andersonville

Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

chesapeake

Chesapeake by James A. Michener

Listening to James Michener’s Chesapeake on recent driving trips, I’m finding myself increasingly uncomfortable. He’s cheating, I think. These characters – they are so vivid. He didn’t have to make them up from whole cloth. Doesn’t that make his life as a novelist considerably easier? Or his creative achievements less impressive? (Continue reading)

Ellen Prentiss Campbell

ELLEN PRENTISS CAMPBELL

Author of The Bowl with Gold Seams

12-1-2016: A COZY HOUSE FULL OF BOOKS

The holiday season finds me grateful for the profound reading experiences of childhood. Remember when reading a book was living the book? Certain books and authors left a mark on my reading, my writing, and my life. And for the reading of my childhood, I owe special gratitude to my great-aunt Mildred Campbell.

My grandfather’s baby sister Midge was small but mighty. She grew up on the family’s strawberry farm in Tennessee. Witty and determined, Mildred became a history professor at Vassar College. Her cozy house on College Avenue in Poughkeepsie was full of books─including a shelf for the Oxford English Dictionary. She loved books and words; talked a lot; read a lot; wrote a lot. (Continue reading)

JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

ellencampbell-headshots-003211-29-2016: Author Ellen Prentiss Campbell is our December 1 Guest Blogger

Since I had the double assignment to post at the end of November and also to invite a guest blogger for the beginning of December, I took the opportunity to make sure our readers enjoy a full introduction to the wit, charm, and wonderful writing of Ellen Prentiss Campbell, who joins us on 1 December as our guest blogger. In the spirit of the holiday season, Ellen shares her childhood memories of the powerful impact of the books selected for her by a very special relative.

Ellen’s debut novel, The Bowl with Gold Seams (Apprentice House Press, reviewed here on 11-20-2016), was inspired by the detainment of the Japanese Ambassador to Germany, his staff and their families, at the Bedford Springs Hotel in 1945. Her short story collection Contents Under Pressure (Broadkill River Press) was a 2015 National Book Award nominee. Her essays and reviews appear in The Fiction Writers Review, where she is a contributing editor, and The Washington Independent Review of Books. Ellen is also a practicing psychotherapist and lives with her husband in Washington D.C. and Manns Choice, Pennsylvania. You can find more from Ellen on her website, www.ellencampbell.net.

Peter Pollak

PETER POLLAK

Aulthor of The Expendable Man (2011); Making the Grade (2012); Last Stop on Desolation Ridge (2012); In the Game (2014); & House Divided (2015)

Chanukah Guilt by Ilene Schneider: A Review

Chanukah Guilt is the title of Rabbi Illene Schneider’s first cozy mystery. The heroine is a female rabbi whose persistence in seeking answers about the supposed suicide of a young woman leads to the discovery of a double murder.

The Chanukah connection is an artificial overlay to the story and other than being “cute” due to the fact that Guilt almost sounds like Gelt, the title has nothing to do with the story.

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JENNIFER YACOVISSI

Author of Up the Hill to Home

11/20/16 – Book Review: The Bowl with Gold Seams by Ellen Prentiss Campbell

I’ve written frequently about my admiration for small-press publishing, folks who are driven more by their love of the written word than by any expectation of making a commercial killing. It’s that willingness to simply go with what they love that leads many small presses to build impressive catalogs of work by authors of remarkable talent. This month I’m highlighting another example of this marriage of small press to big talent.

screen-shot-2016-11-20-at-4-38-46-pmI originally heard about Ellen Prentiss Campbell from several sources almost simultaneously, one of which was our shared publisher. As small presses go, publishers don’t come much smaller than Apprentice House Press, run out of Loyola University. Of unique note, though, Apprentice House is both non-profit and student-run. Students learn by doing; authors get unparalleled input into the creative process behind bringing a traditionally published work into print. What is perhaps most remarkable is that the students work as a team to choose the projects for which they’d like to offer a contract. Kudos for their selection of Ellen’s novel.

THE BOWL WITH GOLD SEAMS, Ellen Prentiss Campbell, Apprentice House, 2015, 221 pp.

“What is broken is also beautiful.” This is the lesson taught by kintsugi, a Japanese ceramic art form in which objects are purposely broken and then mended with golden joinery, thereby making them even more beautiful and more valuable.

(Continue reading)

Eileen Haavik McIntire

EILEEN HAAVIK MCINTIRE

Author of Shadow and the Rock, The 90s Club and the Hidden Staircase, and The 90s Club and the Whispering Statue

11/17/2016 – Nonfiction – A Writer’s Ally for Nuance

Researching a novel can involve more than history books, archives, and the other usual resources for honing details of terrain, lifestyle, time. What about describing emotions, personality, and the intangible nuances?

The subject came to mind  in riding along with a police officer on patrol. I asked the officer what resources she found helpful and that led to a conversation about lying. One book she found very useful, the police officer said, was Spy the Lie by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero with Don Tennant. The authors are former CIA officers who use a methodology developed by Houston to detect spy-the-liedeception in the counterterrorism and criminal investigation realms. They show how these techniques can be applied in our daily lives.

And in our writing, I add. I’m not going to go into the details of the methodology here, except to say that it focuses on a cluster of both verbal and physical cues. Length of time in answering, asking for clarification or sidestepping the question instead of answering with a clear “yes” or “no” are all clues to deception. Truthful responses tend to be direct and spontaneous, but deceptive people can mimic that behavior in responding to questions. The authors suggest ignoring what seem to be truthful responses and focus on the ones that may be deceptive. (Continue reading)

Sally Whitney

SALLY WHITNEY

Author of the novel Surface and Shadowplus short stories appearing in journals and anthologies.

 

11/10/2016.  A MAN CALLED FREDRIK BACKMAN

Novels that pack a punch but still leave the reader feeling uplifteda-man-called-ove don’t come along very often. Too frequently, novels tend to depict the world we live in as dangerous and dreary or they’re filled with unflappable optimists and do-gooders. Swedish author Fredrik Backman walks the line between those two scenarios perfectly in his first two novels, A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry.

I read A Man Called Ove first and loved its main character, a grouchy old man who’s set in his ways and seems to have no tolerance for anyone who can’t understand that his way is not just the right way; it’s the only way. (Continue reading)

Mark Willen

MARK WILLEN

Author of Hawke’s Point

11/7/16 — Ten Great American Political Novels for Trying Times

As the campaign season draws to a close, there’s one thing we can all agree on: Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. But what about fiction with a strong political theme? Can it help us understand and make sense of the world around us? You bet it can, and I’ve got just the list to prove it.

Whether you’re fed up with politics and need an escape or you just can’t get enough of it, here are ten American political novels worth considering before Inauguration Day. The choices are mine, and I’ll warn you that I’ve left out a few that might seem particularly partisan (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, for example), as well as the many great foreign political classics (1984, The Trial, War and Peace, to name just a few). Most have been made into movies, but trust me, the books are better. (Continue reading)

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