Category Archives: Fiction

Write Short First

So you want to be a writer? Are you planning on working on the book-length manuscript for as long as it takes? And then market it to agents for as long as it takes?

How about being published in the meantime? Nothing is better experience for the novelist or memoirist than writing and publishing short stories or personal essays along the way. If you don’t have what it takes to go through the process successfully with short pieces, what makes you think you can do it with a longer story? Additionally, earning bylines along the way may help get your first book published.

Windy Lynn Harris has written the definitive book to help you get started. Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published provides valuable guidance for crafting and fine-tuning those shorter pieces, as well as providing a step-by-step plan for getting published. This system includes finding markets, preparing your manuscript, and how to submit those pieces to magazines. She even gives pointers for how to deal with rejection, an inevitable part of every writer’s life.

After you follow the advice in this book, I suspect you will have acceptances, too, as Harris’ information is practical and grounded in the realities of the publishing industry. I suggest purchasing a paperback copy and keep it at hand and well-notated on your desk.

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I posted the above review for Windy‘s book on Amazon and Goodreads. But I’d like to expand on the idea of going short before going long. I know I’m going to step on some toes here. A huge number of writers go straight to writing book-length manuscripts. That’s great. They often self-publish and tend to learn from the experience and the books improve with practice. I’ve greatly enjoyed many books that developed from these origins.

But my philosophy is that the best way to learn craft is to start by writing short stories or essays and revising them until they shine. Then send them out and get some publications under your belt. While you are doing this read like crazy. Revise like crazy. Find experienced beta readers who aren’t crazy. I think this is what takes good stories and turns them into literature.

Don’t throw things at me now!

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Essay, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Literary Journals, Publishing, Writing, Writing Talk, Writing Tips and Habits

John Howell’s My GRL and Other Stuff

I read John Howell’s adventure novel My GRL a month and a half ago, but was so busy with promo stuff for Kin Types that I didn’t get a chance to do much besides jot down some thoughts about the book. I’m taking a break now to write my review because his book deserves to be read!

Howell created a page-turning thriller. In the midst of the suspense, the most charming aspect of the story is that the protagonist John J. Cannon is an anti-hero. He’s a lawyer who has taken time off to move to a coastal Texas town and, although he knows very little about boating, buys himself a pretty good sized vessel he names My GRL. John is not necessarily the sharpest, most experienced, or courageous hero. But he’s likeable, the sort of guy you’d like to visit on his boat with a six-pack in your hand—if only it were a safe place.

But from the getgo, John and his boat are involved in a dangerous situation with some very shady characters.  It’s great fun to follow along for the ride. John gets himself into one hot spot after another, but eventually he’s gotten himself in so deep it doesn’t seem possible that he can escape. Has John become canny enough to vanquish such a mighty opponent? Once I hit the last third of the book, where suspense leads to fast-paced action, I couldn’t put it down.

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Reminder: writers not only love reviews, but need them to sell their books. Thank you so very very very much if you left one or more for Kin Types! If you read and enjoyed Kin Types and have not done so, please (Ima begging) swing over to Amazon and leave a review. (and/or Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, and Finishing Line Press).

Verse Daily published one of my Kin Types poems a week ago. I was thrilled, to say the least. They publish one contemporary poem a day. Check them out and be sure to follow them on Twitter!

Perry is still living in his bedroom, but every day he spends several hours in the house with the rest of the cats. I am going very slowly because he loves his room and his privacy, but more importantly for two other reasons. One is that my other cats are old, and he’s very curious and wants to play (or in the case of Felix, to play fight with him), and they can’t handle more than four hours at this point. The biggest reason, though, is that Perry breathes SO heavily when he’s out with the cats. It’s kind of scary. I took him to the vet and had him checked out, paying them buckets of money. She had no answers except that his heart might be slightly enlarged and the next step COULD be an echocardiogram (more buckets). But we don’t have to rush into that at all. However, to be on the safe side, I don’t want him breathing like that all day long . . . .

That’s how Perry treats Felix. He treats the female cats much nicer. When they give him warning growls, he listens.

#amwriting: I’ve written two poems, peeps! Yay me!

Have a happy and productive week!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Books, Cats and Other Animals, Fiction, Kin Types, Poetry Collection, Writing

A Trip to the Fair

Last weekend the gardener and I visited the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. We love looking at the work of Native artists and craftspeople. I had a gift to buy and thought I’d check out the jewelry.

On the way there, I started wondering about different viewpoints–differing perspectives–on this subject.

If I buy a Native necklace, can it be worn without cultural appropriation?  If you use cultural elements in a colonizing manner, it is cultural appropriation. How does one determine what “in a colonizing manner” mean? Outrageous examples are easy to identify; but what about more subtle ones?

I have to assume if an artist makes a silver necklace and sells it at an event called “Indian Fair & Market,” that she wants it purchased at said event and then worn and loved. Doesn’t that make sense?

Life is a lot of thinking work. It’s good that I have to think about this subject so that I don’t walk all over somebody else, but it’s a little exhausting that I have to wonder if an artist wants me to buy her art. All us artist types want our stuff purchased and enjoyed.

This man was one of the few people practicing his skill at the event.

These lovely young ladies enjoyed showing off their crowns.

What do you think about the subject of cultural appropriation? Obviously, a lot of it has gone on in the past, which is how we have ended up with blended cultures and blended cultural arts–like American jazz, for instance.  Do you have a “rule of thumb” for knowing if you are overstepping and colonizing someone else’s culture?

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 On another note completely, I finished Jill Weatherholt‘s delightful novel Second Chance Romance. If you want to read my review, head on over to Goodreads or Amazon before you buy your own copy!

Enjoy your read–and then head on over to Jill’s blog and let her know!

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Filed under Arizona, Art and Music, Book Review, Books, Fiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Fresh Air for Cats and Writers

Did you watch that Bowl game yesterday? I sure did. The important one–the Kitten Bowl. (Yes, I saw the other crazy game, too!)

After I bought a cat stroller last summer (see here) it was too hot (for them) for walks or just to get some air, then it was too rainy and cool (for me). This weekend it was just right.

Because I don’t have a catio (a screened-in porch for cats) I don’t like to frustrate the cats that would take most quickly to outdoor life. We are a strictly indoor cat household–for the safety of our cats, the safety of the neighborhood birds, and for my mental health. So I don’t want anybody to get any big ideas.

But Tiger has a very constricted life. She finds Kana and Sloopy Anne very annoying. They like to chase her, and Tiger likes to flee. So she needs little events that make her feel special. Therefore, she was the one who was chosen to go out in the stroller in this beautiful weather.  I put down a wee-wee pad (Chux underpad), just in case she got too excited. But she didn’t have an accident. She felt the breeze on her face and smelled the odors on that breeze. She watched for tiny movements I couldn’t even see. And she listened for her dad’s voice since he was close by.

When she came back in the house, she was thorough about checking out the stroller for the smells it brought back into the house. And she stood her ground afterward, giving Sloopy Anne a nice long smirk.

A writer friend asked me what writing project I’m working on now. I had to admit I feel a little at odds. I have a draft of my memoir completed, but am doing some thinking about it. I have a publisher interested in my poetry/prose chapbook that is based on the lives of women in my family history. I’m not jumping back into poetry or into creative nonfiction right now. Partly, I would like to focus on wrapping up these two projects. But maybe it’s also that I feel a little singed by these genres.  I’ve been working in them for a long time, and they take a lot of emotional strength.

My friend asked me if I was going to work on fiction now. It was her idea, not mine. She might do it herself. I think it’s an idea well worth thinkin’ on pondering. Maybe I could use some “fresh air.”

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Arizona, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Family history, Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

Pre-Measured Ingredients and a Glass of Wine: My Kind of Cooking

Meal planning and preparation (not to mention cleanup) has always felt like such a burden to me. When I get in the zone, I love to cook, especially if I have a glass of wine. But the thought of planning a menu and shopping for it sends me over the top. Actually doing it practically puts me prone on the couch.

So when I got a coupon for $30 off homechef.com, I thought I’d bite (sorry). I figured that if, for that first week, I could get 3 gourmet meals for 2 for $60 less $30, even if it wasn’t that good, it would be worth it. When I signed up, they even gave me another $10 off. I thought I probably wouldn’t go beyond that first week.

Have you heard of homechef.com? I guess it’s similar to blueapron.com, but from looking at the meals, I suspect that homechef is a little more “gourmet” in flavor. Not sure if they have these companies outside of the United States.

The weekly shipment comes in a padded box with six re-usable ice paks (if you don’t want to keep them, you can empty them out into the sink as the contents are harmless). Each meal’s ingredients are bagged together, with the meats separate in sealed packages. Enclosed is a 9×11 cardstock recipe with photos and other interesting info for each meal.

So far, we’ve had grilled salmon and vegetables, pork chop with honey mustard cream and fingerling potatoes, pesto shrimp and pecorino grits, chicken with green peppercorn sauce, white bean and butternut squash stew with baguette (whole thing except the baguette was gluten free, and the baguette was packaged separately), Thai red curry shrimp, and chicken in cherry red wine sauce (with artichoke gratin). Each meal is enough to eat, although the gardener likes a lot of rice, so I added a little more for two meals–and added mashed potatoes to whichever meal came with mashed carrots. But, boy,was I in for a surprise. Mashed carrots are delicious! I hate cooked carrots as a rule, but now I know that it’s easy to mash them and totally change the flavor and, of course, the texture.

My sauce was too thin because I drank too much wine, but it tasted great anyway

You can choose meals based on gluten-free, low fat, low carb, and so on. When I wanted to find out if the stew was gluten free without the baguette, I emailed them and got a reply very quickly from the chef. Different chefs design the various meals. Every week is different.

Best yet, I can skip any week I want with no penalty–or cancel whenever I want!

Lots of pros to this for me–and mainly it’s the idea that I don’t have to find recipes, make shopping lists, or shop (which I detest). All I have to do is grab my glass of wine and cook for 25-45 minutes on any given night. I don’t have to buy more ingredients than I can use. How many times have you bought a jar of pesto only to use a small amount for a recipe, then figure you’ll use it up later, and it ends up going bad in the fridge? Or if not pesto, other things, right? All you are required to keep on hand is olive oil, salt, and pepper. The recipe cards even tell me how long the ingredients will last before cooking so there’s no guessing if the meat is safe to cook or not. Each meal  at full price (without the discount) is $9.95 per person which is not a bad price for a gourmet meal.

Any cons? Yes. I don’t eat pork, so I ate the other part of the meal, but the gardener said that the pork chops were not very good. He said it was hard to get good pork chops and suggested I not choose those again. With plenty of seafood, chicken, and veggie options, that won’t be a problem. They have beef, too, but I don’t eat that either. The produce is not the quality I like to buy. It’s adequate for the purpose, and it doesn’t affect the flavor of the dishes at all. But it’s not the sort of produce I would make a salad with. And the lime that came with the Thai shrimp was completely dry.

But the ease and the taste of this food is well worth it, to my mind. I’m not usually somebody who takes to “stuff like this,” but I’m enjoying the benefits to homechef.com.

If you want the $30 off discount, I can send you an invite (just let me know your email address). When you refer people they get $30 off–and so does the referring person (which would be me), so we would both benefit (hehehe, she chuckled).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can see from the slideshow that I completely forgot to take a pic of the gorgeous Thai shrimp because I was so excited to eat it. It was delicious. So was the stew which you can see in the slideshow.

Anyway, if you try it and hate it, maybe it isn’t right for you. But it works out perfectly for us–two people who don’t want a bunch of leftover ingredients cluttering the fridge. Every time I opened the fridge I used to hear them demanding to be used. Guilt guilt guilt.

What else is going on besides cooking? Work. Always plenty of that. Then, also,  I’ve been revising some short story drafts that have lingered on my computer. We’ll see how that goes. Kitties are well. Kana and Sloopy Anne like to play Hot Pursuit together.  Hot Pursuit is round and, when it’s turned on, has a stick with a toy attached that goes round and round. The cats like to lie on the stick and try to keep it from moving.

 

 

 

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Filed under #AmWriting, Cats and Other Animals, Fiction, Food & Drink

Another Opportunity for a New (to me) Book

I was in California this past week, and I discovered a “little free library” in front of someone’s house when I was mailing some letters.

I’d never had the opportunity before, so I grabbed a book I was willing to give up and visited.

I donated an unread Anne Rice novel. I figured that I had had it and never read it, so it might as well be read by someone who would appreciate it. While I am fascinated by a lot of topics, vampires have never appealed to me. Maybe I’m afraid of them, not sure.

There were quite a few children’s books in this little library, but even with only a handful of adult books, I could see several that appealed to me. I picked the memoir about anxiety (I can sure use that and then I can pass it on to one of at least ten other people I know who could use reading it) by Daniel Smith, Monkey Mind.

These little libraries are such a positive affirmation of reading, sharing, education, and community spirit. The only drawback I can see is that adult books can fall into the hands of children–and, of course, there are inappropriate scenes in many of them.

I wonder what other people think about that concern . . . .

I finished the first book in the Dolls to Die For series. It was great fun, in part because Deb Baker pays such attention to setting, and that setting is Phoenix. In fact, Phoenix almost becomes a character in the story. The reader is given a lot of description of the climate and topography of Phoenix. Here she describes the aftermath of a monsoon storm: “Last night’s storm had moved toward the coast, and the arid desert heat had already begun to absorb the large quantities of fallen rain. In the next short, sunny hours, all evidence of flooding would evaporate, and the land would appear parched again.”

Because the book was first in the series (Dolled Up for Murder), I had a good time guessing which characters might become regulars in the series. The protagonist, Gretchen Birch, is young at barely thirty, but her aunt played a large role in the story, too. Nina, the aunt, is a purse dog trainer, meaning she trains tiny dogs to stay inside handbags so they can be sneaked (aka snuck) into restaurants and stores.

Another treat I finished was the entire six seasons of Downton Abbey. More, more! I became addicted, and now the whole world seems gray without it. Soon after I wrote my last post about Downton, I realized that Isobel Crawley was my absolute favorite character. I love them all, but she is the one I will miss the most.

But I am reading Monkey Mind already!

I hope your week is full of just the number of books that you have time to read. If you love books, you will know what I mean.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Book Review, Books, California, Fiction, Memoir, Reading, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Finding a New Cozy Series

The gardener and I visited our local used bookstore and loaded up a box. I know, I know. I’ve said I have a shelf and a half of unread books. I have a lot of want-to-read books on my Goodreads list. I’ve promised people their books will be read in the next phase. But the gardener was out of his books to read. He reads hardcover-only historical fiction, preferably in Asian settings.  Nothing too specific hahaha. I didn’t happen to have any of those on my shelf, so off we went.

Can you imagine me waiting around in a bookstore with discounted and sale prices and twiddling my thumbs?

All of this is to say It’s Not My Fault.

I thought I’d check out mysteries and poetry. I don’t even bother to look for memoirs because our store rarely has any in stock. Maybe people don’t give up their memoir copies as quickly?

In the somewhat lame poetry section, I found a Billy Collins book, so I grabbed that. But most of the rest were obviously cast-off textbooks/the classics–and I already have those.

In mysteries I had better luck. I prefer cozies. And of cozies I most prefer theatre (those are hard to find) and cats (those are easy to find) and retail shops (antique, book, etc.). What I never thought I’d find would be dolls!

And here they were: 4 wonderful mysteries of the Dolls To Die For series by Deb Baker. The entire short series right in front of me. And guess where they take place? Phoenix! (aka home)

So I brought them home where they are right at home.

When I lined them up with the doll buggy, I was reminded of a poem in Doll God. “Vintage Doll Buggy” was originally published in The Antigonish Review, a Canadian literary journal. I wrote this poem about war and innocence, focusing on a green doll buggy I’d seen in an antique store. But I happen to have two versions of that buggy–one pink and blue; the other red and white. In the poem you will see why I used the green buggy instead of mine.

 

Vintage Doll Buggy

 

 

“Every Boy Wants a Pop Gun”

— the company’s slogan. And

not just guns, but air rifles,

clicker pistols, caps.

They specialized in the arms

industry for boys in striped Ts.

 

How this paean to fertility

flowered in that factory, it’s hard

to figure.  Pre-war, maybe 1930s.

Pressed from Ford plant

scrap metal, like the guns.

 

The inside cups like a clam shell.

Like an embrace.  A sheath.

With a satin pillow, it’s a rolling

coffin, a time capsule.

 

When the fighting began,

the government banned metal

for toys.  The war effort claimed

even the green paint.  At the factory

they pressed en bloc clips

for the M1 Garand rifle.

 

Now its wheels bow out,

the green paint

chipped and dulled.

The yellow canopy still reverses.

A calm lingers inside as when

one fingers past a peony’s petals.

 

castle promotional cover

Click through to Amazon

Nancy Ann Storybook doll with pre-war doll buggy

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Filed under Arizona, Books, Doll God, Dolls, Fiction, Literary Journals, poems about dolls, Poetry, Poetry Collection, Writing

Where to Find a Parking Lot Superhero

Just realized that my flash fiction piece “Parking Lot Superhero” was published by Story Shack two weeks ago! Yikes, how did I lose track of time? Speaking of time, the magazine gives an estimate of five minutes to read it ;).

PARKING LOT SUPERHERO

The story was illustrated by artist Hannah Nolan.

Thanks so much to the editor Martin Hooijmans and to Hannah.

This is my first attempt at flash fiction.  I like how fiction gives me more freedom with structure than nonfiction does, and the flash length is fun to work with. It’s challenging to be concise but also rewarding to complete a story that is this short.

Do you read and/or write flash fiction that isn’t serialized? Where the whole story has to be read in five minutes? Do you prefer flash fiction or the traditional short story length and why?

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Pic of a vintage police car found just outside the Grand Canyon. With a character like Jack (in my story), the protagonist and her friend didn’t need the police.

 

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Filed under Fiction, Flash Fiction, Literary Journals, Publishing, Reading, Writing

Elephants in My Room

The other day I finished reading my first Jodi Picoult book. I chose Leaving Time without knowing anything about it because it was available at the used book store (if I write used bookstore, doesn’t that mean that the store is secondhand?). It was cheap, and I wanted to see what her writing was like.

It was serendipity that the book turned out to be about elephants because I had just finished reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. Maybe some readers would say, “Oh no, not more elephants.” But not this animal lover. I can’t get enough elephants.

By the way, remember my mother-in-law, the artist who painted the murals at The Birdland nightclub? She had a collection of little elephant statues that I inherited. I have them stuck to a shelf with museum putty so I couldn’t arrange them for a photo. This is how I have them jammed in, along with her Birdland and Stork Club memorabilia (sigh).

What a mess

Anyway, I loved both books . . . a lot. Gruen’s novel is highly acclaimed. A movie was made of the book. As is typical, I haven’t seen the movie. It’s a story about a young man who travels and works with a circus. He takes care of the animals, including a beautiful and highly intelligent elephant that only understands Polish.  My Goodreads review is short because I’ve been too short on time lately for writing reviews.

Loved this book. I was so worried about the ending, but the ending turned out to be perfect.

Picoult’s book is a little more complicated. The average Goodreads star rating is 3.91. That’s pretty decent, but it’s comprised of some 1s and 2s. This is what I wrote in my review:

I’ve read some of the Goodreads reviews of this book, and I think I understand why I give this book a 5 and some others give it a 1 or 2. This is a book that appeals to a soft heart for animals. Picoult skillfully teaches me so much about elephants and their brilliant, creative minds and big hearts–and I don’t even feel as if I’m being taught. I feel as if I am living with the elephants. If you are mainly interested in humans and don’t feel a kinship with animals you might think that the book feels as if there are odd gaps at times–explainable by the story being told from multiple points of view. It might even seem a little jerky occasionally because of this. That is all understood by the end of the book (the twist), so it makes sense. Not my absolute favorite story without the elephants, but the elephants are the stars of the show–AND VERY WELL WORTH THE READ. in fact, I wish everyone would read it to learn more about them and to help them survive before it is too late and they are all gone.

One of the really cool aspects of the novel is that it comes with a prequel at the end that gives additional information about the elephants. Another is that one of the elephant sanctuaries in the book is the real one that exists in Tennessee. That is on my bucket list along with Cleveland Amory’s Black Beauty Ranch. Check it out!

When my son was in high school, he and I picketed the circus together–all over their treatment of the animals, especially the elephants. So imagine my excitement a few months ago at hearing that Ringling Brothers was giving in to the will of the people fighting for the health of the elephants by retiring all their elephants!

One of the most meaningful books I’ve ever read was Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s nonfiction When Elephants WeepIn it he makes an airtight case for the emotional life of elephants (and other animals). In his book I first learned that elephants have been known to create art!!!

When Elephants Weep

Now I’m looking for more elephant books to read. Has anybody read The Elephant Whisperer?

#amwriting: Yup, I’ve been getting my chapbook in shape, so that gives me a feeling of accomplishment. And now my daughter is visiting with her kitty. YIPPEE!!!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Fiction, Nonfiction, Reading, Writing

Love in the Time of War Injuries and Apache Relations

The best history stories show us ourselves in a different setting. And so it is with Adrienne Morris’ ambitious novel The House on Tenafly Road. I had expected a nostalgic view of a New Jersey village almost 150 years ago. But what I discovered between the covers was the compelling story of a complicated man whose early circumstances as a mixed race (Delaware Indian and British) child of poverty and his Civil War battle wounds nearly destroy his life and family.

John Weldon is a brave and honorable man, but he knows himself so little. The reader can see that he has the potential to be a true hero, and the girl of his dreams, Katherine McCullough, certainly sees him this way. John comforts others with his impressive knowledge of scripture, but he has lost his own faith.

 

Believing himself to be undeserving–a weak man for having become addicted to the drug given him by the Army doctor–, he secretly feeds his addiction to morphine.  Perhaps John is a classic anti-hero because although the reader watches John’s world crumble around him because of his addiction, the reader desperately wants John to succeed. For the most part, John demonstrates loyalty, courage, and compassion for others, although he is not so generous with himself.

 

Rather than the main characters building a life in New Jersey, John’s army career soon leads the young family to the wilds of the Arizona Territory. Katherine can no longer be the suburban lady she was raised to be, but must toughen up as an officer’s wife in the most far-flung post she can imagine. John and Katherine raise their two children in a tiny, unadorned cabin. I live in present-day air-conditioned Arizona, and it was exciting to read of the relentless heat, the flora and fauna, and of course, the U.S. Army’s relationship with the native tribes of the region.

 

The novel is long (much longer than most books) but John’s path to redemption is plagued with very realistic setbacks and mistakes, and I hung on to every word, eager to get to the next plot development. In a book this rich and layered, various threads repeatedly surface. For example, as makes sense for a serious book of American history, Morris examines the issue of race—specifically Native American images through the eyes of well-read east coast citizens, through the military, and through John Weldon himself. She doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, such as Weldon’s Indian mother’s alcoholism. Her touch is so deft that while she made my heart break at seeing atrocities against the Apaches through the eyes of the appalled and far-removed Americans back in New Jersey, she also showed me the results of two cultures slamming into one another.

 

Underlying all lies John’s nasty little secret—the addiction he keeps from his wife. I hadn’t realized that morphine addiction among returning Civil War soldiers was a problem until I read this book and decided to Google it. It’s estimated that a half million men became morphine addicts thanks to their service to our divided country. There were no rehabs and no 12-step programs in those days. Perhaps the only hope that an addict could have would be his faith, and above all, The House on Tenafly Road is about faith. Morris so skillfully weaves questions of faith and love in this epic tale that it isn’t until the end of the book that all stills and clarity emerges.

One final note: the version I read still had some typos and mechanical errors, but a revision has cleaned up these problems, at least according to a spot check that I made.

Go, now, check out Adrienne’s blog, too. NOTHING GILDED, NOTHING GAINED: WHERE PAST MEETS PRESENT AT MIDDLEMAY FARM

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Filed under Arizona, Book Review, Fiction, History, Novel