Beyond the Two Rivers: The Continuing Story of Mannig the Heroine of Between the Two Rivers Following the Armenian Genocide (246 pp, $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-60381-151-4), is the sequel to Between the Two Rivers: A Story of the Armenian Genocide, the account of the real-life saga of Ms. Kouyoumjian’s mother Mannig, who as a young girl was one of a small minority of Armenians who survived the massacre and deportation from the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I. Historians estimate that 1.5 to 2 million Armenians perished.
“A memoir so memorable it will haunt you forever. This is one book that will enlighten readers about a country so many know so little about.”
—Fran Lewis, Just Reviews
** Click the cover image to order online **
** Or order it in Kindle, Nook, or other eBook formats on Smashwords **
Critics had high praise for Between the Two Rivers:
“From the first page of Between the Two Rivers, your attention will be captured,” writes Carol Hoyer, PhD, for Reader Views. “Readers won’t be able to put the book down. You will hiss at the villains and cheer for the underdogs.”
In ForeWord Reviews, Elissa Mugianis writes, “With this writing, Kouyoumjian joins authors Thea Halo and Peter Balakian, whose finely penned accounts of family members’ survival of the Ottoman atrocities are essential reads for the understanding of these genocides.”
“An absorbing account that confirms the adage, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ ” says Mary Terzian, author of The Immigrants’ Daughter.
Between the Two Rivers won first place (Washington State) in the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) At-Large Communications Contest in the nonfiction: history category.
Between the Two Rivers was a true Cinderella of Mesopotamia story. Young Mannig rose from starving Armenian orphan to the teenage bride of a wealthy philanthropist. Beyond the Two Rivers begins in Baghdad amid the political turmoil of 1958 and flashes back to where the first book left off in 1922, when Mannig travels to the desert castle of her in-laws. As a young mother, Mannig moves from one isolated farming village outpost to another while her engineer husband makes the desert bloom. Mannig, Mardiros, and their three children eventually settle in Baghdad, where the tumult of World War II has soured relations between the various tribes who have shared these lands peacefully for centuries.
Whether hobnobbing with royalty or escaping from angry Bedouin, Mannig retains her resilience and joie de vivre. This is an Iraq that no longer exists, except in our memories and imaginations.
Says the author, “Ever since Between the Two Rivers was published, I’ve been asked about a sequel. Did the Cinderella of Mesopotamia get to enjoy a Happily Ever After? Well, the answer is complicated, as you will see. She certainly had a wonderful husband, who also became a loving father to his children. But those were turbulent years, and what began as a luxurious idyll in the castle of her husband’s family soon turned into an itinerant existence far from her friends, her in-laws and her sister. During my childhood, my father’s engineering work took us from one remote outpost to the next, and eventually we had to flee for our lives. Mannig’s life was full of adventure, and it was certainly happier than most. It had its moments of fear and tragedy, but she was tough; anyone who survived what she did as a child had to be. I think many will find it fascinating to relive those years with her, in an Iraq that struggled to find its place in the twentieth century, fell into the hands of a dictator, and now continues to reel as violence breaks out in surrounding countries. What’s going on in Syria these days is so reminiscent of what has been happening in the Middle East since the beginning of human history—in Babylon, which is only a few miles from where I was born.”
Aida Kouyoumjian was born in Felloujah and raised and educated in Baghdad, Iraq. In 1952 she came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington on a Fulbright Scholarship. Aida married an American and eventually settled on Mercer Island. Click here to find Aida online.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
Mannig never learned how the friendly association between the Kouyoumdjians and the Royal Family of Iraq began. From conversations in the drawing rooms she assumed that the two brothers, Kerop Agha Kouyoumdjian and Hagop Agha Kouyoumdjian—the father-in-law she never met—earned their reputations from their philanthropy toward the Ottoman Empire. The Agha brothers retained their aristocratic status by contributing to the welfare of their ancestral land even after it formed a country all its own—Iraq.
Mannig’s curiosity was piqued when the family received the courier from the royal palace bearing the king’s regrets that he could not attend the forthcoming reception for the wedding of Mardiros and Mannig. She never doubted the existence of the relationship between the royal family and the Kouyoumdjians. Some family members recalled joining the royal hunt for mountain lions; others bragged about riding race horses on royal grounds. Any doubts she might have had were removed by the visits paid by King Faisal and his brother, Ali at the qasr in Felloujeh.
As was their custom to escape the summer heat, the Kouyoumdjians had moved to their Felloujeh qasr on the west bank of the Euphrates River, forty-five miles west of Baghdad. Like their permanent home, this one was designed to house the families of the five brothers in separate compartments. They would gather together at suppertime and chat afterward on the balcony, often past midnight. The taupe ceramic-tiled balcony jutted out of the drawing room and cantilevered over the riverbank. They relished the cool breeze off the river’s bend along their peninsular property.
The balcony was Mannig’s favorite location, not only because it was the perfect setting for a cool evening but because she, as the most recent bride, was no longer the focus of the family’s attention. Everyone had so much to talk about. Their summer place offered a lot of space and many opportunities during the days for the fourteen children to expend their excess energy. The adults seemed to relive their youths when their offspring spoke of swinging from trees, riding horses or donkeys, swimming in the river and playing the sort of games children invent for themselves. Their juvenile dramatizations of how the cook slaughtered a lamb for dinner or strangled chickens for Sunday’s supper were far more entertaining than finding a turkey egg in the chicken coop. Armen liked to brag about how he almost trapped a jackal. “We chased that wowie to the edge of the farm,” Haig would add, completing his cousin’s story. Mannig, only sixteen then seventeen years old, loved listening to tales of the children’s shenanigans, wishing she could be with her nieces and nephews rather than her in-laws.
All this, however, did not stop the children from suffering the occasional reproofs from their parents, especially if Managuile Hanum shouted from her room, “Send for Mardiros to deal with these delinquents.” The children feared him, but Mannig could not imagine her husband even stepping on a cockroach.
Knowing her place, Mannig refrained from entertaining ideas of childish adventures. She hoped to familiarize herself with the caprices and idiosyncrasies of the adults of her family.
One day, the supper bell—an empty three-inch cannon shell—was gonged several hours before the actual meal. The adults dashed out of their compartments and headed downstairs, Mannig in tow.
Once inside the drawing room, they found that instead of the eldest brother Khosrof, Mardiros had issued the unusual summons. He motioned to Mannig to sit on the divan closest to him while he remained standing in front of a silk Sajadah—Persian carpet—hanging on the wall.
“We have been given several days’ notice that the King is about to visit,” he began with no preliminaries.
Soprano and baritone oohs and ahs echoed about the room, which was as exuberant as the adults allowed themselves to get.
“King Faisal, His Royal Highness,” Mardiros said with self-assurance, “is returning to Baghdad from Damascus. He will need a short rest when he drives through Felloujeh.”
Managuile Hanum called attention to herself by clicking her prayer beads. Speaking in Turkish, she said, “I assume you’ve arranged for him to rest in the qasr.”
“Of course,” they responded unanimously, making Mannig question her own understanding of her in-laws’ position. She had assumed the departure from Baghdad society and the decorum required there would give her respite from learning the rules. Suddenly Felloujeh was becoming the site of a royal visit.
“Furthermore,” Mardiros said, waiting for them to quiet down, “His Majesty’s brother, Prince Ali, will come from Baghdad to meet the King here.”
Prince Ali, still with no kingdom of his own to rule, was anxious to learn from Faisal about his own future duties. Faisal, crowned king of Iraq since 1922, had been meeting in Damascus, Syria and Amman, Transjordan—now Jordan—with the British and the French emissaries to determine which territories ought to be ruled by whom. He and his two brothers from Saudi Arabia had assisted the Allies against the Axis during WWI, and each claimed the right to rule the territories lost by the Ottoman Empire. Ali had traveled to Baghdad, counting on Faisal’s influence with the European leaders.
Mardiros raised his arm for attention. “Most major arrangements are done, but there is one problem. The Governor of Felloujeh feels offended that the King should take his rest at the qasr of “those Armenians,” as he called us, instead of the Government House. So I invited him to pay us a visit to see for himself if his Government House could offer better accommodations for his Royal Highness.”
“Good diplomacy,” the men in the room affirmed Mardiros’ handling of a sensitive situation.
“But when is he coming?” The women needed to know if they had enough time to prepare for an outsider.
“Considering the lateness of the day, we agreed he should come sometime tomorrow.”
“There’s much to be done.” Khosrof stood and grabbed his redingote from the coat tree. “This is a first. We have entertained many dignitaries, but never two kings at once—even if I’m stretching the truth about Ali. I’m sure his kingdom will be Transjordan.”
The family scattered and plunged into a thousand and one tasks and arrangements. The gentlemen of the qasr saw to it that every detail of protocol was taken care of. They assigned Siranoush, Dikran’s wife who hailed from Moscow and a girls’ finishing school, to practice how and where on the King’s route to the drawing room they should curtsy.
“Felloujeh cannot offer proper cakes,” Diggin Hermine said. She was Toros’ wife and revered for her culinary expertise. “I’ll order the cakes and the gateaux from Baghdad.” She saw to it that Mahmoud the chauffeur would deliver them on the exact day so they would be as fresh as if made locally.
The biggest problem was that none of the servants in the qasr was of sufficient standing to serve the coffee and the tea which, according to local custom, were served already poured in the cups and set in saucers on a large round tray.
“How about Farid Abbosh?” Diggin Sara, Khosrof’s wife suggested. Farid, an acquaintance living in Felloujeh, had spoken of previous experiences serving dignitaries.
Farid consented to do the honors and the Kouyoumdjian ladies began training him the proper way. He was told that under no circumstances should he turn his back on the King and that, after serving the coffee, he should withdraw backwards. Farid, being a man of considerable girth, found it difficult to get his bearings when walking backward. Even Mannig couldn’t control her mirth at his “test runs.”
When the Governor visited the qasr, he saw the extent and quality of the preparations and realized that in no way could he have matched them.
“It will be my honor,” he confided to Mardiros, “to direct His Royal Highness to your qasr.”
On the day of the visit everybody woke up early. The ruckus the children made while being washed and then dressed in their Sunday best filled the courtyard.
“You better stay clean,” Mannig heard one mother after another warn her child, “or else Uncle Mardiros will see that you never sit on your buttocks without pain.”
Mannig gave her husband a puzzled look, but not for long. “I’ve become …” Mardiros explained, brushing the velvet collar of his redingote. “No, they’ve made me the disciplinarian of these children. Ever since I spanked one of my nephews, the reputation stuck with the rest, making the mothers quite content to associate my name freely with the threat of the rod.”
“I noticed Diggin Hermine pressing Toros’ morning suit,” Mannig said. “Should I do the same to yours?”
“It’s not necessary,” Mardiros said. “But perhaps you ought to attend to your own clothing.”
“Oh, I will,” Mannig said, showing him her yellow silk dress, dotted with pearls. Maggie, Khosrof’s seventeen-year-old daughter from his late wife, had chosen it for her at Orozdi Bek, the Swiss department store in Baghdad.
“That’s a perfect outfit for tea,” he said, face brightening and eyes shining.
“Maggie said this was the most fashionable style these days,” Mannig said.
“Maggie has good taste,” Mardiros said. Then, walking out of their compartment, he leaned on the banister and called the men-servants, who dashed to the courtyard, looking up. “Collect all the Persian carpets in the qasr,” he instructed. “Dust each one and examine their condition. Then lay them end-to-end from the roadway all the way to the drawing room. Do you understand? His Majesty’s feet should not touch the bare ground.”
The Spy’s Little Zonbi (5 x 8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-184-2, 272 pp., $14.95) is a work of espionage fiction by Cole Alpaugh about an idealistic secret agent who tries to protect his daughter from the evil his work has wrought.
Click here to read the article in the Wayne Independent Newspaper online.
** CLICK THE COVER IMAGE TO ORDER ONLINE **
** Or Buy it in Kindle, Nook, or other eBook Formats on Smashwords **
Distributed by Aftershocks Media (firstname.lastname@example.org/800.950.6663), the 5×8 trade paperback can be ordered by stores and libraries through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Partners/West, Midwest Library Service, and Todd Communications.
The Spy’s Little Zonbi is Alpaugh’s third novel. His second novel, The Turtle-Girl from East Pukapuka, was a finalist in both the 2013 Next Generation Indie Awards and the 2013 Foreword Book of the Year Awards. Alpaugh’s first book, The Bear in a Muddy Tutu, set in a ragtag traveling circus, garnered eleven five-star reviews on WorldCat.
“Forget James Bond. I’d much rather spend my time with Chase Allen, the idealistic journalist-turned-government spook at the center of Cole Alpaugh’s outlandishly entertaining new novel.”
—Josh McAuliffe, The Scranton Times-Tribune
“Imaginative. Funny. 3D Characters that come to life on the page and leave you wanting more.”
—Michelle Hessling, Publisher, The Wayne Independent
“Part The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo and part The World According to Garp, Alpaugh’s latest offering is an exhilarating read that I highly recommend.”
—Ann Schmidt, MLS, The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
During a college sponsored aid program in Haiti, Chase Allen witnesses the slaughter of homeless boys. Unable to shake the haunting images with booze and bong hits, he decides to make something of his life by taking an unpaid newspaper internship. There he is recruited for a branch of the CIA whose agents pose as journalists in international hotspots.
Chase begins his espionage career in Nicaragua, where his job is to position the country’s president in the gun sights of a distant sharpshooter during a press dinner. In Panama, he hunts for a deposed rogue dictator last seen in high heels and a bad wig. Success lands him a mission in Northwest Thailand, where he helps a young American Peace Corps volunteer caught up in a jihadist scheme to use bomb-laden bats.
Back home in New Jersey, while monitoring a hapless band of wannabe Iranian terrorists, Chase meets a dark, intriguing woman. Marriage and fatherhood change his priorities, and he begins to worry about putting himself and his family in danger. With great reluctance he agrees to follow a former Austrian ski racer plotting a deadly strike on the Winter Olympics.
It was Chase’s idealism that led him to spying, and that same quality will be his undoing. Faced with deceit beyond his wildest imaginings, he clings to the one person in his life who is good and true, his daughter, his Little Zonbi.
Says Alpaugh, “There’s a period of reflection following news assignments. It happens after the final bullets are fired, or when your plane lifts into the sky on the way home. The receding adrenaline leaves a numbness, an emptiness. You’ve barged into the lives of strangers during traumatic times and then just left them behind. I was almost always in a better position than the people I covered, even though I never made much money in exchange for talking my way into gun battles. That included the soldiers in Nicaragua, or El Salvador, or Haiti, or wherever. I had the ability to leave, while they were hunkered down in muddy holes protecting or maybe overthrowing a government. Then there was the collateral damage—the very old and the very young who were caught in the middle. This story first came to me after some boys at the orphanage where I was staying led me to an old woman with leprosy. They had been throwing rocks at her, insisting that she “liked it.” I knelt beside the woman and touched her hand. Nothing I could say would make the boys stop throwing rocks. Nothing I could do would cure her illness. So I took a photograph. This story was my way of filling the emptiness after leaving so much pain behind.”
Cole Alpaugh is a former journalist, having worked at daily newspapers along the East Coast, as well as spending several years as a war correspondent in numerous hot-spots around the world for Manhattan-based news agencies. His work has appeared in dozens of magazines, as well as most newspapers in America. Cole is currently a freelance photographer and writer living in Northeast Pennsylvania, where he also coaches his daughter’s soccer kick-arounds. Click here to find him online.
Read on for an excerpt:
The Iranians became drunker and more obnoxious as the weeks passed. They seemed to be less and less a terrorist risk than a danger to the club kids and even themselves. It was a Friday night that the six men surrounded a girl on the dance floor. Chase, nursing a vodka tonic in a plastic cup, leaned against a wall near the stage. It was still early and the girl was dancing alone when she was accosted, trapped in a circle. They were hooting, drunk and macho, beer bottles waving over their heads. The four bouncers, huge black guys from the neighborhood, stepped out of the shadows, and Chase watched them looking at each other, deciding if it was time to pounce.
The Iranian men danced by, throwing out their hips and making little hops that rained down foamy beer. The circle tightened and it took them a while to realize the girl had somehow escaped, slipping through their gyrating gauntlet.
“I’m Mitra.” She was next to Chase, a drink in her hand.
“I don’t like the early music, anyway,” she said, and Chase watched her lean against the wall, arms folded in front, eyeing the Iranians. She was tiny, with dark hair and pale skin. “But it’s nice to have your own space, you know?”
The Iranians spotted her and Chase could see the cheated looks.
The song changed, was faster and louder. “Hey Man, Nice Shot” began to play as the group of drunk, pissed-off Iranians came for the girl who’d gotten away.
“I love this song,” Mitra shouted, not budging.
“They look mad.”
“Can you believe one grabbed my ass?”
“It looked like all six were grabbing your ass,” Chase said over the thumping music that had enough bass to vibrate the air. The men stopped their march a few feet from where Chase and the girl stood. “Maybe they came to apologize for being born complete douche bags.”
Mitra had shimmied closer, her right arm and thigh brushing up against him. She smelled like heaven. Chase took a long sip as one of the men shouted what was probably a terrific insult in Farsi. They were huffing, out of breath, slicked hair all messed and pointed spikes. The tallest came to Chase’s chin.
“Sorry, I can’t hear you,” Chase answered, shrugging his shoulders, pointing at one ear. The group hadn’t noticed the gargantuan bouncers who’d come up behind them.
“I think he asked you to dance,” Mitra said, laughing, her head touching Chase’s shoulder when she leaned sideways.
“Bastard!” one of the Iranians shouted. He lunged at Chase but was immediately plucked backward as if on a bungee cord. His accomplices turned to see what had happened and they too suffered the same, neck jarring event. The entire Iranian cell was carted to the exit by the bouncers, leaving nothing behind but a few beer bottles spinning on the floor.
“You’re a total troublemaker, aren’t you?” Chase looked down at her almond eyes, breathed her in. For the first time in two months he didn’t care where the idiots from Iran were. Let them kidnap the governor and set fire to the gold-domed State House. She had tiny freckles and soft lips. There was a new song and she took the cup from his hand and emptied it in one long swallow.
“I bring out the worst in people,” she said and left him to dance alone, before the mob of college kids began to descend.
He let her go for now.
The Book of Changes ($15.95, 306 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN:978-1-60381-186-6), by Jack Remick, is a work of literary fiction that covers a tumultuous year in the life of an idealistic first-year male student enrolled at UC Berkeley in 1971. It is Book Three of The California Quartet, a series of standalone novels about young men coming of age in California during the ’60s and ’70s. The final volume, Trio of Lost Souls, will be released by Coffeetown Press in 2014. The series began with The Deification and Valley Boy.
** CLICK THE COVER IMAGE TO ORDER ONLINE **
** Or buy it in Kindle, Nook, or other eBook formats on Smashwords **
“Remick’s mastery of the narrative craft infuses a common story line—college kid faces challenges and grows up—with an intimate sense of character and setting …. The Book of Changes shines in the crowded genre of coming-of-age narratives.”
—Melissa Wuske, ForeWord Magazine
“Covering much the same cultural terrain as Jack Kerouac’s classic On the Road, The Book of Changes follows a young narrator’s coming-of-age in Berkeley. Yet Jack Remick’s take on the cultural revolution humanizes familiar material. Beast, the narrator, starts off eager for initiation into the Berkeley scene: the university, the drugs, the ‘broads,’ the art. But unlike Kerouac’s protagonist who rides from town to town, indifferent to and unaccountable for the consequences of his choices, Remick gives us a conscientious young man. Beast sticks around long enough to see the aftermath of drug addiction and free love. And the trail of wreckage deeply affects him. As the deaths and broken relationships tally up in his friends’ lives, Beast develops a more honest, compassionate perspective than Kerouac’s characters ever achieved. A moving tale of one young man’s struggle to carve out his own dignity and truth in the midst of radical turbulence.”
–M.C. Easton, author of The Gods of Kittitas County
“Beast” is a pure innocent with one simple goal—to become an expert on the Middle Ages. He comes to Berkeley, the Cathedral of Learning, in 1971, a time of political upheaval, hallucinogenic drugs, group sex, and electric, acid, psychedelic, mind-bending rock and roll. On his quest for meaning he hangs out with a Harley-riding dwarf, a raven-haired Gothic artists’ model, a sorority girl turned nymphomaniac, and the heir to a family of French aristocrats with a bloody history dating back to before Joan of Arc. Beast soon discovers that he can’t live in the past but has to embrace the present, with its traps and land mines and the horrors of contemporary society—death by motorcycle and bad acid trips. The world is exploding, but students still go to classes, fall in love, get laid, study in libraries, win awards, even graduate. The country is on fire, and Berkeley supplies the fuel.
Says Remick: “When I went to Cal, there was no tuition. Education was free. You paid a $76.50 registration fee, and you paid for your books, your room and board. Anything that was left you spent on booze and motorcycles. Then Ronald Reagan was elected governor and the good times ended. The Free Speech Movement (FSM) came along and the rebellion that started in Sproul Hall grew into a firestorm of protests and death and destruction. Education took a hit, tuition blasted off, leaving only the rich and well-heeled in the classrooms. After Ronald Reagan, California was never at peace again. This novel, The Book of Changes doesn’t purport to be either a sociological thesis or a history of anything. It is a fictional record of a sort filtered through time and the consciousness of young women and men who were looking for a new definition of America, of California, of the world. We didn’t succeed.”
Jack Remick is a poet, short story writer, and novelist. Blood, A Novel was published by Camel Press in 2011. The Deification, Valley Boy, and Gabriela and the Widow are all available from Coffeetown Press. Coming in 2014: Trio of Lost Souls and a collection of poems, Satori. Click here to find Jack online.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
The next morning Tim took me to the Bear’s Lair to put up an ad for roommates. The Bear’s Lair was hamburger heaven in a dark pit that smelled of French fries and hair thick with the scent of Cannabis sativa. Long hair. Lots of long hair. Women with long hair, men with long hair. Braids, ponytails, hair strung with beads and woven with bright strips of batiked cloth. Booths lined the walls, students read in the half-light like monks studying scripture or anchorites poring over cryptic secrets in long lost heretical Gnostic texts.
I said, “Is this a cool place to meet chicks?”
“This is Berkeley,” Tim said. “Get your head straight—Books, Beast. Books.
“The Prime Directive is to get laid.”
“That’s Pete’s Prime Directive. Books or sex.”
“You’re right. I’m going to be too busy studying to meet chicks.”
Tim printed the ad on a pink three by five card—
“Serious students seek two roommates—male, female, other—smokers, drinkers, no sexaholics. Politics to the right of Attila the Hun. Motorcycle Maniacs acceptable. Call Sexdraculastein at Thornwall 8 4476 for details.”
“Who is Sexdraculastein?” I said.
“That’s me. Never use your real name on an ad in the Bear’s Lair.”
“Perverts,” Tim said. “Now we go pick up our stuff at Greyhound.”
Better You Go Home ($13.95, 236 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-170-5), is the first novel by Seattle writer and writing instructor Scott Driscoll. While visiting the Czech Republic in search of his half-sister, a critically ill American man unearths long-buried family secrets.
** CLICK THE COVER IMAGE TO ORDER ONLINE **
** Also available in Kindle, Nook, and other eBook formats on Smashwords **
“Moving, powerful, and compulsively readable, Better You Go Home is the unforgettable story of a man’s journey to save his own life, and how he discovers himself along the way.”
—Garth Stein, New York Times bestselling author of The Art of Racing in the Rain
JOIN SCOTT AT ONE OF THE FOLLOWING AUTHOR EVENTS:
Oct. 2nd – Book Launch at Richard Hugo House – 7:00 pm
Oct 19th – Puyallup Library 100 year celebration – authors signing event 6-8 pm
324 South Meridian, Puyallup, WA 98371
Nov. 13th – Third Place Bookstore – 7:00 pm
17171 Bothell Way NE Lake Forest Park, WA 98155
Nov. 15th – University Bookstore – 7:00 pm
4326 University Way NE, Seattle, WA
Nov. 22nd – Leavenworth Library 6:00 – 8:00pm
700 US Highway 2 / Leavenworth, WA 98826
Nov. 23rd – A Book for All Seasons Bookstore, Leavenworth – 1:00 -3:00pm
703 Highway 2, Leavenworth, WA 98826
Better You Go Home is a bestseller at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, WA. Three shelves down, four to the right.
“Scott Driscoll’s gripping, gritty novel, Better You Go Home, is a mystery, a race against time and a love story with a strong dose of political thriller thrown in …. Peppered throughout with Czech dialog, this vivid novel portrays the squalor and decay of a ravaged country, a living culture rich in history and an intimate portrait of a family that carries the scars of the Cold War years. Better You Go Home is hard to put down. A most memorable and satisfying read.”
—Theresa Rose, author of Golden River
“Scott Driscoll delivers. His debut novel has the pace of a thriller and the grace of a literary novel. Although international in scope, the story has an intimate quality and it captivates our hearts.”
—Bharti Kirchner, author of Darjeeling and Tulip Season.
“You can call this an immigrant story, a medical thriller and a tale of love. Driscoll keeps all the scenes tight, the action coming and details to the need to know. You are taken back behind the fallen Iron Curtain and the ghosts that still live and breathe there, which are all based off Driscoll’s own experiences from visiting this part of the world. The subplots don’t distract but draw you deeper into the storyline itself. If you are a fan of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo you may want to pick this novel up as well.”
—Virginia Grenier, The World of Ink Network
“Like the big Russian novels that gave us moral philosophy, this book raises the deepest questions about freedom and captivity, identity and place. Chico, a middle-aged Seattle lawyer in need of a kidney, vows to use his medical leave to find his half-sister, who was left behind in the old country when his father fled the Nazis with another man’s wife. Chico’s doctors in the US want more tests before they will grant him a transplant, but he’s in Prague where tracing one’s family tree isn’t a popular preoccupation if it raises questions about what people did to survive the Soviet Bloc. Better You Go Home is at once an immigrant story, a medical thriller, and a tale of love. Driscoll keep all the skeins taut in his hand.”
—Kathryn Trueblood, author of The Baby Lottery and winner of the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction
“Scott Driscoll’s account of one man’s struggle to overcome death by leaving the Pacific Northwest to find his half-sister in the Czech Republic is full of intrigue and illicit love against the backdrop of Eastern Europe’s tragic history. A fine tale with a most satisfying finish.”
—Caleb Powell, author of I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel (forthcoming from Knopf, 2014)
“A tale of a Quester in a Wasteland, led by a beauteous guide, his ominous path blocked by twin Dragons. One dragon is exterior, the Omnipresent State wielding the ugly gray weight of the Iron Curtain; the other is interior, the Quester’s deadly disease, a genetic curse that can only be lifted by grafting on a sacred body part—one that matches, one that won’t kill you—plucked from the body of a family member. Better You Go Home is a taut tale of irony, sadness, bleak romance, and man’s fate.”
—Robert J. Ray, author of the Matt Murdock Mysteries
“The story is complex, the characters rich and thick and vibrant.There’s love and sex, there’s hope and redemption, there’s sin and forgiveness, there’s death and torture. But, as Driscoll tells us,in the right circumstances ‘…even torture can be a sign of love.’ ”
—Jack Remick, author of Blood, Gabriela and the Widow, and the California Quartet series
“Compelling, unnerving, full of insight … In this odyssey of an American trying to find his past and save his life, we’re taken back behind the fallen Iron Curtain and the ghosts that still live and breathe there. Terse with poetry, broad in history (and heart), and with all the suspense of an Eastern Block espionage thriller. Driscoll delivers.”
—Layne Maheu, author of Song of the Crow
“Better You Go Home is a haunting tale of how a diabetic’s quest for a new kidney uncovers dark secrets about his family as well as himself.”
—Nicholas O’Connell, author of The Storms of Denali
“With dramatic well-drawn characters, a climax scene with the tension of High Noon, and a peek behind the Iron Curtain, Better You Go Home is a page turner.”
—Mindy Halleck, author of Romance & Money – 12 Conversations Every Couple Should Have
Seattle attorney Chico Lenoch wonders why his Czech father refuses to contact family left behind the Iron Curtain. Searching through his father’s attic after the Velvet Revolution, Chico discovers letters dated four decades earlier revealing the existence of a half-sister. He travels to the Czech Republic to find his forgotten sister and unearth the secrets his father has buried all these years.
There is self-interest behind Chico’s quest. Most urgently, he is nearing kidney failure and needs a donor organ. None of his relatives are a suitable match. Could his sister be a candidate? Chico also meets Milada, a beautiful doctor who helps him navigate the obstacles to finding his sister. While Chico idealizes his father’s homeland, Milada feels trapped. Is she really attracted to him, or is he a means of escape to the United States?
Chico confronts a moral dilemma as well. If he approaches his sister about his need for a kidney, does he become complicit with his father and the Big Shots of that generation who’ve already robbed her of so much?
Says Driscoll, “A parish priest in Iowa, a Czech relative who’d grown up on the dark side of the Iron Curtain, solemnly shook my hand upon returning the letters I’d asked him to translate, and said: ‘You have what you came for. Please do not trouble me again with this.’ There had been a suicide, a child who could not be traced, a sudden departure. This visit to the priest happened in 1994, not long after the Velvet Revolution. I went to Prague that fall, found my family’s village in eastern Bohemia. Relatives occupying the family farmhouse remembered the former residents. They had some stories, some questions of their own. Walking through that village, I began to speculate. What became of the unidentified child? What if my life had deployed on her side of the Iron Curtain? Once that question lodged in my psyche, like a small wound that wouldn’t heal, I knew that I had to write this story.”
Scott Driscoll, an award-winning instructor (the University of Washington, Educational Outreach award for Excellence in Teaching in the Arts and Humanities 2006), holds an MFA from the University of Washington and has been teaching creative writing for the University of Washington Extension for seventeen years. Click here to find Driscoll on the Web.
Watch a YouTube Interview with Scott Driscoll:
Keep reading for an excerpt:
Milada’s flat is on the eighth floor of a twelve-story high rise in a gray sidlisté of concrete block buildings. The street curb is dammed by defunct Skodas, the no-frills tin-can cars manufactured locally. The security mesh screening the outer door is rusted and dented. This is the depressing Khrushchev-era flat Milada is forced to continue calling home so that her husband could afford that Russian mafia loan. Okay, it’s not lost on me that I’m taking risks, possibly for no better reason than to salvage my own father’s dignity. Or my own. Still, Jiři goes too far. How is his pride any different than that of his father’s?
She pushes the buzzer on the intercom panel to alert Jiři to our arrival. Jiři’s family name is listed on the panel. Her name is Kotyza. Her grandfather was related to my grandmother. Most lights behind the buttons on the panel are burnt out. I avoid looking at hers. I don’t want to see if they’ve troubled themselves to replace the bulb behind their buttons anymore than I want to think of Milada stuck here for the forseeable future.
We bounce in the elevator up to the eighth floor and walk down a corridor with cracked and missing tiles. A decorative strip of plaster above the tile, painted the color of mustard, has browned with grime. And the smells. Sour cabbage, urine, acrid tobacco. Nose wrinkling neglect has turned this passageway into a tableau of the torture I imagine it must have been to raise her family here. No wonder she obsessed over the Skagit, the baldies, the turbulent water. The stinking salmon carcasses on the flood banks must have been ambrosia to her eastern bloc nose.
Prague is earning a reputation as the world’s black market capital for illegal organs. I know this, but I did not anticipate Dr. Saudek’s insinuation—as he shoved me away from the shores of Prague this afternoon—that this was the reason I’ve come paddling into his little harbor.
Milada insisted that we phone Blue Cross tonight and request an extension. Jiři’s black-light troupe—he’s their business manager—is performing at a local theater after dinner. She wants us to attend his show. She admits she is proud of her husband’s participation in the revolution. She will always love him for this.
In the entryway to her flat we exchange shoes for slippers. Blinds cover the windows, an old precaution to prevent paranoid neighbors from spying, a habit she admits she finds hard to break. Curious—can’t help it—I lift a blind. In a littered lot between buildings is a rusty, partly collapsed play gym. All the reason I’d need to keep the blinds closed. Her dark furniture includes a massive armoire for coats and shoes and a credenza filled with the obligatory leaded crystal. Nothing in the details says Milada. Where does she keep her details? Following her to the kitchen, I ponder the degree to which the details we surround ourselves with ought to reflect our desires. To what extent does a paucity of details reflect self denial? My father kept his details in the basement. That amber bowl he flicked his cigar ashes into. The starched white undershirts, the ironed Union work pants. The bar of Ivory soap at the sink he brushed his teeth with, in the early days, when he still thought and acted like an emigrant. That stack of quarters, weekly replenished, that I was forbidden to touch. I liked to think they were savings kept from Mom in order to send money overseas to Anezka. What do those details say about him? That he was caught between worlds, a man whose heart desired a world that was in his past, that he longed for pointlessly? But he was kind. Those quarters, I’m convinced, were more than just beer and cigar money.
In the kitchen, her husband winces at my broad-voweled American accent when I politely return his “dobrý den.” Jiři is a short man with an athletic build through the chest and thighs. With his pale eyes, sandy brows, sandy hair cropped conservatively short, he looks more handsomely like the Olympic skater he once was than a revolutionary. You’d expect to see his face on a Wheaties box, not on a prison mugshot. Their fifteen year old son, Martin, takes my jacket. His hair is jelled into neon pink and green Mohawk spikes. Milada tells me he is crazy about Seattle grunge. I gave him a Nirvana disc and a Walkman to play it in—he’s on his own for the batteries. Do I want coffee? he asks. I explain that I’d love it but it’s a problem of fluid retention; I have to measure intake. Then I decide why not, I’m going right back home anyway. Why not enjoy the little time I do have here?
The short story, “Lucia and the Diplomatic Incident,” by British novelist Tom Holt, is a fresh new adventure in the Lucia and Mapp series based on the novels of E.F. Benson. It is currently only available as a Kindle Single, priced at $.99. Until now it has appeared in print only once, in the Benson Society Magazine in 1997.
** Click the Cover Image to Order **
Tom Holt’s two full-length novels in the Lucia and Mapp series are already available from Coffeetown Press. They are the only officially sanctioned sequels featuring E.F. Benson’s delightful social-climbing characters. Lucia in Wartime ($13.95/£9.99, 216 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-129-3) and Lucia Triumphant ($14.95/£10.99, 262 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-126-2), were first published in 1985 and 1986, respectively. The cover images are by one of the original cover illustrators, Marie Michal.
In “Lucia and the Diplomatic Incident,” Elizabeth Mapp has returned to the small town of Tilling, England, as if from the wars—pale and wan and mysterious. Finally her friends drag the secret out of her in painstaking detail. A “small but adequate” legacy allowed Elizabeth to spend three weeks in Venice, Italy, and she has returned a heroine. During a dramatic ferry accident she rescued an Italian child, which earned her a stay in the hospital with double pneumonia and the eternal gratitude of the Italian government. Lucia, who reigned as Queen during Elizabeth’s absence, is not at all happy to see her social rival steal not only her own adopted country, but the social spotlight and the hearts of all Tilling.
But oh … all is not what it seems, and if anyone can get to the bottom of it, it is Lucia!
When first released, Tom Holt’s Lucia and Mapp novels were enthusiastically received:
“Might have been dreamt up by Benson,” wrote The Spectator. “Tom Holt has provided manna.”
The Oxford Mail wrote: “The period is caught with remarkable skill. Equally well captured is the spirit of Benson’s six Lucia novels.”
“[Holt] never lets us forget that the people even at their most absurd are human and vulnerable,” wrote the Daily Telegraph. “I thought, after six Benson novels and two TV serializations, that I was tired of Tilling—but I laid this book aside with real regret.”
Tom Holt was born in 1961 in London, England. His first book, Poems By Tom Holt, was published when he was twelve years old. While he was still a student at Oxford he wrote two sequels to E.F. Benson’s Lucia series. After an undistinguished seven-year stint as a lawyer, he became a full-time writer in 1995 and has published over thirty novels. Tom lives with his wife and daughter in the west of England. As well as writing, he raises pigs and pedigree Dexter cattle. For more information, go to tomholt.coffeetownpress.com.
If you could talk to your childhood self, would that child listen?
We ($12.95, 194 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-166-8), a novel by debut author Michael Landweber, transports the narrator into his own past in the critical days before a family tragedy.
** Click the cover image to order the book online **
** Order it in Kindle, Nook, or in other formats on Smashwords **
WE is the current winner of ForeWord Magazine’s quarterly Debut Novelist Awards. Here is an excerpt from the 5 Star Review:
“Reflective and introspective, yet highly charged with dramatic scenes in a race against time, this mesmerizing novel is a page-turner that will captivate even a jaded critic…. As Ben interacts with Binky in this touching and often humorous tale, the far-fetched aspect of this unusual occurrence is accepted. Drawn into the warring conversation between adult and child—parts of the same personality—one will learn what constitutes real maturity opposed to merely grown-up behavior when a sibling’s life is threatened. Striking is the dual perspective within the same protagonist, an unusual angle that can be difficult to implement…. [In We, Landweber] makes not only an impressive debut, but has already succeeded at an experimental undertaking few could achieve.”
–Julia Ann Charpentier, ForeWord Clarion Reviews
“Landweber apparently approached this project with a go-big-or-go-home attitude. He aimed high and hit the mark, pulling off a fusion of literary novel and psychological drama.” Read more …
—Tom Young, The Washington Independent Review of Books
“We is a family story at its heart, wrapped in a suspenseful, gripping, and totally original sci fi narrative. The unforgettable double consciousness will keep you up reading until the emotionally gratifying end.”
—Jessica Anya Blau, author of The Wonder Bread Summer
“What if we could change the past? What if the past didn’t necessarily want to change? Michael Landweber’s We is part sci-fi concept novel, part psychological thriller with literary edges: Landweber deftly weaves time travel, Jungian psychology, and the butterfly effect into a suspenseful but also emotionally engaging novel.”
—Jen Michalski, author of The Tide King
“We is a captivating, genre-bending psychological mystery that’s equal parts It’s a Wonderful Life and The Twilight Zone.”
—Dave Housley, author of Ryan Seacrest is Famous
“Thought-provoking, touching, imaginative …. a promising debut.” Read more ….
—Gayle Weisswasser, Everyday I Write the Book Blog
After an accident, forty-year-old Ben Arnold regains consciousness in the kitchen of the house he grew up in. Only he feels different, lighter somehow. Something is horribly wrong. Ben is swept into the arms of his mother, who he hasn’t seen in twenty years. She calls him by his childhood nickname, Binky. He sees a younger, unbroken version of his father. His estranged brother is there, reverted back to his awkward teenage self. Finally, adding horror to his confusion, he glimpses his older sister Sara as she runs out the door to meet her boyfriend.
Sara, whose absence he has felt every day since her death.
Ben is a mere hitchhiker, a parasite in the brain of seven-year-old Binky, and his younger self is not happy to have him there.
It is three days before his sister will be attacked. Ben knows he has to save Sara but first he must gain Binky’s trust. Even if he can get Binky to say the right words, to do the right thing, who will believe that a young boy can foretell the future?
Says Landweber, “Every parent has started a lecture to their children with the phrase, ‘When I was your age …’ The urge to say just that to my own kids got me thinking about what it would be like to be able to talk to myself as a child about mistakes I knew I had made. Could I convince myself to do things differently? That was the question that started me down the road to writing We.”
Michael Landweber grew up in Madison, WI, went to school in Princeton, NJ, and Ann Arbor, MI, met his wife in Tokyo and currently lives with her and their two children in Washington, DC. He has worked at The Japan Times, the Associated Press, the U.S. Department of State, Partnership for a Secure America and the Small Business Administration. Mike is an Associate Editor at Potomac Review and a contributor on film and TV for Pop Matters. His short stories have appeared in places such as Gargoyle, Barrelhouse, American Literary Review, Fugue, Fourteen Hills, and The MacGuffin. We is his first novel. Click here to find Michael online.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
I am you, I said. I’m just a part of you. That’s why no one else can hear me.
Like in the cartoons.
I didn’t understand, but Binky continued before I could seek clarification.
Sometimes the guy or the cat or something is about to do something and then there’s like a little one of him on one shoulder and another little one of him on the other shoulder and one is white and one is red.
An angel and a devil, I said.
Yeah, maybe. One tells him good things and one tells him bad things. I think it was a cat. Or maybe Bugs Bunny.
You know that they are a part of him, I said. Even though they’re talking to him.
Yeah, ’cause they look just like him. Just smaller. And different colors. And one of them has wings and the other one has horns. But you don’t look like me.
That’s true, I said.
Yeah, one is bad and one is good.
The angel is good and the devil is bad, I said.
The silence returned. The contemplative pause. Everything around me grew prickly, like a bath filled with warm water and needles.
Which one are you?
I was stumped. We are all both. Angel and devil. The inseparable dichotomy. Better to just say I’m the angel and be done with it. The moment had passed, however. Something had happened while I was thinking. Something in the classroom.
Binky sat stock still in his chair. I could feel the muscles tensed throughout his small frame, accentuating its dimensions and limits. Short breaths swirled around us like wind in a tunnel, trapped and impotent. I abandoned my thoughts and returned my attention to the classroom to discern the source of our disturbance.
Ms. Mittewag stared at us. And I felt what Binky felt—this woman hated us.
“Benedict! Are you LISTENING?”
She barked out the syllables of the last word, turning each into a threat.
We looked left and right. We sat in the fifth row and all the other kids on either side of us were standing. Looking at us. Smirking. Waiting for the ax to fall.
What happened to the fourth row? They were supposed to do eights and nines? They had finished. We had been distracted.
Ms. Mittewag motioned at the other children to sit. With a single slender, well-manicured finger—more suited to a princess than a witch—she beckoned us to our feet.
I could feel the slight tremor in his jaw. Even if he knew the answer to the next question, his brain might be unable to retrieve it.
“Benedict! Tens and Elevens!”
I wrested myself away from Binky. This was no big deal. Who cares if a second-grade teacher with a Napoleon complex yells at you? It doesn’t mean much in the general scheme of things. And what’s easier than the tens in a times tables? Come on, read my mind. Listen to me.
But Binky was frozen. She might as well have slapped him. He tapped his tongue against the inside of his top teeth rhythmically and waited for salvation. Inside, there was a rush of sound—no thought, only emotion.
Binky, listen to me, I said. Just repeat what I say.
In Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico ($11.95, 138 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-172-9), travel writer Lyn Fuchs takes the reader to the more primitive and elemental regions of his adopted country, providing historical context and cogent and satirical commentary along the way. Fuchs’ first book, Sacred Ground & Holy Water: One Man’s Adventures in the Wild, recounted his travels all over the globe. Chris Ord, Editor of Travel Rag, says of Fuchs’ writing, “Grips you, holds you, and leaves you with something profound.”
** Click the Cover Image to Order Online **
** Buy it in Kindle, Nook, or other eBook formats on Smashwords **
“Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is earthy, raw and vibrant. It has the B. Traven authenticity with a Hunter S. Thompson fire. The stories are graphic and well-written. They show you a side of Mexican society that most foreigners and many Mexicans will never know – sometimes seamy, sometimes just alive and real. The author spins his tales with well-written prose and vivid description. Individual cities and towns are highlighted, but more as a backdrop for the human stories. I know nearly all the places the author mentions and (except for the dark sides, which I do not know) he does a good job summing up the atmosphere of the towns. This book is not for those with sensitive imaginations. Some may even find it disturbing. But if you can read graphic modern detective novels and watch modern crime shows, you should enjoy it.”
–Mexico Mike Nelson, Author of Live Better South of the Border
“Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is smart, divertido, and so cleansing that I think I can defer a trip to Catemaco for a limpieza!”
–Tony Cohan, bestselling author of On Mexican Time and Mexican Days
“A uniquely witty and perceptive take on Mexico, Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico again shows Lyn Fuchs (who previously authored Sacred Ground & Holy Water) to be not just a mere travel writer, but a practical philosopher à la Montaigne, with a dash of Henry Miller’s American humor and sexuality …. One must, however, question Fuchs’ sagacity, and sanity, when he arranges to interview a Mexican drug lord – though he comes to his senses mid-interview and realizes what a dumb venture he has wrought. The sequence, like other episodes, is both hair-raising and hilarious. Bottom line: Fuchs writes of his adopted homeland, Mexico, with love, vigor, wit and a discerning, unsentimental eye.”
—Rick Skwiot, winner of the Hemingway First Novel Award and Willa Cather Fiction Prize finalist, author of Sleeping With Poncho Villa, Death In Mexico, and San Miguel De Allende, Mexico: Memoir of a Sensual Quest For Spiritual Healing
“The writing is almost poetic and the history, philosophy and comedy reek of the human spirit in Mexico. I feel privileged to have read this work as it fulfilled everything I want out of a book. Comedy, suspense and self-reflection. This work demonstrates all of these, and the exemplary writing grasps the ‘show, don’t tell’ philosophy that many writers fail to practice.”
—Jairus Reddy, publisher at Hobbes End Publishing
“Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico will appeal to readers and armchair travelers who crave more than an in-and-out experience. Fuchs delivers with his exploration of the dualities of non-tourist Mexico: a largely unknown land that is both intimidating and immensely inviting.” Read more ….
—Lori A. May, ForeWord Review
“Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is just as the title suggests: fresh, original and passionate. Fuch grips the reader, from beginning to end, with his historical detail, humor and socio-political anecdotes. This is a must read for anyone who lives in or aspires to travel extensively throughout Mexico.” Read more …
—Deanna Proach, News Blaze
“In Fresh Wind & Strange Fire, the intellectual mixes with the traveler while still remaining charmingly down-to-earth. The book might be about high places and lofty thoughts, but it is never pedantic or patronizing …. Apart from his spiritually tinged adventures, the book makes a strong case for legal immigration with a stomach churning account of the slavery that existed in the region, which is now transformed to a traveler’s paradise. It is unusual for a travel book to be this honest and it adds to the book’s character…. All in all, the book is a philosophical adventure through the realm of the Mayans that will make you smile, wince and introspect. A definite winner as far as the genres of both, spiritual literature and travel fiction are concerned.”
—Shweta Ganesh Kumar, writer and travel columnist
Are you ready to travel beyond where even news reporters fear to tread? Fresh Wind & Strange Fire is author Lyn Fuchs’ journey through stranger-than-fiction primal terrain. As an American professor in a Mexican university exploring the southern reaches of his adopted country, Fuchs knows the territory as only a local resident can and is uniquely qualified to convey its essence to English-speaking readers.
Fuchs’ adventures include buying fake documents, eating iguanas, ingesting peyote, scaling glaciers, train-hopping with migrants, splash-fighting with Mayans, joking with narcotraficantes, being exfoliated by fish, having a tooth extracted without anesthetic, and interviewing the last living witness to a Latin American extermination camp. As mystics exalt the lotus for its stately blossoms arising out of muddy waters, Lyn celebrates life by gleaning hilarity and wisdom from bizarre reality.
Says Fuchs, “I think many Americans have a lover’s quarrel with their own culture. Americans living in Mexico often feel great love for their homeland, but also great freedom from the limitations of its worldview. I sometimes tell friends that Mexico offers all the good things in life, plus just enough violence to keep the wimps out. (I’ve suggested this slogan to the tourism department but haven’t heard back.) In Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man’s Adventures in Primal Mexico, I try to share some of the freedom and courage I’ve found in Mexico with my compatriots, who assume they live in the land of the free and home of the brave. It’s true that newcomers to surreal Mexico often feel vulnerable, but long-term expatriate residents usually feel empowered. Life in Mexico provides fewer safety helmets, but more wind in your hair. If you’d like to take a primal spiritual journey into the deepest heart of Mexico without the infected and scarring mosquito bites, this book is for you.”
Fuchs’ travel writing has appeared in Outdoor Canada, Monday Magazine, Canadian Ethnic Studies, The Dalhousie Review, Eclectica Literary Journal, Rose and Thorn, Gam Magazine, Paperplates Literary Journal, Travel Rag, 3:AM Magazine, artist-at-large, Long Trip Home, Crank Literary Journal, The Kinte Space, Travelmag, Hack Writers, Trip 101, Raging Face, Traveling Stories, The Best of Bluefoot Publishing and others. Click here to find Lyn online.
Fuchs is a professor of communication at the University of Papaloapan and has earned his associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in communication and philosophy. Fuchs’ first book, Sacred Ground & Holy Water, is also available from Coffeetown Press.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
Take a bus bound for the Caribbean. The farther we go, the denser the mango trees, the kinkier the hair of boarding passengers and the louder the Cumbia music played by the driver. Our bus ride transforms into a rolling party. At one stop, barefoot kids selling fresh banana chips board the bus. At the next, a fat woman distributes cards inscribed with prayers for donations. Later, an old man strums a guitar and sings love ballads. Finally, a pink, turquoise and purple clown with big floppy feet entertains us with bawdy jokes until we arrive in Tlacotalpan.
This photo-ready village, where the Papaloapan River flows out of the rainforest to meet the Gulf Coast, is a United Nations World Heritage Site. Yet, few tourists seem to know. The architecture and street music reflect Native, Spanish and Caribbean influences. The food is downright sexy.
On the riverfront, I slouch away all afternoon at a restaurant patio table. The Pescado a la Veracruzana (fish simmered with tomatoes, onions, chilies, olives, capers and herbs) is succulent. The empty cerveza bottles in front of me speak for themselves. What should I have next? I order a Dulce de Leche. This handmade milk confection is a pure delight.
Two churches on the town square dominate the skyline behind me. One is aqua-green with a bell tower; the other is cloud-white with sky-blue stripes and an enormous clock. The patron of fishing is the divine avatar of local choice. Many peasants come to these shrines and pray passionately for fish, while I snap my fingers and receive the same in abundance. How ironic.
Many of us pray for pregnancies in our forties and managerial jobs in a recession. When our desires remain unfulfilled, we sometimes become bitter. We complain “No one is listening up there!” Still, we tell children “No means no!” and “Stop that tantrum!” Meanwhile, multitudes ask humbly and submissively for fish. Who do we think is up there—a god or a lackey? If it’s all right to demand a heavenly server, is it okay for me to demand the kind they hire at Hooters?
I set off, walking along the cobblestone streets in the evening light. Every house has a colonnade but a different one. Each is painted in its own cheery tropical color. Above me are green-algae-covered terra cotta tile roofs and soaring coconut palms. As the sun sets, lamps come on in the garden around the central plaza. A din of food and fellowship rises in sidewalk cafés. The smell of lechero (coffee with steamed milk) plus anise liquor makes all seem right with the world.
Stroll under a full moon toward the Teatro Nezahualcóyotl. This opulent theater has four balconies stacked on top each other, constructed of carved wood and wrought iron. The stage has olive satin drapes and a mustard silk curtain. Men in khaki pants and red cotton shirts play fast and furious eight-string guitars of various sizes. A watery, soothing harp accompanies them.
Girls come out in flowing white-lace dresses to swirl, as boys stomp in orbit around them. Background singers wave ornate black fans to the beat. Red scarves are used to enact a human bullfight with undertones of mating and fertility ritual. Jarocha and Fandango dances alternate like a woven tapestry with whoops and whistles erupting. House lights extinguish. A soloist performs a haunting melody about the solitude of a fisherman. Women revolve in cross formation with burning candles balanced on their heads. Full lighting and fancy footwork resume, then hats fly off. Viva Mexico!
While exiting, I pass a Tiffany stained glass window and a bronze sculpture of the fifteenth century indigenous poet for whom the building is named. On the wall are a few lines of his verse: “I love the song of the cenzontle bird and the color of Jade and the perfume of the Copa de Oro flower, but most of all I love my fellow man.” Can’t say I totally relate, but after my time in Tlacotalpan, it’s definitely three down and one to go.
Loving one’s neighbor is a lofty goal. Maybe one should start by simply acknowledging their existence. Most people in the world have it rougher than I do. Walking to work daily or cooking family meals constantly isn’t cruel and unusual punishment. It’s life on earth as most folks know it.
In Mexico, one finds that not all respond to hardship or injustice with trauma and drama, as if the laws of the universe have been violated. This is strange to gringos. When I see how hard many people struggle, it’s almost a relief that the heavens don’t jump to my privileged demands. I don’t wanna be that spoiled. Having more is nice, but enjoying what you have more is better. Give us this day our daily bread … and some fish would be cool, if that works for You.
I spend the night at the airport hotel with planes keeping me awake. Actually, it’s a grandmother feeding a baby and making airplane noises as the spoon approaches the infant’s mouth. Tlacotalpan has no airport. However, if I complain about grandmas and babies, I’ll go straight to hell. The hotel is lovely at sunrise. A courtyard has marble floor and columns, inlaid tile arches and cornices, plus green ferns and a yellow wishing well. Mesh-backed cedar rocking chairs fill the breezy alcoves.
Baxter’s Friends ($13.95, 218 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-162-0), by Ned Randle, is a work of literary fiction about three middle-aged male friends whose lives are spinning out of control.
Baxter’s Friends is a finalist in the ForeWord Firsts Contest, sponsored by ForeWord Magazine.
**Click the cover image to order the 6×9 trade paperback online**
**Order it in Kindle, Nook, or in other eBook formats on Smashwords**
“We want our writers, our poets, our storytellers to make rainbows, not black or white or even varied shades of gray. Ned Randle paints in hues we often don’t want to see, but occur in nature, human nature …. In Baxter’s Friends, we come in at the present, return to the past, where there are always echoes weighing, weighing down on Baxter, Ferguson, Mary Ann, Mitch and everybody we meet in this fantastic novel.”
– Mr. and Mrs. Garbanzo, Garbanzo Literary Journal
“Middle age is where we wonder if there’s more to life than what we’ve seen. Baxter’s Friends tells the story of Jerry Baxter and his associates, as they struggle with the burden of entering the second half of their lives, dealing with their families, how they’ve treated others, and what awaits them in the uncertain decades to come, as well as what they can change. Baxter’s Friends is a riveting look into the crisis of midlife, so very much recommended reading.”
–Midwest Book Review, Wisconsin Bookshelf
“Shows real promise…. Baxter’s Friends left me hoping Randle spends more time at a keyboard than he does in a courtroom.” Read more ….
–Harry Levins, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“You might think, from reading the back cover, that you know what Baxter’s Friends is all about. You might be wrong. Mr. Randle will skillfully take you on an intimate journey through the mental meanderings of two different men who, perhaps, aren’t so different after all …”
– Robin Tidwell, Rocking Horse Publishing
“An interesting plot that commands the reader’s attention. Randle’s acute attention to detail; carefully wrought, fluid prose; and vivid, sometimes even lurid, details help create a compelling story. The novel is also laced with what can only be described as a rough masculine sense of humor…. Baxter’s Friends is entertaining and worth the reader’s time.” Read more …
—Matthew W. Larrimore, Four Ties Lit Review
Jerry Baxter’s father liked to sing the old cowboy song, “O bury me not on the lone prairie …” when he drank. Ironically, Baxter and his two good friends, Hugh Ferguson and Al Mitchell, are soon to be buried alive, and the hole they are digging for themselves is getting deeper all the time.
Baxter is racked with guilt by the sight of his father sitting semi-coherent, blind, and barely mobile in the dismal nursing home he put him in. Fearing a fate every bit as grim, Baxter finds refuge in stark rituals from his Native American heritage that animate his fitful dreams. Ferguson has found religion, or rather had it forced upon him by his wife, who otherwise wants nothing to do with him. The tedium of his job as an accountant is slowly driving Ferguson around the bend. His one solace: fantasizing about an attractive female co-worker, while Mitchell, who has lost his zest for wheeling and dealing and womanizing, looks for a new thrill.
The three longtime friends are approaching middle age kicking and screaming, if only on the inside.
That is about to change.
Says Randle, “I learned as a young man that the theory ‘it’s a man’s world’ runs wide, but not deep. It is true that men of my generation, and those before me, had easier access to the superficial trappings of the world such as education, wealth, power and success. That is slowly changing. There is, however, another world that underlies the superficial; it is a world of emotions, relationships, family and friends. As inhabiting this world, I ascribe to Thoreau’s theory, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.’ Right or wrong, in this nether world, men desperately squirm and struggle under the weight of relationships, incessant physical and emotional cravings and insecurities in view the societal strictures of organized religion, monogamy, heterosexuality and expectations of success. I wrote this book to shed a little light on this whole other world. I did not want to go to the grave with my song still in me.”
Ned Randle resides in Southern Illinois, where he writes fiction and poetry. He has a law degree from St. Louis University and studied writing at Washington University, Webster University and Southwestern Illinois College. His short story “The Amazing Doctor Jones” recently appeared in Cigale Literary Magazine, Summer 2012, and another, “The Boston Tar Baby” will be published by Prism Review in Spring 2013. His poems have appeared in a number of literary publications such as The Spoon River Quarterly, Circus Maximus, Seven Stars Poetry, Poydras Review, Emerge Literary Journal, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, The New Poet, Hamilton Stone Review and Four Ties Literary Review. His chapbook, Prairie Shoutings and Other Poems, was published by The Spoon River Poetry Press, Bradley University. Coffeetown Press published Randle’s poetry collection, Running at Night: Collected Poems 1976-2012, in April, 2013. Baxter’s Friends is his first novel. Click here to find Randle online.
Keep reading for an excerpt:
No matter what outfit Grandma had on, she always wore her necklace. When he was little he liked to sit on her lap and play with it. He remembered it well. It was simple—a heavy silver chain with a pendant in the shape of a turtle. Grandma would sit patiently and he would walk the turtle across the hills and valleys of her chest, up through the ripples of her fleshy throat to rest on her chin. He would hold the turtle at her mouth and tell her to give the turtle a kiss, which she always did. She would kiss the turtle and smile.
They buried her with the turtle necklace around her neck.
He thought about his grandmother now, as he lay in bed with his wife and looked down his left arm to his freckled hand. His own fair complexion glowed eerily in the dark. He regretted that he didn’t look more like her, more like an Indian. More like his mother and her mother and less like his old man and his mother.
Sure, his old man called him an Indian. That and worse. He had called him and his sisters his little papooses. Pagan babies. His heathens, he would say, and laugh like crazy.
His wife raised her head from his chest and looked at his face. He breathed heavily and she smiled. She was growing impatient with his distractions.
“Jerry?” she asked.
He tried to put his grandmothers out of his mind. He tried to focus on his wife and what she wanted from him, but her voice led him back to his visit with his father earlier in the evening.
“Jerry?” the old man asked. “You still here?”
“Sure, Pop. Open up. I’ll feed you.” Jerry tucked a towel into the open neck of his pajama shirt. “Here.”
The old man shrugged his shoulders and worked his ashen cheeks. Jerry put a spoonful of food in his mouth and his father clamped down on the spoon with his hardened gums. Jerry tugged at the spoon gently and the thin paste oozed out of the corners of his mouth. Jerry dabbed at it with a corner of the towel.
“Pretty good stuff, Pop?”
“You want potatoes?”
“Goddamn yes, boy.”
“Sure, open up.” Jerry spooned in some potatoes, now cold and set. There was an uncomfortable silence around him. The other residents had finished their meals. Some stared at Leroy Baxter while he ate because they knew he could not see them stare. A few with full bellies nodded off to sleep in their chairs. Jerry could feel the eyes of the residents sitting behind him, those who wouldn’t sleep or visit or work their way back to their rooms. They sat and stared and amused themselves by watching him feed his father. Jerry reached over and straightened his father, sitting him upright in his chair. He wiped food off his old man’s chin.
When Barbara Pym died in 1980 she left behind several complete but unpublished novels, half-finished works, short stories and many other papers. These were only available in the Bodleian Library in Oxford to scholars. Thanks to Pym’s friend, biographer, and colleague Hazel Holt–author of the much-loved Mrs. Malory Mysteries–three of these complete novels and assorted excerpts were published posthumously in the 1980s. In recent years they have only been available in the UK. Now Coffeetown Press is proud to bring them back into print in the U.S.A. and Canada.
In her introduction, Hazel Holt writes, “With the publication of these novels I am delighted to say that now all Barbara’s novels are back in print (and as eBooks) in the UK, the USA, and Canada. In 1977, the magic year of her rediscovery, she wrote in her notebook, ‘Who is that woman sitting on the concrete wall outside Barclay’s bank, reading the TV Times? That is Miss Pym the novelist.’ That is the only legacy she would wish to leave behind. I hope, in some small way, I have helped to achieve it.”
Civil to Strangers and Other Writings ($14.95, 294 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-180-4)
**Click the cover image to buy the trade paperback online. Or read it on your Kindle or Nook.**
Thanks to his wife’s money, Adam Marsh-Gibbon leads a charmed life writing poetry and novels celebrated mostly by his fellow residents in the town of Up Callow in Shropshire, England. His lovely wife Cassandra caters to his every whim, although perhaps not as enthusiastically as five years earlier, when she first married her handsome yet difficult and unappreciative husband.
Into their lives steps Mr. Stefan Tilos, the new tenant of Holmwood, a dashing Hungarian who puts the whole town in a flutter. How alarming then, that he should become so visibly enamoured of Cassandra. Mrs. Marsh-Gibbon is certainly above reproach. Or is she?
Barbara Pym wrote Civil to Strangers in 1936. It was first published posthumously in 1987, thanks to her friend and biographer Hazel Holt.
Crampton Hodnet ($13.95, 226, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-176-7)
**Click the cover image to buy the paperback online. Or read it on your Kindle or Nook.**
“The rare charm of Crampton Hodnet is in the glimpse it offers of Pym’s imagination as it pauses for a moment in perfect understanding of a character. That sympathy stretches beyond the horizon of comedy.”
Life has a certain reassuring if not terribly exciting rhythm for the residents of North Oxford. Miss Morrow is content in her position as spinster companion to Miss Doggett, even if her employer and the woman’s social circle regard her as a piece of furniture. Stephen Latimer, the new cleric and Miss Doggett’s dashing new tenant, upsets the balance for Miss Morrow by proposing the long discounted possibility of marriage.
Miss Doggett’s nephew, Mr. Francis Cleveland, is a handsome, middle-aged professor not destined for greatness in his field. He has a complaisant wife and an adoring pupil, a dangerous midlife combination. The town gossips witness an impulsive declaration of love between Francis Cleveland and Miss Bird and conclude that Mr. Cleveland is willing to sacrifice marriage and respectability for the sake of passion.
Caught in a potentially compromising situation with Miss Morrow, Mr. Latimer clumsily refers to a nonexistent town: Crampton Hodnet. His lie is harmless. In this town appearances are much more deceiving.
Barbara Pym began writing Crampton Hodnet in 1939. It was first published posthumously in 1985, thanks to her friend and biographer, Hazel Holt.
An Academic Question ($12.95, 168 pages, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-178-1)
**Click the cover image to buy the trade paperback online. Or read it on your Kindle or Nook.**
‘Authentic Pym, with the true depth of exuberance in it.’
—London Review of Books
Caro is the wife of Dr. Alan Grimstone, a lecturer at a provincial university in a West Country town in England. She knows her circle believes that she should be doing more with her life. She is the mother of a young daughter but relieved to be able to leave the girl in the care of an au pair. Her one selfless act–reading aloud to a former missionary at a rest home–is sullied when she allows her husband to ‘borrow’ some of the old gentleman’s papers in order to get the better of a colleague. Caro’s sister is a social worker disinclined towards marriage and children, but is she happy? Despite appearances, Caro is content enough. Until she learns that that her husband Alan has a wandering eye.
What is happiness? The knowledge that one is loved? Academic renown? Or is it friendship with eccentric friends and the sight of the first crocuses of spring or the Virginia creeper in autumn?
Barbara Pym completed the first draft of her satirical “Academic Novel” in 1970, ten years before her death. It was first published posthumously in 1985, thanks to her friend and biographer Hazel Holt.
Barbara Pym (1913-80) was born in Shropshire and educated at St Hilda’s College, Oxford. When in 1977 the TLS asked critics to name the most underrated authors of the past 75 years, only one was named twice (by Philip Larkin and Lord David Cecil): Barbara Pym. Her novels are characterized by what Anne Tyler has called “the heartbreaking silliness of everyday life.”