Going Dark: Selected Stories, by Dennis Must

GoingDarkGoing Dark ($13.95, 184 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-397-6) is a collection of seventeen stories by Dennis Must. The cover and interior illustrations are by Rostislav Spitkovsky, who also illustrated Must’s novel, The World’s Smallest Bible.

Must’s most recent novel, Hush Now, Don’t Explain was the winner of the 2014 Dactyl Foundation Literary Fiction Award. It was also shortlisted for the Eric Hoffer Award.

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“Dennis Must is a searching writer, able to transcribe madness and instability, the wrack of obsession and the weariness of giving in. Reality, in Must’s hand, is always flirting with the abyss and this gives his prose an expansiveness and wonder quite beyond the ordinary. In Going Dark, Must tenderizes this same hot sense with implements of magic that turn our sentient lives into examples of the bizarre, the wondrous, and the crushing. As the stories move out of their mid-century crucible, amidst engine oil stains and belt buckles, and into the present and back again, the reader can’t help but notice the same amber light.” —Nathaniel Popkin, journalist, editor, member of the National Book Critics Circle, and author of 3 books, including the novel Lion and Leopard

“Dennis Must’s third collection, a complex psychological, philosophical work, is filled with isolated, alienated, self-absorbed characters. Each story in this volume goes dark as Must burrows deeply into the souls of his intricately drawn characters. Overall, the collection becomes a compelling study of the problem of evil, the nature of human identity, and the function of art.” ——Jack Smith, author of Hog to Hog, Icon, and Being

“There are places where I stopped reading for story just to enjoy Must’s words. In the words, in the vocabulary, Must speaks to us living in an age that has turned its back on lexical prowess and seems to seek out the lowest elements in the lexicon. In Going Dark, Must refuses to admit that the dumbing down of America is in full swing.” —Jack Remick, author of the California Quartet and Gabriela and The Widow, for the Dactyl Review

“Writers aren’t exactly people … they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.” In Dennis Must’s third story collection, Going Dark, the narrators mirror F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation by drawing the reader into their dissimilar yarns, earthy or exalted, practical or fanciful. An aging actor looks back on his life, but whose life does he recall? A couple finds a novel way to spice up their marriage, but then the fantasy takes on a life of its own …. Middle-aged men struggle to cope with distracted wives and terminal loneliness. They look back on hapless childhoods to come to terms with what drove their parents or siblings to suicide, infidelity, or madness.

Post World War II Midwest is the predominant setting, and Must’s poetic gift captures its moods, textures and odors and gives it form and substance in vivid colors and dramatic shades of gray.

Their author has been variously compared to Franz Kafka, Flannery O’Connor, Nathaniel West, and Nathanial Hawthorne.

Says Must, “Stories preserve the heartbeat of those telling moments in our lives that, for better or worse, distinguish who we are. I write to savor their ardor once again, in hope that they become less ambiguous so that I might revel in their wonder, their mystery, or even mitigate their lingering pain. It’s a journey that began for me upon reading Sherwood Anderson’s ‘I Want To Know Why.’ ”

Dennis Must is the author of two short story collections: Oh, Don’t Ask Why, Red Hen Press (2007), and Banjo Grease, Creative Arts Book Company, Berkeley, CA (2000). His first novel, The World’s Smallest Bible, was published by Red Hen Press in March of 2014. His second novel, Hush Now, Don’t Explain, was published by Coffeetown Press in October of 2014. His plays have been performed Off Off Broadway, and his fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary reviews. Dennis and his wife Aviva live in Massachusetts. Click here to visit him online.

Keep reading for an excerpt from “Houseguest”:

The following morning he found a pair of brown leather bluchers squirreled away in the corner of the garage. In the garden shed—alongside a spade whose handle had broken, a rake with several tines missing, and a package of nasturtium seeds—a man’s Elgin watch dangling by its crocodile leather strap from a nail. Edgar shook it, causing it to tick alive.

That second night he placed the timepiece next to his head. He dreamed he heard the former tenant’s heart beating in the upstairs bedroom, the large one with the porthole to the attic where the stoup remained, and that, by some miraculous intervention, he’d learned to play Debussy. That his fingers had taken on a life of their own and astonishingly begun to fly over the keys, producing the lovely sounds.

Would the shoes fit? he wondered. And what did the gentleman look like? (The house sale had been arranged by a lawyer for the former occupant’s estate.) Was there a photograph secreted somewhere in the house?

These items that I’ve discovered are meant for me to puzzle together. They’re talismans of some sort. How could it be otherwise? Why was the piano left behind? The shoes and the watch? Surely there is a photograph lying about somewhere.

The kitchen cupboards lay bare.

The medicine chest in the upstairs bath was sparkling clean. In the harsh overhead light, he spotted a slit in the cabinet’s back for discarded razor blades. How many had fallen to pile up in the cavity of the studded walls? Were they blue steel or silver? Were any stained with blood?

He checked the smaller bedroom closets. Each was empty, the top shelf lined with fading newspaper.

Inside the Bösendorfer!

Moonlight puddled its closed lid. A brittle manila packet lay across its strings. He emptied its contents upon the parquet floor.

A glossy photograph of a nude sitting before an oval dressing mirror accompanied a song book, its pages dog-eared with several missing. The woman stared at Edgar in the mirror, and behind her, a shellacked-hair male wearing a tweed jacket.

Younger … yes, but I swear it’s me. Who is she? The china breasts with plum aureoles. The raven hair spiraling over her left shoulder. The mirror casting a silver light on her narrow waist and willowy thighs.

Edgar lifted the glossy to his face. His double stared at him over her shoulder. Not at her. Erotic as she was … but at him.

He lay under the Bösendorfer, tossing and turning, the photograph alongside.

The Ghost Daughter, by Maureen O’Leary: An Earthquake Disrupts the Lives of Four Women

ghost_daughter1989. The Loma Prieta Earthquake. For three women, life will never be the same.

The Ghost Daughter ($14.95, 236 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-287-0), is a work of literary fiction/women’s fiction by Maureen O’Leary. When the Loma Prieta Earthquake nearly claims the life of a young woman, it also unearths a dark past she is too young to recall.

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“In October 1971, a little girl disappeared and her mother was arrested for murder. In October, 1989 a strong earthquake hits San Francisco leveling a shelter for homeless men and burying Angel who works there. Across town, Reese’s husband crashes his car with their daughter in the car. He doesn’t survive and their daughter is seriously hurt. These seemingly unrelated events turn out to be strongly connected and long kept secrets finally come to light. O’Leary’s book is a mystery full of surprises, but at its heart it’s really a story about the meaning of family and the long-lasting damage that mental and physical abuse has on a person. I loved the way the story is revealed slowly and the changing points of view drew me in and kept me emotionally attached to the lives of the three women. Violent at times, emotionally charged, and sometimes invoking tears, a gripping story.”

—Diane Ferbrache for the Unshelved Book Club

“The West Coast has always been the last best place, a region equal parts Eden and earthquake. In Maureen O’Leary’s hands, that landscape is charged with mystery, disaster, and a wealth of drama, all headed by a cast of irrepressible woman. The Ghost Daughter is that rare and fabled beast: the literary page-turner.”

—Christian Kiefer, author of The Animals

“Two parts thriller, one part meditation on the nature of love and motherhood, and one part poem, The Ghost Daughter combines masterful storytelling and artistic language to create a breathtaking work of literary suspense. Reading it was like riding a roller coaster overlooking an ethereal canyon. Intricately woven twists, turns, and plummets abounded, inducing a sublime mental whiplash. And yet, in spite of my hunger to learn what happened next, I found myself slowing down, craning my neck to absorb O’Leary’s rich, haunting language and gripping narrative voice. Peopled with human monsters, mortal ghosts, and lost maidens, The Ghost Daughter plays out like a modern fairy tale, a linguistic aria written in praise of the power of reinvention, resurrection, and redemption. As eviscerating as it is lovely, The Ghost Daughter is not to be missed.”

—Tawni Waters, author of Beauty of the Broken

“In the fragile landscape of Northern California, Maureen O’Leary excavates her characters’ hearts with precise honesty, exploring the ways connections between mothers and daughters, friends and lovers stretch, break, endure. A beautiful and moving book.”

—Karen E. Bender, National Book Award finalist and author of Refund, Like Normal People, and A Town of Empty Rooms

“In The Ghost Daughter, Maureen O’Leary writes honestly and beautifully. Her characters come alive, and her wise and subtle insights on them—and on the human condition—will stay with the reader long after the last page of the novel.”

—Jamie Kain, author of The Good Sister and Instructions for the End of the World

“In The Ghost Daughter, O’Leary weaves through memory and loss (and thick golden strands of fairy tale) to invoke a world of mythology and monsters where, as it turns out, every player is only a person, flawed and damaged; ultimately hopeful. O’Leary’s writing glows.”

—Tricia Stirling, author of When My Heart Was Wicked

In 1971, a wounded young man runs with his daughter in the woods at night. As he collapses, he tells the little girl to run, and she does.

Eighteen years later, in October 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake buries twenty-two-year-old Angel Kelley under a collapsed building. Her adopted mother Judith is diagnosed with cancer while her deepest secrets surface in national news. In nearby Silicon Valley, Reese Camden loses her husband in an accident that kills him and critically injures their five-year-old daughter Madison.

As news images of Angel’s rescue emerge, Detective Laura Redleaf recognizes Judith from an unsolved missing child case. She travels to Santa Cruz and learns from Judith that Reese is actually Angel’s biological mother Teresa, who has always known that Judith had her child. But Teresa has already fled and reinvented herself yet again, leaving her second daughter Madison in the hospital. Facing a kidnapping charge, Judith refuses medical treatment and bars Angel from visiting her in prison.

For life to move forward, Teresa must reclaim her identity and confront her terrible past. In the end, it will take more than tons of rubble to crush the spirits of these four strong-willed women as they fight for their families, seek redemption, and find love.

Says O’Leary, “When the Loma Prieta earthquake hit in 1989 I was at work in a brick building on Pacific Garden Mall in Santa Cruz, California. The building collapsed around me, trapping me under a desk and killing the people in the coffee shop on the other side of the wall. In the aftermath of the earthquake, I suffered debilitating night terrors and hallucinations. Yet I also began working in a homeless shelter, where indeed I was the only one willing to go into the shower house to retrieve the schizophrenics from the steam. I am fascinated by the way a physical geography affects the people who move on it. I am fascinated with the way parenthood as well as the loss of it shapes identity, and how human beings can find peace and healing in the redemptive power of romantic love.”

Maureen O’Leary is a writer and teacher living in Sacramento, California, with her husband and daughters. She loves writing, teaching, public speaking, and hiking in redwood forests and desert canyons. Her fiction has appeared in Esopus, Blood and Thunder: Musings on the Art of Medicine, Prick of the Spindle, Xenith, Fiction at Work and in an anthology from Shade Mountain Press. The Ghost Daughter is her third novel. In 2014, she published How to Be Manly (Giant Squid Books) and The Arrow (Geminid Press). Click here to find Maureen online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Where’s my mom again?” Her mouth was lacerated. Made it hard to talk.

“I think a friend of hers died or something.” Russell kept his eyes on the screen. “She had to go to a funeral.”

“What friend?” Angel asked. She’d never heard her mother talk of a friend.

“She wouldn’t leave without good reason, I’ll tell you that,” Russell said. “She stood on the sidewalk for four days straight, Angel. Never left once.”

That was impossible. No one could stand for four days straight. It was impossible but nonetheless true. It seemed the whole world bent to the will of some random perverse storyteller so that things that could never happen were happening. The Bay Bridge had broken in two. Double highways had pancaked flat with people driving on them and under them. The ground had split open in trenches deep enough to swallow houses.

Russell ran his thumb over her knuckles. Angel’s school picture from senior year of high school flashed on the television. They kept showing the same footage of Angel carried on a stretcher, her mother running alongside and Russell following behind.

They called it the Miracle of Angel. She was one of the last of the catastrophe’s buried people found alive. She had survived three days without water.

They’d found a kid in the Cypress Structure in Oakland that morning. Angel was obsessed with the story. She switched channels to skip commercials. They had to cut through the body of the boy’s dead mother in order to rescue him. She craved the details of that excavation. She imagined the rebirth of a child emerging through the barrier of his mother’s bones and muscles and skin. How did the first breath of air feel after something like that?

“I want to go home,” Angel said. She did not know what home. She meant she wanted her mother.

“I don’t think they’re letting you out for a while,” Russell said. He turned off the television. She was too weak to protest. She was falling asleep again. “It should have been me under there. Not you.”

“You would not have fit,” she said. Her tongue wrestled with her mouth. The morphine made thinking and talking a labor. Yet despite her fuzzy brain she was the world’s expert of under the desk and Russell would not have fit. But he wasn’t listening. He leaned forward and swished his palms together like a penitent man.

“I was in the courtyard,” he said. “I made everybody else go to the dining room while Jerry hid in the shower. Did you know that? He wanted to watch the water spin down the drain. I sat outside thinking I could wait for you so we could talk in private.”

He bowed his head. She wanted to hold his face and kiss his craggy cheeks. She would absolve him of his sins. Her mind pulled at something he said. He was with Jerry. Maybe the tree king lived. She meant to ask him.

Open Wide, the Eye: Poems by Susan Dworski Nusbaum

Open-wide-eyeOpen Wide, the Eye ($11.95, 150 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-987-9) is a collection of sixty new poems by Susan Dworski Nusbaum.

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Read an interview with Susan on Cultured Vultures.

“They say writers are artists and that really shines through in Susan Dworski Nusbaum’s writing. I should imagine there are many artists out there, who would pay a great deal, if only they could paint some of the pictures in Susan Dworski Nusbaum’s mind. Some of the beautiful images trapped within these pages could fill galleries and captivate masses. Her poems paint pictures of moments and views, many of us wouldn’t even stop to appreciate or think to remember. She also covers memories and significant moments such as: motherhood, family, friendship, loss and much much more, while simultaneously painting pictures so captivatingly detailed, I found myself lost in the world she was trying to create. This is a beautiful book, and one I highly recommend.”  Read more….

—Rebecca Thorne for Cultured Vultures

“Reading this collection, I arrived to where the poet asks, ‘on moonless nights, what guides / A mother’s lips to find the fontanel?’ And it was at this moment that I realized what power it was—mother/muse/emanating spirit—that received these poems and in turn gave them to us. ‘Scalded by the beauty’ of the places and times of her life within timeless Time from childhood to widowhood (such beautiful elegies here), Susan Nusbaum, even as she asks ‘Where will we turn next to find true love?’ has created here the evidential answer itself, musical songs that are able to open wide our eyes.”

—William Heyen, author of Shoah Train, National Book Award finalist

Open Wide, The Eye is a collection of stunningly original, precise, and exquisite poems. Nusbaum’s eye for the telling detail is as sharp as her ear for the music of the language, and these poems track the inner life as carefully and movingly as they track the sensory experience of this world. This is real poetry, speaking as poignantly to the heart as to the intellect.”

—Laura Kasischke, author of The Infinitesimals

“Susan Nusbaum’s generous new book, Open Wide, the Eye springs from an artist’s impulse to capture the pulsing beauty of the world. Intelligent, empathetic, and widely-traveled, Nusbaum is gifted with a broad yet probing vision and an ear for precision. Her poetic landscapes (as well as seascapes, skyscapes, and cityscapes) can be literally dazzling. Yet she’s also impressive at conjuring sound and physical sensation, especially in poems that focus on music, or on the longing that comes with loss. Elsewhere, in narratives, she deals with human suffering and childhood nostalgia, but it’s the best of her painterly, contemplative poems that leave the reader stunned.”

—Joan Murray, author of Swimming for the Ark

The author describes her collection as follows: “Moments of attentiveness illuminate our world, interrupting the rush of time to make each flash a revelation. Stopping to see what we may not have noticed, to listen, to feel, to remember past sensations, deepens our insights. This collection of poems examines the art of seeing with all the senses, unveiling the essential realities hidden in common objects and experiences. The attraction of rabbit to ripening pear, the crunch of shells on the beach, connections with strangers, with our families and places from the past, with a fresco, a wood engraving, a Bach oratorio… these small epiphanies are “the lingering strands of light… that bind each morning to the next.”

Born in Rochester, NY, Susan Dworski Nusbaum received her BA from Smith College and her law degree from the University of Buffalo Law School. She lives in Buffalo, N.Y., where she has worked as a teacher, arts administrator, and most recently as a criminal prosecutor. She has been a frequent participant in the Chautauqua Institution Writers’ Festival and Chautauqua Writers’ Center poetry workshops, and has served on the Board of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Connecticut Review, Poetry East, Nimrod International Journal, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Chautauqua, Harpur Palate, Wisconsin Review, The Sow’s Ear, Earth’s Daughters, Artvoice, and The Buffalo News. Her first published collection, What We Take With Us was published by Coffeetown Press in 2014. Click here to find Susan online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Star Music

On a summer night by the lake,

you can hear the stars singing,

like crickets humming or waves

pulsing under water, with a little

buzz of electricity arcing

between them and your ears,

making you gasp, so surrounded

are you by the sound as you stare

into the foam of the Milky Way,

pitched clear as air after rain,

the luminous turned audible.

 

Listen. Their voices follow you

even into the January dusk,

when stars begin to fall, settle

on window lamps and porch lanterns,

chased by headlights down driveways,

over branches laced with radiance

like forgotten Christmas decorations.

Pianissimo, they murmur beneath

dopplering sirens, pedestrian signals

that chirp away the diminishing seconds,

the music constant through the wind-

blown harmonics of a long lake-effect night.

Thursday, 1:17 p.m., by Michael Landweber: Surviving a Frozen World

Thursday, 1:17 p.m. thursday($13.95, 208 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-357-0) is Michael Landweber’s second work of fiction. After the death of his mother, seventeen-year-old Duck finds that he is the only moving being in a world where all other life forms appear to be in suspended animation, raindrops hang in the air, and only manually operated machines can function.

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Landweber’s first novel, We, won ForeWord Magazine’s quarterly debut novelist award and a bronze in the General Fiction category of ForeWord’s Book of the Year Contest. We was also a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award for Short Prose and Independent Books.

Thursday, 1:17 p.m. is an unconventional and intriguing novel that blends thoughtful insight with an irreverent, anything-goes attitude reminiscent of Chuck Palahniuk. It’s a fun read that also gives something to think about after its final page.”  Read more….

—Bradley A. Scott for ForeWord Reviews

“The writing in Thursday 1:17 pm is affable, even breezy at times, and yet easily slips into tender and even wistful moments, giving them weight without weighing them down.  This is a very fast read, and yet one that satisfies both in context and style.  I truly, utterly enjoyed this book, and it gave me a lot to ponder, but in a way that was invigorating rather than dismal, despite there being so much isolation in subject and action. I would heartily recommend it to literally every reader, young or old, of any genre or style. Do yourself a favor, and find yourself a copy of Thursday, 1:17 pm; it is not mere hyperbole to call it a gem of a book. Put simply—it shines.”  Read more….

—Sharon Browning for LitStack

“Landweber is able to combine joy and darkness, lightheartedness and heartbreak in the slim novel Thursday 1:17 p.m. This balance is a delicate one, and readers can see how even Duck himself attempts to walk such a line in his lonely trek through a frozen D.C. and beyond. With the wry humor of a teenager, the vivid, sensory scenes, and a complex emotional range, Landweber’s novel provides both humor and food for thought. What would you do if the world around you stopped? Would you stop with it? Or would you push forward on your bike and draw pictures in the rain?”  Read more….

—Melanie J. Cordova for The Quarterly

Thursday 1:17 p.m. was sweet, and it was devastating. Its themes are thought-provoking and tough, yet the book manages not to be a downer. There is plenty of action throughout, even humor. This was a super fast read that I read straight through: I couldn’t put it down.”  Read more….

—Monika for Lovely Bookshelf

4 Stars: “Landweber’s first-person narrative puts readers squarely in the mind of his protagonist, who deals head-on with life and death. Amidst anger and sadness, there’s also humor and hope. The author’s understanding of teens is spot on, and the framing of the tale as a how-to survival guide fills in the necessary backstory. Get ready for a surprise reveal at the end.”  Read more….

—Karen Sweeny-Justice for RT Book Reviews

“For the most part, this book comes across as light entertainment — but there are (at least) two big dramatic stories at play here in addition to the fun and games. There’s death, the nature of love (and reality of lust, teenage style), growing up, friendship, hurting others . . . and Duck coming to grips with all of these, and coping with them isn’t done in a heavy-handed, or overly serious manner. On the whole, while you’re chuckling about something he’ll slide right into a consideration of one of the heavier themes. Over and over again, Landweber does this seamlessly so you barely notice it. No mean trick to pull off…. You really want to go get your hands on this one, readers, you’ll enjoy it.”  Read more….

—The Irresponsible Reader

“The book is written with a light, irreverent tone that is very catchy. It’s easy to like Duck, easy to ignore that he is ignoring his problems even as they are revealed through flashback scenes. I also enjoyed the asides—the guide to your frozen world sections—where Duck instructs readers on what to do if this ever happens to them. It reminded me a bit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”  Read more….

—The Shelf Stalker

“With the keen understanding of a young teenage mind, the wit to witness it, and the talent to play around with space and time and the laws of physics, Michael Landweber has written a coming-of-never-more-aging tale sure to entertain anyone with a soul and a brain.”

—Amber Sparks, author of The Unfinished World and Other Stories

“With Thursday 1:17 p.m., Landweber has taken the trope of Last Man on Earth and turned it into something far more troubling and thought-provoking. Whatever your plans were for being completely alone on the planet, this book will force you to revise them.”

—Bryn Greenwood, author of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Last Will, and Lie Lay Lain

“How much mischief can one stressed-out teenage boy get into when everything else on Earth is trapped in a permanent game of freeze tag? Would you write a guidebook? Tip zoo animals? Tip people? Stop a suicide? Landweber’s magical extravaganza pays homage to Groundhog Day, The Graduate, Fight Club, and The Fermata, in an episodic see all, tell all, with an ’80s soundtrack. Duck, the reluctant virginal hero, learns way more than he wants to about friends, family, his crush, and reality, in his search for a way to reboot the world.”

—Richard Peabody, Editor, Gargoyle

Duck is 17. He will never be 18. Tomorrow is his birthday. It will never be tomorrow.

Time stopped at 1:17 p.m. on a beautiful Thursday afternoon in Washington, DC. Duck is the only person moving in a world where all other living beings have been frozen into statues in an endless diorama. Duck was already in limbo, having lost his mother to cancer and his father to mental illness. Now, faced with the unimaginable, he approaches his dilemma with the eye of an anthropologist and the heart of a teenager trying to do the right thing under the strangest of circumstances. Ultimately, he realizes that while he doesn’t understand the boundaries between friendship and love, that uncertain territory may be the key to restarting the world.

Says Landweber, “We’ve all wanted to stop time. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. started with the idea that this particular wish could turn into a curse if you weren’t able to start time up again. After the initial thrill of being the last person moving in a frozen world, how would a person deal with the loneliness? Or the temptation to do things that you would never consider doing in the fully functioning world? But what interested me most was turning that potential nightmare into a story about one person finding meaning in a world that makes no sense.”

Michael Landweber lives and writes in Washington, DC. His short stories have appeared in literary magazines such as Gargoyle, Fourteen Hills, Fugue, Barrelhouse, and American Literary Review. He is an Associate Editor at Potomac Review and a contributor for Pop Matters. Click here to find Michael online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I was pretty worked up by the time I got to the museum. It was farther from GW than I remembered. Even pedaling non-stop, skidding my way around the corners, weaving in and out of the motionless cars, trying not to hit any pedestrians, I felt like I was moving impossibly slow, like I was running out of charge and winding down to a stop. It wasn’t true, of course. I was flying. Dangerously so. Reckless. I could have easily brained myself on a tree or monument. But I made it.

There was a line out the front door at Natural History. There usually is. Things get backed up at the metal detector as the guards rummage through bags. I hopped off my bike without stopping and let it roll away from me into a jersey barrier. Admired it as it went. It was nice to see something else move on its own.

But I had no time for nostalgia. I had a goal. Find Grace. She was somewhere in the massive building before me. Before I could stop myself with logic—such as the fact that I had no idea where anything was in this massive building or that I wasn’t even really sure that Grace worked here—I bounded up the stairs past the line and inside.

I had started to get used to the frozen people, but I had never been quite so surrounded by them. The atrium was packed. I went through the metal detector—on the off chance that I might set it off and wake up the world—then into the fray. It was hard to walk in any direction without bumping someone. Tour groups clustered together, taking up large chunks of real estate: Japanese tourists following a yellow flag, elementary school crossing guards wearing bright orange belts, a church group proudly sporting Jesus on their t-shirts. In between them were the families trailing toddlers and pushing strollers, the couples whose clasped hands created additional barriers, the singletons who were gazing earnestly around the room searching for their companions. Their collective inactivity had a movement of its own. So much potential that I could almost fool myself into thinking they were moving beyond my peripheral vision. Not true, of course.

At the center of the atrium was the elephant. Proudly raising its trunk above the crowd. Stuffed. Not supposed to move. I stared at it for a moment, wondering if freezing the world would lead to the static exhibits coming to life. My mom loved Night at the Museum—particularly Attila the Hun. His rebirth would have been a nice tribute to her, but the elephant remained stoic and still.

So there I was. Where to start looking for Grace? Not in the main exhibits, certainly. She’d be somewhere behind the scenes. In the guts of the building, which really is massive.

 

Spur of the Moment, by David Linzee: When Grand Opera and Big Pharma Collide

spur_momentSpur of the Moment ($16.95, 322 pp, 5×8 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-341-9) is a work of mystery/suspense by David Linzee. When her opera-fundraiser brother is charged with the crime of killing a donor, mezzo-soprano Renata Radleigh takes it upon herself to clear his name. Her investigation will pull her outside the small world of grand opera and into the big-money, high-risk pharmaceutical development game.

Spur of the Moment is Book 1 in the Renata Radleigh Opera Mystery series.

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“Mystery lovers will enjoy the intelligent writing, the mix of light and dark, the astute psychology and biting social satire, and the satisfaction of a traditional (but not formulaic) mystery that’s a bit of a classed-up romp.” Read more….

—Jeannette Cooperman for St. Louis Magazine

“An entertaining mystery, full of intriguing backstage details about opera productions and introducing an appealing heroine who is feisty, funny, and deeply loyal to her shallow sibling. Recommend for fans of Blair Tindall’s memoir Mozart in the Jungle and anyone who enjoys crime served up with an aria.”

—Library Journal, April 1, 2016

Spur of the Moment is an entertaining novel full of St. Louis references, British slang, and a dab of commentary on the state of medical research. Readers will enjoy this light, quirky tale of fictional intrigue set in our own backyard.”  Read more….

—Jennifer Alexander, West End Word

“The book sits fairly comfortably in the cosy bracket. This is by no means a criticism, but the gentle humour and thoroughly urbane style of writing point Spur of the Moment in that direction. Blood is shed, certainly, but not dwelt upon. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read and you might just fall in love with Renata…. I look forward to Mr. Linzee’s next production starring Ms Radleigh.”  Read more….

—David Prestidge, Crimefictionlover.com

“Written with his usual elegant precision, author Linzee brings alive his city and its characters in ways that nail the reader to the page. Don’t miss this one. St. Louis is undergoing a renaissance, and Spur of the Moment is an important part of it.”

—John Lutz, author of Frenzy

David Linzee is the author of several other mysteries published in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s: Final Seconds (as David August), Housebreaker, Belgravia, Discretion, and Death in Connecticut.

Blackstone Audio version, Final Seconds: “Their seamless collaboration is notable for the efficiency of the plotting and the unusual credibility of the story.” —Publishers Weekly

Housebreaker (Dutton, 1987): “Breathtaking.” —Library Journal

Belgravia (Seaview, 1979/Dell, 1979/Robert Hale, 1981) “Bright… fast-paced… Belgravia is highly recommended.” —People

Discretion (Seaview, 1978/Dell, 1979/Robert Hale, 1981/Droemer Knaur 1979); “Smoothly written, full of action, clever in its plotting.” —NY Times

Death in Connecticut (McKay-Washburn, 1977/Dell, 1978) “A totally believable first novel reminiscent of The Catcher in the Rye. The author has caught the zeitgeist of the times with measured accuracy.”—Publishers Weekly

A lifelong rivalry between opera singer Renata Radleigh and her younger brother Don takes an unexpected turn when Don is accused of murder. He is Saint Louis Opera’s star fundraiser after procuring a last-minute underwriter for its avant-garde production of Carmen. Don is accused of seducing his donor to get the contribution, then killing her after her husband finds out. His alleged victim, Dr. Helen Stromberg-Brand, had invented a vaccine that was expected to earn billions and win her a Nobel.

The scandal shocks Saint Louis and pushes the opera company to the brink. No one cares about defending Don. Only Renata believes he is innocent. Her attempts to clear him lead to warnings of dismissal, threats of arrest, and a brutal assault. She finds an unexpected ally in Peter Lombardo, a former journalist who does PR at the medical center where Helen had made loyal friends and bitter enemies. Peter believes that the trail leading to Helen’s killer begins with the vaccine, not the opera donation. Together they discover that the search for the next wonder drug can inspire greed and vengefulness beyond any opera plot. As their feelings for each other deepen and more corpses turn up, an onstage mishap elevates Renata to the role of Carmen. But the greatest moment of her career may be the last moment of her life.

Says Linzee, “Spur is based on my experiences as a PR man at Washington University Medical School and a volunteer at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, where I chauffeured singers in from the airport and was a supernumerary. The worlds of higher education and opera are rife with over-sized egos and underlying drama. Plenty of fodder there for a whole raft of mystery novels.”

David Linzee was born in St. Louis, where he and his wife currently reside. Besides writing novels and short stories, he has worked in PR, and as a journalist, a science writer, and a teacher. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

She stopped and looked up. In her preoccupation she had given no thought to which way she was walking, and she found herself not at the Ritz-Carlton, but the County Justice Center. The name was etched over the locked front doors. There was a window display touting the attractions of St. Louis County’s parks. She ran her eye up the ten-story building. Behind these tan-orange bricks and opaque green windows was her brother. She could hear men shouting. A riot? No, there was also the regular, hollow beat of a basketball being dribbled. So that was one way the prisoners passed time. It wouldn’t do Don any good; basketball was one American enthusiasm he’d never managed to embrace.

Tomorrow afternoon she would be able to visit him, Samuelson had said. He seemed to have little hope that Don would qualify for release on bail, so she would have to come back here and enter this building tomorrow. She had never visited anyone in jail, and her memory could produce only movie scenes: actors sitting on either side of a thick pane of glass, talking to each other on telephones. She shuddered. In real life it couldn’t be that bad, could it?

Even if there were no pane of glass or phones it would be hard. Her brother’s life had been smashed to bits. He wasn’t just in jail but in disgrace, and he was the sort of person to feel disgrace keenly. How was she to console him? If only they loved each other. Even liked each other a bit. If only he hadn’t been so beastly to her the last time they had talked. She knew why, of course: she had been questioning him about his affair with Helen, and Don often got angry when forced to lie. Still she couldn’t forget that last shaft of his, “aging journeyman mezzo-soprano.” It hit too close to home. No, it hit home squarely.

She touched the $50 bill Congreve had given her for cab fare. It was tucked into her bra, because the blue silk dress had no pockets. Tomorrow would come soon enough. Now it was time to head for the Ritz-Carlton and home.

Home? No doubt the police had turned the whole house over by now. They might still be there. Even if they weren’t, the phone would be ringing. Reporters. A few might even come to the door. Congreve had made it crystal-clear she wasn’t to talk to them.

Renata started walking. But not toward the Ritz. Samuelson had mentioned that Helen Stromberg-Brand had been killed in her house on Linden Avenue. That was only a few streets away, an easy walk even in her pinching party shoes. She wanted to take a look at the scene of the crime.

The Game Warden’s Son, by Steven T. Callan: a Lawman’s Rich Legacy

game_wardenThe Game Warden’s Son ($14.95, 272 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-345-7), is the new memoir by retired fish and game warden, Steven T. Callan. In a follow-up to his 2013 memoir, Badges, Bears, and Eagles, Callan relates a half century of adventures and investigations from the early 1950s into the 21st century, featuring California wildlife officers: the author’s father, his colleagues, and himself.

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THE GAME WARDEN’S SON is distributed by Epicenter Press/Aftershocks Media. For wholesale orders, please contact orders@epicenterpress.com or call 1-425-485-6822.

“Callan’s writing is dynamic and authoritative, with an episodic structure that will keep experts and novice readers turning the pages. The dialogue, sharp and resourceful, helps to move the story forward without bogging down the narrative structure.”

—Dan Good, NY Daily News

“A witty and enlightening memoir, The Game Warden’s Son brims over with tales of stake-outs using disguises and subterfuge to trap transgressors…. The book’s slang or jargon related to wildlife is a fun bonus and makes the timely account of environmental protection even more enjoyable.”  Read more….

—Jane Manaster for The Manhattan Book Review

“A wonderful tribute to the legacy of a father, a son, and many other wildlife professionals dedicated to protecting all of California’s natural resources.”

—John D. Nesbitt, award-winning author of Field Work and Dark Prairie

“My desire to continue the same battles protecting fish and wildlife has been rejuvenated by reading Steve’s book.”

—Jerry Karnow, Jr., Past President of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association

“Steve Callan will keep you on the edge of your seat and show you that law and order comes in many guises.”

—Patricia Lawrence, executive producer, Travel Radio International and reporter for the Palo Cedro East Valley Times

“Every angler and hunter should read this book … it should also be required reading for every youngster being introduced to these outdoor activities. I say this not just because it is an exciting series of easy-to-read and gripping detective stories but also because it could go a long way toward helping coming generations understand the threats facing our fish and wildlife. It should also make all law-abiding outdoorsmen more aware that our game wardens are true allies and friends. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance copy of The Game Warden’s Son. Once I began reading, it was extremely hard to put down. Callan is a fine storyteller…. As I came to the end, Callan left me wanting more.”

—Frank Galusha, founder and former editor and publisher of MyOutdoorBuddy.com.

Publishers Weekly called Badges, Bears, and Eagles, “Jaw-dropping, funny, tragic, enraging, exciting, and hopeful—sometimes all at once.” The memoir was a ForeWord Reviews 2013 Book of the Year Finalist.

Retired game warden Steven T. Callan’s love of nature and passion for protecting wildlife took root long before he experienced the adventures described in his memoir, Badges, Bears, and Eagles. In The Game Warden’s Son, he recounts more of his own investigations, along with those of his game warden father and their colleagues. Intertwined with a half century of adventures and investigations is a story of the lifelong relationship between a boy and his father.

The book begins in the 1950s in the canyons and on the beaches of San Diego with incidents that sparked Steven’s youthful imagination. After an idyllic boyhood in the Northern Sacramento Valley farm town of Orland, where he rode on patrol with his father, Steven became a game warden himself in the early ’70s, joining the “desert rats” who patrolled the California counties banking the Colorado River.

With wry humor, Callan tells how he and his fellow officers outwitted the perpetrators—most of them crafty, some of them hilariously foolish—who poached deer, lobsters, and abalone, baited bears and sold their parts, shot wild ducks to supply restaurants, and killed songbirds for epicurean dinner tables. Their cases took them across the Channel Islands, through the back alleys of San Francisco, up the Sacramento Valley, into the Sierras, and along California’s pristine North Coast. While these dedicated wardens saw their share of greed, they also appreciated the many hunters and fishermen who obeyed the laws and respected the earth’s resources.

In the end, it was all about protecting California’s natural resources for future generations, which is what Callan and company did, enjoying themselves every step of the way.

Says Callan, “Writing this follow-up to Badges, Bears, and Eagles has been a labor of love, involving countless hours of research, reconnection with old friends and associates, and endless hours of writing and rewriting. During the process, I called to mind a lifetime of unforgettable experiences, a treasure trove of fond memories, and more than a few laughs.”

Steven T. Callan was born in San Diego, California. With an insatiable interest in wildlife, particularly waterfowl, he never missed an opportunity to ride along on patrol with his father, a California Fish and Game warden. Steve graduated from California State University, Chico, in 1970 and continued with graduate work at California State University, Sacramento. Hired by the California Department of Fish and Game in 1974, he spent thirty years as a warden/patrol lieutenant, starting his career near the Colorado River, moving on to Riverside/San Bernardino, and finally ending up in Shasta County (Redding). Steve and his wife, Kathleen, support many environmental causes. Click here to find Steven online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Is there some kind of problem, Bill?” said Dykstra.

Arnold remained uncharacteristically silent.

“Warden Callan is going to come aboard,” announced Plett.

Arnold had been silent long enough. He let out with a bellow, his voice so loud it flushed a congregation of gulls and cormorants that were perched on the rocky cliffs above. “What the hell does he need to come aboard for? We ain’t done nothin’.”

Hearing all the clamor and my father’s name mentioned, I climbed the steps and peeked out from below deck. Concerned for my father’s safety, I watched as he climbed down from the Marlin and boarded the decrepit old lobster boat.

“We received information that you gentlemen have been taking short lobsters,” said my father. “Do you have any short lobsters or unattached lobster tails on board?”

“Hell no, we ain’t got no—”

“Easy, Nate,” interrupted Dykstra. “They can search all they want. We’ve got nothin’ to hide.”

Dad walked past Dykstra and Arnold, headed straight for the cabin entrance. The two lobster fishermen whipped their heads around, slack-jawed and obviously concerned. Arnold must have caught a glimpse of me, because he did a double take and turned his head back in my direction. I quickly ducked below deck.

Meanwhile, my father began his search by opening a small ice box in the Rascal’s galley. The box was conspicuously empty. After examining every possible hiding place in the galley, he proceeded to the bunk area. Checking under each mattress, he found nothing but candy wrappers and empty cigarette packages.

About to give up and return to the upper deck, the determined warden noticed a scrap of hinged plywood where the door to the head had once hung. The so-called head was such a tight squeeze, it was difficult to imagine how anyone as large as Nate Arnold could fit inside. The paint was peeling off the walls and the toilet paper holder was a rusty shark hook. Lying on the floor, next to the toilet, was an eighteen-inch stack of tattered magazines.

What attracted my father’s attention was the toilet seat: it was down and so was the seat cover. “How many men put the seats down unless their wives tell them to?” my father would later ask the crew. With the toe of his shoe, Dad carefully lifted the seat. Inside the bowl were enough undersized lobster tails for a gourmet dinner. Needless to say, these specimens would never see the inside of a boiling pot.

To Look on Death No More, by Leta Serafim: An Irishman joins the Greek Resistance in WWII

look_deathTo Look on Death No More ($13.95, 240 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-192-7) is a work of historical fiction by Leta Serafim, author of the Greek Island Mysteries, The Devil Takes Half and When the Devil’s Idle. While helping to defend an isolated Greek village from the Nazis, an Irishman meets a local girl and becomes invested in her family’s fate.

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Serafim’s Greek Islands Mystery series has received starred reviews in both Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. Book 1, The Devil Takes Half, was a finalist in the mystery category of the Eric Hoffer Awards.

“A painful but engrossing story…. What saves the novel from a feeling of complete despair is O’Malley’s love for Danae and his growing love of her country. This aspect of the war was unknown to me before this book. It’s as important as the Blitz and the occupation of Paris, and Serafim makes me want to learn more.”  Read more….

—Historical Novel Society

“An impressively crafted read from beginning to end and clearly establishes author Leta Serafim as an exceptionally gifted novelist. Very highly recommended for community library General Fiction collections.”  Read more….

–The Midwest Book Review, Wisconsin Bookwatch

In autumn of 1943, a lone allied soldier parachutes into Greece. His stated goal: to build an airstrip for the British. Brendon O’Malley is an Irishman, and he soon discovers that fighting the Nazis is not the same as embracing the British, who have seriously misled him about his mission. Wounded during the drop, he’s set upon and robbed by a seventeen-year-old girl, Danae, and her little brother, Stefanos, who hold him captive for over six weeks, first in a cave and later in the cellar of their home in Kalavryta. A wary friendship develops between the three. Over time O’Malley’s relationship with the girl gradually deepens into love.

Slowly O’Malley earns Danae’s trust, and he stays on with her family in their house in the village. After his wounds heal, he heads up into the mountains to join the Greek soldiers, the antartes, who are suspicious of the British and slow to accept him into their ranks. O’Malley is no ordinary man, and his honesty, strength, and courage impress them and finally win the day. But disaster lies just ahead, and the Nazis, already a palpable presence in their lives, stage a savage attack on Kalavryta. Through it all, the love of this Irishman for his indomitable Greek muse cannot be extinguished.

Says the author, “I was drawn to this period in Greek history because as an American I was unaware of the suffering the Nazis inflicted on the native population and I wanted to educate myself, to explore the question of how a group of people can endure an unspeakable tragedy without losing their humanity or ability to love.  Close to one out of ten Greeks died of starvation during the first year of war and yet like the men in my book they fought on, aided on occasion by soldiers like my Irishman, Brendan O’Malley, from the British Commonwealth. The Greek resistance had far reaching effects. In Crete, far example, it changed the course of the war, delaying the invasion of Russia by nearly two weeks. For the most part, the Greeks combatants were poorly armed and fought with whatever they had, pitchforks and rifles from the 19th century in some cases; and there were many bloody reprisal operations directed against them, most notably in the region where my story takes place. Their heroism was without parallel. As Winston Churchill put it, ‘Hence, in the future we will not say the Greeks fight like heroes, but that heroes fight like Greeks.’ ”

Leta Serafim has visited over twenty-five islands in Greece and continues to divide her time between Boston and Greece. Click here to find her online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

He told himself beguiling her was part of his plan; he’d lull her into complacency. As if anyone could lull this girl into anything—complacency least of all. He knew he was strong enough now to overpower her and get his rifle back, yet he held off. He welcomed their time together and on occasion would sing to her, ‘The Rose of Tralee’ and other romantic ballads. The songs brought Ireland closer and made her seem a part of it.

One night the little boy began to sing, too. “Tralee, tralee.”

“Stefanos, right?” O’Malley made it a question.

The boy smiled, nodded. “Nai, eimai o Stefanos.” Yes, I am Stefanos.

“I’m Brendan, and you’re Stefanos. And she’s ….” He gestured to where the girl was sitting.

“Danae. Einai i Danae.” She is Danae.

Danae.

* * *

O’Malley continued to plead with the girl to give him his boots back. “You got to understand. I’m a soldier. ’Tis tough work, soldiering. Takes a lot out of a man. Got to be properly dressed if you’re to do it right, especially when battling Germans. Can’t be taking on the Wehrmacht in bare feet, no ma’am. Be undignified, that. Be a thing of laughter.”

A proper son of Ireland, he was a shy man, poor when it came to talking women into doing things. Oh, he’d had a few in Athens, urged on by the Australians in his unit. But they’d been sows, those women, greasy and fat, with the smell of men on their skin, cigarette smoke in their hair. Scrubbers. He’d had to wait in line for them, pay his money and take his turn. Nothing like this one, this savage beauty before him.

He looked over at her, studying her face in the yellow glow of the lantern. He was warming to her. Aye, no doubt about it. Could feel his cheeks grow hot just looking at her. So beautiful she was. Solemn. Like a Madonna in an Italian painting.

He didn’t understand it. She wasn’t even a proper girl, one you could put your arm on, soft and smelling of flowers. No, she was a dirty twig of a thing, mulish. Like one of the elements on the periodic table. Zinc, iron. Basic-like. Everything reduced to its essence. In her case, eyes. Aye, it was the eyes with her.

“You’re a fool, O’Malley,” he muttered. “A different kind of fool than you were in Cairo, but a fool just the same.”

Still, he felt something when he heard her voice, her footsteps outside the cave. A quickening, a sense of being more alive.

He shook his head. And him a soldier.

Everything I Love Restored and Other Poems, by Matthew Freeman

everything_restoredEverything I Love Restored and Other Poems ($11.95, 152 pp, ISBN: 978-1-60381-373-0) is the newest anthology by award-winning St. Louis poet Matthew Freeman. Coffeetown published Freeman’s collection Darkness Never Far in 2010 and The Boulevard of Broken Discourse in 2011.

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“Musician and poet Matt Freeman was once the Dogtown poet; now he’s in U. City, but St. Louis is as vivid as ever in his work. In his strongest collection yet, Freeman writes about South Grand, Poplar Bluff, Route 3, and the crows that haunt the bushes behind the Carondelet Care Facility. He writes about the pretty girl in the purple beret at the coffee shop, his fellow bus riders, a homeless man who hides a mattress in Kennedy Forest in Forest Park. But as UMSL creative writing professor and poet Eamon Wall notes, ‘his poems, because they can simultaneously embrace and transcend the local, have a wide appeal.’” Read more….

—Stefene Russell, St. Louis Magazine

“A writer of many voices and master of many forms, Matthew Freeman casts a lucid and inquiring gaze on this place and time we share. Though he often writes of his St. Louis home patch, his poems, because they can simultaneously embrace and transcend the local, have a wide appeal. He writes with urgency, humor, grace, and irony. His work is vital and convincing. You need to read this book.”

—Eamonn Wall, author of Junction City: New and Selected Poems 1990-2015

“A shaman must enter the shadow of madness to see that reality most of us will never know. Matthew Freeman is a St. Louis shaman. I am grateful for the experiences that led to this powerful and positive poet.”

—Glenn Irwin, University of Missouri, St. Louis

Critics have high praise for Freeman’s poetry:

“Gritty and real, full of personality (and personalities), urban St. Louis scenery and experience”— J. Gordon, Nightimes.com

“Simultaneously hip, funny, and sad”—Dorothea Grossman, Poet

“A microscope into the world of an extraordinarily talented schizophrenic”—Suzanne Shenkman

Matthew Freeman’s newest collection presents a romantic vision wherein the environment can range from ecstatic to sinister. Steeped in urban shamanism, the poems reflect a desperate search for the American Sublime, the author’s search for the clarity of salvation, his love of language, and his hope that the poor and destitute will not be forgotten.

Matthew Freeman is a past winner of the Albert J. Montesi Award for Creative Achievement. While pursuing his MFA from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, he was also awarded the graduate prize in poetry.

The following is an excerpt from the title poem, “Everything I Love Restored”:

But then Jim Morrison came to take me on a trip.

His leather had changed to corduroy. Wherefore, Jim?

“After that heroin tub, when the soul sought

Avernus, I went through the Program

 

in Purgatory. Old Cherry—you ruined each other—

bit by a Cottonmouth hiking with her husband,

bid me come forgive you and make you give it up.”

We followed these black demons to the door of the

 

Mellow Methodist church and I whispered to Cherry.

We passed the spot where Seagraves got hit

on the head with a brick by the brother of a young girl he’d

kissed. Oh Jim, we went to the pawn shop

 

to get my guitar but I was a dollar short.

Finally forlorn, Jim taught me to put

my hand through my hair darkly, with affect,

and to yelp loudly during the hilarious innuendo.

 

He taught me translucence, how to get back

to the Celts, the Lakota. He showed me

the raindrop on the petal on the windowsill

in the breeze. We came to Jefferson Barracks.

 

Standing at my parents’ grave I noticed a little

something covered in the grass: the magic tessera dollar

of completion! I’d died just like the art therapist

had predicted and now I could get my gold guitar!

Jim morphed into a mad girl in a Mercedes asking for gas money.

Eating Owen, by Anne E. Beidler, Based on Events also Dramatized in Movie, In the Heart of the Sea

Eating OwenIn 2010, Coffeetown Press released a work of historical fiction by Anne E. Beidler based on the mystery of the Nantucket ship Essex titled, Eating Owen: The Imagined True Story of Four Coffins from Nantucket: Abigail, Nancy, Zimri, and Owen ($15.95; 182 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-022-7). The Hollywood blockbuster In the Heart of the Sea tells another version of the same historical events. The eBook of Eating Owen is currently being offered exclusively on Amazon at a special price of $2.99.

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Eating Owen was the first novel of Anne E. Beidler, who lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband Peter. She has a doctorate in educational research and is a lifetime history buff. She is also the author of a biographical work: The Addiction of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Eating Owen is a tale of mystery. What really happened to Owen Coffin, the cabin boy on the Nantucket whaling ship Essex? In the autumn of 1819, the unthinkable happened. Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a whale rammed into the Essex, sinking it within minutes (the event that helped inspire Melville’s Moby Dick). The crew had no refuge except to jump into the three small and very flimsy wooden boats they carried on board to help them chase the whales. During the next three months, bobbing around aimlessly on the open ocean, the men suffered terribly. They ran out of food to eat, and some of them died. And some of them ate each other. Including Owen. The few survivors returned to Nantucket with the story that Owen had been fairly elected to be executed—before he was eaten. But no one knows for sure what happened. Or do we? Eating Owen is the story of Owen Coffin and his family before the Essex tragedy. It is a story about a family, a story about surviving and not surviving. A story about a whale’s revenge.

Says the author, “My husband’s ancestors are from Nantucket, so he is sort of—after all this time—related to the Coffin family from there. We have been to Nantucket many times. The sinking of the Essex inspired Melville, and the story certainly captured my imagination, so I’m not surprised that it has now inspired a hit movie, In the Heart of the Sea. How much of the story is true? The wreck, of course, is true. And the men in the lifeboats trying to survive on the ocean. One lifeboat was lost, and the other two were rescued, but many of the occupants were lost and/or eaten. Nobody living really knows what happened on Owen’s lifeboat. The survivors, probably to avoid blame or trouble (did they have lawsuits back then?), told a party line about drawing straws. My version is made up, but seems more realistic to me.”

Here are Anne Beidler’s thoughts on the movie, In the Heart of the Sea:

In the Heart of the Sea certainly delivers the way a Hollywood blockbuster should: good camera work, lots of powerful sea, lots of ropes and whales and dirty men. An audience anticipating a rip-roaring adventure tale is bound to appreciate it. Rather than rating the movie according to my enjoyment or its overall merits, I prefer to concentrate on the historical perspective, which is always what fascinates me most—the focus the screenwriter chose to take and the portrayal of the characters: who is featured, who is not.

In the movie Thomas Nickerson is the narrator, telling the Essex story fifty years later to young Herman Melville, who used parts of it in Moby Dick later on. Thomas Nickerson was the cabin boy on the Essex, about fifteen, and the youngest person involved. In real life he wrote his story fifty years later and left out a lot. In the movie he is sort of the main character.

The movie stresses the conflict between Captain George Pollard of the Essex and his first mate, Owen Chase. By the end, they—as well as the narrator, old man Nickerson—have become wiser men. Very nice.

Whales generally did not sink boats—it was very unusual—but no one disputes that a whale sunk the Essex. However, nobody really knows what happened during the three months the survivors floated aimlessly in the middle of the Pacific in three flimsy little boats with few provisions.

The first mate, Chase, later wrote a long narrative of the incident, admitting to some cannibalism on his little boat, but in general making himself look pretty good. The captain, Pollard, also eventually wrote his own version, which concluded with a sad account of his life after the sinking of the Essex.

Taking all three of these accounts into consideration (including that of Nickerson), it is impossible to be at all sure who was eaten in the ‘life’ boats, how the victim was chosen, and who shot Owen.

There would have been many reasons to conceal the information about their cannibal behavior as they tried to avoid the nearby ‘cannibal’ islands. Chase and Pollard wanted to be hired again, for one thing, and needed the ship owners to trust them. Then, of course, since many Nantucket families were related (particularly, in this story, the Pollard and Coffin families), nobody wanted to admit eating their relatives.

In the movie, Owen Coffin has had a name change. (He is a very, very minor character called Henry Coffin.) For those who have not seen the movie, I do not wish to give away the twist. I would say that the movie tries to put a good light on the end of the tragedy of the Essex, but I do not. Though, of course, none of us knows.

My story is more about the whole Coffin family, especially certain ones, including Owen, and the effect of the whale’s revenge (yes, the whale is a character) on the family. It includes the whaling culture on the island, the prevalence of opiate addiction, and the relationship to the whales.

FLIT: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature, by Dennis Milam Bensie

flitFlit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature ($11.95, 128 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-323-5), a collection of poems by Seattle wigmaker and memoirist Dennis Milam Bensie, each selecting words from a work of classic literature to create snapshots of gay life and culture.

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The Advocate voted Bensie’s first memoir, Shorn: Toys to Men, “One of the Best Overlooked Books of 2011.” The New York Journal of Books called Shorn: “Bracingly honest.” The Library Journal recommended it as “particularly topical in these days of bullying stories and gay teens committing suicide.” One Gay American was a finalist for both the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the Indie Excellence Book Awards.

“Dennis Milam Bensie offers his readers in Flit a veritable Baedeker to contemporary gay culture constructed from the clay of the literary canon. In poems simultaneously playful and wise, Bensie ‘mashes up’ the words of the classics to comment on the intricacies of gay identity/ies today. In the harrowing ‘PnP,’ for example, the poet speaks of the pain that fuels drug use into ‘the party and play way of life.’ The protagonist in ‘A Bill with the Devil’ is sent to ‘a special shock camp’ by his Christian family. Bensie angles his lens forward in poems such as ‘The Harvey Milk Doll’ and ‘God in a Dress’ that bring the volume to a close, fashioning a new iconography of heroism and the divine. With the likes of Arthur Miller, George Bernard Shaw, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Leo Tolstoy, Virgina Woolf, and numerous others ga(y)zing over his (and our) shoulders, Bensie dares us to consider anew the literature and our world that we thought we knew. ‘Minor’ and ‘major’ literatures, in Bensie’s exuberant hands, come together on unexpected ground. This engagement proves most felicitous indeed.”
—Yermiyahu Ahron Taub, author of Prayers of a Heretic: Poems

“Dennis Milam Bensie’s latest book is a wildly unique combination of his own lively, in-your-face verse surveying the contemporary queer scene seamlessly mingled with lines from classic authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Herman Melville, and William Shakespeare. Mr. Bensie is truly a master of the memorable amalgam!”
—Jeff Mann, author of Rebels and A Romantic Mann

“The literary closet is blasted ajar with dynamite, as we slowly learn that gay urbane quotidian poetry of today is lurking in literally all of literature. From Charlotte’s Web and Hemingway to Gone With the Wind, we’ll forgive if some of the evidence is planted by our author—a private eye who won’t quit till each straight boy in history is caught wearing a skirt!”
—Felix Bernstein, author of Burn Book (Nightboat) and Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry (Insert Blanc Press)

“What Bensie and these poems do is to make us have another look at what have been literary classics and reconsider them as they pertain to our lives. Here Bensie is the master as he takes to places we never thought we would visit—he has the magic carpet and we get on and enjoy our journey through the very best that has been retailored for us. Having read all that he has published, I never really thought of Dennis Bensie as a poet but I see how wrong I was. He is a poet par excellence and we are so lucky to have him share it with us…. I want all of you to love this book as much as I do.”  Read more….
—Reviews by Amos Lassen

“The word ‘flit’ comes from J.D. Salinger’s overrated, homophobic novel, Catcher in the Rye. Dennis Milam Bensie queers the work of Salinger and thirty-nine other well-known authors (some gay, some not), from Shakespeare to Alice Walker, by using words from their work to create brilliant mash poetry. The poems present aspects of contemporary gay life many readers, myself included, will identify with, such as growing up gay in hostile church and school environments and exploring some of the more exotic and exciting features of gay life today. A remarkable achievement well worth the read.”
—Clifton Snider, literary scholar, critic, novelist, and author of Moonman: New and Selected Poems

Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature is a sometimes fierce, often poignant, but always important reminder of the unique ability of gay writers to share their experience of love, loss, fear and hope. This is the heart and soul of gay literature, the message we all need to receive about being queer in America, both in a time when change seemed impossible and now, when it is almost overwhelming to contemplate what change may bring to us all.”
—Eleanor Lerman, author of Strange Life and Radioman

“If we are the sum of all the words we’ve read and heard, then Flit shows us a new way to write poetry. Dennis Milam Bensie extracts words from stories we know and love, using them to create fresh, strong poems. These poems capture the fears, joys, and common moments in every human life. They are a choir of voices, singing in their second language: compassion. These poems show that words have long lives. They might even make the case that words live forever. The only way to know is to read and savor these beautifully crafted poems.”
—Joseph Ross, Author of Gospel of Dust and Meeting Bone Man

“I am honored to speak of the work of Dennis Milam Bensie. I had thought of Dennis as a particularly fine writer of short, comedic fiction. Since reading Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature, I now know he is also an exceptional poet. His work is both personal and universal, honest, tragic, and quite frankly, outstanding! I am envious. Thank you, Dennis, for the joy and the sorrow, the rage and defiance, the love, the beauty, and the damn fine poetry!”
—Kay Kinghammer, poet, author of Picture This, And Then, and Inside the Circus

“Dennis Milam Bensie has mined the secret seams of classic prose texts and come up with an unexpected ore. Who would have thought our genteel library shelves were hiding so many explicit poems about contemporary gay life? It’s enough to make a bookworm blush!”
—Gregory Woods, poet, author of An Ordinary Dog

J.D. Salinger uses the word “flit” twenty times to reference a homosexual male in his classic 1951 novel, Catcher in the Rye.

Not to suggest the celebrated writer was homophobic. But it was in his book that the word entered common parlance.

Poet and author Dennis Milam Bensie tackles the work of Salinger and thirty-nine other famous authors, including Melville, Dickens, Tolstoy, Twain, and Forrester, and mashes them up into his own concoctions. These poems offer intriguing snippets of gay life, from cruising bears (furry men sailing the ocean blue) to Log Cabin Republicans, to youths subjected to sexual conversion therapy. Every poem in Flit: A Poetry Mashup of Classic Literature is built entirely with words from one classic book or play.

Says Bensie, “I have always loved collage. I heard about a method of writing poetry called a ‘mashup’ while participating in the Artist Trust EDGE Program for Literary Artists about a year ago and was intrigued. I went to Half Price Books and bought a bunch of books and started mashing. I started with The Bell Jar, one of my favorites, and literally cut words and phrases out of the book with scissors and set them aside. Once I’d gathered a bunch of clippings, I studied them and put them back together in different order until I had a whole new story. It was great fun to borrow the words of some of the greatest authors of all time and rearrange them into a contemporary gay poem that spoke to me.”

Dennis Milam Bensie has written two memoirs: Shorn: Toys to Men and One Gay American. His short stories have been featured in The Rain, Party and Disaster Society, Talking Soup, Chelsea Station, Short Fiction Break, The Ink and Code, Everyday Fiction, Bare Back Magazine, The Round Up, Specter Magazine, Fuck Fiction, Cease Cows, and This Zine Will Change Your Life. His essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Boys on the Brink, and the Good Men Project. The author has been a presenter at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans and at Montana’s very first gay pride festival. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Shut your eyes and your ears.

As long as you behave well,

You will be free

And godly.

 

A pathetic benediction I felt.

My flesh and blood, tight and snug

Didn’t convert or contend.

There was nothing from above.

 

The camp dispersed and I was still quite frolicsome;

Unbridged by religion.

That summer, I had found

My own new twists and turns.

 

I announced to my parents

That there was no bill with the devil,

That there would be no rooms for me in heaven,

And any bill from God had already been paid in full.

 

—An Excerpt from “A Bill With The Devil,” a mashup of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)