Two Mystery/Thrillers by Michael Niemann: Legitimate Business and Illicit Trade

illicit_tradeIllicit Trade (6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-589-5, 244, $14.95) is the all-new second book in Michael Niemann’s Valentin Vermeulen mystery/thriller series. The story takes place in New York City, Newark, Vienna, and Nairobi. When two illegal immigrants with forged UN papers are found dead, Vermeulen is assigned to investigate. The case will take him deep into the complicated and dangerous world of human trafficking.

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Legitimate Business (6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-587-1, 218 pages, $14.95), which introduces United Nations investigator Valentin Vermeulen, takes place in Sudan. A case involving the death of a UN policewoman in Dafur puts Vermeulen in the cross hairs of powerful arms dealers.

Illicit Trade: “Intriguing [….] The unexpected resourcefulness that Vermeulen and Jackson each display in dealing with dangerous foes in their respective quests is highly entertaining.” —Publishers Weekly

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Legitimate Business was a hit with readers and critics:

“A gripping thriller set against the backdrop of one of the most violent regions in the world. Niemann is an excitingly original voice in the genre.” —Michael Stanley, award winning author of the Detective Kubu mysteries

“As soon as I finished this exciting thriller, I wished to start reading again…. Ideology, greed and the other human frailties predominate, while our protagonist Vermeulen is not so much ‘flawed hero,’ as a man who tries to learn from his mistakes and make course corrections: an evolving human.” —The Haunted Reading Room

“Michael Niemann tells a fascinating, highly-entertaining tale amidst the turbulence that is Africa. His knowledge and attention to detail with respect to the inner workings of this UN department rings extremely true and authentic…. A good read!” —Clive Rosengren, two-time Shamus Award finalist

“Michael Niemann’s Legitimate Business is the real deal…. Niemann knows his way around Africa and Vermeulen emerges as a tough and wily hero, backstopped by strong female characters—including a UN peacekeeper and plenty of surprises.” —Ed Battistella, author of Sorry About That. The Language of Public Apology

Legitimate Business: Ritu Roy, a constable with an all-female United Nations peacekeeping unit in Darfur, Sudan, has been shot dead. Her superiors call it a random shooting. Her best friend thinks otherwise. She’s found a bullet casing from a sniper’s rifle, an uncommon weapon in the refugee camp. The case remains closed until Valentin Vermeulen arrives to conduct a routine audit. As an investigator with the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services, his job is to ferret out fraud. The casing is the first clue that Ritu may have stumbled onto a major criminal operation.

Solving the mystery of Ritu’s death leads Vermeulen down a perilous path. With the help of journalist Tessa Bishonga, he visits the hidden camp of a notorious rebel leader. On the streets of Port Sudan he dodges a parade of shady characters. In the end, Vermeulen must expose the players in the not so “legitimate” business of supplying weapons to Sudan … before they can hunt him down.

Illicit Trade: Two poor Kenyan men visiting the U.S. are found dead, one in jail, one on the street. Both used forged UN documents to enter the country. Valentin Vermeulen’s superiors have no interest in the plight of undocumented immigrants, but they want him to stop the fraud. The clues take Vermeulen from New York City to Newark, where he riles a woman known as “The Broker,” then to Vienna.

Earle Jackson, a small-time hustler and the last person to speak with one of the dead Kenyans, has taken the man’s passport and money. He also finds a note listing an address in Newark, where his efforts to cash in on the situation go awry. Fleeing for his life, Jackson flies to Nairobi using the dead man’s passport.

Vermeulen and Jackson have chanced upon a criminal network more extensive and vicious than either could have imagined. To survive, Vermeulen must do more than sever a few links. He must find the mastermind at the top.

Says Niemann: “Both novels were inspired by actual events. I wrote Legitimate Business after reading an article about faulty armored personnel carriers that had been shipped to UN peacekeepers in Darfur. Illicit Trade was inspired by a report that a UN employee had sold forged UN invitation letters to individuals who used them to obtain visas to the U.S. Both events led me to stories dealing with weapons trade and human trafficking, cases tailor-made for Valentin Vermeulen.”

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. After taking a fiction writing course from his friend, the late Fred Pfeil, he switched to mysteries as a different way to write about the world. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt from Illicit Trade:

Since moving back to New York, Vermeulen had quickly adopted the empty refrigerator habits of Manhattan residents. That wasn’t a problem on most days, since there was so much prepared food available everywhere. But he didn’t feel like going out again. Besides the beer, his fridge contained a jar of pickles, four eggs, some packets of soy sauce from the Chinese place down the street, and an old bagel. That limited his culinary options. He was in the middle of frying two eggs when his phone rang again.

Without thinking, he answered. “This is Vermeulen.”

A male voice he’d never heard before said, “You wanna talk about why you visited Dr. Rosenbaum today?”

The spatula clattered on the stovetop, then to the floor. He stared out the window as if the mysterious caller were right outside, looking in at him. The eggs sizzled in the hot pan.

“Hold on,” Vermeulen said and put the phone down. Who the hell was this? It obviously wasn’t the woman with the short blonde hair. And it wasn’t the doctor. He reached down to pick up the spatula. He turned down the burner. Nobody else knew he’d stopped by the doctor’s office. He tried to remember faces he’d seen on the street. There was really only one candidate—the black man who’d followed him.

He picked up the phone again. “Who are you?”

“That’s not important. What is important is you visiting the doctor. Why’d you go to him?”

“You’re the black man who bumped into me and then followed me. So don’t think for a moment I can’t find out who you are.”

The silence at the other end told him he was right.

“Okay, you saw me,” the man said. “So did many people. That don’t mean you’re gonna find out anything. But I know you talked to the doctor who’s got things to hide. So I’m thinking you’ve got things to hide, too. And that’s what I want to talk about.”

The eggs were done. Vermeulen managed to slip them onto the plate. He popped the bagel halves from the toaster, pulled over a stool, and sat down. This might take a while, and he wasn’t going to let his eggs get cold.

“Sorry,” he said, after forking a bite into his mouth. “You caught me in the middle of supper, and I hate cold eggs.” He took a sip from the bottle. “Besides, you’re operating on the wrong assumptions. I have nothing to hide. You, on the other hand, sound like an extortionist. Last I heard, that was still a crime in this country. I got your phone number on my display. It’ll only be a matter of time before the police find you.”

The last comment was pure bluster. He took a bite from the bagel and had another swig of beer.

“You’re eating while I’m trying to have a conversation with you? Man, how ’bout a little respect?”

“You’re the one who interrupted my supper. And why should I respect someone who’s trying to blackmail me?”

“I thought you were somebody else. Just forget I called.”

“No, I’m not going to do that. I’m also interested in what Rosenbaum has to hide. You seem to know something. How about telling me why you’re after him?”

He finished the eggs and wiped the remaining yolk with a piece of bagel.

“Nah, let’s just forget the whole thing, okay?” the caller said.

“No, not okay. How’d you like the Newark PD on your tail?” It was an easy guess. “Believe me, I can make that happen.”

“I said forget about it.”

“I won’t, unless you tell me what you know. Right now.”

“I’ll only do it face to face.”

“Fine with me. Be at the Azure Lounge in downtown Newark in an hour.”

And here is an excerpt from Legitimate Business:

The sky had become overcast. The air stood still, and sweat beaded on Vermeulen’s forehead. He didn’t care. The mix of nervous energy and anticipation he knew from his previous cases was back.

“We must head back. It’s too dangerous without backup,” Gupta said.

“Come on, man,” Vermeulen said. “The Bangladeshi women patrol on their own.”

“Yes, and one of them is dead now. Zam Zam is always unpredictable.”

“We’ll leave after I speak to Amina.”

Wambui inched the Nissan along the bumpy dirt until they reached the end of a row.

“Now where to?”

“Turn left,” Tessa said. “Amina’s family lives three rows over.”

Before they reached the third row, they saw people run toward them. Wambui nosed the car to the corner and stopped, half concealed by a hovel. Three hundred feet down the row stood two pickups with heavy machine guns mounted on their beds. Several men stood near the trucks. One of them leaned against the gun on the first truck. Wambui stopped.

“Shit!” Gupta said. “Those are technicals. We gotta get out of here.”

“Technicals are the preferred fighting vehicles of the rebels,” Tessa said, as if Vermeulen didn’t know that already.

“What are they doing here?” Vermeulen said.

“That could be Amina’s place,” Tessa said.

“It doesn’t matter!” Gupta said. “We have to leave. Now.”

Wambui put the Nissan in reverse.

“Wait,” Vermeulen said. “If that’s Amina’s place, I want to see what’s going on there.”

“No! We can’t go against two technicals. Those are .57-caliber machine guns,” Gupta shouted.

“He’s right,” Sami said. “They’d tear us to shreds in seconds.”

“Who said anything about shooting?” Vermeulen said. The men with the technicals weren’t shooting. They weren’t even brandishing their guns. They just stood there. It wasn’t an ambush. “You stay here. I’m going to speak with them.”

“Are you crazy?” Specks of saliva flew from Gupta’s lips. “I forbid it. I’m in charge here and we are going back.”

“You can go back if you like, but you can’t forbid me to speak to anyone.”

Vermeulen climbed from the Nissan and walked slowly toward the men. Their guns hung from their shoulders. One gestured to another, and he heard laughter. The machine gunner’s arms and head rested on the gun. They were relaxed. The trick was not to surprise them. He shouted “Hello!” and waved. The gunner on the technical looked up, saw Vermeulen, and cocked his head. Taking his time, he swung the long barrel toward the stranger. The other men turned to look at him. Two pulled their rifles from their backs, also moving at a leisurely pace. They didn’t look like AK-47s, not that it mattered. At this distance even an old hunting rifle would do serious damage.

It was too late to turn around now. That much was clear. The fifty yards between him and the pickups seemed much longer. Raising his hands in the international sign of surrender, Vermeulen kept going.

From the Devil’s Farm, by Leta Serafim: A Ritual Sacrifice on the Isle of Sifnos

Devils_farmFrom the Devil’s Farm ($14.95, 208 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-244-3), is the third book in Leta Serafim’s Greek Islands Mystery series. The discovery of a murdered child on Sifnos saddens Chief Officer Patronas and his colleagues, who are at a loss for a viable suspect among the migrants that crowd the island or the Greek nationals who resent their presence.

“Serafim grounds her tale in Greek history, ancient and present, and provides a brutal and effective resolution to the case that will surprise most readers.”
—Publishers Weekly

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“As with Serafim’s previous mysteries, From the Devil’s Farm combines a clever mystery, a spectacular setting (the island of Sifnos), and Greek culture with a good dose of humor mixed in. The tale takes readers from the Greek Islands to Athens and Turkey as the solution unfolds. Throw in romance as Patronas finds himself attracted to a pretty, redheaded pottery instructor, and the result is an enormously entertaining story.”  Read more….

—Mark Lardas, The Daily News, Galveston County

The first two books of the series have received high praise from both critics and readers. The Devil Takes Half was a finalist in the mystery category of the Eric Hoffer Awards.

When the Devil’s Idle: (Starred Review) “Excellent sequel to The Devil Takes Half.” —Publishers Weekly

4 Stars: “Serafim expertly creates the beauty of Greece. However, the real draws of this book are the fully developed, complex characters, and the facts on Greek culture and history. Book two in the Greek Islands Mystery series is sure to satisfy.” —RT Magazine

The Devil Takes Half: (Starred Review–Featured as a Best Summer Debut) “Serafim’s dense prose is perfect for lovers of literary and scholarly mysteries. Her plotting is methodical and traditional, with subtle nods to Sherlock Holmes, Greek mythology, and historical events.” —Library Journal

“[An] impressive debut …. Serafim has a good eye for people and places, and sheds light on the centuries of violent passion that have created an oppressive atmosphere hanging over the sunny Greek landscape.” —Publishers Weekly

A Greek American tourist, Lydia Pappas, stumbles upon a child’s body in the ruins of an ancient temple, well hidden on the top of a cliff. The boy has been bled dry, though no blood is in evidence, leading the Greek police investigator, Yiannis Patronas, to believe the killer must have collected it. Greece’s financial crisis has reduced the police force on Sifnos to one officer, Petros Nikolaidis, so Patronas has been summoned from his home base of Chios to aid in the case. Accompanying him are his colleagues, Giorgos Tembelos and Evangelos Demos, as well as Papa Michalis, an ancient Orthodox priest with a vast knowledge of detective fiction and an uncanny ability to ferret out the truth. Though eccentric and often irritating, Michalis has been an asset to Patronas over the years in a land where homicide was, until recently, a rare occurrence. But Greece is changing daily, with a tide of migrants straining the country’s already diminished resources and occasionally bringing out the worst in her people.

The child appears to have been sacrificed according to the rules of a pagan religious ritual. Is someone on Sifnos reviving the old ways? Or is there a thrill killer loose on the island? Is the culprit a Greek national or one of the many foreign migrants crowding its refugee camps?

Says the author, “When I first visited Sifnos years ago, I was struck by the almost ethereal beauty of the island, the purity of its whitewashed villages and the lives of its residents, whose days were taken up with family and the rituals of the Orthodox Church. Sadly Sifnos, like the rest of Greece, is no longer the utopia I remember and has entered the modern age with all its attendant problems. I wrote From the Devil’s Farm in part to explore the dichotomy between the two—the idyllic past and the island’s troubled and uncertain future.”

Leta Serafim is also the author of the historical novel, To Look on Death No More. She 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:

The priest’s lengthy robe was giving him trouble and he paused for a moment to tuck a portion of it up into his voluminous drawers, exposing his heavy orthopedic shoes and long black socks held in place around his spindly calves by hideous old-fashioned garters.

Patronas looked away, embarrassed for his friend. Normally, he would have made fun of him—the garters alone demanded it, and those drawers, Mother of God, were the size of bed sheets—but today his mind was elsewhere. “I’m worried about this one,” he said.

“As am I,” Papa Michalis said. “The killing of a child? It is an abomination. Who could have done such a thing?”

“A psychopath, maybe.”

“Yes, yes. Someone like Ted Bundy.” Papa Michalis continued in this vein for a few minutes, enumerating the sins of Ted Bundy, who if he was to be believed, had murdered at least fourteen young women and as many as a hundred.

Patronas was sorry he’d brought it up. His friend was fascinated by serial killers and could go on at length, recounting their misdeeds in grisly detail. The names of the men Jeffrey Dahmer had eaten, for example, and which limb he’d usually started with. Or the fact that Jack the Ripper had extracted a kidney from one of his victims and mailed it to a newspaper. While Patronas understood that such people were a challenge for a priest—it was a thorny theological question: how does one forgive the unforgiveable?—he wished his friend would find another hobby. Collecting stamps, maybe.

“However, Bundy didn’t kill children,” the priest was saying. “I fear what we’re after is someone far worse, with the means to lure a child here and slaughter him.”

Papa Michalis fancied himself a great crime stopper, the true heir to Sherlock Holmes, but he tended to get carried away. Today was no exception.

Patronas waved him off. “We will go where the evidence leads us, Father. And I seriously doubt it will lead us to someone worse than Ted Bundy.”

“Bah, that’s what you think. There is evil alive in the universe, Yiannis, and you and I, I fear, are about to enter one of its lairs. To pass through a dark portal into hell itself. ”

As inevitably happened once he got going, the priest continued to speculate—brevity was a concept Papa Michalis had no use for—about the nature of the evil. As was his wont, he thundered off in the wrong direction—that of fiction and fantasy and bad American television shows.

Later Patronas would recall the conversation. Papa Michalis had been onto something that morning in Sifnos; he just hadn’t realized it at the time. Evil was indeed alive in the universe, and like fear, it was contagious and sometimes infected whole groups, spreading like a malignant virus, a contagion of violence and misery.

Ahead, the lava that formed Thanatos shone dully in the sun. A staircase had been cut into the rock, so steep it had been like climbing a ladder. Patronas paused to catch his breath. Nikolaidis and the other men had already reached the top and called down to him to hurry. The steps were deeply worn, cratered from centuries of use. Bending down, he touched one with his hand.

Swab it for DNA, you’d probably find Cain and Abel’s.

Cannabis Use Survey, by Laurie K. Mischley and Michelle Sexton: Uncensored Feedback from Pot Users Worldwide

cannabis_surveyCannabis Use Survey: Confessions, Insights, and Opinions compiles the results of a survey designed by Drs. Laurie K. Mischley and Michelle Sexton ($15.95, 288 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-615-1).

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“Cannabis Use Survey is utterly fascinating to browse from cover to cover.”  Read more….

—Clint’s Bookshelf, Midwest Book Review

Sixty percent of the American public agree that cannabis use should be removed from the criminal justice system and regulated like alcohol and tobacco. However, few public health issues remain as contentious. The information we all hear is conflicting. Is cannabis addictive? Does it interfere with memory? Can it cure cancer? Does it destroy ambition or treat anxiety?

As practitioners of naturopathic medicine, Doctors Laurie K. Mischley and Michelle Sexton hear many first-hand accounts of experiences with cannabis. Curious to see if their patients’ views represented those of the wider public, they sought the opinions of users worldwide.

www.CannabisSurvey.org was developed to give individuals who use cannabis a voice and an opportunity to provide anonymous feedback to researchers, policy-makers, and healthcare providers.

At the end of the survey, cannabis users were asked “Is there anything else you think we should know?” Cannabis Use Survey is the collection of the first 1324 people who had something to say. This book contains the raw data: uncensored and unedited responses of cannabis users. Readers can experience the full impact of the frustration or appreciation of users, while also getting a feel for the education and life experience of cannabis users at large.

These stories may serve as a means to better understand a loved one’s point of view, make an informed decision about cannabis use, or simply feel solidarity with like-minded users. Drs. Sexton and Mischley offer neither conclusions nor judgments, and they welcome the lively discussion that is sure to follow.

In her introduction, Sexton writes: “These stories point to a larger narrative, that of dissatisfaction with how healthcare is being delivered and the fallacy of single molecule medicine.” Writes Mischley: “The incongruance between what I was being taught by trusted authority figures and what I was observing for myself got under my skin. By college, I was determined to do my part to remedy the miscommunication between those who used cannabis and those who judged it.”

Michelle Sexton (photo by Sam Sabzehzar)

Michelle Sexton (photo by Sam Sabzehzar)

Michelle Sexton, ND, is currently the Medical Research Director at the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. She maintains a small clinical practice in San Diego, CA. Dr. Sexton served as an editor and technical advisor for the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia Cannabis Monograph.

laurie-mischley-photo

Laurie K. Mischley

Laurie K. Mischley, ND, MPH, PhD, maintains a small clinical practice at Seattle Integrative Medicine. Her work focuses on identifying the nutritional requirements unique to individuals with neurodegenerative diseases. She is author of the book Natural Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease and has published on glutathione, coenzyme Q10, and lithium deficiency in Parkinson’s Disease.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

  1. Before I had medical cannabis, my life was a painful existence. I was on a lot of prescriptions (20 different types) that really didn’t help with the pain, nausea, or muscle spasm and kept me very tired/drowsy. my memory barely worked if at all. some of the prescriptions were for side effects of my main prescriptions, but they had side effects of there own. I was in college and a young mother at the time which made it harder for me to do the thing things I needed to do. I found my compassionate doctor through a friend, who thought medical cannabis would help me . I was desperate to get my life back and to be able to remember anything more then a few seconds. So I tried medical cannabis for the first time in my life after getting my first medical cannabis patient card. I was able to eat and keep the food down, I was able to sleep, my nightmares mostly left, my body stopped jerking, and my migraine finally left after 2 years of suffering within minutes. I gained weight which was good since I was 90lbs and dropping before medical cannabis. that’s roughly 40 lbs under weight for me. Within 6 months after starting medical cannabis, I went from 20 Rx pills to 1. I could think clearly once again and remember what I had learned in class and my kids when they were little. One of my conditions is PTSD, medical cannabis has helped me greatly. not just with consuming it, but growing it. In my state you can grow your own or have a grower. In short medical cannabis didn’t only give me back my life, it gave me back the quality of life.

Enter by the Narrow Gate, by David Carlson: A Monk and a Detective Join Forces in Santa Fe

enter_gateJust how far can religious faith go astray?

Enter by the Narrow Gate ($14.95, 244 pp, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-391-4) is the first book in a new mystery/thriller series by David Carlson featuring Christopher Worthy and Father Fortis. After a nun is murdered while on retreat in a monastery, an Orthodox monk solicits the help of his Detroit Detective friend who is in Santa Fe investigating a missing person’s case.

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“Carlson takes great care with his depiction of the state’s history and culture even as he fictionalizes and conflates small details for dramatic effect. Every character receives this respectful treatment as well [….] The novel, while grounded firmly in theological and spiritual themes, is not a Bible-based mystery but an exploration of humanity [….] Lest anyone perceive Gate as a quiet book focused solely on the contemplative and monastic, rest assured that the mystery takes a spectacular twist. Lives are endangered, and the threat of the apocalypse hovers over a few of the characters, putting others high in the mountains at risk.”  Read more….

—Jennifer Levin for Pasatiempo, the New Mexican’s Weekly Magazine of Arts, Entertainment, and Culture

“The novel’s prose is rich with religious references and imagery, which add to the unique depth of the novel….The rapport between Worthy and Fortis is easy and enjoyable, and the double case ensures that Enter by the Narrow Gate never slows in action.”

—Foreword Reviews

“The real joy in reading this mystery lies in Carlson’s exploration of how faith shapes reasoning and actions, rather than simply the action itself. Thus Father Fortis can proudly take his place in a list of religious detectives that includes Father Brown, Brother Cadfael and Rabbi David Small.”  Read more….

—Rich Gotshall, The Daily Journal

“The cultures of New Mexico and its Native American population are explored in depth, offering many insights into the region and its inhabitants while providing a background for this intriguing mystery…. Enter by the Narrow Gate is the first novel in the Christopher Worthy-Father Fortis mystery series, and it gets these two characters off to a chilling but entertaining start.”

— Toni V. Sweeney for the New York Journal of Books

“I didn’t want to let go of Christopher and Father Fortis…. We need sleuths like this. They’re intelligent and not afraid to share that intellectualism with each other. How refreshing!”

—Christine DeSmet, award-winning writer and author of the Fudge Shop Mysteries

“A consistently compelling and entertaining read from first page to last…. highly recommended.”  Read more….

—Mason’s Bookshelf, The Midwest Book Review, October 2016

“Father Nicholas Fortis and Lieutenant Christopher Worthy are both out of their element the instant the two friends get to Santa Fe from the Midwest, and that ratchets up the suspense in this excellent mystery…. Author David Carlson has created a great team in Fortis and Worthy. The priest’s kind, open manner and knowledge of scripture and theology complement Worthy’s hard-nosed pursuit of killers.” —Rich Zahradnik, author of the Coleridge Taylor Mysteries

Enter by the Narrow Gate is Carlson’s first novel. His first work of nonfiction, Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World was selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 in the area of Spiritual Living by Library Journal. His second book on religious terrorism, Countering Religious Extremism: The Healing Power of Spiritual Friendships, will be released by New City Press in 2017.

The cover art is by Carlson’s wife, Kathy, a retired English professor and an award-winning artist.

A teenage girl has vanished in Santa Fe. Nearby, in the Trappist monastery of St. Mary of the Snows, a beautiful young nun is stabbed to death. Father Nicholas Fortis is on sabbatical at St. Mary’s, and when Lieutenant Christopher Worthy of the Detroit Police Department is flown in to help find the missing teenager, the Orthodox monk asks his friend to delve into the nun’s murder as well. The two men make a perfect team: the monk’s gregarious manner opens hearts and the detective’s keen intuition infiltrates psyches.

The Book of Matthew refers to the “narrow gate” that leads to heaven. Each of the key players in these two cases was rattling heaven’s gate in a frantic and even dangerous quest for salvation. Lieutenant Sera Lacey of the Santa Fe Police, with her captivating looks and insight into the Native Americans and cultures of the Southwest, proves both a boon and a distraction for Worthy. As Father Fortis navigates the social hierarchy of the monks of St. Mary’s, he begins to fear their secret agendas. Bowing to the pressure to solve both cases, the investigators let the clues lead them in opposite directions. At the end of one of those paths, Death awaits.

Says the author, “Father Fortis is the opposite of what most people expect of a monk, and his creation for this series gives me a chance not only to put this character into interesting situations and see what happens, but also to educate the public about the Orthodox Church, a branch of Christianity that is more widespread than most people realize. I thought Christopher Worthy, with his cerebral approach and personal demons, would make a perfect foil for this jovial, warm-hearted monk. Add to that the setting of New Mexico, a place I love for its rare beauty and deep spiritual currents. Doing research for this story was great fun.”

David Carlson has a BA in political science from Wheaton College (Illinois), an M.A. from the American Baptist Seminary of the West (Biblical Theology) and a doctorate from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (New Testament Studies). Franklin College, a traditional liberal arts college in central Indiana, has been his home for the past thirty-eight years. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

In the darkness following the night service of Vigils at St. Mary’s, Father Fortis remained in his assigned stall and watched as the columns of monks processed toward the sanctuary altar. Each bowed deeply from the waist before the abbot, then turned to the icon of the Virgin Mary to bow again before filing out into the night.

He picked out the distinctive slap of Father Linus’s sandals at the rear of the line, and the old monk’s parting words from that morning came to mind: “Sister Anna’s murder was terrible, but you need to know that it wasn’t the only attack that has taken place on one of our old moradas. But please. I ask you to say nothing about the santo until next week.”

“Why next week?” Father Fortis had asked.

“I want you to meet the hermano mayor, the governing brother at a morada, a Penitente meeting house. Please, it’s only a few days.”

Father Fortis’s heart had skipped a beat at the time, but now he wondered if it would take the police that long to link the murder with the Penitentes. A routine search at the county courthouse should show that the retreat house had previously been a morada. And how long would it take the police to figure out the meaning of the seven wounds between Sister Anna’s breasts?

Sitting alone in the dark, he gazed out of the massive window at the rock face. Moonlight promised to break free of the crest line at any moment and illuminate the room. As he rose from his seat with thoughts of returning to bed, he heard a faint creaking sound from the balcony above. That was the area reserved for guests, but the monastery had closed its guesthouse to all but Worthy and himself until the investigation was over.

He sat quietly, half expecting to see a sneaky reporter’s head peeking over the railing. He saw and heard nothing, yet something or someone was definitely there. He could feel it. Rising silently, he edged his way to the back of the chapel and to the stairs leading up to the balcony.

He ascended cautiously, wondering if he was overreacting. Couldn’t the sound simply be the evening breeze as it flowed down the valley?

He reached the top stair and peered into the dark balcony. He waited, but again heard nothing. At that moment, the moon broke free of the canyon wall outside and flooded the chapel with light. In that flash, Father Fortis saw three things. One, exploding in the clear desert night air, the bands of color on the far canyon wall. How odd, he thought, to see pinks, reds, even browns at this time of night. Two, in the same instant, he saw that the balcony was empty, its rows of hand-hewn benches bare except for a stack of daily missals. And three, he saw the door at the other end of the balcony swaying slightly.

Beauty and the Breast, a Literary Memoir by Merrill Joan Gerber

beauty_breastBeauty and the Breast: A Tale of Breast Cancer, Love, and Friendship ($14.95, 192 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60381-526-0) is a literary memoir by award-winning author Merrill Joan Gerber. With wit and wisdom, Gerber reflects on her breasts, her life,  and her Jewish heritage as she undergoes treatment for breast cancer.

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“I LOVE IT!!  I could not put it down. Merrill Joan Gerber tells the story without a drop of feeling sorry for herself. She never loses her sense of humor. I’ve read a lot of breast cancer books, but hers is so fresh, so endearing, there’s nothing else like it.”

—Judy Blume, author of Are you There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, and In the Unlikely Event

“An intimate, touching, moving portrait of the self in peril and in pain, written with characteristic intelligence & lucidity by Merrill Joan Gerber.”

—Joyce Carol Oates, National Book Award winner

“‘It’s not candy,’ a curt oncologist says to Gerber, a prize-winning novelist and short-story writer, when she is taken aback by what he is telling her about chemotherapy. She finds a new oncologist. Grit is on full display in Gerber’s account of her bout with breast cancer, as are fear, humor, frailty, valor, and—most important—love and friendship. A moving, frank and funny book.”

—Brandeis Magazine

“Merrill’s description of her journey through the strange, new world of cancer is warm and wise. It’s by turn funny and despairing, but always heartrendingly personal.”  Read more….

—Peg Schulte, PegOLeg.com

“Short, easily digestible chapters. [Gerber] also includes clear, black-and-white close-ups of her affected breast during various stages of treatment, among other images…. The featured photographs of the author make this one stand out among the pack.”  Read more….

—Library Journal

“Gerber has penned a primer for holding fast to everything dear in the face of a terrifying diagnosis. The author, a former Stegner fellow (1962-63), handles cancer’s curveballs with candor and a sense of humor, reaching clarity amid the confusion. Her frank and funny narrative of the discovery, biopsy, surgery and treatment makes the experience relatable.”

—Stanford Magazine, Nov/Dec 2016

When award-winning author Merrill Joan Gerber was diagnosed with breast cancer, she set out on a journey familiar to too many women. It began with denial that her precious breasts could become the agents of terror and even death. What followed was a parade of doctors and their treatments, of surgery, the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy, and the dangerous but life-saving beams of radiation to her breast. Along the way, Merrill found a new appreciation for the blessings in her life, her beloved husband, their daughters, and their daughters’ children. As she recalled her parents’ illnesses, her childhood in Brooklyn, and her complicated relationship with her own breasts, she reflected on long-held notions of fear and death.

In Beauty and the Breast, Merrill bares her soul and her breasts as she navigates the terrors of cancer and treatment and learns with courage and gratitude what it means to be a survivor. Many have reported on the cancer wars, but Merrill’s memoir delivers a special contribution of humor, passion, candor, real-life photos, and a poetic gift to the reader.

“I read Beauty and the Breast nonstop: the pages turn themselves. Horror, humor, humaneness, fear, fatigue, love, honesty, bravery, and so much more, including even charm—all movingly mingled. The book (science and sensibility) is the triumph of an ordeal overcome and transcended.”

—Cynthia Ozick, author of Critics, Monsters, Fanatics, and other Literary Essays

“As much rumination on the mortal predicament as it is testament to the continuous discovery that is life, Merrill Joan Gerber’s memoir of her negotiations with cancer makes for richly provocative reading. And in the hands of a gifted and insightful writer with a penchant for the humorously quotidian, those negotiations are at once profound and entirely accessible. Cancer demands courage. Writing about it may require something like meta-courage.”

—Lynn Stegner, author of For All the Obvious Reasons

“Merrill Joan Gerber is one of the finest writers of our time. There is no way to stop reading this very moving, compelling, sad but affirmative memoir. Whatever she touches, she illuminates.”

—David Evanier, author of Woody: The Biography

“Beauty and the Breast could be one of those books like Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care that just doesn’t quit selling because there is always another group that needs to know. The voice throughout the narrative is so superb. In some ways, the book feels more like a novel than a memoir. The pictures are extremely, extremely important. The interesting thing is that, at the end, the book becomes less about breast cancer and escaping death as it is about mortality and the seasons of life.”

—Dr. Dean Paschal, Emergency Room physician, New Orleans

“While reading Beauty and the Breast, I am close to tears all the time. Merrill’s incredible clarity and honesty is profound and necessary. The details, the photographs, the emotions make me feel as if it’s me going through this. It’s a real page-turner.”

—Mary Trunk, documentary film maker (Merrill Joan Gerber is one of four women artists in her film, Lost in Living)

Beauty and the Breast will pour into a reader just as it poured from the author into her keyboard. It is hard to break away. Her voice is so powerful and intimate … she has borne witness in a voice that is unique and yet will reach everyone who reads it just where they are in their own lives. A beautiful and irresistible book.”

—Charlotte Zoe Walker, author of Condor and Hummingbird and winner of an O. Henry Award

“With fluid writing and pitch-perfect timing, Merrill Joan Gerber has written a remarkable story of a woman’s breast cancer journey. The photos and paintings rendered by the author of her treatments, her doctors, her husband and children add a wonderful visual layer to the tale. The author draws a heartwarming picture of family and friends who stay at her side and from whom she draws comfort, hope and delight. Gerber shares humorous takes on much that goes awry and offers many moments of wonder, joy and gratitude as well.”

—Nancy Levinson, author of Moments of Dawn, an Alzheimer’s Memoir and a two-time breast cancer survivor

“Beauty and the Breast has such a wonderful combination of humor, love of life, and sheer terror. It’s about breast cancer, but so much more. And it is about a long and happy marriage and the cancer that doesn’t interrupt it. Bravo!”

—Dr. Madeleine Moskowitz, Doctor of Psychology and breast cancer survivor.

Says the author, “During my cancer treatment, my husband took me to see a concert of the six Brandenburg Concertos by Bach. As I sat in the darkened church listening to this most transcendent music, as I watched the musicians on stage, particularly the women playing violins, a thought came to me: ‘Breasts are everywhere in Brooklyn.’ I quickly began to make notes on the sides and top of my program, suddenly realizing the enormity of the story that perhaps I was now destined to share. Though I was a writer, I never intended to recount the ordeals of my breast cancer journey. Now, in this illuminated moment, I saw there was a greater story to tell. Perhaps it was the thrilling music of Bach that loosed a flood of words and images in me. Beauty and the Breast was the result.”

Read an interview with the author on the Psychology Today blog.

MERRILL JOAN GERBER has published ten novels—among them King of The World, which won the Pushcart Press Editors’ Book Award and The Kingdom of Brooklyn, winner of the Ribalow Award from Hadassah Magazine—as well as seven volumes of short stories, nine young-adult novels, and three books of non-fiction. She has also published stories and essays in numerous magazines, including the New Yorker and Redbook, as well as literary journals. Her story, “I Don’t Believe This,” won an O. Henry Prize. She earned her MA in English from Brandeis University and was awarded a Wallace Stegner Fiction Fellowship to Stanford University. She presently teaches fiction writing at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Before I learned I had breast cancer, I belonged to a Jewish book club. Eight Jewish women meeting for forty years, once a month in one of our houses.

Did we ever read a book? Who knows? Did we ever discuss a book? We had arguments every time:

“Why should I read a historical novel when I’m not interested in historical novels?”

“Then why should I read a book about how Yiddish is coming back from a lost language when my grandparents only wanted that it should be a lost language?”

“They told secrets in my house in Yiddish so the kids wouldn’t know what they were talking about.”

“I think next month we should read a modern romance novel. There’s a new one on the bestseller list.”

“I’m against reading bestsellers. They’re crap.”

“I’m too old for romance. I can’t be bothered with romance.”

“Molly, you’ve had three husbands. How did you manage that without romance?”

“Look at my breasts! They speak for themselves. Also I’m a good cook.”

“Could it be your cooking poisoned the first two?”

“Funny that is not.”

“Sex must figure in somewhere.”

“If it figures, it figures. Remember how in Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye sings, ‘Do you love me?’ and his wife answers, ‘For twenty-five years I’ve cooked your meals, washed your clothes, shared your bed …. If that isn’t love, what is?’ ”

“It’s your bosoms, it’s not your cooking, that got you three husbands.”

“They should live and be well,” Molly said, patting her bosoms lovingly. “But you never know. One in eight women gets breast cancer. It could be one of us.”

“Never one of us. We’re not the type.”

We are the type, in fact. We are especially the type. Women with Ashkenazic genetics are especially at risk. If we carry the Braca gene mutation, we have an eighty-five percent risk of being diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime, and are also at high risk for ovarian cancer.

Sprinkled over the years among our discussions of life and literature were exchanges of really important information. Who were the best pediatricians? Orthodontists? The best summer camps for the kids? When busing started in our city, most of the neighborhood children were pulled out and put into Christian or Catholic private schools. And since all of us in our book club had been educated in the public schools of New York—the Bronx or Brooklyn—we strongly resisted private schools. Pay for schools? Ridiculous! Didn’t we all feel grateful for our public school educations? And look how smart we were?

Smart we were. There was no argument there.

We and our husbands had all bought houses in our Southern California neighborhood in the late sixties. When our children were young, we stayed home and raised them. Our husbands were out there in the world doing something respectable—being teachers or engineers or working for Xerox or the Jet Propulsion Lab. But when the children were older, all of us women went back to school and finished our degrees if we hadn’t already done so. We went to work. Teaching.

How come we continued to call our group a book club when we practically never read the same book? We fought each other at every meeting. Why not read about gardening, about art? Why not read the novels of Philip Roth? All the women but me claimed they were disgusted by Philip Roth’s books.

“Such a dirty mind.”

“Such a dirty mouth!”

“What he did to that piece of liver!”

“You didn’t have to read it, did you?”

“Such an honest writer,” I said.

Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators, by Priscilla Long

mindingIn Minding the Muse: A Handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators ($13.95, 128 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-363-1), Priscilla Long shares her secrets to harnessing the creative gift, increasing productivity, and handling the business aspects of the creative life.

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Minding the Muse is a practical handbook for the artist or writer—highly experienced, aspiring, or somewhere in between. Long draws from her extensive background as a poet, writer, and master teacher, but also gathers the insights and practices of a wide range of high-achieving artists, including mystery writer Raymond Chandler, choreographer Twyla Tharp, poet and performance artist Patti Smith, and the painter Joan Miró. Beginning with the first sparks of artistic creation—“Gathering, Hoarding, Conceptualizing”—Long moves through the various stages to “Completing Works” and “Poet as Peddler, Painter as Pusher: Marketing.” Every creative worker will find something here to take to heart and into the studio or workroom.

Join Priscilla for a reading at Elliott Bay Books on Saturday, October 15, 2016, at 7 p.m. or at Village Books on Friday, October 28. For updates on events, click here.

“Priscilla Long’s slim handbook for artists suggests ways to reflect on one’s creativity and so become a more effective creator. It is pithier and more intellectually respectful than recent creativity how-tos like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and old standards like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.”  Read more….

—Pamela Hobart Carter, The Seattle Star

“One hundred and twelve pages of pure creative gold are here for the taking. No matter the form your creative gifts take, there’s something in Minding the Muse that will excite, motivate, clarify, or entertain you.” Read more….

—Krysta Gibson, New Spirit Journal

“I found Long’s advice, along with the examples she pulls from other books and studies on creativity, to be reliably fresh and unorthodox. I loved being reminded to strictly cordon my messy drafting stage from the critical revising stage and the gutty purveying stage. I liked her form of telling me flatly what to do without pandering to my ego. I admired her various elegant ways of commanding me to embrace the old-fangled: get back to work, and work hard.[….] The simple fact is that I read these two self-help books and I went sweetly adrift in them [….] and when I came out the other side I felt somehow both richly served and pleasantly on my own again.” Read more….

—Bonnie J. Rough for the Seattle Review of Books

“This is a relatively small book, fewer than 75 pages, but contains many memorable passages…. In addition to invaluable tips, Long includes helpful questions at the end of each chapter intended to serve as guides for artists to use as they explore their own artistic methods and goals to help you forge new work. On days when the isolation of working in solitude can feel overwhelming, it helps to have the wise and supportive voice of Priscilla Long whispering in your ear that making art is a possibility, and that you, like the many artists quoted in this book, have something to say. Her book will help you say it.”  Read more….

—Bruce Black, Wordswimmer Blog

“It’s as if Priscilla Long has sat down on the couch beside me, offering all she knows garnered from a long life as a working artist. This is the kind of book I want to put into the hands of all my poet friends and students. It’s a book I believe I’ll be using in my teaching and in my own contemplation about my role as an artist for a long time to come.” Read more ….

—The Alchemist’s Kitchen

“Long has done a terrific job of compiling short chapters, rich with fresh quotes from all sorts of creative people. This small but deeply intelligent book contains some savvy messages you’d do well to heed.”  Read more….

Psychology Today Blog

“Priscilla Long has read wide and deep in the practice of artists of all stripes, and she has meditated to good purpose on what she’s found. She is particularly good on the cross-fertilization of artistic methods, with the result that this book is wise, practical and illuminating, a friendly aid to creation.”

—Janet Burroway, author of Losing Tim, A Story Larger Than My Own, Bridge of Sand, Imaginative Writing, and Writing Fiction

“On days when the isolation of working in solitude can feel overwhelming, it helps to have the wise and supportive voice of poet, writer, and master teacher Priscilla Long whispering in your ear that making art is a possibility, and that you, like the many artists quoted in this book, have something worthwhile to say.”

—Bruce Black, author of Writing Yoga

“Like mushrooms, facts must be gathered; like dough; a draft must rest in order to rise. Drawing on vivid anecdotes from a range of artists, this book makes her case that creativity thrives in the balance between spontaneity and discipline. Long’s voice is conversational and witty, seasoned by her experience as an accomplished poet and essayist. Minding the Muse is a gift to anyone ready to take their craft more seriously.”

—Sandra Beasley, author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life and Count the Waves

“With stunning freshness and clearmindedness, Priscilla Long explores how to live a life in consonance with one’s creative goals. She offers inspiring advice from many high-achieving creative individuals. Readers are certain to come away with renewed confidence and many practical maneuvers they can’t wait to try. On the balance scales, in terms of usefulness and of being a joy to read, this short book outweighs dozens of others on the topic.”

—Susan K. Perry, PhD, author of the bestselling Writing in Flow, “Creating in Flow” blogger at PsychologyToday.com, and author of the novel, Kylie’s Heel

“Do you get bogged down in creating the works you imagine? Priscilla Long’s handbook pulled me right in, to help me move beyond where I get stuck—making space, dealing with feelings, getting out in the world, and more. This accessible, comprehensive, and, well, creative, book is a gift for anyone who wants a fruitful, creative life.”

—Sondra Kornblatt, author of Restful Insomnia, and A Better Brain at Any Age

Minding the Muse is an artist’s answer to the over-asked questions: ‘Do you write with a pen or pencil?’ Priscilla Long’s new book, rich with real life examples, gives creators in all disciplines concrete ways to shape a personal daily practice that invokes the power of the sleeping muse.”

—Barbara Earl Thomas, painter

Priscilla Long is a Seattle-based author and teacher of writing. Her work includes poetry, creative nonfictions, fictions, history, and science. Her other most recent book is Fire and Stone: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Her book of poems is Crossing Over: Poems. She is also author of The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life and the scholarly history book Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Invitations proliferate; time evaporates. But if you start declining invitations, invitations start declining. You will rightly feel that you are hurting your chances for your work to gain a wider audience.

If you want to keep working though, you must set limits. It’s as if an invitation were a chocolate gelato—good in small bites, bad as a stand-in for leafy greens. Determine the number of talks you will give per year, the amount of money you will charge for a talk, the number of pro-bono presentations you will give per year. If money starts coming in, even in moderate sums, consider employing a part-time assistant to help you plan or to just plain help.

I’m not famous. Still, on some days I get interrupted so incessantly you’d think I’d won the Nobel Prize in Literature. My best help with this problem of distraction and interruption is my intention to get four uninterrupted hours of work per day. The goal of time on the job—the job being the creative work itself, not teaching, answering email, sending work out, applying for grants, or other related tasks—is what keeps me on course. And make no mistake. I am looking with deep envy at the routine of three morning hours and three afternoon hours set up by Chuck Close (and also by the ultra-prolific Joyce Carol Oates). For now, given my other responsibilities, I am usually getting four hours. My timer is my taskmaster.

As your work begins to gain more attention, it’s useful to pay attention to how you want to present it, and to how you want to present yourself in public. As an artist who is visible, what is it that you want to convey? What values do you want others to take away? What do you want to say and what do you want to model about art and about making art? When you serve as a public figure, whether on the radio or in the classroom or in a live performance or at a gallery opening, you stand for art—for the particular form of art you make, as well as for all art. That’s a responsibility.

It may be helpful to take a class in acting or in the Alexander Technique, a body alignment practice developed originally for performers. I’ve done both and both helped me overcome my original stage fright. There are improvisation classes, classes in performing, classes in public speaking.

Look for model creators, past and present, who are visible in the culture, artists you admire. What can you learn from them by way of comporting yourself as a public figure? One I stand in awe of is Twyla Tharp as interviewed (on YouTube) by Norma Kamali. Check it out (youtu.be/atGJkkzVe54). I’m looking at Tharp’s posture, her thoughtful and erudite responses, her dress, her lack of stuttering and stammering, her sincere and extremely professional presentation and the quintessential brilliance of the content she presents.

 

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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5 Stars: “Dennis Must’s third short story anthology, Going Dark, presents a raconteur a la F. Scott Fitzgerald meditative pretext by transporting the reader into each of the dissimilar accounts be they matter-of-fact or stately, rational or imaginative. [….] Must’s writing is expressive, as he approaches the numerous stages of life we all share as we too transfer from childhood to youth, to conceivably consider marriage or other association, and, at the end face the inevitable death that awaits us all. Lives so unrelated yet very much the same; are the ones brought to life under the pen of this skillful writer. Dennis Must’s assortment of short accounts, is at once a multilayered, thought-provoking psychological frolic in addition to being a deeply seated thoughtful work; brimming with anxiety, as distant, unapproachable, self-absorbed characters usually at odds with themselves, others around them, and life in general[….] Enjoyed the read, happy to recommend for those who enjoy a bit of the avant garde.”  Read more….

—The Midwest Book Review

“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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“A remarkable and deftly crafted read from beginning to end, The Ghost Daughter showcases author Maureen O’Leary’s impressive flair for creating truly memorable characters and embed them in a riveting and complex storyline.” Read more….

—Mary Cowper for the Midwest Book Review

“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.

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“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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** Or buy it for your Kindle, Nook, or in other formats from Smashwords **

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.

** Click the cover image to order online **

** Or buy it for your Kindle, Nook, or from Kobo or iBooks **

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

“Landweber’s hybrid novel Thursday 1:17 p.m. is a provocative, stop-motion parable for an accelerating world.”  Read more….

—Steven Felicelli for Necessary Fiction

“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.