2nd Annual Bacon Press Books Summer Reading Festival
I'll admit it. I'm as guilty as anyone when it comes to loading up on mindless escape reading when I'm at the beach. And yet. There are times when I also want something a little more substantial, though not quite War and Peaceor Ulysses.But, according to an article in The Washington Post "Diving into the sexist, er, sexy beach read" by Sophie McManus (Aug.6, 2016) the beach is crowded with women reading mostly "juicy" books. (I'd gladly provide the link but can't seem to find it.)
Given all the outrageous overstatements we're bombarded with these days, this one's pretty mild. I know I've seen guys on vacation reading books.
Which is why we're having our Second Annual Summer Reading Festival - featuring great beach books. All are priced at $1.99 - $2.99 through the end of August.
Short story collections are great vacation reading. We have three on sale.
Norma Nixon Schofield - The Widow Schofield loves “faraway places with strange-sounding names” and travels every chance she gets. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she lived ten years in South America. Although she studied in Irvine, California and lived in rural Connecticut until the awful school shooting, in her heart she’s a New Yorker and never far away from the big city from which she can easily hop to London, her late husband’s big city.
Norma writes about murder in exotic places and is currently finishing the novel her husband left her when he died. Yes, it’s taken her that long to let go. “We always planned to write a novel together just never got around to it. This’ll be it,” she says. Her second novel, set in Kumasi, Ghana, the seat of the ancient Ashanti nation, is in progress. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letting Go is an anthology y of true stories. As a writer of fiction, did you find it harder to write a nonfiction story? Actually, a natural born analyst, I’m a better writer of nonfiction than fiction. I went from writing scientific and business reports in New York to working as a journalist in Venezuela. I’m much better at exposing characters for what they are than I am at trying to breathe humanity into them.
What do you enjoy most about writing? I love being in the company of other writers. At Thrilerlfest a couple of weeks ago in New York, I was amazed at how much energy flows from writer to writer as they share their ideas on the craft of writing. You have only to walk up to a stranger and ask, “What do you write?” and a full-blown conversation follows. I love it. That and the fact that I’m learning and practicing new skills every time I write.
Norma with well-known author Walter Mosley at Thrillerfest
What’s the hardest part about writing for you? Carving out the time to do it.
Where do your ideas come from? All over. Where I’ve been. What I’ve seen. Now more and more the headlines. I’m an international person.
How much time each week do you devote to writing? Since Thrillerfest, I try to write 2-3 hours per day. I'm told that the unconscious gets involved if you do it daily.
What are you working on? I’m working on a mystery set in 1975 in pre-Chavez Venezuela when the price of oil had just doubled.
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft? I am always surprised and happy when people talk about my characters as though they were real people. Someone was in tears once because he didn’t think the main character should treat his girlfriend so badly and someone else disagreed.
Do you think workshops have helped you become a better writer? Yes. Years ago I was told at a Maui Writers Conference led by Sam Horn that you need to see the physical reaction of people to what you’ve written. It’s more important than what they’re saying because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. But you can see in their faces and hear in their voices what they really think about your work.
Tell us any secret rituals you have for getting started each day. Apparently, I surround myself with episodes of a British comedy (Doc Martin, Death in Paradise, or Last Tango in Halifax at the moment) while I’m setting up. Feeding the cats, no dirty dishes in the sink, making sure I’ve taken care of anything that will distract me for the next couple of hours. Then I switch off Netflix and get to it.
Any writers you like to read to inspire you to write (or if you're blocked?) Lots. I started writing in earnest when I read Day of the Jackal by Forsythe. Then I picked up again when I read Elizabeth George’s novels set in England. Recently turned on to thrillers and I think that might be my niche. I love Chris Reich who writes about international topics and one of his books is soon to be serialized on TV, and Hank Phillippi Ryan and Meg Gardiner who write thrillers that are based more on the lives and concerns of women.
Who do you trust to read your work while in progress? I lost my first reader when my husband died. Now I have to trust in my workshop buddies.
Who do you never give your work to to read while in progress? My daughter.
David Turnoff was born in Philadelphia and raised in Miami, Florida. After living in various parts of the Northeast and Midwest, he settled in New York City, where he met his wife, Theresa, and their three children were born. While living in New York, David began writing short fiction and attended several writing workshops, most consistently with Martha Hughes. After many happy years in New York, an impending space issue following the birth of their third child and a subsequent late October hurricane prompted a move. He currently resides with his family in Berkeley, California. In his spare time, he continues to write short fiction. You can read David's essay, "What You Are Expected to Expect When You Are Expecting" in Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts, edited by ME Hughes.
"It takes me awhile to feel comfortable with an idea for a story and the characters who will populate the story. There is usually a drawn out process of at least several weeks where I work out a lot of seemingly random ideas, mainly in my head and also in a notebook."
Letting Go is an anthology of true stories. As a writer of fiction, did you find it harder to write a nonfiction story?
I was a bit wary of writing a nonfiction piece. I don’t have much experience with the form, and I was worried that trying to write about myself would be creatively inhibiting by limiting the possibilities of what could happen. But then I found that when I wrote in the second person, it allowed for a comfortable distance from myself. It freed me up enough to tell the story I wanted to tell while still being able to surprise myself at times with some of the ideas that came out on the page.
What’s the hardest part about writing for you?
Getting started. It takes me awhile to feel comfortable with an idea for a story and the characters who will populate the story. There is usually a drawn out process of at least several weeks where I work out a lot of seemingly random ideas, mainly in my head and also in a notebook. It’s a searching period that is mostly unpleasant, because there is no clear sense of direction, just a collection of free form phrases or images or the personality or physical trait of a character. Then at some critical point, all of these loose ideas start to coalesce into the basic framework of a story. From that point on, I am able to write somewhat coherently and move the plot forward.
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft?
How important writing consistently is for developing skills and keeping the creative juices flowing. Also, how important reading is for improving one’s writing. I have to be careful not to let something I’m reading “contaminate” my own writing voice. But other than that, reading other pieces (either fiction or nonfiction) helps me move my own writing along.
Do you think workshops have helped you become a better writer?
Absolutely. It has helped me enormously to receive feedback in the workshop setting. A good workshop provides a healthy combination of objectivity (where you don’t have a separate relationship with the other participants) and what I call "technical empathy" (where the other participants understand the writing process and can consider your work in the context of the stage of development it is in). Workshops also help me by imposing deadlines for finishing drafts and revisions.
Who do you trust to read your work while in progress?
My wife usually has a good take on my writing, what’s working and what needs to be clarified or fleshed out more. She’s supportive and is a good sounding board when I have questions about plot or tone. She also gives useful feedback without getting distracted by the incompleteness or clunky sections inherent in early drafts.
Who do you never give your work to to read while in progress?
With one or two exceptions, I don’t share my early drafts unless I’m in a workshop. It is often tempting, especially when I am excited about what I’m working on, but I’ve found that that has more to do with ego, and in practice showing my work too soon leads more to distraction than any usefulness (despite the much-appreciated interest and support of friends and family members).
Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you want to write, then you have to write. Waiting for the right set of circumstances does not help. It doesn’t get any easier, and there's never a better time. (You may at some point have more time, but it isn't better time.)
Retired professor of anthropology and the author of numerous academic books (including Scottish Crofters, now in its second edition), Sue Parman lives in Oregon where she has won numerous awards for poetry, plays, essays, short stories, and art. Her most recent book combines poetry and art (The Carnivorous Gaze, Turnstone Press, 2014), and her most recent article is a memoir based on her correspondence with Tolkien (“A Song for J.R.R. Tolkien,” The Antioch Review, 2015). Web site: www.sueparman.com Letting Go is an anthology of true stories. As a writer of fiction, did you find it harder to write a nonfiction story?
I love the power that fact lends to story-telling. Fiction is always grounded in nonfiction (the details of memory and observation), and nonfiction requires the rules of fiction to take flight. A story about a bird requires knowledge of birds; a detailed description of a bird would be boring without the underlying structure of plot and character. Having said this, I think it’s harder to write nonfiction for two reasons: one, you can get so mired in “facts” that you go off the rails of a good story; and two, the details of memory are frequently painful. I found it very difficult to write “The Holy Ghost Bird” because the memories that inspired it were so painful; but it was cathartic to shape it into a story. Fiction can heal. Birds make great metaphors. Because they fly between the ground and the sky, they can represent freedom, or messengers between gods and men, or vehicles to convey souls to the land of the dead. In New Guinea, men call themselves “dead birds” because of a myth that explains why men must die. In 2012 a short story of mine called “The Spirit Bird” was published in The Grove Literary Review. Similar title to the one in Letting Go, similar emotions of longing and loss, but a completely different story vehicle: a young Muslim widow visits the grave of her ancestors in Sulawesi. Fiction gives us wings.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
I find writing to be cathartic and freeing. I love the words themselves (I read the OED as a form of play and source of poems), and I love the rhythm of language and its capacity to build worlds, arguments, persuasions, expressions of love and hope, fury and disdain. I miss letter-writing but am intrigued by the potential of social media for haiku-like utterances. Writing takes me to a liminal zone where I can transform the mundane realities of life into beauty. The pursuit of beauty is paramount—it is the essence of a creative life well lived, whether as a writer or any other occupation. At the close of a Navajo Blessing Way ceremony are the words to walk in beauty. With beauty all around me may I walk. In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk. To be a writer is to walk in beauty—immersed in it, gathering it, experiencing it, sometimes capturing it. To be a writer is not poetry or journalism, school or reputation. It’s a way of life, consciously living from one unpredictable moment to another without a skin--a kind of pilgrimage to live out all the lines of one’s body. As a writer, my goal is to have created beauty that leaves people breathless and thinking what, where, how, why, and I am.
How much time each week do you devote to writing?
I write every day. When I was teaching, I got up at 4 a.m. and wrote until 7 a.m., then went to work. I still get up at 4, but now I can write in chunks throughout the day, and how long I write depends on what project I’m caught up in. Sometimes I get caught up in art projects instead. I worry sometimes that I’m less systematic and disciplined than I was when I was working, but I’m having a lot more fun.
What are you working on?
Last June I joined an art critique group, and after one of our meetings I dreamed of a flower that was shades of brown. I woke up with an art mantra running through my head: “Color gets the credit, value does the work.” I sat down and wrote a short story, “The Brown Study,” that I entered as a first book chapter in a contest sponsored by the Oregon Writers Colony. It won first place, and within two months I had the first draft of a book tentatively titled The Flowers of Rappaccini from the Nathaniel Hawthorne story about a woman raised by her father in a garden of poisonous flowers who herself becomes poisonous to others. I’m now on the third draft, and have been describing it as a literary-eco-thriller set in the Amazon rainforest.
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft?
At the heart of every creative act lies a burst of spontaneous humor, a form of play. I’ve come to recognize this feeling, this sense of surprise, without which a writing project is flat, uninspiring, and boring. I touch on these ideas in my essay, “An Evolutionary Theory of Poetry,” VoiceCatcher (posted July 29, 2013)
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Are you kidding? Writers take advice?
Do you think workshops have helped you become a better writer?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that workshops, critique groups, and First Readers provide useful feedback, training in getting used to putting your writing up for public view and criticism, and the opportunity to learn from other writers. No, in the sense that unlike an art workshop, you can’t really learn from other people’s techniques; you only catch little glimpses of finished writing. The usefulness of a workshop depends a lot on where you are in the writing process. New writers benefit from discussions of craft—how to construct plot and character, for example. Writers who have finished two or three drafts of a manuscript would benefit from workshops that work on whole manuscripts. I’ve found very helpful information about workshops from magazines such as Poets and Writers, and from fellow writers in local writing organizations (such as the Oregon Writers Colony).
Tell us any secret rituals you have for getting started each day.
I write as soon as I wake up. Sometimes I have an idea from a dream; sometimes from something I’ve been reading, especially nonfiction (e.g., James Prosek’s “Eels”). I write my initial ideas sitting in my favorite chair that looks out a window; I use a yellow pad and pens that vary with what I’m writing (a fountain pen for poetry, a liquid gel pen for prose—I LOVE pens). Once I get going, I write with a computer on a treadmill desk—a great alternative to sitting. But the most important ritual: write. Or as my father used to say, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”
Any writers you like to read to inspire you to write (or if you're blocked)?
Here are just a few of the great things readers have been saying about this fascinating anthology:
"I loved this book -- the writing is excellent! I recommend it for anyone who wants a great summer read!" "This is a gorgeous collection of essays and stories. Variously funny, sad, bittersweet or uplifting, each piece is thoughtful and beautifully written. The collection is perfectly curated by M.E Hughes to show each writer to their natural advantage."
"Each essay in Letting Go has gripped me. Several I have reread. The brave truth reaches out to the reader, grabbing the heart and the mind, allowing both reader and writer to explore the winding path, or the abrupt reality that allows us, finally, to let go, or forces us to recognize that we cannot do it, yet. "Reader, dive into the section Letting Go of Haunting Memories and Places. For a story demonstrating strength of will, don’t miss Sue Parman’s “The Holy Ghost Bird”. Then, read Evalyn Lee’s “Throwing Out the Trash”.
"From there move forward and back in the collection. Take your time. Each one has a message for you and for me. Among the special re-read messages is Maria Ostrowski’s pwerful images in “LionHeart”."
Pick up a free copy for yourself and tell a friend.
"These are literate, polished, elegant, and engaging stories. The characters are well-drawn, fully realized and unique. I found myself reading these stories one after another, finishing almost all in one sitting--I found them irresistible--each one like a perfect small gift from an author who knows her craft, and uses it to explore vital, complicated human beings in situations that are strikingly authentic. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Reading Deals in exchange for an honest review. This is one I can recommend to all without reservation."
"Kate Blackwell should be better known. Her stories are subtle, surprising, and spell-binding. I am reading the collection for the second time. Can't put it down."
“If you are searching for interesting short stories that aren't burdened by wrapping everything up for you then this is a must read. If you like your stories to lead you to a predictable conclusion then this writer and these stories are not for you.
“The characters are amazing. Some are like strangers I've seen from a distance in my own life. Some are friends I've known forever. Some are former girlfriends and lovers. All are flawed.
“The writing is almost poetic and the emotions that well up in most of these stories were very real to me. You feel for these people. No the stories don't have a neat little ending and that's the point. Does your life? "
"Immediately, each story pulls you in so that you lose track that you are even reading. You are brought into Paris and Mallorca, experiencing each place with your eyes, feeling the impact of the weather, and hearing their unique sounds, and then you're further transported into the inner lives of the characters through the delicate wandering of their minds. Though I finished the book nearly 6 weeks ago, the characters and scenes continue to float through my days."
"A story of hope, lost dreams and a little bit of criminal activity (and absolutely NO spoilers from me). The characters are wonderfully portrayed and I loved every minute of it. This is my first Danny Wynn story and you can bet I will be checking out some of his other works. Oh, and if my review hasn’t caught you attention, Mr. Wynn includes a bit of a gift at the end with the inclusion of a marvelously written short story. You won’t be disappointed."
"Author Judith Podell looks at the world just a little bit differently than the rest of us and the view is spectacular. Blues For Beginners is funny and provocative; and the writing is so smart; so beautifully sophisticated. This is the book you won't be able to put down until the very last page, and then, I promise you that you will be looking for one more chapter. More! More! More!"
"I love this book. I love Ms. Podell's sense of humor. Sometimes the writing is laugh-out-loud hilarious. The rhythm is fantastic. I was touched by the poignant stories, too, that hit just the right note. She is a wonderful writer and I wish she had written another 200 pages - about anything really, but especially her life in New York. Even though this is a short-ish book, I would have paid more for it.."
George P. Farrell was born, raised, housed, clothed and well-fed in the Bronx, NY. Generally puzzled and baffled by life but always hopeful. “In my early twenties I discovered writing as a cheaper and better alternative to psychological counselling. Discovered the Catskills was a good place to pursue a writing career and inspecting boats, a reasonable way to put food on the table. I have written six novels and a bunch of short stories, as I traveled along my learning curve, and so far have produced a literary income of forty dollars plus numerous, very-appreciated pats-on-the-back. I am looking forward, with some trepidation, to more of the same.”
"Writing is like driving a garbage truck through the private roads of your mind, enjoying the solitude, creeping around in there, looking for good stuff."
Letting Go is an anthology of true stories. As a writer of fiction, did you find it harder to write a nonfiction story? When I first started writing significantly, it was a kind of navel gazing pre-occupation with the confusing mess I knew as my life. After a few years, I realized (with the help of a wonderful mentor) that this was neurotic orbiting around something I could never quite get to. That’s when fiction began creeping into my voluminous diary. Years later after I abandoned my diary altogether and was deep into fiction writing, I made another realization. The fiction I was writing was just a heavily camouflaged version of my own experiences, albeit much more interesting and a great deal more fun. Fun because fiction dealt with the essences of experience and left out all the stuff no one wants to read anyway. So I guess my answer to your question is I don’t see much difference.
What do you enjoy most about writing? The New York City sanitation men used to be able to sort through the debris they picked up and put any good stuff they found into a private carton tied to the side of their truck. They called the good stuff “mongo.” Alas, the politicians put a stop to this practice. Writing is like driving a garbage truck through the private roads of your mind, enjoying the solitude, creeping around in there, looking for good stuff. And when I find the mongo, molding it into a scene or a character is the most satisfying of occupations.
What’s the hardest part about writing for you? Re-writing. I liked it the way it came out the first time. Why bother?
Where do your ideas come from? My ideas come from within me. From my life, my experiences, from people who made me laugh, cry or simply scared the bejeezus out of me. I am particularly fond of the many oddball people who crossed my path and allowed me to write them up as even odder than they were. The wonderful thing about writing is you can do whatever the hell you want.
How much time each week do you devote to writing? I have no writing schedule. To me, writing is like a mental eruption. The pressure builds, I become irritable, ornery, and then realize I just need to write something and I’ll feel better. It’s a bit like a drinking problem.
What are you working on? At the moment I’m doing some sheetrock work in my country house. I’m also working on an autobiographical novel involving some little shit who resembles me and a wonderful woman whose love made a man out of the little shit. It’s a sordid love story.
What has been the most surprising about learning your craft? Somebody paid me $40.00 for a humorous short story I wrote years ago. I nearly fell off my chair. But the most surprising thing I learned is that writing can heal the most painful of hurts. It’s why I never stop.
Do you think workshops have helped you become a better writer? A writer I admire, Dennis Lehane, once said that writing workshops help a writer develop a thick skin. I agree with that. And I think that workshops make a writer more objective and less protective of the adorable little creation that is now smudged with the thumbprints of, god forbid, Readers.
Tell us any secret rituals you have for getting started each day. Sweat pants and a T-shirt. Nice loose stuff. Works for me. Anything that’s too tight in the crotch and you won’t write good stuff. You’ll just irritate your readers.
Any writers you like to read to inspire you to write (or if you're blocked?) If you are blocked, just drink plenty of water. I must confess I’m pretty regular but if I’m feeling bored I just pick up anything by Elmore Leonard, get a few laughs, some insight into how people really talk, and how to design a twisted plot - and it all begins to flow again.
Who do you trust to read your work while in progress? No one. They’re all out to get me. Except for Martha and Patti.
Who do you never give your work to read while in progress? My parents, but they’re dead. So I guess I’d have to say my two surviving brothers. I feel there is something awkward about showing fiction to close family members. When I did so recently, the only response I got was an uncomfortable glance that said: Don’t do that again.
Do you have any advice for other writers? Yeah, there’s too damn many of you S.O.B.’s. Can’t you collect stamps or take up fly fishing? There’s a great culinary school in Poughkeepsie or Rhinebeck, somewhere around there. Look into it. How in hell am I ever going to get my novels published?
Four times a year, Jill Williams, 62, climbs into the cab of her 2010 Toyota pickup and heads from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to a doctor’s office two-and-a-half hours away. Williams, who is transgender, has grown used to the drive. With the majority of medical professionals knowing little about how to provide care to transgender people, countless trans individuals across the country face incredibly restricted health care options. Williams is one of thousands of people willing to go far – usually to a major city – to see a doctor who has experience in transgender health care, or at least is not openly hostile.
But Williams isn’t headed for a city. And in a stark illustration of how sparse her options are even here, in one of the most populous parts of the north-east, her route bypasses major metropolitan areas for an unlikely haven at the foot of the Catskill mountains: Oneonta, New York.This is where Dr Carolyn Wolf-Gould, a longtime family doctor, has spent years tailoring her practice for trans patients. From a few individuals in the late 2000s, she has built a center that treats more than 300 transgender people from across the region.
Many come from the hamlets that dot the surrounding foothills. But the majority of Wolf-Gould’s patients trek from Albany, Schenectady and their suburbs – a thriving region that is nevertheless hurting for health care options and is not short on bigotry.
“These patients are so marginalized, and they deal with so much discrimination and abuse, that we have people coming from four, five, six hours away,” Wolf-Gould said in a recent interview. Her office, in a small hospital off a two-lane highway, offers them hormone therapy, counseling, a point of coordination with their other doctors and referrals for patients wishing to transition with surgery. But she also treats dozens of trans people who aren’t medically transitioning and don’t require her specialties so much as sensitivity. Some patients, she said, will drive a hundred miles to avoid getting another mammogram in their hometown.
There is Kate Terrell, 51, who went to the emergency room for lung failure only to undergo an unrelated pelvic exam by a nurse. “I had one woman hand me a breast exam card and say, ‘Here, this should make you feel more feminine,’” Terrell said. Despite livingclose to five major hospital centers and dozens of endocrinologists, who specialize in hormone therapy, Terrell drives more than an hour for Wolf-Gould to manage her estrogen levels. Rhonda Calhoun became a patient after her doctor of two decades said she would need to “see God” before he would treat her again. She drives two hours both ways for Wolf-Gould to perform her annual checkups.
In fact, Terrell says she hardly knows a single trans person in Albany, out of hundreds, who doesn’t drive the 80-some miles to see Wolf-Gould.
“You do it when you don’t have any other choice,” Calhoun said. “You’d think being around the Syracuse area there would be more doctors that would see a need. But as soon as you mention ‘transgender’, they say they don’t have anyone.”
Their experiences are far from unusual. In one survey after another, trans people report hostility and ignorance in doctors’ offices at disturbing rates.
This is an important story to be read, remembered, and passed on. It is a young adult book for readers of all ages. As on reader commented, "it is an incredible, unbelievable, true story . . ."
About the book : Trochenbrod was a bustling commercial center of nearly 6,000 people, all Jews, hidden deep in the forest in Northwest Ukraine. It thrived as a tiny Jewish kingdom unnoticed and unknown to most people, even though it was “the big city” for surrounding Ukrainian and Polish villages. The people of Trochenbrod vanished in the Holocaust, and soon nothing remained of this vibrant 130-year-old town but a mysterious double row of trees and bushes in a clearing in the forest.
Avrom Bendavid-Val makes Trochenbrod’s true story accessible, enjoyable, and memorable for young readers. The Lost Town follows his adventures while uncovering the lost history of the magical place where his father was born and raised. An imagined Trochenbrod was the setting for Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Everything is Illuminated, and the movie by the same name.
"I found this book to be fascinating!! To be able to learn of others affected by the war at that time was unbelievable. I always learned about what I thought by to be 'all of it' but, reading this book opened my eyes to so many others who had to endure and overcome. I will definitely reread this book and my son 'the history buff' will definitely find this book fascinating also!
"The triumph of this book is that the author does manage to rediscover and tell the story of the lost town, and the lost people of that town, through his research and contacts with the few who lived to remember. The triumph here is in remembering. In restoring what evil attempted to obliterate from history and from the hearts and minds of all people. This book bears witness to the worth of human life, human struggle to survive against all odds. With all the horrors it records, the ultimate message is one of hope and redemption. Certainly a worthwhile read!"
"His stories from the former villagers, diaries, and historical events are pulled together marvelously to paint a full picture of not only village life, but the reasons for the decisions that shaped their daily lives."