Search This Blog

Friday, July 31, 2015

Michigan Author Turns Fact Into Fiction

Barbara Stark-Nemon has written an unusual novel, and what makes it even more surprising is that, while the author has invented dialogue and imagined the scenes described, the main character’s life follows very closely the story of an actual person, Stark-Nemon’s great-aunt.

Kläre is eighteen years old when we first meet her in the opening chapter of Even in Darkness. The year is 1913. On vacation with her family, she is contemplating a marriage proposal from a serious young lawyer, and by the end of the chapter, on the eve of the First World War and in the face of her brother’s enlistment in the army, she has decided to put away girlish fantasies and marry the formal and unromantic Jakob Kohler. He will be a good husband.

The years follow inexorably: 1923, 1928, 1932, and life in Germany grows more and more difficult, but Kläre and Jakob have two sons, the boys have a large and loving extended family, as well, and Kläre’s life flows with relative calm. She is happy to take up again an old friendship with Amalie, whose fiancé was killed in World War I and who has now married a widower with five children. The younger son, Ansel, does not live with his father and stepfather but in a Catholic orphanage; however, he does meet Kläre on a visit home to his family.

In 1933 a written directive comes to Bernhardt Steinmann in his publishing house: “On April 1, 1933, all Party members and associated agencies or services will boycott Jewish stores, doctors, and lawyers.” Steinmann’s first concern is for the Jewish authors whose work Berendt Verlag is committed to publishing, but he and his mother also have more personal concerns, and his first chance encounter with Kläre Kohler soon takes on deeper meaning for them both.

As the situation in Germany steadily worsens, Kläre’s older son, Erwin, is able to go to England where he eventually joins the British army; the younger, smuggled out of Germany, arrives in Palestine (not yet Israel), changes his name from Werner to Avraham, and gladly takes on the task of helping to build a new nation. Meanwhile, back home, Kläre and Jakob are seized and taken for “relocation at Theresienstadt, where Kläre and her mother were both relieved and dismayed to be reunited after the mother’s earlier seizure -- relief at finding each other alive, dismay at knowing neither would be spared the sufferings and dangers of the concentration camp.

It was Kläre’s training in massage that had introduced her to Bernhardt Steinmann’s household. In Theresienstadt the same skill ensures her family’s survival when the camp commandant calls on her to be a maid in his living quarters: because she holds a certificate of massage training and the commandant suffers from headache and neck pain, Kläre is able to bring back to her mother and husband a few extra morsels of food. They survive.

Not the end of the story.

What I have told you is only the sketchiest outline of what takes place in the Kohler family prior to and during World War II, but it is the character of Kläre – based, remember, on a very real person – and the author’s skill in conveying the depth of her personality that makes this story as deeply moving as it is. Kläre’s decision to remain in Germany following the war and the life she makes for herself following the death of her husband are unexpected and almost incredible. So successful is the fictional recreation, however, that the fantastic seems somehow inevitable.

“I didn’t want this book to end!” said the customer-friend who addressed me, the day after she finished reading it, as “Goddess of Books.” The accolade was an exaggeration, but when I had the privilege of reading this novel in manuscript, I didn’t want it to end, either. Additionally, I was impatient to share it with customers and friends in my bookstore, so the April 2015 release made me very happy indeed. 

2014: Barbara at far right, me next to her, dog stealing scene

And now a greater happiness is in store, because Barbara Stark-Nemon will be at Dog Ears Books next Wednesday, August 5, at 7 p.m. to read from her book and have what I know will be a wonderful conversation with the bookstore audience that evening. I urge everyone who can possibly make the event to join us! It will be a memorable evening.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Nearly August

A month ago already?

August isn’t here quite yet – two more days left in July – but the St.-Johnswort is giving way to spotted knapweed already, and August is in my bookstore headlights, with no fewer than four author events scheduled for the coming month. Fiction, photography, and a couple of nonfiction books will be the highlights, and we’ll cover World War II, Leelanau County, natural history, and golf. Barbara Stark-Nemon’s reading will take place on a Wednesday evening; Ken Scott will sign books on Saturday afternoon following the dog parade; Jerry Dennis and Glenn Wolff will be with us on a Sunday afternoon, and so, the following week, will Ross Biddiscombe, with his tales of the Ryder Cup. I’ve just finished reading A Walk in the Animal Kingdom and now want to go back and re-read parts of Even in Darkness. Homework, doncha know?

Lily time
Late July brought real summer to northern Michigan at last. You can almost see the corn grow. Cherry harvest is going full-tilt. (Slow down on the roads, please, and signal your intentions clearly. Roads are no place for surprises.) We’ve had sunny days and balmy nights, perfect weather for beach and picnics, family reunions and reading in a hammock. One beautiful morning this week I sat outside with my first cup of coffee and sleepily imagined (this was before sunrise) what I would be doing if I had horses. I’d have to lead them out of the barn and put them out in the pasture (currently only a meadow) and give them water, but then I could install myself in a nearby chaise longue in the shade and doze off over a book, couldn’t I? Wouldn’t you? Do you?

Loreen Niewenhuis
A more ambitious Michigan book person (although she admits she camps in a hammock tent) is Loreen Niewenhuis, who visited Northport on Tuesday to sign books at Dog Ears and present her third slide show at the Leelanau Township Library. In the course of her ambitious adventures, chronicled in three books, Loreen has covered over 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, islands and water. She hiked the first two thousand miles and then branched out to bicycle and kayak for parts of her islands adventure. I’m happy to let Loreen expend all that physical energy. I’m content to read her books and enjoy the hiking and biking and kayaking vicariously, from the comfort of my front porch.

I’ve really enjoyed my early mornings with the Jerry Dennis book, too, and the illustrations by Glenn Wolff are magical, such that the whole experience makes me feel like a kid again, lost in both stories and pictures, going back and forth with delight. You know how when you’re on the beach, you enjoy both sand and water, floating and swimming as well as lying in the sun or building sand castles at the shoreline? It’s a bit like that. Dreamy....

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Creative People Fill My Life

This morning, once again, found me reading Jerry Dennis’s latest book, A Walk in the Animal Kingdom, and admiring the way he weaves glimpses of his childhood and adult life with wife and sons together with stories of birds and fishes, bugs and beasts. Artist Glenn Wolff’s illustrations make me feel like a kid again, and my eyes move back and forth hungrily between text and drawings, captivated in turn by words and pictures. (My artist husband has the same response to this book that I have.) Even with cherry harvest in progress less than half a mile away, it was a peaceful morning. Dog, book, and coffee. Early sun, birds flitting and occasionally calling or trilling out a song. Hum and buzz of insects.

Not far from my mind, either, was yesterday’s bookstore event with author D. M. (David) Greenwald from Kalamazoo, pictured here at left with Northport writer Karen Trolenberg of Northport and below with the third novel in his series, The Wichita Mountain Manhunt. Greenwald shared fascinating stories to the small audience on Saturday about dogs (naturally), but also about writing, rewriting, publishing, and publicizing, and once again I was struck by the generosity of writers, willing to give of their time to share their experiences.

David Greenwald had great stories about dogs, adventure, and writing

Sarah Shoemaker, Dorene O'Brien, Elizabeth Buzzelli, Marilyn Zimmerman,
Trudy Carpenter, et moi at Hearth & Vines (at Black Star Farms)

When fiction writer Dorene O’Brien comes to northern Michigan for her annual summer vacation, a group of us get together for lunch and to share tales of writing in progress. We cheer each other’s hopes and triumphs, sympathize with disappointments and setbacks, and, always, share the excitement of creating fictional characters and worlds. “Writing is hard work,” David Greenwald said on Saturday. Yes, it is, but for those of us who can’t stay away from it, it is an important part of who we are, so conversation with others similarly engaged (afflicted?) helps us sort ourselves out.

I love to bring writers together because they learn so much from each other, but it is equally rewarding to bring writers and readers together.

One of Greenwald’s admiring readers on Saturday told him she didn’t think about his writing at all: she was lost in the stories. That, of course, is the object. Music to a writer’s ears, that kind of praise! Another said that when she finished the third book in the trilogy with tears streaming down her face, her mildly alarmed husband said, “I hope there aren’t any more books in that series!” But crying over a book is a positive response: it means a strong connection has been made, a heart has been touched -- with nothing but words!

Sometimes meetings between writer and reader take place in person and are gratifying to both, as was the case at Dog Ears Books on Saturday. More often the books are the sole link: I introduce and recommend, and a bookstore customer buys and takes home the author’s work. Writer and reader may never shake hands, but I have brought them together. It is a great privilege.

Remember this, I tell myself, when you are very, very old. Your life was filled with riches!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Have We Left Macomb County Yet?

For thus hath the Lord said unto me,
Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.
-      Isaiah 21:6

Go Set a Watchman,
by Harper Lee
NY: HarperCollins, 2015
Hardcover, $27.99

We’re back in Macomb County, Alabama. It is the 1950s. Jean Louise, formerly the child called “Scout,” now 26 years old and visiting from New York City, thinks she has outgrown her hometown -- but she still wrestles with the idea of marrying Hank, who would never live anywhere else. Her beloved  brother Jem is dead. Jean Louise doesn’t fit in with the women of the town, whatever their age. The last straw is discovering that her father-hero-god, Atticus, has feet of clay. Atticus is a flawed human being. But then, Scout herself is not perfect....

Everyone in America knows the story behind this book. We have all read in the newspapers and online and heard on the radio (and online) that Go Set a Watchman was Harper Lee’s first version of the novel that eventually became the award-winning classic To Kill a Mockingbird. Her editor in the 1950s was most taken with the flashbacks to childhood in the manuscript and suggested that the author rewrite the story, setting it entirely in that era, telling it all from the child's point of view. Perhaps it was the image of Scout and Jem in the balcony of the courthouse, watching their father from the “colored” section, that inspired the editor’s suggestions.

Did the editor also urge Lee to make Atticus a more sympathetic character? In the rewrite, was it Harper Lee’s idea or the editor’s to have Atticus lose the case in which he defended the black man from a rape charge, rather than winning it, as in GSAW’s backstory? Why the change? For the sake of realism or because the novel’s readership would find the TKAM outcome more acceptable?

Because I know so many writers and hear so many of their stories of revising and rewriting and responding to suggestions from agents and editors, and because I have been writing a first novel myself this year (writing, revising, beginning again after scrapping earlier chapters), I am fascinated by Harper Lee’s two novels – the distance between them, the changes, the different shapes, and the editor’s input. When I started reading the first pages of GSAW, I couldn’t help reading each word and sentence very consciously, remarking every choice of word and arrangement of words, but gradually the story took me over, and I let it carry me like a river.

When Jean Louise goes to visit Calpurnia and realizes for the first time what her aunt meant by insisting that Calpurnia was like family but not family, when Calpurnia does not respond to Jean Louise as if to her little child, Scout, a crack appears in Jean Louise’s picture of the way she grew up. I could not help thinking in this section of a far lesser novel, The Help. Love across such differences in situation could only be ambivalent. Soon Jean Louise realizes a similar ambivalence in her love for Hank and even for her father. She realizes her separateness. What she must learn before the end of the book is that separateness does not contradict her belonging to a community and that she does not have to agree with every opinion held by another individual to love that person.

If Harper Lee’s publisher had, years ago, given us instead TKAM instead of GSAW, would we ever have had the former at all? And what would have been the fate of GSAW if published in 1960 instead of TKAM? It strikes me that the American reading public in 1960 can be seen as Jean Louise at 26 years old in GSAW: on the cusp of growing up, starting in that direction, but with a long way to go.

If Harper Lee had published this newly released novel thirty years ago, might she have gone on to write a third by now, one in which Jean Louise reaches a wise maturity and works with Calpurnia to bring about a New South? We will never know, and there will not be a third Harper Lee Novel. But when I reached the last page of Go Set a Watchman, I was very glad to have been able to read it. I expected to find it interesting only because I was curious, for reasons mentioned above, and found, in addition, a novel satisfying to read in itself. That was a complete surprise, given most of the reviews.

What I wonder now is, where is our country in 2015, fifty-five years after the original publication of Harper Lee’s beloved classic? How many Americans are able to continue a conversation across differences, political as well as racial and religious? Do we run away from those whose opinions we find distasteful and repulsive, refusing to have anything to do with them, seeing the world as Us vs. Them?

After reading the new release, do we think Jean Louise will grow up? At the end of the story, we have hopes that she will, but the larger question probably is, will we? And where are we today, relative to where we were in 1960? What do you think?

Summer on Land and Water

July and August are more than tourist season. It’s the time of year that cherries ripen, calves fatten, summer grains wave in the breeze, cyclists take to the roads, and everyone who can gets out on the water.

Yes, cherry harvest is in full swing this week in Leelanau Township. Our end of the county, out at the north end of the peninsula, did not suffer killing frost that hit earlier spring-blossoming orchards farther south, so the bounty hangs heavy and luscious red on the trees, ready for shaking. Time for a reminder that solid yellow lines in the center of the road mean NO PASSING! If you find yourself behind a farm tractor, slow down and enjoy the scenery. Blind hills and blind curves shorten visibility distance -- and there just might be a bicycle up ahead or a vehicle coming from the other direction.

A few years back I promised to do a post on Northport acronyms. That promise has yet to be fulfilled, but here are a few colorful images from the Northport Youth Sailing School, NYSS, a young but strong and important local institution. To learn more about this great local summer program, follow the foregoing link. 

I would have loved to sit at that picnic table and watch the little boats sail out onto Grand Traverse Bay, but Sarah and I had to get to the bookstore. 

Reminder: This Saturday, from 3 - 5 p.m., we will host David Greenwald, with his trilogy of exciting rescue books -- action, suspense, dogs!!!

Monday, July 20, 2015

It’s Even MORE Complicated AND Scarier Than You Thought

General Introduction:

It always surprises me when otherwise intelligent people undercut their own arguments by resorting to easy, sleazy informal fallacies, such as slapping a label on an opponent (e.g., liberal, conservative, libertarian) and thinking that constitutes an argument. Or outright name-calling (e.g., Luddite, elitist, extremist)– even worse.

An initial response of anger or disgust on hearing or reading something personally upsetting, I understand. I have those emotional responses, too. I feel I’ve been attacked – or, worse, ignored, unseen. But I’m not looking to get into a brawl with anyone. My hope is to present my own view so reasonably that my opposition will have no choice but to consider it.

I did not always hold the political views today. My positions on a few issues were different when I was younger. Not on everything but on some important matters, I have changed my mind over the years. People who disagree with me are not villains or morons. I do – I must – believe in reason, but I don’t believe in using reason as a bludgeon, its blows delivered with sarcasm and disdain.

Why I Bring It Up Again Today:

A recent article in an online magazine decried alarm from a segment of the public over genetically modified food products, suggesting (none too subtly) that genetic modification is too complicated for Americans not trained in science to begin to understand. So as not to seem completely patronizing or dismissive of concerns, however, the author went on to present cases where adoption of a GM alternative had (1) solved a problem posed by the previous unmodified version of the plant and (2) presented no health danger to the public.
If you’re like me, you don’t really want to wade into this issue. It’s too big, technical, and confusing. But come with me, just this once. I want to take you backstage, behind those blanket assurances about the safety of genetic engineering. I want to take you down into the details of four GMO fights, because that’s where you’ll find truth. You’ll come to the last curtain, the one that hides the reality of the anti-GMO movement. And you’ll see what’s behind it.
The reasonable-sounding, measured language above gives way later in the article, where the author calls opponents of genetic modification “Luddites,” “ quacks,” and “pseudo-environmentalists waging a leftist war on science.” It’s surprising that someone claiming the scientific high ground in defense of GMOs would stoop to name-calling, one of the most common uneducated informal fallacies. A strong argument need not insult opponents, and insulting anyone is the surest way to fail to persuade. Perhaps the writer hopes to intimidate and shame? Or simply raise cheers from those who already agree with him? Is his case weak, or simply his rhetoric? You can read and decide for yourself. He failed to persuade me.

Full disclosure: As will not surprise anyone who knows me, I am not a laboratory scientist. Not any kind of scientist at all. The last university math and science classes I had, very low-level, were as an undergraduate. My chief focus as an undergrad and nearly exclusive focus as a graduate student was in philosophy. If you never studied philosophy or only took one philosophy class, you may be tempted to joke about angels dancing on the head of a pin (how many can?) or trees falling in a forest when no one is there to hear them fall (is there a sound made?).

But the main business of philosophy, from cut-and-dried logic to way-out-there criticism is (a) to investigate the world and human thought and action, (b) to formulate arguments to make cases for stating claims about world and/or thought and/or actions and consequences, and (c) to analyze and critique claims and arguments made by others. This is not some idle, esoteric game. It is, in fact, a generalized, thought-experiment form of the scientific method itself.

Researchers in laboratories, medical researchers in the field, botanists, agronomists, farmers, courtroom lawyers, corporate attorneys, and men and women in every field of life, every day, are engaged in some version of this process. Differences in conclusions depend on starting points, knowledge, rigor of reasoning -- also, crucially, on background assumptions (almost always unstated and very often unrecognized); limits of the investigation; and wide implications attached to narrower legitimate conclusions.

An argument is presented to persuade. There is nothing “scientific” about falling down in awe of an argument presented in the majestic robes of “science,” and there is nothing rational about being persuaded without examining an argument.

Good science has no need to hide behind a curtain.

The author says the issue of genetic modification is “big, technical and confusing.” Unfortunately, despite promising to shed light, he cherry-picks facts and oversimplifies the issues. The truth is much, much more complicated than he would have us believe -- not because of shadowy conspiracies of science-phobic Luddites the author imagines "behind" opposition to GMOs but because of the limitations of scientific research and the holistic nature of both agriculture and health.

A farmer friend who is always open to new organic methods -- both because reducing chemical inputs means more money in his pocket if an organic experiment is successful (i.e., produces a crop as good or better than would conventional methods) and because he takes seriously his role as steward of the land, and he cares about growing nutritious, good-tasting, safe food in a sustainable manner – is often frustrated by his inability to control experiments and quantify results. Scientists commonly study plants grown in greenhouses, in sterilized “soil,” under controlled conditions. Or animals raised in laboratories and fed measured amounts of food and drugs that has been subjected to careful chemical analysis.

That isn’t farming.

Weather affects crops. Variations in soil play a role. What has grown or been raised on the land in previous years? What about the health of pollinators in the vicinity? And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the complex, interconnected, very real physical world of nature and what we do with it and to it.

The online author writes that GMO opponents do not worry about toxic chemicals used to grow food, that they should worry about poisons instead of GMOs. Where did he get such an idea? Who are these people who worry about one and not the other?

Clearly, the writer wants to frame a debate in which one must choose either genetically modified crops or heavy doses of agricultural chemicals., but this is an egregious false dilemma. (Note: another fallacy in reasoning.) Roundup-ready seeds genetically modified to be immune to herbicides have triggered speeded-up evolution of weeds, necessitating increased applications of chemicals to the fields, so it is not a case of choosing either genetic modification or chemicals: if you choose the GM seeds, you have also chosen the chemicals, in ever-increasing doses. Roundup has been used for forty years, he reminds us. Not, I would point out, at levels of application we are seeing today. A short history of weed control, including Roundup and its consequences, can be found hereThe increase in tons applied over the last decade is astronomical.

Only in recent years has the place of mycorrhizal fungi in the production of humus even begun to get scientific attention. Australian soil ecologist Dr. Christine Jones, in an interview in the March 2015 issue of AcresUSA, discusses the carbon cycle and the nitrogen cycle as these are played out in the soil, the breaking-down process in compost, the building-up in formation of humus. Soil testing, long the gold standard to determine soil health, Jones says,
will only tell you what is available to plants by passive uptake. The other 97 percent of minerals – made available by microbes – will not show up on a standard test.
The kicker is that if the necessary microbes are present, minerals and trace elements not even present in fertilizers will be available to crops, but cultivation and chemical fertilizers and pesticides destroy the mycorrhizal networks. With graduate degrees (albeit in philosophy) from the University of Illinois, I was happy to see Jones referencing that university’s Morrow Plots, “the oldest continuously cropped experimental fields in the United States.” Beginning in 1955, U of I scientists began applying nitrogen and testing the soil:
They discovered that the fields that had received the highest applications of nitrogen fertilizer had ended up with less soil carbon – and ironically less nitrogen – than the other fields.
Hardly the result a fertilizer producer would be anxious to publicize. Then comes increasing soil compaction, loss of water-holding capability, more demand for irrigation, and increased soil erosion....

Also, nutrients present in food are not automatically available to those consuming it, either. Certain chemicals added to crops can bond two minerals together and make them inaccessible to the end consumer’s internal system.

Looking at rats in a laboratory eating two different diets for four weeks, all other things being equal, is such a distortion of the world in which plants and human and nonhuman animals live that it tells nothing about our ability to grow food and feed ourselves and remain healthy in the future. It’s complicated because it’s all connected – agriculture and food and health, chemicals in soil and in food, soil management and soil loss, microbes, pollinators, erosion, water supply -- and more. Initial increases in yields from GM crops looked good; over the longer term, the increases were lost. Now more herbicides are needed to control weeds, as GM seeds, lacking natural resilience, need chemical support. The chemical glysophate, Roundup’s main ingredient, is estrogen-sensitive, an endocrine disrupter, crosses the placental barrier, disrupts the gut microbiome, and causes necrosis in cells, among other things [Interview with André Leu in AcresUSA, , October 2014]. Sound safe to you?

And arguing against agricultural chemicals is not changing the subject from GMOs, as long as the latter are dependent, over the long term and increasingly, on the former.

It baffles me that otherwise intelligent people can be so lost in admiration for what they see as “science” that they label skeptics “unscientific,” “Luddites,” quacks,” “pseudo-environmentalists waging a leftist war on science,” etc.

Skepticism is scientific. Caution is scientific. Continued investigation before making illegitimately broad claims is scientific.

When the GMO issue comes up on Facebook, as it does repeatedly, I issue an open invitation to anyone in the area, either as a resident or a visitor, to drop by my bookstore and take the opportunity to read back issues of AcresUSA. In-depth interviews with scientists in the field, with organic practitioners of many years, with government and former government ag workers, etc. are eye-opening. And yet, so far, despite repeated invitations, the only person, ever, to take up my offer -- and he’s not even on Facebook -- has been my farmer friend. He is my age, no spring chicken, but he has an open mind. He follows up avenues of information. He continually questions – and he questions himself, too. He has what I call a truly scientific mind.

And he’s out on the front lines, too. In the field. Practicing rather than preaching. He doesn’t have time for blather.

The truth is that a massive experiment is already underway in our world, and every living thing, animal and plant, is a guinea pig in that experiment, and by the time the results are in, it will be too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube. As usual, to make use of another figure of speech all too often appropriate, we human beings, with our scientific hubris, are overdriving our headlights.

What do you expect from science? Its practitioners, as in any other field of human endeavor, are human beings, with agendas, biases, and blind spots. Scientific? How do you define it? 


I'll apologize for this post in that it is not a polished essay. It's summer, and between home and bookstore, mowing grass and selling books, making and cleaning up after meals and setting up and promoting author events, I am not at leisure during waking hours and have put this together in pieces, at odd moments. If I could write and edit myself and rewrite in my sleep, it be better, but it is what it is.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


The Wichita Mountain Manhunt, by D. M. Greenwald
Parker, CO: Outskirts Press, 2015
Softcover, 291pp, $14.95

Was it really only last year that I was first introduced to Joshua and his dogs in the first book of David Greenwald’s trilogy? To recap (for those not following the link), in that first book, Frozen Moon, protagonist Joshua Travis and his dogs managed to locate and save the life of a little girl lost at a Vermont ski resort, against all odds.

Next came Cody, the second novel, with a journey into Joshua’s past and an attempted forest fire rescue in Montana. That fire and a rescue that was only partially successful haunted the dog trainer’s life waking and sleeping for years to come, an obsession on which his marriage foundered, although Frozen Moon made it clear that the separated lovers are still very much in each other’s hearts.

And sure enough, at the beginning of The Wichita Mountain Manhunt we find Joshua and Kristian happily reunited and visiting old friends in California. Jenny-Dog is with them, of course, thirteen years old and slowing down now, as old dogs will. 

Manhunt’s action is in Oklahoma, where one Girl Scout on a camping trip has been brutally murdered and a second, daughter of a very rich and powerful man, has disappeared. A kidnapping? Once again Travis and his highly trained and gifted dogs are called in. Prior to the Girl Scout’s disappearance, Joshua always refused to participate in manhunts, and he is still reluctant. Kristian has even stronger misgivings. She almost lost him on his last rescue. Jenny-dog, moreover, is getting old. It’s a bad situation for all three of them. But Joshua knows it is a much worse situation for the missing child and her family.

Deputy Greywolf, a Kiowa Indian, provides the continuation and eventual resolution of mystical elements from the first two novels, and, as before, Greenwald provides a tight, detailed plot with unexpected twists and turns. You’ll think you know where the author is taking you, but – don’t count on it!

Greenwald’s trilogy brings to readers tales of outdoor “adventure” with life-or-death stakes. The plots are carefully and intricately constructed, the author’s writing never falters, and he is as skilled at conveying emotion as he is in getting across factual details. Of the main character, one reader of Frozen Moon put it well:

“The man we all want to be; 
the dogs we all want to have.”

My women friends and I would phrase that a bit differently, but we can easily understand a man feeling that way about Joshua and his dogs. Man or woman, everyone who has purchased Frozen Moon from me and read it has come back for the sequels. What does that tell you?

And now for the best part! David Greenwald is coming to Northport! I will be meeting him for the first time, and you can, too, on Saturday, July 25. He will be here from 3 to 5 p.m. to read short excerpts from all three books in the series, to answer questions from the audience, and to sign books for purchasing customers. As always with events at Dog Ears Books, there is no admission charge, so don’t miss this opportunity. It will be Greenwald's first appearance in Northport, and I want my little town to do him proud.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Going on "Island Time"

The Drummond Island Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance,
by Mardi Jo Link
NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2015
Hardcover, $26
Release date: July 14, 2015

Back home I didn’t wear a watch, even though there were things to do and places to be at appointed times. I had a good natural clock inside me, and whether it was my sons’ naps, bedtimes, mealtimes, or my shifts at work—I was never, ever late. When we docked on that island, I felt a mental click, as if a series of invisible gears was grinding to a stop. It was the timepiece in my mind turning itself off. -       Mardi Jo Link, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance
You met Mardi Link first as a crime writer. I was so scared by the title of her book, When Evil Came to Good Hart (“an up north Michigan cold case,” promises the cover), that I didn’t dare start it in 2008 when it came out. Only after reading Isadore’s Secret in 2009 and being transported to an earlier century in Leelanau County was I so taken with Link’s writing that I went back to the first book. Yes, very well done, both.

Nonfiction is her specialty, but Link gave us something different with Bootstrapper, a memoir of economic and emotional struggle that also somehow managed to be laugh-out-loud funny again and again. What’s it like to try to survive as a writer in northern Michigan while raising a family as a single parent? Random House released Bootstrapper in 2013, and it was named a Michigan Notable Book for that year, withWicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan marking Link’s 2014 return to true crime writing.

I wonder if Mardi has two different fan bases, one for the true crime and a second for her memoir writing. Something tells me most of her readers are like me and will read anything she writes. So now, enter The Drummond Girls....

Jill, Linda, and Andrea had gone to Drummond Island once before on a fall weekend getaway, and Mardi, the newest waitress of the four at Peegeo’s, was thrilled to be asked to join them in 1993. She had only been working at the bar for four months when the invitation came along, and in the car on the way up she felt “provisional.”
If I fit in, I’d be included. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t. On Drummond Island but back home, too.  
I’d still have my waitress job, the four of us would still work together, they’d probably even still be friendly to me, but every woman knows friendly is not the same thing as friends.
Mardi may have felt more “provisional” than another woman in her place, as she was afflicted, in her then-husband’s words, with a “completely useless tendency to overthink everything to death,” but I think she is right about that thing that “every woman knows,” too. Also, because her family had moved around a lot when she was young, she had not had a chance to form close, lasting friendships. And yet, one wild weekend with new friends, away from life’s ordinary responsibilities, turned into an annual event. Over the years the number doubled from four to eight, and readers come to know them all.

Like a book club or writers’ group (for my mother’s era) a bridge club or any group of people getting together regularly over a long period of time, the Drummond Island girls (the author insists on and explains the appellation) develop a strong bond. Their annual getaway is not, however, a time to hash over personal problems, and sometimes only in retrospect does the question arise: Should I have known? Could I have helped? Usually it seems that the simple commitment, “unless dead or pregnant,” to go off once a year together is all the medicine they need, better than soul-searching or consciousness-raising. One year one of the woman begs off the trip, however, leaving a regret that Link still carries:
I wish we would have pushed Mary Lynn a little harder to accept our help. I wish we would had told her how much we needed her along and that she had to go.

The Drummond Girls covers much the same period of the author’s life as Bootstrapper but with a different focus. The earlier memoir was about day-to-day life – Link’s writing career, children, divorce, dating, and everything it took to keep a roof over her family’s head, heat in the house, and food on the table. The new book is all about friendship as it grew and deepened and flourished in a somewhat oddly assorted group of northern Michigan women. Lessons Mardi says she learned about friendship emerged organically over the years and are presented the same way. She does not hammer away at them or set them apart from her narrative in an artificial, didactic fashion. Instead, chapters follow chronologically and simply, one year at a time, and, as with Bootstrapper, when Link writes about her own life, she is honest and direct.

Does Mardi really “overthink everything to death”? Well, no one can accuse her of overwriting anything to death. She tells her stories with a light touch that will elicit hoots of laughter, occasional nervous gasps, and a few surprising shivers of recognition.

What do her friends think about having their escapades recounted for public consumption? It was their idea!

The other day a visitor to my husband’s gallery arrived before the lights had been turned on, before the artist had arrived, but when I apologized he smiled and shook his head. “We’re on vacation,” he said. “We’re on island time.” How refreshing! Sometimes, I’ve noticed, people on vacation forget to forget about time. How great that Mardi and her friends could relax so completely with only a weekend at their disposal!

Although the author and her friends make their annual getaway in the fall, The Drummond Girls is the perfect book to read in summer. It’s perfect for people on vacation and for those of us whose vacations will come later in the year. In fact, while I was reading this book, I was on island time myself.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Making Time, Taking Time

Years ago I found a birthday card for one of my sisters that said, on the outside, “Time flies....” Inside it said, “whether you’re having fun or not.” How many times over the years have those words come unbidden to my thoughts? It’s a good reminder, though. None of us has more than twenty-four hours a day. Sleeping and working and life’s little maintenance chores take up a lot of time, and if you let them, those activities could absorb all your time.

It had been almost two weeks since I’d spent any time “hanging around with” (as David says) my fictional characters, and I was missing the Wild Man and the Dog Wife, whose story has been evolving in my novel-in-progress since last winter’s sabbatical in the Southwest, so Wednesday morning I carved out some free time, and we got together again. Bruce opened the bookstore for me, and I did not go in until almost noon. That felt good.

But it also felt good later to be at the bookstore, especially on Wednesday afternoon, when a gratifying number of people made time for poetry. 

With my helper Bruce still on duty at the sales counter, I was able to take time myself to sit in the audience and enjoy the event. Jennifer Clark read work from her published book, Necessary Clearings, as well as a couple of the 56 poems she has written on John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) and that era of American history, but before her reading began, she was already in conversation with early arrivals over questions about poetry in general and her writing process in particular, and questions and discussion picked up again following her presentation. The questions were excellent, the conversation stimulating. Jennifer was happy, and so was I. Others were, as well. One e-mail I received this morning warmed my heart:
Pamela, I really enjoyed your event yesterday and thank you so much for presenting Jennifer Clark.  I don't know if I ever would have met her and her work without an introduction from you!  A delightful woman and a wonderful collection of poems.  I am now her fan.
Thank you, Deb, and everyone else who attended Wednesday’s event, for making time for poetry in your life this summer, and thanks from all of us to Jennifer Clark for being our lovely, lively guest! You can read more about Jennifer and her writing here

Then last night our intrepid Ulysses reading group gathered at the home of our Fearless Leader and his wife to discuss East of Eden. It isn’t easy for eight people to find room in busy summer schedules for an evening of literary conversation, but we managed it and, flushed with triumph, have agreed to meet again in August and to read Uncle Tom’s Cabin between now and then. It’s the first year we’ve tried to make time to get together between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Clearly, we all find the effort worthwhile.

This morning I took time to have my first cup of coffee outdoors, where I could sit back and enjoy my garden flowers to the accompaniment of birdsong. When I opened the front door, Sarah rushed out to chase a rabbit into tall grass but gave up the chase in less than a minute and contented herself with taking up chipmunk patrol in the shade near my lawn chair. Chipmunk patrol for Sarah is lying in the grass and watching, not obsessively but casually. Sometimes she doesn’t even bother to move when a chipmunk appears.

I think Sarah on chipmunk patrol is giving herself permission to take time out and soak up the delicious atmosphere of Michigan summer. I know that’s what I’m doing when I take the time to make the time for reading or writing or -- listening to someone else read to me. Ah-h-h!