Review: The Axeman

Axeman JazzThe Axeman is based on an intriguing historical fact…a jazz-loving serial murderer was afoot in 1918-1919 New Orleans. The novel follows fictional former friends, a detective and and the mentor he sent to prison, as they compete to find the killer first.

Unfortunately, the author complicates an otherwise solid and colorful story by imaging New Orleans native Louis Armstrong as a part-time detective supporting his gal pal, a wannabe Pinkerton agent also in search of the Axeman.

 

My full review appears in the Historical Novel Society’s February 2016 update.

Announcing 1000 Words!

I’m delighted to announce that the Winter 2015 issue of One Thousand Words is now available for Kindle Fire and the Kindle App at Amazon.com!

In One Thousand Words, four talented—and brief—authors share 250-word stories inspired by a single photograph. Literally, one picture equals one thousand words.

Winter 2015 - Cafe

 

An early reader called our Winter 2015 Café issue “a decadent chocolate truffle, every word well thought-out and intentioned.”

The Café stories are short enough to read on your phone while waiting for your caffé mocha or between subway stops. Although the prose is slim, the characters linger.

Please “Like” us on Facebook for news of future issues and updates on our authors’ successes.

Review: In the Dark by Deborah Moggach

In the DarkDeborah Moggach’s sixteenth novel, In the Dark, masterfully recreates London during the Great War, focusing not on the trenches but on the inhabitants of a shabby Southwark boarding house.

With the help of her hormone-ravaged son Ralph and maid-of-all-duties Winnie, Eithne Clay, a war widow, rents rooms to a showgirl-loving dandy bound for war, a ravenous woman with broken dentures, a Karl Marx-spouting blind veteran, and a family whose daughter is bent on more than guiding her shell-shocked father to the pub.

Beleaguered by rationing and unwilling to evict boarders behind in their rent, Eithne’s prospects and the lodgers’ meals improve when Neville Turk, a prosperous butcher, courts Eithne with “top quality bangers, sixty percent pork.” Annoyed, Ralph turns vegetarian, questions where the butcher gets his lamb chops, and demands to know why the man hasn’t joined up to fight.

Moggach deftly paints the deprivation of wartime. Families survive on “cabbage leaves picked up from the gutter” and thrice-boiled tea. Still, the lodgers gather pleasure where they can: the blind veteran cherishes his gramophone, war-liberated women discover their sexuality, and Ralph sleeps with a cat warming his belly—when he’s not lusting over bust-enhancing advertisements.

Historical details flow naturally from the story: inexplicably, Neville Turk finds able-bodied men to wire the house for electricity; Ralph and Winnie attempt smoking as protection against the spreading influenza; and delighted by her new telephone, Eithne realizes she has no one to call.

In the dark, secrets are revealed and exploited. Lodgers lie, plot, and blackmail. In a stunning climax, the choice between right and wrong is as complex as Moggach’s characters.

This review first appeared in the Historical Novel Society’s November update.

In Game Nine of The World Series…

World-Series-Trophy 2013I realize it took me three tries to pass calculus, but even I know that 5 + 3 = 8 and 5 + 2 = 7. But those right answers look wrong if you’re talking about the World Series. The National League vs. American league playoff has always been a best-of-seven games battle. First team to win four games is declared the Champion.

1903 World Series PosterWell—maybe not.
In the first World Series, 1903, Boston (American League) beat Pittsburg (National League) five to three in a best-of-nine game format.

Since 1905, the World Series has been a best-of-seven playoff except for the three years after World War One when intense interest expanded the Series to its original nine games.

  • 1919: Cincinnati over the Chicago White Sox (5-3) (The year of the Black Sox scandal)
  • 1920: Cleveland over Brooklyn (5-2)
  • 1921: New York Giants over New York Yankees (5-3)

If you’re keeping score, you’ve noted that the World Series wasn’t played in 1904. The Yankees won the NL championship and refused to play Boston because they considered the new (1901) AL to be the minor leagues.

Don’t believe me? You can look it up. As Eddie Bennett, the Yankee’s batboy from 1921 to 1933, said in my story “Good Luck”It’s in all the record books.”

Linked Short Story Collections

Linked story collections combine the best of the short story (quick read, compressed action) with the long arc and multiple characters of a well-crafted novel.

Individual stories are unique, like a single stem in an English Garden, but when combined with flowers unlike themselves, their power to amaze increases.

Lately, I came across a list of linked story collections, some familiar friends and others new acquaintances. For those who love linked stories as much as I do, here’s an expanded list including some of my favorites.

Please add a comment about your favorite linked story collections and check back for new titles.

Recognizing a contemporary model in story collections, The New York Times (October 4, 2015) listed five story collections linked by theme rather than characters.

Starred (*) books suggested by friends. Thank you all so much!

  1. All That Man Is by David Szalay – Stories about nine men in different phases of life
  2. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan Winner – 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  3. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
  4. Criminals: Love Stories by Valerie Trueblood  “Each of the fifteen stories asks two defining questions: What kind of love story is this? as well as, Who here is exactly what kind of criminal?”
  5. Egg Heaven by Robin Parks
  6. Ellen In Pieces by Caroline Adderson
  7. How Like an Angel by Jack Driscoll
  8. I Sailed with Magellan by Stuart Dybek
  9. Ideas of Heaven: A Ring of Stories by Joan Silber
  10. In Case We’re Separated by Alice Mattison
  11. Late Lights by Kara Weiss
  12. Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro
  13. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
  14. Not the End of the World by Kate Atkinson
  15. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout Winner – 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and a 2014 mini-series staring Francis McDormand
  16. * Point Reyes Sheriff’s Calls by Susanna Solomon
  17. Refund by Karen Bender  “Money. Who has it. Who doesn’t. How you get it. How you don’t.”
  18. Send Me by Patrick RyanPatrick Ryan is editor of One Teen Story and an editor-at-large for One Story.
  19. Snowblind – Tales of Alpine Obsession by Daniel Arnold  Stories of the men and women whose lives are defined by the call of the mountain.
  20. The Informers by Bret Easton Ellis
  21. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
  22. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
  23. Turtleface and Beyond by Arthur Bradford
  24. What Happened Here by Bonnie Zobell – Novella “What Happened Here” Winner – 2015 Next Generation Indie Book Awards
  25. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson – Considered the grandfather of the linked story genre.

The Past in the Present

When in New York City for longer than a plane change, I visit either the Lower East Side Tenement Museum or a Broadway play. On my last trip, I settled into my balcony aisle seat for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Allow me to gush. What’s not to love about a well-staged, well-acted, well-sung play when you know every-single-word of every-single-song? I smiled for the play’s too short two and one-half hours. I hummed under my breath on the way back to my hotel. In my morning shower I serenaded the towels with a wall-shaking rendition of “I Feel the Earth Move.” Click on the song link to hear Carole rocking it out. I’ll wait.

Back?  Good.

What struck me on the unending airplane flight home was that Beautiful was a retrospective play! Why, you wonder, would I spend one of the three exclamation points issued to every author on my mile-high epiphany? In my first semester at Pacific University’s MFA program, I considered using a retrospective format for my (now dormant) novel. The retrospective format is simple but powerful—like in a memoir, the narrator resides in the present and recalls their past.

Beautiful opens on a concert stage. Breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience, Carole recalls how she grew up in Brooklyn. Boom! A few bits of deft stage magic later and we’re home with sixteen-year-old Carole and her mother. The play progresses through Carole’s career ending with her back on stage, except now we know it’s 1971 and she’s at Carnegie Hall performing her soon to be multiple Grammy award winning album: Tapestry. Present: 1971. Retrospective Past: Unproven youth to single mom success.

Below, I’ve listed several retrospective novels for your pleasure.

  • Sebastian Barry’s first retrospective was named Irish Novel of the Year: The Secret Scripture: A Novel. Nearing one-hundred-years-old, Roseanne McNulty records the religious persecution that led her to an insane asylum.
  • In Sebastian Barry’s award-winning novel, On Canaan’s Side. Lilly Bere promises to kill herself, but first she spends seventeen days recalling her eighty-nine years.
  • Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. In 2011, the contents of boxes in a elderly woman’s attic reveal her life starting with her 1929 orphan train trip to Minnesota.
  • In The Turk and My Mother, Mary Helen Stefaniak’s characters live in 2004 but travel back to recall the 1930s as well as Eastern Europe before and during World War I.
  • Margaret Atwood in The Blind Assassin places her character, Iris Chase, in the 1990s, writing a letter to her granddaughter sharing family secrets from the 1930s and 1940s.
  • As the twenty-first century begins, Evan Molloy wanders through his home recalling his life from 1950 through his suicide in 1992. Yep, David Long’s character in The Inhabited World is ten years a ghost.
  • Claire of the Sea Light, Edwidge Danticat’s collection of linked short stories is set in the fictional Haitian town of Ville Rose. The first story, and indeed the entire collection, is a retrospective beginning and ending on Claire’s seventh birthday. The events of Claire’s birthday are told and retold through several perspectives. Although in agreement on the fundamental events, each person filters the day as unique individuals with personal regrets and desires.
  • The Aviator’s Wife, a first-person historical novel by Melanie Benjamin, opens and closes with Anne Morrow Lindbergh at Charles Lindbergh’s death in 1974. The past follows the couple through their 1927 meeting, marriage, her career as a pilot at his side, the kidnapping and death of their first child, and the following years of their continual estrangement.

And then there are short stories…Let’s start a new list!

  • “Child’s Play” by Alice Munro

Please let me know if you liked my suggestions and send me your favorite retrospectives to add to my list.

A Log of Monologues

Monologue

From time to time I become smitten with an element of craft. These days, I’m head over heels for monologues.

In this blog, I’ll list a few of the memorable soliloquies I’ve encountered in my readings. Check these links for Retrospective Narrators and Linked Story collections.

Please share your favorite monologue in the comments. And do drop back for updates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • grace paleyIn Grace Paley’s “Goodbye and Good Luck,” big-hearted and oversized Aunt Rose embarrasses her niece with stories of her unconventional life as mistress to the Russian Art Theatre’s greatest star, among others. Her tales finally told, Rose asks Lillie to perform her own monologue: “tell this story to your mama from your young mouth. She don’t listen to a word from me…Tell her after all I’ll have a husband, which, as everybody knows, a woman should have at least one before the end of the story.”

 

  • Marilynne Robinson followed her success in Housekeeping with Gilead, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. In 1956, toward the end of Reverend John Ames’s life, he writes a letter to his young son to help the boy understand his father’s love and family’s long sense of religion and justice. “If you’re a grown man when you read this—it is my intention for this letter that you will read it then—I’ll have been gone a long time. I’ll know most of what there is to know about being dead, but I’ll probably keep it to myself. That seems to be the way of things.”