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Storytelling (Nostalgia ~ #13)

A short story, novella or full length novel often begins with a snippet of a story. Sometimes from your own past experiences, sometimes from others. Sometimes from a collage of different people melded into one. I just finished reading a 500 page novel that was born out of some brief family history of the author’s. The following memory came to me suddenly, about my Dad. Many of the subtle nuisances were lost on a child but now they make exquisite sense. 

My Dad was a ‘butcher’ his entire life. Beginning, I would assume as an apprentice when he was very young right up to being a civilian butcher on troop ships delivering men to the Korean Peninsula. (Civilian because he had lost sight in an eye during WWII and couldn’t re-enlist). After he returned and twenty years of working for someone else he bought a small butcher shop. Today his shop would have a fancier name like John’s Custom Meats, but back then I believe the signage said, ‘Meat Market’. Super Markets were just catching on but people were suspicious and preferred the specialty shops and small grocer so he did fairly well.  His work day would begin at 6a.m. and the shop would close at 6p.m. He would work another 1-2 hours moving all the trays of meat

 from the case into the cooler for the night. Then he would meticulously clean the inside of the cases. He scrubbed the top of the butcher’s block with salt and saw dust, using a wire brush. When all was clean he would collect the saw dust from the floor and replace it with fresh. 

Back in the 1950’s the meat cases were made mostly of wood, stretching the horizontal length of the front of the store. Glass in front and accessed in the back by wood-framed glass sliders.  Behind the counter was a large wooden butcher block table. But not the ‘butcher-block’ that we think of today. No, this table was made from one huge, square block of wood with legs attached. A saddle indent in the wood, on one side, was made from years of where my father (and the men he followed) stood and cut meat. The floor was covered with fresh saw-dust, changed out nightly. His knives, which no one else was allowed to touch, hung on a magnet strip on the side of the table. 

Weekly a truck would back up to the rear door of the butcher shop and my Dad would help off-load halves of a whole beef, and whole pig carcasses. Nothing was precut. My Dad would ‘break down’ the meat, cutting steaks (sirloin, rib-eye, T-bone, and Filet mignon), using a meat saw to go through bone. Racks of ribs and roasts, all cut by hand. Every left-over scrap of  beef was tossed into a bin (everything was stainless steel back then; no plastic was used). He began filling the cases with his beautiful cuts of meat. Next he would process the scraps of meat, collected earlier, through the grinder to make hamburger. (Hand cranked; he couldn’t afford electric saws or grinders back then.) There were only two grades; ‘hamburger’ (the cheapest filled with more fat and less meat) and ‘ground round’ (the leanest and most expensive.) The ground meat would fill long trays that fit inside the display case. When a customer asked for hamburger, my Dad would hand scoop one or two pounds from the tray, slap the meat into a sheet of waxed, white butcher paper and weigh it. He was never off on the weight and mostly put it on the scale for the customer’s benefit. If he had weighed heavy he never took away from the mound of meat; that would have been bad customer service in his view. In those days a butcher was allowed (by Federal regulations)  to sprinkle in a chemical that would ‘brighten’ yesterday’s hamburger that had turned a little brown. He would do this regularly and put it on ‘sale’ the next day.  

My mother would drive him to work and pick him up every night. As I mentioned, he was a veteran and had lost the sight in one eye during his time in the South Pacific, thus preventing him from driving. Frequently Mom and I would go early and help close up. Mom and Dad would also make their own sausage to sell. Using scraps of beef and pork they would make huge batches of ground meat, mixing in special spices. Placing a special tip on the grinder, they would attach a casing made of pig intestine on the end. They pressed the meat through the machine and into the casing, tying off  the lengths of sausages with a quick couple of twists of the casing.  

All the years I helped in the butcher shop I never saw my Dad dressed differently. Pure white t-shirt under a crisp white, short-sleeved dress shirt (ironed by my mother), blood stained white apron, with chino (kakis) pants. In the rear pocket was a pint of whiskey in a brown paper bag. His face was clean shaven, his fingers cracked and covered in small cuts. His hair neatly trimmed and slicked back with Brylcream. No matter what time of night we got home, my mother had dinner almost ready. Nothing left to do but ‘fry up the meat’. From the front door to the kitchen sink to wash up, to the dinner table to the couch was my father’s journey. The whiskey had navigated from the hip pocket to a glass sitting on the coffee table. Together we would watch boxing (my Dad’s passion) and shows from the 50’s:  Rawhide, Ed Sullivan, Ozzie and Harriet, What’s My Line, and Candid Camera. 

Now, with a few decades of life experiences behind me I realize my Dad was probably never without pain. Pain in his back from carrying sides of beef and long trays of meat. Working fourteen hour days. And the untreated, jungle rot (tropical ulcers) on his legs must have been excruciatingly painful by the end of each day. No wonder he lay flat on his back on the sofa, self-medicating with whiskey.

I’ll end this story with a funny anecdote.  My Dad hated the narrator for the Skippy Peanut Butter commercial on tv. This was before all of our electronic accessories  of today. But finally one day he happened to read an ad for a remote mute button. It attached to the tv by a cord that ran across the living room floor and ended in a small box with a mute button. Yes, that was it: an on and off button. It finally arrived in the mail and we hooked it up. That night, my Dad waited in anticipation for the Skippy commercial to appear during our nightly shows. The the minute the commercial began my Dad gleefully pressed the mute button and yelled at the tv, “Take that, you S.O.B!” 
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Review: Christmas in Winter Valley by Jodi Thomas

 

4 out of 5 quills                     Book Review reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing

 

This story was perfect  reading for the holiday season. While it did rely heavily on readers knowing the back stories from the series (Random Canyon Romance) it was entertaining and charming. So many characters in this one, but my favorites were Coop, Tatum, Tye, Creed, Dani and of course the horses. I didn’t connect with the other brothers, Elliot and Griffin. They weren’t as well drawn as the others. 

While I enjoyed the story immensely, the whole thing felt rushed. I felt rushed. I wish there had been less story lines and more story. And my only real criticism was the need for the wacky half-cousins, trashing the house, getting drunk, (no character development); they were here, they were gone and they seemed superfluous to the story plot. (Delete key!) And Creed rashly hooking up with the redhead. He wouldn’t do that. He’s too careful about life.  

This is not to say I didn’t finish the book with relish and left wanting more. 

Did you miss my interview with this best selling author?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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The Lost are the Last to Die ~~ Book Review

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing4 out of 5 quills ~~ Book Review

The Lost are the Last to Die by Larry D. Sweazy is a new, old west tale. 
Fans of westerns are going to love this story.  Set in the early 1900’s, the horse is being replaced by the automobile, the Great War has just ended and the lawlessness of the ‘old west’ is being rooted out.

Ranging from 1911 (flashbacks) to 1934 (present time for this story) Sweazy’s hero, Sonny Burton has enjoyed a stellar career in law enforcement. Surviving fighting in the Great War, he comes home and joins the Texas Rangers.  But life has served up a couple of career changing setbacks and Sonny must find new meaning in what seems like a meaningless life. 

The writing is superb. Larry leads the reader on an exciting chase with many twists and turns in the plot. Sonny Burton gives the reader someone worthy of rooting for. We want him to win even when it seems most unlikely.  

My Review of other Sweazy books.
Did you miss my interview with Larry Sweazy?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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Book Review ~~ ‘Stay’ by Catherine Ryan Hyde

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5 out of 5 quills   

 

The exclusive Club that only faultless writers belong to is, in my view, a small membership. John Steinbeck, Robert Service, Dean Koontz, Charles Bukowski , Jane Austen, and most certainly, Catherine Ryan Hyde.

Does Hyde even know how to write a bad sentence? Are the first drafts as lovely as the final product? Or does she scourer her work until it’s perfect? Doesn’t matter. Stay is perfection. And after I read Have You Seen Luis Velez? I didn’t think it could get any better.  I know, I know, I sound as though I must be Hyde’s sister-in-law or something. I promise I’m not. What I am is a very discerning reader and lover of books and stories. 

Lately I had written a post for my blog, (about writing) and the need to always have conflict in your story. A complex story line (which you should always strive for as a writer) has a lot of loose threads to ‘tie up’. Hyde is a master at both. Multifaceted tales with every loose thread tied. In the last ten pages of the book I had a meltdown because she hadn’t revealed what had happened to the two dogs. And then there it was. 

As my readers know, I don’t write spoilers so you will never get a synopsis of the story in my reviews. What I will tell you is Stay is a compelling, heartbreaking, shocking (at times) story full of friendship and hope. While I was reading it, the song ‘Amazing Grace’ would flitter through the  auditory cortices of my brain. Because sometimes human beings can be full of amazing grace.  Buy this book, read it and tell me I’m wrong. 

 

Available at all book stores. 
Did you miss my Interview with Catherine Ryan Hyde?
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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Interview with author, Dervla McTiernan, Part 2

Continuing with my Interview with Irish-born author, Dervla McTiernan

Q. What first inspired you to write?

DM. I’ve been an obsessive reader since I was three years old, and at a certain point reading became less satisfying to me, which was awful. I still read constantly, but it felt like something was missing. It took me a long time to realise what was missing was writing my own stories. As soon as a realized that I could experience the same joy and pain, the same highs and lows in writing my own stories I was utterly hooked and I knew I would never stop, whether or not I was ever published.

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

DM. Character first usually, then situation.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

DM. Yes. Absolutely. Usually when I am deep into a first draft – maybe after the forty/fifty thousand word mark. Characters come alive and the story really takes off and I just want to stay in it all of the time.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

Musha

DM. Yes…but I’m not allowed to talk about it! Which is a pain because I am VERY excited about this story.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

DM. 2014. That was when I gave myself permission to really take it seriously. I had been playing with the idea of doing an MBA, because I wasn’t particularly happy in my job. An MBA would have taken five years part-time, and when I really thought about it I realized I had absolutely no urge to go back and study again, nor had I any real interest in studying business. What I had always wanted to do, and never ever thought I could do, was write. Given the massive changes we’d already made in our lives (moving to Australia from Ireland in 2011) committing myself to writing didn’t seem all that crazy! So I kept working part-time, and when the kids were in bed I would write for two hours, every night, except Thursdays (wine-night – very important).

Q. How long after that were you published?

DM. I signed my contract with Harper Collins in October 2016, and The Ruin was published in Australia in February 2018, and shortly after that in the US (Penguin) and the UK/Ireland (Little Brown) and then a few other territories followed. Then The Scholar came out in 2019, and The Good Turn will be out in 2020.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

DM. No, genuinely, no. I think with the absolute ubiquity of smart phones, we’ll continue to see growth in audiobooks. People still love story; they’re just so time pinched that they have to try to fit them around everyday life. But for me personally, there’s something that switches off in my brain on those occasions when I get to lie down on the couch with a paper book in my hand, screens and phones off or away from me. It’s such a release from the constant connectedness of my daily life. I think there’s a reason that the growth in ebooks has pretty much stopped and paperback sales are stable. We all want that release. That moment of indulgence.

Q. What makes a writer great?

DM. To me it is a writer is great if they can create characters who feel genuinely real to me. Characters I care deeply about.

Musha

Characters I want to spend time with. Everything is secondary to character for me. I absolutely love the Robert Galbraith crime novels, which are just getting better and better I think (Lethal White was awesome) because I love Cormoran and Robin and I want to be in their world. I love to disappear into a book the same way I used to when I was a kid, and that happens so rarely now but it’s no less intensely joyful when it does.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

To find out, don’t miss Part 3 of this fascinating Interview ~~ January 27th 
Did you miss Part I? Click here

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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Book Review ~~ The Summer of Sunshine & Margot

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing           4 out of 5 quills   Book  Review

 

Susan Mallery always delivers a solid story. The Summer of Sunshine and Margot was no exception.  I found the main characters (Sunshine & Declan, Margot and Alec) empathetic and charming. I had a little trouble with Margot’s career and the services her company offered. Was she a life coach? A therapist? A baby sitter for adults? It was never made clear. 

And that leads me to write about one character, in her story. Bianca. She was an aging film star who evidently had been indulged her entire life. The result was an implausible, spoiled brat. Immature, thoughtless, reckless and a bully. I worked in Hollywood many years ago and her antics would have led her to be, at the worst, blackballed. Or at best, she would have been considered a ‘difficult’ actress when casting a film and to be avoided. Difficult actors cost money.  I found her outrageous behavior tiresome and unbelievable. 

The character of Bianca was the reason I couldn’t give this book my highest rating. 
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   December: Dervla McTiernan ~~ January: David Poyer  
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When will My Stories be Discovered??

TS. I wrote this post back in 2012….seven years ago. But most of it still holds true today.

Okay, so now you have a publisher…your books will fly off the shelves or through cyberspace, right?  Au contra, it’s still going to take some time. Or at least, that’s certainly been my experience….

Samuel French (biggest publisher for stage plays)  picked me up in 2004 and has since published four of my stage plays.  I am so grateful to be in the same publishing house as  Louisa May Alcott, David Mamet, Anton Chekhov, and Tennessee Williams. And the staff is so nurturing to their authors.  But, here’s the reality: No sales the first year, a few the second year, more the third year and so on…….but, sadly, no BIG immediate discovery of this playwright!  Not like in the movies!!

So I kept writing and editing and submitting……and writing more!

I am happy to share with my readers the news that I received a nice fat check from French with reports that reflected my biggest sales period EVER, the first quarter, this year (2012)!  Over the last six months they have sold seventy scripts of mine.  Most orders were in multiple quantities which means a theatre company was buying enough books for cast and crew.  And that means that somewhere, out in the world, theatre companies are producing my work!  You might be saying to yourself, ‘that’s not so many’  but think about it.  That’s 11.6 scripts per month. And like I said, most of them were NOT perusal copies (of one) but the number that they would need to produce a show! One production in Bangor, Maine and the other in Phoenix, AZ.

Last year (2018) a play of mine was produced in Iceland and the UK.

My books are finally selling with some welcomed regularity on amazon.com (USA and Europe) and other book outlets. After eight long years!!

So my message to you is: Keep writing, fellow writers.  Keep editing, rewriting. That’s where a really good story/book is born.  When you get rejection after rejection  (as I did) let that be the spur to write more! Use ‘Self publishing’ . ‘Vanity’ books are a thing of the past…or almost.  Most of us, as writers, have something important to say and vanity is far, far away from our thoughts.  With the advent of ‘print on demand’ self publishing is not the huge investment it used to be.  I self publish for less than $100. plus the wholesale cost of the finished book.  Sure your publisher takes a cut…but!  You’re published!!

Writing is a lonely business but keep at it.  I’ll believe in you if you’ll believe in me!
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!  December: Australian mystery writer, Dervla  McTiernan
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An Irish Country Family ~~ Book Review

reviews, authors, writing reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing          5 out of 5 quills 

 

Every time I begin the newest (#14) in this series it is like returning home to my village. BallyBucklebo, (the village), is a character unto itself.  This particular story goes back and forth between the current year (1969) in the village and when Barry Laverty is still in residency at a local hospital. (1964-5). So half the book is before Barry ever met the patriarch and senior country physician, Final Flahertie O’Reilly or was offered a position in his practice. 

A rich series that spans decades in the ‘wee village’ of Ballybucklebo, Ulster County, Ireland. Seldom will readers find characters more deeply drawn. Beginning with An Irish Country Doctor (2007), each book follows the characters’ stories.  The author, Patrick Taylor, has an opulent flavor to his writing which is brilliant. The reader can smell the salty brine of the nearby Lough, the whisky and stale smoke in the Mucky Duck (pub). See the golden crust of Kinky’s latest offering for lunch. Feel Barry and Sue’s personal pain. I particularly enjoyed the accurate weaving of medical history throughout the story. 

This writer intertwines his characters’ stories with a precise ebb and flow. Each book makes the reader wish for more.

Did you miss my Interview with Patrick Taylor 
Book Available for Sale ~ November 12th
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Interview with Author, Kristina McMorris (part 2)

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

KM. Oh, goodness, yes. Usually, as luck would have it, right before school hours are over. 

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

KM. I’m working on another WWII novel that I’m not quite ready to talk about yet but can’t wait until it’s time to spill!

Q. How long after were you published?

KM. I started writing my first novel in 2007, sold it in 2009, and was over the moon to see it published by a large NY house then appear on actual store shelves in 2011!

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

KM. Not if I have any say in that! For me (even more so because I work on a computer all day), I undoubtedly prefer a printed book when reading fun. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that. At least I hope?

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

KM. Once I have the general gist of a premise and main characters established in my mind, and enough research completed to know what’s possible, I essentially picture the story rolling out like a movie in my head. At that point, I create a basic plotting board using mini Post-its, and off I go!

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

KM. Since I literally grew up in the film industry, cinematic forms of storytelling continue to have the strongest influence on my writing. And of course, bits and pieces of myself and people I’ve met throughout my life inevitably sprinkle my stories—both the heroes and the villains!

Q. What’s your down time look like?

KM. Spending time with family and friends and catching up on life (which, after a tight deadline, largely includes laundry, bills, and much-needed sleep)!

Kristina with her family

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre?

KM. If I were to choose another genre, it would have to be psych thrillers, since that’s another type of story I thoroughly enjoy reading.

Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

KM. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
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Click here for Part I of the Interview

Review of Sold on a Monday
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
 
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Review~~Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing4 out of 5 quills     Book Review

Sold on a Monday is riveting. Based on true events during the great depression; the selling of children was all too common. A last resort by mothers who could no longer feed their own children. The writing is very good and the book is a page turner for sure. 

The story begins when the oh-so-flawed hero and cub reporter discovers a sign outside a clapboard shack; KIDS FOR SALE. (Similar to this one below, caught and reported in an actual newspaper of the time.)  His intentions are true when he snaps a photo and returns to his office in the hopes that his story and photo will be published. When the photo is accidently destroyed he stages a new photo with the same sign but different children. (Not for sale.) Leading to his big break but with devastating consequences.

This story touched a very personal chord with this reviewer. I learned, very late in life, that before I was born my own mother had ‘farmed out’ my older sister and brother. (Not once but several times.) Sending them to strangers to work as indentured workers.   I had begun to write a loving and warm memoir (Wild Violets). The story plot was based upon my mother in her younger, entrepreneurial years when she was a bar owner in San Francisco (1920’s). Shortly after, I learned about the ‘farming out’ of my brother and sister.  If I was going to be true to myself as a writer, I had to write about this side of my own mother. Her motives were much more selfish. She was doing well and could feed her kids. But they were frequently in the way of her life style. Working hard, playing hard and many men.

After reading Sold on a Monday I have wondered if my mother’s circumstances had been slightly different would she have sold my siblings outright. A terrible thought.

I know my readers will enjoy this story and I highly recommend it. 

Did you catch my interview with Kristina McMorris?

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
 
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