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Tai-Pan, Shogun and James Clavell ~~ Nostalgia

James Clavell & one of his manuscripts

Summer of 1971. My then husband and I were anxiously awaiting the arrival of ….. our custom built 26ft sailboat. We had settled on the name “joss” for the boat, as its loose meaning is good and bad luck. Given how fickle a sailboat can be, it seemed highly appropriate. I was currently reading everything James Clavell was publishing and I came across the word in his novels. 

So being the gutsy girl (for the time) that I was, I wrote Mr. Clavell for more info about the word, especially how it was used in the Orient . And he ANSWERED me!  See below. He wrote with his personal address in Vancouver, B.C. and invited us to sail up and anchor at his house on Vancouver Island, offering a cup of tea!

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 Clavell wasn’t just a writer.  Both he and his wife were Chopper pilots. Clavell was also a dedicated sailor of sailboats.  It was one of the highlights of my life to receive a personal letter from him and be invited to ‘drop anchor’ at his home on the sea.  No, we never did make the perilous trip, under sail, to his home port. A deep regret, but we were new to sailing and anyone who knows those waters between Puget Sound and Horseshoe Bay (B.C.) will understand how we were so not capable or experienced enough to attempt it. 
But! we were crazy enough to take our 420 (International Dingy Sailing class) sails with us to Portugal and sail the Tagus River, not knowing the waters, currents, language or people! 

We were young and adventuresome! 1971

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   April: International adventurer, writer, Tal Gur.  June: Manning Wolfe. July: Kevin Ecke. August: Susan Mallery Coming this winter: Jayne Ann Krentz (Amanda Quick) !

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The White Rhino Hotel by Bartle Bull ~~ A Review

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                                                The White Rhino Hotel   ~~ A Review

A sweeping epic reminiscent of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Kipling. But, none of these…a unique voice that will touch you deeply if Africa touches you. 

The setup for the legion of characters and the landscape of Africa took about 100 pages. By then I was hooked by the richly developed people that fill Bull’s story. The writing is pure prose.

“Remember these stories, Tlaga. My people live inside them. When a tale is told, everyone who ever heard that story is alive again….” 

“An alphabet makes the words that keep a people together….” 

The story is dusty, hot, dangerous and violent. But so is Africa.   Just when the new settlers think they’ve domesticated the continent, warrior ants, a herd of elephants and floods storm through.  Bull’s characters populate Africa but never effect it, much less conquer it. Olivio, the grotesque dwarf. The reader can’t help themselves, they love and hate him at the same time. The star-crossed lovers, Anton and Gwenn. Hugo von Decken and his son, Ernst. German pioneers homesteading their piece of Africa. The list goes on and on. 

The story begins in (literally) the last days of World War I as a German unit traverses the plains of Africa, toting along their prisoners of war, some severely wounded. I don’t write spoilers so that’s about all I will tell of the story. I adore fiction that teaches me history. I had no idea of a Soldiers Lottery for land in West Africa after the world war ended. Whereby soldiers who fought in Africa could enter a lottery and homestead land that belonged only to the African native.  

This is their story. But it’s also Africa’s story; how it was fought over and then the land was passed out as booty after the war. Given away even though none of it belonged to any white man. 
I highly recommend this book. Take your time, savor each word, taste the air of Africa. That’s what I did! 

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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?    January: Sue Grafton ~ In Memory
March: Mystery (and Western) writer, Larry D. Sweazy.  April: in60Learning ~ A unique, non-fiction mini-book read in 60 minutes.
                        
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Interview with Janet Macleod Trotter (part 2)

  Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?    (continued) Did you miss Part I

JT.  I once created a totally imaginary strong-willed heroine who was a suffragette called Maggie Beaton. Then speaking at a talk to a convention of Women’s Institutes, a woman told me that her great aunt had been called Maggie Beaton and she sounded just the same sort of person! I got a tingle down my spine at that!

Other characters have been inspired by people closer to home. My grandparents lived and worked in India for years, where my granddad was a forester. I have used their background and some of their experiences in my second India novel, THE TEA PLANTER’S BRIDE, to get a really authentic feel of 1920s Scotland and India. Three years ago, my husband and I did a trip back to India to trace where my grandparents had been, and also where my mother had been brought up for the first 8 years of her life. I had a thrilling moment in Shimla, in the foothills of the Himalayas, when I managed to track down the old guest house where my family had lodged after trekking in the mountains in 1928. It still existed! Standing inside, I could almost see my mother toddling across the hallway. Shimla features in my third tea novel, THE GIRL FROM THE TEA GARDEN.

Bedroom where family had slept/ India

Q. What first inspired you to write your stories?

JT. I’ve been writing stories since I was a wee girl. I lived in a boys’ boarding school where my father was a history teacher and house master.  The kind matron used to type up my stories so that, in my eyes, they looked like proper printed pages! My father was a great story teller of clan and family history, and my mother always read fiction aloud to us when we were young, so I grew up with a thirst for stories. Added to that was a love of history, so that it was natural for me to want to set my stories in the past.

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

JT. I think actually it is the setting! I start with a historical incident or momentous event (First World War, the Suffragettes, Miners’ Strike etc) and then read around the subject. First, I must have a sense of place. Once I’ve visualized the setting – the home, village, tea plantation, city slum, Hebridean island – then ideas for the plot and characters come.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

JT. On a good day yes! It’s thrilling to check the time and realize that I can’t remember the last hour – I’ve been off in some other place at a deeper level of concentration.

Q. Who or what is your “Muse” at the moment?

Janet & Friends dressed up as Suffragettes

JT. My mother! I’ve just begun writing another tea novel set at the end of WW2 and the time of Indian Independence with a heroine who returns to India after being ‘exiled’ in Britain during her schooling and the war years. She is the same age as my mother would have been, who was also in that situation – separated from her father in India because of the war. Though my mother never got back out to India, I am trying to imagine what she would have done if she had.

Q. Do you have a new book coming out soon? If so tell us about it.

JT. The next novel in the pipeline which has already been written is THE FAR PASHMINA MOUNTAINS and is set in Britain and India during the early 19th century. It has a spirited Northumbrian heroine and a Scottish hero who joins the East India Company Army to seek his fortune. (One of my own MacLeod ancestors also did this a generation earlier in the 18th century). India was an exciting and fascinating place for Europeans at this time, a place of exploration, romance and where fortunes could be made, but it was also fraught with dangers. In the novel this also includes the first ill-fated invasion of Afghanistan.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

At university in Edinburgh I wrote articles for the student newspaper but it was a couple of years later that I decided to take a correspondence course in writing. I wanted to have the discipline of writing to deadlines and trying out different forms of writing.

Q. How long after that were you published?

JT. I finished the course of twenty assignments and then offered my money back because I hadn’t been published by the time it was completed! Instead, I elected to take a further course, concentrating on fiction writing. Before this was finished I began getting short stories published in teenage comics – providing the storylines and the words in the bubbles! So I suppose that was after about two years of learning the craft. I continued to get short stories published in women’s magazines but the first break-through into novels was after about five years. I had a teenage novel, LOVE GAMES, published in the same year as my first Scottish historical novel, THE BELTANE FIRES. Three years after that, I had the first of my historical family sagas set in North-East England, THE HUNGRY HILLS, published. That was in 1992. I’ve been writing for over 30 years and produced 21 books.

Join us for the conclusion of this wonderful Interview  July 21st

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MY BLOGS feature INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?     June: Mehreen Ahmed.  July: Janet Macleod Trotter, author of Tea Planter’s Daughter and in August we say ‘hello’ to Cheryl Hollon.
                                                                                   
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Nostalgia…remember when… (part 11)

NostalgiaA Greek word meaning to Grieve, to Ache

Modern Dictionary a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition

I guess I’m the last person, on the planet,  to watch the series, MAD MEN.  I was so surprised; it’s my life as a (very) young  married housewife. I was treated (as seen in MadMen) like that as a woman. It’s hard to believe now and of course when it was happening, I didn’t know any better…..and the men in my life CERTAINLY DIDN’T!!!  That was my husband; me always asking for permission. Him handling the money, etc. Cheating on me. Demeaning my worth with tiny arrows and jabs. And the employers I had at the time….just like the ‘ad men’ in Mad Men.  Talking down to the female employees and always reminding us of our place. Where did men, at that time, learn this behavior? Their fathers…and their fathers before them?

me – circa 1978

  I swear I even had some of those skirts that Peggy wore.  And one of the dresses that Joan wore was in my closet.

I am  amused and shocked that I had that life and then to watch it back in such precise and accurate detail!  Given where I (and most women) are today,  it seems like a life time ago. Oh! It was.

And here’s the really wonderful thing…..the music of that time. As the show opens and closes the sound tracks are from that era. And, fifty+ years later,  I can sing along REMEMBERING EVERY LYRIC OF EVERY SONG.  (The brain is truly a wonder.)

 

 

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MY BLOGS feature INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?    January was Dinah Jefferies and Feb/March’s author is Sheryl Steines. Johan Thompson (South African author) will join us in April.

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Life Is Like A Box of Chocolates…..or Words #7

         If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know by now that I love words and more; their origins.

Ashtray  ~~ noun.  A receptacle for tobacco ashes of smokers. 

In the Urban Dictionary it has taken on a new meaning: ash–tray, useless, unwanted, failure.

Never having been a smoker, I wondered why these two words were slung together; ‘ash’ and ‘tray’.  I pictured a butler, back in the day, arriving with a silver tray holding a box of ciggies, gold lighter and a bowl for the smoker’s ashes.  Nope. I asked myself why not: butt-dish, fagtray, rollie-bowl, stogie-saucer?  These are all slang words for the cigarette: ciggy, lungdart, smoke, coffin nail, butt, fag, rollie, and cancer stick. 

At my first wedding back in 1959 we received a cut-crystal ashtray and I loved it.  We didn’t smoke but had family and friends who did. Back then visitors smoked in your home and ashtrays were mandatory.  This wedding present had place of pride on our coffee table.

‘While rudimentary forms of ashtrays existed long before the 19th century, it was during this time that the design, aesthetic and their popularity really took off. As more and more women began to smoke in the early 1900’s, the ashtray inched closer and closer to an art form of sorts. Many women shunned the use of the traditional ashtray as it failed to reflect their feminine values through an activity that was long heralded as being exclusive to men. What emerged were detailed, often very ornate ashtrays. These ashtrays depicted pastoral scenes of maidens wandering through vibrantly colored landscapes. Some even featured very lavish, cast-iron models of women in frilly dresses, animals in states of play and the occasional porcelain/ceramic tray highlighting extravagant floral arrangements.’

I love to watch people’s rituals when they light up. (the writer in me).  They never deviate from it. Open the pack, shake or draw one out. Stick it in their mouth, reach for their lighter, cup the flame with the other hand (whether there is a breeze or not) and take that heavenly, first drag deep into those poor, beleaguered lungs.  Ahhhh!
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MY BLOGS feature INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months?   November was best selling author, Grace Burrowes and in December, Reed Farrel Coleman, contributing writer for Robert B. Parker series. January is Dinah Jefferies and February’s author is Sheryl Steines.
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The Birth: ‘Scent of Magnolia’, a Tribute to Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, stage plays, scripts, monologues, jazz singer, segregration  It all started when a jazz singer/actress asked me to write a one-woman show for her; portraying the life and music of Billie Holiday. At the time she had a three piece band and they played small jazz clubs in Chicago. She had just finished acting in a showcase that I had produced (Women Outside the Walls) and was on her way back to the windy city. 

I laughed.  Why would she want a middle-aged, white Irish woman to write a play for her showcase of an iconic African-American woman? She replied, “you got inside the heads of the women in this play you wrote. You’ve never been in prison or been married to a convict. But you were able to make us feel empathy for these forgotten wives and families.”

 I said I’d think about it and started researching Billie Holiday’s life. Sure, I’d seen “Lady Sings the Blues” but felt certain that there was more to the story than a song-bird who OD’d on hard drugs. I discovered  the story of a fearless woman who rose above poverty, rape, bigotry, prostitution and imprisonment to become one of the most memorable and celebrated artists of the twentieth century. 

The resulting one-woman show was not only Billie’s story, but the nation’s story. In her own words, she talks about her struggle to succeed in spite of Billie Holiday, jazz, stage play, one act play,the segregation of that time and the difficulties she experienced singing with the great bands, most of which were white men. Without pity for herself, she talks about the daily slings and arrows which are a part of bigotry.  She took complete responsibility for her life, her choices, and her actions.  Her triumph was her music and her songs that will live on forever.  The script does not dwell on the sensationalism of her addiction to alcohol and drugs but chooses, rather, to celebrate the whole woman. 

You might wonder about the title. After all Billie was known for her white gardenias.  I chose Scent of Magnolia from the lyrics of Strange Fruit. 
‘Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh…..’

Original music  by  composer/song writer: Gary Swindell  PRESS play
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My BLOGS feature INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    November was best selling author, Grace Burrowes and in December, Reed Farrel Coleman, contributing writer for Robert B. Parker series. Coming up, January: Dinah Jefferies.

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The Queen’s Accomplice ~~ A Review

queens-accomplic-coverreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing  reviews, authors, writing 5 out of 5 quills          A REVIEW
The Queen’s Accomplice
On Sale: October 4th

Susan Elia MacNeal plunks the reader down on the streets of war torn, bombed out London.  We can see and hear the determination of the British people as they pull together and try to overcome the ravages of war.  So how can it be that a serial killer is on the loose mimicking the infamous London ‘ripper’ from a previous century?  And targeting only women who are ‘doing their bit’ for the war effort; many of them secret agents for MI-5.

Maggie Hope is still working for the British version of the CIA. But, now she’s been dragged into a murder investigation. And it’s suddenly gotten very personal when her own acquaintances and friends are the victims.

As always, with a MacNeal mystery, there are a couple of story lines within one book and at the end Susan ties it all together with a tidy bow.  Fans of MacNeal’s Maggie Hope mystery series won’t be disappointed with this new offering.  I was engaged to the last page by Susan’s excellent writing, and now can’t wait for the sequel, The Paris Spy.

Did you miss the wonderful interview I had with Susan: click here
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DON’T MISS UPCOMING BLOGS featuring INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   October Author, Lisa Jackson.  November will be best selling author, Grace Burrowes
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Writing Fiction Organically

Song.cover_rev16JulyThis was the first time, in twenty+ years of writing that I couldn’t find a place to end the book. What was going on? Every new adventure that LaVerne had in the wilds of Alaska suggested another story thread.

It took me three years to write this saga.(87K words) I didn’t know it at the time, but I was letting it ‘rest’ at certain points and I think it’s a better story for it.

I have learned over the years to let it flow organically; when characters come busting through the door, I welcome them in.  They always tell me their story and it always fits with what I am writing. The indigenous people in Song of the Yukon joined me early on. Black-eyed Joe was sitting in the back of the village store and LaVerne (heroine) and I were both surprised to find him there. Then I went on to meet Joe’s brother, Elk-tail and his mother Edna.
Without exception, at some point (early, if I’m lucky) my characters take over the story and I become the typist. I interview authors on my blog and so many of them say the same thing, so, with relief, I find I’m not as crazy as I thought I was.
Research: The story about my auntie LaVerne running away to Alaska is a true family tale. So all I had to do was pull from the many stories my mother told me as a child.  But, living ‘off the grid’ in Alaska, in the 1920’s? The Internet is a writer’s best tool. Can you believe that we used to have to go to the library and do all this research, pouring through books?  With a couple of clicks I was able to weave the Athabaskan (native American) language, their folk lore and their customs throughout the story. I was able to build a dog sled, from scratch using only wood and rawhide lashings.  I was able to set a fur trapping line. I was able to build a cabin with only hand tools. (think about it) I was able to train puppies to become a dog sled team. I was able to describe, accurately, a funeral pot-latch.
My advice to other writers is: write every day. If you get stuck, let the story rest; go write something else. And never, never give up!
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DON’T MISS UPCOMING BLOGS featuring INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   September’s author will be Joseph Drumheller and October: Author, Lisa Jackson. November’s author will be best selling author, Grace Burrowes                          Check out Motivational Moments…for Writers!
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My Interview with Charles Bukowski, Poet, Drunk, Reprobate, Genius

I would pay a lot of money to interview the great authors of our time.  Steinbeck, Bronte, Hemingway, Austen, Twain, London, Service, John McDonald, Robert Parker.  But at the top of my bucket list would be Henry Charles Bukowski {1920-1994}.  So I asked myself would it be so very strange or inappropriate to pretend what it might have been like? Post an interview with ‘Hank’ Bukowski even though he’s been dead almost twenty years? The answer was no!

I imagined I was sitting with him, in a corner booth, in some  neighborhood watering hole.  Old die-hard drunks sit up at the bar minding their own business.   I can see tree roots growing from the seat of their pants into the seat of the bar stools. Wet, green tendrils curl around the stool legs.  They don’t speak.  They stare into their empty glass or into their own smoky reflection in the mirror on the back wall. What do they see? A long-lost heaven?  A nearby hell? 

  Bukowski has already finished his first drink and signals the bartender for another.  I am paying of course.   (viewer discretion advised ~ language)
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The Interview:

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing?

CB.  Anywhere they’ll leave me the hell alone.  I’m not particular.

Q. Do you have any special rituals when you sit down to write? 

CB.  A fifth of bourbon, a couple packs of cigarettes. Quiet. Enough paper, which can be a problem when I’m between jobs.

Q. What is your mode of writing?

CB. A pencil or pen, I don’t care.  Paper. My Remington typewriter if it’s not in pawn.  Sometimes the bartender will let me have the left over stubs of pencils from around the bar. Many years ago, this drunk in a suit was sitting next to me, over there at the bar.  He was complaining that his company had bought something called a ‘computer’ and they were making him learn how to do his sales reports on it.  He hated it but he said,  ‘I fear that it is the face of the future, Hank.’  Goddamn machines, taking over the world and us  bit by bit.  I’ll stick to my pencil and paper.

Q. Do you have a set time each day to write or do you write only when you are feeling creative?

CB.  Listen, girl,  I wish there were more times when I didn’t ‘feel creative’; didn’t need to write.  Occasionally when I’m f—ing or I’m blind drunk, or both, I can take a break and forget.

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

CB. Legitimate writers don’t procrastinate.

Q. How does a writer begin? How do you write, create?

CB. You don’t try. That’s very important: not to try, when it comes to Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more. It’s like a bug high on the wall. You wait for it to come to you. When it gets close enough you reach out, slap out and kill it. Or if you like its looks you make a pet out of it.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing and for how long?

CB. I’m lost right now.  Wait fifteen minutes…..(he stared into space) nope, still lost.  Does that answer your question?

Q. Who or what is your ‘muse’ at the moment?

famous authors, Charles Bukowski, interviews, best selling authorsA.  Ha! You’re funny.  Let’s see, junkies, slant-eyed women, barkeeps, dogs, cats, mocking birds, my landlady, bums, women….oh yeah, women most definitely.  War, rain, politicians, pigs, beautiful young girls as they walk by, Jane, the shoeshine man, booze, my father, gravediggers, whores in Mexico.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

CB. I don’t remember…a long, long time ago.

Q. How long after that were you published?

CB.  Decades.  I sent my stuff to every sex rag, publisher, and agent I could find.  It was always  rejected until one day It wasn’t.   I’d sell my blood so I could buy stamps.

Q. What makes a writer great?

CB. You can’t have rules.  No woman who is so important that she gets in your way.  No job that can keep you from what you have to do. Knowing that sometimes when you’re drunk you are a better writer.famous authors, Charles Bukowski, interviews, best selling authors

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

CB. There’s never ‘no book’ for me. It might not be down on paper yet, but it’s always there.  When my head gets so full it might explode then I find a pencil and write it down.  I don’t give a shit if a book is ‘finished’.  That’s what publishers are for.  I just send them my stuff and if they print all of it or some of it, I’m happy.  The thing that I won’t let them do is change anything.  Not a word.  It drives ’em crazy.

Q. What inspired your stories and your poetry?

CB.  Mostly the streets of L.A.  And don’t call my shit ‘poetry’. That’s what the suits call it so people will buy it.   “…my poems are only bits of scratchings on the floor of a cage…”  Mostly I just write what I see and how I feel about it.  And I see a lot of sick shit.  And I don’t feel so good about it.

    Q. Is there anything else you’d like my readers to know?

CB. Yeah, a few things:  ‘We have wasted History like a bunch of drunks shooting dice back in the men’s crapper of the local bar.’  and……

‘There will always be something to ruin our lives, it all depends on what or which finds us first. We are always ripe and ready to be taken.’  and….

‘The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting’……. and finally,

‘I don’t like jail, they got the wrong kind of bars in there.’

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MY features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!   Did you miss the past few months? March: Mystery (and Western) writer, Larry D. Sweazy.  April: World Traveler, Tal Gur. June: mystery author, Manning Wolfe.
                                                                                   
                                         Check out more Motivational Moments…for Writers!

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Glory Over Everything by Kathleen Grissom ** A Review

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Glory Over Everything by Kathleen GrissomGlory.Everything.book

Volumes have been written about America’s Civil War and we have been led to believe it was ALL about slavery.  In this writer’s opinion, when it comes to politics it’s never that simple or pure.  Power, economics, global presence also played a part in our civil war.

Little has been written about the southern states and slavery that is so profoundly beautiful as The Kitchen House and now, the long awaited, Glory Over Everything.

We join Jamie Pyke again and watch his struggle with ‘living white’. The natural son of a plantation owner and his kitchen slave. How does one conciliate oneself to the deception when all about them is the horror of slavery?  It all comes tumbling down when Jamie is compelled to keep a promise and travels back to the South that he had once escaped from.  Will he be so lucky a second time?

Recently, as I prepared my interview (coming later this month, April) with this stellar writer, I commented to Kathleen that her writing was pure prose.  She replied, “Thank you.  My mentor was a poet.”  more »