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So Long, Chester Wheeler by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Review)

5 out of 5 stars           Book Review


Spoiler Alert:  In order to write a formal review (which would include telling a little about this fascinating story), it would be riddled with “spoiler alert” warnings.  So I won’t.

Instead, I want to write about this author’s uncanny talent for concepts.  She writes about people, everyday people, about life, and how messy it is.  It may not be a conscious thought, but somewhere inside you, you are wondering, ‘How did she come up with this concept for a story?’ 

In my interview with Catherine, she addresses how she comes up with her stories:

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

CRH. When I have finished a novel and turned it over to my agent, I know I need a new idea. I open up to a new idea, and I meet a character. I generally see a glimpse of them, having some sort of life experience. Then I spend a few weeks in my head, with nothing down on paper yet, coaxing them to tell me more. (end quote)

That’s what I tell my writers (fans); to keep their eyes and ears open because you may get a mere glimpse of your next character. Just waiting there, in the shadows,  for you, so they can tell you their story. 

But I digress.  If you have never read another book, be certain to read So Long Chester Wheeler. It’s a distillation of everything that’s so wonderful and horrid about the humane species. Beautifully written. Like Catherine examines each word to make sure it’s worthy to be in her story before she lays it down.  And, as with most of her books, there are lots of surprises, plot twists and turns the reader never sees coming. 
This author is everything we mere mortal writers should aspire to be.  Sharpen your pencils!!  

Available now at your favorite book store!


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Watch for more interviews with authors.  November:  Horror writer, Kevin J. Kennedy, December: Marc Cameron, writing for TOM CLANCY



Monday Motivation for the Writer! #8

My interview with bestselling author Robyn Carr was so generous  it became a 3 parter. She said this in the context of the post. I couldn’t have said it better so I borrowed it! Thanks, Robyn!

“….you have to be willing to write crap.  You have to write all the time whether it’s any good or not.  You can always delete or revise or rewrite but if you wait until it feels perfect, you’ll never accomplish anything.  You have to fill up pages with words and keep moving forward…”


“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.”  Kurt Vonnegut

“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to do.”  Kahlil Gibran

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” Edgar Allan Poe

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               ‘As a writer, I marinate, speculate and hibernate.’  Trisha Sugarek

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Monday Motivations for the Writer! #7

You know a story has been rattling around in your brain.  TODAY is the day you will find time to sit down and write the first sentence, the first page. But you say, “I can’t get going. I can’t write it. Where do I start?”

Sit down and write an essay about yourself. Write down everything you’ve always wanted to say…but couldn’t or wouldn’t.  
Somewhere inside that essay are the bones (the outline) of your short story, your stage play, or your novel. It may not be even a whole sentence. It may be just a phrase. So look closely, as it may be hiding in plain view. 

Don’t worry about what will follow.  The story will lead you. If you are very lucky, your characters will take over and tell you their story.

‘It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.’ William Faulkner

“Writing is a Tryst with the imagination and a love affair with words.” Unknown

The reader, the book lover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt

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‘As a writer, I marinate, speculate and hibernate.’  Trisha Sugarek


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Watch for more interviews with authors.  November:  Horror writer, Kevin J. Kennedy, December: Marc Cameron, writing for TOM CLANCY



Monday Motivations for Writers! #3

Writers! Jump-start your day with more Monday Motivations!

Oh, so you think you will write all day, and beautiful things will happen?  Think again, grasshopper.  If you’re a one-person band like myself and most other indie authors, you will have to wear an editor, publicist, marketing, and publishing hat, to name a few.
It takes hard work and then some more hard work.  But here’s the payoff:  After eight years…yep..you heard me right…of consistent weekly blogging with relevant content, supporting other writers, and interviewing authors so much more famous than I am (well, I’m not famous at all) my posts are on page ONE of Google search, and my books are selling.  This year a traditional publisher picked up my true crime series of books.  Don’t misunderstand; when you get a publisher, DO NOT stop publishing your indie books.  And most important of all: KEEP WRITING!

  “If only life could be a little more tender and art a little more robust.” Alan Rickman, actor



“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”  John Wayne

Writing isn’t a calling; it’s a doing.”  T. Sugarek


     ‘As a writer, I marinate, speculate, and hibernate.’  Trisha Sugarek


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Monday Motivations for Writers! #2

2A.girl.write..mouse_1Writers! Jump-start your day with more Monday Motivations!

Build up to writing the great American novel. Maybe that’s what is stopping you…the idea is so daunting. Remember there is no one great American novel.  There are just writers trying to tell great stories.   Start with a short story.  Or a piece of poetry.  I find ‘story-telling’ much less intimidating that way.

 “There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Ernest Hemingway

“what matters most is how well you walk through the fire”  Charles Bukowski

“I always try to be a learner.” Nikole Hannah-Jones, Pulitzer-prize winning writer, Professor UNC, contributing writer for the NY Times. 

Sign up for my and receive your ‘Monday Motivations each week! Simple: type your email address in the box on my Home page (top/right). Click on ‘subscribe’.writer

‘As a writer, I marinate, speculate and hibernate.’  Trisha Sugarek


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A Word to Newbie Writers

authors, writers, reviews, famous authors

Charles Bukowski

He was, in my opinion, the greatest American fiction writer of the last half of the 20th century.   Fortunately for his book sales, most think of him as the archetypal drunk, misanthropic male pig. Whatever else he was, he was also the archetypal writer, a force of nature who knew exactly what to do to a blank page. 

Bukowski attributed so much weight to the single line that it eclipsed the writing philosophy of writing. If the single line was magnificent, the rest would take care of itself.  In a 60,000 word novel, the working focus was on the single line. In the sex stories he wrote and sold to skin mags for money, the working focus was on the single line. In a small, immortal poem that 50 people might read, his working focus was on the single line.

Do you possess this kind of love for your words? Well?  Do you?  Possess this kind of love and respect for your work? Do you respect your craft enough to narrow your focus to the attention of a single line? It’s not easy. It’s not fast. “But this must certainly be a path to immortal (and powerfully influential) writing.  If you can stomach it.”   Robert Bruce when writing about Henry Charles Bukowski, Jr.

I’ve encouraged to re-write and delete and edit so much in my blogging you probably want to take a
‘delete’ key to me!  BUT!  It’s what makes a so-so writer into a good or great one.

Experienced writers know this and value the rewrite more than anything.  That’s really when the magic happens.
In a recent interview here with Jo-Ann Mapson, she said, “I love rewriting. Just thank God for it every single day, because that is where good writing pokes its head up.”

A word to you aspiring writers:  I’ve been there, believe me, when I was terrified to delete a single word.
Not that I was certain that everything I uttered was ‘gold’…..far from it….no, terrified that I had nothing better to replace it with. Now that I have found my ‘process’ I understand how I work.  I write it in my head for days, then, when the moment comes I type (thank God for my Admin skills of 75 wpm in a previous life).  Once the story is laid down, I begin the re-writing, editing, adding, deleting.

Re-writing and deleting:  some of my best work has been born in the re-write.  Some of my worst work has been write, create, writing, authors, blogdeleted.  Get it?

The Delete key:  I know, I know, I’m a tired old record.  But it can’t be said enough.  Get to know and love your delete key.  Every word you write isn’t going to be ‘golden’.  Before you push your child (story) out into traffic (the world) you are the only critic and editor in the room.  Be certain that you critique yourself; keep polishing, keep editing.

I’m of the school of writers that believes my work is never finished;  I could and have found something to re-write in everything I have published.  It’s a demon I have to live with.

The Mocking Bird by Charles Bukowski ©

The mocking bird had been following the cat
all summer
mocking, mocking, mocking

Teasing and cocksure;
the cat crawled under rockers on porches
tail flashing
and said something angry to the mocking bird
which I didn’t understand

Yesterday the cat walked calmly up the driveway
with the mocking bird alive in its mouth
wings fanned, wings fanned and flopping
feathers parted like a woman’s legs
and the bird was no longer mocking…   (from his book of poetry:  The Pleasures of the Damned)

Reprised from post 3/2013 writeratplay.com

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Watch for more interviews with authors.  October: Simon Gervais for ROBERT LUDLUM, November:  Horror writer, Kevin J. Kennedy, December: Marc Cameron, writing for TOM CLANCY





Nothing You Write, if you Hope to be any Good….

Lillian Hellman (Author of The Little Foxes and Children’s Hour)  once said, Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.”

As a writer, that has happened to me over and over.  In the early days of my writing, I was appalled that the story was going somewhere that I had not planned for.   The characters would lead me down paths I had no intention of going down or writing about.  Now I accept this strange phenomenon that happens not just to me but to other writers as well.

     A glaring, or perhaps glorious, example of a story taking an unexpected turn was when I was writing Women Outside the Walls.  My plan for the storyline was that this would be a cozy little story of three very different women coming together while visiting their men in prison.

A third of the way through this project, Charlie, while sitting in the prison’s visiting room, jumps up, grabs Kitty, and, holding a shiv (knife) to her throat,  takes her hostage.  I  sat at my keyboard and wailed aloud, “No!  No, you can’t!  I don’t know anything about hostages……or hostage negotiations!” Too late! He’d already dragged Kitty to the back wall, and pandemonium had broken out.  The prison went on emergency lockdown, and there was nothing I could do! There I sat at my keyboard, dead in my tracks.

It took me four months researching hostage negotiations before I could resume working on my novel.  I had not the faintest clue as to how I would finally resolve this room being taken, hostage.  And I want to stop here and thank the federal and state hostage negotiators who assisted me in my research. While they would not share any of their techniques, they agreed to look over my story and tell me where I was off base. They allowed me to send them this segment of my novel for them to critique and assisted in keeping my portrayal accurate.   Before you COs jump all over me about the gun, I did take dramatic license with that.  

I have learned to anticipate and enjoy it when the story takes on a life of its own.  It’s my fondest wish to become, simply, the ‘typist’.  When my characters take control and tell me the story!

(Reprised 2013)


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Watch for more interviews with authors.  September: Culley Holderfield. October: Simon Gervais for ROBERT LUDLUM, November: Kevin J. Kennedy, December: Marc Cameron, writing for TOM CLANCY





More Interview with Culley Holderfield (Conclusion)

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

CH. I work at it until I can stand it no more. Then, I share the entire manuscript with readers I trust to give me honest feedback and step away from it while they read. If I’m lucky, it will take them a while, and I can gain some distance from the project. Once I have their comments, I’ll reread it myself, then revise it all over again. Sometimes it may take only a draft or two after that. Other times, as with Hemlock Hollow, it may take an entirely new draft and then eight more passes to get to the point where I feel the novel is where I want it. Then I start submitting it. If I’m lucky, it will get picked up by an agent or an editor, at which point I get to go through the process all over again.

Q. How have your life experiences influenced your writing?

CH. Tremendously. As I mentioned, my writing was influenced heavily by the cabin my parents bought right after I was born. Growing up, I learned to love storytelling on the front porch of that cabin when my grandmother would tell tales of her childhood and adults would share the goings on of their worlds. My fiction is often about the importance and

Anything that’s out-of-doors, Culley’s there

impermanence of place over time, how we can be nurtured and haunted by the places that make us who we are. And that comes directly from my own past of falling in love with places that change because all places change. Much of my writing is an effort to come to grips with that truth.

Q. What’s your downtime look like?

CH. What’s downtime? Just kidding. Sometimes it does feel like I don’t have much downtime. I have a demanding job that I love, and writing takes up most of what would otherwise be my free time. But I do manage to spend quite a bit of time in nature. I hike and paddle and camp when I can. Travel is one of my favorite things to do, and I read a lot and watch a lot of movies.

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

CH. That first novel I set aside was a spy thriller set in Ecuador, and at some point, hopefully not too far down the line, I have a pre-historical fantasy novel I’d like to write.

Cooking in Tuscany

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

CH. Step one, if you want to be a writer, is to read widely. Step two is to write often. Step three is to find your place in a community of writers and engage with them.

You don’t have to do it all yourself; in fact, you can’t. When I was just starting out as a young writer, I thought all it took was sitting down and writing. Writing a novel is hard work, but it turns out that just writing well is not enough to succeed in this business. In addition to grit and persistence, you really need to find community. That’s hard for writers. Most of us are introverts, after all. But for me, finding other writers with similar goals and similar levels of commitment has made all the difference in my writing life. My twenty-five year-old self wouldn’t believe me if I told him this.

Cabin that inspired book

He would shrug me off and shoulder on alone, but no writer has ever succeeded in that way. Take advantage of writers’ groups and associations. Go to conferences. Meet other writers. Be willing to share your work and to have others share their work with you. In North Carolina, we have the North Carolina Writers’ Network, which has really been important to my growth as a writer. Other states may have similar organizations, so seek them out.


Did you miss the start of this wonderful interview?
    Look for my review of this book December 2nd. 

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Watch for more interviews with authors.  September: Culley Holderfield. October: Simon Gervais for ROBERT LUDLUM, November: Kevin J. Kennedy, December: Marc Cameron, writing for TOM CLANCY



Interview with author, Culley Holderfield (part 3)

Q. Are you working on something now or have a new release coming up? If so tell us about it.

CH. My debut novel, Hemlock Hollow, is forthcoming from Regal House Publishing on December 6 of this year. It’s a historical, Appalachian novel about a college professor who inherits a cabin and with it the ghost who haunted her childhood. In the process of renovating the cabin, she uncovers a journal written by Carson Quinn a hundred years before, and she can’t square the boy’s voice in the journal with the murderer he became. 

One of Culley’s writing spaces. Albemarle Sound in eastern NC

My work in progress is a historical novel set in Western North Carolina during the Civil War. It involves the Red String Order, also called the Heroes of America, which was a secret organization in North Carolina that opposed secession.

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

CH. I started to write seriously in college. I crafted my college career around becoming a novelist. I started at Wake Forest, then transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill. At UNC, I completed the undergraduate creative writing program, studying with Bland Simpson and Doris Betts. I finished my first novel shortly after graduating college. It was okay for a first novel, but it was a first novel, and needed a lot of work. I rewrote it seven times over fifteen years, all the while marketing it to agents. Despite some close calls, no one ever picked it up, so I set it aside. When that didn’t sell right off the bat, I realized that my path to success wasn’t going to be Garp’s path to success. I tried freelancing. Interestingly enough, freelancing wasn’t great for my fiction. I changed tactics and found a good, meaningful day job that has left enough time for me to continue to write. Five years or so ago, I was fortunate to find Writeaways, which is a unique writing workshop model run by Mimi Herman and John Yewell. They are great mentors and pals. Being immersed in a community of like-minded and supportive writers has made a huge difference in both the quality and volume of my work.

Carl Sandburg Home in Flat Rock, NC, ‘ a place that never fails to inspire me.”

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

CH. No. Not in our lifetime. I think we’ve seen and will continue to see a resurgence in paper books as people realize how much damage staring at screens does to our emotional and mental health, and how utterly addictive the virtual world is. Maybe this is wishful thinking on my part. I may be the only serious reader remaining who doesn’t own an e-reader.
I do think eventually, if we figure out how to survive climate change intact, we will eventually wind up reading entirely on Star Trek-like tablets. While we clearly have the technology to do that now, I think it won’t be ubiquitous until long after we’re gone.

Q. What makes a writer great?

CH. I think there are a lot of different ways for writers to be great. Ernest Hemingway is great differently than Margaret Atwood is great. But the kind of great writing that moves me and that I aspire to write is work that creates an authentic narrative experience for the reader. In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner describes the fictive dream that readers enter into when reading good fiction. The writer can get away with pretty much anything as long as she or he doesn’t wake the reader from that dream state. So, I think at a minimum, a great writer entrances the reader into this fictive dream state. There are writers who can do that by spinning a great yarn and others who do it by turn of phrase, but the best writers do both well without one overwhelming the other on the page.

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

CH. It starts with an inkling, a voice calling out, begging to enter this world, then a blank page that in its blankness contains infinite possibility. Each word inscribed on that page constrains those possibilities exponentially. Eventually, with enough words comprising enough sentences composing enough paragraphs, a story emerges. If I’m successful, that story holds me for the year or more it takes to build a first draft. Once the draft is complete, the work begins. Now I have the clay with which I can mold my novel into something coherent.

Watch for the conclusion to this wonderful interview next week.

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My chat with author, Culley Holderfield (part 2)

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

CH. They come from all over. Since I write mostly historical fiction, many of my characters emanate from my research. I might pattern them on actual historical figures, or sometimes I just take the historical figures and put them whole hog into the book. You have to be careful with that, though. If you include real people in your novel, you need to make sure you’re describing them accurately and not having them do anything that runs counter to their known history. I also have characters arrive when I’m walking or in the shower or while driving. They show up, and it may just be their voice at first. Or it may be something else, like an image or an expression. Sometimes I might dream them, and every once in a while they are ghosts.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

CH. I’ve always made up stories. My mother has the evidence in the form of little handwritten books I did as early as first grade. But I distinctly remember being in the 8th grade and having an assignment to write a short story for English class. I remember sitting down at the dining room table with a clutch of blank pages, and starting with the sentence, “It was a serene, brisk day, great for hiking.” It wound up being a ghost story, and the teacher loved it. From that encouragement came the desire to write more and write better. Then, my senior year of high school, I read The World According to Garp. In Garp, John Irving peeled back the curtain on the writing life for me. It taught me that one might actually become a writer as Garp did. Before that I hadn’t really thought about writing as a possible career choice. Once I realized it could be that, it became something I couldn’t shake, so I set my sights on becoming a novelist.

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

CH. Almost always characters create the situation with the decisions they make. Good fiction puts characters into the position of having to make choices, and the

Hickory Nut Gorge where story takes place

choices that they make result in outcomes that lead to them having to make new choices. The engine for all of this is desire, the characters trying to get what they want. I’m not a good enough planner to map out ahead of time what situations my characters will get themselves into. So I typically leave it up to them, hoping that I’ve put enough work into understanding them that I understand their motivations and can authentically render that onto the page.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

Hiking in the Hollow where story takes place

CH. Yes. If I allow myself sufficient time, I’ll easily get lost in the narrative. The characters in my work-in-progress are fascinating to me. The more time I spend with them, the more fully formed they become. When I understand them really well, even the minor characters, the story can just take off in unexpected, though fully logical, directions. I may find myself hours later emerging from this state of consciousness that leaves me almost dizzy and pleasantly numb, like I’ve been in an almost meditative state for all that time.

Q. What compelled you to choose and settle on the genre you now write in?

CH. I’ve always been interested in history. In college, I double-majored in History and Comparative Literature. But what inspired 

 me to write the particular series of books that I’m working on now, including Hemlock Hollow, was the cabin my parents own in the mountains of Western North Carolina. I grew up, like Caroline, the main character of the novel, spending my summers and weekends there. One summer, my father was cleaning out an attic we didn’t know we had, and he uncovered a box full of old photos. They were from the 1930s and before. Presumably, they were the people who had built the cabin and lived there. I was fascinated by those black and white images of these men and women who lived in that same place where I spent so much time yet had such different lives from mine. Later I would turn my historical research skills onto those families and the entire Hickory Nut Gorge region. Eventually, I made up a fictional family, the Quinns, and their fictional lives intertwined with real history, which became the fodder for this book.

Watch for part 3 next week.

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