The Moon Butter Route by Max Yoho

http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Butter-Route-Max-Yoho/dp/0970816049

Speaking of comedy, I’ll put in another vote for a historical novel set in prohibition days in southeast Kansas. Topekan Max Yoho spun a good yarn about a boy coming of age during the later years of the prohibition era. The Moon Butter Route follows 12-year-old Wally Gant as he enters his teen years in the 1940’s. His first job was to assist with deliveries for the Strang Dairy, a place that didn’t just deliver milk, but also some of the finest moonshine (Moon Butter) packaged in painted milk bottles.

His adventures amongst the moonshiners and bootleggers—some lovable and some not—follow Wally as he finds love and fortune in a rough part of the state and of history. Told with good humor from Wally’s point-of-view, some of the shenanigans he describes are downright hilarious, which reminds me again how laughter can truly be good medicine for the ills of my soul.

 

Coming next: Books of inspiration

A Flynn McGuin Tall Tale

http://www.amazon.com/Rode-Wigglin-Flynn-McGuin-Memoir-ebook/dp/B074HFKVBC

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W  by L.A. Harder

Early in the year, a soft-spoken gentleman in the Wichita author’s group requested volunteers to test-drive a book he’d finished. I signed up, and promptly got distracted by daily life. The year was half over and I was thoroughly disheartened by the accrued crises before I downloaded a Kindle copy and started reading. I admit, I was dubious about a book titled I Rode for the Wigglin’ W. Some kind of western perhaps? Not exactly my cup-o-tea. But I wanted to support my fellow writer.

It wasn’t long before I wondered why I’d waited so long. Wigglin’ is not just a western, it’s a romantic comedy to boot. Loren Harder (as Flynn McGuin) soon had me laughing out loud—just the lift I needed amongst all the sour news and dire predictions of the year.

I Rode for the Wigglin’ W is good, clean fun, a modern tall-tale that you have to read to understand. I’m not going to give away any of its secrets since I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I will say it’s well-written (not a grammatical hiccup anywhere that I recall) and fast-paced. It’s written for folks of my generation, with sentimental clues from our coming-of-age years, but it’s clean enough to share with youngsters. And, it’s hilarious. Thank you, Loren.

 

 

Up next: A “ho-ho” from Max Yoho.

Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

http://www.amazon.com/Ike-McCarthy-Eisenhowers-Campaign-against-ebook/dp/B01HMXV2KO

Another true historical narrative on my reading list in 2017 was a new release by Simon & Schuster in the early spring. Given the rash of protests regarding the new administration’s reckless policies, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the release of David Nichols’ new study of Eisenhower, Ike and McCarthy.

Having spent time with Nichols talking about writing and sharing family stories, I was humbled to the extreme to read his well-written treatise on the McCarthy years. This infamous time in our history was over shortly before I was born, but the pages of Nichols’ book included names that would become significant players in world politics as I grew up.

What smacked at me most was the uncanny resemblance between McCarthy’s agenda and his tactics, and those of our current president. Most chilling was the realization that Ike, as a rational and intelligent leader, took clandestine steps to prevent a bid to the presidency by unstable extremist Joe McCarthy. In today’s world, the unstable extremist IS our president, and it is yet to be determined how—or even if—his influence will be checked.

We are tumbling into a deep, deep chasm with no end in sight.

Read Ike and McCarthy by David Nichols to gain insight into this repetition of our history.

Up next: Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part I.

 

Gloria Zachgo’s Suspense Novels

http://www.amazon.com/HUSH-GIRL-Its-Only-Dream-ebook/dp/B072XWVQMM

Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning books The Rocking Horse and Hush Girl: It’s Only a Dream were written by another new writing friend, a leader in the Kansas Author’s Club. Hush Girl, her latest novel, received the 2017 J. Donald Coffin award that my two books received the previous two years. Eager to read another award-winner, I was excited when the first sentence pulled me into the drama. It didn’t let go until the last page.

http://www.amazon.com/Rocking-Horse-Gloria-Zachgo-ebook/dp/B005MKKMVA

Told through the agonized confusion of a young woman in therapy, she reveals long-suppressed memories of her traumatic childhood while fighting present-day attempts to stop her efforts. When at last the truth becomes evident, she finds herself alone, facing an insane acquaintance in a death-dance to save her daughter.

 

Like Hush Girl, Rocking Horse explores an unwelcome truth hidden in the past. Each book follows the private conflicts of a child who witnessed violence and was a victim of abuse. As adults they struggle to reveal the past in order to face a brighter future. Down deep, each narrative is a story of desperate maternal love, sometimes reaching from beyond the grave. Broken families, mental health issues, abusive husbands, alcoholism—the ills of our ailing society are thrust upon innocent children. How they manage to overcome their past makes  suspense-filled rides through the pages of these novels.

If you need an escape from your own reality, Zachgo’s novels will transport you into another world in which you’ll find yourself cheering for the mistreated heroines to the very satisfying end. I recommend them as entertaining reads and look forward to more from this talented writer.

 

 

Taking Back the Bullet by Jim Potter

http://www.amazon.com/Taking-Back-Bullet-Trajectories-Self-Discovery/dp/097906970X

One of the best things about 2017 was expanding my circle of writing friends. Ex-cop Jim Potter is one of the most recent. He contacted me in October regarding the possibility of including his new release in the annual bookstore at the Kansas Authors Club convention. I met him in November during my presentation to the writers meeting in Hutchinson and found him to be outgoing and friendly. He enthusiastically endorsed my suspense novel and I found time to read his debut novel as the year drew to a close.

Taking Back the Bullet is a literary and contemplative sequence of character sketches in which a botched bank robbery changes the direction of each life.  Bullet is a drop from our collective society. Under a microscope, the drop reveals characters who represent a variety of today’s ills. In the book we encounter prejudice toward obesity, prejudice toward those struggling with mental illness, race related prejudice, particularly as it affects native Americans. We encounter issues faced by those with albinism as well as the LGBTQ community. Indeed, policemen, as much as teachers, medical personnel—and writers—see it all and gain insight into the many issues  our country faces.

Bullet is, as Potter explained, a wake-up call for today’s world.

The story is open-ended without a resolution to these issues, but it leaves the reader with hope when the main characters take steps that lead them in new directions.

One of the most fascinating features of Potter’s book is the section of character illustrations at the end. His wife, J. Alex Potter, an accomplished sculptor and art instructor, crafted a series of busts to bring many of the book’s characters into clear focus. Being married to a sculptor/art instructor myself, the photographs of her creations were especially meaningful to me.

I recommend Taking Back the Bullet: Trajectories of Self-Discovery as a revealing snapshot of the mosaic of ills we face in 2018. I hope that Jim Potter will write more, following these characters into their brave, new future, with hopeful and positive results.

Coming next: Gloria Zachgo’s award-winning suspense novels.

Book Journeys of 2017

A few days ago, my writing cousin and friend Paul Bishop linked to an article about the growing trend of young writers who don’t like to read. Say what?

It has always seemed obvious to me that reading comes first. For me it certainly did. I fell in love with books as a child. When I was quite young I realized that I wanted to not just read books, but write them as well. I was also convinced that the best way to learn the craft of writing was to read widely and voraciously. I learned what worked to hold my interest, to make my heart beat faster, and what gave me a sated feeling of contentment.

The time required to lose myself in a book is at a premium these days. Many things vie for my attention and steal my time. There is a yearning in my heart for that good-old solitude, the luxury of time to lose myself in other worlds presented in books.

A disconnect exists between my longing and the fast-paced technological existence of today. We’re on a course into uncharted lands, where stories are told in tweets and symbols. Youth seem to loathe time they spend alone with themselves, or in genuine face-to-face conversation.

I don’t understand the young ones any more than they understand me, and that is a sad fact. But it doesn’t mean my experiences and values are meaningless. I cling to my cherished books, realizing that those I have spent time reading have shaped the course of my life this past year, as they have every year.

I’d like to share a few notable reading experiences as the first days of 2018 unfold, books that were my companions through the tumultuous times of 2017. It is particularly satisfying to note that I actually know and respect many of the authors of those books. Other books were recommended by friends. I did read a few that I will not recommend, some written by very young writers that were ripe with spelling and grammatical errors. If only those young writers would just read a few really good books. . .

The first reviews will be shared tomorrow. Up next: Jim Potter’s Taking Back the Bullet.

Considering Heroes

Last month, my grandson’s elementary school celebrated “Hero” day. Each student was encouraged to invite a personal hero to share lunch with them at school. For the majority of children, that meant a parent. To children, their moms and dads are real life heroes.

I had to wonder, “What makes a hero?” My dictionary says it’s someone who is admired and emulated for achievements or character traits, someone who shows great courage. To have courage is to hold fast to one’s convictions and remain true to oneself even in the face of tremendous obstacles. Perhaps the definition of a hero could be stretched further to include anyone who makes life better for someone else by example or action.

With that in mind, I suggest there are those among us who quietly set the standard, folks who are easily overlooked because they may not have the appearance of a strong, invincible hero. Their strength lies within. Kevin Olson is one such hero.

I recently heard Kevin speak about his life at a writer’s convention. A man who suffered an irreversible neck injury as a teenager, he’s been confined to a wheel chair for almost thirty years. He remains mobile with the use of a long straw connected to a computerized motor on his electric chair. Exhaling means “go.” Inhaling means “stop.” Other subtle air flow changes create right or left turns.

Through the use of a mouth stick (a long pointer manipulated by his jaws) Kevin wrote a book, one tedious letter at a time typed on a computer keyboard. Learning to Live With It (xulon press, 2013) tells how his accident changed his life. It describes his hopes and prayers aimed at regaining the use of his arms and legs, as well as his disappointment to learn that would never happen. Rather than sinking into despair, Kevin learned to adapt to a future he would never have chosen.

Kevin found meaning in his life, not just in public speaking, but as a tutor and mentor to children. Through their innocence and honesty, he learned important metaphorical lessons as he was helping them learn and grow. In fact, it could easily be that his young friends served as heroes for him, even as he fulfilled that role for them.

Kevin describes several of the big lessons he learned from little people in the second part of Learning to Live With It, as well as several metaphors he’s associated with life in general. The inspirational book is filled with his faith in God and his love for life, though faced with desperate circumstances. We could all benefit from his optimism to face whatever obstacles make us stumble through life.

I highly recommend this inspirational book. It is available through http://www.Amazon.com.

Your Dreams are Over

Tribute to a Friend who Died much too Young

J. Scott, your dreams are over,

Snared in your youth by the Big M—

            Heartless,

            Trickster

            Devil.

Your gentle tortured soul now free

            But

Your words live on in our troubled world.

The genius of your soul—

Kneeling in awe of the literary greats

F. Scott (you know) Fitzgerald

            Hawthorne

            Rowling

            Thoreau

            Bronte

            Tolstoy

            Huxley

            Tolkien

            Dickens

            Lee

Spouting quotes from the pens of the masters

You read long before.

Once.

Genius.

The journeys you drew me into

Expanded my understanding of family.

We are all part of

            The human one.

You took me places I’d never dreamed.

            Courtroom witness stand

            Visitation at a Maximum security

Lockup

            Pre-dawn in the empty parking lot

                        Of the Johnson County Jail

            911 emergency call for an

                        Ambulance

            Visits to a residential rehabilitation home

Through it all you shared your dreams

Your hopes

Your disappointments

Your fears

 

Your open, gentle spirit showed great devotion

To young Kassidy, a child sister ripped by cancer

From this heartless life.

“I love God,” she taught from her heart.

“And God loves me. That’s all there is

            To it.”

In your world religion rejected and

            Judged you

            Without mercy

For your deviations from the norm.

Kassidy showed you—God Is Love.

But not even she could stop Big M.

You searched for your place,

A home that would love you always.

On the journey, you befriended

            The friendless,

Fought for those

            In the margins.

You took up causes of those

With little voice.

And you wrote for them.

Because you were one of them

And they needed you.

The Pen is Greater Than the Sword, Scott. Or the Needle.

And your words live.

            Even if you don’t.

Big M stole you from those who care.

In this age of rigid conservatism

And legal discrimination,

The civic powers criminalized

Your disability.  Your addiction.

When you needed help,

They served you blame.

They pulled the rug of security

And assistance

            From under your feet.

And you fell.

Forever.

In your words, “Life is suffering. . .

            But God is Love.”

As your spirit takes its first

Hesitant flight in freedom,

May you find the Winds of that Love,

And may they bear you

            Ever higher.

                        Scotty.

The wind is blowing.

Rise up with it and ride.

Field Trip!

DSC00169

Quite by accident the other day, I stumbled upon an exciting place and an equally exciting way to promote a book. I met my writing friend and naturalist, Mary Coley (marycoley.me) for lunch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. Like me, Mary has spent much of her adult life occupied with making a living wage and raising a family and has returned to her love of fiction writing in recent years. She is the author of Cobwebs, Ant Dens, Beehives and soon to be released The Ravine. The day was perfect, a rare break in the nagging winds which have blown from the north one day and the south on the next for nearly two months. I drove through greening hills in my Kansas County, crossing into the rolling hills of Oklahoma. I met few other travelers between Winfield and Pawhuska.

After lunch and a long chat to catch each other up with events in our writing lives, Mary asked if I’d have time for a tour of Pawhuska.

A tour! Of the setting of her 2014 novel Cobwebs? Of course I had time to tour the setting of a book which won a 2015 Creative Woman of Oklahoma award and was a finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona book awards as well. And I’m glad I did.

 

Check out her books and her blog at these locations:

www.marycoley.com

www.marycoley.me (blog)

Mary is skilled at weaving local history and places into her books. I soon realized why she selected this sleepy little town. Pawhuska, Oklahoma is the perfect setting for a mystery. Touring the town with the book’s creator made the story come alive. Though the story takes place largely in Any House on Any Street in Pawhuska, there are several locations that figure significantly into the plot.

Along the way, I became captivated by the fascinating history of Pawhuska itself. Places Mary showed me included the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, where Cobwebs protagonist Jamie Aldrich went to find solace after puzzling and frightening events unfolded around her.

The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Pawhuska, Oklahoma
The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

I lingered on the steps leading to the Osage County Courthouse, where so much drama between the Osage Nation and white opportunists occurred a century ago. (See marycoley.me/2014/09/05/pawhuska-means-white-hair-a-mysterious-setting/)

Osage County Courthouse, Pawhuska, Oklahoma
Osage County Courthouse, Pawhuska, Oklahoma

We drove through the cemetery where in the book Jamie discovered that her new friend Sam had also lost a spouse in recent years.

Pawhuska Cemetery
Pawhuska Cemetery

We turned around in the parking lot of the little grocery store where Jamie was snubbed by a local woman and had no idea why.

Grocery store
Grocery store

We drove by the Pawhuska Museum. Mary described a real fire that temporarily closed the local museum where she had written about an arsonist’s handiwork in her fiction book. The museum provided much background for protagonist Jamie to uncover chilling details that helped explain events that brought her to Pawhuska.

Museum
Museum

We cruised through the city park where Sam revealed to Jamie that she has a blood connection to the Osage Nation.

DSC00162
The picnic table in Pawhuska City Park where a fictional conversation occurs between characters.

The tour was energizing–an excellent way for Mary to promote her book! If you ask, perhaps she’ll schedule a tour for you. I’m looking forward to a personal tour of the locale covered in Ant Dens (Sante Fe, NM area) and Beehives (Osage Hills State Park, Oklahoma). It makes me wonder about settings in other books I’ve read. Several locations in my own Sundrop Sonata are based on genuine places I have been, but they are scattered over a much broader area. Still, a tour. . .makes you wonder, doesn’t it?