Why I Love Research

Maxine NunesMaxine Nunes is a New Yorker who’s spent most of her life in Los Angeles. She has written and produced for television, and currently writes for several publications including the Los Angeles Times. Her satiric parody of a White House scandal won the Pen USA West International Imitation Hemingway Competition.

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Website: maxinenunes.com

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In Dazzled, Nikki Logan is constantly on the move, drawn into a high stakes game that demands even higher risks. It’s pretty much the opposite of the writing life, where fingers flying across the keyboard is about all the action you get.

Which is why I love research. It’s the best excuse to get out in the world, to go where you’ve never been before, to live life, for awhile anyway, in the shoes of your fictional alter ego. It widens your world as a person and, I think, adds an important dimension to the page.

There were two points in the book where Nikki was going to do things I’d had no experience of. I knew they would be challenging for me, because every time I thought about picking up the phone to make the arrangements, my pulse quickened with that potent combination of fear and excitement. And I knew the book couldn’t move forward until I did them.

At a certain point in Dazzled, Nikki has to go downtown to the County Coroner to ID a body. All I knew about this came from TV crime shows or internet research, and that wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to have the experience myself to do it justice. So I made arrangements with the Coroner’s press liaison. “We can’t take you down to the morgue,” he said. Of course, that’s where I wanted to go, but at least I had a foot in the door. When he met me in the lobby, he said it again. “We can’t go downstairs.” I figured I wouldn’t push it till I got to know him a little better. Then he took two steps toward the elevator, turned to me and said, “Okay, I’ll take you there.” I guess he’d been hoping for a little more drama before the big ta-da moment.

The first thing that hit me when the elevator doors opened onto the basement was something you really can’t imagine until you’re there – the smell. The people who work there didn’t seem to mind it at all. They were hanging out, laughing, kidding each other, while gurneys carrying waxy corpses glided back and forth in the corridors. Of course, the big thing was coming face-to-face with the cold, physical reality of death minus the personal emotion. It was disturbing in a completely different way from losing a loved one, and it brought up so many thoughts and feelings that I hope come through in that chapter.

DazzledAnother challenge for me was learning to handle a gun. I’ve never liked being around them. When I was a kid my parents had a friend who was a cop. A big, sweet, teddy-bear of a guy. Every time he came over, he’d hang his holstered gun in our hall closet. And that closet was electric to me until he and his gun went home. But if Nikki had to learn to shoot, so did I. The manager at an outdoor range offered to give me a free lesson. And boy, walking into a place where maybe 50 strangers were shooting live ammunition was a pretty highly charged moment, as was everything about handling, loading and shooting a semiautomatic. That energy fueled the scene in Dazzled where Nikki learns to shoot, and leads to what I think is a really sensational payoff.

These field trips aren’t always so dramatic. Sometimes I go to places I think I know pretty well — but when you’re inside the writing process, you see familiar things in completely different light. All your senses and perceptions sharpen, because you need to catch the specifics that will nail the experience on the page. On a little trip to Hollywood Boulevard, I found a building that had been there since Raymond Chandler’s time. The elevator still had an old brass wheel for a uniformed operator. And in the lobby was a saucer-eyed drunk who made his wobbly way into the chapter. It’s one of my favorite details in the book.

As for upcoming Nikki Logan books, her acting career will take her on location to Paris, Lisbon and New York. And she’ll have to take me along.

Book Reviews: The Wood Queen by Karen Mahoney and Gone Where the Goblins Go by William Bitner

The Wood QueenThe Wood Queen
The Iron Witch Trilogy #2
Karen Mahoney
Flux, February 2012
ISBN 978-0-7387-2662-5
Trade Paperback

The Wood Queen is the second book of the Iron Witch Trilogy.  I had received a copy of Iron Witch to review for Buried Under Books Blog.  I loved everything about the book and promptly purchased this follow up novel.

I found the sequel to be at least as compelling as the first book.  Donna, Navin, and Xan are still prominent, and we get to learn a bit more about each of them.  In Donna’s case, it is particularly rewarding, as Donna is actually discovering and accepting more about herself.  She begins to see herself as a whole, whereas in Iron Witch she seemed to unable to define who she was, as she had tendencies to  divide herself into parts: human, freak due to crazy, life-saving tattoos, and pseudo-member of a secret Order.  While I learned of her physical strength in The Iron Witch, it was astonishingly gratifying to see her develop her inner strength and resolve.  A respectable character in the first book, she becomes admirable in the second.

Navin continues to be endearing and comical, diminishing the gloomy over-tones of the Order.  He stole my heart, even broke it a little; but now he has shaken off the sadness and allowed his determinedly  optimistic personality emerge once again.  This character brings balance to the book and leaves this reader hoping for a little love for Navin in the final book.

While mystery continues to shroud Xan, we do learn a bit more about him.  Sadly, it is only enough to create additional questions.  He remains an intriguing character that I want to cheer on and support…..I’m just not quite ready to trust him.

London dweller Robert Lee is a welcome addition to the cast.  It was simple for me to appreciate his apparent quirkiness and admire his desire to help.  As with Xan, Mr. Lee is a bit of an enigma.  I am looking very forward to learning all about him in the final book.

Once again, Ms. Mahoney has knocked my socks off.  Her clever compilation of mystery, fierce loyalty and teen-age growing pains makes for a fine story and her outstanding writing turns that into an incredible trilogy.

Now, I’m going to order that final book.

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2013.


Gone Where the Goblins GoGone Where the Goblins Go
William Bitner
Death Falcon Press, September 2013
ISBN 978-1-4922-0435-0
Trade Paperback

As the Boogey-Man checks his closet for Chuck Norris, undoubtedly, Dean Koontz checks under his bed for Mr. Bitner.  This man is scary.  Well, maybe Mr. Bitner, himself, is not terribly terrifying; but his writing…..spine-chilling.

For as long as I can remember, I have gravitated towards the scary, mind-boggling, creepy, inexplicably mysterious tales.  Way back when Frog asks Toad, “Don’t you like to get the shivers?”  and I shouted, “Yes!”, I began to prowl for those stories that bring chill-bumps to my skin and raise the tiny hairs on the back of my neck.  I knew Stephen King when I was eleven.  I slipped books out of my parents’ bookshelves: John Saul and Dean Koontz consumed my teen-aged brain.  I continued to branch out, yet until very recently, Mr. Bitner lay waiting; lurking, just under my radar.

Totally worth the wait, Mr. Bitner’s writing is no less than dazzling and captivating.  Gone Where the Goblins Go is a collection of short, horrifying tales that should not be read prior to going into any swampy area alone.  First, there is the writing style.  It is compelling.  Descriptions are written so that this reader promptly felt immersed in the scene.  My t-shirt seemed sticky, and the air in my climate-controlled home grew thick and muggy as I began the first tale.  Towards the end of another adventure, “The Dunbar Horror”, my stomach dropped as if I were on the top of the Double-Ferris-Wheel, swiftly moving towards the ground.  As if eliciting raw fear were not enough, the final feature in this collection evoked additional emotions and was surprisingly thought-provoking.

The quality that I feel separates Mr. Bitner’s work from the run-of-the-mill scary book, is the absence of labels.  He suggests, rather than tells.  There is no twisting, modernizing or adding to existing abominations such as werewolves or faeries.  No, the horrors here are undefined.  My wacky imagination, craftily fed by Mr. Bitner’s word wizardry, creates a whole new type of terror.  In a very good, eerie, spooky kind of way.

I am looking very forward to going back and reading Mr. Bitner’s earlier works, and if you, like Frog, like “to get the shivers”; I highly recommend this book to you.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2013.

Book Reviews: Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon, The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey, and Beyond Confusion by Sheila Simonson

Drawing ConclusionsDrawing Conclusions
Donna Leon
Penguin/Grove, March 2012
ISBN: 978-01431-2064-3
Trade Paperback

Donna Leon has been writing the Guido Brunetti series for a very long time. Her talents as a thoughtful observer of relationships between humans, whether at a casual, professional, or personal level, have never been clearer. Fans of this author will find everything they expect in this mystery.

In her twentieth novel, in this series, Leon again examines age-old questions of morality, law, and some of the dilemmas posed by confrontations with people who do bad things from good intentions. As always, Commissario Brunetti strolls the streets and rides the canals of Venice, this most intriguing of European cities. As always the master manipulator of criminals and his own superiors and staff, applies a dab hand to probing and then solving the crime of murder—if that’s what it was.

When an elderly widow is found dead on her apartment floor, it appears she has died of heart failure. Indeed, there is considerable pressure on Brunetti to avoid trying to make a case of murder out of what mostly appears to be an accident. But until all the reports and all the evidence is in and carefully considered, Brunetti is unwilling to consign the death to a dusty file.

His persistence leads to all manner of ethically questionable acts, some by prominent and highly moral individuals. Written in her usual smooth and careful style, Leon poses a number of questions and again brings to calm and peaceful awareness, the life of this great city, and its past glories and world influence.

The careful and measured release of important information, Brunetti’s amusing and warm relationship with his wife and children, all here is artful competence. A wonderful story is successfully realized and is another star in the author’s pantheon.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


The Innocence GameThe Innocence Game 
Michael Harvey
Alfred A. Knopf, May 2013
ISBN: 978-0-307-96125-9

Three college graduates come together in a special seminar designed to teach them some of the fundamental tools of high-level investigative journalism. Under the tutelage of seminar leader, Pulitzer prize winner, Judy Zombrowski, they will examine cases in which there is a suspicion of serious error, error which may have resulted in serious miscarriage of justice.

The three students are Northwestern University graduates Sarah Gold and Ian Joyce, and brilliant University of Chicago Law School graduate, Jake Haven. Although the seminar plans to be a relatively calm and rational look at distance cases, from the relatively sane academic halls of Northwestern University in Evanston. But in short order, the question of the conviction of a deceased James Harrison, for the murder of a poor young runaway, becomes the central focus of the trio’s efforts, and the action sags south to Chicago.

Tautly written, the author masterfully develops the characters and relationships of the three students and at the same time releases more and more clues and other pieces of information that can, at times, be distracting. The author does not neglect the physical side of their investigation. A number of intriguing and powerful events embroil the students in activity that tests their mental and physical abilities.

The Innocence Game is a first class thriller replete with twists and surprises and a smashing climax. Readers interested in the uses and conditions of our modern legal system will find this novel a first class experience.

A free copy of the novel was supplied to me with no conditions attached.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


Beyond ConfusionBeyond Confusion 
A Latouche County Library Mystery 
Sheila Simonson
Perseverance Press, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-56474-519-4
Trade Paperback

This novel is a stunning achievement and this reader was drawn in immediately, although I confess I don’t fully grasp the meaning and connection of the title. Several things are clear from the very beginning. In the space of three pages is established the unique relationship between head librarian, Meg McLean and Undersheriff Robert Neill. They live together unmarried in the small rural community near the border between Washington and Oregon.

The Klalo band of Native Americans are an important part of a story that cleverly and skillfully combines an insouciant and wicked humor with penetrating and thoughtful insight into terrible and moving events that would shape the future of the community.

Meg McLean demonstrates, at times, an incisive understanding of her library staff and even of herself and her relationship with Neill. The author’s wit is evident throughout the novel, yet her restraint keeps this on track as a serious examination of personalities, and the way their disparate views influence the operation of the county library system. Ms. McLean is in specific and frequent conflict with one librarian, Marybeth Jackman, who persists in attempts to undermine her boss, not just inside the library, but among the community leaders and the general public as well.

Author Simonson brings in other influences, attitudes of off-shoot religious organizations, rebellious teenagers, and prejudices affecting relationships between the white and native communities. With considerable care and expertise she weaves a complex yet understandable emotional whole. I found this to be an enthralling and moving novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

Book Blitz: The Holders by Julianna Scott

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Title: The Holders
Series: Holders #1
Author: Julianna Scott
Release Date: 03/05/2013
Genres: Young Adult, Dark Fantasy, Romance



Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble     Amazon     AmazonUK     Chapters


The HoldersSummary from Goodreads:

17-year-old Becca spent her whole life protecting her brother from, well, everything. The abandonment of their father, the so called ‘experts’ who insist that voices in his head are unnatural and must be dealt with, and the constant threat of being taken away to some hospital and studied like an animal. When two representatives appear claiming to have the answers to Ryland’s perceived problem, Becca doesn’t buy it for one second. That is until they seem to know things about Ryland and about Becca and Ryland’s family, that forces Becca to concede that there may be more to these people than meets the eye. Though still highly skeptical, Becca agrees to do what’s best for Ryland.

What they find at St. Brigid’s is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together the information of their family’s heritage, their estranged Father, and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they’ve been waiting for. However, they are all–especially Becca–in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.

She meets Alex, a Holder who is fiercely loyal to their race, and for some reason, Becca and Ryland. There’s an attraction between Becca and Alex that can’t be denied, but her true nature seems destined to keep them apart. However, certain destinies may not be as clear cut as everyone has always believed them to be.

Becca is lost, but found at the same time. Can she bring herself to leave Ryland now that he’s settled and can clearly see his future? Will she be able to put the the feelings she has for Alex aside and head back to the US? And can Becca and Ryland ever forgive their father for what he’s done?


An Excerpt from The Seers


The Seers“The second set is beginning,” Bastian continued, coolly offering me his hand. “May I have the pleasure?”

I paused only slightly and took a moment to listen carefully to the song wafting through the air, praying it was a meter I recognized and would be able to dance to. Silently I began to count. There were three beats per bar which meant three/four time. It was a waltz. A quick glance at the couples who were already dancing confirmed my assessment and the slight tension in my shoulders broke. I had this.

Jocelyn, however, was clearly not as confident in my dancing abilities as I was. “I’m sure Becca would be delighted,” he said suddenly, obviously feeling this situation demanded he step in, “but I’m not sure she realizes–”

“I would love to,” I interrupted, taking Bastian’s hand with a smile.

As he led me away from the group and onto the dance floor, I knew Jocelyn wasn’t happy with me, but I wasn’t worried. If he was afraid that I was about to embarrass myself by stumbling all over the dance floor, then he was going to be pleasantly surprised. If his fear was that I would probe Bastian about spying on me back in Pennsylvania, well… he was right. But just because I planned to dig, didn’t mean I couldn’t handle the situation tactfully.

Though, given my history, I couldn’t pretend that his fears were entirely unfounded…

Trying to ignore the fact that every single eye in the room was fixed on us as we crossed the it and took to the floor, I kept my head high, my smile easy, and my mind on the mission. I wasn’t going to let their whispers and pointed stares get to me this time, not now that I fully understood the sort of shady frauds I was dealing with. These people were as underhanded as they came and had been playing us for fools. And by the end of this dance I planned to be able to prove it.

When we reached an open space in the center of the dance floor, we stopped and turned to face one another. My heart began to kick my ribs a bit as we assumed the dance position and I saw all the other couples twirling around us like extras from a Rodgers and Hammerstein show. Reminding myself that it was just a waltz and that I was more than capable, I held my breath and waited for his lead, trying my best to look as calm and collected as he did. He glanced down at me to confirm I was ready, and a moment later we were gliding around the room like pros.

Or he was anyway.

I was doing my best to keep up, while also making sure not to let anyone realize I was having trouble. I had been prepared to waltz, and we were waltzing all right, but it wasn’t the traditional box step that I was used to. Apparently Bastian preferred open footwork, which involved larger steps and a lot more spinning, consequently making it much grander than its box cousin – and more difficult. Maybe this was how he always waltzed, or maybe he assumed that I wouldn’t be able to handle the more difficult style and would have to bow out, but either way I was determined to hold my own. The dance may have looked and felt different, but it was still a waltz, and that meant that the footwork was generally the same. My other saving grace was the fact that, while still a lying cad, Bastian was a very strong lead and wittingly or no he was making me look far better than I was. Uncle Joe would have been proud.

As we twirled around the perimeter of the dance floor I waited for him to say something. After all, he had to know that I’d recognized him, so it was only a matter of time before he came at me with something: an excuse, a test question, or maybe even a threat. But the longer I waited the more clear it became that he didn’t plan on saying anything… at all. It looked like he didn’t have anything to say. But that was fine… because I had plenty.

“Nothing to say this evening?” I asked, keeping my sarcasm – just barely – in check.

“Forgive me,” he replied after a moment, though there was a new aloof, almost bored air to his tone, “I am not myself tonight. You look lovely this evening, and are quite a… proficient dancer… for an American.”

“The dance?” I asked, gritting my teeth as I let his blatant insult go. “Is that really what you want to discuss?”

“We are dancing,” he said with a haughty inflection that made me want to stomp on his foot, “so it seemed an appropriate subject. Would you prefer the weather, or perhaps a commentary on the entertainment this evening?”

God, what an ass!

I hadn’t known him all that well in school, so I wasn’t sure if he was acting this way to try and repel me and my questions, or if “self-righteous dick” was just his natural state, but I was not about to be deterred. “I was thinking something more like Mr Sacklehide’s honors English class, or maybe Mrs Tatala’s Algebra 3,” I said innocently, listing a few of the classes we’d shared.

Certain I had him in a corner, I looked up at his face as I waited for him to respond, looking for the spark of panic in his eyes. Unfortunately, he must have been prepared for my veiled accusations, because all I got from his expression was confusion and a mild hint of annoyance. “Am I supposed to know what you are referring to?” he asked after he realized I was not going to expand.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure you do.”

“Then it would appear you are mistaken,” he replied casually, actually having the gall to roll his eyes.

So this is how it was going to go? Denials and lies? Playing dumb? Treating me like a pest wasting his precious time? Not a chance. If this asshole actually thought he was going to get away with this, he had no idea who he was dealing with – but he was about to find out.

Game on.


About the Author

Julianna ScottJulianna was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and spent the majority of her educational career convinced she would be a musician. However, after receiving her music degree from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, she realized that she’d been born in the wrong era for her dreams of singing jazz to adoring fans clad in zoot-suits and flapper dresses to come true, and began to wonder if her true calling might be elsewhere.

While Julianna had always excelled in writing throughout school, she’d never considered it a career possibility until about three years ago, when she’d gotten her first story idea and decided to go for it. She grabbed her laptop, started typing away, and has never looked back.

Author Links:

Website  //  Goodreads  //  Twitter


Pre-Order Gift:

As a special gift to anyone who pre-orders The Seers, we are giving away a
free e-book with several scenes from The Holders written from different
character’s points of view! All you have to do to get yours is pre-order The Seers,
then email your receipt or other proof of purchase to Julianna Scott at
juliannascottbooks@hotmail.com, and she will send you the e-novella
in the format of your choosing. That’s it! And if you have already pre-ordered
The Seers, not to worry! Send your receipt along, and you’ll get your copy too!

Pre-Order Links:

Barnes & Noble       Amazon       AmazonUK


Praise for the Series:

“The twisty plot and swoony romance of The Seers kept me turning the
pages as I fell in love with Becca and Alex all over again.”
Trisha Wolfe, author of Fireblood

“It had a gripping plot, plenty of exciting twists and turns and some pretty
fantastic characters which all combined to keep me glued to the pages.”
A Dream of Books

“If this is any notion of what Julianna Scott can do, I cannot wait to see
what is next. The Holders was refreshing and just one heck of a good read.”
The Book Cellar

“I am so thankful this is only the beginning of a series because I couldn’t
imagine not being able to read a continuation of Becca’s story. The Holders
is a novel too entertaining and emotionally charged to pass up!”
Lovey Dovey Books

“There are a lot of other things to love about The Holders – a detailed
history and Celtic element come to mind – but it was really the
characters that sold this novel for me.”
More Than Just Magic


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Book Review: Adrenaline Rush by Cindy M. Hogan

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Title: Adrenaline Rush: A Christy Novel
Author: Cindy M. Hogan
Publication date: October 2013
Genres: Suspense, Young Adult




Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble                Amazon


Adrenaline RushAdrenaline Rush
A Christy Novel
Cindy M. Hogan
O’neal Publishing, October 2013
ISBN 978-09851318-5-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A madman with a mission is kidnapping groups of thrill-seeking high school seniors across the country, and it’s up to Christy to stop him.

To do so, she must take on a fearless alter ego and infiltrate a group of adrenaline junkies bent on pushing life to the limit. Death-defying stunts are only the beginning: two groups fit the profile, and Christy must discover the real target before it’s too late.

If she chooses the wrong group, more people will disappear. But choosing right puts her as the prime target—with no guarantee that she’ll get out alive.

Being a mystery fan from way back, I’m always excited when I find a really good one targeted for teens and what we now call “new adult”. Those age groups (which have very muddy lines between them) are inundated with speculative fiction—fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc,—but a really good mystery that will grab their attention is on the rare side. Such a mystery is the thriller, Adrenaline Rush.

The very nature of a thriller means that the action is not going to run smoothly and it surely doesn’t for Christy when she goes undercover looking for whoever is bent on kidnapping teens involved in extreme sports and other activities. Perhaps more to the point is WHY are they being taken? We’re about to find out when Christy sets herself up to be snatched.

Occasionally, the plot seems to be stretching credulity a little too much but isn’t that the case with pretty much every tale of spies and isn’t that implausibility half the fun?  A thriller needs to be scary, and this one has its moments, but it also needs to take the reader out of his or her comfort zone and Adrenaline Rush certainly does both in spades. Christy has an exciting life (what kid hasn’t at one time or another wanted to be a spy?) but she also has a lot of other things going on in her life, things that would cause anyone to be a little stressed. Probably the most important thing to keep in mind is that, while Christy might be a spy in training, she is also just 18 years old with all the attendant insecurities and immaturity. I also wasn’t as bothered as I usually am by the touch of insta-love since Christy has recently experienced a breakup.

I love Christy but there are other characters who “speak” to me almost as much, particularly Jeremy. Most of the players are fleshed out nicely and I had no trouble connecting with them.

Finally, while I found the prose a bit flowery every now and then (“His green eyes pounced on mine and his liquid voice smothered me in chocolate”—first time I ever knew eyes could pounce or that a voice could be chocolate), I did enjoy Ms. Hogan’s writing overall. Is Adrenaline Rush a little absurd and more than a little over the top? Yes. Will I read more? Well, I’d never met Christy or read anything by author Cindy M. Hogan before but I’m a convert now and will be adding the Watched Trilogy to my TBR pile first thing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2013.

About the Author

Cindy M. HoganCindy M. Hogan graduated with a secondary education teaching degree and enjoys spending time with unpredictable teenagers. More than anything she loves the time she has with her own teenage daughters and wishes she could freeze them at this fun age. If she’s not reading or writing, you’ll find her snuggled up with the love of her life watching a great movie or planning their next party. She loves to bake, garden and be outdoors doing a myriad of activities.

Author links:

Blog  //  Twitter  //  Goodreads  //  Facebook


Follow the tour here.


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Reflections on Writers Who’ve Overcome the Odds

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANancy Means Wright has published 18 books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including 6 adult mystery novels (St. Martin’s Press), a novella (Worldwide Library), a YA novel (E.P. Dutton), tween novel, Walking into the Wild, two historical novels from Perseverance Press: Midnight Fires, A Mystery with Mary Wollstonecraft in 2010, and its 2011 sequel, The Nightmare; and in 2013, a contemporary mystery, Broken Strings. She has written two mysteries for young people, The Pea Soup Poisonings won the ’06 Agatha Award for Best Children’s/YA Novel, and The Great Circus Train Robbery was an ’08 Agatha Award finalist. Her poems & short stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including American Literary Review, Seventeen, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Level Best Books et al.; and in numerous anthologies. A longtime teacher, actress-director, Bread Loaf Scholar for a first novel, Wright lives with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats on a dirt road in the environs of Middlebury, Vermont.


I recently attended a reading of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and as always I couldn’t help but tear up as Tiny Tim made a stumbling appearance with his crutch—and led the way to old Scrooge’s redemption.  Tim probably had rickets, which a salary increase for his beleaguered dad, Bob Cratchit, would help to overcome.

Although Tiny Tim was modelled on the son of a disabled sister, Dickens had his own demons—perhaps epilepsy and asthma. As a writer, he wasn’t alone. Our own Agatha Christie was afflicted with dysgraphia, a disease which affected her spelling and work with numbers. Yet she persevered, like dyslexic Scott Fitzgerald, who was kicked out of school at age 12 for being unable to spell or focus on his work (dreaming of Gatsby, perhaps). And George Bernard Shaw whose disability made him “hate school,” went on to write his celebrated plays, including my favorite, “Saint Joan”, who heard voices—a mental illness?  Was Shaw hot and perspiring as he wrote of her fiery fate?

Gustave Flaubert insisted he was born with a “special language to which I alone have the key.” No wonder he rewrote each sentence of Madame Bovary seven times—and not just to find the perfect word!  Crime writer Bernard Taylor (The Perfect Murder) takes “dozens of rewrites to get it grammatically correct—but the creative juices keep me going.” My own dyslexic son-in-law, Jim Ellefson, might confuse God with dog in the drafts of poems, but he’s poet-in-residence at Champlain College, beloved by his students. And what of alcoholics, or drug addicts? I think of opium addict Samuel Coleridge, rushing his poem “Kubla Khan” onto paper before abject depression numbed his brain.

I mourn Flannery O’Connor, who was diagnosed in her twenties with lupus, a hereditary immune disease that tortured her while she was writing. The racking pain and fatigue made her feel that her body was attacking itself and killing her. Yet she called her illness “a blessing in disguise, for when one must stay at home there is nothing left to do but write.” Her stories often contain “little acts of violence” like the disease itself. Remember the clubfooted Rufus in “The Lame Shall Enter First,” who, to defy his counselor, rips out a page of the latter’s precious Bible and vigorously chews it? It’s usually a violence, O’Connor allows, “that is “strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.”

Broken StringsAnd then there is Martin Cruz Smith, author of blockbuster thrillers (Gorky Park), who has just made public his struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.  He hid it for years, keeping hands in his pockets to steady tremors, typing and retyping, exhausting mind and body. Now he sits on a stool, dictating to his wife who offers feedback and types his words into a computer. “It’s like playing football,” he told a Times reporter, “except you’ve got two quarterbacks.  It promises confusion, complication, and loss of immediate contact. You want to keep that ball moving, that idea within your grasp.” Since the deep brain stimulation he tried would have cognitive effects, the doctor implanted only the left brain, his most affected side. Now Smith is able to travel to Italy to research a new book, despite recurrent hallucinations.” Upbeat and persistent, he doesn’t always “find the first word I’m after. But I’ll take the second word, the third. I’ll take it because I like new ways of expressing things.”

How my heart goes out to Smith in his struggles to create!  For I lived vicariously with Parkinson’s through my sister Grace, a schoolteacher, who taught and wrote stories until she could no longer hold a pen. When she died I began writing Parkinson sufferers into my own work, including my latest, Broken Strings, in which Vermont farmwoman Glenna helps my puppeteer sleuth resolve a crime.  Glenna, who in real life defied her Parkinson’s, is based on a plain-speaking great-aunt who never let an injustice pass her by. I’ll celebrate her memory, and the creativity of all afflicted writers, young and old, this holiday, with Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone!”

Book Review: Class of ’98 by A. L. Player

Class of '98Class of ’98
A. L. Player
Swoon Romance, November 2013

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From the publisher—

Jackie Dunn and Matt Stewart barely knew each other in high school, back when she was a blue-haired alterna-kid and he was a preppy jock. High school rules dictated they’d never hang out, or sit at the same lunch table, or God forbid, date.

But when a weird storm transports them from their ten-year reunion back to senior year, they have to work together to figure out a way to get back to 2008.

Stuck in high school, Jackie and Matt agree to tough it out. They agree to do everything exactly as they remember, even though that means staying with the boyfriend Jackie knows will betray her, or playing nice with the girl that will someday be Matt’s ex-wife. Soon, they come to rely on one other, even become friends.

Jackie’s just starting to get used to curfews and term papers again, when Matt hits her with the biggest surprise of all: he’s fallen in love with her. He’ll change the past however he has to if it means a future with Jackie. But Jackie’s terrified they’ll not only alter their lives, but the lives of everyone around them.

Back to the Future meets She’s All That, Class of ’98 is a young adult/adult crossover that will appeal to teens and adults.

The theme of traveling back in time to high school days has been done many times in both books and film, sometimes rather copycat-ish, other times fresh and fun. For me, Class of ’98 falls somewhere in the middle but leaning towards the fresh side. I think the biggest disconnect for me lay in the 90’s setting; I would have “bonded” with the story and characters a little better if things were moved back a few years. Having said that, I still found much to like, especially the new beginnings Jackie and Matt discover for themselves. In a way, I was reminded of my own 10th reunion when I ended up spending the evening with a guy I knew in school but had never really known. It was one of the best evenings of my adult life.

I loved Jackie with all her hidden vulnerability although I was surprised at how much her high school days were still bothering her; she really should have gotten past it ten years later, at least somewhat. Matt, on the other hand, is a doll and seemed to have grown into a very likeable young man with his feet on the ground and well past the popular jock syndrome. Their being so sympatico in the future isn’t surprising since that sort of thing actually happens pretty often in real life when people mature enough to appreciate the ones they would have scorned or ignored before.

Having these two carry their current sensibilities into the past was an interesting touch on Ms. Player’s part but this is where things fell apart for me just a bit. Somehow, knowing what they know now carrying back into the past diluted any tension there might have been so the story turned kind of soft for lack of a better word, Still, I like Ms. Player’s writing and will look forward to reading more from her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2013.

About the Author

A.L. PlayerA. L. Player teaches middle and high school English in Atlanta, GA.  She lives with her guitar-playing, English-teaching husband and their three crazy rescue dogs.  Her last name gets about the reaction you’d expect.
CLASS OF ’98 is A.L.’s first novel.

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