Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hild by Nicola Griffiths

HildHild by Nicola Griffith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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I'm a closet lover of historical fiction. Closet because I'm so picky - it has to be good, well researched and authentic. It also has to come alive and wrap me up in the story and the characters, blanket me in a sense of being there. Not many authors live up to those criteria, but Nicola Griffith does it beautifully. You can see a synopsis of any book online, but you have to rely on fellow readers to tell you whether it tastes good. This book is delicious.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Beetnik Sweet Bread

cup shortening (butter optional)
2 ⅓ cup sugar
4 eggs
3 cups peeled, shredded fresh beets
cup cold coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups flour
⅓ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chopped pecans (other nuts optional)
1 cup chocolate chips
Pre-heat oven to 350°.  Prepare bundt pan with cooking spray or grease and flour.
In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugar together.  Beat in eggs.  Add beets, then coffee and vanilla extract as each ingredient is combined.

Sift dry ingredients into wet ingredients a little at a time until everything is just incorporated.  Last, add nuts and chocolate chips.

Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Allow to cool, remove from pan and enjoy.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Challenge to my brother Carvin.

Since I've been writing more, this children's book keeps nagging at me.  Are you up for providing some illustrations?


The bug was alone.  Not really lonely, he had friends everywhere and anywhen.  But as far as he knew, he was the only one of his kind.  He wasn't a god, don't think that for a second.  But he had some qualities that none of his friends had.  Like detailed memories of things that were going to happen tomorrow.  Or next year, or even thousands of years ago.  And if he thought about it he could go there and, like television only better, he could touch and smell and taste along with watching and hearing.

He thought of himself as a bug because when he relaxed and just emptied his brain of being anything or anyone else he became what looked like a crab-like insect about the size of a dinner plate with 12 legs extending all around.  He had eye stalks protruding from the center of his body that could look in any direction and a mouth centered under his armored body that could eat, smell and even drink with a long proboscis, although he didn't need to breathe.  He didn't need to eat or drink either, for that matter, but he did enjoy doing so.  And he could fly and hover without wings or any visible propulsion.  He didn't know where he came from, but he could go anywhere, really.  When he was relaxing and pondering his own existence, he thought maybe he had evolved over a long, long time and that his abilities were survival mechanisms.  Like atomic powered camouflage or something.

Other creatures seemed to find the bug's natural appearance off-putting, so he could take on any appearance he wanted.  It didn't seem to matter what size relative to his natural bug shape.  He could be microscopic or gigantic as the need arose.  And language had never been a problem because once connected with those around him his mind just sort of absorbed the necessary lingo and all its rules and funny quirks.  Oh yes, and so far nothing seemed to be able to kill him.  But he did make mistakes and also learned from them.

So not all powerful, or all knowing, the bug still had impressive abilities.  But he wasn't a god and he knew it with a deep knowledge that was almost bone-deep instinct.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

German Chocolate Brownies

We like to take old reliable recipes and fiddle with them.  This is an idea Mitch and I worked up together after I made butterscotch brownies on Friday, with the thought that you could combine the best of the pecan and coconut frosting from a German chocolate cake and add chocolate chips to live up to its name.  I finally made them this afternoon with delicious results.

German Chocolate Brownies

½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup chopped pecans
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup butter or stick margarine
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350°.  Spread coconut flakes and pecans on a 9" x 12" baking pan, toast in oven for 10 minutes.  Remove, allow to cool and set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan on medium heat.  When melted, add brown sugar and beat until there are no lumps and the mixture is a thick consistency.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat eggs and vanilla extract until smooth.  Add cooled butter/brown sugar mixture and beat smooth.  Add dry ingredients and stir until all dry ingredients are incorporated.  Mix in coconut and pecans.  Last, add chocolate chips.  Pour into 9" x 12" baking pan and bake at 350° for 25 minutes.  Allow to cool, cut into squares and enjoy.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book Review - Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1)Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a sucker for a dystopian future tale, I must admit.

I had followed Chuck Wendig on Twitter for several months and tremendously enjoyed the interactive nature of his blog, but I was oddly hesitant about reading his work.  After all, I had already formed an opinion of this guy based on his online writing and what if I didn't like his work?  It's happened before with authors I "met" outside of their published works.  I needn't have worried.  Under the Empyrean Sky was a terrific read.  The characters he created were easy to relate to and engaged in credible dialog. Most importantly he draws you into his created world a bit at a time, enough to allow a sense of that world to emerge in increments rather than throwing too much at you at once, leaving you to figure out what you're looking at.  At no point did the writing take me out of the story, it flowed as the best of stories do, and I can't wait for the sequel because now I have to know what happens next!

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Riverside Recipe Entry

UPDATE: I won!  I was one of the winners of the audiobook The Fall of Kings for this recipe entry!

My entry for Ellen Kushner's Riverside Cookbook.  I am calling this Katie's Country Chicken Noodle Soup and I would like to think that Katherine made it for Richard while out in the country in The Privilege of the Sword.

Two chicken breasts, skin removed
Two carrots
1 Celery Stalk
1 Onion
1 Tbsp. dill weed
2 scallions
Salt and Pepper

3/4 cup flour
1 egg
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. liquid from soup pot

Salt and pepper the chicken, put into a large pot and cover with water about an inch deeper than the chicken breasts, then boil until nearly falling off the bone (about 30 minutes give or take).  Reserve the liquid, but remove chicken.  Remove bones, dice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the pot.  Dice carrots, celery and onion and add to pot, return to a boil then reduce to medium heat while making the noodles.

Combine noodle ingredients, kneading by hand toward the end.  Turn out on a floured board and roll thin with a rolling pin.  Turn up one edge, then roll the dough like a cinnamon roll.  Cut thin strips and drop unrolled noodles into the boiling soup stock.  Cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.

Before serving, uncover and add chopped dill weed and scallions.  Stir in and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge - Four Random Items

No doubt about it, going through Dad’s things after the funeral was awkward.  It was a little like rifling through another woman’s purse or reading someone else’s journal with small revelations sprinkled throughout like herbs in a sauce.
I was saving his guitar for the last thing to pack.  Those of us who were closest to him knew that the guitar was the thing most precious to him.  My brother and I had saved up money from mowing lawns all summer to buy it on lay-away from a local pawn shop.  It was a surprise for his birthday and he had been almost bashful when we presented it to him like he was receiving a medal or something.  If he was going to haunt anything it wouldn’t be the house or the garage, it would be that old Gretsch Dorado with the birds on the pick guard.
I gathered a pocket knife with a broken blade, some fish hooks, two ragged pieces of chamois and his old whetstone from his night stand.  There were two more knives besides, one 2-bladed folding knife with a pearl handle and the other a lockback with rough blackened horn.  A piece of soft pine with what looked like an elephant’s trunk and the beginnings of an ear carved into it went into the box next.  There was a long metal cylinder that ended in a flat oval with a hole through it that I recognized as a cable terminal from his days working for McDonnell-Douglas.  He liked to use those as whistles, like blowing across the top of a bottle, and my baby brother would definitely want those.  I found two more in different sizes under a dog-eared copy of Dune that he had loaned to each of us kids in turn, always insisting we give it back when we were done reading it.  The last thing I picked up was an assortment of river rocks with holes all the way through them strung on a piece of fishing line.  That made me smile, remembering all the times he had had a whole pack of offspring, nieces and nephews scouting the creek for holed stones.
There were a few other books on his dresser top, including a pair of ancient Fritz Lieber books containing stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser that I set aside for myself.  I knew my middle brother would want the full hardback set of Asimov’s Foundation series.  My sister might want the Avon cologne bottles shaped like a chess piece, a drinking horn and a leaping dolphin that were still mostly full after all these years.  Mom bought them for him along with those on the high shelves around the perimeter of their bedroom more for their esthetic value than Dad’s need for cologne, which he only wore occasionally to church.  I was sure he’d understand if I sold the rest on eBay.  I would wrap them in newspaper and box them separate from the things his children would want to keep.
I meant to leave his clothes to the boys to go through.  I didn’t think I could live with myself if I rifled through Dad’s underwear drawer, and I’m sure they would enjoy dividing up his luau shirt collection.
I slowly opened the drawer of his night stand, not sure what to expect.  There were only three items lying in that shallow drawer.  The first was the old King James Bible in a zippered leather cover, with tabs for each book, that he had carried my whole life.  He had tied a double-row sennit to the pull tab, and the top stops had fallen off the zipper years ago, replaced by my careful teenaged stitching with silvery thread.  Next to the Bible lay an ancient mechanical pencil and the little black leather binder containing his song lyrics.  I clutched the little notebook to my chest and the scent of old leather drifted into my nose.  He had bought it when he first joined the Navy at age 16 so he could write down words to songs as he learned to play them.  Some of the pages were typewritten with guitar chord names written above the double-spaced lines.  Other songs were written in Dad’s hand, easily identifiable by the Catholic “r” he favored when printing.  They were not arranged in any particular order, although he could have popped open the rings and removed them for alphabetizing, but he seemed to be able to find any song he wanted pretty quickly.  Contained in those pages were obscure Celtic folk songs, Spanish ballads, popular music he had heard on the radio and lots of salty sea shanties he wouldn’t let me read until I turned 16.
I started to place the notebook in the box with the other treasures when a small sealed envelope no bigger than a thank-you note slipped out with my name written on the front in pencil.  I sat in the old rocking chair and carefully broke the seal, pulling out a ruled sheet of paper from the little notebook folded in half.
“Dear Slick”, it began.  “I figure it’ll be your job to get rid of my junk when I’m gone.  I don’t care much about anything else but I do want you to give your oldest brother the Dorado and for you to keep my Bible.  But you know this little songbook is a piece of me.  If you can find a way to do it each of you kids each need to have a copy of this notebook.  I love you and I’ll always be with you.”  It was simply signed “Dad”.
Maybe I bumped it where it rested against the wall or maybe Dad’s ghost did it, but just as I was folding the note to go back in the envelope the old Dorado chimed a faint chord.  That was when I finally broke down and cried, realizing he was really gone and had known ahead of time that he was going.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My take on religion

Seeing this linked on Twitter this morning prompted me to get my rant on. Okay, maybe not a rant but a segue-way into expressing my opinion.

Pope Promises Twitter Followers Reduced Sentence in Afterlife

Here's my take on religion/spirituality: Whether or not you believe in God, or what your concept of God might be, is between you and the Creator. Like every other relationship in life, it's between the two people involved and nobody else should interfere.

I know people like to quote so-called scripture to propound their position on anything. But taken out of context you can derive pretty limitless meanings from things in the Bible, especially good ol' King James' version. And the real secret? Nobody else gets to speak for God, no matter what their credentials.

I got no beef with Jesus. He and I were very tight for the first half of my life. It's those who follow him that muddied the waters, especially that guy named Saul who changed his name to Paul because of heat stroke he suffered on his way to Damascus that blinded him temporarily. He had been a Jewish scholar and argues like a Talmudic rabbi in some of his writings. Okay, so he was literate and wrote lots of letters that happened to survive millenia. But he NEVER MET JESUS WHILE HE WAS ON THIS EARTH!

Put another way, closer to home, even Moses was punished by God for presuming to speak for Him without His approval. Remember how Moses got to see the Holy Land but wasn't allowed to enter? Yup. Bad boy, no cookie.

God gave the Jews, through Moses, His law. That's why we Jews are sometimes referred to as The People of the Book. In every other religion, including Christianity, Islam, etc., human beings presume to speak on behalf of the Almighty. We have the actual, tangible laws He wrote down for us. Everything else is human opinion. What worked for Saint Augustine, Saul of Tarsus or Jerry Falwell may not work for you or for me in terms of having a relationship with God. Because we have to get to know God individually. But we do have concrete rules for behavior that He gave us, the greatest gift He bestowed on humanity after giving us life.

Yeah, I know Paul said Christians are freed from the Law by asking for forgiveness and repenting of their sins. Then Paul went on to write down all these NEW laws, even going on for chapters and verses about whether or not to circumcise. I also hear/read Christians saying the Bible isn't a smorgasbord, where you can pick and choose what to follow and what not to. Then they'll cite something about homosexuality and skip over the part about stoning someone to death for wearing clothing of combined linen and wool. Or chow down on pork ribs with a shrimp cocktail appetizer.

Even the great Hillel said: That which is abhorrent to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary. (paraphrasing). The Golden Rule: yes, we Jews had it first. We also have Tikkun Olam which means heal the world. My take on that is to make the world a better place, not to beat other people into submission with your dogma and judge them based on the differences between the life they live and the life you choose to live.

And don't even get me started on Christians citing the Hebrew prophets as prognosticators of the coming of Jesus.  Prophets, in the Jewish tradition, are preachers - hell-fire-and-brimstone, sometimes itinerant, preachers admonishing the people to return to their worship of God and stop being bad boys and girls.  Not prophets in the Western tradition of foretelling the future.

But back to my original point. Any human, whether it be the Pope (see link above) or Saul of Tarsus or Moses can only write about or advise others from the point of view of their own opinion and, maybe, if they're genuinely concerned for other people, their own relationship with God. I don't presume to speak for God, and I don't trust anyone else who maintains that they have the right to speak on His behalf either.

Monday, July 15, 2013

III. January 1946

Seaman First Class Charles Knowles (Damage Control) crouched on deck of the U.S.S. McCord in his dungarees, the ever-present pack of Pall Malls rolled up in his t-shirt sleeve. With his back to a bulkhead he was enjoying sunset over the Pacific. Even after four years in the U.S. Navy, he never got tired of watching the ever-changing courtship dance of ocean and sky, especially at dawn and sunset. With a steaming cup of coffee in a thick Navy watch mug on the deck near his right foot, he was sharpening a pocket knife on a whetstone in his left hand, a lit cigarette dangling precariously from the side of his mouth.

Truth be told, he was still slightly hung-over. This was his first day back at sea after a week of shore leave with his brother Jack, a corporal in the army who was fond of both drinking and fighting. Charlie was pretty sure this was the first full day since the beginning of leave that he hadn’t had any alcohol, and the scratches on his hands from the fistfight he had lost to an imposing rosebush outside a tea house had begun to heal. He chuckled to himself, thinking about the dress whites he had to throw out because they were too bloodstained to salvage. At least soldiers’ uniforms were dark; a swabbie had to be more careful of his uniform when wearing his whites.

It would have all been just a fun break from his shipboard routine if Jack hadn’t wandered into a bar frequented by a squad of Negro paratroopers and started shouting racial slurs. Sometimes Charlie wondered whether Jack’s enthusiasm for drinking and fighting weren’t a kind of death wish. Just dragging Jack out of that bar in more or less one piece had gotten Charlie a black eye for his troubles. Their combined blood alcohol levels were enough for all of their brothers put together, which would have convinced wiser men to go sleep it off, but nobody would have accused the Knowles boys of wisdom, especially that week. So Charlie suggested the visit to the tea house.

Upon entering the elaborate gardens, Jack had turned to the left and said “What was that you said about my brother?” Then Jack took a swing in the general direction he had been looking, missing whatever he was aiming at and falling on his ass in a messy heap. Convinced his big brother was in danger, Charlie came at the rosebush with fists flying, doing some damage to the carefully groomed old growth before realizing he was beating up a rosebush with thorns as hard as teak and as long as his thumbnail. As much as he looked forward to shore leave, he was relieved the most recent one was over and he was back at sea.

Charlie wiped the knife blade on the cuff of his dungarees, folded it and put it in his front pocket then tucked the whetstone into a hip pocket. He tossed the spent cigarette butt over the side, polished off the last of the coffee and stood to head back to damage control.

He hadn’t gone five steps when a hatch door opened behind him and a familiar voice boomed out “Hey Knowles, come here and make yourself useful!”

Charlie turned around to see Smitty, the cook, stick his head and arm through the hatch and motion for him to approach. They had a mutual need for coffee at all hours of the day and night, and having it always available made Smitty a buddy in Charlie’s eyes. “What you need, Smitty?” He grinned to show his willingness to help.

“One of the damned kids left a side of beef out in the pantry and its gone bad. I just came across it and none of them are anywhere to be found. Help me heft it overboard?” The “kids” were Smitty’s mess crew, mostly young recruits who hadn’t gotten through basic training in time to see any action during the war and were pretty universally disappointed not to have had a chance to fight. Charlie turned around and followed Smitty, shaking his head sadly over the waste of meat.

* * *

Growing up in a small town, the youngest of a bunch of boys whose mother had died when he was only five years old, Charlie had a rough-and-tumble childhood. Although his father remarried a few years later to provide the boys with a mother figure, May wasn’t exactly the warm, maternal type and sometimes seemed more like a tyrant housekeeper. Rumored to be a witch, his father dismissed the whispers about May as superstitious hogwash. But for some reason she had a soft spot for Charlie, often telling him that he was special for being the seventh son of a seventh son. Many afternoons, while his father was busy working, May would send Charlie hunting for frogs and paid him a penny for each one he brought home alive in a big old flour sack reserved for that purpose. He never knew what she used them for, she never cooked frogs legs for dinner, but those pennies allowed him to buy cheap novels that he devoured like other kids ate candy.

He never felt especially deprived even though there were other families in town who had more; bigger houses, more food, better clothes. But those families tended to keep company with each other and turn their noses up at the Knowles brood. Being half Indian on both his mother’s side (Cherokee) and his father’s (Sioux) didn’t make them any more socially acceptable either. He met Carl “Junior” Michel in school, the oldest in a family of six kids, and they became friends right away. Junior’s mom took Charlie under her wing and treated him like one of hers. This was the most mother he had since his own had died. Junior’s family also carried Indian blood and Mama Mary looked like a squaw right out of a western novel.

He and Junior shared a love of music and reading, and both had big dreams of leaving southwest Missouri and the Great Depression behind. Charlie’s Uncle Jasper, nicknamed Uncle Jap, taught him to play guitar. Junior’s dad played just about any instrument from piano to fiddle and had taught his eldest son to play as well. When the boys got together they’d play the kind of music forbidden at home, tin-pan alley songs and dirty boogies, and talk about the places they’d go and the things they’d see when they grew up.

Charlie turned 15 in late November of 1941. A few weeks later the world was shocked by Japan’s attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In a rush of patriotic outrage, he and Junior both enlisted in the military, lying about their age and swearing they were both 18 years old. Junior went into the Army but Charlie knew that the Navy was where he belonged. After all, didn’t the enemy choose its attack on that branch of the Service? Who did they think they were to blow our ships out of the water, to come to our house and start a fight?

After basic training, Charlie was sent to school to learn damage control, the Navy’s maintenance and emergency repair specialists. Damage controlmen helped maintain ship stability, learned firefighting, fire prevention, how to repair damage control equipment and how to defend against chemical, biological and radiological attacks, which were new areas of concern as the war progressed. And as the war progressed, Charlie also learned that regardless of his classification a seaman, referred to as a swabbie, was expected to pitch in wherever he was needed. Strictly staying within your job description was a luxury only officers could afford.

* * *

The smell hit his nose as he followed Smitty through the labyrinth of corridors and into the large pantry. Nauseating and a little sweet, the beef wasn’t as far gone as some of the dead animals he’d smelled as a kid but bad enough that he was glad Smitty wasn’t planning to salvage it. Smitty was built like a small barrel with legs and arms, yet still surprisingly strong and flexible for a portly man.

Smitty crouched down and next to a long counter and Charlie followed suit. The stainless steel shelf bolted to the bulkhead a few inches off the floor contained roughly half a cow and the smell intensified. Smitty scratched his sandy-blond head, shoving his cap back in the process, and blew out and exasperated breath.

“It’s a good thing we just stocked up or this would be a much bigger problem. Any ideas on how to get this mess out of here without stinking ourselves up?”

“Well sir,” Charlie began, “I think the only thing to do is just grab it from either end and get it out of here as quick as we can. We’ll worry about laundry later. Some of the kids are still fighting sea-sickness aren’t they?” Smitty nodded. “Then getting rid of the smell in here is probably more important than trying to keep our fatigues clean.”

They reached in at the same time, each grabbing an end of the beef, and hauled it off the shelf. It left a smear of blood, fat and stinky flesh behind, but there’d be time to clean up the mess after the main problem had been handled.

Charlie walked backward with his head craned around to look out for obstacles as they awkwardly managed the carcass through the kitchen, the mess hall and the corridor toward the hatch. When they reached the hatch to the deck, Charlie crouched down and rested his end of the meat on his knees, untucked his t-shirt and wiped his hands on it thoroughly enough to get the hatch open without smearing it with gunk. Swinging the carcass, on a count of three, they tossed the side of beef over the rail and into the warm Pacific.

“It might be a good night for fishing, Charlie, what with all that chum in the water.” Smitty chuckled at his own wit.

“You know, Smitty, you might be right. But first let’s go clean up the rest of your mess and then you owe me a cup of coffee for helping you.” Charlie wiped his hands again on the now dirty t-shirt, then pulled out a cigarette and his Zippo as a reward for his efforts.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Clarion Write-a-Thon has begun - please consider sponsoring me!

Sunday, June 16, 2013


It was an exceptional bonfire even by his family’s standards, which were high because he had nurtured their appetite for campfires over the years. A storm earlier in the year had vanquished a gnarled old cedar, its root pediment exposed and sprawled out for all the world like an alien creature that had just keeled over. The late cedar had contributed several large branches to the fire and its boughs, seasoned in the relentless summer sun, had been ideal kindling, snapping and popping with ignited resin.

He leaned back against their fallen benefactor’s bare feet and worried and worked at a muscular root joint with one of the several knives always in his possession, eyeing his circle thoughtfully, deliberately building anticipation. Fifteen-odd pairs of eyes, aged two to 16, followed his movements patiently, knowing he wouldn’t begin to speak until they were all settled and still. Most of them knew him as “Uncle Charlie”, but to five of he was Daddy. Audience and acolytes, ready to believe, they willingly went where his voice took them. And as their shaman and elder, he felt the weight of his tribe’s trust as a sacred burden, careful to conceal the smoke and mirrors behind a feisty grin. Barely 5’5”, brown has a hazelnut and wiry as a cat, his thin frame was clad in madras plaid shorts, a vivid Hawaiian shirt that was both untucked and unbuttoned, and heavy work boots to protect his tender feet. To his tribe, those were sacramental vestments.

The shaman smiled his signature smile. If a facial expression could define the spirit of a person, a state of being or emotion, his grin was mischief incarnate. Without a whisp of malice, intimate with irony but awkward with sarcasm, his grin was his most effective medicine. It was well known that his storytelling was powerful medicine, of course, most often practiced as a group ritual and employed as both diversion and subtle teaching tool It was a healing room entered into by mutual consent and the willing suspension of disbelief. But his smile snuck up on you and made you a co-conspirator. That grin could contain a Cab Calloway tune, your birthday and the prize from the crackerjack box of life when he wanted it to. Or it could contain subtitles to a story that said “I’ll just keep playing out this line until the hook is set, then I’ll reel you in.” His face could dance jigs and reels with no more than the corners of his mouth struggling with a twitch and crinkling, twinkling eyes.

Like grandma might label a jar of preserves, his wife had slapped a label on it years before, calling it his “shit-eating grin” long before she succumbed to it. Marrying his friend Junior’s tomboy kid sister “Beanpole” had shocked and startled a lot of people. But by now the years had rounded her to his liking and he figured he would keep her, despite the fact that it made no sense to think someone might grin while consuming bodily waste. He just accepted the label as her way of expressing the difficult to define, and nowadays he only heard the depth of feeling behind it. Just as he accepted so many things about her that puzzled other people.

Working at a tricky spot in the wood, a knot into which he was carving a leprechaun’s ear, he covertly surveyed his audience. Nieces and nephews arrayed around the fire with his own children among them, the oldest at age 16 holding the baby who was only four.

“So what kind of story do you want tonight?” he asked the assembly.

“Space aliens!” “Robots” “Trains” “Dragons” and “Horses” were among the answers shouted back at him at once. Then his eldest asked for a story about his service in the U.S. Navy. He leaned back and stuck his legs out in front of the fire, crossed at the ankles, and began “I guess I could tell you about how I ended up in a military mental ward….” and with that the hook was set and he began reeling them in slowly.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I. Prologue

It was a sweltering day in southwest Missouri under a relentless sun, as hot and humid as sin.  The boy couldn’t wait to cool off.  His brothers were busy plowing a field nearby, the old mule was crabbier than usual and he knew before long they’d be looking for him.  He slipped out of his britches, carefully rolled them up and stashed them in the crook of a gnarled root along the banks of the creek.  Under the lush arms of the trees lining Center Creek it was more like a deep green living cave the sun could only peek into.
The boy’s nut-brown skin revealed a tendency to shed his clothes whenever the opportunity arose and his jade green eyes twinkled with mischief.  He splashed noisily into the cool spring-fed water, submerged in familiar territory.  He swam happily in the cool shadows until judging it was about time to get back to his brothers.  The boy climbed onto a large rock that hung over the water in dappled sunlight and sat for a moment, dripping dry and dangling his feet in the water.  Half-drowsy and deep in his own thoughts, he nearly fell back into the water when a hand suddenly grabbed his foot.
His eyes followed the hand from his foot down into the water and found it attached to a woman with hair gently floating around her in the water.  She thrust her face above the surface and smiled slightly at him.
“You’re not frightened of me, are you boy?”  It was said like a statement, not really a question.
The boy shook his head quickly.  He wasn’t afraid, just awfully curious.
“You have a foot in both worlds, you know:  Yours and ours.  You swim like a fish and see better underwater than any of your brothers.  Never forget that you will always have friends under the surface of the waters of this world.”
Then suddenly she just wasn’t there.  And just as suddenly he realized that he hadn’t seen her mouth move despite clearly hearing her words.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

One of this year’s most anticipated books is Inferno by Dan Brown, once again taking us into the world of Robert Langdon (The Da Vinci Code, among others) and the secret symbolism contained in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, a portion of his epic poem The Divine Comedy, telling of one soul’s tortured journey through hell, purgatory, and finally paradise guided by the poet Virgil.  I haven’t yet read Dan Brown’s latest, but for those interested in fiction centering on Dante’s master work, I recommend The Dante Club by Daniel Pearl.
The Divine Comedy was first translated into English in the late 1800s by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow while serving on the faculty of Harvard University.  The Dante Club is a fictionalized mystery centering on Longfellow and his real-life colleagues – Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes (father of the great jurist), poet James Russell Lowell and publisher J.T. Fields – who are assisting with proofreading and critiquing his translation process.  Like academics throughout the ages, they’re up against administrative bureaucrats who want to dictate the curriculum of the university and are performing the translation as a labor of love.

When a series of odd deaths begin occurring in the Boston/Cambridge area, the four friends slowly begin to realize that the deaths are punishments portrayed in the Inferno, retribution for particular sins that the 19th century American victims seem to have been guilty of.  Set against a backdrop of an America rebuilding after the recent Civil War and a Massachusetts adapting to the influx of both immigrants and former slaves, the story not only brings aspects of Dante’s work to life but also provides a glimpse into the growing pains of a great American metropolitan area.

The story is captivating, well researched, and highly recommended.