Friday, December 20, 2013

Books: My Favorite Books of 2013 - Nonfiction

FIVE DAYS AT MEMORIAL: LIFE AND DEATH IN A STORM RAVAGED HOSPITAL by Sheri Fink  (Crown Publishing, publication date:  September 10, 2013)

This extraordinary nonfiction book isn't merely a thorough piece of investigative journalism.  It's an exploration of decency and principle.    Dr. Fink is a physician, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and she is heroic. While the United States has made many amazing medical advances, it is no revelation that the state  of health care in this country is full of quagmires.   Fink examines the implications of the choices made by medical professionals during one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the United States.  She offers a horrifying window into who did and who did not receive patient care during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  I cannot recommend this book enough, especially since our country has seen and will continue to see more natural disasters. Determinations must be made in advance of such crises.

THE GIRLS OF ATOMIC CITY: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II (Touchstone Books, publication date:  March 5, 2013)

Author Denise Kiernan has written a remarkable book about a little-known piece of  U.S. history. In 1943 young women, most of whom were recruited from small towns throughout the South, came to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to work on the most classified enterprise of the war:  the Manhattan Project.  Ms. Kiernan's account of this fascinating piece of American military and civilian history is enthralling.  Reading this was like sitting down with  the actual "girls" and hearing their stories about this incredible time and place--the dawning of the Atomic Age--from their own mouths.  This is a most welcome addition to the canon of World War II history and of women's history.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book Review: SPARK by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk

Book Review:  SPARK by Courtney Elizabeth Mauk
Engine Books, January 29, 2013   ISBN:  978-1-93-812604-8 (trade paperback)

Andrea Simon, age twenty-nine, is like many millennials, the generation born between the early 1980s and 2000’s.  She lives in the millennial mecca of Brooklyn. Andrea and her lover/fiancé Jack, an artist (with a beard) have been together for two years.  Due to a bad economy and an unclear sense of personal direction, she supports herself as a dog walker.  She has some interesting friends, and sometimes she drinks too much and takes long walks at night.  Andrea, however, is no two-dimensional character.  She has a very complicated relationship with her mother (now sixty-three) and an even more complex connection to her older brother Delphie (now thirty-six).  Delphie is a pyromaniac; a fire he set resulted in the death of a family.   After serving a twenty-year prison sentence, Delphie has just been released into Andrea’s care.  Jenny coerces her daughter Andrea into this set-up, but Andrea is only too willing to take on this anxiety-ridden responsibility.  Andrea’s self-esteem is entwined with her actual reason for existing.  In order to proceed with her life and go to her future, she must deal with the past.

Courtney Mauk’s novel is so well-written, and with such a high degree of proficiency, that it is hard to believe this is Miss Mauk’s debut.  Her prose style is delicate yet also luscious. The story is told in the first-person narrative, from Andrea’s point of view, which serves equally to reveal and to conceal many different truths.  Andrea is an unforgettable character.  While Delphie is the one on parole, Andrea is imprisoned by her inability to confront and let go of her history.  While Andrea struggles with her issues, she meets and befriends two very fascinating women.  Rain is an actress who doesn’t get many film or stage roles any more. 

“My favorite client is Rain Carmichael.  In the 1950s, she was an ingénue.  Now she is seventy-four and lives in a Park Slope brownstone with her fat, thirteen-year-old bulldog, Sammy.  Unlike my other clients, who are usually at work, or out running errands when I arrive, Rain is always at home.  Still, she has given me a key.  I used to ring the bell anyway, not wanting to disturb her, but she admonished me, her red lips pursed, her penciled eyebrows rising.  ‘Just come right in, my darling.  Sadly, you’re not going to interrupt anything torrid these days.”

Although elderly, Rain has more gumption and ambition than the much younger Andrea.  The other woman is Sally, a Russian national whom Andrea meets while out walking one night.  Like Andrea, she suffers from insomnia.  But while Andrea walks the streets at night to escape her problems and worries, Sally is firmly ensconced in the underground nightlife of Brooklyn.   Eventually, Andrea gains hold over her life—as much hold as any of us have.   While Andrea clearly is unsettled, the reader is allowed to enjoy the journey and not worry about the destination. 

SPARK is a beautiful work of literary fiction.  Courtney Mauk possesses vast wisdom, deep insight into the self-deceiving human heart, and tremendous talent. I look forward to reading her second novel, ORION'S DAUGHTERS, which Engine Books will publish on May 13, 2014.    

Book Review: DEVIL IN THE HOLE by Charles Salzberg

Book Review:  DEVIL IN THE HOLE by Charles Salzberg
Five Star Books, August 7, 2013   ISBN:  978-1-43-282686-3 (hardcover)

On November 9, 1971, John List carried out the carefully planned murders of his wife, their three children, and his mother in Westfield, New Jersey.  Then List disappeared.  The bodies of the List family were not found until a month later. List wasn’t caught until the television show America’s Most Wanted featured him on a broadcast in May 1989.  He was arrested in Virginia (where he created a new identity and new life for himself); extradited to New Jersey, tried, and found guilty of five counts of murder and served five consecutive life sentences.  While there is no excuse for the murders, List, an accountant, seemingly succumbed to financial and family pressures.  He had lost his job, and his wife Helen had been suffering from tertiary syphilis for nearly two decades. 

Charles Salzberg, a former journalist, had wanted to write a book about John List for years.   DEVIL IN THE HOLE is an extraordinary crime fiction novel due to the unusual conceptualization.  In the novel, John List becomes John Hartman, and Westfield, New Jersey is Sedgewick, CT.  The other details from the true crime are included although somewhat altered as well.  Since it’s based on a true crime, the reader already knows “whodunit.”  Salzberg, then, addresses all of the “who’s.”  Each chapter is told from the perspective of over twenty different characters:  the neighbor across the street, the first officers on the scene, the Chief of Police, the state police investigator Charlie Floyd, Hartman’s girlfriend, people who meet Hartman while he is on the road, and John Hartman himself.  The chorus of these characters drives home just how abominable Hartman and his crimes are.   

“It was, for all the care, neatness and obvious planning that went into it, still a gruesome sight.  Maybe it was the sheer meticulousness of it all that made it so gruesome.  Somehow the bloodier the murder is, the more understandable it is…It’s these damned malice aforethought things that really get to you.  I believe we’re all capable of crimes of passion, given the right circumstances, but it takes a special kind of human being to commit something as cold-blooded as this.  And to murder your own?  Well, that’s just incomprehensible.”

The novel would merely be a neat party trick if Charles Salzberg weren’t such a master of crime fiction writing.  Salzberg’s prose is so crisp and elegant, and his ear for how people truly speak is unerring.  Each character, no matter how minor nor how brief an appearance, is distinct and original.  John Hartman doesn’t speak until nearly half-way through the book.  Of course the reader wants to know this man, and try to understand how he could meticulously plan and then execute such a heinous crime.  Salzberg manages to make even such a monster deserving of sympathy, or at least worthy of pity.  (The other character who is most compelling is Charlie Floyd, whose hunt for John Hartman consumes his life.)   This novel was an original and exhilarating reading experience, and that comes along all too rarely. Luckily, this reader can now dive into Salzberg’s Henry Swann Detective novels (the latest, SWANN DIVES IN, was published on December 4, 2013).

Monday, November 25, 2013

Film: HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (d. Jodie Foster; 1995)

While I respect Michelle Dean, a talented writer who covers popular culture as "an editor-at-large" at, I disagree with her article assessing the 1995 film Home For The Holidays.  I think that my major bone of contention is that Ms. Dean believes the film has not stood the test of time.  

"I had somehow forgotten, in the intervening years, that the chief point of crisis in this film comes when Cynthia Stevenson makes a long speech about how disgusting it is that her brother married his lover."

This scene is a climactic moment of the film, and also involves an hilarious sight gag handled by Robert Downey, Jr. (as the brother, Leo, who is gay) with a turkey flying into Cynthia Stevenson's lap.  But the scene is an indicator of precisely why the film remains a relevant one.  

Don't we all experience some degree of dysfunction while sitting around a table and sharing a meal with family?  Old sibling rivalries re-emerge, jealousies are rekindled, parents continue to irritate their children, and in-laws feel like outlaws.  Sisters and brothers, no matter how close they once were or still are, will push one another's buttons because they know which buttons to push.  When they get together, they roughhouse a little too hard and act immaturely.  Adult children are annoyed at how their parents continue to behave exactly as they did twenty years ago.  These adult children also are frightened because they see their parents aging, and becoming more vulnerable, and less ominpotent.  

Sadly, the drama of Cynthia Stevenson's characters speech, in which she expresses her complete revulsion for her brother's sexual orientation, still plays out at family holiday dinners today. Eighteen years later, we still do not have same-sex marriage, and thus the same civil rights, for people who are gay. Many adults who are gay still have not come out to their families.  And 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ teens

So, while I continue to hold Ms. Dean in high regard, I stand by my opinion that Jodie Foster's film is germane even nearly two decades later.  Families will continue to fight at holiday dinner tables, and there will always be someone who disapproves of the way another family member leads his or her life.  And, oh my, the performers and their performances still are pertinent and meaningful.

Cast:    Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Geraldine Chaplin, Robert Downey, Jr., Dylan McDermott, Cynthia Stevenson, Steve Guttenberg, David Straithairn, and Claire Danes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Book Review: HELP FOR THE HAUNTED by John Searles

Book Review:  HELP FOR THE HAUNTED by John Searles
William Morrow, September 17, 2013   ISBN:  978-0-06-077963-4 (hardcover)

The great horror master H.P. Lovecraft once said,

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.

John Searles, the author of HELP FOR THE HAUNTED, demonstrates how deftly a great deal of fear can be generated in this unique psychological horror/coming-of-age novel.  He plumbs terrors which may be supernatural, as well as the awful, sometimes shocking horrors which inhabit every family home.  The late 1980’s setting is perfectly constructed.  The crowning achievement is the main character, and narrator of the novel, Sylvie.

Like most teenagers, Sylvie Mason (13) feels that she is an outsider.  She is a quiet, obedient girl who adores her mother and obeys her father.  Sylvie doesn’t have many friends, and spends a lot of time reading and writing.  However, Sylvie happens to be right about being treated as an outcast.  Her parents, Sylvester (50) and Rose (45) are paranormal investigators (Searles surely modeled them after real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren).  Sylvester and Rose are the providers of help for haunted souls.  The gossips in their small town of Dundalk, Maryland do speculate and wonder about what strange horrors the Masons keep in their basement.  Even as their daughter and an occupant of the house, Sylvie wonders what is really going on in her home.

Sylvie’s older sister, also named Rose (18), is wild.  She smokes, she does drugs, she drinks, and she constantly fights with Sylvester.  Rose left home three days ago.  She rings her parents from a payphone in town, and asks her parents to meet her on neutral ground, at their parish church.  Sylvie’s parents do not want to leave her home alone, so the three of them drive in a blizzard to the church.   Sylvie waits in the back seat of the car after first her father, and then her mother, goes into the church to speak with Rose.  She falls asleep, wakes up, and ventures inside as well.  What she discovers changes her life in a permanent, drastic way.  Yet, while events may be unalterable, Sylvie gradually finds her way to helping her own haunted self.

It is easy to lose oneself in Mr. Searles story. He has written a very modern Gothic novel. Sylvie is the traditional virgin maiden who possesses an innocent, delicate nature.  She witnesses and encounters terrible, frightening and mysterious experiences.  While Sylvie begins as a young woman in distress, she does fight her afflictions and does not disappoint.  It was such a great pleasure to spend hours with such a complex and intricate character.  Sylvie and Rose’s relationship contains all the elements of a real sister relationship, at times savage, then tender, and always full of fierce love.  John Searles is a thoughtful novelist whose talent and tremendous empathy enables the reader to fully engage with this fascinating tale.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: THE WIDOW WALTZ by Sally Koslow

Book Review:  THE WIDOW WALTZ by Sally Koslow
Viking Adult, June 13, 2013   ISBN:  978-0-67-002564-0 (hardcover)

Sally Koslow’s fourth novel is an example of really great contemporary women’s fiction.  The Widow Waltz is entertaining, and it has depth.  Koslow’s writing style is deceptively light, and unerringly true, so that the story unfolds effortlessly.   The novel’s plot and themes—family, husbands and wives, widowhood, grief, mothers and daughters, and starting one’s life over--are well-served by this prose style.  The settings—New York City as lived by “the 1%,” and its country equivalent, the Hamptons—are rendered to perfection.  Most importantly, the characters are all multi-dimensional.  Then there’s the bonus of intrigue and mystery.

Georgia Waltz (50) married Ben Silver (53) when she was twenty-one.  Ben was very handsome, and very ambitious.  He became an attorney, and provided Georgia with a lavish Manhattan life style.  They were very much in love, and have enjoyed raising their two daughters.  Georgia and Ben adopted Nicola as an infant from Korea.  As soon as Nicolas arrived, Georgia discovered she was pregnant with Louisa.  While the sisters are only a year apart in age, they are quite different in temperament and personality.  Nicola ("Cola") (24) is “the good daughter,” elegant, responsible and dutiful.  However, she is somewhat directionless, and has shifted from job to job.  Louisa ("Luey') (23), although an excellent student who attends Stanford University, has a mercurial nature, and acts somewhat bratty and immature. 

When Ben drops dead from a heart attack after twenty-nine years of marriage, Georgia is devastated. She grew up in a very wealthy, mainline Philadelphia family.  Her father Martin, now deceased, was a jeweler.  Her brother Stephan, who is somewhat distant and aloof with Georgia, also is a jeweler, with a suite on Fifth Avenue.  Their mother Camille suffers from Alzheimer’s and is in an upscale New Jersey nursing home.  Georgia’s best friend Daniel “Danny” Russianoff runs an art gallery.  He also happens to be her brother Stephan’s life partner. 

Besides dealing with her enormous grief, Georgia learns that Ben has left her nearly penniless.  While the news is devastating, and she wants to find out how this could have possibly happened, Georgia has to deal with reality immediately. She has to downsize, and sell whatever assets she has.  She also needs to truly connect with her two daughters, Nicola and Luey.  Ben’s death, and his financial betrayal, plus other events and discoveries, force all three women to find inner strength, and leave helplessness behind.

Since Koslow has written characters in which the reader quickly becomes emotionally invested, and because the plot has many twists and turns, I definitely would deem The Widow Waltz a page-turner.  However, I savored this novel because I didn’t want to leave this smart, wonderfully executed novel too soon.  I recommend reading this wholeheartedly.  And I hope that someone is clever enough to buy film rights because this would make a terrific movie with great roles for women to play.

Friday, October 11, 2013

What's The Lesson?

Last year was the first International Day of  the Girl Child, after the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 66/170.  .  The UN’s web page states that the Day, which shall be held every October 11th, was created

…to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world.  For its second observance, this year’s Day will focus on “Innovating for Girls’ Education.”

Also today, October 11, 2013, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded.  I was hoping that the award would have gone to Malala Yousafzai, the sixteen-year-old girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan.  The Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamic militia which uses tactics of fear and violence to enforce its very strict interpretation of Sharia law, banned tens of thousands of girls from attending school there in 2009.  Malala has been a women’s rights and education activist since 2009, when she was eleven-years-old.   Malala’s father,  Ziauddin Yousafzai, a human right’s activist, a schoolteacher and founder of an all-girls school, was approached by a BBC Urdu journalist.  The journalist asked Ziauddin if he knew anyone who would be prepared to present their point of view about living under Taliban rule.  In February 2009 Malala  began writing an anonymous blog for BBC Urdu called “Diary of a Pakistani Schoolgirl.”  However, Malala did speak publicly to a Pakistani television presenter when he came to the Swat Valley. 

On September 26, 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban-ki  Moon set forth the United Nations Global Education First Initiative.  Here is the opening of his statement on that occasion. 

Education is a major driving force for human development.  It opens doors to the job market, combats inequality, improves maternal health, reduces child mortality, fosters solidarity, and promotes environmental stewardship.  Education empowers people with the knowledge, skills and values they need to build a better world.

The aims of the initiative are (1) Put every child in school, so that universal primary education is achieved by 2015;  (2) Improve the quality of education, making it more relevant in today's knowledge-based society; and (3) Foster global citizenship.

Education is much more than an entry to the job market.  It has the power to shape a sustainable future and better world.  Education policies should promote peace, mutual respect and environmental care.

On October 9, 2012, Malala was riding the school bus home when Taliban gunmen attempted to assassinate her, shooting her in the neck and head.  She was flown to the United Kingdom for medical care, but was not expected to live.  Against the odds, Malala survived and made a complete recovery.  By July 12, 2013, Malala’s sixteenth birthday, she addressed the United Nations Youth Assembly.

“So here I stand, one girl among many.  I speak—not for myself, but for all girls and boys.  I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this:  weakness, fear and hopelessness died.  Strength, power and courage were born. I am the same Malala.  My hopes are the same.  My dreams are the same…Let us pick up our books and our pens.  They are our most powerful weapons.  One teacher, one book, one pen, can change the world.

If the Nobel Prize committee had awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala, this would have  given the world tremendous momentum for global education.  Instead, the committee awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which is charged

“…with an onerous but noble task—to act as the guardian of the global ban on chemical weapons that took effect in 1997.”

Malala Yousafzai was born in 1997 and, clearly, has used her sixteen years to accomplish extraordinary feats  with her activism and focus on education.  While arms control and disarmament are crucial to peace, global education could help put an end to war.  There’s a lesson in here.  I only wish that the Nobel Peace Prize committee had been able to learn it.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Uncle Died Today, July 8, 2013

He was a son, a brother, a cousin, a friend, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and my Uncle.  He was  the third of my maternal grandparents' five children, although they never spoke of the first child, Agnes, the one who was born, and then died, on January 1, 1932.  My Uncle was their only, their "favorite" son.  They moved into that sturdy brick house in Queens in 1936, the same year he was born.   He moved back into that house in 1989 when he was fifty-three, after his mother had to go into the nursing home.  My Uncle was living in that house until last night, Sunday night, the end of the 4th of July weekend.  As he was driving home the short distance from his life-long best friend's home at around 8:30 pm, my Uncle's car was broad-sided by a car driven by a teenager.  My Uncle was unconscious when the FDNY pried what was left of the car and rescued him from wreck.  He was taken to the ER of a nearby hospital.  His best friend Mac heard about the accident from my eldest Aunt, who resides 67 miles north of Queens.  She had received the call from my Uncle's youngest son, whose home is 207 miles away.  Mac was at the hospital by 10:30 pm.  My Uncle was alive, but he was having trouble breathing, so they moved him to the ICU, sedated him, and put him on a ventilator.  The son, the Aunt, and Mac were with him when he died at 6:30 am.

It's so strange that when someone you loved dies, you're never far enough away to be spared the pain of his loss.  And, even if you are so close to them that you may be holding his hand while his body ceases to function, you are never close enough to pull him back from death.

Ever since my own mother, my Uncle's younger sister, phoned  and told tell me that he is dead, my mind has been going over my memories of him again and again.  They play randomly, not chronologically.  He always was a part of my life as a child.  He made sure he attended every one of my music recitals, my theater productions, and both my high school and college graduations.  We loved one another, and that was a fact.   When you are a child, and you are loved, you believe that love is unalterable. But love can be impermanent when exposed to Life and Loss.  Our family suffered many losses, for which family does not?  Family members, in their grief and the attendant rage to that grief, may lash out, may say words that cannot be rescinded, may act in a ways which cause irreparable harm.  They lose control because, ultimately, in the face of death, we have no control.  We are lost, and so bewildered by death that we are at a loss.

Losses can be borne by the family tree, but this requires that the tree is pruned properly.  That is essential to the structure of the tree.  Fortunately, trees possess a natural defense to pruning cuts and other wounds. Then there are the roots to consider.  What if rot sets in?  Can the tree survive severed roots?  Yes, the tree can survive if the tree if the tree's history was strong, and the previous growing conditions were healthy and sound.

* * * * * *

"Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord; and may perpetual light shine upon him.  May he rest in peace.  Amen."

Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a Anam dílis

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters

Quirk Books July 10, 2012 ISBN 978-1-59474-576-8 (trade paperback)

There is no empirical proof that, after I read THE LAST POLICEMAN in the summer of 2012, I thought, “Ben H. Winters has done something exceptional here!  He’s taken the detective story and blended it with dystopian science fiction to create a new genre!”  Yes, it’s easy for me to write that now, two months after Mr. Winters was presented with the 2013 Edgar Award for “Best Paperback Original” by the Mystery Writers of  America. And, on July 3, 2013, Mr. Winter’ book was nominated for the 2013 Macavity Awards for “Best Mystery Novel” by Mystery Readers International.  So while I may have been prescient about how extraordinarily unique this novel is, I sound like yesterday’s news.  This disruption of time and space is suitable for the review of a metaphysical police procedural.

Detective Henry “Hank” Palace works for the Criminal Investigations Division of the Concord (New Hampshire) Police Department.  He’s been called to the local McDonald's because some guy hanged himself with his belt in the fast-food joint’s bathroom.  The dead guy is Peter Anthony Zell.  Hank had only been a patrolman for sixteen months before he was promoted to detective three months ago.  His instincts tell him this is not a simple case of suicide.  But then, nothing is “simple” any more.  In August of last year Hank was promoted because four of the eight detectives from the squad left after the news hit.  It’s now March 20th, seven months since scientists announced “the date.”

“The date that everybody knows is October 3, six months and eleven days from today, when a 6.5-kilometer-diameter ball of carbon and silicates will collide with Earth...Maia, the massive asteroid formally known as 2011GV1—“

People have processed the news of the end of the world in all different ways.  Some are ticking off items on their bucket lists, some are self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and some are sticking to their own agendas.  And Hank has wanted to be a policeman since he was a boy.  So Hank is going to pursue Zell’s suspicious death.  The first interview is with Zell’s boss, Theodore Gompers, at the insurance agency, Merrimack Life and Fire.  Zell was an actuary, the kind of man who kept to himself, focused on his work.  He was a quiet man, although Zell briefly flipped out on Halloween and took a “leave of absence” for a few weeks before returning to work.  Hank also interviews Gomper’s secretary, a beautiful woman with a shaved head whose name is Naomi Eddes—a beautiful woman whom Hank happened to see around the crime scene early that morning.  Then he makes the notification of death by phone to Zell’s sister Sophia Littlejohn.  The next day he goes to her home, but Sophia is a midwife, and has gone to assist a woman in labor.  Her husband, Erik Littlejohn, speaks with Hank.  Littlejohn is the Director of Spiritual Services at Concord Hospital.  He tells Hank that Peter Zell and Sophia were never close, and they saw Zell only occasionally.  After the official EOT had been revealed on television on January 3rd, Zell has been “in a bad place” and “disturbed” by news of 2011GV1. 

Next Hank meets with the medical examiner, Dr. Alice Fenton, who is unconcerned about a bruise on Zell’s ankle.  When Hank asks if a tox screen will be done on Zell’s blood, Dr. Fenton explains that there are very limited resources with the state forensic lab.  She’s ruling it a suicide.  Hank pockets one of the vials of Zell’s blood before leaving the morgue.  Hank then manages to convince the assistant attorney general, Denny Dotseth, to allow him to pursue a homicide investigation.

Hank’s pursuit of the case is sidelined by his own sister Nico, the only family he has left.  Nico is upset because her husband Derek Skeve, is now “a guest of the military-industrial complex,” a prisoner at the New Hampshire National Guard headquarters. He’s been charged with operating an ATV on the military base.  Derek's idiotic act has cost him his freedom when the most precious commodity is (and it always is) time.  The Zell case leads Hank deep into this wretched new world.  There is more violence, more death, a femme fatale, drugs, secret government operations, and, ultimately, the identity of Zell’s murderer. 

The plot is of THE LAST POLICEMAN is constructed with masterful, adept precision, a striking contrast to the instability of the society which Hank inhabits.  Mr. Winters has created a very believable world on its way out, with failing technology, few resources, and many desperate people with motives. Hank’s durability makes him both a natural patsy at times.  Hank Palace is no hard-boiled Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, although Mr. Winters’ prose easily bears comparison to Hammett and Chandler.  But Hank’s level of integrity and dedication makes him an incredibly good detective and an incredibly compelling hero.   Mr. Winters adroit control of the story and the characters, as well as his virtuoso skill as a storyteller, make the first book in this trilogy an instant classic.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776: A Brief History

On July 4, 1776, two hundred thirty-seven years ago, delegates from the thirteen colonies met in Philadelphia at a convention called The Second Continental Congress.  The Revolutionary War with Britain had begun one year prior on April 19, 1775 when British troops and American colonial partisan militia ("Minutemen") engaged in battle in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord.  The thirteen colonies viewed themselves as independent states, no longer subjects of the British Empire, so the delegates came to draft a formal declaration of independence.   This decision was not made overnight, and there was strong dissension among the thirteen colonies.  

Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense" had been circulating since January 1776, and gave rise to a great deal of public debate about "how declaring independence would affect the war effort" [Wikipedia].  Paine presented a reasonable argument that republicanism was a better form of governance than monarchism (which he deemed barbaric and absurd).  Yet, not all of the colonies were enthusiastic about making a formal declaration of independence.  Five middle colonies were very much in opposition of independence:  New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware.  But then the proponents of independence won the Pennsylvania Assembly vote on the issue on May 1, 1776.   John Adams, attorney, delegate from Massachusetts, and very much an advocate for independence, wrote the preamble (the introduction to the document explaining its intent) on May 15, 1776.  For the next seven weeks, there was much political maneuvering.  Some delegates thought that it was too early to declare independence from Britain, hoping that securing aid from other foreign countries might prevent such a permanent separation.  Other delegates reasoned that procuring foreign aid for the war effort would be impossible unless a formal declaration of independence were made. While these political shifts, against and for independence played out, on June 11, 1776 the Congress appointed a committee of five delegates to draft the declaration of independence:  John Adams, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert R. Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut.  

Originally it was thought that John Adams would write the document, but he insisted that Thomas Jefferson be the author.  Adams definitely was consulted, and offered his opinion, on the wording over the seventeen days they had to complete the document.  The committee presented the document to the Congress on June 28, 1776.  For the next two days, Congress edited and altered the declaration.

On July 1st the delegates from each colony debated and discussed the final draft and the key issue of independence from Britain (this process is called "Committee of the Whole").  While each colony had several delegates, each colony was allowed to cast just one vote. New York abstained because their delegation had not been granted permission to vote for independence.  The Delaware delegates could not reach a consensus.  South Carolina and Pennsylvania voted "Nay," against independence.  Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia all cast votes of "Yay," for independence.  With nine colonies voting for independence, resolution for independence had been adopted by the Committee of the Whole.  Now Congress had to vote on the resolution for independence. 

On July 2nd, New York still lacked authority on how to vote, and so abstained.  Two Pennsylvania delegates, giving the delegates for independence the majority, so Pennsylvania voted "Yay"  The Delaware tie was broken also by the arrival of a delegate who was for independence , and they voted "Yay."  South Carolina reversed its vote to "Yay" -- but only after the "anti-slavery" clause was removed.  The clause is as follows.  "He" refers to King George III of Britain.

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold. he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce; and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people for whom he also obtruded them:  thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

With twelve colonies voting for approval of the Declaration of Independence, and only one in abstention, Congress adopted the resolution.  Congress continued editing the document, and so the Declaration of Independence's wording was adopted, and the document sent to the printer, on July 4, 1776.  The Declaration of Independence was not signed, however, until a ceremony on August 2, 1776.  The American War for Independence was fought for another seven years, until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 1, 1783.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Her Yellow Wallpaper, My Lavender Paint

Today, July 3rd, marks the birthday of Charlotte Perkins Gilman (July 3, 1860 – August 17, 1935). Like many of us of a "certain age," I read her short story "The Yellow Wallpaper" as part of my own personal Women's Studies program in the early 1980's. At age eighteen I had watched my mother suffer a "nervous breakdown" after the death of her father. Mental illness was not a subject one discussed at home, not in my home. The power of denial is tremendous when a family member has a mental illness. You wouldn't want the neighbors to know what is going on behind the curtains. You wouldn't want them to hear the weeping from the upstairs bedroom window.

Miss Perkins Gilman wrote this story a few weeks before she turned thirty in 1890. It's six thousand words, and is written from the first person point-of-view of a woman (whose name might "Jane," though that is not conclusive) who is suffering from, as her physician husband John says, "a temporary nervous depression -- a slight hysterical tendency." The woman writes journal entries which she keeps from her husband because he, like her brother, another physician, does not believe she is sick. John has prescribed phosphates, tonics, air, exercise and absolutely no work for his wife. They are staying in a rented house for three months She spends most of her time in an upstairs bedroom which may once have been a nursery. John has placed bars on the windows. John also has put a gate at the top of the stairs. He has confined this woman because this is how husbands dealt with wives who were "not sick." As the story progresses, the woman descends into psychosis, bit by bit. While her real adversary is her husband, the woman focuses her rage on the yellow wallpaper. The denial about her illness instills life in the wallpaper. Is that a figure of a woman moving behind the wallpaper? The woman imagines that there is a terrible odor coming from the wallpaper, and has pyromaniac impulses. Finally, the woman tears strip after strip of the wallpaper off the wall. Ironically, if her husband John had only admitted that his wife was ill, she would not have descended into madness.

Miss Perkins Gilman definitely writing from what she knew. She married Charles Walter Stetson, an artist, in 1884, and, in 1885, she gave birth to her own only child, Katharine. Miss Perkins Gilman proceeded to have post-partum depression. She left her husband in 1888. She spent her life as a sociologist, as a writer, and, above all, as a feminist. Miss Perkins Gilman knew how damaging to women it was to lack freedom and liberty, to not have any real control over their lives.

I do not think she meant for her story to be purely symbolic, i.e. that a lack of autonomy could drive women mad. Men long have had the power to decide whether or not their wives are mentally ill, and to use that judgment to imprison their wives. I know that she suffered from severe depression, not because history tells us that she did. I know because I was misdiagnosed with a mental illness I did not have by a man, a psychiatrist. I know I have been battling depression for over twenty years. I know because there have been too many times when I have stared at the lavender paint on the walls of my bedroom and wondered how I came to be imprisoned in this room.  Thank goodness, I am well now, and, with my health, I am free to tell everyone just how sick I was.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review: HOME AGAIN IN PARIS: OSCAR, LEO AND ME by Matthew Fraser

MWF Books, June 12, 2013 ASIN:  B00DC7DZHI (Digital Book)

The word “home” does not simply mean the physical structure in which one lives.  “Home” represents happiness, family, love, emotional security, and familiarity.   When all of these are taken away, yet a person possesses a strong foundation, resilience and hope, a person’s life can be rebuilt.  Matthew Fraser is one such person. 

Mr. Fraser is an exceedingly well-educated man, with degrees from universities in Canada, Britain, and France.  In 1985 he went to Paris to earn his doctorate in political science at The Institut d'études politiques de Paris, known colloquially as “Sciences Po.”  He spent the next six years there.  Most of us who have had the opportunity to be a student fondly recall that period of our life, and Mr. Fraser is no exception.  That time becomes intrinsically wrapped up in our memories with a sense of place, popular culture, and friends. Mr. Fraser, a British-Canadian, returned to Toronto and became a newspaper journalist.  He met Rebecca Gotlieb, an attorney, at a dinner party in the mid-1990s.  They fell in love, married, and shared a life together.  Mr. Fraser and Miss Gotlieb were raising her son David, from her first marriage, and had another member of their family:  Oscar, a Bichon Frisé.  Tragically, in January 2003 Miss Gotlieb fell ill, was diagnosed with vascular cancer, and died within a fortnight.  David, then age ten, went to London to live with his father.  Mr. Fraser was so bereaved that he decided Oscar needed a companion, and he adopted a second Bichon who he named Leo.  His career as a journalist and co-host of a weekly television news show had changed as well.  With nothing left for him in Toronto, in 2006 Mr. Fraser accepted a part-time position as a research fellow in Fontainebleau, France just thirty-five miles south of Paris.  And Paris was an old friend.  He brought his two best friends, Oscar and Leo, with him.  By far, the most satisfying aspect of this memoir is Mr. Fraser’s relationship with his two bichons.  His “furry kids” are his link to the world, the world of nature, the world of people, and the world of the living.

After residing for four years in Fontainebleau, and enduring a weekly commute to lecture at the American University in Paris, as well as at Sciences Po, Mr. Fraser locates a flat (apartment) for rent.  And what a flat!  The building is an Art Deco classic.  Best of all, it is in in the 7th arrondisement on Quai d’Orsay, which will allow Mr. Fraser to take Oscar and Leo on many great walks.  The fashion designer Valentino occupies the top floor.  While Mr. Fraser does not have an enormous financial capital, his “social capital” as a lecturer at Sciences Po carries more sway with the agent and the landlady.  So Matthew, Oscar, and Leo become residents of “Poodleland.”

“An uncharitable reference to these upper-crust Parisian precincts where rich ladies can be seen primly walking their well-coiffured little dogs down the wide and prosperous boulevards.”
Mr. Fraser manages to inject every one of the ten chapters of his memoir with exquisite details of French life.  This memoir is very exciting and enjoyable on an intellectual level.  Mr. Fraser’s prose is both smart and pleasing.  Each walk with Oscar and Leo is an opportunity for Mr. Fraser to acquaint the reader with aspects of French history, as well as a chance to reveal more personal encounters with very distinctive personalities in Paris and Fontainebleau.  For example, he goes on a tour of The Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques, a pet cemetery founded in 1899.  It is the final resting place of some 40,000 animals, including the canine film star Rin Tin Tin.  Mr. Fraser contrasts this monument to how much the French cherish their pets with a barbaric annual French custom.  French families typically will get a puppy for the children at Christmas.  Then, when summer arrives, so that nothing interferes with the all-important one-month summer “vacance” (vacation), these same families will leave 60,000 pet dogs on the side of the road.  Mr. Fraser is most adept at depicting the many paradoxes which lie at the basis of French life. 

“France may be a society that has long valued public order; yet the French people are rebels driven by a constant impulse to defy, protest, and revolt.  Civil disobedience is a national sport in France.  I call this French national character moral chaos.  It is deeply embedded in the French psyche.  The petty criminal and respectable bourgeois are united in their inclination to disobedience in even the most banal situations – from turnstile jumping in the Metro to cheating on tax returns.”

The reader cannot help but root for Mr. Fraser.  He is a charming, gracious man who is unafraid to reveal his humanity, in how he acted and reacted to several dramatic, devastating events.  He is not destroyed because he has reconstructed his home.  It was a pleasure to be a guest in that home.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Book Review: THE BLING RING: How A Gang of Fame-Obsessed Teens Ripped Off Hollywood And Shocked The World by Nancy Jo Sales

It Books, May 14, 2013 ISBN 978-0-06-224553-3 (Trade Paperback)

In her first book, seasoned journalist Nancy Jo Sales pulls off quite a hat trick.  She simultaneously keeps the reader fascinated, entertained and engrossed. Certainly, this story has all the right elements for a good true crime book—youth, beauty, Hollywood, celebrity, wealth and, of course, crime.   “The Bling Ring” (or “TBR”) refers to seven people:  Rachel Lee, Nick Prugo, Alexis Neiers, Diana Tamayo, Courtney Ames, Johnny Ajar, and Roy Lopez, Jr.,

“…a band of teenaged thieves that had been caught burglarizing the homes of Young Hollywood.  Between October 2008 and August 2009, the bandits had allegedly stolen close to $3 million in clothes, cash, jewelry, handbags, luggage, and art from a number of young celebrities…The Bling Ring kids were from Calabasas, a ritzy suburb about thirty minutes from L.A., and that’s why I headed there.  There’d never been a successful burglary ring in Hollywood before, and somehow it made sense that it would be a bunch of Valley kids.  I wasn’t sure why it did, but I thought if I went to Calabasas I might find out.”

Miss Sales originally wrote about the Bling Ring kids in her March 2010 Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins.”  She is an East Coast journalist who often writes about yet maintains her objective distance from “the celebrity industrial complex.”  Filmmaker Sofia Coppola optioned Sales’s story, and her film adaptation opens tomorrow, June 14, 2013.  I have no doubt many audience members, both teens and adults, will want to see the film because they wish to see beautiful actors wearing gorgeous clothes getting into all sorts of mischief.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  These were good-looking, fashion-savvy kids who, in the words of one young woman’s attorney, went on a sort of “shopping spree.” But this IS a true crime story which Miss Sales delivers without irony.  The interviews and exchanges with the Bling Ring kids proves, yet again, that truth is stranger than fiction.  TBR carried out their burglaries by being equally naïve and extremely devious.  They had detailed surveillance on their targets with the tools of their generation:  Google Earth, Twitter, and TMZ.   TBR robbed the residences of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, Rachel Bilson, Brian Austin Green, and Audrina Partridge.  Sales interviewed the Bling Ring kids, and has captured each one’s narcissism and “wannabe” sense of entitlement from growing up near the rich and famous.   Parts of the evidence against TBR were photos they posted of themselves wearing stolen items on their own Facebook pages.  These “celebrities” are, in fact, actual human beings who became victims of terribly invasive crimes.  And these “kids” are, in fact, actually criminals.

Nancy Jo Sales writes with stylish, crisp and keenly intelligent prose.  There’s a sassy turn of phrase here, a nod to Raymond Chandler there.  I particularly like Miss Sales’s L.A. cop connection “Vince.”  Smart investigator that he is, he knows why TBR did what they did.  They did it for the money!   She employs  history, economics, politics, sociology, and psychology while deftly moving the story along.   Her examination of what compelled and allowed these “girls and boys” to commit these crimes is provocative and profound.  This book would not have been half so pleasurable without Miss Sales’s dissection and analysis of how and why our 21st century society has become so obsessed with celebrity, wealth and fame.  THE BLING RING by Nancy Jo Sales is the thinking person’s summer read.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day: Myths, Martyrs and Massacres

When I was eight-years-old, on Valentine's Day 1971, my father brought home gold heart-shaped pins with rubies and diamonds across the front like a sash across Cupid for my sister and me.  Of course, the jewelry was costume, the gold was paint, and the gems were red and white glass.  However, because the gift was from the most important man in my life, I only saw, and still see, the love which this personal treasure represents.  

By and large, alas, Valentine's Day usually is a personally disappointing holiday.  I'm single and, while I know it's hard for some people to grasp, that is by choice.  Why?  I received quite a few marriage proposals when I was young.  My last and most serious one occurred ten years ago when I was forty-one.  However, I never received a proposal from a man who was right for me.  I'm very sentimental, yet, because I do not have a partner with whom I spend my life and adore, I don't glamorize Valentine's Day.

I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and was fascinated by the Church's Calendar of Saints.  Perhaps because I always have had a predilection for the dark and the horrifying, I especially enjoyed tales of the Martyrs, those saints who submitted to all types of grotesque tortures and macabre deaths rather than renounce their faith.  There were a baker's dozen of saints named Valentine, and all of them met with horrible fates.    When we commemorate St. Valentine's Day, we are remembering not one but two Valentines who were buried on the Via Flaminia, a road in the north of Rome. As with many Christian holidays, St. Valentine's Day may have been created in order to incorporate the pagan holiday of Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival in honor of Lupercus, god of fertility and husbandry, as well as crops and wolves.  In the most specific sense, as a saint's day, St. Valentine's Day is yet another disappointment.

As a movie and television buff, I cannot even count how many depictions of The St. Valentine's Day Massacre I have seen.  On Valentine's Day in 1929, Al Capone's gang used machine guns to mow down seven members of Bugs Moran's gang in the constant war for criminal control of Chicago.  This certainly was not in any way, shape or form about love.  I think my favorite version of this incident is in the film "Some Like It Hot," a film in which two men portray women and, so, another dissemblance.   In this screwball comedy, two musicians Joe (played by Tony Curtis) and Jerry (the divine Jack Lemmon) witness the massacre and, in fear for their lives, dress up as women to join an all-girl band.  The plan goes well until Joe meets Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe at her finest).  Joe has to decide whether his love for Sugar is worth endangering his life by "coming out" as a straight man.  What is so adorable is how Jerry embraces his new role as a woman, to the point that he allows the millionaire Osgood (the inestimable Joe E. Brown) to woo him.

I guess when it comes to St. Valentine's Day, it's best to remember the last line of this film:  "Well, nobody's perfect."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Next Big Thing

Just before I turned the big 5-0 (fifty--which you very well know!),  I was delighted and honored to receive an invitation from my friend BeverlyWillett to join an online feature called The Next Big Thing.  Some people call it a "blog chain, and some folks call it a "blog hop."  Whatever you wish to call it, it's pretty damned exciting for a blogger/writer like me! Once "tapped" by Beverly, I shall respond to ten (10) questions which all the previous participants have answered.  Now, I'm over the moon about this opportunity, but before I field these questions, I would like to introduce you to Beverly.  (I may be biased, but she's rather an incredible writer and woman!)

Beverly Willett is a freelance writer and attorney.  She is a founding member and Co-Chair of the Coalition for Divorce Reforma volunteer, non-partisan organization dedicated to supporting efforts to reduce unnecessary divorce and promote healthy marriages.   Beverly has written and continues to write for national newspapers, magazines, and online reporting and opinion sites, including The New York Times, TheHuffington PostThe Daily, Woman’s Day, Family Circle, Prevention, and Parenting.  Beverly is now at work on her first book.   

Now here are the questions, but I'm going to start with Question 5 for the sake of--as my mother would say--keeping this "quick, easy, no fuss."

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In 1994, at age turning thirty-one, I was misdiagnosed by one psychiatrist with Bipolar II Disorder, and spent fourteen years of my life living as a person with a serious mental illness, suffering terrible mistreatment by the medical establishment, Big Pharma, and the legal system, until 2008, at age forty-five, when I met a young psychiatrist who correctly diagnosed and began treating me for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

What is the working title of your book?
I call it Disorderly Conduct.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
There is no guidebook for how to conduct oneself when you have a mental illness.  So I really had to wing it.  Also, I was arrested on false charges, and was charged with--but not convicted of--disorderly conduct.

What genre does your book fall under?
 It certainly is a memoir, but I hope that my book has the far-reaching effects of a political and social science nonfiction book.  I intend to tell readers that people with mental illness in the United States are still not receiving proper diagnoses, nor do they get competent medical care, either for their mental illness or for physical illnesses and diseases which are brought on by the terrible side effects of their medications.  They--and I mean "we"-rarely are the recipients of fair administration by law enforcement and the courts.  We are stigmatized, socially isolated, ridiculed, feared and despised.   

Which actors would you choose to play you in a movie rendition?
 I certainly know I do not resemble her in any physical way, but I would choose Angelina Jolie.  "You must be crazy!"  No, seriously, I think she possesses the intelligence, sensitivity and strength of character which I needed in order to survive my experience.  Also, she already has played characters who were locked in psychiatric facilities.  She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2000 for her portrayal of Lisa Rowe in the film adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's memoir Girl Interrupted.  In 2008 she was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Christine Collins in Clint Eastwood's film Changeling.  Miss Jolie understands and conveys serious emotional and psychic distress as an actor.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
 Since I worked in the literary department of ICM from 1987 to 1988, and then for Georges and Anne Borchardt from 1988 until 1990, I know that there are many advantages to being represented by a literary agent.  I do not knock writers who self-publish, but I prefer the "old-fashioned" method.  Luckily, I already have several agents who have expressed interest.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Once I started what I refer to as "recovery" nearly five years ago, I was too traumatized to write anything.   Then, in 2010, I realized that the clarity of my mind had returned.  I was letting go of "what might have been" if I had not been misdiagnosed, and all the rage I had from trauma upon trauma upon trauma.  By the end of 2011, I had completed my first draft.  Then, in 2012, because my mind and my heart opened up even more, and wrote another, different draft.  I hope to have the final manuscript completed by this summer.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
While I could point out numerous well-written, well-received memoirs by and about people who have mental illness, I have enough of a background in the commerce of books to know that my story is very unique.  My psychiatrist told me I was a "one-in-a-million" because I knew that I had been misdiagnosed.  There were more traumatic events and horrors in store for me before I met my doctor, but, even at my lowest points, I knew that I did not have Bipolar II Disorder.  And I do not judge people who do!  I do have PTSD, and that's not exactly a cakewalk.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I never cease to be amazed by the resilience of the human spirit.  I have met and know many people throughout the years who inspire me by living with mental illness every single day.  I want to be able to speak for those who are trapped and entangled in their illness that they are unable to raise their own voice.
Also, I have dreamed about being a writer since I was a young girl.  I am so lucky to personally know quite a few wonderful writers, and some, like me, didn't begin to write full time nor were they published until after they turned forty.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?
 My memoir has a lot of humor in it.  Family and friends tend to remember me for my quick wit.    I have long used comicality as a tension breaker.   My late mentor Raymond Bongiovanni used to write in "hijinks ensue" to save on detailed explication of events in manuscripts.   When my own personal hijinks ensue, I manage to see the absurdity and the comedy in situations which can be fraught with horror or peril.  The glass of water may be being thrown at me, but I choose to see it as a full glass!

Now it is my great pleasure to pass the torch to five of my favorite writers.  Here they are (in alphabetical order):

Adrienne Crezo is an editor and freelance writer. Her work appears regularly on, The Atlantic,, and in Optimum Wellness Magazine and various other web and print publications. She spends her days drinking too much coffee, talking to her too-smart 7-year-old, and tackling whatever interesting work comes her way. You can find Adrienne on Facebook, Twitter, or her poorly-maintained website.

Danielle E. Curtis has both MA and MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University.  She writes fiction and creative nonfiction, and has completed her first novel, Come High Water.  Her comedic short story, "Lilac Blossoms:  A Dead Squirrel Story" appears in the November/December  2012 issue of Split Lip Magazine.  Danielle grew up in northeastern New York near the Adirondack Mountains, which serve as her novel's settings.  She now lives in New York City and is a publishing marketing professional   As @DaniWritesWords on Twitter, she frequently contemplates life, literature, baked goods, and bad jokes.

Kaylie Jones is the author of five novels: A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, Speak Now, Celeste Ascending, As Soon As It Rains, and Quite The Other Way (see her author page on Her novels have been translated into many languages, including French, German, Polish, Turkish, and Japanese.  Jones chairs the James Jones First Novel Fellowship, which awards $10,000 annually to an unpublished first novel. During the past 15 years, 12 of the winners have been published to impressive critical acclaim.  A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, based on Jones's experiences growing up as the daughter of celebrated novelist James Jones (From Here To Eternity, The Thin Red Line, Whistle), was made into a Merchant-Ivory film starring Kris Kristofferson, Leelee Sobieski, Jesse Bradford, Anthony Roth Costanzo, Barbara Hershey, and Isaac de Bankole.
Kaylie is a graduate of Wesleyan University. She received her MFA from Columbia University and studied Russian at The Harriman Institute at Columbia University and the Pushkin Institute for Russian Studies in Moscow.  Ms. Jones helped found the MFA Program in Writing at Long Island University's Southampton campus and the MFA Program in Writing at Wilkes University. She currently teaches memoir, literature and fiction writing at both universities.  In 2011, she was instrumental in publishing an uncensored edition of James Jones' From Here to Eternity.  Jones currently teaches in the MFA Writing and Literature program at Stony Brook Southampton and at the Wilkes University MFA program in professional writing.  Born and raised in Paris, Jones lives in New York with her daughter, and a mixed-breed mutt named Natalie.  You can find her on her website , and on Twitter.

Nina reads hundreds of books and reviews them on her website, Readallday.   She also is on 
Twitter.  Her 2010 book,  Tolstoy and The Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading published by HarperCollins, tells the story of her lifetime of reading, and of one magical year when she read a book a day to rediscover how to live after the death of her oldest sister. Through the connections Nina made with books and authors (and even other readers), her life changed profoundly, and in unexpected ways.  Sankovitch is now writing a book about letters, both the writing and the reading of them, to be published by Simon & Schuster in November 2013.

Jacqueline Sheehan, Ph.D., is a New York Times bestselling author of fiction.   She also is a psychologist.  Her novels include, The Comet's Tale, a novel about Sojourner Truth, Lost & FoundNow & Then, and Picture This (Amazon's Jacqueline Sheehan Page).
She has published travel articles, short stories, and numerous essays and radio pieces.  In 2005, she edited the anthology, Women Writing in Prison.  Jacqueline has been awarded residencies at Hawthornden Castle in Scotland and Jentel Arts Colony in Wyoming.  She teaches workshops at Grub Street in Boston and Writers in Progress in Florence, Massachusetts.  She has offered international writing retreats in Jamaica, Guatemala, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.  You can find her on her website , and on Twitter.