Sunday, November 9, 2014

Personal Essay: Saving Myself - Part I

The only comprehensive study of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan was published in the New England Journal of Medicine by Dr. Charles Hoge in 2004.  This study suggested that those who served in the Iraq War had an “estimated risk” for PTSD of 18%, and those who served in the Afghanistan “mission” had an estimated risk of PTSD of 11%.  Ten years later, those percentages officially have not changed, because, I believe, there hasn’t been a comprehensive study since Hoge’s.

My late father served in the Korean “Conflict,” and was hit with shrapnel in his left lower leg on his twentieth birthday in August 1951. His own insistence and the MASH unit’s vein graft bank prevented the surgeons from amputating his leg. Daddy spent two years recovering in VA hospitals.  When he finally returned home to Queens, NY, he took advantage of the thirty-six months of education covered by the revised GI Bill of 1952.  Unlike veterans of World War II, the veterans of the Korean War were not given the full forty-eight months of education benefits. According to his younger brother, my Uncle Jimmy, my father worked a full-time job, went to class, studied, and had a very active social life.  What little sleep he grabbed was restless.  He would scream from nightmares.  My father had PTSD.  I’m quite sure that his likelihood of developing PTSD greatly increased by his difficult childhood with an abusive father and extreme poverty during The Great Depression.

As his only genetically-related child, my own likelihood of developing PTSD was in place.  The other factors which contributed to my own PTSD were:
  1. The rape and attempted murder I survived in 1991, five weeks after
  2. My father's death
  3. Having other close relatives who had mental illness
  4. My age [I was twenty-eight in 1991], and 
  5. My gender, because trauma is common in the lives of women.  
"Findings from a large national mental health study show that a little more than half of all women will experience at least one traumatic event in their life…The most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse.  About one in three women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime.  Rates of sexual assault are higher for women than men." (Women, Trauma and PTSD|National Center for PTSD)

My father managed his PTSD by being a workaholic and an alcoholic.  At the time of my initial trauma, I already was working eighteen-hour days, and drinking heavily.  Many people who suffer from trauma self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.  Yet, my father never sought counseling for his PTSD or his drinking.  But I am a member of the Baby Boomer generation.  We care about our health a great deal.   "Unlike the previous generation Baby Boomers are more likely to seek behavior health care services."

I began seeing a therapist in 1988 while grappling with being the adult child of an alcoholic.  After the traumas of 1991, I needed to take a break.  I told people I would rather experience my grief than analyze it.  Then in June 1992 I saw a new therapist.  While we discussed my father's death, my grief, and my stressful work life at great length, I never told my therapist about my rape.  By the end of 1993, my therapist told me that he believed I was suffering from clinical depression.  Therapy alone would not heal me, so my therapist referred me to a psychiatrist so that I would be given medication to treat my depression. I trusted my therapist, and I agreed.  I was tired from suffering in the darkness.  If only I had known that by putting myself in the care of this particular psychiatrist I would be exposing myself to more menace, chaos, and danger than I ever could have imagined.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Personal Essay: Reading The World With My Mother

Travel has always been a passion for me.  When I was a small girl growing up in Queens, New York, my father would come home from work on a hot summer evening and drive our family (then consisting of him, my mother and me) out to Jones Beach.  I hold tight to my memories of those sandy, salty sunsets, remembering what was like to be small enough to be swung up in the air by the arm of each parent on either side of my body.

My mother passed along her love of books and literature to me, and she made sure I had every opportunity to read.  One particularly hot day in the summer of 1965, she and I walked nearly one mile from our white brick house to the Bayside Public Library. She allowed me to choose my own books. The first one I chose to check out was Curious George.  The fact that this monkey had traveled all the way to New York City to live in the zoo was incredible to me.  I had recently made my first visit to The Central Park Zoo for the 4th of July with my parents and Grandpa.  And my Grandpa's name was George!  I didn't recall seeing this monkey, but I knew that the word "curious" had been applied to me in many adult conversations.

Mommy nurtured my inquisitive nature, and my imagination, and bought me a book every time she could save enough from the household money.  When we moved to Munsey Park when I was nine, I would come home at lunch and regale her with the prizes I discovered in our elementary school library.  My favorite books were the large D'Aulaires Book of Greek Mythology and of Norse Mythology.  When I was thirteen in the summer of 1976, I rode my bicycle down to the Manhasset Public Library in order to procure as many Barbara Cartland Regency romances as my basket could carry.  In 1978 I came down with mononucleosis.  My mother went to the library for me and brought home the complete works of James Michener and John Steinbeck.  They each wrote about places far away, and I was able to escape my sick room by envisioning myself in Hawaii or California.  (Years later, my mother told me that she had read Michener's Hawaii while in the hospital for ten days just a month before I was born.)

Both my parents supported me financially and wholeheartedly to get my college degree, and were very proud that I got in at Wesleyan University.  When I chose English as my major, my mother was delighted.  On breaks I would tell her about all of the great books I was required to read.  Mommy always had loved the big novels of the 19th century, particularly Anna Karenina.

While I was in college in the early eighties, many of my friends took a semester abroad.  My father was highly protective, and could not bear the thought of his daughter being so far away.  After working for two years after college, however, I quit my job and spent the summer of 1986 in Western Europe.  My mother sent me letters care of the American Express offices in each city.  One of her first letters said,

"Each day must be like a present you open up, revealing new sights, sounds, and tastes, meeting all kinds of people."

She was right.  After my father died in 1991, my mother started to travel too.  She went away to several European cities with her girlfriends, and even got to see Morocco.  She and I took a few great trips together to Ireland, where her mother, my Grandma, was born.  While we are blessed with very loving, hospitable cousins, I believe our favorite visit included a side sojourn on the train from Dublin to Galway City.  We set out in the streets at dusk to find Lynch's Castle, and doubled over with laughter upon the discovery that our family stronghold had been turned into a bank.

As we moved into the new Millennium, and globalization continued, travel, ironically, became more and more of an unpleasant experience.  My last great holiday abroad with my mother was in March 2002.  We booked a tour of Naples, Sorrento, Rome, and Florence.  Besides 9/11, Grandma had died in October 2001, and I suffered a terrible back accident (which eventually required five spinal surgeries) in November.  My enthusiasm and exhilaration about returning to Italy after sixteen years served as a panacea to my two broken vertebrae.  I hobbled on cobblestone streets and the ruins of Pompeii with a cane. We had an absolutely perfect afternoon shopping the Via Condotti in Rome as I pursued, and purchased, a Salvatore Ferragamo red wallet.  After this fantastic leather acquisition, Mommy and I had perfect tiramisu in the Piazza Navona.  Before we got to our final destination in Italy, Florence, I took a tumble in a Roman trattoria, causing further injury to my back.

Once in Florence, my pain forced me to take to the bed in our hotel room.  I was  concerned about my mother due to my assumption that she, an "older" woman of sixty-three might not be as "worldwise" as me.  My mother rose to the challenge and stunned me.  Her first errand was to find an English language edition a book to keep my mind occupied, and she obtained a paperback of  Bag of Bones by Stephen King.  Then she found the best gelato place in Florence, and it happened to be located but a short distance from our hotel.  This conquest made her braver, and she kept spanning out further and further.  Within three days she had found a top-rate fine jeweler.  She returned to our room with small black velvet bags containing gold jewelry which she, always putting others first, had bought for herself!  My mother insisted on taking me to the establishment, and I watched in stunned silence as she bargained for a platinum and diamond bracelet.

Later this month, nearly thirteen years later, at her request, Mommy and I return to Florence to celebrate her seventy-sixth birthday.  (I shall be fifty-two in December.)  While I do not expect that the capital of the Renaissance will have changed greatly, I have had to recognize that she and I have. I'm preparing carry-on bags for each of us which contain a lot of over-the-counter medications for our various aches and pains. Aging affects us both.  We cannot turn the clocks back and become younger versions of ourselves.  I've also procured several books for Mommy, and loaded up my ebook reader. While we may not return to the past, we can continue to explore our present and dream of the future. This opportunity to share La Dolce Vita with my mother is more valuable to me than all the jewelry in Florence.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Author Q&A: 9 Questions for Michael Marshall Smith, Author of THE INTRUDERS

When I learned that the new BBC-America hit television series INTRUDERS was adapted from a novel by Michael Marshall Smith, I felt compelled to read his book. THE INTRUDERS was my introduction to this exceptional author. When I did some research about him, I was surprised to learn that he has long been lauded (and awarded) for his work as a science fiction and fantasy writer. Then I discovered that he also wrote crime fiction. I'm currently reading STRAW MEN, the first in his thriller trilogy. Michael was kind enough to do this Q&A. My aim with the questions was NOT to disclose any key plot points of either the book or the television series while exploring setting, themes, and background research.

(1) Your first novel ONLY FORWARD, initially published by HarperCollins UK in 1994, was awarded the Philip K. Dick Award in 2000 for best original science fiction paperback published in the United States.   The award is given out every year at Norwescon, the science fiction and fantasy convention located in Sea Tac, Washington, a suburb of Seattle.  Seattle appears not to be just a setting, but a character in the novel.  What was it about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest which made you choose it as the location of THE INTRUDERS?

I’m glad you felt that —  it’s something I try to do with all my novels. A sense of place is critically important to any story, and the flavour and atmosphere of either a city or tiny town can contribute a huge amount to the tone, to the point where yes, the location becomes a character in its own right, shaping the narrative, speaking quietly in the background: Frank Lloyd Wright said a house should be “of the hill, not on the hill”, and I think the same is true of story and location.

I haven’t been back there in a while, but there was a period when I seemed to be passing through Seattle and the Pacific Northwest every year or so (including for that NorWesCon where I was delighted to receive the PKD Award), and I loved the area. The Cascades and the Olympic Forest are amazing, and that bleak, silent coast line… and I’d happily live in Seattle, too: it has an extremely distinctive atmosphere, great bookstores and food and coffee, some unusually interesting history and geography (sandwiched between mountains and that frigid bay)… and more than a hint of the strange.

I’d already used the Cascade Mountains as a locale in an earlier novel, THE LONELY DEAD (published as THE UPRIGHT MAN in the US, for reasons I’ll never quite understand), and Seattle simply seemed like the right choice for THE INTRUDERS. The story was initially going to be tied even more intimately to Seattle's past, in fact, but some of that material didn’t make it to the final draft. I was aware however that I didn’t know the place well enough before I started writing, and so - in a rare moment of professionalism - took myself there for a week. I spent eight hours a day walking the streets alone for hour after hour, pausing only for coffee and book stores, and the evenings in a variety of bars drinking local ambers and reading local history. It’s the best way to get to know a town quickly, I think, and I did the same for NYC when I was preparing to write must last novel, WE ARE HERE... 
(2) While you have a tremendous fan base with science fiction and fantasy fans, I believe that THE INTRUDERS definitely places you in the pantheon of crime fiction.  In fact, on your author website you refer to THE INTRUDERS as “a compelling thriller about human nature.”  While I wouldn’t want to spoil the plot for any of your readers (or fans of the television series), the novel begins with two murders, and three missing persons.  You certainly have the mastery over all the elements of a thriller.  When the International Thriller Writers was formed in 2005, their mission was to “educate readers about thrillers.”  David Morrell gave a definition of "thriller" in this excerpt from Crimespree Magazine:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: MY NOTORIOUS LIFE by Kate Manning

Book Review:  MY NOTORIOUS LIFE by Kate Manning
Scribner Books, September 10, 2013  ISBN:  978-1-451698077 (Kindle edition)
Scribner Books, August 15, 2014 (trade paperback edition)

This is a masterful piece of historical fiction in which Manning examines the life of Axie Muldoon, the daughter of Irish immigrants who resides in the slums of lower Manhattan in the mid-19th Century.  After her widowed mother suffers a terrible accident, Axie does what she can to keep the rest of her family  (her younger sister and baby brother) intact, but, as a child herself, she is unable to do so.  Her mother returns from the hospital, and Axie finds a few months of happiness in their squalid tenement with her.  Yet, a few months later, tragedy strikes again, and Axie ends up as a maid servant in the household of a married couple who help women through giving birth, as well as with the prevention and early terminations of pregnancies.

Axie soon becomes apprenticed to the wife, and learns how to become an excellent midwife, determined not to allow her women patients suffer from the horrors of unwanted pregnancies, bad childbirth and postpartum complications.  She grows up to be a fine, strong, and very wealthy woman with a sexy, headstrong husband.  When Axie becomes a mother,  her career choice constantly puts her in danger of losing her own family since her profession is considered immoral and illegal.

Kate Manning captures the courage of Axie Muldoon while, with equal valor, she tackles the issue of women's reproductive rights, an issue which is still as topical, political and controversial as it was one-hundred-fifty years ago.  The exploration of themes of family, poverty, and choice are very relevant, and heartwrenching.  Manning's rendition of this particular place and time is sumptuous in style and in detail. Her ear for dialogue is superb.  She sustains the dramatic action and tension from the first page to the last.  MY NOTORIOUS LIFE is an exceptional novel with an inimitable heroine, and recommended as a summer read for people who are smart and informed and love great fiction.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blog Tour For A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE PECULIAR by Nick Belardes - My Connection To Odd History, Large and Personal

Today, I am honored to be part of Nick Belardes's freaky blog tour.  Nick's book A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE PECULIAR was published recently by Viva Editions. As a student of history, I found this book to be a splendid chronicle of engrossing, unconventional and riveting information. The foreword by bestselling author Caroline Leavitt emphasizes Nick's compelling gift and voice. His unique view of history is irresistible. The book is divided into eight chapters:


My preoccupation with history, especially strange history, began when I was six years old.  There were two main reasons.  First, I loved looking up at the night sky, and took the story of "the man in the moon" literally. When my parents woke me up to view the Apollo 11 Moon Landing on July 20, 1969, I believed that it all had been set up  for me personally to watch.  Second, I got my hands on a copy of the book RIPLEY'S 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION.  "Ripley" was Robert Ripley, a cartoonist and an entrepreneur whose "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" cartoon panels began to be syndicated by William Hearst in newspapers in 1925.  These cartoon panels consisted of everything unusual and strange.  Ripley traveled the world and took photographs of the extraordinary and the macabre, which he then turned into these panels. The panel which intrigued but repelled me the most was about grave robbers who procured corpses for medical doctors to dissect.  
My first adult book, at age eight, was my grandfather's copy of the true crime classic In Cold Blood. Nobody wanted to hear about mass murder in Kansas in the schoolyard at St. Robert Bellarmine.  I couldn’t have cared less.  Once I knew that people wrote books about the macabre, I was hooked for life.
By 1990, I was a "book scout" in New York for a Hollywood producer, finding and assessing books to see if they could be adapted to the silver screen.   I had managed to find my way to the intersection where books meet film and television.  I had a great salary, and an expense account.  I went to free screenings and premieres of movies.  There was even some hobnobbing with celebrities.  Then something awful happened to me personally, and this affected my health.  I could no longer work, and I didn't much care what was happening in the world at large.  I was in a deep, dark place, and my cultural interests reflected this. I returned to my preoccupation with the all that was weird, strange and hard to explain.  My favorite television show was The X-Files.  (Granted, part of my passion for the show was the sight of David Duchovny in a Speedo.)  I went to see the film The Sixth Sense three times the week it opened in August 1999 (which, incidentally, coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nixon's resignation).  The film The Blair Witch was a revelation.  I was far too depressed to read much fiction, other than Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  But I could connect to nonfiction about true crime, disease and the paranormal.  I read books about ghosts, hauntings, psychic phenomena, UFO's, alien abductions, past lives, near-death experiences, Roswell, Area 51...and The Mothman.  
The autumn of 2001 was devastating.  9/11.  My beloved Grandma died at the age of ninety-five.  Two of the vertebrae in my lower spine were ruptured due to the negligence of my personal trainer.  I decided I needed to go "home" to Ireland, to see my cousin Mary and her husband Declan.  Grandma had been born there, and I wanted to get away from New York and be where she had felt so connected.  I would be spending the long Thanksgiving weekend there, and I needed books for the long flight.  

At the Barnes & Noble on West 66th Street and Broadway, I went upstairs to my favorite section:  paranormal nonfiction.  As I was holding a mass market paperback copy of Whitley Strieber's Confirmation:  the Hard Evidence of Aliens Among Us?, I noticed a well-dressed older man browsing nearby.  I became so caught up in reading the Strieber book that when he spoke to me, I startled.  He had a very kind face, and a great head of white hair.  He asked me if I had read Communion, Strieber's earlier work about alien encounters.  I told him I had, but that Christopher Walken's over-the-top performance had ruined the film adaptation.  We continued chatting about books on UFO's, and each shared a few personal details.  I told him about my past career working in book publishing, and then film and television.  He told me he was a writer.  For the first time in over ten weeks, I forgot about 9/11.  I relaxed, and enjoyed having a conversation with another New Yorker.  He told me that he also lived on the Upper West Side.  We must have spoken for twenty minutes. He gave me some good book recommendations.  Before he left, I said, "Oh, forgive my manners!  My name is Maura Lynch."  He responded, "It is great to make your acquaintance.  My name is John Keel."
Since John mentioned he was a writer, I went to the help desk to see if they had any titles by John Keel.  I was directed back to the section where I met John.  The name of his book was The Mothman Prophesies. And this all was very strange and very real indeed.
If you read the following sections of Nick's book, you can learn more about The Mothman:

Be sure to follow Nick on Twitter:  @nickbelardes

Follow Caroline Leavitt on Twitter:  @Leavittnovelist

You can follow me on Twitter:       @Loudmouthkid62

Mothman Photo on September 11, 2001

Search For The Mothman (Featuring John Keel)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Personal Essay - Life Intrudes #NaBloPoMo

I am someone who is dependable.  People can rely on me.  By undertaking the challenge of writing one blog post daily every day this month (and there are thirty days in June, in case you forgot), I scheduled everything perfectly.  I'm really good at planning.  But I forgot that old Yiddish proverb:

                                 "Man plans and God laughs."

In my case it was, "Woman plans and dog barfs."  So I am not going to be able to write the review I had scheduled today.  Nor am I going to delve into my psyche to compose a personal essay.  Am I going to I ponder the significance of not being able to meet a self-imposed deadline and timetable?  No. I am going to attend to my dog's sensitive stomach, and take him to the veterinarian.  His health issue means I may not be able to post a blog tomorrow.  

In the scheme of life, my dog means more to me than any social media exposure.  He depends and relies on me, and provides me with the most important content of all: love.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Personal Essay - June Is National PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Month - Veterans

June is National PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) Awareness Month.  The NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) has this information on its website:

What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.
PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm. The person who develops PTSD may have been the one who was harmed, the harm may have happened to a loved one, or the person may have witnessed a harmful event that happened to loved ones or strangers.
PTSD was first brought to public attention in relation to war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as mugging, rape, torture, being kidnapped or held captive, child abuse, car accidents, train wrecks, plane crashes, bombings, or natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

                                                  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

I have PTSD.   I was the victim of a violent crime in 1991 at age twenty-eight. When I sought treatment for depression in 1994,  the psychiatrist misdiagnosed and treated me for bipolar II disorder. I know that I will spend the rest of my life "in recovery" from the traumas which caused and which perpetuated my PTSD.  Yet, I consider myself to be extremely lucky in that I now have an excellent psychiatrist and outstanding therapist who give me continuous support, care and counseling. I have learned quite a lot about PTSD in order to deal with the attendant depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and nightmares I experience.  I have experienced both self-imposed isolation and abandonment by family and friends. While I must expend much of my time and energy fighting my own private battle with PTSD, I face the bitter paradox of being ill and having to combat ignorance and stigma.  I am resilient, and I am strong, but I, like any other person with PTSD, would benefit greatly if more people understood what PTSD is, and voiced their concern 

This month I shall be examining PTSD in several posts.  Today I offer some horrifying statistics about what our returning U.S. veterans are facing.
2.4 million U.S. servicemembers have served in the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) and in the War in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom).  As of  June 2, 2014, 6, 805 have been killed, and nearly 50,000 have been wounded.  Then there are those returning veterans who are suffering with PTSD.  The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD gives the following statistic:
In about 11-20% of Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars (Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom), or in the range of 11-20 Veterans out of 100 who served in OEF/OIF

220,000 is a conservative estimate of how many veterans have PTSD.
The RAND Corporation (the nonprofit global policy think tank formed to offer research and analysis to the United States Armed Forces)  survey in 2008 yielded a much higher statistic:
18.5% of all returning servicemembers meet the criteria for PTSD or depression...14% of returning servicemembers meet the criteria for PTSD...14% of returning servicemembers meet the criteria for depression...
That means that now, in 2014, at least 460,000 veterans are dealing with PTSD, and further reports show that less than half of them seek help.  Even when veterans do seek help, the VA only has stopgap measures in place.  The aforementioned National Center for PTSD run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs "conducts research and provides education on the prevention, understanding,  and treatment of PTSD" but it "does not provide direct clinical care."  

When veterans with PTSD cannot get a proper diagnosis, nor treatment, counseling, and support, another alarming statistic appears.  The Department of Veterans Affairs  issued a "Suicide Data Report" in 2012.  The report examined suicide data of veterans from 1999 to 2010, and revealed that a veteran commits suicide once every sixty-five minutes.  That is 18 suicides a day.  But that number jumped to 22 suicides a day in 2012. Since approximately 31%  of veteran suicides were committed by those under the age of forty-nine, there have been at least 40,000 veteran suicides. Translation:  nearly six times as many veterans die from suicide than they do from combat.

What must be done?  According to Paul Rieckhoff, the Founder and Executive Director of IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), there has to be a huge increase of qualified military mental health professionals. The long-term cost of treating veterans may run as high as $3 trillion. There also must be an increase in the employment of veterans to offset the financial problems which compound stress.  

Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee will be introducing a bill to tackle the extensive problems in the VA health care system to the Committee on Thursday, June 5, 2014.  His proposed bill is called The Restoring Veterans' Trust Act of 2014.

Finally, there must be a marked change in our society's attitude toward all people struggling with mental illness. Stigma keeps veterans from seeking what treatment there is.  It's hard enough to fight PTSD without facing discrimination, shame, harassment, and lack of understanding.  

Sunday, June 1, 2014

BlogHer|June 2014|NaBloPoMo

Thanks to Melissa Ford and BlogHer, I learned about this thirty-day blogging challenge, one which I welcome gratefully!  Every day this month, June 2014, I will be posting.  There will be book reviews, author Q&A's, and personal essays.

This first post is an announcement and a declaration of intent.  I'm excited, and I look forward to reading posts by other participants!

Friday, May 9, 2014

For Mother's Day: Seven Of My Favorite Novels About Motherhood

Mother's Day is on Sunday, May 10, 2014.  Here are seven of my favorite novels from the past few years which feature motherhood as a central theme.

THE FIFTY-FIRST STATE by Lisa Borders (Engine Books, September 23, 2013) Hallie Corson left her name ("Holly") and family behind in Oyster Shell, New Jersey (in South Jersey) during her college days nearly twenty years ago.  She is a photographer in New York who didn't "make it" quite as far as she hoped she would, and she is single. One call from her hometown changes Hallie's life utterly.  Her father and stepmother are killed in a car accident, and her half-brother Josh (seventeen) is in need of a parent. The novel takes place during the course of Josh's senior year of high school, and the reader watches both of these compelling characters grow up and grow together into a family. Borders is a strong storyteller who tackles a story about death, grief, bereavement and new beginnings with such delicacy and beauty.  She has particular strength in writing realistic scenes between characters, and in describing the natural beauty of South Jersey.  This is an unforgettable and rich family saga which continues to reverberate long after the last word.

THE GHOST BRIDE by Yangsze Choo (William Morrow, August 1, 2013)  Set in the Chinese community of 19th-century British colony of  Malay (now known as Malaysia), this debut novel is a spectacular mix of historical fiction, Chinese folklore, romance, adventure, mothers and daughters, and a truly original imagining of the paranormal and of the afterlife.  The main character is Li Lan, a young woman whose entire life has turned out badly because her own mother died when she was a girl.  Her father has allowed grief to consume him, and he spends his time smoking opium.  Her only marriage proposal comes from a wealthy family who wants Li Lan to be the "ghost bride" of their dead eldest son.  Li Lan is one of the strongest women characters in recent memory.  Choo's novel is magical in concept and in her prose style but so thoroughly grounded in its own reality. This is a breathtaking novel to be treasured.

ECHOLOCATION by Myfanwy Collins (Engine Books) My review from May 9, 2012

THE WHIPPING CLUB by Deborah Henry (T.S. Poetry Press) My review from April 3, 2012

NIGHT SWIM by Jessica Keener (Fiction Studio Books) My review from May 15, 2012

THE WIDOW WALTZ by Sally Koslow (Viking Adult) My review from November 18, 2013

MY NOTORIOUS LIFE by Kate Manning (Scribner, September 10, 2013)  This is a masterful piece of historical fiction in which Manning examines the life of Axie Muldoon, the daughter of Irish immigrants who resides in the slums of lower Manhattan in the mid-19th Century.  After her widowed mother suffers a terrible accident, Axie does what she can to keep the rest of her family  (her younger sister and baby brother) intact, but, as a child herself, she is unable to do so.  Her mother returns from the hospital, and Axie finds a few months of happiness in their squalid tenement with her.  Yet, a few months later, tragedy strikes again, and Axie ends up as a maid servant in the household of a married couple who help women through giving birth, as well as with the prevention and early terminations of pregnancies.  Axie soon becomes apprenticed to the wife, and learns how to become an excellent midwife, determined not to allow her women patients suffer from the horrors of unwanted pregnancies, bad childbirth and postpartum complications.  She grows up to be a fine, strong, and very wealthy woman with a sexy, headstrong husband.  When Axie becomes a mother,  her career choice constantly puts her in danger of losing her own family since her profession is considered immoral and illegal.  Manning's rendition of this particular place and time is sumptuous in style and in detail. Her ear for dialogue is superb. She captures the courage of Axie Muldoon while, with equal courage, she tackles the issue of women's reproductive rights, an issue which is still as topical and controversial as it was one-hundred-fifty years ago.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Personal Essay: Growing Up As A Catholic Feminist

When I was thirteen-years-old in the spring of 1976, I faced a sacred rite of passage as a Roman Catholic girl.  I was about to make my Confirmation.  I spent the year prior studying and preparing to become an adult in my faith, and I took this very seriously.  Maybe even a little too seriously, since I was supposed to take this on faith.  I had anxiety about my Confirmation because I took exception to quite a few of The Church's practices and its theology. The priests kept telling me and my female peers that we could grow up and become a wife and mother or a nun.  The former meant Old School, Ephesians 5:22-24:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Submit!?  You have GOT to be joking! I was born just before the second-wave of feminism hit the United States.  My parents did their best to ensure that my innocence was intact, so I didn't actually know what sex was, let alone what women's reproductive rights were.  All I had been told by religious instructors about abortion was that it involved the murder of babies.  (It seemed to me if babies actually were being murdered then people outside the Catholic Church would be just as worked up as we were.)   I was a girl who had used her allowance to buy a subscription to Ms. Magazine in sixth grade.   My dreams involved attending and graduating from college, and embarking on a fabulous career.  I wasn't even interested in boys then, so marriage seemed like a trip to Mars.  It would be possible, but it would take a long time, and I hoped to be put into a state of suspended animation while I waited to find the right husband.

I didn't think becoming a nun would be a good fit for me either.  My mother had been thrown out of the Sisters of The Presentation in 1959 after being in the convent for one year because her asthma was so bad that they didn't think that she could truly have a life of service to the Lord.  I had a few distant cousins who were nuns, but they had vocations.  I wanted to have an occupation.  My plan was to become President of the United States.    So I was in a moral quandary.  How could I make my Confirmation if I didn't actually buy what The Church was selling?

I needed spiritual guidance.  My track record with the Catholic clergy was not that good initially.  While attending parochial school in Bayside Hills, Queens, our pastor, Monsignor McDonald, came into our second grade classroom.  He asked if anyone could say the Act of Contrition.  I raised my hand and waved it so hard I thought my arm would pop out of the socket.  Monsignor called on me.  I began:

"Oh my God, I am partially sorry for having offended Thee.  And I detest....
A voice boomed, "Sit DOWN, Maura Lynch!  That is incorrect!"  It was Monsignor McDonald.  

The Act of Contrition begins, "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee."

My parents laughed when I recounted my tale of woe that night at dinner.  They understood that their seven-year-old daughter had mistaken one ten-dollar adverb for another.  The humorless Monsignor McDonald instilled so much fear in me that I thought he would prevent me from making my First Communion.  By some miracle and the intercession of my guardian angel, he did not.

Then, when I was in third grade, I went through the Sacrament of Penance, or, as it is commonly known, Confession.  Kneeling in that dark, cold box behind the thick velvet curtain, I struggled to remember whether being angry with my sister for cutting my Barbie's hair off was a mortal or a venial sin.  All too soon Monsignor McDonald slid the screen open, and began.  I trembled throughout because I wasn't sure if I would be able to recite the Act of Contrition when he was done.  The Monsignor would "absolve" me of my sins.  While I believed that God would forgive me always, Monsignor McDonald's angry, white caterpillar eyebrows and furrowed brow told me he and God did not.. 

In the 1970's, the Church in the U.S. got very groovy.  I played guitar and sang at folk Mass.  We Catholics now had the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I would go into a small, lighted room and sit in a chair directly across from Father Richard.  He would greet me, and then make the sign of the cross.  Then he invited me to have trust in God.  This shocked me because The Church was more about commands and demands than invitations. He would read a short Bible passage, and then I would confess my sins.  Then, Father Richard would counsel me.  He would guide me to make better decisions so that I could accept God's mercy.  After I said the Act of Contrition (which I finally memorized), Father Richard would place his hand over my head and say the words of absolution.  He concluded by saying, "Give thanks to the Lord for he is good."  Father Richard channeled God's love and forgiveness to me just as surely as Monsignor McDonald had funneled God's wrath.

So I went to Father Richard with my dilemma.  How was I going to take on the mantle of adulthood and make my Confirmation if I had so many problems with the roles which the Church assigned to women?  He was a young priest, but he was assured as well as assuring.  "We do not know what God has in store for us in this life.  We must put our faith in the constancy of His love for all of His children.  If you do not receive the sacrament of Confirmation, you will not receive the Holy Spirit.  You will not have the full store of God's wisdom and understanding available to you."

Now I know Father Richard wasn't playing me, but he certainly said the right words to the right young woman.  I didn't want to be cut off from any sort of wisdom and understanding.  After all, if I was going to be President of the United States, I needed total access to divine grace so that I could change the way the world treated women.  I made my Confirmation.  

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Book Review:  FOAMERS:  THE PRIMAL AGE CHRONICLES by Justin Kassab
Kaylie Jones Books, March 25, 2014   ISBN:  978-1-61755-309-1 (trade paperback)

“Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival.”  -Hannah Arendt

People have been expecting and predicting the end of the world as long as people have been walking the earth.  We humans currently are terribly anxious due to the combination of the end of the second millennium on December 31, 1999, the advent of the Information Age, and the continuing advances of technology (especially those used for warfare and medicine).  Climate change is real, and our terrain is in a constant state of flux.  Is the end nigh?  Only time will tell. 

Novelist Justin Kassab, age twenty-six, manages to analyze, define and take control of the fear of the apocalypse in his extraordinary and impressive debut FOAMERS.  This is the first in The Primal Age Chronicles series, a blend of science fiction, dystopian, adventure, and coming-of-age literature.  Kassab has created characters in which the reader invests quite a lot emotionally.  The book is most definitely a page-turner, and Kassab is masterful in determining when to accelerate the pace and when to rein it in. The taut plot keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire novel.

Set in the contemporary United States, a pandemic known as the Feline Flu has ravaged most the cities in the Northeast.  People ages fourteen to thirty seem to have a natural resistance to the flu.  A vaccine has just been released to the public, and ninety percent of the population has been inoculated.  Studying all of this very carefully from Central Pennsylvania is a young man named Kade, age twenty-four.  He has been schooled in personal disaster for most of his life.

His mother died from Huntington’s disease (HD), a neurodegenerative genetic disorder that affects muscle coordination and leads to cognitive decline and psychiatric problems*, and then death.  Kade, his twin brother Damian, and younger sister Ashton were all tested for the HD marker, but only Kade has it. Kade has been primary caretaker of his family, and did not pursue higher education after high school.  Damian left after their mother died, excelled in school, and now is a doctor doing medical research.  Their father died from the Feline Flu a year ago, and Kade has been taking care of seventeen-year-old Ashton.  Living with this Sword of Damocles took Kade’s drive from him.  What absorbs his time and intelligence is survivalism and disaster preparedness.  He shares his passion and obsession with his close-knit circle of friends:  Jem, Lucas, Mike, X, and Tiny (who is a young woman).  Kade has a plan for catastrophe, and a place in mind to where he and his friends and family can retreat. 

One morning Kade finds a handwritten note from his twin Damian in his mailbox.  Damian tells him that the Feline Flu vaccine is having disastrous effects on most of its recipients, either killing them or, for sixty percent, taking away their higher brain functions.  This latter group becomes less than human, experiencing pure rage, and turning them into murderous cannibals who foam a red liquid from their mouths.  Damian was the main medical researcher who developed the vaccine, and now he desperately is working to find a way to reverse its effects.  With this, Kade and his group put the plan into action and head north to Houghton College in New York State.  They will wait there for Damian.

The conflicts which they expect are not not the conflicts which they find.  There is conflict within the group, and Kade does not wear the mantle of leadership easily.  As their journey, both physically and metaphorically, continue, this sundry bunch of people exhibit both the best and the worst of themselves.  The biggest conflict of all is not the battle to survive, but the decision to abandon pre-pandemic “Old World” ways and embrace this new Primal Age.

While the novel addresses serious themes of life and death, survival and living, romantic love, and friendship, FOAMERS is an incredibly enjoyable, rousing read.  It has the engine of one of sports cars which Kade’s friend X is fond of stealing.  Kassab, who began as a screenwriter, is able to make the action jump off the page, and allows the reader to feel the ride.  He has an exciting career ahead of him, and this reader can scarcely wait for the second novel in The Primal Age Chronicles.

*Source:  Wikipedia

Monday, March 10, 2014

TV: True Detective - "Life's barely long enough to get good at one thing."

It's the day after the airing of the finale of True Detective, an 8-episode crime drama which had become the show which many hoped would define the zeitgeist of crime drama.  I see a lot of disappointed viewers and critics on the internet.  

Some people reproached the show because it contains "misogyny". The fictional world of True Detective is very much like "the real world," and the real world is fundamentally misogynistic.  The real world is a place where men have power over women.  Men are able to abuse, kidnap, rape and murder women and children, usually without ever being brought to justice.  The real world is a place where the rich have power over the poor, and where the truth very rarely is allowed to see the light of day. The real world is a place where true monsters exist.  This is the archetype theme of crime fiction.

Creator and show runner Nic Pizzolatto gave Detective Rust Cohle  intense philosophical jeremiads to recite.  Pizzolatto stated in interviews that these are based on the philosophies of Arthur Schopenhauer and of Friedrich Nietzsche.  Still others believed that the "mythology" of the show was not sufficiently honored .  Pizzolatto stated that these supernatural horror elements, a.k.a. the mythology of  the Yellow King, were tributes to writers Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, and Thomas Ligotti.  The metaphysical conjecture written by critics was fun to read, but I didn't think it would lead to the discovery of the murderer.  That was window dressing.

I am thoroughly satisfied with True Detective because this group of people got real good at one thing: creating an exceptional crime story.  The southern Louisiana setting is unique and raw, yet also chimerical. The plot--two Louisiana State Police CID homicide detectives catch a ritualistic homicide in 1995 which leads them to pursue a serial murderer who is part of a larger, powerful cult of murder--is stupendous. Nic Pizzolatto's writing is superb. The mystery is strong, and the plot turns are adept and sometimes jaw-dropping. Cary Joji Fukunaga's direction of the series translated the fetid and the beautiful, and the repulsive and the heroic components of the script to the screen.  The six-minute long take at the end of Episode 4, "Who Goes There," made the audience feel as if they too were in the gun-fight. Each acting role, no matter how small, was cast and performed impeccably. 

While both Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart are at the top of their game, neither portrays a particularly likeable character.  They are evenly matched in their self-destructive behavior. Much of the best dialogue consists of the harsh way they rip into one another. But you don't have to be likeable to be heroic.  Cohle and Hart are effective and masterful partners. While they may lash out at one another, they are a team who  risk it all in order to find out who the killer is.  The conflict isn't between Cohle and Hart, or between them and the Tuttles or even Errol Childress.  The conflict is between good and evil, between light and darkness, and between life and death.

"The world needs bad men.  We keep the other bad men from the door."

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Personal Essay: Preparation of the Believer

As I am named “Maura Lynch,” it won’t come as a great surprise to you that I am an Irish-American who was raised as a Roman Catholic.  While I am no longer a devout Catholic, I retain a great respect and solemn memories of the season of Lent.  I was born after the Second Vatican Council convened, so my generation was not inculcated in the harsh penance, self-denial and atonement which previous generations experienced during Lent.   Yet, growing up I wanted to be the best Catholic I could be.  So I did pray, and reflected thoroughly about the suffering and sacrifice Jesus Christ endured.  Every year Lent concludes after forty days with the joy of Easter, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ three days after his crucifixion.  The death and resurrection of Christ is the central tenet of Christianity.  I remember how a priest taught us that we were preparing for the greatest celebration ever, and that it was especially important to be kind to others, and to perform good acts.  Even though it’s been decades since I have attended Mass regularly, I can still recite the recite the Nicene Creed. As a child I knew that the gravest part of the Creed was this passage:

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
He suffered death and was buried.
On the third day He rose again
In accordance with the scriptures
He ascended into heaven
And is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Many scholars have written about the way the Roman Catholic Church appropriated previously pagan celebrations and symbols in order to make the conversion to Catholicism a smoother one.  My favorite is the co-option of spring, a time when nature revives after the fallow season of winter, and a time of fertility, as the time when Easter is celebrated.  And so, as today is Ash Wednesday, I am going to take the next forty days to develop a spiritual and creative reawakening for myself.  I have been using social media to promote other writers’ work and books.  This activity has brought me a good deal of enjoyment and gained me some exposure.  But hours preparing #FF posts, catalogued by genre, are hours I have not spent writing.  As a very wise and trusted mentor once said,

“How you spend your time is your spend your life.”

This time I spend writing may incur sacrifice in that some Twitter accounts may stop following me.  That's a small price to pay, for if I do not believe in myself first, how can I believe in others and support them with a full heart?  During my season of Lent there will be no self-denial, no penance, no atonement for focusing on what fulfills me.  I devote this time to a construction and celebration of a personal resurrection.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Personal Essay - My Pal Stan

RIP Stan Kerdock (December 4, 1920-February 9, 2014)

My pal Stan Kerdock died this past Sunday night at 7:00 p.m..  I met him when we first moved to Manhasset in 1972 when I was nine-years-old.  My mother had lost touch with him over the years, and so I located his phone number for her in 2004.  They reignited their friendship.  And he was sweet on her.  He was my friend too.  He was a wonderful adviser about life to many, many people.

Stan was the youngest of  eight children.  He grew up in Mt. Carmel, Pennsylvania, a small coal miners community.  Both his parents were immigrants from Lithuania, and they did not speak English.  Stan's parents died just as he finished high school.  He was very intelligent, but didn't have the means to go to college in 1938.  So he joined the U.S. Army.  Stan was stationed in Honolulu.  Stan told me about this film, From Here To Eternity.  It's based on the novel by James Jones.  Stan said , "That guy had it down to the letter.  I was a sergeant, a non-com [non-commissioned officer.]  Those officers...."  He would make a face of disgust, but I don't think I ever heard Stan say anything negative about anyone.  Stan served there for over three years--and was shipped stateside three weeks before December 7, 1941.  Then Stan trained in Oklahoma to go overseas.  He served with the 88th Infantry Division in the European theater during WWII. He didn't like to talk about his combat service.  I know that he worked as an aid to a general. I know he was in Italy, France, Belgium, and Germany. He was at the Battle of the Bulge, and also the Siege of Bastogne, freezing for forty-one days, cut off from our supply lines. When Stan's war ended in 1946, he was shipped to New York. After eight years in the U.S. Army, he had been convinced into attending the U.S. Army Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia.  Stan had one night in New York City before catching the train to Fort Benning, and he decided to go to Roseland Ballroom.

Stan was hanging back by the wall, and he saw a beautiful girl dance by with another fella.  He couldn't take his eyes off of her.  He went over, and he tapped the other fella on the back, and asked if he could cut in. He took the beautiful girl in his arms, and danced, and knew that he had just fallen in love at first sight.  Her name was Wanda, she was eighteen-years-old, and she lived on Prospect Avenue in The Bronx.  Stan did not go to Fort Benning.  He stayed in New York, became a plumber, and married Wanda.  They settled in Great Neck, New York, and raised three daughters, Rita, Susan, and Jean Marie.  Wanda died in 1994, just after her sixty-sixth birthday, after forty-seven years of marriage.  In the past ten years, Stan had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.  His daughters Rita and Susan both died.  He had five grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.   He was diagnosed with bone cancer in the late fall of 2013, and chose to have radiation treatments to fight it.  

Ten years ago, in 2004, when Stan reconnected with my mother, he admitted that he had had a respectful crush on her from the moment he saw her. In September 1972 she hired him as the plumber for our kitchen remodel. My mother Kathleen always has been a beautiful woman, and she was thirty-three then. Stan thought she was even more beautiful when she was sixty-five, and found her just as gorgeous when she turned seventy-five this past November.  His love and devotion to her was unwavering.

Stan and I used to talk about history, movies, books, human nature, and philosophy.  Stan had drowned when he was a boy, and told me he "came back" with a certain amount of psychic insight.  He was such a practical man that I was surprised by this disclosure.  We both had December birthdays, and he liked to joke about how we each called a spade a spade.  He was a truly good man, and offered many glimpses of his mischievous side.  We had our "in-jokes."  His favorite topic of conversation with me, however, was my mother. Her last visit with him was December 23, 2013, just after his ninety-third birthday. Although he did not say so directly, he inferred that he didn't think he had much time left.  He also showed her every greeting card and postcard that I had sent him over the years.  He was pragmatic, but, boy, was he sentimental.

Stan was my last true connection to The Greatest Generation.  He was born into poverty, he grew up during The Great Depression, and he was a combat veteran, and a Purple Heart recipient, of World War II.  He had been forced to be a fighter, and a survivor, by the circumstances of history.  But Stan was really a lover, and a peaceful man.  I am really going to miss my pal.  But I'll be seeing you, Stan.