What We’re Reading Now: THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN

THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jeff Guin

Published in April 2017 by Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Amanda Moore

In The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, Jeff Guin tells the story of the rise and fall of Jim Jones and the church he founded. In the 1970s, Jim Jones and members of the Peoples Temple left the U.S. to start a new community in Guyana, South America called Jonestown. On November 18, 1978, gunmen from the Jonestown community murdered several unarmed civilians who had come to investigate, interview and communicate with members of the community. A U.S. congressman, two CBS crew members, a photographer and a Jonestown defector were killed in the attack at a remote airstrip at Port Kaituma. Shortly after notice of the attack, the local authorities dispatched a small group of Guyana military soldiers to investigate. They assumed that they would find heavily armed civilians at Jonestown and prepared for an attack once they arrived. Instead they found the remains of over 900 dead men, women, and children lying in and around the Jonestown compound. This haunting description is how the story begins.

Guin describes the upbringing of Jim Jones in the small town of Lynn, Indiana, and his early interest in the Christian faith. Over time, Jones became less focused on religious doctrines and more fascinated with the persuasive style of religious leaders and their ability to captivate the congregation. His study of how religious leaders attracted members and secured their allegiance became an obsession. In his pastoral role, Jones would often call upon individuals during the church service to claim they were healed from various ailments as a way to attract and recruit new members to his church. His followers thought that he was a mind reader, but he would often use members to find out information about congregants before he spoke to them.

Throughout the book, Jones is portrayed as a complex and unpredictable individual. During a time of civil and political unrest in America, Jones led efforts toward encouraging integration among churches and businesses for African Americans. Jones’ church, The Peoples Temple, became influential in local politics both in Indianapolis and San Francisco through its multi-racial congregation. Local leaders praised the Peoples Temple for its commitment to social justice and community outreach. Although these efforts appeared to be genuine, Guin describes how Jones’ true motivations were self-serving and insincere.

The members of The Peoples Temple were expected to commit every facet of their lives to the church and its cause for social justice. Members were asked to cash in life insurance policies, to donate their wages and salaries, and to give personal belongings to the Peoples Temple. Jones’ persuasive rhetoric and the initial inclusiveness of the Peoples Temple convinced hundreds of people to leave their families and communities behind to live in South America. Many individuals followed Jones expecting to create a better life while helping others and embracing socialistic ideals. Some of his followers believed that Jones was a god and knew what was best for them.

After a short time, the dream of Jonestown began to unravel. Ex-members of the Peoples Temple spoke to the media about Jones’s mistreatment of his followers. Concerned relatives began raising serious concerns with elected officials in government because they believed their family members were kept in Jonestown against their will. Both U.S. and Guyanese courts ordered Jones to appear in court and respond to legal proceedings filed against him. Jonestown could no longer stay disconnected from the outside world. The end result was a community of people being led by a leader who lived in a constant state of extreme paranoia.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the events at Jonestown. With an impressive amount of research and personal interviews with former members, government officials and survivors of the Jonestown tragedy, Guin attempts to answer these questions. His narrative style allows the reader to feel as if he or she were actually there to witness the events at the beginning, the middle, and at the tragic and senseless end.

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What We’re Reading Now: LIVING WITH THE LIVING DEAD

LIVING WITH THE LIVING DEAD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Greg Garrett

Published in June 2017 by Oxford University Press

Reviewed by Tony Burnett

Greg Garrett has a message for you. It’s an important message. It’s a complex message, and it contains details that might possibly make you uncomfortable. It’s also the kind of message that you find buried beneath the pop-culture noise of modern superhero discourse and infotainment. This discourse is also where Garrett discovered the secret to unraveling the complexities of the message.

Hold on tight!

Although I don’t completely agree with Garrett that our social system is teetering on the brink of collapse, I do agree with that the public worldview of our political and social stability has taken on a negative connotation. In Living With the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse, we are given examples of how, through the ages, the spirits of the dead become prevalent in arts and entertainment when our social fabric is stretched thin by war, pandemic, or any tragedy of international scale.

Garrett successfully develops a cohesive hypothesis concerning the collapse of social stability by merging his views with those of such luminaries as Bertrand Russell, Thomas Merton, Reinhold Niebuhr, and the Dalai Lama. Although Garrett’s academic credentials are based in the tenets of Christianity, he deserves credit for taking this exploration through not only other religions, but giving credence to the atheist viewpoint and the cultural influence of literature and other popular storytelling genres such as television and movies. Garrett also uses a multifaceted approach to dissect the concept of the Zombie Apocalypse, and reveal the lessons we can learn.

How do zombie stories create or destroy community? How does the stress and desperation push us to examine the limitations of our morality? How do we make life-and-death decisions? How can we respond when there are no “right” answers? This is a brilliant exploration of how we confront apocalyptic tragedy and what becomes of us as we do. He also explores our culture from the zombie’s perspective such as this quote from Evan Calder-Williams, “Are we doomed to consume forever without enjoyment or awareness? Can we break free from the cycle of un-living?”

Living With the Living Dead is not a summer beach read, but if you are seeking answers to important philosophical quandaries in an environment of pop cultural overstimulation, this will be worth the time.

At the very least, you’ll be able to binge watch The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones with a renewed appreciation for the subtleties of storytelling.

Tony Burnett is Board President of the Writers’ League of Texas and the managing editor of Kallisto Gaia Press. His poetry and short fiction have been published in multiple national literary journals. He makes his home in rural central Texas with his trophy wife, Robin.

 

 

What We’re Reading Now: THE GIRLS OF ENNISMORE

THE GIRLS OF ENNISMORE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Patricia Falvey

Published in March 2017 by Kensington Publishing Corp.

Reviewed by Kirsche Romo

In her historical novel The Girls of Ennismore, Patricia Falvey transports us to early twentieth-century Ireland, where class and circumstance dictate all aspects of daily life. An unexpected and unlikely friendship between two young girls undermines society’s expectations and the presumed entitlement of the Irish gentry.

When eight-year-old Rosie Killeen is summoned to assist the servants at the large Irish estate of Ennismore to entertain the Queen of England. She helps the landowner’s daughter, Victoria Bell, save her toy boat that had drifted into a pond. Victoria is desperate for a playmate and convinces her father to allow Rosie to attend daily lessons with her, although against the wishes of her aristocratic mother and aunt.

For years, Rosie and Victoria study together and become close friends, even including Victoria’s brother Valentine into their friendship circle.  But as the time nears for Victoria to make her debut into society, the boundary between the classes once again dictates what is expected of each woman. Will the two be able to maintain their close friendship when once again their worlds become so very different?

“Throughout the autumn of 1910, an unforgiving rain poured down upon the land as if attempting to wash away the sins of history that still lingered there.”

When Bridie, Rosie’s sister, becomes ill and can’t perform her duties of scullery maid at Ennismore, Rosie must swallow her pride and take her sister’s place as a servant for the Bell family or risk losing the wages her own family so desperately needs. But because of her unusual situation, she is neither accepted by the Bell family nor the servants of the estate.

“The damp fog pressed in around her like a prison from which there could be no escape.”

After years pass, Victoria returns to Ennismore, longing for the company of her old friend, but Rosie has ventured to live in Dublin with her sister Bridie. The conditions Rosie finds in Dublin shock her, and after unsuccessfully searching for a job, she turns to Victoria’s family in desperation, asking for their help to survive the poverty of Dublin’s working class.

“Out on the street, rivers of humanity assaulted her. . . Crowds rushed past her – mothers with babies in shawls, rough men, some of them unsteady on their feet, and young girls her own age in cheap, gaudy clothes.”

Both Rosie and Victoria fall into forbidden love. Their lives are laced with uncertainty and scandal, and their devotion is tested by the expectations of the aristocracy and the beginning of the Irish revolution in 1916.

“The seeds of discord sown throughout the summer ripened and spread to every corner of Ennismore. Suspicion, anger, and resentment permeated every conversation. Food spoiled and milk turned sour at alarming rates. Even the birds seemed to cease their chatter.  And while the weather was mild, a chill that would not lift clung to the house.”

Will Rosie and Victoria each be able to accomplish the difficult tasks before them? And will they be able to bridge the divide between the Irish aristocracy and the working class that had been the norm for centuries? How much will each woman give up to satisfy their passions, and to make the world a better place?

Patricia Falvey deftly captures the tension between the Irish gentry and the working class in the early twentieth-century. She expertly portrays each character’s humanity, emphasizing the need for all people to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of station or income. The Girls of Ennismore is a wonderful slice of history which forces us to consider our commonalities, and how we each fit into a world of differences. For readers wanting to explore the social history of early twentieth-century Ireland and to escape into the private lives of the wealthy, the poor, and those in-between, I recommend The Girls of Ennismore.

K.L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Her historical novel, Life Before, is about two women separated by a century who discover they’ve shared a soul. Web: KLRomo.com or @klromo.

Meet the Members: C.C. Rising

“I threw my manuscript at the wall too many times to count. But after each hurl and the passage of time, I would pick up the manuscript again and begin another rewrite. Why? I would have loved to discover the book I was writing in a bookstore or library.”

-C.C. Rising

A member of the Writers’ League of Texas for 15 years, C.C. Rising is a former Austinite and still considers herself one at heart.

Scribe: In what genre(s) do you write?

C.C. Rising: The Camel and the Scorpion, my first novel, is hard to typify; it encompasses elements of a thriller, a psychological and political drama, and women’s fiction.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with, and what’s the first question you would ask them?

CCR: It’s a tie between Herman Hesse and Gloria Steinem. I would ask Herman Hesse, “Did you achieve enlightenment in your lifetime?” I would ask Gloria Steinem, “You’re an author, a feminist, and a social and political activist who has been interviewed by hundreds in your lifetime: What’s the one question you wish a reporter or interviewer would have asked, but never did, and how would you have responded?”

Scribe: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what book would you want to have with you to keep you sane?

CCR: Again this is a tie. Shakti Gawain’s Reflections in the Light, Daily Thoughts and Affirmations gives me great hope and renewal when I feel down or on edge. But my favorite childhood novel Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White also renews my spirit, sense of fun and sanity. It tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a spider named Charlotte, who saves him from death. Their unusual and unexpected friendship illustrates to me that anything is possible—such as getting off the deserted island!

Scribe: What have you learned from your association with the Writers’ League?

CCR: I have learned to believe in one’s writing, no matter what others think. It took me 20 years to write The Camel and the Scorpion, which is inspired by actual events. The rejection letters from literary agents filled rooms. I threw my manuscript at the wall too many times to count. But after each hurl and the passage of time, I would pick up the manuscript again and begin another rewrite. Why? I would have loved to discover the book I was writing in a bookstore or library.

I also give heartfelt thanks to members of the Austin Writers’ League, which morphed into the Writers’ League of Texas, for helping inspire The Camel and the Scorpion. I joined the the Austin Writers’ League’s “novel in progress” group, or “nippers,” as we called ourselves, in Austin in the late 1990s. We met weekly to critique each other’s work and be each other’s supporters and cheerleaders. Those critiques were invaluable—they were done in a nonjudgmental, nonthreatening manner. What’s more, my writing improved tenfold with the group’s input.

Scribe: Where do you see your writing taking you (or you taking it) in the future?

CCR: I’m not sure. I would love to say my ideas for future novels abound. They don’t. The Camel and Scorpion took so long that it may be my only novel. I am in no way comparing my writing to the genius of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Jetta Carleton’s The Moonflower Vine. But each author wrote only one novel.

Scribe: Here at the Writers’ League, we love sharing book recommendations. What’s one Texas-related book that has come out within the past year that you couldn’t put down?

CCR: Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht, but I couldn’t put it down. It rightly won the 2015 Writers’ League of Texas Book Awards in fiction.

Scribe: Is there anything else about you that you would like to share with the world? An opportunity for blatant self-promotion!

CCR: Kirkus Reviews says The Camel and the Scorpion is “a nerve-racking, vibrantly dramatic tale …” See if you agree. Please visit my website to learn more and to purchase the book.

Thanks, C.C.!

If you’re a Writers’ League member and you’d be interested in being interviewed for our Meet the Members feature, email us at member@writersleague.org for more information. It’s a great way for other members to get to know you and for you to share a bit about what you’re working on!

What We’re Reading Now: FROM KLAIL CITY TO KOREA WITH LOVE

FROM KLAIL CITY TO KOREA WITH LOVE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Rolando Hinojosa

Published in April 2017 by Arte Público Press

Reviewed by David Eric Tomlinson

In his collection From Klail City to Korea With Love, legendary Texas author and Austin native Rolando Hinojosa spins a funny, profane, and emotionally affecting tale of small-town Texas lives being moved by – and sometimes moving – the relentless grinding gears of history.

We first meet Rafe Buenrostro, the protagonist around which this collection revolves, in Korean Love Songs, a series of poems about the Korean War. In economical, cinematic imagery, we are presented with snapshots of Rafe’s Korean War experience. As a forward observer in a war that has been labeled “the artillery war” (for the massive amounts of artillery required to fight in the rolling, mountainous terrain of the Korean Peninsula), Rafe is always on the front lines, close enough to see and communicate Chinese troop movements to the Army artillery battalion he supports.

The poems present a kind of chronological emotional history of a war whose violence forever tarnishes its participants: “the violent deaths …/ have diminished not only me,/ but my own sure to come death as well.” The carnage, often expressed in numbers, tends to dull the senses: “I don’t see how people can understand what/ I am saying when I say/ 12,000 rounds of 1OS’s in 24 hours …/ We’re animals,/ but then, so are they.”

In Hinojosa’s poems, survival seems to depend on intense observation. And in order to effectively support the larger group mission, one’s own pain is often ignored. It’s no surprise, then, to see men going AWOL or breaking down – diagnosed with what was then called “battle fatigue.” As we learn in A Matter of Supplies, there are always others ready and waiting to replace them:

“It comes down to this: we’re pieces of equipment

to be counted and signed for:

         On occasion some of us break down,

And those parts which can’t be salvaged

Are replaced with other G.I. parts, that’s all.”

Midway through this collection, Hinojosa’s imagery shifts from the traumatized black-and-whites of war to the more subtle emotional pastels of recovery. In Japan, on leave, Rafe and his friends fall in love, father illegitimate sons, drink themselves to stupor, and in these small, safe, intimate moments, gradually begin to heal: “… when she tickles me, she laughs. I laugh, too …”

We meet Rafe again in Rites and Witnesses, the novella comprising the second half of Hinojosa’s book, which juxtaposes Rafe’s Korean war experiences with chapters set in his fictional hometown of Klail City, in the lower Rio Grande Valley, in Texas. As Rafe daydreams about home alongside the soldiers he is tasked with protecting, a pawn in a geopolitical land dispute, his friends and family and neighbors back home engage in similar disputes on a much smaller, but no less important, scale.

Told largely in dialogue, and with dozens of characters, Rites and Witnesses dramatizes the ongoing power relations between Anglos and Mexicans in Texas, where Hispanics are persecuted simply for persisting: “in Belken County … in the state of Texas, really, it doesn’t matter what you are: if you ain’t Mexican, then you’re an Anglo …”

The Anglos who own the banks and the assets decide who runs for office, who gets a home loan, who is allowed to prosper … and will do anything to keep things that way. But progress can’t be stopped – the nineteen-fifties are coming to a close, the nineteen-sixties are right around the corner – and as the Mexican-Americans in Klail City establish themselves in business and politics, forever forced to scheme and plot for representation and fair treatment, the clash of cultures creates scenarios ripe for satire.

Hinojosa’s Belken County is a place where the arc of history, though often tragic, bends toward humor, community, and personal intimacy. Its residents exhibit a quiet, indomitable strength, a moral true north, and despite all obstacles, refuse to be intimidated. The great men and women here “[don’t] work that way … never [have]. As for pressure … love or some other feeling, perhaps, would move [them]: not pressure.”

David Eric Tomlinson has been a member of the Writers’ League since 2013. He was born and raised in Oklahoma, educated in California, and now lives in Texas. You can learn more about his debut novel THE MIDNIGHT MAN at www.daviderictomlinson.com

2017 Summer Writing Workshop Instructor Q&A: Carol Dawson

Just when you think you’ve finally reached the finish line with your first-draft manuscript, typed The End, slumped backwards in your chair, and expelled a triumphant sigh, the realization strikes that those two seemingly final words actually signal the end of one process and the beginning of the next. It’s time to edit and revise. But how do you go about it when you’ve never learned how?

Our Summer Writing Workshop (Austin, August 14-19) can help. We’re so excited to have beloved instructor Carol Dawson teaching “The Joy of Revision: Editing and Revising Your Manuscript for the Marketplace.”  Read a Q&A with Carol below to learn more about the class and the process of revising your manuscript.

Scribe: Writers are often resistant to revision—and when they do begin to revise, it’s tempting to nibble at the edges, tweaking a word or phrase here and there. What is the mindset that a writer needs to enter in order to do his or her best revision?

Carol Dawson: When embarking on revision, every writer needs to enter a space that seems contradictory: both entirely objective (as if he or she was a reader picking up the work for the first time) and deeply in tune with the creative forces and intention that shaped the work’s first draft to begin with. It’s a sort of knife-edge walk down the page. To stand back and look at what’s working and what is not, and why, and what can be done to fix it requires a mindset of problem-solving and distance that a few word-tweaks will not necessarily satisfy.

Scribe: For this writing workshop, you will be editing the first five pages of the opening chapter of each student’s manuscript in after-class hours. What kind of feedback can students expect to receive, and why are these first pages of a manuscript so crucial when it comes to the editing and revising process? 

CD: The first line of a book is designed to snag the attention of a reader. The following paragraph must then hook and hold that reader’s attention–woo the reader’s curiosity into finding out more. It must invite the reader into a world that he or she wants to enter, and promise rewards of suspense, character, interesting conflict, and a vital setting. In other words, it, and the pages that follow it, must plunge the reader into the heart of a story he or she cannot resist.

Scribe: This class is appropriate for novel writers as well as those writing non-fiction and memoir. Does the process of editing and revising differ for fiction versus nonfiction?

CD: Not really, no. The same narrative needs apply to both, although the form and the content might seem very different in the two disciplines. In this class, we’ll look at successful non-fiction openings and narrative structures as well as those that work and ‘build’ well for fiction, and talk about how to achieve them in each separate project.

Scribe: You’ve written six books. Does revision get easier as you go, or must you reinvent the process anew each time?

CD: I’ve published six books, but I have actually written a great many more than that. Therefore, I’m very familiar with the early pain and conundrums that inflect the task of revision. But yes, revision does get easier as I go—to the point that, these days, I incorporate it (using that knife-minded objectivity I mentioned) as I write the first, second, and third drafts. That makes the end result much easier to achieve. That’s also the goal I wish for the students who take this Summer Writing Workshop class.

Thanks, Carol!

For more information about Carol’s class, click here.

For more information about the Summer Writing Workshop, click here.

Carol Dawson is both a novelist and nonfiction author whose books include the novels The Waking Spell, Body of Knowledge, Meeting the Minotaur, and The Mother-in-Law Diaries, all published by Algonquin Books, Simon and Schuster, Viking-Penguin, and translated overseas into several languages. Her award-winning non-fiction book House of Plenty: The Rise, Fall, and Revival of Luby’s Cafeterias was published by the University of Texas Press. She has taught creative writing and literature at the College of Santa Fe, as well as in numerous workshops. Her latest non-fiction book, Miles and Miles of Texas: The Story of the Texas Highway Department, 1917-2017, published in Fall of 2016 by Texas A&M University Press, ranked Number 4 on the Amazon Best Seller List in its category.

Community Member Guest Post: The Writer’s Workshop

Community membership in the Writers’ League of Texas allows businesses and organizations to support our programming and services. It’s also a great way for our community of writers to learn about the many valuable and varied services, programs, and opportunities available to them.

The Writer’s Workshop is a resource that provides writing workshops for novels and memoirs, creativity groups, coaching, and editorial services. Read a guest post from Writers Workshop director and coach Ron Seybold below.

How to Enter Finishing School

We lie about our writing. Most of us do, with the best intentions, to make up the stories about how much we’re working on our books. It becomes a story that a writer tells when they say “I’m working on my novel.” If you’re working on a book, and writing too little, it’s time to enter Finishing School.

The concept is at the heart of a new book by Danelle Morton and Cary Tennis. Finishing School shows us where we get in our own way about completing our works in progress. Six Emotional Pitfalls stretch out in front of us. Doubt. Shame. Yearning. Fear. Judgment. Arrogance. Not everyone feels all of them, but these are the reasons why we do not finish our work. Get a few writers together and their eyes brighten when they can be honest about pitfalls. “I’ll never be as good as Hemingway,” (Doubt) or “I never finish anything.” (Shame). Or “I get annoyed by writers’ groups, those losers.” That’s Arrogance, which is probably not your problem since you’re reading Scribe.

We struggle separately, alone with the pitfalls. There’s a way out and a way up, say Morton and Tennis. You learn to finish together, without judgment or even reading each other’s work. You make a schedule for one week, getting specific about what you’ll do. Details help. Then find a partner who does the same. You meet in person because it’s personal work. You promise to text or email them the moment you begin working. You meet seven days later and share how your plan worked. Or how it didn’t, but you’re honest now. You plan again, meet again. We become masters of finishing because, as Cary said over Skype from Italy, “Finishing School throws into relief the conditions of our actual lives.”

We start with overly ambitious plans. We begin with little awareness of our hurdles. It feels so good at first. Later, the writing plan haunts us when we fall short. Better to make room for your real life, forsee the hurdles, plan for them. Cary and I have one thing in common. It’s not that we’re both successful advice columnists (that was Cary at Salon). We both have training in the Amherst Writers & Artists practice. “I needed Finishing School for myself,” he says in his book, adding, “I had a panic attack while writing and ended up in the hospital.” He built Finishing School from his AWA training so “workshop participants would crystallize their time; schedule time to work toward it with mutual support; and work steadily to get that writing finished, polished, and published.” They also add accountability without judgment.

It’s a school you’d hope to see opened by a man who wrote advice from the heart for more than a decade. We can enter it with a group as small as two writers, artists of any kind, really. The book is powerful, the process transforming. Finishing School might not be the last school you attend. It’s a good bet it will be the most important one.

Thanks, Ron!

Find out about upcoming programming at the Writer’s Workshop here.

Ron Seybold is director at Austin’s Writer’s Workshop and a teaching volunteer with the Austin Bat Cave literacy program in schools. His debut novel Viral Times is available now in paperback.

Are you a business or organization interested in getting involved?

Community Membership is a great way to connect with the Writers’ League’s membership base and share news and information about writing-related services and events. For more information on Community Membership click here or call our office at (512) 499-8914.