What We’re Reading Now: WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE

WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Deb Olin Unferth

Published in March 2017 by Graywolf Press

Reviewed by Mary Pritchard

Do you have ten minutes to read a story?  Perhaps five? Or even two?  If you think you can carve out time to digest one paragraph, to 3 pages, to 23 pages, there is a short story in Deb Olin Unferth’s Wait Till You See Me Dance that will fit your time slot. These stories are worth whatever time you can give them.

Unferth’s stories are appealing because they engage the person who finds herself unlikeable; the mother who can’t deal with “[turtles], teenagers, basement apartments”; the wife who thinks “longingly” of the man she might have married when her own husband doesn’t want to take an adventurous walk.  Most of us — man or woman — have been there. Irony flickers throughout each story.

The title story, “Wait Till You See Me Dance,” covers a trip with an unappreciative acquaintance, as well as experiences that anyone who has been an adjunct professor will find relatable. Some stories are in first person, others in third person limited, while “Stay Where You Are” has an omniscient narrator.  Are you thinking of curing your obsession with screens: the computer, the phone, the TV, the movie house?  Read “Online” before taking the plunge.

While reading Unferth’s stories, you’ll more than likely have moments where you laugh and say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been there.”

 

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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.

MEMBERS REVIEW: Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

“You’ll find yourself having to remember to breathe.”

-Reviewer Tony Burnett on Amy Gentry’s Good as Gone

GOOD AS GONE

 

good-as-gone

by Amy Gentry

Published in 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

reviewed by Tony Burnett

Eight years after Julie was silently abducted from the bedroom next to her young sister while her mother and father slept downstairs, the remaining family dynamic has persevered. Though they each carry their own private burden of guilt, the family has not quite imploded. When a young woman shows up at the door claiming to be Julie, the joy is overshadowed by the opening of old wounds, especially as Julie’s mother, Anna, begins to suspect the woman is not her daughter.

Amy Gentry’s debut novel, Good As Gone, takes the genre of domestic suspense to a level of intensity rarely experienced. The superb writing explores not only the depth of the characters but the extremes of their ability to cope with the unknown or, in some cases, not to cope with what is known. The narrative perfectly balances the scalding plot progression with a definitive internal conflict of a family whose tender scars are ripped wide open.

The point of view moves through the members of the family as well as the chameleon-like identities “Julie” has assumed for the sake of survival. This complex character examination is a powerful study of identity and cohesion when challenged by the extremes of physical and emotional stress. Gentry presents her protagonist’s unlikely manifestations with the humanity required to make the reader not only believe but empathize with the conviction required to keep the pages turning. The Northwest Houston setting is so accurately portrayed as to coax the reader into feeling he is a neighbor in the cul-de-sac on the next subdivision over.

The novel explores cultural mores and relationships ranging from homeless street survivors, through back alley blues bar divas, to the garishly pristine power and greed of the largest mega-church pastors.

If you are fascinated by the depths of depravity human beings will assume to control others, this story will amaze and horrify you. Good As Gone is a must read for fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, Kim Addonizio, and B.A. Paris. I rarely encounter a novel that grabs my attention to the extent that all other concerns fall by the wayside. You’ll find yourself having to remember to breathe.

 

MEMBERS REVIEW: The Memory of Us

THE MEMORY OF US

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by Camille Di Maio

Published in 2016 by Lake Union Publishing

reviewed by Kirsche Romo

In her novel The Memory of Us, Camille Di Maio carries us away in the love of a lifetime, forbidden by circumstance and overwhelming obstacles.

Julianne Westcott’s life is perfect. The daughter of an English shipping magnate and socialite mother, she has everything she needs and wants. But when she discovers a twin brother, Charles, who was institutionalized at birth – blind, deaf, and mentally challenged – she realizes her life is much more complicated than she knew.

Kyle McCarthy is a landscaper’s son, living within very modest means. Julianne first meets him during a visit with her brother. While taking a break from his landscaping duties, Kyle introduces Charles to the beauty of plants, using only touch and smell.  Her heart is taken with Kyle’s loving, gentle soul. But she soon learns that his heart has already been promised to another – Kyle is studying to be a priest.

Julianne’s best friend Lucille convinces her that it would be a sin to seduce a boy bound to God. But even though she tries her best to forget him, Kyle never leaves her thoughts. By chance, they see each other numerous times over the next year, and each time, Julianne feels her attachment to him growing stronger.  He is handsome, funny, and kind.  All the things a priest should be.  But all the things a husband should be as well.

Even if Kyle weren’t promised to the Church, his situation in life is far beneath the approval of her parents. They would never accept her marriage to a boy without station. Julianne would surely have to choose between him and the life she’s always known.

As time passes, Julianne and Kyle battle the devastation that World War II brings to England, coping with the love and loss each struggles to understand and accept.

Misery loves company, they say, and if the war had brought about misery, it had also created a company of friendships that were forged through common suffering.

It was bewildering to see the everyday aspects of life go on amidst such a ravaged landscape….Perhaps the most unnerving sights were the few children that remained in the city, prancing among this new concrete playground and making toys out of the scraps of someone’s former life.

In The Memory of Us, Di Maio surprised me with twists and turns. Just as I was expecting the plot to take one path, it would turn toward another. The first person narrative brings the reader into the brain of Julianne Westcott, following the longing of her love-torn heart as she tries to deal with her passion for a man she can’t have.

As I read, I was filled with the strong emotion of my past, as well as Julianne’s. I suffered the same struggle as a young woman – falling in love with a man whom the world didn’t see as a perfect match, but loving him none-the-less.  The conflict in the novel makes the reader consider the question: How much would you give up for the love of your life? And how would you deal with the consequences?

The people I’d loved, the people I’d left, their voices came back to me in a rising tide until, overwhelmed, I crumbled down onto the floor and wept with abandon. The tears burned my skin and I made no attempt to wipe them away. I was supposed to suffer – my eternal punishment – because of what I’d done.

For a poignant look into the hearts of forbidden lovers who must question destiny to survive, The Memory of Us will wrap itself around your heart until you cry for what was never had, what was had and lost, and what was never meant to be.

K.L. Romo is a Texas author who loves to write about the human experience, bringing awareness to people living on the fringe. Her recent novel Life Before was released in 2016. She is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas and the Women’s Fiction Writers’ Association. Please visit her at http://www.klromo.com.

Meet the Members: Brad Whittington

“I once rode shotgun in a car for three hours with a coral snake in a five-pound coffee can between my feet. Last year I rode shotgun in a car for a few miles with a rattlesnake in a salad container in my lap. In between, I wrote nine novels, some of which are almost that crazy.”

–Brad Whittington

A member of the Writers’ League of Texas for 15 years, Brad Whittington lives in Austin.

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

BW: I am somewhat genre-fuzzy, as it were. I tend to have an idea, such as assisted suicide vacations or a sheriff who hears voices coming from a muffin, and then build a story around it.

Scribe: What author would you most like to have a drink with?

BW: I would say P.G. Wodehouse, but he was notoriously anti-social, so that would probably not end well. Maybe Damon Runyon. Although dinner with G.K. Chesterton or Robertson Davies would probably be highly enjoyable.

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

BW: I can never get to the answer on this question because I’m always overwhelmed by the implications of the scenario. How do I get to this island? Kidnapped? Why did the napper give me the chance to select a book first?

And what exactly is his motivation? Is he the villain, and if so, will he have a character arc that somehow mirrors or contrasts with my character arc, or is he vanquished unrepentant? Will he supply rations for the duration? Is there a hut available, or will I have to build my own shelter?

There are a lot of unanswered questions that must be addressed before we tackle the matter of setting up the library. But if we must discuss the book list without learning the answers to those questions, then I’m going for a book on agriculture, one on construction, a survival guide, and a manual on building a boat. And probably a copy of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary.

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

BW: I’ve enjoyed many of the classes and meetings. My favorite was the half-day “How to Write a Whodunit” led by Rick Riordan. I was living in Honolulu at the time and was talking with a friend about co-writing some murder mysteries. We are both fans of Riordan’s Tres Navarre series. I said, “What we really need to do is to fly to San Antonio, knock on Riordan’s door, and offer to buy him lunch if we can ask a few questions.”

The next month, WLT advertised the class. It was cheaper than the restraining order I would likely get if I went with my first plan. I immediately signed up for the class and bought a plane ticket. This was before the Percy Jackson series was published, although the first novel was in production at the time.

But ultimately, as Tom Lehrer said, “Life is like a sewer — what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.” WLT has a lot to offer, but, as with writing, you only reap the rewards when you make the effort.

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

BW: Out on the deck with a martini and a cigar. At least for the first draft. Revisions are with coffee and tea.

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?

BW: Although the books came out long ago, Joe R. Lansdale’s Savage Season made it to the small screen this year in the form of a series, and it was just as twisted and hilarious as the novel. But be advised, he’s not for everyone.

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

BW: I once rode shotgun in a car for three hours with a coral snake in a five-pound coffee can between my feet. Last year I rode shotgun in a car for a few miles with a rattlesnake in a salad container in my lap. In between, I wrote nine novels, some of which are almost that crazy. If you checked them out at BradWhittington.com, it would sure make me proud.

Thanks, Brad!

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!

 

MEMBERS REVIEW: Shadow of the Hare: Recall Chronicles Vol. II

SHADOW OF THE HARE: Recall Chronicles Vol. II

shadowofthehare

by Donna Dechen Birdwell

Published in 2016 by Wide World Home

reviewed by Tony Burnett

Barring any Armageddon-like occurrence, extrapolate, if you will, 150 years into the future. If you are like Donna Dechen Birdwell, a seasoned anthropologist and social scientist, you will find yourself in the questionable utopia described in her series, The Recall Chronicles. But wait, centuries of experience tell us one person’s utopia is another person’s apocalypse, he who has the gold makes the rules, and there is always a subversive subculture. Just to make it interesting let’s assume that science has eliminated aging, but only if you so choose. There are trade-offs.

This second novel, Shadow of the Hare, traces the journey of Malia Poole beginning at the exact point in time and space that the protagonist of her first installation, Way of the Serpent, encountered a distant relative. Malia is an introspective dissident, author, and member of an underground society of creative artists. The powerful ruling plutocrats attempt to subdue these traditionalist enclaves through a coordinated sweep of their performance and art spaces. Many are killed and captured while others are forced into hiding. Refusing the anti-aging treatments sponsored by the plutocrats, Malia spends a large part of her natural life in self-imposed exile, while continuing a quest to reunite with those scattered artists from her past who may have survived the “cleansing”.

In the tradition of Bradbury, Asimov, and Le Guin, Shadow of the Hare goes beyond sci-fi into the study of human interaction while staying true to the conceptual rigors required of the genre. In truth, this is the life story of a woman passionate about her art who is desperate to hold on to a way of life that has lost all meaning to a materialistic society brainwashed into sterile consumerism. The reader gets insight into the various fractious factions living in self-contained communities and how they interact with each other while shunning the governing plutocrats.

Though this is a series, each installment stands alone as one individual’s journey through the culture of our future as it seems to be heading. The primary characters as well as the social structure of this future economy are fully and intimately developed. Birdwell makes it terrifyingly simple to slip into the cultural fragment most suited to our personality. This is accomplished by projecting us from our current situation into the often obvious direction we are headed.

One of the most frightening aspect of Birdwell’s story is how accurately and honestly she projects today’s socioeconomic and political reality into the 22nd century. In the words of Dr. Steve J Zani, “Dystopian literature is at its finest when it’s actually utopian in nature.” Birdwell has achieved this to the highest degree possible. This terrifying prophecy is a must read for anyone who has any hope for humanity. Unplug your corporate media machine and read this book!

Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His recent story collection, Southern Gentlemen, has been receiving positive reviews. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.

MEMBERS REVIEW: Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves

WORK LIKE ANY OTHER
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by Virginia Reeves

Published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster

reviewed by Tony Burnett

Author Virginia Reeves appeared last week at the New Fiction Confab in Austin on April 23, 2016, along with Kaitlyn Greenidge (We Love You, Charlie Freeman), Karan Mahajan (The Association of Small Bombs), Karen Olsson (All the Houses), Alexander Chee (The Queen of the Night), Samantha Hunt (Mr. Splitfoot), Kirk Lynn (Rules for Werewolves), and Sunil Yapa (The Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist).

Set in 1920s Alabama, Reeves’ Work Like Any Other is the new epitome of Southern storytelling. In an elegant yet colloquial voice Virginia Reeves weaves this complex odyssey with shades of Faulkner and Tennessee Williams while holding true to her poignant vision of possibility if not hope. The narrative centers on Roscoe T. Martin, a man of intelligence with a profound passion for bringing the magic of Faraday’s electricity to save the struggling farm his young wife inherits from her father. Many in the community deride his efforts due to their fear of this misunderstood power. Roscoe’s project results in the farm’s prosperity and helps him regain the respect if not the love of Marie, his young wife, who has emotionally withered following a devastating childbirth that gave them a son but left her unable to bear more children.

Though Roscoe detests farming, he shares the property with the extended family of Wilson Grice, who worked for Marie’s father as caretaker of the property. Roscoe’s decision to illegally connect to the power grid results in the accidental death of an overzealous power company employee and alters the course of the two families by sending both patriarchs to prison. Marie not only severs all connection with her incarcerated husband but keeps his young son from having contact with him as well. The narrative follows Roscoe through his nine years in prison, lacking any contact with his previous life, followed by his eventual release and a modicum of redemption.

The narrative shifts from clear and concise through passages of almost hallucinatory memory sequences, yet remains bold, comprehensible and gripping. Both the internal and external complexities of Roscoe’s character are explored with empathetic honesty. Most supporting characters are developed with depth and subtly as well, though rarely to the extent we experience Roscoe. Setting is drawn with a harsh beauty appropriate to the scene, be it the rank odor of the dairy barn or the piercing and ripping flora of the dense thicket.

The superstitions and social mores of 1920s Alabama function as a plot point throughout the intricate interactions of the two families. Work Like Any Other balances plot, character and setting as well as any novel I’ve experienced. This debut by Reeves, with its universal appeal set in the gorgeous dilapidation of Southern noir, is a must-read for any connoisseur of literary story in the American South.

Tony Burnett has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2010 and currently serves on the Board of Directors. His recent story collection, Southern Gentlemen, has been receiving positive reviews. He resides with his trophy bride, Robin, deep in the heart of Texas.