Matt Coyle presents Yesterday's Echo
In his debut novel, Matt pulls us right in with his first sentence: "The first time I saw her, she made me remember and she made me forget."
How could we not read on?
Then he gives us a picture of his future writing with his last sentence: "Now strangers come to me with their problems and I try to solve them. I do it for money, not for love. it's easier that way. Fewer people get hurt."
This writer will want you to do what I'm going to do when I finish this intro… run out and buy his next book!
Thelma Jacqueline Straw
I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I was fourteen when my dad gave me The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. The hard part was actually doing the writing and that didn’t really start in earnest for about thirty years. I’m a slow starter. However, even when I buckled down and consistently put my butt in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, I still had a lot to learn.
Being a fledgling author is a fun and exciting time. You’re finally doing something you really enjoy and, dammit, you’re pretty good at it. You start each day reading over the literary gold you spun the day before and realize that you’re home. You’ve found your niche. If you stay with it, you’ll have a draft in around a year, give or take. Then it will only be a matter of time before your brand new novel is on the bookshelves between Connelly and Crais.
Or so I thought. But why wouldn’t I? I read what I’d written every day and it was genius. The couple members of my family whom I’d let read the book even agreed with me. Now they might have just been happy that I’d finally started writing instead of just talking about it, but they wouldn’t lie. Would they?
Still, I’m Irish and with that comes self-doubt. So, I decided that before I quit my day job and found an agent to get me the big contract, I’d better vet the work with a professional. Let someone outside the warm, snuggly, cocoon of my family and myself read what I’d written. That is the point of being an author, isn’t it? To have strangers read your work?
So, I took some night classes at UC San Diego taught by Carolyn Wheat, mystery author turned writing teacher. Well, apparently Carolyn wasn’t that good of a teacher because she failed to recognize my genius. I was shocked and disappointed. I’d paid good money and I got some flunky as a teacher. It was a beginner’s novel class and most students never really began writing so my stuff was on the whiteboard each session. It was ugly. Carolyn asked me questions that I’d never thought of, like what does your character want in a scene and what is he thinking.
It took a while, but I started to realize that Carolyn wasn’t stupid and I wasn’t a genius. It hurt. I’d jumped out of my cocoon and let strangers see my work and been slapped in the face. Hard. I lost some of that confidence earned writing in anonymity. Maybe I couldn’t do this. Maybe I wasn’t good enough and never would be. But after I stopped feeling sorry for myself (in just a few days… okay, a month) and started revising through the Carolyn’s prism, the book got better.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Friday, March 7, 2014
No doubt you've asked yourself from time to time, what if they gave a war and nobody came? It actually happened on the Saint Croix River. Duncan McColl made it happen. After many years of his labors to save souls, he had built up a huge congregation from both sides of the border, including most of the people in the towns of St. Stephen (Canadian) and Calais (American). Living as they were in Christian amity, they didn't want to fight each other when the American government declared war.
So they didn't.
Duncan McColl went to the magistrates to urge for peace. They formed a committee of the prominent men on both sides of the border to keep order. All went well. The following year, American troops showed up in Calais. Luckily, or by the grace of God, the commanding officer and many of his men were Methodists. Duncan McColl preached to them and they agreed to keep the truce. British troops came to the other side, but Mr. McColl talked to their officers also, and they, too, kept the truce. They say a load of gunpowder that the British authorities sent to St. Stephen for self-defense was given to Calais so they could have fireworks for a proper fourth of July celebration. A picnic, I'm thinking, although with no dancing. Duncan McColl was sternly against dancing.
Lest you think that Mr. McColl was some sort of milksop, let me assure you that before he answered the call to become a preacher of the Gospel he had a distinguished military career, serving in the Argyll Highlanders, the famous 74th Regiment of Foot, where he saw sharp action at Castine, Maine.
It's all in his memoirs. These were serialized in the British North American Wesleyan Methodist Magazine of 1841 and 1842, ten years after Mr. McColl's death, printed out in tiny blurry print almost illegible to human eye or optical character reader. I'm here to announce that I spent all of last week, something like fourteen hours a day, scanning, copying, and parsing his words (and the words of whoever edited and annotated his work for the magazine) with a view to putting the memoir up on Kindle in legible form. This I have done. As a result I'm almost blind from eyestrain. I would be happy to give it away, but 99¢ was the least Amazon would let me sell it for. Go get it here.
…And now I'm going to go rest my eyes.
© 2014 Kate Gallison
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Today is the 100th anniversary of my father’s birth.
What you see above is the earliest picture we have of him. It is 1933, and he is 19 years old and at a CCC camp in Northern Idaho –a place where they sent young, city men whose families were destitute and who, in the Great Depression, had no hope of finding jobs. They built the infrastructure still in use in the United States National Parks. No earlier picture of Sam exists because his parents could not afford to have their children photographed.
Sam was born Salvatore Francesco Puglisi in the coalfields of Western Pennsylvania. His father—Andrea—was a miner. His mother Concetta Bruno bore six children, kept a cow and chickens, raised vegetables, and was required to keep house for five other Italian-speaking coal miners in exchange for the privilege of living with her husband and children in mine-owned housing.
Sam’s earliest memory was of the influenza epidemic of 1917-18. He recalled standing in the doorway of his mother and father’s bedroom, while a cart went up and down the town’s only street, carrying away the bodies of the fallen. Sam watched his mother, lying on the old iron bedstead, nursing two children whose mothers had died. Her own youngest lay between her knees and tears streamed down her cheeks.
When he was six or seven, he hid in that bedroom with his mother and his siblings, while his father sat guard outside the door with his hunting rifle and a shotgun across his lap. Outside the window, on the hills, the Ku Klux Klan were burning crosses, threatening the immigrants, the Catholics who worked in the mine, and their families.
At some point, perhaps at his father’s immigration, the spelling of our family name was changed to Puglise. When Sam went to school, his teachers decided that Salvatore Francesco was not a nice American name and changed it to Samuel Frank. He lived with that name for the rest of his life.
When he was nine, his beloved father died. Coal miners don’t live long. The mining company put Concetta and her six children, ranging in age from 2 to 14, and her meager belongings on a wagon and drove them to the edge of the “town,” which was in the middle of a woods. They left her there.
Concetta moved the family to Paterson, New Jersey, where there was a group of people from her village on the outskirts of Siracusa in Sicily. Sam’s oldest brother Paul, aged 14, went to work in the silk mills and took over support of the family. Sam never went back to school.
After his stint in the CCC camp, Sam returned to Paterson and met the love of his life—Annamaria Pisacane. They both looked like movie stars. Here they are on their wedding day:
When World War II broke out, they had two children, but Sam volunteered. Many first generation Italian-Americans felt they had to prove that, though the Fascist government of Italy was the enemy, Italian immigrants were loyal to the USA. He joined the Marines and fought in many of the most brutal battles of the Pacific—Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Saipan. His brother Paul, who had supported the family and been an Olympic wrestler was too old for combat, but he joined the CBs (Construction Battalions) and went to the Pacific to build airstrips on islands once the Japanese had been ousted. When Sam found out that Paul was on Saipan, he charmed his battalion commander into getting him onto a transport plane so he could go from Okinawa to Saipan for a visit with his brother. That is SUCH a Sicilian thing to do!
After V-J Day, Sam’s unit was assigned to go to Tsingtao, China were the Americans accepted the Japanese surrender. There were 70,000 Japanese soldiers in China. Repatriating them was a slow process. Sam found himself walking guard duty at a prison camp. There were not enough Marines to do the job. The Chinese were, rightly many would say, in the mood to slit the throats of the beastly soldiers who had tortured and murdered their relatives. To keep the Japanese safe, the Americans rearmed the Japanese officers, and Sam wound up walking the perimeter barbed wire with armed Japanese. “Imagine that, Sweetie,” he said to me. “Two weeks before we were trying to kill one another. Now, we were working together as armed guards.”
After Sam came home, despite working two jobs to support his family, he used the GI Bill to get a high school equivalency diploma and even managed two years of college. Through his life he never stopped studying and learning.
He was very proud to work on parts for the Space Shuttle.
His favorite pastime was trout fishing.
And he liked dancing.
And in his later years, to play golf.
He loved his family. And everyone loved him. And I mean everyone. And everyone, including his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, called him Sam.
He said he only regretted one thing—smoking cigarettes. He died of complications of emphysema at the age of 94.
He still looked like a movie star.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Mrs. Marsh was a single mom, one of whose daughters was in my class at school. She was nice enough but life at her home was boring. Her taste in music ran to the Ray Conniff singers and she served one unvarying lunch: Warmish iced tea in waxy glasses and Kraft American Singles (you couldn’t call it cheese) on toasted bread. She was rarely my babysitter in the afternoons. She went off to the officer’s club at the local military base and her daughter, my classmate, was in charge of me.
One day she came home aglow (and perhaps a-slosh) with the news that she had seen my father at the officer’s club. She leered at me and it was only some years later that I realized that if he was talking to officers at all, they were probably female. Alas, for Mrs. Marsh, my dad also saw her, the caretaker of his delicate daughter, at a bar in the middle of the day. As I wasn’t knocking back martinis with her, she couldn’t be watching me. She was out of a job.
I begged to be on my own. If I promised not to answer the door or go off our property, what could possibly happen? Would reading too many books put me in danger? So my parents, with some reluctance, let me stay home by myself. My mother left sandwiches for lunch and I was allowed soda pop. Normally, I would have listened to the Beatles, and Broadway show recordings (I can still can do a fair number of Rex Harrison’s ‘songs’ from My Fair Lady) but in the early part of the summer I had a larger task.
My parents and I were a Nielsen family. We got a weekly log in which we were to record what we watched on T.V. The big event in the early summer of 1967 was the Arab-Israeli War (also known as the Six Day War). All the networks were covering the debate at the United Nations. I recorded that I watched every minute of that debate.
I wanted the folks at Nielsen to know that I was a teenager deeply interested in world affairs. (The fact that information about names and ages wasn’t requested didn’t faze me.) And I did learn something. I learned that when U.N. delegates really despised each other they hid it under diplomatic language. No delegate called another a smarmy little worm. The language went like this: “If I might remind my distinguished, learned, honorable colleague…” That’s diplomatic lingo for smarmy little worm.
What was I really glued to? My hardcover copy of Dorothy Kilgallen’s Murder One.
Yes, while foreign intrigue featured on T.V., my book spoke of malice domestic. This was ,for my naive 15 year old self, hot stuff. I’m sure no 15 year old of today would turn a hair.
The trials Kilgallen covers span the 1930s to the 1960s and they all involve sex. Kilgallen has a way with a phrase. Describing Bernard Finch who is on trial for the murder of his wife: “Dr Finch at 40 had a lucrative surgical practice, was a ranking tennis amateur, and had a winning way with the ladies. He was, in short, notably successful both as a surgeon and an operator.”
In the case of “Greta Peltz,” who spices her love letters with bits of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, we are told that her defense attorney whispers this Lawrence into the record. Ms. Peltz admits to killing her lover because he raped her. She is acquitted it seems, not so much because of the rape, but because her lover asked her to perform repulsive sex acts. Ah, guilt in a more innocent time. There are also accounts of one case that very much resembles An American Tragedy and the first trial of Sam Shepard. I loved this book.
When my parents came home, I made sure to regale them with stories from the U.N. My mother knew what I was reading, but hadn’t read the book herself. Then one evening my father, no reader he, came home, picked up the book, and started leafing through it.
“You’re reading this?”
“Well as long as it doesn’t make you uncomfortable and you’re not bored.”
“No,” I assured him. “Never bored.”
© 2014 Stephanie Patterson
Friday, February 28, 2014
The shelves in the bedroom contain mostly non-fiction, mostly American history. The straight-out genealogical books and the witch trial stuff live in my office, the fiction in the "library," where we keep the television, the children's books on the shelves in the third floor guest room, the guilty pleasures of Louis L'Amour, Terry Pratchett, and Brian Jacques in a small bookcase in the upstairs hall. The big bookcases in the upstairs hall are full of Harold's books, which I wouldn't dream of touching, since he has his mysterious system.
The bookshelves are mostly shoveled out now. I'm sitting here eating lunch and considering actually going to the gym. When I get back I'll return the family pictures to the shelves and think about putting up Duncan McColl's memoirs as a kindle. They are long, long out of copyright, and it seems to me that scholars would like to see them. He was a famous Methodist preacher in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada. I admire him greatly; sometime I'll tell you why.
That's the fun thing about my bookshelves. They're full of people I admire, Lincoln Steffens, Maxine Eliot, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Masterman Hardy, Ida Tarbell, Bil Baird, Tecumseh. Anytime I want to I can go read about their doings, now that the dust is off the books, and fall in love all over again. But first I have to go to the gym.
© 2014 Kate Gallison