3 New Books for June

I’ve been busy since school let out less than a month ago. I’ve edited two books and published them, plus one more. All of them are outside my usual genre. Now it’s time to promote them and try to convince you to buy them.

First up is A Light Beyond. This is one I imagined several years ago, when I still had an agent who didn’t really believe in me. He shot the idea down, but it wouldn’t leave me. I wrote the book last semester, putting down a little over 50,000 words in a pretty short time for me during a school year. This is the story of Robert Prince, who meets an older woman when he’s 13 and falls in love with her. He has a friend who is a bully and a home life that is less than good.

Structurally, I tried something different with this short novel (or long novella). Each chapter is from a different stage of Robert’s life. We begin in a Cincinnati subway tunnel, where he’s been severely beaten. We then move to the summer of 1978, when he’s 13 and meets Alia, the older woman down the street. The third stage stretches over a much longer period of time, beginning when he’s about 18 and concluding with the chapter that reveals why he’s in the subway at age 51. Every third chapter goes back to one of these stages of his life.

For the few who are interested, there is a lot of nostalgia in this book for me. The chapters with young Robert are set on the street where I grew up and characters visit real places like Longfellow Junior High School, Bob’s Cone Corner, Hendrie House Buffet, etc. There really was a woman living in the house described who a “frenemy” of mine insisted was a hooker. Like Robert, I spent a lot of summer afternoons working puzzles, playing board games, and reading. But pretty much all the major plot elements are fiction.

A Light Beyond is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

This next book is pretty special to me. My first genre love was for the Western, though it was more for movies than books. I’d wanted to write a Western novel for many years, but frankly, was afraid to branch out. The research seemed intimidating, too. And yeah, that same agent who dissed A Light Beyond didn’t want anything to do with Orphan when I proposed it to him.

This one is also told from three perspectives, but it’s three different characters. First is Ramsay, a wanted man just trying to get west, away from his old life and all the disappointments it held. When he catches a man cheating at cards in a small east Kansas town, the man pulls a gun and Ramsay has to kill him. This leads the man’s nephew, Jack, to decide that Ramsay is now responsible for him, so he tags along. Back in Chicago, Les finds out his lover isn’t who she claimed to be, and she’s pregnant. If he wants to maintain his relationship with her, he must leave his job as a packinghouse foreman and use his old Pinkerton skills to track down a meat baron’s missing grandson. Eventually, Ramsay, Jack, Les, the grandson, and a bounty hunter all meet up. There’s some shooting.

About the only other thing I can say about this one is that it’s dedicated to the memory of Johnny Quarles, Johnny lived in my hometown when his first novel, Brack, came out in about 1988 or so. I was about 22. Surprisingly for my introverted self, I picked up the phone and called him shortly after his book came out and found him to be a warm, helpful man with a wonderful family. He gave me a lot of good advice and let me interview him for various newsletters and such. In the early days of the Internet he even paid me to create and maintain his first Web site. My character, Ramsay Quarles, takes his name from Johnny and Johnny’s character Brack Ramsay. I hope my book is a worthy tribute to a great man.

Orphan is available as both a paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app. The audio version is in production at the moment.

The third book I released this month is a really old manuscript. I’m talking like 25 years old. Songbird was written when my wife was pregnant with our first child. We never asked to learn the gender of our kids before they were born, preferring to be surprised. I know, that’s unthinkable today with all the elaborate gender reveal parties, but … whatever. We knew if we had a boy he’d be named Alexander and if we had a girl she’d be Rebecca. So the songbird of the story is named Becca and the wandering sailor who rescues her from the Trolls is Zander.

As you may have guessed, this is a children’s fairy story. Becca trades her freedom to save her village and she’s locked up in the Troll king’s Fang Tower, where she has to sing every time a Troll rings a bell. Zander hears her one day and vows to rescue her, but the Troll king’s ransom requires that Zander find the legendary land of Farin and bring back Queen Roshell’s wedding ring. Can he do it before the Troll king forces Becca to marry him? Well, it’s a fairy tale, so you can probably guess the answer to that one. It’s a chapter book, so I guess the target audience here is probably grades 3 to 8. The font is bigger than normal, so the page count is higher than the word count would suggest.

You’ll find several homages to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander in this one.

Songbird is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

Thanks for sticking with me!



Open Letter to My Students, Past, Present, Future

I suppose every teacher faces the question, “Why do we have to learn this stuff?” Lord knows I asked it enough when it came to math. I get it a few times each year in my English classes, especially regarding the literature we read. I’d like to answer the question here.

History, science, and yes, math, will teach you facts. Some of those facts may benefit you later in life. Some won’t. Literature will teach you about truths. If you open your mind to it, literature will teach you things you can use every day. It will teach you about the world, about your friends, and about yourself.

Will you face the decision of whether or not to kill a king so you can take his place like Macbeth did? Not likely. Will you have a time in your life when you have to choose whether or not to do something you know is wrong in order to achieve personal gain? Oh yeah, you will. Perhaps you’re a colder fish than Macbeth (or his wife) and it will never bother you that you hurt someone else to help yourself … but I have my doubts.

Maybe the world of Winston Smith’s Nineteen Eighty-Four will never happen. Or maybe we’re already halfway there. Hopefully reading the book will make you ask what you want from your government. Maybe it will even motivate you to act.

Who can’t identify with little hairy-footed Bilbo Baggins of The Hobbit? Who among us has not underestimated the value of another person and been proven wrong? Who hasn’t yearned for adventure but feared we weren’t really capable? We won’t fight a dragon, or even hungry trolls, but we can stand up to bullies and fight the corruption caused by others if we remind ourselves of Bilbo’s courage.

Not all of us are the light-skinned granddaughters of former slaves speaking in a southern black dialect, like Janie Crawford in Their Eyes Were Watching God. But how many of us have had boyfriends or girlfriends (or husbands or wives) who weren’t right for us? How many of us have dreamed of romance and gone down the wrong path looking for it? Janie does that, and in the end she not only finds romance, but something even better. It’s a good thing to remember when our love lives depress us.

The 1930s world of Jean Louise Finch is gone, but if you think we can’t learn from the adventures of Scout, Jem, and Dill, you’re not looking beyond the page. Every person has value, whether it’s Boo Radley or Tom Robinson. (Okay, Bob Ewell is questionable.) This book taught me so much about how to think about and treat other people when I first read it in about 1980. It can do the same for you today. I bet you know a Boo or a Tom … or maybe a Dill.

You think you have it bad because the rent’s due, your car payment is late, or you can’t afford those new Jordan shoes because you got your hours cut at work? The Joad family of The Grapes of Wrath can teach you about real hardship and what matters in life. Jim Casey will make you think about spirituality and Tom Joad will inspire you when you need it most. If you let them.

If you approach the great works of literature with an open mind and a willingness to fill those fictional characters with something of yourself and draw something of what their authors put into them into you, you’ll enrich your life and inform you decisions. If you approach it as, “I have to read another 10 pages of this stupid book for English class” then you’re not getting anything but a grade … and in my class probably not a very good one.

Class dismissed.