web analytics

Caroline Leavitt interviews Harriet Levin Millan...



Harriet Levin Millan talks about her profound novel-based-on-a-true-story, How Fast Can You Run, about a South Sudan refuge searching for the mother he was separated from when he was five.

“The best war novel told from a young boy’s perspective since Jerzy Kozinski’s The Painted Bird.”

—Nyoul Lueth Tong, author of There is a Country: New Writing from the New Country of South Sudan

Prepare to be amazed. When One Book, One Philadelphia asked author and Drexel University professor Harriet Levin Millan to choose ten of her undergraduate creative writing students to interview ten South Sudanese refugees for a special One Book writing project, she met Michael Majok Kuch, who became the subject of her novel. . Kuch survived the torching of his village in South Sudan, and was separated from his mother when he was only five. His quest to be reunited with her, and the plight of the refuge is both profound and moving. Thank you so much Harriet, for being here.

I always say every book starts with a yearning. What was yours?

My yearning was for Michael Majok Kuch, the S. Sudanese national, I based my novel on, to see his mother. They had been separated since Michael was five-years-old and their village was attacked in the middle of the night and they got separated. So by the time I met him, when he was a senior in college, he hadn’t seen her for nearly 22 years. [more…]

Share Button


  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.


    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

    Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

    She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

    Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

    She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

    “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

    “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

    “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

    The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

    “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

    “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

    The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

    “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

    “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

    Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

    “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

    “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

    “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

    “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

    “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

    “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

    There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

    They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

    “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

    “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

    He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

    “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

    “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

    “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

    Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

    Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

    Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

    Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

    “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

    The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

    “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

    “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

    “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

    “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

    Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

    “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

    “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

    “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

    Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

    Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

    Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

    “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

    All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

    “Here you go, ma’am.”

    Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

    “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

    Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

    “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

    She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

    “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

    “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

    “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

    “Now isn’t that something?”

    She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

    “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

    Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

    Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

    She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

    The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

    “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

    “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

    He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

    Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

    And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

    She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

    “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

    That’s when Floyd said no more.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

    “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

    “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

    And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

    Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

    “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

    That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

    “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

    “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

    And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

    “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

    But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

    “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

    “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

    The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

    “Does she have a cell phone?”

    “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

    They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

    “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

    Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

    By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

    “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

    “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

    He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

    Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

    Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

    “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

    He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

    Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

    “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.


    “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

    “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

    “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

    “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

    “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

    Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

    “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

    “I know that.”

    “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

    Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

    When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

    “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

    Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

    “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

    They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

    “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

    “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

    “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

    “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

    Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

    “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

    “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

    “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

    “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

    “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

    “Can you do it?”

    “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

    “How do you mean?”

    “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

    He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

    “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

    “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

    “Is it important?”

    “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

    “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

    He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.


    voice from the planet

    ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

    Share Button
  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

  • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

    aao cover

    My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

    Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

    The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

    Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

    There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

    An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

    Share Button

Recent Articles:

CODA Book Launch at Barnes & Noble

B&N Ft. Union, Midvalem UT


Join Harvard Square Editions author

Rajani Kanth at his book launch

for the title Coda


April 16th from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Fort Union  Barnes & Noble:


7119 South 1300 East St
Midvale, UT 84047


Author RAJANI KANTH is a visiting scholar at Harvard University. Coda chronicles the life, and afterlife, of the last human, in both flashback and future shock, after the apocalypse of the millennium, where timeless, misanthropic aggression, and blindness predictably destroy all life on Earth.

Share Button

A bit o’ (motley)goose


Rajani Kanth signing copies of his new book at Barnes & Noble

by Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda

a bee in my bonnet
A care in my cap
Sing me a sonnet –
grief is on tap

Sing me a sonnet
A groat in my spats
just came upon it:
my pockets in tats

Jackdaws twitter
Whittington’s afoot
Banbury’s cross
Jack Horner’s all mute

Boy Blue’s awake
Bo-peep’s fast asleep
Jack Sprat’s hungry
Wee Willie runs deep

Simon’s no wiser
Muffet’s no bolder,
spiders surprise her:
cider won’t hold her

some like it hot
some like it cold
some simply care not
truth be told

Humpty Dumpty
still sits on the fence
Neither giving –
Nor taking offence

no, no, black sheep
dont give me any wool
pulled right over my eyes
I am pretty much full

one two buckle my shoe
no,no, just shut the door:
King Cole, in heavy rue
cares to play no more

Pussy cat, alley cat
Where have you been?
in deep lucubrations –
No time for the queen

a Jack and a Jill
went up the hill:
Jack, in atonement
Still payeth the bill

Pat a cake pat a cake
Baker’s man
You cant make a mistake
As fast as I can

Hush a bye babies
Daddy’s right here:
dog’s got rabies
The end is quite near:

rain, rain
say no to Spain:
darkling spring
comes not again

A dillar, a dollar
Be ye late, or soon
Once an everyday scholar –
Now in immovable swoon

I still dont like thee
Doctor Fell:
heal myself now,
if not very well

bye baby bunting
the ships are out to sea
times they are a-shunting
nothing real can be

so fare thee well,
my mother goose,
to rhymes that braise
to words that bruise

Xmas ain’t coming
the world is getting flat
Time, friend, to pack it in
And that is that

So, how many days
left, now, to play?:
love comes but once,
It’s over: away!
[© R.Kanth 2016]

Share Button

The Book Soup Best Seller list for last week

1. The Beard
(Alan Swyer)
2. Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch
(Henry Miller)
3. A Little Life
(Hanya Yanagihara)
4. Inquisitor’s Niece
(Erika Rummel)
5. The Harder They Come (TC Boyle)
6. A Map Of Home
(Randa Jarrar)
7. Alchemist 25th Anniversary
(Paulo Coelho)
8. Chelsea Girls
(Eileen Myles)
9. Kafka on the Shore
(Haruki Murakami)
10. Untamed State
(Roxane Gay)
Share Button

Alan Swyer’s THE BEARD

Alan Swyer at Book Soup

photo by John Solt


Book Soup in Hollywood launched The Beard – April 4, 2016. March 30th, at 8:30 PM, Alan Swyer interviewed on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles— or KPFK.org on the internet— speaking about his new novel The Beard. Tune into Poets Cafe to hear Alan interviewed by the one and only Billy Vera.


via NewYorkSocialDiary.com

MUSIC PRODUCER/filmmaker/manager Alan Swyer has finally kept a promise he made long ago to the late, great Ray Charles. The two men became friends while Swyer was producing an album for the soul legend. Ray was fascinated by Swyer’s abilities as a storyteller, his many adventures and projects (managing Ike Turner, writing and directing “The Buddy Holly Story,” making music videos and commercials.) “You gotta promise me to write a book!” Ray exclaimed. Swyer said yes, but nothing came of it, until, well — now. While he was finishing “From Harlem to Hollywood” a documentary about singer/songwriter/author Billy Vera, he also began to write. And on April 2nd Swyer’s comic novel The Beard will debut from Harvard Square Editions. It’s been described as “an insider’s guide to the cutthroat phoniness of L.A.’s west side nouveau riche.”

Novel or not, one can be sure Alan Swyer’s adventures protecting his own throat from being cut will be melded into the fiction.


Alan Swyer

Share Button

Big Sister, Older Brother

big sisBig Sister Older Brother by Courtney Stinnett, based on a true story of sibling support when mental illness takes over. The journey of these two lives in a very short period of time reminds many of us of the value of family.

Excerpt of the book : From the moment I was born, I was not only a daughter, but I was a little sister as well. I looked up to my big brother, and he looked out for me. He took his job of being a big brother very seriously, and he was really good at it. Sometimes I would get picked on, and he would physically defend me by beating them up. Today I am the big sister and I look out for him. I don’t beat people up, but I do the protecting now. I make sure he has everything he needs. Now it’s my turn to take care of him. This is our story as told from both our perspectives… The story of how I became a big sister to my older brother.

ISBN-13: 978-0974684178; Papperback $16

Ladybug Publishing Company (2015)


Share Button

‘Twittermorphosis’, A Short Story by Diane Haithman

Diane Haithman’s HSE novel Dark Lady of Hollywood, inspired by Shakespeare, has been featured twice on Nikki Finke’s hot new Hollywood fiction website Hollywood Dementia (one excerpt and one short story, Enter Ghost, adapted from the novel).

This time around, Diane once again mashes up Hollywood and classic literature with The Twittermorphosis.


A short story by Diane Haithman, picture by Thomas Warming

In her vain attempt to please her agent by getting 10,000 Twitter followers, screenwriter Gina Sampson finds herself in a parallel predicament to Kafka’s Gregor Samsa in his short novel The Metamorphosis, who wakes up to find that he has become a giant cockroach.

By a similarly alarming twist of fate, @GinaS finds herself stuck in Twitter.


Share Button

Abduction, a short story by Bradette Michel

Abduction takes place before the opening of Bradette Michel’s debut novel, For Their Own Good, published in 2015 by Harvard Square Editions. For Their Own Good tells the story of nineteenth century women committed to an insane asylum for reasons that have nothing to do with their sanity.

Mrs. Packard balanced on the edge of her chair as if ready to pour tea for guests. If the room had been full of women from church, only the most observant would notice a slight curve in her back or the tremor of her dress against the bare floor. She struggled to maintain a pose she had been trained to assume since childhood—the pose of a lady.
Any other morning she would have been in the kitchen preparing breakfast at the wood burning stove, her little angels waiting for her to fill their plates with biscuits and gravy. Except this was no ordinary morning. This was the day her husband had prepared for, plotted for, connived for. Pastor Packard intended to take her to the insane asylum today.
A carriage braked in front of the house. The cheerful giggles of the Packard children greeting a familiar visitor reached her ears. Perhaps friends were calling. Perhaps her pleadings the night before had convinced her husband to give up his cruel plan. “Theophilus, have I not fulfilled my duties as wife and mother? Our children are healthy. Our household is well-managed. Have I not ministered to your congregation? A woman whose mind has flown could not have performed such duties.”
She had not been surprised when he closed his Bible and climbed the stairs to sleep in one of the children’s rooms. His reprimands to her words of defiance had been replaced by a rigid glare months ago. She shuddered at the thought of the sleepless nights that came with his silence. Often she woke alone, tangled in bed sheets, shaking and sweating like stalked prey just before the lion pounced.
At the sound of heavy boots ascending the stairway she rose quickly, and turned the key in the lock.
“She is in here, doctor.” (more…)

Share Button

A Plot Twist for Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Career

by Mary Yuhas


is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 33 EMMYs, 13 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her groundbreaking journalism. A bestselling author of eight mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: five Agathas, two Anthonys, the Daphne, two Macavitys, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her 2013 novel, THE WRONG GIRL, won both the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel and the Daphne Award for Mainstream Mystery/Suspense, and is a seven-week Boston Globe bestseller. TRUTH BE TOLD is the Agatha Award winner for Best Contemporary Novel, an Anthony Award nominee and a Library Journal BEST BOOK OF 2014. Ryan also won a second Agatha Award in 2015 for Best Nonfiction, as editor of WRITES OF PASSAGE, an anthology of essays by mystery authors, which was also honored with a Macavity Award and Anthony Award. Ryan’s newest novel, WHAT YOU SEE, is a RT Book Reviews Top Pick for “Exceptional suspense!” and named a Best of 2015 by Library Journal, which raves, “Mystery readers get ready: you will find yourself racing to the finish.” She’s a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Visit her online at HankPhillippiRyan.com, on Twitter @HankPRyan and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthor.

LITVOTE:  You were already an award winningl investigative reporter when you started writing? What prompted you to start a second career?

HANK: What prompted me to start a second career? I grew up in very rural Indiana, reading Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew, and always wanted to be a mystery author, or a real life detective. My life went a different direction, but come to think about it, I became kind of a detective and storyteller, right? I’ve been an investigative reporter for three decades now, and a journalist for 40 years! But one day–11 years ago when I was 55!– I simply got a great idea for a plot.  I remember the moment perfectly. And I went home and said to my husband: I have a terrific idea for a mystery, finally, and I’m going to write it.  He smiled, and said “Honey do you know how to write a novel? And I laughed, newbie me, and said “How hard can it be?” Now I know.

But I am proof that it is never too late to start a new career. And I am delighted every day about it.

LITVOTE:  How long did it take to find a literary agent/publisher for your first book?

HANK:  It took longer than I would have liked… But not as long as it takes for some. I thought it would be much easier, especially since I already had a well-known name, in New England at least, and hoped that might make a difference. It didn’t. I may have blanked out how much time it took, since every time I got a rejection, it felt like forever. But I think I maybe got 10 rejections before I got my agent. I know now that that is fabulous.

My first book did not sell instantly, but soon enough, and I hope I never have to worry about that again. I am so happy now with my publisher, Forge Books, and humming along delightedly.

Writing a novel can be a series of rejections, and much of success has to do with persistence.

Oh, and some magic, too.

LITVOTE: Do you outline before you start a book?

HANK: Can you hear me laughing? Every time I write a novel, I swear that I will do an outline. And then I think oh, maybe not, maybe I’ll just start. So bottom line, I have never done an outline for a book. As a result, I don’t know what is going to happen until I write the next word, and the next sentence, and the next scene.

You know there are two kinds of writers–plotters and pantsers. In other words, those who outline, and those who write by the seat of their pants. And I am a pantser.

I start each book knowing it will be about Jane Ryland, a smart savvy reporter, and Jake Brogan, a Boston police detective. I also know one cool unique plot point—one unique gem of an idea that will make the book special and original and riveting. I don’t start writing until I know the first sentence, but after that, anything goes.

It’s an intriguing tight rope, isn’t it? To begin a project, knowing that in a certain amount of time you have to have a certain amount of words, and you have faith that you will get there… Even if you don’t know where “there” is.

So far, it has worked. But not without some bumpy roads. But it is a joy, and some days I burst out laughing with how terrific it is. Other days, not so much.

Although I write thrillers, I don’t even know who the bad guys are when I begin!  When I was writing WHAT YOU SEE, I was almost finished, and in despair. I came out to the living room, and told my husband “I can’t finish this book I have no idea how it ends.”  Jonathan said “You at least know the villain, don’t you? And I said no.

People say –wow the end of WHAT YOU SEE surprised me! And I say yeah, wasn’t that a surprise? Talk about surprise endings. I surprise myself. Every time.

LITVOTE:  Do a lot of the twists and turns in your stories come from your experiences as an investigative reporter?

HANK: Oh yes, absolutely! One of the wonderful things about this dual career as investigative reporter and crime fiction author is that every day I am on the job–as I have been for the past 40 years!–I get ideas for my stories. My books, however, though ripped from my own headlines, are not my stories made into fiction. Not at all.

But I have wired myself within cameras, and confronted corrupt politicians, got undercover, and in disguise, and chased down criminals. I’ve had people confess to murder, and convicted criminals insist they were innocent, covered hostage situations, and ice storms, and shootouts and tear gas and riots. So of course, all that brings veracity and an authenticity to my novels.

Plus—I’ve had to write a story every time. So I’ve also learned the ways to tell a compelling story!

LITVOTE: How do you find time to work full time on television and write?

HANK:  Ha. I have said that if I had an autobiography, I would call it The Juggler. Because all I do is juggle! I am very organized, and have lots of lists, and I keep track of my writing progress. Maybe surprisingly, I am not a multitasker. I focus on one thing at a time, and try to get that done. Right now I am on national book tour, so must focus more on writing, and my station has been very generous and flexible about that. As an investigative reporter, there is much I can do remotely, research and interviews and scriptwriting. I have even tracked my pieces in other cities!

In my personal life?  Cooking I must say, was the first to go, and then laundry. And then vacations, and movies, and dinner parties. So I juggle, and my supportive and enthusiastic husband does too.  So far, so good.

LITVOTE:  Are Jane Ryland and  Charlotte McNally ─ the protagonists in your two series ─ your alter ego?

HANK: Well…no. They aren’t. Jane Ryland is a 35-year-old journalist, just getting her sea legs, and learning her way in the business—she’s so ethical, she keeps getting fired when she refuses to cut journalism corners. She is a 35-year-old person in 2015, and I was a 35-year-old person in… Whenever that was. So it’s a treat to get to be 35 again, but she is Jane at 35, not Hank at 35.

Charlotte McNally, well, she’s not my alter ego so much as she is flat out me. I fear is a lot of me is Charlie, and I embrace it. She also is younger than I am, but as a 46-year-old and television reporter, Charlie is worried that what will happen when she is married to television, but the camera doesn’t love her anymore. This is a rite of passage every woman in television… And other businesses! –goes through. So it was fun for me to explore, with Charlie’s trademark humor, that professional and personal journey.

Again, both characters often surprise me! Sue Grafton always says her main character Kinsey Millhone  revealed herself to Sue more and more in every book, and that is exactly what happens to me with Jane and Charlotte.

(You can read my novels in any order—just like you can watch any episode of Law & Order!)

LITVOTE: After successfully writing eight books, what suggestions can you give to aspiring authors?

HANK: It’s amazing to see that number eight, almost nine! And working on number 10.When I despaired, for a while, over book number one!

But my advice is simple: go for it. There is no one who cares about this is much as you do, no one who is going to make you do it, or force you to do it, or give you a prize if you do it. It is all about your passion, and your commitment, and sitting down in the chair and writing the best book that you can. That’s all there is. Devotion, and persistence, and that crazy wild confidence that any new author must have.

The road to successful publication is inevitably paved with rejection, and disappointment. There is also a beautiful light at the end of the tunnel (which is actually a new beginning!), and sometimes gorgeous lights along the way. So just keep at it, and work as hard as you can, do the absolute best you can, and give it 100 percent every moment of every day.

One big secret? There are no short cuts none at all. It is all about work.

LIT VOTE: Do you read your book reviews?

HANK: Yes I do, and, they are the scourge of authors. I often only remember the bad ones. If I could avoid reading them, I would. But I love hearing from readers, and it’s my goal to make certain they have a terrifically enjoyable reading experience, so, of course, I want to know if I have succeeded.

And the joy, the glorious joy, I get from the good ones is so marvelous and intoxicating. WHAT YOU SEE has received the best reviews I’ve ever seen for any book in my life! “Superb”, “highly entertaining,”  “as good as Dennis Lehane,”  “flawlessly done.”

And it was just named a Library Journal BEST of 2015!  Wow.

But when someone criticizes me unfairly, for something bizarre like my “profanity”– of which there is absolutely none in my books!–I shake my head and I vow I will never read another review.

Sometimes I think if people only knew what a dagger to the heart an unkind word is, they might be more careful about what they cavalierly say.  But that’s all part of the biz.

LITVOTE: What are the most common mistakes that first-time writers make?

HANK:  The most common mistakes? Not being careful enough, not realizing that every word you choose has to work, and has to matter, and that you can’t just bang out a book and have it be good. It takes a long time to write a terrific novel, and then it takes even more time to make better by revisions and changes and rethinking.

There is art, and there is craft. You can be the most incredibly talented person in the world, but if you don’t know how to write a book, it’s rare that it can succeed. There’s an interesting balance of skill and talent on one hand, and sheer education on the other. When I was halfway through my first book I had a little epiphany: That I had no idea what I was doing!

I took a class or two, and read some books, and after all my years as a journalist, it didn’t take much to educate me. I still study writing all the time! And hope to improve with every book. But again, there are no shortcuts. So if writer thinks “la dee dah this will be easy”? That’s wrong.

Writing a book is a marathon. It is easy to feel defeated. If you love it, please don’t make the mistake of giving up.

LITVOTE:  What’s next?

HANK:   So many exciting things! In 2016 my first series, the Charlotte McNally books, will be re-issued by Forge with brand-new editions and brand-new covers. I am so fond of these books– they are fun, fast-paced mysteries set in Boston. The first, PRIME TIME won the Agatha for Best First Mystery. Robert B Parker loved the Charlotte McNally books, (and I hope his fans will, too!)  and I am so happy that soon they will be available to readers again.

I have two short stories being published in 2016 as well, and hilariously, they are so different! One is in an anthology of X-Files stories, can you believe it? Edited by Jonathan Mayberry. And the other is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche which will be in an anthology edited by Laurie R. King and Les Klinger.

I was named Toastmaster, a huge honor, of Malice Domestic, the ‘traditional mystery’ convention held every year in Washington DC.

And then, along with James Patterson, I have been named the American guest of honor for Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, held in Dallas in 2019.

Book five in the Jane Ryland/Jake Brogan series, SAY NO MORE, will debut in October 2016. I am so excited about it! It is about witness intimidation, campus sexual abuse, and the power of silence.

And of course, I will be writing my next book, called OUT COLD! Which, oh, I should go start right now.


Mary Yuhas is a journalist and and has contributed to Sun-Sentinel, USA Today, China Daily USA and Washington Times, MapQuest among others, creator of Baby Boomers the first reality blog and the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother,  featured three times on Scribd.


Share Button

On Coventry by Matthew Schultz

Book Launch at the Vassar College Library on Friday, October 23rd at 7:00pm – Matthew Schultz will read from and sign copies of On Coventry

A creative exploration of the past-haunted-present, On Coventry features a nostalgic protagonist who is at once homesick and sick of home. It is a bildungsroman that charts the progressively disenchanted relationships of Eliot Hopkins, his working-class parents, and immigrant great-grandparents as a way of mapping the economic and cultural decline of Cleveland, Ohio, across the 20th Century. The figure of George Simmel’s wandersmänner is at the center of this historical narrative about the entropy of American dreams and longing for auld lang syne in a once great city.

Though Matthew’s first novel, On Coventry provides the creative hinge upon which his scholarly work swings. His first book, Haunted Historiographies: The Rhetoric of Ideology in Postcolonial Irish Fiction (2014, Manchester University Press), identifies a set of contemporary Irish novels as historiographical fictions that revisit and revise the partisan architecture of Ireland’s founding mythologies. By juxtaposing canonical and non-canonical texts that complicate previous representations of four definitive events in modern Irish and British history (the Great Famine, the Irish Revolution, World War II, and the Northern Irish Troubles), Matthew demonstrates how the figure of ghosts helps authors to expose the process by which such history is constructed.

His next book will interrogate the role of nostalgia in 20th century Irish fiction. Like On Coventry, this project is particularly interested in ‘reflective nostalgia’ (to borrow a term from Svetlana Boym) and its significance as an enduring Modernist obsession in the work of contemporary Irish novelists such as Colm Tóibín, Mary Morrissy, and Sebastian Barry.

On Coventry transcends generations in a tale of serendipity, about all the lucky and unlucky events that lead up to each individual’s present. It asks us to think about how we all create the fabric of society, are influenced by and influence the places we’re from, and the necessity to empathize with one another despite (and, perhaps because of) our differences.

Share Button

Author Laura Novak explains the ins and outs of writing an eBook

By Mary Thurman Yuhas

new Laura Novak imageLaura Novak worked in the news business for more than 25 years before turning to her first love ─ fiction. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College and a Diploma with Honors from the University of Leningrad in the Soviet Union. The following year she earned a Master of Science from the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University where she was selected as the David Jayne Fellow by ABC News. She worked for the network in London and New York for four years before taking flight for the West Coast where she started as a writer/editor at KCBS radio in San Francisco. From there, she became an on-air reporter at KFBK radio in Sacramento where she sat alongside a guy named Rush Limbaugh. Moving back into television, she reported for the CBS, NBC, and Fox TV stations in San Francisco and Oakland. Her specialty was crime stories, and she was dubbed the ‘blood and guts reporter’. Those days provided some good fodder for material now appearing in her mystery series! Following the birth of her son, she wrote for many years for “The New York Times” on health, business and the arts. If she is not swimming or writing with a cat nearby, she is usually recycling anything in her path.


LitVote: After all your years in journalism, your books, Finding Clarity, and Murder at the Mailbox, are fiction. What inspired you to write them?


Laura: “Murder at the Mailbox” is built around a real medical case that a doctor tipped me off to, as well as stories I found in the news and the public record. They were all so outlandish they begged to fictionalized. I had a great time creating a madcap mystery weaving all of these elements together. And it was natural for me to ferret out real stories because of my career as a journalist, first as a TV news reporter, like my protagonist, Clari Drake, and then as a print reporter, including many years writing features for The New York Times. Finding Clarity,” and “Murder at the Mailbox,” have mysteries at their roots, but they are also social satires and commentary on Berkeley, California. I get a lot of feedback that I have tapped into the soft white underbelly of life in this fabled city.


LitVote: What did you learn after writing your first book?


Laura: The long form is naturally much harder than daily journalism and even feature writing. As a journalist, at some point, you have to stop and turn in your copy to an editor. With a novel, new material can come your way. You have new experiences all the time and life is full of fodder. It’s difficult to know when the story is finished or when all the elements have come together and it’s time to put the pen down.


LitVote: When we talked, you said, self-publishing is so much easier than it was. How so?


Laura: When I launched Finding Clarity in 2011, indie authors were riding the crest of a big new wave. Many of us were putting chapters up on Scribd for feedback. We were selling books there and a few other places. Then Amazon launched Kindle Select which provided a number of services in exchange for exclusivity. There was all sorts of excitement about free give aways and how to handle promotions. But to get to that point, authors needed to format and upload. The words Mobi and ePub entered our lexicon. I recall watching Youtube videos on how to format for Kindle. It was a nightmare converting a Word document into something these online stores could then publish.


Fast forward to this summer when I formatted, “Murder at the Mailbox.” The real game changer for indie authors is an application called Vellum (,http://180g.co/) created by two guys who worked at Pixar and left to start their own company, 180g. Now, formatting is easy and gorgeous. Vellum generates files that can be uploaded directly to Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Kobo and Google Play. Books no longer have to look like typed xerox copies. Vellum has totally changed the eBook game.


LitVote: Do you recommend self-published writers use an editor?


Laura: Self publishing still carries a stigma, but it doesn’t have to. Some of us choose to spend the time building our own team and producing our own books. And that takes a lot of energy and effort. Others would rather spend that time trying to find an agent who then has to find a publisher. And that’s fine too. But to turn out a respectable product as an indie author, yes, you must hire good editors and cover designers. I hired a developmental editor out of New York who has worked with some big names. And my copy editor is a former colleague of mine from our days at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, as well as, “The New York Times.” He just retired from there in fact. Our timing to work together on, “Murder at the Mailbox,” was perfect!


LitVote: What is the best way to find a book cover?


Laura: I used the same designer for both my books. She is a very skilled and seasoned designer who does much more than book covers. We work well together. But if an author doesn’t know anyone, then that author needs to become a journalist and dig and dig and ask everyone until they come up with names and referrals. Or they can contact me on my website and I can share the names I have.


LitVote: For those who have completed their manuscript and are just beginning their self-publishing journey, what do you suggest they do first?


Laura: Step away from the book. Step away from the book! Take some time away – literally a few months if possible – and move on to the next project. Then, return to it and see all the things you didn’t see the first 100 times around. Then, when you really feel you are done, hire a developmental editor to see the holes in the manuscript that you can’t find. When that is done, hire a copy editor. They are two very different disciplines. And, in fact, the copy editor should probably take two spins on the book. Then, pursue a cover designer. And then, by all means, investigate Vellum. It really is the game changer for formatting a beautiful book.


LitVote: How do you market your book?

Laura: I promote it on Facebook and Twitter and even Instagram. And I rely on the kindness of friends and strangers to help share the news.


LitVote: Any advice on what not to do?


Laura: Distraction is a writer’s worst enemy, so it’s important to get quiet and do the work. I never talk about what I do. I just do it. Yet paradoxically, if we aren’t alert and available to new experiences, then we don’t gather new material. It’s a delicate balance.


What are your plans for the future?


Laura: “Murder at the Mailbox” is the first in a series I’ve planned. It takes place at Halloween on the most famous street for that holiday in Berkeley. My next book, of which I’ve completed about 25 percent takes place at Thanksgiving and involves, what else? Food. Berkeley is deeply rooted in the food culture of the Bay Area. We can’t converse about this colorful city without including its amazing culinary scene.

Laura Novak’s web site: lauranovakauthor.com

Mary Yuhas, is a journalist and has contributed to Sun-Sentinel, USA Today, China Daily USA and Washington Times among others, creator of Baby Boomers the first reality blog and the author of the upcoming memoir, QUIT AND BE QUIET, about growing up with a severely mentally ill mother, featured three times on Scribd.




Share Button

Tweets From Bill McKibben

billmckibben 10 hours agoTrump is ham-handedly trying to force banks to lend to oil companies. I got to use that as a springboard to describ… https://t.co/br2N62KTl5

Erika Raskin

  • No items found in feed URL: http://erikaraskin.net/feed/. You requested 1 items.
    • Love’s Denouement

    • By Rajani Kanth


      The dullest


      doth True


      discern  –


      Though  Sirens

      Will   perjure

      And   Furies

      Still   Burn –


      And so

      the  sweet


      Of Heaven’s

      Soft  gaze –


      Does  all

      Ills   resolve:

      all  Miscues

      Erase –


      So, though


      may we yet

      go down –




      or   fey,

      foolish ,





      of   fresh

      daisies –


      past recall,

      or renown


      So, ask not

      Why those

      Gay flowers

      Bloom –



      The fair


      Of our deep



      [©R.Kanth, 2019]  


      Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda, and Expiations, is Trustee of the World Peace Congress

      Share Button
    • Traits

    • The head’s
      with Reasons
      Too multifarious
      To know

      The heart only
      Two Seasons:
      The high and the

      No neutral
      It takes

      But all that
      it feels:
      Cleaves –
      Or forsakes

      O the head
      is so
      The heart,

      But O what
      A difference
      That dissimilitude
      Makes !

      [© R.Kanth 2018] 
      Professor Rajani Kanth is the author of Coda, and Expiations
      and trustee of the World Peace Congress

      Share Button
    • Song for Ahed

    • By Rajani Kanth


      Ahed Tamimi

      Stood , Fearless,

      up to Power –


      A mere


      become Heroine

      Of the Hour


      Yes, she was



      Her mettle,

      Sore tested –


      Sure, Defiance,

      Was bought at

      High Cost


      But that should

      Not faze us –


      Rather, amaze



      At   Sixteen,

      She ,  the

      One War –

      Zion Has Lost

      [©R.Kanth 2018] 

      Professor Rajani Kanth, Author of Coda, and Expiations
      Trustee; World Peace Congress

      Share Button
    • Meet the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35

    • s-li

      Excerpted from the LA Times, September 29, 2016

      The National Book Foundation, which presents the National Book Awards, launched its 5 Under 35 program in 2006 to highlight the work of young literary talents; this year each writer gets a $1,000 cash prize and will be invited to participate in public readings.

      Many past 5 Under 35 honorees have gone on to further acclaim. Nam Le’s short story collection “The Boat” won the international Dylan Thomas Prize; Tea Obreht’s novel “The Tiger’s Wife” took the Orange Prize for fiction; and two honorees, Dinaw Mengestu and Karen Russell, were each later awarded MacArthur Fellowships….9781941861301-JacketGray.indd

      One of those writers this year is S. Li, who took up creative writing as a hobby when he was in medical school. The 31-year-old neurologist’s debut novel, “Transoceanic Lights,” was published by Harvard Square Editions, a small independent press.

      “I had sent the book to the National Book Foundation for consideration for the National Book Awards, fully knowing that my chances were zero,” Li said from his home in Burlington, Mass. When he received the email informing him he’d been chosen as an honoree, “I thought it was a scam. And then I realized it wasn’t. I had no idea this was even in the cards.”

      Li’s novel, about a Chinese immigrant family, is based on his own childhood. He was 5 years old when his family moved from Guangzhou, China, to Boston.

      img-41“I was sort of teaching myself the craft of writing,” Li said of his years writing fiction while also learning medicine. “And so it just made natural sense to go with material that comes easiest to you, and that’s your childhood.”

      Li is one of two immigrants honored in this year’s program. Yaa Gyasi, author of the critically acclaimed novel “Homegoing,” was born in Ghana and moved with her family to the United States when she was 2. [more]



      Share Button
    • What are the best eco books for children and teens?

    • @EmilyDrabs, excerpted from The Guardian,


      Authors including David Almond, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Katherine Rundell plus teen site members share the books that made them think more deeply about climate change and environmental themes. Now share yours!

      This week we’re celebrating the positive power of stories, all kinds of stories, to bring home what we risk losing on our beautiful planet – and what we can do about it. Here authors and children’s books site members share the books that made them think. We’ll be feeding this blog with more recommendations all week, so please share yours – and keep checking back.

      Frank Cottrell Boyce (whose latest book is the remarkably green The Astounding Broccoli Boy)

      First book of Saints

      The book that made me realise that I was part of the environment was The Ladybird Book of Saints. On the cover was this brilliant image of St Francis releasing the caged birds he had he had bought in the market. For ages afterwards I would go into pet shops and zoos and itch to unlock the doors. In fact there are “freeing the animals” scenes in at least two of my books. There are so many environmental messages about how horrible humans are wrecking the planet – that’s obviously true in a way but this image made me feel that I belonged in the World too and that I could cherish and love it.

      David Almond, author of Skellig

      The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin. It’s beautifully written, beautifully illustrated picture book. It shows a troubled darkened world being recreated by the human need for greenery, life and colour.

      Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours

      Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction novel that is very much concerned with the damage humans are inflicting upon the environment and the possible catastrophic results that could have. Written in 2003, many plot points now seem eerily prescient and it makes for a disturbing, powerful read. Highly recommended for older teenagers.

      Site member, Patrick

      Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot is true to its name in that it’s a supremely funny YA novel, and one that tends to be overlooked. There’s a real environmental streak running through all of Hiaasen’s works and Hoot is no exception, it deals with a Florida teen who bands together with a couple of new friends to stop the destruction of a burrowing owl colony. It’s a lot of fun with a solid conservationist message at its core and an abundance of charm to boot.”

      Candy Gourlay, author of Shine

      Long ago I wrote a short story called How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle for Under the Weather, the climate change anthology edited by Tony Bradman. About a white sand beach losing its sand because the sea is heating up … the same hot oceans that later whipped up the murderous monster that was Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

      Perhaps the all too real climate change disaster in the Philippines has made me partial to flood stories. My favorite is Not the End of the World, the lyrical resetting of Noah’s Ark as a Tsunami survival story by Geraldine McCaughrean.

      Lottie Longshanks, site member

      The wild series by Piers Torday. So far I have read The Last Wild and The Dark Wild. Kester has the unusual gift of communicating with animals and it is his mission to save the animals from red eye the disease that is slowly killing them. It is a really exciting story and you soon guess who the villains are Selwyn Stone and his lackeys who want to dictate the way that everyone lives. The amazing rubbish dump in the second book in the series really makes you think about the damage that we are doing to our planet. I can’t wait to read the third book in the series,The Wild Beyond.

      White Dolphin by Gill Lewis Set in the south West of England the exciting story tells of children who take on the might of a powerful fishing business to stop dredging in the harbour because of the damage it does to marine life. I also love Moon Bear by Gill Lewis. This incredibly moving story shows how deforestation leads to misery for the animals whose habitat was the forest. And finally here is a recommendation for small children I read it to my cousin who lives in Oman when he comes to visit us. Dear Greenpeace by Simon James. Emily writes to Greenpeace to find out how to care for the whale that she thinks she has seen in her pond. Emily’s letters and the lovely replies she receives from Greenpeace will give little children a lot of information about whales. (Also see Lottie Longshank’s poem Our Precious world)

      SF Said, author of Varjak Paw

      I recommend Exodus by Julie Bertagna: a brilliantly prescient YA novel about climate change, set in a drowned future world. It’s full of unforgettable visions and characters, and it will stay with you forever!

      ItWasLovelyReadingYou, site member

      My book would be Breathe by Sarah Crossan. It made me think about how we take so many things for granted, such as oxygen. You can’t see it, we use it every day, without it we would not survive; yet many people do not really sit down and feel a sense of gratitude for these types of things, becuase we assume we deserve them, we see them as something that will never go away, we just accept it without question. Breathe really made me feel a sense of ‘imagine if we didn’t have oxygen, or we had limited supplies of it-”, it made me question my unconscious detachment from what keeps us alive, and really feel privelidged to have all of these necessities.

      Katherine Rundell, author of Rooftoppers

      Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Cosmic is a book that makes the world look like something worth protecting. It’s hilariously funny, and also wise – it makes its readers want desperately to go into space, but also to take care of the world while we’re on it. The Earth is, as one of the astronauts says, “some kind of lovely.” The Last Wild series by Piers Torday – these three spectacular books are about a world decimated by humans, and the possibility of that loss feels very real and urgent and frightening – and they’re also fantastic adventure stories, about bravery and animals and human capacity to do huge good as well as harm. And there’s a bossy talking cockroach.

      Site Brahmachari, author of Kite Spirit and Artichoke Hearts

      For me it has to be The Ring of Bright Water Trilogy by Gavin Maxwell. I fell in love with these books as a child because they are set on the West coast of Scotland – a place I love – where wildlife and nature are the biggest characters. It;s a humbling landscape. If you have a love of the outdoors and really want to study the nature of beautiful, playful otters… and can stand to have your heart broken …. you should read these stories. Although they were written 50 years ago they are as timeless as the shingle beaches they are set on. The author lived and breathed the paradise he went to live in… and so will you when you read these books… and afterwards you can watch the film (tissues at the ready!)

      OrliTheBookWorm, site member

      Breathe by Sarah Crossan is probably the book that’s impacted me the most in terms of the environment – it’s a dystopian novel, with people living in domes due to a lack of oxygen – the raw descriptions and harsh realities were wonderfully done and uttery thought provoking, and made me take a step away from my laptop and have a look outside my window…. It’s a brilliant book, which I guarantee will change your perspective on the environment around us.

      Piers Torday, author of The Dark Wild trilogy

      The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann – the original classic tale of a group of British animals seeking refuge when their precious Farthing Wood is threatened by human development. They overcome incredible obstacles and danger to make it to a wildlife sanctuary. But reading it today there is an extra poignancy – some of the animals in the story, like the red-backed shrike, are now extinct, and others – like the adder, hare and voles – are all under threat.

      BritishBiblioholic, site member

      Watership Down by Richard Adams – When the rabbits in Watership Down are forced to leave their home, it is due to its impending destruction by humans. This potentially can be seen as an allegory for the ongoing destruction for the environment in general – and unlike the rabbits, if we don’t save our environment, we won’t be able to find somewhere else to live.


      Mary, curator, eco-fiction.com

      Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta: The novel takes place in the future after climate change has ravished economies and ecologies, and made fresh water scarce. The main character, Noria, is a young woman learning the traditional, sacred tea master art from her father. Yet, water is rationed and scarce in her future world. Her family has a secret spring of water, and, as tea masters, she and her father act as the water’s guards, even though what they are doing is a crime according to their future world’s government, a crime strongly disciplined by the military.


      NC front DR TinyNature’s Confession by JL Morin: The eco-novel is wonderful and reminds me of classic science fiction I watched or read as a kid. It was a genre that fascinated me then, and this book has joined that memory. The novel is epic in that it doesn’t just tell a story (which it does do too), but it puts our very survival into question while romping through the universe or discovering new quantum physics that are both scientific and spiritual in nature. In the meantime, universal symbols are unearthed, codes are investigated, fat corporations are dominating, a romance is blossoming, computers come alive, and native tribes and Nature on another planet bring our own treasured past into the future.


      Tito intiro Chavaropana by Jessica Groenendijk: Tito intiro Chavaropana means ‘Tito and the Giant Otter’ in Matsigenka. The author, a biologist who has studied giant otters, is now working on a sequel, in which Tito sets off into the forest to hunt a spider monkey and meets a harpy eagle on the way. They become friends but not without a misunderstanding or two!
      61cwBitpcAL._AA160_Spirit Bear by Jennifer Harrington: Spirit Bear celebrates a rare and iconic black bear that is born with a recessive gene that makes its coat creamy or white. Also called the Kermode bear, the spirit bear lives in the delicate, rich, and threatened ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Jennifer’s story is about the journey of a spirit bear cub that gets lost from his mother and has to find his way back.

      Share Button
    • Publisher Guidelines

    • Publisher Harvard Square Editions is looking for literary fiction of environmental or social significance.

      Its mission is to publish fiction that transcends national boundaries, especially manuscripts that are international, political, literary, sci-fi, fantasy, utopia and distopia. Send submissions of aesthetic value and constructive social or political content, especially manuscripts related to climate change, deforestation, and conservation.

      Share Button
    • A Moral Atmosphere: Hypocrisy redefined for the age of warming

    • By Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

      This article first appeared in Orion Magazine.


      THE LIST OF REASONS for not acting on climate change is long and ever-shifting. First it was “there’s no problem”; then it was “the problem’s so large there’s no hope.” There’s “China burns stuff too,” and “it would hurt the economy,” and, of course, “it would hurt the economy.” The excuses are getting tired, though. Post Sandy (which hurt the economy to the tune of $100 billion) and the drought ($150 billion), 74 percent of Americans have decided they’re very concerned about climate change and want something to happen… (more)
      Share Button
    • Cambridge divest from fossil fuel

    • We call on the City of Cambridge Retirement System to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuelcompanies, and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years (more)

      Share Button

    Around Harvard

    Brain Pickings

    by Ben Mattlin (HC ’84)

      Like all romantic entanglements, the reasons for their tensions—tensions, which eventually led the invisible rubber band between them to snap—weren't quite clear.  Or maybe they were entirely too clear.  Telling me about it, Shane struggled for the right words, but his meaning rang with the clarity of breaking glass. "For a while, she was planning on moving up here to be with me, to be able to help out with all my [...]

    by Teresa Hsiao (HC ’07)

  • No items found in feed URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/index.php?author=teresa-hsiao. You requested 1 items.
  • Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) – Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen


    TylerJamesComicTyler James
    All of a sudden, though, you start stacking ComixTribe, Image, Boom, Action Lab, Valiant, etc... books against Big Two books...
    66 months ago
    we smell like coffee and old libraries filled with new books waiting to be read
    66 months ago
    aidanr1022Aidan Ryan
    When Dad has to hit the books in the middle of the day so he can support the fam @emrson11webster http://t.co/igjSlYR8cB
    66 months ago
    forgot my books ?
    66 months ago