Thursday, May 24, 2012

Outside Starbuck’s on the Way to Work

Every morning he’s there, his cart heaped with bags, staring at our coffees and scones. I always step around his mess, head to the hospital to crunch admissions, discharges, deaths, but today my caramel macchiato feels heavier, his eyes harder. I hand him my drink. He shuffles away, not even a thank you.

Another Press53 Pokrompt shorty. Prompt=the first time, in 53 words. Peace...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


AGAIN TODAY ALEX HOUSMAN DROVE THE BUICK RIVIERA. The Buick, coppertone, white sidewalls, was the model of the year, a ’59, although the 1960 models were already out. Its upholstery was black, its windshield was tinted a thin color of motor oil. The car’s heater was issuing a stale and odorous warmth, but Alex remained chilled. He had walked several blocks through snow and slush, wearing neither hat nor gloves nor boots, to where he had left the car the night before. The steering wheel was icy in his hands, and he felt icy within, throughout his veins and bones. Alex was sixteen; the Buick was his fourteenth car.

So begins THE CAR THIEF, the coming-of-age journey of Alex Housman, a young man abandoned by his mother and living with a father as addicted to his bottle as Alex is to stealing cars. All Alex wants—and needs—is someone to take notice of him, to care for him. But no one does, so he steals cars until the cops catch up with him and send him to a detention center for juvenile delinquents. He awaits his fate there for several months, eventually released under the care of his father and on probation until he turns eighteen.

Alex returns to school, motivated to be a good student. He works hard at geometry, picks up a paper route, excels at basketball, but no one trusts him enough to let him to demonstrate his remorse and good intentions. His schoolmates ignore him or worse, beat him up, and he ends up marginalized again. He hangs his hopes on Irene, a school girl who at first shows interest in Alex, and on his younger brother, living miles out with their mother, but neither can save him from his aloneness. When his father returns to drinking with catastrophic consequences, Alex realizes only he can choose his life--let his past dictate his future, or find his own way.

In this novel, it really is all about the writing. Weesner describes setting with a pitch-perfect sense of the right details. Weesner catapults the reader in all the senses to the point where I was Alex Hausman—feeling icy flakes hit his cheeks, seeing the dark streets as he traveled through neighborhoods in his stolen car, inhaling coal dust as he cleaned out the bin as part of his detention. I felt the weight of his life, the futility of his future, his depression. Based on his own childhood experiences, Weesner weaves a dark story, one that feels hopeless much of the time. But then he gives us respite, a glimpse of light in Alex’s life—when he finds his power on the basketball court, when he follows Irene Shaeffer on and off the city buses, when he escapes into a book:

He rose finally at the end of a chapter, although he read a little into the next chapter before he made himself stop. His legs were buoyant with saws and needles as he buttoned up, and he had to hold a hand against the wall not to sway from balance. Then he checked the thickness of pages he had read between his fingers, and experienced something he had never experienced before. Some of it was pride—he was reading a book—and some of it was a preciousness the book had assumed. Feeling relaxed, unthreatened, he wanted to keep the book in his hands, for what it offered. He did not want to turn the pages, for then they would be gone and spent; nor did he want to do anything but turn the pages.

By the novel's end, Alex had engrained himself on me as a character I will not forget, a mash-up of Holden Caulfield and Oliver Twist. So much happens to Alex—he is a passive protagonist—that when he does exert himself to find a better way, you root for him. Does Alex find his way? Does he find a place in the world? I will not spoil the ending but urge you to read THE CAR THIEF for yourself. THE CAR THIEF is not a new story. Published in 1972 by Random House, the story reads as fresh and relevant now as forty years ago. New Digital First Publisher ASTOR + BLUE EDITIONS promises to “revive Weesner’s readership and keep it alive indefinitely” in Digital E-Book format before the release of the Custom Print Version, due out in June.

THE CAR THIEF deserves a new audience for many reasons—the gorgeous prose, the haunting character of Alex, the snapshot of time and setting, gritty Detroit on the cusp of the tumultuous sixties, but mostly because it is, in the words of Joyce Carol Oates, a “remarkable, gripping novel.” You can start your journey with  Alex here ==> The Car Thief. Enjoy, and let me know what you think. Peace...

About the Author: Theodore Weesner, born in Flint, Michigan, is aptly described as a “Writers’ Writer” by the larger literary community. His short works have been published in the New Yorker, Esquire, Saturday Evening Post, Atlantic Monthly and Best American Short Stories.  His novels, including The True Detective, Winning the City and Harbor Light, have been published to great critical acclaim in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Harper’s, The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, Boston Magazine and The Los Angeles Times. He is currently working on his memoir, two new novels, and an adaptation of his widely praised novel—retitled Winning the City Redux—also to be published by Astor + Blue Editions. He lives and works in Portsmouth, NH.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What a Week daughter's school musical and concert, hooding my former graduate student, recovering (still) from last Saturday's we-are-free-from-toxicity bash, my son's first public 'gig' (see post below for live footage), 140 phamacy students leaving the nest to make their marks in the world, a hummingbird that whizzed past the Chinese wisteria, an upper-respiratory something that's left me wheezing and coughing, lunch out, my first check for a fiction piece this year, the felling of the Bradford Pear tree, the first strawberries from the garden...


Monday, May 14, 2012


I don't usually showcase my family here, but my son and his best buddy spent some time jamming this Mother's Day...

Can you guess which one is my kid?


Thursday, May 10, 2012


On Jeremiah’s seventh Thanksgiving, his father took him deer hunting for the first time.  In the cool, damp morning, Jeremiah trembled, from the weight of the gun, from fear he would miss. His father’s warm breath of coffee and cigarettes, his grown-up smell of sweat, steadied him. Behind them, his brother Martin shivered under a camo blanket. Almost eleven years older than Jeremiah, Martin was a pacifist—he had never killed a deer, much less a rabbit—but their father made him go hunting anyway. “Got to make men of all my sons,” he had said.

Jeremiah looked through the scope, blurred from dew, and as the buck came into focus, his shaking stopped. Jeremiah wanted this kill, bad. More than anything he wanted to show his father, his brothers, he was a man. He wanted those antlers over his bed. He wanted to give the hide to Luke. He wanted to sit down to backstrap seared on coals, sliced thin, the meat pink on the plate, and he wanted his mother to say, “Thank you, youngest son, for our food,” while Martin looked down at the table.

The deer lifted his head, his tail a white flag.

“There son,” his father whispered. “Aim for the shoulder. Aim high.”

A thin metallic taste flooded Jeremiah’s mouth. His finger curled around the trigger. Dear God, thank you for letting me take this life. He felt the recoil before he realized the bullet had connected. The deer leapt into the brush, then staggered in a circle and collapsed on wet leaves.

Almost a mile above the Korengal valley, Jeremiah and Rickards holed up in the abandoned hide and waited for the insurgents to return. AK47 casings and goat turds littered the dirt floor of the stone hut. They had packed enough MREs, ammo, and water for a week but hoped for a shorter stay.

Days, they patrolled the Pakistan side of the ridge. By noon, when it got too hot, they dozed on the cool ground in the hut. Despite being deep in enemy territory, they did not find evidence of the enemy. The only humans they saw were the goatherds in the meadow of the neighboring ridge. Every morning the boys herded their goats from the village up to the meadow, and every evening they brought them back to the village pens. Nights, Jeremiah guarded while Rickards slept hard curled on the ground. Rickards could sleep anywhere, any time. Jeremiah never slept more than an hour at a time.

“I used to be an insomniac,” he had told Jeremiah the first night in the hut. “Iraq cured me of that.”

“That’s why you re-upped?” Jeremiah asked.

“Yep,” Rickards said. “War makes me sleep like a baby.”

On day three, Rickards radioed down to base that Intel had been wrong, very wrong; the ridge was quiet as a mausoleum. At dusk, Rickards pissed in the holly bushes and lay down in the hard dirt. Jeremiah perched in the rocky outcropping and waited for night to fall. While Rickards slept, Jeremiah watched the goatherds and their animals return to the valley, the lights of the homes and their base below wink out, and wrote letters to Sheila in his head. Far up the northern valley, low booms and flashes of mortars and missiles, Camp Vegas taking fire from the Taliban.

The moon traveled across the sky and when it was directly overhead, the faint tinkle of bells alerted him. He peered through his rifle scope. Along the path he and Rickards had taken up to the hut, a lone goatherd walked slowly, as if deep in thought, seven goats bunched around him. Every now and then the goatherd paused, his tunic dragging in the dirt, and there was something about the goatherd that made Jeremiah feel even lonelier.

Rickards woke with a scream.

“Lousy nightmare,” he said but did not elaborate. Hands shaking, he squatted next to Jeremiah and lit a cigarette. Smoke curled around his head. Ashes flickered at his feet.

“G-Man,” he said to Jeremiah, pointing with his rifle at the goatherd. “There.”

“Same kid who passes through every night,” Jeremiah said.

“At 21 hundred? This one’s a Muj. Gotta be, with the caftan and all that shit.”

Jeremiah raised his M4 and looked through the scope. The person walked three or four steps, then stooped, touched the ground. Dust floated around his hand. Then, the goatherd stood again and walked, his goats following. A coil of silver glinted in his hand.

“Laying wire,” Rickards said. “Fucking punk. You should have nailed him last night.”

The goatherd stopped and turned. He stared up at the mountain as if he could see Jeremiah and Rickards and their M4s leveled at him.

“Good enough for rules of engagement, good enough for me,” Rickards said. “You get the honors, G-Man. Besides, you’re still a kill virgin.”

Jeremiah fingered the trigger and squinted through the scope. It seemed he heard his father’s voice whisper, “Aim high.”

“Shoot,” Rickards said.

Jeremiah lowered the rifle. The goatherd started again towards the village.

“Do it, damn it.”

Jeremiah did not remember pulling the trigger. The man fell to the ground, a puddle of white. The goats scattered, bleating.

“Nice,” Rickards said.

“Thank you,” Jeremiah whispered, not sure who he was thanking.


Two scenes from THE HUNTER, a story from my work-in-progress THE MINISTER'S WIFE, a novel of linked stories. Funny where a character might take you. I have never been to South Dakota, nor to Afghanistan, yet both places live so vividly in me as I write Jeremiah Anselm's story. Peace...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

So Many Books, So Little Time...

Between classes and recommendations and yard sales, I'm a-swimming in books. What to read first? Or third (I tend to have 3 or more books going at a time)? Here are a few choices:

LONE SURVIVOR by Marcus Luttrell, about surviving special ops in Afghanistan, a must-read for research on my novel.

HOMESTEAD by Rosina Lippi, spanking new from Amazon.

SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell, required reading for upcoming summer course.

SELECTED STORIES by Andre Dubus because every word of his is delectable.

UP FROM THE BLUE by Susan Henderson because it's a damn fine story by a damn fine writer.

Already in the thick of KINO by Jurgen Fauth (wondermous reading, especially for anyone who loves German film and/or all things WWII), THE HUNGER GAMES (Suzanne Collins), GOD IS RED (by Vine Deloria, an authoritative text on Native American psirituality and needed for the novel), THE CAR THIEF by Theodore Weesner (the classic coming out in e-reader format), and rereading (also for novel) WAR by Sebastian Junger.

Almost as good as the rhubarb pie I made tonight.

So, what are you reading? What are you ABOUT to read? Peace...

Sunday, May 06, 2012

It Is What It Is

Today the church my husband has served for almost 11 years voted to end his ministry. He had done nothing wrong—no adultery or lying or betrayal or anything amoral—and so I am still surprised, and wondering, really, what this vote was all about. I have my theories, and as the minister’s wife, I know much, not because my husband confides in me but, because, the congregants do. Like my husband, I keep those confidences close. But after more than a decade, I am able to pull pieces together, work the perimeter of the puzzle, and gander my guesses on the motivations of the small group of individuals which led the charge for his ouster.

But… the theories will have to wait for another day, another post. Perhaps a novel, for there is much fodder in these experiences—I sit in a unique perch.

What I am left with is a myriad of emotions. We moved to Maryland to serve this church. We uprooted ourselves from Massachusetts to hedge our future on this spiritual community. There are a tremendous number of good people in this small Unitarian Universalist church, and we have made some life-long friendships. But there have been tremendous hurts and betrayals as well. While I will not go into specifics, I can say they involved many of the seven deadlies, and at times, were directed at me, my children, or other congregants.

My emotions include the usual suspects—sadness, anger, bafflement, contempt—but what lingers most is disappointment. The human condition is so… human. Living is a constant battle of tamping down the dark side inherent in each of us. My disappointment stems in some individuals’ inability to recognize their contribution to the morass of the church.

I am glad to be rid of the negativity. It has seeped into my pores the past two years or so, insidious. Going to church began to feel like a bad commute. Not the singing, not the sermon or service—those always lifted me—but the times in between, when people clumped together, scheming, plotting, rumor-mongering over coffee. I will not miss those who lacked the courage to be upfront with my husband, with me, with themselves, for in their zeal they have managed to achieve their goal—and divide a community in the process.

Is my husband perfect? By no means. He is human, not a God, but the expectations laid at his feet would cripple any person. Once in my life I considered becoming a minister. I see now what a failure I would be—I could never act with the grace and good-will and even compassion my husband provided. My lips would be chewed raw from all the words I would swallow back. Perhaps I would fling the F-word from the pulpit. My man behaved with integrity, which is more than many of those around him did, and I am so very proud of him.

And so very proud of those who speak their minds, act their convictions, and do so not out of malice but with an honest heart. Of course, I am writing this, I have been writing this for two years, the stories need to be told, not out of malice, but out of the need to open the eyes of others to what it means to minister, what it means to find forgiveness.

Peace, Linda

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Two days after the baby died, Jeremiah got his shovel and began to dig in the front of the house facing the fields. The morning marked twenty-nine days with no rain and the ground was dry as rock. The shovel hit schist. Sparks filled the hole. Almost six feet, Jeremiah reckoned, almost deep enough. Dust filled his mouth, a fine chalky yellow when he spit. At least his eyes didn’t burn—he couldn’t shovel with tears, not in this heat.

He felt Sheila watch from the bedroom window. The steady sound of shoveling for the past three hours would have woken her, would have made her come to the window, but when he looked up to wipe the sweat from his forehead, the window remained dark.

One more shovelful of earth. Enough. He pulled himself from the hole and perched on the edge. The box, hand hewn in cedar, and the sapling, balled in burlap, laid at the field’s edge. Two days ago, when they had returned from the hospital, after Jeremiah had placed the casket in the storm cellar where the air stayed cool and Sheila had gone upstairs and locked herself into their room, Jeremiah had gone down to the creek and dug up the river birch.

He looked up to the window. The curtain did not move. Jeremiah picked up the casket and lowered it into the hole. He jumped in and positioned the box to make it level. He pulled himself out from the grave. In the field, he picked stems of soft wheat straw, still green, and purple bugle that smelled of mint, and Queen Anne’s lace and daisies, and fashioned a bouquet of sorts. He laid the flowers on top of the casket.

The first handful of dirt made a clinking sound when it rained on the box. He reached into his jeans and pulled out a guitar pick, the one he had used the night Sheila started to bleed. He dropped that in, too. Then Jeremiah shoveled the dirt into the hole, fast and hard, and when the earth obscured the wood, he dropped to his knees, and cried. The curtain in the house stayed still.

A small excerpt from THE HUNTER, a story included in THE MINISTER'S WIFE, a work so under construction. Thank you for reading, and peace...