Monday, September 30, 2019

Banned Books & Censored Writing



We just finished Banned Book Week at the public libraries. This is always an interesting event to spotlight the list of brilliant literature banned at some point in the books’ existence. Banned for the language, the description, the characters, the plot, and/or the ideas the authors conveyed. The small-minded and fearful censors fall into history as the bad guys of the Banned Books’ narratives.

But what about the everyday suggestions to ordinary (non-NYT Best Selling) authors to curb what we write? Off-handed comments from those closest to us: “That one scene is too risqué for me to tell my friends to read your book.” “I liked the story, but the language didn’t need to be that harsh.” “Does the character HAVE to be involved in a three-way?”

Image result for censorYes, yes the character HAS to be who he is, and no, it’s not me. Life is harsh, crude, coarse, skinned, and blistering. Not all authors have Hallmark movies dancing in their heads. There is a market for Hallmark movie plots. For that, we’re grateful. But, Truth frees the soul, and needs to find the page, even though exposing it is not profitable.

A couple of years ago, Rita Mae Brown headlined the Williamsburg Book Festival. She is one of the authors who inspired me to write when I was young. At William & Mary that evening, she talked about how telling the truth is not always easy for a writer. She admitted she writes her cozy/cat mysteries for the income they provide. Her classic (and probably banned in many places) Rubyfruit Jungle changed lives because she spoke her truth. Many readers recognized themselves in her characters.
'Rita Mae Brown & me at the 2016 Williamsburg Book Festival. She's smart, welll-read, funny, opinionated, and so much fun. She even kissed me on the cheek!'

In the audience, I heard people behind me say, “She just had to bring up Rubyfruit Jungle. I love her Sneaky Pie Brown series. She should just talk about that.”

Everyday censors.

We all do it if we know it or not. Maybe I’m trying to inhibit comforting stories. I know we need a variety of tones and storytellers. Reading is like diet – steak, hamburger, corndogs, or chicken soup (sorry, vegans) can all be enjoyable options throughout the week. Let writers chew some steak from time to time.

My message to other writers and to myself:
When someone denounces all or part of a work, it has touched a nerve. You have told the truth for story and character and situation. The attempted censor bristled at the authenticity, the candor, and the concrete facts you have exposed. Well done. Get banned.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Shadow Resident at the Martha Washington Inn...


Shadow Resident at the Martha Washington Inn... 

I workout at the Martha's spa/exercise facilities. Usually I arrive before sunrise so I can get it finished before I start work. I like to walk to the Martha in the early morning and then do strength training with the LifeFitness machines. Those are in a small room with glass windows on three sides and the fourth side is ancient brick from one of the original buildings (late 1800s).

Half way through the routine, I noticed a movement against the brick - a shadow.

In an instant it was gone.

Did an eyelash cause that? I brushed at my eyes, but nothing seemed different. I said "hello" and asked her name, "Lennie" is what came into my mind, and I continued my routine.

I'm not a person to discount a haint experience, especially at the Martha with its history of the Martha Girls and Barter Theatre actors and all the guests who have traveled through creaky hallways.

Maybe the shadow was just a loose eyelash or a trick of the rising sun. But, I like to think I have a partner making sure I get the workout done, urging me to show up on a regular basis, keeping me company...or me keeping her company during those lonely pre-dawn hours.

I hope Lennie tells me some stories.

Friday, July 12, 2019

New Book - STRAY


My new novel tells the story of a long-time Washington County, Virginia family and the disappearance of the seventh son thirty years ago. 

The story developed as I thought about my own family and the dynamics between my father and my uncles and grandfather. In the book, Taliesin MacGuire promises his grandmother he will discover why his father left thirty years ago and never returned to his family. Time is the enemy in this tale. Time erases memories and paper trails of daily lives.

I incorporate Scots-Irish legends in the names of the characters, which shadow the characters’ personalities. Along with the old-country lore, I have a trace of very early American history. Subplots emerge from the Lost Colony of Roanoke Island in 1587 and the Virginia witch trials of early the 1700s.

This is the most personal book I’ve written. Our own family legend was the day my father moved out – his first step toward the eventual divorce. He disappeared. That stays with a 13-year-old son. I knew this story would emerge in my writing at some point.

Settings are very important in my writing. This story focuses on Virginia with locations like Bristol and Abingdon, along with Charlottesville, Richmond, Williamsburg, and the North Carolina Outer Banks. These are places I love. I have lived in these locations or have attachments there. I set my stories in real places and let the characters reflect the sense of place and time.

The story’s fictional family resides between Bristol and Abingdon with the main characters showing up in locations all around the area. At the Bristol Public Library in April 2011, I held a book signing for a previous novel and moderated a discussion on how to use setting as a character. Those notes sparked the sense of place in STRAY.





Advanced Praise



Greg Lilly’s entertaining tragedy starts with a threesome in Bristol and ends with a dead body in the water off the coast of the Outer Banks. Thankfully, Lilly has taken his own character’s advice who tells a failing Nashville musician to sing about drinking and hurting. I enjoyed this Irish tale part detective story and part thriller. Lilly kept me entertained throughout and had me hurrying to get to the last page.
- William J. Torgerson, author of The Coach’s Wife, Horseshoe, and Love on the Big Screen


You’ll never meet a more intriguing cast of characters: seven sons twice over, a probing, sexually-fluid musician, a persistent grandmother, a seer, an uncommon doctor, a womanizer and the women he leaves behind. Add to that an accused witch, a half-breed and a hero by the name of Thistle.  Stray takes you from the hills of Virginia to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, masterfully back and forth through time—all in search of solving a decades-old mystery with scant clues and no remains to be found.
- Sally Stiles, author of Plunge!