Small Towns, Big Stories

“Living in a small town…is like living in a large family of rather uncongenial relations. Sometimes it’s fun, and sometimes it’s perfectly awful, but it’s always good for you. People in large towns are like only-children.
― Joyce Dennys, Henrietta Sees It Through: More News From the Home Front 1942-1945

 

Hi, Friends,

I’m sharing my April newsletter here with my WordPress friends and it starts with a tiny commercial and a big ask.

From now through April 17, the e-book version of Casualties will be available to download for only $1.99.

Now I need all the help I can get to put the word out there. In fact, this is a great opportunity for you to check out the story and see what you think. If you’ve already read it then you know my book and you know your friends. If you think there’s a match, will you help us all to meet? Just share this post or this link with them: Casualties For $1.99. It takes them to a page where they can pick from Kindle, Nook, iBook or others to purchase and download.

Thank you. The “commercial” is now over and we return to our regularly scheduled musings, updates, and this month’s fabulous book giveaway. The theme? Small towns, the people they harbor, the books they inspire. And spring. Let’s not forget about spring.
Small Towns & Real Life
Readers often want to know how much of Casualties is based on my real life. The question makes me squirm more than I let on. No, I’m not Ruth and she isn’t someone I know. No, Robbie is not based on my son (although he remains suspicious). As for Casey? He’s my mystery man. He appeared completely out of the blue all set and ready to roll onto the pages of my story. It is true, though, that my experiences gave me a lot of raw material to draw from and I used it with abandon to make something new. Nowhere is this more true than when I created the town of Gershom, New Hampshire where Ruth grew up.

 

There is no Gershom. I didn’t take my hometown of Jefferson and slap another name on it. Those who know the area will recognize bits and pieces of several towns scattered in that part of the White Mountains (one, Lancaster, NH, is featured in the photo at the top of this letter). As I wrote, though, I realized that certain places could not be altered. They were stamped too deeply in my memory — in my bones, really. Robbie goes to find the brook he fished as a boy. I know the sound and smell of that brook and the bone-numbing chill that lasts even into August – it runs down the mountain past my parents’ house. I know the sound of gravel when Ruth’s car reaches the dirt road to her grandparents’ farm. It is the sound that used to wake my then four-year-old son from a deep sleep and cause him to twitch with anticipation as we drove the last mile of our trip on “Gramma’s Bumpy Road.”

 

This was the remote place that frightened and thrilled me when we moved there in 1966 from suburban Connecticut. This was the place that quickly seemed too small for all I hoped to do and see in the world. This was the place where I was introduced to a telephone party line and the realization that in a town of less than a thousand people, you didn’t need a party line to share information. This was the place where I “came of age” with all the joys, humiliations and growing pains that come with that. This is the place that, no matter how far away I’ve gotten from it, remains home.

 

Nearly a year ago, I went back home to Jefferson to share my book with the people who helped me write it. Some of the landmarks encountered in my story when Robbie goes north to see his relatives and when Ruth finally winds her way up the dirt road to her grandparents’ home were waiting for me last spring when I arrived. Here are a couple of them. You can find more here: Robbie’s Places.

This Month’s Giveaway 

 

 

Kathleen M. Rodgers also grew up in a small town. She understands the dynamics and, boy, does she understand families. Her grasp of the complexities that reside in both villages and families is on full display in her latest novel, Seven Wings to Glory, released April 1. I was invited to write a “blurb” for this fine book and here it is:

“From the start of Seven Wings to Glory, Kathleen Rodgers skillfully shows how no town is small enough and no family perfect enough to be outside the reach of war, racism, and the heartbreak life hands out on a regular basis to all those who love. She especially shines when she gives us a young man who could easily have been seen as a villain but is much more complex than that and requires more from the central characters and his small town than they may be prepared to give. With this wonderful sequel to her novel, Johnnie Come Lately, Rodgers opens the reader’s eyes and heart.”

This month’s giveaway is a signed copy of Seven Wings to Glory. If you’d like to enter to win, just comment here or, if you are already a newsletter subscriber, just reply to me before midnight PST on Sunday, April 9. I will use an app from Random.org to draw a winner.Thank you for being with me on this journey and for sharing your thoughts with me in emails and discussions. I have loved every minute and look forward to more!

Gratefully,
Betsy

P.S. Here’s your moment of Zen: spring in the Desert, spring on the Coast. And for my family and friends back in Jefferson – may spring find you soon, very soon!

 

A Moment of Silence

Fort Rosecrans Cemetery, photograph by Charles Hansen

Fort Rosecrans Cemetery in San Diego. Photograph by Charles Hansen

On Monday, May 26th, the clock will strike 3 p.m. one time zone at a time. Everywhere across the U.S. people will fall silent, together or alone, to remember those who died at war.

A moment of silence can be powerful. I recall this very clearly when the day after the towers fell, my husband and I were in Italy, trying and failing to get home.

The clock struck noon.

All of Milan came to a complete halt to honor those who had died and to offer whatever thoughts and prayers bubble up in that moment of silence. Traffic stopped. The sounds of horns stopped. Computers stopped. Phones were allowed to ring. A woman helping us in a busy office said, “Excuse me.” She stood with all of her colleagues for five minutes saying nothing. Some closed their eyes. Others said a prayer. We were strangers in that room. The thousands below us were strangers. Yet all of us were bound together in that silence filled with awareness and all our hopes, prayers, fears. We were not alone.

Until last year, I never knew about observing Memorial Day with a moment of silence. I knew parades, picnics, sales. I did it. I want to do it again. I would like to do it this year with others even if we are all in our own homes, yards, cars when we join together in a moment of silence to remember those we loved, lost, or never knew but still lost and should have known.

If you are so moved, please leave names or families we can keep in mind as we fall silent tomorrow. If you have a prayer or a thought to share, please go ahead – you may provide the words that another is looking for and needs at this time.

Here is a link to a list of the casualties of two of our most recent wars. Faces, numbers, names: Faces of the Fallen.

Soon enough, it will be time to leave the silence and return to our days, our weeks, our lives. We can still remember, though. We need to.

Here are some links to organizations that help families left behind.

USO: Families of the Fallen 

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (T.A.P.S) 

List of Charities Supporting Soldiers and their Families (compiled by the US Army)

“Next Big Thing” Blog Tour

As I mentioned last week, there’s a viral blog event going around called “The Next Big Thing” in which writers give a glimpse of works in progress by answering a set of questions. I’ve been tagged by two fellow writers. Rae Francoeur is author of the memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair.” Find out about her Next Big Thing. In addition, I’ve been tagged by Matt Coyle, author of the thriller “Yesterday’s Echo,” due out in May. Click here to read more about Matt and his book. I’ve tagged three folks too and you can find out more by clicking on their links at the end of this post.

And for some insight on my “Next Big Thing,” read on.

What is your working title of your book?

Casualties.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started with an entirely different story, about a woman who leaves. That’s all I had: her name, her face, and her departure. I knew that everything leading up to her departure was rooted in a past I needed to uncover. When I realized that she lost her only child, I realized I was writing one of my about my worst nightmares with the idea that if I could figure out what would happen under the worst conditions for my characters, I might learn something. There is nothing that happens to Ruth, my protagonist, that couldn’t happen to any one of us.

Environmental factors played a role too. I live in San Diego, a nexus for the military, defense industry and civilians. You learn quickly that there are no real boundaries between these groups. Individuals — neighbors, strangers, family members — cross from one to the other as they make difficult decisions and try to do what is right for themselves, their families and the country. What can often be invisible elsewhere in the country is very visible here.

What genre does your book fall under?

I aimed for what editor Amy Einhorn calls, “the sweet spot between literary and commercial.” This is a novel that a book club could sink its teeth into.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

This is fun!

Ruth: Julianne Moore. Helen Hunt. Diane Lane. Cate Blanchett.

Casey: Aaron Eckhart. Dennis Leary. Willem Dafoe. All three are a little too old to play Casey but all of them can play that combination of intelligence, seediness, and heart that would bring Casey to life. I love them all, by the way…

 What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Before single mother and defense industry executive Ruth Nolan can bury her only child, a Marine who has committed suicide, she must choose whether to salvage what remains of the life she has built, or risk it all by helping war-zone contractors harmed by her firm’s negligence.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I am seeking representation and have been excited about the initial reception. We’ll see where that leads. I am open to all possibilities.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Too long!!!! The first scenes in what became my first draft are dated 2003. However, what I consider the real first draft happened in 2007 when I tossed out 600 pages. What remained formed the heart of the book that has emerged.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Like Kristin Hannah’s Homefront, Casualties brings to life the cost of war paid by those who fight and those who wait for them, but goes further, delving into the largely invisible world of the defense contractor and the tragedy of military suicides. The story, however, is not a story of war, and the book does not advance a political agenda. Like the novels of Ann Patchett (State of Wonder), or Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior), Casualties keeps the focus on the conflicting desires of its characters and the choices they must make.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My husband was the one who inspired my confidence and challenged me making it possible for me write full time for the past two years. He has never wavered in his confidence in me and I draw strength from that daily.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Ruth’s story is only one of the stories told in this book. When she flees from her California home with her son’s ashes, she encounters amputee and would-be conman Casey McInerney, a veteran of the first Gulf War with his own demons. As they journey across the country, they force each other to face the grief, guilt, and fear that have governed their decisions for longer than either of them realizes. They help each other take the first steps toward making peace with themselves and the ghosts of those they’ve lost.

Now I have some wonderful writers for you to check out. Next week, or very soon, they will be posting answers to questions about their latest projects as part of the Next Big Thing blog tour.

Pamela Hunt, freelance writer and author of “Walking on My Hands,” a blog in which she shares her journey toward “learning to live with grace.” She’ll talk about her novel, a work-in-progress.

Gail Chehab, author of The Echo of Sand” and, most recently, “Simple Gifts.”

Melanie Hooks, screenwriter and freelance writer, will discuss her work-in-progress. (Link to come. Stay tuned!)