Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday Freebie: The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers


Congratulations to Tammy Zambo, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan.

This week’s contest is for The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers, now out in paperback from Algonquin Books. Diane Chamberlain, author of The Silent Sister, had this to say about the novel: “Susan Rivers sets this spellbinding, haunting human drama against the backdrop of the Civil War. Told through exquisitely crafted letters and diary entries, the delicious pacing leads to revelations both intriguing and unnerving. I was sorry to reach the end of this stunning debut.”  Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


“All I had known for certain when I came around the hen house that first evening in July and saw my husband trudging into the yard after lifetimes spent away from us, a borrowed bag in his hand and the shadow of grief on his face, was that he had to be protected at all costs from knowing what had happened in his absence. I did not believe he could survive it.”
When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away? Inspired by a true incident, this saga conjures the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel as her views on race and family are transformed. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how that generation--and the next--began to see their world anew.

If you’d like a chance at winning The Second Mrs. Hockaday, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 30, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Dec. 1. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The End We Start From by Megan Hunter


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


We are told not to panic, the most panic-inducing instruction known to man.

The End We Start From by Megan Hunter


Friday, November 17, 2017

Friday Freebie: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan


Congratulations to Barbara Tricario, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: the new Penguin Classics edition of Picnic at Hanging Rock, the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay.

This week’s contest is for Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. One lucky reader will win a new paperback movie-tie-in edition of the 2008 novel The Washington Post Book World calls “A compelling family tragedy, a confluence of romantic attraction and racial hatred that eventually falls like an avalanche...The last third of the book is downright breathless.” Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


In Hillary Jordan’s prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband’s Mississippi Delta farm—a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family’s struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura’s brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not—charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion. The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale.

If you’d like a chance at winning Mudbound, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 23, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 24. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Sentence: Woodsburner by John Pipkin


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


At every square and intersection in Boston, she heard shouts from vendors hawking oysters and fresh fish and hot corn and raspberries and milk and sweet doughnuts fried in pig fat. Everywhere the air smelled of cooking, as if America were one vast kitchen, and it seemed she need only breathe to fill herself with food.

Woodsburner by John Pipkin


Saturday, November 11, 2017

Chasing Spiders With a Pen: Gary Reilly’s War



by Mark Stevens

I know jackshit about war. In particular, Vietnam.

I had a low draft number but then the draft was cancelled, right when I was thinking about Canada. Or some other escape. Bone spurs? A high school friend had died in Vietnam. It scared the hell out of me.

I’ve seen the movies and I’ve read the books:

Platoon. Saving Private Ryan. Deer Hunter. Full Metal Jacket.

Matterhorn, Tree of Smoke, Dog Soldiers, Going After Cacciato.

But, still, I can only imagine.

I watched the Ken Burns documentary and tried not to throw anything at the television; all those lies.

Goodreads has a list of 280 novels about The Vietnam War. Would that do the trick?

I doubt it. Can art really capture the mental toll of war? I’m sure it comes close, in many cases.

It’s the same with coming home from war. I have no idea what it’s like to come home, to have seen so much death and killing and to have survived. I’m sure surviving is better, right?

The statistics suggest maybe, maybe not.

My friend Gary Reilly knew. He served in Vietnam. He was an MP at an airfield called Qui Nho’n. One year “in country,” not even in combat, and I believe he carried it around with him for the rest of his life.

Gary didn’t talk much about the war when he got home, in 1971. The war was winding down, but war is war. If you’re fighting, you’re fighting. By the end of 1971 “only” 151,000 U.S. soldiers would be in Vietnam; down from a half-million at the war’s peak.

I didn’t meet Gary until 2004, 33 years after he came back from Vietnam.

A couple weeks ago, I emailed Gary’s longtime partner, Sherry, to see if her recollection was the same as mine—that Gary didn’t talk about that year. Sherry agreed. She wrote: “Gary did not like to talk much about being in Vietnam. He would have nightmares sometimes that he associated with Vietnam, but he didn't talk about that much either. Sometimes he would wake up at night, yelling and trying to get the spiders off of him. He would say in his nightmare he was in Vietnam, being attacked by bugs. That was a recurring nightmare. He did talk sometimes about how he never took advantage of an ‘RnR’ that he may have been entitled to because he said once he left Vietnam, he would never be able to return.”

Gary didn’t talk much about those spiders, but he had an outlet: writing fiction. Shortly after returning from Vietnam, Gary took classes at the University of Colorado at Denver. The teachers were impressed with his style. Encouraged, Gary sent one story called “The Biography Man” off to the prestigious Iowa Review. It was published. And re-published the next year in the fourth volume of the Pushcart Prize Anthology. That particular story had nothing to do with Vietnam, but maybe it gave him a boost of confidence to keep writing.

On second thought, I doubt he needed it.

Gary was going to write.

And write.

“The Biography Man” was the first—and only story—that Gary published in his lifetime. (It’s a beauty; I’ve never read anything like it.)

One story—that was it.

When Gary passed away in 2011, however, he left behind 25 full-length novels.

Three of the 25 novels featured a character named Private Palmer, an MP who went to Vietnam and was part of the war. The first, The Enlisted Men’s Club, takes place at The Presidio as Palmer waits for the call up, unsure if it will come. The second book, The Detachment, takes place in Vietnam. And The Discharge finds Palmer at home in Denver trying to find a foothold back in civilization. The books form a seamless trilogy of one man’s journey to war—and back.

I’ve read all three—several times. I still know jackshit about what it’s like to go to war. I don’t have nightmares about spiders.

All three novels feature the war—getting ready, living with it, and dealing with the aftermath. Palmer is jaded. He finds ways to endure, to survive military stupidity and “shit jobs,” as he calls them. Palmer has his avoidance schemes, but in all three books he finds ways to connect with others, to assert or maintain his humanity.

As I write this, there are 1.3 million men and women in active duty in the U.S. armed forces. There are 10,000 stationed in Afghanistan, a war that has been going on since long before I met Gary Reilly for the first time. There are thousands in Bahrain and Kuwait and tens of thousands in South Korea and Japan, which could be a hot spot any moment, and of course now we know they’re in Niger and all over Africa, too.

We ask the soldiers to bear that weight but we really have no idea what toll that takes, thinking daily “what if?” Do they know what they’re getting into? Do they? They’re all okay with dying for the cause, for the country?

Some soldiers look down the barrels of their weapons. They are there to kill. Others are in what’s called “the rear.” During Vietnam, if you served in the rear, you were a REMF.

I didn’t know that acronym, or what it stood for, before a review of The Detachment was published by a book reviewer for the Vietnam Veterans of America: “Reilly gives the reader an immersion in this aspect of the Army throughout this fine novel of service in the rear. I add it to the short list of worthy novels of the REMF in Vietnam. Service in the rear was the majority experience, although it is seldom given respect or space in the Vietnam War canon.”

REMF: Rear-echelon motherfuckers. Support troops.

Gary Reilly didn’t see action. He was pure REMF.

Reilly didn’t see action and, of course, neither did his alter-ego, Palmer. (Even from his close-up vantage point for war, Reilly saw no need to take his fiction beyond what he had seen with his own two eyes; Palmer’s world was no more expansive than Reilly’s own.) Palmer didn’t see direct combat, but he saw the consequences of war all around him. The war came to him.

And took a toll.

We all know about that toll—the mental health, the injuries, the empty holes in families, the lost potential. I won’t go into detail here, only urge—if you’re curious—to read Gary Reilly’s view of Vietnam.

I’m not the only enthusiast of Gary’s work. As mentioned, the book reviewer for The Vietnam Veterans of America wrote a rave. Booklist praised Gary’s work as well. Here’s a note from a review of The Detachment: “Palmer’s mission is so banal most writers would not describe it, but Reilly describes it, and the result is that rarest thing in fiction, originality. His novel is a harsh and startling corrective to those foggy old vets who elevate their undistinguished service into something glorious.”

Ron Carlson raved (“Catch 23 or 24”) as did Stewart O’Nan (“classic.”) Both amazing writers if you don’t know them. O’Nan edited The Vietnam Reader.

Ernest Hemingway said to “write one true sentence” to get rolling. If you wrote one true sentence, you could take it from there. Hemingway was opposed to ornaments in writing.

Reilly left behind tens of thousands of true sentences. Here’s one paragraph from The Detachment:
The building shivers as a soft boom rolls across Qui Nhon, across the evac hospital, across the airfield, and the 109th, and beyond. Palmer sets the paperback down and sits absolutely motionless, waiting for another explosion. The VC must be tossing mortars again. He suddenly wants sky over his head, wants to be able to see everything around him, feels trapped inside this box of a room and wants to get out, to be able to see if there’s somebody he has to shoot at. He’s glad he’s good with the .45. Barely made sharpshooter with the M-14, but then he might be better with the M-16, a crazy spring in its butt to absorb the kick, probably thought up by the genius who designed the briefcase handle. Palmer scoots his chair back and stands up, casually turns and begins strolling down the aisle between the beds where men are sleeping. Nobody but himself seems to have noticed the boom. Maybe it takes more than the gentle shiver of a building to alarm infantrymen. Probably more attuned to real danger than Palmer ever will be.
That was Gary’s writing about war—chasing away the spiders with the work of his pen, one true sentence at a time.



Note: To date, in addition to Gary’s Vietnam novels, Running Meter Press has also published eight novels in The Asphalt Warrior series, comic adventures about a Denver cab driver named Murph. Three of the eight books were finalists for the Colorado Book Award and a reviewer for National Public Radio declared them “huge fun.” More about all of Gary’s work: www.theasphaltwarrior.com

Raised outside Boston, Mark Stevens is the son of two librarians. By law, he was required to grow up loving books. And writing. He was the 2016 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series—Antler Dust, Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire. The last three books were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award. Trapline won (2015). Stevens is president of the Rocky Mountain chapter for Mystery Writers of America and serves on the national board. He also hosts a regular podcast for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire “irresistible” and Craig Johnson, author of the Walt Longmire novels, said, “Mark Stevens writes like wildfire.”


Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday Freebie: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay


Congratulations to Jennifer Oleson Boyd, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s debut collection of short stories To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts.

This week’s contest is for the new Penguin Classics edition of Picnic at Hanging Rock, the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay which inspired the riveting, haunting, and unforgettable 1975 film by Peter Weir. The new Penguin edition includes an introduction by Maile Meloy (author of Do Not Become Alarmed). Keep scrolling for more information about the book...


A 50th-anniversary edition of the landmark novel about three “gone girls” that inspired the acclaimed 1975 film and an upcoming TV series starring Natalie Dormer. It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned.....Mysterious and subtly erotic, Picnic at Hanging Rock inspired the iconic 1975 film of the same name by Peter Weir. A beguiling landmark of Australian literature, it stands with Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides as a masterpiece of intrigue.

If you’d like a chance at winning Picnic at Hanging Rock, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 16, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 17. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Sentence: The Smoke of Horses by Charles Rafferty


Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.


Famous people have been dying all week, and the Christmas tree just stopped drinking.

“Forecast” from The Smoke of Horses by Charles Rafferty


Friday, November 3, 2017

Friday Freebie: To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts by Caitlin Hamilton Summie


Congratulations to Jane Rainey, winner of last week’s Friday Freebie: Freebird by Jon Raymond.

This week, I am especially pleased to offer up a copy of Caitlin Hamilton Summie’s debut collection of short stories To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts to one lucky reader. Here’s what Peter Geye, author of Wintering, had to say about the book: “It’s been a long time since I read a collection of stories that amazed me from cover to cover, but that’s what Caitlin Summie’s To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts did. With the grace and elegance of a master, Summie lays bare our vulnerabilities and desires and hopes in equal measure. The result is one stunning story after another, each as lovely and heartfelt as the one before. If you’re a fan of Grace Paley or Ann Beattie or Tobias Wolfe, you’ll surely find something to love in these pages.” Keep scrolling for more information about To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts...


In these ten elegantly written short stories, Caitlin Hamilton Summie takes readers from WWII Kansas City to a poor, drug-ridden neighborhood in New York, and from the quiet of rural Minnesota to its pulsing Twin Cities, each time navigating the geographical boundaries that shape our lives as well as the geography of tender hearts, loss, and family bonds. Deeply moving and memorable, To Lay To Rest Our Ghosts examines the importance of family, the defining nature of place, the need for home, and the hope of reconciliation.

If you’d like a chance at winning To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, simply email your name and mailing address to


Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line. Please include your mailing address in the body of the e-mail. One entry per person, please. This contest is limited to U.S. addresses only. Despite its name, the Friday Freebie remains open to entries until midnight on Nov. 9, at which time I’ll draw the winning name. I’ll announce the lucky reader on Nov. 10. If you’d like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week newsletter, simply add the words “Sign me up for the newsletter” in the body of your email. Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning? Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your blog, your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter. Once you’ve done any of those things, send me an additional e-mail saying “I’ve shared” and I’ll put your name in the hat twice.