Blood Over Badge – Wayne Farquhar

Title: Blood Over BadgeBlood Over Badge Shannon Evans Book Review

Author: Wayne Farquhar

Publisher: 3L Publishing

Date: 2010

Wayne Farquhar, former member of the San Jose Police Department, knows how to weave a good detective story. His first crime thriller, Blood Over Badge is a fast paced study of intrigue and the gritty raw efforts of detective work. Farquhar does a good job of depicting the good and the bad of the US Justice and penal system. Moving from a socio-paths trial that lands him squarely in the dreaded Louisiana penal colony Angola to the viscous murder of the mayor of San Francisco’s daughter in a seemingly unrelated crime, Blood Over Badge moves the reader swiftly from scene to scene. The soft underbelly of the evil that men do in the name of good and the good that the evil do to stay alive in the schizoid world of prison is explored through the twists and turns of this eye-popping book.

Farquhar’s police experience shines through in his realistic representation of the world of his two character homicide detectives. The twist and turns of the sub plots and the underlying back story keeps the reader hungry for more. This book is guaranteed to be a late night page turner in which the reader will be burning the midnight oil to get to the surprise ending to see if good or evil wins in the end. A good read, this is a book to share with your crime thriller loving friends. I can’t wait to see what Wayne Farquhar writes next to follow the success of Blood Over Badge!

As the Sycamore Grows By Jennie Miller Helderman

Title: As the Sycamore Grows

Author: Jennie Miller Helderman

Publisher: The Summers Bridgewater Press

Date: 2010

Every now and then a true story comes along that leaves a searing impression imprinted on your brain. The white heat of the pain and suffering of the people’s lives contained within the pages of a book can so seldom cut you to the quick and take away your breath. As the Sycamore Grows not only takes the wind from you with the brutality that only spousal abuse can evoke…but it also makes you double over and wrench with pain for all the shame, and humiliation that the wife must feel at the hands of her iron-fisted, hardheaded, Bible thumping spouse. The visceral knee-jerk reaction to the all too common human story that emerges from this work makes you grit your teeth and have to press on to get to the end of the story.

Helderman shows the reader the rise of the bully, through the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse of the victim and her children, and follows them as they escape and learn to not only survive but thrive as they claw their way to freedom. Gripping, raw, and filled with the universal story of every victim’s slippery slide down the spiral of spousal abuse’s As the Sycamore Grows chronicles the lives of Ginger, Mike, and three children from Texas to Tennessee. The pattern of abuse so entrenched in their lives that it seems normal and to be expected and creates a sense of complacency so that each can make sense of the neurotic behavior of their abuser, Mike.

Helderman does an excellent job of not just telling us the story of Mike and Ginger but shows us the story letting the truth and the details of their co-dependent relationship unfold before the reader. Her masterful mixture of fact, documents, and the stories of the abuse are recounted in such a way that the reader’s attention is raptly held. Abuse is a tough subject to write about, but As the Sycamore Grows tells more about the toughness of those that survive abuse than of the twisted events that precede it. This book is a solid read and a must have for anyone who works or volunteers with the victims of abuse.

The Knight Family Legacy – One Family’s Story by Marilyn R. Hill-Sutton

Title: The Knight Family Legacy – One Family’s Story

Author: Marilyn R. Hill-Sutton

Publisher: Outskirts Press, Inc

Date: 2010

The Knight Family Legacy is an in-depth study of the world of a plantation owner and mulatto progeny in dispute with his white heirs as they fight over the legality of their benefactor’s last will and testament.  Filled with documents, transcripts, and historical records of the time, Hill-Sutton’s book is an interesting study into an unprecedented court battle between white and black heirs.

Major Knight, a decorated civil war veteran and attorney fathered several children with Violet a slave on his property. Knight’s siblings end up locked in a court battle over the fact that Knight bequeathed his entire estate to his former slave now emancipated children.  This was unprecedented as many anti-miscegenation laws were coming to fruition in the deep south out of a fear of the black majority rising up and assuming political and economic control of what was firmly clutched in the fists of white upper middle class society of the time. In order to quash the rising tide of  white fear and to promote a ‘healing’ of sorts, the lands that were previously awarded to or held by blacks under Lincoln were taken back under Johnson. Jim Crow laws and apartheid were alive and well when Major Knight died and left his estate to his black children instead of his white siblings. Perhaps what is of even more interestin this book is that Knight’s mulatto son Jacob (Jake) fought on behalf of his mother and siblings to champion his father’s final wishes.

Hill-Sutton has amassed page after page of documentation to reveal what transpired both in the life of Maj. John Knight, Jr. as well as during the fight between his children for their inheritance. While her depth of research is to be commended it was wished by this reader that more of the story telling of events would have occurred and less enumeration of price of buggies and saddles.  These are all of great interest from a historical perspective but a deeper connection to the man and his love for Violet and the children or his sense of guilt for their circumstances would have benefited the reading of the lengthy tomb.

The countless documents and the transcriptions of the court documents paint a stark picture of the realities for white and black alike during reconstruction and post reconstruction in the south. This book will prove to be an invaluable resource for Pike County, GA researchers. The Knight Family Legacy’s exhaustive study into one family’s interwoven connections will hopefully pave the way for many others to come as researchers try to unravel the cross section of multiracial family connections in the post Civil War south.

Margaret Nevinski – An Interview about the Writing Life

I recently had the good fortune of interviewing middle grade author Margaret Nevinski about her recent publication of a short story, “The Eve of St. Agnes,” in the online literary journal, Hunger Mountain. Read her story here:

Margaret is an amazing teacher and presenter whom I have the great fortune of knowing as a Margaret Neviski The Eve of St. Agnesfellow Bainbridge Island author.  Her classes are highly sought by both young and not so young writers and creatives in the Pacific Northwest. Check out what she had to say about her writing life:

How did you get started as a writer?

MN: I started writing short stories for adults, which were published in small literary magazines. One day while I was jogging, I had a burst of adrenaline and an insight: my writing voice was most suited to young readers. That started my dream of writing for kids and teens.
I got lots of rejections, then personal notes from editors, then finally—a yes! I’ve written several children’s books for the school market, and now I’m working toward getting my
first middle-grade novel published.

I know that you often work with young authors. How young is too young to begin
learning about the craft of writing?

MN: I love teaching writing workshops for kids through the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Rec
District. I always learn something from young writers! Though I think creativity has no age
limit, I start working with young writers when they’re eight. By eight they’ve learned the
basics about writing and they’re ready to unleash their imaginations—a great combination.

Do you mostly write YA lit or do you ever branch out into other genres?

MN: My real love is middle-grade fiction for ages 9 to 12. I’m fascinated by the years when
you’re still firmly in childhood but on the cusp of becoming a teen.

What is your writing life like? Do you spend hours every day writing?

MN: I’m a morning person. I drink my coffee and read before breakfast, then settle down to my
quiet, morning writing time. I strive to have creative time each day. My motto is from The
War of Art by Steven Pressfield: “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing
else matters except sitting down each day and trying.”

What is your inspiration for your short story in Hunger Mountain Literary Magazine?

MN: I grew up Catholic and have always been fascinated by saints—their lives are filled with
quirky, odd details just waiting for fiction writers! When I discovered Keats’ poem, “The
Eve of St. Agnes,” I was intrigued. According to the myth about St. Agnes, a young woman
will dream of her future husband on the night of January 20th. I thought, how fun would it
be to give this story a contemporary, high school setting?

What is your favorite book you read as a young girl? Why?

MN: In grade school, a friend and I read a book called The Key House Mystery. The story details in my mind are vague, but the great thing about the book is that it inspired us to follow an elderly man in our neighborhood, spy notebooks in hand. One day his wife ordered us to
stop following him. For the first time, I realized that reading could have an impact on real
life. I’ve been searching for The Key House Mystery for years with no luck—if anyone finds
it, please let me know!

How do you deal with “passes” from publishers? Do you save the letters or do you toss

MN: Luckily my agent gets the rejections first, which she charmingly calls “passes,” so that
softens them a bit. Over the years, however, I’ve acquired a file full of “passes.” I’ve kept
every letter except one from an editor who said my writing was “competent.” Ouch! That

What book(s) are you currently reading or at least have on your nightstand waiting for

MN: I’m halfway through The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, which takes
place in Wisconsin where I grew up. I just finished Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other
Daily Disasters by Rachel Vail, a hilarious account of third grade. On my nightstand is a
wonderful collection of biographical essays that I dip into to get inspired: Joan Acocella’s
Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints. So you see, I never quite get away from saints!

Nurse Vaccine By Justin Noble

Title: Nurse Vaccinejustin noble flu shot children's book

Author: Justin Noble

Illustrator: Ann Cannom

With the advent of flu season and the rush to get my flu shot I stumbled on this charming children’s book. Any parent who has struggled with a frighten pre-preschooler or kindergartner trying to get them to stand still long enough and stop their wailing and kicking long enough to get their flu shot will want this book.

The illustrations are simple and colorful and the dialogue between characters moves along swiftly making the story line easy to follow and engaging for even a reluctant listener. Even though the shot will still hurt for a little while, the story will make the event go much smoother.

I had the recent opportunity to interview the author of Nurse Vaccine, Justin Noble and I learned this is but one in a series of books planned on health related issues for little ones:

What made you want to write a children’s book?

Author: I’ve always had an interest in health and fitness.  One day I was in a store and I walked by a row of vitamins, and as I read the word vitamin I thought to myself, “it sounds like Vita-Men.” I thought “What if the Vita-Men were these little guys that lived in your body and protected you and kept your body energized?”  As the story built in my head, I realized — Hey, these would make great cartoon characters for kids.  From there, the idea for The Body Village was born and I wrote my first book, “Artie’s Party: Featuring the Vita-Men”.
You use body parts to present your story, where did that idea come from and how did you narrow them down for kids?

Author: I think personifying internal organs as the main characters in the story makes it easier for kids to relate to what’s going on inside of them.  Kids are able to form a relationship and identify with the characters on a personal level.  In turn, they form a healthy relationship with their bodies.  The stomach, to a kid, is just a stomach; a foreign object.  But if you make it “Steven Stomach”, he’s a friend.  If you are friends with your body, you are more likely to treat it well.In the first few books of the series, the characters are all main organs.  As the series continues to grow, many more characters from The Body will be introduced.
Who is your primary audience for your books? Who do you see finding your books most useful?

Author: The books in The Body Village series are written for young children (ages 2 to 7 years old) so they can understand how their bodies work on a fundamental level and also learn how to treat their bodies right from an early age.The book series is meant to be used by parents, teachers, doctors — anyone who has an interest in the future of our children and their health.
I see educators and scout leaders and health care professionals finding this ok and   incredibly useful, are there any additional support materials that go with these books? How would educators implement the content in conjunction with health units in the classroom?

Author: There are some activities on the web site, but I hope to have more posted soon.  As more books come out, I will continue to add more activities and fun learning tools to the web site.The books are meant to be a fun way to learn.  Not only do the books teach the basics of the body but they have fun stories as well.  Just by reading the books during story time children are entertained and, whether they realize it or not, they’ve learned something too.
What do you plan to write about next?

Author: The next book coming out is Steven The Upset Stomach.  It deals with eating too much junk food and getting sick.  I’m currently working on Betty The Overanxious Bladder.  That one’s about wetting the bed. There are many issues that face The Body Village and I’m tackling them one at a time.

Writing From the Source – Creating Believable Characters

What is the source of your writing? Is it your everyday environment? Is it your cultural influences? Is it creating believable charactersyour gut or is it imaginary voices in your head? I have often thought the source of my writing was my imagination. While that is partly true it comes from a much deeper more primal ingrained place in my head and my heart. Oh…that sounds a bit trite but let me explain:

I am a child of The South. My parents were born and bred in the hot steamy kudzu jungles of the Mississippi Delta’s loam hills. My father’s family has been there before the state was a state. My mother’s family trickled in some early some late but they all ended up in the same place…Little Yazoo…sort of maybe? You see Anding and Satartia are so small they don’t really appear on most maps so we all say Yazoo County and most folks from MS know what you mean.  When your ‘people’ are from a place with history as rich as the state of MS you can’t help but have a colorful family member or two tucked away in your family tree.  There was the auntie who went senile fairly young but was referred to as merely a “dear ole gal” and the cousin who preferred to live with his mother and never was able to hold down a job was merely eccentric. These are the glimmers behind the characters I populate my stories with and sprinkle through out the various scenes and chapters.

Recently I had a wonderful Facebook conversation with my cousin who is the Arts Department Chair at a Mississippi College. He was preparing a lecture on all things southern and the influences that our culture there has on the arts. We talked first about men’s fashion. It appears that every southern male must own a seersucker suit and either a bolo or bowtie to be used for court appearances and tea with the aunts. One never wears seersucker to church or to funerals and NEVER after Labor Day…much like a lady’s white shoes and handbags that is ‘just not done’!

William Faulkner It’s one of the few cultures where an older man can call a girl of any age “honey”, “sweetheart”, etc., and you KNOW that he doesn’t have any ulterior motives and isn’t trying to be a letch or a flirt. Adults are always known to kids as Ms. Jennifer or Ms. Shannon. That’s a thing that some of my Northern friends just don’t get.

We like to eat a lot in the South and any life or death event brings out big hair and big hearts. The more dire the circumstance the higher the hair gets piled (and the coke can rollers required to get that look get resurrected from  the back of the towel closet) the heavier the lacquer hairspray gets applied. Hell, I’ve seen my momma go through an entire can of hairspray just before heading over to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for a ‘viewing.” This is serious stuff and there is a certain protocol and etiquette to be observed if you don’t want to be seen as low and crass.

One thing I’ve always noticed about Southern hosts is their willingness to cook massive amounts of food with a smile and make sure everyone is really well fed. Nowhere does this hold more true than a funeral. Home visits mean you take a ham or two pies or a mess of fresh snapped beans or some butter beans. You have not had a good funeral until you have a dining table that overflows and a deep freeze so full you tossed out all the bags of ice, freezer pops, and unidentifiable tupperware containers stuck in there last summer sometime.  That poor family suffering from their loss is just not going to feel like cooking for awhile and so the community works overtime to care for them. Nothing says community love like coconut creme pie and a slice of Grandma Shannon’s buttermilk cake at my house!

No matter what we do we seem to always do it with food as the backdrop. Southern fare is not for the weak of heart as everything is dipped, battered and deep fried or smothered in gravy.  We inhale our grits, black-eye peas, cornbread, crawfish, pickeled eggs and pickled pigs feet. Nothing is better on a hot summer day than an RC and a moonpie, unless it is a half frozen cane coke stuffed full of salted peanuts. Delish! Southern food is fried catfish and anything grown in your own garden. Yankees eat stuffing with their turkey but we eat dressing with gizzards and eggs and maybe even oysters or sage sausage cooked up in it. We pour pepper sauce on our vegetables and make comeback sauce to have on cream cheese for a fancy appetizer. Buttermilk’s for dipping your cornbread and biscuits are for sopping up sunny side up eggs and redeye gravy. We love our collard greens and turnups, chittlins, pecan pie and chocolate chess pie with a good cup of chicory coffee. We eat pimento cheese sandwiches and vienna sausages out of our lunch boxes at school and can’t wait to get home to a good crawfish and shrimp boil, cooked dressing cole slaw and chowder peas.

Funeral customs in the South are a bit strange too. As soon as the dead is hauled out we stop all the clocks, unplug the tv’s and the radios, collect all the bright colored cushions on the sofa and on the swing on the porch and hide them in a pillow. Then we cover all the mirrors in the house with black draping and put on dark clothes. No jewelry, no heels to speak of, just sensible and sedate. Somehow a guest login book shows up and is put on an end table or tv tray near the front door. If they told me to keep one on hand in cotillion lessons it must have been on one of the days I was out back pitching pennies with the old men behind the AP right off Catfish Alley. I wonder what other tidbits of good breeding I missed while playing hookie? Things like men opening doors for women, always say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’, help your neighbors even though you can’t stand them and always say ‘bless your heart’ especially when you have don’t have anything nice to say? My cousin apparently never attended religiously too as he is never sure which  fork to use to pop open his PBR?

Women in the South do not chew gum or partake of alcohol in public. This was pretty much beat into my soul by my mother and my Aunt Jerrie.  Funny their mother while not a gum chewer did love her rough cut Tops Brand Snuff. I am sure the ‘aunts’ will shudder that I divulge this secret to the masses. But there, it is a piece of our turn of the century country folk culture. Grandmother always had a napkin wrapped soup can for her spittoon and would always have to “wash out” her mouth before leaving the house. Sometimes when Maw kissed you on the cheek she left a little remnant of the sweet stuff.  Everyytime they hand me a “sample” spoon at the ice cream shoppe it reminds me of her dip spoon! I miss her every day and I think of her and can still smell her hint of snuff mixed with White Shoulders dusting powder.

Daddy always said you never say anything hurtful about a person ..just not done and bad manners. Papaw always said manners are what you still have even when you are dirt poor. You can’t sell them or buy them, they are a gift to guard and tend to because even the polite homeless man down on Jackson Square is going to be ok as long as he has manners. For a poor relatively uneducated man my papaw was rich with manners! It would be ill mannered and down right mean spirited to point out anyone’s weaknesses or foibles. We never say anything unkind about another person no matter how ugly or how fat they might be. We still ‘bless her heart’ and talk about how she comes from ‘good people’ and how she is obviously a ‘great cook.’ Or croon, “Sugah, that girl! With a sweet smile like that she should never be saddled with a behind that looks like two pigs fighin’ under a poke sack…bless her heart!” If a woman is bold or wears clothing that is too revealing at Church or at work we would call her a hussy behind her back and discuss how she comes from good people and her momma ‘must be rollin’ over in her grave.’ And then we would make a hurried call to the church prayer circle hotline and immediately add her name to the special intentions list. The ladies of the altar guild would toss in “bless her heart, the child just cant help it” then whispers ” you know her momma” for good measure. A real Southern woman can toss out an insult with the lingering sweetness of a soft kiss.

We take our football seriously in the south. We love football so much that Ole Miss fans would never consider dating much less marrying a Mississippi State fan as that would be marrying outside our faith. We don’t celebrate years of marriage…we celebrate seasons! Why Larry and Kay Nell got married right after the Rebels beat Notre Dame directly in the Grove and Jerry Wayne and Mary Katherine got hitched with cowbell clanging in the press box at that egg bowl when it snowed!

We drink lots of soft drinks in the South and they are all cokes to us:

You want a drink?

Yeah, a coke, please.

What type of coke do you want?

What ‘cha got?

We have Seven up, Dr. Pepper, co-cola, and diet coke too.

If you ask for a ‘soda’ or a ‘pop’ they know you’re not from ‘around here.’ It is so damn hot we drink a lot there. If it isn’t coke or sweet tea its bourbon or whiskey in the cooler months and gin and tonics in the summer time. You need a good stiff drink to keep the mosquitoes and water moccasins from carrying you right off the veranda on a sultry summer night!

I wonder if painting houses a bright blue to keep snakes and ghosts and other evil things away is just a southern thing, too? We call it ‘haint’ blue. I don’t know if it works as good as chicken bones in a circle in your yard but heck, whatever works!creating believable characters from real people

And then there is Garden Club and Pilgrimage in places like Columbus and Natchez. Hoop skirts and pantaloons, little boys in miniature butternut grays, and plump middle aged women with decollete that pushes the limits of matronly propriety.

This is a place where the Mardi Gras societies and the Churches are still racially divided and the locals here (bless their hearts) worship their football teams on Saturday and their God on Sundays with equal fervor. It is an odd colloquial place but it is a rich character study of people and places and the source I go to when I need to add “real” characters with meat and bones on them in my writing.

No Plot? No Problem! Chris Baty’s How to Write a Novel in 30 Days

Title: No Plot? No Problem! Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days

Nanowrimo Chris Baty Mywritingmentor

Author: Chris Baty

Publisher: Chronicle Books

National Novel Writing Month is coming up (November) and I like so many of my writing compadres are chomping at the bit to get started. We are dreaming up plot lines, characters, and all the scrapes they can get into along the way.  Those of us who have participated in years past know how exhilarating Nanowrimo can be but we also know what happens along about week two when all your friends are at all the cool kid activities and you are only 10,000 words into your 50,000 word requirement.

Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem! is a solid study in how to not just survive the doldrums of middle month writing but how to conquer the roadblocks and distractions that jump out at you along the way. His no nonsense approach to putting words on paper make writing 50,000+ words in a month not only possible but accomplished by even the rawest of new novelists.  No Plot? No Problem! is not a step by step book on how to write a novel. It is a survivalists guide for how to meet your word count and keep your sanity all the while not losing all your friends and maybe getting carpal tunnel syndrome along the way.

Snarky, bossy, understanding, and spunky, Baty does a superb job of making the large project of Nanowrimo seem not only ‘doable’ but something to look forward to year after year. Part therapist, part drill sergeant, Chris Baty does an outstanding job of taking a large task and chunking it down to a series of efforts that all add up to one large volume in the end. No Plot? No Problem! Is a good read to get any writer back into the right mindset to embark on their 30 day trek to a raw novel.