Man in the Blue Moon

Author: Michael Morris
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414368429
ISBN-13: 978-1414368429

 Book Description:
“He’s a gambler at best. A con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons. While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins. But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

What I think:

If you like Southern Fiction, there is a great deal to like about MAN IN THE BLUE MOON. Set in a Apalachicola, a coastal town of cypress trees and Spanish moss, the characters face financial hard times and a war that has everyone on edge. Morris’ blends suspicious town gossips married to quiet men who say the right thing at just the right time, self-righteous know-it-all’s nosing around, loyal friends who don’t speak for years and evangelical pastors straining for a buck. He parades them before you with wonderful timing, a familiar step through turn-of-the-century north Florida. Morris brings up many captivating questions about faith, miracles and mysticism – reserving judgment or explanation. That’s an interesting turn for Tyndale, which typically publishes Christian fiction. Can I get an AMEN?

The main character is single mom, Ella Wallace. Due to her no -account husband, Ella is stuck with debts she can’t pay. She tries to run a commissary and raise three very different sons in the middle of a war, holding fiercely to the one thing her Daddy told her to never let go of – her land. Ella’s character is completely relate-able to today’s times. Though I cocked my eyebrow at the Snidely Wiplash description of her husband, wishing he and the “bad guys” had been given as much depth as other characters, the premise and story were so intriguing, I had no trouble continuing.

The GUY (there’s always a GUY): He arrives in a completely unexpected fashion, setting the gossips a-dither. He’s the opposite of the louse-like husband, offers to help right and left, and doesn’t even realize he’s filling the immense void Louse Husband left behind. Dream guy, right? He’s very mysterious, creating more trouble and town speculation than Ella (and her teenage son) can handle. She’s caught between the need for his help and gossip about him helping her and feelings, nothing more than feelings.

Meanwhile, there’s a power-grab for Ella’s land between a scurvy banker and an evangelist who turns local Indian beliefs about healing waters and Scripture on it’s ear. Ella’s is torn between her promise to her father and her debt. How will she survive? Money goes this way and that and Ella struggles to maintain her dignity, her family and her land. The murder described above is a huge slam-bang affair, written powerfully well. I was surprised how Morris, who obviously loves Apalachicola and knows it in and out, quickly turns to a well-drawn action scene that had me guessing.

Also amazing is that Morris pulls pieces of this story from his own family history. A man actually did arrive to his family farm in the same manner as Ella’s visitor to work for awhile before Morris was born. Interesting how family history contributes to authors stories, isn’t it?

If you like MAN IN THE BLUE MOON you may enjoy-

For the Southern aspect, Florida author – JANIS OWENS My Brother Michael, and American Ghost

A Christian, Southern author – CHARLES MARTIN The Dead Don’t Dance

For a Historical & Florida author – MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS South Moon Under

MAN IN THE BLUE MOON is the SheReads.org online book club November read.. You can visit Shereads.org to read more reviews.

For today’s interview I am excited to introduce my good friend, Kimberly Brock, and her debut novel, THE RIVER WITCH, a Pulpwood Queens Official Selection book and the SheReads selection for the month of June. Joshilyn Jackson calls Kimberly’s book, “One debut you should not miss.”

So, Kimberly. How do you feel about THE RIVER WITCH’s amazing success? 

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about success. I don’t look at numbers. Really, I’m pleased with the good reviews, but I haven’t spent time reading them myself so much as I’ve been told about them. I’m focused on writing the next book, on responding to readers on blogs and at readings, scheduling appearances and festivals. Success for me will be that I get to keep writing and sharing stories.

But I will share this special experience: a reader contacted me after finishing the book to tell me that she’d suffered the loss of a stillborn child years ago. She’d never been allowed to grieve or to honor that child with a memorial or even a name. As an adult with other grown children, she was very moved by THE RIVER WITCH. She finally allowed herself to grieve, to memorialize and name her baby. To me, that is the story’s success – that it touched someone where they live. I don’t know if that’s got much to do with me, but I do know that it means the work has inherent worth. I’ll never forget that.

When did you first get the writing bug?

I’ve been a storyteller all my life. Ask my family, who endured many hours of reenacted Disney films or impromptu plays. Ask my childhood friends and teachers, who swallowed tall tales and ghost stories whole on the playground and paid the price later, afraid to sleep in their beds. They believed I had descended from an angry Cherokee Indian Chief. They believed I was going blind like Helen Keller. I was in trouble all the time for inventing and embellishing. And then, around the age of five somebody gave me a crayon and that was that. That’s when I became a writer.

Can you tell us how you went about research for The River Witch? Which part came first and how did you go about gathering what you needed from there?

Horribly. That’s how I went about research. Honestly, it’s not a very good process. I do it all the hard way, pulling articles out of magazines or printing them or bookmarking them on my laptop. Eventually, I had this pile of unrelated facts, stories and reports that grabbed my attention. Some of it came as I was writing – like the alligators. I read a lot about them and listened to recordings of their roaring. Other times, I went in search of a thing, like the Sacred Harp music. I watched documentaries and reads books and listened to recordings that I downloaded onto my iPod. Eventually, it’s a matter of having the knowledge in my head, the essence of a thing, so that when I write a scene, those facts and details appear there naturally. At least that’s what I hope happens – that the things I’ve learned and obsessed over will translate in the writing as setting and character and metaphor, give the story momentum and depth, but not sit there on display or seem like a regurgitated report on a subject.

How is your next project going?

Slowly. It is a story that began to take shape for me years ago when I stumbled across an obscure piece of history in my home state of Georgia. A lot of research has gone into this project, including some travel. I’m still fascinated with this idea and in the frustrating stages of waiting for it to take shape on the page. But I’m in love with it and eager to see what it becomes in the next few months.

As a writer, what is your greatest challenge?

I’m a writer, but I’m also a mother and wife and daughter. Time is always the challenge for any writer, finding a balance between living a full life and writing. I am impatient to go from the germ of an idea to a finished project and I want everything else in my life to fall in line so I can devote myself to that goal. But life doesn’t operate that way, and neither does the creative process. And by the way, unless you leave the writing long enough to live a full life, you find there’s nothing to write about. You have nothing to say. So, for me it’s always a challenge to leave the writing and know that when I come back to the desk, I’ll be better for it and so will my work.

What is your greatest victory?

My family – my marriage to my best friend and the home we’ve made with our three children. With the publication of my first novel, I saw my kids witness the fulfillment of a dream after years of dedicated work. That single moment, seeing their faces, was my greatest victory. Knowing that long after I’m gone, long after anything I have written is forgotten, they’ll have that memory to pass down to their children for courage.

THANKS, KIMBERLY!!

You can visit Kimberly Brock at kimberlybrockbooks.com. Her list of books signings and appearances are listed there.

You can find THE RIVER WITCH on Amazon.com and these other retailers:

Rachel Simon is the award-winning author and nationally known public speaker. She is best known for her critically acclaimed, bestselling memoir RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER, which was adapted for a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie of the same name. The book has garnered numerous awards, and is a frequent and much beloved selection of many book clubs, school reading programs, and city-wide reads throughout the country.

Rachel and I share a common bond as siblings of adults with disabilities. When I asked her for an interview, she responded immediately. In the short time I have known her, she has been nothing but encouraging. Her latest book, THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL, is a NY Times Bestseller. 

Hi, Rachel!  Please tell us, when did you first get the writing bug?

I’m one of those people who figured out that writing was my life’s path almost as soon as I learned to write. I actually remember the moment when I had the realization. One afternoon, when I was seven, and my mother needed one of her daily afternoon naps, she asked me to lie down beside her and nap as well. She did this often, even though I rarely felt as tired as she did at that time of day. So as usual, I just stayed awake, daydreaming. And that day, my thoughts went to that dumb question adults kept asking me: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It was always an irritating question, because in that era – the early 1960’s – girls were allowed only a few acceptable answers: teacher, nurse, mommy, or ballerina. None of these excited me, so I thought it was high time for me to come up with an answer just to shut them up. As I asked myself the question, I remember looking up at the ceiling, which had cracked paint, and which, hard as I tried, could never be made to form itself into anything recognizable. Suddenly I just knew that I’d be a writer. I’ve wondered since what it was about the cracked paint that led me to this conclusion, and I think it was the desire to form something meaningful out of something that otherwise seemed random. I’ve come to see this as one of the primary goals of any art: to create order out of chaos.

I was quite satisfied with this answer, but didn’t get serious about writing immediately. As it turned out, my family moved soon thereafter, and a few months later my parents split up, so I was pretty miserable for a long time. However, I started writing letters to all my friends from my earlier home, and soon I was corresponding several times a week with half a dozen girls. I realized that each wrote in what I would now call her own voice, and that each also had difference topics that interested her. I decided to learn how to write in a way that synced up with the interests and voices of each, and so by the time I was nine, I’d become pretty good at taking on multiple voices. That year we moved again, and the family typewriter (a big old manual) was given a prominent spot on my mother’s desk. I decided I needed to get more disciplined, so I started writing short stories, then taught myself to type so I could put them in typed form. By seventh grade I’d started working on a novel, in ninth grade my father gave me an electric typewriter (what joy!), and by the end of high school I’d written four book-length works of fiction.

Little by little I gained some skill with craft, and I also gained some confidence. I sold my first book when I was twenty-nine – and, by the way, unagented. I didn’t get the agent until I already had an offer.

I switched from fiction to nonfiction for my third, fourth, and fifth books, but now with book #6, The Story of Beautiful Girl, I’m back to fiction.

You are most known for your memoir, RIDING THE BUS WITH MY SISTER, which was made into a movie. But your latest book, THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL, is a work of fiction set in the late 1960’s about a couple with disabilities. Can you tell us about your research and how you went about gathering what you needed?

My sister Beth has an intellectual disability. When she was born in 1960, it wasn’t uncommon for doctors to recommend to parents that they place children like my sister in institutions, but my parents never considered that option. I had little idea about the way people who lived there were treated.  Many years later, I wrote about Beth and our relationship in Riding The Bus With My Sister, and soon after it was released, I started getting asked to do public speaking around the country at disability-related conferences.  There I met people who, because they already knew me through my memoir, opened up and shared their own personal or professional experiences, and some of these stories involved institutions

Over and over, I returned home, reeling.  The reality of institutions had obviously been widespread and affected millions of people—yet no one outside these conferences spoke about such things.  In fact, the only institutions most Americans even seemed to be aware of were psychiatric institutions, which is an entirely different system from the institutions for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  My curiosity finally stoked, I began collecting books and documentaries on the subject. At the same time, I developed friendships with many people in the disability community, from scholars to staff people, self-advocates to family members.  From my conversations with these new friends, I began learning about disabilities other than the one my sister has, as well as many issues of social justice that were outside my own experience. I then started wondering if I could write something, fiction or nonfiction, that dealt with some of this material, but I couldn’t figure out how.

Then one day, as I was wrapping up a talk, I came across a book at a vendor’s table, God Knows His Name: The True Story of John Doe No. 24, by Dave Bakke.  In 1945, I learned, a deaf, African American teenager was found wandering the streets inIllinois.  No one understood his sign language so no one knew who he was.  A judge declared him “feebleminded” and he was put away in one of these institutions.  There he remained, despite the suspicion of many staff that he had no intellectual disability at all, until he died fifty years later.  The tragedy of John Doe No. 24 haunted me, and led me to read a lot of material about Deaf culture, and the African American Deaf (and deaf) experience.

Then in 2007, the creative writing department where I’d taught for over a decade decided to restructure the department and I was let go.  Grieving the loss of a job and students I had loved, I set about trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I was sure of only one thing: I wanted to keep writing.  Though what I wanted to write about, I didn’t know.

In this vulnerable state, I sat down with a blank pad of paper, waiting to see what would emerge.  Instantly, there it was.  The novel I’d been vaguely thinking about all this time.

It is 1968.  Night.  A rain storm.  An elderly widow is reading a book.  Who is she, I asked myself, and without hesitation, I knew: she was a retired schoolteacher, in a state of grief.  Unlike me, her grief was for a child and a bad marriage; like me, she had stayed in touch with her former students.  A knock comes to her door.  Who is it, I asked myself.  Again, I knew.  Standing before her is a woman who has my sister’s disability—and a man similar to John Doe No. 24.  The woman is the love of his life. Although I don’t know it for another fifty pages, he calls her Beautiful Girl.  They have just escaped from an institution—and Beautiful Girl has just borne a baby girl.  I continued writing, and the whole first chapter spilled out.  When I reached its ending, I was as shocked as my readers have been.  I had no idea she would say to the widow: “Hide her.”

So a lot of the research happened by accident, or through my personal life, before I even began the writing. However, once the book was underway, I did get more directed. I arranged interviews with my new friends, or people they knew.  From these interviews, I learned many details about life inside and outside of the institutions. Some of these details were sad, as you’d imagine, but others were a lot of fun. For instance, one friend spent several hours talking about a cross-country trip that he went on when he was a teenager, where his companion was his best friend, who had spinal cord injury.  Another friend talked with me about alternate forms of communication when people are nonverbal.  I also spoke with staff people who had a great deal to share about individuals they’d served, and loved, in their past.

But I think it’s important to note that I didn’t wait to start writing until I had all my research done. I started writing the book because I was sad and didn’t know what to do with myself, and then I completed the research as I went along.

How is your next project going?

I try not to talk about ongoing work until it’s finished. So for now I’ll just say that the burner is on.

What is your greatest challenge?

Only one? Gee. Well, if I must limit myself, I suppose I’d say it’s my extroverted personality. I just find everyone so fascinating, especially if I’m lucky enough to have the chance to speak with people one-on-one. In fact, when I was younger, I decided that my goal in life was to meet everyone in the world. Though I’m far from that goal, I will admit to being one of those people who has hundreds of friends (and I don’t just mean the Facebook kind), and I try to keep up with them all. As you might imagine, a person who’s this social might have a challenge going on a people diet so she can sit alone in a room and write.  I’m lucky in that I also really enjoy being by myself, and I don’t mind doing so for very long stretches of time. But I just love meeting and speaking with people, so sometimes I have to get very strict with myself in order to get back to work.

When do you feel the most victorious?

I think most people assume that as a writer, I would have my happiest moments when I win an award or get a very positive, high-placed review. And it’s true that those are indeed happy moments.  But I feel even happier when I find a creative way to work through some difficulty in my writing. That’s quite thrilling. I’m also deeply satisfied when I hear from or meet people with disabilities, their family members, or staff people, and when they tell me that I gave voice to their own thoughts, feelings, and stories.  In addition, I love when they then share their personal experiences with me. I feel very fortunate to have gained their trust, and to learn about their lives so deeply.

Thanks so much for your time, Rachel! To learn more about Rachel Simon, please visit her at http://www.rachelsimon.com.

 

 

 

New York Times Best Selling Author, Haywood Smith

I first met Haywood Smith in my early twenties. She is a kind, sassy and inspirational lady filled with laughter and sharp wit. We both love chunky jewelry and views of the outdoors. I hope you enjoy her passion for writing as much as her passion for living!

1. When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

When I turned forty, I was trying to sell houses in a subdivision, stuck in a sales trailer with no bathroom with an ex-stewardess cocaine addict for a partner, who propositioned my teenaged son, lied to the builders to make her look good and me look bad, and called me every Sunday morning from a different man’s bed to tell me she couldn’t come to work on my one day off.   In the middle of the S&L crisis, when mortgage interest rates were 14%.  But I’m loyal, so even that didn’t drive me out of the business.  The final straw came when I went on vacation and my partner sold a listing without clarifying the size of the lot, and both of us almost ended up being sued by the buyers.

That did it.  I called my friend Carolyn Stovall and asked her what else I could do.  I only had a high school diploma.  I couldn’t get a job at WalMart as a greeter, because my arthritis was so bad, I couldn’t stand on the concrete.  And I am so numerically challenged that two personal bankers (at two different banks!) who tried to sort out my checking account told me I could never have a debit or ATM card, or nobody would ever be able to get my account straight.  So I couldn’t check groceries at Kroger without risking a felony.

Carolyn asked me, “If somebody said you were going to die in two years, what would you do?”

I heard my voice say, “I’d write a book and try to get it published.”  News to me, who had always been an avid reader!

Carolyn laughed and said, “Then why are you waiting for a death sentence?”

So I quit my job and went home to write.  It took five years of writing and learning and rewriting to finally get my first book published, but when it came I out, it was nominated for four national awards, and won one.  Now I am living my dream.

2. You are most known for your Women’s Fiction titles, but you started out writing in a genre that required a great deal of research. Can you tell us about how it shaped your writing today?

I love accurate historicals, and when I wrote them, I mirrored the cultural conflicts of the times and places in the relationship between the hero and heroine, which helped the book to resonate on several levels.  I did my research at UGA’s library, getting advice about reliable sources in advance from professors who knew about the era in which I was writing.  (They’re always very glad to help.)

We didn’t have Google then, but I prefer to use works of tried-and-true historians, but take even them with a grain of salt.  Much of current history is revisionist, just as many historians before the scientific method reflected their own sensibilities in their accounts.  I am always aware that even scientific historians may reflect their own personal and political agendas, so I look at the overall accounts and get a wider picture before I decide to use a specific reference.

Now that I’m writing current novels, I still use the conflicts of my characters’ culture to give my stories resonance, but now I’m writing about women’s issues instead of historical events.  Still, I’m driven to “get it right” about my characters and their worlds.  My research background has taught me to do in-depth histories and psychological backgrounds for my characters, to give them believable motives for what they do.  Readers tell me they know these characters in their own lives, or relate to them personally, which is great—except when they sue you for defamation of character, and win!  (Only once, but once is more than enough.)

3. How is your next writing project going?

My next writing project, OUT OF WARRANTY, is way behind schedule, because—at my editor’s insistence—I’ve started social networking, and that takes a lot of my time.  I’m excited about the book, though.  It’s the story of a middle-aged woman who falls apart physically ten years before Medicare and ends up impoverished by medical bills, so she decides she needs to marry somebody for health insurance.  After a series of hilarious courtships, she ends up finding an unusual and satisfying solution.  As always, there are lots of laughs and plenty of heart.  And I send up the medical profession, the health insurance industry, and the frustrations of getting older.

4.    What is your greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge is trying to do everything myself and continue to write, promote, and sell my books, as well as manage my wonderful house and yard.  I can’t wait till my six-year-old grandson can become my e-publicist and personal techie.

5.     When do you feel the most victorious?

I feel most victorious when I get fan e-mails that say my books made my readers laugh so loud, they woke their husbands.  Or that my stories lightened their lives in dark times.  Or helped them smile during chemo.  Or showed them they could survive divorce and betrayal.  Or helped them stop blaming and move on to a more positive life.  Or brought them closer to God.  When I read messages like that, I weep for joy and gratitude.

I have a friend who has a terrific time coming up with names, but the names? Quite frankly, my dear… dry as a corn husk. I have another friend who dreads it, but her names roll off the end of the tongue like extra cherries at the bottom of your milkshake. They’re juicy, fit the character perfectly.

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about my obsession with cemeteries. A friend of mine works for Dachshund Dream Rescue in Atlanta & needed fresh names. Because of my crazy obsession and name banking compulsion, I sent her 200  names like Acel, Cobb, Mettie, Euphemia T. Proudfoot, Zodie, Moody, and Gillam. That was just the name bank that was on my phone.

That time of year is creeping up again, when it’s not too hot, not too cold.  I highly suggest pulling off the side of the road at an old church.  Jot down your favorite names. Add them to your name bank. You never know when you need a Mettie with a wandering eye or a Cobb who lost his foot in a war. Moody did not sell Bibles, though. I promise you. But Zodie read tea leaves in her kitchen for $5 a pop.

Another route ( if you’re spooked by cemeteries) is Ancestry.com. This summer, I discovered that I have an ancestor named Pleasant Melvin Alexander. I am so not kidding. If Ancestry.com is pricey for you, go in with a cousin and you can each explore different ends of the family under the same password.

Another way to do names is to identify the thing that most describes/embodies your character. Here are some easy examples. For a cheat or a weasel,  “Wesley”. If you have someone who seems dreamy and lives for escapism, feel free to use “Misty”. For a liar, I’ve used “Lila” and for someone who offers forgiveness, “Joshua.”

For secondary characters, sometimes nicknames-as-names work best to remind the reader of that character’s role in the story. Say the Dad is enthusiastic and older and fast-talking, instead of calling him “Dad”, call him “Pop”. A sweet aunt can be “Aunt Sugar”, especially in the Southern US. For an aunt who cleaned until her fingers cracked, I have used “Aunt Blanche”.

There are a gazillion ways to go about this, I’d be interested in hearing yours!