G.M. Ford

On December 18, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Black River Runs Deep with Lies, Corruption, Justice

An Interview with G.M. Ford

By Jody Ewing
August 15, 2002

It’s been said that when it comes to the legal system, there’s no justice, “just us.”

Black River

Black River

No one knows this better than Seattle’s G.M. (Jerry) Ford, a former college Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and now full-time detective novelist. Since his 1995 debut novel “Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca?” — the first in his Leo Waterman series — Ford has cranked out a mystery each year underscoring greed, power, moral responsibility and the circuitous road to comeuppance.

Black River,” Ford’s eighth novel and the second in his new series, places Frank Corso — a disgraced New York Times journalist — at the center of Seattle’s most sensational murder trial. Mobster Nicholas Balagula has been charged with 63 counts of murder after the collapse of a new children’s hospital that he cut corners to build. Now a reclusive crime-writer, Corso is chosen to cover what looks like an easy victory for the prosecution. But sociopath Balagula isn’t about to go down easy, having escaped punishment before by jury tampering and unexpected deaths of witnesses.

The case doesn’t become personal, however, until Corso’s former girlfriend, photojournalist Meg Dougherty, is attacked after stumbling upon a connection between Corso’s story and one on which she’s working. Thus begins a plot-twisting story where guilty parties will pay, by hand if not by law.

G.M. Ford
G.M. Ford

Ford, who taught English at high school through university levels for over 20 years and a mystery writing class through the University of Washington, became interested in crime fiction after reading the Hardy Boys series at age 10. Later, The Washington Post Book World would call Ford’s ‘Leo Waterman’ character “the most likeable private eye to make the scene since Travis McGee.”

As Ford’s new loner protagonist hits the streets in search of justice, Weekender writer Jody Ewing asks Ford how Corso came about and the people who interest him — and Corso — most.

As the second book in your new Frank Corso series, can you tell me how the idea came about? Was there any particular catalyst?

Since “Fury” was my anti-serial killer book, I was looking to do something that didn’t involve one. I wanted to tell a story of a man who presumed that he was above the law; who saw the law as little more than the whining of the weak and who believed he could subvert the system in any way he chose and get away with it. That’s why I chose the Black River for a metaphor for nature’s way of evening things out…for the tendency of what goes around to indeed come around.

Of the two series, how would you say Leo Waterman and Frank Corso differ most?

Leo’s a much nicer guy than either Corso or myself. Leo represents the part of me that has a tendency to laugh first and worry about things later. Corso’s the writer part of me, who likes to stand in the corner and watch — the part of me that files away the movement of a hand or the tilt of a head. Corso’s the loner in me. The one who sits in front of a keyboard month after month, living in his own little self-manufactured world, while ignoring what the rest of his species look at as reality.

In “Black River,” how would you describe Corso’s journey and revelation?

Corso looks at a situation (Balagula’s ability to subvert the criminal justice system) and decides that the only way things are going to work out right is if he takes charge and makes it happen. As is often the case, when one pushes reality, reality has a knack for pushing back. In this case, Corso is put into a position where his own ethical code gets tested and he finds out that the distance between himself and those he considers his enemies is not as great as he had imagined.

What types of (real-life) people interest you most, and how do you go about developing them into characters?

People at the edges of society. Somebody once said that we have a leisure class at either end of our society. They’re right. Those are the people who interest me. The folks in the middle are the matrix (the yogurt) in which the story (the berries) takes place.

Your books address evil or wrongdoing on a variety of levels. That said, Anne Frank once said that in spite of everything, she believed people were basically good. Do you agree? If so, why, or why not?

I believe she’s right. I believe people have an innate sense of what’s right and wrong. No matter how old we get, every one of us occasionally says: “that’s not fair.” Doesn’t matter how many times we’ve been told that life’s not fair. Doesn’t matter how many times our own experiences prove it to us. We still have this sense of how things should be.

How do you work through a roadblock in your story?

When I encounter a stoppage, it’s my muse telling me that she doesn’t like what I’m about to write next and isn’t going to let me continue until I get it straightened out. At that point, I go looking for a scene that she will let me write and I write that. What I know for sure is that whatever means it takes to break out of the doldrums, will only take place with your ass firmly planted in front of your keyboard. You’d be amazed what seven hours a day staring at the outline on your screen will do for writer’s block. Coupla days of that and you’d rather write than eat.

Have you planned a set amount of books for this particular series?

Seems to me that somewhere between six and 10, series books begin to sound stale as hell to me. I’m about ready to write stand alones.

Why do you write?

On the Macro level: I’m a storyteller. That’s what I do. On the Micro level: I just love making sentences.

 

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Estella Mae Slattery

On December 18, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Superstition, local history underscores novel

Retired teacher finished book at age 85

By Jody Ewing
January 29, 2004

The Details
What
: Jeremiah’s God by Estella Mae Slattery of Elk Point
Where: Available at Barnes & Noble, Elk Point’s ‘Pioneer Drug,’ iUniverse.com and amazon.com.

Elk Point’s Estella Mae Slattery knows her history. Born the year of the World War I armistice in 1918, she’s also lived through the Depression, World War II, Vietnam, the Cold Wars and other conflicts. Yet it is another type of conflict that led to the November publication of her second novel, “Jeremiah’s God” — women and superstition.

Set in the 1920s, the story begins when widower Jeremiah Guttermann marries a young Irish woman and brings her to his Midwestern farm. The woman brings with her a culture of superstition, which Jeremiah soon begins to believe is harmful to his two children. Though he rails against it, Jeremiah has his own spiritual hang-up — a loyalty to the folklore of an ages-old brotherhood. His failure to acknowledge the dark side of the folklore meets with tragic consequences, ultimately affecting his family’s future generations.

“The idea for the book stemmed from an incident I learned about as a child, but I didn’t understand the full complications,” said Slattery, a Beresford native and former English teacher. “Now I do.”

The mother of six living children and grandmother of 13 says she doesn’t write biographies, but rather finds an odd situation and then focuses on the aftermath.

“I’m interested in exploring superstition and the reasons for our actions, and the effects of superstition and how that carries through the generations,” Slattery says. “It’s a fascinating subject.”

Estella Slattery
Estella Slattery

Slattery says she lived with the book’s superstitions for years and had been aware of them for quite some time. After failing to find a mentor to help her with the book, she began writing it at age 75 and finished 10 years later. The result, she says, is a story written from her point of view and what she has witnessed through the years.

“The book is based on what these people believe and their practices in regards to women,” she says. “This leads to situations which, no doubt, could bring about re-examination of some old attitudes.”

As a young child, Slattery grew up in a time when there was no TV or radio. She and her friends spent much of their time at the local library, where Slattery says they attempted to “read every book of fiction there.” When she discovered Shakespeare during high school, it inspired her to get her masters degree at the University of South Dakota and become an English teacher. Yet it wasn’t until she had raised her children and retired from teaching that she decided to write a novel.

Her role as mother, grandmother, and life-long Roman Catholic afforded her many challenges and served as her inspiration, as did stories passed down from each generation.

“Reading and good literature were always all around me,” she says. “But I’ve always loved mystery stories and those that deal with superstition. I find them fascinating and entertaining.”

 

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Eric Juhnke

On December 18, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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‘Quacks’ features notorious Iowa con man

An Interview with BCU professor and author Eric Juhnke

By Jody Ewing
December 18, 2002

Available at Amazon.com

One man promoted goat gland transplants as a remedy for lost virility or infertility. Another blamed aluminum cooking utensils for causing cancer. The Food and Drug Administration targeted a third as “public enemy number one” for his worthless cures.

With backgrounds varying from low-brow performance carnivals to vaudeville and running for governor, John Brinkley, Norman Baker and Harry Hoxsey were the ultimate charismatic con men of the 20th Century. While they scorned the medical establishment, each amassed fortunes while preying on the ignorant. Baker — a flamboyant radio broadcaster from Muscatine, Iowa — once publicly administered his “special powder” on a farmer’s brain whose partial skull had been removed.

In his new book “Quacks and Crusaders: The Fabulous Careers of John Brinkley, Norman Baker, and Harry Hoxsey,” Briar Cliff University assistant history professor Dr. Eric Juhnke examines the career of each man and the connections between fraudulent medicine and populist rhetoric.

Weekender writer Jody Ewing talked with Juhnke about quacks, cons and the roles they play today.

Eric Juhnke
Eric Juhnke

You say in the book’s acknowledgements that John Brinkley brought your grandparents together. You researched quackery as one of your father’s undergraduate students, and your mother is a college health administrator and nurse. Given these elements, was there one thing in particular that prompted you to write this book, or had you always known that someday you would write it?

It was really a case of serendipity. I discovered Norman Baker while writing my senior thesis on an uprising known as the Cedar County Iowa Cow War of 1931. Some farmers in eastern Iowa rebelled against state veterinarians’ efforts to enforce mandatory bovine tuberculosis testing. In my efforts to understand the farmers’ motives, I learned that Baker, who had lambasted organized medicine over the airwaves for years in defense of his cancer hospital, convinced some farmers that the tuberculosis test was part of grand conspiracy for meat packers to obtain cheap beef.

The more I learned about Baker’s career as a cancer quack the more fascinated I became. I had known about Brinkley before and Hoxsey’s name kept popping up in my research, so I added them to the mix.

What does “Quacks and Crusaders” attempt to do and for what kind of reader was it written?

This book tells the stories of three of the most successful medical charlatans of the 20th Century. In that sense, it is a multi-biography aimed for a general audience. However, the book is as much analytical as it is narrative. My thesis counters traditional scholarship on the history of medicine, which suggests that quacks were always villains, their patients ignorant suckers and medical doctors, heroes. The reality, I argue, was much more complex. Overall, my hope is that readers will find the book both entertaining and useful in explaining the nature and influence of quackery in the past and the present.

Although the incidents in the book took place from the 1920s through the 50s, the increases in the NCCAM (National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine) budget show that there is a growing acceptance of alternative medicine. How do you explain this?

The American public has long sought alternative methods of treatment for chronic and life threatening illnesses. What the NCCAM’s budget reflects is that organized medicine (the AMA, FDA, MD’s, etc.) has softened its position against non-allopathic treatments due to overwhelming public pressure, scientific studies supporting alternative methods, and the popularity of less invasive, holistic medicine. Nevertheless, organized medicine has remained cautious, and for good reason, since alternative medicine has provided fertile ground for various forms of quackery in the past.

In what types of forms (or disguises) does quackery appear in the medical forum as well as other organized fields?

Quacks include those who, out of conscious deceit rather than ignorance, make fraudulent claims about the effectiveness of their cures, solutions, or abilities. Consequently, quackery can be found in almost every profession. Their disguises vary as much as their fields. Whatever their angle, all successful quacks are able to manipulate the fears and insecurities of their victims.

Of the three men in ‘Quacks,’ who do you feel was most dangerous and why?

I believe that Harry Hoxsey represented the gravest threat to the American public, because he attracted the largest following and “practiced” medicine the longest. Although we can safely assume that a large percentage of Hoxsey’s patients never had cancer as his doctors professed, certainly there were genuine cancer sufferers among the hundreds of thousands who received the “Hoxsey cure” over a 40-year span who would have lived longer had they availed themselves to conventional care.

Do you have plans for a future book?

Currently, teaching and parenting responsibilities afford little time to complete another book. However, I hope to continue my research on this subject and eventually write a history of cancer quackery in the United States.

Quacks and Crusaders is available at local book stores and through University Press of Kansas at www.kansaspress.ku.edu or through amazon.com.

 

Bruce Forbes

On December 18, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Book dissects ‘Left Behind’ message

Morningside prof offers examination of social, political repercussions

By Jody Ewing
June 10, 2004

Forbes wrote and co-edited the book with five other historical and theological scholars.

The “Left Behind” series of apocalyptic Christian fiction — co-authored by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins — has become a best-selling phenomenon. It also has raised many questions: What does it say about pop culture and religion? Is there any significance to biblical references in the books? And what are the social and political implications of some of this kind of thinking?

Dr. Bruce Forbes, professor of religious studies at Morningside College, addresses these questions and others in “Rapture, Revelation, and The End Times: Exploring the Left Behind Series,” a book he co-edited and wrote with five other historical and theological scholars.

In his opening chapter, Forbes briefly summarizes the ‘Left Behind’ series and helps readers who may not have read all the books or be familiar with the authors.

“We’re trying to write in a way that’s pretty understandable to the general public,” says Forbes, a United Methodist minister. “There is a great disagreement among Christians about what will happen in the end times, and there are quite a few different ways to read the book of Revelation. We’re trying to answer questions, but show that different people might have other viewpoints.”

Though sales for the LB series are approaching 60 million, many readers, Christians, historians and scholars have accused them of being both anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish. Controversy abounds with the series’ singular viewpoint, called “dispensational premillennialism.”

Bruce Forbes
Bruce Forbes

“It says that at some unexpected time, there’s going to be a rapture when all true Christians are lifted from the earth and then that’s going to start the clock ticking,” says Forbes. “Things are going to get worse and worse and the anti-Christ will arise and take over the earth. There will be wars and people will die, and this ‘tribulation’ period will last seven years. After the seven years, Christ will come back to earth to do battle with and defeat Satan and inaugurate a thousand year reign on earth.”

That interpretation, Forbes says, differs from most mainline Protestants and Catholics and even some conservative Protestants. Another big debate in the LB series is the central role Jews play in the books; every Jew must convert to Christianity or else they’ll go to hell.

The 1995 publication of “Left Behind” — the first in a series of 12 — sent political chills worldwide by likening international organizations to the anti-Christ. In the first book, the anti-Christ starts to rise in the form of a handsome and charismatic man. He becomes a world leader and by the end of the novel becomes Secretary General of the United Nations. The book inundated Internet message boards with discussions of whether the introduction of the Euro was a sign of the anti-Christ.

In “Rapture, Revelation,” Forbes and the other contributors address questions raised by the LB series but encourage readers to come to their own conclusions. ‘Rapture’ also includes a glossary and reading group discussion questions.

Co-editor and historian Jeanne Kilde, a visiting assistant professor in the Dept. of Religious Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., writes a chapter on the history of what Christians have believed about the end times. Yaakov Ariel, a Jewish teacher at the Univ. of North Carolina, has studied how Christians tried to evangelize Jews and writes “Judaism and Left Behind,” a chapter about Christian-Jewish relations and how it relates to the LB books.

Bethel College teacher Mark Reasoner writes about the Bible and what it says about the end times. Author Stanley Grenz summarizes the four major beliefs and Duke’s Amy Johnson Frykholm covers social and political views.

Forbes, who also co-edited the book “Religion and Popular Culture in America,” says knowing the “Left Behind” authors’ backgrounds also helps readers come to their own conclusions.

“Tim LaHaye, now in his 70s, has been involved in conservative evangelical Christianity in very prominent ways for 30 to 40 years,” Forbes says. “He and his wife were very active campaigning against the equal rights amendment way back, and he’s also published books against homosexuality.”

In last week’s front-page Newsweek story, chief political correspondent Howard Fineman cited LaHaye’s close connections with President George Bush. Within the last year, LaHaye also gave Jerry Falwell a 4.5 million gift for a student center at Falwell’s Liberty University.

Though his name is not as widely recognized, Jerry Jenkins actually writes the LB series and has an established career as a prolific author. The conservative Christian’s credentials include helping Billy Graham with his recent autobiography and writing Christian mysteries for adults and children.

“People are curious after reading the Left Behind books, but want a brief book that answers some of their questions,” says Forbes. “The people who contributed to [Rapture, Revelation] have a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints, but I think the main one that we would all say is that the Left Behind view is not the only view. We hope fans will find it interesting and skeptics will, too. They both might be stretched a bit to understand viewpoints other than their own.”

 

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Clive Warner

On December 14, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Engineer Takes on Biological Weapons in CIA Thriller

By Jody Ewing
03/07/02

A part-time job with the CIA is fun, thinks engineer Martin Conley, until one day when a dying KGB agent gives him information that changes his life: a multi-warhead anthrax missile was installed in the ocean near Midway Island during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Thus begins a physical and moral journey for this atypical hero in Clive Warner’s first novel “Appointment in Samara,” published March 1. Conley travels to the Wadi Hadhramount in South Yemen partnered with Alia, a beautiful Arab woman, to retrieve the weapon’s control codes. He’s soon drawn into a deadly civil war between North and South Yemen and finally must decide – will he obey his CIA masters – or make decisions based on ultimate good?

Clive Warner

“Strangely, events have made it topical, although the first draft was completed 18 months ago,” says Warner, a former international project engineer who has lived and worked in more than 30 countries. “I was amazed when the anthrax attacks started. I remember thinking, ‘This can’t be true.'”

The story is intended to show that the simplistic, patriotic mind-set is not always necessarily right or just, and, if followed blindly, can lead to genocidal actions. Warner, who lives in North Mexico, says the idea for the book came from the History Channel.

“I was watching a program about the Cuban Missile Crisis on the History Channel where they were describing how the U.S. sent every ‘eye’ that it could to find the suspected missiles – satellites, surveillance aircraft, even regular jets at low level,” he says. “Suddenly the idea came: what if the crisis was just a diversion? Suppose, at the same time, while all surveillance was directed at Cuba, the Soviets were emplacing a super weapon, a ‘doomsday device,’ elsewhere?”

Since weaponized anthrax already had been developed, Warner settled on it for his doomsday device. He immersed himself in research, including data on the Gruinard Island tests that were used in early bio-war experiments by the British government. His goal was to write an authentic action-adventure that contained no holes in the plot. He also wanted to write a thriller that focused on engineers.

“Most people, in my experience, think engineers are boring people,” Warner says. “In reality engineers change peoples’ lives. Engineers build war machines and are indispensable on the battlefield.”

Additionally, Warner strove to break the stereotype that engineers are cold, unfeeling people. “They’re humans like any others, with the same capacity for emotion and loyalty,” he says.

Warner based the novel on Somerset Maugham's short story, going back further to the original fable.

The book ties in with Warner’s actual experiences and some of the book’s events are fictional versions of recent history. Having traveled to South Yemen twice, Warner installed a mobile phone system in the Wadi Hadhramount and surveyed 60 miles of coastal territory in the ‘Five Towns’ area. He was amongst a group of diplomats during President Ali Nasser’s visit to Sey’un in the Wadi.

“He made a speech which even I, with my poor Arabic, could see as a harbinger of war with the North,” Warner says. “Shortly after my visits, a civil war did indeed take place in the Yemen, between North and South.”

Warner based his title on Somerset Maugham’s short story from the ’30s, and going back further to the original Persian fable. In the fable, a man tries to flee from his fate, only to meet up with it in the very place he flees to. The title “Appointment in Samarra” also was used 20 years ago in the John O’Hara novel.

“My character, too, wants to avoid the dreadful responsibilities that descend upon him, but ultimately must accept the fact that some are chosen as the instruments of change,” Warner says. “There is a scene in the film ‘Zulu’ where, as thousands of Zulus are massing for the attack, a British soldier asks his sergeant, ‘Why us? Why do we have to be the ones?’ And the sergeant replies, ‘Why, because we’re ‘ere, lad. Because we’re ‘ere.'”

That line, says Warner, sums it all up. “Ultimately all of us must make some fateful decision ‘because we’re ‘ere.'”

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J.A. Jance

On December 14, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Author J.A. Jance a sleuthing success

By Jody Ewing
July 24, 2003
J.A. Jance

J.A. Jance

Mystery writer J.A. Jance knew she wanted to be a writer before she finished second grade. After reading L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” series, a bestselling author was born. Yet it would take more courage than destroying a wicked witch before the South Dakota native found publishing’s Emerald City.

During the 1960s at the University of Arizona, a professor refused Jance entry into the creative writing classes, citing that girls “ought to be teachers or nurses” rather than writers. Jance then married a man who was allowed into the program, went on to get her degree in English and Secondary Education, and in 1968 wrote her first book.

“It was sort of an ‘out there’ children’s book, and would have been edgy in 1968,” Jance said in a telephone interview from her home in Seattle. “I received a nice letter from an editor in New York, saying if I would make some changes she would consider publishing it.”

Jance showed the letter to her husband.

“He read it, handed it back to me and said, ‘there’s only going to be one writer in our family, and I’m it,'” Jance recalls. “So I put my writing away, and other than writing poetry under the dark of night I never tried writing again until I was a single parent, with two little kids, no child support, and a full-time job selling life insurance. I wrote from 4 o’clock to 7 o’clock every morning.”

While Jance’s dream of being a writer came true by believing in herself, her former husband’s didn’t. He died at age 42 of chronic alcoholism — a year and a half after Jance divorced him — without ever having published a thing.

Jance now has 30 published novels, including Seattle’s J.P. Beaumont series and Cochise County, Arizona’s Joanna Brady series. Her two sleuths finally met up in last year’s “Partner in Crime.”

Partner in Crime was Jance’s first novel featuring the sleuths from both her Seattle-based J.P. Beaumont series and her Cochise County (AZ) Joanna Brady series.

“Over time, I’ve had two very distinct groups of readers; the ones who read Beaumont and the ones who read Brady,” says Jance, who alternates between her Seattle residence and one in Tucson, Ariz. “My publisher came up with the idea of trying to get both sets of readers to read the same book at the same time by me writing a book with both of them in it.”

Fans also had asked if the two would ever meet, though Jance’s initial reaction had been to dismiss the whole idea.

But when four prisoners later escaped in real life from Arizona’s Cochise County Justice Center with one captured years later in Tacoma, Wash., Jance suspended that disbelief and set her own crime in motion to bring her characters together.

The book was fun to write, says Jance, and indeed had the effect of merging her sets of readers. Fans of both series grabbed up “Partner in Crime,” and now are reading the others. It resulted in a tremendous bump to the backlist.

“Because I have stayed with the same publishing house all these years, all of the books are still in print and readily available in paperback form,” Jance says. “When I do get a new reader, they can go back and read all of them.”

In “Partner in Crime,” Beaumont teams up with Brady to investigate the murder of local artist Rochelle Baxter in Bisbee. The artist’s next of kin turns out to be the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, where Baxter, aka Latisha Wall, was an industrial whistler-blower in the federal witness protection program pending testimony at a trial.

Furthering the plot is the use of sodium azide, a fatal chemical used in car air bags. Though Jance doesn’t set out to write “issue” books, she says she uses issues as frameworks for her stories. It works; readers buy up her novels at the rate of 30,000 books per month.

“They’re sort of ‘stealth’ issues,” says the author. “I write about things I’m interested in and things I know about. Alcoholism is in my books because my first husband died of chronic alcoholism. When I read about [sodium azide] in my alumni magazine, I thought, ‘Whoa, this is dangerous stuff! How come I never heard about it before?’ So I put it in the book, and now a lot more people who never knew about it know about it.”

In Exit Wounds, Jance takes on a discomforting social issue: hoarders.

In “Exit Wounds,” Jance’s new thriller released on July 22, she tackles two other discomforting social concerns: “hoarders,” who take in large numbers of animals by convincing themselves they are saving them when in fact they are unable to feed or care for them, and “coyotes,” the people smugglers who take money to bring illegal aliens to the U.S. and who then abandon their charges to die of heat prostration or suffocation.

Jance — who first learned of hoarders through her sister, head of animal control for Pinal County, Ariz., — says that although she writes crime novels she steers clear of using real crime events.

“I learned early on that real murders affect real people,” says Jance. “It’s not just the person who is dead, it is all of the people connected to the person who is dead. I’m interested in how those people respond to this watershed occurrence in their lives, how they deal with the aftermath of a death, how they handle a funeral and how they handle the grieving process.”

The author met with family members from a serial homicide case in 1970 in Tucson, and says the people are still broken. “They never get over it, ever. It doesn’t go away. That’s one of the reasons I stay away from true cases,” she says.

Instead Jance focuses on characters she finds interesting, which usually include police officers. “It’s clear to me that police officers are people before they’re cops,” she says.

In “Exit Wounds,” she wants readers to remember that it is only a story, and it’s there for entertainment.

“Maybe they’ll learn something along the way,” says the longtime dog lover and owner, “but my real job is to entertain.”

For more information visit: www.jajance.com

This article first appeared in the Weekender on July 24, 2003.

Copyright © Jody Ewing

 

Leif Enger

On December 12, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Faith, miracles and a profound story of love and tragedy

A talk with author Leif Enger

By Jody Ewing
February 20, 2003

Leif EngerCourtesy Photo

Author Leif Enger says that his book “Peace Like a River,” which was chosen as the All Iowa Reads 2003 book selection, began to crystalize when he took time off from writing mysteries with his brother. 

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First Lady promotes literacy, community with reading project

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Book Discussions

• The Sioux City library/Weekender book club will discuss Leif Enger’s “Peace Like a River” on April 7 at the Morningside Branch Library from 7 to 8 p.m. The club is free and open to the public.
• The Sioux Center Library, Sioux Center, will discuss the book on Feb. 20 at noon and at 7 p.m. at the Sioux Center Public Library. The discussion is open to the public.

What You Can Do

• Read the book, then donate it to friends or your local library and encourage family, coworkers and others to do same to keep the book in circulation.
• Add your upcoming event – including club meetings – to All Iowa Reads website.
• Organize local study group at church, school, coffee shop, or at home.
• Discuss the book with your family and friends.
• Print out study guides and other free resources for use in discussion groups.
• Teachers can get classes involved in reading and discussing the book.

Web sites for assistance

• All Iowa Reads website offers study guides, bookmarks, posters, lists of discussion groups and calendar of events.
• Iowa Center for the Book provides info about goals, mission.
• Humanities Iowa Study Guide

Talking Points for Discussion Groups

1) Miracles – describe them and the role they play.
2) Breathing – how does Reuben’s asthma serve as a metaphor in the story?
3) The double homicide – does Reuben see Davy as a murderer? How does the novel explore the idea of loyalty?
4) Sunny Sundown – how does Swede’s epic poem parallel the story?
5) Jeremiah – What are his weaknesses, and what are his motives for healing a grotesque employer?
6) Public Viewpoints – what does Reuben learn about the court of public opinion?
7) Reuben muses “The infirm wait always, and know it.” What is he “waiting” for?
8) Roxanna – how might Roxanna herself be seen as a miracle?
9) Discuss the author’s portrayal of childhood; do the children seem realistic?
10) What do the characters of Jape and Valdez represent in this novel?

Leif Enger’s debut novel is of uncommon wisdom — equal parts tragedy, love story, faith and meditation — unfolding like a revelation in the midst of miracles and magic.

Set against the Minnesota countryside and North Dakota Badlands in the early 1960s, Peace Like a River is a story about a family whose lives are upended when Davy, the oldest son, kills two marauders who have come to harm his family. Hailed a hero by some, a murderer by others, Davy escapes from his cell the morning of his sentencing.

Narrated by 11-year-old Reuben Land — an asthmatic “born without air in his lungs” — the story recounts the journey he takes with his father, Jeremiah, and 9-year-old poet sister, Swede, to rescue one of their own. Reuben has little doubt that miracles abound and suspects his father, a school janitor, “is touched by God and can overturn the laws of nature.” Yet as their voyage intersects with the beauty and cruelty of the natural world, they are forced to face their own ideals of love, family loyalty, sacrifice and faith.

Enger, born in Sauk Centre, Minn., to Osakis High School bandleader Don and teacher Wilma Enger, fell in love with language at a very early age after his mother’s yearly reading of [Stevenson’s] “Treasure Island.” He went on to spend 16 years working as writer/producer for Minnesota Public Radio.

Selected for the statewide book study initiative “All Iowa Reads 2003,” Peace Like a River began with a basic, yet central desire: “As a parent you want to work a miracle.” At the time, Enger’s oldest son, then 7, was struggling with a distressing case of asthma.

In a telephone interview from his home in Minnesota — where he lives with wife Robin and sons Ty and John — Enger spoke about miracles and faith, and how they found their way into Peace Like a River.

Was there anything prior to your son fighting asthma that made you realize you had to write this particular story?

No, there was not. I had been writing mystery novels with my brother Lin. We wrote the most commercial mysteries we possibly could in the quest for audience, and still the audience stayed away. We published five mystery novels and finally we just gave up because we were too tired to keep going any longer. I took a month or two off, where I no longer got up at five in the morning and wrote until seven.

Ty was going through such terrible asthma at the time and Robin and I wanted more than anything to do some miraculous thing on his behalf so that he could take an easy breath from time to time. During that couple of months, this story just started to crystallize in my mind. You know that if you have a child with a condition like that, that you would do anything to make that child better. You would take their place in an instant if you could. That became the seed of this book.

How do you feel about the Iowa Center for the Book choosing your novel as the first for ‘All Iowa Reads 2003?’

It’s a huge honor, of course. It’s hard to know how to respond to something like that because you don’t expect anything like that when you’re working on your book in the dark hours of early morning. You expect to write something that your wife and kids will like, maybe. To have something like this happen is pretty remarkable. But there’s no way to expect or deserve anything like this.

What type of dialogue – with so many Iowans reading this book – do you hope this will create?

I think that when people come together to discuss something, whether it’s something they’ve read, or a movie they’ve all watched, what’s important is not really the story itself; it’s not really the thing they have in common. What’s important is that they are getting together and that they are talking about things.

The themes of this book are love, sacrifice, loyalty, belief, disbelief, and I suppose the extent to which we forgive people who do awful things. These have always been good, sturdy topics, and hard ones, I think, to talk about, especially when faith enters the conversation. I guess what I would hope is that when people talk it over, that they’re listening closely to what each other has to say.

Do you equate yourself with one character in particular?

Enger’s book heralded Iowa’s new “All Iowa Reads” statewide reading initiative

Probably Reuben more than the others. He’s the younger brother who doesn’t have an interesting life, while his older brother does. I’ve always felt kind of that way. I’m the youngest in my family, and as the youngest, I think you grow up feeling that you’re missing out, that you’re not getting to have the “real” adventures that the other kids had when they were your age. Partly that’s because they’re always telling you those stories: here’s what I did when I was your age. And they sound so magnificent and adventurous.

How would you describe Reuben’s ultimate journey and revelation?

I think Reuben is a kid who, like most kids that age, hasn’t asked himself very many hard questions at the time the story begins. He hasn’t asked questions about what he believes or why he believes it. He’s never thought to question his loyalty to his older brother or to his father. I think a big part of Reuben’s journey and a big part of his growing up is that he is prompted through these events to ask himself how far you go in being loyal to a brother who has done an awful deed, and how far you go in agreeing with your father.

I think the same thing happens to some extent with what he believes about God and about his father, and his father’s relationship with God. He has to come to some point where he takes responsibility for his own decisions and his own spiritual life. We all know people whom we love dearly and we would defend them for anything, but even people we love dearly sometimes do horrible things. Do we stop loving them? No, of course not. But there comes a point, I suppose, where you can’t defend them, either.

Given the teachers now reading and studying your book, was there one particular teacher at Moorhead State [where Enger majored in English], who influenced your writing?

Actually there were a couple of them. Mark Vinz is still there, and he was my creative writing teacher. He had such a wonderful way of encouraging writers who were trying hard, which is just what I was — a kid who didn’t know what he was doing but was trying hard. He was encouraging to me, and a very fine writer himself and a great poet.

The other, Melva Moline, was actually a professor of newswriting. Her class was a great experience. We’d walk in and she would hand out 12 sheets of paper with a fact on them. In 50 minutes we had to write 12 news stories based on the fact sheets we were given. What that did was it taught me, number one, to assimilate information quickly, but two, how to tell a story that moved along because you have no choice. That was good experience, even for something as long-winded as a novel.

The temptation when you’re writing a novel is to get captured in your own language, to sort of get caught in that web of prose. And it’s always a temptation, because you’re in love with the language. You write partly because you love words so much.

What do you want the title to convey, and were there other alternatives?

I was sitting in church one morning — a Sunday morning — and we were singing this hymn called “It Is Well With My Soul,” and the first stanza of the hymn goes:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It’s a beautiful old hymn that you find in lots of different hymnals, and that phrase just jumped out at me. I was just starting to think about this book at the time, and I thought, ‘what a marvelous book title that is,’ and it just seemed to personify something about the book: a peacefulness, the sadness, it’s all there. And so I wrote toward that title — that was the title I always wanted the book to bear.

 

Hugh Waddell

On December 6, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Friends & Family Remember Johnny Cash

By Jody Ewing
April 28, 2005

Photo by Marty Stuart — Courtesy Clementvision
This photo of Jack Clement and Johnny Cash appears in “I Still Miss Someone” next to the poem “My Friend, The Famous Person,” that Clement wrote and read at Johnny’s funeral.

Most people knew him as “The Man in Black.” Many called him an icon, a true American treasure. Some called him by his given birth name – J.R. – but to those who loved with and laughed with and knew Johnny Cash best, he simply was known as “John.”

In a career that spanned six decades, the legendary singer touched millions of lives worldwide with his powerful, larger-than-life presence and unforgettable songs that mirrored the human condition. He could joke and sing about a boy named Sue and then go straight to a performance with the Boston Pops Orchestra.

One and one-half years following his death on Sept. 12, 2003 at age 71, he remains the only entertainer besides Elvis Presley to be enshrined in both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame.

In “I Still Miss Someone: Friends and Family Remember Johnny Cash,” compiled by Johnny’s former publicist and personal aide, Hugh Waddell, more than 40 people from a broad spectrum of Cash’s life share their favorite stories and remembrances of the man who walked the line. With hundreds of illuminating photographs – many never published before – and a bevy of Johnny’s handwritten notes, backstage passes, and other personal paraphernalia, the book contains chapters written by his children John Carter Cash, Cindy Cash and Tara Cash Schwoebel, grandson Dustin Tittle and siblings Tommy Cash and Joanne Cash Yates.

The roster also includes recollections by Cash’s early bandmates W.S. Holland and Bob Wootten, his longtime booking agent Lou Robin, country music icons Johnny Western and “Cowboy” Jack Clement, and the late Merle Kilgore, who passed away in Mexico Feb. 6 while undergoing lung cancer treatment. Kilgore co-wrote Cash’s 1963 hit song “Ring of Fire” with Cash’s then-future wife June Carter and also served as best man at the couple’s wedding.

Weekender writer Jody Ewing caught up with TV veteran and author Hugh Waddell — for what he said is his first ever interview given to a newspaper — as well as three of the Man in Black’s closest friends and his No. 1 local fan.

Johnny Cash and Hugh WaddellPhoto by Mark Seliger, Rolling Stone Magazine
“He incited people, and inspired people, to rise to their occasion,” author Hugh Waddell says of Cash. Read Hugh’s story behind the photo.
“An Amazing Time”

“We receive many gifts during the course of our lives, not just on birthdays or at Christmas, and not all are wrapped,” Hugh Waddell states in the book’s introduction, setting the tone for the recurring theme consistent throughout the chapters – all of which begin with the contributor’s name, their hometown, state and shoe size.

“The publisher said we needed some italicized thing to say who these people are, and I said no, all I want is their hometown and their shoe size,” Waddell said in a telephone interview from Joelton, Tenn. “’Their shoe size?’ he said, and I said ‘yeah, because John Cash always said that everybody has itchy feet and some scratch more than others.’ That was his way of saying he wanted to travel.”

Waddell – whose family has been connected with the Cash family for more than 30 years – spent eight years with Johnny as publicist, logistics manager, personal aide and part-time drummer, and said he decided to compile the book after reading only celebrity testimonials after John’s death.

“They were marvelous, but I knew there were a lot of people like myself that loved John, that knew John, that had angles and stories to tell that no reporter would know they even existed,” he said.

Billy and Ruth Bell Graham – who wrote the tribute’s foreword – are the only well-known celebrities in the book and Waddell wanted them included for several reasons.

“One, because Billy Graham was probably John Cash’s closest friend,” he says. “John wrote that, and there’s a letter about that I put in the front just to reinforce how much John loved Dr. Graham. When they did the CMT televised tribute, Dr. Graham was left out. To me, there is no tribute to Johnny Cash without a Billy Graham.”

W.S. Holland first met Johnny Cash in 1955 at Sun Records studio in Memphis while drumming with Carl Perkins during a recording session. The future Man in Black stopped by that day, and he and his bandmates, bass player Marshall Grant and guitarist Luther Perkins, later bonded with Holland. In 1960, W.S. joined Johnny Cash and “The Tennessee Two” became “The Tennessee Three.” Holland, whom Cash dubbed “Father of the Drums,” remained Cash’s drummer until 1997 when Johnny retired due to illness.

“To have met him in 1955 and worked with him until ’97, you know, it was just unreal,” Holland said in a phone interview from his home in Jackson, Tenn. “I look back at it and it seems like it lasted about 30 days. It was just an amazing time.”

That amazing time translated into scores of national hits: In 1956, “I Walk the Line” was a top country hit for 44 weeks and sold over a million copies; the 1960 single “Ride This Train” won a gold record, as did the 1963 album “Ring of Fire” and the 1968 LP “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.” Cash received 11 Grammy awards over the course of his career.

Johnny Cash at Folsom PrisonPhoto by Jim Marshall
Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison, 1968
“He was a visionary.”

“He incited people, and inspired people, to rise to their occasion,” says Waddell, who currently drives a special ed school bus for metro Nashville schools, works for the Tennessee Titans during the football season and still plays drums. “He was a visionary.”

In his chapter, Waddell writes about the late “Mama Cash,” whom he calls a dear friend to his own late grandmother, Marie Comer. When Waddell’s mother passed away in 1987, Johnny and June insisted he join them on the road to soften his grief at home. Shortly after they completed their tour, John asked the outspoken Waddell to work for the couple advancing their concerts. John quickly became a mentor and close friend, leaving Waddell and other employees unencumbered to do what they did best.

When Waddell’s father passed away in 1996, John sang at the funeral and once again was there for him.

“I don’t think that, deep down, John really knew how much it meant to me – I mean, just gut, heart, deep as a soul can go – his respect for my mother, and also for my father when my father passed away,” he said. “There are very few people in our lives that care about us enough to get in our face and make it obvious how much they want to share your sorrow and lighten your burden. If we can count five people like that we’re lucky, and John Cash is one of those people for me.”

Holland remembers when Waddell first approached him about the idea for the tribute book. “I said, ‘That will be the best book anybody’s ever put together,’ and I think it is,” he said. “It’s not a thing about Johnny Cash; it’s about what friends and family thought of Johnny Cash, and to me, it’s just the best thing that’s happened.”

Holland will join up with the legendary stage band’s lead guitarist Bob Wootten for a Johnny Cash band reunion concert in July during “CashBash 2005” – a fan-based, grassroots celebration of the 50th anniversary of Cash’s first Sun Studios recordings in Memphis, Tenn.

“Cowboy” Jack Clement, who first met Johnny Cash in 1956 while working for Sun Records, stayed close friends with Cash throughout his life, playing guitar with him on some sessions just two weeks before Cash died.

“He was a real gentleman,” said Clement in an interview from his native Nashville. “He never got jaded like a lot of people do, and he never slighted his fans. He always had respect for his fans and treated them with respect.”

In 1991, Clement wrote a poem for Cash entitled “My Friend, The Famous Person,” which he read at Johnny’s funeral and included in his chapter. He writes in the poem, “It takes a good man to take success and not misplace his soul.”

This Giant of a Man

Before she became his personal hairdresser, Penni Lane says she didn’t really know or understand the magnitude of the man Johnny Cash. She knew two things however: he was a stallion on stage and had a bit of mystery about his presence.

During the time she traveled with him from 1969 – 1973 and then worked for him for special events through the early 80s, she began to understand.

“I think the mystery was that his presence could create such an awesome feeling that you would feel from other people and from the audience that they had about him when he walked on stage,” Penni said from her home in Nashville.

As his hairdresser, Lane also discovered how important Johnny’s appearance was to him, though it had nothing to do with egotistical vanity.

“It was a caring about himself and his presence that he had always had,” she said. “It was a thing where he was in the superstardom years, and the press was there all the time. I mean, they were waiting all the time.”

The press were not the only ones waiting. Council Bluffs, Iowa native Dennis Devine, Sr. heard Johnny Cash’s “Cry, Cry, Cry” in 1955 and knew he had to meet the singer in person someday. He got his chance in 1960 when Cash performed in Omaha, Neb., at the old Paramount Theatre. When Devine – along with his brother and a friend – discovered the show had been sold out, the ticket office allowed them to stand to the side of the stage for the same $5 price.

Between 1960 and 1996, Devine attended more than 125 shows – including three in Council Bluffs where he gave the introduction – and has taken more than 4,000 pictures of Cash and his entourage, many of which appear in Waddell’s book and author Peggy Knight’s books on the Cash and Carter families. Devine proudly wears his title “The World’s #1 Johnny Cash Fan,” and has one of only two fan-written chapters in Waddell’s book.

“I can still remember John’s last words to me and mine to him,” says Devine. “It was at June’s funeral, and when I left the podium, John said to me, ‘Thank you, Dennis,’ and I said to him, ‘I love you.’”

Lane says she owes to Johnny Cash many joys she otherwise never may have known, and misses the fact that his presence is not alive in our world now. “He is a piece of American musical history, and I was making history with this giant of a man,” she says.

Cowboy Jack Clement, echoing the thoughts of friends, family and fans alike, says he misses Johnny’s fantastic sense of humor.

“I still miss him,” he says. “I still miss someone. Him.”

THE DETAILS
“I Still Miss Someone” is available at Amazon.com
as well as other online sites and in area bookstores.
Cover of I Still Miss Someone

 

Donald Harstad

On December 6, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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Iowa author draws on experience in mysteries

Ex-investigator Harstad to speak at library

By Jody Ewing
September 19, 2002

  Donald Harstad 

The Details


What: An Evening with Iowa Author Donald Harstad, author of Eleven Days, Known Dead, The Big Thaw and Code Sixty-One
Where: The Wilbur Aalfs (Main) Library
When: Thursday, Sept. 26, 7 p.m.
For More Info: Call 712-255-2933

Victims always have fascinated Iowa mystery writer Donald Harstad. During his 26 years as a deputy sheriff and eventually Chief Investigator, he had ample opportunity to examine why the little things often seal one’s fate.

“Most of the time, a victim, wittingly or unwittingly, has participated in their own death,” said the author from his home in Elkader, Iowa. “In some way, they have done something that if they had a moment to stop and think, or if they had two or three years to reflect, they would not have done what put them where they are now.”

The retired deputy sheriff has drawn on those years of law enforcement experience to create a series of regional mysteries that not only explain why cops do what they do, but examine how people get themselves into deadly situations. His latest novel “Code Sixty-One,” brings back deputy sheriff hero Carl Houseman who faces his biggest case yet hunting a suspected vampire.

Harstad will discuss his fourth police procedural novel as well as his other books during an evening visit on Sept. 26 at the Sioux City Public Library.

The premise for the book began by asking the same questions an investigator would ask. “I thought, how would we really do a guy who was delusional enough to believe he was a vampire?” says Harstad. “How would we do an investigation like that?”

With that idea in mind, Harstad went looking for the novel’s perfect setting. He found it after touring a spectacular MacGregor, Iowa, mansion. “Code Sixty-One” unfolds on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River when a body drained of blood is reported in a rural mansion.

Available at Amazon

“It’s all characters, and when you’re a cop, you get to meet so many of them and under very interesting circumstances,” says Harstad, who wrote his first novel “Eleven Days: A Novel of the Heartland,” in 11 days. He strives to keep things authentic and procedures believable while helping readers understand how cops think.

“People don’t know why cops do what they do,” Harstad says, “and it’s as much the fault of the police as anybody else because we just don’t talk about these things.”

One of those things involves the background of the victim. Cops sometimes don’t want to get into that, says Harstad, because they begin to start sympathizing with them too much or not sympathizing with them, both which affect the way they look at a case. As a full-time novelist, Harstad now explores how the cumulative effect of bad choices can often signal the victim’s end.

Despite the serious crimes committed in the novels, detective Carl Houseman — middle-aged and bald — uses wry humor and speaks to the reader in a droll, natural voice. Harstad uses that wit to offset the difference between rural police and those in metropolitan areas. In his next book “The Heartland Experiment,” he cites an FBI counter-terrorism official talking to hero Carl.

“He says, ‘Ok, what do you guys have for night vision equipment?’ and Carl looks him right in the eye and says ‘eight flashlights.’ And that’s just about the way it goes.”


This article first appeared in the Weekender on September 19, 2002.

Copyright © Jody Ewing

 

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Barbara Robinette Moss – fierce

On November 23, 2011, in , by Jody Ewing

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A ‘fierce’ inheritance

A talk with artist and writer Barbara Robinette Moss

By Jody Ewing
10/21/04

Barbara Robinette Moss

Barbara Robinette Moss

Barbara Robinette Moss’s first memoir, “Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter,” took readers by surprise as she chronicled her family’s impoverished survival in Alabama’s red-clay hills. At times uproariously funny, at others horrific and tender, she wrote of growing up – the fourth in a family of eight children – with a wild-eyed alcoholic father and a humble yet heroic mother.

Unlike the rest of the family, Barbara bore the scars of abuse and neglect on the outside as well as the inside; the bones in her face grew abnormally due to childhood malnutrition and a complete lack of health and dental care.

She prayed nightly to be changed into the goddess of beauty’s daughter, and when her prayers went unanswered, took it upon herself to change not just her face but achieve a life defined by artistic beauty. Critics hailed “Zeus’s Daughter” as the masterpiece she had waited for her life to paint.

Moss marks two more milestones this week with the official publication of “Fierce: A Memoir” — her follow-up memoir to “Zeus’s Daughter” — on Oct. 19, as well as her first one-person art exhibition opening Oct. 21 at the Kerrigan Campbell Gallery in New York City’s East Village.

Find on Amazon.com

With warmth, insight and candor, Moss paints in “fierce” a vivid, moving portrait of her persistent quest to reinvent her life and rebel against the indigence, addiction, and broken-down dreams she inherited from her parents.

Moss tells the poignant story of leaving everything she knew in Alabama to fulfill her ambition to become an artist – an odyssey filled with gritty improvisation (taking her son Jason to her night job to sleep on the floor), bittersweet pragmatism (on a date filling her purse with shrimp, rolls and a doily to take home to her waiting 8-year-old), and staunch conviction and pride (chasing a mail carrier down the street to defend her use of food stamps).

In a phone interview from New York City – where Moss currently is studying playwriting at the Actors Studio Drama School – she talked about her writing and art, her family and “wrestling with angels.”

In online reviews of your books, readers have stated they feel like “voyeurs” of your family’s life and they still want more. Why your family? Why your books?

I think it’s because I didn’t hold anything back. I really told the truth and told things that were terrifying for me to tell, and I think that those are the kinds of things that overlap every family. Every family looks at it and says ‘Oh God, I can’t believe she said that. That’s going on in this family.’ And so it’s a universal story, even though when I first started writing I did not realize I was writing universal stories.

Tell me what “fierce” is about, and if one first needs to have read “Zeus’s Daughter.”

“Fierce” is the story of a single mother determined to change what she has inherited from living in poverty and with an alcoholic parent, and to also change the life or destiny of her child.


I wanted to give the reader everything they needed if they had not read ‘Change Me into Zeus’s Daughter,’ so this book stands on its own without having read anything about me.

Coming from such a large family, how did your siblings react to your first memoir?

When “Zeus’s Daughter” came out they were just horrified; they thought I was telling family secrets that I shouldn’t tell. And it took about a year for them to really realize that all of the terrible things they thought were going to happen because I had written this book actually worked in reverse. People came up to talk to them and said, ‘You know, my dad was an alcoholic, too,’ and they would pour their hearts out to them. And then they calmed down and reevaluated the writing and the purpose of the writing.

What is the danger, or is there a danger in keeping “family secrets?”

I think it’s more dangerous to “keep” family secrets than to “tell” family secrets. Everybody’s family has something they would rather the world didn’t know about, whether it’s an alcoholic or any number of things that can happen in family dynamics. But if you hold those in your heart, how do you get past them and live the fullest life that you can possibly live?

What is your relationship with your siblings like today?

It’s good. Most of them are still in Alabama within a few miles of where we grew up and I try to get home at least a couple of times a year. My brother John is in Kansas City and my sister Janet is in Charlotte. She teaches English and drama and is working on her degree to become a high school principal. She writes some, and John has written a couple of stories that he sent to me.

The legacy of your father’s alcoholism caught up with you and your brother Stewart – yours with an addition to emotional pain and abusive relationships, and Stewart’s addition to alcohol. How were you both successful in overcoming those additions?

I found a good counselor on a sliding scale, and that’s what I’d recommend to anyone. Find a good counselor. I was paying $5 and getting some real help. People don’t know what to do, and they have to have guidance. Stewart wrestled with an angel. There’s a story where he wrestles with an angel in “fierce.” He called me up a dozen times before he died and told me that story, and told me to write it for him. That’s how he got sober; he wrestled with an angel. And he did win. He was sober for two years before he died.

As an artist and a writer, what do these two professions have in common or how are they different?

I tell stories. That’s what I do. It doesn’t matter if I’m making art or if I’m writing, it’s the same thing. I have found that with art, I have a personal iconography, and it’s a lot easier to hide, really, from what you’re telling. People bring their own meaning to it. But with writing, it’s very much up front what you’ve got to say. There’s no hiding with the written word. I really had never intended to be a writer. I was following my own goals to be a visual artist when the writing came ‘in search of me.’

Will “fierce” appeal more to women than men?

I had a man who called me a couple days ago, and said his wife had read it and kept pestering him to read it. He reluctantly picked it up, read straight through and said he thought every man in America should read it. He was a recovering alcoholic and very interested in Stewart’s story. It’s definitely a book for anyone and everyone.

We’ll end with Stewart and “magic.” Tell me about the book’s prologue and the Mexican jumping beans.

What I wanted in that prologue was to set up this idea of magic, of the possibilities in life that things that seem to be completely unattainable are really right there, right there at your fingertips. I wanted these beans to have magic and they didn’t have magic. And then Stewart says, “Of course they have magic. This little bean has got a worm in it that’s going to eat that bean and turn into a butterfly. Don’t you think that’s magic?”

This article first appeared in the Weekender on Oct. 21, 2004.


Jody Ewing and Barbara Moss

Jody Ewing and Barbara Moss, March 23, 2001

Read Jody’s first interview with Barbara on the publication of “Change Me Into Zeus’s Daughter.”

Author’s Note: Barbara Robinette Moss passed away from cancer on October 9, 2009. She was 54 years old.

A Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated Oct. 14, 2009, said the former Iowa City author and artist would be remembered for the many lives she touched through her books, artwork and teaching.

She touched a great many lives — including mine — and is deeply missed.