Sunday, August 24, 2014

Mining and Energy Commission Hearing--Sanford--August 22, 2014


FrackFreeNC billboard as you enter Lee from Moore County

***

I rather dreaded going to the public hearing of the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) on the rules they had drafted for fracking in North Carolina.  It would be a long day for me.  The hearing itself was set for 5-9 P.M.  There would be a rally and press conference.  I was urged to get there by 4 to sign up to speak.  The Sanford Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center is half an hour away.  The possible fracking sites are half a mile away from me, across the Deep River in Lee County, where most of the mineral rights have been purchased for gas drilling.  Since my own life, livelihood, and home for my old age are at risk, of course I summoned my courage and left home at 3, to be sure I was parked and there in plenty of time to sign up.  I took water and a peanut butter sandwich to eat during the hearing.

I’d practiced and timed my speech.  We got 3 minutes and were urged by FrackFreeNC, the umbrella org working against fracking here, to focus our comments on the rules themselves.  If the rules were sufficiently stringent, the gas companies would stay away.

There was plenty of parking space at 3:30, and I walked in with another no-fracking activist, who told me that we had a room where we could get water and rest.  It hasn’t been our usual very hot summer, but it was low 90s that afternoon and steamy.  I met activists I’d emailed but never met, like Ed Harris, Terica Luxton, and Theresa Vick.  

At 3:45 I went to stand in line to sign up.  I saw Jim Lomack for the first time.  He was greeting us all warmly.  We wore blue shirts and some had “no fracking” logos on them.  Ahead of us in line were 20 or so people also wearing blue shirts, who wanted shale gas drilling, which their shirts proclaimed.  I had heard that Womack had organized them.  He is a Lee County commissioner and a key pro-fracking proponent who is also on the MEC.  He was to chair the hearings.  He had apparently threatened to call this one off for “security reasons.”  I never saw even one policeman or guard of any kind.  People were passionate, but they certainly weren’t violent, on either “side.”  He had also said that the comments at the hearings would have no effect on the MEC rules.  Let’s hope he’s wrong.

Once I signed in, I went outside for the press conference.  Hope Taylor of Clean Water for North Carolina had organized a very good one, and many impressive speakers spoke about the harms of fracking.  Deb Hall from the Cumnock community where coal-mining once took place explained how none of their community owned their mineral rights (they had “split estates” that went back to coal-mining days).  They didn’t want to be industrialized.  

A woman who works with firefighters said that by law all emergency personnel must know what the chemicals in the fracking fluid are. There can’t be any “trade secrets” about them in case of spills, accidents, fires, or explosions.  We also heard from the North Carolina House representative for part of Lee and all of Chatham, Robert Reives, who emphasized that we had not had the due process promised in the legislature before the moratorium on fracking was lifted.

The Civic Center auditorium holds perhaps 500 people.  I found a seat near the front.  It turned out to be where a lot of pro-fracking people sat.  Keely had given me a frack-free sticker to wear.  The auditorium began filling up. Off to my right was a table where three Sanford Herald reporters were sitting.  In their report the next day they noted that 350 people were present.  The News and Observer said “no more than 200,” but the Sanford staff would know better how to estimate the crowd numbers in their civic center.

The three hearing officers sat on the stage.  There were two mikes up front for our speeches.  To my surprise I was called fairly early–maybe the 10th person.  This was my speech.

I’m Judy Hogan from Moncure.  I speak for a hundred people I’ve talked with who aren’t here today.  My topic is water.  The rules are terribly inadequate when, everywhere that fracking has occurred, groundwater and wells have been contaminated.  North Carolina is subject to droughts in recent years.  The banks of our creeks and rivers are not protected so anyone can put a pipe in and take out all the water they want.  There is no serious monitoring of this water extraction in the rules.  The permit applicant is the only one who does any reporting of sources, dates, expected average, and maximum withdrawal.  Will the fracking companies provide honest reports?  I have learned nothing in my study of fracking that suggests that these companies are to be trusted to care about the people living in the area where they will be fracking.

Groundwater withdrawals only require a pump test and determination of “area of influence” or drawdown of the well.  Furthermore, the location of our water and the gas under the shale are very close here in Lee, Chatham, and Moore counties.  Inevitably the drilling will impact our water supplies.  Leaks in fracking pipes are also inevitable.  A plan needs to be developed to ensure that we in this area will not have our drinking water sources contaminated. The emerging science shows that drilling and fracking inherently threaten groundwater. There is strong evidence that groundwater contamination occurs and is more likely to occur close to drilling sites. Likewise, the number of well blowouts, spills and cases of surface water contamination has steadily grown. Meanwhile, the gas industry’s use of “gag orders,” non-disclosure agreements and settlements impede scientific study and stifle public awareness of the extent of these problems. 

There is no requirement in the rules for an overall record of total water being withdrawn from groundwater (including quarry sources, often fed by groundwater) and from surface water. The withdrawals across the whole local area in which fracking is taking place need to be reviewed together and a plan developed to coordinate water withdrawals.  Instead of focusing on gas, we should be focusing on water.  Water = Life.

For about an hour we alternated between hearing fracking praised, but without real evidence or understanding of the harms and risks to human beings and animal life, both wild and domestic, and hearing fracking condemned, while people urged that the rules be stricter.

After that the speakers were almost all against fracking.  A few didn’t specifically comment on the rules, but most did, urging no trade secrets for fracking chemicals, no open pits for storing waste fluid, better set-backs than a mere 100 feet from rivers and bodies of water, and only 625 feet from homes and schools.  The MEC was urged to make the gas companies responsible for damage to landowners’ property, not the landowners themselves, which is how it stands now.  And no compulsory pooling, where landowners can be forced to be part of a group of mineral rights leases owned by gas companies.

The two “sides” clapped for their own speakers, but there was no rowdiness.  Everything proceeded as planned, and Womack kept it moving.  They allowed for 80 or so speakers in 4 hours, but The Sanford Herald reported that 100 spoke.

Personally, I felt supported in my own battle, largely by internet and in my Moncure neighborhood, and by the fact that the Lee County people had awakened to the terrible threat fracking represents to their small county.  A year ago, when I was in that civic center auditorium for a professional development workshop for Continuing Education at CCCC, the people I talked to seemed largely unaware of how fracking could ruin their health, their property, and their lives.

Over the years I’ve seen how public opinion, though it may be slow to gather momentum, does, in time, affect those who govern us and bring about change and justice.

***


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review: Buried Biker by K. M. Rockwood



Buried Biker: A Jesse Damon Crime Novel.  K.M. Rockwood. Musa Publishing, Lancaster, OH 43130, 2013. E-book ISBN: 978-1-61937-815-5. $4.99.  Paperback available from author.  Write to: kmrockwood@comcast.net $10.00.  195 pages.

In K.M. Rockwood’s third mystery, Buried Biker, Jesse Damon falls foul of a bike gang called The Predators.  Kelly, the woman Jesse has been seeing, though he’s not confident enough to call her his girlfriend, has been beaten and raped, and is hospitalized.  Jesse learns this as he is arrested for the crime by the police detective duo Belkins and Montgomery, whose mission in life seems to be to arrest Jesse every chance they get.
It’s hard for Jesse to admit he loves Kelly, the only woman he has ever slept with, but his love keeps getting him deeper into trouble as he risks his paroled status to find out who hurt Kelly and why.  As a parolee Jesse must avoid felons, and Kelly’s dad, Old Buckles, a member of the Predators, is a recently released felon, now using his daughter’s address as his “home plan.”

Montgomery releases Jesse when Kelly tells them he was not the rapist, but when Jesse goes to see her, she’s furious at him but won’t say why.  Old Buckles is suspicious of Jesse, too.  Belatedly Jesse learns that Black Rose, the “property” of the biker Razorback, is telling everyone that Jesse and Razorback made a deal to swap women.  Furthermore, Black Rose says Jesse was very good in bed.  Bewildered and wondering if Kelly will ever come to trust him, Jesse nevertheless persists in trying to learn exactly what happened.

Besides his familiar tormentor Aaron, the police snitch, who hangs around Jesse trying to buy drugs, Jesse encounters a seductive young woman named Carissa, a new reporter for the local Rothsburg Register, who photographs him being arrested and then with the Predators, whom he’s supposed to be avoiding.  These photos make the front page of the paper.  She says she wants him to help her meet these bikers for a story.  He has no luck convincing her to avoid them.

In this third book Jesse has worked for the Quality Steel Fabrications plant long enough to belong to the union.  He has a job driving the fork lift, and since he reads well, he helps employees who can barely read work with the invoices and instructions.  There are a few people at the plant who see Jesse accurately, see the careful, competent job he does, know that he’s honest and not violent unless provoked.  Another person who gives Jesse the benefit of the doubt is his parole officer, Mr. Ramirez.  Most of the time Kelly sees and trusts him, but her two children are more reliable in their perception of Jesse, and are always relieved to see him and be with him.  Both their separated parents have drinking problems.

Most of us don’t go through life with key people in our lives expecting the worst of us.  It’s an excruciating human situation. Few of us, I suspect, would hold up as well as Jesse does.  He suffers, yet he keeps doing his best by the people he encounters, even Aaron and Carissa, and the old woman sharing Kelly’s hospital room who thinks Jesse is her son and wants to hold his hand as she’s dying.  

This series is amazing for its insight into the inner life of a parolee and for its emotional power.  I recommend all the novels in this Jesse Damon series.  The first two are Steeled for Murder (see my blog review on June 8), and Fostering Death (July 13).  The fourth is: Send Off for a Snitch and the fifth, just out, is Brothers in Crime.

***



KM Rockwood draws on a varied background for stories, among them working as a laborer in a steel fabrication plant, operating glass melters and related equipment in a fiberglass manufacturing facility, and supervising an inmate work crew in a large medium security state prison. These jobs, as well as work as a special education teacher in an alternative high school and a GED teacher in county detention facilities, provide most of the background for her novels and short stories.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

This is the Life I Wanted


Figs in July recovering after winter of 2013-4 nearly killed them.

***

A THREAD OF LIGHT XVI.  January 5, 2014

I remember how much I wanted
to live here on my own land, growing my
food, feeding myself and my friends.
I learned how.  This is the life I wanted,
and I made it possible, with help, but
that, too, required me to keep my
inward sun aflame.  In one way, it’s all
that matters.  Exactly how we manage it
is up to us, but that inner flame 
will help us if we let it.
--A Thread of Light IV.

For Dr. Russell Harris

Today my inner flame burns bright again.
It never went out, but there was an arctic
blast that tried to extinguish it–not on
purpose but because it was focused on
an abstract goal, ignoring me, my 
essential health, the accumulated wisdom
I’ve come to from years of trusting myself
and fighting when others didn’t.  You
side-stepped that oh-so-scientific blast,
noticed my dismay and the nearly invalid
mode I’d slipped into and woke me up
with your words: “I want you to resume
your normal active life.”  It didn’t take
much to convince me.  It was there all 
the time, hovering, trying to get a foot
in the door that you stepped through
and opened wide.  These days so many
doctors don’t heal, but you do.  Those
years we argued and listened to each
other, we built trust.  It was your
diagnosis I trusted, your advice I
immediately implemented.  The flame
burns bright again.  You heal.  I tell
the story.  People will listen to us 
both now–maybe for a long time.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Demonstrating the Risks and Harms of Fracking


Billboard erected by the NC Frack Free org in North Carolina, in southern Lee County.

***

A new report about fracking dangers from Concerned Health Professionals of New York, July 10, 2014.

Here’s the gist of this 70-page Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking:

Horizontal drilling combined with high-volume hydraulic fracturing and clustered multi-well pads are recently combined technologies for extracting oil and natural gas from shale bedrock. As this unconventional extraction method (collectively known as “fracking”) has pushed into more densely populated areas of the United States, and as fracking operations have increased in frequency and intensity, a significant body of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that these activities are inherently dangerous to people and their communities. Risks include adverse impacts on water, air, agriculture, public health and safety, property values, climate stability and economic vitality. 

Executive Summary:

Evidence of risks, harms, and associated trends demonstrated by this Compendium: 

Air pollution – Studies increasingly show that air pollution associated with drilling and fracking operations is a grave concern with a range of impacts. Researchers have documented dozens of air pollutants from drilling and fracking operations that pose serious health hazards. Areas with substantial drilling and fracking build-out show high levels of ozone, striking declines in air quality, and, in several cases, increased rates of health problems with known links to air pollution.

Water contamination – The emerging science has significantly strengthened the case that drilling and fracking inherently threaten groundwater. A range of studies from across the United States present strong evidence that groundwater contamination occurs and is more likely to occur close to drilling sites. Likewise, the number of well blowouts, spills and cases of surface water contamination has steadily grown. Meanwhile, the gas industry’s use of “gag orders,” non-disclosure agreements and settlements impede scientific study and stifle public awareness of the extent of these problems.  

Inherent engineering problems that worsen with time – Studies and emerging data consistently show that oil and gas wells routinely leak, allowing for the migration of natural gas and potentially other substances into groundwater and the atmosphere. Leakage from faulty wells is an issue that the industry has identified and for which it has no solution. For instance, Schlumberger, one of the world’s largest companies specializing in fracking, published an article in its magazine in 2003 showing that about five percent of wells leak immediately, 50 percent leak after 15 years and 60 percent leak after 30 years. Data from Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)also confirm these initial leakage rates, with a six percent structural integrity failure rate observed for shale gas wells drilled in 2010, 7.1 percent observed for wells drilled in2011, and 8.9 percent observed for wells drilled in 2012. Leaks pose serious risks including potential loss of life or property from explosions and the migration of gas or other chemicals into drinking water supplies. Leaks also allow methane to escape into the atmosphere, where it acts as a powerful greenhouse gas. There is no evidence to suggest that the problem of cement and well casing impairment is abating. Indeed, a 2014 analysis of more than 75,000 compliance reports for more than 41,000 wells in Pennsylvania found that newer wells have higher leakage rates and that unconventional shale gas wells leak more than conventional wells drilled within the same time period. Industry has no solution for rectifying the chronic problem of well casing leakage.

Radioactive releases – High levels of radiation documented in fracking wastewater raise special concerns in terms of impacts to groundwater and surface water. Studies have indicated that the Marcellus Shale is more radioactive than other shale formations. Measurements of radium in fracking wastewater in New York and Pennsylvania have been as high as 3,600 times the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA)limit for drinking water. One recent study found toxic levels of radiation in a Pennsylvania waterway even after fracking wastewater was disposed of through an industrial wastewater treatment plant. In addition, the disposal of radioactive drill cuttings is a concern. Unsafe levels of radon and its decay products in natural gas produced from the Marcellus Shale, known to have particularly high radon content, may also contaminate pipelines and compressor stations, as well as pose risks to end-users when allowed to travel into homes.

Occupational health and safety hazards – Fracking jobs are dangerous jobs. Occupational hazards include head injuries, traffic accidents, blunt trauma, burns, toxic chemical exposures, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and sleep deprivation. As a group, oil and gas industry workers have an on-the-job fatality rate seven times that of other industries. Exposure to silica dust, which is definitively linked to silicosis and lung cancer, was singled out by National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health as a particular threat to workers in fracking operations where silica sand is used. At the same time, research shows that many gas field workers, despite these serious occupational hazards, are uninsured or underinsured and lack access to basic medical care. 

Noise pollution, light pollution and stress – Drilling and fracking operations and ancillary infrastructure expose workers and nearby residents to continuous noise and light pollution that is sustained for periods lasting many months. Chronic exposure to light at night is linked to adverse health effects, including breast cancer. Sources of fracking-related noise pollution include blasting, drilling, flaring, generators, compressor stations and truck traffic. Exposure to environmental noise pollution is linked to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, and sleep disturbance. Workers and residents whose homes, schools and workplaces are in close proximity to well sites are at risk from these exposures as well as from related stressors.

Earthquake and seismic activity – A growing body of evidence links fracking wastewater injection (disposal) wells to earthquakes of magnitudes as high as 5.7, in addition to “swarms” of minor earthquakes and fault slipping. In some cases, the fracking process itself has been linked to earthquakes and seismic activity, including instances in which gas corporations have acknowledged the connection. In New York, this issue is of particular concern to New York City’s aqueduct-dependent drinking water supply and watershed infrastructure, as the New York City Department of Environmental Protection(NYC DEP) has warned repeatedly, but similar concerns apply to all drinking water resources. The question of what to do with wastewater remains a problem with no viable, safe solution.

Abandoned and active oil and natural gas wells (as pathways for gas and fluid migration) – Millions of abandoned and undocumented oil and gas wells exist across the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. All serve as potential pathways for pollution, heightening the risks of groundwater contamination and other problems when horizontal drilling and fracking operations intersect with pre-existing vertical channels leading through drinking water aquifers and to the atmosphere. Industry experts, consultants and government agencies including the U.S.Environmenta l Protection Agency, the U.S. General Accounting Office (now the Government Accountability Office), Texas Department of Agriculture, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission have all warned about problems with abandoned wells due to the potential for pressurized fluids and gases to migrate through inactive and in some cases, active wells.

Flood risks – Massive land clearing and forest fragmentation that necessarily accompany well site preparation increase erosion and risks for catastrophic flooding, as do access roads, pipeline easements and other related infrastructure. In addition, in some cases, operators choose to site well pads on flood-prone areas in order to have easy access to water for fracking, to abide by setback requirements intended to keep well pads away from inhabited buildings, or to avoid productive agricultural areas. In turn, flooding increases the dangers of unconventional gas extraction, resulting in the contamination of soils and water supplies, the overflow or breaching of containment ponds, and the escape of chemicals and hazardous materials. In at least six of the past ten years, New York State has experienced serious flooding in parts of the state targeted for drilling and fracking. Some of these areas have been hit with “100-year floods” in five or more of the past ten years. Gas companies acknowledge threats posed by flooding, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recommended drilling be prohibited from 100-year flood areas; however, accelerating rates of extreme weather events make existing flood maps obsolete, making this approach insufficiently protective. 

Threats to agriculture and soil quality – Drilling and fracking pose risks to the agricultural industry. Studies and case reports from across the country have highlighted instances of deaths, neurological disorders, aborted pregnancies, and stillbirths in cattle and goats associated with livestock coming into contact with wastewater. Potential water and air contamination puts soil quality as well as livestock health at risk. Additionally, farmers have expressed concern that nearby fracking operations can hurt the perception of agricultural quality and nullify value-added organic certification.

Threats to the climate system – A range of studies have shown high levels of methane leaks from gas drilling and fracking operations, undermining the notion that natural gas is a climate solution or a transition fuel. Major studies have concluded that early work by the EPA greatly underestimated the impacts of methane and natural gas drilling on the climate. Drilling, fracking and expanded use of natural gas threaten not only to exacerbate climate change but also to stifle investments in, and expansion of, renewable energy.

Inaccurate jobs claims, increased crime rates, and threats to property value and mortgages – Experiences in various states and accompanying studies have shown that the oil and gas industry’s promises for job creation from drilling for natural gas have been greatly exaggerated and that many of the jobs are short-lived and/or have gone to out-of-area workers. With the arrival of drilling and fracking operations, communities have experienced steep increases in rates of crime – including sexual assault, drunk driving, drug abuse, and violent victimization, all of which carry public health consequences. Social costs include strain on municipal services and road damage. Economic analyses have found that drilling and fracking operations threaten property values. Additionally, gas drilling and fracking pose an inherent conflict with mortgages and property insurance due to the hazardous materials used and the associated risks.

Inflated estimates of oil and gas reserves and profitability – Industry estimates of oil and gas reserves and profitability of drilling have proven unreliable, casting serious doubts on the bright economic prospects the industry has painted for the public, media and investors. Increasingly, well production has been short-lived, which has led companies to reduce the value of their assets by billions of dollars.

Disclosure of serious risks to investors – Oil and gas companies are required to disclose risks to their investors in an annual Form 10-K. Those disclosures acknowledge the inherent dangers posed by gas drilling and fracking operations, including leaks, spills, explosions, blowouts, environmental damage, property damage, injury and death.  Adequate protections have not kept pace with these documented dangers and inherent risks. 

Medical and scientific calls for more study and more transparency – With increasing urgency, groups of medical professionals and scientists are issuing calls for comprehensive, long-term study of the full range of the potential health and ecosystem effects of drilling and fracking. These appeals underscore the accumulating evidence of harm, point to the major knowledge gaps that remain, and denounce the atmosphere of secrecy and intimidation that continues to impede the progress of scientific inquiry. Health professionals and scientists in the United States and around the world have urged tighter regulation of and in some cases, suspension of unconventional gas and oil extraction activities in order to limit, mitigate or eliminate its serious, adverse public health hazards. 

Note: I’ve copied this from the Report.  If you’d like a copy of the whole report, with citations, email me judyhogan at mindspring.com, and I’ll send it in a PDF attachment.  Judy

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Give One's Last Strength to Fruit



Peppers and tomatoes--July--in Lasagna Garden

***
A THREAD OF LIGHT XXIII.  February 23, 2014

Our climate may be
whimsical, but there are deeper 
principles at work in the Universe.
Death is an ever-present reality, but 
hardly the whole story.  Plants teach us.  
Trees hold seminars in survival.  
Take in rain when it falls. Wait for 
sun.  Life turns emphatic: Grow!  
To despair is to miss out on the rewards 
of holding on, anticipating a resurgence 
of the will to live and flourish, 
to give one’s last strength to fruit.
–A Thread of Light III.

The trees hold still; the peepers continue
their jubilant, shrill song of resurrection.
Winter turned cruel; nearby woods were
ransacked for fat logs to sell, huge 
limbs left for trash, which ultimately
feeds the soil should human beings
leave it alone.  The first purple crocuses
lift their elegant heads, and the tree frogs
sing, not dismay but desire–all day, all 
night.  The heavy rain and wind, which 
came to punish us, did not cut off their 
cheerful voices.  Sun again finds its 
reason for being.  Our garden moves 
from dream to reality.  Ana Maria says
I will have the best vegetables ever.
After cardboard to discourage weeds
and rabbit manure with fat earthworms,
we scatter straw, begin the next layer
of manure; then more straw and finally
manure to be topsoil and welcome seeds.
We, as well as the crocuses and peepers,
have outwitted winter and its savagery.
Ask only for what you truly need.  Care
for those who care for you; then add
a couple more.  Love multiplies its
boundaries like seeds do.  The 
Universe has its grain.  Find it,
stick close, and be everything
you ever wanted to be

now and forever after.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Jenny Milchman's Ruin Falls


Ruin Falls.  Jenny Milchman.  Ballantine, 2014.  Hardback: ISBN 978-0-345-54907-5. $26.  339 pp.

Ruin Falls is about children.  And mothers.  And fathers.  About how hard it is in 2014 to make a good marriage and to be a good parent.  It’s also about fear, especially fear for your children.  

Liz Daniels and her husband Paul haven’t made a road trip together since their children, Reid, eight, and Ally, six, were born.  Hence the first line: “The children had never been this far from home before.”  Hence the dedication: “This one is for my children, Sophie and Caleb, who know all about dreams and have done so much for this one.”

The Daniels family is headed into western New York state in the summer to visit Paul’s parents, from whom he is alienated.  They stop at a hotel for the night, and in the morning the children are gone.  The agony of Liz is unimaginable, but Jenny Milchman easily imagines and presents it so that you’re there.  It becomes clear that Liz is extremely dependent on Paul.  When Paul also disappears, she almost can’t function.  Add to that, her new clarity: Paul took the children.  We had learned that Paul had extreme views on what the family should eat (avoiding sugar, caffeine, corn and other genetically modified and processed foods) and wear (no cheap clothes or goods manufactured by children in poor countries).

Liz knows their children cheat on their strict diet, and even she sometimes lets them have sweets, which Paul forbids.  The boy Reid has, by age eight, becomes a skilled pickpocket enabling him to pilfer gum from his classmates or remove the wallets of strange men (for practice only; he doesn’t keep them).  So we know this isn’t quite your “normal” nuclear family, if that still exists.

The story that follows takes us through all the stages of Liz emerging from a serious dependence on Paul’s belief in himself and his idealism and on the emotional support of her best friend Jill, to her finding within herself the confidence and competence she needs to solve a crime that the law and the police can’t help her with. 

She’s still married, though she no longer wants to be, and she doesn’t know where her children are.  To find them, she has to outwit her missing husband and learn more about him than she ever bothered to know before.

In these climate change years we all live with more heat and cold than our bodies easily cope with.  Jenny’s first book, Cover of Snow, takes place in an icy, chilling world of northern New York state.  Ruin Falls begins in the plains of western New York state in summer when it’s too hot, sweaty, and sticky.  

I loved how the earth and its fruits are presented here--the trees, the soil, the healthy food that Liz and Jill in their Roots farm business have learned to grow.  Even six-year-old Ally misses trees when they leave home and already has a green thumb.

We meet other parents and their children in situations where mothers and fathers are coping badly and are putting their children at risk.  The book begins with a seemingly normal family off on its vacation and gradually changes until we are in a surreal universe, one in which our conscious, normal life is turned upside down, and we have to live with our worst fears becoming the reality.

Jenny has taken on our contemporary American dilemma as our government allows large corporations the freedom to dominate what we eat and what we buy, while parents try to raise healthy, independent-minded children who can cope in an increasingly difficult “real” world.

If every novel has a moral, which once was true and still often is, and Good in fiction can still win out over Evil, then Jenny’s moral is to love, respect, and cherish your children, and teach them to think for themselves as well as to love and care for our earth and for other people.  We need more books like this one.

***


Jenny Milchman lives with her husband and two children in upstate New York when she isn’t traveling on the world’s longest book tour.  In 2013, when her debut novel Cover of Snow came out, she and her family traveled for seven months, putting 35,000 miles on their car and visiting independent and mystery bookstores all over the U.S.  This year, after Ruin Falls came out in April, they have been on a four-month tour.  They were here in the Triangle area of central North Carolina over the July 4 weekend, where she read at McIntyre’s in Pittsboro, and they return here for Jenny to read at Flyleaf books in Chapel Hill on August 20, 7 PM, and at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on August 22 at 7:30 PM.  We always feel lucky to have Jenny and her family visiting us.  You can follow her trip schedule on her website: jennymilchman.com

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Review: K.M. Rockwood's Fostering Death



Fostering Death: A Jesse Damon Crime Novel.  K.M. Rockwood.  www.musapublishing.com. 2012, 208 pp.  E-book: ISBN: 978-1-61937-824-7. $4.99.  Paper: order from kmrockwood@comcast.net $10.00.

K.M. Rockwood did it again.  She got me hooked into worrying about Jesse Damon and then pulled it out when I thought it impossible.  Fostering Death is the second in this crime series. Steeled for Murder is the first.  (Cf. my review here on June 8, 2014)  Every time Jesse tries to help other people, suspicion falls on him, and his good deeds are viewed as proof of his crimes.  The detective duo, Belkins and Montgomery, are on him again when he shows up at the funeral home viewing to pay his respects to his foster mother, the only person in his life who had given him real affection.  

Then he’s accused of killing her.  She was hit on the head and thrown down her basement stairs, but Jesse hadn’t seen her alive since before he went to prison at age sixteen for murder.  He had taken an Alford plea, which means he acknowledged that they had enough evidence to convict him, but he isn’t a murderer.  Twenty year later, out on parole, this duo of detectives is sure he’s guilty every time he makes a move, despite his having kept the terms of his parole and almost finished his three-month trial period of employment at the steel manufacturing plant, making him finally eligible to join the union.

Meantime Aaron, a young drug addict co-worker at the same steel plant, keeps pestering him to sell him drugs, when Jesse is working hard to stay clean and sober so as not to violate the terms of his parole. He’s afraid that Aaron is helping the police.

His foster mother’s widower, Mr. Coleman, tells Jesse to stay away, but when Jesse goes back to their house to see if he can discover the real murderer and finds Coleman on the ground, unable to get up, Jesse helps him into the house, makes him a cup of tea and some soup.  The house is too cold, so he calls the gas company to learn that the heat is off because the bill was never paid.  He gets Mr. Coleman to sign a check for the amount owed, and then he hurries to get the check in before the deadline so the gas can be turned on again.  He calls a neighbor woman to look after Mr. Coleman, but she’s suspicious of him, and then the cops are after him again.  All his good intentions backfire and make him look bad.

Kelly, his new girlfriend, as he hopes, has a drinking problem, and she’s touchy and angry at him for “interfering” with her children, when she was too drunk to take care of them. Meantime he has found a cold and hungry cat at his front door in pouring, icy rain. He tries to get her to go elsewhere, but the cat won’t leave, so he takes her in, feeds her the tunafish he’d splurged on for his lunches, and fixes her a bed in his laundry basket, where she soon has two kittens.  Jesse can barely pay his bills and normally eats peanut butter sandwiches, but he buys more tuna and cat litter.  Then the strange cult group that has set up a temple next door claims the cat as their missing goddess.  What are they up to anyway?

I’m struck by how Jesse is one of those “good” characters in crime fiction to whom bad things are always happening.  Think of Louse Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache, who is both good and wise, and how evil people, including his superiors in the Surete, go after him. I’m also reminded of Henry James’s advice for the best kind of novel plot: a hero/heroine who is intelligent enough to feel intensely and blind enough to suffer, and then has “fools” ministering to him or her so as to make those sufferings agonizing to the reader.

You won’t want to miss these Jesse Damon books.  There are two more in the series which I’ll be reviewing later this summer (Buried Biker and Send Off For A Snitch).  The fifth novel, Brothers in Crime, is due out this summer, too.

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KM Rockwood draws on a varied background for stories, among them working as a laborer in a steel fabrication plant, operating glass melters and related equipment in a fiberglass manufacturing facility, and supervising an inmate work crew in a large medium security state prison. These jobs, as well as work as a special education teacher in an alternative high school and a GED teacher in county detention facilities, provide most of the background for her novels and short stories.