Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Long Way Home, Louise Penny.  Minotaur Books, NY.  ISBN: 978-1-250-02206-6, Hardback trade, $27.99.  373 pages.

Louise Penny’s tenth Chief Inspector Gamache novel begins in the Canadian village of Three Pines, with Gamache and the artist Clara Morrow sitting on a bench on a hill that looks down on the village, and then through the book we are taken on a journey north up the St. Lawrence River to its upper reaches.

Clara is worried.  She had asked her husband to leave a year earlier, but he had promised to come back in exactly a year to see how things would be between them.  He didn’t return, and she risks hurting Gamache, who so needs this quiet village to heal, to help her find him.  Gamache is reluctant to leave the peace and calm he and his wife Reine-Marie had been finding in Three Pines, but he can’t turn away from helping Clara.

Gamache persuades Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his son-in-law and former assistant at the Surete du Quebec, to accompany him. Clara and her friend Myrna Landers insist on going, too.  

“All his professional life Chief Inspector Gamache had asked questions and hunted answers.  And not just answers, but facts. But, much more elusive and dangerous than facts, what he really looked for were feelings.  Because they would lead him to the truth.... he’d come to agree with Sister Prejean that no one was as bad as the worst thing they’d done.   Armand Gamache had seen the worst. But he’d also seen the best.  Often in the same person.” p. 3.

The four of them leave Three Pines in search of Peter Morrow, going first to Ontario to the art college in Toronto where Peter and Clara studied and met each other.  “Armand Gamache did not want to have to be brave.  Not any more.  Now all he wanted was to be at peace.  But, like Clara, he knew he couldn’t have one without the other.” (P. 41)

They visit Monsieur Bert Finney, Peter’s stepfather, and Irene, his mother.  She was “courteous but not kind.  She’d have made a great inquisitor except that she wasn’t at all inquisitive.”  Gamache already knew she was cruel and had “an instinct for the soft spot.” We watch her go after Gamache.  (p. 56)

Beauvoir traces Peter by credit card and bank charges to Montreal, Paris, Florence, Venice, and Dumfries, Scotland.  Then back to Toronto and Quebec City.  He took out $3000 in April of that year, the last record.  They also visit Peter’s brother and sister in Toronto.

The usual mystery plot is here reversed, and the death at the heart of the mystery does not come first.  The search is for Peter Morrow, with the fear that something bad has happened to him.  They all dread that and know that Peter had some terrible weaknesses, among them being terribly jealous of Clara as she began to get good attention in the art world for her painting, more attention that he was getting.  His painting had been successful, but it was predictable.

Clara has the artist’s rich inner life.  Her art is unique.  She sees deeply into people.  Peter doesn’t, and he’s jealous.  He needs her, but she finally realized that he was ceasing to be supportive of her art, as he had been when she was failing to get attention.  The greater her success, the worse he treated her.

Jealousy is a major theme, also that any great art or poetry springs out of the depths of the human soul.  As Alan Bradley says in The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, “Inspiration from outside one’s self is like the heat in the oven.  It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano.  It changes the face of the world.”

Penny says that poetry begins “like a lump in the throat.”–a saying of Robert Frost’s.  In this novel the emotional journey for all four of the searchers and also for Reine-Marie, left behind in Three Pines, is told in exquisite detail.  All along Louise Penny has been bold and fresh in her take on the mystery novel, but that aspect of her gift increases with time.  She keeps the reader riveted.  We love the characters and suffer with them when they suffer, as well as laughing with them when they laugh.  Don’t miss this one.

Note: The Long Way Home was number one on the New York Times Bestseller List in late August, days after it was released, when Louise Penny read to a large gathering at the Fearrington Barn near Pittsboro, NC, which I attended.  I have loved Penny’s books since 2009, when I read The Cruelest Month.  I later met her and her husband at the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention that May.

For more information on Penny's books:

Louise Penny signing books.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Taking Pre-Sales for This River

Wrap-around cover of This River, due out December 1, 2014


I have the go-ahead from antoinette nora claypoole, my editor, that I can begin pre-sales now for this new poetry book coming out December 1, 2014, from Wild Embers Press, of Oregon, under their Watersongs Imprint.  

This journey to publication has a fast  pace, but quickly to my astonishment things have all come together.  We have, at Antoinette Nora’s persistence, with the help of Natalya Ilyina, in Kostroma, received permission to use Sergei Rumyantsev’s small painting on the cover, a painting of the Volga River which flows through the ancient city of Kostroma, Russia. We also found Edmund (Mike) Keeley, still teaching creative writing at Princeton, who gave us permission to use his translation of C.P Cavafy’s little poem “Growing in Spirit,” which is the epitaph for poem 18.

This River is about love across boundaries, once hostile, and about rivers and how they water our lives and our spirits.  My new friend Mikhail’s love of his Volga stirred me profoundly.  I, too, in 1990, when we met, lived by a great North Carolina river, the Haw, and it was my custom to go there on a Sunday morning to write a new poem.  So in 1990-91 This River was born as I yearned toward the Volga and was comforted by the Haw.

The books will become available early in November, and you can order them now for $14 + $1 tax, and $3, mailing cost.  So they’re $15 to pick up, and $18 to have them mailed.  If you order two, it’s only $33 to be mailed, or $30 for picking up. I can send two books for the price of one today in the U.S. postal service.  After two, the postage is free from me.  Buy them for gifts in the upcoming holiday season.  Your purchases help me pay for review copies, which I want to get out in early November.  Here are some more comments from fellow poets on This River.

In This River the speaker’s observations of nature are liquid with impassioned drive. The phrases in this poem are smooth flowing, and this fluency in language seems a reflection of the river where she studies and meditates.  Each eddy, and bird, and leaf is clearly drawn and vital to the sense of place and self.  Identities of the self and qualities of desire are pulled into her observations and transformations and move us as the river moves.

Foster Foreman, Poet (Soundings) and Co-Editor of Hyperion Poetry Journal and Thorp Springs Press.

In This River, Judy Hogan takes paths forged by Proust and Virginia Woolf down and in to the deepest most nuanced passages of the soul. Using a great Piedmont river as matter, metaphor, and muse she shows one woman’s transcendent journey beyond vulnerability to a place of abiding grace. 
This River is not only beautiful poetry, but a compelling story as well. 

Joanie McLean, author of Place and Up From Dust

Please celebrate with me.  This River has waited 24 years to come into print.  You’ll love it! It may be my best poetry book that has been published so far.

Thanks to my intrepid editor antoinette nora claypoole.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

More About This River Coming Dec 1

Sergei Rumyantsev's painting of the Volga River looking toward the city of Kostroma, Russia.  This is the cover painting.

This River, due out December 1, as a Watersongs imprint from Wild Embers Press is coming along beautifully, and by October 26, I’ll know the price and you can pre-order it from me.  I’ll also be doing some readings in the new year, and I’ll launch the book at my Hoganvillaea Farm on Sunday, December 7, 3-6 PM.  If you’re in the area, and you don’t get an invitation, do contact me and I’ll be happy to invite you.

We had three lovely images of the Volga River in Kostroma to choose from, and we settled on a little study I was given by Sergei Rumyantsev, a wonderful Kostroma painter, of the Volga, looking across the river at the city of Kostroma (above). 

One of my friends who gave a blurb for the cover is Jaki Shelton Green, and on October 12, Sunday (tomorrow), she is being inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. I will be there, so proud of her. When I first came to North Carolina in 1971, she was one of the first poets I got to know and whom I published, first in Hyperion Poetry Journal, and later through Carolina Wren Press (1976-91 were my years as founding editor).  Dead on Arrival came out in 1977, and Jaki has been reading poems, teaching folks to write poetry, often as a way of healing, and winning honors ever since.  Here is what she said about This River:

This River holds our hands up to the magic in the dark moon with figurative language that pulls shards of tenderness from a world that is bloody with sting of sunlit longing and a psychic quest for redemption. These poems resurrect an ancient enchanted necklace worn by a herstorical aching that Judy Hogan bears into utterance.

This collection is a meditation on time, memory, and the fleeting nature of life.  Decoding the threads of aching and the heart of the language of two separate rivers is at the core of This River. These poems are a beautiful terrain forming the powerful backdrop for the magnificence of fragility. 

Part primordial, part philosophical, powerful story inhabiting fluid boundaries between hearts, breaking the pedestrian parameters of space, time, and sensory experiences…. This River is a lesson for weaving the baskets that are needed for carrying water to the Light. 

Jaki Shelton Green, Author of Dead on Arrival, Conjure Blues, breath of the song, singing a tree into dance, Feeding the Light. 2003 recipient of the NC Award in Literature, The Sam Ragan Award, 2009 NC Piedmont Laureate, 2014 NC Literary Hall of Fame Induction. 

Here is poem 23 of This River:

T h i s R i v e r

Twenty Three

Does the holy always come into our life
in the heart of a conflict? I think so.
The heron, his feet in the cold water,
wading and calling throatily to the fish,
agrees with me. “You will suffer,”
he says. “The rain falls, doesn’t it?
So will your tears. But joy enters inevitably
when you are this clear, this content with
what life pours out and into your arms.
“Like those wild grapes you found.
Hundreds of them ripening on vines low
enough to reach by bending down the
little tree they clung to. Keep asking your
heart what to do. Then you’ll know.
Every cove where the water runs shallow
and the fish swim in it has a heron stalking,
one foot at a time, determined on his dinner.
“He comes for you. Take what is given
to a pure heart, a spirit cleansed by the tears
you have shed and will shed. There is no
end to the tears, but joy is in them. Like
light turning muddy water pale yellow or
as blue as the sky over your head, eternally
confident and serene, as you are, as you
will be. It is the gift the gods gave you:
your willingness to take in this love
and give him your beauty back. Let
nothing disturb that clear gift, that joy
which he’ll see in your eyes every time
he looks at you. It will feed his spirit
as well as it feeds yours. This love is
given like the sun and the rain. Turn
your face to its blessed light, bathe
yourself in its unwardoffable * tears.”

*unwardoffable a made up word from a Greek word used in
battle depicting the idea that you can't "ward off" or keep away
the enemy.

To learn more about Watersongs and Wild Embers Press:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review: Two More Jesse Damon Novels by KM Rockwood

Send Off for a Snitch: A Jesse Damon Novel.  K.M. Rockwood.  2013.  238 pages.  e-book ISBN: 978-1-61937-783-7.  For paperback, send email inquiry.  Cost: $10 (includes postage) to 

Brothers in Crime: A Jesse Damon Novel.  2014.  ISBN: 978-1-62713-039-4, 247 pages.

I have become addicted to K.M. Rockwood’s Jesse Damon novels and all the characters, whether cruel or helpful, who populate these pages.  Jesse’s life on parole seems to move one step forward only to be shoved two steps back.

In Send Off for a Snitch, the fourth novel in the Jesse Damon series, he now has union status, and he has not so far violated his parole, though suspense keeps building because one way or another he always ends up in circumstances that make him look guilty.  One of the characters who has consistently pestered him, trying to buy drugs, is Aaron Stenski.  Jesse is sure that Aaron is kept on at Quality Steel Fabrications because he’s a snitch to the police.  

When Jesse arrives home from his midnight shift, in pouring rain, he finds Aaron’s younger brother waiting on the steps down to his basement apartment.  Aaron has disappeared, and Benji decided to drive the truck where his brother had left him and got it stuck on the railroad tracks.

Jesse persuades Benji to come in, dry off, and have something to eat, and then they go to try to move the truck off the tracks.  Jesse moves it successfully, only to have the police show up, see that he’s considered dangerous because he served twenty years for murder, and arrest him despite Benji’s pleas that Jesse was helping him.  Benji is taken to Social Services.

Meantime it continues to rain, and Rothburg is flooded, the bridge goes out, and so does the power.  When Jesse is finally released, his basement apartment is flooded, and soon his company shuts down. Cars are told to stay off the streets, but one lady and her two young children get stranded in their car in high water, and Jesse rescues them.  His picture appears in the paper.  You would think this would change people’s attitude toward Jesse, but it doesn’t do much, though Mandy, the friendly librarian, actually sees the rescue and takes him home with her to dry out and get some food and sleep.  Then Aaron is found dead in Jesse’s stairwell, and there’s a BOLO out for his arrest.


In Brothers in Crime, the fifth in the series, Jesse is due to receive a $5000-reward for finding a missing jeweled cat collar, but that doesn’t keep him from being a suspect when an ATM machine is broken into   The bank’s videotape shows a man who looks like Jesse, who was at work at the time, and at his workplace his bosses verify this.  

Jesse agrees to stay in Mandy’s cottage to keep an eye on her big house while she’s away.  The timing is good because his apartment is unlivable, but a young woman named Eileen, the niece of Mandy’s partner, Nicole, shows up with a baby.  Eileen’s husband threatened to kill the baby, and Nicole had offered to help her niece, but Jesse doesn’t know how to reach them, so he lets Eileen stay with him.  There was also a potassium cyanide spill at the factory that Jesse discovers when he is asked to move the huge and very dangerous containers of cyanide, and he is suspected there, too.  In every book in this series (five so far), the more Jesse tries to do the right thing by other people, the more trouble he gets into.

Few of the characters seem to figure out that Jesse is a good man trying to do what is right and also to survive against the odds when the easily available information about him calls him a “potentially armed and dangerous murderer.”  When pressed, he explains that his older brothers killed the drug dealer, but left him holding the bag of dope and the gun.  At sixteen he was sentenced to forty years in prison.

I’ve read a lot of books all the way back to Homer as well as many mysteries, and Jesse Damon is a character to remember and be glad for his existence in books.  Writers try to create memorable characters, but not many succeed like Rockwood does.  Trollope’s Mrs. Proudie, the Bishop’s wife, and Mr. Slope, the Bishop’s chaplain, still live.  Homer’s Odysseus, Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy, Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache, Josephine Tey’s Alan Grant, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, and many others.

Jesse Damon will continue to live, too.  He’s also a new archetype in modern fiction: The prisoner on parole who does everything he can to live a good life, working hard and carefully, loving a woman and her children who let him into their lives, helping people in trouble, and solving the crimes he is accused of, and yet he has the Damocles sword of being labeled a murderer over his head, and even so, he accepts that and continues to do his best.  If you have any compassionate bones in your body, this character of Jesse will get to you and he’ll live in your memory.


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.