The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

Jul 2, 2018 by

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

This weekend I finished reading The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut. I enjoyed her book. It made me think a lot about about chance and choice, the two pivotal points that intertwine the two main characters of the book.

Imagine the person you had a crush on in high school, the one who never paid you any attention, but they filled your most every thought and desire. And then years later, you’re working as a prison psychologist and they’re bought in for murder.

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut is a great read and one that will have you thinking about chance and choices.

Now the first thing that should happen is the shrink should never see the inmate for ethical reasons. But this is fiction. Or maybe it’s a close parallel to reality. The doc wants to find out why the inmate committed the murder. IF the murder was committed by the inmate, after all, that didn’t seem like it could happen in high school.

And of course, the inmate doesn’t remember the doc, but all of a sudden has this guy bending over backwards to help.

There, you have chance. The rest of the book are the choices the two make because of the chance situations.

The Passage of Time

Debra Jo has written for years. In fact, she said the other night during a signing at Interabang Books in Dallas that she began writing the book almost 20 years ago and queried it and got nowhere with it. So she put it in the drawer and let it breathe while she had a life. She got married. She had a son. The story itself matured, as did her writing.

So many years later, she revised the story and made some changes, queried, and found an agent for the book.

The rest is history.

The Captives

You will enjoy reading The Captives. The writing is good. The tension is steady and there are good twists in the story.

Reading it also reminded me of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, (BTW Ottessa will be at INTERABANG BOOKS in DALLAS on JULY 21) which I read two weeks ago. It, too, is about a person working in a prison and involves a shrink/educator. But the ending is far different.

Debra Jo is an excellent writer and encourager. We talked about my present plight. I’m querying for my second written of three novels, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, and as she signed my book, reminded me that the journey along the path to getting published is key. And even as I write this post, another rejection just came in. But I forge on. I simply must.

You can order your copy of The Captives from Interabang Books, by visiting their store, or of course, via Amazon, but if you’re local in Dallas, I encourage you to visit the store. You’ll love the people there and the atmosphere is wonderful. When I am published, I will be having signings there, as sure as the sun comes up in the east.

(What else have I read lately? Here is my Reading List on my way to my first 101 counted and reviewed books….)

 

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A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

Jul 1, 2018 by

A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

My local McDonald’s has murdered two huge trees–one because a branch fell on a car. The other, guilt by association. I took pictures of the carnage in yesterday’s post. Today I counted the rings of one of the trees and then compared the McDonald’s service history to the growth of the tree.

Do you know how many customers it took McDonald’s to serve for that tree and it’s accomplice to reach their lofty heights? As long as it took for McDonald’s to serve “Billions and Billions.” As long as it took for McDonald’s to quit saying how many billions of customers they have served.

From my counting of the rings, the tree sprouted in 1965. McDonald’s served 1 billion customers that year.

Murdered by McDonalds

The timeline of McDonald’s Billions and Billions served vs. how long it took for this tree to grow–they’re almost the same.

In 1970, the tree was five years old, McDonald’s had served 5 billion people. By then, almost the number of people on the planet.

In 1980, 50 billion served by McDonald’s and the trees kept rising toward the heavens.

In 1990, 80 billion served and you can see the enormous growth of the tree.

In 1994, McDonald’s reached their 100 billion served mark and stopped counting.

But to be fair, somewhere around 1995 or so, the tree caught up to that 1 billion it’d missed out on–McDonald’s had reach 1 billion by 1963, two years before it began growing.

Then came the new millennium.

Then add the spring of 2018 when a branch fell on a car in a parking of a McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas.

After providing shade to customers at the east end of the parking lot of this store, a branch fell from a healthy tree. One of two tall trees standing majestically on the lot separating it and a dry cleaners.

Men showed up one day with a wood chipper. One of the operators looked like he didn’t know what he was doing, like he’d lose an arm himself in the contraption.

Two weeks later, the two trees, after McDonald’s had serve an untold number more customers, the beautiful, green crowns of the trees were gone. All that remained were the mutilated trunks of the trees, lying there like dead bodies one might see in old Civil War photos.  And remaining next to them, their stumps, which tell the story above.

McDonald’s murdered these two trees because a branch fell on a car. Both living, vivacious and healthy trees that had grown up with the franchise and served the environment of Mesquite, Texas, like McDonald’s has served people around the world.

But one branch fell and that was enough for McDonald’s to kill two trees. Two healthy trees.

The Overstory

In Richard Powers’ novel, The Overstory, a character goes and counts the rings of a fallen tree just as I have done. He does it because he, too, is sickened that people so carelessly murdered a tree. At least in the case of the story, the tree was harvested for the wood it would yield. In this case, the tree was chopped up. There is a nice mulch bed, but the rest was mutilated it appears. A total waste of 50 or more years of growth from two trees because someone was too lazy to do a little maintenance on two trees, provide some shade, and keep two viable, living trees in the ground.

The Overstory is a great book about the life of trees. Reading it has changed my perspective about trees. Had I not read it, I’m not sure I’d be this upset about what McDonald’s has done. But I am sickened by what McDonald’s has done because it was nothing short of murder. As they say in the book, trees are part of us. And part of all of us died when McDonald’s murdered these two trees the way they did.

The Rings Tell The Story

Here’s the tree rings.

Billions Served by McDonald's

The rings of one of the trees murdered by McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas because a branch fell on a car.

 

 

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My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

Jun 30, 2018 by

My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

Last week I finished reading Richard Powers’ The Overstory and it has changed my view about trees, forever. This morning, I took clothes to my dry cleaners at the corner of Belt Line Road and Cartwright in Mesquite, Texas. Actually, they’re not on the corner, a McDonald’s is. Last week, when I was dropping off clothes, I observed two guys who looked like they were determined to cut off their arms shoving in a branch into a tree mulcher. Today I returned to find that two viable, huge trees that were at least 40-50 feet tall had been cremated and cut to shreds.

McDonalds Trees

What remains of two huge trees McDonald’s MURDERED after a branch fell on a car parked in their lot.

I was in shock. The trees had full crowns of green shady leaves. When I asked the girl at the dry cleaners what had happened, she said a branch fell on a car.

I went into the McDonald’s, which I seldom do, and the checkout girl said the same thing. “It was a mess,” she said.

So instead of trimming heavier branches on the tree where the branch fell on the car, THEY CUT THE WHOLE TREE DOWN AND CUT A SECOND ONE JUST LIKE IT DOWN, too.

The Corporate Line

Now I get corporate liability and the canned answer McDonald’s will offer. if they respond at all.

“We cut the tree to ensure the safety of our customers, our first priority next to good, healthy food. The safest thing for us to do was to remove the two trees.”

That’s a lot of bunk. And it appears to be the line that’s been sold. A branch fell on a car, more could fall on other cars, we can’t have that.

The ‘Every Tree Is Entitled to One Branch Falling’ Legal Theory

I guess they were using the theory that every tree was entitled to one branch falling, like every dog is entitled to one free bite.

But these were two HEALTHY trees. Two trees with HUGE crowns, and they were healthy. In all likelihood, the one branch that feel got whipped around in a recent strong wind and fell.

Maybe McDonald’s could have done more to trim over-extended branches.

McDonald's Trees

The trunks of two trees McDonald’s MURDERED because a branch fell on a car in their lot.

But instead, my local McDonald’s murdered two trees.

MURDERED.

What’s worse, is they clearly didn’t do anything with the actual wood from the tree except cut it up.

Pictures are included of what’s left of the trunks.

The day the men started shredding that branch, I had no idea they were going to cut the whole tree down, let alone BOTH trees. There was absolutely no visible reason for them to do so.

THE OVERSTORY

Now I do not regard myself a tree hugger, no not one bit, but I know waste when I see it and this was an abomination. This was a crime against nature. You want to get all uppity about what kind of beef vendors use and whether they’re using GMOs or letting the cows roam free, I don’t give a hoot about that nonsense.

But Richard Powers’ book, The Overstory, changed my view of the world of trees and made me more sensitive when a corporation like McDonald’s does a dumbass thing like cut down two viable trees. No, murders, them and wastes their resources because a branch fell on a car.

McDonald’s. This was wrong. It’s going to take years to replace what you did. YEARS. I understand the liability and minuscule payout your insurance has taken because a branch fell on a car. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t equal out to killing two healthy trees. It just does not.

 

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The Overstory – A Great Book

Jun 28, 2018 by

The Overstory – A Great Book

Between my love affair for the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite, (really all the trees of Yosemite) I have long had a thing for trees. But Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory, I must say, has me looking at them in a whole new light. This 501-page book is wonderful and a really great work of art. I highly recommend you read it.

The book is divided like a tree, into sections–root, trunk, crown and seeds. At first, I wondered where the vignettes were going, then in the trunk I began to smile with glee. Things began to make a lot of sense and the magic of storytelling really began to unfold.

The Overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a beautiful book and one of the best written works I have ever read.

The Overstory is an effort to help remind we the living that trees are critical to the future of our success as humans. And while environmentalists rant and rave about how killing the trees is killing the planet, part of what Powers writes suggests that when we do away with what is keeping us alive as humans, trees and forests, the things that have been around for millions of years, long before us, will rejuvenate. Those that we kill off may not, but then again….

Stories

There are some great quotes in the book I just had to pull and share that won’t give away the book. Really good lines that are very true to heart.

“And what do good stories do? … They kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t.” pg 412

Amen to that. And that’s what reading this book did to me. At the end I felt a little sick in my heart. I think that was the grieving part I felt. An unsettled anger from reading what happened to the characters.

“Noah took all the animals two by two, and loaded them aboard his escape craft for evacuation. But it’s a funny thing: He left the plants to die. He failed to take the one thing he needed to rebuild life on land, and concentrated on saving the freeloaders!” pg 451

Powers is clearly a science guy. I don’t know how spiritual he is. But what’s clear about this, what Noah didn’t do, is things worked out well regardless. Trees and grasses and all that worked out well even if Noah didn’t take them on the ark. That says something about the staying power of Nature, does it not? The character who said that in the book, I’m not sure understood that point. Maybe that was the point she was making, that plants and particularly trees, they have a power we do not understand and they are going to be around and are going to adapt to this world despite what we do.

“The year’s clocks are off by a month or two.” pg 452

He dabbles in the climate change, global warming argument here. I won’t get into that briar patch.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” pg 488

Richard Powers presents some great arguments in this book by telling a masterful story. The problem with helping spread the word of this story is that it’s 500 pages long. Few people are going to dedicate that long to reading something that long in this day and age. But those who do, I promise, are in for a treat.

I loved this book. Someday, I may read it again.

The writing is rich and colorful. When characters spend 10 months on a platform in a great redwood out west living 20 stories above the forest floor, you feel like you’re doing the same. His writing is superb. I highly recommend this book. I just wonder, if the intent was to move people to action, if it had to be so long. But as a writer, don’t know where I could or would cut a single thing.

The writing is poetry and it was a story worth telling from beginning to end.

 

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My Reading List Last Week

Jun 4, 2018 by

My Reading List Last Week

Last week my reading list included Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, his first novel, The Torrents of Spring, one of Hadley Richardson Hemingway’s favorites by Henry James, The Figure in the Carpet, and the incomplete novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon.

At present I’m reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

A Farewell to Arms is a lovely book, a simple love story about a wounded soldier. An American in Italy during World War I who fell in love with an British nurse. He met her before getting wounded, and then once wounded, their affair really takes off. The book is semi autobiographical. Hemingway really did get hurt and really did fall for a nurse and once he got back to the states she wrote him and broke it off. Hem intended to marry the woman who was several years older than him. The story is very well composed and a must read for any Hemingway fan. Plus it is marked as great American literature.

A Farewell To Arms

Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms is still a wonderful read in 2018.

The Torrents of Spring took an afternoon to read. This is a book Hemingway wrote in a few week’s time and is a satirical attack on Sherwood Anderson’s Dark Laughter. I will tell you, it is much easier to read than Dark Laughter. And that is in part the point. Anderson uses a lot of lofty language that is often hard to follow. I’m about 70 pages into Dark Laughter and have wandered down the Mississippi River with its main character and I honestly don’t know where we are going. The Torrents of Spring made fun of the Anderson book, though I am certain I missed half of the attack.

Henry James’ The Figure in the Carpet is an interesting read. A critic has written a review of a famous author’s book and is presented to the author who says he really doesn’t read reviews. But he reads this one, and goes on to tell the critic that he has a theme that runs through all of his works but it is clear that the critic has missed it. The critic begs for the author to part with this secret and he tells him to look further. This sets the critic on a mad chase to figure out what it could be. He has two friends who join him in this quest and finally, one of the two says he has figured it out. But before he can reveal it to the critic, he is killed in a car wreck. But he is said to have told it to the other, but she says she will not part with the secret. She marries another man, and then dies later. The critic befriends the man and approaches him about the secret well after the woman has died, and the widower takes offense when he learns that his wife never shared with him this secret. And does the critic ever figure it out?

The Last Tycoon is a novel that Fitzgerald wrote in his late 30s early 40s. He died at 41 of a heart attack. He never finished the book. But just reading what is complete is a wonderful reminder of how wonderful a writer Fitzgerald really was when he was writing and not under the spell and distractions of Zelda. Maybe she will haunt me for saying such, but it becomes more and more clear the more I study about Fitz that the world lost out on many a grand novel by the distraction she brought into his life–by keeping him from writing–once they were married, once he had money and they were consumed by fame, fortune and flappers. I enjoyed the book and wish it had a real ending. But it is also a good read.

 

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Before We Were Yours

May 26, 2018 by

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for more than 35 weeks now and shows no signs of dropping from the list any time soon. Having aspirations of my own to equal such an accomplishment some day, I read books that make the list and hold on, to see what level of writing it takes to make the big time so that I, too, can hone my skills.

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate is a good read, but there are issues with the craft.

Sometimes, however, I’m left wondering.

The story itself, historical fiction of the Memphis, Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and the fictional Stafford family of South Carolina is good. I think Ms. Wingate has done a good job of blending enough research fact with her imagination to make a compelling story. In fact, I did like the storytelling.

The Craft

What bothered me, however, was the actual craft. And it’s here I am trying to be careful as I have a query in to the same agent who reps Ms. Wingate–of which I’m likely to shoot my chances to hell and back. But I found it amazing how loosely edited this book was.

Just last week I read an agent, might have been on Writer’s Digest, and the agent was saying the easiest way to spot an amateur writer was by the wrongful use of the ellipses in one’s writing. Particularly by using an ellipses as a comma or a dash in a sentence instead of … a comma. (sic)

Ms. Wingate uses an ellipses as a comma or a dash and they are … everywhere.

Now obviously, this is not affecting sales. So maybe that doesn’t matter then, one might argue. But as writers, don’t we have an obligation to use grammar properly?

I also realize this is women’s fiction, but it’s also clear that Ms. Wingate is unfamiliar, even as a “former journalist” of what the life of a U.S. senator is like. Particularly one in South Carolina. She often has Avery Stafford, the daughter of the senator, talking about how they’re getting in and out of a “limo.” Um, no. Not even the governors I worked for in Alabama rode around in limos.

Showing v. Telling and Telling and Telling

This book sets a new record for me for the one thing every creative writing course, manual and website I’ve ever seen says not to do and that’s to show vs. tell. In fact, as the headline for this subsection goes, Wingate tells and tells and tells and tells. Part of that she gets away with because she’s doing first person accounts in alternating characters to tell the story–female characters with all their emotions at that. But Heavens to Betsy!

This book drips with telling. There were points as a writer I wanted to get out a red pen and start marking through portions as I read where what was included was not necessary–or wasn’t left for me to decide how the characters were actually feeling on our own. It was all force fed.

Look, I enjoyed the book. Don’t get me wrong. But these technical aspects bugged me like scratching fingernails on a chalkboard. Most readers most likely won’t care. The book being on the bestseller list so long is proof of that. The story about what happened in the Tennessee Children’s Home Society should be told loud and clear. This novel is a great messenger for getting the word out and I applaud the effort made by Ms. Wingate and the people who worked to bring this book to market. And congrats to all of them for being on the NYT Bestseller list for so long. That is quite an accomplishment in this day and age, and one, clearly earned by the story in this book.

It’s just hard to stomach seeing a book be so successful when so many rules we’ve been told not to do have been broken in this one and it has done so well. Like May Weathers and Rill Foss, I’m trying to figure out who is to be believed….

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