Saturday, March 28, 2020

Finding Felicia


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It’s Saturday, in case , like me, you have no idea what day it is anymore. But there are some things you can rely on in life, seriously, there are. 

And one of those things is the genuine wonderfulness of Art Taylor. Art’s probably blushing now, and I hope so. Not only is Art Taylor jaw-droppingly talented -- (HOW many awards have you won? Seriously, tell us. Multiple Agatha, Anthony, Derringer, Macavity--and the Edgar! )—but he’s also simply the best of guys. Generous, thoughtful, inspirational. And his terrifically talented wife, Tara Laskowski, as you know, has her big big big first novel out now, One Night Gone—a Mary Higgins Clark award nominee! (And of course, she’s stalwartly staying home, her celebratory events cancelled. Xoxox) And then, their son Dash, who is an absolute paragon.


We are so thrilled to talk with Art today. His new collection—and I am giving away TWO copies today—is fabulous and innovative. And his brain is—relentlessly and irresistibly fascinating. Art’s events for the new book are cancelled, too. With is so sad, in a sea of sadness.

So today—let’s celebrate Art Taylor, and all the contributions he’s made to this students, and his readers, and the writing community, and to all of our lives. 

And apparently, there’s this girl. Felicia.


So Who’s Felicia?

Or: Follow Your Interests and Obsessions—Because You Will Anyway
    by Art Taylor

In his very generous (and much appreciated) review of my recently released collection The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense, Kristopher Zgorski of BOLO Books pointed out that two of the stories feature characters named Felicia: one Felicia a small side-character in the title story and the other taking a more central role in the story “The Care & Feeding of Houseplants.” 

“This is almost certainly a coincidence,” Zgorski wrote, “but in another example of how Art Taylor’s work harkens back to similar themes and motifs, these two Felicias could actually be the same individual at different stages of her life.”

Here’s the kicker: There’s actually a third Felicia, or at least a third use of the name, in another story: “Murder on the Orient Express,” my first published story for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine from back in 1995.

I didn’t realize I had three Felicias here until this reviewed called my attention to them, but it’s easy (maybe) to defend them, to defend my having forgotten I’d used the name before. The stories were published over a span of twenty-five years, after all—with at least a decade, in fact, between each Felicia’s appearance in print! And I purposefully didn’t make any major changes to these stories from their original publication—preserving them as they appeared.

Still… why Felicia?

Or better yet: Who’s Felicia? …because there is one.

Back in elementary school (way back!) in Richlands, NC, I had a crush on a classmate named Felicia. Honestly, I remember very little about her now—what she looked like, for example— only that she lived outside of town, too far for us to see one another afterschool, and that we were never really friends, much less boyfriend and girlfriend (too young for even some early form of that).

What I do remember—clearly: One afternoon, I was sitting in the bathroom (TMI, I know, but it’s necessary), and my brother or one of the guys next door knocked on the bathroom door to tell me to hurry up. Felicia had come over, he said, and she was waiting outside for me to get done.

Spoiler alert: She wasn’t. It was only my brother or one of those friends rushing me along and teasing in the process.

But even today, across all those years, whenever I think about that moment, the feeling of it rushes back—the mix of emotions: excitement, confusion, embarrassment, anticipation, desire, self-consciousness. 

For all their differences, the Felicias in my stories—each of them, as you’ll see—are all touched by some mix of those emotions. But I hadn’t realized it myself until Kris Zgorski pointed it out.

In recent years, several students in my writing workshops at George Mason University have fretted about their fiction being repetitive. “Each of my stories has the same kinds of characters,” they might say, “or the same conflicts or the same themes.”  They talk about being drawn again and again to certain characters or storylines, about not being able to pull themselves away.

The irony here is that these students—these very students—are the ones often producing the best work. And for the record, their stories each to the next never look the same to me.

Rereading my own stories from over a period of 25 years, I see both the many differences—in character and situation and style and structure—but also the core similarities too: Most, if not all, of my stories are ultimately about relationships, whether romances or friendships or family ties, and about what happens when someone betrays that relationship. As I said at the book launch for The Boy Detective and the Summer of ’74, sometimes it seems like I’ve written just one story—and then kept rewriting it in new ways.

All this in perspective, I always tell those fretful students not to worry. Their skills will develop, their storytelling will evolve, their stories won’t all sound the same. They only need write in those directions they’re already pulled toward—following those storylines and themes they keep obsessing over, those characters they can’t shake.  

But in the future, I’ll add an asterisk to that advice: Just make sure not to give too many of those characters the same name.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I absolutely want to name everyone Elliott. Or Eli. Elias. It’s –crazy. (But do I know any Elliotts? Or Elis? My grandson, certainly. But I pushed the name.)  And my books are about—huh. Betrayal. 

SO what is that? When someone or something you rely on gets pulled out from under you. And bizarrely and surprisingly, and often with NO conscious intent, about mothers and daughters. But every single book I’ve written—and that be true?—have those themes. But they are very different.

Your students are so lucky, Art!  

(OMG. I just realized my newest main character is Ellie. Never, until this very moment, did I realize that. Okay, moving along.) 

In the summer of 74—I was working for Rolling Stone Magazine (with Hunter Thompson)  in Washington DC. What were you doing, Reds and Readers, in the summer of 74?
 
And a copy of  The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 to TWO lucky commenters!

*******************
Art Taylor is the author of the story collection The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense and of the novel in stories On the Road with Del & Louise, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He won the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Short Story for "English 398: Fiction Workshop," originally published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and he has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, three Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction. His work has also appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.


138 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Congratulations on your new book, Art . . . and I’m all in favor or re-using names that have a special significance for you. I’m looking forward to meeting both Felicias . . . .

    In the summer of 1974 I was teaching reading in summer school . . . .

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  3. Oh, gosh, the summer of ‘74! I had just completed my first year of college at a community college in the San Joaquin Valley in California. I had completed 2 semesters of journalism classes and wrote opinion columns, mostly about feminism. I spent another year there becoming editor-in-chief before transferring to San Jose State University where I completed my journalism degree and worked as a medical/technical writer in the Bay Area until I retired a few years ago. Education really made a difference to my life.

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  4. Congratulations, Art, on The Boy Detective & the Summer of '74. I'm sure it will be another big hit for you. And, while I think Felicia is a great name, it seems it's time for "Bye, Felicia." I would imagine that naming characters, especially the protagonist, can be challenging, as you would want something that is just right and something that might even be a little special or unique. Of course, there would also be some fun in using some names of people you might not be so fond of for the villains or the victims.

    In the summer of '74 I had finished my sophomore year of college, working toward a degree in English. I did a two-week intersession course in British Lit before heading home for a break. The world was a wide-open space then and anything was possible.

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    1. Yes, and some people think that is terrifying! I always thought those times of our lives were moments of such wonderful possibilities…

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    2. Yep, Kathy. Only one Felecia here is a major character. The other Felecias are barely mentioned, but still interesting that the name "stuck" like it did. And yep on names for villains!

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  5. Art is the best! I'm not sure why I haven't gotten my hands on a copy of this yet. Felicia of course means happy, and we all know what can happen to that emotion in a human's life. A perfect choice for a crime writer, even if you didn't realize it. I know this book will be a big hit, Art, despite the lack of in-person events. (I've had six events canceled for my own launch next month...) Also, hugs to Tara.

    Ah. Summer of '74. I was a recent college grad (BA linguistics) and working full time as a pump jock and baby mechanic at a gas station on Rte 1 (what we called Pacific Coast Highway, or PCH) in Newport Beach, California. I'd just fallen in love with a tall blond guy who drove the Porsches in from the dealership next door because they hadn't installed a lead-free pump yet. The attraction was mutual. I ended up living in Japan with him for almost two years, and we're still friends. Now I feel a story brewing!

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    1. Pump jock and baby mechanic, love it, Edith!

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    2. I worked my way up to tune-ups and was a certified state of California smog device adjuster and headlight adjuster! My boss even sent me to tune-up school - I was the only woman, of course.

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    3. Such valuable experience, I must say! And yes, perfect for a story…

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    4. Thanks so much, Edith — and sorry that your events have taken a hit as well. We just had another big festival (May) cancelled last night. Health first, always, so I appreciate and understand, but I do miss seeing fellow authors and readers and friends.

      And "pump jock and baby mechanic"! I love the language here--and the story too! Adventures!

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    5. Edith, how interesting! A pump jock and baby mechanic and a tall blond Romeo and taking off to Japan! You were living life for sure. And, there are stories there shouting to be told.

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  6. Congratulations, Art, on your newest collection of short stories.

    Everyone else has posted clear memories of what they were doing in the summer of 1974. Not me!

    OK, I was 8 years old, so I finished grade 3 in Toronto. Beyond that, I can't remember any significant event, so I will just say that I was enjoying the summer holidays reading, cycling and eating!

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    1. Innocent times, right? And frankly I was doing what I still do now when I want to have fun, LOL.

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    2. Reading, cycling, and eating sounds good to me!

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  7. Hi Art, welcome and congrats! I agree with Hank--your students are very lucky to have you!

    Spring of "74, I was doing a semester abroad in Avignon, France, and so so so homesick. My themes I think are about what is family, who is family, missing fathers...

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    1. I remember you talking about being homesick… And didn’t you think, recently, about wanting to go back and do it over?

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    2. Thanks, Lucy--so much appreciate the kind words. And interesting how the homesickness feeds into your themes now.

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  8. Congratulations on your new book, Art, and welcome to JRW.

    Summer of '74? It was a particularly difficult year all around as I recall, the year of Watergate, the resignation of a president who "was not a crook", and who, in retrospect, looks pretty good in comparison to the present occupant of the White House. I, along with the rest of the country, was glued to the tube. I had a very sick child and three other who needed attention too. But compared to now, it was a walk in the park.

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    1. I’ve got to help, somehow, that someday will look back on this like that? That even possible? and yes, I was in Washington DC then, right in the middle of things. As a reporter, it was unimaginable.

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    2. 1974 was indeed a tough year--both historically and (I'm sorry to hear) personally too. While not all of it showed up in the story, I ended up immersing myself (reimmersing myself) in so much of the year's events and culture while writing the story. There's even a long playlist I pulled together that I listened to at times while writing it. The music was good at least....

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  9. I'm not a fan of short stories in general but I liked the couple ones I've read from you Art. I love the cover of your book and will give it a try.
    My life changed in the summer of '74. After being brought up and having studied in Montreal with my graduation in administration obtained, I moved to the country with my husband. We married in '72 and he had come to live with me while I finished my grades with the understanding that we would move to the country afterward.
    The summer of '74, I had to learn to drive to be able to go out and find work.

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    1. Wow! A whole new world opened up, right? Talk about a life-changing summer!

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    2. Thanks so much for giving my stories a chance! And thanks for sharing your own memories.

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  10. Congratulations on your new book, Art! When will it be available for Kindle?

    Summer of '74? I was 11. I have no idea what I was doing. Probably enjoying being a kid and playing with my dog.

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    1. “ I was 11–I have no idea what I was doing” and isn’t that exactly how it’s supposed to be? Awwww.

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    2. Thanks, Cathy! Crippen & Landru is working on getting a kindle edition up--should be soon, I hope!

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  11. Congratulations, Art! Karen Maslowski here. I'm so sad not to see you and your lovely family at Malice this year, and to see how Dash has grown and changed since I last saw him. Stupid virus. But at least we can all read another of your inventive and entertaining works.

    In 1974 I had gotten divorced in March, after a disastrous 3 1/2-year marriage. That summer my new boyfriend took me on a long car trip with two friends, all the way to the Florida Keys. We camped most of the way, and that trip marked a turning point in my life, even more so than the divorce. I also switched jobs, from accounting clerk to working for a local chain of dress shops. The owners liked me and my work, and they promoted me from inventory clerk to buyer, another major turning point, because it boosted my self-confidence at a time I very much needed it.

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    1. Another life-changing story! And shows you how good can come from band, right? Crossing fingers…

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    2. Hi, Karen — Thanks for sharing the story here (life-changing indeed!) and for the kind words. We're heartbroken about Malice, no other way to express what we're feeling, but look forward to seeing you another time. Take care in the meantime--stay safe!

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  12. In the Summer of '74 I started my first job: as a legal secretary, which ultimately became a job as a paralegal, which ultimately became the profession of the protagonist of my first novel, who works in a law firm, and in a building, that (*cough*) might be (*cough*) very similar to the one in which I began my working life. The circle of life...

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  13. Congrats on the new book! I am the opposite of Danielle -- I actually love the short story form, so this book looks very appealing to me.

    Summer of '74 I was between my freshman and sophomore year of high school, working at Baskin Robbins. I was working the day Nixon resigned, Thankfully there was no one in the store, and I turned up the radio and listened and cried -- not because I didn't think he should resign, of course, but just because, in my youthful idealism, it felt like our county had come to such a tragic time.

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    1. What a sweet moment,Susan — End it sounds like you remember it so clearly. I remember being on Capitol Hill when that happened, and we knew something was going on — Though we did not know what yet—because when you picked up the phone, there were no dial tones. Every single circuit in Washington was busy.

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    2. Hi, Susan — Thanks so much for the shout-out for short stories!

      And thanks for that glimpse inside the Baskin-Robbins. A year that changed so much about everything in the U.S.

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  14. Congratulations on the book!

    In the summer of 1974 I was taking biology in summer school. We’d moved the year before and different school systems had different requirements, so there I was in summer school biology before starting my junior year of high school. I also spent quite a bit of time driving younger siblings to various sporting events since my parents were quick to take advantage of my new license to drive : )

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    1. But you got your license! Hooray— A big turning point!

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    2. Thanks so much for sharing, Cindy!

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  15. The new book sounds wonderful! Congratulations, Art. And boy-oh-boy do I get that feeling that something about every new thing that I write is "the same" -- thematically, for sure -- Everything I write is, at its core about answering the question: who can you trust. All the trappings vary--the timeframe, situation,context. But that theme emerges over and over.

    Summer of '74 - I was moving. From the upper west side (98th and West End Ave) to an apartment in a two-family in Massachusetts where my husband had accepted a job teaching physics at a local college. I'd be teaching K-2 at a private school that would close a year later. My husband's salary: 11K Mine: 6K We were SO young.

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    1. Thanks for the extra perspective, Hallie. Glad myself to hear that I'm not alone in feeling this way! And thanks for the glimpse inside your life then too!

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  16. Go, Art! Congratulations on the new book!

    In the summer of '74 I had just finished my junior year in high school. My parents had gone through a messy divorce in March--so messy the judge specified in the settlement decree that the dog was mine and I got to keep it. I had had to shelve my plans to become a foreign exchange student because my mother needed to use that money to buy back the car Dad had given my sister and me, then taken away. Really messy.

    Instead, I spent four weeks on my own in Tarkio, Missouri, (Tarkio Road, anybody?) at an equity theatre that was housed in an old, octagonal mule barn on the campus of a small private college. I lived in the dorm, did all the backstage stuff I could get my hands on, and realized I actually felt more at home there than I did at home--lacking only the dog. The college is gone an the barn has long-since burned down, but that summer set me on the professional course I'm still following.

    As for names, my mother was Janet and my sister is Jan. I always have to struggle not to give my characters J names.

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    1. Someone told me once that J names are the most popular. hmmmm.
      Tarkio Road — that is a perfect movie title! Whoa.

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    2. Or does that mean something that I don’t understand yet?

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    3. Thanks, Gigi. Sorry to hear about the messy divorce, but glad that it all put you on the right path. I'm amazed at how many people here have cited 1974 as such a pivotal year in their career and in determining who they are today.

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    4. I love this story about Tarkio, Gigi, but I never connected it with the song!

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    5. It's an old Brewer and Shipley song, Hank. The same guys who wrote/performed "One Toke Over the Line." I think they were from the Kansas City area, and Tarkio, the town, is way up in the northwest point of Missouri.

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  17. Thanks so much for hosting me here, Hank! Such a joy to be back at the Jungle Reds. Sorry to be chiming in so late, but Dash had a nightmare last night, so up in the middle of the night--and tried to catch up a bit after breakfast. So much appreciate all your kind words, and so thrilled to see everyone commenting already!

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    1. Oh, poor darling Dash… We’re all having nightmares, I fear… Please give him a hug from every single one of us Xxxxxx

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    2. Will do! And he's doing fine now—building Lego!

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  18. Art, that cover is great--I'd pick it up even if I didn't have JRW for introductions! And I find that I am drawn to certain names as well. I don't think I've ever paid attention to an author using the same name more than once--if the writing is good, the story will flow, the name will fit that character, as far as I'm concerned.

    The Summer of '74--well, sounds like a song title with a guitar coming up fast! I was working the night shift in a small factory to pay for my next year of college. I scrimped and saved and come home at the end of that next year with $3.08 in my checking account. But listening to music was what kept me sane during those summers!

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    1. Thanks so much, Flora! The cover painting was commissioned just for the book--by a North Carolina artist, Luke Buchanan, whose career as an artist was beginning about the same time I was beginning my career as a writer. When Crippen & Landru asked if I had any suggestions for the cover, I suggested one of Luke's earlier paintings, but when C&L reached out to him, he said, "Why don't I do something new especially for this book?" What a generous offer.

      Thanks for sharing your own adventures of 1974. And as I said in a comment above, I made a playlist of the years songs to listen to while writing the story. It was a good year for music!

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    2. Oh, the music of 74! Was that--Running on Empty? No--that was later. Pentangle? Nope, earlier. Lookjng this up: oh! Bennie and the Jets. Midnight at the Oasis. And Abba's Waterloo. :-) REALLY strange music year!

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    3. OMG, Hank - Midnight at the Oasis! And Joni Mitchel everywhere - Court and Spark released that January. Bennie and the Jets, absolutely.

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  19. In the summer of 74 I was the mother of a toddler, moving into a new house and trying to decide if I really wanted to go back to work in September.

    In a book I recently read it seemed that all of the major females had names that began with the letter V. Maybe I missed the significance but more than anything it was confusing.

    For a story I wrote for middle graders I intentionally gave the main character a neutral name and never gave away information that indicated gender, hoping any reader could identify.

    I always wanted to name a character Lesley Moore, you know Les Moore. But I never did, at least not yet.

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    1. Les Moore! Hilarious!

      Interesting too about the letter V. I'd be curious to read that. Sounds.... odd.

      As for the gender-neutral name: Have you ever read Sarah Caudwell's books? She does a great job with her character Hilary Tamar—never giving a clue whether a man or a woman. They are brilliant books.
      Thanks for chiming in!

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    2. RESTRAIN yourself from that! LIke Paige Turner.

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    3. Oh, Hank, Paige Turner is a perfect name for a Jasper Fforde book.

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    4. If you are reading the Crankshaft comic strip, there is an elderly lady who owns a books store and to her own surprise have written a mystery book, which is selling rather well. In the last couple of days she has been interviewed for a podcast by Paige Turner.

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    5. I love that strip - and never even caught the interviewers's name!

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  20. In the summer of 74, I was being a mother for the first time. As for themes, etc.... I have an urge, usually denied, to name my male characters James--no idea why. I've known a few Jims, but no one who called himself James. But I do find the same themes recurring in my stories, often three or four times in a row, and then that issue seems to be more or less handled, and something else springs up. I think they're all tied together, though. Each of us has her own obsessions, which fortunately make good story material.

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    1. I like that extra message here, Barbara, that writing through these themes time and again helps somehow to "handle" them. In another direction, I'm teaching a creative nonfiction class at Mason (online right now), and we're talking about personal essays--where the goal isn't necessarily to explain but to explore and to understand yourself. Writing through the ideas and conflicts that are nagging at us helps to build the conflicts on the page and deepen the ideas too, I think, as we work through them story by story, novel by novel. Thanks for chiming in!

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    2. And in writing those, I always find I write them as journeys--and then often come to a conclusion that I would not have predicted. Then, after the "discovery," I go back to the beginning and see if the essay should start with the conclusion.

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  21. Congratulations on the book, Art. Short stories are just perfect for these days of self-isolation and short attention spans. The cover is magnificent.

    I graduated University of Miami in 1974 (BA sociology and history, BS psychology), married my first husband right after graduation, and toasted Nixon's resignation with the first martini of my life. We were in a recession, but I don't think they called it that then. Didn't bother us, we were young, immortal, and spent every weekend we could in the Florida Keys on a then deserted Cocoplum Beach in Marathon.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words on short stories, Kait--and appreciated the occasion for your first martini! I'm a fan of them myself. Sounds good to feel young and immortal, especially in the Florida Keys!

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    2. That was quite the moment! I always remember Nixon called martinis "silver bullets." Memory scraps I'll never need..

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  22. What a wonderful and talented author whose book is a treasure. Thanks for your fascinating introduction. Congratulations on this extraordinary story. I would give this to my son who is a doctor and needs a break and this would provide him with a memorable one for sure. 1974 summer was busy with life in Montreal where i was born and intended to live forever. Working, night school at Sir George Williams University and marriage.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words here--and good thoughts to your son, who's surely doing hard work these days. Thinking of him, and thanking you... and thanking him too!

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    2. Chiming in with my thanks to your brave son...xxoxo

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  23. Congratulations Art! In the summer of 1974 I had just turned 14,so I was just goofing off with friends and at the beach or pool.

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    1. Sounds idyllic right now, gotta admit!

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    2. Yeah, things that seemed so seamlessly unremarkable...

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  24. What was I doing in the summer of 1974? Well, I think you'll all have to forgive me for lacking in any significant accomplishments at that time. I was three years old and likely pretty useless in almost every possible way.

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  25. Congrats, Art, on the new book. Summer of 74 would have seen me hanging out playing baseball in the street and sweating a lot as I was in Junior High which we now call middle school. That when Dad was not getting me up at the crack of dawn to mow the yard, painting the house, work on the car, or do whatever project he had thought of at the evil hours of the deep night when he could not sleep. My allowance was fifty cents a week because I should have just been glad to eat and have a roof over my head according to Dad. I have never known a Felicia and as a widower at 58, there is a good chance I never will. It was good meeting you at Bouchercon Dallas.

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    1. Great seeing you in Dallas, Kevin — but too brief. But enjoy interacting online and so much appreciate all you do! Sorry to hear about all those chores--and the message that went along with them too--but the baseball does sound fun!

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    2. Kevin! SO wonderful to see you. And remember how precious that 50 cents was? YOu could get a lot of bubble gum, or 5 comics!

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  26. The Summer of 74 resonates with me since it was meaningful. I got married in May, had no honeymoon and continued with my librarian job which I loved. Congratulations Art! Your book sounds captivating and exceptional. By the way, Hank, I love the name elliot since it is my husband's name.

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    1. Sounds like a VERY meaningful year indeed! Thanks for the kind words on the book.

      (And I didn't mention before, but Elliott (two l's, two t's) is our son's middle name!)

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    2. Oh, so many wonderful Elliotts! xoxoo

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  27. Summer of '74 I was ending my sophomore year at Piner High. I think that was when I started volunteering at the county hospital. I spent two weeks of cake baking for the church's food concession at the county fair, which I also worked at every evening and summer school.

    Okay, I'm back. Did you miss me? I just took advantage of being over 60 (barely) and went early essential shopping. Very weird.

    Hank: my nephew is named Eli. My sister choose it because it means height, or so she says, and her husband is 6 feet, 4. Do I pick books with similar character names but are written by different authors? Hmm, nope, I don't think so. Be safe everyone.

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    1. Shopping is indeed weird these days. Hope you got everything you needed!
      And sounds like good work in all directions that summer of '74—county hospital and church concessions at the fair too.

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    2. So--do you still bake? And I never heard that about height! Hmmm..xxo

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  28. Late to the party again!

    Art, welcome to Jungle Reds! The title of your book reminded me of that movie with Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chumsky (sp?). Childhood memories are interesting.

    Hank, this is a great topic! A friend named her son Elliot. I think of that actor Sam Elliott who is married to Katharine Ross.

    Diana

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    1. Hi, Diana — thanks much for this! And I'm a sucker for coming-of-age tales, stories, books, movies, any of them. Do you mean "My Girl"? I think that's one they were both in--and definitely falls in this category.
      Thanks for the note!
      Art

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    2. Oh, yes, Sam Elliott. He's cool. xoxoxo Wait--he's married to Katharine Ross? I didn't know that. Hmm.

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    3. Hi Art, yes, that was the movie. The title slipped my mind. I often like coming of age tales too.

      Hank, I think they have quiet lives. They continue to act, though.

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  29. For no obvious reason, Art, your description of who the real Felicia was reminds me that my brother named me, for the cutest girl in his third grade class!

    And I take great comfort from your comments about trusting that each story will take its own view of the themes in our work. For me, those seem to be identity, relationships, and the consequences of choices.

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    1. As for the summer of '74, I was 15 and spent a good chunk of the summer at a Girl Scout camp in a counselor-in-training program. So taking younger girls on hikes, teaching them to build fires, and singing around those fires with my guitar. Need a song for any occasion? I've got one!

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    2. Good themes there, yes—and nice story about your brother! Enjoyed the memories of girl scouts you shared as well!

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    3. White Coral Bells, along a slender stalk.... John Jacob Jinkelheimer Smith! Aw..I bet you were a wonderful counselor!

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    4. Leslie, that reminds me. My cousin's four year old son was already in school when his sister was born. He picked the name Emily because there was a girl in his class named Emily.

      Diana

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    5. Hank, in our version it was John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!

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  30. Art is very wise - the obsessions and themes we return to time and again are what lead us to dig deeper as writers. Summer of '74? I was 12, and I remember writing the start of an adventure novel that summer - got about three pages in, as I recall. It was about an 18 year old stewardess, that bring my career goal at the time, and 18 being as old as I could possibly imagine before dying.

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    1. Oh, nice! Do you still have that story fragment around? It would be fine to revisit! (And thanks for the kind words my way too. Much appreciated!)

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  31. Happy to be introduced to Art and your writing. Off to explore your work online...

    As for names: They are important to me as a reader. If the character's name doesn't seem to suit their personality or activities, I find it hard to stay with them. So, writers: NO PRESSURE at all to get the name right. Ha! (I'm not a big fan of my own name, actually, but it's way too late in my life to change it now. Besides, what on earth would I name myself if I did change it?)

    Summer of 1974: Our last full summer as a family living in England. The next summer would see us return to Canada, and in September I entered Grade 11 as the brand spanking new British-accented geeky girl with puffy hair and glasses. Fortunately, I landed in with the drama crowd, where geeky was not only accepted but used to advantage in our various play-acting endeavours.

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    1. Thanks so much, Amanda -- hope you enjoy!
      And thanks for that portrait of yourself in 11th grade--very vivid!

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    2. Love this! And we should talk about how many of us we’re geeky in high school :-)

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  32. Art is a wonderful teacher! In 74 summer of I quit my first real job...spent August in Italy..I had saved enough to do that, still pay my rent
    In August got a job I loved

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    1. Thanks, Joan! I appreciate the kind words—and imagining Italy in what was certainly better days.

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  33. Felicia/happy -- good point Edith, and life's smack-downs do hurt more if they hit right when one is feeling happiest. Wow! I was talking with my niece about plagiarism allegations, and she reminded me of my drama teacher's lesson that there are only five basic plots. The art is in the development and execution, so bring on the many manifestations of Felicia, or Eli, or whomever can carry on the search for meaning. Books are my lifeline, especially with the enforced solitude of this strange chapter. Hugs (safely, from a distance).

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    1. Hugs to you as well—safely, as you said! Thanks for the inspiring comment. :-)

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  34. '74 I was raising Irish triples. My kids were 6,5,and 4. We were spending Tuesdays in summer at the beach, going to school in fall, winter, and spring.

    Re: Felicia. Funny, I had a first grade crush on Richard. Can't remember his last name, but have never named a character after him. I have a thing for using Jake, Tony, and Jennifer for character names. You've given me a reason to take another long look at my short stories. Thanks.

    Art, I've read many of your short stories and can't wait read your book. Wishing many sales for both you and your wife.

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    1. Thanks so much, Pat—from both Tara and me! Hope you're doing well. :-)

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    2. Oh my gosh… You are such a rockstar! I’m not sure how you did that :-) xxxx

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  35. What I was doing in '74. . . Frank finished at the U.S. Border Patrol Academy in south Texas. He came to New Orleans to collect me and the dog and we had an adventure in moving all the way to El Paso, Texas. Arrived at our rent house in the middle of a sand storm. I got my first "professional" job, meaning it matched my degree, with a CPA. We bought our first home with a VA loan and made friends with neighbors in our brand new neighborhood on the edge of the desert.

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    1. A lot of milestones that year! Thanks for sharing. :-)

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    2. That is such a sweet story, somehow…

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  36. Hi Art! It's always such a treat to see you here! Can I just say I LOVE the cover of your book??? I'd buy it just for the painting, so it's a double treat that I get to read the stories, too. I can't wait to follow your playlist.

    In the summer of 74 I was going into my junior year as a biology major at my small north Texas college, and I'd moved into a garage apartment in the historic part of the town, where I would live for the next two years. My parents and aunt and uncle helped me fix the place up, and in my memory that time was magical. That little apartment is still one of my favorite places I've ever lived, and I wrote my first short fiction there. It was also the beginning of my love affair with old houses.

    As for names, I seem to be overly fond of D and J. I have Duncan and Doug--why did I not realize I'd be stuck with two Ds? I've named several characters Jasmine, and one of our dogs is named Jasmine--although I can plead that she came to us with it.

    You comments about themes were so interesting. I think I'm always exploring relationships, especially the idea of what constitutes "family", and how bonds can be strengthened or broken.

    Best of luck with the book, and virtual hugs to your family!

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    1. Thanks, Deborah — on all counts! I feel very fortunate with the cover art--it really is beautiful, and I'm grateful to Luke Buchanan for creating this painting specifically for the book.

      I appreciated the memories of your own summer of '74--a new place, first short fiction, a magical time indeed. And thanks for your reflection on your own work here too, family at the core of it.

      Hope you and your own family are doing well. Stay safe! Hold steady!

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  37. Oh, I do try to search for new names, my thing is unusual ones, but everyone in the story can't have one of those. It is hard, I think the longer you write to come up with fresh new ideas (is there such a thing) and new names, too. I enjoy your work, Art and intrigued by the title of this new one. 1974 was a good year for me. I remember it well. Congrats!

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    1. Thanks, Abby, for the kind words about my stories! Hope you enjoy, and hope you're doing well. :-)

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    2. Yes, so interesting how names somehow just pop into your head, and they are perfect… As though the character was already named that.

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  39. The summer of 1974 we were moving back to California. I was very happy after spending one year in a flyover state, which I hated. I was getting ready to start 6th grade.

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    1. Cutest thing I have ever heard! I can just picture that !

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  40. Several people have mentioned the music of that year. I went back into iTunes (which I rarely use now) and copied the playlist I'd put together onto Spotify, just in case anyone wants to give it a listen: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/4mfPu1rqI4YdpPr9CIKLEn?si=Wl9LTrl5RKK9tdM3A8a8Jg

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    1. Oh, I am definitely going to listen to that! Joni Mitchell! Loved having you here today, Art! Many many hugs and smooches to you and your fabulous family. Best of luck with your fabulous book… And see you soon. Really. It has to be.

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  41. Congrats on the new collection.

    So, will Felicia be popping up in a future story? And is she secreting tying all these stories together in one universe? Must study your stories and find out.

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    1. At this point, I may give her cameos in ALL my stories!

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  43. Don’t hate me. I so rarely feel young these days. But I was turning 9, probably reading as many books as I could get away with. I’m not sure what I was reading those days, but Nancy Drew is a safe bet.

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  44. AND THE WINNERS ARE: Susan Nelson-Holmdahl and LC Rooney! Email me at hryan @whdh dot com

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  45. Yay! Sending an email shortly...and thank you!

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