I recently helped Mary Behan publish her third book – a collection of short stories.
Back Blurb: This debut collection of short stories by author Mary Behan showcases her relentless curiosity and insight into the human condition, and displays her considerable talent for evoking an emotional reaction in the reader. In settings ranging from Ireland to Iowa, from Norway to New York and beyond, her characters embark on journeys that leave them indelibly changed. These are tales of loss and pleasure, of poignant relationships and chance encounters. Reading Kernels, one experiences heart wrenching moments of sorrow intertwined with unexpected surprises of joy and comfort.
A question and answer with Mary
Where did you grow up and how has this influenced your writing?
My first 25 years were spent in Ireland, a country where language is everything. Reading was a huge part of my life, not just in boarding school but also at home. I remember saying to my mother that I was bored one wet afternoon during the summer holidays. Her reply — part censure, part challenge, part encouragement — was instructive. “Don’t you have a book to read?” she said.
The Irish are good at conversation. It’s often said that ‘talk’ in Ireland is a combat sport! We love to tell a good story, so it’s not surprising that I turned to writing when I had the time.
How did Kernels come about?
I had just finished writing my first novel, A Measured Thread, a 3-year journey that left me feeling elated but at the same time spent. After it was published I found that I didn’t have a clear idea for a second novel. I didn’t want to stop writing, so I came up with a plan: I would write a short story every month for a year, get some feedback from beta readers, and eventually one story would rise to the top and become the candidate for my next novel. I remember pitching the idea to a group of friends at a local coffee shop after Yoga practice, telling them this was an experiment as I had never written a short story before. Several of them volunteered to be beta readers for which I am immensely grateful.
The first story, Dangerous Building, was written in October, 2019. I sent out the final story, All That Glitters is not Gold, to my beta readers in December, 2020. Missing the deadline didn’t seem very important at the time, especially with Covid-19 all around. I gathered my beta readers’ comments each month but held off reading them until January, 2021. That’s when I began to revise the stories. Some revisions were easy but others more challenging, especially when two or three readers disliked the same part of a story, or suggested a completely different direction that required a major rewrite. Towards the end of March, I had the makings of a book and that’s when I approached Christine. She liked many of my stories, but challenged me with some unexpected questions about others. More revisions ensued over the next couple of months, and I could see the improvements. I’m very pleased with the way the stories have turned out.
Where did you get your ideas for the stories?
The first story I wrote, Dangerous Building, had been lurking in the back of my mind for a long time. It was a place I remembered from childhood, a big country house where my sister and I went to play during the summer holidays with the three kids who lived there. I suppose I must have been 9 or 10 or thereabouts. The place has lingered in my mind for the last 60 years. About five years ago when I was back in Ireland, I went to see it. The description of the house and its surroundings is completely accurate, but the rest is pure fabrication. I needed a story. That’s when the magic of story-telling took over. It was such a powerful feeling: to create characters, have them interact, give them a voice. There’s a tiny kernel of truth in the story, but not much more.
As the months went by I found that about three quarters of the way through each story a new idea would pop into my head, almost demanding to take over. On the last day of each month I would send out a finished story, and force myself to take a week’s break so that the new one could sort itself before I began to type. During a long walk or a bike ride or a solitary drive I’d find the pieces of the story beginning to assemble themselves into a coherent arc.
What is your next project?
I don’t think that any of the short stories have the makings of a novel. Mind you, several of my beta readers disagree with me. That’s encouraging, so maybe I’ll change my mind in a year or two. Interestingly, as I was writing these stories I began to entertain the idea of writing a sequel to A Measured Thread. That hadn’t been my plan at all, and I was somewhat taken aback. I have an outline in my head: a beginning for certain, and a rough idea of an ending. But the middle is less clear. It’s going to be a hard book to write, not just structurally but also emotionally. So, I’m putting it aside for now; I’ll know when I’m ready.
My sister and I wrote a memoir about our childhood in Ireland, especially our time together at boarding school, called Abbey Girls. We had such a wonderful time wandering through our childhood that we are going to write another memoir together, Travels with Mick. Our father, Mick Behan, had a delightful and quixotic approach to travel that each of us experienced both as children and adults. We have a treasure trove of letters, diaries and photographs to dig into, and will laugh endlessly as we combine our memories into a story for everyone who knew him and those who wished they had.
Will you write more short stories?
When I began to write short stories for Kernels, several of my beta readers asked who were my favorite writers in this genre. I had to admit that I didn’t read short stories, preferring full-length novels. It seemed foolish not to dip into some of the well-known writers in the genre so I read James Joyce, Alice Munro, Joyce Carol Oates, William Trevor and Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). I read stories in the New Yorker Magazine and American short Fiction. Oddly enough the exercise was unsatisfactory, perhaps because I couldn’t see my own stories reflected in any of theirs. Recently a friend suggested reading stories by Guy De Maupassant, and it was there I found a kindred spirit who will eventually lure me back to writing more.
If you’re interested in getting Mary’s new book or connect with Mary, below are the links.
Goodreads (paperback and e-book)
Barnes and Noble (paperback and NOOK)
Where Publishing Dreams Become Reality
I share a birthday with Beatrix Potter!
How did I not know that Beatrix and I shared a birthday? She was quite before her time. I can not claim anything like that, and my skill with art is quite pedestrian. Oh well. We’re both writers!
Click the link below to learn a bit more about this amazing woman via Maria Popova’s post.
“Imagination is the precursor to policy, the precondition to action. Imagination, like wonder, allows us to value something.”
Haven’t had an Old Tune Tuesday in a while. How about a little Stevie. I like this 1974 video. Love those pork-chop sideburns, Stevie!
This was a blind pick audio book from my library.
Stats: Published in 2019. Print book is 355 pages, audio book is 12 discs, narrator: Jennifer Lim
In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.
A showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?
What I liked: I liked most everything about this story. The characters are very real. I especially like how Kim explores those dark and very natural thoughts we all have at times. Things we don’t want to think or even admit we think about our lives or the people we encounter or live with. The situation seems real (even though it’s a bit far-fetched). The way Kim parcels out the bits of information makes for a very interesting read (or listen) and I think it is one of the big pluses to the story. I also liked how the wife stuck up for herself and what she believed was right, at the end. Would someone be able to do that in this situation is a good debate to have after reading this story (a good book for a book club read). Jennifer Lim does a great job with the narration.
Great debut novel! I’m jealous!
What I didn’t like: That the author lets a couple people off the hook at the end is a bit disappointing, but as she says in the audio version interview, it’s more realistic, which it is.
Rating: 5/5 (and I don’t give many of those 5’s away. Thought of giving it 4.5 but can’t really think of why, so 5/5 it is 🙂 ) I also agree with the author and editor, I like “Miracle Submarine” for the title.
I’ve had Bill on my blog before, when he came out with his debut novel: Five Ferries.
Bill’s come out with his new book – Backstory – and it’s getting great reviews:
“An original and deftly crafted novel that in an inherently riveting read from cover to cover, “Backstory” showcases author William Michael Ried’s genuine flair for the kind of narrative storytelling style that brings his characters to life and holds the reader’s rapt attention from first page to last.”
Midwest Book Review
Here is a little questions and answer with Bill.
How did you come up with the idea for Backstory and what does the book say about facts and truth?
The 2016 presidential election introduced us all to the concept of “fake news,” that truth was whatever candidate Trump said it was at the moment and anything else was fabricated to embarrass him. This struck me as straight out of George Orwell’s1984, where the Ministry of Truth “rectifies” historical records to accord with Big Brother’s current pronouncements.
I then thought about writing a novel about a character’s attempt to change his own history by altering someone else’s novel. I imagined six classmates and placed them in a setting twelve years prior to the current story, on the picturesque campus of Trinity College that has occupied the center of Dublin for hundreds of years. I then contrived to reunite the ex-classmates in 2016 in New York City, for one to start writing a novel based on their time together, and for another to see this will reveal secrets that must be kept hidden and contrive to alter the novel.
Once the characters occupied the setting, the story pretty much wrote itself and the characters sometimes surprised me. For example, I created Becca to fill a limited, supporting role, but she wrote herself in as another major character—and my favorite. But Backstory also illustrates the trap for the weak-minded in falling in line behind propagandists who try to revise facts to fit their self-interest. In the end, facts and truth do matter, in the history books as well as in the life of Ansel Tone.
What authors inspire your work?
I suppose James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, James Fenimore Cooper and Charles Dickens are among the authors who have taught me most about writing. It is no coincidence the hero of Five Ferries reads works by or references these authors and sees Europe through the prism of their works.
I also enjoy modern novels by Caleb Carr and Hilary Mantel and so many others. In trying to craft Backstory as a literary novel with an element of mystery, I took inspiration from modern novels such as Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Tana French’s The Witch Elm and Lexie Ellliot’s The French Girl, although I should also acknowledge Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary for the counterpoint structure of the Yankee Stadium chapter.
How do you approach cover design?
For Five Ferries I started with the image of a hitchhiker, created by an artist friend from actual photographs. I submitted this to 99designs.com along with a brief summarizing the novel and images of book covers I liked. I immediately received submissions from lots of graphic artists, with whom I conversed in real time through the site. After six days I chose six designers for a final round and continued to review submissions and make suggestions. I finally picked a winning design and only then learned my designer, Colum Jordan, worked in Dublin.
For Backstory, I repeated this process, in the end receiving 144 designs and variations from some 35 designers. For this book I provided the artists with no central image but did summarize the story and the settings. Unfortunately, I noted the story involves a beautiful woman and two high-end sports cars. Some of the submissions looked more appropriate for a romance novel or a muscle car magazine than a serious novel, so I revised the brief to eliminate women and cars. The winner, Mikhail Starikov d/b/a michaelstar*, actually had it right from the beginning, and he stood out for employing genuine artistry rather than simply applying a font to a stock image. When I chose this winner, I found that he works in Moscow, which led to discussions about Tolstoy and the war of 1812.
As to fitting the cover design to technical specs for print and e-books, I rely upon my editor/publisher Christine Keleny at CKBooks Publishing.
How do you research your novels?
Five Ferries started as a memoir, so the basic research was simply living the story. However, memories fade and after 30 years of writing I turned the book into a novel, which required a lot of research. The internet made this much easier; I no longer had to visit the library’s map room to locate a village or find photography books to describe a building. However, I realized I also needed a person native to each country through which my hero travels (England, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Wales and Ireland) to advise about geography, language and customs, as well as native speakers from other countries, to get the slang right. This led to extensive correspondence, one of the things I most enjoyed about writing the book.
Backstory is largely set in my backyard and peopled with Americans who talk like me, so the research was simpler. But the backstory within the novel is set at Trinity College in Dublin. I sent a blind email to the Literature Department at Trinity and found a faculty member who answered my questions and corrected my descriptions. Also, two of my characters drive high-end sports cars. I haven’t even owned car in fifteen years and so needed specific technical expertise. My cousin the engineer loved helping out, and enlisted a friend of his who works in a pit crew. I also found a friend to describe the work life of a university professor, another to counsel on New York criminal law, and a third to help with the perspective and dialect of a twenty-five-year-old woman. As to the study of propaganda, which relates to changing history and thus is part of the theme of the novel, I did the reading myself.
I find that people really enjoy contributing their expertise to a novel. They feel part of the creative process, which enriches the collaboration and makes it fun.
What’s next? I have nearly completed the first draft of my next novel, as yet untitled. It is the story of a young man who lives an entitled life until tragedy strikes and forces him to get by on his own. It marks my return to first-person narrative, which I hope will allow me to explore the emotional challenges the hero seeks to overcome. I’ve also had fun including a Australian Shepard as a character and creating a family compound occupying a large bluff on the southern coast of Maine. I hope to publish this book in early 2022.
Here are links to Bill’s book:
Barnes & Noble NOOK
Bill’s first book:
Bill’s first book: Five Ferries
Thank you to all who serve and those who served.
We’ve got one of these nesting close by our home. Not sure why since we’re not by water.
Look who’s been posing like a model,
at our local ponds lately,
Wood Ducks, which are uncommon in Southern California.
I need to go back and photograph the females,
who are not quite as show stopping as the males,
but are beautiful none the less.
Cheers to you from the uncommonly beautiful California Wood Duck~
It’s because trees have leaves
That we can see the wind
It’s a rather nice blend
©2021 Annette Rochelle Aben
Another blind pick recommendation from my library. I got the audio book.
Stats: Published in Oct 2020. Print is 451 pages. Audio book is 12 discs (14.5 hours), narrator: Roger Clark.
Blurb: Retired detective Cal Hooper moves to a remote village in rural Ireland. His plans are to fix up the dilapidated cottage he’s bought, to walk the mountains, to put his old police instincts to bed forever.
Then a local boy appeals to him for help. His brother is missing, and no one in the village, least of all the police, seems to care. And once again, Cal feels that restless itch.
Something is wrong in this community, and he must find out what, even if it brings trouble to his door.
What I liked: It was an interesting what if… story, if however improbable. Not sure I buy a ex-Chicago cop with a daughter in the States, going all the way to Ireland to live. Lots of desolate places in the US to choose from. That’s not a dig, just seems improbably. The story itself is enjoyable. I thought the characters were real and I cared what happened to them, especially Tray (spelling?). French really makes you want to root for Tray. And I didn’t figure out what was going on until I was told, though I suspected after a while that things weren’t as they appear. Roger Clark does a good job at narration. It everyone sounded very real. I always enjoy listening to a good Irish accent, too.
What I didn’t like: Hum… not sure. It wasn’t a gripping story but it was a good one. Maybe the improbability of the setup is what hinders me giving it a 5/5.