Charlie's Books

Charlie's Books
Buon Giorno, Amici!

Our motto ...

Leave the (political) party. Take the cannoli.

"It always seems impossible until it's done." Nelson Mandela

Right now 6 Stella crime novels are available on Kindle for just $.99 ... Eddie's World has been reprinted and is also available from Stark House Press (Gat Books).

Friday, January 11, 2013

SNHU MFA Winter Residency … Graduation … D.R. Leo … Krista Zobel … Dinner with Rick Ollerman ...


Aside from the Principessa Ann Marie catching pneumonia for the second time in 8 weeks, and the Twilight Zone drive I had to make to the hospital in Littleton, New Hampshire, at ten o’clock last Sunday night (on a road covered with snow, zero lights along the way, hills that were steep enough to feel as though they wouldn’t end until the Stellamobile was swallowed into the abyss, and followed by a caravan of angry New Hampshire drivers way more used to driving the 55+ MPH than the 30 MPH I was moving at), the winter residency up at the Mountain View Grand really was the best of the four I’ve attended.

Between new faculty and those who’ve been at SNHU, the craft workshops were brilliantly animated, chock full of exercises, and useful way beyond my expectations. For the first time in my writing life, I’ll be outlining my work, something I’ve never done writing crime fiction (ever). I’ve even ordered a whiteboard to pepper with post-its and adorn with some nifty crayola crayon markers. And for my final semester, I have the energetic director of our program as my final mentor, Diane Les Becquets (La-Beck for you nons) . Diane is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, and was nicknamed Lil’ Vince (because she gets the job done) by me way back during my first semester …

Season of Ice

Here was my take on Diane after our first residency: Our director at the SNHU program may have an unpronounceable name in Brooklynese (Diane Les Becquets), but she’s a hell of a writer and a Vince Lombardi reincarnation (in the best possible way) ... so TK anointed Diane “Little Vince” this week. I read Season of Ice a few months before the program began and it was terrific (you’ll feel the chill in the air she describes). Remember Lombardi time? Now there’s Les Becquets (pronounced Le Beck) time ... don’t be late!

The Mountain View Grand … Our winter residency was held at the posh (with The Shining-like hallways) Mountain View Grand and once again, the food was absolutely excellent (as was the accommodations), although this was the first time I learned of the “ax throwing” that goes on near the ice skating rink … apparently it’s one of the features … pretty neat stuff, you ask me. Sickness and all, the drives to and from (not the one to the hospital—that was terrifying) the Mountain View Grand were wonderful; the views are truly majestic.

The Graduates ...

This past week our MFA graduates included a Rhodes Scholar and an accompanying cast of terrific writers; authors, one and all: Kimberly Agurkis Catron, Sarah E. Caouette, Elizabeth Clark, Suzanne (Shumaker) Hogan, Natalie Kenney, Quinton Honor Lawman, Emma Findlen LeBlanc, Darren R. Leo, Jacob Lucas, Tyler Schild, Adam Sharp and Adam Zobel.

First up for some TK light is Darren Leo Rome … my former competition in the MFA coffee black market. Darren is an award-winning hospitality executive. His work has appeared in several industry trade publications, and he is the author of the novella Keeping Score: a short heroic journey. His thesis, Trees and Other Remedies, is a novel and an existential consideration of how one man copes with tragedy and grief as he seeks the solace of nature on the Appalachian Trail. Darren has hiked over six hundred miles of the trail and didn’t know at the time it would help him earn a graduate degree. He plans to hike the entire two thousand miles of the trail and see if there is another book to be found. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Utah.

Congrats to Darren!  I'm looking forward to reading both his books.

A Mother’s Angst and Pride … by Krista Zobel. This selection is part of a short story, Krista submitted to the Amoskeag Contest. It picks up where she and her husband resigned themselves to the fact that their son Curtis would one day be a Marine. Her brother, Adam, is one of our graduates mentioned above.

Curtis attacked his high school studies with the same vigor and intensity with which he attacked everything else, and managed to graduate a year early. It was inevitable that on July 28, 2010, when he turned seventeen, his father and I would find ourselves in the recruiter’s office signing papers to allow him to enlist. Curtis began the conditioning program for “poolies,” those who had enlisted but were waiting for a boot camp training cycle to begin. He memorized pages of regulations, charts of ranks, and other military knowledge. He also ran countless miles and did pushups and sit ups constantly.

In September, our family gathered in Manchester to say goodbye to my husband, who was deploying to Kuwait for a year with the Army National Guard. Curtis swelled with pride. He was so very eager to be wearing a uniform of his own.

On November 15, Curtis took that famous bus ride to Parris Island. For thirty six hours, I sat by the phone waiting for the promised call. Finally, at 3:00 a.m., my cell phone rang. I snatched it up and heard Curtis’ voice, as hoarse again as it was when he was a bossy baby in diapers:

I have arrived safely at Parris Island.

Please do not send any food or bulky items.

I will contact you in 3 to 5 days via postcard with my new mailing address.

Thank you for your support.

I was tempted to talk over him, to tell him how much I loved him and was praying for him, but I was torn between the desire to get my own words out and the longing to hear his voice. I interrupted his goodbye and managed to get in “I love you, Curdie,” before the line went dead. I sat on the edge of my empty double bed and looked at my husband’s pillow.

“This is really hard,” I said aloud to nobody. “It’s harder than I thought it’d be.”

The letters came steadily during boot camp. Curtis was finding it difficult, but he was alright. I wrote back, pouring out encouragement through humor, family news, and transcribed Psalms.

Finally, February came. My son Chris and I flew down to South Carolina to attend the graduation ceremony at Parris Island. It pained me that my husband was still overseas. It was wrong that he should miss this important day.

The ceremony was precise, magnificent, and inspiring – bursting with all the pageantry for which the Marine Corps is so famous. Curtis looked perfect in his uniform – perfect, but also small. How could he belong here with all of these men -- my Curtis who was not yet eighteen?

When the ceremony had ended, Curtis was allowed to spend several hours with his family before boarding a bus to Camp Geiger to begin Marine Combat Training. When the moment came to say goodbye, I clung to him and pressed him close, but I did not shed any tears. I had to be strong for him. I could not make this any more difficult than it already was.

As he turned and walked away, I felt tightness in my chest and constriction in my throat. I labored to breathe, then labored not to breathe too much. I realized that what I was feeling was panic.

It’s been two years now, and I still fight this feeling every time we said goodbye – at every military base and airport and bus station. I expect it now, but I cannot ward it off. I have my little rituals, the things I use to cope. When Curtis calls, I never hang up until after the line goes dead. When he boards a plane, I never turn away until he has disappeared down the gangway, and I never leave the airport until his plane is in the air. I have to be there to catch that last word, see that last look, receive that last text. It is okay that he has to hang up or walk away, but I could never bear for him to speak or turn and find that I was already gone. I sleep with my cell phone within reach in case, forgetting he’s in another time zone, he texts me in the night to say hi. I have to be there for him, no matter what.

On January 10, 2013, Curtis will deploy to Afghanistan. He is busily doing paper work in preparation for his departure. He texted me the other day about a glitch in his files.

He wrote: So…for my next of kin it didn’t say krista graham it sed Kelsey grassbough… so she’s my mommy.


Of course I’m joking, but it still feels good to say the words.

Sometimes I’m tempted to curse the day I signed those papers allowing my son to enlist. But then I remind myself I could never have stopped him. I could not have stood between him and what, deep down, his father and I knew he would one day become. But it’s a comfort to me to know that beneath the crisp uniform and the short haircut, and in spite of all the training in the tactics of war, Curtis is still the same boy with the big voice and bigger dreams. He is still a patriot, an idealist, an artist; and above all, my son.

Note to readers: Yesterday was the 10th ... we all wish Curtis the very best and a speedy trip back home to his family.

Dinner with Rick and Melissa Ollerman ... Stark House Press’s Associate Editor, Rick Ollerman, lives in the town where I brought the Principessa Ann Marie to the hospital last Sunday night--to the emergency room at Littleton Regional Hospital. The staff there was wonderful, especially the doctor and head nurse. We were supposed to have a four-way dinner with Rick and his lovely wife, but they had to put up with just me (all 350 pounds of just me--the diet started yesterday ... again) ... but is this a small world or what? The associate editor of my publisher lives in a town near the hotel where we were doing our MFA residency. Pretty cool. It’s actually the second dinner I had at the Mountain View Grand and Rick said he’ll do his best to attend our June graduation. You better believe I talked up some of SNHU’s writers with Rick ... Stark House used to be a publisher of exclusively classic crime novels, but they started publishing original novels a few years back with some book called Johnny Porno by a thinner me. Next year they’ll be publishing another original crime novel by one of my favorite crime writers around, Dana King. They’ve opened their doors and I can flat out say I’ve never been happier in my published life as I am with Greg Shepard and Rick Ollerman at Stark House.

Check out Stark House Press here ...

Check out fatso here ...

And for a really painful look at what once was (one has to wonder WTF happened, right)?


A victory song for all the SNHU MFA Graduates … (pay attention to those last lines) …

Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

As D.L.R. often said, “You got this.”