Archive for September 2017

Long Dead Beatniks: The New Pharaohs, A Guest Post by Daniel Falatko

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In the ancient Egyptian and Persian empires, Pharaohs and Kings remained fully worshiped for hundreds of years after their mortal bodies had perished. Massive cults would tend to their tombs, keeping the torches lit and the gardens lush. Festivals in their honor would occur regularly. New monuments would be erected. Thousands of bulls would be sacrificed. Fine wines and enough food to feed the populace would be laid out on the temple grounds to satiate the deceased Ruler in the afterlife. In their lifetimes these Pharaohs and Kings were seen as living Gods, and in their deaths they attained a level of eternal worship reserved for Saviors and those that have always existed beyond the mortal chains.

While this type of cult worship of deceased men has mostly died out in modern times, there is one glaring exception: Dead Beatniks.

How many books can there possibly be on the Beat Generation? 10,000? 87, 000? 1,00,011? It's hard to tell through traditional Amazon and Google searches due to the sheer immensity of the collected material on these dead literary icons. Just as an example, how many books on William S. Burroughs exist in the informational ether? An exact number is similarly hard to pinpoint, but at least 80 for sure. Keep in mind that dear old Willie wasn't anywhere near as mainstream as his handsome contemporary Jack Kerouac or that bearded jester Allen Ginsberg. So you can imagine how many weighty tomes have been dedicated to those two. When you add all of these printed pages to the dozens of professional and amateur documentaries on the Beats, the many yearly gatherings from large festivals to open mic poetry nights, the hundreds of web pages and message boards, and the long lineage of testimonials from artists both obscure and world famous, you can clearly see an ancient Pharaoh style centuries-long cult worship beginning to take shape.

So how long have some of these beatniks been dead? Winos never last long, so Kerouac has been amongst the dead for going on 50 years. The same goes for fringe characters who never strike it rich, so goodby to Neal Cassidy for around the same amount of time. Dear Old Junkie Uncle Bill has been gone since the 90s. The same for allen and his comb-over. These particular dead beatniks are certainly the titans of the scene, much to the consternation of the unfortunately still living Gary Snyder, who most likely regrets his years of mountain climbing and pure Buddhist health since they've allowed him to live in comparative obscurity while his contemporaries have died in worshipped glory.

When you factor in that the average ancient Pharaoh post-death cult lasted 300 years in the most extreme cases, you can see that the worship of dead beatniks has a very good chance of reaching this empirical level. Fifty years on and there seems to be at least a couple weighty biographies released on the Wino God and The Junkie God each year, and there appears to be no letup in the volume of events, festivals, think pieces, testimonials, and other modern style God offerings/sacrifices to these long dead Kings.

The curious and commendable aspect of this worship is its ability to find enough oxygen to exist in the suffocating atmosphere of today's ultra-politially-correct, language-and-thought policed, scorched earth landscape. This age is certainly not very forgiving to the arts. The increasing inability to separate the personal lives of artists and their works by large chunks of the populace should not be very kind to the beats, after all. In an age where John Lennon himself is seen as some sort of devil for the lone sin of having been a complicated person, then what about a gun toting, right wing, sex tourist old junkie? Or how about a NAMBLA-supporting, self-hating Jew? A child-abandoning dirty old man, anyone? How about a sexist conservative Catholic drunk who banged his friends' wives and died a deadbeat dad despite millions of paperbacks sold? Can the fact that these "problematic" aspects can continue to fly under the radar while the weight and impact of their artistic works are allowed to shine for themselves as they should be seen as an ancient-style reluctance to view once living Gods as being bound to the standards of the meek mortal masses? There may be a heat seeking missile of a think piece being cooked up as we speak in the Slate of HuffPo SJW basement, but until now it does look as if the dead beatnik Pharaohs, remarkably, have escaped the torches and pitchforks which have diminished the cults of other long dead Emperors and Kings.

Who would have ever thought that a ragtag and disparate band of 50's bebop-damaged jivesters who published between them a grand total of 3 (three) culturally-relevant works many decades past could somehow dodge and duck the pendulums of shifting modern cultures and tastes to ascend the gilded tombs of the Pharaohs, attended to by mass cults for what is starting to look like centuries to come? Keep in mind that these dudes were alive at a time when there was such a thing as a successful poet for chrissakes. The whole sixties thing that most people point to as the beginning of everything that is right and cool with the world hadn't even happened yet when these giants first walked the earth. And yet here they are poised to be the first set of cultural icons to match the cult worship endurance test of ancient times.

With the inevitable take-up from far-in-the-future generations eternally curious about dudes who took drugs and slept with lots of people, it really is beginning to look as if the dead beatniks, of all people, will be the New Pharaohs.

So lay your pottery at the foot of the stone steps and lead your bull to the alter. Place your fruit jugs of wine upon the massive pile. Dedicate 1/5 of your crop money to the erection of the new stone monuments. Hail the long dead beatnik Pharaohs and sacrifice you own well-being to assure that they are will nurtured and fully-equipped in the afterlife.

Or just crack open that beat-up paperback of Cities of The Red Night for the 27th time.

Daniel Fatalko's novel Travels and Travails of Small Minds is on sale October 2nd. He is the author of a previous novel, Condominium. He is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives in New York City.

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta


Ruth Ramsey is the Sex Ed teacher at a local high school. She firmly believes that providing kids with a strong knowledge of safe sex practices will result in them coming to mature decisions. Knowledge is power, after all. When the local evangelical church The Tabernacle begins to intervene in the school curriculum, Ruth decides to take a stand. The church is pushing abstinence only education that has been proven not to work. Ruth finds herself facing the decision to follow her values or tow the line and teach something she does not believe in. 

Tim Mason has been saved. Before joining The Tabernacle, he was a drug addict who abandoned his wife and daughter to get his fix. Since finding religion, he's remarried, joined the church band, and coaches his daughters soccer team. Life is pretty good. When the soccer team pulls off an upset to make their way to the league championships, Tim spontaneously bows his head to offer a prayer with the girls. This seemly innocent gesture turns to controversy when another parent, Ruth Ramsey, takes objection to Tim "pushing his religion" on her daughter.

The Abstinence Teacher sees Tom Perrotta explore spirituality, sexuality, and the balance between the two in a family drama that both entertains and inspires. While the novel is rooted firmly in the "modern time" of its publication year (2007), it manages to be surprisingly relevant to discussions that are happening today. It is interesting that 10 years later, we are still debating the ideals of religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Perrotta's writing is, at times, vibrant and compelling. Other times he grows a bit heavy handed, especially when proclaiming the novel's moral takeaways. Despite some shortcomings, The Abstinence Teacher focuses on topics that continue to be worthy of discussion and debate. It won't stand as one of my favorite reads this year, but it did inspire me to reflect on our current political climate.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 41)

Author Q&A/Giveaway: A Few Minor Adjustments by Cherie Kephart


A Book A Week is pleased to welcome author Cherie Kephart to the blog! Cherie recently chatted with us about her new memoir A Few Minor Adjustments. In addition to spending some time with us, Cherie and her publisher have graciously provided a couple copies of her book to give away. If this sounds like something you'd like to read, be sure to enter to win a copy at the end of this post.

Your inspirational memoir, A Few Minor Adjustments begins in Zambia, when you were working there as a Peace Corps volunteer. What transpired during your time there, and how has your experience as a traveler influenced your personal journey on the road to better health?

When I traveled, I was forced to open my mind, to pay attention, and to be adventurous. I had to learn to be comfortable with my fear of the unknown. Living in Zambia taught me that. I stayed with a local Zambian family, ate dishes such as boiled millet and fried-caterpillars. I build makeshift wells and latrines near a crocodile-infested river close to the border of politically unstable Zaire. Each day was an adventure, especially when it came to my health. I had giardia, dysentery, a putzi fly infection resulting in maggots in my butt, and almost died from an uncommon case of malaria. Almost dying in Africa was a pivotal point for me. I realized I needed a fierce will to live if I was going to survive. Now all these years later, that has never changed. It's the one constant that has kept me going.

After falling ill in Zambia, you returned to the US and began a journey that centered around trying to cope with continuing mysterious health issues. What were some of the high and low points of that time when you were first struggling to figure out the cause of your symptoms?

The worst part was the not knowing why I was so sick, if I would ever heal, or if I was going to die. Every day I woke with the same questions, and each night I went to bed with no answer. It was terrifying. And it went on for years. I was hundreds of doctors, healers, and therapists: rheumatologists, cardiologists, integrative medicine specialists, neurologists, acupuncturists, naturopaths, and eccentric healers such as a Russian ex-physicist who waved fertile chicken-eggs over my chest to try to reset the rhythm of my heart.

I came close to committing suicide. But that's the miraculous part. We don't realize what we are capable of until we are faced with enormous challenges. I learned to respect my inner strength, to know how much I could endure and how much I could rise above. I kept finding ways to change myself and my situation, like changing my attitude; changing the foods I ate, trying new therapies and treatments, including an exploratory heart procedure. I stayed open and stopped looking back. What a magnificent lesson!

There are many individuals, including family, friends, and the various healers you've spoken about who helped you along the way. What impact did these people have on your attempts to both live with and diagnose your illness?

That was one of the most beautiful gifts I've ever been given; to see how much people cared and fell their compassion and love. My family and friends never gave up on me. That kept me strong. Without them, I wouldn't be here. I'm certain of that, especially with regard to my mother and my grandfather. Both of them helped me financially, since I lost the ability to work. They were also there from me emotionally. My boyfriend Alex, the one I dedicated the book to, was amazing. He went to doctor appointments, did research on my health, cared for me while I was bedridden and unable to walk unassisted. I will never forget it. People often tell me how strong I am. I always reply the same way, "I'm only as strong as my support system." As horrendous as my physical health was, I always had love.

During the course of documenting what was happening with your health, you decided to turn your personal story into an inspirational memoir. What inspired you to do this, and how did writing the book help with your healing process?

I've always been fascinated with memoirs. Reading a memoir, I get to dive deep into someone else's world, to understand their most intimate struggles and triumphs. I got to know them. It's like I get to live another life for a little while. I also feel that memoirs connect us, bridging the gaps between different aspects of our humanity.

Writing a memoir is deeply cathartic. I believe we write a memoir twice. The first time we write it, we write it for ourselves. We write to release the emotions and energy surrounding everything we have endured. Then, when it is at the point where we feel clarity around it, we re-write and fine-tune it to make it accessible and ready to release to the world. We prepare the story in such a way that enables people to easily come along our inner and outer journeys and gain insights from them. Ernest Hemingway said it best, "Write hard and clear about what hurts." That's what I did.

It's difficult to explain how writing this memoir contributed to my healing. I certainly don't think it mad the process go any faster. But it made me go deeper into the crevices of pain where I didn't necessarily want to go. So the healing I've experienced is more profound and lasting.

What would you like readers to remember most about your story?

We all have pain and suffering, but we all have joy and beauty. It's really about perspective and choosing each day to show up in a positive way and to have more compassion for each other, and ourselves. If we don't understand something, like an undiagnosed illness, then it is our duty as human beings not to turn away or reject the unknown, but to offer compassion, even if it is something we don't understand. Actually, especially if it's something we don't understand.

You've said that you would like to give a voice to those who are also struggling with an undiagnosed illness. What would you say to those who are on a similar path as yours?

If I could survive all that I have, and it's been a lot for one person to endure, then anyone else can, too. Even when we feel like ending it all, we have to find a reason to live for just one more sunrise and then one more sunset. Because we never know what is around the corner. There were so many times I was ready to end it all. I was barely alive. Now, I look back, and I'm so glad I didn't give up. As long as you have the will to live, you can heal.

With such a powerfully personal and inspirational story, what's next for you? Are there any new books on your horizon?

My next projects are companion books to this memoir: The Healing 100 and The Symptoms 100. The Healing 100 highlights the top one-hundred things I did to heal, and The Symptoms 100 focuses on the top 100 symptoms I had what what helped me to work through them. I also have a collection of poetry, Poetry of Peace, which chronicles four stages of life, Seeing the World, Through Darkness, Into Light, and With Peace. It's really about the emotional and spiritual aspects of healing. Lastly, I am creating a cookbook filled with allergy-free recipes: The Cookbook for People Who Can't Eat Anything. I'm excited about these projects since the goal is to provide insight, a touch of humor, and ideas on ways to heal. I hope people can learn from my experience, be inspired, and have some tools for their own healing journey.

Our thanks to Cherie Kephart for joining us today. For more on Cherie and her memoir A Few Minor Adjustments visit her website

To enter for a chance to win either a physical or ebook copy of this novel, use the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US/Canadian residents, no PO boxes please. Ends October 4, 2017. Winners will have 48 hours to respond after being contacted.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Robert B. Parker's The Hangman's Sonnet by Reed Farrel Coleman


Reed Farrel Coleman takes the reigns of the late Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone series with The Hangman's Sonnet. Oddly, I've never read any of the novels in this series that were actually written by Parker. I did read and enjoy Michael Brandman's take on the character in Fool Me Twice, so I was excited to see what another author could bring to the table. True to form, The Hangman's Sonnet is a quick moving mystery that adequately evolves Jesse Stone as a character while adhering to the standards set in the books that have preceded it.

When the novel opens, Jesse Stone is a mess. He's a far cry from the stable, competent police chief we've come to know. Still reeling from the tragic murder of his wife-to-be, Stone has turned to alcohol to numb the pain. This self medicating is beginning to interfere with his work. Several times, his drunken blackouts cause him to miss important calls or meetings. The town's mayor, who has never seen eye to eye with her police chief, smells blood. She's waiting for any reason to fire Stone, and Jesse isn't doing much to prevent this from happening.

On top of his personal crisis, Stone's professional life is as busy as ever. The town is preparing to host a star-studded birthday bash for famed folk singer Terry Jester. Jester's lost album, The Hangman's Sonnet is the stuff of musical legend and would be worth a pretty penny if it were ever found. The security implications of this bash alone would be stressful but manageable for stone. Unfortunately for him, the body of an elderly woman was just discovered. With the entire town on him to solve the murder and secure the city before their big party, Stone must face his demons and solve the case. His career and entire livelihood is on the line.

True to form, The Hangman's Sonnet, is a light and entertaining read. The short chapters and fast-moving plot make for a book that is easily devoured within a few hours. For his part, author Reed Farrel Coleman is not bound by reverence to Parker and his character. While he maintains the spirit of Jesse Stone, he is unafraid to push the character into new, darker territory. This makes for a much more layered approach to character development that mostly works. The Hangman's Sonnet is certainly a worthy addition to the Jesse Stone series.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 40)

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith


"The whole world's writing novels, but nobody's reading them."

JK Rowling shocked the literary world when she revealed that The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, a hit in its own right, was actually written by her. I finally got around to reading that novel earlier this year, and I immediately regretted waiting so long to read it. Rowling's penchant for detailed plots and riveting characters filled that novel. I vowed not to wait nearly as long to read the next installment.

The Silkworm finds private investigator Cormoran Strike in a much better place than the previous novel. After successfully breaking a high-profile case, Strike's business is booming. The war veteran turned detective has seen a steady stream of clients and income. Still, Strike's personal life is anything but perfect. His assistant Robin is set to marry a man who vehemently disapproves of her working with Strike. Robin has failed to get the two men in her life to meet each other, let alone come to an agreement on her own wishes. Robin longs to take her job with Strike to the next level, but fears what this decision could do to her impending wedding.

As the pair struggles to adjust to the realities of their personal relationship, another high-profile case presents itself. Leonora Quine, wife of the bestselling novelist Owen Quine, has tasked Strike with locating her husband. Owen has disappeared before, but now he's been gone for an unusually long time. Immediately preceding his absence, Owen was on the verge of finishing Bombyx Mori, his latest novel and self-proclaimed magnum opus. Strike learns that Owen's peers in the literary world were less than thrilled about the novel. It was said to make some not so subtle allusions to various people and their dirty secrets. Does the book contain something worth making its author disappear over?

While The Silkworm is never as engrossing as its predecessor, it still fires on all cylinders. The characters from top to bottom are each well drawn and believable. Strike and Robin see their relationship pushed to the next level as they learn to grapple with success while facing the curious literary world that Owen Quine was a part of. I've read some complaints that Rowling spends too much time describing small details that don't end up adding to the story as a whole. I see these descriptions as Rowling building her world, and never felt like they bogged down the pace or detracted from the suspense. I continue to be impressed by Rowling's writing and can't wait to read the next novel in this series.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 39)

Friday Flicks: It


Stephen King is no stranger to Hollywood adaptations of his works. Over the course of his career, many of his novels and short stories have been turned into big screen films. This year alone has seen the adaptation of The Mist and Mr. Mercedes on TV and film versions of The Dark Tower and Gerald's Game. With today's release of a new take on Stephen King's iconic story It, one thing has become certain. It sure is a great time to be a Stephen King fan.

Perhaps no other Stephen King novel has managed to remain a part of the cultural zeitgeist like It. The terrifying tale of a killer clown who shifts into versions of your own personal fears has stood the test of time. While Tim Curry put forth an acclaimed performance as Pennywise the clown in the 1990 miniseries adaptation of the novel, the rest of that version failed to capture the true spirit of King's creation. With the release of this new adaptation of It, director Andy Muschietti attempts to finally do justice to King's landmark book.

The film focuses on the childhood portions of the novel, opting to leave the present day adult section for a forthcoming sequel. On a rainy day, Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) makes a paper boat for his brother Georgie to sail down the streets. Sick in bed, Bill sends his brother outside. When Georgie's boat drifts into a storm drain, he is surprised to see the shadowed figure of Pennywise the Dancing Clown lurking beneath the drain. The clown lures the boy closer until Georgie is unable to escape, and an ancient ritual that resurfaces every 27 years begins again.

A year later, Billy and his family are still reeling from the disappearance of Georgie. Georgie isn't the only child who has gone missing. In fact, a full on epidemic seems to be coming down on the normally quiet town of Derry, Maine. Children are disappearing left and right. As school lets out for the summer, Billy and his friends, a group of nerds and outcasts who call themselves The Loser's Club, set out to find any sign of the missing kids. As their investigation mounts, each child begins to be haunted by Pennywise. He tailors his appearance to fit the particular fear of each kid. Faced with the realities of the thing that is haunting them, they must stand up to their fears for the sake of their own lives and the well-being of the entire town.

It brilliantly captures the nostalgia of the past while reinvigorating Stephen King's story for modern audiences. With a running time of over two hours and an R rating, Muschietti's film has the freedom to present the aspects that made the novel so engrossing. There is ample time for each character to develop, and the horror aspects are realized in all their gory detail. Bill Skarsgard breathes new life into Pennywise the Clown, crafting a character that sends chills down your spine every time he's on the screen. Dawned in an Elizabethan costume and aided by some subtle computer effects, Pennywise becomes the thing of nightmares and the driving suspense for the entire film.

Stephen King's novels are known for their shocking horror, but the horror is always used in the aide of developing his characters. As such, it is the development of the children in the movie that truly makes It worth the price of admission. Each child gives a performance with a depth of emotion that is mature and nuanced. Whether they are dealing with grief, a bully, or abuse at home, each character has a particular obstacle that they need to overcome. You can't help but root for this group of misfits as they battle their personal demons and join together to conquer a being of pure evil. It completely lives up to the hype and surpassed my highest expectations. I can't wait for the filmmakers to have their hands at the second part to this story.

Snap Judgement by Marcia Clark


"The beauty of being a defense lawyer is that I don't have to prove anything. All I have to do is poke enough holes in the People's case to give the jury reasonable doubt."

Marcia Clark is no stranger to the world of high-profile legal battles. Her role as the lead prosecutor on the infamous OJ Simpson trial and countless others provides her with an intimate understanding of all the going ons of that world. For us readers, this wealth of knowledge has translated into some stellar works of fiction. I had the pleasure of reading the first few novels in her Rachel Knight series years ago. When her publisher offered me an advanced copy of her latest novel Snap Judgement, I was happy to oblige.

Alicia Hutchins is reveling in her newfound freedom. As a college freshman, she has finally escaped the limitations of her overprotective parents. But with this freedom comes the realization that she may not be ready to handle some of the things her parents desperately tried to shield her from. She's just ended things with her boyfriend Roan. Roan isn't happy. In an act of revenge, he posts nude photos of Alicia to a porn site. In a addition to the photos, he includes her address and an invitation to come and rape her. Alicia is soon murdered, and Roan is found dead of an apparent suicide.

Roan's mother is convinced that her son did not kill himself. Instead, she has accused Alicia's father, a prominent attorney, of killing Roan in retaliation. Enter Samantha Brinkman, an accomplished lawyer in her own right, who comes to the aid of her friend. While she is hesitant to take on another high-profile case, she's been struggling to keep up with her bills and knows Graham Hutchins has the money to compensate her nicely. Using her contacts with the police department and her brilliant investigator Alex, she seeks to find any means to prove Graham did not murder Roan.

Snap Judgement perfectly combines Marcia Clark's expertise of the criminal justice system with the affable wit that makes her writing a pure delight to read. I haven't read the previous two novels to feature Sam Brinkman. While I was never lost in this plot, I do think reading the other books would help to fill in the gaps in some of her history. Amongst the action and suspense, of which there is no shortage of, Clark truly shines by producing believable characters who each compliment each other. I was hooked with this book from start to finish and highly recommend it.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2017, 38)

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