Saturday, 6 March 2021

Returning Author Lana Newton (Kortchik) of Australia.


It’s been much too long since Lana last visited the Scribbler.  Since her previous posting in 2016, a lot of exciting moments have taken place. She’s writing terrific stories, to much acclaim. Positive reviews keep piling up.

If you want to take a peek at her last visit, please go HERE and read an Excerpt from an earlier work – Savaged Lands.

I recently finished her earlier novel – Sisters of War and it was a fantastic read. Find out more about it HERE.


This week she is sharing an Excerpt from her newest novel – Her Perfect Lies.  Make sure you pick up a copy. I know I am.



Lana Newton grew up in two opposite corners of the Soviet Union – the snow-white Siberian town of Tomsk and the golden-domed Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. At the age of sixteen, she moved to Australia with her mother. Lana and her family live on the Central Coast of NSW, where it never snows and is always summer-warm.

Lana studied IT at university and, as a student, wrote poetry in Russian that she hid from everyone. For over a decade after graduating, she worked as a computer programmer. When she returned to university to complete her history degree, her favourite lecturer encouraged her to write fiction. She hasn’t looked back, and never goes anywhere without her favourite pen because you never know when the inspiration might strike.

Lana’s short stories appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and she was the winner of the Historical Novel Society Autumn 2012 Short Fiction competition. Her novels are published by HQ Digital, an imprint of Harper Collins UK.

Lana also writes historical fiction under the pen name of Lana Kortchik. Her first novel, Sisters of War, is the USA Today bestseller published by Harper Collins.

To find out more, please visit




Her Perfect Lies

Lana Newton

A stranger watched her from the mirror. Grey eyes, pale lips, blonde – almost white – hair, as if bleached by the sun, a face she felt she had never seen before. The only thing she knew about this stranger was her name.

Claire. They said her name was Claire.

They told her other things, of course – things she found hard to believe. She was famous, touring around the world with the largest ballet company in the country. The nurses talked about her as if they knew her. One had even seen her perform, in faraway Australia of all places.

Through mindless hours in her hospital bed, she imagined herself on stage in front of thousands. Impossible, she would whisper, the stranger in the mirror nodding in agreement. Yet, there were pictures and videos to prove it. She peered at herself in the photographs, as Odette, Sugar Plum Fairy, Cinderella. Dazzling costumes, elegant posture, long limbs. Was it really her? She looked at the twirling doll on the screen of her phone until her eyes hurt. Impossible, impossible, impossible.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, like a clap of thunder, filled the room. Unfamiliar, and yet, she felt she ought to know it, as if she had heard it a thousand times before. Every time she willed her body to move, her feet would slide into a ballet position like it was the most natural thing in the world. What her mind had forgotten, her body remembered. Pirouettes, jetés, and pliés came to her in time to Tchaikovsky’s eternal creation, each as perfect as a summer rain.

Today was a special day. The nurses seemed excited for her. She felt she should be excited, too. Staring in the mirror, right into the stranger’s eyes, she forced her face into a smile and widened her eyes, but instead of happy she looked scared. She was exhausted, as if she had lived a thousand lifetimes, none of which she could remember. Splashing her face with cold water, she brushed her hair and tied it in a high ponytail. Reaching for her bag, she applied some makeup. Black for her eyelashes, pink for her cheeks, red for her lips. The last thing she wanted was to look like she was part of this grey hospital room.

The London sky outside wasn’t grey but a vivid purple. She watched the last traces of sunlight disappear, and then, out of nowhere, the rain came. It battered the lone oak tree outside, and the leaves thrashed in the wind. Over the music she could hear their rustle. This sky, this oak tree, the room she was in, the cafeteria down the hall – these were the boundaries of her world. Beyond them, she knew nothing.

The music stopped and she turned sharply away from the window. She could sense his gaze. The man standing in the doorway was tall, and she felt dwarfed by him. They stared at each other in silence for a few seconds too long – Claire, her cheeks flush with rouge, eyes filled with fear, and her husband, impeccably dressed, unsmiling, unfamiliar.

‘Hi, Claire.’ The man took a few steps in her direction.

‘Hi, Paul.’ In two weeks she had seen him twice. Now he had finally come to take her home.

‘Feeling better today?’

She didn’t know how to answer his question. Better than two weeks ago? Yes. But better in general? She couldn’t remember what that felt like. ‘I still get headaches. But my back is almost healed.’ She peered into his face. There were wrinkles around his eyes and dark stubble on his chin. She didn’t have it in her heart to tell him he was a stranger to her. But he was looking at her as if she was a stranger, too. His eyes remained cold.

‘Do you have everything?’ he asked.

‘I just need to say goodbye. Wait here for me? I won’t be long.’

She made her way down a busy corridor, navigating gurneys, trolleys and people. She had made this trip many times before, could probably do it with her eyes closed – a left turn, twenty uncertain paces, another left, down two flights of stairs and a right. The door she wanted was hidden behind a pillar, tucked away from prying eyes. You could easily walk past and not even know it was there. Today it was wide open, as if inviting her in.

It was quiet in the room, no music playing, no television murmuring in the background, no eager visitors with their chatter and flowers. Only the heartbeat of the machines, like clocks counting down the seconds, and the ventilator puffing, struggling, breathing in and out. If nurses or doctors spoke in here, they did so in hushed voices, as if they were afraid of disturbing the man on the bed. Which was ironic because all they wanted was for him to wake up.

Outside the window was the hospital car park, a noisy anthill of activity, with ambulances screeching and cars vying for spaces. The rumble of engines was a muffled soundtrack to the man’s artificial existence. She felt grateful for the oak tree outside her room, for the peace and quiet. She would have hated having nothing but cars to look at. But the man didn’t care. He was asleep.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Claire took his hand. After two weeks, this gesture had become a habit. Day after miserable day she would do it on autopilot, looking into the man’s face, studying his lifeless features. Today she could swear his eyelids were moving. She wanted to ask the doctor if it meant anything. Fluttering eyelids – was it a sign? Was he about to wake up? Or was it her imagination showing her what she wanted to see?

‘Your father, is it?’ A nurse crept up behind her silently, like a cat. She looked a little like a cat too, scruffy and ginger, her eyes cagey. She paused next to the man’s bed, removed the chart from its folder and checked the monitors. ‘You look just like him.’

The man’s skin was grey today, more so than usual. His face was gaunt, his body a skeleton on the white sheet.

‘Yes,’ said Claire. ‘I’m waiting for him to wake up, so he can tell me about my life.’

If the nurse was surprised, she didn’t show it. ‘Are you a patient here?’

Claire didn’t answer but turned away from the nurse and towards her father. The woman’s mouth opened as if to repeat her question, but at the last moment she seemed to change her mind. Her eyes darted over Claire’s face as she made a few notes on the chart and placed it back. ‘I hope he pulls through,’ she said finally. ‘I’ll pray for him. And for you.’

She was already out the door when Claire called out, ‘Can he hear me? If I talk to him, can he hear?’

The ginger head reappeared in the doorway. ‘They do believe so. I mean, after all the research they’ve done. Speak to him, tell him you love him. It will help.’ The nurse nodded as she spoke, as if for emphasis. Her eyes filled with compassion.

Claire squeezed the man’s fingers. Ever so slightly she shook him, pushed his shoulder with her tiny fist, willing him to open his eyes. His hand felt cold in hers, a dead weight pulling down. She brought it to her face and saw her tears fall on the calluses of his palm. These hands held me when I was a child, she thought. These lips, now motionless, read bedtime stories and kissed me goodnight. How could she have forgotten all that? It didn’t seem possible. Memories like that were part of one’s DNA, only gone when life itself was gone. She leant over, pressing her lips to his forehead. ‘Wake up, Dad,’ she whispered. ‘I need you.’

She had spent the last two weeks feeling guilty. Guilty that she was awake, while her dad was unconscious. That she could walk, look out the window, enjoy the pale sunlight and the meagre hospital food. And now she felt guilty she was leaving this place, returning to what once had been her normal existence, while he was stuck in this bed, not yet dead, but not quite alive either.

On the way back she walked slowly, delaying the inevitable, not ready to leave the familiar for the unknown.

Paul was waiting in her room. ‘Time to go,’ he said and his lips stretched into a smile. Even to her confused, drug-addled mind, it looked forced. Glancing away, she nodded quickly and reached for her bag. Her whole life, all two weeks of it, packed into a small travel case. Paul walked out without touching her. As she waited for him to talk to the doctors and sign the paperwork, she felt sweat drops on her forehead. Her throat was dry.


Thank you for being our guest this week, Lana. Thank you for your stories. Wishing you continued success with your writing.

To see what else Lana has been up to, please visit her Goodreads Author's Page by going HERE.

Don't be shy, leave us a comment.

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Award Winning Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author Hannah State of Fredericton, NB.


I discovered Hannah’s YA novel – Journey to the Hopewell Star - when I read the review on The Miramichi Reader, see it HERE. The review was followed up by an interview two months later and you can read that HERE.


I was impressed by what I read and since then I follow Hannah on FB. I believe this is an author to watch for. Her novel has garnered many 4 and 5 stars reviews and the buzz is, it’s quite good.


We are more than pleased she has agreed to an interview here on the Scribbler and is sharing an excerpt from her novel.


Hannah D. State is an award-winning Canadian author and science fiction/fantasy writer. She resides in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and loves the friendly community, quietude, and beautiful nature of Atlantic Canada. She graduated from McGill University with a BA and earned her MPL from Queen’s University. Hannah is bothered by inequality, violence, greed, complacency, snakes, entering a dark room, and not getting enough sleep. She enjoys writing about strong-willed characters who don’t fit the norm and who overcome great obstacles with perseverance, self-discovery, and help from others. Sometimes Hannah can’t keep up with her characters’ ideas and plans, so she takes breaks, drinks coffee, does sudoku and other puzzles, practices yoga, and takes nature walks to calm her mind and really listen. Journey to the Hopewell Star is her first novel.




4Q: Your intro on your Facebook labels your writing as Science Fiction/ Fantasy. What draws you to this genre?


HS: What I love about the science fiction/fantasy genre is that it allows you to explore creative, imaginative worlds full of diversity and possibilities, which really gives you a lot of freedom to navigate the unknown and to question things. I tend to have an overactive imagination, extending situations into a realm of possibility, and then I try to think of solutions to make things better. Even though I’m writing fiction, I find that many current issues can impact us in different ways. When I’m bothered by something, it sticks with me. I try to consider the ways it may affect society in the future and how it might affect characters if they were thrust into a similar situation. Reading about world issues drives me to further consider alternatives, and I’m also a bit of an idealist, so science fiction/fantasy is the perfect realm and creative outlet for me.




4Q: When our readers pick up a copy of Journey to the Hopewell Star, what can they expect? And how did you come about naming the star, Hopewell?


HS: The story is about twelve-year-old Sam Sanderson, who lives a peaceful, quiet life on her grandfather’s farm while her parents are on a secret otherworldly mission. One night, Sam meets a mysterious visitor from another world who is the catalyst that thrusts her on a perilous journey. Her mission is to find the elusive Hopewell Star to save a dying planet. It’s a multifaceted tale and explores some complex scientific and technological concepts but breaks them down in a way that’s easy to understand. But it’s not just about the scientific aspects—I wanted to create a story that would consider other important themes, such as interdependency with our environment, our interconnectedness with others, overcoming obstacles, and believing in yourself.

When my husband and I first moved to the East Coast, we visited the Hopewell Rocks in the Bay of Fundy, and I was inspired by the beauty of the landscape. Without giving too much away, the name stuck with me, and I was curious about building a mythology or legend around the name Hopewell, the merging of “hope” and “well”, and what it would entail on a larger, universal scale. I started asking myself questions, such as, what if another, more advanced civilization had been monitoring Earth, and they were dismayed with how we’d treated our planet and each other, and had decided to create a special star that had the ability to shine in such a way so as to reduce the hatred and suffering that humans had created and experienced? What if it represented a pact between those two worlds to do better? What if the star were fuelled by the good deeds, hope, and well-being that humans inspired in others? Then I asked the question, what if someone or a group of people wanted to harness that power for something more sinister in nature so that the source of that star’s power was threatened? What would that look like? And that’s how the story developed.



4Q: Please share a childhood memory and/or anecdote.


HS: Some of my favourite childhood memories are of acting and performing in some plays on stage and in the small space of our living room for family and friends. I attended Lester B. Pearson School for the Arts in London, Ontario, and was in the Grand Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol. But one of my earlier memories was of performing in a play that my mother, Barbara Novak, had written while I attended Ryerson Public School. 

Her play, entitled Sybil in the Middle, was a comedy about a middle child who felt that her parents didn’t understand her. A genie grants her a wish, but it backfires, and she ends up growing a pig’s nose. I played the role of the younger child, and I remember how proud I was of my mom. She had written this play that had the power to excite, endear, and uplift the audience of children and their parents. I still remember the laughter that filled that auditorium. It was a magical moment, and my mother was a huge inspiration for my love of the arts and writing.



4Q: The illustration on the cover of Journey to the Hopewell Star is quite attractive. Who designed it and what was your input?


HS: Thank you. Irfan Budi is an exceptionally talented illustrator from Indonesia. We worked together entirely online. I provided him with a concept, a description of the main character, and some colour elements. He first prepared a rough sketch, and then I provided my suggestions, and he worked with my idea and delivered a truly amazing result.




4Q: Which part of the novel was the most difficult to write?


HS: Some of the scenes with the main antagonist, Titus, were difficult to write. He’s a tyrannical business mogul; arrogant, manipulative, greedy, and dangerous. Getting into his mind caused my heart to race and my blood to boil sometimes. But at the same time, some of his scenes were particularly fun to write, especially the scene where he gets into a heated argument with his replicated robotic wife that he had created.


4Q: Plotter or pantser?


HS: That’s a great question! I’m somewhat of a plotter as I tend to first plan and map out the story in my mind in terms of the scenes and elements I want to include and where I want the story to go. However, I leave the structure somewhat fluid and open when writing, in case I want to take it in a different direction, and so I’m a bit of a pantser in that sense. If I plot too much in terms of outlining each chapter and creating a rigid structure, then it becomes difficult to change later on. Perhaps I’m a hybrid—a “plantser”.




4Q: What’s next for Hannah State, the author?


HS: I’m working on a sequel to Journey to the Hopewell Star and also hoping to launch my website in 2021. This will be a year of continued learning opportunities and exploring new adventures!



4Q: Anything else you’d like to share with us?


HS: I’m excited to share the recent release of the official book trailer. Towers Filmworks did an excellent job in putting it together. You can find it here:


Also, I just wanted to say many thanks, Allan, for this opportunity to discuss my book and writing process with the South Branch Scribbler.

***You are more than welcome, Hannah. Pleasure having you here.





An Excerpt from Journey to the Hopewell Star.

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission.)


Soon they arrived at the mouth of one of the caves. Boj stopped, staring up at the gaping entrance. Sam focused her gaze upon a series of markings; strange symbols like hieroglyphics were engraved into the rock along the edge of the cave opening. She peered inside, the darkness foreboding. How would she navigate this?

“Remember what I told you,” Boj said.

“You mean—you’re not coming with me?”

“I can’t. I’m sorry. Once you leave the cave, I’ll meet with him separately. Now, remember what I said about addressing him. Once you are inside, listen to his voice and he will guide you through the cave. Do not worry, Sam. I’ll be waiting here for you. Now, go. There is no time to waste.”

Sam took a step inside, unnerved and a bit shaky. Nevertheless, she had come this far. What were a few more steps to go?

Inside, darkness enveloped her. All she heard was her loud breathing, her footsteps echoing on the stone floor.





Thank you, Hannah, for being our guest this week. Wishing you continued success with your writing.


Thank you, Allan. Wishing all the best to you, too!




For all you awesome visitors wishing to discover more about Hannah and her writing, please follow these links:

Author Facebook Page:

Author Goodreads Page:

Official Book Trailer:



Barnes & Noble:

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Award Winning Author Mark Scott Piper of Santa Rosa, CA.


When you are writing a story or a novel, the writing is the easy part. Getting it out to as many readers as possible is the difficult part. Now this is where Mark comes in. A generous supporter of his fellow authors, I had the good fortune of meeting Mark online. We both follow authors we enjoy and root for.

Two novels under his belt, his latest story is garnishing many positive reviews and generating a lot of excitement.

It’s a pleasure to have Mark join us this week for a 4Q Interview and is sharing an excerpt from his newest novel – The Old Block.



Mark Scott Piper has been writing professionally his entire adult life. He is a longtime freelance writer and video director/producer. Mark holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Oregon, and he has taught literature and writing at the college level for several years. His debut novel, You Wish, was the 2019 American Eagle Book Awards first-place gold winner. His second novel, The Old Block, has just been released.

Mark's bookshelves are overflowing. Among his favorites are Christopher Moore, John Irving, Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen Crane, William Faulkner, Tony Hillerman, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Anne Lamott--all of whom successfully conspire to keep him humble.

His stories have appeared in Short Story America, The California Writers Club Literary Review, and several online literary magazines, including, Scrutiny, Writing Raw, Fabula Argentea, Animal, Slurve, and others. In addition, two of his short stories have been Honorable Mention selections in Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction contests.





4Q: Thanks for being our guest this week, Mark. Before we chat about your latest work, please tell us about winning gold in the American Eagle Book Awards for You Wish. This must’ve been exciting. And can you give us a brief synopsis?


MP: Yes, winning the top prize in the 2019 American Eagle Book Awards was a complete surprise, especially given the circumstances. We were forced to evacuate our home because the raging wild fires in Northern California were getting dangerously close. That meant I didn’t have access to my computer for a while. Thankfully, we didn’t suffer any fire damage. Once the air became breathable again and we were settled back home, I checked my email. That’s when I found out I’d won. At first I thought it was another scam. Turned out it wasn’t.

Since You Wish was my debut, I had no idea how people will respond. So I’d already steeled myself for possible rejection. But the reaction to my novel was the opposite.

Here’s the elevator pitch for You Wish.

Imagine you are granted three-wishes—and your second wish is captured by a television news crew and broadcast across the globe. That means the whole world knows you can wish for absolutely anything, and it will come true. And they’re all watching. Now imagine you’re only fourteen years old.




4Q: Please tell our readers what to expect when they pick up a copy of The Old Block.


MP: You Wish was a YA crossover novel, featuring magical realism with a large dose of social satire. The Old Block, on the other hand, is a literary novel that touches a lot of subgenres—father-son relationship, mystery, adventure, humor, even romance. I’ve always had trouble staying strictly within a single genre,

Here’s a quick synopsis:

What would you do if you discovered that your father might not be the person you always thought he was?

Shortly after his father dies, twenty-four-year-old Nick Castle discovers what seems to be a draft of the novel his dad had always hoped to write. But a clue at the end causes Nick to fear that this story of a serious federal crime and escape from the U.S. may not be fiction at all. When Nick sets out to find out the truth about his father’s past, he learns more than he ever expected—about his father and about himself.

The Old Block is essentially two parallel stories. The manuscript Nick discovers is the tale of a federal crime committed during the student anti-war demonstrations in 1970, the subsequent escape from the U.S., and fifteen years in exile in Central America. The overall narrative of the novel, which takes place in 2012, is Nick’s reluctant quest to find out if his father’s tale is fiction or autobiography.

Here’s an interesting side note. I found a cover artist for The Old Block online. Designers were listed by first name and final initial. The one who’s work impressed me the most was “Nick C.” He was in London, and when we exchanged messages, I discovered his full name was Nick Castle—the name I’d already chosen for my protagonist. Didn’t see that coming.



4Q: Share a childhood memory and/or anecdote with us, Mark.


MP: One that’s stuck with me took place just before Christmas when I was eight. Everyone was asleep but me, and like kids everywhere, I wanted to know what I was getting for Christmas. Our tiny duplex didn’t allow much room to hide things. But we did have a storage space (not a full-on attic) above the ceiling in the bedroom I shared with my younger brother and sister. The only thing between me and my goal was a thin slab of plywood covering the hole in the ceiling from the inside.

I climbed atop the dresser and carefully pushed the plywood up out of the way. I leaned it back against one side of the framed opening. As I eased myself up into the crawl space, I accidently bumped the plywood lid with my knee and it dropped back into place with a thud. I was suddenly swallowed up in pitch black.

Photo by woodleywonderworks.

I tried to get a hold on the edge of the plywood, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to do, but I did know I had to escape back to the safety of the bedroom before I found out exactly what other living things might be in the dark watching me. I did the only thing I could think of. I stomped on the slab with both feet, hoping to knock it loose. The board cracked just enough to allow me to get a grip on the edge and pull it back up. Back on the dresser, I put the injured board back in place, hopped down and dove back under the covers.

My parents didn’t seem to notice the minor structural damage, and they never said anything about it. I was tremendously relieved, sure that I’d gotten away with it. That confidence didn’t wane until may years later when I had children of my own. That’s when I discovered that parents know so much more about what their children are up to than they let on. Mine knew I’d learned my lesson without their having to teach it to me. Maybe there’s a short story in there somewhere.



4Q: You are also the recipient of two Honorable Mentions for your short stories, which have appeared in many publications. What appeals to you about short stories?


MP: Like many of us, I started with short stories. In some aspects short stories are more difficult to writer than novels, often you’re working with a tighter narrative than with a longer work. I like the way a short story can be open ended, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks.

For me, short stories are snatches of life. Snatches that have meaning in the moment and may even have long-term consequences, but the focus is on the moment, on the particular event. Then again, a short story can do whatever the author wants it to. That’s freedom, but that’s also a challenge.



4Q: What can you tell us about your writing habits? Do you have a favored spot to write? Has anything changed because of the pandemic?


MP: My alarm goes off at 5:00 every morning, and that means I have a quiet work environment every day for four hours or so, until the rest of the house is awake. I have an office where I do my writing. It’s my creative sanctuary. Afternoons can be full of errands and family, but the mornings are mine. If I’m really on a roll with something new or editing a manuscript, I sometimes go at it again in the evenings. You have to strike when the iron is hot, or some other appropriate cliché.

I’m retired—as much as any active author can be. My partner is retired and she’s also disabled. So, we didn’t go out much before the pandemic struck. Our daily routine hasn’t been affected as much by the restrictions—I still spend most of my time writing, re-writing, and editing. Although I try to keep my trips to the market to once a week, and we buy a lot more things online than we used to. As it is for most people these days, being cut off from family has been difficult.



4Q: Favorite authors? Novel?


MP: Disclaimer: I have advanced degrees are in English, and I spent the bulk of my academic career studying and teaching literary works. So, it’s not surprising that most of my favorite authors generally fall into that category. I have many favorite authors, and it’s tough to pick a single novel from my favorites. Christopher Moore’s Lamb is the novel I’ve most recommended and given as a gift. Here are some of my favorites who came up when I tossed a few darts at my bookshelves.

John Irving

Barbara Kingsolver

Christopher Moore

Anne Lamott

Stephen Crane

William Faulkner

Fyodor Dostoevsky



4Q: What are some of your interests outside of writing?


MP: I have four grown children, all of whom live near me. Of course, we’re all stuck inside at the moment, but we try to keep in touch through texts and emails. But I have one-year-old grandson, which makes staying away that much more difficult.

I’ve been a big baseball fan since I was a kid, and I still follow it, though not as closely, these days. While in graduate school in Eugene, Oregon I played softball in local leagues and in state-wide tournaments on weekends. When I moved to California, I continued playing as long as my creaky joints allowed, and until I’d reached the age where playing in an “Over-50” league became too much a misnomer.

When I’m not working on my own writing, I read and review the fiction of others as much as I’m able. I like to focus primarily on independent writers. Indies like us especially need reviews to help promote their work.



4Q: What is the most surprising thing you’ve discovered as a writer?


MP: I’ve discovered several things by trial and error along the way. For instance, in a very real way publishing a book is just the beginning. You think the job is done when you see your first novel in print, but it’s only the beginning. If you hope to sell you have to market constantly and well. I’m getting better at it, but posting on social media and begging others for reviews can be draining.

But the most surprising thing I’ve discovered is how much I enjoy editing. I’ve heard that it’s like chewing gum twice, something dreaded. Yes, it’s a constant chore that’s never completely finished, but every time I edit a section I can see how much I’ve improved it beyond catching typos or grammar slip ups. It may be that I’m simply coming to the manuscript with new, rested eyes by the time I sit down to do a comprehensive edit, but it’s a wonderful experience. And I get to repeat it with each book or story I write.

Something you’ll appreciate, Allan. When I posted the excerpt from the first chapter of The Old Block below, I had to constantly stop myself from making edits—and it’s already published.

*********We all know that feeling Mark. 

An Excerpt from The Old Block.

(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission)




Chapter 1

May 2012                   

I splashed cold water on my face to shock some life into it. I should be doing better than this. Over a month since the funeral, and I still wasn’t getting much sleep. I glanced at my reflection, eased out a sigh. Every time I looked in a mirror I saw Dad looking back at me. Easy enough to see why: same dark eyes, same jawline, same smile. A smile that didn’t come easily for me these days. At least I didn’t break into tears this time.

I ran a palm over my cheek. I’d either have to shave or commit to growing a beard. I flicked on the Norelco and started in on my six-day-old stubble. The buzz of the razor wasn’t loud enough to block out the voices that still wouldn’t leave me alone.

t t t


The clamor of a hundred simultaneous conversations overwhelms me at the post-funeral gathering in the Shoat Valley Presbyterian Church. The whole town has turned out.

The barrage never lets up. Everyone feels compelled to corner me, pay their respects, share their fond memories of Jim Castle—his kindness, his gentle way with people, his humility, his willingness to step in and help. As if I somehow didn’t already know what he was like.

Mary Ellen Camp, our mayor, pumps my hand with her two-handed candidate’s grip. “Nick, your dad’s smile always lit up the room. He will be missed.”

Charley Hanson, the town pharmacist and Dad’s frequent golf partner, leans in close to remind me: “Jim Castle was truly an honest man. Might be the only guy I know who never once cheated at golf.” I reward his hearty guffaw with a forced smile.

Mom’s sister, Eloise, sincere as always, drunk as always, covers me with sloppy kisses and tells me, “Your dad was one of a kind. He could make anyone feel special … even those of us who weren’t. I’ll never forget the time I’d had too much to drink, and I started to sound off about how life wasn’t fair and …”

I tune her out. I’ve heard that story so often, it’s embedded in my brain.

t t t


Okay, they were going to miss him. I got that. But now that gathering and those songs of praise were long gone. Those well-wishers had moved on as if nothing had happened. Their day-to-day activities shifted back to normal. Mine wouldn’t. My mentor, my role model, my best friend … my dad was dead. And now, my life had a cavernous void in the middle of it that would never be filled.

Dad and I did everything together. I was his shadow. For my whole life, the adults in Shoat Valley have referred to me as “Little Jim,” “a chip off the old block,” “the apple of his dad’s eye,” or “a spittin’ image of the old man.” Some still applied, but tired clichés couldn’t begin to describe our relationship.

As a young child, I was a fixture at Dad’s side at our family bookstore, Book Castle, and I tagged along while he ran errands. Even when I was only three or four, Dad would let me “help” by carrying packages back to the car, including some that were probably too big or awkward to trust me with. A proud moment. When I was older, I realized he most likely secretly spotted me the whole way, but he never let me know that.

I still remember, early on—I must have been five or six—my first Little League game. I’d failed miserably that day. I missed a couple of grounders, made a bad throw, and my performance at the plate should have earned me the nickname “Whiff.” On the way home in the car, I stared straight ahead trying to hold back tears.

Dad pulled over to the side of the road and stopped the car. After a moment, he laid his hand on my shoulder. “Don’t be so hard on yourself, Nick. It takes time to master this game.”

I looked over at him, my lower lip quivering my response.

He pulled me into a hug. “You’ve got to remember, Kiddo, baseball is a game of failure.” He ruffled my hair. “The best hitters in the big leagues average only three hits for every ten at-bats.”

“Wait. So, they fail seven out of ten times? Really?”

“Yep. But don’t worry, you’ve got the skills. You just need some help developing them.”

“What does that mean?” I wiped away the remnants of tears with my sleeve.

“Means you need some personal instruction.” He chuckled. “And you’re in luck. I know just the guy who can do it.” He threw his hands out to the side, grinned.

We both knew who he was referring to.

When we got home, he took me out to the backyard and showed me the basics of playing the game. We laughed, kidded around, had a lot of fun. No pressure, no disappointment. It was just the two of us. And we were out there nearly every day for weeks. 

He taught me plenty of skills—how to place my feet in the batter’s box, how to generate power when I swung, all that stuff. But most of all he taught me how to have fun playing the game. It was a lesson in baseball and in life that I’ve tried to hang on to ever since.

I’ve never been as close to anyone in my life. Guess that’s why it’s been so hard for me to let go. Even at Sonoma State, I regularly Skyped with my parents, most often Dad on Book Castle’s computer. And when I returned to Shoat Valley with a degree, we picked up right where we left off. My degree was in English, which, if nothing else, made me a good candidate to run a bookstore someday. But Dad made sure I thought my career options through. Even an English major has some choices. I’m sure he knew all I really wanted to do was follow in his footsteps. Same as I always had.

But now, his footsteps were gone forever, and I wasn’t sure what that meant for me. Everything I did, everything I believed in, everything I hoped to become was a reflection of Dad. Being Jim Castle’s son defined me—like being Batman’s sidekick defined Robin. And now? Well, now it didn’t. Robin without Batman was just some weirdo in tights waiting for instructions.


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