Her Name Was Linnie (an excerpt)

By M. Frances Erler PeaksAndBeyond.com

          When I was about seven or eight, my parents hired an African American maid to watch us kids after school when Mom had bridge club.  She also did the ironing while she was at our house.  I remember her running the hot iron over a Colonial Bread wrapper, to get the wax melted on it.  This made it really smooth out the wrinkles in the clothes, I guess.

          My brother was three years younger than me, so he doesn’t remember her.  She was to my childhood eyes an older woman, with maybe a little gray in her hair.  Soft-spoken, but I could tell she was a loving person.  If we wanted to talk, she listened.  I don’t think she tended to start the conversation, though.

          Both of my grandmothers lived in other towns, so for those years, Linnie became a surrogate grandma for me.  I never felt uncomfortable around her, like I did with my ‘real’ grandmas sometimes.  I guess I didn’t see them enough to know them well.  

          One evening, Linnie stayed late and made supper for us.  I’m wondering if it was the night my youngest brother was born.  She warmed a can of cream of chicken soup, using water to dilute it.  Mom always used milk, so I thought it would taste strange.  But it was fine.  Every time I make a can of condensed soup with water now, I think of Linnie.

          I don’t know for sure who brought Linnie to our house.  Maybe Mom went to pick her up while I was a school.  It’s odd the things you don’t notice when you’re a child.  She was just there when I got home, and then she went home somehow when her work day was over.

          Once, though, she needed Mom to drive her home, so we children went along.  This was the only time I saw where Linnie lived.  It was in a shabby part of El Dorado, Arkansas, with only dirt streets, and little rundown wooden houses.  It looked rather sad.

          After we’d dropped Linnie off at her house, I remember asking Mom: “Why do the colored people live in such poor places?”  (The N-word was forbidden in my family, even then in the 1950s.)

          “It’s not their fault, Frances,” she said quietly.  “People who are poorer than we are in things are still just as good as people.  Always remember that.”

          I can still picture this entire scene, even though it took place at least 60 years ago.  The words my mother said took on more and more meaning for me as the years went by.  She went out of her way to make sure we didn’t look down on any of the poorer people who lived in our town.  I never knew, until many years later that her childhood had been lived in poverty, too.  Out of it she forged an understanding of all people less fortunate, and compassion for them.  It’s one of the best legacies she left me.

Change (For the Summer Solstice)

By M. F. Erler

The world is like a river flowing,

          Permanently changing,

          Forever running,

          Building its own land.

And in the same way,

          Changes creep into me, unfelt

          Whirling ‘round my feet and head in eddies.

So my soul:

          Longs for where I’ve been

          Craves where I am going,

But can only be here—in the now.

Why can’t I be like the river?

          At its source—trickling from the deep,

                   dim, in-parts of earth?

          At its mouth—wandering slowly, at ease,

                   before losing itself

                   in the wholeness of the sea?

          –and everywhere in between?

                                      M. Frances Erler, PeaksAndBeyond.com

Painting by M. F. Erler

What Makes a Book Good — Or Not?

Karen Wills

Janice McCaffrey

By Janice McCaffrey and Karen Wills

Montana Women Writers March meeting had an open discussion in an attempt to answer the question, what makes a book good . . . or not? Karen Wills started us off with her thoughts on components of a good story. She believes mystery, suspense, love & sex, doubt, and resolution should be included. Participants explained why they either liked or didn’t like certain books, both fiction and non-fiction. Following is the list of books and authors mentioned, with member comments: The Alienist by Caleb Carr and The Stand, by Stephen King were favored for those who relish the dark side of mystery and murder. The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller appealed to romantics because the reader could feel like she was there, and it had love and sex. Patti Smith’s The M Train caught the reader’s imagination with the explanation, “the mind train goes to any station it wants.” Bob Newhart’s I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! represented humor. As far as sci fi, Mirabile a collection of short stories by Janet Kagan has a connection among characters with clear voices, even when written in third person.

Refuge by Dot Jackson was a favorite because the author wrote human characters with flaws, poetic well-chosen detailed observations of nature, and the events and characters rang true. It also has all five of Karen’s good story components. Shadows of Home by Deborah Epperson and Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing gained praise because they demonstrate excellent descriptions of location and characters’ dialects.

For readers who like stories with motivations and causes happening below the surface, The Dinner by Herman Koch would meet their criteria. It also has simple language, development and depth of characters, and backstories that explain why characters act as they do. Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk has characters with dimension that made the reader curious about them and we liked that it had “weird” story and/or character arcs.

One participant said that the first time she read The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, she couldn’t visualize the story, as it was written in epistolary form. But after seeing the movie and rereading the letters, she understood and appreciated the story.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is especially loved by several readers. Favorable comments included the author’s choice of poetic language, and readers were impressed with the main character’s reaction to his circumstances, especially the way he handled his constricted situation. The Count’s life motto “if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.” was meaningful to readers. Everyone who had read the book agreed that it incorporated all five of Karen’s good story components and that the imagery used by the author was excellent. The best comment sums it up, “Amor Towles writing of A Gentleman in Moscow was literary deliciousness.”

Participants also spoke of authors who they think write particularly well. These include Ursula K. Le Guin in the Sci fi genre; in non-fiction, John McFee because he explains nature in beautiful language and Robert Caro for well-told facts; Wally Lamb received kudos for getting a woman’s perspective correct; and Pat Conroy for flowery prose that makes the readers feel they’re in the space he creates.

On the Not-so-good side, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah was said to be well-written but has too much depressing hard times. Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham was not engaging even though it’s written in first person, and Confessions of a Pagan Nun by Kate Horsley was found to be too extreme and dreary. And one unanimous thought was that Larry M. McMurtry has not written a satisfying sex scene from a woman’s perspective.

June Book News

Janice McCaffrey, Author

Two of this author’s books will be offered FREE June 8 – 12

Could you use some humor during these trying times? Or a fun summer read?

If so, Plans Interrupted is for you.

Meet Madge Wood, a sixty-something widow as she tells her story of interrupted plans throughout her life that have stolen the self-confidence she’d once known. But feeling unusually brave she sets out to experience her last plan. A trip to Monaco, a ride up the “To Catch a Thief” cliffside road, wearing a long, pink, Grace Kelly-like scarf that catches the sunlight as it flies in the wind, and a visit to Princess Grace’s Palace. What could possibly interrupt that?

An antique ring, thugs accosting her, enigmatic men offering assistance, and an opportunity to change ancient history. As Madge says, “You’re not going to believe it. I wouldn’t either—except I lived it.”

Amazon Kindle ebook       FREE   June 8 – 12

Footprints in History by J. M. Goodison

Based on the personalities who created America’s Early Colonial Period, Footprints in History, combines imagination and historic events to tell of the author’s seventh great-grandfather, blacksmith and indentured servant, James Fitchett. James and his neighbors toil in the new land for the twenty-four Scottish investors, known as proprietors. These men control East New Jersey hoping to amass fortunes from the sweat and tears of their tenants, indentured servants, and slaves. Not all settlers share the same hopes and beliefs.

 Footprints in History reveals the winners and the losers.

Amazon Kindle ebook   FREE   June 8 – 12


A new selection of stories from Food Lover’s Village

Join Leslie Budewitz www.LeslieBudewitz.com and other Montana authors for the summer virtual Local Author Showcase, sponsored by the Country Bookshelf in Bozeman, on Wed, June 9, at 6 pm Mtn. Registration is free through Eventbrite using this link.   https://www.eventbrite.com/e/154772826691 You can also use the link to buy Bitterroot Lake, written as Alicia Beckman, or books by her co-presenters. Find out more at the Country Bookshelf. https://www.countrybookshelf.com/

Leslie is also delighted to announce the May publication of Carried to the Grave and Other Stories, the 6th book in her Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in fictional Jewel Bay, Montana. 

Erin and the Villagers return in five contemporary short mysteries, tales of secrets, envy, revenge, and murder, seasoned with humor, good food, and creative problem-solving. And in a historical novella, set in 1910, the year Erin’s great-grandmother Kate arrived in Jewel Bay as a new bride, we see that Erin’s sleuthing skills and her desire for justice may well have been inherited. Find out more on Leslie’s website. www.LeslieBudewitz.com