Category Archives: Lazarus Barnhill

Excerpt From PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT by Lazarus Barnhill

Reverend Martin Luther Larsen—highly regarded, completely ethical, genuine and sincere—has dedicated his life to the pastorate. Now, in the face of the drudgery, church politics and frustration that are the usual professional hazards of the ministry, a dangerous and intriguing complication has slipped into his life: Ange. No one in Larsen’s close knit congregations knew of the existence of this woman, the daughter of a parishioner who appeared just in time for her mother’s funeral. For Larsen, Ange is more than mysterious. She is alluring, wise and astonishingly intuitive. . . . And then there is the issue of the large rat that seems to be taunting the members of his church.

Excerpt:

She had answered the door shoeless, wearing a close-fitting black dress and no makeup. Her black hair was just long enough to bounce when she let him in the front door and immediately turned toward the kitchen table, where packets of documents and possessions were stacked. He assumed she was going to hand him the items she had promised him at the funeral and bid him farewell, until he saw the magnum of red wine and the two glasses beside it. First he thought he would have to turn down the offered drink, and then he wondered if perhaps he should not have assumed. Perhaps she was expecting other company. She sat down in one of the two chairs at the table and crossed her bare legs.

“Can you sit down for a minute? It was nice of you to come all the way out here to pick these things up, Pastor Larsen,” she said.

He pulled out the chair and sat down. The daughter sat in the one he had always used in past visits. It was strange to him to sit in the chair Joan Celeste sat in when he visited her, where she graciously offered him crumb cake and lemonade.

“I came out here to Alton a lot, actually. Your mother was very dear to me. That is, she was just as nice and hospitable as she could be. And I always really appreciated that. I enjoyed coming to visit her.” He smiled. “Of course you mother very faithfully showed up every Sunday. It’s a long way from Alton to Manchester. But she never missed. When someone comes that far every week, you want to show your appreciation.”

Ange Celeste stared at him. It was a bit disconcerting to Larsen. Did she not believe that he visited often, or did she doubt his sentiments? Did she—perhaps cynical about church life or even an outright disbeliever—look down on the sort of pastoral relationship he described? The unexpected or incomprehensible reactions of extremely attractive women had always troubled him, made him feel like an unappealing buffoon.

“She liked you.”

Her words and the way she spoke them surprised him. It was almost like a pronouncement or a verdict Joan had handed down for her daughter to share with Larsen in her absence. And there was something about the tone she used. It was wiser and perhaps more intimate than he expected.

“Well. I liked her.”

“She told me about conning you into going to the fall festival here in Alton. And on a Saturday, no less. And she told me about your favorite wine.”

Without asking, she turned and grasped the magnum in two hands. Larsen’s mouth dropped. He stammered, started to protest that he was working, had other appointments to keep that Friday afternoon and could not drink. The daughter paid no attention to him, though, as she poured the glasses full.

“A nice Nebbiolo from Verità Wino, your favorite Italian winery.”

“. . . I really shouldn’t.”

She had anticipated his reluctance and brushed it aside. “One glass, Pastor Larsen. Only 12% alcohol. Undetectable.” She picked up the glasses and handed one to him. “A toast to my mother, the divine Joan Celeste.”

He laughed, somewhat anxiously, as they touched their glasses. “To Joan.”

The wine was as he remembered it: rosy and slightly tart with a lingering mellow aftertaste. And with the first taste he felt himself begin to relax. The second and third sips did not disappoint.

“I did not know Verità Wino produced a magnum size of their Nebbiolo.”

She looked at the bottle, as if seeing it for the first time. “Well I guess they do.” She smiled at him. “Mother said it was ironic that you liked this wine.”

He gazed at her. “Seriously? Why did she say that?”

“Because you are so much like it.”

“What?”

“The Nebbiolo grape takes an exceptionally long time from the moment it blooms until it’s ready to pluck.” She smiled. “And once you do skin it and start the fermentation process, it takes a very long time before . . . it’s ready for the bottle.”

He stared at her oval face, cream-colored complexion, dark almond eyes, pert nose and small mouth. She bore only the faintest resemblance to her mother, whom he had only known in her 70’s. How old was this daughter? Forty perhaps, at most? Was she a late-life child?

“What does that have to do with me?”

She had finished her glass and poured another. “I guess Mother thought you were a work-in-progress.” She grabbed his glass in his hand and steadied it as she brought the neck of the magnum onto the lip and filled it again.

“No thanks. . . . Uh. What did your mother mean, that I’m a ‘work-in-progress?’ Was I not the pastor she needed me to be?”

“I seriously doubt that, Pastor Larsen. . . . Sounds like you worry about that kind of thing though.” She took another drink.

He thought about it. “Every pastor worth his salt wants to be the shepherd his—or her—congregation needs.”

“How politically correct of you.”

He laughed. “Heaven knows I try, Ms. Celeste.”

“Ange”

“Ang?”

“No. Say it right. It’s pronounced ‘auhnjj.’ It’s French.”

“Ange.”

“That’s right.”

“Well, Ange, I take it you don’t have a great deal of use for church life and customs.”

Her head tipped to one side. “I don’t do religion the way my mother did. That doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual.”

***

Bio:

Lazarus Barnhill’s titles appear in several Indigo Sea Press genres. Among his first novels to be published was the police procedural The Medicine People. Later, co-authored with Sally Jones, he released Come Home to Me Child. His work is characterized by the unexpected twist and turn, by crisp dialogue and unpredictable endings.

Only $.99 on Kindle today! https://www.amazon.com/Pastor-Larsen-Rat-Lazarus-Barnhill-ebook/dp/B01GGIKF4A

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The Hymn of Brutal Intimacy: “Hallelujah”, by Lazarus Barnhill

(I apologize in advance for the length of this post; it’s my fail for the month.)

“I heard there was a secret chord
that David played and it pleased the Lord,
but you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this: the fourth, the fifth,
the minor fall, the major lift,
the baffled king composing hallelujah.”

One way or another, we all know the song. Leonard Cohen, the Canadian folk singer, composed it in 1984 and since then it has been recorded by over 200 artists and groups. And we all have our favorite interpretation of it. My children and grandchildren love the beautiful Rufus Wainwright version included in the first Shrek movie.

“Your faith was strong, but you needed proof.
You saw her bathing on the roof.
Her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you.
She tied you to a kitchen chair.
She broke your throne and she cut your hair,
and from your lips she drew the hallelujah.”

One doesn’t have to have a profound familiarity with the Hebrew scriptures to know that there are multiple—and mixed—references to the Bible in the song. Of course the second verse is a reference to the restless King David, restricted from the battlefield on account of his importance to the Israelites, entranced by the exquisite, naked form of Bathsheba, the wife of his devoted servant Uriah. Cohen combines this narrative with that of another Hebrew warrior, Samson, who like David was beguiled by a beautiful woman: Delilah, who cuts the hair of the Israelite leader as he sleeps in her bed, robbing him of his great power. There are those vocalists who seem to focus on the biblical element of the song, taking great delight in the “hallelujah” chorus—if you’ll forgive the pun. Among these singers are Three Talented Girls, John Thomas and numerous church groups.

“Baby I’ve been here before.
I’ve know this room. I’ve walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I’ve seen your flag from the marble arch.
Love is not a victory march.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

It’s in his third verse, however, that Cohen affirms the real theme and message of his song. “Hallelujah” is a treatise on romantic love, specifically the sort of brutality that exists between people who share the most intimate of relationships. He focuses on the authority, prowess and might of men, and states that all male power melts away from the man who is enchanted by a woman. Their relationship becomes a struggle, a competition in which there are consequences and casualties, but no real winner. This is expressed so poignantly in the first verse, as Cohen says to the woman he loves: “I make this beautiful music, and it means nothing to you.” The singer who seems best to have captured the essence of this message was the late Jeff Buckley—the person whose rendition of the song is often considered the best of all.

“There was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below,
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
and the Holy Dove was moving too
and every breath we drew was hallelujah.”

The fourth verse once again reveals Cohen’s use of religious texts. “Holy Dove” is a reference to the Spirit of God in a distinctly Christian way—at least for a guy who is Jewish. This is actually not unusual for him (he reflects at length on loneliness of Jesus in his marvelous song “Suzanne”). In “Hallelujah,” Cohen uses the spiritual metaphor of the delicate, fleeting divine Spirit to describe the sudden absence of intimacy between himself and his lover: “Losing your love is like losing the sacred presence of the Holy.” That haunting theme of lost affection, some have said, is captured particularly well by KD Lang in her recordings of the song (maybe it’s because she’s a Canadian too)—though often she leaves out this fourth verse.

“Maybe there’s a God above,
but all I’ve ever learned from love
was how to shoot at someone who outdrew you.
It’s not a cry you can hear at night.
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light.
It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”

Verse five is, to me, the ultimate expression of despair—the depths of loss compounded by the recognition that the Holy One is not going to intervene to set right the relationship that is so profound and precious. This is a make-or-break verse that has the power to reveal whether or not the singer has suffered the sort of emotional grief being described. Jon Bon Jovi’s understated version of the song—and particularly this verse—expresses the feeling of human and divine abandonment with particular poignancy.

“You say I took the name in vain,
but I don’t really know the name;
and if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word.
It doesn’t matter what you heard—
the holy or the broken hallelujah.

The sixth is “Leonard’s verse.” In it he deals with the great subtheme that has developed as a result of his ascribing divine importance to something as human as the affection between lovers. I can almost hear his departing love criticizing him for comparing the loss of romantic love to divine abandonment, and his response: “whether you recognize it or not, the love between us drew the angels to us and elevated us to the holy places. It is in the embraces and clashes of lovers that sacred and profane are entwined.” Leonard has a point. Those scriptural stories to which we most closely relate are not the great tales of victory—Samson slaying lions or David killing Philistines. Instead we find ourselves yoked to the brokenness of these great figures—the shame of David when the whole of the Hebrew nation learned how he plotted the death of Uriah; the humiliation of Samson, blinded and mocked in the temple of a foreign god. And this is Leonard’s verse especially because Leonard Cohen, who sings of the divinity found in the failures of life, is often considered among the poorest singers of his own song. How odd to realize one of the great lessons of this song is that we are closest to the sacred in our most conflicted, defeated moments.

“I did my best. It wasn’t much.
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch.
I’ve told the truth; I didn’t come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong,
I stand before the Lord of song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

“Hallelujah is a long song. The briefest versions are all over four minutes. Many renditions, even if they don’t have a musical bridge, are over six minutes. As a result, often singers omit verses and in particular this last one—which is too bad. Here Cohen goes back to his original statement, that music is his divine gift, saying, “Well maybe I failed (in love and in song), but ‘hallelujah’ was what I was aiming for and I’m not ashamed of that.” The song—melody and lyrics—are a bittersweet treatise on love, failure and the ever-presence of the holy. A friend of mine told me once that the angels stay so close to us because it’s their only chance to experience the depth of human love and grief. Somehow, Leonard Cohen captured all that; else 200 artists would not have recorded multiple versions of the song and millions would not have listened.

That brings me to the reason I’ve written this ponderous, lengthy examination of “Hallelujah” and its versions: I just heard a most beautiful, ironic version of it. The IDF—that’s right, the armed forces of Israel—recorded a knocked out version of Hallelujah . . . in Hebrew. Watching the video of them (see link below) encapsulates the profundity, irony and magic of this incredible piece of music. Listening to the angelic voices of these very young Israelis and watching them, dressed in drab, baggy military fatigues and bathed in smoky, blue light, is an astonishing thing. Here are the descendants of Samson, David, Bathsheba and all the generations who followed—in the process of living out—as we all do—the magnificent, excruciating truths of this tender song. –Lazarus Barnhill

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152384530103717&fref=nf
If you can’t see the video via the above link, you can see it on UTube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtAMrRtuF_4

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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If You Got Transcended Would You Know It? by Lazarus Barnhill

Being that I’m very seldom the “smartest guy in the room,” I get real excited when I recognize something that others—theoretically brighter folks—have missed. You’ve probably had that experience too: you “connect the dots” and see a reality others have missed; you show others around you something that then becomes obvious to them—“Aha!”

As it happens there are a couple areas where I’m pretty lucky at perceiving things—sometimes things that other, smarter people, miss. For instance, I’m pretty good at spotting scams—internet and otherwise. And also, with a couple (notable and embarrassing) exceptions, I’ve always been a good judge of character.

I have to say, however, the one area where I tend to “get” things others miss is in the movies. Not to put too fine a point on it, but occasionally I recognize things that top critics, “the experts,” don’t see (and this is not some vain fantasy; I’ll demonstrate below). You’d think I’d be proud of this, but actually it irritates the fool out of me. Most heavily advertised movies are formulaic Hollywood drivel. How many predictable “car chase-explosion-violent-revenge” or “true love-reunited-wiser-and-indivisible-after-90-minutes” or “pure-adolescents-triumphing-over-devious-adults” movies do we really need to see to know exactly how they’re going to end up and that they carry no message of any depth? On the other hand, periodically some movies do make it to wide release that have a message to share or have some quirky, engaging thematic elements. When the critics all seem to miss this, it makes me crazy.

For instance, recently the actors Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan made a gritty, intense movie called Drive. Of what famous classic movie was Drive a remake? . . . Obviously Drive was a close reworking of the western masterpiece Shane: a talented outlaw comes to the aid of an overwhelmed, humble man, his loveable wife and adoring son. He forsakes his well-ordered life as he rids the landscape of corrupt, powerful men—including two evil brothers and the professional gunmen brought in to kill him, and rides off into the sunset with a wound that may or may not be fatal. Clearly this retelling was the intent of those who made the movie. Yet much as I searched, I found only one major critic, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who even mentioned Shane in connection to Drive, and his comment was a passing remark about loner heroes. My favorite review of Drive came from Anthony Lane, a cinema critic of nothing less than the New Yorker magazine. He waxed eloquently, comparing Drive to a dozen other pictures, but somehow missed what should be an obvious reality—Drive is a remake of Shane. Carey Mulligan was even intentionally made to look like mousy, wistful Jean Arthur from the original.

Sometimes I wonder if movie critics are really not oblivious, but rather they are engaged in silent conspiracies. For instance, when I read the major critics’ reviews of Steven Spielberg’s remake of War of the Worlds, the comments were a mix of positive and negative—but I didn’t read any that discussed the powerful political statement the movie was making. Is it possible they all missed Spielberg’s message, spun from the lips of Dakota Fanning? It’s not hard to figure out what I’m talking about: rent the movie and, while you’re watching, remember it came out during a presidential campaign and that in our country one major party is characterized with the color blue and the other with red.

And speaking of a conspiracy of silence among critics, it’s difficult for me to remember a movie more lampooned by them than M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water. While I’d never say it was one of Shyamalan’s better efforts, it was incredibly original, edgy and engaging and did not deserve the savaging it received from the big name critics. Why were they so hard on the movie? Could it be because the only character killed in the film—a cynical, self-important jerk of a guy—was a critic? Now go hunt up reviews of the movie and see how many major critics even mention that particular character or how important he was to the message Shyamalan was trying to express about creativity.

I can understand if critics don’t want to mention the veiled politics in a movie, or if they want to get back at a director who is a little too honest about them. What I most have a problem with is when they simply miss the obvious—and that’s wcomputerhere the movie Transcendence comes in.

Most major film critics panned the movie mercilessly. Commonly they said Johnny Depp’s performance was mediocre and uninspired; that the first time director, Wally Pfister, should stick to cinematography; and that the screenplay is a muddle of pseudoscience, special effects and uninformed theology. To all of that I say perhaps the movie would have fared better in their reviews if the critics “got” the real intent and message of the picture.

For starters, when was the movie released? Wasn’t it Holy Week? What’s the story line of the main character? Will Caster [Johnny Depp] is a controversial, prophetic Artificial Intelligence researcher. Caster is consigned to a slow death after being shot with a radioactive bullet. Shortly after his death, his devoted wife manages to upload his consciousness into an AI computer program and then onto the internet; briefly dead, Caster has come back to life. In this new form, however, Caster is different. He has become transcendent. Eventually this transcendent Caster develops the ability to heal the desperately ill and perform other apparent miracles. He develops a close cadre of disciples who speak with his voice because his consciousness also resides within them; these followers develop abilities to do miraculous, benevolent things and draw great crowds of the infirm to his wilderness compound. Meanwhile scientific and government authority figures become alarmed at his astonishing abilities with his potential for complete global dominance. They form an alliance with anti-cyber terrorists. Ultimately the person who conceives a way to destroy Caster is his closest friend, the guy who knows his “source codes” and enters into a conspiracy with Caster’s wife to upload a lethal computer virus into him.

So if you’re acquainted with the gospel stories of Jesus of Nazareth, you’ll perceive a lot of common touchstones in this description of the movie. Caster is a portrayed as a Christ figure. His wife, who cares for his body and discovers that he has risen, is Mary Magadalene. Those close workers he heals and empowers are his apostles and the consciousness they share is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. The government (Romans) collude with the Pharisees (zealous anti-AI terrorists) and the established scientific community (Sadducees) in an effort to end this new, explosive, supernatural power that has all knowledge and power and has transcended all earthly authority. His closest friend, Max Waters (Judas), conspires to betray him. There are numerous additional allegorical elements between the gospels and the film, but because I hope you’ll rent the movie (and because this blog has already become annoyingly long), I’m going to stop there to avoid giving any ultimate spoiler about the movie’s conclusion.

Believing as I do in rigorous scholarship, I think it’s necessary to point out that Transcendence is not an allegory. It is a parable. In literature the usual definitions are: 1) myth creates world; 2) fable explains world; 3) allegory restates world; and 4) parable destroys world. Movies like The Greatest Story Ever Told are “mythic” (remember please that “myth” as used here is a description of a particular literary device and not a judgment about the truth of the story). Movies like the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Shoes of the Fisherman are fables: they expand and explain the ideas first expressed in the gospels. Then there are allegories, retellings of the original stories in different settings. I used to say that the best Jesus movies were Cool Hand Luke, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Bambi (yep, just as Walt Disney intended, Bambi is clearly an allegorical retelling of the Jesus’ story).

Parables on the other hand challenge the underlying assumptions of the original ideas. And this is probably a good place to point out that Jesus taught in parables. He used them to make his hearers question the absurd, unethical, restrictive teachings and assumptions of the religious culture in which he found himself in the first century.

Transcendence is the finest religious parable I’ve ever seen in the form of a movie. It seems to me that much of what the wise film critics mocked as lack of focus and consistency are in fact the intentional, internal contradictions of a film that is logically following through the progression of well-meaning people—both Caster’s disciples and those who stand in deadly opposition to them—struggling to deal with their own idealism run amok.

Pfister gives viewers two runs at the true theme of the picture. Twice we watch the scene in which a man asks Caster about the ultimate potential of sentient artificial intelligence: “Aren’t you talking about creating a god?” Guilelessly Caster responds with his own question: “Haven’t men always done that?” It’s important to remember that in this movie Caster and Pfister aren’t commenting about a Divine Being but about human beings. The point of Transcendence in the final analysis is a comment on every great religion: we human beings continually create and refine gods according to our ideals, then we won’t let them assume lordship over us. This is the ultimate religious parable, for it doesn’t confront our vision of a Supreme Being; instead it confronts our inability to be led by any Higher Power.

Transcendence plays on our shared human encoding: a benevolent, all-present, all-powerful Master is a real intrusion on our personal freedom, and that getting away from a power like that is essential to maintaining our humanity. We want a Supreme Being who chooses us, who fits our perception of the divine, who promises great rewards and who then stays out of the way while we do our thing. Caster’s wife, Evelyn, soon gets to the point where what she wants from her transcendent, totally imminent husband more than anything else is privacy.

I guess it’s sort of ironic: Wally Pfister created a movie that depicts how, when it comes to letting a Higher Power actually be our Master, human beings just don’t get it. And when it came to understanding the ins-and-outs and message of the picture, the critics just didn’t get it. –Laz Barnhill

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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The Part Philip Seymour Hoffman Didn’t Play by Lazarus Barnhill

Philip Seymour HoffmanMy uncle was Ben Whitekiller. He was also Robert Vessey. Actually, of course, his name was Herbert — not Ben or Robert.

Herb was a peace officer in central Oklahoma and I grew up adoring him. As I became an adult and understood more of what it means to be a grown up, I began to see Herb in a clearer light, to have more of a circumspect understanding of his life. After he died in 2005, I wrote him in as two of the main characters in my police procedural, The Medicine People. Herb was the embodiment of Ben Whitekiller, the aging Native American, recovering alcoholic, who knows he has to come back to his little hometown to settle accounts from his misspent youth. Herb was also the essence of Robert Vessey, the whip-smart, jaded police lieutenant and investigator who never forgot what an encounter with Whitekiller had cost him. The resolution of the conflict between those two men was, in its way, my resolving of Herb’s legacy in my own heart.

So if you are like me, some of the characters in the books you write are conceived, developed and refined with a specific individual in mind — not always, but sometimes. And because that’s the case, I particularly mourned the death of the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.

When I created the fictional character Magnus Thorsen in my novel East Light, I tried to envision a tall, clever, shaggy-headed, blonde fellow. Thorsen is an artist, a complicated, high-achieving, substance abuser who is discontent with what he has made of his life. He lives on the North Carolina coast in a cottage, the third story of which is an art studio that faces the rising sun. When he decides to take his life, he goes to his favorite secluded beach, only to discover a terribly injured young woman, whose life he saves. Throughout the remainder of the book, Thorsen engages in a complicated dance with Lt. Dot Stipling, the African-American detective who figures out his suicidal intentions and needs to keep him alive at least long enough to prosecute the girl’s attackers. I always thought the ideal person to play the part of Magnus Thorsen—complex, determined, supremely artistic—would have been Hoffman.

So here is my homage to Philip Seymour Hoffman and the part he never played. The book, by the way, will coming out this summer from Second Wind:

~~~~

Magnus opened the big glass doors onto the deck and slid open the screens.  He stepped out to the railing and looked down.  The tide was going out.  Down the beach someone was throwing tennis balls into the surf for a retriever to chase.  Twenty yards away, a gull was hanging nearly motionless in the air, waiting in case Magnus had food crumbs to throw.

“Forget it.  I’m not a tourist,” he muttered.

It was nearly thirty-five feet from where he stood to the dunes below.  Almost forty if he stood on top of the handrail.  When he first decided to kill himself, he thought about jumping from this upper deck, making it look like an accident.  Only, if he had been pretending that he didn’t mean to die, he couldn’t leave notes for his son and parents and lawyer and bookkeeper.  Then too, he might have survived the fall and been crippled by it.  He also thought about hanging himself from this railing.  The problem was that, if he didn’t break his neck, hanging would be slow and awful.  And no one in the family would want to live in the cottage.  And its worth on the real estate market would have diminished as well.

Where was the lieutenant, he wondered.  Turning from the water, he saw her walking around the room, looking at the canvases on the walls and easels.

“See anything you like?”

“They’re really very beautiful.”

“You think?”

She faced him.  “I can’t help but notice that they are all finished.”

“. . . Well most of them are fairly old.  I didn’t do any of these for customers.  I did them for myself, or to try a new technique, or to demonstrate something to someone.”

“Where are your ‘works in progress?’”

He shrugged.

“Did you run out of clients who wanted portraits done?”

“I have a whole stack of work over there on my desk.  I just haven’t started them yet.”

“Why haven’t you?”

Magnus took a drink of his coffee.  “Just waiting for my muse, I guess.”

She walked through the studio toward him.  “You know what I think?  I think you finished everything you were working on and didn’t start anything new because you intended to take your life.  Everything about this place and your actions before you stumbled onto Lisa Faucet reveals an intent to commit suicide.”

She stood beside his main drawing table, her hands on her hips.  It was a place, he noticed, where—with the sun streaming into the studio—the pure consistency of her complexion and the finely etched lines of her face appeared to glow with their own light.  And at that instant she didn’t seem to Magnus to be a police officer hounding him, but an exquisite countenance, begging to be captured on canvas.

“I have a friend who is a musician,” Magnus said.  “To him, the whole world is reducible to beat and melody.  If you’re a doctor, you view everything according to how it impacts a person’s health.  And if you’re a police officer, everything and everyone is suspicious.”

She smiled grimly.  “Mr. Thorsen, you can change the subject all you want.  You can have me follow you from one room of your house to another.  You can try to distract me with egg coffee and beautiful artwork.  But nothing changes the reality that you were going to kill yourself yesterday.”

Slowly he shook his head.  “That is strictly your assumption.”

The phone rang.

“Now what!” he exclaimed.  He looked at the little clock on the supply table.  “It’s just now 7:45!”  The phone rang again.  “How did I get so popular?”

She stared at him.  “Aren’t you going to answer it?”

“No.”

“Might be the hospital.”

There was a third ring.

“No,” he said.  “The hospital has my cell number.  Nobody who has my home number would dare call me before 8 a.m.”

“Why’s that?”

There was a fourth ring.

“Because they know I’m painting.”

The answering machine, with a robotic voice, spoke, “Please leave a message after the tone.”

There was a protracted beeping sound and suddenly Grady’s angry words were amplified through the room: “Mag-man!  What’s this shit in today’s paper?  You better pick up.  I saw your name listed by a gun permit.  What the hell you need a gun for?  This has something to do with going down to Scotch Bonnet by yourself, don’t it?  You didn’t tell me nothing about no goddamn gun, son.  You better, by-god, be calling me back or I’m calling that hot police lady myself about this.  And you better, by-god, be at the meeting tonight.”  There was the sound of Grady abruptly slamming down the phone.

Magnus stared at the answering machine, refusing to look at her.  He didn’t know what to say, and he felt like a little boy caught in some naughty act.

“Hot police lady?”

He shook his head.  “That’s not what I called you.”

“So he is talking about me,” she said.  “I take it that’s you A.A. sponsor?”

“Well he was, up until a minute ago.”

“. . . You have a black sponsor?”
He tilted his head and looked at her.  “Yeah.  Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know.  Just surprised me.”

“Surprised him,” Magnus said, “when I told him that a black woman is Chief of Detectives. . . .  I told him he would have met you before I did, if he just hadn’t sobered up.”

She laughed.  She had a beautiful smile.  Somehow it was a relief to Magnus to see her smile.

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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The Death of Smut Boy by Lazarus Barnhill

It was a voice mail and it alarmed me.

In early autumn, 2008, I came home from work to find a terse message on our answering machine: “This is your mother. I need you to call me right away.”

My immediate assumption was that something had happened to my father. Dad was in mid-stage Alzheimer’s at the time and was given to wandering. When a dementia patient “sundowns” and get lost in an urban area, that’s dangerous. Only Mom and Dad lived on a 400 acres farm in central Oklahoma, where wandering is equally dangerous and it’s pointless to put out a “silver alert” sign. And even though Mom had become the official operator of all vehicles, Dad was not above climbing up on the tractor for an unannounced excursion or deciding he needed to sneak a ride in the truck to “check the culvert” or “see if the water in the pond is down.”

It was a relief to me—momentarily—when my father answered the phone. Then, as soon as I identified myself, the other shoe dropped.

“Oh,” Dad said, “is this ‘smut boy’?”

I knew immediately why my mother left me an urgent phone message. Several days before the call came in I had sent my folks copies of my first two novels published by Second Wind Publishing: Lacy Took a Holiday and The Medicine People. Each of those books had a love scene that was—in my view—tasteful, realistic and nicely written (and maybe a little arousing). Mom found those passages, along with a few scattered naughty words here and there, to be unacceptably graphic. We spent half an hour on the phone having an intense discussion about poetic license, the expectations of fiction readers in the third millennium, and the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate language and sexuality in a novel. My mother also warned me that my “day job” might suffer. I was, after all, the senior minister of a church and she cautioned me that the congregation might find out about my books and the naughtiness therein and, yea verily, fire me. When none of that impressed me, finally Mom fired up the big guns.

“Listen, son. I want to give your books as gifts to your aunts and uncles for Christmas. And I can’t do it with those words and all that sex in there.”

Hmm. Well, the books were still in proof. So I did what I thought I would never do as an author. I cratered. I had the publisher remove a couple paragraphs and a few words from each of the books. Mom was happy. For me it was strangely defiling. I did not feel embarrassed at content of my novels before I censored them, but I did after I took out those couple paragraphs. I felt as if I sold out.

Next year, on the sixth anniversary of the release of Lacey and Medicine, I’ve decided to reclaim my literary prerogative. Along with a couple new titles I’ve written, Second Wind will rerelease my first two novels with new covers and with the original text intact.

What about my aunts and uncles? What about the sensibilities of the congregation I pastored? Well, between them my surviving aunts and uncles have sixteen children and more grandkids than I’ve ever been able to count. I’m pretty sure there’s no physical act I described that they haven’t experienced—and probably weren’t embarrassed at the time. And I have retired from the ministry. A couple from my former church bumped into me a few months ago and discovered during our conversation that I had completed a sequel to Lacey Took a Holiday, called Caddo Creek, which is about to be published. As the dear lady expressed her delight, I had to warn her: “Linda, I’m not a preacher anymore.” She didn’t get it right away, but her husband roared. I think he understood what I was getting at.

Smut boy lives! Well, actually, I never was smut boy. I’ve reclaimed my right to write as seems right to me. So I guess that means “smut boy” is dead and Lazarus has risen to write again.

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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How To End a Story by Lazarus Barnhill

What about a good ending? Here are the final paragraphs of Charlie Cherry’s Ninth Step, a work that will be coming out in the spring of 2014 from Second Wind:

Susan answered the door, barefoot and wearing the clothes she had worn to school that morning, her shirttail out.

“Charlie!”

“Hi.”

“Uh—did you—did you find her?”

“Yep.” He nodded. “I did.”

“Are you—did she—”

He shook his head. “She’s remarried.”

“Oh.” She tried not to show the relief that spread across her face. “What about Sloan? What about, you know, your amends?”

“Well,” he said slowly, “I can tell you all about all that. But that’s not really the reason I came back.”

Susan slouched against the doorframe. There was a hint of anger in her voice. “Just looking for a cheap place to spend the night?”

“Not really.” He looked over his shoulder at the Mazda. “You have a week-and-a-half off beginning now, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she replied cautiously.

“Well, I got my doings done and I’ve still got the better part of two weeks myself. I have a few hundred bucks just burning a hole in my pocket, and I was wondering if you’d like to go down to San Antone and walk the river with me.”

For a moment she hovered in the doorway. She stepped toward him and leaned forward, looping her arms around his neck and pressing her lips to his.

She breathed at length and said, “Do you want to leave in the morning?”

“Well look. We kind of rushed into things last night. Surely we can slow down and do thing a little more romantically.”

Her expression was curious. “More romantic than last night? Like how?”

“Well, let’s go pack your stuff, and I’ll take you for a moonlight ride with the top open on my rocket. We’ll cruise on down to this barbeque house I found in Dallas. Best pecan pie I’ve had in fifteen years.”

She was smiling, her arms a swing and her face moving gently a few inches beneath his. “Then what?”

“Well, then we’ll drive on down the road ‘til we find just the perfect spot to spend the night.”

“Salado.”

He shrugged. “Wherever you want, darlin’.”

They kissed, a deep, sweet kiss. He straightened.

“Come on now. I’ll help you.”

She turned and went inside. He watched her graceful steps. “Pack light. I imagine I’ll be picking you out a few things. How do you suppose you’d look in one of those white senorita dresses?”

“A senorita with freckles?”

“I love freckles. . . . Susan?”

“Yes?”

“How do you feel about stepchildren?”

Before we talk about what’s right (I hope) with the passage above, let’s talk about what can go wrong with the ending of a story. If we put our heart’s blood into writing a manuscript, we need to make sure we don’t bleed out before we reach the end of the story.

First, there is no “happily ever after” if we are writing for adults. In this sense, Margaret Mitchell did a better job of ending Gone with the Wind than Shakespeare did with Hamlet. At the bittersweet ending of GWTW, Scarlett is torn with grief and guilt, and yet clinging to hope. The story has come to an end, but the reader is left yearning for more. Indeed readers immediately and constantly clamored for a sequel. There could never be a sequel to Hamlet—everybody was dead. Killing off your main characters is often (as demonstrated by the current most popular male romance author) just another way of not having to deal with the complexity of human life. Hollywood movies, of course, are the land of “happily-ever-after-pat-ending-where-the-good-prevail-and-the-bad-get-what-they-have-coming.” But if you decide your story is going to be more real-to-life than a Hollywood blockbuster, you as an author have to decide to give your readers what the story allows you to give them.

In the passage above from Charlie, I give my readers multiple resolutions to several issues the main character faced throughout the story: what became of the girl he loved and was violently separated from in high school; what will he do to the vicious adult who beat him mercilessly when he was a teenager; what will happen between him and the girl who secretly loved him in his youth? In each case the result was not what the reader might have suspected. My intention is that the reader find the ending surprising, hopeful, plausible, uplifting and fun.

Another huge, disappointing mistake authors make is that the ending does not live up to the buildup of the narrative. There is a famous horror author who does a splendid job of building suspense and anticipation throughout his overly long novels, only to have them fall flat time and again because of really lame endings. Your ending has to be as big as the story that precedes it. When readers hear Charlie, above, promise Susan he’s going to tell her what happened to him that day, they know that she will be astonished—just as they were surprised—to hear what he found out in the previous few hours.

Finally, leave your readers wanting more. All of the major questions and issues Charlie Cherry faced at the beginning of his story have been resolved by the end, but the resolution is intended to make the reader want to know what happened next in the characters’ lives. I’m not suggesting that you leave yourself an opening for a sequel—although books do sell better if they are part of a series. Rather I’m saying that you want your readers, after they finish that last line, to keep wondering what will become of these characters they’ve come to know, with whom they’ve experienced adventures.

So a good ending 1) is plausible, realistic and complete enough to satisfy all the main themes of the story without solving all the world’s problems, 2) has an ending that is as big and satisfying in its resolution as the story that precedes it, and 3) leaves your readers brooding about the characters and events and feeling sorry that the story has ended.

And that, I think, is a good place to end the essay.

***

This article is anthoNovel Writing Tips and Techniqueslogized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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How To Begin a Story by Lazarus Barnhill

Novels, novellas and short stories are very distinct literary forms. O. Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi is hugely different in its construction from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. One would be tempted to say that, as different types of literature, they have virtually nothing in common.

The longest epic and the shortest tale, however, can have two enormously important things in common: they can engage the reader from the beginning and they can leave the reader satisfied but wanting more at the end. In this brief essay I’d like to share my ideas about what makes workable beginnings and endings. I think these ideas are universal in that they apply to creative fiction regardless of its genre, setting or length.

A key idea expressed to me repeatedly by the folks at Second Wind is that my story should grab and hold the attention of the reader from the very first line. As one of the editors expressed it to me, the first line should seduce the reader deeply into the narrative. I’ve been told that a good example of this is the first line of my novel Lacey Took a Holiday:

She woke up realizing she had been sleeping in a bed smaller and softer than the one in which she made her living, and that she was wearing the sort of flannel nightgown she hadn’t worn since she was a little girl.

What’s good about this sentence? It begins a story with no build up (back story). Another way this is described is in media res (“in the middle of things”). Speaking for myself, I find that introductions, forwards, preludes, prologues or whatever you want to call them tend to slow down the process of a story. True, there are a lot of great novels with prologues (Brad Stratton’s White Lies is one; so is Nicole Bennett’s Ghost Mountain. These two novels, however, each use their prologue to describe a crime and they do so with no back story whatever. In this they are exceptions that prove the rule).

In the text above, the reader immediately knows something about the character being described, the setting and even a little of the history of the character. An author should be able to weave back story into the narrative as it moves along. By the bottom of the first page, the reader knows a lot more about the woman being described, but not because the author has blatantly explained it. I have found that readers will be quite attentive and sleuth out the things they want to know about your characters, which will further draw them into the story.

This leads to the concept I call “introductory mystery”: the beginning paragraphs of a story, regardless of its length, deposit curiosity in the mind of the reader so that she/he will be drawn along into the narrative at least long enough to discover why a character said something or reacted in a certain manner. One example of this appears in the opening pages of Come Home to Me, Child, the crime/mystery novel I co-authored with Sally Jones. Within half a page the main character, Elaine, is interrupted and overwhelmed by her new neighbor, Police Chief Larry Daughtry. As the narrative continues after Daughtry abruptly walks away, Elaine asks Tim Starling, her contractor, to explain this intrusive man with whom he has long been acquainted:

“What about the chief?”

“He went into the Marines. Became a military policeman or shore patrol—whatever they call ‘em. Did three or four hitches and came back to work in law enforcement around here. He started as a Cochran County deputy and, about five years ago when the chief’s spot came open in Veil, he was the natural choice. I guess.”

“He seemed happier to see you than you were to see him.”

Starling chuckled. “I always thought Larry was a kind of a thug. He bullied me. Not that he was the only one.” He began to stretch his tape measure along the yard. “It’s the divine right of football players to torment band guys.”

Although the contractor’s explanation satisfies the introductory mystery of what sort of person has just barged into Elaine’s life, the story proceeds to plant more elements to hook the reader’s curiosity: why does the officer know so very much about her family; why is he so interested in her recent medical problems; and why is the police chief so interested in Elaine’s plan to move her gazebo twenty feet across the yard? These seeds of mystery blossom through the course of the narrative in ways intended to gratify the reader’s curiosity, but also to draw him/her ever deeper into the story.

As the police chief in his oppressive manner reveals to Elaine just how much he knows about her and her family, the reader is also learning the back story of what brought the main character to this place at this time and what is happening in her life. If, as an author, you can keep the pacing and dialogue smooth and natural—allow subject matter to emerge as it would in the flow of normal conversation—the narrative will give ample opportunity to simultaneously reveal the back story of the characters even as you develop them and their relationships.

So a good beginning 1) seduces the reader further into the story, 2) begins with narrative at the expense of back story, 3) plants elements of mystery in the reader’s mind—some to be quickly revealed even as seeds of greater mystery are planted, and 4) reveals back story through the narrative process so as to introduce the reader to the characters without impeding the process of the story itself.

***

This article is anthoNovel Writing Tips and Techniqueslogized in the Second Wind Publishing book: NOVEL WRITING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES FROM AUTHORS OF SECOND WIND PUBLISHING, which was the 100th book released by Second Wind.

“As someone who constantly evaluates novels for publication, I was astonished at the breadth and clarity of the wonderful advice contained in this handbook. It addresses concerns as grand as plot development and as simple but essential as formatting your submission. It offers crucial advice on literary topics ranging from character development to the description of action. Virtually every subject that is of great concern to publishers — and therefore to authors — is covered in this clear, humorous and enormously useful guide.” –Mike Simpson, Chief Editor of Second Wind Publishing

***

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday, The Medicine People, and Come Home to Me, Child (with Sally Jones).

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Caddo Creek by Lazarus Barnhill

So I’d like to introduce some folks to you and the best way, maybe, is for you to overhear them interacting. Here is an excerpt from my new novel, Caddo Creek (and I’ll tell you a little about it below). The folks in this passage are: Corral Walker, a graduate student studying botany at the University of Arkansas; Henry Louis Truett, IV (whom everyone calls “Four,” an Afghanistan War veteran who is also a student at the U of A; and Aunt Eleanor, Four’s lovely fifty-five-year-old aunt. In this vignette, Four has brought Corral to Eleanor’s home to introduce them and so that she can see a photograph of his great-grandmother, to whom she bears a striking resemblance:

Eleanor stopped in the sunny dining room, standing before a wall that apparently served as a family portrait gallery. Immediately before Corral just at eye level was an old black and white photograph. She leaned forward in amazement at what appeared to be an image of herself. The woman in the photo seemed a few years older than Corral and perhaps more petit. She wore a dress suited to the early 20th century and had long hair pinned close to her head. Her features, from the round, inquisitive eyes to the short, pert nose and oval face were virtually those of Corral Walker. She felt her hand rise slowly to the glass, then draw back.

“It’s my grandmother, my namesake. Eleanor.”

“We look so much alike.”

“Exactly alike to my eye. Eleanor was her given name, but she went by Lacey. Lacey Warren.”

“Is she—”

“She died long before I was born. She is sort of a mystery person. She married Grandpa Andy when she was twenty-six or so, but it’s like she just suddenly appeared out of nowhere on his mountain.”

“His mountain? Caddo Creek?”

“No, they lived in North Carolina, up in the Blue Ridge Mountains near a little town called Boone.”

Corral nodded. “I know about Boone. Appalachian State University is there.”

“Yes. Lacey and Andy had one child, my mother Elizabeth. And Lacey died of cancer when Mom was in her late teens.” She looked at her nephew. “I hope you two came hungry.”

He nodded. “We did, ma’am.”

Eleanor put her hands on his shoulders, physically moving him in the direction of the front door. “Well then, here’s what you need to do, son. Go down to the grocery store. Not the one at the bottom of the hill. I mean the one over by—”

“Townsend’s Market?”

“Yes. You’re a smart boy. Because?”

“Because they have Pillsbury flour?”

“Self-rising. Might as well get me two sacks. You don’t need any money do you?”

“Uh, no ma’am.”

“Good. Get going before we starve.”

Studying the other photos on the dining room wall, Corral tried—unsuccessfully—to suppress a smile. She heard the front door open and close, then felt Eleanor standing beside her again.

“He seems to do just what you tell him.”

“He’d better. That’s how he was raised. And he’d better hop to and show that same respect to you.”

“Actually he is very polite and respectful.”

“Good.” Eleanor tapped the glass on the portrait of her grandmother. “She was a prostitute.”

Corral turned to the older woman. “Excuse me?”

“Yep. She was working in a cathouse all right. That bit of information has been passed down from one woman to another. Supposedly none of the men in the family know it.”

“Really? She was a . . .”

“That’s what my momma told me.  And Lacey told her. Grandpa Andy was a World War I veteran. His first wife, Lib, died in childbirth. Sometime after that he stopped off at a place in the North Carolina piedmont, for a meal as the story goes, not realizing it was whorehouse. As I heard it, Lacey was drunk and passed out, and he kidnapped her.”

“Kidnapped her?”

“Um hmm. Threw her over his shoulder and just carried her out. The fellow who ran the place tried to stop him and Grandpa whipped out a big pistol and backed him off. Drove her right up his mountain and sobered her up. After that she fell in love with him.”

“That’s—that’s amazing.”

“I think it’s romantic as hell,” Eleanor said, her hands on her hips. “Makes me wet just thinking about it. Want to help me fix supper?”

***

Lacey Took a HolidayCaddo Creek is actually a sequel to my first published novel, Lacey Took a Holiday. This new volume is intended to be the second of a four novel set: The Mountain Woman Romance Series. The excerpt above, as I recall, was actually included a couple years ago in a Second Wind anthology. I look forward to having the novel in print this fall and I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

—Laz Barnhill

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“Come Home to Me Child” by Mike Simpson

Laz Barnhill has submitted another manuscript to Second Wind—a crime/mystery novel called Come Home to Me Child. Right now it’s in final editing and, in a couple months, his third title with us will be available. It’s about time. His romance (Lacey Took a Holiday) and his police procedural (The Medicine People) have been in print since 2008 and continue to sell. As with his earlier works, Come Home to Me Child does a good job of drawing the reader into a deceptively simple world full of interesting, believable characters who find themselves in remarkable predicaments; the characters develop along with the story and the resolution leaves the reader wanting more.

This novel tells the story of family that finds it necessary to move away from the Dallas Metroplex so Elaine, a wife and mother in her forties, can recuperate in a peaceful setting after a near-fatal aneurysm. Just after they move into their new house in the backwater town of Veil, Elaine discovers that years before a little girl was kidnapped out of the very bedroom in which her own young daughter now sleeps. Things start going “bump in the night”; or do they? Creepy neighbors intrude on her privacy; or do they? The unfolding story of the missing child reveals a miscarriage of justice; or does it? Elaine can’t be sure whether things are really happening in the world around her, or just within her injured mind.

What’s fundamentally different about this novel is that Laz has a co-author: his wife. She has chosen to write under the name “Sally Jones.” Why did they decide to collaborate on the novel and how did she come up with the pseudonym?

As he tells the story, two years ago they were traveling to the beach. Knowing they had hours of nighttime driving ahead and he was already a little sleepy, Laz badgered his wife into helping him outline a murder mystery in which his in-laws were the main characters. Since his wife has four sisters and four brothers-in-law—all with distinctive personalities—there was no shortage of vivid characters for the story. Over the course of four hours—and with lots of negotiations about the story, the heroes and villains, and the resolution—the novel was plotted out just about the time they got to Sunset Beach. And it was promptly forgotten. After all, it was just an exercise in staying awake on a long drive.

Months later during a Christmas visit with his in-laws, Laz’s wife mentioned to her parents the mystery they had dreamed up on the way to the beach. Immediately his mother-in-law insisted that they complete the story and submit it for publication. Fifteen months later, the story is at last complete—and the Barnhill’s are still married. The one concession Laz regrets making, he says, is that there is no sex in the book:

“I can bump off my in-laws, beat them up and throw them in jail. But the thought of writing about them having sex just creeped me out.”

So what about his wife’s alias? Years ago Laz and his wife (real name “Nancy”) were invited to a very prestigious gathering of corporate executives, the sort of folks who could make or break his budding career. At the opening of the banquet, the important guests paraded down a receiving line, introducing themselves to Laz and all the other young professionals in attendance. In those days his wife had bright red hair and that night she had worn a very attractive, attention getting yellow dress. At one point as the noteworthy movers-and-shakers were passing by, greeting his wife and then him, Laz noticed he was getting a number of strange looks. Turning to Nancy, he saw she had removed her wedding ring and was wearing a nametag that read: “Sally Jones.”

“When we started thinking of a penname for her, ‘Sally Jones’ instantly came to mind,” he said. “My wife is like a character in my novels—unpredictable and unforgettable. It’s always risky not keeping an eye on her.”

Maybe after Come Home to Me Child, Laz will have to write a novel in which “Sally Jones” is the main character.

–Mike Simpson

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Writing: Uncovering A Surprising And Beautiful Buried Treasure — by Lazarus Barnhill

Decades ago when I was in my early teens, my father and I were driving through the mountains of southeastern Oklahoma — laden with switchbacks, dips and hairpin turns — when we saw a motorcycle come toward us and flash past in the opposite lane. It was ridden by a helmetless Native American whose face was totally expressionless. Sitting behind him, a young woman pressed herself against his back, her eyes closed — whether in ecstasy or fear I did not know. The bike was moving so rapidly I caught only a two or three second glimpse of them. Still the impression, as you can tell, remained with me for a lifetime. My dad was also seized by the vision. I could sense him reflecting on their appearance and disappearance and I heard him mutter, “What about that? An Indian on an Indian.”

That solitary image remained with me in the brooding recesses of my awareness for forty years until it became the central vision, the cathartic scene of a novel that built itself around that impassive visage of the man on the motorcycle. My second published novel, The Medicine People, began in my mind with an imagined picture of that Native American standing silently in a jail cell, his hands around the bars, waiting for a certain person to come and speak with him, knowing the dialogue between them would permanently alter both lives.

That’s my creative process; that’s how stories develop themselves for me: I experience something striking and the retained memory of it marinates and evolves in the depths of my mind. The stories grow, sometimes as with Medicine from the middle simultaneously toward the beginning and end, but sometimes from the end backwards or even, conventionally, from the start to the finish.

Once the basics of the story have germinated and I have a grip on where they are going, the real fun begins. With my first published novel, Lacey Took a Holiday, I was inspired by a Natalie Merchant song that described a cowboy professing love to a drunken saloon girl. She wakes the next morning to discover he has disappeared. From that image, Lacey the character and Lacey the story took root in my thoughts. By the time I started actually writing the book, I knew where the journey was going to take this saloon girl. The actual writing process had more in common with uncovering a surprising and beautiful buried treasure than figuring out how to put the “flesh” of details on the “skeleton” of preconceived story. From that single original image, the story develops and completes itself.

That’s the basis of my little literary world. Writing is exciting and strange — how odd to think that an entire story can coalesce and emerge from the flotsam from my lifetime of disorganized observations and faded memories. And, for me, perhaps the most exciting aspect of writing is the notebook I keep by my bed with the basic images—some with partial outlines and possible characters — for two dozen “treasure chests” I haven’t yet begun to open.  —- Laz Barnhill

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