It Turns Out You Can Go Home Again

Darlyn Kuhn - Color - RWW author photo - hi-res

Darlyn Finch Kuhn

With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, it turns out you can go home again.  When you’re caring for an aging parent, you have to go home – often .

The house I return to, on the southern bank of Trout River in Jacksonville, is the same house that Tupelo Honey Lee inhabits in my novel, Sewing Holes.  Loosely based on the people who inhabited the house during the 1970s, and our friends, neighbors, and relatives, the characters have been camouflaged, altered, and combined.  Some events I’ve made up out of whole cloth.  Unlike Wolfe’s unfortunate George Webber, I’ve received no menacing letters or death threats, but I did have one explosive telephone call from my hysterical mother, during which I had to remind her, repeatedly, “Mama, it’s FICTION.”

It’s so confusing.  On her first read, my mother announced that she LOVED the book. I exhaled a sigh of relief, because the mother in the novel is a difficult one, and clearly some of the events paralleled our own experiences.  Then one day my stepfather asked his visiting personal caregiver to read the book aloud to him, due to his failing eyesight.  Hearing the same words she’d already read silently, now falling from another person’s lips, sent Mama into a rage.  “I never knew how much you hated me!” she cried into the phone.  After she calmed down, I gently suggested to my stepfather that they abandon the reading.  He died without ever hearing the lovely scene of mother-daughter reconciliation at the end.

Mother’s memory is failing enough that her pride in my accomplishments has replaced her fear that someone in her Florida hometown will read the story and decide that she and the mother in the book are one and the same.  She now introduces me as, “My baby, the author.”  Embarrassing, but, given the alternative, I’ll take it.

What I find fascinating is how entering the doors of that small frame house takes me back to a time when I felt small and powerless.  The river is still lovely and timeless; the hill our house rests on still slopes gently to its shore.  The rooms inside still form a circle to traverse endlessly, and some of my father’s paintings still grace the walls.  Mother is still queen of her domain, forever pruning her flower garden and fishing for compliments on its beauty.

True power has shifted.  I have her power of attorney and am her medical surrogate.  I pay her bills, and when the time comes, I’ll decide where she spends her last days.  We both hope that she’ll go to sleep one night in her bed in this house, and wake up in Heaven.  But not for a long time to come.  For now, I spend our visits doing her bidding, trying endlessly to please her, and sometimes succeeding.  Like little Honey in the book, my fondest wish is her nod of approval. She gives it more freely now than then.

Home, for me, will always be where Mama smiles.

Darlyn Finch Kuhn‘s work has appeared in literary journals, newspapers, magazines and online, in addition to her two poetry collections (Red Wax Rose and Three Houses). Her poems have been featured on Poetic Logic on NPR, and read by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac. She was interviewed on World Radio Paris. Kuhn is the eponymous “Scribbler,” of the Scribbles literary e-newsletter. She produces book trailer videos with her husband at Brad Kuhn & Associates in Orlando, Florida. Her debut novel, Sewing Holes, (available now from Twisted Road Publications) won first prize in the 2015 Royal Palm Awards from the Florida Writers Association.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Book

Brad Kuhn

You’ve finally done it.  You opened up a vein and somewhere between a year and twenty years later, you finished a book.  Whether that book is poetry, fiction, non-fiction, or just an old scrapbook of family pictures, congratulations!  By actually seeing your book through to completion — and yes, completion includes revision and professional edits, just as a finished diamond requires final cuts and polish — you’ve gotten farther than 95 percent of the people who say they are “thinking” about writing a book. F or the record, that’s 81 percent of the U.S. population, or more than 200 million people.

Publishing a book is an incredible accomplishment, and without ever having met you, I can see you opening that first box, breathing in that fresh-from-the-printer smell of ink ethers and binding glue.  Don’t try to deny it.  I know it as surely as I know that you read that published book cover to cover looking for typos and flaws, even though you knew it was too late to fix anything.  It’s a rite of passage, like a new parent counting a baby’s fingers and toes, getting to know its geography.  It’s your baby.  It’s finally here. And it’s beautiful.

Like any parent, you know that your baby is the prettiest, smartest, and most adorable baby there ever was and that everybody else might as well stop having babies because you have done it to perfection.

Everybody wants their baby to thrive.  You want it to have all the advantages.  You want it to get into all the good schools, and maybe even become President.  In your heart, you know there will be disappointments.  You know it’s a dangerous world and that, despite your best efforts your baby is going to get teased, bullied, and rejected.  But that future has yet to be written, and you’re willing to do everything in your power to raise a happy, healthy and successful child.

What does that look like?  As an author, what should you expect, now that you’re expecting?

Expect to work.  Books, like babies, take TLC.  We know it takes years for a baby to find its way in the world, but it’s surprising how many authors expect the world to show up at their stable with Frankincense and Myrrh.

Expect to market yourself.  Booking a venue is just the “where” in a value proposition that also includes: who, what, why and how.  People can only be in one place at any given time.  In this event-planning equivalent of Tinder, you have to give people a reason to swipe right.

Expect mixed results.  Every author has had the nightmare, and experienced the reality of showing up at a bookstore only to be met with the sound of silverfish gnawing on slow-moving inventory.  With luck, you’ll also experience the joy of eager readers lining up for your signature.  As Rudyard Kipling wrote: “Treat these two imposters just the same.”

Expect to have fun.  We haven’t talked here about money.  That’s a discussion for another day.  But, really, who has kids for financial gain?  The joy here is in the journey.  It’s about the places you’ll go that you may not have otherwise gone.  It’s about making new friends — both readers and other authors, the other “parents” you may never have come to know except through your offspring.  It’s about hearing and celebrating their stories and raising your “kids” together.

We’ve only scratched the surface here.  My wife the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, and I will be facilitating a session on this topic at the Florida Heritage Book Festival Friday, Sept. 16th, at 10 a.m.  The session is called “Bookstores and Beyond: Marketing in the age of Amazon,” and we’re hoping you’ll come. Expect a lively discussion.

Brad Kuhn’s first book was I Hate My Banker, a business book published in 1997.  He is a founder of the Jack Kerouac Writers in Residence Project of Orlando and Shady Lane Press.  He and his wife, the author Darlyn Finch Kuhn, have ghostwritten several books, and own and operate Brad Kuhn & Associates, LLC, a PR and marketing firm with author and publisher clients. 


Buckets of Inspiration

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Sandi Hutcheson

Booker T. Washington, the educator, author, and president of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, gave a famous speech in 1895. During what is known as the Atlanta Compromise Speech, he told the story of a ship was lost at sea for several days.

The crew had run out of fresh water, and they were dying of thirst. No land was in sight. When they spotted a friendly vessel and sent a signal to indicate that they needed water, the other ship immediately sent back this message: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

The desperate crew sent a second message: “Water, send us water!”

Again, the response came back: “Cast down your bucket where you are.”

Four times this exchange occurred before the captain of the first ship lowered a bucket into the ocean. To his astonishment, that bucket was full of sparkling, fresh water.  They were in the Atlantic off the coast of northern Brazil, where the Amazon so powerfully propels its water nearly one hundred miles into the ocean.

Washington concluded his speech with these words: “To those of my race who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land, or who underestimate the importance of preserving friendly relations with the southern white man who is their next door neighbor, I would say: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ Cast it down, making friends in every manly way of the people of all races, by whom you are surrounded.”

I was in Ireland during the summer of 2013, traveling with the Spalding University MFA in Writing students at their summer residency and hoping for a shot of encouragement and inspiration as a writer. An hour after I’d arrived and settled in, I headed out for a short guided tour of Dublin, and within the first few minutes of that tour, I met a couple of writers who would do just that–inspire and encourage me. The funny thing is that I traveled all the way to Ireland to meet a couple from my own waters.

Darlyn Finch Kuhn is a poet known for her saucy style and engaging readings. Her poems have been featured on Poetic Logic on WMFE-FM, and read by Garrison Keillor on the Writers Almanac. She was a Kerouac Project writer in residence in 2006. Her first book, Wax Rose, a poetry and short story collection, was published in 2007. Her second book, Three Houses, is a collection of love poems with collaborator Brad Kuhn, her husband. Together, Brad and Darlyn own Brad Kuhn and Associates, a stellar PR firm in Orlando.

And that is what I love about the Florida Heritage Book Festival. We don’t have to travel out of the state of Florida, out of our own waters, to find writers who inspire us. Every writer featured at the Festival has a connection to Florida. So why not cast your bucket where you are this September and join Brad, Darlyn, and me for three days of inspiration, instruction, and building friendships with hundreds of fellow Floridians.

(Sandi Hutcheson teaches at Flagler College and writes a column for the Sunday edition of The St. Augustine Record. She volunteers as coordinator for the Writers Conference portion of the Florida Heritage Book Festival)

Why attend a writer’s festival?

Kevin MurphyWhy attend a writer’s festival? by Kevin Murphy

One reason would be to gain a sense of community.  I used to agree with the statement that writing is a solitary art until I began attending workshops and conferences and festivals held by writers for writers.

I was heartened to find that many shared the same challenges—how to make time for writing, how to confront the blank white page, how to spark imagination, how to revise the wonderful mess my imagination made.  And there seemed to be as many solutions as there were writers in the room.

Perhaps none was altogether right for me, none completely wrong, but each piece of advice had worked for someone and might work for me.  Readings were often enthralling, inspiring me to get back to work.   And even chats between sessions reminded me how much fun it was to belong to this far-flung clan of hard-working dreamers.

When I sat before my computer to begin my work again, I was armed with good practical advice, but more importantly I did not feel that I was alone.  Even though the actual workshop was brief, the sense of camaraderie lingered and I felt myself part of a community intent on getting good writing out into the world.

Kevin Murphy graduated from FSU’s Creative Writing Program with a PH. D. and then taught college classes on US Navy fast frigates and for University of Maryland UC in Germany, Italy, Spain, Iceland and extensively in Japan.  Currently he resides in lovely St. Augustine where he is becoming reacquainted with his family and working on a fantasy novel.  Kevin is a FHBF volunteer.

How to Grow a Novel (or Getting the Mouse Through the Maze) by Phoebe Fox

TYM650tonedAsking an author about his or her writing process, to me, yields as many varied answers as asking about how they make love. We all have our habits, hang-ups, and quirks.

The most common divide is plotter versus “pantser” (someone who writes with no firm idea of how the story will develop), and I’m a pantser to the bone. The idea of carefully plotting out every scene in an outline I’ll then write directly according to is as mind-numbingly dull and unappealing to me as having a flowchart to follow for sex. If I know exactly how things are going to go (whether at my desk or in bed), I’m a lot less interested.

For me, the joy of creativity—the joy of story—is following the little mouse of inspiration as it winds through its maze, not sure where it may go or what path it will take to reach the end—or even where the end is. As I like to tell people, if I know exactly what happens in the story, I no longer need to write it. Part of the creative process is telling myself the tale as I go along; that’s what keeps me engaged.

But that kind of creative freedom has its downside—sometimes the mouse gets lost. Sometimes it hits a dead end. Sometimes it finds an interesting bit of cheese, and starts gnawing on it, and forgets all about the fact that there’s a maze to be run at all. Those are the days where, for just a little while, I envy the methodical plotters.

When I’m writing my Breakup Doctor novels—a light women’s fiction series about a therapist who specializes in helping people get through their bad breakups, and then winds up breaking all her own rules when she’s unceremoniously dumped herself—much of the delight for me lies in exploring how my characters might be affected by the things that happen to so many of us in our dating lives (and in our friendships and family relationships too—I love examining the dynamics of why we do the things we do).

And yet sometimes I get lost in the maze.

I have files full of discards from each novel in the series that are nearly as long as the novels themselves. I have “darlings” that it killed me to murder, but I did it. It’s agonizing to see so much material that will likely never see another reader’s eye—and yet I never call these “wasted” words. In every case, I had to take those detours to find where the story actually wanted to go. (Kind of like life…or really good sex…)

Once I finally find the story and wind up with a draft I call “finished” (yes, I’m laughing too…), the real work begins. My editing process starts with what I call “triage” (with a tip of the hat to master editor Sol Stein for the concept). This entails reading the “finished” (hahaha! it’s funny every time!) manuscript like a reader—without analyzing or trying to edit, just making very brief notes of where the story still needs work. For Heart Conditions, book three of the Breakup Doctor series that’s in production right now, that looked like this.


Then I go in and spot-address those big-picture story elements. This usually entails breaking the story out into scenes so I can see it “visually.” I do that through what I call a road map—a bulleted list of basically every story event, which I color-code according to character/storyline, and then I note in comment boxes the time line as well:


If the story is extra vexing, I will bust out the index cards, so I can “see” its flow laid out in front of me (that’s one of my doggie helpers there in the corner):


Only after all that do I read start-to-finish with an analytical eye, smoothing and polishing as I go. Then I send the truly “finished” (*still giggling*) manuscript to my first beta readers—my trusted writing group, the first eyes on anything I write. All talented authors in their own right, my three longtime crit partners are like human X-rays, looking deep into my manuscript and showing me exactly where the bones are broken or missing or utterly misaligned. I address most of their comments, and laugh at how misguided they are with others, and then send the revised manuscript to my indefatigable agent.

With great charm and diplomacy, Superagent Courtney proceeds to point out all the exact same things I was resisting, because my crit group is almost always right, and I finally address those as well. Except for just a few where, really, none of these guys know what they’re talking about. And then I send this perfect, “finished” thing to my editors at Henery Press.
At which point Erin, Kendel, and Rachel proceed to tactfully yet unflinchingly give me honest feedback about what’s still not working—which is generally all the things I’ve been resisting at every stage of revision prior to this. And finally I realize that all these people who’ve seen it so far know what the hell they’re doing, and that no author can be objective enough about her work to see it as clearly as a trusted reader can. And at long last I fix those final points of resistance.

None of this takes into account the extensive nuts-and-bolts work that’s still to come—line editing, copy editing, and the endless tweaking that I’m ultimately curtailed from only because of publishing deadlines. E. B. White famously said, “Writing is rewriting,” and that’s as true as anything I know of the process—at least my own.

I was an actor for many years, and I was always stunned at the talent and dedication of the crew on film and commercial shoots and in theater productions. These unsung heroes get none of the glory of the folks in front of the camera or onstage, yet they were there long before the actors arrived and long after we left, making everything possible. I feel the same way about all the people who make it possible for me to pursue a career I love so much: my genius crit partners, insightful agent, and keen-eyed editors; the book bloggers, reviewers, and kind fans who help get books into readers’ hands; and always, readers, without whom books never come to life.

Phoebe Fox is the author of The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners, part of the Breakup Doctor series (from Henery Press). Heart Conditions, book three of the series, will be released February 2016. You can find her at, and have news and relationship advice delivered right to your in-box here. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Relationship author’s books more than ‘chick lit’ by Karen Harvey

Karen Harvey

One of the great pleasures of volunteering for the Florida Heritage Book Festival is reading books and selecting authors for the Festival. Two books with unusual titles and an author with an unusual name came across my desk. The Breakup Doctor and Bedside Manners by Phoebe Fox caught my attention and turned out to be nothing I expected.

The books were based on stories of broken relationships. I thought it was “chick lit,” but the stories were so real I felt I knew the characters. The question I asked Fox in a phone interview was, “Are you Brook Lyn Ogden (the lead character).” Fox answered that she indeed had the breakup problems. She did not, however, start writing breakup columns until after her first book sold. She now has written a third book called Heart Conditions and is working on a fourth called Out of Practice. She also writes a breakup column for Huffington Post.

I don’t think many men would read these books – but I challenge any male readers of this paper to try it. The reality in the stories makes anyone want to look at his or her own relationships.

As Brook Ogden goes a bit crazy after being left at the altar and then unceremoniously dumped by her rebound lover, she finds she is vulnerable. After a drunken night and getting a tattoo that said nasty things about men, she realizes she has to gain control.

Her venture into helping others includes group sessions with people with all kinds of problems, including men.

Each situation rings true and each person mirrors the reader in one form or another.

Fox said people always tell her their stories and she uses them for future books. I would make a bet that anyone reading her books has a story.

Phoebe Fox will be available at the Florida Heritage Book Festival Saturday, Sept.26, at the Ringhaver Student Center at Flagler College. There will be a ticketed event on Friday, Sept. 25. Visit for more information.

Phoebe Fox now lives in Austin Texas, but her books are based in Ft. Myers. She is happily married and loves to visit Florida.

Guest Blog: The Evolution of “Going Ape” By Brandon Haught

Brandon HaughtWhen family, friends and colleagues find out that I’ve published my first book, the aspiring writers among them are eager to learn about the process of writing and publishing. How did the book develop from an idea to a finished product? What’s the writing and researching process like? Was it hard? That last question is the simplest to answer. Yes. After five years of researching, writing, revising, and then researching, writing, and revising even more, I can say that it was a mountain climb. But the view at the summit was worth it.

The project didn’t even start out as a book. Going Ape: Florida’s Battles over Evolution in the Classroom arose from a moment of pure curiosity. I had been personally and deeply involved in a public conflict in 2008 over how evolution would be taught in Florida’s science classrooms. The controversy had attracted national media attention, sweeping up the state board of education and the state legislature in the whirlwind. Once the battle finally ended, I reflected on what had happened over the previous year and wondered: Had there ever been a headline-making controversy over the teaching of evolution in Florida before? That question launched an informal research project that turned up fascinating glimpses into this largely forgotten aspect of Florida history.

I wrote a series of blog posts to share my discoveries, digging deeper with every successful expedition. My blog series kept growing until I finally realized I had enough material to fill an entire book. I abandoned the blog and set out on a new adventure. I had done a lot of writing before, but never on the scale of a nonfiction book. Enthusiasm initially made up for my inexperience and naiveté, but it soon faded in light of the workload I had taken on.

The blog series had been fun, but writing a serious history book was real work. I understood my research had to be impeccable, and the relaxed tone of my blog posts needed to mature into something more academic without losing readability and personality. And I needed to do much more detailed and difficult research than I had done before to bridge the information gaps.

Whereas the blog posts were churned out in only a couple of months, the book chapters were slow, exhausting slogs. It took several years to stitch the historical information together into a flowing narrative. Keep in mind I’m not a full-time writer. I have a regular day job unrelated to writing, and I have a family. At times it seemed like the project would never end. But my genuine interest in the subject sustained me through the tough times. There finally came a day when I joyfully completed the last chapter, but the celebration was short lived as I worked to document my source material. My inexperience and disorganization almost killed the project as I worked to organize stacks of materials, including newspaper articles, school board meeting minutes, interview notes, audio recordings, video clips, books, etc. into a detailed notes section for the book. I realized I was missing some vital source information from the initial research for my blog posts, forcing me to retrace my steps from a few years prior. It was discouraging and exhausting to have to do all that work over again.
This part-time hobby project was no longer fun. Now it was non-paying work that was eating up my free time. What kept me going despite the dark cloud hanging over me was pure determination to see this project through to the end, and the support and encouragement from loved ones.

Fortunately, the next step was surprisingly easy. I sent a query letter to the University Press of Florida and quickly heard back from them that they were interested in my book. I know many authors have faced letdown after letdown at this stage. My advantage was that I had written a unique book completely focused on Florida, making it an easy sell to UPF. However, the publisher’s editing process was a slow one, demanding lots of patience. From the time my initial manuscript was accepted until I had a copy of the printed book in my hands was a full year. During that time there were several rounds of editing. Then came the tedious indexing, which I did myself because I couldn’t afford to hire a professional. Finally, there was the last proofreading. By then, I had read my work so many times already that I actually was tired of looking at it.

Now that all of that hard work and waiting is over, I’m back to truly enjoying the subject like I did when I was writing the blog series. It’s fun to share this fascinating aspect of Florida history with readers and show them how this history flows seamlessly into the present day. We’re seeing in 2014 a repeat of events from decades past. Only the cast of characters has changed.

I now have an itch to take on a new book project, but this time I’ll carefully document source materials as I go. I learned that lesson the hard way.
Brandon Haught is a former Marine Corps combat correspondent, a former newspaper columnist and a current public information officer with a central Florida sheriff’s office. He is a founding board member and volunteer communications director for the statewide science education advocacy organization Florida Citizens for Science. Haught was deeply involved in the 2008 fight over evolution’s prominence in the revised state science standards that made news headlines across the state and the country. That controversy inspired Haught to research other evolution battles in Florida’s history, resulting in Going Ape


Guest Blog: Start by Starting, and other Strategies for Aspiring Writers by Sarah Symons

ImageAlmost everyone I know has an idea for a book or screenplay. Some of these ideas are quite compelling, and I for one would love to read them. However, writing a book – actually completing one and getting it edited and published – is a challenging undertaking, and many great ideas are lost along the way.

Believe me, I had many bumps in the road on my journey to completing This is No Ordinary Joy. Writing this book (from the day I typed the first word to the day I got my first galley copy) took a full five years! Many times I nearly gave up. Okay, I’ll be completely honest: I did give up a few times, but thankfully came back from the ledge with the help of some good friends, some helpful strategies learned along the way, and driven by the overwhelming compulsion to share my story (how I went from being a TV music composer living on Cape Cod, to helping girls get free and remain free from modern day slavery in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand).

I hope these strategies will be helpful to any of you readers and book-lovers out there who also aspire to write a book:

Strategy #1 – Start by Starting
Thinking about a book does not have the same benefits as writing one. You will love the feeling of accomplishment you get from writing even just one page or chapter. Forget about making an elaborate outline of your story, and just put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). As Stephen King suggested in his book ‘On Writing’, put your characters in a situation and see what they do. Discover what happens as you write it. It will come together. But first you have to take that first step. Just do it!

Strategy #2 – Ask a Friend
Three years into my writing process, I was over halfway finished, and then lost my laptop (and a year’s worth of writing) in an airport. I know, I know, I should have backed up my work. But I didn’t, and then I felt so frustrated and beleaguered, I wrote nothing at all for 6 months. When I told my friend Nicole my sorry tale, she offered to help by becoming my first reader and editor, and my writing accountability partner. She suggested I email her one page a day for the next 2 months. She read each page I sent, and gave encouragement and some editorial comments. Her main mission was just to help me move forward, and it worked! Three months later I had my first draft completed.

Strategy #3 – No Editing or Marketing While You Write!
Editing is easier for me than writing, and I at first became obsessed with working and reworking everything I had written. That, combined with a lack of a disciplined daily writing practice (more on that below) was why I only wrote 30 pages my whole first year. Another creativity-crushing approach was trying to figure out my sales and marketing plan while I was writing the book. ‘Who is going to be interested in my story?’ I worried. ‘How am I going to get it out to the potential readers? How much is too much to share?’ Of course, this line of thought made me feel terribly insecure and shut down my creative process, paralyzing my writing. You will have plenty of time to edit and to create a marketing plan when you have finished writing your first draft. Trying to do those things too early will only ensure that you never have a finished product to edit and sell.

Strategy #4 – Daily Practice
If you always wait for inspiration to strike, or for the perfect quiet moment to do your writing, you are unlikely to finish your book. Instead, set aside time every day – even if it is only 20 minutes some days – to write. If for any reason you are unable to start working on your book, then write in a journal or write a blog. I have established a daily writing practice, which helps both with my creative writing (I’m currently writing a novel) and with writing for my work (I write blogs for Relevée, a social purpose jewelry company related to my work fighting slavery). I find that my business writing, journal writing and creative writing inform and inspire each other, and when I start writing for one purpose, I often get into the groove, and end up doing more writing of a different kind.

Strategy #5 – Chardonnay!
This strategy might not be right for everyone, and if you’re in recovery, you could substitute a steaming hot cup of green tea or chai. But whatever feels like a treat to help you relax, and most importantly to define for yourself and everyone else that this is your time, set aside for your creativity, go for it. Pour a glass of wine (or tea), tell your kids that ‘it is mom or dad’s quiet time and you are welcome to join me by doing your own creative activity, but please don’t bother me for the next 30 minutes’ and get writing!

Sarah Symons is the author of This is No Ordinary Joy, available for the Book Festival, Sept. 27, through The BookMark of Neptune Beach, and at Learn more about her work and vision at

Guest Blog: About Fur People by Vicki Hendricks

Vicki HendricksFor the past twenty years, I’ve been immersed in crime—reading, writing, and learning. I fell into that genre and made a quick splash. But it was not the complete me—a life-long interest in animals begged to come alive. My crime novels and stories have always been peopled with iguanas, cats, dogs, apes, dolphins, horses, snakes—probably many I’m forgetting—but now, finally, I’m writing specifically about my dearest subject, and I have recognized a dark truth about myself in the process.

In Fur People a young woman, Sunny, whose sensibilities are not far from my own, gathers her fur family, a busload of dogs, cats, a couple of ferrets, and rabbits, to travel back to her hometown in central Florida. Forced by lack of money to live in the woods, she struggles against nature and the authorities.

Thirty years ago, I came close to choosing that sort of life. I lived in a house, but had nine adopted cats and sixteen rabbits. I thought they were well taken care of, but now I realize they were my captives, living on the edge. Like Sunny, I couldn’t afford to keep them in the comfort and safety they deserved. The rabbits were confined to hutches most of the time and got little exercise. The cats ate cheap food, ran free outside, and didn’t get their shots on a regular basis. They probably suffered from fleas, as well, since flea protection was unavailable at that time, except for dipping. I did try that once—I have the scars to prove it. Yes, I loved my animals to death, a phrase that gives me chills. Over the years, I was lucky, and most of them lived out their natural life span. But not all.

Even now, I still want every dog and cat I see—and ferrets, skunks, a mini-horse. (They can be house-trained!) Chickens, of course, and I would love a pig. YouTube videos and animal photos fill me with the desire to intermingle species. I can’t go to the humane society because of my lack of will power. I suffer, seeing the trapped, neutered, and released cats in the woods near the beach close to where I live. They rub their faces on my ankles, and their need for love is overwhelming. I am always on the verge of adopting, and it’s like alcohol or heroin—the more I get the more I need. I’m angry with people who allow these animals to breed unchecked, yet I bred those rabbits, and I still have a compelling desire to raise baby animals. It’s inborn, the same as for my character Sunny.

These conflicting emotions have gone into the writing of Fur People. It’s not a tragedy, and there are many light moments and humorous animal anecdotes. But the ironies of natural struggle and nagging questions of how we should relate to the nonhumans with whom we share our homes and the earth hover in the background. There’s a heavy motif of bacon in the novel. Bacon, yum,—how can we keep eating it? How can we stop?

They say when you get older all of your tendencies become more condensed, more obvious, less flexible. Hoarders we see on reality shows are mostly old, probably because young hoarders have the capacity to hide their obsession, like I did. I was a hoarder on a small scale. I might have come to a horrible end. I might still. But describing the sting of flea bites and a puppy’s hunger pangs have made me acknowledge the sad results of love taken to the extreme. Fur People has helped me to dig into my psyche and accept what I didn’t want to know. I hope it helps some animals.

Vicki Hendricks is the author of five noir novels, including Cruel Poetry, a finalist for the 2008 Edgar Award, and several short story collections. She teaches writing at Broward College. Her plots and settings reflect participation in adventure sports and knowledge of the Florida environment. Her love of animals, apparent in her earlier novels, comes to the forefront in her new novel, Fur People.

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Guest Blog: The Truth About Crime Scenes by Lisa Black


Lisa Black

Crime scenes are the most interesting part of forensic science. You get to actually see the setting instead of individual, out-of-context pieces of evidence, and picture how it all went down. And it gets you out of the bloody lab.

They’re also the biggest pain in the neck. They’re never anyplace fun like a shopping mall or a museum, they’re places that are cold, muddy, or unbelievably filthy. They’re abandoned apartments crawling with cockroaches, streets where you automatically keep your head ducked just in case anyone decides to take a shot, houses that make you tsk and say, “I can’t believe anyone lives like this.”

I could write a book on houses. If you ever think your own place is a little messy, you should see the places I’ve seen. This crosses all ethnic, cultural, gender, psychological and economic lines. I guess some people are comfortable with clutter—imagine if you took everything out of all your closets and all your drawers, scattered it over the floor, and lived like that day in and day out—and some aren’t. This may sound like simply a pet peeve, but it actually complicates the investigation. How do you tell if something was ransacked? How do you tell what’s out of place?

In short, crime scenes should be glamorous, but they’re not. For one thing you usually don’t have more than a two-minute warning. Dispatch calls, and you’re given a sketchy summary (half of which will, more often than not, be wrong) and an address. For another, all the work that you planned to get done that day is not done by someone else in your absence—it’s still waiting for you when you come back, and your boss doesn’t care that you had to go.

The fun thing about crime scenes is that each one is different and, again, it gets you out of the lab. The pain-in-the-neck thing about crime scenes is that each one is different, and you can’t be positive that you’ve gotten every piece of relevant information. How do you know if the matchbook sitting on the windowsill was put there by the teenage son three weeks ago, or if the killer set it there while he waited for the victim? How do you know if the oversized pair of shorts on top of the laundry pile was for the victim’s ‘fat days’ or if they were left there by an irate, departing boyfriend? How do you know one of the forty thousand cards in the victim’s collection doesn’t contain the killer’s fingerprint? Answer: you don’t. You have to collect what seems reasonable to collect, and leave it at that. You can only do your best. Remember that during the exhaustive investigation of the Charles Manson murders, there was a pair of glasses left in Sharon Tate’s house that no one ever identified.

You never get all the answers.

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office she analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages. Evidence of Murder reached the NYT mass market Best Sellers list.

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