Monday, December 30, 2002

Book review: Poor White by Sherwood Anderson

In this important document of America's changing landscape, Sherwood Anderson captures America's sometimes painful transformation from agrarian to industrial, with insightful and poetic writing. This novel about a young man’s struggle for success is a perfect companion to Anderson's best-known work (Winesburg, Ohio) as well as to the many non-fiction books on the same topic (such as The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America).

Friday, December 27, 2002

Leaving 2002 in America

With 2003 approaching, we can’t help but look back at the events of 2002 in America. We saw people abusing various positions of power. For example, certain religious leaders not only hid crimes but also allowed more atrocities and sometimes even demonized the victims. Certain politicians used the bully pulpit for speaking words of bigotry. Certain business executives deceived or exploited investors, while cutting the jobs of many employees. And, around the world, terrorism continued.

Okay, all the above could really describe countless years.

But we see more and more people standing up against all the injustices I just listed. More people than ever seem to say, “We don’t want that, and we will work for change, no matter what the cost.”

People working for justice. People working for peace. Look around, and you’ll see them.

In my personal experience, I saw an outpouring of support for my charity project The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer. When terrible storms or other tragedies struck communities, I watched or read the news reports about neighbors and strangers pitching in to help.

I never doubt America’s greatness. Still, more and more, I see reminders of what makes her great: her people, and their ambition for a still greater America.

Tuesday, December 24, 2002

Book review: The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

I read this novel long ago, and was happy to see that it has recently become much more popular. Toni Morrison realistically taps into the desires of children, such as the desire to feel acknowledged by one's parents, or the desire to feel beautiful. Sadly, her characters fail to see the beauty they already possess, and instead seek validation from people who might hurt them.

The language of this novel is both poetic and gritty. Morrison is too honest to let elegance keep her from depicting the tragedy and betrayals in many families. But she is also too gifted to simply present a tragic situation without using language that elevates its characters above that situation. She allows her characters to affect our lives, no matter how helpless they might seem in shaping their own lives.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has dealt with abuse, rejection, or internalized racism. I would also recommend it to anyone who wants an example of great black literature, great women's literature, or just plain great literature.

Monday, December 23, 2002

Saturday, January 25, 1-3 PM, Barnes & Noble, 6707 Slide Road, Lubbock, Texas.

Shawna Chandler and I will sign copies of The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer, a short story collection we wrote with four other authors. All royalties from that book go to the fight against cancer! I’ll also sign copies of my book Degranon, and some other local writers will be there to sign their books. If you live in the Lubbock area, please take advantage of this opportunity!

Even if you don’t live near Lubbock, you’ll want to learn more about Shawna and her writing! Her story “The Flamenco Painter” was a touching addition to The Acorn Gathering.

Shawna is an Associate Editor for two e-zines. Insolent Rudder seeks submissions of “flash fiction” (described at the site). The second e-zine promotes the arts in Lubbock and elsewhere, under the provocative title LubbockSucks.Com.

Shawna’s home page includes her journal, short stories, and much more.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Book review: The Tale of the Body Thief by Anne Rice

This is an enjoyable critique about human vanity and greed, as well as how we react to our bodies, our lives, etc. When Lestat "steals" the other body, he finds himself delighted and repulsed by the various aspects of human mortality. Despite the novel's thickness, it moves rather quickly, with more than enough humor and action to keep the characters' observations from making the novel boring or sermonic.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Movie review: 24 Nights

Writer/director/producer Kieran Turner delivers a sweet romantic comedy with very little budget and no big-name Hollywood actors. Fortunately, he found good actors and tells a good story. The back-story is much darker and more tragic than what unfolds on screen, but Turner mostly leaves those sad elements to the imagination. Instead, we see Jonathan (Kevin Isola), a man in his early twenties, still living with his big sister and asking Santa Claus for presents. But this year, he asks Santa for the perfect boyfriend! The characters aren’t always likable, but they certainly move the story along quickly, and bring this hilarious little movie into unexpected directions. Even if it’s too late for Christmas, 24 Nights will make a good present for anyone who likes warm or offbeat comedies.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Book review: The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren.

This is one of those books that I heard about and read about for years but never got around to reading. I was missing out, and you are too if you haven't read it! The Front Runner captures many aspects of politics, discrimination, and gay life. It also captures universal qualities of wanting acceptance, success, and love. An athlete’s secrets and ambitions collide as he finds himself in the spotlight.

The attempts at turning this book into a movie dragged on for years, starting not long after his initial publication in 1973. Hopefully, it will happen one day. Until then, I suggest looking for this and other books from novelist Patricia Nell Warren.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Movie review: Star Trek: Nemesis

The long-awaited tenth film in the Star Trek movie series combines some of the best elements of the previous movies, along with elements of the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series. If it seems a little too familiar at times, that’s really okay with me, because director Stuart Baird offers such a complete vision of everything great Star Trek can provide its viewers.

Reportedly, the studio asked Baird to trim the movie to keep it short enough for multiple showings on each screen. That would explain the extremely brief appearances by some supporting characters. Their roles still work fine, but I hope the DVD will include a restored director’s cut. Further, I hope Paramount won’t repeat the past gimmick of releasing this Star Trek movie on DVD, then releasing a “special edition” or whatever edition after Trek fans already bought or rented the first one. I absolutely hate that, but the other studios practice the same marketing technique.

Back to the movie itself. The actors all give perfect performances, with some of the regular characters showing new sides, or sides they rarely revealed before. The special effects, though frequent, never look like special effects. Everything looks completely real. The action scenes alternate nicely with the emotional ones, keeping the movie from becoming either boring or mindless. In fact, I would call this one of the most emotional and exciting films in the series. I would also call it one of the best.

Now, can Paramount please make a movie or mini-series of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?

Saturday, December 14, 2002

My first book was The Acorn Stories, an irreverent and often comical story cycle. I set it in West Texas, where I happen to live, but created the fictional town of Acorn for most of the scenes. A few books later, I edited and co-wrote a spin-off,
The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer.

Some excerpts from The Acorn Stories follow.

From the story “Paying the Rent.”

I couldn't help but notice how fat Lisa had become. She looked like one of those women who see themselves as big-boned, full-figured, girthful, well-rounded, plump--the kind who get blind dates as someone with "a nice personality." She barely resembled her former self. Sure, she had always carried a wide load in the back, and her face retained baby fat all the way through twelfth grade, but I expected more--or rather, less--when, after a seven-year disappearance, she called to say "Guess who?" I still loved her bright blue eyes and bouncy blonde curls, but the rest of her looked like something created in a misshapen Jell-O mold.

From the story “Timothy Fast.”

"Very well," said Memphis Lee. "But first, I have a gift for you." He reached behind his back and retrieved—

"A stuffed tarantula!" Ruth Feinstein grabbed it from him and cradled it against her neck. "You're so sweet. I'm sorry I called your place a dump and everything."

Rubbing his temples, Timothy Fast said, "About those ties--"

"Look by the cash register," said Memphis Lee. "We have the new graphics line. Senator Briggs was complaining about their violent imagery leading to street gangs and the disintegration of the American family, but the company made a contribution to his party, and now he calls them 'the family values ties.' I just love politics."

From the story “Mae.”

As the afternoon train rushed by the graveyard, shaking the ground, an oak tree dropped an acorn near Cleburne's grave. Mae wondered why nature made itself that way of acorn and oak remaking and dying and becoming something big to make something small to become something big, that way of making, that way of becoming, that way of everything becoming itself only to look for something else, and everyone else looking for everyone else looking to become, becoming in the process of looking.

Mae thought these things at her husband's grave because she thought she and Cleburne would continue always in their becoming and remaking until the dying happened, but that somehow the dying would happen to both of them together, just as everything else happened to them both together. She always thought the becoming married made them become one, because she thought two people who existed as one for fifty-eight years could not become only one person who existed as one alone for even one minute, because this becoming--it could not lead to this point.

From the story “Oak.”

"Mom, there's some things I've always wanted to say, if you would only listen. You have to forgive me, like I've forgiven you. I know it was wrong of me to get pregnant by some guy who isn't worth marrying, but you know it was wrong of you to ask me to sneak off and get an abortion, so no one would find out. All to protect the Briggs family businesses." Her voice grows louder as she begins to finally say what she feels inside.

"You and Daddy are the ones who closed down the only abortion clinic in Acorn. He'd roll over in his grave if he knew what you planned. Maybe you've gotten too caught up in high society. Maybe--" The machine beeps off. Shocked by her own words, Julie starts to call back and apologize, but she sets the phone down when she hears the trailer's bedroom door slide open.

From the story "Mirrors: A Blackmail Letter."

"You're from Acorn, aren't you?" Not a very good line, I suppose, but we really had seen each other before, made eye contact at the bank, the grocery, and the steak house. When male glances lock for a moment before diverting, eyes become mirrors.

You followed me back to Acorn that night, your headlights constantly reflected in my rearview mirror, the deep cadence of your voice constantly replaying in my mind. Separate cars--what better way to avoid conversation? And when you walked inside, you only talked about me, asked about me. I honestly knew nothing about you, except that you had just moved from Dallas, which you still visited constantly, and that you drove a nice car. Well, I learned about the Christian tattoo you got during a drinking binge, and I learned that you could talk like some kind of phone sex line. You should have mentioned your teenage son and your pregnant wife before that long talk in my kitchen, the long talk that happened after the time in each other's arms.

From the story “Flip, Turn.”

I pulled myself up enough to see the alarm clock just across my room. 10:15! It had happened again: after dreaming during the night that my alarm clock was buzzing, I had gotten up and turned it off, realized I was dreaming, laid in bed wondering whether I had also dreamed turning it off, then fallen asleep without turning it back on.

"Swimming," I mumbled into my pillow. I was supposed to have met Jimmy Jacobs at Acorn College's indoor pool around ten. Since I hadn't gone swimming in weeks, I had no idea where my alumni I.D. was. I searched my disintegrating wallet, pulling out shreds of napkins, envelopes, and newspaper with scribbled numbers. Some of the numbers looked like combinations for P.O. boxes or lockers, while others looked like phone numbers, but none of them had words on them. My wallet housed numbers detached from their purpose. I thought I should keep them in case I needed them one day. But how would I know if I needed them, or which ones to use? Then I found a phone number with a familiar handwriting.

I could have called all the phone numbers to see if I recognized the voices of the people who answered. Then I could just hang up. Maybe that's what people are doing--the people who call me then hang up. Maybe they sorted through old wallets and purses, found my number on a scrap of paper. After finding my I.D. in the dark recesses of my wallet, I stuffed all the numbers back in to recreate whatever equation they had formed, knowing I would probably not see them again until my wallet fell apart.

After pulling on swim trunks, T-shirt, and tennis shoes, I walked outside into Mom and Dad's yardsale and suddenly remembered that I really need to get my own place.

Jimmy Jacobs wasn't even at the pool when I got there. I decided not to mention it to my mother--never mind that I'm twenty-eight--because she would just say, "I've told you about that Jacobs boy." From junior high 'till well past high school graduation, no teenagers within a forty-mile radius of Acorn could get drunk, stoned, beat up, arrested, or pregnant without their parents asking, "You've been hanging around with that Jacobs boy, haven't you?" By the time I graduated from college--a lot of good that did me, the new assistant manager at Ice Cream Dream--he was a husband, a father, and the pastor of Zionosphere Baptist Church.

From the story “Acorn Pie.”

People tell me a little more than they should. Well, a lot more than they should. Actually, people tell me way too much. Or they say too many things where I can hear them, which is just the same as telling me, as far as I'm concerned. Do they really think I won't share what I heard with anybody? I mean, stories like these can't just sit on a shelf in somebody's brain. The more I think about it, the more sure I am that my neighbors want someone to tell their Acorn stories, that they don't want to be just a small part of a small town in a big state in a big country. People aspire to leave something behind other than babies, a mortgage, and a nasty rumor or two. And they certainly want someone reliable telling it, like what my grandmother did when she chronicled the early folks of Acorn.

Friday, December 13, 2002

Collector’s Edition by KC & the Sunshine Band.

CD review: Collector’s Edition by KC & the Sunshine Band.

I give this CD five stars out of five. Still, I have a few complaints. (1) Though I haven't actually counted, it seems that half the songs from KCSB have at least one of these words in the title: boogie, party, go, do, don't, body, it. Examples: Do It, Do Me, I Like To Do It, Keep It Comin' Love, That's The Way I Like It, Please Don't Go, Don't Stop, Don't Let Go, Don't Run, etc. Those songs aren't all on this collection, but you get the idea. (2) Four of the 24 songs on this collection are a bit bland. (3) Like most two-CD sets, the packaging is shoddy, and I'm afraid I'll break the CD's whenever I take them out of the jewel case.

So why five stars? Despite the above gripes, this collection rocks, thumps, wakes, and shakes! So, okay, KC, keep doing it, and your fans will keep partying! Please don't go!

I had heard and loved KCSB's recording of "Thank You," without ever realizing it was them. So, there is obviously a lot of musical variety here. KC has a great vocal range, and this collection truly showcases that range.

By the way, this anthology is also available with just the first CD, but the two-CD set is just a few dollars higher. Pay the few dollars extra. The second one has some great tracks that I had never heard!

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Book review: How to Make the World a Better Place for Gays and Lesbians by Una W. Fahy.

Fahy has created a reference book that not only exposes homophobia and proves that it hurts everyone but also offers solutions. Adding to the book's appeal as a resource manual, she neatly organizes each chapter with sub-headings, explaining a particular situation, what gays can do about it, why non-gays should care, and what non-gays can do. Fahy takes into account people's communities, prejudices, etc., offering different advice for different readers. This is an engaging and optomistic book that deserves the attention of anyone who is concerned about civil rights!

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer book review by John Mudd, for

The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer isn't a novel, but it was quite a novel idea created by author Duane Simolke, who gathered a group of authors together, five in all, to write against cancer in this lovely literary work that includes stories that range from gritty and controversial to gentle and touching, all helping to raise money for cancer cure research.

Simolke, who edited the book, writes in Fat Diary, what some may consider a controversially serious yet comical short fiction work, "I stifled the stereotypes that flooded my mind, and I mentally kicked myself for thinking of those stereotypes."

Ironically, the story is written as if it were the diary of Pam Willard, the 260-lbs. character keeping the diary.

Huda Orfali's Lynching takes a gritty look at violent acts taken toward homosexuals due to discrimination, and what horrible results can occur when individuals fail to deal with their prejudices.

In The Flamenco Painter, Shawna Chandler paints a heart-felt picture of a man's clouded conscience after losing someone special and close.

Bill Wetzel writes about a man's love for a woman who turns out to be a complete klutz, but it turns out that the klutziness is one of the things the man really loves about the woman, in A Morning By the River.

You can read all about a single teacher named Jonathan and his love for a woman named Ana in The 23rd of August by Timothy Morris Taylor. You can read about the many obstacles Jonathan overcame to be with Ana - obstacles that those who are truly in love overcome, no matter what. It's an inspiring story, showing us that no matter what obstacle gets in our way, love really does conquer each and every one.

Jan Chandler writes, in The Gun, "I grabbed the gun off the night stand, the first time I'd even touched it. I was going to take it into the kitchen and throw it in the trash can."

"That's when I heard the door slam."

"I almost wet myself."

There are also some quite touching stories in the book, including Orfali's Dancing With the Angels.

This book makes a spectacular holiday gift for the fiction lover in your life, and when purchasing The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer for that special someone this holiday season, you are not only buying a fantastic collection of short fiction to enjoy. You are also helping these authors to raise money for cancer cure research.

For the millions of Americans who suffer from cancer, The Acorn Gathering is truly a wonderful gift to which they contributed their writing gifts. Now it is up to readers everywhere to pick up where the authors left off and start reading for a cure.

With stories as good as these, it will be hard for readers to resist this book, whether reading for a cure or simply reading as a personal pleasure for themselves.

Monday, December 09, 2002

This is my fiftieth blog entry! And here’s something special to celebrate!

Since I’ve written a great deal here about writers and books, it’s time to hear from another writer. I interviewed D. L. Browne, an author who writes mystery novels under the names Colin Dunne and Diana Killian. She offered insights into publishing, pen names, gay characters, book promotion, and many other topics. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not usually a fan of mystery writers, but I’ve found some exceptions, and I want to introduce you to one of them.

But first, please read my review of her novel Murder In Pastel.

Book Review: Murder In Pastel by Colin Dunne

Colin Dunne cleverly blends a painting's subject with the story of some gay friends and the story of a missing artist (and his missing painting). The resulting tale always intrigues, with a focus on strong dialogue and character development. You don't have to be gay to enjoy this book. Nor do you have to like mystery novels. Just the characters and conflicts that start the novel would have kept my attention, but the added dimension of the murder and the painting made me read quickly to the surprising twists of the novel's closing chapters.

Interview: D. L. Browne Unravels the Mysteries of Writing

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Book Review: New Essays on Winesburg, Ohio by John W. Crowley

While in college, I read this book several times! I used it as a resource for my book New Readings of Winesburg, Ohio. Anyone who wants to write a paper on Sherwood Anderson or teach Sherwood Anderson’s writings needs to read this book! It provides a variety of perspectives and shows how Winesburg, Ohio invites many different readings.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Book Blogs

My last two entries were movie reviews, but I also love books (obviously). Here are some great book blogs. I’ll have more blog suggestions in an upcoming entry.

  • Vinod's Blog: “Musings from a libertarian, tech geek.”

    Vinod writes much more in-depth reviews than one would expect on the Internet, often using his design skills to break information into charts, lists, and such. That helps, because he writes about nonfiction books dealing with social theories. Fortunately, he avoids the dry tone that one might expect. And I love his book review chart!

  • Book Review repository: “An interactive repository of Book-reviews created by bloggers from all over the www.”

    Part of The home of the Jacobsen family website, this blog uses movable type (something I haven’t tried) to help visitors post reviews into a well-organized database, under a long list of categories. The home page shows the latest reviews and comments. In all cases, we actually just see the beginning of the review, with a link to read the complete review. If you like books in a particular category, this blog makes it easy to navigate and find what you want. The participants represent a wide range of views, interests, and locations.

  • BookBlog: “If You Like A Lot Of BookBlog On Your Biscuit, Join Our Club.”

    Of course, there had to be a book blog named BookBlog. This one is a fairly traditional book-of-the-month club, where one of the members moderates a discussion of a particular book each month. The site include membership details. The blog format, the archives, and the discussion areas not only make this blog effective in its primary purpose but also make it a good resource for someone who wants various perspectives on a particular book. The book choices so far have been novels—some classic and some recent.

  • Blogcritics: “A sinister cabal of superior bloggers on music, books, film, popular culture, and technology - updated continuously.”

    Obviously not just a book blog, this popular destination brings together a long list of dedicated bloggers to share about whatever interests them. In many cases, the posts also appear on the individual critic’s site. This is a great place to find reviews about products that fit your personal tastes, or just to discover more blogs that you’ll enjoy. With a total of five columns (links/credits, music, books, video, et cetera) on the main page, you can quickly skim excerpts from a variety of postings. Don’t be surprised to find X-Men, King Christian X of Denmark, the Doors, and classic poetry all beside each other. The format resembles a newspaper, and is just as easy to navigate (maybe more so).
  • Wednesday, December 04, 2002

    Movie Review: The Emperor’s Club

    I think the constant but understandable comparisons to Dead Poets Society will hurt this movie, causing people to dismiss The Emperor’s Club as a copy of a classic. Besides similar names, both films center around a charismatic teacher at a boys’ school and focus heavily on tradition. However, the similarities end there. I love Dead Poets Society, but I hate to see this movie hurt by that one’s popularity.

    Kevin Kline plays Mr. Hundert, an extremely flawed but extremely dedicated and noble teacher. In his attempts at giving young men a love of history, he finds himself helping a student for the wrong reasons, and in the wrong ways.

    The movie takes place in two different times, with a constantly changing cast. Kline is the only actor who appears all the way through it, with older actors replacing younger ones in certain roles. Some of the other characters come and go too quickly, and the movie probably should have been longer, so we could more fully understand and feel how all of these lives intersect with Mr. Hundert. Still, Kline’s skillful study of a man constantly facing difficult choices makes up for the sometimes-rushed nature of the narrative.

    I recommend The Emperor’s Club for anyone who likes good acting and good stories, not just for fans of Dead Poets Society.

    Tuesday, December 03, 2002

    Movie Review: Die Another Day

    The 20th James Bond film not only marks the 40th anniversary series but also shows a sometimes desperate effort to make the franchise as contemporary as possible. The gadgets go way too far at times, making this seem like a comic book movie. Don’t get me wrong; I love comic book heroes and comic book movies. Still, it somehow bothered me to see Bond going so far in that direction. It’s a fun movie, and I enjoyed it, but the invisible car and such distracted me even more than the overly obvious product placement.

    I recently read that a current internet campaign involves pushing Adrian Paul (the TV incarnation of The Highlander) as the next Bond. That sounds good, but I’m glad Pierce Brosnan agreed to at least one more Bond film beyond this one. Brosnan plays the role with the required wit and style, along with a little vulnerability. I also hope Halle Berry will reprise her role as Jinx.

    Monday, December 02, 2002

    Book reviews of The Acorn Gathering (so far)

    Review by L. L. Lee , author of The Sisters: Found in San Antonio

    Duane Simolke's follow-up anthology to The Acorn Stories, The Acorn Gathering, is a study in human trials, triumphs and the power of relationships to hurt or heal. The book is a gathering of moving short stories written by a group of talented writers who call themselves "Writers Uniting Against Cancer." All royalties go to the American Cancer Society. As expected, many of the stories deal with often tragic health issues: cancer, depression and other forms of mental illness, alcoholism, obesity, suicidal ideology, unwanted pregnancy. Some of the characters triumph over their conditions while others do not.

    In the midst of these life threatening issues that are handled in sensitive and inspiring ways, there are moments of laughter. Duane Simolke's "Fat Diary" is hilarious and could very well be expanded into a funny, uplifting novel. A simple love story by Bill Wetzel, "A Morning by the River" needs to be commended for reminding us of the pure joy of falling and being in love. And "The Gun" is well worth mentioning for its humorous, light treatment of a not so funny situation.

    The Acorn Gathering is a good read. If you're looking for characters that fit the mold of traditional, you won't find them here. The book is like a warm, pleasing quilt made up of disparate, yet cohesive patches represented by characters of various ethnic backgrounds; among them, African and native Americans, Hispanic and Anglo Americans and with a few Texans sewn in.

    Review by W. Brian Moore

    It was an extreme pleasure reading The Acorn Gathering. The talented groups of writers have put together a wonderful collaboration of short stories. What makes this an outstanding buy is that all the royalties go to the American Cancer Society for cancer research. I highly recommend you go, buy copies for yourself and your loved ones, and enjoy reading this well-written book.

    Each story in The Acorn Gathering deals with situations in life that most of us can easily relate to and have experienced. They deal with breast cancer, life on an Indian reservation, struggles of gay life in a small town, losing weight, divorce, coming to terms with feelings of a abandonment, and a wonderful story about a hero who goes to New York City to help after the September 11 Terrorist Attacks, just to name a few. If you think none of those stories sound like you, wait until you read them and experience the way each writer brought those issues into a world we all understand. I found myself caught up in several of the stories, feeling at times, that they were about my own life. This collaborative work, even though it is made up of different short stories, has a common thread that runs throughout the book that gives it an unbroken flow. One story seems to flow right into the next even when they are dealing with new people and new topics. This book has been put in a perfect reading order.

    The first section of the book, “Acorn, Texas” begins with “Finding Acorns in Winter” by Duane Simolke. This story begins years back when the Indians inhabited the land where Acorn, Texas, now stands. The story goes back and forth between the time of the Indians and the present time where a woman is in the hospital after just having breast cancer surgery. The relationships between her daughter and her nurse, an American Indian, is beautifully written. It is a story of love and hope in dealing with “the silent killer,” breast cancer.

    “The Seedling” by Janice Chandler is next. This story revolves around the relationship between two sisters, one a struggling artist. As with many of our relationships with our siblings, it shows how we often wish we had their lives instead of being grateful for our own. It deals with an unwanted pregnancy and the loss of the child during a moment when the artist’s work is beginning to be noticed.

    Next, we have “Fat Diary” by Duane Simolke. This is one of the most humorous stories in the book and one of my two favorites. A woman, through her diary that she is told to keep while trying to lose weight, relays the events and happenings of her life. Many aspects of this story are easy to relate to. It is the conflict resolution and the woman’s ability to see things happen as she writes them that makes this piece so appealing.

    The next two stories, “Again” by Duane Simolke and “Lynching” by Huda Orfali, deal with gay life in Acorn, Texas, a town of 21,001 people. “Again” introduces us to the characters and “Lynching” continues with those characters and addresses and an issue all too familiar in the gay and lesbian community, gay bashing. The twist of the storyline will cause you to think. It is another reminder of how selfless some human beings are.

    The second section of the book is entitled “Beyond Acorn.” The stories in this section deal with the world outside of Acorn, Texas. There are insights into other ways of life that I found myself unaware of.

    The first story in “Beyond Acorn” is “Nachos Are Green And Ducks Appear To Be Blue At Town Pump In Cut Bank, Montana” by Bill Wetzel. Life on an Indian Reservation is depicted in this well-written story. It addresses the high percentage of alcoholism and the general welfare attitude that seems to be so prevalent on them. This story of a group of men who are friends tells itself well.

    “As I Lay Dying” by Huda Orfali is next. It is set in a boarding school and they are having trouble with a boy who has lost his parents. This is a story of kidnapping, child abuse, and the love given by the school’s psychiatrist, who reaches out to help the boy. This story keeps you wondering all the way to the end about what really happened.

    “The Flamenco Painter” by Shawna Chandler deals with the strained relationship between a father and his alcoholic son at Christmas time. This piece focuses on traditions south of the border, about assisted suicide and the grief the son has carried. It challenges your beliefs and makes you think about the gray area within assisted suicide.

    Next are “The 23rd of August” by Timothy Morris Taylor and “A Morning by the River” by Bill Wetzel. These are clearly the love stories of the book. For those of you who have experienced true love, these stories will help you relive those feelings that exist when you met that special person. For those of you who have not, you will yearn for that person even more after reading them.

    “Dancing with Angels” by Huda Orfali is a very short story in the book. It shows one’s acceptance of knowing the end of life is near and being willing to cross over. What it does not have in quantity it truly makes up for in quality. This is a wonderfully written piece.

    “The Gun” by Janice Chandler is a poignant story that many of us deal with today, that being, whether or not we should own a gun for our own safety. This is the murder mystery of the book, dealing with the relationship between a husband and wife. It is suspenseful and poetically ironic up to the very end.

    The last section of the book, “Still Beginning,” contains one story by Duane Simolke entitled “The Last Few and the First Few.” Of all the stories, I liked this one the best. It deals with the issues of abandonment by a parent, being raised by a single mother, struggles in life and marriage, divorce, and dealing with the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The main character goes to New York City to help with the search and rescue at the World Trade Center. This story is moving beyond words. I found myself in tears many times throughout it, tears of sadness and tears of utter joy. This story is a beautiful ending to a great book.

    The Acorn Gathering has something for everyone. The stories will provoke happiness, laughter, sadness and sometimes anger. Each is an extremely poignant view into the life of people who are all around us. The subject matter is so diversified that not only will you enjoy this book, it will open your eyes to the broader picture of how life exists for others around you.

    As a person whose life has been greatly impacted by cancer, I applaud the writers of The Acorn Gathering for sharing their talents with us through these stories and for giving the proceeds to help find a cure for those with cancer. The American Cancer Society is a responsible choice to receive these funds. Your contribution by purchasing this book will be well spent. No better gift can be given to someone who is suffering from cancer, than hope. Your support of this book will do just that.

    Review by Lisa at Book Review Cafe

    I'll tell you the number one greatest thing about 'The Acorn Gathering' right off the bat is that all the proceeds from the sales of this book go right towards cancer research. I think that is wonderful, and I encourage you to pick this book up today at your favorite bookstore!

    All the stories you will read here are very unique. Some teach a lesson, some are sad and some make you think. These are all very talented writers, and I'm glad they got together to have a compilation of their stories in one book.

    Some stories that really stood out to me were; 'Fat Diary,' 'Dancing With the Angels,' 'The Gun,' and 'The Seedling.'

    I think these authors did a great job with this book. If you would like more information about the book and the authors, please visit: The Acorn

    Review by Ronald L. Donaghe, author of The Blind Season

    A vision Duane Simolke had for this book was that writers would contribute stories freely and that all proceeds from the sale would go to the American Cancer Society. Perhaps what he did not count on is that this "gathering" of writers has also produced an artistic realization rarely witnessed in anthologies. The various and individual voices of each story teller in this collection lends cadence and lyrics like an orchestra to a whole larger than the sum of its parts, from Simolke's humorous and "biting" "Fat Diary" to Shawna Chandler's haunting and beautiful "Flamenco Painter."

    Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and even gay people delightfully form a cohesive voice in the fight against cancer and prejudice and hate. Also given voice, here, is how the destructive cancer of hate can ruin lives, and this message adds urgent notes in the orchestration of the whole. Read Bill Wetzel's two stories and you'll see how two disparate themes are unified by this collection; or read Huda Orfali's work and see how a continuing sub-theme is woven into this smart collection. In all, each story is a note or theme in a surprising whole.