WIPs Conversation: Carole Rosenthal on Her Work in Progress

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Carole RosenthalCarole Rosenthal’s fiction and nonfiction appears in many places, and she is the author of the short story collection It Doesn’t Have To Be Me (Hamilton Stone Editions). A chapter of her memoir is in the new anthology, Not Somewhere Else but Here, and parts of this work are published in ACM, Huffington Post, and Persimmon Tree. Her first literary short story was accepted in the final issue of the late, great Transatlantic Review. Since, her stories have been in a wide variety of magazines, including Able Muse, ACM, Sol, the minnesota riview, Confrontation, Other Voices, The Cream City Review, Mother Jones, Alfred Hitchcock, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Rosenthal’s writing, often anthologized, has been dramatized for radio and television, translated into eleven languages, and printed by presses such as Dell, Virago, Arbor House, and the Modern Language Association. She is a longtime professor at Pratt Institute, and lives part-time in New York City and part-time in the Catskills Mountains.

Carole, in “News from the Past,” your excerpt from The Goldie Files, the reader learns how Bernie Biederman wouldn’t have made a good member of The Monuments Men. In fact, he snatched a treasured, 800-year-old manuscript from among church artifacts in a cave he was chartered to guard while an allied soldier in World War II. He’s caught in an unending dilemma: holding a significant document of human history—with painted illustrations, calligraphic script, and religious codes—but unable to receive recognition or profit from “his book” for how he acquired it. How did the story originate, and how much did Bernie’s burning lifelong secret help shape his character?

In The Goldie Files a mystery is solved, a priceless long-hidden art work is recovered, and Martin Biederman, Bernie’s only son, is forced after his father’s death to shoulder the public and private obligations of his father’s troubling secrets. I began this novel after reading journalistic accounts of the wartime disappearance and subsequent repatriation of an illuminated manuscript that resided for centuries in the same church where Heinrich Himmler conducted his notorious Nazi SS rituals. When I visited that town—Quedlinburg, Germany—to view the manuscript, I discovered that Himmler also considered himself the reincarnation of Germany’s first Emperor, Heinrich the Fowler. Nazi mysticism doesn’t play a large role in The Goldie Files, but it sure does stimulate the imagination.

In 1945, as a dapper, young Jewish GI, Bernie believed he was “rescuing” an ancient manuscript—he would never agree that he had “snatched” it—from the casual desecration of a profit-minded Army buddy. He is dazzled by the manuscript’s bejeweled cover with its graceful ivory Madonna, its stylized miniatures and iconography. Raised in an orphanage, primarily self-taught, secrecy and silence come naturally to him, but Bernie’s cultural universe vastly expanded after his enforced European stint. His possession of “his book” lends an obsessive excitement to his life, and upon returning to the States, he begins consuming world history, learns imperfect Latin, and immerses himself in medieval art.

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Carole Rosenthal: “News from the Past,” a novel excerpt from The Goldie Files

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1982

 Everyone dies, everyone kicks the bucket, spills the milk. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over the milk bucket with a clang and in 1871 the city of Chicago went up in flames. The whole rickety wooden city. A kerosene lamp had ignited the hay. His mother told him that story. Now she was dead. And he was rickety. An old man, flammable–dried-out timber with an inflamed heart. He shuddered, imagining his heart popping its husk, or incinerating. Hellfire! Stop! He couldn’t stop imagining death. The whine from a heart monitor across the hospital hallway had awakened him out of his dreams.

Oy, gut in nu, he had too many dreams.

Why flames? He didn’t believe in hell. Hell was life, this life you actually live. Sartre said that. No exit. He wasn’t ready to exit. Not most of the time. Sheol, the Hebrew word for Hell, always too vague in his mother’s explanation, meant “the grave,” a pit of gloom and darkness. No flames. Flames were the Christian idea, the conversion of sheol to Hades. “In Judaism, every dead person waits in sheol, good and evil, until the Messiah comes,” his mother said. “Must be stuffy and crowded down there,” he joked until the one time when his childish tease made her cry. She died that year. He’d been raised later by strangers. An orphan. He couldn’t stop thinking about her though. He imagined her crouching in sheol with random people from history, all eras, speaking different languages, puzzled, unable to understand. That was like life too. Who understood anybody?

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WIPs Conversation: Randy Nelson on His Work in Progress

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Randy NelsonRandy Nelson is the Virginia Lasater Irvin Professor of English at Davidson College, where he teaches courses in nineteenth and twentieth century American fiction as well as workshops and seminars in creative writing. His short stories have appeared in many national and international markets; and his instructional essays are to be found in magazines such as The Writer. A multiple-award-winning author, his most recent recognition was the Flannery O’Connor Prize for his collection The Imaginary Lives of Mechanical Men. At different times in his career, Randy has been a textile mill worker, a soldier, a landscaper, a garbage man, and a baseball coach; but the great love of his life, aside from wife Susan, has always been teaching. His students include Patricia Cornwell, Sheri Reynolds, and other nationally recognized writers. He’s currently at work on a new collection of stories.

Randy, in “Someone from the North,” your excerpt from A Duplicate Daughter, a strange cowboy PI from the other side of the mountains visits “what used to be a village” before a major earthquake, and, years later, is “little more than a dumping ground.” An old license plate is the cause of his visit. Can you explain the premise?

Sure. The private investigator, Gerald Manley, has been hired by a wealthy California family to pursue new clues in an old kidnapping case, that of the wealthy couple’s infant daughter in 1936. Detective Manley succeeds beyond anyone’s expectations, finding twelve year old Mía Muñoz and restoring her to a life of wealth and privilege back in California. This remarkable stroke of luck is more than it appears to be however: in tracking down the license plate, Manley has found the right name, but the wrong girl. The real baby was killed in the earthquake referenced in your question. The quake nearly destroyed the village that the “kidnappers” happened to be driving through.

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Randy Nelson: “Someone from the North,” an Excerpt from The Duplicate Daughter

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There was little to suggest that the building had once been a school. Its gray stone remains looked like an ancient man, half combed and barely buttoned, now flaking bit by bit into the grave. At one end of the main hallway a staircase had come undone, folding like an accordion, its handrails dangling into space. There was also a crumbling pile of debris in the stairwell itself, where a metal corrugation jutted upward at an absurd angle. From a distance it looked as though the north end of the school had been jammed against its neighboring mountain with such force that boulders and shale had become part of the architecture.

On the afternoon that the stranger came, twelve year old Mía was perching at her window, a dusky hiding place among broken rafters in the attic of the school. She leaned into the southernmost gable studying black-throated sparrows in the trees below. From there she could see the dry fountain in the plaza, the pathway to the gray-green valley floor, and the road that cut through the next range of mountains. She imagined that it was thousands of miles to the scattering of buildings in the distance, but her friend Quentin had told her no. That it wasn’t even a village, just another mining camp. But who could know? Quentin was five years older than Mía, seventeen and boastful, quick to dismiss daydreams and the romance of make-believe worlds.

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WIPs Conversation: Lenore Weiss on Her Work in Progress

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Lenore WeissLenore Weiss grew up in New York City, raised a family in the Bay Area, and currently resides in Louisiana. Lenore’s collections include “Tap Dancing on the Silverado Trail” (Finishing Line Press, 2011), “Sh’ma Yis’rael” (Pudding House Publications, 2007), and “Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island” (West End Press, 2012). Her most recent poetry collection is “Two Places” (Kelsay Books, 2014). She currently teaches a memoir class at Ouachita Parish Library in Monroe, Louisiana and serves as the copy editor of Blue Lyra Review. Her blog resides at www.lenoreweiss.com

Lenore, in “Hazardous Turnips” excerpted from Pulp into Paper, the characters at the mill are caught in what has become a common dilemma: rural workers in essentially company towns thankful for their jobs despite growing hardships—including their own health and that of everything around them. How did you decide to concentrate on the subject?

I moved to northeastern Louisiana several years ago and set about familiarizing myself with the area. Two events coincided that led me to write this book. My mate worked for a contractor at the Georgia-Pacific mill in Crossett Arkansas, one of the oldest mills in the Koch Brother’s arsenal. He was assigned to “detention pond” duty with the supposed goal of filtering harmful effluents from the paper making process. I watched him become slowly poisoned by H2S (hydrogen sulfide) and other noxious gases that have been established by the EPA as carcinogens. Every night I heard his terrible cough and stories of company noncompliance with standard industry operating procedures. Around the same time, I met the northeastern Louisiana representative to LEAP (Louisiana Environmental Action Project) who was involved with the Crossett Citizens for Environmental Justice. I began to attend their meetings and researched the history of the mill in Crossett. The book grew out of that experience.

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Lenore Weiss– “Hazardous Turnips,” an Excerpt from Pulp into Paper

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In the middle of July, the turnips were lush. They grew alongside the entrance to the plant, bright green fronds waving in the afternoon heat like feathers of a peacock’s tail. Bryan Thurmond had seen dozens of peacocks in the parking lot of the zoo where he drove Jenny, his daughter—peacocks strutting like they were collecting fees. Nothing scared them except for the sound of a car’s ignition. The turnips survived in the dirt like that. They didn’t care if the groundwater or the soil were polluted. Turnips hugged entrances and exits and tempted employees to pick them for the dinner table—plants that grew in spite of everything. And who knows, maybe he should’ve joined the crowd. Why not? He’d never seen such tall, beautiful plants. They thrived in muck. He pulled his Toyota Tundra into the parking lot. A lot of guys laughed at him, didn’t understand why he chose to ignore nature’s free bounty. They were like teenage boys who believed nothing could ever happen. They didn’t see the green fronds as a warning.

Management got it. They knew he was a single dad and couldn’t afford to step away from a full-time job with benefits. Six months ago Rand-Atlantic had promoted Bryan to Lead Environmental Officer. But he was getting pressured to overlook certain safety readings. Not directly pressured, of course. The company wouldn’t be that stupid. Encouragements to step over the line came in the form of free passes to the Rodeo Club, and murmurs of a scholarship for his daughter to attend junior college. They had him by the balls.

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