A friend of mine (one of his photos is above) is a talented wood turner, seeing the possibilities of vases and bowls and spheres in raw wood. His shop is filled with half-finished work and completed pieces, all drawn from his own vision. He does some nice woodworking to client specs on commission, but his turning… that’s his. And once a month or so, he loads a few dozen beautiful objects into his truck and sets up a booth at a craft show, to discover whether his vision inspires that of others.
It usually does.
My writing life is much the same. My nonfiction is written to spec, a proposal leading to a commission leading to a nicely shaped product. But my fiction comes unbidden, burnished by the endless tumbling and friction of life, and I have my own backstock of finished work available for viewing. Here’s the craft gallery.
Photo credit: David Munyak, Woodturner/Furnituremaker
The Abbot of Saginaw
In mid-1950s Saginaw, Robert Yoder presides over a successful billiard hall and tavern. He has built the Genesee Billiards Club to be a site of hospitality, basing its practices on principles he had learned two decades earlier as a Benedictine novice in the Archabbey of St. Meinrad. Although Robert welcomes the GM executive, the police patrolman and the apprentice line worker alike, the regulars of Genesee feel that they’re part of an exclusive and luxurious club, personally greeted and attended to.
But in the space of a week, Robert’s peaceable kingdom is disrupted by an unlikely trio: his coat-check girl, his business partner and bartender, and a mysterious visitor from Cleveland. Although they are not acting in concert, their collective influence forces Robert from his comfortable life back to active reconsideration of his values and intentions, re-framing sacred and ancient principles to address the needs of a secular and modern world.
The Abbot of Saginaw reminds us that all good works can be undone by willfulness and pride, and brings us glimpses of the grace that can exist in the most profane worlds.
The City Killers
On a weary, post-work Friday, a quiet young professional stepped into to defuse a bar fight between a drunken boy and his girlfriend. It felt familiar—Tim had intervened for years in the abuse his sister had taken from her husband. He never imagined that this particular conflict, and the reporter who witnessed it, would ultimately thrust him into the love he’d denied himself for years. And into the center of the state’s biggest, and most hidden, political story.
Like much of rusted Michigan, Warrington Heights had been left to decay by its former masters of industry. Its population cut in half—half of those remaining in poverty—it was a community that thought it had endured the worst. But there was one last thing to take, as men with economic and political power attempted to erase an entire city.
The City Killers is an interwoven story of passions and cruelties, of loyalty and abandonment, of violence both random and coldly planned. A story in which lives can be shattered by drugs and abuse, or by a spreadsheet and a conference call. And a story in which friends old and new come together to defend a city from extinction. As classic as Chinatown and as contemporary as the Flint water crisis, The City Killers shows us the stories behind the news. The unseen people who exploit, and the ones who fight back.
The Opposite of Control
Colin McMahon is a control freak. That’s what makes him good at his job, as an engineer and contract negotiator. Every calculation, every counter-offer—precise. His home, his garden, his car—precise. So his loneliness is just another problem to be solved, and the arranged relationships of Mutual Benefit are designed to solve them.
Katie Harrington is a control freak. A former elite athlete, an advertising writer able to explore the emotional depths of ketchup in thirty seconds—and she always knew that no one else would be there to help her. So when it came time to pay for grad school, she knew that would be on her as well. Mutual Benefit was the choice she had, and she took it.
When Colin and Katie make their connection, they imagine that they’re in another circumstance in which they can maintain control. They didn’t know that the negotiations would be so constant, and so delicious. They didn’t know that the opposite of control isn’t helplessness—it’s trust.
A Field Guide to Men of the 1970s
Vietnam. Watergate. The Arab Oil Embargo. The Ford Pinto. If the 1960s were a decade of euphoria and possibilities, the 1970s were a decade of acquiescence and closure. The decade when the deals were broken, when an old way of life shuddered to a halt before a new model had emerged, when the promise of social and technological change peeled back to reveal the disruption to come. A Field Guide to Men of the 1970s offers stories of men from 17 to 70 figuring out how to become new, as their known landscapes dissolve around them.
From grade-school spelling to top-tier PhD, Kurt Genier had always been an academic star. But his university career failed to launch, and he followed his wife Megan to her new faculty position at a third-rung college in rural Vermont. Kurt was just a trailing spouse, far away from friends, from scholarly life, from urban diversity.
When their closest friends were deported, Kurt and Megan were called upon to serve a child they’d never met. They fought against the weight of bureaucracy and habit, defended an unfamiliar family life from those for whom different meant dangerous. Kurt had to use his intellectual gifts in an entirely new way—to move from star to servant.
Trailing Spouse shows what can happen to a child when the interests of individuals, families and cultures collide. Shows who we can be, after who we were has collapsed. Shows how far we would go to protect the future of another.
David Coogan, dubbed The Leopard by his father/coach, is a senior in high school, and might be America’s best table tennis player. His endless hours in the gym, his microscopically managed nutrition, his travel and his tournaments have all separated him from everyone else in Milpitas High School, friendless and apart.
Except for Gwen Cooper. Coog and Coop, alphabetically inseparable since ninth grade. Gwen’s own tiger parents have her on track for national competitions in math and piano. For years, Coog and Coop have recognized each other as kindreds because of the dedication they’ve each invested in their different worlds. They know the heights each other have reached, and they understand what that excellence has cost.
Just at the moment when they realize how much they love each other, the world is pulling them in opposite directions. How can they keep each other when colleges and competitions want them apart? How can they each be as great as they can be without letting go of the one person who understands what it takes to be that good?