Tag Archives: noah chance

World War 1, Flanders Fields, and Second Chance

While I’m working on the new books, I’m going to be discussing the ones that have already been released, since often the questions I get from the books clubs and fans are about what is already out there.

The Noah Chance series consists of two books at this point, with a third in the pre-planning stages now. These books are about a remarkable young man with Downs Syndrome who, in Second Chance, has just graduated High School.

As many of you know I actually started writing No’ Chance, the first book in the series, back in the mid to late 90s. I’d write a paragraph here and a paragraph there, mostly when I was on the road trying to establish myself as a trial lawyer. Then, on an absolutely beautiful late summer day, I was waiting on the members of a jury we’d picked to arrive at the courthouse so we could start a trial and the judge called the lawyers back into her office and waved at her television and we saw the world changing before our eyes and suddenly many things that had seemed scary were not quite so scary anymore as we watched the World Trade Center buildings fall to the ground over the next while.

Trial lawyers spent the next couple of years trying to figure out how the events of that day and what followed would affect the viewpoints of the jurors and I found my time for writing was even more limited.

By the time I was ready to release No’ Chance, I was already well into writing Second Chance, and it seemed we had been at war with someone, somewhere, forever. I had always been fascinated by the stories told to me by veterans of WW II but when I started reading about WW I I realized that war had probably been as horrible as any before or after and yet you didn’t hear much about it.

I said all that to say this, a part of that war made it into Second Chance, a book set in the beautiful locale of Galveston Island, Texas, a place I knew well since I had visited there every weekend for many of the summers of my early life and as far removed from the WW I torn landscape of Flanders as it was possible to be.

The Noah Chance series are each standalone novels, but I strongly suggest you read them in order. Just as I was growing as a writer, so the characters grew as people and sometimes a few lines of a letter home or, in this case, a poem from a young doctor who had been at Flanders after the battle, did a lot to depict the horror of war.

I’m closing out this post, as I periodically do, with a YouTube video. This one is The Bloody Fields of Flanders, played on bagpipes. While some say that bagpipes sounds to them like a bag of cats being strangled, many of us feel a stirring in our soul when the keening starts, showing that while out family may be generations from the green hills of Scotland, the blood still runs true.

Help! Need Reviews – Amazon Strikes Again!

I noticed a couple of weeks ago that Amazon seems to have, once again, removed a number of reviews even though I don't use paid reviewers for my products and so I'd ask anyone who has read any of my books to take a minute, if it isn't too much trouble, and head on over to Amazon.com and GoodReads.com and leave a review on any of my books they have read.

Apparently, Amazon has now initiated a policy where on some occasions they remove reviews from people who are your social media contacts. Since I do my best to interact with readers as much as possible, both in person and online, and have accounts on almost all of the social media sites I can only assume this is why some of the reviews were removed.

This happened last year (I think it was last year) when I lost a number of reviews with no explanation from Amazon (who also owns Goodreads) despite a request for them to explain what happened. As I said, I don't use paid reviews, unlike some other authors from the large publishing houses, and I can't tell why these were targeted but I know it happened to a number of independent writers all within a few days of each other. I applaud Amazon's attempts to make sure people aren't just buying reviews and are doing their best to police this practice but there appears to be some issues with their algorithms and if they actually are removing those of people who have "liked" a Faceboo page or interacted with a social media site then it does a great disservice to both independent authors and their readers, both of whom are Amazon customers.

In the online world of book sales, you live or die based on your reviews since people tend to buy what other people have liked and I can only ask those of you who have read my works to take a minute and leave a few words at these two sites or any others you go to.

I hate to impose on anyone but it would be much appreciated.

My Hero Has Down’s Syndrome

I have two series of books that I write. Well, since you have to have more than one book connected together to have a series I actually have one series and the aspirations (and a half written follow up) for a second.

The first series is the Junebug series based around the protagonist Junebug Walker. If you've read Junebug and the Body you know it is a nostalgic mystery with a lot of humor. It's set in the South, has a distinct southern slant, and I am working on the second book, Junebug and the Monkey, as the mood strikes me.

However, it's the Noah Chance series that I am blogging about today

Noah Chance is a young man in his early 20s who has Down's Syndrome and can see and talk to ghosts. He is the hero in both No' Chance and Second Chance, and hopefully we'll be seeing and hearing more from him as the books continue. 

I don't even remember now how Noah got his start, other than one day he and his two compadres were there in my mind, almost fully developed and just as you read about them in No' Chance. I didn't decide I wanted to write a book with a character who has Down's Syndrome, the character has it…because Noah has it.

I do know I was greatly influenced in my depiction of Noah by a woman I knew, let's call her Kay.

Kay was in her early 40s and had lived with her mother until the mother passed away, at which time she was placed in a group home by the state. In my other life I was hired by Kay's sister to file for guardianship over her, a guardianship which was opposed by the company who ran the group home and who, incidentally, received funds every month for providing Kay a place to live.

I had the opportunity to meet with Kay on one occasion with only her and the attorney (appointed by the court to represent her in the case). The other attorney was a friend of mine and sat in the corner and allowed me to talk with Kay for almost an hour. The meeting that day started when Kay entered my office wearing a bright floral design dress and a huge, wide brimmed hat with flowers on it. When she saw me for the first time she broke into a huge smile and rushed over to give me a big hug and thank me for trying to help her get to live with her older sister.

It was my first time interacting on an extended basis with someone who has Trisomy 21, the genetic condition commonly referred to as Down's and I left that day with the certainty that meeting Kay had benefited me much more than it had benefited her. I had never, ever met someone who I could say had no ulterior motives, hidden agendas, or anything other than an open and loving heart.

We did win her case and the last I heard, Kay was living in Portland, Oregon with her sister. For a while I received a card from her at least once a year and it always made me smile.

Setting the Atmosphere Through Food (and a Roast Beef Po-Boy Recipe)

As I've mentioned before, most writers pull off of their backgrounds when they set the atmosphere and tone of their books. Some do it by smells (who can forget the sour smell of Bourbon Street on a weekend morning), some do it by sounds (Ernest Gaines is great at this, conveying a sense of poverty by the creaking of worn out bed springs), and others are visual. I often do this by describing a food.

In No' Chance I referenced both the Lucky Dog hot dogs found throughout the French Quarter in New Orleans as well as po-boys served at Johnny's Po-boys there. This is probably a holdover from the family dinners we used to have out at my great grandmother's house in the small community of Bellwood, La. Ma and Pa Alford lived in the heart of the Kisatchie National Forest that became the setting for The Bottle Tree. We used to go there on Sundays and Ma would spend all morning cooking so that we'd have a huge lunch and the day revolved around that meal.

The recipe below is one that reminds me of New Orleans, the taste instantly sending me to the humidity, sights and smells of the Crescent City. This one is made the New Orleans way, dripping with "Debris Gravy". It's also great to make homemade french fries and use them in place of the meat to make the po-boy, but then covering them in the gravy. You have to remember, most of the New Orleans and Cajun foods (two different kinds) were developed because people were poor and had to make do with what they had. This one can be made from inexpensive ingredients but the taste is rich!

I started with a recipe from NOLACuisine.com and then made some changes to suit my family.

I hope you try and enjoy it.

 

Roast Beef Po’ Boy with Debris Gravy Recipe

For the Roast:

1 Beef Chuck Roast (app. 2 ½ pounds). Don’t trim the fat since it adds flavor.

2 Garlic Cloves thinly sliced

Kosher Salt & Black Pepper

Cayenne

Flour to coat roast

3 Tbsp Lard or Vegetable Oil

1 Medium Onion, Diced

1 Medium to Large Carrot, Diced (I prefer to shred it using a cheese grater)

1 tablespoon finely Chopped Garlic

1 Cup Beef Stock

1 Cup Chicken Stock

Water if necessary

2 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce

1 Tbsp Hot Sauce

2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme (you can use dried if you don’t have fresh)

1 Bay Leaf  (fresh or dried)

Kosher Salt and Black Pepper to taste

 

Cut small slits into the roast, about every 3 inches, try not to pierce all the way to the bottom. Stuff the sliced garlic into the slits.

Season the Roast very liberally on all sides with the Salt & Black Pepper, season with Cayenne to your taste, I don’t use much.

Coat the roast in flour. You want enough to form a light crust when you brown it in the oil. This step will make the gravy just a tad thicker.

Heat the fat in a heavy bottomed Dutch Oven over high heat, when the oil starts to smoke, wait a few more seconds, then carefully add the Roast cut side down. Brown very well on all sides, without burning it. Remove to a plate.

Drain off all but 1 Tbsp of the fat in the pan, add the onions and carrots, cook until just before the onions start to brown, add the garlic (be carefult not to burn the garlic) then place the roast back in the pan, then add the stocks. Finish, if necessary, with enough water to bring the cooking liquid 3/4 of the way up the roast. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then back down to a very low simmer. Simmer covered for 3-4 hours or until the meat falls apart when you look at it (you know what I mean, very tender).

For the Debris Gravy:

Carve the meat into very thin slices, it will be hard to do and will fall apart, that is good. All of the bits and pieces, that fall off are your Debris (pronounced Duh-bree.)

Add all of the bits and chunks to you cooking liquid after skimming off the fat from the surface, keep the carved meat with a little liquid on a warm plate, covered tightly with plastic wrap.

Bring the gravy to a full boil and reduce until it coats the back of a spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Our family adds all of the meat back to the gravy when it has reduced and lets it sit there for a while to moisten the meat.

  

For the Po’ Boy:

New Orleans Style French Bread  (we found out that if you can’t get the good, crusty French bread to make this then you can use the canned Pillsbury Crusty French Bread and it is surprisingly good)

Cut the bread 3/4 of the way through so that the bread folds open as opposed to slicing it all the way through. If you slice it through the sandwich will fall apart. If you are using fresh baked bread wait for it to cool before slicing.

Shredded Lettuce

Mayonnaise

Roast Beef (see above)

Debris Gravy

 

Slather the bread with a very generous portion of Mayonnaise on the inside of the upper and lower halves. Place about a cup of Shredded Lettuce on the bottom half. Cover the lettuce with a generous portion of the “sliced” Beef. Drown the beef with Debris Gravy.

 This recipe will make 4 big Po Boys.

My Favorite Book I Have Written

One of the questions i get asked a lot is "Which one of your books is your favorite?"

That is an extremely hard question to answer because the simple fact is that I have written a couple of books that I will likely never publish because I don't like them that much so, inherently, when I publish a book I like it.

I absolutely love both Junebug and The Body and  No' Chance. Each of them have such unique characters, settings that I love, and they have so much potential for the future. I still laugh every time I read portions of  Junebug  and still get anxious at certain scenes in  No' Chance.

But, I guess I would have to say my favorite is also the book that I wrote the fastest, The Bottle Tree.

If I had to pick a reason I guess it would be because while it was the last book I wrote, it is also one of the oldest ideas I had. The turpentine and logging camp was real, and I can still remember when my Uncle Mike and I found the big resin pile that juts into the creek. Not long after that I found out from my Great Aunt that she had actually lived there as a child, and the story was greatly influenced by what she told me of her life in the camp.

There is also a lot of emotion in The Bottle Tree, probably because the characters in there are so real to me.  Junebug  and  Noah  and his friends are real too, but the characters in The Bottle Tree are all modeled on people that I know rather than being characters created with bits and pieces of different people.

Works in Progress

Well, I was panicking for a while. For various reasons I tried hand writing portions of the second book in the Noah Chance series, tentatively titled Second Chance (how original huh?). I had the notebook that I used for writing and just finished transcribing the first nine chapters, which was about 100 double spaced pages. When I reached the end I realized that I remember writing some portions that weren't there.

My better half began tearing though the house, I'm sure encouraged by the wailing and gnashing of teeth emanating from me, and found the remainder of the pages so I am now transcribing again.

The strange thing is, I remembered bits and pieces of the missing pages but had completely forgotten the direction in which the story had gone. 

That is another disadvantage to working without an outline (or safety net). If the pages had never been found then I'm not sure what would have happened next.

However, now that I think about it, maybe the characters would have taken the book in a different direction.

How can I use that?