Buy A Story, Help A Food Bank! Guest Blog by Sarah Black

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I don’t know about all of you, but I am astonished at how high the food prices have risen.  Even only a few basic staples in the basket shoots my bill skyward.  So you know that all the local food banks are overwhelmed by families and individuals in need.  Sarah Black is giving everyone a chance to contribute to the food bank in her new state by donating the proceeds of her story, Wild Onions, at Amazon.  I will let her tell you in her words.

And while you are reading this story (and helping feed those in need), don’t forget about your local food banks too.  Our help is needed everywhere! Thanks, Sarah!

Eat! Eat! Welcome Back to Idaho, and a New Story by Sarah Black

Now we’re settled in Boise, the kid and I have resumed our volunteer jobs at the Idaho Food Bank. Mostly we’re sorters. For a two hour shift, we take bulk food, such as dried peas or instant mashed potatoes, and portion it into person or family sized plastic bags. Sometimes we have barrels of donated food from food drives, and we make up family food boxes. Each box should hold some canned veggies and fruit, some canned meat, rice or pasta, bread, etc. It always seems we run out of canned fruit first, and some boxes don’t have any canned tuna or chicken at all. We also make up backpacks—these backpacks go home with kids on Friday from school and have enough food for the weekends, though the word is the kids usually share with their younger sibs.

I’m obsessed with feeding everyone, have been for years. It seems pretty normal to me. I remember my great aunts and grandmother cooking for hours, in steaming hot kitchens with no AC in south Texas, southern Louisiana, hair frizzing madly in the humidity, but nobody went hungry and nobody went home without some food to hold them over for the trip. Nothing fancy, but beans and cornbread can feed a lot of kids. Food, and feeding people, was something of a holy calling for the women who raised me. The stories from the Dust Bowl, the Depression, when we lost our farm and could no longer feed ourselves from our own land- these stories cast a long shadow over my family. The old men were still talking about what had happened, what they should have done, when I was a kid.

And of course I read The Grapes of Wrath when I was 16, an impressionable age, and this story echoed the family stories I’d heard growing up, about losing the land, being hungry, not having any way to feed the kids. It’s been a long time since anyone in my family went hungry. In fact, I’m writing this with a peanut butter and jelly, Fritos on the side, at my elbow. But I remember the stories I’d heard growing up. And I saw an echo of those stories when I first came to Idaho, back in 2007.

I went to work as a Nurse Practitioner in a clinic that served people experiencing homelessness. That’s the politically correct way to say it. We used to say, poor people. Hungry people. Hungry kids. People with no food, and no way to get food. So this idea of hunger, for me, went from old family stories from 1935, to a person fainting in the lobby of my clinic from hunger, or a kid coming in for shots, telling me he’d had a ketchup sandwich for supper but no breakfast yet, because they were still waiting for the week old muffins at the shelter.

The Idaho Foodbank is a cheerful place. There is usually a waiting list for volunteer jobs, and for the most part the people in these volunteer jobs are not working off their court-mandated community service. I like working there, trying to make a little food stretch a long way. But food is expensive and healthy food is even more expensive.

What I decided to do, to celebrate moving back to Idaho, is to donate a story to support the Foodbank. I published a story of mine called Wild Onions, set in Salmon, Idaho, at the Kindle store on Amazon. This story was originally published in a print anthology called Scared Stiff by MLR Press. The list price is $2.99. For each book sold, I’ll donate a meal to the Foodbank. On November 1, I’ll report back here the number of meals donated and books sold.

I’ve put some pictures up of the Salmon River, and the beautiful Idaho backcountry, and my kid on a camping trip. He and I have put away some hot dogs and marshmallows roasted over a campfire. I will only say, and I have said to him, that I am now officially too old to crawl into that tiny tent and sleep on the ground. But I’m not too old to help out at the Foodbank. I hope you’ll help me buy some healthy food in time for the holidays, to share a little in the land of plenty.

Here’s the link to Wild Onions: WILD ONIONS

Wild Onions by Sarah BlackTHE YEAR was 1882, and the last of the native tribes had dropped to their knees and slipped on their yokes under the boots and guns of the US Cavalry. The Blackfoot were the last, and then the buffalo hunt failed. The vast plains were barren and empty, and the people began to starve. Desperation spread like poison across the land. Evil men, seeing their chance, fed on the hunger, ate the clean hearts of the people. The blood that was spilled in 1882 has not been avenged today. The ghosts are waiting for someone to set them free.

Robert looked over to the corner of the porch. Their old fishing poles were leaning against the screen. He carried them back to his chair, started untangling the nylon fishing line. Val’s pole was for serious fishermen, a supple thin Orvis fly rod with a reel full of braided yellow nylon. His pole was cheap, from Wal-Mart, with a soft cork handle and a reel with a sticky thumb button. Val laughed when he saw it, said it was for little boys fishing at reservoirs.

He put Val’s pole back in the corner, carried his down the slope to the river bank. It took him a little while to find his balance again. He didn’t try to get into the water. That would probably be too much for his shaky leg. But after a few casts he got his rhythm again, let the weight fly out low over the water.

There was a splash a bit upriver, and a moment later a young man appeared, walking down the middle of the shallow river from rock to rock in green hip waders, dressed in the dark green uniform of Fish and Wildlife. He had a fishing pole over his shoulder and a woven oak creel. From the weight of it on his shoulder, Robert could see he’d had some luck. He was Indian, Blackfoot, maybe, and his long hair was tied back at his collar. He raised a hand in greeting.

Robert nodded back. “Evening.” He reeled in his line, and the man watched the red and white bobber bouncing across the water in front of him.

The man’s face was impassive, but he blinked a couple of times when he watched the line come out of the water, bobber, lead weight, no hook. No fish. “I guess I don’t need to ask you if you have a fishing license,” the man said. “Since you aren’t really fishing.”JamesGlacier012_zps07940ef6

Robert nodded to the creel over the man’s shoulder. “Looks like you’ve had some luck.”

The man eased the basket off his shoulder, dipped it down into the icy river water. “Yes, I sure did.” He slapped the Fish and Wildlife patch on his uniform shirt. “Course, I don’t need no stinkin’ license! Just another example of the generalized corruption of the Federal Government.”

Robert grinned at him. “Wonder how many times you hear that in the course of a week? We must be in Idaho! I’m Robert Mitchell.”

The man reached for his hand and they shook. “I’m Cody Calling Eagle.

Buy link for Wild Onions at Amazon

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Whose Side Are You On Anyway? Thoughts on The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black

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As you all know I loved The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black but I realized that some readers would take issue with the fact that Gabriel Sanchez was married with children while he still continued to see the General on the down low as it were.  I could hear the questions forming in little balloons over my head.  How do you have an honorable man who, at least in one part of his life, act less than honorably?  What about his family?  Well, one of the reasons I loved this story is that, like real life, the relationships between John and Gabriel (and Martha) were messy and complicated.  Gabriel wanted a family during a time when being outwardly gay would have made that an impossibility. So Gabriel got married, something that tore John up.  But Gabriel intended to be a good and faithful husband to Martha. He cared, even loved her, then the reality of what he did to them all by marrying her set in with shattering consequences.

For the last week, The Washington Post printed letters from the children of two gay men from the same era, each married a woman and had a family. For one man, it drove him to despair and bitterness with a family that functioned not at all (“My Father’s Gay Marriage, The Washington Post, 4/5/2013).  For the other, the father came out after years in a loving marriage but unable to deny his true sexuality any longer (“My Loving Gay Dad”, The Washington Post, 4/10/2013).  In total contrast, his wife accepted him and his sexuality, so did his children.  What a difference between those two marriages.  Gabriel and Martha’s falls somewhere in between.  I know that many gay men married, hoping that the marriage would change their sexuality or help them deny who they really were.  Some still do.  And others, like Gabriel, realize that who they love and who they are should not be buried in a closet or be seen as a burden to be carried alone.  Think of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, now happily living with his partner, and others now coming out of the closet ,then think about the era they grew up in.  Such different times than the one we live in today.

Another element of Sarah Black’s story that I appreciated is that Martha Sanchez is not a one-dimensional “bitch”, a characterization I have seen in other books and not just the m/m genre.  She is a real woman, whose marriage has fallen apart and her life completely in turmoil.  She hurts and reacts to that pain by wanting Gabriel to hurt as much as she does, so realistically is Martha portrayed that you do feel for her.  It is inferred that their marriage was in trouble for some time (something she mentioned to her son). As it is when most marriages fail, it takes two people to contribute to that collapse. This part of the story felt painful because in real life, it hurts and the people involved react because of the way they are feeling now and their expectations upon entering the marriage.

So when I read that Sarah Black wrote a post called “Whose Side Are You On Anyway” about Martha Sanchez, I knew I wanted to repost it here, and have done so with her approval.  I know that for some people, they never want to see cheating in their stories (oh the blogs I have read about that) and for others, it is not a problem as long as it works within the story.  I think here it absolutely works within the story.   Let me know what you think.

 Whose Side Are You On Anyway by Sarah Black

I nearly stopped writing The General and the Horse-Lord about halfway through. The problem? Martha. She was sitting in the car with the general, and she was telling him what she had done to try and ruin his life. And I was like, you go, girl! You want a baseball bat? I’ll tell you where Gabriel has his pickup truck parked.

I was totally on her side. I thought she was being a little too restrained in her revenge, because, I mean, these guys had cheated on her! They had been cheating since before she was married! She deserved some revenge.

But wait a minute, the guys, they’re the heroes, right? How can the ex-wife possible become a Valkyrie in the middle of the story? So I stopped to think about it all.

When you’re writing the rough draft, you do it intuitively, what I call ‘doing it like Kerouac.’ Just let the words flow like a river. Then when you start to revise, you think about things like motivation, behavior. Why does he do that? What am I really trying to say? Once you can be clear about what your point is, you can revise to hone the point.

So I’m trying to think, why was I so totally on Martha’s side? Well, I’m a woman, of course. There is no woman in the world who wouldn’t look at this situation and hand Martha a baseball bat. The fact that she is very self-contained and proud meant she did it a different way.

But John and Gabriel, they had been in love for years before Martha ever entered the picture. They would have made a life together, and it wasn’t Martha who kept them apart. In a different world, they would have made different choices. When basic human rights are kept from people, they’re not the only ones harmed. The harm flows down over all the people they love, the people they know, even just the people who stand as witnesses.

We’re all harmed when human rights are denied. In this story, John and Gabriel were not the only people hurt. They tried in their own ways to contain the pain, but it flows down, over Martha, over the kids, over Kim, who watched this growing up. I decided all I could do is write the story and not take anyone’s side. Martha, I totally feel it. I am going to find you a wonderful guy to fall in love with, I promise you, somebody who deserves a woman as smart and strong as you are. Just be patient.

(And in response to a question from a reader about the marriage between Martha and Gabriel):

I guess what I didn’t write clearly enough was that we don’t really know what happened in Gabriel and Martha’s marriage. The POV character was John and he always stayed away from it. And two people don’t divorce after twenty years of marriage and two kids and it’s all just one issue or one person to blame- to my mind, writing this story, they were two people who tried to make a marriage and failed, and the fact that Gabriel was in love with John during that time, and seeing him, was not the reason the marriage failed. It was the reason Gabriel stopped trying, but if they had been happily married, they wouldn’t have been fighting for a year before the divorce, as Juan told Kim. We don’t know what happened to their marriage, because neither one of them was the POV character. We only know what John sees.

The point of honor I can’t back away from is I feel like I want my characters to tell the truth. I’m 52. I’ve seen a lot of marriages fail. And it is never easy and it’s never just one person’s fault. And I wrote this story with what I saw as characters being truthful, even knowing I would get hammered for it. These characters, Martha and the kids, they are still Gabriel’s family. It’s not like they’re going to dissapear and the guys can dance off into the sunset. Consequences of our actions roll on down like water, and Gabriel will be dealing with the fallout for the rest of his life. His fictional life, I mean!

I know we would all like our heros to have guilt free loves that are HEA, free of too much angst and turmoil.  Those stories are lovely to read and make everyone feel good.  But there is plenty of room for love stories where the path to HEA or even HFN is gritty, complicated and oh so human.  People get hurt, lives get shattered and to takes time for all involved to heal and move on if possible.  I love those too, perhaps even more so because they are realistic and well, grown up.

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black fits into my second category here and I appreciate it because of the realistic choices the men make throughout their lives.  Not ones we would have necessarily wanted them to make, but ones that they felt were the ones they (and others) felt like they had to make at that time.  The choices made by the men in the story and in the Letters to the Editor at The Washington Post are ones that are made less frequently now as more states legalize gay marriage and gay adoptions.  Society’s views are changing, albeit more slowly than we would wish.  Still Stonewall wasn’t that long ago, something we tend to forget in our disapproval over gays/lesbians cheating outside their straight marriages. The change in human and civil rights has occurred in a short amount of time and stories like these bring that back front and center as well as put a human face to a very real state of mind from the past.

The General and the Horse-Lord by Sarah Black – read my review here.

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Author Spotlight – Sarah Black

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This was first published spring 2012 and since then my admiration for Sarah Black as a writer has grown stronger.  Her characterizations are multidimensional and come fully alive before your eyes, complete with a authentic back story and dialog that fits in their mouths like water in a river.  It flows and carries with it the regional characters that the earth has endowed it with.  As I said, I can always pick out a Sarah Black character or dialog.

Tomorrow The General and the Horse-Lord will be released by Dreamspinner Press and Sarah Black will be here with a guest post to mark the occasion.  Scattered Thoughts will mark the occasion too by giving away a copy of this book, courtesy of Dreamspinner Press to the lucky person chosen at the end of the day from those who comment on her guest blog.  It’s a fascinating look at one manner in which the author gets to know her characters, don’t miss it.

My review will be posted on Tuesday, but really I will say it right now.  I loved this story and you will too.GeneralandtheHorse-Lord[The]

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May 12, 2012

Today I thought I would start a new feature called Author Spotlight, highlighting authors who books I love and often recommend. Today the spotlight falls on Sarah Black. Just her name on a cover is enough for me to buy it,  She has over 42 books to her name.  I aim to read them all. My hope is that this will get you to pick one up as well.

Here is her bio from her website Sarah Black Writes:

“Sarah Black is a fiction writer living in beautiful Boise, Idaho, the jewel of the American West. Sarah is a family nurse practitioner and works in a medical clinic that takes care of homeless folks (they have lots of great stories). Raised a Navy brat, she’s lived all over the country. She and her son James recently moved to Boise from the Navajo reservation in Arizona. When she isn’t writing, she’s doing something with wool. She learned weaving out on the reservation and now has her eye on an antique circular sock knitting machine.”

The author’s love and knowledge of her subjects permeates each story she writes.  Whether they feature a former Navajo Marine heading into the  desert or a wildlife photographer capturing the photo of the year in a river in Alaska, the authenticity her background brings to each story is unquestionable and the realistic characterizations and locations is never in doubt.  I could pick up one of her stories and know it is hers without ever glancing at the cover, her voice is that unique.

Sarah Black’s stories have often informed and educated me.  In Anagama Fires I learned just enough about raku pottery and the intricacies of glazes to fire my own curiousity, sending me off into the realms of research and adult education classes on pottery nearby.  As a former Park Naturalist I am familiar with wildlife photography, yet she made it fresh once more with Sockeye Love, especially in the scene captured in the title.  It had me laughing in joy and the delights that nature continues to surprise me with. The author’s own military background as well as her family’s shines forth in her characters with their own Marine backstories. In Border Roads 4 members from a platoon return home from Iraq and try to reintegrate in the society they left behind. These veterans are scarred physically and emotionally, holding onto the brotherhood formed in war to help see them through the trenches and ambushes of life back at home.  One character is so physically disfigured he hides behind a kerchief, ashamed of how he looks and feeds. Black’s background as a clinic nurse brings this character close to our heart, helps us understand some of the mental and physical challenges he is going through, gives us a man in pain, instead of a victim. I always thought it was a shame this book was narrowed down to m/m fiction as that covered only two of the men from the platoon, the other two were heterosexual.  I think it is possible that the inclusion of m/f content hurt this book and caused it to have a lower following than her other books.  Either way, this is an incredible book of injured veterans returning home, an issue that will be with us for some time to come. A hard, painful must read.

The only time Sarah Black has lost me so far is in Slackline.  Slacklining is a practice in which a 1 inch nylon rope is strung between two anchor points.  The rope is not tightly strung as in tightroping but looser so it has a degree of  play so the rope becomes dynamic (in some cases stretching and bouncing to allow stunts and tricks).  In other words, slack not tight.  The main character injures himself when attempting to cross the sea of Hoy off the coast of the Orkney Islands in Scotland on a slackline.  He was by himself, no backup, no one knew he was there, he was trespassing and didn’t take into account the high winds off the sea and up the cliffs.  I started off thinking what an idiot and unfortunately that impression never left me.  I will give Sarah Black credit in that the character knew he was flouting slackling rules as well as the local laws, but such stupendous stupidity (especially as a Park Naturalist who has seen people do incredibly insane things in nature) left me with no connection to this character and therefore to the story.  But one out of all I have read?  I would love to have those odds at the track.

And finally when Sarah Black gives you a character that combines her love of the Navajo people and the military, then you have characters that will stay with you long after the book has ended.  Lorenzo Maryboy, Navajo, former Marine and cartoonist (Marathon Cowboys) or Code Talker Logan Kee of Murder at Black Dog Springs still linger on, in my heart and thoughts. Give them a chance to introduce themselves to you.  I know you will love them.  I know you will love Sarah Black.

You can find her at her website: Sarah Black Writes   She has free reads there for the taking.

She also has stories at Goodreads M/M Romance Group. Find it here!

Marathon Cowboys

The Legend of the Apache Kid

Gregory’s Ghost