Re-gathering the Franconia College Tribes, Aug 14-16

#FridayReads—Marilinne Cooper’s Suspenseful “Blue Moon”

For my ‪#‎FridayReads‬ this week, I just finished reading Marilinne Cooper’s excellent suspense novel Blue Moon, set in a New England town reminiscent of Franconia, NH, where she and I went to Franconia College. I was engrossed in discovering how the clever plot resolves, and delighted with the suspenseful ending, and the goodwill among major characters. I was with Marilinne at our FC Reunion last weekend, where I was excited to pick up a copy of this, her latest novel featuring her 6-book series character, investigative reporter Tyler Mackenzie. I read and love this genre, and this book is very well done. Good job by Ms Cooper, whose books are available via this link.


Indie Musical Instrument Store Flourishing 100s of Miles from a Big City

I was delighted to see this article in the New Hampshire Union-Leader, reporting on Northern Lights, in Littleton, NH, where my singer-songwriter son Ewan Turner has gotten one of his favorite guitars, a Fender acoustic. The store was founded by Dan and Moochco Salomon, two friends and classmates from Franconia College, where we all went to school in the 1970s. It’s a good-news article by John Koziol emphasizing how the couple have managed, since 1978, to make the store in to a destination for musicians and avid players. They carry keyboards, drums, and other instruments, and really specialize with a fabulous guitar selection, with instrument prices that range from $100 to $95,000, the latter for a 1957 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop. They operate from a rustic wooden building they own that was erected in 1833, on Main Street of one of the most livable small towns in the eastern U.S., roughly equidistant from Boston, Portland, ME, Burlington, VT, and Montreal, Quebec. They carry many fine guitar brands, including Martin, Taylor and Santa Cruz, which has only sixty authorized dealers in the whole country, and benefit from what Koziol reports is, “according to the April 2014 issue of Music Trades magazine…a ‘golden age’ for acoustic guitars with the market for acoustics costing more than $1,500 up 40 percent in 2013 over 2012.” I would add it seems to me a phenomenon similar to that which is fueling the renewal of vinyl’s popularity as a format for recorded sound.

I’m very happy that this store operated by my friends Dan and Moochco is doing well, thirty-six years after they first opened their doors. It reminds me that yesterday, May 4th, was the thirty-sixth anniversary of the opening of Undercover Books, the indie bookstore chain that I operated from 1978-85 with my sibling and parents, and which still ran as an online book ordering service until my brother Joel’s death in 2009. Congrats to Dan and Moochco, I hope to see them at Northern Lights sometime soon! Meantime, I invite you to see a picture of them in this screenshot from the article, and read it all via this link. Northern Lights

Ernest Hebert, for Many Years Among my Favorite Novelists

Ernest Hebert blogLast summer I wrote a #FridayReads essay that recalled a 1979 visit to my bookstore Undercover Books by a young novelist named Stephen King–then only in the early years of what would become his decades-long career as a bestselling novelist. While discussing his new book Dead Zone he excitedly recommended to me a novel from his publisher, The Dogs of March by Ernest Hebert. I eagerly told King that I had already read Hebert’s book and that I would from then on tell my customers about his endorsement of it, and recommend it even more energetically. Soon after King’s visit to my bookstore, I wrote a letter to Hebert c/o his editor, the late and much-missed Alan Williams at the Viking Press (who was also King’s editor then). I let Hebert know that I’d enjoyed The Dogs of March, and that he and his novel had boosters in Stephen King and at my bookstore. After, that Ernie, as I came to know him, and I carried on a correspondence that continued for several years. I also visited him and his family on trips I made from Cleveland back to New Hampshire, where I had attended Franconia College earlier in the ’70s. One of the things that Ernie did with great skill in The Dogs of March was to juxtapose longtime residents in New England towns with incomers, or as he puts it, “natives vs. newcomers.” He wrote compelling fiction about all kinds of characters, and did it with a sharp edge of social observation.

While Ernie and I later fell out of touch, I kept an eye out for his work, noting that he had moved on from working as a newspaper reporter when I first met him, to teaching writing at Dartmouth College, all while he continued to write and publish novels. In fact, The Dogs of March was followed by a string of related books, collectively known as the Darby Chronicles, named after the town where he had set them, as well as a historical novel and a piece of speculative fiction. After I wrote about Stephen King and The Dogs of March last July, Ernie and I got back in touch, a happy reunion. He writes a superb blog of his own filled with writerly craft, which I subscribe to and visit regularly. This week Ernie published a new post informing readers that in Fall 2014 the University Press of New England will publish Howard Elman’s Farewell, the seventh book in the Darby series.* I recommend that new post, where he also writes about a guide to the Darby Chronicles he’ll be publishing online. His blog is filled with keen reflections showing how a career novelist thinks about his books–before they’re written, while they’re being composed, and once they are completed and out in the world. I also recommend his books of course, and suggest if you’re just starting on them you begin with The Dogs of March.. Here’s a picture gallery of all my editions of Ernest Hebert’s books, with author photos, many of them taken by his wife Medora Hebert:

* The seven books in the Darby Chronicles are The Dogs of March; A Little More Than Kin; Whisper My Name; The Passion of Estelle Jordan; Live Free or Die; Spoonwood; and (forthcoming) Howard Elman’s Farewell.


How I Came to Have as a Companion a Black Lab Named Noah

I’ve had a gratifying response from readers who are enjoying this personal essay of mine, first on Facebook, and this morning on Twitter, as seen above. In part, the essay chronicles how as a teenager I came to have as a longtime companion the black Lab Noah pictured here. It’s a longer sketch than most blog posts, so when you have a few minutes, I hope you’ll enjoy reading this personal chronicle.

This Week at The Great Gray Bridge

In the past week at this blog, I’ve written about the best TV ad of the presidential campaign thus far; a brave woman in Alaska who fended off an aggressive grizzly bear; the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema of Austin, TX, which is entering the NYC market only a couple blocks from my office; the great Canadian band Library Voices; Sarah Silverman’s bawdy video that pokes fun at right-wing casino magnate Sheldon Adelson; a new album from Bob Dylan; the award-winning CBC radio host, Jian Ghomeshi; Greenland’s worryingly shrinking Petermann Glacier; a young chess master and Franconia College classmate of mine who vanished in 1978 under mysterious circumstances; the late, great baseball writer, Robert Creamer, who chronicled the life of Babe Ruth; the sweet severance deal Mitt Romney arranged for himself from Bain Capital; the moving book I’ve been reading by Rob Sheffield, my #FridayReads yesterday; and my own personal history, including the story of how during a teenage road trip my brother Joel and I happened to adopt our longtime black lab Noah, pictured here with me.

A Vanished Young Chess Master

Last winter, publishing reporter Sarah Weinman–who works for and who writes for a number of other publications–asked me if I would try to help her with a story she was working on. Having learned that I attended Franconia College in the 70s, Sarah wondered if I had ever known fellow FC student, Peter Winston. he began in ’75, I began in ’73. His name didn’t ring a bell for me, but Sarah continued and told me about more him, ultimately asking if I would put the word out among the old College community for anyone who might’ve known him. I agreed readily. Sadly, there was a dark and tragic background to her queries, and to the story. She explained that Winston, for a time a promising talent in competitive chess, burdened with a history of mental health problems, had in 1978 simply vanished, never to have been seen since. Foul play or misadventure were of course suspected by his family and authorities, but no trace or record of him has ever been found. He was a kind of modern-day Judge Crater.

I put the word out on the Franconia College Facebook page, a 366-member strong group of former students, faculty and extended community members. Unfortunately, my request for information yielded not a single lead, which I told Sarah last March. She thanked me for trying to help, and went back to reporting the story through other means, and I made a mental note to watch her byline for the piece on Peter Winston. Yesterday, the result of her efforts appeared in the New York Observer, a fascinating 3,000 word article that was the last thing I read before falling asleep last night. Sarah also’s blogged about the writing of the piece on her excellent tumblr, Off On a Tangent. The Observer article is haunting and sad–kind of a nonfiction counterpart to Queen’s Gambit, the novel by Walter Tevis*, whose protagonist is a troubled female chess prodigy. Though Sarah’s piece can answer few questions about Winston’s disappearance, it asks many and is compelling reading, folding in a portrait of the chess scene in NY in the 70s, the milieu that produced Winston, and a character sketch of him. Publication of the piece may also produce some leads for Sarah, so I’m recommending that you read her story and share it widely among your contacts. Any Franconia College people who may not have seen my earlier call for information, please take note. If you knew Peter, or remember him, please let me know and I will put you in touch with Sarah.

I must say now as I keep looking at this photo, I believe I must have seen him at the College, his face and demeanor are somehow familiar, but I know I never spoke with him.

* Tevis clearly had a gift for writing about troubled, alienated protagonists, sometimes young. In addition to the chess novel, his last book, he also wrote the SF novels, The Man Who Fell to Earth (a classic film with David Bowie) and The Steps of the Sun (which I happened to publish in 1989), and the pool hall novels The Hustler and The Color of Money, also great movies with Paul Newman in both, and Jackie Gleason in the first. In 1983, when Tevis was on tour for Queen’s Gambit he happened to stop in my Cleveland bookstore, Undercover Books and my brother and sister and I talked with him for an hour, on a blizzardy day. He died just a year later, in 1984. The Peter Winston mystery is one to which he would have definitely related–had it been reported in local news outlets, but according to Sarah Weinman, Winston’s disappearance barely registered in local media, or even with NYPD, who she writes have “no record of anyone by his name disappearing from the city.” Records for her piece were very sparse, with open requests to police and city authorities officially unanswered at this point.

#FridayReads, May 18–“Atlantic Fever”, “Anatomy of Injustice,” and “Bad Blood”

#FridayReads, May 18–Joe Jackson’s Atlantic Fever: Lindbergh, His Competitors, and the Race to Cross the Atlantic, with a cast of obsessed and scheming aviators who all wanted to make Paris first. Among the schemers is Admiral Richard E. Byrd, whose machinations and manipulations on the stage of world-class feat-making would make him almost as legendary as Lindbergh. In the 1990s and early 2000s I published Jackson’s first three books, including the co-authored Dead Run, with an Introduction by William Styron. Jackson’s a very gifted writer of narrative nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews says of his latest: “With stirring detail and perceptive insight about the pilots and the public, Jackson recaptures the tone and tenor of a frantic era’s national obsession.”

Also reading and finishing two powerful true-crime narratives: Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, Raymond Bonner’s masterful dissection of a flawed and corrupt prosecution of an innocent man; and Casey Sherman’s Bad Blood: Freedom and Death in the White Mountains, a compelling tick-tock of a deadly case I know too well, the violent 2007 episode in New Hampshire, near where I attended Franconia College, when a cop and and a young man he had stopped both ended up shot dead.