Excerpt from Chasing Eternity on my website!

June 11th, 2012

Now that I have TWO published novels, I thought it was a good time to upgrade the website to accomodate my growing repertoire. My website was designed by Brian Landis of Richmond-based The Hatchery back in 2009, when my first novel, The Outer Banks House, was in production at Crown. He had done fellow author Dean King’s website, which I drooled over every time I clicked on it, so he was my first choice. And come to find out, he plays and sings in the band Lorem Ipsum and likes Radiohead even more than I do. It was a perfect fit.

No surprises, I absolutely loved the look of the site–seagulls, blue sky, simplicity!–and all of the cool things it could do. Then when I wanted to start a blog, he helped me get it going through the website. So of course I went to Brian when I wanted to add my ebook Chasing Eternity  to it. Thank you Brian for all of your technical and visual powers! You’re like a super-hero for website designers. I might have to buy you your own white cape with your little egg and exclamation mark on the back.

You’ll have to click over to Works section to be able to read the excerpt from Chapter 10…I think you’ll find it intriguing since it deals with really old grave markers in an ancient Irish cemetery that indicate that one of the buried lived for a few decades past the age of 100! Don’t you just love supercentenarians?? I find them magical, as you’ll find when reading the book. Like hobbits, or dragons, or vampires…my elderly characters possess the element of fantasy about them, making them perfect subjects for transportive summer reading.

You can download the book on Amazon, B&N.com, iBooks, and Kobo today for the low price of $2.99! Cheers to summer and squinting at our ereaders on the beach! Enjoy!


Here is the cover of my e-book, Chasing Eternity!

May 31st, 2012

I think the cover of my upcoming e-book, Chasing Eternity, is truly beautiful! What do you think?


Gorgeous Irish lassie on the cover of my e-book!

May 29th, 2012

I just approved the cover of my e-book, Chasing Eternity! It features a red-headed young woman in a green sleeveless dress, looking out on Irish-type cliffs and blue sea. You can’t see what the woman’s face looks like, but she looks just gorgeous from the back. I think she looks just like my character Aisling, without her thick, wool sweater of course. And she looks like just the kind of woman who has unbelievable longevity in her blood, the kind of woman that can even peak the interest of an ambitious American geneticist! Well done, Diversion Publishing graphic artist! It was exactly what I had in mind.

 I wanted to show you the cover here on my blog and on my website, but I have to wait for the high-resolution photos to be sent to me. Any day now though! My editor is still shooting for a July release date for the e-book, but if anything changes, I will let you know!


Adoption Update: Birth Mom on the Banks!

May 10th, 2012

The last time I stood in the Atlantic. Ellery is cooling off her "chunkers."

So my birth mom just got back from the Outer Banks! She read my novel, The Outer Banks House, and I’m not sure if she booked her trip after that or what, but she and her sister soon traveled all the way from Indiana to Nags Head, North Carolina, my old stomping (well, really stumbling) ground! A few weeks ago she told me that some people in her family were reading my book, and I was so touched by that, these family members I’ve never met picking up copies of my book and actually reading it. She said that she’d read it as well, and maybe she was just being birth-mom polite, but she said she enjoyed reading it, and even saw some of herself in my main character Abby! (I think she’s got some stories to tell me…)

When I found out that she was going to the Outer Banks in late April, I booked my friend Eliza to go with me so that I could meet her down there. I envisioned having her to the beach house for lunch, or meeting her at Chili Peppers for lunch, or having lunch on the beach if the weather was nice…well, there was a lunch involved, and I was happy that I was going to have my BFF with me. But the date fell through for me and Eliza, and my crazy life (kids’ soccer, and lacrosse, and tennis, oh my! not to mention school and work) didn’t permit me to leave my family for a beach jaunt at any point during her week-long stay.

So I contented myself with imagining her down there, going to a few of the places I told her about…where I got married (Duck United Methodist Church), where the reception was held (Sanderling Inn), where I used to waitress (The Roadside), where the family beach house is, where I had a couple of book signings (the wonderful Manteo Booksellers and the charming Buxton Village Books).

All I know is, she stayed in south Nags Head and went to Owens restaurant…that was one of my parents’ favorite places to eat down there, and a real treat for the family. My sister and I would have to deal with pulling on sundresses and sandals over our sunburned skin and get in the station wagon and drive down the sandy beach road to the “fancy” restaurant, where everyone but me would order seafood. A fond memory of mine is dining there with my husband during a terrific rain storm and not being able to leave–I mean literally, not being able to set foot from the restaurant–because the parking lots had flooded so badly. The memory is vaguely Titanic-like in its tension, even though we didn’t have to enlist  lifeboats to get to the safety of our cars. The food there is great though, and so is the (normally dry) nautical atmosphere.

My birth mom posted some beautiful photos of the ocean on her FB page. My heart squeezed, looking at them, because I haven’t seen the Atlantic (with my family, that is–I had an Eliza girls weekend last November–see posting!) since Labor Day!! Inexcusable, but there it is. Such is the state of our lives now. But as it turns out, I’m going down there with Eliza next weekend to drink too much red wine and eat too much cheese and pate and white flour. This weekend is a major coup for me, considering I had to enlist two sitters plus the sitter’s mom to help my husband out. I expect I’ll be seeing my birth mom here and there (in my mind, of course, and yes, the wine might induce this reaction). But I’m really so happy she was there, that she took the time to discover a little bit about me and the things I hold dear. I’m sure I’ll be doing the same for her in the future…


I’m going to have an eBook!

April 29th, 2012

I’m so excited…I signed a contract with Diversion Books this week for my upcoming ebook Chasing Eternity! It’s my second novel, but it isn’t a thing like my first novel, the historical fiction novel The Outer Banks House. It’s set in the present day, on a remote island off the western coast of Ireland, and it’s about genetics, longevity and really, really old people! Here is a plot synopsis:

In his quest to increase lifespan and fight age-related diseases, longevity researcher Ryan Abernathy travels to an isolated island off the western coast of Ireland to meet with two elderly twin sisters, whose DNA holds potential for his research, but he is distracted by a beautiful storyteller and her tales of an old island clan, once comprised of the world’s oldest people.

Genetics doctoral student and longevity researcher Ryan Abernathy restricts his calories and his social life; he is terrified of death, but his life, governed by study and exercise, is hollow. The longevity study that he works for receives a tip from an Irish doctor regarding two elderly twin sisters, Cleona and Catherine Owen, who live on a remote island off the western coast ofIreland. Ryan volunteers to investigate, hoping to get DNA samples from the women.

On the island, Ryan meets Cleona’s beautiful yet child-like great-granddaughter, Aisling, who cares for the elderly women but is able to offer Ryan no official age documentation for them. Aisling, lonely for companionship and exhausted from the care-taking of the sick women, draws Ryan into her world by telling him a story that she learned when she was young: that she and her relatives are the final known descendants of an old island clan that, through thousands of years of inbreeding and isolation, managed to achieve remarkable longevity. Ryan doesn’t believe Aisling, but by asking questions of the bar man at the local pub and by stumbling across a time-worn gravestone in the old cemetery, he becomes more curious about the unusual family. As his curiosity increases, so does that of sick Irish nun Sister Ignatius, who believes that she recognizes Catherine as a nun who disappeared from her convent sixty years ago. Both scientist and nun must grapple with their own beliefs in order to determine the truth about the people, both past and present, of the Celtic island.

I hope that sounds intriguing to you! My agent Byrd Leavell loved the manuscript when I first sent it to him over 2 years ago. I edited it a bit for him, then he sent it out to around 12 big publishing houses. It got a little look from Harper Collins and some valuable constructive criticism, but in the end, it got passed on by all. Bummer! So in my computer it sat for 2 lonely years until my agent inquired if I would want to try to sell it as an ebook. Scott Waxman, who founded the Waxman Literary Agency, started up Diversion a couple of years ago as a way of producing, selling and marketing quality ebooks. Check out the website at www.diversionbooks.com. Mark Cuban is a client! So Byrd passed Chasing Eternity to Mary Cummings, the editor there, and I soon found out that my dusty little novel would be published as an ebook, hopefully in July! I will keep everyone posted on its developments as they happen…but in the meantime, fire up those ereaders!


Adoption Adventure Part 2

March 23rd, 2012

Motivated by a desire to find out my medical and ancestral background, I set out to connect with my birth mother a few weeks ago. In the short span of time between now and then, I did indeed find out all that I needed to know. But I also was introduced to probably the coolest birth mother alive! She emailed me when she received my contact information in the mail that day, and she said she did open the envelope while standing at the mailbox, just the way I imagined it. She then spent an emotional day with her sisters before penning a long email to me. The subject line of the email was “40 years ago;” I read the name and subject line on my blackberry while our family was on the way home from my son’s afternoon piano recital. (I had yet to receive her contact info at this point.) I’m sure I paled when I turned to my husband and said, “I got an email.” I read the email alone in our bedroom (while drinking a dirty martini my husband made for me!) when we got back home, and I think it must have been the most emotional email I’ve ever read or will ever read again.

I cried from joy and shock, mostly, at the revealing of such dramatic information, but also from the sadness she must have felt in giving me up. She and my birth father were briefly married, and young, when she gave birth to me. They were having problems, stemming from his issues as a Vietnam vet, and he wasn’t ready for a child (in fact, he wanted to return to Vietnam as a mercenary and was purchasing combat gear instead of baby clothes). Her family convinced her to put me up for adoption, and my birth mother and father divorced soon after that. She said it was very hard for her to give me up, and to make it easier for her in the hospital, they only let her see me once and then took me away for good. Soon after, she joined the Navy and traveled the world, eventually marrying again and having one child, my half-brother. She is now retired from the post office and living in Bloomington, IN, where she gave birth to me, living near her sisters and her mother.

She is tall–at her grandest, she was 6 feet tall, but is now 5’10”. She said her family has always been tall. Of course the first thing I did after reading the email was  Goggle her…and she is on Facebook. So I poured over her photos for a long while, just soaking it all in. I must say that she is very beautiful, with blondish red hair, fair skin, long legs and a big smile. She had posted some photos of herself in her Navy uniform, back in the day, and wow, those Navy men must have mooned all over her! My sister says we have the same facial shape and smile; even my kids said that I look like her.

She told me that my birth father’s background is all Irish Catholic. Lo and behold, that is why my son looks like an Irishman! Red hair, “the brightest blue eyes she’d ever seen,” freckles–describes both my birth father and my son. But my birth mother’s side is English and Scottish and Indian. In fact, she told me that I have some “distinguished ancestors” in my background. On her Facebook page, I saw a family tree that one of her sisters had put together…utterly fascinating! One of our ancestors was a governor of New Jersey and the “father of Newark” when it was still a colony, and his grandson was a signor of the Declaration of Independence, as well as a delegate from Massachusetts! She also said there are some presidents in the line somewhere too (she wouldn’t mention them because she is not a Republican!!), but I haven’t figured it all out yet. I do feel like I am researching for a novel that I’m thinking of writing though–it doesn’t seem quite real to me yet. Just when I was lamenting the fact that I had no family tree on Ancestry.com, I find that I do indeed have one…and what a tree it is! It is a strange thing to find that you have an entirely different family from the one you know…aunts, grandmother, cousins, the works.

Her family has a history of osteoporosis and heart problems, and she had breast cancer years ago, although there is no history of breast cancer in the family. That is about it, on her side. These are wonderful things for me to know–health issues that I can monitor and try to prevent, and I can pass this information along to my own children. And now that I know what most of the medical background is, it sort of pales in comparison to the monumental connection that I’ve made with my birth mother. At first, I was pretty freaked out…my whole sense of self was thrown on its head. There was so much information to process, so many emotions to deal with. I just wanted to be “normal” for a little while, to have my old self back–mom, wife, sister, friend, daughter. I kept checking and rechecking my memories (I grew up in Newport News, I went to college, I was a teacher, I had a mom-she died of cancer), as if to remind myself who I was, what I’d done. I felt lost, sort of, even though a part of me was found. Soon, though, my husband and I took our kids to Orlando for their spring break. Nothing like endless amusement parks to take your mind off things! I returned to Richmond much more at peace with this new dimension to my persona.

The strangest thing about the experience has to do with the technological era we’re in. The first thing she did when she found out my name was Google me, and there is a bit of information about me on the internet, since my novel got published in 2010. Of course, as luck would have it, the first thing she read was the most recent blog post about my adoption! Yikes! When I wrote it, I figured she would read it at some point…and she saw photos of me as well, including the video of me on a Richmond morning talk show. But now we are friends on FB and can see each other’s photos and learn information about each other. This is a fabulous thing, this electronic sharing, for instead of being forced to endure awkward phone conversations and write long letters, we can pen emails and post on Facebook pages. We don’t have to talk on the phone until it’s comfortable for us. We can get to know one another at our own speed. In a recent post, she told me that her family is now reading The Outer Banks House, and I can’t tell you how much this meant to me. She told me that she had already read it and loved it. She too is a beach person!

 We will meet some day, I’m sure, and that too will be a whirlwind of emotions for us. But the hard part has already been done–the making of the connection. This connection with my birth mother has filled a hole inside me. This hole, however much I didn’t notice it on a day-to-day basis, made me who I am today. Some might think that because I was adopted, I must have felt lesser somehow, unwanted, broken. But really, the opposite is true. Because I was adopted, I have always felt fortunate, chosen, given a second chance, saved for some reason. I have always wondered what that reason was–raising children of my own, teaching, writing books and columns and blog posts that other people appreciate, being a good friend, sister, wife, daughter, aunt. Perhaps it’s all of those things, or perhaps the reason is still waiting for me, later in life, and some day I’ll go, “Oh, so that was the reason!” Being adopted has given me the courage to tryvarious endeavors–writing a novel, having a third child, or even finding my birth mother–because I have always tried to make my life “count,” to enjoy and appreciate my life as much as possible, but to also push myself into unfamiliar terrain, somehow knowing that it will do me good, because someone “up there” is watching over me and wanting good things for me. And for that golden feeling, I thank my birth mother for her courage in giving me up, for having enough faith in the goodness of the universe that the decision she was making was the right one.


Adoption Adventure Part 1

February 23rd, 2012

I was adopted in 1971 in Indiana. My adopted parents, Pat and Norm Schnell, had told me when I was very young that I was adopted, and perhaps because of this early knowledge, I was content. My life in Newport News, VA with the Schnells–my little sister Suzanne was born biologically to them two and half years later– was the only life I ever knew, and I grew up happy and healthy. I never had an urge to locate my birth mother and/or father, in spite of my friends asking about it all the time, not quite understanding why I wouldn’t want to find my “real” parents. I was all about the status quo…why fix it if it ain’t broke?

I think it started to bother me a little when I was a teenager–when my sense of identity was a crucial stage of formation. Where did I come from? Who was I? My mom and dad always told me I had Irish and Danish stock in my blood. They told me I would be tall, nearsighted and have problems with my stomach! But that was about it. In spite of this paltry bit of info, I always thought that finding my birth parents was an ordeal that I wasn’t quite up to taking on. I had seen one too many Jerry Springer shows, I guess. Searching, and finding, looked too hard, and I didn’t want it that bad. I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak with my birth parents, to get to know them at all, to go down that emotional road. It felt wrong, somehow, like I’d be cheating on my adopted parents. They’d never given me half a reason to go searching for my “real” parents. As far as I was concerned, they were as real as parents got, full of bedtime stories and curfews and carpools and homework help and three square meals a day…they were the best parents I could have ever hoped to have.

Then I had children of my own. Three little crazies…my oldest, a boy, looks like me mostly (fair skin and blue eyes and freckles and strawberry blonde hair), but my daughters favor their daddy (skin that actually tans and brownish hazel eyes and dark eyebrows)! But I  look at them all and wonder if they resemble anyone from my birth background. Perhaps most importantly, I wonder what’s in their blood. I wonder what’s lurking in my own blood–cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s.

The second novel I wrote concerned aging, DNA and the growing field of genetics, and I learned a great deal about those topics during my research. During my research, I got on the website Ancestry.com and was intrigued by the number of people who are very curious about their family trees–even knowing much more than I did about my background. But the whole thing saddened me too…how little I really knew about myself. I was a blank slate. And my kids became half-blank slates as well.

After mulling over my own interests (and my main character’s, incidentally), I actually paid to have my own maternal DNA tested, to see where my oldest female relations came from, and the results were too generic to satisfy my growing curiosity (they came from northern Eurasia!! Along with the majority of the females in this world, I found out.)

Last month, as sort of a New Year’s resolution, I called a local genetic counselor, curious about DNA tests for people like me, who want to know what kind of diseases are lurking in my blood. She said the tests are expensive, and you have to do one disease test at a time. She said that in a couple of years, insurance will likley pay for more of the tests, and the tests will also soon decrease in price, but she said the best way to ensure my own health is to focus on my own nutrition and exercise–it’s the best thing I can do for myself, regardless of what’s lurking in my blood (because genetics only accounts for like 10 to 15% of all diseases).

I still wasn’t satisfied. I was feeling a deep need to know more about myself.

A few weeks ago, I decided to pull out my adoption records. My dad had given my the file, after my mom had died and he was getting ready to move from the house where I’d grown up with my sister into a continuing care retirement community. I read through the records carefully this time, finding my birth certificate and state birth record, as well as some records of payment and correspondence they’d saved from the Indianapolis Children’s Bureau, who had organized the adoption. Reading through all of the information always humbles me–trying to capture their anxiety and joy and fear as they readied themselves to adopt a baby–it  always makes me cry. It was me they adopted, a baby they named Diann Katherine, and brought me home two weeks after the birth. It always brings to mind my mom telling me how happy dad was when they got me home–holding me up in the air ala Simba in the Lion King and laughing, crying. It was nice to know that I made them so happy.

Mom died of cancer almost 11 years ago. It was by far the most devastating that has ever happened to me. But now, my dad is suffering from Parkinson’s induced dementia, and doesn’t even recognize me or my sister anymore, can’t even really speak to us. He sleeps most of the days away. It is like we have lost him too. Perhaps, deep inside me, I felt more inclined to look for my birth parents; losing mom and dad freed me to pursue my own background.

Still rather disconnected from what I was doing, I got online (something I hadn’t been able to do all those years ago) and read through the  Children’s Bureau procedures for adopted children trying to find their birth parents. I had to register with their program first, and if there was a match (if my birth mother had already registered in the program, indicating her desire to be contacted by me) then we would both be sent each other’s contact information.  It was that easy. No Jerry Springer drama, no hiring detectives, no stress. I downloaded some forms, which I printed and filled out and mailed to the Bureau, all without thinking any of it through.

I got a call today, about a month after I sent in the forms, from the Bureau, telling me that there was indeed a match. They will mail my birth mother’s name and contact information to me today…it will show up in my mailbox, and vice versa for my birth mother. How strange, that such momentous information can still show up in a mailbox. She won’t be expecting it, as I will. She will see the return address on the envelope and wonder, though…perhaps rip it open while standing at the mailbox. I hope she’ll be excited to read that the baby she gave up for adoption 40 years ago would like to talk to her.

But I feel as strange as I’ve ever felt. My sense of identity is shifting once more. Was this what I wanted? Geez, all I wanted was my medical info! I feel that perhaps it’s opening up a huge can of worms that I’d rather not have opened…a family that I never knew I had, emotions running high and wild–a long lost daughter, perhaps a sister, a granddaughter, a cousin, a niece has been discovered! It’s like bringing the dead back to life, in a way. It’s the stuff of novels, but I, a novelist, could never write about it. At least not now…

There is nothing more emotional than giving birth. I have done it 3 times now, and every time I have wept afterward (sometimes for days!) for the awful, wonderful miracle of life and love. I felt that I could finally see and touch the face of God while gazing into my baby’s eyes; I realized the power of love, especially for one’s offspring.  I could never have given up my babies; to even consider doing that brings me to my knees with imagined grief.

To to think that a woman, my birth mother, perhaps did the same with baby Me, and then chose, perhaps for both of our better interests, to give me up, well, it’s amazing. And I know that I have to ready myself to experience some pretty wacky emotions, to connect myself with a part of me that I didn’t know was there. To finally figure out who am I, where I came from. And most importantly, to connect with the woman who cared enough about me and my future to bear me to term, and to then give me up…to give her peace of mind that her baby turned out alright these 40 years later…that she made the right decision.

To be continued…

 


Watching movies inspires the muse

February 19th, 2012

While writing The Outer Banks House, I watched the movie Pride and Prejudice to fire up my writing muse. I had read the book by Jane Austen as well. But outside of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, every time I watch a movie based on a book, I walk away disappointed. But Pride and Prejudice was very well done, and I thought Kiera Knightly protrayed Elizabeth Bennett perfectly. The era of the book wasn’t the same as the era of which I was writing (1868) but the love story (of a mismatched couple–one extremely wealthy and one from a much more modest background) put me mind of my own love story (between a rich planter’s daughter and a penniless fisherman). I even listened to the soundtrack while I wrote sometimes. God, the sound of that soaring piano music still makes me want to cry. And write.

Now that I’m writing the sequel, I found that I needed a new movie to fire up the muse. I watched my copy of Pride and Prejudice again, and loved every minute of it. But I’d been there, done that. I’d just finished reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier for the second time, so I decided to purchase the movie Cold Mountain, which I’d seen in the theaters when it first came out in 2003, and starred Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, and Renee Zellweger. In addition to the similar period details as my book, I like this particular book/movie because of the love story. The two tentative lovebirds, Inman and Ada (and another odd socioeconomic couple), are forced apart by the Civil War, and their lives change dramatically while Inman is off fighting and then walking all the back to Cold Mountain to a woman who he doesn’t even think will want him anymore. They are hardly together for the entire book except through flashbacks, and this style of narration is very similar to my sequel. I find separation of true love very inspiring! The reader can’t wait for the two lovers to get back together, and this excitement keeps the reader reading. At least, it works for me, and I’m hoping it will work for my lovely readers as well!


I’m a columnist now!

January 29th, 2012

I am now back to writing a column for the Henrico Citizen newspaper. My friend Tom Lappas owns and manages the paper, now in its 11th year of publication. I used to write a column for this paper six years ago, beginnging soon after the birth of  my first-born, but I stopped it (after my daughter was born) so that I could start working on my novel. I wrote about all kinds of parenting issues: toy guns for children, sending a “young”  (August birthday) child to kindergarten, reading aloud, the coming of a second child, caring for elderly parents while raising children. I met a bi-weekly deadline, but now I only write monthly. It’s a deadline I can live with!

My first column just got published, called “The Son Also Writes.” (Clever title, leave it up to Tom and super-smart friend Patty to come up with killer headlines). It was about my son and his own writing ability and passion. I wondered if he liked writing because he grew up watching me write and was able to see my success at a crucial time in his childhood, or if he just liked writing because of who he is–a creative boy with a gift for the gab. You should read it, if the issue intrigues you! Find it at http://www.henricocitizen.com/index.php/opinions/article/the_son_also_writes_0119. I enjoy writing about my family–and our family is so hectic that I can’t imagine ever being at a loss as to what to write. Life, however sloppy and stressful, is entertaining to write about! More fun than fiction sometimes, and much truer!

Writing the column and the blog is actually important to my fiction writing, because it frees me to write about things that occupy my daily thoughts so that I can better access my fiction/creative side. I find that once I pen a blog entry or write a column, I feel ready and willing to begin work on my sequel. There is nothing blocking my brain–I can see miles of sandy beach in my mind, endless stormy seas, and Ben and Abby and Eliza are right there, waiting for me to pick up their story. Fiction flows easily after the nonfiction of my life is safely written down and set aside.

 


“Moby-Dick” is actually good! Who knew?!

January 8th, 2012

I’ve been reading Moby-Dick by Herman Melville the last few weeks because I’m going to use the novel as a turning point for my  star-crossed characters in the sequel to my first novel, The Outer Banks House. In my first novel, I used Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe as a turning point for the same characters. I also began each chapter with a relevant quote from Robinson Crusoe, and I plan to start each chapter in the sequel with quotes from Moby-Dick. Such grand ideas!

But first, I have to read the darned book.

Moby-Dick is a large book, as far as books go (655 pages), and as alien to me as a T.S. Eliot poem. And yet, I was an English major at UVA. How did I manage to dodge what some believe is the greatest American novel ever written? I mean, it’s so large! Hard to miss on a syllabus, and even harder to dodge when thrown at you. I have considered the fact that I might have been assigned the book at some point in my college career, but just squeaked by on the Cliff Notes so that I could keep up with all the keg parties. I mean, I had my priorities, and the classics were kind of low on the list.

Moby-Dick’s important reputation precedes it , but that wasn’t the case when it was first published. In fact, the book was mostly panned by British and American critics, and Melville, who at the time was a rather popular author, never quite recovered from the blow.

But throughout my lifetime, I’ve been intimidated by even the tiniest mention of the book Moby-Dick. Its title alone suggests monstrosity and a dark abyss of confusion. I’d have been perfectly happy to while my days away reading Diana Gabaldon’s novels over and over, but something in my subconscious told me to consider it for my sequel. See, Ben finds a byproduct (can’t reveal what it is, it would spoil it!) of a sperm whale, but eventually finds that the booty isn’t necessarily his for the taking. He gets rather obsessed about his secret find, thinking things will now get better between him and Abby when he trades it in for cash. In the name of his treasure, he makes decisions that compromise his character.

Moby-Dick is himself a sperm whale, at first hunted for his byproducts of oil and spermaceti as all whales were, but as the novel progresses, we find that the particular white-headed whale is being hunted by Captain Ahab for revenge purposes only. Ahab took it quite personally when Moby-Dick bit off one of his legs, and he is obsessed with his killing quest, much as Ben is obsessed with his treasure. I can see the light in your eyes; you’re getting it! I’m happy with the choice of Moby-Dick as well.

But I’m also happy to be reading it. Melville writes with a sense of humor that I find rare in a mid-19th century author. It’s not even that hard to understand the high-blown style of language. It’s easier than reading Shakespeare, if that helps. Mind, it won’t do to read the book while drinking wine. You need all of your mental faculties about you when pick up the book. And a Cliffs Notes wouldn’t hurt either. (After every chapter, I read the Cliffs Notes to see what the hell the chapter was really about.) Here is a funny bit about narrator/sailor Ishmael’s observations about a dark-skinned harpooner Queequeg that he is forced to share a bed in a crowded in with:

Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife…I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm–unlock his bridegroom grasp–yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain. I now strove to rouse him–“Queequeg!”–but his only answer was a snore. I then rolled over, my neck feeling as if it were in a horse-collar; and suddenly felt a slight scratch. Throwing aside the counterpane, there lay the tomahawk sleeping by the savage’s side, as if it were a hatchet-faced baby. A pretty pickle, truly, thought I; abed here in a strange house in the broad day, with a cannibal and a tomahawk! “Queequeg!–in the name of goodness, Queequeg, wake!” At length, by dint of much wriggling, and loud and incessant expostulations upon the unbecomingness of his hugging a fellow male in that matrimonial sort of style, I succeeded in extracting a grunt; and presently he drew back his arm, shook himself all over like a Newfoundland dog just from the water, and sat up in bed, stiff as a pike-staff, looking at me, and rubbing his eyes as if he did not altogether remember how I came to be there…”  p. 54.

I could go on and on with quote after quote; Moby-Dick is filled with gems of comic genius! I wouldn’t lie to you, it’s worth a read. I’m not even half-way done, but I actually look forward to reading it at night. Those long-ago critics had no idea what they were dealing with.