By MICHAEL JOHNSON
Novels about love affairs outside of marriage are a genre unto themselves and I try my best to avoid them. John Updike made a career of these stories anyway, so what’s left to say? Yet once in a while a new writer emerges with such sharp sensibilities, such descriptive powers, and such a rich story that I am forced to reconsider.
Mary L. Tabor is such a writer, and her new book, “Who By Fire” (Outer Banks, $17.95), launched a few weeks ago to a full house in a Washington, D.C. bookshop, kept me turning pages to enjoy the careful prose, the fascinating digressions and most of all the unspooling of the story.
To my mind, the story is the fire in the relationships. The ice is Ms. Tabor’s masterly control of the complex plot. The reader begins to suspect what is to come as hints are dropped along the path toward the climax. This book is hard to put down.
“Who By Fire” is a near-surgical dissection of the turmoil and pleasures that straying couples experience – and the effect on the betrayed.
Ms. Tabor takes the time to develop characters so that you care about what they are going through. She finally kills off Lena, the woman who succumbed to her lover’s charms, and she does it abruptly after setting the scene: “And then she died.”
Mary Tabor is a writer who likes to say it is never too late. She started publishing her prose at age 60 and already has to her credit a frank memoir of her life and marriage entitled “(Re)Making Love: A Memoir.” Her best short stories are collected in “The Woman Who Never Cooked.”
She takes stunning risks in her new novel, the most impressive being her decision to write from the perspective of Lena’s husband, Robert, the man who suffers as his emotions of widowhood and awareness of his dead wife’s affair mingle in his thoughts.
Jay McInerney tried the gender-swap in “The Story of My Life” but he never let you forget he was trying to sound like a girl. Ms. Tabor glides into the male perspective effortlessly and stays there.
As the narrator “Robert” reconstructs the story of his life, Ms. Tabor makes him recall what he had failed to see before his wife’s death:
“If I’d seen them on the street, I’d have known because they would have done the sorts of things that reveal: They would have passed between them a bottle of water, their hips would touch, as if by accident, when they walked; they wouldn’t touch with their hands the way safe lovers do, but an observant eye could catch both the intimacy and the caution—and know. It was when she was dying that I knew. It was the way he touched her head before he left her bedside. What I thought was an obligatory visit from a colleague changed with one gesture.”
I was propelled through this book most of all by the taut language, the dialogue and the perfect sentences, honed in the author’s years as a teacher of creative writing at George Washington University, Ohio State and University of Missouri, among others. From the outset, you are in the thrall of a confident storyteller.
Her digressions take the reader into worlds she clearly knows — the detail of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the art world, the finer points of classical music, quantum physics and the business of psychology. She has her psychologist character Evan say at one point:
“I’m beginning to think I give more comfort than cure. Not such a bad thing but not what I expected. I feel like an old broom—cleaning up, moving around the messes in people’s heads, never sure if that’s all I’m doing.”
She will throw odd words at you and expect you to understand. The apple trees are espaliered. The plants are pleached.
I was drawn into the suspense when the lovers realize that the betrayed wife is returning home early. With cinematic realism, the lovers find themselves about to be discovered when they hear the key in the lock:
“A familiar sound, merely a click, but they thought, almost as if their minds were one, that they heard the separate mechanisms of the lock moving, tumbling like thunder.”
This reader quickly turned the page to watch them awkwardly lie their way out of trouble.
Mary L. Tabor tells me she is at work on a new novel. Somehow she finds time to do a weekly internet interview about writing, broadcast on Rarebirdradio.
It is never too late, as she would be the first to tell you.
Newly-published author, Scott Fields talks openly about his writing, how he does it and his newest book, Summer Heat.
When she was 17, there wasn’t a man alive she would let get near her, and when she was 18, there wasn’t a man she would keep away.
She stood five feet seven inches tall, weighed one hundred twenty pounds, her green eyes sparkled like brilliant cut emeralds, her inviting full lips always ruby red and moist.
Women universally hated her, men continued to hold doors for her long after she passed by – just to watch her walk away. To imply that Jessie exuded sex would be an understatement, akin to inferring that water was wet.
Ninety-nine point nine percent of the men in Steam Corners wanted her, but she only wanted one man, Spencer Deacon. He was everything that she was not, even-tempered, amicable, well respected and kind. The one thing that Spencer didn’t want was Jessie, and his firm and undeniable rejections infuriated her.
What followed was a series of sordid events involving murder, deceit, betrayal and the conviction of an innocent man.
Publisher: I couldn’t help but notice that your latest novel, Summer Heat, is quite diverse from some of your earlier novels which were small town, nostalgic works. Why is this book different?
S. Fields: All my life I’ve had this obsession with ideas for stories. I never know when one of these germs is going to somehow penetrate my head. I certainly have no control of it. It just happens. I’ve written 12 novels, 8 screenplays and 13 short stories, and each one of them was inspired by one of those germs that was implanted in my head. I’m always writing something, and all the while I have four or five story ideas buzzing in my head.
Publisher: Bestselling author James Patterson has the same problem. Maybe you could give us a little history of your writing career.
S Fields: All my life I’ve always wanted to write. I didn’t really get started until I went to college. Believe it or not, I turned down a contract from the Detroit Tigers, so that I could go to college and learn to write, a decision I’ve questioned more than once. The sad part is that I learned that nobody can teach you to write. The only way to learn is by simply writing, and I mean writing everyday. To hone the craft to an art form, one must be dedicated to the point of obsession. After college, I continued writing short stories and was lucky enough to have four of them published. Later, I began to write novels and now my fifth one has been launched by Outer Banks Publishing.
Publisher: So you actually turned down a chance to be a professional baseball player. That must have been a difficult decision.
S Fields: You have no idea. I was drafted in 1966 after graduating from high school. There were over 700 young men in that draft, and I was the 34th pick. You better believe that was a tough decision.
Publisher: How long does it take you to write a novel?
S Fields: Up until a year ago, I was working a full time job, and most of my books would take about a year to write.
Publisher: Where did you get the idea for this one? Was it another one of those germs from out of nowhere?
S Fields: I was driving along the highway. My wife was asleep, and my mind was in neutral thinking about what I was going to do when I got home. The next thing I know I get this idea about a young, sleazy woman who loves to party married to an older, serious-minded farmer. Every man in town wants her, but she wants a young, Afro-American man. To her frustration, this young man wants nothing to do with her sexually.
Publisher: I’m a bit surprised that someone who writes warm and fuzzy stories could write such a book.
S Fields: Most authors have a certain genre that is their expertise. It is a genre in which they excel. Stephen King is famous for his books of horror, and Danielle Steele writes women’s fiction. I write whatever excites me at the time. I have no niche or particular genre to call home. I even wrote a book about two men who went on a killing spree back in 1948. In a two week period, they murdered 6 people in Ohio. Even after all these years, it still remains the worst killing spree in Ohio’s history. On the other end of the spectrum, I wrote a religious book called Just Believe. Actually, I hope I never settle for one particular genre. I think I would get bored.
Publisher: Where are all of these projects that you have written? You’ve only had four novels published.
S Fields: They are buried somewhere in my computer. Generally, when I finish a project, I’m aching to get started on a new one. Many of my projects were written years ago and have been forgotten.
Publisher: Have you ever dreamed of becoming a nationally-known author?
S Fields: I’m sure every writer has a one time or another dreamed of seeing his books in stores across the nation. I like to keep things in perspective. I consider writing as my hobby, then I’m never disappointed.
Publisher: Do you think Summer Heat will be successful?
S Fields: Not to appear immodest, but, yes, I do. Women’s fiction in 2004 represented 55 per cent of all book sales. Today’s trend is thrillers, but women’s fiction is still right up there.
Publisher: Well, we believe Summer Heat is a hit.
S Fields: Thank you very much.
Photo of Scott during a recent book signing at the Mansfield/Richland County Public Library in his hometown of Mansfield, Ohio.
In 1996 with a lifelong dream of being a writer, Scott Fields started writing short stories. Within the next two years, he had four stories published. Since then, his first novel, All Those Years Ago, was published, and in the fall of 2004, his second novel, A Summer Harvest, was released. His third novel, The Road Back Home, was published in the fall of 2007 by Charles River Press, and his fourth novel, Last Days of Summer, was released by Whiskey Creek Press.
He was born and raised in La Rue, Ohio, a small village nestled in the farmlands of mid-Ohio. It was there that he learned to appreciate small town life and country living, which he incorporates into his novels. He graduated from Ohio University in 1970 with a degree in English Literature.
Scott and his wife, Deb, now live in Mansfield, Ohio. Their children, Sara, Angela, Michael, and Matt live in the Detroit area.
Paperback: 212 pages
Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.5 inches
Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
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