Things I Love: Old Buildings

I have a thing for old buildings. I love their mysterious dark interiors, the haunted quality they wear like a shroud. I love the dance of dust motes in the history-laden air. I love the scent of old wood floors, wood smoke clinging to whitewashed walls, hearth ashes long gone cold.

It’s an obsession with me, these old houses. I stumble over them in the woods near our Virginia farm. I cross backroads and stop to photograph them. Tobacco barns. Railroad stations. Farm houses. All gone, their histories lost in time, their stories crumbling in the splinters and sticks of their timber.

A few of these old beauties I have photographed along the roads in Virginia:

 

Corner of the old Norfolk-Southern train station, Prospect, Virginia.

Corner of the old Norfolk-Southern train station, Prospect, Virginia.

Old tobacco barn, Prospect, Virginia.

Old tobacco barn, Prospect, Virginia.

 

Old factory, Farmville, Virginia (now Greenfront Furniture)

Old factory, Farmville, Virginia

 

Ghost town - abandoned Main Street buildings in Pamplin, Virginia.

Ghost town – abandoned Main Street buildings in Pamplin, Virginia.

 

Abandoned bank building, Pampkin, Virginia.

Abandoned bank building, Pamplin, Virginia.

 

 

When Did the Good Guys Start Losing?

It’s hard to fit my writing into a genre. Some call it thriller, some call it mystery, others call it horror. Preternatural is the adjective my friend the brilliant Regina Hiney calls it, and I think that’s about as close as anyone has ever come to correctly describing the genre in which I write.

In my books, the line between spirit and reality is thin. God isn’t just with us; he is among us, present and working through others. My characters are Christian through and through, flawed and failing yes, but Christian nonetheless. They swear a lot, but they also forgive the unforgivable. Their love is often blindingly incomprehensible, even to themselves, but love transforms. They find themselves in terrible circumstances, but guided by the Beatitudes, the Commandments and the family life, they do the right thing. At the end of the day, the good guys win, although they may emerge battered and bruised.

Not so for most modern fiction whether it’s movies or books. Last night, my husband chose our Saturday night movie. Saturdays at the Grunert household are movie nights. Popcorn all around, a ginger tabby cat on the lap, and new movie in the Netflix queue make me happy. My husband and I both cherish older films yet enjoy exploring new, offbeat movies, too. We love foreign films, films exploring families and cultures, and a good old-fashioned horror movie. And children’s movies. Lots of children’s movies.

So last night Hubby had a Netflix movie called Sinister ready to roll at 8 pm. If you’ve never seen the movie before, let me give you a quick summary. A true-crime writer, desperate to rekindle his failing career and regain his fortune and fame with a best-selling book, moves his family into a new home. He claims that the move is because they can’t afford their luxurious former dwelling, but the viewer realizes quickly that the man has chosen a home in which a dreadful murder was committed. He hopes to write about the murder and thus moves his family into a home in which father, mother, and two children were hung from a tree in the yard. One child, a little girl, escaped and is missing.

The family moves in and as you can guess, all is not right in their world. Older son has night terrors. Younger daughter starts drawing pictures of the murdered family. Husband begins drinking heavily. Husband finds a box of old home movies in the attic and crushes a scorpion. (Yet he doesn’t question the presence of a scorpion in the attic of his Pennsylvania home. Ah, if only he did! Half of the mystery would have been solved.)

The home movies, we find, are more than home movies. Much more. Each movie is the gruesome filming of a murder. The viewer is “treated” (and I use that word sarcastically) to a close up of a horrific murder taking place. The terrified eyes of children, parents. Drownings. Throat slitting. Fire. Oh, you name it.

No matter how our protagonist tries to get rid of the movies, they return. He spies a strange figure in the movies, a creepy entity that looks like a cross between the Joker and a clown but with a sinister mien. He seeks help from law enforcement, not to turn over the movies but to find out where the murders took place. All the while, his family is cracking up before him.

He finally decides to flee the home after a series of frightening and inexplicable occurrences, only to find that by fleeing the home, he has given the entity in the movies the green light to steal the soul of his youngest daughter and slaughter his family. It turns out that the creepy Joker-esque entity is a Babylonian demon.

The movie ends with the demon winning, the family dead, and no hope for anyone.

Here is where I pause, dear reader, and ask: when did the good guys start losing?

I remember loving old horror movies because the good guys always won. The vampire might menace the virgin, but the hero whipped out a cross and the vampire fled the sight of God in terror. Demonic possession, as in the Exorcist, was a terrible, awful thing, but the power of Christ compels the demon to flee, and the heroic priest makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving his life for that of the child and dying in the attempt. The hero dies, but the child is saved.

Even in other horror movies where the protagonist is a ghost or ghosts the hero still wins in the older horror movies. Poltergeist is one of my all-time favorite horror movies with the horrible demon in the closet, the creepy living clown, and the boy-eating tree. Yet even in Poltergeist, the father manages to save his entire family, including saving little Carol Anne from the clutches of the demon in her closet.

In Jaws, the monster isn’t a demon but a shark. Here we once again see the hero winning after great sacrifice. Although Quint, the old sea captain dies, Chief Brody fires one shot that slays the beast and regains the town. He is the ultimate heroic quest prototype. Man against beast. Quint sacrifices his life so that Brody may win.
What happens today in modern fiction and movies in the same creeping nihilism that affects society as a whole. Let’s look at this movie, “Sinister,” as an example. A loving family, but without a hint of God at their heart. A father, trying to do the right thing, but in the end, he fails.
Yet it isn’t the lack of God that is so telling. It is the primacy of the ancient demon winning, without any hope of our hero triumphing over his adversary, that gives me insight into the modern psyche.

We used to rely on Christ and our Christian faith to triumph over evil. The cross triumphed over vampires, and the priest could exorcise the child in the power and name of Jesus Christ. Even triumphing over the beast was possible, albeit without Christian repurcussions. Our man Brody in Jaws isn’t overly religious, but like the protagonist in Sinister, is a devoted family man.

But is the protagonist in Sinister a devoted family man? Brody (Jaws) and his wife are a mature, loving couple. Brody does not take the assignment on Amity Island because it glorifies his wishes. He does to get his kids out of the city and to a quieter atmosphere.

The protagonist in Sinister, on the other hand, clearly lies to his wife to remove the family from their comfortable and safe home and thrust them directly into the lion’s den, so to speak. Even when faced with the unspeakable horror of the filmed murders, instead of trusting “Deputy So and So”, the young star-struck deputy who promises to help him research the murders, the protagonist chooses to fumble his way through himself. He ends up making things worse, and his lying, hiding and manipulating behavior come back to haunt him.

This is why I no longer dub my fiction “horror” fiction. Horror fiction today, be it movies or books, offers us no hope, no respite from the evil. The bad guys typically triumph after countess people die. In many movies such as Sinister, the suspense isn’t from knowing whether the good guy will win, but how long he’ll last against the evil opponent. There are a few exceptions, but the predominant trend is towards evil triumphing over good.

This is antithetical to the Christian outlook on life.

Society used to support this viewpoint. Movies reflected it. Today, however, movies take a much darker viewpoint, and one which is antithetical to my deeply held views. Dark never triumphs. It may seem to, but Jesus is risen. Anything else is fiction.

I’m not saying that fiction ought to be all light and beauty without darkness and horror. Without light we would not have darkness; without darkness, we would not appreciate the light.

The difference as I see it is that the modern fiction maker, whether he works in the realm of movies or books, has given up on God. God to the modern filmmaker does not exist, yet he trots out the old vanquished devils from the past, like Baal and the Babylonian demon in Sinister, who all hearken back to a murky Biblical past, as our horror villain. If God does not exist, then neither should Baal or Babylonian demons.

Yet the Babylonian demon, we are to assume, not only exists but remains triumphant although Mary’s fiat and Christ’s resurrection should have formally put a stamp and an end to that. Christians know the ending to the story, and it is good: Christ lives.

And so my fiction, and that of other Christian horror-mystery-thriller-preternatural authors, assumes a living Christ who cares for us passionately and will help us triumph over evil if we but believe and receive; our heroes may suffer terrible losses, but they triumph because good always triumphs over evil. In movies like Sinister, good cannot stand against evil.

Isn’t that the perfect summary of modern thinking?

The Monday Book: I BELIEVE YOU by Jeanne Grunert

A review of my book, “I Believe You”, from author Wendy Welch.

Wendy Welch, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

grunertJeanne Grunert requested a review of her self-published book I Believe You, a family crime thriller. Requests to review books are not uncommon, but hers had a nice benefit: she’d send three copies of I Believe You to the bookstore and sales would go to the Appalachian Feline Friends.

Well, heck, yeah….

But then one fears reviewing books on a benefit basis because what if you don’t like it?

Not to worry this time. Unlike many self-published authors, Grunert is a master not only of writing, but of editing and graphic design. Her book is visually pleasing, well-formatted, and lacking in those extraordinary typos that make people want to take pot-shots at self-published authors.

And then there’s the story line…. put a close-knit dysfunctional family into a company business, add the mysterious death of the protagonist’s wife, and go. Grunert has some really nice turns of phrase in the writing…

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Fitness and the Fiction Writer

What the heck does fitness have to do with being a fiction writer? Plenty, since I just found out I am in the worst shape of my life. Apparently 10 years of sitting behind a desk and walking only about half a mile a day can do that to you. Who would have thought?

Seriously, though, I hate being this out of shape. I spend too much time behind my desk, or not enough time if you speak to my commercial copywriting clients and my fans who are eagerly awaiting my next work of fiction.

C.S.Lewis famously walked six to eight miles every afternoon or ‘rambled’ across the beautiful English countryside after writing each morning. Tolkien was said to do the same. Flannery O’Connor, a writer with whom my own style has been compared, wrote in the mornings then spent the afternoons ‘being Flannery’ which typically meant barn chores, walking, or tending to her collection of exotic fowl and chicken.

I need to walk and think. I plot my books while walking on my treadmill. I can’t tell you how many plot elements of “I Believe You” appeared after a particularly good walk on the treadmill. Now that I am writing “Salt and Light” as part of NaNoWriMo, I find myself drawn back to the treadmill and morning yoga classes online.

Writers need to move…movement fuels creativity. I am not quite sure why this is so, but I know that I am not the only writer who finds that walking helps the muse. Perhaps we’re busy running from her. Who knows?

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A portrait of the author with her muse. That’s my muse, Sal, a Brooklyn thug who wields a big hammer when I need to work. Thanks to artist Sue Sudekum for conceptualizing Sal for me.

Who’s Your Favorite Character- and What That Reveals About You

Yesterday after church, I was chatting with my friends Rose and Eni. Rose received a copy of my novel; Eni was an enthusiastic early reader. I am grateful to call Eni a friend. She is one of the kindest people I have ever met, with a heart of gold, and a deep, calm spirituality that grounds me.

She’s also one of my biggest fans…and it’s a nice ego boost to get both a hug and a few kind words from her!

She was telling Rose about my novel, and on the spur of the moment I asked Eni, “Who was your favorite character?” – in my new novel, “I Believe You.

I fully expected her to say Eddie. Eni, with a mother’s heart, would naturally want to care for and protect little Eddie. But much to my delight, she said immediately, “The grandfather! I loved him.”

She meant Tibor, of course. Dear, outlandish, bear-hugging, bow-tie wearing, doesn’t-give-a-shit what anyone thinks 90-year-old Tibor. I was absolutely delighted. He’s one of my favorite characters; not just in “I Believe You”, but one of my favorite all-time characters. Sometimes he surprises even me, that one.

Whenever I ask that question – “Who is your favorite character?” – I listen carefully to the response. Many people cite Eddie, and most like David very much. Only a few point to Tibor, and Eni is the only person who mentioned Victor, a minor character. I was surprised by that but especially because she pictured him very differently than I picture him.

Another friend loved the character of Josh. I was as surprised by that as I was by Eni’s appreciation of Victor. Like Victor, I consider Josh, David’s second son, to be a minor character. He was probably the most difficult person in the book for me to ‘get right’ since I do not know many 16-year-old boys! Fortunately, my friend Regina teaches high school and has three sons of her own, so she quickly set me straight on a few things, like the fact that teenage boys eat copious amounts of food and wouldn’t say or do a few things that I had Josh doing in earlier drafts.

Whenever I talk to friends who are willing to share this kind of feedback, I notice a few interesting tidbits about their favorite characters. First, they project much of what they would do or feel onto the characters. It’s almost always because they find something in that character that resonates strongly with them. It’s either a characteristic they wish they had or a feeling that the character reminds them strongly of someone they know.

Your favorite characters, I think, say more about you than about the storyteller’s art. They tell me more about your hopes, dreams, and heart than you probably realize!

As for me, I’m not sharing who my favorite character in the story is! That would be too much, I think. I will say that characters become so realistic to me that they actually start doing and saying things that I wouldn’t necessarily have them do or say. I’m currently working on a new novel, and one character swears – a lot. He swears like a longshoreman and I’m absolutely astonished by this since I hate swearing! But it’s him, it’s Paul, and that’s who he is, and so he must be who he is…

Characters to an author become astonishingly real. In character-driven fiction, such as I Believe You and my latest work in progress, Salt and Light, the characters do indeed take on a life of their own.

The Latest Reviews of I Believe You

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on October 31, 2016
Thoroughly enjoyable read! Well thought out characters. Easily engaged story. Just a hint of the supernatural. Kept me guessing to the end! Made the business aspects (the firm) of the storytelling understandable and not too heavy. Just enough to inform you for the story. Recommended read!
n October 30, 2016
While reading I Believe You I was totally engaged.
The ending left me wanting to read more about these characters.
If Jeanne writes more fiction, I’ll be buying every book.
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on October 26, 2016
An excellent story, engrossing and consistently interesting. The author was able to draw me into a family with whom I thought I had little in common, and made me care about them in a way I hadn’t thought possible. Well-written and thought out, the plight of the Majeck family will have you empathize with every heartbreak and crisis, realizing that we all are not so different when dealing with tragedy that affects us all.

Say I Love You in ASL

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From my book, I Believe You:

David thrust his backpack at him, handed him a $5 bill for lunch, and kissed Eddie on top of the head. He raised his hand, pinky finger and index finger pointed skyward, middle two fingers folded down, thumb out in the ILY gesture. I love you. Eddie flashed ILY back and headed out the back door. David stepped through the mudroom door to the back porch, watching as his youngest raced down the driveway, crooked tie flapping, jacket loose and unbuttoned.

One of the questions I’m asked a lot is, “Do you speak ASL?” ASL stands for American Sign Language. One of the main characters in my book, an eleven-year-old boy named Eddie, is deaf. Throughout the book, Eddie communicates solely through ASL; his deafness plays an important literal and symbolic part in the story.

Would it surprise you to learn that I don’t speak ASL? When I started writing the second draft of the book, I knew that Eddie was deaf, but I had no idea how to portray this. Should he lip read? That would be easier…but it didn’t feel right. ASL was the way to go, but what do you do when you don’t speak a language or have direct, personal insight into deaf culture, and you want to write about a deaf character?

I often say, sometimes jokingly and sometimes seriously, that God wanted this book to be written, and nothing reminds me of that more than how the ASL scenes in the book came together.

My original plan to write the dialogue was simply to do just that; write it out, and perhaps later, find someone fluent in ASL and hire them to edit the scenes. I wasn’t quite sure how to accomplish this, but I felt that at least I’d get a good first draft down on paper and would figure out the details later on.

I also used a site called LifePrint to learn some basic ASL symbols; I’d watch their videos and then try to describe what the ASL speakers were doing. I knew it wasn’t perfect, but at this early stage, it didn’t have to be perfect, just written.

Then came Donna. Donna was my editor at a company called LoveToKnow.com, and even after we both left the company in 2011, we remained close friends. I contacted Donna to ask her about how to find a first-line reader, someone to help me with the development of the story, and she generously offered her time and talents. I would send her one chapter a week, she would critique it, and help me flesh out some of the scenes.

One of the huge surprises, however, was when I received the very first chapter back from Donna. She had fleshed out the ASL dialogue and added a note – “I have a friend who is deaf and I learned ASL to communicate with her. I can help you with the descriptions.”

Problem solved. In one month, I’d moved from the inspiration of having a deaf character to having an editor, and one of the best writing teachers I know, who happened to speak ASL, editing my book.

In honor of all those who speak in ASL, and as a heartfelt thank you to Donna, here is how Eddie and his dad would have exchanged signs during that scene.

Long Island’s Gold Coast

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The primary setting for my novel, I Believe You, is Long Island’s famous “Gold Coast.” The Majek family lives in Brookville, an elite, upscale town on the North Shore of Long Island. Although Tibor, David’s father and the patriarch of the family, still lives in Bellerose, I purposely chose Brookville for David. Here’s why.

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To me, Bellerose represents the immigrant families who were moving up in the world. My grandparents were such a family. My grandparents immigrated from Germany in the early 20th century and lived in a roach-infested tenement in the Bronx until my dad was a teenager.

Immigrants saved their pennies to move out of the tenements and into their own homes. My grandparents, especially my grandmother, cherished her little home in Bellerose. To her, it was everything she had dreamed of in America.

In the early 1940s, my grandparents finally achieved the American dream – a house! They purchased a Cape-style house on a tiny lot in Bellerose. Next door were immigrants; on the other side was a family whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower. They were proud of that fact. I remember it distinctly because they had a plaque in the living room to commemorate their ancestry.

When I needed to place Tibor and indeed, the entire Majek family, in their home, my thoughts strayed to my grandmother’s neighborhood in Bellerose. I couldn’t image more of a melting pot and a place where Tibor, who may have exaggerated just a little bit, who had grown up with a dirt floor in his native Czech Republic, would feel he had finally “arrived” at the American dream.

But David? Not David. Contrast Tibor’s modest house with David’s “Gold Coast” Tudor home. “Your house is too big,” little Elizabeth says to him in the book. “It’s like a castle.” I wanted to imply Gold Coast mansion, even though I think David’s house falls slightly short of mansion status.

Marrying into an aristocratic North Shore family, as the Tarleton family surely were, meant he had to provide Cathy a home worthy of her heritage. For all of Cathy’s generosity, she was a bit spoiled. She took for granted that she would always have the best around her, and David provided that with the home in Brookville.

When I was a child, my dad would pile us all into the car on a crisp autumn Sunday afternoon for a drive into “the country.” That meant a drive along Northern Boulevard and through the curving, tree-lined lanes of Brookville and Old Brookville. Later on as a college student, I rode horses at fancy stable frequented by the super wealthy in Brookville. Much later, in my 20s, I worked in the area. I grew very familiar with the families, the mansions, the whole “North Shore” and “Gold Coast” mindset which I imagine that Cathy and David, to some degree, had as part of their surroundings.

Setting in novels is critical for their realism. It can also hint at deeper meanings. Tibor’s immigrant roots, David’s Brookville home…each bears with it a shade of meaning in I Believe You.

For more about the setting in I Believe You:

What Readers Are Saying

Amazon reviews posted this week:

on October 11, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition
A gripping story that was very well written. I couldn’t put it down – very entertaining.
on October 7, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was a thoughtful, well-written story. I especially enjoyed how well the deaf child was portrayed, and the honesty of the family dynamics.
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I Believe You on Amazon – Kindle and Paperback

Just for Fun – Eddie’s Kolacky Recipe

In my novel, I Believe You, Eddie plays an important part in the story. Eddie is an 11-year old deaf boy, and the youngest son of the protagonist, David. At the end of the book, Eddie and his new friend Turquoise make a plate of kolachy, a special treat, from an old family recipe. They decide to take the cookies to Tibor, the patriarch of the family, which sets in motion the book’s finale.

I thought it might be fun to share a collection of kolachy recipes from around the web!

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Photo licensed from J Durham/Morguefile.com

 

  • Czech kolachy – probably the closest recipe to what Eddie would have found in his mom’s cookbook.
  • Czech Pastry – oh boy. This one would be found in grandpa’s house at Christmas, purchased from a Manhattan specialty bakery, I am sure!
  • Cream Cheese Kolacky – not sure his grandma would have made the dough with cream cheese, but it is supposed to be exceptional.

Did you know? From Wikipedia –

Enjoy the recipes and if you make some, let me know!

Purchase the book…..

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“I Believe You” Is Now Available

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Kindle version

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Paperback version

 

I’m thrilled to announce that my new novel, I Believe You, is now available! Reader response has been swift and overwhelmingly positive to my latest fiction. You can grab your copies on Amazon. Paperback and Kindle versions are both available.

The book follows the story of the Majek family as they struggle to cope with the loss of Cathy, David Majek’s wife. Cathy was killed in November in an unsolved hit and run accident, and now, almost six months after, strange things have started to happen. A stranger lurks under the street lamp one night. David finds $100,000 missing from his bank account. The same music haunts him, a repetition of the opening bars of Chopin’s F# minor Polonaise…

 

As David struggles to solve the mysteries surrounding his wife’s death, he also struggles with single parenting his 11-year old, deaf son Eddie, his teenager Josh, and his eldest, Alex, and coping with being widowed. It’s a story you won’t soon forget and one that keeps the pages turning while immersing you in the realistic world of Long Island’s famous, wealthy “Gold Coast” and its business giants.

I hope you enjoy it. If you’d like to read what others are saying, check out the first reviews on Amazon and order your copy today.

 

Interest Is Already Building!

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It’s a great feeling for an author to find out that even before publicity has begun for a book, there is interest in it. Today, a followed on the Writer Jeanne Grunert Facebook page asked if she’d really get a copy of I Believe You by September 30th. I was astonished by the question, since I hadn’t announced that the book was available yet!

The fact is that the paperback version is available on the Amazon Create Space store. It should appear on the Amazon search (“regular” Amazon as we call it at Bricks & Brambles Press) within a week.

The Kindle version of the book, on the other hand, was giving me such nightmares I finally broke open my carefully-guarded piggy bank and hired someone to do the heavy lifting for me. The revised Kindle version should be available this week, too.

The launch of the book coincides with fall, the season I love for its shifting mists and air of mystery. Most of the book takes place in the spring, and ends on the Fourth of July weekend. But the real “story” behind the action takes place on a November afternoon just before Thanksgiving when a little boy witnesses something he shouldn’t have…and that’s another reason why a fall launch of the book is especially wonderful. Fall, it seems, is when the action begins.

Stay tuned for sales information for I Believe You.