Kensington Day of the Book 2017!

It’s that time again. Mid-April  brings the Kensington International Day of the book. This year we’ll have four books to offer–Cologne No. 10 For Men, Well Considered, Canoedling in Cleveland, and my new one, Masjid Morning.

We’re excited that we have a great new Kirkus Review of Masjid Morning (“A thought-provoking and ultimately moving story”–Kirkus Reviews) and one by Goodreads (“A powerful novel about hate and intolerance–religious and racial”–Kathy Cunningham), as well as good reviews of the first three books.  And with Masjid Morning, as with all my other books, purchasers get a free six by nine-inch print of a painting by Audrey Engdahl (the cover itself). Take a look at this one, when you’re thinking about art:

masjid-cover

(Click on the covers below to order and see reviews)

masjid-cover 6-18-14 Canoedling Cover  Cologne No. 10 For Men Cover

Come Join Us at Day of the Book on Sun. April 23 from 11 to 4 in Kensington, MD!
(
3786 Howard Ave.)

Special guests of the festival are: 

Many other authors will be selling their books: 

Bands will play:

KTOWN ROCKS!

KTown loves to Rock! Featuring blues/root rock by The Nighthawks, rockabilly by the Rock-A-Sonics, and dark melodic folk/rock of Eli August & the Abandoned Buildings.

FOOD COURT

“A Moveable Feast” Food Court Seven food trucks to satisfy tummies of all sizes.

Join Us on Sunday April 23 from 11 to 4 in Kensington, MD!
(3786 Howard Ave.)

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The Book Club Rush — Just a week to go!

The author

That’s right. There’s only one week to go until our Bridging Cultural Gaps Book Club [Thursday, April 13, from 7:30-9:00 p.m. at the Hyattsville (MD) Municipal Building, 4310 Gallatin Street]. The BCGBC was founded to build community by exploring cultural differences through literature and open conversation. All are welcome.

This time we will discuss a new novel called Masjid Morning, written by Richard Morris, a local author. Kirkus Reviews has just chosen it “as one of the 35 reviews in the Indie [independent publishers] section of the magazine [Kirkus Reviews 4/1/17 Issue, page 157] which is sent out to over 5,200 industry professionals (librarians, distributors, publishers, agents, etc.). Less than 10% of our Indie reviews are chosen for this.”

But now, the book club pressure is on. Some people have moved the book to the top of their stack and are looking over it as they gaze out the window, as opposed to looking it over or overlooking it. Some have laid down the books they are simultaneously reading for other book clubs until they read Masjid Morning, re-prioritizing their work so they can fulfill their obligations and responsibilities to their BCGBC members. Some are still waiting for their book in the mail or have decided to order the electronic version so they can start reading IMMEDIATELY.

Others are juggling their work and family activity schedules, to make time. Some have even called in sick, but sent their kids to school so they wouldn’t be bothered, in order to have time to read. Some are desperately searching the Internet for Spark Notes or Cliff Notes. Others have decided they need only read the first and last chapter and some online reviews. Still others have succumbed to the fantasy that they will benefit as much by hearing the discussion at the meeting as they would if they had read the book.

Some have begun suggesting to the other members that we read only half the book for this meeting, and half for the next. One suggested we read one-fifth each time, so we can discuss the book in depth. One couple announced that a sudden family funeral will prevent them from attending. But other unflinching members are losing sleep, reading late into the night, under the covers by flashlight so not to disturb their bed-mate.

Most of the above is FICTION, of course. We don’t have THAT many members in the club. I, of course, have the luxury of skimming this deathless prose, since I am the AUTHOR. (All I have to do is get ready to field their probing, poking questions — which I’m sure will be enlightening.)

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Close to home

It’s sometimes said that a person’s gifts and talents are rarely appreciated by those close to them. So I feel really honored that both my first novel, Cologne No. 10 for Men, and my most recent, Masjid Morning, soon will be featured in events close to home.

On this Friday, March 17th at 7:00 p.m. at Robert Harper Books in Riverdale Park Town Center (6216 Rhode Island Avenue, Riverdale Park, MD 20737  by the railroad station). I will discuss “Fact or Fiction in Vietnam” and my satiric novel Cologne No. 10 for Men.

Author Tom Glenn will follow me and talk about his new novel, Last of the Annamese, “about the Vietnamese and Americans who escaped from Vietnam in April 1975, those who decided to stay, and those who chose death rather than life under the Communists.”

Writer’s Digest calls Cologne No. 10 For Men “a superb novel of the Vietnam war, a novel that compares favorably with those earlier ‘dark humor’ war novels such as CATCH-22 and M.A.S.H. The writing crackles with authenticity,”  Cologne No. 10 For Men Coverand David Willson, Books in Review II, The Vietnam Veterans of America Veteran, said “There aren’t very many funny Vietnam War infantry books. This is one of them. Read it and be amazed.” Kirkus Reviews called it “A funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace.” “. . . like Catch-22 or M.A.S.H.” Cologne No. 10 For Men has been selected for inclusion in the Naval Academy Library in Annapolis, MD.

On Thursday, April 13, the Bridging Cultural Gaps book club will meet from 7:30-9:00 p.m. and discuss Masjid Morning in the Hyattsville Municipal Building (4310 Gallatin Street). Bridging Cultural Gaps was founded to build community by exploring cultural differences through literature and open conversation. All are welcome.

Kirkus Reviews called Masjid Morning “A thought-provoking and ultimately moving story that looks at love, human nature, and conservative religion,” and Edd Doerr, President of Americans for Religious Liberty said, “With Islamophobia on the rise in the US, publication of this interesting novel is quite timely. Its two intertwining plot lines converge in a stunning denouement that I won’t reveal.” Author Kathy Cunningham described it as “A powerful novel about hate and intolerance–religious and racial. But even more than that, it’s a Romeo and Juliet romance about two young people caught up in their parents’ feud.”

Richard Morris

Back in July when our city’s Municipal Building was the venue for a meeting with the theme, “What can we do to create racial justice (in our community)?” One of the questions asked that day and repeated many times leading up to Thanksgiving and the winter holidays regarded how one can respond when extended family members or acquaintances make racist (or Islamophobic or other) remarks.

Hyattsville Municipal Building

Masjid Morning originated with an email containing derogatory anti-Muslim comments sent to me by an acquaintance . Why would I have been assumed to be responsive to receiving such email … what stereotype did I fit? I decided to respond point-by-point and my return email soon became a series of seven blog-posts, beginning with “(Part 1) Funny, you don’t look like a . . .”  and continuing through number 7 in the series.

Then it developed into a novel. Our city’s meetings to learn about Islam occurred during the writing of the story and served as a good source of information, as well as some classes I took and people I met. Other blog-posts, such as “Life Imitates Fiction . . . Again”  and “Corrections already needed to my 11/10/16 novel” reflected subsequent events over the past few months. So, Hyattsville and its people are part of how Masjid Morning came to be, and I am happy to be able to share it in this manner. Thanks for the opportunity.

Interspersed between these two very local events will be one a short distance away, The College Park Library Bookfest. Other events close to home include the International Day of the Book in Kensington, the Riverdale Park Arts Festival, the Green Man Festival in Greenbelt, and Bowiefest in Bowie. (See “Appearances” above for dates and times.) Then on to New Orleans in June.

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Cologne No. 10 For Men – Fact or Fiction

Sin City - Ankhe, Vietnam, 1967

Sin City – Camp Radcliffe – Ankhe, Vietnam, 1967

Writer’s Digest calls Cologne No. 10 For Men “a superb novel of the Vietnam war, a novel that compares favorably with those earlier ‘dark humor’ war novels such as CATCH-22 and M.A.S.H. The writing crackles with authenticity,”  Cologne No. 10 For Men Coverand David Willson, Books in Review II, The Vietnam Veterans of America Veteran, said “There aren’t very many funny Vietnam War infantry books. This is one of them. Read it and be amazed.” Kirkus Reviews called it “A funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace.” “. . . like Catch-22 or M.A.S.H.” Cologne No. 10 For Men has been selected for inclusion in the Naval Academy Library in Annapolis, MD.

But after fifty years, memories have faded, and people may ask what is fact or fiction in the book?  What is true, and what is fake news in this satire?

tom-glenn

Tom Glenn

I’ll let you know on Friday, March 17th at 7:00 p.m. at Robert Harper Books, Riverdale Park Town Center, 6216 Rhode Island Avenue, Riverdale Park, MD 20737 by the railroad station. Author Tom Glenn will follow me and talk about his new novel, Last of the Annamese.

I will also introduce my new novel, Masjid Morning, in which Atif and Amy fall in love while their families feud over construction of a mosque. Kirkus Reviews called it, “A thought-provoking and ultimately moving story that looks at love, human nature, and conservative religion,” and Kathy Cunningham calls it, “A powerful novel about hate and intolerance–religious and racial. But even more than that, it’s a Romeo and Juliet romance about two young people caught up in their parents’ feud.”  Edd Doerr, President of Americans for Religious Liberty says, “With Islamophobia on the rise in the U.S., publication of this interesting novel is quite timely. Its two intertwining plot lines converge in a stunning denouement that I won’t reveal.”

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“A thought-provoking and ultimately moving story”

I am proud to share my just-received Kirkus review of Masjid Morning:

masjid-coverMASJID MORNING
Richard Morris
CreateSpace (272 pp.)
$14.95 paperback, $7.99 e-book
ISBN: 978-1-5372-3327-7; November 10, 2016

BOOK REVIEW

In the latest novel from Morris . . . , a pair of star-crossed lovers—one Muslim, one Christian—face familial and societal pressures in rural Maryland.

Pre-med student Atif Bhati, the young son of Pakistani Muslim parents, and high school senior Amy Breckenridge, the daughter of a prosperous American dairy farmer, experience personal chemistry almost from the first moment they meet. Early on, Amy expresses curiosity about Islam, and Atif is pleased by her open-mindedness and happy to teach her what he knows. As their relationship deepens, the entrenched beliefs of their parents become more and more problematic, as each family harbors issues about the other’s community and faith. Atif’s father, the chief surgeon at a local hospital, is spearheading a movement to build a new mosque for the local Muslim community, and he tells Atif about the town’s mulish opposition and frustrating red tape. The conflicts among the families and townspeople are eventually felt in Atif and Amy’s relationship, as well. Morris braids the various tensions so smoothly into the narrative that even the most hard-line, ideological secondary characters feel believable. But the novel’s main strength is its handling of its simplest plotline: the slow build of Atif and Amy’s romance. Morris fleshes it out with a good deal of humor and sensitivity, which allows him to work in several detailed explorations of theological topics as his characters examine the tenets of Christianity and Islam from various angles. The ending is predictable, but the author keeps the pacing taut as the story plays out against the backdrop of a complicated, modern world.

A thought-provoking and ultimately moving story that looks at love, human nature, and conservative religion.


 

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Creative writing is a fine art at AWP

stairsThe AWP Conference & Bookfair organized by The Association of Writers & Writing Programs  returned to Washington, D.C. this weekend – February 9-11, 2017 – for its 50th anniversary conference, the largest literary conference in North America, filling the cavernous convention center with more than 10,000 writers, teachers, and students, california-college-of-arts-mfa-in-writingrunning  from one author session to another to hear the more than 2,000 presenters and 550 readings, panels, and craft lectures. [My blog posts from 2011 describe the last time AWP was in D.C.] Some attendees sat on the floor of the corridors charging their laptops and reading or composing, and countless others browsed the exhibits of more than 800 presses, journals, publishers, and booksellers, literary organizations, and colleges and universities offering writing curricula and Masters In Fine Arts (MFA) programs, from across the country. uva-creative-writingawp-2017-exhibit-hall

johns-hopkins-masters-in-writing  columbia-college  antioch-university-creative-writingu-of-miani-mfa

In two days (Thursday and Friday), I walked over six miles (as measured on my Iphone pedometer app), chasing the sessions of interest to me (the descriptions below were borrowed from the conference schedule):

Author photo of David Shields, 2012.

David Shields, bestselling author of twenty books

Adaptation in Three Acts: Adventures in Adapting Material for Scripts. (Elizabeth Searle,  David Shields,  Suzanne Strempek Shea,  Danny Eaton)

Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of five novels and three memoirs

Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of five novels ++

Authors of multiple books who have segued into professionally produced script projects share samples of their adapted works and discuss with a playwright different forms of adaptation, including adapting a book for film or stage and adapting another author’s work. Adaptation is an adventure. From collaborating on a successful 2016 Indie feature film to premiering work at a local theater, the authors cover a range of stories and strategies and offer film clips plus mini-performances.

Richard Bausch, author of 11 novels

Richard Bausch, author of 11 novels

Any writer can improve his craft (that’s my excuse for selecting this program. I’m not ashamed!), I decided to pick the brains of these authors:  We All Have to Start Somewhere: How Bad Writing Gets Good. (Melissa Stein,  Richard Bausch,  Tayari Jones,  Natalie Diaz,  Nick Flynn)

Tayria Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta +3

Tayaria Jones, author of Leaving Atlanta +3 others

Five intrepid poets and fiction writers defy shame to share work they thought they’d put far behind them, at the same time exploring: How do we know what’s good or bad, in our writing or in others’? What does it mean to outgrow our own work, and what can we learn from the writers we used to be? What leads us to write dreadful stuff, even now?

Nick Flynn, writer, playwright and poet

Nick Flynn, writer, playwright and poet

And what alchemy turns cringeworthy words into strong, enduring work? Warning: This panel promises to be immensely entertaining.

Current Trends in Literary Publishing, Sponsored by CLMP (Council of Literary Magazines and Presses). (Michael Reynolds,  Katie Freeman,  Porter Anderson,  Jonny Diamond,  Dawn Davis) A panel of industry experts shaping literary publishing discuss how the field is addressing current challenges and hurdles, as well as creating new opportunities. Hear these literary leaders of publishing and reader engagement reveal how they reimagine traditional forms of publishing while integrating innovative new trends. Find out what those in the know are thinking about tomorrow, today.

Christian Kiefer, author of the novels The Animals and The Infinite Tides

Christian Kiefer, author of the novels The Animals and The Infinite Tides

The Shape of Fiction: A Look at Structuring Novel-Length Prose. (Christian Kiefer,  Jeff Jackson,  Esmé Weijun Wang,  Janet Fitch,  Kirstin Chen) When we talk about the structure of narrative, it is often by using the Freytag pyramid:

Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander (an Oprah Novel) and Paint it Blacxk

Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander (Oprah’s Book Club) and Paint it Black

rising action, plateau, denoument, climax, and so on.This panel will discuss the reality of plotting/structuring a novel, often using criteria that has little or nothing to do with Freytag.

Kirsten Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners

Kirsten Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners

Structure can be based on criteria unconcerned with plot and plot can go far from structure. What possibilities exist and how might we offer such possibilities to ourselves and our students?

Emily Mitchell, author of The Last Summer of the World

Emily Mitchell, author of The Last Summer of the World

I decided to get to know some  writers living near me, so I attended: A Reading by the University of Maryland’s MFA Program Faculty. (Elizabeth Arnold,  Maud Casey,  Emily Mitchell,  Michael Collier,  Joshua Weiner)

Joshua Weiner, aware-winning poet and essayist

Joshua Weiner, award-winning poet and essayist

A reading by five faculty members from the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland who have won major literary awards, including Guggenheim Fellowships, NEA Fellowships, and the Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship. The reading will be followed by a Q & A.

Michael Collier, poet

Michael Collier, author of six books of poems

 

There were so many other seminars I would have loved to attend, but I was delighted with the ones I chose. What’s more, an old family friend wandered by (who was the event manager for the conference) and renewed his acquaintance,

Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

Politics and Prose Bookstore, Washington, DC

and we “bumped into” Laurie Kincer, Reading Communications Specialist at Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland, who organizes the Author Conference and Showcase every year in Parma, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, where my novel Canoedling in Cleveland takes place. We talked to folks in the Politics and Prose booth, a famous D.C. bookstore, and visited the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference booth. They are having their sixth annual conference, which takes place where the Potomac River joins the Bay at St. Mary’s College in southern Maryland.

Chesapeake Writers Conference booth

Chesapeake Writers Conference booth

We attended their first conference, which was excellent. At that time, author Jerry Gabriel, the conference coordinator, and his wife were expecting twins, who are now almost five years old!

cover

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Corrections already needed to my 11/10/16 novel

A security official investigates the aftermath of a fire at the Victoria Islamic Center mosque in Victoria, Texas January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed

A security official investigates the aftermath of a fire at the Victoria Islamic Center mosque in Victoria, Texas            January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Khursheed

Two mosques were burned to the ground in Texas in January. Already I should revise the Author’s Note in my novel, Masjid Morning, just published on November 10, 2016.

The book is about the determined effort of a group of men to stop the construction of a mosque. I added the note because I did not want my readers–especially those from overseas–to think that destruction of mosques is common in the United States. So, I reported in my note, “For general information, in 2011, there were 2106 mosques  in the U.S. . . . Three in the U.S. have been destroyed—all by fire: the Islamic Center of Yuba City in California in 1994, the Islamic Center in Columbia, Tennessee in February, 2008, and the Islamic Society [mosque] of Joplin Missouri in 2012.”

Islamic Center of Lake Travis, Texas, burned January 3, 2017 (Facebook)

Islamic Center of Lake Travis, Texas, burned on January 3, 2017 (Facebook)

Now I must add two more, in 2017: the Islamic Center of Lake Travis, Texas (near Austin) on January 3, and the Islamic Center of Victoria (southwest of Houston) on January 28, the night after President Trump’s order

  1. banning Muslim immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia for 90 days,
  2. suspending refugee admissions for 120 days until the White House deems the refugees to be properly vetted, and
  3. capping the overall number of refugees admitted during 2017 at 50,000, down from the current level of 110,000. (In contrast, the U.S. admitted more than 800,000 Vietnamese refugees after the end of the Vietnam War.)

“We don’t want ’em here,” President Trump said of the Muslim immigrants, inciting throngs of people to demonstrate against the ban on Saturday and thereafter in cities across the country and even in Berlin, Paris and London.

Did Mr. Trump’s words encourage the arsonists in Victoria? I don’t know.

Whatever the answer, please pencil in the Islamic Center of Lake Travis, Texas, and the Islamic Center of Victoria, Texas on page 261 of your copy of Masjid Morning.

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Give me your tired, your poor . . .

statue-of-libertyInscribed on a plaque inside the base of the Statue of Liberty is the following sonnet by Emma Lazarus, entitled “New Colossus:”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips.
statue-of-liberty-poem
“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

This blog is about not only my own writing, but also that of other writers and poets. Here is a poem by one who agrees with the throngs of people demonstrating against President Trump’s executive order that temporarily prohibits entry into the United States of migrants from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. The writer prefers to remain anonymous, but encourages you to share freely without attribution.

TRUMP

What is it ? Is it an actual name, a surname ?
Is it a name registered on his or her birth certificate ?
Or is it substitute for a more complex name,
a simplification of a name
meant to fit atop a hotel or a casino
or meant for self-glorification ?

Well, TRUMP is a verb from a card game.
“I’ll TRUMP you.
I can solve all problems single-handedly.
I am the GREATEST.
I have the best information.
I can make the best deals.
I, I, I, me, me, me.
Yes, single-handedly.
I will TRUMP you.”playing-cards-9s

Well, TRUMP is a noun from a card game.
What is TRUMP ?
When I boast about my wealth, my hotels,
my golf courses, my casinos, my FABULOUS houses,
my wealthy, influential friends,
my GREAT business deals,
then DIAMONDS are TRUMP.

What is TRUMP ?

When I make lewd comments about a woman,
or grab a woman’s ass,
or assault a woman,
or cavort with prostitutes,
then HEARTS are TRUMP.

What is TRUMP ?
When I enthusiastically avow
torture and waterboarding of prisoners,
when I condemn all Muslims, Mexicans, other groups,
when I place “America First”
above free trade and cooperation with allies,
when I ridicule the physically handicapped
and shout down the free press,
when I use the “bully pulpit” to bully others,
when I TWEET false “truths” and half-truths,
then CLUBS are TRUMP.

What is TRUMP ?
When I put my hand on the Bible
and swear to uphold the Constitution
and the Laws of the United States of America,
then sign an Executive Order
that deliberately usurps those laws,
sending lawfully “vetted” refugees,
immigrants with “green cards,” permanent U.S status,
back to the countries they have fled from,
opening the possibility of them being buried
in the brutality of civil war,
then SPADES are TRUMP.

What is TRUMP ?
An action verb used to glorify oneself
and stomp on others less militant, more fragile.
A noun from a card game,
in this case denoting
ostentatious wealth,
free-wheeling sexuality,
clubbing your opposition,
burying Constitutionally enacted laws
with Executive Orders.                                                                                                                                                                January 19, 2017

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Making a difference in the world

writing[This blog post was inspired by the county board of education decision to eliminate creative writing as part of the creative and performing arts program at our local middle school. For local people, here is the link to the petition to preserve the program.]

When I was in middle school English, I was accused of writing inscrutable poetry. No one could fathom it, but that mattered little to me. I knew exactly what it meant. I would take long journeys that no one could follow.

Later, I wrote building code requirements in which clear communication was imperative. Nothing could be confused or misinterpreted, and all extraneous words were eliminated.   This text, however, was devoid of imagination.

In the career that followed, I began writing novels. My aim was to provide entertaining, thought-provoking fiction – stories and characters that propelled readers forward with interesting themes. Each has been drawn from the well of my life, and each is on a topic that has piqued my curiosity and sent me deep into research.

Cologne No. 10 For Men CoverThe first was Cologne No. 10 For Men. I had served in Vietnam as an infantry rifle platoon leader – a very lucky one. Although gung ho at the time – fighting to defeat international Communism – after I returned I gradually grew disenchanted with the war. I wanted to put my thoughts down on paper – organize them – and reappraise my positions. The war was full of horror that I knew well. But in my novel, I felt I could not dwell on that. I needed a story to engage readers, and I had to entertain them. I was inspired by Joseph Heller’s  Catch-22. My novel would include the terror and the emotions of real soldiers, but would add farce to the mix. The result was a book that Kirkus Reviews called “a funny and serviceable satire about the gross rationalizations that propel war and peace.” David Willson of the Vietnam Veterans of America “Veteran” magazine said, “There aren’t very many funny Vietnam War infantry books. This is one of them. Read it and be amazed.”

Well Considered CoverMy next novel was Well Considered, which dealt with racial justice and conflict.  It reflected my interests in race and the history of Maryland – from a tobacco-growing slave state (1642-1864) to a segregated bastion of Jim Crow until 1954 (and later).  The protagonist in this novel, Ron Watson, replicated my research into Don S.S. Goodloe, the first principal of what is now Bowie State University, a historically black university. A report I had read said that there were lynchings in the area near the school as late as 1907. My research tried unsuccessfully to corroborate this statement. There was one in Annapolis in December, 1906, however. So I decided to have my protagonist look into the lynching of his great-grandfather on a tobacco plantation in 1907 and have descendants of the murderers attack him. Kirkus called this one “a sensitive study of race and history in the American South” and “a multilayered thriller.”

6-18-14 Canoedling CoverCanoedling in Cleveland is a young adult novel that adults of all ages have enjoyed – a Huckleberry Finn story examining the themes of residential segregation, racial conflict, and environmental degradation, as three teens canoe the polluted rivers and lakes around Cleveland in 1960, the same waters I navigated when I was a teen growing up in Cleveland. Kathy Cunningham (Goodreads) wrote, “On one level, Richard Morris’s CANOEDLING IN CLEVELAND is a cute, nostalgic story about three teenagers spending the summer of 1960 taking canoe trips. . . . But on another level, the novel is about the racial divide in the suburbs of Cleveland, and Jeff’s growing determination to change the world,” and Writer’s Digest reviewer says it’s “a book that deserves a place in every middle school and high school library.”

masjid-coverMy latest, Masjid Morning (11/2016), evolved from Islamophobia – readings about a mosque-burning in Tennessee and opposition toward it and to other efforts to build mosques, the registration of Muslims in New York City after 9-11, and other hateful deeds and words against Muslims. My first reaction was to a malicious email we received that attacked Muslims. I responded by countering every erroneous statement with facts in my “Funny. . .” series of blog posts. Searching further, I studied booklets on Islam and visited two mosques (later five), discussing the religion with the imams. After further research, I decided to write a novel on the theme of religious tolerance, using a Romeo and Juliet plot – a young Muslim man and Christian girl falling in love as he explains Islam to her and as she compares it to her religion. At the same time, his father, a surgeon from Lahore, is leading a group that is building a mosque (masjid), while her father, who owns a large dairy farm, is doing everything he can think of to stop the construction. This novel taps my experiences learning about Christianity as a child and building custom homes decades later. Kathy Cunningham (Goodreads) describes it as “A powerful novel about hate and intolerance–religious and racial” and “a Romeo and Juliet romance about two young people caught up in their parents’ feud.”  Edd Doerr, President of the Americans for Religious Liberty, says, “With Islamophobia on the rise in the US, publication of this interesting novel is quite timely. Its two intertwining plot lines converge in a stunning denouement that I won’t reveal.”

In each book, I have tried to make a difference in the world, supporting peace, racial justice, environmental justice, and religious liberty. But in all cases I have tried to engage and entertain my readers. Many say that I have succeeded.

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Life Imitates Fiction . . . Again

(Or is it the other way around?)

Sister Munira Salim Abdalla, chief administrator for the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, asks a law enforcement official to intervene during a heated public meeting last year about a new mosque. (Peter Cihelka/ The Free Lance-Star )

Sister Munira Salim Abdalla, chief administrator for the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, asks a law enforcement official to intervene during a heated public meeting last year about a new mosque. (Peter Cihelka/ The Free Lance-Star )

 

Petula Dvorak’s article entitled “In Va., civic rules used as a guise for Islamophobia” in the January 3, 2017 edition of the Washington Post (Online January 2) masjid-coverdescribed attempts by anti-Muslims to use sewage lines, traffic patterns and zoning ordinances as a smokescreen to block construction of three mosques in Virginia in what Dvorak calls “surging Islamophobia,” which began when “Donald Trump began running for president, pledging to ban Muslims from entering the country and establish a registry for Muslim Americans.” (This has spawned a #RegisterMeFirst campaign by those who fear a campaign against Muslims similar to Hitler’s registration of Jews.)

These are some of the tactics used by a similar group in my novel Masjid Morning to try to block construction of a masjid (mosque) in a fictitious county in Maryland. The video clip of the former Marine who shouted “Nobody, nobody, nobody wants your evil cult in this county” at a zoning meeting in November 2015 reminded me of the type of things my fictional antagonist might say.

“In Culpeper, about 40 miles away, local officials rubber stamped pump-and-haul permits to handle sewage for businesses or houses of worship. The county board approved 26 of them since 1992, including nine for churches. But when the Islamic Center of Culpeper bought a parcel of land and proposed a small mosque, a local Republican activist whipped the community in a frenzy over the sewage permit, which became a sneaky way to block the entire project.”

My antagonist in Masjid Morning resorts to other tactics to keep the mosque from “rising from the ground like a living being” as one reviewer, a home builder, said. But my fictional Muslim congregation is not alone–it has the backing of the interfaith ministerial association in town. It also is fortunate to have sufficient financial resources to continue building even when the anti-Muslim group actions increase the cost of construction.

An early reviewer of Masjid Morning was bored by the detailed construction descriptions I have put in the book, which are based on my years of custom home building. But now, some readers say they like watching the mosque go up: “I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the construction work and the people . . . ” –Rebecca S. Wilson

Others have enjoyed the love affair between Atif (uh-teef) and Amy, and learning about Islam as he teaches her, or conversely, learning about Christianity as she teaches him.

But the shadow of Islamophobia lurks over the whole book, as it does in Virginia and elsewhere today. And it can only be stopped by strong opposition of interfaith groups who value freedom of religion and fear that they will be next if we allow Muslims to succumb to bigotry.

 

 

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