Once Again, Real Life Copies Fiction, this time in New Jersey

A rendering of the proposed mosque in Bernards Township, N.J., which has been entangled in a protracted battle over parking spaces. Credit Karsten Moran for The New York Times

In my blog post of January 4, 2017, “Life Imitates Fiction . . . Again (Or is it the other way around?),” I reported that the town of Culpeper, Virginia tried to block the building of a mosque by denying a sewage permit.

Now, once again, life copies fiction, this time in New Jersey, where a local zoning board has tried to block construction of a mosque by requiring more parking spaces than normal, as reported by on MAY 23, 2017 in the New York Times:

At issue was an official demand that the mosque provide 107 parking spots for its 150 worshipers, instead of the ratio of one spot for every three users required of the township’s churches, synagogues, restaurants and auditoriums.

The Planning Board’s parking requirement for the mosque set off an avalanche: If the Islamic Society were to devote as much of its land to parking as the board demanded, it would not be able to comply with mandates for drainage and lighting.

“More than five years ago, the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge sought permits to build a mosque big enough for 150 people on a four-acre parcel, where zoning permitted houses of worship. Basking Ridge falls within Bernards Township.

“This week, there is still no mosque — but five years of hearings and litigation about the proposal are drawing to a close. The Township Committee and Planning Board voted Tuesday night to settle lawsuits brought by the Department of Justice and the Islamic Society. Details of the settlement were not announced, but it will include the building permit long denied to the organization.”

So, once again, life imitates fiction:  In Masjid Morning a group of citizens and the zoning board use many means to try to stop construction of a mosque and increase its cost (environmental assessment and wetlands considerations; doubling the parking and restroom requirements; requiring concrete curbing along the driveway and around the parking area; requiring a long turning lane along the highway and sidewalks the entire length of the property along the road even though there were none to connect to on the farms beside the property). Throughout the book, the citizens group tries to stop the construction.

Layered onto this plot is the story of Atif and Amy, who fall in love while their families feud over the construction of the mosque. I am pleased that Masjid Morning won a Finalist award in the 2017 International Book Awards in the category Fiction-Romance.

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Masjid Morning a Finalist in 2017 International Book Awards

 

I am happy to say that Masjid Morning has won a Finalist Award in the Fiction: Romance category of the 2017 International Book Awards. Three hundred winners and finalists were announced out of fifteen hundred entries. For a complete list of awards by category, click on

http://www.internationalbookawards.com/2017awardannouncement.html

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Masjid Morning by Richard Morris
CreateSpace
978-1537233277

Finalist
Fiction: Romance

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AMERICAN BOOK FEST ANNOUNCES
WINNERS AND FINALISTS OF
THE 2017 INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS
Mainstream & Independent Titles Score Top Honors in
the 8th Annual International Book Awards
HarperCollins, Palgrave Macmillan, John Wiley & Sons, Tor/Forge, Rowman & Littlefield, American Cancer Society, Zondervan and hundreds of national and international Independent Houses contribute to this year’s Outstanding Competition
LOS ANGELES  –  AmericanBookFest.com announced the winners and finalists of THE 2017 INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARDS (IBA) on May 22, 2017. Over 300 winners and finalists were announced in over 80 categories. Awards were presented for titles published in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Jeffrey Keen, President and CEO of American Book Fest, said this year’s contest yielded over 1,500 entries from authors and publishers around the world, which were then narrowed down to the final results.
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Go Green, Man

 

Saturday and Sunday, we joined the 13th Annual Green Man Festival in Greenbelt, Maryland, “celebrating the star whose light and warmth has brought life to our planet.” But the festival also continues to be a leafy green one that encourages planting of trees and native plants. Tree-man creatures stalked the festival beating drums and chanting.

“Festival activities will reconnect us to the folklore of ancient civilizations through science, art, music and myth by featuring many local artists, musicians and performers from Maryland as well as other parts of the country.”

This is the festival where we feel especially comfortable promoting Canoedling in Cleveland, my novel about three teens canoeing all the polluted waters around Cleveland in 1960, when the Cuyahoga River was dead between Akron and Cleveland–no fish, no shore birds, and stands of black dead trees in adjacent swamps–when the river was used as a sewer for industrial and residential waste and the oil on the surface caught on fire thirteen times. Now, thanks to the Clean Water Act and the work of many people, the river is clean, with 54 species of fish, shore birds, and eagles in what is now Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

The festival is also where we can promote my Vietnam War satire, Cologne No. 10 For Men and mention how destructive war is to the environment–destroying vegetation as well as people. In Vietnam our army sprayed Agent Orange over 4.5 million acres of land from 1961 to 1971 to defoliate mountain jungles that concealed enemy soldiers and supply routes (destruction of 20% of the jungles of South Vietnam and 20-36% of the mangrove forests), and rice fields, to remove sources of food for enemy soldiers and to move people out of rural enemy territory and into the cities (Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington noted the impact of a doubling or tripling of the urban population). I will not forget landing in a Huey chopper on top of a hill above Khe Sahn in January 1968 as part of the First Cavalry Division move to end the North Vietnamese Army siege of Khe Sahn. The hill was pocked with B-52 bomb craters and stripped of vegetation so that we could set up a fire base and preclude the enemy from using it to rain fire down on the Marine base at Khe Sahn. The defoliation was effective, but demonstrated the destructiveness of war to the environment. I generally stayed away from discussing the generations of health problems and birth defects caused by Agent Orange, which still afflict the American troops and their families and the Vietnamese people.

Other people purchased Well Considered for its history–the thriller about life in the Jim Crow tobacco fields surrounding plantation mansions, where forests had long before been removed to plant crops, in southern and eastern Maryland, and which now have been converted to other crops and housing and commercial developments. One scene in the book where much important action takes place is a leafy running trail that a century earlier was trolley track.

Some bought my new novel, Masjid Morning, an interfaith romance between a Muslim college student whose father is building a mosque, and a young Christian woman whose father is trying to stop the construction. Thematically, this has the least to do with environmentalism, except that I am reminded that “Before engaging in battle, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) instructed his soldiers:

“Do not uproot or burn palms or cut down fruitful trees.” (Al-Muwatta)

“Do not slaughter a sheep or a cow or a camel, except for food.” (Al-Muwatta)

“Do not destroy the villages and towns, do not spoil the cultivated fields and gardens, and do not slaughter the cattle.” (Sahih Bukhari; Sunan Abu Dawud)

Tower Green, Green Man Festival 5-13-2017

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Give me sanctuary . . .

From The Sentinel Newspapers, 19 Apr 2017 | Article written by Candace Rojo Keyes |

But what does it mean? — lots of different things to lots of different people, whether you are debating the meaning of song lyrics or whether your city should become one.  About two weeks ago was “sanctuary” week for me. It started on Monday night with my city’s vote to become a “sanctuary city” and ended on Saturday night with our reunion with three daughters from the Vietnamese “boat” family that we sponsored thirty-seven years ago.

“The approved ordinance largely solidifies a policy that the city police and city staff have unofficially taken up and adhered to for the past several years. In essence, the bill states the city, its police and its resources will not be used to interfere in immigration matters.” – The Sentinel Newspapers, 19 Apr 2017.  A visiting member of our family read the ordinance and stated the opinion that it was basically a nondiscrimination measure — that no matter what their immigration status, criminals would be treated like criminals; and non-criminals would be treated like non-criminals.

Also quoted from this article by Candace Rojo Keyes, “Deni Taveras, the county councilwoman for District 2, was also present at the meeting and said she was excited for Hyattsville residents on the historic night. Taveras, along with Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and Councilman Joseph Solomon, visited Rosa Parks Elementary School last week to talk to families about immigration issues. ‘I heard the worry of the children, the worry of the teachers. There is a heightened awareness of the fear of families being ripped apart,’ Tavaras said. ‘I’m just elated that this council had the heart to keep an open mind.'” Of course, this reminds us of families being ripped apart during slavery.

When President Trump issued his Muslim and refugee bans, friends commiserated with us, saying that they remembered the Vietnamese family of 12 that we sponsored 37 years ago — our Methodist church congregation, along with the Amish congregation in the community where we lived.

Reunion of Dieus and Morrises at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, MD

Three daughters from this family visited us at the end of my “sanctuary week.” It had been twenty years since we last saw them when they visited from California. They were ages 2, 7, and 15 when they arrived in this country. For thirty-seven years this family has been profusely thanking us for sponsoring them. On this particular Saturday night, they kept asking, “How did this happen?” We tackled the answer from the operational viewpoint. I started by reminding them that I had served in Vietnam. My wife added that when I was a young homebuilder, my supplier, National Homes, put out a request for builders who were receiving house packages (walls and building materials) to send back on the truck furniture donations for the Johnstown flood victims. One of the responses to my request to the town, Oakland, Maryland, came from the Amish bishop, whose community helped fill the truck with furniture. So I called upon him again when we wanted to sponsor a Vietnamese “boat” family, and the Amish joined forces with the Methodists. The Amish even had a house to contribute.

Returning Home

One of the young women waited patiently through this explanation, but then explained that what she really wanted to know was “why” we did this — what motivated us to reach out to sponsor a refugee family. (We were at a loss other than attributing to values we absorbed from church and home). She reflected upon the mood of many in the country today who are unwilling to help refugees or undocumented people who are fleeing danger and especially the impact upon children when a parent is deported. She also brought up the practical point that when parents are taken out of the picture, it costs a lot of money for the State to raise a child and increases their susceptibility to gangs and other negative influences of growing up without a parent.

One of them said she had read my novel Cologne No. 10 for Men and liked it. We said we had wondered whether her family would be offended by it and its satire. She assured me that she wasn’t. After dinner she bought a copy of Well Considered before leaving Busboys and Poets after we told her that the novel takes place in this county where she was visiting. The young women had been very interested in hearing all about Hyattsville and its welcoming atmosphere, although Well Considered takes place in a different part of the County.

Amish Barn in Garrett County, Maryland

Continuing to thank us profusely, they departed and went on their way to Garrett County to visit other sponsors there, including the Amish family who housed them during their one year in snow country (before moving to California) while others in the community provided transportation, English tutoring, medical and dental needs, etc.

Amish Buggies in Garrett County, Maryland

 

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Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors

Dr. Carl Sharif El-Tobgui

On Sunday, my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the Mary Anne & Richard Cavicchi Christian Education Seminar on “Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors: An Introduction to Islamic Beliefs and Practices” at the Rocky River (OH) United Methodist Church, the church I attended as a child.

Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors 2

Getting to Know Our Muslim Neighbors at Rocky River United Methodist Church

The featured speaker was Dr. Carl Sharif El-Tobgui, Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies and Director of the Arabic Language Program at Brandeis University, Waltham, MA.  The Mary Anne and Richard Cavicchi Christian Education Seminar sponsored Dr. Sharif to be the seminar speaker.  Members of the Islamic Center of Cleveland joined members of Rocky River United Methodist Church in many planning meetings for the seminar. More than two hundred people attended the final program.

Islamic Center of Cleveland

Islamic Center of Cleveland

Rocky River United Methodist Church and the Islamic Center of Cleveland sponsored the seminar. Members of RRUMC attended the Islamic Center for Friday Prayers, and members of the Islamic congregation were invited to services at RRUMC on Sunday morning. The Islamic Center invited him to give the Friday prayers and sermon, and then  on Friday evening to a potluck dinner, to give the evening prayers, and to speak again.

Elizabeth Cavicchi 4-30-2017

Elizabeth Cavicchi

I was proud that the organizer and moderator, Elizabeth Cavicchi, Ed.D., Harvard Graduate School of Education, an old friend, presented copies of Masjid Morning to both the RRUMC for their library and to Dr. Carl Sharif El-Tobgui.

Mary Anne Cavicchi 4-30-2017

Mary Anne Cavicchi

 

masjid-coverThe novel includes a dialogue on Islam and Christianity between Amy and Atif, a romantically-attracted couple, and depicts people of different faiths working together in mutual assistance.

The seminar was the fourth to be held in honor of Mary Anne Cavicchi, Ph.D. Case Western Reserve University and MDiv., Yale Divinity School, former Director of Religious Education at RRUMC and John Carroll University professor, and Richard Cavicchi, long-time employee of NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland.

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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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