Monthly Archives: January 2009

Something about Mary Linn Roby

[As you can gather, my interest in Naples-area writers did not begin yesterday. I am posting today the original version of my article on Mary Linn Roby, which was published with some editorial shrinkage in the October 2000 issue of N Magazine. Kinley Roby has gone on to write a series of mystery novels set in our region.]

Soon after I was invited to sit down in the Roby’s spacious and quietly classy home in the St. Pierre, I thought I heard in Mary’s voice a quality that wasn’t just New England or Maine. After our conversation ended, I decided that what I heard was an overlay of Old England upon the New. Certainly these self-admitted Anglophiles had spent enough time in Oxford and London, dozens of summers, to have caught something. Literary Brits or (would-be Brits like T. S. Eliot) speak through Kinley, who has written biographies of such modern masters as Arnold Bennett and Joyce Cary, as well as Eliot. He has also written a life of King Edward VII. Maybe what I heard was Kinley’s English parentage –

his mother and father were born in Liverpool. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Retired from his professorship in the English Department at Northeastern University (where he also served as chairman), Kinley E. Roby continues his authorial pursuits freed from the duties of teaching and administration.

But this piece is about Mary … something about Mary.

Born and raised in Maine, Mary attended the University of Maine where she majored in English, met Kinley, and suffered through a creative writing course that, she insists, did not jump-start her career. In fact, she took the course primarily because Kinley was taking it. Her father was the superintendent of a woolen mill, and her mother was a Latin teacher and librarian. Mary herself became a high school teach after graduation, specializing in history and economics as well as English.

Some years later, after bearing the first of her two children, Mary suffered a loss of identity that made her need to get out of the house. She found herself in the university library, researching and then writing a book on the Brontes. Though the book was not accepted for publication, her immersion in the Brontes must have had something to do with the kinds of novels she would eventually write. Was she an overnight success when she turned to writing fiction? Well, no. She became a writer, a published writer, by sticking to it for ten dry years, getting better and better at her craft until she made a breakthrough. After that breakthrough, she turned out titles nonstop for about twenty-five years.

Early in her career, Mary wrote short stories for Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine. Some of these were dramatized by Rod Sterling on his Night Gallery television series. Mystery novels followed, first “Red Badge” selections published by Dodd, Mead — then Gothics in the vein of Daphne Du Maurier. Historicals came next, most of them set in England. Mary’s many visits have provided her with the kind of saturation in place that allows her to write convincingly about the English past. After all, in England an 18th-century drawing room is not hard to find, and there are many views from prestigious estates that have not changed for centuries. Though a degree of research is a must, Mary can easily “furnish” a setting from her direct experience. However, her books are not “about” the English past; they are about universal human problems. Mary Linn Roby always begins her books with a problem.

One of these, The Herrick Inheritance, was a Dalton Best Seller at 125,000 copies. Mary has published over fifty novels; while seven appeared first as hardbacks, the majority of them are paperback originals. And, while she published most of these titles under her own name, a smaller number are credited to such pen names as Pamela D’Arcy, Mary Wilson, Valerie Bradstreet, and Georgina Grey. Her first successes were “over the transom” submissions with no agent as go-between. Soon after, she began to employ the services of an agent. However, her career is proof that the best publishing strategy is writing well. Mary admits she was not “a natural” as a writer, and those ten years of self-directed apprenticeship were necessary for her. The apprenticeship involved not courses or mentors or editors but serviceable models. Mary evolved as a writer by becoming a reader with an eager eye to how things were done, both stylistically and  structurally. For a time, she apprenticed herself to Iris Murdoch. Du Maurier was another model. At some point, her models became springboards that led her to her own voice.

Mary found herself engaged by the work and also driven to set goals that kept her writing a certain number of pages each night. She learned to make herself write as well as she could the first time. The discipline paid off in the sense that after a while her imagination was so active that it was as if someone else was telling her a story and she was simply the instrument through which it flowed. The stories that have flowed through her have reached beyond her native shores to audiences in England, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

How did the writing Robys get to Naples? They vacationed here at Christmas time several years back, and at the end of their visit went out with realtor on a lark. Mary and Kinley fell in love with Pelican Bay and instantly made up their minds to move here. They’ve now lived in Naples full-time for over five years. Both Robys found themselves feeling at home almost immediately. In fact, Mary says that they have never felt so much “at home” as they do in Naples. Making new friends was easy for them, as they became eagerly involved in activities that ranged from the art community to the Conservancy to Friends of the Library to the Pelican Bay Women’s League to duties on condominium committees. Kinley is presently chairman of the condominium board for the St. Pierre. Mary, who plays tennis five or six days a week, has set up an informal literary group and has arranged discussions on feminism for a Think Tank program to run through the 2000-2001 season.

Being so busy has left Mary little time for her writing, which she has begun to miss after filling her days with such a variety of other activities. Although the is finding it difficult to return to that disciplined routine that once dominated her life, she is committed to a new project — a contemporary murder mystery. One mystery is which of the many things that Mary loves so much to do will have to take a back seat to this new book.


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Ben Bova – The Future Is Now

Science fiction master Ben Bova is a man of many distinctions. He is the author of over 115 titles, both “what if” novels and nonfiction books. These include his well-regarded “Grand Tour” series – including such works as Titan, Moonrise, and Mars – which explore the ways in which humans might populate the solar system and the consequences of their expansive enterprise. Mixing adventure, romance, and scientific veracity, Bova’s works insist that readers learn something even while they are enormously entertained.

A recent thriller, The Green Trap, shows Bova’s versatility. A murdered greentrapscientist had been working on bacteriological processes that convert water to its component elements, allowing for the possibility of mass-produced hydrogen fuel. . . .

To see the entire article as it appears in the Jan-Feb 2009 issue of Ft. Myers Magazine, click on the link Ft.Myers magazine – Ben Bova

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Naples Novelist Gives Readers a Rush

On her new website, Jaime Rush offers readers her Naples post office box address. A series of photos marks her striking resemblance to Naples author Tina Wainscott. Indeed, the copyright page in the advance uncorrected proof for her book, A Perfect Darkness, reveals that Wainscott is the copyright holder. Often, publishers and agents recommend the nom de plume gambit when a writer veers off in a new direction. They fear confusing the existing fan base. My own guess is that the new series by “Jaime Rush” will draw readers who never heard of Tina Wainscott, and that Wainscott readers will have no trouble enjoying the Jaime Rush offerings.rushtitle

Tina Wainscott is a Naples girl. In her youth, the future novelist made up stories to tell her friends and relatives. She would also, with her friends, script and act out what she calls “mini-movies.” At nineteen, a couple of years out of Lely High School (class of 1983) and taking business courses at Edison Community College, Wainscott (her last name was Ritter until marriage) became more serious about a writing career. She took an adult education course in creative writing, and then she took it several more times. The course, led by Betzi Abram, got Wainscott more focused: she had to turn something in every week, and the criticism helped her develop the tough skin one needs as a writer. Her first novel, On the Way to Heaven, was published in 1995. She has been going nonstop ever since.  Several of her novels have Florida settings.

Wainscott/Rush crafted paranormal romances earlier in her career, while romantic thrillers have been more frequent in recent years. With the series launched by A Perfect Darkness, this prolific author for the first time envisions a multi-novel saga.

The term “paranormal” connects with “supernatural” – with an emphasis on unusual psychic powers. The characters in A Perfect Darkness have an arsenal of shared as well as unique abilities. One of them can see ten seconds into the future, another can converse with the dead, yet another can image the future and release the vision in eerie paintings. And one can set fires through psychic energy. The paranormal characters in this novel are particularly sensitive to one another and can communicate – and more – across time and space. This is because they are connected as the children of an extended family: in part biological, in part the collective result of experiments that have produced or altered them.

They are known as The Offspring, and their common goal is to trace their origins, master their special gifts, and discover – perhaps to defeat – the ends for which they were engineered.

We meet them as adults, some of whom have been long aware of their special gifts and others who are just discovering them. The novel’s central character, computer repair genius Amy Shane, is in danger, and what threatens her brings her into contact with some of her para-siblings. They mine their shared memories, putting some of the pieces together.

The reader discovers, along with the characters, that some kind of rogue government project has brought them into being. Like so many projects of super-patriots, The Offspring were designed to serve the national interest – but something has gone wrong.  They pose a threat to those who would be their controllers, and The Offspring themselves seem to have divided into potentially adversarial groups.  The controllers strive to exploit the supernatural abilities of The Offspring, conduct further experiments, and destroy those whom they cannot manage.

Sorting this all at will take Jaime Rush several novels, but she is off to a strong start, balancing revelations with new questions that keep readers guessing and turning  pages.  

The hook for romance readers is – believe it or not – paranormal sexual intimacy. A romance between Amy Shane and Lucas Vanderwyck – the artist and leader of the Offspring – develops in their interactive dreams, and in these shared dreams they know sensual rapture and emotional bliss. The lurking question: will it be this good when it’s not a dream? An intriguing question that interacts with many other questions in the novel.

Jaime Rush has set A Perfect Darkness in Annapolis, Maryland. This setting, a relatively small town not far from Washington, DC, seems a good choice for evoking the corridors of power without getting bogged down in iconic urban landscapes. While more could be done with the setting (state capital, sailing and seafood mecca, home of U. S. Naval Academy), the important aspects of setting and environment in this genre are the extensions of the what-if premise. And on these Rush is masterful, as she is in developing a cast of intriguing characters defined through vivid dialogue and action.

Aside from Amy Shane, whose talents include sensing and interpreting the emotional “glows” that emanate from people, the author provides readers with Eric and Petra Aruda – strikingly attractive twin Offspring whose psychic powers complicate their all too normal jealousies and frustrations. There is the mysterious Rand, whom the team must attempt to rescue late in the novel. And there is a host of villains, most notably Gerald Darkwell, over whom The Offspring must prevail. There is also an old friend of Amy’s father, a man from whom she seeks protection and guidance.  But “Uncle” Cyrus seems to have compromised loyalties and uncertain motives. Which side is he on? Riddle follows riddle.  tina-wainscott

Jaime Rush sums up the appeal of the series as “X-Files meets Friends.” She’s on target here, and it’s a potent combination. A Perfect Darkness is due from Avon Books in late January.

BEFORE JAIME’S BIRTH, Tina Wainscott was doing just fine. You can find several Book Beat Columns about Tina, and also, more recently, a brief review on another title by Jamie Rush. Run the names in the web site search box, right sidebar.

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Van Doren – a Memoir

Sometime after his fall from grace, after the facts of the quiz show scandal had been revealed to the public, Charles Van Doren washed up as if from a shipwreck on the friendly shoals of the New School cafeteria. At least everyone said he was Charles Van Doren, and we accepted this consensus. Surrounded by attrac­tive women, the gaunt figure either was or affected to be a kind of tragic hero prepared for all kinds of ego salving. He might no longer be employable or marketable, but he certainly could re­ceive songs of solace from the intriguing Greenwich Village maid­ens who beached themselves on his island of repose. He was never alone at that table.


I’d usually show up for a late lunch after stopping a few blocks away for a small wedge of Gorgonzola cheese, a slice of crusty Italian bread, and a tin of sardines. This, the sardines cut by lemons I’d pinch from the cafeteria condiment table, was an inexpensive, nourishing, and properly bohemian feast. I’d or­der, perhaps, a cup of coffee. On a strict budget, I’d learned to find cheap food, like the fried egg sandwiches from Hector’s on 42nd Street. Smothered in catsup, these could keep me going for the better part of the day.

But the Gorgonzola cheese and sardines repast worked well with my New School cronies – Jeffrey Rand, Burt Sharp, and the fetching but illusive wine heiress, Ann Taylor – all of us struggling to be worldly, artsy, and depraved as we suffered through our late teens. Bad breath was our badge. Spying on Charles from across the room, we wondered if that’s what it took to be truly desirable – an intellectual criminality and a woebe­gone countenance. We practiced the latter. On Jeffrey, his head already balding and his big Italian nose a little off-center, this attitude had an unfortunate comic effect. Burt had it down pretty well. Coupled with his slight stutter, he could really look downtrodden and appealing. Ann didn’t need it to attract at­tention.

 It amazes me now how the ruffled yet genteel Van Doren en­gaged our imaginations, how we aspired to identify with him. Here we were attending lectures by Alfred Kazin, Harry Schlochauer, and other reputable intellectuals, and yet we were drawn to Van Doren’s disgrace. Having been dazzled by Mark Van Doren’s writings on Shakespeare, I had some sense of the prodigal son motif in Charles’s situation. It added further intrigue. We were all, according to our parents, wasting our true talents while pretend­ing that we could become writers or intellectuals. In our shabby Village outfits, looking even poorer than we were, we disgraced them.

 There were certainly cushions to our suffering. Jeffrey could go back to his comfortable Brooklyn home and take a turn running the cash register and making appointments at his parents’ amazingly successful beauty salon. Ann was well-provided for in an expensive Hudson Street apartment. Burt and I roomed at the Hebrew Y on 92nd Street where rent was low and money from home supplemented our meager incomes. To the extent that we admitted to ourselves that we were pretenders, Charles’s plight seemed all the more poignant. Yet it was clear that he had cushions, too.

At the Y, we attended readings and lectures by literary gi­ants like T. S. Eliot and Marianne Moore, as well as the up-and-coming Robert Creeley and Paul Blackburn. We soaked ourselves in Culture, taking in (on student discount tickets) Shaw and Brecht and Strindberg revivals Off-Broadway. We were current with Becket and Ionesco, and we swooned over the wave of foreign films that filled the art houses.

 But spying on Charles from across the New School cafeteria had some special charge for us, something as mood-altering as The Virgin Spring or Hiroshima, Mon Amour or Saturday Night and Sun­day Morning, something sweeter and much headier than the cheap red wine we’d buy at the San Remo Bar.

He was both real and a fictional character. He was our muse with seaweed in his hair. We made up stories about him, and he became an imaginary friend who silently joined us on our forays into the late Beat hangouts: the Cedar Bar and the White Horse, where Dylan Thomas had held forth. The druggy, fey decadence of the Beats was not quite our style, nor was the somewhat more roughhouse flavor of McSorley’s. There was a faint touch of the Ivy League about us that carrying Charles around in our imagina­tions satisfied. The New School itself, as leftist and bohemian-oddball as anyplace, was in certain fragile ways Columbia Univer­sity South – and so were we and Charles.

None of us ever actually spoke to him, though we knew people who did. He put in much more time in the cafeteria than we did, as if it were a place of refuge. Always recognized, but mildly celebrated rather than attacked or looked down upon, he was the icon of a sort of failure and shame that we knew could come to any of us, an image of unsteady survivorship still flirting with the undertow.

When Robert Redford’s Quiz Show movie came out in 1994, I learned more about the story than I remembered from the time it had hit the news or from all the gossip exchanged about Charles in the New School cafeteria. But I knew something that the movie could not reach out for: the eerie radiation sent forth from that seated figure in worn professorial garb; the unsteady, forced smile; the guarded revelations; and the responding hunger of his entourage and of several distant voyeurs for whom Charles had be­come a strange companion and a possible future. He was a deadly attraction, like the rock-edged, swirling waters of a cliffside lagoon into which we could barely keep ourselves from diving.

 [First published in WordWrights No. 17 Fall/Winter 1999-2000. Van Doren’s stellar televison run, celebrated in Time Magazine cover, took place in 1957, while his “fall from grace” occurred in 1959. The narrative is set in 1961.]

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