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Meet the Authors in January 2015

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Two exciting events promise to benefit both authors and readers in late January. The first of these is the Writers’ Domain program at Norris Home Furnising in Naples, Florida on January 29 from 5:30-7:30pm. No reservations needed to attend. Just show up. Among the many authors selling and signing their books will be Karen Bartlett, Ben Bova, Karen Harper, Lisa Black, James Lilliefors, Jean Harrington, Gwendolyn Heasley, Don Farmer, and Chris Curle. See Writers’ Domain – Norris Home Furnishings for more information.


Two days later, there is a splendid event planned in Sarasota by Avon Books.

Avon Books and Bookstore 1 Sarasota are teaming up to bring Florida romance readers the area’s first-ever multi-author KissCon (an Avon Affair!) on Saturday, January 31, 2015. This special VIP event includes a catered mix & mingle with the authors, followed by a special “Actor’s Studio”-type discussion, audience Q&A, interactive trivia, and an exclusive book signing (there will be tons of books to buy onsite!).

The star-studded author line-up includes: Katharine Ashe, Maya Banks, Lena Diaz, Megan Frampton, Jeaniene Frost, Laura Lee Guhrke, C.J. Kyle, Julia Quinn, Kerrelyn Sparks and C.L. Wilson.  For details, see Avon Romance Presents: KissCon Sarasota- Eventbrite

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Book Event


From: Julie Compton


Date: December 30, 2011


Contact: Julie Compton / Email:  email@mwaflorida.org


Best-selling authors Charlaine Harris, Jeffery Deaver, Chris Grabenstein headline SleuthFest 2012 in Orlando


Hundreds of mystery writers will gather for the annual conference March 1-4.
Both experienced and aspiring writers and mystery fans are invited to register.


Charlaine Harris, best-selling author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels that inspired the hit HBO series “True Blood,” will speak March 3 in Orlando at SleuthFest, the annual conference of the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America.


Both aspiring and well-established mystery writers from all over the country gather each year in Florida for the four-day SleuthFest, where they glean expert advice on everything from the nuts and bolts of writing a novel to finding an agent—and have a lot of fun doing it.


For many years a South Florida event, SleuthFest moves to Orlando for the first time this year. Attendees include editors, publishers, and agents, as well as famous authors such as Harris, whose “Dead Reckoning” topped the New York Times hardcover-fiction list in 2011, and international suspense superstar Jeffrey Deaver, author of the Lincoln Rhyme thrillers and the latest James Bond title, “Carte Blanche.” He’ll speak at SleuthFest on March 2.


SleuthFest’s Thursday Spotlight Speaker, Chris Grabenstein, has drawn critical acclaim and legions of fans for his Haunted Mystery Series of ghostly tales for middle-grades readers, as well as his adult mysteries. He’ll kick off SleuthFest with a talk at the popular Third Degree Thursday program, at which attendees hone their craft through workshops with masters of mystery. This year, a new two-part Thursday workshop session will focus on a timely topic: ebook publishing.


SleuthFest’s four days feature presentations by a variety of accomplished authors, including Jeff Ashton, author of “Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony.” Murder on the Beach bookstore in Delray Beach will offer books for sale throughout the conference, which includes many opportunities to obtain authors’ signatures.


Attendees can also sign up for special programs, including a trip to a gun range and a Mystery Dinner Theater performance, as well as a private Saturday night party at the House of Blues, hosted by best-selling romance and suspense author Heather Graham.


Orlando author Julie Compton and author Linda Hengerer of Vero Beach serve as volunteer SleuthFest co-chairmen for the conference, which takes place this year at the Royal Plaza in Lake Buena Vista, an official Walt Disney World Resort Hotel.


Attendees may register for the whole March 1-4 program (with reduced rates available through January 15). They may also tailor their registration to sign up for only one day of programs, or as little as one luncheon, organizers say. For details and to register, go to  http://mwaflorida.org/sleuthfest.htm

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Naples Author Wins Prize for WWII Autobiography

The following review, first published on this site in late November of 2008 with an alternate title, remained unpublished in print until the November 5-11, 2009 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly, the editor being persuaded by the approach of Veterans’ Day and the Florida Writers Association prize announced a few days earlier. See Florida Weekly – Leon Hesser. It also appears in the November 11-17 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly.

The original version, republished below, contains material on Hesser’s earlier books not found in the print edition. The newspaper version carries information about the prize.

Young Leon Hesser was fresh off the Indiana farm when he enlisted in the Army toward the end of WWII. He had just met his great love, Florence Life, and they promised each other to tie the knot soon after Leon’s return. After basic training, teenager Hesser was shipped out to the Pacific Theater, where he saw first-hand some of the most horrendous battles of the war, serving during various battles in the Philippines. He also served with the post-war occupation forces in Japan. This author is likely to be the only person you’ll ever meet who earned both the Combat Infantry Badge and the Combat Medic Badge as a teenager. Hesser tells the story of these two years in uniform in his new book, ZigZag Pass: Love and War, a Memoir.


Hesser at Naples Press Club Authors & Books Festival, April 2008

Hesser at Naples Press Club Authors & Books Festival, April 2008

In creating a narrative at once personal and representative, Naples resident Hesser strikes a fine balance between presenting the authentic pulse and flow of his own experience and filling in the larger picture of U. S. forces in the Pacific. His research is sufficiently thorough without becoming overbearing or bogged down in dry fact.

Hesser is quite adept at sketching the pre-war milieu of rural Indiana and the reactions that follow upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when he was a sixteen year old high school junior. He traces the U. S. military build-up in the Pacific and reminds us of how farming communities met the demand for increased food for the war effort. Upon turning eighteen in the summer of 1943, Hesser registered for the draft, receiving a deferral as his services were needed for food production. By the spring of 1944, after troop quotas were increased, he was classified as 1-A. He had just met Florence, and so their courtship would be interrupted by Hesser’s time in uniform. In June, he reported to Fort Benjamin Harrison for induction processing. Although he indicated a preference for Navy duty, Hesser was taken into the Army and sent on to Camp Hood (Texas) for basic training.

After further training at other locations, Hesser finds himself aboard the “General Howze,” a Liberty ship that transports him across the ocean in time to reach the island of Leyte in the Philippines just after its retaking by Allied Forces. Hesser was among the large number of replacements needed after the casualty-heavy Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Hesser summarizes that battle, then explains the necessity of clearing ZigZag Pass as a preliminary to opening up Manila Bay. His fifth chapter, “Three Days in ZigZag Pass,” is the heart of the book. Here the narrative pace slows to allow full dramatic detail: Hesser stresses the risk from well-situated enemy defensive forces, the suffocating heat, and the extremely difficult terrain, including the “tangled growth of the jungle flora.” Here, also, Hesser is most attentive to conveying his own personal ordeal. Surrounded by casualties, Hesser joins with others to “carry litters of the dead, near-dead, and seriously wounded to awaiting ambulances and 6x6s.”

Following the ZigZag Pass ordeal, Hesser has the opportunity to train as a combat medic, and as he recounts that training, readers learn about the uses of sulfa, penicillin, and morphine as well as steps needed to prevent malaria. Stationed on Mindoro during a lull in the action, Hesser’s unit had time for recreation, which he describes with pleasure. During the two months on Mindoro, news reaches the troops of President Roosevelt’s death and that Harry S. Truman is now their president and commander in chief. Hesser’s division next sails from Mindoro to the large island of Mindanao in order to retake Davao – the Philippines second largest city — from the Japanese.

In describing his duties as a “Pill Roller,” Hesser simultaneously outlines several more battles, leading up to the plans to invade Japan. He recounts the efforts aimed at pressing the Japanese to surrender, and he reviews the background of nuclear weapon experimentation and government policy that leads to the use of the A-Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Finally, Hesser describes his experiences as part of an Army of Occupation, his discharge from service, and his homecoming.

All through the war-time narrative, Hesser keeps us in touch with his feelings for Florence. Their relationship is nourished by exchanges of letters, some of which are shared with readers. Ultimately, we see the two young people reunited and a long-awaited wedding.

Hesser’s ZigZag Pass, though brief, is a sterling addition to the literature of WWII memoir. Such additions to the cannon will grow rarer at “the greatest generation” ages and vanishes.

The longer story of the relationship between Leon and Florence is told in his 2004 book “Nurture the Heart and Feed the World: The Inspiring Life Journeys of Two Vagabonds.” Here, Leon makes the case for initiative and determination, drawing upon first-hand experience and the example of his wife. From becoming a Purdue freshman at the age of thirty to earning a Ph.D. in agricultural economics to running programs that ushered in the “green revolution” of increased food production in third world countries, Hesser has had a remarkable life story and career. Florence’s path is similar. After helping Leon get a good start on his graduate studies, she entered Purdue at the age of thirty-five and eventually earned an Ed.D. She became a professor of education at George Washington University.

Hesser’s career brought him into contact with Norman Borlaug, whose scientific achievements revolutionized world food production. Borlaug became a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, and Leon Hesser tells Borlaug’s story in the authorized biography The Man Who Fed the World (2006). This book brought Hesser much acclaim, including the Florida Writers Association First Place in Biography, Florida Publishers Association Best Nonfiction, and Best Books Award Winner by USA Book News.

Hesser’s turned author soon after he and his wife relocated to Naples in 2000. His first book is The Taming of the Wilderness: Indiana’s Transition from Indian Hunting Grounds to Hoosier Farmland: 1800-1875 (2002).

ZigZag Pass and earlier Hesser titles are available from Bavender House Press. For details, see http://www.bavenderhouse.com. The book is also available from major on-line booksellers.


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Dropping Another Veil: Anais Nin’s “Henry and June”

*With the appearance of Henry and June (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), the students of Anais Nin’s life and work are forced to make serious readjustments. This volume brings the sequence of publications drawn from Nin’s diaries into what we might call its “second series,” the new title dealing with approximately half of the time period covered  in  the  first volume:  The  Diary of Anais Nin: 1931-1934 (New York: HBJ,  1966).  In the intervening  years,  there appeared six more volumes of  Diary,  tracing  Nin’s life  into  1974, and then four volumes of The Early Diary of Anais  Nin  which reached back to 1914 and left us once again in 1931.henryandjune_cover1

 Though the cycle was complete, the Early Diary volumes had begun to change our way of looking at Nin, in part because they were edited differently from the  volumes that had been published earlier about her later  life.  The Early Diary seemed more deeply textured, more spontaneous, and more ar­tistically innocent. People not treated or named in the 1931-1974 coverage were now put center stage, including Nin’s cousin, Eduardo, and her hus­band, Hugh Guiler.

 A number of things happened to account for the differences between these subsets of the first cycle. First of all, Nin’s death early in 1977, and per­haps the period of illness leading up to it, removed the author’s own hand from the editorial process. Secondly, the Diary volumes for 1955-1966 (no. 6, published in 1976) and 1966-1974 (no. 7, published in 1980) no longer were the product of the same dedicated diarist who had written the material on which the earlier diaries were based. In fact, beginning with Diary 5, we can see a  shift in Nin’s attention so that the published diaries following  the  mid-for­ties,  the  period  during  which she is most successfully engrossed as a published writer of  fiction and as a public personality, can cover eight, eleven, and  eight  years in  single  volumes much  greater  gulps  of  time  than in volumes drawn from earlier periods in Nin’s life. Even so, a reticence about personal relationships continued through these volumes, a reticence refreshingly absent from the four volumes of the Early Diary.

 In an “editor’s note” to Linotte: The Early Diary of Anais Nin, 1914-1920 (1980, but seemingly prepared by 1978), John Ferrone writes, “This is the first volume of Anais Nin’s diary to be published essentially in the form in which it was written.” There is some qualification to that claim, but any read­er can sense the difference. As we follow the maturing young woman from this volume through the next three of the Early Diary, all of these with prefaces by Nin’s brother, Joaquin Nin-Culmell, we can only wish that Nin’s often stated aversion to mere facts had not been so severe. The fullness and candor of these volumes underscored the questions that had been nagging at readers of the Diary volumes from the beginning: (l) what is being left out, and (2) how do these omissions falsify portraits of the self and the others? hj

Readers were told, from the beginning, about omissions in deference to those who wished to guard their privacy. Perhaps, too, potential legal prob­lems were avoided by bringing only carefully selected material to press. Still, the images of Nin and her world that were created in the published Diary volumes were taken as truthful, reliable images in which incidentals had been stripped out. Why should anyone quibble over the fact that Nin could present the truth of her life without mentioning her husband? In fact, few did quibble, charmed by what was given and revealed,  for all autobiographical writings come to us as revelations.

Henry and June, billed as “from the Unexpurgated Diary,” is definitely a revelation. In it, Nin’s complex emotional and sexual life is presented vividly, insistently, and almost exclusively. Her grand passion for Henry Miller, a passion returned by Miller and fulfilled over and over again, is set against the more tender and more steady affections she felt for her husband. A complicating attraction to June Miller makes Anais both Henry’s rival and his lover, and June’s instinctive eroticism becomes a willed ideal for the formerly re­pressed Anais who, in her late twenties, awakens to the force of her own sex­ual appetites and energy.

The story is kept in narrow focus: Anais, Henry, June, and Hugh — who is kept in the dark about what’s going on. Nin’s feeling of compartmentalization, of multiple selves — a theme in all of her writings — is here given an al­most clinical elaboration. How different is this Anais Nin from the one we met twenty years earlier in Diary volume one? To judge by her behavior, quite different. Is one more authentic? Well, that depends. Here are some impressions.

The Anais Nin of Diary 1 comes across as a rather cautious explorer of relationships. She is always trying to size people up, testing the waters of potential involvements to guard against getting in over her head. Indeed, the famous portraits in this diary are as much judgments as anything else, as the budding writer is at pains to measure herself against her new acquaintances. This tendency toward being judgmental is one of Nin’s least attractive traits, though she seems unaware of it. She remains demure, somehow reserved, even as she adventures into the more bohemian aspects of Paris life. Her treatment of her relationship with Miller is, of course, what must be examined in order to make comparisons with the new revelations of Henry and June.

In Diary 1, Miller is a diamond in the rough, a coarse genius to be nurtured and possibly refined. He is presented as an artistic type more than as a masculine force. Henry’s painful relationship with June is examined from a caring but still relatively detached perspective: Nin seems, in the sections of the diary prepared for print, to be exercising control, seeing things clinically. Though there are signs of her discomfort and instability, she more often comes across as a woman who laments about insecurity while all the time directing the well-diagrammed traffic of her own life and the lives of those ar­ound her. We are let in on the magnitude of passion driving Henry and June, often destructively, but Nin’s own passions are treated more abstractly.

Henry and June turns all of this upside down. Now Nin is swept away in tides of passion, hardly able to comprehend the nature and dimensions of her newly-released sexual self. She is a woman cheating on her gentle, attentive husband and working hard to find convincing rationalizations for her be­havior. Henry’s complexity is more richly presented now, though his artistic self takes second place to his Priapic self: he, while often acting like an unworthy pilgrim at some kind of aristocratic shrine, initiates Nin into the truths of her own body. The moments of guilt recorded in H & J seem genuine, as do the ongoing betrayals and self-justifications. Nin is attractively smudged, roughed up, in this newly released material. No longer uniquely the giver, she takes from Henry even while she works to please him.  And she is taking from Hugh, too, even while she worries herself over homemaking duties.

movie poster

movie poster

H & J enriches our understanding of the personal dynamics underlying Nin’s fictions. From the material presented in Diary 1, it was always easy to identify the fictional Djuna as Nin’s main surrogate, the female personality closest to herself. Djuna had mind: understanding, cool judgment, maturity. The Anais of H & J is more like the fiery Sabina: uncentered, lusty, and imprudent. Earlier readings of the fiction and diaries together invariably concluded that Sabina was, in large part, a portrait of June. Given the additional material on June in H & J, this identification still makes sense; however, the new portrait of Nin’s own restlessness suggests that Sabina is more of a composite.  H & J opens up new possibilities for exploring the relationship between the diaries and the fiction. More important for the present are the new opportunities for finding the elusive Anais Nin.

In that quest, neither volume is satisfactory. One does not balance or sufficiently complicate the other when they are read as separate entities. The present volume, with its narrow focus and somewhat surprising revelations, can be enjoyed as a “work” in itself, but it is difficult to say whose work it is or what it represents. And, because it collects and orchestrates content omis­sions from Diary 1, Henry and June renders that volume incomplete and — more important — distorted. Appearing twenty years apart, these treatments of 1931-32 will find different readers, as well as readers who have lived with one set of impressions for two decades and now have different ones to contend with. Some of these readers will feel cheated.  Are these volumes only publishing enterprises, business deals, with little concern for communicating the essential pattern of Nin’s manuscript diaries?

A more generous response is that we are getting now what only now it is possible to get, and the same was true when Diary 1 appeared. Still, reading the volumes consecutively or even side-by-side, weaving back and forth bet­ween entries written about the same time, does not give readers the texture of the source or of the evolving Anais we are always seeking. There is no way to put the pieces together again. The game of hide and seek, a psychic pattern always present in each volume (and anywhere else we might look in Nin’s work) has been magnified by the way in which the diary material has reached the public.

Which is all to say that we have to take these carvings from Nin’s diaries on their own terms and not confuse them with either the manuscript material or the life that is being, somehow, given a testimony.  We have been offered a startling instance of the distance between art and life, even when the art is the art of the diarist. The Anais who is randy for Henry and June, remorseful and defiant, troubled and ecstatic, is an Anais who had been obscured by the cool, powdered shell of delicacy and decorum — the tonal Nin of Diary 1. And didn’t Nin’s readers always know that something was being held back — that the restraint of the published diary volumes didn’t reveal the sources of feeling released in the fiction? Many can now say, “I knew it all the time.”

It is much clearer now why psychoanalysis became important to Nin. The ways in which she was pulled apart by conflicting needs and desires — the extremes and intensities of those conflicts — are more understandable now that we have Henry and June. The polarities of Nin’s early House of Incest, as well as Miller’s particular interest in that work, are “explained” by revelations in H & J. What few readers know is that much of this story had been told long ago, although only a handful of Nin scholars are familiar with the long-abandoned fiction drawn from the same material that we are now able to explore.

In 1939, when Nin published the first (Paris) version of Winter of Artifice, the collection included a story entitled “Djuna” that thinly disguised the relationships between Henry, June and Anais given in part in Diary 1 and more fully in H & J. *Never reprinted, the story shows the impact of this tri­angular relationship on Nin at a time when she was making the transition from diarist to fiction writer. It is one of many examples of how diary materials that had been suppressed in the published versions found their way into Nin’s fictions. Elsewhere, I have written about how Nin’s relationship with Otto Rank is more intimately revealed in her story “The Voice” than it is in the published account of Diary 1 and Diary 2 (see “The Princess and the Frog” in Anais, Art, and Artists, ed. Sharon Spencer, Penkevill Press, 1986). In addition, the portrait of Hugh that appears in H & J as well as in the volumes 3 and 4 of Early Diary confirms everyone’s suspicion that the  betrayed ”Alan” of A Spy in the House of Love gave us glimpses of the Hugh Guiler (or Ian Hugo) missing from the diary volumes published in the  1960s and 1970s.

Ironically, the most intimate parts of Nin’s life were, until now, more fully revealed in her fiction than in the published diaries. Of course, it is impossible to make air-tight cases for turning all of her fictions into romans á clef; still, Nin’s tendency to protect people in her diary volumes and exploit them for artistic purposes is a bit bewildering. Certainly those people knew who they were, and anyone with imagination and curiosity could make safe guesses. Hugh Guiler is only now, after his death, embarrassed by name, but what did he make of his earlier portrait as “Alan”?

The tension between revealing and veiling is one of the most powerful factors in Nin’s work. Not only is it a theme or motif in many diary passages and many stories and novels, but it is the theme of her career as a woman relating to others through words: the theme of her public self, then, as well as her private self. The Anais of Henry and June was revealed, no doubt, to privileged readers long ago. Now, the wider world that knows her through her writings has, through Rupert Pole’s selection of these formerly suppressed diary materials, an erotically unveiled Anais to contend with. For those who will make Henry and June the first of Nin’s writings that they ex­perience, the impression will be powerful and seemingly cohesive and total. They will be seduced into taking the part for the whole. From them, as from the rest of us, much still remains veiled. Much will always remain veiled.

Nevertheless, between its own covers Henry and June is a remarkable book: fresh, gripping, and pulsing with life. It has none of the studied quality that too often dulls the impact of some of the previously published diary materials. And, because it tells such a sharply focused story, H & J has a unity lacking even in Nin’s best long fiction. In fact, it could easily be passed off as a work of fiction. 

It’s a great story, unveiling an Anais at the peak of her adventurousness, her creativity, and her sense of freedom. Her relationship with Henry, though not idyllic, was thoroughgoing in scope and intensity. And Anais, so shaken by what she felt and did, was as out of herself as she would ever be. This was her grandest passion, and this record of it is among her grandest achieve­ments — if not for style than for sheer immediacy and power. Her unwillingness to abandon Hugo at this time changed the direction of her life and Mil­ler’s.  The heat of their constrained, furtive affair was incendiary; the art of each begun during this period was rarely surpassed in their later careers. They were under each other’s spell: soulmates, fleshmates, unique contribu­tors to one another’s very different paths as writers. They were almost collaborators in art, as they were in life.

Nin’s meditations on types of love and types of faithfulness respond to her feelings for a large cast of characters. Her cousin Eduardo is still a player in Nin’s complex emotional life. Her analyst, Dr. Allendy, is an adventure waiting to happen. Memories of John Erskine bubble up. The tempestuous, destructive June and the passive, supportive Hugo — both of whom undergo significant changes in the course of the year — are layered into the complex equation of  Nin’s and Miller’s expanding identities. But in this torrid year, Anais and Henry recreated themselves and one another. Because he had the courage to treat Anais as a strong woman rather than as a childlike, frail decoration, Henry liberated the woman who was there and exiled the adolescent. Because he took her seriously as a fellow artist, Henry won her as no one had before or would again.

Though it took Nin a while to be sure of it, her diary writing was her major literary achievement. Henry and June confirms this, even while it fur­ther complicates those questions of the “whole truth” and of literary genre. Until quite recently, we have had very little of this kind of writing: an intelligent, articulate woman’s record of her sexual liberation. And this record of a wild affair of the early 1930s, a record almost totally lacking in references to Paris during the Depression, has an eerie, timeless quality. Lacking the sense of time and place conveyed by details published in Diary 1, Henry and June has at its core the concreteness of the bodily self. In such a fashion, the sec­ond series of Nin’s diaries has begun. What’s next? 


Note: The “Djuna” story became once again available in Anais: An Interna­tional Journal 7 (1989): 3-22.


*From Anais: An International Journal 6 (1988): 27-32. Reprinted in The Critical Response to Anais Nin (Greenwood Press, 1996).

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Aram Schefrin’s “The Tenth Cow”


[first published in the October 2008 issue of the Federation Star, the newspaper of the Jewish Federation of Collier County, Florida]

by Philip K. Jason

In The Tenth Cow, Aram Schefrin has built an intriguing, suspenseful, and highly original novel around the Old Testament requirement of sacrificing an unblemished red heifer as part of a purification process. Biblical and Mishnaic references stipulate that Temple priests purify the Temple itself by sprinkling the blood of the animal. Then the burned heifer’s ashes are mixed with water and used to purify those who have come into contact with corpses. The suggestion in the novel is that this ash solution would also be used to purify those assigned to build the Third Temple and to perform the Temple rituals. The rarity of such an animal, coupled with the necessity of the strictly defined slaughtering and purification ritual, suggests ongoing suspense regarding the maintenance of the temple as the center of worship and as the continuing locus of the living covenant between God and the Jews. In effect, there can be no Temple without ritual purity, and there can be no such purity without the discovery and sacrifice of a red heifer. Tradition holds that only nine such animals were found and sacrificed between the days of Moses and the destruction of the Second Temple. The tenth red cow has been sought for centuries as one prerequisite for the rebuilding of the temple and the ushering in of the Messianic Age.

Both Orthodox Judaism and Fundamentalist Christianity (though not for identical reasons) await the reestablishment of the Temple in Jerusalem. The faith traditions contain internal conflicts about whether or not human initiative and action should promote this end. Many believe that God alone means to bring about the restoration of the Temple and the Messianic Age when He sees fit.

Out of such materials, Schefrin has built a time bomb of suspense. The site for the Temple is perhaps the hottest potato in the Middle East, a spot claimed by the major faith traditions of the region. A plan to build the Third Temple at the Temple Mount is promoted by a Christian televangelist and abetted by certain sects in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Such a plan is likely to engulf the region in a Holy War among Muslims, Christians and Jews, a war that could truly bring about the End of Days. The discovery of a genetically engineered red heifer on a Florida farm signals that such a plot is underway.

Schefrin’s narrator, a Palm Beach journalist, is set onto the story by Arthur (“don’t call me Artie”) Kagan, a retired lawyer with some social standing in the Palm Beach community, especially among the polo set headquartered in Wellington. Arthur has been drawn into the flow of events as the unwitting accomplice of his older brother, Teddy, who had long been an unofficial undercover agent for Jewish and Zionist causes. Teddy’s home contains a computerized command center for the gathering and dissemination of information crucial to Jewish interests. It is Teddy who discovers the existence of the red heifer and recognizes the threat to world stability that it represents. Until he is murdered and Arthur takes on greater responsibility in the cause of thwarting the Fundamentalist initiative, Teddy rallies forces, including secular and moderate Jewish activists and those Orthodox Jews to whom the religious underpinnings of the plan is anathema, to undermine the effort.

The adventure is populated by a wide range of memorable characters, most notably the formerly estranged but slowly reunited Kagan brothers, but also including Shaya, a troubled Israeli beauty who captivates Arthur; Shaya’s father, a wise elder from the town of Tsfat who is steeped in Kabbalah; Shaya’s daughter, Chickie; and Arthur’s son, David (the latter too predictably become a loving pair). There is also a secretive university professor; several independent actors with connections to the Israel Defense Forces; the Reverend Moony Brice; and an MIT geneticist.


“The Tenth Cow” pulses and plays with the realities of contemporary politics while it explicates arcane aspects of traditional theology and legend. There is a world of learning in this book, as well as a high-speed adventure. The narrative draws and redraws a vivid map of Israel, Jerusalem in particular, in following the path of its characters. Schefrin is masterful in making contemporary Israel come alive, along with its tortured past and threatened future.

As well, the reader spends time in New York City and in a wide range of Palm Beach County settings. We follow Florida’s mysterious Route 80 west from its urban anchor near Palm Beach International Airport through the northern border of Wellington (where Schefrin lives) and out through the sugar cane fields into unknown territory. We stop along Worth Avenue in Boca for upscale shopping. We enjoy some off-track polo.

Essentially, The Tenth Cow is a provocative “what if” story, a rich stew of fascinating ingredients that shocks readers with the knowledge that its premise is not as far-fetched as one might at first believe. Kudos to Aram Schefrin for cooking it up.

Authorhouse. $17.99 trade paperback. 400 pp.

Note: See my review of Schefrin’s earlier novel with bio: https://philjason.wordpress.com/2007/11/14/book-beat-57-aram-schefrin/

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Naples The Hero of New Novel

by Philip K. Jason

“Like writers of old,” says novelist Tina Murray, “I have worked in various types of jobs, from clerk to actress, real estate pro to assistant professor. I was a teaching assistant in art education at FSU while pursuing my doctorate.  I have seen the world — and people — from many different points of view.”  

She has also seen a lot of Naples. Murray lived here as a child in the late 1960s, when her dad set up a business as a consulting electrical and mechanical engineer. She returned to Naples in between periods during which she lived in other parts of the United States, including Arizona, California, New York, and Indiana. She became a full-time resident of Naples again about eight years ago.

Murray is a big fan of writers’ groups and writers’ conferences. She insists that “networking with other writers has been tremendously important to me.  Invariably, these days, when anyone asks me how to become a writer, I immediately advise them — after first telling them they must write, of course — to attend writers’ conference and join writers’ groups.  That’s what worked for me.  I met one of my publishers, Robert Gelinas, through the Florida Writers Association.  This led directly to the publication of my debut novel.”  Murray has also benefited from activities of the Southwest Florida Romance Writers, Gulf Coast Writers, and the now-defunct Lifelong Writers at USF. She attended the Sanibel Writers Conference for the first time in this year, and she also signed copies of her new book at the Florida Voices Book Fair in Gainesville.

This first book from Tina Murray is an unmitigated and unabashed romance. A Chance to Say Yes (from Archebooks Publishing) features a successful film actor, Heston Demming, who has returned to his home town of Naples with two conflicting motives. One motive is to lord his success over those who doubted him or who thought he’d never amount to anything. The other is to make amends with those he might have hurt along the way. Demming is ready for full-blast enjoyment of his celebrity and wealth, especially his Port Royal mansion and magnificent yacht. At that same time, maturity has brought him emptiness and guilt. He has been a reckless, self-centered careerist. He has been a boozer and a remote parent who has made several poor choices that have led him into doomed relationships. Demming wishes to right his moral compass.

Murray has whipped up more than a sufficient or credible amount of unhappy, unpleasant, mean-spirited women to offset the sweet and genuinely caring nature of her heroine, Poppy Craft-Talbot. There is Demming’s first wife, Inez Vega (the powerhouse realtor), with whom he shares an adolescent son, Franco – though Inez seems to have primary custody as well as Franco’s loyalty. There is his second wife, Maude (the model), with whom Demming shares a young daughter, Winnie. And there is his sometime mistress, Montserrat (the adventurous travel writer), with whom he shares nothing but hot sex. Each has her distinctive kind of good looks, bitchiness, shallowness, and selfishness. Each has her own style of manipulation. Poor Heston Demming! Oh yeah, there is one more evil woman, Poppy’s supposed best friend and confidant, Sasha Bassett, who turns out to be a traitor.

Poppy was Heston’s childhood playmate and high school sweetheart. Though hurt by the abrupt end to their youthful romance, she has carried a flame for him and is uncertain about what to expect from his return to Naples. The novel plays out the tentative steps that each takes toward the other and the complications of negotiating Heston’s other relationships, as well as a series of sinister subplots. Meanwhile, Poppy’s own marriage is in decline, though she is hesitant to renege on her vows.  

Murray sets a large cast of characters in motion, including Inez’s husband and stepson; Poppy’s business partner in her art gallery; and Cedric Spicer, an eccentric and unscrupulous artist.

For many readers, the real hero of the story will be the setting – Naples itself. The characters and action weave through a good part of our town. Poppy’s gallery is at The Village on Venetian Bay, while she lives in a Vanderbilt Beach high-rise condo. Fifth Street South features prominently, as do Port Royal, Pelican Bay, (pre-renovation) Waterside Shops, and other familiar areas. Heston grew up in the Lake Park community. Sasha, who has a catering business, lives in “a dreary little apartment in Coco Palms.” I go out of my way to discover novels that use Naples as their setting, and none that I’ve so far discovered employs Naples as expansively and evocatively as does A Chance to Say Yes.

Though this intriguing romance may have one too many nasty women, Murray has a facility with description of place and action and of the physiques and psychology (often perverse) of her characters that makes for an entertaining read. There are ample plot complications and questions hanging in the air that push the reader forward, turning the pages. And how goes the romance between Poppy and Heston? Well, that’s what you’ll have to read A Chance to Say Yes to find out.


Filed under Authors and Books, Florida Authors