Works and works-in-progress

Murder in the Green Mountains: The First Dr Benson Mystery

This is the first of a series of mysteries set in a small village in central Vermont in the years after World War II. A young Jewish doctor from Philadelphia, Charles Benson, has survived his wartime service in Italy only to discover that his fiancee has broken their engagement. He buys a medical practice in Titusville, where he discovers the challenges and rewards of rural life and the friendliness under the flinty exteriors of the townspeople. He also discovers a talent for deduction, after the village’s richest and most hated man is murdered. The victim’s wife is missing.  Is she the murderer? Charles and his friend the State Police Sergeant pool their resources to uncover the truth.

A Girl Like That: The Second Dr Benson Mystery

Dr Charles Benson is enjoying his first trip to a celebrated local fair when his medical expertise is suddenly required: a stripper from the “girly show” has been found, nude and bludgeoned to death, under tne grandstand. The suspect? The teenaged son of Charles’s friend and neighbor. Charles believes the boy is innocent. His quest to prove it takes him far into Vermont’s mysterious Northeast Kingdom, where an artist-recluse holds the key. (In Progress)

The City (Working Title)

This novel follows two generations of a white working-class family of Philadelphians. Frank and Mattie Burns raise four children through the late 1890s and into the early years of the 20th century. When Frank is seriously injured on the docks, young Sam has to go to work to keep the family from starvation. After Frank recovers, he and Sam quarrel; Sam joins the act of a vaudeville magician and leaves the city. Sam’s sister Verna also rebels against her parents and marries the son of a local drugstore owner. Her young husband enlists when the Great War begins, and is horribly injured and disfigured. Then, just as the Spanish Flu epidemic strikes, Sam comes home. (In Progress)

The Mother Gift

This novel traces the life of an historical person, Mother Ann Lee, who, in the late 18th century, founded the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, better known as The Shakers.  Ann was born into a poor family in Manchester, England, in the mid-1700s. She became part of a small band of local religious dissenters, and was arrested for preaching (women and unauthorized men were not permitted to preach). She married a blacksmith, Abraham Stanley, but after all four of their children died in infancy or toddlerhood, she became convinced that all sexual activity, even in marriage, was evil.  She began to preach in public, claiming new revelations from God, was arrested again, and rescued by her followers; subsequently she and eight disciples, including her husband and brother, departed for America, arriving in Watervliet near Albany in 1775.  The Shakers built the first of many villages and gathered numerous converts, eventually growing to twenty settlements from Maine to Kentucky and over 6000 Believers by the late 1800s. The Shaker model of communal life and labor (though sexually separated) led to an extraordinary record of design, production, marketing, and, yes, religious awareness in a time when millennial sects were common.  Leo Tolstoy in Russia corresponded with Shaker leaders and even envisioned bringing a Shaker community to settle on his estates.  The Believers eventually dwindled, as modern social services meant that many who might otherwise have entered Shaker life, such as orphans and destitute families, had other, nonreligious options. The Society closed officially in the 1990s, but a small Shaker community exists today at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. Shaker accomplishments in furniture design have outlasted their theological innovations, but they remain noteworthy as perhaps the only Protestant monastic order to have existed on this continent.  What I did in this novel was to tell Ann’s story, using three invented narrators: an older foster-sister, Ann’s husband Abraham, and a younger foster-brother.  When possible, I used Ann’s own words, as documented in the Society’s records.  The intertwined narratives shape the development of Ann Lee from illiterate factory worker to religious visionary, from Manchester, England to the New World, and offer a historically accurate but intimate perspective on a woman whose followers believed her to be, literally, the Second Coming of Christ in a female body.

5100 Wayne Avenue

This collection of linked short stories is set in a small apartment building in Philadephia between 1920 and 1970.  The building’s tenants, two managers, and three janitors tell their stories and the larger story of the building itself and its neighborhood.  A middle-aged gay couple, a widowed young mother, a crippled man who was once a promising athlete, a schoolteacher with a guilty secret, a pair of newlyweds, an aging waitress, a veteran, a retired vaudeville singer, and several others tell what goes on within and without the doors of the Wayne-Iris Apartments. (In Progress)

The Autobiography of Miss Huckleberry Finn.

Did you know that Mark Twain’s vagabond boy was actually a girl?  My novel (and love letter to Huck and his/ her original creator) takes up the story where Twain’s leaves off.

Huck, changing her name to Sarah Mary Williams, leaves Hannibal for finishing school in the East.  After a love affair ends badly, she journeys with a wagon train across the Great American Desert to San Francisco and the 1849 Gold Rush. Huck/ Sarah Mary lives out her days in the Gilded Age as the last frontier slowly winds down.

In her travels, Sarah Mary encounters (and narrowly escapes) some murderous long-lost relatives; falls in love and bears a child to a cowboy with mysterious connections;  sells her story to a Mr Mark Twain: returns to Hannibal and a meeting with her old friends Tom Sawyer, Aunt Polly, and the rest; and, late in life, adopts a Chinese foster-daughter, marries a beguiling rogue of a snake-oil salesman, and finally meets her end in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

I decided to self-publish this novel after several agents and publishers told me it was a great idea, and I had “nailed” Huck’s voice (said one, approvingly), but they didn’t think it would sell.

Well, selling was not my biggest concern.  I had a lot of fun writing Huck’s tale–though it took seven years of hard work–and I thought people ought to have the chance to enjoy the fruits of my labors.  And I enjoyed contemplating the possibility that I might shock a few folks who think of Mark Twain’s novel as sacred writ that could not and should not possibly be riffed on in such an irreverent fashion.  Huck Finn, a girl!  Samuel Langhorne Clemens would turn over in his grave!

I think ol’ Sam would get a kick out of it, frankly.

So I published it using CreateSpace, Amazon’s platform, and it hasn’t sold, not more than a handful of copies, but I’ve had some good reviews (see “Reviews” page) and given a few well-received readings.

And who knows?  Maybe someday someone will publish it “legitmately,” I hope before I die–and if not, well, at least I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Mark Twain’s and my favorite child grow up.