Storytelling: Haves vs Have-Nots

Years ago, I read an article about the now-defunct soap opera Another World. I was a fan at the time. I’m unashamed to admit I enjoy serial storytelling, and soap operas rule in that genre, keeping plot lines and characters alive (sometimes even after they’re supposedly dead!) for years, even decades. I’ve even written a book, a romantic comedy, about a soap head writer (My Own Personal Soap Opera).

Marriage_of_Mac_and_Rachel_Another_World_1975

Rachel and Mac get married on “Another World”

In the article, an Another World head writer or producer talked about the core of the soap’s storytelling. Haves vs. have-nots provided the foundation for most if not all their tales. One of the soap’s biggest stories involved the character of Rachel Davis (played by Victoria Wyndham), daughter of single-mother Ada, who villainously connives to seduce and try to marry one rich fellow after another, ultimately landing on wealthy Mac Cory (played by Douglass Watson), with whom she finds happiness (and, of course, sadness as they break up, make up and…on and on).

That story thread, haves vs. have-nots, provides a foundation for some of my own tales in one way or another. My stories aren’t always about rich vs. poor, but they almost always carry an element of upper-class vs. middle or working class, maybe because I felt those distinctions myself over the years as the daughter of two wonderful parents who worked hard all their lives (in white collar jobs) but made sure their two children went to college. I even went to a music conservatory.

Talk about class tensions. In that highly competitive atmosphere, the “haves” were those with musical pedigrees, maybe parents who played in orchestras or maybe just a lifetime immersion in classical music. Everything I knew about classical music came from those conservatory teachers at the time. In that sense, I was a “have not,” acutely aware of my lack of standing, afraid I’d trip up and mispronounce a composer’s name or, as I did one day, bring into a class a ridiculously sentimentalized arrangement of an art song, not realizing how this selection might reveal what a cultural neanderthal I really was. Screen Shot 2019-04-03 at 11.10.27 AM

The conservatory was in Baltimore, my home town, which for many years was very socially stratified, with various groups living in specific regions of the town–old money in Roland Park and Guilford, ethnic whites in Highlandtown, Jewish people on the west side, steel workers in the suburbs of Dundalk, and African-Americans in the inner city.

This experience of class lines, of feeling like a “have not,” even if my family wasn’t poor, undergirds the first adult mystery I ever wrote, Death Is the Cool Night. In this novel, a troubled young conductor, Gregory, can’t remember his actions on the night his nemesis is murdered. As police investigate the crime, he wonders if he did it…or if the real killer is a charming young woman, Laura, from an upper class family, he’s falling in love with.

Throughout the story, Gregory feels his sense of being a “have not” as acutely as I did as a student at Peabody Conservatory, where the book is set.

For a few years, I tried, through literary agents, to sell this book to traditional publishers. It received rejection letters that could have read as back-cover blurbs, but no one wanted to buy. World War II-era books were not popular back then, and its time period worked against me.

So I self-published it, and even managed to snag a wonderful review from a a major trade journal that said, in part:

“Blending operatic drama, sumptuous description, and noir, Sternberg gracefully puzzles out her tormented characters’ actions and motivations…” Publishers Weekly

If you’re reading this on or around the post’s publication date, check it out here for a free read. If you miss the free days, you can still give it a try!

Libby Sternberg

 

 

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Writer’s Life: How long should you wait?

I recently saw a Tweet from a literary agent who quoted a query she’d just received. I’m paraphrasing, but the query indicated the author was giving traditional publishing a shot before she opted for self-publishing. Needless to say, the agent didn’t seem impressed with that attitude.

I don’t blame her. Supplicants shouldn’t telegraph disdain to prospective benefactors. Or, to put it another way, beggars can’t be choosers.

That said, I’m not unsympathetic to the author, though, either. The publishing business moves at the pace of a languid turtle, with long wait times — to hear from agents or editors — not unusual. It might make some cringe to know I waited over two years to hear back from an editor before deciding to self-publish a manuscript. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have waited that long, but this particular editor had helped me in the past, and there had been some personnel changes at her house that had slowed the process, so I worked on other projects while I waited.

Many agents and editors do let authors know up front how long they usually take to consider submissions. They will tell writers on their websites that “if you don’t hear from me by X weeks” either feel free to follow up or, in the case of mere queries, to assume it’s a rejection because they don’t have time to respond personally to all of those. That’s a nice change from years ago when you’d wait and wait and wait and know nothing.

0-6But the key word is “wait.” You still usually have to wait a long time to hear on submissions. Unless you’ve written something so spectacularly unique that agents and editors devour it as soon as it crosses their cyber-threshold, you’re usually looking at waits of several months at the very least.

Now that I’m mumble-mumble years old, however, I won’t wait ridiculously long times anymore to hear back from editors or agents.

My goal is to share my stories with readers. While I’m still alive, if possible. 🙂

So nowadays, I do put a fuse on submissions, even if I’m the only one who knows it’s lit. Sometimes I will politely let an editor know that I’m considering self-publishing if they’re not interested and could they let me know by a certain time. I don’t set a hard and fast deadline. I might say “in a few months” or “in the spring,” and when I follow-up, I’ll gently remind them of this deadline, especially if I have the time to pursue the self-publishing tasks involved and am eager to get started.

In this way, I’m trying to be professional but frank. After all, if I knew someone else was about to make an offer on the manuscript, I’d let other editors considering the book know to give them a chance to read before I accepted that offer. In this case, I’m the one about to make the offer on my own work. I’ll move forward with self-publishing at some point and won’t wait indefinitely.

To me, the key is to marry courtesy with honesty, not to be arrogant or snarky or pompous, when communicating this approach.

Beggars can’t be choosers. But, with self-publishing options, authors are no longer always beggars.

Libby Malin’s latest novel is In Sickness and in Health. It’s available as an ebook or in paperback.

 

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Excerpt: “In Sickness and in Health”

An excerpt from my latest novel, now available at the Kindle store….

by Libby Malin

He was making her an offer: marriage, perhaps for a short time, depending on his prognosis, during which she’d live a life of luxury and leisure except tending to him. Not as nurse or maid, mind you, but as companion and dear friend. As helpmate. As hand-holder. He’d hire nurses and maids, and all Ava would have to do was manage them. He’d expect fidelity during the marriage, and she heartily concurred. Once married, she’d live up to the vows and she’d expect the same as him.

Once married—yes, she said that. She spoke with the same level of sincerity and seriousness. She told him he wasn’t crazy, that she was the one who’d originally floated the idea, and that she wasn’t about to laugh at him for taking her up on it, especially given his current situation.

They talked, in fact, as if this were a business deal. But even so, she found herself staring at him, her heart breaking thinking of the loneliness he’d probably felt after his parents passed, and then being alone again in the doctor’s office, getting bad news.

She’d felt lonely during her DC ordeal, and she’d not faced anything as grave as this.

She, too, began to feel that her “inspiration” the night she’d arrived at the beach—to marry a rich man, and the call it had prompted her to make—was some sort of quirk of Fate, leading them to each other, if only for a short time.

This, too, nudged their interaction into overdrive. There was something about a possible death sentence that made everything more intoxicating, that made colors more saturated, emotions more pronounced. Why, she might even say she loved John. Loved him as a human being in need. And who was to say: perhaps she’d fall in love with him, too. She’d always liked him. Well, in that impersonal way of high school kids. But they’d not moved in the same social circles much, so she’d just not had the chance to interact with him. After the beer-soaked proposal at the pool party, she’d even crushed on him. Until she realized he wasn’t going to ask her out. She had to admit she’d found him attractive when he’d landed on her doorstep the other day. Very attractive. And if he’d taken measures to start dating, she would have responded positively.

She squared her shoulders when they arrived at the medical center in Wilmington. Step one: be that helpmate he required. She’d signed up for that task for this day. Maybe that was the way to approach all of it, just in twenty-four-hour segments, one day after another, not looking farther than evening.

The day was tedious and stressful, and if anything was going to test her inclination to say yes, it was the frustration and boredom of medical testing. The check-in and directions to the right office. The endless papers to fill out, the same ones for the radiologist as for the medical center in general. The signature on the privacy papers—yes, she agreed when John asked if he could put her down as someone the doctors could talk to. The showing of his insurance cards, the looking up of said insurance program, the checking of blood pressure and pulse, several times, once for each location they moved to, from office, to waiting room, to private waiting area of the scan area.

The sitting around sea-green waiting rooms flipping through last month’s People magazine waiting nearly two hours for a scan because there was a technical issue with one of the two machines in the medical center, and because it turned out John was, in fact, claustrophobic, and they’d had to pull him from the room, give him a Valium, and wait for it to affect him before putting him back in the schedule. Oh, and there were more checks on his BP and pulse then, too.

All of this was done, of course, with stiff smiles on their faces, little reassuring grins as if to say, “This is going okay, isn’t it? Just a few little bugs here and there, but it’s so ordinary, so normal to have these speed bumps, so comforting to feel irritated at this, this small thing…”

Although she’d done nothing but sit and read the entire afternoon they were there, she felt as if she’d run a marathon when they finally slipped out of the building and breathed fresh air. Her muscles ached, particularly those around her mouth and eyes.

“If I heard ‘Strangers in the Night’ one more time, I would have screamed,” she said.

“Your voice would have been covered by the racket I’d make heaving a chair at the speaker system,” he said, as they made their way to his truck in the multilevel parking lot.

“At least they turned off the TV,” she said. “Watching bodies being cut up in the morgue on CSI: Miami just doesn’t seem like suitable fare for a hospital waiting room, you know?”

At that, he chuckled. So did she. And the tension of the day led them to full-out laughter as the aches left them and they relaxed, and that led to him touching her arm when they reached his vehicle, and she leaned in, and he wrapped her in a hug. And they shared their first kiss.

Not bad. Not bad at all, she thought, as his warm lips pressed against hers and he deepened the kiss. She liked that he didn’t wear aftershave, and she breathed in the clean scent of his soap, something that had a tinge of coconut oil in it, she thought, reminding her of suntan lotion and the sea.

They stayed locked in an embrace, his forehead pressing on hers, for a few moments. “Thanks,” he breathed. “It really made a difference, having someone—you—with me.”

0-6She squeezed his arm. “I was happy to do it. Really.” The tedium of the afternoon lifted, the fatigue memory misting away as well. She felt good. About herself. About life. About everything. And especially about being with John. This was Fate bringing them together.

“I think I’m awake enough to drive,” he said, but she shook her head.

“Nope. I take my duties to my future fiancé very seriously. I will drive us home.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up a bit, and she thought she noticed a visible relaxing of his shoulders. Good. She was glad if she could give that to him.

They both got in, and he leaned his seat back, confirming her belief that he really did need to unwind.

She started the engine, and after a few jolts as she got used to the brakes and action of the accelerator pedal, they were on the road south to Bethany Beach.

(c) Libby Malin Sternberg 2019

Read the entire story of Ava and John’s journey to love through bad and good health by heading to Amazon and picking up a copy of “In Sickness and in Health”!

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“In Sickness and in Health”: New Novel!

Drumroll, please… I’m announcing the release of a new novel, a sweet romance/women’s fiction with some inspirational overtones, In Sickness and in Health. It’s available at the Kindle store and will be on sale for 99 cents for a while, so grab a copy by clicking on this link! 

0-6Here’s the story: Ava Fulton moves to Bethany Beach, Delaware to lick her wounds after a DC scandal sent her into hiding. There, she decides the best way out of her problems is to marry a millionaire, and she just so happens to remember one from high school, John Baylor, now a very successful man who’d shyly tried to court her as a teen. When she reconnects with him, though, she finds he faces grim health news and she tries to be a good helpmate through his medical crises. Only after they marry and his prognosis changes does she realize she’d wed him planning to be a widow, not a wife. They struggle to make a go of their union and a new life in general, eventually heeding an inner call to something greater than either of them together.

And here’s a Q and A about the book and its characters:

Where did the character of Ava Fulton come from?

She originally came from the character of Sheila in my romantic comedy Fire Me! In that book, the heroine spends a day trying to get laid off to snag a generous severance package. She discovers she has some competition in coworker Sheila. I’d envisioned In Sickness and in Health being a sequel to Fire Me, following Sheila’s life. Something happened as I was writing, though–I kept thinking of the heroine as Ava! That name just dogged me as I wrote, and I realized I wasn’t writing Sheila at all but some other woman and her story. So I abandoned the idea of a sequel and wrote this standalone novel instead. As soon as I did this, the novel flowed more easily, the writing became a joy instead of a chore.

The first part of the novel, which you subtitle “Dying,” is about John’s struggles with a serious diagnosis. Was that hard to write?

Sadly, I think many people have experiences similar to John’s, either dealing with a serious diagnosis or being helpmates/friends to people who face such a fate. I’ve dealt with the Big C myself and know the anxiety one experiences during testing, etc. Although I’m a ten year survivor now, I do find myself writing more stories that incorporate some of those health experiences in one way or another. Maybe I’m far enough away from it now that it’s easier for me to explore as a writer.

The second part of the novel is subtitled “Living,” however. What happens when things change for John and Ava?

I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers to mention that John’s prognosis takes an upward turn…and that’s when he and Ava have to figure out how to live together! Previously they’d been focused on the possibility of him dying, of being in declining health. Once they realize that fate might not be in store, they have to do some heavy lifting in their relationship. This creates a comic moment or two as they struggle with the “in health” part of their marriage vows.

Do they make it as a couple?

Well, readers will have to read the book to find out! 🙂 They have a bumpy road, to be sure, but they do eventually find peace and fulfillment…in a surprising way. I hope readers enjoy discovering how their stories end.

Is In Sickness and in Health an inspirational?

Yes, no, maybe. 🙂 The term “inspirational” covers Christian books–fiction or nonfiction–with faith themes. In Sickness and in Health is…something in between. Like all inspirational fiction, it’s clean and sweet. No sex scenes (the curtain closes even with a married couple like Ava and John in the bedroom), no bad language (or if there is, it’s scant), but, yes, some mentions of faith. I’ve written before on this blog about how general fiction, for the most part, has mentions of faith blanched out of books, but this isn’t the way a lot of people live. Even non-churchgoers can have rich faith lives, can believe in God, and they can even pray often. So I think a book like In Sickness and in Health probably reflects more of an average person’s connection with things spiritual than a lot of general fiction, even literary fiction, does. In my novel, Ava and John start out as good people who don’t even realize they are searching for something more in their lives until they discover ways to put their spirituality into action. It’s not a preachy book at all, and I must admit I hesitated to put a discussion of this aspect of the book on the blog for fear it would turn some away. Ava and John’s faith journey actually has some comic moments in it, and, though it shapes their eventual path, it is a gentle and tender path, not a judgmental one.

This book is set primarily at Bethany Beach, Delaware. Why Bethany?

Bethany Beach is one of my very favorite places, and we go there often. It is a small, quiet resort on the many miles of coastline that make up Delaware’s eastern border, and we vacation there every summer, and visit several times throughout the year. I have several other books in the works that are set there, so watch this space for news of those novels!

In Sickness and in Health by Libby Malin is available at the Kindle store. If you read and enjoy a book, consider leaving a review. Indie authors in particular are helped by reviews. They aid in bringing books to the attention of other readers!

 

 

 

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Excerpt: Heart Condition by Libby Malin

Excerpt from “Heart Condition,” by Libby Malin, a sweet romance, part of a series set in the Bethany Beach, DE area. (c) Libby Sternberg 2019

Heart Condition

by Libby Malin

PROLOGUE

“Mr. Newhouse? Mr. Newhouse? Daniel?”

His eyes focused slowly, searching for the source of the deep voice with a slight Indian accent. Just a second ago, he’d been…somewhere.

His mind struggled through fog. He felt safe, but not well. Numb. A little queasy. Cold. Yes, cold. Refrigerator cold. That’s where he’d been—in the cold operating room. Nurses, doctors, all busy, in blue scrubs. He’d not had a sense of the room’s layout, only seeing the patch of ceiling above him as he was wheeled in. He knew there was lots of equipment there, shiny and bright, as if just delivered and still in its packing, never used. Every once in a while, a face had appeared over him, just the face. The hair pulled under a baglike net, mouth covered with a mask, gloved hands raised in the air. “Doing okay, Mr. Newhouse?” They’d told a joke…and he’d fallen asleep, out cold, before the punch line.

Seconds ago…in a bright, sterile room. Where was he now?

He heard soft bustling noises nearby, a muffled screech of metal rings on a curtain rod, a cart rolling by? He saw two figures on the right. Mom. His heart raced, a fast beep from a nearby monitor pinging it into the room. No, Mom had been gone for more than a year now. This was Sarah, his oldest sister, who looked like her.

And his other sister, Reese. And Dad. They stood by his bed. The light seemed dimmer here, softer. He blinked.

“Mr. Newhouse? Everything went very well.” The doctor, still in blue scrubs, that was who’d been speaking. Dan turned toward this voice on the other side of the bed. For the first time, he noticed the man had neatly manicured fingers, pinkish nails that looked as if they’d been trimmed by an expert as a matter of pride. That was good. A surgeon should take care of his hands….

“It went very smoothly. I’ve already explained it to your family, and I’ll be in to see you tomorrow when you’re awake.” He smiled and patted him on the arm.

“How long….” he managed to murmur, his lips feeling chapped and not connected to his mouth. “How long it take?”

“About five hours. Right on time,” the surgeon said with good cheer.

Five hours. What had they told him—three to six? So “right on time” meant less than the maximum? Why so long?

“You’re going to be fine, Dan,” Sarah said, but he heard the strain in her voice.

“The doctor said you can be back to normal real soon,” Reese added. Then, tacked on, “Of course, we told him you never were normal.”

He smiled and would have laughed…but it hurt. Or tugged. It felt strange. He was under what seemed a mountain of blankets, but when he glanced down, it looked to be only a thin sheet and covering. It felt soft, thick.

“Just rest, Mr. Newhouse. The nurses will get you comfortable and tell you what you can and can’t do. You should get into a room soon.” And then the doctor said to his family, “I’ll be by tomorrow,” as if they hadn’t heard him say the same thing to him.

The doctor left, replaced by a nurse who said, loudly, as if his hearing had been affected, “How are you feeling, Mr. Newhouse?” She looked at the latest readings on the machine connected to him, checked an IV bag.

“Like someone is sitting on my chest.” Everything he said sounded husky and deep, his voice an octave below its normal tone to a basso profundo. And it was hard to speak loudly. It took too much effort and…scared him. He was afraid it would hurt, pushing the air out of his chest.

“That’s normal. You’re going to a room soon.” She must not have heard the doc promise the same thing.

“His color already looks better,” his dad said, gruffly. He looked scared as all hell.

“Mmm-hmm. Should see a big improvement in the quality of his life,” the nurse commented. And then he heard her say, under her breath to his family, “So young…”

So young. He was thirty. But he felt one-hundred. And, despite what the doctor said, he wasn’t sure he’d ever feel normal again.

CHAPTER ONE

She kicked the pot right into the water. She hadn’t intended to, but she’d turned to adjust another plant—fragrant lavender in a cobalt-blue container—and her toe hit the little black resin pot filled with lemon-yellow daisies kerplunk into the depths of the Little Assawoman Bay. That’s what happens, Olivia, when you try to cram a yard full of flowers onto a condo deck.

“Hey!” A voice came from below. A male voice. A specific male. Her landlord. The one whose slow, careful movements screamed old and tired but whose tan face and sandy-blond hair whispered young and eager.

“Sorry!” she said to the unseen shouter. Daniel Newhouse was his name. She’d met him exactly three times, and each time she’d been struck by the same things: he was good-looking, serious and…weak. Or rather, frail. He’d just had surgery, apparently. She knew from calling his rental management office when he was in the hospital. A too-chatty secretary had spilled that info.

Not my problem, she said to herself. Then she yelled it in her mind: Not. My Problem.

Olivia Bentley might be a nurse, but she no longer practiced the art and science of the caring profession. She’d put aside her scrubs last year after her father had died, leaving her a sweet inheritance as his only child. Her mother had passed when she was a girl.

No more nursing for her. No more…having your heart wrenched out as you watched patients struggle. As you watched some…lose the battle.

She shook her head, and a stray lock of frizzy auburn hair clouded her vision. As she pushed it aside, she breathed deep the smell of ocean air and absorbed the stunning shimmer of this spring day on the water. Brilliant blue sky. Abundant sunshine. Sleek, elegant terns winging over the marshy grass.

Just what she needed. She stopped her deck gardening, and plopped into a lounge chair, her feet propped up. Exactly what she needed. 41922363_2001352436589756_6283387358473617408_o

But as she closed her eyes, a news reel of memories flashed through her mind. Blood. Unspeakable trauma. Doctors and nurses around tables, tending the wounded, calling to each other for equipment, blood, sutures, IVs.

“Don’t give up, Hank.”

Her eyes popped open as she tried to figure out if she’d whispered the words or just thought them.

With a sigh, she heaved herself off the chair and went inside to continue unpacking, cleaning, arranging. If she lost herself in chores, she’d forget.

***

Dan leaned against the railing of his condo sipping on a mug of coffee. He heard the sliding door upstairs as his new tenant left the deck. He was beginning to set his clock by her routine. Whenever she stretched out on her chaise, he could do a mental countdown to when she’d shoot up and start doing something else. She never seemed to stay out there for more than a few minutes at a time, popping up to head inside, as if something kept her from really relaxing. And, like him, she’d spent some restless nights there, too, coming outside when Morpheus abandoned them in the wee hours.

She was a petite, curvy pixie, the kind of woman painters from a different era celebrated, but who’d never fit in with the rail-thin looks on today’s fashion magazines.

Ever since he’d first met her—when she’d come to his Baltimore law office to sign the lease for the condo unit above his at Fenwick Island, Delaware—he’d been intrigued. Not just by her bright green eyes, kewpie-doll mouth, porcelain skin and sensual figure. Sure, he’d noticed those things, but there was something else about her, something familiar, because it was territory he now knew, as well.

No, he’d been intrigued by the way her eyes didn’t smile when she laughed or grinned. Something was off there. Nurse retiring at the ripe old age of, what, thirty? That was his guess. His rental management secretary had filled him in on a few more details, how she was “between careers” or “taking a break.” Something. But she had the rent money, and that was all that mattered. Everything else—the sleeplessness that led her to the deck at night, the inability to relax, the haunted look in her eyes sometimes—wasn’t his business.

Not my problem, he thought to himself.

No, his problem was sticking to doctor’s orders, recovering from his heart surgery, and…figuring out what to do with the rest of his life now that he’d resigned from his Baltimore law firm, sold his house, and moved permanently to what had just been his beach home in the past.

He was officially a beach bum.

And he had his own problems with finding peace.

When he heard her walking around upstairs again, he wondered at the wisdom of taking the lower condo for himself and renting out the top one. But his was roomier, with an extra bedroom and a small den. Not that he used the den much. When he was browsing the internet or emailing on his ancient laptop, he preferred sitting at the kitchen counter, where he could see outside to the gently lapping waters of the bay.

Which was what he was going to do now. Check the internet, read the news there, and maybe even Google Olivia Bentley, RN.

____________

(c) Libby Sternberg 2019  This book is finished and will be on submission to agents and/or editors soon.

 

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Book Review: “Everybody’s All-American”

I’ve only been a football fan for about a dozen years now, getting into watching the game when one of our children attended a Big Ten college. Since then, I’ve wondered what becomes of the big college gridiron stars, the ones who either don’t go on to the NFL or, if they do, have reasonable but not long careers. How do they go from truly being Big Men on Campus to just one of the rest of us?

screen shot 2019-01-20 at 2.52.18 pmThe late sportswriter Frank Deford must have been fascinated by that question, as well, and in 1981 he wrote the novel “Everybody’s All-American,” to answer it with a well-paced piece of fiction that still resonates as a tale of heroes who long outlive their moment of glory. (It was later made into a movie starring Jessica Lange and Dennis Quaid.) As a celebrated writer for Sports Illustrated and a sports commentator for NPR, Deford knew this territory well.

His writing talent is on clear display in this page-turning story of fictional Gavin Grey, an All-American athlete, star running back for the University of North Carolina Tarheels team in 1954. Gavin — or “The Grey Ghost” as he was known during his glory days — starts out as a humble man, not prone to braggadocio during his college career, a true hero even off the field when he saves a young woman from a fire. He marries his college sweetheart, Babs, herself a former Blueberry Queen and dazzling beauty, and they seem destined for a good life.

But Deford shows you how a hero who outlives his legendary feats faces a slow decline if he can’t accept an average life, and Gavin’s creep toward oblivion, with a few stops at public embarrassments along the way, is heartbreaking to witness, even as you are frustrated by the The Grey Ghost’s inability to accept his fate.

Ironically, The Ghost loses his more endearing qualities as he grows older. From modest star, he eventually changes into a self-focused braggart whose only topic of conversation is football and only then the various master plays he executed in his youth or during his relatively short career in the pros.

As his star falls, Babs’s rises, and it’s no surprise that marital problems ensue, despite their great love for each other.

Deford fills the book with sometimes funny asides, sometimes laser-perfect observations on life, men, women, the South, and, of course, football.

“You cannot donate too much to youth,” he has an old friend of The Grey Ghost observe at one point, “and expect to sustain yourself in long life.”

He has the narrator, a young man entwined in the Greys’ life just as the narrator in The Great Gatsby is in the lives of the Buchanans, also observe at one point that the heat in the South leads to bad temper, and if they’d had air-conditioning in the 1860s, he doubts there would have been a Civil War.

The wives of football players, this narrator also notices, don’t mind their men looking away from them to other women so much as they mind them being pulled to the companionship of their male teammates with whom the women can’t compete.

In fact, one of the most touching scenes in the book is the end of the last collegiate game The Ghost plays, along with two of his best football friends, Lawrence and Finegan. Deford describes the pre-play action thus:

“Wait,” Gavin said, and he reached across the huddle to the linemen, and — first Finegan, and then Lawrence — he touched them on the chin strap, held his fingers there and looked them directly in the eyes. It was a very dear thing for a man to do, and daring, too, for what people would say. Maybe only The Ghost could have gotten away with it. It was a caress he gave them both; he was telling them that he loved them.

Deford’s book is filled with a sense of life in the 1950s through the ’70s, with all of its casual racism, sexism and vulgarity. The “n” word is sprinkled through the narrative, along with many other offensive terms. They’re not used gratuitously, to shock, however. Instead, they provide verisimilitude, and you have the feeling that Deford himself probably heard all these things said at one time or another, in locker rooms, interviews, or just at a bar swapping stories with former football stars.

In the end, the book is about heroism on the field of battle  — football is likened to a substitute for actual war, played by elites who otherwise don’t get a chance to prove their manly virtues.  To enhance this aspect of his storytelling, Deford starts each of the book’s three sections with an excerpt from a (not real) book about Confederate hero Jeb Stuart, who died young, thus never losing his legendary status.

In this more enlightened time, it’s hard to read romanticized snippets about men who fought to preserve the institution of slavery, so I ended up skipping those sections, or, at best, just giving them a quick skim. If they bother you, too, don’t worry — the main story of Gavin and Babs Grey sustains a reader’s interest. It’s their tale that keeps you turning pages until the denouement, shortly after the twenty-fifth anniversary of the The Ghost’s winning Tarheel team.

Libby Sternberg is a novelist.

 

 

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Articles I’d Like to Read if Someone Will Write Them

by Libby Malin Sternberg

I read a lot. But often I end up scrolling past a lot of articles that just don’t call out to me because it feels as if I’ve seen them before. Below, however, is a list of magazine/newspaper stories I’d take a look at if someone would bother to pen them. I’ve added fictional pull quotes, as well, that would definitely lure me in.

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Stop Mumbling My Lines: Actors Scriptwriters Hate

“I had to replay the damn scene nearly a dozen times, and still couldn’t catch all my words. They were gems, too, gems I’d sweated over.”

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A Theater Critic Rates Sunday Church Services

“For pure coziness, a good evangelical prayer meeting with top-notch praise band musicians will have you craving blue grass and wanting to come back for more…hide a flask of Kentucky bourbon in your pocket to make the theology a smoother swallow.”

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Never Buy Perfume Again:

How Strategically Timed Trips to Sephora Will Save You Thousands

“The key is to spray a little of the sample on your outfit. Trust me, the scent stays there for a while.”

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Why Do CEOs Think It’s Okay to Mock Customers in their Ads?

“I see these ads, and I think, ‘I’m not buying anything from a company that thinks I’m a jackass.'”

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Meet the One Democrat Not Running for President

“I work at a food bank on weekends and help out at the health clinic once a week. Every other month I do park cleanup, and I am the go-to driver when my friends are in trouble. A lot of people are surprised you can do so much good stuff outside of politics.”

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An Explanation of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Anyone Can Understand. No, Really.

“So you have a train…no, wait, more like a Disney ride…no, no, like the Acela–just kidding, here’s the real explanation…”

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All We Like Sheep: Apple Staff Talk about their Customers

“I own an Android. Updates don’t screw up my data. It’s way cheaper, even with my employee discount. Every time I go by the Apple store, I baaa softly. Nobody gets it. They’re too busy grazing at those tables they think are genius bars. They’re made of particle board, man.”

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Libby Malin Sternberg is a novelist who writes both serious and humorous fiction. Her romantic comedy Fire Me has been bought for film.

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