St. Augustine the Younger; Foe of Coyote Pagans

So, for those of you who have been kind enough to enquire, Book 3 is coming along nicely. A small distraction will be developing soon, however. My husband and I will be traveling to Georgia next weekend to pick up our new puppy, St. Augustine. He is a cousin to Moses, and will, no doubt, be an annoyance to Pete.

My husband had had misgivings about a third dog until we caught a coyote stalking Pete, who, at 13, is spry and happy, but nearly stone deaf. Moses, a fearless opponent of coyotes, chased it off without missing a beat, with Pete being none the wiser. Coyote confrontation does not exactly make me happy, and I strive to prevent it, but it has worked out well for Pete. German Shepherds are often referred to as GSDs. In our house we use the term BSD, for Big Scary Dog.

Moses, however, needs a wingman.

Please Make Me Scary. But Not Yet.

The original St. Augustine, as you know, was the author of City of God Against the Pagans. At the moment, Auggie is more adorable than formidable, and can’t be allowed out by himself. But we think he may grow into his name. His father weighs 140 pounds.

Learning to Love Again

To the both of you who follow my blog: by now you are probably used to the reality that when I am writing a book, I don’t post many blogs. It’s a husbanding your resources thing.

Nevertheless, I interrupt this novel for a brief announcement:

We are in the queue again for a puppy. He has been born. He will be two weeks old tomorrow. We hope to pick him up and fly him home (on our laps) on May 6th. He is a cousin, of some sort, of Moses.

My husband insists that his name will be St. Augustine the Younger. He gets to pick, since I picked Moses, but I am still lobbying for St. George, the Dragon Slayer.

He will win.

So, watch this space for puppy pictures. Because my life needs a complication, albeit a delightful one.

Here is one of the puppies from the litter. Who knows? We may become friends.

 

Big News!!!

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Pete and Moses are getting a baby brother. He is due to be born on January 11th, and we hope to pick him up in early March.

Oh, and there’s this book thing. Also a third of its kind: Book Three in the North of the Tension Line series. It’s still gestating. But it, too, is due in 2017.

Puppy might be cuter, but the book won’t require a bigger car.

Book Signing at BEA Chicago

Signing at BEA New York, 2014

The Book Expo of America is coming to McCormick Place in Chicago this year, May 11-13.  I will be signing free special edition copies of my new book, The Audacity of Goats, on Thursday, May 12th, at 11:30.

There are a limited number of copies available, so come early.

And stop by at the Midpoint Trade/ Beaufort Books booth #1020 to pick up some The Audacity of Goats swag. You may find me there, and I’d be delighted to meet you.

 

North of the Tension Line Reviewed in National Review

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It’s behind the paywall, but here is the text of the review found in the April 20 edition of National Review.

 

Women’s Lives

by ROBERT P. GEORGE
April 20, 2015, Issue

North of the Tension Line, by J. F. Riordan (Beaufort, 478 pp., $24.95)

My initial impression of this book was: I’ve walked into the novelistic equivalent of a chick flick. What am I doing here — by myself? I go to these only in my wife’s company and at her behest.

Other male readers are likely to have the same first reaction. North of the Tension Line is a novel by a woman about women. Is it for women? Well, I wouldn’t say it’s not for women — but my judgment in the end is that it’s also for men, perhaps even primarily for men. A gifted female writer — one with a nearly Austenian gift for observing human nature and describing the quirks and foibles of the entire cast of characters one finds in the human drama — has produced a novel that reveals some things to us guys about how women’s minds and hearts work.

Women themselves, of course, already know these things. They can read North of the Tension Line for entertainment. Men should read it for instruction.

Fiona and Elisabeth, our heroines, are intelligent, attractive thirtysomething single women — and best friends. They have interests and professions — satisfying but not high-powered — and are far from preoccupied by the need to find Mr. Right. They are open to his walking into their lives and hopeful that someday he will: Finding him would be a good thing — indeed, a very good thing — and they’re not making the perfect the enemy of the good by holding out for the Ultimate Mr. Right when Mr. Right Enough will do. But neither are they pining away, or pursuing their avocational and professional interests as mere distractions while they wait. They have lives — lives worth living, lives in which non-romantic friends, jobs, passions, goals, and challenges of various sorts occupy them meaningfully and worthily.

Yet J. F. Riordan’s point is not the old feminist canard about a woman’s needing a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Quite the contrary. Fiona and Elisabeth are, like most women, sensible. Their hearts yearn for a special bond with one of those creatures on the other side of the mysterious line dividing the sexes, and their minds tell them that such a bond is worth the sacrifices — including some degree of loss of independence — required to establish and sustain that bond. They are not boy-crazy, nor are they imagining a knight in shining armor who will come astride a white charger to sweep them off their feet. What they want is a decent, honorable man, a man who is comfortable in his own skin and who is willing to be a man — a fellow whose gentle strength would complement their own strong gentleness.

There is nothing more familiar to readers and viewers these days than the story of a woman who manages to be caught up in an unhealthy relationship with every man in her life. She has, or had, an unhealthy relationship with her father; an unhealthy relationship with her first boyfriend, then her second, then third, and so forth; she has unhealthy non-romantic relationships with her guy friends, her boss, her dentist, her pastor, her plumber. She has an unhealthy relationship with her husband — one that doesn’t improve when he becomes her ex-husband. By the time her son is a teenager, she has an unhealthy relationship with him, too. Is the problem with her — or with them? In the standard plot, she begins by blaming herself.

But, of course, enlightenment eventually comes when she realizes that the fault is not with her at all, but indeed with them — and even more fundamentally with the institutional sexism and sexist (and, of course, heterosexist) culture that is ultimately what is driving both their bad attitudes and behavior and her initial impulse to blame herself. Pretty soon she is “off men” and living happily ever after in a lesbian commune in central Massachusetts.

What’s refreshing about Riordan’s novel is that her protagonists have healthy relationships with men. And it isn’t because Fiona and Elisabeth — or the guys with whom they have romantic and non-romantic friendships — are perfect. They’re not. In fact, North of the Tension Line is a sort of study in how imperfect but fundamentally decent women and imperfect but fundamentally honorable men can relate to each other (whether their relationships are romantic or not) in constructive ways, and find satisfaction and contentment in their relationships. In fact, part of her message is that the project of navigating the mysteries involved in relating to people of the opposite sex can — and where our relationships are healthy almost certainly will — challenge us and change us in ways that make us better men and women than we were: a little less imperfect. Relating to each other across the mysterious divide takes effort, but it’s worth it. The payoff is genuine. There must be something to the idea that men and women are made for each other — that by entering each other’s lives they supply a lack and have a lack supplied.

What about the relationships between women and other women and men and other men? Perhaps part of the reason Riordan’s characters can relate in healthy ways to those of the opposite sex is that they have deep, constructive friendships with people of their own sex. The friendship between Fiona and Elisabeth is front and center, and a beautiful friendship it is. The two women delight in each other’s company and each appreciates and cares deeply for the other. They are cognizant of each other’s imperfections, but each is no less aware of her own deficiencies. And each is grateful to the other for the gift of her friendship. They are fast friends, loyal friends. Yet neither woman jealously worries that the entry of a man into the other’s life will weaken the lovely bond between them. On the contrary, they are pulling for each other on the boyfriend front — precisely because they appreciate that there is something good, something uniquely fulfilling, that even the deepest friendship between two women (or, I daresay, two men) cannot provide.

Most of the guys in the book are good guys, and their friendships with other guys are good friendships. J. F. Riordan finds countless ways — usually suitably subtle ways — to call attention to the deep bonds of affection good men can form with each other. Of course men, being men, don’t talk about their feelings much, but rather express them in actions — including in actions toward women or for their sakes. Because of the setting Riordan has chosen for her study, most of the men in the novel — at least those we get to know best — are skilled workers. They build things, or fix things, or do things (like run a ferry from the mainland to an island). They are not intellectuals. Indeed, most are a bit less intellectual than the women. But they are not less intelligent, nor are they less thoughtful. What they are, God bless them, is old-fashioned, even chivalrous. They respect the womenfolk, and even look up to them in various ways; but their instinct is to help them and protect them because . . . well, because that’s what good men do.

You may, gentle reader, be worried that North of the Tension Line has no villains, mean dogs, or ghosts. But fear not: There is an excellent villain — a woman, by the way — a scary mean dog, and an exemplary ghost. To avoid spoiling things for you, I’ll say no more about them than to report that Riordan’s verbal artistry is up to the challenging task of handling villains, mean dogs, and ghosts — which is saying something when reviewing a writer’s first novel.

Mr. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.

Read more at: https://www.nationalreview.com/nrd/articles/416347/womens-lives

A Thanksgiving for Orphans

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the starkness of late fall, the sense of the beginning of things, filled with the anticipation of the holidays and the beauty of the coming winter. Ever since I have had my own household I have filled my house with guests for Thanksgiving, joking that I was always on the look-out for holiday orphans.

But this year for the first time there will be no guests. I will make a traditional dinner, but it will only be my husband and me. For the first time we are both orphans ourselves, and I don’t have the energy to put up a cheerful front when the absence of so many people we loved will be so fully felt. Last year, on my mother’s last Thanksgiving, I could fill the absence with the special care of her. She was the last man standing. Now she is gone.

Of those who used to annually grace our table, we have lost four.

You would think that in middle age the loss of a parent would not hurt so much, but that is only what you would think until it happens to you. Every memory now is fraught with the poignancy of passing time, and the changing human geography of our lives. My dear friend, who lost her mother recently, said to me the other day: Remember when we were kids and no one ever died?

I see now how age can bring melancholy, with every new occasion or holiday memory colored by the loss of those who once celebrated with you, the loss of your old life, your old self, the family you always had.

But this is not the proper way to live. Each day is meant to be embraced with hope and joy. To do otherwise is a form of sinfulness.

Today will be hard, a deliberate pause to remember and mourn, and then to shed the old skin of grief.

Hope begins again tomorrow.