Leaves by Michael Baron

Leaves by Michael Baron has the makings of a family saga, with its large Gold family in Oldham, Ct.  Tyler, a budding nature photographer; Corrina, a controlling older sibling; Deborah, the resident foodie; Maxwell, who seems to have it all and leads the town’s Chamber of Commerce; and Maria, a young emptynester, must close a chapter in their lives and begin anew after deciding to sell the family business, the Sugar Maple Inn — a popular destination for “leaf-peepers.”  Baron alternates between characters throughout the novel, but the characters are dynamic enough and varied so they are easy to keep track of, even when the spouses and their individual family units are introduced.  Each of them is struggling with the close together loss of their parents, as well as the decision to sell the inn that is as much a part of the family as they are.  Each chapter signifies a day in their lives as they count down to the last Halloween bash they’ll ever throw for the residents of Oldham.

“The leaves were the reason that people came, whether it was for an overnight diversion or to settle for decades, rising generations of others who would remain nearby.”  (page 15)

Oldham is a place with many faces and facets from the ancestral families to the newcomers looking for a change or new adventure — particularly those that become small business owners.  Tyler and Maria were easy to connect with as their artistic sides have stagnated and need rejuvenation; Maxwell’s ambivalence about his place in town is easy to understand given the young age of his son and the adjustments he and his wife have made.  Meanwhile, Deborah is like many of us, comfortable in her current place and not quite ready to move on, and unsure of what direction to head in when change is inevitable.  Corrina is a tough nut to crack and hard to like with her domineering nature, but it’s easy to see why she wants to be in control — at least of her siblings and the last party at the inn — because her home life is not as picture perfect as it looks.

There are so many layers to Leaves, as the members navigate their new lives without the inn and their parents to anchor them, and the impact those changes have on their own relationships with one another.  Their moods and reactions change quickly, though the distance between them has been as gradual as the changing seasons.  However, while there are many depths to this novel, there also are moments where readers will want more, but the narrative suddenly changes to another sibling or situation.  Baron has established a foundation for a series of novels that are sure to come about the Gold family, and he’s crafted a family with strong bonds.  Even though each member is on the verge of breaking their family bonds for good, there are memories that creep in to pull them back to their roots and each other.  Baron’s novel is one that readers won’t want to end.  There is so much more in store for these characters and their relationships.

About the Author:

Michael Baron grew up in the New York area, has worked in retail and taught high school English.  Although he started writing nonfiction, he’s always loved fiction and love stories.  He has a deep passion for writing about relationships – family relationships, working relationships, friendships, and, of course, romantic relationships.  His wife and kids are the center of his life and his wife is the inspiration for all of his love stories.

Mailbox Monday #196

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the Mailbox Monday blog.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Lost Art of Mixing and The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister for TLC Book Tour.

Lillian and her restaurant have a way of drawing people together. There’s Al, the accountant who finds meaning in numbers and ritual; Chloe, a budding chef who hasn’t learned to trust after heartbreak; Finnegan, quiet and steady as a tree, who can disappear into the background despite his massive height; Louise, Al’s wife, whose anger simmers just below the boiling point; and Isabelle, whose memories are slowly slipping from her grasp. And there’s Lillian herself, whose life has taken a turn she didn’t expect. . . .

Their lives collide and mix with those around them, sometimes joining in effortless connections, at other times sifting together and separating again, creating a family that is chosen, not given. A beautifully imagined novel about the ties that bind—and links that break—The Lost Art of Mixing is a captivating meditation on the power of love, food, and companionship.

2.  The Hopkins Touch by David Roll for review in January from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer Program.

David Roll shows how Harry Hopkins, an Iowa-born social worker who had been an integral part of the New Deal’s implementation, became the linchpin in FDR’s–and America’s–relationships with Churchill and Stalin, and spoke with an authority second only to the president’s. Gaunt, nearly spectral, and malnourished following an operation to remove part of his stomach, the newly widowed Hopkins accepted the president’s invitation to move into the White House in 1940 and remained Roosevelt’s closest advisor, speechwriter, sounding board, and friend nearly to the end. Between 1940 and 1945, with incomparable skill and indefatigable determination, Hopkins organized the Lend-Lease program and steered the president to prepare the public for war with Germany. He became FDR’s problem-solver and fixer, helping to smooth over crises, such as when the British refused to allow an invasion of Europe in 1943, enraging Stalin, who felt that the Soviet Union was carrying the military effort against the Nazis. Lacking an official title or a clear executive branch portfolio, Hopkins could take the political risks his boss could not, and proved crucial to maintaining personal relations among the Big Three. Beloved by some–such as Churchill, who believed that Hopkins “always went to the root of the matter”–and trusted by most–including the paranoid Stalin–there were nevertheless those who resented the influence of “the White House Rasputin.”

3.  Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan for review.

4.  Carnival by Jason Bredle for review.

Jason Bredle’s poems approach the world like a haunted cat approaches a glacier, curious and itchy with strangeness. In Carnival, he skates paratactically between states of being: levity, heart-holes, licks of darkness, lovesickness and werewolfishness. Bredle’s gift as a poet is to traverse and re-traverse one looking glass in ten different moods. When he goes through it, we are taken. -Melissa Broder

5. Leaves by Michael Baron for review with Providence Book Promotions in February.

Welcome to Oldham, CT, a small town rich in Colonial heritage while being utterly contemporary. Situated along the Connecticut River Valley, Oldham bursts with color every fall, as the leaves on its trees evolve into an unmatched palette of scarlet, orange, purple, yellow, and bronze. For more than three decades, the Gold family has been a central part of Oldham in the fall, its Sugar Maple Inn a destination for “leaf-peepers” from all over the country, and its annual Halloween party a stirring way to punctuate the town’s most active month.

But this year, more than just the leaves are changing. With the death of their parents, the Gold siblings, Maria, Maxwell, Deborah, Corrina, and Tyler, have decided to sell the Sugar Maple Inn, and this year’s Halloween party will be the last. As October begins, the Golds contend with the finality that faces them, and the implications it has for a family that has always been so close. For some, it means embracing new challenges and new love. For others, it means taking on unimagined roles. And for others, it means considering the inconceivable. Complicating it all is a series of “hauntings” that touch each of the Gold siblings, a series of benign interventions that will remain a mystery until October draws to a close.

What did you receive?

Michael Baron’s Path to Publication

Michael Baron writes stories about enduring love and passion, and his latest novel, The Journey Home, is no exception.  If you missed my review, please check it out.

Today, Baron has offered to talk about his path to publication.

Serena asked me to write about my path to publication. Like most, I think this path was difficult to discern at times; sometimes it had become overgrown, other times it had a huge tree crashed across it blocking my passage. Occasionally, it stopped being a path and became a dark alley populated by gremlins mocking me for the audacity of thinking I deserved to get through unscathed. When I finally came to the other end, it turned out to be an entirely different place than I imagined, fortunately one where I was comfortable settling.

Every now and then I get an e-mail message from a teenager telling me about his or her manuscript, fully convinced that publication will come before college essays are due. I always encourage these writers – some of whom exhibit real talent – because one should never discourage the passion to write. The reality, though, is that the odds against publication are overwhelming and they are exponentially more overwhelming when you’re in your teens. Christopher Paolini wrote his first novel when he was something like fifteen, had a bestseller with it, and saw a big-budget movie made from it. He is decidedly an outlier.

Like Paolini, I completed my first novel when I was in my middle teens. It was not Eragon . To be honest, it was barely English. I was proud of it for a few weeks, pitched it to a couple of publishers, and then put it away, never to see the light of day again. When I was in college, I wrote another novel. This one was significantly better, which is to say that it had complete sentences, characters, and many of the other important things that make up good fiction, like chapters. A professor read it and liked it enough to recommend it to his agent. The agent was polite enough to speak with me on the phone and let me know that the novel might be worth his consideration if I changed just about everything in it.

That was it for me and fiction for a long time. As it turned out, I wasn’t the kind of person who took rejection well, and to me, fiction and rejection had become synonymous. I got serious about my career, first as a teacher and then in retail and I allowed the notion of becoming a writer to simmer in the back of my brain where it settled along with the notions of becoming a rock star and a world-class chef.

Then fate intervened. A friend of a friend knew someone who had an interesting story to tell but didn’t have the writing skill to tell it. I met with this person and agreed to commit some of this story to the page. I seemed to have some skill at this and the book proposal we created found an agent and the agent found us a publisher. Just like that, after years of trying to be a writer and then years of pretending that it didn’t bother me that I’d failed to become one, I had a book deal. The book didn’t do particularly well, but it connected me with the agent and he in turn connected me with others who needed writers. Soon enough, I could leave all other work behind and concentrate on this full-time. This was hugely satisfying, but I’ve never forgotten how accidental it all was. If the friend of my friend hadn’t mentioned that he knew someone who wanted to write a book, and if my friend hadn’t mentioned to him that I’d once talked about being a writer, none of this would have happened.

A couple of years ago, I decided to think about fiction again. I had a good number of books under my belt by this point, and a friend in the industry who was starting a new publishing house. I showed him the first hundred pages of When You Went Away (check out my review) and he didn’t tell me that he thought it would be great if I changed every last bit of it. What we decided was that I would finish this novel, then finish another, Crossing the Bridge, and then get started on a third while he published the first. That third novel, The Journey Home, has just gone on sale.

My path to publication was a circuitous one. I think it always is for those not named Paolini. However, I arrived refreshed. This is a good thing, because publication is not a destination. It is simply a stop along the way. Professional writers are always moving forward, always heading down new paths, complete with new crashed trees and new gremlins.

Thanks for providing us with a look inside your journey to publication.

The Journey Home by Michael Baron

Michael Baron’s The Journey Home is a very personal work of fiction based upon the author’s parents’ marriage and love for one another.

Joseph awakens with no memory of who he is and embarks on a road trip to jog his memory with the help of a young teen, Will.  Meanwhile, Antoinette is an elderly woman living in an assisted living facility who is slowly losing her grip on reality and living in her past.

“He recognized some of the cities, not enough to identify with any of them, but enough to know that he’d heard of them before.  He had a feeling that he’d been an avid baseball fan, but at gunpoint, he wouldn’t have been able to name the team that played in Chicago.  It was as though his memory were playing an elaborate game of peek-a-boo with him, revealing part of itself for an instant before hiding away again.”  (Page 44)

Baron’s prose lulls readers into an alternate universe as they watch the struggles of these characters to find their way home.  More than the journey home, this novel deals with the harsh realities of old age and Alzheimer’s disease and the toll that takes on not only caregivers, but also family members.  Another enjoyable aspect of the novel is the detailed cooking descriptions as Warren, Antoinette’s son, tries to discover a new path after losing his wife and his corporate job.

The Journey Home is part love story and part mystery that will leave readers guessing.  Baron creates characters that tease and please and who struggle with discovering themselves and where their true home lies.  The journey home is long and full of bumps in the road, but it is one of self-discovery and the call of one’s soul mate.

Thanks to The Story Plant for sending me a copy for review.

Michael Baron Talks About his Writing Space

Michael Baron was kind enough to write up a short piece about his writing space as part of his time here on the blog.

I hope you’ll check out his vivid descriptions and enjoy the journey.  Please welcome Michael Baron:

Many years ago, when my wife and I were looking for a new house, we found a place that had a separate structure, maybe twenty feet from the main building, with high ceilings, wraparound windows, soaring bookcases, and a fireplace. My immediate thought was that this would be the perfect place to write. Unfortunately, we didn’t buy that house.

The house we did buy was lovely, but for years I didn’t have a proper writing space in it. The basement was quiet, but impersonal regardless of how I tried to dress it up. The living room, which we never used for its intended purpose, was too spacious and gave my then-toddler daughter far too easy access. It took her years to understand the concept of “Daddy’s working” when I was right down the hall from her (although since I’d worked from the house since she was an infant, she just assumed everyone did this. One day, she was visiting my sister and asked after her uncle. When my sister told her that he was at work, she walked all over the apartment and then returned to my sister, alarmed, and said, “I can’t find him!”).

Finally, two years ago – more than a decade into my career as a full-time writer – we did a major renovation on the house. It involved knocking down many walls, putting up several others, and repurposing huge chunks of square footage. As a result, for the first time, I have a true writer’s space. It isn’t nearly as impressive as the one in that house we decided not to buy, but it is, finally, a part of the house that exists exclusively for me to write. I have a window looking out on the woods accented by a glittery star that my oldest daughter made with a “make your own stained glass” kit when she was ten. My desk has some candles a psychic friend gave me, a pair of hand-carved bookends that house one copy of each of the books I’ve published, and many pictures of people hugging – my parents when they were newlyweds, my oldest daughter and son when they were little, my middle daughter and me, and my wife and me. Oh, and my Mac, of course. I tried hand-writing my books once. I didn’t get past the first paragraph of the introduction before I realized I didn’t have the right constitution for this.

The walls to my right and left are lined with bookcases. The ones on the right have my books, including foreign editions. The ones on the left feature books by writers I admire, ranging from Barbara Kingsolver to Maureen Dowd to Ray Bradbury to Lynne McTaggart (yes, I knew who she was before Dan Brown made such a bit deal about her). My first edition copy of William Faulkner’s Soldiers’ Payis there. Right next to my first edition copy of Dave Marsh’s Glory Days. Faulkner is the more poetic writer, but he could never belt an anthem like Springsteen.

I finally have my fireplace as well. I use this surprisingly infrequently. I had very romantic visions of igniting some logs on a February morning and writing crackling prose as the flames danced. In reality, the fireplace is something of a distraction. It seems a waste to burn the logs if I’m not going to watch them. It also heats up the office too much and makes me drowsy. The fireplace itself is very nice, though. It’s brick and brass with a mantle including all kinds of meaningful pieces, including a photo of my wife when she was a kid.

Of course, this is only my official writing space. In reality, much of the house is part of the process. I tend to pace quite a bit and the office isn’t nearly big enough to hold me when I need to pace. My new book, When You Went Awayis my first novel after many nonfiction books, and I found myself pacing considerably more as I wrote it. If I were having trouble with a bit of dialogue, I’d make a loop through the kitchen, the living room, maybe even upstairs to the bedrooms. Fiction is good for me because it expands my emotional range as a writer and it lets me get my roadwork in at the same time.

My writing space is humble, certainly much more so than if we’d bought that house with the separate structure. But it is decidedly mine and I definitely feel at home here.

Thank you, Michael, for a look inside your writing space.  If you missed my review of When You Went Away, please stop by and check it out.

When You Went Away by Michael Baron

Michael Baron‘s When You Went Away is more than a novel about grief and fatherhood; it’s a novel about being lost and the journey to find the right path.

Gerry Rubato has lost his whole world–first his daughter Tanya runs away with an older man at age 17 and then he loses his wife tragically.  All he has left to center him is his infant son, Reese.  The story is told from Gerry’s point of view, and much of the beginning pages focuses on his grief and confusion about how to move on.  Readers will be swept up in his grief, his struggle to find his way, and the dilemmas that face him when he begins to fall in love again.  However, despite the focus on Gerry’s grief, readers may not find When You Went Away to be a tearjerker. 

“And just for a second — that instant between dreaming and being awake when almost anything still seems possible — I believed that everything else about my dream was true as well.  My wife was next to me.  My daughter, five or nine or seventeen, was two doors down the hall, about to protest that it was too early to go to school.”  (Page 3 of ARC)

Reese becomes Gerry’s world for a long two months of seclusion before he heads back to work at a catalog firm.  Codie, his wife’s sister, becomes a sounding board for Gerry and he for her, allowing their relationship to go beyond sister-in-law and brother-in-law to confidants.  The first few weeks back to work for Gerry are rough with sympathetic looks and a number of “How are you feeling?” questions from coworkers.  Eventually, he finds a friend in Ally Rittan, a fellow creative mind.

“Ally slipped into the side door of my life and made herself at home without moving any of the furniture.” (Page 213 of ARC)

Readers will embark upon a meditative journey with Gerry and Reese as Gerry works through the loss of his wife, the realization that love can find you at the most inopportune moments, and the harsh realities of repairing a relationship with his lost daughter.  Some of the most insightful sections of the novel involve Gerry’s journal conversations with his daughter Tanya; they are frank and raw.

When You Went Away is an apt title given that the narration focuses on what Gerry feels, does, and how he reacts to the absence of his daughter and his wife, but readers may also find that this novel examines what can happen to the self when tragedy strikes and the journey it takes to locate or transform that lost self. 

Also Reviewed By:
Cheryl’s Book Nook

Thanks to Michael Baron, The Story Plant, and Joy Strazza at Joan Schulhafer Publishing and Media Consulting for sending me a free copy of this book for review.  

Michael Baron agreed to share with my readers his writing space in a guest post.  Check back tomorrow.