Friday, September 16, 2022

Foreword Reviews: Clarion Review of The Curious Case of Seaman Garber


Clarion Review  ★★★★                                                       GENERAL FICTION

The Curious Case of Seaman Garber

B. K. Mayo

Fir Valley Press

(258 pp)


The Curious Case of Seaman Garber is a reflective novel in which a thoughtful boy works to understand a reclusive veteran’s story.

The discovery of a dead Vietnam veteran hastens a boy’s maturation in B. K. Mayo’s engrossing novel The Curious Case of Seaman Garber, which is about growing up through one’s compassion for a stranger.

Seth spends his summers in Oregon shooting at cans, exploring the outdoors, and picking cherries. These meanderings are accomplished alongside his friend, Collin, whose harsher home circumstances are hinted at. Their long days aren’t all idyllic: they wind up finding a man’s body floating in an abandoned reservoir. Though they’re shaken by their discovery, they’re also drawn toward the ensuing investigation, and Seth observes its forensic details from a distance.

It is revealed that the deceased was Henry, a local fisherman and a veteran about whom little is known. Seth searches for Henry’s missing dog, and he expresses concern about what will happen to Henry’s remains. He ends up urging his father to intervene and ensure a proper burial, but he still can’t stop thinking about Henry’s life.

Seth, who is both precocious and cautious, is a boy of strong convictions. He treats others with respect, and his natural curiosity propels the story’s stages—each of which shows him remaining true to his honest nature. His empathy is extraordinary.

Seth’s father is also a grounding presence in the book: he both informs and supports his son, as does Seth’s grandmother. In contrast, Seth’s mother delivers a bevy of anxious warnings. The cast’s mood changes through the story’s shifting events, as people experience both everyday delights and apprehension and fear.

The book’s chapters are brief and taut. Their momentum builds as their focus on what happened to Henry tightens.  But they also include diversions, as with a consideration of what PTSD is, and how it can last across decades. Still, an affecting secondary story line is drawn out of the lasting effects of war in particular: the prevalence, and  misunderstood nature, of PTSD directs it.

But the novel also includes an unexpected bequest and large revelations concerning Henry’s connections to people who lived nearby. These are handled via an excessively convenient confession, in which facts are doled out in an abrupt, emotional way to drive home messages about the tragedies of postwar traumas. Late in the book, information about Henry’s war experiences is also introduced, with the aim of interjecting hope—and a message about the importance of bravery.

The Curious Case of Seaman Garber is a reflective novel in which a thoughtful boy works to understand a reclusive veteran’s story.

KAREN RIGBY (May 27, 2022)



Wednesday, March 2, 2022


My latest book, THE CURIOUS CASE OF SEAMAN GARBER, is a novel of discovery and recognition. In classical literary terms, it is an anagnorisis. That is, the true nature or significance of the action of the novel becomes clear only through a sequence of revelations that ultimately lay bare the true identity of a major character in the story—in this case the eponymous character Seaman Garber.

The difficulty in writing a novel of discovery lies in sustaining reader engagement from the moment of the story’s inciting incident to the initial revelation, and from there through the subsequent action that propels the reader to the next discovery and the next until he/she, along with the protagonist, achieves recognition of the true nature of what has been taking place in the story. In short, the story itself must be compelling, aside from the revelations. In addition, the revelations must arise organically from the plot and be increasingly significant to the storyline.

The protagonist in my novel is eleven-year-old Seth Roberson. At the outset of the story, he makes it his mission to see that the death of Vietnam War veteran Seaman Garber, whose body has gone unclaimed, does not go unacknowledged. As a result of Seth’s quest, more and more is revealed about Garber’s mysterious death and his even more mysterious life. But it is only when Seaman Garber’s true identity is revealed that Seth, along with the reader, recognizes the true nature of what has been taking place in the story.

How successful I’ve been in engaging the reader in my story and keeping him/her engaged by stoking intrigue with each successive discovery, and whether with the final reveal I achieve the hoped for emotional response from the reader, can only be judged by the reader feedback I get.

THE CURIOUS CASE OF SEAMAN GARBER is now available in both print and Kindle versions on The digital version for non-Kindle readers is also available online via Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and other online bookstores.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

My San Antonio Childhood: A Memoir by Michael L. Hall—a review

Click here to learn more about
this book and its author

I’ve always been suspicious of published memoirs. So often they’re written by celebrities—movie stars, politicians, pro athletes—bent on self-promotion. Or they recount with melodramatic flair some remarkable, often tragic aspect of the author’s life. Michael L. Hall is not a celebrity and his life, as he himself muses, “has been only ordinary,” comic even, in that during his childhood he experienced “few tragic or even sad moments.” But while there may be little remarkable about Hall’s childhood, what is remarkable is his ability to look back on it and see how the people and events of his early life played a critical role in forging the man he ultimately became.

“What I have actually done,” Hall says of his memoir, “is simply tell some stories.” Yet the stories he tells, rich in detail and loaded with insight, are at once unique to his childhood and universal in theme: school, church, work, family and friends—and, yes, girlfriends—and more. These stories are relatable because they speak to the sometimes mundane, sometimes comic, sometimes poignant moments that happen in every person’s life. And the heartfelt lessons Hall draws from reflecting on his childhood experiences are bound to resonate with those of us who look back on our youth with the weighty ambivalence that resides at the confluence of nostalgia and regret.

It isn’t lost on me that Hall’s memoir presents only a narrow slice of Americana—a portrait of a boy who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in a suburban, working-class neighborhood in central Texas, the child of loving and supportive parents, in a time when children were allowed to be children. Not exactly the stuff of Leave It to Beaver, but not far removed either.

So why should anyone reared in a dissimilar culture, under less fortunate circumstances care to read Hall’s recollections? For me the answer is this: My San Antonio Childhood: A Memoir, for all its unassuming narrative charm is, at its core, a thought-provoking examination of the roots of character. And who can’t relate to that?

Wednesday, December 30, 2020




Regarding Autobiographical Fiction

I have a friend who writes memoir and does it very well. He tried his hand at writing fiction, he told me, but found that his stories were “too close to home.” So he sticks with memoir.

I get it. My first novel, written in my late 20’s, was highly autobiographical. It was to be my “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”—or, in my case, a portrait of the theology school dropout, which was my ignominious fate. But, as with my friend’s efforts at writing autobiographical fiction, the story was “too close to home”—that is, it closely aligned in plot and setting with the actual details of my life. As a result, it lacked imagination—i.e., it was dull. So dull that I eventually got bored with it myself and sent it to never-to-be-published-land.

But that failed effort showed me that if I was going to write compelling fiction I had to look beyond my own personal experience for storylines. So for my second attempt at novel writing, I tried something far removed from autobiography: a farce called “The Day the Marines Invaded Disneyland.” It was about a military exercise gone awry when, after a mix-up in target coordinates, a contingent of US Marines on a mock mission to take and hold a strategic location accidentally lands via helicopter in the parking lot of Disneyland. The plot was indeed imaginative and fun, but the setting—Disneyland—was problematic in terms of branding infringement. I changed the setting to a generic theme park named WonderWorld, but the story didn’t hold together as well after that and I finally gave up on it.

Years and many fits and starts later, I celebrated my first published novel, “Tamara’s Child.” It narrates the misadventures of a homeless pregnant teenager determined to make a new and better life for herself and her child, only to fall victim to some loathsome characters intent on stealing her baby from her. The idea for the novel came from my work at our local high school with at-risk youth. The storyline, however, was anything but autobiographical—or so I thought. Not long after the novel was published, I received a note from a reader—someone who had known me for many years, stretching from my youth into adulthood. “It struck me,” she said, “how much of this novel comes from your own personal experience.”

I was taken aback by this comment. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. As a mature male, it was impossible for me to have experienced what 16-year-old Tamara Ames went through in this novel. But there were indeed things in my and my family’s personal history that paralleled Tamara’s experiences. Consciously or subconsciously, I had drawn from these things as I imagined the story. The novel was autobiographical, after all.

I have since come to the not-so-brilliant conclusion that all fiction has some basis in autobiography. Although one’s own personal experiences may not contain enough essence to make for a compelling narrative, they can be a launching pad for imaginative stories that are captivating while also being true to life.

So how should one view autobiography when it comes to writing fiction? I believe John Irving said it best in his novel “The World According to Garp,” when he relates his novelist-protagonist T.S. Garp’s response to the dreaded question of how much of his writing is true—that is, based on personal experience:

… Garp would say that the autobiographical basis—if there was one—was the least interesting level on which to read a novel… (The) art of fiction was the act of imagining truly… Memories and personal histories—“all the recollected traumas of our unmemorable lives”—were suspicious models for fiction… Fiction has to be better made than life...

“Tell me anything that’s ever happened to you,” Garp told an interviewer once, “and I can improve upon the story; I can make the details better than they were.”

That’s what I try to do in my fiction—make the details of real life better than they were, whether it’s the details of my life or someone else’s life I am drawing from when telling my story.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

An IPPY Award for The Water Tower Club

The 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards were recently announced. My new novel, The Water Tower Club, was awarded a Bronze Medal in the Popular Fiction category.

Thank you, Independent Publisher, for this honor!