06 April 2016



On March 30, I had the pleasure of joining the Lit and Libations Book Discussion Group for a little chat about THE DEVIL AND PRESTON BLACK, hosted by the Frostburg State University Center for the Literary Arts and the Allegany County Library System at Dante's Bar.  

A few takeaways from the night:

  • Most people don't know--nor do they care--about the subtle differences between a Martin D28 and D35.
  • Twelve years in as a practicing Catholic scarred me more than a month in rehab.
  • The bartender at Dante's makes a mean Negroni.  
  • The only thing worse than telling the guy sitting next to you on the plane that you're a writer is telling him you're a poet. 
  • Readers expect you to be able to answer questions about the things written in your book.
Many thanks to Gerry LaFemina for the invite, and to John Taube and Joni Reed for the support. Writers, poets, and readers have a lot of great support in Allegany County.  

And many thanks to the Frostburg State University Center for the Literary Arts and the Allegany County Library System for hosting such a fine series of events and opportunities for writers.

And I also have to give a quick shout-out to Dante's for absolutely being the coolest joint between DC and Morgantown. 

15 November 2015

PARIS, November 13, 2015

We ended up there by accident.

It was mid-July and we wanted to go somewhere. Anywhere. Berlin, Budapest, and Barcelona were on our short list. Paris was too obvious, and we ended there for the lamest of reasons—it was a direct flight from Pittsburgh. Besides, everybody knows you don’t go to Paris in August. Restaurants and cafes might be closed. Everybody’s on vacation. The admonishments stung, and I felt like we were making a huge mistake. Then I spotted a line in an article that made it okay. A waitress, or shop girl, or bookseller describing what she loved best about summer in the city. “August in Paris is like a month of Sundays.”

Odéon was the closest metro stop to our little Saint-Germain-des-Prés hotel. But I got confused at CDG, forgot about transferring from the RER to the metro once we got into the city, and popped up onto the street at Saint-Michel–Notre-Dame instead of transferring to the purple line. And there it was. Our Lady and her gargoyles. And on the walk to Rue de Buci it hit me.

I’ve been lucky to have experienced many, many amazing places in my life. But there are a few that fly above the rest because of the permanent impressions they’ve left on me. At 19, I trained to be a whitewater raft guide on the Cheat River in West Virginia and took some big first steps toward understanding what it meant to be a man. When Heidi and I got married and moved to Florida in 1998, a rapid-fire series of events helped me learn what it meant to be a husband, and when she sat down to write her first novel there at our little kitchen table, she inspired me to want to give it a go myself. In 2005, I followed her to Seton Hill—defying a personal vow to be done with school forever—and realized maybe it wasn’t silly to pursue a dream after all.

But when we started exploring Paris—first, small loops on the Left Bank and Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the bouquinistes along the Seine and museums, then an expedition via the Grands Boulevards up to Montmartre on the last day of our trip—I felt like I was a part of a much larger world that had somehow existed forever. And it had nothing to do with Hemingway. Paris felt like a door to something very special. A visceral river of thought and ideas. Where I grew upa rural, blue collar areaexpression and intellect made you an outcast. I'd been threatened and beaten up for being different. But in Paris I felt a sweeping validation of my life choices in the spirit of the city’s art, architecture, food, and people. I no longer felt so silly for having embraced love and creation because I’d finally experienced a place that embraced those ideals at its core. And when we left, my heart ached to go back.

We are not made better by the good things that happen to us. We grow when we push toward the light. But to be a city of light in a world half-covered in darkness, that is a different thing altogether.


14 August 2015

Catherine Adams, February 29, 1924 - August 8, 2015.

Early last Saturday morning, my grandmother passed away. She'd been admitted two weeks earlier for a fairly minor illness that had been the only real hiccup in a long spell of fairly good health. At the time, I didn't know that she'd already spoken her last words to me.

I left the hospital at about one in the morning. Heidi and I had been there since mid-afternoon, and we'd gone to dinner with my Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Mike. My mom took the night shift, and I'd gone back up to keep her company. A few hours later I got the text. 

I'd seen this woman toss hay bales down from creaky barn lofts and wrangle young steers into the bed of her pickup. She'd gardened and danced until she was 83 or 84. And when I saw her in that hospital bed, frail and gasping, I felt as if I'd lost something substantial, and I realized that being an adult meant having a painful awareness of every single event that got you there.    

As a writer, I often get approached by people at signings or workshops who tell me their grandmother--or aunt, or brother--has the most amazing life story, and that I should write it. That it would be a bestseller, like ANGELA'S AHSES. And I never tell them that a lot of people think the exact same thing, and that in the end, the story is probably only meaningful to the people who knew their loved one. Instead, I suggest that they are the best person to write that story, that they be the one to sort through the personal anecdotes and details that made that person special, and organize them into a narrative that they'd like to share with family members. I stand by that always--writing the story is for you. Children and siblings and friends and cousins should never feel that if somebody else has done it, they shouldn't attempt to write their own version. Do it selfishly and generously, filled with joy and sadness, because in the end, you are the one who grows from the experience of shaping a penultimate version of a loved one.

And until I did it myself--until I stopped and considered how I'd describe my grandma in three-hundred words or less--I never realized that until I put it on paper, I'd never really known her. How she was a single-mom before that was even a thing. How she went toe-to-toe with the kind of men who'd wring the last penny from a less savvy woman. How she hid a lot of hardship from a lot of people who were close to her, to save them from having to worry themselves. When my aunt asked me to write down a few ideas for the obituary, I didn't know my perceptions of her would change so completely, or that I'd only finally realize what I'd lost. What follows is the version that ran in the Herald last Monday, which is slightly different than my original version.       

Catherine Adams, 91, of Smithfield, passed peacefully on the morning of Saturday, August 8, 2015, reluctantly leaving the family she so loved.

Catherine measured her life not in years, but in an abundance of experiences many would’ve thought unimaginable for the daughter of Croatian immigrants, born and raised on a small farm with a sister and five brothers in Little Summit, just outside of Connellsville.

The Muchnoks maintained a strong Croatian identity through the food they ate, the music of the Tamburitza, and their faith. 

But knowing that opportunities for strong, smart women were rare, Catherine joined the thousands of girls who answered Franklin Roosevelt’s request for all citizens to serve in the war effort, and found employment withthe Social Security Administration in Baltimore. 

Catherine sent money home--minus what she needed for odds and ends--and received little reminders from the farm in the packages her mother sent. 

And when the war ended, she married a returning soldier, Francis Adams, and started a family of her own. As a wife, she tended to the home and family, which had grown to seven children, while her husband worked as a local coal operator. After becoming a widow all too early, she was left to raise the family on her own, a role she lovingly embraced. 

As a mother, she encouraged her children to explore athletics, music and dance, and academics as a way to seize the opportunities that she couldn’t, and was rewarded by seeing her family's values of hard work, unwavering tenacity, and maternal love reflected in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She did all of this while maintaining a  and other commercial properties, leveraging her resources as a way to provide the stability and comfort she desired for her children. 

Her legacy continues in her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, who she taught to eat well and to cook more than needed, to never stop dancing, that a little whiskey is good for a cold, and that a little wine every now is more medicinal than recreational, that travel completes a person, that a mother’s love is always unconditional, even in hard times, and that there is no such thing as ‘hard times’ when you are surrounded by people that you love, as Catherine was during her final bout with the unexpected illness. 

She was preceded in death by her parents, Charles and Anna (Bukovac) Muchnok; her beloved husband, Francis Adams; her son, Phillip Adams; and her brother, John Muchnok. She is survived by her loving son, Francis Adams Jr., of Connellsville; and loving daughters, Sandra Miller, of Uniontown, Marilyn Moncheck and husband, Leonard, of Uniontown, Cheryl Rega and husband, Mike, of Mt. Pleasant, Joanne DiCristofaro and husband, Dean, of Latrobe, and Lisa Gibson and husband, Paul, of Georgia; ; loving grandchildren, Jason Miller and wife, Heidi, Michael Miller and wife, Crystal, Ryan Moncheck and wife, Maria, Staci Moncheck Hiles, Skyler Moncheck and fiancee, Melani, Alysa DiCristofaro, Michael Rega Jr. and fiancee, Samantha, Lindsay Rega and fiance, William, Jessica Gibson and Benjamin Gibson; loving great-grandchildren, Caileigh and Macy Hiles, Levi, Evan and Vince Moncheck and Zayne Moncheck; brothers and sisters, Mike Muchnok, Helen Puzak, Charles Muchnok and wife, Barbara, Daniel Muchnok and wife, Nary Gladys, and Joe Mucheck and wife, Kathleen. As an animal lover, she also leaves behind her loyal beagle, Scout, and feisty feline, Snookie.