A few years ago, Linda Morganstein asked me to be a consultant with her about self-defense in relationship to a novel she was writing--Ordinary Furies. She had heard of my self-defense classes at Sonoma State University as well as my self-defense classes at the Santa Rosa Community Centers, and my books on self-defense. She explained that she was writing a mystery--the first in a series that would feature a self-defense instructor who lives in Sonoma County.
I am happy to report that the mystery, Ordinary Furies, has been released (April 2007) and is both a fun read and a well-written and plotted novel that does justice to the principles of self-defense. The publisher--Spinsters Ink--is a small press that has a long and venerable history in feminist publishing, having featured such authors as Judy Grahn, Audre Lorde, Sally Miller Gearhart, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and many more. Today, Spinsters is still committed to works that empower women, but is also growing, with expansions into more popular genres that will appeal to a larger audience. Ordinary Furies is a fine example of this new direction.
The novel features Alexis Pope, a complicated and quirky character, who is suffering an emotional meltdown after the death of her husband. She comes up to Sonoma County from the East Bay to work with her gay cousin, Jeffrey, in a new resort in Guerneville that is trying to appeal to the Bay Area trend-setters.
From the beginning, things are not right. In an increasingly vicious series of events, Alex is eventually called upon to use her self-defense knowledge.
Alex herself is an endearing character, far from perfect--strong, funny and vulnerable. In fact, one of the most appealing aspects of the book is the cast of characters, who display a range of sexualities and relational complexities that can make for an appealing series. I'm reminded of Armisted Maupin's Tales of the City and I can't wait to see which of these characters will carry over into the next books. Ordinary Furies is a well written, exciting novel.
Morganstein currently resides in Minnesota with her partner. She has been a long-time Sonoma County resident. This shows in the fine details about the area. Local residents will especially appreciate the evocation of setting and ambience. Sonoma County has always been a place ripe for a mystery series. Here it is.
--Sonoma County Women’s Voices
Borscht Belt to Grain Belt: Author's Ordinary Furies flavored with Catskills, California and life in St. Paul
"I'm an overeducated fiction writer who's the product of a Borscht Belt childhood in the Jewish hotels of the Catskills," Linda Morganstein says with a laugh. "But California's Sonoma County was my home, off and on, for 30 years."
Although Morganstein's a St. Paulite now, her debut mystery is set in Sonoma. Ordinary Furies is the first in Morganstein's series featuring self-defense instructor Alexis Pope.
Alex is grieving for her husband, who died in a parachuting accident for which she feels responsible. When her cousin urges her to take a job at a fancy resort, she jumps at the chance. Then a staff member turns up dead, and Alex is convinced the woman who's accused is not guilty. She becomes a reluctant sleuth, putting her own life in danger.
Morganstein, a part-time personal trainer specializing in exercise classes for people with medical conditions at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center, says she brings a little bit of the Catskills to the Twin Cities.
"I think there's something to my writing that is influenced by my Jewish roots, a melding of comedy and tragedy that is fundamental to the cultural writing of Jewish people," Morganstein says.
Morganstein, who's in her 50s, was surrounded by show business folks as a child. Her dad was a maitre d' at fancy hotels in the Catskill mountains in summer and Florida in winter.
"Buddy Hackett worked for my father as a busboy and his girlfriend was my babysitter," she recalls. "I sat on Red Buttons' lap and Totie Fields' daughter was my best friend when I was 12. I read lots of books on the brocade couches in the hotels' lobbies. Then I'd go to the Swizzlestick Lounge and do a cha-cha."
Morganstein won a full scholarship to Vassar College, but she left after two years to drive in a VW bus to California, where she fell in love with Sonoma County.
"It was so beautiful then," she recalls of the orchard-filled region north of San Francisco. "You could go from ocean to mountains in 30 minutes. It was a liberal hotspot that appealed to all the young feminists. Now, it's built up and housing is expensive."
Morganstein wrote fiction while earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology. Thanks to a fellowship, she was able to enroll at Iowa State University at Ames, where she studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley and earned a master's in English with an emphasis on creative writing.
"Jane is an incredible teacher, one of smartest women I ever met," Morganstein says. "She told me I needed to strengthen my plot lines and get over my obsession with death and abandonment." (After Morganstein's parents divorced, her father left the family and she didn't speak to him for 25 years. They reconciled after he called her on her 50th birthday.)
Morganstein had always considered the Midwest "a place where you stopped for coffee" while driving through, so she was surprised at how much she enjoyed living in Iowa. She was fine with settling in St. Paul, where her partner Melanie Jaeb's family lives. Jaeb is a research dietician at the University of Minnesota.
Morganstein built a career as an award-winning business/medical writer, videographer and writing consultant while also writing short fiction and poetry that was published in literary journals.
Two of her novels were shopped by her agent, and although she got encouraging feedback from publishers, nobody offered a contract.
"I had a period of discouragement then when I did a lot of video work for businesses," she recalls. "But there was something missing in my soul. I wasn't happy if I wasn't writing fiction. I decided to give it one more shot and write a mystery that could be approached on several levels. Ordinary Furies can be read on a literary level, or as a light, fun story."
Morganstein, who's certified to teach martial arts, gave that skill to Alex Pope. "I have a passion for empowering women so they can physically defend themselves," she says.
--St. Paul Pioneer Press