Sometimes you come across a book that stays with you for a long time after you’ve turned the last page. A book that surprises you and takes you on a journey that is exciting, romantic and spiritual. Vinegarone by US author Douglas Carlyle is such a book.
Vinegarone is nothing more than rugged land with few inhabitants and little to hope for. Or is it?
Jeep Allhands says that time bends in Vinegarone, and that life as we know it emanates from a large tree – the Lone Madrone. A descendant of the original Native Americans who called this part of Texas home, Jeep maintains a sanctuary for a handful of homeless men who bask in the humility of this foreboding land as they mend their souls.
Life with his clan and Kimmisue, the daughter of the only woman he ever loved, gets turned on its end when Jeep befriends a confused, homeless woman, Candi LaRue. Jeep does what he does best. He heals Candi’s physical and emotional wounds. Afterwards, he integrates her into the odd mix of personalities at home. Just as all seems to be going right, Candi recalls what brought her to Texas in the first place. She was hunting a criminal, and she can’t give up the chase.
There’s one catch, nobody ever leaves Vinegarone…
I had read and enjoyed Douglas Carlyle’s first published book, In Search of the Fuller Brush Man, a compelling family drama, and expected the next one to be very much the same. But as I started to read the first pages, I realised that this new story was completely different both in the theme and setting. The narrative voice was much more raw and the characters damaged and vulnerable. This was no cosy family story but a spiritual journey that would move me to write this review:
Writer and teacher John Gardner once talked about what he called ‘the fictive dream’, which means that good fiction does its job by creating a dream state for the reader, and as long as the writer manages to maintain that dream state, the reader won’t ‘wake up’ from it and will continue to ‘live’ in the fictional world the writer has created. In my mind, Douglas Carlyle succeeded in doing just that with this book.
I haven’t given five stars to this book because it’s perfect or the writing flawless but because I was so ‘lost’ in the story, I ignored the imperfections in parts of the plot and some of the (very few) flaws in the writing. The characters became, for the duration of my reading, my friends and my family and I cared enormously for Jeep, Candi and Kimmisue.
I should also mention that there are very few male writers who can write convincingly from a woman’s point of view. Douglas Carlyle did a good job here, as the women’s voices rang true to me.
The setting was very vivid and I really felt the hot sun, the dry air and the dust and saw the wide open spaces and the beautiful scenery. (This would make a wonderful movie). The paranormal theme was not noticeable at first and the reader was introduced to the spirit world of the Native Americans little by little, which worked a lot better than if it had been thrown in my face at once. I have never been that taken with the supernatural in books, even if I believe that there are things beyond this world that we don’t understand. I don’t usually pick up a book with this theme. But this time I’m glad I did.
Meet a very interesting author
Hi Doug, thank you for agreeing to appear on my blog and answer a few questions. I know you now live on your ranch in Texas and divide your time between the ranch and your work as a paramedic. You seem to have had a very exciting life so far with travels to some exotic places.
What made you embark on a writing career?
I was fortunate to have had an exciting career in the electronics business. I worked for Philips for my final four years. During that time I traveled extensively between the U.S., Europe, and Asia. I met incredible people everywhere and experienced many marvelous cultures and countries. When I retired from that industry, I sorely missed it. I began writing about some of my travels, slowly adding some characters, a bit of a storyline, and before long, I had a novel in progress. I shared some of my writing with friends and they pushed me for more. I joined the Writers’ League of Texas and Houston Writer’s Guild, began attending seminars and conferences, met with agents and publishers, and soon I had one novel complete and the next one underway. The rest is history.
What inspired you to write Vinegarone?
I led a dual career most of my adult life. I was an engineer and business executive by day, and a paramedic by night. Quite honestly, I would change out of a suit and tie at 5pm, and into a uniform with a badge, then back to a suit and tie the next morning. All that was missing was the telephone booth.
I call my life on the streets my “medical ministry.” Nothing comes close to the euphoria I feel when I help a person in need of my services. I can truthfully say there are people alive today because of what I was able to do for them. Others are much better off. Sadly for others, I was able to do too little, too late. But without a doubt, caring for another person is something I am compelled to do.
One night about seven years ago, I was called to treat a very ill and mentally deranged woman. When I took her to the hospital from which she had just been discharged, I was met at the door and asked to take her away – something quite illegal, an immoral. I took her into the hospital instead. Over the next few hours, I continued to work with the hospital staff to find a suitable resolution to this poor woman’s situation. We were successful. In a sense, she became Candi LaRue in my novel.
The paranormal/spirtual element is very strong in this book. Does this correspond to your own beliefs?
Absolutely. I am a trained scientist by degree, but I also believe in the unbelievable. Though I am Christian by faith, I am not evangelical. I honor and respect the beliefs of others be they Hindi, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, and shamanistic. There are many aspects shared by all faiths. To that end, I feel all humans are “one” in some manner. Vinegarone touches on this subject. Vinegarone is where the middle of nowhere touches the center of the universe.
The sex scenes in your later work are quite raw and descriptive. Has this caused any raised eyebrows among your local readers?
I had to have the written permission of my parents to read Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger in 1968 due to its language. I was thirteen at the time. That same year I had to have their permission to go to the theater with my English class to see the movie Romeo and Juliet because of a nude scene. Then came Woodstock, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Deepthroat, and social mores were upended.
Today, I find social mores to be largely made of elastic. They take on one form in public, and another in private. Some of my scenes have in fact created some buzz in my socially conservative community. Yet, I receive private accolades from many of these same people, and they ask me when my next novel will be available.
I draw the line before I get to graphic sex. I get heavy into innuendo and I lead my readers to understand what is taking place without telling them every detail. I also have a wife and three daughters who read my novels. I am not perverse. There is nothing wrong in my mind if a couple has sex. Some of my sex scenes have been called gratuitous. Well, here’s a news flash. There is a lot of gratuitous sex in our world today. The vast majority of my readers live a bit vicariously through my writing. Cheers to them.
The characters in your novels come from different walks of life. How did you handle the way they speak?
Getting back to Catcher in the Rye, that is one of the greatest examples of the use of colloquial language. Each of my novels has a different tongue. In Search of the Fuller Brush Man has a more “educated” and “professional” sound with some tough words thrown in. Vinegarone takes place on the streets of a large urban setting, and in the frontier regions of Texas. The dialog depicts what I hear day in and day out in these settings. The language can be unpleasant. Sometimes reality is just that. Boundaries has a few distinct characteristics of its own. First, the European and Asian characters never use contractions simply because I have never in all of my travels heard people from these regions speak in contractions. Secondly, I have one chapter that uses German extensively. Why? Because it is the language in which I would expect two Germans to speak. The reader can figure out what is going on through context.
With your busy schedule, how do you find the time to write?
Writing is the easy part. Inspiration is the tough nut to crack. Once I experience that occasional, random catalyst, words flow. I am a fast typist. My goal is one novel per year until I decide to no longer write. It takes me about six months to write a novel then another six to turn it into something I want to share with the world.
Does your work as a paramedic give you a lot of inspiration? Do the people you meet end up in your stories?
My work as a paramedic evokes all of my emotions. That is the creative energy I need to become inspired. Some of the worst experiences of my life became words in my novels. So have some of the best experiences. The characters in my novels are based upon people I have met in all of my life’s journeys – some more loosely than others. Some of the characteristics of the protagonist are based upon characteristics I think are, or I wish were, intrinsic to me. Given that the central character in my next novel is female, that is posing to be a worthy challenge.
I know that you recently published your third novel,Boundaries (a psychological thriller), which had me on the edge of my seat. What are you working on now?
I am venturing into a crime series. The main character is a sassy, sexy, smart woman named Cat Kavanagh. I’m having far too much fun writing it. The first book in the series is called Book Review. It is about a serial killer who may be the author of his own murder mystery novels. The second book of the series is on the drawing board, but I expect to give it the title, Eigengrau. It will deal more with nightmares and a secret contained within a home.
That sounds amazing! I can’t wait to read it. Please hurry up and publish it!
Doug’s website, where you can find out more about the man, his life and his work. http://www.dbcarlyle.com/
Doug’s Amazon author page can be found here.