Margaret Ann Spence Coming Home

Take the Long Way Home in Popular Fiction


I had the pleasure of meeting Bonnie McCune at the Author U Conference in 2016, where my novel, Lipstick on the Strawberry, then yet to be published, was a finalist in the “Draft to Dream” competition. Bonnie and I share a background in freelance journalism, and like me, she has won awards for her writing. Her third novel, Never Retreat, was published this week by Imajin Books, and I asked her if she’d be a guest blogger on my website. I’m committed to promoting the work of other women writers, so I’m pleased to offer Bonnie’s essay on women’s fiction in our very complicated world.

By Bonnie McCune

Seems like life gets more complicated as the years pass. What toothpaste do I choose in the
supermarket out of the dozens of brands demanding my attention? How do I choose screen – time programs with thousands of stations, streaming videos, and DVDs at my fingertips? When election time rolls around, which candidates and political parties are worthy of support?

Just as convoluted are our concepts about traditions. Terms as basic as “home” and “family” aren’t simple. Nowadays, a family may have one parent, same-sex parents, one or more children with no genetic ties to the adults, assorted friends and hangers-on who give and receive emotional stability from one another, and an assortment of different ages. Ditto “home.” It might be an apartment, a separate house, a tent, a motel, even a box under a bridge.

Fortunately, we’re more flexible these days. We don’t need to be limited by words when we think about ‘family’ and ‘home.’ These terms are more easily defined by emotions than phrases, and I’m fascinated by the changes reflected in popular fiction. Whereas in romances, the happy ending used to always mean the hero and heroine got married, this is not as true today. The romance field has a term “happy for now” (HFN), meaning the reader can’t predict with  certainty that the main couple will wind up together. Probably they will, but maybe not.

Those of us living in the real world know every life has its share of knocks. Fiction, particularly the type described as “women’s fiction” now incorporates reality. In my new novel, Never Retreat, I wanted all my characters to have feet of clay. L believe there’s room in fiction to include writing unafraid to debate contemporary concerns. Heroine Raye, in addition to being half Latina and facing some kneejerk racism, is a single mom. Hero Des is an ex-military man who doesn’t necessarily agree with all the decisions leaders make. This type of fiction pulls no punches, while providing a fresh look at age-old issues.

The homecomings they experience range from survival in the wilderness to learning how to open up and depend upon each other. When we read fiction, we’re able to encounter many types of people and a multitude of homecomings. The plots of women’s fiction often take the long way home. They wind, tantalize, puzzle, enchant. But one thing they have in common, a truth we’ve long known, as always, home is where the heart is.

A feisty single mom clashes with an ex-military, macho corporate star at a business retreat in the wild Colorado mountains, where only one can win a huge prize. But when a massive flood imperils their love and survival, they learn the meaning of true partnership.

PUBLICATION INFO: PUBLISHING MARCH 15, 2018, 978-1- 77223-350- 6 Kindle ebook, 978-1- 77223-351- 3 Trade paperback, 240 pages. Amazon or Imajin Books. Ebook and paperback.

CONTACT: Bonnie’s writing has won several awards. Visit her at, Email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn.

This Life Is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, And A Family Undone – A Memoir

By Melissa Coleman
Harper Collins Publishers 2011

Eliot Coleman is a now famous organic gardener, one of the leading experts in his field, considered a father of the organic food movement. When he was twenty-six years old he and his wife Sue took up land in northern Maine. This memoir by their daughter Melissa tells of the ideals and broken dreams that awaited Eliot and Sue in their quest for utopia.

Though sometimes called hippies, Eliot and Sue were not drop-outs. They were extremely hardworking, dedicated to a goal of total vegetarian self-sufficiency. They moved next door to the legendary back-to- the-land advocates Scott and Helen Nearing. Tellingly, the Nearings chose not to have children and saw them as a distraction.

Living in cabins and a house they built themselves, the Colemans survived without running water, indoor toilets, electricity or telephone. They cooked and warmed themselves on an old
cast iron stove. They took on no debt. Working sixteen hours a day, Eliot Coleman was able to turn the acidic soil of Cape Rosier into productive farmland. He did it by rediscovering natural methods of unlocking the nitrogen stored in the forest floor. He used horse manure and compost instead of chemical fertilizer. He plowed and weeded and hoed until the family was able to produce vegetables they then sold at a roadside stand. They survived on less than $2,000 a year.

And in the meantime, Sue gave birth to three daughters.

Today, when cell phones and the internet keep us in constant touch with the outside world, it is hard to believe that in the nineteen seventies Sue Coleman, pregnant or not, would rise before dawn to carry heavy buckets of water from the well, balancing them from a rod on her shoulders. She milked goats, fed the hens and collected eggs and sewed and mended clothes. Before she could bake the daily bread she had to grind the grains by hand. She cooked three meals a day, first for the family, later for all the workers, and she did it without electricity. She had to care for three children on her own because the others were all in the fields. She endured the sight of nubile, athletic young women striding naked through the farm while she felt cast aside, housebound, unable even to smooth her chapped lips with face-cream. In the midst of her sense of unraveling and chaos, a true family tragedy occurred. The fall-out from this loss flows organically, to overuse that word. No other outcome was possible, in Melissa Coleman’s telling.

Melissa Coleman skillfully blends her present self, her adult knowledge, with her childhood memories. Now that she understands the stresses on the family’s life she is unsparing in the honesty with which she chronicles the breakdown of her parents’ marriage and the farm. Yet she does not judge them. Her father’s urge to succeed was unmatched and one imagines that whatever profession he chose, charismatic, driven Eliot Coleman would leave others far behind. Still, the fact remains that his first wife was his true partner in his first and most difficult endeavor to live self-sustainably. As is true for so many women, her contribution and the toll it took is not recognized in the world.

This book is full of wonderful prose pictures, the soft light of summer, fireflies, snow on the fields, the milking of the goats. The world of farming as it used to be several generations back is presented without sugar-coating. It’s a world that another generation of young people is trying to claw back in a valiant attempt to undo climate change and the ravages of industrialization.

It’s no accident that many visionaries follow their dreams single-mindedly, without the distraction of family. Coleman shows us how sticking to the dream without compromise can destroy the hopes of those closest to the dreamer. The title of this book has a triple meaning and is so very apt. It tells us that we, too, can choose to live an intentional life. It refers to the line in the palm of the hand that presumably augers a person’s years of life. And it also alludes to what we must do for the fragile children we bring into the world, that awesome responsibility. One of the unspoken truths in this book is that the modern world, for all its faults, allows children to grow to adulthood because their mothers have time to care for them, freed from unremitting, backbreaking labor.