News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mark Bennett B-Sides

June 6, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Time for surf, sand and a good book

Terre Haute native writes one of the ‘Best Books for the Beach’

I can read a book on the beach.

Until I start sweating. Then it feels like exercise, minus the fitness perks. My brain shifts into neutral as the waves roll in, blissfully washing away footprints in the sand and my inclination to think.

Better put, I enjoy starting a book on the beach, and finishing it later, elsewhere.

Still, for millions of folks, an ocean shore represents the dream location to crack open a good book.

That reality adds luster to an endorsement for a collection of short stories written by a Terre Haute native. Men’s Health magazine published its list of “Best Books for the Beach” in its May edition. The story bore the headline: “11 Reads for a Stress-Free Summer Vacation — Guy-friendly books you can bring to the beach.” It included works by, among others, horror legend Stephen King, Dan Brown of “The Da Vinci Code” fame, and … Josh Green, whose writing career began a couple decades ago at Ben Franklin Elementary School in Terre Haute.

Green’s first book, “Dirtyville Rhapsodies,” impressed Men’s Health reviewer Denny Watkins, as well as other critics, since its release May 14 by Parkgate Press (Dionysus Books).

“It was an absolutely shocking but very welcome surprise,” Green said Tuesday by telephone from Atlanta, where he now works and lives with his wife, Lori, and their 2-year-old daughter, Lola. “It was flattering to be on the list with those names.”

Green’s name has most commonly appeared since 2007 on bylines in the Gwinnett Daily Post, covering the police and courts beat for that newspaper in metro Atlanta. In the meantime, he gradually compiled “Dirtyville Rhapsodies.” In November, he left the Post to focus on magazine writing, promote the book and start a full-length novel as its followup.

This isn’t an overnight success. Books require work.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Green said. “I’ve been pecking away at these [short stories] for five years now, trying to learn to write fiction, and to see people moved by them is really gratifying.”

His book validates those readers’ reactions. Green possesses a sixth-sense knack for writing with all five normally allotted human senses. The scenery and characters — such as “Missing Athena,” one of the 18 stories in “Dirtyville Rhapsodies” — can be seen, heard, smelled, touched and tasted. “Athena” shines with such literary texture. It’s the poignant tale of a father and son soldiering on two years after the unsolved abduction of the wife and mother. The following passage exemplifies Green’s style.

“Athena liked to put the formula in a bowl in front of the baby, let him dip in his hands and catch the runoff with his mouth, a primitive feeding method that struck her as hilarious, her husband not so much. It made a mess of their 1940s bungalow, filling the kitchen with sour fumes. ‘He looks like an animal or something, eating like that,’ Hank said. ‘Like a sea otter.’”

Green’s encounters as a big-city newspaper reporter inspired that vignette and many of the others. “The cops beat at a metro, and a large area, I found as fertile soil,” he said.

Some stories turn funny in places. “There’s lots of comedy involved in criminal behavior,” he said. “Not necessarily homicides and that sort of thing, but there’s lots of humor in some of the stories.”

Green sought, and got, laughs as a writer at Ben Franklin Elementary. The school’s Writer of the Month competition for students called for the winner to read his or her entry in front of the others. When his stories about sharks and puppies won, Green received laughs and pats on the back. Now at age 33, Green says those moments standing before the students and teachers as a third-grader gave him confidence to handle public-speaking engagements in his work.

Following his days at Terre Haute North Vigo High School and Indiana State University, Green later wrote for publications in Greensburg and Indianapolis before moving to the South. He and his family live “in a cool, funky neighborhood next to downtown” Atlanta, where his wife works as a first-grade teacher and Green writes for Atlanta magazine and edits Curbed Atlanta. The city suits them. “It’s swelling with younger, educated people, like a lot of cities are, but it’s really starting to harness that energy in a lot of ways,” he said. “The traffic still sucks.”

Green follows a similar mission in his writing, corralling energy and inspiration amid real-world mundanities, like a backed-up expressway. His transition from journalism to fiction continues as Green crafts his first full novel, the encore to “Dirtyville.” Novel writing, Green quipped, “is like trying to break out of prison using only your face, but I’m trying to stay diligent and bite the nail, as people say.” His goal is to finish the draft of the book by fall.

In the meantime, summertime readers may be flipping through his “Rhapsodies” in increasing numbers as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other publications issue their reviews in coming weeks. Grateful and humbled to already appear on “Best Books for the Beach” roster along with iconic authors, Green said he occasionally reads while oceanside, “but I tend to lean toward a Corona and a little Led Zeppelin on the beach instead.”

Yet another line to leave readers nodding in agreement.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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