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New Departures: Write by the Rails Anthology    edited by Dan Verner & et al order for
New Departures
by Dan Verner
Order:  USA  Can
CreateSpace, 2012 (2012)
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

New Departures is a collection of stories, memoirs, and poetry written by a small group of Manassas, Virginia writers who call themselves Write by the Rails. The group is a chapter of the Virginia Writers Club consisting of men and women of all ages, from students to retired people who regularly meet to share and discuss their writing. Starting with their first meeting of 12 writers in August, 2011, the group has grown to over a hundred through Facebook and a website, and the members consist of novelists who published in the standard way, as well as those who have taken publication into their own hands by self-publishing. New Departures features 22 of the members.

Obviously any anthology is going to consist of some works that the reader loves and others not so much. Not knowing what to expect when you turn a page is one of the attractions of any collection, though, as much as the plot that pulls a reader through a work of fiction. The short stories are interspersed with poems and brief memoirs, and I want to highlight a few that I particularly enjoyed reading.

The first story, A Kind of Rescue in the Snow, is a delightfully funny account of a teacher, caught in a traffic jam during a snowstorm, who discovers a student from his school in the car next to him. As they're sitting there, the teacher notices that his student seems to be in a great deal of distress about something, and when he finds out from her that she badly needs to go to the bathroom, he helps her in an interesting way. The lack of any unpleasant undercurrents makes this story wonderful - just a nice guy helping a girl with a problem.

One of the memoirs, Traveling the Irish Rails with Norman, tells about an older man who has realized the dream of a lifetime by chancing upon a job as a tourist guide after he's retired after fifty years from his somewhat boring job laying carpet. Norman loves trains and now is able to travel around Ireland on trains several times a week, entertaining groups of tourists with stories about the various attractions that they travel to on day trips. The author of this story has done a fine job of introducing us to Norman and describing the tour he led.

What I Would Say If I Were the Flight Attendant is a funny take on the talk every flyer is subjected to before a plane takes off. After the requisite information about your seat cushion being a flotation device, for instance, the author adds, 'In the unlikely event we crash into water and don't sink like a rock wrapped in chainmail, grab the seat cushion on your way out of the plane.' One does have this thought when listening to those directions. I think flight attendants, particularly, would love this story, but this frequent flyer did, too.

Some of the poetry is funny, some dark, and none of it rhymes, not that there's anything wrong with that. I believe it's much harder to write good humorous poetry than romantic or sad poems, so I do appreciate that talent, but this collection contains a little of each.

This would actually be a great book to take on a plane trip. It's small, lightweight, and just the right length to keep the reader's attention with natural breaks between selections for telling the flight attendant your choice of beverages or getting up several times to stretch your legs. By the time you get to the flight attendant story, you'll be almost to your destination, so if you're not keen on flying, it won't scare you. Then, when you arrive, you can hand the book to your flight attendant to enjoy, making sure to mention that story. Note that any proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to local non-profits in the Manassas, Virginia area.

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