The Write Life

'Ashes' is a gritty departure

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Steven Manchester’s latest novel, "Ashes", is a gritty, realistic look at failed relationships, a departure from his previous seven novels, which the author describes as “tearjerkers.”

“I wanted to step outside my comfort zone,” explains Manchester, who grew up in Westport and now makes his home in Somerset. “My previous work was life the way I’d like to see it, and the new book is life the way it really is.”  
Ashes tells the story of two estranged brothers, Tom Prendergast, a college professor who aspires to rise from his blue-collar roots, and Jason Prendergast,  a rough-and-tumble corrections officer who is comfortable in his own skin. “They are polar opposites, one wants to break out from his roots and the other brother has accepted them,” explains Manchester.

The brothers are forced into a Salem, Massachusetts to Seattle, Washington road trip to dump their father’s ashes as per his request. The road is rocky, and so is their relationship, but along the way the brothers find a way to bond over failed marriages, their aging bodies, and shared memories of their abusive father. “There is a lot of dark humor in this book,” admits Manchester “but there is also a lot for readers to relate to. Who doesn’t have some level of dysfunction in their family?”

Manchester, who comes from a family of two brothers and two sisters has dedicated the novel to his brothers, but he makes clear that their relationship is “nothing like Jason and Tom’s. I love my father dearly and I’m very close to my brothers.”

In a way, Manchester has come full circle with Ashes, returning to the themes he wrote about in his very first book to create the character of Jason Prendergast, a corrections officer.  Manchester maintains that the prison scenes in Ashes are exactly as he remembers them. “The details are just as accurate,” says the author, “but the feelings aren’t what they were the first time.  This time I didn’t have to suffer while writing.”

Manchester's first book, written under the pen name Steven Heberts, "6-5: A Different Shade of Blue" was a non-fiction look at life in prison told from the correctional officer’s perspective.  Manchester spent ten years as an IPS (Inner Perimeter Security) Officer at the Southeastern Correctional Center in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, writing while studying Criminal Justice at Bristol Community College.

Writing 6-5: A Different Shade of Blue was a catharsis for Manchester, who had just returned from serving in Desert Storm and was dealing with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  “It was an escape, a way to get back to who I was before [the war] and to find some peace in my life,” explains Manchester. 

Though the process of writing was a painful one, completing the book was a real wake-up call for Manchester, who had decided to make writing his life’s work. For Manchester the stories are all about forging an emotional connection with the reader. “If there is any theme that runs through the body of my work it is that ‘you are not alone.”

Steven Manchester will be discussing Ashes and his writing process at the LaFayette Durfee House on Sunday, March 5 at 1:30 p.m. The book talk and signing are free and open to the public. The Lafayette Durfee House is located at 94 Cherry Street in Fall River. Visit lafayettedurfeehouse.org for more info or contact the author through his website at stevenmanchester.com.

Laura LaTour is an avid reader and former bookseller. She is currently working as a freelance writer and publicist. Tell her your stories at Laura@LaTourCreations.com.
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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.