“Mr. Rogers for grown-ups.” That’s what Jim Root fired off in an e-mail to his Round Pond, Maine neighbor when he finished, Talk Radio, Ham Martin’s debut novel.
Ham says he had not thought of Vivien, Talk Radio’s protagonist, that way. “That’s wonderful, beautiful really. I’m glad someone else thought of it,” Ham said to his friend Jim, an advertising executive and oil painter, who admired the novel and offered to do the painting that now graces the book’s cover.
Ham has been writing screenplays and novels for 20 years, “mixing it in with work that pays the bills.” He is still pinching himself over the publication by Black Rose Writing of his third novel, the second in a series set on Maine’s midcoast. A veteran of numerous paid writing workshops, festivals and retreats, Ham is quick to share two familiar refrains: One, you had better love the daily, lonely, creative process of writing because fame and fortune are an unlikely outcome; and two, write what you know.
Years ago, Ham hosted a daily call-in program at a radio station in a small city in Connecticut. “I thought I knew that environment well enough to use it as a setting for a novel,” he says. Talk Radio is dedicated to the owners of that station for their commitment to local programming.
Ham thinks he has learned something back then about what makes a talk show work. “The best radio personalities know who they are and what they think. New issues and problems don’t throw them for a loop. For better or worse, there is a lens through which they process everything that comes over the transom. They can do it for hours a day, month after month.”
His fictional talk host, Vivien Kindler, knew from the day she took the job who she was and what she wanted to do with her three hours a day. “Vivien has no call screener. She must take every call and brings to each one her default response: she respects these people. She has not come to Maine to bring a more enlightened view from somewhere else. Vivien believes everyone is interesting and that she just may be able to help the person who has phoned her this morning believe that about themselves. And the conversation may be fun for her listeners, too.”
Talk Radio is distinguished by an unusual narrative structure. More than 90 percent of the book is the live dialogue spoken on the radio between Vivien and her callers. “People love to read dialogue and it makes for a fast read,” Ham says, but his big creative challenge was whether he could wring a plot out of all that radio talking.
“Most talk shows have their “regulars.” JJ’s mom is a caller Vivien inherited from former host Fred. Her loyalty to the departed host makes it hard for her to warm up to Vivien, the new girl. George the Welder wants to talk about stuff from the newspaper—"rip it from the headlines”— that’s what Fred always did. But Vivien wants him to talk about himself. George has a story, a hard one, and tries to chase Vivien off the scent, but as an iconic television star would have said, Vivien “likes him just the way he is.”
In Talk Radio, we also meet a young fugitive who turns his angry father’s hospital bed into the likeness of dad’s beloved lobster boat; Vivien’s affable predecessor is certain he is much-missed by his fans and is plotting a comeback; freshwater lobsters have migrated overland through woods and an orchard to an inland pond; a fella shows off a calico lobster that’s one-in-8 million (“we get one almost every summer”); a man who counts puffins gets sweet revenge on his mockers; high school boys had been in love with the adviser to their poetry club, but one of them actually fell in love with poetry and now, many years later, composes free verse along his delivery route and phones new poems to Vivien, live on the radio.
Graham Greene said of some of his novels that they were written as “entertainments.” Ham says, “That’s good enough for me. I’ve always thought it a high challenge to make people laugh without hurting anyone. I hope the book is funny.”
Ham Martin’s book is funny. It's embedded with humor, with love and with forgiveness. It works as “an entertainment” and more.
. . .
Talk Radio is published by Black Rose Writing and can be purchased from the publisher, Amazon, Barnes and Noble (after January 28) and (best of all) your local independent bookstore.
Enjoy Chapters 1 + 2 of Talk Radio!
©2021 by Ham Martin
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
The author grants the final approval for this literary material.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
PUBLISHED BY BLACK ROSE WRITING
. . .
For Karen and Gary Osbrey who walk the walk at WINY
. . .
The author has endeavored to depict a community of people on the Maine coast who care about one another. If anyone thinks she recognizes herself or her cousin or neighbor, consider it coincidence or that the archetype may simply be in the zeitgeist.
. . .
Ornaments of her nine o’clock rising: the flowered silk kimono and the tri-colored coffee mug with its thumb rest on the handle, gifts from Alan, her hints dropped by dog-earring magazines and catalogs. Thumb rest—rest from what? Vivien thought. None of my digits or any other part of me needs rest—unless maybe my whole self, a rest from me.
She arose because there was no sleep left in her. She sat with her coffee, plunked down in a Maine village of fishing men, sturdy working women, and schoolchildren, by now all well about their business—oblivious of her and she of them. None of the men knew that the guy with the silver German car was not coming back. None of the women envied her three-hundred dollar bathrobe. They had lives.
Above the long runs of white and golden granite countertop were electric outlets galore. A black radio and its skinny remote scarcely competed for space with her espresso machine and four-slice toaster. Yesterday she had discovered embossing in the chrome indicating the slot for one slice.
Sometimes Vivien left the FM music playing quietly all through the day and night. When on this September morning a man from NPR introduced a classical selection, Vivien found herself holding the remote that Alan had mostly managed. It was the human voice that had stirred her attention to the radio, and she put the volume up a little. But right away he was gone and piccolos started in. Somewhere in this thing there are probably people just talking, she thought. Cautiously she hit the AM button. Loud static. She didn’t know the difference between SEEK and SCAN, but she hit another button and everything stopped on loud male voices. One of them said they were on AM 1420 in Frost Pound, Maine. Frost Pound—that’s where she was, too.
The fellow doing most of the talking in a deep, resonant radio voice sounded older. He spoke as though everything was funny and he was bringing the others along for the ride. Vivien moved to a leather tub chair with more coffee and listened in.
. . . a radio show’s theme music fading out . . .
Fred: We’re back, and happy to have you along for the third hour of the WNWT Talk Show, where yours truly, Fred Boyland, daily from nine till noon, rips from the headlines the news of the day. I hope our debate in the second hour this morning shed some light on the bond issue for the Frost Pound Consolidated School District to pay for temporary classrooms at the Middle School. We can take that up again on Monday morning, if it is your pleasure. After all, this is the show guided and directed by you, the most informed listeners anywhere on the AM dial. But right now, okay, marvelous, here he is, out of his green scrubs. Grab another cup of coffee, at home or in your car, and, dear callers, if any of you are idling in the line at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, a glazed stick for yours truly can be dropped off here at the station. Doc Fontaine, great to see you, yeah, right there, put that headset on, you know the drill, it’s time for our weekly feature, Focus on Wellness, brought to you by your preferred healthcare destination, Frost Pound Regional.
Dr. Fontaine: Good to be with you, Fred. Can’t believe it’s been a week. We had hoped to send someone over from the blood bank, but they couldn’t make it, so I’m afraid you’ve got me for a second week in a row.
Fred: We’ll muddle through, though I had some wonderful universal donor stories lined up. No, we’ll take anyone from our community’s number one institution.
Dr. Fontaine: Number two, maybe. You, Fred, are number one, everyone says so, and now I learn you’re O negative. Are there more surprises? How many years have you been—
Fred: —19 years, no, cut it out. Please cut it out. An institution—thank you, Doc. And perhaps we should keep the universal donor thing between us boys. Word gets out and everyone will want a little of Fred Boyland’s blood. No—it’s a long story—you’re nice to ask. I was in a very successful life insurance practice with my brother-in-law up until the eve of the millennium, and then, hey, didn’t we all want to try something different in the new century? Ha—
Dr. Fontaine: I finally got married.
Fred: —and, well, I guess something just clicked, and this little phenomenon that became Ripped from the Headlines, officially billed as the WNWT Talk Show, took off. An institution? I don’t know, I’ll leave that to others. Okay, here’s what I’m talking about, Doc, we’ve got a call. Hello, you’re on the air.
Male Caller: Am I on?
Fred: You’re on Ripped from the Headlines with Fred Boyland and Doctor Armand Fontaine. Who’s calling?
Male Caller: You know my voice, Fred. It’s me. We talk every day.
Fred: You’re on Ripped from the Headlines, what have you got? Give it to us.
Male Caller: My wife and I were down on the interstate this morning and I saw something that gave me an idea. Down near the New Hampshire border, there’s a place selling huge prefabricated roof trusses, you’ve seen it. Roof trusses are not rocket science, you know.
Fred: I like it. Roof tresses—they’re what?
Male Caller: You know, Fred. Where the rafters and the ceiling joists are all put together in a big triangle, all braced and everything—roof trusses.
Fred: Got it, roof trusses, I like it.
Male Caller: Just two-by material and a lot of plywood gussets. Well, the gussets are mostly sheet metal nowadays—we always made them from plywood scraps. Anyway, we’ve already got all these modular classrooms at the Middle School, right? Which I’m dead set against, as you know, middle school I mean. I’ve phoned in about that before. In my time, we had elementary, then junior high, which was seventh and eighth, then if you wanted to stay in school you went up to the high school, which was tough and more like what college is today. So, why couldn’t we squeeze a few more modulars in among the ones that are already there, that’s if the bond issue passes, which I oppose—I’ve been in those modulars and they’re damn nice—and we get some of those trusses and knock together a big gable roof—volunteers could probably do it on a weekend, a little brickwork, you could make it pretty, and you’d have a new middle school.
Fred: I like it, George. I like it a lot. Call in Monday and we can kick this around. Right now, we’re with Doctor Fontaine and our Focus on Wellness feature. I wonder what they’re asking for those trusses?
Male Caller: Can’t be much, snow’s been gathering on them for three years that I know of. Hey, I’ll call Monday. (woman’s voice in background) Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it, Hon. My wife’s here, she sends her best, Fred.
Fred: Don’t go anywhere. We’ll be right back . . .
. . . advertising . . . we’ve got to move two hundred pickups by the end of the month and no reasonable offer will be refused, yes, you heard it right . . .
Fred: We’re back with our very special guest, Dr. Armand Fontaine, with whom your host has been quarreling off-air about the definition of an institution.
Dr. Fontaine: That last caller’s wife seemed to know you.
Fred: We were in high school together, which used to be like college, Latin, all that stuff—very rigorous. And George, the caller, was sweet on my wife. Are you married, Doc?
Dr. Fontaine: Yes, I’m married, but I rarely speak of it, sort of personal, if you get my drift. Getting back to wellness—we thought we’d talk to your audience about blood pressure. What it is, why we check it, the risks attending hypertension, what the average man or woman can do if their blood pressure is too high, all that good stuff.
Fred: This blood pressure thing’s all the rage now, isn’t it? Last week some volunteer ladies—I suppose they must have had some kind of training—these gals were set up in the bank trying to take everyone’s blood pressure. You know what I’m talking about, Doc? You go in to quickly deposit your paycheck and there they are, calling you by your name and making eye contact, “Hey, Fred, would you like your blood pressure taken?” We’re seeing lots of this pushing us to get healthy, live-forever stuff.
Dr. Fontaine: I concede that we may seem ubiquitous with our wellness agenda.
Fred: Not just that, but it’s everywhere. It’s the same with the flu shots, and the informational talks in the town halls, and then you see your neighbor holding those little dumbbells when she’s power walking past your house—have you seen that, Doc? And senior discounts on everything. I can’t keep up.
Dr. Fontaine: I think you sell yourself short, Fred. You’re getting a lot of information out, just with the Focus on Wellness segment. So, did you have them take your blood pressure—the other day at the bank?
Fred: Oh, God no, I couldn’t do it, right there in a public place. Hey, look, there’s Fred Boyland from the radio, taking his sport coat off and rolling his sleeve up, and the bank tellers gumming up their line gawking at me, everyone thinking Fred Boyland is making a show of what other people do all the time—thinks he’s a celebrity.
Dr. Fontaine: Can I guess that you are in your sixties, Fred? You’ll forgive me. Being a doctor of internal medicine, I have had hundreds of patients and you get to where you know, within a few years, how old everyone is.
Fred: It’s so true. Facelifts, hair transplants, make-up, tanning. They can’t hide age, can they? No.
Dr. Fontaine: Have I offended? Speculating about your age? I apologize.
Fred: Mercy no—you’d probably be way off. So, what did the hospital people think we would focus on today, sending you over instead of the Draculettes?
Vivien reassured herself that she had not from birth known what ubiquitous means. He’s fun, this Fred, in his way, she thought. She could remember a man at a carnival in Springfield when she was little who guessed everyone’s age and weight. The middle school stuff was dreary, but maybe, she considered, because she didn’t know any of the background.
It was the moments when the people talking on the radio most seemed themselves that she liked. She knew about talk radio, knew it was a companion for millions of people who were alone. She got up and wrote on a Post-It, 1420—in case the fancy radio decided to take her back to FM where she belonged. Vivien thought she might listen to Fred again sometime. Tomorrow, or the next weekday, probably. She would check to see what day of the week this was. On this morning, though, she just listened on.
Dr. Fontaine: I have with me something pretty terrific, Fred. It’s small and inexpensive and can save lives. We thought—I confess that ahead of time I discussed this with your boss, Mr. Hudson—that if Fred Boyland learned to take his own blood pressure, your example—
Fred: —Ha, that institution thing again.
Dr. Fontaine: Well, yeah, as an institution you might just inspire thousands of other people to monitor their blood pressure.
Fred: Whoa, what are you going to do with that creepy contraption?
Dr. Fontaine: What do you say? Can we take Fred Boyland’s blood pressure live on the radio?
Fred: A live radio first, no doubt. Ha, what do I have to do?
Dr. Fontaine: I will attempt to describe the little routine for the benefit of your listening audience, but the directions on these blood pressure cuffs that you can buy in Walgreens are all pretty clear, and your doctor, or physician’s assistant, can check folks out on their particular device. It’s possible to frighten yourself with a false high reading if you’re doing it wrong. Okay, so roll up that left sleeve like you didn’t the other day in the bank.
Fred: You’re making fun of the host. It’s okay, comes with the territory.
Dr. Fontaine: (sounds of Velcro attaching and unattaching) So it could have gone on two different ways, but you want the rubber hose leading this way down toward your hand, the cuff just above the bend of your inner elbow, snug, but not tight; I think you could do this yourself next time, don’t you think?
Fred: I’m pretty fit, wouldn’t you say? We do all our own yard work. Would you say I’m overweight, maybe just a little, not bad for an old guy? Can you guess my age?
Dr. Fontaine: Are you in your sixties, Fred?
Dr. Fontaine: I was way off. We’re going to hit this button—
Fred: Seventy-two. You’re surprised. Whoa, it’s like a boa constrictor, attacking Fred Boyland on live radio. (A small motor sound attends a constricting of the wrapping on Fred’s arm, and then it stops.)
Dr. Fontaine: Okay, the worst part’s over. We’re going to have a reading in a few seconds, it’s doing its thing (then, several seconds of silence).
Dr. Fontaine: Okay, so that’s how you do it. Maybe your listeners would like to talk about how we control blood pressure, just in a generic way, or any other questions about health, medical matters. I am at their disposal.
Fred: We need to take a break for AP network news, followed by the local news, but we will be back.
. . . news, ads, bumper music potting up . . .
Fred: We’re back, and I see we have a call. Good morning, Caller, you’re on Ripped from the Headlines on the WNWT Talk Show with Fred Boyland. Do you have a question for Dr. (pause) Armand Fontaine from a group practice, is that right, Doc, you’re in a group practice, at Frost Pound Regional? Go ahead, you’re on the air.
Male Caller: Am I on?
Fred: You’re on the air.
Male Caller: Only thing is, even with a volunteer crew, are they doing it this weekend—I’m away at my daughter’s in Albany this weekend, but I could help next weekend, but even with a whole gang of guys, you’re still going to need a crane to lift those trusses in place, and that costs money.
Fred: Thank you, Caller. I expect you are right. We’ve moved on to our wellness feature, have you got a question for Dr. Gauthier—(click)
Dr. Fontaine: Fontaine.
Fred: We’ve lost him, but we’ve got another call, excellent, you’re on the air with Fred and Dr. (a hesitation), go ahead, you’re on the Talk Show.
Woman Caller: Am I next, the lady that answered said I was on deck.
Fred: You’re up; what have you got?
Woman Caller: So, what was it?
Fred: What was what?
Woman Caller: What’s your blood pressure, Fred? Everybody’s sitting here wondering. What did the little machine say? There’s two numbers, like with cholesterol, a big one and a smaller one, and your heartbeat. Look at the gadget you’ve got there, I think it says pulse, the third number at the bottom.
Dr. Fontaine: Thank you for calling, ma’am. Mr. Boyland’s blood pressure is not so important as—
Woman Caller: —Mr. Boyland? It’s Fred. Fred’s on all morning and JJ and I listen to him fifteen hours a week and you set this whole thing up today to check Fred’s blood pressure, and now you’re saying it’s not important.
Fred: Thank you, Caller. Thank you, and thank you and JJ the Jack Russell—this woman has a terrific little dog, Doc— terrific breed the Jack Russell—had one myself years ago, thank you for your loyalty, Caller. So, Doc, what was it? I think the top number was one eighty-something and I couldn’t see the second number (silence).
Doctor Fontaine: (silence) In addition to monitoring our BP, we should annually order blood work for cholesterol counts, oh, and blood sugar. Our American diet is leading to an unfortunate epidemic of diabetes and pre-diabetes, not to mention neuropathy. We could do a whole program just on neuropathy ...
Talk Show theme music rising . . .
Male Voice: Good morning, good morning, and welcome to the Monday edition of the WNWT Talk Show. This is WNWT news director, Rob Auclair, and I will be your host today. This is the talk show where for three hours every weekday morning you, the callers, set the agenda. I can certainly get us started. As I noted in the local news at the top of the hour, the Frost Pound Selectmen will open bids tonight for the purchase of a fourth snow plow. If the past is a predictor of the future, we may be in for an interesting evening. So, The Gazette had a piece in over the weekend quoting members of the taxpayers’ association that were not very kind to the sitting Second Selectman, Mindy Tatem, who is new in town and new to the Board—okay, I think we have a call, if I press the right buttons (screeching feedback), sorry about that, this console is a little different from what I have in the newsroom—there we go, good morning Caller, you’re on the Talk Show, hold on, I apologize, okay—
Male Caller: —the trusses for the Middle School—
Rob: Hold on, I couldn’t hear you there for a minute, putting up the volume in this studio is a toggle deal and I was looking for a pot—it’s like a big round dial—we hear you well now, sir, go ahead.
Male Caller: We’ve got a shoestring operation here with the Talk Show, don’t we? Fred told me one time—my wife and I ran into him in town. It had to have been ten years ago anyway. The set-up for the Talk Show is not like in the big city stations. Fred is the host, and is also his own engineer and his own producer. He lines up the guests, screens the calls, minds all the controls, all for not very much money. I don’t know how much Fred gets paid—I knew back then—but I don’t know what he’s getting now. You probably don’t either.
Rob: No, but if I told you, I’d have to kill you.
Male Caller: That’s a little rough. Anyway, Fred asked me to call today at the top of his show to discuss the proposal to erect pre-fab trusses over the temporary classrooms at the Middle School, and I’m sorry I don’t have any cost estimates yet.
Rob: I’m sure that’s not a problem, Caller—
Male Caller: I’m one of the regulars.
Rob: Thank you, Caller. I think what I am saying is that it may be premature to be talking about cost estimates for roof trusses. I’ve been reading through the fine print in the bond issue referendum this morning and the option for one more temporary classroom, which would be re-sold in due course, is only a small part of the overall project. I want to clear that up, you understand, that the bond issue is for a whole new building, not supplementing what’s there temporarily.
Male Caller: Well, I talked to a lot of people around town over the weekend and putting a roof over the temporaries we’ve already got over there is an idea that has a lot of support—a lot of support. The Building Committee and the Board of Ed are going to have to explain to the people why those roof trusses down in Ogunquit should go to waste before they can ask the taxpayers to spend millions we don’t have for a whole new building.
Rob: But, aren’t I correct that there’s nothing about roofing over the temporary classrooms anywhere in the proposed language?
Male Caller: Well, they’ve been talking about it on Ripped from the Headlines with Fred Boyland, so it’s on the table. Is Fred going to be on today? Is he running late or something?
Rob: I’m hosting the Talk Show today, and I think probably tomorrow—
Male Caller: —I’ll phone in on Wednesday. Fred has always been supportive of roofing over the temporary classrooms. I’ll talk to him when he’s in.
Rob: We’ve got another call, let me just (pause) bring it up. Good morning; this is Rob Auclair on the WNWT Talk Show.
Woman Caller: I’ve been holding for a long time. Fred never left me holding that long. Where is he, Fred?
Rob: I’m hosting today, ma’am. Did you want to comment on the issues of the day?
Woman Caller: You know, that’s really not very nice. It’s not the way I was brought up in the Catholic Church, but I guess everything has changed and maybe you don’t even know what I’m talking about because everything has changed. I’m sure you are a nice young man. You sound young.
Rob: I am 31.
Woman Caller: I’m also a yes vote on the proposal to roof over the temporaries, but you can’t make me talk about that this morning, because Friday some doctor took Fred’s blood pressure on the air, and then they didn’t have the decency to tell what Fred’s blood pressure was—took his blood pressure then jumped right onto something else, and it wasn’t the listeners’ idea to take Fred’s blood pressure, was it? No, it wasn’t. It was just some kind of publicity stunt for the hospital, which I hear is probably closing. The government is against the small hospitals and wants us all to drive to Portland or Augusta. That’s going to be really wonderful for girls in labor, isn’t it, except maybe it doesn’t matter because they’ve pretty much cut out labor, which was part of God’s perfect design. That’s the way I was brought up, but it’s all Caesarean sections now. Do you think, young man, that God meant for all the beautiful new lives to start out that way—with a knife? Isn’t that hard to imagine? You probably don’t even know what I’m saying—everything has changed so much. Maybe you’re what they call a lapsed Catholic. You have a French name, so maybe you were born in the church and left it like all the young people do.
Rob: I think you have a good idea for a future program. The statistical increase in C-sections versus vaginal deliveries.
Woman: I don’t think we need to be so graphic, do you? Fred never speaks that way. So, you keep changing the subject. What is Fred’s blood pressure and where is he?
Rob: I can only tell you I am hosting for a couple of days, and the previous host’s blood pressure is his own personal business.
Woman: You people should have thought of that before you wired him all up on live TV. The previous host? It was Fred, what do you mean, the previous host?
Rob: Radio, I’m sure you meant radio.
Woman: Wired him up on radio, radio-TV, what difference does it make? If it’s personal you should have thought of that before.
Rob: (long pause) Thank you for weighing in, ma’am. I expect you are right that it was ill-considered.
Woman: Where is Fred, is he back on Wednesday? Is he all right, Fred thought the blood pressure machine said 180. Do you know if Fred’s a smoker? I can’t picture Fred as a smoker.
Rob: The WNWT Talk Show is alive and well. You don’t need to worry about that.
Woman: You are being very unkind, young man. What about Fred, Fred Boyland? He’s a human being, isn’t he? Maybe everything’s changed and we don’t have to treat Fred like a human being.
Rob: We need to get to the important issues of the day. I believe a new host for the Talk Show will be sought. I think as far as Mr. Boyland is concerned, the management would like me to tell you that we have moved on. We have moved on.