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Local author lowdown: A gift guide to books by WNY writers

Matt Bindig asked his wife for 10 days of summer vacation. Ten days that he could have on his own, uninterrupted, to work on piecing together the narrative of what would become his first novel. Seven years later, “Nothing Here Is Real” was released.

Bindig had been wrestling with the idea of writing the book since the early 2000s, and had stacks of notes and plot points scribbled on scraps of paper. But as a full-time high school English teacher in Orchard Park with small children at home, he needed to carve out time to flesh out the story. Beginning in 2009, Bindig’s wife Theresa would take the kids out for a daylong outing a few days per month, leaving Bindig behind to work on the manuscript.

“Those marathon sessions over the course of three summers allowed me to complete the first draft,” said Bindig, who spent the next few years editing the manuscript, shopping for a publisher, and preparing the book for its April 2016 print release from local publisher, No Frills Buffalo.

The novel, set in the fictional Western New York town of Apollo, examines the ideas of myth — specifically how our idealized views of the past can interfere with the present.

“To me that’s tremendously dangerous, because when you create those myths, you sand off the edges of the reality of that time,” Bindig said.

“People strive for an ideal that never actually existed.”

In the book, main character Grady Pickett leaves his teaching job in Massachusetts to return to his hometown, just as a local art gallery discovers three paintings from a prominent artist who had a troubling run-in with Grady and his brother when they were children. Confronting family secrets, feelings of guilt and a profound sense of loss, Grady is left to figure out how to reconcile his past to deal with the present.

Although there are strong parallels between Bindig and Pickett – Bindig stayed in the Boston area to teach after earning a graduate degree from Harvard, for instance – the story isn’t autobiographical. There are kernels of Bindig’s history in the story, but even for his closest friends and family members, the most recognizable aspect of the book is Apollo’s resemblance to East Aurora.

“To me, the place in the novel is just as much a character as any of the people. The woods in particular,” he said. “It will have a particular interest to WNY readers. But I wanted someone in Iowa to recognize and feel that same dynamic.”

Once he decided to release the book through No Frills Buffalo, Bindig wanted to root the entire process in Western New York. He found Roycroft artists to provide cover art and design, while local writers Mick Cochrane and Rick Ohler offered blurbs for the back cover.

“It’s a pretty unreal thing,” Bindig said of completing his first novel. “A book is a representation of so much time and energy and thought. It’s a culmination in many ways. The first one will always hold a special place for me.”

“Nothing Here Is Real” is available at local bookstores and for $14.95.

Here are a few other recent books by local authors to add to your holiday shopping list:

“Dirty Tricks in the Garden” by Jackie Albarella ($16.95)

A collection of easy-to-understand and helpful gardening tips from Channel 2’s “2 the Garden” segment host Jackie Albarella. Includes tips on how to get free mulch, saving seeds for next year, and much more. Albarella is an accomplished photographer, filmmaker and author who spends most of her spare time gardening. Her previous books include “The Hotel Lafayette: Restoring Louise Bethune’s Masterpiece” and “The Change (Or How to Make a Fan Out of Almost Anything).”

The EEEK Series by Mary Anne Cappellino ($5.99 each)

EEEK (Enlighten, Empower and Energize Kids) is a little green frog with a big desire to help children create healthy, active lifestyles. The three-book series focuses on the main character, EEEK, as he helps kids learn about the dangers of inactivity, how to set and achieve goals, and how to manage their diet. Each story also includes a section for parents to help them reinforce the lessons of the book. Cappellino is a motivational speaker, wellness consultant and lifestyle coach who also teaches fitness classes at the BAC for Women. She is the author of “The Climb” and “Think Your Body Fit.”

“All the Ways We Kill and Die: An Elegy for a Fallen Comrade, and the Hunt for His Killer” by Brian Castner ($25.99)

Castner, a former explosive ordnance disposal tech who did two tours in Iraq, follows up his 2012 critically acclaimed memoir, “The Long Walk,” with this nonfiction thriller. Upon learning that his friend and colleague has been killed by an IED in Afghanistan, Castner embarked on a manhunt for the bomb maker, revealing disturbing changes to how warfare is conducted. A Western New York native, Castner is a contributing writer to VICE, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Wired, Foreign Policy, Outside, Time and more. He has twice received grants from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting — to cover the Ebola outbreak in Liberia in 2014, and to paddle the 1,200-mile Mackenzie River to the Arctic Ocean in 2016.

“A Spark: The Tim Delaney Story” by John M. Davidson ($19.95)

This nonfiction account shines a light on South Park High School coach Tim Delaney, who guided the Sparks football team to the 2015 New York State Class A Championship. The title capped a magical season and marked the first state title for a Buffalo Public School. Davidson previously released the novel, “The Raising of Leonard Lamply Jr.”

The Prince Warriors trilogy by Priscilla Shirer with Gina Detwiler ($12.99 each)

This adventure series brings to life the invisible struggles of the spiritual realm and uncovers some of the truths from Ephesians 6:10-18. The collaboration between Detwiler and Shirer is aimed at middle-school readers and includes a fictional trilogy, devotional and app. The final book of the set will be released in early 2017. Detwiler, a Buffalo resident, has also authored the historical novel “Hammer of God” and under the pen name Gina Miani, a contemporary novel about her favorite beach on the Jersey Shore, “Avalon.”

“The Garden of Unfortunate Souls” by Eddie Mark ($14.95)

Brilliant debut novel from a Buffalo educator and former city chess champion. The book, set in the Fruit Belt during the 1980s, won the 2016 Phillis Wheatley Award for First Fiction, a prize honoring the best debut fiction by an African-American writer. The book examines issues of corporal punishment, urban violence and their effect on African-American communities. Mark, a former Buffalo Public Schools teacher, is currently a doctoral candidate in educational leadership and policy at the University of Toronto. His previous writings have appeared in the Miami Herald, the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, the College Student Journal, Chess Life Online, the Hart House Review, and the anthology “Bloodlines: Tales from the African Diaspora.”

“Faces and Fingerprints” by Jeff Schober ($12.95)

The third installment of a Buffalo crime series set in the 1980s, the book continues the story of fictional former Buffalo detective Ken Connell as he recovers from a shooting and helps a friend deal with a grisly discovery. A local high school teacher, journalist, and actor, Schober has written eight books, including “Bike Path Rapist” with Detective Dennis Delano, and the sports biography, “Growing Up Gronk” with the Gronkowski family. He has also written four plays and numerous features for The Buffalo News and other local publications.

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