Joe Bright Books

Author of The Black Garden

Read Sample

The Black Garden

An American Gothic tale of tragedy, hope, and reconciliation

The sleepy town of Winter Haven holds a secret that has been buried for nearly twenty years. At the heart of the controversy is George O’Briens, who, along with his granddaughter, has been outcast by the community. When Mitchell Sanders, a college student from Boston, arrives to help renovate the O’Brien home, he finds himself entrenched in the family’s dirty little secrets, putting him at odds with his new employers and the citizens of Winter Haven.

Make sure your skeletons are in the closet where they belong.


Meet the Author

While attending university on a fine arts scholarship, Joe spent a lot of time playing the guitar, writing songs, and performing with a band. He won the KFC songwriting contest while in college, and no, he wasn't writing jingles about chicken. He also won a battle of the bands.

To support his artistic pursuits, he took time off from college and worked in the oil fields of Wyoming, where he met some interesting characters he could draw upon in his writing. He also spent a few years with a dance group, touring Canada and Europe.

After receiving his English degree, he went to work as a technical writer for Thiokol, the manufacturer of space shuttle rocket boosters. Yes, they're the ones responsible for the 1986 Challenger disaster, long before Joe worked for them.

Joe later taught English in Honolulu, Hawaii, and Berkeley, California. During this time, he began focusing seriously on his writing. If you haven't yet read The Black Garden, please take a moment and read the sample chapters at the bottom of this page.


Book Clubs

Joe Bright is available to speak about his novel or about writing, as he did with these lovely book clubs from Cypress, California, and Charlotte, North Carolina. If you are outside of the Los Angeles area, Joe would be happy to speak to your group through Skype or telephone.

To book a speaking engagement or interview, please contact Joe via email: Email Joe Bright

Cypress, California Book Clubs

Charlotte, North Carolina Book Clubs


What other Readers say

'The Black Garden' is an enthralling mystery story that will grip readers from the first page to the last.

"A fantastically atmospheric book. You can feel the tension on every page." - Robert Foster, best-selling author of The Lunar Code.

Joe Bright has managed to perfectly blend a large variety of elements to produce a very satisfying read: The dialog is witty and crisp, flowing effortlessly. The prose is beautiful and descriptive, and yet non-effusive; each word obviously carefully chosen. The characters are well developed, and lovable, even with their glaring faults. Humor is a major player in the novel: from joking between characters, to laugh out loud hilarious events.
I would recommend this book to mystery lovers and skeptics alike. It truly has something for everyone, universal appeal. I will definitely be watching for more of Joe Bright.
Lisa Harvey, Books Ahoy!

What is it like to live in a small town where everyone thinks they know what you did? In "The Black Garden", Joe Bright introduces us to a family closed off from the world by rumour and speculation and so embittered by their experience that it is difficult to like them. His affable young protagonist, Mitchell, takes both the reader and the emotionally scarred O'Brien family by the hand and leads them into a brave new world where nothing is as black as it first appears. With strong prose, striking characters and a plot that fairly zips along, Bright has created a scintillating and compelling read that keeps us guessing until the last moment what the truth of the O'Brien secrets may be. Fantastic!
Stef Hall, British Literary Critic

The Black Garden is a good read that shouldn’t be passed up.
Lucille P Robinson, Author/Book Reviewer

The Black Garden kept me on the edge of my seat from the very first page. It has a shocking and abrupt start, which I believed was going to lead onto a murder mystery type narrative. Instead it changes pace completely into what appears to be a rather sedate plot in which a young man has been hired by the O'Briens to clear their house out. However not everything is as it seems. The O'Briens are ostracised by the villagers, but why? Joe Bright has created a superb book; he has managed to perfectly blend a large variety of elements to produce a very satisfying read. The prose is beautiful and descriptive; it flows seamlessly and gives very little away. This keeps the reader guessing as to what it is that the O'Briens are hiding, and why the villagers hate them.

This book is subtle and observant. My favorite thing about it was these occasional moments where the author would make a small observation about a personality trait and I would go "You know what, that's so true! I've seen that in people, the subtlest thing I didn't even notice that I was noticing." This book is great for discoveries like that. I am interested to see more work from Joe Bright.
Valerie Wicks, Author

What an amazing read I can not put it down I'm nearly at the end and I dont want it to finish !! The author Grabs your attention & keeps you intrigued on every single page. This book really should be made into a film!!
Lissa, UK

I really loved this book, it had great characters, a very gripping plot, which evoked all my emotions and in places laugh out loud funny, Joe, I'm a fan!
Catherine Morton, UK


Read more reviews on Amazon

Order The Black Garden

  • Paperback: 244 pages
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1505435218
  • ISBN-13: 978-1505435214
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Also available on Kindle


Excerpt of The Black Garden


August, 1941

Edward Calton was the only person who saw Carolyn O'Brien the day of her suicide. His white milk truck was parked at the curb with its engine still running. He wore a blue and white uniform with matching cap and had just finished putting two bottles of milk on Mrs Steiner's doorstep when he saw Carolyn walking up Cedar Avenue, heading west toward Shady Bluff. It was a little after 5:00 am. The sun was coming up over the horizon and most of the town was still sleeping. According to Edward, Carolyn seemed perfectly at peace with the world, with her purse hanging from her shoulder and a red ribbon tied in her hair.
     "She even gave me a smile and a wave," Edward told the police when they questioned him later that day. "All dressed up like she was heading off to church."
     From Carolyn's home to Grant Baxter's was a forty-minute walk. The purple azaleas and red tulips that lined the home were muted by the morning light, and their fragrance was waiting for the heat of the day to draw it from the blossoms. Birds had already begun chirping in the trees as Carolyn crossed the front lawn and climbed the steps to the porch.
     By now Carolyn had tears in her eyes. From her purse, she removed a handgun that belonged to her father, George O'Brien. He'd bought it the year before, claiming his family needed protection from the Baxters. He also didn't trust most of the religious zealots in town who felt they were acting on God's behalf by persecuting George for doing unmentionable things to his own daughter. In public, George referred to them as the Klueless Klutz Klan. In private, he used less flattering terms.
         Carolyn looked through the dark living room windows and saw nothing but her own reflection. She brushed the tears from her cheeks, straightened a stray strand of hair, and then pressed the barrel of her father's Enfield revolver against her temple. The quiet light of morning streaked through her light brown hair as she pulled the trigger, putting an end to her life and adding fuel to the controversy that surrounded her family.

Chapter One

May, 1958

I sat in my Chevy, parked in front of the O'Brien home, oblivious of Carolyn O'Brien and what she'd done. In fact, I knew nothing about Winter Haven, Vermont, or how its citizens felt about the O'Briens. My only contact with the family came through a telephone conversation I'd had with George two weeks earlier while replying to an ad in the Boston Globe.
     Looking at the house now, I could see why Mr O'Brien had hired me. With its peeling blue paint and lopsided rain gutters, the three-story Victorian screamed of neglect. An unkempt weeping willow stood inside the white picket fence, and tall grass and weeds ran wild through the yard.
     I climbed the steps and knocked at the front door. To its right, a long porch swing hung from heavy chains that had been painted white at one time but now showed a lot of silver. The Platters' The Great Pretender drifted from up the street where a teenager peered under the hood of his car and had his radio turned up loud.
     The door opened. A girl in her late teens or early twenties stepped within the doorframe. She had long, dark blond hair and a quiet manner that could have passed as either shyness or self-confidence. Even without makeup and dressed in a baggy pink T-shirt, she was stunning. Perhaps it was the contrast with the home that caught me by surprise.
     "Hello. I'm looking for George O'Brien," I said.
     Her eyes were blue and aloof, yet within their innocence I saw judgment as she studied my face, and then widened the door and gestured me in without a word.
     The living room was decorated in classic claustrophobia. The pale blue curtains accented the dark blue sofa and lounge chair. The oak end tables and bureau matched the railing along the stairs that led to the second floor. The picture frames on the walls and piano all complemented one another. But once you put the whole picture together, you ended up with the home of a packrat who had collected more than he could accommodate.
     The girl went down a hallway that led to the kitchen and came back with an elderly gentleman, hunched over and supporting himself with a cane. What little hair he had was light red and combed straight back. I was surprised later to learn he was sixty-six. He seemed frailer than most men his age.
     "Mr O'Brien? I'm Mitchell Sanders." I extended my hand. "We spoke on the phone."
     Ignoring my hand, George grunted and shook his head as he walked around me, looking me up and down as if inspecting a cow at auction. The inspector here obviously disapproved of what he saw.
     "You won't do." He shook his head and looked past me to the blond girl, who went to the door to open it for me to leave.
     "But we had an agreement on the phone," I said, looking from the blond back to George. "I came all the way from Boston."
     "You're not what I'm looking for. Thank you for coming."
     "But we had an agreement on the phone."
     "Look at you. You're nothing like what you described on the phone."
     "What do my looks have to do with anything?"
     "What do you think, Candice?" George ignored me and looked at his granddaughter.
     I glanced at one and then the other, certain that they were toying with me, but I could see no humor in their faces.
     "He's very ordinary," said Candice.
     The old man's eyes shifted from me to his granddaughter, questioning whether or not he could trust her evaluation of me. "You brought luggage with you?" said George.
     "It's in my car."
     "You brought enough for three months?"
     I nodded. "Do you want me to get it?"
     "Later." His cane tapped the floor as he moved from the carpeted living room to the linoleum in the hallway. He led me through the kitchen, past an unfinished game of chess, past their family cat, and out the back door.
     The backyard was more horrifying than the front. It had a garden quality, yet was cluttered with odd items such as a bathtub, an old bicycle, a wagon, a table and a lawn mower which, judging by the length of the grass, hadn't been used in years. The tub, wagon, and other items were filled with dirt and had flowers planted in them, a sort of eclectic garden. Almost everything had rusted or turned black and had weeds and flowers twisting among them, giving it a Gothic look, which sounds more charming than it was.
     A cement walkway cut through the right side of the bizarre garden before splitting into two paths, one leading to a gate in the back fence and the other leading to a one-room apartment.
     "I love what you've done with the place," I said, looking around at the clutter.
     George scowled, opened the studio door, and stepped aside. I stared at the clutter of boxes, paper bags, assorted household furniture, a collection of clothes the family had outgrown, documents that no longer served a purpose, and God knows what else.
     "This is where you'll stay. You may want to start by cleaning it up. There's a bed under there somewhere."
     "What should I do with all the stuff?"
     "There are garbage cans out the back gate."
     "You want me to throw it all out?"
     "You told me you're attending Boston University," said George.
     "I'm studying literature," I answered, mistaking George's statement as an indication of interest. "I'm a writer. At least I'm …"
     "Then you should be smart enough to figure out what's garbage and what's not." George fixed his eyes on me and waited for me to nod before returning to the house.
     Looking at the mess, I realized I wouldn't be getting any sleep until I first found the bed, which I assumed was buried beneath the tallest mound of junk. Clearing a path to the windows, I opened the curtains and brought down a shower of dust. From the window I could see George and Candice settling down at the table to finish their game of chess. They were strangers whose lives meant nothing to me other than a paycheck and an escape from Boston. It was my time of innocence, before I knew their histories, before I knew what the name O'Brien represented to this small Vermont town. I looked up at the second story of the house, and then at the attic. I wondered about the rest of the family. Where were Candice's parents and George's wife? Why were this old man and young woman alone in such a big house? At the time, I had no idea how significant those questions were or how much I'd dislike the answers once I learned them.