Your Destination is on the Left–An Inspirational Story For All Artists

Jul 16, 2018 by

Your Destination is on the Left

Friday I had the pleasure of reading Lauren Spieller’s debut novel, Your Destination is on the Left. I’m not much of a YA reader, but I have to honestly say I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. Like I said, I read it in one day. It was that good.

And what made it so good to me? 

The writing is smooth and easy-going. The story is easy to follow. But there is something more. The story is a pep-talk of sorts, even for someone my age. Let me explain.

The Artist’s Way

The main character in Spieller’s book, Dessa, is a young girl trying to get into college to go to art school. She thinks that’s what’s going to make or break the difference in her being a successful artist. I’m not going to take anything way from having a formal education. Lord knows I have three daughters I want to each earn college degrees so they have the best chance of being successful in this modern world. My degree in political science from Auburn has helped me along the way, too.

But I, too, am an artist and I’m also a writer. As a matter of fact, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to being a novel writer. Presently, I have three different genre first drafts written, and I have one ready for querying. So far I’ve sent out 65 queries. To date, I have 21 rejections (number 21 coming this morning) and I have two agents who have asked for more (a request for a full came Saturday!!) and are considering offering representation.

It’s those 21 who have said no who have made me feel like Dessa and question myself with such self-doubt at times it’s almost been stifling. With each new rejection email I receive, even at 52, I feel worse, I think, because I don’t have as long left in life as she does to make the big time with my art.

So reading about a young girl who kept going in the face of adversity, I needed to read that. I needed the kick in the pants this book provides from her mentor, the woman she takes an internship with, who believes in her and encourages her to keep going. Dessa also has friends and a love interest who do the same. In many ways, I have those, too.

But what Spieller captures in her book is the inherent loneliness artists feel inside as we scrape like hell to break out of our shells and fight to prove to the world that our art, our writing in my case, is something worthy of standing on its own–if only we can get it in front of the right people/person at the right time and in the right place. As I wrote in a previous blog post, that’s pretty darned hard and discouraging. But it has to be done. It’s part of the process of making art better and developing one’s sea legs. It’s part of maturing as an artist and in many cases, learning how to do things better.

I Recommend Your Destination is on the Left

That is what makes Your Destination is on the Left such a wonderful and inspiring read for anyone, regardless of age, regardless of profession or mission in life. This book takes its readers on a journey, an honest journey through life and offers hope. Something that seems so remote and lacking in this day and age of ugly partisan fighting and arguing via social media and politics.

Lauren Spieller’s book was a great read and I encourage you, no matter where you are in a life journey, discouraged or encouraged, to pick up this book and read it, absorb it, and use it to lift yourself up. That’s what I got out of it and I am certain you will, too.

DISCLOSURE: I met Lauren Spieller during the DFWCon in early June 2018 and pitched her The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. She is one of the 65 agents I have pitched and queried. In all fairness to her and anyone else reading this, I thought I need to mention that. She was on my agents to pitch list well before DFWCon. After reading her book, I have even more respect for her, regardless of whether she becomes my agent or not. She is a talented writer and her book is a good read. 

Your Destination is on the Left is listed as number 85 my Reading List of 101 books I’m reading to become a better writer.

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The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

Jul 2, 2018 by

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

This weekend I finished reading The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut. I enjoyed her book. It made me think a lot about about chance and choice, the two pivotal points that intertwine the two main characters of the book.

Imagine the person you had a crush on in high school, the one who never paid you any attention, but they filled your most every thought and desire. And then years later, you’re working as a prison psychologist and they’re bought in for murder.

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut

The Captives by Debra Jo Immergut is a great read and one that will have you thinking about chance and choices.

Now the first thing that should happen is the shrink should never see the inmate for ethical reasons. But this is fiction. Or maybe it’s a close parallel to reality. The doc wants to find out why the inmate committed the murder. IF the murder was committed by the inmate, after all, that didn’t seem like it could happen in high school.

And of course, the inmate doesn’t remember the doc, but all of a sudden has this guy bending over backwards to help.

There, you have chance. The rest of the book are the choices the two make because of the chance situations.

The Passage of Time

Debra Jo has written for years. In fact, she said the other night during a signing at Interabang Books in Dallas that she began writing the book almost 20 years ago and queried it and got nowhere with it. So she put it in the drawer and let it breathe while she had a life. She got married. She had a son. The story itself matured, as did her writing.

So many years later, she revised the story and made some changes, queried, and found an agent for the book.

The rest is history.

The Captives

You will enjoy reading The Captives. The writing is good. The tension is steady and there are good twists in the story.

Reading it also reminded me of Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen, (BTW Ottessa will be at INTERABANG BOOKS in DALLAS on JULY 21) which I read two weeks ago. It, too, is about a person working in a prison and involves a shrink/educator. But the ending is far different.

Debra Jo is an excellent writer and encourager. We talked about my present plight. I’m querying for my second written of three novels, The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club, and as she signed my book, reminded me that the journey along the path to getting published is key. And even as I write this post, another rejection just came in. But I forge on. I simply must.

You can order your copy of The Captives from Interabang Books, by visiting their store, or of course, via Amazon, but if you’re local in Dallas, I encourage you to visit the store. You’ll love the people there and the atmosphere is wonderful. When I am published, I will be having signings there, as sure as the sun comes up in the east.

(What else have I read lately? Here is my Reading List on my way to my first 101 counted and reviewed books….)

 

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A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

Jul 1, 2018 by

A Tree’s Life At McDonald’s — Billions and Billions Served

My local McDonald’s has murdered two huge trees–one because a branch fell on a car. The other, guilt by association. I took pictures of the carnage in yesterday’s post. Today I counted the rings of one of the trees and then compared the McDonald’s service history to the growth of the tree.

Do you know how many customers it took McDonald’s to serve for that tree and it’s accomplice to reach their lofty heights? As long as it took for McDonald’s to serve “Billions and Billions.” As long as it took for McDonald’s to quit saying how many billions of customers they have served.

From my counting of the rings, the tree sprouted in 1965. McDonald’s served 1 billion customers that year.

Murdered by McDonalds

The timeline of McDonald’s Billions and Billions served vs. how long it took for this tree to grow–they’re almost the same.

In 1970, the tree was five years old, McDonald’s had served 5 billion people. By then, almost the number of people on the planet.

In 1980, 50 billion served by McDonald’s and the trees kept rising toward the heavens.

In 1990, 80 billion served and you can see the enormous growth of the tree.

In 1994, McDonald’s reached their 100 billion served mark and stopped counting.

But to be fair, somewhere around 1995 or so, the tree caught up to that 1 billion it’d missed out on–McDonald’s had reach 1 billion by 1963, two years before it began growing.

Then came the new millennium.

Then add the spring of 2018 when a branch fell on a car in a parking of a McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas.

After providing shade to customers at the east end of the parking lot of this store, a branch fell from a healthy tree. One of two tall trees standing majestically on the lot separating it and a dry cleaners.

Men showed up one day with a wood chipper. One of the operators looked like he didn’t know what he was doing, like he’d lose an arm himself in the contraption.

Two weeks later, the two trees, after McDonald’s had serve an untold number more customers, the beautiful, green crowns of the trees were gone. All that remained were the mutilated trunks of the trees, lying there like dead bodies one might see in old Civil War photos.  And remaining next to them, their stumps, which tell the story above.

McDonald’s murdered these two trees because a branch fell on a car. Both living, vivacious and healthy trees that had grown up with the franchise and served the environment of Mesquite, Texas, like McDonald’s has served people around the world.

But one branch fell and that was enough for McDonald’s to kill two trees. Two healthy trees.

The Overstory

In Richard Powers’ novel, The Overstory, a character goes and counts the rings of a fallen tree just as I have done. He does it because he, too, is sickened that people so carelessly murdered a tree. At least in the case of the story, the tree was harvested for the wood it would yield. In this case, the tree was chopped up. There is a nice mulch bed, but the rest was mutilated it appears. A total waste of 50 or more years of growth from two trees because someone was too lazy to do a little maintenance on two trees, provide some shade, and keep two viable, living trees in the ground.

The Overstory is a great book about the life of trees. Reading it has changed my perspective about trees. Had I not read it, I’m not sure I’d be this upset about what McDonald’s has done. But I am sickened by what McDonald’s has done because it was nothing short of murder. As they say in the book, trees are part of us. And part of all of us died when McDonald’s murdered these two trees the way they did.

The Rings Tell The Story

Here’s the tree rings.

Billions Served by McDonald's

The rings of one of the trees murdered by McDonald’s in Mesquite, Texas because a branch fell on a car.

 

 

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My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

Jun 30, 2018 by

My Local McDonald’s Murdered Two Trees

Last week I finished reading Richard Powers’ The Overstory and it has changed my view about trees, forever. This morning, I took clothes to my dry cleaners at the corner of Belt Line Road and Cartwright in Mesquite, Texas. Actually, they’re not on the corner, a McDonald’s is. Last week, when I was dropping off clothes, I observed two guys who looked like they were determined to cut off their arms shoving in a branch into a tree mulcher. Today I returned to find that two viable, huge trees that were at least 40-50 feet tall had been cremated and cut to shreds.

McDonalds Trees

What remains of two huge trees McDonald’s MURDERED after a branch fell on a car parked in their lot.

I was in shock. The trees had full crowns of green shady leaves. When I asked the girl at the dry cleaners what had happened, she said a branch fell on a car.

I went into the McDonald’s, which I seldom do, and the checkout girl said the same thing. “It was a mess,” she said.

So instead of trimming heavier branches on the tree where the branch fell on the car, THEY CUT THE WHOLE TREE DOWN AND CUT A SECOND ONE JUST LIKE IT DOWN, too.

The Corporate Line

Now I get corporate liability and the canned answer McDonald’s will offer. if they respond at all.

“We cut the tree to ensure the safety of our customers, our first priority next to good, healthy food. The safest thing for us to do was to remove the two trees.”

That’s a lot of bunk. And it appears to be the line that’s been sold. A branch fell on a car, more could fall on other cars, we can’t have that.

The ‘Every Tree Is Entitled to One Branch Falling’ Legal Theory

I guess they were using the theory that every tree was entitled to one branch falling, like every dog is entitled to one free bite.

But these were two HEALTHY trees. Two trees with HUGE crowns, and they were healthy. In all likelihood, the one branch that feel got whipped around in a recent strong wind and fell.

Maybe McDonald’s could have done more to trim over-extended branches.

McDonald's Trees

The trunks of two trees McDonald’s MURDERED because a branch fell on a car in their lot.

But instead, my local McDonald’s murdered two trees.

MURDERED.

What’s worse, is they clearly didn’t do anything with the actual wood from the tree except cut it up.

Pictures are included of what’s left of the trunks.

The day the men started shredding that branch, I had no idea they were going to cut the whole tree down, let alone BOTH trees. There was absolutely no visible reason for them to do so.

THE OVERSTORY

Now I do not regard myself a tree hugger, no not one bit, but I know waste when I see it and this was an abomination. This was a crime against nature. You want to get all uppity about what kind of beef vendors use and whether they’re using GMOs or letting the cows roam free, I don’t give a hoot about that nonsense.

But Richard Powers’ book, The Overstory, changed my view of the world of trees and made me more sensitive when a corporation like McDonald’s does a dumbass thing like cut down two viable trees. No, murders, them and wastes their resources because a branch fell on a car.

McDonald’s. This was wrong. It’s going to take years to replace what you did. YEARS. I understand the liability and minuscule payout your insurance has taken because a branch fell on a car. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t equal out to killing two healthy trees. It just does not.

 

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The Overstory – A Great Book

Jun 28, 2018 by

The Overstory – A Great Book

Between my love affair for the woods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Mariposa Grove of Yosemite, (really all the trees of Yosemite) I have long had a thing for trees. But Richard Powers’ novel The Overstory, I must say, has me looking at them in a whole new light. This 501-page book is wonderful and a really great work of art. I highly recommend you read it.

The book is divided like a tree, into sections–root, trunk, crown and seeds. At first, I wondered where the vignettes were going, then in the trunk I began to smile with glee. Things began to make a lot of sense and the magic of storytelling really began to unfold.

The Overstory

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a beautiful book and one of the best written works I have ever read.

The Overstory is an effort to help remind we the living that trees are critical to the future of our success as humans. And while environmentalists rant and rave about how killing the trees is killing the planet, part of what Powers writes suggests that when we do away with what is keeping us alive as humans, trees and forests, the things that have been around for millions of years, long before us, will rejuvenate. Those that we kill off may not, but then again….

Stories

There are some great quotes in the book I just had to pull and share that won’t give away the book. Really good lines that are very true to heart.

“And what do good stories do? … They kill you a little. They turn you into something you weren’t.” pg 412

Amen to that. And that’s what reading this book did to me. At the end I felt a little sick in my heart. I think that was the grieving part I felt. An unsettled anger from reading what happened to the characters.

“Noah took all the animals two by two, and loaded them aboard his escape craft for evacuation. But it’s a funny thing: He left the plants to die. He failed to take the one thing he needed to rebuild life on land, and concentrated on saving the freeloaders!” pg 451

Powers is clearly a science guy. I don’t know how spiritual he is. But what’s clear about this, what Noah didn’t do, is things worked out well regardless. Trees and grasses and all that worked out well even if Noah didn’t take them on the ark. That says something about the staying power of Nature, does it not? The character who said that in the book, I’m not sure understood that point. Maybe that was the point she was making, that plants and particularly trees, they have a power we do not understand and they are going to be around and are going to adapt to this world despite what we do.

“The year’s clocks are off by a month or two.” pg 452

He dabbles in the climate change, global warming argument here. I won’t get into that briar patch.

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” pg 488

Richard Powers presents some great arguments in this book by telling a masterful story. The problem with helping spread the word of this story is that it’s 500 pages long. Few people are going to dedicate that long to reading something that long in this day and age. But those who do, I promise, are in for a treat.

I loved this book. Someday, I may read it again.

The writing is rich and colorful. When characters spend 10 months on a platform in a great redwood out west living 20 stories above the forest floor, you feel like you’re doing the same. His writing is superb. I highly recommend this book. I just wonder, if the intent was to move people to action, if it had to be so long. But as a writer, don’t know where I could or would cut a single thing.

The writing is poetry and it was a story worth telling from beginning to end.

 

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My Reading List Last Week

Jun 4, 2018 by

My Reading List Last Week

Last week my reading list included Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, his first novel, The Torrents of Spring, one of Hadley Richardson Hemingway’s favorites by Henry James, The Figure in the Carpet, and the incomplete novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Last Tycoon.

At present I’m reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.

A Farewell to Arms is a lovely book, a simple love story about a wounded soldier. An American in Italy during World War I who fell in love with an British nurse. He met her before getting wounded, and then once wounded, their affair really takes off. The book is semi autobiographical. Hemingway really did get hurt and really did fall for a nurse and once he got back to the states she wrote him and broke it off. Hem intended to marry the woman who was several years older than him. The story is very well composed and a must read for any Hemingway fan. Plus it is marked as great American literature.

A Farewell To Arms

Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms is still a wonderful read in 2018.

The Torrents of Spring took an afternoon to read. This is a book Hemingway wrote in a few week’s time and is a satirical attack on Sherwood Anderson’s Dark Laughter. I will tell you, it is much easier to read than Dark Laughter. And that is in part the point. Anderson uses a lot of lofty language that is often hard to follow. I’m about 70 pages into Dark Laughter and have wandered down the Mississippi River with its main character and I honestly don’t know where we are going. The Torrents of Spring made fun of the Anderson book, though I am certain I missed half of the attack.

Henry James’ The Figure in the Carpet is an interesting read. A critic has written a review of a famous author’s book and is presented to the author who says he really doesn’t read reviews. But he reads this one, and goes on to tell the critic that he has a theme that runs through all of his works but it is clear that the critic has missed it. The critic begs for the author to part with this secret and he tells him to look further. This sets the critic on a mad chase to figure out what it could be. He has two friends who join him in this quest and finally, one of the two says he has figured it out. But before he can reveal it to the critic, he is killed in a car wreck. But he is said to have told it to the other, but she says she will not part with the secret. She marries another man, and then dies later. The critic befriends the man and approaches him about the secret well after the woman has died, and the widower takes offense when he learns that his wife never shared with him this secret. And does the critic ever figure it out?

The Last Tycoon is a novel that Fitzgerald wrote in his late 30s early 40s. He died at 41 of a heart attack. He never finished the book. But just reading what is complete is a wonderful reminder of how wonderful a writer Fitzgerald really was when he was writing and not under the spell and distractions of Zelda. Maybe she will haunt me for saying such, but it becomes more and more clear the more I study about Fitz that the world lost out on many a grand novel by the distraction she brought into his life–by keeping him from writing–once they were married, once he had money and they were consumed by fame, fortune and flappers. I enjoyed the book and wish it had a real ending. But it is also a good read.

 

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