On Chesil Beach–Book Review

May 5, 2018 by

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, (book 67 on my reading list) a book I read for the Dallas bookstore Interabang’s book club, is a work I am not sure I would have read on my own and am not sure how I will feel about openly talking about at book club in June. But once you get past the vivid descriptions of honeymoon sex between Florence and Edward, the two main characters in the book, there is a tremendous story, and I do mean a tremendous story that makes the book a fabulous read. It’s just the sticky parts, if you will pardon the pun, that make it, well, yeah.

On Chesil Beach

Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach.

McEwan’s writing is colorful and deliberate. There is no mincing of words in description and emotions of the characters is right there on the page for all to see, feel, and experience. I’ve been working on a book that at parts my advisor from SMU warns might get me banned from libraries. I promise you, it has nothing on this book. NOTHING.

But the parts where McEwan explores the heart of Edward and his feelings about his love for Florence, his new wife, are exquisite. On page 152, Edward thinks to himself, “He was discovering that being in love was not a steady state, but a matter of fresh surges or waves, and he was experiencing one now.”

Pages 177-78 set up the crux of Florence’s inner argument in such an amazing way:

“It was the brooding expectation of her giving more, and because she didn’t, she was a disappointment for slowing everything down. Whatever new frontier she crossed, there was always another waiting for her. Every concession she made increased the demand, and then the disappointment. Even in their happiest moments, there was always the accusing shadow, the barely hidden gloom of his unfulfillment, looming like an alp, a form of perpetual sorrow which had been accepted by them both as her responsibility.”

The San Francisco Chronicle called the book a “perfect novel.” I’m not sure there is such a thing. With all the sexual content, I cannot agree with that. Yes, I know this is part of life, birds and bees and all, I just can’t dub the perfect novel one about so much vivid sex. The back story that feeds it, yes. And I understand why it’s necessary to have it to feed the backstory, just call me a prude. I’d like to take my daughter to book club next month and I’m not really going to feel comfortable doing that given the nature of this book.

The writing is quite good, that said. The story is one I do recommend. It will stick with you and make you think. And that is what a novel and good characters are supposed to do. And what the perfect novel is supposed, in fact, to be. Yes, I’m contradicting myself. Read a few pages as a parent with children and you will understand why….

The Movie

As you may know, the movie, starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle, will be released on May 18, 2018. Reviews for the film are not out, but I will update the post, or make a new one once the movie is out. It will be interesting to see how they externalize the emotions of the two characters when so much of the book is internalized. The trailer looks quite good and in reading the comments, most commenters have little idea what the story is about. Though I did find it comical when one described it as “Fifty Shades of Gray, limited British version.”

Here’s the trailer for your benefit.

What I did notice in the trailer and you can see in the image above as they’re sitting out by the ocean, he’s wearing his coat and tie. On page 175 when he comes to her there in the book, she thinks to herself, “At least he had not put on his tie!” So the adaptation skews from the book and ventures into its own territory. It will be interesting to see how far.

 

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Cameron, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Hemingway

Apr 5, 2018 by

Cameron, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Hemingway

Credibility, May Day, The Past is Important to Us & Fifty Grand

I witnessed a cosmic literary alignment this week when reading selections of Julia Cameron, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Ernest Hemingway randomly together. Each of them fit together in a unique way.

Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron’s essay “Credibility” taken from her Right to Write fits with the others like a glove.

Four great writers who sat down and wrote to overcome their fear of whether or not they were good enough.

The essay says that in America we have a conviction “that being published has to do with being ‘good’ while not being published has to do with being ‘amateur.’ We treat the unpublished writher as though he or she suffers an embarrassing case of unrequited love.”

Her male counterparts understood the importance of the act of writing.

What if F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Ernest Hemingway had all said to themselves, “My writing isn’t good enough to publish. I’m just going to stick it in the drawer.”

Or worse, “I’m just not good enough.”

Or worse still, “I’ll never be good enough, so I’m not going to write at all.”

You may think I am joking about this, but how many people do you know who have said this? The answer is too many.

Anyone can sit down and write. And the more they do so, the better they will get. As long as they are reading, too.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “May Day,” his first great novelette, was published in July 1920, and related to a series of events that took place in his life in 1919. He feared that he had “unsuccessfully” woven the events into a pattern in his story. But he published the story regardless and it is a wonderful piece of writing.

His story details a Yale reunion on May 1-2, 1919 in New York and follows the antics of Gordon Sterrett, Phillip Dean, Edith Bradin, Carrol Key, Gus Rose, and Peter Himmel. The tale is sad, but has moments of color, yet is told masterfully.

Gordy is caught in a pickle and a situation of misery he seems to have created on his own. But reading the story one gets the sense of the true genius of Fitzgerald’s writing.

Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks’ “The Past is Important to Us,” in his book, Uncommon Type, introduces us to Bert Allenberry, also in New York City, who has developed a time machine that allows him to go from near future to June 8, 1939 where he frequents the World’s Fair and finds himself infatuated with a woman from another time.

Hanks weaves a great tale of Bert not being happy with what he has, all the money he could want, and longing for something he can’t have. Like Gordy, Bert’s demise is created out of his own greed. The underlying theme is very much the same between the two stories written almost 100 years apart.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s story, “Fifty Grand,” from The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, The Hemingway Library Edition, involves a washed-up boxer named Jack Brennan who is facing his last fight and puts $50,000 down on himself to lose.

This is another story set in New York city. In this edition, there are extras with previous versions of the stories included. Right behind the published edition is exhibit 12A which has the note, “1st 3 pages of story mutilated by Scott Fitzgerald with his—.”

Boxing stories aren’t really my thing, but Hemingway’s writing is so rich and concise. Remember, he says 80 percent of a story should be like an iceberg—with the bulk of it unseen.

Conclusion

So how is it that I can pick up four books randomly and read four separate pieces together and they have overlapping themes?

That remains a mystery, but in part, Hemingway and Fitzgerald hung out together as best friends. They fed off each other. Tom Hanks has been an actor, screenwriter, director, and producer. His writings also have appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker. His book Uncommon Type, where every story features a typewriter, is his first collection of fiction.

Each of these writers overcame what Julia Cameron wrote about in her essay “Credibility.” They, like all writers, heard the call all writers hear and did something about their need to write. They sat down with blank sheets of paper, pricked their fingers and poured their hearts out onto the pages before them. Then they went back time and again and revised and made their words better and better and better.

I’ve been studying and writing short stories of late. Writing short stories is a pathway to the soul of writing. They don’t allow for lengthy writing. A writer must be concise. The transformation of the lead character must happen in a few paragraphs. The whole story is contained to about 1,500 words. This demands practice and determination. Once a writer perfects such a medium, he/she is better prepared for novel writing. Or so the theory goes.

I’m about to do my fourth revision of my novel The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club. I’ve been writing short stories for about two months now. They are a joy to compose and challenging as well. My word usage is much tighter than before. That’s the biggest thing to come from this exercise, but so is the joy of telling new stories. I highly recommend such a study. Not to mention reading from masters like the four authors above. You will be surprised how much you will learn.

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A Short Story Audience with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Cameron

Mar 27, 2018 by

A Short Story Audience with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hanks & Cameron

What I am writing is one of the sanest things I’ve ever come to know in my life. Each evening of late, I’ve had private, short story audience with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks, and Julia Cameron.

Realizing that Hem., aka Papa, committed suicide in July 1961, and that Fitzgerald died of a heart attack at age 44 in 1940, that Tom Hanks is a Hollywood A-lister and I am not, and Julia Cameron, although she is on Twitter, has never liked one of my tweets mentioning my progress in any of her five books, I understand it sounds crazy to say that I find myself in close association with each of these famed writers, but please, let me explain.

Storied Audience

Each night of late I have a special audience with authors Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Hanks and Julia Cameron.

As noted last week, I read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s narrative that includes his time with the Fitzgeralds in Paris and their return to the States. The edition I have includes previously unreleased materials.

I’m now reading the Hemingway Library edition of The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. For each story published, there are versions with edited portions that seemed to have little to do with the story itself. But when read with the story, these missing sections cast another meaning upon the intent.

Hemingway believed a story should be like an iceberg—mostly underwater and unseen by the reader. This has changed my perception of writing.

Yesterday’s Mr. Peabody and the Robins, is evidence of my efforts to be more laconic in wording. Initially the piece stretched to 1,200 words. It posted at 975. As I moved the story from Word to WordPress, I could hear Clive Owen from the movie Hemingway and Gellhorn offering a toast.

When I finish the Hemingway story each night, I open the 796-page volume of F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli. This is the world of writing where when he was alive, Scott made more money than he ever did from his novels–particularly The Great Gatsby.

While Hemingway’s stories are more to the meaning of the word “short,” Fitzgerald’s pack a punch at their end, leaving a reader startled—truer to the ending of Mr. Peabody and the Robins.

Fitzgerald endings seem to say, “Boom. The story has ended, and you know it. Now think about what you have read because it is going to stick with you for a spell.”

When I finish with Fitzgerald I set his book on top of Hem’s and pull out Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type. All of these stories in some way include a typewriter. In the documentary, California Typewriter, Hanks says if he could only keep one of his 255 typewriters, he’d keep his Smith-Corona Silent, the same machine I used to type the draft for this post. Regardless, I read Hanks’ story, then set his book down and pick up Julia Cameron’s book The Right to Write.

Cameron divided her book up, as she did with her Artist’s Way trilogy, in easy-to-read essays. Each is about four pages followed with a page or two of exercises, all healthy for any writer or anyone wishing to write themselves a better person.

Conclusions

So, Donny, you’ve taken us a long way for the setup, what happens after you finish reading Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Hanks, and Cameron each night? How long does that take? What do you get from such?

Does Tom Hanks really come to your house? Do you put two sheets of paper in the Smith-Corona Silent so as not to damage the platen and leave the room and hear typing when you’re not in there?

Do Hemingway and Fitzgerald write from the grave while Hanks channels from a movie set?

And what about Cameron? Is she in Taos or in New York writing from her picture window? Traveling and doing Artist’s Way courses? Out walking?

She encouraged you to get your typewriter, is she linked to the same network as you? How does this all work? Please, tell us. Let us know before this spills into the National Enquirer, the Globe, or the National Examiner. She still has you reading those does she? Weren’t you just supposed to read those for one exercise? Is this really the sort of writing she meant to come from reading that stuff?

Now, now, I’ll have to tell you more tomorrow. I have some other writing to do today. I’m still working on my Narrative Time Line from Cameron’s book The Vein of Gold.

Tonight’s reading:

Hemingway’s “Fifty Grand.”
Fitzgerald’s “May Day.”
Hanks’ “The Past is Important to Us.”
Cameron’s “Credibility.”

Tomorrow, the conversation about all four pieces and how the cosmos aligned all four of them to make sense, magically.

 

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Mr. Peabody and the Robins–A Short Story

Mar 26, 2018 by

Mr. Peabody and the Robins

Franklin Peabody sat studying the scene outside the window of his library dreading the onslaught of spring. Three robins stared watching his every move. Or so he thought. One robin protected her clutch. The nest never sat unguarded if Franklin Peabody was near to touch. When he went outside, robins followed. Or so he thought.

As the light of day waned, Penelope Peabody, the bride of Mr. P., entered with exciting news. She said she too was on the nest, due herself a visit from the Stork.

This news shocked Mr. P., who since a child himself vowed never to have one of his own.

“How can this be Mrs. P?” he demanded. “Are you certain the father is me?”

Mr. Peabody and the Robins, a short story by Donald J. Claxton. 

Franklin Peabody’s accusation crushed the good woman.

“How could you ask such a question of me? You know there is no place in my heart or our bed for anyone but you,” said she.

“I fear bringing a child into this wicked world,” he confided in her. “Evil lurks outside these very panes; a wretchedness for which there is no cure.”

Mrs. Peabody cried and trembled over the surprising reaction of her husband.

And so, she flew upstairs to quarters above the dismal library of Mr. P. where he perched after dinner, sipped a drink or two, and hid between the pages of the latest best seller. All the while robins flocked to observe him through the library’s windows. Above him they could see Mrs. P. crying a bird bath of tears and they chirped among themselves.

“The time has come,” they said in their birdish ways.

“Robbed my mother’s, mother’s, mother’s, mother he did of eggs in her nest one spring it’s true, now that he has one of his own coming, we shall avenge as sure as an egg is blue,” crowed the mother at rest in the nest.

“That poor woman will worry herself sick and the baby, too,” said another. “But shouldn’t we leave this kind of thing to the ravens of Poe my dear brother?”

“Nonsense!” squawked the third in a passive voice. “Tradition is set, and revenge must be dealt. We will not be happy until an equal measure of loss is felt.”

Mrs. P. made ready for the special day as the robins flocked outside in a special way, and Mr. P. thought of something special to say.

 

Days before the arrival of the Peabody child, Franklin exited the residence did he, with a bag of bread and walked to a bench in the park to sit under an oak tree.

The birds issued their warnings to each other, but going to the park they shrieked, “he’s returning to the scene of the crime!”

“Franklin Peabody, we know what you did that day as a kid. The murder of our ancestors can never be hid’,” said a venerable robin.

“I was a boy, curious at heart. I meant no harm I promise you that. I picked up those eggs to carry them home and before I knew what, in my hand they went splat.”

This stirred the ire of the birds.

“Nature is best left alone in the woods not in the palms of some greedy young boy,” cried an old timer.

“I know that now,” exclaimed Mr. Franklin P. “but how was I to know that then?”

“Your teacher on the field trip earlier in the day said these very words, ‘Our place is not to touch but to admire the beauty and power of Nature,’ did she not?” demanded the venerable robin.

“She did, she did indeed, I must confess,” whimpered Mr. P. “I am guilty as charged, but I do not know how to make amends for this colossal mess.”

“Fair is fair in Nature, Mr. P,” cried a round robin.

Mr. P. sat thinking for a moment as though he’d brought his study with him.

“You are angry over something that happened generations ago. Isn’t your sin as damnable as mine?”

“He is trying to trick us,” charged a younger bird. “What happened long ago hurts me every day! Make him pay for what he did.”

An older bird chirped to the younger.

“Oh, be quiet. Neither of us were even born then.”

Mr. P continued.

“Let this new generation be born and our mistakes forgiven.”

The older robin moved closer to Mr. P.

“’Tis tiring to keep angry over something one did not experience firsthand.”

“I have suffered for my sin and longed to make amends,” Mr. Peabody said. “When my child comes, the child shall have the name Robin.”

The birds fell silent.

“I see how you at my windows, worrying if your nests are safe,” Mr. Peabody said. “I will set out seed and build bird houses, so you are worry-free from children, cats, and other predators.”

“That way you will give life to more than the three we lost,” a momma robin said.

“I cannot replace the three whose lives I stole, but perhaps more will have a greater chance to live as I make amends,” Mr. P. said.

The birds chirped among themselves and accepted his offer.

He then opened the bag of crumbs and shared the bread until consumed.

 

Upon returning home, Franklin discovered Mrs. P. had flown the coup. Gone was her bag kept readied for a trip to the hospital. When Mr. P. reported to the delivery ward as arranged, they’d not heard from her. Nor any others. Nor had her parents. Or so he thought. Mr. Peabody was so distraught, he returned to his study and since he had no child of his own, he did not name one Robin. He did not set out seed or make bird feeders. The birds kept watch on his study and didn’t know what happened to Mrs. P. either.

Or so he thought.

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I Can’t Tell You — A Father’s Poem to a Daughter

Mar 9, 2018 by

I Can’t Tell You — A Father’s Poem to a Daughter

This is a father’s poem to a daughter. Years ago, circa 1998, maybe early 1999, before her twin sisters were born, I wrote this poem for Chandler. I found it in the garage the other day, the pages worn and stained the way a poem written twenty years ago should be. Here it is in digital form so that won’t ever happen again.

This may be my poem to Chandler, but I dare say it’s probably a message most fathers have about their little girls. I could apply it to Reagan and Haley as well and have. Looking back, I think we’ve done just about all of the things I mention in the poem–though I never had to sample mud pies!

They are now little women, but I forever hold them in my heart like you see Chandler in the picture to the right. That’s her in my lap where she and the twins will always be in spirit.

I Can’t Tell You

I can’t tell you how much I love you,
Or how much I like to hold you.
I can’t tell you how happy you make me feel inside
How you make my heart pound so hard with pride.

I can’t tell you how much I love to watch you grow,
To learn to walk, to run, to catch and throw.
I can’t tell you how much I’d like you to play piano
To learn to act, or dance or sing soprano.

I can’t tell you how much I like to kiss you
Or measure when we’re apart how much I miss you.
I can’t tell you how I want you to be so smart
To do well in science, English and event art.

I can’t tell you how much I want you to know,
The feel of grass, of fallen leaves and snow.
I can’t tell you how much I want to walk with you
To climb big rocks, to talk, to jump and sing songs, too.

I can’t tell you how much I want to learn with you,
About computers, cooking, baby dolls, and mud pies, too.
I can’t tell you all I see when you’re at rest
And think about my limits you sometimes test.

I can’t tell you how much I love to see you read
And to reach out to me when you feel in need.
I can’t tell you how excited I get every day
When you come to me and say, “Daddy, let’s play.”

I can’t tell you how much I love to brush your hair
To tickle, and tumble and to tell you I care.
I can’t tell you how much it hurts to see you fall,
Or to not be there in the day when I know you call.

I can’t tell you about all I want you to know,
But for now, I’ll work on “Red light stop. On green you go.”
I can’t tell you I’ll always be at your side,
One day you’ll grow up and become a bride.

I can tell you it will be hard to walk you down that aisle,
But I promise you now, I’ll be wearing a smile.
I can tell you I’ll be thinking of so many other days then,
How much I’d like to go back and do it all again.

And I can tell you right now that makes me sad,
So today, I’ll just concentrate on being your Dad.

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