The Book of Dust

Feb 7, 2019 by

I read Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage:  last week and was told going in that there were things about the book that are not as good as his previous trilogy, but I’d seen a recommendation for this book regardless and had decided to give it a read.

To start with, Pullman’s fantasy work is not something I would normally read. It still is not.

The Book of Dust

Reading about Malcom and his daemon Asta was curious I will admit. The first few pages did, I must confess, however, draw me right in. But I have to say, from a writer’s stand point, at one point I began to wonder how burdensome the daemons must have felt–having to write about another character for every character–because in this version of the world, everyone living must have a daemon very, very near them and if they don’t, it’s supposed to be pretty draining.

My friend Tom at Interabang Books in Dallas said this book didn’t sell like publishers hoped it would. Not in comparison to the previous Dark Materials trilogy. Again, I’ve not ready anything else by Pullman, but I can say where I felt there were a few weaknesses in this story. I do not mean to be critical of Pullman. He’s published, I’m not, so there’s that. He also invested a lot of time to create, as have I, so I respect his work from that standpoint. This isn’t easy so anyone who gets their work on paper, heck, even into a computer from start to finish has made quite an accomplishment, so I refuse anymore to tear something to shreds. (Here are some thoughts that confused me, or I thought could have been stronger, how’s that?)

One happens when the baby Lyra is taken away by the Holy police to a nunnery that is supposed to be heavily guarded and damned near impossible for anyone to get in or out of. Malcom, Alice and their daemons float up to the place in their boat, find a drain with a metal cover, lift it, Malcolm and his daemon Asta float in, get past the second drain, waltz up a hall way, get stopped once, claim to have wet the bed, get sent to where they were going, lie down in an empty bed, wait for the head priest and nun to come in and argue about the baby, leave while the nurse in the room is snoring, and then sneak out with the baby unseen. What was supposed to have been impossible was done without any resistance whatsoever. Mkay.

There is a deluge in England and Malcom’s boat floats from Oxford to London, sometimes being able to float down specific streets, etc. That just seemed like too far a leap for me.

Then the book just leaves one sort of hanging with a whole bunch of characters. Yes, this is going to obviously be a trilogy, but there’s so much non-closure for so many of the secondary characters. They’re literally just left floating in the flood. I was always led to believe that even for a trilogy, you tied everything off, mostly, and didn’t leave things floating, pardon the pun.

I read the book from Sunday to a Wednesday. It’s 438 pages and all in all, it wasn’t a bad read. It wasn’t ridiculously hard to understand like Good Morning, Midnight or something like that, which the local book club has been reading. Talk about a nutty book…..

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Crime and Punishment

Jan 17, 2019 by

Crime and Punishment

Reading Dostoevsky’s classic novel Crime and Punishment last week has drained me. I didn’t realize it was taking so much out of me until, well, until I finished it and started trying to read something else as of Sunday of this week. Monday of this week. Tuesday … you get the idea. It’s Thursday and I have yet to get into another reading of fiction. I’m thumbing through Anne Lamott’s 1994 book on writing, Bird by Bird, but I’ve only managed to get about 50 pages into it even. 

It’s the middle of January, to establish a record, and I’ve begun to revise The Voodoo Hill Explorer Club once again. This will be the third? perhaps the fourth revision. I’m also working closely with Jen Manuel’s reimagining online course as I go. Right now I’m on the lesson where she’s encouraging me to understand reimagining the “heart” of my story. This is where I’m focusing on my lead character’s “wants,” but as importantly, his “yearnings,” and when you put these two aspects together: where Kirk Carson is clearly aware of what he wants and can’t quite put his finger on his yearning, well that deeply enriches the heart of the tale.

Looking at Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov clearly didn’t want his sister to get married to Luzhin, but his yearning, as a mad man, ran far deeper. He learns in the end, in the very, very end that his pride and separation from society isn’t what he has chalked it up to be and in the end gives that up.

I am not writing the follow up to a Dostoevsky novel. But I have learned so much in having read the last 101 novels. So far I’ve read five of my next 101 books. I’ve said before all that reading has changed who I am as a writer.

Now that I’m revising, looking at what I have written before, I am embarrassed at what I have on the pages. What I have submitted to agents and said, “This is ready.” Because it is not. It wasn’t. I can see that now.

I’ve learned something important.

And that’s the good thing about writing and reading. We get better every day. Anne Lamott says she gets asked by students, “How do you get better at writing?” She says the best way to show students, and it often makes them frustrated, is to pick up a yellow writing pad, pretend she has a pen in her hand, and begin to pretend she is writing on the page. That’s how you become a better writer. You write. But just as important, you read. And read. And read. And read. And write some more.

And the way you make your drafts better? You revise. And revise. And revise. That doesn’t mean you change a comma here, and a word there. Fix the spelling on this page.

No, you reimagine what you’re trying to say, and you say something else entirely. That’s revision. Jen Manuel says, “Re Imagine.”

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Reaching My Goal — 101 Fiction Novels

Dec 6, 2018 by

Heather Sellers’ 2007 writers’ guide Chapter After Chapter prods anyone interested in becoming a better writer to read 101 Fiction Novels. In December 2016, I set out to do just that, having suffered an injury that was keeping me from working like most, one that continues to plague me even today.

Heather Sellers’ Chapter After Chapter.

Other complications and illnesses have been added since, making working and concentrating even harder, but thankfully, I’ve been able to keep reading, and on Nov. 29th, I put down Javier Marías’ The Infatuations, book number 101, satisfied and fulfilled in a way I could not have imagined two years before.

You see, while I have been physically disabled the past two and a half years, I have been able to mentally travel around the world and through time through the power of fiction.

I’ve made a study of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, the three geniuses edited and managed by Maxwell Perkins. Through them I’ve been bullfighting in Spain in the 1930s, been all over Italy and Europe during World War I, and Paris afterward.

Then through various authors I’ve been in Paris as the Germans invaded it during World War II, and in many ways I felt what it must have been like, to have gone from such heydays after World War I with the Lost Generation to the starkness of the Nazi invasions, their lists, the killings.

But I’ve also been to Australia for a road race around the continent in the 1950s with Peter Carey in his book A Long Way From Home, and returned to experience the power of Big Little Lies with Liane Moriarty; experienced The Plague in Africa via Albert Camus, a non-existent war in Africa during Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop, and been to South America for a hostage situation via Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto. (I’ll read  anything now written by Ann Patchett–Commonwealth was so good, too.)

I have been to Tennessee and South Carolina to figure out the mystery of the woman who stole river children in the 1900s for adoption in Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours. (Lisa is under the impression US senators ride around in limousines all the time. Reporters should know better.)

My thinking about trees was forever changed by Richard Powers’ The Overstory, one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. To think about living in the canopy of a redwood in Oregon for nine months, 100 feet off the ground. Something I’d never thought of, but might consider, given the chance and with better health. A wonderful, wonderful book that haunts me now whenever I see someone cutting down a tree because I know how long it takes for a tree to grow, the history behind it and how we snuff out a tree with a chainsaw and don’t give it a moment of thought.

Gosh, I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve been to England. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. What a great story about the power of love. Don’t forget to also read his On Chesil Beach. If you want to read some of the first murder mystery genre setting books, don’t forget John Fowles’ The Collector, who kidnaps a woman he fancies and drags her off to live in his flat north of London. The Lodger is another prolific book that brilliantly explores the murders surrounding the mystery of Jack the Ripper. Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje was also one of my favorites from my journey.

Then there are the books about the States. The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel remains a favorite, a story about a boy who shows up in an Ohio town the summer of 1984 claiming to be answering an ad in the local paper calling on the Devil to present himself. Steven King’s The Outsider was something new for me. It wasn’t scary, but definitely a different read. Tommy Oranges’ There There shed new light on the Native American culture I did not know about. A.J. Finn and The Woman in the Window, Ottessa Moshfegh and Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, as well as Lauren Weissberger’s When Life Gives You Lululemons all gave me new perspectives about the modern woman.

Celeste Ng took me back to Ohio in Little Fires Everywhere, a very good book, and Rachel Kushner seemed to have much the same thematic in The FlamethrowersFac Ut Ardeat (made to burn); perhaps that theme was also being explored in The Summer that Melted Everything as well. Even Stephen King’s The Outsider.

Thomas Wolfe intrigued me for days with his You Can’t Go Home Again. The language and writing is beautiful.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. Funny, at times. But with an important message nonetheless.

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin was strange to me at first, but I came to enjoy the writing once I got my bearings. The initial passages about the blind assassin himself, and the girl, were just strange, and I’ve found I’m not much for reading sci fi or dystopian nonsense.

I also flat out skip sections in books about explicit gay sex. Chloe Benjamin, Adam Haslett, take note. Your books were good, but I skipped large portions of The Immortalists and Imagine Me Gone and don’t think I missed anything, which means, those sections could have been left out (note to authors, agents and publishers). Those sections didn’t add anything. And in the case of Andrew Sean Greer’s book Less, once I learned that’s what it was, I’d actually ordered it from Amazon, I cancelled the order. I have no desire to read anything like that. Period.

I’ve read my share of spy novels: Daniel Silva’s The Other Woman, T. Jefferson Parker’s Swift Vengeance, Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her, and the over-hyped ridiculous Bill Clinton/James Patterson The President is Missing.

In Kristin Hannah’s The Great Alone I spent time in Washington state and Oregon, and then the wilds of Alaska. This was not a great book by any means, but people recommended I read Hannah’s The Nightingale and I honestly believe it is the best book I’ve ever read. Goodreads has it rated at a 4.65 or something close and that seems to be the highest rating I could find. I highly recommend this book above all the rest. It is the one I described above as helping me understand what it must have been like when the Nazi’s invaded France in World War II. Maybe you should read some of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and their antics in Paris beforehand to learn about how gay and charming the city was 10 years before, that way you may get the full impact.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I’m going to start revising my second novel once again, with new knowledge.

And I’m going to keep writing.

It’s my 53rd birthday today and I’m getting a copy of War and Peace. I’m planning to also read Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov as a study in the next few weeks. I also need to finish Anna Karenina. The movie version is good, but not good enough.

I also have asked my girls for a series of books that PBS and my local book store, Interabang Books put together this summer–100 supposed best loved novels–that I intend to read. Some of them I don’t think belong on the list and won’t read, but a good many I will. Some I already have and just have never read.

The goal in all of this is to make me a better writer, but what it’s also doing is making me a better person. Opening my mind and horizons. Making me think and relaxing my soul. My body is not in a condition to do what it once was able. I’ve been doing all I can the past two and a half years to get help from doctors to get it fixed. In the meantime, I’ve been getting my heart, mind, soul and writing ready for when I am free to walk normally in the world again.

Two years later, that’s the greatest gift I can give myself.

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Thanksgiving 2018

Nov 21, 2018 by

Thanksgiving 2018

My how the year has flown. Preparations are underway for Thanksgiving 2018. The Christmas decorations are already in place–three trees inside this year–four if you count the Charlie Brown tree–and the special Christmas City across the bar between the dining room and kitchen needs to annex another area, perhaps it moves to under one of the trees next year. Some say I should wait to decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving, but I never do anymore. I want to get the most out of what Christmas can be and decorating, particularly early, gives me hope.

Maycee, looking for Janet’s damned stray cats or Santa Claus, Thanksgiving 2018.

My three girls are coming tomorrow. This year Chandler, the eldest, is bringing a cheesecake. The elder twin, Reagan, has made dressing for her friends at work by having me FaceTime with her and talk her through the process. Haley, the younger twin (by seven minutes) has made a family favorite–chicken broccoli casserole. I don’t know if she’s bringing any with her tomorrow, but it has been a joy the past few months to see traits in me come bursting out of the girls that I didn’t realize I’d ingrained in them so deeply.

This is an unexpected side of parenting that I’ve not experienced before, at least not to this degree–not since they have become so independent as they have become. They are encountering the hardships that life has to offer and to break the pain or strain of a situation, they’re resulting to some of my jokes to cheer each other up, and doing so when I’m not there. “This is when Dad would say … ” and then they all chuckle and giggle and it’s funny to them because they know I’d be there to add levity to a situation that has none.

That gives me comfort as I grow older, as I deal with the pain that has been inflicted upon my body the past two and a half years and feels like it’s never going to leave. But things like what I’ve mentioned above, the cooking of my recipes, the telling of my bad jokes, gives me hope, courage and comfort. I’ll be missed when I am gone, but I’ll also keep on living through my girls–no sons.

And that realization is probably the best and truest blessing God could bestow on me this Thanksgiving.

It’s been another hard year of dealing with the pain in my back. The lumbar is still wreaking havoc. This summer and fall, the thoracic spine has been out of whack. Hopefully, before New Year’s and the out-of-pocket reverts to a massive sum on the first, a lot can be done to at least settle my thoracic down. Other ailments have cropped up I never would have guessed possible. My doctors are working on those.

But my daughters are growing up into fine young women and I’m more proud of them each and every day. My church family has stood by me even though my attendance, largely because of the fatigue from the Crohn’s disease and back pain, has been dismal. And I’ve met some great people in the medical field who truly care about the health and well-being of others.

And of course, I have to mention Maycee, my dog. Yes, she barks to ward off my next-door neighbor Janet’s damned stray cats, and she can’t stand the neighbor at the end of the building who owns the German Shepard, but Maycee loves me in a way I cannot describe. Anyone who says dogs don’t know how to love their owners clearly has cats.

I will miss lunch tomorrow with my three brothers, sister and Mom as they gather in Montgomery, Alabama. Dad will eat with family in Northern Indiana. I wish I could be in three places at once. Nonetheless, I am so thankful for the love of my daughters and dog, Maycee. I could not have made it through 2018 without the four of you. There is just no way. Thank you. Now God bless us every one.

 

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When Life Gives You Lululemons

Oct 1, 2018 by

When Life Gives You Lululemons

It was something out of character for me to read Lauren Weisberger’s When Life Gives You Lululemons, almost like picking up Cosmopolitan magazine I would think and reading it cover to cover. But several weeks ago it was big on the New York Times Bestseller Hardcover List and it spent several weeks there and in my quest to become a better reader, I bought it, read it, and studied the novel in hopes of it making me a better reader.

When Life Gives You Lululemons

To her credit, Weisberger at least knows that U.S. senators don’t ride around in limousines all the time like Lisa Wingate errantly seems to think in Before We Were Yours in modern day South Carolina.

Weisberger’s plot hinges on a senator being in cahoots with a local police department being able to frame his wife with DUI on a holiday and a Hollywood-based spin doctor being able to get her out of trouble after finding the senator’s wife and the spin doctor have a mutual friend in the suburbs of Connecticut. So the story winds around the three women who learn new things about themselves–mostly about the spin doctor who learns that she’s not a washed up spin doctor and that there is more to life than helping the country’s elite lie their way out of their sick problems. So much so that at the end of the book … well, I don’t do spoilers, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

When I read books I usually actively underline passages that I might like to come back to or find insightful about the human experience. I didn’t underline anything in this book.

This is/was not my genre and it does have a happily ever after ending. How nice. But if you want to read anything that’s based upon reality or anything that will advance the cause of humankind, this is not the book.

 

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One of those ‘God Things’

Sep 22, 2018 by

One of those “God Things”

There are times in life when I’ve found myself saying I’m in the middle of one of those “God Things.” Where no amount of my own pushing seems to be getting my anywhere, and then when it’s God’s time, things click right into place.

The seal of The Grammatic Artist.

Over the past three or four weeks now I’ve been working on the premise for a book project. I actually have a very well developed Hero’s Journey. The story takes place in two worlds. One where my primary character is having a dream/encounter where an angel has appeared and is taking him to a meeting with God. On the outside world, he’s on his way to the funeral of his maternal grandfather, the last of his grandparents, and the woman who takes the seat next to him on the flight, not his wife–she has declined to go with him–tells him it sounds like to her he’s grieving a lot more than the loss of his grandfather.

The day I really got to working on the plot of the Hero’s Journey, I found myself at Kinkaid’s Hamburger’s with my own personal mentor Ron Rose. The discussions we had were timely to what each other were doing. The conversation itself became on of those God Things.

As I continued working, things have fallen into place in like manner.

This past Monday I spent an hour with my preacher who suggested I do more to punch up the ferociousness my lead character has when he has his meeting with God, assuming this is a work of fiction. One I’m trying to make more mainstream than a Christian novel.

Then tonight, I met someone at a Mexican restaurant who it sounds like can help me punch up some of the scenes I’ve been struggling with. Another God Thing. She herself has written a book about finding God in unlikely places. I ordered hers from Amazon already. What are the odds?

I’m behind in my book reviews–nine books behind right now–When Life Gives You Lululemons, The Summer that Melted Everything, Imagine Me Gone, My Name is Lucy Barton, Are you There God? It’s Me Margaret, The Outsider, Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine, Across the River and Into the Trees, and Tailspin, all because I’ve been working on this new book idea.

But that’s okay, because I’m into one of those “God Things,” and when those are happening, well, anything can happen from there….

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