Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Aug 1, 2018 by

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

I recently read Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, and was surprised by some of it, discouraged by other parts, and amused at others.

Throughout 2018 I have been reading everything I can find about F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald presents a unique perspective of the life and times of the Fitzgeralds.

From my reading list, where I’m seeking to read 101 works of literary fiction, I’ve devoured several of Scott and Ernest’s books already. And I’ve read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s book where he talks about the Fitzgeralds, (some say this book has been disproved) and I’ve also seen the Amazon Season One series of Z: The Beginning of Everything, which is based loosely on this novel about Zelda.

Seeing the relationship between Scott and Ernest through a woman’s point of view certainly cast new light on Scott’s writing career. In this case, Fowler has taken an interesting twist, to suggest that Hemingway doth protest too much in his machoism and was really a closet homosexual. If you Google such, there is a fair amount of discussion about this topic on the Internet, all written long after Hemingway’s death. In many ways I wonder if this isn’t led by those who were holding grudges for having to read Hemingway and Fitzgerald in high school and college and this is their way of getting revenge.

Nonetheless, the book is fiction and Fowler admits at the end that she merely is speculating based on what she’d researched and drawing her own conclusions about many aspects about the lives of the three.

The book is worth reading. It shed light on Zelda I’d not seen before. Fowler suggests that the blame for Scott not writing was more so on Scott than where Hemingway laid it, on Zelda. That probably is more fair to Zelda, though I have to admit, I’ve tried to live in a home where there is chaos and drama and when it’s there, getting much writing done isn’t possible.

Give the book a read.

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Writing Advice from Ottessa Moshfegh–STAY NUDE!

Jul 25, 2018 by

Writing Advice from Ottessa Moshfegh–STAY NUDE!

New York Times Bestselling Author Ottessa Moshfegh was at Interabang Bookstore in Dallas last night promoting her new book, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which is number 15 this week, and when she signed my book, she offered me encouragement to keep writing and to “Stay Nude!”

Now you’re obviously wondering what in the world this could mean. Let me explain.

Stay Nude!

Writing encouragement from Ottessa Moshfegh, STAY NUDE!

During Q&A with Interabang‘s book club master Lori Feathers, the audience was given a chance to ask Ottessa questions. When it came my turn, I had a special question in mind.

You see I recently read Ottessa’s first book Eileen with great interest. It is quite an odd book, with a deeply puzzling protagonist. The woman, Eileen, is troubled, there are few kinder words to offer.

In the writing program at Southern Methodist University, The Writer’s Path, the director of the program, Suzanne Frank, often told us that writers often bare their souls in novels. That we transform large parts of ourselves into our protagonists when we write. Suzanne has called it, “Full frontal nudity of the soul.”

And so, my question to Ottessa Moshfegh was simple. Between Eileen and the protagonist in her new book, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, how much of what we’re reading is “Full frontal nudity of her soul.”

She didn’t even reflect very much before she blurted out the answer: “You’re definitely getting some side boob action.”

I blushed.

So when time came for Ottessa to sign my book, we talked about writing styles. She knows I’m a writer as well. I’ve even sent off a query to Bill Clegg at The Clegg Agency and I’m waiting for an answer. The conversation was fun. I enjoyed meeting her, we said our farewells and I walked away happy to have met her.

When I got to my car, I opened the book out of curiosity to see how she had signed it. “To Donny, best of luck with your writing. Stay nude! Ottessa Moshfegh.”

She understood my question in a much deeper sense than she’d allowed in her answer. I’m reading Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home at present but hope to start My Year of Rest and Relaxation before the weekend starts.

And of course, do some writing. I have a new mantra for when I’m in front of my typewriter making the magic flow onto the page. STAY NUDE! Thanks, Ottessa for the encouragement. You do the same, though I don’t think you’ve had any problem.

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Warlight

Jul 20, 2018 by

Warlight

I read Michael Ondaatje’s book Warlight with great interest and enjoyed it, a lot. What do you when at the end of World War II, you’ve been birthed by two British spies and they’re being hunted by people in Europe who don’t care that the war is over? When their greatest protection for you is to disappear or keep fighting the war as well? When they send you to live with people you’re convinced are criminals?

warlight

Michael Ondaatje’s book Warlight is a great story about post-World War II life in England and how it affected the lives of children of two British spies.

Such is the premise for this book and it read fast. I think it took me a day and a half to read the entire thing. It’s a page turner and as the story unfolds, I felt the emotions Ondaatje wants a reader to feel–how a child left in such a precarious position must have felt–the loneliness, but also the curiosity and longing to figure out just what in the world was going on. From the first pages, the father leaves for Singapore. He’s never heard from again. The mother, however, makes her return and when she comes back, plops back down in the middle of her kids’ lives, but acts almost like she never left. There is resentment, anger, confusion, mystery, and still, the need for secrecy.

Honestly, I do not think there was anything in this book I did not like. It all worked and the story flowed. It made sense. The writing is superb. The storytelling keen and masterful. This is an example of what writing is supposed to look like and how it is supposed to work.

And because I bought my copy at Interabang Books in Dallas, I have a signed first edition. That’s something I’m proud about for my book collection.

I’ve not read Ondaatje’s most notable book, The English Patient, for which he won the Booker Prize, but it is definitely on my list of things to do the rest of 2018.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Michael Ondaatje and his book Warlight. This is a very good book and the story is unique.

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The Immortalists

Jul 18, 2018 by

The Immortalists

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

What if you were told when you were a child the exact day you would die? That’s the premise of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists. The book shares the story of four brothers and sisters who all visit a fortune teller one day early in their lives and the woman tells them each, separately, the day they will die. The book then goes about telling the four separate stories about how each of the four carry/live out the prophecy of the old woman.

As I’ve said before, I like to read books that make me think when I’m reading them, and makes me keep thinking once I’m done. This is a book that does that, kind of like the death of a loved one makes one think about his/her own mortality while grieving.

Chloe Benjamin’s writing style is good. The story flowed and it took me a day or two to read the book. The cover is beautiful and I’m told mixed with Jewish symbolism involving the Tree of Life. Poetic.

But there were some things that bothered me about the book.

Overt Use of Sex

For one, I don’t know why we needed the description of Varya’s pubic area, breasts and nipples in the second and third sentences. For all the talk in writing schools about needing a winning first sentence and hook, this didn’t set up a dramatic question. Didn’t answer one either.

And then there was the story of Simon, the youngest brother who dies first, of AIDS in the late 1980s in San Francisco. Writer Benjamin decides we need to be taken through explicit descriptions of homosexual love scenes. Call me homophobic all you want, but that’s not something I care to read about and quite frankly, I skimmed through most of that section and it clearly didn’t affect my understanding of the outcome of the book. Ergo, it wasn’t necessary.

Conclusion

I bought the book because I think I saw on Amazon it’s one of the best selling books so far in 2018. As I continue to work toward my reading goal of 101 literary books, I’m varying my scope of what I’m reading. This book was an okay read. Like I said, there were parts of it I could and did do without. But an interesting question nonetheless. Would you want to know the day you were going to die? How would it affect how you lived?

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The President is Missing

Jul 17, 2018 by

The President is Missing

It took me three days, but I finished the 511 pages of The President is Missing by former President Bill Clinton and author James Patterson almost as quickly as the book itself plays out. This is the first book I’ve read by Patterson. I must say first of all, I’m not a big fan of the Patterson book-mill, however impressive it is to churn out novels like he has done. I like my reading to have some lasting meaning, message or something to gain from it. This book does not have that. It’s just a distraction, a sensational escape from reality with a few philosophical messages thrown in, my guess to assuage the former president, and then a wrap of the story. 

All that said, I stuck with the book. I started it on Friday night. I finished it at 0200 hours Monday. So whatever was on those pages, hooked me enough to sit there straight and read, read, read.

The Plot

I won’t give that away, suffice it to say that someone has contacted the president with code words they should not have. Code words only a small circle of people know, and because someone on the outside knows them, that means someone in his inner circle has committed treason and set the country on the brink of a catastrophic collapse from a cyber attack. The president is the only person who can save the country. And so he goes about doing trying to do that.

Reviews on Amazon

There are reviews on Amazon (the three star ones are the ones I tend to focus on since they’re the middle of the road) thought the book was too wordy, that the end speech by the president to the Congress was too inflated, blah, blah, blah. I thought those criticisms were a little too stern once I finally got to the parts that were most critical. In fact, I thought they were misplaced and not all that accurate.

This is not a book that’s going to win any literary awards. It’s not meant to. It’s meant to make Clinton some money, (It has backfired in bringing up the Monica Lewinsky stuff by including the mention of impeachment in it) and it is meant to be another book for Patterson to sit on top of the New York Times Bestseller List for a while. What I thought was funny in a way was that I bought my copy of the book from Barnes and Noble in mid-June and it still bears a “50 Percent Off” red sticker on it. So while it is selling, no one appears to be making the top dollar off it they’d hoped.

Conclusion 

The book is worth buying and worth reading. It validates the premise of my first novel draft I have written, The Privacy Patriots, which I need to revise.  In that book, the president and the NSA are ready to launch the world’s first quantum computer and China, Russia, Iran and North Korea (I call them CRINK) find out and launch an all out cyber attack on the US. Because when we do get the first quantum computer activated, it’s going to render all the passwords we all have today useless. So after reading The President is Missing, I see it is time to dust off that draft and get it ready for querying.

A quantum computer will take down computer security. What was wrong with The President is Missing is that Clinton and Patterson forget that the whole world and USA is not dependent on Microsoft computers so a virus with a .exe suffix wouldn’t affect Linux-based servers and machines like Macs, and even the host this website is kept on. There would be problems, but not all the world would be affected like they proposed. But the problems would be bad and we’re supposed to suspend reality in reading a book like that and of course, we should all be worried to some degree because at some point, some kind of cyber attack is likely to affect us. Numerous government officials in the US have long-said it’s not a matter of “If,” but a matter of “when,” and when that finally does happen, Lord knows it’s not going to be pretty….

 

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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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