This is part experiment, part announcement. I have a novella up on Kindle, The Blue Bicycle. Novellas are hard to market to the industry – particularly ones written from differing points of view. So I'm hoping you'll check it out- you can download a sample for free, and if you like that, the rest is yours for $6.95.

You may not have a Kindle – I'm betting most who read this haven't yet taken the plunge – but you can download the Kindle software for free to your desktop or laptop.
Any comments on the text, or on Kindle as a format for fiction, would be appreciated.

Here's a blurb on the book:
By age eight, Artie Royal knows that for a few minutes he can escape his parents' conflicts through exhilarating rides on his hand-me-down bike. At age seventeen, the bike now an outgrown shambles, he takes comfort in girlfriend Sandy. With the loss of great-grandfather, Merle Jongleur, Artie's ties to his family and the blue bike seem to be severed, and he seeks refuge in a naval career. But this choice proves problematic. Back home in North Carolina, he finally seems settled in a mundane career and a comfortable life with wife Katie – until Sandy calls. Once again seeking emotional relief, he jumps at an offer of a trip to Nova Scotia to meet Merle's Acadian relatives and settle a family estate. There, events bring unexpected results and new family ties.
The old bike traces a continuous thread though Artie's life as it passes to him, then to others, but in the end this is a tale of the individual spirit's ability to renew itself through solitary hope and ever-changing human relationships.
TBB118

…But Good Writing Matters More…

Images-1  Images-2
 

Every Thing Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr.

 

Writer friend Dave Frauenfelder loaned me this one, a novel
I wouldn’t have picked – by an author I’d never heard of (with the overabundance
of writers out there, such is the state of reading these days). It has much to
dismay me, along the lines of my previous grousing against David Foster
Wallace’s postmodern style. Still, it was a good read – and that’s no faint
congratulation from this reader to the writer.

 

First, the story in brief: Junior Thibodeaux, while still in
his mother’s dank innards, hears a voice (or voices) telling him the world will
end in 2010, due to the earth and a comet caroming off one another. Parenthetically,
this is much like some scientists think happened many eons ago to form our
current earth and moon.

We leave Junior for a while and delve into his brother
Rodney’s adolescence, one in which he becomes all too soon acquainted with cocaine,
which leaves him a loopy but
talented baseball star.

Then there’s their mother, a closet alcoholic, and their
father, a Vietnam vet who works in a bakery and has temper problems. Season
that with Amy, Junior’s on-again-off-again girl friend, and you have the catalytic
concoction Currie wants us to put in our pipe and smoke.

Later, however, Junior, because of the apocalyptic
revelation he’s been privy to, drinks too much and leads a life of all-American
dissipation. Eventually, he even becomes lulled into a plot to blow up a Social
Security building in Chicago and lands in jail for his effort.

Redemption for Junior comes in the tandem form of helping
addled brother Rodney out when he’s not between baseball’s foul lines and working with a clandestine government agency to study the approaching problem
of the still-unnoticed comet.

 

As you may suspect, this is a dark, comedic and satirical
farce – a twenty-first century rave-up a la Vonnegut. Curry gives us some hilarious
passages. My favorite is a passage in which Junior’s girlfriend Amy presides
over a scatological moment, entering an airplane’s rest room after it had been
turned offensive by its previous occupant. But for my taste, these moments were
too few balanced against the dark troubles infecting Junior, Rodney, and their
families.

The author’s structure works well, for the most part:
chapters in which Junior, Rodney, Amy, the boys’ father, speak in present
tense. (I’ve been wary of present tense – it’s easy to overdo.) And there
are even chapters in which Junior’s “voices” speak to him, in a faux-second
person style.

However – and this with a capital “H” – Curry inexplicably
throws in a segment near the end in which the “voices” tell Junior that things
didn’t need to go as they did – and possibly don’t – in some parallel universe.
This seems to be an attempt to do what writers have attempted for a century,
i.e., to work modern science into a novel, something that almost always falls
flat.

Still, Curry seems to want us to understand modern life
through these darker moments: the availability of drugs and alcohol, the
tendency to compulsion, violence marbled with the most banal aspects of
our information age. As the comet is discovered and tracked, its presence is
held secret from the public – a typical reaction of our age, in which those in
positions of influence and power seek to lull the public into opiate-like
states of complacency and unconcern.

It’s only when earth’s destruction becomes imminent that
Junior and his inner circle of family and friends abandon their various states
of alienation to huddle together and face Earth’s final
moments. Beyond this small group’s final intimacies, Curry gives us wholesale
violence, hysteria, and chaos as the comet begins its fatal collision with
earth.

 

I doubt humans would react in such a deranged way in an
apocalyptic moment, but then literature always exaggerates human frailties in
order to make their causes more obvious. What Curry leaves us with
here is the realization that even the most insignificant aspects of our lives
can grow into great burdens when not tended to. This insight isn’t one to be
taken lightly. Curry treats it with a literary punch concocted of clever
writing and a compulsion to science. For my money, it would have been stronger
had he left most of the trendy science at home.

 

My rating: 4 stars of 5

 

 

Typescript Redux


For those interested in seeing what editing critique comments and further editing does for this manuscript, visit Typescript Redux and see the "final" version of each chapter as they become available.

Keep in mind that the perfect novel has never been written, and no novel is ever really finished….

“Seinfeld” and Postmodern Literature

Girl With Curious Hair, by David Foster Wallace

Remember “Seinfeld”? The TV series that billed itself as a show about nothing? No? Then let me introduce you to its literary equivalent—and its author. Wallace, author of the acclaimed book, Infinite Jest, died little more than a year ago, in 2008. During his short life he proved to be one of the more prolific of America’s younger writers.

I’m not a student of Wallace’s life – you’ll have to get that elsewhere – but I suspect he was a SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) – possibly too sensitive for his own good, given the nature of his death. But I digress.

However it happened, Wallace became the late twentieth century personification of postmodern literature. But what the hell is postmodern literature, anyway? Maybe a few excerpts from the centerpiece of Girl With Curious Hair, a novella cumbersomely titled, Westward The Course Of Empire Takes Its Way, will explain:

“…a required postmodern convention aimed at drawing the poor old reader’s emotional attention to the fact that the narrative bought and paid for and now under time-consuming scrutiny is not in fact a barely-there window onto a different and truly diverting world, but rather in fact an “artifact,” an object, a plain old this-worldly thing, composed of emulsified wood pulp and horizontal chorus lines of dye, and conventions, and is thus in a “deep” sense just an opaque forgery of a transfiguring window…”

In an ongoing metaphor, the characters of this story dwell from time to time on the TV series, “Hawaii Five-O”. As part of the characters’ blather about the series, this sentence turns up:

“Credit is political,” he pronounces. “It’s a tool of the elite. You use credit without thinking, you’re unthinkingly endorsing a status quo.”

In another recurring theme, the characters go on about something called metafiction—a form of fiction that self-consciously exposes the techniques of fiction. In case that seems overly abstract, think of a country singer writing songs about writing songs. Or, perhaps closer to home, a story writer writing stories about writing stories. Rather than the mirage of classical or modern fiction, or the “window onto a different and truly diverting world” that Wallace seems to diss here and there, its more like a hall of mirrors in which it becomes hard, if not impossible, to locate the origin of the many images. To wit:

“…each technique is really, just a reflective surface that betrays what it pretends to reveal.”

This is solipsism, Wallace admits: the only thing one can truly know as real is one’s

own self.

But this is also faux-metaphysics as literary style. One might even term it sophistry in story form. To this reader/writer it’s an existential ego trip – existential nihilism, the idea that life has no intrinsic meaning or value, but such nihilism writ large, i.e., it’s impossible to say anything about nothing, hence “Seinfeld” and the story – or show – about nothing.

But this doesn’t mean that postmodern literature is REALLY a sequence of meaningless squiggles on the page. In Wallace’s hands, storylines, as in “Seinfeld,”do move forward (even though they seem to want to dwell in various pregnant moments), and characters and their interactions do have a certain uniqueness, despite their declarations otherwise. Wit abounds here, but it’s largely the coming-of-age, cynical wit of jaded teens having long since taken their first toke on a joint, their first sip of Chivas, or having long since acquired their first tattoo or face piercing.

Wallace, the existential Peter Pan, is a master of bon mots of this type in Girl With Curious Hair, and some actually prove entertaining over their duration. At his best, Wallace takes on various narrative voices with the adeptness of Dustin Hoffman or Meryl Streep. But for the most part, this book seems academic language on a cocaine binge.

I don’t mean to detract from Wallace’s writerly skills here – although I’m afraid that’s the upshot. In another, perhaps more traditional mode of writing, he could have been a peer of Cheever or Roth. But within his chosen literary tack, he can garner only the worst of literary assessments from this reader: in three months’ time, I won’t remember a thing about this book.

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Labels: , , , ,

An Exemplar Of Literary Urges

The Man Who Died, by D.H. Lawrence

I’ve posted before on the need for writers to gain a measure of life’s seasoning in order to have something relevant to say. This is not to claim that younger writers don’t have a perspective on life worth sharing – but it does imply that life experiences of the young tend to pander to the superficial level of understanding, rarely allowing readers to experience anything of life beyond said young writer’s ego.

Literature is at its basis an educational device – one in which a story is told in a way allowing readers to identify with life at multiple levels. Such experience in literature is almost always an isolated, discrete one – a specific person or incident. This is for good reason: limiting literary experience keeps the reader from being overwhelmed by life’s panorama.

But…and here my point leaves most younger writers in the dust…a story told skillfully enough to be considered literature will lead the reader to experience the deeper significance of the story, and this almost always leads to something we might call a word-driven mystical experience.

I don’t think I’m being too high-flown here – literature at its best should be a meme for something religious folks call spiritual experience. And this experience is essentially a unifying one – an experience that makes all discrete experiences seem part of some (tangible or intangible) whole.

D.H. Lawrence wrote The Man Who Died late in his altogether-too-short life. Writers, particularly those with the poetic bent Lawrence displays in his work, seem to be able somehow to divine the future, and perhaps this book was his way of peering into his own after-life.

His story is one of Jesus of Nazareth, the central icon of Christianity, and I should digress for a moment: Lawrence seems to have two writerly urges here.

First, he takes a rather incomplete story – Biblical depictions are vague on details regarding Jesus’ death, his burial and his rising after three days (How, exactly, was he buried? Where was the cave? How was the large stone rolled into the cave’s entrance? What transpired, other than what Biblical scripture depicts, inside and outside the cave, during the three days? How did Jesus feel upon rising: was he physically tired, psychologically wan?). Such gaps, whether you consider them of history or myth, are irresistible to writers, and Lawrence surely felt drawn to fill these gaps in his own way. His strategy was to treat Jesus as more of a human than a sainted personality. He depicts Jesus in this story as a man living within a plausibly human context – something that clearly went (and goes) against the grain of the prevailing Christian mythos.

And second, he surely wondered: if I’m to portray Jesus as a human here, how must I treat his divine side? Lawrence's plan was to have Jesus travel to Egypt and to meet a priestess of Isis – the goddess of Egypt’s Old Kingdom.

Why Isis? There are parallels with the treatment of Jesus at the end of his life with the story of Osiris:

This Egyptian god was, according to prevailing myth, stuffed into a box by his brother Set, the box thrown into the Nile. Osiris’ wife, Isis, recovered the box and brought Osiris back to life via a certain spell. Thus, Osiris became the Egyptian god of the afterlife, or of resurrection (coincidentally, the Egyptian religious cults were resurrectionist, not reincarnationist, as is Christianity).

Lawrence’s writing, beyond the scandalous histrionics gathered about his stories, was essentially about resolving sexual polarities in human culture, i.e., how do – or can – we humans resolve our need for and emotional attachments to those of the opposite sex? In keeping with this bent, Lawrence brings Jesus – who remains in something of an emotional funk following his crucifixion and is still physically ailing – into a liaison with this priestess of Isis.

Something about the priestess’ physicality seems to salve Jesus’ wounds, and he goes on as a man – a wanderer – ever in search of peace as a human.

This story, then, has to do with treating Jesus as a single, human entity, then implying mythic connections with an Egyptian god of similar traits, and leading the reader to some deeper sense of meaning regarding this fictionalized portrayal. In so doing, Lawrence hoped, I think, to have the reader understand something of the divine in human experience, no matter how tragic.

Commentaries on this story depict Jesus’ human afterlife as viewing humanity’s collective state of mind as one in deep need of psychological and emotional healing, as ego-driven, as desperate to reconcile individual needs with collective needs.

Part of the genius Lawrence displays here is in treating these dichotomy-driven emotional states, not through didactics, but purely through a sweetly told story.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

What Goes Around…


Some fifteen years ago, I decided, after toying with poetry, short stories, and newspaper articles, to write a novel. I did, it was published, and my ego found reason to give me a swelled head as I began to see the book appear in bookstores.
The novel, a mystery, A Reason To Tremble, was a mass market paperback publication, published in Canada. Ugly things happened between U.S. distributors and my publishing house, and the publishing firm went under – as did my book. A book store owner tapped into records of its distribution to stores, the returns, etc. and from this I was able to estimate that the book sold between 1500 and 2000 copies in less than six months.
I finally regained my rights to the book through a class action suit, only to find that the unbound copies hadn't been destroyed – they were still being sold – on B&N, Amazon, and a couple of other electronic bookstores.
Because of this quagmire, I did nothing with the book for over a decade. It probably sold a few more copies, but I never received any of the proceeds. And along the way, as my writing skills continued to grow, I realized it needed editing – – a lot of editing.
So recently I hit on a fun idea – I'd edit it, chapter by chapter, and re-publish it serially as a blog.
So this is to announce that A Reason To Tremble, will begin appearing this, the first week of March, 2010. It'll coincide with the launch of a new blog , Typescript .
I have no illusions about the book being re-discovered in a big way. It'll just be fun – and my way of exacting a little revenge on the parties to my book's demise.
I hope to edit and post a new chapter about once a month, but don't count on it. In the interim, you can do more than read – you can join in. Write comments: predict the plot, the way it plays out. Critique or comment on the characters, the place, the crime (it's a mystery). Second guess me. Offer suggestions. Who knows? Together, we may make this a more interesting project than I anticipate.