Minor Trips

Having lived in Atlanta for a lot of years, I grew away from major league baseball as going to the ballpark became more of a spectacle than a sport. So imagine my glee at moving to SmallTown USA and discovering minor league baseball, where you can still jaw at the players, coaches, and umpires, eat hot dogs and drink beer without taking out a loan.

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image via minortrips.com

 

After writing about that some years ago, a small baseball publication, Minor Trips, picked up my article and re-published it. I've been a fan of Minor Trips since then.

It costs $15 a year to subscribe and you get a newsletter in December and April. I've just received the April 2012 edition, with  articles on such charming topics as switch pitchers and amateur leagues, including the Cape Cod League. There's also a listing of all minor leagues, some affiliated with The Show, some not.

If you're a baseball fan, I can only urge you to check out Bob Carson's Minor Trips. His mailing address is: P.O. Box 360105, Strongsville, OH 44136.

The Associated Press: Apple pledge likely to boost China factory wages

This is actually good news. I'd hate to see the Chinese version of factory-style capitalism go the route of nineteenth-century England and U.S. versions. Of course, the most immediate concern of us selfish western consumers is whether or not the price of Apple's gadgets will rise with the rising wages in Chinese tech factories. Personally, I hope the prices don't – it will send a message to ideologues that capitalism can satisfy the needs of consumers and workers alike.

Apple, though, is sitting on some 60 billion in cash, and the company has recently decided to pay dividends to stockholders. If the overwrought expectations of stockholders everywhere holds true, though, either Chinese workers' wages will stagnate or Apple gadget prices will rise in order to squeeze every last penny out of Apple to pay said stockholders. 

Thus, Apple is on stage now to test the durability of capitalism everywhere.

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By JOE McDONALD, AP Business Writers – 11 hours ago 

via www.google.com

Microscopic Vision

Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories, by Edith Pearlman

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image via fictionwritersreview.com

I get where Pearlman gets the name from this collection, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The short story as an art form is more wide open than most readers – and writers ­– realize. Short fiction can depict characters at a depth that makes some novels look amateurish. And the form can tell the most audacious of tales, or portray culture in ways that inform as much as does history. All this in 300 words or in 15,000. When an author and an editor compile a collection such as this one, you can expect connecting threads – tenuous ones, or threads so thick and interwoven they all but approach a novel. Or, in Pearlman’s case here, the stories are a montage, the connections cultural, and stylistic.

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image via telegraph.co.uk

A good many of these stories are of Jewish culture, with the Holocaust and Jewish diaspora looming like thunderclouds. Pearlman’s approach is to people her stories in impeccably taut prose – the sort that would make Hemingway sit back and take note.The collection’s name? Clearly, she bores into singular moments of her characters’ lives, using nondescript things as metaphors for aspects of these lives. In doing so, Pearlman must leave hazy the grander context of her characters’ lives: place, many degrees of family nuance, history. In this sort of story, the reader must follow the author into an almost microscopic view of her characters’ lives, their moments of story. The down side for readers of this most artful type of fiction is that he/she must grasp for context, must survey the blurred corona surrounding this microscopic vision in order not to feel lost is space.

I understand this sort of approach, but it isn’t easy from the reader’s standpoint – in fact, when, in the case of this collection, the structure and approach to characterization are so similar from story to story, it’s hard to want to finish them. I kept turning pages, wanting something to change, to make me breathe refreshed at story’s end and look forward to the next, unexpected literary adventure. Sadly, I didn’t find that here.

 

My rating: 12 of 20 stars

 

 

 

Kirkus Likes!

I'd been waiting somewhat anxiously for the Kirkus Review of recently published novel, A Reason To Tremble. They liked it and I'm really excited! The review follows:

 

 

Front Cover

After the small town of Hope, Ga., is rocked by the hit-and-run death of a 10-year-old girl, two brothers set out to find her murderer in Mustin’s debut thriller.

When Emily Shane is killed by a hit-and-run driver, her father, Pat, begins to obsess over the idea that known-alcoholic Phil Agee is the culprit. It was Agee’s vehicle that was seen ricocheting away from the crime scene, after all. But Agee’s close involvement with a prominent liberal senator, Alan Baxter, leads Pat to suspect that the police and Baxter are withholding evidence and not interested in pursuing justice. Pat’s increasingly violent mood swings and volatile outbursts are driving a wedge between him and his wife, Yvonne; the town; and his brother Jason, a Vietnam War vet who lives with the couple. In order to save his family, Jason agrees to investigate the case with old war buddy and private detective Wilton Byrd—as long as Pat lays low. As the case enfolds, more tragedy ensues and Jason and Wilton uncover secrets and lies that shatter the family and

town. Author Mustin has created a rich, layered and believable character study of Hope and its people; these are fundamentally decent people who struggle against a greater machine. Some lose their souls and lives trying to make a difference. The corrupting nature of power (the enormity of which is the title’s “reason to tremble”), the damaging effects of war and personal loss, and issues of trust and betrayal are explored with intelligence and depth as two men risk everything to uncover the truth. Filled with complex characters and relationships, this novel is moving and compulsively readable. Ultimately, readers may ask whether holding onto ideals and integrity is really worth this high a price.

An absorbing thriller wrapped in a sharp, biting critique of corruption. 

 

And So To Begin…

I'm wondering….

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image via depositphotos.com

 

You writers out there, how do you go about structuring your stories? Do you have a plan, or do you just wing it? And do you plot it out? Do you have your characters dance on plot's puppet strings?

All these are valid ways to write, some maybe more efficient than others. But whatever sets your hair on fire, you know, sets your hair on fire. 

As for myself, I've always fleshed out my characters first. I devise a central character, and then a core of three or maybe more about him/her.      I ask:

What do they want? How do they get what they want? Do they really want what they say they want? 

Then I create an event to set them all in motion, and I'm off and running. Things change along the way, of course, although it's usually the tone of the story, the mood, and sometimes the peripheral plot twists. 

I'd be interested in hearing from you writers, how you go about imagining story.

 

The World As We Know It

Harper's Magazine, April 2012

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Why does a magazine that many think leans toward the upper crust establishment take on the manner in which the ultra rich and the corporate world are eroding U.S. style democracy? Surely because those parasitic tendencies will eventually turn cannibalistic, i.e., the rich will, unless checked, come to feed on one another as well. In "It's a Rich Man's World," Thomas Frank tells us this isn't an anomaly; it's happened before. But this time, there may be neither a trustbusting nor a new deal Roosevelt to set things to rights for everyman. 

In "The Warrior Class," journalist Charles Glass chronicles the rise of the mercenary as both individual and corporation, and the move of the ability to declare and fight war away from the people. 

And I find it interesting that this issue displays the fiction of both Alice Munro ("Train") and Roberto Bolaño ("The Secret of Evil"). Both are adept at telling stories about nothing much at all, as if they were examining the innerworkings of a grandfather clock. Munro's, though, seems almost whimsical against Bolaño's darker, ominous nothings. 

As is increasingly true, there's little to rejoice in in the self-reflective, post-modern world. But it's always instructive to depict that world and what we know about it, as Harper's Magazine does.

Transforming Characters

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

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 image via gq.com

 

This is an odd but compelling book. It covers so many bases (in the literary sense) that it’s hard to know where to start. So to the story. Mike Schwartz, a salt of the earth member of Westish college’s football and baseball teams, sees in shy Henry Skrimshander a pearl-in-the-rough baseball talent. He uses his influence, which is considerable, to have Henry recruited to the tiny, relatively poor liberal arts college to play shortstop. Henry is roomed with Owen Dunne, a gay member of the baseball team. As you might imagine, the team is an eccentric mix of talent and personalities, not unlike some professional ball clubs. The team slowly gels. In the meantime, Mike and Pella Affenlight, the school president’s daughter, become lovers. Guert Affenlight, the prez, a former flashy Harvard professor with a fascination for the work of Herman Melville and former ladies’ man, is drawn to Owen in – shall we say – a manner unbecoming to his station.

Harbach’s talent here is in making something coherent of these disparate characters – not a small challenge. He takes each into personal nadir, then brings each from those depths in unexpected ways that in the end make sense. They make sense, not in personal ways, but as a collective – much the same way a successful baseball team gels. In this way each becomes transformed into a person one could hardly have anticipated.

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image via theawl.com 

 

Baseball, then, is more than a backdrop – it’s a conveyance for the ways people in this modern era change and grow through interaction. It’s no coincidence, I think, that Harbach has this occur at a college, the traditional place of transformation for young minds. That Guert Affenlight, in his sixties, is changing, too, makes the statement even stronger, perhaps telling us that age and tradition aren’t the staid old things they used to be.

There are many more nuances to this book, but this will give you the idea. The only flaw I note in this book – and it’s a relatively small, subtle one – is that the author seems to have a hard time finding a way to end the story. Still, Harbach is a literary talent, and I can only look forward to more such compelling, eminently readable books from him.

 

My rating: 17 of 20 stars