Summer Blahs and Turning the Page

Harper’s Magazine, July 2013 and August 2013

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Summertime and the livin’ is easy, the song says, and who’s to say magazines don’t get to chillax some then, too? That’s the way I felt after reading the July issue of Harper’s Magazine – still good, still professional, but with a tinge of the blahs. Thomas Frank’s cautionary essay about Fox, USA Today, and others isn’t exactly newsy, nor is Jeff Madrick’s wakeup call regarding the protections debtors have. Still they’re worth reading.

Same with an Icelandic firm wanting to make a killing on climate change by selling glaciers – almost like scammers selling moon rocks. And maybe the article on psychotropic mushrooms spills the summertime beans: we gotta escape, it almost claims.

Even Julie Hecht’s fiction, “May I Touch Your Hair?” seems a ho-hum day at the beach, although it’s perfectly written.

But then we all wake up from our summer doldrums for a moment, blink, and scratch our bottoms before surrendering once more to globally-warm lethargy. That moment in this issue came with Mark Edmundson’s essay on the state of American verse – something that could be said as well of the popular song and today’s literary fiction. His thesis, one I’ve adhered to for some years, is that poetry is now self absorbed and esoteric. The reasons? They’re many, and Edmundson lists them, erudite detail by erudite detail.

 

Then there’s August.

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Sleep is always problematic for me in summer, and the same must be said for a lot of others, what with a series of word sketches by writers of one ilk or another about the elusive nature of sleep.

And, yes, we all know by now that the world’s fish supply is being depleted by a hungry world, but Erik Vance puts it in words and pictures for us. For whimsy we get a piece by Rowan Jacobsen about elephants attacking an Indian village and a piece by Beau Friedlander on the history of scent. The one high point to these two issues is Lynn Freed’s clever tale of another and daughter’s move to the U.S. from South Africa.

 

I suppose this is proper for this time of year. How many times have I seen people in barbershops, grocery stores and the like listlessly and absently turning magazine pages? It’s a summer thing, I think, and Harper’s won’t be hurt by their own doldrums.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

 

Of Love and Adventure – An Interview With Brian Heffron

This is the second in a series of indie author interviews, with Brian Francis Heffron.

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I first encountered Brian on Facebook – both writers, and all that. Then he engaged me and others in a conversation on Goodreads concerning a most prescient, historical question: Why hasn’t there been more novels about the glories and travails of the ‘sixties – from the countercultural perspective? The course of that e-conversation led me to ponder memories of that era – mine certainly less romantic and countercultural than Brian’s. Still it was hard not to have grand adventures during that time – a time that has spawned many changes in the U.S.’s social fabric.  Brian’s story, Colorado Mandala, has to do with two friends living such grand adventures, both men vying for the affections of a beautiful woman. Besides being a sailor ( as he describes in his interview), Brian has been a writer/producer/director for PBS, and is a poet.

Below, I discuss the book and its beginnings with Brian.

Gridley Fires – – With the background I allude to above, how did you come to write this novel?

Brian Heffron – – In the seventies I attended Emerson College’s Writing Program in Boston. My “Writers in Residence” instructors included Russell Banks and Viet Nam novelist Tim O’Brien. These two men inspired me to write a novel about Viet Nam and its effects on our returning soldiers. Because I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from some events that happened to me in my youth, (even though I did not know it at that time) these brave Veterans and myself had something deeply in common. We had all experienced trauma, and in a sense were similar in our symtoms, which include hyper-vigilance, self-isolating behavior, over-reactive action, self medicating to remain calm, and a fear of perilous situations, even if they were only in our own minds. So I set out to hitchhike around our great and vast country with the intent to interview as many of these returning vets as I could. They did not want to have anything to do with me at first. It was a closed circle and if you were not a veteran you were not welcome. But gradually, probably because they could see that I was also damaged in the same way, they began to accept me and even welcome me into their private worlds. Thus I began to interview and record all their ghastly stories about what they had experienced in their war. I interviewed at least thirty of these men and even though their stories were different, they did have one thing in common: PTSD. Their plight and courage and decency inspired me to try and capture what had happened to them without revealing any private information, so I chose the vehicle of a fictional novel to communicate the effects of PTSD with the hope that it would function as a tool to help soothe, comfort, and perhaps even to  heal people with PTSD, no matter how they acquired it. I worked on the book for all of the remaining three years I was at Emerson College. Each week taking in a chapter to my writing class and having it examined and critiqued by my brother and sister writers in the Emerson College BFA program. By the time I graduated I had finished the book.

But then, upon graduation from Emerson, an opportunity to become a professional delivery sailor came my way, and I spent the next two years at sea, never sleeping ashore as I hopped from sailboat to sailboat making a complete circumnavigation of the North Atlantic. I worked my way up from deckhand to helmsman (I can steer well in a storm) to Celestial Navigator (there was no GPS back then so one had to master the use of a sexton – used to determine your position at sea) to licensed delivery skipper. I crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 35 days. All the while my book, now entitled Colorado Mandala, sat idle with the rest of my stored treasures at the house of a blood brother who cared for them.

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Then last year I found an old copy of the book and had it retyped into my Mac. I then set about revising it with the benefit of all I had learned in those four intervening decades. The book changed dramatically. PTSD had been identified and understood by this time, and I suddenly realized  that writing the book in the seventies had been an attempt at self healing. The book grew and deepened, perhaps because, dare I say, I too had grown and deepened?

In any case, the revised version was finished and sent out to editors and proof readers and gradually refined to the point where it was ready for publication. That is how the book was created and I think, according to the reviews we have received so far, I may have succeeded in capturing what it is like to suffer from PTSD and perhaps even to have pointed a way to recovery through the love of others and therapy from learned doctors. That was my intent, and if you read the book I think you will agree that it does soothe and explain this complex and painful malady now suffered by hundereds of thousands of Americans from  all walks of life.

But the book is also a cracking action adventure story and a deeply involving romance…so it is not just about Viet Nam and PTSD. It is a story of people and the lives they lead, with the pain and joy we all feel every day.

GF – – In Colorado Mandala, your adventurous narrator, Paul, seems poles apart from his troubled friend, Michael Atman. How do you see their differences, their similarities? What, in your view, makes this pair work as fictional characters?

BH – – They are almost opposites. Some readers have pointed out that perhaps all three characters in Colorado Mandala, Michael, the x-Green beret, Paul, the wandering seeking soul of a new generation, and Sarah, the earthy and nurturing woman they both love, are all parts of myself. I think this may be true. Paul is the narrator and he is a gentle soul who knows his friend Michael has been damaged and cares and loves him enough to stand by him during his worst demonstrations of PTSD. They are “buddies” or “mates” or whatever word you want to use to describe two men who love each other unconditionally. They fight and argue, but beneath that they would probably die for one another. This is the greatest love one can have for another human being, and Sarah is there to try to referee their friendship so that neither of them actually goes too far over the edge. You have to read the book to see if I have succeeded in telling a true story about two men and a women who love each other and are desperately trying to help each other become whole again.

GF – – The book’s mood seems largely captured by your narrative. Was it a conscious decision to do this?

BH – – Yes, I guess so. The 1970s was a unique era of change in America. The country was split down the middle by politics, the assassinations of the previous decade, and the liberation movements of civil rights, feminism and the newly fought-for acceptance of same sex relationships. They even had a name for it back then: it was called “The Generation Gap,” and it was like a Berlin Wall between the young and the old. I tried in my book to tear this wall down by showing that people are all the same at heart, even if we have dramatically different beliefs and make widely different choices. We all bleed red and feel pain. So why not emphasize the similarities rather than highlight the differences? This is what human values should be, tolerance and acceptance of all others who do no harm. To this day, I do not understand why people stir up trouble for other folks who are doing them no harm. I think it may be because conflict makes money for media corporations, as they can sell people screaming at each other but not reaching out for each other. The pursuit of money in America has become the ultimate goal and the previous values of love, friendship and shared hardship have mostly gone the way of the log cabin. They are still here to a degree, but they are hidden away in the dense woods of the high mountains. I would like to see love portrayed more often and not just this endless battle of minor differences and intolerance of the choices of others. I hope that makes sense.

GF – – What are you up to now; is there another novel in the works?

BH – – Yes, I am now writing an historical fiction book about the period of the Irish rebellion from approximately 1907 to 1922. My ancestor, James Larkin was the founder of the Irish Citizens Army, a labor army formed of dock workers, carters and transportation workers, which quickly became the main defense of the labor class of Dublin, people who at that time were living in a grim and horrible squalor brought about by the exploitation of the Irish people by the British aristocracy. For instance, the death rate in Dublin at that time was comparable to that of “The Black Hole of Calcutta”: Twenty-five people to a room and rampant and crushing poverty. Larkin was like an avenging angel as he roused the Irish people back to their senses and told them: “The great appear great because you are on your knees – Arise!” I am an Irish Citizen and this is really a family history set against the larger world-affecting revolution that freed Ireland from British domination.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

‘This Did Something Powerful to Me’: Authors’ Favorite First Lines of Books/The Atlantic

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We could all learn something here about what makes a novel tick for the reader.

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Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Sam’s Place is Going Public

In August and September, I’ll be appearing at several bookstores in Western North Carolina to promote my latest book, Sam’s Place: Stories.

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I’ve been fortunate to have the book place in some local bookstores, and I’m ecstatic that the book is attracting appearances.

The appearances confirmed for August are listed here:

August 17 – Accent on Books, Asheville, NC
August 24 – Fountainhead Books, Hendersonville, NC
August 31 – Blue Ridge Books, Waynesville, NC

I’ll list the September appearances soon.

If the book seems intriguing (see the note below), and you know of stores or other venues in the southeast where I might appear, please let me know.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Apple’s agnostic approach to TV: better than Google’s but not a win for viewers/gigaom

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More power to Apple and Google (see link below). I have an Apple TV, and I like it. There are a couple of flies in the ointment, though – –  you still need an ISP, and all of those available have limits on streaming. Too, what’s been offered so far on Apple TV is a la carte, and I’m not sure that’s a less expensive alternative.

 

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Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Real Life and Writing

This morning I posted a whine on Facebook – – all the things I need to do around the house, what with my wife suffering cancer, my aching, cartilage-less left knee – – and oh yeah, the impact of all this on my writing. As I re-considered that post while eating breakfast, I had to ask myself: Why do you feel the need to complain? Isn’t that selfish? Don’t you still carve out a couple of hours a day to write, to market your writing? Well, yes. Yes, I do. I’ve begun to complain; it’s a habit and not a good one. Yes, it is selfish, wishing I had more time to my personal devices. And yes, I’m still writing, and, I think, writing well.

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We writers tend to be a solitary lot. But why do we loners seek out the muses that traffic in fiction’s alternate realities in the view-from-afar of memoir, of essay, of journalism and history?

Largely, I think,we’re loners and we write because we’re perfectionists, idealists, those who wish the world to be other than it is. Certainly, this is the seed that engenders in us the exaggerated, otherwise worlds of fiction, the broad brush view of life that comes to nonfiction writers. But this desire for something more, something better, some greater sense of understanding, doesn’t come to those for whom life is easy; it comes to those who have slipped and fallen, to those who have suffered a few slaps in the face from violated friendships, from scholarly failures, from career and family disappointments – from the abyssal pool of slights and lack in an imperfect world.

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The muses are the personifications of the various arenas of knowledge and artistic expression, there to reveal themselves to a more-than-slightly off-center world. So we writers, whatever our personal damage, choose to have one foot in a world that seeks to be better, the other foot in the clear pool of personified art, of knowledge. As such, we’re the bridges between those two universes. So what? you say? That’s just philosophical meandering? Not if you embrace the slights and slaps you suffer, ground yourself in them. That secure foothold in this world’s eddies will allow you a clearer picture of what your muses have to offer you and the world.

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

Peering Through Zelda’s Eyes

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Z – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler

 

Have you ever wondered how the Lost Generation seemed through the eyes of a wife of one of those famed male writers? Therese Anne Fowler apparently did, and took up Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s cause in the process. By previous male accounts, Zelda was rambunctious, opinionated, and deeply vulnerable, and Fowler’s fictional accounting of Zelda’s life does little to counter that image. What the author does do is dig deeper into the relationship between Zelda and the Sayre family, between Zelda and Scott, and between this most famous wife of that arty bunch and Hemingway, whose writing pushed this Paris crowd into the public’s consciousness.

Zelda is of Alabama aristocracy, her father a prominent Montgomery judge. She’s a pretty girl who enjoys ballet and Southern society but who is shanghaied by handsome Northerner, Scott Fitzgerald. This doesn’t sit well with the Sayres, but Zelda, as Fowler writes of her, doesn’t really care. Off the couple go to New York, where they’re married, spend Scott’s money lavishly, drink too much, have a daughter, Scottie, and end up in Europe after two of Scott’s novels are published. There they stay, drinking and fighting, both deteriorating under the effects of overabundant alcohol, Scottie shuttled from one caretaker to another. After Zelda’s long, exhausting stay in the care of European psychiatrists, the family returns to the U.S. Then more hospitalization for Zelda while Scott parks himself in Hollywood writing movie scripts.

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Besides this chronicling of a troubled literary family, the author takes on another project here: depicting an emerging feminist movement in Europe and the grip male attitudes had on women, particularly the wives of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Her writing is well done for the most part, blemished only by occasionally bland dialogue – the product of lack of strong narrative support. I wondered halfway through how Fowler would handle Zelda’s mental deterioration, but that facet of Zelda’s life was managed dazzlingly well. While this book is fiction, and while much of what’s been written of the Fitzgeralds is admitted to be contradictory, this is a valuable addition to the legend of the Lost Generation.

 

My rating 17 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.