Oddside News That Works

 

 The Atlantic, September 2013

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How to publish responsible journalism but appeal to the weirdness a sensationalism-loving public craves…hmmm…

Whatever you do, whatever you write, make sure technology is at the core of it.

This is what The Atlantic attempts in this edition, and it seems a success to this reader.

The lead story, “The Killing Machines,” by Mark Bowden, delves into Obama’s use of drones to combat jihad fighters in the Middle East. War has changed – it no longer involves traditional military strategy; it’s fought by non-state fighters and special forces. And drones are the centerpiece of this new type of war. How do the military, politicians, and the public adjust to this, the morality (or lack) of it? Read the article. It’s all there.

 

Are we addicted to work, an activity we seem to feel is anathema nowadays? In “The Work Addiction,” Jordan Weissmann compares work to alcohol usage, and claims the affluent are more heavily hooked on work that the less educated and affluent. And along these lines, there’s a conversation between Palul Theroux and Andrew McCarthy, “I Hate Vacations.”

 

James Fallows has displayed a significant curiosity regarding technology lately, and in his interview with Charles Simonyi, “Why Is Software So Slow?” we get a sense of the difficulties inherent in software development.

 

In “The Counterrevolutionary,” Sara Mosle explores Diana Ravich’s eschewing trendy tech-heavy education for a back-to-the-roots approach to educating kids.

 

Possibly the most intriguing article, especially for the social voyeur, is Hanna Rosin’s “Advertisement For Murder,” in which while middle-class males are targeted by a serial killer, “Jack,” through employment ads.

 

You get the drift. The Atlantic has decided to walk a fine line between sensationalism and responsible journalism, and it seems to be working.

 

 

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.

 

MFA From All Angles Becomes an Incestuous Circle

 

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Poets & Writers, September /October, 2013

 

Ah, me. We all know what I think of MFA programs by now, how they homogenize talent, hold out false hope, and settle aspiring writers into subsequent incestuous cycles of such.

 

But let me get a grip.

 

All right, I’m ready to go on.

 

This issue provides an index (rating) of MFA programs. Based on what, you ask? Largely on the popularity of programs. i.e., which ones are the most young writers slavering to get into. And believe me, if the articles here speak truth, there’s plenty of this slavering going on; admission is ultra competitive. Of course, class size is a concern: that is, how students can get the most one-on-one attention possible. And cost is another concern that’s handled in creative ways I’m not sure are available to students wishing to enter, say, an engineering or a history degree.

But then what’s the upshot of graduating from MFA? Says Michael Bourne in this issue, “some get tenure track positions in graduate MFA programs…The rest has built careers out of part-time teaching and freelance writing gigs…”

As I keep saying, “ah, me.”

Still there’s a nice article on Montana writer Rick Bass by Michael Washburn. and another on Jesmyn Ward, by Kevin Nance. Save these until last, lest you have to take an overlong shower to rid yourself of all that MFA dreck.

 

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.

Digging for the Unknown

The Writer’s Chronicle – September 2013

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I always find this writer’s mag interesting to read, even if a particular issue has little to offer me concerning my own perceived writerly issues. But I have to say that with this issue the editors managed to step out onto a creaky limb with what I see as a quite obvious underlying theme that can be best described by citing Richard Jackson’s article title, “Re(In)fusing Heaven.” The subject here isn’t what you might think at first blush; it’s an examination of how prominent poets view the sensed unknown beyond human life experience. Everyone, I suppose, wonders at the 95% of the universe that lies beyond the abilities of our senses to perceive. Technology has expanded that ability by leaps and bounds, but the poets’ challenge is to parse the role of language in such mental and emotional extrapolations. 

In an interview early in this issue, Andy Fogle has poet Arthur Sze intending to “expand one’s consciousness and conception of what art can do, and I believe the miraculous and visionary are always right here, close at hand.”

In recent years I’ve become fascinated with modern European fiction. This issue gives us an article on W.G. Sebald, “After Sebald,” by Sabina Murray, in which Ms Murray depicts Sebald’s fiction as exploring the mind’s functioning, such as time and memory, in a manner similar to that of poets seeking to express life’s unknowns.

And Joan Wickersham takes on the unexplored depths of love – yet another boundless abstraction – in talking of her recent book of short stories.

Late in my page-turning here, an article on Robert Bly turned up, “Greatness has a Defender – Robert Bly in the Twenty-First Century,” by Norman Minnick. Much maligned and consequently troubled poet, Bly has become something of a totem to men sitting naked in a drum circle as a vehicle to understanding maleness. But these posturings of Bly’s amount to experience, hence learning, hence a form of experiential wisdom.

In a way, these extrapolations, whether mental, emotional, or experiential, are the bedrock of all literature: this grasping for the unknown and the challenge of uncovering the right language to express it. Thanks to Writer’s Chronicle for placing this search parallel to religious dogma, but without tainting it with such.

 

 

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.

 

Books – Keeping Them, Getting Rid of Them

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I’m quite taken by Lawrence Tabak’s column, linked below, on getting rid of books. I face the same dilemma, but not quite in the same way.

When I moved to Georgia from Louisiana at age twenty-two to take my first and only job, I had everything I owned in the trunk of my car. For a lot of years I resisted saving anything and had quite a few possession purges. Then it began.

First, I began to collect records. Then, ever so slowly, my book collection grew. I bought a VCR and began to save movies, first from those taped from TV, then those I bought outright. Then more books. Then DVRs. And still more books.

Technology has been good to me when it comes to purging: it miniaturized and ephemeralized almost everything. My stereo system is small enough now to place in a dresser drawer, and three-inch speakers talk as loudly as my ancient Electrostatic ones did. Technology did away first with records, then tapes, then CDs. Now my music is bought, played, and retained in digital form. Ditto movies.

But my book collection is where I still have a problem. I’ve read on a Kindle and an iPad, and both provide me with good reading experiences, and still I buy the hardbacks, the trade paperbacks. Some of that has to do with the fact that I’m a writer; I traffic in books, although I can’t yet say I make a living at it. Just yesterday I spent a long afternoon at a bookstore signing I’d worked hard to get, talking about books and writing, selling and signing my books. And so the print medium still has me in its grasp, despite my desire to lessen that load.

I am resolved to get rid of a major portion of my books – some I swore I’d never let go. Still, I know it’s going to be a difficult and somewhat painful process. And I know I’ll never be able to travel with all my possessions in the trunk of my car.

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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.

Texas Old and New

The Son, by Philipp Meyer

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Meyer has written a great, sprawling tale of Texas in The Son, and its passage from the land of Comanches and feral cattle to the Lone Star State’s version of modernity. To depict this passage, the author gives us the McCullough family, beginning with adventurous grand sire Eli in the 1820s and ending with his effete descendants in the twenty-first century. Meyer has done himself proud, not only in researching Texas’ history, but in giving us a clear-eyed view of that history’s underlying psychology. In essence, Meyer’s Texas is a land in which precedents of the strong taking from the weak still governs.

As the story begins, the McCulloughs are exacting revenge on a Hispanic family, the Garcias, because a Garcia is reputed to have attempted to kill a McCullough. It’s deemed proper to exterminate the Garcia family and take their lands: the Garcias have outlived their three hundred-year husbandry of the land, and it’s time for the WASPs to ascend. But Eli’s son Peter isn’t so sure this is the right thing. Father Eli allows the near-extermination of the Garcia family to go forward, and a rift appears between Eli and Peter that only grows wider as time passes.

 

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Meyer gives us this tale in three forms. First, a third-person account of Peter’s grand-daughter, Jeannie, who’s caught between the worlds of oil and cattle, between the old and the new. Then there’s Peter’s ongoing story in diary form, followed by a first person tale of Eli, kidnapped by the Comanches in his youth, his three years with them, then his struggle to bridge the Comanche world and that of Texas’ early white culture. Such structuring has become de rigueur in modern fiction writing, and that’s not always a good thing. But Meyer uses the technique to good effect in juxtaposing Native American culture against white, Hispanic against both, and Texas’ ongoing evolution.

The book is an ambitious undertaking and of great value in plumbing this significant portion of the U.S.’s psyche. Still, some of Meyer’s story seems to exist only to display his historical research. And his passive voice holds the reader at arm’s length, while his characters and story urge the reader toward an intimacy with them that’s never consummated.

No fiction is perfectly executed, and while Meyer seems to have overreached a bit in conceiving this story, he clearly realizes that Texas is itself a story, and perhaps a key to understanding the whole of the American experiment.

 

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.

 

WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle/NYT

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We’re thinking about Elmore Leonard this week. You may say what you will about the nature of his stories, but his characters were captivating, his writing as near impeccable as can be.

 

 

 

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The link below takes you to a few writerly teasers by Leonard, some of the most basic but most significant advice on writing that you’ll find. In fact, these are the primary points you’ll come across in writing programs, the better critique classes, and advice from writing mentors. It’s not by accident that Leonard cites both Hemingway and Steinbeck in these writing points – they clearly influenced him, as they have me.

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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.

Stories and The Value of Reader Comfort

Yesterday I had a first appearance and presentation for my latest book, Sam’s Place: Stories, a collection of connected short stories that form an overarching drama similar to a novel.

I enjoy mixed media presentations – they’re works of art in themselves, rather non-linear and, in yesterday’s case, visual. I’d planned to add sound, in the form of music,too, but thought that would’ve been too busy. The primary purpose of such a presentation, of course, is to entertain attendees a bit, and to give them a feel for the collection.

 

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The collection? It’s a montage of character portrayals set in a rural Alabama town, principally in a pool hall/beer joint unimaginatively named Sam’s Place. Sam Witherspoon is the proprietor, and the stories’ common thread is slowly fructifying change in Sam’s life. And yes, the collection’s based on a few years of my visiting such places in the rural South.

Those attending seemed to like and even relate to the presentation – I kept seeing heads nodding, even mouths moving, wanting to comment, but too polite to interrupt. What I hadn’t expected – and I rehearsed the presentation many times over at home – was the subtler connection of both story and presentation to life in the South – – this occurring  in mid-presentation.

Societies such as my fictional town of Striven, Alabama, naturally fall into strata – first, functional ones based on the population’s interdependence: grocer, farmer, paper mill and its workers, police, mayor, banker, preachers, etc. But then these occupations become separated socially, roughly along classes of work and education, and this is where conflict starts. Where a town might begin in rather egalitarian fashion, soon some are deemed “better” than others, and the “others” are subtly pushed out of contact with the rest. These “others,” then, gravitate to places such as Sam’s. Moral qualities are assigned to these different strata, with Sam’s patrons deemed least morally acceptable. And this sets in motion the conflicts that Sam and his patrons experience in these stories.

Better that I didn’t orchestrate this in the beginning; the stories would have been less story and more didactic statement. But this is the power of story: such conflicts rise from the writer’s subconscious to fiction, and in this way they’re less personally indicting for readers. Readers are allowed to understand the conflicts in a deeper sense, perhaps subconsciously, and they take a fainter, safer step forward in social healing.

 

 

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.