Dangerous But Beautiful

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If you’re a writer, has your writing seemed milk-toasty at times? Or if you’re a reader, has a book disappointed because it is, well, milk-toasty?

Then if you have access to the January/February issue of Poets&Writers, Jan/Feb 2016, turn to Tom Spanbauer’s essay, Dangerous Writing. I’ll leave it to you to discover from his essay what dangerous writing is. But there’s a rather unsubtle hint in a paragraph on the third column of page 41.

Basic to Dangerous Writing is the belief that by going on this journey from blood to bone, by laying out hard truths, through our own intelligence, intuition, and ability we will make a personal discovery of reality. The discovery will be something that is ancient, but because it is we who have been on the front lines, this discovered reality is truly personal—completely fresh and new.

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This is the reality of literature, I believe—it takes ancient truths and spins them out in the context of the time and the author. This has been the truth of literature, more particularly of our modern, secular literature than of any writing throughout the ages.

But what does this mean? What does it say to humanity?

We live in a superficial age. This bouncing about on the surface of life allows us to hide behind style, posturing, the confidence of knowing too little, especially about ourselves. But by participating  in Spanbauer’s delving, we discover, first, something enduring about ourselves, not just as a storyteller but as a human being. Then we discover how that personal something finds its place in the human condition as a whole.

It may frighten, dear writer, and it may hurt peeling away those superficial confidences, but think of the story you are deep within. Think of its value to your readers. In that light, it’s not dangerous at all, is it?

 

As a postscript, I had to dig deep to write a story as provocative as the one advertised on page 134 of this edition of P&W, “We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.” If you haven’t read it, take a chance with it. I believe it is at least one version of our time. If you have read it, please let your reading friends know about this book. Thanks.

Losing Faith in Democracy

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Democracy In Retreat:The Revolt of the Middle Class and the Worldwide Decline of Representative Government, by Joshua Kurlantzick

This is more of a treatise than a piece of literary nonfiction, and as with most such pieces of writing, the overlong title virtually tells the story. The author has done an admirable job of collecting data and anecdotes to support his thesis here, which is one of high hopes dashed.

The U.S., he writes, has been the primary nation actively trying to export democracy, and perhaps too zealous in doing so. His concern isn’t our misadventures in Vietnam, South America and more recently, Iraq. Instead, it’s our more peaceful efforts to create democracies around the world. However, there has been altogether too much emphasis on the various electoral processes in doing so, and too little emphasis on policies, including the educational, to support permanent democratic reform. As a result, many democracies of the twentieth century have failed, returning those countries to oligarchies, dictatorships, or other, more repressive forms of representative government.

The poor, of course, have borne the primary disappointments here, but in many countries, it’s the middle classes that have become disenchanted with the democratic process. In all too many cases, upsetting the status quo has shrunken and disturbed the middle classes, which were both part of the ladder of societal ascendance and a buffer between poor and rich, between the disenfranchised and the powerful. Much of the frustration, in the author’s opinion, has been that more repressive societies, such as China, seem to achieve economic success while many democratic countries founder economically due to the decision-making inefficiencies of most democratic states.

To this reader, the author spends too much time citing one case history after another and too little trying to map our way out of this quagmire. Still he does a service in tacitly insisting that perhaps democracy is a product of social evolution – little more than a mere accident in the establishment of the U.S.

My rating: 15 of 20 stars

 

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Poverty and Violence

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Literature is rarely taught or even thought of as a socio-political device, but it often is, has been since Homer. The best writers are the best, most legitimate observers of society, and Cormac McCarthy has been the best of both in recent years of these United States. In his novel, Child of God (click for a previous review), he grapples with the consequences of generations of abject Southern poverty, a poverty from which there seems no escape. As these generations of the poor wear on, violence becomes the overwhelming consequence, the only escape from servile humiliation.

What’s the answer to such lives? McCarthy, correctly, doesn’t say; that’s not the novelist’s responsibility. His responsibility is only to pose the problem.

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Find Truth, Tell It

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With today’s media having been gobbled up by bottom-line-must-be-in-the black types, it’s hard for the book game to cultivate writers, and so we must do it ourselves. As I implied in this early post, writers have always found it hard to comment on their various societies, their foibles, their fledgling promise. We feel the pressure of politics, religion, and customs, aspects that support creaking social structures and deter us from looking at the unvarnished truths of our world. But this we must do; the power of the written word endures while politicians, preachers, and purveyors of the status quo wither and turn to dust. We writers and the fruits of our labors are the closest thing to immortality available in this evanescent world.

So be strong, writers. Don’t be swayed by the temporary comforts of politics, of religion and custom. Tell the truth, as you see it. Even though we’re mere chroniclers, our dedication to Truth, as Plato would have termed it, will outlast them all.

 

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Good Fortune in Dystopia

 

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I’m truly fortunate in being able to keep writing and in having my work published. This Saturday, March 15, 2014, a dystopian novella of mine will be launched as an e-book. The name? We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.

It’s something of a fable, a cautionary tale, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the U.S… oh, what the heck, I’ll just give you the cover blurb:

2090 A.D. — The America nation has collapsed, and its remnants have been at war for a half-century.

 Samuel II, mayor of Citadel, a Blue Ridge Mountain enclave, is determined to end the city’s wars with devolved tribal society, Freedomland. He sends troubled but insightful city archivist Jakob History to a bartering meet-up, hoping an interview with tribal leader Abraham Trapper might help further peaceful relations. Instead, the encounter leads Jakob to reexamine America’s past, to a danger-filled glimpse of Abraham’s tribal life, and to a final, fateful encounter with Abraham, these revealing human strengths and weaknesses that are at the basis of civilization itself.

 

I’m rather proud of this story for a number of reasons, foremost among them that I began with a vague idea of what I wanted to write and let my subconscious lead me into the morass of modern culture and the dangers it poses to us personally and to civilization itself.

And the book trailer was developed in similar fashion by my film ace, Kevin.

If you’re interested in buying the e-book after reading this and investigating it on my website, please wait until the 15th to do so. A number of sales on a given day are something you can collectively do to help the author. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook.

Thanks,

Bob

You Can Go Home Again

The Black House, by Peter May

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The twentieth century saw many people leave the land of their roots for what seemed more opportunity in the growing, vital urban areas. And many of these discovered that this move didn’t allow new roots and a new culture; instead it left them emotionally adrift. Peter May embraces this idea by setting his story off the Scottish coast on the Isle of Lewis, where Gaelic is still spoken, where centuries of hunting on a speck of an isle constantly renew those who live on Lewis – and those who have returned there.

Edinburgh cop Fin McLeod is tasked with returning to Lewis, the place of his birth and early years, in order to assess whether a grisly murder on Lewis is in fact connected with a very similar murder in Edinburgh. The author’s rendering of this link, and the solving of the murder on Lewis, is handled in a somewhat slapdash manner, but the murders aren’t really his project in The Black House. Instead, it’s an examination of Fin’s roots on Lewis after an eighteen year absence, his renewed relationships with old friends—and an old lover. It betrays nothing to tell that the Isle of Lewis, despite bitter memories, which include a handful of deaths, reaches out to Fin, urges him home.

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May’s writing here casts a somber but deeply rendered mood over his story, reminding this reader of Dennis Lehane’s writing. His prose is often exquisite, his depictions of hunting birds on a forbidding isle named An Sqeir perfectly rendered. Reading May’s work here is an opportunity to immerse oneself in an ancient culture that struggles daily to remain pristine and yet vital.

My rating 17 of 20 stars

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‘I Don’t Believe In Writer’s Block’/The Atlantic

 

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The article linked below is one all writers should read, and it’s one that certainly speaks to me. I’ve spent years lost in the woods (read: another career) while writing virtually nothing. But what I subsequently discovered is that those woods did indeed leave me with much soil from which stories might grow. And, to espouse a cliche, it’s a process. At first, unsure of my ability to extract stories from these raw experiences, I outlined, organized, and after I wrote I analyzed what I’d written. Now I favor taking off as Steinbeck did in To A God Unknown, i.e., I write without knowing where the writing will take me. This is truly being lost in the woods. Dear writers (and readers) you always find your way out of the woods if you’re determined to do so, but it’s a path you can never retrace and walk a second time.

 

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