The Prisons of Home

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A Piece of the World, by Christina Baker Kline

The world of fiction is an organic, living one. That is to say, in regard to Kline’s fine book, there is a growing number of ways to write a biography. (Having written and soon to have published a similar biographic novel about one Hans Ulrich Rudel, I can attest to biographical life within just such a world). The author has chosen an interesting real-life character, Anna Christina Olson, who suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, a highly misunderstood neurological condition. But the book is also in equal parts about the generation of Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting of Olson, Christina’s World, and about life in early twentieth-century Maine.

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Told from Christina’s point of view, present tense, Kline explores what is known of Christina’s interior life, her family life, and the book explores an early-on romance between Christina and Walton, who later abandons her, leaving her as emotionally damaged as she was increasingly physically incapacitated. Too, Andy Wyeth weaves his own role into Christina’s life, and with him there, Kline’s novel directs itself inexorably toward the famed painting.

The deeper reach of this novel explores the ways in which home can become a prison, in this instance for Christina and her brother Al. Ironically, however, Christina’s stubborn avoidance of assistance and sympathy places her in the town of Cushing’s limelight. Kline’s recognition of this, coupled to dialogue passages that are among the most realistic this reader has experienced, makes this a book lending itself to the deepest understanding of the human condition.

My rating: 20 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

A Jones I Never Anticipated

I think I’m an addict.

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No, no, not what you have in mind; not street skag and not the more commonly accepted uptown coke. Certainly not opioids, although I have a longstanding prescription for a small amount to help me deal with persistent knee and leg pain.

It’s writing, I think. It’s my compulsion to write that has me jonesing now, and I don’t like it.

“You’re a good writer,” my next door neighbor urged last week, “but you need to learn how to market your stuff.”

It’s true; I feel fortunate to be working with two publishers simultaneously, but neither of them seems willing to do the marketing for me. Well, that’s not completely true. The publisher of my bio-fiction novel, The Third Reich’s Last Eagle, senses he has a winner in the book and has promised big money to promote it, but he shows a propensity for not being able to say no to the river of suggestions from pre-publication readers who seem determined to make the book theirs, not mine. The current kerfuffle is that there’s a demand for maps in the book to orient the reader. This would double the book’s cost, and so R.R, as the publisher calls himself, has delayed the book’s launch.

 

The oddball-ness of my  story collection, Collateral Damage and Stories, which is already in print, must have amused someone at Kirkus. That book review agency has awarded the collection a “recommended review” status (not a “starred review,” but halfway there) and will be shoring it up with some pub in an “Indie Books Worth Discovering” gambit.  I guess their sensibility for good writing must be close to a bullseye; our local newspaper book reviewer gave it a heavy dose of praise in a half-page article.

And my memoir, In This Love Together, is set to hit the streets. I’m anticipating more kind words from reviewers and readers, thanks in large part to some precious and astute help Connie May Fowler gave to the project. I’ve decided to have this one published by Gridley Fires Books, a company I’ve set up to declare myself a business and to handle special books like this. It’s about my two decade marriage to my late wife, Becca Gifford, and the grief and struggle we faced with her terminal cancer. I plan to use this book in a unique campaign to  raise awareness of cancer in its many forms and, hopefully, goad cancer researchers to do more to provide cures for this awful family of diseases.

Years ago, I thought that this modest level of success was the goal of my creative writing commitment. Not so, I’m discovering. That I seem to be basking in the glow of minor league success seems a bit hollow at the moment, although I will gladly commit to doing the best I can to promote these books. I may even draw a few more words of praise for my efforts, but I know even now that my jones lies elsewhere.

It’s writing; that’s where true satisfaction lies for me. I’ve often said that I’d write anyway, but I’ve never realized just how true that is. The act of writing daily adds a degree of purpose to my life that I never really anticipated. How is this so? I’m still not quite sure. But I do know I need to write the way I need food and drink and air. I may gain some philosophical and psychological handle on all this eventually, but I’m not now in full pursuit of success in the traditional sense. As a traditional motivation. Yes, I will chase it, simply because that’s the way this hand is played, but it’s quite ironic that the act of writing is for me both the means to satisfaction and the end result.

But what to do to be rid of this moment’s unsettling, this crankiness that leaves me snapping at friends and family? Well, it’s obvious, don’t you think? I need to find a way to get back to writing. Soon.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Rock ’n’ Roll, Minute by Minute

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Testimony, by Robbie Robertson

As with so many music fans, I loved The Band’s music. It harkened to history, but while doing so it had a way of being contemporary. I had thought the bandmates would have done that on purpose, but no, they weren’t that self-aware. Instead they loved old fashioned rock ’n’ roll, gospel, folk music, and country equally, and allowed those influences to meld into their musical sound. Robertson’s book is all about himself, but underlying that is the history of rock. And as such it’s a form of cultural digest of the ‘sixties and early ‘seventies.

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Many will read this book, anxiously flipping pages hoping to get a whiff of the famed dispute between Robertson and drummer/singer Levon Helm. Robertson alludes to some of that issue, referring to Helm’s heroin addiction and emotional volatility, but it’s clear the author didn’t wish to dig up those bones after so many years. What Robertson did is detail virtually every moment from the time he joined Ronnie Hawkins’ band, The Hawks until The Band dissolved temporarily after the famed Last Waltz concert. The book seems overlong, Robertson’s accounting too detailed, but I don’t think this was a random occurrence. The life of any artistic person is that way—days and nights uncounted of planning, sketching, noodling on piano or guitar as one attempts to squeeze from latent skills a creative expression of some vague idea that just won’t let go of the artist.

By Robertson’s accounting and as a sixteen year-old, he attracts by chance the notice of Hawkins and refines his guitar chops and performing persona with Hawkins’ band, The Hawks. During the next couple of years, the band adds Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson. Robertson details the years that follow their abandoning Hawkins to back up Bob Dylan, and then venturing out finally as The Band. They aren’t part of the “peace and love” crowd; they carry blackjacks and pistols, and in one instance toy with holding up a high stakes poker game. They drink heavily and abuse drugs. And still they manage to develop their individual crafts and merge them into the unique musical vehicle that is The Band.

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Robertson’s writing voice is much the same as his speaking voice, colored with street and back-alley musical lingo that manages to be highly expressive while forgoing purple prose. As such, this is a memoir that’s unusually well written. Robertson manages to draw the reader into their shabby but creative world, and this reader felt compelled, with the reading done, to re-watch The Last Waltz with a whole new appreciation of their quirky, highly improbable musical world.

My Rating: 18 of 20 stars

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

I Don’t Mind The Time Spent At All

 

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I haven’t been writing at all of late, and reading has been a few pages just before bedtime. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t been spending time on literature and writing. My WWII bio-novel, “The Third Reich’s Last Eagle,” is out now in pre-publicity form for readers to review, and the reviews I’ve been soliciting have been positive across the board, from what I hear from the publisher. Since the book wraps it’s writerly arms around the whole war on the eastern front, there’s been a call for maps in the book, and we’ve been spit-balling how best to do that without raising the book’s cost unduly.

On the other hand, I’ve finished my memoir, “In This Love Together,” the story of my two decades with departed wife, Becca, focusing on her time with cancer. I’ve established my own publishing company, Gridley Fires Books, and the memoir will be the initial book launched through GFB. Of course, this is almost like another full time job, but I find I’m loving that, too. Or I will once I get through making all the beginner’s mistakes. I’m expending a lot of effort too in recouping the rights to my previously published works and republishing them under GFB. So my turn from writing and reading sure ain’t due to spring fever!

Incidentally, with the launch of “In This Love Together,” officially set for June first, I want to encourage everyone to read this book and help me get the word out about its publication. Cancer strikes down so many these days, and while there’s tons of money being poured into treating the two hundred-some varieties of cancer, as well as cancer research, there’s all too little to show for the effort. The memoir has been good for me personally in coming to terms with Becca’s struggle with the disease, but I hope it will light a fire within the international conversation about this dread family of diseases. So PLEASE help me make this book a success in both arenas. 

I’m finding that this break in everyday writing is a good thing. It helps me gain more insight into the stranger turns world society is undergoing these days. I write regularly here about the place story takes in our collective consciousness, and I sense I’m not the only one voicing that concern. At last, story seems to be once more taking its rightful place in today’s literature.

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So, given such a late start in writing and publishing, I feel I’m just now reaping the rewards of over twenty years of apprenticeship in things literary. There’s been frustration a lot of hours logged in before my computer, and not a few late, sleepless nights. But I don’t mind at all. Hopefully, I have many more miles to travel down this road.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

The Final Four: Double Wides and Racehorses

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I’m going to take a brief break from my usual subject matter here to complain. No, not about politics or the fact that the world is going to the dogs, entertainment-wise. This morning’s Citizen-Times had a front page article that promised to be an in-depth analysis of the North Carolina Tarheels vs. the Oregon Ducks Final Four game. But Ducks? What kind of name is that for a sports team? Why not the Marauders? Or the Visigoths? Something to strike fear in opponents’ hearts. But Tarheels isn’t much better. Who ever heard of playing roundball with sticky, bare feet? Why not…well, never mind.

But I realize readers are in a hurry, so let me give you my bottom line. Oregon will win this one with a three-ball at the buzzer.

Now I’m not claiming this because I’m a Duke fan and I wish Oregon to be my proxy, to reap the whirlwind against my home state Tarheels. All you have to do is look at the films of both teams’ Elite Eight games and carefully peruse the roster of each team, and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

Did you see Oregon run the ball against the running-est team ever, Kansas, the country’s No. 1 rated team? It looked for all the world like a tennis match, with Tyler Dorsey and Dillon Brooks piling up points without breaking a sweat, Jordan Bell vacuuming up rebounds like a souped up Hoover.

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Meanwhile, UNC beat an overrated Kentucky team, and they had to resort to second teamer, Luke Maye to toss in a jumper with a fraction of a second left on the clock. Sure their big guys, Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, are what the old Boston Celtic Tommy Heinsohn called “double-wides” because their size can plug up any passing lane, then muscle into the low post to reach out an grab someone’s errant shot. And they have possibly the best scoring duo in the ACC in Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson. But Jackson scored erratically against a lethargic Kentucky defense and Berry lost his three-ball shot the way Duke’s ballers do half the time. (Why couldn’t he have shot in such misguided fashion against the Blue Devils? Curse you, JB2!)

Don’t start trolling me, Tarheel fans; I’m going to pull for the home state, but I have to tell the truth. Oregon will run and gun, and Carolina will try to keep up, but they aren’t as well conditioned as the Ducks, their big guys needing a smoke break five minutes into the first half. Anyway, this year’s tourney has been lousy with upsets, and my ability to divine winners has been hardly better that flipping a coin.

The score: Oregon 72 – Carolina 69. See you after the game. Beer’s on you.

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.

Writing A Book Review, Are You?

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My World War II novel – or I should call it more accurately a fictional biography – is out in advance copies now, and I’ve asked quite a number of friends and acquaintances to read and review the book. All seem more than willing, but some half are wringing their hands over writing a review. So what’s in a review?

Reviews can be as long as a magazine article or as short as a book cover blurb, but reviewers will want to accomplish roughly the same things in them regardless of length. For my book, and for those I review here, I’d say the length should be from one long paragraph to three moderately long ones. In these, there are certain things to be accomplished:

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  1. The first sentence should “hook” the reader’s interest. Something intriguing that comes to mind about the book, or possibly something that sums up the book in an interesting way. Not just “I like this book…” but something that gets to the core of the book from some an unusual perspective. Let’s say the book is about traveling by train. You might begin with “I grew up in a small town, a town that wouldn’t have existed had a railroad not run there. I would listen to the train whistle at night, wondering what the train was carrying, who was aboard…”
  2. Don’t go off on a tangent with 1. above; instead segue as quickly as possible into your review of the book. This is most often written in present tense. The most common advice here is don’t write the book you wish the author had written; review the book before you, as it is. Be concise but sum up the story without giving away the key to the story. Something brief about the main characters, in the context of the story.
  3. Are you familiar with the author and his/her work? The author’s past history of books/stories published – basically the writer’s authority on the subject of this book.
  4. Finally, summarize the book from your perspective. Did you like it? Why?

This may sound daunting, but you’ll likely find that you have a handle on all of this from your reading. It’s just a question of putting it together. You can do it!

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll find more information on my books. There’s also a Facebook fan page if you can find it. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me — and possibly to you.