Kirkus Speaks About Intimate Things

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Coincidentally, today’s the day I received a review of In This Love Together – Love, Failing Limbs and Cancer. When you’re writing about things as intimate as a marriage, inseminated deeply with love, you’re never sure if you see the width and breadth of the forest for at least one of the trees comprising it. The review seems a good one, but a couple of twisty phrases had me unsure. (This is quintessential writer’s insecurity – comes with the territory.)

So I felt the need to gather a second opinion, from the one person who had almost as much to do with the book’s compositions I – Connie May Fowler. Connie’s opinion? It’s a rave review – you should celebrate! So to kick off the celebration (to be followed by a very necessary, spring cleaning scrub-down, fore and aft, of my condo), here’s what Kirkus has to say about the memoir:

Mustin (We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile, 2014, etc.) offers an emotional, articulate memoir of his late wife’s fight against cancer.

The author, a longtime engineer, had already gone through a rocky marriage and a sour divorce when a former co-worker, Becca, reentered his life. She was an outdoorsy, practical, and attractive environmental specialist who was still healing from a previous marriage herself, and the two began seeing each other romantically. As Mustin notes, dating in middle age isn’t very different from the blissful giddiness and insecurity of dating in one’s 20s, and eventually he and Becca married at a courthouse on a workday afternoon. But 17 years later, his 64-year-old wife developed a cancerous tumor on her tongue. “My thoughts resist the linearity of chronological order,” the author says as he explains his abstract narrative, which starts the book with the onset of Becca’s illness, backtracks to the day that they first met, intersperses well-researched facts on cancer, and weaves through events in the couple’s marriage with the randomness of human memory. It’s a brilliant storytelling device—the reader struggles to understand new contexts, details, and narratives, just as the author himself struggles to make sense of a maddening terminal illness. Mustin’s love for and frequent awe of his wife is evident in every detail of this remembrance. Even when he frankly points out her shortcomings, such as her somewhat taciturn air and her difficult relationship with her mother (which he discovered during a particularly uncomfortable holiday visit), his reverent tone gives his words a rosy, warm hue. The details of Becca’s squamous-cell carcinoma are unsparing, yet the author balances them with delicate, loving vignettes of their life together, including unexpected moments of romance, which gives the book a disarming eloquence. Their relationship was not perfect, as Mustin makes clear; their flaws, insecurities, and reluctances often got the best of both of them. Yet as he writes their story, he articulates how their difficult journey revealed their true love, in spite of it all.

A memoir that balances clarity, precision, and emotion while telling a tragic story.

 

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 Memoir Of A Beloved

The death of a beloved is an amputation.
~ C. S. Lewis ~

I’m fortunate. Not many writers are in a position to have two books launched at about the same time. While things are being worked out with Omonomany Publishing for final publication of my WWII fictionalized biography, The Third Reich’s Last Eagle (some early readers wanted maps included in order to follow the advances and subsequent retreats of Germany’s Wehrmacht), I’m the daddy of a memoir.

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The memoir, In This Love Together – Love, Failing Limbs, and Cancer, is perhaps a final honoring of Becca, my deceased wife. A brave soul, she subjected herself to too many radiation treatments of her squamous cell carcinoma for later chemo treatments to do her any good. She lived for many months with a feeding tube and tracheostomy in order to stay alive. A most giving person, she made cookies for the cancer doctors and technicians in her last months.

One day she stood before the kitchen counter where we generally prepared food, intent on her batter, occasionally rocking side to side. She hadn’t fallen yet, but I knew it was coming.

“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “For crying out loud, they don’t expect cookies from you.”

“I know.” She didn’t turn, kept working her dough.

“Okay, so why do it?”

“I want to.”

For a second she swayed like a pine on a breezy day. “You okay?”

“I’m okay.”

“What can I do to help.”

“Nothing.”

I sighed, softly, so she wouldn’t hear it and claim petulance on my part. “Just be careful. Sit if you need to.”

“I will.”

The oncologist who had urged her into a second round of radiation, the radiation that proved insufficient to stop her cancer, but which had destroyed the surrounding tissue, graciously accepted her portion of the cookies, along with a scarf Becca had woven. After she died, I received a too-late card of thanks from this doctor.

Following Becca’s death it was my turn: heart surgery, followed by replacement of a failed knee replacement, and several months of physical therapy, which did little to aid the leg, which had atrophied in the interim. Romance entered my life again, then fled rather than see me through my mourning. And just as engineering work had gotten me through an earlier divorce, writing – this memoir, in particular – got me through the long months of loss.

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I had an odd bill of hers to accommodate as the months passed, but the nettlesome item was returning again and again to the cemetery management to have them honor their agreement to put Becca’s death date on her gravestone. It took two-and- a-half years to accomplish that, and as I stood before the completed gravestone, I had an odd realization. Somehow the fates had aligned to free me from my mourning.

I’ve heard from older, wiser persons that once you love someone, that love never goes away, and now I know the truth of that. But love does strange, counterintuitive things, too. Somehow, standing before her grave, I could swear she was whispering to me that it was time to move on.

 

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 Pittance For Your Soul, Mister?

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In browsing through the latest copy of Writer’s Chronicle magazine  my thumbing stopped on an interview with famed writer and writing teacher, Ursula K. Le Guin. I usually pass over interviews because they’re normally about the struggles of writers embedded in academia or some such, and they’re usually parroting the same stuff . As in “if you’ve read one interview, you’ve read them all.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Occasionally, though, some bon mot within such an interview pops out that affects the way I see my own writing, and I read it over and over trying to get a grasp on its kaleidoscopic effect. I decided to read this interview in toto, since Ms. Le Guin has much to say about writing in general. part-way through, this rather opinionated statement stop out:

A fear of using the imagination is very deep in America.

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Interesting, I thought, and quite true. How many times have I been in conversation about one of my books – or another’s – when my conversation partner says ,”Oh, I don’t read fiction.” “Oh?” I reply. A nod from the other. “And why’s that?” “I don’t know, really. I guess I’m more comfortable with what’s actually happened rather than some made-up thing.” I consider telling the other how much is gained from such speculative voyages, that the second prime objective (No, make that the prime objective) of fiction is to inform. And so we concoct a tale full of symbolism that, along with it’s superficially entertaining impact, tells us so much by extreme characterizations and storylines.

But then what is real these days?  We’re constantly faced with “fake news,” as part of our political lives, and in any case memory is no longer considered an accurate reproducer of what has gone on before. “Reality TV” is considered the supplanter of sitcoms and drama on the idiot box, even though nearly everyone knows that on several levels such reality shows are contrived, managed, and in very few ways are they representative of anything real. This has created the most famous “reality star” in the person of our current president, a person who is so adept at managing his image that neither he nor his supporters seem aware of the dividing line between the real and contrived image.

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The irony here, I think, is that we’ve grown cynical for perhaps extraneous reasons, and cynicism has shaped a general belief that nothing real underpins much of our existence anymore. Marriage? That’s just something we can step into with one foot dangling outside in order to make it easier to escape when we can no longer “dig it.” Technology? A postmodern tool for creating mirror images of what’s real, one we feel secure in wallowing in. Hence we e-mail instead of phoning; we text instead of talking. Death? Yes, that seems real enough, and we do fear it, indeed. Patients with terminal cancer will beg for treatments that remove vestiges of an individuals’ life quality in exchange for another three months of evading death.

So, yes, we fear our imagination, I think, precisely because it’s the avenue to something our lives touch into that’s not only real but enduring. Imagination has given us so much in our quest to be complete in our humanity, only to be eschewed now in that same endeavor. Imagine if you will a state of evolution in which we have virtually everything at our touch to manage our human functions, but a state in which we have no idea of how these things came to be and no idea that we may exchange them for the blood, sweat, and sleeplessness that would give us freedom from them.

What Ms. Le Guin is saying, in essence, is that we’ve exchanged bits of our souls for ephemerality. And that’s a very sad state of affairs.

 

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.

Rationalizing Self-Publishing

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Once established as a hybrid writer, why would you publish your own work, other than for monetary reasons? And by the way, self publishing isn’t always going to CreateSpace, iUniverse, etc. In my case I’ve bitten the bullet and established my own publishing business, Gridley Fires Books, LLC, and that’s strictly for monetary issues. But let me ask the question another way. How do you decide that publishing your own writing is the way to go?

Here’s an example:

After my wife died of cancer and my mourning had quieted a bit, I resolved to write a memoir—an accounting of her cancer travails, beginning with her first inkling of the disease and ending with her death and burial. I wanted to memorialize that time for personal, emotional reasons, but I also wanted to do it to help understand the treatment process and why it came about that a cure or remission wasn’t forthcoming. In mapping that time out, largely with the help of notes taken, hospital reports, and insurance documentation, I quickly realized that I couldn’t write that story clinically. There was too much of our personal relationship to grapple with. And so the story I wished to write would become something of a true memoir. Still, there was a need to have some rather clinical segments in the proposed book, so I inserted several “Just The Facts” sections, in which I gave technical information about cancer treatment, home care, necessary equipment, and various bits of advice to both cancer patients and those caring for them at home.

You can see this isn’t a conventional structure for a memoir. Plus, I had wanted to use the book, once published, to increase awareness of cancer issues, such as early screening, the treatments themselves, and how to deal emotionally with a loved one suffering cancer. Thus it will, within a few months, be published under Gridley Fires. My campaign for cancer awareness will begin with a few select cancer sufferers receiving courtesy copies.

An unconventional structure for a very unique and specific use – and that virtually compels publishing oneself rather than through conventional channels.

 

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.

Farewell Sweetheart, Hello Cancer Patient

Some of you who read my posts here regularly have surely caught mention of my wife Becca, affectionately known via Gridley, as “the missus.” She has had health problems for some time; she’s suffered not only from the squamous cell carcinoma that ended her life but perhaps even more so from the radiation and chemo regimens promising to extend her life.

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Sadly, she left this world, her hand in mine, on October 10th at 7:49 Eastern Daylight Savings time. And so her difficulties are at an end. From these almost two years of trial comes the determination to ask all those, near or far, known to us or unknown, to begin to support the cancer patients and not the cancer industry. Specifically, we hope, through you, to start a movement of people, one by one, spending a day with a cancer patient, preferably someone you don’t already know. This is easy enough if you live near a cancer treatment facility: simply place a call to that facility, tell them you wish to do this and ask for their permission to spend a day with one of their patients. We feel that this will do far more good than swamping these patients with more radiation or chemicals. It may not save their lives, but it may strengthen their souls.

 

Visit my website here. 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.

Atlantic Ascendant

The Atlantic, January/February, 2014

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Perhaps Editor-in-Chief James Bennet has developed the complex touch of a successful pro sports team coach. Or maybe the world is handing him better and better stories. Whatever the reason, this issue of The Atlantic is one of the best balanced, most newsworthy, and downright interesting issues yet. And that’s with a minimal emphasis on things literary.

What does it take to find the next grand inventor? Derek Thompson writes, correctly, that such new gizmos are the thing of basements and garages. But how to make use of them? Technology sharing, says, Thompson, that’s the way to co-opt these gadgets for biz benefit. Only partly correct, I say; businesses are hidebound for the most part and resistant to new ideas and gadgets that compel change.

James Fallows talks cancer with Eric S. Lander, as well as new developments in the field of genomics. Is this the breakthrough approach? Lander says there are usually no “AHA!” moments in such things. It’s a process.

Why do the eminently cinematic Elmore Leonard books end up as crappy movies? Christopher Orr gives us a glance at both media. Justified is a hit now on TV, but why? I think there’s been too much devotion to every detail of Leonard’s work in cinema. Movies aren’t books, and movie adaptations need to be willing to do that: adapt the book. A TV series may very well be the better device to morph books such as Leonard’s into a cinematic format.

These Unites States have always looked the other way as criminal enterprises seek the bread to generate legitimacy. Taylor Clark gives us a look at Jesse Willms, a 26 year-old techie scam artist and a purveyor of technology and the Internet in doing just that.

Scott Stossel reveals the aches and pains of his life-long struggles with anxiety. Is there a solution here? Perhaps, but Stossel seems to be saying that the solutions are as varied as the persons afflicted with such anguish.

Too, there’s a glance back at poet Marianne Moore and her life.

More good things within, of course. And this is an issue that is to me an oddity – one I could read over and over.

 

 

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