The Rear View Mirror

Any blogger worth their salt knows to evaluate what (s)he writes about and knows to give potential readers something that interests them. The trick, of course, is to, well, trick them into digging deeper that they’ve gone before, making them think in new ways about their interests. I call that looking in the rear view mirror.


We’ve reviewed fewer books this year than in previous years, a trend that might continue. I won’t review pap, even though such work is high on everyone’s list. I will review books ranging from the occult to the historical, but only those that represent thinking in new ways. I don’t mind if the subject matter is all wet, as long as it presumes to have readers THINK.

If you’re a writer, I’ll do what I can to steer you away from bad technique, wandering astray, boring the reader in you. I’m not a fan of MFA program grads, but as long as these writers have something to say, I’m all in. While I don’t go about my writing and reading habits in a way that lies counter to the conventional, I’m always on the lookout for innovation, but innovation that informs and doesn’t annoy.

So if you’ve been a bit irked at the subtle changes in this blog, please hang in there. Life these days is all about change – just look back at the books reviewed here. You’ll see that change in what’s being written. I plan to change with the times, and I’ll do my best not to steer you wrong.

the one-2 copy

Oh, and by the way, I have a poetry book (cover above) coming out in February. I read some poetry and review even less, but that may change as well. Poets are the true visionaries – listen to them, read them. Stay ahead of the game.


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Sharpening The Pencil



I’m not tired of fiction writing, by any means. But I do tend toward predictability if not occasional outright laziness in my writing, and that’s why I’m spending time editing a 20+ year-old piece of poetry. Now, I don’t pretend to be a poet, nor do I fully understand contemporary  poetry. And that’s why this perhaps overlong piece looks and sounds like 1930s verse. But its use to me is to sharpen the macro view of what I’m trying to say here – and to make every word count.

I recently submitted a rather old novel manuscript to an indie editor for advice on how to sharpen the story – if indeed it needed such. According to AB, my editor, it needed a complete redo. And here’s where I both encourage and and caution writers in following in my footsteps. I learned years ago that editors won’t spend the time with a manuscript that you the writer will; consequently, they likely will not see the story as you do. But such editorial looks will allow you to see how your story seems to interested readers.

In my case, the editor was frustrated with the supposed genre and what exactly the story is about. The manuscript was intended to be about two old friends reencountering one another after some thirty years’ absence. And as often happens, the old friendship still has heft, but it also has difficulties in the extreme. And I wanted to use a geophysical phenomenon as a metaphor for the friendship, which makes the story more literary than commercial genre. And so, after a cordial Skype meet-up with AB, I decided to rewrite to make the story center more on the two main characters than on my supposed plot. Take about killing off some of your best stuff!

But back to the poem.

When writing short or long fiction you can sometimes get away with the occasional bad writing and a de-emphasis on cohesive story. Poetry, however, will tolerate neither. Poetry does have its freedoms, to be sure, but the more you exercise those freedoms the sharper the piece’s language has to be, the more crystal clear the overall effect of the poem demands to be.

So I’m struggling through this in order to sharpen my prosaic pencil. But i’m not being so mercenary as to consider this poem to be the literary equivalent of slave labor. After all, I do like to write poetry, too. Just to give you an idea of what I’ve been doing, here’s a sample of the poem’s beginning, intended to be modern and metaphysical. DIVISIONS is the first section of three parts, and this is how that section begins.



Morning sun, warm on my back,

your breath smells of salt.

Is it your smile

that thrills me so,

or the raucous tune I hear

bouncing over the ocean?

Please! Let your lyric wash

Over me like a new reality.


But a question darkens the thought –
What need do I have of a new reality?

Perhaps there’s need enough

in this early morning chill

to root me in this world forever.

I dare not rise above the water’s

surface, shivering, blind with hunger,

And beg for what’s already mine.



Have you seen beyond

The clouded window? Cold rain

Begins to slant over distant waters.

Can you recall The One?


Mighty sea, mother eternity,

I once rose above you, and

dark forces spirited me away

to a shining city, streets

paved with the salt

of imperious science.

It was there I lost myself

in idleness and poverty.


Do you abide such lassitude?

Only under the spell of

asymmetrical moments.

Infinite sea, your limits

taste the world at every turn.

For the sake of my illumination,

why does my awe of you

seem so much like fear?



Walking barefoot through

this place of dual worlds

is difficult        better still

to touch the face of The One.



I’ve abandoned friends for this,

my surrender to your waves.

I baptize myself then dive

to calmer water where

something of the past

endures, then I bolt upward,

tumbling and rolling with salt

on my tongue and sand in my suit.


Is it really possible to be born

anew in each moment

in these self-same bodies,

wave after wave,

resisting the undertow

water dripping from my nose?

I fear I’m a silly knave destined

To learn the same lessons over and over.




What do you know of the sun,

the solar orb of Helios?

does his solitude

encompass The One?



Noon, and I walk the crystal

sands and watch the crabs dance,

living their measure of life.

Here at the edge,

the moveable frontier,

neither sea nor sand exist.

Here, new elemental forces

are bent on being born.


Dare I speak of what is real

in such a place?   Perhaps not.

Hang reality, I ask for silence.

But a fertile mind knows

no silence. It’s an ocean

of thought, torrents of it,

spreading its fantasies across

a universe of time and space.



The day quickens.

Do you hear the echoing gulls?

A cloud of hearts

Beating within The One.


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Revolutions and Writing


It’s been said that the best creative writing comes from periods when political and social revolutions are happening. I suppose the drama of a revolution is a part of that, and the intellectualizing or rationale for the revolution generates situations and characters that writers can easily work with. But a quick survey of modern revolutions and their run-ups reveals different sorts of creativity.

Nothing much in the way of literature came directly out of the American revolution, but in its aftermath, as American society began to settle in, we had novelists Melville and Hawthorne, poets Whitman and Dickinson. The French revolution? Here think foremost of Hugo and Marat, who wrote their stories amid the revolution’s action. And similarly in Russia, the great writer Tolstoy. However, preceding the Soviet Union’s dismantling – a relatively gentle revolution – we have firebrand novelist Solzhenitsyn and poet Yevtushenko.


In later years, the literary medium changed. The Cuban revolution and the U.S.’s almost-revolution of the fifties and sixties brought a new form of creativity to the fore: songs. Things were happening so rapidly, in the U.S. particularly,  that songs quickly written, recorded and put on the airwaves were the best way for energy to coalesce about the day’s drama.

In South Africa, the grander literature preceded the revolution outright, in the novels of Coetzee, and Gordimer, to name a mere pair of many.

And so we see the great fertile literary periods of the twentieth century were in times of ideological change and consequent revolution. What will this century bring, with its social media and blogs – something new and as yet undeveloped?

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A Shot to the Gut


Nutshell, by Ian McEwan

One of the challenges to writing fiction is deciding on a narrator. Is it your protagonist? The author – on the outside looking in? Some wild and wacky personage – dare I say improbable?
McEwan, always inventive in his compact little novellas, has decided to have an unborn child narrate Nutshell. Now, before anti-abortionists begin to claim all sorts of talents gestating within such a fetus, we must be reminded that they emerge as tabula rasa, a blank slate. But McEwan’s future child is an expert on wine and whiskey (drunk by his mom), the bits and pieces of poetry and music he hears, human psychology, and various sex acts that occur only a skin thickness away. But to what end, you ask?


His mother, Trudy, is estranged from the kid’s father, John, and is in an affair with the father’s brother, Claude. Claude is a victim of his senses, a ne’er-do-well, John a failed poet. But John owns a rather expensive but dilapidated town house in London, something Claude lusts for. As a result, Trudy and Claude are planning to murder John in order to reap millions from the sale of the town house. The unnamed babe waxes philosophic in his helplessness, caught in the quandary of devotion to Trudy and a desire to escape hers and Claude’s plot
The ending is somewhat typical of McEwan’s other novellas, but the truncation leaves a loose end or two, something he rarely does. Still, as always, he accomplishes more in less that 200 pages than most authors do in hundreds more.

My rating: 17 of 20 stars


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Dylan and the Nobel

So Bob Dylan has won the Nobel for literature in 2016. I’m not sure what I think about that.


Not that I disparage Dylan’s work over the past half-century; he’s certainly set trends and erased boundaries within the music world during that time. During the ‘sixties, he wrote and performed songs in the topical, bluesy folk style that had a profound on the American civil rights movement and the greening of youth worldwide. He later moved into movie scores and toward mainstream pop music, trifled with a new form of gospel  music, and has recently recorded a CD of popular standards. The effect of all this? Beyond a demonstrated personal awareness of the sensibilities of these musical forms and genres, many of his pieces have entered the American musical canon. Much the same as Hemingway’s early work changed the way we thought about fiction, Dylan’s work has done something similar for popular music.

My concern isn’t his talent in the field of popular music (you may contest my constant use of the term popular music to describe his work, but many of his songs have gained such broad appeal that it’s hard not to place it under that heading); it’s the limitations inherent in the popular song in a literary sense. Sure, he uses poetic tools: imagery, wordplay, rhythmic patterns. But the popular song, in any of  its multifold blendings of genre, places equal weight on its musicality alongside its literary worth.

This then is my concern; virtually all songwriters, with few exception, must contend with the marketability of those songs; meaning they must attract listeners in the 3-4 minutes the music industry insists on limiting them to.

That Dylan’s lyrics are now recognized for their literary worth by the Nobel judges is as daring as if his lyrics represented a step forward in poetic evolution. Dylan certainly deserves some sort of similar recognition, but the Nobel, which does generally recognize lifetime achievement, may not have been the best device to recognize his half century of work.

Still the power of his work is undeniable, as the following song attests: “I Shall Be Released,” recorded at The Band’s farewell concert, The Last Waltz, made into a movie by Marty Scorcese.

To Read Or Listen, That’s The Question



This week, when a technician stopped by to install a security gizmo for me, he quickly made note of my book collection and bemoaned the fact that as a newlywed he hardly had time to read any more. But, he added, I listen to audiobooks now when I’m on the road.

So I offered him a free copy of an audiobook for my story collection, Sam’s Place, and he gobbled it up. (NOTE: I still have a few free audiobook copies of that book, so if you want a copy, let me know. It’s the complete book, not a teaser.)

But as this article makes clear, there are no clear cut advantages to either print or audio books. For myself, I think reading a book, whether print or digital, requires a bit more participation by the reader than audio, but that’s a close call.

Let me know what you think.


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Exploring the World

My friends are my estate. 

~ Emily Dickinson ~ 


Emily, who never left her home and spent many years tending a dying relative, knew whereof she spoke. She was a shy person, her world tiny. But through imagination and friends, she explored the world.

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.