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.

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.

What’s In A Character?

I just finished reading a blog post by a writer friend, who proclaimed love for (at least) one of her characters. And that set me to thinking, as most things will do. What about those antiheroes? The characters you love to hate? The deeply flawed protagonist? Is a writer to love these, too?

Long ago, when I first began to write seriously, I realized that our characters are manifestations of aspects of self. Each of us and particularly writers, I think, are complex personalities. We’re each an amalgamation of many potential personalities, and for writers they keep begging for release. And release we must, be we musicians, artists, sculptors, or writers. Picture it like this:

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Ever take a piece of rope apart? Rope is generally a combination of three lesser “ropes” twisted together. If you unravel these, then you notice that each of these three lesser strands is made up of perhaps hundreds of fibers. Returning the analogy, combining these many fibers, and the three lesser strands, makes up the complexity of “you.” And what we writers do is unravel and perhaps re-twist these strands and fibers into different characters, each a piece of each one of us.

Now back to those first-paragraph questions. It’s easy to love some of the characters we construct – the strong, wise, beautiful, who act, on the whole, unerringly. But do we love the deeply flawed ones too?

Yes, I think so.

And I think we love these most of all. It’s these characters that we trust with the most serious life baggage, with the most difficult of life’s lessons to learn. Perhaps these are the strongest, the ones most likely to pass life’s tests.

Don’t EVER pass up the chance to test your characters. You’re simply showing your love for them, as my friend put it in her post, and entrusting them with the most difficult aspects of story.

 

Visit my website here. Within it you’ll find more on books and events that matter to me — and possibly to you. And there’s a gridleyfires Facebook page, too, if you can find it.

Language and the Limits of Being Human

 

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Everyone feels that we’re in unique times, but as a writer, I have to wonder what we’ll write as the world and its people traverse these interesting times.

  • Will history take off in some unexpected direction?
  • Will we head into space, explore the “final frontier?”
  • Will human nature itself change?

Having spent the decades of my life – as an ancillary exercise – in trying to plumb life on planet earth, in learning what is to be expected from human nature in the throes of massive change, I feel a bit weak in the knees in trying to put words to it.

But the writer in me does relish such a prospect. Because, you see, none of the things that might change – the potential morphing of human reality into some new and strange creature and direction, for instance, can be made corporeal until subjected to the limits of language.

This may sound contradictory and perhaps downright wrong, but that’s always been the relationship between humanity’s strange, part corporeal, part transcendent reality and our attempts to reflect that reality through story.

We writers may stumble over our own words as we do this, but eventually we’ll leave a damn good picture of this era’s evolving human for the future’s even stranger versions of humanity to contemplate.

 

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.

Language: Rich With Humanity and Ambiguity

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What is there about writing that attracts us writers so? Most of us are compelled to write, but that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?

Part of it is the love of language – the music and rhythm of it. I used to ride the city bus in Atlanta, listening to the Hispanic women talk. Didn’t understand more than one word out of twenty, but it didn’t matter; it was the words spilling from mouths, rising and falling to high and low pitch.

And there’s a certain ambiguity to language. If you’re a punster, you know what I mean. Language is simply a series of signposts to give you the idea intended. As Wittgenstein wrote and taught, language is simply a method for negotiating meaning.

And perhaps a more convoluted answer to the original question here is: story. How could we tell stories without language? Signing, you say? Well, that’s its own language, isn’t it? Music itself? Sure, and dance and painting. All these tell stories. But then were were considering writers.

Some people are virtually compelled to live by story. I have a  (slightly) older friend to whom I occasionally put questions. His response? “Well, let me tell you a story.” We are, I think, morphing into a more right-brained world, and rather than analytical, objective responses, we tend today to more and more prefer our answers in the form of story. There, we each take home what we need and leave the rest to be parsed in different ways by others.

Writers out there, wouldn’t you rather tell a story, rich with humanity, which shines though language’s ambiguities? Readers and listeners, wouldn’t you that be the case, too?

 

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.

The Open Door, Grammatically

I’ve been reading a new novel written by a colleague, and it’s a fine piece of writing. He knows his way around the techniques of writing but, as happens once in a while for me, the reading taught me a lesson. You see, being a writer is as much a curse as it is a blessing; I can’t to save me read for pleasure any more. I’m always trying to learn something from the way a writer uses words, structures a story, uses grammar rules to his/her advantage. Or not.

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The lesson this reading taught me has to do with the use of passive voice. (Now, if you’re a reader only and think I’m going to go technical on you, bear with me. What I have to say here just might enhance your future reading.) Consider the two sentences below:

The skyscraper was built, and it’s now the pride of Baltimore.    (passive voice)

(                ) built the skyscraper, and it’s now the pride of Baltimore.    (active voice)

Passive voice is just fine, given its intent. Normal grammar dogma tells you to use passive voice if your intent is to write formally. This is great in business when you don’t want to give details that might provide a certain judgment on the subject at hand. Then notice the active voice option above. It gives you the same information as the previous sentence but, as the parens indicate, something’s missing. So let’s fill in the blank below:

A small-time developer built the skyscraper, and it’s now the pride of Baltimore.

See how active voice begs for specifics? How, when that one blank is filled in, you have the makings of a story? I.e., How did the small-time developer get the job? Was the developer able with his/her resources to build such an edifice? Was the public against it? Did no big-time developer want the job? And if so, why? And so on.

So, writers, know you intent in structuring sentences, and write accordingly. Readers, if you see a bit of writing laden with passive voice, you may be heading into troubled waters, reading-wise. Or it may just bore you to tears.

 

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.

Inkitt

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Things on the Net can be dangers. Touchy. But they can be helpful as well. I recently found out about Inkitt, a website that promises to be of help to writers, worldwide. This isn’t an endorsement, but it’s worth checking out if you are looking for a writing community online. Here’s the address:

http://www.inkitt.com

Inkitt has just launched a mystery contest called CULT. It might be fun if your inclined toward that genre:

http://www.inkitt.com/cult