Tag Archives: literary

From the other side of death

26 Mar

An excerpt from The Savior of Turk.

After I died, I figured I’d possess a clear memory of my whole life, from the day I popped out of my mama’s belly till they put a sheet over my head at the hospital. In eternity, I had in mind that I’d go back and forth over everything that happened to me like I was playing a movie, re-watching the nice parts and fast forwarding through the others until I about wore out the tape. But chunks of my life are fuzzier than others. Whole pieces got lost somewhere, things you’d think I’d remember. I recall but a few of the kids’ birthdays. Just a handful of Christmas mornings made the cut, and those memories are like looking through a window smeared with Vaseline.

BeachOther recollections are as clear to me as if they happened a minute ago, in vivid Technicolor. But they’re not necessarily the kind of memories you’d think would have stuck. Like the time our daughter Kimmie — I reckon she was around two because it was before Karl came along — got her fingers slammed in the door of our car as she was getting out. I hadn’t been paying close enough attention, and I took for granted that she was clear of the door when I shut it. She bawled bloody murder for close to half an hour. We’d crossed up to Iowa to spend a Sunday afternoon at a state park where there was a little sandy beach, and we had just parked the car when it happened.

For the occasion, Polly had bought Kimmie a purple swimsuit with a little yellow frilly thing around the waist that made it look like a tutu. Kimmie wore it to bed the night before. She was so hopped up about going to the beach that she liked to have never got to sleep. Then I had to go and ruin it by slamming her fingers in the door. Her right pointer and middle fingers swelled up like hot dogs. We had some ice from the cooler to help the swelling, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She sat next to her mom on a beach towel and whimpered the whole afternoon. Never got in the water. I didn’t either. I felt so bad and wished I could have done something to make it right.

I don’t know why a memory like that would be so clear to me, but I guess I’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.

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The third reason I’m slightly less stupid than I was a year ago

5 Feb

There is every accounting for taste

I didn’t like the latest movie version of Le Miserables, even though it will win 23 Oscars, including “Best Musical Number by an Aussie during a Suicide Plunge.”

So sue me.oscar-statue

I much preferred the 1978 version with Anthony Perkins. Because it was a TV movie, it wasn’t up for an Oscar. If it had been, it would have nailed “Best French Accent by that Guy Who Stabbed Janet Leigh in a Shower.” It was a pretty small field of nominees that year.

MV5BMTIzMTE1OTYwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODM4NTc0MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_I know what I like. You know what you like. “Vive la difference,” as Jean Valjean might have said/sung when his hair turned white in a few minutes’ time. (That’s in the book.)

The 2012 version of Le Miz is a good movie. It just ain’t my cup of tea. The director of the latest Les Miserable shouldn’t care what I or anyone else thinks of his movie as long as he believes it is good—and he can still pay his mortgage on the Tuscan villa.

A year or so ago, when I was much younger and more unsure of myself, I equated the character of my writing with the feedback it received. Positive feedback foreshadowed my entrance into the pantheon of literary greats such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Paris “I wrote the title myself” Hilton.

More, um, ambivalent feedback nearly spurred me to give up writing in favor of stick-figure drawing. Nine people could react positively, yet one person could say “meh,” and I believed I had  failed. Worse was when the story idea didn’t interest them enough to give the book a shot. What could I have done, I wondered, to lure or please that one reader? Or those ten, or one hundred, or one thousand readers?

Taste is a slippery creature which changes not only with each person, but within each person. I might watch the musical Les Miserable a year from now and love it (OK, a bad example). Some who like my writing one day may be left cold by it the next. What’s the point of worrying about what anybody thinks?  (This is where I explain that was a rhetorical question.)

In the past year, I’ve re-learned that quality is a nebulous concept that means little in the creative arts. Personal taste is more important. To the individual, taste dictates quality. Otherwise, we would not have so many book genres and sub-genres, such as Dystopian Erotica, Cozy Eighteenth Century French Mysteries, Christian Romance with a touch of Horror Suspense, or Gay & Lesbian Family Saga. When someone says, “That’s a good book,” they mean “I like that book.” Unless they’re a book critic or a high school language arts teacher, they are not saying the sentence structure was superb, the grammar was impeccable, or the story arc was magnificently presented. They mean it affected them in a positive way.

That’s good enough for me, when and if it happens.

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P.S. I have a few little books you might enjoy here.

I now shamelessly piggy-back on the Twilight franchise

16 Nov

In honor of the movie premiere of Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2, I provide here a passage from the first few pages of Twilight, the novel:

They came up through the stand of cypress that shrouded the graveyard, the pickup hidden off the road in a chert pit clotted with inkblot bowers of honeysuckle. There were two of them, a young woman and a gangling youth who appeared to be younger still. A leaden rain out of the first slow days of winter had begun some time after midnight and the cypresses wept as they passed beneath them, the tools the pair slung along in their hands refracting away such light as there was and the pair pausing momentarily when the first milkwhite stones rose bleakly out of the dark. Behind and below them the church loomed, a pale outraged shape, no more, and only impotent dead kept its watch.

That’s a seriously powerful combination of vowels and consonants. If you’ve poohed-poohed the thought of ever trying the Twilight books, you may now think you underestimated their quality. If you’re already a fan, perhaps you wonder why you don’t remember that part.

The above passage is from a different Twilight, the one written by William Gay. This Twilight does not have vampires or werewolves, yet it’s a freak-out creepy book. The antagonists are an undertaker who messes around with the dead (in more ways than one), and a murderous town bully.

Never heard of it? You have a lot of company. When I last checked, Gay’s Twilight was #308,655 on Amazon’s best sellers list (I hope to help get him back in the five-figure range with this blog entry.) The Twilight that started the movie franchise, the one with the pasty dude, the frozen-face, and the other guy who can’t find his shirt, was listed at #271. If you were an agent or publisher, which type of book would you want in your portfolio?

There’s the rub. Publishers and agents are in the business of making money. “In business” and “making money” have been inextricably linked since Ned Neanderthal operated Caveman Used Wheels at the corner of Hunter and Gatherer Streets. I don’t blame publishers these days for passing on something considered “literary” when schlock like a memoir on the Kardashians has a built-in customer base.  If I were a publisher trying to put food on the table, I’d be right there with them.

So, what becomes of the literary genre? First, many writers, including me, have avoided that label.  Despite what book sellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble think, the term does not originate from the Latin meaning “all the other stuff.” Some books are considered literary because they don’t fit neatly in categories such as young adult, mystery, crime or romance.

According to a popular stereotype, literary is synonymous with highbrow, highfalutin’ or fancy-breeches. No.

Everyone seems to have their own definition, so here’s mine: First, not all literary books are high quality. But the good ones have unique story lines with believable dialogue and characters I can’t quit. If I really care about the characters, the plot becomes secondary. That’s not too highbrow, is it?

America didn’t quit producing great literary talent when Steinbeck and Faulkner purchased the farm.  And there’s a lot of it out there today. Some of my favorites are Kentucky sons Wendell Berry and Silas House, as well as Donald Ray Pollock and the lately departed Mr. Gay. Daniel Woodrell, a Missourian whom I’ll forgive for attending the University of Kansas, even came up with country noir to describe his work because nothing else fit right.

That’s why I have such hope for independent/self publishing. Right now, there’s a lot of noise out there, a lot of writers trying their hand at the business now that they don’t have to run the agent/publisher gauntlet. Eventually, things will settle down. When they do, some fresh literary works will rise to the top. Few literary writers will make much money—that’s never been the case—but they’ll get a chance. Great writing of that type has never gone away. It’s just not obvious as a werewolf that can’t keep his shirt on.

P.S. I’m hesitant to mention my own work on the same page with some of these great novelists. (I’m embarrassed about Kris Jenner, too, but that’s for another reason.) Still, I must. You can find my books here.