Open Wounds

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10 – Part 1

With a nod to Matthew MacNish’s Facebook post on his most influential books from at least 10 years ago. Piece of cake for the first five but not so easy from there-after. They’re in order of how they came to me. First five today – the rest later in the week.

godsmars

1. The Gods of Mars/The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are the second and third books of the John Carter of Mars series. I found a beat up hard cover copy of these in a two-book special issue on a dusty, lonely shelf in my seventh period study hall in 8th grade. It was the only study hall I ever took. I loved these books so much I took the hardcover with the Frazetta art on the front home with me. When my friend Joe died at the end of that year in a terrible train accident a small part of me thought he died because I took the book. I could come up with no other reason for losing my best friend. It has haunted me. Over the years I collected each of the Frazetta covered hardbacks in the series combing through used bookstores everywhere I went for those special editions with the line drawings illustrating the text. Frazetta did the covers for all Burroughs’ books in the 70s so I read everything he wrote, even if he wrote them all during the early 1900s.

hobbit cover2. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. They are all one to me emotionally. The year before Joe died we read these one after the other. I still remember reading the Bridge at Khazadoom chapter in the car with Joe and my brother on the way to the community pool. We didn’t want to leave the car until we finished that first book.

dandelion wine3. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Nobody has ever captured the thrill of getting a new pair of sneakers on the first day of summer the way he did. I love lots of Bradbury books but this one was just about growing up, nothing more and nothing less and it was magnificent. His voice is so distinctive and poetic. I don’t write like him but I aspire to have a voice as singularly unique and an imagination as full of wonder. I got a lot tied up in him.

dark materials4. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman. This was the most powerful fantasy novel (and it is one long epic novel told in three parts) I’d read in a long, long time and I read it just before my son was born and before Harry Potter turned up. And it’s YA. And I cried at the end and stared at the ceiling afterwards examining the cracks and wondering about the world. Damn.

shade gold5. A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald. I started reading the Travis McGee series when I was in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The PC library was four shelves of worn paperbacks sitting in the shade by the nurses office in Tegucigalpa. I don’t remember which number book this was for me but it’s the fifth in the series and I’d read a few before this one came along. As a writer this book blew me away because the mystery was cleared up half-way into the book. I was young and naively thought genre books like mysteries always followed a pattern. I had at that moment a blinding realization – that I didn’t care that the book had stopped following the pattern and that was because I enjoyed the main character Travis McGee so much I was willing to go anywhere plot-wise with him. He tore the genre formulae apart. Genre didn’t have to follow formulae. With a good character in hand you could do just about anything in any genre. I always tell writers to read Macdonald’s Travis McGee series. He was a master of genre fiction. You also watch him grow as a writer as the books were written over a twenty-year spread. Check out McGee, the dames who come to him looking for help and his houseboat The Busted Flush somewhere down the coast of Florida. Don’t forget the rum.

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The Kingdom of Ass-holes

Assholes: A Theory

I know. I know. But tell me if you saw a book like this in the bookstore, that you wouldn’t pick it up to at least, you know, look.

I’ve been reading a book called, Ass-holes, A theory, by Aaron James and thoroughly enjoying it. James is a Harvard educated philosophy doc and takes a philosophical approach to looking at assholes and you either go with it or you don’t. I did. It reminded me of an extended, funny Monty Python sketch. He’s not going to tell you how to deal with assholes. He’s just going to examine them and identify them, and try to figure out why they appear in our world in such large numbers.

I can honestly say I have never seen the work asshole used in combination with so many other words so many different ways, all in one place, before. For example there is asshole management, are assholes shaped by enabling cultures,  self-aggrandizing assholes, reckless assholes, delusional assholes, an asshole population, asshole CEOs, assholes within, corporate assholes, royal assholes, royal royal assholes, presidential assholes, asshole bosses, smug assholes, boorish assholes, borderline or half-assed assholes, the supreme court of assholedom, kingdoms of assholes, small assholes, full-sized assholes, individuals who have an inner asshole, moral assholes, have a proliferation of assholes, be a mere asshole, or be a part of asshole capitalism. And that’s just stuff from the first half of the book that caught my eye.

James sets up a hypothesis for what makes up an asshole as opposed to a psycho, tyrant, scumbag, or jerk. He likes to work from the middle of the spectrum of assholedom.

Why am I writing about assholes? It occurred to me while I was contemplating reading Ass-holes, that I should buy the iBook version and read it on my iPad – one less book to carry around while traveling. Then I realized once again – for I go back and forth on this over and over again – that if I continued this pattern I would not longer buy books from independent bookstores – which, if they no longer exist, would be the end of civilization as we know it.

Besides, I bought Ass-holes because I saw it in the window of Kramer Books on Dupont Circle in DC – a great bookstore, coffee shop and diner.  They earned the purchase by their display, their wonderful sales help, allowing me to wander through their aisles for an hour, and their all around awesomeness.

So in a way, if I didn’t buy the hardcover I would have been an asshole without a cover.

It’s my rationalization and I’m sticking to it.


Aside

The Pink Door and Deli-No-More

ImageI was in Seattle two weeks ago for the third time in a year. It’s for my day job but I had the chance to do some book business. I love going to Seattle. It’s a beautiful city that smells of the ocean and clean air. I don’t know if it has clean air or not I just know it smells nicer than NYC which generally smells, well … ripe.

I did my workshop with the courts and my contractor promoting a federally funded blended (face-to-face and online) learning system, then had an afternoon to myself so … I wandered across the street to the Seattle public library with a copy of my book to see if I could donate a copy.

ImageIf you’ve never seen Seattle’s library it’s an awesome structure. I asked for the YA section. It covers most of a whole floor. I asked to speak to a YA librarian (not knowing the technical lingo for such – though librarian is a cool enough job title in my book, er, you know what I mean). Specialist Carol Lo came and saw me and after nicely hearing my pitch and my idea (I’d like to donate a copy of my book) said there was a whole process in bringing in copies of a new book into the library, but would be glad to take the single book I’d brought and make sure it got into the hands of some young people to read. Then she checked to see if they carried it (why did I assume they didn’t?) and indeed they had a copy.

ImageNow they had two.

This made my day. Thank you for being so helpful, Carol Lo. And thank you Seattle Public Library for carrying my book.

I ran up and down the hills by the waterfront and Pike’s Market early in the morning while the fog was still covering the water and a good part of the city. Im not a big runner (I enjoy having run but not running unless I have a rugby ball in my hands and others are chasing me with the intent to tackle) but I find it’s a great way to check interesting parts of a city out. The waterfront is beautiful.

Dinner at The Pink Door with my colleagues and interesting side trip to a male burlesque show (don’t ask, don’t ask) capped the trip and sent me on my return trip home.

ImageI love the 5-6 hour plane ride with nothing to do but read and write and stare out at the clouds.

ImageAnd I love Deli No More (look at the graffiti all over the walls and ceiling) inside the YWCA. Bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwiches rock.

Image


The Dust of Dogs and Human Insight

  I’ve been reading A.S. King and learning how to write. Every one of her books is a meditation on the art and craft of the novel. She is wonderful. I just finished her first book, Dust of 100 Dogs, and her latest, Reality Boy – back to back. I’ve read all of her books inbetween also.

Dust is part pirate tale (female protagonist), part coming of age story, part love story, part dog story, part modern and part historical. How would you take being born aware that you were a pirate and then, because of a curse, forced to the live the lives of 100 dogs, before you were again born into present day remembering each of your previous iterations fully?

The pirate story and the modern story are told in parallel as are a number of dog stories. You know the ending at the beginning but it doesn’t matter because you still don’t know how exactly King will get you there. This is a great technique and very hard to pull off yet she did this with her first novel and in such an engaging way. I was so caught up in the story I kept thinking to myself, maybe it won’t end the way she said. I knew the way the story ended. She’s cursed and lives the lives of 100 dogs. But still… I knew how it ended in general, guessed the specifics, and still felt a lump in my throat when I got to the last page.

reality  Reality Boy is so different and so visceral. You can read the synopsis on Goodreads. I’m not going to give it to you. It’s still too fresh for me. A good book will do that to me. It has to settle. I found tears on my cheeks a few times reading Reality Boy, and not because I felt manipulated but because the authenticity of Gerald’s (the protagonist) situation made me – feel. King is expert at capturing what it’s like to be in late adolescence (17). As an example. Gerald has a developmental insight at one point (he sees the world from someone elses point of view). I know this sounds  mundane, but it’s hard to explain this kind of world view to adults and for me, King really puts us inside Gerald’s head and shows us his realization in such a painful and amazing way. And it is amazing, in a story telling world accustomed to cartloads of over-the-top action, explosions, and gun-play, how powerful a single moment of genuine insight from a character we care about can be.

What will she write about next?

 


Fish Bones and So Long Suckers

I’ve been traveling a lot. Over the last four months I’ve been to Seattle twice, Oklahoma, New Orleans, and DC (where I’m headed now). My day job has been calling and I have had to answer.

I lost 90 pages of my WIP late in the summer – don’t ask how. Okay I’ll tell you. I can’t help myself.

Once, when my son was small, about four years old we had a small fish tank with a few fish in it. One fish disappeared one night. I mean … it disappeared. There had been casualties before (many, many, many casualties) but they always showed up on the surface, belly up. So one little guy, like a master illusionist, one night disappeared. I searched the whole tank, top to bottom, filter to gravel graveyard. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.

I called fish experts.

They scratched their heads.

He was too big to be eaten by the two other fish inside the tank with him. So what happened to him? I don’t know. But sometimes, late at night when I’m just about asleep I swear I can hear him laughing and calling out to me, “So long sucker.”

One night in August I was working on my WIP. I left the document open on the screen, got caught up in watching The Big Bang Theory with my son and wife. I went to bed. In the morning…

So long suckers.

The document was there but 90 pages were gone. I looked everywhere. I looked on my screen, in my dropbox, in my WIP folder, in my other computer, in all my back-up files. I checked the floor for 6 feet in all directions. I looked for bones in hideouts.

Fortunately I had a hard copy. I just had to type it all in again…

I wish I was a faster typist. Mavis Beacon, here I come.

So long suckers.