So Long, Old Buddy
Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
--John Donne, Meditation XVII
Since my efforts at publishing good fiction have thus far come to naught, I momentarily turned my focus to bad fiction, and entered the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2005. The contest, named in honor of Edward George Bulwer-Lytton ("It was a dark and stormy night...") is "a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels" which is sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University.
Here's the winning entry for 2004, by Dave Zobel:
She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight...summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail...though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism...not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein...and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand...and that brought her back to Ramon.
And the runner-up, by Pamela Patchet Hamilton:
The notion that they would no longer be a couple dashed Helen's hopes and scrambled her thoughts not unlike the time her sleeve caught the edge of the open egg carton and the contents hit the floor like fragile things hitting cold tiles, more pitiable because they were the expensive organic brown eggs from free-range chickens, and one of them clearly had double yolks entwined in one sac just the way Helen and Richard used to be.
Good (or, technically, bad), but I think my entry is better than (worse than?) either of them. Julie thinks so, as well, and I don't think that's just "endlessly supportive spouse of unpublished writer" talk. I'll post my effort here in a few months in the event that the fickle gods of literary taste snub me once again.
One of the numerous books that Santa was kind enough to lug down my chimney this Christmas is Real Chicago: From the Files of the Chicago Sun-Times. The book is a wonderful treasure trove of photos from the Sun-Times archives dating back to the 1940s. Vivid images throughout, with one of my favorites being a 1957 shot of Carl Sandburg standing in the parking lane on Wacker Drive, staring up at a building with what looks like mild befuddlement.
The photos, not surprisingly, focus primarily on newsworthy figures--the Daleys, Martin Luther King, Richard Speck and a slew of others. But there is also the occasional refreshing pause for more artistic efforts, like the lovely photos taken at Union Station, 13th Street and Newberry Avenue and State and Lake, as well as an unusual (for a newspaper, anyway) series of silhouette photos by Howard Lyon (starting here).
The entire online gallery is worth browsing when you have a few minutes to spare.
Annie Reid makes some excellent points about bookstores segregating books by the writer's personal background, or by the backgrounds of the book's characters. Fiction is fiction, after all, regardless of who happens to write it.
As a reader, I'm disturbed by the implications of an "African-American" section and a "Gay and Lesbian Interest" section, with a separate "Literature" section in another section. Whose "literature"? Our identities shouldn't be the boundaries of our interests, should they?
Exactly. For example, James Baldwin was both African-American and gay. So which literary ghetto should he be shelved in? Whatever happened to the great melting pot named "Literature"?
Tournament of Books
The mysterious Al at Blood and Thunder passed along this link for "The First Annual TMN Tournament of Books". It's the lit blogger rebuttal to all of the various marketing-infested book awards, as determined by everyday bloggers. That's "everyday" in the sense that they're not faceless publishing conglomerates--the judges are actually some of the lit blog heavies, including Maud Newton (maudnewton.com), Mark Sarvas (The Elegant Variation) and Jessa Crispin (Bookslut)--all of whom, I now see, have already posted about this tournament, thus rendering my scoop moot. The tournament bracket has been thoughtfully formatted in a sharp-looking .pdf file.
My money's on Roth. He's got the reputation and resumé, he's a liberal, and he had the uncanny timing to publish a book about systematic ethnic intolerance and oppression during the presidential election that will now be giving us four more years of same. Ward Just is my sentimental favorite, but I don't see him getting out of the first round. Wolfe deserves to be trounced, if for no other reasons that to pass off the horribly constructed sex scenes of his latest as being intentionally "ironic."
Letter from John Kerry
So nice of him to write. I know how busy he is these days...Seriously, I agree with him completely. Please consider signing the petition.
Earlier today, I voted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee against the nomination of Dr. Condoleezza Rice for Secretary of State. This vote is an expression of my determination that we hold the Bush administration accountable.
Dr. Rice is a principal architect, implementer, and defender of a series of Administration policies that have not made our country as secure as we should be and have alienated much-needed allies in our common cause of winning the war against terrorism. Regrettably, I did not see in Dr. Rice's testimony before our committee any acknowledgment of the need to change course or of a new vision for America's role in the world.
On Iraq, on North Korea, on Iran, to name just a few of the most critical challenges, it seems to be more of the same. I hope I am proven wrong. I hope the course will change. And I hope that the Administration will recognize the strength of a foreign policy that has bipartisan support.
I am prepared to work with Dr. Rice and others in the Administration to try to reach agreement on policies that will truly strengthen our security and restore America's credibility on the world stage. And I am confident colleagues on both sides of the aisle are prepared to do so as well.
But, we've got to remain firm in our insistence that those who create policies that don't work have the courage to admit their mistakes and the wisdom to change course. Our johnkerry.com community has been expressing that determination in huge numbers.
Over 700,000 people have called on President Bush to fire Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.
If you haven't signed the Rumsfeld petition, please do so immediately.
And, please forward the petition right now to friends and colleagues, urging them to join in this effort.
I know you share my strong convictions on the importance of holding the President and his Cabinet accountable. I pledge to you that I will not yield in this effort. Let's keep working together. America's future is at stake.
Edgar Allan Poe
It's Poe's birthday. He was born on this day in Boston in 1809. In his honor, I'll be sipping a nice glass of Amontillado tonight. Or, if we happen to be fresh out of Amontillado, I'll just settle for a bottle of Bell's Expedition Stout. Though I doubt I could ever get sufficiently drunk to truly do justice to Poe, I'll still make a small gesture none the less.
From Minnesota Public Radio:
He first made his name writing some of the most brutal book reviews ever published at the time. He was called the "tomahawk man from the South." He described one poem as "an illimitable gilded swill trough," and he said, "[Most] of those who hold high places in our poetical literature are absolute nincompoops."
Outstanding. (And to think that Dale Peck is considered a harsh critic today!) I think I'll name my first story collection An Illimitable Gilded Swill Trough, if and when that blessed event ever occurs.
William Trevor, A Bit on the Side
Wow. I can't even begin to describe how thoroughly I enjoyed William Trevor's new story collection, A Bit on the Side. Trevor's prose is simply beautiful, and impeccably crafted. There's no clever wordplay here, no dizzying metaphors or whipsaw plot twists, no implausibly witty characters. Just everyday people living quiet, modest, lonely and often regretful lives in an Ireland of the modern era but which could easily have been fifty or a hundred years ago. The settings are vividly drawn--pubs which are empty in the afternoon but for the lonely seeking refuge; manor houses long since past their prime, their grounds and their inhabitants' way of life slowly drifting away; destitute farmhouses and those fighting to survive within them.
My favorite story here is "Graillis' Legacy" in which a small-town librarian and widower is faced with an inheritance which has been bequeathed to him by a woman he once knew, back when his wife was still alive. The woman moved away years ago, and few people in town probably even remember her, but he wants to refuse the inheritance none the less, merely out of propriety, fearing what others might think, what they would assume to be the ill-gotten fruits of an illicit affair. He goes so far as to consult an attorney, or solicitor, to weigh his options.
He was bewildered by the resurrection of a guilt that long ago had softened away to nothing. In that other time no pain had been caused, no hurt; he had managed the distortions that created falsity, the lies of silence; what he had been forgiven for was not seeming to be himself for a while. A crudity still remained in the solicitor's reading of the loose ends that were still there; the wronged wife haunting restlessly from her grave, the older woman claiming from hers the lover who had slipped away from her.
Despite the writer's use of the word "lover", it's not clear if a sexual relationship ever existed between Graillis and the older woman. (Trevor leaves it left unsaid, a lovely habit of his which keeps the reader highly involved in his stories.) Instead, their relationship appeared to be platonic, with the two likely sharing no more than a love of books and conversation, indulged over coffee and cigarettes in the drawing-room of her decaying mansion.
He stubbed out his second cigarette. He never smoked at home, continuing not to after he'd found himself alone there, and smoking was forbidden in the branch library, a restriction he insisted upon himself. But in the drawing-room he had sat in so often in the autumn of 1979 and the winter and spring that followed it, a friendship had developed over cigarettes, touches of lipstick on the cork tips that had accumulated in the ashtray with the goldfinch on it. That settled in his thoughts, still as a photograph, arrested with a clarity that today felt cruel.
Usually when I finish a story collection and look back at the table of contents, I have to wrack my brain while looking at some of the titles, trying to think of what happened in each story. This was not the case with Trevor's book: each story immediately came to mind upon reading the corresponding title, standing out distinctly and unmistakably.
A Bit on the Side is a wonderful and richly written collection of stories. I give it my highest and unreserved recommendation.
(Passages are copyright of William Trevor and Penguin Books Ltd., 2004.)
Zinn was interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show to promote his new book Voices of A People's History of the United States. He modestly--and I don't think his modesty is a marketing ploy--says that his writing in his landmark book, A People's History of the United States, didn't tell the American story as well as his original sources. Thus, the new book has been published which presents those sources as the unembellished voices of our history. A very worthy effort, I think.
In talking to Stewart, he makes an interesting point about how much our history parallels with current events, which is a point I was trying to make with my earlier comments which equated the Mexican-American War to Iraq. Zinn specifically draws intriguing parallels between the faith-driven imperialism of Christopher Columbus and George Bush.
Boycott, But Wisely!
There's been a lot of discussion around the web about protesting Bush's re-election by refusing to make any retail purchases on Inauguration Day, this Thursday. Although this idea is well-intentioned, it will have utterly no impact on the state of politics as it currently stands in America. First of all, not buying anything for one day just means you'll have to buy more on Friday and the days that follow, so the retailers will only see a one-day blip in their revenues, if they notice any at all. And more importantly, doing so penalizes the numerous retailers--my wife included, by the way--who are politically liberal and who condemn the heartless, intolerant, war-mongering, fear-exploiting policies of the Bush Administration.
Not buying anything on just one day will do absolutely nothing to lessen the power of corporations who feed at the trough of our federal government.
Rather than boycott all retailers on Inauguration Day, why not consider permanently boycotting all of the major corporations who are bankrolling the Inauguration? They are clearly doing so with the intent of currying favor with the Administration, which has proven to be one of the most corporation-friendly and worker-hostile administrations in history.
The complete list of major donors can be found here, and here's a handful of donors who are the most likely to be pertinent to your daily lives:
AFLAC, Incorporated - $250,000
Amgen, Inc. - $100,000
Anheuser-Busch Cos., Inc. - $100,000
AT&T - $250,000
Bank of America Corporation - $250,000
Bristol-Myers Squibb - $250,000
ChevronTexaco - $250,000
Exxon Mobil Corporation - $250,000
FedEx Corporation - $250,000
Ford Motor Company - $250,000
GMAC - $100,000
JPMorgan Chase - $100,000
Marathon Oil Corporation - $25,000
Marriott International, Inc. - $250,000
MCI - $25,000
Microsoft Corporation - $100,000
Morgan Stanley - $100,000
Office of the Commissioner of Baseball - $100,000
Pepsi-Cola Company - $100,000
Pfizer, Inc. - $250,000
SBC Communications, Inc. - $100,000
The Coca Cola Company - $100,000
The Home Depot - $250,000
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, LLC - $250,000
The Washington Post - $100,000
Time Warner - $250,000
Toyota Motor North America, Inc. - $25,000
United Parcel Service - $250,000
Addendum (1/19/05): "judy b." elaborates quite nicely on the folly of the Inauguration Day-only boycott in this article at AlterNet.
From the History Books
"If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, it is his right to do so."
--Ronald Reagan, in 1966, endorsing repeal of California's Fair Housing Act during his gubernatorial campaign
Behold the patron saint of political conservatives. Oh, happy MLK Day, by the way.
"A Son Resists"
I failed to win the inaugural "Found Photo" story contest at Bighappyfunhouse, so as promised here's my effort, "A Son Resists". I greatly enjoyed the experience, and will definitely be participating on a regular basis. Julie said she'd even favor keeping this week's prize--the bowl, that is, not the photo of the dapper gent--unlike those Robin glasses.
For a completely different interpretation of the photo, check out Patricia Storms' story, "Pussy". Narrator as foul-mouthed feline. Gotta love it.
New in the Galleries
I finally got back the black and white photos from a roll I had been shooting off and on for the last six months. New pseudo-artistic photos start here, and new family photos--mostly Maddie, as always--start here. I've also created a new home page for the family gallery, which now has thumbnail images and should be much more navigable.
Nothing eventworthy is prompting this posting, just the sudden realization of how much I appreciate Mark Mulcahy. He's a pretty fascinating guy--former frontman of Miracle Legion ("You're My Blessing" is one of my favorite rock songs ever, although not available online; "The Ladies from Town" is online, and captures the band pretty well), solo artist ("We're Not In Charleston Anymore" is quite good), the original drummer in Dumptruck (one of the great college bands of the 80s), collaborator with artist Ben Katchor on the stage works "Rosenbach" and "The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island, or, The Friends of Dr. Rushower" (both of which played to good reviews) and musical director of the mid-90s Nickelodeon show "The Adventures of Pete and Pete."
The reviews section at his own record label, Mezzotint (oh, yeah, he's an entrepeneur, too) tells his backstory pretty well. Check it out.
Favorite Children's Books
From my childhood:
1. Virginia Miller, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel
2. Dare Wright, The Kitten's Little Boy
3. H.A. Rey, Curious George Joins the Circus
4. Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle
5. Jon Stone, The Monster at the End of This Book
6. Miriam Huber, Cinder the Cat
From Maddie's Childhood:
1. Sam McBratney, Guess How Much I Love You
2. Shel Silverstein, The Giving Tree
3. Lois Ehlert, Nuts to You
4. Eric Carle, The Grouchy Ladybug
5. Bill Martin and Eric Carle, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
6. Jan Brett, Who's That Knocking on Christmas Eve?
7. Rebecca Hickox, Per and the Dala Horse
Not that I want to horn in on the turf of Golden Rule Jones or anything--Sam's is a thankless task, and he's welcome to it--I thought I should pass along this notice of an appearance by the renowned artist Tony Fitzpatrick at Myopic Books.
Tony Fitzpatrick Book Signing for The Wonder: Portraits of a Remembered CityI was first aware of Fitzpatrick as a writer (his poetry collection Bum Town has been on my to-read list for a while now, and he's a fellow fan of Algren) but only recently discovered his fascinating gallery of collage art ("Wonder Dog" is my personal favorite) as well. Interesting work.
Thursday, January 20th 7PM at Myopic Books / 1564 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Artist Tony Fitzpatrick will be at Myopic Books to introduce his new book about Chicago- The Wonder: Portraits of a Remembered City. Come on in and meet the artist, and get a signed copy! Thursday, January 20th 7PM.
Images of Chicago, its people, its mysteries, its stories, and the extraordinary influence these stories have had on Fitzpatrick's life. He gives us fantasy and fact, great architectural landmarks and obscure neighborhood bars, and his own great heroes, real and imagined. Chicago is a city of sports legends and wild politics, but it is also a city of real, everyday people, people who have made Chicago into Fitzpatrick's Bombay. Fitzpatrick's work is informed by wide reading, an astounding imagination, a vast inventory of memorabilia (factual and imaginary), and a great love for the Windy City.
Seeing the large quantity of items which go into his collages, the thought of the sheer volume of ephemera he must keep in his studio boggles my mind--and as Peter Schickele once wrote, "A boggled mind is of no use to anyone."
These are Grand Photos
The ever-worthy This is Grand has created a gallery of winning entries of its 2004 photo contest. All the photos, like the writings on the site itself, are CTA-oriented and refreshingly offbeat. Though it only earned Honorable Mention, I like this one by Archie Florcruz best of all.
Attention, Writers and Kitsch Aficionados!
Kind of short notice, but Ron at Bighappyfunhouse.com is running a contest whose only requirement is submitting a story based on this wonderful found photo. As if the intrinsic reward of literary recognition wouldn't be sufficient--and it would--the glorious grand prize is icing on the proverbial cake.
Contest entries must be received by Thursday, January 13. I'm just about finished with mine. I'll publish it here if and when the precious Robin mugs elude my greedy grasp.
(Link via Gapers Block--Andrew, if you're reading this, the bribe check is in the mail.)
From Minnesota Public Radio:
It's the birthday of the poet Philip Levine, born in Detroit (1928). He's the author of many collections of poetry, including What Work Is (1991), The Simple Truth (1994), and The Mercy (1999). He discovered writing before he really knew what it was. He said, "As a boy of fourteen, I took long walks and talked to the moon and stars, and night after night I would reshape and polish these talks, but the moon and stars never answered."
After college, he tried getting a job in advertising, but he couldn't stand it, so he supported himself working in various auto factories around Detroit. Looking around at the other men in the factories, he realized none of them had a voice. Nobody was speaking for them or writing for them. He said, "As young people will... I took this foolish vow that I would speak for them, and that's what my life would be. And sure enough I've gone and done it. Or I've tried anyway."
Philip Levine said, "In a curious way, I'm not much interested in language. In my ideal poem, no words are noticed. You look through them into a vision of... just see the people, the place."
Levine is one of the few poets I follow, and I enjoy his work quite a bit. It's lyrical but not oppressively intellectual--he's got the smarts, obviously, but also a blue-collar sensibility that keeps his poetry very well-grounded. I read The Mercy a while ago and highly recommend it.
"63 Days and a Lifetime"
At the suggestion of Christine Sneed, a fellow writer who's become a bit of a mentor to me, I'm publishing an excerpt to my latest story, "63 Days and a Lifetime." (I'd love to link to Christine somehow, but she admits to being "dismally unsavvy when it comes to the web", and thus has no webpage or blog.) As I mentioned earlier, this story has been submitted to After Hours. (No response so far, but it's still very early.)
As a bit of background, the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 involved Polish citizens rising up against the occupying Nazis at the prodding of Russia, whose Army was massed on the opposite bank of the Vistula River from the Nazi stronghold in Warsaw. The Poles rose up, confident that the Russians would come to their aid, but the Russians never did so, and the overmatched Poles were soon decimated. The Nazis reduced the city to rubble and killed 200,000 Poles, many of them not having even been involved in the insurrection. As it turns out, the Russians had previously worked out a deal with the other Allies which would cede Poland to Russia after the war, and thus the Russians had no interest in supporting the Poles, instead sacrificing them merely to give themselves a temporary breather in the battle for the Eastern Front.
I first read about the Warsaw Uprising last summer, when the Polish government finally got around to erecting a monument to those who died. I can't begin to describe how appalled I was, by both the Russians' devious inaction and the Allies' complicity in the scheme. I tried to channel my anger into this story, relating the lives and deaths of four fictional Polish patriots. Whether or not the full extent of my moral indignation comes through in my writing, I leave to your judgment.
63 Days and a Lifetime (excerpt)
Fourteen. Tadeusz should have been in secondary school, only partly hearing the science instructor’s droning while he daydreamed of schoolgirls in pleated skirts. Which is precisely where he was when the radios first crackled to life, bearing the voice of the Russian army which was massed on the opposite side of the Vistula, just waiting to swarm over and liberate Warsaw from the Germans’ grip.
The voice, one of Kiev-inflected Polish, spoke bravely and inspiringly, condemning the Nazis and encouraging all able-bodied Poles to rise up against them. Implicit in the message, though never clearly stated, was the promise of Russian aid in the uprising.
“Rise up, brave Poles, your freedom awaits. The Motherland salutes your courage.”
Tadeusz was won over immediately. School no longer seemed important when his country’s honor was at stake. He left school immediately, never to return.
I read the transcript many years later.
“Of course they will rise up against the Nazis,” the general said coldly, lowering the glass from his mouth. “They think that by doing so they will gain their freedom.”
The stenographer must have had the soul of a poet, for he had transcribed quite diligently, catching not only every word but even imparting the bitterness in the general’s laugh. On the printed page, in those musty, bound volumes, I felt the chill emanating from his lips.
“Freedom, pah. Poland is already ours,” the general said, as the transcription continued. But I couldn’t read any further. I immediately had a sick feeling in my stomach as I realized he had been speaking several years before the war ended.
My Ongoing Morphine Addiction
I used to write record reviews, with three of them being published online at the lamentably defunct Green Mountain Music Review, and even toyed with the idea of launching my own music site. The site never came to fruition, but I still wrote a fair number of reviews. Following a brief commercial pitch is one of my reviews, which I wrote sometime in early 2003.
Brief Commerical Pitch: Morphine was one of my favorite bands of the 1990s, with its frontman Mark Sandman being one of my musical heroes. What's prompting me to revisit this old review is the release of a new two-disc anthology of Sandman's work, entitled Sandbox. (Amazon has a fine MP3 track, "Tomorrow", available for download, but if you want to buy the anthology, please strongly consider doing so through Hi-and-Dry's online store instead.)
Morphine: The Night
It's very difficult for me to think objectively about this record. "Bittersweet" is probably the most accurate description of my feelings on the subject. Morphine's second record, Cure For Pain, hit me like a ton of bricks back in 1993, with its noir-ish minimalism and understatement being such an enormous departure from the heavy-handed grunge of that era. But the next two albums were disappointing, despite a few great moments, and the death of mastermind Mark Sandman to a heart attack onstage in Italy in 1999 was shocking in its dramatic suddenness.
After the creative ruts implied by both Good and Like Swimming, Sandman's death could easily have just been another sad footnote in musical history, the departure of a once-promising talent from the scene. Which is why this record is so transcendently revelatory, and ultimately bittersweet. The Night is Sandman branching out in new directions, creating music that is undeniably Morphine in flavor but which breaks away from formula.
The leadoff title track is a prime example. Sandman's trademark slide bass is barely heard, with its chords being provided more prominently by a simple piano figure. Dana Colley's sax part is full-bodied and smoky, as always, and the lyrics are particularly somber ("You're a folk tale, the unexplainable" is about as good a summation as could be written about the band) and seem to foreshadow Sandman's death.
"The Way We Met" forsakes the bass entirely, and consists only of Billy Conway and Jerome Deupree's intertwined drums and Sandman's bleary, woozy voice. "Rope on Fire" also minimizes the bass, featuring cello, viola and oud from guest players and an unmistakeable exotic Moroccan vibe. The list of departures goes on and on. Only one or two songs even begin to hint at the previous Morphine formula.
Bringing back Deupree, the band's original drummer, to play alongside his replacement, Conway, was a particularly nice touch. It was almost as if Sandman knew this would be his last chance to play with Deupree, a noted avant-jazz Boston artist, while not snubbing his longtime friend Conway. This gesture and the eerie lyrical content on several of the songs seem to hint that Sandman knew what awaited him on that Italian stage in July 1999. This album sometimes hurts in that it offers fascinating glimpses of what Morphine might have gone on to become, but all in all it's a powerful and uplifting celebration of life. This is Morphine's final and finest hour.
Birthday Greetings All Around
It's the birthday of Carl Sandburg, journalist, poet, novelist, and biographer, born in a three-room cottage in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1878. Sandburg produced a two-volume biography of Lincoln, published in 1926, but was too intrigued with his subject to stop there, so he published four more volumes titled Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. For that he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1940. Ten years later he received a second Pulitzer, this one for poetry, for his anthology, Complete Poems.
(Via Minnesota Public Radio)
And it's also the fictional birthday of Sherlock Holmes (reputedly born January 6, 1854). In his honor, I'm re-reading "The Red-Headed League", one of my favorite Holmes stories. The story has Holmes' usual peerless sleuthing, of course, along with a not-particularly-common action scene. But what always gets me is the cluelessness of the client, Jabez Wilson, to whom it never seemed strange that a stranger would pay him good money to transcribe the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, in longhand, in an empty attic room, for no other reason than the distinctive color of his hair. It somehow never occurred to him that somebody might have wanted to get him out of his house for extended periods each day, a house which, not coincidentally, was right next door to a bank. Hah!
The Truth Hurts
Oh, the travails of an unappreciative audience for fine literature...
Author's tale of village life and love proved too close to home(Full story)
By Sean O’Neill, London Times
RICHARD LEWIS’S first foray into the world of racy fiction has hardly been a success. Just six copies of A Fool in the Country were sold. Yet rarely can a novel that has been bought by so few have caused so much controversy.
The self-published work went on sale briefly — and exclusively — in the village of Nunney, near Frome, Somerset, where Mr Lewis lives.
Unfortunately for the author, his characters — a man- hungry WI member, several retired military types and a hunky meter man — bore strong resemblances to real residents.
When Mr Lewis, 82, a retired teacher, was confronted by one villager telling him he was “despicable”, he withdrew the remaining 494 copies of his novel from sale.
My suggestion for Mr. Lewis is to open up a PayPal storefront to develop his market overseas, which is where he may be exiled pretty soon anyway.
Fight the Gonzales Nomination, Now!
I just received this email from The Nation:
Yesterday, a dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the rare step of signing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing "deep concern" over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general.
They understand, as Robert Scheer writes in his weekly column at TheNation.com, that what's at stake with the nomination is whether Congress wants to absolve Gonzales of his attempt to have the President subvert US law in order to whitewash barbaric practices performed by US interrogators in the name of national security.
Gonzales ignored the objections of State Department and military lawyers to strongly endorse the determination of Justice Department lawyers that neither the Geneva Convention nor corresponding US laws on prisoner protections should be applied in the "war on terror."
Gonzales's Senate hearings begin this Thursday. Take a minute to send a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, the co-chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee who will be leading the hearings asking them to make sure the nominee receives a thorough vetting.
And read and circulate David Cole's December 6, 2004 Nation magazine editorial making clear why Gonzales is the wrong choice.
I never thought this would be possible, but Gonzales is even more of an extremist than John Ashcroft. If you care even a little bit about civil liberties, please contact Senators Leahy and Specter and voice your concerns.
Hail To A Quiet Hero
(Photo is copyright of The Chicago Tribune.)
My spectator sport-watching days are mostly behind me, particularly the three hours a day I used to spend watching Cubs games, but I must pause to pay tribute to Ryne Sandberg, who was just elected to the Hall of Fame. He was an elegant, flawless second baseman, and a rare--for his era, anyway--combination of speed and power offensively. He played the game quietly and effectively, and though some faulted his clean uniform and lack of headfirst dives as somehow reflecting a lack of passion, Sandberg knew he was a lot more valuable to his team by playing every day rather than risking some stupid injury. He was out there every day, efficiently giving every ounce of effort to the Cubs--the only team he ever played for--and when he decided he had enough, he left the game on his own terms.
Today, when ballplayers' bodies are grotesquely inflated by steroids and their loyalty only goes as far as the next time they feel underappreciated and want to renegotiate their contract, and the game has become nothing more than a loud, highly-choreographed marketing vehicle, it's easy to forget it wasn't that long ago that players like Sandberg graced the diamond. His kind is not likely to come around again.
Daniel Curley, Living With Snakes
As I've mentioned previously, I took my one and only creative writing class at U of I from Dan Curley, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, was a fairly well-regarded short story writer, as well as Roger Ebert's professor and mentor during the latter's years in Champaign. (Curley died in a car accident in 1988 while vacationing in Florida.)
I just finished reading his story collection Living With Snakes, which was published in 1985 (coincidentally, right around the time I took his narrative writing class) by University of Georgia Press, which awarded it the Flannery O' Connor Award for Short Fiction. Curley's stories are quietly and gently presented, but underneath the surface there's a great deal of tension--over terminated or dying relationships, lost parents or just general dissatisfaction with life. (In fact, there are enough divorces and second marriages here to make me wonder whether Curley was enduring a breakup himself at the time.) But although none of these stories is particulary uplifting, Curley's skillful writing style prevents the darkness from becoming overwhelming.
For me, the strongest story is "Revenge" in which an American businessman in Mexico City seeks to avenge an earlier pickpocketing not with violence, but by letting himself be pickpocketed again. This time, however, he's carrying a dummy wallet which contains only a slip of paper on which he's written a phrase in Spanish which he hopes is sufficiently insulting to the thief, thereby hoping to gain a peverse form of psychological revenge. But the scheme backfires, and he finds himself worse off than the previous incident, when all he lost was money. (Interestingly, this story appears to be the only one in the collection which hadn't previously been published in a literary journal, which makes me wonder whether my fondness for the story is just the unpublished writer in me talking.)
Other highlights are "The Contrivance", a mesmerizing piece which beautifully evokes the ritual of a daily swim and the time-passing thoughts, musings and conjectures which make it bearable; and "Visiting the Dead", in which a middle-aged man chauffeurs his two doddering aunts around to their old houses and family cemetary plots, allowing each to reflect on their past lives.
All in all, Living With Snakes is a very enjoyable read, and worth seeking out. I'm proud to have known Dan Curley, even for such an abbreviated period.
Manuscripts Coming and Going
I haven't done any updates recently on my ongoing efforts to get published because, frankly, there hasn't been much to report. But with my only New Year's Resolution being to finish and submit stories much more diligently than in the past, and after reading a very substandard story this morning which still managed to get published by a cash-paying lit journal, I've found myself re-energized.
+ My short story "Freewheeling" (an imagined conversation with Mudhoney's Mark Arm) was politely declined by 3 A.M. which, despite this setback, I still quite enjoy reading. I'm on the lookout for yet another venue to submit this one to; it's a modest piece, but good enough for low-profile publication somewhere, I think. (Anybody know of a literary journal with indie rock sympathies?)
+ Yesterday I finally finished writing "63 Days and a Lifetime", a story inspired by my reading of a much-belated memorial erected in Warsaw last summer to those slain in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. I started writing the story way back in August, and have no excuse for letting it languish. This morning I submitted it to After Hours, a Chicago-based lit journal that I recently discovered. I haven't read the journal yet, but agree with their manifesto. I might eventually send some of my photographs their way as well.
+ Though another journal is currently reviewing it for possible publication--no breath is being held at this end--"Mahalia" will soon be submitted for the Nelson Algren Awards annual competition which is run by the Tribune. (For those of you keeping score at home, the story has been declined by four journals to date.) Grand prize is five thousand bucks, with no entry fee required, so I figure there's no risk involved. And call it boasting if you must, but I think "Mahalia" is at least as good as the 2004 winner.
Timely (and Not So Timely) Reviewing
The Chicago Tribune had a nice review (by John Freeman) of Nick Hornby's new collection, The Polysyllabic Spree: A Hilarious and True Account of One Man's Struggle With the Monthly Tide of Books He's Bought and the Books He's Been Meaning to Read. Freeman pretty much confirms all of my feelings on Hornby's wonderful columns in The Believer.
...Hornby snatches reading back from the dusty, obligatory lilt of criticism that presumes you have six hours a day to read and a library of knowledge behind you. You can read this little book in 90 minutes, if you're in a hurry, or you can stretch it out over a few days--like I did--and savor it. Either way, it will give you a remarkable opportunity to spend some time in conversation with a guy who will almost certainly make you go out and buy what he reads.
The Trib also finally got around to reviewing Stephen Elliott's Happy Baby, though the book has been out since February and has consistently gotten rave reviews. (Budget problems? Publishers withholding review copies? Major American newspaper waiting to review a book until a used copy turns up at Goodwill?) Next week in the Trib: Great Expectations, by up-and-comer Chuck Dickens, and Paradise Lost, by some Milton guy they've heard a bit about.