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My thoughts about Wolf Solent by John Cowper Powys

Powys is one of the greatest novelists that not everybody knows about—I always make an effort to press him upon receptive readers—I’m a believer, a bookish zealot—I’m always more than happy to spread the word of literary awesomeness, I do realize that not every reader is going to dig Powys. Books by Powys have a knack to haunt a reader long after they’re done. His writing is magical, beautiful, rhapsodic, breathtaking, meandering, timeless—very dense classic prose. He’s in the company of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Proust, Hardy, D. H. Lawrence—Powys (dubbed by some as the Anti-Hemingway—which I find funny, I love “Papa” too—he is his own writing beast, Powys is another unique species of writer.) He’s a writer’s writer. With the generous spirit of Shakespearean shrewdness, he evokes an aged skepticism of everything, and yet a youthful gullibility about everything—it’s all very enchanting and lovely, and far too good to miss. In this contemporary world of instant gratification, it would be far too easy to neglect this master storyteller, and it would be a shame to forget him just because his writing is out of fashion.

One of the things that makes a Powys novel like Wolf Solent special is how he lays down a historical foundation that is based on legends. In all legends, there’s a grain of truth—the old hills and dells, moors and coastlines of Wales and England (in particular) have a history and mythology that have deep roots in the lives of the people who live within the covers of his books. The people—they are many and varied, the beautiful and ugly of humanity are all well represented. Pagans and Christians—philosophy and superstition overlap and separate—mingling and repelling—they co-exist with a feigned ignorance or have the willingness to overlook “the matter” out of politeness, and more times than not, they are blatant with their venom—gossiping the next chance meeting with an ear waiting to listen—creating their own legends from the bits of truth of what was muddied by their own perceptions. There’s an intensity of life that is palatable; life is complicated, yet it’s simple. The density of the writing is so absorbing, that’s what makes it so dang fascinating—he creates a sense of place and time, textured and sensual—decadent (in the best sense of the term.) The thing I love so much about his writing is that I have to be on my toes through all of it—my brain is slowly dining on every word, savoring every last bit to the end. I found it hard to put the book down some nights—and I was haunted by it until I picked it up again.

Wolf walks a lot (like the character Porius in another Powys novel of that name)—here, there, and everywhere—if I were his wife, Gerda, I would’ve slapped him silly for his random acts of disappearing—“Where the Hell have you been Mr. Solent? I gave you up as dead in a ditch somewhere along the road—get in here, sit, and have your tea.” (As it is long before the convenience of cell phones, give the nearest lad a ha’penny and have him run a message home at least! Ah, but he doesn’t think of doing that until near the end of the book.) I can’t blame Gerda at all for feeling as she did, a young wife finding herself married to this peculiar, distracted, but mostly harmless fool. He mentally wandered in a self-absorbed state, what he called “sinking into his soul”, also known as his “mythology” a secret name for his secret habit of daydreaming—it is a carryover from childhood that appalled his mother, but his father encouraged. Daydreams are a beautiful thing to have access to—they feed the creative mind all sorts of goodies, but it can be detrimental for an adult to go about in a fantasy world. Absentmindedness is quaint to a point, after a while, people can become pretty annoyed when your distracted manner is no longer entertaining as you are causing inconvenience—one day you have your head in the clouds, the next day it changes to having your head firmly stuck up your ass (there’s a time and place for everything, you see.) Wolf’s walking seems directionless, yet he follows his nose like a canine; examining his internal world and then becoming suddenly enamored by the world outside of himself— the verdant curve of a hill, the muddy stillness of a pond, the blue of the sky, and the golden meadow brimming with buttercups; body and soul, dreams and realities, within and without, life and death, good and evil—his thoughts often veering over the edge into the supernatural. The dead and buried (in particular, his father and the young Redfern) live on in memories and imaginings—laughing at the arrogance of the living.

Truth be told, the fool needed to grow up and get ahold of himself. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Wolf and his ‘mythology’, he cracked me up quite often—from the beginning, he got sacked from his teaching job in London for his “malice-dance” in which he just went off on an inappropriate verbal jaunt that had nothing to do with teaching History to the boys in his charge…

“He was telling his pupils quietly about Dean Swift; and all of a sudden some mental screen or lid or dam in his own mind completely collapsed and he found himself pouring forth a torrent of wild, indecent invectives upon every aspect of modern civilization.”p.2

This is the prevailing attitude throughout the book—he has something eating at him.

“He felt as though, with aeroplanes spying down upon every retreat like ubiquitous vultures, with the lanes invaded by iron-clad motors like colossal beetles, with no sea, no lake, no river, free from throbbing, thudding engines, the one thing most precious of all in the world was being steadily assassinated.” P.3

I agreed with him on most things, yet there were times I found his obsessive waffling over the flirtatious and sexy Gerda and the solemn and thoughtful Christie to be comical, bordering on absurd—he wanted his cake and eat it until it made him sick. The reality of Wolf’s life is invading and destroying his ‘mythology’—the being in a rut, teaching history to boys at the school for thirty years just irks him to no end—he longs to have financial independence to allow him to live comfortably and to have freedom. I certainly didn’t want to see him lose that lovely imaginativeness that was natural—instinctive, nigh innocent (yet not entirely), but it was clear that his behavior was becoming a concern by those who knew him. It isn’t every day that your father-in-law (a monument maker) indicates his concern by saying:

“Tis no comfort,” he remarked, “though I be the man I be for cossetting they jealous dead, to think that ‘in a time and half a time,’ as Scripture says, I’ll be chipping “Rest in the Lord” on me wone son-in-law’s moniment. But since us be talking snug and quiet, mister, on this sorrowful theme”—Mr. Torp’s voice assumed his undertaker’s tone, which long usage had rendered totally different from his normal one—“’twould be a mighty help, mister, to I, for a day to come, if ye’d gie us a tip as to what word—out of Book or out of plain speech—ye’d like best for I to put above ‘ee?” p. 466

As he moped around on his many walks, at times considering that maybe he should go drown himself in Lenty Pond as alluded by those who believed it to be his destiny, (I seriously felt concerned that he would!) I wished I could’ve advised him—“You should write a book of your own—you really need to.” If anything could possibly reset and settle his mind, it would be that—writing clears the decks of a busy mind that wanders. Writing is one of our most intimate acts of creativity, it can center one and it can unravel one—one can be rattled to the core by the act of writing, sometimes there’s nothing more startling than to write down the thoughts that haunt you to the point of something comparable to madness. Eventually, it does work out those bothersome bugs and gives focus. Then it’s nigh terrifying to share one’s own words on paper with anyone else because they are so personal—private. For example, when Wolf reads Christie’s writing that she had hidden away, she was pissed when she found out—his reading it ruined it for her, she wasn’t ready to have anyone read her thoughts. The eccentric poet, Jason Otter, shared his poetry with Wolf on many occasions, but when Wolf suggests that he should send them to London to be published, Jason became angry—feeling certain that the Londoners would laugh at his poetry. Anyway, I can only hope that Wolf came to writing later in life beyond the last page—that’s another thing that I love about this book, there is a sense that life goes on after the book ends. His walk through the meadow of buttercups was the most sublime event—he had changed, “grown up” in a manner of speaking—he may have lost his “mythology”, but he gained a new sight and insight. Once again, he reveled in taking notice of the smallest things such as the beauty of a snail as it went creeping along from a dock-leaf to the boards of the pigsty shed. Accepting the reality—“I am I”—“Forget and enjoy”—“ Endure or escape”—it was his body that saved him—for this, his spirit is grateful.

I simply adored this book and could easily read it again—I have a few bits here from some of the many dog-eared pages, and then I’m done with my wordy testimony…

 “Millions of miles of blue sky; and beyond that, millions of miles of sky that could scarcely be called blue or any other colour—pure  unalloyed emptiness, stretching outwards from where he sat—with his stick and coat opposite him—to no conceivable boundary or end!” p. 10

“Every time the hedge grew low, as they jogged along, every time a gate or a gap interrupted its green undulating rampart, he caught a glimpse of that great valley, gathering the twilight about it as a dying god might gather to his heart the cold, wet ashes of his last holocaust.” P. 25

“Nature was always prolific of signs and omens to his mind; and it had become a custom with him to keep a region of his intelligence alert and passive for a thousand whispers, hints, obscure intimations that came to him in this way. Why was it that a deep, obstinate resistance somewhere in his consciousness opposed itself to such a solution?” p 274

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My thoughts about The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon—it’s a very popular book, so there isn’t much more that I can add to it that hasn’t already been said, but I came away from it feeling good about its epic quality, it has just enough of a Gothic creepy edge to it to make it special—it’s a lovely book, read it, get lost in it, find and absorb all the good from it—and it’s got the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, what more can I ask for as a book lover?
"This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands."  From page 5-6
This is the quote that caught me firmly into the teeth of this book—only because of my own life experience and emotional connection to books put me there. When I walk into antique shops, I go find their corners where there are old books and I search for ones that I must adopt—it always makes me sad to see them languishing, unread—being the imaginative person that I am, I feel these inanimate objects have an essence about them that is in a sense alive—a soul—it is the spirit of the person who wrote them, the person who bought them, the person who read them (loved them.)
I often look at all of the books in our personal library and wonder—“Will I ever get around to reading them again or reading the ones I haven’t read yet?” And then I sometimes go the extra step further to make it worse and wonder, “Who will take care of my books after I’m gone?” (Painful isn’t it?)
 



My thoughts about The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon—it’s a very popular book, so there isn’t much more that I can add to it that hasn’t already been said, but I came away from it feeling good about its epic quality, it has just enough of a Gothic creepy edge to it to make it special—it’s a lovely book, read it, get lost in it, find and absorb all the good from it—and it’s got the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, what more can I ask for as a book lover?

"This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands."  From page 5-6

This is the quote that caught me firmly into the teeth of this book—only because of my own life experience and emotional connection to books put me there. When I walk into antique shops, I go find their corners where there are old books and I search for ones that I must adopt—it always makes me sad to see them languishing, unread—being the imaginative person that I am, I feel these inanimate objects have an essence about them that is in a sense alive—a soul—it is the spirit of the person who wrote them, the person who bought them, the person who read them (loved them.)

I often look at all of the books in our personal library and wonder—“Will I ever get around to reading them again or reading the ones I haven’t read yet?” And then I sometimes go the extra step further to make it worse and wonder, “Who will take care of my books after I’m gone?” (Painful isn’t it?)

 

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I’m continuing my journey discovering Janet Frame; The Edge of the Alphabet is yet another magical book of prose, experimental and challenging, a timeless narrative about the beauty and ugliness of the human condition. She plunges right in, starting on the first page:

Man is the only species for whom the disposal of waste is a burden, a task often ill judged, costly, criminal—especially when he learns to include himself, living and dead, in the list of waste products. 

The creator of the world did not employ a dustman to collect the peelings of his creation.

Now I, Thora Pattern (who live at the edge of the alphabet where words like plants either grow poisonous tall and hollow about the rusted knives and empty drums of meaning, or, like people exposed to a deathly weather, shed their fleshy confusion and show luminous, knitted with force and permanence), now I walk day and night among the leavings of people, places and moments. Here the dead (my goldsmiths) keep cropping up like daisies with their floral blackmail. It is nearly impossible to bribe them or buy their silence. Page 3

…and it is non-stop to the last page:

The edge of the alphabet where words crumble and all forms of communication between the living are useless. One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech. 

Meanwhile our lives are solitary; we are captives of the captive dead. We are like those yellow birds which are kept apart from their kind—you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors. 

But like the yellow birds have we not our pleasures? We look long in mirrors. We have tiny ladders to climb up and down, little wheels to set our feet and our heart racing nowhere; toys to play with.

Should we not be happy?  Page 303

It can leave one breathless…

Janet Frame’s books never cease to fascinate me—I have dog-eared several pages of this one (like others) marking where I want to return someday to explore a word-scape of unique beauty. The entire book is loaded with the most exquisite language—precious, priceless. She created geographical territory in which the borders of social inclusion and exclusion are investigated with an emphasis on language (communication or the lack of communication). The ghosts of the past are haunting, memories of lost relatives or events linger with a zealous desire to be remembered. There are surreal essences of despair, fear, failure— fragile dreams and disquieting realities—the human condition of those existing on the margins, marginalized—to be blunt, reality sucks. Sadly, this is a generous portion of our world’s population—life is not glamor, romance, and drama—to look away and deny it is negligent. Life is gritty with filth—our manmade rubbish, self-made madness, and life-long sickness. Some people are incapable of coping with life—some just do not have the tools to cope as they are flawed by disabilities (Toby’s epilepsy) or disabled by life (Zoe’s ignorance.) They are people easily discarded and ignored—yet Janet Frame writes in a way that makes the ugliness of life beautiful—and in all the trauma, there are comic pleasures that wink with a sweet wit that isn’t frivolous, if anything, the absurdity is very grounding.
 
A first kiss leading to the private research of identity, which leads to the creation of a sculpture from the silver paper of a cigarette pack, and then a life ended. A novel, The Lost Tribe, left unwritten because the writer is illiterate. Paintings destroyed, talent unrealized by an artist overcome by despair. And a life spent just getting by, going through the motions of life’s expectations to the point of not truly living.

“Just how much blank paper do you need, sir, to match your blank life?” Page 278
~
“He’s getting above himself, going overseas.”…there is an affliction of dream called ‘overseas’, a suffering of sleep endured by the prophetic, the bored, the retired, and the living who will not admit that it is easier and cheaper to die, die once and forever and travel as dust. But being dust how can you return and have your name in the paper and yourself pointed out in the street as having been “overseas” and your conversation filled with the names of places you have visited, your words received with wonder, as prophecies…How, if you are not Marco Polo or Herodotus? Page 49-50
~
Shall I write a book? Everybody is going to write a book. Memoirs on writing paper, toilet paper, café wall, pavement, or stone column in a city cemetery where borders of trees provide a trip-wire into silence. Shall I write? Shall I engage in private research of identity? Page 99
~
And then she laughed out loud to think that she had never known, that she had always believed that people were separate with boundaries and fences and scrolled iron gates, Private Road, Trespassers Will be Prosecuted; that people lived and died in shapes and identities with labels easily recognizable, with names which they clutched, like empty suitcases, on a journey to nowhere. Page 106
~
The day is patched with long silences between the communication of people, give rise to dread; as if the time itself held a reserve of opinion too terrible to express. In the cracks of the silence the people’s voices grow like bright feverish weeds whose stalks are hollow and whose shallow roots are separated from the earth (or water) with one tug of a hand or breeze; now and again people’s voices disappear in the gaps that open with the continual shock of Time. Page 215
~
“Did you make it?” he asked Zoe. “How did you think of it?”

Everyone admired the shape once again. Zoe was not used to being the center of attention; not for something she had made—when in her life had she ever made anything? It’s only a bit of paper, she said to herself, but she throbbed with warmth. How strange that it had so affected the others, had evoked in them feelings which they could only consider and explore by sitting there, as all three were doing now, silent, staring at the silver sculpture…How extraordinary, Zoe thought, that such feeling should be roused by seeing a conventional paper shape twisted at random, in idleness, among strangers whom I shall never meet again. Page 272

Janet Frame writes with this special vision about social identity, a textual borderland—a wonderland— an Is-land—the post-colonial experience, New Zealand and England—being an alien within one’s homeland and within one’s own skin, living in the margins—at the edge of the alphabet…

And sometimes it seemed too much like being excluded from the mystical long-division sum, like being the odd number at the bottom or at the side of the column, the mental afterthought, the carrying number put there for mere convenience and erased when the answer to the sum is worked out. Page 297

Honestly, who hasn’t spent time living on the edge of the alphabet…

I’m continuing my journey discovering Janet Frame; The Edge of the Alphabet is yet another magical book of prose, experimental and challenging, a timeless narrative about the beauty and ugliness of the human condition. She plunges right in, starting on the first page:

Man is the only species for whom the disposal of waste is a burden, a task often ill judged, costly, criminal—especially when he learns to include himself, living and dead, in the list of waste products.

The creator of the world did not employ a dustman to collect the peelings of his creation.

Now I, Thora Pattern (who live at the edge of the alphabet where words like plants either grow poisonous tall and hollow about the rusted knives and empty drums of meaning, or, like people exposed to a deathly weather, shed their fleshy confusion and show luminous, knitted with force and permanence), now I walk day and night among the leavings of people, places and moments. Here the dead (my goldsmiths) keep cropping up like daisies with their floral blackmail. It is nearly impossible to bribe them or buy their silence. Page 3

…and it is non-stop to the last page:

The edge of the alphabet where words crumble and all forms of communication between the living are useless. One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech.

Meanwhile our lives are solitary; we are captives of the captive dead. We are like those yellow birds which are kept apart from their kind—you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors.

But like the yellow birds have we not our pleasures? We look long in mirrors. We have tiny ladders to climb up and down, little wheels to set our feet and our heart racing nowhere; toys to play with.

Should we not be happy?  Page 303

It can leave one breathless…

Janet Frame’s books never cease to fascinate me—I have dog-eared several pages of this one (like others) marking where I want to return someday to explore a word-scape of unique beauty. The entire book is loaded with the most exquisite language—precious, priceless. She created geographical territory in which the borders of social inclusion and exclusion are investigated with an emphasis on language (communication or the lack of communication). The ghosts of the past are haunting, memories of lost relatives or events linger with a zealous desire to be remembered. There are surreal essences of despair, fear, failure— fragile dreams and disquieting realities—the human condition of those existing on the margins, marginalized—to be blunt, reality sucks. Sadly, this is a generous portion of our world’s population—life is not glamor, romance, and drama—to look away and deny it is negligent. Life is gritty with filth—our manmade rubbish, self-made madness, and life-long sickness. Some people are incapable of coping with life—some just do not have the tools to cope as they are flawed by disabilities (Toby’s epilepsy) or disabled by life (Zoe’s ignorance.) They are people easily discarded and ignored—yet Janet Frame writes in a way that makes the ugliness of life beautiful—and in all the trauma, there are comic pleasures that wink with a sweet wit that isn’t frivolous, if anything, the absurdity is very grounding.

 

A first kiss leading to the private research of identity, which leads to the creation of a sculpture from the silver paper of a cigarette pack, and then a life ended. A novel, The Lost Tribe, left unwritten because the writer is illiterate. Paintings destroyed, talent unrealized by an artist overcome by despair. And a life spent just getting by, going through the motions of life’s expectations to the point of not truly living.

“Just how much blank paper do you need, sir, to match your blank life?” Page 278

~

“He’s getting above himself, going overseas.”…there is an affliction of dream called ‘overseas’, a suffering of sleep endured by the prophetic, the bored, the retired, and the living who will not admit that it is easier and cheaper to die, die once and forever and travel as dust. But being dust how can you return and have your name in the paper and yourself pointed out in the street as having been “overseas” and your conversation filled with the names of places you have visited, your words received with wonder, as prophecies…How, if you are not Marco Polo or Herodotus? Page 49-50

~

Shall I write a book? Everybody is going to write a book. Memoirs on writing paper, toilet paper, café wall, pavement, or stone column in a city cemetery where borders of trees provide a trip-wire into silence. Shall I write? Shall I engage in private research of identity? Page 99

~

And then she laughed out loud to think that she had never known, that she had always believed that people were separate with boundaries and fences and scrolled iron gates, Private Road, Trespassers Will be Prosecuted; that people lived and died in shapes and identities with labels easily recognizable, with names which they clutched, like empty suitcases, on a journey to nowhere. Page 106

~

The day is patched with long silences between the communication of people, give rise to dread; as if the time itself held a reserve of opinion too terrible to express. In the cracks of the silence the people’s voices grow like bright feverish weeds whose stalks are hollow and whose shallow roots are separated from the earth (or water) with one tug of a hand or breeze; now and again people’s voices disappear in the gaps that open with the continual shock of Time. Page 215

~

“Did you make it?” he asked Zoe. “How did you think of it?”

Everyone admired the shape once again. Zoe was not used to being the center of attention; not for something she had made—when in her life had she ever made anything? It’s only a bit of paper, she said to herself, but she throbbed with warmth. How strange that it had so affected the others, had evoked in them feelings which they could only consider and explore by sitting there, as all three were doing now, silent, staring at the silver sculpture…How extraordinary, Zoe thought, that such feeling should be roused by seeing a conventional paper shape twisted at random, in idleness, among strangers whom I shall never meet again. Page 272

Janet Frame writes with this special vision about social identity, a textual borderland—a wonderland— an Is-land—the post-colonial experience, New Zealand and England—being an alien within one’s homeland and within one’s own skin, living in the margins—at the edge of the alphabet…

And sometimes it seemed too much like being excluded from the mystical long-division sum, like being the odd number at the bottom or at the side of the column, the mental afterthought, the carrying number put there for mere convenience and erased when the answer to the sum is worked out. Page 297

Honestly, who hasn’t spent time living on the edge of the alphabet…

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Yup, that’s me with my novel Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story…May, 2009


I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I could scribble, I wanted to write something that mattered—it took a long time to get there, I had a good deal of false starts. It’s been 15 years since I wrote the manuscript Washed Glass and saw it through to the finish. (Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I totally had no idea.) This effort is still unpublished and certainly nowhere near ready to have a cover designed for it. It’s a densely written monster that has everything and the kitchen sink in it, and it’s rife with first-novel-itis, but I know the story is good enough to take the time to make it right—not every first manuscript is good enough. Even tho’ I do cringe a little when I think about going back to it, but now that I know more about what I’m doing, I know what I must do, so I will revisit where I started all those years ago—someday. I will always have a soft spot for it—it was my first, from there, the rest of my work with words followed, and they nod with reverence to what happened before them because without Washed Glass, Dusty Waters and The Fractured Hues of White Light wouldn’t have happened.  
For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for aspiring writers (young and old):
 It’s never too late to start. Just do it. 
 Write. Even if it’s pure nonsense, if it’s there in your head, write it. Unfortunately, we learn from our mistakes, and you’re not going to learn by being afraid of fucking up.  
Read—read a lot—especially read outside your comfort zone, if you have resisted reading the classics, read them—experience them and learn from them. Keep your mind wide open to receive knowledge, grow your mind, grow your vocabulary—read the dictionary (you know, one of those old-fashioned cloth bound books illustrated with line art, get one.) Familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar and punctuation too. Keep a Thesaurus handy.  Honestly, you’ll need something to do during those dead zones when you’re not staring out the window thinking.
 Be humble.  Write and write some more.  No, you’re not crazy, you’re writing a book. Keep writing—just let it flow.  Be brave. 
Write.
 Here are the Don’ts:  
Don’t listen to those dissenting voices within you or from the others who are on the outside looking in—for goodness sakes, don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do that” because it’s hard. Damn right it’s hard and don’t you forget it.  
Don’t rely on spell check and grammar check on your computer to catch your errors because words like dairies and diaries are both spelled correctly and if you’re a little bit dyslexic at all it’s easy enough to screw them up. The brain has this amazing self-correction thing it does when you’re too close to your writing and you know what you want to say, so beware when dealing with words, especially when writing tens of thousands of them.   
Don’t be a hermit.  Don’t forget to live.  Don’t forget to breathe.
 Write.  
So you finished writing your manuscript—your first book. Do a happy dance, scream, laugh, and cry. Tell all your friends and family—celebrate. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s an accomplishment, and an achievement worthy of a pat on the back.   
Don’t be surprised if you feel sad—because you will. You will “miss” being there, being in your head with your characters—it can be a little scary to feel depressed like that, but don’t worry, you’re all right.  
Do you think you’re done with it?   
“Done” means it has a beginning and an end with a bunch of shit happening in the middle. I know it will be hard to do it, but walk away from it—leave it for months—start something new or just write nonsense. Keep reading more books to pass the time. No matter how tempting it is to fool around with it, leave it alone. Forget it long enough to “forget it” in a sense that will allow you to be objective when you read it again.   
It’s nice if you can find a first reader who can honestly tell you what they think of it—it’s nice if the first reader doesn’t sit on it for months and not read it. A book, especially a raw first draft isn’t easy to hand off to someone and expect them to read it—it’s not like showing someone a drawing you made—reading is an investment of time—and first drafts can be SO ROUGH it’s not fun to read them.  When you do go back to it, be honest with yourself—is it how you envisioned it? Aim high, raise the bar for yourself, take pride in your work, OWN IT. Edit the darn thing—make it bleed red ink—be prepared, this process can go on for several drafts. If you can find an editor that you can afford—one you can trust to work within your vision, go for it. But not everyone can afford one, not everyone has access to such creatures, so it’s good for a writer to learn how to self-edit.   
I do my own editing partly because I’m a control freak, and partly because I love doing it—I love the whole process of revising and editing. I will read a chapter backwards, sentence by sentence just to take it out of the flow to make sure it’s what I want it to say. Then I will read the chapter forwards again to see if I catch anything wonky. I go through it until I make no more changes. Then I leave it alone to forget it, then read it again. If I make no changes, that’s a good thing. I’ve been known to take the scissors to a chapter that I had thought was perfect two weeks ago and reorganize the paragraphs, tape it back together, make the revision, and then start over reading it in the new configuration. I read it and revise it until I make it right.   
Reading hard copy is always a good idea.  
It does get better—trust me on this.
 Final thoughts: Keep writing.   Don’t settle.  Make it right. Make it perfect. Practice, Patience, Persistence.
(For the record…I do not edit other writer’s work…you cannot pay me enough.)

Yup, that’s me with my novel Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story…May, 2009

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I could scribble, I wanted to write something that mattered—it took a long time to get there, I had a good deal of false starts. It’s been 15 years since I wrote the manuscript Washed Glass and saw it through to the finish. (Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I totally had no idea.) This effort is still unpublished and certainly nowhere near ready to have a cover designed for it. It’s a densely written monster that has everything and the kitchen sink in it, and it’s rife with first-novel-itis, but I know the story is good enough to take the time to make it right—not every first manuscript is good enough. Even tho’ I do cringe a little when I think about going back to it, but now that I know more about what I’m doing, I know what I must do, so I will revisit where I started all those years ago—someday. I will always have a soft spot for it—it was my first, from there, the rest of my work with words followed, and they nod with reverence to what happened before them because without Washed Glass, Dusty Waters and The Fractured Hues of White Light wouldn’t have happened.
 

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for aspiring writers (young and old):


It’s never too late to start. Just do it. 


Write. Even if it’s pure nonsense, if it’s there in your head, write it. Unfortunately, we learn from our mistakes, and you’re not going to learn by being afraid of fucking up.
 

Read—read a lot—especially read outside your comfort zone, if you have resisted reading the classics, read them—experience them and learn from them. Keep your mind wide open to receive knowledge, grow your mind, grow your vocabulary—read the dictionary (you know, one of those old-fashioned cloth bound books illustrated with line art, get one.) Familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar and punctuation too. Keep a Thesaurus handy.  Honestly, you’ll need something to do during those dead zones when you’re not staring out the window thinking.


Be humble.
Write and write some more.
No, you’re not crazy, you’re writing a book. Keep writingjust let it flow.
Be brave.

Write.


Here are the Don’ts:
 

Don’t listen to those dissenting voices within you or from the others who are on the outside looking in—for goodness sakes, don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do that” because it’s hard. Damn right it’s hard and don’t you forget it.
 

Don’t rely on spell check and grammar check on your computer to catch your errors because words like dairies and diaries are both spelled correctly and if you’re a little bit dyslexic at all it’s easy enough to screw them up. The brain has this amazing self-correction thing it does when you’re too close to your writing and you know what you want to say, so beware when dealing with words, especially when writing tens of thousands of them.
 

Don’t be a hermit.
Don’t forget to live.
Don’t forget to breathe.


Write.
 

So you finished writing your manuscript—your first book. Do a happy dance, scream, laugh, and cry. Tell all your friends and family—celebrate. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s an accomplishment, and an achievement worthy of a pat on the back.
 

Don’t be surprised if you feel sad—because you will. You will “miss” being there, being in your head with your characters—it can be a little scary to feel depressed like that, but don’t worry, you’re all right.
 

Do you think you’re done with it?
 

“Done” means it has a beginning and an end with a bunch of shit happening in the middle. I know it will be hard to do it, but walk away from it—leave it for months—start something new or just write nonsense. Keep reading more books to pass the time. No matter how tempting it is to fool around with it, leave it alone. Forget it long enough to “forget it” in a sense that will allow you to be objective when you read it again.
 

It’s nice if you can find a first reader who can honestly tell you what they think of it—it’s nice if the first reader doesn’t sit on it for months and not read it. A book, especially a raw first draft isn’t easy to hand off to someone and expect them to read it—it’s not like showing someone a drawing you made—reading is an investment of time—and first drafts can be SO ROUGH it’s not fun to read them.  When you do go back to it, be honest with yourself—is it how you envisioned it? Aim high, raise the bar for yourself, take pride in your work, OWN IT. Edit the darn thing—make it bleed red ink—be prepared, this process can go on for several drafts. If you can find an editor that you can afford—one you can trust to work within your vision, go for it. But not everyone can afford one, not everyone has access to such creatures, so it’s good for a writer to learn how to self-edit.
 

I do my own editing partly because I’m a control freak, and partly because I love doing it—I love the whole process of revising and editing. I will read a chapter backwards, sentence by sentence just to take it out of the flow to make sure it’s what I want it to say. Then I will read the chapter forwards again to see if I catch anything wonky. I go through it until I make no more changes. Then I leave it alone to forget it, then read it again. If I make no changes, that’s a good thing. I’ve been known to take the scissors to a chapter that I had thought was perfect two weeks ago and reorganize the paragraphs, tape it back together, make the revision, and then start over reading it in the new configuration. I read it and revise it until I make it right.
 

Reading hard copy is always a good idea.
 

It does get better—trust me on this.


Final thoughts:
Keep writing. 
Don’t settle.
Make it right. Make it perfect.
Practice, Patience, Persistence.

(For the record…I do not edit other writer’s work…you cannot pay me enough.)

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)


“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” (the first paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude)
 I adore this book. It is beautiful and it became an old friend within the first few pages—sometimes books are that way, they tell their story with a voice that is familiar, yet remarkable because of its unique qualities. There is so much grace in this book—very profound. It has a playful spirit that is hungry and happily full of love, a spirit that accepts death and sorrow as unavoidable facets of life. It made me laugh out loud and at times I would tear up—it is deeply emotional—compassionate. It is still speaking to me in an enchanting way that good books do—it keeps tugging on me to come back for one more look, so it is not too far out of reach, even now. One of the beauties of such a book is suspension of all belief and going with the natural flow—it is told in a voice that is wise and older than time. It is a book about being human—humans are messy, passionate fools who tumble into wisdom after several rounds of stupidity. Sometimes there is no dignity in our existence as we scratch about making a life out of what comes to us along the way—
“Ursula wondered if it was not preferable to lie down once and for all in her grave and let them throw the earth over her, and she asked God, without fear, if He really believes that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everything he had written, he knew or heard before he was 8 years old. These formative years were spent with his maternal grandparents, listening and absorbing their folk tales and superstitions—stories of which he could not tell what was true and what was invention. His novels were filled with unforgettable characters existing in a fantastical landscape; books filled to the last page with dreams and realities; life and death; war, politics, madness, truth, enchantments, and lots of love—so much love. 
 “Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people, they kept on blooming like little children and playing like dogs.”
My most favorite part is when Remedios the Beauty ascended and she took Fernanda’s sheets with her, and of course, Fernanda was quite bent out of shape about that! 
“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”
It is these moments of fantastical glory contrasted with human truths that make this book so special. No belief required—let it all go into the wind of light like Fernanda’s sheets and Remedios the Beauty, open your mind, read it and love it.
“Tell him,’ the colonel said, smiling, ‘that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”
RIP Gabo

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” (the first paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude)

 I adore this book. It is beautiful and it became an old friend within the first few pages—sometimes books are that way, they tell their story with a voice that is familiar, yet remarkable because of its unique qualities. There is so much grace in this book—very profound. It has a playful spirit that is hungry and happily full of love, a spirit that accepts death and sorrow as unavoidable facets of life. It made me laugh out loud and at times I would tear up—it is deeply emotional—compassionate. It is still speaking to me in an enchanting way that good books do—it keeps tugging on me to come back for one more look, so it is not too far out of reach, even now. One of the beauties of such a book is suspension of all belief and going with the natural flow—it is told in a voice that is wise and older than time. It is a book about being human—humans are messy, passionate fools who tumble into wisdom after several rounds of stupidity. Sometimes there is no dignity in our existence as we scratch about making a life out of what comes to us along the way—

“Ursula wondered if it was not preferable to lie down once and for all in her grave and let them throw the earth over her, and she asked God, without fear, if He really believes that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everything he had written, he knew or heard before he was 8 years old. These formative years were spent with his maternal grandparents, listening and absorbing their folk tales and superstitions—stories of which he could not tell what was true and what was invention. His novels were filled with unforgettable characters existing in a fantastical landscape; books filled to the last page with dreams and realities; life and death; war, politics, madness, truth, enchantments, and lots of love—so much love.

 “Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people, they kept on blooming like little children and playing like dogs.”

My most favorite part is when Remedios the Beauty ascended and she took Fernanda’s sheets with her, and of course, Fernanda was quite bent out of shape about that!

“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”

It is these moments of fantastical glory contrasted with human truths that make this book so special. No belief required—let it all go into the wind of light like Fernanda’s sheets and Remedios the Beauty, open your mind, read it and love it.

“Tell him,’ the colonel said, smiling, ‘that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”

RIP Gabo

Photo
From my size 6 1/2’s (A selfie), 2010


It’s another winter coming to a close, and I’m still editing my novel Drinking from the Fishbowl, it seems to be taking forever to accomplish this feat, but I’m taking my time (as I should) to make this book into what I have envisioned—I love the process of writing and I love to read. I’m constantly reading and I cannot stress it enough, that reading is very important—books are important—especially for a writer (or anyone wanting to become a writer.)
Reading is a transformational experience, what makes it a special experience is it’s very personal, the reader becomes immersed into another world—the writer’s construct. People who are avid readers are passionate about books—and when you’re a writer, that’s another story—it’s more personal. It was through reading that I knew that I wanted to be a writer—early on, I read books that transformed my life, my way of thinking and seeing the world. I became interested in observing nature and what made people tick. I had a lot to learn, more than the mechanics of it taught in school. I had the desire to write and the aptitude to do it, but it seemed as if I did not know what I wanted to write about—I did but I didn’t—it was frustrating; there were lots of false starts. For years, I carried around lots of nonsense bits and pieces—ideas that were mere fragments, I never wrote them down because whenever I did write these things down they made no sense on their own. For the most part, they were just there in my head, as if they were waiting for me to find a use for them.  I wanted to write something that was mine—something more than “write what you know”. I wanted to write books that mattered—books with a deeper meaning. I wanted to write what I call “human documents”, novels with complex relationships, communities of people with overlapping histories, books about the conflict with dreams and realities. Books about ghosts of the past and the ghosts that haunt us now, and a broad spectrum of cause and effect—what the soul is supposed to be—what it could be—Free will and Determinism—psychology and philosophy. It took a long time to get there—it was a natural progression to commit myself to writing, I just knew when I was ready to start, once I started, there was no turning back. Those fragments of ideas and bits of this and that fit perfectly in the places where I used them—even the ones I thought were impossible made sense once they were applied. At first, I was upset that it took me so long to come to this, being a “late bloomer”, but no, it was the right time, I had a few things to experience first, before I could write. I’m glad I waited.
It’s so strange how the things I write about conflict with who I am. It’s always a mystery to me how my characters develop and then have the audacity to do the things they do or say the things they say. I always find it odd when it’s assumed that they’re about me in some thinly veiled convolution—no, not I, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at all. Of course, writing is a very personal experience, naturally, personal experiences and observations are taken from the toolbox and become part of the construct, but for the most part, I’m just making it up as I go along—it’s just a story.  Goodness knows I feared that I bit off more than I could chew on more than one occasion once I committed myself to writing novels. I’ve experienced what I call a creative “sweet spot”, writing with the emotional spigots on full blast is an immersion unlike anything I’ve experienced creatively, it is a strange sort of mix of misery and ecstasy. It’s a worthwhile experience,  but just when I begin to doubt myself, I read what I’ve written and then I know I’ve done a good thing—I’ve followed my bliss. Writing a book is difficult, but it is probably one of my happiest times. I have muddled my way through as best as I can with no pedigree on paper or an affluent background with names of people who could pave my way—I’m truly on my own with this. I like it that way. I will stand and fall on my own merits. I write my books much in the same way that I make art as a painter—it’s intuitive. It’s such a rush to sit down with a few notes, character studies, phrases, and brief conversations written down on scraps of paper or in a notebook and then start filling in the blanks, letting the story happen—I’m always in awe of the creative process. 
Writing a novel is not for the faint of heart, it’s a given that not everyone is going to be receptive to what I’ve done, and I’m always grateful to those who are kind enough to read one of my books and tell me they enjoyed reading it.  It’s a solitary process and very lonely at times, I think I enjoy editing my books almost as much as writing them, the fine-tuning process can take a very long time, but I know when I’m done with it, I am satisfied with what I’ve done. If anything, I’ve learned that writing requires patience, practice, and persistence—and I will always read. 
That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

From my size 6 1/2’s (A selfie), 2010

It’s another winter coming to a close, and I’m still editing my novel Drinking from the Fishbowl, it seems to be taking forever to accomplish this feat, but I’m taking my time (as I should) to make this book into what I have envisionedI love the process of writing and I love to read. I’m constantly reading and I cannot stress it enough, that reading is very importantbooks are important—especially for a writer (or anyone wanting to become a writer.)

Reading is a transformational experience, what makes it a special experience is it’s very personal, the reader becomes immersed into another world—the writer’s construct. People who are avid readers are passionate about books—and when you’re a writer, that’s another story—it’s more personal. It was through reading that I knew that I wanted to be a writer—early on, I read books that transformed my life, my way of thinking and seeing the world. I became interested in observing nature and what made people tick. I had a lot to learn, more than the mechanics of it taught in school. I had the desire to write and the aptitude to do it, but it seemed as if I did not know what I wanted to write about—I did but I didn’t—it was frustrating; there were lots of false starts. For years, I carried around lots of nonsense bits and pieces—ideas that were mere fragments, I never wrote them down because whenever I did write these things down they made no sense on their own. For the most part, they were just there in my head, as if they were waiting for me to find a use for them.

I wanted to write something that was mine—something more than “write what you know”. I wanted to write books that mattered—books with a deeper meaning. I wanted to write what I call “human documents”, novels with complex relationships, communities of people with overlapping histories, books about the conflict with dreams and realities. Books about ghosts of the past and the ghosts that haunt us now, and a broad spectrum of cause and effect—what the soul is supposed to be—what it could be—Free will and Determinism—psychology and philosophy. It took a long time to get there—it was a natural progression to commit myself to writing, I just knew when I was ready to start, once I started, there was no turning back. Those fragments of ideas and bits of this and that fit perfectly in the places where I used them—even the ones I thought were impossible made sense once they were applied. At first, I was upset that it took me so long to come to this, being a “late bloomer”, but no, it was the right time, I had a few things to experience first, before I could write. I’m glad I waited.

It’s so strange how the things I write about conflict with who I am. It’s always a mystery to me how my characters develop and then have the audacity to do the things they do or say the things they say. I always find it odd when it’s assumed that they’re about me in some thinly veiled convolution—no, not I, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at all. Of course, writing is a very personal experience, naturally, personal experiences and observations are taken from the toolbox and become part of the construct, but for the most part, I’m just making it up as I go along—it’s just a story.

Goodness knows I feared that I bit off more than I could chew on more than one occasion once I committed myself to writing novels. I’ve experienced what I call a creative “sweet spot”, writing with the emotional spigots on full blast is an immersion unlike anything I’ve experienced creatively, it is a strange sort of mix of misery and ecstasy. It’s a worthwhile experience,  but just when I begin to doubt myself, I read what I’ve written and then I know I’ve done a good thing—I’ve followed my bliss.

Writing a book is difficult, but it is probably one of my happiest times. I have muddled my way through as best as I can with no pedigree on paper or an affluent background with names of people who could pave my way—I’m truly on my own with this. I like it that way. I will stand and fall on my own merits. I write my books much in the same way that I make art as a painter—it’s intuitive. It’s such a rush to sit down with a few notes, character studies, phrases, and brief conversations written down on scraps of paper or in a notebook and then start filling in the blanks, letting the story happen—I’m always in awe of the creative process.

Writing a novel is not for the faint of heart, it’s a given that not everyone is going to be receptive to what I’ve done, and I’m always grateful to those who are kind enough to read one of my books and tell me they enjoyed reading it.  It’s a solitary process and very lonely at times, I think I enjoy editing my books almost as much as writing them, the fine-tuning process can take a very long time, but I know when I’m done with it, I am satisfied with what I’ve done. If anything, I’ve learned that writing requires patience, practice, and persistence—and I will always read. 

That’s my story, I’m sticking to it.

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BELLEFLEUR  by Joyce Carol Oates is ranked as one of my most favorite novels of all time…I love this book! I savored this Gothic tale cover to cover and didn’t want it to end. It possesses a life of its own, the characters became ghosts that would haunt me after setting it aside after a short reading and I would look forward to picking it up again. After I finished it, I felt homesick in a peculiar way that no book has ever done to me before; it is very likely that I will revisit the pages of Bellefleur again. Each chapter is an opulent sliver of time that peers into the lives and thoughts of the residents of Bellefleur Manor, an American family of notorious distinction. Their history is rife with joys and sorrows deftly exposed by the astounding craft that is signature in JCO’s prolific literary career. The mesmerizing shifts of time, like historical memories, travel from the heights of the imposing Mount Blanc, wind through the decadent rooms of Bellefleur Manor, and plunge into the depths of mysterious Lake Noir where disconcerting spirits dwell. The fanciful characters endear themselves because of their human vitality and cause despair because of their human flaws; they are very tangible and seductive in spite of the brief glimpses into their lives. This is not a book for the faint of heart for it isn’t a serene walk in the walled garden of Bellefleur Manor. JCO reveals the grotesque that exists within the soul of the American dream, and with abrupt grace, she divulges the unforeseen twists of fate that arise with incredible violence that will leave you reeling with astonishment. It is a unique and contemplative tale, not to be consumed in a few sittings; however, the temptation of the eloquent prose begs to be gorged until the reader is sated. Open this book and open your mind, and give your imagination a workout. If you read this book with a rigid, black and white mind-set you will come away frustrated by it. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for something out of the ordinary to read.

BELLEFLEUR by Joyce Carol Oates is ranked as one of my most favorite novels of all time…I love this book! I savored this Gothic tale cover to cover and didn’t want it to end. It possesses a life of its own, the characters became ghosts that would haunt me after setting it aside after a short reading and I would look forward to picking it up again. After I finished it, I felt homesick in a peculiar way that no book has ever done to me before; it is very likely that I will revisit the pages of Bellefleur again. Each chapter is an opulent sliver of time that peers into the lives and thoughts of the residents of Bellefleur Manor, an American family of notorious distinction. Their history is rife with joys and sorrows deftly exposed by the astounding craft that is signature in JCO’s prolific literary career. The mesmerizing shifts of time, like historical memories, travel from the heights of the imposing Mount Blanc, wind through the decadent rooms of Bellefleur Manor, and plunge into the depths of mysterious Lake Noir where disconcerting spirits dwell. The fanciful characters endear themselves because of their human vitality and cause despair because of their human flaws; they are very tangible and seductive in spite of the brief glimpses into their lives. This is not a book for the faint of heart for it isn’t a serene walk in the walled garden of Bellefleur Manor. JCO reveals the grotesque that exists within the soul of the American dream, and with abrupt grace, she divulges the unforeseen twists of fate that arise with incredible violence that will leave you reeling with astonishment. It is a unique and contemplative tale, not to be consumed in a few sittings; however, the temptation of the eloquent prose begs to be gorged until the reader is sated. Open this book and open your mind, and give your imagination a workout. If you read this book with a rigid, black and white mind-set you will come away frustrated by it. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for something out of the ordinary to read.

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…an Unthinkable Thing happened: Rashid Khalifa, the legendary Ocean of Notions, the fabled Shah of Blah, stood up in front of a huge audience, opened his mouth, and found he had run out of stories to tell. – from page 22, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
I came to this book via my Fred, who is taking a class in which this book happens to be on the textbook list—he passed it on to me when he finished it. From the first paragraph, I loved it—let me tell you what I discovered during my journey to there and back again. This is a book to be read with a light heart and with no set parameters—the delightful wordplay and singsong rhythm of the prose made me laugh a good deal. It reminded me of Dr. Seuss stories so much that in my mind I was able to construct a fantastical landscape, populate it with the wonderful creatures and people described, brightly colored as traditional Indian Folk Art (just Google “Mithila Painting” to see what I mean.) It is a story about storytelling. It is a fairy tale in the tradition of all fairy tales, an allegory full of the tallest of stories that hit home so true—ideas, freedom, the importance of storytelling and imagination. As it was written during the time Rushdie spent in hiding, it is a very revealing narrative about freedom of expression. A father losing his ability to tell stories due to upsetting personal circumstances and because of this temporary lapse in his ability and desire to do so, someone official decided to turn off his “subscription” to the Story Water supply from the Great Story Sea—my goodness, that’s worse than writer’s block.
What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?
This peculiar question is raised by an outside character of dubious intentions and is the initial cause of this situation for the storyteller. It’s always odd when I run up against someone who thinks that way—it makes my heart hurt because that’s a person who is missing a valuable resource in life—imagination—the ability to suspend belief for just a little while to enjoy a story. I could never figure out why it was such a crime to ‘make up’ a story—lying to get out of trouble is a different thing entirely, telling a story for its entertainment value is completely different, but somehow it’s believed by some to be dishonest. There have been many books over the years that have caused a fuss for one reason or another, sometimes they strike a chord in people so sharply that it pisses them off to no end—some of our greatest stories are smuggled out of places where they are forbidden. The way I see it from my size 6 ½’s, that’s somethin’ special when a story causes a ruckus—oh, well, you can’t please everybody. (Every writer, artist, musician, etc should understand this from the beginning or they’re only in for a huge disappointment!)
When writing fiction, pen to paper, from the first word onward, out there beyond the fringe of the known world is the place labeled “here, there be dragons!” It is a magical experience to make up stories—it is a gift that an author is fortunate to have, and a gift for the reader who is fortunate to receive it.
Having some knowledge of Indian mythology and culture might be to the reader’s advantage coming into this story, but it’s not a necessary requirement to read this book, it’s accessible language has an endearing quality that is as comfortable as a bedtime story for a child—magical and surreal—exotic and dream-like. It is comprised of a good many familiar elements, classic literary references to Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, One Thousand and One Nights, it also reminded me of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a little bit. Then there is a Beatles song I Am the Walrus happily tucked into the mix with the characters the Eggheads and the Walrus who are the inventors of the Processes too Complicated to Explain (P2C2E)—and of course, Dr. Seuss.
It’s loads of fun, it’s priceless and timeless, I adore it.

…an Unthinkable Thing happened: Rashid Khalifa, the legendary Ocean of Notions, the fabled Shah of Blah, stood up in front of a huge audience, opened his mouth, and found he had run out of stories to tell. – from page 22, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie

I came to this book via my Fred, who is taking a class in which this book happens to be on the textbook list—he passed it on to me when he finished it. From the first paragraph, I loved it—let me tell you what I discovered during my journey to there and back again. This is a book to be read with a light heart and with no set parameters—the delightful wordplay and singsong rhythm of the prose made me laugh a good deal. It reminded me of Dr. Seuss stories so much that in my mind I was able to construct a fantastical landscape, populate it with the wonderful creatures and people described, brightly colored as traditional Indian Folk Art (just Google “Mithila Painting” to see what I mean.) It is a story about storytelling. It is a fairy tale in the tradition of all fairy tales, an allegory full of the tallest of stories that hit home so true—ideas, freedom, the importance of storytelling and imagination. As it was written during the time Rushdie spent in hiding, it is a very revealing narrative about freedom of expression. A father losing his ability to tell stories due to upsetting personal circumstances and because of this temporary lapse in his ability and desire to do so, someone official decided to turn off his “subscription” to the Story Water supply from the Great Story Sea—my goodness, that’s worse than writer’s block.

What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?

This peculiar question is raised by an outside character of dubious intentions and is the initial cause of this situation for the storyteller. It’s always odd when I run up against someone who thinks that way—it makes my heart hurt because that’s a person who is missing a valuable resource in life—imagination—the ability to suspend belief for just a little while to enjoy a story. I could never figure out why it was such a crime to ‘make up’ a story—lying to get out of trouble is a different thing entirely, telling a story for its entertainment value is completely different, but somehow it’s believed by some to be dishonest. There have been many books over the years that have caused a fuss for one reason or another, sometimes they strike a chord in people so sharply that it pisses them off to no end—some of our greatest stories are smuggled out of places where they are forbidden. The way I see it from my size 6 ½’s, that’s somethin’ special when a story causes a ruckus—oh, well, you can’t please everybody. (Every writer, artist, musician, etc should understand this from the beginning or they’re only in for a huge disappointment!)

When writing fiction, pen to paper, from the first word onward, out there beyond the fringe of the known world is the place labeled “here, there be dragons!” It is a magical experience to make up stories—it is a gift that an author is fortunate to have, and a gift for the reader who is fortunate to receive it.

Having some knowledge of Indian mythology and culture might be to the reader’s advantage coming into this story, but it’s not a necessary requirement to read this book, it’s accessible language has an endearing quality that is as comfortable as a bedtime story for a child—magical and surreal—exotic and dream-like. It is comprised of a good many familiar elements, classic literary references to Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, One Thousand and One Nights, it also reminded me of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a little bit. Then there is a Beatles song I Am the Walrus happily tucked into the mix with the characters the Eggheads and the Walrus who are the inventors of the Processes too Complicated to Explain (P2C2E)—and of course, Dr. Seuss.

It’s loads of fun, it’s priceless and timeless, I adore it.

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I can’t really call this a book review, it’s more like my gut reaction to the book A Gate at the Stairs byLorrie Moore. I loved it..
“…in general my face had the kind of smooth, round stupidity that did not prompt the world’s study. I had always felt hidden as the hull in a berry, as secret and fetal as the curled fortune in a cookie, and such hiddenness was not without its advantages, its egotisms, its grief-fed grandiosities.” Tassie Keltjin, page 11
A Gate at the Stairs is funny and sad—philosophical and psychological—a very robust and random human experience. What a beauty, I wished for more, yet I was satisfied with the morsel I received—there was sprawling epic potential, but the hand of the writer kept to a path of her making. There is so much life in a book like this—sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes it’s subtle.  The human sense of humor can thankfully buoy us through awkward moments, disarming, charming—yet deceiving. The crushing, emotional trauma of loss—it’s survivable; people are resilient creatures, even the damaged ones go listing along in the twilight between hope and hopeless. Life has that way of moving on whether you like it or not—time takes the edge off pain if you let it. Sometimes, it makes me wonder how people manage to survive the tragic events that life presents to us—the road behind us rutted and potholed with grievous mistakes and profound sorrows, much of which overshadow our successes and happiness. Humans are so brutal to each other—even when we have the best intentions—our negligence while in the thick of life is appalling and our self-made ignorance inexcusable. Lorrie Moore has expressed this through reviewing a span of time crammed with the experiences of twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin; with this character, the author created a palpable innocence that is sweet—nostalgic.
Tassie, at times (not all the time, just once in a while a little bit) reminded me of me when I was that age—I was once the wide-eyed girl from a small Upstate New York town along the Erie Canal that rests quietly between the cities of Rochester and Syracuse—in essence, it might as well be the mid-west. Predictable simplicity, winter started in mid-November in time for sledding by Thanksgiving break and melted away for muddy walks in the woods by mid-March on schedule for Easter—the sweet smell of damp earth warmed by the sun deliciously welcomed after months of deep snow and bitter cold. There’s comfort in predictability, but at times, it was maddening and boring.
It made me flinch to watch Tassie get hurt by other people, by events, by life because she was much too trusting even when she played at caution. When you’re twenty (some of us, not all of us, no two people are alike) there is that subtle disconnect that has nothing to do with GPA or if you’re from a good family or not—inexperience and longing are weaknesses that are unfortunate handicaps during those tender years of finding oneself. Good grief, I’ve done and seen my share of friends doing dumb things, usually because of some damn boy or a chronically troubled friend who just happens to be that bad influence who makes life extra interesting. It’s a lesson in natural selection if one survives—to emerge unscathed a minor miracle.
Part of the pain of growing up is coming home from college for holidays and realizing that you have nothing in common with anyone there any more (it seems that way.) That taste of independence and a head full of new ideas has robbed you of who you once were, you are hungry for more, and more wasn’t happening at home with the folks and old friends from high school. It becomes hard to understand how the people we’ve left behind have become so content to stay there, stagnating with nowhere to go, but home. Not everyone can fit a socially engineered mold—and that’s a good thing. It’s easily overlooked that not everyone is cut out for college, not everyone wants to be a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer. Not everyone wants to be a banker or a stockbroker gambling wealth on Wall Street or a politician who wants to impose an ideology on a population that thinks he’s wrong (this can go both ways, left or right.) Tassie’s younger brother didn’t know who he was or wanted to be and struggled to graduate from high school—he was not cut out for college, and didn’t know where he could fit in except the military—which in the early post 9/11 period seemed to be ideal. Tassie never read her brother’s email asking for her opinion and he slipped through the cracks of her inbox—that is something that she has to live with for the rest of her life—we all have those balls that we’ve dropped.
When looking at the big picture of life, some folks just want to live quietly—simply—they want to have a good job, a nice home, streetlights that work, sidewalks and schools, and to hear the sound of the snowplow on the night of the first big snowstorm and feel good about it. This big picture has little to do with Chaucer or Sylvia Plath, Nietzsche or Rumi, racism or religion, Evolution or the Big Bang, war or peace, but it is the sort of knowledge that comes later, when life settles in like winter snows—it feeds nostalgia.

I can’t really call this a book review, it’s more like my gut reaction to the book A Gate at the Stairs byLorrie Moore. I loved it..

“…in general my face had the kind of smooth, round stupidity that did not prompt the world’s study. I had always felt hidden as the hull in a berry, as secret and fetal as the curled fortune in a cookie, and such hiddenness was not without its advantages, its egotisms, its grief-fed grandiosities.” Tassie Keltjin, page 11

A Gate at the Stairs is funny and sad—philosophical and psychological—a very robust and random human experience. What a beauty, I wished for more, yet I was satisfied with the morsel I received—there was sprawling epic potential, but the hand of the writer kept to a path of her making. There is so much life in a book like this—sometimes it’s overwhelming, sometimes it’s subtle.  The human sense of humor can thankfully buoy us through awkward moments, disarming, charming—yet deceiving. The crushing, emotional trauma of loss—it’s survivable; people are resilient creatures, even the damaged ones go listing along in the twilight between hope and hopeless. Life has that way of moving on whether you like it or not—time takes the edge off pain if you let it. Sometimes, it makes me wonder how people manage to survive the tragic events that life presents to us—the road behind us rutted and potholed with grievous mistakes and profound sorrows, much of which overshadow our successes and happiness. Humans are so brutal to each other—even when we have the best intentions—our negligence while in the thick of life is appalling and our self-made ignorance inexcusable. Lorrie Moore has expressed this through reviewing a span of time crammed with the experiences of twenty-year-old Tassie Keltjin; with this character, the author created a palpable innocence that is sweet—nostalgic.

Tassie, at times (not all the time, just once in a while a little bit) reminded me of me when I was that age—I was once the wide-eyed girl from a small Upstate New York town along the Erie Canal that rests quietly between the cities of Rochester and Syracuse—in essence, it might as well be the mid-west. Predictable simplicity, winter started in mid-November in time for sledding by Thanksgiving break and melted away for muddy walks in the woods by mid-March on schedule for Easter—the sweet smell of damp earth warmed by the sun deliciously welcomed after months of deep snow and bitter cold. There’s comfort in predictability, but at times, it was maddening and boring.

It made me flinch to watch Tassie get hurt by other people, by events, by life because she was much too trusting even when she played at caution. When you’re twenty (some of us, not all of us, no two people are alike) there is that subtle disconnect that has nothing to do with GPA or if you’re from a good family or not—inexperience and longing are weaknesses that are unfortunate handicaps during those tender years of finding oneself. Good grief, I’ve done and seen my share of friends doing dumb things, usually because of some damn boy or a chronically troubled friend who just happens to be that bad influence who makes life extra interesting. It’s a lesson in natural selection if one survives—to emerge unscathed a minor miracle.

Part of the pain of growing up is coming home from college for holidays and realizing that you have nothing in common with anyone there any more (it seems that way.) That taste of independence and a head full of new ideas has robbed you of who you once were, you are hungry for more, and more wasn’t happening at home with the folks and old friends from high school. It becomes hard to understand how the people we’ve left behind have become so content to stay there, stagnating with nowhere to go, but home. Not everyone can fit a socially engineered mold—and that’s a good thing. It’s easily overlooked that not everyone is cut out for college, not everyone wants to be a lawyer, a doctor, or an engineer. Not everyone wants to be a banker or a stockbroker gambling wealth on Wall Street or a politician who wants to impose an ideology on a population that thinks he’s wrong (this can go both ways, left or right.) Tassie’s younger brother didn’t know who he was or wanted to be and struggled to graduate from high school—he was not cut out for college, and didn’t know where he could fit in except the military—which in the early post 9/11 period seemed to be ideal. Tassie never read her brother’s email asking for her opinion and he slipped through the cracks of her inbox—that is something that she has to live with for the rest of her life—we all have those balls that we’ve dropped.

When looking at the big picture of life, some folks just want to live quietly—simply—they want to have a good job, a nice home, streetlights that work, sidewalks and schools, and to hear the sound of the snowplow on the night of the first big snowstorm and feel good about it. This big picture has little to do with Chaucer or Sylvia Plath, Nietzsche or Rumi, racism or religion, Evolution or the Big Bang, war or peace, but it is the sort of knowledge that comes later, when life settles in like winter snows—it feeds nostalgia.

Photo
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.” Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Books can have this effect on a reader too, they get into your head and under your skin—make you itch in a pleasant way and they haunt you—yup, I’m joining the five star pile for The Goldfinch, okay? Donna Tartt has produced three novels in thirty years, which doesn’t sound like much, but damn they are BIG ONES. Books (in general) are like Dr. Who’s Tardis, small on the outside, big as the outdoors on the inside, then there are Donna Tartt’s books—OMG they are ginormous on the inside—more than just another world or a construct—holy crap, they’re big gorgeous monsters! You approach them not to conquer, but to understand, appreciate, to identify with—this is literature—a human document. To offer up my gut reaction about it—I loved The Goldfinch, plain and simple. Why do I love it? That’s not so simple, but I’ll try to explain it.
I read the first fifty pages at bedtime that first night and my eyes were as wide open as peeled onions from thinking about it long after I turned out the lights. The following nights, I took it in smaller bites to savor it—yes, I could’ve easily blasted through it, gobbled it up gone and done in no time, but I didn’t because I needed my sleep. In a way, I was glad that the book slowed down after those first fifty pages, I went with the flow and enjoyed the view. Indeed, there is so much detail and so much going on, it would be too easy to blink and miss something, but I didn’t miss a thing.
As an artist and a museum worker, I enjoyed the book on the professional level as well as the writer/reader part of me. As a reader of Russian Literature, I found the references made to Theo’s friend, Boris, reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot were appropriate in spirit (yet another multilayered psychological and philosophical study of the human condition.) I was glad that I had read The Idiot fairly recently (2008) so it was still fresh enough for me to recall it (loved it.) I’ve read reviews that compare The Goldfinch to various Dickens novels (David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and The Old Curiosity Shop.) It is, but it isn’t, more isn’t than it is—it’s Donna Tartt writing Donna Tartt, of her time and place—Dickens makes a good literary lighthouse to point to, I guess.
One potential pothole I watched for was how she handled the technology of cell phones and the Internet, because the gadgets and the access changed so much from the time she first started writing the book to its publication. She was wise enough to keep the use of these devices forgivably ambiguous enough to make it work for the span of time during Theo’s journey. (It’s a small detail, and writers do fret about these details, trust me on this.)
The Goldfinch is different from her two previous works, The Secret History and The Little Friend (If I hear one more whiner crying that it’s not like The Secret History, I’ll scream. Of course not! Idgit.)—The Goldfinch has a personality of its own— a sibling of the other two. Like children, the first-born will be different from the second, and the third—or the last in a long line of children forming a new generation, each one different as much as they are related. They may look alike or sound alike; they are clearly from the same parents because of the color of their eyes or the curl of their hair, short or tall, blah-blah-blah. I love The Goldfinch for what it is—a long, complicated tome, intense, tragic, brutal, and heartbreaking—an unhappy tale; it’s just how things are for Theo Decker. It has an unsettling atmosphere, so finding lighter moments became restful—these were the gems of forgetfulness that arrived to make things feel “okay” and “safe” for a little while (anyone who has lost a loved one, will relate to that temporary amnesia, trust me on that too.) Yet, the nagging anxiety was always within reach, hidden in a shopping bag, or a pillowcase taped to the back of the bed, or tucked away somewhere locked. The repetitive nature of the narrative, in my mind, shed light on the mental state of Theo as he attempted to cope—obsessive and compulsive, dangerously so—the book truly had very unpleasant moments. A young man whose life was forever altered in an instant, there is no being “normal” after that sort of experience—the psychological damage is done—the kid is broken, and becomes a broken adult wearing a veneer of normality; he’s always hiding something. I admire the work, the research, the years put into it. It has everything including the kitchen sink in it—it’s well-crafted and every word accounted for—it all mattered. Tightly wound, molded, modeled, constructed—polished, polished again, and then polished some more. (The Secret History as the “first born” possesses that magical raw beauty of being the first of its kind—The Goldfinch in comparison may have been “spoiled” with too much love, but turned out just fine in spite of it—it is a work by a mature author, that’s the difference.) It is gutsy and classic—not too many write like this anymore, dang, the depth of description at times was dense—lovely. At times, I was truly amazed that it was let through at such a stunning size and as verbally extravagant as Dostoyevsky (or Dickens), yet, I could not find reason to cut it to pieces. The digressive philosophical ending at first glance felt a bit off when I waded into it, but the water was temperate, I understood it as being an epilogue, returning to the beginning—Theo looking back from a safe distance of time to review and absorb—to purge it one more time. I found it satisfying.
Books like these don’t come around often enough, I took my time with this one—treating myself to a story that I have waited a very long time to read. I was not disappointed—only that it ended, and who knows when the next one will come into being…LJWR, 2/1/2014

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“—if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art. It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway. Psst, you. Hey kid. Yes you.” Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Books can have this effect on a reader too, they get into your head and under your skin—make you itch in a pleasant way and they haunt you—yup, I’m joining the five star pile for The Goldfinch, okay? Donna Tartt has produced three novels in thirty years, which doesn’t sound like much, but damn they are BIG ONES. Books (in general) are like Dr. Who’s Tardis, small on the outside, big as the outdoors on the inside, then there are Donna Tartt’s books—OMG they are ginormous on the inside—more than just another world or a construct—holy crap, they’re big gorgeous monsters! You approach them not to conquer, but to understand, appreciate, to identify with—this is literature—a human document. To offer up my gut reaction about it—I loved The Goldfinch, plain and simple. Why do I love it? That’s not so simple, but I’ll try to explain it.

I read the first fifty pages at bedtime that first night and my eyes were as wide open as peeled onions from thinking about it long after I turned out the lights. The following nights, I took it in smaller bites to savor it—yes, I could’ve easily blasted through it, gobbled it up gone and done in no time, but I didn’t because I needed my sleep. In a way, I was glad that the book slowed down after those first fifty pages, I went with the flow and enjoyed the view. Indeed, there is so much detail and so much going on, it would be too easy to blink and miss something, but I didn’t miss a thing.

As an artist and a museum worker, I enjoyed the book on the professional level as well as the writer/reader part of me. As a reader of Russian Literature, I found the references made to Theo’s friend, Boris, reading Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot were appropriate in spirit (yet another multilayered psychological and philosophical study of the human condition.) I was glad that I had read The Idiot fairly recently (2008) so it was still fresh enough for me to recall it (loved it.) I’ve read reviews that compare The Goldfinch to various Dickens novels (David Copperfield, Great Expectations, and The Old Curiosity Shop.) It is, but it isn’t, more isn’t than it is—it’s Donna Tartt writing Donna Tartt, of her time and place—Dickens makes a good literary lighthouse to point to, I guess.

One potential pothole I watched for was how she handled the technology of cell phones and the Internet, because the gadgets and the access changed so much from the time she first started writing the book to its publication. She was wise enough to keep the use of these devices forgivably ambiguous enough to make it work for the span of time during Theo’s journey. (It’s a small detail, and writers do fret about these details, trust me on this.)

The Goldfinch is different from her two previous works, The Secret History and The Little Friend (If I hear one more whiner crying that it’s not like The Secret History, I’ll scream. Of course not! Idgit.)—The Goldfinch has a personality of its own— a sibling of the other two. Like children, the first-born will be different from the second, and the third—or the last in a long line of children forming a new generation, each one different as much as they are related. They may look alike or sound alike; they are clearly from the same parents because of the color of their eyes or the curl of their hair, short or tall, blah-blah-blah. I love The Goldfinch for what it is—a long, complicated tome, intense, tragic, brutal, and heartbreaking—an unhappy tale; it’s just how things are for Theo Decker. It has an unsettling atmosphere, so finding lighter moments became restful—these were the gems of forgetfulness that arrived to make things feel “okay” and “safe” for a little while (anyone who has lost a loved one, will relate to that temporary amnesia, trust me on that too.) Yet, the nagging anxiety was always within reach, hidden in a shopping bag, or a pillowcase taped to the back of the bed, or tucked away somewhere locked. The repetitive nature of the narrative, in my mind, shed light on the mental state of Theo as he attempted to cope—obsessive and compulsive, dangerously so—the book truly had very unpleasant moments. A young man whose life was forever altered in an instant, there is no being “normal” after that sort of experience—the psychological damage is done—the kid is broken, and becomes a broken adult wearing a veneer of normality; he’s always hiding something. I admire the work, the research, the years put into it. It has everything including the kitchen sink in it—it’s well-crafted and every word accounted for—it all mattered. Tightly wound, molded, modeled, constructed—polished, polished again, and then polished some more. (The Secret History as the “first born” possesses that magical raw beauty of being the first of its kind—The Goldfinch in comparison may have been “spoiled” with too much love, but turned out just fine in spite of it—it is a work by a mature author, that’s the difference.) It is gutsy and classic—not too many write like this anymore, dang, the depth of description at times was dense—lovely. At times, I was truly amazed that it was let through at such a stunning size and as verbally extravagant as Dostoyevsky (or Dickens), yet, I could not find reason to cut it to pieces. The digressive philosophical ending at first glance felt a bit off when I waded into it, but the water was temperate, I understood it as being an epilogue, returning to the beginning—Theo looking back from a safe distance of time to review and absorb—to purge it one more time. I found it satisfying.

Books like these don’t come around often enough, I took my time with this one—treating myself to a story that I have waited a very long time to read. I was not disappointed—only that it ended, and who knows when the next one will come into being…LJWR, 2/1/2014