Friday, December 31, 2010
Oprah is really on to something with her new OWN Network. I'm looking forward to her new shows, which have traditionally been very feminine-centric. This year she kicks things off with shows like Miracle Detectives and Master Class. Check out OWN. Happy New Year folks!
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Here's another new author I recently came across. What interests me about this book is the author's writing style more than the story, a relationship story, which sounds interesting enough. Susan Froderberg's writing has been compared to Cormac McCarthy, (her literary mentor) and a comparison to McCarthy is probably the worst thing for any author, but the opening pages of Old Border Road do bring McCarthy to mind, if not a self-conscience semblance of his style, but with a poetic quality all its own. Somewhat awkward to the ear at first but it grows on you.
I'll have to see how Ms. Froderberg's voice pans out throughout the remainder of her story--if it serves the story or detracts from it. I think it works so far but hard to tell until I read the ending. Can't wait to get the book.
Monday, December 20, 2010
Here's a book I'll be ordering and I think I've just found a new author to follow. This is Steve Martin's third novel and while his writing may not be for everyone (whose is?) I enjoy his style and inventiveness. If you like art as much as I do, this one is for you. Hope to make time for it next month and post a review. So far critics like it, even though he's received some one-star (hilarious haters) reviews on Amazon, but most books do.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
The biggest surprise about this movie for most people is that Clint Eastwood composed the musical score for this entire film, just as he did with the heartbreaking "Bridges of Madison County" and so many other of his fascinating films. He's a true genius in so many ways and his music evokes deep sentimentality and longing. Very moving and inspiring. (Tissue please.) Click the link above for the soundtrack. (boo-hoo-hoo! Someone hug me... I hope this soundtrack comes with a big box of Lindt chocolates so I can sob all night long...ohh...the agony of it all...
Friday, October 29, 2010
Okay folks, I've come out of my glorious coma and look what was in my face. Just a good book I want to pass along. A little something that's helping me out of my delusions. Nothing earth-shaking or outrageously hilarious or anything even close to that. Just another book I wish I'd read long ago, that's all. (Woo fuckin hoo. Let's face it, I just thought all this drab grey could use a touch of burgundy.)
Okay, enough of that.
Check out Jordan Rosenfeld's Make A Scene. A whole book about scenes? (Yes, moron. Why do I find that so impossible? Could it be that I've always thought that writing scenes is common sense and not a damn science? Or is this author just trying to cash-in on the obvious? Why should I buy a damn book just about scenes? Hell, all scenes have a beginning, a middle and a godforsaken ending. What else is there to know? Oh... this interior monologue is absurd, but it feels so good to chastise myself!)
I had checked this book out on Amazon long ago and thought at the time it was too basic and that almost all the information was so obvious to most writers, (especially gifted writers like me) but I finally decided to buy it. (An editor recommended a book to me that some people didn't like and they mentioned this one as a better choice. How funny is that? But it gets even better--then someone trashed this one and recommended another book, which I didn't get. I'm telling you, those Amazon reviews are amazing.) I'm wondering what kind of fog I was in the day I searched inside this book and passed on it because I think it has a lot to offer, especially for newcomers to writing. Turns out the author covers a lot of other things such as specific types of scenes, scene intentions, POV, Character Development/Motivation and much more. (That's right, take a look at the TOC.) (Forgive me, I have a thing for acronyms, initials, whatever.)
If you're an experienced writer, you'll still find this book useful as a refresher or you might find Rosenfeld's explanations about plot, for instance, easier to absorb. She breaks writing techniques down into specific modules in such a way that her remarks and insights might seem obvious on the surface, but she delivers the information in a way that resonates and sinks in. If you're brain dead like me, that's definitely a plus.
Oh... did I promise a review of Child of God? Dream on. (How condescending can I get? Keep reading and find out. Nothing personal, it's just business folks.) Just for the record, I thought Child of God was a brilliant take on the underbelly of a society I think still exists in the outskirts of the mountains of Tennessee, and likewise for the Blue Mountains of West Virginia and other places like it, I suspect.
As usual McCarthy manages to thrill and surprise us by the story's end. Another gem. What else can one say about it? It's vintage McCarthy at his very best. Writing reviews for McCarthy books takes a lot out of you. There's just no simple way or any shortcuts you can take and do justice to the book the way it deserves. While his stories (their premises) might be simple, thematically they're complex and require plenty of thought, editing and time (motivation is more like it), which I've been short on lately.
Your moment of Zen:
Life is all about an even balance of all things and through meditation you can experience wellness. (write this down) Seek your balance. Money must solve your needs, but not your wants, because you will always want something you cannot have.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Here's where I found the "Google me" link. I think Larry Portzline is on to something, but his little venture is missing one very important, recession-proof gimmick. He needs nerdy tour guides that look like Pamela Anderson. Okay, okay, how about Jennifer Lopez?
Check out Book Tourism!
Just came across this link I thought you might get a kick out of. It's a snippet of code that people click on and Google your name, business, or whatever. Totally useless, but interesting for about a minute. Have fun!
Now, Google me! (I have no shame.)
Google Alberto here! Who is this loser anyway?
Friday, September 10, 2010
Each week you'll find informative articles about promoting your books, looking good on video, and enhancing your platform as an author, plus much more! Watch the Book Teaser Samples here:
Friday, August 20, 2010
Friday, July 16, 2010
OMG have you ever seen such an exciting dork-fest before? I mean, ever? My gosh, those Harvard boys sure know how to "par-tay" and rattle the proverbial cage. They're so sassy, so witty and so damn gay! How wonderful is that?
I think I'm going to love this movie! After all, what's not to like? It's ultra-white, super geeky, and ever so flamingly gay and happy. Don't you just love the way they enunciate every syllable? Makes you wonder if they're going to break out and do the robot dance to Styx' Mr. Roboto. Now wouldn't that be a blast?
It just can't get more Anglo Saxon than this! I think they should put out a "Black Folk Alert" just to warn all our dark-skinned friends, you know. You think they should include subtitles just for ghetto minorities like me? You know in Spanglish or Ebonics. That would be so cool, don't you think?
Gosh darnet, I know this movie will win an Oscar. After all, their PR firm says it will, so what's stopping it now? How exciting! I just can't wait till October to chat with all my Facebook buddies while we're waiting on line at the theater. That's going to be the best part, all the socializing and the snappy repartee to be had. ooogah!
OMG, this is huge! Don't you think?
You go Justin! (J.O.K.E.)
Sunday, July 11, 2010
The Stalking of Martin Luther King Jr.
This book was hard for me to put down. I devoured half of it in almost one sitting, right up to the point when Galt, a.k.a., James Earl Ray, had finally shot MLK.
Borrowing from the song title "Hellhounds on My Trail" - by Robert Johnson, (Blues singer, 1911-1938) this book serves as a good example of what it takes for readers to be spellbound by so many elements of a particular story. First of all, I was only ten years old when this happened, so at the time it had made an indelible impression on me, till this day, I might add.
I remember seeing a lot of it unfold on television (when color television itself was in its infancy) right before my curious eyes and ears, not unlike the JKF assassination in 1963, the slaying of a Muslim activist by the name of Malcolm X, or the Bobby Kennedy assassination only months after the MLK tragedy. It's no wonder I'm so fixated with these kinds of stories. I've lived through so many of them and I have always been curious about the details of each of these crimes.
First, let me say that if you have a sensitive stomach to bloody details, beware because this account is quite graphic, although it is not overtly presented just for the sake of dramatization. Hampton Sides, at least as far as I can tell from this story, has a very matter-of-fact writing style and by no means seems to embellish this story. He has authored several other good books as well.
What really appeals to me about this book though, is how the author peppers his narrative with unrelated events such as the whereabouts of Elvis Presley, the goings on in the world of music in Nashville, or how Pete Townsend was putting the finishing touches on his song about a pinball wizard, all this intersecting during this precarious time in American history. All those gregarious details adding plenty of texture and a peculiar interest that almost seems out of place if it were not for their almost comic convergence in this unsettling timeline.
It's almost as if we are watching a film reel countdown of the year 1968 in slow motion, where the main event is blurred by so many asides. If not for its lack of artistry, one might easily construe this technique with a bastardization of the plot through-line. Instead, Sides manages to succeed by delineating historical facts, however unrelated, in a most satisfying, if not perverse literary mash-up all his own.
But this is non-fiction, after all, and regardless of sensationalized fictive elements, if any, at the beginning of this story, without another alternative, Sides ends this thriller just as uneventful as the understated events that took place in real life back in June of 1968.
MLK's assassin was caught without incident or struggle (no spoilers here) in London after a daring escape from a seedy Memphis motel in early April of that same year after traversing his way through Canada, supposedly on his way to Rhodesia.
I think the most poignant aspect of this book is its honesty and its unrelenting attention to detail, much of which Sides had insiders help with by way of a retired Memphis detective that was working on this case. Sides also says that he went on his own journey around the world, as he literally traced James Earl Ray's fidgety footsteps that eventually led to this crime.
That kind of dedication to story is commendable to say the least and without question adds a richness and a resounding depth to the narrative that might have otherwise been obscured by second-hand facts.
Some may argue that this version of the MLK assassination only helps raise more questions than provide answers to an already suspicious set of circumstances surrounding Rays final prison break, which led him to commit this murder. Was it a conspiracy or not? Did Ray in fact have help escaping the ultimate security penitentiary in Missouri, and was he paid to silence Dr. King?
James Earl Ray had once said that he would take many secrets to his grave regarding this crime, and he probably did. Then again, he was also known as a pathological liar.
Whatever your point of view, Sides brilliantly succeeds in presenting this killer just as he was. A troubled, delusional man, a racist, and a cold-blooded killer.
Nothing more or nothing else should do.
I'm working on reading Karl Marlantes epic about his Vietnam experience, "Matterhorn," so this review will be forthcoming in several months since my reading time is short these days. What attracted me to this story, aside from its gripping narrative, is its author, and how he developed this story over the course of 30 years. You gotta love a behind-the-scenes story like that. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Since I have scarcely turned the pages of my upcoming book for review, Karl Marlantes’ “Matterhorn,” the best way I can compare these two books about Vietnam is on their tone. While Matterhorn sticks to the standard, rigid plotline, (nothing wrong with that) right to the end, TTTC, tells its protagonist’s semi-autobiographical story through a series of vignettes and short stories instead.
I’ve always liked this technique because it’s so easy to get through the story even if you happen to skip parts of it for whatever reason, without really missing important plot-points along the way (great for lazy, hurried readers like me).
And that’s not to diminish Marlantes’ style of storytelling by any means, mind you. Every author has their own voice and both these master storytellers know how to use their strengths to their advantage.
At first glance, Carried comes across as a tedious lesson about military artifacts and the endless gear, “humped by frontline grunts marching into the shit,” only for events to turn on a dime and smack us with a decapitation or a horrific dismemberment along their merry way. The ultimate juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy, not unlike many Shakespearian plays, harrowing events that broadside you when you least expect it.
The brilliance of “Carried” certainly comes from its almost flippant view of the Vietnam War, reminding us in part of Kurt Vonnegut’s, Slaughterhouse Five, and his own brand of humor about the ironies of WWII. Although, Tim O’Brien, treads on very different waters throughout his own peculiar narrative, which borders more on cliché, that is, the birth of clichés, as they apparently happened.
It’s almost as if we want to hear these stories repeated, as they are time and again by different characters, each time every character adding their own brand of incredible details that mesmerize us on the spot, and just like the gossipmongers that we are, we clamor more.
“But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden, more than 20 lbs. of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the un-weighed fear. He was dead weight.”
“There was no twitching or flopping. Kiowa, who saw it happen, said it was like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or something―just boom, then down―not like the movies where the dead body rolls around and does fancy spins and goes ass over teakettle―not like that.”
“…the poor bastard just flat-fuck fell. Boom. Down. Nothing else.”
O’Brien delivers in grand style throughout of course, as he wittingly takes us through seemingly unrelated short stories and artfully threads his word-fare with brilliant metaphor, again, blindsiding us with his literary prowess unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed before in the course of such a short book.
Brandishing the fine sword of a wordsmith with the sensitivity and morals of an evangelical minister. And yes, forever endearing us to the Gospel of Vietnam, all according to Tim O’Brien.
Upcoming Book Reviews:
Hellhound on His Trail, by Hampton Sides
Child of God, by Cormac McCarthy
Kings of The Earth, by Jon Clinch
MatterHorn, by Karl Marlantes
Friday, July 2, 2010
When will it end? No, not this long movie, the white man's guilt and the quasi race relations messages that most movies strive for these days. Don't you people in Hollywood get it already? Films will never save the day or even begin to improve race relations, ever.
Hey, you guys really want to improve race relations? Join the ACLU! Stick to making lousy movies and a good one every now and then and for the love of God, stop pandering to black folk. They're going to despise you anyway, and you deserve it, so suck it up and "shut the fuck up!" (Just to borrow a damn good line(s) from Julianne Moore in the movie, Assassins.)
That being said, Eastwood is one of my favorite actors and this film is among one of my favorites because it doesn't take itself too seriously. It serves up a strong message about gang violence, racism, and morality, plus it's very funny in a Clint Eastwood kind of way, a lot like Heartbreak Ridge.
Yes, it's worth a few hours of your precious time, despite its preachy undertow.
My next Post will be about author Hampton Side's new book, Hellhound on His Trail - The Stalking of MLK. Look for it on Monday, July 12th.This story is too good to pass up so I hope to Post it soon, and I'll try to bang out the review for "The Things They Carried" this book is also one of my favorites. Sorry folks, been through hell lately, hope to catch up soon.
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Here's my own Google Search ad for my novel:
I know, I know, these promos are pretty lame but they're okay for about a minute then they get on your nerves. Not enough music to choose from, no voice overs, etc. And of course, Google gets all the glory. Who really cares? Have fun. ( I think.)
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Okay folks, once in a while you come across a fascinating book that you must tell about. Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," has done it for me. I know, I know, it's an old book (first published in 1990), and an even an older topic, but if you're into the Vietnam thing, this book is probably one of the best you'll ever read about the Vietnam experience.
This gem has recently been released as a Twentieth Anniversary Hardcover Edition, and my blistering review is coming soon!
Really? I have yet to see it. Don't remember if I ever wrote this review. For the handful that may be interested in reading it, drop me a comment and I'll Post it.
Better late than never. This long-awaited, highly anticipated review is finally up. Read it and weep. (Not even close, but it's ok.)
Friday, April 30, 2010
Fear not rejections my fellow scribes, for even you can win a Pulitzer. Well, maybe not, but it doesn’t hurt to dream. Paul Harding, winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Letters, awarded for his debut novel, Tinkers, was rejected numerous times by savvy New York publishers, who seem to be in search of something a little racier than an old man’s last days on his deathbed. "They would lecture me about the pace of life today. It was, 'Where are the car chases?' Nobody wants to read a slow, contemplative, meditative, quiet book" (Paul Harding).
You know, I doubt that NY publishers regret not publishing this story. They could probably care less about high society Pulitzer Prizes and even less about a book that is not an out-of-the-gate huge blockbuster bestseller, which, I predict Tinkers will eventually become in due time.
This is nothing new, where big publishers miss out on the book of a lifetime. New York publishers, in particular like to keep their publishing picks, “down and dirty” and usually frown upon uppity little feel-good books like Tinkers. And no, this is not a wake-up call for publishers. They do have a “list” (code word for micro-market) to fill and your book is most likely not a good match for their list so, no regrets. To hell with art, they prefer the money.
Is this wrong? After all, everything is about money and far less about art, and what’s wrong with making a fortune selling pulp-fiction? Isn’t that what most readers want? Yes. Well, there you have it.
It just seems bizarre to me why most New York publishers are obsessed with fast-paced, edgy, commercial stories, as if this brand of story represents or justifies the citified image of New York City, just because it was published there. Are they campaigning for the city of Manhattan or trying to sell books? Seems to me that most NY publishers are caught-up in all the big city hype and are too blind to see what’s real in the world, or what is noteworthy in the world of literature. Have they forgotten that literature is all about the human condition, whether it’s pulp-fiction or not. The humanity of things is always at the core of any worthwhile story, in any genre. Period.
BTW, university presses are always a good option when trying to market literary stories, especially when themes in the story (epilepsy in this case) match the institution’s background. I suspect that writers whom have written these kinds of stories will query more of them in the months to follow. But don’t get your hopes up too high. Don’t forget, you still have to write a great story first. Yes, there is always a catch.
I congratulate Mr. Harding with his wonderful book and his Pulitzer Prize win. He didn’t give up for too long and eventually got around the publishing maze and found a publisher in New York (an editor, as in Erika Goldman, editorial director) that not only liked his story, but championed it to resounding success. Good for him and the Bellevue Literary Press, and especially good for the readers who still believe in this kind of story.
Readers are still human--last time I checked. It’s no wonder they like Tinkers.
BTW, if anyone knows where I can get a hardcover copy of Tinkers, please drop me a line. And no, I’m not plunking down $2000 for one. I’ll be happy with a copy from the next printing, fourth, I think. First printing limited run was only 3500 paperbacks and 1250 hardcover (500 copies produced for The Book Passage Bookstore, and 750 copies for Powell's Books. How I wish I had a handful of those, they were all signed!
A note about the book jacket: First of all, it is minimalist, fitting the themes of the story, and the image appears to be a dreamy, cold, snowy field in heaven with a lone man wandering about, lost perhaps. It’s a simple, austere, and beautiful cover, but more importantly, it stands out like a sore thumb in store bookshelves since it’s mostly white.
This is an old advertising technique used by admen where they use a lot of white space to compete with the colorful and mostly cluttered ads (book jackets) that surround it. This seems like somewhat of a trend these days. Kitty Kelly’s new book, Oprah’s Unauthorized Bio, also uses white space to its advantage.
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
I came across this book when it was first published last year and meant to buy it but for some reason it slipped through all the other more noticeable books of its time. I think I had balked at getting it because it has mostly negative reviews since it's touted as a sequel to the original and is anything but according to critics and purists.
So whatever happened to this review? Never got around to finishing this book, but working on that so I'll keep you posted on my progress. (Ahh, Fanghoul!)
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Cormac McCarthy has done it again, and he has done so in typical McCarthy style. Let’s define the ground rules for a CM story. First, there’s the premise--the high concept. In this case, an unknown catastrophic event has decimated planet earth, covering everything under gray ashes. Utter destruction.
The survivors at the center of this heartbreaking story: A father and son, who travel cross-country with nothing more than a wonky shopping cart filled with their meager earthly possessions, and a pistol. Crossing paths with marauders, they must fend for their lives across a desolate American landscape. Their destination: the coastal cities.
That’s the set-up. Right from the start there are far more questions than answers. We don’t know who the man and his young boy are by name or where they came from, but we are fully aware of their dire circumstances and their trek across this dystopian landscape, which, McCarthy evokes with such spare, yet striking detail. And even though McCarthy does not mention this catastrophic event by name, we know by his descriptions that a nuclear blast has ended the world as we know it.
For those of us who have read most, if not all of McCarthy’s work, we know from the outset that he is about to examine this crippled world he plunks us in, from every possible angle, as he explores every metaphor, and every minute detail to its fullest, and then some. It’s the kind of description that we followed in The Crossing, where McCarthy begins his story with a she-wolf that two brothers rescue and try to return to the northern mountains of Mexico.
He tells all about this she-wolf for an exhausting one third of the book, as if the world of endangered wildlife depends on the life and times of this very maligned and misunderstood creature. The wolf, in essence becomes a transient character in the story, and an important one at that. Its demise dramatically sums up everything that McCarthy had built up to that point between the wolf and the boy. A poignant payoff indeed.
The payoff in The Road, however, is far more poignant and heartfelt, as McCarthy expertly weaves his tale of doom and horror with McCarthy-esque flairs sprinkled throughout this haunting narrative. Passages filled with eye-opening observations and humorous description. Like this gem:
“This was the first human being other than the boy that he’d spoke to in more than a year. My brother at last. The reptilian calculations in those cold and shifting eyes. The gray and rotting teeth. Claggy with human flesh. Who has made of the world a lie every word.”
This is vintage McCarthy. Dropping in an almost comical description of a suspicious man right in the middle of all the despair he has masterfully painted up till then. Hilarious, yet brilliant, and one reason why, I suspect most McCarthy fans read his work.
If we can say anything to compliment McCarthy’s method of telling a story, it is that he commits to it wholeheartedly and without apologies. He owns and lives up to every word, big and small. Thrusting us and enthralling us with a storytelling path, we think we are familiar with, but it is a pathway that only McCarthy can traverse with his unsettling choice of words. His brand of humor and misdirection, far from the apparent tragedy he has unfurled before us.
In the blink of an eye, it becomes profoundly clear that McCarthy is orchestrating, conducting a symphony of words and mental images that coalesce into an extraordinary work, like fine art—an unlikely mix of Picasso and Salvador Dali perhaps, as he plunges us through sometimes grotesque, sometimes surreal imagery that sears our minds with the realization of uncompromising truths along the way.
A stark juxtaposition of love, despair, and tragedy, all rolled into a relentless vision that not only captivates out hearts, but brandishes our mind with a profound silence that pierces our very soul. Every McCarthy story is a masterpiece in its own time and in its own way. Each one more heartfelt than the last.
If The Road can tell us one thing about McCarthy, it is this: He is capable of so much more than thrilling westerns set in New Mexico. Lest we forget tales such as The Orchid Keeper, and Child of God. We know that the mind of McCarthy works in very mysterious ways—-sometimes predictable, sometimes enigmatic, but always entertaining, always moving us. And, if we can learn something from this story, it is that love is all there is. There is nothing left to hold McCarthy’s dim world together, nothing but unflinching and unconditional love. The kind of love a father has for his young boy, and his son evokes for him in return.
On a whole, this story resonates with many of the qualities that embody a classic story, but none more than its poignancy. The striking memories it leaves in its wake. This story’s hard-hitting premise; the plausible reality of world war three.
Yet, as profound as this story is, it is also strewn with annoying dialog that doesn’t quite ring true to life. Yes, there is always a fly in the McCarthy soup.
But, not even Cormac McCarthy is a perfect writer, although he certainly comes close. To the chagrin of many critics, evil characters still hiss in McCarthy’s world. Main characters also talk in stilted one-word sentences, and say “Okay,” a lot. And no one in McCarthy’s story’s ever knows anything, except for the all-knowing narrator who always embodies these tales from a cosmic or scientific standpoint, almost eager to share his vast knowledge of all things peculiar, albeit to mythic proportions. But for those who know something about Cormac McCarthy’s personal life, unfortunately, it is apparent that Cormac’s voice is clearly echoed behind this narrator.
At any rate, everything lends itself to a clever juxtaposition of his central characters, struggling against the world. Against themselves in most cases--a reflection of why we are but mere mortals, thrust haphazardly into this vast and unforgiving world that always seems to dominate, to prevail in one form or another.
Yet, it is this very juxtaposition of man against nature, this dominant thread that permeates every McCarthy tale with such darkness. A relentless undertow with a magnitude that brings its only opponent into clear focus; the protagonist against himself.
Less is more, is clearly the strength of this story. One main character, one point of view throughout. One narrator in third person omniscient, and very little dialog. Sparse dialog because when you’re dying every minute, there is little to say. Very little to live for.
In another review of Robert James Waller’s, High Plains Tango, I had mentioned the similarities between the narrator and the author in that particular story. Unfortunately, the same holds true for this one.
I suspect it’s one of the main reasons that writers like McCarthy avoid the media for so long, to avoid comparisons to their characters. In Oprah’s interview, just last year, McCarthy admits dedicating this story to his son and that it was inspired from a dream, a vision he saw one night and just took dictation by day. (Didn’t John Milton [Paradise Lost] say the same thing?) It is clear that McCarthy’s authorial voice creeps up throughout this entire story in dialog that only McCarthy can tenderly evoke for his beloved young boy; the apple of his eye.
That’s a shame for this reader, but I quickly was able to put all that aside and enjoy the story as it was meant to be enjoyed. Savoring every word, because McCarthy never seems to run out of metaphor or bizarre adjectives for almost 250 pages. That in and of itself is an amazing feat, but nothing new to McCarthy and his loyal followers. Eye-opening passages in all the right places seems to come easy to McCarthy. In this story, the pacing of the man’s sickness, his demise, was rhythmic and delivered with a cadence that’s hard to match.
The Road is a seamless and cohesive tale, told as simply as only McCarthy can tell it. Strikingly real, despite its usual McCarthy flaws that always seem to show up in his dialog. Again, in The Crossing, it was the Indian at the opening of the story who, perhaps intentionally, came across as a comic book character. Here, McCarthy seems to delegate to each of the transient characters, a good measure of both, stupidity and poor comic timing, all rolled into one.
"Is it me, or has McCarthy revised passages from Jon Clinch’s Finn? Similarities between Finn’s “Preacher Man” and the “Lost Blind Man” in The Road seem quite obvious to me. Like bad caricatures in a Popeye cartoon, dissonantly off-key. Although, the effect that McCarthy is after here, I suppose, is that of incredulity which hopefully echoes realism. An effect beyond the suspension of disbelief."
But all those somewhat personal annoyances are one thing, and if one were to look through the eyes of a cynic, we can also see that critics and book reviewers have repeatedly and unabashedly espoused McCarthy as their hero, simply because the world of literature needs a hero, just like the NBA needed Michael Jordan.
Let’s face it, agent’s jobs depend on heroes, because heroes bring in spectators and sell tickets and books. They make things exciting, and excitement always motivates people to buy.
Does any of this diminish accomplished writers like McCarthy? That’s in the eyes and ears of the beholder. McCarthy knows better, and so do his fans.
In this reader’s view, McCarthy usually tells his tales like quasi Milton-esque poems strung between philosophical bookends. You can take a shortcut by reading the first and last chapters and still get the meaning behind all the words, but unfortunately, you would miss all the interesting words and ideas in between.
Once you’ve read much of McCarthy’s work, you find his technique. His modus operandi, if you will. The dark colors of his pallet. The broad brushstrokes and minute detail in all the right places. You begin to notice all the key words and phrasing that he so masterfully splashes across his canvas. The literary masters he revises, such as his mentors: William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), Herman Melville (Moby-Dick), and the granddaddy of them all, John Milton (Paradise Lost).
But this is McCarthy’s tenth book, and suddenly, McCarthy must now revise (see revisionist literature) McCarthy just as other writers are now revising his work, not just for the sake of revision and homage, but for the sake of literature as an art form.
In McCarthy’s own words:
“The ugly fact is books are made out of books," he says. "The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.”
If this is indeed the case, and one can assume that it is, then The Road, his forthcoming novel, The Passenger, plus three other books in the works, each owes a debt to novels similar to them.
We can only imagine which novels those might be, although based on what we’ve already seen, his picks are most likely somewhat narrow and his themes maybe even predictable.
Yet, we can hardly wait for another mind-blowing adventure from the mastermind behind it all. A writer’s writer. The one with a mind all his own who writes without fear, without explanation, and without malice.
Cormac McCarthy may not be a great writer to many readers who never seem to understand his stories, but to writers, he is the epitome of a [literary] giant without boundaries.
Shouldn’t that be what all writers and all human beings aspire to?
My next Post is up in the air folks. Some of the author's I'm reading are way to complex to do them justice here. I'm talking about Norman Mailer's Oswald's Tale, or Milton's Paradise Lost.
I'm also waiting for Jon Clinch's upcoming Kings of The Earth to hit the shelves in March, I think. Check out my archives for plenty of interesting stuff in the meantime.
I'll surprise you with something next week. BTW, thank you for your comments folks, and if you want to keep on top of all these Posts, you can subscribe to this Blogspot for all the latest.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, he filmed the movie in Paris, 1971. The story centers around a middle-aged man (Brando) whose wife has just committed suicide. While grieving this loss, he enters into a steamy affair with a teenager (Jeanne, played by Maria Schneider) who he has met by chance in a vacant apartment in Paris which they separately had an interest in renting.
From the moment they meet, we know what will become of it because very little is left to the imagination. The now infamous movie, Last Tango in Paris, premiered in New York in 1972 to plenty of controversy, mainly because its star, Marlon Brando, improvised a scene performing anal sex, using butter as a lubricant. A scene where Schneider says she cried real tears, as she felt raped by Brando.
"That scene wasn't in the original script. The truth is it was Marlon who came up with the idea," she says. They only told me about it before we had to film the scene and I was so angry. I should have called my agent or had my lawyer come to the set because you can't force someone to do something that isn't in the script, but at the time, I didn't know that. Marlon said to me: 'Maria, don't worry, it's just a movie,' but during the scene, even though what Marlon was doing wasn't real, I was crying real tears. I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci. After the scene, Marlon didn't console me or apologise. Thankfully, there was just one take."
There were plenty of other scenes that raised eyebrows just the same, although probably not as graphic, or should we say pornographic, but I think it’s safe to say that this particular scene was the one everyone talked about the most, and why not. This scene, its perverted overtones, encapsulated the central themes of the movie: despair, sexual frustration, and masochism, all rolled into one.
The movie ends on a tragic note and sadly, the inside story of what happened to its young co-star was almost as tragic. Then 19, Maria Schneider, who played Jeanne, turned into a heroine and cocaine junkie when her life took a dark turn after the release of the movie. Allegedly, because of the negative image associated with the young actress, which dead-ended her career into nothing more than a series of offers for pornographic roles, which she turned down, including a role in Bob Guccioni’s, Caligula.
Schneider now admits that she is no longer friends with Bertolucci and that he used her and manipulated everyone on the set, including Brando, who also admits he felt raped by Bertolucci at the time.
Dell Publishing first published the novel in 1973, authored by Robert Alley, who followed the screenplay almost to the letter, including black and white photos from the film. Although, what is outrageous, and almost hilarious about the making of this movie is that most of its participants, Bertolucci in particular, received a four month suspended prison sentence for “obscenity,” and the filming of these explicit scenes. Brando and Schneider were similarly charged. The Italian Supreme Court also ruled to destroy all remaining copies of the film in 1976. What were they thinking? They lifted the censorship ban fifteen years later. What had changed? It was the same movie, minus ten seconds of implied raw sexual behavior.
Many opponents argued the film was nothing more than pornography masquerading as art. There certainly is a fine line here and, we might say that art pushed the boundaries of acceptable artistic expression, or that the male fascination with sexual angst and female domination, overtook the sensibilities of filmmakers. One thing is certain, the film’s sultry, evocative score will endure forever with the accompaniment of Gato Barbieri’s jazzy saxophone riffs that really set the tone and underlined the nuances of the time and place like nothing else does.
Whatever the case, this ingenious work is a perverse masterpiece, a testament to Bertolucci’s vision, a yearning from his sexual fantasies. Fantasies almost turned real. Lest we forget Brando’s own request to write his lines of dialog across Schneider’s rear end. To which the almost unscrupulous Bertolucci, said ‘no’.
He did have to draw the line somewhere, and some men might have agreed.
Now, can someone please pass the butter?
Thursday, February 4, 2010
The Birth of a Classic
When we think of classic novels, probably only a handful come to mind. To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, Beloved, just to name three favorites, but of course, there are many others, such as, Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Finn, The Old Man and the Sea, and Gone With the Wind, for example, are among the top tier of modern classics. It all depends on whom you ask, and what their favorite genre is.
Notice, although, that in my second short list I snuck in the novel Finn, by Jon Clinch. This contemporary novel, a take on Huck Finn’s father, published only several years ago to high praise by most critics, was hailed as a masterpiece with a flavor akin to Faulkner, and rightfully so. It is in effect, a modern classic literary work. So if the passage of time alone does not make a classic novel, then what does?
Although, in some cases, time periods have helped to define a particular work as classic because of its subject matter, its era. For example, The Scarlett Letter, is very much a classic work and a very important one at that. Important in the sense that this story introduced many classic characters, such as Hester Prynne’s baby, Pearl, who in this author’s mind, is a reincarnation of Ira Levin’s 1967 classic, Rosemary’s Baby, and again in 1996 in another classic, The Devil’s Advocate by Andrew Neiderman. Also, the fact that it was set in the 17th century by a 19th century author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who penned it in 1850, to be exact, gives this novel an authenticity that truly harkens back to a bygone era when read today.
Its importance weighs in as a classic because it was a groundbreaking story for its time, yet it still resonates today because of its timeless themes. Meaning that many of Hawthorn’s literary devices and imagery, its nuances regarding the genre(s) (Horror, Romance, Gothic) were sparkling fresh and brand new; shocking even. (Unless we consider another timeless classic: Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein, first published in 1818, whose origins came out of Greek Mythology: Prometheus, the creator of mankind)
The setting for “Scarlet” alone is classic, just as the subject matter is, when compared to present day America. Boston Puritans, blasphemy, fornication? Enough said. However, there are many other factors to consider for a novel to be hailed as a classic. While there is no magic formula, there are very specific criteria that a novel should adhere to in order to fall into “classic” parameters.
Here are the most relevant, in no particular order:
1. Subject matter/concept
4. Language and style
9. Author’s status
11. How memorable it is
12. Its social impact/relevance
13. Its connection with readers
15. Word of mouth
16. Its universal appeal
I’ve numbered well over a dozen here, you might suggest a few of your own, this is not rocket science folks, but I think this number of attributes covers the “classics category” to a reasonable extent.
I’m not about to define each one, because that will turn into a boring lesson, which this already is on the verge of becoming. Instead, I’ll comment in general and try to cover each of the criteria.
First and foremost, a classic novel must be an unforgettable story that touches readers in an emotional way. That alone is one of the cornerstones of a good classic. It must be a memorable tale that readers identify with, for whatever personal reason, and also feel a strong connection to. This connection is what brings the story to life, a life of its own, through the new eyes of every reader. It’s what makes the story, heartbreaking, or a raving controversy, a shocker, take your pick, the beauty of it, or its inherent evil, is in the eyes of the beholder.
If a modern classic work of literature, such as Clinch’s Finn, debuts to rave reviews and accolades by his piers, then even so-called debut authors such as Kathryn Stockett and her first novel, The Help, can write classic novels too. Need more proof? Look no further than Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. This was Lee’s first and only novel. A book written only decades ago and considered today as one of America’s greatest novels of the 20th century. Make a list of all the attributes that I’ve numbered above and see if most, if not all of them are a part of Lee’s novel. They most certainly are.
Also, many of yesteryear’s classics were revolutionary in their time because the subject matter was so controversial and so daring to begin with. Sensitive issues spark controversy, which spreads like wildfire and before you know it, one story remains indelible in the minds of its audience. That collective spark also unites like-minded zealots who will die defending their point of view either against or in favor of the story. This mob mentality is what imbues a particular movement, in this case, a story of injustice that raises questions about morality, and the preservation of freedom for all in America.
Which, is to say that some of these books will endure for many generations, while others, would hardly matter in today’s publishing world because of their particular subject matter, especially in today’s volatile publishing environment, where profit is the first and last consideration. Not a mega money-maker? Not relevant? No contract. It’s just that simple.
Look no further, that’s today’s publishing model in a nutshell. But then again, there were very few publishers back in those days so getting published was probably not so easy either. There were fewer writers per square mile so just about anyone with a little extra gray matter had an edge over the less fortunate, usually rich folk with a good dose of higher education and social status.
Traditionally, classic works of literature have also had their share of controversy in their time, another essential gene that is part of the DNA of classical literature. The Catcher in the Rye, dealt with a coming of age story that dared to say the “F” word when the word “fuck,” was not even in fashion. “Mockingbird,” dared to expose racial injustice when racial tensions were at their peak in the sixties. The Thorn Birds dared to expose the corrupt priesthood in its time. All these novels dared to confront social issues that were at a crossroads in American history. Many of these books have been banned from public schools and libraries, while others are still a standard in the reading curriculum, selling millions of copies every year to students, who either praise or loathe them.
Which brings to mind a novel’s artistic side; its use of language and symbolism. While classic novels fall into a number of genres, literary novels by far encompass the widest range of literary techniques that are unique to this form. The use of elevated prose, if you will, where the author’s form of expression overrides the plot, for instance. And where the strong use of symbolism, themes, and motifs are all part of the art-form. The novel as a work of art, so-to-speak. It’s what typifies the writings of Toni Morrison and Cormac McCarthy, for instance.
Words and symbols are important to these authors and they are masters of high prose for the sake of the novel as art, which by definition requires a minimum number of pages to qualify the work as a novel, not a novella, such as Hemingway’s classic, The Old Man and the Sea, or Morrison’s newest classic, A Mercy. Both these Pulitzer Prize winning authors have written comparatively short novels (about 200 pages) according to standards, but classics nonetheless. Which also proves that novels don’t have to be epics to fit the classics mold, such as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, or Herman Wouk’s, The Winds of War.
What makes a classic, more than anything else, is its message, whereby the author intends to impart his or her statement to the world. (Paolo Cohelio must be hyperventilating right now.)
And yes, there is always a statement to be made, whether the author admits it, or realizes it or not. What would the purpose of a story be without a statement? (Breathe Cohelio, exhale slowly, my friend.) Entertainment alone would not begin to justify the reason a story is born. There’s always much more to stories than that. Otherwise, we would not be talking about them so much, making them viral with our own word-of-mouth publicity and promotion.
It’s the kind of stuff that makes stories stick in our subconscious and resonate in our minds. It’s what brings us to rage or to tears. It’s the kind of stuff that really matters to each of us individually and collectively as a society.
Gifted authors that are connected enough, get paid for their writing. Not by readers who buy their books in mass, but by award committees that are enraptured by their words. This is very much the case with Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy had written most of his novels when hard sales numbers were not such a priority in the publishing world, and based on the strength of his words and captivating stories, they awarded him Grants to continue writing. That sure goes a long way into the making of classic literature. Something that seems to come very naturally to McCarthy. His awards and Grants are well-deserved.
Classics also make use of allusions. Common literary devices (references, citations, comments) used by authors to add depth and resonance to their work. While some of the allusions are self-explanatory, others remain obscure and they are intended for readers with both, a keen sense of their use, and a sensitivity towards the subject matter, i.e., the author’s intentions within the framework of the story.
Classic stories such as Blood Meridian, Moby Dick, and Slaughterhouse Five, among others, all make use of allusions that echo other works, whether they be artistic, literary, or allusions that reference a particular person or place.
And finally, and probably most importantly, the strength of the story concept must be memorable and timeless. In Hollywood, high concepts rule, and successful stories must adhere to strong concepts, universal ideas, relatable tales that connect at a deep psychological level. These are stories that stick in reader’s minds with lasting impressions, generation after generation.
You’ll notice that in my long list of almost twenty attributes, I don’t list any publishers. That’s because no one buys a book or a novel based on the publishing house that printed it. Readers could care less about the publishing house, because in fiction, it’s all about the story first, the author second.
How many stories do you know and cannot name who their author’s are?
When was the last time you bought a classic novel because Random House printed it?
Classic literature is all about these three most important things: it’s all about the story, the story, and yes, the story.
Not just the story for the sake of stories, mind you, but stories because they affect and sometimes change what we think and how we process the world around us. That’s the power and influence of classic novels.
Something that not all books are born to do.
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A Reminder of my Next Post: What foreign movie was novelized in the seventies?
Hint: An American actor starred in this unforgettable role. Can you guess who it is? Find out on Monday, and see the unbelievable before-and-after pictures of his unknown co-star and her near tragic future. Shameful.