books

Writin’ Update (No Turkeys Required)

So, November 30 has come and (almost gone) and I did not reach the 50,000-word mark to win the #NaNoWriMo challenge. However, I have nearly 40,000 words of a first draft that I will turn into a fully formed book someday soon, something of which I can be proud. The first draft of “Exit Oasis” will be finished before New Year’s Eve and, hopefully, a real book will be done by early Spring.

On another note, several months ago I was asked to submit a short story to an anthology assembled by a friend of a friend and he liked it. That book, “Losing the Map” by Jim Corrigan, Editor, is now ready for purchase/download. Jim put a great amount of work into this during some difficult times, and the fruit of his labor is outstanding. I’m proud to be a part of it. My small contribution was fun to write. It’s a fun piece inspired by a crazy diner conversation about two years ago. Someday, it will appear in a novel in a different form, but the story stands on its own for now. The theme of “Losing the Map,” was, loosely, travel, and since I never take the easy or most direct path… well, my story comes from the fringe.

I encourage you to check it out, whether by ordering the printed form or the E-book, not only to ready my insane ravings but also to read some pretty good stuff by a good group of writers.

Here are the links:

Booklocker — http://booklocker.com/books/7792.html

Barnes and Noble — http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/losing-the-map-jim-corrigan/1120832500?ean=9781632635952

Amazon — http://www.amazon.com/Losing-Map-Jim-Corrigan/dp/163263595X/

If you do read “Losing the Map,” please let me know what you think and, if you like, spread the word.

Cool. You can get back to your life now.

 

Fun with Fiction: Behind the Cheese

He was upset and she knew it.

Life was slow and boring and he couldn’t take it anymore. She never really knew what to say to him when he was like this, so she stopped herself before speaking. Maybe he would snap out of it. Maybe he would smile and let the so-called problems roll off his back like the rain.

He kicked a clump of dry dirt away. There was no escaping it now.

“I am sick of this place.”

She held her tongue a little longer, hoping, praying, that he would come around.

“Wish I was never born,” he whined. “The boredom of modern life is too much. I don’t do anything. I don’t have any say in what goes on. Nothing much is expected of me. I have no skills. No function, really. It’s like I am part of the background. The color. Wallpaper.”

He looked at her with disdain and she knew what was coming next.

“At least you can do something,” he said and she nodded. “Dairy products. You make cheese. At least that’s something to hang your hat on. I just loll around, make a few new kids once in a while with you or that scene queen, Darla, and that’s the extent of it.”

He kicked a little more dirt around and sighed.

“Otherwise, I have no life.”

That was enough. Betty thought there was something wrong with him, but she’d heard this song before. Many times.

“Look, Billy, I’m sick of hearing you bitch about your life, day after day,” she said. “Year after year. If you hate it so much, get out. Leave. You know where the door is. Do it. Live on your own, but you won’t find it any easier out there, past the gates. You’ll be alone. Out in the cold. Chased by wild animals. Eating whatever scraps of food and who knows what else you’ll find on the ground. Tin cans! You’ll be back.”

Betty was right. He did say the same things and complain all the time. It was so easy for her. She had a career. A function in life. He didn’t and it was time for a change. He knew it. Maybe he was just trying to find the courage to do something new and take control of his life. Couldn’t she understand that?

“Betty, I’m scared,” he said. “I’m not happy with myself and I don’t know what to do. I would love a new life, but I’m too afraid to leave the farm and strike out on my own. I don’t know what I would do somewhere else. I mean, there’s gotta be more to life out there in the world, but what would I be? Who would I be?”

She thought about that for a bit, ate a little salad, and spoke.

“You’d still be Billy,” she told him. That clanged Billy’s bell. He kicked over pail of old rainwater with his hoof and chuckled. The bell around his neck clanged again. Betty smiled.

“Hah! I’d still be Billy with no life, no job, no home and no clue. What good is that? I’d rather be Billy the One and Only, so’s I can drop my seed all over this farm, so’s that we can have more milkers like you, so’s that Hank and Emily can make more cheese and sell it to that snazzy gourmet shop down in Topeka for who knows how much than be Billy With Nothing.”

Betty was happy. She’d seen this conversation with Billy wrap up the same way countless times. Even down to the “drop my seed all over this farm” part. He was over it, she reckoned, for another few days or so. She thought he might be getting horny again. A good sign, and after a few minutes, conception. Betty wasn’t that impressed, but was glad she was able to help Billy out.

Soon after they were done, one of the farm hands came over and filled the trough. There was a scream and he went running over to the sty. Later, Billy and Betty heard that Dottie, that whiny little twerp who sang all the time out by the tractor had fallen off the fence and into the pig pen. Justice served. Of course, someone pulled that vapid simpleton out of there eventually. She was still singing about somewhere over the rain cloud or rain bucket or something as her auntie wiped the pig shit out of her hair.

Then the dog ran away.

A couple days later, a big tornado came and tore the place up. Dottie got knocked out and was in bed for a while. The guys drew a mustache on her face while she was sleeping. Her Uncle Hank was in there a little too long one night with her and Aunt Emily gave him hell the next morning.

Billy thought that it was all very funny, but Betty was too busy feeding the kids to notice. After a few weeks, one of the pigs came around talking revolution.

Billy was up for it.

Finally, there would be something to do.

This vs. That

Early morning, hot coffee, flipping through a food magazine and I noted some food-porn pictures of glorious edible artwork served at some of the nation’s best restaurants. Really, looked like the kind of stuff that people always say, “it looks too good to eat.” I’d be afraid to eat some of them, afraid in the same way I’d be afraid to to touch a painting in a gallery to check out the texture. These chefs go to great lengths to display perfection, using tweezers and paint brushes, sometimes creating food that doesn’t look real, other times putting something that seems casual and random but is actually choreographed chaos.

And then there was the picture of a roasted maple-miso salmon head (this was in Bon Appetit), adorned only with a few sliced radishes and scallions, a dusting of sesame seeds and a brush stroke of white sauce and a few dots of red (each of those last two might taken a little too much thought, but you get the idea). Bold. How dare a chef put such food on a plate? The outright balls of it! The audacious, mad genius!

Somehow, that picture reminded me of a trip to Paris, 10 years too long ago, when after trying this pretentious restaurant and that, we stumbled on a bistro and after a few glasses of wine, I found myself facing down a bowl filled with incredibly rich and simple lentils topped with a pork shank. Bread on the side. A jar of grainy mustard on the table. More wine. That was it, in all of its enlightened simplicity.

So I’ve been thinking about differences this morning, differences between simplicity and complexity, chaos and order, overrated and underrated, boldness and subtlety. For example, Fred Gwynne was funny and bombastic and over the top in “The Munsters,” but he was controlled, understated and far superior in “The Cotton Club.”

Are flaming Thai Bird Chiles really better than jalapenos, or just hotter? Is truffled lobster mac-and-cheese better than a grilled lobster with lime and butter? Is a short rib/brisket/sirloin burger with foie gras, a fried egg, edible gold leaf, guanciale and wine-braised ramps on a house-made pretzel roll better than a ground chuck burger with American cheese on a potato roll?

“Voodoo Chile” or “Little Wing?” “Born in the USA”or”Nebraska.” Buck Cherry or Jeff Buckley? The Jam or Pearl Jam?

“The Lords of Discipline” or “The Prince of Tides?” “Twilight” or “Dracula?” “The Beach” or “At the Shores?” “The Good and the Ghastly” or “Brave New World?”

Does any of this make sense, yes or no?

My public library is sad

I didn’t know I lived in such a small town until, after 10 years, I finally walked into my local public library and found a depressingly thin and deficient collection. Sure, there are several dozen books of fiction and non-fiction, poetry and reference, but the choices are odd and lacking in nutrition.

The search for something enriching is arduous. Since space is at a premium, I was told, the library can’t store as many titles as one might expect. In other words, I guess, they keep what people want to read, and one look at the collection makes the entire experience that much more depressing.

On my first visit, I found, buried on the bottom shelf, “The Anatomy Lesson” by Phillip Roth. Good book. Not his best, but it’s Roth. Today, I wanted to pick up Richard Ford‘s “Canada,” which seemed simple enough, only to find that the library didn’t stock a single Ford title.

“Well, he has a Pulitzer,” I said to very nice woman at the desk. “Surely, you’d have one of his books.”

“Oh, a Pulitzer.”

Moving on then. Amid the scores of J.D. Robb and Janet Evanovich and James Patterson and Nora Roberts titles, I struggled to find but two Roth books, a couple of Dennis Lehane works, a pair of Cormac McCarthy titles, one whopping Jonathan Franzen book, a single Thomas Pynchon book, one Ernest Hemingway, one lonely William Faulkner and nary a trace of Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald or Chaucer or Dante or even Don DeLillo.

I get it. It’s a small library with precious little space and it can’t have everything. However, what has been chosen for the public (based on what that reading public wants) smacks of a massive shortcut. Get what’s hot on the best sellers list and there you go. No, they can’t house all the classics of the world. No, they can’t eliminate the tripe-y supermarket titles, either, but if this is what the public wants, what does the future hold for the public? On the other hand, if the reading public can’t find what it thinks it wants, maybe it would try something different/new/better.

All of this worries me.

Some of you may be thinking, “Hey, I like J.D. Robb, you pretentious jerk!” More power to you and maybe you’re right. I have no problem with books of any kind and the people who read them. The issue, though, is that this is a public library and it should not cater to the masses as much as it should act more like a museum, a house of worship of books, no matter how small the budget or the building.

A public library that chooses to eliminate what I was told are “the older titles people aren’t really looking for” is doing a disservice to the community. I’m sure this isn’t just happening in my local library, but across the country. You know, if you want junk food, don’t go to a fine dining restaurant and if you want fine dining, don’t go to the drive-thru. Maybe that isn’t the best analogy, but you get the point.

I suppose there is an argument against my position to be made, and it probably goes like this: If public dollars go to supporting a public library, then it should house what the public wants.

I hear that and I understand it but it’s unacceptable. Maybe that’s what scares me the most, that the public wants the sizzle and not the steak.

Wow, that was one terrible yet fitting cliché.

A public library, no matter how big, should aim higher and to try in any way possible to better the world. A library with a limited budget in a small town might want to try to rise above the rest of the other libraries across the country with bigger budgets and more diversified readers.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m in denial. Am I?

Then there’s this other thing…

Okay, some of you have been reading my food blogs, done mostly to exercise my blogging skills as well as just have a little fun. Some of you are in this space for the first time.

As the comedy troupe, Monty Python, once dubbed a film: And now for something completely different…

Sometimes, I write for money (being paid or not is another story). Most of the time, I wear the hat of sportswriter, covering football, both pro and college. However, for the purpose of this particular blog entry, I also write fiction and there are a few things I need to share.

You see, a while ago, my father, Dave, a far more prolific writer than I am, was working on a novel. He had hit a wall, it seems, since I hadn’t heard him talk about it in quite some time.

“So, how’s the book coming?” I asked.

“Eh, I’m kind of stuck.”

I paused, not knowing what was behind the door I was about to open.

“I’ll help,” I said.

A few days later, I was in the middle of an adventure, both on the page and in my life. Of all the writing I had done, I had never touched anything that resembled a geopolitical action-thriller. And yet, there I was at the computer, reading his outline, trying to expel the delusions of literary grandeur from my mind… it was time to grind it out.

The result, finally, is the novel, “Tel Arad.” It’s written by the two of us and the cover features a shared byline. I cannot, nor can he (I imagine) describe the significance of that fact alone. We did it together and now it’s real.  I don’t know how many times my name has appeared in print under a headline, but the co-authorship of this book is worth more than anything.

I don’t know what readers will think of “Tel Arad.” I hope they like it. I hope we do well with it. The real glory, the true value, was found in the work. It cannot be judged or taken away. Someday, the book will be forgotten by others, maybe even ourselves, but the teamwork, the father-son effort it took to make something together will live on forever.

While we toiled, there was a dusty pile of papers under my desk, calling out: “Don’t forget about me.”

And so, I did not forget. When the work on “Tel Arad” was done, and we saw that it was ready for public consumption, I broke out that pile of papers, which in truth was a “dusty” computer file, made some changes, tightened up a few loose ends and sent it out into the ether as an e-book.

“Clean Like Tomorrow” was written too long ago and instead sat marinating in my own fears. I sent it out once to about 10 agencies. The responses ranged from “Well-written… but not for us, thanks,” to the equivalent of a blank stare. I meekly put it away. Don’t ask me about its category because I have no idea where it should fall, though it’s all about a woman, a son, a friend, lives in crises and characters trying to reconnect by changing their lives.

For those of you read one of my earliest posts (hell, there aren’t that many) I am working on something new and different. Hopefully, I will be done writing in a few months, the complete story finally revealed to me and ready for I-don’t-know-what. E-book? A literary agent? The empty spot under my desk?

And now for the advertising portion of this tale: You can find “Tel Arad” on Amazon as POD or Kindle, and “Clean Like Tomorrow” on Amazon Kindle with POD coming soon.