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Tag Archives: Fiction

On Books and Beer

I was sitting there having a beer, doing what I do. I had a book. Actually, I had three books. The only problem is that none of them were the book I was actually supposed to be reading.

Weeks earlier, I had bought six books in preparation for a trip to Arizona for Spring Training. Since then I worked my way through five books — all of which were interesting, compelling, and worth the read. Then I got to the sixth book.

We were in Santa Cruz for a few days of ocean, sunsets, and relaxation. The Queen Midget and I. I had that sixth book and I was gonna get it done.  Imagine Me Gone.  I was trying, but I was struggling. Then on Friday, we did the thing. The one she likes to do. We walked through downtown Santa Cruz, where there are lots of shops. Antiques and clothing stores.  And shoe stores.  Oh my!

We walked through one and afterwards my wife asked me about something she saw in the store. I mentioned that it may look like I’m looking at things in those stores, but, no, I’m actually not. It’s pretty much close to torture for me, this thing.

But at one point we walked by a book store. “You wanna go in?” she asked.  “Sure,” I replied. I knew what would happen. 20 minutes later, I walked out with three books, after finding about 8,763 books I would have liked to buy. When I was ready to check out and found my wife, I showed her books.  “I see,” she said.  “What? You know what happens if I’m gonna go in a book store,” I replied.

Even though I had bought Imagine Me Gone with us on this little side trip to downtown Santa Cruz, I left it in the car because I decided to try to do the walking/shopping thing with her instead of what I normally do. Which is this. “Oh look, a bar. I’ll go have a beer while you walk around.” She’s patient with me and says “okay.”

I had my three books, but we had plenty more walking to do. I went with her. I avoided the bars and restaurants and walked the streets and went into the stores. Until I could no more.

“I’m gonna go over to 99 Bottles now and have a beer.” We were going to meet my nephew there for dinner in a little bit. I thought I could have a beer and then hold a table in case the place got crowded. “Okay,” she replied.

I settled in at the bar. 99 Bottles pretty much describes the place’s approach to beer. It has at least 99 different options in the carbonated alcoholic beverage category.  Probably about 20-30 on tap and the rest in bottles. I ordered something and looked at my bag of three books. I pulled one out and started reading. The Revenant, which Leonardo DiCaprio recently starred in a movie adaptation of.

I read the first chapter. It’s short. And then set the book to the side. I talked a little bit with a guy sitting to my left. And then another guy pulled out the stool to my right. He pulled out a tattered piece of paper with all sorts of numbers and many of them checked off. “Let’s see,” he said to the bartender, “I think I’ll start with 47.”

The paper represented 99 Bottles ultimate challenge — to drink every one of the beers they have to offer. Check the number off each time and achieve fame on the walls of the bar. There are some people who have completed that little challenge more than 50 times. One or two have done it 70 or 80 times. Think about that. Do the math.

Judging from his paper, the guy to my right was about two thirds of the way through it.

We’re sitting there. Me, with The Revenant in front of me. Guy to my left who talked about history and how much he loved it and said something I thought meant he was a history teacher, prompting me to think that I should talk to my un-motivated older son who likes history to see if maybe he had thought about being a history teacher.  But later guy on the left revealed that it was his dad who was a history teacher. Guy on the left was, in fact, a long distance truck driver.

And guy to my right, with his beer-drinking challenge, who suddenly asked me, “How’s the book?”

To which I replied with a chuckle, “I don’t know yet, I just started it. Only finished the first chapter, but I’ll let you know once I read more.” Wink, wink. I then told him what the book was about — a true story about a man in the early 1800s who was attacked by a bear and left for dead by the trappers he had been with and who then crawled out of the wilderness to revenge their treachery. And as I finished this summary, I said, “And the first chapter ends with him beginning to crawl.”

I knew what I had to do when we got back to our room after dinner with the nephew. Go back to Imagine Me Gone. I was committed to the book, having got about halfway through. I read a bit more that night, but it was hopeless.

This is all a long way to explain why I never got to the 6th book in my Spring Training series. The next day, I moved on to The Revenant, because it seemed to promise something far more interesting and compelling. That promise was fulfilled. It’s a stunning story of survival and revenge. I highly recommend it. I won’t say more about it. Just go read the book.

Now, I have to decide whether to go back to Imagine Me Gone.

Truth is, I read another book in the in between. Differently Normal by Tammy Robinson. It’s a short, quick, easy read. She’s a self-published author I discovered through the WordPress blogosphere and my own self-publishing efforts. I love her stories and Differently Normal is no exception. She writes modern day fairy tales of two people finding companionship and love when they weren’t looking for it and weren’t expecting it. And frequently, rather than living happily ever after, Tammy is willing to give the reader an unhappy, bitterly sad ending and I give her great credit for that.

But now … it’s time to decide whether to go back to that other book. Or give up.

I’ll let you know what I decide.

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

In my last post, I revealed that I had ordered six books from Amazon in preparation for my trip to Spring Training.  In that post, I shared Into the North Wind, a memoir about a woman seeking to complete a 1,000 mile mountain bike race across Alaska.  In winter.  It was a good book.

I also promised that I would share with you the other books in that purchase, so it’s time for The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis.

When I started writing fiction, one of the things I wanted to try one day was what I referred to as a post-apocalyptic story.  Not like The Hunger Games or the Divergent series.  Instead, I had this idea of a man and a boy crossing the landscape of a devastated world trying to survive. Then I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and realized my story had been done and there was no way I could improve on it.

I still have ideas for something post-apoclyptic.  In the meantime, I’m intrigued by the ideas other authors have.

The Wolf Road is about Elka, a young woman set adrift in a world devastated by what appears (strongly) to have been a nuclear conflagration between those damn Russians and the powers of the West.  The conflagration occurs years before her birth and she is set adrift by a storm that leaves her homeless and her grandmother dead.  Her parents having left her behind years earlier to seek their fortune up North.  Rumors of gold and riches took them there.

In the end, Elka is raised by a man she calls Trapper.  Who ends having a deep, dark secret that sends her on the run when she is about seventeen or eighteen years old.  Surviving on the talents Trapper taught her to live in the wilderness.

There’s a lot more here.  Layers upon layers.

And a whole lot of human brutality.

I wonder if all of these stories get it right.  So many post-apocalyptic stories seem to assume that the result of “the end of the world” is brutality, degradation, depravity — the worst human nature has to offer.  It’s all there in The Wolf Road, just as it is in many other novels like this. What if, instead, at the end of the world, humans realized that all of the violence and hate and need to diminish and dehumanize others was what led to the end of the world and that love and tolerance and community was a better option.

Just a thought.  Back to The Wolf Road.

It’s an interesting twist on the genre.  If you like this genre, I recommend it.  If you have delicate sensibilities, I don’t recommend it.

That’s all I’ve got.

 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A friend recommended this book to me a couple of weeks ago.  She hesitated to do so because the content was … well, a little bit tough.  I immediately went to Amazon and ordered the book.  I crave intense subject matter in my books and movies.  She told me she cried during reading the book.  I told her I needed to feel that emotion reading a book again.  It’s been too long.  I looked forward to reading A Little Life.

From the book cover:

A Little Life follows four college classmates — broke, adrift, and buoyed with their friendship and ambition — as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. While their relationships, which are tinged by addiction, success, and pride, deepen over the decades, the men are held together by their devotion to the brilliant, enigmatic Jude, a man scarred by an unspeakable childhood trauma.  A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara’s stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves.

The book came.  I dove in.  It’s a big one at over 800 pages.  This is no small commitment, one made the harder by the fact that the first 120 pages are a complete mess.  At least that’s how I felt.  Absent my friend’s recommendation and the promise of intensity and human horror, I may have given up.  But it was close.  And somewhere between page 120 and page 150, the story started to click.  The narrative got a little cleaner, a little more straight forward, and it pulled me along.  It is one of those books that I needed to finish, that I couldn’t stop thinking about in the moments and hours when I wasn’t reading it.

This is not a story for the faint of heart.  As I wrote that last sentence, I thought of The Road by Cormac McCarthy.  The stories are completely different.  But they also are similar in the unstinting honesty in which they deal with absolutely brutal events.  The Road, with its simple, spare depiction of the fundamental horror of trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic word.  A Little Life, with an epic portrayal, that feels almost never-ending, of the horrors humans can inflict on others and the scars that sear themselves into the souls of the victims.

I cried at one point in the story.  Not when my friend did towards the end.  But early on, in a moment of unbridled happiness for Jude.

If you’re looking for something to read and do not have issues with searing, brutal depictions of what people do in abusive relationships (and I don’t want to share more because, well, you know, you have to discover the details by reading the book), I recommend A Little Life.  It’s a pretty stunning work.  I have this feeling Jude and the story of him and his friends will stay with me a long time and that I’ll come back and read this book every now and then.

Naked Alliances by S.K. Nicholls

First an acknowledgement … I was a beta reader for this book.  At least once, probably twice.  I have been a big behind the scenes supporter of Susan’s efforts.  So, take my review with a grain of salt if you must, but know that I have read the manuscripts for a couple dozen self-published books over the last couple of years and you haven’t seen a review of many of those books here on my blog.

Naked Alliances is the first of what Susan promises to be a series of Florida crime fiction novels.  We’re introduced to private investigator Richard Noggin and Brandi, a particularly unique character you may find only in Florida (okay, maybe in some places in California and New York City, too).  Noggin is asked to solve a cold-case murder.  His investigation and a twist brought into his life by Brandi thrust him into a different side of Orlando — nudist resorts, swingers clubs, sex slave rings, and murder.  It’s a tale with suspense and intrigue and characters you’ll look forward to reading more about in future entries in the series.

Because I’ve helped Susan along the way with Naked Alliances, I know that she is one self-published author who cares about the craft and quality of her published work.  She hasn’t taken this lightly and rushed something out before it was in great shape.  Her dedication shows.  Naked Alliances and the stories that will follow should take their place alongside the rest of Florida’s crime fiction genre.

I recommend Naked Alliances to you.  Give it a try, support an author who cares her readers and the quality of her work.

Buy it here.

Check out S.K. Nicholls’ website here.

A Conversation With Kevin Brennan, Part Three

Part One.

Part Two.

MP. In your last comment, you mention that you like to think of your books as deceptively simple.  You also clearly like “journey” stories.  Somewhere I have read that there are only a handful of story plots that drive just about every story ever written.  One of those story types is “journey.”  It can be a physical journey, a mental journey, a journey to find the truth.  There are all sorts of journeys that can form the structure of a story.

Thinking about Fascination, I realized that all of your novels stem from the journey concept.  And in Fascination, it seems you have doubled down, or tripled down, on the format.  All of the main characters are on journeys of different types, and even many of the minor characters are on journeys of their own.  The question is whether this was intentional or whether it just happened.  The second question is whether you ever found yourself tempted to go away from the “deceptively simple” structure of the story.  There are so many places in Fascination where you could have started to wallow in a scene or a concept.  Do you ever want to stay there for a bit and wallow?

KB. I guess when you think about it, most stories are at least partly built on a journey of one kind or another. Sometimes metaphorical, but often literal. That’s because life is that way. When we meet someone, we’re on our journey and they’re on theirs, and we travel along together for a while until our paths head off in different directions.

There’s also the practical fact that, in fiction, the journey is a terrific plot engine. Things have to happen as a matter of course.

I’m not sure all my books are journey tales. Occasional Soulmates not so much. Town Father only partly. Yesterday Road is for sure, but it’s both a physical journey and one through time. My next book is definitely not a journey, though one of the characters fantasizes about one — to get the hell away from her family. (More on that in the coming months …)

On the question of “staying and wallowing,” I’m usually concerned with keeping up a lively pace, so when I do linger a little bit I want to make sure it serves the story well.

Do you have an example of “staying and wallowing” in other books? I don’t think you just mean a digression from the plot. More like longer internal monologues or poignant flashbacks?

MP. A lot of what you say here makes sense.  Every story is, in the end, a journey.  But what intrigues me about Fascination is just how many journeys there are in this one novel.  One could argue that Mason Speck’s piece in this really isn’t a journey, but to me it is.  It’s a journey to the life he believes he wants for himself.

Fascination is essentially a physical journey that wraps itself around a whole lot of internal journeys.

When I referred to “staying and wallowing,” what I meant was that there are so many places in which you could have stopped and spend so much energy and detail to explore more in depth one of Sally’s stops along the way.  In New Mexico, for instance.  There’s detail there for sure, but so many writers would have, could have written an entire novel based on just one of Sally’s stops along the way.  That’s what I refer to as “staying and wallowing.”  What you seem to have mastered is the ability to bring the reader to a place, raise the questions that place or plot turn brings out, and then moving on to the next, without wasting time or words.  It’s one of the things I really appreciate about Fascination.  You let the reader decide where they want to wallow rather than forcing it on them.

I don’t necessarily have examples of “staying and wallowing” from other published works.  But I will say that it is one of the reasons I’m struggling with my own writing.  As I write more, my stories become more complex and I find myself getting far too much into the details.  I’d like to avoid the wallowing.  😉

Let’s move to guerrilla publishing.  As far as I know, your first novel was published the traditional way.  By William Morrow, which is no small thing.  But then it seems you left the world of traditional publishing behind and have self-published since then.  Is this remotely accurate?  Before I get to your guerrilla publishing stage, is there any story there about why you went from the traditional approach to self-publishing?

KB. I see Fascination that way too — a baker’s dozen journeys. Even Matt Damon is on a journey of sorts.

And you’re right about how any of Sally and Clive’s stops along the way could have become its own novel, but I saw this as kind of like “The Game of Life,” that old board game, where you don’t stay in one place very long. Pretty soon you have to spin again.

As for your question about traditional publishing, I’m the first to admit that any writer — or better yet, every writer — would prefer to land a contract with one of the Big Five. The truth is, I was unable to persuade them to take a chance on a second novel. I think I had three different agents after Parts Unknown, and none of them was able to make the sale. So, because I wanted to get my work out into the world, I decided to go indie, and the rest — say it with me — is history. Or my story, anyway.

Bottom line? Them’s the breaks, I guess. At least I can publish my books on my own terms now, on my schedule. And I’ve enjoyed it too.

MP. Well, if it’s like the game of Life, where are all of the kids?  Oh wait, scratch that.

I wonder if we writers are making a mistake in our belief in the holy grail of a publishing contract.  It’s kind of what motivated me to self-publish initially and why I still aim towards that with my future efforts.  There is something about traditional publishing that seems to be just a one-in-a-zillion crap shoot.  Unfortunately, self-publshing has become the same thing.  There are so many of us writers now publishing their own works, it seems impossible to make the noise that will create the attention to really attract an audience.  It’s particularly difficult when you try to occupy some space on the literary fiction shelf as you and I do.  It seems to be a forgotten genre in the world of indie publishing.

So, you indie published in the traditional way for a few books and now you’ve launched this book via what you have termed guerrilla publishing.  I know you’ve blogged about this on your own site, but for anybody visiting my site who doesn’t know about you, can you explain what guerrilla publishing is and why you decided to try it?

KB. I do think the nature of traditional publishing has changed over the last ten to fifteen years. As a bastion of literary fiction, it was geared toward building writers’ careers, so there was no expectation that a debut novelist had to sell a lot of copies. As my own agent told me, publishers didn’t expect writers to have much of a following till their fourth or fifth novel. It’s different now. If you don’t hit that home run on your first at bat, it’s back to the minors for you.

So that’s why indie was attractive, but you’re totally right on two counts: that the field is unbelievably crowded now and that there’s not very much literary fiction in the indie world. What there is seems really hard to find, except by word of mouth.

And that’s why I landed on #guerrillapublishing (I use the hashtag in case it catches on over at Twitter …) as an alternative. To my mind, #guerrillapublishing is simply a way of getting books out into the world without relying on anyone but ourselves as writers. No corporate platforms, no cover designers (unless you want to use one), no ebook formatters. And, like the old Soviet samizdat, where people passed around typed copies of banned books, this work is completely dependent on the efforts of readers to spread the word. If they like it, they tell someone else about it.

But another interesting slant here is that readers buy the book directly from me, via PayPal. I sign and inscribe each copy to the buyer (electronically, anyway), and deliver the book myself. It’s hands on. Plus, if you have any trouble getting the book onto your e-reader, I’ll walk you through it because I want you to read this book.

Who knows, this might be my only #guerrillapublishing attempt, but Fascination felt like the right kind of project to experiment with.

MP. Your description of the why of #guerrillapublishing is exactly why I came up with the idea for myself a couple of years ago.  After my second indie-published novel, which was much more literary than the first, completely and totally failed to attract any readers beyond people who knew me or followed my blog, I despaired.  And then there is the fact that the reading public basically expects that indie authors will charge a minimal amount for their book — or nothing at all.  And I despaired again.  A potential solution to all of that despair is what you have done with #guerrillapublishing.  Sell directly.  Cut out the middlemen, Amazon, the publishers, the agents.  Charge what you can, or invite the reader to pay what they believe your work is worth, and keep it for yourself, instead of the fraction you get through all of the other avenues.

There has got to be a better way for this to work for both the reader and the writer.  I hope your experiment opens some doors.

So, let me end our conversation here.  Not that the conversation you and I have about writing and publishing will end, but this small chapter of it needs to close.  One final question for you … is there anything else you want readers to know about Fascination and #guerrillapublishing?  Here’s your chance.

KB. I would add to everything we’ve already talked about that I hope readers out there — and maybe writers too — can become more open-minded about what books can be and where they can be found. With all of the tools available to us now, writers don’t have to limit themselves to traditional publishing or to the Amazon model — not if those don’t suit their needs or their material. We can publish on our blogs, via Tweets, on thumb drives — the possibilities are many, and many of them might just be better for the author than the current models.

As I say about Fascination, you don’t know till you try.

 

 

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