Monthly Archives: March 2013

Stories That Bind Us

In the March 17th edition of “Sunday Styles” in the NY Times an interesting article entitled The Stories That Bind Us. The subtitle states “Children who know their family’s history are better at facing challenges,” and most reputable psychologists agree. So, how much do your kids know about their family’s history? Here’s an example of the kinds of questions you can ask your kids to measure their family history quotient: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know of an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth? Psychologists believe that every family has its “unifying narrative,” and there are three basic stories: The Ascending Family Narrative, the Descending Family Narrative, and the Oscillating Family Narrative. Which one is best, in terms of nurturing your child’s sense of family? Read the article and see! I found this information especially relevant to me, because I come from what I consider a dysfunctional family.

Book Tour, Day Two: Roseburg

Thank you, Hannah, the manager at V. W. Books in the Roseburg Valley Mall, for hosting this signing event. You are wonderful, and the coffee was much-needed! It was my first experience sitting at a signing table waiting for random folks to stop in, chat and maybe buy a book. It was fun, especially when Roy, an old high school buddy, dropped in for a visit, along with his wife, Janet, and mother-in-law, Dorothy.

A big lesson I learned from this, my first tour, is don’t trust the media to get things right. Not only did the Douglas County News fail to publish my profile, but also the News Review paper didn’t get the date correct for the V.W. Books signing on their community events page. From now on when I contact media sources to publicize a signing, I’ll follow the old adage Trust But Verify.

Quote of the Day: “Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.” Sholem Asch

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Book Tour, Day One: Sutherlin

My first “World Book Tour” (Remember, the world is shrinking all the time) is history now. On Tuesday at Books Gallery in Sutherlin, many of my old friends were there, and we had what I hope was a fun time for all, reminiscing and talking literature. I consider it a grand success, but I have much to learn–like remembering to take photos! Sorry, but I got so caught up yakking I totally forgot to take your gorgeous pics–Jan, Bev, Carolyn, Jeff, Dan, Ann, Mona, Shirley, John and George. You guys were great, and I really enjoyed your questions and comments. And let’s hear it for Cheryl at Books Gallery, who provided such an ideal place for us. There we were, surrounded by thousands of books, gathered around a large table talking plot, character, theme and such. How could it get any better? (Okay, maybe with a splash or two of wine.) And another thing I learned: The M-16 fires a 5.56 caliber round, not a 7.62 caliber as I’d mistakenly wrote in my short story “Guard Duty.” Thank you for that bit of military wisdom, Jeff. Leave it to a former Marine to correct a former Army guy! I am eagerly looking forward to August, when we’ll meet again around pizza and beer and yak about the good ol’ days. Oh, yeah, after the mini reunion, Carolyn and George have said they’ll host another reading at their home. Thanks, Carolyn and George!

Quote of the Day: “The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” Anaïs Nin

The Woods and Eddy

Deb, Tucker and I took a walk today along the Banks-Vernonia trail, starting in Buxton, heading up the trail about 2 1/2 miles, enjoying a backpack lunch, and then returning along the same path to the trail head. Delightful walk! Couldn’t help but think about how I grew up in a small valley literally surrounded by the woods. Used to hike all over those hills, heavily wooded with oak, madrone, fir, spruce and the occasional pine. A place to let a boy’s imagination run where it would. Eddy Trout, too, grew up in such a wooded place but, alas, his recent adventures (in Trout Run) take him to the Big City, where he’s a bit of a fish out of water. Eddy’s got troubles that run to his deepest roots. Will the woods he loves help him find solutions?

Quote of the Day: “If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Toni Morrison

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Plant Shit

In TK, a garden figures quite prominently in the closing chapters. Can you dig it? Of course, gardens are rife with rich metaphorical possibilities, among them the paradox of death and …. Ok, enough with the literary lecture. Besides, in the last part of the novel Eddy’s thoughts do not dwell on paradox as much as they do upon shovels. I’ve come across another TED talk (Thank you, Debra) by a guy in South Central LA, a drug-infested, gansta-ridden, fast-food hood. He wants to resurrect the many abandoned public places with grow-your-own gardens and, hopefully, inspire people to eat real food, not Big Macs and other toxins. “Plant shit,” he says [the shit is metaphorical, of course], and then eat the good food you grow. Hmmm … Perhaps I see possibilities here for the third part of my trilogy, Trout Love, something about what Eddy has “planted” in the garden, and how it [he?] leads to his possible resurrection, and then …. Eddy, what does your garden grow?

Quote of the Day: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” John Locke

Trust Your Prose

One of my favorite pastimes is to read the “New York Times Book Review” to glean tips from reviewers about “good writing.” In the June 10, 2012, “Review” is an excellent piece by Andre Dubus III, in high praise of Richard Ford’s novel “Canada”–which I’ve now GOT TO READ. (And maybe I’ll include it in my Book Recommendations.) And now to the point of this post: Dubus says, “… as is so often the case with the fiction of Richard Ford, what actually happens in the story feels secondary, or at best equal, to the language itself. In the hands of a lesser writer, this can create problems: the prose begins to feel self-indulgent, written not to illuminate any truths but to please the writer, and in the process, story itself is lost and the reader is left behind.” In the case of my writing, I translate Dubus’ point as follows: Paul, keep yourself out of the prose (no showing off those way-cool metaphors); trust your prose (KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid) to plainly reveal the characters and the story. For me, trusting in my prose is the hard part, and I need to constantly remind myself to have faith in my style, but the very positive and supportive feedback I’m getting from readers is helping me do just that.

Dang It! @ Double Dang It!!

I file this under: The continuing trials and tribulations of a rookie author …
I’m visiting my hometown (Sutherlin, Oregon) next week to sign books, and a local paper, the Douglas County News, was going to publish my author profile/photo today but, alas, due to “technical difficulties” (according to a spokesperson at the paper), the profile did not get published. This qualifies as a “Dang It!” Nevertheless, I’d like to thank Trish Dias, a reporter for the DCN, for her hard work on the article. If you’d like to see the article, I’ve posted it on my About Page. (You’ll have to scroll down to find it.) You’re looking at the photo that didn’t get published, either. Double Dang IT!!Image

My “Dark” Story: Blame Shakespeare

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(Shakespeare’s Statue, Central Park, NYC)

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from folks who’ve read Trout Kill (see Amazon reviews), and one frequent word I hear from them is the story is “dark.” I think readers mean that Eddy’s outlook on life is relatively bleak, his situation is precarious, he’s haunted by the past, and he’s not too adept at extricating himself from problems that he himself creates. Granted. Is my own outlook on life so bleak? No. Actually, I’m an optimist, at heart. However, I am personally attracted to “dark” stories because, in part, I taught them in high school for many years, and they generally deal with “serious” themes … and I’m a “serious” guy (Seriously!). At Canby High, I taught the classic Shakespearean tragedies: Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar and Hamlet. I enjoyed everyone of them. (To hell with my students: It’s all about me!) So, I guess Shakespeare rubbed off on me, and he’s partly to blame for Eddy Trout’s dismal “darkness.”

TED Talk: The Art of Asking

I’ve got this hang-up: I don’t like asking people things. Whenever I do ask for something–for a neighbor to help me move a couch, for folks to attend my readings–I often am sabotaged by nagging voices planting seeds of doubt: Why should anyone listen to you? What makes YOU so special?” Maybe this self-doubt comes from my childhood, during which my parents did very little to boost my confidence and subscribed to the old adage that children should be seen and not heard. I refer to this psychological phenomena as a “hang-up” because it often prevents me from engaging with people, which I usually enjoy very much. Perhaps I trust others more than myself. When it comes to asking, I need to get more confident. So, let me practice on you, my readers. I’m asking you to view this video on asking.

Quote of the Day: When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing. Enrique Jardiel Poncela

My Dirty Mind and the “P”-Word

Quote of the Day: “I always start writing with a clean piece of paper and a dirty mind.”
—Patrick Dennis

The “dirt” in my mind is mostly doubt and uncertainty, along with a dash or two of chaos, sprinkled liberally with muddlement. When I write anything it rarely remains as is. More often than not, it’s modified, reduced in size, tone or posture. It morphs. It’s often deleted. It it looks suspiciously like “good” writing, I throw the damned thing out and, hopefully, replace it with something truer to the story. All this processing and reprocessing is, of course, anguishing, but it’s far better than the alternative: procrastination. I’d much rather spend a day honing crap than not writing crap. However, now that I’ve broached the dreaded “P”-word, here’s a handy list of 101 excuses to put off writing … not that I’d ever stoop to using them.