Put together a quick listing of song titles I think work with each chapter of my book. Saw a few other writers I admire do this and so I thought I would try. More and more I like the idea of a movie-style book soundtrack. And I am finding this a fascinating exercise. Many of these titles are songs I listened to while drafting and revising and many I found recently as many of the characters and chapters refer to films and or songs in dialogue.
Ch 1 Animales has a very strong Los Lobos influence because I admire them so much. This is a bluegrass tribute I find beautiful:
Ch 2 Relles’ Boy and Ch 3 Little Mocos were both heavily influenced by Good Morning Azlan. I listened to this album nearly consistently for weeks as I drafted and re-drafted these early chapters.
Ch 4 Cornbread is all about the notorious criminal though I chose a upbeat track–maybe because I have so much sympathy or empathy with his character. Also the narrator has so much joy and love in learning about the man. Also the track is very quick and the chapter was meant to be this way–quick and elliptical–bopping from sad and funny story to sad and funny story.
Ch 5 Birthdays introduces the old folks or the grandparent characters back in their day–someone mentions Wheel of Fortune at the birthday–las dias–and the band I imagine would play this during the festivities. Also the family at the party sing together as I remember the old folks doing and I imagine them singing “de colores”:
Ch 6 Bear and Peaches is about a husband and wife feuding so the Hank Williams track is something the old folks might’ve listened to on the radio. I was actually amazed how popular Hank Williams was with the old folks:
Ch 8 Dogtrack is about the uncle who is a bad influence on his crew of boys and so I like that Emeterio might be listening to Al Hurricane on the truckito radio traveling out to the dog track:
Ch 7 and and Ch 9 are war stories essentially and the boys ask if the experience were similar to The Longest Day. This is a film I remember watching as a kid and thinking this was what military service was though the stories in the book contrast the film.
Ch 10 belongs to the crew of boys and so the child version of Las Mananitas seemed appropriate:
Ch 11 follows Emeterio’s downfall and he mentions drinking and partying as the fruits of his labor:
Ch 12 This feud between brothers ends with Emeterio going to jail and the other Santiago left alone to deal with family and bills. It also ends with a street fight and so this War track seemed appropriate.
Spring Break and we found ourselves in St. Louis for a quick day trip. We stopped off at Comet Coffee Company St. Louis. D had a cappuccino and I had a pour over. I’m new to pour overs but the coffee was very sweet tasting and light. Specifically the menu reads: Francy Torres, Colombia, chocolate, marzipan, fruit punch, roasted by Kuma Coffee, Seattle, WA.
The website says the place specializes in hand-brewed and single origin. Also they brought the drinks out to the table instead of calling our names. A nice break from Starbucks crowd. Soon we will back to tumblers of french press coffee and Keurig nightmare creations.
D and I escaped from the election and Trump fallout and enjoyed the Hoagland Center for the Arts’ presentation of A Raisin in the Sun. I’ve always enjoyed Lorraine Hansberry‘s family drama and the production had some strong performances. I found the play to be a very timely message on standing up and facing injustice as well as personal failings.
Highway driving this summer and enjoying the fairly new Code Switch podcast. I also enjoy the written articles posted on NPR Code Switch site. Primarily enjoying the article on digital divides between Latino and Anglos.
Just a quick note at the end of a long year. I guess it is important to remind myself about some writing news as well as teaching thoughts. The last few weeks have given me some good news. My story “Little Mocos” has appeared in Duende Literary Magazine. I am very grateful and thankful to the editors for working with me on revising the piece.
I was also excited to hear my stories “Farmhouse in the Lanes” and “Penance” appeared in translation in Word Mosaic Journal of Literature and Art. Turns out penance in German is buße.
I’ve also begun reworking the Monte Stories manuscript, and though revision goes a bit slow, I’m happy to find the stories heading in a sci-fi direction. Perhaps this break from teaching will give me some time to re-read some Kurt Vonnegut, a writer I return to again and again in some of my note-taking. Excited to see the writing style developing.
I’ve also heard word this last week on new computers at work–26 Chromebooks to change the way I teach comp, lit and creative writing. Should make for an interesting year in developing my teaching skills as well as writing.
Summer is for reading. And I have quite a few books stacked next to my bed. I used to worry about having too many books hanging around and felt bad if I couldn’t finish them all. I’ve since changed that thought. The more books the better.
Here are a few of the books I am working through:
Starting listening to this book on tape at the gym after watching the film trailer on Youtube. I like Ridley Scott and love science fiction. The book reads almost like science writing or nonfiction. Reminds me of Arthur C Clark’s 2001 series. Each section/chapter is a new problem for the protagonist to science his way out of. Also the story of Weir self-publishing the book and then becoming published by a major press is almost as interesting as the book.
This one is by Charles L. Adams who taught a course for years on the work of Frank Waters. I loved seeing very early short stories and passages from Waters’ more obscure books. Waters is a writer I’ve admired for years because his work is primarily set in New Mexico and Colorado and I admire the themes of the individual struggling for harmony within surroundings. PS: Found it at Myopic Books in Chicago.
Chameleo is the second book I’ve read from Robert Guffey. I read his book on conspiracy theory as art and found the work to be fascinating. I like conspiracies. This one feels Phillip K. Dick inspired. PS: Ordered this one from Guffey’s Cryptoscatology blog.
The year before last I read quite a few of Luis Alberto Urrea’s nonfiction and last year I finished the the Saint of Cabora and then the Queen of America. This summer I am enjoying Urrea’s border world similar to those of his historical fiction and his creative nonfiction. Also found this one at Myopic books.
I’ve been anticipating this graphic novel sequel to the popular novel. The artwork by Cameron Stewart is gritty and beautiful and the writing actually has surprised me. Set seven years following events of Fight Club Tyler Durden is very much alive and continues to create chaos. Actually he’s more of a villain than the alter-ego. I was also surprised to find Palahniuk himself within the pages of the first issue. And I am enjoying the book though I’ve read a few negative reviews–here for example. Found this one at Escape Velocity Comic Books in Colorado Springs.
I have had so many conversations with students about how great old school mechanical typewriters are for the feel and cadence in the act of writing. Yet we love the ease of the word processor. In fact once I had a dream I plugged an old typewriter into my MacBook Pro.
I rarely post writerly gear on this blog but when I saw the Qwerkywriter prototype on Kickstarter I couldn’t resist.
The first time I heard Thug Notes I found it very funny and engaging. I played it for my Lit 111 students. We liked the break down in a less elite language. And I love to see books and ideas from books featured in so called new media. I wonder though if this quick summary of books perhaps might be what Bradbury was warning us about? Will quick summaries like this or another quick summary like SparkNotes take the place of reading?
Now I’m thinking I’d rather see videos like this on from The Pen Pixie:
Rereading Borges’ The Garden of Forking Paths this morning. And the idea of a chaotic novel or a novel with confounding paths of time consoles me as I’ve been thinking Semi-Orphaned is a mess of vignettes and scene/organization that spirals. Hopeful that I have found a plan for the chaos.
“No one realized that the book and the labyrinth were one and the same.”
Sat down today–all day today–working towards an August 15 contest deadline for my Semi-Orphaned manuscript. Here is a quick excerpt:
Neto was over on the bed shirtless and crudo, shaking his head at the reality of missing his father’s funeral service, when he raised both arms to smell his pits. He started digging in his jeans for a comb and pushed at his dark hair.
This was all in 1983, before the winter ended. I remember Neto often visited from New Mexico to the Abuelito’s home on Spruce Street in Huerfano, Colorado and slept off his drunks.
“There’s a lot of folks upstairs waiting on you, I said.
When he saw it was only me, he kicked off his sneakers and dropped his soiled pants and bent over in the posture of a small child. His nicotine stained fingers shoveled down the plate of rice and beans I had for him. He coughed and spat to the basement’s concrete floor.
“You the only Ortiz worth a damn left alive in this neighborhood,” he complained.
His clothes were in two great big garbage bags and he stood still a minute as I dragged his only collared shirt out from under his stash of nudie magazines and fungus-looking weed.
I put his clothes down deep in the washing machine and asked out loud if he was my father.
“Listen to what I say, Manito. I can tell you this. Born into this world alone and die alone,” Neto went on half-drunkenly. “Family will leave you. Women will leave you. All you have is your own damned self.”
Lately I’ve been obsessed with Stanley Kubrick films. I mention The Shining in class quite often to my students and how it represents an incredible example of psychological dread built into a narrative. A slow and constant ratcheting of tension. (I find myself mentioning films in general quite a bit in creative writing regarding matters of narratology.) And some of my students hate the differences in the film from the Stephen King novel. They say the film is long, slow and boring. Yet like Rob Ager on his website or in his YouTube film analyses I have to agree that the film is superior and generates a “subliminal onslaught” creating such a tension and tone of fear that goes beyond the novel.
And I do think the film scarier than attacking hedges as in the novel and jump scares built into nearly every popular horror film lately. Especially the Paranormal Activity films. The craft and the mysteries at the center of Kubrick’s film though drive my multiple viewings.
I also like that the story is about a writer trying to get ideas down and ultimately unravelling.
A few summers back I sat in Mary Gaitskill’s workshop while she lectured on this feeling or mood that comes from an irrational level through a text—the feeling or the tone. She stated this was beyond literal interpretation; it was the soul of the book. In the story it is what cannot be manifested in life. It’s all created by phrase and tone. She kept referring to it as the soul or the unseen. The idea is to use something not important to take yourself and reader somewhere very deep. Language creating images and the subliminal to radically enhance what we interpret. At her fiction reading one night she read from her story “The Other Place” and demonstrated how every detail of the writing and language can help to slowly build that sense of dread. That story is about a father and son and we never are literally told what “the other place” means for the narrator as character but we sense and we infer. I remember her completely committed to the character’s voice and mannerisms. The voice and language created the soul or guts of the writing.
Kubrick utilizes subtle symbols and images to build meaning in a similar way. The music is intimidating and the pacing slow and steady. Important scenes are cryptic and become ambiguous and meaning is never directly stated as in the events of Room 237. The room becomes a central component of the events of the story. The room exists as the unsayable. The secret room existing at the center of the film and crucial to the answer behind Jack Torrance’s madness and kept hidden from his family–perhaps repressed by his family. The suggestion of child abuse and effects of alcoholism never directly shown but alluded to and left to seep through the plotline and symbology.
Reminds me of Donald Hall’s essay The Unsayable Said and his metaphor of the secret room existing at the center of each poem that the artist is trying to create. The literal and subliminal brought impossibly together he writes. Hall explains, “the poetry adds the secret (unsayable) room of feeling and tone to the sayable story.”
To further my study of the film I’m eagerly awaiting the documentary Room 237 directed by Rodney Ascher. The trailer states that the documentary is filled with interviews of thinkers and writers discussing Kubrick’s hidden meanings. Everything from moon landing conspiracies to pedophilia I imagine. (Jay Weidner’s interpretations which I’ve read before I imagine might be the oddest.) I’m interested in hearing the many other differing interpretations and evidence as to what has made this film so debated nearly thirty years later.
Some nights when I’m supposed to be working on my big fat failed novel. When I am supposed to be sleeping. Or grading. I can’t and so I sit and listen to books on tape. A few months back it was Jesus’ Son. Something about Will Patton’s voice that grabbed me. This time out I have been obsessing over Ethan Hawke reading Slaughterhouse Five.
Maybe it has something to do with my hesitation to dig in to some memories. And then dig in to the revisions. Maybe, like Vonnegut’s characters–coming to me via Hawke’s whispering performance–I’m up at night obsessing over the memories and the dilemma of how to organize my stories. How to give them structure. How to do them justice. How to deal with people who are dead and gone. How to try and recreate their errors in the writing. To try and re-imagine them and understand.
It makes me think of Alberto Giacometti’s surrealist sculpture “the Palace at 4am” and how it influenced or inspired William Maxwell to return to his memoir or writing. How it represents that dread in the middle of the night that comes to people.
I tell my students to find those stories that are so difficult for you that you stay up late thinking and rethinking their importance. The stories that give you Phillip Glass–The Hours soundtrack–kind–of–dread in the middle of the night when decent folks are sleeping. When even my dog is snoring. Perhaps I should tell my students what you do when you find the ghosts from those stories and how to keep them at arm’s length so you can just get some rest.
The sad situation reminds me of Amy Hempel’s first assignment in her workshop. To paraphrase: find the story that reveals deep secrets that reveals and breaks down your innermost sense of self. I guess I’m stuck on the “breaks down” part now that I am hundreds of pages in to my manuscript and the characters based on dead folks from my youth.