Such an odd and strange little book from O’Brien. What I liked: Definitely not a book you can easily categorize. The plot was meandering–more so than At Swim Two Birds–and completely unpredictable. A place wholly away from reality was the setting, and late in the novel we learn the “place” of the novel was a type of hell. Again, a novel reminding me of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks–an exploration of a created place parallel to reality trapping guilty souls. As multi-dimensional as a book can become–an exploration of time, place and dimension. I very much like the spirit behind the line, “A journey is an hallucination.”
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.
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.
In the article “10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing” from The Huffington Post, Bill Cotter discusses his “dark feelings” regarding what he labels as “the commission of the act of writing.” He lists quotes from famous authors revealing their angst on the very act of writing and he also discusses the problem of his own inarticulateness. And I must agree when Cotter jokes he would rather go to the emergency room rather than have a writing commitment.
And the more I teach the more I empathize with my first year students and concerns over writing and composing essays. I often say their concerns as writers are very similar to my own. Even in creative writing, my chosen field of study, I feel students have a point when they complain over drafting basic components of a short story assignment. I am just as susceptible to internet distractions and slothful tendencies. And I often dread approaching the work of revision.
Currently, I have a novel I’ve been wrestling with. I also have a novel I’ve been chipping away at for years. And perhaps the more you know about writing the more you are jammed up. The more I teach and learn the more I am self-critical and also I over-think the simplest of revision exercises. And maybe I am just reaching the age of worry over my talent if I have any and the limitations of talent. Perhaps subconsciously I worry about not fully developing as a writer. More and more I have broad stories with broad notes–more free writing really. And I struggle just to get my broadest thoughts down on the page regarding scenes or characters. Sometimes I just type where I want a character to go or what I want them to do and I have no way to get them there. I often say that writers suffer more from inarticulateness than most others. Lately I’ve been joking I would rather work with dogs or own a bed and breakfast than sit and work. I’d rather sit and watch MST3K.
This all reminds me of a George Orwell quote:
“All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”–George Orwell
Perhaps the difficulty of writing–the illness in composing and revising–is what makes it great. PS: It took me hours to write this.
Lately for many reasons I feel I’ve been living inside of a Philip K. Dick novel, so I’ve been rereading a couple of my favorite–Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said and A Scanner Darkly.
What does a scanner see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does it see into me, into us? Clearly or darkly? I hope it sees clearly, because I can’t any longer see into myself. I see only murk. I hope for everyone’s sake the scanners do better. Because if the scanner sees only darkly, the way I do, then I’m cursed and cursed again. I’ll only wind up dead this way, knowing very little, and getting that little fragment wrong too.
And Richard Linklater’s film adaptation visualizes Dick’s themes of shifting realities–internal and external–and also shifting identities so perfectly in its animation. It’s funny how today we are reading post-modern novels with shifting narration, and Dick’s work was seen as genre and a lesser form of novel writing back in the sixties and seventies. I’m looking forward to tracking down his so-called “straight” novels.
Great documentary now available for streaming on Netflix. I’d been waiting to watch this one for a while. I was glad to see some insight into the reclusive artist Bill Watterson. Calvin and Hobbes has always been one of my favorite strips and I remember the last strip to this day. In fact, I found the description of Watterson and his thoughts on merchandising to be very Salinger-esque. And I’ve always thought of Salinger in relation to Watterson and his themes of youth and familial relationships. I also liked the discussion of high art and commercial or comic art.
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:
A few years back I made a joke to D about teaching and writing. I told her I was deciding to be a bad teacher and to focus on my writing. I told her I would be selfish. I would put my class work on cruise control. This was difficult to do because I feel such a responsibility to my students and I spend so much time note taking and creating lessons and lectures. It didn’t help that Sergio Troncoso inspired me with the care and attention to his students I witnessed in his workshop. Resolution: This year I will try to devote more time to the work. I always say my teaching is investigating story and writing, but I recognize I need to work harder on revising manuscripts rather than generating new material. Update: currently the Semi-Orphaned novel in stories manuscript is away at the editor and I am anticipating a mass of notes for revision. Actually I’m waiting for Jennifer C. Cornell to kick my ass. She was incredibly helpful with what became The House of Order manuscript. I’m slowly and surely starting to understand the importance of an experienced and assertive editor. And her notes are the most rigorous and detailed I’ve seen from an editor. Invaluable for the work. I’d also like to complete the Monte Stories manuscript later on this year. That is another manuscript–possibly another novel in stories–I know needs much work and development. This should be an interesting year of struggling for balance.
Big Sur may be my least favorite Jack Kerouac novel. While On the Road and The Subterraneans captured youth and restlessness, Big Sur relates the aged, alcoholic Kerouac. And perhaps that is why I don’t enjoy the book. Kerouac’s persona is one of such a broken down writer unable to cope with fame and personal relationships. Kerouac’s obsession with death and the chaos of meeting up with Neal Cassady once again drive the energy of the book.
Michael Polish’s new adaptation is an independent film and therefore nowhere near my Midwest town and so I had to stream from Amazon to my television. Perhaps this is the future of watching smaller budgeted films. The film is so well shot though and gives so many beautiful views of the locale in recreating Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s cabin near the beach where Kerouac would’ve stayed. The photography is so gorgeous I regret not being able to watch on the big screen.
I most admired the director’s decision to narrate the film with an abundance of Kerouac’s words. The words give the film an energy that matches the book–perhaps more so than Walter Salles’ recent On the Road adaptation.
I’ve long read and admired Junot Diaz‘ style of prose. I’m almost embarrassed to say how much I’ve modeled my own work after his. This latest collection of work contains all the themes of trouble and failure at its heart. And also the redemption. I continue to admire how the work follows a consistent universe and also how his work stays composite. Overlapping. The voice here feels just as dynamic and strong as his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Drown.