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02 May

Last Saturday In April Here and Gone

MONDAY, MAY 2, ALBERTA, BARAGASTAN — We’re back on the Ford Forestry Campus of Michigand Tech and for tech reasons beyond our control, couldn’t post this last week. But the glorious trout opener has passed and fine weather it was. I put up the following for folks to enjoy and think about while trying to inveigle trout to flies or garden hackle. Weather here is fine. Had a hard frost this morning, and dine outside tonight. Ahh.

Thoughts for the Opening Day of Trout Season, 2016
The last Saturday in April, a time branded in the minds of small-water trout-chasers in Michigan.
Since most of fishing consists of watching and mechanical actions, there is a lot of time for thought, so I offer the following Imponderables to let loose in our heads on this magic day. I wrote these down decades ago, have no idea where I got found them.

1) Why do you need a driver’s license to buy liquor when you can’t drink and drive?
2) Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds?
3) Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?
4) Why do planes carry flotation devices instead of parachutes?
5) Why are cigarettes sold in gas stations, where smoking is prohibited?
6) Does one need a silencer to shoot a mime?
7) Have you ever imagined a world where there are no hypothetical situations?
8) How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work (VW answered this long ago, but made no mention of his gas mileage back in those days.)
9) If 7-11 stores are open 24-7 for 365, why are there locks on the doors?
10) If the cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?
11) If nothing sticks to Teflon, how to they make the Teflon stick to the pan?
12) If you tied buttered toast to the back of a cat and dropped it from two stories up, what would happen?
13) If you are in a vehicle moving at the speed of light, what happens when you turn on your headlights?
14) Why do they put Braille on ATM keypads at drive-in banks?
15) Why do we drive on parkways, and park on driveways?
16) How come when you send something by car, it’s a shipment, but when it goes by ship it is called cargo?
17) How come they don’t make airplanes out of the stuff they use to make indestructible black boxes?

Tight lines and when some jamoke on the river tries to give you some unsolicited advice, remember what Harry pronounced in 1927: “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” We all have an equal right to our own opinions. We do not have a right to equal value or accuracy in said opinions.

Glorious morning here, bluebird sky and our 16th consecutive day of east or northeast wind, which will definitely not hinder the fishing, but may not be such a good thing for the catching side of the equation.

Bloodroot is in bloom in the foret—by legend and local lore, the first flowers of spring

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28 Apr

Navigation, Exploration, Maps, Writing Fiction & Shakespeare, Forever Shakespeare

Gaylord. They know an outlaw when they see one.

Gaylord. They know an outlaw when they see one.

Fans in Gaylord

Fans in Gaylord

Duh moment in Adrian.

Duh moment in Adrian.

Adrianites and on a sunny nice day to boot!

Adrianites and on a sunny nice day to boot!

Been awhile since I’ve blogged. We’re back in the U.P. now, but before gunning north I had a couple of books events, in Gaylord and in Adrian. Photos above this, and the text of the Adrian talk follows. Enjoy. Found bear sign and wolf scat this morning. 

 

Adrian District Library,

April 23, 2016

Navigation, Exploration, Maps, Writing Fiction & Shakespeare…  Forever Shakespeare

Thank you for inviting us and thank you for showing up because I come to you as an author who began 30 years ago as an international unknown and has soared over three decades to regionally obscure.

 I love libraries. Any town without a library is a town without a soul or a heart, and little hope. At gatherings like this, I  like to talk about aspects and angles of writing, which, writing, like fly fishing, being a life-time venture; both undertakings are long journeys during which one may accumulate a lot of knowledge and skills, but never fully master.

Most journeys, at least at the start, require a map to help one find the way. Thus, to ask for a map is to say, “Tell me a story.”

If you are of the G.P.S. and exclusively digital generation, it’s likely that you have little clue of the joys, mysteries, stories, and potential joy inherent in  paper maps, which, like books, open mind-doors and enable us to economically and efficiently visit places we may not be able to get to on  our own, physically or financially.

What is a book? At its most elemental, it’s a story, and  it is also a map. Map = story; Story = map. See the connection?

Humans live on and by stories. We crave stories, make life decisions based on them, create dreams from them, and sometimes even plan our lives based on them. We use stories to help us compose the narrative of who we are. Much of the content of such self-stories is fiction, some of it intentional — and a lot of it the result of faulty memory.

As a once upon-a-time-navigator in the heat of the Cold War, I found our way around the world at 500  knots with minimal and marginal equipment, and today retain a particular affinity for paper charts and maps – as well as for stories.  Let me add that we trained on the most minimal equipment imaginable (looking out the window, called map-reading, a periscopic sextant and a  magnetic compass), Why such meager support? Because we did not want to be tied to the ground. The strategic assumption was that if the Cold War ever turned ugly hot we would not have anything left on the ground to support us.  Therefore, we had to be able to exist and press forward alone, disconnected from all earthly contact until our missions were complete.

We had heat and light shield inserts for our windows so that we wouldn’t get blinded by nuclear flashes, and to minimize the amount of radiation seeping in as we passed through hot zones. This may seem a bit surreal and even fictitious to you, but it was our reality and the purpose of intense, continuous training to do our jobs and execute our mission in the event nuclear war became real.

Every time we flew, either for training or in combat support, I prepared a navigation plan of a route or path that  led us to a destination — an outline of a story if you will, to go from A to X via Y and en route to accomplish all of our mission tasks, whatever those might be.

But, as someone once noted, Plans are obsolete as soon as the first shot is fired. Also true for writing fiction. You can have a good idea of where you want to go, but the characters and situations can sometimes assume a force of their own reality and push you in other directions.

This is no different than flying across the Atlantic and running into a towering wall of thunderstorms far over our heads (think  60,000 feet and upwards) – too high for us to fly over, and therefore requiring me to use the APN-59 radar to pick our way through all sorts of airborne violence, turn right, now turn left, HARD LEFT! More left! Roll out, Okay, back to the right, and so forth, until we finally popped out into the clear. Then and only then did I have time look back, and reconstruct what the hell I had done and where we had  ended up. When you are a thousand miles from land, your determination of current position can be literally critical. True for writing a story as well.

As an aside, we did our utmost to avoid such meteorological monsters in peacetime missions, but if we were out over the Gulf of Tonkin and got jumped by a MiG which happened from time to time, I was expected to guide us quickly into the worst vaporous scheisse I could find, and fortunately I only had to do this  a couple of times. If you have a MiG on your nose and  the two of you are closing at 1,500 mph, there’s not a lot of time to figure out what  the hell to do other than run for cover. We had no guns and no missiles,  no defense whatsoever, just an aircraft filled with  up to 80 thousand pounds of JP-4 fuel, which could make for a pretty spectacular airborne fireball.  

Boompf! Not a good mission outcome.

During the ongoing political primaries there’s been a lot of blabber about killing “families of terrorists” and other innocents, and almost all the candidates insist the US.  does not and did not and would not do  such a heinous thing, which is to say we would never  intentionally attack presumably innocent civilians. Such statements are abject baloney – ignorance on display. Do these people have no knowledge of history?

Neal Stephenson wrote in a 2011 essay called “Locked in,” that” The rockets of the 1950s and 1960s were so expensive and yet so inaccurate, that their only effective military use was lobbing bombs of inconceivably vast destructive power in the general direction of large urban areas.” Stephenson had it right: I was there and part of that machine and there was never a distinction made between family or foe, civilian or uniformed enemy. 

Now, let’s me us remember a few names from World War II  and add the  two nouns, fire bomb and A-bomb: Now think Dresden, Cologne, Berlin, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki.   Then tell yourself America doesn’t kill wantonly. Circumstances dictate what we have to do. Always have, always will. But I digress. (Almost all novelists have this tendency, though some work hard to hide it.)

The late Wallace Stegner has likened every book to a voyage of discovery and it is implied then that would-be explorers may find nothing, or something. It’s a truism that nobody can teach the geography of the undiscovered. One must have the will to explore and understand some of the basic dos and don’ts of such voyaging.

In the end, the delight of discovery is a major pleasure of reading Stegner tells us that reading is, one of the best ways to light a fire in a creative mind.

Writers can experience some emotional jinking when characters take control of the story, and willfully start bullying the author, pushing this way, then that way, until finally the author can wrest back control and take a moment to wonder, “Where the hell am I? And what the hell is going on here?” Same as popping out of the clouds after avoiding storms, or enemy aircraft.

Writing and navigation both require tremendous focus, attention to detail, and continuous revision. The failure of one’s writing effort, however, is not as lethal as a failed flight over unknown territory. But some writers take failure too seriously, or take promotion to extremes. I have heard of one author, after having finished his first book, committed suicide to focus attention on his work. His plan worked: the book was widely adjudged by the critics to be not good. So it goes, This story is no doubt apocryphal

 Just as I create artificial worlds in my fiction, when we operated over polar regions, I un-slaved our compasses (meaning I deliberately disconnected them from magnetic mode) and pointed them, not at the magnetic north pole, but at an arbitrary point in a vast sky and named that point grid north, thus creating a false yet real reference point.  Based on this I then created a mission map with the new artificial grid and the result was an all-white expanse of white paper, some maps stretching out six or seven feet and badly folded.  I never did master map-folding.

Planning done, we could head out over the polar ice caps in this false and artificial mode, hoping our compasses wouldn’t malfunction and by doing so, put us into Soviet Territory to be captured or euphemistically “splashed.”  Flights of this nature almost always involved some involuntary and predictable sphincter-tightening.

We sometimes referred to these missions as excursions into Glubina, an obsolete Russian word meaning depth, a term that came eventually came to mean the deep geographic guts of a country, or a far-fly zone. Our job in peacetime was to skirt borders readying ourselves for the dark day when we might be going full bore and hair on fire into the Glubina.

As the crew’s only navigator I had to be able to create paths across real places, which we could all recognize,  as well as create paths over largely unknown expanses, and back to safety, all done on the great featureless expanses of white paper that served as the mission chart. It was, I realize now, unexpectedly good preparation for becoming a story-teller.

Authors can be involved in similar situations. And stories can be a little bit like this– depending on what the writer is doing and how he or she is telling the story.

James Joyce, once said in a letter to poet Ezra Pound, “In Ulysses, I have recorded simultaneously what a man says, sees, thinks, and what such seeing, thinking, saying does, to what Freudians all call the subconscious.”

The subconscious is of course, unknown and unmapped and not much different than that blank polar grid map I had to construct. We humans,  each and all of us, sometimes find ourselves in the unknown and uncharted. As a navigator I was trained to intentionally take us into such terra incognita and to bring us safely out, no matter what.

Writers do the same thing, though writers don’t and can’t get the same kind of intensely technical training that navigation required back then. In reality, GPS and other things have pretty much eliminated the need for human navigators because most of what we did back then, under considerable stress, can now be done efficiently and accurately by computers, software programs and space-based electronic reference gear – which is to say, we have been replaced by electronics and machines, a familiar theme in the 21st Century.

I would quickly add that a good navigator must not only have the requisite technical skills, but also an undefinable “feel” for locating himself and his crew in whatever space they were in at the moment. Those who lacked this “instinct” are relegated to mechanical behavior, which increased operational and group risk.

 Unlike the flying game, where black boxes and avionics rule, the writing game won’t allow you to install in a human being a black box called imagination.  

We are born with this capacity, or not. Most of us have some semblance of creativity, though out on the fringes of the Bell Curve, there are probably some with none, while some others  have so much they can’t  control it, focus it, or even function in a real world. What most of us can do is exercise our ability to imagine and create, and critique it, and practice it. But if we lack the essential element needed, no amount of classes or study will install it. Can’t be done.

Folks often ask me if they can learn creative writing in school and the answer is both yes and no.  Bear in mind that this is solely MY opinion. I’m not aware of any consensus with regard to this question, which is mostly asked by non-writers.  Lots of writers teach as a day job in order to finance their word habit.

In my view, what schools can and should teach are the tools of writing:  vocabulary, syntax, grammar, structure, all that good stuff. What schools cannot teach… is imagination. Teachers can recognize, encourage, and help students exercise their imaginations, but make no mistake, imagination is the fuel of fiction and as I  mentioned earlier, it can’t be installed like new software. Imagination is, like foot speed and mental quickness, something you are born with, or not, and whatever life gives us , we can almost always improve, but without imagination, writing will not happen.

With regard to maps and stories, let me share an experience with you. My father was dying in 1976 and in the hospital in Lansing, Michigan, and he sat up one evening on the side of his hospital bed, and grumbled, “The Virgin Mary and all that stuff. How do you know?”

Wah! Of all the people to ask! I was clueless, but thinking quickly, I said, “You know how you love to drive all over the country and see new places you’ve never seen before, just because you want to? Well that other junk is a sort of road map too. You trust the maps you use for your road-trips, right? I guess you’ll have to depend on the road map you have for this trip.”

His answer was a painful, ambiguous grunt, and he lay back and died that night. He was 55.

The reality for most of us is that we follow a map on the assumption and faith that it will take us to where we want to go.

When we read a story, we trust that the map it contains will to take us to a place or places the writer chooses to take us, same as we hope the map-maker does with that work.

Writing fiction is to some extent a matter of two separate, related functions. First is the writer’s role as explorer, which can take in planned or unplanned excursions or jaunts. Second is the writer’s role as presenter or reporter, and here the writer takes what’s in the exploration phase and shapes it into a story, to create a journey for the reader.

It’s like this: first you have to think the story, and then you have to get it down on paper. This is an easy process to describe in terms of output, but difficult to actually do, especially repeatedly.

Each book looms as a challenge to most authors. You’d think after a goodly number of titles, more than 20 for me– the process would be like riding a bike.  But it’s not that at all: It’s more like riding a wild horse given its own head and the author -– me– grabbing like hell for reins I sometimes find difficult to get my hands on.

 I admire every writer who manages to get something down and a first full draft  complete, even if it never gets published. Completion alone puts the would-be author into a new special category, one few have the ability to reach. Writing fiction is a zero sum game. It’s also an antisocial activity with immense potential social benefit, meaning writers must work alone in their own space and cocoons, not in committees or groups in public.

Our contract with the reader is on the printed page, not standing up blabbering like this.

Each time one gets ready to write a new book, it feels a bit like stepping to the plate, only with writing the pitcher and batter are both you, and you have to let the pitcher -– your subconscious– throw at you what it will, and then direct your conscious  hitter to do what it can with whatever looms at your plate.

By the time you get down to the actual physical writing stage, the problems and challenges are different. Earlier I pointed out that teachers can teach mechanics, but not imagination. Teachers can deal with the following sort of sentence of errant pronouns: “She’s the mother of an infant daughter who works twelve hours a day.” This is the sort of problematic sentence you should  learn to avoid, or if not to avoid, to fix. (As writers we tend to entirely rewrite such sticky parts. And everything around them.)

Here’s another example of writing that gets at the heart of technique and craft; Listen to this: “Ted watched the orchestra through stupid tears.” Use of the word “stupid” begs the question: Whose word is this? It’s unlikely the author wants to call his character stupid merely for listening to some music in an auditorium. Thus, what we have here is the author assigning this one special word to the character, and giving it to the character in such a way that he does not interfere with or interrupt the flow of thought inside that character’s mind. The author might have chosen to write a more traditional omniscient third-person voice, such as “’It’s so stupid to be crying over this silly piece of Brahms,’ he thought.”

 Hear the difference? This last sentence is in conventional third-person and it is 12 words long; the previous example is only 7 words, meaning the first version is 40 percent shorter, which makes the composition tighter and performs the alchemical trick of putting you directly inside the character’s head and helps you follow the character’s thinking and feeling as it happens, without obvious outside ham-handedness from the writer. All of this, we note, is achieved by using that one word, “stupid.” This is a poignant yet simple example of why the craft and skills of writing are sometimes referred to as art, and this is also why good teachers will repeatedly remind students that every word is important.

I  have tried to employ in most of my later works a form of first-person voice called free indirect style, a term probably only writers and students bother about (or should). It is one of the craft and technique secrets or devices for parachuting the reader into a character’s mind and emotions. The beauty (and utility) of this choice is as with the example of stupid tears, that you sense what you are reading are the character’s words and thoughts, when in fact they are the words the writer has deliberately chosen for the reasons we’ve talked about.

The 10th Woods Cop story, featuring Grady Service, came out March 1. It is called BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY, and it deals with the crazy and extreme side of deer hunting and killing.  As said a few moments ago, there is in writing  an exploration phase and then a reporter phase. It was my intention to step over to my other series, set in the 1910-1920 period – and I had even. done some noodling and composition (approximately 10,000 words) on the third entry to  that series.  But damned if my mind would not let go of Grady Service, who is in a predicament when BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY ends.

One morning, a month or so  before Buckular hit bookstores, I woke up with four words burned into my mind. A SPORTING OF SKELETONS. I knew immediately that this would be the title of the 11th Grady Service tale, and as much as I enjoy all the characters in the Bapcat series, I  realized deep down that I would be compelled to explore what happens to Grady in the wake of BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY, which ends on New Year’s Day, 2009. That morning when I woke up with those four words, I awoke also with a whole suitcase more and plodded down to my writing table, picked up my pen, and literally scribbled the following scene. [For the record, Lonnie spends an inordinate amount of time helping me decipher my own handwriting, which began bad, and worsens every year]:

“With his out-of-the-blue suspension from duty now in effect, the unexpected  hiatus had, after decades of action left Grady Service with nothing to do, his ship dead in the water, becalmed, perhaps permanently, and then came the headaches, sudden, blinding, painful, a hurt beyond the reach of any known drugs or therapies.  Endure, he told himself. Just get through this, but something deep down was also telling him not to sit back, to fight. And for one of the few times in his life he had no idea how or who, much less what.

Adding to the pain, he suddenly felt no identity, no purpose, was reduced to a lump of human protoplasm taking up valuable space on an overpopulated planet.

Limpy Allerdyce held the thing in two hands, like a supplicant to his master. “Dis take care dose headaches, Sonny, youse betcha.”

“A human skull for Chrissakes?” What is wrong with this old man?

“Yah sure.”

“Whose skull?”

“How my ‘posed know, Ind’in? Dunno. Real old.”

“You know it’s against the law to possess human body parts.”

The old man winced. “Ain’t no meat on ‘er, jes old head bone.”

“From where?”

“Down Mosquito.”

Where in the Mosquito?

“Have to show youse. Don’t got no words for place.”

“When did you find it?”

“Twinnyfuckin’ Questions? Found wit’ youse’s daddy in da way back.”

“My  old man knew about this?”

“Yah sure, he know all sorts places got ole bones, but he don’t pay no attention.”

“He damn well knew where all the bars and taverns were.”

“Wah. Dose important to ‘im. Old bones, nobody give two shits. Youse need take dis fella, use ‘im for pillow.”

Service drew back in disgust. “I’m not sleeping on a skull.”

“Youse’s choice. Youse da one wit’ da head-pounders.”

“How do you know it’s from a man?”

“Who else gets seff kilt outten bush? Take look, dat slicy t’ing  dere, like knife, mebbe, tomahawk bonk on noggin, hey.”

Service looked, examined the thing, and after a while asked, “Is it clean?”

What was it Treebone always preached, “If nothing works, try something else.” He doubted his old friend would stoop to putting a human skull under his head. No chance of that. But he would. What other choices were left?

 

An important reason for employing the free indirect narrative technique is the desire to create a sense of veracity, or truth. My protagonist Grady Service is the  eye-witness to his life, as you are to yours,  and he is testifying to you the reader that the things he is going through are actually happening and you are a participant within his mind, from his perspective. Ironically, you know full well that none of this stuff actually happened or is happening, and that the story is fabricated, but if I do my job I can draw you into the story and help you to stay there as it unfolds to its conclusion help you follow the map to the end.

I have written books from different narrative viewpoints but both current series employ the indirect first because I want the stories to unfold from a single point of view in a realistic, (some say, naturalistic) way. If I am doing my job effectively and my editor is helping me, the reader should never experience the inside of another character’s head. You will hear them express feelings and think out loud to Service and to and with others, but you will not partake inside the way you do with Grady Service. I want Grady to be human, which means he can see only his own viewpoint and he cannot read the future, so he must face that unknown alone, and we get to share that experience with him

The exploration by artists and writers is always into the unknown, off our map if you will. The stories we create then become maps for others.

I think that if you’re going to write, you have tell a story. This is the contract with your reader. They read and you tell them a story. But one of the things we see with young writers, especially in graduate creative writing programs is a fascination with doing the novel just for the purpose of being different, a phenomenon  the late David Foster Wallace called,  ‘dreaded grad-school syndrome.’ which he described as, ‘Watch me use 17 different points of view on this scene of a guy eating a Saltine.’” Wallace added, and I quote, “The point of such shit is ‘Like me because I’m clever, ‘which derives from the commercial axiom about audience affection determining art’s value.”

Let me share a secret. I write for myself, not for an audience. I have no face in mind when I write, other than the faces of my characters. I write with my heart and edit with my brain and an audience never enters into the formula except in some technical editing questions.

Wallace loved crisp, clear good writing and was a severe critic of what he once called lit-speak, as in this example:  “formal innovation is no longer transformative, having been co-opted by the forces of stabilization and post-industrial inertia, blah blah.” Most of us who write for a living, exist in a world far away from such jargon-floods, where political correctness in literary attitude is sometimes as important as political correctness in  certain social circles. There’s no political correctness in the worlds I inhabit.

Post World War II Censors and Holier Than Thou-ness  authorities made it impossible for Norman Mailer in THE NAKED AND THE DEAD to employ the very functional and common four-letter word, “fuck.”

Now anyone who has served in any branch of the military knows that language in such a place lives rough and if you are trying to write or tell a story that is true to the subject, the language has to match it. Mailer’s publisher was forced by its lawyers to substitute the word “Fug” for the real McCoy, which to my thinking effectively heightens attention for the  word. For people in combat or “in the shit” as was said in my day the word “Fuck” was used for just about every conceivable part of language, so much so that it became invisible to those using it. But now you substitute “Fug” and instead of the real world disappearing in the flow of the story in the reader’s mind, it now jumps up like a loud and brassy clown from a box every time it gets used. How stupid is this — and what a beautiful real-world example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. 

If you want to make a book disappear, don’t read it if you have read it, and don’t talk about it. But I promise you this: If you ban it, you will give the work a good shot at lucrative bestsellerdom, multiple printings massive sales. From an author’s selfish perspective, ban my books…please!”

Let me give you an example of how words disappear when they are used regularly. Writers learn quickly (or should learn) that dialog needs only a he said or she said after a line of dialog. Anything more slows the flow and as the reader reads he said or she said, it simply disappears. The same is true of other words used in bulk in certain segments of human life. Cops and game wardens, like soldiers, have not only their own jargon and lingo, but they tend to talk with a language others might find offensive. But if the aim is to paint the life the way it is, I have to portray it that way.

Like all of you in this room, I’m a reader first and foremost. All writers are readers. As readers sit down to read a novel knowing full well that the story is made up, and that, while it may be constructed of much substance that looks and feels and sounds real, it’s actually  neither reality nor history. And it’s not autobiographical in the sense that the author is not the main character or protagonist.  We all know these things, yet we still want to read, in the hope we’ll be taken away by the “contrivance” and given an experience we probably could never get on our own.

What we are talking about today is to me a kind of magic, and like all magic, success often hinges on slick misdirection, which is to say, we want the magic trick to work, and we don’t want to think too hard about how it works. What happens then is that we as readers prepare ourselves to be magically graced. This was once called the suppression of simple truth. The late Samuel Coleridge, he of “Ancient Mariner” fame, which we all learned in sophomore high school English class as “suspension of disbelief.”

What we’re looking for in this magic is compelling originality. Some literary wags contend not only that all plots have already been done, but that there are only two plots — a stranger comes to town, or someone goes on a trip. Can plots be successfully used again and again?

Absolutely! Think about the story of Cain and Abel – which is only 60 lines and fewer than 700 words in the Bible:  How many times has that story served as a structure for writers?

Authors find multiple paths to originality. Inventing a plot from scratch is one way, but not the only one. Our deservedly great Shakespeare used great slabs and chunks of work of others before him, and even from  some sources roughly contemporary to him.

Playwrights in those days expecially until their reputations were established, Shakespeare included, often worked in teams the way Hollywood scriptwriters now cooperate in twos and threes. In our current legal and cultural value systems, using something someone else wrote is called plagiarism, but this was neither ethical concern, nor law in Elizabethan England.  Copyright law didn’t come along until 1709, at which point plagiarism was legally called forgery and the penalty for forgery was death. Now, if you’re caught plagiarizing you will have your reputation killed, not your corpus.

Shakespeare had a remarkable eye for potential in stories and tales made by others; his method at times was to use those things as his raw materials and churn them through his personal creative filter, which was not so much focused on plot as it was on characterization. What the Bard did was make characters come alive with many words he created himself. In Hamlet, for example, he used 600 words that he never used in any other play. Over the course of his career he invented more than 1,700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.

I am not talking about strange ancient long-dead words, but words that you and I use on a regular basis in this room even, today even: gloomy /  laughable /  majestic/ lonely / radiance / hurry / generous / frugal / critical /courtship /zany /undress / rant.  He made new words and expected audiences to understand them in context. Many of the 1,700 words fell into common use and are still used today by people right here in this library. How’s that  for durability and lasting impact? He died 400 years ago today.

In addition to his creation of words, let’s look at just how efficient  and economic he was as  a writer. Here are the first five lines of HAMLET:

Bernardo:  “Who’s there?”

Francisco:  “Nay, answer me. Stand and unfold yourself.”

Bernardo: “Long live the king.”

Francisco: “Bernardo?”

Bernardo:  “He.”

What has Shakespeare the writer done here? In five terse lines he has established first, it is night time and cold (unfold yourself means draw back your cloak); second, the two speakers are soldiers on guard; and third, there is tension in the air. The terseness of speech conveys this tension. Master Shakespeare has with only 15 words, 11 of them monosyllables, set the play’s action in motion and captured the audience’s full, rapt attention. This is the epitome of skill and craft, and why we continue to admire and study the great bard.

Let me provide a bit more from the writer’s view. Shakespeare thought in scenes, not acts. Scholars are learning that he cut speeches and whole scenes entirely, or replaced them with new speeches and scenes based presumably  on how they were working on the stage. This is called professionalism. He did use stories of others, but then did things with this material only he could do, including the following things, all of which he invented: he plotted scenes in dramatic form, took new perspectives on various subjects, moved scenes in different ways and juxtaposed the plot with subplots. And he varied he on-stage activity, varying action with the inclusion of songs and other set pieces, presented narratives with choristers sometimes doing the presenting, and he built in prologues, epilogues and plays within plays, not to mention creating new words still in use today.

The best comparison I can make at the moment is Shakespeare was the Elizabethan Theaters’ equivalent of the late Prince, or vice versa, unique artists both, original and risk-taking to the core. This is why we still study the old guy. This is why his material still works.

I can hear you wondering, Why in the world is this jamoke – Questo scrittore di gialli magro, this meager mystery writer– bringing up Shakespeare?  Well, , I lived in Italy for three years when I was a kid, and Shakespeare often set plays in Italy, so I thought I should  reply in his borrowed tongue.

Make no mistake about who is doing the work: the late Shakespeare, the late Harrison or the still-above-ground-for-the-moment Heywood, all stories have to be made, word by word.

The fact is that every writer alive builds on every writer who came before us.  You don’t buy the assertion? Here’s Shakespeare in A Midsummer’s Night Dream describing the magic writers create for their readers, and the power of imagination: “The poet’s eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, doth glance from heaven to Earth, from Earth to heaven; and as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shape, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name; such tricks hath strong imagination.”  This is about as good a description of the creative act of writing that has ever been scribbled and is as valid now as it was four centuries ago. We ride on the shoulders of all who have gone before us.

Given that yesterday was Earth Day, a final note on Shakespeare seems appropriate. There are a lot of words and  lines ascribed to  bard, many of which, in fact, are not his. When one sees an alleged W.S. quote, one needs to be sure it is attached to one of his plays or poems or sonnets, because there is no other writing from him, none.

A classic misquote is fitting for this day: “The earth has music for those who will listen.”  I love this line, and it sure sounds like the Bard, but it’s not. This is actually a line from the marvelous Spaniard, Jorge Augustin Nicolas Ruiz de Santayana y Borras, better known as George Santayana: Philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist, who died in Italy in 1952.  So no, definitely not Shakespeare. Qui legit, adtendite. Let the Reader Beware. And be twice as vigilant with the Internet, which has more junk than your local dump.

Remember the advice of Oscar Wilde: “It’s what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you’ll be when you can’t help it.”

 

03 Apr

Looking at Openers

Had book events on Friday (Kazoo Books in Kalamazoo) and Saturday, Saturn Books in Gaylord.  As I was signing and jabbering I got a hankering to go back and look at the first sentence in each novel. At some point I’ll probably look at all my published short stories as well, to see what trends I might see.  Here’s the novels…. Conclusion: star with and in the action.

Opening Lines of Heywood Novels, Chronological Order

TAXI DANCER (1985)

The two MiG19s came out of the morning sun from north of Haiphong.

THE BERKUT (1987)

Colonel Gunter Brumm strained to slide himself down into the tight cockpit of the toy glider.

THE DOMINO CONSPIRACY (1992)

The two soldiers squatted in icy ankle-deep water, scanning the horizon.

THE SNOWFLY (2000)

“I was eight when the floater drifted past our cabin on Whirling Creek and hung up on the rocks.”

ICE HUNTER (2001)

It was a week after his sixteenth birthday, four days after deer season opened.

BLUE WOLF IN GREEN FIRE (2002)

Grady Service got out of bed, tugged on his ratty sweat pants, and went down to the kitchen where he made coffee, set the table for one, pour orange juice, boiled water for instant oatmeal and heated a cinnamon roll in the micro wave.

CHASING A BLOND MOON (2003)

Grady Service stood at the aged brick entrance of Monroe’s Custer Memorial Municipal Ice Arena and recalled that the flamboyant George Armstrong Custer had been raised in Monroe and that his life, after some exhilarating moments, had ended badly at the Little Big Horn.

RUNNING DARK (2005)

Eldon “Shuck” Gorley was in the Newberry DNR office for the last official time – to turn in his badge and state-owned equipment.

STRIKE DOG (2007)

Grady Service stared down at the large white metal drawers, his mind cluttered by unconnected thoughts, mostly fragments: spring, the season of change, breakup and runoff, a time of sloppy excess; his old man, whom he’d never gotten along with; more than two erratic decades as a conservation officer, mostly alone; the divorce from his late first wife; and finding  Nantz and learning he was a father – all of this rolling around in his aching head as he stared at the drawers.

DATH ROE (2009)

Grady Service had found a vantage point under the canopy of a cluster of white cedars and sat on a low bluff watching the dark riffle through his thermal imager.

SHADOW OF THE WOLF TREE (2010)

The last Saturday in April was Michigan’s traditional trout opener and Grady Service began his day mesmerized by the reflection of a battered face, looking down into a mirror of black frog water.

FORCE OF BLOOD (2011)

Grady Service glared at Milo Miars, forcing his lieutenant to look away.

RED JACKET (2012)

“Sharpshooter to me!” Colonel Theodore Roosevelt shouted in his oddly pitched voice, sweat streaming down the sides of his face, forming a thin red paste and leaving him looking more flushed than he actually was, his skin color matching the blood trickling down his left arm.

KILLING A COLD ONE (2013)

Chief Eddie Waco stared at the stiff cloth stripes Grady Service had dropped on his home office desk.

MOUNTAINS OF THE MISBEGOTTEN (2015)

“What say you to the charges, Deputy Warden Bapcat?”

BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY (2016)

Like Pavlov’s pup to food, Grady Service was programmed to serve, not just during official duty hours, but whenever and wherever he was needed.

01 Apr

First Quarter 2016 Reading List

N.Wilson. The Elizabethans. (2011) [NF

Penelope Lively. Dancing Fish and Ammonites. (2013) [NF]

Charlie Lovett. The Bookman’s Tale. (2013) [F]

John Colville. The Fringes of Power. 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955. (1985) [NF]

William H. Gass. Finding A Form. (1997) [NF]

Charles Clement Walker. John Heminge and Henry Condell Friends and Fello-Actors of Shakespeare and What the World Owes. (1896/2015) [NF]

Stephen E. Ambrose. The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys: The Men of World War II. (1998) [NF]

Stephen E. Ambrose. The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany. (2001) [NF]

Stephen E. Ambrose. Citizen Soldiers; The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany; June 7,1944- May 7, 1945. (1997) [NF]

Raymond Coppinger and Mark Feinstein. How Dogs Work. (2015) [NF]

Ralph Steadman. A Triography: The Balletic Art of Gavin Twinge. (2002) [F]

Randolph S.Churchill. Winston S. Churchill, Youth,1874-190 (1966) [NF

Kenneth Tynan. He That Plays The King: A View of the Theatre.(1950) [NF]

Kenneth Tynan. The Sound of Two Hands Clapping. (1975) [NF]

Kenneth Tynan. Profiles. (1989) [NF]

Kathleen Tynan, Ed. Kenneth Tynan: Letters. (1994) [NF]

Walter Raleigh. Johnson on Shakespeare: Essays and Notes, Selected, And Set Forth. (1765/1908) [NF]

George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. (1980/2003) [NF]

Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman. WAR DIARIES: 1939-1945 Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke.(2002) [NF]

Eric Rasmussen. The Shakespeare Theft: In Search of the First Folios (2011) [NF]

John Lahr, Ed. The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan. (2001) [NF]

Robert Harris. Dictator. (2016) [F]

William Manchester and Paul Reid. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (2013) [NF]

Clark Davis. It Starts With Trouble: William Goyen and the Life of Writing.(2015) [NF

Phillip DePoy. The Tao and the Bard: A Conversation. (2013) [NF] [F]

Maria Konnikova. Master-Mind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes. (2013) [NF]

Mary Beard. P.O.R: A History of Anxient Rome (2015) [NF]

Jan Jarboe Russell. The Train To Crystal City (2015) [NF]

Gary Wills. Make Make-Believe Real: Politics as Theater in Shakespeare’s World (2014) [NF]

Thomas Babington Macauley. Lays of Ancient War. (2016/1842) [NF]

Vaclav Havel. The Memorandum. (1965) [PLAY]

Tom Stoppard. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. (1967) [PLAY]

Bio Notes/ A, Spiers, Preface/ M. Montagu. (Francis) Bacon’s Essays. (1884) [NF]

Tobias Wolf. In Pharoah’s Army; Memories of the Lost War. (1994) [NF]

Logan Pearsall Smith. Unforgotten Years (1938) [NF]

David Searcy. Share and Wonder Essays. (2016) [NF]

Fiona Peters, Rebecca Stewart, Eds. Antiheroes (2010/2016) [NF]

Maria Konnikova. The Confidence Game. Why We Fall For It…Every Time. (2016) [NF]

Garry Wills. Making Make-Believe Real; Politics as Theater in Shakespeare’s Time. (2014) [NF]

Reza Aslan. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. (2014) [NF]

Elizabeth Kolbert. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. (2014) [NF]

Machu Kaku. The Future of the Mind; The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind. (2014) [NF]

William Shakespeare. Henry I V, Part 2 [Play]

Phillips Oppenheim. The Pool of Memories. (1941) [NF]

Page Stegner, Ed. The Selected Letters of Wallace Stegner. (2007) [NF]

David Hajdu. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. (2008) [NF]

Bob Hicok. Elegy Owed. (2013) [P]

Jane Hirshfield. Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Essays by Jane Hirshfield. (1998) [NF-Essays]

Payne Collier & Thomas Heywood. The Dramatic Works Of Thomas Heywood With A Life of the Poet, And Remarks On His Writings, Vol 1: The First And Second Parts Of The Fair Maid Of The West: Or, A Girl Worth Gold. Two Comedies. (1850) [NF & Drama]

Wallace Stevens. The Necessary Angel; Essays on Reality and Imagination. (1942) [NF]

Lawrence Durrell. Bitter Lemons (Of Cyprus). (1957) [NF]

John McIntyre, Ed. Memorable Days: The Selected Letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps. (2010) [NF]

George Steiner. Language & Silence: Essays on Language, Literature, and the Inhuman. (1970) [NF Essays]

Louis-Ferdinand Celine. Castle To Castle. (1968)

Joseph O’Brien, Ed. Eyes That Pour Forth and Other Stories. (2014) [SS]

Willie Morris. James Jones;A Friendship. (1978) [NF]

Tom Stanton. Terror in the City of Champions;Murder, Baseball, And The Secret Society That Shocked Depression-Era Detroit.  [NF]

Wallace Stegner. On Teaching and Writing Fiction. (2002) [NF

Michael Delp. Lying in the River’s Dark Bed: The Confluence of The Deadman and the Mad Angler. (2016) [Poetry]

M. Forster. Aspects of the Novel. (1927) [NF]

David Fraser. Wars and Shadows: Memoirs of General Sir David Fraser. (2002) [NF]

James Wood. The Nearest Thing To Life. (2015) [NF]

David Foster Wallace. Consider The Lobster And Other Essays. (2007) [NF]

George Orwell. A Collection of Essays. (1981) [NF]

L. Austin. Philosophical Papers. (3rd Ed) (1979) [NF]

Nathalie Babe, Ed. Cynthia Ozick, Intro. The Complete Works of Isaac Babel.(2005) [NF +SS]

 L.Austin. How To Do Things With Words. (1955) [NF] 

Ann Powers. Weird Like Us: My Bohemian America. (2000) [NF]Andy Saunders. Battle of Britain: July to October 1940: RAF Operations Manual. (2015 [NF]

Natalie Angier. The Canon. (2007) [NF]

Neal Stephenson. Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing. (2012) [NF]

Kevin Wolf. The Homeplace (2016) [Uncorrected Proof for blurb) [F]

Albert Camus. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays. (1955) [NF]

O. Scott. Better Living Through Criticism: How To Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth. (2016) [NF]

John LeCarre. A Murder of Quality. (1962) [F]

Tim Clayton and Phil Craig. Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain. (1999) [NF]

Christopher Bergstrom. The Battle of Britain: An Epic Conflict Revisited. (2014) [NF]

Richard Hough and Denis Richards. The Battle of Britain: The Greatest Air Battle of World War II. (1989) [NF]

The National Trust. Chartwell. (1992) [NF]

Tom Hickham. Churchill’s Bodyguard. The Authorised Biography of Walter H. Thompson. (2005) [NF]

 William F. and Elizabeth S. Friedman. The Shakesperian Ciphers Examined. (1957) [NF]

 Andy Saunders. Aircraft Salvage in the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. (2014) [NF]

 Jane Gallop. The Deaths of The Author. Reading and Writing in Time. (2011)

 J.L. Austin. How To Do Things With Words.(1955) [NF]

 Ray Bradbury. Bradbury Speaks: Too Soon From the Cave, Too Far From the Stars. (2006) [NF]

 Wayne C. Booth. The Rhetoric of Fiction. (1983) [NF]

 Lilly Fischer Hellmann. Jumpcut. (2016) [F]

 Peter Turchi. Maps of the Imagination:The Writer As Cartographer. (2004) [NF]

 Andy Saunders. Luftwaffe Bombers in the Blitz 1940-1941.(2015) [NF]

 David Richarde. The Yellow Dog River: Magical Dialog of a Woodland Stream. (1997)

 William Grange. Hitler Laughing: Comedy in The Third Reich. (2006) [NF]

 Stephen Marche. How Shakespeare Changed Everything. (2012) [NF}

 Roy Porter. London: A Social History. (1994) [NF}

 E. Foley and B. Coates. Shakespeare- Basics for Grown-Ups: Everything You Need to Know About the Bard. (2014) [NF]

 F.E. Halliday. A Shakespeare Companion. (1964) [NF]

 Jacopo Della Quercia. License to Quill. (2015) [F]

 Andy Saunders. Finding the Foe: Outstanding Luftwaffe Mysteries of the Battle of Britain and Beyond Investigated and Solved. (2010)

 Rebecca Rovit. The Jewish Kulturbund Theater Company in Nazi Berlin. (2012)

 John London, Ed. Theater Under the Nazis. (2000)

 John Harris and Richard Wilbourn. Rudolf Hess: A New Technical Analysis of the Hess Flight, May 1941. (2014)

 John Stow. A Survey of London. (1598) [NF]

 Donovan Bixley. Much Ado About Shakespeare. (2015) [Lit Picture Book]

 An Stalcup. On The Home Front: Growing Up in Wartime England. (1998) [NF]

 Peter De Jong. Dornier Do 24 Units. (2015) [NF]

25 Feb

Dark Memories from Detroit: The Black Legion

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A history that will hold you from first word until the last and make you shake your head.

It’s difficult to sum up this book with enough superlatives. Who but a top journalist could put together such a finely woven fabric of life and weave uncountable personalities, events and moments together – and in doing so — bash one out of the park like Hank Greenberg? Tom Stanton’s new book will be published later this spring. The title is,  Terror in the City of Champions: Murder, Baseball, And the Secret Society That Shocked Depression-Era Detroit

I could not put it down, read it over two days. And therein met Detroit Tigers, Detroit Red Wings, Joe Louis, Detroit Lions, politicians beyond count, and a story that extends like a web  over the Midwest and into dark basements of an anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic, anti-black secret organization. Players the author ties into this true tale include a huge cast: Henry Ford and his security chief Harry Bennett, J. Edgar Hoover, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ronald Reagan, Ernie Harwell, Babe Ruth, Dizzy and Paul Dean, and eventually a legendary Michigan State Police officer, Detective Captain Ira Marmon, the first Troop retiree and a man who set a standard for all those to follow in the pursuit of truth and justice. (My friend Greg Hubers will love the information on Captain Marmon.)

Amazing and frightening to think that lots of those nefarious  forces operating in this period of 1933-1938 are STILL  among us, many of them still just as hidden as the Black Legion was back then. Many of them surfaced in the Presidential elections that resulted in President Obama in the White House and many of them are undercurrents in the present presidential campaign. Evil never gets eradicated; it only gets pushed underground or aside for a while.

If you love Detroit, Michigan, Michigan history, our sports team and largely unknown tales of history, you will be carried away by this story. Written as cleanly as a new shave with a straight razor, and thick with information and side notes that will captivate you and remind us all of the old saw of everyone being separated by only a few degrees. Finally, given how this turns out, one must wonder how many of these creeps were our own kin, and how they hid their involvement in such reprehensible actions from us and all around them. Sad and scary. Kind of like Nazis who went to ground and were never prosecuted, much less identified.

This is well worth your buckos and your time.  Could make a great film or  TV series. $26 hardbound from Lyons Press (An Imprint of Rowman & Litchfield). Buy it, read it, talk about it, encourage others to read it. I did and I am and will continue doing so.

Over.

25 Feb

Delp Scores Again

Mike Delp's newest offering. Buy it, enjoy it!

Mike Delp’s newest offering. Buy it, enjoy it!

Late yesterday recieved my copy of Michael Delp’s New poetry collection: Lying in the River’s Dark Bed: The Confluence of the Deadman and the Mad Angler. (Wayne State University Press.)

Delp knows of what he writeth about. His blood is river water.

Here’s an example:

DEADMAN AS WRITER
Deadman treats words like road kill,
runs them down, stops,
rolls backward and forward,
over and over.
After he flattens thousands of words,
he thinks he's invented a new language.
He writes a book,
says,
"Here, read this,
it will kill you.

Deadman, The Mad Angler, Brown Dog,  Jason Snowblood, Limpy Allerdyce… these are the denizens of my world.

Delp is one of our very best writers.  Ever. You’ll love his work and though it won’t make you better at catching trout, it will surely give you gnu things to think about while you are gnot catching, or  whilst changing flies, or whilst moving along the banks to find gnu water.  $15.99 in paper. Buy it, treasure it.

19 Feb

Friday Thinking in Softening Air

This is how one mind works, how life is lived in the low, slow Friday lane,  Dies veneris, vendredi, biernes, venerde, Unmarked in the unsighted world. It is said that once it  was said there was a woman so bloody good looking that she was difficult to look at.  Then kilt in an avalanche. One is tempted to affect cause with effect. The behavior of actors on a Shoot in Tahiti was declared detestable. Just yesterday, The Pope tried to trump Trump over walls: The result a push on this world’s scorecard as in Vegastawk. The Woolfs, Leonard and Virginia, are alleged to have never consummated their marriage, a result of some sort of undefined vaginal block said to be similar to that of their countrywoman Queen Elizabeth I. There are no known public or medical records or forensics to declare in any direction. There was a girl 17, jumped from 14 stories, landedon soft and porous cement with predictable result.  Her bloodstains remained for years for thosewho knew where to look for them, like afficianados of stigmata on the bodies of Womandragoras or octogenarian seamstresses from Jackson Heights. Wrote the late Robt Phelps: A lifetime of indignation goeth before a hemorrhage. Who would argue? Tourists jitney and flitney around Tahiti in surplus Jeeps from the Vietnam War, the bloods stains long sunk into the quick-pores of pitted metal. Some, I hear,  long to oogle beautiful French legs.My late editor, Joe Fox of the Five-Fox-Day used to sing “Loot, loot, loot.” Now I ask you, Can legs be loot? Oh, that girl who tried to fly? She had flax-yellow hair and a Bible in her hand. Some  no doubt would claim this to be a political statement, but it’s not. It’s objective, yet so very subjective. What if it had been a Quran in her hand, or a guidebook on sexual positions for drive-in movie dates in the backseat of ’59 Buick Electras?  Is objectivity bruised by facts chosen? Perhaps. All these blood symbols, must be politrix in the air. As Cypriot Greeks tell it, There ain’t no sparks in last year’s ashes. Be advised: If a stone falls on an egg, alas for the egg. If an egg falls on a stone, alas for the egg. Therefore, be the stone and not the egg (Or be certain you have a good lawyer.) I am dreaming of a grand cru Bordeaux with steaming Polenta ucelli —maize pudding with little birds the way my Mississippi mama made it when we lived in  the hills outside Firenze.  Better have tofu for dinner . To blunt the cannibalism in my genes. Over.

17 Feb

Of Maps and Stories

To ask for a map is to say, “Tell me a story.”

Let me be quick to add that if you are of the G.P.S. generation and under twenty, the chances probably are that you have little or no clue to the joys, mysteries, or stories inherent in and on a map. This is a great loss or your inner life because maps, like books, open mind-doors and let us visit places we may not be able to get to physically, time-wise,  or financially. 

And what is a book? At its most basic, it’s a story.

Human beings live on stories. We crave them, make decisions and create dreams and plan based on them. And we use stories to tell ourselves our own stories of who we are.

As a once upon-a-time-navigator of the Cold War and Vietnam era, I found  my way around the world at 500 mph with minimal and marginal equipment, and thus have a particular affinity for maps and stories.  Let me add that trained on minimal equipment, that is, nothing tied to the ground because we assumed that if the Cold War ever turned hot we would not have things on the ground to support us. We even carried heat and light shields for all of our windows so that we couldn’t get blinded by nuclear flashes, and to minimize the amount of radiation seeping in as we passed through hot zones. This was business as usual.

Every time we flew, either for training or in combat support, I prepared a  navigation plan including a route or path and a destination — an outline of a story if you will, for us to go from A to X via Y there and en route to accomplish our mission tasks.

But as someone once observed, “Plans are obsolete as soon as the first shot is fired.” Absolutely true, and it’s also true  for writing fiction. You can have an idea of what you want to go and where you want to go, but the characters and situation can assumed a force of reality and push you in other directions. It’s no different than flying across the Atlantic and running into a huge wall of thunderstorms far over our heads (up to 60,000 feet – too damn  high for us to fly over, and therefore requiring me to use my radar to pick our way through all sorts of airborne violence, turn right, now turn left, more left, back to the right and so forth until we popped out, and then and only then I had to take some moments to try to retrace what the hell I had done and where we had ended up. When you are a thousand miles from land, your final determination of position can be literally critical.

As an aside, we did our utmost to avoid such meteorological monsters in peacetime missions, but if we were out over the Gulf of Tonkin and got jumped by a MiG, it was my job to guide us quickly into  the worst shit I could find, which fortunately I only had to do a couple of times. If you have a MiG on your nose and you are closing at 1200-1300 mph, there’s not much time to figure out what to do other than run for cover. We had no guns, no missiles, just an aircraft filled with JP$ jet fuel, which would make a pretty spectacular airborne fireball. But I digress.

Writers can experience this same sort of emotional jinking when characters take control of the story and push this way, then that way until finally you wrest back control and have a moment to wonder, “Where the hell am I?’

When we operated over polar regions we used to unslave our compasses and point them at an imaginary point in the sky, thus creating a false reference point, and based on that we created a map a grid map all blank, all white and planned our missions onto the great white paper. Sometimes the paper would be 6-7 feet long and this planning done, we could head up over the ice in this false and artificial mode, hoping to hell that the compass wouldn’t precess or malfunction and in doing so put us into Soviet Territory to be captured or splashed.  Normal flight could be very up-tight in this situation, and usually they were. As a navigator I had to be able to create paths across real places, which we could all recognize, and create paths out and back to safety over great featureless expanses of white paper.

Authors can be involved in similar situations. And stories can be a little bit like this– depending on what the writer is doing and how he or she is telling the story.

Think about James Joyce, who once said in a letter to poet Ezra Pound, “In Ulysses, I have recorded simultaneously what a man says, sees, thinks, and what such seeing, thinking, saying does, to what Freudians all call the subconscious.” The subconscious is of course, unknown and unmapped and not much different than that blank polar grid map I had to construct and use. Point is that all humans find ourselves in the unknown and uncharted sometimes. As a navigator I was trained to takes us into such situations and to bring us out, no matter what happened.

Writers do the same thing, though writers do not and cannot get the same kind of training that navigators must have. In reality, GPS and other things have pretty much eliminated the need for human navigators now because most of what we did can now be done by computers and programs.

But you can’t install in a human being a black box that will create imagination. We are born with this, or not. Most of us have some semblance of creativity, though on the edges there are probably some with none. We can exercise our ability to imagine and create, and critique it, and practice it, but if we lack the essential element needed, no amount of classes or study will install it. Just won’t.

            When this happens, it makes more sense to stop trying to make something beyond your capability and enjoy the work of others who can. In other words, turn to the stories which will be maps for you to journey elsewhere and to see some facet of existence in ways you could not do on your own. To repeat, maps are stories, and conversely, stories are maps.

When my father was dying in 1976 and in the hospital, and he sat up one evening on the side of his hospital bed and grumbled, “The Virgin Mary and all that stuff. How do you know?”

Of all the people to ask. Sheesh I was clueless, but I could think pretty quick and I said, “You know how you love to drive all over the country and see new places you’ve never seen before, just because you want to? Well that other stuff is a sort of roadmap too. You trust the maps you use for your road-trips. I guess you’ll have to depend on the roadmap you have for this trip.

His answer was an ambiguous grunt and he lay back and died that night. He was 55.

So we follow a map on the assumption it will take us to where we want to go. With a story we trust the map of that device to take us to a place or places the writer chooses to take us.

And that’s enough for today. Over

13 Feb

Winter’s Drudge in the Wording Life

Six  degrees F this morning, wind blowing some, less than a foot of snow on the ground, winter keeps eroding toward spring. Copies of BUCKULAR DYSTROPHY came in the mail this week. Meanwhile I’m on to other pursuits. There is little opportunity to sit on  one’s laurels in this business, mainly from internal drive that keeps telling one to keep going, keep moving, you can rest later.  Ironically you have to sit on your buttocks to no sit on your laurels. Go figure.

Given the weirdness of our current presidential nominating campains (spelling intended) and how much mud and merde gets slung around publicly I think back to other times and places. Freedom of Speech has been an issue in most societies in history, and continues to be in many current parts of the world. Consider one fervent Puritan John Stubbs who objected vehemently to Queen Elizabeth’s possible marriage to the Duke of Anjou. Stubbs published, THE DISCOVERY OF A GAPING GUILT WHEREUNTO ENGLAND IS LIKE TO BE SWALLOWED BY ANOTHER FRENCH MARRIAGE, IF THE LORD FORBID NOT THE BANNS, BY LETTING HER MAJESTY SEE THE SIN AND PUNISHMENT THEREOF.  Titles tended to be Looooong in those days.)  Predictably, what Queen Elizabeth saw was this jamoke preaching to her. (Note to wannabe political critics, Do not make accusations of your queen — lessen you got a lot of distance twixt you and her.] She ordered cut off the right hands of Mr Stubbs’s , his publisher, and his printer. The printer was pardoned, the other two weren’t.  Oh well.

Free speech items remind me of jokes from the days of the Cold War and the USSR: A frightened man  goes to the KGB at Lubyanka in Moscow and tells one of the officers there,  “My talking parrot has disappeared.”

The KGB man says,  “That’s not the kind of case we handle. Go to the criminal police.”

But the visitor replies, “Excuse me, of course I know that I must go to them. I am just here just to tell you officially that I disagree with the parrot.”

CYA applies in many places many times.

I am working on a book that involves Shakespeare and Hitler and World War II and I have spent the greater part of year just to get to the point where I know enough to write and think my way through a plot. No, not Grady Service and Not Lute Bapcat. Something entirely diff, but more like Berkut than anything else I’ve done. If it gets written. Thought it might be interesting to see the research (at least eh publications part of it that has gone in to this. I number each reference and then use that ref number from the bibliography to make notes from the texts. Other writers have their own methods. Here’s the list as it stands today:

 

# 1   Ivor Brown. How Shakespeare Spent the Day (1963)

#2   David Crystal & Ben Crystal. Shakespeare’s Words: A Glossary & Language Companion (2002)\

#3   Peter Cunningham. Extracts From The Accounts of the Revels At Court in the Reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James I (1842)

#4   Rev. N.J.Halpin. Oberon’s Vision in the Midsummer Night’s Dream Illustrated By A Comparison with Lylie’s Endymion. (1843)

#5   Colin McGinn. Shakespeare’s Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind  the Plays (2006)

#6   Marchette Chute. Shakespeare of London: A Unique Account of Shakespeare’s Life and Times (1949)

#7   S. Schoenbaum. Shakespeare’s Lives (1991)

#8   Henry Watson Fowler & Francis George Fowler. The King’s English. (2012)

#9   John Payne Collier. Memoirs of Principal Actors in the Plays of Shakespeare. (1846)

#10 Wm Shakespeare. K.Henry IV: With the Humours of Sir John Falstaff. A Tragi-Comedy Wtitten by Mr. W. Shakespeare (1723 ed.)

#11 Sir Walter Scott. Sir Scott. The Antiquery, Vol 1 (Yr Unk)

#12 Tina Packer. Women of Will: Following the Feminine in Shakespeare’s  Plays (2015)

#13 Rodney Symington. The Nazi Appropriation of Shakespeare: Cultural Politics in the Thrid Reich (2005)

#14 Raphael Holinshed. The Historie of England From the Time That I Was First Habited Untill the Time That it Was Last Conquered, Bookes 1-IV (2012)

#15 Dr. Peter D. Matthews & Maria Bussano. Shakespeare Exhumed: The Bussano Chronicles (2013)

#16 Chris Laoutaris. Shakespeare and the Countess. (2014)

#17 Barry Singer. Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill (2012)

#18 Georgina Palfy Sr. The Shakespeare Book. (2015)

#19 Eugene F. Shewmaker. Shakespeare’s Language. (1996)

#20 Wm Shakespeare. The Winter’s Tale (2012 ed)

#22 Anrea Mays. The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger’s Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio (2015)

#23 Eileen M. Bowit. Harrow Past (2000)

#24 Timothy W. Rybacxk. Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life (2008)

#25 Christopher Tyerman. A History of Harrow School (2000)

#26 F.E.Halliday. A Shakespeare Companion. (1952/1964)

#27 The Holy Bible. King James Version (2010)

#28 Terry Crowdy. SOE Agent: Churchill’s Secret Warrior. (2008)

#29 Nick van der Bijl, BEM. No.10 Inter-Allied Commando, 2942-1945. (2006)

#30 Eugene Liptak. Office of Strategic Services, 1942-1945: The World War II Origins of the CIA. (2009)

#31 Sinclair McKay, Intro. The British Spy Manual: TOP SECRET: The Authentic Special Operations Executive (SOE) Guide for WW II, Vols I-II (2014)

#32 Denis Rigdon. How to Be A Spy: The World War II SOE Training Manual (2001/2004)

#33 Foreign Affairs Office. Instructions for British Servicement in Germany 1944. .(1944)

#34 U.S. Army. Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, 1942 (1942)

#35  U.S. Army. Instructions for American Servicemen in France, 1944 (1944)

#36 William Rosen. The Third Horseman: A Story of Weather, War and the Famine History Forgot (2014)

#37 J. Payne Collier, Intro. Rob’t Armin: Nest of Nissie: Simply of Themselves Without  xxx (1608/1842)

#38 Colin McGinn. Shakespeare’s Philosophy: Discovering the Meaning Behind the Plays (2006)

#39 S. Schoenbaum. Shakespeare’s Lives. (1991)

#40 James Shapiro. The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. (2015)

#41 A.L.Rowse. Wm Shakespeare: A Biography. (1963)

#42 Paul Edmundson, Stanley Wells. The Shakespearean Circle: An Alternative Biography. (2015)

#43 Bill Bryson. Shakespeare: The World As Stage.(2007)

#44 David and Ben Crystal. Oxford Illustrated Shakespeare Dictionary (2015)

#45 John Colville. The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955. (1985)

#46 Gretchen Rubin. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill (2003)

#47 Paul Johnson. Churchill. (2009)

#48 Charles Clement Walker. John Heminge and Henry Condell Friends and Fellow Actors of Shakespeare and What the World Owes. (1896/2015)

#49 John Kelley. Never Surrender. (2015)

#50 Kenneth Tynan. He That Plays The King: A View of the Theater. (1950)

#51 Walter Raleigh. Johnson on Shakespeare: Essays and Notes Selected, and Set Forth (1756/1908)

#52 N/A

#53 R.S. Churchill. Winston S. Churchill’s Youth, 1874-1900. (1966)

#54 Wm.Shakespeare. The Winter’s Tale. (1990 ed)

#55 Wm Shakespeare. Troillus and Cressida. (1982 ed)

#56  Wm. Shakespeare.Titus Andronicus  (1965 ed)

#57 Wm. Shakespeare Timon of Athens. (1909 ed)

#58 Kenneth Tynan. Profiles, “Tom Stoppard” (1989)

#59   N/A

#60 Penelope Lively. Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir. (2013)

#61 Eric Rasmussen. The Shakespeare Thefts: In Search of the First Folio (2013)

#62 Wm Manchester & Paul Reid. The Last Lion (2013)

#63 Wm Manchester. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill 1874 Visions of Glory 1932. (1983)

#64 Wm H. Gass. Finding A Farm. (1996)

#65 Phillip DePoy. The Tao and the Bard. (2013)

#66 Maria Konnikova. Master-Mind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes. (2013)

#67 Garry Wills. Making Make-Believe Real (2014)

#68 Wm Shakespeare. Henry IV, Part 2

#69. Daniel Swift. Shakespeare’s Common Prayers: The Book of Common Prayer and the Elizabethan Age.

#70 Maggie Secara. A Compendium of Common Knowldege, 1558-1603. Elizabethan Commonplaces for Writers, Actors & Re-Enactors.(1990)

#71 Piero Boitani. The Gospel According To Shakespeare. (2013)

#72 Stephen Greenblatt. Will in the World. How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. (2004)

#73 A.L. Rowse. My View of Shakespeare: The Shakespeare Revolution. (1996)

#74 Herman Golub. Me and Shakespeare: Adventures With the Bard. (2002)

#75 A.D.Nuttall. Shakespeare The Thinker. (2007)

#76 Ted Hughes. Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being (1992)

#77. Michael Wood. In Search of Shakespeare. (2003)

#78 Brenda James & William D. Rubinstein. The Truth Will Out: Unmasking The Real Shakespeare. (2006)

#79 Edward Berry. Shakespeare and the Hunt: A Cultural and Social Study. (2001)

#80 Peter Ackroyd. Shakespeare: The Biography.(2005)

#81 Harold Bloom. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.1998)

#82 Francis Bacon. Bacon’s Essay. And the Wisdom of the Ancients: With a Biographical Notge by A. Spiers Prefaxce by B. Montagu, and Notes by Different Writers. (Essays from 1500s and 1600s, this collection, 1900)

#83 James Shapiro. A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 (2005)

#84 Bertram Fields. Players: The Mysterious Identity of William Shakespeare (2005)

And much more, of course, eternally more, the search never ending.

 Over.

06 Feb

Names, The Nature of Ambiguity, and Other Oddities in the World of Writing

Just got my newest edition of the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS and there is a piece in it about one Jim Grant, now more commonly known to his book fans as Lee Childs, creator of the Jack Reacher series. I’ve not read any of his stuff, but I have certainly seen the covers and I believe, and, perhaps, a movie with the character. Don’t remember the film at all, which means there was no reason to. Or I’m just old. Prolly both.

I’m in the middle wading the river  of two manuscripts at the moment, which grow in burps and slides and stumbles and such, one them the 11the Grady Service Title and the other a piece set in England in WW 2. The first will no doubt find print. The second? We shall see.

Names seems to capture readers’ attention and I am almost always challenged by readers at various group gropes and reading soirees. When I tell them that the vast majority of the names come directly from UP phone books, their eyes glaze over – yet it’s true. Couple of times a year I get emails from readers asking if a character with the name of X is from X because their uncle/grandfather/brother/whatever was of that name and from that place.  What they want to know is if I am writing about their relative and family. I have to tell them nope, came from a phone book from a different town. This always seems to disappoint. Life, English.

Names though, have a special place in the writer’s zoo verba.

Take, for example, one Jim Grant, “who was a technical director at Granada TV in England, and went to a store in Manchester and bought three A4 pads (the tall ones) and a pencil. This was 1994. He was almost 40 and about to lose his job, thanks to corporate restructuring, which he’d spent two years fighting as a union shop steward. He lost and made a plan to make a living as a novelist, using for models Alistair MacLean the Travis McGee series by John MacDonald. He named his protagonist Franklin, but apparently the name didn’t really take hold in his mind. Thus, came a day in a store as he stretched to a high shelf for an item, and his wife remarked, “If writing doesn’t work out, you can always find work as a ‘reacher.’  Bingo! Jack Franklin became Jack Reacher.

But wait, that’s not all! At same time  Mr. Grant was having doubts about his character name, he also had doubts about his own moniker and a family joke got him thinking. Some years earlier he had chanced to meet a Texan who drove a Renault 5, a model marketed in the U.S. as Le Car, and which the Texan referred to as Lee Car. There after the family used to joke about passing “lee salt” or “lee pepper,” etc, and about looking after “lee child,” and another Bingo moment Jack Reacher and Lee Child were “born!”

Such stories seem archetypal, but there are so many like it from many authors that I have no doubt. Back when The Berkut was in production and nearing publication (my second book) my editor at Random House called and in his most patrician voice declared. We have a problem.”

I sort of felt like an astronaut hearing from Houston. “What?” I asked.

“It’s your…NAME.

“Yah, what ABOUT my name?”

“Random House does NOT publish. JOE’S.”

I couldn’t stop laughing. “Fox pick out whatever name you want. I couldn’t care less. Up till then I had published as Joe T. Heywood. That day I became Joseph NMI Heywood and have remained so ever since. Once considered publishing under my Irish grandmother Mary’s maiden name, Hamill, but decided not to. Someday perhaps.

There’s no question that names are important to stories and life itself, and I’ve no doubt that many authors swimming in the Maximo Flatulenti in the sharp-elbow corners of the Big-L Upper Lit-Ra-Chuh  ice sheet give long and deep thought to selecting just the right one. Me, I take what pops into my head, or which my hand finds at random in the phone rag. Sometimes I make up names, but these occasions are fairly rare. I feel sorry for anyone who is not familiar with Russian or Slave names when they are reading THE BERKUT, and THE DOMINO CONSPIRACY, , but I use only legitimate names in those stories, so it is what it is.  

And it’s not just  what I think of as quasi-exotics that seem to throw folks. Last month I got an email from a fellow who didn’t identify where he was from. His note  read as follows: “Enjoy reading your books. Lots of different characters to try to remember. Only one thing I don’t like: Difficult to pronounce names: Zulderveen, Allerdyce, Pyykkonen, Macofome, Pracie, Scaffidi, etc. Makes it even more difficult to keep track of them. Why so many difficult-to-pronounce names? They don’t seem difficult to me or to most Yoopers, so I had a hard time answering the inquiry.

As you may surmise, I am fascinated by names, and to this end I also keep a growing list of the longest names I encounter in my various reading endeavors. A retired reporter friend of me even gave me four pages of names  collected from his career, names that had caught his attention, for various reasons (largely prurient).

Here’s a short list of the long names on my list:

  • Bibhutibhuswan Bannerjee (Indian author);
  • Florentio V Macadandan (from something I read in the Kalamazoo Gazette long ago);
  • Mihaly Csikszent Mihaly (nickname “Six-Card Mihaly);
  • A gent  by the name of Mike Tyson Schwarzenegger Prodelle.
  • A Brazilian plumber with the long handle of Errol Flynn PaixzoCharlingtonglarvionbeechaknavare dos anjos mendona (chacha).
  • There is Te Rangimario Ngarimu, a female hit-woman (assassin) in Niger;
  • And, Kumkum Sangari, author of The POLITICS OF THE POSSIBLE, and finally,
  • Wanorievyston Carl or Marllon Brnadon Bruno Paully Nelly Mell Oliveira Pereera (or as his friends and intimates call him, a.k.a Peteroswickonicovick. Wah, and Whew (not names…yet).

And MY names are weird?  One name I’ve found sort of alluring recently is that of Calliope Wong, a transgender student refused entrance by the very liberal Smith College. My head swims at the possibilities.

I’d characterize all this as food for thought,  knowing full well it’s sure just some Pablum.

As a note on name collecting, I love Olympic years when team rosters are published for many countries, I love sports roundups, obits, and any sort of news or mag item that features a lot of names. Cemeteries are excellently name collection points. Or randomly open a book or magazine and start writing down the names. And of course the phone book (which they still exist: how long till they got the way of rotary phones?

Let me close on a technicality – (technical fishing translates to flinging a size 26 fly on 7X tippet at a target the size of a FOREVER stamp). This technicality concerns ambiguity in writing, ambiguity being defined as uncertainty or inexactness of meaning in language.

As a generality a writer  usually seeks to eliminate ambiguity, that is, we want what we are writing to come through to the reader exactly (or as close to exactly) as we conceive it, with the same result and reaction if triggers in us.  But ambiguity, like all things human, is not so simple or straightforward. There are times when a writer may want something to be ambiguous and there are lots of possible reasons for this.

But let us concentrate  now solely on ambiguity as it can get in the way of understanding. Critic-poet William Empson speaks of Seven types of Ambiguity which can retard or kerfluffle the chemistry between the printed word and the reader. Here’s Mr. Empson’s list:

  • Metaphor, two things said to be alike, but with different properties;
  • Two or more meanings resolved into one, mostly from trying to use two different metaphors simultaneously;
  • Two ideas connected through context but given in one word simultaneously;
  • Two or more meanings that do not agree but combine to make clear a complicated state of mind in the author. (I might have said in the character, too, but this is Empson’s list, not mine);
  • When the author discovers his idea in the act of writing. (This probably happens to some extent with all of us who make a living with the pen). Here Empson describes a simile that lies halfway between the two statements made by the author;
  • When a statement says nothing and the readers are forced to invent a statement of their own, most likely in conflict with that of the author. (I understand Empson’s point here, but it seems to me you can leave a blank that requires some sort of effort from the reader, perhaps in physical descriptions so that they are putting some sweat equity into the effort and in the process buying in and becoming part of the active process. More on this some other day. Just not that if you look at my main characters you will find almost not detailed descriptions because I want them to look how you want them to in your mind, not see what I see in mine. See, what the character says and does should help you draw him, rather than me providing a word photo. Lots of authors would and do disagree with my approach here); and,
  • Two words that within context are opposites that expose a fundamental division in the author’s mind.]

Empson published these thoughts in 1930 (13 years before I was born)  and provided some of the key spade-work in the formation of the New Criticism school, whose emphasize explication, or “close reading,” of “the work itself.” This approach rejects old historicism’s attention to biographical and sociological matters. Instead, the objective determination as to “how a piece works” can be found through close focus and analysis, rather than through extraneous and erudite special knowledge.  This bears on the fact that the art product is not the artist, but something separate and to try to read biography into what you read or see is a slippery slope to oblivion (wherein dwells eternal confusion).

Sometimes in groups I’ll ask how many there  read and relate to the Bible? Always get several hands. I ask, “Do you believe it, get into it, find it compelling? Nods all around. “Do you know the authors? This always draws blank faces. The authors, of course, are long dead (and the thought-to-be-authors may in some cases not even be the de facto authors) but the point is that the work works. Doesn’t matter who wrote it or why, or even it they knew why they were doing it, only that it obviously worked in some way for them and continues to resonates in some way with readers a couple of millennia later. All that matters between author and reader is what’s on paper. All the rest ranks somewhere between irrelevant and idle baloney, between Entertainment Tonight and This Is Your Life, both rubbish.

Back when I was in J-School at Michigan State we all had to take an Advertising course and in that course we were all given access to something called the “Eureka Process,” which taught us how to prepare and plumb our brains for creative ideas. It was one of the most valuable things I learned in school, and it carried into every career and environment I fell into. More recently (last week) I read Maria Konnikova’s MASTERMIND; HOW TO THINK LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES. (Viking, 2013). Granted, it’s a hokey kind of title, but it does get one’s attention, which is its intent.  Konnikova writes the “Literally Psyched” Column for SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN. The book is well worth your time and continued thought.

The process she describes so well is a richer and somewhat deep version of the Eureka process and in my opinion a must-read for all writers, teachers, cops, soldiers, engineers, whatever, anyone involved in analysis of problems and trying to find solutions.  The author uses author Doyle and characters Holmes and Watson to illustrate her points. For me it’s useful not just for my own use in seeking information and finding ways to handle it, but for how my characters can go right or wrong in handling information. Interesting read, well worthy my time.

Enough Saturday morning blarney. Lonnie and sister Mary went to see mom Georgie in Niles yesterday and got to see six Blooeys (bluebirds). (Not to be confused with Bloobs– blueberries.)

Here’s a thought offered by Francis Bacon’s translator back around the time that William Shakespeare was about to check out life and, for a couple of centuries anyone’s attention, too. “ Nullem momentum aut temporis segmentum perire et intercidere passus est.” Which is to say, “He suffered no moment, nor fragment of time to pass away unprofitably.”  The man didn’t waste time and his friends and associates knew this and appreciated it. Bacon Accomplished a squat-load in his life and his ethic on time- used is fine guidon for us to  heel to.

By the way, I was an AWFUL Latin student and once desperately changed an F to a B on my report card and got caught. The old man didn’t kick my ass. Thought I wished he had on that occasion.  Oh well. It took four or five more decades to come to love the language, which one historian described as, “Although modern translations do their best to make it all sound fairly lucid, the original Latin wording is often clear from that, the absence of nouns and differentiated pronouns can make it almost impossible to know who is doing what to whom.   I like knowing that still believe that Romans had a knack for pithiness and continue to believe I am very, very lucky to be able to create and write in the English vernacular.

Over. Go Denver. 50 Superbowls? Wow. I still remember the first one, Green Bay 35, K.C. 10. Sorry Rootie.

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