On summer or winter in books and writing

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and The Call of the Wild

“Do you prefer Summer or Winter in books and writing?” asks blogger Lea At Sea. What do you think? I had to think about that for a while.

I finished a few books recently by authors Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. Saturday, On Chesil Beach and The Bean Trees all have specific seasons and locations central to each novel. As I thought of how the seasons permeate a novel, two novels come to mind: ‪

by ‪Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬ by Jack London. [1] It never occurred to me to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ because it begins on a cold winter morning. The character and narrative interested me. The gulag in winter is a prominent element of the story, but that isn’t the reason I read the book. It was the story.

By nature I’m a fall/winter sort of person. Maybe that’s why I recalled those two books:One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬. But my reading choice is not directly influenced by that predisposition otherwise I would not have picked up a book set in spring/summer of the American southwest. However, I am curious to learn if your reading selections are influenced by that perimeter. Do you choose a book because it is seasonally based? Further, if you are a poet and/or writer, do you specifically write for a specific season?

NOTES: [1] Technically, ‪The Call of the Wild‬ and On Chesil Beach are novellas. Maybe I should refer to the works as books rather than their literary distinctions. Writing Forums offers distinctions between short story, novella and novel lengths. Basically, word count. Short Short Stories & Flash Fiction; usually under 1,000 words; Short Stories, 7,499 words to 15,000 words; Novelette, 7,500 to 17,499 words; Novella, 17,500 words to 39,999 words; Novel, minimum word count of 40,000 words. It is my understanding that a proper novel runs an average of 80,000 words. Since we’re on the topic of word count, Fiction Factor offers How Long Should Your Story Be? by Lee Masterson and Writer’s Relief presents Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction.

The English novel versus the American novel

Which do you prefer, the English novel or the American novel? I’ve been thinking about that after reading some of Ian McEwan’s and Barbara Kingsolver’s books. Maybe it is the difference in the writers and not so much the country from which they live. There is a tone or manner that seems a marked distinction between the two styles. What do you think?

Last Night, Poetry at the Altamont – Featuring Evie Shockley

Evie Shockley reading at The Altamont Theater, Asheville, NC

If it is possible to be drunk on poetry, than I am still sobering up from last night’s event Poetry at the Altamont featuring Evie Shockley. It was quite a special night as Evie Shockley read selections from the new black and a half-red sea as well as some new poems in progress.

Other highlights include poems read by notable poets including Lee Ann Brown, Jeff Davis (who also hosted the event), Eric Steineger, Caleb Beissert and many others whom I have forgotten there names, but not their words. There were verses read about five drinks at a bar with reflections of a homeless man in a cardboard box home and another poem about bees and honey and lazy hippies squatting in someone’s home all summer.

I also read some poems last night. Earlier in that day I had mailed off a manuscript to a publisher and had intended to read selections from that manuscript, but I changed up what I read. I can’t tell you what I read. You’ll have to ask someone who was there last night at The Altamont.

It was such a pleasure to join this gathering of poets and share works in progress in sort of literary laboratory. Looking forward to the next gathering.

Artifacts from the late 1990s

Hidden in the back of a closet, a box of audio CDs

Is it possible to keep secrets or hide treasure in such an open, immediate society? Think of the secrets between Edward Mayhew and Florence Ponting of On Chesil Beach. It was a different time and place. Or maybe the quiet understanding between Primo and Secondo in the final moments of Big Night. Again, those were different times. A world before the internet and mobile devices and social media. Even in fictional works, you recognize how culture changes and you change with it.

My thoughts kept drifting back to that theme this weekend. A week or so ago, I opened the cardboard box to find two neat rows of artifacts from the late 1990s. Compact discs. CDs. Seems much more tangible than finding two rows of “moving picture experts group” (MPEG) files when referring to audio music. (Even composing that sentence seems clunky and unsophisticated.) This collection of music was packed into a cardboard box and was supposed to be unpacked when I relocated to Asheville. The box remained sealed like a time capsule.

My Beauty and I rented  a space in Asheville that was twice the cost of our previous house and half the size. It was the most affordable place we could find at the time. A lot of boxes remained unpacked because there was no space to expand. Now as we pack things up again, I decide to keep this cardboard box open, listen to Tonic’s Lemon Parade, Goo Goo Doll’s Dizzy Up The Girl, and reflect on how different these times are compared to the late 1990s.

At that time, Bill Clinton was president of the U.S. and Boris Yeltsin was the first president of the Russian Federation. There was no Twitter revolution. Americans would get together in homes or apartments to share supper and snacks while watching the latest episode of the television shows ER, Friends or Party of Five. That was before the rise of the cult of white box worshippers [1] and the advent of Netflix. There seemed to be a greater sense of community. Or maybe that’s just 1990s nostalgia.

During that time, I didn’t own a personal computer or laptop. When I returned home from my job as a graphic designer, I would often read books or listened to Blues Traveler, Beth Hart or unknown indie bands like Spooky Tuesday on a CD player while I worked on illustrations or paintings. As I rediscover these albums, I recall paintings I was working on while listening to Days of the New for the first time. When I listen to Stavesacre’s album, friends I haven’t thought of in years fill my mind.

There was a specific evening with coworkers I recall. After work, we often meet up for dinner and a movie. While waiting for food to be served we were discussing the events of the day while enjoying our drinks. One coworker’s teenage daughter, who often joined us on those evenings, said, “There’s no specific movement in the 90s. Not like the 60’s or 70s. I mean, I grew up in the 90s. Even the music is boring. There’s nothing memorable about the 90s.” Maybe that’s teenage naivety, but I think there is much to remember of the late 1990s.

NOTES: [1] This is a reference to an article by Andrew Sullivan that I mentioned years ago in an essay, iPod, therefore iAm?.

Afternoon poetry and jazz

Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon Audio CD

Sometimes a few notes of music follow you for days are weeks or years. Sometimes a line of poetry haunts you like a memory you can’t quite recall. It’s like rain, it permeates the air, wets the ground, even makes tea taste more pronounced.

Here’s part of a story I can share with you. After I was at university studying art and design, I found an audio CD in a music store titled Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon. What attracted me to the album, a compilation, was the fact that the cover art reminded me of a sexier version of Gustave Caillebotte’s famous painting. I purchased the audio CD. It was background music initially. Something to edge off lonely days as a poor graduate beginning a career in graphic design. About the same time I discovered, and purchased, a copy of William Kistler’s poetry book America February.

I have always enjoyed poetry and music, but reading Kistler’s work was rigorous for me. Light verse and traditional poems, the variety that fill American and English school book anthologies, were what I was familiar with. But Kistler’s poetry was a new dish for my inexperienced palate. Equally, understanding the musical selections of Jazz for a Rainy Afternoon as more than a background soundtrack was challenging.

A line from one of Susan L Daniels’s poems has captured my attention this past week—the way jazz and poetry sometimes do. The speaker in the poem answers a question, so you like jazz, by saying: “…the answer is no/I live it sometimes…” That’s what I have come to enjoy about the complicated progression in a song or a poem that avoids a clean resolution.

Jazz and poetry work into you. It takes you down that familiar path of a rainy day afternoon, a common enough subject, but it is a variation of that theme. Never the same way twice. Like reading a poem as a school boy and reading it later as a graduate and later as a professional. Same poem printed on the page, but different. Always different. But familiar, because you “live it.” There’s more to this story. Maybe I’ll share it with you on another rainy day afternoon.

Sisyphus tears down the mountain in a Chevy

Sisyphus tears down the mountain in a Chevy

In this photo, Sisyphus enters the story. His punishment for sharing secrets on the internet is to daily drive a cheap, two-and-a-half-ton American-made automobile up and down a mountain. You may wonder, what secrets were released on the internet? Does Julian Assange know about this? But that is part of the story I cannot share. Not at this point.

What hides behind this foggy morning photograph?

Flowers in bloom in a fog shrouded city

There is a story behind this foggy morning photograph with a cast of characters that would fill a Kent Haruf novel. I want to tell you this story and how it marks an anniversary, of sorts, but it’s like a Beth Hart song where “nothing’s clear in a bar full of flies” and I’m sobering up as the sun begins to peel back the morning mist.

There is a story behind this photo

A View from Mount Pisgah

There is a story behind this photo. In this story, My Beauty cries and my children are cold and tired. It is a strange time with clouds pushing the daylight into night. There is an interesting plot twist, but it is a story I cannot share with you just yet. It is the story behind this photograph.