Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Blog Days of Summer

I know you're busy.  I know the summer got away from you--came and went in a quick burst of sunshine, soccer camp, and Yellowstone vacation (not to mention fire, flood, hurricane and earthquake).  I know you didn't have time to sit around indoors, hunched and pale at your computer, reading idle chatter about royal weddings, 3-D shark movies, and Rick Perry's will-he-or-won't-he campaign.  I know the least of your worries this summer was keeping up with the stream of verbal diarrhea from blogs like, oh for instance, The Quivering Pen.

That's why I'm giving you a chance to redeem yourselves.

Here, in one convenient package, are links to the least-read posts written between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Using Google Analytics, these are the Quivering Pen dispatches which quivered at the bottom of the slag heap, unloved and lonely.  Now that the kids are back in school and the pool toys are back in storage, why not show these puppies some love?

In the war, but not of the war
An early-draft version of the opening lines to my Iraq War novel, Fobbit (the opening has since gone through several revisions and these paragraphs have been moved farther down in the manuscript):
      Let this be known: I, Chance Gooding Jr., never wanted to be a man of war. Growing up, and well into my adult years, I never imagined myself uniformed, head-shaved, be-gunned. A hard, stoic minion of the military going around saying things like “Kill a Commie for Mommy!” and “Last night I drove my POV to the PX so I could DX my BDUs” or “I’m being all I can be”? Nope, not in the cards for Chance Gooding Jr.
      A writer. That was more like it. A lover of language, a scribe of moonlight and madness, chronicler of the human condition. Someone like John Cheever or Raymond Carver or the great F. Scott F. But without all the drinking and early death.

Immigrant Picnic by Gregory Djanikian
An All-American poem for your Independence Day reading pleasure:
It's the Fourth of July, the flags
are painting the town,
the plastic forks and knives
are laid out like a parade.

And I'm grilling, I've got my apron,
I've got potato salad, macaroni, relish,
I've got a hat shaped
like the state of Pennsylvania.

Men at Work: Five Skies by Ron Carlson
Three men stand at the edge of a remote river gorge in Idaho, about to begin work on a summer construction project: a large wooden ramp at the lip of the canyon, built for a motorcycle stuntwoman who plans to jump the canyon, a la Evel Knievel. The three men are relative strangers to each other, but before the summer is over, they will bond in ways none of them could have predicted. That's the sum total of Ron Carlson's first novel in nearly thirty years, Five Skies. It's a beautiful, patiently-moving narrative about the value of hard work and the way flawed men come to grips with their personal demons.

Storming the Bastille With Charles Dickens
Saint Antoine had been, that morning, a vast dusky mass of scarecrows heaving to and fro, with frequent gleams of light above the billowy heads, where steel blades and bayonets shone in the sun. A tremendous roar arose from the throat of Saint Antoine, and a forest of naked arms struggled in the air like shrivelled branches of trees in a winter wind: all the fingers convulsively clutching at every weapon or semblance of a weapon that was thrown up from the depths below, no matter how far off.

Words of Wisdom: Sailing the Ocean in a Bathtub With Stephen King
Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt.

From the Cutting-Room Floor: Tabby Hoffman, the Taxidermied Cat
After the marketplace suicide bomber, but before the evening update to the commanding general, the usual tedium settled back over the cubicles in task force headquarters. So that's why it was a relief to see Specialist Kotch arrive with that day's mail call.

A Pair of Dark Poems on the Occasion of Raymond Carver's Death
Yesterday marked the anniversary of the death of Raymond Carver at age 50 in 1988. Not that I'm celebrating or anything, just observing the passage of one of the greatest short story writers in the second half of the 20th century. There will never be another Carver--though many have tried (like me) and come close (not me).  As the date of the un-celebration came and went, I thought of a poem I wrote after the publication of Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose.

Tuesday Tune: "Calgary" by Bon Iver
Bon Iver's new self-titled album is a hypnotic soundtrack for the moments of our lives when pain rises, love blooms, wars rage, peace recedes, bugs crawl, birds soar, volcanoes rumble, waves crash, planets crack. It should be played with discretion. It should be played without cessation.

Look What I Found: 3 by William MacLeod Raine
Any self-respecting collectors of vintage American literature will have at least one novel by William MacLeod Raine on their bookshelves. Quite possibly, they'll have something like twenty Raine books sitting there gathering dust. The dude could write with speed and dexterity. Let's put it this way, if Raine was a horse, his mane would be snapping in the wind.

Reader, I Ate Him: the Gory Delights of The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Meet Jake Marlowe. He's a millionaire, a chain-smoker, a sex addict, and a man who likes a good tumbler of aged whiskey. He's also a paranoiac, has a hair-trigger temper, and is a bit of a nihilist.  Did I mention he's a 200-year-old werewolf?  As The Last Werewolf opens, Marlowe is given the news by his human "handler" that the only other known member of his monster-species has just been assassinated. "It's official," Harley said. "They killed the Berliner two nights ago. You're the last."

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