Post #155: Retreat!

Advice, Just For Fun, New Writing, The Writing Craft, Writing Advice

For the past two and a half days, I’ve been in the Northeast Kingdom, in the northernmost tip of Vermont, only a stone’s throw away from the Canadian border, on a writing retreat. As usual, I’ve been quite productive, accomplishing in only a few days what normally takes me weeks, or even months, to work through at home. None of it would be possible without the support of my wife, who 2-3 times a year, lets me leave home and completely unplug so I can get truly myopic and immerse myself in my writing with no boundaries or limitations. She’s pretty much my hero. I think she lets me go because she knows I’d be sort of miserable if I couldn’t, and because she loves me. And because we both know that, life, and also marriage, are at times like an airplane emergency. You should put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Caring properly for yourself makes you a better carer for others.

For creators, it’s hard to overestimate the value of creative retreat, which truly must happen away from home. It must happen away from work. Away from spouses. Away from children. Away from responsibility. Away from reality, really. For me, it must be done with a willingness to completely unplug and give myself over to and elevate the part of myself that is always a bit player in my normal life. That sidekick who wishes he had more stage time, but will always be seventh or eighth on the call sheet. If you’re a writer, musician, or any other kind of creative person, you know exactly what I’m talking about. At home, there’s never enough time. On retreat, there’s nothing but time.

What you come to realize, when you stop doing everything but writing is how much you actually DO in your day to day life. You realize that most days you spend in a blind frenzy, going from one thing to the other, deluding yourself into thinking you’re focused and present, when most of the time the sheer volume of tasks and requirements that each day hurls at your face has you in perpetual survival mode. This is especially true for people like me with school age children. When you strip everything away, when you stop measuring your minutes by how they connect to the next thing you have to do, your mind is freed to wander and dream in a way that’s hard to quantify, and truly rare. And it’s why I am always astounded by how much work I can get done in only a few days when there’s nothing else to do but put one word in front of the next.

For many years, I retreated alone. I’d book an AirBnB in the woods somewhere, or on the back part of somebody’s farm, and barely leave the house for three days on end. I’d be like a strange sort of word hermit, unshowered and talking to myself, delighted by my own strange company. But for the past couple years, I’ve been going on retreat with my writing group. At first, I worried that the distraction of others would compromise the purity of my retreat goals. I worried I wouldn’t be as productive. Amazingly this has not proven true. If you find the right company, people who want the same thing out of retreat as you do, which is mostly to be left the hell alone and wring the lemon out all the way, it can be wonderful. A lovely routine develops. We rise on the early side, meet up in the kitchen as we brew our coffee and tea, exchange a few morning greetings, then disappear to our individual hovels, mine always messy and strewn with books and piles of paper. Throughout the day, conversations might occasionally spring up, or we might have lunch together, but there’s an unspoken understanding that there’s no obligation to socialize or hang out. The work is everything, and not having to explain that to anyone, not having to justify your needs, is fabulously freeing. Then, in the evenings, there’s usually a shared meal and some beverages. Some retreats, when there’s 4-5 of us, we might play some music or read from what we’re working on and talk about it. Sometimes there’s none of that, and that’s fine too.

Life is difficult. Life is tiring. Life takes everything you have. It’s easy to fall into the habit of being a martyr. Of believing that always sublimating your own needs for whatever greater good (work, family, society) is akin to nobility and grace. And, of course, it’s important to be a good citizen, family member, etc. But I think that our society undervalues tending to one’s own garden. To nurturing one’s own health and spirit, which is strange because your own happiness literally depends on it. So, get out there and retreat in whatever form you can find it. Turn off your phone. Ignore social media. Sink gleefully and gluttonously and un-guiltily into whatever thing fills up your cup, and give yourself permission to stay there for a while.

You’ll come back better for it. At least, I always do.

Post #152: Meet the Voice of Rainey Cobb

Advice, publishing, The Writing Craft
Voice Actor Nicola Fordwood

First off, have you gotten your copy of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze yet? Click HERE to order the paperback, e-book, or audiobook! Also remember to add it on Goodreads HERE.

Now…on with the program!

Collaborating with voice actor Nicola Fordwood to bring the audiobook for Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze to life was one of the most joyful and surprising parts of the publishing process. I sat down with Nicola to talk about her journey into voice acting, what it’s really like to record an audiobook, and whether she would consider taking the plunge again.

How did you become a voice actor?

It was actually a friend who introduced me to the VO world. I was working a corporate job and kind of losing my mind because I wasn’t being creative. My friend thought doing voice acting would allow me to act again and release some of that creativity. I took one character class and I was hooked!

This was your first audiobook. What made you decide to take the plunge?

First, audiobooks have always scared me a bit because they are a big commitment. You also need to have great stamina to keep your energy up throughout the book. But when you step outside of your comfort zone and try the things that scare you or intimidate you, that is when the magic happens. Second, I got a small sample of the book to audition and when I read it, I could just feel it. I could feel Rainey. I know it sounds insanely cheesy. But I wanted to tell her story. I wanted to know more about her journey. I also LOVE the 90’s, thoroughly enjoy young adult/coming of age books and feel very strongly about the power of a mixtape.

How do you stay focused while recording for long periods?

I am an introvert. I love silencing the outside world and just concentrating on one thing. I think both of these things really help me with being in a small dark booth for hours by myself everyday. Once I am focused on something that I really enjoy, I get hyper-focused. I would do most of my recording in the morning to early afternoon and then I couldn’t stop thinking about anything but the book and the characters. I would fall asleep just wanting to wake up and continue working on it. It was kind of exhilarating. 

How did you approach creating the voices for the characters in Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze?

Acting, even voice acting, is a very physical thing. So for me it was first talking with you (Benjamin) about the characters and then actually standing and playing with the voices. I stood how I thought the characters would stand. Do they lean back on one hip when they talk? Do they hunch over? Do they fidget with their hands? I would then write down any of those notes of how I was standing or the placement of my mouth or hands to help me get back into that character.

What surprised you the most about this process, both good and bad?

How emotional it was. How attached I got to Rainey and also how much I enjoyed it. I recorded this book every day over the course of 2.5 weeks and on the final day when I finished the last chapter, I cried. Not a sad cry, but almost that overwhelming, surprised cry when you finally complete something that has been your focus for so long.

How was voicing an audiobook different from other kinds of voice work?

Voicing an audiobook was like performing a play just instead of one role. I got to play all the parts/characters, including the director. It was the closest I have been to being in a play in a long time and it reminded me of why I love acting/performing. I love bringing a character’s soul to life and sharing that with an audience and hopefully making them feel something.

How did it affect your process to have access to me (Benjamin) to talk through things?

It was amazing! I have never had that opportunity before where I can ask the author about each of the characters: what are their dreams, what are their biggest fears, etc. For most character work I have to make a lot of it up if it isn’t obvious in the script, but instead I got to go to the source. It was so nice.

How did you consider the audience/listener while you were recording?

Audiobooks are so intimate. Most of the time you are literally sitting directly in someone’s ear telling the story. So as a narrator, you have to keep that in mind. That being said, I found this book to be very intimate. It is told in the first person through Rainey, so the listener is hearing her innermost personal thoughts. The listener is basically her daily diary entry. There is an emotional rawness to that and especially to Rainey herself that I really wanted the listener to hear and I hope comes through with my delivery.  

Rumor has it that a sequel to Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze may be in the works. Would you consider voicing Rainey again?

My heart just jumped a bit when I thought about getting to see Rainey again and continuing on her journey with her. This book is one of those books that has just stuck with me. I still think about it a lot. About a lot of the characters, but especially Rainey. Yes, absolutely. I really would be honored to.

Click HERE to learn more about Nicola’s voice acting and hear samples of her work.

Post #148: The Waiting is the…(say it with me!)

New Writing, Parenting, publishing, Shaking My Head, Writing Advice

First off, have you pre-ordered Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze yet? Click HERE to pre-order your copy now–thank you! Also remember to add it on Goodreads HERE!

Now, to business.

After years (and years) of trying, my debut novel finally comes out next month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of time, and how time gets soft and stretchy around moments of great expectation. Why is that? I hate to fly and in the days, hours, and minutes before I board an airplane, time seems to puff up, to press in on me. Minutes fall into quicksand and drag interminably. Similarly, as I await my book coming out, time has gotten labored and unreliable. I’m simultaneously wishing I could wind the clock forward to July 22nd and my moment of jubilation, but also trying with every shred of my being to savor the experience, to soak it up. To look around. Remember how I feel. But time has me in a strange grip as of late, and it won’t seem to let go.

Be in the moment, I tell myself. Be here now, I say. You’ll only publish your first book once, don’t try to race through it. But how exactly do you do that?

I have two sons, and when you’re a parent, you come to realize that parenting is a journey that makes one hyper aware of time. I remember when my first son, Felix, was perched in my lap, only a few days old, barely able to hold up his own head or make conscious facial expressions, totally unable to control his own bladder, and even then I was already thinking: won’t it be wonderful when he can walk? I was thinking: I can’t wait until he’s older and I can teach him to play tennis and take him to hear live music and share with him all of life’s wisdom. And then he’d smile quite by accident, the way babies do, and I’d be hurled back into the moment, feel his warm soft skin against mine and I’d kick myself for drifting, for not being as present as I would like to be. For not being right here, right now.

Does this happen to you? (Please say yes)

The strange thing is that it feels almost impossible to stop this from happening. Even if you gain momentary control over your sense of space and time, if you find yourself in a moment that you’re so deeply in that time ceases to exist, it’s fleeting. At least for me. Before long, I’m thrust back into the weigh station of anticipation. Thrown into a box with high walls and just enough air. Forced back into asking that perpetual question I will forever associate with The West Wing: What’s Next?

But still I try.

My book is currently in the hands of early readers and reviewers, some of whom I know but most of whom I do not. As a professional writer (my day job is as a copywriter), and soon to be published novelist, I dine out on feedback. Everything I write gets picked apart in one way or another. I’m used to it. I like it. My writing being critiqued is literally my life. And yet, awaiting the judgment of strangers on the relative quality of my novel is a uniquely out of body experience, the likes of which I’ve never known before. I’m genuinely proud of my book, and I know I did the best I could. My conscience is clear. I know even bad reviews won’t change that. Nor will good reviews. And yet…the goddamn waiting.

I hope you’re not over there rolling your eyes at me. I hope, at least in part, that you’re nodding your head just a little bit in understanding.

Time makes fools of us all.

Post # 146: Book Giveaway!

New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading, writing news

Would you like to read an advance copy of my debut novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, before it comes out on July 22nd? Of course you would! And I’m doing a giveaway just for followers of my blog to make it happen. Because I do love you so.

The rules are simple:

Be among the first 5 people to click HERE and send me a message saying you’re interested.

Then, I will send you a secure link where you can download the e-book to read on your Kindle, Nook, or e-reader of your choice. Or you can download the digital ARC (advance reader copy) version of the paperback.

Did I mention it’s FREE? Clink the link and let’s make this happen! Yay books.

Post #139: Ambitious Attainability

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

I love some good goal setting just as much as the next guy. After all, setting goals + achieving goals = happier self. And who doesn’t want to be happier? But I’ve also developed a bit of an algorithm for my own goals, whether they be for my writing life or just my life in general.

I believe in setting goals that are ambitious, but still attainable. Ambitious so that I’m properly motivated and know that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Attainable so that I have something to celebrate because celebrating feels good and is a really important part of the process. Most goal setting happens privately, and when it’s just you and you, small victories really matter. In the age of social media, it feels like everything is for public consumption, but deep down, most of us still know that we have to make ourselves happy first.

Now, I know that the notion of attainability sort of flies in the face of all the “yay-me!” feelings that are supposed to accompany goal setting in the greeting-card sense of the phrase. We’re always telling ourselves to “dream big” and “be our best selves.” To “reach for the stars” and be “the person we were always born to be.” But you show me a person who spends a little too much time dreaming big and reaching for the stars and I’ll show you a person who regularly doesn’t meet his goals and doesn’t get to celebrate success as often as he’d like.

Let’s get specific. At the top of this page, you’ll see a picture. Now, I’m not in this picture, but what you’re looking at is me celebrating successfully meeting a goal in about the least sexy way possible: by writing numbers on a page, and then writing more numbers beneath those numbers, and then more numbers beneath those. That’s my daily word count for last week.

I was off for a week over the holiday, and I knew I wanted to make some progress on my novel-in-progress, which I’d been struggling to make traction with as of late. But when you’ve got children dominating your life and schedule, Christmas to plan, not to mention food to eat and classic films to watch, days full of free time–the thing we all want more of–can whisk by in surprisingly brisk fashion.

I needed a goal. So, I set one. I decided that during break I would try to write 1,000 words a day. Now, I tend to write fast, and so 1,000 words doesn’t feel like an overly-huge haul, but I also knew that I’d be more likely to reach my daily goal if I set it for an attainable quantity. If I’m properly focused, I can usually write 1,000 story words in 2-3 hours. However, to reach this goal, I knew I’d have to wake up early and get my pages in before the family was up and the day swept me away so that I could properly focus. I’d have to skip morning time chatting with my wife and reading the Beatles biography I’ve been working my way through. I’d have to sacrifice. And sacrifice takes ambition. As does consistency, which was part of my goal. 1,000 words a day, every day. No excuses.

And that un-sexy photo at the top of the page? It’s proof. It’s my reward for a job well done. The first two days waking up at 6:30 when I wanted to sleep in kind of sucked. But with each passing day, I wrote down my current word count before getting to work, and as the numbers grew, I felt successful knowing I’d not only reached the prior day’s goal, I was proving to myself that I could reach today’s as well. And tomorrow’s. With each day, getting up early and getting my pages in felt just a little bit easier, and a little more satisfying.

It’s easy to get romantic about writing, especially fiction. But the dirty little secret is that writing, almost more than anything, is about showing up. And then showing up again. And again. You could write for twelve hours straight and bang out 7,500 words in a marathon Kerouac-style session, but you’re more likely to do it in small chunks. A little bit each day adds up to a lot.

This year, let’s practice ambitious attainability. Let me know how it goes. Very un-sexy pictures of celebration highly encouraged.

Post #128: Some Thoughts on Ann Patchett

The Writing Craft, Writing Advice

9780062049810_custom-7ad2bd2af04c0ac867ab2c601a045a0fd85fd7b2-s99-c85            In Ann Patchett’s 2011 novel State of Wonder, she demonstrates how a writer can, and should, manipulate time to inform a reader’s experience and focus her attention. In a rudimentary sense, time = importance. By skipping briskly through time, for instance, a reader subconsciously infers that the story’s most urgent action is not currently happening, but coming, perhaps concealed just around the next corner/chapter. Conversely, such as in a long scene in the first chapter of State of Wonder, Patchett slows the story clock down to a crawl in order to draw the reader’s attention to the story weight the moment carries. In part, she does this in unsurprising ways, using description, conflict, and dialogue. What is surprising, though, and worthy of a closer examination, is how Patchett also uses repetition to quietly deepen our sense of who the characters are and how they will behave later in the story.

The scene opens in a suburban neighborhood where Marina Singh, the novel’s protagonist, along with her boss and (secret) lover, the aptly named Mr. Fox (think perhaps he’s devious?), have arrived at the home of Karen Eckman to deliver the awful news that Karen’s husband, Anders, is dead. And not only dead, but dead through suspicious circumstances in a remote section of the Amazon. Though the scene is quite early in the novel, for the seven pages Marina and Mr. Fox are in the Eckman’s household, time slows to a crawl. As they drive up, we get a long description of the Eckman’s neighborhood, as well as Marina’s internal wonderings about the finances involved in living there and how different her own life as a single woman is from her married colleague, a father of two. Then, after Karen Eckman opens the door and sees her husband’s colleagues standing there, clearly unnerved when she says “now this is a surprise,” Patchett withholds the reveal, building tension. We meet the family dog Pickles, who becomes a metaphor for the dead husband by scene’s end, and are treated to long descriptions of both the house itself, as well as the weather outside (it’s winter). We also glimpse a jungle gym through the window, a reminder that not only has Karen lost a husband, but two boys have lost a father. They just don’t know it yet.

When Karen asks if they’d like coffee, “Marina turned to put the question to Mr. Fox and found that he was standing directly behind her.” Meaning, of course, that Mr. Fox wants Marina to do the talking. At first we don’t make too much of this. But later down the page, Patchett repeats this character detail. “She {Marina} glanced back at Mr. Fox again…but Mr. Fox had turned towards the refrigerator now.” The repetition of the notion that Mr. Fox, who is not only the dead Anders’s boss, but the replacement male in this scene, shrinking back, thereby making Marina do the tougher, braver work, does two things. It tells us that Mr. Fox is perhaps cowardly, or at least deferential to a fault. It also tells us that Marina is, or will have to be, strong. It’s this latter character detail that Patchett gets the most use out of, for as State of Wonder progresses, Marina will over and over again have to dip into reservoirs of strength, bravery, and resilience she didn’t even know were there. Often, too, she has to do because Mr. Fox is (symbolically) hiding behind her.

Patchett continues to mine this tension through repetition as the scene develops. When Karen finally stops rambling and tending to the dog and says, “this isn’t good news, right?” Marina thinks to herself, “this was the moment for Mr. Fox to tell the story, to explain it in a way that Marina herself did not fully understand, but nothing came…Mr. Fox had his back to the two women.” A page, though perhaps only moments, later, Marina thinks “surely it was Mr. Fox’s part to give Karen the letter {in which she and Mr. Fox had learned of Anders’s death}…but then with a fresh wave of grief, Marina remembered that the letter was in her pocket.” Patchett is shrewd here. The main character is thinking one thing, that she’s doing what Mr. Fox should be doing, but Patchett’s goal is to both transfer power and responsibility, but also to prove Marina as a strong person who will rise to an occasion, demonstrated through this letter, an object Patchett uses to great effect here by placing it in Marina’s path.

Once Karen Eckman has absorbed the horrible news and read the aforementioned letter, again we are reminded of Mr. Fox’s lack of ability to engage in this most urgent moment. “The two of them were alone in this,” Marina thinks regarding she and Karen. The reason? “Mr. Fox had been driven from the room by the sound, the keening of Karen Eckman’s despair.” The repetition has built towards his very removal, enforcing the twin notions of female strength/companionship and absent men, which will both play central roles in State of Wonder.

Towards the end of the scene, after Marina has left Karen briefly to try to figure out what to do, who to call to support her and how to tell the Eckman boys, she returns to the kitchen to find Mr. Fox has finally stepped in and is “petting Karen’s head with a slow and rhythmical assurance” trying to put her at ease. He’s too late, though. The damage is done. And as Marina and Mr. Fox are driving away from the house, Marina thinks about how “she certainly blamed him {Mr. Fox} for leaving her alone to tell Karen.” She then wonders a heavier, more damning thing: “Did she blame him for sending Anders to his death in Brazil?”

By the time you’ve read State of Wonder in its entirety, this long, held moment early in the novel only grows in importance. Patchett slows down time and uses a range of craft elements, repetition most dynamically, to build character and introduce conflicts that will surface through the book, making this early moment a microcosm of who these characters are and how they will respond to difficult situations. Finally, it’s worth noting that Patchett’s use of repetition also achieves a great sense of contrast, for the focusing on Mr. Fox, important as it seems about him as a character, actually reveals even more about Marina, the novel’s heroine and most sympathetic and deeply developed character. In fact, the closer you look at this scene, the more you’ll wonder: how does Patchett do so many things so well at the same time? Writers of all stripes would be wise to study Patchett’s use of slowed time and repetition and try to borrow a bit of her craft mojo in their own work.

 

Post #114: On the Brain

Things you should be watching

Screen-shot-2013-09-11-at-8.41.48-AMAs you well know, I’ve had J.D. Salinger on the brain lately, as has the publishing world, what with the release of Shale Salerno and David Sheild’s biography, Salinger, soon to accompanied by a documentary film of the same name. Both, I should add, have absolutely gotten their asses kicked in the media, showered with bad reviews, skepticism, and mucho doubt. Metacritic shows an average score of 40 (out of 100) for the film and among 40 plus reviews on Amazon, the book is averaging three stars (out of five). Okay, maybe not a total ass kicking, but a good tongue lashing anyway. I’m nearly done with the book, by the way, and will chime in on my perception of its merits shortly. After that, I promise to let go of this subject matter for at least a few posts.

But I digress. I’m actually here because Stephen Colbert (pictured above wearing Holden Caulfield hunting cap) recently dedicated his entire show to doing his second book club (the first was on Gatsby) on J.D. Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye. It’s hilarious. And insightful. You should watch it. The best part of it is when Colbert is interviewing Tobias Woolf about Catcher and they start disputing what’s better, the short stories or Catcher, and Colbert, defending the stories as Salinger’s best work and seemingly unable to help himself, starts quoting Buddy Glass from memory. It’s awesome. It can be watched here. You should do so.
Toodles.

Post #107: Saying Goodbye to God

Dear Charles

Clouds-in-the-sky-and-god-rays-wallpaper_4428Dear Charles,

Sorry I haven’t been in touch in quite some time, but it was great to hear from you recently. Funny you should ask about Returning, my novel in progress, because after a very busy teaching year this past year, during which my brain was simply stretched in too many directions to focus properly on the novel, I’m buckled down (locked in? plug cliche in here) and revising, editing, and re-writing the novel at a furious rate. Well, work on a novel is rarely fast moving, let alone furious, even when it is graced with occasional wind sprints, but I’m fully immersed in the book at this point. That’s plenty.

Two days ago, I was, once again, at loggerheads with the themes of God and Atheism in the book. As you know, one of the main characters, aging tennis icon Chick Myers, is an atheist, and the extended section in which we spend a lot of time with his character for the first time, centers around this fact, via a “Rally to Save Chick” that a religious organization has sponsored for him, even in spite of his atheist standing. The rally was a buffet of cultural dissection.

For two years, I’ve loved and been attached to many parts of this section, the third “Set” in the five set novel. But in re-reading it a few days ago, in preparation for what I assumed was some minor tweaking, the God stuff just wasn’t feeling right. It was reading well. Reading great, in fact. Energetic writing and some nice scenes and dialogue, but I couldn’t escape  a nagging feeling that I’ve had in the back of my mind for quite some time, which is that the presence of God, atheism, and a debate about these topics, just wasn’t earning its keep in the novel as a whole.

I originally was inspired to make atheism and God an aspect of Chick’s character by the the life of the late Christopher Hitchens, who famously debated about God even while dying of cancer. Hitchens was a highly spirited atheist. Many people wondered whether an avowed atheist would have second thoughts about God while dying, whether he would change his song and slowly acquiesce to piety. Hitchens, famously, did not. I found this very interesting indeed, and used it in part as a way to help understand the character of Chick Myers. The theme came early in the drafting and has been there all along, for some two years now.

But, like I said, the other day, some quietly lingering doubts came roaring up from the surface and started screaming at me, urging me to re-consider. Asking me: is God and atheism earning its keep? Meaning, are the themes, heavy ones not to be deployed casually, explored with enough care and thought to justify their presence? Though it was painful, I had to say no. So, for them to earn their keep, so to speak, it would entail deepening their place in the book and in the characters’ lives.

This decision had major implications. If I opted to keep the section as is, and to keep atheism and God as major themes in the novel, then the novel had to shift its weight further in that direction. If I abandoned the themes and re-cast Chick’s character minus these big themes, well, then I’d have a shit ton of re-writing to do. Essentially, I’d have to scrap the entire 100 page Third Set and pretty much start that section over. What to do?

So, to clear my head, I took a walk. Walks are great. They have a clarifying, reductive power that’s marvelous. I walked for almost an hour, and about half way through the walk it hit me. God had to go.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t finding the theme, and its effect on the characters, worth pursuing further. It was the realization that deepening that conversation would push the book into terrain where I simply didn’t want it to spend quite as much of its time. The book is primarily about tennis, reality TV, and the trappings of fame. God and atheism had always felt like a natural fit, but I had to admit that I didn’t feel committed to it. Not only that, I wasn’t sure it’s what I wanted my book to be about. I was justifying because I didn’t want to scrap what I’d written. I liked it, even if it wasn’t serving the whole novel well.

But sometimes you have to kill your darlings, right?

So I did. I started over.

Of course, now that I’m halfway through re-writing the Third Set, which I think will still fill out at about 100 pages, there’s always the risk that I’ll screw it up and have to re-write it again someday after a similarly hard won realization.

But, like you’re always saying, Charles, one thing at a time.

So, that’s the update for now. I’ll keep you posted.

Thanks for being such a good friend. I’ll try to be in better touch.

Love to Martha and the girls,

Benjamin

 

Post #100: Steinbeck Saw All

Things You Should Be Reading

east-of-edenI’m reading Steinbeck’s East of Eden for the first time. It’s really great, by the way. And though he’s not normally a writer, like, say, Ray Bradbury, that makes you think he had the power to predict the future, or whose writing was even meant to evoke or imagine the future, a passage I read earlier felt so modern, so of our time, that I went back and read it several times, then decided I had to share it with you.

Keep in mind this a guy writing in the mid 20th century about events that take place in the early 20th century.

The scene in question transpires at a train station, mid day, where Adam Trask, along with his son Cal and his house man Lee, await the return of Cal’s twin brother Aron home from college.

“Train schedules are a matter of pride and of apprehension to nearly everyone. When, far up the track, the block signal snapped from red to green and the long, stabbing probe of the headlight sheered the bend and blared on the station, men looked at their watches and said, ‘on time.’

“There was pride in it, and relief too. The split second has been growing more and more important to us. And as human activities become more and more intermeshed and integrated, the split tenth of a second will emerge, and then a new name must be made for the split one hundredth, until one day, although I don’t believe it, we’ll say, ‘oh, the hell with it. What’s wrong with an hour?’ But isn’t it silly, this preoccupation with small time units. One thing late or early can disrupt everything around it, and the disturbance runs outward in bands like the waves from a dropped stone in a quiet pool.”

In addition to being a writer of uncommon grace and insight into the human experience, it seems that Steinbeck also knew that someday we’d be annoyed at our smartphones for taking three seconds instead of two seconds to load information we used to wait half a day for without blinking an eye.

By the way, if you haven’t read East of Eden, do so. Like me you’ll wonder what the hell took you so long.

PS…I have to add a totally random aside. Today I was getting my oil changed and a woman in the waiting room who was big time squirrely because her car was taking so long saw me reading this book and told me that she’d written a memoir about her time living in Indonesia and one of the rejected titles was Least of Eden. Ha. Another was The Bali Jar. Double ha.

Post #97: Who Has Time for Stars?

New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading

I have a new short story that’s part of the May/June issue of Fogged Clarity. FC is great and I’m thrilled to be included. They publish fiction, poetry, reviews, and music! I’m listening to “Mountain Sounds,” the album in the new issue, right now and it’s fantastic. I want to also give some love to my dear friends Kara, Stephanie, and Angela who looked at early drafts of this story and helped nudge it along.

Have a peek at the story. Think you’ll like it. http://foggedclarity.com/2013/05/who-has-time-for-stars/

That’s all for today friends.