Monday, September 24, 2012

Ever Been Hungover? Dysphoric Notions Part I


With the emanate publication of Dysphoric Notions (Ring of Fire Books) on September 25, 2012, I get a funny barrage of questions. Here are the top three:

#1 And this one is weird. How long is it? I repeat. How long is it? I get asked this question so much that I really ought to have a scripted answer. Each time I get this question, I'm just so baffled. Here it is: after edits, the final product is about 170 paperback pages. It was 226 pages on 8 ½ x 11 paper with 1” margins, double spaced and with a 12 pt courier font. And when I wrote it, I wrote it in composition notebooks, four or five of them. Word count? About 50,000 words. Now let me ask: why does it matter?

#2 How long did it take to write? I love this question. Well, as of 9/12/12, 13 days before launch, I was still working on it. I remember the day I started it too. I made the first pen strokes on the morning of January 12, 2009. 45 months is the long answer.
I started my work on Dysphoric Notions two days after I graduated from Goddard College. Two days was enough time to sufficiently recover from the hangover. I don't remember exactly when I finished the first drafts of it, but I started writing the next novel sometime in March 2009. I feel like I wrote the initial 2 or 3 drafts in about 8 weeks. Again: why does it matter?

#3 Is it any good? What a question. Well, yeah, it's pretty good. Is it the best novel I've written? No, I haven't written that one yet.

#4 Who is your publisher? Ring of Fire. They're in Seattle. They're great. They have a wonderful business model. Please support them by 1) buying my book. 2) Buying other books. 3) Telling everyone you know.

#5 How did you come up with the title? It came about because I didn't know how to spell hangover. (Hang over? Hang-over? Hangover? Hangover.) So, I looked it up, and what struck me—a feeling of dysphoria due to chemical intoxication.  I was also taken with the notion that a hangover could be a residual bad feeling from a former time.  The working title was “The White Party” and I suspect that that means something different to you than it does to me.

#6 Is it true? No. It's fiction. Don't be silly.

#7 Did you choose the cover? Ring of Fire chose it and I love it.

#8 How many novels have you written? 10.

#9 Is this your first published novel? Sort of. My novel Sand and Asbestos ran on Sophia Ballou in 2011 as a serial. Dysphoric Notions is the first of my novels to be published with money transactions.


#10 What's the book about? I love this question and I get it so rarely. Well, it's about love and loss and self discovery. It's a tour of central Denver from the confluence of Cherry Creek and the Platte River all the way to the INS office in a vague place on the outskirts of town. It's about adversity and drinks and family and beating the odds. It's a travel piece and it even has a few cocktail recipes. Ultimately, it's a love story.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Pipe Dream

A comfortable place to work. A world where people read and think, write and make art. A place where people are more inclined to sip coffee during the warming light of the afternoon and discuss matters of profound interest. We all sleep until noon. People who wake up early start wars, economic ruin and ozone depletion. In this modern day; there is nothing we can do that ain't been done before. It's time to make art. 

Incidentally, Walden has made a resurgence in our house in recent days.  If it has not made a resurgence in your house, you can read it here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Summer 2012 Reading List Wrap-up

Admittedly, I was not a reader as a kid. The story is more horrifying than funny; something close to the criminal rather than the tragic. The point is, I was not a reader in my youngest of years. I bring it up only because I remember kids who complained and moaned at the chore of it or delighted with joy at the prospect of a summer reading list. During our summer breaks from school, some kids were expanding their minds with timeless literature while I was wasting away my summer mired in remedial math with the other flunkies. But that was then.

I find it odd that reading comes easier to me in the summer. I'm not a head out to the beach sort of person. I do not spend my time floating down the river in lazy inter-tubes sipping canned beer. I am not a sunbather, sports spectator or poolside reveler. In fact, I kind of hate the summer. I don't know if it has anything to do with my tour of the middle east, or my holiday in summertime Tucson. I can't stand the heat, and what's more, I don't like the crowds of people. In short, I am a stick in the mud.

We all have our retreats. I love to read. At least I have that. I am busy making up for the lost time as a kid when I could have expanded my mind and thought the thoughts a young person must think. It's no real compensation for a misspent youth, I know, but rather than a misspent adulthood I got a book in my lap.

As I sit here at my computer, I can see the wide world of Southwest Portland outside my window. I hide away all summer, and in Portland, summer wasn't all that long. I welcomed the birth of my son, my fortieth birthday, the payoff of my graduate school loan and the publication of my novel Dysphoric Notions. It's been a short summer, yes, but a very busy time.

And I read plenty of books.

I tried Henry James. As you may recall, I wanted to revisit it because I was told I should wait until my forties to read it. In some ways, I enjoyed The Turn of the Screw. However, I would not recommend Henry James to anyone, and I will not be reading any more of it. I am glad I tried it, and I held true to what I said I was going to do back in 1996. As I look at my summer reading list, I am grateful that I endeavored to read Henry James first. I suppose that has something to do with personality, I read what I figured would be the biggest challenge first.

Something odd happened to me during my reading this summer. I started to make connections. Strange s connections. Zsuzsa Bank's book The Swimmer proved to be one of the most beautiful and haunting books I have ever read. I am so impressed with this book that it is still on my mind. She paints a wonderful picture of Hungary post the 1956 revolution. In my reading of this book, I often took breaks to do a little Hungarian homework. Within the framework of what was going on socially and politically Bank writes a story wrought with the kind of conflict that good fiction is all about. And here is the connection: thematically and the mythologized family The Swimmer shares so much with The Painted Bird, and The Street of Crocodiles.

I was tickled to read J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun. I chose this book only because of the beautiful volume and dust jacket. Yes, I picked this book out of all the others because of the condition of the spine and the cover. It's nice to find a first edition of a book in such pristine condition. As funny as that may seem, whoever owned the book before me was a heavy, and I do mean heavy smoker. As I turned each page, the smell of old tobacco was at times gross and other times baffling. This novel, as you may know is an account (somewhat autobiography, and somewhat fiction) of Ballard's time in an internment camp in Japanese occupied Shanghai during World War II. What about connections? Well, I also read Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills which is Japan shortly after the war, Nagasaki to be exact. These books with youth and the backdrop of WWII are interesting enough, but what about reading them concurrently to build a different understand of world events from 1937-1945? Here is my grouping: Herman Raucher's Summer '42 (American, stateside), Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird (Polish, Nazi-occupation), Kazuo Ishiguro's A Pale View of Hills and Empire of the Sun.

What about titles for a funny connection? I read Antonio Skarmeta's The Postman. Of course this slim volume made me want to revisit Pablo Neruda's poetry. But what about this: James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, Charles Bukowski's Post Office and pair these with Eudora Welty's short story “Why I Live at the P.O.”? These have nothing to do with one another thematically, except the titles. Many lists are made by more arbitrary methods.

Here was my summer reads:

Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Remains of the Day. Vintage International: New York, 1988.
Ishiguro, Kazuo. A Pale View of Hills. Vintage International: New York, 1984.
Skarmeta, Antonio. The Postman. Hyperion: New York, 1987. Trans. Katherine Silver.
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Konemann: Koln, 1996.
Neruda, Pablo. Neruda at Isla Negra. White Pine Press: New York, 1998. Dennis Maloney, ed.
Capote, Truman. Breakfast at Tiffany's. Vintage International: New York, 1993.
Kotzwinkle, William. Seduction in Berlin. G.P. Putnam and Sons: New York, 1985.
Thompson, Jim. The Getaway. Orion Fiction: London, 2005.
Kosinski, Jerzy. Being There. Bantam: New York, 1988.
Hughes, Langston. The Panther and the Lash. Vintage International: New York, 1992.
Ballard, J.G. Empire of the Sun. Simon and Schuster: New York, 1984.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. The Bottle Imp, 1893.
Bánk, Zsuzsa. The Swimmer. Harcourt: Orlando, FL, 2004. Trans. Margot Bettauer Dembo.

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Long Night, Lucian and Langston

There have been discussions lately about long nights. Yes, some nights are longer than others. But the very notion of a long night arouses in me now so many different thoughts.

I suppose the last night of someone's life may be the longest night. A last night laying awake in a hospital bed awaiting death may be shorter than the night before an execution at dawn. There are long nights, I guess and then there are long nights.

I had a long night once. I suppose it may even be one of the longest nights of my life. My long night began midday at the end of December 1990 when we left tent city Saudi Arabia and headed into the interior somewhere along the outskirts of the DMZ. The night was a bus ride into the dark. Then it was a frigid wait for troop transport, then it was a dusty all night ride in the back of a truck. The night ended at our tactile assembly area at dawn where we were fed reconstituted scrambled eggs and stale white bread. That was a very long night.

Then there are really long nights. Tonight for instance, Langston Hughes just told me about a long night which began in 1619 Jamestown and it seemed to continue into vague years like 1961, 1963, 1964. I'm going to guess that the long night (as the work) of Langston Hughes is concerned did indeed begin in 1619 Jamestown and ended when he died in 1967. 1967? The absolute height of the civil rights movement. Yes, “Daybreak in Alabama,” “Jim Crow Car,” “Cultural Exchange.” I wonder what Langston Hughes would think of modern America 45 years after his death? What would he think of President Obama? And what would he think of the Gay and Lesbian movement, same sex marriages and the like? What would he think about now?

I have no personal recollection of the civil rights movement. I was born in 1972 on the eleventh day of the eighth month in fact. Plenty has happened in the world in that time. And tonight, I read through the poems of Langston Hughes. The volume is a nice edition: a comfortable font, acid free paper, made in America.

I don't know why I chose Langston Hughes. It was just something I hadn't visited in a long time. I suspect the last time I read any Langston Hughes was during my undergraduate studies at Metro State back in the mid-1990s.

I don't have any real reason to consider long nights other than today is my 40th birthday and today will be the birth of my son Lucian. I know I'll be inclined to tell him, annually, that I came 40 years before him and to the day. I may even tell him about my past in the war and the long night I had once in December of 1990. I will tell him about the rights of men and these truths that I hold to be self-evident that all men are created equal. He will know just like I know that black people or gay people are every bit as beautiful as everyone else. There is no sense in causing others harm. I hope that he grows up to be both strong and gentle because you cannot have one without the other.

I may even be inclined to tell Lucian about Langston Hughes and how I met his mother; how it was the mid-1990s and Metro State College on the Auraria Campus. I will tell him of the blissful days in the autumn of 1997 when Janice and I first became friends in Dr. Hamilton's American Renaissance course. I will tell him how beautiful she was the instant the morning sun of 1997 hit her lips.

I'll be inclined to tell him someday, about his mother's labor during the long night before he was born. How grateful we are, and how lucky too.