Saturday, February 10, 2018

Old Guy Writes First Novel

Odd weather here on the Bay of Banderas lately, overcast, misty, even a little rainy accompanied by lightening and thunder. But definitely warmer than it was when we arrived in Yelapa at the end of December. Then we had cool days and downright chilly nights through much of January. We feel the humidity now, if not always see the sun. The leaves are falling. Spring is coming.

Sent off a revised and largely rewritten draft of my novel to the editor I've hired for a professional critique. I've actually had two editors look at it, and both more or less liked what I'd done on my own while offering much-needed and much-appreciated suggestions. Dammit, I'm determined to find a trade publisher for the thing but, at last resort, will publish it myself just to be done with it.

I call it Waiting for the Revolution. It's set at the beginning of the 1970s in a back-to-the-land commune in British Columbia. The characters are mostly American "refugees" of the period. The title, apart from the idea of a cultural and political revolution, I hope suggests the longing for some all-inclusive change for the better, something like a "final solution" to the human condition. In that sense, the title can be taken as ironic. 

It's basically a love story, a story of relationships, my main characters a man and wife who break up, tentatively rejoin in the free-love atmosphere of a sixties-era commune, and finally struggle to make it together as a couple. The struggle won't end, I want the reader to infer. Life itself is a struggle. The human condition goes on.

Gees, I see the last two paragraphs above as something like the dust jacket copy for my novel. Should I wind up self-publishing, I might use it.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

28 January 2018

Here we are, my wife April and I, back in Yelapa for our 13th stay in this village just down the coast from Puerto Vallarta. Arrived here at the end of December, the day after my 83rd birthday, and plan to remain until around the 20th of April when we'll go to Detroit for April's father's 100th birthday before returning to our home outside Nelson, BC.

I doubt very much I'll make it to my father-in-law's very advanced age; not sure I even want to, though his abiding alertness is amazing. He sleeps a lot, his short-term memory grows ever shorter, but he's still reading, still thinking, still acquiring knowledge, still content to be alive.

I recently read an interview with Philip Roth, who in his mid-80s claims to have retired from writing. He hasn't, of course, retired from reading, nor from thinking, and what he says about his old age and the approach of the inevitable that awaits us all certainly resonates with me. He goes to bed at night, he says, grateful to have had the day, and wakes up the next morning thankful to be starting another. That's basically it for us folks who have made it beyond the biblical three score and ten.

Unlike Roth, I'm still writing in my mid-80s, though also unlike him I have virtually nothing to show for all the years I've been writing -- some 60 years, starting in 1956 when as a Navy sailor I started sending out stories and within a couple of years actually published a few in obscure and now vanished magazines.

How time has gotten away from me. How much time I've wasted in my long life. Still . . .

Hope springs eternal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

It's been over a year since I posted here, don't know what I want to say, but I guess I'll just ramble on for whatever it's worth.

I turn 80 at the end of this year. Hard to believe -- until I think back to all the years I've been alive in this world, all the lives I've lived, all the jobs I've had, farm boy, college student, Navy journalist, university student on the GI Bill, then newspaper reporter, magazine editor, high school janitor, urban mail carrier, golf course groundskeeper, back-to-the-lander, husband, father, grandfather. And writer, always a writer, beginning when I was still in high school and never stopping, though only on a part-time basis, through most of the years of my working life (until I was able to retire in 1998. Sixteen years ago! Since then I've been writing full time -- that is two to four hours every day except when interrupted (my wife and I hike with a group one day each week, sometimes take a trip, and occasionally I have to stop writing to do some housework or work in the garden or chop and stack firewood).

So what have I got to show for all my years as a writer, would-be and otherwise? Not much: a lot of unpublished and some published short stories, quite a few published book and movie reviews (in the 1980s and '90s), a memoir I took years to write and was finally published in 2007 (mentioned a number of times in this blog), and a novel I took years to write and for which I'm now looking, without much hope, for a publisher.

I may have to publish it myself, finally.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Yelapa countdown

We leave this tropical paradise just a week from today, just when it's turned most paradisal. That is, we wake each morning now to the cool start of another hot day (to take from a favorite description from a favorite writer of mine: you may guess who) after sleeping with only a sheet to cover us and our bedroom's overhead fan going at a steady clip. In the cool of the morning we might take a walk, before or after breakfast, and in the hot afternoon enjoy a swim at Isabel's beach. The Pacific water in the Bay of Banderas is finally warm enough, as it wasn't (for me, anyway) through most of January, February, and quite a bit of March.

In the cool of the evening we might take a second walk, if only to go down to the village to visit one of Yelapa's three main tiendas for some groceries. Otherwise we might go out for our evening meal, our cena, at one of village's outside or semi-outside restaurants, El Pollo Bollo or Tacos y Mas or Los Abuelos. Or we might walk the short distance upriver to the Oasis to see a Tuesday or Wednesday night movie. Or stop by Gloria's or El Cerito to hear some good blues or rock and roll by Yelapa's resident musicians. Or walk the longer distance upriver and across the bridge over the Rio Tuito to eat at El Manguito or order only a beer in order to listen to the good music you often can hear there.

Then home by flashlight, down the upriver path to the village, through the village and finally up the rocky trail, feeling the tiredness by this time in our legs (one acquires "Yelapa legs" here) to our rented apartment above our landlords' house in the jungle.

Of course we have only a week left to squeeze all this in -- so I doubt we'll even try. We are, though, going tomorrow up to Chacala, the mountain village above Yelapa from which its founding families came from many years ago. Though Yelapa has no road, per se, to it, and is mainly reached by panga, water taxi, from Puerto Vallarta, there is a dirt road, more a bulldozed track that has to be repaired every year after the rainy season, that starts outside El Tuito, a town on the highway some thousands of feet above Vallarta,  angles more or less level to Chacala, then plunges down toward Yelapa to end on the ridge above the village. Our landlords' son, Emi, keeps a truck up there, in an area called "the parking lot," and tomorrow morning we'll walk up with him and his mother, Norma, and perhaps his younger brother, Omar, for the drive up to Chacala, to spend the day.

Among other pleasures, we'll visit Emi's beautiful younger sister, Nora, who's married now and has a child. 
Our landlord, Emilio, will remain in Yelapa tomorrow to work at his trade. He's a builder in the village.

"Our family," we call our landlords and their children, whom we've gotten to know and care for after eight winters with them.

We'll be among the last of Yelapa's norteamericanos to leave this year. Hasta ano proximo is what you say to people, gringos and Mexicans alike, as you leave: See you next year.

We hope. At our age it's one year at a time.


Friday, March 22, 2013

Yelapa, Jalisco, Mexico. Our eighth winter here, and it's almost over. Today, which began cool and overcast, turned sunny and hot, and is now cool and overcast again, finds us with only three weeks left here. We came down for three months and our stay has now dwindled to three weeks. Soon, as time flies, we'll be looking at only three days left before our departure.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say, were he still alive. I'm reading a good biography of Vonnegut by Charles J Shields, one his subject might not have approved of, given that we're shown the author who was a 1960s icon and the idol of the hippie generation, warts and all. Like most writers, Vonnegut's writing showed his best side. Some of the people who knew him saw his worst.

And so it goes . . . which happens to be the title of Shields's biography. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Enjoying a lovely fall day here as I reenter this blog after a long absence. Since last writing have completed my back-to-the-land novel begun some four years ago (its sixth draft, anyhow) and am starting to look for an agent or publisher. Don't hold out much hope for an agent. As for finding a publisher? There I have a some little hope, though I gather it's getting harder and harder for even published writers, well known as well as obscure (yours truly among the latter), to locate one these days, even among the smaller houses. Self-publishing, though becoming more prevalent and no longer lumped as "vanity," isn't an option for me. Not yet. Don't have the money, for one thing.

I was, since my last posting, shortlisted for the 2011 Journey Prize (one of several given by the Writers' Trust of Canada), for a story published the year before in The New Orphic Review, a Canadian literary magazine. That won me an all-expense-paid trip to Toronto for the awards ceremony (it was a little like Oscar night in Hollywood, without the glitz) and $1,000. The big prize of $10,000 eluded me, but I'm not complaining. Being one of three finalists for the prize was an encouragement, along with my story being included in the 2011 Journey Prize anthology.

I'm sort of working now on putting together a collection of my stories and continuing to fuss with the text of my novel. I intend to write more stories and possibly start working on another book-length project while in Mexico this winter.

I turn 78 at the end of this year. That serves as a goad.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer

As a young, would-be writer back in the early 1960s, I read quite a bit of the once notorious Henry Miller -- his book on Greece, The Colossus of Maroussi; his study of Rimbaud, The Time of the Assassins; his essays in The Wisdom of the Heart; his book on America, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare; the collection of letters between him and Lawrence Durrell -- but his first book, the infamous Tropic of Cancer, first published in France in 1934 and, until 1961, banned from publication in the U.S., I'd somehow missed until this past winter in Mexico.

This despite that my copy of the book, a paperback edition of the original Grove Press hardback, was purchased in 1962, the year the paperback came out in the States.

Tropic of Cancer is a kind of memoir in the form of a kind of novel, I've now discovered -- an anarchist's rant, a cry of despair, a shout of rage and crazy hope. It's racist (particularly anti-Semitic), misogynist, profane, crudely sexual, provocative. It's deliberately raw in parts, lyrical in others. It's also funny, and contains whole swaths of brilliant, sometimes surreal, even profound writing. I'm reminded of a later writer's all-out, last-ditch expression of himself, Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes, published in 1968. Exley, despite his acute alcoholism, managed to write two more fictionalized memoirs before he died, early, of alcoholism. But with Notes he'd shot his wad. Miller, on the other hand, went on to write many more books, mostly of reminiscence, and was famous, rather than infamous, by the 1960s as a voice of free expression, sexual and otherwise. Playboy took him up! He lived to be 89, a kind of sage, before his death in 1980.

One wonders now why his first book was banned for so long as too sexually explicit. The sex in it is the least of its content.

Here is Miller stating his case at the beginning of Tropic of Cancer, after three warm-up paragraphs:

"It is now the fall of my second year in Paris. I was sent here for a reason I have not yet been able to fathom.

"I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it. I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

"This then? This is not a book. This is libel, slander, defamation of character. This is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty . . . what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing . . . "