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BIBLIOGRIND

Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Archive for Ways of Seeing

WayBack Machine: reading list from 2014

Under the category “Better Late than Never”, my list of books read for 2014 appears below. The selection is not so random as it may seem (however one goes about selecting a book  or “the next book”). Between finishing one book and beginning the next, I think about differences in tone, characters, theme, setting, mood, and of the course writers. What fascinates me are the possibilities, and the anticipation of beginning a new book:

On Muted Strings by Knut Hamson

Ada, or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov

The Names by Don DeLillo

Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayan

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Ratner’s Star by Don DeLillo

The Bachelor of Arts by R.K. Narayan

Rights of Passage by William Golding

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

The English Teacher by R.K. Narayan

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Pure by Andrew Miller

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The Gift by Vladimir Nabakov

The Punisher’s Brain by Morris Hoffman

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch

Stoner by John Williams

Canada by Richard Ford

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Gripless by Sophie Hannah

King Jesus by Robert Graves

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Everyman by Philip Roth

Indignation by Philip Roth

The Humbling by Philip Roth

Nemesis by Philip Roth

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellbecq

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

The Faithful Executioner by Joel Harrington

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

The Moon and Sixpense by William Somerset Maugham

Tale of the tape: 31 books … 9,794 pages … 4,407,300 words …

Top 3 books: A Death in the Family; The Map and the Territory; Ada, or Ardor

Do you all have lists? Give me some ideas for 2015, please.

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My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

Possible “MAX, the blind guy” cover

MaxCOVER

(design by Calvin Rambler)

 

What do you think?

 

[Book jacket copy:

Max, the blind guy is a complex, emotional story of love, marriage, art, and ego. Beyer’s nuanced story brings to life fictional characters from America and Europe as a group of recalcitrant retirees travel through Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, and Venice.

Maximilian Ruth daydreams in colors which his eyes can no longer see. His wife is leading them on a six-city European tour. Greta Ruth calls this trip their “last hurrah.” She hasn’t had the best from 40 years with Max. But Max takes their life differently: marriage is an affair of more than the heart’s journey. This pair of American originals have known passion, riches, and sorrow. Today, these roads lead them through Europe’s famed cities, but Greta wonders if the plan will see her through to the promised “champagne on the Grand Canal.”

Their Elite Travel tour-mates are getting on each other’s nerves. They are characters found next door, on everyday streets, under black-eye days, and across lost-memory nights. The highlights and sights, the posh lunches, the gamy conversation over drinks in the bar – and of course the “tour friendships” – all make their faux-camaraderie sometimes combative but never boring.

A story rife with modern perils – too much time, too much money, just enough libido, secrets revealed – Max and Greta Ruth don’t wait for what the future may bring. ]

 

New Year’s Book Total — 2013 Reads

The year 2013 was good for many things, and books also, but not for total books read. At least, not according to my standards. Lots of reasons can be sited, but none particularly worthy of the let-down. I had time, and while not having wasted it, made use of those minutes and hours for other — equally important — passions: food, travel, writing work, loving, thinking.

Yet I did read some good books in 2013, some of them having big page-counts. The statistics hold up well:

22 books read

7,924 pages

3,317,125 approx. words

 

So without anymore fanfare nor excuses, her is my list, in chronological order:

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Tunc by Lawrence Durrell

2666 by Roberto Bolano

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

Nunquam by Lawrence Durrell

In the Hand of Dante by Nick Tosches

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester

 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

Cordial & Corrosive by Sophie Hannah

Letting Go by Philip Roth

Bleeding Edge by Pynchon (suck!)

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Aligheri

The Night Train by Carl Purdon

Art & Lies by Jeanette Winterson

Darkness Visible by William Golding

Under the Autumn Star by Knut Hamson

Max, the blind guy by Mark Beyer (pub 2014)

 

I shan’t give my faves, though you all must understand, I don’t read bad books (ie. anything with vampires, zombies, or sentimental love, and, NO, I am not sorry for that). Please tell me, on FB or in the comments below, what you’ve read, your list, your stats, or just your faves.

Happy New Year!

Couples Reading

I’ve started reading Philip Roth’s “Operation Shylock” (1992) and Asia is into the late first-quarter of Roth’s “Letting Go” (1961). This is not a battle, and we refrain from trading quotes (even though I recently re-read LG). Roth’s books, for us, are dense with human feeling and psychology, not to mention many beautiful sentences and ways of describing small parts of life we all know but often overlook. These happen on every page, at least once.

Sometimes we’ve read the same book, but not at the same time (no point in owning twin copies, considering the number of books now collected). When we do this, the person who’s already finished the book often asks the present reader “Where are you now?” or “What’s happening to …?” with that anticipation and look of the dramatic irony even the characters in the book can’t match. But we never ask “Haven’t you gotten to the part about …?” We’re ultra sensitive to never giving away what’s to come, even the smallest moment, or snatch of dialogue. This has been 99% successful.

Couples who read together love together. Before reading time begins, there’s some short chat to set the excitement level; after our couple’s reading has run its allotted time, a recap of emotions and character traits, or “what it all means” lets out the anxiety of what’s been discovered. I use “anxiety” because reading Roth — or any strong writer — is a time spent in media dramatica and sometimes one simply needs to get out of that world and into your own. Few enough authors do this to us on the level Roth is capable of inducing. The tension his characters create is incredibly real. You hate them, pity them, envy their audacity, despise their stupidity, and laugh with them. Seldom do you want to laugh at them; they are that real in their conflict, and only a jerk laughs at people for that.

We haven’t owned a television since coming together, and neither of us watched that thing for years before our coupling. There’s something stronger in a relationship that has books over television; I truly believe this. Because, while both mediums keep you occupied solo, the wealth of conversation that can be mined from books far outweighs whatever appears on television. Even the good TV programs have only so much in-depth-ness to them; their lack of individual character mental introspection leaves too much left untold. That’s the true failure of television, or even theater. Only Shakespeare’s drama can get away with soliloquies anymore.

Roth has stopped writing novels. Fortunately, I’ve not read all that he’s written. But almost. Yet there are other books of his that I haven’t read in ten years, or even twenty. Their impression stays with me like embossed paper; but re-reading good literature is essential, one of the true ways we pull more and ever greater pleasure from the human experience. Roth wrote more than 25 books, which makes for a good library if one only has a single author’s complete works to take with him on a desert island.

Or to take with you into your living room, where your mate is already on the couch curled up with her book, saving a spot for you under the blanket.

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

One Problem w/Art Interpretation Is…

In the 10 Oct 2013 issue of the London Review of Books, Hal Foster (Princeton Art Dept chair) has reviewed Jacques Ranciere’s latest critique of society’s aesthetic nature, “Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art” with many quotes, and lots of great things to say about Ranciere’s approach to criticism. Foster uses eloquent language to evoke the pathos of Ranciere’s not so eloquent language (certainly eloquent if you enjoy reading philosophy tracts; not so for the reader who wants clear, effective prose).

The problem I have with Ranciere is not his ideas, but the method in which his prose expostulates the ideas. Many examples are cited by Foster, but the one that sticks out for me comes during a discussion of Chaplin, Vertov, and the photography of “the Stieglitz circle”:

In each instance Ranciere finds the imperatives of the aesthetic and the mundane at work together: … and with Stieglitz “the objectivity of photography … makes the love of pure forms coincide with the apprehension of the inexhaustible historicity found at every street corner, in every skin fold, and at every moment of time.”

My beef is with the language, which takes a lot of heavy words to express a simple idea; an idea whose strength has been known for millennia: we like and appreciate art because it represents our lives, what we do, how we think and act and express our emotions, triumphs, sorrows, and failures.

Art exists because we exist.

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

Not a Random Poet (nor poem)

In one of those chance meetings between writers we hear about, this meeting taking place on the web, I learned of a poet named Cedar Rey who hails from a distant place and doesn’t quite stay in one place (by all accounts, which is only one—mine, via his voice). He has talent, and I asked him if he’d like to share a poem on this website. He happily agreed. And in the spirit of place, and re-place-ment, and also of origins, I give you …

 

Meeting in the Darkness

In the booming ballet of fireworks
she was a tiny spark
yet soaring over the heads
of the event-woven strangers
she fell in love with a star.

The star said: “Your body is brief
and close,

while mine is distant
and eternal—
our love is not possible in this world.”

“I am the other world,”
said the spark
and vanished.

– Cedar Rey

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

“Secret Cords” is Public Success

Cal Rambler & Mark Beyer at a poetry/prose reading in Prague

On Feb 15th, Lucien Zell hosted his monthly poetry/prose & musical series, SECRET CORDS, at Přátelé Stepního vlka in Prague to an audience of 25 or so. I think the five writers and four musicians made everyone happy with good verbal and musical entertaining for that cold Friday night in the dead of Prague’s winter.

Lucien Zell

Lucien opened the performances with his trademarked harmonizing number, set to the sounds of box concertina. When he croons he looks like a lone wolf in the forest, or the midnight crier from a far-off village. The song is a wonderful lead-in to readings. A tone of seriousness has been delivered; a bell has been tolled.

DSCN6901

Cal Rambler led off the reading with several of his poems, linked by the theme of love, anguish, lost friendship, the potential for lust.

Jan Bičovský played guitar and sang folk tunes with an energy symbolic of the street-musician.

DSCN6902

Elise Klein entertained us all with a stirring accordion song, and later played an unbelievably temperamental piano.

We also had a poet from Canada, whose short poems captured couplet-ed themes.

Mark Beyer reading from THE VILLAGE WIT

And then there was yours truly reading from my first novel, THE VILLAGE WIT.

Lucien read a few poems as well, naturally. One strong poem I recall is a villanelle, whose linking lines are strong on light & darkness, and the desire to write. (he’ll have to comment on this post and treat us to the entire poem (if he dares) or those two scintillating lines)

What is unique about SECRET CORDS is the blending of music and the spoken word. Art comes at us in different places under various forms. To have two of those forms together, in one evening at a single venue, places us in a position not used so often these years. Actually, it reminds me of something one reads about in the diaries of a Bloomsbury Set, or Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon, maybe NYC West Village in the ’50s (or the Bowery!).

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

 

Self-Publishing from a Rich Ex-Guru: Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki has just self-published a book on self publishing. It has some good advice, about all the advice that you can already find from hugely varying sources, without much effort. Why is Guy’s book significant? Because he’s Guy Kawasaki.

If you don’t know Kawasaki, you probably aren’t particularly tapped into the computer/digital world. He made a name for himself as the “resident guru” to Apple Computer (before it had changed its name simply to “Apple” –– maybe that was one of Guy’s suggestions). He’s highly intelligent, personable, extremely generous with his experience and thus-ly acquired wisdom, and is a funny man, to boot.

About a year ago I read a similar article about Kawasaki’s self-publishing venture. He gave a long list of helpful hints for self-pubbers. But within these hints was also a hurdle. It was almost a caveat: to be successful in your book-marketing campaign, you should expect to pay around $10,000 to really get the word, your name, and the book’s title/cover art out to book buys. Of course, even shelling out money doesn’t mean you’ll sell more than a handful of books.

Unless, of course, your name is Guy Kawasaki.

There’s a new article about Guy on Forbes, and through the Cliffnotes highlights, I could see that Guy is capitalizing on his name and self-pubbing success. The hints, tips, and hard-edged advice are all there. Just what every writer who’s considered self-pubbing should consider before writing another word.

I had to respond:

While I appreciate Guy and Shawn’s advice, they (or at least, Guy) already has a name, and a reputation. Whereas 99% of people now writing (fiction or non-fiction) and are contemplating self-pubbing don’t have a name, reputation, or a track record behind them. Nor do they have the money to do as Guy suggests in order to “get the word out”. I read his early foray into successful self-pubbing (about a year ago?) and, basically, he said it takes a good $10,000+ to do a book up right vis-a-vis marketing plan (the number could be even higher). Now, for Guy to suggest that a no-name writer without a track record, no matter how good a book is, can get traction by simply throwing money around, is hardly helpful advice.

In fact, one of the best things a writer can still do in this mass-digital environment (with all its distractions) is to get a book reviewed. BUT… reviewers DO NOTICE THE PUBLISHING COMPANY, regardless that book buyers may not. And if the book is not from a big-name pub, and the author doesn’t have a name, the book will not be reviewed in the mainstream press.

My small press publisher (Siren & Muse) did all it could for me and my second novel (WHAT BEAUTY), as I did all I could for my own book: we put together galley letters, sent out multiple press releases (and follow-ups), sent ARCs to 45 review sites/newspapers/magazines. The result: Not one of them reviewed the book. But week in and week out, they all reviewed the same five or six books that had just come out that month—from the same 5-6 big-time publishers. Can anyone say “payoff!”?? Meanwhile, reader reviews across the different sales platforms have likened my book to “reading a classic” and other extremely flattering comments.

I absolutely agree with Guy and Shawn that self-pubbers must take their career into their own hands. That means they need to become professional book marketers as well as continue to write books. Fortunately, for the good authors writing quality books, we will not let adversity dissuade us from continuing what we’ve been working on for 10, 20, or sometimes 30 years.

Thanks for a good article.

My lament is not a bitter one. It’s merely, and lightly burned around the edges with, experience. I continue to market my book(s) and am always seeing good numbers come through the sales each month. I’d love for those to be higher. And by good, I mean … more than a handful.

Hey … where are all the readers!?

 

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

On Editing Your Work and Finding an Editor

I’ve been on a LinkedIn discussion, which began as a “why to writers trash each other?” but changed into all manner of discussion, one of which was holding up the use of a freelance editor (or allowing editors to really have at your work). I’ve written about editors before (I was an editor, of non-fiction and fiction) for 10+ years. It’s really a thankless job, and yet if anything goes wrong (like low book sales, for starters), the editor is blamed, not the writer (oddly enough).

But on this thread I had to take answer one comment regarding putting much stock, trust, MONEY, and hope in the competence of an editor:

1st parry: We all need to beware the mystique of editors. They are, predominantly, insecure people who are afraid for their jobs (an exceptionally high-stress career, acquisitions is, at the mid-to-higher levels) and who feel they must “edit” to justify their existence. We writers need to be our own best editor: learn what your story is about, how it best needs to be told, and who is the best character to tell it. From there, the story all comes down to the writing: if you can write, you can make any story read well; if you can’t, then you’ll make the best idea read like shit.

2nd parry: Actually, Pete, your guess is incorrect: I’ve not had a “bad experience” with an editor. In fact I’ve had only good experiences with editors of my work, mostly because they are people whom I have the utmost trust and confidence in. Finding one of these is as difficult as finding one’s wife or husband. Which takes me to your second point: “this is the best time EVER to be a freelance editor.” Frankly, freelance editors (whose pedigree is always suspect—why don’t they have a mid-to-top job with a house?) are particularly suspect. What is it that makes a person think they can edit a book? Do they write books themselves? Do they read books? Do they know what helps (or harms) a character, narrative, dialogue, metaphor/simile/analogy? Aspiring writers shouldn’t go to editors to “fix” their work (because if the work needs enough editing to call it “fixing,” then it shouldn’t have been written in the first place). For a further disquisition on editing, take a look at J.C. Guest’s comments (above).

3rd parry: Alice, after you differ with me, you seem to say as much to defend my own position as “writer-as-own-best-editor” with your comment about reading aloud and re-reading (and thus re-writing & editing). I’d go further by suggesting writers understand what the editing process involves, which is not simply a second set of eyes on the story. Likewise, a good writer doesn’t look at his/her own work and see what they expect, they see what a reader sees and expects, thus making adjustments accordingly. Finally, re my “mystique” comment: since the early 20th C editors have gained such a quality (think Ezra Pound of T.S. Eliot, Maxwell Perkins of numerous authors) and some justified but many not so much. If you’re connected with the biz, you can count on two hands the number of editors who’ve been hailed as outstanding. And that’s not saying much, given the number of books published (before the advent of self-pubbing). But further, by you saying editing is “just another job” (and Gary saying “editors have to make a living”) … then I’m terribly suspicious about editors. Why? Because what I write is not just another book, and therefore I don’t want a person who thinks his/her time between waking up and going to bed “just another day at the office.” And this is where my point becomes its most sharp: don’t trust just anyone to read your work, and those you trust you should be ready to argue your point and make them defend their criticism; and … the investment in writing a work of art, literature, something that a writer could think will last 400 years, should only be put in the hands of someone that shares that view. Anything less is merely clocking in for a few coins at the end of the day.

And the final frame: Hey, writer … I appreciate all your opinions. And your caveats about (and advice for choosing) whom edits your work are spot on. Many young (and older) aspiring writers have commented abundantly on bad experiences with editors whom they’d evidently chosen poorly (one had said the editor had continually confused characters; others have complained about almost no editing done, while paying a hefty up-front fee). I have always taught (and preached) that good writing is essentially good re-writing and excellent self-editing.

Keep on writing!

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

On a Tall Horse, Looking at the Horizon

I was engaged in a short (for me) but bitter (for some commentators) dialogue on LinkedIn two weeks ago that, at once, encouraged me to drop that group (The Writer’s Guild) and come to understand what I believe about writing.

The discussion began with my string “If You Have a Thick Skin, You Might Want to be a Writer” for which I included the edgy, and intentionally provocative question, “Do too many people think they can write books? (I mean GOOD books…)”.

To make a long story short, the majority of posts took exception to my making myself some paragon of good taste, which I had not, only posed that question. People got nasty, said I was a snob, said I didn’t have the right to say what was “good writing” — or what was not. They said, as a major block of like-minded voices, anybody who finished of book, or story, or … anything … was a good writer and that — their reasons never extended as far as explanation — no one could tell them their writing was BAD WRITING.

To me these people sounded like amazingly stupid interlopers onto my turf. Yes, some of them had written books. Yes, some of them have been professional journalists for years. Yes, some have even “sold lots of books” and got “great reviews” on Amazon. But all of this really doesn’t mean anything, because unless you can make statements about WHY a book is good or bad, and WHY writing lacks everything needed to tell a story, and WHY the sales figures for books merely computers units sold, then you cannot be considered a reasonable judge of literature, of quality, or even literary taste.

I believe this because there must be some standards placed on GOOD, GREAT, BAD, OKAY, and AWFUL. “If you don’t know it, you can’t be taught it,” is not a fair statement about judging literature, because the teaching of standards is no less possible than the teaching of speaking or reading a language. Both have rules, and there have always been rules about what is literature and what is genre fiction — at least until the advent of Amazon publishing, and those writer manqués with thin skins who like to spout off. Listen: just because people say something over and over (“any book is good, who are you to question that?”) doesn’t make it true.

As an egalitarian micro-society, Amazon publishing lives up only to Robespierre and his blood-soaked henchmen. Their indictment of French society and opening the gates of prisons and letting loose the “freedoms of man” only served to, finally, murder a lot of people. This is what happens when you put the mob in control of government, right vs. wrong, good vs. bad, and even taste.

“Fifty Shades of Gray” isn’t so bad!

Yes it is, and here’s why: the sentence structure is B-class; its imagery is pedestrian or not there at all; its dialogue is fatuous; the scenes are repetitive; the characters are lifeless (this, for a sex-laden story!); and its sex scenes are ridiculous and highly un-erotic. These aren’t merely opinion, or a matter of taste. If you like these books, like them for the story, if there actually is one there, but don’t claim the writing is what grips you.

Have books been dummed-down so much that most people don’t know the difference between good and bad? And that good and bad is NOT a matter of taste? That most best sellers are not good simply by virtue of selling a lot of books? It seems to me that, these days, to scale the proverbial “bar” once set to determine quality writing, one must walk downstairs into the basement.

Let me end this here: it is more than opinion that determines good writing, and love for craft is part of that, as is love of language, as is using dialogue that speaks to theme as much as drives story, as characters are fully realized without a reader’s need to “add” his own interpretation of who/what the character is, as scene is developed with an eye toward imagery that brings the five senses to play, as language is thematic and playful with the subject, as sentences are coherent and develop a coherent story that has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. No, not all stories that contain these are good (because then “taste” does play a part) but that’s a start. The authors that practice this craft? Roth and Updike, Atwood and Murdoch, McEwan and Bellow, Banville and Ackroyd, Naipaul and Theroux, Stead and Lessing … to name a few. Most of them are dead; where are today’s?

Someone in the thread made a comment directed at me, “You’re riding a very tall horse and I wouldn’t want to be you when you get knocked off it.”

This is my answer to that bit of wisdom: The horse on which I ride IS high, well high above the mud and slop and shit that a good portion of “writers” now stand, sit, or wallow around like pigs. I write strong literature, books that make you question why we are who we are; characters who challenge your self-identity; narrative that is striking and poetic and asks you to bring some level of intelligence to the page. And on this horse I hardly ever look down, for that is not my need, and my eyesight is on the horizon, where the scepters of writing-Kings and writing-Queens await me, where Knights-of-writing stand tall abreast of my steed, helping to keeping safe the idea, and my honest practice, of GOOD WRITING.

I hold my own books up for such scrutiny as anyone might make a challenge.

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

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