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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

What Books Did You Add to Your Shelf in 2016 ???

As a writer, I’m also a reader. 2016 was a busy year. Here’s my list, and recommendations for all readers and writers and artists:

The tail of the spines …

Because They Wanted To (Mary Gaitskill)
The Keep (F. Paul Wilson)
In a Free State (V.S. Naipaul)
MaddAddam (Margaret Atwood)
Crime and Punishment (F. Dostoevsky)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)
Bring Up the Bodies (Hilary Mantel)
The Wapshot Scandal (John Cheever)
The Savage Detectives (Roberto Bolano)
Cat’s Eye (Margaret Atwood)
Star: The Life & Times of Warren Beatty (Biskind)
London Belongs to Me (Norman Collins)
Millroy the Magician (Paul Theroux)
The Secondary Colors (Alexander Theroux)
Dan Leno & The Limehouse Golem (Peter Ackroyd)
Daniel Martin (John Fowles)
Waiting for Sunrise (William Boyd)
The Facts: a novelist’s autobiography (Philip Roth)
Humboldt’s Gift (Saul Bellow)
The Wasteland & other poems, (T.S. Eliot)
The Heart Goes Last (Margaret Atwood)
Life Before Man (Margaret Atwood)
Germany: memories of a nation (Neil MacGregor)
April in Paris (i fired this one)
The Cowards (Josef Skvorecky)
The Western Coast (Paula Fox)
Immortality (Milan Kundera)
Daily Rituals (Mason Currey)
Tests of Time (William H. Gass)
Patrimony (Philip Roth)
Shop Talk (Philip Roth)
Laughable Loves (Milan Kundera)
The Enigma of Arrival (V.S. Naipaul)

33 books
12,591 pages
5,162,310 words

Readers will want to look into “Germany” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” … Writers will want to reader deeply with “Crime and Punishment” and “Daniel Martin” and “The Savage Detectives” and “Millroy the Magician” … Artists will find lots to feel with “The Secondary Colors” and “Humboldt’s Gift” and “Tests of Time”

What have been your favorites from 2016??

Welcome to “The Next Big Thing” – Tag … I’m IT!

The terribly nice and eclectically gifted Patricia Ann McNair (author of the award-winning short story collection The Temple of Air) recently tagged me in a game called THE NEXT BIG THING — a literary game designed to promote a work-in-progress and highlight our literary blogs. All who have played are both authors AND bloggers who aim to create world-wide conversation about the writing and the writing process.

It’s actually taken me several weeks to find writers who are also bloggers and want to participate. And for those who’ve refused, a tongue-in-cheek “shame-shame” to your shyness. Now for the good news.

The two writers who’ve agreed to play the game, allow me to “tag” them, and follow up with their own posts and invitations, are Carl Purdon and Tim Chambers. Carl is fond of saying that he lives “halfway between Tupelo, which is the birthplace of Elvis, and Oxford, which was the home of William Faulkner.” His novel The Night Train is a finely crafted book about a boy’s escape from abuse. He also runs a literary blog where he interviews authors and writes about craft and process. Tim also runs a literary blog, and has written a novel about two fallen plutocrats, called Banana Republican Blues. He’s hard at work on his next book.

There they are, and … TAG … you guys are IT. Now to complete my end of the bargain, below are the questions and answers to my work-in-progress:

1. What is the working title of your novel?
“Max, the blind guy” — which is the most descriptive of my three novel titles. It really says exactly what the story is about—mostly. I’ve toyed with others, but I think this one will stick.

2. Where did the idea for the novel come from?
The idea behind the characters (an older couple, married 40 years, and coming to a crossroads in both thinking about their relationship and an interpretation of their lives) came from my own thinking about long-term relationships — and I’m talking the kind that go the distance, more or less: What’s there to hang on to after so many years? Love??? Is that enough?

With the answers to these questions having been “inertia and comfort”, “maybe not”, and “I don’t really think so, but….” I began to see these characters in a different way. What I saw was not necessarily terrible, but there were plenty of ashes to brush off around the edges.

3. What genre?
Contemporary – Mainstream – Literary – Historical (some parts reach back to the ’50s)? Who the hell knows what these mean anymore!? Okay, it ain’t Sci-Fi and you won’t find fangs or fur.

4. What other books would you compare yours to in this genre?
That’s difficult to pinpoint because I think it’s a unique story, in the method by which it tracks these characters’ lives and loves and tempests. On the other hand, my “reading mentors” such as  Philip Roth and Iris Murdoch, Banville and Eugenides and McEwan, Updike and Naipaul and Durrell, Atwood and Sontag (to name but a few) would (have) understand my notion of place and time, scene and character, dialogue and narrative structure.

5. Which actor would you choose to play one of your characters?
Depp or Pitt for Max (they could still play the “young” Max as much as be covered in make-an-old-guy goo); Streep or Jody Foster for Greta.

6. What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Maxwell Ruth, once a thriving figurative artist, is now just a blind guy who’s been married to the same woman, Greta, for forty years, and upon reflection, neither is sure they should have made it so far; so where to go from here?

7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I began writing the “chronological” story in August 2012 (after six months of scene development, mostly composed of paragraph-long prompts, or dialogue, or character sketches), and perhaps I’ll finish a first draft in a year. This is a long story, woven from multiple characters over nearly five decades. They have a lot to say. Rewrites shall be fun.

8. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
On a sunny afternoon in April 2009, I was standing on a street corner in Prague, watching people walk through an open-air market. My eyes fell upon a couple who must have been in their eighties. He was obviously blind (the forward stare, the closely held hand on her arm, the duo-shuffling between them) and she was telling him what she was seeing in the stalls. They weren’t smiling (exactly) but there was chatter, and he was chain smoking; their time seemed endless and they hadn’t a care in the world. But what were their lives like back home, outside of a European vacation? I wondered, at that moment, what had kept them together and what kind of love was needed from a woman to care for an aged blind man — husband or mere lover. I let my imagination find all kinds of great goodness, and then realized there wasn’t much drama in the happy-happy of life, although there could be happiness in drama.

9. What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?

We’re all going to be old someday. And I mean OLD. If we’re (un)lucky we’ll have been with the same person for decades. What could life be like after 40 years of marriage, with its potential for wonderment and disillusion, laissez-faire lifestyles and revenge? That’s the basis of “Max, the blind guy” … but I’ll let you into the start of the story:


The first time Maxwell Ruth heard the accolade — “That guy is a dedicated cunt hound!” — his wife was standing three feet away. Hearing that disgusting phrase made Max smile. Not because the imagery forced a pretty picture, but he thought his wife, Greta, hadn’t heard what some guy he barely knew said about all those years of womanizing. Max’s smile did something else. It gave truth to those words: he was a cunt hound, and other men knew it. Women, too.

We were a group of eight, this island in a ballroom filled with islands. Heads of four and six and eight people hung about in static circles, separated by air and status and booze; all were underscored by the tepid music of a string quartet. High windows along one wall revealed the unfurling Palisades in a jumble of leafy trees down to the Hudson River. Across that brown divide, New York’s knotted skyline glowed against the sunset. Half the buildings looked like golden ingots stood pompously on end, the other half like dominoes. Up here in the high bluffs of northern New Jersey, in winter, shimmering gold and white-pipped ebony looked surprisingly the perfect match.


What Beauty is my latest 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.

Writing Time and Time to Live: the same thing?

We writers have a conundrum that is our life-blood and our life-long bane: how much time can we reasonably spend writing each day?

If given carte blanche, our “job” would be to write, read, correspond w/book journalists (some might call them “compassionate critics of my books”), and go on literary tours that take us to major cities and small towns across our home country and every country in which our books have been translated. And what’s more… okay, stop!

Wait a minute. Is this what all writers want, or just me? Honestly, it must be somewhere in between. But even as a somewhere-in-between notion, we’re talking the second conditional for 99.999% of writers. Yet that’s still me I’m talking about. So let me talk about this, The Writing Life, as a Way of Seeing.

You must understand that this life I’ve proposed in not so far fetched, even in the real time of working for a living, being married, contemplating buying puppies (two sausage dogs, bitches, great companions, though sometimes noisy), and moving to yet another country (my fourth in 7 yrs).

Here’s how this The Writing Life works (for me): I’ve long-ago ditched the concept of “carving out time” to write, read, love, travel; instead, I’ve carved out time to “make a living” in between writing and reading and writing-about-reading, and travel and love and thinking about the puppies. My world is mostly a fictional world, lived inside my head while I walk, while I eat, while I talk with friends, while I read, while I fuck (hey, you never know when a great idea will pop up), and, especially, while I make a living.

Let me clear on this one point — Nothing gets in my way of this … except when I cross the street, wherein I take time to look both ways.

I do this — all of this — successfully because at the time I am living outside my present writing project, I’m actually allowing the writing project to live inside my everyday life. And when I’m inside my writing project, I feel some of the way through it by negotiating with my memory of life outside the writing project (present, past, past perfect, and even the future tense). Stay with me here, because this concept is not so difficult ….

Eudora Welty spoke glowingly of being receptive to her world when she wrote, and taking whatever happened in her day — verbatim events and speech, or metaphorical or as fictional constructs based on the former — for use in her fiction. It didn’t matter what these were: dialogue, scene, place, gesture, group dynamics, memories or dreams or anecdotes or jokes told by people. All of this could be used at will or discarded if useless. And … this is the best part, as I brought Welty’s idea into my own writing life … all of what lands in my net can be changed to suit whatever I need it for to make my story good, better, and the best my abilities can make it after draft, re-draft, third draft, fourth, fifth and onward until every written word makes perfect sense for its position and holds true to the world of its creation and the story for which it lives.

That’s the long and short of this concept. The only adjustment to it is how much you want to continue interacting with the “real” world in place of the “fictional” world where you are happiest (or happy-ERRR, if that helps soften the disconnection with so-called society that you might think I’m proposing; which I am; sort of).

The one drawback to this The Writing Life concept is that it’s terribly selfish to most of the outside world. On the other hand, if you don’t want much to do with the so-called outside world, then this concept begins to look better and better. For one single example, I give you TELEVISION. I gave up TV nearly seven years ago. In that time I’ve been more creative, more dynamic, more ME, and more productive than I had been for 25 years previous to that conscious decision to kill the machine that spews out mindless mush. I have no guilt over it’s murder.

The only time I need to compromise with this The Writing Life is when I’m spending time with my wife, us two alone, time for each other, time set on our own private terms, time for which we don’t need to negotiate or compromise because this TIME takes place on the go and in-between and over-and-back-on-time; this is time that I truly cherish because, without it, I might just leave the real world for the fictional altogether.

Which, on the face of things, can be scary. But let’s face it, for a writer, there’s not much else we want to do anyway.


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.