Saturday, May 16, 2015
In Once a Runner, John Parker, Jr. has gifted us the quintessential short distance (1 mile) running novel. As the publication story goes, he self-published it in the 1970s and many years later it got picked up by a major publisher and became a smash hit. Now, in 2015, with "can you run a 5 minute mile" on every serious runner's bucket list, the novel is experiencing something of a resurgence.
Parker does a fine job capturing the drama that unfolds in races of the serious running-kind. Words can never do it full justice, but Parker comes pretty darn close. I am, however, more interested in the literary merits of the novel, which no great novel can be without.
From the opening chapter with the title Once . . . to the closing chapter with the title A Runner, and all the pages in between, Parker creates excellent characters and shiny prose. The novel sets the stage even before the first chapter with its literary title. It's one thing to tell a straight up running story and quite another to put it on the page in a literary way. That's what sets Once a Runner apart.
If there is any fault in this novel it is from the dictionary words the author frequently uses in the first half of the book. Parker is not the only first time novelist to err in this direction. He is also an attorney and perhaps the BIG WORDS are in his natural vocabulary. Who knows and who cares?
Once a Runner is not a book about running. It is a literary novel of very high regard that just happens to include runners among its pages. People who never get off the sofa will love it just as much as the googley-eyed beanpole runner (of which I count myself). That is why Once a Runner has withstood 4-5 decades and is likely to withstand that many more.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
In a lost 1972 road trip interview, Ray Bradbury told a couple of college journalists his thoughts on like minded friends, never driving a car, and why his science fiction stories were frequently set on Mars.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, however, the moon was all the rage for science fiction short stories. Check out "A Visit to the Lunar Sphere" of 1820 to learn about an interesting Lunarian named Zuloc that's found in Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Short Stories 1800-1849.
Saturday, May 2, 2015
There has been amazing news in the book publishing world in 2015. It seems that every month we learn of another new book by a famous author, which has been discovered and will be published for all the world to read. First we heard about the great J.D. Salinger and his rumored five novels that he wrote for so many decades in obscurity at his modest home in Cornish, New Hampshire.
Next, a prequel of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird titled Go Set a Watchman was announced. How the book was found and whether Lee wanted it to be published are the source of a Southern-fried controversy. Then it was announced that a new book by none other than the long deceased Dr. Seuss is on its way to children everywhere. It’s being called What Pet Should I Get. “But wait, there’s more!” the chintzy infomercial’s tell us.
If these announcements weren’t enough to titillate the interest of bibliophiles everywhere, we find out that more than 100 years after Queen Victoria’s death that stories she wrote as a child will be published. There is no end to the literary surprises popping up in 2015.
What’s next, a new horror story from Edgar Allan Poe? A forgotten werewolf story by Alexander Dumas? A lost fantasy story by Mary Shelley? Well . . . in a way, yes!
Legion are the people who have read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but few have read her short stories. I have opined that they fall (ahem) short of storyline and characters of her most famous novel, but she did pen an excellent fantasy story called the “Transformation.” It is just one of the Top 10 fantasy short stories I uncovered from the first half of the nineteenth century:
2015 Middle Unearthed, an Introduction — Andrew Barger
1836 “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton” — Charles Dickens
1839 “The Kelpie Rock” — Joseph Holt Ingraham
1831 “Transformation” — Mary Shelley
1819 “Rip Van Winkle” — Washington Irving
1824 “Lilian of the Vale” — George Darley
1835 “The Doom of Soulis” — John MacKay Wilson
1827 “The Dwarf Nose” — Wilhelm Hauff
1829 “Seddik Ben Saad the Magician” — D.C.
1845 “The Witch Caprusche” — Elizabeth F. Ellet
1837 “The Pale Lady” — George Soane
They are included in my new classic anthology, Middle Unearthed: The Best Fantasy Short Stories 1800-1849. Before there were lovable ogres named Shrek and a quizzical boy wizard named Harry Potter, there were these groundbreaking fantasy stories that laid the foundation of so many great works to come. This annotated collection is on sale now at $12.99 for the book and $3.99 for the ebook. Read these stories from Middle Earth of fantasy writing today.
Buy the Book
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Waterstones
Buy the E-book
Apple iBookstore | Kindle | Google Books | Nook
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Recently, James Patterson announced the sale of his new book that would self-destruct within 24 hours. The details were scant as to how, exactly, it would destroy itself, but the joke remains: "Don't we wish all James Patterson's books would self-destruct?"
The real issue here is the permanency of art. How long should it be around? How many times should the public be able to enjoy it before it returns to dust? If a sculptor creates a bronze bust of Edgar Allan Poe, they want the sculpture to last as long as possible and be enjoyed by everyone. If a sculptor enters a sandcastle competition on Siesta Key Beach, they know the public will only enjoy it for a weekend, tops. The same goes for sidewalk chalk artists. They have a few days or until the next hard rain or flock of loose-boweled birds fly overhead to have the world enjoy their art. No one could reasonably argue that the sculptor of bronze is more of an artist than the sandcastle sculptor or sidewalk chalk artists just because her art is more permanent.
Being a fiction writer and editor, I feel that books should be less permanent. Somewhere between 24 hour, self-destructing books and those we have with us from 2000 years ago, books should vanish back into dust. The ideas in the books and their characters should not go on living in the minds of readers, but the physical copy of the book should vanish sooner than later.
Of course many people see a painting or a bronze sculpture. But what about live art; performance art from playwrights and ballerinas? The consumers of this art buy a ticket, see the play and the art lives on only in the consumers' minds.
The businessperson inside me doesn't like selling one copy of a book that can be passed around for the next decade or two, falling in and out of the hands of hundreds of readers who have never paid me a penny for the entertainment they are about to enjoy. The money, these days, goes to Amazon and Ebay and a host of other online etailers that resell books--not the artist.
I wish (selfishly) that books were the same. If only an ebook could erase after one read and a physical book should self-destruct after one read, too. James Patterson should get to work on that issue. Meanwhile, I will keep slugging away at the keyboard.
Sunday, February 8, 2015
20% Off My books
Barnes & Noble
Get a spacey 20% off Mesaerion: The Best Science Fiction Short Stories 1800-1849 at Barnes & Noble using coupon code: J4P7D9K.
Andrew Barger, award-winning author and engineer, has extensively researched forgotten journals and magazines of the early 19th century to locate groundbreaking science fiction short stories in the English language. In doing so, he found what is possibly the first science fiction story by a female (and it is not from Mary Shelley). Andrew located the first steampunk short story, which has not been republished since 1844. There is the first voyage to the moon in a balloon, republished for the first time since 1820 that further tells of a darkness machine and a lunarian named Zuloc. Other classic sci-fi stories include the first robotic insect and an electricity gun.
Popular science fiction authors that started the genre in the United States are also present like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Once again, Andrew has searched old texts to find the very best science fiction stories from the period when the genre automated to life, some of the stories are published for the first time in nearly 200 years. Read these fantastic stories today!
- The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar - Edgar Allan Poe
- The Aerial Burglar - Percival Leigh
- A Visit to the Lunar Sphere - Captain Frederick Marryat
- Glimpses of Other Worlds - Thomas Charles Morgan
- Hilda Silfverling, A Fantasy - Lydia Maria Child
- Rappaccini's Daughter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Rival Mechanicians - Lydia Maria Child
- A Descent Into the Maelstrom - Edgar Allan Poe
- The Artist of the Beautiful - Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Iron Shroud - William Mudford
OUR OWN COUNTRY
So mechanical has the age become, that men seriously talk of flying machines, to go by steam,--not your air-balloons, but real Daedalian wings, made of wood and joints, nailed to your shoulder,--not wings of feathers and wax like the wings of Icarus, who fell into the Cretan sea, but real, solid, substantial, rock-maple wings with wrought-iron hinges, and huge concavities, to propel us through the air. Knickerbocker Magazine, May 1835
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Today Harper Lee announced that she will publish in July a sequel to her only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. In my mind that immediately set off an alarming question:Has Ole Harper really been pecking away for the past sixty+ years on this sequel? Is she pulling a J.D. Salinger on us?
My first reaction, however, was a sigh of relief; not so much because of the new work being published, but rather proof that the rumors could be put to rest that Truman Capote, a good friend of Harper Lee, did not write all or large parts of "To Kill a Mockingbird." How could we have a new book from Ole Harper if Capote has been dead these 30 years? Literary affirmation is at hand! I thought to myself. This was immediately followed by wonder as to how similar her writing style would be after all these decades. Would it be less dense? Choppier? More verbose?
But my mind had raced too fast as it often does for all things literary. As I read further I learned that "Go Set a Watchman" was penned in the 1950s and actually written before "To Kill a Mockingbird." It is a sequel-prequel, if you will. Apparently "Go Set a Watchman" was tabled and "To Kill a Mockingbird" was published to great success. An agent recently found the old manuscript of "Go Set a Watchman" and dusted it off. Even Ole Harper thought it was gone forever.
The story is almost too good to be true. Hmmm.
What all this means is that since "Go Set a Watchman" was written in the 1950s, the question of whether Capote wrote it, too, will remain. So many lingering questions remain. Why is this the first time the world has heard of the manuscript? Why didn't Ole Harper publish it right after the wild success of "To Kill a Mockingbird"? How could she apparently forget all about the first novel she wrote, especially when it is shackled alongside "To Kill a Mockingbird"? How could she misplace the only copy of it and not sound alarm bells when it went missing?
Unless it was Capote's.
Yes, all these questions seem more plausibly answered if Capote wrote large parts or all of "Go Set a Watchman" the sequel-prequel of "To Kill a Mockingbird." Perhaps. Just perhaps.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Today marks the fifth year anniversary of J.D. Salinger's Death. Below is a post I did a few years back. Let's hope tomorrow there is announcement from his estate about new works by one of American's greatest men of letters.
J.D. Salinger—The Great Uncommunicator. The only thing more frustrating than the self-imposed seclusion of one of America’s greatest writers has been the intolerable silence of Salinger’s estate in the two years following his death. During this time there has been no word—and certainly no sentences, paragraphs, short stories, novellas, or novels—about the works (if any) left by Salinger after his death. Oddly, we have learned that a few of his words scrawled on a note were offered for $50,000, but nothing from his relatives as to what literary works he gifted the world at his death. We read article upon article of his toilet being offered for $1 million, yet not a whisper about his unpublished manuscripts.
Is the world being made a literary laughing stock? Is this a prose prank of the worst order? Why has there been no press release telling what literary remains were unearthed after Salinger’s death? What was found beneath his bed and in the dark recesses of his closet? Were there tattered spiral binders filled with handwritten stories on his nightstand? Did they find boxes of unpublished manuscripts under his basement stairs or in a worn attic chest or in a back corner of his writing studio?
If nothing was found, no yellowing manuscripts or half-written chapters of the unassailable thoughts of Holden Caulfield or Seymour Glass, then tell the world and be done with it. On the other hand, if a score of unpublished manuscripts were found, let the world know and rejoice until the glorious day of their publication.
The world is waiting. The world wants to know. To the day, it has been two long silent years since his death on January 27, 2010. That’s 720 days of stillness and longing from a literary world adrift in mediocrity; 1,036,800 minutes of hope and emptiness.
Salinger had a wealth of literary gifts at his disposal, perhaps more than some of the greatest writers that ever lived. He decided to only let us open a few of those gifts, the largest of which he called The Catcher in the Rye. The others he kept us from opening. That was his choice as artist and gift giver. In reference to his privacy Salinger wrote: “It is my rather subversive opinion that a writer’s feelings of anonymity-obscurity are the second most valuable property on loan to him during his working years.” (“People,” Time, 1961-08-04) In a 1974 interview he confessed: “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing .... I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.” (“JD Salinger Speaks About His Silence,” Lacey Fosburgh, The New York Times, 11-03-1974)
Did Salinger actually write after his final publication of “Hapworth 16, 1924” in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965? Fortunately, thankfully, what scant historical record we have to date tells us he did. The manuscripts should be there, somewhere. If nothing has been found, has his estate looked everywhere? Have they dug up soft patches of dirt in Salinger’s backyard? Have they checked the trunk of his old Jeep and the glove box and the center console? Did they visit every bank in a twenty mile radius of Cornish, New Hampshire in search of his rumored safe deposit box? Have area rugs been rolled up to reveal possible trap doors in the floorboards? What about behind air vents and beneath sofa cushions? Has every jot and tittle been collected from the backs of envelopes and margins of newspaper articles? If they have found nothing, they need to look harder and keep looking. They need to never stop.
Ray Bradbury stated in Zen in the Art of Writing that “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Salinger knew this better than anyone. He continued to write so the world would not destroy him. What evidence we have regarding his continued writing habits is telling. The most direct comes from Salinger himself. In a 1994 letter addressed to Michael Mitchell, the dust jacket artist for the first edition of The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger revealed that he continued to “work on” in a methodical fashion where he kept the “[s]ame old hours, pretty much.” His confession that he kept writing some thirty years after the publication of “Hapworth 16, 1924” gives us bright hope that a treasure trove of manuscripts was found upon his death.
Salinger’s only daughter, Margaret, presented further evidence in her memoir of not only manuscripts, but a color-coded system for future publication: “A red mark meant, if I die before I finish my work, publish this ‘as is,’ blue meant publish but edit first, and so on.” (Dream Catcher: A Memoir, Margaret Salinger, 2000) Then there is Joyce Maynard who lived with Salinger for 10 months while she was 18 and he was 53. She recounted that he continued to write each morning and that by 1972 he had completed two new novels. (At Home in the World, Joyce Maynard, 1998)
And let’s not overlook Salinger’s protective neighbors in Cornish. One stated that Salinger told him he had written 15 unpublished novels. (“JD Salinger’s Death Sparks Speculation Over Unpublished Manuscripts,” The Telegraph, 01-29-2010) If thoughts of having a new Salinger novel published each of the next 15 years doesn’t send literary chills down your spine, your back is broke.
On September 15, 1961, Time magazine featured Salinger on its cover and reported that he intended to write a Glass trilogy. (“Sonny: An Introduction,” Time, John Skow, 09-15-1961) “Hapworth 16, 1924”, a long letter from his character Seymour Glass while at summer camp, was the only novella from the trilogy published.
It is clear Salinger continued to write all these years in his remote cinderblock bunker with its fireplace and writing desk and filing cabinet and packed lunch. (“Sonny: An Introduction,” Time, John Skow, 09-15-1961,) This leaves five possible scenarios for his unpublished manuscripts.
Suppose they were destroyed. This may have happened before his death by his own hand in a fit of public defiance. Salinger did state that he wrote for his own pleasure. Yet he had tagged various manuscripts for publishing, making destruction by his own devices unlikely. Perhaps the 1992 fire where “damage to the house was extensive” torched them. (“Fire Fails to Shake Salinger’s Seclusion,” New York Times, 10-24-1992) There is no evidence this occurred and it would have been contrary to observances by Margaret Salinger and statements to his neighbor that the manuscripts were piling up. In Salinger’s 1994 letter to Michael Mitchell, dated nearly two years post-fire, he stated he continued to write each morning in his normal fashion. It is also reported that Salinger’s writing studio was removed from the hilltop house perched on the 90 acre compound, which likely preserved his manuscripts when the 1992 fire occurred.
What if Salinger lied all these years? What if he never put pen to paper after “Hapworth 16, 1924” was published in 1965? What if the mostly negative reviews caused his fragile persona to give up writing forever? Suppose he spent all day in his writing studio playing video games and surfing the Internet while telling his family he was hard at work. This is unlikely given his statements and the manuscripts his Margaret witnessed at his Cornish, New Hampshire home.
There is the possibility that his manuscripts were stolen, yet there is no evidence of a break-in while Salinger was alive or after his death. This is one of the most unlikely scenarios.
A more plausible explanation for the silence (Excuse me. I once again meant to say “intolerable silence.”) and muted responses of his agent and family is that his will gave pointed instructions not to publish his manuscripts for a certain period of time. Perhaps Salinger went so far as to demand that no word be spoken to the public about what writings he left for three or five or ten years. If breached, all heirs would be cut off from the will and the certain high royalty stream the new novels would bring. Or suppose his manuscripts are in no shape for public consumption and not to be published. That would be quite extraordinary, Nabokov-esq even.
This leaves us with the most hopeful postulation for lovers of all things Salinger—The Great Uncommunicator has left too many manuscripts for his estate to shift through in two years. What if there are squabbling over which book should be published first and in what order? The literary world is holding its collective breath that is the case. If so, the Salinger estate should at least hold a press conference and inform everyone. It is in the realm of possibility that inner-circle squabbles could have erupted between his children and wife over which novel to publish first. Matt Salinger publicly disagreed with some of the childhood accounts Margaret wrote about in Dream Catcher: A Memoir. Salinger left a tabbed system of publication, right? Can’t everyone just get along for literature’s sake?
To date the Press has made Salinger out to be a one-hit wonder who, unable to pen another work of prominence, slunk into a life of seclusion as a bitter and frustrated artist. Nothing is further from the truth. Salinger published two novellas, over thirty short stories (some residing in the Princeton and University of Texas libraries). He accomplished all this some fifty years ago and has been writing ever since. Imagine what he has accomplished over the last half century with modern word processors. Imagine what they found Salinger’s closet.
Salinger was anything but a literary hack. He may be the finest example of the opposite. Salinger wrote for the pure love it; not for the supposed glory of publication. He practiced at the very highest level that any true artist can obtain, one without interference from outside influence; and as Holden would put it—far removed from a bunch of morons who sought to destroy him.
In truth, J.D. Salinger never needed the world. It’s always been the world that has needed J.D. Salinger.
And perhaps now is when the world needs him most.