Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Pretty Good for Free

THE JYNX has finally been lifted from the depths of Barnes and Noble by an anonymous reviewer who gave it four stars on Jan. 15, 2012. The only previous rater, also anonymous, had given it two stars without an explanation. The four star reviewer posted a very brief review under the headline: “Pretty Good for Free.”
The review: “I have paid for books that were not nearly as well done.” I assume this positive rating and review could result in higher downloads for THE JYNX on Barnes and Noble. I hope so.

A suggestion: My novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Notes on DISGRACE by J. M. Coetzee

J. M. Coetzee is the South African writer who won the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature,
DISGRACE is a piece of literary writing without pretensions of being literary. Coetzee is so commanding a writer that it just is literary. The story flows easily, the writing is relatively simple and very engaging. I was drawn into the world of the protagonist David Lurie, a 52-year-old twice-divorced, college professor in Cape Town, South Africa.
Sex is the center of his life; with prostitutes, with students, with hungry women. An affair he pressed on a 19 or 20 year student plunges him into disgrace in the minds of everyone but himself. He is so extraordinarily self-centered and arrogant he isn’t aware of the impropriety of what he did with the student.
His arrogance prevents him humbling himself to save his job and his pension. He didn’t like his job anyhow. He had no respect for his students, and a strong distaste for his teaching. His dream is to write an opera about Bryon and one of his many mistresses, Teresa, a young Italian woman, only 19, recently married, whom Byron has dumped. Teresa, however, longs for Byron for the remainder of her life. Their affair was a transforming experience for her.
In the aftermath of being forced from his teaching post, Lurie goes into the backcountry of South Africa, where his daughter, Lucy, a lesbian whose lover has abandoned her, is running a small farm with the help of Petrus, a hired black African. Lucy doesn’t respect her father, who like so many, if not almost all, parents still wants to run his daughter’s life, assuming that he knows what is best for her no matter how much she resists.
On a day the black African, Petrus, isn’t around, two black men and a youth appear at Lucy’s farm. Lurie, who is suspicious of the three from the outset, is shoved into a bathroom and locked in with little resistance on his part. Dealing with predators, Lurie acts as though talking to them will make them go away. His daughter is raped and impregnated; the three pour mineral oil on Lurie and set him afire, laughing at him. They steal his car and whatever they find valuable at the farm.
Lurie’s burns are painful and embarrassing, but not devastatingly serious. He comes across as a wimp at best and a coward at worst, a man so civilized that he has lost the capability of fighting in the face of superior odds no matter what the outcome. Later in the book, he comes across the youth involved in the attack on Lucy and bats him around—an easier task than fighting two strong, determined, violent men.
It turns out that the boy is a relative of Petrus’ and Petrus has designs on Lucy’s farm. Petrus owns the land next door. Petrus is used to illustrate the shift in power in South Africa in that he decides he will no longer farm for Lucy and that if she wants to fall under his protection she has to become his third wife or concubine—not that he really wants her sexually, but because he wants to own the land and dominate his little world.
Lucy is willing to go along with that arrangement if Petrus will guarantee she can keep her house. She is just as empty as her father, but in a different way.
The two grown predators were more interested in demeaning the once dominate whites, Lurie and Lucy, than in robbing them. They use rape to illustrate the shift in power in post-apartheid South Africa. Perhaps there is play on the issue of rape domination since Lurie used his dominant role as a professor to impose himself sexually on a young woman, which is a subtle form of rape/domination. The earthy Africans used the old fashioned approach to physically forcing themselves on the white woman, Lucy, in their exercise of domination/rape.
There is an interesting subplot of the fascination and lure of creativity with Lurie locked into his opera, living in his mind. But the emptiness and self-centeredness and selfishness of the professor is driven home at the end of the book when he allows a crippled stray dog, who has come to love him and depend on him, to be euthanized instead of saving him. Perhaps it also shows how little Lurie values life, his own and other creatures. At no point did the book become a drag. Coetzee, indeed, is a great writer, a great creator of characters, a great grasper of the turmoil in the South African society in which he once lived.

A SUGGESTION: my novel, OOOEELIE, is well worth reading. Free on Kindle, SmashwordsBarnes and Noble, and Apple.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The End of the Trail: 1 or Synchronicity and Syracuse Herald Journal

On a morning in the mid-December just past, I was putting together the biography a minor character, the editor of the New York Vision, in my latest rewrite of BEN CONNOLLY in the PARIS COMMUNE when I decided to look up Alexander (Casey) Jones, who was the decidedly larger than life editor of the Syracuse Herald Journal when I worked there as a reporter from late 1959 to early 1963.
In the course of my Googling, I found a story by Dick Long, an old friend from Syracuse, written in November, 2010 about the passing of Howard Carroll, another colleague in my Syracuse days.
I decided to contact Dick—and much to my dismay I learned he had died the week before. Looking a little further, the name of another Herald Journal colleague, Jane Vadeboncoeur, was added to my list of the dead along with Bill Stevens.
And then, the synchronicity: later in the afternoon of my Googling, a Christmas card from Jerry Cooley, my favorite editor in my Syracuse days, arrived with a note telling me that Dick Long and Joan Vadeboncoeur had died.
All five are held in treasured corners of my memory:
Casey Jones, who had been the managing editor of the Washington Post before coming to Syracuse, was so commanding a writer and so dominant a figure that everyone in Syracuse, glanced at the front page of the Herald Journal then immediately turned to the editorial page to read his by-lined editorial of the day.
Dick Long taught me my beginning skills as an investigative reporter: how to look up real estate deals, how to shove aside those blocking the way to dig into public records.
Howard Carroll was my model as a journalist. He was crusty, he was a master of reporting, he was generous. The one incident that I have never forgotten was a day on which we all repaired, as we often did, to a local seedy bar for an after deadline drink. Beer was ten cents a glass. The reporters were joking and laughing and talking about the stories just written when a man in a very nice suit sitting along the bar leaned over to say to Howard, “I used to be a newspaperman.”
“What do you do now?” Howard asked.
“Public relations for xxxx Corporation.”
“You were never a newspaperman,” Howard said, each word dripping with contempt, turning his back on the very nice suit.
Not many years later, Howard became director of media relations for the National Education Association, which sounds like a PRman to me. I often wondered if Howard remembered that unforgettable (for me) scene in that seedy bar.
The early 1960s was still an era of black and brown sports jackets and white shirts; in other words clothing was generally dull. Even our ties were dull. One day, Joan Vadeboncoeur, walked into the office in a “shocking pink” suit. That was so startling as fashion moment in that grey city room that over the years I have recalled it in many a conversation.
Bill Stevens was a terrific reporter and writer and all-round nice guy, who in an act of generosity gave me a piece of free lance business writing for an appliance magazine. We weren’t paid much at the Syracuse Herald Journal so the money was very welcome. I would sit down one weekend a month and earn more money from this free lance assignment than I did in a week or two as a newspaper reporter.
Bill, who also worked for the AP and UPI, died in November.

A suggestion: My novel, THE PENCIL ARTIST is available as an e-book on Smashwords, Kindle, and Barnes and Noble; as a paperback on Amazon.