Sunday, November 24, 2013

“It’s quiet,” they say.
“Sort of dull,” they say.
“Feel free to work on your own projects,” they say, “we’re all multi-tasking all the time around here.”
What they mean is: “look busy.”
And so you start trying to look busy.
Reading a book won’t do—you’d been reading before, when they started commenting on how quiet it is.
Sitting there with your thoughts won’t do, either.  Each time they catch you doing that, they ask:  “Is everything all right?”
You’re not allowed to randomly browse the web, or to check personal email.
So what should you do?
You decide to open up Word, create a new document, start writing.
There is some concern that people will see what you are writing, realize it’s not connected to the work, and disapprove.  Much of what motivates you is fear of disapproval.
But they told you to “feel free to work on your own projects,” and writing is the one project you’ve got that seems most likely to satisfy their desire for you to look busy.  You’re guessing that sitting at the computer, typing, will look more productive in their eyes than reading a book or sitting with your thoughts seemed to look, to them.
But what should you type?
You’ve been working on a mystery novel, about a homelessalcoholic in Waikiki who is investigating the murder of his sponsor ( Dry Shores: A Hawaii Crime NovelMuch of the book involves scenes of violence, of drug and alcohol abuse, of generally degenerative behavior.  The characters use foul language freely.  They sit in the park drunk and belligerent, or sprawl in alleyways and doorstops, in various states of disarray.  Such material doesn’t seem entirely appropriate for the office environment in which you are presently trying to look busy.
So what should you type?
You open Word, create a new document, and sit there with your fingers poised on the keys.
 You start typing:
'"It's quiet," they say.'

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SKAGBOYS, by Irvine Welsh

Skagboys (Mark Renton series Book 1)

I read TRAINSPOTTING shortly after seeing the movie.  I liked it, and went on to read ECSTASY and MARABOU STORK NIGHTMARES and YOU'LL HAVE HAD YOUR HOLE (his first play, which I read standing up in a bookstore) in the next few years.  I also saw the movie version of THE ACID HOUSE (which Welsh wrote the screenplay for), though I thought it was a bit of a letdown after TRAINSPOTTING.  And then, after a few years without Welsh, I came across PORNO in the limited English-language section of a bookstore in Madrid, and I bought that and read it too (and buying a book brand new is a rare thing for me).

For a while, in a fairly formative period of my life as a person and as a writer, I considered him a favorite author.  When I think about it now, he remains one of the authors I've read the most words by.  And he's influenced my view of certain things in a way that persists to this day.  I lived in Scotland for about seven months (mostly in Edinburgh, but also several months in Perth, and I traveled to nearly every little town during my days off from that Perth job--not much to do in Perth itself, you know), and despite the fact that the Scotland I experienced rarely resembled the Scotland Welsh depicts in his writing, it's still his version that some how feels more real to me.

But that was a while back--seems like ages--and I was living a different life then.  I moved countries every six months or so.  I gave little thought to careers or a long-term future.  I dreamed of writing important literary works, but spent more time dreaming than actually writing.

And, gradually, I settled into a more stable life.  I stayed in one city (San Francisco) for nearly a decade--long enough to get a University degree and waste a few years with one employer (before that I'd always quit jobs every few months--as soon as I had a bit of cash saved up).  I even got married recently--though I quit my job and left San Francisco before doing so.  Still, I'm in a much different place now than where I was when I was reading Welsh.

But a few days ago I saw a copy of Welsh's new book SKAGBOYS in the library, and I checked it out.  I've been reading it, and I wanted to write about that here.  I wanted to write about what it's making me feel.

Frankly, for the first 150 pages or so, I felt like I was coming home.  I felt such an affinity for the world Welsh creates in his books, such a connection with the points of views of the characters, that it almost made the last ten years of my life seem like some sort of dream.  It made me feel like the life he writes about was more real than the life I've been living.

And then, gradually, that feeling started to fade.  The gritty realness started to feel exaggerated, cartoon-like.  The characters started feeling fake.  And I started feeling like Welsh, instead of creating something true and authentic, was just trying to push buttons.

I think it's sort of related to the plot.  Welsh sets up the start of the novel with finesse, but halfway through he's already torched it all.  For an example, look at the sordid drama Welsh creates for Sick Boy.

*SPOILER ALERT* (for anybody that actually cares, which I usually don't)

Sick Boy notices his 15-year-old neighbor is "blossoming into hotness" (Welsh doesn't use those terms, but that's the general idea).  He decides to bond with the girl's alcoholic dad in order to get at the girl--buying dad drinks, helping him along the path to his own destruction.  And then, once the dad gets (accidentally) killed in a bar-related pummeling, Sick Boy moves in on the dead drunk's wife.  Okay, Welsh; I'm still with you.  But then, after taking advantage of the mom's vulnerable state in order to get laid, Sick Boy helps her decide to commit fraud--not reporting drunk dad's death in order to keep collecting his pension checks.  Promptly after that she get's thrown in jail, and Sick Boy moves in on the girl.  Get's her hooked on heroin.  Starts her turning tricks for drug money.  And finally, to end this little melodrama, pimps her to the man who murdered her father (who uses the opportunity to deliver the line "I'm your daddy now.")

Through every imaginable level of disaster, step by step with no delays or detours or moments of characters stopping for a second to try to go anywhere else, Welsh takes us to the very bottom.  And this is less than halfway through the book.

It goes that way with other characters.  You've got Begbie face-fucking some girl in front of her father--under the mistletoe on Christmas, might I add--and then threatening the dad with violence.  You've got Renton giving his severely handicapped brother a handjob--fair enough, Welsh; maybe you could make this work--but then the surly older brother busts in... and catches the cumshot on his face and across his military uniform!

We've gone from tragedy to childish farce, and from dark to just plain dim.

Which has me wondering, in the end, about the interest I felt for Welsh's writing in my more youthful days, my days of international travel and passionate avoidance of the status quo.  Was he writing better stuff, then?  Was I more in touch?

Or was I just more immature?

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blood Brothers now available on Kindle

I've finished my first novel, and it's now available for download on Kindle (or on Smartphones with the Kindle app, or on computers with the free Kindle reader program installed).  It's a sword and sorcery novel with weird metaphysical and pantheistic elements.  Here's the description:

Ostracized by society because of the birthmark that mars his face, Grillis Bloodborn has lived all of his short life in a cottage in the forest, cutting wood and tending pigs. Upon the death of his grandmother, the only family he has ever known, he sets out on a quest to find favor with the Gods for her soul. Grillis’s travels bring him to a city where a young trash-picker named Athemon has just begun to discover the power to punish the men who have made his life a hell. As fate draws the two youths together, they learn that payback comes with a price of its own. Meanwhile, in the depths of the unconquered wilderness a young mystic named Verlvik begins to experience a series of miracles and visions… and the visions lead toward Athemon.

You can go to the Amazon page by clicking this link.

Please take a look, and consider buying a copy.  Thanks!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Every Step Deliberate now on Kindle

I've put another book up on Kindle.  This one is a series of poems I wrote while walking the Camino de Santiago last fall.  It'll be available for free download on Friday, January 4th, and Saturday, January 5th.  Check it out by clicking here.