Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"Oh, what a tangled web we weave" OR Calling All Arachnidologists!

I've been using the winter break to study for my upcoming comprehensive exams. I have to say that I'm really enjoying the process. I think it is good to be confronted with how much we don't know about the things we think we know so much about.

As a writer, it makes me feel small and insignificant when I discover how many works and how many people are really involved in the Literary History of the United States until 1900. Many figures just get a passing nod in the Heath Anthology of American Literature. Many don't get that.

I'm also noticing that I have a lot of spider webs in my house. I guess I already knew this, but until recently I haven't taken the time to look closely and carefully at them.

I tend to give spiders the reign of my house. They just don't bother me enough to whisk them away with my broom, and I figure that if they pose me no danger and we aren't in competition with one another, why not be generous with my space? (Readers, please let me know if the type pictured is dangerous.) When I come through my front door, letting in small flying insects, I like to watch those insects get caught in the webs, then watch the spiders pounce suddenly, wrapping the tiny prey in silk, little snacks saved for later.

They remind me of cattle ropers when they do this.

Then they return to the center of their webs and sit motionless, patient.

Is it sadistic to enjoy this? Or do I just need a fuller social life?

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Bailout for Writers?

Paul Greenberg explores the option in a recent NY Times article.

"[. . .] onetime best-selling novelist and story writer Ann Beattie mourned the situation of the modern writer, living in a world where people are more interested in 'being a writer' than in writing itself. 'There are too many of us, and M.F.A. programs graduate more every year, causing publishers to suffer snow-blindness, which has resulted in everyone getting lost,' she lamented."


Saturday, November 22, 2008

More words from Father Chuck Messer

Chuck's a very old friend of mine. He used to get me in trouble in kindergarten. Now he's an Episcopalian priest, and a progressive Christian voice.

Whatever our feelings about organized religion, I think it's important to recognize that there are voices within the churches that call for social justice and inclusiveness.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Lake Wales High School Gym

The home of my amateur wrestling exploits

Exploit, circa 1989

Signing: Largo Public Library

I lived in Largo for a while, and I spent many lazy Sundays in the local library. It was small and cozy. It wasn't very busy, and they had a good selection of books.

The new facility is huge and amazing. My signing was also on a Sunday, and the place was literally filled with people and activity. It was great to see.

I also got to spend some time with my dear friend Nancy, who kept me company. I also realized that, in my absence, her children had grown into adults. Strange.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ahh, St. Petersburg

I spent several years living in St. Pete, Florida, and I have mostly positive memories. Here is where I--for better or worse--decided to make writing a primary focus in my life.

St. Pete is known as a retirement Mecca, full of old people, and it certainly is that. But it's also a lot more. The city has a pretty vibrant art, theater, and music scene. The community radio station, WMNF, is one of the country's best, and there is actually plenty to do.

Here's another true independent with a rich history. Haslam's is just west of downtown St. Pete. Like many independents today, they offer a mix of both new and used books. I had a little trouble setting up a reading here because of my book's price, but Ray was kind enough to give me a shot. It might have helped that one of the stories in True Kin is based, in part, on this bookstore, especially stories about the hijinks of Jack Kerouac's ghost.

I sold a few books, met some old friends and nice new people. (Somehow, I forgot my camera.) The time talking with Ray was really cool. This store is a must-visit when you're in the area.

This was my apartment building. It's also what I used as a model for Claire's apartment in "True Kin" (the novella). A few people have called me on this already.

I've never regained the same sense of coolness that I imagined myself as having when I lived here. These were my most bohemian years. Cool place. Cool neighbors. The place looks about the same as it did in my day, if a little more tidy. We shared a mailbox here, and I remember getting so many rejection letters in that box. I plastered my walls with them to the amusement of my friends.

The Garden (see below) was the hub of what a few of us called "the literary scene," a loose-nit group of literary types and hopeful writers. Mainly, it was me, Shannon, and "Gatsby," with many other some-time participants. We wrote collaborative poetry, read aloud in a back booth, shared our work, drank lots of beer and wine. It might sound really pretentious, but I think it was too innocent to be that.

On Fridays there was (and still is!) great jazz music by the Buster Cooper Trio.

That was our booth in the back.

That night, my friends Cheryl and Jake threw a party, and I got to see a lot of people from the old days. I met most of them through work at Barnes & Noble. I know, I know. I've been amazed how well we've maintained a connection through the years. I'm always uplifted by this group.

Oh, and I sold a bunch of books here. I kept going back to their office and signing them, my handwriting growing worse and worse.


Merci, mes amis.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Historic Hotel Grand: Lake Wales Florida

The Hotel Grand is the most prominent structure in downtown Lake Wales and has always attracted my imagination. It was built in the 1920s, at the end of a Florida real estate boom.

The inside is quite ornate, and the place must have been really something in its day. I'm told many famous people stayed there.

In my childhood, the hotel (then called the Walesbilt) was well past its prime, but it did have habitable rooms and a number of businesses on the ground floor. Soon after I graduated from high school this was no longer the case. Today the building is in full disrepair, with all entryways boarded up. It makes me sad when I drive by it.

There is hope. Development plans are often discussed but so is the possibility of demolition.

When I was in high school, one of my classmates fell from one of its upper stories and died. I don't know if it was an accident or suicide.

The Grand makes an occasional appearance in my prolific dream life, especially in dreams of the acrophobic variety. Usually, I am at its top and terrified about this prospect. In the worst cases, I am hanging out of a window, legs dangling, my fingertips slowly losing their grip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inkwood Books: Tampa Florida

Inkwood Books is another proud independent, located near Tampa's historic Hyde Park. The store is a converted 1920s bungalow, with a friendly and casual atmosphere. They've been around for about seventeen years and they are staunchly independent and members of IndieBound. They are also stalwart supportors of local writers. I've attended many great readings here in the past. I'm really honored that they opened their doors to me.

The reading went well. I read from "Hurricane Party," a story that takes place in Tampa. I had a great time seeing old friends and meeting some new people. I even managed to sell a few books.

I had a nice little crowd eventually, including my dear friend Elle and a former workshop teacher, RS, who was forced to read many of the True Kin stories in their earliest form. Also in attendence was an ex-girlfriend whom I hadn't spoken to in over a decade as well as GOINDEPENDENT reader and contributor "Comprehension." He and I were actually grad students together back in the days before the millenium. ODQ, it was great seeing you.

"I am. This is how I smile."

I forgot your name, my friend, but it was good talking to you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Brother's Wedding

My brother tied the knot last weekend. It was a great time.


My kindergarten classmate, the Rev. Chuck Messer, officiated the wedding. Here he is with my brother. (Chuck's the one dressed like Gandalf.) Here's a link to one of his recent sermons. It deals with the current financial situation.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

There’s been a fair amount of talk about the historical nature of the nominations this election year, and with good reason. Barring the unexpected, it looks like an African American or a woman will occupy the executive branch for the next four years. We’ve recognized and celebrated this, and it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do so.

However, we haven’t said much about another fact represented by both Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

They’re young!

Depending on where we set the mark, both Obama and Palin can be categorized as GENERATION X. (AKA the 13th Generation)

Remember us?

“Slackers,” the “unsung generation,” a bunch of self-centered and fickle kids with “a hazy sense of [our] own identity.”

Douglas Coupland, the novelist who popularized the term, was born in 1961. Palin was born in ’64, the same year as Rob Lowe and Obama. Demi Moore was born in ’62, the same year as David Foster Wallace, whom we lost recently.

We’re getting old guys, and I personally lament that fact on an almost-daily basis. But the other side is that we’re stepping forward—albeit hesitantly—onto the social, literary, and political stage. People are starting to listen to us.

Holy crap! Is it our turn already? Are we real, full-fledged grown-ups?

What will we do with our brief blip in history?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Passing:

David Foster Wallace

February 21 1962 -- September 12, 2008

This one is hard to believe folks. Whatever you thought of him, it would be difficult to deny David Foster Wallace's importance among contemporary novelists.

Like me and a number of the readers here, he was a graduate of the University of Arizona's MFA program, a man who had achieved literary success beyond what many of us dare to hope.

And yet.

Life is complicated, isn't it?

David Foster Wallace, dead at 46. He shall be missed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Mini-Documentary...on ME!

I'm not sure if, by posting this, I am massaging my ego or opening myself up for ridicule. I'm not even sure that these two possibilities are mutually exclusive.
This brief sketch, put together by honorary Road Dog A.O., offers a glimpse of my life as overnight desk clerk at the Flamingo Hotel. See the related essay here.

Spanish Moss

Ari, I never showed you a good example in Louisiana, so this
is for you.

Urban Think Signing, Orlando

Tight Shirt!

Urban Think! Bookstore is the type that I have looked forward to visiting. It's located in the Thornton Park neighborhood of downtown, very near Lake Eola Park. It's really a charming area, with no mouse ears in sight and not too many chain establishments. They offer a diverse selection of books, including many regional picks and works by Florida authors. They also display work by local artists and sell non-book gift items made locally. Their Signature Series has brought in an impressive list of writers.

Inside the store is an Infusion Tea, an urban vegetarian teahouse that offers a nice beer and wine menu. Take that, Barnes & Noble. I was really glad to see this, and I think more independents might think of marketing this combination that has worked so well for the book superstores.

The staff, including the manager Jim, is friendly in a laid-back, non-oversolicitous way. The store is a proud member of Indie Bound, and based on their literature they take their role in the community seriously.
I didn't give a reading here, just sat at a table with my books. It was interesting observing the different responses to me, some friendly and inquisitive, but many who seemed not to want to make eye contact with me. It's funny; I completely relate to the latter folk. To be drawn in can lead to the obligation to act interested for several seconds or, even worse, to make a purchase out of pity or obligation.
I did sell a few books, and I met a pretty young Ohio State Alum, a journalism grad now working in real estate.
Despite the inauspicious start to my day (see two posts down), I'm really glad I made this stop. That's Urban Think! Downtown Orlando. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

It's not the heat; it's the stupidity

Backing up a bit...
So, during my brother’s bachelor weekend, I had a reading scheduled in Orlando, at Urban Think Bookstore. After the first night of Rays’ baseball and subsequent debauchery, I was forced to rally the following morning and make the nearly cross-state journey to Orlando. I put on my khakis from the night before and pulled out the shirt I had intended to wear, a shirt that I soon discovered had shrunk with the first washing. No remedy; it was all that I had clean.

I left in a disheveled mess, my shirt bursting at the seams, my two brothers still in bed and—in my opinion—not giving me the appropriate pity.

I got into the rental car and cranked up the air conditioner. I was soon out on the interstate. The put-on-your-seat belt tone kept sounding, which annoyed me. I couldn’t be bothered with such pedestrian concerns.

Actually, that tone was a gas tank warning.

I was in the middle lane when I felt the engine give way. I knew immediately what was wrong, and luckily I was able to pull alongside the end of a merging lane, right up against a wall, cars roaring by me.

Bad, bad, bad.

I called AAA and described my predicament. I would be late for the event, but I was alive. It could have been worse.
Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I got out of the car and waited. At the coming event, I had planned to read from “Kerouac’s Ghost,” and I hadn’t reviewed it yet, so I practiced, reading out loud from my book, on the side of I-4 in the humid Florida heat.

Medium story short: I was not rescued by AAA but rather Florida Highway Patrol’s Road Ranger program, by two really nice guys who sent me on my way with no charges and best wishes.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Requisite Gator Pic

Two alligators on the shore of a canal at my Grandad's house off the Kissimmee River.

Lake Ashton Reading

Lake Ashton is an upscale retirement community, and they invited me to read briefly as part of their weekly coffee and pastry informational meeting. I took a great shot of all of the golf carts lined up at the meeting area (see above) but it didn't come out well.
As many of you know, I'm not crazy about closed-community living, but this place is really nice. I can certainly see the appeal. Fish the afternoon away, a little twighlight shuffleboard, and square-dancing at night. Sign me up.