February 2009


I just got the great news that HarperCollins plans to repackage and reissue Wilderness by February 2010.  That will be almost exactly 20 years since I received one of the more memorable phone calls in my life from agents Liz Darhansoff and Lynn Pleshette to inform me that a major studio movie deal for the as-yet-unsold novel had been struck.  This movie that never happened helped leverage a publication deal with Poseidon soon after.  At the time, paranormal romance had about the same market share as sci-fi westerns, so nobody could quite figure out how to market the novel.  Maybe now that teen Mormon vampires are doing so well, my adult woman werewolf can find a market niche to den in somewhere.

Here are the costars of the so-so British TV mini-series, chopped down to a movie Wilderness that screws up the ending so unforgivably it’s painful for me to watch.  But these two are lovely, aren’t they?

One of my favorite novels by one of my favorite writers is It’s Superman by Tom De Haven.  He’s going to be on With Good Reason on 88.9 in Richmond this Saturday at 4:30.  Or you can go to the website and listen to the show now.  The first segment is about John Henry and is worth a listen.  If you want to skip ahead to Tom, he’s about 18 minutes in.  And if you haven’t read the novel, you should do so immediately.  It’s a gem.

I’ve been asked to read an unpublished novel set in the mid-50s and give the writer some feedback.  It has many, many virtues, but a minor recurring misstep that’s common enough to be worth sharing and commenting on.  The main character is a smoker.  His brand is Tareyton.  So instead of lighting up a cigarette, he lights a Tareyton.  He takes a Tareyton out of the pack and smokes it.  When that one’s burned, he has another Tareyton.  What’s wrong with this?  Isn’t this an authenticating detail placing us authentically inside the time period?  Isn’t it like the Buick he drives and the Hudson he parks next to?  No, because that’s not how smokers, now or then, think.  It doesn’t place us in the time period but outside the perspective character’s head into the author as docent.  Instead of being in the fictional dream, we’re looking at a diorama.  Oh look, there’s the pack of Tareytons.  If the character is thinking Tareyton, as in, “He was thinking of switching brands.  The Tareyton tasted like charcoal,? then it makes sense.  People argued brands; some brands had a rep.  Chainsmoking Luckies showed a certain suicidal gusto you couldn’t achieve with other brands.  Tareytons had the most obnoxious commercial—I’d rather fight than switch.  But in the years I lit up first and put on glasses second, I wasn’t thinking brand, only smoke. Cigarette brands have their place.  My mom smoked two brands, Parliaments and a revolving door of menthols.  She liked the Parliaments because of the recessed filter, while other brands supposedly irritated her lips.  About a third of her intake were menthol, which she fancied soothed her troubled lungs, but she could never find the one that pleased her like Parliaments.  She counted how many she smoked of each kind on hash-mark-filled pads.  But even she wasn’t thinking brand name when she needed a smoke.  If you’re trying to be inside a time period or an alien universe either one, you can’t do so successfully without being inside your character’s head first.  And lungs, I suppose.  Then the world will follow.

We’re thinking about a return trip to Mexico—my favorite travel destination.  One of the coolest museums I’ve ever been to is the Museum of Anthropology in Jalapa.  They have several of the big Olmec heads.  This is one of the thousands of more delicate and whimsical pieces on display there:

You can’t make up this stuff.  That the public would be shocked that someone whose nickname is “A-Rod” used performing enhancing drugs, shocks me.  It shouldn’t.  I live a few blocks from a “Drug-Free Zone,” which means, of course, that drugs are sold there.  The evening news is filled with drug commercials in which the litany of possibly lethal effects takes up more time than the vague benefits you’re supposed to “ask your doctor about.”  Parents dose kids with amphetamines so that they’ll perform better in a screwed up school system, but search kids’ lockers with dogs to unearth evil pot and claim we’re not violating their privacy.  I think we have a drug problem, but it’s not the drugs.  It’s the cloud of bullshit through which we view the issue.  We’re a drug taking species.  Get over it.

And A-Rod, it’s okay.  I know all the other boys were doing it too.  Run along and play now, but remember you’re a Role Model.  Show America’s youth there’s nothing more glorious than wacking a ball with a stick and running around in circles without drugs.  Except for prescription painkillers.  You’ll need those. Ask your doctor.

I’m shocked.  How could a good youth with a bright capitalist career ahead of him endorsing overpriced worthless shit to kids who can’t afford it, throw it all away for the evil weed?!  The one photo probably destroyed years of work by professional football coaches selflessly selling beer to America’s youth to put them on the path to manliness, obesity, and car crashes.  I don’t know how we can take him seriously as an athlete anymore.  He needs to learn we’re living in a free society where the state decides what you can ingest.  Stick with peanut butter and jelly, Michael, and you’ll be safe.  Wait a minute.  Forget the peanut butter for a while.  I’ll have to get back to you.  Just have a beer, why don’t you?  That’s right.  There was the DUI thing.  I know, I know—one of your rumored endorsements was to be McDonald’s, that purveyor of fine health foods.  Clean up your image by shoveling some of that crap down.  Set an example for America’s youth.

Lucky oligarchs with lots of cash
Are looking for someplace to leave it.
The price of grace has just gone down—
They can scarcely believe it!
Future futures are headed south,
Their assets all are frozen—
Difficult choices must be made
When one’s among the chosen.

“We’ve been through worse,? they remind themselves,
Though when, they’ve all forgotten.
“We’re lucky oligarchs with lots of cash—
“We’ll buy up all that’s rotten.
“What care we if we must give up for now
“A house, a boat, a politician?
“We’re lucky oligarchs with lots of cash—
“Our lives are a sort of mission,
“To sell the world back to itself
“For a modest and reasonable commission.?