Archive for April, 2008

‘On the Road’

April 30, 2008

Started reading Jack Kerouac’s On the Road again for the first time in probably 30 years. I had no idea it was so incredible, and with the years has become a far greater book than I imagined.

Short story is coming along slowly, about 1,000 words … probably 20 of them usable. Alas, such is writing.

Escape to writing

April 29, 2008

Hello out there from Fiction Daily-land! I escaped for a writing vacation … I may not post regularly this week, but in the meantime, I finished reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and will post some thoughts next time I’m online.

I started a new short story this morning … but after a half hour I just wanted to toss it and eat ice cream instead. Such a vacation!

Suffering man

April 28, 2008

Nearly finished Mary Shelley’s original “Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus” this weekend. It far exceeded my memories.

If you know “the monster” only as Boris Karloff, it’s time to read Mary Shelley’s book. While the film stands on its own considerable merits, the book is a far different … well … beast.

Mary Shelley (daughter of proto-feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft) was a deeply sensitive young woman of 21 when she began putting together this story. No doubt wild-eyed from time spent with her companion Lord Byron and her husband, romantic poet Percy Shelley, Mary’s writing burns with a desire to understand, and explain, man’s cruel nature.

The “monster” here is a beast with a heart of gold. He is refined and self-educated and becomes hateful only when he is brutally rebuked by humanity because of his appearance.

Moreover, the quest for knowledge by Victor Frankenstein comes under harsh scrutiny by the author, who demands that we ask ourselves, as Mohandas Gandhi did, What is science without humanity?

Mary Shelley also captures the natural setting and evokes an icy land so cold and bleak you sense your own chills setting in; see the gray sky; and sink, as do the monster and his creator, into a dismal outlook of mankind.

Figuratively speaking

April 25, 2008

Well, it’s Friday again and time for Figuratively Speaking.

Today, more language losers —

INPUT. Only if you are a computer programmer. Otherwise, it’s comments, thoughts or ideas.

QUALITY Either high or low quality … or the quality of your writing will suffer.

IMPLEMENT. Once upon a time, a great word. Means a tool, or other equipment, used for a specific purpose. Or, as a verb, to put a decision, plan or agreement into effect. It comes from a Latin noun, “implementum,” or fulfillment, from in + plere, “fill.” Using implement as a verb dates only from the 17th century.

So instead of implementing everything we do, we can put plans into practice … or even better, just do what we’re supposed to.

Instead of saying we implemented a new waiting room plan, how about, “We reduced the number of waiting room patients by following our plan.”

Here’s another example: We implemented the new state budget. Why not, “We created a new staff position when the state adopted its new budget.”

TIBET UPDATE: I am reading reports that China is ready to meet with an envoy from the Dalai Lama.

Frankenstein continued

April 24, 2008

Most moving about Mary Shelley’s so-called “ghost story” Frankenstein are the incredible motivations that fuel it. How else could a monster have so captured our attention for nearly 200 years?

I plan another reading of the novel this weekend after reading it in college. That was after reading work by her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft. The work was “Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman.” It chilled me to the bone, I remember. It was about the time I was learning about the pioneers of women’s rights, people like Elizabeth Caddy Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. One event stands out: The 1848 meeting at Seneca Falls, New York. It was the start of a 70-year struggle for women to have the right to vote.

Now why do I bring up women’s rights, how does it relate to Frankenstein, and what’s the big deal? How bad could it be?

It’s no accident that this great outsider, this utterly marginalized non-man monster is misunderstood and feared. These themes were familiar to its author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and to Mary Wollstonecraft.

Women were without a voice, without rights and without any sympathetic court when it came to property, crimes or abuse. They were marginalized from power, silent in government, without entitlement to property. They were considered trivial, chatty and mindless.

This tradition, unfortunately, haunts us even today … as does the great monster.

AHEAD: Another reading of the great novel Frankenstein

Frankenstein Part 1

April 23, 2008

Considerable deadline pressure today, but before my next posting it’s a good opportunity to dip into the Frankenstein literature with these great online sites.

You can find the entire text of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein online at the sites below, and more. If you haven’t read it, now you have a chance to sit right at your desk (hide the pane when your boss comes by) and read some of her masterpiece. If you have an iPod, Treo or BlackBerry you can read it right on your screen. I’m sure there are audiobooks to download, too.

Online Literature

[http://www.literature.org/authors/shelley-mary/frankenstein/]

Google Books

[http://books.google.com/books]

The National Institutes of Health (yes, that’s right, the NIH) has an online exhibit “Penetrating the Secrets of Nature” with the National Library of Medicine here.

Ghost story

April 22, 2008

It’s hard to imagine a more iconic image than Frankenstein, yet when Mary Shelley wrote her novel it was as part of a challenge among two couples on the run from England.

You may know the story: In 1816, Lord Byron, the romantic poet, along with his friend and poet Percy Shelly and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin, a publisher, lived together in Switzerland. Also along was Mary’s step-sister, Claire, who was in love with Byron. They were all getting away from England for sundry reasons, legal, romantic, family.

They rented next-door houses on Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) in Switzerland and spent evenings together at their Villa Diodati.

One rainy June evening, Byron suggested they all write ghost stories. It was a passing challenge, but Mary kept at hers and once they parted ways … Byron published his effort as Childe Harold and the other book, the one by 21-year old girl, became Frankenstein.

Percy Shelley drowned in 1818, Lord Byron died fighting in the Greek War of Independence in 1820. Mary Shelley died in 1851.

AHEAD: More on the monster and the author Shelley

Monster hike

April 21, 2008

On Saturday, a break in the showers and Greg and I took a killer hike at Medoc Mountain State Park. A wonderful chance to leave the grind of home and work and instead, live among beautiful, wild surroundings while simply putting one foot in front of the other.

Routines are comforting, but they sear boundaries into the mind. I forget there’s a larger world out there. The images of that day were stark and inspiring and remind me that the countryside is the emotional seat of my novel.

Still busy with projects these days … grateful for the work as always … worried about getting back to the novel.

I read a good one last week … Frankenstein’s Bride by Hilary Baily … it was well written, very artful, as a tribute to Mary Shelly’s original Frankenstein.

That original monster tale is next on my reading list. I remember the heady days in college when I read Mary Wollstonecraft and the early feminist writers. How brave they were to challenge the perceptions of their day … that women could not own property, should not live on their own and were too brainless to make their own decisions.

Today we laugh but these were accepted ideas for many years. Unfortunately, these deep-seated perceptions still influence the way people respond to women. We alter our behavior … act like men, or ultra feminine … trying to get around it. Some women mistake sexual power for real power and that’s equally tragic.

AHEAD: Shelley’s Frankenstein

Words gone bad

April 18, 2008

Today, a new weekly feature debuts on Fiction Daily: Figuratively Speaking.

Every Friday I’ll spend a few hundred words talking about language use, the good, the bad … and the ugly. Also the beautiful … poetry, prose, even headlines and marketing writing.

Getting down to business with today’s Figuratively Speaking topic: Words gone bad.

FACILITY. A space or the equipment necessary for doing something … from the sense of “facilitate,” to help make something happen. It comes from the Latin word, facilitas for “easy” in the sense of facile.

So why is everything these days a facility? It’s because we’re afraid to take a risk and call things what they are. We have entertainment facilities … athletic facilities …medical facility … corporate facility … park facility. Why can’t we just say …

— concert hall

— arena

— stadium

— doctors office

–headquarters or office building

— playground

IMPACT. “Impact” means the action of one object coming forcibly into contact with another. Expect a bang.

So why do we say, “When her boyfriend dumped her, the impact on her was obvious.”

Did she have a hole in her chest where her heart was … after he hurled some object at her while they were breaking up?

The community felt the impact of the court’s decision.

Did the court engrave its decision on a concrete slab and drop it into the middle of town? Not at all.

Those would be impacts.

Otherwise, we have effects and influences … as in,

His cruelty affected her mood all week.

When her boyfriend called off their wedding, she sulked to her apartment, drew the curtains and refused to see anyone for a week.

The court’s decision influenced city policy for the rest of the decade.

Better yet, why not just say something meaningful?

Here is a most hated example I must say.

GROW. Grow is an intransitive verb that does not take an object unless it’s your garden or your hair.

Your puppy may be growing … your grass may be growing and for some of us, your belly may be growing.

But please, do NOT grow your business. Do NOT grow your investments.

You can grow your roses, your tomatoes and your lettuce. You can even grow your nails.

But please, do not grow your business. Expand it … enlarge it … or just invest money in it. The only way you can grow your business is if you put it in your garden and wait. But don’t expect sprouts. They just won’t grow.

HIS HOLINESS the 14th Dalai Lama made a surprise visit to Minnesota yesterday.

Comic masterpiece

April 17, 2008

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green ear flaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating tow directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sand into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.

So we meet Ignatius J. Reilly, anti-hero of the comic masterpiece “A Confederacy of Dunces.” If you haven’t read it, you’re in for a treat. It is possible to be valiant and ridiculous, as readers of Don Quixote know. If you haven’t read that one, it’s also remarkable — modern, hilarious, though hundreds of years old.

“A Confederacy of Dunces” would have been lost but for the unflagging work of the author’s mother to see it published after her son took his life in 1969. Written in the early 1960s, the story goes, the manuscript failed to win over a single publisher and so its author, John Kennedy Toole, took a road trip, leaving his New Orleans home for Georgia, where he visited the home of Flannery O’Connor.

At some point, overcome by his private grief, he took his own life.

The story has special poignancy, because for a writer, communicating with a reader is at the heart of what we do. Sometimes I believe that for us, being read somehow equals being loved.

No one can understand what drives another person to go against the powerful instinct to survive above all else, and end it all instead.

For me, the message here applies to writers and artists of all colors and stripes … and indeed, to the world at large, where someone, somewhere, is also walking to the beat of a different drummer. It is my responsibility to understand and love that person.

Besides, they may be working on another “Confederacy of Dunces.”

SPECIAL NOTE: A Washington Post article on msnbc.com contains a fascinating look at the strong nationalism in young Chinese, a startling contrast to those freedom movements in eastern Europe and in 1989 in China’s Tienanmen Square, fueled largely by young people. This anger and nationalism is stunning in light of what we, in the West, think we know about China today.