Hawking Up Hairballs

Monday, November 30, 2009

Starting Out In The Evening

As I've mentioned before in this blog, I love Netflix. My queue of movies and TV shows to be watched stays at sixty to seventy DVD's. So sometimes, when a movie pops up to the top of the queue, I find myself scratching my head, wondering what caused me to chose it. In most cases, they're undoubtedly DVD's recommended by Netflix because they fit the profile that they've generated based upon my previous choices and ratings.(When you return a Netflix DVD, they ask you to rate it on a scale of one to five.) However, I can't recall being disappointed by one of these recommendations.

In any case, Starting Out In The Evening was one of those films. One day, there it was I the top of the queue. It didn't seem that interesting, judging by the synopsis on the Netflix web site, and I didn't watch it for more than a week after the DVD had arrived. When I did, I wasn't disappointed. Not that it was a great film, but it was all right.

Starting Out In The Evening is about Leonard Schiller, a New York City novelist of about seventy. When he was young, his first two novels were well received, and he was a member of the crowd of New York intellectuals that included writers like Saul Bellow. But he only wrote two more, both considered inferior to the first two. At the time of the movie, he's trying to finish a fifth one, but he's depicted as something of a has-been. His books have long been out of print, and few in the literary community have even heard of him. As the movie opens, a young woman in her early twenties is introducing herself to him. She wants to write her master's thesis on his works, and she fancies that she's going to one day publish a critical biography of him that will put him back on the literary map. From there, the story ensues.

Starting Out In The Evening was adapted from a novel of the same name by Brian Morton. The movie was interesting enough to make me want to read the novel, which I did. The film was more faithful to the text than most are but, as I expected, it took some of the edge off. In the book, Schiller is seventy pounds overweight and has to use a cane to get around. He later has a stroke, which makes it necessary for him to use a walker. In the movie, Schiller isn't anywhere near that fat and he gets around just fine. After suffering the stroke, he has to use the cane. The young woman is physically attractive in the movie. She's not in the book. There are other changes, all apparently aimed at making a fundamentally depressing story not so grim.

I say a depressing story and that might put some off, but it's depressing only in the sense that it takes an unflinching look at reality. The truth is that most novelists end up like Leonard Schiller, out of print and forgotten, or never much acclaimed. In terms of what most of us imagined for ourselves when we were young, we lead disappointing lives that end with the inevitable decline before death. It's nothing to get all upbeat about, but one doesn't end up pitying Leonard Schiller. He will leave this mortal coil with dignity and a certain nobility for having pursued his passion to his last breath.

I recommend the book because I've never read a story quite like it. I didn't much care for the writing itself. Morton isn't as precise as he could be and I found some of the writing to be sloppy. However, the story makes it worth the effort. As for the film, it's all right. Frank Langella plays Leonard Schiller and he does an excellent job. As for the rest of the film, there's nothing much remarkable about it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

White House Crashers

It used to be that the U.S. was thought of as the place where you could get rich by dint of a bit of good luck and a lot of hard work. Of course, that's never really been the case, but there's a sliver of truth there. These days, it's different though. The opportunities just aren't there, and we've become the nation of the big score. Win the lottery. Go to Vegas and play in one of those poker touraments. Get yourself on TV. That's how you get rich in the twenty-first century.

And so we have Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the couple who crashed the state dinner for the Indian prime minister at the White House. In D.C. social circles, they apparently like to project the image of a wealthy and well-connected couple, when they are, in fact, a couple of bankrupt freeloaders. They're trying for their big score though. Lady Michaele has been angling for a spot on the Bravo reality show, The Real Housewives of D.C., and the couple have reportedly cancelled an appearance on the Larry King Show because they have decided to take bids for their first TV interview. The New York Times reports that they are seeking a fee in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It's too bad that this pair of assholes didn't try their stunt during the Bush administration. They wouldn't be negotiating to appear on TV for big bucks. They'd be trying to talk their way out of Guantanamo. And with a surname like “Salahi”, it's a good bet that's where they'd be.

For once, the Bush approach might have been the best one. Why are the media giving these two so much attention? They should be gulping for air in some waterboarding session. All right, I don't really mean that, but you get the picture. Tareq and Michaele are miscreants, and they don't deserve the attention they're receiving. It just encourages their ilk.

Friday, November 27, 2009


There are lots of different ways of writing a novel. Some people just sit down and start banging away at the keyboard. Others, like John Irving, can't bring themselves to write until they've outlined the thing in detail. Irving has said that he doesn't like to start writing until he knows exactly how the story is going to develop. A lot of writers claim that they go where the characters want to take them. I'm guessing that these writers would be inclined to say that their stories are given to them by their muse, their unconscious, or whatever. Vladimir Nabokov scoffed at that approach. He said that he made his characters do exactly what he wanted them to do. I suspect that he said that because he constructed his novels in much the same way that he put together the crossword puzzles that he liked to compose. It was primarily an intellectual exercise for him.

When I first started writing fiction, I did it in much the same way that I wrote my poetry. I'd start writing, letting my imagination take me where it wanted to go. As when writing my poetry, I took great care with the language. It wasn't the best way of doing things, and it led to a lot of wasted effort. I'd put in all this effort trying to get things just right, only to find myself bogged down in the middle of the novel with no way of getting myself out. All that carefully written prose went in the dumpster.

I've finally figured out the best way for me to write a novel. I start out with an idea, usually something quirky and off-beat. For example, in the novel I'm currently working on, I had the following idea. What if there was a good, old boy who lived next to a stunning young women who he wanted so badly that he could almost taste it. However, she doesn't have the least bit of interest in him. Suppose, though, that she started visiting him at night while sleepwalking. Where would things go with them? Other ideas started coming to me, and I began to write. However, I've learned that it's initially best for the imaginative processes to just bang away, not worrying about grammer inconsistencies in the narrative, etc. What I end up with is something that's midway between a rough draft and an outline. Once I've got the whole story down, I'll start writing in earnest.

Now, as I've said, this method works for me. However, with this new novel I'm again bogged down in the middle, but with only a couple of months work behind me, and I think I can write my way out of it. The problem is the constraints. In the beginning, I could just let my imagination run wild and have a lot of fun with it. However, once the characters were developed, I had to start concerning myself with exactly how such a person would behave in different circumstances. I'm not as free to just let any crazy old thing happen. At this stage, composing the narrative becomes something like trying to solve a mathematical problem.

This character-driven approach is what comes naturally to me, so I'm stuck with the difficulties inherent in it. I'd love to write a crime thriller or some sort of post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel, just for the fun of it, but I can't. Such stories are plot-driven and I can't fit myself in that mold. Character is what's important to me and, as they say, character is destiny.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


So, here it is, Thanksgiving, the official beginning of the holiday season. It makes me want to crawl under a rock somewhere and stay until it's all over. Not only are we continually bombarded with commercial messages, but during this season they kick into overdrive. It's enough to make one want to become a terrorist or recluse. Given that I'm an old man, I choose the latter.

But, it isn't the commercialism that most drives me crazy. It's all the bullshit about the family. What is it about the nuclear family that is so sacred? Anyone who is the least bit familiar with history understands that families can be horror shows. Cain killed Abel, but he had nothing on some of the monarchic dynasties down through history. Take the Byzantine emperors, for instance. When the emperor died and his son ascended to the thrown, he executed his brothers so that there wouldn't be any dynastic competitors. Nice, huh? There were a few who were merciful. They just blinded their brothers and banished them to the monasteries that were built into the cliffs that were across the straits from Constantinople. That's just the stuff that makes the history books. There are millions of ghastly stories that few have even ever heard about.

When I hear someone, usually some bozo athlete or other of dubious accomplishment, say that he's done something thanks to the support of his family, I'm truly confused. What does he mean by that? To be quite honest, my family was just a bunch of people that I grew up with in the same house. It really wasn't much more than that. I've become close to one of my brothers, but that didn't happen until we were adults.

Now, I know why the right-wing makes such a big deal of the nuclear family, in spite of the fact that a disproportionate number of them seem to do some fooling around on the side. Family responsibility is one of the chief ways in which the masters keep us in thrall. When you have to worry about feeding, clothing, and housing the kids at home, you're going to take a lot more crap from your boss without protest. It's also a lot easier to instill fear in those with family responsibilities so that they will support repressive laws and practices.

The fact is that the more natural form of human association is the extended family. It gives the individual more space to breathe. The anthropologist Margaret Mead reported that there was little teenaged rebellion among the South Sea Islanders that she studied. She attributed that to the fact that teenagers who got into conflicts with their parents could find mentors in the form of their aunts and uncles of the same sex. I'm not saying that the extended family is any kind of utopia but it's a hell of a lot better than the claustrophobic households lauded by the powers that be here in the States.

So, anyway, enjoy your turkey, and say hello to Santa Claus for me, though I suspect his bag of toys will be kind of light this year, given the economic situation. As for me, I'll be under a rock somewhere, reading and writing and grumbling like a bear. Hell, I might even watch a few Lady Gaga videos.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Writing Update

Well, it's been awhile, dear readers. If there are anymore readers of this blog. I have no excuses. I just plain haven't been keeping up with it. However, I'm back. For how long, who knows? Since I've been away for a while, I thought I might start with the begin important thing, my writing.

I've finally started trying to place my novel "Buster Bungle's Big Top". I sent queries to four agents. That's not many, but I'm mostly testing the waters right now and, given that it's the holiday season, I didn't think that it would be best to send out a lot of queries at this time. I'll shoot out a lot more after the first of the year. Got to get the book published before 2012, you know!

Anyway, two of the agents sent back quick rejections. The other two have yet to reply. One nice thing about a lot agencies of these days is that they take queries and manuscript submissions by email. Some of them only accept them by email. I love it. Snail mail queries and submissions are not only a pain in the ass to put together, but they're expensive as well, what with postage, paper supplies, etc.

I didn't grow up in the South. My father was a career Air Force officer, so we moved around some, though not as much as a lot of military families. From the fourth grade through high school, I lived near Dayton, Ohio on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. So, during my formative years I grew up in the Midwest. However, I've lived in Atlanta for over thirty years, and it appears that I have actually become a Southerner. Okay, you might be asking yourself, what's he getting up to here. Well, these agents all want you to tell them what the genre of your novel is. After thinking about it for a while, the only one that fit was Southern Gothic. It's not one of the genres on most of their lists, but it's the one that I'm using because it's the most descriptive. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I'd written a Southern Gothic novel. The next thing you know, I'll be looking into the Sons of the Confederacy.

I'm not just sitting around waiting for responses to my queries. I'm well into another novel. The working title is "Riley and Perfect Peaches." Anything more than that I'm not going to say. This one is more of a comic novel than "Buster Bungle's Big Top", but it too would best be described as Southern Gothic.