Category Archives: 2017

Tree of Smoke author Denis Johnson dies aged 67 | Books | The Guardian

Poet and novelist, who described his work as a ‘zoo of wild utterances’, was the winner of the National Book Award and twice shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize

Source: Tree of Smoke author Denis Johnson dies aged 67 | Books | The Guardian

by Danuta Kean

The acclaimed author and poet Denis Johnson has died aged 67. Best known for his classic short-story collection Jesus’ Son, Johnson won the National Book Award for his novel Tree of Smoke in 2007 and was twice shortlisted for the Pulitzer prize for fiction. His work has been compared to that of Raymond Carver and William Burroughs.

Alex Bowler, his UK publisher at Granta, called him a “singular writer and author of at least two immortal masterpieces”.

“His writing was so vital and distinct,” Bowler said. “It never patronised the reader and was work of such sympathy and energy. He was a genius.”

According to Bowler, Johnson brought “the unseen to life”, whether addicts, labourers or CIA operatives. “But he didn’t just make them visible, he made them incandescent and gave the authentic voice of their experience. They were works of huge empathy.”

Born in Munich in 1949, the son of a US state department official who liaised with the CIA, he spent his childhood in Tokyo, Manila and Washington DC among diplomats and the military. John Updike said his writing had “the gleaming economy and aggressive minimalism of early Hemingway”.

A student of Carver’s at the University of Iowa, Johnson was 19 when he published his first poetry collection, The Man Among the Seals. His first novel, Angels, was published to critical acclaim in 1983, but it was his 1992 short-story collection, Jesus’ Son, that saw him break through to a wider audience. Taking its title from the refrain in the Velvet Underground song Heroin, it features 11 stories about a group of addicts living in rural America. It is written in a style that seems chaotic, to reflect the mental state of the characters, and was adapted into a 1999 film starring Dennis Hopper and Billy Crudup.

In 2003, he told an interviewer: “The stories of the fallen world, they excite us. That’s the interesting stuff.” He later went on to describe his work as a “zoo of wild utterances”.

Tree of Smoke was set in the Vietnam war and revived the character Bill Houston, who first appeared in Angels. In the Guardian, Geoff Dyer described it as a “whopping mega-ton” of a novel. Calling Johnson “an artist of strange diligence”, Dyer wrote: “Central to Johnson’s dramatised worldview is the belief that it is the mangled and damaged, the downtrodden, who are best placed to achieve – ‘withstand’ is probably a better verb – enlightenment.”

He published, among other work, nine novels, five poetry collections, a novella, three plays and two screenplays. His last published book was the 2014 novel The Laughing Monsters. A convoluted, cosmopolitan tale of espionage set in Africa, it is narrated by a Swiss-educated, Dutch-based Danish-American sent by Nato to Sierra Leone to spy on Michael Adriko, an Israeli-trained Ugandan mercenary gone awol while serving with the US army in the Democratic Republic of Congo after spells in Afghanistan and the Middle East. Johnson spent a month in Uganda researching the novel. In an interview during his time in Africa, he joked: “I’m not trying to be Graham Greene. I think I actually am Graham Greene.”

 

 

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Photo finish Friday: “Checkin’ in Once Again”

“One for the money. Two for the show….”

From blue suede to persuade, Elvis is still singing to Marilyn down at the local pizza and sandwich shop. Four years

Elvis and Marilyn hanging out at the local pizzeria from May 25, 2013.

ago, almost to the day, Photo finish Friday featured these two. Not much has changed. Marilyn has gained a cap — which may or may not go with her dress — and she’s clutching her clutch in both hands now. You can never be too careful these days. But they are both still hanging around Harby’s.

Who do you know now that you knew four years ago that might be worth checking in with or writing about. Is he still living in the same place? Does she still have the same job? Do you still see each other and visit?

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Haiku to you Thursday: “Straggler”

The straggler grieves /

for the love he left behind /

fading into daylight.

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My Top Tips For Writing a Time Slip Novel By Kim Fleet

 

My Top Tips For Writing a Time Slip Novel By Kim Fleet

Source: My Top Tips For Writing a Time Slip Novel By Kim Fleet

A time-slip novel contains two or more stories, each set in a different time period, told in parallel with each other. In my latest novel, Holy Blood, one story line is in contemporary Cheltenham, the other in the Elizabethan Cotswolds. Writing time-slip brings its own joys (exploring new characters and situations) and challenges (double the research), so here are some tips to keep you time travelling painlessly.

 

Decide which is the main story: it helps you to plan your story arc and focus on the main themes of the novel. It also helps to keep characters under control – especially the bolshy ones who think it’s all about them.

Question everything. First ideas aren’t always best, and I rely on my secret weapon, the question, ‘What if?’ when I’m planning and writing a book to ensure I’ve explored all possibilities and chosen the ones that I think will work best. I ask myself, ‘What if this was set in the war? What if this character was a girl, not a boy?’

Use at least three sources for your research. I use the internet for initial research, but I always cross-check using reputable books. It’s a great excuse to get absorbed in the past. Visiting locations can help you pick up details you wouldn’t get from books.

Don’t overdo the historical details by shoehorning everything you’ve researched into the book as it makes the narrative stodgy. If you can keep the sense of the time in your mind while you write, somehow it comes out on the page.

Ensure the stories in the two time periods link up by having situations, objects or places that appear in each. Ideally, both story lines should resolve each other, even better!

Mind your language. Slightly more formal speech and the occasional thee or thou is enough to remind the reader we’re in the past. Under no circumstances use ‘Hey nonny’.

Avoid anachronisms by checking your facts rigorously and remember that not everyone uses an invention the moment it comes out. Words change their meaning, fall out of fashion, and new words come in.

Use coloured pens and index cards, allocating one card for each scene in the book, and different colours to indicate time periods. When you set them out in order you can easily see where you spend too long in one time period and need to break things up.

Use cliff hangers. One of the joys of writing time-slip is that you get a double whammy by ending a chapter on a cliff hanger and by changing time period. It makes the pace very fast.

Get your crayons out and map the connections between all your characters. A character with only one link needs to be given more to do, or be amalgamated with another ‘thin’ character. The density of connections shows where you need an extra sub-plot.

 

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Monday morning writing joke: “Stop it”

Writer one: “Did you hear about the play about the writer of run-on sentences who committed suicide?”

Writer two: “No.”

Writer one: “It’s a period piece.”

 

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New words to live by: “White liners”

Time, once again, for New words to live by. This is a word or phrase not currently in use in the U.S. English lexicon, but might need to be considered. Other words, such as obsurd, crumpify, subsus, flib, congressed, and others, can be found by clicking on the tags below. Today’s New Word is created by taking an adjective and a noun and creating a compound word. Without further waiting, white liner.

OLD WORD
White, adj. Reflecting nearly all the rays of sunlight or a similar light. For example, new snow. The margins of many printed pages.

Line, n. A mark or stroke ling in proportion to its breadth, often made with a pen, crayon, marker, pencil, or other tool on a surface. For example, the white lines on a highway dividing two lanes.

NEW WORD
White liner, n. 1. Any person or thing that crowds the margins or marked edges or lanes of a highway. For example, a person who rides the white center lines of a highway. Or, somebody who parks right on the line of a parking space.

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The Devil’s Dictionary: “Egotist”

A young Ambrose Bierce

In our continuing quest to revisit a classic, or even a curiosity from the past and see how relevant it is, we continue with The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. Originally published in newspaper installments from 1881 until 1906. You might be surprised how current many of the entries are.

For example, here is a definition for the word Egotist. The Old definitions are Bierce’s. The New definition is mine. From time to time, just as it was originally published, we will come back to The Devil’s Dictionary, for a look at it then and how it applies today. Click on Devil’s Dictionary in the tags below to bring up the other entries.

OLD DEFINITION
Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me.

Megaceph, chosen to serve the State
In the halls of legislative debate,
One day with all his credentials came
To the capitol’s door and announced his name.
The doorkeeper looked, with a comical twist
Of the face, at the eminent egotist,
And said: “Go away, for we settle here
All manner of questions, knotty and queer,
And we cannot have, when the speaker demands
To be told how every member stands,
A man who to all things under the sky
Assents by eternally voting ‘I’.”

 

NEW DEFINITION
Egotist, n. A person of low taste, more interested in himself than in me. See, Donald J. Trump

Donald, chose to run for president
Saying only he could truly represent
The interest of those who had been ignored
Or in some other way had been deplored.
He marched into office, saying hugely
It was and always about yours truly.
What some still fail to understand
Is that “yours truly” is about the man
And not a form of salutation
Meant for the greater good of the nation.
It has always been about him:
The hymn of him, of him the hymn.

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