NO GREAT MISCHIEF | Alistair MacLeod

As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.

MacLeod's opening line had me straight away. I trust him. Like his fellow Canadian, Farley Mowat, he tells it simply. His truth isn't simple; it is complex, nuanced, seasoned over time to a depth and richness that calls to us in our unguarded moments.  And MacLeod's voice is authentic, like the family myths that knit our experience to the lives of our parents, their Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.19.56 PMparents and those who preceeded them.

He continues in an observant and responsive son-sibling-nephew voice that dutifully cares for imperfect elders without judgement. He cares for his family members and his past, yet never drifts into sentimentality. He doesn't question his role. He accepts his responsibility to his inherited DNA, his red hair and innate talent for epic songs. He embraces his obligation to his living relations. And he contentedly shoulders his obligations to the future of his clan Chalum Ruaidh.

This novel celebrates writing and one of North America's and Scotland's hardy family histories. It will endure.

Call of the Writing

Imagine how rewarding it could be to have a tradition of sharing the day's pages with a few fellow writers around the fire as Jack London did early last century at Wolf's Lair. He'd read aloud what he had written that day and get real-time reactions from friends.  If Buck's howl resonated in the imaginations of his listeners, then the passage succeeded.  Buck's extraordinary connection with his canine ancestors as he dreamt of freer days in the pages of the manuscript that would become Call of the Wild (published 1903) came alive in the flickering darkness and Jack knew that what compelled him had found its voice; his pen had touched truth that morning.  When that happened, imagine his excitement.  He had penetrated the universal heart and borrowed a pulse or two of Life.

First Edition

That arrangement among fellow writers was unusual back then. In today's publishing market where only 'finished' manuscripts are read by agents or editors, much less published, it may be vital to a writer's survival.

 

The CAT'S TABLE | Michael Ondaatje

Occasionally, good writing penetrates the walls we build around ourselves, The Cat's Tableopens the shutters and windows to let sunlight in, and reminds us of who we are, what events shaped us, and hints how we got to this particular place. Michael Ondaatje's writing does this for me.

Some events take a lifetime to reveal their damage and influence.

This truth, a defining presence in Ondaatje's writings, is a powerful current in the flow of this novel. The Cat's Table is understated and life-affirming, with a cast of characters that capture a lifetime of experiences during several weeks at sea.

The Cat's Table (Vintage International)

The Bird Artist: A Novel | Howard Norman

Fabian Vas is a young man with talent and a passion for sketching and painting birds in turn-of-the-century coastal Newfoundland.Bird Artist

His powers of observation are so finely tuned that he rarely needs to describe events.  He simply lives them and, in so doing, brings every scene alive.  A complex achievement skillfully executed by Howard Norman.

It is written in a stripped-down style that inspires colorful notions and emotions.  The characters are vivid, flawed and fun to know.

National Book Award Finalist

The Bird Artist: A Novel

Voyager Rewrites What We Know About the Universe

Like a good blog thread, the Voyager 1 spacecraft keeps surprising us with startling new insights that help us navigate the universe. Scientists at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA announced today that Voyager I has left our solar system and continues to send data about its discoveries back to us. The spacecraft was launched from Earth 36 years ago. Voyager 1

Voyager 1 spacecraft

Jet Propulsion Laboratory   Voyager 1 File

 

Voyaer 1 Large

 

BEYOND THESE WOODS | Mark Roger Bailey

It is a pleasure to announce the release of my new novel and an exciting new character: Beyond These Woods -- featuring epidemiologist and rogue scientific gadfly, Dr. Lotte Keene.

Beyond These Woods

Lotte has fought and won many virus battles, yet after witnessing the death of her closest friend, Charley, in a horrific Brazilian disease outbreak, she has put the Centers for Disease Control and her high stakes war against pathogens in dangerous hot zones behind her.

Her skeptical relationship with authority and inconvenient habit of being right have stunted her career and undermined her professional reputation. Now, as she struggles to come to terms with life without Charley, she glimpses a telltale repetition of the symptomology of Charley’s sudden death … this time in California’s High Sierra Thunder Peak Wilderness. This clue to the cause of her greatest loss ignites an obsessive need to eradicate the killer. She breaks protocol and goes to Longwood, CA on a mission to confront her darkest fear.

To the CDC, Lotte’s breach of protocol is insubordination. To the environmental activist, Gabriel Fox, she is a complication of his master plan. For America’s elite intelligence apparatus, she is a threat to the nation’s security. For Longwood doctor Ben McCandle, Lotte challenges everything he thinks he knows about medical science.

Lotte Keene must identify the killer in the Sierra old-growth forest, determine if the ‘Ahwahnee Stroke’, as locals call it, is a corruption of Natural Law or a criminal act, and she must stop it before it spreads beyond the Thunder Peak Wilderness. Local suspicions of her motives mount, calculating corporate interests grow more sinister, dark operatives from Washington move against her work… and time is running out.

Dr. Lotte Keene is about to rewrite the rules of biogenetic science and cross the thin red, white and blue line between American principle and power.

BEYOND THESE WOODS is currently available for the Amazon Kindle and desktops, laptops, tablets, iPhone, Android and all handheld devices with the Kindle App available free from your favorite App Store.

Amazon KINDLE

gadfly -- a person who upsets the status quo by posing upsetting or novel questions.

The term 'gadfly' was used by Plato in the Apology[2] to describe Socrates' relationship of uncomfortable goad to the Athenian political scene, which he compared to a slow and dimwitted horse. (source: Wikipedia)

 

 

Mission: The Best Reading Experience

Recently, I learned that the edition of SAINT available on-line at Amazon contained formatting errors that diminished the quality experience I strive to achieve for every reader. In response, I have thoroughly reviewed SAINT's .mobi file, resolved formatting issues and added new features to enhance your reading experience.

New Features

  • Formatting refinements
  • Table of Contents
  • Improved chapter layouts
  • Titles

Thank you for your patience and enthusiasm for this novel. Please check out the newly improved SAINT (v1.1) at:

      Saint - Mark Bailey      

IT'S FINE BY ME | Per Petterson

True, Lonely, and Uplifting

Rare is the author or his/her work that I can order sight unseen and know. Know that the book will be a permanent presence on my shelf of quality literature, revisited and reread often. Per Petterson's novels are among the rarest for me.

I promised myself that I would understate these observations about Petterson's third book, the novel, IT'S FINE BY ME (1992), but I've failed already.It's Fine By Me

With the exceptions for love and great ambition, restraint is a desirable quality in most things. Writing, in particular. Petterson's mastery of restraint shows in his spare use of adjectives, and his refusal to embellish any description of setting or action. He simply writes what is, what happens, period. It's up to us to figure out the why of it. Just like life. And he does this without affectation or apparent effort, which reinforces his credibility with the reader and simultaneously sets the stage for profound, moving and often tender human insight.

Audun Sletten is Petterson's 13-year old protagonist in IT'S FINE BY ME, a working-class teen who identifies with Jack London and Ernest Hemingway, and is annoyed by adult hypocrisies, and his sister's choice of her James Dean wannabe boyfriend. He has outgrown the rules of childhood and is experiencing the contradictions of adulthood as he strives to understand his emerging identity, which is being defined as he responds to the messes that parents, sisters, friends, strangers and co-workers create for themselves. The culture of adulthood is a strange and chaotic bazaar of public selves and private rules that his elders seem to have accommodated in their own failed personal dreams of freedom and success. In this world seen through Audun's adolescent senses, adulthood is life lived under a succession of truces in which the line between what might be and what is shifts and morphs like light under water.

Previous Reviews of Per Petterson's works:

IN THE WAKE 

OUT STEALING HORSES

A trained librarian, Petterson worked as a bookstore clerk, translator and literary critic before he became a full-time writer. He cites Knut Hamsun and Raymond Carver among his influences.

The KILL ARTIST | Daniel Silva

The restorer raised his magnifying visor and switched off the bank of fluorescent lights. He waited for his eyes to adjust to the murkiness of evening in the cathedral; then he inspected a tiny portion of the painting just below an arrow wound on the leg of Saint Stephen. ...

- The KILL ARTIST by Daniel Silva

So begins The KILL ARTIST (2000), Daniel Silva's fourth novel, the first in the Gabriel Allon series.

GABRIEL ALLON is back to the solitary life he requires, the life of the artist tending to great works of art injured in never-endingbook-kill-artist-lg wars of commerce, transcultural migrations, and time. He bandages the detritus of clumsy repairs, incompetent preservations and restorations, even overpaintings of classic works by the original artists in response to client patrons who could not bear others seeing his portraits of them. Allon finds meaning in peeling back layers of time, varnish, and the dust of timeless centuries. It is more rational and productive than his professional past of dark operations for the state of Israel, the up-close assassinations of ruthless terrorists, the cycle of personal vengeance that resulted in the death of his daughter, the damaging of his wife, the self-imposed exile from life, professional work, and any meaningful connections with another woman, let alone love.

He is alive in technical terms only. His heart beats. His mind turns. He eats, drinks, sleeps, sails, and restores great paintings. This is the life of Gabriel Allon.

Until he is called back to the service of his mentor, uncle, grandfather, boss, confessor, protector and tormentor, Ali Shamron, director of the Office. Gabriel is drawn back from his anonymous life as a recluse art restorer for one important mission, a secret sanction, the elimination of the terrorist Tariq before he can hurt Israel on the eve of its historic signing of a treaty with the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

Silva's storytelling makes a contract with his reader in the first sentence and honors that contract through nearly 500 pages with hardly a false note, a rash edit, or errant verb.

Readers Rule

...if the writer has the energy, determination and persistence to develop more stories, and is open to learning and perfecting his or her craft, then s/he can offer another story, and maybe get a second date, and a third, and perhaps become a couple. How great is that?

Read More

Video: John Berger Conversation with Michael Ondaatje

Two important writers discuss story telling and the creative process in a conversation recorded courtesy of the Lannan Foundation. I have read, been inspired by, and re-read several of these writers' books. John Berger's To The Wedding and Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion and English Patient are particular favorites of mine. This conversation was recorded at John Berger's farm in Quincy, Mieussy, France, October 2002.  Enjoy...

 

Who is Reading Your E-Book: Trace Its DNA

When a book interests you, what compels you - its genre, theme, cover art, protagonist? If you read more than the first 50 pages, why? What pulls you forward?

What is the optimal length of a novel in the e-book format?

When you finish a book, do you know what it was in the story that drew you on, turning hundreds of pages to the last scene, the concluding paragraph, the cathartic final sentence?

If you are a woman reader, are your answers to these questions different from those answers a man might give?

HipType created this infographic based upon some of the data it gathers from e-readers for authors.  It analyses a wide range of book types and genres.

 

DNA of Successful Books

 

Resonance: Dreams give us lift...

Sometimes, a passage in a book stops us in our tracks. It might be that its meaning intersects with a personal moment of significance, or it states a truth so powerfully that we pause to appreciate the moment of connection. Here is one that caught my eye today.

 

 

Dreams give us lift ...  The trick is to bear up after the weight of life comes back.

Ivan Doig HEART EARTH (p. 133)

Chip Kidd | Master Book Designer at TED 2012

If you aren't aware of Chip Kidd's contribution to the art, science and intellect of design that illuminates bookstore shelved and influences bookstore window displays, not to mention airport bookstores and newsstand displays, it's time you got acquainted with this leading book designer. If you know of his work, take a few minutes to appreciate this rare appearance by a designer who has asserted his forceful intelligence on every writer and reader in America. Many of us may not have been published by Knopf yet, but the lure of allying with the house that published Carl HiaasenJack LondonThomas MannGabriel García MárquezCormac McCarthyH. L. MenckenToni MorrisonAlice Munro,Haruki MurakamiP. D. OuspenskyEzra PoundAnne RiceAnne TylerJohn Updike, and Edmund White is powerful incentive to keep writing, to persist in crafting stories that entertain, engage, and develop lasting relationships with our readers.

Chip Kidd doesn’t judge books by their cover, he creates covers that embody the book -- and he does it with a wicked sense of humor. In one of the funniest talks from TED2012, he shows the art and deep thought of his cover designs.

[From The Design Studio session at TED2012, guest-curated by Chee Pearlman and David Rockwell.]

Here is Chip Kidd's amusing take on designing book jackets in his 2012 TED Talk. Enjoy.

Thanks to Laura Trombley, president of Pitzer College and biographer of the compelling Mark Twain's Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years, who shared this link.

What's the word at the Reliable Narrative blog?

  See what I have been writing about - M. R. Bailey

Here is a great way to see what you're writing about from a high altitude cloud perspective. Wordles are 'word clouds' that emphasize words in proportion to their frequency of use in text. Here’s a Wordle of mrbailey.net taken on April 16, 2012. Though more generic terms rise to the top, there is a diverse array of topics over recent months.

Wordle.net

 

Your Brain on Fiction

NeuroFiction

An article in the New York Times published on Saint Patrick’s Day caught my attention for its premise: fiction improves our minds. I believe this to be true, but haven’t looked too deeply into the science of it. Science author Annie Murphy Paul has. Her article confirms my personal experience of the effect of reading fiction on mental, social and life skills.

AMID the squawks and pings of our digital devices, the old-fashioned virtues of reading novels can seem faded, even futile. But new support for the value of fiction is arriving from an unexpected quarter: neuroscience.

This got my neural processors firing away in anticipation of a good intellectual workout. Paul makes a compelling case for the power of the novel to engage, exercise and improve the brain.

The brain, the article reminds us, does not distinguish between imagining an experience as we read about it and actually experiencing it in real life. To the brain, one is as real as the other. This is a key principle of achieving excellence in any endeavor, practicing it in our minds so thoroughly that our mind cannot accept less than the perfect execution.  High performance athletes understand this. Just as jet fighter pilots, high steel workers, leading corporate innovators, and neurosurgeons do. The fact that a good novel engages our mind and thrusts us into the heart of risk, danger, adventure, romance, achievement functions the way it does because our minds understand sensory details, evocative metaphors, and stimulating situations with such rich and complex experiences of reality that we discover and learn much as if we actually travelled, trained and risked as the novel’s characters do.

According to two scientific studies cited in the article, our experience of a novel hones our real-life social skills. The more we read fiction, the better we are able to understand other people, empathize with their challenges, and credibly see the world from their perspective.

Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined.

Previously I held this truth to be self-evident. Now, I have proof that my preference for the novel literary form is pragmatic and has a basis in science.

Related Links

The Neuroscience of Your Brain on Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul, NY Times, March 17, 2012

Annie Murphy Paul | Science Author  -  TED     Nov. 2011

 

 

 

WOLVES EAT DOGS | Martin Cruz Smith

In the shadow of the devastated Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Pripyat, Ukraine, nature is reclaiming the wreckage of humankind's worst nuclear accident. Outlaws and corrupt militia co-exist in the toxic detritus that is left in the wake of the government-ordered evacuation years earlier. Scientists come to conduct pure research. Surviving residents with nowhere to go wait for the end that never comes. Weary, they attempt to live with the terrible knowledge of their doom. One telling detail of their reduced circumstances: they cannot have pet dogs because the wolves in the surrounding forests eat dogs. This is not a cliché. It is a living Darwinian metaphor. Arkady Renko, the iconic detective from GORKY PARK, is challenged by his most baffling and enigmatic case yet: the death of an oligarch, by suicide perhaps, but Renko is certain it is the result of a murderous plot.

Smith's prose is deceptively elegant. It seems straightforward like Renko's description of action, yet it is always painted in shades of light, color, and tone. This and Renko's cynical, quietly subversive, brilliantly analytical, melancholy character keeps the mind turning - amused and utterly engaged.

Amazon - Wolves Eat Dogs

Wikipedia - Wolves Eat Dogs

 

Birds In Fall | Brad Kessler

Life is Fragile as Flight

This novel is one of those surprise discoveries. My wife brought it home for me on a whim with some journals. I read the opening sentence and sensed immediately that my priorities for the weekend had shifted.Birds In Fall by Brad Kessler

It’s true: a few of us slept through the entire ordeal, but others sensed something wrong right away.

I was hooked. Wished I’d written it. The voice possessed a sense of moment, a texture of imminent tragedy that gripped me and wouldn’t let me go. The first chapter transported me to far away Nova Scotia and continues to resonate in unexpected ways after the final page of the novel 238 pages later.

BIRDS IN FALL was a critical and popular success. An excerpt was published in The Kenyon Review in the spring of 2006. It won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. And the Los Angeles Times named it one of the ten best books of 2006.

A Novel for Novelists

The story begins aboard a transatlantic flight from New York City bound for Amsterdam. The style is contemporary, spare in setting, and emphasizes action.  It is told in the first person voice of Russell, Ana’s husband. The action is carefully and effectively modulated as he takes up conversation with the woman seated next to him, a concert cellist who is stressed by the airplane’s bumpy ride through increasingly violent stormy night skies.

For example, one of the most visually compelling moments is Russell’s presence of mind in writing his NY address on his forearm with the cellist’s Japanese Maple lipstick. He shows it to her and encourages her to do the same. Ironically, she encourages Russell to include his name in his message to his rescuers, yet he cannot bring himself to do so. This foreshadows his fate as another anonymous casualty of tragedy, vanished, forever lost at sea. Indeed, eighty minutes into its flight, the aircraft ‘enters the sea.’

From there we shift to a small community setting on Trachis Island off the coast of Nova Scotia and the events following the crash. The narrator’s voice changes to third person omniscient and never returns to Ana’s husband in any meaningful way. Despite several telling details set up in the first chapter, few are referenced later in the narrative in which bits and pieces of airplane, passengers, and luggage debris are recovered.

From chapter two onward we follow the innkeepers Kevin and Douglas on Trachis Island and Ana Gathreaux, Russell’s ornithologist wife, who travels from New York City to the inn to visit the site of the catastrophe and learn something more about Russell’s fate. Other victims’ families travel to the island from all over the world for the same purpose. Over time, they each experience punishing, withering grief, hope, frustration, abandonment, and transformation into new lives without their loved ones.

The writing improves in this second voice and occasionally soars like the migrating birds that serve as such an apt metaphor for the flight of time, events, and souls. On more than one occasion, I was reminded of Michael Ondaatje’s poetic prose. That's profound praise for how deft many of Brad Kessler’s passages are.

Recommended

Birds In Fall is remarkable. It is rich with masterful writing and compelling insights into the lives, drives, and lessons that shape us as our migrations intersect across time, place and circumstance.

 

Related Links

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brad_Kessler

 

 

Carter Bays & Craig Thomas on "How I Met Your Mother"

http://vimeo.com/35983305 Recently, I produced coverage of An Evening with Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, co-creators and co-executive producers of the television comedy, “How I Met Your Mother” (CBS) at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University, and Jeremy Zimmer, Founding Partner and Managing Director of United Talent Agency. Here is a brief highlights video, edited by Ben Travers.

Look for the Conversation video, containing insights into the success of Carter's and Craig's television comedy series, soon to be released.