Today, We Are All Irish

Editing and Remembering

Working on the novel today. I am remembering my research of the Book of Kells in the Library of Trinity College in Dublin. So long ago, it seems. Not to the Book of Kells, I'm sure. The last of its 340 folios was completed in 384AD.

Today is March 17, and the weather is beautiful where I am. The sun is bright in a blue sky and warming the chill of a late winter morning beside the Pacific. It's a good day and I am grateful for it. That said, I'd rather be in The Temple Bar this morning for a proper Irish Breakfast.

Irish Breakfast

  • Eggs

  • Bacon (chewy, not crispy)

  • Sausages

  • Mushrooms

  • Baked Beans

  • Grilled Tomato

  • Black Pudding

  • Toast  (Irish soda bread for me, thanks)

  • Butter

  • Marmalade

  • Tea  (coffee for this Yank)

Dublin is 11 hours and 5,145 miles away measured in time and miles, but not in the more accurate distance of memory, desire and the senses. The streets, Georgian stone architecture, the greens, buskers and bracing poetic passions of that place are just outside my mind's window today.

The annual St. Patrick's parade will cross over the Liffey River at O'Connell Street and enter another year of one of western society's most enduring traditions.

Patrick and Ireland are indelibly bound in our imaginations, yet he is not Irish. He was born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain. When he was about 16, Irish pirates kidnapped him and sold him into slavery to a Druid high priest in Ireland.  He worked as a shepherd for six years before escaping back to Britain. Eventually, he had a dream in which a voice gave him the mission of returning to Ireland to work with the Christians there. Patrick was beyond good for the Emerald Isle. He adopted the Irish and by the time of his death, he had established schools, monasteries and churches all over the island. 

Perhaps it's the Irish in me, but I'd like to think that Patrick and today's Irish would recognize one another if he were to return to Ireland for today's celebration in Dublin. He would welcome the embrace of that legendary and companionable literary city.

Now, I'm off in my mind to The Temple Bar for a stout. With a raising of the glass by the Scot in me to the North-Northeast and a corresponding Sláinte to the assembled patrons in the pub, I settle in to appreciate ballads accompanied by Uilleann pipes.

Photo: Leandro Borges de Carvalho

Photo: Leandro Borges de Carvalho

Happy St. Patrick's Day to you.

 

Mark

Navigating Choices

Art - Like Literature - Captures Essential Truths

Much of the art that moves me explores our experience at the intersection of one world and another. Sea and land. Man and woman. City and country. Feeling and intellect. Offense and defense. Generosity and greed. Benign and evil. Past and future. Trust and mistrust. Life and death.

A practical, real-life example is the boat. A boat floats on a membrane separating two universes: fathomless reaches below and infinite space above. Sailors who live in that narrow in-between are a metaphor for each of us who live between now and then, yesterday and tomorrow, right and wrong, left or right, risk and reward, failure and success. We all float, sink or fly by the choices we make.

Seen in this way, the art of sail becomes a bridge between the creative process and the secret explorer in each of us.

Three-masted Topsail Schooner  Oosterschelde  NL   (2018) by Mark Roger Bailey

Three-masted Topsail Schooner Oosterschelde NL (2018) by Mark Roger Bailey

Lovers desperately seek perfect union yet are distinct beings. Prisoners of their bodies, they are separated by heart or mind, love or lust, soul or body, past or future. They are so close yet so far away.  

Day and night are rich with potential meaning between bright color and blackness, light and shadow, openness and mystery, work and sleep.

The fact is that I am thinking about storytelling puzzles constantly, making notes about whether this story renders better through this lens or on that page. For too long, the New England Yankee in me always said, go slow in revealing what you're up to. You'll confuse readers if they think you're passionate about art, and you might confuse art collectors if they know you've published novels and optioned them for the movies. The Californian in me says relax, don't second guess yourself, trust the flow. It's way bigger than you and will show the way. The traveler in me asks what are you doing? Whatever it is, is it more important than experiencing the stories that are happening right now in the Hebrides, Antarctica and the Aegean? Who will I listen to today - the Yankee, the Californian or the traveler?   

What are we to do with all the potential of these intersections between universes? We must choose. Art is born in the choices we make, where we sometimes find ways to express the beauty and meaning of this existence between opposites.

Collectible limited edition art by Mark Roger Bailey

Collectible limited edition art by Mark Roger Bailey

View my Tall Ships collection and please stop by my Gallery Shop to consider a special series of signed and numbered limited-edition prints for the collector. A miniature print of a tall ship would make a wonderful gift for yourself or a thoughtful surprise for a friend. 

Separate Fictions, Joint Reality

BEYOND THESE WOODS | Mark Roger Bailey

All our separate fictions add up to joint reality.

- Stanislaw Lec (1962)

BTW Cvr Blue.png

Recently, I discovered an alternate draft of the pitch for my novel, BEYOND THESE WOODS. Considering its position between works-in-progress dating back to 2014, I assume that I put it aside when one of the calls-to-duty that occur in my working life took precedence, and the draft was misplaced for the past four years. Reading it, I experienced a return to my state of mind at that time, which now seems irretrievably distant, a time before the flare-up of human darkness that threatens to overtake us. 

The fictional dysfunction at the root of the conflict in BEYOND THESE WOODS remains with us in fact. My novel is an imagining based on facts rooted in events that have occurred in our lifetimes and remain unresolved mysteries. The passions that drive social, economic, scientific, political and military forces to their breaking points in WOODS have metastasized into a plague on America's foundational principles and the institutions upon which our ancestors built what I have always considered to be a good life. Our shared aspirations and values have become practice targets for the angry and aggrieved among us who are willing to submit to the disruptive expedient, to roll the dice and only hope they haven’t participated in the torching of civilization. Perhaps they are exhausted by the demands of progress and have intentionally submitted to a louder, dominant destroyer. It’s just easier. The duties of effective citizenship are too hard.

Reading this alternative draft through, I am struck by how everything has changed in our day-to-day reality, and nothing has changed at all. We are re-learning that consciousness of a fact is not the same as knowing it. Our history is repeating like a dark tidal current. 

Here is what I wrote earlier:

When men claim that the earth was made for them, beware. Human beings - and birds, fish, mammals, plants - are of and by the earth. When men bully Mother Earth, who stands up to them? The lobbyist, the sheriff, the national guard, the average citizen, the lone wolf scientist? When men savage Earth's ancient forests, who has the courage to say no?

When all of these forces conspire to brutalize again and again, should anyone be surprised when Mother Nature pushes back?

Many of the trees on the western slopes of California's oldest mountain ranges were growing peacefully before the first nation ancestors crossed the Aleutian Island chain, and more than 1,000 years before the first Europeans discovered North America. Giant Sequoia trees were masters of this corner of our planet. No other living thing could match them for size and strength. They have endured every wave of natural disaster and human exploration, settlement and exploitation. But today, something in California's Thunder Peak old-growth forest is killing everyone who comes to harm them, who thinks the Sequoia are theirs for the taking. Loggers and hunters are dying, struck dead in their tracks when they get too close. No one has a clue about what is causing these deaths among the trees' tormentors, except Lotte Keene, who knows more about nature -- including human nature -- than is healthy for her and anyone who works with her.

What this irrepressible scientist-adventurer doesn't know is that past is prelude in this environmental crisis. A mysterious environmental activist and a ruthless shadow force within America's government are dedicated to preventing her from ever learning the truth about their goals. Worse, they are unaware of their separate, yet intersecting plans. And Lotte Keene will stop at nothing to identify the cause of this pathogen. No one is safe from her fierce, unblinking and stubborn search. 

With Keene on their case, no clues are safe from discovery. No enemy is safe from the ultimate antiseptic; exposure to the people of Thunder Peak Wilderness, America and the world.

This is high-tech close-quarters warfare with causes and shadowy actors that are chillingly familiar to each of us. This is high-tech combat in which the enemy within is more terrifying than any enemy beyond our borders. 

This is the story of natural justice and one woman’s tenacity to solve the mystery of sudden death in the Sierras, to rescue earth’s oldest forest matriarchs, and save humankind from itself.

This is human weakness run rampant. In the wrong hands it will rewrite the laws of evolution and permanently alter life as we know it . . . beyond these woods.

I questioned whether to share unpublished writing from another time. What decided it for me was the window this experience opened into a higher truth: humans are a fascinating breed capable of exquisite achievement and beauty, yet we are simultaneously inclined to darker deeds. There are times when we as a species can't seem to control our horrifying impulses. We allow the worst among us to rise, dominate and destroy. Just as the people of Longwood, California experience the nightmare of creeping extremism in BEYOND THESE WOODS and have to confront how far they are willing to let chaos take over their lives and everything they have worked generations to achieve, we now find ourselves at a similar moment of truth in 2018 America, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, Turkey, Russia, Venezuela, Egypt and elsewhere.  

One is fiction that gives us an opportunity to live history without paying a price for the experience. The other is fact. 

CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI | Andrew Sean Greer

Poignantly Awry - Life Between Ordinary and Extraordinary

I recently re-read THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI and am glad that I did. It is a leader in a small class of novels that deal so entertainingly with immortalism and aging.

Upon picking up the book for the first time, any of us would naturally ask ourselves: Did Max Tivoli really emerge from the womb an old man? That has to be writerly bravado, a wild swing at capturing the reader’s attention. Or the beginning of a story that has never been told before. Either way, the author has moxie.

The Confessions of Max Tivoli is an enchanting and affecting novel about an old man born old in 1871 in San Francisco who is destined to grow young.

1st Picador Edition (2005)  ISBN 978-0312-42381-0

1st Picador Edition (2005)  ISBN 978-0312-42381-0

Andrew Sean Greer tells how this improbable mistake of biology, time and physics occurred in strikingly rich exposition. Max’s mother is from a wealthy Carolina family relocated to Comstock-crazed San Francisco. His father is one of the countless dreamers drawn to the Gold Rush. As Max tells it, “…the Comstock had made too many beggars into fat, rich men – so society became divided into two classes: the chivalry and the shovelry. My mother was of the first, my father of the wretched second.” Suitably, their union is a paradox of the mundane and the magical, which combine to create a moment of timeless possibility.

Max learns soon enough that while his condition is not unique, he is one of very, very few. So rare is his dilemma that only once – later in life as he grows younger – does he encounter another of his kind, and then it is only supposition.

Max meets his life’s great love early and their future seems doomed by the secret between them. Over time, he wins her through desperate deceptions for a glorious period in his middle years. Even then, she is unaware of his magical condition.

Greer's literary voice has been compared with Ford Madox Ford, which is high praise. Greer's narrator Max is direct whereas Ford's Good Soldier John Dowell is disengaged and distant. The ultimate unreliable narrator. " . . . I have generally found that my first impressions were correct enough. If my first idea of a man was that he was civil, obliging, and attentive, he generally seemed to go on being all those things."

Max is comfortable with seemingly straightforward declarative sentences, which are in fact occasionally complex expressions of deeper emotions woven like Celtic coils into his trustworthy narrative. He earns our confidence with candor and a voice that is consistently true to 21st century sensibilities despite its slant and attitudes of 1890's San Francisco. Max's out-of-time experiences and priorities complete the illusion of otherness. "While at twenty I had been far off the map of youth, now that I was nearly thirty I looked nearly right. Perhaps not quite in the bloom of youth, but approaching it in my ogreish way, and I began to get more than my usual share of glances from ladies who peered like fascinated children out of carriages, streetcars and shop windows."

Greer also consistently surprises and delights the close reader with his offhand use of opposites, subverting expectations and recharging our attention with the unexpectedly profound cast off phrase.  

The century turned, the seasons changed, but little changed for me until a lucky and terrible disaster.
Something of youth comes back with age.

This novel received extraordinary support with blurbs from John Updike, Michael Cunningham, Michael Chabon, the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, the L.A.Times, and the plaudits go on and on.

I enjoyed THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI and will look for his short story collection, HOW IT WAS FOR ME and the novels, THE PATH OF MINOR PLANETS, THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE, and THE IMPOSSIBLE LIVES OF GRETA WELLS.

 
If you read THE CONFESSIONS OF MAX TIVOLI and have an issue with my description, please comment below. I will respond if appropriate and update this post to reflect new information.

 

Andrew Sean Greer

Born to two scientists, Greer studied writing at Brown University, where he was the commencement speaker at his own graduation. He worked for years as a chauffeur, theater tech, television extra and unsuccessful writer in New York City. He earned his Master of Fine Arts from The University of Montana in Missoula. Currently, he lives in San Francisco and is a fellow at the New York Public Library Cullman Center.

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VIDEO: John Berger and 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…




The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-Lights | Joseph C. Lincoln (1870-1944)

A short story evolves to become a short novel, and is published. The author achieves success with his modest yarns about life on Cape Cod. He publishes his tales in the Saturday Evening Post, enjoys a respectable living from his writing, summers on the northern Jersey shore, and dies in Winter Park, Florida. Through his stories, readers discover a Cape Cod populated by dreamers and doers, practical idealists who define success in terms of personal codes more than popular myths of the America’s 20th century success machine. Readers travel from afar to experience his Cape Cod, and residents help them realize the dream. Soon, the Cape becomes a destination, an ideal of a better time in America, and a vacationer’s mecca.

In 1911, Joseph Crosby Lincoln (1870-1944), 41, published his story The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights (A.L. Burt Company, NYC).  He was a third of the way through his career as a spinner of popular yarns set on Cape Cod, in a part of the country that was invisible to all but a few thousand residents and their occasional visitors from nearby Boston.  It was a place apart from the nation’s rambunctious urban centers, a throwback to an earlier, self-reliant America.  Its people were taciturn, pragmatic, and passionate about life’s possibilities. Lincoln distrusted modern progress and so he kept returning in his stories to the childhood home from which he had been taken after his father died and his mother moved him to the mainland. Lincoln’s anti-modernist tendencies found expression in stories about this Yankee outpost on a narrow finger of sand so far out to sea that on especially clear days residents might fancy seeing their ancestors’ old country to the east. Here adversity was vanquished, justice prevailed, and romance was eventually, ultimately requited.

In The Woman-Haters, once-married Seth Atkins and Emeline Bascom accidentally reunite on a beach at the extreme easternmost tip of the nation.  In this fantasy realm between sand and sea, they see their past actions in new light, comprehend their lives afresh, and rediscover their former attraction.

In 2010, enter Daniel Adams, a veteran writer-producer-actor-director who likes the cut of Lincoln’s literary jib. Adams is one of movie-making’s working class heroes who keep the dream of movie magic alive by gathering friends, locals, and would-be filmmakers together to put on a show. He attracts popular stars to his troupe, works long hours, stretches a dollar to the breaking point, and captures moments on film that become movie memories for the rest of us.  Previously, he had directed an adaptation of Lincoln’s 1911 story, Cap’n Eri: A Story of the Coast into The Golden Boys (2009).  Recently, he adapted Joe Lincoln’s The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-lights a full one hundred years after it was published into the small feature film, The Lightkeepers.

Whether The Lightkeepers is a commercial or artistic success is not at issue here. As of this writing, it has grossed an estimated 4.5 million dollars, which does not qualify it as a commercial success in 2010. The 1911 equivalent, by the way, would have been $193,500. Reviews are mixed. Some critics have faulted the language, the staging, and Richard Dreyfuss’ interpretation of former sea captain Seth Atkins. Positive reviews have cited The Lightkeepers’ grown-up love story, the palpable sense of place, and the distinctively Yankee knack for understatement.

What counts is that Joseph Lincoln lived life and wrote stories his way. He spun yarns that made readers feel good about themselves. And Daniel Adams is living his life and making movies his way. Hats off to both artists. Thanks for keeping the dream alive.

———————————-

Related Links

Joseph Crosby Lincoln (1870-1944), Author

The Woman-Haters: A Yarn of Eastboro Twin-Lights (1911)

Daniel AdamsWriter-Director

 


Flannery O'Connor Technique

In his recent biography entitled, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, Brad Goochdescribes how O’Connor (1925-1964) avoided using any word twice on the same page. I avoid repeating words in paragraphs, but entire pages? That sounds like a stretch. It is, and that’s the point. Fresh, inventive expression of similar ideas adds to voice, creates a more forceful narrative, and improves the reading experience. Like jogging new, unexplored miles every morning.

Flannery O’Connor 

Flannery O’Connor’s works at Amazon

 

On Writing "The PACIFIC" | Bruce McKenna

Bruce C. McKenna Goes to War

Recently, Bruce C. McKenna, co-executive producer and lead writer on the HBO television mini-series, THE PACIFIC stopped by the Wesleyan University campus for an interview about his latest project. He provided valuable insights into the challenges of adapting history to television, the importance of persistence in getting any project to the screen, and the role of the writer in the process from research and design of story architecture to defending the vision during production and presenting the final product to audiences. Look here for a link soon.

On the same day, Bruce presented the fourth episode of “The Pacific” in the Powell Family Cinema in the Center for Film Studies at Wesleyan University. His answers to questions display the historian’s deep knowledge of his material, the screenwriter’s respect for storycraft, and openness to sharing his seven year experience. Here are his remarks.

Avoid Mind Reading

Except your own

Writing to the market always falls short of the mark. Besides being a soul-numbing experience (because you end up essentially writing someone else’s inspiration), it cannot be researched sufficiently, drafted, rewritten, edited, rewritten again, shopped, edited, and published in time to capitalize on the market trend.  So, you have invested valuable time, energy, and effort in a project to which you are less than 100% committed, and about which you are less than passionate.

Start with what you want to read. Do what you think is right. Draft your concept.  Outline it, write a few chapters and share it with someone whose skill, perspective, judgment, interests, and discernment you respect.  Odds are that those pages will jump to life in the reader’s mind because you care, because you’re invested in something you want to say, in a tale you want to tell.

Trying to forecast the market, or read editors’ or agents’ minds wastes your time.  It also paralyzes your writer’s instrument.  The skills that you develop as a writer are important, high performance, precision tools.  Don’t use your scalpel as a screwdriver.  Don’t use your best sagacious voice to make someone else’s hero sound interesting. Respect yourself, your ideas, and your time.  Follow your muse, your heart, and craft the stories you think matter, the ideas, subjects, and characters that wake you at 3:00 am.

 

LAST ORDERS | Graham Swift

 

Graham Swift‘s sixth novel, LAST ORDERS (1996), follows a day in the lives of the friends, spouse and children of Jack Arthur Dodds, butcher, recently deceased. Their day of remembrance is a metaphor for the ordinary, earnest yet flawed, occasionally misspent life. 

Following Jack’s three men friends and his son as they carry his ashes to the sea at Margate to fulfill one final wish is as driven, surreal and overarchingly important as a salmon’s return up a twisted and turbulent river to its life starting point.  The why of it is never quite clear to subjects, just like real life.  Perhaps Jack’s friends, son and wife discover that nothing in life should go to waste, including one last opportunity to unite with friends and family in the only place that ever held any hope of romantic significance for him. Margate was his Shangri-La, his hope for his and Amy’s connection to each other, even at the end of an estranged lifetime.

Uncompromising in his use of ordinary thoughts and language by the ordinary people of Bermondsey, south London, Swift establishes his contract with the reader early and never lets him or her down.

It aint like your regular sort of day.

…begins Swift and continues with absolute, unblinking objectivity, and an unerring ear for the deceptive riches in thought and dialogue.  At first, the similarity of voice between the characters – Jack Arthur Dodds’ understated, reticent butcher; Vince Dodds, his cagey son; Amy, his wife who chose their mentally disabled daughter, June, over her husband; Ray Johnson, his unreliable mate; Lenny Tate, his resentful Army buddy; Vic Tucker, his funeral director; and Mandy, the stray taken in by Vince – made following the changes in voice difficult to follow. I kept referring back to the chapter titles to see who was carrying the story forward.  Soon, however, each character’s emotional process and relationship with the deceased rippled outward and overlapped other characters’ process and responses.  Before long, cross currents became waypoints and I grew compelled by the journey and the back stories.  Swift’s exploration of ordinary lives in this novel is extraordinarily skilled.

This quiet novel speaks volumes about the quiet lives of its ordinary middle-class south London characters. In doing so, it speaks to the rest of us.

Graham Swift’s interview in SALON

The Booker Prize, which is often a reliable guide to literary excellence, is what originally attracted me to LAST ORDERS.





Last Orders


The END OF THE ALPHABET | C.S. Richardson

Collectible First Novel 

This story is unlikely.

So begins the first novel by C.S. Richardson, creative director at Random House Canada, award-winning book designer, and now, author. The story works on multiple levels, following the personal journeys of two individuals and discovering along with them the rare love they share. Having found each other, Ambrose Zephyr, 50-year-old advertising creative, and Zappora ‘Zipper’ Ashkenazi, fashion magazine columnist, are content in their narrow London terrace full of books when Ambrose learns that he is ill and has 30 days to live. Stunned and reeling, they depart from their home in Kensington Gardens and embark on an expedition ‘to the places he has most loved or has always longed to visit, from A to Z. Amsterdam to Zanzibar.’

Ambrose attempts to both escape his fate and accept whatever is to come next. Zipper discovers new depths of strength in herself as she overcomes her panic and creates ways to be there for him, witnessing his disintegration.

At the end Zipper is lost in the silence, the vacuum of deep space without the only man she ever loved.

She opens the journal that she purchased in Amsterdam on the first stop of their great expedition, takes in the emptiness and begins to write…

This story is unlikely.

THE END OF THE ALPHABET has some qualities of a classic.  It is visually captivating, surprises the reader by launching from a familiar premise yet takes flight into new situations, and is told in a discerning and disarming literary style.

The End of the Alphabet (2007), Doubleday, 119 pages