November 3, 2014

Early Twain by Michael Mavilia

Early Twain by Michael Mavilia

  Buried beneath alternate praise and censure of his “Great American Novel,” Huckleberry Finn, lies a wealth of widely unheralded work by Mark Twain: his short stories. Twain’s penchant for writing in the vernacular translates magnificently to his tall tales, overheard while mining for silver in Nevada. His characters run the gamut from rugged and folksy to clever and charismatic, creating a circus troupe of dusty allure. In his 1880 short story “Jim Baker’s Blue-jay Yarn,” Twain retells a tale about “a middle-aged, simple-hearted miner who lived in a lonely corner of California,” who claims he can understand the language of animals. What follows is a short but tall tale of what he overhears a blue jay saying one day in the woods. As is the case with many of Twain’s yarns, the joy is…

Continue reading →

October 1, 2014

Jack Kerouac: “The road is life”

I have a photograph of Jack Kerouac typing his famous piano-roll manuscript of On the Road hanging on my study wall. I saw the scroll when I visited the museum in Lowell, Massachusetts. It was amazing to see it stretched out. Jack wrote it in a three-day, hyper-caffeinated marathon in his mother’s apartment. She made the coffee and taped the pieces of paper together. Three days. Then he revised it for three years. You could sum up his philosophy in the four words quoted above: “The road is life.” Lowell has honored its once-maligned author by giving him a new headstone at his grave site. You can read about it here. If you’d like to know a bit more about Kerouac, here is a fine essay about him and his writing. The photo of the…

Continue reading →

July 24, 2014

Willamette Writers Conference Just A Week Away!

Willamette Writers Conference Just A Week Away!

  One of the leading writing conferences in the country, the Willamette Writers Conference convenes next Friday, August 1, and runs through Sunday, August 3. Launched in 1969, in recent years attendance has topped 1,000 writing and publishing mavens from around the world. If you’re anywhere close to Portland, Oregon, or would like to see what Portlandia is really like, I hope you’ll attend. There are over 60 workshops and special events. I’m particularly flattered to be presenting three workshops in the Master’s Series in Business Writing: Your Professional Writing Career, Writing Your First Book, and Ghostwriting. But more than that, I’m excited to have the chance to meet so many fellow (male and female)  writers and presenters. I thought you might like to meet a few of them yourself. My colleague Jason Brick, who has worked…

Continue reading →

June 13, 2014

Reading, Writing and Reviewing

Zounds! I’ve been reading like crazy but haven’t written a review in quite a while. Here are some capsule reviews, highlights from the past two months. All links are to Amazon. Alex Berenson’s The Night Ranger I discovered Alex Berenson a few years ago with his debut novel, The Faithful Spy and then The Silent Man. I think he’s taken a top slot in international espionage thrillers with his compelling character, John Wells, who is far more interesting than the stick-figure Jason Bourne character in the post-Ludlum series. Berenson creates scenes you can see in your mind’s eye and believable characters and situations. I also respect the fact that he answers every single email he receives. Sleep Donation by Karen Russell Breakout novelist Karen Russell knocked our literary socks off a few years back with…

Continue reading →

April 7, 2014

“Before We Met” by Lucie Whitehouse

I loved “Gone Girl” and I like unconventional thrillers regardless of the writer’s gender. Gillian Flynn is clearly an accomplished writer who knows how to design or orchestrate, if you will, her novel. That is less obvious in Lucie Whitehouse’s “Before We Met.” The setting is a dull as a box of rocks, and the main characters are right out of [what I imagine to be] a soap opera. I won’t say they’re stick figures, but they are clearly being manipulated into their character traits and behavior by the author, and it shows. Hannah marries a guy without knowing a thing about him or his family beyond what he has told her; now, does that sound like a woman who has deep-seated trust issues? I shall not belabor this point, because I don’t want to…

Continue reading →