From a Slate article about digital folk artist Brenda Ann Kenneally.
If anybody’s interested, I’ll be facilitating two sessions at Lighthouse starting in mid-August. The first is the 8 Week: Intermediate Novel Workshop, meeting on Saturday mornings, and the second is the 4-Week Reading as a Writer: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, meeting on Monday evenings.
I’m really excited for both, of course, but I’m a little out of my mind for the Blood Meridian session. Anybody who knows me has probably heard a little of my rap on that book, and I’ve been having a ball reading and compiling notes in preparation.
Like this passage, from Richard Slotkin’s Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860:
In American mythogenesis the founding fathers were not those eighteenth-century gentlemen who composed a nation at Philadelphia. Rather, they were those who (to paraphrase Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!) tore violently a nation from the implacable and opulent wilderness – the rogues, adventurers, and land boomers; the Indian fighters, traders, missionaries, explorers, and hunters who killed and were killed until they had mastered the wilderness; the settlers who came after, suffering hardship and Indian warfare for the sake of a sacred mission or a simple desire for land; and the Indians themselves, both as they were and as they appeared to the settlers, for whom they were the special demonic personification of the American wilderness. Their concerns, their hopes, their terrors, their violence, and their justifications of themselves, as expressed in literature, are the foundation stones of the mythology that informs our history
. . .
The voluminous reports of presidential commissions on violence, racism, and civil disorder have recently begun to say to us what artists like Melville and Faulkner had earlier prophesied: that myths reach out of the past to cripple, incapacitate, or strike down the living.
Hundreds* of you have been asking where you can buy Cry Father, so here’s some links. (And if you’re on the fence, the marketing folks have put together an excerpt that you can read here. It’s the first chapter.)
- Tattered Cover.
- Books & Company.
- Elliott Bay Books.
- Indie Bound.
- Powell’s Books.
- Subterranean Books.
The first review of Cry Father is in from Spinetingler Magazine. And thank God, it’s a good one.
Some of you may remember a post I wrote about one of my best friends, Paul Schenck, who was killed by the police last year. And that shortly after I wrote that initial post, the officer we were told was in charge of his killing, Eric Spicer, was fired. Which after I posted about it, inspired somebody who claimed to have inside information to email me anonymously, telling me that Spicer actually wasn’t in charge and was trying to save Paul’s life from a bunch of gung-ho SWAT guys who were intent on gunning him down.
Well, that led to a short exchange with Spicer himself – initiated by him – who told me that he couldn’t speak publicly, but seemed to want to clear the air . . . somehow. Which was followed by a couple of local Dayton television personalities who called me and told me they were running down the story too.
And then nothing.
A couple of months of nothing.
Until recently, when this news broke from WHIO:
A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a former Greene County Sheriff’s major for allegedly forging Sheriff Gene Fischer’s name to buy a machine gun.
Eric A Spicer, 44, of Beavercreek, was fired March 6. He had been on paid leave since an officer-involved shooting in Yellow Springs last July.
The seven-count indictment alleges that Spicer forged Fischer’s name on documents he provided to a firearms dealer in New York in 2009. The paperwork claimed that the machine gun would be used for law enforcement purposes, according to a release from Carter M. Stewart, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, and Michael Boxler, the special agent in charge of the Columbus division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The ATF seized the machine gun in March during a search of Spicer’s home. Spicer allegedly told the ATF that he worked for the Jackson Twp. Police Department.
“I’m saddened by the events,” Fischer said. “We have cooperated with the ATF and will continue to do so.”
Now, I have no idea what the hell’s going on. Some are saying they find the timing of this suspicious, to put it mildly. All of the sudden it comes to light that Spicer has broken a firearms law 5 years ago? And it all hinges on the word of Sheriff Fischer, who, according to many, is setting up Spicer as a fall guy in Paul Schenck’s murder? The same Sheriff Fischer who, as I’m hearing it, is scared shitless over lawsuits that could arise from said murder?
For my part, I don’t know. I’m not in any of these guys’ heads, but when things fall into place that look just a little too pat, I tend to wonder. And it doesn’t help that everything I’ve heard since my last post on the subject is that the Greene County Sheriff’s Office has managed to blaze new ground for cronyism and corruption.
What I do know is that I really, really wish that Eric Spicer would speak up. If he’s got something to say, if he really is being set up, now’s the time to make some kind of statement. Otherwise, it’s pretty difficult not to take him as just the rottenest apple in this particularly rotten barrel.
She looked at the shoulder rig he was wearing and at the snub-nosed blue-black .38 he carried in a nylon holster. “Why do you carry that?” she asked.
“Because not to carry it is to say I believe in the world. I don’t believe in the world, at least not the one I’ve seen. I don’t like authority, either. Anyone who wants to control other people is out to fuck you over. So I carry my own authority.”
The folks at Gallery decided to change up the cover art for Cry Father. Here’s the new pass:
I think I like it a lot. By way of comparison, here’s what they initially had:
Come to think, I like that one, too. But I’m not a graphic designer, so I leave it to my betters. Either way, I couldn’t be happier that they’re thinking about it so much, and working so hard on the book. They’re a hundred percent behind it, and the whole process has been the kind of thing you dream of. Or don’t even dare to dream of, because it doesn’t seem like it could ever really get that good.
An Easter quote from Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. (At least to my mind.)
Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water – peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing – the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, long, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
Next weekend I’ll be facilitating a discussion about Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping for The Big Read. (Details here, thanks to Lighthouse, which is coordinating all the events.) Housekeeping is one of my favorite books, bar none, and I think Marilynne Robinson’s one of the best who ever put words on paper.
Anyway, the last few days I’ve been reading through interviews with her, getting to know her process a little better. And getting awestruck by the depth of her compassion and intelligence. The following are just a few quotes about character (and one about solitude) from an interview she did with the The Paris Review. I think I’m going to be spending a long time chewing on them.
I feel strongly that action is generated out of character. And I don’t give anything a higher priority than character. The one consistent thing among my novels is that there’s a character who stays in my mind. It’s a character with complexity that I want to know better.
. . .
Calvin says that God takes an aesthetic pleasure in people. There’s no reason to imagine that God would choose to surround himself into infinite time with people whose only distinction is that they fail to transgress. King David, for example, was up to a lot of no good. To think that only faultless people are worthwhile seems like an incredible exclusion of almost everything of deep value in the human saga. Sometimes I can’t believe the narrowness that has been attributed to God in terms of what he would approve and disapprove.
. . .
People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.
. . .
I don’t think I could want something else. For instance, I’m kind of a solitary. This would not satisfy everyone’s hopes, but for me it’s a lovely thing. I recognize the satisfactions of a more socially enmeshed existence than I cultivate, but I go days without hearing another human voice and never notice it. I never fear it. The only thing I fear is the intensity of my attachment to it. It’s a predisposition in my family. My brother is a solitary. My mother is a solitary. I grew up with the confidence that the greatest privilege was to be alone and have all the time you wanted. That was the cream of existence. I owe everything that I have done to the fact that I am very much at ease being alone. It’s a good predisposition in a writer. And books are good company. Nothing is more human than a book.
Jason Heller interviewed me about working with Charlie Louvin on his autobiography for a column with the Onion’s A.V. Club called “Expert Witness.” Like everything Jason Heller does, it came up gold. You can read it here.