Writing began for me through short stories. I noticed I could be funny on the page. I saw readers laugh. Then I wanted to make them cry. There’s a scene in John Irving’s book and film, The World According to Garp, in which Garp, an aspiring author, is waiting for his girlfriend to read his short story while he paces on the bleachers of their high school. When she finishes, she looks up at him and says, “It’s so sad.” Garp jumps with joy before racing up the steps of the bleachers. This happened to me with my once girlfriend and now wife of 27 years, Jill. She was reading the first short story I’d ever publish and when she finished, she looked up at me with a certain smile. The smile said, “You can actually do this.”
The stories led me to grad school at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. I published a story in The Alaska Quarterly Review while I was there. The editor called me on my landline in 1996. I was never the same. Payment would be two copies of the literary journal. I was rich.
Word had it that no publisher wanted short stories because they don’t sell. So I graduated and wrote a 300-page short story which I called my first novel. The journey was invaluable tutelage. Long and harrowing, I was in a 3rd person female point of view. I remember one editor who read it suggested I write from my own perspective, you know, a male point of view. The manuscript got me a literary agent. In the end, the book wasn’t good enough; it was “too quiet.”
I started a new novel with a male point of view. It would end up being published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill in 2004. It’s called The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green. The reviews were all great and the book was named Top Ten best first novels for its year by Booklist. It was also chosen for Barnes & Noble’s Discover New Writer’s list which placed the book at the front of their many pre-internet stores. A dream of mine had come true.
Novels are super tough. You must write terrific chapters that are stacked in perfect order. They need to evoke an original voice, an approachable rhythm and beautifully written scenes that make people laugh or cry or ponder their own lives. Solitude is crucial in the construction and so is the ability to fight for years, straight up hill without ever quitting. You must truly want it.
My wife’s parents are art dealers and introduced me to abstract art. Other descriptions for the genre that inspired me are The New York School, Colorfield or abstract expressionism. Artists of renown in this field are Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Kenneth Noland, Larry Poons, Dan Christensen, Barnett Newman, Sandi Slone and many more. Here the energy is of strips and slashes, finger marks and splatterings of gestures that are anything but realized through language. It’s more improvisational than cohesive tale and carries heaps of story and emotion for the individual looking for a particular alchemy of color and texture. When I’m painting, I am standing, staring, zoning in preparation to attack a canvas in one corner or gently dot or feather it in the opposite spot. Balance or symmetry is crucial although keeping alive the idea of a brave and random act of motion is always present. My long arms and legs and strength are often needed in the motion of it. I can feel very far away when it’s humming, and time disappears the way it does when I’m deep into prose. When I stop painting for awhile it’s hard to believe I got into such a headspace. There is magical reward in getting a piece “right.” They end up hanging in people’s bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms. They enjoy them personally long after our exchange is done. This silent but meaningful connection is powerful and can be felt when considering the people who find meaningful and lasting moments in my books as well.
The idea of human condition photography always interested me. A photograph of a person going about their life as opposed to posing, hands on a globe. Ideas for short stories came readily for me from this type of photography. For years I subscribed to a magazine called Double-Take. They not only published my kind of short stories but also had amazing spreads of photos taken by the best of the best in “human condition” photographers. These “shooters” were looking for two dimensional moments that indicated fascinating specifics regarding people’s lives, incomes, challenges, interests, foibles, achievements, pitfalls, etc. – that could be seen in the flash of the moment. I only wanted to be a “shooter” like this, a documentarian for the single frame. The photographers that imbedded themselves in the lives of their subjects did so with great patience and poise, finding a path of trust that allowed them inside homes to capture lives that were underway in real time. William Gedney, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, and many more were influential in creating a bridge to ideas for stories based on frozen moments. In these “story boards” is a human importance that goes beyond the realization of the subject in pursuit. I also like to shoot nature’s beauty and challenges. I’ve been lucky enough to hold a camera in many spots around the world.
Music is my oldest companion. I loved the records I had in my earliest memories. I must’ve been five when I grew frustrated that Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree kept skipping on my small yellow turntable. How on earth was I to hear this amazing chorus if the needle kept getting stuck on the sentence, “It’s been three long years, three long years, three long years.” I was the early teen with the older brother who loved rock, lived it, drank it, kissed it head on while playing me all the crucial albums. I noodled on guitar but didn’t get serious until I was 45, a father of two. I was gifted an electric guitar and took lessons. Now at 54 it has given my artistic life a surge I never expected. I imagine I’ve always been a musician but learning steps taught by a teacher was never my forte. It would require solitude, tenacity and endless interest. Lyrics are poems and I’ve always liked writing this way. Turns out if you bring some decent guitar work to a poetry reading and sing the thing you wrote, people don’t fall asleep. They dance instead. Tap their feet. Smile. Realize a new moment, a new now. Music is the universal elixir. I love the collaboration in the studio. I love discussing the creation of a good rock song with other musicians and producers/mixers. It’s thrilling to bring an original song to the ears of people who love guitars and hooks and singing along. Life can be tricky. I think it’s important to wear a feather metaphorically or literally in your cap, celebrate being here
So I’m an artist that likes to publish whatever it is I make. I guess when I “hand it over” it can begin to be complete. Thanks for visiting. I hope you like what you see and feel.
Thank you for helping me see these projects through.