Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Audible version of Sleeping in Snow with Bears now available

After numerous requests, I'm pleased to announce that the audio version of my 2012 novel, Sleeping in Snow with Bears, is now available.

The text is spoken in the author's voice (that's me ... so please be kind). It can be found on several of the major audio-book web sites.

Here's a three-minute audio sample.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Has the Literary World Changed in 100 Years? - This Side of Paradise, A Book Review

I only mention this because it is my understanding that "This Side of Paradise" was a big hit in its day. Was that why? Naivity?

Spoiler Alert - This post contains spoilers regarding the novel, This Side of Paradise.

Having finished Tender is the Night, I decided to read another F. Scott Fitzgerald novel before I at least temporarily stepped back to more contemporary fare. I chose This Side of Paradise, first published in 1920.

The novel is a coming of age story, following a young American boy from a life of mid-west privilege, through college and his introduction to the real world with all the stuff life throws at you in the first years out.

While the the first two-thirds of the novel - about life at prep school and Princeton - were well told and enjoyable, I was disappointed as the story stretched beyond those years. Following this period, the narrator goes off to war and then barely gives the time overseas or the tragedy of WWI a paragraph's mention (it is implied that he is a platoon leader of some sort - kind of important don't you think?). After the conflict is over, he comes home to a changing world, his mentor dies and he finds himself disappointed with his future prospects for love and a creative career. Instead of noting the connection and giving it any sort of introspection, the reader is given a treatise on leftist ideology with a literal diatribe against the capitalistic system. The novel closes at that.

I guess it's understandable that this pro-communistic outlook was popular among elitist American thinkers of the early twentieth century; since the horrors of the system weren't well known yet and the dream of equality for all may have seemed economically plausible. Sadly, so many have forgotten the results that ugly social experiment had on the world stage and seem to have some of the same ignorant sentiments today.

But I digress. I only mention this because it is my understanding that "This Side of Paradise" was a big hit in its day. Was that why? Naivety? The novel came out five years' prior to "The Great Gatsby" and helped establish FSF in the literary world.

When "Tender is the Night" came out in 1934, a novel I consider to be a superior to Paradise, it met quite a bit of scorn (See my review of TITN on this blog).

A key difference is that TITN didn't preach.

For the uninformed, TITN's acceptance was a disappointment to FSF. In need of additional income to sustain the lifestyle people expected of his stature, FSF went moved on to Hollywood script writing (little gems like Gone with the Wind) and drank himself to death before reaching his fifth decade.

One tends to notice it in today's publishing and academic world, but must one have always pandered to popular ideas to get noticed in the literary world? Hmmm.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Last Century's Downton Abby - F. Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night" - A Book Review

The sentences, like in Gatsby, read like a patty of butter on a warm skillet ...

* * * * *

Like many classics readers, I truly enjoyed the F. Scott Fitzgerald's jewel, "The Great Gatsby", and after twenty years, two readings of that text (a decade apart) and seeing the 1970's and the 2014 versions on DVD and at the movie theater, I thought I owed it to the author to investigate some of his other work. A few weeks ago, I finished reading one of his other well known novels.

Not being too up on FSF, I chose to read, "Tender is the Night." I'm embarrassed to say I picked it chiefly because I had heard of it before--probably because it too had been made into a movie, though I'd never seen it.

I enjoyed the book immensely. It follows one of my favorite styles, the circular plot which spins off after the first lap into an unexpected tangent. The sentences, like in Gatsby, read like a patty of butter on a warm skillet i.e. smooth. Since I (like most of us) have heard bits about FSF's background, it was enjoyable seeing his characters develop on the page. They are the types of people he obviously had become familiar with over the course of his life (the psychologically frail - his wife; psychiatrists - her doctors; the ridiculously well-off by both birth, luck and hard work - his life in and after the Ivy Leagues; Hollywood personalities - his job, etc.). Similarly settings match what I can only suspect match his own travels to places like the south of Europe, the mountains north of there and the hotels catering to the visitors of the same. There is some action but the story is primarily a study of human character. Still, if you are patient you may find yourself caring about them as I did. One surprise to me is that the protagonist turned out not to be who I thought. Still I was not left disappointed.

While as I say, I enjoyed the book, what floored me was that it was not received well, despite FSF pouring more into it than any other novel in his career (nine years!). It was published in 1934, some years after "This Side of Paradise" and "Gatsby" came out. While it probably sold well, it didn't meet (or surpass) the critical expectations of those two works and thus it was dismissed by many. I for one do not share that critical sentiment at all (though I have yet to read "This Side of Paradise" ) and instead found it to be well worthy of my time. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys classics. The casual Downton Abbey fan may enjoy it as well as there are many parallels (in the luxurious lives of the well-to-do of days gone by and all their scandal).

I plan to read "This Side of Paradise" next. Since it was considered (at the time) the better novel, I'm looking forward to many more hours of this master class.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sadly, this Brought the Sexual Assault Conversation Back to my Dinner Table … What Could Make It a Subject at Yours?

What we each think about sexual assault must become instinctive and of one voice. ... We will all—individually and/or together—act when we must, because we know.

If you are familiar with the OJ Simpson (football star) murder trial some twenty years ago and the media theater that played on living room TVs across the country each evening, this past week was a deja vu moment in Nashville, TN when two football players from the city's almost-Ivy university, Vanderbilt University, were tried for an alcohol/drug fueled gang-rape which occurred inside one of the school's dorms early one morning during the summer of 2013. The week-and-a-half long trial held many locals spell-bound as the court room trial was televised live, gavel to gavel, along with expert commentary and screaming newspaper headlines. In the end, two of the defendants were found guilty on all counts for, among other things, aggravated rape (of an unconscious female). Two other defendants who agreed to cooperate with prosecutors still await a decision between the state and their attorneys regarding their fate.

One sad fact (among many) that came up in the football players' trial was that while a number of knowing bystanders could have stepped in to stop the assault, or even simply render after-the-fact assistance, no one did. Oddly, the whole incident apparently only came to light to authorities after the victim was left out in the hall, the campus rumor mill got out of the assailants' control and evidence was seized, including cell-phone video, photography and text messages.

The defendants' attorneys blamed their clients' incontestably inappropriate behavior (remember it's on video) on the “culture” of excessive alcohol, youth and today's sexual mores (I paraphrase). “A perfect storm,” one called it. Outsiders have posited the “bro-code” had something to do with it as well. I might add another factor: the victim could not fight back. She was blacked out, totally unconscious—allegedly from too much alcohol (Caution dear reader, I'm NOT pointing my finger at the victim, nor should anyone!). Per testimony, the victim for some time blamed herself before she got her head around the pertinent facts and wisely realized she was not to blame. She's now rightly being called a survivor and a hero.

This was a lot to absorb for this two-time alum of the same university. As such, the weeks' past events have gotten me thinking about the problem of sexual assault and what we can all do about it as a community.

I first visited this topic in my novel, Sleeping in Snow with Bears, published back in 2012. Even though a campus rape is a primary plot driver in my novel, I always had some misgivings about writing a blog-post about the topic—several years' of misgivings in fact. In part because rape is a real downer, but more importantly, I wondered, would it be acceptable to play off a theme that is so awful? Certainly not. So instead of focusing on rape directly when I pitched the novel, I talked around it, focusing instead on the victim's after-the-fact struggles and the physical and inner-strength her best (female) friend had in spades but could not, for innumerable reasons, teach. The rape and the inadequate response was brushed over, allowing other plot points to prevail whenever I spoke about the book.

But given recent high-profile discussions around the country about the right of all women to be safe from sexual assault (recall the mattress carrying women at Columbia University), this real-life assault which happened more or less in my own backyard, and the subsequent conversation in my immediate community—not to mention my own family's dinner table—I thought it might be acceptable now to post a piece (here) that pitches what I was trying to get across in the book all along.

Like the rape case I describe above, in Sleeping in Snow with Bears the rape victim also blames herself. It isn't for being unconscious and unable to fight back, but for not fighting back at all—more accurately, not knowing how to fight back. Was she correct in blaming herself? What difference might fighting back have made had she?

The novel deals in large part with the protagonist's conscious and unconscious life-long journey to learn to fight—both physically, emotionally and spiritually—after the fact. But in a perfect world, she never should have had to fight back in the first place.

In the case of the football players' trial, I side with the defense on one point; that being, the culture—I call it society—is to blame (and of course, as the jury unanimously agreed, so were the players). It is society's job to prevent sexual assault from ever being contemplated. If the bro-cod—to first support one another—the bro-code needs to change. There need to be obvious catalysts that trump it. Total success sounds impossible, but surely society could prevent many.

But how?
First, there must be a national conversation the result (second) from which we all come together with some general, ever-lasting agreement as to what defines inappropriate behavior. But besides just talk and finding a common definition that society as a whole agrees upon, it goes further such that society understands what to do—like communities who pull together and assist one another after a storm without being asked. What we each think about sexual assault must become instinctive and of one voice. The third point will then happen automatically. We will all—individually and/or together—act when we must, because we know.

So what exactly could kick-start such an important conversation? Sleeping in Snow with Bears offers one solution to bring about in-your-face national consciousness regarding sexual assault. It involves Hollywood and red carpets, a little bit of spirituality, and … I've said enough. It's fiction after all.

If you've read this far, you might be thinking, “So what? Sleeping in Snow with Bears is fiction, someone's dream, while sexual assault is real. We need a real solution.”

I agree. All I can argue is that enough fiction (think old science-fiction) has come true to life because of dreams, so why not try? The goal is worth it. Let's have that conversation. Perhaps it could work in real life too. It certainly will get more of us on board.

#VAW #Anitrape #Rape #YesAllWomen #AllMenCan #SurvivorPledge #HeForShe #EndVictimBlaming #SupportSurvivors2015