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Old Fiction: from Timber (2007-2009)

I don’t update this often, but I am writing and revising every day. New books are coming.

In the meantime, here’s a little sample, the opening scene from Timber, a novel I worked on from 2007-2009. In a small Tennessee town a black Vietnam veteran suffering from PTSD deals with racism and a strained relationship with his daughter.

Two things to come mind when reading this: overwritten and trying way too hard. I had an idea back then of how writers are supposed to write.

Here is is, unedited from eight years ago:

The scent of tobacco rolled in over the plains and past the tractors and fields and trucks, past the railroad tracks sat a man on his porch. A leather jacket hung on his shoulders. A patch sewn into it, a smiling grim reaper. 1% cupped in its hand.

The fresh harvest. The onset of autumn and another cycle done. Jake sniffed it as you might the most noxious perfume, watching the countryside unfold into late afternoon. The fresh harvest at dusk. He missed the days when he smoked it and felt the warm end between his lips and the peace as the leaves burned to strong flavor and then yearning for more.

He pulled a beer from the cooler. He sipped it and the man beside him did the same.

“Why you wearin that?” he asked.

He sipped quickly. Runoff filled the crater around the top.

“Jake, why you wearin that? You ain’t one of em.”

Jake finished his beer and tossed it over the porchrail. He grabbed another and popped it. A frosty tip paused near his lips.

“It’s cold out.”

He drank.

 

 

Long after autumn passed and winter came, Jake lifted his beer from the holster and leaned back. Just twenty five bucks for this chair. A hell of a deal.

“I think it’s bout time to be callin it a night.”

“I guess you right. What’s goin on tomorrow?”

“Deidre’s in a play.”

“Really? What’s she doin?”

“She’s a…somethin or nother, I can’t remember. She does have to be at school early tomorrow mornin so she can practice and stuff.”

“What time’s this goin on?”

“Tomorrow night round six or so.”

“Man, she good at this actin stuff?”

“She is.” He smiled. “She’s a real good actress.”

“Thas what you say. How bout everyone else?”

“I don know.”

“Well shit, if I had me a girl who could act real good I’d be there all the time braggin about it to the whole damn world.” He finished his beer and chucked it at the trashcan. It bounced off the rim and dinged on the porch. “Aw fuck. Sorry bout that.”

Jake shrugged. “It ain’t nothin. Les see if I’m any better.”

He chugged the rest and his shot made it dead center.

“How about that? You ain’t changed a bit.”

“I reckon skill don’t change.”

“Oh man.” He grinned and stood. “You thinkin about goin out for varsity too?”

“From what I can tell they need all the help they can get.”

“Yeah, they sure do. Well Jake, I’ll be headin on now.”

“Okay.”

He lumbered to the door. The boards creaked and Jake watched his boots stomp. Then stop.

“One more thing for I go though. The jacket.”

Jake put his feet up on the cooler and watched the horizon. “No, we ain’t goin through this again.”

“Look, all I’m sayin is you might not wanna be wearin somethin like that. It might getcha into trouble. Thas all I’m sayin.”

“It ain’t no worry.”

“I’m jus sayin.”

“I just wear it around here’s all.” He pushed off the cooler and reached for another beer. “Ain’t no harm in whatcha do in the privacy of your own home.”

“Nope there ain’t neither.”

“When what I do on my own time on my own property becomes the world’s business then yeah, by all means I’ll take it off. But as long as I’m here in my own house on my own property then no, I ain’t takin nothin off.”

“Yeah, you got a point there Jake. I’ll prolly see ya tomorrow.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

Jake grabbed another beer and squeezed it. Cold water ran over his fingers. Little separate foam rivers to creeks to drybeds and off the edge, stinging and numbing his hand. He held it there until it warmed and sat watching the horizon. The familiar land and the unfamiliar one, and when you were away from the familiar one it stayed familiar in dreams but otherwise turned unfamiliar and that was all you had in this world. He had seen enough of both in his life to know what each one meant, and out of it all he preferred the familiar one. Though to be fair, none had treated him too well.

He drank half the beer and threw it away. He backed into the house, watching the porch creak under him and when he collided with the door he punched it and swung it open and slammed it shut. He went to his room, undressed and went to bed.

Book Passage of the Week – from The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Lately, I’ve been spending less time on social media and more time reading and writing. I know I’m missing bouts of fashionable outrage and status signaling, and you know what? I don’t care. You can have it, and you can keep it.

I have read Steven Pressfield’s magnificent The War of Art so many times that I can quote most of it offhand. As I finish City of Mirrors and prepare to start Swimming in Hong Kong, this particular quote kept popping up in my head. I hope you enjoy it, and do check out The War of Art. Mr. Pressfield also runs a blog, Writing WednesdaysIf nothing else, read Find What You Love and Let It Kill You and Collectively-Enforced Mediocrity. You’re welcome.

On to the quote:

In my little house I had no TV. I never read a newspaper or went to a movie. I just worked. One afternoon I was banging away in the little bedroom I had converted to an office, when I heard my neighbor’s radio playing outside. Someone in a loud voice was declaiming “…to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” I came out. What’s going on? “Didn’t you hear? Nixon’s out; they got a new guy in there.”

I had missed Watergate completely.

How’s that for #amwriting?

The Prophet Penis – a review of Arthur Meursault’s ‘Party Members’ (spoilers)

A repost. Find the original on Medium.

When you’re a dick you can do anything — that’s the only way to success!

When you’re a dick you can do anything — that’s the only way to success!

 

There is a scene close to the end of Party Members in which Yang Wei is confronted by his lackey, Pangpang. Pangpang has evidence which could doom Yang Wei’s ambitions: an audio recording of the night Yang Wei and his mistress ran over the daughter of migrant workers. Seeing that the little girl was still alive, Yang Wei backed over her to make sure she was dead.

I thought that perhaps Pangpang has some noble motive. Does he want justice for the girl Shanshan, whose grieving parents were railroaded for non-existent crimes and whose money was embezzled by Yang Wei — harmonizing at its finest — or perhaps he wants to send a message to the other officials, that they aren’t above the law?

No:

“Do you think this is about something else?” asked Pangpang, confidence beginning to emerge on his face. “I don’t know why you started talking about justice and changing things. I don’t care for any of that. I don’t care about that stupid girl who died — if her parents were so stupid as to allow her to play on the road then they deserve to have their daughter smashed up. I just want my fair share of all that money you’ve made for yourself over the last few months.”

Yang Wei promptly clubs Pangpang to death with his giant, talking penis.


Party Members follows Yang Wei has he moves from low-level desk jockey to powerful city official in the nameless and drab Ministry, fucking anyone who stands in his way. He appropriates funds intended for earthquake victims, netting him the favor of Director Liang, the monstrously overweight head official.

The trigger for Yang Wei’s journey is his co-worker, Little Qi. After a dinner where Little Qi shows off his wealth, Yang Wei’s penis decides enough is enough: it comes to life, guiding him to the top.

Along the way, Yang Wei acquires all the status symbols of a powerful official: an iPhone-addicted mistress, a black Audi, a Louis Vuitton bag (for storing his growing, sentient penis) and most importantly, a taste for KFC.

Keenly aware of what it takes to succeed in Chinese officialdom, the penis encourages Yang Wei to eat more KFC. We’re introduced to the bucket of KFC chicken by seeing a child defecate in one, where the penis teaches Yang Wei his first lesson. KFC continues to turn up throughout the book and its significance cannot be understated. To get rich is glorious; to consume fried chicken is erotic:

Grabbing the chicken, Yang Wei tore the flesh open with his fingernails, soiling the inside of his nails with breadcrumbs and fat. He brought the chicken up to his mouth, his tongue flicked in and out of the meat as he used his tongue and teeth to widen the hole he had made. Once done, he rammed the remaining shreds back down into the man-bag, the hot meat pocket fully encasing the head of his salivating cock.


Shortly before Yang Wei’s metamorphosis into a penis, he visits a prostitute. Among the choking smog, he sees the words EAT PEOPLE on a sign for a hair salon. The words change to FUCK PEOPLE.

Lu Xun used EAT PEOPLE as reference to the cannibalistic nature of Chinese society. Updated to the twenty-first century and the continued glory of getting rich (and eating KFC), Meursault puts a modern twist on Lu Xun’s critique. Simply put, the elite no longer eat people. They fuck people, and to paraphrase George Carlin: when you’re fucking people you have to keep fucking them until they’re all dead.

The strong devour the weak, and Yang Wei’s penis ends up devouring him, walking upright and transforming Yang Wei into a flaccid, helpless penis. The book ends with a test designed to weed out the final stragglers: the sodomy of Little Qi, told from Yang Wei’s perspective. And when I say Yang Wei’s perspective, remember that at this point Yang Wei is the penis and the penis is walking upright. We are spared no detail, of course, and as I was reading a near first person description of someone else’s bleeding anus, I thought, an editor gave this his blessing. Or, he told Meursault to crank it up to eleven. Either way, the scene made me uncomfortable and that’s the whole point.

We finish Party Members understanding that the penis will continue its rise through the ranks without its due comeuppance, and this takes us back to the penis’s first lesson, given after Yang Wei sees the child defecate in a bucket of KFC:

That no matter what you do, no matter how badly you behave, even if you are literally turning everything you touch into shit — nobody will stop you. Be careful of those with more power than you; but in regards to everything else, you should treat the world like a leftover bucket of KFC. Just shit all over it.


I once worked with a man who proclaimed that God had sent him to China. Prone to long soliloquies on how China would soon overtake the West, he dismissed the Great Firewall as a Western myth while simultaneously defending the blocking of Facebook. He bragged about his powerful Chinese connections and frequently promised the people he liked that he could keep them “safe” come contract renewal time. Once he was too old and the school no longer felt like lying about his age to secure his residence permit, he had no choice but to return to America, where he published a glowing book about China through a vanity press. Party Members is a sharp critique of a nation that takes itself too seriously, and I wish I could force him to read it.

Preferably with a bucket of KFC.

Party Members is available on Amazon. Check out Arthur Meusault’s blog too.

Read my other book reviews here.


Quotes from Party Members:

Originality, creativity, self-reflection, and all the other useless qualities unnecessary to China’s relentless growth had been expunged to create a reliable army of the unreliable. Any morsels of these vices that may have sat nascent within the young Yang Wei had been successfully harmonised out of his system.

As long as there was always somebody unimportant around to clear up the mess, everybody would just concentrate on their own affairs out of fear of attracting attention to themselves and losing the little empires they had struggled so hard to accumulate.

They had never existed, and any memory of them was soon replaced with the intricate details of who a certain Shanghai actress was dating and the fact that a new season of China’s Got Talent had been approved. Shanshan’s life was as short, fleeting, and unimportant as that of the butterfly that had led to her death.

These days all of the old gods were dead, buried beneath decades of Mao’s destruction and forgotten by the unstoppable march of modernity. Only the God of Wealth remained, grown fat by the offerings and prayers for sports cars, designer clothes, and the latest mobile phones.

Book Passage of the Week (12/10/2016) – from The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

A slow, rewarding read…

Still, today it is water who is the stranger here. Water is the exile, carried back in cans and flasks, the ghost between your hands and your mouth.

In the street of imported parrots in Cairo one is hectored by almost articulate birds. The birds bark and whistle in rows, like a plumed avenue. I knew which tribe had travelled which silk or camel road carrying them in their petite palanquins across the deserts. Forty-day journeys, after the birds were caught by slaves or picked like flowers in equatorial gardens and then placed in bamboo cages to enter the river that is trade. They appeared like brides in a mediaeval courtship.

When someone speaks he looks at a mouth, not eyes or their colours, which, it seems to him will always alter depending on the light of a room, the minute of the day. Mouths reveal insecurity or smugness or any other point on the spectrum of character.

Book Passage of the Week (11/20/2016) – from The 50th Law

From The 50th Law, by Robert Greene and 50 Cent:

You do not wait for things to get better—you seize this chance to prove yourself. Mentally framing a negative event as a blessing in disguise makes it easier for you to move forward. It is a kind of mental alchemy, transforming shit into sugar.

 

No matter how much money or resources you have accumulated, someone will try to take them from you, or unexpected changes in the world will push you backward. These are not adverse circumstances but merely life as it is.

 

What you must do instead is accept the fact that all events occur for a reason, and that it is within your capacity to see this reason as positive. Marcus Aurelius compared this to a fire that consumes everything in its path—all circumstances become consumed in your mental heat and converted into opportunities. A man or woman who believes this cannot be hurt by anything or anyone.

If you buy the book (and I recommend it, because it’s great), then go for the paperback. Not only is it easier to make notes, but did you see the Kindle price? $14.99? Do they secretly want people NOT to buy the ebook?