Thursday, December 29, 2011

MATTERHORN the book / SURFING VIETNAM the book

I just completed listening to the audiobook version of Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, having read the book about a year ago. This book's massive success puts to lie the little cartoon above. Yet, in a way, it is the exception that proves the rule. Matterhorn is more like going on deployment than reading a novel.  It is unrelentingly brutal but not even a pale shadow of the real brutality that was the Vietnam War--"my" war.


In response to several of Marlantes' observations, observations I myself have remarked on at times in my ravings to friends, I was moved to put out a second edition of my book, Surfing Vietnam. In this second edition, I wanted to underscore the fact that a real war was occurring half a world away, as my protagonist wanders through an America sickened and subverted by the lies and brutality the political war was spawning at home.


In order to heighten the reader's awareness of the real war, in addition to including seven military-style obituaries at the ends of chapters for male characters appearing in those chapters, that I put in at the last minute in the first edition, I began each chapter in this second edition with a pithy quote about war. Tofurther underscore the fact of the "real" war, I wrote an epilogue in which my protagonist describes a meeting in Paris with a highly decorated Marine Captain in Paris in 1975 who bears an eerie resemblance to the protagonist in Matterhorn and to Marlantes himself.

In the Epilogue, the Marlantes figure reiterates some of the observations he makes in his book. He exposits through one of his characters that there is nothing to steal in Vietnam. All wars are probably immoral, but some are also illogical. It is sane and rational to steal another country's wealth, land, gold or oil--not moral, but logical. Vietnam was neither moral nor logical. The double whammy of lunacy inherent in such a war and the government's attempts through intimidation, lies, and betrayal to rationalize and justify the lunacy were the seeds planted during the Vietnam War that are bearing fruit now in a country that is enslaving its own citizens, throwing out Constitutional Law, English Common Law and all decency in the name of fighting the so-called "war on terror" and preserving corporate interests.

I never set out to write Surfing Vietnam as a political polemic, but rather a worm's eye view of a society enmeshing itself in the lies and betrayals necessary to conduct such a lunatic war. Fighting a war in the jungle was not protecting NewYork from a communist take-over. The little brown men who fought like tigers and died like flies were not fighting for Marx or Lenin, but for a homeland that housed their ancestors and families and provided their livelihoods. One week in the jungle in combat would have persuaded Kennedy and Johnson,  Kissinger and McNamera  that the "principles" they were fighting for were just a load of bullshit Sophistry.

I would hope that some young people read Matterhorn and Surfing Vietnam. I pray they are not all as vapid as the young lady in the cartoon at the head of this blog post.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

THE MOST PRECIOUS GIFT

This blog was originally written as a letter to KLP on Christmas Morning 2012. 

It is Christmas morning and I am free this one special day from the terrors of lifting weights before dawn and can write at some length and drink a second coffee. I am alone, of course, and that is not the sad state it is for some people. I am not a "Christmas person" and haven't been since I was a little kid. I will not be one of those old folks who dies at Christmas because the sadness of being alone is just too much weight to bear on top of a chronic illness and the decrepitude of age. I will go when I go-I hope after a bout of rousing sex.

I have not written a blog for some time---too busy with other writing projects.  I have the time today to do one, but not a thought in my head, so I will follow the advice I gave you about writing and will write as though writing to just one person, in this case, you, and hope something comes.

I have no memories of Christmas morning as a child and getting that "one wonderful present". I have no memories that appear as cute little movies that I can relive in this blog, scene by scene in a sepia haze of nostalgia. I do have vivid memories of the Christmas tree itself, but not specific memories of it on Christmas morning. I think the Christmas tree memories are cross referenced to the smell of the tree in my brain and so remain fresh. The BB gun or bike I got at Christmas had no distinctive smell and so is lost as a memory capable of vivid retelling. I am sure I squealed with delight getting them, but I can not remember doing so. I would be lying, if I wrote about that.

I do have some adult recollections that may be worthy of a blog post, since I have no childhood memories of any note. When I was 22 and married to Myrna (the magically gifted artist who became seriously ill and "died") I was alone for the early part of Christmas day. I had come back to London alone from our experiment in living in Nova Scotia, my not having found any paying work there in six months. I found work in London within days of my return in early December, in a retail camera store and was living in a boarding house a few blocks from the store. 

Myrna was scheduled to follow me back to London on a a train scheduled to arrive on Christmas morning. She did arrive as scheduled and trudged through the snow from the train station to the boarding house, arriving at my room after noon,  covered in wet snow, with one suitcase and a big smile. What went on after that I will leave to the imagination, but it will not take much imagination, I am sure. I remember remarking, "This is the best Christmas present I ever got."  And it was. Poor as we were, we could afford no material gifts for each other, but we gave each other each other. We gave each other love. 

To this day, I believe I have never had a Christmas gift as sweet. I know it will sound cliched to say that the spirit of Christmas is not about the money you spend, but about what you give of yourself to those around you. And not on any particular day, but everyday…

We are social animals programmed to live in community, and aside from our own selves, all we have is each other. Christmas day is  more rewarding if we make it about rededicating ourselves to living in harmony with the other souls on this common human journey. And about remembering what has brought us joy in the past and trying to bring that same joy to the mates we sail with (so frighteningly briefly) on life raft earth.

James Hockings 2012



Friday, December 16, 2011

NO FINISH LINE ?

I began the third (fourth? fifth?) final version of my first and most serious novel, Surfing Vietnam yeaterday. After I complete this update, I am sure that this will be the final one. Nah, not really all that sure...

I was sure the other five times too. Sure...

The book keeps getting better, in the sense that it makes more sense each time I rewrite—is more an integrated piece. What started out as one short story that morphed into three short stories and then a series of linked short stories and finally a chronologically organized episodic novel, has always needed stitching and restitching to make it hang together. Finally, it seems I have found the super glue plot device to make it a real novel, and it is not all that hard a job applying the glue. The foundation or primer needed to make the glue stick was already there waiting. I did not realize the foundation was there until I started looking for it, tube of glue in hand.

I write intuitively, which means I am a neophyte using a euphemism for my own incompetence. I imagine all “real” novelists are plodders and planners—making outline after outline and lists of characters and plot points and story arcs. Sheeit... I do my writing using spit and duct tape and ignorance. And that works up to a point. There is a certain brash freshness to it that the old hacks lack, but it is far from efficient.

But how and when do I know when to stop writing it? This coming Sunday will be three years since I began this book. I want to have the rewrite done by then. It seems fitting to end on an anniversary date.

But...

Will I be writing about a Surfing Vietnam rewrite next year at this time. Stay tuned...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

THE LAST REMAINING CHRISTMAS GIFT--a personal story in sepia tones

This post was originally written in the form of a letter and I will leave it in its original form except for the signature.


Dear Karen,

It is cold and clear here as I write in the pre-dawn. Rascal-the-dog came into my bedroom at 06:00 and threw up loudly, waking me. I went back to sleep for a while, but awakened, after a few snores in the stilldark, thinking about Christmas.

It is real winter here, not just chilly late fall nonsense. The heavy snow has yet to arrive, but there is a dusting on the ground. The weather is frankly December-cold and not just November-testing.

Triggered by the snow and cold, unbidden but not completely unwelcome, I feel Christmas coming in my mind, even more quickly than it is coming on the calendar. Christmas, much against my atheistic will, finds a special place in my memory. I did not have a bad childhood, mostly, despite what you and my analyst think, and I do remember some fine fine Christmases--Christmases rivaling those served up by Dickens and even 1950's Coca Cola ads. They are all in my memory now, washed clean of all anxiety and negativity in the river of time. And decorated like a Christmas tree with adornments of pure goodness and magical light... Human memory is such a fickle and imprecise device, serving up what the psyche needs most at a given time and withholding unnecessary complications. So it is with my memories of Christmas.

My memories, tinged as they are with wistful sepia emotions, play themselves out as movies in my most visual mind. The movies take place in my childhood living room, with the Christmas tree set like a dazzling green jewel between the two ugly brown neocolonial arm chairs at the north end. Our family always had the best tree in the neighborhood. My father told me so and, as a child, I had no reason to doubt him. He mocked trees decorated by families lacking the fastidiousness necessary to properly dress a naked Fraser Fir, which species my father considered the only "real" Christmas tree, scoffing at people who bought scraggly Scotch Pines. He mocked and scoffed a lot as he decorated the tree every December 19, his birthday, which signaled the beginning of the holiday season for us in those days. Christmas did not begin the day after Hallowe'en, as it does now at Walmart.

His scoffing began where the decorating began, with the hanging of the lights. He scoffed at people who used those fat ugly lights that were rigged in parallel and only went out one at time, instead of the whole string going out as did our series-wired, but more aesthetically pleasing lights. Our series-wired lights were superior not only in that they were more slender , but had a subtly twisted shape, that more closely resembled a real flame and were connected to one another by only one slender green wire and not the two braided wires of the fat ugly parallel-wired light sets. He individually clipped each light bulb to the end of a branch in a perfectly upright position. "You never saw a candle flame burning sideways; did you?" and each strand of tinsel, which was made of a toxic blend of lead and tin, and which we carefully saved from year to year in a bid to economize, had to hang freely from a single branch and not touch a lower branch. "You never saw an icicle hang sideways; did you?" And two red balls or two green balls never hung thoughtlessly next to each other on our tree My father distributed the colors and sizes in a seemingly random, but archly conceived, pattern.

My mother and I were not excluded from the decorating process, but we did not hold design credentials that sufficiently impressed my fastidious father. Our initial role was to do exactly what he told us to do, until the telling become harder than the doing for my father, and my father gently banished us to the sofa to watch in guilty exile as he did the rest of the decorating by himself. It happened every year. We knew we were not worthy to decorate the tree and our just “punishment” was to watch from the sofa, inwardly sighing in relief, as my father performed the intricate solo ballet of gilding the Fraser Fir lilly. 

My father was not a harsh man, nor the least bit selfish. He simply believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well. At the end of his “performance”, he charitably let me hang my two favorite ornaments on the tree all by myself, anywhere I chose. I always hung them low and in the front, so I could lie on my stomach with my head in my hands propped on my elbows and gaze at them endlessly as they reflected the macrocosm of the magical tree in the shiny microcosms of their polished surfaces. I believe it was in gazing at these ornaments as a child that I got my first glimpse of the aeternal.

I can only remember two material presents I received at Christmas as a child, and they are long gone from the inventory of things I now possess. Even the memory of those two particular things I do still remember no longer enchants me. The real Christmas gift, I now realize and the one I will always remember is my father's gift to me, given in his execution of his tree decorating ethic and how his honoring that ethic so faithfully and well taught me to respect the work I do and to do only work I respect. That gift will still be with me this year and will be with me on my last Christmas on this earth—truly a gift of the eternal.


May each and every one of you have had the fortune to have received a lasting gift from one of your Christmases past or may you be  in line to get one this year.  Better yet, give this kind of lasting gift to someone you love.


Faithfully,


Jim Hockings





Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TAKING RESPONSIBILITY--CORNER OF HOLLYWOOD AND VINE

There was a time when I thought I might get rich writing.  Later, I thought I might earn a living at it. Later still, I imagined my writing would be a good supplement to my income. Now, as a bleak and rainy autumn turns into bleak and snowy winter here in rural Canada, I think I might go broke supporting my writing habit.

It doesn't matter. No, it really doesn't.

I will not go broke because some idiot agent refused to rep me or some idiot editor refused to publish me or some idiot marketing manager refused to put any money behind marketing my book.  I will go broke because I have TRIED my best--in writing, editing, and most of all in marketing--wrasslin' with the enemy of all new authors: anonymity. (I can't find the key on my Mac to put devil horns over a word.)

I am DOING something about my fate.  I am not moping around my studio waiting for an e mail or the phone to ring.  I am learning new sales tactics and marketing strategies every day. There is a community of new or newish e-book authors out there in the electronic world who are willing to share hints and tips on blogs every day of the week. There is always something new to learn. Fighting is a far better way to die than withering away waiting.

Being powerless is my greatest fear. Being powerless in prison or  a hospital or nursing home, is my greatest fear, aside from being in intractable pain. Not having any (or much) say in my future success as a writer is not a path I could long tread. Paper publishing is that path of powerlessness.

E-publishing is the path of power, if perhaps, in the end, just as risky and unrewarding as paper publishing. No matter...  I get fresh hope with every strategy I try--every author blog I read.  And e books and audiobooks just sit there for years in cyberspace, waiting to be discovered. It is like a young actress being able to stand at Hollywood and Vine in front  of Schwab's Drug Store 24/7 for years on end, waiting for the apocryphal Hollywood director to come along and cast her as a star.

"Golly gee! I hope the seams in my stockings are straight when he comes along."

Friday, December 2, 2011

THE AUTHOR'S VOICE--KISSING YOUR SISTER


The phrase “the author’s voice” is often used in litcrit. It is an abstract concept, not lacking in validity or usefulness. “The author’s voice” as the subject of this musing, describes the literal voice of the author not the author’s literary voice.

Since my last blog entry a week ago, I have been involved in a project to record my written words as podcasts and audiobooks. Some time ago, I built a 100-dollar studio, which, for all of its cheapness, is totally acoustically dead. I bought a USB microphone for a hundred and a half and it is a magical device indeed—totally accurate and marvelously versatile. Combined with some studio-grade headphones I have had for years and my own truly sexy and expressive voice running my output through Garage Band on the Mac, I thought I had the project licked.

Weeeeeellll… no… Not exactly licked. The first book I am attempting to record has three main character voices and the narrator voice and six minor characters. It seems I have to keep them all straight in my mind or risk confusing the listener. “Is it the narrator speaking now or the Max character?” Sometimes they sound too much alike. Why do my female characters sound like transvestites and not real women?  Why do some of my men sound Southern and some not? Am I overdoing or under doing my black characters’ speech characteristics?

Throw in some coughs, swallows, snorts and pops and despite my wondrous voice and perfect recording set-up, the thing sounds amateurish. Combine that with the problem of my not yet being able to play GarageBand like an organ—the intuitive way I play Photoshop and Word—and I am stuck recording 5 minutes for every finished minute I am going to be able to send off to the pro sound editors who will polish and cut the work for podcasting.

Learning new skills at a certain age is… well… sort of like kissing your sister.