Top Ten Tuesday – Authors I “Can’t Believe I’ve Met”

 

IMG_5998Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme sponsored by the good folks over at The Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s assignment: “Top Ten Authors I’m Dying To Meet/Ten Authors I Can’t Believe I’ve Met (some other “meeting authors” type spin you want to do)” Okay, so I went with “can’t believe I’ve met” but it’s really my Top Ten Authors I’ve enjoyed meeting the most. Here goes, in ascending order:

10. Marlon James – Met him briefly just a couple months ago when he was a guest at (local) Butler University. My book club ‘targeted’ his award-winning book “A Brief History of Seven Killings” specifically with the idea of going to see him en masse when he visited here – a plan which we executed to near perfection. He seemed genuinely thrilled that “a whole book club” came to the event together and asked us what other books we’d been reading, etc. I was also intrigued to learn during his talk & reading that a series of stories he’s working on now has been touted as “A Black Game of Thrones” with potential television development, etc.  I will look forward to that.

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9. Mike Mullin – A local YA author, most famous for his “Ashfall” series. I met him at Bookmama’s Bookstore (in my old Irvington Neighborhood on Indy’s East Side) Where he gave a great presentation and reading (see post about it here). I’ve also recommended the first book of that series for one of my current book clubs, which now plans to read it in October, and we will see if we can tempt him to join us for that meeting…

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8. Francesca Zappia – Another local author, who wrote the very well-received YA novel “Made You Up,” which I read after it being recommended to me by my nephew who went to high school with her but “didn’t really know her.”  She attended a book club meeting (also at Bookmama’s) that I went to and I was very impressed with her, both as a speaker and a “thinker.”

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7. Ben Winters – Writer of “The Last Policeman” series, who also lived briefly in the Indianapolis area before moving on to L.A.  I attended the book launch of the third novel of his series (which I blogged about here), and one of my current book clubs also read his newest novel “Underground Airlines.”

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6. Malinda Lo – She was a guest at The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library a couple years back, so I went to hear her speak and was impressed enough to buy her book “Ash” – a “lesbian version of Cinderella” which I enjoyed, though I never blogged about. (I could’ve sworn I did, but a search turned up nothing – maybe it was another one of those ‘started but never finished’ blog posts I’m famous for…)

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5. Dan Wakefield – A local literary treasure who’s attended a few meetings of the Vonnegut Library book club and who I’ve also seen at other public events at Indy Reads Books bookstore. His novel “Under the Apple Tree” was one of the favorites that I read last year.

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4. Tim O’Brien – Author of the very famous “The Things They Carried,” which I have read several times now, once for myself, and later re-reading for a couple book clubs over the years. He has been the guest of the Vonnegut Library here in town a couple times, one of which I described in this blog post from last year.

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3. Ian Woollen – He ranks high on this list both on the strength of his novel “Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb” and because he graciously drove up from Bloomington to join one of my book club’s meetings (for the same book) last August at The Rathskeller restaurant downtown.  He and his book were a big hit with the book club, and he also had some kind things to say about us being “the best” group of the many meetings he’s gone to. I had also met him at a Vonnegut Library book club meeting and yet another one at Bookmama’s Bookstore.

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2. Jon Eller – Jon is the seemingly tireless director of The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies here at IUPUI Indianapolis (please check out and like or follow their Facebook page!) and author of a three volume biography of that author. I initially meet him through the Vonnegut Library and later, when my short story reading group at work read Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder,” invited him to join us for that meeting. He and his wife did, and they’ve been regular members of our club ever since, adding much literary erudition to our group.

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1. James Alexander Thom – I’ll put him at the top not because he is the best-selling author of all of these (though he is), but because of his graciousness at several book events I’ve met him at. He was also very nice to my Mom (Yes, the main reason he’s number 1 on this list!), who has read most of his books, especially “Follow the River” which is set partly in her home “New River Valley” of West Virginia. It was also once my pleasure to be the moderator at the Vonnegut Library Book Club’s discussion of Thom’s novel “Long Knife,” a fictionalized biography of William Clark, and before I knew it the library told me he was going to show up for our meeting(!)  No, that wasn’t intimidating at all. 🙂 Picture below from the author’s website.

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Most of these meetings have been facilitated through local bookstores or libraries (big thanks to Bookmama’s Bookstore, The Vonnegut Library, and Indy Reads Books, just to name a few) I have a lot of honorable mentions for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday too, many of them local: Robert Rebein, Roxane Gay,  Hanna Yanagihara, Bill Polian(!), Kevin Getchell, Greg Sumner, and Rick Gunderman.

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Tradition and the Individual Talent – an essay by T.S. Eliot – selection #13 of Deal Me In 2017

 

The Card: ♠3♠ of Spades (image at left found here)

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”

The Selection: “Tradition and the Individual Talent” from my hard copy of The Best American Essays of the Century (edited by Joyce Carol Oates). Originally published in The Egoist in 1919.

The Author: T.S. Eliot – You may have heard of him. 🙂 He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, and one of his best known works is 1922’s “The Wasteland” – one of the “best known poems in the English language” according to Wikipedia.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Tradition and the Individual Talent

“Some one said: ‘The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.’ Precisely, and they are what we know.”

I have to say that this reading was one of the most challenging I’ve ever done for Deal Me In over the years. I guess it serves me right for including some essays this time, doesn’t it? Nonetheless, I pressed on and spent about forty-five minutes reading the mere nine pages this essay contained. Even the author himself seemed to recognize the difficulty of his subject – roughly the poet’s place in the literary tradition and his relationship to the past. At one point he even says, “To proceed to a more intelligible exposition…” which I found a remarkable thing for an essayist to “admit.” Near the end of the essay he begins a paragraph with “The point of view which I am struggling to attack…” if the writer himself is struggling, what may be expected of a poor reader like me?

One part of the essay I did find myself connecting with, however, was when Eliot employs an analogy from Chemistry, that of the concept of a catalyst, specifically, the reaction when platinum is introduced into a chamber that contains oxygen and sulphuric dioxide:

“When the two gasses are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.”

Eliot’s chemical analogies continued, including: “The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.”

That’s all I got. I’ll leave you with that. What has been your most challenging read of Deal and In – this year or any year?

Next up: A Deal Me In quarterly report and the Deal Me In Challenge’s first-ever giveaway! Stay tuned.

“La Pulchra Nota” by Molly McNett – selection #12 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: ♠9♠ of Spades (image at left found here).
The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Spades is the domain of Clotho, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that are.”
The Selection: “La Pulchra Nota” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in issue 78 of the “Image” journal. I also just realized I own this story in two places, as it is included in the 2014 edition of Best American Short Stories. Read it online here.

The Author: Molly McNett– She says she wanted to write a story about a music teacher and student, but didn’t want it to come out sounding like “Glee,” and her solution was to set the story in another time and place. Read more about her and this story at http://northernpublicradio.org/post/niu-author-best-american-writer (where the picture above may also be found)

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked! Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

La Pulchra Nota

La Pulchra Nota is the moment of beauty absolute, but what follows – a pause, however small – is the realization of its passing. Perhaps no perfection is without this silent realization.”

Okay. Full disclosure. This story is my new leader for favorite Deal Me In story of 2017. I am rarely truly moved emotionally by a story and rarer still moved in multiple directions, e.g., from extreme empathy, to clear disgust, and back again, as I was in this story. I also did my traditional “drive by” online research of the story after reading, and was quite pleased to learn some of the details of its origins. (I also note with interest that, as Easter approaches, Deal Me In has dealt me up two stories in a row with a “religious” element…)

The story is the first person narration of John Fuller, who lives in the late Middle Ages – the late fourteenth century to be exact. It is a time when human life remains hard and mere survival – and accompanying happiness – likely involves healthy amounts of both faith and luck. Fuller, for example, is the youngest of twelve children of which only five survived childhood. The other seven being “called back to the fold” by the Lord.

Though Fuller lets us know that though, at the time of his narration, he “no longer has the use of his hands” and his pain “is not inconsiderable,” and that he was born with a deformity of one eye, he initially enjoyed at least some good fortune, including a fortunate marriage to a nine-years older woman, Katherine. He and his wife are “blessed” with twins, though apparently in the Middle Ages many believed that twins “must be sired by two fathers” (something I was unaware of or have forgotten) and she faced condemnation as a harlot by many.

Fuller reveals that “divine providence was pleased to take the life of our dear twins two days apart from each other” – victims of a fever that the narrator himself contracts but survives. Though he notes that “every devout man knows the great mercy He shows us in taking a child out of the world” his wife never recovers from the loss, leaving him in – to the modern eye – a hellish existence with a half-mad wife, who goes on a sort of medieval hunger strike to coerce him into going to see the “anchoress” as a solution to their grief: “John, I have given you sorrow. But the Lord has a remedy. We must go to the anchoress, declare celibacy, and I will again wear white.” John, hardly surprisingly, resists this request.

In the meantime, he continues to follow his vocation as a music teacher, which includes instruction of new young student, Olivia, who has talent far beyond what he normally sees among his pupils. Indeed, his regular lessons with this particular student serve as a kind of lifeline for some scant happiness in his life. He feels she may be capable of achieving the titular “La Pulchra Nota,” the existence of which he reveals to her then quickly regrets. “…your voice at times comes close to a moment of perfection – what Jerome has called la pulchra nota. Let us begin to listen for it. Mostly it appears with no strain whatsoever. But be attentive, for when such a note comes, if you know it, you may ever after use its sound to guide you.” He fears he may have given her false hopes, yet later, in a subsequent lesson, she does achieve la pulchra nota and knows it. This has serious consequences for both teacher and pupil…

I’ve “spoiled” the story enough already, but if you should like to read it, it’s available online at https://www.imagejournal.org/article/la-pulchra-nota/

(I don’t know if the “Jerome” referenced in the story is St. Jerome, but I though it was a safe enough assumption to include a picture of a famous painting 🙂 )

“Winter Elders” by Shawn Vestal – selection #11 of Deal Me In 2017

The Card: 10♦ of Diamonds (image at left found here.

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me In, the suit of Diamonds is the domain of Lachesis, one of the Fates from Greek Mythology who, according to Plato’s Republic sings of “things that were.”

The Selection: “Winter Elders” from my hard copy of Pushcart Prize Winners anthology XXXIX “Best of the Small Presses.” Originally published in Ecotone magazine #15

The Author: Shawn Vestal – who grew up in Idaho, but is now a columnist and reporter for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington. See his info on Goodreads.com here.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

Winter Elders

“He noticed he didn’t feel surprised. He hadn’t expected this, but now that he was in the middle of it, it didn’t feel unexpected.”

Our protagonist is Mr. Bradshaw. A new father, a former member of the Mormon Church, and a man who had expected to have “found his place” in the world by now, but is concerned because he still hasn’t. The story opens with him being visited by two young missionaries of the church, still hopeful of drawing him back into the fold. They tell him they’re just checking in to “see if there’s anything we can do for you.” He gruffly suggests that they could rake his yard, and when they’re done with that, clean out his gutters. Their undaunted reply: “Don’t think we won’t.”

Bradshaw’ wife Cheryl, once his “partner in cynicism” has changed now, since the baby had been born, and was “always serious” now. She has no patience for the missionaries who, throughout the story, exhibit a dogged persistence in their attempts to reclaim “Brother Bradshaw.”

A health crisis for the couple’s baby precipitates an angry driveway confrontation between Bradshaw and the more vocal of the two elders, which sets up the passage quoted above.

I enjoyed the story and felt it deftly described the inner struggles of a young father who has yet to truly come of age. There was a lot of great writing too, e.g. describing the missionary “…there was something stubborn in him and, deeper, the sense that he was proud of his stubbornness.” And once, during a theological argument with the elder, Bradshaw becomes frustrated and angry and “…a gate unlocked inside him. The beasts trampled out.”

I hadn’t read this author before, but certainly would be happy to again.

Did YOU read any good short stories this week?

(below: great cover of  the issue (15) of Ecotone Magazine that includes this story. Buy one at https://ecotonemagazine.org/issue-15/ )

“The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” by George Alec Effinger – selection #10 of Deal Me In 2017


The Card: ♥8♥ Eight of Hearts

The Suit: For my version of Deal Me IN, this year, Hearts is the domain of Atropos, one of the “Fates” from Classical Greek Mythology who “sang of things that are yet to be” i.e., things in the future – the setting for this story. Atropos is also frequently represented as holding a pair of scissors with which she snips the thread of life which is spun by her two sisters, Clotho and Lachesis.

The Selection: “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything” from my e-copy of the anthology The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2, from which I am taking several stories for this year’s Deal Me In.

The Author: George Alec Effinger (pictured at left, from Goodreads.com), author of the novel What Entropy Means to Me and a series known as the “Marid Audran” books. As the intro in my anthology says, “Much of his writing is marked by his strong sense of humor, which is in full flower in “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything.”

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details maybe found here, but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants read one story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for a list of the stories/essays I’ll be reading in 2017.

The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything

“Mother ship?” I asked. “You haven’t seen it? It’s tethered on the Mall. They’re real sorry about what they did to the Washington Monument.”

After finishing this story, and looking back at my Deal Me In reading over the years, it struck me how few stories I’ve read that could truly be considered humorous. This story made up for a lot of lost time in that regard!  When I picked the story as part of my 2017 DMI reading plans, though, I knew nothing about it (there I go, picking based on a title again).

The story documents a visit to a future earth (Washington D.C. in particular) by extra terrestrials. Maybe I should say a return visit, as they had come once before, during the Eisenhower administration. The “Nuhp” – as the aliens were called – came this second time expecting the earthlings to be prepared for their visit, but they weren’t. The story the aliens were told in the ’50s was that making their presence known to an unprepared public would be disastrous.

This story is also unique, at least in my experience, in that it’s first person narrator is the President of the United States. (This was a president I wasn’t that impressed with, though.) He seems lost without his advisers, and doesn’t seem to thrilled with any responsibility that falls to him. At one point the Narrator President inquires of his aide if the aliens disclosed anything about their prior meeting with Eisenhower (which the Narrator-President was unaware of) and is told that the alien’s leader “says all they discussed with Mr. Eisenhower was his golf game. They helped correct his putting stroke.”

It soon becomes evident that these aliens, though more or less benevolent, are insufferable in their sharing of opinions about things, especially when it comes to the quality of things. Early on, they comment that though Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is beautiful, it is “certainly not his best work” (in their opinion it his his Piano Conecerto No. 5 in  E-flat major).  This is according to “very rigorous and definite critical principals” naturally. While the Narrator-President is wondering “what could this Nuhp know of what Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony aroused in our human souls?” the Nuhp adds that even the Piano Concerto is not the best human musical composition (that honor apparently goes to the score from the motion picture Ben-Hur, by Miklos Rozsa(!) A good choice,I agree, but the best EVER?


The Nuhp soon immigrate to Earth in huge numbers, and quickly everyone grows fatigued by their opinions on everything.* The punchline (I guess you could call it that) of the story is that earth people begin to emigrate themselves, to other splendid worlds that the Nuhp have made them aware of, but NOT necessarily because of the attractiveness of those other worlds. Rather, they are mainly just tired of listening to the Nuhp and are fleeing their incessant and officious take on everything. What kind of places did they emigrate to? “These planets had one thing in common: they were all populated by charming, warm, intelligent, humanlike people who had left their own home worlds after being discovered by the Nuhp.”

All in all quite an entertaining story, and one that raised some interesting questions. One interesting passage, too long to quote here, was the story of a human named Barry,who was quite like the Nuhp in terms of being a self professed authority on everything and how everyone knew he was the man to go to if there was a question about something, but that no one did. Because they all hated him. 🙂
Other entries on the Nuhp’s Hall of Fame of Earth #1’s:

Best cuisine: Tex-Mex

Best U.S. president: James K. Polk

Best Movie: Grand Hotel (sorry, Ben-Hur, I guess  your great music wasn’t enough!)

Best Novelist: Alexander Dumas

Best Flowers: Hollyhocks

Best Car: 1956 Chevy Bel Air

Best Color: Powder Blue