Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kirkus review (starred) of THE RETURN

As a rule, I don't read reviews.  The bad ones make me feel worse than the good ones make me feel good, and only reading the good ones feels like a cheat.  That said, this beauty was obviously penned by my late mother, risen from the grave and achieving metempsychosis into the skull of whoever at Kirkus is responsible for the following, so I have to make an exception.  Thanks, Mom!

“Gruber (The Good Son, 2010, etc.) has a gift for seamlessly combining the visceral with the cerebral, without any degradation of quality on either side of the coin. He will have readers ruminating on ideas of identity, history, mortality, family, fate, and the complex and destructive relationship between Mexico and its neighbor El Norte, all while simultaneously thrilling their pants off, which is a rare and wonderful thing. Like Gruber’s other books, this novel puts the work of other thriller writers to shame and raises the quality bar for the genre to a precipitously high level. Thrilling and compulsively readable.”

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Poetry fears

I am so far from a poet that poets frighten me, a little.  What real poets do strikes me as wonderful but risky, which I imagine to be descending to the forge of language, the fertile void, and wreaking language new. I think that to do that you have to expose yourself to something that is not quite of time and space, and there is also the feeling that It is choosing you, It is causing the poetry, not you.  This is why poems can change us.  We recall that poet means maker; this is not a figure of speech with respect to the human mind.

I'm interested in the nature of the It.  We know that poetic talent is a tricky fluid.  It often strikes someone for a brief period and then departs, the number of poets who flamed out young is not small.  And there are all those poets of whom we remember but one poem, or even just a single line.  Very odd, yes?  If it were just a freak of the brain, you would expect it to go on, unless you think poetic genius is a transient biological phenomenon.  That seems a stretch, a particularly egregious example of what Sir John Eccles called "promissory materialism:" we have no idea of how this might work but our faith is strong that we will some day find a simple material explanation.  

Well, maybe.  Meanwhile there is Rimbaud. This provincial lad started writing poems as a teenager and by the time he was 21 he had revolutionized French poetry, indeed had an effect on poetry in general that is hard to overestimate.  At 22, however, he abandoned poetry, joined the Dutch colonial forces, deserted, and spent the last 15 years of his life as a vagabond trader in Africa.  He hated to talk about his time as a poet, never wrote anything else, and in all respects lived a mediocre, if adventurous life.  

This is so difficult to explain.  What was it that flowed through this undistinguished bad boy for half a dozen years and then departed?  The Greeks, of course, thought that poetry, and all creative acts, came via a daemon, and actual being that spoke through the poet.  We are not allowed to believe in such stuff now, but occasionally when I write, I'm aware that, in Pink Floyd's immortal words, there's someone in my head, but it's not me.  A little scary, and I imagine it must be worse for poets.

Friday, April 5, 2013


Finished Chapter 13.   Significant plot creep--or so it seems.   This is when the plot that you should have covered by, say, chapter ten, is still not covered, even though you are now on chapter thirteen, or whatever, but since I am not following an outline I can't worry about this. Still don't know if it's chapter 13 of 20 or of 40.  I have an aesthetic that says that concision is important: Conrad, Hemingway, Forster; latterly Coetzee, Ondaatje.  And I have another that says that plenitude is important--Dickens, Proust, Joyce; latterly Pynchon, DFW.  Pressed, I would say I favor the former, but I always feel pulled toward the latter.  It may be that writing a series of fifteen novels with the same cast of characters does something to one's sense of scale.  Economy goes out the window because you have three, four thousand pages to work with.   Technically, I suppose a thriller series is its own art form, really the degraded little brother of the roman fleuve of Balzac, or even Proust.  It's interesting that some series build up a memory, in that the characters are changed by what happens to them in previous volumes. They recall incidents from them for the reader, and develop in response.  Other series  have protagonists who perform in each book as if the other books did not exist.  My series was the first kind, because while it is boring to write a series, it is not as boring as writing the same book over and over again, which I find hard to imagine.  What makes the big bucks though.

Nevertheless, thinking about going back to Paz country for the next one, but maybe not.  Ideas keep coming, probably more than I will ever be able to write.   This is a dump from one notebook...

Looking Good
Story about PR agent (heroine) retained by Mexican drug lord. He wants to improve his image.
Subplot?  Heroine works for gay shrink who's testifying for kid who caused gay kid's suicide. Unpopular position. Bad PR.  Chance to l
ook at gay/straight-female relationships. She screws up, has to leave town, and the offer from the drug lord is an out.
Her relation to narco lord; attraction, danger.  She gets sucked into the drug world, helping to plan crimes so as to maximize positive public relations; stages formal trials, with rights and lawyers, videos it.  Embarrass government.  Start charitable foundations.
DEA or some malign factor tries to kill her; other drug kingpins want her out too.  Her narco protects her: romance He says she can never leave.
How she gets out is the denouement.
integrate with characters from THE RETURN?

Over the Line

N Korean detective.
Former American POW hires  Korean to kill guards who tortured him in 1950.   Detective working in atmosphere of corruption and extreme oppression.

Funny Kid
Boy, single mom, autistic brother, who drives him crazy, sucks all the energy out of family.  Has girlfriend, hides family situation from her But she finds his house, makes friends with brother, He's enraged, becomes cold, goes thru identity crisis. His obligation to family versus his desire for normal life. How to make into Thriller plot. McGuffin?  Brother knows something, has savant ability, can decipher secret, the usual killers dispatched from malign Entity etc. GF forms relationship with brother. Mystical aspects. Something about autism here, the mystery.   Possible connection with Paz cast or GS characters.

Reality Kills
Philosophy PhD drifts between security jobs different cities. Ontological thrillers. Powers of analysis Sherlockian, naturally, but also understands limits of perception, challenges to moral philosophy in CJ world. Sex life--Is celibate for long periods, interspersed with erotic relationships. Is detached, literally philosophical about everything.  Good series character.

Vacations in Redland
Novel about broken US in near future   Secession war won by right wing south. It forms a Rightist banana republic, corrupt, poor, cheap, exotic, makes its money off tourism.   Rump US like W. Europe,  bureaucratic, safe, rich, dull. Visitor from US to CSA ; her POV.

The Hard Charger
Woman, hard charger marries gentle, sensitive man, gets bored, divorces him.  Ex-husband   meets another hard charger woman, they marry, have child.  The first wife goes crazy, kidnaps kid.   Story--new wife is cop, 1st wife/ 2nd wife, kid-- triplex pov. How they track her down, computer stuff, 1st wife gets her bf to kill husband, foiled by cop.
Use characters from previous books?  Another Paz?

Mr Nosferatu and the Angel
Paz story but with Paz in bg  ;  feature Paz's kid Amelia &  Jane Doe's kid, Luz: who rejects Jane Doe, wants to find real parentage, runs away to Miami @ 17.   Paz still cooking, mother old, restaurant thriving. Paz slightly bored.   Amelia (12) becomes friends with man who claims to be the angel Ithuriel.  Luz in search for her parents enters low life of Miami, falls under sway of a man calling himself, Mr Nosferatu, known to be vampire. Figurative or real?   Murders, bodies drained of blood.  Cops come to Paz etc etc.  Angel vs vampire, Luz as prize.  Amelia engaged, Paz to rescue, etc. Vagueness in there about how "real" all this is, pushing ontological issues  Are we talking plain vanilla serial killer and madman or are we dealing with the Unseen world?  World as arena of moral warfare, theater of love.

Swing shift
Pos. Opening?:  I like the swing shift.   The four to midnight workday is just right for a young person of a certain kidney.  You get off the job at midnight,  the squares are just wrapping it up when you hit the street, and the night belongs to the Night People.   Cops, nurses, EMTs & firefighters; air traffic guys;computer jockeys, bartenders,waitresses & waiters, strippers, gamblers, criminals and whores.  These are the people you spend your spare time with when you are a night person.
  The stories.  Set of linked short pieces or novel?.  Thriller?  Raymond Carter pastiche.

The Only Good Indians

Inspired by piece on Karl May in NYr.
Novel about German May fanatics & Indians ?   Ca. 1910.  Couple of German guys seeking authentic Indian experience in Old West.  So besotted by May that they can't see what's going on around them   Don Quixote?  

Mennonite idea applied to Indians?  Why are there no traditional Indians who are analogs of Amish, or Hasidim, rejecting white culture and living like ancestors.  A subplot.

Perfect Day

I was at the dentist's the other day and I had nitrous, because I always have nitrous, even for a dental exam.  All professional should offer nitrous, IMO, even tax accountants and lawyers. Maybe especially tax accountants and lawyers; it would be a better world. The staff at my dentists has a liberal hand with the gas.  I sit in the chair and as soon as I am bibbed I say, "Red line," and the nice lady says, "Red line."  I socket my ear phones, settled the fruity-smelling mask, and we are off.  When I walked out of there I thought I should wait awhile before driving home, because I did not have clearance from air traffic control, so I had to kill some time while I drifted home from the land o'dreams.

  As it happened, it was one of the Four Perfect Days that Seattle gets each year, as recompense for the 361 days that are not so perfect: sun shining, every mountain out, washed air, the water sparkling, of course, but also everything is sort of sparkling, buildings, sidewalks, people's faces.  Could it be the N2O?  No, it was just the Perfect Day.  Every mobile inhabitant was out on the street wearing as little clothing as possible, so much vitamin D was being made that it was beading up on cool surfaces. You could hear a hum from the melanocytes as you strolled the street.

So I thought I would get some lunch out, and also that as long as I was going to do that I would go to the Elliot Bay Book Company which is a serious bookstore we have in Seattle although it is not near Elliot Bay anymore but on Capitol Hill.  Similarly, there is no Capitol on the hill.
Now it is a sad fact that since I became a pro writer I have not frequented good bookstores, except when reading, and I always felt compressed and irritated in them. Since the iPhone iPad came on line I always had something to read on the road without every having to go into a bookstore.  What it was--irritation with so many books I didn't write and worrying about how MY books were displayed, pretty embarrassing to think about that now.  The point being that I had not been in a bookstore in my right mind in a couple of years at least, and as soon as I went in the door I immediately recalled how great an experience a good bookstore was, to which the browsing we do on computers is as phone sex compared to sex. I bought $140 of books in about seven minutes.  Then I had lunch, a very bad lunch as it happens, since I don't get to Capitol Hill much and don't know the decent places any more, but even the bad lunch was okay because it was a Perfect Day.