Monthly Archives: October 2008

Randy-more on aging as a writer

      Mathias Freese writes about the writer and aging in his blogs WORKING TIME and I LOOK AROUND.  (See his blogs: he’s good.)  A day or two later and we’ve both aged a bit.   Matt writes about what we all face much more intellectually than I could; and he seems to have moved into a better place than I have.   I ask you what’s fair about contracting Parkinson’s, except in my case the disease is progressing slowly and my doctor has prescribed writing to keep the loss of memory at bay.   What could be better for me?

      My time for stopping hasn’t come because stopping would bring me one step closer to the inevitable.   Luckily people around me argue against this inevitability and hopefully they’re right and a cure will be found in time for me.   Honestly, I don’t think too much about the inevitable.   It’s healthier not to.   I do what I can to “power over Parkinson’s” by riding my bicycle (even when it hurts) and writing (even when I don’t have much to say).   Sure, getting old sucks, but you have to decide what you’re going to do about it.   I’m against meeting expectations; I’m for exceeding them.

      People around me have said I’m losing my memory.   My doctor, after listening to my wife, has given me medicine to slow this process down.   I don’t believe them, while I’ve known the symptom of denial before.   The blanks I have drawn so far have been fleeting; when I first start thinking, before I’ve turned the switch on.   Yes, it seems as simple as turning a switch on.   Nothing much seems different than when I was younger.   I’ve never considered myself very bright.   I, however, now know that I’ve often sold myself short.   It was my perception of where I started from that threw me off; and if I were as limited as I thought I never would’ve caught up.   And far exceeded my expectations. Actually, my father had to have been extremely intelligent, as evident by his ability to fix anything, to his building parts for airplanes, from the earliest WWII fighters to the latest jetliners.

      We all know our childhood well.   It has, profoundly, been a part of all of us.   Our family’s history comes with our pedigree, and genes certainly have played their part; and since we can’t get away from any of this, we might as well use it.   But I haven’t yet written about our reunions and my aunts and uncles, all dead now but a strange, funny lot.   The historical Ford-Carder-Wright-Swink-Craft family…as I see it in my imagination…is material for me.   And when I went back to Gage Oklahoma when my great uncle still lived (Uncle Lem Wright), he showed me a cement fence with a perfect arch built by my grandfather (Daddy Ford) that was still standing after a hundred years.   He had built the fence as wedding present to his bride (Mamma Ford.).   Before that, at age sixteen or around that age, Daddy Ford ran away from his home in Tennessee and never returned (and we never knew why, which in itself…the why…is a germ for a story).   What story material!   And, when there is so much more, such a wealth still, Uncle Eddie and his snipe hunt: what are snipes anyway: why do I worry about tomorrow?   Why worry about tomorrow when I don’t know what’s going to happen?   Why not just get busy and go for it?   Who else is going to write about the Ford-Carder-Wright-Swink-Craft family? Who else will record what went on in Gage, Oklahoma?   Who cares as much as I do?   Well, other family members do.

Better get busy, Randy Ford

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Randy-on THE WRITER IN WINTER by John Updike

       I read John Updike’s piece in this month’s AARPThe Magazine on his creative future.   I saw it as a realistic picture of what happens to most writers as they age.   As a writer in his mid-sixties, I don’t like to think of myself as a “writer in winter” (the title of the piece).   There are novels I would still like to finish; there are plays I would still like to see produced, more writing I want to do and get better at it.   On the other hand, there are Updike’s observations, which are substantial and true enough; there are realities we all face as we age.

      Updike takes us back to when he started writing.   He reflects on those years as being when writers are “full” of their “material…”your family, your friends, your region of the country, your generation…when it is fresh and seems urgently worth communicating to readers.”   To Updike, from that point on, most writers tend to slide away from the “prodigious potential” of their youth.   Too frequently fear sets in.   And what they too often lose is “carefree bounce,” “snap,” and the “exuberant air of slight excess.”   And “prose should have a flow, the forward momentum of a certain energized weight; it should feel like a voice tumbling into your ear.”

     When ability fades with age, when all the fears and struggles Updike describes are real, what are we to do?   We’re not dead yet.   And what if we haven’t achieved as much as Updike and have all along been underachievers?   Have we lost out?

I recommend reading Updike’s piece THE WRITER IN WINTER in AARPTheMagazine.

Randy Ford

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Randy-a writer finally takes a stand

      Others were arrested.   In the office where I ran Travelers Aide Society for nine years, there were Sanctuary Movement activists who were convicted (I’m not sure what the charges actually were) for helping refugees from El Salvador cross our border without papers.   Given my sentiment and my everyday association with these people, I could’ve been one of them.   Some even asked me if I wanted to go down to border with them; so it happened then that I had my own cause that took all of my time and energy; and, using my working with the homeless as an excuse, I told them no.

      These people weren’t only convicted for breaking the law.   They stood up for what they believed was right.   El Salvador was bleeding; these refugees fled persecution; and, if returned, faced almost certain death.   Or so we thought.   To this day I think it.   Certainly the activists I knew thought it. The deaths of migrants along our southern border today, unacceptable to most of us regardless where we stand, which side we take, north or south of the border, was/is something I could/can not ignore.   Unlike before, this time I did something: for almost a whole year, I gave space over to the problem (it’s not an issue) in El Ojito Springs Gallery.   (These exhibits gained national attention: the front page of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, the cover of the magazine SCULPTURAL PURSUIT, and (local) PBS.).   (Google: Valerie James, Neil Bernstein, or El Ojito Springs)   But as a writer, until now I have not expressed my feelings about this tragedy.

      Being true to what one believes, and feeling obligated to act, comes gradually for some of us.   As in the old days with the Sanctuary Movement, almost every day I’m in contact with activists involved in several organizations confronting the border problem.   As before, I could easily be more involved. For me, though, by writing this blog tonight, I took a very small first step, overcoming internal resistance, giving myself permission to say how I feel about a situation that’s unacceptable, and perhaps go from here, this time through my writing, in a variety of directions.   I say “perhaps”, only (only?) because I’ve already taken on more projects than I could ever finish.   Or is this just another example of me (my) dropping back into a safety zone.   Will I punt or run?   (Goodness, look how easy it is to use an overused football analogy.   My excuse: I’m tired and don’t want to think anymore. What’s with all the asides anyway?   Being cute never ever works.)   Let’s be honest… Maybe you can help me out with this one by keeping this discussion going.

Randy Ford

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Randy-more about a writer’s landscape

      In 1972, after spending five years oversees, my wife and I went back to Irving.  I didn’t recognize my hometown; it had grown so much that the old familiar landmarks had been overshadowed by the new.   (It didn’t help that my parents had moved.)   In just five years my childhood landscape had disappeared, except in my brain.

      Since then I have toured the old neighborhood, seen the house we lived in, but it didn’t look the same as I remembered.   Trees had matured the same as I had.   There were houses falling down by then.   As a child, my world had been smaller (because I could ride around it by bicycle) than when I bought my car and my girlfriend lived in Dallas (even that world was smaller than when I left for college, and my circumnavigating the globe dwarfed that).   Similarly, as my world expanded, my old neighborhood became smaller, or at least it seemed so to me.   And that really forced to me to think about where I came from and the people around me then.   What were their stories?   Where were they?   And what had happened to them?

      It wasn’t until much later than 1972 that I became interested into putting the pieces together.   And when I did I remembered bits and pieces of things that I had heard, often in passing, and had been hushed up.   That’s what I have written about.   I still don’t have any of the details of many of these things, things such as a possible murder and almost certainly incest.   And many other secrets. The first time I wrote about Bobby I didn’t tell anybody that the play was about him; but people who knew him and saw the play instantly knew what I had done.   In my most recent play called DADDY’S PARTY (about a family torn apart by physical and sexual abuse), as a side-story I used the drowning of Bobby’s sister, which one of my sisters said (she said) was a case of murder.   My sister pointed a finger at Bobby’s sister’s husband, a prominent criminal lawyer who reportedly said he knew how to get away with murder.   He therefore had become part of my landscape and fair game.   He’ll never know he’s in my play; I don’t know the guy, and I’m sure he doesn’t know about me.   My ignorance of the true story helped me out.   It gave me freedom to make most of it up.

  My childhood was rich, bright and dark, with incidents and people I can continue to write about. Your childhood is just as rich, bright and dark, which may seem very obvious, and it is.   But when I was looking for something to write about, I didn’t immediately go to Irving.   There are obvious reasons now why I didn’t want to.   Some things are still too hard to face and raw for that.   However, the further I move away, the braver I seem to get.   Who knows?   Maybe one day soon…

Randy Ford

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Kitty Chappel-Success GOOD MEWS, INSPURRRATIONAL STORIES FOR CAT LOVERS now available in all Sam’s Club stores

      Kitty Chapell’s GOOD MEWS, INSPURRATIONAL STORIES FOR CAT LOVERS, was released by Thomas Nelson early this year and is now available in all Sam’s Club stores.  This beautiful hard cover book contains true stories involving award-winning author, Kitty, and her family cats.  You will laugh and cry and relate with each story which relates how while Kitty tries to teach her cats something, God teaches her something.  Its foreword was written by Martha Bolton, author of more than 50 books and comedy writer for performers such as Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Ann Jullian, Jeff Allen, and Mark Lowry.  Martha writes: “Cat lovers are special people.  We can be snubbed and not take it personally…we can pretend we don’t smell kitty litter when it’s five feet away (even though it’s wilting the house plants)…we are fluent in “purr” and can carry on conversations with our pet that no one else understands.  This is why this a the perfect book for cat lovers.  It not only talks about the world we’ve all come to know and love, the world of cats, but it rminds us of how much our cats teach us.”  GOOD MEWS is available at all book stores, Sam’s Clubs, the Internet, and of course, the author.

      Kitty is also author of the book SINS OF A FATHER, FORGIVING THE UNFORGIVABLE, which was written into a play entitled ABSOLUTION, by Carol Costa and read at SSA’s July meeting in 2006.  That same year the book went out of print but was picked up by award-winning Poland Publisher, VOCATIO, and will be released this fall as updated, with a new cover and title, I CAN FOGIVE IF I WANT TO, FORGIVING THE UNFORGIVABLE.  It will be released simultaneously in the US, Poland, and Denmark, where it has been translated into Polish and Danish.  (A publisher in China has expressed interest in translating it into Chinese).  Until its release under the new title, it is available under the original title at Amazon.com and other Internet outlets, as well as from the author at www.kitty.com.

      Taken from the Oct.-Nov. 2008 THE WRITE WORD, the Newsletter of the SOCIETY OF SOUTHWESTERN AUTHORS.

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Randy-Something picked up from THE TIN DRUM

      I wanted to see what I could pick up from Gunter Grass’ THE TIN DRUM.   It meant rereading the novel after more than thirty years, seemly not that long ago, considering.   It fascinated me; and inside I found several techniques worth remembering.   And here is an example of one of them, found near the end of the novel.   If nothing else, reading the excerpt will put you touch with Grass’ prose.

      About a quarter of way through the paragraph, Oskar’s keeper says (p. 408): “However, I have to put a supply of string in my pocket and as he tells his story, I shall start on the lower limbs of a figure which, in accordance with Mr. Matzerath’s story, I shall call ‘Refugee from the East.’   This will not be the first figure I have derived from my patient’s stories.   So far I have done his grandmother, whom I call ‘Potato in Four Skirts,’ and his grandfather, the raftsman, whose string image I have called, rather pretentiously perhaps, ‘Columbus’; my strings have turned his poor mama into ‘The Beautiful Fish Eater’’ and the two fathers, Matzerath and Jan Bronski, have become ‘The Two Skat Players.”   I have also rendered the scarry back of his friend Herbert Truczinski: this piece is entitled ‘Rough Going.’   In addition, I have drawn inspiration from such sites and edifices as the Polish Post Office, the Stockturn, the Stadt-Theater, Arsenal Passage, the Maritime Museum, the cellar of Greff’s vegetable store, Pestalozzi School, the Brosen bathing establishment, the Church of Sacret Heart, the Four Seasons Café, the Baltic Chocolate Factory, the pillboxes of the Atlantic Wall, the Eiffel Tower, the Stettin Station, in Berlin, reims Cathedral, and neither last nor least the apartment house where Mr. Matzerath first saw the light of the world.   The fences and tombstones of the cemeteries of Saspe and Brenntau suggested ornaments; the knot up knot, I have….”   And Grass goes on, taking the reader on a journey back through previous episodes of his book. 

 

      A novel as great as THE TIN DRUM can not be praised enough.   It can not be dismissed.   It is an epic, in scope and significance.   It is a historic metaphor, filled with stories, little treasures the author never lets us forget.   The technique, simply put, is repetition.   However, every time Grass reminds us of something, it is given to us from a different perspective.   Consequently, we relive each story over and over again; and it never gets old.

      On the first page this method is revealed; there’s a link to the excerpt above and linked from the beginning, and the weaving has begun.   Oskar (also known as Mr. Matzerath) is “an inmate of a mental hospital” and Grass has his character tell the reader what he (Oskar) is doing and what he (Grass) will do throughout the novel.

       “So you see, my keeper can’t be an enemy.   I’ve come to be very fond of him; when he stops looking at me from behind the door and comes into the room, I tell him incidents from my life, so he can get to know me in spite of the peephole between us.   He seems to treasure my stories, because every time I tell him some fair tale, he shows his gratitude by bringing out his latest knot construction.   I would swear that he’s an artist.   But I am certain that an exhibition of his creations would be well received by the press (The Tin Drum was) and attract a few purchasers.   He picks up common pieces of string in patients’ rooms after visiting hours, disentangles them, and works them up into elaborate contorted spooks (our novel); then he dips them in plaster (the process), lets them harden (the creation), and mounts them on knitting needles that he fastens to little wooden pedestals (the finished work).   And of course, Grass has just started

       Then on the next page the author tells us how we can approach his work: “you can begin a story in the middle and create confusion by striking out boldly, backward and forward (as in Joyce’s  FINNEGANS WAKE, but where the comparison ends).   You can be modern, put aside all mention of time and distance and when the whole thing is done, proclaim, and let someone else proclaim, that you have finally, at the last moment, solved the space-time thing.”   So let us dare to be modern.

       Follow what Grass says next and agree or disagree with delight.   “Or you can declare at the very start that it’s impossible to write a novel nowadays (I can relate), but then behind your own back so to speak, give birth to a whopper, a novel to end all novels (The Tin Drum: however I disagree.  Let’s be fair.  FINNEGANS WAKE is the novel to end all novels.).”   Read on, open that door, and if you do, well…I’ll let you make up your own mind.   Randy Ford

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Peter Baird-success-interviewed about his new novel

      Peter Baird was interviewed by Professor Ron Carlson about his novel BEYOND PELELIN, on his KAET, channel 8, BOOKS & CO. show which aired on Aprilk 27, 2008.   To watch a repeat of the program, go to YouTube and type in “Peter Baird.”

      His next book, PROTECTING MOSCOW FROM THE SOVIETS, will be released by National Writers Press in September, 2008.   “It is a collection of pieces I have written for THE NEW YOUK TIMES MAGAZINE, NEWSWEEK, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, MENS HEALTH, THE CHACAGO TRIBUNE MAGAZINE, WRITERS DIGEST, ROSEBUD, THE CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER MAGAZINE, THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, AMERICAN HERITAGE MAGAZINE, PHOENIX MAGAZINE, SHARK TALES (Simon &Schuster), CRIMINOLOGY (Harcout Brace Jovanovich), MY BRUSH WITH HISTORY (Black Dog & Leventhal) and dozens of other publications.”

       The Phoenix NPR station, KJZZ, chose both BEYOND PELELIN and PROTECTING MOSCOW FROM THE SOVIETS for a fundraising drive.

Taken from THE WRITE WORD the newsletter of the

SOCIETY OF SOUTHWESTERN AUTHORS

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