Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Percolation

So I survived another winter solstice, another Christmas, another New Year. The dark end of the annual journey around the sun is past, and things are returning to as normal as they get in my house. It is actually possible to think about writing fiction again.

During holiday periods, when schools and businesses are closed and the world is oppressively gloomy outside, I enjoy my lie-ins. They are strangely fertile moments creatively. In the early-morning dark, my brain finds itself entering dream states where my mind plays out various vignettes, while slipping in and out of wakefulness. Normally, these would be scenes from the next book but, against my will, my brain keeps wanting to skip ahead to the third book about Dallas Green. Interesting things lie in store for him.

Dallas has become a near-constant companion for me, which is kind of strange. He really has taken on a life of his own in my head. This must be what it is like to be possessed by a ghost.

The thing is, I never actually meant to write a book about someone like Dallas. The seeds for Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead go all the way back to the year I lived in Chile during the fourth year of the Pinochet dictatorship. Inspired by such writers as Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez and Guatemala’s Miguel Ángel Asturias, I wanted to create a literary work around the rise and fall of an idealistic but flawed Latin American leader. It would be a thinly veiled allegory, mirroring the revolutionary rise and inevitable crucification of Jesus. Daunted by the risks of inauthenticity and cultural appropriation, I decided the saga would necessarily be related by a foreigner. He would be an idealistic young North American. As an outsider, he would be imbued with a fair amount of skepticism of this political movement in the name of the people. In other words, if my Salvador Allende figure was to be Christ, then my North American would be his most doubtful disciple, Thomas. Thus the point-of-view character’s name would morph from doubting Thomas to Tommy Dowd.

The epic percolated in my mind for many years, but one thing or another—like the better part of decade disappearing like a flash of light into the time-warping wormhole of the software industry—kept me from writing more than a few chapters. Finally, marriage and relocation to the Emerald Isle gave my mind space to return to the long-neglected story. By then, though, a funny thing had happened to the tale. The story I had mapped out was just not working for me. Somewhere along the way, I got an idea. What if I did not tell the story directly? What if the story was lurking in the background of someone else’s story? Inspired by my own childhood exploits with my often-feckless best friend, I conceived an early-1970s odyssey adventure à la Huckleberry Finn. Tommy Dowd would not actually appear in the story. He would be the McGuffin, the reason for the pair’s adventure. After his disappearance, they would head south to look for him. They would go outside of their own country, their own culture, their own language and their own comfort zone. They would be changed forever. And all the time—just outside of their peripheral vision—would be the story of Tommy and that idealistic leader who led himself and his followers to doom.

It was meant to a self-contained story, a one-off. It never occurred to me to go beyond the end of Dallas and Lonnie’s adventure in 1971. Other people, however, told me that I had to continue the story. Some made suggestions for what would happen next. It was a strange feeling. Dallas was no longer just an idea in my head. He was now out in the world. He no longer belonged to me alone. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that I too wanted to know what else happened to him.

Now that I have taken him nine years further through the twentieth century, I want to see his story through at least another few years.

Before I do that, however, I have another story that has been percolating for a very long time. One about ghosts and spirits and curses and demons and ancient evil and stormy weather. It wants its chance to see the light of day too. Fair’s fair. It has waited long enough. It is now at the head of the queue.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Reindeer Games

By far the cheapest entertainment available on the internet is your search engine. There are endless hours of enjoyment to be had simply by entering your name in the search field and then poring over the pages of results.

This is not something I normally spend a lot of time on, but I do periodically search for the titles of my three books, just to see if they are being mentioned anywhere, what sites are offering them for sale and—mostly, it often seems—to see how many bogus web sites are offering to let you download them for free. (Note: a surprising number of sites offer the books in various formats, but—spoiler alert—so far none I have found really have a digital or audio version of the book available.)

Often, though, I come across amusing and interesting random mentions of my books. Here is one I found the other day.

Parenting web site

This is a legitimate-looking site called Parenting.com and, in their online shop, they seem to be offering my first novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead for sale—but not quite. They have it listed in the category “Toys & Activities” and sub-category “Childrens [sic] Books.” For the record, in case there is any confusion, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is definitely not a children’s book. Please do not let a child anywhere near it. Fortunately, no unsuspecting parents are in any apparent risk of inadvertently buying it from the Parenting.com web site for their tot since there is a red label across the cover that says “Not Available.” Whew.

Related items
Interestingly, the site has altered the title to make it even longer by adding the word “Green” for no clearly obvious reason. Kind of takes me back to the 1960s when the Swedish movie I Am Curious (Yellow) had a fair bit of notoriety in America, but I digress.

As is often the case, the most entertainment part of the page is the section further down labeled “Related Products.” Once again, these are mainly books in which random words from the title have been matched up, so we get titles like Carlotta’s Secret and Maximilian & the Bingo Rematch. Less obviously, we also get Papa & Me. At least these seem to be actual children’s books.

More related items
If we continue down the list, we some less obvious matches. Okay, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead is one we have come across before, but what’s the deal with Deadly Venomous Animals and Spiders and Other Deadly Animals? The most amusing, though, is the black-clad Lego figure.

Furious Maximilian
On closer inspection, we see why he was included. He is described as “LEGO LEGO Loose Furious Maximilian Minifigure.” In the brackets following his name, we learn why Maximilian is so furious. He is an Apocalypse Survivor.

As I say, by far the cheapest entertainment available on the internet.

Speaking of shopping web sites, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, The Three Towers of Afranor and Lautaro’s Spear are all still available from the various online sellers, as indicated on the right-hand side of this page. (But not Parenting.com)

Happy Christmas!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Happy Birthday Again, Dallas

Has it been a whole year already? Yes, it has. It was one year ago today that I revealed to the world at large that December 7 is—in addition to being the anniversary of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack—the birthday of the protagonist of two of my novels.

It would be more than nine months after that, however, before readers would get a chance to learn for themselves how and why Dallas Green’s birth date figured into the plot of Lautaro’s Spear. In the book’s final chapter, it turned out that he celebrated—if that’s the word for it—his birthday alone as the culmination of a rather interesting and ultimately difficult year. And there was one last surprise awaiting him that night. I wonder if his birthday this year, 37 years later, is equally interesting for him.

That’s the funny thing about fictional characters that you create yourself. You get to decide what happens to them—up to a point. Last year, when I teased the story to be recounted in Lauraro’s Spear, it was all subject to change. In fact, the first draft was only half-complete at that point. I could make Dallas do anything I wanted him to do—subject, of course, to my desire to keep his character consistent—and I could make anything happen to him that I wanted. That’s quite a bit of power. His life between 1971 and 1980 was completely in my hands. Now though, the book has been published and the events in Lautaro’s Spear are canon. Short of a trick à la Dallas (the old TV series, not my character) like saying the whole book was a dream, I cannot change what has happened to young Mr. Green. It is part of history.

On the other hand, his life from December 1980 onwards is all mine to play with. Every morning I wake up with my barely conscious mind playing out new scenarios for the ensuing years, leading up to probably 1993. I have learned to savor this part of the writing process. No more than one’s own personal life, there is something grand about having every possibility still ahead of you.

This process of weighing and pondering and inventing will go on for some time. As before, I think it is good and necessary to put a healthy gap before the next installment of Dallas’s life by writing something completely different in between. That something will be the supernatural adventure I have wanted to write ever since, well, all those afternoons I ran home from school with the aim of being in front of the television in time to catch the latest episode of Dark Shadows. Is it too soon to start teasing it already? Well, I can tell you that it involves a very old house on a mysterious island in Puget Sound. I have been looking around for old houses that I could use as inspiration and perhaps even an eventual book cover. Fortunately, there is no shortage of such structures in the west of Ireland.

Donegal Castle
I lately came across this photo that my wife took when we were visiting the town of Donegal earlier this year. What do you think? It definitely has the right vibe, although it is technically a castle rather than a house—and it does not look like it is on a small craggy island in the sea. It is certainly a start, though. I have already done much of the work on another important part of the writing process: creating a spooky music playlist on Spotify for all those hours of staring at the keyboard.

This is probably a good time to mention that Lautaro’s Spear is, of course, still on sale—as are Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and The Three Towers of Afranor—in paperback and various digital formats, and the links for ordering all of them are somewhere on this page off to the right-hand side. Also, Christmas will be here soon. You probably have people on your shopping list, who like to read and who may not have read any or all of these books. Work out for yourself the best thing to do.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Other Bildungsromans Are Available

Okay, so maybe my novel about young male friendship (or its sequel) has not yet been made into a movie, but I know that there is an audience for such films. I know this because such movies keep getting made. And I know that such movies keep getting made because, once I finished writing Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, I found myself compulsively reading other authors’ books about intense youthful male friendships. One of those film adaptations has recently been released to critical acclaim, and another has been making the rounds of various international film festivals.

Egypt-born American author André Aciman’s 2007 novel Call Me by Your Name is not really so much about friendship as infatuation. Aciman does a skillful job of capturing the excitement and frustration of being a precocious teenager in a privileged, intellectually stimulating environment. The time is summer 1983, and the narrator is 17-year-old American-Italian Jewish boy Elio, living on the beautiful Italian coast. Over the course of the story, he becomes increasingly obsessed with confident and handsome Oliver, his professor father’s 24-year-old live-in summer intern from the States. The book is enjoyable because who would not want to spend his teenage years in such a beautiful place and in such an interesting environment? While the young narrator is (understandably) self-absorbed and sometimes whiny, we cannot help but like him because he has the attractiveness of uncanny intelligence. (He plays the piano and seems to have read absolutely everything.) Not surprisingly, the book and, now, the movie have been embraced enthusiastically by gay audiences, but I was intrigued by an interview with the film’s Sicilian-born director Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash) in which he insisted that he did not view it as a “gay” love story. I understand what he means. While the love scenes are memorably passionate, the book is not steeped in the familiar gay themes of writers like, say, James Baldwin. The genders of the characters are nearly irrelevant to what Aciman’s book is concerned about. The movie version’s screenplay is by the venerable James Ivory, whose many films (made with his late partner Ismail Merchant) included an adaptation of E.M. Forster’s gay-themed Maurice.

If we wish to compare, then Call Me by Your Name is the near-polar opposite of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead—despite both of them being first-hand accounts by male teenagers in the mid-to-late twentieth century, who are facing into adulthood. Elio does not have to flee his family and home for his journey. Unlike Dallas Green’s, his journey is mostly internal and definitely solitary. Despite his wary-then-passionate relationship with Oliver, he seems to be someone who has grown up without a best friend.

A better comparison to Max & Carly is Australian Tim Winton’s 2008 novel Breath. In fact, the coincidental parallels are are nearly, well, breathtaking. As with my book, it is set in the 1970s and the focus of the story is a strong, nearly desperate, friendship between two boys in the backwater of Australia’s western coast. The dynamic between Bruce Pike, the only son of a modest and conservative couple, and Ivan Loon, the wild son of a feckless father, is much like that of Dallas and Lonnie. In fact, given the nicknames of Winton’s pair, Pikelet and Loonie, I found myself working hard not to read Loonie as Lonnie. What binds the two is their mutual love of surfing and the need to test their courage against bigger and bigger waves. They fall in thrall to Sando, a onetime surfing legend now living in self-imposed obscurity with his taciturn young American wife. For the most part, the book is a really good read, although I found the final chapters a bit of let-down. Pikelet narrates the story from the perspective of middle age, and the rapid encapsulation of his (mostly depressing) later life is an welcome turn after the high spirits of the earlier sections. Overall, though, it is a very good evocation of being young and male, having and losing a close friend, falling in love and getting on with the not-always-easy business of adult life.

The film adaptation of Breath is directed by Tasmania-born Simon Baker, who also plays the role of Sando. He is probably best known to U.S. audiences, who may not even realize he is not American, as the star of the long-running detective show The Mentalist.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

As I was saying...

Are you getting tired yet of me going on about the new book?

Of course, you’re not. I haven’t even posted anything on this book blog for a whole month. I have actually done the exact opposite of what you are supposed to do when you release a book. Instead of making myself constantly present in every kind of social media possible, I just sort of went away. Well, not exactly away, but I went quiet in places where people might logically be looking for information and updates about Lautaro’s Spear. This was not the plan. It was just what occurred. My wife’s birthday. Vistors from abroad. Journeys to the capital. Things happened.

At least I managed to get the new book, as well as its predecessor, into the reading queue of a talented French filmmaker who, unlike myself, actually knows Deauville where some of the book is set.

Keyvan tweet

So now that I’m back, what more can I say about Lautaro’s Spear? How about some inside information not available anywhere else? For instance, what is the photograph on the book’s cover? It is the Place de la Victoire in Bordeaux, a place that is mentioned in the novel. Dallas hitches a ride from there to the suburban campus of the University of Bordeaux with a French student. That is something I did many times myself as a student there, beginning in 1973, which is when I took the photo.

What about the photo on the back cover? If you’ve read the book or if you’ve ever been to Berlin, then you probably recognize it as the sign at Checkpoint Charlie from Cold War days. I am almost certain that this is not the same sign that was actually there before 1989, although on the other hand I do not know for sure that it isn’t. I found some great and authentic archive photos of the real signs on the internet, but since I could not determine copyright ownership of those photos, it was easier (okay, lazier) to just use a photo I took myself when I was in Berlin last year.

After the book was released, I kept waiting to hear from people who were disappointed. One thing I know about sequels is that everybody has his or her own idea of what they want from a follow-up to something they have already seen or read—just as people have their own ideas about what they want from film adaptations of their favorite books—so you are not going to please everybody. I was pretty sure that there would be people who wanted Dallas’s story to continue without a gap with him still being 18 or, more accurately, 21. Interestingly, I have not heard from anyone who minded that his chronicle jumped ahead nine years, although I have heard from people who do not want such a long gap for the next book. My little nod to readers who wanted more of the same was the first chapter, which was actually suggested to me by my friend Marcella—except that she wanted Marisol to return for real and not just in a dream (spoiler alert!).

One thing that pleased me was that at least one reader (not surprisingly, on this side of the Atlantic) spotted my reference to Lord Lucan. If you do not know who that is, well, that is what search engines are for. Look him up and then go back and re-read chapter 13.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Lautaro’s Spotify

Today’s the day! The official release date of Lautaro’s Spear. Thanks to everyone who encouraged me to write it and, especially, to those who actively supported me in writing it. Also, thanks to those of you who will read the book. I hope you enjoy it. Also, happy birthday to the love of my life, who happens to be a member of at least two of the three aforementioned groups.

Wherever you are in the world or however you want to read the book, you should find, on the right-hand side of this page, a link to a suitable online seller—or at least enough info to track one down.

As promised, I am sharing with you my Spotify playlist containing much of the music I listened to while writing the book.



The playlist contains eighty tracks, and it plays for five-and-a-half hours. Some of the songs are actually mentioned in the book. Others were popular around the time that the novel is set. Others have a thematic connection to events in the story. A good few are completely anachronistic but put me in the right frame of mind to inhabit Dallas Green’s persona during some of his traumas and travails. (In reviewing the list, I was taken aback at just how many break-up songs it contains.)

There are several songs by Train. I definitely think Train should be the official house band of Lautaro’s Spear.

I have ordered the songs so as to attempt matching the sequence of events in the book’s narrative. I have not, however, timed them to any person’s reading speed, so I do not know how it would work out to listen to the list while reading the book. I did happen to notice that the Kobo website helpfully estimates the amount of time it should take to read the book, and for Lautaro’s Spear it comes up with eight to nine hours. So I may need a longer playlist.

By the way, if you are a filmmaker looking for a book to adapt, the playlist should definitely give you some ideas for the soundtrack to Lautaro’s Spear: The Movie.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

It’s Out There!

The official release date for Lautaro’s Spear is tomorrow (Friday the 29th), but it is already possible to get a hold of a digital copy. Unlike the people who print the paperback version, many of the folks who sell the e-book editions make them available as soon as they have the files and have vetted them. That means, as far as I can tell at the moment anyway, you can go your regional Amazon web site right now and download the Kindle version. The same is true of the Barnes & Noble Nook e-book and the Kobo e-book. It is also available for purchase at Google Play and at Apple iBooks, but those sites appear to be holding the actual downloads until tomorrow.

Yes! Apple iBooks! If you have been reading this blog from the get-go, then you may recall I have had something of a fraught relationship with iBooks borne of their requirement of uploading files from a Mac computer paired with my lack of such a computer. Fortunately, since the release of my previous book (The Three Towers of Afranor) I have taught myself an alternate geeky way of uploading the files from a non-Apple machine, and I am amazed to see that it still works. This is a personal triumph for me that makes me way happier than it probably should. Still, I am delighted that the book is available to users of Apple devices at the same time as everybody else. In fact, I am delighted that all versions of the book seem to be out there on the official release date, if not a little earlier in some cases.

The paperback version is available for pre-order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million. Other online sellers out there should have it available soon if not already. I encourage you to purchase from whichever seller you prefer, and I have no particular preference for one over the others. Having said that, I will point that, when I last looked anyway, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million were selling the paperback at rather attractive discounts.

As always, all of the relevant links to sellers of all my books can be found on the right-hand side of this page.