Tuesday, February 22, 2011

3 good reads for Jamaica

This unexpected nice spring weather we are having is giving me the wondering blues.  I wrote this book recommendation last year before heading to Jamaica so I have a few of the pictures mixed in.

For the classics lover

A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes
Even though this novel would be considered contemporary, the wording and scene drop you into the classic set of Jamaica.  After an earthquake the parents of five British children decide to ship all the kids back home.  But what they fear about natural disasters only shadows the real trouble once they board a ship that will take forever to port.  Captured by pirates, the children develop the darker sinister ways of the underbelly in society.  Hughes holds up each child to inspect without impressing any judgments on the character of the child.  He simple lets you see it through their actions.  Through lust, murder, and all manner of sorted tricks the pirates come to fear the kids.  The ending is one big wave knocking the reader over with society’s views on children.  It gives you something to think about when your feet are in the sand.

Modern fiction lover

The Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks
This coming of age novel is often referred to as the modern Catcher and the Rye, but don’t let that non-sense fool you.  By the end you will have laughed with the narrator, cried with him, and felt that antsy feeling in your stomach like you made a wrong decision with the narrator.  Banks starts the narrator getting by in a biker hangout at the middle of a small town.  As he tells you why he can’t go back home to live weird events by his roommates turn him homeless again.  With what little possessions he has, and an untrustworthy friend, Chappy (the badly named narrator) takes off to the coast, during off season, to find a house to break into and squat.  Through these wild journeys Chappy starts to find himself and learns more about his real father.  As he bumbles around trying to find another place to live he meets up with an old Rastafarian who teaches Chappy how to live off the land and how to be one with the universe, even if that land is right off the highway.  Chappy learns his father is staying in Jamaica (very conveniently) as an unlicensed doctor working for the government.  Chappy and the Rastafarian head to Jamaica.  After Chappy finds his father he learns family is what you make of it, even when you have no family left.  When you close the book you will feel like you have also beat life, and that next bar drink will feel like a celebration.  (Sidenote:  Russell Banks has also written other books about Jamaica that delve into the culture

Memoir and Non-fiction

Travels by Michael Crichton
The first two-thirds of this book trot the reader around the globe in a manner only the rich can afford.  Crichton describes some of the best diving spots in the world, along with the exotic scenery of rarely seen places for even a well-seasoned traveler.  His story of Jamaica doesn’t pay many complements to the island, but he does point out that it was an isolated incident in his many times to the island, and it is very humorous considering he his in the middle of a breakup in paradise.  The personal touches are what set the descriptions off.  Crichton adds parts of his personal life telling stories about how he paid his way through medical school writing mystery novels, and how people treated him differently at Harvard Medical School when his first book, Andromeda Strain, was made into a movie.  My favorite story is where he is hiking through Afghanistan and mentions how the people can’t tell the difference between the Americans and the Japanese because they all wear the same type of gear and clothing.  The last part of the book goes into his spiritual journey into new age methods, and meditation.  This also includes a spell where he was obsessed with people who claimed they could see the future.  This book was published in the eighties, and gives a very personal look into a man who wrote some of the best thrillers and TV shows in the last two decades.

Friday, February 4, 2011

What do you do with a long story if you’re not Stephen King?

When I start on a new short story I like to cap it off around four thousand words.  Four thousand words are neat and tidy.  It is the perfect space for a beginning middle and end.  But what about those monster stories?  Those stories that keep going well over twenty pages.  They had their heavy cream for breakfast and the extra pork chop for lunch.  How do we manage those?

This isn’t a rhetorical article were I tell you how to handle a midget novella.  I am asking, what do you do with a hefty short story?  No magazine will publish it unless your name alone sells thousands of copies.  They sit around unloved, and unwanted, like a turd in an airport bathroom.  Who wants an obese child?

I’m open to suggestions.