culture

The 1950s: America on the Brink of Change

Diamond-T is about a lot of things.

diamondt-teaser-shelby1

One of those things is how the status quo of the time couldn’t remain standing. 1957 was a great year in a great decade for Americans. Many Americans,  but not all.

Already, cracks in the facade were beginning to show. And in the decade that followed, they’d explode full-force.

Kinda like a truck going off a bridge and crashing into a train — if you know what I mean.

Anyway, of the many challenges my protagonist Nick Pente faces, one of the most remarkable is racism. Not against him, really. Although he’s ethnically Greek, it never stopped him from getting a table in a restaurant. No — the challenge to Nick shows through in what he allows himself to dream about. He knows deep-down that the idyllic life in suburban Chicago he desires just isn’t going to work with him married to a Hopi maiden.

And then there’s the case of Shelby Howell. He inspires Nick to consider what might be in the trailer he’s been towing up and down Route 66. He’d never paused to think about the load he was carrying: His baggage.

Throughout the story there are hints of things that were taken for granted in a time when race and ethnicity were very real things. For many people alive at the time, it was all they needed to form a judgment. Readers from younger generations might be shocked. But then, maybe not.

Anyway, pick up your copy of Eye of the Diamond-T today and see what I mean. There’s a lot of meaning folded into Nick’s last journey down Route 66.

Advertisements

Inspiration: Paul Fussell on War

One major inspiration for Diamond-T came from the works of Paul Fussell. Among other things, my book was to be — at least in spots — a war novel.

Fussell

But not an ordinary war novel:

 I’ve been an enemy for years of the concept of the “Good War” and of all the sentimentalizing that’s done by people who didn’t fight it or who profited from it in one way or another. We all profited, but at what a cost.

I’ve been a fan of the writings of Paul Fussell since reading The Great War and Modern Memory in college. It laid out for me — for the first time — the origins of what I had come to know as the “modern world.” At some point in the past a cynical edge had come over society. The stark futility of World War One had set the course for the Europe’s descent into skepticism and irony, though that particular wave didn’t hit America until Vietnam.

“Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant ‘paying off of old scores’; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.”

The hero of my story is in a rush to join up with the infantry in 1944, feeling that it held the ability to wash him of his shame and personal doubts from his horrible childhood. It ends up only intensifying both. Fussell’s view of war inspired Nick Pente’s experience, but it was his attribution of the great social changes brought by mechanized large-scale combat that really formed my vision of what the book was to be about. Nick is both a hero and a victim. The way he’s seen most depends on the cultural attitudes of the reader.

“I would read accounts of so-called battles I had been in, and they had no relation whatever to what had happened. So I began to perceive that anything written was fiction to various degrees. The whole subject– the difference between actuality and representation–was an interesting one. And that’s what brought me to literature in the first place.”

Paul Fussell died in 2012 after a long and prolific career as an English professor and an infantry lieutenant. His contributions to our understandings of war and civilization live on.

Yet Another Strained “Box” Metaphor

“Great writing doesn’t think outside the box. It never knew what the box was in the first place”

— Dan Holloway

roof-540835_640

I never really understood boxes. It’s cost me a lot through the years. “Boxes” are  — by definition — definitive. Definitions tend to be social in nature. I’ve had a complex relationship with society for most of my life. My inability to recognize “boxes” comes from my inability to accept social constraints in the first place. This can prove costly. If you don’t like the “success” that comes in the box, you can work very hard inside the box and never be happy.

A young friend of mine told me something very interesting. He told me certain young women didn’t seem “hot” to him until he heard his friends — in private — pointing out how “hot” they were. He’d take a second look and see the females in a new light. He found himself suddenly agreeing that yes, they were “hot.” It wasn’t just social pressure: The awareness of their “hotness” to others actually caused a physical reaction in him. He was attracted to them physically — biologically — but only after their attractiveness was endorsed by his peer group.

That’s the power of the “box.” His peer group was a defined box. That box had defined other boxes, some more worthy than others. Boxes.

And — as a better writer once said — so it goes.

But what happens when you don’t have that social group to tell you what’s good and attractive and seemly? Well, then things get difficult. You don’t have popular definitions of “success” to strive towards. There are no guidelines. You need to make it up as you go along and hope it gets you someplace suitable, if not entirely comfortable.

That’s the story of my life.

Eye of the Diamond-T doesn’t fit into any specific box. I didn’t write it that way just to be difficult. I honestly can’t do what other people do. I grew up without any box to fit into. If there was a box when I was growing up, it didn’t look like a box. It looked more like a Klein Bottle or something — some impossible geometric shape offered up as a thought-exercise intended to show a student the limitations of geometry itself. “The point is that you shouldn’t put too much faith in geometry, but hope you have fun with this!” it seemed to say.

Thus, Diamond-T is an impossible geometric shape that defies easy genre classification. It’s a romance, a spy/conspiracy story, a mystery, a coming-of-age story, a spiritual journey, a commentary of the political and social atmosphere of America in the ’50s, and a nostalgia trip. If there’s a “box” that all fits into, I think that “box” is called Eye of the Diamond-T.

And although it might not qualify as “great writing,” it’s what I had to do.

And I hope you enjoy it.

Nostalgia: What Should We Miss?

Nostalgia: It ain’t what it used to be.

IMG_2361

In writing Diamond-T it occurred to me that many of the most nostalgic people never had to live with the things they are nostalgic about, nor in the world that hosted those things.

This wasn’t a new revelation to me. I remember how much my dad loved McDonald’s. He had a thing for chain restaurants in general, but McDonald’s in particular. He had been a bandleader, and likely covered a million miles of America’s two-lanes going gig-to-gig back in the days before McDonalds. He and his bandmates ate plenty from the mom-and-pop diners that littered the roads at the time, and they still had the memories of ptomaine and salmonella and norovirus to show for it. The food in those roadside diners was usually just bad, as opposed to just sadly uniform. For my dad, McDonald’s was one of the high-points of modern America. It was an unquestionable advance for humanity. He laughed at the nostalgia for the roadside local diners.

So I started to think about the things it’s right for us to miss. What have we really left behind that should be recovered, and can be recovered without recreating a world we deliberately left behind? See, some of the “nice things” we occasionally miss were enabled only by things that weren’t so nice–like disregarding other people’s humanity, for instance.

Thus, I’ve narrowed the list down to only a few things. You are right to miss these things if you do, and if you’d like to experience them again, it can be achieved without changing the course of history.

1. Wristwatches. When i got my first pager back in the 1990s, I very quickly stopped wearing my wristwatch. That was a mistake. Sure, the pager kept time very accurately, and I was never without it. But somehow needing to pull it out of my pocket was an extra step sufficient to keep me from an awareness of the time. Also, the loss of the analog dial made time itself seem like even more of an abstraction than it already was. The same problems continued when I starting carrying a cell phone. I finally broke down about ten years ago and started wearing a wristwatch again. Now, I feel naked without one. Hopefully, the new smartwatch revolution will make wearing wristwatches cool again. But of course, they’re going to include some distracting non-time info, because that’s the point of a smartwatch.

2. Handwriting. It’s been suggested that handwriting is good for your brain. If that’s so, we’re in big, big trouble. I am starting to realize that handwriting imposes a mental discipline, but also liberates the writer in some way. I have a feeling it’s true what they say about how if all we had were computerized devices, someone would need to invent paper.

3. Paper books. I am half-afraid I’ll slit my own throat here considering how many of my sales come from e-readers. Nothing wrong with that at all. But in researching my next book, I’m hitting the old-style paper books — and hard. Sure, there are certain practical advantages (paper books don’t crash, the batteries never run out, waterspills can hurt them but not usually destroy them, etc.) but I also find there’s more of a chance to absorb meaning from paper. It might be because we see the stacks of paper on each side of the spine increasing or decreasing with progress. It might be the feeling of our fingers tracing across the page. It might just seem more real to us.

Anyway, these are the things familiar to our grandparents and great-grandparents that I think we can all safely continue to enjoy, or rediscover if necessary. Sometimes it’s right to be nostalgic.

Check out more of the wonderful, terrible world of the Fabulous 50’s in Eye of the Diamond-T available HERE.

Are you Writing or Facebooking?

I have realized this in the past:

picard-write
P
ainfully. I have painfully confronted this in the past. I’ve had to confront it again. I never seem to learn.

Social media and especially Facebook is like a dream come true for people like me who are basically hyperverbal. I have a power-bulge over whatever lobe of my brain is involved with putting out words. I don’t call it the “language center” because that would imply some measure of quality that sometimes I feel just isn’t there. But generally, I’m rarely at a loss for words.

A Facebook friend of mine who seems in many ways a genuine pain-in-the-ass occasionally posts writing prompts. He’ll put up a challenge like “Write a story where someone learns a dark secret. You must include an umbrella, a banana, and a harmonica.”

Bitch, please.

Ten minutes later I hit “post” on a short story about a travelling salesman who leaves his umbrella at the cafe, returns to get it, finds the place deserted, notices a banana on the counter, decides to pilfer it and is attacked by savage Amway thugs who beat him to death while one of them plays a harmonica in the background ala Ennio Morricone.

Ain’t no stoppin’ me. I think up stuff and write it down. That’s what I do.

The trouble with Facebook is that it sucks you dry. I’ve caught myself getting pulled into too many dramas concerning people I know I’ll never meet. Facebook groups are always one step from being interactive soap operas anyway, and I’m as weak against the drama as is anyone else. I recently trimmed my group memberships by about 90%. I had to finally admit that I didn’t care which 20-something member of the psychology-test cult was going to take the plunge and fly to Australia only to discover the love of her life has severe adult acne and some spare children and wives lying about. I tried to warn her. It’s a long plane ride in each direction–even longer with a broken heart.

So, no — if you’re Facebooking you’re not really writing. That’s not to say it’s not helpful in ways. You might be observing human nature and storing up concepts and images for later use. It’s also a handy way to stay abreast of the way people talk these days.  If you do it right, you might also be building a following. But those followers need something to read and buy.

See? There’s a conflict.

I’ll keep my Facebook active because I need to — just as I need to keep Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Tsu, and God knows what other services I’ve given my personal information. Life happens on the net these days, though often enough work still happens offline.

But yes, duty calls, and I need to spend more time writing, and less time Facebooking.

* * * * * *

Check out www.diamondtbook.com for my novel’s purchase links and reviews.