Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #56: 'The stanzas of an immense poem'

Ladies and gentleman, once again... the incomparable R. S. Thomas. The most profound poet I have ever encountered, with the possible exception of Hopkins.



I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off your scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 37

Not Givin’ Up

Recently, I did something related to this novel in progress that I have been wanting to do for some time – I shipped off a redacted (edited) version of Chapter 1, ‘Sweet Music, Pretty Flowers’ to two fiction periodicals for possible publication. The two journals I sent them to were Story Quarterly and Notre Dame Review. Buoyed by a recent publication success (“Ron Hansen: An Appreciation”, published in the September/October issue of the St. Austin Review – see Duke’s kind-hearted post below), I thought now might be the time to give it a shot, since if I hear back that the journals rejected the excerpt, at least I can have a recent memory of the opposite experience. But if either of the journals accept the piece, not only would it be the first time ever – after at least 12 years of trying – that I would be publishing fiction that I wrote (which remains a highly elusive goal of mine), but it would also be, for my money, the ultimate motivator to get the novel done. For how could I not complete it after some of it was published, with the implicit promise of more? Anyway, for anyone who reads this, stay tuned to this ongoing Journal for updates when they arrive. Given my track record, this will probably be a tiny line or two saying that the chapter will not be published, but on the other hand, I think it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever written and I do believe I have a chance with the first chapter. So the odds are against it, but they always are, and one thing is for sure: I will not give up on the dream of publishing fiction someday. You can take that to the bank.

The Story Unfolds

Speaking of getting the novel done, I am trying to press ahead on that front, but many things intervene. Not the least of which is the fact that I now work two jobs, one full-time, and one part-time at a community college as a Writing Tutor. This is a new gig for me and is not the easiest thing I have ever attempted. But I am slowly catching on I guess. I only do it two nights a week and some Saturdays, but it has cut into my morning writing time because I have had to take some mornings (there’s only so much time to use, with the jobs, two little children, etc.) to bone up on basic grammar! You have to be able to answer those sorts of questions, and it has been a while since I have had to speak to such things, to say the least.

Nonetheless, Chapter 4 of the novel is progressing. Originally, I had a tentative title for it (‘A Chance Encounter, Overdue’), but I warned readers that this would change, and it looks like it will. But I am not sure of what the new title will be. Maybe I will finish the chapter before titling it – a novel concept. There are many possibilities and I don’t want to commit to anything again here. But I know I have several scenes written and about four more scenes to write. I think it is going pretty well, but I have to deliver on the last four scenes, which if nothing else present the characters in a variety of different settings, including a domestic/conjugal (frankly) situation, a grocery store, a pre-NFL professional football game, and a lakeside convent during a nun’s funeral.

I suppose the main thrust of this chapter, if there is one, is to illustrate that Walter and Greta Brogan have ventured further on with their married lives, but have not quite achieved yet all that they hope to for themselves, mainly a home of their own and a family. Both of them are trying their best to make these dreams a reality, but are encountering certain snags. Brogan is working very hard indeed to try to make his father-in-law’s service station a profitable success, and he’s doing a good job of it. But it’s taking a physical toll on him, and he’s establishing ways of dealing with the stress that may not serve him very well in the long haul. For Greta’s part, she is dutifully holding down the fort, but to put it bluntly, she thought she’d have had a baby by now. Hasn’t happened. And while she has that on her mind, someone she hasn’t seen in a long time has returned to Bentonville – someone with ambition and who could potentially add a distraction to her life she doesn’t quite need.

Meanwhile, P.G. Heinricks is making plans to take his business ventures in a different direction, one that will make him a lot of money, but will require a lot of hard effort. And his son, Peter, is still following along with the questionable schemes of the oil-hunting renegade businessman, Pops Wheeler, somewhere in Texas.

By the time we reach Chapter 5, the landscape will have changed again. Greta and Walter Brogan will have become parents – we know that from the beginning of the novel – and P.G. will have pulled off his biggest entrepreneurial triumph yet – the grand opening of The Golden Wheel, a family restaurant. But by then, it’s late in the decade, and no one yet knows what the 1930s, ‘the dirty thirties’, have in store.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

TST's Imaginary Film Festival

Speaking of Ron Hansen (see previous post), I’m in the middle of reading his second novel The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which some of you may recognize as the name of a movie that’s about to be released starring Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck (respectively) in the title roles. Needless to say I am eagerly anticipating the release of the film, and am looking forward to see what the impressive combination of Ron Hansen’s writing (he co-wrote the screenplay), Pitt and Affleck’s acting and Andrew Dominik’s (Chopper) directing will yield.

This got me thinking (fantasizing, really) of what other literary adaptations I would like to see on film… and I thought that might make a fun topic for a blog post here. So here, without further ado, is The Secret Thread’s inaugural Imaginary Film Festival: featuring novels and/or stories I would love to see made into films, along with intriguing director/cast recommendations.

The Violent Bear it Away
Adapted from: the novel by Flannery O’Connor
Director: the Coen Brothers
Cast: Nick Nolte as Mason Tarwater; Edward Norton as Rayber; Barry Pepper as Francis Marion Tarwater

The Clearing
Adapted from: the novel by Tim Gautreaux
Director: Gary Sinise
Cast: Gary Sinise as Randolph Aldrige; Chris Cooper as Byron Aldridge

Independent People
Adapted from: the novel by Halldor Laxness
Director: Tom Tykwer
Cast: Max von Sydow as Bjartus

On the Road
Adapted from: the novel by Jack Kerouac
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Brendan Fraser as Sal Paradise; Woody Harrelson as Dean Moriarty

Blood Meridian
Adapted from: the novel by Cormac McCarthy
Director: Terrence Malick
Cast: David Morse as The Judge

Seven Mountains
Adapted from: the biography of Thomas Merton by Michael Mott
Director: Jim Sheridan
Cast: Tim Roth as Thomas Merton

The Canterbury Tales
Adapted from: the novel by Geoffrey Chaucer
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: everyone he ever used in the LOTR films and King Kong!

Benito Cereno
Adapted from: the short story by Herman Melville
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Chiwetel Ejiofor; Djimon Hounsou; Roy Winstone

Adapted from: the novel by Frank Norris
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman as McTeague

Adapted from: the novel by Clive Barker
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: ???

Going Native
Adapted from: the novel by Stephen Wright
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Michael Keaton as Wylie

What would your choices be?? One could go on and on with this... I'll be interested to hear any responses readers may have!

"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
-Mark Twain