Love at First Sight

This is a very special day, not just for me but for one of the greatest loves of my life. Two years ago today I drove seventeen miles from my home to a no-kill animal shelter to check out the dogs there, with the idea of fostering one. And though there were far too many pooches there in need of a home, one in particular caught my attention. I think you might justly call it love at first sight.

The dog was Tink, an eight-year-old shepherd mix, who is now a permanent part of my household. I/we had a rough time of it for two months. Having been abandoned at least three times in the previous four months, she had severe separation anxiety and was prone towards being very destructive when left alone. Then one day, while not in my care, she went missing, and for four weeks I devoted myself to finding her. It was one of the most demanding, gut-wrenching experiences I have known in my many years.

I am now writing a memoir about those two months, and hope to have it published by the end of 2016. To help me achieve that goal, I am active with two writing groups that are contributing to making me a better writer.

While I wish neither Tink nor I had to be put through that wretched ordeal, I will say this. Rather than declaring I grew so attached to her despite what I underwent during those two months, I think my love for her in large part is because of what I endured to get her back. Below is a photo I took of her the first day I saw her.

I love you sweetheart and am so happy our paths in life crossed.

 

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Rising from Ashes: Not the Movie – Me!

In the unlikely event that anyone is still following my blog, I am resurfacing after nearly a year of hibernation. “WTF!!!” you may be thinking. “We figured that you must have died.”  Not quite. In fact I am doing quite well. “Well then why the hell have you not been posting anything?”  No one single reason…and I refuse to be defensive about my inactivity.

The simple explanation was lack of motivation. My stated aim for starting this blog was to write reviews of books I was reading,  books that in one way or another had a connection with the novel I was writing. Well, guess what? I lost interest in the project I started in 2013; or more to the point certain events happened in my life that made working on my manuscript impossible. And by the time matters were resolved, I simply had lost the fire to get back to working on the novel. No novel to write, no need to read books that would make my work better, no reviews to post. Simple as that.

“Okay, then why are you bothering to write anything here now?” Good question. My reason is because I am now in the process of writing a new book. This time not a novel, but a memoir. I can see the eyes rolling  and hear the smug chuckles. Yeah, I know my credibility is a notch lower than that of the U.S. Congress.

So here’s the deal. I am serious about this. Really, I am, though I don’t blame you for doubting me. In fact I feel highly motivated, much more so than I ever did about the novel. On that last point, I plan to one day get back to the novel but probably not for another two years.

“Alright. Get to the chase Ed. What the hell is the memoir about?”

Thank you for asking. The memoir is focused on a two-month period in my life, the time when my novel got thrown overboard because of catastrophic events; well, catastrophic at least for me and a wonderful four-legged creature named Tink.

I began working on the book in August of this year. I have just completed a memoir writing class and in a few days will begin taking part in regular meetings with some very gifted writers who I am confident will give me the support and feedback I need. I have set a goal of having a first draft of the manuscript finished by early spring 2016 and a publication date of later in the year. Now does that not sound like I am taking this seriously? I think it does.

I am not entirely certain what direction this blog will take. Musings about the book, challenges I am experiencing writing it, short excerpts from it, the writing group I have joined, books I have read, all of the above, none of the above? I’ll figure it out. I am also not at this point going to commit to posting something here every X number of days.  I’ll figure that out too and once I get into a groove, try to stay with the flow.

I’m excited; I’m thrilled; I’m motivated. Wish me luck!

Blogging Again -This Time For Real!

 

HEY GUYS!
HAPPY TO REPORT…
I’M BACK!
SORRY FOR BEING SO DAMN INACTIVE

Good grief! Has it really been over five months since I last posted anything on my blog???? I am shocked, horrified and very embarrassed. Obviously I did not die. Likewise:
• I was not seriously ill.
• I was not having an emotional breakdown.
• I was not dealing with a major crisis in my life. I did have one (my runaway dog Tink missing for 4 weeks but that was mid-February to mid-March).
• I was not traveling (I will be doing that though in mid-October, ten glorious days in fabulous Spain!)
• I was not feverishly working three jobs – no, I am actually retired.
• I do not have young children to raise (just some grandkids to spoil from time-to-time).
• I was not in jail or held hostage.

As you can see I am rapidly running out of excuses. On the other hand, I also was not:
• Sitting around all day watching TV (one or two hours is the maximum time I spend in front of the boob tube)
• Drinking myself in a stupor (two glasses of wine in the evening is the extent of my binging)
• Having a hot and steamy affair (not that I would mind that)
• Bored and wondering “What am I going to do today?”
• Diligently working on my manuscript  (that is my deepest, darkest shame)

So what you may be wondering was I doing? I think it is called life and for me life in part meant devoting no time to my blog. I am not going to go into the details of what I did do other than to simply say I was enjoying myself, spending lots of time with my two wonderful dogs, reading a fair amount, oh and probably spending way too much time on Facebook and similar trivial online activities.

To the fine folks who have enjoyed what I have posted here, my sincere apologies. I probably have lost a fair percentage of you during this time due to my negligence but to the ones who may have been hoping that I might come up for air again, thank you and I hope to regain your favor. Ah, the air smells sweet and just posting this now makes me feel alive and akin to a recovered alcoholic or a born-again Christian. Alright I admit that may be a bit over-the-top.

I actually revisited my blog this evening to write a review of a book that I just finished and it was then that I realized how long it had been since I posted anything here. That review as well as some others will have to wait for another day. In the meantime I hope you too have been enjoying life.

Blogging Again!

 

blogging-againIt’s been quite some time since I did any serious blogging. This site is primarily focused on my comments and reviews of books I have recently read, books I read with the hope that they would inspire me and help to make me a better writer as I plod along on the manuscript of my novel. Occasionally I do digress from that general theme to muse about events going on in my life that I deem significant.

Back on Feb.1, I posted that I would be taking a break in the action and that my blogging would be less frequent and shorter so that I could devote more time to my manuscript. That was the plan. Then my world got turned upside down when one of my two dogs went missing. For the next four weeks I did precious little else during my waking hours that did not have something to do with finding and rescuing Tink. Blogging, working on my novel, and countless other activities that seemed so important previously now seemed to be trivial compared to finding my lost girl. The story had a happy ending and she was rescued. In fact she’s lying by my side as I type this. Life goes on, thankfully.

So now I have a lot of lost time to try to make up. My manuscript will remain my top priority or I should say second priority since caring for Tink and my loveable other pooch Aries are and will remain my top priority. I also set a personal goal to read thirty books this year. I’ve polished off six already so I’m on track for achieving that goal and want to make sure I do not fall behind.That brings up trying to make time to write reviews of books I’ve recently read (three and counting at the moment) as well as my reflections on the wonderful San Francisco Writers Conference that I was attending when Tink disappeared. I had to skip the fourth day of the conference to begin my search for Tink, but benefited greatly from the three days I attended and want to write a little about that experience. I hope to make room for one blog a week until I actually have caught up. Then again as I learned in February, I do not know what curve ball may be coming my way. Stay tuned!

A Break in the Action AKA Time Out

hourglassI have come to the conclusion that I need to get more serious about working on my novel. Rather than being a top priority somehow in the course of a day, a week, a month it seems to be something I postpone and instead choose all too often to do something else. Granted I am happy to say that I do have a rather full life and never find myself staring into space wondering “Gee I have too much free time on my hands, I’m bored, what am I going to do today?” For a significant portion of my adult life I have been a strong proponent of compiling a daily To-Do list either late in the evening or early in the morning as I am slurping down my second or third cup of coffee. It helps me to prioritize what I want to achieve for the day and gives me a sense of accomplishment by day’s end to see the items that I have crossed off my list. Having said that I realize that working on my novel frequently gets trumped by other activities.

Writing here on my blog is one of those activities that too often seems to creep ahead of spending time writing my novel. In the back of my mind I have rationalized that no matter what form it takes, creative writing is beneficial to sharpen my skills. I think there is some truth to that but… Granted this is not something I do on a daily basis but as anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows, my musings tend to be lengthy, sometimes totaling eight hundred or more words. A while back I had set a goal of composing at least a thousand words a day in my manuscript, vowing at the time I would commit to doing that and not stop until I reached that goal each day. Initially I was diligent about following that rule but somehow fell into sloppy habits and stopped being committed to achieving that not very demanding goal. If I am ever to give birth to this baby I need to get back to making my manuscript a top priority at least five days a week. I also know me well enough that once I am regularly achieving a thousand plus words a day before very long that number will likely double or triple.

This self-flagellation is a long way of saying that in addition to making other adjustments in my life I will be writing less often here and when I do write my postings will usually be briefer. Feel free to nag me with comments like “How’s that book coming along Ed?”  “How many word did you add to your novel in the past day or week?” Or just be downright nasty and yell out “Hey a**hole, cut out the crap and get working!” Despite years of counseling long ago, it is possible to reawaken the guilt buried in my subconscious from my Catholic upbringing. End of story…for now. Thanks!

A Wonderful Message from an Incredibly Gifted Writer

I just today received the following message from J. H. Trumble, whose novel Just Between Us I reviewed last week. “I love you Ed Hartnett! I’m so touched by your review of this book, all my books! I worried a lot about JBU, but I know you to be a discriminating reader. So if JBU worked for you, then I am satisfied. Thank you so much!”

I cannot begin to express how flattered I was to get such a wonderful message from her. This was her third novel and I have now read all three, loving each one. If you type in J. H. Trumble in the search bar you can find my reviews of each of her works. Do yourself a favor and read at least one of these books very soon!

Background Reading for My Novel: “Last Summer” by Michael Thomas Ford

Last Summer

Earlier this year I read Changing Tides by Michael Thomas Ford which I found very enjoyable. I found out that he has written or co-authored a large number of books covering a variety of genres over a twenty year period and added a couple of them to my To Read list. Last Summer was the one that most intrigued me in part I think because it takes place in Provincetown.  I came out as a gay man while living in Boston oh so many years ago; since P-Town was an easy two-hour drive from Boston and also has a sizable gay population I often went there over a three-year period to relax, enjoy the sun and surf, and be a bit mischievous.

The story takes place from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Rather than focusing on just a few main characters, the reader is introduced to an ensemble of individuals who find themselves there for the summer. Some are long-time residents, some are people looking to simply relax and have a good time and some are there trying to escape their past. The story begins with Josh Felling who has left his apartment in Boston after finding out his long-time boyfriend has been sleeping with someone from his gym. He goes to Provincetown with the notion of having a long weekend by himself to sort out his feelings and winds up spending the summer there. Toby Evans is a somewhat naive seventeen year-old who has traveled by bus from Missouri to escape the condemnation of his parents for being gay. Emmeline also came here to escape parental rejection many years earlier. He/she performs in a drag show and is working to save enough money to have a sex change operation. Jackie has lived in town for 20 years, owns a popular restaurant/bar/nightclub and has recently ended a relationship with her long-time partner Karla. She is also about to turn forty and questioning where her life is headed. Reilly Brennan comes from a family that has lived in P-town for generations. He and his fiancée will soon be getting married but he finds his fantasies are disturbingly about members of his same sex. Ty Rusk is one of the hottest new stars in Hollywood and is fantasized as husband material by millions of adoring fans. What they don’t know is that he is a long-term relationship with his producer, Reid Truman. Devin Lowens is a local who has aspirations of making it big-time in New York or Hollywood but has begrudgingly moved back from NYC into her family’s home. She has an enormous student loan to pay off and feels bitterly beaten and defeated by having to live with her parents again. Marly Prentis is the successful director of the Arts House, married and with one child, who is now finding her life dull and hoping to find something or someone to re-energize it.

It is these characters and others who populate this well-written book. The story is told from the third person POV. Each chapter is brief, typically ten pages or less, and each chapter changes its focus from one of these characters to another. Ford executes this process very skillfully; in the hands of someone else the shifting emphasis of character might be confusing but I found it flowed very smoothly. The book in some ways reminded me of two other works, one a movie, the other another novel. The movie I have in mind is the 2004 award-winning Crash, the book or more correctly books of which this reminds me is the Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin. The analogy is that all of these have an ensemble cast, not merely two or three main characters, and their lives are on a collision course with one another.

While I enjoyed Ford’s 2007 work Changing Tides, I feel this earlier work is superior. Last Summer won the Lambda Literary Award in 2004 for Best Romance Novel. If I had to find one fault with the book I would say that it has a little bit too much of a happily ever after ending. I think that’s a pretty minor criticism though. Ford wrote this book to entertain and he does a top-notch job at that. The story moves quickly and the characters are well-developed and believable. I’m surprised the story has not been adapted for either the big or small screen although maybe even in 2013 it has too much of a gay theme to make that happen. If they ever did do it though Joseph Gordon-Levitt would be perfect-casting for the role of Josh.

Even though I read the book right before Christmas, I would say put this on your summer reading list, preferably reading it on the beach or on a chaise lounge sipping one of those silly summer drinks with an umbrella in it.

Favorite Books That I Read in 2013

I’ve had the good fortune to have read some incredible books these past twelve months. Earlier this week I posted a rant here about the books that appear on a goodreads thread titled Best Books Ever, a list to which I took strong exception. So for the record the works I mention below are the ones I read this past year that I most enjoyed and which I believe have helped to make me a better writer; each of them I found truly outstanding. I will not attempt to rank these; each was superb in its own special way. Thus they are arranged in alphabetical order by title. These authors have all truly inspired me as I work to complete and get published my own first novel. I have also included my Honorable Mention List. A number of the books on both lists were the author’s first published work, wonderful encouragement for those of us who hope to see our own first book in print. The date following the author’s name is where you will find a more detailed review of each of these works in the Archive section to the right. Happy Holiday Reading!

A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham: (May 2013) One of my new favorite authors, the story centers around the relationship between two people who meet as young boys, experiment sexually with each other, move apart and reconnect later in life. Beautiful, heartwarming, funny and sad. This book preceded his Pulitzer Prize winner, The Hours.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman: (Feb. 2013) Set in the Italian Riviera and viewed from the perspective of someone looking back on events that happened in the distant past. Aciman creates an erotic energy between two young men that is not consummated until late in the book. Rarely have I ever seen such a beautiful mastery of language and images. I was in complete awe by the time I finished this brilliant literary novel.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: (Feb. 2013) The tragic, heart-breaking story of doomed love set in 1950’s Paris. One of the great breakthroughs of 20th century literature and one perfectly executed.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: (Aug. 2013) What can I possibly say that has not been said ad infinitum about one of the greatest pieces of American fiction? How did I ever get this far into life without having already read it? A masterpiece without question.

Where You Are by J.H. Trumble: (Nov. 2013) I read two books this year by this incredibly gifted author. This one dares to take head-on the taboo subject of teacher/student intimacy forcing the reader to not think in black & white terms. She creates a beautiful, complex and thoughtful work in the process.

Winter Birds: A Novel by Jim Grimsley: (Dec. 2013) A grim, painful and frightening novel set in a poor rural North Carolina home dealing with an abusive and alcoholic man who terrorizes his wife and five children. 

Honorable Mention List

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette: (May 2013) This memoir is so painful, so poignant, so beautifully written and deals with the author’s struggle for the first half of his life to accept himself as a gay man. So sad that this great author died way too soon.

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble: (June 2013) The other novel I read by this talented author this year and her first. The story centers on two young men deeply in love who face serious challenges and jealousies when circumstances force them to live far apart from one another. This author has really impressed me.

Dream Boy by Jim Grimsley: (Aug 2013) One of three books I read by Grimsley this year. A disturbing, powerful and moving story of forbidden and unspoken love in the rural South.

Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez: (Sept. 2013) This book focuses on the lives of three high school seniors, whose lives are interconnected, each of whom is in a different state of gay self-acceptance. At times quite humorous, at other times fairly serious.

Three Junes by Julia Glass: (Aug. 2013) The 2002 National Book Award Winner. Three separate but interconnected stories taking place in Greece, Scotland and New York during three Junes over a ten-year period. Fascinating work!

 

 

Goodreads “Best Books Ever”

I’m a big fan of goodreads. It’s my Go-To Place to fill my bucket list for my To Read List and has provided me some excellent suggestions for quite some time now. Currently I have 82 books on that list, nearly all of which I added as a result of reviews and suggestions on goodreads based on my past reading habits.

Recently on the site I saw that someone had posted a thread titled simply “Best Books Ever” that apparently was started in 2008. When I last checked, more than 107,000 people had voted and more than 3,300 people had left comments. Out of curiosity I checked out the voting…the results were nothing less than shocking. Before discussing the specifics of the 10 books that topped that list, I want to articulate what for me represents a Best Books Ever list.

Ever is a long time and certainly works going back thousands of years like Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey come to mind as likely candidates for such a list. Writers like Plato, Aristotle, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Bacon, Rousseau, Voltaire, Dickens, Darwin, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Twain, Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Proust, Shaw, Joyce, Steinbeck, Faulkner are the sort of names I would expect to see on such a list. There are way too many authors of similar stature and my not mentioning them by name does not mean their works would not be serious candidates for such a list. I think you get the picture of what I’m suggesting. I will shamefully acknowledge that I have read a pitifully small percentage of works by the authors I have cited but I recognize that it is the words of writers like these that have left a significant mark on the civilized and literate world. Such a list is always subject to heated debate, and far greater minds than mine or dare I say that of anyone reading my blog have expressed strong opinions on the subject.

So getting back to the goodreads list: what were the 10 books to top the list? Six of the top nine were Harry Potter books. Really?  With all due respect to J.K. Rowling, I think even she would take strong exception to the absurdity of such results. Popular, entertaining, well-written – I will grant all that but give me a break. I doubt if she is going to be winning a Pulitzer or Nobel prize for her efforts. Top vote getter by a wide margin was…drum roll…The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Same comments I made about Ms. Rowling apply here as well. Most irritating on the list was # 3 rated Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. WTF???? I will refrain from any further comment. Oh and for the record before anyone starts accusing me of being misogynistic, mercifully the remaining two books rounding out the Top 10 were To Kill a Mockingbird and Pride and Prejudice, rated seven and ten respectively. I probably would not include them in my own Top Ten List but definitely can see a strong argument for their being there. Both easily dwarf the others in that upper tier.

The simple problem with this query was the originator’s posing it as a “Best Books Ever” List rather than “Books I Have Most Enjoyed” List, which is how I presume most people were responding when they entered their choices. In the latter case, all bets are off and anything goes. People are entitled to like what they like. There are many books I have enjoyed but would never dream of listing as Best Books Ever. The perfect examples of that for me are Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire and the Vampire Lestat, probably my two favorite books of all time. I totally delighted in both and have read each several times but fully recognize neither deserves to be put on Mount Olympus. I’m in the process of compiling my own list of My Favorite Books I Read This Year which I’ll soon be posting here. The ones I will be including I totally loved and would enjoy reading again but except for perhaps one I would not consider putting any on a Best Books Ever list.

I realize any such list is very subjective. Some of the comments did make me chuckle. “This list is a joke!”  “This list has some of the same books as the worst books list. lol”  “Wow, some of these folks need to read more. Or age more. Or go to school, or something. I mean, really.” “I hope my novel doesn’t end up on this list.” The last was probably my favorite. I left a comment that I refused to vote and give any validity to such a preposterous list. Someone wrote back that I was being a snob. I really do not think that is the case but if that is what anyone wants to think just because I try to have high standards so be it. I was going to respond to her but saw no point in getting in a food fight. Instead I thought I would vent my feelings here. I’d love to hear back from you on the subject. And once I do get my own manuscript completed and published I will echo the earlier comment. “I hope my novel doesn’t end up on this list.”

He’s Back!

Wow  I cannot believe it has been over 2 months since I posted anything here. Shame on me!

I could make all kinds of excuses but will spare you the melodrama and simply say I have been busy and this has not been a priority. There I have said it. Matter closed.

While I haven’t posted anything here I have been reading a fair amount and should have a review posted in the next day or two of one book that I found extraordinarily good. I’ll follow-up then with comments on some other books that I found less than satisfying.

That’s it for now – thanks!