Boy's Life

Robert McCammon's Boy's Life is probably my favorite novel of all time. I polished it off last night, and that's both a sad and a good thing. I've been excited every night over the last two weeks to return to the story. It's a text that's consistently great and memorable, from start to finish.

It's divided into parts, with titled sub-chapters in each. The text has a murder mystery at its core, but that thread only propels the narrative's greater purpose, which is to reveal the events of a year in the life of an American boy. In our case, Cory Mackenson is a great person with which to spend time.

McCammon's characterization is fantastic, and in particular I admire his treatment of the relationship between father and son. In the story's third act, nothing can quite crush the reader's heart as totally as their meeting on the front porch of the old house.

Death, mythology, magic, friendship, betrayal, mistrust, aging, maturation, storytelling--this novel touches on each of those topics, and it does so with insight and respect. McCammon is a master at work, and I think this is his best creation.

Boy's Life inspires introspection--or at least it did for me. But I find I'm also now looking to interpret what life must be like for my daughter. At two, she'll make her first foray into trick-or-treating tonight. For a week she's delighted in watching the weather forecast on the news, where they place a pumpkin graphic on the Monday marking Halloween.

"It's Monday, Dad! It's Halloween!" she shrieked this morning over her cereal. They are having a party at her daycare (pajamas and healthy fruits and veggies), and then it's on to the night's festivities. I'm dropping by the library to pick up a copy of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949), and we'll be gearing up to have a ghastly good time giving out candy and touring the neighborhood.

I remember that whisper of promise that sticks in the back of your mind when you are a kid on Halloween. I remember watching the clock tick by, waiting and waiting and waiting for the day to end and the night to start. It was a thrill, and I'm excited that my daughter gets to feel that same spark tonight.

Happy Halloween to you, wherever you may be reading this! I hope you enjoy the evening...


Fiction is a Lens on the World

"But I'll tell you a secret, Cory. Want to hear it?"

I nodded.

"No one," Mrs. Neville whispered, "ever grows up."

I frowned. What kind of secret was that? My dad and mom were grown-up, weren't they? So were Mr. Dollar, Chief Marchette, Dr. Parrish, Reverend Lovoy, the Lady, and everybody else over eighteen.

"They may look grown-up," she continued, "but it's a disguise. It's just the clay of time. Men and women are still children deep in their hearts. They still would like to jump and play, but that heavy clay won't let them. They'd like to shake off every chain the world's put on them, take off their watches and neckties and Sunday shoes and return naked to the swimming hole, if just for one day. They'd like to feel free, and know that there's a momma and daddy at home who'll take care of things and love them no matter what. Even behind the face of the meanest man in the world is a scared little boy trying to wedge himself into a corner where he can't be hurt." She put aside the papers and folded her hands on the desk. "I have seen plenty of boys grow into men, Cory, and I want to say one word to you. Remember."

"Remember? Remember what?"

"Everything," she said. "And anything. Don't you go through a day without remembering something of it, and tucking that memory away like a treasure. Because it is. And memories are sweet doors, Cory. They're teachers and friends and disciplinarians. When you look at something, don't just look. See it. Really, really see it. See it so when you write it down, somebody else can see it, too. It's easy to walk through life deaf, dumb, and blind, Cory. Most everybody you know or ever meet will. They'll walk through a parade of wonders, and they'll never hear a peep of it. But you can live a thousand lifetimes if you want to. You can talk to people you'll never set eyes on, in lands you'll never visit." She nodded, watching my face. "And if you're good and you're lucky and you have something worth saying, then you might have the chance to live on long after--" She paused, measuring her words. "Long after," she finished.

~ Robert McCammon, Boy's Life, 186-7

McCammon, in that passage, perfectly distills a central lesson I try to impart upon my students in our literature courses in the college: receive life.

Our days are filled with wonder and potential, but only if we accept those moments and analyze them. A critical theorist I admire calls those moments in literature, and in life, "reception moments." It's up to the reader, and to the individual, to throw off the limitations of the mundane and celebrate life beyond mere novelty.

It's that observational quality that makes good fiction work, and boy is McCammon's fiction filled with fantastic detail and taut writing...


Friday Roundup...

Lyla's had the inevitable fall crud this week. Like clockwork, she's been up at 3:00 a.m. and clamoring to climb into bed with Jeanne and I. When I take her to school, it's a common sight to see ten or twelve green-boogered toddlers running around with what sounds like smoker's cough.

It's just part of being a toddler and spending a few hours in the petri dish of life that is a preschool.

I'm at the midterm here at the college, and up to my ears in grading. Still, with the change in the seasons and the cool weather, I spent the morning mowing the lawn for the last time. I put in a nice edge and raked up all the leaves. I overseeded last week and the rye grass looks nice. I fertilized and we've had loads of rain, so it's pretty green and lush and ready for winter.

I fixed the toilet and cleaned all the tile and hardwoods in the house. I cleaned out the garage and got the everything out for Halloween. This weekend we have an Oregon Ducks game and maybe we'll go see Sandalwood play some football tonight. We're going to wash the walls and the windows for fall cleaning.

I'm not sure about those of you reading this, but for me it's a truism. I'm more productive and, I sometimes like to think, a better writer when the house is neat and tidy.

On the writing front, I've had a pair of stories that have been published well in recent weeks, and some of my books and novelettes have been stirring interest on www.goodreads.com.

Here's to changes in the season! Here's to football and cool evenings and dark beer! Here's to well-crafted horror films and kids that get excited to put faces on orange gourds!

Hope things are well where you are...


Early Brushes with Cinematic Horror

When I was ten years old, I stayed up late on Halloween night and watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers with my mom. We were living in Pueblo, Colorado. Bon Jovi was popular, the Patriots were the laughingstock of football, and pretty much the scariest thing a kid had to worry about was the insertion of a sewing needle in a Bit-o-Honey or a razor blade tucked into a Charleston Chew.

I remember sorting the loot, making the appropriate trades with my sisters, and settling down to watch Don Sigel's film on the couch.

And once that title flashed on the screen with all that melodramatic music and I saw old Uncle Ira out there mowing the lawn like a robot, I was hooked. I mean, I couldn't do anything but watch. Popcorn be damned, I had to remind myself to take a breath.

When it was finished, I was scared to go to bed. I was scared to be put to bed, suddenly scared that my parents had been replaced by pod people. It cut me to the core to think about my family members losing that fundamental spark of personality that made them the people I love so much. It's one of the most powerful horror tropes we have, that horror story on the dissolution of personal identity.

I'm reading Boy's Life again. There's no finer book for the month of October, by the way. This is my third time through, and I might just adopt it as a yearly personal writing workshop. When I read McCammon's prose, I'm inspired to consider phrasing, description, pacing and plot in different ways.

Last night, I finished Cory's embedded narrative about the first time he saw Invaders from Mars at The Lyric with his buddies.

Holy cow, that was me! I thought. It's a wonderfully staged resonant memory, and one I can certainly relate to.

Thanks, Mom, for spending time like that with me and, to the best of my knowledge, for never plotting to swap me out for an alien while I slept. Even though I've discontinued the morning Tales from the Darkside sessions with my daughter (bad dreams, Daddy!), I'm so looking forward to sharing moments like these with my girl when she's a little bit older...


Submitted for Your Approval: A List of Interesting Writings...

Some of the stuff that I've been reading and enjoying out there:

  • David James Duncan, author of the excellent memoir The River Why, has written an interesting essay on the writing process;
  • Joe R. Lansdale's "Fish Night" is a story I never tire of. I've read it now about a dozen times, and it's a fine blend of authentic characterization and bizarro surrealism;
  • To my thinking, there's nothing not to like in the legend of the "Stranger in the Church." This one's most frightening aspect is the invasion of personal space;
  • Very interesting interview with the always-candid Greg Norman. The man is comfortable with himself, and that's admirable.
I recorded American Horror Story. If you've seen it, I'd love to hear any thoughts on the show in the comments section...

And finally, you know you all want to watch Oregon tonight at home against Cal! Grab a cold'un and get ready to watch those great gridders from Oregon as they defend Autzen against the Golden Bears!


Jags at the 1/4 point...

After a 23-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints at home here in Jacksonville, this team is struggling to find an identity and, to be honest, beginning the countdown to the next high draft choice.

That's not at all to say the season is fruitless, or that this team won't be interesting. But I think, after Houston's play in the last two weeks, we can kiss the division goodbye and this team just isn't good enough to contend for a wild card in the AFC. Not with Buffalo and Tennessee starting to play some good football.

Blaine went 16-42 yesterday. It's the type of line that gets you booed off the field, especially after missing twelve throws in a row in the second half. But the thing is, Blaine looked really good in spots. My oh my, he looks the part! He's a big kid, and he stood in the pocket, didn't get rattled, and he made some excellent throws. That pass to Zach Miller on the touchdown was a freaking dart!

He had some bad misses, and his team didn't help him out (I counted at least three drops). He didn't play great, but he spun his head and went through the old progression tree. I love to see that, as those are the hallmarks of guys like Philip Rivers and Tom Brady.

The defense has been pretty good. Paul Posluzny was a great addition, and I think Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman have been nice additions.

Maurice Jones-Drew is still running like a man possessed. Miller and Lewis, when healthy, are very good tight ends.

The cupboard is not bare, and this team is very competitive.

This team will be okay, and it needs to grow. I want to win a bunch more games this year, but if Blaine continues to make strides and we end up with a play like Justin Blackmon in the next NFL draft? Whooh! We could be getting back to the days of Brunell to Smith and McCardell around here...


Weekend Update...

A pocket of cool, dry air finally slipped down from the north last night. We awoke to temperatures around fifty degrees, which is a welcome relief after a particularly hot and dry summer. We set a record with over twenty-nine days in a row (might be longer, but that was the last data point I can recall) over ninety degrees this summer.

We headed over to the Jacksonville Zoo to spend the morning. It's a very nice facility, with lots to see and do, especially if you're a two-year-old girl that's just bonkers for animals. I'll mow the yard for what will probably be the last time later today, then it's off to play some golf and watching the Florida Gators' game tonight against Alabama.

My story "Life, On the Other Side" is available in the current print issue of Weber: The Contemporary West. I'll compose a longer post on this tale at a later date. It's a special story for me, and the folks at Weber did a phenomenal job of publishing the piece. It's a nice journal--a great mix of fiction and poetry with some keen interviews.

I took a run on the beach yesterday, where we had an unusually high tide. The ocean had barfed up what had to be hundreds and hundreds of chipped and broken sand dollars. It was something to see, to be sure...

If I ever make it as a rapper, I might call myself Fishmaster Powell. These poor fish out here in Florida! They tremble when they hear me loading up the kayak. In all seriousness, the fishing has been great up here in recent weeks. There's a world-class tarpon and sailfish run happening right about now, as I've heard...

And lastly, I've reduced the price on the digital versions of the three texts I have out there in the various stores. I hope you folks out there reading this are ready to enjoy the October holidays! Man, I love Halloween!

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...