Ray Bradbury

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Book Review: Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

Published April 5, 2017 by Philip Ivory

Robert McCammon’s 1991 novel Boy’s Life (not to be confused with Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life: A Memoir) is a richly imagined, episodic, and often sentimental 1991 tale with horror/fantasy shadings about a white 12-year-old boy growing up in a racially segregated town in the south during the 60s. It’s an odd, rich soup, in which incidents involving good-old-boy townsfolk doing KKK stuff sit alongside fantastic bits like a stegosaurus getting loose from a circus van and then charging out of the woods to attack cars on the highway, mistaking them for rival dinosaurs.

In between, there are loads of Bradburian reminiscences from the perspective of our boy narrator, Cory. They are magical memories of small town growing up, awash in a romantic nostalgic afterglow. Tales of bullies, baseball, camping trips and nascent encounters with the mysterious species known as girls, as well as portraits of oddball locals like the rich guy’s grown son who walks around town stark naked. (Everyone in town is used to it.) There are also vignettes involving faithful dogs and a seemingly-enchanted bicycle with a personality all its own.

Along the way, we’re treated to danger, death and a mystery involving a murder victim submerged in a car in a lake, an incident witnessed by Cory and his dad. In particular, it’s Cory’s dad who’s haunted by the horror of not being able to help the bound, sinking victim. The quest for a solution to this mystery (no spoilers here), and the peace of mind it would bring to Cory’s dad, becomes the main unifying narrative thread, but dozens of others are woven in between.

Perhaps best to think of the book as a phantasmagorical tapestry with dollops of sociological/historical observations of the period. From a narrative perspective, the author unapologetically violates the perspective of his first-person narrator (Cory), cutting away to incidents that Cory did not witness. Whether this is a faux pas or an act of supreme authorial confidence is something the reader must decide.

I enjoyed the Boy’s Life a lot, although the episodic structure made forward narrative momentum sag in places, and its extremely fond and nostalgic perspective on growing up is a bit sweet for my taste. But the author cannot be faulted for lack of imagination or invention. This is a richly baked cake of the warm, wondrous, adventure-packed boyhood we all deserved but didn’t get.

Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life on Goodreads
Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life on Amazon


A Novel Kind of Conformity by Tim Parks | The New York Review of Books

Published December 1, 2015 by Philip Ivory

“Anything great and bold must be brought about in secrecy and silence, or it perishes and falls away, and the fire that was awakened dies.”

That’s a wonderful quote from the New York Times Book Review article I’m linking to below, which makes some trenchant points about the wisdom of thinking less about meeting the needs of a perceived marketplace … and thinking instead about doing something that nobody else is doing.

I’ve been thinking about that, because in the literary fiction book group I belong to, our next discussion book is the extraordinarily successful space survival adventure, “The Martian,” by Andrew Weir.

Since the focus in our group is largely on literary writing, this book is a slight departure for us … and one of the questions asked in advance is:  “How does one go about writing a best-seller?”

I kind of think that’s the wrong question.

I don’t know what Andrew Weir set out to do. I’m going to guess he wasn’t primarily taking a strategic approach to the marketplace, even though his miraculous success might make you think so.  I think instead he allowed himself to write about subjects he loves … technology, survival, space and problem-solving. He found a story with which to play with those ideas, and then he let himself have fun writing it.

Ray Bradbury said: “Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.”

Check out the essay below, which is good food for thought about freeing oneself from all the marketing considerations, and instead writing what you love, and letting your enthusiasm for the subject matter infuse your work. Hopefully,  your reader will be infected by your enthusiasm and willingly come along for the ride.

 Is it really possible to be free as a writer? Free from an immediate need for money, free from the need to be praised, free from the concern of how those close to you will respond to what you write, free from the political implications, free from your publisher’s eagerness for a book that looks like the last, or worse still, like whatever the latest fashion might be?

Source: A Novel Kind of Conformity by Tim Parks | The New York Review of Books

As We Write, We Create Ourselves

Published August 6, 2015 by Philip Ivory

“From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.”
George Orwell, “Why I Write

I’ve worked as a professional writer for 30 years, since graduating from Columbia in 1985. I make my living in what they now call marketing writing, but what used to be called other things like public relations or copywriting. I live in that world 8 hours a day.

At the end of that day, I want to work on something else, something closer to my heart: fiction writing. I’ve dabbled in it all my life, off and on, but, now in my early 50s, I’m feeling a new commitment to it. About a year ago, I plunged back into it, thanks to some help from some good friends, a very good reading/writing group, and an excellent writing class here in Tucson, AZ, where I reside.

The thWYSing is, for the better part of a decade prior, I was not writing. Nothing felt good. Sometimes I strapped myself in for Nanowrimo (that’s National Novel Writing Month). I’d write my 50,000 words in the 30 days of November but end up with an ungainly mess that I could barely stand to look at, a child I’d rather leave on someone’s doorstep than take responsibility for. Sporadically, I’d produce a globule of writing, which would end up residing uneasily on my hard drive, not knowing if it was wanted or not.

The years when I wasn’t writing productively were bad. I felt lost. I had a job, and family. But no purpose. And no sense of my own identify. I was just a guy taking up space in the world, like the writing fragments taking up space on my computer.

But when I started writing again, I found myself again. As the writing muscles flexed, and the words began to flow, I felt as if my very life juices were beginning to flow again. I knew who I was. Why I was on this planet.

That’s what I want this blog to be about. Sure, there are many reasons to write. Fame. Fortune. Sex. Money. In that order. (Actually, if it’s those four things, any order will do.)

But the best reason to write is to stay sane.

Yes, sane. After all, it’s a tough world out there. It’s not always fun. The news is wall to wall with hatred and craziness. It’s a Kellogg’s Variety Pack of shame, violence, inhumanity, vulgarity and Kardashians.

The world can wear you down, trample on your joi de vivre and take the starch out of your sunflower. If you are meant to write, born to write, I believe you will lose your sense of self if you fail to do so. In Orwell’s words, you will outrage your true nature.

As Ray Bradbury said: “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.”
(Thank you, Mr. Bradbury. I was lucky enough to hear you speak once, and I’ll never forget it.)

That’s what I’m going to try to do this with this blog, jotting down thoughts on writing, some heady and high flying, some practical and soil-based.

I’ll talk about books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen. Conversations I’ve had. Classes I’ve taken. Journals I’ve submitted stories to. Anything that feeds the spirit and charges up the creative batteries, and leads you to write, write, write.

I have a corollary to Bradbury’s sentiment, a parallel sentiment but one perhaps with larger implications for leading a satisfactory life. It’s a motto to remember for any of us who have carried around large baggage, letting the weight stifle our heartsongs from ringing out loud and clear.

In the Gnostic text known as the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

So bring forth. Write. Yourself. Sane.