A Look Back at 2014

 

Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula  Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci
Star Formation in the Tadpole Nebula
Image Credit: WISE, IRSA, NASA; Processing & Copyright : Francesco Antonucci

Good Riddance to 2014

Though 2014 has not been all that bad a year, I am more than glad to see it banished into the realms of past history. For me, as a writer, this past year has been one of great promises, all of which seem to have gone unfulfilled or turned into dead-end back alleys. All the good contacts and leads, which I had so painstakingly advanced, dissolved into nothing.

Then there was the closing of Yahoo Voices, a site which I had started to contribute to, way back when it was called Associated Content. Finally, as of this year, the site was beginning to produce some real revenue, but as soon as that begin to happen, YV closed it doors and took all articles off the web with just a 30 day warning…….2015 has to be better!

Important Literary Events of 2014

By far the most important literary event of 2014 was the ongoing feud between Amazon and Hachette. Although this dispute was settled last month, just in time for the Christmas sales, the ebook pricing agreement will affect all the large publishers, who wish to sell ebooks on Amazon.com. Another important Amazon action that will affect many self-publishing Indie authors is the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (commonly called KU) by Amazon. This decision will be especially detrimental to authors, who sell a large number of self-published ebooks  in the $2.99 to $7.99 range through Kindle Select. Stay tuned for there is more to come on this new development.

And finally there is the most recent success of The Interview, a recent Sony pictures release that depicts the death of the leader of North Korea. This is a complex story, where Sony originally eighty-sixed the movie after hacking repercussions, but later released the movie in an unique way that has made the dark comedy a smash hit around the globe.

In Passing

For me, the most notable passing has been the death of Maya Angelou, theaward-winning  African American writer, who penned such American favorites as I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Also gone are Thomas Berger (author of Little Big Man), Nadine Gordimer (July’s People), Graham Joyce, P.D. James and Ralph Giordano (a holocaust surviver and author).

2014 Success Story

One of the most amazing events of 2014 was the landing of a ESA spacecraft on a moving comet. On November 12, 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft successfully landed on the Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko and immediately started beaming back pictures, such as the one below. Unfortunately, a notably 20th century problem has now disconnected the adventurous, ESA spacecraft from the planet Earth. And that problem is low batteries, which is something many of us experience all the time.

The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko  Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson
The Cliffs of Comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko
Image Credit & Licence (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): ESA, Rosetta spacecraft, NAVCAM; Additional Processing: Stuart Atkinson

What the Future Might Bring?

image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanders
image from the Vimeo short film titled The Wanderers, which was created by Eric Wernquist and Christian Sandquist and features the words and voice of Carl Sagan.

To view The Wanderers go to the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day site, here.

 

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Have a Horrible, Horrible Christmas

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a widely acclaimed seasonal classic.
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has become a widely acclaimed seasonal classic.

REALLY!!!

No not really, but Christmas time is a great occasion for storytelling and all those stories need not be about nutcrackers and sugar plum fairies. In fact, if you step back and take a close look at some of the tall tales that circulate on these longest of winter nights, you will find that quite a few delve into the darkness of men’s souls. From Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite to Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, innovative storytellers have been more than willing to celebrate the Yule time with a grisly tale. And guess what……they have been very successful at capturing our attention.

My Story

Recently, Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds posted a Christmas Flash Fiction challenge. In this quest, he suggested that interested participants write a 2,000 word horror story about Christmas. To put things in his own words: “The holidays are in fact ripe with horror — meat and candy, mythological creatures who spy on you, winter hellscapes, animated toys. So many options for terror!”

My response ran a little over the suggested 2,000 word limit, but here it is anyway, a dark Christmas tale from the Canadian North Woods.

Le Loup Garou (the French-Canadian Werewolf)

a Short Story by Henri Bauhaus

The old timers said that the winters in the spruce forests of Northern Ontario were not as cold as they used to be. According to these elderly gents, there once was a time, when the Wendigo River would freeze solid as a rock from Thanksgiving till Easter. The frigid winter would even solidify Jim McKenzie Falls, a twelve foot high rock ledge that ran the breadth of the northward flowing river. They also often lamented that on some nights it would get so cold that your spit would freeze before it hit the ground.

But there was no need to tell Sam Wiggins that…for he learned all about the awesome North Woods winter, the hard way. The unfortunate event took place on an icy December night, when the trees of the forest were going snap, crackle and pop, as the temperature plunged well below zero. So cold were these solstice nights that not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

Sam’s boss man, Patrick Munster, had given Sam and his crew both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off. But in the year of our Lord, 1925, Christmas fell on a Sunday, so for the Monday following the most revered holiday, Mr. Cargill expected all twelve loggers to be present and accounted for at 8 a.m. at the Wendigo branch of the Tamarack Paper company. It mattered nil that Monday was Boxing Day and the Feast of Saint Stephen was nigh. To the delight of the paper bosses, Christmas had conveniently fallen on a weekend and come hell or high water Patrick Munster was going to get a week of work from his hardy gang. before the new year rolled in.

The loggers had put in a good day on the Friday before Christmas, so Patrick gave the whole crew the latter part of the day off. The earnest penny-pincher even had a modest cash bonus for all the men, including the ones, who had only been on the crew for just a few months. It had been a good year for the Tamarack Paper Company and the seasoned foreman had been given a small wad of cash and told to disperse it evenly among the crew. Patrick did so without fanfare or keeping even a token amount for himself, an unselfish decision that was rare amongst the company foremen.

Not only did Patrick know the woods well, but he also understood the ways of his men very well. For he knew that sooner or later many of them would end up in the same tavern and that one of the first subjects of conversation would be about their Christmas bonuses. When the subject did come up, Ole Patrick wanted it to be known that his crew got the best bonus possible. For his Christmas kindness, the old Irishman knew that he would reap the benefits in the springtime, when the work gangs were just getting together for the upcoming year.

With only an hour or so of daylight left in the gray, December sky, Sam and several of his fellow loggers headed straight for the Laughing Loon Saloon, which was located just a few doors down from the office of the paper company. From the twelve man crew, only Sam and two of his buddies, Gil McHall and Emit Harding, made it through the front door of the busy drinking establishment.

Once inside, they were promptly seated by an overworked barmaid, who quickly set the trio up with a round of O’Keefe’s Ale and a couple shots each of Seagram’s Canadian Whiskey. Sam lead the first toast.

With glasses raised he said: “Here’s to the overworked lumberjack and the cheap-ass timber company that can’t afford more than a couple days off for its dedicated employees.”

“Aye, aye,” said Gil and Emit in unison, as they clanked glasses together.

“And here’s to the two month furlough we got coming after the New Year,” said Emit, as he raised his second shot glass. “May God rest our weary bones.”

This time Sam and Gil chipped in with a hearty, “Hail, hail.”

After setting their empty shot glass on the round wooden table, each man instinctively started sipping their brew.

“So I hear you plan to spend the winter break up here on the river,” said Gil.

Sam responded. “You got that right. The company offered me some part-time employment and a bed in the bunkhouse until we get going again in the spring.”

“No shit,” said Gil. “Whatcha goin’ to be doin’?”

“Repairing snowshoes, sharpening axes and shit like that,” said Sam.

“That won’t last very long,” said Emit.

“I hope not,” said Sam. “Cause I was planning to set out some traplines, so I can catch me a bunch of snowshoe hares and maybe a lynx or two.”

“There’s always money to be made, ain’t there,” said Gil.

“One way or another,” said Sam, as he took a moment to down the beer from his heavy, glass mug. Then Sam summoned the barmaid, a sweet young lady named Heidi, who was aged somewhere around 30.

“You guys want another round,” asked the shapely lady, as she whirled by the table.

“Just the ale,” said Sam.

“No more whiskey,” inquired the barmaid.

“I’ll do another shot,” piped in Gil.

“Me too,” added Emit.

“One more shot all around,” asked Heidi, as she lay her hand on Sam’s shoulder and swung her long blond braids near enough the tired lumberjack, so he could catch a whiff of her spruce shampoo.

“Hell….make it two,” said Sam. “We got a lot to talk about tonight.”

“Be right back,” said Heidi, while swooping up the empty shot glasses and placing them on her circular tray.

Then she left the table and disappeared behind the bar.

“That’s one foxy lady,” said Sam, as he watched the barmaid fix up a new round of drinks for the hard-working timber cutters.

“You can look all you want to,” said Gil. “But that lady’s spoken for.”

“I can dream, can’t I,” replied Sam.

“No harm in that,” said Emit. “Just don’t get any nutty ideas as the night rolls on.”

“Don’t worry ’bout me, I’m headed up to Moose Crossing for the holiday,” said Sam.

“You ain’t goin’ up that ways tonight, are you?” asked Gil.

“I was kind of thinkin’ of it,” said Sam. “You have a problem with that?”

“No way,” said Gil. “It’s just that it’s a good five to seven miles on a three-foot snowpack.”

“I can handle that,” said Sam.

“Just checking,” said Gil.

“You’re not going to pass on some nonsense about the Loup de Garou,” said Sam.

“You mean the French-Canadian werewolf,” asked Gil.

Just then Heidi returns with the next round of drinks and sets them on the table.

“Here you go guys.”

“Thanks Heidi,” said Sam. “You’re a real sweetheart.”

“Just doing my job,” said Heidi. “By the way I didn’t overhear you talking about le Loup de Garou, did I?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” said Emit. “That ghastly creature, which only comes out on the longest nights of the year.”

“There’s no such thing,” said Gil.

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” replied Heidi.

“You’re pulling my leg aren’t you,” said Gil.

“I used to think like that,” said Heidi.

“What changed your mind?” asked Sam.

“A few midnight stragglers with the fear of death in their eyes.”

“Here at the Laughing Loon,” inquired Emit.

“Every winter, one or two show up with some weird tale about being followed by a strange creature. I used to pass it off as some drunken nonsense….but I just can’t do that no more.”

“Why’s that?” asked Sam.

“Some of them were stone cold sober!”

Heidi walks away leaving the three men to their drinks.

One hour later, Sam, Emit and Gil were outside the Laughing Loon strapping on their snowshoes, which had been left out in the snow, while the three men were inside drinking.

“You’re not serious about trekking up to Moose Crossing night,” asked Emit.

“Sure am,” said Sam. “And I hope you’re not serious about that French werewolf bullshit.”

“Of course not,” said Emit. “It’s just the night is turning into a real cold one and a lot can happen in five miles of night walking.”

Sam finishes lashing on his webbed walking contraptions and then stands upright.

“Don’t worry, Emit. I know where I’m going. Besides I got a rising full moon to guide me.”

“I’m sure Sam can take care of himself,” said Gil.

“Alright then,” said Emit. “See you bright and early on Monday.”

With those words, Sam left his two companions and began following a packed snowy trail down to the banks of the Wendigo River. The rising moon cast its rays across the frozen tributary, creating a spectacularly beautiful scene that rivaled the best paintings ever done. Sam reveled in the beauty of the wintry, nocturnal scene, for the white bark of the river birches sparkled in the moonglow with an eerie iridescence, unlike anything that Sam had ever witnessed.

About half way to Moose Crossing, Sam heard some heavy breathing that seemed to be coming up the trail from behind. At first, the solitary walker thought that there was another person out on the trail……after all it was a popular path that connected the two wilderness outposts.

But every time Sam turned around, there was nothing visible.

Another mile along the river trail and the breathing seemed to be closing in, so Sam increased his pace….not a good idea on a sub-zero December night. Soon, Sam came to a top of a knoll, where the snow was particularly deep and the shoeing was overly strenuous. Naturally, Sam stopped to catch his breath. It was at this juncture that Sam noticed a pair of green eyes glowing in the dark forest and he thought he could dimly make out the condensation of someone exhaling amidst the thick cover of spruce trees.

In no time Sam resumed his march through the December night, but now a new urgency pumped his body full of adrenalin and pushed him onwards to his final destination at an alarming speed. The heavy breathing did not stop, as Sam kept his eyes fixed forward…..too terrified to turn around.

As the trail descended from the small knoll, Sam used the downward slope to propel himself forward underneath the frozen canopy. Another incline and Sam was sweating profusely, as he made his tired legs lift his long, wooden walking aids along the snowy path. Each step seemed harder and harder and instinctively Sam knew he would not last long in this arctic environment at his present pace. If the phantom behind did not get him, his overexertion would. There was no way out.

Then at the top of the next hill a glimmer of hope appeared. It was the glow of an occupied cabin that seemed to be situated about a mile in front of him. Sam did not trust his own eyes, but he had no choice….And that was to propel himself forward, as best he could, and hope that his vision was real and that he would reach the place of human habitation before being consumed by the spirit behind him.

The last mile was the most physically excruciating and mentally terrifying minutes that he ever experienced in his 45 years on the planet. The breathing from behind got heavier and heavier. At times it seemed like the breath of the monster was all around him.

Finally, Sam was a hundred yards away from the lighted cabin. He couldn’t believe it. It seemed so real that he could smell the woodsmoke pouring out the chimney and he could barely distinguish the muffled sound of human voices. They were joyous sounds like those that might come from a merry party.

At last, Sam reached out for the metal latch that kept the cabin door closed tight and separated the warm heated interior from the frigid night. Sam wholly-expected the whole building to be a figment of his imagination, but it wasn’t, as he released the latch and stumbled across a finished maple floor with his snowshoes still attached to his feet.

Immediately, the joyful banter turned to dead silence. The first thing Sam noticed was a huge fire burning in a fireplace that was located to his right. Directly, in front of Sam was a long bar with a banner hanging from the ceiling that said: “Welcome To Hell”. The bartender had a bright red, painted face and two horns emerging from the sides of his head. Worse of all he had an uncanny resemblance to Jim McKenzie, the brave logger who had died ten years before in a logjam right above the waterfalls that now bore his name in honorarium.

When the bartender spoke, Sam passed out.

Immediately, a small crowd gathered around the exhausted logger. A woman splashed her drink in Sam’s face and he came to.

Sam looked at the bartender and blurted out: “You’re Jim McKenzie and you’re dead.”

Immediately, the sounds of laughter filled the one-room cabin.

“No sir,” then the bartender paused for a few long seconds. “I’m Doug McKenzie, Jim’s older brother. Even though Jim passed away ten years ago, people still get us mixed up. It happens all the time.”

“What the fuck is going on here?” said Sam.

Another loud burst of laughter passes through the twenty or so people gathered in the lonely cabin.

“Welcome to Hell Night!” said Doug. “We do this once a year right before Christmas.”

Slowly, Sam surveys the room and notices that all the people are in costume, most of them quite dreadful.

“You’re kidding me,” said Sam.

“I kid you not,” said Doug. “But I do have one question for you.”

“What’s that?” said Sam.

“What caused you to come bursting through the front door with your snowshoes still attached to your feet?”

“I was being followed by the Loup de Garou,”

Another deathly silence swept through the room.

Then the fire flickered and one of the windows fogged up from the outside. A few seconds later another window fogged up, as two wolf-like eyes could be seen glowing outside in the night. And they seemed to be looking into the cabin.

Then the eyes disappeared and faint footsteps could be heard leading away from the cabin.

When things returned to normal, Doug leaned over and spoke to Sam.

“That ain’t no werewolf!”

“Then what the hell is it?” asked Sam.

“It’s a ghost wolf,” said Doug.

“A what?”

“An appearance by a ghost wolf is rare,” said Jim. “But when they do appear, they always take somebody back with them.”

The End

Good Writing Will Find a Way To the Surface…….No Matter What the Current State of Affairs

Rings Around the Ring Nebula  Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler
Rings Around the Ring Nebula
Image Credit: Hubble, Large Binocular Telescope, Subaru Telescope; Composition & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Amazon-Hachette Takes It Toll

As the Amazon-Hachette stand-off continues, it appears the party most being hurt are the authors. Amazon and Hachette aren’t doing too well either, yet still there is no clear signal as to how long this dispute will last or how things will turn out, when the issues finally get resolved. From my viewpoint, which definitely, leans towards Amazon, it looks like ebook sales will continue to grow and that more authors will pursue the ebook as the primary venue for their creative literary efforts. This will include newbie authors as well as writers previously published with both small and large print presses. High profile best-selling authors will continue to see most of their sales come through the retailing of paperback books, which probably predisposes these guys and gals away from the growing ebook market.

How It Used To Be

The conclusion of World War II and the return of the American G.I. to the U.S., lead to many books being published by authors, who in the past may have found a harder road to publication. War seen through the first person had always been prevalent in literature (i.e. The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet On the Western Front ), but there seemed to an outpouring of  books about the “Big One.” The war experience  launched such notable writers as Norman Mailer, James Michener, Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut and Ernest Hemingway (Spanish Civil War). Unfortunately, the publicationof war stories has not been discontinued as we roll into the 21st century, for armed conflict around the world has not abated by any means. In fact, it is quite possible that they have increased. However, the point here is that in the 40s and 50s, editors and publishers were not overwhelmed by large numbers of ambitious and talented writers, like they are today.

First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons
First edition book cover for Manchild In the Promised Land, from wiki commons

Manchild In the Promised Land

In 1965 Macmillan & Co. published Claude Brown’s street-tough classic, Manchild In the Promised Land. Though Claude Brown grew up among Harlem hoodlums, he was able to turn his life around and complete a memoir about his troubled NYC youth in upper Manhattan. The book was discovered in the slush pile by an astute NYC editor and eventually went on to sell four million copies and was also translated into 14 languages. At time of publication Mr. Brown was working as a mail carrier, but would begin a lecturing career that lasted a lifetime once the book became successful. Claude Brown also introduced Toni Morrison to his editor, who also became a major catalyst with her literary success.

Trying To Get A Handle On Today’s Literary Scene

Things are definitely changing today. Books are still being printed and read, but the onset of ebooks has definitely leveled the playing field somewhat. Many of the old authors despise the new format. One of the most notables was the late Ray Bradbury, who recently said this about ebooks:

Those aren’t books. You can’t hold a computer in your hand like you can a book. A computer does not smell. There are two perfumes to a book. If a book is new, it smells great. If a book is old, it smells even better. It smells like ancient Egypt. A book has got to smell.”

Despite these words, Mr. Bradbury succumbed to the evils of ebooks before he passed away. However, writers facing the challenge of first-time publication are presented with a whole set of different problems than Ray Bradbury, when he first came of age as a author at the end of WWII. Since mainline publishers are more and more interested in mass market genre titles and less so in literary fiction, contemporary authors cannot necessarily rely on the proverbial slush pile for their success, even though it is still a viable option for some. Instead networking, visibility on social networks, blogging, self-publishing and plain old perseverance all play an important part in getting the story out.
P.S. Thanks goes out to Alan Rinzler at The Book Deal for the inspiration for this blog. Alan is the editor who discovered Claude Brown and was consequently introduced to Toni Morrison, who went on to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature.

The Rude Boys Are Back In Town

 

Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard
Boxing Match, painting by James Pollard

The Issue

The issue is not exactly a new one, for the debate between Amazon and Hachette has been around for a while. There was even a Department of Justice settlement recently awarded to Amazon, after they determined that Apple, along with four book publishers (including Hatchette) were found guilty of colluding with Apple to set ebook prices. Incidentally, this was one of the biggest anti-trust lawsuits ever brought by US federal authorities. Since that decision, Amazon and Hatchetet are now undergoing negotiations to work out ebook prices for books sold by Amazon. At issue here is who determines the price of the ebook, Hatchette, Amazon or some combination of the two. During negotiations Amazon has removed pre-order buttons from all soon-to-be-released Hatchette books and is reportedly delaying shipment of  all hard copy books published by Hatchette.

Sound Off

Everybody who’s anybody in the publishing world has been sounding off on this feud, which may be destined to determine how much readers will pay for ebooks at Amazon.com. James Patterson, a Hatchette author and one of the most most successful authors in the world, is down on Amazon, as is Steve Colbert, another large-selling Hatchette author, who also stars in the Comedy Central hit, the Colbert report. On a recent episode of the award-winning show, Colbert joined forces with Sherman Alexie to totally trash Amazon’s dispute with Hatchette. Mr. Colbert even goes as far as to call for a boycott of Amazon. Others supporting Hatchette include John Green, JK Rowling and the AAR (Association of Author’s Representatives).

 

JK Rowling, a millionaire writer, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon
JK Rowling, a millionaire writer of Harry Potter fame, has sided with her publisher, Hatchette, in its dispute with Amazon

The Battle of Fingers

When I first read about the ensuing conflict on JA Konrath’s popular blog ( A Newbie’s Guide To Publishing) I was a bit dismayed by his visual display of his middle finger. At the time it just seemed like a lot of arrogance, displayed by a successful Amazon author, who makes over a thousand dollars a day. That was until I viewed an online video of the Colbert Report, where a distraught Mr. Colbert uses the middle appendage of his right hand to stick it to Amazon. I guess dueling it out with middle fingers is a lot better than using pistols at twenty paces, but still, there seems to be a lot of room for improving how one expresses themselve.

Other Viewpoints

Not everybody is jumping to the defense of Hatchette. One of the most adamant Amazon supporters is JA Konrath. You can read his rant and check out his middle finger to Colbert, here. Other interesting opinions have been expressed at the  Huffington Post, the Washington Post (also owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos,) and the Slate.

In 2015 the host spot for the Tonight Show will go to Steve Colbert
In 2015 the host spot for the Late Show will go to Steve Colbert

Not Yet Ready For Prime Time

One of the most surprising and disgusting outcomes of this whole episode is the veracity with which Steve Colbert has defended his own publisher. It is hard for me to believe that soon this guy will have be hosting one of the major night talk shows at CBS. This not bode well for the health of our national TV industry or our political discourse.

My Take

Unfortunately, most of Hatchette’s biggest defenders have been those who make the most money with their writing. Sometimes it seems like the 1% analogy that permeates our current political discussion has trickled down to the literary world. In recent years, breaking into paper publishing has gotten more difficult, even though the Big Five are finding it more difficult to make money or just survive. For mid-list and low-list writers who depend on ebook sales for this livelihood this dispute is most unwelcome. Despite its size and aggressive business practices, Amazon provides much-needed income to writers, who would receive next to nil, if ebook sales didn’t exist. Presently, I see the various ebook markets as a way in which unrecognized writers can find a voice in the world.

P.S.

One much-needed beneficiary of this running debate are the independent booksellers, who are presently seeing a surge in their tree book sales.

Is Magic Realism Just A Latin American Thing?

“Magic realism or magical realism is a genre where magic elements are a natural part in an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.”             by Wendy B. Faris and Lois Parkinson Zamora

Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude
Cover image for One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Nuts and Bolts of Magic Realism

Nowadays, it is generally believed that anybody can write Magic Realism, not just verbose Latin American authors. Just to prove how widespread this idea is, I will recent a recent article in Writer’s Digest that explains the basis of such a literary task. Among the building blocks of Magic Realism that author Kristin O’Keeffe cites is creating a realistic and mundane world from which your magic elements can spring forth. Miss O’Keefe goes on to say that no logical explanation is needed for those strange things that might occur during the course of your story……they just happen. Still, keep in mind that Magic Realism is not fantasy, for it is always grounded in a real (and often mundane) world.

The Hummingbird's Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing
The Hummingbird’s Daughter introduces elements of Native American mysticism to contemporary writing

Golden Age of Magic Realism

The Golden Age of Latin American Magic Realism probably occurred during the 40s, 50s and 60s, culminating with the Marquez classic, One Hundred Years of Solitude. Today, the popular genre has been replaced by more realistic historical and political stories about some of the horrendous and tumultuous events that have shaped some Latin American nations in the second half of the 20th century. For example, Julia Alvarez’s novel, In the Time of Butterflies, sounds like it be of the genre. But instead it is basically a historical novel underlining the cruelty and barbarity of the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic. In fact, Alvarez’s story may be typical of what is going on among Latin writers today with a movement away from the slightly unreal to the coarse reality of everyday life.

Heart of the Jaguar by Pax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism
Heart of the Jaguar by Jax introduces animal mysticism to the realm of Magic Realism

Magic Realism Abounds Today

Just as authors South of the Border may be moving away from floating and flying characters, numerous other writers from the U.S., Europe and Asia, seem more than ready to embrace the concept. A Magic Realism reading list put forth by Kristin O’Keeffe embraces such literary stars as Toni Morrison, Huruki Murakami, Yann Martel, Karen Russell and Alice Hoffman. The Magic Realism of Folk Tales To my way of thinking, Fairy Tales are a great source of Magical Realism that has been overlooked by this literary discussion. True they do have strong fantasy elements, but for the most part, the stories are grounded in rather real and mundane worlds, especially if you consider the time period, when they were written. What is most important here is the way fairy tales have been re-adapted and re-told by contemporary authors to convey a modern dilemma. With this genre contemporary writing has a rich and fertile ground from which to introduce new elements of magic to readers everywhere.

The Passing of a Multi-talented Artist

Dateline: On May 28, 2014, the writer, Maya Angelou died at age 86. Over the years she had received many awards for her writing. Perhaps, her most prestigious was the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded by President Barrack Obama in 2011.

Inside the Flame Nebula  Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech; 
Inside the Flame Nebula 
Image Credit: Optical: DSS; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech;

Many Artists

Today in our media-crazed society there are many artists, both known and unknown. Sometimes there are so many that they seem like stars in the sky. I guess with the exploding population on our planet (it’s now around 7 billion) and the proliferation of Indie artists and authors on the internet, it’s a miracle that anyoneever  gets any mention, at all. Perhaps Maya Angelou was lucky because she came of age, when music was recorded on vinyl LPs and books were made from dead trees. No idea how she would have fared in today’s topsy-turvey world of social networking and self publishing. But nonetheless, here’s a brief  tribute to a spunky lady who had a popular nightclub act, played a major role in the “Roots” TV drama, read poetry at Bill Clinton’s inaugaration, plus penned a series of seven autobiographical novels that brought inall  kinds of awards and recognition.

Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou's first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.
Miss Calypso was Maya Angelou’s first recording. Released in 1957, the LP recording was based on her popular nightclub act.

Who Was Maya Angelou?

Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis. She picked up the nickname in early childhood from her older brother, who couldn’t quite pronounce my sister and so he just used the simple phrase, “Maya”. Then in the her twenties she married a Greek man by the name of Angelos. Although the marriage did not last all that long, the name, with a slight twist did.

My Experience With the Writer

Back in the nineties I read two of Maya’s autobiographical novels. The first was titled All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes: and then I read her classic I Know Why he Caged Bird Sings. Looking back now, I think the Traveling Shoes tale of going back to Africa and coming across a village, where several residents looked like they could be her identical twin, has hag the most lasting impression on me. Anyway you look at it, picking up any one of her most remarkable novels and sitting down and having a good read is well worth the time invested.

Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP
Maya Angelou, a year before she died, from wikipedia photo credited to York College ISLGP

“A Black Grandmother In the White House, My Goodness”

Not too long ago Maya spoke these exact words on the Anderson Cooper Show. My only question is whether she was referring to Barrack Obama or Michelle Obama. Both have black grandmothers, though Barrack has one, while Michelle has two. But if she is referring to the Barrack children, their black grandmother could only come from their mother’s side. Is this a put down of Barrack Obama or perhaps just a little bit of sisterhood bonding with the First Lady. I suspect the latter.

In Conclusion

Probably nobody sums up Maya Angelou’s amazing and tumultuous life better than John McWhorter of the New Republic:

“And Angelou’s life has certainly been a full one: from the hardscrabble Depression era South to pimp, prostitute, supper club chanteuse, performer in Porgy and Bess, coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, journalist in Egypt and Ghana in the heady days of decolonization, comrade of Malcolm X, and eyewitness to the Watts riots. She knew King and Malcolm, Billie Holiday, and Abbey Lincoln.”

Who could ask for more?

The Passing of A Literary Giant

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Cover for the Marquez novel, One Hundred Tears of Solitude, from Wikipedia

One of Those Rare Reads

Even though I read One Hundred Years of Solitude over 30 years ago, the vivid images and spicy storytelling  still sticks in my mind. Even today, this tragic-comedy from the Caribbean coast of Columbia, counts as one of the most impressive novels that I have ever read. For the English-reading audience, this is a tale that introduced “Magic Realism” to the world, as well as a whole flurry of capitivating Latin American authors. For years, writers like Pablo Neruda, Carlos Fuentes and Jorge Luis Borges had been presenting their slightly skewed version of Hispanic reality to the world; but now with the stories of Marquez came a new label. Loosely defined, magic realism combines the advent of magical happenings with the mundane reality of day-to-day life. Its roots are distinctly Central and South American with authors like Alejo Carpentier, José Ortega y Gasset and Arturo Uslar-Pietri paving the way for a modern group of practitioners that stretches around the globe.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez wearing a “sombrero vueltiao”, a head garment that is popular along the Caribbean coast of Columbia.

Marquez the Writer

Gabriel (or “Gabo, as he is affectionately known by many) was born in a coastal city of Columbia, called Aracataca. Aracataca is a small, isolated city on the Caribbean, where many of Marquez’s stories are set. The special uniqueness of this  hot tropical land permeates Gabriel’s writing.

The Gabriel Garcia Marquez Wall in Aracatac, Columbia
The Gabriel Garcia Marquez Wall in Aracatac, Columbia

About the Region

Aracataca is a river town located on a South American river of the same name. The coastal lowlands here are hot and humid year round. As a result the area supports an active agricultural commerce that includes bananas, palm oil, sugar cane, cotton and rice. Thanks to the success of the United Fruit Company in cultivating large plantations, the coastal lands  have sometimes fallen under the label of “Banana Republic“. It is from this  isolated birthplace and childhood home that Gabo has fashioned most of his stories.

Marquez and Castro

Marquez and Castro

In early 1959, Gabriel Garcia Marquez went to Cuba as a journalist, covering the revolution that eventually replaced Juan Batista with Fidel Castro. Though not always in complete agreement with the bearded guerilla fighter, the two men became close friends. This alliance on occasion brought criticism from other Latin American writers, who felt that Marquez was ignoring dissidents imprisioned by the Castro regime. Nonetheless, Castro definitely admired the Columbian author and  is quoted as referring to Marquez as having “the goodness of a child and a cosmic talent.”