A House Made of Sky

A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author
A high plains sunset in Sioux Falls, SD photo by author

A Montana One-of-a-Kind Passes Away

Since noted Montana writer, Ivan Doig, passed away this pass week, I deciced to honor the famed author of This House of Sky with some comments and a series of sunset photographs from the West. Though Ivan spent most of his adult life in the Seattle area, he did grow-up in the shadow of the Montana Rockies and wrote extensively from that experience. One of his best known books was This House of Sky. It was a memoir of his Montana youth that became a finalist for the National Book Award.

Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM
Sunset with tree silouhettes in Taos, NM

Western Childhood

Ivan Doig was born in 1939 in White Sulfur Springs, not too far from the Big Belt Mountains and the state capitol at Helena. He grew up in a family of homesteaders and ranch hands. His mother died at age six, so after that tragic event, Ivan was raised by his father and grandmother. Soon thereafter they moved north to a different part of the state, where the family’s main occupation was sheepherding. Doig stayed in Montana until educational pursuits drew him away from the state, first to Northwestern University in Illinois and finally to the University of Washington, where he obtained an advanced degree in American history. Ivan would remain in Washington for the rest of his life.

Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author
Clouds above Billings, Montana, photo by author

Last Bus To Wisdom

Even though Ivan Doig just passed away, there still is one more book on the way. The novel is called Last Bus To Wisdom and it will not be officially released until August of this year. The publisher is Riverhead Books and this autobiographical story revolves around an eleven-year old boy from Montana, who is sent to the Midwest to stay with some friends of his caretaker, a middle-aged woman, who needs to undergo an emergency medical operation.

The visit to Minnesota does not go well and soon the boy from Montana is back on the bus home with a surprise companion. This posthumous traveler’s tale falls in line with a lot of the western tales that Ivan wrote during his lifetime and should consolidate his well-deserved reputation as one of the best Western storytellers of the 20th century. The book is definitely on my reading list for this year.


Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author
Sign for Empire Steel Manufactoring Co. in Billings, MT, photo by author

Is The Great Gatsby the Quinessential “Great American Novel?

The “Great American Novel”
Many writers have toyed with the idea of writing a great American novel.  Perhaps after a lifetime of  hard work, some bestselling writers may produce one work, which is the epidemy of what they trying to say during their lifetime of literary endeavors. For example, William Burroughs’s Naked Lunch, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest and Anne Rice’s Interviews With A Vampire may be very popular works of fiction, but in all likelihood, these works are generally not classified as A Great American Novel.  Usually, The Great American Novel is a laudable phrase applied to a piece of literature that presents the most accurate and representative portrait of American life during a specific period of time. Many contemporary literary critics look at Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and see in this very short novel, a marvelous recreation of life during the “Roaring Twenties.
The Great Gatsby
During his literary career, F. Scott Fitzgerald authored five novels, ten short story collections and also coined the term, “The Jazz Age”. Undoubtedly his most highly-regarded novel today is The Great Gatsby. This melancholy story from the “Roaring Twenties” was first published in 1925 to moderate commercial success and mediocre literary acclaim. Set in 1922 within the fictional Long Island town of West Egg, this story revolves around a young self-made millionaire, named Jay Gatsby. Next to Gatsby’s sprawling estate, lives the narrator, Nick Carraway. Nick works in nearby New York City selling stocks and bonds, but often attends Gatsby’s lavish alcohol-laden parties, which are the hit of the town during that peculiar period of American history known as “Prohibition”.
But unfortunately, Jay Gatsby’s new found wealth does not bring him happiness. Not surprisingly, Gatsby’s unhappiness derives from a young woman, who he once romanced at the beginning of WWI. Her name is Daisy and at the time Gatsby was madly in love with her and vica versa. But the war is over and Daisy is married to another man. She is also related to the narrator.
On Screen
All total The Great Gatsby has the makings of a great “Roaring Twenties” story. The book has fast women, faster cars, bathtub gin, nouveau riche, lavish parties, flappers and a love triangle. All told, this classic story has been made into film five times with a sixth production scheduled for release in early May (2013). However, before you rush out to see the 120 million dollar movie that stars Leornordo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire, you you might want to read this classic American tale. It’s very short (less than 200 pages) and features the use of long, beautifully-crafted, lyrical sentences that still succeed to entertain and amaze the reader. Perhaps it can be said, that Fitzgerald’s masterpiece is the last example of the flowery, descriptive writing that was so prevalent before Hemingway forever changed the playing field with his skilled use of dynamic dialogue and terse prose.

Why I Am Skipping NaNoWriMo This Year

the tadpole galaxy
Arp 188 and the Tadpole’s Tail;
Hubble Legacy Archive, ESA, NASA

First Attempt

I first attempted to complete a NaNoWriMO manuscript back in 2008. I came close to making the 50,000 word minimum set forth by the non-profit organization, as being an “official” novel, but ultimately, I fell short by 5,000 words. Besides making me very tired, the international coordinated event did inspire me onward and upwards as a writer. The most profound result was a collection of a half dozen or so short stories that I expanded into a full-length novel; which according to most industry professionals ranges from 65,000 to over a 100,000 words. In the real world 50,000 word novels are rare, though definitely not non-existent.

So by spring of 2009 I had my first completed novel. Without delay I went about the exciting task of trying to hook an agent for the completed manuscript. The result was disappointing to say the least, but still, I had completed the task to the point where I had a finished manuscript that could be shown to prospective readers and buyers. I was even successful in obtaining one reading by an insider in the publishing industry, who gave me lots of good feedback, but no sales.

Flooding The Market

Namowrimo has been amazingly successful. After a modest beginning in July 1999 with only 21 writers, the annual writing event has seen a steady increase in participants. Last year (2011) saw approximately a quarter million perspective novelists up from 200,000 in 2010. Of those 250,000, just over 36,000 were declared winners, which means they were able to put together 50,000 coherent words in a period of 720 hours. No wonder it is becoming more and more common for literary agents to close their doors during the month of December. The submission rate from unpublished Namowrimo authors must be astronomical.

This Year

This year I am rewriting the novel that I began in 2009. It has been sitting in a drawer (actually stored on a hard drive is closer to the truth) since then and I figure it is well nigh time to bite the bullet and get a respectable first draft completed. I just started the project yesterday and have yet to reach even a thousand words. Even so,  I feel very good about spending this November and beyond in the rewriting mode.

The Red Spider Planetary Nebula
The Red Spider Planetary Nebula
by Carlos Milovic, Hubble Legacy Archive, NASA