Thursday, December 29, 2011

Special New Year's contest!

Yes, you too can own a personally autographed copy of the chilling new novel, "The Missionary and the Brute"! Here's how:

Book signing for my Disney book.
To qualify, there are two easy steps:
  • First - join this site.
  • Then - reply to this thread with a comment and your email address. (Comments are moderated so if your comment does not immediately appear - no worries - it will be added within 24 hours. One comment per entrant please.) 
One lucky winner chosen at random will receive a copy of "The Missionary and the Brute" personally autographed by author John Kenworthy - that's ME!

You know, not everyone in this life knows precisely what they are worth, but I do. Exactly $3.28. Yup. That's right. $THREE DOLLARS and TWENTY-EIGHT CENTS! Woohoo!

How do I know this?

Quite simply that's the average increase in value for autographed copies of my first two books sold on ebay compared to those sold without a signature. $3.28. That means that this prize winning book will have an actual perceived value of $14.95 + $3.28ish...

Not bad.

This contest will be open from now until January 6th. (Over 200 people have registered to win copies of my book on GoodReads. I assume your odds will be much better here!)

I do ask that you please be over 18 years old as this novel has adult elements of sensuality and violence.
After registering - Why don't you stop by other pages on the blog to read about the 'Making of "The Missionary and the Brute"'. I think you'll enjoy.

Good luck!





Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wicked humor...

It is somewhat strange that I find "The Missionary and the Brute" to have been so fun to write. It is a dark novel with plenty of death, intrigue, dust, death, sex, depravation and more death. Not everyone walks away from this novel. It is filled with wicked twists, horror-filled tableaus (An avocado placed rudely in a gaping neck wound anyone?), and unsympathetic protagonists. Yet there is something light and humorous within as well. Or so I think...

When I first conceived the novel, I saw the twists and misdirections guiding the path - and as a writer the foreshadowing and leading astray are joys to undertake. But as the bodies piled up, and the mood turned more somber for the characters - I nonetheless still felt a lightness in my literary step.

Some of it was planned.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Best writing books...

Sometimes people ask me what reading material I would recommend for young writers. I have been privileged of late to read a lot of great writing from young writers who are doing quite brilliant stuff and aside from a fresh set of eyes to purvey their work, not sure they really need much more assistance than gentle encouragement to embrace the passion for their art. Sometimes I read work that is so literate, so remarkably, consistently brilliant that I feel as if I have stumbled across a nascent John Irving. Amazing and humbling to witness. (And yes, Sam Kirshaw - I'm talking about you.)

As a writer, I feel I can honestly learn as much from others as I can in teaching them. It's an odd supportive community that somehow oddly works.

But since folks ask, I will trot out my list of helpful tomes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Roman a Clef and the Brute

"Newton, Iowa it was..."

Newton, Iowa it was...
I love that. It's my favorite line from "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac by far and for reason. I love it because Newton, Iowa - don't you know - is my hometown. I was born there and grew up there. I spent a couple of decades of my existence in that small midwestern industrial community and felt it was an absolutely lovely place in which to be born and raised.

Newton born; Newton bred; when we die, we'll be Newton dead.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Charting...

Hey... we're finally on the charts - "The Missionary and the Brute" is now #975,535 in Books on Amazon.com. (My previous books are "The Hand Behind the Mouse" - #227,909 and "Bungee Jumping & Cocoons" - #3,311,955). So it is nestled nice and snuggly betwixt the two for now. More and more people are following this blog and are LIKE-ing "The Missionary and the Brute" on GoodReads, Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter and FaceBook, so I am happy the word is getting out and know that those numbers will grow and grow! Thanks so much for sharing with your friends. Keep up the good work!

It's not too late to order your own copy with delivery in time for Christmas. If you have a reader who enjoys challenging adult, literary horror - order now here or on Amazon! Great late night fireplace reading. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Fiddler on the Hut

There is a certain device that some writers have used wherein they populate an otherwise natural story with a character so unique as to be wholly unreal. The classic case of this is the title character of "The Fiddler on the Roof". The Fiddler plays a very real role as being one of Tevya's village-mates, but yet has a more important role as an otherworldly symbol as well. It is almost as if the Fiddler is the very conscience of the play. What he plays upon his violin, is the pure ethereal thread of hope and light that sustains. Even though it is not a speaking part, it is an essential role - one that is part mime, part soundtrack, part Greek Chorus, and every bit amazing as a unifying element.

There are similar character elements throughout literature - from the Fiddler to Beatrice in Dante's "Il Purgatorio" to Jiminy Cricket.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Interview on Indie Blog

A new interview of me is now live on Kris Wampler's blog about Independent Writers. As a writer himself (Love Train) Kris is interested in the ever-changing way books go to market and the Indie Writing scene in general. Not sure I said anything overly profound or insightful here, but I think it is interesting nonetheless. Enjoy!

Here is the opening bit of his interview.

Interview: John Kenworthy

John Kenworthy is the quintessential eclectic writer, using his various life experiences to craft his writing. In this interview, John discusses how he uses social media and how he directs much of his marketing to independent bookstores.



1. Tell me briefly about your books – what are they about and what motivated you to write them?

My first book, The Hand About the Mouse: An Intimate Biography of Ub Iwerks, was published by Disney in 2001. Co-written with Ub’s granddaughter, Leslie, we tell the compelling story of one of the most amazing minds in entertainment history. Ub is the forgotten man. For me personally, I have always been drawn to those geniuses who work seemingly without ego behind the scenes to lift up technology and art – and Ub is an incredible example of that.

Read more at: http://kriswampler.wordpress.com/2011/12/12/interview-john-kenworthy/

And while you're there - check out his book, Love Train!

Friday, December 9, 2011

What color pen?

Sometimes young writers are intrigued as to the pure mechanics of writing a novel. I know I was.

Notebook, computer, pda or typewriter?
Notebook

Pen or pencil?
Pen

What color pen?
Black lately but I once wrote a really good short story in green ink so I standardized on that for a year!

Truthfully. It doesn't matter as long as it works for the individual writer, but still we try to find that magic combination.

Way back when, there was a magazine called SMART. It was the perfect magazine for me - hit me where I lived... brilliantly written, clever, cultural and aesthetically really cool.

I recall that there was once an article about Hunter S. Thompson and part of it detailed the mechanics. He used to put his chapters in plastic bags and pin them to his bulletin board. That was his organizational technique. Since I was a fan of Hunter and struggled with organizing my writing - I tried his method.

Didn't do so great.

My chapters kept falling off the bulletin board. I used bags that were too small so the chapters squished in awkwardly. And it was cumbersome to my nervous reading and re-reading to always be going in and out of the bags. It worked for Hunter. Not for me.

My technique of writing "The Missionary and the Brute" is pretty much the standard one I have come to adopt for all my writing. I begin writing in a notebook. (For "The Hand Behind the Mouse" I used spiral notebooks. They are all stacked in bankers boxes in storage. For "Bungee Jumping & Cocoons" I used composition books.) With age, I have become snobbish and have come to love the nice notebooks with leatherette covers and latches...

I tend to write/scrawl/draw quite rapidly. The words fly out upon the page for the first draft. Sometimes I can even read them later if I'm lucky. The main thing for me is to get something on that blank page. Words, thoughts, sentences, and then I'm off and running...

After I have a chapter done in the notebook, I transfer to the computer. Using Microsoft Word, I type the text in. This is really my second pass at the writing. I tidy up some things here and there, but mostly I just deepen it, enhance it and give it more resonance. Sometimes in my notebooks, I leave huge gaps knowing that there is a transition to be filled in later, those get filled as I type.

Then I print it out.

Usually it sits for a bit because I'm onto the next chapter in the notebook, but eventually I'll find a peaceful time to read what I have done thus far. On the printed out version - I edit it further with all kinds of scrawls and self-made diacritical marks. This is usually quite messy. For even though I have 'written' twice, this is polishing and making it resonant. Very critical time in the process for me.

To make this process manageable for me, I use a spreadsheet to document my routine. Typically I set myself a reachable daily goal in terms of words written. It is accumulated so I know what my total goal is for the book and how I am progressing. I tend to be really realistic in my numbers. I have never NOT made my quota. And in fact as I get into it, I adjust my quotas - typically up quite significantly - to accommodate my current pace.

When it is all done - I let it sit for a few months. Simmering in a drawer. Clearing the head of all preconceived encumbrances. And then I go back in and re-read my paper copy, edit and scrawl again (usually minimal - whew!) and then call it complete.

Sometimes I make an X on the title page to signify closure...

... in red ink.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hey, Look Inside!

Just rolled out on the Amazon page for "The Missionary and the Brute" is the LOOK INSIDE feature. Now you can get a sneak peek at the first pages of the book without giving away too much. Way cool! Check it out here: LOOK INSIDE

And while you're there - how about signing in and LIKEing my book!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Palahniuk: the king of transgressive novelists...

"The Missionary and the Brute" could rightly be categorized as being 'transgressive fiction'. It is an unrelenting look at the characters of a group of people interacting in a land that strips away all pretense to the bare-knuckle bones of raw intensity. There are few idealized characters, opting instead for rich portraits of people on their own journeys of suffering and turmoil. A few have devolved into beasts that contradict the strictures of a civilized culture that thus created them. In these ways it is transgressive and well in keeping with some of the other novels on our shelves thus labeled.

Labels, as always, are limiting and not completely accurate, but there are certain novelists whose work does indeed fall largely in this category. The king among these is Chuck Palahniuk. Bursting on the literary scene with the absolutely incendiary "Fight Club", Chuck's subsequent work has walked much the same treacherous terrain as that - his most famous novel. "Fight Club" is rightly deemed a classic. My gosh. It shines the harsh light of reality in the face of some aspects of our world in a unique and quite disturbing way. (Disturbing in a good way.) Boiled down to one sentence it can be summed up as 'we spend so much time psychically beating ourselves up that the act of beating ourselves up becomes the thing for which we beat ourselves up...'

Or something like that.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What do you want to know about "The Missionary and the Brute"?

From time to time - I'll open this up to do an informal interview on here. Post your comments and I'll answer them as best I am able. Try not to spoil anything if you have read the book, and I'll do the same. But I would be happy to answer your messages.

One of the zillion lessons I have learned from Anne Rice is the loving care she takes with her readers. Despite her extreme success she still answers her own mail because it's important. For those of us who are nowhere near Anne's stature, we have much humility to learn from that.

So what do you want to know? About the book? About the process? About the characters, setting, style? About Africa? About me as a writer? Give it a whirl...

For the best question (from now until next Tuesday) I'll reward an autographed copy of the book.
(If your comments don't post immediately be patient, I'll release them as I'm able).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Trailer - YouTube

I just added a little video 'book trailer' to YouTube. Simply a teaser to entice folks to have an interest in the book. Enjoy and share. I'm trying to spread the word far and wide about the unique work of art that is "The Missionary and the Brute".



Thanks for watching.

Friday, December 2, 2011

MIS- oh, wait, what's that moving over there? - DIRECTION...

Misdirection is key to "The Missionary and the Brute". I had the idea from the very start that nothing would be as it seemed. I wanted to disorient and slightly confuse the reader at times as to place and time and I wanted to lead them astray with every step.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Foremost is that it's darned fun to do. I especially work this at transitional scenes. I will pose a hypothetical question at the end of a chapter and sometimes literally answer it in the beginning of the next. Only it may or may not be the real answer - it may just seem that way. Like the time when I tell you that the killer is actually...

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grrrrr.... gritty, grimy and grisly...

Three words that quite appropriately describe "The Missionary and the Brute".

I wanted to set this novel - not only in an interesting locale that appealed to me - but also in a harsh natural reality that is unsullied by the nicety of illusory fairy tale optimism. Which is not to say that there is not a ray of hope that runs - sometimes literally - through this story, but rather that it is grounded so much in naturalism that it stays real. Thus giving that fleeting hope more resonance and poignancy.

For me, I view "The Missionary and the Brute" like one of those grand Caravaggio paintings depicting Biblical events. At the time they were painted, to add verisimilitude, Caravaggio reportedly had gravediggers bring him cadavers on which to model his characters. Some of the critics of his day recoiled that he could use the dead to paint images of the Saints, but the depiction of the minutiae of detail such as dirt beneath the fingernails was of such a delicate reality that it - to me (and many others) seemed to lift the artwork to an even higher realm. I got to see his paintings up close once in a traveling exhibit of Vatican artwork - and it blew me away - even moreso than the Michelangelo's or Raphael's that were also displayed. It was one of the great artistic events of my lifetime - right up there with seeing Marcel Marceau perform and hearing Maya Angelou speak.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Decision to Self-publish

For most of my life - I have been a writer. For some of that life I actually got paid for it.

But it was always in me - it has always been a way I have defined myself to myself. It makes sense to who I am. The ultimate dream for me has always been, and I think shall always remain, to write for a living.

That is danged difficult though.

My first book, "The Hand Behind the Mouse" was a 'successful' book by most qualifications. I got paid a nice advance, it sold a fair (if not huge) amount of copies, it got mostly favorable critical reviews (minus a couple of fellow animation historians with their own competitive and contrary books to sell) and it even won a pithy award (voted on by animation professionals and beating out one of my heroes - the legendary John Canemaker for that wonderful honor). But it was certainly not successful enough in any of those realms to make it a full-time gig.

Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Cyber Monday...

...and do you know where your copy of "The Missionary and the Brute" is?

I do.

It's right here ready for purchase at the eStore on this blog!

Special Cyber Monday Deal for Today only! - for every book ordered here, $2 goes to Brick by Brick for Tanzania!, Inc. to build preschools in Tanzania. (Normally $1 for every book sold goes to Brick by Brick.)

Or you can find it at Amazon.com as well. Cyber Monday would be a great day to place an order for the chilling new adult literary novel that has been referred to as "The Silence of the Lambs goes to Africa".

Get yours now!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Special treat - a short story set in Kintori...

What follows is a short story written using the same Kintori setting that is used throughout "The Missionary and the Brute". You might recognize the name Vandover from my previous discussions of Frank Norris and his influence on my work. Sharp-sighted readers will also pick up on one character who also appears in my novel... I have slowly come to realize that like Keruoac with Duluoz - I have a singular saga within my creative reach. In the upcoming years, there will be other novels featuring the Ross family - and a few odd compilations of short stories and peripheral matter as well... Enjoy!




The Tanzanian Fortune Cup


By John D. Kenworthy

In the northeastern Tanzanian village of Kintori the pathways sprawled forth in all directions. Like most roads in east Africa, these were single-lane, red-dirt abominations that bore no shoulders and were pockmarked with ugly, meter-deep potholes that scarred the surface like mortal sin upon the blighted soul of humanity itself.

Jansen Vandover struggled to keep up with the ancient man he was following through the dusty labyrinth of these connections - footpaths, trails, and what passed to be otherwise navigable streets of the village. They were walking to the old man's home on the western outskirts of Kintori where Vandover would have his fortune read - to be told of a fate that he desperately longed to know.

“Mzee,” Vandover called, using the traditional Swahili name for any elder, “PolĂ©, Mzee, slow down please. I cannot keep up.”

Without turning, the old man slowed his pace just enough to allow Vandover to catch up, breathless.

“Thank you.” The American said gratefully. “Is it much further?”

The Mzee nodded silently, forming his thoughts in English carefully. “We are almost. The hill. The river. Then we are to there. Not much more, Bwana.”

Friday, November 25, 2011

Spreading the word

Some folks have asked me how to spread the word regarding the release of "The Missionary and the Brute." There are some easy ways to help do so. Some right here. Here are some easy thoughts.
  • DIGG THIS: On every page - wayyy down at the bottom - is a DIGG icon. By clicking this, it will help spread the news on the DIGG pages. You can log-in using any existing FaceBook or Twitter log-ins. Painless.
  • LIKE THIS: On this page, choose to LIKE it, and that will be reflected a number of places. In fact, anywhere you see "The Missionary and the Brute" click on LIKE this. The FaceBook page (search for The Missionary and the Brute), or on Amazon.com or here. It helps. It is good to be LIKEd.
  • Become a Follower here. I'm not big on being a follower in life, but here it works. Basically all that does is let's you know when I update the pages (typically I write on weekends and have the various blog-entries scheduled at intervals to go live - I'm up to January on those... you have a lot of reading coming up...)
  • Use Amazon tools to spread the word. Write a REVIEW if you have read it and liked it. Or add "The Missionary and the Brute" to a LIST. (I recently added it to a LIST of my favorite books about Africa, but it might also show up on a LIST of books with major twists - or one of books featuring transgressive fiction, or graphic sensuality and violence, or whathaveyou... be creative!)
  • TWEET and re-TWEET any postings you make or see about the novel.
It all serves to help get the word out to folks who don't know of the book personally but would be great audiences for just such a novel. This is the sort of work that will need to go viral to get to the right audience for what it is... It certainly will not be everyone, but I believe very strongly that in the right hands it will be a much requested work.

Any help therein would be greatly appreciated.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Missionary Jadwin Ross

The first things most folks mention about Jadwin Ross is his unusual name. Which is curious because I don't think Ross is all that unusual.

Okay, Jadwin is indeed a little beyond the norm.

The simple story is that this - like the philosophical theme of "The Missionary and the Brute" - the name was cribbed from a Frank Norris work. This time it is taken from the protagonist of "The Pit" - Curtis Jadwin. To me, it felt like it could make a good first name. For his surname, I borrowed from another literary antecedent, James Arnold Ross from "Oil!" by Upton Sinclair (the literary inspiration behind the brilliant - though wildly different film "There Will Be Blood".) Two worthy predecessors at that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The First Rule of Book Club is...

...is that everyone talks about what happens at Book Club!

Book Clubs are a great way to stimulate discussion and generate repeat business for local booksellers. As an avid reader, I support Book Club efforts by offering to personally answer five questions in depth from each "The Missionary and the Brute" reading group that is put together. Simply tell me about your group - when you meet, how many members, etc. and submit five questions (hopefully open ended so I can ramble for you!) to my email at john.kenworthy@yahoo.com
 
As an added incentive for 2012 - at the end of each month starting at the end of December 2011 I will select the best question(s) to post here on the blog and send the submitting person(s) an autographed copy of "The Missionary and the Brute"!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Setting the table...

I have read that the setting of a novel is metaphorically akin to a table - it is the firm foundation upon which everything else - the theme, the plot, the characters - are arranged for our ready consumption. Without that foundation, the spoons tumble asunder, the peas spill to the floor and the candlesticks have no base upon which to share their glorious light.

In some books however, the setting plays more than a predetermined structural role, and in "The Missionary and the Brute" this is indeed the case. Tanzania is definitely the structure which supports and allows the characters to interact as they do, but more than that, it almost becomes as a character unto itself. Reflecting shades of plot and theme in myriad ways.

I unabashedly adore Tanzania. The people, the landscape, the culture - they all add so much beauty and color to my life. But for all that is beautiful in this wondrous land, there is also an undercurrent of danger and indeed death that is constantly surprising to these American eyes. When I return from my trips to Africa, lots of people view my slides and express a desire to travel there as well, and I appreciate that. Unfortunately, unless you have been truly been there, there is practically no way aside from the lyricism of creative art to express the deep complexities of this seemingly simple locale.

For my novel, I have created the mythical village of Kintori upon which to lift up just such a story. It is based on places I have been and sights I have witnessed, and it tries to capture the essence of village life in rural Tanzania. Kintori is my MiddleEarth, my Perelandia. It is not real. Yet, in a way, it is hyper-real as well. There is much that is familiar to anyone who has traveled thus, or so I do hope. I have embellished this setting with the dogs, the plant life and the people - the sights, sounds and smells - that are known to me as I travel there. I have tried to assure that the customs and cultural aspects of Tanzanian life are evident in my little Kintori just as they are in the very real places to which I traverse.

In a way, "The Missionary and the Brute" can be seen as an epic clash of cultures that is based at least partially on this magnificent setting. It is probably important that I tell you that I have never witnessed with my own eyes serial killers in Africa, nor most of the events that transpire herein the novel - all of those have sprung forth from a fertile imagination reared on David Lynch films and Chuck Palahniuk novels in equal accord.

But truthfully when I am in country, even though I am typically sheltered fairly well away from the tragedies and travesties that befall the Tanzanian people, (any people) - I yet hear the muffled rumblings and stumble upon muted stories of a darker side. People are people despite their bucolic locale and death and brutality exist in Tanzania as they do elsewhere in the world. I certainly don't want to give the impression that is an us versus them tale, because I know there is certainly enough evil in this world to go around. No one people or place hold the monopoly on that.

Thankfully, there is - in my view of the world - even more light and goodness to go around as well. And that is the hope that we all bring to this and any land - regardless of the setting.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Available now!

"The Missionary and the Brute" is available now! Woohoo!

It may be ordered at Amazon.com or here at the eStore to the right. For every book purchased directly from this eStore $1 will be donated to Brick by Brick for Tanzania!, Inc. to help build preschools in Africa. Thanks for checking it out!


Saturday, November 19, 2011

To whet the appetite...

To give an impression of the tone and timbre of the story, I am excerpting a part of the story here for your early perusal. To set up what follows - The Missionary, Jadwin Ross, is walking up the mountainside of Kintori with a group of American tourists. Lead by their Tanzanian guide, Daud, they traverse one of those beautifully winding paths that I love so much from my own journeys to Africa. I won't spoil too much of what has come before or after - but this can kind of stand alone as a teaser for the mystery and majesty of the story...

Chapter 21


What a glorious morning! The sun was up. The view was delightful. The fellowship was grand and jolly. Day two in Tanzania began absolutely beautifully!

As their mission project in Tanzania, the Americans – at Ross’s urging – had chosen to build a modest preschool building a few short kilometers from the Guest House up the foothills of the mountain. As they walked together to the worksite, the Missionary swelled to think of the generosity of the Americans generosity. Truly it was a beautiful thing indeed.

The trail was fairly remarkable also. Awesome! Instead of turning from the Guest House to the main dirt road on which Daud had lead them to church – and hence through all the village streets – they went via the shortcut path. The path was dirt upon dirt and covered with matted down, trampled leaves. It skirted around the village itself and rose quickly enough to isolate and make the visitors feel remote and adventuresome. At various places the path forked into differing directions. One leading to the evangelist trail of the day previous another to the church and primary school, yet another tracing the path to the building project for the new preschool up in the foothills.

Any way you took it, it was a path of peace and was absolutely gorgeous. Especially now. Mostly uninhabited – save for a few farmers knee deep in their shambas picking carrots, or tending to cows staked along the lonesome path, it was a place where travelers could seek solitude and reflection before they returned to civilization – such as it was – and the pushing, noisome tumult of the friendly and enthusiastic Tanzanian people of the village.

For the most part, the Americans traveled the trail without words. Many were still a bit tired from the day before. Davison and Mrs. Starr walked with Daud near the front and were excitedly telling of what they had seen at the Tanzanite mines. Next came the married Johnsons and then Leah and Raven and then the Missionary.

Ross was in particularly fine spirits. He felt amazingly alive and renewed. Filled with excitement and the passions of youth. It was as if the entire world had changed over night. Everything was suddenly vibrant and energized. Pure. Bright.

Lovely.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Frank Norris and the Brute (part two)

In part one of my posting about Frank Norris, we looked at his masterwork, "McTeague". In this post, we shall lift up "Vandover and the Brute" an obvious inspiration behind my first novel, "The Missionary and the Brute".

In the last of Norris' novels (published posthumously), he revisits the idea of the duality of humankind. How we are often faced with conflicting impulses within ourselves. In many ways, this feels like an assured, and vastly different retelling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson opus, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". Unlike that work however, there is no John Utterson to represent us - the gentle reader - with a sense of normalcy and we are left with an unreliable, almost unlikeable protagonist, Vandover.

Surprisingly, it works.

We are expected to be disgusted and horrified by his actions - and we most certainly are.

The title character is a recent Harvard grad who despite his economic class travels the dark streets of San Francisco with two friends. They are slumming in the absolute worst way - partaking of drink and drugs and women of every ilk in the very worst parts of town. They have a sense of extreme entitlement that comes with genetic-determined class and easy money. But they squander it all away incrementally upon their descent. Vandover moreso than the others, gives in freely to the wolf that he sees within himself. His actions are execrable and his degeneration so extreme, that it is only at the very end that Norris gives us a literal bread-crumb of hope.

In "The Missionary and the Brute" we look at a similar human duality as it impacts our characters' choices. It would not be incorrect to refer to Jadwin Ross as being akin to Vandover in his actions - though not perhaps in the way you may be thinking. It is not a spoiler to tell you that pretty much any assumption you make from reading the book's marketing blurb - or even from your early readings of the chapters of the book - may be entirely incorrect.

Or not.

It's hard to say. I just know I worked very hard to keep the elements of the story flowing with surprises happening on every level. If you take nothing for granted and trust not the narrative point of view, you should be fine. For me, there is nothing more reliably interesting in fiction than an unreliable narrator.

That being said, there is certainly an element of the wolf at play within "The Missionary and the Brute". Dramatically and significantly so. Ahem, there is that figure of the lion on the cover, you know. But - as has been so appropriately stated by others, I run before my horse to market...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Proof is in...

The proof of "The Missionary and the Brute" is in. Obviously. I'm fairly happy with it. One minor formatting change at the end of a chapter is needed and another on the title page. Now I'm giving it the once over to see if any other typos or necessary edits leap out at me.

None so far.

It feels substantial to me. Nice and weighty without being onerous in that regard. Paper stock feels good. And the typeface works for me. As to the writing itself - I honestly believe it is the best I have in me to do.

I'll make the changes tonight and it should still be on course to be published before December. Woohoo!

Amazon by Thanksgiving? It's a possibility. Keep watching for updates...

Frank Norris and the Brute (Part one)

In a previous post, I wrote briefly about the importance of Frank Norris' writings on my work. Today I'm going to expound on that a bit.

I have to admit to coming to Norris late in my reading life. Prior to coming fully on board and becoming immersed in his work, I had resisted every futile attempt to encounter his work. Part of the problem was that I picked up a copy of "The Octopus" early on and had a devil of a time getting past the first few long-descriptive, small, dense-printed pages. I gave a few grudging attempts at forging through and actually borrowed it from the library twice and returned it having only read the first part of the first chapter.

I wanted to like it. But couldn't make it.

The subject - the effect of the railroad on wheat farmers in California definitely appealed to me in sort of a John Steinbeck/Upton Sinclair way. I was hoping for a "Oil!" type manuscript or maybe "In Dubious Battle". What I got instead was a description of a place. Or so I thought. Oh, had I but soldiered on...

What turned the tide for me was reading "McTeague" first. I picked up one of those lovely Norton Critical Editions that has lots of peripheral reading material in the back related to the subject (sort of like a pre-blog blog...) Unlike my previous Norris foray, "McTeague" engaged me from the start. "McTeague" is one of those disturbing novels from the early 20th Century that features non-idealized characters and characterizations. McTeague was not a warm and lovely protagonist - far from it. He did not live in a world we aspire to join. Instead, he was deeply flawed and presented warts and all as a sort of observation. It was not quite realism as it had a lot of overtly symbolic scenes within it, but it inhabited a natural world that was indeed real - if unwelcome.

And the characters evolved or devolved. None stayed the same. Each changed - usually for the worse - in front of our very eyes. Hauntingly so.

Through the novel, we watch as Mac (McTeague) slowly degenerates into a paranoid, quarrelsome brute of a man wholly unable to control his own violent impulses. The transformation is believable and heart wrenching in equal measure. He slowly loses his grip on all that he once adored - eventually allowing his whiskey-fueled anger to step in the way of his friendships, his business, his stature, his marriage and ultimately his life. As Mac plummets down an abyss of his own making toward a baser, more animalistic, survivalist self, we watch a similar transformative path taken by his wife Trina in a different way. Slowly she loses touch with reality as she knew it and falls prey to an absurd obsession with the gold coins she has secretly hidden from her husband. At one point, she spreads them over her bed and rolls amongst them in a scene of abhorrent sensual greed. Symbolic? - yep. Disturbing? - of course. Visually dramatic and mesmerizingly memorable? - absolutely!

For me, the sheer concept of McTeague succumbing to his innate animal instinct (an idea that Norris embellished with thoughts based on early criminologist Cesare Lombroso's work) was so intense that it immediately drew me to Norris' other works.

Quickly I collected all of his novels and discovered that had I but read a few pages further in "The Octopus" I would have discovered what I now consider to be one of my favorite novels of all time. While "The Octopus", and "The Pit" were two parts of a planned trilogy about the growing, sales and distribution of wheat - and have informed a future novel I am writing called "The Straw Man" - it is "McTeague" and another of Norris' novels that have most directly influenced the subject and subtext of "The Missionary and the Brute".

In part two of this posting, we shall look at "Vandover and the Brute"...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What's in a name?

So, what's in a name? Quite a lot actually. Choosing a title for a book is a tricky business. It should theoretically entice the prospective reader into opening the book while not giving away too much or too little of the context of the novel at hand. With "The Missionary and the Brute" I carefully considered various options before settling in on this one.

The other serious contender for title was initially "African Psycho", which seemed to accurately underscore the serial killer aspect of the tale while placing it in the appropriate locale. Ultimately I decided against this option because it seemed a bit sensational and misleading perhaps. Not that "The Missionary and the Brute" isn't sensational in its way too. It is. But that's not the point of it - it's subtext is more complicated and philosophical than that.

It also was too closely attuned to Bret Easton Ellis' "American Psycho" for comfort. Not that this connection is not apropos. It is as well. I consider "American Psycho" to be one of the great American novels for a variety of reasons - and will compare and contrast similarities and differences between Ellis' novel and mine at some later point in this blog. It is definitely one of the conceptual godfathers of my work and I am unabashedly a fan.

But I wanted something more ambiguous and yet apt. I took as my guiding light a different authorial godfather - Frank Norris. Most folks frankly haven't given Norris his due in my opinion. His work is disarmingly complex, and yet accessible. He has a well-honed philosophical bent that plays directly to what I am attempting in this work.

"McTeague" is considered his masterwork, and for me I would tend to agree although I truly love all of his fiction with equal ardor. "The Octopus" and "The Pit" are my two favorites. And of course, "Vandover and the Brute" has informed my mindset and my work greatly. In "McTeague" (which was turned into the classic silent film, "Greed" by Eric von Stroheim), the titular character struggles with competing forces within himself. Perhaps it can be simplified to the civilized self and the animal self, but that is merely a structure.

That too, is the underlying premise behind my work. In my telling - we have characters who hear the still, small voice of their conscience and those who hear a much different bestial voice. Those voices can be summarized blithely as being those of a missionary and those of a brute. In Norris' "Vandover and the Brute", the brute is that part of Vandover which can not control its animal impulses - its sexuality, its self-preservation and raw instinct. In concept, it is a masterful philosophical MMA event that is not unlike Freudian battles betwixt ego, superego and id. The brute is the unrelenting id. The missionary is the superego.

Of course, it may also be a double entendre in my case. There may indeed be two separate characters - one a missionary and one a brute who engage a danse macabre - a pas de deux of sorts that plays out in front of our wondering eyes. Perhaps.

But before we get too close to solving crimes and revealing too much - let me close by saying that for me, the title "The Missionary and the Brute" is all of those things as well as a not so subtle homage to Norris himself. I tend to toss in sly (and not so sly) literary allusions along as I am writing - and am more than happy to lift up the work of an under appreciated giant of the literary world.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Judging a book...

The book cover work-in-progress. Featuring a shot of a lion that I took in Africa several years ago on safari for the front, and a nice photo of me from the docMiami International Film Festival on the other side. The back text is a standard blurb that I have been honing in query letters to editors/agents for a couple of years now. "The Missionary and the Brute" will be a trade paperback (6" x 9" size) with 270 pages of drama and intrigue .

There is indeed a significant lion in the book - and it plays a pivotal role at a very key moment. Perhaps it is more in a symbolic than integrally active way, but it is pivotal nonetheless. And a horrifying chapter to write from my perspective.

In any event, I like the formality of the cover - and how it can easily become the first of a visually similar series of books (changing the colors as we progress), which is precisely my thought.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Welcome!

Saturday morning, 8:17 am

I just finished uploading my novel "The Missionary and the Brute" to CreateSpace's FTP server. In a few days I will receive a proof to view and a few days after that, it will be available for purchase on Amazon.com and other retailers, maybe even in a few bookstores hither and yon. I traditionally have recoiled against self-publishing, because in the context of my past experiences it implied something quite different, something more desperate than what it has evolved into.

This has truly been an interesting process for me, both in the writing and the ego-levelling realization that this book would by its very nature have to go market in a different way than did my previous work. I was truly blessed to have circumstances fall in place so effortlessly for my first two books and all the little films I worked on.

For "The Hand Behind the Mouse: an intimate biography of Ub Iwerks" (Disney Editions, 2001), Roy Disney himself was behind our project from the start (thanks to Leslie Iwerks' connections there) so we didn't have the whole sales process with which to contend. Prior to joining up with Leslie, I was looking at publishing through a South Dakota University Press - which actually would have been fine too.

Plus, the incredibly generous Leonard Maltin - a nicer human being you will never meet - was an early supporter, so we had that going for us.

"Bungee Jumping & Cocoons" was essentially a work for hire - and perhaps the easiest writing/editing/publishing process I have thus encountered. A simple book perhaps and fun, but I knew that my passions ultimately would take me somewhere else - to fiction.

I have a lot of stories a-simmering inside of me that can only be told in fiction form. I am excited to share the dark, complicated, disturbing tale that is "The Missionary and the Brute" with you and to hear what you think of it. It is certainly not for everyone - it is an adult transgressive tale with graphic imagery and complex thoughts. Think of it as Chuck Palahniuk meets Upton Sinclair in Africa. The form itself is challenging and not a little dangerous - but I truly believe it pays the reader back for their efforts.

This blog will be used in the coming weeks to discuss the process of writing "The Missionary and the Brute" and to share news and details of the characters, the settings, books that have influenced me, other works in progress and the business of publishing a work like this in a unique and fully modern way.

Thanks for reading!
J.