Friday, November 29, 2013

Norman Mailer and the Writing of "The Beast"

One of my favorite devices in writing non-fiction is that of writing auto-biographical elements in the third person. This actually has a name - Illeism - and is a long held mechanism in literature of many sorts. Julius Caesar used the device based on an egoistic assumption of hubris not unlike that used in the present day by Cam Newton, or Floyd Mayweather in sports interviews. Henry Adams used it to distance himself from his own family stories in "The Education of Henry Adams" though he acknowledged its use was in some ways falsely self-deprecating. It gave the appearance of distance while in fact maintaining a deep sense of self.

So it goes.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

An Excerpt from "The Beast"

This week's blog entry is a taste of what we're talking about here. It is the opening of "The Beast". This was written approximately twenty minutes after the events told within it transpired. It is interesting that I knew kind of where the book would be going - but not in a precise sort of way. 

I couldn't obviously control the events upon the bus to make a readable story about a bus ride, but I could not escape my own personal context either. I carried that with me to the bus: my ethos, my experiences, my deep feelings for why I am on this earth, and my voice. Of all my books, this one bears my writer's voice perhaps the best of any - maybe because it is the book that means the most to me. 

Chapter One

7:24 am – LaGanga: The Beast is unforgiving. It moves to its own internal rhythm – at its own pace. It cares not whether those it claims as its passengers are early, or are late, or are precisely on time. To The Beast, it simply matters not.
No. It cares only for its own selfish, belching, rheuming, fuming journey along the Bara-Bara (main thoroughfare) of the Arusha Road from Usa River to Morogoro, Tanzania, East Africa.
The Servant of the Dust stood quietly at the bus station at LaGanga with his young Tanzanian friend MeHost who had driven him there. Together they patiently waited. And waited. Tanzanian Time, you know. Meanwhile a long line of small, local Dalla-Dalla buses – so called because they cost only a ‘Dalla!’ (dollar) – scurried frantically to and fro, spewing forth passengers and chaos like so many African fire ants.
But no Beast.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Beast" is here...

"The Beast" is here a few weeks earlier than predicted. Woohoo!

What an incredible process this has been for me. From the writing of "The Beast" while actually in the belly of The Beast - to the editing, proofing processes, to the release - and beyond... This has been one of my favorite writing experiences ever. Ever. Perhaps that is because it means so much to me. It cuts deep to who I am as a person, both in the writing and in the content.

You'll understand when you read this little gem that it may be small, but it says, well pretty much everything!

I would love to have this book take off a little and reach as many people as possible - not only because I think it is one of my best, if not THE best writing I can do... but because all royalties go toward building preschools in Tanzania. Namely The Linda School in Kaloleni.

There are various ways you can purchase this book, each with benefits for you and for Brick by Brick for Tanzania!, Inc. They are as follows:

  • Click on the Right. This little store gives Brick by Brick the largest donation (even if you have a Discount Code, it is the largest)
  • Amazon This is second highest donation value for us. The added plus of buying it through Amazon is that it will add to our ranking in the algorithm and will hence promote us to more people. Even if you don't use Amazon to buy, please consider LIKING the page, tweeting it, Giving it stars and reviewing it. That all helps push us out there. 
  • Barnes & Noble, other websites - lowest donation value, but added convenience by being located near you. These will not have access for usually fourteen days or so. 
  • Kindle - Quick, easy and done. Nice donation and you can share with friends. Don't forget that you can use the "Give to a friend" button to share an inexpensive treasure with others and donate to Brick at the same time. 
Thanks so much for supporting my writing and the schools we build in Tanzania. Combined together in "The Beast" it is like a perfect storm for me. 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stream of Consciousness...

Or stream of undisciplined blather...?

That is the question.

When a writer writes a stream of consciousness piece, it can often be a self-indulgent work that meanders back and forth across the landscape of the page, and never really alights anywhere of note. There are notable exceptions of course, "On the Road", ostensibly feels to be written that way, and mostly was, but as crazy of a process as that may have been, it was edited by one of the great minds in literature on the fly and hence is coherent and cohesive.

My intent was to create a work not unlike that in its unity. Written without the strictures of acceptable-restraint, yet hopefully still imminently readable.

The children of Ndoombo arriving at the The Terry Berg School dedication.
My feeling as I sat down to write "The Beast" practically as the events were unfurling, was to let it flow freely, but also to advance it toward a clear and pre-defined end. I knew approximately how many chapters I would be writing ahead of time. I knew certain elements I would incorporate within the anecdotes - the dedication of the Terry Berg School at Ndoombo, the final days of my mother, my first trips to Tanzania, things like that. I didn't know how per se I was going to get there and the bus ride itself helped to define all that.

I knew before I even opened the noteboook on my lap that I would call the book, "The Beast" and that it would be akin to one of those metaphorical short works by William Faulkner ("The Bear"), or Glenway Wescott ("The Pilgrim Hawk") or even Norman Mailer ("Why we are in Vietnam"). I can't remember if I had discovered the twist at the end so much before boarding the bus or not. I think it was only vaguely broiling in the back of my mind at that point and came more fully alive later on as the writing progressed and took shape.

The structure of the book, I knew would be hourly. Not exactly. But close. I tended to write about the events of 7:30 at 8:30ish, but part of the time - namely when The Beast broke down and we were stranded in the middle of nowhere - I was not writing at all, so I had to catch up with those later.

In a way, there were four threads of storylines working at once:
  • One thread contained the events happening in almost real-time on the bus, 
  • Another was a leap back to the prior few days from this present journey to Tanzania,
  • Another was a leap further back to prior events - backstory if you will to these two sets of events,
  • And the fourth was the metaphorical ethos that began winding its way through the story and leads up to the twist.
Hopefully, the storylines all remain clear and distinct and propel the story forward rather than slow it down. Truthfully, on a 9-hour bus ride, there was a lot of 'nothing' going down. Ennui. Boredom. Staring straight ahead with a limited view of a road that stretched forward but with very little landscape able to be seen clearly from that view. Because of that, any diversion served a very real purpose to keep things moving in the restless mind.

In a few weeks, you'll see for yourselves whether "The Beast" is a rambling mess, or a glimpse at a world in need of compassion. I hope that you find the latter!

Friday, November 8, 2013

You've been warned - "The Beast" is coming!

What is The Beast?

On the morning of September 30th, 2013, I stood at the bus stop at LaGanga, Tanzania awaiting my transportation to arrive. My young friend, MeHost, did the best he could at taking my mind off of my anxieties by engaging me in a bit of small talk as we waited, but honestly he mostly just seemed to be happy that it was me who was going to be boarding soon and not he. My intent was to do site visits of two possible locations for the next preschools that the organization I founded, Brick by Brick for Tanzania!, Inc., was planning to build in Africa. Unfortunately they were in far off Morogoro and only one way to get there... on an extremely crowded bus.

Filled with trepidation at the eight hour ride looming before me, my mind filled with visions of every stereotypical African bus scene I had ever seen in movies, which I was later to discover, didn't even begin to depict the intense sensory overload of the reality. When the bus at last lumbered into the bus stop - squeaking its brakes and fuming furiously from its tailpipe - I said a quick good-bye to MeHost and boarded the bus carrying only a small knapsack with a change of shirt, some tin-foil wrapped samosas and an empty notebook.

It was this notebook that proved to be my balm...

Aboard the bus, hour after excruciating hour, I scribbled out my thoughts. I wrote not only of what was happening real-time on (and off) the bus, but also of my myriad experiences in the past in Tanzania, the influences who had helped shape that incredible journey, and of course the children. Oh, yes, the children!

The result of those frantic scribblings was a free-association ramble that ultimately formed the basis for a small book called "The Beast" which will be published Thanksgiving weekend. It is not pretty, but it is earnest and heartfelt. And it is of my voice.

"The Beast" will be available on, and at a bookstore near you!

Don't say I didn't warn you!

- John D. Kenworthy