Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Letting go of Tony

What a fantastic year I’ve had. A hat trick - three books published in three different genres. 

THE BRAND DEMAND, my first completed novel, my first mystery, first sex scene, first publisher east of the Mississippi. Controversial, cathartic. Unread. Sigh.

CELESTE, the continuation of my best-selling, much-loved YA series THE UNSEEN. A love letter to my families—broken, whole and healing.

And now THE FINGER TRAP, the first Tony Flaner mystery.

Of all my books, this one, THE FINGER TRAP, is the most personal. Each one is a part of me, a dissection of some part of my psyche, some vexing question I’m trying to get at, some itch I need to scratch, some reliving of some trauma. Each protagonist, each character is a reflection of me, the author. But then there’s Tony Flaner.

A couple of dapper Flaneurs
Tony is an everyman slacker. He’s had an easy life. He’s had more hobbies than you’ve had socks, more jobs than you’ve had shoes. He’s a lazy smart-ass in a world of trouble—divorce, generational alienation and murder. Yeah, murder.

Okay, Tony Flaner is not exactly me, actually pretty far afield in most ways, but what what he represents, by action, speech, and attitude is what I wish for. What that is, I have represented in the very structure of the book, by it’s indulgence, tangents and length.

Let me explain.

It all comes from a pun of the name. I pun lots of names. Most of them actually. They’re cues for me so I remember who and what they're about. Eleanor ANDERS - (Anders comes from the Danish for “change”). GALEN Reed (Galen is a doctor who cures ills). 

Charles Baudelaire
— the king of fun!
And now, dear world, Tony FLANER. Flaner is a reference to Charles Baudelaire’s concept of the Flaneur, a "stroller," "lounger," "saunterer," or "loafer." Believe it or not, these are not bad attributes. Wrapped within this concept is the idea of Carpe Diem, "seize the day." There was an architectural movement developed around this concept. If you’ve ever gone to a park and taken a path that weaves and turns, goes out of its way to this tree, that fountain, that other bench over ther before arriving, that is the application of the concept of Flaneur. There’s a destination to be sure, but the journey is not to be missed. This is the lesson that I explored in my murder mystery, mid-life-crisis, coming of age modern noir social satire, THE FINGER TRAP. Really.

The book is deliberately long. Originally, I had it at 150,000 words because I’d heard that was the maximum word count for a novel before you had to call it something else, like an “epic” or a “cinderblock.” That was meta - the form speaking to the content in the art. The long pleasant journey. Editors and agents, publishers and common sense cut it back to a tight (?) 125K, but it’s still long as it was intended.

The book is voiced. It’s tangental. It’s indulgent. It’s funny. There’s a solid connecting plot leading the journey but the story is the Flaneur, or Flaner.

Tony’s not perfect. Oh, god no. In a sense, I may have created an ideal of attitude, but he also has the vices of his virtue. He’s lazy, flippant, weak, selfish, opinionated, often out of touch, and ultimately a vicim of his own capriciousness—he’s never finished a thing in his life. He’s an “eighty-percenter” — he goes so far in a thing but then when it gets tough, when he’s got to double down to go farther, he loses interest and gives up.

This is much me.

But I’m trying to do better.

Tony’s array of hobbies, his collection of jobs, is a mirror to my own wanderings. And the book, his book, my book—THE FINGER TRAP is again Meta in that I pushed past the eighty percent and saw it through. I wrote it, worked it, pushed it and never gave up on it until now, here, this month, it’s alive and in print.

Upon each new book release I feel a certain vulnerability, but this one is different. There’s a zen here even though this is the most “out there” title I’ve ever published. It is the most daring, experimental, vulgar, personal and fun. People will either love it or hate it; I foresee little middle ground. That's all okay, because it is unabashedly what it is. For that reason, I think, I am strangely calm about letting Tony loose.

I love this book. It is an icon on my shelf, a triumph in my life, a holy artifact of tenacity and success in a sea of weakness and failures. It overcame rejection and its own limitations. I’m proud of it. It’s good. It has pieces of every genre I like and then some. It still bursts me to laughter when I read it (Chapter 6 is a masterpiece, if I say so myself) and years after it was conceived, written, and shopped, I still completely relate to what and why Tony does what he does. It speaks to me as if the writer had known my very soul. 

I pray THE FINGER TRAP is popular and finds an audience because I have written three Tony Flaner mysteries so far, but in truth, for this book, the “Ideal Reader,” as Stephen King would say, has always been me.

Don’t get me wrong, you’re still required to buy a copy. Maybe two. Three would be best, just load up your Christmas list with them. Send the gift of saunter, a fun journey of a whodunnit filled with adult tantrums, sarcasm, local color and far away places. Feel free to like it, feel free to love it, feel free to relate. Feel free.

Thanks Tony!

When the only way out is deeper in…

A voice-driven, modern noir, comedy, coming of age, mid-life crisis, 
social satire, detective mystery. 
With quiche.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Farewell Wordharvest

I attended my first Wordharvest, Tony Hillerman Conference back in 2012, the first year of my insane journey into writing. Since then it’s been an annual pilgrimage for me, a trek across the desert in the fall, always over my birthday, to Santa Fe to see how things are done in New Mexico.

Tony Hillerman
It took two days to drive down there, but that was alright because it was through some of the most beautiful country I know. Michelle would go with me and we’d make it a couple’s vacation, at least until we got there and I’d disappear in classes and she’d spend the days exploring the city. We’d attend the formal banquet and then take the short way home and make it back in a a day.

I met some great people down there, members of the tribe of writers I’ve come to appreciate so much. I’d see them only there, but every year we’d meet again and renew friendships in a strange familial way that set that conference apart. Since it was a small conference, I got to meet and befriend real heavy weights in the business. Anne Hillerman I must count as one of my most favorite people now. David Morrell and I are chums. Steve Havill was also a regular and this  year I got to buy Steve Brewer a drink. I hobnobbed with agents and Big 5 editors and met the new Tony Hillerman Prize winners and kept company with authors of all stripes. It helped my career, I won’t deny it. The knowledge and connections are invaluable and still serve me.

But all good things must come to an end. After eleven conferences spanning twelve years, the conference is no more. This year was the last one. I knew this going down this year and I won’t deny that it cast a little shadow in my heart as I hugged and talked to my friends wondering when I might see them again now that things were ending. Luckily, we have the internet and I have a car and writers run into each other if they try.

I go to a lot of conferences. I go to learn and network and just hang with my people. Each one has a different feel to it, a different vibe. Some are similar, but each is unique and none was as unique as Wordharvest. Whether it was the mystery angle, or the western scene, the Tony Hillerman fans, the contest, the mature attendees or the green chiles, it had a flavor all its own. Snow in the desert. It was distinct and wonderful and I’m going to miss it. 

Steve Brewer, Anne Hillerman and Me
At times like this I remember that great quote from Dr. Suess: "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened." I count myself lucky that I got to attend as many Wordharvests as I did and grateful I was there for the end.

When fall rolls around next year, and my birthday approaches, it’s going to feel weird not to be planning a trip to New Mexico. When that happens, I’ll make myself some green chile stew, toast my friends with a good drink, and write some words worth reading.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Again to the Desert

I’m about to set off on my third autumnal desert adventure this year. It began a few weeks ago with a trip to Arches with my friends and family. Two weeks later, I was in St. George for the Book Festival, and now, I’m making the trip to Santa Fe for the Tony Hillerman, Wordharvest Writing Conference.

I love the desert. I love fall. I really love the desert in fall.

There is something truly magical about place and time. Fall, as I’ve blogged before, is a natural trigger for anxiety for me, a call to change, for new endeavors and challenges. A dying perhaps, but also a bolt of sudden determination to achieve something while there’s still time. It’s a metaphor I guess for my writing career, started so late in life. But it’s always been that way for me. The desert meanwhile is a holy place. It is not accident to me that the God of our culture rose from the desert. There is something in the stillness of sand and distance to horizon that shrinks me and fills me with wonder that any of this is happening, my life, the world, the universe itself.

The desert of Southern Utah is taupe, crimson and rust. Sandstone. It is a redness that unites the fluid in my veins to the rock of my region, and a taupe that reminds me of my upturned palms. The season is reflected there in cottonwoods and frost, in a feeling of time different from the heat. It is a unifying point in my psyche.

I watched the sunrise over a mesa in St. George. I can’t remember the last time I actually saw the dawn like that. I was high up on a mesa — the airport actually. If you don’t know, St. George has an airport atop a central mesa. It’s amazing. The writing workshops were being held in a building nearby and I’d arrived early to get my bearings and was rewarded with seeing that sunrise. The city itself occupies space between mesas and seems to have been tucked away in a valley of fallen monoliths.

The morning sun lit up that city and cliffs. The granite temple in the center of town of course glowed with an alabaster brilliance, but more so did the crimson cliffs surrounding the people, making everything seem small but warm. The light on the rock was so vivid and deep I thought of muted lava. Trees of the season, orange and yellow leaves, the fruits of fall, caught the rays and glowed as if burning in the hues. The air was desert crisp and clear and I thought I could see forever.

My picture doesn't do it justice.
Those same clear skies were in Arches when I was there. The night was so full of stars it seemed fake after so long in the city. We picked out those constellations we knew and named the ones we didn’t, "Leroy the Melancholy on his Chariot of Cats," "The Flat Tire," and "The War of 1812." the smell of clean sand and rock, friends and family. It was another holy moment, another desert.

I’ll cross the desert again and go deeper and higher to Santa Fe. I could fly down, but the drive down is half the trip. Hours in the desert, smelling the cottonwood and sage, sands and skies, it’s an excuse in itself. The changing season, life hanging on. Transition. High in the desert, there may be snow in New Mexico to great me. It will be welcome punctuation to the lessens of the “wasteland.”

I never exit a desert the same man as I entered it, and no fall has left me unscarred.

Three trips this year. Moab, St. George and Santa Fe. Three face-to-faces with the desert, the season, myself.

Come the desert. Come the sacrament of sand and cedar. Come the turning of the world. Come make me small and wonderful.