Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lilith's Brood by Octavia E. Butler

Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler is actually a novel trilogy (Dawn, Adulthood Rites and Imago), evidently published separately, then gathered in the one novel. I became interested in reading the trilogy after hearing Lynn, from my writers group, talk about it. I couldn’t be more pleased that I did.

In Ms. Butler’s work, the people of earth have destroyed the viability of the planet through war. An extra-terrestrial race of beings rescue the few remaining inhabitants, place them in stasis until the earth can be repaired and go about re-introducing mankind along with a superior race of human/alien hybrids back to the again flourishing planet. Lilith, the title character, is chosen to be the “mother” of a group of beings in that she is charged with the responsibility of waking other humans from stasis. She must get them used to the idea they will no longer be able to reproduce via the usual method and she must teach them to re-inhabit a somewhat altered earth. It’s a daunting task for Lilith and marks her forever in the eyes of the rescued human race as a traitor.

The premise of the new earth, hybrid human/alien beings, and a radical new definition of parent, child and family is the backbone of this trilogy but, in my mind, takes a back seat to the characters Octavia Butler creates. As a reader, I was thrilled with the adventure of reading this book. As a writer, I was extremely impressed with Ms. Butler’s ability to make very alien creatures sympathetic.

By way of a practical analysis, the first two books of this trilogy zipped by very quickly. Even though the third lost a little steam for me, I still recommend this book. It’s a great adventure.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

"Horseman, Pass By" ~ Larry McMurtry

This book is McMurtry's first novel and a memorable start to a career of putting the reader in the hip pocket of, on the saddle with, and in the life and times of the characters he portrays with aching accuracy.

I wasn't aware this was the book on which the screen-play for the Paul Newman movie "Hud" was based until I recently read McMurtry's "In A Narrow Grave", a collection of essays. The first essay in the Narrow Grave book is about his experience with the making of that movie. I saw the movie when it was a first run in 1963 and thought it a gritty, powerful movie. As is often the case with Hollywood, the screen-play changed the focus of the story as McMurtry had written it from the story of a 17 year old's coming of age in the book, to that of a hell-raising, surly man played by the guaranteed big box office draw Paul Newman in the movie. Doing so is understandable in light of the medium, but a huge loss for the viewer.

"Horseman, Pass By" is the story of three men. Lonnie, from whose point of view the book is written, is a 17 year old, unsettled and anxious to get to know more about the world than his growing up on his grandfather's west Texas ranch has shown him. He's torn between his "itch" and his devotion to his grandfather and his grandfather's way of life. The grandfather is nearing the end of his days and sees his life's work snuffed out when his cattle develope the dreaded hoof and mouth disease and must be destroyed. Caught between is Hud, the old man's step-son who has an itch of his own. He wants the old man's land and he doesn't want to wait.

Larry McMurtry is a master at telling the real story of the cowboy, past and present. This is a very readable example.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

"Vietnam Reflections" by Lee Teter
Granite Walls

In August of 1966, I saw my husband of two weeks board a plane at Houston's Hobby Airport. It was the first leg of a trip that in six weeks would put him in the rice fields of Vietnam. I knew he would be gone for a year. As the doors of the aircraft closed and it pulled away from the boarding ramp, I was near hysteria, but I never once thought he might be seriously injured or killed. I was very naive.

Edward’s duty, as a machine gun-toting infantryman, was dirty, dangerous, and lonely. It was lonely because he saved his sanity at a time when it wasn't an easy thing to do. He closed in on himself, not letting anyone inside his mental suit of armor. Seven months into his tour, he was injured jumping from a helicopter on the side of a hill, to stand guard over injured crewmembers of a downed helicopter. His injury ultimately saved his life. He found out later many in his company were killed a week after his own injury.

Edward finally got back to the U.S. after a month in Vietnam spent dragging himself around on a homemade crutch, then a month in a hospital in Japan in a body cast. He flew home in a burn patient evacuation plane, glad enough to endure the horror of that flight to be back in "the world". He spent the remainder of his obligation to our government in hospitals and recovering in an army unit at Fort Hood, Texas.

It took thirty years of waiting, piecing together bits of information he volunteered, and gently probing, to get a picture of the horror he endured in those seven wretched months. Since he suffers no flashbacks, or post-traumatic stress, it’s been possible to move on with our lives. We have put that awful time he spent in Vietnam behind us. He suffered, but he came home alive. More than 54,000 men didn’t.

In August 2000, we visited the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, DC. The trip to the capitol was a spur of the moment thing, a side trip from our late summer visit to Tennessee. While Edward stood at one of the catalog directories, looking for the name of a friend, a German tourist with a thick accent and a camera asked him if he was a veteran. The tourist then asked permission to photograph Edward as he examined the book. Edward agreed. I stood back while the photos were taken and thought to myself how lucky I was to be standing by watching my husband examine the book. But for the grace of God, I would have been looking for his name on the wall. The German tourist finished his photo shots, and quietly asked me "Is he okay?" I must have looked at him oddly, because he asked again, "Did he come through it okay?" I nodded “Yes,” with a big knot in my throat.

Today, in light of the U.S. war in Iraq and the horrors our young men and women have endured there, I have to wonder now if we will again memorialize soldiers killed in the line of duty in granite and bronze. Will we again memorialize our young Americans who have died in a foreign land with a memorial? Will there be bronze statuary of young American soldiers handing out food packages from a Hummer while another mans a machine gun atop the vehicle?

Granite and bronze awash in tears are poor substitutes for living, breathing human beings. Can’t we find another way?

Joy N. Vyoral
© October 12, 2003

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Every Man Also

Always interested in the work of Texas writers, I plucked this book off the "Texas" bookshelf at Half Price Books. The cover noted this book to be the "Winner, 1998 Texas Review Fiction Prize". The author is Robert Winship.

Winship evidently called upon his experience as a member of Rice University's 1950 Cotton Bowl team and, later, as a pro-football player with the Philadelphia Eagles, to cast his main character as a former small college football coach forced out of coaching and religated to the position of Athletic Director. It was never quite clear to me why this happened but it was the reason "Mase" Mason betrayed his school's team in the playoffs with the Bears.

Mason's team, the Warriors, lose the championship because Mason has given all the plays to the other team's coaching staff. He has done so as payback for being forced out of the coaching job which he loved so much and for which he felt he was uniquely qualified. The $100,000 he is to receive as a payoff was for insuring the point spread for a big-time Chicago gambler is to be turned over to him at a hill country deer lease where Mason has hunted for years. Being concerned about his personal safety should he go there alone and not wanting his wife to know what he's done, Mason invites Freida, a PhD collegue, to accompany him on the trip. Freida is desperate to get away from her current life because of disturbing discoveries in her experiment on rats which deals with the effects of human overcrowding.

Mason and Freida are toying with possible infidelity when a tragedy surrounding the ranch owner's mentally handicapped son occurs. Mason's subsequent realization of his true purpose in life is the the author's basic plot. The remainder of the story deals with Mason's and Freida's efforts on behalf of the son and their individual acceptance of new roles in attaining long-time personal goals. Mason decides to use the payoff money to correct the wrong he's done the Warriors and to help the retarded son of the ranch owner. Freida becomes the young handicapped man's advocate.

I especially liked the characters Robert Winship created for this story and the way he captured the truth of what it means to grow older in a world that no longer values wisdom and experience. As a "growing older" person, I feel Winship did a masterful job of protraying the nuances of "Mase" Mason. I think the plot of this story is an interesting one but I felt the story moved too slowly to adequately support it. I also found the first chapter confusing. I'm not sure the first chapter was really necessary, even had it been clearer.

As I am all about characters of late, I did enjoy the book enough to recommend it to anyone also interested in characters done with maturity and flawed grace. The understated but accurate "feel of Texas" in Winship's work is icing on the cake.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Failure to Blog....

Amazingly enough, Henri’s Companion, set as it is in the “no land to be seen anywhere” Gulf of Mexico, has been the cause of a serious dry spell in my blogging efforts. I struggled with the rewrites, waffled with the issue of the right name, and second-guessed myself for ‘way too long. One 1500 word short story shouldn’t take near that much time!

Pre-Henri’s Companion, I would have probably doubted (for the millionth time, I’m sure) my calling as a writer. But, in spite of the angst and protracted length of time in the rewriting, I believe that I have learned quite a lot. Seeing the project through is the major accomplishment to come out of the piece. There are lots of little notes of interest along the way, not the least of which is ‘… you don’t have to take every good suggestion made and shoe-horn it into the plot…’ I wasted more time than I care to remember with that one. I had to finally go back and decide that my basic premise with Henri’s Companion was a good one and that it just needed refinement, basic editing and then polishing. Let me say again, I am MUCH better off having learned to trust my first instinct.

So, back to the extended lapse in time between blog entries… since I’m still employed full time, am still a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother, my time is fragmented. I cling possessively to the Tuesday nights I spend with my writers group like a drowning woman because it’s the one thing I’m still doing solely for myself. The people I love and who love me have a right to expect a certain amount of my time and attention. I gladly give it to them. Basically, it’s the time I spend at work, an increasingly unfulfilling endeavor, which I find myself resenting. For the time being, there’s nothing to be done about that.


Sunday, September 9, 2007

Henri's Companion, Henri's Loss....Henri's Companion.... again?

I've worked diligently on this little scrap of what is now about 1500 words. I've probably written 5000 to 6000 words trying to "get it right". I've had great critiques on this piece... clarifying, insightful and much appreciated.

My non-writer readers have been very helpful in pointing out problems which never occurred to me... the "why didn't they paddle over to the drilling rig and board it to save themselves" resulted in research on drilling rigs/production platforms with my brother and the ultimate writing out of anything thus related. The observation of my boating expert reader that Henri was obviously a negligent boat owner because the boat must have been poorly maintained causing it to sink sparked a discussion with my writing group in which we decided it didn't matter why the fishing boat caught fire and sank. There has been discussion with various readers and writing group members about vague references to the "companion" and more specific references to "Hank". I'm still working on that issue. Currently the necessary big fix has to do with the last paragraph where Henri's condition on rescue is being evaluated. Research from a knowledgeable friend has finally come through and I'll be fixing that today.

By far, the most frustrating issue for me has been the name of the piece....Henri's Companion... Henri's Loss... now, Henri's Companion again. Henri's Companion is the title that causes music in my mind. It feels right. That said, I recognize that titles are extremely important and what feels right may not always BE right. The title is still up in the air and I'm not so sure either of those will be correct in the end. The jury is still out....

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Henri's Companion

I've been struggling with a story for Humble Fiction Cafe's current project, our "Split" anthology. My dichotomy "appear/disappear" story was progressing but had grown much too unweldy for the time I have to devote to completing the project. I knew I had to do something different or risk not being able to meet our deadlines. I'd been reading a book (I'll supply the title and author when I have time to find the book again) on creating "scenes".

I went to bed last Friday night thinking about needing to do a new story which takes place in a limited locale and with a limited number of characters. I got up Saturday morning with the idea in my mind for a story I'm currently calling Henri's Companion. After my meeting Saturday morning I spent two hours at the Octavia Fields Library in Humble doing my discovery draft. I'm very pleased with the results and I'm very relieved to finally have something completed to work with. I know the rewrite is going to be brutal, but with some very good suggestions from Victor and Dorlana already in hand, I'm looking forward to working on it.