Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

viernes, septiembre 30, 2005

Book of the Month!!!

This is a really big surprise, and I am really thrilled by it. Check this out!! Thanks to Red Maple Books and Nicole for this honor.

Permit me to demonstrate my abiding naivete. There are really two, distinct parts to being a writer. The first is the writing. And the second is marketing and selling books. I feel comfortable, even skilled as a writer. I am an utter beginner, a complete novice at the selling. There's already some evidence of this: The Dream Antilles is now ranked an abysmal #714,732 on Amazon for sales. That, my dear friends, means that it's not selling and that those books on diets, self help, celebrity marriages, self-help plumbing and tying trout flies are selling better than it. On the other hand, this may not be something bitterly to complain about: Jorge Amado's Gabriela, Cinnamon and Clove is ranked #354,422, Alejo Carpentier's The Lost Steps is ranked #187,413, andMarquez's Autumn of the Patriarch is #173,844. These are three extremely great books and I love them. They've all been around a lot longer than The Dream Antilles. The Dream Antilles was not released until July, 2005. So there can and should be hope that I will learn the second part of being a writer. But I hope you'll pardon me if I greatly prefer another idea, the idea that like Saraswati and Milagros I produce miraculous results in unexpected, untraditional ways. How else would you expect The Dream Antilles to spread across the world? How indeed.

A Third Reading And A New Book Store

On December 17, 2005 at 2 pm, I'll be reading from The Dream Antilles and signing books at Red Maple Books, 1198 Route 21, Harlemville, Ghent, New York. In fact, The Dream Antilles will even be the Red Maple Books book of the month!! This is such a great surprise!

Red Maple Books is a brand new book store and will be opening around Thanksgiving, 2005. You can visit it here. As I've said before, it is really important, dear readers, to support independent booksellers. I prefer that you buy The Dream Antilles from local, independent book sellers.

jueves, septiembre 29, 2005

Two Readings Now Scheduled

Two developments for which I have huge gratitude. First, a wonderful review of The Dream Antilles was posted yesterday on by Ned Depew. You can read it here. I'm utterly humbled when I'm compared to these writers.

Second, there are now two confirmed dates for readings. The first is at Hawthorne Valley (in Harlemville, Ghent, New York) on October 26, 2005 at 7:30 pm. The second is at The Book Store (11 Housatonic Street, Lenox, Massachusetts) on November 12, 2005 between 2 and 4 pm. We're working on others; details when they're confirmed. And a very special thanks to all of those who responded to our last posting with such great ideas and suggestions.

martes, septiembre 27, 2005

What To Read Aloud And How Much

At the end of October and again in early November, it looks like I'll probably have some readings and signings. At least two, maybe three or four. All in the Columbia County, NY, Berkshire County, MA area. Details here when these are confirmed. But in the meanwhile, some questions for you, dear reader: How long should I read? And what should I read? And what else should I do other than sign books? You can post an answer as a comment here, or you can email or IM me. I know very little about "readings."

When I wrote The Dream Antilles, I didn't anticipate that I'd ever read it aloud to an audience. And, to be frank about it, it's hard for me to read it aloud even to my family because I start crying. It's not that it's a sad book; it isn't. Quite the opposite. So the crying is a little hard to explain. Especially to people who know me only as a crafty criminal lawyer now in his late fifties. I'm not going to try to explain it here.

Showing these emotions isn't altogether bad. I bought Victor Martinez's Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida (1996), which won a National Book Award, because he was moved to tears in an NPR interview. And to tell the truth, I'm happy that my book still touches me so deeply. I can only hope it touches you, dear reader, as intensely.

lunes, septiembre 26, 2005

The Cold Ocean

No, not the warm, turquoise bay of desde Desdemona with its dark coral flecks and the huge rays swimming like butterflies. I'm talking about the ocean of Maine. You know the one. At low tide it's encamped about 300 yards from the beach front, exposing a gigantic, flat, stretch of brownish sand. And it's freezing cold, so cold that feet and hands turn blue and sting. So cold gulls face the wind and stand on one foot, and crabs grow thick, hard carapaces and run sideways. At high tide, it roars and pounds and, yes, refrigerates. This ocean doesn't speak Spanish. It speaks Swedish and Finnish. And even swarthy people who live in bright, hot sun (read: me) get wind burned and sunburned. Why? How can that be? Because it's a trick. The wind is cold, the ocean is cold, the air is cold. But, alas, the sun is hot. Very hot. Even at the start of Fall. There may be pumpkins and Concord grapes on the farm stands, but do not be fooled. The Maine sun has its own plan for your skin, and it is to cajole you into leaving the sunscreens at home and then to fry your face. Believe me, after Saturday, I know what I'm talking about. And to think that this never happens to me in desde Desdemona. Ok. Ok. Virtually never. Remember this: sunscreen prevents sun scream.

jueves, septiembre 22, 2005

Can I Get A Review?

I know. I know. You stopped writing book reports a long time ago, or you have to get paid to write a review and do so for a living. Or you're busy. Or you're afraid it might require 10,000 words. But look. If you liked The Dream Antilles, it would be really great if you'd write a short (and favorable; or long and favorable) review and post it on If I knew how to give you a link I would, but instead, just go to, search for The Dream Antilles, and click your way to writing a review. It would definitely make my day in desde Desdemona all the brighter, and might even catapult The Dream Antilles from being #449,444 in Amazon today all the way to being #398,999 tomorrow.

miércoles, septiembre 21, 2005

Breaking Bread

No Place for a Poet at a Banquet of Shame

[from the October 10, 2005 issue of The Nation. The poet Sharon Olds has declined to attend the National Book Festival in Washington. Olds and some other writers were invited by First Lady Laura Bush to read from their works.] Olds's letter:

Laura Bush
First Lady
The White House

Dear Mrs. Bush,

I am writing to let you know why I am not able to accept your kind invitation to give a presentation at the National Book Festival on September 24, or to attend your dinner at the Library of Congress or the breakfast at the White House.

In one way, it's a very appealing invitation. The idea of speaking at a festival attended by 85,000 people is inspiring! The possibility of finding new readers is exciting for a poet in personal terms, and in terms of the desire that poetry serve its constituents--all of us who need the pleasure, and the inner and outer news, it delivers.

And the concept of a community of readers and writers has long been dear to my heart. As a professor of creative writing in the graduate school of a major university, I have had the chance to be a part of some magnificent outreach writing workshops in which our students have become teachers. Over the years, they have taught in a variety of settings: a women's prison, several New York City public high schools, an oncology ward for children. Our initial program, at a 900-bed state hospital for the severely physically challenged, has been running now for twenty years, creating along the way lasting friendships between young MFA candidates and their students--long-term residents at the hospital who, in their humor, courage and wisdom, become our teachers.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit--and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person's unique story and song.

So the prospect of a festival of books seemed wonderful to me. I thought of the opportunity to talk about how to start up an outreach program. I thought of the chance to sell some books, sign some books and meet some of the citizens of Washington, DC. I thought that I could try to find a way, even as your guest, with respect, to speak about my deep feeling that we should not have invaded Iraq, and to declare my belief that the wish to invade another culture and another country--with the resultant loss of life and limb for our brave soldiers, and for the noncombatants in their home terrain--did not come out of our democracy but was instead a decision made "at the top" and forced on the people by distorted language, and by untruths. I hoped to express the fear that we have begun to live in the shadows of tyranny and religious chauvinism--the opposites of the liberty, tolerance and diversity our nation aspires to.

I tried to see my way clear to attend the festival in order to bear witness--as an American who loves her country and its principles and its writing--against this undeclared and devastating war.

But I could not face the idea of breaking bread with you. I knew that if I sat down to eat with you, it would feel to me as if I were condoning what I see to be the wild, highhanded actions of the Bush Administration.

What kept coming to the fore of my mind was that I would be taking food from the hand of the First Lady who represents the Administration that unleashed this war and that wills its continuation, even to the extent of permitting "extraordinary rendition": flying people to other countries where they will be tortured for us.

So many Americans who had felt pride in our country now feel anguish and shame, for the current regime of blood, wounds and fire. I thought of the clean linens at your table, the shining knives and the flames of the candles, and I could not stomach it.



Sharon Olds is welcome to spend as much time as she wants in desde Desdemona. There she will find a real community of writers and readers, who would love to hear her read poems and discuss literature. And we hope she will sit up to her neck in water with us and talk about Alejo Carpentier and McAndo (hiss). We also hope she will eat papayas and lime with us, and keep her visit a secret.

lunes, septiembre 19, 2005

The End of Beach Reading?

Summer officially ends on Thursday at 6:23 pm EDT, which means that the opportunities for reading The Dream Antilles on a beach are dwindling. At least for those of you who go to the beach in North America and Europe. But in the Southern Hemisphere (yes, that means you in Oz and you Kiwis, too) the chances are just beginning. Those of us in the Caribbean (and no, I'm not telling you where) are able to read on the beach year round. But the tide is higher on the full moon nearest the equinox, as it is now. Sometimes at the equinox the waves even tower over us and roll as if they were at the Jersey Shore. This does not disturb life in desde Desdemona in the slightest, although it does remind John Coltrane Ramirez of his early life in Newark, and he finds himself expressing his gratitude for desde Desdemona quite fervently for him. "If you compare this to Newark, it's pretty good. In fact, it's not bad at all."

This is an idea that Philip Roth and other people intimate with Newark, including me, would probably agree with. But my Newark, like John Coltrane Ramirez's, is so far away it's remembered as if it were a crumpled, sepia photograph. It lacks the contrast and contradictions and movement of a real place. And it is inhabited by people who have been dead for decades. And it's easier for Ramirez and me to remember a passionate discussion about Willie Mays than to know the name of the last mayor.

That, of course, doesn't mean that city can't be visited. It's still there and it still produces people who are as tough as cockroaches. And because, mercifully, all time is truly simultaneous, you can visit desde Desdemona and my tattered Newark in the same afternoon, and draw your own conclusions.

sábado, septiembre 17, 2005

Oh That Swamiji!

Greetings from the third day of eating nothing but juiced vegetables. The present favorite is kale, celery, fennell, cucumber juice. Three or four times a day, 12 or 16 ounces. Oh, and drink lots of water. Where does this lead? For some reason there are no posted signs, but I recall the blissfulness that will eventually arrive. When? Who knows? But I know that when I did this 6 months ago-- it should be done twice a year-- I was suffused with gratitude and joy. I know that will happen again. Meanwhile, I'm mostly lying around contemplating my world.

The essential tool for juice fasting is a powerful juicer. Swamiji prefers the Green Life juicer, which we have. Even with a great juicer, it's a time consuming operation to juice the vegetables. Those who have not done it will be amazed by how very many vegetables it takes to make 12 ounces of juice. The juicer reduces the vegetables to their most vital elements; the rest is pulp that ends up in the compost.

Where does Swamiji get these ideas linking what one puts in one's mouth with the condition of one's spirit? Who knows? But there's no doubt that one's emotional, psychological, spiritual outlook is tethered to what one eats. It's an incredible journey to watch this unfold.

martes, septiembre 13, 2005

Bloviating Bashibazooks!

If you want immeasurably to heighten your enjoyment of The Dream Antilles, all you have to do is listen for half an hour to the Senate's confirmation hearings for Chief Justice on NPR. Notice how unlikeable all of the participants are, how pompous, how puffed up like blowfish, how patronizing, how mechanical. Notice also that the commentators make believe there is something meaningful in the hearings, something worth analyzing. The fact is it's all just staged blather. The conclusion is foregone. It is sound and fury signifying absolutely nothing. It's really just packaging of a done deal and propaganda. Oh, it feels so good firmly to press the power button to shut this up! After half an hour of such mental and oral abuse, desde Desdemona is an even more delightful paradise. I want to lie in my hammock with my book (Alejo Carpentier's Lost Steps), listen while I read to the sounds of the wind on the reef, and enjoy a paradise where such Punch and Judy shows, such phoney masqued balls and dress-up theatricals are eschewed. I confess: I greatly prefer sitting naked in the sea and watching the clouds.
(Thanks to Herge and Tin Tin for this posting).

lunes, septiembre 12, 2005

Infinite Sales

The Dream Antilles was ranked #272,010 in sales on Amazon today. Over the weekend it was #610,000 something. That means, one suspects, that on Sunday somebody must have bought 2 copies of this wonderful book. That catapulted The Dream Antilles to its present, impressive ranking. What a great and wonderful achievement! If one of you bought 9 books immediately, I bet the ranking might even reach #98,000 until Wednesday. Heaven only knows what would happen if somebody bought 100 copies of The Dream Antilles. What a magnificent ranking it would have then! I can hardly imagine it and the attendant fame.

Harry Potter is ranked #1 on Amazon. The Dream Antilles is ranked #272,010. Can you imagine the 272,009 books between that fat Harry Potter book and the skinny book, The Dream Antilles? It's reminiscent of Borghes's Infinite Library. I can't even imagine 200 topics for books, let alone 272,009 different summaries of books. Imagine all of these books, all different sizes and shapes and colors, lined up on a shelf stretching from desde Desdemona all the way across the sea to Guayana. Imagine what's among them: guides to the wildflowers of Iowa, books about dog grooming, books about dieting and cooking, books about making funeral arrangements, novellas about Pirates abducting women from Habana, the English literary canon, books of photographs of 19th century greeting cards, books about rare cardiological operations. The list is as exhausting as it is exhaustive.

So pitch in. Get The Dream Antilles moved up the shelf, closer to Harry Potter, closer to James Joyce and Garcia Marquez, and away from all those embarrassing books that nobody really enjoys that are flirting with being permanently ranked at #610,000 something.

domingo, septiembre 11, 2005

Herman Melville's desde Desdemona

In 1842 Herman Melville deserted from a whaling ship in the Marquesas Islands and lived with the indigenous people (or was held captive by them). The experience was the background for his first book, Typee, which was a commercial success in 1846. Melville wrote that he had found and lived in paradise in the Marquesas. A brief excerpt, dear Island lovers, to whet your appetite:

One peculiarity that fixed my admiration was the perpetural hilarity reigning through the whole extent of the vale. There seemed to be no cares, griefs, troubles, or vexations in all Typee. The hours tripped along as gaily as the laughing couples down a country dance.

There were none of those thousand sources of irritation that the ingenuity of civilized man has created to mar his own felicity. There were no foreclosures of mortgages, no protested notes, no bills payable, no debts of honor in Typee; no unreasonable tailors and shoemakers, perversely bent on being paid; no duns of any description; no assault-and-battery attorneys to foment discord, backing their clients up to a quarrel, and then knocking their heads together; no poor relations, everlastingly occupying the spare bedchamber, and diminishing the elbowroom at the family table; no destitute widows with their children starving on the cold charities of the world; no beggars; no debtors' prisons; no proud and hard hearted nabobs in Typee; or to sum up all in one word-- no Money! "That root of all evil" was not to be found in the valley.

In this secluded abode of happiness there were no cross old women, no cruel stepdames, no withered spinsters, no live-sick maidens, no sour old bachelors, no inattentive husbands, no melancholy yound men, no blubbering youngsters, and no squalling brats. All was mirth, fun, and high good humor. Blue devils, hypochondria, and doleful dumps, went and hid themselves among the nooks and crannies of the rocks.

There's more. About peace among the young men, for example, "But whether fishing, or carving canoes, or polishing their ornaments, never was there exhibited the least sign of strife or contention among them." And about the beauty of the female inhabitants, "There you might have seen a throng of young females, not filled with envyings of each other's charms, nor displaying the ridiculous affectations of gentility, nor yet moving in whalebone corsets, like so many automatons, but free, inartificially happy, and unconstrained."

I finished reading Typee a few weeks ago on an island, the name of which I will not disclose. I was happy indeed that Melville had his own desde Desdemona, though I doubt that many of his readers could head off to find it in the South Pacific for themselves. But I bet many people carried Typee around in their heads and hearts for years.

domingo, septiembre 04, 2005

New Orleans and Paradise

A Huge Loss
I'm one of those people who knows New Orleans, and though I don't live there, I feel the enormity of the present crisis deeply.

I lived in Jackson, Mississippi for more than 6 years in early the 70s. I, and other members of the civil rights law community, loved to go to New Orleans. It was civilized. It was relaxing. It had good food and music. Not only wasn't it Mississippi, it made Mississippi and its stridency, divisiveness, violence and stress seem far, far away. It was to me actually the City that Care Forgot. It was like heaven.

It was a city that seemed to embrace what we were trying to accomplish up the highway. When Mississippi's federal judges made decisions that were predictably against us or just plain wacky, the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans seemed ever willing to grant a stay, to enjoin the craziness, to require that it be corrected. So traveling to New Orleans with a briefcase full of papers on the famous train, the City of New Orleans, was a mixed blessing: it meant you lost as expected in Jackson or Biloxi or Gulfport, but soon things would be set aright by wise men who understood the future.

New Orleans was also a refuge for me from exhaustion, from burnout, from crank phone calls, from police surveillance, from the petty difficulties of living in Mississippi, from fighting hard, from adversity, from judicial hostility. It was only a few hours drive away. It was possible to visit over a weekend. It was the destination to escape to. So I learned its music venues, its bars and restaurants, its ways of being, and I enjoyed its ambience, the slow, humid, deliberate way the City moved and breathed, its cosmopolitan civilization, its stories, its pace.

Yet New Orleans was not really paradise. It had no signficant middle class: it had the very rich and the black poor. It had its share of historical, urban racial discrimination. It had the incessant violence pervasive discrimination and gnawing poverty breed. It had an enormous crime rate, and its homicides were all too frequent. It had its monument to the Confederacy at the end of Canal Street. It had all of the troubled corruption and unnecessary violence of other big American cities. It had an ability to be overwhelmed by drunken conventioneers, who could be found talking to horses drawing carriages. But for me, and I think for a huge number of other people, it displayed a comfort, a sweetness, a sensuality, and a joyfulness that I felt simply as relief. It embraced us. It welcomed us.

Others have written their tributes to New Orleans this week. I heard two on the radio this afternoon, and Anne Rice has written in the New York Times today. Reminiscence isn't really my purpose here. I just feel profound grief at what has happened. In the pit of my stomach and in my heart, there is a deep aching. A City I love and its people, a City I hold in my heart as a refuge and the people who have made it so, are suffering and dying.

It would be easy for me to join the chorus blaming George W Bush and his administration for their gross incompetence and the huge and unnecessary loss of life, but that seems to be others' work. Instead, for me, there's not much to do. It's important, of course, to make donations to the appropriate organizations. And I urge each of you to do so. And it's also important to feel in my heart the enormity of my and our nation's loss. To me, it is as if something akin to paradise in my inner world has been despoiled.