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

lunes, enero 30, 2006

Gabo, Please Don't Go!!!

It appears that my literary hero, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has decided to stop writing. And no, I am not joking about this. I am so saddened. And disappointed. I think of Gabo's image of the woman followed by swarms of butterflies as I write this, and I wish he would give us more, much more of that. And I wish that all of his characters would continue to reveal new aspects of themselves. And that he'd tell us some new stories about Caribbean Colombia.

According to the (London) Sunday Times:

January 26, 2006
The End, by Gabriel García Márquez By Graham Keeley
The acclaimed 78-year-old author has written his final chapter, saying his heart is not in it any more

THE Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Gabriel García Márquez, has announced that he has given up writing.

“I have stopped writing. Last year was the first in my life in which I haven’t written even a line,” the 78-year-old Colombian said.

“With my experience, I could write a new novel without any problems, but people would realise my heart wasn’t in it,” he told La Vanguardia, the Spanish newspaper, in a rare interview at his home in Mexico.

Often described as the father of magical realism, García Márquez is best known for One Hundred Years of Solitude, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, Love in the Time of Cholera, Chronicle of a Death Foretold and News of a Kidnapping.

But in recent years, García Márquez’s output has slowed considerably. He kept his fans waiting ten years for his last novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, which came out in 2004.

The story of a 90-year-old man who wants to celebrate his birthday by taking the virginity of a teenage girl received rave reviews. At the last minute, García Márquez tricked copyright pirates by changing the last chapter on the eve of the book’s publication.

His “creative pause” appears to put on hold indefinitely the long-awaited second part of his memoirs.

The first volume, Live to Tell It, was published in 2002 and a second edition had been expected soon afterwards.

One reason that García Márquez has written so little in recent years was thought to be his long-term fight against lymph cancer.

But now it appears the former journalist has lost his inspiration.
García Márquez rarely makes public appearances and avoids the limelight. “It is something very agreeable for a writer, but you have to keep it at arm’s length,” he said.

He spoke of how he enjoyed domestic life with his wife, Mercedes Barcha, at their home, proudly showing his interviewers pictures of his family. He also owns a house in Barcelona.

Despite guarding his private life carefully, he disclosed that he received celebrity visitors such as Bill Clinton and Felipe González, the former Prime Minister of Spain. He is also friendly with Fidel Castro and has visited the Cuban leader in Havana.

He lived in Spain in the late 1960s, but left after the death of the dictator General Franco in 1975 and has never returned.

García Márquez is not the first writer to declare an end to his literary efforts.
J. D. Salinger, reclusive author of seminal novel, The Catcher in the Rye, has not published any new work for about 40 years. Harper Lee similarly withdrew from public life following the success of the Pulitzer Prize-winning To Kill a Mockingbird.
Nikolai Gogol, the 19th century Russian writer, decided while writing Dead Souls that he had to undergo a spiritual regeneration before continuing, imposing a strict regime of prayer and fasting, which led to a nervous breakdown in which he burned the entire second part of his book.

One Hundred Years of Solitude 1967 More than 30 million copies sold worldwide in 37 languages. It has outsold every book in Spanish except the Bible

Love in the Time of Cholera 1985 Sold over a million copies in Europe and Latin America, was reported to have sold well during the ‘plague’ fears of Sars in China

Chronicle of a Death Foretold 1981 A 90-page novella that the author claims Fidel Castro helped to edit

News of a Kidnapping 1996 Published first in Colombia and Spain, creating waiting lists in Argentina that left the book sold out before it was released

Memories of My Melancholy Whores 2004 Had to be brought out early after vendors sold 13,000 illegal copies in Colombia, the home country of García Marquez. Was officially brought out with a print run of 1 million copies in Spanish

Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Oh how I wish Gabo would continue! I'd like him to sit down with me in the turquoise sea off of desde Desdemona and tell me about the Buendias. I'd like to offer him a place to relax, to rediscover his inspiration, to fuel him. Anything to keep him going, anything that subverts impermanence and struggles against mortality.

sábado, enero 28, 2006

Fiction, Non Fiction, Stories and Lies

Welcome to the genre wars. Today's New York Times makes a big deal deal of Oprah Winfrey's confrontation with James Frey about his book A Million Little Pieces. It seems that Mr. Frey made up parts of the story and, horror of horrors, told his publisher and Ms. Winfrey that it was all true. Ms. Winfrey, assuming that she read the book, believed the story, accepted it as a true, first person account, promoted it, and pushed the book onto the New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller list. All of this promotion has gotten Mr. Frey some great advances and a deal for some additional books. And it's gotten him kicked out of Ms. Winfrey's book club.

I guess the drinking beer, telling lies, exaggerating, making up improbable stories and denying that they're made up genre has fallen into grave disrepute. Will there be no more fish stories? No more tall stories? No more yarns? No more Paul Bunyan? No more bullshit? Well, probably in your local saloon or locker room or at the water cooler, where I hope these all continue to be practiced, if not revered. But maybe not any longer at the bookstore.

It's not that Frey's is a bad story. It's really a believable, moving one. But instead, the issue has something to do with the writer's obligation not to straddle genres, not to mislead. The obligation not to assume a personna as narrator. There will be no more faction (fact plus fiction). There will be no more apocrypha. And why? Because the fuss isn't as much about the story as about who the author really is.

That matters, I suppose, because we're not just reading stories, now we're marketing celebrity. We should know better. We should stick to the writing.

Two quick examples. First, we have Jack Henry Abbott, who thoroughly conned Norman Mailer into making him a literary celebrity for writing In the Belly of the Beast, only to commit another homicide. The book, it appears, was made up of well honed lies for the unimprisoned gullible. And then we have Marlo Morgan, whose book Mutant Message Down Under was initially released as nonfiction, only to be later released as fiction when it was discovered that, oops, she didn't have a walkabout in Australia, she just made it all up. Are either of these books any better or any worse because they were works of fiction masquerading as fact? I don't think so. In fact, I like them both.

Apparently, real mystery, whether the story is true or made up, whether the author is really who he or she says she is, is no longer acceptable. And that's a shame. Oprah wants publishers to make sure that nonfiction books aren't just great stories. I suspect that it matters to her only because she's about the big business of marketing celebrity, and not really about whether the story, be it true or false, works.

Personally, I'm not altogether completely confident about my ability to differentiate between what's "real" and what's made up, and I'm not sure that it even matters. I like it that way. There's mystery. There's a choice about what I believe is the nature of "reality." I don't completely believe my own stories or anyone else's. I like that the improbable, events at the edge of common acceptance might be true (or not). The Lankavatara Sutra is entirely correct when it says, "Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise."

At any rate, I don't think we need the nonfiction police to make sure that books are appropriately shelved.

lunes, enero 23, 2006

Henequen Romances

Ai, ai! An error of remarkable proportions. The workers Felipe Carrillo Puerto assisted (see post below) were working on henequen. Not hennequin. And what, you ask, is that?

According to Wikipedia, it's like sisal:

Sisal or sisal hemp is an agave Agave sisalana that yields a stiff fiber used in making rope. (The term may refer either to the plant or the fiber, depending on context.) It is not really a variety of hemp, but named so because hemp was for centuries a major source for fiber, so other fibers were sometimes named after it.
Sisal plants consist of a rosettes of sword-shaped leaves about 1.5 to 2 meters tall. Young leaves may have a few minute teeth along their margins, but lose them as they mature. Sisals are sterile hybrids of uncertain origin; although shipped from the port of Sisal in Yucatán (thus the name), they do not actually grow in Yucatán, the plantations cultivating henequen (Agave fourcroydes) instead. Evidence of an indigenous cottage industry in Chiapas suggests it as the original location, possibly as a cross of Agave angustifolia and Agave kewensis.

In the 19th century, sisal cultivation (the plant being propagated via offsets), was spread worldwide, from Florida to the Caribbean islands and Brazil, as well as to countries in Africa (especially Tanzania) and Asia. Sisal constitutes the majority of natural fiber production worldwide

All of that might be a lot more than you wanted to know. And all because of a spelling error! One can only wonder in what kind of miserable conditions Maya laborers harvested the crop in Quintana Roo. But it was those conditions, and the treatment of the workers in the plantations, that inspired Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

domingo, enero 22, 2006

Felipe Carrillo Puerto And The Mayan Riviera

One of the most beautiful places in the world, if you love the beach and the Caribbean, is the Mayan Riviera, that stretch of Quintana Roo that runs south on the Mexican Caribbean from Cancun to the Belize border. We've travelled there so many times over the years. It's a magnet for us. Given anywhere in the world to go, this is what we choose over and over again. We choose it in winter and in summer. This is what it looks like to us.

You are looking at Bahia Solimon, about 10 minutes north of Tulum, and about an hour and a half from the Cancun Airport. Bahia Solimon is an unbelievably healthy bay with a vibrant coral reef at its entrance. The Bay is ringed by about 20 homes. And you are looking at Bahia Solimon from property we are now absolutely thrilled to own. There is a page devoted to this property here, and if you want to, you can rent it by contacting locogringo.

But I digress. Quintana Roo's history is fascinating. I expect it to be the background for a new novel I've been working on. Shhhh. I do not talk about works in progress. Please forget what I just said.

There is a town in Quintana Roo called Felipe Carrillo Puerto. For many years, I thought it odd that there was a port so far inland. My misunderstanding was facilitated by road signs that persisted in saying how far it was to "Felipe Carrillo Pto", which I always read as an abbreviation for the word for "port." Alas, it turns out it's not a port. The town, originally call Chan Santa Cruz, is named for Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

Carillo was born in Motul in the Yucatan 1872. He was self educated. And became an editor of a semi monthly newspaper, which he used to denounce mistreatment of the Maya and to promote land reform and workers' rights. He was imprisoned for shooting an assassin in self defense, and he translated the constitution into Mayan while incarcerated, so that the Maya would have knowledge of the law. Eventually he was made Governor. As Governor-- he was a socialist-- he brought about extensive land reform, sought fair treatment for hennequin workers, and argued for women's rights. He appointed women to his government, something unheard of at the time. Ultimately, in 1924 he was assassinated, shot by a henchman of another politician. His last words, "No abandoneis a mis Indios!"

miércoles, enero 04, 2006

The Dream Antilles

The Dream Antilles is a self published novel. That means that to some it lacks cache. That also means that it's hard to get it reviewed. And it's hard to get on the interview shows. And it's hard to get Oprah to read it, let alone recommend it. The thought behind this is that this novel cannot be any good as literature because if it were, well then, it wouldn't be self published, now would it? I don't know if this view made sense fifty years ago, but I'm sure it doesn't now.

Today's New York Times reports:

Rejected by the Publishers
Submitted to 20 publishers and agents, the typed manuscripts of the opening chapters of two books were assumed to be the work of aspiring novelists. Of 21 replies, all but one were rejections. Sent by The Sunday Times of London, the manuscripts were the opening chapters of novels that won Booker Prizes in the 1970's. One was "Holiday," by Stanley Middleton; the other was "In a Free State," by Sir V. S. Naipaul, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Literature. Mr. Middleton said he wasn't surprised. "People don't seem to know what a good novel is nowadays," he said. Mr. Naipaul said: "To see something is well written and appetizingly written takes a lot of talent, and there is not a great deal of that around. With all the other forms of entertainment today, there are very few people around who would understand what a good paragraph is."

You can read the original Sunday Times article here.

So does this mean that being rejected repeatedly by traditional agents and publishers was The Dream Antilles' ticket to The Booker Prize? A National Book Award? A Pulitzer? A Nobel? Does it mean that now I'm going to be interviewed by my favorite interviewers? Or on a more modest scale, does it just provide yet another argument for my repeated condemnations of monopoly concentration in the publishing industry?

I haven't called the caterers and wine merchants yet for my celebration of my prizes, but the news does give me a warm, self satisfied, hopeful smile.