This Day In Writing History
On July 22nd, 1936, the famous American novelist Tom Robbins was born in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Both his grandfathers were Southern Baptist preachers. The family moved to Virginia in 1947.
At the age of 16, Robbins studied journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, but he dropped out of college when his fraternity expelled him for disciplinary problems.
In 1954, Robbins was drafted into the military. He enlisted in the Air Force and served a two year tour of duty in Korea as a meteorologist. After his discharge, he returned to civilian life, settling in Richmond, Virginia. He became part of the local art scene and hung out with his fellow painters.
In 1957, Robbins enrolled in art school at Richmond Professional Institute, now known as Virginia Commonwealth University. While there, he became the editor of the campus newspaper and worked as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper.
After art school, Tom Robbins spent a year hitchhiking his way around the country. He settled in New York City and became a poet. In 1961, he moved to San Francisco, then a year later, he moved to Seattle to get a Master's degree at the University Of Washington's School of Far Eastern Studies.
Over the next five years, Robbins worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, first as a sports reporter, then as an arts reviewer. In 1966, he wrote a column for Seattle Magazine and hosted a radio show on KRAB-FM, a non-commercial station in Seattle.
The following year, Robbins went to a concert by legendary rock band The Doors, which was a life-changing experience for him. It was a major factor in his decision to move to La Conner, Washington, and write his first book.
Tom Robbins' first novel, Another Roadside Attraction, was published in 1971. It introduced his trademark writing style - a non-linear narrative filled with offbeat humor and scathing satire. It told the story of John Paul Ziller and his wife Amanda - a hippie guru - who open a combination hot dog stand and zoo called Captain Kendrick's Memorial Hot Dog Wildlife Preserve.
Other weird characters in the novel are a baboon named Mon Cul, a well educated fellow called Marx Marvelous, and L. Westminster "Plucky" Purcell, a football great and part time drug dealer who accidentally uncovers a secret order of monks who work as assassins for the Vatican. Plucky also uncovers a shocking secret dating back to the beginning of Christianity.
Robbins' next novel, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (1976) featured a main character, Sissy Henshaw, who was born with an unusual birth defect - enormously large thumbs, which she uses to hitchhike around the country. In her travels, Sissy meets and becomes a model for the Countess, a lesbian feminine hygiene product tycoon.
The Countess introduces Sissy to her future husband, a Mohawk Indian named Julian Gitche. Sissy also meets sexually open cowgirl Bonanza Jellybean, and an escapee from a U.S. government Japanese internment camp with the erroneous nickname "The Chink."
In 1993, director Gus Van Sant - a friend of Tom Robbins - adapted Even Cowgirls Get The Blues as a feature film starring Uma Thurman as Sissy Henshaw, John Hurt as the Countess, Rain Phoenix as Bonanza Jellybean, Keanu Reeves as Julian Gitche, and Pat Morita as The Chink.
Tom Robbins has written ten novels so far, including memorable works such as Still Life with Woodpecker (1980) and Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas (1994). His latest novel, B is for Beer, was published in April of 2009.
B is for Beer is classic Robbins. Dubbed "a children's book for grown-ups" and "a grown-up book for children," it's presented in the form of a children's novel. It tells the story of six-year-old Gracie Perkel, who is fascinated by beer, her father's favorite beverage, which she describes as "the stuff that's yellow and looks like pee-pee."
Gracie turns to her favorite uncle, beer-guzzling hippie Uncle Moe, for help. He leads her on a quest to find out all there is to know about beer, then leaves her in the lurch, running off with a woman - a podiatrist he's fallen in love with.
Undaunted, Gracie drinks her first beer, throws up, passes out, and is visited by the Beer Fairy, who teaches her all about the history and production of beer. In a recent interview, Tom Robbins claimed that he wrote B is for Beer as a satirical ode to the brewed beverage:
Kids are constantly exposed to beer. It's everywhere, yet, aside from wagging a warning finger and growling - true enough as it goes - "beer is for grownups," how many parents actually engage their youngsters on the subject? As a topic for detailed family discussion, it's generally as taboo as sex.
As for his next novel, Robbins says, "I've decided to take advantage of outsourcing. My next novel will be written by a couple of guys in Bangalore."
Quote Of The Day
"There is a similarity between juggling and composing on the typewriter. The trick is, when you spill something, make it look like a part of the act." - Tom Robbins
Today's video features Tom Robbins reading from and discussing his most recent novel, B is for Beer. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Monday, July 21, 2014
My sci fi horror flash, “Electrix Love,” has been accepted for a future issue of Literary Hatchet. They like horror and humor, a good combination, a pay $15 for a story, including flash.
I have a poem, “He Didn't Know,” up at Leaves of Ink.
Just in time for the waning of the supermoon, my flash fiction, “New Moon,” is in the Summer 2014 issue of the Mojave River Review.
Jacqueline Seewald had interview of me up on Authors Expression. I discuss my career and books including the newest Murder in Her Dreams, a paranormal mystery.
Joanna M. Weston
My poem, “Jazz Vespers,” up at A Day's Encounter.
It's live! My short story, “Golf Goes On,” up at Infective Ink today.
Friday, July 18, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 18th, 1937, the legendary American writer and journalist Hunter S. Thompson was born in Louisville, Kentucky. The eldest of three sons, Thompson's father was an insurance adjuster, his mother a librarian.
When Hunter was fourteen, his father died of a degenerative disease called myasthenia gravis. His mother was left to raise her sons alone, a burden that would drive her to drink heavily.
From a young age, Hunter displayed a natural talent for athletics. While he attended middle school, he joined an athletic club that served to prepare boys his age to play sports on high school teams.
Although he excelled at baseball, Hunter didn't play any sports in high school, as he was considered a troublemaker and not a team player. So, he joined the school's literary club instead.
There, he became enamored with classic, controversial novels such as J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man (1955) and Jack Kerouac's On The Road (1957), attracted to their subversive nature.
When he was seventeen, Thompson happened to be riding in a car with a robber when the police pulled them over. Although he had no connection to the crime, Thompson was arrested and charged with being an accessory. He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, but only served half that time.
While Hunter was in jail, the school superintendent refused to allow him to take his final exams, so he never graduated. After his release, he joined the Air Force.
Stationed at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida, Hunter took night classes at Florida State University. He also landed his first professional writing job for the local Command Courier newspaper. He got the job by lying about his work experience.
Nevertheless, Hunter excelled as a sports writer and editor, covering the local football team, the Elgin Eagles, whom future pro football stars Bart Starr, Max McGee, and Zeke Bratkowski would play for.
After being honorably discharged by the Air Force, Hunter continued his journalism career, which took him East to New York City. There, while working as a copy boy for Time magazine, he typed out copies of novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway as a means of studying fiction.
Fired by Time for insubordination, Hunter moved upstate to Middletown, where he worked as a reporter for the Middletown Record. He was fired from that job for telling off a local restaurant owner who was one of the paper's advertisers.
In 1961, Hunter, following in the footsteps of his literary idol Jack Kerouac, hitchhiked across the country. While living in Big Sur, California, he published his first magazine article, a piece on the Beat literary and artistic scene in Big Sur.
At this time, Thompson began writing fiction. He wrote two novels, Prince Jellyfish and The Rum Diary, which wouldn't be published until the late 1990s. He also wrote many short stories, but found little success as a fiction writer.
In November of 1963, Hunter first coined his famous phrase "fear and loathing" in a letter to his old friend, legendary novelist William Kennedy, expressing his feelings about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (No relation.)
Two years later, Hunter S. Thompson took an assignment that would make his name as both a maverick journalist and as a writer. The editor of The Nation, a prominent liberal news magazine, asked him to write about the notorious Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.
So, Hunter spent a year riding with the gang, which was the most feared motorcycle club in the country, accused of crimes such as drug trafficking and gunrunning. The Hell's Angels hated reporters, but they came to like Hunter S. Thompson.
The relationship ended at a party held to celebrate the publication of Hunter's book, Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The Hell's Angels demanded a cut of the royalties, but Hunter refused.
When Thompson learned that one gang member called Junkie George was a wife-beater, he told the biker off in front of the rest of the gang, saying that "Only a punk beats his wife." The gang beat Thompson severely.
His Hell's Angels book received rave reviews. The New York Times said that it was an "angry, knowledgeable, fascinating and excitedly written book," and that its author was a "spirited, witty, observant and original writer; his prose crackles like motorcycle exhaust."
In the late 1960s, Hunter wrote many articles for national magazines. One of them, titled The Hashbury is the Capital of the Hippies criticized the hippie generation for lacking the political convictions of the New Left and the artistic fire of the Beat generation and for only being interested in drugs and free love.
Possessing strong political convictions, Hunter became an activist for the New Left. He signed the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest, a pledge to refuse to pay taxes to support the Vietnam War.
One of his heroes was the legendary Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara. Though he would rarely label his political beliefs, he would retain his strong anti-capitalist convictions throughout his life.
In the 1970s, Hunter developed his trademark style of "gonzo journalism," which began with his article The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. He accepted an assignment from Sports Illustrated to cover a motorcycle race in Las Vegas, and ended up writing his most famous book in the process.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971) was an autobiographical novel based on Hunter's coverage of both the race and a narcotics officers' convention in Sin City. His alter ego, journalist Raoul Duke, covers the convention along with his "300-pound Samoan attorney" Oscar "Dr. Gonzo" Zeta Acosta.
The two men traveled together in a car loaded with an ample supply of drugs of all sorts, and were frequently stoned. A major theme of the novel was the ultimate failure of the late 1960s American counterculture, which would vanish by the mid 1970s.
In 1972, Thompson covered the presidential election in a series of articles for Rolling Stone that would be published in book form as Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. He loathed then President Richard Nixon.
He described Nixon as a man who "could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time... an evil man — evil in a way that only those who believe in the physical reality of the Devil can understand it."
Thompson later accepted an assignment from Rolling Stone to cover the last days of the Vietnam War. He traveled to Saigon and found the country in chaos. When publisher Jann Wenner canceled the assignment without notice, Thompson found himself trapped in Vietnam without an expense account or health insurance.
In the 1980s, Hunter covered such famous events as the U.S. invasion of Grenada and the scandalous Roxanne Pulitzer divorce. In the 1990s, he wrote two noted fictional pieces. One was based on his interview with Bill Clinton, the other a protest against Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court.
By then, he had become a something of a recluse. His popularity soared again with the release of the acclaimed 1998 feature film adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, starring Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke and Benicio Del Toro as Dr. Gonzo.
Hunter's long lost novel The Rum Diary was published, along with two collections of letters. In 2003, a new book, Kingdom of Fear, was published, which contained new writings and classic pieces, serving primarily as an angry attack on post 9/11 America.
After suffering from numerous medical problems, including illnesses and a hip replacement, Hunter S. Thompson was left in poor health and chronic, often severe pain. Unable to take it any longer, he committed suicide in February of 2005 at the age of 67.
At the private funeral ceremony attended by nearly 300 people and paid for by Johnny Depp, Thompson's ashes were shot out of a cannon to the tunes of Norman Greenbaum's Spirit in the Sky and Bob Dylan's Mr. Tambourine Man.
Quote Of The Day
"Let us toast to animal pleasures, to escapism, to rain on the roof and instant coffee, to unemployment insurance and library cards, to absinthe and good-hearted landlords, to music and warm bodies and contraceptives... and to the good life, whatever it is and wherever it happens to be." - Hunter S. Thompson
Today's video features a 1978 BBC documentary on Hunter S. Thompson. Enjoy!
Thursday, July 17, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 17th, 1889, the legendary American mystery writer Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts. After graduating high school in 1909, he entered the Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana.
Gardner later dropped out and moved to California, where he became a self-taught attorney and passed the California state bar exam.
He opened his own law practice, but later gave it up and went to work for a sales agency for five years before returning once again to practice law in 1921.
Gardner was creative and restless by nature. Bored by routine legal practice, he enjoyed trial work, especially planning his strategy for defending his clients.
He took up writing as a hobby and sold short stories to pulp magazines, cutting his teeth just as his fellow mystery writers Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler had done.
In his short stories, Gardner created many popular series characters, including gentleman thief Lester Leith and crusading lawyer Ken Corning. But they weren't his most famous characters.
In 1933, Gardner's first novel was published. The Case Of The Velvet Claws was also his first novel to feature a character who would become one of the greatest literary icons of all time - Perry Mason.
A brilliant and cunning defense attorney and sleuth, in his first adventure, Mason crosses paths with the spoiled, philandering wife of a rich and powerful man.
The amoral woman is determined to keep her affairs a secret and retain her life of luxury - even if she has to frame Perry Mason for murder to do it!
The Case Of The Velvet Claws became a huge success. By 1937 - four years after it was published - Erle Stanley Gardner quit his law practice to write full time.
Many of his Perry Mason novels were published in serialized form in The Saturday Evening Post, then in book form. Sixteen of them appeared in condensed form in the Toronto Star Weekly.
Gardner wrote over 80 Perry Mason novels during his career, which would sell over 300,000,000 copies combined. He also published mystery novels featuring other characters such as Terry Clane and Gramps Wiggins, short story collections, and a series of non-fiction books.
Perry Mason remains Gardner's most popular character to this day. Always determined to see justice done, while defending his clients, Mason worked tirelessly to solve the crimes of which they were accused.
Mason made his feature film debut in the 1930s. In 1943, a Perry Mason radio mystery series premiered and ran for twelve years. Fourteen years later, Perry Mason made the jump to television
The acclaimed TV series starred Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, defending his clients and solving crimes with the help of his private investigator Paul Drake (William Hopper) and his secretary, Della Street (Barbara Hale).
The Perry Mason TV series ran for nine years. Erle Stanley Gardner made an uncredited appearance in the final episode, playing a judge. Raymond Burr would return for a whopping 30 Perry Mason made-for-tv movies that aired between 1985 and 1995.
When he wasn't writing about him, Erle Stanley Gardner became a real life Perry Mason in his spare time, donating thousands of hours to a project called The Court of Last Resort.
The project was dedicated to helping those suspected of being wrongly convicted of crimes as the result of poor legal representation or careless or malicious police work or prosecutorial misconduct.
The Court of Last Resort focused mostly on forensics, specifically the mishandling and misinterpretation of forensic evidence due to ineptitude or malice on the part of investigators or prosecutors.
Gardner was assisted in his project by his many friends in the forensic, investigative, and legal communities. In 1952, Gardner published a non-fiction account of his work for The Court of Last Resort, which won him an Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category.
Five years later, in 1957, Gardner produced a TV series based on his work with The Court of Last Resort. Unfortunately, it would only run for one season.
Erle Stanley Gardner died in 1970 at the age of 80. His famous character Perry Mason remains a major iconic figure in popular culture.
In his 1995 album Ozzmosis, legendary rock singer Ozzy Osbourne paid tribute to Gardner's attorney and sleuth in the song Perry Mason, which became a hit single:
Who can we get on the case?
We need Perry Mason
Someone to put you in place
Calling Perry Mason again...
Quote Of The Day
"It's a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check." - Erle Stanley Gardner on his first Perry Mason novel, The Case Of The Velvet Claws.
Today's video features Erle Stanley Gardner on the classic 1950s game show, What's My Line?. Enjoy!
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 16th, 1951, The Catcher in the Rye, the classic novel by the legendary American writer J.D. Salinger, was published. Salinger's poignant coming-of-age story opens with teenage student Holden Caulfield being expelled from Pencey Prep, his boarding school in Pennsylvania.
Highly intelligent but mentally disturbed, the angry, alienated Holden believes that his fellow students and his teachers are all a bunch of phonies. After an altercation with his roommate, Holden packs up and leaves school in the middle of the night.
He takes a train back to New York City, but doesn't want to go home to his parents, so he checks into the shabby Edmont Hotel instead. There, he dances with some tourist girls, has a clumsy encounter with a prostitute, and is beaten by her pimp when he refuses to pay her more than the agreed upon amount.
Holden spends the next two days wandering around the city, drunk and lonely. He sneaks into his parents' apartment while they're out so he can visit his precocious ten-year-old little sister Phoebe - the only family member that he can communicate with.
He shares with her a fantasy (based on a misinterpretation of Robert Burns' Comin' Through The Rye) where he watches over children playing in a rye field near the edge of a cliff. He must make sure that they don't wander too close to the edge; he must become a "catcher in the rye" and protect them from falling off the cliff.
After leaving his parents' apartment, Holden visits his old English teacher, Mr. Antolini, who offers him a place to sleep and gives him a speech about life - while guzzling highballs. He compliments Holden's good looks.
Later that night, Holden is awakened to find Mr. Antolini stroking his head in a "flitty" way. Holden describes this as "something perverty." Mr. Antolini's marriage may be a sham to conceal his true nature.
When Holden tells Phoebe that he plans to move out West, she wants to go with him. He refuses to take her, which upsets her greatly, so he tells her that he won't move. The book ends with Holden taking Phoebe to the Central Park Zoo.
Watching with melancholy joy while she rides the carousel, he alludes to possible future events, including "getting sick" and being committed to a mental hospital, and attending another school in September. That's just a bare outline of The Catcher in the Rye.
You must read this novel for yourself. One of the greatest American novels of the 20th century and o0ne of the most controversial, the American Library Association (ALA) has listed it as the 13th most challenged book from 1990-2000 and one of the ten most challenged books of 2005.
The complaints range from profanity - including words such as goddamn and fuck - to blasphemy. Opponents of the book have also complained about the undermining of family values - Holden Caulfield being a poor role model who promotes rebellion, smoking, drinking, lying, and promiscuity.
In 1989, Shelley Keller-Gage, a high school teacher in Boron, California, was fired after some disgruntled parents complained about her placement of The Catcher in the Rye on her students' assigned reading list. She was later reinstated.
Throughout his life, J.D. Salinger rebuffed attempts at adapting his classic novel for the stage and screen. When his short story Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut was adapted as a film called My Foolish Heart, great liberties were taken with the story.
The film, which Salinger hated, turned out to be a critical and commercial failure. He vowed that no more of his works would be adapted. In 1961, Salinger denied legendary film and stage director Elia Kazan permission to adapt The Catcher in the Rye as a Broadway play.
Acclaimed filmmakers from Billy Wilder to Steven Spielberg to Harvey Weinstein expressed great interest in directing a feature film adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye. Many great actors have expressed great interest in playing Holden Caulfield.
Big name actors from Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson to Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio have coveted the role of Salinger's antihero. John Cusack said that after he turned 21, he regretted that he had become too old to play Holden.
Ever since J.D. Salinger died in January of 2010 at the age of 91, speculation has run rampant that a feature film adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye will finally be made. Until then, everyone should read the novel, which is one of the all-time classic works of literature.
Quote Of The Day
“An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's.” - J.D. Salinger
Today's video features a complete reading of J.D. Salinger's classic novel, The Catcher In The Rye. Enjoy!
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
This Day In Writing History
On July 15th, 1779, the famous American poet Clement Moore was born in New York City. His father, Benjamin Moore, was a bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York and also served as the president of Columbia College.
Clement Moore later graduated from Columbia College, earning his Bachelor's and Master's degrees there. In 1821, he was made a professor of biblical studies at the General Theological Seminary in New York City - a position he would hold for almost 30 years.
For ten years, he served as a board member of the New York Institute for the Blind, now known as the New York Institute for Special Education. He was also a prominent abolitionist.
Moore's writing career was modest. He only published two books during his lifetime. One of them was a non-fiction work - a Hebrew and English lexicon published in 1809. The other was a poetry collection, published in 1844.
One of Moore's poems would become a classic - a cherished holiday classic that continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. Its original title was A Visit From St. Nicholas, but it's best known as Twas The Night Before Christmas, which is also the first line of the poem.
Twas The Night Before Christmas was first published anonymously in the Sentinel, a newspaper based in Troy, New York, on December 23rd, 1823. Moore originally took no credit for writing the poem because he wanted to be known for his serious and scholarly works, not for authoring a whimsical Christmas poem.
The poem tells the story of a man awakened by strange noises late one Christmas Eve. While his wife and children sleep, he investigates the noises and witnesses the arrival of St. Nicholas - Santa Claus - who has come to deliver presents, riding a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeer.
The poem defined the character of Santa Claus as we know him today - his physical description, the names of his reindeer, his tradition of delivering presents on Christmas Eve, and other characteristics.
One thing I always found interesting was Moore's description of Santa Claus as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with a long white beard. This may have come from ancient Egyptian mythology, as the ancient Egyptian god Bes was a Santa-like character.
It was believed that on December 25th, the mother goddess Isis gave birth to Horus, the savior of Egypt. Bes, the Elf King, depicted as a jolly, fat, naked little elf with a long white beard, was a favorite of Isis, and much loved by the goddess.
He was the guardian of children and women in childbirth. Every year on December 25th, Bes would honor the birth of Horus by bringing toys and trinkets to all good children.
Twas The Night Before Christmas continues to be read every year during the Christmas season. The poem has become a cultural icon, influencing music, movies, and television, where it has been both parodied and paid tribute.
In 1974, the legendary animators Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, producers of classic, beloved animated TV Christmas specials such as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, produced an animated Christmas special loosely based on Clement Moore's classic poem.
Featuring the voices of Joel Grey, Tammy Grimes, and George Gobel, Twas The Night Before Christmas is still shown on TV at Christmastime and is also available on DVD.
Clement Moore died in 1863 at the age of 83.
The complete text of Twas The Night Before Christmas can be found here.
Quote Of The Day
"True poetry is itself a magic spell which is a key to the ineffable." - Aleister Crowley
Today's video features a rare performance of Twas The Night Before Christmas, read by Perry Como. Enjoy!
Monday, July 14, 2014
“Golf Goes On,” will be included in the July issue of Infective INK, themed ‘Great Friendships.’
My July column is up at KCParent.com in the ‘Word from Dad’ feature. This month, it's entitled “Just Out for Soda,” and is just a little trifle to pay homage to summer. It's also available in print in KC Parent magazine.
My translation of Mette Moestrup's book of poetry, Kingsize, has been published by Subpress, a collective of writers. A lot of it is funny, a lot serious, some formal experiments, but innovative enough that it took four years to translate. It's available at small press distribution.
My translation of Line Baum Holm's, The Copenhagen Job, a non-fiction crime story, has been published by Atavist Books as an e-book. I understand they publish many books longer than mag articles and shorter than most books, the final edited version of the translation is probably around 20,000 words, if anyone might be interested in this market.
My review of Mastering the Art of Quitting appears at the Internet Review of Books.
Theresa A. Cancro
My poem, “Dragonfly Musing,” is up at Dead Snakes.