Archive for October, 2010

Cannery Row

Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck, is my favorite book.  It took years for me to realize that it was my favorite book, even though I read it again and again, because it’s a short and unpretentious novel that lives in the shadow of Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden.  It’s not a story about world-conquering heroes or life-altering truth, but about a bunch of bums who want to throw a party for a man they admire.  And yet somehow I always come to the end of it knowing I’ve just experienced a beautifully rendered slice of all that is real and human.  I can see myself in the periphery, in every character, every motivation, every absurdity.  It always makes me smile.  The book begins like this:

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.  Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of…

Why I Write Fiction (more high-fallutin' rhetoric)

Over the years I’ve read a lot of stuff about why we create stories.  There have been reams written about the why of storytelling and mythology.  Joseph Campbell alone had more to say on this one subject than I could ever absorb, but any English Lit teacher can tell you that, and if you’re thinking of being a writer you should read Campbell for yourself.  Still, the possibility has occurred to me, however slight, that maybe you don’t want to hear some lofty treatise full of soaring generalities and nickel-plated quotes about man’s inherent need for myth, that maybe you’d rather hear straight from the mouth of a living author what it was that made him want to write fiction.  Maybe you don’t want to hear what a lot of intelligent people have to say on the subject, but what I have to say.  I admit that it’s a small thing, but I do have the slimmest advantage over Joe Campbell in that I’m still here.  So I will try to explain why I write fiction.

I didn’t set out…

Happy Trash Day

Unless it’s raining, my wife and I take the dog and go for a walk in the mornings.  We turn left out of our driveway and walk to the stop sign where our little country road dumps into a slightly bigger country road— then we turn around and come back.  It’s a bit over two and a half miles, round-trip, and we walk the same stretch every day.  Most of the people along the route have a few acres of land, so there’s pasture and woods and fences draped in honeysuckle, and there are lots of dogs and horses and even a few deer.

There’s also a lot of garbage.  Now, this is America, so we expect to see trash along the sides of the road.  America has an apparently endless supply of spoiled, self-absorbed, irresponsible morons who suck down whatever soft-drink or cigarette or beer or french fries suits the whim of the moment, then chuck the empty can or plastic bottle or styrofoam sarcophagus or cigarette pack out the window where it vanishes from sight and consciousness,…

Interview With My Father

After Levi’s Will came out a few years ago, my father went with me up to Amish country in eastern Ohio for a few book signings.  Part of the geography of the book was based on places I knew, like my aunt Mary’s home near Winesburg.  Dad and I stayed there when we went up for my uncle’s funeral a few years earlier.  A friend shot this picture of Dad gazing down on Aunt Mary’s home.

My father was born Joseph Miller in an Amish colony in the mountains of Mexico in the 1920s.  When he was nineteen (they were living in Ohio at the time), he ran away from home, changed his name to Howard Cramer and joined the army.  He was banned by the Amish, and it was nearly fifty years before his own father would sit down and eat at the same table with him.  My third novel, Levi’s Will, was loosely based on his story.  Recently I sat down with him and asked a few questions about the Amish years.

DC:  Levi’s Will, as you

Where I’m At

I know.  I’ve been away from the blog for a long time.  I’m still alive, and I haven’t been kidnapped or anything, I’ve just been busy.  For a while there I was in the middle of crunch time, that period all writers know about when you’re having to edit the last book while struggling to make a deadline on the next one and trying to get a mental grip on the one after that.  But the edits are all done on Paradise Valley, I’ve turned in the manuscript for Book Two, and now it’s time to try and get myself into a routine where I can post a blog at least two or three times a week.

The first order of business is Paradise Valley.  I need to make sure everybody knows about it.  Must be five or six times a week somebody asks me, “When is your next book coming out?”  I still don’t have a hard date, but the publisher is telling me it will ship to stores in mid to late November.  You can already preorder…