Sunday, December 28, 2014

On Writing, and Winning Against Insurmountable Odds

God, how bored I get with talk about writers, writing, endless gabbing about themselves, about writing, about what it all means, about how to write, how to worship the appropriately gendered or sexualized bestselling genius, how to overcome writer's block, how to balance two jobs and a career as a midlist novelist, how to channel your ideal disputant, how to honestly convey political opinions, how to teach would-be writers how to become writers, how to....gag. So, now I'm a taxi driver and writer, instead of just a writer. Feels somehow more ... authentic? Nah. I'll drop it in a New York second, soon as I pay off my debts.

Case in point of the afore-mentioned gabbing of the literati: The New York Times's idea of hitting it big "against the odds" is the success enjoyed by Anthony Doerr with his new novel All The Light We Cannot See, which, thanks to the predictable efforts of Doerr's major publisher and agent, has become a NYT bestseller. It's a fine novel, and fair play to him. But here's the point: What are "the odds" against which Doerr has so heroically prevailed? Why, those of being 41 years old; the author of four well-reviewed books; and the winner of (caps mine, for emphasis) "AROUND 20 LITERARY AWARDS AND HONORS." Such a miracle, for him to overcome those handicaps. (More here.)

Next time we'll examine a case of really winning against the odds. Stay chewned. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Merry Christmas! Fröhliche Weihnachten! Buon Natale! Joyeux Noël! Feliz Navidad! Boze Narodzenie! с рождеством! Etc.!

Remember the reason for the season. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas then

At Christmas, snow-blanketed mountains, the French and Swiss Jura, loomed above the house I grew up in, and they still dominate my dreams of winter.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

How long, O Lord....?

It's been too long since I saw this view, essentially unchanged since Canaletto's day. Far too long. 

The Killoyle Trilogy Cover Gallery

Three novels, three languages, twelve covers. And counting. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bookwritin' Cabbie

"There are those who regard taxi drivers as the scum of the earth, but I'm not one of them," bellowed the lady as she got into my taxi. She's right: there are such people, and I've met some of them. 

But they tend to be middle- or lower-middle-class, corrupted by capitalism's contradictions, as a good Marxist would explain. And speaking of good Marxists, there are working-class guys and gals who embrace me as a member of the international proletariat; I've been called "brother" more often on this job than at any other time. I like it. (And yes, I am in Texas, which has a working class like anyplace else.) 

Cabbies of the world, unite! 

But in my other incarnation--internationally published novelist, reviewer for NY Times and Boston Review, etc.--I am, to some, and equally foolishly, a figure worthy of admiration ("You write for the..the...Times...!?"). 

All part of the absurd contradictions of my life that will one day combine into a rich compost suitable for carrots.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Art Scene in Ireland, ca. 1973

From What a View!

Then, in ‘73, a pair of field operatives in the Provisional IRA broke into a swish country house in Co. Kildare, beat up the resident Earl and Countess, stole a Vermeer, a Titian, a Watteau and a Yeats off the walls, and drove off in a Bedford lorry. Two days later, the Superintendent of the Co. Kildare Gardai Siochana and the editors of the Daily Posthorn and Irish Handstand received handwritten letters demanding a million punts in ransom to buy rocket launchers from Gaddhafi. The letters were signed Roisin Duggan and Errol Gallogly, a pair of well-known amorously linked but not overly clever Provos. They were soon tracked down through the franking stamps on the envelopes that clearly spelled out the town of provenance (Ballykilloran, Co. Westmeath), plus date. Greater Ballykilloran, pop. 750, was promptly cordoned off. The Bedford lorry was found parked outside a bungalow, through the front door of which Tom, representing the journalistic fraternity, crashed arm-in-arm with the guards. The lovers were in bed, the paintings stacked in the corner.
            “Feck me,” said Roisin Duggan, sitting up in bed. Her breasts were bare and to Tom's way of thinking quite perfect, if darkly aureoled.

            “Feck me, I was just gonna,” said Gallogly, a scrawny specimen with facial hair typical of that long-ago epoch (sideburns, mustache). The paintings were returned, and the miscreant couple sent to Limerick Jail, from which they escaped in short order. Tom’s write-up of the whole business drove the Daily Posthorn’s circulation briefly up and earned him a pay rise of a few bob, an interview in Wallace’s Wallet, and a brief stirring of interest in one of his historical romances at a local publisher, but it soon all fizzled out. There were no more art heists. Nobody in Ireland really gave a toss about paintings, anyway, if the Rah weren’t involved.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hep Cat Plus Cool Cat

And while we're on the subject of classy wheels, here I am with my Jaguar S-Type at Canyon Lake, Texas (the blue rim in the distance is the lake), sometime last summer. 

My cool cat has been a good companion, these past eight years.

The Epitome of Class

Take a look at this photograph. It’s the epitome of class. The place is Paris; the year, 1964; the man, Stirling Moss; the car, a Facel Vega HK500. Sir Stirling, as he now is, was arguably the greatest racing driver of all time. He was certainly the most dashing. The Facel Vega next to him in this photo is his own car. Around them bustles the Champs-Elysees. The place, the man, the car, the era: no improvement is necessary.

1961 Facel Vega HK500
Of course, I can never hope to achieve this combination of style and circumstance in my own life, so it’s back to dreamland and my dream garage. Top of the list in my collection of Sportives is the very same Facel-Vega HK500, powered by a 6.3-litre “Typhoon” V8 and a Torqueflite 3-speed automatic, in which guise it was capable, when urged, of attaining 135+ mph (150 with the 4-speed manual), with the assistance of the 355 horses under the long tapered hood. Facels were produced between 1954 and 1964 at a factory outside Paris. They were never popular, nor were they intended–or priced– to be, but few cars have struck such a chord with the cognoscenti. Inside they were all burled-walnut and leather-upholstered elegance; outside, their style and craftmanship made them as easily identifiable as Jaguars or Ferraris. They were expensive, yes, and that, along with dodgy reliability in some, is why they died so soon. But their demise was written in their destiny. They were born to attain perfection for a day and then, like butterflies, to disappear forever. In the words of an Autocar magazine correspondent of the time,
To step down into a Facel … and go motoring must be the ambition of many who can never fulfill it. Such an experience is reserved for the few who can afford to buy one and for their friends and acquaintances.
The Facel Vega is the Schubert Unfinished Symphony of automobiles. Fittingly, Herbert von Karajan owned one. So did Picasso, Ringo Starr, Dean Martin, and Ava Gardner (actually, she owned 3). The Nobel-Prize winning writer and philosopher Albert Camus lost his life, violently, when his Facel left the road to embrace a tree. Poor man, it wasn’t even his car, but his publisher’s.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

T'giving 2

Exactly like the Boylan spread tonight. Minus the kindly grandparents and kids, plus a small yapping Belgian dog, vodka, and Chianti. Otherwise: identical.

Thanksgiving 2014

Nothing original here. But sometimes one is required by circumstances to be not original but sincere. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Halcyon Days (And Now)

Back in the late '90s and early 2000s, when my books were enjoying a certain success in the German-speaking world, and I was going on book tours and giving readings in Germany and Austria, I thought a more Germanic appearance might be just the thing. 

So here's Herr Professor Boylan, ca. 2002. 

And here's what he's become:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Twain's Advice

Why so few posts these days? Because I'm following Mark Twain's advice pretty closely, with mixed results: "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

I wonder how closely he abided by his own dictum. Here he is putting all kinds of things off....

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Evacuation, Paris 1940

From The Adorations:

     Ignace’s train left from the Gare de Lyon. The north-south metro lines were packed, so they walked down the Boul’ Mich’ and across the Ile de la Cité to the Place du Châtelet to catch the No. 1 Neuilly-Vincennes train eastbound. The flood of refugees down the Boul’ Mich’ appeared to have dwindled, but it had merely been diverted to the outer boulevards to permit greater freedom of movement in the central city to military and police. Indeed, on the avenues of the inner arrondissements there seemed to be little traffic other than taxis commandeered by the government, lorries loaded high with ministerial documents and filing cabinets, nervous gendarmes on bicycles, and army trucks and ambulances containing stained and weary soldiers from the ever-approaching front lines. The few people left on the streets were standing in small groups, brandishing newspapers (the Petit Parisien: “The Day of Reckoning Is At Hand! Pray to Ste. Geneviève!”). The words “le Maréchal” were invoked in measured, reverential tones, like the name of God, Whose grand old Gothic house of Notre Dame was filling with worshippers as Stefanie, Sami and Ignace walked by. The Cathedral’s great bell, Marie-Thérèse, tolled as she had tolled so often in the centuries before for plague and famine and worse, for the catastrophes of Man’s making, war and siege and massacre; dong…dong…dong she rang, into the sweet breezes of May and out over the paralysed city and across the golden wheatfields of the Ile-de-France toward the approaching darkness from the east. It was a funeral service for the nation.
    Sami spat.
    Fumier,” he said. “They’re praying for a miracle. Poor fools.”   
     The Gare de Lyon was seething. On the quais for the southbound trains were groups of foreigners eager to get out, Parisian families dispatching children to relatives in the supposed safety of the provinces, lesser stars of stage and screen heading to the balmier climes of the Cote d’Azur (“Look!” said Ignace erroneously; “there’s Jean-Louis Barrault!”), and insurance salesmen and estate agents spotting the main chance in the midst of chaos (“we’ll take over your house and garden while you’re away, get you a good price, Boches or no Boches”). Loudspeakers crackled incessantly and incomprehensibly. Whistles blew; locomotives heaved mighty sighs. Porters were being tested to the limits of their strength. Ignace hoisted his modest valise onto his back and trotted happily toward the train, as if headed to Arcachon for a fortnight at the beach. Stefanie, hurrying to keep up, admired her son’s carelessness, his unthinking health, the fluency of his muscles, and she saw him—with the pride none but a mother can know—as an affirmation of life, hers and his; as her legacy to the world, a vigorous young man with all the setbacks and sadness of life before him but with much joy ahead, too, and love, and creation—even if it was only in the sound of an airplane engine, or a racing car…with God’s grace, and the Holy Mother’s.
      Revoir, maman,” he said, muffled by Stefanie’s devouring embrace. He was leaving her for the first time, really, except for a cycling trip in the Vendée two years earlier. But that had been only for five days, and this would be for God knew how long. Sami shook hands formally, with a slight inclination of the head, like an ambassador presenting credentials. Impatient, the boy elbowed his way onto the train through the leave-taking couples and bawling children and officious conductors and reappeared, waving, at the window of a compartment in the middle of  the carriage, directly above the waybill on the side of the carriage that read PARIS (Gare de Lyon)-Sens-Auxerre-Beaune-Mâcon-Bourg-Bellegarde-GENEVE (Cornavin).
         “I want to go, too,” said Stefanie through her tears.
         “You should,” said Sami. “You must.”
         She agreed.

         But then she changed her mind and insisted on staying in Paris.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tom Magliozzi, 1937-2014

This made me sad: Tom Magliozzi is dead at age 77. Such was my affection for him, and for both the Magliozzi brothers (Tom and Ray, "Click and Clack") that I felt the need to post my own humble homage to the late Tom, son of immigrants who put himself through M.I.T. and devoted his life to cars, good company, and hilarity. A lot of what I know about cars--and a lot of what I don't--I got from Tom and Ray. 

RIP, maestro. 

"Car Talk" site, and other memories of Tom:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About "The Adorations"--And Much More

About The Adorations:

Inspired stylistically by such writers as Mikhail BulgakovRobert Musil,  Vladimir NabokovJaroslav Hacek, and James Joyce, and thematically by my lifelong interest in the Catholic religion, the monstrous and incredible life of Adolf Hitler, and the endlessly fascinating history of France–specifically, that dreadful period from 1940 to 1944–I started The Adorations soon after my novel Killoyle was published but before its companion The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad came out. In an alternating series of now-desultory, now-manic intermissions between jobs, I spent about ten years writing the book, which evolved into two books, or rather one book inside another, a double-decker along the lines of Nabokov's The Gift. I have always loved true originality in writers, technical wizardry in the service of literature, and the concept of the novel as a finely tuned machine. I made my own contribution to such literary mechanisms with the imitation footnotes in the Killoyle novels, in which I see narrative and sub-narrative working together like the cogs and gears in a watch. A natural progression from that point is the "double-time" structure of Adorations, whereby the time frame of one narrative predates that of the other at the beginning but gradually catches up as we progress from 1907 to the present: an additional technique to challenge me, and the reader. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Boozy Gus Meets the Archangel!

Mystics mystify me, as I suppose they do most ordinary mortals, so when I became one myself I was quite shocked, as if two distinct, opposing personalities had taken up residence behind my bluff, unremarkable exterior. One personality, the normal one, ate and drank and taught classes at Farel College, wrote the odd poem, worried sporadically about heart palpitations, acid indigestion, joint aches, eye inflammations, bronchitis, etc., and taught his students, sometimes indifferently, sometimes well. This fellow could be found most Wednesdays and every Saturday at his customary table in the Café Lyrique, working his way through a demi of Fendant and the latest London Book Review or TéléGuide or Le Monde Littéraire.
The other chap was the newcomer, the seer of visions, and he was above, or beyond, the merely physical. He, or rather his vision, manifested himself one breezy September night on the Corraterie, Geneva’s Bond Street or Faubourg St. Honoré. I (containing both these personalities) was on my way to visit Giulia in her charming garret room in the Bohemian district of Carouge, in the south of the city. Giulia was a law student at the University. She was from Parma, a lithe Emilian with limbs of ivory and an apple-round bum to die for. Trust fate or the Almighty, then, to interject the sacred into my profane life, that evening; for not only was I in a state of erotic eagerness, I was well-wined and -dined within the butter-yellow walls of the dear old Café Lyrique (once, by the way, the watering hole of, alliteratively if not chronologically, Lamartine, Lenin and Liszt), a favored eatery of mine on weekdays when the yearning took hold for mignons de bœuf or magret de canard. Memory serves up perch from that night, along with a side of sweet pommes d’Argovie and bitter Guy Gax, the novelist, a friend—or enemy, I’d never figured out which (I know now)— since the third year at World Academy, where we met during an arm-wrestling match in the lunch room. We went to England together in ’69 and did our military service together in the Engadine, back in ‘74—when one inebriated summer’s day he and I, mere corporals, aimed a bazooka at the wrong barn, flushing out chickens and an irate cow, and that night dressed as captains and celebrated the survival of the livestock with a slap-up dinner at the Süsswinkel restaurant in Chur and charged it all to the Federal Armed Services. Upshot: ten days in the cooler and demotion to soldat. My military career, for which I never cared a fig anyway, suffered greatly, and I was given an invalid’s dispensation in ’78 (chronic flat feet). . .
     Anyway, the subject at hand that night was a resolutely unmystical one, nothing more elevated than the latest shenanigans of a) Katia, Guy’s ex-wife and b) Guy’s publisher La Maison de l’Herbe (none of these proceedings excessively oiled, maybe an open carafe of your standard Fendant de Sion)—and BANG, there was the Archangel Michael, awash in shimmering light, hovering inside two concentric luminous circles of gold and trailed by sparkles like Tinkerbelle, right there on the Corraterie. I (or should I say the other Gustave, newly arrived?) recognized him at once. He was unmistakably the same chap Pope Gregory had seen atop Castel Sant’Angelo: his sword, which he held up, then slowly sheathed; his bright blue shield; his halo, discreet but penetrating, like the dome light in a Mercedes; and cinematic, California-lifeguard good looks. He was smiling blandly. The wings, too, were a dead giveaway. He folded them neatly. He was formal and reasonably polite; I, likewise. The exchange went, approximately, thus:
        “Good evening, Gustave Termi. Do not be afraid.” His voice was mellifluous yet mechanical, with a hint of the robotic; his speech unaccented, as if he’d learned the language from Linguaphone tapes.
      “Ah, good evening. I am not afraid.”
      “You are a man.”
      “That I can hardly deny.”
      “With bestial lusts and the soul of a hazzan.” (His Hebrew was better than his French. This means “cantor” in the ancient language of the Jews.)
      “Rather, with the soul of a man, a mere mortal, a thinking reed.” I was in good Pascalian form, although I didn’t care for that reference to bestial lusts.
      “But room for God therein.”
      “Oh, yes, room for God. And the other one, alas.”
      “To whom we refer, allusively, as the Adversary,” and here he made an extraordinary putty-face, widening his eyes and lengthening his nose and cheeks into a lupine muzzle, a touch of the werewolf chilling even to a lifelong fan of horror flicks—”but never by any other name.” I was duly warned, and vowed never to practice in my shaving mirror.
      “No, never,” said I.
      His face collapsed into bland Rivieran handsomeness.
      “This is the first visit, Gustave,” he intoned, like Marley’s Ghost to Ebenezer, or Ezekiel to William Blake. “There will be more. Be prepared.” With that Boy-Scout exhortation, he vanished—or, to be more precise, he rose off the ground a little higher (he’d been floating about a half-meter above) then dissolved into a white cloud, like Mr. Tidy in the detergent commercial. All the while, by the way, people were strolling along the street, a drunk was bawling, cars and tramcars were going by, a mild breeze (it was June) was wafting scents of an early-summer city night (tree blossoms, frites, car exhaust, the river nearby); clearly, nobody else had heard or seen a middle-aged man conversing with an armed and hovering archangel, nor even that same middle-aged man gabbling at the empty air . . .well, I’ve read enough theology and sci-fi, good and bad, to have a stab at the reason. It’s something to do with Time, our master, being Their slave, and a little zone of non-Time being created around the angel and me, muddling everybody else’s receptors for the nonce. (It muddled mine. For the duration of the encounter I felt on the verge of a momentous stammer, with a touch of nightmarish immobility.)

            I worked out that Time theory on my way home, and let me add that I was in no mood for further lucubrations on the subject, not until I’d had a couple of stiff Ricards and watched a reassuringly boring political program on FR3 during the course of which no mention was made of archangels, visions or anything remotely otherworldly (or interesting).