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.