Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Glory



Bookstores are a hard place for me to sit and write, even though the coffee is good, because the books intimidate me. I look at the popular trade paperbacks, beautiful and well promoted by their publishers. Authors who get good money and churn them out by the pound every month. Looking at them sometimes crushes my spirit, so I don’t. But I came here today to faithfully bench press my thousand words and pick up a book I need for tonight. I keep trying to write the story I’m working on, and this one scene I'm struggling over is the most important one, the one I have to get right no matter what and it just keeps killing me.

I shut down shop for a while and go over to the book rack euphemistically called “Relationships”. Come on folks. That’s where the Fuck Books are. You know - Fuck Books? Anne Hooper’s Kama Sutra. Make Love like a Porn Star. Five Hundred Hot Sex Positions to Do Before You Die. How To Drive a Man Wild in Bed. How to drive a Woman Wild in Bed. How to Drive Common Barnyard Animals Wild in Bed. Those books. I love Fuck Books. Useless information most of it, unless you’re a rock star or maybe married to an adventurous spouse. A few books on How to Still Fuck Anyway Even If You’re an Old Fart, which I should probably read if I can ever haul one to the cash register without wearing a bag over my head. “She Comes First” by Ian Kerner, a genuinely useful book I really like about how to perform cunnilingus really, really well. And then there’s the erotica shelf which is what I really came over to see. I’m not lacking for erotica anthologies, God knows, but I always want to see –and yes! – it’s the one I’m in. The one of only two printed on actual pulp wood paper that has me in it. I set down my notebooks and the paperback of “Dead Until Dark” I’m going to buy, pop out the anthology book and start thumbing through the contents page. I feel a presence in the air on my right and turn to look. There’s a couple of boys standing next to me, watching the old dude look at the dirty books. I try to ignore them, but they’re watching me as if I were an Ivory Billed Woodpecker sitting on a fence post.

“You like that book?” says one with a smirk.

I look up from the contents page. “Huh? Whadya say?”

Now that’s the real me. When I get nervous about speaking in front of people, someone always says “Just be yourself.” Well, being myself is what I’m being right now. That would be me sitting in a corner away from people with a haphazard stack of books and a coffee pot looking up every few minutes and grunting “Huh? Whadya say?”

“Well, kid.” I say with a kind of Walter Brimley growl. “I’m looking for my friends here. See that?” I put my finger on the contents page, with a swell of pride. “See, I know her. And this one here - I know her pretty well. She’s my good friend and she's helped me with my own stories. I know this guy too. This guy here I know a little bit. I know most of these people and – “

I tap my finger under my name. "See, that guy there, well that’s me little buddy. You can look it up.” I put the book in his hands and take a second to savor the dumb founded look on the kid’s face as I stride briskly towards the cash registers.

As I glance back over my shoulder the kids are laughing their asses off over me. Aw, go to hell. Can’t blame a guy for trying to get a taste of it anyway.

This is a good day for me, one I’ve marked off on my pocket calendar. Because today Charlaine Harris is at the Columbia County Library, to sign books and say hi to her fans. They’ll hand out the admission tickets around six o’clock. I decide to pop over around one to drop off some books and check the DVDs. The librarians know me by name, which is a mark of pride for me.

As I hoof it across the county library parking lot, I discover the sidewalk in front of the library building is filled with camp chairs and people huddled under blankets with styrofoam cups. It reminds me of when I was a kid and my friends and I would stay out over night to get tickets for some big name band. But – this is a writer? Goddamn. Does she have groupies too?

I ask some of the folks at the head of the line when they got there. Ten o’ clock in the morning. There are only going to be three hundred tickets available, and these are serious people. Where are you from? Birmingham? You mean Alabama Birmingham? Shit.

I had thought I’d come back around ten minutes to six and pick up a couple of easy tickets at the front desk from some desperate looking geezer hoping to fill the hall, and then find something to do until seven, but this shit – I had no idea. My plans are shot and I’m terribly humbled all of a sudden. I’m used to forlorn looking authors at card tables, but this is the big time. This is what it really looks like when you’ve arrived at the Promised Land.


I come back around four o’ clock and the line is all the way around the damn block and halfway to Atlanta and back. Holey Moley. What must that be like? To have people who want to see you so bad, travel all night across two states to tell you how much they love your characters and ask questions about your stories.

Charlaine Harris is the author of several popular series books, including the Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels which became the hit HBO series “Trueblood”. I’ve seen that series on DVD and I love it. She’s not quite a heavy hitter in the league of Stephen King or J K Rowling, but she’s way up there among the gods someplace. If you’re a Trueblood fan you’re a Charlaine Harris fan. I haven’t even read her books, I bought the “Dead Until Dark” to get her autograph and hang on her ear a few minutes over coffee and see what I could learn from an accomplished writer in the flesh. Maybe bask in her vibration or something. I asked my kid if he’d like to come along and meet “a real writer” (as compared to his dad) and he said no. Not his idea of an exciting evening.

I take my place in the cold and damp behind a group of housewives and young Goth girls in black, chattering away. A couple of people in vampire capes walk by. The lady in front of me is a cheerful, garrulous woman in her forties or so who has read all the Stackhouse books and is very excited about meeting Harris. The temptation is enormous to tell her with bashful modesty that I – Me? Oh, why ma'am, now that you mention it, yes, well I do write a little bit I suppose. . . Does it show? Ah ha hah ha! Must be the beard, and yes, can you believe it? I have a vampire novel in the works! Just a little novel, nothing really, Ah ha ha . . yeah. . . but this little fantasy quickly withers in the face of her enthusiasm over Harris. Still for the next hour or so we shiver together in the cold talking about horror movies, vampire novels and what works and what doesn’t. I keep the writing thing to myself but I ask her all the writerly questions I would have asked Harris about what makes a story so good, and I get some good answers from a reader who knows what she likes.

We get our tickets after about three hours or so of standing and by the time the doors open the line is way past the requisite 300 souls. Half of this bunch won’t be able to get in. That’s fan love.

Charlaine Harris turns out to be a great speaker, funny, insightful, a chunky cheerful broad in the spotlight who reminds me a lot of Lavonne, my step mother. I could hang out with this person, I think. She’s having a great time, she loves her fans and lord have mercy do they love her. She describes her day and she works hard. She writes full time in the morning, breaks to talk to her agent (An agent! What must it be like?) answer mail, and then back to work again in the afternoon. She has a contract for three more Stackhouse books, not to mention her other four or five series, and Trueblood is signed up ahead for four seasons.

After the speech, we lucky three hundred line up to get our books signed. The line is painfully slow. There is a feeling in the signing room which reminds me of my old religious days, when you’re in the presence of the great spiritual master Lord Humongous and everybody speaks in deferential hushed tones and watches you as you come in. She takes my paperback and a big Sharpie marker.

“Could you make it out to - “

“No.”

“Okay. Um . . can I get a picture with you too?”

“Sure!” So we do that.


Back in my house, in the upstairs guest room I have four cheap fiberboard book cases, sort of nouveau K-Mart I guess, sagging precariously under books of every kind. When I visit someone’s house I often gravitate towards their books because I think you can see inside someone’s head a little bit by what they read. This is usually true. When I enter this room I feel like Solomon entering his harem of five hundred wives. Among the books are old lovers, read roughly and joyfully many times. Some virgins never touched at all. Some only a little and left behind. I love them all.

I put “Dead Until Dark” on the middle shelf right next to “Lolita”, the shelf above the shelf where all the Fuck Books are, where the paperbacks are stacked three rows deep, just down the street from my Ray Bradbury and Robert E Howard books. I guess I’ll read it someday.

Among my harem of books, if I could be any writer it would be not be Charlaine Harris, or Stephen King or even J K Rowling. They are all worthy, immortal, popular and adored by millions. Not to mention filthy rich. No, if I were to sell my soul to be one writer it would be Vladimir Nabokov. If I could save only one book it would be “Lolita”. If I could write only one book, it would be "Lolita". It is perfect in every way. If I could have my way every novel, every short story, every grocery list I write would be “Lolita”. It is the perfect novel. It is perfect in language. It is perfect in premise. It is perfect in execution. Lolita is a love story, not a romance. These are not the same. Romance is expected to follow a required formula with some innovations. It is expected to turn out well. Love stories are free form. They usually don’t turn out well. Love stories make love look bad for everybody. Lolita is a story of the destruction of a soul, a doomed one way love affair between a middle aged man and a 12 year old girl. Yes, there is sex, what amounts to the serial child rape of poor Dolores Haze. This all takes place off stage, only hinted at here and there. That’s not what the story is about. Lolita is about the destruction of a soul by the obsessed fantasies of Humbert-Humbert, a man she cannot fight against. And yet the language is esquisite on every page:

“ . . . Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita. . . “

At the end of the horror, when she has fled and then contacted him because she needs money he breaks through his obsession and begins to love her as she is:

“ . . . Somewhere beyond Bill's shack an after work radio had begun singing of folly and fate, and there she was with her ruined looks and her adult rope veined narrow hands, and her goose flesh white arms, and her shallow ears, and her unkempt armpits, there she was (my Lolita!) hopelessly worn at seventeen, with that baby already dreaming in her of becoming a big shot, and I looked and looked at her and I knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth or hoped for anywhere else,. . .”


The glory of it. The beauty of this horrible wonderful book. I don’t know if people will still be reading Sookie Stackhouse a hundred years from now, but as long as love goes wrong or even perversely wrong, people will love this book. If I could have a choice between the line of fans around the block and the pleasure of writing as powerfully as this book, even if no one ever read it – I would still choose this book. I would have no regrets.


C. Sanchez-Garcia







"Lolita is pornography, and we do not plan to review it."
Frederic Babcock,
editor of the Chicago Tribune Magazine of Books as quoted in "The Lolita Case" in TIME magazine (17 November 1958).

9 comments:

  1. Garce,

    A worthy choice of reading material to save from the flames. An established classic that still causes controversy for its blend of stylistic perfection and uncomfortable subject matter.

    And I envy you having met Charlaine Harris. I've not read the novels yet, but I've seen the first series of Trueblood on TV and it's funny, intelligent and compelling.

    Great post,

    Ash

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  2. A marvelous post, Garce!

    Your metaphor of bookcase as harem is fabulous.

    And you know, in some sense I envy you your sureness about Lolita. A wonderful book, surely, and I agree with your insights about its status as a love story. But to choose that one book--to select a single creature from that entire harem...I don't think I would or could.

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  3. Garce,

    This was a wonderful post and it's great to see what the 'apprentice writer' looks like! Personally, I think you can stop calling yourself an apprentice, but you'll have to decide that for yourself.

    Great blog today!

    Jenna

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  4. Hi Ashley
    Its all that, stylistic perfection and the most uncomfortable subject matter imaginable. And Nabokov pulls it off.

    Charliane Harris seems like a fun person. I wish she were my neighbor.

    Garce

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  5. Hi Lisabet!

    These things are very individual I guess. Lolita is the kind of book I wish i could write with all my heart. Its interesting to note that Nabokov's creative process was similar to mine, in that he was an asynchronous writer who carried index cards with him and wrote in batches and snatches of inspiration. Charlaine Harris on the other hand said she is a disciplined "seat of the pants" writer, who works from start to finish without an outline, which I think is how you write. Everybody's different.

    Garce

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  6. Hi Jenna!

    I'll be an apprentice for a long time to come until I learn my trade.

    I like being an apprentice, because there's freedom in knowing you're not there yet. Charlaine Harris can;t screw up. People expect so much of her. Me - well, not so much. So that means I can mess around and take chances and if I fall on my face, hell, that's okay. Its me. I'm a beginner. I think there are times Harris might even envy someone like me.

    Garce

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  7. Good point, Garce! Hadn't thought of it that way.

    Jenna

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  8. Garce,

    I'm with you. Better to write the book you love than to be the author with the millions of fans and an agent and loads of contracts and money...

    Um, wait, let me think about this. Can't we have both? Maybe?

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