Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Loafer



I'm gonna write this real fast, because my computer is full of little viruses and followers, making it hard to research stuff without being spammed, jammed and crammed.
My intention had been to discuss what happens to a writer when he or she achieves the lifelong goal of getting something into print, between covers with your name on it.

According to one author, almost nothing.
Enjoy the rush and go on to the next book.
...And make money.
Writing is a business, and it should be treated like a business.

Well, yippie shit. I had been in that business for about forty years

I remember doing my writing on the vinyl-covered kitchen table, hating every moment of it--but it was the only thing I could do half-right and at the end of the night, I'd have a magazine piece worth $750 oldfashioned dollars, and if I screwed it up they would still give me a thousand dollar "kill
fee, with the pretense that they would eventually bring my work forward--BF, they called it, but you knew too damn well that it would be marked NG for "no good" and they would never publish it.

Landlady says,"What kind of an asshole gets $750 for getting a story rejected?"
Well, in the anals of history...

But those were the days of being a salaried freelancer and when you'd been a name, and editors were jumping all over each other to steal you from John Bassett, my publisher at the time.
Those days are gone. There is a new crew now, computer literate, smart, and treating their writing like a busines--which, in my opinion, it is not.

From Karen Owen's blog:
Monday, July 26, 2010
WRITING IS A BUSINESS
When I signed my first contract and turned in my completed manuscript, I believed my part of the deal had been fulfilled. I was wrong. There were so many additional aspects to becoming an author that went beyond finishing the book. Here are a few:

1. Editing;
2. Promotions; and
3. Writing the next book while looking for the next contract is just a small portion of the work waiting for an author.

Eleven books into publishing and the wise advice of a fellow author remains in my head. "Writing is a business. Treat it that way." It involves selling books, making money, and marketing yourself.

Rarely do authors sit behind a desk and let the money roll in. We promote our works; invest our time in book signings and all forms of promotions. With the Internet becoming one big ball of advertisement, authors find themselves involved with social networking, maintaining a website, staying in the loop with Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, and blogs. I'm sure I've left out some. How do you balance all of this against finding time to write while completing the next book.

Time management is the key.

1. Writing a book is only the beginning;
2. Set goals for writing. For example, I'm going to write three (3) pages each day and edit ten (10); and
3. Remember the Internet can be addictive and seductive.
4. Don't allow it to eat up your writing time.
5. Section out the amount of time you spend on any one aspect of writing.

Always keep in mind that writing is a business, just like Ford, GM, and Chrysler are companies who build cars. Every aspect of the writing business needs your attention. An agent can make life easier. At the end of the day, an author must produce another book.

What do you think? E-mail me with your thoughts, karenwowens@gmail.com or click on the comment link.

Remember, don't be a stranger.

Karen
Posted by Karen White-Owens at 12:00 AM


I thought the author would have been more high minded. That, I guess would make me sort of an amateur wannabe, still clutching unpublished manuscripts.
But I have published some. Actually, lots.

And though you're not supposed to attack another writer(and I don't mean to), I say, balderdash.

Writing is not a business, it is a dimension.

It is a lot like turning forty, the dangers ot that time, the surrealism of it-- that make-or-break decade.

For the serious writer, it is always make or break, the uncertainty of what you are about to do, the surprise when the work comes out, gets published, and you still have the feeling that you'd somehow gotten away with something.
...Like you can blow on your perfectly edited words, and it would all waft away. Illusion.
Yet there must be something there, or fewer people would attempt it. Even today there are millions of people working in --face it!-- an obsolete medium, but they are still at it, and getting younger every day. And some are actually making money.

It's probably a religion. Like Creative Writing may be a religion. It has its priests, it has its acolytes, it has its heretics....But a religion.
And like any Jihadist, the writer straps on his bomb of words and walks toward the compound all the same.
Boom.
Off goes the packsack. But for the writer is is usually a packsack of alphabet soup. And they can be explosive enough if you hit the internet with military secrets as BAD ASS or somebody.
To be a writer can be a dangerous thing. And that's part of the attraction.
You live on the edge. You don't give a shit.
And when you do give a shit about something, it seems half the world knows about it. And the fit hits the shan.

Ragtop Taliban general.
Sending your jihadists out on paper.
Or being a literary hired gun. Carrying somebody else's packsack of trouble. Breaking the story. What the government tells you is a lie. The emperor suddenly has no clothes.
... And not all that well hung.

The writer as verbal jihadist.

Well, I haven't had quite forty virgins; I may have had a half-score of "groupies" but none of them were virgins for sure.
There is a mystique around a writer if he's "in work."
Even if you have acne, beautiful women, usually with their own writing ambitions,seem to throw themselves at you. Even the published women. For they want material, and you want material, and well, into that cosmic sixty-nine!

The fact is that for forty years, I had very much treated writing like a business. Which it was.

But now, the new attraction of being Ferdinand the Bull.
Sniffing at daisies and being a real fop. the pressure is off. I can finally write what I want.

Hey, it's more fun that way...But there is no "kill fee".

But what a mothergrabber of a dimension to be in!

But it's damn lonely all of a sudden.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Recommendation, Professorship for Dr. Mona Rahman


TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

Recommendation for Mona Rahman, PhD.

I am a former Teaching Master at Seneca College, King City Ontario, LOG1 WO.

I had attained the position following journalistic and creative work with all three Toronto newspapers, The Reader's Digest and some published novels, largely though the Bradford Witness Publishing Company, Bradford, Ontario, Canada.

Seneca College at the time believed in meritocracy rather than full academic credentials, though I did manage to finally earn an M.A. though a satellite campus of the University of California. By the time I reached Seneca I had a million words in print, though largely nonfiction.

Throughout my teaching years, I managed to get many students of of my Creative Writing course published, and even now, retired, I still have an affinity for people of talent who need to show their light.
Such a person is Dr. Mona Rahman, who has just done a yeoman criticism of my just-released novel, The Fire in Bradford.

The book is a lot like the Thirties German movie, The Professor and the Blue Angel, with Marlene Dietrich and M. Jalbert--the latter having somehow disappeared after the making of that movie.

But my own work, for good or ill is more like something out of a Kraft-Ebbing study, or Maybe Sigmund Freud--though I write in colloquial, almost Irish english so as to entertain rather to bludgeon in an academic way.

Dr. Rahman has done a critique of my just issued novel.
I found that critique good enough to use as an afterword to my book.

Dr. Rahmans's critique follows.

I may sound a bit cliched in expressing the view that whenever I regard a work of Fiction, it is the first chapter that intrigues me. For it is in this chapter, where the author usually deposits the crux of his novel.

Consider the hammer hitting first lines of Dickens' s "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" or an Austen opening with " Its a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" ; that define the entire themes of the novels concerned.

I do not regard myself as a critic and Reader's Response is only about as close as I can come as far as theorizing is concerned . But then, I never regarded Reader's Response as a theory ; to me it is , paradoxically, a 'no theory theory' . What I enjoy doing is driving a text to the point of deconstruction for the sake of interpretation and analyzing.

Now having fallen upon the fortune to read Ivan Prokopchuk's "The Fire in Bradford " ( needless to say!) I was immediately struck by the starkness of the theme as it stared back from the first page itself. Going through the novel I was reminded of Mikhail Bakhtin's heteroglossia: that the power of a novel originates in the coexistence and the conflict of various kinds of speech, the author's the narrator's and the character's. I immediately recognized the narration in the book as key to revelation and expressing the authorial intention in a "refracted way".

The Fire in Bradford is a brilliant work of art which explores the psychological predicament of modern Man/Woman ; exhibiting symptoms of sexual neurosis , of sublimation and repression and masking of deeper anxieties of self identity in the present times.

Some of the key phrases thrown in the first chapter define the characters and predict from the very onset, the paths of life that they would embark upon.

The 'voice' of the narrator, who is also the protagonist of the novel defines Lana the woman antagonist from her interests in 'adventure', 'misery and suffering' and 'cell to cell signaling'. " Was there a Dungeon in her life?" the narrator questions significantly. Indeed, the description exhibits a woman eager to explore, but largely withheld by her own sexual frigidity , the dungeon symbolizing her sexual fears and anxiety.

The Protagonist on the other hand is a typical modern 'absurdist' exhibiting symbols and symptoms of a psychic search of his sexuality, a search which assumes such obsessive proportions, that they become his very identity. His drunken statement," Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass" reveal both heterosexual and homosexual predilections.

The statement about Lana as "a lonesome woman, suddenly not sure of herself because of a husband's ( Imagined on the part of the protagonist) imbroglios, or homosexuality or extramarital affairs, or all of above" are reflections of the protagonist himself.

Lana and Daniel , both metaphors of diseased and decaying modern sexuality are anxious to grope each other in the dark. But groping is about as far as they can get, since the Ying and the Yang , in spite of hovening close to each other, facing each other, fail to connect in a communion ; neither sexual, nor spiritual.

"Holy Mackerel! She was right in my frequency." the narrator exclaims at the end of the first chapter. But we already have a fair idea, that it is a frequency of cacophony rather than harmony.

Hereon, the author starts picking up threads of a 'developing affair' between the two and weaving a 'relationship' which is doomed to become a 'ship' that will drown their world.

The relationship is polio- struck right from the start - no sooner than it starts to rise up to stand on its feet, it crumbles and falls each time. The sentiments of the primal passions are expressed by Prokopchuk , not by eliminating their grotesque vulgarity, but by using it to express things that are neither grotesque nor vulgar ; but are vast and elemental.

Ivan Prokopchuk has carefully chosen the epistolary technique to express sentiments through an exchange of letters between Lana and Daniel. Ivan has applied the epistle form (of soliloquy) , to use it to the hilt, as an engine of self revelation and self analysis of the narrator, as well as an authorial devise to reveal the character of the woman Lana from both the antagonist's and the protagonist's points of view.

Yet we get a brilliant insight into the behavioral pattern of the anti- heroine, which reflects her own fears of sexuality :

"When we first met, you said you would "find a way." Later, when I brought up the subject of sex in what you had termed your "open marriage", you said it was "only sex", perhaps a mere fillip to two people who were attracted to each other. Sex didn't seem important to you. It is sure as hell important to me!"

Then again, from the letter, we get to see the protagonist writer struggling for his own personal identity. Some statements , that are ironic in content , reveal a man verging on neurosis and schizophrenia ; despite his apparently being confident of his emotional strength, which he claims to have acquired after a host of failed relationships, we see him crumbling at the very onset of the next one :

"When we first met, really met, I was a bit like the hero out of Simon and Garfunkel, was a rock, was an island, was fairly insular in myself, needing little that stemmed from elsewhere; the asbestos suit was on snugly and some of the King's horses and some of the king's men had succeeded in doing a fair patch job on old Daniel.

Then along came Lana. Well. I went from a fairly self-possessed man of 47 to a love-struck young paranoid of 18 who possessed all the filigree of love without its fruit and enjoying the pain even so.

You had me hooked, almost grounded and on the road to more obscurity than I already possess. The situation was hopeless, no man would touch it with a ten-foot pole, but I was and am deeply attracted to you, as we are both alike, and like tends to attract like, right down to the multiple personalities, changes of appearance, attempts at being Honore de Cossack, guitar-playing, stroking, hugging, making strange warm love somewhere on the far side of the moon through an amber alcoholic mist."

Then again in his weak attempt of trying to gain 'control' over his relationship with Lana :

"I am audacious enough to make some demands and set down a contract for you and me .... you will keep me only through showing me complete and unconditional adulation...will revolve around me, kiss my ass upon request..."

Yet in the same line, he confesses to still being vulnerable enough to be affected by her " megahurts" that leaves him " encrusted with deepest attention- sapping pain."

The ultimate schizophrenic contradiction comes with the telling line:

"I am now your lord and master, know it, and I hope I don't blow it.
"
With the second part of that line, we see that he has already blown it. And the fact that he knows it comes with the pathetic " Love me , love me unconditionally for you can stop this high school confidential bullshit" and with the final " Find a way for both of us" we see him playing himself into Lana's hands once more.

Ivan's use of epistolary technique is consciously limited. He is careful not to overuse it lest it tends to get verbose and artificial and tiring.

Lana's sexual frigidity intensifies Daniel's own sexual anxiety ( " Still I had not been a full man") which acquires a gigantically obsessive proportion. He loses his job, his business , his election ( political power) in favor of affirming his sexual prowess ; for achieving which, he chooses Lana as his path. But his choice if an Ice Maiden as the way of seeking fiery sexual culmination is his tragic flaw , which makes him dwindle into a miserably depressed goofball.

The viscous cycle of meaningless repetitive lunches ( not dinners, for dinners represent a hope for sexual culmination) with Lana, become a nihilistic 'waiting for godot'.

The developing relationship becomes frozen in time as just that - ' developing'. That is the highest peak it can reach , and thereby starts the descent .

Daniel's sexual obsession , defined by the author as a " brain awash with alligator sperm" ,results in his undoing ; social , emotional , physical and psychological.

Lana's sexual frigidity and her resultant seeking of sexual identity , leads her to her deterioration, degradation, and ultimate downfall ; from social respectability to drug addiction which finally leads her to an underworld, of prostitution, soft core flicks and orgies. As the narrator tells us : " Lana was definitely in a hole, like me in my mental hole."

Daniel's last ditch attempts to save Lana from her pathetic condition and the mafia ( Perhaps a last ditch desperate attempt on his part to expiate himself from ' base love' and raise the status of his love for Lana to a spiritual plane ) is a weak exercise in vain for Lana , as the narrator feels has been his " energy vampire" . It proves to be suicidal, an exercise in courting self destruction , forecast by the ominous voice of mafioso Gambani , on the phone :

" You have a problem Daniel. If you don't solve the problem, I will."

The final arson of Daniel's Bradford loft apartment by the mafia, symbolizes his ultimate consumption by his fiery obsession. Yet the 'twist'- of- the- rope remains even after it has burned to charcoal. For even as" Lana might have died in her own fire" ( perhaps set to her apartment in a similar manner as Daniel's) , she continues to haunt him till the end :

" I go out to find companions, and failing that I roll cigarette papers with the Vogue design , to stare at her face perhaps through the flame forever."


To parody Charles Lamb's definition of Spenser as being 'The poet's poet' ; Ivan Procopchuk can be described as 'a erudite's erudite ' . One can hardly approach a meaningful understanding of his work without being well informed about his references and allusions in the body of his text ; allusions to various artists, as writers, philosophers, painters and musicians. He can be called a writer for the intelligentsia, with a classical approach.

Ivan's weakness lies in his characterization of women. He understands them as little as his protagonist.His woman antagonist reveals her character in the novel, more through her action, than through her thought and expression. In this respect she seems more fit to be a part of a play than a novel, where the focus is on action.

Interestingly, Ivan has attempted the same narrative in the drama form too ( which although not published yet, I have had a chance to read), and I find it more forceful in expression than the novel. In the drama form , I would describe it as a tragi- comedy of the Theater of the Absurd , with all its defining elements in their proper places : the protagonist menaced and controlled as a puppet by an invisible force ( sexual neurosis) caught in a hopeless situation , and forced to do meaningless repetitive actions.


Despite the dehumanization of Lana " from red to black" ( " I had no doubt in my mind about Lana having become a witch") as the apparent cause of Daniel's fall; the existential hell that Daniel faces is not Satre's 'other people' or Lana ( in this case). It is the hell of his own state of mind, from which there is no exit


It seems to me there is no doubt that Ms. Rahman should have no trouble at all with finding a professorial position in English in India or anywhere else. She is highly literate and culturally flexible...Like some of us who may have run the course of going through two or three cultures.

--Ivan Prokopchuk B.A.A., M.A. M.F.A.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trying to be Henry Miller...But he used the F-bomb a lot...Wrong novel title?






Before completion, success
If, before completion, the little fox dips his tail into the water,
nothing will further.


--The I-Ching.

I am tossing the I-Ching again. Last time I did it when I quit my glamorous job with the slick Canadian Magazine and decided to buy a cottage in the backwoods to be a writer.

Well. Great expectations. I sat for two years with something like a painter's Blank Canvas feeling. All set up. All needs met. Enough money to last two years, in relative luxury, bucolic arcadian existence or no

Wifey is trying to be diplomatic. "You picked a hard thing to be, baby. You switched from journalism to fiction...It is not the same thing. You had to have learned your craft...You haven't really."
Meanwhle back comes the answer from Stanford University, California, where I had applied to get into the writer's program there.
Said the late Wallace Stegner (of Big Rock Candy Mountain),
"Your talents seem to lie in journalism.
The program is for fiction writers.
...Besides, you're not an American."

Oh fok! Bad enough in Canada when in the Fifties not being born here was a crime. Today any number of exotics can play, to spite old Plato who had said that the promotion of foreigners was really bad for a country, certainly Athens at the time.
Well, I watch foreigners here being promoted every day.
Many come aleady wealthy, some of them are even nasty, just getting off the plane and demanding thier rights, and pee on you, "foreign" devil.

Well, I had the sense of being peed on by Wallace Stegner.
Well, better to be rejected by the best in their country to be than some hack T.A. in a writing program.

For Wallace Stegner, was really a super American in his writing, I was not an "American enough" for the Stanford Writing Program.. And I hadn't yet attained a satisfactory level of skill in fiction to be admitted to this Ivy League school.

Eventually, I had to settle for the Instituto Allende, Mexico,accredited then by the University of California.
SeƱor, we will get you your MFA, But first your novel. We have to see.

Well, better luck. A scholarhip after they read my Black Icon novel. Eventually a fellowship. They made me a professor...But of what? Non Fiction, that's what.

Well, maybe the great Wallace Stegner was right.

Still, my ego keened like a trapped hare when it began to dawn on me that my talents were more like ambulance -chasing than being the elitiist with his quill up in his posh study, the very model of that famous New Yorker logo, the guy with the top hat and the pince-nez.
Damn. I would never be able to put "Fiction Writer" on my tee shirt.
So through academe and journalism, no matter how successful I became in those fields there was also the nagging thought that I was not sine qua non, not a real writer.
I was meanwhile seeing that America had changed her mind. They were now promoting foreigners. Jerzy Kosinski's
The Painted Bird was already a bestseller--and he, to my envious mind--was a Polack.
Yeah, but the Painted Bird was art. I was back in See Spot Run, with Dick and Jane.

Smarting with a sense of not being up there with the best, I had another read of the late Jerzy Kosinski.
"Being There."

Oh-oh, I smelled a rat when I read this boiler plate. It was about an idiot who became president of the United States.
Bullshit. This is impossible. You have to be smart!

...And then along came Dubya.
Prescient man that Jerzy Kosinski!

Well, I was was by now neither talented nor prescient, it seemed to me.

So I went off and wrote a real novel, about a displaced person trying to hold it all together in Tornto.

Well. Some "damning with high praise" from above. A grant of money. But fizzle.

Years went by. I took on the cast of the Canadian would-be writer. In short, I became a prick. I drove away my family, went back to the cottage to be the next Canadian Honore' de Balzac.

Oh-oh. Another book, another fizzle.

Tough luck, Henry Muck.

And now neither chick or child.

What now?
Write about squalor, says Salinger in his "To Esme From Love and Squalor."

I became a friggin' bum.

And met there a bummette.

Hey, squalor and then even love!

I decided to write about love and squalor.

The book will be out this week.

I pray I have not become Rumpelstitkin.

...Who was an asshole....

(The I-Ching again):

Before completion, success.
If before completion,
the little fox dips his tail into the water
Nothing will further.


Next week will tell whether or not I had thrust my entire major appurtenance into mud. But it's almost too late now. An adolescent Confucious joke rings in my mind.

"Man who f*ck on hillside not on level!

I had set out to follow the wisdom of Lao-tse.

More like Rumpelstiltskin.

Or Mudhumper.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Trampling on the writes of others. Adopted Behaviors by James R. Tomlinson



What do I find in the mail this morning but a neat, saddle-stitched 52- page chapbook nestled there among the bills.

Well. Definitely not a flyer.


Nice photo for the cover -- an almost sepia tone of a woman with a Fifties-style hairdo, bloused, seated, and holding in each crook of her right and left arm, a smashing little boy.


I presume the younger one on the left is JR Tomlinson and I assume, his bro, (or half-bro?) is on the right...It's all explained in one of JR's old blogs,certainly some of his stories, but I don't read carefully enough. Family albums.. You know.


Atop the photo is the title, ADOPTED BEHAVIORS by James. R. Tomlinson, our own JR (of JR Thumbprints notoriety in the blogs).


Well, I just had to have a peek at the book


On opening this neatly stitched and very nicely laid out 52- page "almost pamphlet", I didn't know what to expect. I had been reading Jim Tomlinson's material for some time--is it years now?--on his blog. For a while there, it seems like he was writing so much like everybody else in blogland--sort of no particular place to go in the story--boiler plate. Exceptions, of course include the august Charles Gramlich, and hee! my own "stable of writers."
Most blog fiction goes something like this:
Detail, detail, detail, climax, and again, detail,detail,detail, climax--all little climaxes thoughout and oddly, no sign of the big expected climax at the end. But not always for me. Perhaps I'm thick. Perhaps I was expected to go Aha! at the ending of every story, but most times I didn't.


(Now with my Quarks, regular contributors to my blog, I hold Ivan's ladies to be geniuses. Hey. You gotta read E. A. Monroe, or Donnetta Lee, or in prose, certainly Josie...But I am biased, of course). I am a sucker for Carson McCullers sort of writing, Southern lady writin' (though, to fire a cheap shot, I almost included Truman Capote...But that's not fair. He is a completely different, realistic kind of writer). But I digress.


I must say I did go "Aha" with JR's opening story, or "flash memoir", titled
The Triggerman and His Accomplice.


There is a photo atop that story. It is young JR holding a pouch of some BB gun ammo-- and, by the tail, the corpse of a shot chipmunk in his right hand. . But the shooter is Denny Wentworth, the neighbour's kid...Or is Denny really the shooter?

You just had to go Aha! in this flash memoir of JR's.


I am looking forward to a long read of more flash memoirs, short stories and flash fiction, many of them in this nicely crafted chap book. Congratulations to JR Tomlinson and to Motor City Burning Press for publishing the author.


##

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Pimping my own write



A somewhat off-the-wall correspondent on ChuckerCanuck 2.0, (a political blog where I was promised a review of my book), has a commentator named "Midnight" wondering why http://wwww.creativewriting.ca does not work as a link to my site. I guess he was trying to read my "Fire in Bradford", my novel online.

I dasn't lose a reader, even from a Canadian Conservative site. Hell, I'll even take a pan from there. Any publicity even "This book blows!" is welcome publicity; there is no such thing as bad publicity. Notoriety is the name of the game.

But Chuck, you got my link all wrong!

So I write to this "Midnight" guy, on ChuckerCanuck 2.0, hoping not to lose a potential reader:

Midnight:


On the link to my site, http://www.creativewriting.ca, it is no glitch when it comes to accessing me. It just don't work from Chucker's site, for some reason.

Try this:
Google Ivan Prokopchuk. Creative Writing.
...Or just chuck it along, googling Ivan Prokopchuk.

(Reason for all this fooferrah is that I think ChuckerCanuck is going to do a review of my soon-to-be published novel, The Fire in Bradford.
...That, or he is sending readers back to my own page, where The Fire in Bradford is online, right on my header, where it can be clicked onto.
I know what it's like to review other people.You are sort of in a box. You have to write good. You hope to produce a mini work of art that might match or even surpass the original novelist or bookman).

Chuck, I think, is very secure; he has a lot to be secure about. He knows I consider him one of he coolest of the Canadian writing pack, Conservative or no.
But I think it's the new business that's keeping him distracted from blogging and flogging...Which is sort of too bad, as I had intended to use his proposed review of "The Fire in Bradford" on my back cover...Well, right now, the mighty presses are already rolling. Included in the book is a really crackerjack review by one Mona Rahman, the coolest of lady professors. but it would have been nice to have had a male point of view.

But I'd still really love to read what Chucker might have to say about the book, pro or con.
And he shouldn't worry about a panning this old nearly-Polish pan.
I've got two million words in commerical print and am no shrinking violet.

Oh Proud Mary!

Keeps on rollin'

Monday, July 12, 2010

Instructions to Printing Manager only







Folks, you can ignore this blog.

My printer has broken down.

So here, I offer instructions to my real printer, Mike, as to how to set up this afterword by the amazing Mona Rahman, PhD. I will extract part of her review to be at the back of my novel, The Fire in Bradford, in front of the picture of Frank Klees, MPP. Mona's picture will now be above the Hon. Frank Klees along with an excerpt from this review that follows. Mona's blurb at the back of the book will be,
The Fire in Bradford is a brilliant work of art which explores the psychological predicament of modern Man/Woman ; exhibiting symptoms of sexual neurosis , of sublimation and repression and masking of deeper anxieties of self identity in the present times.

The body of this "afterword" will come at the end of the book, pagination going "i" and "ii"

Afterword.

I may sound a bit cliched in expressing the view that whenever I regard a work of Fiction, it is the first chapter that intrigues me. For it is in this chapter, where the author usually deposits the crux of his novel.

Consider the hammer hitting first lines of Dickens' s "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" or an Austen opening with " Its a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" ; that define the entire themes of the novels concerned.

I do not regard myself as a critic and Reader's Response is only about as close as I can come as far as theorizing is concerned . But then, I never regarded Reader's Response as a theory ; to me it is , paradoxically, a 'no theory theory' . What I enjoy doing is driving a text to the point of deconstruction for the sake of interpretation and analyzing.

Now having fallen upon the fortune to read Ivan Prokopchuk's " The Fire in Bradford " ( needless to say) I was immediately struck by the starkness of the theme as it stared back from the first page itself. Going through the novel I was reminded of Mikhail Bakhtin' s heteroglossia : that the power of a novel originates in the coexistence and the conflict of various kinds of speech ; the author's the narrator's and the character's . I immediately recognized the narration in the book as key to revelation and expressing the authorial intention in a "refracted way".

The Fire in Bradford is a brilliant work of art which explores the psychological predicament of modern Man/Woman ; exhibiting symptoms of sexual neurosis , of sublimation and repression and masking of deeper anxieties of self identity in the present times.

Some of the key phrases thrown in the first chapter define the characters and predict from the very onset, the paths of life that they would embark upon.

The 'voice' of the narrator, who is also the protagonist of the novel defines Lana the woman antagonist from her interests in 'adventure' , 'misery and suffering' and 'cell to cell signaling' . " Was there a Dungeon in her life?" the narrator questions significantly. Indeed, the description exhibits a woman eager to explore, but largely withheld by her own sexual frigidity , the dungeon symbolizing her sexual fears and anxiety.

The Protagonist on the other hand is a typical modern 'absurdist' exhibiting symbols and symptoms of a psychic search of his sexuality, a search which assumes such obsessive proportions, that they become his very identity.His drunken statement ," Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass" reveal both heterosexual and homosexual predilections.

The statement about Lana as " a lonesome woman, suddenly not sure of herself because of a husband's ( Imagined on the part of the protagonist) imbroglios, or homosexuality or extramarital affairs, or all of above" are reflections of the protagonist himself.

Lana and Daniel , both metaphors of diseased and decaying modern sexuality are anxious to grope each other in the dark. But groping is about as far as they can get, since the Ying and the Yang , in spite of hovening close to each other, facing each other, fail to connect in a communion ; neither sexual, nor spiritual.

"Holy Mackerel! She was right in my frequency." the narrator exclaims at the end of the first chapter. But we already have a fair idea, that it is a frequency of cacophony rather than harmony.

Hereon, the author starts picking up threads of a 'developing affair' between the two and weaving a 'relationship' which is doomed to become a 'ship' that will drown their world.

The relationship is polio struck right from the start - no sooner than it starts to rise up to stand on its feet, it crumbles and falls each time. The sentiments of the primal passions are expressed by Prokopchuk , not by eliminating their grotesque vulgarity, but by using it to express things that are neither grotesque nor vulgar ; but are vast and elemental.

Ivan Prokopchuk has carefully chosen the epistolary technique to express sentiments through an exchange of letters between Lana and Daniel. Ivan has applied the epistle form (of soliloquy) , to use it to the hilt, as an engine of self revelation and self analysis of the narrator, as well as an authorial devise to reveal the character of the woman Lana from both the antagonist's and the protagonist's points of view.

Yet we get a brilliant insight into the behavioral pattern of the anti- heroine, which reflects her own fears of sexuality :

When we first met, you said you would "find a way." Later, when I brought up the subject of sex in what you had termed your "open marriage", you said it was "only sex", perhaps a mere fillip to two people who were attracted to each other. Sex didn't seem important to you. It is sure as hell important to me!

Then again, from the letter, we get to see the protagonist writer struggling for his own personal identity. Some statements , that are ironic in content , reveal a man verging on neurosis and schizophrenia ; despite his apparently being confident of his emotional strength, which he claims to have acquired after a host of failed relationships, we see him crumbling at the very onset of the next one :

When we first met, really met, I was a bit like the hero out of Simon and Garfunkel, was a rock, was an island, was fairly insular in myself, needing little that stemmed from elsewhere; the asbestos suit was on snugly and some of the King's horses and some of the king's men had succeeded in doing a fair patch job on old Daniel.

Then along came Lana. Well. I went from a fairly self-possessed man of 47 to a love-struck young paranoid of 18 who possessed all the filigree of love without its fruit and enjoying the pain even so.

You had me hooked, almost grounded and on the road to more obscurity than I already possess. The situation was hopeless, no man would touch it with a ten-foot pole, but I was and am deeply attracted to you, as we are both alike, and like tends to attract like, right down to the multiple personalities, changes of appearance, attempts at being Honore de Cossack, guitar-playing, stroking, hugging, making strange warm love somewhere on the far side of the moon through an amber alcoholic mist.


Then again in his weak attempt of trying to gain 'control' over his relationship with Lana :

I am audacious enough to make some demands and set down a contract for you and me .... you will keep me only through showing me complete and unconditional adulation...will revolve around me, kiss my ass upon request...

Yet in the same line, he confesses to still being vulnerable enough to be affected by her " megahurts" that leaves him " encrusted with deepest attention- sapping pain."

The ultimate schizophrenic contradiction comes with the telling line:

I am now your lord and master, know it, and I hope I don't blow it.

With the second part of that line, we see that he has already blown it. And the fact that he knows it comes with the pathetic "Love me , love me unconditionally for you can stop this high school confidential bullshit" and with the final " Find a way for both of us" we see him playing himself into Lana's hands once more.

Ivan's use of epistolary technique is consciously limited. He is careful not to overuse it lest it tends to get verbose and artificial and tiring.

Lana's sexual frigidity intensifies Daniel's own sexual anxiety ( " Still I had not been a full man") which acquires a gigantically obsessive proportion. He loses his job, his business , his election ( political power) in favor of affirming his sexual prowess ; for achieving which, he chooses Lana as his path. But his choice if an Ice Maiden as the way of seeking fiery sexual culmination is his tragic flaw , which makes him dwindle into a miserably depressed goofball.

The viscous cycle of meaningless repetitive lunches ( not dinners, for dinners represent a hope for sexual culmination) with Lana, become a nihilistic 'waiting for godot'.

The developing relationship becomes frozen in time as just that - ' developing'. That is the highest peak it can reach , and thereby starts the descent .

Daniel's sexual obsession , defined by the author as a " brain awash with alligator sperm" ,results in his undoing ; social , emotional , physical and psychological.

Lana's sexual frigidity and her resultant seeking of sexual identity , leads her to her deterioration, degradation, and ultimate downfall ; from social respectability to drug addiction which finally leads her to an underworld, of prostitution, soft core flicks and orgies. As the narrator tells us : " Lana was definitely in a hole, like me in my mental hole."

Daniel's last ditch attempts to save Lana from her pathetic condition and the mafia ( Perhaps a last ditch desperate attempt on his part to expiate himself from ' base love' and raise the status of his love for Lana to a spiritual plane ) is a weak exercise in vain for Lana , as the narrator feels has been his " energy vampire" . It proves to be suicidal, an exercise in courting self destruction , forecast by the ominous voice of mafioso Gambani , on the phone :

" You have a problem Daniel. If you don't solve the problem, I will."

The final arson of Daniel's Bradford loft apartment by the mafia, symbolizes his ultimate consumption by his fiery obsession. Yet the 'twist'- of- the- rope remains even after it has burned to charcoal. For even as" Lana might have died in her own fire" ( perhaps set to her apartment in a similar manner as Daniel's), she continues to haunt him till the end :

" I go out to find companions, and failing that I roll cigarette papers with the Vogue design , to stare at her face perhaps through the flame forever."


To parody Charles Lamb's definition of Spenser as being 'The poet's poet' ; Ivan Prokopchuk can be described as 'a erudite's erudite ' . One can hardly approach a meaningful understanding of his work without being well informed about his references and allusions in the body of his text ; allusions to various artists, as writers, philosophers, painters and musicians. He can be called a writer for the intelligentsia, with a classical approach.

Ivan's weakness lies in his characterization of women. He understands them as little as his protagonist. His woman antagonist reveals her character in the novel, more through her action, than through her thought and expression. In this respect she seems more fit to be a part of a play than a novel, where the focus is on action.

Interestingly, Ivan has attempted the same narrative in the drama form too ( which although not published yet, I have had a chance to read), and I find it more forceful in expression than the novel. In the drama form , I would describe it as a tragi- comedy of the Theater of the Absurd , with all its defining elements in their proper places : the protagonist menaced and controlled as a puppet by an invisible force ( sexual neurosis) caught in a hopeless situation , and forced to do meaningless repetitive actions.


Despite the dehumanization of Lana " from red to black" ( " I had no doubt in my mind about Lana having become a witch") as the apparent cause of Daniel's fall; the existential hell that Daniel faces is not Satre's 'other people' or Lana ( in this case). It is the hell of his own state of mind, from which there is no exit.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Letter to Managing Editor of my local paper



Tracy,

What the hell. If you've got it, flaunt it.

....But ain't quite got it. It's still at the printers. Needs much work. Publisher is Warbrooke Publishers Ltd., Montreal...
Limited edition.

--Ivan Prokopchuk

Monday, July 05, 2010

A critical analysis of Ivan's (Georgie-Porgie's?) novel, by Mona Rahman, PhD




I may sound a bit cliched in expressing the view ; that whenever I regard a work of Fiction, it is the first chapter that intrigues me. For it is in this chapter, where the author usually deposits the crux of his novel.

Consider the hammer hitting first lines of Dickens' s "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" or an Austen opening with " Its a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" ; that define the entire themes of the novels concerned.

I do not regard myself as a critic and Reader's Response is only about as close as I can come as far as theorizing is concerned . But then, I never regarded Reader's Response as a theory ; to me it is , paradoxically, a 'no theory theory' . What I enjoy doing is driving a text to the point of deconstruction for the sake of interpretation and analyzing.

Now having fallen upon the fortune to read Ivan Prokopchuk's " The Fire in Bradford " ( needless to say) I was immediately struck by the starkness of the theme as it stared back from the first page itself. Going through the novel I was reminded of Mikhail Bakhtin' s heteroglossia : that the power of a novel originates in the coexistence and the conflict of various kinds of speech ; the author's the narrator's and the character's . I immediately recognized the narration in the book as key to revelation and expressing the authorial intention in a "refracted way".

The Fire in Bradford is a brilliant work of art which explores the psychological predicament of modern Man/Woman ; exhibiting symptoms of sexual neurosis , of sublimation and repression and masking of deeper anxieties of self identity in the present times.

Some of the key phrases thrown in the first chapter define the characters and predict from the very onset, the paths of life that they would embark upon.

The 'voice' of the narrator, who is also the protagonist of the novel defines Lana the woman antagonist from her interests in 'adventure' , 'misery and suffering' and 'cell to cell signaling' . " Was there a Dungeon in her life?" the narrator questions significantly. Indeed, the description exhibits a woman eager to explore, but largely withheld by her own sexual frigidity , the dungeon symbolizing her sexual fears and anxiety.

The Protagonist on the other hand is a typical modern 'absurdist' exhibiting symbols and symptoms of a psychic search of his sexuality, a search which assumes such obsessive proportions, that they become his very identity.His drunken statement ," Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his goods, nor his ass" reveal both heterosexual and homosexual predilections.

The statement about Lana as " a lonesome woman, suddenly not sure of herself because of a husband's ( Imagined on the part of the protagonist) imbroglios, or homosexuality or extramarital affairs, or all of above" are reflections of the protagonist himself.

Lana and Daniel , both metaphors of diseased and decaying modern sexuality are anxious to grope each other in the dark. But groping is about as far as they can get, since the Ying and the Yang , in spite of hovening close to each other, facing each other, fail to connect in a communion ; neither sexual, nor spiritual.

"Holy Mackerel! She was right in my frequency." the narrator exclaims at the end of the first chapter. But we already have a fair idea, that it is a frequency of cacophony rather than harmony.

Hereon, the author starts picking up threads of a 'developing affair' between the two and weaving a 'relationship' which is doomed to become a 'ship' that will drown their world.

The relationship is polio struck right from the start - no sooner than it starts to rise up to stand on its feet, it crumbles and falls each time. The sentiments of the primal passions are expressed by Prokopchuk , not by eliminating their grotesque vulgarity, but by using it to express things that are neither grotesque nor vulgar ; but are vast and elemental.

Ivan Prokopchuk has carefully chosen the epistolary technique to express sentiments through an exchange of letters between Lana and Daniel. Ivan has applied the epistle form (of soliloquy) , to use it to the hilt, as an engine of self revelation and self analysis of the narrator, as well as an authorial devise to reveal the character of the woman Lana from both the antagonist's and the protagonist's points of view.

Yet we get a brilliant insight into the behavioral pattern of the anti- heroine, which reflects her own fears of sexuality :

When we first met, you said you would "find a way." Later, when I brought up the subject of sex in what you had termed your "open marriage", you said it was "only sex", perhaps a mere fillip to two people who were attracted to each other. Sex didn't seem important to you. It is sure as hell important to me!

Then again, from the letter, we get to see the protagonist writer struggling for his own personal identity. Some statements , that are ironic in content , reveal a man verging on neurosis and schizophrenia ; despite his apparently being confident of his emotional strength, which he claims to have acquired after a host of failed relationships, we see him crumbling at the very onset of the next one :

When we first met, really met, I was a bit like the hero out of Simon and Garfunkel, was a rock, was an island, was fairly insular in myself, needing little that stemmed from elsewhere; the asbestos suit was on snugly and some of the King's horses and some of the king's men had succeeded in doing a fair patch job on old Daniel.

Then along came Lana. Well. I went from a fairly self-possessed man of 47 to a love-struck young paranoid of 18 who possessed all the filigree of love without its fruit and enjoying the pain even so.

You had me hooked, almost grounded and on the road to more obscurity than I already possess. The situation was hopeless, no man would touch it with a ten-foot pole, but I was and am deeply attracted to you, as we are both alike, and like tends to attract like, right down to the multiple personalities, changes of appearance, attempts at being Honore de Cossack, guitar-playing, stroking, hugging, making strange warm love somewhere on the far side of the moon through an amber alcoholic mist.


Then again in his weak attempt of trying to gain 'control' over his relationship with Lana :

I am audacious enough to make some demands and set down a contract for you and me .... you will keep me only through showing me complete and unconditional adulation...will revolve around me, kiss my ass upon request...

Yet in the same line, he confesses to still being vulnerable enough to be affected by her " megahurts" that leaves him " encrusted with deepest attention- sapping pain."

The ultimate schizophrenic contradiction comes with the telling line:

I am now your lord and master, know it, and I hope I don't blow it.

With the second part of that line, we see that he has already blown it. And the fact that he knows it comes with the pathetic " Love me , love me unconditionally for you can stop this high school confidential bullshit" and with the final " Find a way for both of us" we see him playing himself into Lana's hands once more.

Ivan's use of epistolary technique is consciously limited. He is careful not to overuse it lest it tends to get verbose and artificial and tiring.

Lana's sexual frigidity intensifies Daniel's own sexual anxiety ( " Still I had not been a full man") which acquires a gigantically obsessive proportion. He loses his job, his business , his election ( political power) in favor of affirming his sexual prowess ; for achieving which, he chooses Lana as his path. But his choice if an Ice Maiden as the way of seeking fiery sexual culmination is his tragic flaw , which makes him dwindle into a miserably depressed goofball.

The viscous cycle of meaningless repetitive lunches ( not dinners, for dinners represent a hope for sexual culmination) with Lana, become a nihilistic 'waiting for godot'.

The developing relationship becomes frozen in time as just that - ' developing'. That is the highest peak it can reach , and thereby starts the descent .

Daniel's sexual obsession , defined by the author as a " brain awash with alligator sperm" ,results in his undoing ; social , emotional , physical and psychological.

Lana's sexual frigidity and her resultant seeking of sexual identity , leads her to her deterioration, degradation, and ultimate downfall ; from social respectability to drug addiction which finally leads her to an underworld, of prostitution, soft core flicks and orgies. As the narrator tells us : " Lana was definitely in a hole, like me in my mental hole."

Daniel's last ditch attempts to save Lana from her pathetic condition and the mafia ( Perhaps a last ditch desperate attempt on his part to expiate himself from ' base love' and raise the status of his love for Lana to a spiritual plane ) is a weak exercise in vain for Lana , as the narrator feels has been his " energy vampire" . It proves to be suicidal, an exercise in courting self destruction , forecast by the ominous voice of mafioso Gambani , on the phone :

" You have a problem Daniel. If you don't solve the problem, I will."

The final arson of Daniel's Bradford loft apartment by the mafia, symbolizes his ultimate consumption by his fiery obsession. Yet the 'twist'- of- the- rope remains even after it has burned to charcoal. For even as" Lana might have died in her own fire" ( perhaps set to her apartment in a similar manner as Daniel's) , she continues to haunt him till the end :

" I go out to find companions, and failing that I roll cigarette papers with the Vogue design , to stare at her face perhaps through the flame forever."


To parody Charles Lamb's definition of Spenser as being 'The poet's poet' ; Ivan Prokopchuk can be described as 'a erudite's erudite ' . One can hardly approach a meaningful understanding of his work without being well informed about his references and allusions in the body of his text ; allusions to various artists, as writers, philosophers, painters and musicians. He can be called a writer for the intelligentsia, with a classical approach.

Ivan's weakness lies in his characterization of women. He understands them as little as his protagonist.His woman antagonist reveals her character in the novel, more through her action, than through her thought and expression. In this respect she seems more fit to be a part of a play than a novel, where the focus is on action.

Interestingly, Ivan has attempted the same narrative in the drama form too ( which although not published yet, I have had a chance to read), and I find it more forceful in expression than the novel. In the drama form , I would describe it as a tragi- comedy of the Theater of the Absurd , with all its defining elements in their proper places : the protagonist menaced and controlled as a puppet by an invisible force ( sexual neurosis) caught in a hopeless situation , and forced to do meaningless repetitive actions.


Despite the dehumanization of Lana " from red to black" ( " I had no doubt in my mind about Lana having become a witch") as the apparent cause of Daniel's fall; the existential hell that Daniel faces is not Satre's 'other people' or Lana ( in this case). It is the hell of his own state of mind, from which there is no exit.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Sam, you made the cover too white



Yes, yes, the book is by yours truly, in a new version published by Warbrooke Publishers Ltd., but when the cover proof was sent to me, it looked more like a basement job than a professional rendering. Too much white, and sort of woodcut black for the picture.
Difficult for a guy with not too much graphic sense.
Well, an editor did tell me once, that difficulties create art.

Never mind that, I said to my techie, who, besides being computer whiz, knows something about page art.

"You need colour, Ivan. Colour. Either put a box around your illustration, in colour or even add a bit of colour to the woman's hair...Need colour. Anywhere.

Well, thank God I didn't let the book go with a cover like that.

Gotta do some thinking. And drinking. And even seeking advice.

How about it, all you graphic artists out there. Any ideas?