Saturday, October 17, 2009

GERMINAL by Emile Zola

While I am on the subject of books that it has taken me a long time in my career to finally read; I have finally read 'Germinal' by Emile Zola. Everything in my life is coal mining lately. I have a son-in-law who was injured in a coal mine. I recently watched the movie 'The Molly Maguires' (1970 - Sean Connery) about coal miners in 1876 Pennsylvania. And now this novel about French coal miners.

In his 'Journals' Andre Gide wrote that he was reading 'Germinal' for the third time and it... "seems more admirable than ever."

First off, I liked it. I was caught up in the story of a young man Etienne Lantier coming into the coal country of Northern France to seek employment there. He is taken in by one of the families and put to work. Seeing the injustice in the world of coal, however, he begins to struggle against the owners and managers. This leads to a protracted strike that leaves everyone out of work, without money, and without food. I guess having fought some of those battles before myself I am a sucker for a story about the struggle for worker's rights.

This is a prime example of French Naturalism. Zola is out to examine not only the conditions of coal and coal miners, but of working class people and the clash between capital and labor, and the sociological ramifications of such clashes. It is a dark tale, but very insightful of the human condition. (Perhaps whenever anyone chooses to focus on the human condition things turn dark - as the saying goes, an optimist is only one who has not yet seen reality).

'Germinal' is one of twenty novels Zola devoted twenty-five years of his life creating - 'Les Rougon-Macuart. Histoire naturelle et sociale d'une famille sous le Second Empire'. (I'm trying to impress here by typing out the entire title). The truth is, I am so taken with 'Germinal' that I am a little afraid to pick up any of the others because they may disappoint. Can anyone point me toward one that would be equal or better?

Let me know.


Friday, October 9, 2009

All The Not So Pretty Tales of Cormac McCarthy


I have finally gotten around to reading Cormac McCarthy and now I wonder what took me so long. I have not kept my blog current these last two weeks because I have been busily trying to finish my own novel and I'm having trouble with that. Maybe a novel is never really finished in the mind of the author. Hemingway wrote the ending of 'The Old Man and the Sea' twenty six times. When asked by a reporter what the problem had been, Hem said "I couldn't get the words right." Well... there you have it.

I found 'Blood Meridian' in the western section at the library. Even though I live in the west, I'm not a big reader of westerns. The big exceptions have been 'The Ox-Bow Incident' and 'Lonesome Dove'. So I don't often find myself browsing there. But when I saw the name Cormac McCarthy a little thing (is it a buzzer?) went off in my brain. "Oh, yes. That's someone I should be reading." So I took that one home along with the Border Trilogy - 'All The Pretty Horses'; 'The Crossing'; and 'Cities of the Plain'. (There's another problem with keeping a blog current - when I'm not writing, I'm reading).

McCarthy lives over here in Santa Fe, which is maybe fifty miles away, but I've never met him. He says he doesn't know any writers and he apparently prefers the company of scientists and hangs out, so they say, at the Santa Fe Institute, which he helped found, where they study complex systems, (and I presume language is one of those). He has won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and more recently the Pulitzer for his post-apocalyptic 'The Road'.

The word apocalyptic has popped into my mind over and over again while I have been reading him. In an odd way his writing is prophetic while looking backward into our American past. Prophetic in the Biblical sense (not the mystical). Bible prophets warned against what the future would be if we do not change our ways. In the same way McCarthy is warning about the future based upon where we have been. So, to put it in more direct terms, (and declarative sentences is where McCarthy lives): If we don't change our violent ways, we are likely to end up where we have always been, with blood on our hands.

These books come at a perfect time for me because that is exactly the sort of novel I am writing, or attempting to write. The conclusions I have drawn from my own life have been different, because I have found the way of nonviolence - it is a way that offers a way out of the madness. But not many people in real life listen to me about that, and I wonder if many will listen in this blog or in my writing. If we continue our violent madness in our lives and in the world, we will end with blood on our hands.

To say these books by McCarthy are bloody is an understatement. I watched the movie version of 'No Country For Old Men' and guess what - it was bloody. But we have to get through the blood to get to the point. The point for Cormac McCarthy seems to be that violence and bloodshed in America is somehow redemptive. And that has been the story for a long long time. We confront the bad guys. We fight the bad guys but we are beset by obstacles. We reach a climax of blood and gore and the good guy (that's always me), wins.

Here's another possibility. We confront those who are destructive and violent. We would rather die than live in a world where such people get the upper hand. We confront that person or people with the truth of redemptive nonviolence. We stand up for that truth no matter what it may cost us. Then we either die, in which case we no longer live in such a world, or we open the truth up to that other person or people. They, having seen the truth, embrace that truth and the world is a better (more nonviolent) place. The thing is, I'm a writer of the realistic style. Most people believe that realism is violent climax with the good guy winning. Another way must be found to tell this other story.

Anyway, Cormac McCarthy is a great writer who must be read by anyone who is serious about books and such, and I make no apologies for the blood shed.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Written Lives by Javier Marias

The Independent said "Marias is one of the best minds in fiction today. His is an experiential kind of writing, a thinking on the page, unlike anything else now."

What a joy it was, then, to find a work of nonfiction by this same author: 'Written Lives'. It was first published in his native Spain as 'Vidas Escritas' in 2000 but the English edition did not come out until 2006 - translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

In it he explores the real life of famous authors (as I have done also in a different way in 'American Masters'). He writes portraits - some very brief - about William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, Isak Dinesen, James Joyce, Henry James, Thomas Mann, Nabokov, Rainer Maria Rilke, and many others. Did you know, for instance, that Faulkner wrote 'As I Lay Dying' in six weeks while stoking a boiler with coal at an electric power plant. (And I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about Faulkner). Arthur Rimbaud (for another instance) abandoned poetry at a young age. As an adult he had nothing at all to do with poetry and lived on the Somali coast, employed at the worst jobs imaginable. He apparently took his own famous words seriously, "Je est un autre' "I is someone else".

He goes into excruciating detail about the death of Yukio Mishima of Japan. (Don't read it, I warn you, unless you have a strong stomach). Or Robert Louis Stevenson: "Perhaps because he died so young or because he was ill all his life, perhaps because of those exotic journeys which, at the time, seemed nothing short of heroic, perhaps because one began reading him as a child, but whatever the reason, there is about the figure of Robert Louis Stevenson a touch of chivalry and angelic purity, which, if taken too far, can verge on the cloying."

Or the Russian Ivan Turgenev, of whom Pauline Viardot said, "He was the saddest of men."

For those who are serious about writing and reading, this book certainly deserves a look.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Emily Dickinson was not a laborer on the surface of things. Her poems are concerned with death and God and eternity. She allowed herself to think and write what other women of her time dared not even whisper:

The reticent volcano keeps
His never slumbering plan;
Confided are his projects pink
To no precarious man.

If nature will not tell the tale
Jehovah told to her
Can human nature not survive
Without a listener?

Admonished by her buckled lips
Let every babbler be
The only secret people keep
Is Immortality.

When she speaks of a volcano here she is speaking not of that mound of earth one sees on the surface, but of what is inside - a hidden secret. The volcano is always cooking his plan hidden in that mound, never revealing his plan of pink eruption (projection), which will happen in his own good time. Certainly this plan is not being revealed to man, who will hear its voice soon enough and loudly enough that there will be no mistaking it. Nature hold's God's truth closely - it is not easily revealed. People could learn from this lesson in silence. The volcano doesn't wear anyone out with its babbling. It only speaks when it is important to speak. The only secret worth speaking of in humankind is the secret of Immortality. Perhaps people should not be too quick to talk it to death.

What else can I say?


Friday, August 28, 2009


The tendency is to call them Aunt Emily and Uncle Walt; they are just that close to us in American literature. But Walt Whitman did not write about Emily Dickinson. It is possible that he was not even aware of her. Hers was a still small voice very like that of the Spirit. Only eleven of her poems were published in her lifetime and these were tampered with by her publishers - to make them more 'acceptable' for their time. They shamelessly added titles to her work, and changed punctuation and capitalization. Her poems were too original, apparently, for her day. But it is that originality that might have attracted the attention of other poets. Alas, she never seems to have complained or to have been much noticed. (Not until 1955 was a faithful collection of her poems finally released).

Dressed in white, Emily Dickinson sat at her writer's desk daily and wrote poetry. Like Hawthorne and to a lesser degree Thoreau she chose the reclusive life. She seldom traveled; and she never ventured very far from her home in Amherst, Massachusetts when she did. She never married. She never saw a volcano. She never had a direct experience of much of anything, it might be said. But what she did experience was her innermost self, and it is there - deep inside - that she has touched the readers of her poems. At the time of her death, when her poems were at last brought to light, there was found to be one thousand seven hundred and seventy five of them.

If Emily Dickinson was aware of Walt Whitman, the other great poet of her age, she never said much about it. His great yawping shaggy-bearded reputation may have seemed a bit overwhelming for her. (In a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson from April 26, 1862, she wrote, "You speak of Mr. Whitman. I never read his book, but was told it was disgraceful.") She read Shakespeare and Emerson and William Wordsworth and Longfellow's prose tale 'Kavanagh'. "Great men stand like solitary towers in the city of God," 'Kavanagh' begins, "and secret passage running deep beneath external nature give their thoughts intercourse with higher intelligences, which strengthens and consoles them, and of which the laborers on the surface do not even dream!" Emily Dickinson was certainly not a laborer on the surface of things. Her poems are concerned with death and God and eternity. She allowed herself to think and write what other women of her time dared not even whisper.

Hope you'll take a look.


Friday, August 7, 2009


When we Americans think of inventiveness in our fiction we think of wild machinations and fireworks and showy plot devices that drive us forward from one page to the next. Either that or, as a librarian friend of mine recently said, "We are just telling the same story over again in different ways." But I just read a novel by Spanish author Javier Marias and there we find a very different sort of inventiveness. I am new to this author, though he is on the short list for the Nobel Prize every year. 'The Man of Feeling' was first published in 1986 but wasn't translated into English until 2003. We are a little slow.

And it is that slowness to seek what is beyond our own borders that caused one Nobel committee member to say that he would not vote for an American again and that an American would not win the prize as long as he was a member. Now, our first reaction might be one of outrage and a sense of injustice. But his observations could enlighten us. We are too provincial. Too narrow minded. Too concerned about our own affairs. We don't translate enough.

Marias spends many of the early pages of this novel building character as a young opera star travels on a train from Milan to Venice. The main character finds himself helplessly detached from the world around him because of his traveling and the kind of rarefied life he leads. (Living as he does in grand hotels between rehearsals and performances).

Of his writing Marias says, "I need to feel my way forwards, and nothing would bore me or put me off more than knowing, when I start a novel, precisely what it will be: the characters who will people it, when and how they will appear and disappear, what will become of their lives or the fragment of their lives that I am going to recount. All this happens as I am actually writing the novel and belongs to the realm of invention..."

I have been reading Chekhov again recently and am astonished at how quickly he can pen the essence of character in his short stories. Perhaps we should spend more time inventing what is essential to the story we are trying to tell. What do you think?

Jim August 21, 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009


The reason 'The Western Canon' - The Books and Schools of the Ages, by Harold Bloom (1994) is so important to writers and readers alike is this: We need some point of reference in the cosmos of the written word. Without some point of reference; without some 'North Star' as it were, we are likely to lose our way in the sea of literary endeavor. (Indeed, there are some of us who contend that we have lost our way). 'The Western Canon' is an outrageously ambitious book by Yale professor Harold Bloom. In some ways it is his master work. It would be difficult to envision any greater work coming from his desk. It is weighty with all his immense learning and is surprisingly readable in the bargain.

I mentioned in a previous column that I found 'The Western Canon' at our local thrift shop for $3. I have read it before - borrowed from the library, I could not afford to buy it - but now I own it. What better time to pause and share something from this important book? I shudder to think how, or why, such a book would have turned up in a thrift shop to start with. But I am thankful to have it.

In the Canon Bloom explores our literary tradition through the works of twenty-six authors. He "laments the loss of intellectual and aesthetic standards" (this from the jacket); "he deplores multiculturalism, Marxism, feminism, neoconservatism, Afro-centrism, and the New Historicism." If this was anyone but Harold Bloom, we would simply have him declared insane and leave it at that. But he is Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University and Berg Professor of English at New York University. He is a MacArthur Prize Fellow, and a past Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard University. He is a member of the American Academy. He is, in short, not someone who can easily be dismissed.

So why is his thought considered to be so unusual, so counter to the thought of our time? Because unlike so many others, he believes that a course can be charted through history by way of our most outstanding authors that will help us chart a course for the future. This is not radical , so much as retro. And it is retro that has gone out of style. Today every creative person that comes along wants to shout their greatness from the treetops, no matter how valuable their work may turn out to be in the long run. What is short and snappy and makes a lot of money is what is respected, in short. Any compass point will do, so long as we are on the cutting edge of it.

Patiently and wisely, Bloom lays out the Canon for us. He compares and contrasts works by Shakespeare, Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Ibsen, Joyce, and Beckett. Tolstoy, Freud, Dante, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickens, Whitman, Dickinson, Proust and others to bring a deeper understanding of our place in this galaxy. We may not agree completely with all his conclusions, but we can certainly admire how he reaches them.

"With most of these twenty-six writers," Bloom writes in his Preface and Prelude, "I have tried to confront greatness directly: to ask what makes the author and the works canonical. The answer, more often than not, has turned out to be strangeness, a mode of originality that either cannot be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we cease to see it as strange."

"Canonical strangeness can exist without the shock of such audacity, but the tang of originality must always hover in an inaugural aspect of any work that incontestably wins the agon with tradition and joins the Canon."

Recently a librarian here noted that what we are getting any more in published books is simply various versions of the same story. All of these, without a doubt, will be lost in the sea of time. What remains, then; what is important, is those few highly original writers and their work that add value to us as readers, as human beings, and as members of the progression of history into the future. As for the rest... they need not be written or read.

Take a look at the Canon for yourself and let me know what you think.

Jim AUGUST 14, 2009


The other day I was looking through my files labeled 'Ancient History' and found an essay by Tom Wolfe (author of 'The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test' and 'The Bonfire of the Vanities' to name a couple). The essay's title: 'Stalking The Billion-Footed Beast' - A literary manifesto for the new social novel. I couldn't remember having read it way back in 1989 when it appeared in Harper's Magazine (November issue). But there it was, pointing the way back to the future. Or, to put it another way, can counter culture really be counter to the culture if it is running against the current, back to where it came from? Let me explain.

In the years after WWII we began to hear about the death of the novel. What was meant by that, really, was the death of the novel as we knew it. That is, the death of the realistic novel that had been around for a long time, (say, since Mark Twain at least). "The realistic novel, in their gloss," (according to Wolfe, speaking of the intellectual intelligentsia that was emerging then), "was the literary child of the nineteenth-century industrial bourgeoisie. It was a slice of life, a cross section, that provided a true and powerful picture of individuals and society - as long as the bourgeois order and the old class system were firmly in place."

"By the early 1960s," (he continues), "the notion of the death of the realistic novel had caught on among young American writers with the force of revelation... It had been only yesterday, in the 1930s, that the big realistic novel, with its broad social sweep, had put American literature up on the world stage for the first time. In 1930 Sinclair Lewis, a realistic novelist who used reporting techniques as thorough as Zola's, became the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize. In his acceptance speech, he called on his fellow writers to give America "a literature worthy of her vastness," and, indeed, four of the next five Americans to win the Nobel Prize in literature - Pearl Buck, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck - were realistic novelists."

"Yet by 1962, when Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, young writers, and intellectuals generally, regarded him and his approach to the novel as an embarrassment."

Now, it is tempting to just go on quoting from this excellent essay, but that could cause me some trouble. What I am grappling with here is this: What have we been doing for the last twenty years? This essay could have been used to propel us in a new direction. Or, rather, it might have compelled us to go back to where we had been and to start again. But no such movement seems to have taken place. There are a few of us around who are running counter to the post-modern trend to write some very realistic literature. But we are in the minority. Meanwhile, the literary world charges ahead into a kind of no-man's (ok, no-person's) territory and my question is this: Has this really produced a better or higher quality literature? I think not.

There is an even larger question embedded in this discussion. 'Has the breakdown of our society caused this fractured, broken, disjointed form of literature to emerge; (post-modernism) or has this chaotic, moral relativism helped break down the society in which we live?' That's a mouthful, I know, but the way we view the world around us is important, and it is our writers (and readers) who help shape that world-view. So, if the point of our writing is that there is no point, what does that say about our world?

In case I haven't made myself clear, count me in as a writer of the realistic style. Whether my writing helps lead us back to the future is yet to be seen. I, like Wolfe, am also experimenting with nonfiction as well. Unlike Wolfe, however, I am trying to discover a whole new set of rules that will apply to nonfiction, rather than plundering all the ficitonal techniques and trying to adapt them to nonfiction. What better place to begin looking for the truth, after all, than in true stories. In my latest effort, 'American Masters', a popular history of American literature and our most famous authors; I use a sweeping narrative style with a hidden first-person narrator, with symbolism and motif to create an underlying current that helps sweep the story forward.

I'll write more about that in the future. Until next time, then, keep reading and writing.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There is something of a counter-movement in literature, of which I am part, that is turning back from the brink post-modernism had led us to. We - and I am in the good company of Harold Bloom, Francine Prose, Tom Wolfe and others - have recognized that the trashing of all tradition in writing, along with the evaluating of books and their authors by forcing them through a strainer of political, ethnic and gender screens, has not necessarily produced a finer or greater body of literature. At some point in history, at about the time I began to try unsuccessfully to publish my work, a growing concensus of academics decided that literature must be intellectual, high-brow, written by someone other than the white anglo-saxon protestant male, and in a way which breaks down all the previous wisdom about the craft of writing. A solid storyline, for instance, became taboo. Strong characters - especially those who stood for certain values - were ousted. A clear theme - again, especially when it conveyed anything other than post-modern values - was cast out. And what are post-modern values?

Anything goes. There is no single truth. Truth is, rather, relative to the one seeking that truth. To push an extreme example: Hitler had his own truth, and his truth can neither be considered to be better or worse than any other truth.

This post-modern approach, I will be the first to admit, has made for some interesting reading. It has released a tidal wave of exuberance in the creative realm, which has found a natural home on the free expression 'pages' of the internet. This has reached the point, now, of an almost complete meltdown; where every person can shout "look at my creation" and any other person may look upon that creation, without any sense of 'value' at all. 'Reviewers' of any stripe can review books using almost any criteria (or lack of criteria) to pronounce their judgments. 'Don Quiote' may be seen as "boring", and Charles Dickens as "too old fashioned".
Further, there are books being written instructing the writer on how to be a better writer; that is, more successful, like Stephen King and 'Harry Potter'. It is small wonder that readers are confused about what is good to read and what is trash. Writers are just as confused. It is small wonder, too, that more and more readers have given up all together - deciding that reading is just not that much fun any more.

In her excellent book 'Reading Like a Writer' Francine Prose says, "There, (in graduate school), I soon realized that my love for books was unshared by many of my classmates and professors. I found it hard to understand what they did love, exactly, and this gave me an anxious shiver that would later seem like a warning about what would happen to the teaching of literature over the decade or so after I dropped out of my Ph.D. program. That was when literary acedemia split into warring camps of deconstructionists, Marxists, feminists, and so forth, all battling for the right to tell students that they were reading "texts" in which ideas and olitics trumped what the writer had actually written."

Then, later, "You can assum that if a writer's work has survived for centuries, there are reasons why this is so, explanations that have nothing to do with a conspiracy of academics plotting to resusicate a zombie army of dead white males."

This is very close to my own experience and outlook. (Though I did not go to graduate school - I left college to swim in the deep waters of experience.) My fellow readers, there is a reason some books are considered classics and others have been allowed to die a natural death in the waters of time. The classics are worth a look because they will outlive us.

The other day I found Harold Bloom's 'The Western Canon' on the shelf at a thrift shop for $3. I bought it, of course, and was glad to get it at that price. But how did it come to be there? Are readers so little interested in the classics that a monumental book such as this is simply one more thing to throw into the bag destined for the thrift shop? I shudder to think.

I'll pick this up again next week with Tom Wolfe's 'Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast' and more.

See you then, Jim

Friday, July 24, 2009



It is commonly accepted that Prince Myshkin, the main character in Dostoevsky's 'The Idiot' is a savior figure or, more to the point, Christ. While Myshkin does fit the bill in several ways, he seems to fall short in one very important way.

The Savior is a motif that runs throughout literary history, from Prometheus to Jesus and into modern times. Prometheus suffered in order to bring fire and light (and presumably enlightenment) into the world. Jesus suffered and died to save humanity from its sins.

'The Idiot' is a very modern novel, especially considering it was written well before the twentieth century advent of 'modernism' as a literary style. Its hero is an outsider. He spent four years undergoing treatment for a malady in Switzerland, and returned almost a complete stranger to his home - Russia. Great pains are taken in the novel to give him a 'ministry' among children - telling them stories - and caring for the sick Marie (or Mary, as in Mary Magdalene). In great detail the novel reveals what it must have been like for Myshkin's 'friend' to have been given a death sentence and then to have had it commuted at the last moment. Dostoyevsky himself had been sentenced to death and placed before a firing squad before it was called off. And of course Christ did face a sentence of death and was killed by crucifixion and was resurrected three days later.

The point of this novel is that a person who is innocent and genuine has no place in the real world, and is better off in an asylum (or dead). As Myshkin goes through his day he bumps into any number of people, all of whom are impacted by his innocence and who then find themselves in a different place in their lives. The trouble with this is that his innocence seems to operate from the outside in. Because they meet him, their lives are changed. Indeed, that seems to be the message of modern Christianity for the most part: Christ lived and died for us, so we should worship him. But the life of Jesus as the Christ ran counter to the accepted practices of religion of his day, and one suspects he would find the same thing today. The true power of Christ comes from the inside out. An encounter with Christ is an encounter with one's true self, and that self is then transcended. Only then will that person's life change in any real way.

By remaining an 'outsider', Dostoyevsky's character lacks the power of the real Christ. His impact on the lives of others seems quite coincidental and they react more like a body that has been impacted from without. The real Christ penetrated to the heart and soul of people, and their lives were changed forever.

Kazantzakis wrote of the duel nature of humanity - the body and the soul - and the war that exists between the two. Myshkin falls short as a Savior, but that does not prevent us from attempting to portray the savior in our writings. All of us, if we are genuinely willing to search ourselves, have experienced the conflict that exists between our earthly, fleshly, material selves, and the Spirit that dwells within us.

Next Week: The Movement Back to Realism.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


A blog about the problem with blogs. Sounds oxymoronic. But I wanted to take a moment to clarify what I'm up to here. (And it has taken me several months to figure it out). For a creative writer a blog can be a problem in several ways. First, it can take up all your time. A writer writes. That is the maxim. So if a writer is spending all his/her time blogging, they aren't going to get much real writing done.

Second, writing a blog requires a somewhat different set of skills for the craft of writing. A blog is usually fairly short. So if you have to shift gears to write a blog and it trips up the flow of your longer work you can see how that might be a problem.

Third, a blog can become a kind of catch-all for poor writing. The standard does not need to be as high (one thinks), as 'real' writing, so you can kind of slouch into it and who will care? It can become a place to catch all the ash and trash. Well, that's a problem because writing is sacred, and to treat it as anything less is probably going to be a bad thing.

I have read many blogs that scream "I am creative!" when in fact all they are is a place for the writer to dump any old thing that comes into his/her head. What I'm having for breakfast and how my day is going may be of great interest to some, but I doubt it.

So, having said all that, I'm changing the format of my blog a bit. (Although I never did write about what I was having for breakfast - peanut butter and jelly toast today - jelly from our daughter, delicious). What I am going to do is to establish a kind of weekly column that will come out on Friday or Saturday morning (except in the case of emergencies). That way I will have all week to give you, the reader, my best. In it, as my sub heading above indicates, will be 'All Things Literary'. Whatever I have encountered this week past that is of interest in the world of literature. This might include publishing, promoting, classic works of literature, or anything else that has caught my eye. I promise I will try to put it into some context, and I hope it will be more interesting than anything else you have read this week.

So, having said that, I may post a thing or two during the week if I go off on a jag or have something to rant about, so I hope you'll forgive me that. But generally it will be the end of the week when my 'column' will come out. That way you can open it up like your weekly newspaper on Saturday or Sunday and enjoy all the great things that will flow from my pen.

At least, that's the intention. Thanks for reading and, by the way, if you enjoy it, I'll bet some of your friends will as well. Why not let them know about 'All Things Literary'?


Saturday, July 18, 2009


A chance encounter on the Warsaw-Petersburg train. Sounds like something from an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. It is true that chance encounters do occur in life, though they can be darned tricky in literature. The author wants the reader to suspend real life and enter the parallel universe of fiction. To do this, anything from the real world that slips in can trigger the reader's recognition that this fiction - this novel - is an artifice. But Dostoyevsky can and does get away with the chance meeting between Lev Nikolayevitch Myshkin and Parfyon Rogozhin. In fact that moment of chance become the fateful interaction of multiple destinies which forms the basis of one of his great novels - 'The Idiot'.

Dostoyevsky (born 1821, in Moscow), had an interesting brush with fate himself when, as a young man of twenty-seven years he was arrested and convicted of being a member of a subversive socialist group. He was condemned to death and actually faced a mock firing squad before his sentence was commuted and he was sent instead to a prison in Siberia. His own life was one filled with suffering and pain, so it is not surprising that such themes find their way into his work. 'Notes from Underground' (1864); 'Crime and Punishment'; 'The Idiot'; 'The Possessed', and 'The Brothers Karamazov' are his most influential works.

In Myshkin he created a character that not only reflects 19th century Russia in all its aspects, but he become the center of that time. The other characters move around this goodly prince like the arms of a spiral constellation. 'The Idiot' becomes not so much a tragedy as a huge slice of life that reveals the human condition.

"Had they known about one another and why they were both at that moment remarkable, they would certainly have marveled that chance had so strangely put them opposite each other in the third-class car..." (Quotations are taken from the Henry and Olga Carlisle translation of 1969). That's the key to everything in life: Had we only known! It is what drives people into the newspaper horoscopes or to seek a glimpse of what is yet to come from fortune-tellers of every stripe. If we but knew, we could have done things differently. We would have done! But we don't know. At least, not in specific terms.

What we do know, as readers, as authors, and as those who must live our lives as best we can, is that characters 'is' everything. Who we are and what we stand for shapes our future, no matter what events we have yet to face. For that reason, Character in fiction is more important than any other element. It is more important than plot, style, dialogue, or what have you. By subjecting a character to action, the true person is revealed. The dialogue, the conflict, the style and everything else is intended to reveal the character, and so find themselves in a lesser position. Works that are plot-driven are destined to be forgotten. The plot of history eventually eclipses them.

More soon,


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Promote Your Work - Start Today

This may seem like an odd follow-up to my blog about commercialism in art, but word must get out about you and your work if you are ever going to find a following. And who is going to do that if you don't? Unfortunately, the days of the publishing houses taking a chance on an unknown author/poet are over. Big money is spent promoting books that don't need it - the ones that will be a commercial success no matter what - while almost none is spent on the small or choice book.

My daughter and I were talking about this very thing the other night. She is a poet. How is she to promote her work without simply giving it away? Indeed, what are any of us to do? We must have something to promote before we can promote it. And how do we promote without just giving everything away? The key is relationship building.

A while ago I was thinking that I wished someone would simply lay out what would work in the matter of promoting our work. I spent a lot of time gleaning book marketing sites and finally came up with some methods that take time but, to meet my specification, don't cost very much. Right here on the internet is the key.

1. Start a blog. Here is the place you can talk about your work, add a few sample chapters, or a poem or two, to get people interested in what you do. Why talk about what you had for breakfast (some experts recommend simply talking about your day), when you can talk about what is most important to you and probably to your potential readers - your work. Why do you do what you do? How do you do it? What inspires you? Who are some of your mentors in writing or poetry? What were their lives all about. I think you get the idea. Keep it interesting, and have fun while you're at it. Your blog is at the center of your promoting universe. It doesn't cost you anything and I actually prefer this over maintaining a web site, though it wouldn't hurt to have both.

2. Start MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter pages. From there you can set up your profile, and begin adding friends. Seek friends in groups that are along the lines of what you do. Poetry groups, writing groups, reading groups, all will have people who are interested in what you are saying. Add them as friends. No, you are not spamming. You are inviting them to be your friend based upon your common interests. I'm not as sold on Twitter as some people are, but you can go onto Twitter search sites and find topics that are along your line - reading, writing, literary agents, and so on. Keep in mind that the reason for all of this activity is to get people to read your blog and to pass the word along to their friends. Don't be afraid to ask for that referral. (I'm asking right now - please let all your friends know about my blog site).

3. Join other related groups: Author's Den. Poetry magazines or small press journals. Search the web for these sites and join them. Get a listing and then let it lie. (Too much internet time can be a drag on your real work. Don't let it consume you.)

4. Get the Word out. Send out free press releases. Post bulletins on your social network sites. Let people know that you are blogging and why it might be important for them to read what you have to say. I post a bulletin every time I create a new blog post.

5. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. This isn't going to happen overnight but as you build a group of friends and fellow writers/poets who will be your friends and read your blog posts, you are building a following of people who will, one day when the time is right, want to read your new book that was just published. All of this has cost you nothing but time.

6. Submit some of your work as articles or short stories or poems to magazines or e-zines or other online sites. This will get the word out far and wide.

7. Spend a little money on postage to find a good literary agent once you have written the best book you know how. Don't get discouraged. This is still pretty cheap promotion and if you can catch the interest of a good agent, you may be on your way.

8. Expand your efforts. Be always on the lookout for another place to promote your work. Start a second blog and a third to talk about your upcoming books. You can start this early, while still in the planning process. It is never too soon to start promoting your next book, and the one after that. Start a fan group. Post a Squidoo lens. Come on, you probably already know other ways of promoting your work that I haven't even thought of. (If so, please let me know). I spend about an hour every day promoting my work. That leaves plenty of time to keep creating.

Hope this has been helpful. I'm no marketing expert, but this is the strategy I'm using, and I'm loving having all these new friends to correspond with. (Answer all your e-mails and comments. You can ignore the requests to play online games or to add other applications, but answer your mail. Your friends want to know you are a real person.

Yours, Jim

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Commercialism in Art

A couple of years ago Francoise Cachin, the head of all France's museums including the Louvre and the Musee National d' Art Moderne, and granddaughter of painter Paul Signac, lost her place on the national museum committe because of her views concerning the commercial use of art. Cachin, now 73, is an outspoken critic of such use of art in her country. According to ARTnews (September 2007) she said, "Morally, ethically, I am shocked to see the commercial and promotional use of art - of our national heritage, of masterpieces in the collection of the French museums. We should be protecting our patrimony." She says she has suffered some retaliation from the arts establishment as the result of her outspokenness.

Friends, it is this same sentiment that I bring to my discourse on American literature. Of course a piece of great literature must be promoted - its praises should be sung from the rooftops - but this spending of millions to promote the next banal piece of mediocrity is just plain foolishness. I think it was Mark Twain who said that one who does not read great literature has no advantage over the one who does not read at all. With a straight face and without any intended irony Stephen King said that reading Harry Potter was preparing a future generation of Stephen King readers. It is nearly impossible to find anyone who reads at all, let alone has read the classics of literature.

And yet how quickly we fall into that pit. "Well," we say, "we have to keep the industry afloat, so that the great literature at least has the chance to get noticed." Perhaps we should let the industry collapse, just as abuses have led to the collapse of our economic system, so that we can start again. Still, there is nothing I can do about that. I continue to read and attempt to write something great. That is all I can do for now.

I have just finished reading 'Revolutionary Road' by Richard Yates. It is all the rage lately with the new movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet (with Kathy Bates thrown in for good measure). And, while the movie is disturbing in its subject matter (is anyone safe from the angst of modern life?), I found it equally disturbing that Richard Yates was largely unknown in his lifetime. Perhaps, instead of writing this great American novel, he should have aimed his sites at something more commercial, like Harold Robbins or one of the other giants of that day. (Who? this generation might rightly ask). Exactly! There is no reason to remember him. There will be no reason for Harry Potter or the latest Stephen King to be remembered, either.

Here's hoping you are reading good and well and true. Pay no attention to that commercial trash behind the curtain. Stick with what you know to be great.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


My reader friends,

I keep a notebook of interesting book sites and publishers and anything related to books. It is one of those hardcover composition books that have a hundred pages or so. (Some have already been torn out). It has the photograph of one of my brother's paintings - a great looking lion - on the cover. It has paperclips to mark various sections and has pages ripped from magazines and what-not stuffed in it. I like to think about that old book of history (Herodotus), that was full of clippings and paintings and such in 'The English Patient'. Anyway, I am constantly looking things up that I find there, and ripping out pages and crossing things out as they no longer hold my interest.

I have found some interesting book blogging sites along the way that I thought I would share. You can go and look for yourself so I won't spend too much time on them, and I'm sure there are many other good sites besides these. (Could you recommend some)?

I like to look in on the U.K. because it gives me a different perspective, so these first three are from there. is mostly about books that they offer as a publisher, but is more general and is a personal place for this long-time literary man to write what he thinks.

In the U.S. you might check out Pat Holt (another long-time publishing personality) at Then there is one I really like about the classics at and finally a book blog community for those who read books, blog books, and promote books at It has some 2200 members with groups, events, and forums about books.

Hope you'll take a look. And even more I hope you'll pass along some other good sites. I'm always interested.


Saturday, June 6, 2009


Joseph Conrad wrote, "A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as the single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life, what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential - their one illuminating and convincing quality - the very truth of their existence."

Since I have taken upon myself the stand that art in literature must be held to a high standard, I would like to share some of that struggle with you. It is one thing to write about classic literature, as I have done in 'American Masters' (and have tried to raise the level of nonfiction there also), but it is another to attempt it ourselves. 'The Struggle' is my novel in progress. It is the story of a man in an Eastern European country caught up in the war to liberate his people. Their rebellion, however, is crushed completely after many years of fighting. What emerges in the aftermath of that war, however, is a different kind of struggle. It is the kind of struggle that was fought by Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr. (among many others - myself included). It is the way of nonviolence that emerges when a people grow tired of resorting always to violence to solve its problems. I'm not going to give away the whole story, of course, but I think you can see where I'm headed with this. I'm going to attempt to justify my art in every line.

On my desk I have two reminders: "Create Community" and "Tell The Story". It has become more and more the responsibility of the author to create a communtity around his/her work because a publishing house is simply not going to spend much to promote an unknown author or work. Sorry, that's just how it is. They will spend millions to promote someone who is already a bestseller and so does not need the boost. But they will spend only pennies on an unknown. Small wonder most authors, even very good ones, slip into oblivion.

Second, tell the story. That is a reminder not only for my work (see yesterday's blog about plot); but to let my readers know what story I'm trying to tell and how I am struggling with the material to get it into the shape in the form of 'art'. That is what I'm about here. I am not really in the position to offer advice - your way to art is just as valid as mine - but I would like to share some of the struggle I am going through.

Hope you'll stay tuned as that is all played out here on my blog site. Please post a comment whenever you are moved to do so.

Yours, Jim

Friday, June 5, 2009


The July/August issue of Writer's Digest has an article (Inkwell - edited by Zachary Petit) by Jordan E. Rosenfeld, author of 'Make a Scene' called 'Confessions of a Plot Junkie'. In it the writer confesses, "I am a plot junkie." The reason for this, is that Jordan likes a story to move along and not get hung up on long, even-if-well-crafted descriptions of scene, or a sentence that is written for its own sake.

I often wonder why this has to be an either/or proposition. (And some writers sit around wondering and wondering without ever getting anything on paper - I am cautioning myself here). My last post quoted some lines from 'The Snows of Kilamanjaro' by Ernest Hemingway. (Hemingway is a great author to blog about because some people really love him, and others are deeply offended by him). The main thing I can say about Hemingway in this context is this: he showed us how to fuse plot and great literature. In fact, it would seem odd if we read any Hemingway that wasn't plot-driven. He had a close eye to on the story line always, 'and' on the story he was telling.

I am not a fan of our postmodernist approach to literature, though in some instances I have enjoyed the creativity of it. I am not a fan of artists of any stripe who throw something on a canvas in the hope of getting a reaction - even if it is horrifying. There is enough that is horrifying in the world for us to write or paint, without becoming a part of the horror ourselves. But you see where wondering and wondering takes us - I have gotten off track.

Of course a story or novel (and I believe even nonfiction) should have a plot. My daughter Holly gave me a Storyteller and it sits on my desk even now. A Storyteller is a Native American ceramic of an adult with many little people crawling on him/her. These, presumably are the stories that person has to tell. I keep it right there to remind me of the importance of telling the story. Even in nonfiction (especially in nonfiction), we have the responsibility to do more than simply relate facts and information. If we do it right, in fact, nonfiction should be even more creative and more 'truthful' than fiction; though it almost never is presently. That narrative imperative is exactly what I have tried to write into 'American Masters', a popular history of great American literature from the colonial period to modern times.

I forget who told me this, but it still applies to every writer, "Start at the beginning, tell the story, and then stop." That is the plot. What you do with it is your business. Don't throw out plot because it will seem more 'literary' to do without one. I have just started a novel about war and peace (no, not 'that' novel). I am finding that I can be forgiven a multitude of sins if I just keep the story moving forward. Of course I'll have to write out the sins in the re-write.

Keep reading and keep writing,


Friday, May 8, 2009


Hi again,

It occurred to me as I was writing 'American Masters' that there has been a disconnect between readers and writers. I mean, so many people seem to be reading only for pleasure (which ain't bad, but bear me out), that I began to realize that many readers simply don't know why the classics are the classics, or why they too might be a pleasure to read. What has happened is that classic literature has been intellectualized beyond the ken of most readers. When they think of the classics they think of words like high-falutin and artsy-fartsy, instead of having an image of some great read they can refer back to again and again.

This is a newly-formed idea, so I'm just working it out here on the keyboard. (And I want to hear your comments on this). If people just sat down and read some of our classic American literature without thinking they had to understand every minute detail of it setting out, why, they might find that they actually enjoy themselves. They might find that Huck Finn dressing up like a girl is just a plain old hoot to read. They might find that the hero of 'House Made of Dawn' connecting up with his ancestral stories and the hero of 'Ceremony' connecting up with the rituals that make one well, are just plain good reads. (Not to mention that a reader might get the idea that they, too, are connected with an ongoing story that extends all the way back to the American nation and before.

What I'm saying is this: why should only a few of us gain the pleasure of reading the classics when so many others could benefit from it. Then, instead of feeling like they have to read the latest any-old-thing to come out, readers might be a little more discerning in their reading.

Come on, what do you think? I found in writing 'American Masters' that our stories are important. That our words do matter. And that what we read and write is important to the future. Add a comment please - it don't cost you noffin'.

Keep reading,


Saturday, May 2, 2009


People have asked where I got my idea for 'American Masters', the popular history of American literature and authors.

Well... One day I was reading about Flannery O'Connor. I had never read much of her stuff, so I was just skimming - it didn't hold much interest for me. But then I learned that little Mary O'Connor, Flannery's real name, taught a chicken to walk backwards when she was six years old. It was such an extraordinary feat that it was picked up by Pathe News and the film was shown across the country. There was little Mary on film, helping with her chicken. She claimed that was the climax of her life. Everything after that was anticlimactic. What else did I not know about Flannery O'Connor? Alright, so I'd pick up one of her short stories and see what it was about. Then I was hooked. I had to read it all. Two novels and two collections of stories. She died young, of Lupus. (Why do so many great authors seem to die so young)?

Get this picture now. I have been reading most of my life. Even as a young man I read classic literature - ask my brothers. I was a nut. Kids on the ball diamond would ask if I was going to use 'For Whom The Bell Tolls' for first base. I never got any respect. But even with all the reading I had been doing, I had somehow missed Flannery O'Connor. What else had I missed?

I decided then and there to start over. I started to systematically read American classics beginning clear back in the colonial times with Cotton Mather, and then with Benjamin Franklin during the struggle for independence. What I found was that these two writers were connected. They lived in the same neck of the woods and back then it was a small neck. Of course they knew each other! As I was reading, I found many such connections and many, many, interesting stories from behind the scenes of American literature. Now we were cooking.

In short order I read and re-read everything from Hawthorne to Hemingway, from Melville to Morrison. It was great. I dug in and really got their stories. When I got around to writing, those stories just flowed from my pen (and onto the screen). So, now I have this book, 'American Masters', and it is in the hands of an agent right now and...

That's the story behind the story of 'American Masters'. Stay tuned for more.



"Death thou comest when I had thee least in mind." - Everyman

This everyman quote seems so appropriate right now. Everyone is fearful about becoming infected with this latest strain of the flu and about what methods might be used to prevent us from getting it. But really, the plague is as old as humankind. There are some mighty nasty bugs out there. They're sneaking around right now, waiting to get in. If it's not one, it's another. And while we're focused on swine flu, it may be something else entirely that will get us. Sorry, that's just how it is.

'The Plague' by Albert Camus (1947) is not comforting either. Originally published in French as 'Le Peste', it is the story of one Doctor Bernard Rieux who, leaving his surgery one day, (April 16th, to be precise), stepped on something soft. It turned out to be a dead rat! I use an exclamation point but really, there was nothing to exclaim about. It was simply a dead rat. He asked the concierge to dispose of it.

But then, that evening, Doctory Rieux "saw a big rat coming toward him from the dark end of the passage. It moved uncertainly, and its fur was sopping wet. The animal stopped and seemed to be trying to get its balance, moved forward again toward the doctor, halted again, then spun around on itself with a little squeal and fell on its side." (I am quoting from the Random House edition translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert).

That is only the beginning, of course. Next, patients begin to show up for examination with fever. Then the whole town is infected, it seems. Things progress from bad to worse, as they say.

But I'm not going to spoil it for you. My intention is to get you to go and read this excellent book. My intention is also to point out that there is nothing new under the sun. That's why classic literature is so important. When we read for entertainment alone, we miss out on the deep sense of connectedness that comes from getting to know the masters of world literature. The stories they tell are timeless. That's why they're classics.

I think it was Mark Twain who said something like, "One who doesn't read great literature has no advantage over the one who does not read at all."

So read it. Let me know what you think of it.

Keep reading,


Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Language of Jorge Luis Borges

You know me.

I'm a writer of nonfiction. (Though I reverse the right to fiction). Jorge Luis Borges was a writer of fictions. Minimalist fiction. He also wrote nonfiction. He reserved the right to write as he chose. In fact there is very little distinction between his fiction and his nonfiction. I would like to introduce him to you...I recently purchased a copy of his 'Selected Non-Fictions' edited by Eliot Weinberger. It's an interesting read. As interesting as any fiction. In fact, it is not so much a book to read as one that must be read and re-read again and again. It demands that with its intricate language and the almost impossible interconnectedness of its story lines and topics.

Richard Bernstein of 'The New York Times' said, "Borges's uniqueness in 20th-century letter is rooted in an almost monstrous combination: encyclopedic knkowledge, razorlike critical judgement and a ravishing appreciation for the magical and pagan dimension in every situation."This is no easy read, in short. But the works themselves are brief enough to invite a re-reading at any time. (You can pick it up almost anywhere and be as overwhelmed as you would have been by trying to read it straight through). If that hasn't been enough to frighten you off, let's continue.

Inside you will find his early writings (1922-1928) which include, (but are not by any means limited to), 'Joyce's Ulysses', 'Literary Pleasure', and 'An Investigation of the Word'.

The next section is 1929-1936 and includes 'The Superstitious Ethics of the Reader', 'The Translators of The Thousand and One Nights', and 'The Labyrinths of the Detective Story and Chesterton'.

Next come a whole series of 'Capsule Biographies' of the likes of Isaac Babel, Theodore Dreiser, T.S. Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

Then 'Book Reviews and Notes', including 'William Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!', 'Two Fantasy Novels', 'H.G. Wells' Latest Novel', and 'Joyce's Latest Novel'.

Next a section about the time of the Second World War 1937-1945, which is followed by 'Nine Dantesque Essays', the period of 1946-1955, and finally 'Dictations' with various lectures, his 'Prologues to the Library of Babel', and 'Prologues to a Personal Library'.

I am only telling you this to let you know what you are getting into if you decide to read this book. (But I consider it a must-read for those who write nonfiction. You will see why if you read it).I have found that I can get bogged down quite easily in any of his writings. The other day I was reading 'The Translators of The Thousand and One Nights'. "At Trieste, in 1872, in a palace with damp statues and deficient hygienic facilities, a gentleman on whose face an African scar told its tale - Captain Richard Francis Burton, the English consul - embarked on a famous translation of the Quitab alif laila un laila, which the roumis know by the title 'The Thousand and One Nights'. Now, I don't know about you, but that is an intriquing opening. So much is packed into a few sentences that I can't help but wonder what Borges will say next. "Lane translated against Galland," he writes, "Burton against Lane; to understand Burton we must understand this hostile dynasty."Now, I'm going going to spoil it by telling you what that hostiel dynasty is, or why it should matter to you. As my English teacher used to have us say at the end of a high school book report, "If you want to know the ending, you'll have to read the book." Actually, I'm not sure that applies in this case. Even if you read the book, you may not be able to make out the ending. Borges has a way of subverting the passage of time, too... But that is quite another story.

Keep Reading


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I began writing at a young age. At twelve years old, I think. I started out writing pretty lame stories about talking animals and such. That's what I thought you were supposed to do at twelve. But I was already reading Hemingway and Jack London and others by that age, so I wasn't going to keep writing at that level for long. By the time I got into Western Michigan University I aced a class in creative writing with a novella the professor thought I should try to see published. I burned it instead. "It's not good enough," I said.

Instead I sold my VW bug and went to Europe where I hitch-hiked around for five weeks. (This was the summer of 1971). When I returned, since I had blown off my draft deferment, I was drafted into the US Army, where I spent the next eight years.

My first novel was not published until 1994 - 'The Angelic Mysteries' (ISBN 1-884787-00-2) It is the first person narration of a how he met and fell in love with an angel. There was one complication, however. At the time he met her, she was being hunted across Europe by a psychopath - a man she believed to be an anti-angel. Breathlessly suspenseful and finely crafted, it is a study in human character and of humankind's continuing struggle against evil and insanity.

My second novel, 'Mirabilia' (ISBN1-884787-01-0) was published the following year - 1995. Hoping only that his kidnapped daughter is still alive, Daniel Allman enters the land of miracles in pursuit of her abductor. Along the way he is confronted by all manner of psychic obstacles and dangers from ferocious jackdogs and haunted swamps, to a sorcerer's malicious curse. With nothing more than his teacher's words to guide him and his own integrity to protect him, Daniel's very existence is in jeopardy.

While I continued writing, my publishing opportunities ceased until 2005, when 'Called To Love' (ISBN 1884787-02-9) was published. It is a nonfiction account of some of our adventures in Christian living (especially as lived out among the homeless in our community). Every day the world seems a little crazier than it was the day before. Fortunately there are some things that don't change. Our dedication to 'do to others as we wuold have them do to us' is the golden rule we can all live by - even in these uncertain times. We are called to love.

More recently I have had an article published in the May/June (2009) issue of 'Plain Truth' magazine, a Christian publication for those who are trying to get away from the 'religious spirit' of Christianity. It is entitled 'The Church of Horse Gulch'. This article gives an overview of our activities among the poor and homeless of our community.

I will try to keep this blog updated with publishing credits as they come along. Sorry, 'The Angelic Mysteries' and 'Mirabilia' are both out of print, though I think you can still get copies through e-bay or others. 'Called to Love' is now available as a free e-book download at Hope you'll take a look.

I have just finished up my nonfiction book about American literature: 'American Masters'. I am currently seeking a publisher for it, and I'm working on a similar work called 'A Book of Books'. See my blog that has some of my new writing from that book at Book Of Books.

Hope to hear from you soon.

James D. Sanderson


Hello again.

I thought I might as well follow up and let you know who I am. I was born in 1952 and have been a reader from an early age. Even as a kid I was always carrying books around - many of them classic literature - mostly American though some others as well. (I did not read War and Peace until I was a teen). I think Ernest Hemingway was the one who got me started. As a young boy I couldn't believe that someone was actually living those adventures. I vowed to have such a life myself. (I would never have run with the bulls in Pamplona, for instance, if it hadn't been for Hemingway's vivid descriptions of that event in 'The Sun Also Rises' and other places in his writing. I read F. Scott Fitzgerld, Sherwood Anderson, Mark Twain, and Jack London. All of these and many more of course are what has led to my interest in writing about great literature.

As with other areas in my life, however, I wanted to write in a way that anyone could understand and in a way that would be interesting. (I have to write the stuff, after all, and if it is dull, Jim will be a dull boy too). So I began to make connections between the various writers I have read and am still reading, and began to put these tales together in interesting, exciting, and even adventurous ways. (Did you know, for instance, the 'Little Women' is an allegory about young women who are struggling with the burdens of their faults that is based upon the allegorical novel 'Pilgrim's Progress' by English author John Bunyon? So it becomes a kind of allegory within an allegory - the only one I am aware of. (Though is you know of others you might want to let me know). I found that these writers made comments about each other - some sage and some just plain rude. They read each other and reviewed each other's works and influenced each other in sometimes very subtle ways. In making connections in this way it seems life has been breathed back into the authors and their works.

My wife and I live in Colorado and we are currently raising our two granddaughters. I write full time and have just finished my book 'American Masters' and have already started on my next, 'A Book of Books' (which is where the illustration about 'Little Women' is from). If you would like to check out some of my writing from this next book, please click on the link below for my other blog:

Let me know what you're reading and/or writing.


James D. Sanderson


Greetings Readers,

Sorry for the delay in getting this up and running but I have been busy putting the finishing touches on my new book. 'American Masters' is a book for those who love books. It is a popular history of American literature from its beginning in our colonial period (Cotton Mather and Benjamin Franklin), through our most recent Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. It is written in a sweeping narrative style (with a hidden first person narrator), drawing from the lives of the authors, their stories, their work, and interesting anecdotes from their own experiences. Did you know, for instance, that at age six Flannery O'Connor taught a chicken to walk backward. It was filmed by the Pathe News and was shown across the country. Little Mary O'Connor was on film helping with her chicken. She claimed that everything else in her life was anti-climactic. This is only one of the many such stories that have turned up in the research for this book. (And it has been just a plain ol' hoot to write, if you'll allow me that levity).

The study of literature has somehow become divided up by particular authors or poets, or various 'movements', or by their individual works. Very little has been done to mine the vast interconnectedness of the literary tradition from its earliest days until the present. Yet, not surprisingly, these authors knew each other, or had read each other, or had written reviews about each other, or had made comments about each other, and nothing was ever written in a vacuum as it sometimes appears in the classroom. Readers, (myself included), have approached the whole affair of reading our masters as a hit and miss matter, which seems to be more often miss than hit.

'American Masters' has a strong narrative insistence which does not sacrifice itself by use of obvious fictional techniques. Rather, it is written on several levels, giving it a deep tidal flow that is not fully appreciated by only a surface reading. Beyond the simple chronological reading there is a deeper symbolic level; and a deeper still mythic historicity of dreams, fears, imaginings; and a deeper still labyrinthine level of games, puzzles, codes, word play, and so on. (Which could be appreciated by the likes of Nabokov). 'American Masters' is going to need a respected agency to represent it for publication. If you know of one that might be interested, please blog me back and let me know.

Thanks, and good reading...

James D. Sanderson