Life is an exercise in identity creation. My latest is myself as storyteller for myself, the reader and the designer. Story teller for myself goes back as long as I can remember, but those keeping track are free to choose the ninth grade experience with A Farewell to Arms, the gap year between chemical engineering and philosophy or the summer I began writing UP. The reader might reasonably choose the publication of The Time Traveler’s Fool; the purist, perhaps, might prefer The Jumper. The designer hearkens back to the days of human factors engineering and team leading. I call this the latest because the designer has returned to the forefront of my attention as the writing of The Shootout at the Coal County Courthouse has evolved. I had referred to Shootout as the Infinite Jest of Appalachia in a thematic sense before the phrase took on connotations of humorous comment on the creative process. Though not quite infinite, the writing has taken on the quality of a marathon. It requires many steps; many, many steps that I find benefit from what some might consider a program of distraction. After months of complete absorption in the characters and setting I have found that my best writing comes after respites where I let it all grow subconsciously. To do that I need absorption in something else and while seeking such absorption I have discovered an opportunity to explore new characters and settings, real life ones, while developing techniques for the emotional design of enterprise experience. The experience of returning to user experience research has been challenging in ways emotional and otherwise and I look forward to challenges every weekday that carry me deeply into the design of technology from which I return every weekend with gusto to the fictional territory of Coal County.
It was a fluke that I went through a decade of higher education before stumbling across a cognitive psychologist specializing in human factors to mentor me into a profession that brought it all together. I had always been motivated by a strong desire to collect many perspectives on the world as a student of philosophy, psychology, history, literature and as a nurse in a psychiatric facility and as a bartender. Even driving an eighteen-wheeler I was researching people. All that background will go into every novel I write and every user interaction I help.
Today I quote Philip Kastle.
In researching this essay I, of course, read every other commentator I could find. There were many references to beautiful language and effective storytelling, but not one hint of understanding of all the hints Stevens gives to metaficitional levels of meaning. Consider the scroll so prominently featured on the very cover of The Canterbury Tales in Neverland and the phrase “literary survival” in the subtitle. Reading this in paperback you will naturally find pages of text and not a scroll but like a scroll the pages are not numbered. But wait, they are, within the text itself in a joking comment on the survival of a continuous text a la scroll arbitrarily divided into pages by the need of the new technology of a bound book which achieves another level of literary survival humor when transposed to a Kindle which thrusts the pagination back before the reader by its own technological fiat. And yet the story survives and resonates now with new layers of meaning as so much of the story itself is about the survival of story literally, so to speak, after Kindles and paperbacks have all failed to survive the cultural apocalypse.
Thanks for the stage, the audience, and the laughs.
I have been drawn to the power of words since I was barely big enough to hold a book. In the last four years I have published my four novels. Now I focus the power of words back upon the world of apllied psychology. The fiction, the author’s social media and the public appearances have honed the master’s degree and ten years’ experience to a keen edge ready to cut through new problems in leadership and make way for a pleasure beyond mere ease of use and profit beyond mere increased conversion rate, lasting customer loyalty and decreased tech support costs. Writers connect. I seek new connections.
(9/15/16) Congratulations Philip Kastle
(9/1/16) I anticipate announcing a winner on 9/15/16.
I hereby announce a Five Hundred Dollar Essay Contest for a worthy reader response to my work. I do not mean “Wow” or “Incredible.” I mean a minimum of one thousand words explicating the themes of at least one of my books and how they relate to at least two mainstream academic disciplines. I would be pleasantly surprised though not shocked if a precocious teen or a literate engineer pulled off a coup, but the best fit might be adjunct faculty with multi-disciplinarian interests who deserve a chance to make five hundred dollars a day if only for one day showing off those hard earned skills of analysis. One day, by the way, is my estimate of how long it would take someone already comfortable with language like “Stevens makes disparate modern genres resonate with and even progress the history of literary criticism, the philosophy of mind and transfinite mathematics” to take this challenge and nail it to the wall. Others might take longer. A hint to those still interested, “Stevens fails” has just as good a chance of winning as “Stevens succeeds” because like any good-and-annoying liberal arts professor I am more interested in how you argue than what you argue. Engage me in a brilliant discussion and I will pay you to call me inadequate to my self-appointed artistic goals.
It would be up to you to acquire the texts. Prices range from free through Kindle Unlimited to $65 for the complete oeuvre signed and shipped through my author website. You have until August 31, 2016 to submit your entry to me as the body/text of an email to email@example.com .If you win I pay you $500.00 USD and I retain the right to use your entry however I choose (probably but not exclusively for social media publicity.) If you do not win you retain all rights to your entry. If there is only one worthwhile entry that is where it will end. If there are multiple worthwhile entries I will make the torturous choice of one to win and, as I deem appropriate, contact runners up with alternative ideas for collaboration. I do not guarantee anyone will win. The decision is entirely up to me and if no one gets me (or rejects me) with an adequately persuasive argument then I am keeping my money. I also do not guarantee how long my decision will take though I do promise some sort of feedback by September1, 2016. That feedback might be that I was overwhelmed by the response and it will take me X months to work through all the entries or it might be that I will get back to both of you by tomorrow.
Amazon will be putting the Kindle version of THEY CALL ME MERLIN SHERLOCK on sale for a limited time beginning Friday March 18th. The MERLIN SHERLOCK series is meant to express my cozy whimsical side, that American lad influenced by Midsomer and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to create a fictional English county where a wizard detective may or may not use magic to solve crimes that may or may not have occurred. Sex, drugs and violence may motivate the story but discreetly from behind the scenes. If you want your sex, drugs and violence up front and center then try THE CHARGING BULL OF TERRY COUNTY, but when your eyes pop out of your head don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Bicentennial Day for America is going to be a long one for Larry. There’s a fifth of Southern Comfort to kill before noon. There’s all the memory other people won’t let the fifth kill off. The woman who’s divorced him three times wants to talk. His older son wants to publish Granddad’s Civil War Journal. Everyone wants to talk war history with a World War II vet. The mayor wants Larry’s crane to lift the statue of a fictional hero into place in time for the fireworks. The only person not bothering him is his younger son shipped home from Nam and resting for five years under a plain flat stone on the edge of town. This day will resonate with history – of one person, of one family, of one nation shaped by war– and all Larry wants is a little peace.
It can be said of Waiting for Godot that nothing happens, twice. The phrase "over and over again" is like a brief musical theme that plays throughout The Charging Bull of Terry County. For example, It could be said of Larry and HIldy Treegarden that their love strikes like a lightning bolt over and over again differently every time yet strangely the same because we know it's a disaster every time. Do you know anyone else who falls for red roses over and over again and over and over the next day sees the wilted remains in the waste bin of their life?
I conceived of The Charging Bull of Terry County as my own literary reflection on Tolstoy’s War and Peace via the saga of an American family with a proud military history dealing with loss on various levels; loss of life, innocence, etc. Thoroughly embroiled in the fictional struggles of my characters four years ago, I found the writing took on new dimensions when a friend died in a car crash. I doubt this changed a single word I wrote but it gave to each word nuances of a greater intensity. The pathos of the writing deepened for me to the point that I was later astonished to see the Kirkus reviewer calling the book hilarious.
I have learned that my most serious work contains a sting of wit, a spoonful of sugar to help the philosophical go down whether I consciously intend it or not. I find it funny in the sense of odd or interesting that I never meant Charging Bull to be funny in the sense of hilarious. The words just came out that way as I dealt with the serious issue of loss in its manifold manifestation. I think if Bill were still with us, he would be laughing his ass off.
He claims to be a traveler from the future who jumps into the minds of people in the past and is now inhabiting Marvin Waterstone. If you believe Marvin is insane then The Jumper’s time traveling tales describe the evolution in the relationship between therapist and client as Marvin reveals while trying to conceal what has brought him to a mental institution. If you believe that The Jumper is real then The Jumper’s time traveling tales describe the evolution in the character of a time traveler through the course of several trips to the past. You decide if The Jumper/Marvin is a lunatic, a time traveler, a murderer, a victim, all of the above or none.
Whoever The Jumper may be he is an articulate weaver of tales hilarious and horrible which include writing love poetry in the body of a shepherd boy wooing his first love, leading a small group of would-be legionaries in the body of a commander who has gotten them into a royal mess in the desert, fleeing a lynch mob in the body of a slave who may have been better off before The Jumper lent him a helping hand (or mind) and much more. Who is the Time Traveler’s Fool? Marvin, the doctor, the reader, the writer? You decide.
Honorius and Stilicho are just a couple names from a story of the Roman empire told by a man claiming to be a traveler through time, but I'll give you a little hint. Don't tell anyone. This is just between you and me. If you pay attention to the history his crazy story reveals you might just recognize you, me and a few million other people stumbling around our personal deserts today.
Literature thrives in the living minds of readers and writers and not on dusty shelves. The text of "The Time Traveler's Fool: A Psychological Mystery of Literary Survival" supports a great many hypotheses beginning with "He's a time traveler who . . ." or "He's a con man who . . ." or "He's a madman who . . ." Amongst the possibilities starting with that last is "He's a madman who has read too much science fiction and philosophy of mind and convinced himself he can travel through time and into other people's minds." Along those same lines you could replace "madman" with "writer."
Jackson Thomas is no longer mayor, but The Ville will not leave him be. The new mayor, Myron Willever, sparks rivalry with the town of Brodman’s Bluff until a summer festival explodes into a riot that Jackson quells but not before an unknown rioter cold-cocks an unwed mother into a still birth. Myron’s wife, Liu Hsi, connives to get Jackson arrested for inciting riot and infanticide. Jackson’s son, Casavero, his friends and their schoolmaster, Horatio, have long enjoyed playing at word games based on Shakespeare, and now talk themselves into a pilgrimage to the mountains to beseech angels and ministers of grace to save Jackson from jail. Jackson has no idea they have slipped out of town to tell themselves amusing tales, they have no idea he has been released to direct his own defense under house arrest and no one knows what Liu Hsi has planned.
More than “a cracker-jack detective story and courtroom drama”, though I thank and will quote the reviewer again, in this book “a post-apocalyptic America chooses between reason and superstition as it revives a lost literary heritage in this beguiling fantasy [featuring] a fully realized culture and a quasi-Shakespearean diction that’s vigorous and musical without being fusty or quaint [and] an engrossing yarn that embeds an off-kilter perspective on history in rich language and storytelling.” You also get metafictional parodies, fantasy satirizing the belief in fantasy – and jokes to boot.
There comes a time in every good theme's life when it begins to turn in upon itself. If one begins to think that the Canterbury Tales in Neverland is about "story" and then later you expand that to something like "story is our most important source of information and our most unreliable" and then you begin to think of experimental fiction asking "what is a story and who is really telling it" then you run the risk of someday six characters in search of a play taking over your novel.
The title of The Canterbury Tales in Neverland quite explicitly calls attention to the fact that everything from the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer to the latest movie re-make of Peter Pan resonates in my work. The Canterbury Tales in Neverland also resonates with the theme of the epistemological quandaries of storytelling. Stories, whether passed down through the ages or made up afresh over a campfire, are the sources of knowledge with which the characters wrestle every step of the way. The struggle, whether with reading Chaucer and Shakespeare or arguing with friends and enemies, is an essential part of our edification, our education that never ends.
I wanted to write a classic regular folks would actually read. I wanted to write an adventure academics would find resonant with meaning. You tell me how well I did.