Friday, January 30, 2009

*Ghost Notes* and *Stuck Outside of Phoenix* Now Available on Kindle, Plus Updike

It's true. You can now get Ghost Notes and/or Stuck Outside of Phoenix for your Kindle device. Go here:

Ghost Notes

Stuck Outside of Phoenix

If you buy one, I'll be curious to know what you think. This is my first foray into this realm, and I have no way to test them. I need to know how it looks, if it looks the way it's supposed to look, anything weird that might jump out at you. So if you buy, don't be shy.

Or you can write to tell me how much you love the novels. I'm always open to that.

"When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teenaged boy finding them, have them speak to him. The reviews, the stacks in Brentano’s, are just hurdles to get over, to place the books on that shelf."

-John Hoyer Updike (1932-2009)

It wasn't exactly east of Kansas but in San Francisco, and I wasn't exactly a teenager but about 29, and it wasn't at a library but at a used bookstore where I first took the plunge into Rabbit, Run, the first book of the Rabbit Tetralogy by John Updike. Many times I'd walked the row of his novels at Changing Hands bookstore on Mill Avenue in Tempe--downstairs, in the used books section--in the decade I spent in Arizona. John Updike. I knew the name, but I'd never read anything by him. Frankly, he sounded a little tame compared to what I was used to reading--Faulkner, Vonnegut, Beckett, Miller--major stylists who broke all kinds of literary rules to become lions of the genre. Updike's work--I knew nothing of it, but still I was convinced--was decidedly safe and conventional by comparison. Didn't he write "domestic realism," about normal people in the suburbs doing barely deviant things? (Hell, that was me.) So for years I skipped the U section at Changing Hands (he seemed to take up the whole thing), and moved on to what I thought of as more adventuresome pursuits.

But when I moved to San Francisco in 1999, I was ready for change. I'd just finished my tenure in the Refreshments, and I was ready to explore life after rock music. I guess something more tame didn't sound half bad. So I broke down, bought a copy of Rabbit, Run at a used bookstore, and took the Updike plunge.

That was ten years ago (to the month, in fact), and it began my decade of reading Updike. I was immediately hooked by the beautiful prose, the spot-on tropes, by the insights into life in the latter half of the 20th Century. Try this one on from Rabbit Redux:

"We make companions out of air and hurt them, so they will defy us, completing creation."

I could think about that all day and never quite unriddle it.

Oh yeah. I loved the sex, too. (Woo hoo!)

I immediately plowed through Rabbit, Run and finished the tetralogy by the end of the year. I reread all four books a few years ago, and I'm now convinced this series is the single most rewarding literary experience of my life. I place it above all of my other loves: Proust, Vonnegut, Faulkner, Bellow. I'd start the whole thing over again right now, but I'd like to forget more of it so it retains its freshness. Maybe next year, or the next time I've earned a treat.

Rabbit, Run was also the literary model for my first novel, Stuck Outside of Phoenix.

In the last decade, I've read most of Updike's novels (a few I couldn't finish, but hey, that's what happens when you write twenty or so), and I've become aware of the biggest gripes against him. Most offensive is the fact that he seemed to live the life any aspiring writer would want to live. He wrote beautifully and widely, sold well, was critically acclaimed, was published in all the right places, and seemed to hang on to his slot in magazines like The New Yorker for far longer than other writers would've cared for.

Fortunately, I don't write many short stories, and I don't read The New Yorker, so this jealousy never penetrated me. I was free to enjoy his work.

So, it saddened me when I heard John Updike died last week at the age of 76. For me, he will always be this author whose work I walked past in the used section at Changing Hands, the volumes taking up the entire U row, waiting patiently for me to be ready for them.

What about you? What's your Rabbit Tetrology? What single work or series of fiction would you rate as the one that most rocks your world? And why?

Yours in laying down the law,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Friday, January 23, 2009

What Do You Read?

There's a great article in Time magazine this week about how the publishing industry is changing.

Change, a popular theme these days, eh?

Here's a snippet from the article:

"...More books, written and read by more people, often for little or no money, circulating in a wild diversity of forms, both physical and electronic, far outside the charmed circle of New York City's entrenched publishing culture. Old Publishing is stately, quality-controlled and relatively expensive. New Publishing is cheap, promiscuous and unconstrained by paper, money or institutional taste. If Old Publishing is, say, a tidy, well-maintained orchard, New Publishing is a riotous jungle: vast and trackless and chaotic, full of exquisite orchids and undiscovered treasures and a hell of a lot of noxious weeds."

I love that people are reading so much from so many different sources. I remember when I first started talking amongst my writer friends in 2000 about how I'd planned to self-publish Stuck Outside of Phoenix. Long story short, they thought I was crazy. I write more about it here.

It's clear that the writing/publishing world so many of us fell in love with--the world of traditionally published, respected authors and dusty new and used books as the sole bastion of literary entertainment and insight--is no longer the rule. In a way, that's hard for me to take, but that it's being complimented by so many new realms of possibility in publishing, that makes it easier to take.

Sticking it to the man has always had its charm.

An example of the expanding world of publishing? This weekend I'm getting both Ghost Notes and Stuck Outside of Phoenix ready for Kindle.

I don't own a Kindle, but my sister does, and she raves about it. I get the sense a new subculture is developing of people who read on these things, who actually prefer to read on these things.

Make no mistake, this could all go the way of Fruit Brute.

But if people like it, so be it. I hope they all buy and love my books on Kindle. I'll let you know when my books are ready for your Kindle (very, very soon).

And there are so many other non-traditional avenues for getting your work published. I'm pursuing another one right now. More on that later.

In the end, we don't really care what form our fiction takes...or do we? Are you a reader of serialized books on the web? Have you ever read a novel you downloaded for free off the Internet? Do you read self-published work, or do you even bother to notice if the work you read is self-published? Or do you say, "To hell with all of that. Give me a 'real' book or don't give me anything?"

Just curious.

Yours in laying down the law,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Friday, January 16, 2009

Why Do You Read Books?

Diana commented on my last blog: "Does it ever get tiresome reading books that are about something? Have you ever tried reading a book to just escape?"

Good question. Makes me think.

I think of most book readers as becoming so when they're children. I also suspect they read a great deal in genre or commercial literature, and that they read quickly. I have a niece who can go through a Twilight book in a couple of days, another friend who reads books in one sitting. These are the people who I think of as the book readers of the world, the ones who keep traditional publishing alive.

I'm happy they're around.

I didn't get hooked on reading until I was 18 and in an English class at junior college. In this class we read books like Tess of the D'Urbervilles, 1984, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and A Clockwork Orange. Each book seemed to offer some different perspective on life, a perspective I couldn't expect to glean from any television show or movie or album. Novel reading is direct communication from one person (writer) to another (reader), and the genre struck me as more unique and radical than other media, in the way individuals can be more unique and radical than groups of folks.

As I've read diligently and widely over the last 20 years, I've also grown to love the use of the English language. I get a charge out of--if not profoundly new ways of thinking--new and beautiful ways to say old things. Last night, here's what jumped out at me in Finding Time Again:

"The only true paradise is the paradise we have lost."

Proust does lay down the law.

Basically, a book--if I'm going to like it--has to offer, for lack of a better phrase, insight into life. I need to be entertained by it, sure, but it needs to go beyond that. Does it offer a new perspective? Is it using language in a way that is making me see something in a way I've never seen it before? When I find a book that does this, I find my release, my escape.

So, to answer Diana's question, I guess I never get tired of reading books that are about something. And reading books that are about something is exactly where I find my escape.

Oh, yeah. And I escape into crazy shit like this, too.

So, enough about me. Tell me why you read books? I'd really like to know.

Yours in laying down the blog,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Who's Your Favorite Author?

First of all, Ghost Notes has been discounted 10% at Amazon.

Why? I don't know, but I like it.

So, I'm finishing In Search of Lost Time this month.

What's In Search of Lost Time?

It's a seven-part novel written by a Frenchman named Marcel Proust.

Marcel was kind of a freak boy. He grew up in what we might call the upper-middle class as the 19th turned into the 20th century, had a lot of leisure time, spent a lot of time in "society," was most likely gay, and spent the second half of his short, unhappy life in a cork-lined room writing a seven-part novel.

A hard novel to navigate, In Search of Lost Time. It spans something like 3,500 pages, which at times feels like 350,000, but the rewards therein are manifold.

It took me the better part of four years to complete it, but I loved it. The guy's now one of my all-time favs.

This is kind of the top of the mountain of literature for me, and now I'm looking for new authors to give a try on my casual descent.

In spending so much time delving into authors of Christmas Past, I've acquired a certain amount of guilt for neglecting authors of Christmas Present.

Especially since I am an author of Christmas Present.

So, I'm asking you for your recommendations. Can you tell me what to read?

Here's what I like:

Novels; not NF or memoirs.

My taste leans literary, but I'd be happy to read a genre novel with good use of language.

Anything with a rock 'n' roll backdrop is good, but hardly necessary.

The male perspective is a plus, but again, hardly necessary.

Last requirement: I need it to be from the 21st century; in other words, I'd like to support current novelists. Nothing could make me happier than for you to point me toward a contemporary fiction writer whose work I could fall in love with.

A few hints: I've liked at least some of the work of the following contemporaries:


This list is very American, but your recommendation need not be.

So, something literary is a pretty good guess with me, but if you love a genre writer who can craft language, I'd love to know of it.

Feel free to include your recommendations as a comment, or you can email me, if that suits you. I'll report my findings here.

Yours in laying down the blog,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Songs from Memory

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Saturday, January 3, 2009

What's New for 2009?

We're in Portland, and we couldn't be happier. Ever since an attempt to buy a house in the PDX area fell through in 2006, I've pined to get back. We're all settled in now, and starting to work like beavers (tee hee) at getting our mojo up and ready for 2009.

What does that entail, you ask?

First of all, the Defunct Lighten My Load Sale of 2008 will be extended indefinitely! That's right. You can get new, signed copies of Stuck Outside of Phoenix or Ghost Notes, and Songs from Memory to boot, for $10 apiece, or buy all three for a paltry $25! That price is as low as you'll find it anywhere, and it's going to stay that way for the time being. I hope you all can get a set of your own.

Secondly, I haven't performed in Portland for well over a year, so I'm going to end that tragic oversight as soon as I can. I look forward to doing some kind of reading or acoustic show or both in the City of Roses in the first quarter of 2009, and I'll be plugging the gig like crazy here once it comes to light. I want to play some open mics, check out some bookstores, get the lay of the land before I choose the place, but as soon as I book it, you'll know about it. Keep your ears peeled.

Thirdly, I will be finishing my third novel in 2009. It will be called Badge, and while it's technically the sequel of Ghost Notes--which is the sequel of Stuck--there are marked differences from my first two novels. Curious? Here's a hint: No Hote.

Anyway, Novel 3 is the best thing yet--and it's not even done yet--and I hope to have it finished and submitted to prospective agents by the fall of this year. Maybe I'll write more about it here as it seems appropriate.

Fourthly, the Laying Down the Law Blog is back! After my brief hiatus, I'm ready to post here regularly again. I've got lots of ideas, so be looking weekly to see what's new in Budland.

Fifthly, more music! Since making Songs from Memory with Mr. Hartley, I've managed to write six or seven more songs I'm proud of. Three more and it's album time, baby. Writing three more songs, the way I do it, could take three weeks, three months or the rest of the year, but I'm hoping to get back in the studio as soon as the material merits it. I'll keep you posted of progress on that front.

Sixthly, the mystery medium. I'm trying something very new for me in the coming months, and I hope to have something to show you once it's under way. That's all I can say for now. Just know I'm stretching my limits on this one, and we'll see how it goes.

Is that it? I think it is. Stop by next week for a new blog on something close to all of our hearts.

Laying down the blog,


Buy Ghost Notes

Buy Stuck Outside of Phoenix

Buy Songs from Memory