Voice

Paul Theroux’s voice in black and white, on the page, captivated me from the start: natural, authoritative, transferring all kinds of observation from the most minute cultural idiosyncrasy to the cruelest cut at character—fictional or real.  I started reading him 20 years ago with My Secret History. Until today, I’d known Theroux only through text and tale.

Now an interview with The New Yorker Radio Hour has banished 20 years of presumption about what I thought Paul Theroux might sound like.

His spoken voice is less certain, more affected, a cross of British-sounding intonations and patrician New England syllables. ‘Writer’ is ‘Writa’; ‘Awarded” is ‘Awaurded’; ‘Father’ is ‘Fawtha’; ‘Mocking’ is ‘Mawking’. I hear Bernie Sanders in it; Theroux can be piping, short of reedy, other times gravelly, but never sonorous.

Credit him for giving the world the best of his voice in books and writing. In person he maintains the same honesty, which borders on cruelty, that can be found in his writing. I detect no apology, for example, no sorrow, no bitterness, only hard truth in what he says of being cast into the world by a family situation that made him unhappy. Asked ‘Was it his mother that made him a writer?’ Theroux responds:

My mother drove me away from home. I wasn’t happy in this big family. And I fantasized about going away. So I think going away made me a writer. My mother really wanted me to go away. When I told my parents that I was going to Africa their faces were wreathed in smiles.

Theroux escaped a family of seven siblings to join the Peace Corps and teach English in Nyasaland (now Malawi). And there’s plenty of self-deprecation and laughter in the banter that follows the revelation above. But its a telling honesty about how Theroux perceives family, and maybe explains his tendency to go it alone. In the broader world, Theroux found his voice and, better still, made it heard.

Writers should appreciate the gem at minute 8:23. In her supremely radio-friendly voice The New Yorker’s fiction editor Deborah Treisman reads from Theroux’s latest book, Motherland, encapsulating the man and his work in a few  short lines.

It must have seemed that I was writing stories, book reviews, novels, travel books, magazine articles, essays, newspaper columns, more novels, more stories, another travel book. But it was not an unsorted stack of vagrant scribbles; it was in words a sort of edifice. What I was doing was giving form to a continuous account of my existence, my disappointments and obsessions, my reading, my secrets, writing every day. All these books and pieces could be laid end to end as a long linking account of who I was, bringing order to my living and publishing it, in thousands of pages of print, bound on three shelves of a bookcase, which represented my attempt to make sense of my life.

Read with the right voice, this paragraph represents a monument to aspiration.

More Foreign Service Fiction

The latest release from ex-Foreign Service Officer Peter Van Buren, author of controversial Iraq reconstruction expose We Meant Well, is set during World War Two. We may find ourselves in 1940s Japan, but Hooper’s War aims its barbs dead-center at the contemporary conflagrations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The men and women in Hooper confront the complex ethical decisions of war, torture, drone-like killings, and the aftermath of moral injury and PTSD. This is an antiwar novel for people who enjoy a good war story—think Catch-22. Sometimes funny, sometimes deadly serious.”  —Peter Van Buren

Hooper’s War is fiction, but if it reads anything like We Meant Well the mission will stick to you like the sweaty dust of reality itself:

We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People stands shoulder-to-shoulder with many other great war books. The food is bad and the environment gritty. The Colonel’s in charge; body armor’s strapped on; everybody piles into helos or Humvees to leave base. A young soldier, comrade torn by hot shrapnel, ignores the bloody gristle staining his cheek to stop the damn bleeding.

Throughout Peter Van Buren’s story, the screech of mortality hangs overhead.

Full review of We Meant Well.

New Foreign Service Fiction

After 20 years on the diplomatic beat ex-Foreign Service Officer Matthew Palmer has released his fourth tradecraft thriller: Enemy of the Good.

U.S.–Kyrgyz relations are at a critical juncture. The U.S. is negotiating the details of a massive airbase that would significantly expand the American footprint in Central Asia, tipping the scale in “the Great Game” among Russia, China, and the United States. The negotiations are controversial in the United States because of the Kyrgyz regime’s abysmal human-rights record. The fate of the airbase is balanced on a razor’s edge.

Second-generation Foreign Service brat Kate Hollister is assigned by the U.S. Ambassador—who also happens to be her uncle—to infiltrate a pro-democracy movement responsible for sabotaging the regime. Washington has taken an interest in the movement, and her uncle knows Kate has an in—many in the movement were high school classmates of hers.

It soon becomes clear that nothing about Kate’s mission is as it seems.

Mother Land: A Review for Mothers Day

Stephen King reviews Paul Theroux’s new novel, Mother Land at the New York Times this week (PeaceCorpsWorldwide brought it to my attention).

King gives voice to the love-hate relationship so many readers have with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, novelist and travel writer, whose prolific career spans nearly six decades and whose vicious pen reaches the furthest places on the globe—including home.

“All self-educated readers (that would be most of us) have holes in our curriculum vitae, and I’m no different. I’ve read Dickens and Tolstoy but not Austen; most of Faulkner but little of Hemingway (and regretted what I did); all of Philip Roth, but none of Saul Bellow. Paul Theroux was one of my holes, a prolific writer I had always meant to get around to. Now that I have, I’m not exactly sorry, but I’m certainly gobsmacked, and although I knew next to nothing about Theroux’s life, by the time I’d read the first 100 or so pages of “Mother Land,” I began to suspect that what I was reading was not so much a novel as a kind of masked autobiography.”

Why the love-hate relationship? One answer here: Crossing Paths with Paul Theroux.

Happy Book Launch Day Vikram East!

Congrats to Vikram East today as he launches his debut novel, Fun in Ancient Greece. The book manages to do for homework what homework never did for books: make learning fun!

The assignment? Convince the elementary school principal to take the third grade class to one of four civilizations: Rome, Greece, Egypt, or China.

Fascinated by gods and warriors, Vikram chose to head off to Ancient Greece.

Stop by later for an audio edition and an interview with the young author. Enjoy!

Can Zeus and friends save the day?

Ms. Hollier’s school will be shut down if she doesn’t take the third grade back to ancient Greece. She has the students build a flying surfboard to take them there so they can gather the information—and an artifact—they need to save the school. Will the class make the discoveries in time to keep Collie Cosher Elementary open?

“Fun in Ancient Greece had me gripping my chair in amazement. This debut is one exciting adventure!”                                    -Shirkus Reviews

Guest Post–Michael J. Sahno

Today I turn over this space to author and book marketing consultant Michael J. Sahno. Congratulations to Michael on today’s re-launch of the novel, Miles of FilesCheck back in later for a review.

Marketing for Indie Authors

Before I started my own publishing and consulting firm, I spent about 15 years working full time as a writer. The job I had was marketing writing. What that meant is that I had to market, or advertise, to readers. I still do this type of work through my own company. Articles I’ve written have appeared in Fortune, Money, Good Housekeeping, Entrepreneur, and Woman’s Day.

If you’re an indie author, you are the Marketing Department for your company. So you have to know how to do more than just write a book and call it a day. You have to do (or hire someone to do) the marketing for your book. Unless it’s a children’s book, i.e., mostly illustrations, you’ll need content for that marketing. Continue reading Guest Post–Michael J. Sahno

Author Event Made Easy

You may attend this author reading in your PJs.

That is all.

Crook v Crook v Crooked Cop

nothingHardboiled noir fans: Bob Truluck delivers a lot more than promised in The Big Nothing. That’s no backhanded compliment.

The promise includes a vicious series of showdowns, a coterie of sadists and pervs, and a few well-intentioned rubes caught up in a game bigger than the pile they’re after.

The cast of criminals and dirty cops range from two common thieves of dubious mutual allegiance to a pair of sophisticated professionals with international pedigree and wild libidos. There’s the shifty lawyer and his boy-toy lover who play-act sex games of Russian Kapow, and a mothballed old crook bringing up the rear with his neophyte hacker.

Middle of them all is the sad-sack FBI gumshoe and his mysterious handler, who may or may not be running the game: ‘Milky wasn’t even sure what the guy was, if he was armed services, Special Forces, DEA, Secret Service or a fucking spook. Milky’d been led to believe the latter, but found out if you called the CIA joint in Virginia they’d say they didn’t know anyone by that name.’ Continue reading Crook v Crook v Crooked Cop

Writing Prompts, Spellcheck, and Academic Advice

51mb7-k9ztl-_sx331_bo1204203200_There are many, many reasons not to read Flash Fiction Funny while riding public transportation. The first and perhaps best reason is Taylor Mali’s The the Impotence of Proofreading, which will leave you bent over double and wheezing for breath, the workaday passengers all around contemplating the emergency brake at the back of the train.

In examining the pros and cons—mostly the cons—of relying on spell-check, Mali’s story reminds readers that ‘It only does what you tell it to douche. You’re the one with your hand on the mouth going clit, clit, clit. It just goes to show you how embargo one careless clit of the mouth can be.’ Continue reading Writing Prompts, Spellcheck, and Academic Advice

Two Pumps for the Librarian

Six months back, guy walks into the library. Hands over his Foreign Service novel.

“Here ya go.”
“What’s this?”
“It’s a book. Go ahead. Put it on the shelf.”
“Not so fast, sonny. Two Pumps for the Body Man? Sounds dirty.”
“You don’t want this novel for your patrons?”
“We want four copies of that novel for our patrons. And it must pass a review.”
“A review?”Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 9.13.53 AM
“You know. To keep out the funky shit.”
“Did you just cuss in the library?”
“Sir, I must ask you to keep your voice down. And please fill out this form to submit your book for review.”
“It’s a pretty funky book.”
“Funky how?”
“Terrorism. Foot fetishism. It mocks Dick Cheney. It’s a farce and a fiasco all in one.”
“Sounds great. Can’t wait to add it to the collection!”
“How soon will that be?”

It’s been a long wait. But I’m glad to say Two Pumps for the Body Man is finally part of the Fairfax County Library collection! Put it on your reading list today!

2 Pumps hi rezJeff Mutton walks the diplomatic beat protecting American officials in Saudi Arabia. An expert with guns and knives, grenades and rockets, he’s survived assaults and sieges, stabbings and chokeholds, car bombs, carjackings, criminal hits, and countless other enemy threats. But instinct tells Mutton the menace he now faces dwarfs all these killers combined. The fool!—his foot fetish has him in hot water again.

Part soft-boiled noir, part literary satire, Two Pumps for the Body Man is an unserious look at a serious situation, a grim reminder that no matter how high the barricade, how sharp the razor wire, there is no front line to the War on Terror. And the enemy is everywhere, even within.