The new edition of Long Time Ago Good is out, and I'm giving away three (3!) copies to lucky winners!
Please go to Amazon and enter to win!
UPDATE: The Amazon Giveaway filled quickly and is now closed. But stay tuned--I will have more--in the meantime, you can just go ahead and buy a copy, right? Books make splendid gifts, escpecially my books.
The new edition of Long Time Ago Good is out, and I'm giving away three (3!) copies to lucky winners!
Please go to Amazon and enter to win!
There's a tree full of cicadas right outside my window--nice. The sounds of summer. It's been 52 days since I turned in my spring grades and sat down to do some serious writing, and I'll brag and say that I've been incredibly productive. But now I'm clearing off my writing desk and getting ready to do some educating in the Summer II Session--two classes, "Elements of Creative Writing" and "The American Novel, 1900-Present." It's going to be a busy and fun six weeks....
Here's an excerpt from “Bluer Even than the Sky Above,” a story in Long Time Ago Good.
A little context: I’ve never performed this story, never read it aloud. Don’t know why—it’s not terrible….
There was water in the bottom of the pit—clear deep blue, reflecting the sky but bluer than the sky, surrounded by cattails and willows. It looked clean, so different from the dirty green catfish ponds. A big sycamore was growing at one end of the pond, and there were a number of scrubby trees growing on the interior slopes of the pit—junipers, mostly.
Shannon stumbled down the slope to the edge of the water, ducking under low branches. She sat in the shade of a willow and watched the water. For the first time in a long time there was no one telling her to sit up straight or act ladylike, no one putting her down about schoolwork, no one asking her about boys. No Margie, no Dad, and even though she sort of liked Chrissy and Cathy—felt sorry for them—she was glad to be away from them, too. There were just too many people in her life, too many people trying to mess with her.
She threw a rock into the water and watched the ripples flow to the bank.
“Hey—you a-scarin my fish, there.”
Shannon jerked around in the direction of the voice and scooted back towards the base of the tree.
“Don’t you be scared.”
Shannon squinted at the cattails. Something seemed to be moving back behind them.
“You all alone—right?” A man stepped out of the cattails, a very short man, shorter than Shannon, almost a dwarf, with strange short stubby arms. He had dirty blond hair that was matted and muddy, and a stubble of beard on his chin. His tiny eyes were flat, and pale—they reminded Shannon of the fetal pigs in biology class, of something that was dead and pickled. “Don’t you be scared,” he said again, and smiled.
Shannon got slowly to her feet and crossed her arms over her chest. She gripped the hot, unopened can of Diet Dr Pepper and watched the little man.
“What do you want?”
“I want you to stop a-scarin my fish,” he said. His face was all red and blistered; Shannon couldn’t tell if he was sunburned or sick. “They my friends.”
A little bit of post-context: the long-awaited new edition of Long Time Ago Good will be out...soon!
This week: out of context with Long Time Ago Good....
...an old fat man in a gray jumpsuit came out of the store. He leaned on his cane, looking at me in the cab, then walked over to the Cadillac parked next to me and opened the door. He looked at me again. No one else was in the parking lot—it was as if the streets had emptied and everyone had gone home. No cars, no people, no nothing except the fat old man who was staring at me. I stared back at him. Finally he walked around his car—slowly, slowly—and came over to the cab. I rolled down the window.
“You know, you’re parked in a handicap parking space,” he said. He had a big bald head and round glasses.
“Yeah?” I asked.
“And you don’t have handicap plates, or a sticker.”
“No,” I said. “I guess I don’t.”
He planted his cane carefully and leaned over, smiling. He had a huge round head. “Well, you know, I’m kind of an activist for handicap parking rights—my friends call me the Ralph Nader of handicap parking rights.” He chuckled and looked at me—proud, I guess, of being the Ralph Nader of handicap parking rights—but I didn’t say anything. After a moment, he said, “So, I guess I’ll have to ask you to move.”
“I’m just waiting for a customer,” I said. I looked away at the store. “It’ll only be a minute or so.”
“Well, then, I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police. I’m going to have you arrested.” He slowly started to turn away, pivoting on his cane.
“Wha-aaat?” I couldn’t believe it. I drive some maniac albino around for an hour, and then I get threatened by an old bald man.
“You’re parked in a handicap zone! And you don’t have authorization!” The old man took a step back toward me. He wasn’t chuckling now—his face was turning red with anger, or madness, and spit flew out of his mouth when he said the word authorization. “I worked for years for handicap rights in this city and I’m not going to have my rights taken away by some damn—cab driver!”
“Hey, pal,” I said, and stopped. When did I start calling people ‘pal?’ Miller. Jesus, you drive riff-raff around all day, you become riff-raff—and it doesn’t take very long, either. I said, “I’m just waiting for my customer, okay?”
“I don’t give a damn about your customer. I’m not going to have my rights taken away by some sleazy cab driver!”
I remembered another driver once telling me that cabs could park in handicap spaces if they were waiting for a customer. So I said, “Ah, fuck you, call the cops.”
“What did you say?”
“Call the cops.”
The old man’s bald head was turning redder and redder. “No,” he said, “before that.”
“Fuck you, I said, call the fucking cops.” The old man staggered backwards with a shocked look on his face. I hit the window button and the glass rose quickly, and I looked hopefully toward the door, willing Miller to appear. That’s how bad my day had turned—I was praying for some goddamn weirdo to get in my cab! As for the old man, let him call the cops. The worst that would happen would be that the cops would write me a ticket that I would stick in the glove box and forget about.
But then there was a bang on the rear of the car—and another. I looked around and the old man was beating on my left rear fender with his damn cane. Bang! Bang!
I pulled my big, black flashlight from beneath the seat and got out of the car.
The list/rant/whatever from the story "Bad Guts," in the collection Long Time Ago Good.
“No kidding,” Wes said. He looked at the neon beer sign hanging behind Jillian—a rainbow trout leaping for a mayfly—and felt sad. Like weeping, almost. There would be no cool water in Pflugerville—no fame, no fun. Just heat and hog guts, chitterlings or chitlins, menudo or hog maws, or whatever that stuff was, and who wanted to write about any of it? In the 23 years the newspaper had been running his column he had written about barbecue (chicken, sausage, ribs, brisket), country music, tractor pulls, pro wrestling (he had a fondness for old school wrestlers like Ivan Putski and Mad Dog Vachon), ice cream, fraternity hijinks, sorority snootiness, the color orange, rodeo, Juneteenth, Confederate Heroes Day, the NAACP, the Ku Klux Klan, beer (local beer, imported beer, cold beer, the meaning of beer), homosexuals, lesbians, zoophiles, necrophiles, Aggies, airports (airports in general, the old airport, the new airport, funding for the new airport, the land scandal surrounding the place that almost became the new airport, and why the old airport was better), light bulbs: incandescent versus florescent, thunder, lightning, tornadoes, hurricanes, ice storms, floods, droughts, cold, heat, rock’n’roll, nose rings, nipple rings, navel rings (he wrote a penis ring story, too, but the editor said it didn’t belong in a decent family newspaper), motorcycles, skateboards, in-line skates, pogo sticks, dogs, cats, parrots, grackles, ostriches, golden-cheeked warblers, fire ants, millipedes, cockroaches, mosquitoes, blind salamanders, tooth spiders, carp, trout, bass, catfish, bats, mice, rats, raccoons, possums, lions, tigers, bears (grizzly bears, black bears, and teddy bears), old cars, new cars, art cars, pickup trucks, and diesel mechanics. He had attended the Budafest, the Wurstfest, the New Highway Fest, the International Barbecue Fest, the Aquafest, the Cedar Chopper Fest, the Sorghumfest, the Pecanfest, the Cotton Pickin’ Fest, the Very Best Fest, the Locust Fest, the Big Ol’ Bull Fest, the Chiggerfest, and the Crappiefest, along with Catfish Days, Frontier Days, Cicada Days, Buffalo Days, Pioneer Days, Prickly Pear Days, Crazy Daze, the Rattlesnake Roundup, the Chilympiad, the White Bass Run, the Mesquite Burn, the Skunk Wallow, and Spamorama. He had been to dozens of county fairs and stock shows—dozens. Three times a week for 23 years he’d written about colorful, folksy stuff—all kinds of colorful, folksy stuff—and he was popular, and he won awards, and people actually read his column.
But colorful and folksy was getting harder and harder to find: the city had changed, was changing. There were big-assed skyscrapers downtown now, and tech millionaires cruising around in Maserattis, and waves of immigrants from California and Mexico—and everywhere else on the planet, seemingly—had changed the texture of the town. Colorful and folksy, real colorful and folksy, was getting hard to find. Wes tried a few times to write about the new city he was seeing all around him—he wrote about the gentrification of the east side, about inappropriately huge mansions in old neighborhoods, about traffic and traffic and traffic, about air and water pollution, about the loss of friendly old bars and restaurants, and the snootiness of new bars and restaurants—he wrote columns about the new city, and nobody liked them. They were downers. They sounded like the carpings of a cranky old man. Nobody wanted to read that. People wanted colorful and folksy—at least from him, they wanted colorful and folksy. He went back to recycling old topics. In the end all it got him was a gig as the celebrity judge at the Greater Southwest Chitlins Cookoff and Jamboree.
“We’ve got the seventeenth-largest city in America,” Wes said, “and there’s going to be all these people running around worrying about hog guts.”
“That’s what makes Austin fun,” Jillian said. “It’s weird.”
“It’s all a big lie,” Wes said. “And I’m a big liar.”
“Poor Wes,” Jillian said again. “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.”
“If you were me, you’d feel sorry for me, too.”
“No, I probably wouldn’t,” Jillian said.
Wes just stared at her.
“You’re part of the problem,” Wes said. He took a sip of beer and looked at the television. Some rich bastard was putting. He said, “This is going to be the worst day of my life. The very worst day."
My first book, Long Time Ago Good, came out in 2009, about the time that Kindle/ebooks were really taking off. My beloved publisher, Slough Press, had never done an ebook edition before, and so Long Time Ago Good missed the revolution.
So--one of my projects this summer has been the Kindlefication of Long Time Ago Good, and yesterday the Kindle edition went live. Better late to the revolution than to miss it completely!
That's the new cover there to the left....
You can--and should!--buy it here.
Readers will notice that I dropped the subtitle. I don't know. Seems that plain "Stories" is more direct and, in an odd way, more evocative of the past than the somewhat ornate "Sunset Dreams...."
You can also see that I went for the violent cover--in the first edition, I cropped out the hand holding the poor armadillo. I left it in this time because after thinking about it for five years, it seems like the violence of this image fits the book. (I've written about the LTAG cover before, here...).
Sometime in the fall you can all look forward to a complete new edition of the paperback, with, perhaps, a critical afterword of some sort....
On the last day of the 2010 AWP Bookfair, the powers allow non-AWP civilians to enter the arena to buy books and hobnob with writers, and I was sitting at the Slough Press table and a lady and a boy of maybe 10 or 11 came by and looked over my books. He was really taken with That Demon Life—which put me in an uncomfortable position.
I want everyone to read my books—everyone, including kids. But—but—when I tell people That Demon Life is a comic novel about lust and laziness, with lots of drinking and screwing and miscellaneous bad behavior—well, I’m serious. It really is. And is that appropriate for a kid?
My parents let me read pretty much anything. I moved pretty much from Dr. Seuss to adult novels. An example: I loved James Bond, so for Christmas in the 4th grade I got a boxed set of the complete works of Ian Fleming! That was so cool….
But I’m not a parent. (Thankfully!) I had never had to concern myself with thoughts of familial censorship or appropriateness until that day in Denver.
In the end I steered the kid over to Long Time Ago Good, and his mom bought it for him. I guess that’s good, right?
I’ve been thinking about these things since I read Steve Himmer’s essay, Making Room for Readers. Himmer was in a somewhat different situation than I was in, but at least my kid had a good mother who wanted him to read almost anything. It was me and not the controlling adult who thought my book might be inappropriate….
Here's a nice little review of Long Time Ago Good appearing in The Hays Free Press....
I know one should not judge a book by its cover, but truthfully, many people do, and I am no different. On a recent trip to the Buda Library, I was browsing through their newly acquired books and a title grabbed my attention, “Long Time Ago Good: Sunset Dreams from Austin and Beyond” by Lowell Mick White. The picture on the front cover depicts a blurry, angry dog barking at an armadillo. I opened the book and discovered it was a collection of short stories. Based on what I saw on the cover, I had a feeling these stories might have some edge to them. I was right.
Read the full review: "Check it Out, Neighbor."
Years ago I was driving across Tennessee and came down toward Chattanooga just at dusk, and it looked so pretty looming up out of the impounded waters of the Tennessee River. I was moved—and I thought of moving there. I told a girl I knew then about my dream of Chattanooga, but she was unimpressed.
“You probably won’t be any more happy there than you are here,” she said. “Or unhappy.”
Which might have been true. Heck, was probably true. I never found out, though, for I never ran away to Chattanooga. But still—the main impulse is right, I think. Sometimes you just have to pack up and go. Hit the road and leave everyone and everything behind….
Janet put on a jacket and gathered up her purse and a battered Rand McNally road atlas. Seven times in the last eight weeks she had dropped Jay off at Steve's, then set out on long drives out of town, driving eight or ten or twelve hours, thinking, thinking, stopping late for a motel room—twice sleeping in the front seat of her car—then turning back in the early morning and heading home. Each drive—to Dalhart, Clovis, Carlsbad, El Paso, Big Bend, Wichita, Little Rock—she saw as a dry run, practice for when she really left town for good.
The opening scene with Janet and her son is taken from one of my earliest memories, a morning when I was sitting at the table with my mom when we were startled by a sonic boom….
“It's when a plane goes faster than the speed of sound,” Janet said. “You know what that is?”
Jay shook his head.
“Okay, let's say that airplane came busting through the wall just now”—Janet pointed with her cigarette at the wall just behind Jay—“and I yelled 'Get down, Jay!' But no matter how fast I yelled at you, the plane would still run you over, 'cause it would be going faster than my words.”
Jay twisted around in his chair and looked at the wall, as if judging the likelihood of a jet bursting through it at any moment. Then he turned back to his cereal and began eating, every now and then looking up at his mother. He didn't say anything.
Janet thinks, “…at the speed of sound, you could get a long way away, maybe before anyone even noticed you were gone.”
Several people have pointed out, correctly, that Janet’s decision to flee—to bolt and leave her kid behind—would be a selfish one. But sometimes we write about selfish people, and sometimes we are selfish people. Life is like that.
There are jets--RF4Cs, in fact--in this story, and so I'll run this video again....
The tragic and untimely death of Amy Winehouse provoked many responses among my social network pals and on the various blogs I read—and most of the responses were sober and thoughtful and sad, though some were vicious, and some just clueless. It’s the clueless ones that here attract my attention.
“It was not a matter of if but of when” was a comment I saw in half a dozen places on Facebook. And reading these comments I thought, What? Huh?
Oh, clueless friends of Facebook friends, go look in the goddamn mirror. You see a person there? The one that looks somewhat like you? For that clueless person, too, death is not a matter of if but of when! Your reflection and you and me and all of us are sadly mortal, and death could come tap us on the shoulder at any moment.
The question that then faces us all is pretty basic: what should we do in the meantime? How should we spend these few precious remaining hours?
When she looked back on her life, Bonnie Chamberlain could see that she had always lived in a tortured world. Not just tortured through the normal heartbreaks of dying parents and stupid boyfriends and husbands—though, of course, like anyone else she had experienced those minor personal tortures—but tortured by time itself, vast, scary time, a span where mountains rose and eroded, oceans flooded and withdrew, where earthquakes and volcanoes went off, and strange creatures walked and flapped and swam.
She felt the pain of the world most of her life; when she was nine years old, some 45 million years after the last seas finally receded and the land that would become Texas emerged wet and steaming from the gunk, Bonnie found a fossil shark’s tooth in the bed of a dry creek on her grandparent’s farm. Long as her finger, black and gray and still sharp and scary-looking ages after being shed, the tooth was suddenly precious to her, a link to a hidden world—holding it in her hand, even as a child, she could almost feel the power, the mystery, the danger, the delight, the very life of the long-dead shark. Later she remembered looking up into the hills above the creek and being thrilled and scared to know that this had once been the floor of the ocean—and before that, a mountain range—and before that, and that, and that—something had always been there. She could feel the world spinning back, endlessly.
In the story “Reliction,” Bonnie’s response to mortality is to find solace in the physical world. Some people create art. There are other possible responses. Some are more dangerous than others.
I really love these photographs. No up or down about it.
I came across them when searching through public
photo archives for work I could use for the cover of my book, Long Time Ago Good—and from first glance I was wholly captivated. They’re the work of Marc St. Gil, who produced them for the Environmental Protection Agency as part of the Documerica Project.
Documerica hired 100 or so photographers to document the American environment of the mid-1970s. Over 15,000 photos were taken for the project, and every one I look at I find consistently amazing and astonishing and miraculous. I can—and have—lost hours staring into the computer screen, connecting with this past world, or trying to….
Though the project as a whole covered the entire US, I’ve concentrated on St. Gil’s Texas pictures. They really fit well with the stories in my book.
Who are these kids? What happened to them? There is an intense mystery here in these images that totally captures my heart…they're part of the great forgotten....
I don’t just love the photos—I love these people, too. I hope they’re all alive and well and happy….
In addition to the book cover, I used a series of these St. Gil photos to make a trailer for Long Time Ago Good:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, this was the original shot for the book cover….
Which became this….
Documerica website is here
A flickr gallery of St. Gil’s work is here….