Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Comments on a book yet to be released? You bet!

Now I realize the "Author’s Note" has explanations and explications, and the prior posts on this blog cover lots of background, but it seems to me there are other things I might ought to say about the stories and folks that make up Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century, or as I refer to it, just plain ol’ Century. (Think of this as the DVD commentary track for the novel. You might want to play some music. I’m listening to Keane.)

Okay, so these are things you don’t know about the folks who live there, in fictional Century. Most of you haven’t read the book, so you REALLY don’t know. But these are things about how they ended up being who they are, maybe, or where their stories came from. (Credit where it’s due, when I can rightly recall.)

First off, I don’t apologize for the sex or language, but I will blush in front of my Grandma Massey when the time comes. Sorry, Grandma. I do apologize for any typos you find when the beautiful little book hits your mitts. (And it is pretty -- I held the proof in my hands tonight.) Those are my fault, the typos that is. And if you just don’t like it, the story that is, well, guess that would ultimately be my fault too, as I made the thing. But by then you must've bought it. Too bad. And if you read it, it’s in your brain now. Ha-ha. (That was a joke. Hence, the laughter.)

So let's make with the DVD commentary. The bold titles are chapter names. When you read the story, come back and this'll make much more sense...

Love and Loss at the Sign of the Pig:
Kenny Earl Hooper is not based upon anyone remotely related to me (nor is any member of his family), although I am remotely related by marriage to a professional butcher and he has told me stories that found their way into Kenny’s background. For instance, my in-law has been approached by customers who bought meat at a competitor’s store and wanted him to cut the meat for them. I told him at the time that I would end up using that story, and he told me to do so. Now I did.

Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century:
Sheldon Fite was an English major in college. His favorite courses involved history and literature.

A Tangled Skein:
The Rose of Sharon pattern is real. It’s one my wife was working on at the time I began writing this segment, and all the directions I quote are real. It just happens that as I was trying to write this story, those directions were available. How crazy a co-inky-dink is that? Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes they also have deeper meaning.

Our Place in History:
Simone Williams, on the other hand, was never very good at history (she tends to be vague) and should not be writing about it.

The Shape of Things to Come:
What Peltier did to Jack was a compilation of how three different teachers treated me on separate occasions at Century High School. No one like Gil was there to set them straight. I feel much better now, thanks.

Legend of the Blackcats:
Wanda’s story of the panther her father saw on the darkest stretch of Highway 29 late one night on his way home from work was based on a story my father told me, about a panther that crossed his path in the dead of night.
Meanwhile, a question I’ve been asked: "Was that you in the cemetery with the gun?" The answer: "No. This is a story I made up." For the record: I made up the girl with the Hello Kitty panties too, but Carl and Tommy may have some real-life confessions to make.

The Tempest:
Why is it like that? I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

That’s a lie. Even now, I look at it and marvel. (I’m not bragging. I don’t really know how it worked out. Just lots of nights of struggle, rewriting, headaches, pacing, deleting — you get the idea.) But it does just what I needed it to do, and mostly with the Bard’s own verbage, though turned to uses he never intended. Does it work? It does for me.

Thursdays at The Perm of The Century:
I had in mind here a geographical impossibility for Highway 29: A set-up almost like the streets in Flomaton, Ala., in which a beauty shop and a barber shop actually could sit opposite one another close enough to spy upon one another; there isn’t such a place in the real Century where two such shops coexist, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in MY Century. (And I also had in mind here a real barber by the last name of Sunday who worked in Flomaton and was closed on Thursday and Sunday.)

A wakening:
"The morning that Mary Anne Brown awoke for the first time in a world without her grandmother, the lantana were blooming by the doorstep in pods of yellow and pink." Me too. That is, they were blooming on my mother’s doorstep, too brilliant to stare at, bright as the sunrise on the morning after my Grandma Simmons died.

The Centennial Man:
The hubcap-covered home was based upon a real place. About 22 years ago or so, when I worked for The Tri-City Ledger, I once interviewed a man who owned that building and covered it in hubcaps. He was a heavy-set white fellow, and had a cat named "Hubcat." I don’t recall the man’s name, but somewhere in a box in the attic I believe I still have a clipping of the story and a photograph of the house. I will endeavor to locate it, scan it and post it here.

The Fourth Horseman:
Brother John Blackwell was called "Jack" all through his youth. During his time in Viet Nam, he was widely known to run a floating crap shoot/sometime poker game and went by the handle of "Blackjack." It was during a search-and-destroy mission in 1970 that he and Jesus found each other.

Constant Vigilance:
Inspired by seeing a car dragged out of Lake Caroline in Panama City.

It’s Always Midnight on Mars:
Inspired by an off-hand remark made at Charlie Coram’s Steak & Eggs one night (the story has been told on this blog before).

1) Carl and Tommy and Jack (or even Simone) have things in common with me, but none of them are me. No more so than any of the other characters are.

2) For more than a decade, I have worked with high school student interns at The News Herald and encouraged other student writers. Among those who have written for the Education, Generation NeXt and Learning sections while I was the editor were students with strangely familiar names, like Kenna Hooper, Laura Wendt, Shelley Fite, Jillian Weise, Jacqueline Blackwell, David Peltier, Devin Destival, Brady Calhoun, Sarah Bailey, Cara Parell, Sarah McCauley, Lindsay Gilberti, Mae Humiston, Ashley Tynes, Melanie Moroney, Chris Landry, Emily Cramer, and lots, LOTS more.

3) Recently for my 41st birthday I spent some of the money I got in cards to purchase a copy of the movie Magnolia on DVD. I think it, as much as Thornton Wilder’s "Our Town," was an inspiration for Century — how things just happen, but seem to be inexplicably connected just the same. You’ll find references to "Our Town" throughout the text, as well as Shakespeare and the Bible, and you may find allusions to Magnolia as well — some you’d never recognize because "Magnolia" is also my Grandmother Simmons' name, and there are traces of her in this fiction in places that surprise even me. I hope she doesn’t mind too much.

This just in: Author's proof received ...

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Welcome to Quotable Century (Week 10)

Even now, the sun's still out there, you know, it's just moved on to the other side. It will return.
-- from "The End of a Century"


It's always midnight on Mars.
-- from "It's Always Midnight on Mars, A Story By Jack Riley"


And the book, knowing no better, simply wrote down what I told it.
-- from "It's Always Midnight on Mars, A Story By Jack Riley"


(Quotations from the stories/chapters in the forthcoming literary novel, Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century, by Tony Simmons)

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Ch-ch-ch-changes (Turn and face the strange)

If you haven't visited the actual blog page in a while, now might be a good time just for a visual. With the final proofs having changed hands prior to being transmitted to the printer, and with only a month still away from the conference, it seemed a good time for a face-lift on the site. I chose something that looked like it had some green life in it instead of the darkness that was there since the beginning. Maybe something's dawning after all.

Century PDF version 3 has been proofed, and only a handful of changes could be found this time. I'll share them here, though they'll make sense only in retrospect to most of you:

Page 16: In third graf, "It was Sunday, April 1," need to be sure there’s a space between April and 1

Page 105: seventh line from the bottom: "everybody?" should be left-justified, not indented.

Page 143: fourth line from bottom: "committal.):" should remove period before the parentheses.

Page 150: change "those that did nothing" to "those who did nothing."

Page 165: change web address to

...And that's that. From Bette's long list of questions and concerns and offerings and suggestions way back when in 2004, to three different PDF versions of the manuscript this year, plus a transitional version that I worked on with format-maestro Adam at Michael's place, now finally we're getting to the waiting weeks.

We've watched the ripples change their size but never leave the stream of warm impermanence.

The cover is almost done, the manuscript is done, the waiting is almost over. But the pain begins. The worst part is wondering how folks will respond.

I've had this conversation with a couple of people: Century, the book, is not simple. It isn't easy. It doesn't offer answers or paint rosy pictures. It's funny in places and sad in others. It's scary sometimes, disturbing sometimes. It's fantastic (as in "filled with fantasy") and realistic in various measures. Some will love it (and I've had readers who owe me no kindness tell me they do). Some will hate it (no one has said so yet, but a couple of agents and editors have "regretted to inform" me blah-blah-blah -- and I know the hate is coming).

As a writer (an artist?) I try to make people laugh by finding things that make me laugh, or make people cry by finding things that make me sad, or disturb people by finding things that disturb me, and then writing about them. No, that's not quite accurate. Sometimes, I just start telling stories and the stories lead me places that make me laugh or make me cry or make me uncomfortable, and then I have to be brave enough or stupid enough to tell the story anyway. I ask, Is that right? Is that how it happened? And sometimes it is right, and sometimes, I find out later that the characters lied and it really happened another way, because the story tells itself better and makes more sense another way. Balances better, or goes full-tilt off balance better, whichever feels right. So I go back and rewrite to make the stories work out another way.

Right now, I'm feeling off-balance about the whole thing, I guess. The story is told. I've re-read it a million times, and yes, River, I know you say there's something missing. Bette says it ends like you're "falling off the world," which she describes as a "wonderful" sensation. I happen to think you're both right. There is something missing. You are falling off the world. After the book is out and all the love and hate is flowing, I'll talk to you here about what I think is missing and why. There's a reason, you know. I didn't just make that stuff up by mistake as I went along.

Well, actually, most of it I did.
The secret to writing is rewriting. The secret to rewriting is never admitting it -- pretending you meant to do it that way all along.

I never have been good at keeping secrets.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Welcome to a Quotable Century (Week 9)

"... They say 'till death do us part,' but I really don't want to have to kill anybody."
-- from "Thursdays at The Perm of the Century"


One couldn't simply wait upon Satan, he had learned. One had to live, too, else the Devil already had won the day.
-- from "The Centennial Man"


(Quotations from stories/chapters in the forthcoming literary novel, Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century, by Tony Simmons.)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Welcome to a Quotable Century (Week 8)

(... Running late this week ... uh oh ...)

Giants fall, after all. So big, they fall harder than most.
-- from "Take Me to the River"


The universe forces love and death upon us, and we become its stories. ... "Tell me another one."
-- from "Take Me to the River"

(From the forthcoming literary novel, Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century, by Tony Simmons.)