Current Works

Final revisions to Juvenal’s Lament: A Political Fable are now underway.  I expect it to be available at all the usual places by April 15 (a significant day of the year for the political class cavorting about in Juvenal). Juvenal front cover (2) 

At the same time, work on the second edition of my first book, A Hollow Cup, is ongoing.  The primary task is to cut words and pages in order to make it more reader-friendly.  So far, entire scenes and chapters have been excised–my goal is to cut 15,000 words, approximately 60 manuscript pages.  I’m also changing the title and cover. The new title is The Ornament Ground, which I believe better conveys the overarching idea of the book.  Here’s the current cover: cover 2

Finally, I’m 5,000 words into a new book now entitled Death in Monte Carlo.  The hero, Hector St. Cyr, is the nephew of one of my favorite protagonists, George Fitzpatrick St. Cyr (see The Black Owls).  Uncle Fitz has died mysteriously off the coast of Monaco, and left Heck a unique legacy he uses to explore the mystery and enliven his otherwise dull existence.

Look for Juvenal’s Lament and The Ornament Ground soon!

Man and Science

“Science is one thing, wisdom is another.  Science is an edged tool with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers.”–Sir Arthur Eddington

The Associated Press ran a story today headlined in our paper, “Britain Approves Gene-Editing Work on Human Embryos.”  The lead paragraph:  “In a landmark decision that some ethicists warned is a step down the path towards ‘designer babies,’ Britain gave scientists approval Monday to conduct gene-editing experiments on human embryos.” Continue reading

Dead Words

“‘We call them dead words,’ said a middle school teacher in Costa Mesa, California.  She and many others strive to purge pupils’ compositions of words deemed vague or dull.  ‘There are so many more sophisticated, rich words to use,’ she added.”  According to The Wall Street Journal, the elimination of words like “good,” “bad” and “said” is the latest fad among those charged with instructing our young. Continue reading

A New First Novel

I wrote my first novel, A Hollow Cup, in 2008.  My hometown–Chapel Hill, NC–was disappearing (they all do), and I wanted to preserve it.  A Hollow Cup was my fictional attempt to show readers what it was like to live in a small university town in the South during the 1960s.  Like many first novels, it has too many pages and too many words.  Also, perhaps because I didn’t know I would write more books (five, with one more on the way), it’s overstuffed with ideas.  So, I’ve decided to revise it, and publish a second edition. Continue reading

Status Symbols

“There is no science to it, or even art.  It’s a business of hunches.”–Bill Clegg, author of Did You Ever Have A Family, quoted in The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2015

Every so often (at least once a week) The Wall Street Journal includes a section on conspicuous consumption.  The usually expensive things–houses, jewelry, cars–carry eye-popping prices, as do more utilitarian items–boots, scarves, tennis shoes.  Someone buys these things, of course, not because they are necessary, but because they fulfill a psychological need.  It seems this impulse has reached the publishing industry. Continue reading

The Culture of Spectacle

Life will go on.  Machines will grow smarter, human beings gradually dumber.  Round the world the vast majority might possibly feel that something grand is missing, though they shan’t have a clue to what it might be–Joseph Epstein

Recently, I took issue with Mr. Epstein’s lament in The Weekly Standard over the shrinking “elite” whose self-imposed obligation it was to define “high culture” for the rest of us, and defend it from the plebes.  The diminution of any segment of the overseer class seemed like good news to me.  However, his description of the current state of Western culture, the “culture of spectacle,” is both insightful and very, very sad.

Epstein makes several references to a recent collection of essays by Mario Vargas Llosa, one of the few “international literary figures still at work.”  Vargas Llosa contends that in the culture of the spectacle “frivolity, superficiality, ignorance. gossip, and bad taste” dominate.  It “has no interest in ideas.”  It renders serious art and intellect “as remote and eccentric as the medieval scholastic debates over angels or the alchemists’ tracts on the philosophers’ stone seem to us.” Continue reading

High Culture: An Inquest

I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it will be possible to say that it will have no culture–T. S. Eliot

The above sentence, written by Eliot in 1943, is the epigraph for a long piece by Joseph Epstein–my favorite essayist–that recently appeared in The Weekly Standard.  It’s title is “Whatever Happened to High Culture?” The sub-title is “An Inquest.”  It contains a series of thought-provoking notions that I’d like to address, in this and subsequent posts. Continue reading

The Reader as Enemy

Shirley Jackson was a prolific writer whose best-known novel was The Haunting of Hill House, which was also made into a popular motion picture.  The Library of America published a collection of her best stories, sketches and novels a few years ago and now, fifty years after her death, another collection of her prose, Let Me Tell You, has been issued. Continue reading

Southern Writers II

Here’s the rest of my article from Southern Writers Magazine:

A few years ago, Arthur Krystal wrote a piece for The New Yorker that set off a minor firestorm in book circles.  Its premise was that, historically, “there was little ambiguity between literary fiction and genre fiction:  one was good for you, one simply tasted good,” and, despite protests from the genre community, that was still the case.  He leavened his opinion with a reflexive nod to the usual pantheon of genre authors (Leonard, Raymond Chandler, P.D. James), but only in a back-handed way (Don’t mix your metaphors!  Avoid exclamation marks), insisting that “[n]othing bogs down a pulpy tale faster than real-life feelings about real life.” Continue reading