Musing on Frederick Buechner

 

This book was a gift. A friend and seminarian read my novel and was moved to send me copy of Telling the Truth along with a thoughtful note.

I don’t read much theology but have always liked the idea that gifted writers can alter the landscape and freshen up a cliché or two. When the book arrived, I jumped in and took two parts of a day to read the tiny book.

I going to pass the book along to some friends. Buechner is simply original, very comfortable with small words and big thoughts. If he were a thing, he would be a razor blade capable of fine cuts and deep wounds. If he were a circus performer, he would walk the highwire.

Telling the Truth is a literary discourse on the sad happy paradox of the gospel. Buechner offers a glimpse of something just out of reach; a hazy intrigued of a God here but not. He is at home in the wilderness of not knowing and finds inspiration in tears and laughter.

There is a lot of juice in the 98 pages of this trilogy of tragedy, comedy and fairy tale. Inspirational fodder for weary preachers and pieces of the human puzzle for the literary set

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Border Child by Michel Stone: A review

The story of Mexican migration is a literary land mind, its lore and iconography, deep and opaque. Intractable images abound—aliens and walls, Arpaio and invaders—all frozen in the mind’s eye. The human story begging for nuance, still percolating in the stomach-acid of immigration blather.

We have shared a border with our Mexican compadres for almost two-hundred-and-fifty-years. We sun and play in their playas while the poorest of their poor labor in our fields, scrub toilets, and work the night shift, caring for the dying. Yet, we know precious little about the complexity of the Mexican people, their real history, world-view, and reality, especially the paperless adventurers who dare to cross over in darkness. Their parable trapped in icy clichés.

Border Child is a welcome literary ice pick, a sharp and poignant story that chips away at the pejoratives and slander, bigotry and dehumanization of people wandering in search of a better life. The book invites nothing but lovely sentiment and delivers a few colorful surprises; a cartel’s hush-hush cooler packed, with colorful parrots, a daughter sensing the presence of a mother she had never known in a glob of clay. Stone has a strong feminine touch, her voice paced and steady, never intrusive.

There are some romanticized moments and imagery in the book. The once idyllic life of Mexican artisans and campesinos is fast disappearing, replaced by urban slums, clear-cut forests, alcohol and drug abuse, and dangerous, political corruption. Even the colonial City of Oaxaca, where the story unfolds, now overrun by invasive tourism, its zocalo full of plastic Chinese goods.

Stones lens however does not interfere with the powerful dignity she carves into the lives of Lilia and Hector, and their beautiful children Alejandra, Fernando, and Elizabeth, nor with this heartbreaking tale of love and loss. In fact, it is her American voice and easy-way with words that makes this work so important and accessible for her audience.

Appropriately titled Border Child, this utterly human story invites us into the vulnerable world of an infant child and her migrating parents—something minacious, yet understandable—and into the foreign and ugly reality of a line in the sand, called a border. In doing so, Stone is insisting, in a soft and elegant manner, that we ask ourselves which of the two is most important.

My Five Minutes @DBookFestival

My Five Minutes @DBookFestival

Thank you and good afternoon.

It is a pleasure to be here, at the Decatur Book Festival, with each of you. To have the occasion to say a few words about my debut novel, The Spectacle of Let—the Oliet and Obit.

In my first book, a duology, I embraced a fanciful and imaginative narrative, a magical style and genre common among many Latin American and Spanish writers. It is my best effort to honor a fantastic literary tradition while discovering my own contemporary American voice.

I wanted to write a book that was a both a story, in a traditional and familiar sense, and an experience, in an extraordinary and unfamiliar sense.

The Story: In an unfinished memoir, a writer, Otto Cristóbal Almeida, recounts his chance encounter and experience—meeting a mysterious and beautiful woman and their unplanned, illicit affair. The paramour, Niva Miramontes, is a literary muse, a modern siren with an extraordinary ability to tell fantastic stories about Creation and the first spoken word of God. “In the beginning,” she insists, “God said Let, and the rest is just a spectacle.”

Her fanciful stories turn into a rambling saga, a generational story of the Portuondo family, their exile from Havana, Cuba and ultimate redemption in the magical world of Veracruz, Mexico. Through her tales, Miramontes explains the unique powers of the Portuondo’s known as The Blood of Sound, and her own celestial gift called, the Voice.

Enchanted but overwhelmed, Almeida becomes lost in his own unfinished manuscript while the power of Miramontes stories invade his life in the form of a dreams dream known as an “Oliet.”

Through an encounter with himself, in the throes of the dreams dream, Almeida has an epiphany and comes to terms with his struggling manuscript. Fate however is not kind. His unfinished manuscript lands on desk of his brooding editor, L. Rand Bonarias who must discern where Almeida’s fiction begins and ends. What is real and true, imagination or creativity, and who is Niva Miramontes.

The Experience: If the story portion of, The Spectacle of Let is like common and familiar stories we tell about our own lives—a simple beginning, middle and end, where we are born, what we do and, where we are going on our next vacation—the experience portion is about the untold and unspoken stories of our reality. The complex parts we do not and cannot understand, the mysteries we love and quietly embrace. What after all is life without mystery?

There are countless twist and turns in The Spectacle of Let full of allegory and parable, myth and gospel, with a touch of theology. Perhaps a genre, that could be called, “Magical theology”. It is an adventure into the nature of words themselves, their origins, their vexing meaning and power in our lives. It is the story of the first spoken word of God and the possibility that miracles and force of Creation itself, is incomplete and ongoing. It is a creative narrative about things, we cannot not understand.

It is my hope that the story and experience of The Spectacle of Let, will fire your imagination as it did mine. Please come by my table and visit with me. If you purchase, The Spectacle of Let, I have a small ink stamp to accompany my signature. Just like a visa/stamp, one gets when crossing a border, into another country. My way of welcoming you to The Spectacle of Let-the Oliet and Obit.

Thank you for listening to me today. You can find out more about my current book and the companion novel at my web site www.Zamarripa.com. Thank you

A Poor Man’s Score

In the summer of 1962, while watching the Cinerama epic How the West Was Won, I was captivated by the music. Composed by Alfred Newman, “one of the three godfathers of film music,” this big-screen score opened my senses to the emotional power of music in film.

In my first novel, The Spectacle of Let — the Oliet and Obit, I tried to create an emotive geography and sense of place; a feeling and sentiment of being somewhere once, then again and again. Many writers create this feeling with words alone. While I wrote I wanted music — an emotional landmark, a musical score — familiar melodies that transported me to my literary home each time I returned to the wanting manuscript. So it was that I became a curator of an instrumental playlist, “a poor man’s score,” to accompany my written words.

Some compositions I associate with my enigmatic heroine, the elusive beauty, Niva Miramontes; others, like those by composer Javier Navarrate, with a deep sense of being alone, lost in the beauty and fear of writing and discovery. All of them together lend another emotional measure and force to the written word. They remind me of the moment I saw James Stewart galloping his big pony over the Rocky Mountains, determined to concur the West, accompanied by the panoramic majesty of Alfred Newman and his orchestra. You can find the playlist, entitled The Spectacle of Let, here on Spotify.

Why I Write at 5 A.M.

Writing is a place and getting there is the real art.” — Otto Cristóbal Almeida.

I am fond of this quote, of the allure that creativity is more than a verb or action.  It is a mysterious haven—a place, perhaps even a connection to another realm.

There are many names for this foreign connection: the muse and mojo, sentiment or feel. I know it when it get there, when words take over.

I write at 5 A.M, the only time I am not in motion, going somewhere fast, waiting for the next thing, or making up shit to do.  I love coffee and quiet time, my favorite chair, the iffy anticipation that I might fall into the story, get lost in the far reaches of fiction, conjure a character like Otto Cristóbal Almeida, the celebrated author, poet, and protagonist of my first book, The Spectacle of Let – the Oliet and Obit, who famously said, “Writing is a place and getting there is the real art.”

The Spectacle of Let – the Oliet and Obit is now available on Amazon.com.

Atlanta is quiet at 5 A.M.