The Year Without a Winter: Two Centuries Later, a Climate Switcheroo

So some years back I read a good book titled The Year Without a Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History (2013), by William and Nicholas Klingaman (that name makes you wonder: or are they really Klingons?), which is basically about the climate chaos wrought (wrought? I never get to use that word anymore) by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia in 1815. It’s a good climate-change read, making a convincing argument for how this weather event/anomaly—which led to famine and cloudy/cold weather in the northern hemisphere (1816 also being known as “18-Hundred-And-Froze-to-Death”)—affected politics and culture as well, particularly (or most obviously) with the development of the Gothic literary genre via Percy Bysshe Shelly, Mary Wollstonecraft, Dr. Polidari, and Lord Byron giving monster-birth (“It’s alive!”) to Frankenstein and a popular vampire tale.

So how tidy it is that two centuries later we’re witnessing The Year Without a Winter. I’m currently living in Pennsylvania (and have been here, off and on, when I’m not in Colorado, for twenty-one years) and have never experienced such a warm winter. (I know it’s an El Nino year, right. But still.) People were jogging in their T-shirts and shorts last weekend. (A rather unlikely scream here: “It’s so horrible I can’t take it!”) Actually, it is rather nice. But pretty poison. I’ve read and have written about climate change for many years now (drought figures prominently in my last novel, The Bird Saviors, set in the American Southwest), and all our national efforts have amounted to squat, though I give President Obama credit for at least trying. God forbid one of the Republican know-nothings get elected. I cringe when I hear that Marco Rubio is somehow “better” than all the others: He’s made a point recently to thump the bible as hard as he can, and to warn that climate change mitigation will ruin the economy (which is nonsense, really), but even if it does hard the economy, what’s worse? Some economic adjustment or climate chaos?

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On Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and J.J. Abrams’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Or a Journey from the Sublime to the Ridiculous

So over the holidays I was holed up on a mountainside in Colorado reading Leo Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace (1869), which, at 1224 pages, is an undertaking. I felt compelled to read it as quickly as possible, lest the undertaking be superseded by the undertaker. My hardcover Knopf edition weighed in at five pounds, and although it is not the same as the James Michener novel Chesapeake—about which one wag (Jack Beatty) said, “My best advice is don’t read it; my second best is don’t drop it on your foot”—I still wouldn’t want it to plummet upon my toes. It took me about a month, and was the second time I read it. Imagine a human holed up in a room in this house below, hearing all those versions of Jingle Bells and “I Wanna Hippopotamus for Christmas” while reading Tolstoy. In a hurry, lest the reindeer be disappointed at my literary failure.

I coincidentally finished it just in time for the TV debut of the miniseries on A&E Network, a BBC production it seems, that started last Monday. That I actually even bothered to reread it was a bit of happenstance: I was telling a friend of mine he should read it, which prompted me to reflect, If he should read it, why not me? So I did. And am happy to report I loved it, was enthralled, and feel that somehow, someway, my life was a greater thing for having spent the time doing it. (As opposed to giving in to the Star Wars hoopla and wasting over two hours of my life in that cinema, crunching popcorn and giggling at all the bad lines, annoying the woman sitting beside me in the crowded theater.)

In the spirit of that old saw, “The book’s much better than the movie,” I can’t say much positive about the miniseries, though I am going to try to follow it. (The first two-hour installment was Monday, and I’m assuming the other episodes will follow on succeeding Mondays.) For Tolstoyphiles, there’s much to carp about: Paul Dano is too meek and mousy as Pierre, the sex-it-up scenes with Anatole and Helene have the effect of casting them as pervy villains (whereas Tolstoy does a great job of portraying their sometimes-awful behavior as really rather ordinary), but most damningly, those awful commercials every two minutes. I try to avoid network TV because of commercials, and this was one of the few times recently where I was subjected to such blather. It’s one thing to be contemplating the horror of warfare and the foolishness of Czar Alexander I at Austerlitz, but to have the battle scenes interrupted by ads for Duck Dynasty is a bit too absurd.

The novel itself, on the other hand, is another thing altogether: the dynasties it describes don’t belong to hillbilly duck hunters. The main characters are members of a few aristocratic families, and one thing that struck me is that no one really seems to work—at least not the main characters. Like, who washes the dishes or sweeps the floors? Not Nikolai or Prince Andrei, that’s for sure: The servants accomplish all the work for them. They do go off to work and fight battles, and suffer greatly in those wars, but they don’t really work, not in the sense that pervades American life and culture. At times I think we (and I) work too much, actually, and to read about people who don’t really seem to work at all is fascinating, a glimpse at a different world. But the great difference between reading War and Peace and watching the miniseries is that in reading you are really encountering and entangling yourself with Tolstoy’s mind (and perhaps the mind of every writer you read, but for some, it’s a keener experience than with others), while the movie just seems some pretty costumes, pretty people, and pretty landscapes—even the battle scenes are in some ways pretty. And while I suppose pretty is fine, it’s also superficial and fairly meaningless, compared to the novel. Tolstoy has a great touch for the sublime and the banal at once, the great idea and the human touch. Much of the book wrestles with the tragedy of Napoleon’s march into Russia in 1812 (Tolstoy uses the term “the year twelve” often), the Battle of Borodino and the burning of Moscow, and the haunting deaths of many hundreds of thousands of soldiers—virtually all of Napoleon’s Grande Armee of 800,000 soldiers was destroyed. Much of it resonates for our moment in history as well: Why did so many soldiers follow Napoleon to their death? Why are so many people enthralled with Donald Trump? He goes on to the questions of free will and power and the will of one person over another, and it’s a fascinating world view. I won’t go on at length about the merits of the book, but I do repeat my advice of recommending it to all who enjoy great literature, with an addendum not usually noted: It’s a fun read. And here’s a photo of the great man himself:

But speaking of meaningless and “pretty,” the same weekend I finished War and Peace I took my daughter to see the new Star Wars. Dumb lines, dumb scenes, coated with a thick layer of ridiculousness and special effects. Welcome to the 21st century!

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Metro v. Retro Jon Krakauer: On the “Everest” Film and Jon Krakauer’s “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town”

So last weekend I happened to see the new film Everest, which recapitulates many of the events in Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Into Thin Air (1997), about the disastrous year when 11 climbers died on Mount Everest, circa 1996—which has since been eclipsed by even greater death tolls, such as this year’s avalanche that killed 22 people—and earlier in the summer I read Krakauer’s new book of nonfiction, Missoula: Rape the Justice System in a College Town, and the two provide a nice contrast of cultural moments/trends.

To begin with, Everest seems dated and clunky. It’s sad and touching at times—detailing the final agonizing moments of Rob Hall, for instance—but it all seems to be rehashing the past, and not in the way that sheds new light on that particular moment in time with great import for ours, but almost as if this were a new story, which it isn’t. The best images are the sweeping visuals of Everest itself and the snaking line of climbers ascending the steep white slopes, while the worst visual moments are the close-up action sequences which you can tell are being filmed on a set, with the actors all too fresh-faced for the grueling conditions they are supposed to be enduring. Actually the actors do a terrific job, with Jason Clarke as the commercial guide Rob Hall, and House of Cards henchman Michael Kelly as Krakauer himself, who comes across as a minor player in the saga. But by the end of the film I somewhat regretted even bothering to go see it. It’s certainly a well-done reenactment of sorts, but it seemed to be lacking a fresh perspective. Krakauer conveyed the tragedy in much greater detail and understanding, and while he tends to moralize a bit too much for my tastes, he does make a convincing argument of what went wrong on Everst that year: Too many climbers made the conditions too treacherous, many of them weren’t qualified, and the rise of commercial guide services contributed to the dangerous conditions and the disaster.

It’s to Krakauer’s credit that he’s moved on from that particular soapbox, which is essentially now two decades old, and in the meantime has written about such disparate topics as Pat Tillman’s death by “friendly fire” in Where Men Win Glory (2009), Greg Mortensen’s dubious humanitarian ventures in Three Cups of Deceit (2011), and, for my money, Krakauer’s best book, Under the Banner of Heaven (2003), about a murderous family of unhinged polygamists.

This year’s book is Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, which I read both out of affection for Krakauer’s work and natural curiosity, as I (partly) live in a college town—State College, Pennsylvania, home of Penn State University, a school that has been rocked by its own sex scandals and tangled tales of justice involving the football team and its coaches.

Before I read it, I wondered why I hadn’t heard much about Missoula. After I finished it, I knew why. It’s not a bad book, but it’s certainly not an enjoyable read. It essentially details several date-rape cases that occurred in Missoula, Montana in the last decade, cases that often involve football players, including the star quarterback, and the events overlap so much that Krakauer makes a compelling case for the importance of this in our moment in time. His dry, thorough description of the events and ramifications is a contrast to last year’s now-discredited Rolling Stone article about alleged fraternity rapes at the University of Virginia. Although Krakauer comes across as too eager to blame some of the actors in these real-life dramas, ultimately he seems to do a good job: I have to add the “seems to” because obviously I don’t really know all the details, and am simply reading one person’s version of the events, which are greatly disputed by the various parties involved. And that’s where I have to say the book is both good, and somewhat sordid. Krakauer presents all the gritty details, and it made me feel sorry for all of the students involved, both female victims and male perpetrators. If you wanted to point to one culprit, alcohol seems to be the deciding factor in most of the stories.  If they weren’t drunk, they probably wouldn’t do these awful things. When I finished the book, I was glad to be done with it. And as I have a daughter who will most likely be on a college campus in a similar world, it all resonates with me. I imagine most parents hope their children can avoid these horrible situations, and do our best to teach them that socializing doesn’t have to include getting wasted and hurting yourself or anyone else. Part of me hopes that we don’t hear this same sordid story in the next decade, when my daughter will be in college. But of course by then all the university students will be taking classes on-line, secure in their own rooms, wearing pajamas and safe and isolated as they can be.

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The Rise of Internet Fiction: Blending Reality and Fiction—Not Just Ghosts in the Machine

So when the internet first became accessible to a wide range of people, it wasn’t just corporations and commercial institutions that flooded the World Wide Web with their websites, advertising products and making their information publicly available. One of the biggest trends of the time was blogging, and according to reports by The Guardian, by 2008, 41% of all internet users in the UK had visited a blog.

With the rise of websites like Tumblr and WordPress, we’ve seen millions of blog posts emerge on the web. According to, there were 11 million microblogs on Tumblr by 2009.

But while many people used their blogs to talk about their daily lives, even more began experimenting with the new medium, using it to showcase their works of fiction to the millions of internet users across the world. With so much potential for exposure and so little restrictions, more and more fictionists came to the internet to share their work, giving rise to communities dedicated to these stories. Because of the nature of stories found on the internet, however, it is always difficult to draw the line between fiction and non-fiction, and an author could claim that his work was factual, when it was, in fact, fiction. Stories like Ted the Caver’s immediately come to mind.

While many had often viewed these fictitious tales as misleading, the internet has reacted differently to them. Being a relatively new medium, the internet has showed a penchant for blending unlikely genres together. Even games on the internet have taken a turn towards reinventing the classics, with Pocket Fruity introducing “fusion slots”—games that tie together the mechanics of popular mobile games with traditional slot games. Internet users have shown an affinity for the new and innovative, and as such, blended genres have become more successful.

In fact, fiction and non-fiction have blended seamlessly in a subreddit of popular social site Dubbed NoSleep, the subreddit is a haven for those looking for horror stories to send chills down their spine, and not just because of the creativity of the stories, but also because all of the stories on NoSleep are presumed to be true. In fact, one of the rules for the sub reads, “Suspension of disbelief is key here. Everything is true here, even if it’s not. Don’t be the jerk in the movie theater hee-hawing because monkeys don’t fly.”

The stories on NoSleep range from disturbing, with some accounts from supposed police officers and soldiers who investigated strange occurrences, to downright bizarre, talking about meeting death or seeing what it’s like on the other side. And of course, the community of NoSleep assume all of the stories to be true, offering their sympathies to survivors of the stories, or offering advice on how to protect themselves.

The internet has surely become a haven for experimentation, and fiction has seeming found its new home in the internet. The medium continues to evolve, giving rise to new forms of fiction.

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On William Gay’s “Little Sister Death”: a Novel That Puts the P in Posthumous

So I should begin by the admission that I’m a diehard William Gay fan, and have been for years, ever since reading his first novel—The Long Home (1999), which was edited/published by none other than my own editor, Greg Michalson—though for my money Provinces of Night (2000) is still Gay’s best. He died three years ago, and I was sad to hear of his passing, then later excited to hear Dzanc Books had plans to publish two of his novels posthumously: Little Sister Death and The Lost Country. Little Sister Death came out this summer, though I just now got around to reading it, during Halloween Week no less. Spoiler alert: For various reasons I might give away some of (what passes for) the plot, just sayin’.

First off, the novel opens with a prologue that takes place in 1785, and which (kind of) establishes the progeny/origin of the spookiness otherwise known as the Bell Witch phenomenon, though this short prologue (nine pages) seems completely fictionalized, as it should be: this is a novel, after all, and we expect some lively (or deadly, as it were) events and descriptions. I’ve always thought of Gay as a kind of “poor man’s Cormac McCarthy,” which sounds like an insult, but in my estimation, McCarthy is so good that Gay doesn’t have to live up to that high mark, and if he comes close—as he does in Provinces of Night, for example, or his gruesome short story “The Paper Hanger”—that’s a great achievement. The prologue to Little Dead Sister (excuse the mangled title, but it somehow fits) fits the bill as imitation McCarthy in several ways: great sense of bloody history, anchored in period details and gritty descriptions, as in Blood Meridian; and a baby’s horrific death, as in McCarthy’s Outer Dark (1968). If the rest of the novel was as good as the prologue, Little Sister Death would be an excellent horror novel—gory and dark, as par for the course.

Unfortunately the novel falls apart after the prologue, and falls into a meta-trap of its own meta-making: the rest of the “plot” concerns one David Binder, a one-book writer living in Chicago who is trying to write a money-making genre novel based on the Bell Witch legend, a famous Tennessee ghost story. William Faulkner actually did this—wrote a “potboiler” to sell some books—with his novel Sanctuary (1931),  famous for its corncob-rape depiction, but which is actually a pretty good novel—not one of his best, but odd enough to be worthy.

The problem in Little Sister Death’s “meta” section is that a) a writer writing about being a writer is self-reflexive, true, but also boring and trite; b) Binder (the writer) is rather amorphous and inert. He should have been the ghost, actually; and c) nothing really happens. Binder moves his “family” (they aren’t convincing or alive on the page), wife Corrie and daughter Stephie, to Tennessee, to live on the farm where the Bell Witch legend apparently took place. The usual follows. Bumps in the night. Menacing black dogs. The little girl, Stephie, sees spooky things, tells Daddy, seems fine with it.

There’s one scene where Binder and his wife make love by a pond, and Stephie is supposed to be there, but it’s almost as if Gay forgot about her. She shows up at the end of the scene, apparently politely waiting off-page while Mom & Dad are doing it. (If my wife and I did that? Indulged in a little hanky-panky while our daughter was off examining bugs on a picnic? We’d no doubt be interrupted by her screaming in the background, “That’s disgusting!” and blaring her “Love Alarm”—a buzzing sound she makes if we so much as smooch in her presence. But I forgot: That’s a real kid.) Later he writes her out of the story, which is just as well, since she doesn’t really seem to exist. (Perhaps she could be the ghost, too.)

In the “meta” section the novel’s flaws are too numerous to list: awkward descriptions, awkward transitions, too much exposition, characters that really don’t make much sense, and most damningly—for a horror novel, at least—nothing really scary. Near the end I was beginning to wonder if something would ever actually happen, besides seeing spooky-girl figures in the woods and hearing rats in the walls. It does: a copperhead snake bites a hillbilly wife-swapper, who deserves it. (His name is actually Vern. It made me think of the great scene in the Coen Brothers’ film Raising Arizona (1987), when Sam McMurray says, “I’m talkin’ wife-swappin’,” and Nicolas Cage slugs him.) But that’s about it. The novel closes with an awkward section of an authorial first person narrator, presumably William Gay, talking about his own interactions with the Bell Witch legend, which is neither here nor there, really, but comes across as a pasted-on justification for the scrambled scenes we just spent a few hours reading. Vern doesn’t even die from the snakebite! That would have been better. Or at least be bitten on the face, and have it swell up the size of a pumpkin, so there would be a pumpkin-head thing ranting in the hospital, screaming for more macaroni and apple juice. There’s even an extremely dated, cringe-worthy mention of that Nineties phenom, The Blair Witch Project (1999)—which, from Gay’s own coda, seems to have been a hit around the time he was writing Little Sister Death.

Perhaps it’s a case of What can you expect? It’s a posthumous novel, seemingly cobbled together from notes and half-written passages. As I’m writing a novel at the moment, I sympathize: Creating the coherent, cohesive, visionary novel such as Provinces of Night is not an easy task, and it doesn’t happen all the time. Ah well. Little Sister Death is not so much a horror novel as it is horrible: a reminder that art is hard, and tricky. After finishing it I took my daughter to a high-school Halloween carnival in a small town in Colorado, and their haunted house was scarier. Or even these jack o’ lanterns, carved with sharp knives while Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) played in the background.

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On Flying Rivers and Ghost Forests: A Visit to Mesa Verde

So I spent last weekend at Mesa Verde National Park—a bit west of Durango, Colorado, in the famous Four Corners region of the American Southwest—grokking with the spirits of our Native American ancestors, hiking through ancestral puebloan cliff dwellings, and spending too much at the gift shops (which can be forgiven, seeing it was my daughter’s ninth birthday). It’s a haunting (and haunted) landscape, a mystical place, and if you stay at the Far View Lodge (that looks like it was built in the Seventies, and judging by its wear and tear, the carpet is original), you have a fabulous view of Ute Mountain in Colorado, Shiprock in New Mexico, and distant canyons and peaks and Arizona and Utah. I’ve been there several times before, lastly in 2002, not long after the big fire that scorched the park in the summer of 2000.

On this visit I noticed a distressing trend: the vast areas where the junipers, pinyon pines, and spruce burned in 2000 are devoid of new, young trees. What you see in the burn areas are miles and miles of ghost forests. Nothing but grassland (dotted with yucca, Spanish dagger, and other cacti) seems to be regrowing. The NY Times has had some recent pieces about how forest fires can now burn so hot they effectively incinerate all the seeds, and interfere or prohibit regrowth after the fire. There’s a good piece today in that vein, Jim Robbin’s “Deforestation and Drought,” here. It’s worth it just for the poetry of his description of “flying rivers” over the Amazon. Unfortunately, at Mesa Verde we have “ghost forests.”

Now I’m fascinated by forest fires (and a wicked fire burns at the heart of my new novel), and often hear how fires are nothing new, part of the ecosystem, yadda yadda yadda. That’s all true. But it’s also true that the West is drying noticeably. These aren’t your father’s forest fires. And yes, it’s not all doom and gloom. For instance, go to Yellowstone: there it’s obvious where the forests are regrowing after the tremendous fires of 1988, with entire forests covered with trees over twenty years old. But Yellowstone is a wetter area of the Upper Rockies than the dry Southwest. From the looks of it, if another fire or two hits Mesa Verde, it will have to be renamed Mesa Marron (Brown Mesa). I hope not. We don’t need another one of those weeping Indian littering PSA spots to buzzcrush our day.

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Gunfire in the Aspens: the Realities of Cabin Life in the Rockies, With an Appreciative Nod to Walter Kirn in the New York Times

So I read today’s piece by Walter Kirn in the New York Times about cabin life and its status as an eddy of the American Dream (“Cabins, the New American Dream,” found here) with some amusement and recognition: I live (and write) in a cabin at @ 9,000 feet in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of south-central Colorado. This is the serious boonies: Custer County has one of the lowest population densities in the U.S., and the closest town—Westcliffe, Colorado—is home to about 1,000 souls, and is notable for its lack of fast-food franchises, or even a pharmacy. Sometimes I think wistfully, You know, a Walgreens would come in handy.

But I love it. I suppose I have a taste for the boonies, for the lack of crowds. Plus the landscape is very much a part of my life. Taylor Creek flows through my back yard, and I can hike out my door and up the mountain (as I did yesterday) to Rito Alto or Hermit Peaks, both above 13,000 feet. And I love my home, too: It’s an adobe house, not “tiny,” but at less than two thousand square feet, on the small side. I heat it with a wood stove, and utilize “passive solar” (which basically means the house is designed to catch the sun’s rays), so it’s also relatively “green.” But it’s hardly pristine. On any given day my daughter’s toys and stuffed animals are scattered here and there, and I’m always working on one project or another to spruce up the place, while trying to maintain a simple elegance, if that’s possible.

“Elegance” actually goes against the trend of most cabins in my neck o’ the woods. “Cabin style” tends to be much hokier than the New York Times would countenance. There seems to be a law that all lamps, light switches, and rugs be emblazoned with the shapes of moose, wolves, or bears. Cowboys with lariats and cowgirls with miniskirts and cutie-pie smiles are also de rigueur on sheets, hand-towels, and aprons. City-slicker relatives love to buy us some variation on the ever-popular “bear in a canoe” kitschy item, knickknacks that always cause my eyebrow to raise askance. I mean, I like bears, and I like canoes, but I don’t see how they go together. The bear always looks a bit foolish in the canoe, as if he’s embarrassed, too. My favorite is a bear lamp that features a rather inebriated bear leaning against a lamppost, looking for all the world like he’s coming home from a bender, leaning against the post to stop the world from spinning, and probably telling it how the missus at the den is going to give him hell for being out so late. The photos in the Times are nothing like what most of my neighbors’s homes look like. They show pristine, empty cabins, captured in lucid light. You can tell no one actually lives there.

At one point Kirn rhapsodizes about downsizing, having no closets. My mountain home actually has few closets—a couple downstairs, none upstairs—so I know whereof I speak: Closets come in handy. Without them, where do you put your clothes? All those Patagonia and North Face jackets, for instance? We hang our shirts and dresses from coat hangers on the bed canopy. Pegs come in handy. Our go-to jackets (which are Patagonia, I admit with some chagrin) hang from the coat rack by the front door—practical, but also necessary.

I’m actually a fan of the “tiny house” movement: my writing studio (also my woodshed) is twelve by twelve feet, roughly the size of Henry David Thoreau’s famous Walden pond cabin. Only Thoreau’s cabin is always pictured with a simple desk, a quill pen, and candle. Mine is filled with a desk (made from an old door laid upon two sawhorses), two chainsaws, an ax, a logsplitter (big, heavy ax), a kayak, life vests, backpacks, and a hundred other “things”—like my daughter’s rock collection, and her diminutive desk next to mine. These “things” are useful: We regularly go backpacking, and went river-rafting in Utah this summer. Downsizing is all fine and dandy, but is it too much to ask that I have a garage? Yes, it is. My relatives seem shocked that I can even exist without one.

But one aspect that is ignored (intentionally, I would guess) in the “cabin porn” myth that Kirn describes nicely is: the other souls in the boonies. I live on a hillside below Hermit Mountain (aptly named), with a dozen or so homes scattered around me, and more in the valley below, and I’d say most of the other homeowners are gun aficianados. The sound of gunfire in the aspens is a common thing: I always assume they’re target-practicing, and not just quarreling. Shootouts are frowned upon, as far as I can tell. (Imagine Jane Fonda in They Shoot Neighbors, Don’t They?) Colorado has a bipolar personality, politically and culturally. Although it’s certainly somewhat liberal (note the Retail Cannabis shops in our local towns), my county is predominantly Tea Party Republican. I’ve seen drunken men carrying guns in our local supermarket, although the post office has a sign on the door that it is strictly illegal to carry one inside while you’re checking your mail. Does the frequent sound of gunfire—while my daughter plays in the yard—freak me out, just a little? Yes, it does. But I’ve also become used to it. Most of my neighbors are nice people, and I have to trust they can hit their targets with some degree of accuracy, and not stray their bullets into “my space.” Some of the target practice gunfire occurs at the Christian conference center at the top of the hill, and it always makes me think: What would Jesus shoot?

But still: Although I’m a fan of the horror film Cabin in the Woods (2012) and its ilk, I’ve never met a backwoodsman anything like the threatening Mordecai in that film—with his toothless backwoods charm, an obvious urban stereotype.

Is life in the boonies—despite the random gunfire and gun kooks in the super—worth it? Absolutely. The aspen are already turning, scattering like yellow coins all across my five-plus acres of forest. I’ve had two sightings of an elusive Goshawk in my yard the last week, and hear Great Horned Owls nightly. Mule deer wander through the yard most every day, and I’ve heard Elk bugling behind my treehouse. There are many more bird calls than gunshots, and I can live with that. So here’s another photo of my mountains, god bless ‘em:

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Review of Patrick DeWitt’s novel “Undermajordomo Minor” in the Dallas Morning News

So I know I should feel badly for neglecting my stepchild blog, for never coming to visit, for not giving enough love—”No sticky handfuls of chocolate for you, Kid!” But I plead a busy life, and slaving away (is it inappropriate to even use the verb “slave” in that way?) on my novel-in-progress (which is actually going nicely, thank you very much for asking). But I am keeping up with reading various and sundry books, including an excellent book on by David Roberts, A Newer World: Kit Carson, John C. Fremont, and the Claiming of the American West (2000); a moody and mystical novel by Per Pettersen, I Refuse (2015), and most recently, a book of great derring-do (you don’t hear that word enough anymore, do you?), John Maxtone-Graham Safe Return Doubtful: The Heroic Age of Polar Exploration (1988). Meanwhile I reviewed Patrick DeWitt’s fun new novel, Undermajordomo Minor, for the Dallas Morning News recently, which can be found here.

I promise I’ll be better about posting new material soon. I’m going to get my life turned around, honest. I’ll quit spending all my time in Santa Fe, at Georgia O’Keefe’s Ghost Ranch, and in the mountains of Colorado, which takes me away from my online existence. I’ll be better. Trust me. Meanwhile, here’s a sign I liked recently:

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Review of Kent Haruf’s “Our Souls at Night” in the Dallas Morning News

So I’m a delayed/recalcitrant blogger at best, but I did review Kent Haruf’s final novel, Our Souls at Night, for the Dallas Morning News recently, and it can be found here. In my defense I can say I’m busy working on a new book while also reading Per Petterson’s new novel, I Refuse, and enjoying that.

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On Kent Haruf’s “Our Souls at Night”: The Last Waltz in Holt, Colorado

So I felt a mixture of sadness and readerly pleasure upon opening Kent Haruf’s final, posthumous novel, Our Souls at Night, to be published by Knopf this month. I first encountered Haruf’s fiction in 1999, when I was assigned his novel Plainsong to review for the Houston Chronicle. Ever since then I’ve read all of Haruf’s fiction, with perhaps Eventide (2004) being my favorite. I also had the good fortune to come to know Haruf, as I live in Colorado about an hour south of where he had a house near Salida. He was a soft-spoken, kind man, who worked as a teacher for many years, and, when I met him, was retired. He confessed to me that he was glad to be done with it. One of the main characters of Plainsong is a teacher, as is Louis Waters, the (retired) hero of Our Souls at Night.

Simply put, it’s a terrific book—understated, lyrical and deft—focusing on the lives of people who are often overlooked in the world, the denizens of a small town on the eastern plains of Colorado. I reviewed it for the Dallas Morning News, and will post my review here when it appears, in a couple weeks I would guess. Meanwhile fans of Haruf’s fiction should know that they won’t be disappointed wit this new novel. To me it’s better than Benediction (2013), his most recent novel before this.

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