Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Street Car Called Ruin

I have been out of Detroit for more than a quarter century now. I have not lived within its borders for something like three decades. I guess that means that I have lost touch with the place. Maybe I am missing some deeply hidden vitality there. I must be. Otherwise, I would not still be hearing how Detroit is coming back. The renaissance is here.  A lot of these stories of rebirth seemed to be premised on the nature of the people who live in Detroit. The idea, as I understand it, is that Detroiters are so steeled by privation that nothing can hold them back. And thus do they celebrate things like a few hundred jobs for people making watches. Or a retail chain opening a location within city limits.
The latest sign of the comeback is a street car running 3.3 miles from Downtown to the New Center Area.  It's as if they took the People Mover down from its track and laid it out along Woodward. The image of this street car, clanking along, empty, through abandoned neighborhoods, seems like the perfect Detroit metaphor: noisy and kinetic, but going from nowhere to no place.
Has it come to this? Is something as quotidian as a drug store opening proof that there is still life in Detroit? Or is it simply more proof of how moribund the place is? It puts me in mind of family visiting a person in a coma and nodding with great meaning at a flicker of a facial muscle.  
Detroit is less and less an actual city and more and more a mythical tale of downfall and ruin and abandon.  But, good luck to the people who still live there.  Celebrate if the street lights come on at night. Ride the rails through the new American Frontier, where the land is hard and open and available to the brave or foolish.
Perhaps the few hundred thousand people still living in Detroit will prove me wrong. I doubt it.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Let Us Now Praise Famous Poets

The former Poet Laureate of the United States Phillip Levine has died.  I have to admit up front that I know nothing about Mr. Levine. But I noted with interest that he was born in Detroit some 87 years ago.  He apparently found  great deal of inspiration in the Motor City.  The Detroit he wrote about was entirely different in some ways from what I describe in my books. Back then, Detroit was prosperous and beautiful.  There would have been no call from Hofmann and Grimes to prowl through its ruins. But some of what Levine wrote about endures even know: the tough, grimy, seething city that produces so many great story lines. From what son of Detroit to another: Good work and RIP. The world is a better place for you having lived.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


It's getting to be time to start preparing Meridian for publication.  This novel was actually the third one I wrote. It comes between Smoke and Exile. But, I decided to skip it as I published the books.  I did this primarily because of the connections between Heroes, Smoke, and Exile. As I have noted elsewhere, these three books are not a trilogy in the ordinary sense. But, I do think you could read them altogether as one very long novel.  As I was writing Exile, it occurred to me that issues and idea that started in Heroes were only just now getting resolved. I do think you have to read all three to really understand what any one of them is about.  To be fair, though, there is another reason I skipped Meridian. I don't think it is my best effort. I will say more about Meridian as its publication draws nearer. I hope readers will like it. I certainly look forward to any feedback.  I think that getting the manuscript proofread and formatted as well as getting another Teddi Black cover, is going to take a good few months.  Look for Meridian to be available late spring.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Leave Harper Lee Alone

The news that those people around Harper Lee are planning to publish a book in her name is distressing. From all available evidence, Ms. Lee is too infirm to have made a decision to publish anything. People who know her say she is deaf and blind. She resides in an assisted living facility.  Are we supposed to believe that she made the conscious decision to publish this new book? Why would she do so now? She could have done it at any time during the past half-century.  According to one report, she gave an interview some years back on the issue of why she had never published another book. She gave an answer that I think really resonates with all writers: "I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again." To me, at least, that has a real ring of truth to it.
Somewhere along the line, as I was writing all those words and stories that became novels, something popped into my brain. It was a sentence and I knew right then, that it was the last thing I would ever write.  When Home comes out, you will see that this sentence does, indeed, end that book and my writing career.   Occasionally, people will ask why I have not written any more novels. I think Harper Lee put it better than I ever could: "I said what I wanted to say and I won't say it again."

I really object to whomever is doing this to her. The new novel is essentially a first draft of her beloved To Kill A Mockingbird.  It is little exaggeration to say that Boo and Scout and Atticus are central figures in American letters.  As it stands now, they are preserved forever just the way Lee wanted them.  An earlier draft of Mockingbird is going to show us our familiar characters in a changed light. We will see how Lee imagined them before they took full shape in her mind and on the page. This is not a good thing.

I wrote a novel called "What'll I Do?" before I wrote Heroes. I intend never to publish this earlier book. It's a pretty good book with a terrific mystery story. But it also features Hofmann and Grimes. When I wrote Heroes, I saw that these two characters were a lot different than I had thought of them before.  In short, I got those two wrong. That's why I won't publish What'll I Do? The Hofmann and Grimes (and Garvin and a hundred other characters) are the ones in Heroes and Smoke and Exile.

Those around Harper Lee who are doing this, should respect her wishes to not have this new book published.  She plainly did not want it released.  To Kill A Mockingbird is her creation and no one has the right to disturb her vision.
I hope that no one buys this book so that this terrible idea never occurs to anyone ever again. 

I see, sadly, that this book is already number one on Amazon.  If you give these people your money, you are a part of this awful deed.