As the leaves come down….

I have time for just a short note this morning, but I wanted to get the word out that I have two audio essays up at www.soundcloud.com/randall-silvis. “What I know” is a short piece about the nature of the universe, and “10 Easy Steps to Becoming A Writer” reveals the long-guarded secrets to, you know, becoming a writer.

Later!

probably much later :)

Shivering in August

What a strange summer this has been in western Pennsylvania. Days are cool and nights are cooler. The sky is always heavy with gray-bottomed clouds. A low, barely audible rumble seems to emanate from the earth. The sun, I’m told, is rising a few degrees closer to north, the moon looks odd, and the stars are not where they used to be. Plus, my hair is thinning at an alarming rate. Something weird is afoot with the universe.

How is one to respond to these mysteries?

I’ll keep typing, I guess, even though that previously simple task has also taken a devilish turn. Lines jump out of place before I finish them and imbed themselves elsewhere in the text, so that I have to search to find them again. Meantime, birds stare at me from the telephone line. Socks disappear from the dryer, leaving no clue to their whereabouts, no note, not even a trail of lint.

Recently my agent suggested that I consider storing all of my documents in the Cloud. I suspect that’s where my hair and my socks have gone. It’s comforting to think that they are somewhere. But the thought of entrusting my life’s work to the netherland of cyberspace produces in me another shivering fit. I do not trust the Cloud. What if the Cloud is a huge, invisible spy satellite? What if the Cloud gets hacked? What if it springs a leak? What if all of that accumulated information and creativity begins to think of itself as the mind of God and realizes how outmoded and irrelevant we flesh machines are?

Maybe it’s best not to contemplate such matters. If only I could stop wondering about my socks….

Meanwhile, I find order where I can. The work continues. I recently added three collections of personal essays to my list of available books. You can find them on Amazon under these titles: Chasing the Boo, True Stories & Reflections from the Writer’s Life; What I Know, More True Stories & Reflections from the Writer’s Life; 10 Easy Steps to Becoming A Writer, True Stories & Reflections on the Writing Life.

I’m also busy squaring up the corners on two more books of fiction. I’ll tell you about them and about a nonfiction project-in-progress when I feel confident that the Cloud isn’t listening.

Until next time….


Waking up

I am ashamed to admit that a year has past since I posted a column here. I’m sorry; I needed a nap.

Truth is, I still need a nap. But I’ve also been doing a lot of writing. And I am happy to report that I have taken my first wobbly steps into the 21st century world of e-books. I recently e-published four pieces of fiction from my backlist: Mysticus is a fabulist novel that spans the years 1949-2026, and tells the story of Ronald Shepard and the women who take him from ruin to redemption; it’s my favorite among all the novels I’ve published so far. The Indian is a novella that was first published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, then selected for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2013. Flying Fish is a slipstream novella published in 2012 by PS Publishing UK. And Snap is a long short story that also was published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. All are now available as Kindle e-books.

I plan to make several more titles from my backlist available in the weeks ahead. Plus, there will be at least two new novels published on Kindle, and maybe all four of the new slipstream novellas I wrote while I was napping.

Meantime, I’m assembling all of my short creative nonfiction, previously published and new, and all of my short fiction, published and new, into several collections. These too will be available as Kindle e-books as soon as the formatting and cover art are finished.

Truth is, I’m beginning to enjoy this new medium. As a prolific writer, it’s liberating to be able to cut out all the middlepeople and their long delays. And as an insatiable reader, it seems something of a miracle to be carrying around hundreds of books when I head for the mountains.

Until next time, happy napping, happy dreaming, happy reading!

It should be clear to everyone by now that my prediction on my very first blog years ago has come true. I predicted that I would be an unreliable blogger. The only inaccuracy in that prediction was its serious degree of understatement.

My intent is to update this website with more pieces of fiction and nonfiction, and in general to remove the appearance that this is, in fact, a blog, when, in fact, it obviously isn’t :).

In the meantime, here’s the latest:

My literary short story, “Young Love,” which was originally published in Wake: Great Lakes Thought & Culture, has been selected for inclusion in this year’s Best of the Net anthology. Here’s a link to the original publication: http://wakegreatlakes.org/content/fiction/randall-silvis-young-love.

Also, my novella The Indian, originally published in the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, has been selected for inclusion in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Mystery Stories 2013. The anthology is scheduled for publication this fall.

Until next time, whenever that might be….

The morning after

They say that catching up is hard to do, and now I know…I know that  it’s true.

Especially when I’ve been away from this blog for so long. But I’m going to try — with my apologies if this turns into a laundry list. The laundry, at least, is lemon-scented and clean.

I spent most of yesterday at Seton Hill University, doing what we writing mentors do, and meeting with Heidi Miller and Mike Arnzen, co-editors of the newly released and very impressive anthology of instructional essays, Many Genres, One Craft. I have an essay in the book, as do 50 or so other writers. If you are a budding fiction writer, you might want to take a look: http://manygenres.blogspot.com/.

For other recent essays from me related to creative writing, check out “Writing Out Loud” in the May issue of The Writer, and “Why I Read” in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s April 29 issue of The Chronicle Review. Another short piece, “Ten Easy Steps To Becoming A Writer,” will appear in a future edition (probably this summer) of The Chronicle Review.

Other news:   The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, June issue, is home to a recent short story of mine called “Snap”; my novella “The Indian” will appear in a future issue.    

Meantime, if you are a collector of limited editions, my slipstream novella Flying Fish will be released in the United Kingdom from PS Publishing toward the end of this year. Nebula Award nominee Christopher Barzak said this about Flying Fish: “The setting, the characters and their working class background, the mysticism and philosophy that infuses it, and the completely natural and down-to-earth story of a young man learning how to see outside of himself into the rest of the world is a pitch-perfect story that shimmers like light on water.”

A comment like that is always very nice to hear, but what makes this book so special to me is that the cover art has been done by my oldest son, Bret Silvis. His artwork combines whimsy with dark forebodings, and makes for a cover that becomes increasingly startling the longer you study it. Bret was the first of my two most prized and priceless collaborations, and now he and I have embarked on our first artistic collaboration. Very satisfying indeed.

If you’re just into reading but not collecting, Flying Fish will also be available as a trade paperback. And if you aren’t inclined to make the trip to England for a copy, you will be able to order it from the publisher at http://www.pspublishing.co.uk.

The Boy Who Shoots Crows is scheduled for a December 6th publication by Penguin/Berkley, and the advance buzz is sounding very good: Grant Jerkins, author of A Very Simple Crime, calls it “a real stunner.” Says Harry Dolan, author of Bad Things Happen, “Silvis writes with an artist’s eye for detail, and his story is expertly plotted, traveling along unexpected paths on the way to its devastating conclusion.” From Thomas Lipinski, author of Shamus Award winner Death In the Steel City: “Silvis presents a mystery so beautifully written and with characters so alive that the mystery itself becomes immaterial. Read it just for the prose.” And from New York Times bestselling author John Lescroart, “Poetically written, finely-wrought, richly imagined, and finally as surprising as it is devastating, The Boy Who Shoots Crows is a literary thriller of the first order. Randall Silvis gets to the hearts and souls of his characters like few other, if any, novelists.”  

And that’s all the literary news I have to impart on this sun-splattered Sunday morning. I think I will spend the rest of the day cruising on my motorcycle:  risking death for low flight/down a lonesome country road/shot with sunset/while the magic melancholic light of dusk/slips the grip of time and eases/gravity’s drag…/two wheels and the wind/and a continent between my hands.

Don’t look now–here comes another one!

A question I get asked at every reading or interview is, “Where do you get your ideas?” Here’s one way:

I started this morning as I do every morning, by pouring a cup of coffee and reaching for a book. I always read a few pages before settling in to do some writing, and this morning I planned to work on The Boy Who Shoots Crows. I promised my editor at Penquin that I will have it finshed by Thanksgiving, so I expected to work most of the day on it. But this morning the book I reached for was The Satanic Verses; a student gave me a copy of the book yesterday and I wanted to be able to discuss it with him next time we meet. But I had read less than a page in Rushdie’s novel when one of his lines generated a totally unrelated image in my head, and suddenly, in that strange synaptic way our neurons speak to each other, I had an idea for a short story. 

I sat down at my desk intending to jot down a few notes about the story. Three hours later I looked up and saw that I had written nearly 1500 words–and that was only a summary of the story’s beginning and end.

Where do ideas come from?

Where do shooting stars come from? Where does lightning come from? Where does love come from?

They come out of nowhere. Out of everywhere. Out of someplace you don’t expect.

If I had the leisure to do nothing but write, I could spend at least the next ten years writing novels, stories and screenplays based on the ideas I’ve already jotted down on notecards, napkins, in book margins, pieces of mail, and on every other surface friendly to ink. The problem has never been a shortage of ideas, but an incessant flow too voluminous to contain.

Here’s what Steinbeck said about ideas: “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple, learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”

And, as Henry Ford said, “The air is full of ideas.”

Me, I don’t get ideas. They sneak up and hit me when I’m not looking. Ideas, to me, are life itself, and, as John Lennon observed, life is what happens when you’re busy with something else.

Green and Mud-Luscious

It was a long, gray winter, but suddenly I’m ankle-deep in grass that needs to be mowed. The geese are back, plus the orioles and finches and red-winged blackbirds, the bluebirds and cardinals and bumblebees. Hannah the pup loves to roll in the grass and dive headfirst through the hosta, then cool off by swimming with the bluegills. What a lovely time of year.

Meantime I’ve put the wraps on a new article for the Discovery Channel Magazine. All about teeth–how paleoanthropologists and modern bone detectives rely on teeth for evidence, and what the future holds in terms of evolution, tooth regeneration, and teeth as a source of stem cells. Look for it in the July issue. And if you haven’t seen this magazine yet,  check it out at http://www.readersdigest.com.sg/rd/rdhtml/en/discoverychannel/. Stunning photos and good writing on all things scientific and environmental.

I’m now at work researching an article about music for the same publication–music and memory, music and the development of human langauge, the mystical and the magical side of music. Meantime still tweaking The Boy Who Shoots Crows, to be out early next year from Penguin Books.

While researching the subject of music–I’ve always been fascinated by its universal ability to alter moods and produce emotions, invoke memories, even convey stories without a single word–I came across the following quote by Henry James. It applies to all arts, I think, all acts of creation. I wish I had written it (though I would have substituted the word mystery where James uses madness.)  Have a beautiful spring.

“We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” Henry James

A Winter’s Day

“Gazing from my window,” Paul Simon wrote, “…on a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow….”

Yep, me too. All is white and hushed…and cold. Now that I seldom get a chance to hit the ski slopes, I hate the cold. Not so Hannah the pup, who sits by the window and gazes longingly toward the house next door, where her boyfriend Sammy lives, that manly hunk of black Lab–sort of an Elvis of the Labrador world. She would gladly brave the snow to romp through it with him. So I tell her, “Later maybe.” While I’m shoveling the driveway and cursing the snowplow driver, she can indulge in a roll or two with Sammy.

Elsewhere, in a place where there is no snow and the sun shines regularly, my novel Hangtime, A Confession has been officially released. My thanks to NewPages.com, where the title recently appeared as a New & Noteworthy publication. My thanks too to all the readers who have asked me when they can read it. Well, when is now. And just to show my appreciation, if you send an email to Hannah at mallardpointproductions@neo.rr.com   letting her know where you purchased a copy of Hangtime, she will send a signed first edition hardcover (signed by me, not her) of either Mysticus or The Luckiest Man In the World for my cost of $10 plus $4 shipping. Or, if you’d prefer, a signed and numbered limited edition of In A Town Called Mundomuerto for $20 plus $4 shipping. I have a limited number of each of these copies available, so first emails, first served.

On Monday I begin the rewrites for The Boy Who Shoots Crows. Had a long chat with my editor not long ago to discuss the changes, nothing major, nothing onerous, all good, all good for the novel. Muy simpatico, my editor and me. It’s going to be such a pleasure working with her.

But for now the snow accumulates, and Hannah is giving me that hangdog look. Time to pull on the gloves and scarf and cap, time to clear my driveway of a few hundred pounds of snow. Time to let the dogs out.

Status quo, sort of

Talk about being remiss. It’s been soooo long since I last posted something here, but oddly, sadly, pathetically, I don’t have much to say. Been slogging away at the leaves, mostly. Two acres of them. When not raking, I’m reading. Reading students’ papers until I’ve gone cross-eyed. Meantime I’ve done a fair share of dreaming, wide awake, of visiting Greece this spring. Don’t know why that particular place has been calling to me; the olives, maybe; the white-washed buildings; the Mediterranean breezes. I guess I need to start saving my pennies.

Just a bit of good news to pass on: My novel Hangtime, A Confession is the featured title this month at www.kitsunebooks.com. The official release date is December 15th, but it can be pre-ordered now.

And my literary suspense novel The Boy Who Shoots Crows has found a home with a major NYC publisher. More details after the contract is signed.

Otherwise the air continues to cool, Hannah the pup continues to chew up everything in her path, and my novel D continues to be unfinished. I wonder what Greece is like this time of year….

A summer of autumn

Endings. When you are trying to avoid one, it comes up on you like a sonic boom. When you are looking forward to an ending, it draws farther and farther away.

Last time I wrote in this blog I thought I had two more scenes to write in my novel D. I’ve been writing steadily since then, and this morning calculated that I now have six scenes to write before finishing the full draft.

Endings either surprise or tantalize. It should be one of Murphy’s Laws.

Here in western Pennsylvania, Fall is teasing us too. I don’t care what the record-keepers say; this was one of the coolest summers I’ve ever experienced. Where were the sweltering nights so stultifying that you could barely breathe, the boiler room days so torrid that by the time you towelled off after a cold shower, you were dripping with sweat? I awoke most mornings around 4:30, put on three and sometimes four layers of light clothing before I went outside, sometimes even a pair of cotton gloves, and didn’t start peeling off the layers until 9 am or so. Not what a summer should be. Freakish. And what does it portend for winter? I love autumn but I really don’t want to see it until mid-October or so.

When I started this blog I thought I would use it to rant about all the things that piss me off, about politicians and lawyers and self-important people in general, about slow drivers who hog the passing lane, about people who park across two spaces, about my car horn that keeps blowing out a fuse so that I can’t let all those people know how much they piss me off. But now I’m surprised to discover that these annoyances just aren’t worth writing about. Sure, society in general is getting ruder by the minute, but what good does it do to rant? It just gives me a headache. Instead I find myself preferring to sit on the back deck and watch the mist rise off the lake, or watching my dog chase its tail and roll in the grass. Maybe it’s the autumnal effect, all this coolness and so little soporific heat. Are Norwegians more contemplative than Brazilians? Are Jamaicans more obstreperous than Swedes?

Maybe so, maybe not. In the long run, what difference does it make? I think I’ll smear a little peanut butter on a raisin bagel and go watch the lake for a while.

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