Archive for April, 2013

RIP, Possum

RIP, Possum

I’ve spent the last couple of days talking music with a musician friend as I try to determine if I want to produce a book trailer for Deep Blood. The music of such a trailer is huge part of the appeal, and I’d want to get it just right. This started a wide-ranging conversation of musical styles, from blues to rock to country, from George Jones to Social Distortion. And I found it interesting, maybe even a little unsettling, that I seem to be leaning toward a more country sound than rock. Especially since I started writing this post — and George Jones’ name — before I learned of his passing yesterday. I’m old enough to have grown up during what could arguably be the golden age of country music — or, as some would say, “real” country music. Regardless of the argument, Jones breathed very rarified air in the country music world.

But I’ve never really been a fan of country music, even though I grew up in the South during the heyday of legends such as Jones, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Charlie Rich, et al, and it was the only music allowed in my house. Actually, that’s precisely the reason I’ve never been a fan of country music. I rebelled against it — and, more significantly, my father. As soon as I was able, I was buying Aerosmith, Kiss, Van Halen and Frampton eight-tracks and cranking it up as loud as I could. Just to piss the old man off, at least at first. Until I started really liking the music. Wasn’t too much longer after that that the “Southern Fried Boogie” era started — ZZ Top, Charlie Daniels, The Atlanta Rhythm Section, the Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchet, Grinderswitch, .38 Special and, of course, the undisputed kings, Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then came the blues.

My first blues album came from a now-closed record shop in Columbus, Miss. John Lee Hooker. I’d seen him do a version of “Boom Boom” in The Blues Brothers and had to have it. I followed that with B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton (kind of a crossover there), Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy … and then I discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan. I heard Stevie Ray for the first in, of course, Memphis. I was driving over the Mississippi River bridge, headed into Arkansas toward Fort Sill, Okla., when “Cold Shot” came over the radio (Rock 103, naturally). Man, I was mesmerized. By then, nearly every cassette and record I owned was a blues record, or blues-based rock, and Stevie Ray became the mainstay of my music.

But I also stayed with rock and roll. Bob Seger, Mellencamp, The Clash, U2, Guns N Roses, the Cult, The Police.  Granted, a pretty wide range, but rock and roll nonetheless. I’m still there today.

So, as I ponder the music for a possible trailer, it seems odd that I’m hearing Lucinda Williams in my head. I posted her “Pineola” on Facebook the other night because I couldn’t get it out of my head. And Johnny Paycheck. And Merle Haggard. And now, George Jones. Seems that I may have a rock and roll heart, but I still have plenty of country in my soul.

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world-war-z-poster03One of my can’t-miss movies this summer is either going to be a complete badass cinematic experience or a total waste of time. I’m hoping for the former when World War Z makes it to the big screen. It has the potential to be the most epic zombie experience ever.

Brad Pitt leads a mostly unheralded cast (with the exception of character actor David Morse), but of course the true stars of this flick will be the zombies.

I haven’t seen a trailer for this yet (at least not in theaters), but I did read the novel of the same name, written by Mel Brooks’ son Max. It wasn’t unputdownable, and it’s certainly not going to be considered great literature anytime soon, but if you’re a fan of the genre — and the mythology — it’s a great read. World War Z, as the name implies, chronicles humankind’s greatest — and very nearly last — stand against the rampage of the undead. This isn’t a story of teenagers caught in a barn, or a dysfunctional group of Georgians blasting “walkers.” These zombies are global, border-jumping ravenous hordes. From sea to shining effing sea. Brooks eases some politics into the story, but not enough to distract you away from the human struggle to survive.

I suspect the movie will be huge, because the zombie fascination seems at an all-time highzombies-620x412 (turbo-boosted by “The Walking Dead”). Why do we like zombie movies (and now zombie novels, short stories, graphic novels, etc.) so much? I’m sure there are plenty of psychological reasons, and we could use words like “anthropology” and “entropy” in an academic discussion like these from Stanford and Penn State (yes, real scholarly discussions about zombies). There’s probably more than just a bit of truth in the statement: “In a way, survivalism has become a dominant mode of self-reference for a greater number of people … You see that in the obsession in apocalypse and disaster in the fictional stories we tell. Furthermore, it is not only the survival of ourselves as individuals that we are concerned with, but the survival of entire communities – even humanity as a whole.”

Yeah, I can see that. But, really, don’t we just enjoy blowing away the undead? Why? Here’s a couple of reasons:

  • They’re easy to kill. We all know the drill. Head shots, always head shots. That’s a hell of a lot easier to do when your target’s top speed is a shuffle. You can take your time (usually), get a good sight picture and … one shot, one kill. Bonus: they’re already dead, so it’s not like you’re actually killing your neighbor. So you don’t have to feel guilty about it.
  • We don’t need another hero, but we all want to be one. And being a hero is pretty guaranteed when your “bad guy” is an undead flesh-eating ghoul from hell. Chicks dig that kind of thing.
  • I survived, therefore I rock. Along the same lines as “I can be a hero,” the post-zombie-apocalypse world is proof of our superior survival skills, and who doesn’t like feeling like a superior badass?
  • Guns. When the zombies come, nobody’s going to debating gun control, that’s for damn sure. And the best delivery system for a head wound to a zombie is a large-caliber gun. You won’t even need a permit. All you’re going to need is a shitload of ammo.

So let ’em come. My Zombie Response Team is fully briefed, armed and ready.

keep-calm-and-find-the-assholes

 

That’s all for tonight.

Before I get into my favorite Southern novels, if you haven’t liked Deep Blood on Facebook, get over there and do it now. Also, for those of you who are interested and/or who have asked, I may have found a solution to “signing” e-books. Still working on that one, but check back soon.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled program…one of the cooler social media sites I spend time on is Goodreads, and if you’re a reader and haven’t checked it out, you should. It’s a cool spot for readers (and writers) to exchange books, ideas, conversation, etc. It’s also a good site to go to if you want to check out some reviews or buzz about a particular book.

One of the groups I frequent has to do with Southern fiction (I know, shocker), and the “best” Southern novels. Calling anything the “best” is always dangerous, but I’ve put together a list of favorite novels. I’m sure I’ve left something out that belongs on the list, so feel free to let me know in the Comments section below. In no real particular order:

To_Kill_a_MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird: I’ve written about this one before, but it still ranks as my all-time favorite. Harper Lee may have written the perfect Southern novel (and she must have known it, because she never wrote another one), as evidenced by her receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Pulitzer Prize. Written way before its time, her story of Scout, Jem, Dill, Boo Radley and Atticus Finch is one of the greatest American literary achievements. Lee took Southern racism head-on and did so with a warm, funny and poignant story that holds up even today. And every man should be measured against the ultimate example of mature, noble, heroic manhood that was Atticus Finch (and could you imagine anybody else but Gregory Peck playing him in the movie?).

FatherSonFather and Son: It’s almost heresy to claim a Mississippi writer other than William Faulkner as your major influence, but reading Faulkner didn’t fundamentally change my approach to writing. Larry Brown did.  A north Mississippi native who wrote like he lived — gritty, real and unblinkingly honest — Brown took everyday people that the rest of the country forgets about, doesn’t want to acknowledge or makes fun of and gave them humanity and even dignity. Father and Son is no different, even though it’s a redneck tragedy that, at times, reaches the profundity of Faulkner. Glen Davis is undeniably evil, and the path of destruction he causes in Brown’s revenge tale is breath-taking. You know how it’s going to end, but you can’t avert your eyes.

Light-in-AugustLight In August: I’ll be the first to admit that reading Faulkner is difficult for me. Always has been. And Light in August isn’t easy. Faulkner also took the outcasts and misfits and elevated them to display their dignity, and does so exceptionally well in his Gothic tale of Lena Grove, Joe Christmas, et al. It’s a tortured story of race, sex and alienation in the Deep South during the Depression. Dealing with poverty that is, at times, brutal and a race struggle that always is, Faulkner still manages to create sympathetic characters amid the violence and hate. There are other more accessible Faulkner novels, but this one, to me, is central to understanding not only the author, but the culture and time about which he wrote.

Dickey-DeliveranceDeliverance: Yes, I know. You’ve seen the movie. “You got a purty mouth.” Now shut up. James Dickey’s first novel is a landmark novel, one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. It’s easy to call it just a piece of redneck fiction — what happens when the city folk run up against some good ol’ boys out in the woods. But, Deliverance is one of those books that I enjoy so much that every time I read it, no matter how many times, it’s like reading it for the very first time. The city boys’ misadventure — with only the savvy Lewis Medlock as their protector (and at times antagonist) — becomes a metaphor for our basic human nature, our need, first, to control and subjugate everything in our midst, then our need to survive that which we can’t.

O2 ManThe Oxygen Man: Steve Yarbrough’s first novel is the story of Daze Rose and her brother, Ned, who works as the “oxygen man” for a local catfish farmer in Indianola, Mississippi. His job is to patrol the various ponds checking the oxygen level in each, a mundane, unglamorous job, the risk of getting snakebit notwithstanding. Ned and his employer are white, but all of his co-workers are black. But the lines between the races in this bleak, violent story are very blurry. When one of the ponds is ruined, the owner immediately suspects one of the three black men working with Ned. Yarbrough shines a harsh light on small town prejudices, Southern race relations and human nature and somehow makes this a tender tale.

poachersPoachers: I’d never heard of Tom Franklin until I attended the Bread Loaf Writers Conference and spent a week listening to Tom’s critiques of my group’s fiction (including my own). At the time, he was the writer in residence at Ole Miss. Poachers is actually a collection of 10 stories, with the title story more like a novella. It’s redneck noir at its best, moved along by Tom’s simple, blunt prose (described by Publishers Weekly as “gruff grace”). He admits to being too sentimental, and it shows occasionally, but it’s offset perfectly by an unflinching look at human nature — the good and the bad. If you like Poachers, pick up Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, where he really hits his stride.

wisebloodWise Blood: I first read this one when I was a junior at Ole Miss. My English professor, a young guy who had just come west from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, assigned  this book as the centerpiece of our literature study. I remember reading it and thinking, “I just don’t get it.” That might have been because of the blonde girl sitting in front of me, but that’s beside the point. Flannery O’Connor’s characters have often been called “grotesque” and her fiction exceptionally violent, and Wise Blood has elements of both. Hazel Motes comes home to Tennessee after World War II, living on a pension from never-explained (and thus suspicious) war wounds, and finds himself struggling to readjust to life after war. He’s descended from preachers, but his war experience has made him an atheist, and he begins to evangelize a bizarre kind of reverse religion — an anti-religion. He struggles with the concept of sex and salvation, and a host of other issues that come to the fore when he meets Lily, the teenage daughter of a traveling evangelist. Perceiving her as pure, he aims to corrupt her — until he learns she is a nymphomaniac, which kills his sexual desire for her. It’s a complicated story, with very complicated characters — and Hazel Motes’ disintegration over the course of the story is downright disturbing. I’ve read it several times since my junior year at Ole Miss, and it’s become one of those works of fiction that keep going back to.