Monday, June 20, 2022

My Mental Palate Cleansers - Stephen Mack Jones


        I love—absolutely love!—writing my “August Snow” thrillers. The writing itself is invigorating, frustrating, and always surprising. It’s an entertainment for me. A way of enlivening my rather modest life and informing me as to how I see and react to the world around me. And I think that’s also why I’ve always loved reading mysteries and thrillers; behind the bullets and explosions, beyond the poisoned body-counts and occasional sexual intrigue, there’s usually a story of human beings struggling to live a complete and honorable—or at least safely solitary--life in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. In so many words, these stories usually amount to ordinary men and woman facing off with extraordinary circumstances that will impact how they choose to live beyond the challenges and at what costs. Sometimes the heroes win and sometimes they lose—and the reader is left with a sense of where their own moral, ethical balance is, for better or worse, by the last paragraph.

        So, yes, I love mysteries and thrillers. Perhaps not all of them can be classified as “morality plays”, but the think a good deal of them can be. No different than books of any other genre.

        Recently, I delivered the manuscript for my fourth “August Snow” thriller to my publisher. Its tentatively titled DEUS X—but we’ll see what the fine folks in the marketing department say. (I tend to make the marketing folks nervous with my titles, like the time I titled a crime novel based on undocumented immigration and the fast-and-legally-loose OK Corral tactics of Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Bad Hombres. According to my esteemed editor, I should have been able to have heard the conference room “discussion” some 500-miles away without benefit of a phone.)

        Between the writing of my books, do I read a lot of crime fiction?


        And no.

        I mostly like to take a break from reading crime fiction between the completion of my own books. Of course, brilliant writers like Josh Stallings and Cheryl A. Head and S.A. Cosby and C. Matthew Smith and Abby Vandiver and Amina Ahktar and Tracy Clark and Chris Offhutt, etc., make this difficult considering their astounding output of highly entertaining crime fiction. But honestly, I do prefer a “palate cleanser” between the completion of my twisted criminal tales.

        Mostly, I revert back to poetry.

        Yeah, poetry.

        Folks like Pablo Neruda and Dylan Thomas and Nikki Giovanni, Sean Haney and Langston Hughes. I go back to poetry to rekindle my love for and curiosity about words. The color and economy of words. The shape and gravity of words. The simplicity and inner secrets of words. What poets achieve, in my modest estimation, is a miracle of emotional/intellectual storytelling in a minimum of space/time. You can hold a poem in the palm of your hand and see the universe.

        As of late, I’ve also been on a binge of recollecting and rereading a book series from my youth: the Mike Mars YA series by Donald A. Wollhiem, a sci-fi novelist contemporary of Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. These were simple novels complete with the occasional illustration. They were U.S. Air Force-approved adventures revolving around the early days of the X-15 super-jet, the Mercury space capsule and the Dyna-Soar, a precursory to the Space Shuttle. Stories that ignited my youthful imagination and took my breath away.

        A month’s worth of home-chore allowance was enough for me to afford each new Mike Mars’ hardbound adventures.

        These days I have to check our savings account and 401(k) to make sure I can afford a “fine” or “near fine” collector’s edition.

        So, until the next August Snow thriller, DEUS X, appears on a bookshelf near you, I’ll be contemplating the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke or Octavio Paz . . .

        . . . that is, until I get the urge to open my laptop and murder the living hell out of somebody.



Susan C Shea said...

I love reading poetry too, although I feel like a sludge writer after reading a Langston Hughes poem, or a couple set in the woods by Mary Oliver. And I am awestruck every time I re-read Rita Dove's "Motherhood," which is as fine and shocking as an entire short story could be. Good to be hearing your voice here!

Josh Stallings said...

Great post!
Thank you for placing me alongside such brilliant authors. And as you know, your amazing books have stolen nights I should be working.

Poetry! Yes,I was raised on Dylan Thomas, hell my son is named after the guy. Growing up I read poetry and plays more than fiction. As a slow reading dyslexic I loved how Much information was was packed into so few words.

Yesterday Erika sang in a choir as part of a Summer Celebration, one of the readings was a short piece by Amanda Gorman. I was moved to tears. What power words have. Thank you for reminding me to go back to the source.

Catriona McPherson said...

Some of these poets are new to me, Steve - so I'll be checking them out. My favourites beyond the standards are Kathleen Jamie and Vicki Feaver. Feaver has a poem about ironing as a metaphor for remaking a life that makes my heart soar.