David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘novel’

Book Review: Sad Jingo by Ron Dionne

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

(Having mentioned Ron Dionne in my first post, here is a review of his novel SAD JINGO I previously posted elsewhere)

We know why the children who read Harry Potter identify with the main wizard.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was magic in the world?  And if there was, of course I would be one of the magicians.  Even if I couldn’t be Harry (though secretly, why wouldn’t I be?  why shouldn’t I be?) I wouldn’t be a muggle.  Once upon a time, I could watch zombie films and apocalypses until the mutant cows came home (1).  Omega Man, Mad Max 2, The Terminator, Afternoon Tea of the Dead, and always, I’d be identifying with those swift survivors, the ones who scurry just ahead of the blood thirsty hordes.

But what is the truth?  Almost to a one, even if there was a secret world, the millions of children reading HP would have no access to it.  They would be ordinary.  Just like they are now.  At best, at the very best, they would be the failures of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, who took their one shot and flunked out of the secret exam, and even had the fact that they tried wiped from their minds.(2)

Without even a whiff of the fantastic (3), Ron Dionne has in “Sad Jingo” written a novel about magic.  The magic of the real world, of the fantasies in our head.  The longings that leave us all muggles, staring in through windows at the other worlds of which we can never be a part.

Jingo is sad.  Something is broken, and does not allow him to put together the pieces that let us get through the day.  He makes magical guesses and throws disparate parts together, in a sort of lottery of hope that they’ll stick and he can make his way in the world.  Like all lotteries, the winner is someone else on TV holding an oversized cheque, which Jingo does not get to see at all, spending the night in the Tombs instead.  Others around him, like Chinee Chester, with his music and different girl every night, seem to win all the time.

Different though he is, not all of his everyday longings are so far from ours.  Trying not to stare at the nubile, breathtaking Nina.  All the things he cannot have.  The thing he wants the most though, is to play jazz.  And here, Jingo is like the daydreamer in all of us.  Jingo does not want to learn music.  He does not want to practice music.  He does not want to be able to read music.  “I gotta feel it, not read it.  For it to sound good.”  Jingo wants to be magic.  He just wants to play music, and not just that,  he wants to play like Thelonious Monk.  He wants the gods to fill him, only in this way, and but for a little while.  Is that so unreasonable?

Of course it is.   His cousin Harold knows what is going on.  Its “like you know something the world doesn’t and it requires special action.” It has to be special, nothing so mundane as practising more or learning to read music.  That’s too obvious, or not obvious enough in the cracked window through which Jingo views the world. “I like playing piano” he writes to Dianna.  “But I am not good because I have no one to play for.”  Of course.

Surrounding Jingo are those who want to live off the magic.  Some like Harold refuse to compromise, but know their place – “I’m a behind-the-scenes kind of guy”.  Others, the agent Rasmussen, and Howard’s business partners, may have been touched by the magic once, but now, more or less bitter, have nowhere else to go.  This is the only way they know to make a living.  And then there is Joy Chant, ageing singer, an actual artiste, who speaks the truth:  “Even those of us that get somewhere, Jingo, we hurt inside wishing we could get somewhere further”.  There is always another inner circle – “Wish I could belt one out like Tina Turner or Aretha now and then.  Or could improvise like Betty Carter”.  The magic is always just out of reach, for everyone.

Dianna terrifies me.  Her brokenness is not at the level of functionality.  Unlike Jingo, she knows what is going on, but she is scary in her desperation.  I am sure that I am not the only person blogging here who has half a novel or two tucked away somewhere.  That is how I came across Ron’s blog in the first place, where he makes insightful comments on the ultra-marathon of the persistent unpublished, and the new publishing paradigm.  Dianne’s making a fair living, good enough that she just can’t throw it away to risk everything on her dreams.  Then success, on a massive scale.  Again, Ron shows us those making their living from hovering close to the magic, the agents, promoters, and Mikkelsen, the bizarre 600 pound interviewer for Vanity Fair.  But the scary bit:

“scurrying about full of dreams and plots and characters and dialogue and settings, piecing them together, stopping when inspiration struck to write something down in her little notebooks, feeling charmed, feeling that one day she would make it, making it being having something officially hers on paper bound in bookstores where people could pay for it and take it home and read it … How certain she’d been that it would happen one day.  How long she’d felt that certainty.  And then how the certainty had fallen away.  And how in its place had grown the certainty of years of drudgery…”.

AHHH!!  Too close to the bone, Ron.  What, other people have little notebooks too?

Ron Dionne has shown me a world of New York jazz clubs that I will never know, and a world of literary success that I’d at least like to have a sticky beak at (I don’t need to win a big lottery prize, a little one will do).  This is a successful book about failure, about the consequences of dreaming.  His characters follow their dreams, and sometimes, someone else’s.  In many cases, they shouldn’t have.  I look forward to “Sad Jingo’s” successor.

Its cheap!  Buy it, download it, and read it for yourself.

Sad Jingo by Ron Dionne

(1) “corpses gathering outside a farmhouse, moaning and tripping over their feet, wearing the tattered uniforms of their forgotten lives: he’d loved such films when he was a boy, not understanding how true they really were.  What were the living dead, Wolgast thought, but a metaphor for the misbegotten march of middle age?”  The Passage by Justin Cronin, p 174 *sob*

(2)  These days, I don’t even identify with the survivor who is killed off early in the film.  I identify with the bleached skulls crushed so easily beneath the metallic feet of the stripped back T-100s, or with the anonymous basketball court dead of Contagion.

(3) I leave to one side the “Black Robes” magic of using words to put a world inside someone else’s head.

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That’s a big 10-4, Rubber Duck!

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2013 at 8:25 am

I’ve been blogging in a few places under a nom de guerre, which was all lots of fun, but the years pass by and the things I meant to do remain undone, and I realised blogging had become another distraction, or worse, an ersatz alternative to writing fiction, a trick that allows me to think, hey, look at all of the stuff I’ve done.

The answer to that is, obviously, to start another blog.

No.  I’m doing three things which require a tiny bit of discipline.  Firstly, I started the year by writing and submitting a sf – fantasy story every ten days or so (it started as a week, but there’s a highly technical reason for the change in number).  This was inspired by Ron Dionne, whose blogging I enjoyed very much, with his commentary on writing, the new publishing paradigm, pulp fiction and other things that gentlemen of a certain age can remember and relate to.  I accepted that no doubt a longer period of reflection, polishing and redrafting would help these stories enormously.  Here’s the thing.  Some of them are based on notes I wrote 20 years ago.  I figure they’ve had long enough.  I set them free and give room to new ideas to come through.  I don’t have another 20 years to wait.  Then the rejections came, which was ok, I expected that.  Then something else happened.  I started making it to the second round with magazines I respected, before being rejected.  Then the recriminations began.  If only I had polished it more!  If only I had taken a little more time!  So I stopped.  Entirely.  Stuffed up by near success.  So now I am balancing, and leaving them to mature a little longer.

Ron writes somewhere about being painfully shy and contemplating publishing his first novel under a pseudonym.  Relating greatly to the painfully shy, one of the things I like about writing is its solitary nature.  It was with great surprise that I joined an established writing group in Sydney this year.  By established, I mean the sort that already has members.  Who will be sitting in chairs when you walk into the room.  And stare at you.  Wondering why you have the audacity to walk up to them at all.  Who might not even wait until you leave to start talking about you behind your back.  But I turned up.  Not to the first meeting that I said I would, but to the one after that.  And it was nothing like I feared (nothing ever is, because nothing ever turns out to involve Cthulhu), the group was small that night, lovely and welcoming, and how wonderful to be in an environment where you can all talk about reading and writing.  So that’s the second thing.

A few years ago I made it half way through the second draft of a horror novel.  Family crises brought me to a grinding halt.  The crises continue, but I have found writing something every day, with some progress every day, gives the day meaning and purpose.  To think my silly thoughts, to put my nonsense into words, to send it out with vague hope of publication, with a dream of success – that makes me happy.  And if it works out, so much the better.  So, draft 1.5 is out, and I am working on it again.

I’ll allow myself to blog here, sometimes, about writing, and sometimes reading, and see how it goes.  If it adds a little discipline and holds me to account, great.  If not, it will die a death.