Well, as I (semi-)predicted a few posts ago, I’m dipping into Ulysses again.

1) There’s what looks like a very interesting exhibition about the book’s 100th anniversary at The Morgan Library. I plan to go.

2) I studied James Joyce in college. As I recall, it was a summer course, the only course I took that summer, meeting four times a week — so it was a fairly intense few weeks.

Since then, when returning to Ulysses, I’ve tended to dip in and pop around, re-reading my favorite episodes and avoiding the annoying ones. I feel somewhat guilty about this, or at least I think (sometimes) that I should feel guilty about it, but I have college credentials which attest to the fact that I did read once the whole farkakte book from beginning to end.

3) Speaking of annoying, as I get older I find Stephen Dedalus more and more intolerable. What an angsty boy.

On the other hand, Leopold Bloom is as wonderful as ever — maybe even more so as years go by.

4) My favorite episode is probably “Wandering Rocks.” Every new writing project I’ve started has included a note to think about doing a version of “Wandering Rocks.” This is usually impossible, because I’m so often in first person (and I think I’m done with novels now anyway), but I did a sort-of version once, in the middle of the novel U-town.

5) There are many editions of Ulysses. The original edition, published in 1922, by the bookstore Shakespeare & Company in Paris, was apparently typeset by compositors who didn’t speak English (let alone English as it was practiced by James Joyce), and who also reportedly drank wine with lunch. It has a lot of errors.

There have been attempts since to fix those errors, in various newer editions, but reports are that each attempt has also introduced new errors.

I like to read the original version. Exact duplicates are available, with the classic blue cover, and I’ve found that accidental typos made by francophone typesetters, perhaps a bit buzzed in the afternoon hours, are easier to catch while reading than the sorts of errors which can be created by well-meaning professional editors.

Plus, the original pages are pleasant to read. The typeface is good, and there are appropriate margins. One more recent edition I have appears to have been laid out during a paper shortage, since they seemed to have been making every effort to cram as many words as they could onto each page — readability be damned.

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the deacon mystery (part eleven)

This story started here.

On the other side of Pine Street, Main Street stopped being “Main Street” and turned back into a regular Claremont street with modest houses, trees, and a narrow sidewalk which, after the first block or so, petered out completely.

The headquarters of the Claremont Crier, which was about four blocks from Pine Street, did not look very Claremont at all.

The house next to it, for example, looked like it had been there for at least a hundred years (a bit longer, actually, as I found out later). Dark wood, tall windows on the ground floor, ornate front door, decks on three sides — it reminded me a bit of the Devane house, but much smaller and more inviting, surrounded by several tall trees.

I made a mental note of the small sign planted next to the path to the front door: “Used books for sale. Tuesday through Thursday – 2-6pm.”

The headquarters of the Claremont Crier, however, was a flat, uninteresting structure of poured concrete and cinder blocks. It was painted a rather dull color. The sign next to the front door was small and white. The building needed more windows, I thought.

Aesthetics aside, my biggest concern was cars. There was a narrow parking lot in front of the building, just a row of cars side-by-side facing the building (well, one car was cleverly parked facing out). As I got close to the front of the building, still walking across the street, slowly, I saw a secondary lot to the right of the building, mostly containing delivery trucks.

I strolled to the corner and crossed the street.

I was looking for Kate Lane’s car, which wasn’t visible anywhere. That was good. My employer had led her to believe that we had no interest in the Deacon case, so I didn’t want to run into her while I was doing my research.

She would find out eventually that we were investigating a Deacon case (although of course not the exact one she had asked about). My employer had told her the truth, technically, but I preferred to deal with that issue later (or, preferably, let my employer deal with it — this was all her plan, after all).

I went up to the front door and tried it. I expected it to be locked, but it opened.

The small office I stepped into was unoccupied. There was one desk with several issues of the Crier, some rather haphazard stacks of paper, including unopened mail, and a variety of telephones. I could hear a low, steady hum from elsewhere in the building.

There was only one other door in the small room, and it was a dutch door. The top half was open and the bottom half was closed, so I felt ambivalent about proceeding further.

“Marshall O’Connor!” boomed a voice from behind me, and I turned to see a man with short, iron-gray hair come in from outside, carrying a small, greasy paper bag, I had not heard a car pull up.

I have a good memory, and I was reasonably sure I’d never met this man before, but he switched his greasy bag to his left hand and firmly (and greasily) shook my hand with his right. His short-sleeved white shirt was a bit too snug and his necktie was a bit too short.

“Saw your photograph in the ones we took at the Devane trial.” He circled his desk and sat down. “Didn’t publish it, of course. Your boss lady sells more papers.” He leaned back in his chair, which creaked. “I imagine you’re here to do research on the Deacon family, for the case which your boss is not investigating.”

I raised an index finger, for some reason, but he continued. “I get–”

One if his phones rang, and picked it up, motioning me into the inner precincts of the building.

To be continued…

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in which i narrowly avoid the zeitgeist

I thought this was a provocative headline: “How Hemingway Gradually—Then Suddenly—Defined the Zeitgeist.”

Well, the article was not about Hemingway, in toto, defining anything; it’s about how much the phrase “gradually and then suddenly” is being used these days.

The phrase is from The Sun Also Rises:

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

But then I worried that maybe I was one of the people turning this phrase into a cliche. I was definitely aware of the phrase (I’ve read the book several times), and I was fairly sure I’d used it somewhere.

But, fortunately, a couple of quick searches produced no relevant results. Whew.

Once again, I have my finger far from the pulse.

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the deacon mystery (part ten)

This story started here.

“So, for you, right now: research, at the office of the Claremont Crier. They have a complete back issue file — more complete than the one the town library had, but not as easily accessed. However, you can talk to the editor, Mr. Merchant. Tell him that you work for me. He owes me a favor.” She shrugged. “If he insists that, on balance, I owe him a favor, tell him that I said he’s wrong.

“Once you’ve demonstrated that you’re serious about the research, it’s possible that he will loosen up and answer a question or two himself, depending on his mood. He knows many, many things about this town, including some items which have never appeared in the pages of the Crier.” She held up a long, bony finger. “Don’t try to initiate any questioning of him if anybody else is around.”

“Particularly if it’s Kate Lane.”

She smiled. “Let’s just keep it as ‘anybody else.'” She raised an eyebrow and waited.

I nodded. I was there to receive instructions, after all, not to write my own.

“Check with me around dinner time. I may or may not be available.”

She squeezed my forearm and turned to go. I was tempted to say something, but I didn’t.

“Needless to say,” she said over her shoulder as she waited at the corner of Main Street for a car to pass, “I know what I’m doing.”

I stuck out my tongue, half expecting her to comment on that as she limped across Main Street, not looking back at me. She was moving in the direction of home, but I would not have placed a cash bet on that being her actual destination.

I watched her cross the street, then I turned and walked down Main Street, mostly so I wouldn’t be standing there at the corner if she turned around to check on me.

I strolled slowly, though. I wouldn’t have minded talking to someone at that moment, but nobody appropriate came to mind, and in any case this was not to be shared.

Well, time to get to work and fulfill my assignment. It was around that moment, as I quickened my pace, that I realized I was walking in the wrong direction.

I turned around and retraced my steps.

To be continued…

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rewriting and writing again (and bloomsday)

1) June 16, 1904, is the day the novel Ulysses, by James Joyce, takes place, so June 16 is celebrated as Bloomsday. Ulysses was published in 1922, making this year the hundredth anniversary of the book. When I realized this, I decided to post a blog post linking to the various posts I’ve written over the years about Ulysses and Bloomsday.

However, careful research revealed that there really aren’t any. A few posts say things like, “Hey, it’s Bloomsday! Everybody should celebrate!” — but there’s no point in linking back to those.

Oh, well. As much as I enjoy Ulysses (perhaps I’ll read it again this year, in honor of the anniversary…), it’s not likely I’d have much new and significant to say about it. Quite a few people have written about it already, after all.

2) Again on the subject of “how to write good,” I remember a lot of blog posts (back in the days of blog posts) about the importance of editing. Do whatever you need to do to generate some sort of first draft, then the real work begins: editing, editing, and more editing.

Sometimes, yes, of course. But it is also possible that your attempts to beat every page, paragraph, and sentence into submission will pound all the life out of the whole thing until you just have a series of perfectly formed sentences. Now, I’m really into perfectly formed sentences, but there are times (as with part nine of my current story, which took quite a while to get posted) that more and more editing is not the answer.

In those cases, I’ve found it best to put the draft (and all of its edits and versions) away, get out a fresh piece of paper and a pen, re-read the previous part to remember who’s in the scene and what they know (and don’t know) and what they’re trying to do, and set them off, writing down whatever happens. That’s what I finally did with part nine, and it got me about 90% of the way to the final version, which is farther than I got with all the cutting and pasting and cutting and pasting.

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the deacon mystery (part nine)

This story started here.

My employer lit a cigarette. There was an ashtray on a small table near her.

“Jennifer,” she said slowly, “please outline, in general terms, what happened yesterday. I saw your father at the book sale. Did anything unusual happen before that? Did you see your father in the morning?”

“We had brunch together. We usually do that on Saturday. Then I did the dishes while he read the newspaper.”

“The Crier?”

“And the Globe. Yesterday’s Globe. He said he was going for a walk, and then he’d go to the book sale, to see Uncle A. And maybe buy some books.”

“Was there anything special about the way he left?”

She frowned. “What do you mean?”

“Did he say or do anything unusual? Did he seem preoccupied or anything like that?”

“No, just like normal. ‘Stay out of trouble, kitten.’ And he said he’d try to find some good books at the sale.” She smiled. “We both like mysteries.”

“As well you should. Did you see or hear anything from him after that?”

“No. I thought he’d be back for supper, but he wasn’t. So, I heated up some leftovers, then I studied for a while, then I got ready for bed.”

“Was… Is it unusual for your father to be away like that, not letting you know his plans?”

“I asked him once… Anyway, he said that a father needs to keep track of his daughter — not the other way around.”

My employer drew deeply on her cigarette. She was suppressing a smile.

“I had a theory,” Jennifer said hesitantly. “I… A lot of people were probably at the book sale. He might have run into some of his friends and they decided to go out afterwards…” Her voice trailed off.

“Forgive me for being blunt, but does your father often go out on Saturday night?” She held up a hand. “I’m conducting an investigation — I’m not moralizing. I need to know the facts.”

My employer was aware that announcing that she herself was a teetotaler — even apart from it not being strictly accurate — would not have been helpful at this moment.

“Yes, he sometimes goes out drinking with his friends. Usually on Saturday night, or Friday… ‘A man has a drink.'”

“What happened next?”

“I was getting ready for bed, and I heard the phone ring. I ran downstairs, but I wasn’t fast enough, and it stopped. But then it rang again and I picked it up. It was a man’s voice, and he — he didn’t say hello or anything, he just said that my father was…”


She shook her head. “They didn’t say that, not that word. He said they wanted money and then I’d get him back. Then they hung up.”

“And you called the police.”

She looked uncomfortable. “I don’t have any money, or I don’t know where there is any.”

“What about your sister?”

“I didn’t know where she was.”

“Any more phone calls, last night or today?”

“The sheriff has called a couple of times, to check in. Nobody else.”

“Shall I state the obvious?”

Her mouth quirked. There was a brief period of intense internal struggle as we reached the corner of Main Street, and then she said, “You usually do.”

The snort of laughter she’d been suppressing finally erupted.

“I’m sorry,” she said, not looking even remotely sorry. “You walked right into that one.”

I smiled as she looped her arm through mine. “I know. I threw it right over the plate–”

“Oh, please. No sports metaphors.” She gestured with the head of her cane. “Please proceed.”

“1) Rhonda didn’t tell Miss Deacon about your conversation with her father at the book sale.”

“Agreed. She wouldn’t.”

“2) Mr. Deacon offered you substantial money to hire you, but his house is very small and shabby, and one of his daughters is attending Claremont College — which has very inexpensive tuition for townies — and it sounds like his second daughter may go there also, although I got the impression that she’d rather go somewhere else. There were brochures on the table for Harvard and Yale.”

She nodded. “And?”

“This is Sunday. Did she go to church this morning, perhaps to see if her father would be there, or to ask her uncle what happened at the book sale? Or, if she was afraid to leave the house, worried about missing a phone call, why not call the church?

“Also, I do not believe she was being entirely truthful with you.” Her eyes widened expectantly. “She’s in high school. Yesterday was Saturday. Who studies on Saturday night?”

She snorted a laugh and punched me, very lightly, on the shoulder.

“Very good. I might consider handing this entire case over to you.” She smiled and squeezed my arm. “If I had something more compelling to think about right now, of course.”

To be continued…

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