An assignment: Read Train Dreams by Denis Johnson and write up response. OK! The most beautiful "child-raised-by-wolves" story I've ever read, like C. MacCarthy having a warm fuzzy moment waxing poetic without injuns stuffing testicles into the mouths of some half-wit cowboys or a crazed naked devil breaking necks and sodomizing babies, and I'm soothed by it all. Even by the little wolf-girl, poor thing, even though she is the baby of our hero Robert Grainier who howls at the moon, adopts dogs who may be humping or are being humped by wolves, and is just plain weird, even for a guy living in the Idaho panhandle in the 1920s, which so far as I can tell is completely fantastic for sheepherders, hikers, backpackers,fly fishermen and gentlemen ranchers who fly twin engine puddle jumpers down to Sun Valley. In the twenties it was a wild and rough place, a last vestige of the frontier, where "jigging" cows is "a natural thing". Gentle, loving...moo moo moo, baa baa baa.
Next assignment: Read Jesus' Son by same author Mr. Johnson, and...the writer is on drugs! Lots of drugs, makes HS Thompson in Vegas look like a boy scout outing. No more cute little wolf babies, no more quaint "fellers" playing horse and buggy or visions of Elvis on the bus. This is the hard stuff: drugged up bum thumbing around the interstate gets in horrific car wreck, and the bum with an unscathed infant survey the scene of blood blubbering victims and later, at the hospital, the crazed spine-tingling shrieks of the wife left living...this is drugs summoning the ghost of Burroughs, so far without the sex but I'm sure that will come later.
Jesus' Son is not bedtime reading. Train Dreams...well, it says right there: Dreams! Let 'em in! It's hard to believe these two stories came from the same brain.And I've only read one of the shorties. Steam happens fast!
Reading this stuff while trying to write your own stuff is like trying to play James Taylor with a Coltrane record blaring in the background or vice-verse. I am starting a new work: the story of Howard Brown, a 21st century tribute to Humpty Dumpty, all the horses, all the men, the king, the wall, scrambled or fried. But you can never sit down and start something thinking that you're gonna create something different, or new, or remarkably unique. Shit - even your memoir's been written, or at least lived in some fashion in some parallel universe some place! I feel like it makes my job as the writer a lot easier to know that I am probably paying homage to a half dozen and maybe several thousand writers who have written the same story. Whew. Pressure's off! Let 'er rip!
Huff Post. Every writer of every genre will get a kick out of this true story.