Last Night In Twisted River by John Irving


I finished reading Last Night In Twisted River by John Irving late yesterday. I’ve been posting about this book on and off for the past month, and that’s because with my deadlines the only chance I get to read for pleasure is late at night.

I’ve read everything John Irving has ever written. I started reading his fiction in college for a “Contemporary Fiction” class and ever since then I’ve been a fan of his work. I’ve always considered his writing style as untouchable. In other words, if I started something John Irving wrote without knowing it was written by him, I’m certain I’d be able to recognize him at once.

And Last Night In Twisted River was no exception. This book is John Irving at his best, from the tormented tale of Domenic the cook to the unusual circumstances that shape Daniel the writer’s entire life. The book follows Domenic and his son Daniel through the course of a lifetime, from a logging camp on the Androscoggin to a quiet house in Toronto. As in real life…and this is something I love about John Irving’s fiction…there are always certain “things” that follow us around all our lives. Even if we try to ignore these things, they catch up with us when we least expect them. In fact, there’s no place secure enough to hide from certain things. But more than that, we can’t hide from love, sorrow, unfulfilled expectations, achievements, revenge, and grave losses. And many times the only thing that keeps us going is hope…even though we may or may not be very good at hoping.

The cast of characters are as simple and as complicated as in all of Iriving’s other books, especially one character in particular: Ketchum. He’s the crusty old codger we love and hate. He’s the quirky philosopher we wonder about sometimes. And, most of all, he’s the wise one…who makes coffee with egg shells and loves to watch moose dance…that many of us wish we had in our own lives.

But if you’re looking for a quick, simple read, this might not be the book for you. This is a book that’s meant to be read slowly and taken step by step. There are sentences and paragraphs that should be read more than once in order to grasp the full meaning of each individual character. I read about Six-Pack Pam more than once several times. And I kept going back to read about Danny Angel the writer, after Daniel changes his name to Danny Angel the writer, so I could understand his tormented marriage completely.

There are sections where the book becomes political, especially when Daniel the writer starts posting news clippings on his Toronto refrigerator. But this is fiction, not real life. And the opinions and rants are coming from characters who don’t really exist, which makes the political sections more entertaining than anything else.

I could continue for days writing this review. I could write about Injun Jane, fat Carl, Ketchum, Carmella, and poor little Angelu. I could mention the charming Italian flair and the excellent food descriptions where a hint of honey is added to pizza dough to make it sweeter. But I’m going to end here by saying I can’t recommend this book enough to serious fiction readers. You have to start out slowly and build up momentum, but once Irving has you hooked, to the point where you feel you know these characters personally, you’re not going to leave until you’ve read every last word he’s written.

Elton John and David Furnish At the Royal Wedding


As with most posts on this blog, the focus is usually on all things LGBT related. And when I saw this photo of Elton John and his longtime partner, David Furnish, at the Royal Wedding, I wanted to post it for those who didn’t see it.

I think it’s a step forward…every little step counts…toward equality. And though many may not think it’s very important, I doubt Elton John would have openly invited his longtime partner, if he’d had one at the time, to the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana 30 years ago.

It’s taking forever, but times are changing.

HIV, Condoms, and What So Many Don’t Realize

This is mostly for younger people out there, straight or gay, who either don’t know all the facts or don’t know where to get them. But I think it’s important for everyone to know certain things we don’t hear about in the mainstream media often enough. And everything I post here can be looked up and confirmed in more detail, which I’d strongly advise everyone to do.

What prompted me to write this post was a comment I heard about how different things are nowadays with all the new HIV meds (ARVs) and that HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence…it’s a chronic disease. And this is true, and this is wonderful, and people are now living their lives with HIV. But it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I’ve written a few blog posts about a friend of mine who has HIV and how I helped him get his disability insurance back last year. You can read a few of the posts here along with a few other things I mentioned about HIV/AIDS.

I’ve worked very closely with the AIDS Law Project in helping my friend have his disablity insurance reinstated and it wasn’t easy. I also got to know one of the leading infectious disease doctors in the world while doing this, Dr Jay Kostman. Since then, I’ve asked Dr. Kostman…and his wonderful nurse practitioner, Jodi…many questions while I was researching for my books, and he’s been more than happy to oblige. And frankly, I have never met people more dedicated to helping people stay alive and maintain the quality of their lives before.

But the point of this post is that just because there are HIV meds out there doesn’t mean you stop being concerned. You still have to practice safe sex at all times to avoid being infected with the HIV virus. My friend, who isn’t that old, is on permanent disabilty for a reason and his entire life has been altered. I’ve seen this first hand. There are side effects from the HIV meds that are far too long to list here. And each med has a different long term effect on other parts of the body, which in turn leads to other chronic illnesses on top of the HIV. So while it’s wonderful we have these HIV drugs…I’m not diminishing this for a second…it’s not as simple as most people would lead us to believe. There is plenty of information on the Internet if you don’t believe me. All you have to do is a simple search and you’ll see what I mean.

The trouble is most people don’t research what’s going on enough. And the mainstream media only skims the surface and leads people to believe HIV is a simple, treatable illness now. But like any other illness, diabetes for example, living with HIV is a lot more complicated than it sounds. I was shocked while watching an Oprah Winfrey show last year when I heard Oprah admit to one of her guests she had no idea living with HIV was as complicated as it is. I hope she’s learned a little more since then.

And, the HIV meds aren’t cheap. If you’re lucky enough to have good medical insurance you might only have to pay a couple of thousand dollars a year out of your own pocket. If you don’t have health insurance and you have to pay for these drugs yourself, it could run well into thousands of dollars a month, which can bankrupt you very quickly in these times of hope and change. Again, if you don’t believe me, just do a simple search and see what HIV meds cost. You’ll be amazed. The information is out there but you have to look for it.

The best thing, for now, anyone sexually active can do is to take precautions and think before you do anything with someone you don’t know. This is why the characters in my books almost always use condoms, even though it’s fiction and I don’t have to do this. And this is why I’ve always used condoms myself. I personally have zero tolerance for this. I’ve seen too much to take any chances with my life and my health.

Publishing Isn’t Always Like It Looks On The Beekman Boys…

I see a lot of blog posts about how the publishing process works in traditional print publishing all the time. But I rarely see any that show new potential authors how things work in e-publishing. And, I was watching that reality TV show, The Beekman Boys, where the one guy (I’m bad with names…it’s not Brent…it’s the other one) had to go into New York and meet with an editor and discuss the concept for a new cookbook.

I love that show. But I don’t know why he had to meet in person. It looked to me like this was a meeting that could have been handled with a few simple e-mails. I guess this was something to fill up air time on TV and let the viewers know more about the cookbook? And there’s nothing wrong with that…it’s TV…larger than life. But I’d like potential authors to know this isn’t how it works in most cases in the real world, even though this is reality TV. Everything is done electronically now.

And I’ve worked with more editors at print publishers than I can remember off hand. I’ve been working with two e-publishers for the past six years now. I’ve been with http://www.loveyoudivine.com for six years, and http://www.ravenousromance.com for almost three. Like with traditional print publishers, the process can vary depending on the publisher. However, it’s basically the same.

This afternoon, for example, I received an e-mail from one e-publisher about the possibility of putting together another m/m romance series. Once the e-mails begin, it becomes an electronic brainstorming session between a few editors, the publishers, and me. It would be nice to meet in person, but I live in New Hope, Bucks County, PA, one lives in NYC, and the others live in Boston. If we met in person each time we had to discuss a new book there wouldn’t be any time to write or publish the book.

And this time I loved the idea they suggested and added my own opinions. Thankfully, they loved my opinions and the brainstorming continued until we had a basic overview of where the books in the serious would be going and where the stories would be set.

It’s all tentative right now. But I’ve found that once the basic concept is there and it begins to breathe, so to speak, it continues to grow in various stages until there’s actually a final product, which is the book.

It’s not always this easy, but most of the time it is. And it’s not at all unlike the brainstorming sessions I’ve had with editors at traditional print publishers. I once went back and forth with an editor at Alyson Books, about seven years ago, to get a short story for an anthology just right. We didn’t even have to pick up the phone that time. We did it all through e-mails and never had to leave our offices.

I would imagine most editors, agents, and publishers communicate with their authors this way, which makes it easier for everyone involved. And it’s never like anyone on TV would lead you to believe it is.

Breakfast with Prince Harry


If I lived in London, I’d be standing out there with everyone else trying to get a glimpse of the Royal Wedding. It’s not that I’m fascinated by monarchs, and I certainly don’t believe anything I read in the press about them…good or bad.

But this wedding is history in the making, and I find that fascinating. There’s also a romantic element, on a grand scale, I can’t ignore. And although my books might turn his red hair white, I certainly wouldn’t mind having breakfast with Prince Harry.

Prince Harry Planning Post-Royal Wedding Breakfast at 6amAll Night Party for Prince William and Kate Middleton. But where is Queen Elizabeth?Posted by COURTNEY CHAPMAN|4:02:58 AM EDT |Post a Comment

Prince Harry arrives at Twickenham Stadium to welcome back cyclists taking part in the Dallaglio Cycle Slam Feb. 25, 2010, in London. Harry has completed the Army Pilots Course at Middle Wallop.
(Samir Hussein/Getty Images)Best man, Prince Harry, is taking on an extra role at the royal wedding…party planner.

Prince William’s younger brother is said to be extremely involved with plans for the evening reception, a private party for 300 of Will and Kate’s closest friends and family.

His goal, reportedly to make it an evening his brother and new sister-in-law will never forget.

He’s planning for the celebration to last until 6am, well past the midnight end time when most British weddings call it a night.

ABC royal contributor, Katie Nicholl, reported in the Daily Mail that “sources close to William and Harry have instructed aides to plan a proper ‘knees up’, and courtiers are expecting it to carry on into the next day.”

So don’t expect the austerity of the reception venue to dictate the evening’s mood. Nicholl told ABC News “It may be a party taking place at Buckingham Palace, but rock it will.”

In fact, Buckingham residents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, won’t even be at the evening reception.

The Mirror reports that Prince William’s grandparents will head to Windsor Castle, “leaving their home in the hands of the younger royals.”

Prince Harry has arranged for the DJ to play into the early hours, so for those guests still dancing at the end of the night? A “survivors” post-wedding breakfast at 6 a.m.

According to Nicholl, caterers are preparing bacon sandwiches and “fry-ups.”

The Queen is throwing her own morning reception immediately following Prince William and Kate Middleton’s ceremony at Westminster Abbey.

Looks like the royal couple is getting two royal wedding breakfasts.

Here You Go Donald Trump: Obama’s Birth Certificate


I hope, once and for all, that grand-standing, publicity mongering, anti-gay, Donald Trump finds this birth certificate, released this morning from the White House, satisfactory. You can view the larger version by clicking the photo to the left or checking out the link here.

And please don’t get me wrong with this post. I’m not defending the President and I’m not taking any sides politically. I’m not a political person. But I do support all LGBT issues, and only LGBT issues. There are no gray areas for me when it comes to LGBT issues.

We’ve been asking the LGBT community and their friends and family to boycott Donald Trump’s reality TV show, The Celebrity Apprentice because of his stand on LGBT issues, not because of his rants about Obama’s birth certificate, or because the show is tired and it sux.

But, frankly, I’m glad the White House released this today. I’ve always thought there was something peculiar about Donald Trump just beneath the surface. Seriously, there’s something odd about Trump. When someone’s been married and divorced as many times as he has, he should be the last person to make a judgment on whether or not gays should be legally allowed to marry.

I Wonder How Book Pirates Feel About .99 E-books


With all the .99 e-books out there, I couldn’t help wondering how people who pirate e-books feel about this.

I have, I think, two books on Amazon for .99. An Officer and His Gentleman and Pretty Man. I’m fine with it. No problem. But then I trust my publishers to price my books and I really don’t have any say in the matter.

This .99 e-book thing makes me wonder about book pirates. I know there are people in different countries who can’t buy and download books in different parts of the world, so they pirate. I’ve read their comments in a previous post I wrote and I can sympathize with them.

But not everyone pirates e-books because they can’t actually buy them. Studies show that most books are pirated right here in the US. I’ve also heard there are a lot of other reasons, mainly that readers aren’t sure about whether or not they’ll like a book and before they spend money they’d rather pirate the book first.

Well, you can’t get cheaper than .99 a book. I’m interested in buying Shirley Maclaine’s new non-fiction book and I’m not getting anywhere close to the .99 deal her publishers are charging for her book at 9.99. Seriously. .99 a book beats the price of a hot dog at the ballpark, a cup of coffee at the local bodega, and certainly a gallon of gasoline in these wonderful times of hope and change. Actually, there’s not much you can get for .99 anymore.

No Left Turns…

Someone sent me this earlier today and I figured I’d post. In today’s crazy world, with everyone fighting over politics, it’s nice to read something that makes you think of the good old days.

This is a wonderful piece by Michael Gartner, editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News. In 1997, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. It is well worth reading, and a few good chuckles are guaranteed. Here goes….

My father never drove a car. Well, that’s not quite right. I should say I never saw him drive a car.

He quit driving in 1927, when he was 25 years old, and the last car he drove was a 1926 Whippet.

“In those days,” he told me when he was in his 90s, “to drive a car you had to do things with your hands, and do things with your feet, and look every which way, and I decided you could walk through life and enjoy it or drive through life and miss it.”

At which point my mother, a sometimes salty Irishwoman, chimed in:
“Oh, bull!” she said. “He hit a horse.”

“Well,” my father said, “there was that, too.”

So my brother and I grew up in a household without a car.. The neighbors all had cars — the Kollingses next door had a green 1941 Dodge, the VanLaninghams across the street a gray 1936 Plymouth, the Hopsons two doors down a black 1941 Ford — but we had none.

My father, a newspaperman in Des Moines , would take the streetcar to work and, often as not, walk the 3 miles home. If he took the streetcar home, my mother and brother and I would walk the three blocks to the streetcar stop, meet him and walk home together.

My brother, David, was born in 1935, and I was born in 1938, and sometimes, at dinner, we’d ask how come all the neighbors had cars but we had none. “No one in the family drives,” my mother would explain, and that was that.

But, sometimes, my father would say, “But as soon as one of you boys turns 16, we’ll get one.” It was as if he wasn’t sure which one of us would turn 16 first.

But, sure enough , my brother turned 16 before I did, so in 1951 my parents bought a used 1950 Chevrolet from a friend who ran the parts department at a Chevy dealership downtown.

It was a four-door, white model, stick shift, fender skirts, loaded with everything, and, since my parents didn’t drive, it more or less became my brother’s car.

Having a car but not being able to drive didn’t bother my father, but it didn’t make sense to my mother.

So in 1952, when she was 43 years old, she asked a friend to teach her to drive. She learned in a nearby cemetery, the place where I learned to drive the following year and where, a generation later, I took my two sons to practice driving. The cemetery probably was my father’s idea. “Who can your mother hurt in the cemetery?” I remember him saying more than once.

For the next 45 years or so, until she was 90, my mother was the driver in the family. Neither she nor my father had any sense of direction, but he loaded up on maps — though they seldom left the city limits — and appointed himself navigator. It seemed to work.

Still, they both continued to walk a lot. My mother was a devout Catholic, and my father an equally devout agnostic, an arrangement that didn’t seem to bother either of them through their 75 years of marriage.

(Yes, 75 years, and they were deeply in love the entire time.)

He retired when he was 70, and nearly every morning for the next 20 years or so, he would walk with her the mile to St. Augustin’s Church.
She would walk down and sit in the front pew, and he would wait in the back until he saw which of the parish’s two priests was on duty that morning. If it was the pastor, my father then would go out and take a 2-mile walk, meeting my mother at the end of the service and walking her home.

If it was the assistant pastor, he’d take just a 1-mile walk and then head back to the church. He called the priests “Father Fast” and “Father Slow.”

After he retired, my father almost always accompanied my mother whenever she drove anywhere, even if he had no reason to go along. If she were going to the beauty parlor, he’d sit in the car and read, or go take a stroll or, if it was summer, have her keep the engine running so he could listen to the Cubs game on the radio. In the evening, then, when I’d stop by, he’d explain: “The Cubs lost again. The millionaire on second base made a bad throw to the millionaire on first base, so the multimillionaire on third base scored.”

If she were going to the grocery store, he would go along to carry the bags out — and to make sure she loaded up on ice cream. As I said, he was always the navigator, and once, when he was 95 and she was 88 and still driving, he said to me, “Do you want to know the secret of a long life?”

“I guess so,” I said, knowing it probably would be something bizarre.

“No left turns,” he said.

“What?” I asked.

“No left turns,” he repeated. “Several years ago, your mother and I read an article that said most accidents that old people are in happen when they turn left in front of oncoming traffic.

As you get older, your eyesight worsens, and you can lose your depth perception, it said. So your mother and I decided never again to make a left turn.”

“What?” I said again.

“No left turns,” he said. “Think about it.. Three rights are the same as a left, and that’s a lot safer. So we always make three rights.”

“You’re kidding!” I said, and I turned to my mother for support.

“No,” she said, “your father is right. We make three rights. It works.” But then she added: “Except when your father loses count.”

I was driving at the time, and I almost drove off the road as I started laughing.

“Loses count?” I asked.

“Yes,” my father admitted, “that sometimes happens. But it’s not a problem. You just make seven rights, and you’re okay again.”

I couldn’t resist. “Do you ever go for 11?” I asked.

“No,” he said ” If we miss it at seven, we just come home and call it a bad day. Besides, nothing in life is so important it can’t be put off another day or another week.”

My mother was never in an accident, but one evening she handed me her car keys and said she had decided to quit driving. That was in 1999, when she was 90.

She lived four more years, until 2003. My father died the next year, at 102.

They both died in the bungalow they had moved into in 1937 and bought a few years later for $3,000. (Sixty years later, my brother and I paid $8,000 to have a shower put in the tiny bathroom — the house had never had one. My father would have died then and there if he knew the shower cost nearly three times what he paid for the house.)

He continued to walk daily — he had me get him a treadmill when he was 101 because he was afraid he’d fall on the icy sidewalks but wanted to keep exercising — and he was of sound mind and sound body until the moment he died.

One September afternoon in 2004, he and my son went with me when I had to give a talk in a neighboring town, and it was clear to all three of us that he was wearing out, though we had the usual wide-ranging conversation about politics and newspapers and things in the news.

A few weeks earlier, he had told my son, “You know, Mike, the first hundred years are a lot easier than the second hundred.”

At one point in our drive that Saturday, he said, “You know, I’m probably not going to live much longer.”

“You’re probably right,” I said.

“Why would you say that?” he countered, somewhat irritated.

“Because you’re 102 years old,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “you’re right.” He stayed in bed all the next day.

That night, I suggested to my son and daughter that we sit up with him through the night.

He appreciated it, he said, though at one point, apparently seeing us look gloomy, he said: “I would like to make an announcement. No one in this room is dead yet!”

An hour or so later, he spoke his last words:

“I want you to know,” he said, clearly and lucidly, “that I am in no pain. I am very comfortable. And I have had as happy a life as anyone on this earth could ever have.”

A short time later, he died.

I miss him a lot, and I think about him a lot. I’ve wondered now and then how it was that my family and I were so lucky that he lived so long.

I can’t figure out if it was because he walked through life, or because he quit taking left turns.

Life is too short to wake up with regrets.

So love the people who treat you right.
Forget about those who don’t.
Believe everything happens for a reason.
If you get a chance, take it and if it changes your life, let it.
Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.

ENJOY LIFE NOW – IT HAS AN EXPIRATION DATE!

Why Is the Subject of Sex Always Ignored on Most Publishing Blogs?

I’m not talking about the kind of sex in the books I write. Although I purposely keep this blog G-rated, I write erotic romances that would never cross into the mainstream. And, I make no apologies to anyone for what I write. Frankly, I think people like reading about sex in novels, and as long as it’s done with discretion (and sometimes a sense of humor)there’s nothing wrong with adults who read sexy novels.

Sex is part of life. A huge part of life. It’s how we all got here and it’s something most of us think about a lot during the course of a day. As a matter of fact I once read that the two things people lie about the most are sex and money.

And yet in all the years I’ve been reading publishing blogs I’ve rarely ever seen sex mentioned in blog posts that are written by literary agents and editors. And when it is mentioned it is either laughed at, with that snide funny-ha-ha nervous school girl laugh, or it’s dismissed as insignificant. Hell, I posted the other day about a book reviewer who sneered and actually crossed her legs reading one sex scene…a sex scene that’s in a bestselling romance book out right now.

I’ve seen literary agents post about queries and the query system with the kind of passion most normal people in the world save for sex. I’ve seen publishing blog posts where sexy book covers are trashed, on purpose, as if there’s something wrong with good looking people showing off their bodies. I even read a blog post once where the blogger, a literary agent who reps authors without impressive sales rankings, not only made a point of saying he wasn’t interested in erotic novels but that he despised them.

You have wonder about this thought process in a general sense. Millions of good, wonderful people out there are buying and reading erotic romances and novels across the board and yet you’ll only see a rare few in the mainstream, gatekeeping sector of publishing industry discussing it openly. And when they do, many times they are laughing at it. It reminds me of the politicians we read about who are condeming sex all the time and then we find them sneaking around in public bathrooms or hiring hookers. These publishing bloggers, literary agents included, have to be getting it somewhere…at least I would hope they are.

There are plenty of blog posts written about YA novels, MG novels, and children’s books. So many I could gag sometimes. I see them all the time, and frankly they put me to sleep. I think they put most people to sleep, but no one ever comes right out and says this openly.

I’ve read sexy scenes written in mainstream literary novels. Jonathan Franzen wrote quite a few in his latest book, and so did John Irving. They both did it well and their books sold well. And yet I’ll go to an agent or editor web site or blog and I’ll see the same old cheesy blogs posts being recycled about those hideous query letters and how important it is to spell the agent’s name right.

Personally, I think if these bloggers in publishing concentrated on human sexuality with regard to fiction a little more, in a tasteful, discreet way (at the very least,) we’d all be a lot better off for it. And I think the bloggers would, too. You’d see a lot less complaints about query letters and a lot more blog posts about how much fun life can be sometimes. You’d also see a lot less cheese being handed out to people interested in getting valid information about the publishing industry. There’s a reason why Jackie Collins sold millions of books and Betty Jean Primrose of the ACME Literary Agency only sold a couple of hundred.

And although I often think there are some in the publishing world who would like to see sex completely disappear from the universe, I doubt this is going to happen any time soon.

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