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Alma Lolloon – Work in Progress

“Alma Lolloon” is the title of my next novel, which is in the final proofreading and editing stages. I’m using the same publishing platform (CreateSpace) as I used for “Penina’s Letters” and “Coconut Oil,” but I’ve decided to roll chapter one onto the Toads blog to introduce the new work and to spark interest. I hope to have completed hard copies ready in December. Meantime, I’ll be posting excerpts here on the blog.

From Chapter One of the novel “Alma Lolloon”: Casting On

“Words is just sounds,” I heard Annie was saying, coming back from the lanterloo to rejoin them on the stuffed couches in the picture window at Lard’s Coffee they were Saturday morning, the knitting ladies.

“Words are noise,” Rufa nodded.

“Ah, fiddlesticks, I left my notebook in the loo,” and when I came back again they hushed like people do when they’ve been talking about you and suddenly you appear in their midst and there’s that pregnant pause.

“So you’re writing a book, then, are you, Alma,” Annie breaks the water of that wait and you could feel the rupture spill and spread across the hardwood floor.

“How long does one give labor to a book before quitting?” Hattie said with her know better than you ever will crooked smile.

“But what do you possibly have to fill a book with, Alma?” Rufa said.

“But I married five times, didn’t I, one selfish boy and four hapless men? Surely that ought to hold enough to fill a few chapters.”

“Ah, but what is good, what is marriage, what is a boy or a man? There must be some argument,” said Hattie.

“And what, pray leave me, is a wife?” Hattie went on, as is her wont, questioning everything but leaving no time for an answer before moving on to another question. Times she could be such the rhetorical bitch, and always jumping to the supposed hidden meaning of something when you hadn’t even discussed what was actually happening yet. But that Hattie was the book club hostess. The knitting Hattie was rarely so contrary. But the idea of my doing a book seems stuck in her professorial craw and she’s having trouble swallowing it.

“And I never divorced a one of my hopeless helpmates, wouldn’t you like to know?” I said, amplifying my voice a bit to hold the floor while I got something all out.

Ashen Venema’s Course of Mirrors: An Odyssey

As we begin our trip with Ana, leaving her teens and moving from a self-renounced medieval privilege to her own renaissance, we get the feeling she has no interest in becoming the subject of some troubadour’s love song or any knight’s lady waiting in a fortified manor house for her man to come home with the meat and mead. She’s interested in neither shame nor honor. The holy grail of “Course of Mirrors: An Odyssey” is a story of one’s own. This is not your mom’s fairy tale.

A medieval mystery play, a miracle play, directed by an evil Preacher, brings Ana a quick and unwanted celebrity. But the Preacher is a vaudevillian, the sacrifice, like the Catholic mass, intended to be bloodless. Fine, Ana wonders, but what was his plan for her if she was not to die? And something about the Preacher, his looks, his bearing, his power to pander, attracts Ana. We don’t always want what’s good for us.

We are on a rogue adventure in a picaresque tale where disguise and subterfuge are necessary and ordinary. Ana dresses as a boy, learns to live off herbs and small animals from her mentor Rheine, and, in the course of their travels and travails, embraces a realism rooted in the fairy tale. For example, now hiding from her mother now searching for her girl disguised as a boy, in the hold of a boat where,

“Far too many horses, mules, sheep, goats, fowl and pets were cramped together with hardly any ventilation. The sickening stench of urine and droppings eventually defeated me. At daybreak I retched and escaped onto the first deck. Bent with pain, I was violently sick over the railing, onto the oars below.” Also realistic is the humor; Rheine says, “I’d an inkling your night would be disagreeable.”

The miracle play motif is picked up by a traveling theater troupe: “Rheine had squeezed my hand on occasions. The irreverence brought to the miracle made us simultaneously cry and laugh with the audience. Humour softened my bitter memory. I told myself that the saint business was a mob dream.”

But we are as quickly brought from a saving humor to a murderous reality: “People and animals thrashed in the water or floated lifeless in the wake of the burning…The men pulled three bodies into their boat and attacked the rest with oars. They pushed the living underwater to their deaths.”

In the space of a few episodes, then, we are caught in our runaway’s fallopian fall from innocence to experience, pushed by a stubborn insistence on an existential rebirthing, from parental expectations to a daughter’s commitment to freedom. The contemporary allegory may have its roots in the counter culture movement of the 1960’s, when costume and disguise, stage renaissance fair updated with hallucinogenic lighting, pretend sacrifice, and children on the run from the neurotic, war damaged psyches of their parents figured out new ways to live and tell the old stories.

In any case, the future is never far behind, where our decisions have consequences. This is time travel, in the form of foil character Cara’s journal: “A handful of us are perched on the flat roof of a skyscraper; I can’t see the faces of the people with me, they are strangers. The tower sways like a ship tossed about in an ocean, climbing a rising wave, only to plummet. The tower tilts. I slide and cling to the leaded rim of the flat roof. There is a sudden lurch.” Cara’s time altered mirrored narrative within a narrative both clarifies and complicates Ana’s predicament as the plot unfolds like a house of falling playing cards. The story’s movement is metallic, its setting competing communes, its joy food and drink, its darkness plague and plundering and penury, beggary and politics. Its themes include independence, movement and flow, archetypal psychological imprints: the quest, journey, river, the map; loveless marriage and surrogate parental forces and mystery births; instinct and intuition, magic, alternates – including love and sex and the confusions one brings to the other.

The writing style moves with the themes. Some of the descriptions are like Hieronymus Bosch paintings, people burning in fires, drowning, children screaming, animals too, faces hiding in the brush. As our heroine prepares for her first kiss, though, the writing changes to the lavender prose of a teen romance novel. An entire chapter is given to what becomes the disappointing epiphany, where the “peeling” of one’s clothes reveals a plush orange that screams when split. She gets used to it, but then the prose turns to the stark realism of relationships: “Naivety is a curse. Crushed like a rose and tossed into the pale remains of a fire, I was of no use, not even as fuel for kindling. I should have asked the river to take me when it offered to.”

There is an economy to the writing that is expedient, efficient. A history of a people and a land must be told, but so must a personal diary be explained. The narration moves from first person to third person without any introduction or worry. The switch is simply necessary to keep the story moving. And our first person has other ways of knowing, of omniscience. Sentience appears as a kind of hallucinogen usually hidden within things. Perception pulls life force from stone, going forth as well as taking in.

How serious is all this? First, it’s great fun. And shouldn’t writing, particularly the writing of a novel, bring pleasure to both the writer and the reader? The risk is a flatness, two dimensional characterizations, an animated film, the artistry of which undercuts its own reality. Myth when expanded usually fills with irony. Second, there are borrowings of form from myth and fairy tale that legitimize the atmosphere of magic and fantasy. But it takes a great leap of imagination to enter an invented world open eyed, to pretend even after all pretense has been lost. But this is the writer’s explanation of things, of life, of a life, anyway, this book. In some purviews, every thing must be explained. So the mechanical pencil might come to explain safe sex.

Of course sex is not to be mistaken for love, or the prostitute would be out of business, but does the withholding of sex from one’s willing marriage partner signify un-love? Ana is consumed by the adults in her life, ignored or suffocated, and suffers from the only child curse, which requires the fantasy playmate so she’s somebody to talk to. From the pretend playmate the child learns mimicry. The playmate passes on the talisman. There is a kind of shorthand to the method that results, again, in a two dimensional telling, even though the attempt is a mimesis of the whole. When does the whole break into parts of sentimentalism, and from there to irony? “My poetry, he [Lionel] said, is devoted to the feminine spirit.” Ana responds, a severe critic: “They were bad poems, overly sentimental.” And this only a few pages from sharing Cara’s poem the reader may find sentimental in its longing to find some meaning in the “void.” Later, Professor Ruskin will fill in the blanks. We must remind ourselves the sacrifice was staged. But even a staged sacrifice has consequences. That’s where the repetition comes from. “It breaks my heart that the feud of brothers should repeat itself into another generation. It’s like a curse.” No, it’s not “like a curse”; it is a curse. The curse is metaphor, allegory – but even the language of the physicists can’t adequately explain what we either see or don’t see. All of creation is just that – an artist’s rendition, a depiction, a deduction.

But the epiphany does come, or comes down, and “she will compose her own song.” A song of one’s own. A myth of one’s own. “I could no longer strangle my voice.” She composes her own poem:

“I’ll kick your ghost
out of here – I’ll make no more
bargains with your fear…”

But have we instead cut a deal with our therapy? The troupe now performs a parody of the miracle, as if we need reminding it wasn’t a real miracle to begin with. “In the shadow of each mask lies desire.” Desire for what? Power? Or to be used by some mad man’s “mad ambitions?” And what’s the ambition, the obsession, all about? We’re back to teen romance, now darkened with a certain amount of experience: “Unsure whether to laugh or cry, I cancelled my response, flattening my lover’s pleasure.” As if he cares, which might be part of the attraction. By the time we get to Batin’s place, we’re ready for the details of the dark side. We come across “Cults of Ecstasy” and the “pit” of “correction.” Are these bridges to the real world?

We continue to meet new characters, travel, encounter new adventures. The book is divided into 29 numbered chapters, each divided into smaller, titled sections. There is a prologue and a short epilogue, and useful lists of characters, and a map and a list of places. The lists contain short descriptions of character and place. Time moves back and forth, like eddies in a river. We fall deeper into the encyclopedic epic. We are not out of trouble yet, as the short section “Cockroaches in the hellhole” makes clear. Ana is saved from a “sickening concoction of smells – rancid fat, stale urine, sweat and rum,” and “broken teeth.” Little Snake is a welcomed if late well-developed character. Cassia appears. We discover what “dissolves a curse,” and what it’s like to make love “truly naked.”

What gives shape to a life drifts off with words. We close the book, glance up, and there we are, again, leaving, looking for something new. Myth is individual experience repeated, over and over again, until it becomes universal and a story everyone understands. Myth is not false news. It’s a way of telling a story.

Course of Mirrors: An Odyssey, by Ashen Venema; 2017, Matador, 377 pages.

Look Inside “Coconut Oil”

“Coconut Oil” is ready, the “look inside” feature enabled, paperback and e-version.

Forty years have passed since the close of “Penina’s Letters,” and Penina and Salty return to Refugio, a fictional beach town on Santa Monica Bay, in “Coconut Oil,” a sequel to “Penina’s Letters.” 

Salty is again our first person narrator, and “Coconut Oil” continues an experimental narrative form – as Sal hands the mic off to several other characters and we are brought up to date on Refugio.

The themes of “Coconut Oil” include aging, housing and homelessness, gentrification, and how we occupy ourselves over time.

The style is experimental in a way a common reader might enjoy. And there is music! Songs, dancing, and some funky text features!

The back cover photo for “Coconut Oil” was taken from the northbound Coast Starlight train as it passed by the point at Refugio Beach, California, a campground 26 miles north of Santa Barbara, in the late 70’s. The front cover photo, more recent, shows the author’s shadow over a tree hollow holding mushrooms that look like bird eggs (where his heart should be).

Refugio from Coast Starlight
Refugio Beach from Coast Starlight Special

A Short Excerpt from Coconut Oil

Here is a very short excerpt from the “Wintertide” chapter of “Coconut Oil.”

Oh, and the jouissance of the creamy oil’s single flavor savors of favor, in the bath, kitchen, by the four-poster or berth, for dry skin, diaper rash, or when the dark knells for thee. No need to refrigerate. Oil squeaky hinges, refurbish dull wood finishes, fry Copper River salmon in cast iron skillet, remove warts (rub under duct tape), fly cats to the moon or snorkel under ocean kelp beds, race around the ceiling, the coconut salesman is at your door!

Be the first on your block to order a copy of “Coconut Oil”!

Paperback $8 … e-Copy $2.99

 

  • Paperback: 194 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (May 24, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1530995264
  • ISBN-13: 978-1530995264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches

Coconut Oil eCover

 

 

Coconut Oil – A Novel Book Launch

Salty and Penina, the war torn, young couple from “Penina’s Letters,” return to Refugio in “Coconut Oil,” a sequel.

They come home to Refugio (the fictional beach town located north of El Porto and south of Grand on Santa Monica Bay) in an attempt to retire a bit early. So forty or so years have passed since the close of “Penina’s Letters.”

Salty is again our first person narrator. But “Coconut Oil” continues an experimental narrative form, and Sal hands the mic off to several other characters as we are brought up to date on Refugio.

The themes of “Coconut Oil” include aging, housing and homelessness, gentrification, and how we occupy ourselves over time. The form is experimental in a way a common reader might enjoy.

The paperback version of “Coconut Oil” is available now, and the electronic version should be up next week.

The back cover photo for “Coconut Oil” was taken from the northbound Coast Starlight train as it passed by the point at Refugio Beach, California, a campground about 26 miles north of Santa Barbara. The photo was taken sometime in the late 70’s.

Refugio from Coast Starlight
Refugio from Coast Starlight Special

 

Coming Soon! Coconut Oil, a New Novel by Joe Linker

Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal,” argues a single solution to homelessness that Swift proudly suggests would provide a host of beneficial side effects. Satire is sometimes hard to get, or hard to take, the difference between satire and farce being that satire aims at a target. One might today imagine a certain presidential candidate coming up with a proposal like Swift’s that many might take seriously, missing the satirical target – and that would be farcical.

Of the critical reviews appearing for “Penina’s Letters,” several stand out for their clear and concise but right-on insight into the book. Lisa, a family friend from the Vatican Hill days, posted a picture of “Penina’s Letters” being read in a swimming pool in Cabo with the comment:

“So this was a great read – hit on some serious issues – but I enjoyed the ride – and still can’t figure out where 48th Street is located.”

Lisa’s comment hits on significant aspects of the book – how do we treat serious issues in fiction that is also intended to entertain? And she joins in the fun by wandering around looking for a fictional street she knows doesn’t exist.

My friend Dan posted a longer review to his blog, and when I thanked him in an email, he wrote back,

“It’s a very good novel.”

Dan’s a reader, suffers no delusions about stuff, and is thrifty with his complements.

Meanwhile, over at Youssef Rakha’s Cosmopolitan Hotel site, Philippa Rees has this to say in a comment:

“Hugely atmospheric, and sharply conveys the sightly abrasive affection, the wind and the sand papering the uncertainty. Enjoyed the drive to the ocean.”

And under the “Penina’s Letters” excerpt published by Berfrois, Philippa wrote:

“An underpinning of real harrowing tension in this. Could hardly bear the savage exposure of the truly private in a ribald public arena. There are some crimes of insensitivity that merit the return of the stocks!”

Also meanwhile, my Facebook friends had a bit of fun posting pictures of their copy of the book, being read or held or posed at various locations, including Mexico, France (on a Kindle in Paris), Montana, airplane to Los Angeles, dashboard of car in Sellwood, Studio City, Minneapolis airport bookstore, in the woods above Los Angeles, on an office desk near the Willamette, a deck in Bend, Voodoo Doughnuts, a pool room in Portland’s Hawthorne neighborhood, a bike repair apartment in Seattle, outside the Mojave Cancer Center, a very cool San Francisco pad, a neighbor’s house on 69th, a laptop with Instagram photo in Aloha, another sitting out in the yard on a warm day on the west side, on a table with the rest of the mail in Ione, on a shelf at Em’s with her cookbooks, Warren’s place in North Portland, a desktop in El Segundo, on a quilt in Barstow, and please let me know if I missed one, because what a great marketing idea!

Anyway, I was encouraged by the reader response to “Penina’s Letters.” The novel may not be what many expected it to be. And most readers seem to intuit that we probably should not criticize something for not being what it was not intended to be. It’s also hard to finish everything we pick up. I get that. I’ve nearly always got a dozen or so books and magazine articles in disarray around the house in the process of being read, but then there’s always something that pulls you to it, and you wind up finishing it before anything else. That’s maybe a good definition of a good read.

And I was so encouraged by the reader response that I’m now announcing the sequel to “Penina’s Letters,” called “Coconut Oil.” Please don’t think I wrote “Coconut Oil” in a couple of months. Like “Penina’s Letters,” “Coconut Oil” is a final (Beckett said abandoned) draft of years of writing and reading work. As Cornel West said in “Examined Life,” “Time is real.” So I finally decided to “light out for the Territory,” though unlike Huckleberry, ahead of hardly anyone else.

I’ll let you know when “Coconut Oil” is ready to launch!

Oh, yeah, that bit above about Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” That has to do with “Coconut Oil.” You’ll see.

Meantime, thanks to the readers of “Penina’s Letters”!

IMG_20160417_143645
on Hawthorne Blvd

 

 

Penina’s Letters for $2.99!

The electronic version of “Penina’s Letters” is now available at the discount price of $2.99 (and free to Kindle Unlimited Subscribers).

The e-version can be read on any device – with the Kindle app, which can be downloaded for free (click link above).

We don’t recommend reading the electronic version in water, though that might be the best place to read this dynamic novel, but at the low, low price of $2.99, you can certainly read it with your device up on the beach, near the water.

e-Version Details

  • File Size: 2077 KB
  • Print Length: 291 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1530686881
  • Publisher: Joe Linker; 1 edition (March 28, 2016)
  • Publication Date: March 28, 2016
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01DJWPLUY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

Paperback Details

  • Paperback: 290 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (March 25, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1530686881
  • ISBN-13: 978-1530686889
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches