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Sunflowers!

Two weeks ago I decided I wanted sunflowers for a portion of the garden that was now empty. So, we visited Thies Farm, one of the local markets we’ve enjoyed for several years, and sure enough they had pots of 4 for just $5. So, we bought two of them. They are about 2 feet tall now.

We’ve tried growing them from seeds in years past but never had much luck. They’d come up and bloom, but they never got very tall. I’m hoping these take off and are sky high by October. Right now they are a little droopy because it’s been triple degree weather, but we got rain this past Sunday so maybe they will start looking up.

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Best-Kept Boy in the World

I was so pleased to stumble across this book this week, Best-Kept Boy in the World by Arthur Vanderbilt, due out next February from Magnus Press, and I immediately pre-ordered it.

For a man who has a Wikipedia page just as detailed as the pages of the authors he inspired, instead of telling you who “Denny” was, I’ll share with you information about the book from its own Preface which puts him into perspective quite nicely:

The Best-Kept Boy in the World is the first book ever written about Denham (Denny) Fouts (1914-1948), the twentieth century’s most famous male prostitute. He was a socialite and muse whose extraordinary life started off humbly in Jacksonville, Florida. But in short order he befriend (and bedded) the rich and celebrated and in the process conquered the world.

No less an august figure than the young Gore Vidal was enchanted by Denny’s special charms. He twice modeled characters on Denny in his fiction, saying it was a pity that Denny never wrote a memoir. To Vidal he was “un homme fatal.”

Truman Capote, who devoted a third of Answered Prayers to Denny’s life story, found that “to watch him walk into a room was an experience. He was beyond being good-looking; he was the single most charming-looking person I’ve ever seen.”

Writer Christopher Isherwood, who Denny considered his best friend, was more to the point: he called him “the most expensive male prostitute in the world.” He thus served as the source for the character Paul in Isherwood’s novel Down There on a Visit and appears as himself frequently in his published diaries.

But Denny’s conquests were not limited to the US alone.

Somerset Maugham in England has Denny in his celebrated novel The Razor’s Edge.

To King Paul of Greece he was “my dear Denham” or “Darling Denham,” and the King’s telegrams to Denny from the Royal Palace always were signed “love, Paul.”

Peter Watson, the wealthy financial backer of the popular British literary magazine Horizon, had an erection whenever he was in the same room with Denny.

The artist Michael Wishart met Denny for the first time at a party in Paris and realized instantly he was in love and that “the only place in the world I wanted to be was in Denham’s bedroom.”

And Lord Tredegar, one of the largest landowners in Great Britain, saw Denny being led by the police through the lobby of an expensive hotel in Capri, convinced the police to let him pay the bills Denny owed, and then took Denny to accompany him and his wife as they continued on their tour of the world.

It was because of lofty connections such as these that Capote echoed Isherwood’s remark by quipping that Denny was the “best-kept boy in the world,” thereby coming up with the title of the chapter in Answered Prayers about Denny.

In his short life, Denny achieved a mythic status, and this book follows him into his rarified world of barons and shipping tycoons, lords, princes, heirs of great fortunes, artists, and authors. Here is the story of an American original, a story with an amazing cast of unforgettable characters and extraordinary settings, the book Gore Vidal wished Denny had written.

Denny never did write his own story, but he does move through many memoirs of the times. And for some of the most renowned authors of those times, he was a muse, and that color he brought into a squirrel-gray world inspired them to capture him in their prose. Denny is “Paul” in Christopher Isherwood’s Down There on a Visit. He is a character in Gore Vidal’s novel The Judgment of Paris, and in his short story “Pages from an Abandoned Journal”. He appears in Truman Capote’s infamous Answered Prayers on which the author was working, or not working, when he died. He was proud to find himself a character in Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge.

To be immortalized in a story by a famed author would be enough to earn a footnote in literary history. To have inspired the body of work Denham Fouts did is to become a legend. This is his story.

***

I first met Denny (not in a physical sense) when I became acquainted with Truman Capote back in college. While Denny would just be a common boy toy today, I was mesmerized by the fact that so many men were so enamored by him and wrote about him. Think of him as what Marilyn Monroe was back in the day, or any big Hollywood star that everyone was in love with for that matter.  Only he wasn’t famous.

He must have had just a magnetic personality out of this world and much charisma because I don’t really find him all that attractive. Not attractive enough to stop wars anyway!

But today we are so desensitized by sex thanks to television and the internet which makes it so readily available. Too much of a good thing?  I’d long for the day where a simple boy crush on a man among friends did it for me.

So I’m excited that someone has finally written a book ABOUT Denny! I look forward to reading it.

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Book Review: Return to Crutcher Mountain by Melinda Clayton

Return to Crutcher Mountain is sort of a follow-up to Melinda Clayton’s first book, Appalachian Justice, actually taking place several months later from where AJ ended. The focus in this book is on Jessie, whose tortured childhood past was revealed in AJ. In Clayton’s second book, Jessie is all grown up and doing well for herself.  She’s got a steady career in Hollywood as a filmmaker and she’s happily dating.  In true Southern Lit fashion, something happens “back home,” calling Jessie to return to the small town she so eagerly escaped long ago.

But Jessie’s roots are still planted firm in Cedar Hollow.  After Billy May (Jessie’s mother by heart who is the central character in AJ) passed away, Jessie turned Billy May’s cabin into a wilderness lodge for children with special needs. Crutcher Mountain had been a rehabilitative sanctuary for both Jessie and Billy May, and it was Billy May’s wish for other children to experience it the same way. When strange events start happening at the lodge, possibly putting the children in danger, a note actually surfaces requesting Jessie to return to the mountain.

Clayton herself is a psychotherapist and her background shines through in the narrative.  While the mystery here is not as complex as in her other books, there’s still something peculiar going on.  But Clayton has built a strong psyche for each of her characters with Dr. Wright, head of the lodge, as the center catalyst.  The reader is unsure if there’s an underlying evil waiting to strike out from somewhere, and so we keep reading just to find out!  Add to this another mystery concerning the identity of Jessie’s true father, a pair of elderly but odd caretakers at the lodge, a disgruntled ex lodge employee, and an aloof sheriff, and you’ve got backwood small town drama at its finest.

The book is told in first person narrative mainly from Jessie’s point of view, making it easy to warm up to her as a character, but there are a few chapters told from Robby’s perspective. He is a young boy at the lodge with Down Syndrome who takes a liking to Jessie once she arrives. Their relationship and how they help each other provides a warm minor plot line that really gives the book heart.

Overall, this is a quick read that relies strongly on the setting of Cedar Hollow, much like Clayton’s other two books. And it is through this setting that we fall in love with the characters – though often stereotypes of small town life in real society or on the old black and white TV days gone by – they are ones we relate to, particularly when we have small town blood ourselves. Clayton writes it so well, and that’s why she has easily become one of my favorite authors over the past year.

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Ten Things I’ve Learned From My Beard

I decided not to shave a week ago today.  It’s not uncommon for me to go a day or two without shaving, but it’s been a week now. It grows so quick I typically have five o’clock shadow just a few hours after I shave, so it was no surprise I’d look like this by now.

The picture was taken literally just a few moments ago.  Seven days worth!  I’ve had a goatee and a soul patch before, but never a full beard so it’s been fun and interesting to say the least.

This got me to thinking about some of the funny things I’ve learned this week from letting it grow out, worthy enough of a blog post at least…

#1  After three days of heavy scruff, people began to ask if I was growing a beard. My reply was yes, but I thought that was a funny question.  It was usually followed by a “Why?” to which I didn’t really have a firm answer so I just said “I felt like it.” When growing facial hair, be prepared for bizarre questions.

#2 I was afraid it would be itchy, but it’s not bad especially when I keep it trimmed off the neck.  Itchy myths debunked.  But this leads to rule #3…

#3 Keeping it shaved off your neck and achieving a nice straight line below your jaw and chin that’s equal on both sides is a bitch!  It’d be easier just to shave the whole thing off.

#4  When you start growing a beard, other hair seems to think it’s okay to start growing too.  The hair in my nose, on my cheeks, and on my ears has required extra attention this week.  C’mon!  I never had hair that high on my cheeks before!

#5 Extra napkins, please.  Hair is a catch all around your mouth when eating and you can’t really feel it lingering there like you would if it was on your face.  Just when I think I’ve wiped my mouth pretty good, I go to the bathroom only to find crumbs lingering.

#6 Chapstick is a must. I’m constantly tickling my tongue with my bristle around my mouth but it really dries out the lips.

#7 Man scape daily!  Besides the hair on my cheeks that needs taming now, I’m also using scissors to clip around the sideburns, the neck, the mouth.  Trimming hedges in the yard is easier!

#8 Wet. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Washing the face now takes a bit longer, especially to rinse.

#9 Heat may break the deal.  Why I chose to grow a beard now in the dead of summer with triple digit weather outside is beyond me.  But so far, it has not been an issue.

#10  I look pretty good with a beard if I do say so myself.  So for now, I’m keeping it and going to keep up with it.

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Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I was subjected to mostly Shakespeare in high school thanks to the personal tastes of teachers who didn’t follow a more traditional reading list curriculum, so, sadly here I am reading Frankenstein for the first time at the age of 36.

All of my previous knowledge of Shelley’s book comes from the 1931 classic film starring Boris Karloff as the monster, a movie which I must admit I’ve never seen. But thanks to the monster’s constant use in pop culture and other reference in society, like everything else we are subjected to on a regular basis, the image became an icon which became embedded in our brains as knowledge – knowledge I was completely wrong about!

This is the perfect example of Hollywood taking a book, keeping its concept in a sense, and changing everything else. For example, Victor is not really a mad scientist living in some German castle high on a cliff using all kinds of bizarre machinery to give life to a body he stitched together from body parts that his assistant Igor picked up in some prison cemetery. Nope! Not it at all really. We don’t even have the classic torch wielding mob scene in the end.

Instead, Victor is a smart student who becomes interested in medical science while at university and discovers how to give life to that which is dead. He does steal body parts from crypts and such, but that’s it. No castle. No glamorous laboratory. No Igor. Shelley doesn’t even really go into the details about the creation of the monster itself. The monster just wakes up one day and Victor is immediately disgusted by what he’s done.

Six years pass before Victor even encounters the monster again, when Victor’s young brother is killed and a beloved guardian is accused. Here, we meet a very intellectual monster who tells Victor the story of how he has been observing a poor family living in a cabin in the woods and has been learning by their everyday actions. The monster rattles on for a good fifty or so pages about everything he has seen and experienced. No one-worded “Massster!” mumbles for him! But it is from the monster’s point of view that we really begin to see the intention of the classic story.

This is a book about human suffering and acceptance. It is about our need in society to fit in and to have friends and companions like us and who do not judge us. Frankenstein has been called the first “science fiction” book, and while it lacks certain dark elements that might attract today’s readers, it’s still a good solid Victorian novel with underlying themes of the human condition.

I’m glad I spent time with Shelley at this age; I certainly appreciate it more than I probably would have twenty years ago.

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How To Write Your Novel In Eight Weeks

At first, I thought I should call this post: WHY I LEFT FACEBOOK AGAIN!, but since I’ve done that before (in mid-June I left FB for the 3rd time now!) and wrote about before, I thought something a little more informative was in order.  I’m going to tell you why I left Facebook, but the reason behind it is much more important.

I left to write a novel.

Yep. Plain and simple. You might think it’s easy to write if you just leave the internet alone for a while. After all, it will be there when you get back. But for me, it was easier to step away and distance myself from everyone’s drama, catty misspelled cell phone posts, minute-by-minute updates about how bad your day is going (“Is it Friday yet?”), and petty needs to be “liked.” (Cause gosh darn it, people like me!) When I’m not checking in to see what everyone else is bitching about, or composing bitches of my own, I discovered I get a lot more done.

Now each morning I check my email. I check my bank account. I check my book sales. And then I’m done. Three tasks that each take about one minute of my time, leaving me with more time to write! Call me anti-social, but call me a writer! I’ve always said it was a lonely task, but I couldn’t be happier when I’m actually getting it done.

Sadly, I’m not going to tell you what this book is about.  Not yet. For me, writing a book is like a lover I’m having a secret affair with. The fewer people who know the better! I want that excitement all too myself. Call me selfish, but yep, call me a writer!

When I decided to quit Facebook and devote more time to this project, I hit it head on and man, I hit it hard. I committed to writing 10,000 words per week and I set my goal at 80,000 for this project.  Yep! That means I’ll finish my first rough draft in just 8 weeks. As of today, I’m on target to reach 40K by Saturday – the end of week 4!

So Rule #1 is easy.  People say they don’t have time to write. Well, you have to make time, even if it means leaving Facebook. Where do you start? With a blank page and a word or two.  I write twice a day: before work and before bed.

Rule #2: Set a goal and stick to it!  In his nonfiction book On Writing, Stephen King says he likes to try to write 2,000 words a day. Often more, but never less. If you do this, you can write four books a year: one per season, 180,000 words each.  You’ll cut most of that in rewrites, but that’s okay. If you cut half, you are left with 90K and that’s a good sized novel. I’ve always followed his advice, or at least tried to when it comes to setting a goal.

So, set that word goal and get busy.  I used to try a daily goal but would often beat myself up if I didn’t hit it. So, with this book I set a weekly goal instead and it’s working out just fine. I have seven days to get there. If I get there early, good for me! I keep going! If you divide up that weekly goal by each sitting, that’s roughly 700 words each time I sit down to write.  Sometimes I reward myself when I’m on target by stepping away and doing something else. Most of the time I keep going till it’s either time for work or time to sleep!

To make it fun, I keep track over on the right side of my blog over there and even have a nice little count down to when I should be done. LOOK OVER THERE —->

Rule #3: Jump around!  I don’t mean physically jump around (unless it’s the end of the week and you reached your word goal two days ago). I mean don’t be afraid to jump around in the storyline. In the past, and on two previous published books, I was a fan of writing straight through. I started on page 1 at the beginning of the story and wrote straight through. I never skipped around and never wrote out of sequence.

I started that same format with this project. But after the first 20K in words, I realized I was losing steam. I knew how the book was going to end, but I was at a loss on how to get there. So, I skipped ahead and started writing the big climax. Now, 34K later I’m almost to the end.  And by doing this, I have a pretty good idea of how the middle part of the story is going to go when I get back there.

So there you have it!  That’s what is working for me right now.  Sure, there are other logistics to work out in your favor. You’ve got to have a pretty good idea in mind.  You’ve got to know where you want to take that idea…plot development, dialogue, character development, and all that jazz. I could feed you motivational posters all day long that sound good and pretty, but are you listening?  Nah!  Just don’t give up!

And Don’t worry!  You’ll get there.  Just don’t set yourself up to fail and don’t get disappointed if you do. Some of it you won’t even figure out till you sit down and write. And that’s usually the best writing you’ll do.

So get to it! Sit down, set a goal, and get writing!  Or come back here and root for me while I do it!