Have you ever thought about just getting away from it all, whatever “it” is? (A cubicle job, McNews, social media, traffic.) A 20 year old named Christopher Knight did just that permanently: just walked away, into the woods. In an amazing story chronicled in THE STRANGER IN THE WOODS, written by journalist Michael Finkel, Knight left his home in Massachusetts and drove to Maine, where he set up camp in the wilderness in 1986…and stayed there for the next twenty-seven years. Not speaking to anyone. You’ve seen the show “Naked and Afraid” and “Survivor.” What if the show never ended? Why did he do it? “I never fit in anywhere,” Knight said. He was shy, but intelligent. He learned how to store water and food. He hunted. He stole from the nearest town, and left cabins in such a way that one could ever be sure anyone was there. He never visited a doctor. “I was never sick,” he said. “You get sick by being around other people.” He read books, and was eventually caught and jailed…then released. He felt remorse, but also contentment. He preferred to be alone, to be private, with no desire for money or fame or what American culture thinks vitally important. Subtitle is “The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit.” On audio it is narrated by actor Mark Bramhall. It is profound in parts, and reflective. Often we need someone with a completely different viewpoint to hold up a mirror to what we are doing to ourselves. Is his a good example for others? Obviously not. But there is a middle ground between fanaticism and being a hermit or monk, and we can all learn from such a story.
Congrats to Carol Burnett for winning the Grammy in the best Spoken Word album category for IN SUCH GOOD COMPANY. Carol Burnett is widely recognized for her work on stage and screen, most notably The Carol Burnett Show, which was named in 2007 by Time magazine as one of “100 Best Television Shows of All Time.” A highly acclaimed actress for her comedic and dramatic roles on television, film, and Broadway, Burnett has been honored with twelve People’s Choice Awards, eight Golden Globes, six Emmy Awards, the Horatio Alger Award, the Peabody Award, and the Ace Award. She has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, is a Kennedy Center honoree, and has been inducted into the Television Hall of Fame. She is also a New York Times bestselling author.
We also recommend the new young novelist Catherine Ryan Howard, who scored well with accolades for her first novel DISTRESS SIGNALS, a suspense set on a cruise ship. And just for fun, with the upcoming Oscar Show, a throwback full cast album OSCAR’S HIJACK is a mystery with satire recommended by Audiofile and produced by Blackstone.
Special sale of romance audiobooks. Want to record a passage from your own favorite print book on Youtube? Mention this blog and you go into a drawing for free downloads. Plus you will be mentioned and/or shown here. See ABOUT for details.
The romance finalists in the Audie awards this year are:
If ever someone asks me “which author impressed you most?” the name James Lee Burke inevitably passes my lips. In addition to Ray Bradbury and Clive Cussler, he has most influenced me to become a writer, too. He is best known for his offbeat and moody mystery novels featuring a former police detective turned bait shop owner, Dave Robicheaux. Many authors write mysteries, but this man has no peers. I spoke with him via phone at his home in Montana a few years back.
JONATHAN LOWE: You’re in Montana now, where your novel Bitterroot was set. I take it you’re what they call in Arizona a “snowbird?”
JAMES LEE BURKE: Well, I guess that’s fair to say. We live in Louisiana part of the year.
Lowe: It is New Iberia or Lafayette, Louisiana where you go in the winter?
Burke: New Iberia, now, which is a couple hours west of New Orleans.
Lowe: What is your background. When did you start writing?
Burke: A long time ago. I published my first story when I was 19, and my first novel back in the mid-1960s. It was titled Half of Paradise. After college, and before Black Cherry Blues, I did a lot of other things to make money, and that included teaching, social work, driving a truck, and working in the Texas oil fields.
Lowe: Where did your characters Dave Robicheaux and Billy Bob Holland come from? You seem to be alternating point of view between those two in some of your books, much like you alternate between states yourself during the year.
Burke: Well, all the characters have been published in over twenty books now. I think they all have the same origin, and are composite biographical characters, but have a reality of their own. Like any writer, I draw from the subconscious. The elements of myth, which comes from the unconscious, figures into it, and there are allusions from classical literature too.
Lowe: You’re one of my personal favorite authors, and I can tell you why. It’s because you don’t use lazy clichés like “he screamed like a stuck pig,” something I read in a bestseller by another author who shall be nameless.
Lowe: I also like it that you actually take the time to create images, making characters out of objects and settings. Just like John D. MacDonald did in the Travis McGee series. Who are your favorite authors, and who influenced you?
Burke: I’d have to say Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, and Gerald Manley Hopkins, and William Faulkner.
Lowe: You’ve been compared to William Faulkner, who used stream-of-consciousness as a literary device.
Burke: Well, that’s an old method. The Sound and the Fury is one of the best books we have.
Lowe: What do you think about the state of fiction today? I’m pretty disappointed with the serial killer sub-genre. I don’t want to know who-dun-it, but rather why they did it. Get the feeling you’re the same, true?
Burke: I feel that the psychological story as narrative art is what interests me. Hemingway did it well, and you can spend a lifetime learning it.
Lowe: Will Patton is the perfect narrator for your own stories on audio. He’s got the accents down, but more than that, the attitudes of the characters. Very believable.
Burke: He’s done a very good job, and also Mark Hammer on the unabridged. They’re both excellent as narrators.
Lowe: My favorite book of yours is Sunset Limited, I’m not sure why. The last CD of that one contains some of the best writing I’ve ever heard.
Burke: Thank you.
Lowe: Do you have a favorite? I suppose you have to say it’s your latest, in answer to that question, though, right?
Burke: Well, actually, my favorite is Purple Cane Road. Everything came together on that one.
Lowe: Thank you for that. It’s a great novel as well. Very personal and also a culmination of redemption for its first person point of view character. What about Bitterroot?
Burke: Well, it’s set in Montana, about a former Texas lawman who helps a friend in trouble and then runs into a prison parolee who’s out for revenge. That’s the overview, anyway.
Lowe: What was your Hollywood experience like? I loved your movie Heaven’s Prisoners, which starred Alec Baldwin.
Burke: Yes, it was adapted, and my experience on that was really good. Everyone on the creative team very vibrant. Of course in Hollywood it’s all a matter of money. If you have a hundred million for the budget, you can take anything and make it look good. It doesn’t take much to be a producer, either, besides knowing how to write a gaudy bill. You just get you director Michael Mann and screenwriter Joe Esterhaus, and you’re off to the races! (laughs)
Lowe: So is there another movie in the future, do you think, based on another book?
Burke: I don’t know, I kinda stay away from that.
Lowe: Do you work all the time, or just part of the year? A book a year, or more?
Burke: Oh, I work all the time. I work every day, seven days a week. It’s what I do. Been at it for a long, long time.
Will Patton is an award–winning actor who has narrated audiobooks by such authors as Charles Frazier, Larry McMurtry, Don DeLillo, and Ernest Hemingway. He has won thirty-two AudioFile Earphones Award for his narrations. His numerous film credits include Remember the Titans, The Punisher, The Mothman Prophesies, Armageddon, and The Spitfire Grill. He starred in the TNT miniseries Into the West and on the CBS series The Agency and won Obie Awards in the theater for his performances in Fool for Love and What Did He See.
“Purple Cane Road is a beautifully written psychologically complex, stunningly atmospheric page-turner. James Lee Burke is the Faulkner of crime fiction.” –Jonathan Kellerman, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“No other living writer has been more influential on the contemporary crime novel than James Lee Burke. Using a painter’s careful brush strokes of character and place, he has turned the form into a literary exploration of the moral ambiguities that lie in the darkness of our souls. His work has set the watermark so high that I don’t think anyone else will ever reach it. With Purple Cane Road, he has gone and moved it up yet one more notch. This one is his best.” –Michael Connelly, #1 New York Times bestselling author
But why? In the new book HIT MAKERS by Derek Thompson “hits” in music, movies, and books depend on Chaos theory: a “Happy Days” alignment of people, culture, ideas, and timing. Since we have moved to a Twitter society of many choices and low attention span, people tend to gravitate to fewer things by following what is most popular (instead of what is best.) This creates an environment of many failures and fewer successes, with a “microscopic few” reaping most of the benefits. Essentially, we are bewildered by choice, and look to social media to direct us…while social media platforms spy on us and direct our attention to those things which generate the most profit. (Junk food, prescription drugs, blockbuster cartoon movies, bestsellers.) An interesting psychology book with the subtitle, “The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.” On audio, it is read by the author, who is an editor at The Atlantic and chosen by Forbes as a “30 Under 30.” Young, and bright. If you would like to read a portion of this or another book shown in the videos below, see the About for details.
How is that possible? Well, it’s possible, but not easy. You’d need connections, experience, and/or proof of concept. The money is just an advance on sales, based on what they think the book may do. They may lose part of it, or they may win big. The publisher is the biggest in the United States, so they are willing and able to take the risk. After all, the author is a screenwriter with a hit under his belt…and so movie possibilities are a “shoe-in.” Since we live in an age of video and movies, with fewer people reading, it makes sense to have as much potential as possible. In fact, Paramount has already bought film rights, and he is writing the screenplay. He also narrates his book, with experience in radio in the past at a university station. If you’d like to support literacy (animals is my other charity) see the About page at this blog, and contribute a short video of you reading by sending me the link to your video. The cover of ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS reminded me of the Leonardo diCaprio movie Inception. The novel on audio can be ordered at TowerReview.com.
EM) You’re absolutely correct that writing a novel requires a different skill set than a screenplay. Screenplays, as you know, are written in the third person present tense, in a visually expressive but lean and laconic style. Of course a terrific novel can be written in that way too, but I chose to write All Our Wrong Todays in the first person, as a kind of faux memoir, because I wanted the protagonist’s point of view to explicitly frame the way the story was told. Drawing off my experience writing dialogue for actors, I wrote the novel in a deliberately casual tone, which was a big help when narrating the audio book. I haven’t published any short stories, All Our Wrong Todays is both my first novel and my first foray into literary fiction. But I’ve been writing movies for over a decade and, although a very different form, that experience greatly informed my novel-writing.
Ray & Joan is a quintessentially American tale of corporate intrigue and private passion: a struggling Mad Men–era salesman with a vision for a fast-food franchise that would become one of the world’s most enduring brands and a beautiful woman willing to risk her marriage and her reputation to promote controversial causes that touched her deeply. Ray Kroc was peddling franchises around the country for a fledgling hamburger stand in the 1950s—McDonald’s, it was called—when he entered a St. Paul supper club and encountered a beautiful young piano player who would change his life forever. The attraction between Ray and Joan was instantaneous and instantly problematic. Yet even the fact that both were married to other people couldn’t derail their roller coaster of a romance. To the outside world, Ray and Joan were happy, enormously rich, and giving. But privately, Joan was growing troubled over Ray’s temper and dark secret, something she was reluctant to publicly reveal. Those close to them compared their relationship to that of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. And yet, this volatility paved the way for Joan’s transformation into one of the greatest philanthropists of our time. A force in the peace movement, she produced activist films, books, and music and ultimately gave away billions of dollars, including landmark gifts to the Salvation Army and NPR. Together, the two stories form a compelling portrait of the twentieth century: a story of big business, big love, big betrayal, and ultimately big giving by Joan.
The audiobook version is narrated by the author, Lisa Napoli.
Jenn Morris is a voiceover talent. Would you like her advice on reading for a living? Would you like to try it yourself, first? See About at this new blog for details.