Thursday, July 13, 2017

The reader's always write...

Under the heading of Shameless Self-promotion, here are a handful of reviews posted for Like a Flower in the Field:

The question of legacy permeates C.W. Spooner's Like a Flower in the Field. He explores the notion with adept skill and empathy for how we evolve with the places we encounter and how they evolve despite a fleeting presence. He speaks with wisdom, curiosity and absolute humanity making this a collection you can't only read once, but time and time again.
     --David Grazer

I am struggling to do this gem justice. The stories hit home time after time after time. They are realistic tales and many are filled with profound, thoughtful observations with just enough detail to make you feel you are there. I suspect in many cases Spooner has actually been there but changed the names to protect the (not so) innocent and perhaps spiked it a little with some embellishment. So there you have it...to paraphrase Wilson form the story, "Moral Imperative," I have read (your) book (Spooner) and it is damn good.
     --Thomas R. Campbell, author of Badass - The Harley-Davidson Experience

I like C.W. Spooner's writing. His work is always a pleasure to read. Like a Flower in the Field is a collection of beautifully written stories and one-act plays. It includes some touching collaborations, and sweet catharsis for those who suffered the insufferable at high school. Spooner's stories just make you feel good. In a literary world seemingly obsessed with horrible dystopian worlds, it is nice to spend time with relatable characters, and their life-affirming stories.
     --Stewart F. Hoffman, author of The Bug Boys

Spooner has an amazing knack for turning ordinary events into life-affirming moments. He vividly depicts ordinary people coping with life and winning. In a literary landscape filled with endless negativity, he gives us hope. If this book were a film it would definitely be a date movie. Too bad there aren't six stars. 
     --Mike Stevens, author of Fortuna

This well-crafted collection contains some true gems that are well worth reading. In a world of pulp fiction, much of it poorly written, it is refreshing to read the prose of an intelligent writer -- one who can provide stories that are thought-provoking as well as entertaining.
     --Chris Phipps, author of Snowbound and Love, Murder and a Good Bottle of Wine

Thank you, one and all. Keep those cards and letters coming.

CWS
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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Sad news...

I received an email last night with a shocking, unexpected message. My friend Harry Diavatis passed away in his sleep Monday night. Harry was 72 or 73, gone way too soon. Among his many accomplishments, Harry was the editor/publisher of the Monday Update, a weekly electronic newsletter.

Which is to say, he created an institution.

It is hard to overstate the impact that Harry's Monday Update has had on old Vallejoans. So many of us reconnected with our roots and renewed childhood friendships as a result of Harry's efforts. He once told me it took -- on average -- forty hours a week to put the MU together. Where he found the energy, the passion, and the love to do it, week after week for more than a decade, we'll never know.

I've published four books now, and Harry's name appears on the Acknowledgements page in every one. Here is the paragraph from Like a Flower in the Field:

Perhaps you noticed the number of stories with the acknowledgement "from Monday Update." The editor/publisher, Harry Diavatis, took me under his wing in 2009 and has been publishing my work ever since. His fine weekly newsletter reaches more than 1,500 subscribers in all corners of the U.S. and as far away as Belize, Australia, and New Zealand. Thanks, Harry, for everything you do.

The Monday Update would typically "drop" every Sunday evening. A message would pop up in the Inbox with a link that would open the new edition. Here is a poem I wrote about anticipating the MU:

It's Sunday evening again
and I'm waiting anxiously
for the Monday Update to arrive--
all those pictures and stories
and news of old friends,
perhaps a verse from Mr. Collins,
the ARA from John Parks,
even a photo of Hank McGraw!
And through it all rings
the voice of Harry D,
the tie that binds, crusader
for righteous causes, his heart
on his sleeve, his checkbook
in hand. Where would we be
without him? I know Sunday
evenings would never be the same.

Where would we be without him? It's too soon, Harry. We were not ready to find out.

CWS
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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

It's here !

That sound you heard was my book dropping. Like a Flower in the Field is now available in soft cover from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iUniverse. The e-reader version will be available soon. Here is the cover featuring a nice photo by Barbara Spooner...





 ... and the back cover text:

A strong sense of place and its impact on our lives runs through this collection of twenty stories and two one-act plays.

Spooner begins with "Chasin' the Bird," a story of brotherly love and near tragedy set in San Francisco, the music of an aged street performer providing the soundtrack. In a Sacramento suburb, "And Spare Them Not" is a tale of vengeance for the murder of a ten-year-old girl. In the mythical town of Millers Forge, "Fireworks for Mickey" tells of a family forced to deal with death and unresolved issues from the past. Spooner closes with "Moral Imperative," a story of moral and ethical choices set in Orange County, California, fireworks from Disneyland booming in the distance.

Places leave an indelible mark on our lives, but do we leave a mark on the places we've been? This is the central question in C.W. Spooner's second collection of short stories.

And there you have it. Wouldn't it look nice on your bookshelf?

Just askin'...

CWS
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Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Dude abides...

The Big Lebowski was on HBO the other night, so of course, I had to watch it--again. The Coen Brothers film from 1998 has become a cult classic, and for good reason. There are numerous iconic scenes and dozens of quotable lines, such as, "Yeah, well -- The Dude abides."

Near the end, Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges) and Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) go to a funeral home to claim the ashes of their late friend Donny. The funeral director presents them with a bill for $188, the cost of Donny's urn. The Dude and Walter are appalled and they let the funeral director know it in graphic terms.

Finally, Walter asks, "Is there a Ralphs' around here?"

In the next scene, we see Walter and the Dude at the Pacific shore, ready to scatter Donny's ashes. Walter holds a five-pound coffee can containing Donnie's remains. A trip to Ralphs' market produced a solution to the $188 problem.

I must have watched the movie a half dozen times before I noticed the bold gold letters on the wall behind the funeral director:

          As for man, his days are as
              grass,
          As a flower in the field, so he
              flourisheth,
          For the wind passeth over it
              and it is gone.

Yep, it's that beautiful verse from Psalm 103 in a more traditional translation. I almost used this version for the title of my book, which would have made it As a Flower in the Field.

I chose the more modern translation. But still, it's nice to remember Walter and the Dude. And Donny, who loved bowling.

Good night, sweet prince.

CWS
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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Blurb anyone?

My wife and I moved to Orange County, California, in December of 2013. Among the pleasant results of our move has been my association with O.C. Writers, specifically with a sub-group called the Lake Forest Writers Roundtable. That's where I met Casey Dorman.

Casey is a retired professor of psychology who became a publisher, editor, and author of about a dozen novels. Through his own Avignon Press, he published the Lost Coast Review, a fine literary journal. Casey closed out his publishing activities early in 2016 after experiencing a life-threatening health scare. It turned out to be a false alarm and we look forward to having him with us for decades to come.

After submitting the manuscript for Like a Flower in the Field, it occurred to me that it would be good to have a blurb from a respected author and industry pro to feature on the cover. Casey had read several of my stories and had accepted two of them for Lost Coast Review. I thought that was a large enough sample, so I asked him if he would care to blurb on my behalf. He said yes, but first he'd have to read the entire manuscript. That was way more than I expected, but typical Casey. Here is the statement he provided:

Aging, wisdom, remorse, poignancy, what it means to be a man in a changing world--it's all there in twenty-two unforgettable stories, told with elegance and sensitivity. I picked up the book on a sunny morning, looking for a brief diversion, and didn't put it down until I'd finished.

--Casey Dorman, Editor, Lost Coast Review, author of I, Carlos; Finding Martin Bloom; and Murder in Nirvana.

If you are getting the impression that I have great respect and admiration for Mr. Dorman, you are absolutely right. The O.C. Writers community is very supportive and Casey Dorman is at the top of the list.

Thank you, Casey!

CWS
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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Slay Your Darlings...

I don't know who first proposed the idea, but I've seen it repeated again and again in books about writing: Slay Your Darlings.

This piece of advice comes from a tendency among writers to compose something, maybe just a paragraph or two, and fall in love with it. It might be a strongly held belief, or a favorite theory, or an old anecdote you've been saving. It doesn't matter. You love it, even if it has nothing to do with the story being told.

And then you ask someone to read your work, hoping your darling will slip by untouched, like a fastball at the knees on the outside corner. No such luck. Your trusted reader will be quick to point out the flaw. "Hey, man, what's with this business on page three? Empty calories, dude. Are you trying to inflate word count?"

Ouch! Try as you may, there is only one true remedy: your little darling has to go.

There is a story in Like a Flower in the Field that is a perfect example. The title is, "Ten Thousand Lakes." Gary and Nancy are walking through a neighborhood in Minneapolis, talking about the climate in Minnesota. Here's their conversation:

          "Nancy, did I ever tell you my theory of how this region was settled?"
          "No. I can't wait."
          "Okay, so you know how it is in the winter, with snow up to the eaves and temperatures that drop to minus thirty or lower, and you never know if your car is going to start..."
          "You got that right."
          "And then in the spring, all that snow melts, basements flood, rivers overflow their banks, and you live with near-daily tornado warnings..."
          "Yeah, severe storms five miles either side of a line between two towns I never heard of."
          "Then comes summer with the heat and humidity--ninety degrees and ninety percent seem like the norm--plus mosquitos the size of hummingbirds..."
          "The mosquito, our State Bird."
          "Ah, but then comes fall, that glorious time of year. The morning air turns crisp and cold and the trees all around the lakes and down the river valleys put on their annual show, a spectacular display of red and orange and gold that is absolutely breathtaking..."
          "Right again."
          "Therefore, the first settlers obviously came in the fall. Otherwise, they would have hightailed it out of here and declared the area uninhabitable."
          Nancy was laughing now, enjoying my theory...and so I went on...

Gary goes on (and on and on) to say what kind, loving, generous people Minnesotans are. He even works in a "Ya, you bettcha." Alas, it was all for naught. It didn't fit the rest of the story. I had to delete the whole conversation.

But then...I really didn't slay my darling. I saved it to share with you.

CWS
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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Kernel of Truth...

Most stories begin with a kernel of truth, and this is true in my collection, Like a Flower in the Field. The kernel can be an old man playing saxophone on the streets of San Francisco, or a hard fall from the steps in my home, or a visit to a bar in Laguna Beach. But sometimes the kernel is a song.

        I keep goin' back to Joe's
        To that table in the corner
        Sippin' wine and starin' at the door...

"I Keep Going Back to Joe's" was a hit for Nat King Cole in 1963. Ah, but the definitive version is by Bobby Scott, from a tribute album to Nat recorded in 1990. The album is titled For Sentimental Reasons and you can find it online at your favorite music site (I found it on Spotify).

        Our old waiter knows we're through
        Still he sets a place for you
        Everything the way it was before...

It is a long track, more than nine minutes, with an extended piano solo set between the vocals. Scott was a great jazz pianist and his gift is on full display in this recording.

        I keep goin' back to Joe's
        But the guy who plays piano
        Never plays your favorite melody...

The piano solo is terrific, but it's Scott's vocals that make this the ultimate torch song. His voice "...speaks of whiskey and cigarettes," and this song is a perfect fit.

        Joe keeps busy at the bar
        Never asks me where you are
        He was there when you walked out on me...

One of the chapters in my book is a one-act play titled, "Closure." When you read it, I suggest you have Bobby Scott's rendition of "I Keep Going Back to Joe's" playing softly in the background.

A song can be a great kernel.

CWS
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