Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, September 12, 2014

Real / irreal

Clive photographs the title page.
Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt.
For an essay of mine having to do with what is called fantastic and what is called realistic, please go here to the Mercer blog. And here's a taste:
    Given the way books are discussed in our time, it’s possible to say that my A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage is a realistic narrative about a Depression-era’s orphan’s struggle to find his place, or that Glimmerglass is a search that takes place in a solid, realistic world but does the fantastic thing of taking the muse as a possible, literal figure—and at one point borrows from the ancient form of the somnium, or dream vision. But I would not reach for genre terms to describe either of them. For me, books are on a kind of thread or continuum, moving from one way of telling the truth to another. All that matters to me is whether they are good books or not.
     All art is created, shaped, dreamed into existence. What matters is not genre or categorization but the extent to which a fabric made of words—the warp and weft making up a kind of little maze—contains an Ariadne’s thread of energy that leads to larger life.
Comments are open there. I'd love to know what other people think about these things and have already gotten an interesting letter from a fellow novelist... Please leave a comment at the Mercer site if you have an opinion!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

editor John Wilson's shortlist for 2014, etc.


If you're in upstate/central New York, here's an idea for today... See you there if you go! I'll be there with some painter friends.

Tonight, an opening in Oneonta at Marten-Mullen.
I'm going with painter friend Ashley Cooper--
our friend Yolanda Sharpe (of Detroit) is acting
chair of the art department at SUNY. One sad note:
artist Gilda Snowden died two days ago.


Even the jacket flaps are beautiful.
Art (and photo) by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt.
Mercer University Press, 2014


Read from bottom to top, twitter-wise!
The + sign stands in for an ampersand, as Blogger refuses them...

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The illuminator, cock-a-hoop!

My copies of 'Glimmerglass' have arrived from Mercer University Press in the US, neatly and safely packed. I'm cock-a-hoop with delight. This is SUCH a pretty book, from its generously-sized reproductions of my chapter-headings, to the tawny endpapers picking up colours from the jacket. Mercer and the designer Mary-Frances Glover Burt have between them done a great job. Marly must be a happy author. I'm certainly a happy illuminator!  --Clive Hicks-Jenkins on facebook

I'm so glad he is pleased with the new book!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Books-and-words gallimaufry


I have updated the Glimmerglass page, cutting and adding and tweaking, and wouldn't mind a bit any comments to improve it. Launch events will start later in the month. Right now I'm working on the final stages of a manuscript...

The Uses of Tolkien

I've noticed a growing number of slight mentions of of Tolkien in the context of current events. Victor Davis Hansen has just dug into that vein of comparison. Here Hansen analyzes the state of the world, launching off from The Lord of the Rings.

"10 books"

I'm loving all these facebook lists of books that affected people and stuck with them. Every now and then I bump into one of mine--so far I've seen A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Thaliad, Ingledove, and Catherwood on lists. Catherwood is out ahead of the rest. Considering that people can dive back more than a thousand years through English language books alone, I am tickled.

 "10 books" from that lovely poet and man, Dave Favier

The King of Elfland's Daughter, Lord Dunsany
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt
Marx's 1844 manuscripts
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, Marly Youmans
All the Strange Hours, Loren Eisley
Leaves of Grass, Whitman
William Blake's lyric poetry
Juan Luna's Revolver, Luisa A. Igloria*
William Butler Yeats' lyric poetry
The Walls Do Not Fall, H.D.
History of the Civil War, Shelby Foote
Vanity Fair, Wm Thackeray
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Debt: the first 5,000 years, David Graeber

*Note: Luisa and I will be reading together this month! See here. I'll also be reading from Glimmerglass with Philip Lee Williams, Lev Grossman, Kelly Link (and Raymond-Atkins-if-we-work-it-out...)

Bill Knight commented, "I had Marly Youmans on my list as well, but it was "The Thaliad", not "A Death", which I have not read." So that's the first I've seen for Thaliad.

Free speech (h/t @prufrocknews)

Wordsmiths rely on free speech. Academics ought to know what it means. But in our time, is it any surprise that the chancellor of Berkeley gets it wrong? Administrators have a weird challenge; they tend to be tugged toward a Babel of obfuscation, sophistry, word-inflation, falsehood, and jargon. It's evidently hard to resist. Go here for an interesting takedown and analysis of the chancellor's letter to the university. Here's a sample:
First, observe the hidden premise Chancellor Dirks is presenting — that free speech must have "meaning." This implies that speech that does not have "meaning" — as defined, one presumes, by Chancellor Dirks or a committee of people like him — then it is not "free speech," and perhaps is not entitled to protection. Dirks is smuggling a vague and easily malleable precondition to free speech. There is no such precondition. Our rights are not limited by some free-floating test of merit or meaning.
It gets tougher from there...

Saturday, September 06, 2014

More "10 books"

Not a bull's head but a minotaur.
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
I love popping up on these lists. It's fun to be on one, and it's interesting to see what books are chosen. Here's the third one I've seen one of my books on, this one from Erica Eisdorfer, novelist and 35-year ruler of the Bull's Head Bookshop at UNC-Chapel Hill. That's an awful lot of service to words in the right order! Thanks, Erica.
Rules: In your status list ten books that changed your life in some way....

a. The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth
b. The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell
c. Catherwood by Marly Youmans
d. Regeneration by Pat Barker
e. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
f. Wet Nursing by Valerie Fildes
g. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
h. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls
i. You Never Call! You Never Write: A History of the Jewish Mother by Joyce Antlerd.

Friday, September 05, 2014


Study by Clive Hicks-Jenkins for the jacket of Glimmerglass

"Are there dragons in the book?"

Despite the vibrant one on the cover, there are no dragons in "Glimmerglass." There are, however, some salamanders in a cellar. Nor are there any flying lions. There is, however, a little statue of a minotaur that becomes important later on.

What is it?

This book stands "between" genres, if we must talk about genres. (I don't, as a rule.) In places, it invokes ancient conventions of storytelling like the Muse and the somnium. These are not elements of what might be called a strict realism, but neither are they unknown to us in the world, though we might describe them differently.

Writing as adventure

I'm afraid that I'm known for not doing the same thing twice (inconvenient for publishers but I hope fun for adventurous readers), and perhaps some will think that Glimmerglass is a striking-out into a new territory for me. For the story-weaver inside me, the work all feels like one enormous bolt of cloth with different projects of different shapes and patterns--after all, it's flying from the same loom.

The Clive-art

Neither, I should say, are Clive's cover images and interior images an attempt to convey the literal events of the book. Instead, they revel in the spirit of the book. I posted a longer version of his description earlier, and think it might be helpful:
Glimmerglass is strewn throughout with descriptions of the flora and fauna of an observed landscape. But like the Arabian Nights storyteller, Marly spins tales within tales that access altogether more fabulous topographies, and it’s as though the sea-serpent door-knockers and griffin-embellished wrought-iron gates of the real world, have been markers of hidden realms paralleling the everyday. Bearing in mind I’m a man who reveres the great eighteenth century wood-engraver Thomas Bewick, it was a foregone conclusion that when I came to consider decorations for the chapter headings and tailpieces of this wonderful book, I’d be moved to create a miniature naturalis historia.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

More "10 books that haunt me"

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1995
paperback, Bard, 1996
Editions from Literary Guild, Claasen Verlag,
Editions Anne Carriere, Ediciones B. Also in braille.

Thanks to director/producer Stacy Title for including me on her "10 books that haunt me" list--I'm glad to be popping up in such places, and it's interesting to see preferences. (See Midori Snyder's list here, with a different book of mine. Midori writes fantasy and mythic fiction, as well as essays on folklore and myth.)
A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley
Waiting for the Barbarians, Coetzee
A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O'Connor
The Wasp Factory, Ian Banks
Paris Trout, Pete Dexter
The Child in Time, Ian McEwan
Shot in the Heart, Mikal Gilmore
Catherwood, Marly Youmans
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks
Roman Fever, Edith Wharton.

"one of the glories of American fiction from the last 50 years" 
John Wilson, editor Books and Culture, June 11, 2014
  • FORTHCOMING in a new edition. The Farrar, Straus and Giroux hardcover, the large print hardcover, and the Bard Imprint (William Morrow) paperback are all out of print.
  • Book Club rights:  A Literary Guild Alternate Selection
  • Best Ten Books of 1996, The Spectator (Raleigh)
  • Best Books of 1996, The Anniston Star
  • Best Five Books of 1996, The Rocky Mountain News
  • Nominated for The National Book Award by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
More here.

Quote best befitting this frog-eating day:

If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning.
And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.
        --Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens