Thursday, July 31, 2008
The Good Brother
I don't know what's up lately with Chris Offutt, but for much of today I was thinking of his 1997 novel The Good Brother. The novel has two parts. There's a murder, there's some hiding out, first in Kentucky, the second up around Deep Creek, Montana. It's a very 1990s novel, not the grunge and the boom part, but the part I remember more clearly, the AM radio part, with survivalists, militiamen paranoia, government-hate rising to the level of domestic terrorism, and that decade's great waves of disenfranchisement.
He had a great sci-fi short story in the McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, and I know he's been teaching a bit. The internet machine tells me he's written a few episodes of the upcoming HBO series True Blood. I know he'd done some acting early in his life and recently in The Slaughter Rule, which is a very Missoula'd-up movie. But goll darn it, I want more novels and short stories from him.
He also gave me the best writing advice I've ever heard: "Be more vulnerable." I'm tryin', man. I'm tryin'.
What started me thinking about it was some idle reading of The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm teaching a summer class for teens, which entails a lot of sitting around while they write (by write I mean check their facebook) in the Idyllwild Arts library. So I'll read anything at this point, and the Tolkien was at the top of the stack. In a letter to W.H. Auden, an early champion of the Lord of the Rings business, Tolkien confesses that he didn't write with any grand plan, except for a few details, that there would be a spider, that Frodo would have trouble getting rid of the ring, for example, but beyond that, the unfolding of the story was a surprise to him. Guy walks into the woods, events ensue. It sounds so simple, doesn't it?