Friday, May 23, 2014

What I haven't been doing this week

I’m a writer, at least that’s my daily affirmation. It even says so on my Rotary name tag. I enjoy writing stories both real and imagined but this is the first creative scribble I’ve done all week. I have my excuses of course and they are quite legitimate. The truth is that I can’t write all the time. I need other time to think about what I’m going to write in burst mode. So I have other creative things to do while I roll around in the back of my head stories or scenes in stories that have to be worked out. I’ve been doing that, honest.

One week ago, today, I was sitting in a classroom at Grub Street in Boston, taking a class on how to write a query letter from Jenna Blum. Writing a query letter is harder than writing a novel. Writing a rough draft of POPLAR HILL took about 800 hours over three years. I’ve spent an equal amount of time trying to sell it and editing it. Three years, ten different query letters and several hundred rejections later I took a day off and paid $65 to find out what I did wrong. Here’s my takeaway:
1)      Keep the description so simple it hardly tells the story:
a.      An old woman faces death from a heart attack
b.      She has lots of stories to tell
c.       A friend of the old woman, a rural housewife becomes fascinated by the stories
d.     A pentecostal preacher tried to “convert” the old lady, over and over again
e.      Never use an adjective in the description (the story may be a tragedy just don’t say so) 
2)      The authors biography: Besides keeping it very short, taking a course at Grub Street, apparently, counts more than having already written a lot. Also being on a panel at AWP gives you more street credibility than just about anything else including having written a bunch of non-fiction trade books. Apparently I should also include the fact that POPLAR HILL was a finalist in the Chaucer Awards for Historical Fiction (I won’t mention that there were 23 entries for 27 finalist sub-genres).
3)      Ultimately, the only thing that counts in a query letter is who’s name you can drop or who you know. I know Jenna Blum now.
a)      Ideally, you met the agent at a conference and they still fondly remember you. Conferences cost a lot of money and don’t do anything for your creativity except take time away from it.
b)     Second best, You know a successful author who is willing to promote your work to their agent. Hello Jenna.
c)      Third best, you got an MFA from some school where the agent also teaches. Doesn’t matter if they know you or not, it’s a contact baby!
d)     Fourth best, do some name dropping even if you don’t really know the names you’ve dropped: “Best Selling author Joe Blow suggested that I contact you.”  He probably would have made the suggestion even if only to get you off his back. That’s your rational in using his name. Note “Best Selling author” doesn’t mean what you think it means: I’m a best selling author too and I sell about 10 books a year in Amazon’s Travel>Oceania>Fiji. I’ve been in the top 20 for years. Doesn’t really mean much.

I think what I learned was worth $65. If I took a “Master Class” in novel writing at Grub Street I’d be a shoo in but I can’t afford it.  Getting an MFA is totally out of the question. I do want to retain some creativity.

So what else have I been doing that’s kept me bottled up and unproductive for the past week? I learned a long time ago that the only people who make money from writing are printers, designers and (if they are lucky) a few publishers so I learned to design books and magazines. Mostly I design books which is what I did all Friday morning.

Book design is an arcane field. It has some very rigid rules that must, on occasion, be employed very creatively. The book I was working on was one such book. The text had the annoying but very modern feature of being a series of paragraphs with no connective tissue. That is to say, the story would go on for a few hundred words then end. Normally there might be a segue sentence between scenes but not in this book. In past books like this I’ve added a dingbat to make it obvious that there is a discontinuity in the text but the author didn’t want this so I had to make sure there was at least a line above or below the break to make it obvious. I must have spent an hour trying to resolve one such paragraph. I couldn’t and eventually gave up. It stands as a tombstone.

Then I went to a Rotary function. Rotary International is my “normal” outlet. Around 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon I headed over to the Rotary District 7910 conference where I was assistant Sergeant-at-arms. That means I helped haul stuff around, put things up and take them down later. That lasted Friday night, Saturday afternoon and into the evening and Sunday morning. It is a big annual event supporting 53 clubs in central Massachusetts and 1500 Rotarians.

Most of my friends are writers and poets. That means that most of my friends are a little neurotic, creative types, for whom the act of creation is more important than, well, almost everything else. It’s hard to describe the mental state of a writer beyond saying that it’s a lonely, emotionally and intellectually intense business, fraught with failure.  I love writing; I don’t like being a writer. That’s where Rotary comes in.

My Rotary club is full of outwardly normal people. These include a soft spoken retired Air Force Colonel who thinks he should be a politician. He’s running for Selectman. That’s got to be a letdown from commanding a squadron of F-16’s and 6 or 700 people – I can’t say men anymore. He never kept up his flying license. I suspect he flew a little too close to the ground for comfort one too many times. I’m studying him. He’ll make a great character in a story someday.

Another Rotary character is the soon to be retiring chief of the water and light department who’s nervous energy alone could power a dozen houses. And that’s without drinking coffee. I imagine him bouncing off rubberized walls in the office they’ve promised him after he really does retire.  He’ll also make a good character someplace.

Yet another character looks like an ex-Sumo wrestler from American Samoa. At least that’s what I pictured when I first met him. He punctured that bubble when he finally identified himself as an African-American. That removed a lot of depth to the imagined character I was already creating somewhere “back there.” The rest are pretty “normal,” average suburbanites who just happen to like volunteering in good causes. Who can object. It’s a fun club and the projects are always engaging. I wouldn’t know anyone in town if I hadn’t joined. What is disturbing is the fact that an awful lot of people know who I am but I don’t have a clue who they are. I suppose that’s an advanced warning of what celebrity status might be like.

One of the unexpected pleasures of being a Rotarian is that I have instant friends all over the world. There are over 30,000 Rotary clubs in mumble, countries. When I had a job that took me all over the United States for weeks at a time I always found entertainment at the local Rotary club. It sure beat sitting in a hotel room alone. I once had a job teaching people from the NSA (Oh come on, who else would be in Fort Mead MD?) and I was stuck in a small Motel 6 on a strip full of McDonalds, Burger Kings and other assorted cardboard venders. I went to a different Rotary club every night. One club met in a diner near the Baltimore airport. Another met in an Antebellum mansion and yet another met in the grand ballroom of a modern motel. By the end of the week I was on a first name basis with the District Governor.

I’ve been to clubs in rural Michigan, suburban Detroit, Suva Fiji and Paris France. One of the odd things about Rotary is that no two clubs are the same. Most clubs serve a meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, but the club I went to in Paris was a wine drinking club. By the time I realized there was no meal coming I was well under the table. In Fiji we had to drink Kava before anything else. Kava is a strange drink with the taste and consistency of old fashioned Kaopectate, a chalky and slightly bitter remedy for indigestion and diarrhea. In Fiji Kava is supposed to have sedating and aphrodisiac properties, according to the locals. My cab driver in Fiji said they drank Kava because it was cheaper than alcohol. I experienced neither a sudden urge to rut or a desire to sleep after drinking Kava.

The Rotary dinner Saturday night was the big event of the weekend. Hank Phillippi Ryan was the keynote speaker. She got her start in radio because the radio station she applied to didn’t have a single woman reporter. That wouldn’t work today, not where she works. Most of the reporters there, Channel 7 in Boston, are women. She wrote yet another mystery novel and was promoting it. I don’t know how many books she sold, a dozen maybe. Being a writer sucks, I’d rather write.

My job Saturday evening was to march a bunch of flags into the room in the right order.  We got the order wrong and we couldn’t find a Ukrainian flag (some wiseass suggested substituting a Russian flag)  and we substituted the Italian flag for a Mali flag – they look the same. What didn’t go well no one noticed. I’m sure I’ll be stuck doing it again next year. By Sunday afternoon I was tired and in gaga land. I futzed around in my garden, managing to pull a muscle in my arm which makes moving a mouse painful.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I finished the design of three books. I finally caught up with what I had not done because last Thursday I was at Grub Street learning about query letters.

Have I written a new query letter? No. have I gone back to work on one of my new novels? No. I’m taking a break from fiction and complaining, or explaining why I’m not working hard on my novels. The truth is I’m at a plot twist watershed in all thee of the stories I’m working on.

THE SOCIAL REGISTER: Is a retelling of the stories in POPLAR HILL. In that story, Kitty, the protagonist, alluded to her belief that many of her friends were spies. In the retelling of the story they are all spies, including Kitty. One plot twist is that the real members of the White Rose society were in Munich University the same time she was. There is plenty of drama but no real hinge.  I’ve written about 30,000 words but I don’t want to put much more time into it until I can plot out the rest of the story. I’m wondering if I can get away with just a spy story without any sex. Are chaise scenes a good substitute for sex?

WAR STORY: Is the story of a Vietnam War vet who sees more action than most and lives to tell the tail. 40,000 words in and I still can’t find the hinge besides having the protagonist trying to get out of the Army. So far no romance or sex but that may be in the book too. Very gory, very scary, lots of action. Rambo meets Radar O’Reilly meets Harry Flashman.

FENWICK:  I’m having the most fun with this right now. It’s a semi-autobiographical novella of how I wish my last two years in high school went. Fenwick, pronounced “Fenick,” looses his virginity, smokes pot, becomes an emancipated minor, buys a motorcycle, out runs a local bully and a cop that’s a bigger bully and accidentally becomes the local drug dealer and head of a Yiddish speaking gang (He’s not Jewish). Finally he doesn’t get into MIT and discovers that his draft number won’t be called. He’s exhausted, broke, living in an MIT frat house when he is thrown out of the building after it’s discovered that he’s attending classes for free. He ends up a homeless street urchin sleeping in the stacks at a Harvard University library.

OK, I’ve ranted enough. Time to get back to work.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Kickstart Poplar Hill

Ad many of you know I've written a novel titled "Poplar Hill." It's based on the stories my mother used to tell about her early life. I've launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to get my novel edited so that an agent will rep it. Yep, I'm looking for money and feedback. The campaign will run until May 1 with no extensions so please take a look and invest if you are so inclined.

Please pass it on if you like it.


Friday, November 22, 2013

As though it was yesterday

November 22, 1963, South School Playground, New Canaan Connecticut:  We only had 20 minutes to eat lunch before the teachers would shoo us outside for recess. The younger grades ate first, first grade, followed by second grade, …. We were in sixth grade and ate last so it always annoyed us, me anyway, that we had to leave the warmth of the cafeteria after precisely 20 minutes on all but the coldest or wettest day. This was a chilly and gray November day. It was cold and windy enough so that no one wanted to play or be out on the playground. We just milled about and tried to keep warm until the 1:45 bell brought us back inside. It was the kind of day where bullies, out of boredom mostly, would pound their victims mercilessly and I spent most of my time avoiding them. Everyone knew who they were, both male and female.

It was about 1:15 when I saw her crying uncontrollably. Her father was a policeman and I had had a crush on her since first grade. My eyes followed her everywhere. My father had died in August of that year, 1963, so I immediately thought the worst had happened. I wanted to run up to her and put my arms around her but I was scared of her, I was scared of all girls then. Still I inched close enough to listen to her friends, who were now balling uncontrollably too. Someone had been shot, someone had died. "Dead," I heard them say and I thought the worst had happened, but she didn't run inside or run home. It wasn't her father. We just stood there, a growing circle of comrades, feeling an enormous weight coming over us, still not knowing what had happened or to who.

The gym teacher came out first, blowing her whistle and waving for us to come in quickly. Then, four or five somber faced teachers rounded up those that did not respond instantly to the whistles shrill. We knew the world was ending. No one said a word, no one had to, yet we still did not know what was happening. When we walked towards our classroom, teachers in the hall were crying. Men, who were men, our Principal, were crying. I felt the urge to cry … yet.

The black and white TV, the same one we had watched Alan Shepard and John Glen fly into space with, had been wheeled into the room and was blaring the static of the age. Something about Dallas, something about the President, something about the Vice President, something about a shooting. It was quite confusing. Had the President been shot? No, it couldn't be, shot at perhaps. Then Walter Cronkite came on. He looked at the clock on the wall and took off his glasses. I knew then what had happened, he didn't have to say, "The President is dead."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

This I know

At the end of time, when the Universe ceases to exist, there will be no record of my existence. All history will come to an end as all grows cold and dark awaiting yet another Big Bang if such a thing is possible. Long before that happens our Sun, in a few billions of years, will swell larger and larger becoming a Red Giant. Eventually the surface of the Sun will encompass the orbit of the Earth, drying the oceans, incinerating the land killing all remembrance of life itself. If humankind moves on to a more hospitable environment can I hope they will bring a faint remembrance of who I was with them?

Long before the incineration of the earth it's likely that famine, fire or some other disaster, an asteroid perhaps, will visit what passes for Civilization, and render our lives as unknown as the pioneers of ancient Egypt, China or Ur. How many Romans do we know and remember? Did the dinosaurs have names?

I will die. That is certain. I have no progeny willing to carry forward my good name or my genetic code. I am the last of the line, already extinct. I no longer have "skin in the game."

When I was a child, when the Universe was still infinite, we played soldiers and Cowboys and Indians in our back yard, our hundred acre woods. I could not afford the specialized weapons of youth, the cowboy hat with duel cap pistols or the plastic rifle suitable for an assault on a German foxhole. Instead I found a magic stick that could be transformed, at will, into a sword, a flintlock, a machine gun or even a spaceship if the game required it.

Later I found that a pen was more convenient and the games and stories grew more involved and evolved. My legacy became the words I wrote on paper, no longer the seed of my flesh and blood. I have to ask myself, are my words good enough to live after me? Are the times willing to remember me? Is this Athens of 425 BC or the Athens of 350 BC? Is this the Rome of 100 AD or the Rome of 600 AD?  What literature was written in 350 BC Athens? We'll never know. Likewise was there a Cicero in 600 AD?  Why Shakespeare in 1600 and not 2013? Why not?

The world will end, Amen. The dinosaurs built nests that would never see children. We write to an audience that may never be born. This much I know, this much is all I know.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What is Poplar Hill?

Writing a query letter to an agent is harder than writing the book it represents. There is so much advise on the internet and from readers that my head is spinning. What is obvious is that all the versions of my query letter to date have completely failed. In retrospect I think I was trying to force a round story into a square query. (Note: I try not to torture my metaphors but I couldn't pass this one up)

I have since learned that everyone expects a "historical novel" to have a rather conventional plot that hinges around some decision or action of the protagonist: Life is good, a decision is made (the hinge), life gets very, very bad, the protagonist has an epiphany and life is good (or maybe not). That isn't the plot of Poplar Hill but that is what I kept trying to make my query into. Since I couldn't force a conventional plot line the only agent that read the MS declined it citing exactly the issue I just described - no "hinge." She expected a conventional plot and didn't get one.

This brings up a number of issues: perhaps I've written a real dog or perhaps I'm missing the correct genre. I haven't used the right buzz words to describe the piece. If it's not a historical novel then what is it? It is a fictional biography of Kitty Stevenson of Poplar Hill, Nova Scotia, Canada. After a lot of research I discovered that the proper fictional biography sub-genre for Poplar Hill is a bildungsroman or more correctly a sub-sub-genre, an entwicklungsroman. I know, I never heard of these either but then I don't have an MFA. (Do they really teach this stuff in an MFA program? Who makes up these words?)

Wikipedia describes it thus: 

A Bildungsroman tells about the growing up or coming of age of a sensitive person who is looking for answers and experience. The genre evolved from folklore tales of a dunce or youngest son going out in the world to seek his fortune. Usually in the beginning of the story there is an emotional loss which makes the protagonist leave on his journey. In a Bildungsroman, the goal is maturity, and the protagonist achieves it gradually and with difficulty. The genre often features a main conflict between the main character and society. Typically, the values of society are gradually accepted by the protagonist and he is ultimately accepted into society – the protagonist's mistakes and disappointments are over. In some works, the protagonist is able to reach out and help others after having achieved maturity.

There are many variations and subgenres of Bildungsroman that focus on the growth of an individual. An Entwicklungsroman ("development novel") is a story of general growth rather than self-cultivation. An Erziehungsroman ("education novel") focuses on training and formal schooling,while a Künstlerroman ("artist novel") is about the development of an artist and shows a growth of the self.
 Well that changes everything. It doesn't mean I haven't written a dog but it does mean that the way I described the story in my query was at odds with what I actually wrote in the novel. No wonder the agent who read the MS didn't like it and no wonder my friends keep telling me that the query is un-inspirational and no wonder over 100 agents have rejected it, the query that is.

If you've ever wondered if anyone has actually written a bildungsroman, Wikipedia lists the following novels:

  • The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, by Henry Fielding (1749)
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne (1759)
  • Candide, by Voltaire (1759)
  • What Maisie Knew, by Henry James (1897)
  • Martin Eden, by Jack London (1909)
  • Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence (1913)
  • A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce (1916)
  • This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920)
  • Goodbye, Columbus, by Philip Roth (1959)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (1960)
  • Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)
  • The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd (2002)
  • The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
and, of course, David Coperfield by Charles Dickens. So I'm in good company. If you read my last post you can compare it to this new version of a query letter.

Poplar Hill is a fictional biography, a bildungsroman or entwicklungsroman, of the life of Kitty Stevenson of Poplar Hill, Nova Scotia, Canada. Kitty learns that she will not recover from the heart attack she has suffered and must confront her imminent death. She reflects on her life. Born into a wealthy and prominent New York family she was put in an austere French convent school where she learned to be tough and self reliant. When the family loses almost everything in the Depression she is expelled from the convent and must find her own way back to America where she discovers her family struggling to survive. She gets a financial reprieve when she goes to Nazi Germany at age 18 in 1937 to spend a small family fortune that Hitler has embargoed only to discover the horrors of the holocaust. She risks everything to help a Jewish family escape, becomes a spy, is expelled from Germany by insulting Hermann Göring to his face, escapes on a Jewish refugee boat and barely makes it back to New York just days before the war starts. In the end she realizes that there is nothing she can do to evade death so she refuses all medical attention, confronts her l’appel du vide*, and dies peacefully. Comic relief is provided by a troupe of Pentecostal preachers who show up at the most inopportune times bent on converting the cynical and agnostic Kitty.
The major plot mirrors Paul Harding's "Tinkers" where the protagonist reflects on his life before dying. The setting is in a rural Nova Scotia full of the same characters found in Annie Piroulx's "Shipping News." Most of the novel is dialog between Kitty and her neighbor Barb, who has her own, rather parochial, view of the world. There are several Nazi subplots that could come from any one of a dozen late Pre-War novels (like those of Jenna Blum, Ursula Hegi, Philip Kerr, Kathryn Lasky, and Erik Larson).
* There exists a psychological phenomenon in which perfectly sane people, with no desire to die, find themselves faced with a steep cliff and experience a strong desire to leap. To jump from their safe vantage point into the unknown. This phenomenon is so common in fact, that the French have a term for it: L’appel du Vide – Call of the Void.

Friday, December 07, 2012

the agented author

Writing a novel isn't easy. It takes a lot of work then it takes a lot more to make it perfect. When it's done you want to celebrate and send it off to that big black hole called the publisher where they  magically transform your manuscript into an object of veneration (a book and/or a movie) that will entertain and enlighten people for generations to come. Unfortunately the gatekeeper, that intermediary called an agent, interrupts this natural flow between the author and his(her) adoring public by insisting on passing judgement not on the work itself but on a small summation of that work called a query.

If you think writing a novel is hard, believe me, writing the query letter is much harder. The first iteration of my query letter was sent to 10 agents. I was rejected by 6 and I never heard from the rest. The second iteration, blessed by (actually mostly written by) a literary icon was sent to 135 agents via surface mail with a SASE. At the moment I've heard back from approximately 50 agents, 45 no's, 4 "we'd like to see more" and one agent who has the whole manuscript. It's been a while so I sent out a third iteration to 50 different agents via email and got rejected from 22 almost immediately. One agent rejected me in under a minute. I guess you have to learn to read very quickly in the agent business.

One of my 500 best friends on Facebook (most of whom I've never met), an author with a stellar reputation, said my last query could be summarized as "Forest Gump meets Adolf Hitler." Obviously that isn't what I wanted my query to say so I've rewritten it yet again and this time I ask everyone for their opinion. Here is the latest iteration of my query letter:
I am writing to ask you to consider my novel, Poplar Hill.

A small valise hidden under a bed is the key to a past she's only hinted at. The book follows the life of the wealthy eccentric and very private Kitty Stevenson, a New York Socialite transplanted to rural Poplar Hill, Nova Scotia. After a massive heart attack she is told that she may only have months to live. As she confronts her imminent death she fights off a parade of Pentecostal preachers bent on converting her and resolves to settle her estate while she still can. She enrolls her neighbor, Barb, in helping her while she waits for a bed in a nursing home.  She asks Barb to fetch a small valise hidden in her room. Barbs eyes widen when she finds that it contains a Nazi flag, hundreds of German postcards, a Star of David armband, a "Jews Forbidden" poster and a photograph of Adolph Hitler autographed by Hitler and Joseph Goebels.

Prompted by items in the valise Kitty has decided that as long as she has a story to tell she won't die. Her story takes her from a pre-Depression era French Convent School in Grenoble through  pre-war Munich.  She meets Hitler, shakes Neville Chamberlain's hand and escapes Germany, just-in-time, on a boat carrying Jewish refugees to Palestine just days after Kristallnacht.  She fights the Nazi's, photographs a concentration camp, is declared persona non grata by the Nazis and helps a family of Jewish refugees escape the Holocaust. She's on the last German registered ship headed to New York Before Hitler invades Poland. Hitler orders the ship back to Germany. When the doctors tell her there is no more they can do for her she refuses all medical treatment. Will the Pentecostal preachers hovering over her convert her or will she die apostate? Will she get home from Germany or die before her story ends?

The book is historical fiction. The novel explores an era of continued universal fascination: The Depression, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Readers have said that Poplar Hill could speak to the audience of Jenna Blum, Ursula Hegi, Philip Kerr, Kathryn Lasky, Erik Larson and Annie Proulx.

The work has been professionally edited, is approximately 98,000 words and is ready for publication. There is a sequel tentatively titled "The Social Register."

S.R. Glines has spent most of his career as a journalist with a reputation as an edgy technical writer.  For five years he authored a monthly technical advice column titled Panic in Altos World Magazine.  The column was written in the voice of a fictionalized, over-caffeinated, sleep-deprived, computer engineer working for the mob. He also wrote a column titled Famous Last Words for Unix Review about products that never quite materialized or never lived up to their promise.  He is the author or co-author of  five "trade textbooks," a travelogue about teaching in Fiji and a flash fiction chapbook.  For the past seven years he has been the editor/publisher of Wilderness House Literary Review.

Let me know what you think? (Specially if you're an agent)

Monday, October 08, 2012

Light Piercing Water (Guest Boy)

Light Piercing Water (Guest Boy)
by Djelloul Marbrook
Mira Publishing House
ISBN 978-1-908509-06-2

review by Steve Glines

There is always something fun about a book written in English by an author whose native language is not English. Non-native speakers are often very inventive with our language, using interesting metaphors where we might use a cliché. There are other times when the reader skids to a halt with the need to decipher a sentence or paragraph that contains English words embedded in an alien grammar. Fortunately this does not happen very often in this first of a trilogy that vaguely mirrors The Odyssey or so the author promises.

The hero of this thin volume is Bo Cavalieri, a seaman, former U.S. Navy frogman and an artist extraordinaire. Bo, which stands for boson, is half Arab and half German with an Italian step father. OK so we know he's conflicted right there. The book opens with a small convoluted plot that leads to a young Arab boys suicide. Bo takes it upon himself to deliver the remains to the boys home town in Algeria. The task being done Bo signs up with a tramp steamer that's been outfitted by a rich British eccentric (aren't they all) and his mistress to do underwater archaeology.

For the middle two quarters of the book Bo and his British companions wander the coasts of North Africa, Greece, the Red Sea and somehow end up in Oman. Bo meets the Sultan of Oman who likes Bo and calls him Sinbad. A few pages later they discover an important ship wreck. A few pages after that Bo quits for almost no reason and becomes captain of a small Omani ship bound for the African coast. On the return trip Bo discovers that they are carrying slaves. He kills the owner, renames the ship and divides the spoils between the rest of the crew after dropping his female slaves off on a random beach somewhere.

Bo joins up with another tramp steamer headed to England. While this steamer is laid up for repairs he goes to Scotland to visit his fathers former girlfriend. Bo thinks she might be his real mother because his real mother is such a witch (See I told you he was conflicted). She isn't but he (and we) learn all about how Bo came to be and why he is such a good artist: his mother was a good artist. We learn his father was killed in a jealous rage but it's immaterial to the story. After having a one night stand with his fathers ex-girlfriend, Bo is back aboard ship and ends up in New York City where we learn he owns an apartment. The apartment had been rented out to some drug dealers so Bo throws them out and proceeds to get completely drunk, destructively drunk. His free time is spent telling us about his childhood and how he loves to swim the East River. It's after one of these swims that Bo is attacked by a bout of amnesia and ends up in Belleview psychiatric hospital.

That's it. There are two more volumes in this trilogy so it's safe to say that Bo remembers who he is unless the rest is all retrospective but we are given no hint, no foreshadowing of what will happen to him. We have only the publishers promise that the trilogy echoes The Odyssey. A good read, for an immortal.