Great Reviews of Fool’s Republic!

The New York Journal of Books: “Important and timely…  The power of the book is not simply the story, but also the breathtaking prose used to tell that story.  A must-read…”

BookBound: “I opened the book yesterday just to read the first page (I’ve currently got three books on the go so this one was going to wait until I’ve finished at least one other) but before I knew it I was on page 60 and had trouble putting it down!”

San Jose Mercury News: “A new political thriller exploring the limits of personal freedom and the psychology of resistance.”

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Gordon W. Dale Author event in San Mateo, May 14

M is for Mystery LogoOn Saturday, May 14th at 2:00 PM I will be discussing and signing copies of my novel Fool’s Republic (North Atlantic Books/Random House) at M is For Mystery Bookstore in San Mateo. I will be speaking for about 20 minutes, followed by a question and answer session. I’d be very pleased to see you there.
 
EVENT DETAILS:
 2:00 PM May 14th, 2011
M is For Mystery Bookstore
86 East 3rd Avenue
San Mateo, CA
Event is no charge.
Phone: (650) 401-8079
http://www.mformystery.com/events.html

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A Homebody’s Travel Tips, Part 1

Maxime Du Camp once said of Gustave Flaubert that his preferred form of travel was to lie on a divan and have the scenery carried past him. I completely respect that. After my latest trip, I’ve promised myself I’ll no longer travel to places where I can’t brush my teeth with water from the bathroom faucet. And I’m certainly not visiting places where there aren’t bathroom faucets. As for places without bathrooms—well those have been off the list for years.

In my relative youth, I wrote travel articles for magazines. Since then I’ve logged considerable miles of overseas travel for both business and adventure. I’ve had good trips and bad trips and very bad trips. So what I know about traveling safely and comfortably, I’ve learned the hard way. And I was gratified on a recent trip to Africa to see that some of those lessons are finally paying off.

So, for what it’s worth, I’ve decided to pass some of this knowledge along—with the caveat that this is what works for me. I don’t know what’ll work for you. But take a look. Who knows, maybe you’ll find an idea that saves you considerable expense and aggravation the next time you find yourself in a third-world customs shed at two in the morning after a twelve hour flight.

Health Considerations

  • I’m fortunate in that there’s an excellent travel clinic associated with my HMO. It’s good to visit early, because some vaccinations have a lead time before becoming effective. Also, and this I learned the hard way, you should test anti-malarial medications before you leave. On my most recent trip, I had an allergic reaction to Malarone while in Malawi (no fun!) and had to spend a morning in an African clinic trying to get an alternative.
  • I always carry Benadryl because I sometimes have histamine reactions to medications (see above point).
  • I keep prescriptions in the original plastic pharmacy bottles. While it’s true the bottles take up unnecessary space in my carry-on luggage, they look far less suspicious to a customs officer than a half-full baggie of assorted pills. I keep over-the-counter drugs in their original packaging for the same reason.
  • I keep a record of my medications and dosage in a place separate from the medications themselves, in case the medications go missing.
  • I read somewhere that fifty percent of travelers suffer from traveler’s diarrhea. I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been one of the lucky half who don’t. I carry Imodium, always. And in a shirt pocket where I can get at it. (My favorite form, which I found at a Boots Pharmacy in London, dissolve almost immediately in your mouth.) If I’m going somewhere really icky, I bring along Ciprofloxacin, which is available by prescription.
  • I’m always  very, very careful that water I drink or food I put in my mouth is safe. In places where the water is questionable, I particularly avoid salads. Who knows who washed the lettuce and in what. I follow the old adage: cook it, peel it, or forget it.  And I carry antiseptic wipes to clean my hands before I eat.
  • I always carry travel health insurance, including emergency evacuation coverage. If you can’t afford the health insurance, you can’t afford the trip. It’s as simple as that.

Financial Considerations while Abroad

  • ATM machines have greatly simplified the process of obtaining local currency. I usually visit a Bureau du Change in the airport to get some walking around money (if I can’t immediately find an ATM in the arrivals hall), but after that I rely on ATMs. Even in the developing world, ATM machines are common in urban areas. A number of websites list their locations and identify which cards they accept. You usually incur lower fees by using a debit card than you do taking an advance against a credit card.
  • While visiting England a couple of  years ago I tried to use my credit card in a restaurant and the charges were denied—apparently, I found out later, because the expense occurred outside my usual geographic spending area. Fortunately, I had enough British currency in my pocket to pay for the meal. Now, before I leave on a trip, I make a point of phoning the 1-800 number on the back of my credit cards and advising the company of my itinerary. I do the same for debit cards. One word of warning: some credit card companies ask for a telephone number so they can call you back within 24 hours to confirm. That means it’s a good idea to advise them at least two days before you go, so you’re available to take the call. If you have a credit card with a low credit limit, you can always make a pre-payment to ensure you don’t max-out while travelling.
  • I used to rely heavily on Traveler’s checks when abroad, but with the availability of ATMs, they’re now largely unnecessary. Still, I carry at least a thousand dollars in Traveler’s checks as back up. (I carry them in their own wallet separate from my credit cards, so if I lose one, I still have the other.) When I get home, I simply cash them back in. I consider the modest fees I incur as an investment in peace of mind.

Next time: Part 2: What to Carry on the Plane, What to Pack, and Ways to Make the Most of Your Travel Experience.

Have travel tips you want to share?  Please add your comments to this post.

Gordon W. Dale is the author of Fool’s Republic, coming this spring from North Atlantic Books.
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I’m a Writer. Really.

As I’ve explained elsewhere, my mother was mad about books; they were considered holy things in our home and filled every nook and cranny. My father was constantly building bookshelves, which were soon at capacity, the texts overflowing like lava onto the floor. Everywhere you looked there were books.

Being raised in such a home, what chance did I have? I was born wanting to be a writer.

Which of course is something quite different from wanting to write.

Anybody can write, but calling yourself a writer, that’s something else altogether. That usually requires external validation, a certain societal legitimacy you can’t bestow on yourself alone. When I was setting up a website to showcase Fools Republic, my nephew, who was doing most of the digital heavy lifting, said in passing: “We should include something about your second book, What We Remember, so people can see you’re a real writer.”

And I thought to myself: So that’s what it takes to be a real writer—a second book. Otherwise, I suppose, you’re not a real writer; you’re just some guy who wrote a book. A guy who once wrote a book. A guy who wrote a book—once.

But what if you’re just some guy who wrote a couple of books?

At an awards ceremony I attended a couple of years ago, one of the presenters talked about how, despite having been a published novelist for over 20 years, she hadn’t felt comfortable calling herself a writer until she’d won an international award the year before. How typical that is. It can take years of being published to accrue the street cred necessary to call yourself a writer without fear of receiving the knowing look, the sideways glance, the subtle rolling of the eyes. I’m a writer. Uh-huh? Says who

Still, you have to start somewhere. You’re either a writer or you’re not—and you become a writer not because someone calls you a writer, but by the very act of writing. Working on a novel, a story, a blog post—anything that requires the deliberate, considered construction of communication using words—makes you a writer, even if you’re not yet willing to admit it publicly, even if no one but you knows it. You’re a writer. And that’s what you should be doing—writing.

And let other people call you what they will.

 Gordon W. Dale is the author of the novel Fool’s Republic, to be published by North Atlantic Books in May, 2011.
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Hey, I was just about to write that!

We lived in Blantyre, Malawi when I was a boy and while we were there my father wrote weekly to his parents in British Columbia to document the experience. He kept a detailed journal, snapped hundreds of photographs, saved mountains of ephemera–newspaper clippings, notes from students, correspondence with various governmental ministries, even restaurant menus. He hoped that when we returned to Canada he would turn all that material into a book of some sort.

He never did.

A few years ago, I found a title on Amazon called To Africa With Spatula by Jane Baker Lotter, who lived in Blantyre with her family during the very years that we were there. In fact, one of her sons was in my class at St. Andrew’s Preparatory School. Another was a student of my mother’s.

To Africa with Spatula is a compendium of letters Jane wrote from Malawi to her friends and family back in California. The letters are neither better nor worse than my father’s, but they cover much the same ground and record much the same experience. So perhaps it doesn’t matter that my father never wrote his book. Mrs. Lotter wrote it for him.

On a trip to Malawi in 1997, I returned to Blantyre Secondary School where my father taught in the 1960s. I’d developed a strange longing to see our former home on the school estate and revisit fond memories of roaming the surrounding countryside with my school friend Chris Turner. My father’s photographs of the time show well-kept grounds, with neatly trimmed hedges and carefully tended flowerbeds. Our house, too, was well maintained, with frangipani and poinsettia trees in the yard. But upon my return, I found it all very much changed. And not for the better.

Paul Theroux taught at Mount Soche Hill School in Malawi at the same time my father was at Blantyre Secondary. In his 2003 book, Dark Star Safari, he writes of returning to his old school with a sense of anticipation. Of the actual experience he says: “The school was almost unrecognizable. What had been a group of school buildings in a large grove of trees was a compound of battered buildings in a muddy open field. The trees had been cut down, the grass was chest high. At first glance the place was so poorly maintained as to seem abandoned: broken windows, doors ajar, mildewed walls, gashes in the roof, and only a few people standing around, empty-handed, doing nothing but gaping at me.”

When I returned to Canada after my 1997 trip, I never found the heart to write about the sorry state of Blantyre Secondary School, although I’d made the journey with a memoir in mind. I was paid for the travel article I subsequently submitted about the journey, but even that was so tinged with sadness the magazine chose not to run it. No matter. To borrow from James Laughlin: “It has all been written so well by my betters.” Theroux’s account is perfect.

This spring I’ll return to Malawi, not with a memoir in mind, but a novel underpinned by my childhood experiences there. I’ll take photographs, clip newspaper articles, scribble in my notebook, hoping to amass the material I need to finish What We Remember. And who knows perhaps, even now, a man with a background similar to my own is also planning such a book. Perhaps he’s in Blantyre at this very moment, sitting in a room in the Mount Soche Hotel transcribing his notes, arranging his thoughts, drawing up an outline.

Perhaps.

If he writes his book, well good for him. But if, for whatever reason, he doesn’t, what will it matter? With luck, I’ll have written it for him.

 Gordon W. Dale is the author of the novel Fool’s Republic, to be published by North Atlantic Books in May, 2011.
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Fool’s Republic Trailer Chosen Trailer of the Week

More exciting news. Last week, the Fool’s Republic video trailer was chosen as trailer of the day by Shelf Awareness. Now it has been chosen trailer of the week by Foreword This Week!

See the trailer: http://www.gordonwdale.com/video/

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Haven’t Read It, but I Love the Title

Sol Stein, in his book Stein on Writing, provides a bit of advice about choosing book titles: “The point to remember is that the primary function of a title is not to provide the locus of the story, but to entice the reader.” He then offers the example of Carson McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, which was originally called The Mute.

When people discover you’ve written a work of fiction, the first question they often ask is: what’s it called? (Followed immediately by: what’s it about? But I’ll save that painful subject for another post.) In my 30s, I wrote a novel I called The Music Crept by Us, after a poem by Leonard Cohen. I loved the title (as I do the poem), but saying it out loud inevitably lead to blank stares all around. Jack McClelland, who had by then sold his stake in McClelland and Stewart and set up shop as a literary agent, liked the manuscript well enough to take it on. And while perhaps the title wasn’t the sole reason for its subsequent rejection by a long succession of publishers, I’m sure it didn’t help.

I followed up The Music Crept by Us with a second novel, which I encumbered with another poetry-inspired title: The Slow Moon Climbs (from Tennyson’s Ulysses). Its death was more protracted and painful than that of its older sibling (one publisher sat on it for over a year while trying to decide whether she wanted it or not), but die it did, just the same.

In 2007 an excerpt from my novel, Rome Was Never like This, (yes, again from a poem—this time Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Junkman’s Obbligato) was shortlisted for the British Crimewriters Association Debut Dagger Award. This led to an approach from a prominent British literary agent whose final words to me, when we parted ways over differing visions for the book, were: “And, by the way, I still hate the title.”  

Rome Was Never like This, after a brief incarnation as Freedom Caught the First Train Out, will be published this spring as Fools Republic, a far better title and one which, as far as I know, is without a single poetic antecedent.

The novel I’m currently writing carries the working title What We Remember, not from a poem, but from a line of Joseph Brodsky’s: “People are what we remember about them.” The book concerns a man’s search for the truth about his mother, who abandoned him and his family during their return trip from Africa to Canada when he was twelve. So I guess, contrary to Stein’s advice, the title does provide the locus of the story. But I hope, in this case, it’s also enticing. If not, I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

I wonder, is The Mute still available?

Gordon W. Dale is the author of the novel Fool’s Republic, to be published by North Atlantic Books in May, 2011.
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Fool’s Republic video trailer chosen as trailer of the day!

I just wanted to let you know the video trailer I created for Fool’s Republic was chosen as trailer of the day by Shelf Awareness.

Link to Shelf Awareness:
http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=1388 ( you’ll need to scroll down the page)

Direct Link to Trailer: http://www.gordonwdale.com/video/

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Who Cares Whodunit?

What is it about fictional detectives that we find so compelling? Even luminaries such as Pablo Neruda and WH Auden loved detective stories. A few months ago I was reading The Devil and Sherlock Holmes by David Grann, in which he quotes Edgar W. Smith from 1946: “I see him (the detective) as the fine expression of our urge to trample evil and to set aright the wrongs with which the world is plagued. He is Galahad and Socrates, bringing high adventure to our dull existences and calm, judicial logic to our biased minds. He is the success of all our failures; the bold escape from our imprisonment.”

When I invest my time, invest myself, in reading a detective story, I expect the protagonist to pursue the case to the bitter end, to risk whatever violence is necessary, physical or emotional, to uncover the truth. I’m participating in a quest—perhaps the most primal storyline of all. And I know that in the end the detective will prevail, that rational Socratic insight joined with knightly derring-do  and an abhorrence of injustice will bring me to a satisfying conclusion. The truth will be uncovered, no matter the cost.

But still I wonder, why?

Why do I care so much about the truth, particularly a fictional truth, revealed to me teasingly, by an author determined to keep me reading to the last page? Why give up a perfectly good afternoon, or two, to such a seemingly trivial pursuit? And why is it some people can’t keep themselves from reading the ending first?

Perhaps it’s the need to know something, anything, for certain in an inexplicable world, a world gone mad. Things happen around me: I read about them in the news, hear about them around the water cooler, but I’m never told the full story. Reportage is rife with inaccuracies, gaps, biases, outright lies. I never know what really happened, the story behind the story. Only in fiction do I get that satisfaction. In the end, I know. Even if that knowledge doesn’t really matter. Even if nothing is changed, no one is safe, the world is not a better place.

For me, that’s the allure of detective fiction: the promise of certainty in a world without certainty, a world where I can’t trust what I’m told, just as the best detectives don’t trust what they’re told, the promise of objective truth in a world where truth is elusive, slippery, and inevitably relative. I will  learn the truth of who committed the murder, who plunged in the knife, who fired the gun. I will know who done what to whom. I will know.

And that’s what I find so compelling.

Gordon W. Dale is the author of the novel Fool’s Republic, to be published by North Atlantic Books in May, 2011.
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A Good Novel is a Finished Novel

There’s a saying in academia: a good dissertation is a finished dissertation—the point being, of course, that it doesn’t matter how much hard work you put into your dissertation (thinking about it, planning it, talking about it, researching it) if you fail to finish it. The same might be said of novels.

Between the conception and the creation, as Eliot wrote, falls the Shadow. For the novelist, the Shadow takes many forms, most of them pedestrian by artistic standards—cutting the lawn, raking the lawn, cooking food, eating food—but, by human standards, entirely necessary. And yet, the real work, the writing, has to get done.

Novelists have developed a number of strategies to keep themselves moving forward. Ernest Hemingway kept a log of his daily word count so as “not to kid himself.” PG Wodehouse claimed to write as many as 2,000 words a day. And Graham Greene set a target of 500 words a day while finishing The End of the Affair. As strategies go, keeping a daily tally is simple enough. Most people, even novelists, can count. And 500 words a day adds up.

But 500 words of what? That’s the question. 500 words, after all, is 500 words. You get what you measure.

I know I could write 500 words every day before breakfast, if that were my sole measure, but they’d be pure drivel. (I currently have 233 words of drivel on this page alone. I know; I just consulted ‘word count’ on the tools menu.) By the end of the week I’d have 2,500 words of drivel. A word-count strategy, for me, would be a disaster. I’d go for quantity, not quality. I’d be like an old hack writing for ten cents a word: my sentences would grow to page-length monstrosities, full of subordinate clauses, parenthetical inclusions, asides, and em dashes—and I already have an unhealthy passion for em dashes.

What might work better would be a target that included a sense of quality as well as quantity: not simply 500 words, say, but 500 usable words, words strung together in sentences that could conceivably find their way into the finished work, sentences I can read without embarrassment. But then again some sentences—some passages—come more easily than others. I can write three pages of dialogue in a snap, if I can hear the conversation in my head. But if I can’t hear it? Well, then it might take forever.

Georges Simenon, who wrote six novels a year, used to complete a book in eleven days, writing a chapter a day, the strain of which required that he have himself checked by a physician both before and after the process. Philip Roth, in his 1983-84 interview in the Paris Review, said: “I work all day, morning and afternoon, just about every day. If I sit there like that for two or three years, at the end I have a book.”

But how many of us have two or three years to sit all day, writing?

The answer, I think, might be to combine quality with quantity. Most of us can schedule a set amount of time into our lives more easily than we can target a specific number of usable words, given that we don’t know how long it will take to write those words. Perhaps a schedule of three hours a day, with a target of 400 usable words would work. Or two hours a day, with a target of 250 usable words. Whatever you can manage.

Because a good novel is a finished novel.

Gordon W. Dale is the author of the novel Fool’s Republic, to be published by North Atlantic Books in May, 2011.
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