Wall Street Journal and Biblical Perspectives On Novels

Two Biblical perspectives on Graphic the Valley in the past day. Interesting. This weekend, the novel was reviewed in The Wall Street Journal Saturday/Sunday edition as part of an article that connected Graphic to J.M. Coetzee’s new book, The Childhood of Jesus.

Also, freelance writer Andrew Weber blogged about Graphic the Valley, an interesting take as well (…The core of the story’s conflict lies in the tension between two versions of the human ideal…).

Click here to read Weber’s post.

Because many people aren’t online subscribers to The Wall Street Journal, here’s the full text of the WSJ book review.

‘There are prophets and there are judges. . . . Both are holy, but they have different jobs.” So says a character in Peter Brown Hoffmeister’s “Graphic the Valley” (Tyrus, 271 pages, $24.95), a vigorously original retelling of the Samson and Delilah story set in Yosemite. The speaker means that judges must be men of action; he is talking to Tenaya, a Yosemiti Indian who has been charged with the duty of protecting the valley from commercial developers and is our stand-in for the Bible’s ultimate wild man, Samson.

Tenaya was born and raised in an illegal settlement in the park, where he was taught by his zealous father never to forget his people’s ancient claims on the land. Mr. Hoffmeister, an experienced outdoorsman and magazine writer, marvelously harnesses the valley’s natural wonders to convey Tenaya’s strange magnetism toward primal violence: “Ravens fought in front of me,” he observes upon climbing a solitary mountain pass, “a physical argument, not loud with squawking, not like the crows on the Valley floor. I saw one raven drop and slam the body of another from behind, the second one rolling.”

Inevitably, Tenaya is seduced by his Delilah, in this case a woman named McKenzie who works in public relations for the development firm bringing fast-food franchises and other sacrilegious tourist traps into the park. At moments, when the story forces its one-to-one connections with Scripture, a bit of allegory exhaustion settles over the book (the infamous haircut scene, for example, is shoehorned in almost as an afterthought). But the avenging destruction wrought by both Tenaya and the natural world is captured with beauty and aplomb. Mr. Hoffmeister brings a newfound sense of urgency to one of the Bible’s oldest and strangest tales.


Telling Outdoor Stories and Talking About Bears Tomorrow Night

I’m telling outdoor stories and reading tomorrow night from my book Let Them Be Eaten By Bears – A Fearless Guide To Taking Our Kids Into the Great Outdoors.

Tsunami Books, June 27th, 7:00, Willamette Street, Eugene, OR.

Bear stories. Stories from the Integrated Outdoor Program. Wild animals. Injuries.  And weather.

Review From FamilyBandage.com

Thank you to FamilyBandage.com for the following book review for Let Them Be Eaten By Bears. Excerpt:

“Many books like this more-or-less talk down to its readers. This one doesn’t. Hoffmeister wrote this book as though he was talking to friends and fellow outdoor enthusiasts. He has experience–a lot of it–which he refers to often, but not in a look-at-me-I’m-boasting kind of way. He’s very relateable, as a parent, spouse, instructor, and all-around fun-loving individual.” — FamilyBandage.com

The review is called:

“Should You Let Them Be Eaten By Bears?”

Let Them Be Eaten By Bears is up for pre-order

Let Them Be Eaten By Bears – A Fearless Guide To Taking Our Kids Into The Great Outdoors (Perigee/Penguin Books) is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Click to check it out.

Art for Arts’s Sake? Where’s The Love For The Short Story?

If I want my wife to read a short story collection, I don’t tell her that it’s a short story collection.  I say, “Oh, Junot Diaz’ Drown? Yes, that’s a really good book.  Incredible voice. You should read it.”

No mention of stories.  Separate stories.  Stories that are not linked to make some sort of a novel.

People don’t want to read short stories. Not anymore.  Or at least they don’t think they do. They don’t buy them. They don’t seek them out. They don’t ask their friends, “What’s the best short story you’ve read lately?”

But when I teach Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral,” my students say, “Whoa. That’s such a good story. That was incredible.”  When we read The Moccasin Telegraph by Kinsella, they love the collection.  Same with stories by Miranda July or Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven.

Why do they love these stories so much?  Because good stories are like perfect espresso. They smell and taste so good and they can be consumed in less than twenty minutes – good for a short attention span or small blocks of time.  With a good story, there’s that single effect, that one change, that precise moment.

And, honestly, I love writing stories even though I’ve never sold a story collection (How does an author actually sell a story collection?). None of the three books I’ve sold are story collections.  I have a complete story collection, a manuscript (not necessarily a good manuscript but a manuscript nonetheless) and my collection even won an award – The Oregon Literary Arts Fellowship for Fiction.  But it hasn’t sold.

Because stories don’t sell.

Stories are art. To write a story, a writer has to love the process.  He or she has to read good poetry and care about every last word.  Each image.  The rhythm and precision. The short story writer must revise and revise and revise.

This year, I decided to release a story album. One short story produced with a band. The band members approached me with the idea, art for the sake of art.  Art in collaboration.  And I loved the idea.  Sometimes, all a short story writer wants is for someone to understand what he is doing, to recognize the intended effect.

This band’s sound was clean (the guitarist, bass player, and drummer don’t mess around – they work). They wanted to produce a professional quality album of a story I read at a reading last winter. I said, “Let’s do it.”

So we recorded and re-recorded.  The producer mixed and mixed the sound.  It was mastered by a professional.  And now it’s ready.  We’ll release it to the enormous hoards of short story fans (legions, really, the uncountable masses) next week.