A Celebration of The Celebrant


Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, July 4, 2019, 8:29 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

So many words are insufficient. I’ve never liked to say that I “covered” something, such as, oh, stock car racing for 20 years. Sometimes I say it or tweet it, but I try not to write it. I’ve never liked the notion that I “pull” for the Red Sox. “Root” is no good, either, but I use it because I like it better than “pull.” I’ve also never enjoying being a “fan,” which is short for “fanatic.”

So I read The Celebrant, by Eric Rolfe Greenberg, and also because (a.) it is about baseball, (b.) I am working on a novel about baseball, (c.) it is baseball season, and (d.) to date, the Boston Red Sox have not provided ample entertainment regarding the game.

I’d prefer to be a celebrant to being a fan because mainly I am in denial.

The Celebrant is not particularly relevant to the novel I am writing because mine is set in the present and Greenberg’s in the early years of the 20th, not the 21st, century. The story is written through the eyes of the celebrant, a frustrated ballplayer himself. The celebrated is Christy Mathewson, the greatest pitcher of his time and a hero for all times.

It’s considered by some to be one of the 100 greatest sports books in history. It is. Past reviews – The Celebrant was published in 1984 – are mostly raves like this one, but those who pan it either think the baseball or the narrator’s family intrigues are boring. Almost all, probably based on whether they are sports fanatics or not, love one or the other. Its greatness is actually rooted in both.

Pixabay

The historical novel is by necessity a blend of fact and fiction. Dozens of baseball greats – Mathewson, John McGraw, Smokey Joe Wood, Hal Chase, Connie Mack, Ross Youngs, Wilbert Robinson, Frank “Home Run” Baker, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, etc. – file in and out. So, too, are the famous events – Merkle’s Boner, the Black Sox Scandal, Mathewson’s two no-hitters – described in vivid detail.

The celebrant is Jackie Kapp, who meets Mathewson while traveling with his brother Eli. Kapp is the designer of the family jewelry business, and the ring he designs to honor the no-hitter he saw leads indirectly to Eli’s rise and fall and directly to the rise of Collegiate Jewelers. The fictitious family is as interesting as New York Giants, viewed at times from Coogan’s Bluff above the Polo Grounds.

Mathewson’s life is almost a Christlike allegory. He is a virtuous but doomed man. Until relatively late in the story, Jackie is blissfully unaware that he means as much to Mathewson as “Matty” means to him.

Yet the story is richly believable in a slightly romantic sort of way. Family business tumult corresponds with the tragic life of the hero.

I was captivated.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

My eighth novel is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

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Ultimately Worth the Reluctance

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, 12:36 p.m.

Monte Dutton

It’s rather a miracle that I even read The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland. From time to time, I get to pick a free download from a list, and it’s possible I thought Rebekah Crane’s novel had something to do with President Grover Cleveland, the only man to hold the office in separate terms.

Grover at Camp Padua in the present is nothing like Grover at the White House in the 19th Century.

It took me forever to read it because I began it with disinterest. The only time I read it was when I had some time to kill and my cell. For some reason, I was reading a non-fiction book in hardcover, one novel in my phone, and another in my Kindle. These are not my optimum reading habits. In the Kindle and the phone, I could have interchanged. I could have read The Celebrant in the phone and Grover Cleveland in the Kindle. I could have switched back and forth. I didn’t because I didn’t. Not everything makes sense.

I bumbled along, a chapter here, a chapter there, stop when the food arrives, until the story finally captured my fancy, sort of a dry piece of tinder that finally lit after dozens of futile matches.

Pixabay

This is a novel for young adults. I haven’t been one in decades. My own novels typically have young adults in them, but they are characters, not principal figures. I pay close attention to the young because I am cognizant of and fascinated by how much the environment has changed since I was diving into and almost drowning on the way out of rites of passage.

I was never “an at-risk teen,” as Zander, Cassie, Grover, Bek, and all the others most definitely are. Zander Osborne is the narrator, marred by tragedy but not as obviously affected by her trauma as Cassie, who loves nothing more than alienating everyone around here; Grover, who expects to one day be schizophrenic because it seems mathematically likely; and Bek, a pathological liar who eventually grows up to be president (kidding).

Pixabay

Somehow they all become close in spite of the worst intentions of everyone except Grover, who publicly expresses his love of Zander early and throughout the yarn. Cassie resents being unloved even though she does everything she can to alienate those around her.

I expected a tragic ending, but the author rescued me, and particularly Cassie, from it. They all probably didn’t live happily ever after, but that’s the direction they’re headed by the time the tale is told.

 

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Making Sense of Pat Conroy

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, March 28, 2019, 11:56 a.m.

Monte Dutton

It took a long time to read My Exaggerated Life, the oral biography by Pat Conroy as told to Katherine Clark. It’s based on hundreds of conversations between the two. Conroy approved of it, though it wasn’t published until after he died of cancer on March 4, 2016.

It’s an easy read, but it appeared on my doorstep at a time when I was preoccupied with a new job, engaged in negotiations over a land sale, and dealing with some medical issues. The novel I’m writing stalled, too.

Getting the book done has had some good side-effects. I worked on the novel, my ninth, on Wednesday for the first time in months. I was reading three books at the same time. I found the time to take a weekend trip that replenished my cosmic stores. I came back from Asheville, North Carolina, ready to get back to things creative. I read the rest of My Exaggerated Life in about a week, and embarked on reading two other novels. I’d read one on my phone when I had some time to kill and the other on the Kindle when I was at home.

Expect more reviews soon.

It was Conroy’s life story that awakened me from creative slumber and the trip to Asheville and Knoxville, Tennessee, that reignited it.

I started reading Conroy early in high school, when The Water Is Wide inspired me at an idealistic time in my life. My first waves of disillusionment didn’t occur until college. I’ve read all his books except the first, The Boo, and I’m going to get around to it soon. The books to read have been piling up during the months of malaise and business.

His novels do not fully explain Conroy. It takes this bio to understand him.

Conroy had a knack that comes in handy for the novelist. He called it as he saw it and didn’t give a damn what others thought. His life was long enough for most of his detractors to come around. He found an uneasy peace with his abusive father, The Great Santini. His brutal honesty steamrolled some loved ones. Most of them loved him back by the time he died.

He could skewer with the best of them, and through what was spoken word, edited and transcribed by his friend and fellow author Clark, Conroy provides vivid detail of those he adored and those he abhorred. On no one is he as hard as himself.

It’s funny. It’s amusing. It’s heartbreaking, but the lingering impression is inspiration. I lucked into the perfect time to read it.

I never met Conroy, which I regret, because I could have. I know people who knew him. He was a South Carolinian. We both have had our share of dysfunction in life, but Conroy’s was an inexhaustible supply. He never ran out of his life’s bottomless pool of material.

(Joe Font cover design)

I show up in all my novels, but I never wanted to write the same story over and over, with names changed to protect the guilty. At the end of six novels – and two short ones that were related – I had written all about Riley Mansfield, Reese Knighton, Chance Benford, Denny Frawley, Hal Kinley, Ennis Middlebrooks and Harry Byerly, Barrie Jarman, Mickey Statler, and others that I cared to. All my novels have flawed grown-ups and rebellious kids. I loved creating them but knew when it was time to say so long.

While I have been deeply influenced by John Steinbeck and Larry McMurtry, more of my characters have been inspired by Conroy. Mine are more likely to smoke pot. His are more likely to commit suicide. More are murdered in mine. More are estranged in his.

That plus Conroy was infinitely more successful. One cannot but help to ask “what price glory?” where Conroy was concerned.

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

An Historical Novel of Wartime Intrigue, Rendered Skillfully

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 25, 2018

By Monte Dutton

I’m quite ashamed of myself.

Ordinarily, I would have devoured The Torch Betrayal, by Glenn Dyer, in a couple weeks. It was a casualty of the increasingly frenetic pace of my life over the past months. I’ve been out and about, writing stories about local affairs, editing news releases and selecting photos, looking up who died and who got arrested, and trying as best I could to write some more fiction of my own and spend a little time each day plunking away at a guitar.

I haven’t read as much, and that’s a shame because the best way to learn how to write is to read.

Every writer needs to read. Dyer is a pro. His World War II spy novel is exquisitely paced, conventional in composition, well researched, and cohesively plotted. It features cameos of famous historical figures, among them, “Wild Bill” Donovan, Sir Winston Churchill, General Dwight Eisenhower, and, briefly, the lovely actress Hedy Lamarr.

Pixabay

The American Conor Thorn and the English Emily Bright are tasked with retrieving a stolen document that contains plans for the Allied invasion of North Africa, Operation Torch. Thorn’s recent past is tragic. He is unafraid of death because it haunts him, and he feels he must redeem himself. Bright is proper in the English way. She understands the culture of British espionage and helps the impulsive Thorn navigate its nuances. Thorn represents OSS; Bright, M16. They go in search of spies, Nazi sympathizers and … the missing document.

The novel makes its way through England, Morocco, Portugal, and the Vatican. By the time Thorn and Bright uncover the bad guy, a Cabinet minister named Henry Longworth, but before they can nab him, he is en route to rendezvous with the Germans amid the protection of the Roman Catholic Church. Thorn and Bright pursue them, accompanied by a friendly priest.

The climax is, of course, heroic. The surprises are … surprising, but that they occur is not a shock.

It’s a yarn I couldn’t have put down had not circumstances forced me to do so. I must do better.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Serenity in Name Only

Clinton, South Carolina, Thursday, June 14, 2008, 10:59 a.m.

By Monte Dutton (John Clark photo)

Shelby Alexander barely lets the reader take a breath in this opening salvo of Craig A. Hart’s series of thrillers. Serenity is not to be confused with the noun. It’s the name of the town in northern Michigan that, based on the hero’s experience, is hardly apt.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover)

Hart writes my kind of books. I wasn’t ten pages in before the hero started reminding me of Hal Kinley, the flawed counterbalance of evil in my political thriller, Forgive Us Our Trespasses. Hal plays second fiddle to the despicable Denny Frawley, a politician headed to the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion regardless of how many he has to kill and imprison in order to get there.

Hart’s protagonist figuratively plays lead guitar. He is at the center of every spine-tingling scene, and someone is out to kill him in most of them.

Shelby is a tough guy, an ex-boxer who who has been involved in his share of tawdry business. Fate puts him in harm’s way … constantly. He allows himself to be drawn into a territorial war between meth dealers, or at least that’s the way it seems. It’s hard to see the truth because the bad guys keep dying while they are enthusiastically attempting to kill him.

Serenity – the town, that is – has a new sheriff who is either awfully naive or terribly crooked. Shelby has a girlfriend, a honky-tonk angel, who is half his age. He has a meddling daughter determined to patch up relations between Shelby and his former wife, her mother. A friend, retired from the Detroit police force, comes in handy.

Hart’s yarn affords precious little time to relax. Someone is trying to kill Shelby most every time he stops moving. Hart has crafted a hero capable of carrying many more installments, provided he can manage to survive the perpetual action. I expect he will. His is a valuable franchise.

(Steven Novak cover

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

The Right Stuff of the Vanities

By Monte Dutton

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 15, 2018, 3:38 p.m.

For many years, I thought The Right Stuff was the best non-fiction book I ever read. Now I consider it neck and neck with William Prochnau’s Once Upon a Distant War.

When I wrote a novel about a pot-smoking songwriter fleeing the feds, I used The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test for reference. I’ve never dropped acid. I’ve been to Oregon. Riley Mansfield ate mushrooms there. I thought reading was a better way to do research than taking hallucinogens.

I’ve gotten old.

When Tom Wolfe died, I lost a go-to guy. John Steinbeck was another, but he was gone before I went. I miss Elmore Leonard, Dick Francis, Wallace Stegner, Larry Brown and Graham Greene, too. I am a writer, which means it’s hard to like others. It makes me jealous that they’re so great and I’m not.

I liked The Right Stuff movie twice as much because I read the book first. I liked The Bonfire of the Vanities half as much because I read it, Wolfe’s first novel, before I saw that putrescent movie.

Wolfe wasn’t a dispassionate observer. He was a passionate observer. He didn’t party with Ken Kesey or guzzle shine with Junior Johnson. He watched the world around him and then ripped it to shreds.

Has ever there been a great writer who was also so flamboyant?

A deep regret of mine is that I never met Pat Conroy. I should have. I didn’t care enough to make it happen. I’ve never had much interested in autographs. Harry Gant was the same way, even though he cheerfully signed them.

“Beats all I ever seen,” the stock car racing yeoman told me. “I just don’t get it. I loved Elvis, but I never cared nothing for how he signed his name.”

I did meet Wolfe. He and I had a brief chat. It was about Stegner, who helped teach Wolfe how to write and me how to understand my own father. Stegner was an actual teacher of Wolfe’s. I just read his novels.

Wolfe had a marvelous sense of the absurd. Perhaps a fat sportswriter in a NASCAR press box asking him about a Western literary figure piqued Wolfe’s taste for the absurd, but he stopped and engaged me on the subject of Stegner’s differences with Kesey.

It was marvelous. It wasn’t just marvelous. He actually agreed with what I had to say about Kesey, Stegner, the Beat Generation and Larry McMurtry. He seemed to enjoy talking with me, and, if he didn’t, I’m glad he hid it so well.

About all I learned from the obituary was that Wolfe wrote one final novel I haven’t read.

I’ll be on it soon.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

Guilty Pleasure in a Guilty Pleasure

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 1, 2018, 1:25 p.m.

Green Goes Forth. The protagonist and narrator is a guy named Joe Green. He grows “green,” which is one of many code words and synonyms for cannabis. No need to write a paragraph of them. The title is a double entendre.

By Monte Dutton

Appropriately, Green Goes Forth is a relaxed thriller. Green has quite the adventure, taking it as it comes. Not much bothers him.

The strangest coincidence sets it off. Green, a very close to innocent bystander, sneezes in a phone conversation that is being monitored by the FBI. This implicates him with criminals and makes him sought after to rat his uncle out.

He has to bolt. He has to go undercover. The feds definitely want him, and the mobsters might. Green has to give up a college degree and the comfort zone of home in Washington, D.C., a girlfriend and a dog. He particularly misses the dog.

An old compadre takes him in. He arrives in Wine Country. It’s also Weed Country. It’s the late 1970s. They went hand in hand, then as now. Reagan intervened in between. By the way, it’s fun for the reader to compare that time to this.

(Monte Dutton sketch)

If the reader accepts one premise – not only is pot not that bad; it’s good – then Bob Gilbert’s novel is damned near inspirational. Most of the characters are pleasant. Most of the bad guys aren’t so bad. No guilt or remorse is involved when Joe goes into the illegal pot business with his buddy. A man’s got to make a living, even when he’s in hiding.

The cops don’t go after them that hard. They come to terms with the rival dealer. With hard work and a few precautions, they don’t veer too near disaster, though the reader anticipates its approach a few times.

Joe makes his fortune in the Golden State and feels the lure of home. While out west, Joe becomes quite a bit more learned. He develops an understanding of literature he could barely fathom back east. Yet he returns there when the criminal heat subsides, carrying a bunch of cash and a general plan to distribute his Ghani Purp strain to the consumers in Our Nation’s Capitol.

He enters political society, finding the Republicans as likely as the Democrats to value his product. Then Joe opens his own used-book store, having developed a taste for the finer words of art.

Everything gonna be all right.

Green Goes Forth is a quick, casual read, though I didn’t read it quickly because I was immersed in my own writing. It whets the reader’s appetite without keeping him or her up until 3 a.m. It’s a tale to pick up when one’s favorite team is either well ahead or way behind. It’s useful to read a chapter on the phone while a dinner order is being prepared at a restaurant. I hesitate to call it “a beach read” only because that term has become maddeningly cliched.

I’m casually looking forward to another Bob Gilbert yarn about Joe Green.

(Steven Novak cover)

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which are available for sale here.

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.