Jack London lamented that he had spent his life as a working class intellectual rubbing shoulders with the underprivileged on tramp steamers, in gold mining camps, on wharfs and in warehouses while reading extensively and writing books of serious social and philosophical merit only to be renowned for writing about dogs. It irked him yet inspired another young man decades later. Eighteen-wheelers, psych wards, factory floors and the halls of academia and corporate America may not be perfect matches to London’s peregrinations, but they have all been part of the adventures sought out in a determined effort to train up a unique literary voice. Carl Stevens, the man, has lived in numerous careers the fiction that each was intrinsically important while in fact each was merely research for the role of Carl Stevens, Writer. Professor-in-training (in three fields so far, philosophy, history and psychology), nurse in a psychiatric facility, long-haul truck driver, security guard, waiter, bartender, clerical worker, manual laborer, engineer – they were all façades presented while a true life’s work went on behind the scenes, reading and writing and incorporating life experience with the scholarly to create the self-identity that is now creating novels.
Four novels published so far speak for the success of this creative self-identity. If a hundred years from now people neglect the layers of substance and only praise the exciting tales of adventure and if he is still alive, then Carl will be proud to have failed like Jack.
The Charging Bull of Terry County (Historical Fiction / Literary Fiction / Comedy Fiction)
Bicentennial Day for America is going to be a long one for Larry. There’s a fifth of Southern Comfort to kill before noon. There’s all the memory other people won’t let the fifth kill off. The woman who’s divorced him three times wants to talk. His older son wants to publish Granddad’s Civil War Journal. Everyone wants to talk war history with a World War II vet. The mayor wants Larry’s crane to lift the statue of a fictional hero into place in time for the fireworks. The only person not bothering him is his younger son shipped home from Nam and resting for five years under a plain flat stone on the edge of town. This day will resonate with history – of one person, of one family, of one nation shaped by war– and all Larry wants is a little peace.
The Canterbury Tales in Neverland (Fantasy / Literary Fiction / Romance)
Jackson Thomas is no longer mayor, but The Ville will not leave him be. The new mayor, Myron Willever, sparks rivalry with the town of Brodman’s Bluff until a summer festival explodes into a riot that Jackson quells but not before an unknown rioter cold-cocks an unwed mother into a still birth. Myron’s wife, Liu Hsi, connives to get Jackson arrested for inciting riot and infanticide. Jackson’s son, Casavero, his friends and their schoolmaster, Horatio, have long enjoyed playing at word games based on Shakespeare, and now talk themselves into a pilgrimage to the mountains to beseech angels and ministers of grace to save Jackson from jail. Jackson has no idea they have slipped out of town to tell themselves amusing tales, they have no idea he has been released to direct his own defense under house arrest and no one knows what Liu Hsi has planned.
More than “a cracker-jack detective story and courtroom drama”, though I thank and will quote the reviewer again, in this book “a post-apocalyptic America chooses between reason and superstition as it revives a lost literary heritage in this beguiling fantasy [featuring] a fully realized culture and a quasi-Shakespearean diction that’s vigorous and musical without being fusty or quaint [and] an engrossing yarn that embeds an off-kilter perspective on history in rich language and storytelling.” You also get metafictional parodies, fantasy satirizing the belief in fantasy – and jokes to boot.
The Time Traveler’s Fool (Science-Fiction / Literary Fiction / Mystery)
In a dialogue over six days between a psychiatrist and a man claiming to be a time traveler you decide if he is a lunatic, a time traveler, a murderer, a victim, all of the above or none. Start reading convinced that he is insane and end satisfied that you were right all along. Start reading convinced that he travels through time and end satisfied that you were right all along. Then begin the endless discussion with yourself or others about how both readings can be right or must be wrong.
Whoever he may be he is an articulate weaver of tales hilarious and horrible which include writing love poetry in the body of a shepherd boy wooing his first love, leading a small group of would-be legionaries in the body of a commander who has gotten them into a royal mess in the desert, fleeing a lynch mob in the body of a slave who may have been better off before a helping hand (or mind).
The Time Traveler’s Fool is a rollicking good read but the reader who cares to dig deeper will also find serious literary themes of reality, perception, identity and the unintended consequences of good deeds.
They Call Me Merlin Sherlock (Humor / Mystery)
He looks like a young adult, claims to be born in the 19th century and laments that the other wizards call him Merlin Sherlock as a taunt. Thaddeus Barlow has wanted to be a detective from when he read newly published stories of Edgar Allan Poe before disappearing into a kindergarten for wizards. Now, after 169 years of learning the basics of wizardry and reading detective stories on the side, he has graduated into the world with the hopes of fulfilling that youthful fancy. He would do so gladly if it were not for the mockery of his fellow wizards who do not consider snooping a respectable endeavor for a newly minted wizard. They Call Me Merlin Sherlock is Thad’s lament as well as his memoir through which he hopes his first case as a detective will convince all that his chosen life is more than a laughing matter. Is he a true wizard, a daft poseur, or a deft publicist for a new and struggling agency? Clues, adventure and humor abound in this tale told from the perspective of an early nineteenth century lad steeped in ancient lore and practicing in an early twenty-first century theme park. Why the park? You really must read the book to find out.