THE JOY OF STORY
John M. Daniel’s Blog
April 30, 2016
What do you know, it’s the last day of April. I thought it would never get here. For one of the shorter months, this one has been full of predictable business. It started with a day celebrating fools, or making fools of people; two weeks later it was a day to be taxed and (some say) robbed by the government; and for the past few days, we’ve had surprise showers. In April even surprise showers are predictable.
What’s more, this April gave us five Saturdays, a rare gift for the shorter months. And as if that weren’t enough, for these past thirty days we’ve been celebrating National Poetry Month. Well, maybe we haven’t been all-out celebrating the poets all month long, but let’s all take a moment out of this last April day to wish William Shakespeare a happy birthday, which is said to have been in April 1564.
I’m pretty finicky when it comes to poetry. I prefer formal poems, ones with meter and rhyme. That makes me old-fashioned, I know, but I tend to agree with Robert Frost, who said “Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down.” Harrumph. Well, there’s not much formal verse being written nowadays, other than doggerel, and I admit that I also like free or unstructured poetry, so long as it says something meaningful and says it beautifully.
In other words, to please me, poetry must communicate something. Preferably something important. And it must, in a sense, entertain.
What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.
My novel Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, is all about communication problems. The protagonist, Hooperman Johnson, is a bookstore clerk who loves poetry. Hoop has a crippling speech impediment, a stammer that renders him inarticulate and shy. Curiously, the stammer disappears when he’s reading aloud or when he’s reciting poetry from memory. But he’s challenged when it comes to conversation, and Hoop does not do phones.
Janie Gillis, Hoop’s childhood sweetheart and the former wife Hoop still pines for, is nearly mute. She can speak a few words in a soft voice when she’s entirely comfortable, as she is with Hoop, but to communicate her wisdom and her love of language, she relies on her talent as a poet. Janie is a star in the poetry world.
Working in the back room of the bookstore where Hooperman is a clerk, lurks a tall, scowling man who talks little, but when he does talk his speech is peppered with scatological cusswords. Martin West is actually a gentle and kind man, but he suffers from a neurological disorder (similar to tourette syndrome) that makes him twitch and sound both angry and obscene.
Millie Larkin, another clerk, can’t chat with men. Lucinda Baylor, can’t talk to the police without calling them pigs. One of the employees is a socialist, and another is an anarchist; and though they are the best of friends, their tiresome arguments can be heard all over the store.
You might think these inarticulate, fumbling, mumbling, shouting and spouting speech-challenged people should just relax, slow down, and speak normally. They can’t—and that’s only half the problem they have communicating. The other half of the problem rests with the rest of us, the ones who can’t or won’t take the time to really listen to what these intelligent and well-meaning people have to say.
Communication is a two-way street. Both sides need patience. And patience is well rewarded. That’s the message of Hooperman. Listen. Listen to the stories of others.
HOOPERMAN: A Bookstore Mystery
Oak Tree Press
trade paperback; $14.95
Buy or order Hooperman from your local bookstore, from one of the online booksellers, or direct from the publisher:
Oak Tree Press, 1820 W. Lacey Blvd. #220, Hanford, CA 93230
to order a signed copy, call 800-682-8351
Who’s Stealing the Books? Who’s Bombing the Bookstore?
“Pleasant and unusually good-natured, this novel from Daniel harkens back to a time when printed books mattered and an independent bookstore could be a social club for passionately eccentric bibliophiles.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It’s a difficult job for a man with a severe stammer, but somebody’s got to do it, because Maxwell’s Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.
Who’s stealing the books? Martin West, the foul-mouthed nutcase in charge of shipping and receiving? Millie Larkin, who hates the boss because he’s a man? Could it be Lucinda Baylor, the dark and sassy clerk that Hoop’s in love with? Jack Davis, the socialist, or Frank Blanchard, the anarchist? Or maybe even Elmer Maxwell himself, the world-famous pacifist bookseller?
Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.
Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery celebrates the joy of books and bookselling and also explores the many ways people get into trouble—deadly serious trouble—when they fail to communicate.
Read reviews of Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery
Calling all authors—
I feature a guest author the third Saturday (and week following) of each month. If you’re interested in posting an essay on my blog—it’s also a chance to promote a published book—email me directly at email@example.com.
Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories
The deadline for May’s 99-word story submissions is May 1. THAT'S TOMORROW, FOLKS! The stories will appear on my blog post for the week beginning Saturday, May 14.
note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.
Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:
1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: Think of something you feel strongly about, an opinion that defines who you are—or who you are not—politically, spiritually, economically, professionally, or any other important way. Why is it important? When did this self-knowledge come to you, and how did it change your life? Show (don't tell) this in the context of a story. Hint: if you don’t want to share the details of your own life, write fiction.
or be inspired by this alternate prompt for May:
“That gravy boat belonged to my great-grandmother.”
or: “That gravy boat belonged to your great-grandmother.”
Thank you for stopping by The Joy of Story during the soggy month of April. Let’s look forward to the May flowers we’ve been promised. Susan’s irises in the garden are already starting to bloom. Meanwhile, whether you write memoir, poetry, or fiction, continue to show the joy of story!