Review of Mark Paxson’s Weed Therapy

Normally I don’t recommend that a reader go through the About This Author page or Note to the Reader page in a book, but for this one I do. I say this because as I read Weed Therapy, it seemed like two very different stories woven together to make one novel.

Kelvin Rockwell is unhappy in his marriage, in his job, and with his life. A stranger in a bar tells him about a priest in a tiny town in Baja California, and how the stranger’s visit there changed his life. Kelvin leaves his family and visits this poor village to get some answers and some advice.

The first thing I would have you understand is that Mr. Paxson has a wonderful writing style, a great way of putting words together to paint a picture or convey a feeling in a story. The narrative about visiting the village, learning how these simple people find their happiness, and the conversations with the old priest remind me of Hermann Hesse’s writing. There’s something mystical and spiritual about the experience, and I wanted to soak in the aura as long as possible.

The other aspect of the novel is Rockwell in first person telling the reader how his marriage has gone south, how his wife doesn’t express her love for him the way he wants, and how his kids have drifted from him. I went through a divorce and custody proceedings more than a decade ago, so when I read these sections of Rockwell complaining and blaming his wife, I wanted someone to shake him out of it and see the other side of the issue. But I realize that is my perspective, and that re-marrying as an older, hopefully wiser person has changed the way I look at relationships.

Ironically, the old Mexican priest’s words are spot-on for Rockwell, despite his protestations and complaining, and the reader can go a couple of different ways with this story. You can feel the pain Rockwell is experiencing, and sympathize with his thinking. Or you can view his narrative as flawed and myopic, and sympathize more with his wife.

Either way this is a good read, and makes me want to get a copy of Paxson’s other novel, One Night in Bridgeport.

Excel

I mentioned a while back that I recently revisited an old project and decided I could make it shine. I’m well into that project now and really enjoying repairing (restoring) this story. The first thing I did was to create an Excel spreadsheet to list all the chapters, what happens in each, and what date they occur. Then I created a spreadsheet for the characters, listing their physical descriptions and importance to the story. I’m told the Scrivener software does this, too, but I already have Excel.

Here’s why it was so important to use Excel. Today I remembered that the main character had sisters in the earlier draft, but I decided he needed only one sister. And that sister’s husband gets him a job at one point. So it was easy to use Excel to track where in the story all the references to sisters are, and update the manuscript. It was really easy to see where all these characters were and easy to make changes. I love Excel.

Happy Accident

It occurred to me, after I gave away my five copies of Fugue in C Minor on Goodreads.com, that I didn’t have any copies of Fugue in C Minor, or the new and improved version of Virtual Silence. So I ordered one of each over at CreateSpace.com. A package shows up today and it’s two books. But not my books. It was two copies of Carrie Rudzinski’s The Shotgun Speaks, poems. CreateSpace is re-sending both orders, and I sent Carrie a message in Facebook.

So I read the first couple of her poems. Powerful. Angry. Like Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, but no holding back. Rudzinski has a Sylvia Plath feel to her poems, too. I hope she lives a lot longer than Plath.

Weather Archives Website

If you’re writing about something in the past, and you want to make sure the weather you describe matches the actual weather that happened on that day in that place, here’s a great website for researching weather history. Change the date and the city and state and off you go!

http://www.almanac.com/weather/history/OR/Salem/2008-12-21

Works for Canada, too.

There But For The Grace Of God, Go I

Warning: The following blog post contains adult references to religion and politics. Parental guidance is suggested.

I’m not what I would call a religious man, even though I graduated from a Nazarene college and have read the Bible cover to cover three times. In my belief system, God is whatever God is, whether I believe in God or don’t. In fact, God is whatever God is whether there are churches or not. I’m fine with people believing in God as real or as a metaphor or as a fantasy. What I don’t believe in is the churches. I don’t believe in the practice of religion, the devotion to dogma or the RPG mentality of “my church is better than your church or religion.”

I don’t believe God cares if you choose sides or carry beads or wear a tunic or quote verses.

But I do believe that the people who created and those who edited the American political system over the years had a belief that, whether or not they attended this church or that one, they were doing what they thought was God’s work by creating social programs to help people in need. This is probably true in many other countries, too.

I say this because I hear from a lot of religious people who sound like they want to make public-sector compassion illegal. They sound like they want to make poor people suffer if those people can’t pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. I can understand wanting to encourage people to be independent. I agree with that sentiment. But that’s more Ben Franklin (God helps them that help themselves) than Jesus of Nazareth (What you do for the least of these, you do for me), as I read it.

Movies about people overcoming amazing odds are very popular in this country, especially if they include explosions, car chases, bullets and bare breasts. But movies about someone giving up all they own and following a life of compassion and self-sacrifice are not very popular. Most of the central figures in popular religions encouraged the latter, not the former.

While it is probably true that many people take advantage of social welfare programs (that’s our money, right?), and learn to rely on those programs instead of trying to become independent, I think the fact that we have a public will to help people in need shows we are made of something good. Whether we support compassion and charity because we think it’s a religious obligation, a moral imperative, or we do it because one day it might be our butt freezing in the cold, it baffles me that many religious people are against it.