Information on Terrane, a new novel due out fall of 2018

Below is the author’s information for Unsolicited Press, which is publishing my novel, Terrane, in the fall of 2018. A sample chapter to be posted here soon.

 

Book Title:  Terrane

 

Author: Philip Newton

 

Genre:  Literary Fiction

 

140-Character Synopsis:

 

Near death, Allen Wrangell rediscovers his lost love, only to face the possibility that she and the conflicts he faces with her are the hallucinations of a dying mind.

 

 250-Word Summary of Collection:

 

Allen Wrangell is a terminally-ill, geology-obsessed loner who makes his way to an isolated mountain town to reconnect with Liz, a long-lost love. Allen takes a room at a bed and breakfast run by the enigmatic Maria and soon finds himself embroiled in a conflict with her abusive, alcoholic boyfriend. The drama is complicated by Allen’s growing suspicion that Liz, Maria–even Allen himself—might not really exist.

 

As Allen’s relationship with Maria deepens, he’s troubled by the knowledge that any new love is destined to be short-lived. Perspective and sanity are maintained to some degree when Allen meets Ted, the town’s mysterious bartender, who provides a safe refuge in his bar. Ted accepts Allen without judgment and through their conversations the fear and havoc of Allen’s haunted experience are made more manageable.

 

The conflict comes to a head when Allen is pummeled and jailed on apparently false charges by Maria’s boyfriend. Visited for the last time by Liz, it becomes clear to Allen that she is a mere phantom, and that he might in fact be completely delusional. Bailed out by Ted, Allen is recovering in the back of Ted’s bar when he finds Maria at his door. They make a decision to free themselves from the earthquake-doomed town and seek refuge farther up in the mountains, there to face whatever may come. In a nod to the story’s ambiguous reality, the last sentence of Terrane reads, as Allen and Maria approach their mountain refuge, They were almost there.

 

 

 

Author Q&A

If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?  

I’d like to cook a hamburger for John Steinbeck, served with alcohol.

 

What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?

Writing is terror. It has to be. That’s how it commands our attention. To engage emptiness and wrestle something out of it requires some muscle. It also requires humility and a willingness to not shy away from the fear and nakedness. The only way to overcome the terror of the word is to write the word, to invite it in, then follow it to the places it goes. When you do, you are free for a short season.

 

Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character? 

Carson McCullers

 

What books are on your nightstand?

Deep Blues; Lord of the Rings; Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair.

 

Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?

 The last three novels I wrote were taken directly from dreams. Conversations and glances between people who have strong feelings for each other start the wheels turning. The weather, particularly the change from one season to the next, always moves me to write. Geological features and geology in general inspire awe and meditation on the great motion of time. Observing animals, rivers, cloud formations, stars and planets, the passage of sun and moon, all these serve to draw me out of my ego and into something larger. Other writers inspire me, of course, but I prefer my voices to work their way up out of the soil.

 

Favorite punctuation mark? Why?  

The semicolon. I probably overuse it, but I love a writing implement that accomplishes multiple tasks, adding clarity while at the same time aiding sentence flow. The semicolon bends the whole idea of what it means to be a punctuation mark. It is not so much a mark as a smudge. A ghost.

 

What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?

The Pilgrim’s Progress.

 

What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?

My harmonica.

 

Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.

I write or I explode.

 

If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?

Forget your voice. Ignore your voice. Escape it. You are a room for other voices, a receiver and a transit point. A radiator. A refuge. Begin to listen to those other voices. They will make you fearless, happy and free.
 

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Author’s Real Name:  Philip Newton

Website (if applicable):

 http://www.dhhliteraryagency.com/philip-j-newton.html  

 

 Title of Work:     Terrane

 

Author Bio:

Philip Newton is an author, poet and musician living in Oregon. His poems, articles and essays have recently appeared in Ink in Thirds, Here Comes Everyone, Coal Magazine, Ibis Head Review, Scriblerus Journal and others. His original music has been recorded on multiple studio albums and receives airplay worldwide. He is represented by Natalie Galustian at DHH Literary in London, UK.

Excerpt from A Fast and Beautiful Life

A Fast and beautiful life is a recently-completed non-fiction book, based on my 30-plus years in the investigative field. Here is a sample chapter

 

Chapter Four

I’m From the Government and I’m here to Help

 

 

In over thirty years of doing adult protective services investigations, I have been asked for my state ID badge about four times. That’s it.

Here’s how it goes:

  1. I show up at a door, unannounced.
  2. I tell them I’m from Adult Protective Services.
  3. I ask to come in.
  4. They let me.

Then I take all their stuff. No. But really. They let me in. Of the four people who asked me for my ID, one was a mentally ill woman on heavy doses of antipsychotics. Two were perps. I can’t remember who the fourth one was, but he or she was probably a perp, also. They tend to be more careful, plus, consider this: showing up at someone’s house and telling them you are from the gummint is something they might think up and they’re on the alert for that stuff. Beats working.

And what if they should ask for my ID? I have three of them, all with my picture on them. They sit gathering dust and grime in my state-issued black field folder. One ID was done at the state Department of Motor Vehicles. One was made in-house, using a digital camera and a color printer. One is my door pass. They all look official, gold-embossed here and there, with a state seal and stuff like that. Want one? Sixty dollar printer and a “clear rigid plastic vertical badge holder, pack of fifty, $25.00.” You’re in. Too lazy to make one yourself? Hundreds of on-line companies will do it for you.

Then, when you are asked every 8.25 years for that ID, you have, like, fifty of them. You can be either from the state government, a Fed, a meter reader, an NGO representative, or pick the beneficial organization of your choice. You can be from the Program for Senior Protection, the Office of Joy, the Division of Actuarial Accountability, the Census Bureau, Homeland Security, the Department of Redundancy Department, the Overseas Inland Organization for Crippled Pagan Veteran Orphans.

Where I live, if it’s guns and God, you are in. On a slow day at the office I doodled a mockup of a card, with the Savior toting an assault rifle. I named him GI Jesus. His motto was, “Kill ‘em all, let Dad sort ‘em out.” You’re only limited by your imagination.

But the absolute best way to get in that door, should your victim prove wary or stubborn, is to utter this phrase: “Hi. I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Say it with a smile and a firm handshake. By the time they’re done laughing, you’re on the couch, photo album open, life story pouring out.

I’ll be candid. I’m a perp. More precisely, if I were a perp, I’d be a good one, one of the best. I’d be rich, and not contemplating a bleak retirement, with an inadequate pension (buy this book, in the name of all that is holy, please buy it); I’d be in the Perp Hall of Fame.

Because I think like one. I act like one. I got them greasy perp moves down. I smile that winning smile. I laugh at weak jokes. I am amazed at their grandchildren’s SAT scores. When asked to guess, I underestimate their age and am shocked—shocked—to discover they are 87 years old. I flirt. I flatter. I am genuinely interested in their Bingo strategies. I care.

I do. I do care. Not about Bingo, or their son-in-law’s sales figures (fucking perp). I care about that person I am conning. In that moment, on that couch, they are the most important person in the world to me. I nod my head. I look them in the eye. I coax, cajole, laugh with those who laugh, weep with those who mourn.

When all else fails, I use my kill-shot.

“You know, Mrs. Kresge, I don’t work for the government.”

“You don’t?” (Moment of trepidation. Instant of fear, millisecond of who did I just let in my house and why is he sitting on my couch.)

“Nope. I don’t work for the state. The state pays my salary. Right now, the person I’m working for is you.”

“It is?”

“Yes. You are my boss. I am your employee. Tell me what you want.”

“Oh!” Flood of relief. Release of oxytocin. Forging of human bonds which even death will not sunder. They are mine, and I am theirs. Hook sunk. Game over. The old one-two. Works every time.

The best part about this con is that it is not a con. It’s true, the genuine article. At that moment, that man or woman beside me on the couch is the most important person in the world to me. They are my task, my charge, my mission. Because they have been exploited, or neglected, or abused. They are failing to thrive. They are at risk. They often have no one to bail them out or, more commonly, their support system is unaware of the straits into which the victim has sailed.

The chances are I am their chance, maybe their last best or only chance, to get their shit straight and I’m not going to allow them to stop me.

That’s right. I won’t let the victim not let me help them. Because while it is true that some victims want and ask for help, in my experience most are reluctant to receive it, especially if that help comes from the gummint. That reluctance increases with the age of the victim, and doubles down in rural, conservative areas such as the one where I work. The perp comes later. Job #1 is to win over the victim, and that I do, with great consistency, because I act like I give a shit, because in fact I do give a shit.

My task is to con the victim into not being a victim. An anti-con, if you will. But the methods and mindset are close. Too damned close for comfort.

Sometimes I scare myself.

 

The theme of fraud runs throughout this book. Those ridiculous agency and organization names I listed above are not greatly-exaggerated parodies of the genuine false article. (See what a hall of mirrors it is you’ve stumbled into? Only in Perpland can there be authentic counterfeits. Relax. Adjust. There are new rules now and others are in control here. It’s going to be all right.) Sometimes that fraud comes in the mail. Sometimes it’s a phone call. Most commonly it comes from someone near and dear to the victim. But every act of perpetration is a lie. A distortion. a bending of things, just enough, to confuse, bewilder and dominate the victim. Whether it’s a lotto scam, a letter from a Nigerian prince (there are no Nigerian princes), a heartwrenching email, a promise of undying love or a vow to provide good and faithful care for life, it matters not at all: every perp is a liar and every act of abuse and exploitation is a brutal, soulless breach of trust.

In the Land of the Lie, the first person the victim learns to mistrust is himself. His senses. Her instincts. Her own sanity. The fact that so many victims have some form of diminished capacity exacerbates the problem. They are the proverbial fish in the barrel. But even if he is of sound mind, the victim can be pummeled into submission and broken down by the many tools in the perpetrator’s toolkit, all of which are displayed in this book. Handy gadgets already listed–flattery, cajolery, gas-lighting, flirtation, etc.—are all essential. But the top of the tray, the Swiss army knife of perpetration is doubt.

Doubt. Doubt your friends. Doubt your family members (the good ones). Doubt valid helping professions such as doctors, police, adult protective services. Doubt your lawyer, your preacher, your realtor, your dog. Don’t trust any of them.

Finally, doubt yourself. Your own eyes, ears—your nose most especially, disregard that stench—your sense of up or down. Dismasted, rudderless and adrift, you are taken in tow by the only person willing, so often, to devote seemingly endless time to you: that filthy suck who wants your money.

And so you become, day by day, hour by hour, word by disorienting word, the perp’s main ally. You defend him. You make excuses for her. You stand in the way of all who will harm them or bring them to justice, and in so doing you create the biggest obstacle to helping you: You.

As Walt Kelly wrote in the great comic strip, Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

It is no small wonder, then, that when I knock on your door my first and foremost mission is to overwhelm you. To get around you. To overcome you. My job is to make you my ally, to become a partner in your own protection. It’s a tough, often unfair process. I try every tool in my own toolbox to dismantle the devices and booby-traps implanted by the perp in its quest to degrade you, terrorize you, milk you for the goodies, because in order to help you I have to finagle a way for you to be willing to help yourself. It’s a brutal battle and I don’t fight fair.

 

A final word on this devious subject: when I tell people I’m from the government and I’m here to help, it’s understood that this is a joke. That’s why I say it, because the perp’s (and therefore an anti-perp’s) first job is to yuk ‘em up, get them laughing, loose and relaxed. It makes the job so much easier. Failing humor, a lesser tool is terror, and it’s a harmful one, the forceps, the howitzer, the wrecking ball of protective services, to be only used at great need. It also seldom works. Old folks didn’t get old by being sissies. The disabled and the infirm already know more terror than you can possibly conjure. This population is tough. In some ways what accounts for their existence against the odds of time, misfortune disease and poor living also makes them that much harder to help. A victim can be a dogged foe when wracked by a pitiless disease of doubt and fear.

So a bit of a laugh at my expense, and especially at the expense of my employer, is a marvelous tonic. The legendary movie director Billy Wilder said, “If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny, or they’ll kill you.”  Damn, that’s true. What’s also true is that, by the time I have gained the trust of the victim and we begin a strategy for self-help and we’re on the couch cooking up our counter-assault, I really am working for the victim, and no one else. It is imperative that the victim understands that we, and whomever we trust enough to bring onboard, are a team. It’s us against the world, and that means the gummint, too.

Governments don’t help people. Governments screw people over and take their stuff. Governments make stupid laws, randomly enforced, designed to make faceless bureaucrats wet their desk chairs and Wall Street parasites wriggle with ecstasy. Governments are only as good as we make them and we only need them because people are naturally selfish, stupid and predatory and in fact it’s a damned miracle we have anything like good governance at all, and we seldom actually do, although somehow it seems almost good enough. So there is a God, because humans are too often venal and shortsighted to think beyond their next meal or sexual adventure to do something like build a decent civil order. Even when we do create something like a sensible rule of law it is at best exquisitely imperfect, and inclined to hit everything with the blunt end of the shovel.

Really. Have any of those great white edifices in DC ever done a stroke of work? Of course not.

So of course it is not the government that helps anyone. It’s you. It’s me. If we choose to do it, and if we are able. And the people we are trying to help understand that more acutely than anyone. In the end, when we stand together on the burning barricades of that person’s life, smashing perps, sounding the call for allies, redeeming with blood sweat and tears the victims’  stolen dignity, treasure and hope, they need to know that we will go through hell, high water and the state legislature if need be to regain what is rightfully theirs.

So screw the gummint, the bosses, the bureaucracy, the desk monkeys and that poor old mule they rode in on.

It’s you and me against the world, Ma.

When I Walk out of this World

When I Walk out of this World

The blindness comes in the afternoon

At night when the wheat and eels sleep

It comes in the morning and the walls go deaf

No one hears the ringing of the bells

There are no bells and

there is no one there

No ear, no tongue, nothing to taste

water or salt or cold, ringing air

 

Blindness comes in the afternoon

When I bow my head

and walk out of this world

 

Dog growls, rain falls, the sun whirls

into wreckage in the afternoon

Across the walls of sleeping rooms

a frightened captive plunging fire

ignites a carpet of dust

The little ones wait for dinner

but it will not come

 

There is an orange odor here

Brittle, febrile

Rich as dung

Sharp as a glancing blow

But no one comes to gather it up

There is no arrival

This afternoon there is no letter

and no song at dusk

and no one waits at the dimming gate

We’ve all forgotten

 

Blindness comes in the afternoon

Suddenly

Without warning

When I bow my head

and walk out of this world

 

The arc of stars and

that horizon always running away

Planets pulse, ripe and dripping

So much iron and phosphor

So much lemon and wood

There’s feasting tonight

In towns other than this one

Come

Put on your shoes

You don’t want to die like this

with the rats skittering over you

 

I would go with you

this afternoon

to the place where you get the water

I would sing you a last song

if it were not already too late

 

03-23-18

 

Walking Each Other Home

 

The fall comes quick in September

When the leaves and the rivers go dry

I take night trails  and remember

When you were by my side

 

The dogs are both out here with me

They’re old and they trip now and then

But they’re happy to be here anyway

Under the moon again

 

And there’s no need to fear the winter at all

When it gets here you won’t be alone

We can hold each other up

When we stumble and fall

We’re just walking each other home

 

When we were younger we took all those chances

And some of us took more than a few

Now I don’t spend my time at the dances

I want to stay here with you

 

The seasons work on your bones

Like the sky, my hair’s turning gray

But together our hearts won’t be weak or alone

I wouldn’t have it any other way

 

And there’s no need to fear the winter at all

When it gets here you won’t be alone

We can hold each other up

When we stumble and fall

We’re just walking each other home

 

Where did the Blues Begin?

Where did the Blues Begin?

The blues had to begin somewhere. Or did it? Did blues really have a beginning, or was it a sort of timeless coming together, a weaving and a braiding of different sources, streams and threads, shuttling forward and backward in time?

The blues scale, with the flatted third, fifth and seventh has its roots in west and central Africa, as does the melismatic vocal pitch bending, which could also have had a North African and Middle Eastern influence. Regions in Mali, Senegambia and other West African countries gave us the familiar elements of blues such as the call and response. The melisma (varying of pitch through a long musical syllable–think Aretha Franklin gospel) was important in these regions, as well as in the Middle East, connoting emotional meaning and artistic structure. Some of the percussion and stringed instruments (particularly the banjo) came out of Africa, as did the cultural context for the aforementioned call and response structure of the blues.

When African scales, instruments, vocal techniques and song structure encountered European folk and religious music (particularly that of the Scots-Irish southerners) it also came under Native American influences. Soon a cross-cultural ferment began that led to the basic roots of the blues. It isn’t hard, for instance, to correlate the skipping dotted 8th beat of a Scottish reel or British sea shanty with a dotted 8th blues shuffle, or to equate the insistent 4/4 time signature of Native American drumming with some Delta or hill country trance blues and later expressions in rock, rhythm and blues. Spanish, French and Portuguese influences brought us rumbas, sambas, tangos, zydeco and other styles to stir into the mix.

So we can think of blues as a conversation, a speaking together and an exchange back and forth between continents, cultures, races, religions and artistic styles that continues today. What we now term “Afro-Celtic” began brewing centuries ago when Scots, Irish and West African musicians began checking out what the other guys were up to. Tex-Mex and Latin jazz had their beginnings on our southern borderlands and in Florida and the offshore islands. Delta folk music has at its heart the lament, defiance, fear and restlessness of souls cast onto the shore of a strange land, struggling to stay alive. African-American music was born in sorrow and pain and it rose up to overcome every obstacle placed in front of it.

Even the legend of the devil meeting Robert Johnson at the Crossroads likely had its roots in the African Dahomey deity, Papa Legba, a trickster who stood, not just at the physical crossroads, but at the intersection of this world and the next. What better metaphor for music, that most transformative and transcendental of art forms, ready to transport us to wild, strange and dangerous realms? The crossroads is a fitting metaphor, also, for the crisscrossing musical influences that gave rise to the blues.

African, Latin, British, Moorish, Arab, Native American: throughout all these disparate sources are strung the strong threads of the blues, and its powerful gravity pulls them together into a swirling mix, constantly generating new iterations that fling themselves out again into popular culture.

It is no exaggeration to assert that all modern popular music has its roots somewhere in this amazing sonic generator we call the blues. Where did it begin? The answer will never be known. That is part of the fierce magic of the blues: it has no beginning because it is constantly reinventing itself, growing, shrinking, shaping and reshaping its dimensions. And it is because of this constant reinvention that music we now call the blues will have no end. It is as close as humans will get to the eternal. And that’s plenty close enough.

You can read and hear and see more about blues and roots at my music website. Thanks for reading!

 

Wordsmithing

I am a wordsmith. The word, the craft of syntax, the rhythm of lines, assonance and alliteration, the power of paragraphs, image, the taste of language as it rolls off the tongue…

Word.