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Smolder, Smolder

Tasha Alexander Icon

So it’s official: I’m buried by all things Elizabethan, barreling toward my deadline for The Golden Age. Writing this book has been an entirely new experience for me. First, I’ve been an exclusively first-person-narration girl until now. Not quite sure how I feel about third person. Anybody want to discuss this over a bottle of wine? Or two? Second, I’ve never before told a story whose plot I had before me in blow-by-blow detail. I don’t outline, and having the screenplay at hand has made things very different. Not having concerns about narrative frees me up to spend more time playing with words, and that’s always fun.

Not, mind you, that I’ll be converted to outlining any time soon.

I also have detailed pictures–production stills–of all the principle actors in the film. This obviously makes for easy descriptions, but it’s also influenced the way I think about the characters. It’s astonishing what a skilled actor can communicate in a mere photograph. So I’m re-imagining the Infanta, daughter of the king of Spain. And seeing with slightly more sympathetic eyes Robert Reston, a Jesuit bent on converting England to Catholicism. And better understanding Elizabeth’s authoritative beauty. Yes, when Cate Blanchett’s on hand, beauty can be authoritative and seductively soft all at once. Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

And I’d be remiss not to mention that Clive Owen smolders really, really well. After I saw his perfectly disheveled curls and those piercing yet sympathetic eyes…well…suffice it to say that Sir Walter Raleigh’s got all my sympathy; I’m only human. Smolder, smolder!

Human. Yes. We’re all human. But some of us have a rare chance at immortality, and our guest for today’s Virtual Cocktail Party is one of them. I can give you the full disclosure–yes, I’m lucky enough to count Jon Clinch as a friend. But friendship has nothing to do with recognizing that this guy is an amazingly talented writer. A person who could string together random sentences and blow you away with their beauty. His debut novel, Finn, has received rave reviews since it’s release last month, and this is a book it would be hard to over praise–it’s nothing short of brilliant. Finn is destined to be a classic.

And that’s a lovely thing.

The novel tells the story of Huckleberry Finn’s father, and if you’ve got even the slightest inkling of what old Pap Finn was like, you won’t be surprised in the least by Jon’s drink recommendation….


If you’re brave, you can make it yourself.

If you’re lazy, or concerned about technical matters of legality, you can buy it.

Either way, pour what you’ve got in the nearest Mason jar and start swigging….

KRISTY: If you were trapped on a desert island with three fictional characters, who would you choose and why?

JON: Captain Blood, Alan Quatermain, and Tom Swift. We wouldn’t stay trapped for long.

TASHA: Give me one sentence you could die happy knowing you wrote.

JON: “I may have been born in Padua, but my life began in Rome.” It’s opening of a novel of mine that will never see the light of day — and if I may be so bold as to say so, it has everything: poetry, suspense, even the tiniest suggestion of the narrator’s duplicity. May it die here nobly.

CARRIE: What’s your favorite line of poetry?

JON: No question: Emily Dickinson’s “My life had stood - a loaded gun”

But now that I think about it, maybe I’d be better off with Danny O’Keefe’s “Your love is like a razor; my heart is just a scar.”

Or else Tom Waits’ “There ain’t no devil, that’s just God when he’s drunk.”

(The last two of which demonstrate how much I prize songwriting over poetry. Or songwriting as poetry. Take your pick.)

ERIC: Would you consider doing a book tour along the Mississippi traveling via raft? If so, what essential supplies would you bring with you?

JON: Of course I’d consider it. But like Captain Quint, I’d need a bigger boat.

BILLIE: Ultimate dinner party: What’s the menu?

JON: Anything that my wife makes. She’s the best, in the kitchen as in all places. Failing that, and assuming that she’d want some time to do something other than cook, I’d let her choose the menu. You don’t stay happily married for as long as we have by trying to call all the shots.

JULIA: What’s the most unexpected thing that’s happened to you since the release of FINN?

JON: Getting stuck in Toronto overnight due to heavy weather, bouncing through customs and immigration and security more times than I can count, and finally — on my last pass through the x-ray machines — being stripped of my innocent little penknife (which has traveled with me on more flights than I can count). Oh, Canada! My editor thinks it’s hysterical that this new novelist so devoted to America couldn’t seem to get himself back into his own country.

TASHA: Books: Keep them all together in one room (the library theory) or scatter them throughout the house (the Cicero a-room-without-books-is-like-a-body- without-a-soul theory)?

JON: We operate a sophisticated book filtration system, and it works this way. Books that we really care about go on the shelves in the family room. Books that were pretty good and that we finished reading while we were in the Vermont house end up on the bookshelves in THAT family room. Books that aren’t so hot get a chance to languish for a last few lingering months in the guest room in Pennsylvania, but they’re ultimately bound for boxes in the garage and from there to the library book sale. Books we can’t endure go straight to the garage.

DAVID: What would be your ideal writing retreat?

JON: Our place in Vermont. Deep in the woods with a view of the mountains and limitless peace and quiet. A friend from New Jersey visited last summer, opened his car door, took a gulp of piney air and asked us, “Is that trees?”

Mmmmmm….love that piney air! A million thanks to Jon for joining us. Get thee to your nearest bookstore and pick up Finn, and if you’re lucky enough to be near one of the cities he’ll be visiting, go see him read. Scroll down for tour dates. Now! You know the drill. Take a minute to answer his questions in the comments:

What secondary character in a favorite novel or play seems to you sufficiently real and interesting to merit exploration in a novel like Finn? (I’m not looking for inspiration, by the way. Honest. My next project is cooking away nicely.)

Greatest American Novel: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Moby-Dick?

Greatest American Novel: Something else altogether? You name it.

Stephen Colbert: Great social commentator, or greatest social commentator?

I hope you all have fabulous weekends, although I know you’ll be distracted by the impending arrival of next week’s guest: Kristy Kiernan. Anyone who’s met Kristy knows that there simply aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to adequately describe her beauty, grace, generosity, and talent. Let me know if you’ve got questions for her.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to get back to those stills. This is WORK, people….


14 Responses to “Smolder, Smolder”

  1. I’d been looking forward to this book for months (as a former American Lit teacher, it not only speaks to me, it screams to me!), so as soon as I’m more caught up with my own wordcount, I’m diving in.

    Now to Jon’s questions-

    1-I’m not sure she’s a “secondary” character, but Caddy, from The Sound and the Fury, has always struck me as someone I’d like to know better. Or her daughter, Quentin. Or Tom Robinson’s widow from To Kill a Mockingbiurd. That’d be a good one.

    2-While I love Huck, (and would definitely vote for HF over Moby-Dick!), my pick for the greatest American Novel has to go to The Grapes of Wrath.

    3-Greatest social commentator.

    Oh and Tasha, bring those stills of the Clivester to Kentucky, okay?

    by judy larsen on March 9th, 2007 at 8:48 am

  2. Believe it or not, a lot of my inspiration as a forming writer came from classic YA books (some of which rank up there with “adult” lit classics). Too many characters there to choose one, though maybe delving into S.E. Hinton’s characters more deeply would be fruitful.

    Huck vs. Moby? - Huck everytime, even if he is bantam in weight comparison. And I do think he graces the Greatest American novel of his century. I’d have to take a cue from Judy and go with To Kill a Mockingbird as the Greatest of this. Both are wondrous studies in narration, BTW.

    Colbert is great - really great - and maybe deserves the accolade of greatest social commentator for late-night, even though I’m smitten with Jon Stewart. (Mom would like me to choose Colbert though since he’s Catholic. Sigh.) But I can’t say greatest of all time - not when there’s Socrates, Douglass, Twain (you’ve heard of him, right Jon?) and even John Hughes of mid-eighties movie making fame. Sorry, Stephen. I’ll still watch you.

    Thanks for waking my brain up this morning, Jon. :wink:

    by Regina Harvey on March 9th, 2007 at 9:08 am

  3. Judy, you’re going to luuuv this book!

    What secondary character in a favorite novel or play seems to you sufficiently real and interesting to merit exploration in a novel like Finn? (I’m not looking for inspiration, by the way. Honest. My next project is cooking away nicely.)

    ***Greatest American Novel: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Moby-Dick?

    Huck, of course, though I know that if anyone could do justice to MD, Jon, it would be you. I seem to recall…

    ***Greatest American Novel: Something else altogether? You name it.

    Well, of course “The Royals” by Kitty Kelley springs instantly to mind, but that’s so OBVIOUS, so let me think on it some more…

    Stephen Colbert: Great social commentator, or greatest social commentator?

    I’m going with great, because there could eventually be a Colbert hybrid developed.

    by Kristy on March 9th, 2007 at 10:13 am

  4. Secondary character? - I’ve always been fascinated by Bunbury, the imaginary invalid in The Importance of Being Ernest. I even went to a Halloween party once as Bunbury, which is to say I didn’t go at all.

    Great American Novel? - Huck, of course, and I look forward to reading Finn.

    Other? Catch-22 comes to mind.

    Colbert is the greatest because he understands that our biggest threat comes from bears.

    Sure, they look cuddly, but as Mitch Hedburg said, “Smoky is much more intense in person.”

    by David Terrenoire on March 9th, 2007 at 10:23 am

  5. Congrats on all the success, Jon, and here’s to many more!
    Nice post, Tasha.

    by JT Ellison on March 9th, 2007 at 11:08 am

  6. *Greatest American Novel: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Moby-Dick?

    ANYTHING but Moby-Dick.

    *Greatest American Novel: Something else altogether? You name it.

    To Kill A Mockingbird.

    *Stephen Colbert: Great social commentator, or greatest social commentator?

    I\’m going to have to go with Regina on this one and say John Hughes.

    by Sara on March 9th, 2007 at 11:10 am

  7. Judy, you’re really, really going to love it!

    David, BUNBURY! HA! Love it. But should I believe you or are you just bunburying? Ahhh, Algie…

    And my favorite part of Catch-22 is when he’s almost going to be promoted….that whole bit about that he has to LIKE them. Love, love, love that.

    What secondary character in a favorite novel or play seems to you sufficiently real and interesting to merit exploration in a novel like Finn? (I’m not looking for inspiration, by the way. Honest. My next project is cooking away nicely.)

    I think Moby-Dick. Let’s find out more about the whale. Was it boring swimming around all the time? Did he get tired of eating krill? Did he recognize Ahab as an enormous pain in the neck the first time he saw him?

    Greatest American Novel: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Moby-Dick?

    I far prefer Huck, but am proud of the fact that I’ve read every freaking word of Moby-Dick. Even the whaling parts.

    Greatest American Novel: Something else altogether? You name it.

    I think Kristy’s on to something with THE ROYALS. But that’s about Brits, right? Did she ever finish that book about the Kennedys?

    I especially like how Kristy has re-positioned her as fiction. Heh.

    Stephen Colbert: Great social commentator, or greatest social commentator?

    Oooo….I’m apparently all about Ms. Kiernan today. A Colbert hybrid? Intersting…..

    by Tasha Alexander on March 9th, 2007 at 11:18 am

  8. You know, I actually missed a quiz question in American Lit at college because I READ Moby-Dick instead of watching the movie.

    Still think that wasn’t fair….

    by Tasha Alexander on March 9th, 2007 at 11:19 am

  9. Tasha, the question was: who’s the last one to go down in the whirlpool, right? I missed it too.

    I agree with Sara–ANYTHING but Moby Dick!!

    For great Amer. novel, I’d like to put in a good word for almost anything Faulkner wrote.

    A secondary character…..The hunchback in The Name of the Rose. Hamlet’s mother.

    by Cynthia on March 9th, 2007 at 12:09 pm

  10. Cynthia, have you read Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius?

    by Tasha Alexander on March 9th, 2007 at 12:30 pm

  11. Cynthia and Tasha - thanks for the mention of Gertrude! My daughter just wrote a Hamlet paper on how she loved Gertrude because she was one of only two honest and trustworthy characters in Hamlet. I will have to tell her about Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius!

    by Regina Harvey on March 9th, 2007 at 1:27 pm

  12. Okay–sneaking in a quick hello and congrats to Jon. Sorry no time to stay and play! Cheers to you all!

    Now it’s back to work for me…

    by Renee on March 9th, 2007 at 1:39 pm

  13. Tasha, thanks for the link! Looks promising.

    For great American novel, maybe something fabulous will deal with Hurricane Katrina in my lifetime??? Could be I’ve read too much G. Garcia Marquez, but it seems like the storm could be either the beginning or end of a powerful piece.

    by Cynthia on March 9th, 2007 at 3:46 pm

  14. I read Huck to my kids three or four times. The other book that comes to mind ( one of the best read-to-your-kids books ever) is Treasure Island. Some truly wonderful characters. And I saw Big River when it first played on Broadway and John Goodman played Pap, long before his sitcom.
    Can’t wait to read Finn. Thanks for the blog!
    Don Bruns

    by Don Bruns on March 16th, 2007 at 6:46 am

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