Monday, June 23, 2014

Brandon Graham : Good For Nothing

Larry Brown once said, “You take what you're given, whether it's the cornfields of the Midwest or the coal mines of West Virginia, and you make your fiction out of it. It's all you have. And somehow, wherever you are, it always seems to be enough.”

Brandon Graham’s book, Good For Nothing, is an incredible read. Like Brown, he has an uncanny ability to sculpt his writing from the world he sees every day. His words are strong and drowning in truth.

Book Description from Amazon: “In Flip Mellis's recent past he had, by his own assessment, his feet planted squarely on terra firma. As a husband and father he was a consistent breadwinner. As a business professional, he was a go-getter. For twenty years he did all that was expected of him, if not much more. But a job loss in his middle years, in the midst of a national economic crisis, knocked Flip squarely on his big, soft ass where he has been wallowing for nearly a year. Over the course of one hectic week, replete with a cast of colourful characters, Flip is forced by circumstances of his own invention to finally get his life headed in the right direction. Like a pudgy, irritable toddler he carefully tests his balance and lurches forward, stumbling around absurd obstacles and grasping for any solid purchase. Good For Nothing is told with dark and sometimes macbre tone that is lifted by its fast pace and quick verbal wit. Ultimately a spark of human resilience locked deep within the core of this deeply flawed protagonist begins to spread. The question becomes: will Flip's best efforts be enough to lead him safely to redemption or will they merely lead to a futile, purely graceless and quixotic crash.”

Before we get into my review of his book we have to go back to the beginning. The reasons I bought his book in the first place and believe in Brandon as a writer. For me, everything starts a few years before Good For Nothing ever existed.

I got an email from Brandon introducing himself as a fellow writer. He had run across my bio on the web and read I had once interviewed Harry Crews. Brandon, being a fan of Crews, was intrigued by this and reached out to me. We exchanged a few emails back and forth over the next few days talking about Crews and other writers that had inspired us along the way. At some point I mentioned how I had first wanted to become a writer after discovering William S. Burroughs in the late nineteen eighties. He wrote back saying he once sat beside Burroughs in a Kansas City diner. A place where hardcore drinkers, homeless men, and drag queens have a big cheap short order breakfast. Brandon was there drinking loads of coffee around five thirty a.m. when Burroughs walked in and sat beside him. He would go on to say he had a second encounter with Burroughs. One of Brandon’s friends told him that during the first week of each month Burroughs would show up to a local convenience store where his friend worked and buy the newest issue of Guns and Ammo and Soldier of Fortune. Two months later Brandon took a chance and hung out with his friend at work. The second day, Burroughs came in, went to the Magazine rack and bought the titles his friend had described. Brandon walked over, told Burroughs he was a fan and that they had sat together at the Kansas City Dinner sometime earlier.

After looking over his bio, I knew Brandon had attended Columbia and was an educated man. Don’t get me wrong. An education is always a good thing for an author to have, but life experiences are equally important. After reading these stories about Brandon’s interaction with Burroughs, I was more than intrigued by the possibilities of what he might write. I knew if he was hanging out in a diner that Burroughs would frequent along with drag queens and homeless folks, Brandon would have plenty of interesting subject matter to work with. He would learn things about human behavior, things you just can’t be taught in school. Material that later in his book would become descriptive jewels that would outshine a lot of the literature printed today. 

I’ve always felt any good storyteller pulls from his or her own experiences to paint their picture. What they’ve lived through and been a part of. Like Larry Brown, Brandon is one of these storytellers. When you read his work you feel his words are heavy with life’s hard lessons. Yet, there’s another side to his characters that are so lifelike and caring, you have to remind yourself you are still reading fiction.

In Good For Nothing, Brandon’s character Dean was so wise and so hauntingly real I felt Brandon had more than likely written, and rewritten himself into exhaustion to bring him to life. He didn’t miss a beat with his descriptions of Dean. Not one thing was out of place. The main character, Flip was also spot on with his depression, his fears, his doubts, his addictions, and all of his self-loathing. Along with a cast of well thought out everyday folks swimming in a world hammered by a downturned economy, this book is truly a work of art.

Brandon spared no expense when it came to pouring himself into writing this book. Good For Nothing is a well written piece of literature.

It’s a must read that will have you yearning for what will come next. Well worth every cent and then some. Get a copy today.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Poem : Tongueless Lions

Walking today

I passed by

Two lions with no tongues

Their mouths gaped open

Showing their dagger-like teeth

Made of stone

They stood watch

At the mouth of Matanzas Bay

Watching the tourists pass by

With their flip-flops

Greeting each step they took

With a light thud to their heel

Oversized visors adorn their heads

Like crowns

They are worn

By the rulers of the child army

That follow behind them

Little Tommy

Little John

Fight with plastic swords


Little Jane rolls her eyes

At their behavior

I’m guessing this isn’t the last time

I will see them today

They’ll probably

Be picking away at the fort

In a few hours

For four hundred and forty one years

It’s never been taken in battle


The tourists

Have almost laid siege to her structure

Wearing her down

One chip at a time

The Castillo’s ghosts

Are probably chewing Valerian Root

By the mouthful

Just to get through their day


Ghost hunting has become big business

In the oldest city in America

Groups of hunters passing one another

On winding brick streets

Washed with moonlight

Looking with wide stretched eyes

To see, if they see, what might be seen

Paying money to

Walk about in a world

Like the pages 

Of a Dickens’s novel

All while

The tongueless lions gaze at them

With marble eyes  

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Poem : The Shadow Of Bela Lugosi

The bells

Of the church tower

Ring out

Across the town’s square

Echoing down dead-end alleyways

And the overhangs of stone buildings

The morning fog is disappearing

Evaporating before my eyes

From the reflective rays of ocean sunlight

As I walk

I see a homeless man lying on a bench

Lighting one cigarette off another


The one he is lighting isn’t much longer

Than the one he’s discarding

Freebees off the ground I suppose

Then a man calls out to me

“You’re too young to be walking with a cane.”

I smiled and said, I have bad hips.”

That it hurts to walk sometimes

So my cane was a necessity

He then offered me a ride in his bike taxi

I guess

I looked

Like the perfect demographic for his business

I declined and kept

Walking and seeing

Seeing and walking

Pigeons flock on St. George Street

Waiting for the next breadcrumb to fall


Squirrels feast on an old ice-cream cone

Sitting on a wrought iron trashcan

Their bellies stretched wide from good living 


I stop and take refuge from the sun

From the crowds

In an Old Spanish Military Hospital

Built over a cemetery


I snap a photo of a hand carved crucifix

Six-foot tall

Hanging over a bed

Made for the ones who had Yellow Fever   

Christ’s shadow

From the open doorway of the room

Looked like Bela Lugosi

At least this is what the tour guide pointed out

I had to agree

As I sat down to rest my bones

In a place where they once took care of the living

While walking over the dead