Finding the Invisible Man Again

Pageviews for a post called Finding the Invisible Man unexpectedly took off in September. I wrote the piece exactly a year before about buying a copy of Ralph Ellison’s classic novel Invisible Man, circa 1952, in a second-hand store for ten cents.

I blogged about the novel’s significance, how it connected me to a favorite professor and her Black Literature class.

The post got some interest, but nothing like it has since this past September. It even beat out Father’s Day at the Mental Hospital.

What the heck?

Then, after a quick Google search I discovered the movie, Prisoners, features a book called Finding the Invisible Man. According to movie websites, an ex-FBI agent wrote the book about someone he believes responsible for child abductions for two decades. There is something about mazes.

The cast is a good one with Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Melissa Leo, and Terrance Howard but the movie is likely too scary for my taste.

So what have I learned? A great title or headline can generate interest. But mostly it was a lucky coincidence and I will accept that if it means a wider audience for my writing. Thank you for finding the invisible man. 


My Rant About LinkedIn

I am a big fan of LinkedIn. Building a network of contacts “out there” is a marvelous idea.  I’ve known people to get jobs via LinkedIn. I found my agent and like-minded colleagues that way.

But if you want to link in, you’re going to have to let me know more about you. Please.

First, post your photo. I don’t care what you look like, but I want to connect a name to a face. I am not a fan of cartoons, off-centered mug shots, animals, and photos of objects, but they’re better than that uni-sex silhouette LinkedIn provides.

Secondly, fill out your profile. Completely. Sometimes wannabe contacts will only have an occupation and maybe a tiny bit more. That’s not very enticing.

I get it. Many of the people I’m complaining about are rookies. They haven’t gotten the hang of finishing a profile. However, LinkedIn will guide you through the process. If a person can’t be bothered doing that, well, why should anyone be interested in connecting?

And while I am on the topic of LinkedIn: Connections, please don’t send me e-cards or anything else that might make me suspect you’ve been hacked.



Change of Pace

Last weekend I sent the latest final draft of The Twin Jinn and the Alchemy Machine to my agent Spencer. I say that because although I’m happy with the novel I know my work is not done.

Now what?

I have a few choices. My next Twin Jinn book — for middle grader readers and beyond — will be set in Taos, New Mexico, where I live. I also want to try my hand at a YA book using the parents, Mira and Elwin, when they are in their teens. In the world I’ve created, jinn age differently than humans. The twins are 11 by jinn years but 111 by human. So, I figure if Mira is 16, the novel will be set in 1850, which is a good era.

But before I delve into either I am returning to an adult novel, The Swanson Shuffle. It is the first I wrote. As I told people at a reading this summer, I once heard novels are like waffles. Sometimes you have to throw out your first. But then, there is the option to rewrite.

The novel’s plot? A woman leaves her dead-end job and relationship to work as a live-in staff member at a psychiatric house. The novel is inspired by my own experience although it was nothing like what happens to the main character.

The Swanson Shuffle is different than the writing I do for young readers. I go to a different place — darker, edgier, and the humor is definitely black. I return there when I give my other novels a rest or like this time, I am ready to start something new and need a short break.

I have drafts of other versions and the one I am working on, now a first-person, present tense. The title has gone from Walking in Place to Crazy Daisy to The Swanson Shuffle. Before I began this post, I reached page 230 in the novel. I will be happy to get a good solid Chapter 13 before I leave it again.


Finding the Invisible Man

I was on the second floor of a second-hand store this week checking its supply of used books. Ten books for a buck, the sign said. In the E section, I found a copy of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. Hard cover circa 1952. The book jacket wasn’t pristine, but I didn’t care. It is worth a lot more than ten cents.

Inside the book I found a folded piece of paper that said “National Book Award for 1953. Fiction. Judges: Saul Bellow, Martha Foley, Irving Howe, Howard Mumford Jones, and Alfred Kazin.” I suppose it has been with the book since whoever bought it new back then.

I had been wanting a vintage copy of the Invisible Man for a while because this book has so much personal value to me.

In the second semester of my junior year at Bridgewater State College, I took a Black Literature course with Dr. Barbara Chellis. She was a dynamic professor her students couldn’t pin down.

She also taught an American Lit. course I also took. One year she would say Emily Dickinson was a hack. Next year, when her students were ready to echo that theory, Dr. Chellis praised Dickinson as a private poet who never expected to be published.

When we read The Scarlett Letter, Dr. Chellis cut her hair monk-short, wore severe clothes and an ornate silver cross. I learned about Poe’s “knowledge is power” and why people write.

Dr. Chellis was brilliant and compassionate. One time I was stoned when I took a mid-term exam. Without a lecture, she asked me take it again. I know you can do better, she told me.

That semester, I moved into the same apartment house as Dr. Chellis and her companion, another woman who taught in the history department. They lived on the first floor, and from our kitchen window on the second, I watched them hang out in their yard. My roommate lied to the landlord, telling him we were nurses and not college students. 

I remember the day I came home as Dr. Chellis drove her convertible into our driveway. The top was down. She slammed on the brakes, backed up and glared at me. We got our eviction notice shortly afterward.

But I got her back, sort of. We had a huge, noisy party one of our last nights there. And, then there was the presentation I had to do for her Black Lit. class. I chose to speak on Ralph Ellison’s theme of invisibility in his Invisible Man, that nobody can see who we really are including a professor who had me evicted from my apartment. I recorded my speech and played it in front of the class so it would seem I was invisible when I spoke. 

Dr. Chellis gave me an A for the presentation.

The last time I saw Dr. Chellis was when I went to her office to get my final grade, another A. She was cordial and encouraging. She asked me why I no longer dated a popular student she liked. I simply said he broke up with me. The truth was he was gay and didn’t want to love a woman. 

I went to Europe that summer. When I returned, I heard Dr. Chellis had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, which later killed her. It seemed terribly unfair.

Here is a quote from the Invisible Man: “All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was.” Thank you Dr. Chellis.