Émile Zola

Nana was my introduction to Émile Zola. I bought a copy of it way back in the 70’s when I was living in Cape Breton. It floored me. I knew he was writing, publishing in France at the same time Dickens was publishing in England. Both wrote about class, labour, family but that’s where the resemblance ends. Zola wrote adult fiction full of drugs, druggies, adulterers, prostitution, social disease and nice people too.

Nana floored me with its frank sexuality. No classic novel I’d read by Scott, Stevenson, even Dostoyevsky approached this level of sexuality. At points he delves into the lesbian subculture of Paris that still amazes me today. It certainly wasn’t what I expected in a novel of that time & also showed me that there is a hidden gay history too. Nana uses her sexuality to move up and down the class ladder. In fact all the women in Zola novels are clearly sexual beings, not always in control of it, not always giving into it.

He has a great grasp of human psychology from a time when human psychology wasn’t even a field of study. I have, on my Kindle, the complete works – which I hope to finish before I die 🙂 He was prolific & as a result as popular as Dickens. I bought the complete works to get the novels that are out-of-print in translation. As a result I can’t commune ton his ability as a stylist – the translations are good enough for me. His plotting is solid. Went, or more of them, are a family saga that rivals any daytime soap. The family tree of his fictional family is impressive, as was his ability to keep it organized. He was a social commentator who spared no one.

If you are unfamiliar I would recommend Thérèse Raquin, (http://wp.me/p1RtxU-Cx) or Nana. Germinal is also amazing & inspired my novel Coal Dusters – good too are L’Assommoir and La Bête humaine.


Plus he was very handsome: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Émile_Zola#/media/File:Émile_Zola_by_Carjat.jpg 

The Fault In My Chromosomes

there is a theory

that when the first atomic bomb 

was exploded

the molecular structure of life 

of our dna

as we know it 

was changed


there’s always some explanation

for what went wrong

the first match

the first man 

who looked at the moon

and thought 

that’s not god

why am I blood-letting goats

to make sure

the moon will rise again

to insure sure we get good crops


us assuming that there is 

some secret level of control

we can manifest 

if we find the right path

we can work down 

to the chromosomal level of life

get at the delicate tissue

to harness it 

or our our personal gratification

then everything would work out swell


no war

no struggle

no hunger disease

no TV – that’s going too far

what if the atomic structure of life 

was changed by the first TV broadcast

what if those beams

were controlling us humans

telling us what to say

what to wear 

what to eat

when to go out

how many layers of clothing we need

that would never happen

we can’t be manipulated

at the cellular level by a cell phone

electronic conveniences are our tools

we aren’t their tools

they do our bidding

they have no control over who we love

over how often we hook up

they don’t conspire against us

we are in control at all times

we can turn them off 

see I’ve set my cell phone to no ring 

I can leave it that way for hours

often I don’t even check for texts

some people can’t imagine that at all

somedays I don’t turn on my TV for hours

don’t check my email

I am always in control of my universe


when the first atomic bomb

was exploded

molecular structure was changed

so I am not responsible for my actions

nothing is ever my fault



every Tuesday 2019

June  – Capturing Fire 2019 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
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Three Intense Books

Thérèse Raquin; Something Happened; Hot Stuff – what do these books have in common? Authors Emile Zola, Joseph Heller, Alice Echols – capture vivid portraits of times, places and people in ways that were compelling, eye-opening & just out-right fun. Moreover they are three books I recently finished reading that were pixel/page turners.

rackspiceless rack

I’ve read Thérèse Raquin several times now – this version (each translation is different) is part of the Complete Zola I have on my Kindle – bought for under $5. Zola is one of my writing muses. The story moves from pov easily & pulled me into this musty corner of Paris totally. By the end of the novel I knew these people and felt as trapped as each of them by their pursuit of ‘happiness.’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thérèse_Raquin

 discardpop of color

I remember being amazed by the opening lines of Something Happen when I first read it back in the mid-70’s – that fear of closed doors made total sense to me – as I dare to open the closed door I was hiding behind. I wonder what my hardback edition is worth? A single pov that is ironic, unreliable and revealing. Heller knows how to write conversations and this is a text book example of how to that certainly informed my writing after I read it, without me being aware of its influence. It holds up today because I know people who are afraid of closed doors. – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Something_Happened

greygrey on gray

Bringing things more to the present is Hot Stuff – which I have blogged about before. Echols non-fiction book is a revealing look at disco & its effect on world of the 70’s, 80’s as it morphed from disco to the somehow more acceptable dance music. Full of gossip, trivia and also insightful analysis of the role of music in general, disco in particular I found myself wishing the book was longer. I also found myself buying things on iTunes to round out my listening of the era, & not all disco. Honey Cone anyone?  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/books/review/Gavin-t.html?_r=0

Finger Dancing

I was feeling sort of flat – nothing of consequence to accomplish – an opportunity to practice the art of doing nothing – it would be easy to make work – there’s always something to clean – a drawer to tidy – laundry to do – money to be made – but with small effort I made myself do nothing –

I felt my sense of self shift as I did nothing – the urge to be at something anything – to be talking to someone – to be in some sort of action that would sustain my sense of self – but for a moment I did nothing – I was nobody –

just a man doing nothing – good for nothing – not relaxing from having done so much & therefore having earned this respite – not someone sick and tried of all the pulls and tugs of being alive – nope – just someone taking a rare opportunity to do nothing –

I let my mind drift where it wanted and saw the endlessness of so many of the trains of thought – things to do – there would always be things to do whether I thought of them at this moment or not – let them go – away – yeah – no need to even observe passing clouds – why bother – let them float –

let this sense of self float – that would be a neat trick for a few days to stop being aware of this sense of self – the person – the personality – the images and opinions one carries that bind them to a tread mill that becomes insidious and impossible to disengage from –

now there’s the challenge – to do that for a few minutes isn’t so hard but even then it becomes me doing nothing – the rest of me hovers – those quirks and cloaks don’t really fall away – they don’t disengage to let me float free for long – they remind me that I’m free of them – for now – that I will have to return to them and the very thought of return returns me to them –

to be free of all that – to travel without a sense of self – without the importance that all that holds because it is the importance cloak that holds me down – it becomes a barrier between me and experiencing so much of life – the choices that opinion make whittle things down – narrow the possibilities not enlarge them –

so I’m just sitting here for a while – drifting – well, at this moment I’m writing – let words drift and waft along in a loose mood of release – aware that I am writing is enough to hold me down – to direct the language just enough that I’m not totally dissolved – would that I could merely allow the casual drop of fingers hit the keys without looking for anything – just the happy click of rapid keys spinning a web of this and that –

fingers moving along to a music – a music that holds as much of my attention as the mind gives to the words – as close to release as I come many times – closer than most – knowing also that the words have meaning beyond my identity gives me greater freedom – they don’t belong to me – no more than the colors of the sky

no more than the pulse and spring of the music – the loop of quick scintillating instruments that bobs along freely and easily till my eyes close for fingers to dance

100_0569below the clouds