Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Descriptions of Heaven" by Randal Eldon Greene

Descriptions of Heaven
by Randal Eldon Greene

Author Randal Eldon Greene stops by today for an interview and to share an excerpt from Descriptions of Heaven. Keep an eye out for my review coming in 2017.

A linguist, a lake monster, and the looming shadow of death - news of an unknown creature in the New Bedford Lake coincides with news that Natalia's cancer has returned.
On the shores of the lake in a strange house with many secret doors, Robert and his family must face the fact that Natalia is dying, and there is no hope this time. But they continue on; their son plays by the lakeside, Natalia paints, Robert writes, and all the while the air is thick with dust from a worldwide drought that threatens to come down and coat their little corner of green.
A lament for what is already lost and what is yet to be lost, Descriptions of Heaven leaves only one question to be asked: What's next?

As a child, I shinnied the coarse trunks of trees, carrying a book in a backpack or clamped resolutely between my chin and chest. I’d sit in the boughs of shady retreat and dappled light up there where the wind blew through leaves, and the leaves were an instrument, accompanied by birdsong, and I’d read of dichotomous fairyland entities who struggled against one another. The hero’s armor always shone, and he’d raise his double-edged sword above his windblown hair in righteous victory. The villain was always diabolical, sometimes of misshapen form and other times human, but beastly in nature; always the villain was intent on domination, always intent on fulfilling evil desires through evil deeds.
I’d look up only after finishing a chapter and notice the tree being joggled by an evening wind, and I’d turn my face to the west and observe the reddened sky and would mark the time by this beauteous sight. I’d lean back on my branch and imagine a hero come into existence. There should be heroes, I would think, heroes to rejuvenate the world gone brown and smoggy under the iron-mawed machines of crooked dictators. I had the idea that degradation of any kind—be it Third World poverty or the ripping away of nature’s llanos and wildwoods—were setbacks. I had the notion that meliorism was the true nature of being. All it would take to return the world to its right and hale state was a hero who had risen from the trash-littered grasses along the highwayland or who had crawled from the labyrinthian world up through the sewers into ours.
I would listen to cricket song, frog song, the rattling of cicadas, and chew a last piece of bubble gum as the planet spun me, and everything I knew, toward evening.
I guessed that there were heroes out there yet unnamed—martyrs stretched saltirewise, tortured, unable to fight and, nevertheless, unwilling to renounce their noble causes. I fantasized about being a hero, about dying with joy in the glory of agony. I wished it upon no one else, I swear.
I grew up and realized there were no heroes as I had imagined, only varlets bumbling through life, trying to serve the vacant suits of armor that were bought at too high of a price and were made of inferior things—the hinges rusting after the first run through the dishwasher. I abandoned the books of my childhood, and I read the classics where the heroes do die, where sometimes there are no heroes. My palate grew to lose all taste for saccharine magic; I relished it only if it was real. The world got worse, and then the body, like an extension of this abuse, turned on itself. I dreaded the thought that Natalia would have to suffer, that the cancer would ravage her body in the end. A wasting disease it was called. A slow death sentence is what it was. Carrying her up a ladder and hanging her from a cross would be better than what she was to be given. If there were heroes, I would think they were the ones I love, but how is it possible for an antagonist to reside in the body of a beloved hero?
Life is villainy. Not the living of it, not the growing and the dying, the eating of life for sustenance, or how each step is a second closer to reaching final dysfunction. It is the experience of it. It is being conscious of it all. Life is life. And life must do what it must do. But why the knowledge of the act?
I looked up at a tree. I no longer climbed them. Traffic hummed by on the city street. There were children nearby, laughing and throwing a Frisbee. They had a dog with them. The dog would wait to see where the disc would land and then would take off and, by the time it got there, the Frisbee would be ready to throw again. It kept trying, the dog. It attempted, but it was not successful, and the children did not think to let the dog have the Frisbee just once. The dog did not pick up on the rhythm, did not adjust its pace and timing to the act of retrieval.
How many times must one try something before giving up on it?
The doctor had said it was too progressed. There was nothing to do. I kicked a rock. A car honked its horn in the empty street. I acquiesced in giving my consent of joinder to the audience simply awaiting her death. How did I view myself in light of this? How could I not question my character? So I shuffled along the sidewalk between the park and the street. Small, evenly spaced trees ran along the park side of the sidewalk. A few feet of empty grass bordered the street side. There was a soccer field in the park. I knew this because there were two blue-painted soccer goals facing each other with an expanse of brown grass in between. I stopped and stared at the soccer goals, though my mind was elsewhere.
Who was I? A man who had given up on companionship so easily so early. A man whose life was spent in study of dead words and whole dead languages, as if I was focused on abandonments larger than mine in an unconscious attempt to demonstrate that my own was nothing compared to this demitting of entire tongues. Yet I could not be so hard on myself, could I?
I turned around and retraced my steps. The trees there seemed identical and were spaced exactly apart. I imagined they were softwood trees. I could not envision my child-self in any of them. They were not the trees of my youth. They were saplings and, if not saplings, then cheap decoration for the park. I could not see them surviving another local drought or a real rush of wind.
No, it was not only I who had had enough—Natalia, too, understood the prognosis. She chose to cease any kind of treatment, to live her last days in advance rather than in retreat. She lived with the disease. She would die of the disease. All this was certain. And if there were a cure around the corner, to be found somewhere deep in the cabalistic archives, what of it? She would have to wrestle with mortality sometime. No more dirty tricks, chemicals or radiation. She would face the knowledge of her temporary existence clean and clear-headed, totally afraid.
I leaned against our car, willing the tears to recede. Then I opened the door, I got in, and I drove home.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Descriptions of Heaven is an admirable sort of quietly suspenseful literary novel; its prose flows without awkwardness, and heartrending gothic secrets are revealed in due course as the philosophical narrative unfolds." ~ Kevin Polman, author of The Extra Key
"From the very first pages, I saw the lives of these characters like a shattering mirror. All those details which make everyday life normal will be torn apart in front of the characters, leaving them unable to do anything but wait for that final dreaded moment and afterwards try to move on." ~ eLitere
"Randal Greene masterfully created a character who fights in silence, who faces life with her heart and her feelings out in the open. I loved meeting her, and her last journey seen through her husband’s eyes was beautiful to witness." ~ Chocolatenwaffles
"In My Opinion if you like to read books there is no reason you shouldn’t pick up this one ... It’s short and easy to read, it packs a punch for something so small, and it will touch each and every one of your emotional strings by the time you read the ending." ~ Victor G. Espinoza, author of Greyhart
"I loved the author’s prose and his style in general. Greene makes poetry of his prose and commands the page. For that reason alone, it was a joy to read." ~ The Underground
"Let yourself get involved, and you may be pulled in by the linguist’s efforts to use the tools of his craft - words - as aids in his search for answers to his son’s (and his own) questions about why Natalia is dying and where she is going." ~ IndieReader
"What’s surprised me is how such a short novella has left lasting thoughts. Greene’s use of words has evoked such vivid images and thoughts that I find I’m contemplating life and death myself. An interesting and thought-provoking read." ~ happymeerkatreviews
"This work of art is incredibly poetic from beginning to end. Randal Eldon Greene paints his words with every array of colors imaginable." ~ Paperback Darling
"With so many hauntingly beautiful lines, and characters that I cared about and became attached to, I felt as if I, too, took this journey, and I’ve been changed along with them. And for me, that’s the ultimate gift that a story could give." ~ Unbroken Journal

Interview with the Author
Randal Eldon Greene joins me today to discuss his new book, Descriptions of Heaven.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
This is an adult book. One reviewer said Descriptions of Heaven "would be an excellent choice for a literary-minded book club or a college literature class tasked with analyzing the works of emerging novelists." This reviewer is spot on, though fans of contemporary and women’s fiction are also giving great reviews.
What sparked the idea for this book?
It was actually television show. This was one of those pseudoscience shows where they chase ghosts and monsters. In one particular episode, the investigators talked about how there are hundreds and hundreds of lakes around the globe that harbor supposed lake monsters. That’s what sparked the whole idea.
Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
The idea for the novel. Or, really, a particular scene. Usually, I have an image of the final scene or just the final sentence, and I write toward that. Descriptions of Heaven was the same. The first thing I wrote was the final paragraph of the novel.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
There’s a little conversational bit between Robert - the main character - and his father-in-law. That part took a few edits to get right. Emotionally, the pumpkin-patch scene is pretty moving.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope it moves them to tears and sweeps them away with its poetic lyricism.
How long did it take you to write this book?
It’s a short book, so not that long. I wrote the first draft between 2012 and 2013. It took probably 4 to 6 months to complete. I write by hand, so I don’t have the certainty about dates that a time-stamped computer file gives.
What is your writing routine?
After breakfast and seeing my fiancé off to teach her middles schoolers, I’ll take a cup of coffee upstairs and do one of two things; I either pick up a pen or stare at a blank piece of paper. I write (or stare) for 4 to 6 hours.
How did you get your book published?
I found it was far too long for any literary journal to accept and a little too short for an agent to take on, so I opted for an independent press. I received three acceptance letters and decided to go with the Harvard Alumni publishing house Harvard Square Editions.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Slow it down and write by hand. And, when it’s time to type, get a really nice computer, but take out the wireless card. You need a fast word processor with lots of memory, not a timesuck.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I enjoy cooking, reading, and long walks.
What does your family think of your writing?
My mother thinks my writing is great. My fiancé couldn’t be more proud. My future mother-in-law gave it an honest 4 stars.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I grew up in Dakota City, Nebraska near a meat-packing plant and with a nice view of farm fields.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Oh yes. Staples of reading included the Goosebumps series, Wayside School series, and later the Sword of Truth series, plus loads of other common kid’s books: The Chocolate Touch, How to Eat Fried Worms, Fudge-a-Mania, The Westing Game.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
In first grade, after I won an award for a short story about a mailman penguin.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Certainly. As a child I managed to see a bit of magic in a lot of the mundane. Or maybe I saw the mundane through the lens of magic. This way of seeing and feeling through images laced with magic have found their way into my writing.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
Don DeLillo, László Krasznahorkai, and Virginia Woolf have all had a profound impact on my writing.
Have you heard from any readers yet? If so, what kinds of things have they said?
Well, though the book has been out just over a month, I haven’t heard from any but advance readers so far. I did have one fan email me a while back, saying he enjoyed the short stories of mine he could find published online. I’d love to hear from more readers. Especially readers who have bought my book.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I have another novel in the works (this time it’s a much longer book), plus more short stories. Also, look for a readers theater play I’ll be releasing on my own for use by educators and people who work with kids. It’s been performed twice with great success.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today. Best of luck with your future projects.
Thank you, Lynda. It was a pleasure.

About the Author
Randal Eldon Greene is a novelist and short story writer residing in Sioux City, Iowa. Greene holds a degree in English and Anthropology from the University of South Dakota. He reads fiction for Heart & Mind Zine and works full time as a seeing eye human for his blind dog, Missy.