Malcolm Jones

Stories by Malcolm Jones

  • The Return Of Harry Potter!

    Months before its official debut on July 8, J. K. Rowling's fourth Harry Potter novel had become the biggest publishing phenomenon since--ever. There has never been a bigger first printing (3.8 million in this country alone). Nor a book that's sold faster in preorders (as of midnight, July 1, there had been 282,650 orders at Amazon.com, where it's been the No. 1 best seller for 16 of the last 21 weeks). Equally amazing, Rowling's publishers have so far managed to keep the contents of the year's most desired book almost completely under wraps. The title, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," slipped out a week ago. One lucky 8-year-old girl managed to acquire a stray copy from her local bookstore. And Rowling, who has staunchly supported the veil of secrecy around the book because she wanted it to come as a surprise to her readers, did let slip to the London Times what a lot of young fans have been whispering about for months: at least one important character will die in the new...
  • A Loony Look At Going Nuts

    It's terrible to wish someone would get sick. On the other hand, when the someone is Jim Knipfel and writes so perceptively and comically about his own ailments -- first the gradual blindness of retinitis pigmentosa in "Slackjaw" and now mental illness -- well, you can't help being tempted.In the late '80s, Knipfel was studying philosophy at the University of Minnesota and trying repeatedly -- and lamely -- to kill himself: "Four years of philosophy might make you want to kill yourself," he says, "but it's not nearly enough to help you go through with it." However, when an overdose of pills landed him in the hospital, he suddenly found himself a guest of the state in a locked ward. There, aside from his 10-minute weekly visits with a bored shrink, he had nothing to do but read French semioticist Jacques Lacan and watch his fellow patients. One rode an exercise bike all day. One constantly wept. Others at least looked sane, like Chaim, who tended to end "sentences with increasingly...
  • A Swell Book About A Good Boy

    In the finest scene in this dazzling first novel about boyhood, the Depression-era town of Aliceville, N.C., gets electricity. It happens on Christmas Eve, and the 10-year-old title character gets dragged out of bed by his bachelor uncles to watch it happen. Jim hasn't got a clue why they're all standing in the middle of the road at midnight. He thinks his uncles might be drunk, because one of them keeps shouting, "Let there be light!" Then suddenly there is light -- in the uncles' houses, all over town. Everyone is delighted but also a little terrified. So, in a perfect comic moment, when someone asks the uncle who was demanding light to ask for something else, he just looks down and mutters, "I better not."The little miracle in this scene is how author Tony Earley balances the genuine wonder at electrification with the slow realization that while something has been won, so something is lost. "The uncles' electric lights drew fragile boundaries around their houses; around those...
  • A Top Showman

    Theatrical impresario David Merrick virtually invented the modern musical with shows like "Hello, Dolly!" and "42nd Street." He also made hits of such serious dramas as "Look Back in Anger" and "Marat/Sade." But Merrick, who died last week at 88, was perhaps his own best production: a Barnum-like showman whose promotions were often more memorable than the plays they advertised. When one of his shows got lame reviews, he found New Yorkers with the same names as the theater critics and ran their raves in his ads.
  • Black On Black

    When photography came to America, Jules Lion met the boat. The first successful photographic process was only a year old in 1840 when Lion opened his daguerreotype studio in New Orleans. That made him the first African-American photographer. But the thing that sets the African-American photographic tradition apart is not its length or its numerous geniuses. It's the point of view, the unique perspective that photographers like James VanDerZee brought to his celebratory pictures of Harlem high life, or that 19th-century photographer J. P. Ball demonstrated when he produced a triptych of a freed slave in Montana who is posed for his portrait, then photographed being hanged for murder and lastly shown in his coffin. The difference was not about access, it was about attitude. Any photographer--black or white--could have walked down a Harlem street in 1964 and taken a picture of an ebullient Malcolm X walking with Muhammad Ali after Ali won the heavyweight title. But white photographers...
  • Dark Tale, Bright Future

    Jeffrey Lent's first novel, "In the Fall," opens with a scene out of a fairy tale, or a ghost story: in the middle of the night, a boy spies on his father, who is burying coffee cans in the woods behind their home. The boy doesn't know what's in the cans, and the scene is full of secrets and mystery, and it hooks you powerfully. Right from the start of this engrossing family saga, you know that you're in the hands of a storyteller who knows just where he's going. And that, says the 41-year-old Lent, is exactly how he felt while he was writing. Yes, there were years of apprenticeship and abandoned manuscripts and crummy day jobs leading up to this book, but none of that sweat and frustration shows. This time around--and he's still not sure why--everything came together. "I wrote it in 18 months," he says, "and I had to write 40 or 50 pages to know for sure. But, yes, right from the start, I knew I had it."A lot of people in publishing agree with him, and they're coughing up the kind...
  • Smart Book, Dumb Guy

    Ted Swenson, burned-out middle-aged novelist, creative-writing teacher and the protagonist of Francine Prose's viperish new novel, tells his students that a good writer can kindle a reader's sympathy for the direst murderer, the slimiest sexual predator. By that standard, Prose is sublime. Chronicling Swenson's bumbling affair with one of his students, this wizardly novelist ("Guided Tours of Hell," "Bigfoot Dreams") satirizes writing workshops, midlife crises, campus politics and politically correct witch hunting. Every character is etched in acid--the campus librarian is "a tall, upright tea cosy of a woman." But her best creations are Swenson, the adulterer whose lies ultimately deceive only himself, and his multiply pierced, spike-haired paramour, Angela Argo, the writing student from hell. "Is the devil ever a woman?" one of Swenson's students asks him early in the novel, and the question echoes to the final page.The template for this brittle tale is the classic 1930 film "The...
  • A Spooky But Literary 'Blair Witch Project'

    Explore Los Angeles with Mark Z. Danielewski as your tour guide, and the line between fact and fantasy quickly vanishes. Cruise Hollywood Memorial Cemetery and you have to find Peter Lorre's grave. Motor into the Hollywood Hills and he'll show you the tower house where Elliott Gould lost his cat in "The Long Goodbye." You have to wonder, is this big, strapping 34-year-old with hair the color of blue M&M's a serious literary man or the child of a postliterate visual culture? Choose both. The son of a documentary—and avant-garde—film maker, Danielewski has also spent the last 10 years crafting his first novel, "House of Leaves," one of the most ambitious, complicated and eagerly anticipated literary debuts of the year. So let's talk books for a minute. What's it like to be a writer who lives in Los Angeles? "It's great," Danielewski says with a big grin. "It's totally lonely.Danielewski admits that he knows a few other writers and artists, but when he insists that he likes the...
  • Still Steely

    For most of the '70s Steely Dan surfed the top of the rock charts with a string of hits as musically peppy as they were lyrically weird. It sounded like easy listening--but the joke was on anyone lulled by the melodies, because the lyrics were talking about all kinds of unsavory stuff, from murder to drug dealers. Most every song this band wrote before it broke up in 1979 was clever, finely crafted and more than a little sinister--like icicles dipped in acid.From the sound of things on their first album in 21 years, those two decades off didn't do much for their mood. Musically the setup is still the same. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen write, produce and perform their material, fleshing out the sound with topnotch studio musicians. You couldn't ask for a better-sounding album--and they know it. In the first cut they sing "Check out the work itself/A mixture of elegance and function." Of course, this might not be Steely Dan talking. With these guys you never know, since their songs...
  • 'Beowulf' Brawling

    Harry Potter, it turns out, is not invincible after all, although it did take a 1,300-year-old Scandinavian legend tag-teaming with a Nobel Prize-winning poet to deal the fictional wizard his comeuppance. When the jury of England's prestigious Whitbread Prize convened last month to pick the book of the year, a rancorous 5-4 vote went against J. K. Rowling's third Potter book, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." The dark-horse winner was "Beowulf," the Old English epic poem newly translated by the poet Seamus Heaney.The Whitbread jury made the right call. Harry's adventures make great reading, no matter how old you are, but "Beowulf," the longest Anglo-Saxon poem in existence, simply outclasses the boy. And as rendered by Heaney, the bardic saga of a Danish prince's epic battles with the monster Grendel, Grendel's mother and a 50-foot dragon is as vivid as a tabloid headline and as visceral as a nightmare.Heaney's own poetic vernacular--muscular language so rich with the...
  • Odd Outing

    Allan Bloom is proving to be as controversial dead as he was alive. In 1987 Bloom detonated a cultural bomb when he published the surprise best seller "The Closing of the American Mind." In that cranky diatribe against cultural permissiveness, Bloom emerged as the conservative movement's poster boy for traditionalism. At the same time, we now find out from his close friend Saul Bellow, Bloom was also dying of AIDS.In Nobel Prize winner Bellow's new novel, "Ravelstein" (due out in April), the title character is Bloom in all but name--a popular Chicago professor, a legendary big spender--who lives in a swank apartment building where the "lobby was paneled in mahogany. The elevators were like confession boxes." And Ravelstein, like Bloom, is gay. Is it fair to out the dead? Bellow admitted in an interview last week that Bloom probably wouldn't have been happy having his homosexuality publicized. But Bloom wanted a frank memoir from his friend. As Andrew Sullivan, a New York Times...
  • An American Eye

    Walker Evans's pictures of Southern main streets, tenant farmers, Saratoga in the rain, subway riders, rundown barbershops and peeling billboard posters supply most of our defining images of the Depression. For some of us, they have come to define how a photograph should look, period. Not coincidentally the man behind those photographs was a study in contradiction--the first tip that maybe those pictures aren't as simple as they seem. Although he was a thoroughgoing modernist and a devoted Francophile, he did more than almost anyone to dignify vernacular American art and architecture with his photographs. He was a dandy whose idea of heaven was a pair of handmade shoes, but he is most famous for his penetrating photographs of Depression-era sharecroppers. He was restless all his life, moving from one style to the next, mastering that and then moving on to something else. The miracle is that out of this seemingly aimless artistic nomadism came images of such defining clarity that the...
  • Renata's Rant

    Reading "Gone," Renata Adler's lament for the old New Yorker—before Tina Brown gave it "buzz"—you just keep thanking your lucky stars she's never met you. Because even the people she likes come off badly in this book. Defending William Shawn, the legendary editor of The New Yorker for 35 years, she takes issue with recent accounts which, she alleges, paint him as either an "unctuous, pompous, humorless creep" or an "unctuous, pious, humorless creep." Weirdly, by the time she is done "defending" him, he is all of the above. Of course, just because she's vicious doesn't mean she's wrong. Most of what she says about the magazine is conventional wisdom: it was a paragon of American journalism so long as Shawn was editor. Yes, you sometimes got those five-part series on wheat, but sometimes you got "In Cold Blood." Adler thinks this journalistic heaven started declining when S. I. Newhouse bought the magazine in 1985 and went completely to hell after Newhouse fired Shawn two years later...
  • Moving Across Mediums

    Standing beside Michael Crichton amid the armor collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, you get a vivid sense of his creative power. He has the ability to take the relics of a museum case, objects that have been boring children on rainy Sundays for generations, and turn them into "Timeline" (Knopf), his fascinating new novel about time travel back to 14th-century France. Crichton is a master of an odd hybrid: entertaining novels that educate. "Timeline" is a page turner and a very lucid look at life in the late Middle Ages. He teaches you how to think like a knight during a joust by putting you in the saddle. You're balancing a lance in one hand, a shield in the other, while you struggle not to fall off a galloping horse and struggle even harder not to throw up in your helmet.But this exhibit also inspires another question: does Crichton, at 57 the most financially successful novelist of the day, ever feel like a prisoner of his own success, trussed up like one of these...
  • Reflections On The Water

    Travel writing was once the work of genuine explorers. It was journals and sea logs, or reports from eccentric Englishmen in authentically exotic locales. Nowadays, with no more worlds to conquer, travel writing too often is the work of writers looking to fulfill a book contract. In "River-Horse" (506 pages. Houghton Mifflin. $26), William Least Heat-Moon attempts to cross America by boat. He starts up the Hudson, traverses the Erie Canal, then Lake Erie and so on, all the way to the Pacific, allowing for a few portages. But it's a contrived journey and a contrived book, filled with facts but marred by fussy writing. Heat-Moon is the sort of writer who won't say umbrella when he can say bumbershoot. It would be a very tolerant reader who wouldn't want to jump ship before Heat-Moon hits Ohio.Jonathan Raban, by contrast, sets out on a far more modest--and ultimately far more successful--voyage in "Passage to Juneau" (435 pages. Pantheon. $26.50). Sailing from Seattle to Alaska, he...
  • Is Pokemon Evil?

    You'd think that owning a piece of the Pokemon phenomenon would be like having a license to print money. But the mere fact that Warner Bros. was set to release "Pokemon: The First Movie" on Nov. 10 was not automatic cause for cheering around the studio. Pokemon is a kid thing, and kid things can go pfffft just like that. Add the fact that the buzz on this dubbed, animated Japanese import is about as bad as buzz can be. You can see why Warners execs were nervous.Then last Monday morning a Los Angeles disc jockey announced a phone-in contest to win tickets to the premiere of the movie. Suddenly the Warners switchboard was receiving 70,000 calls a minute. The message got through: Pokemon is still a monster.For how long nobody knows. But like many monsters, it is creating a measure of fear and panic in its wake. The playground set is as ferociously obsessed as they were when the craze first hit last year. Schools are banning it; parents worry about addictive behavior. And most Pokemon...
  • Cut! And That's A Wrap!

    Not so very long ago, Hollywood was a place where pretension was outlawed. The greater the artist, the louder that artist insisted he was no more than a craftsman. John Ford, who won a record four Oscars for directing, famously announced himself, "I'm John Ford, I make Westerns." Billy Wilder, whose Oscars numbered a measly two, put it only slightly differently: "I don't make cinema, I make movies." With the major players refusing to testify, it's no surprise so few great books have ever been written about Hollywood. What is a wonder is that somehow eager readers suddenly have been dealt a pair of aces back to back: two first-rate works on Ford and Wilder. It's enough to make you fall for Hollywood endings.Wilder, lucky for us, has grown more loquacious in his 90s--although he's still insisting that he just made movies. Director Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"), an ardent Wilder fan, found that as long as he avoided calling Wilder a genius, he could keep him talking. The result, ...
  • Continental Drifting

    There are several moments at the beginning of "The Wonders of the African World," Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s six-part PBS series starting Oct. 25, that make you squirm. You watch Gates's car get stuck in the Sudanese desert. Then you watch him help the driver get the car out of the sand. And you start to wonder if this isn't uncomfortably close to suffering through your cousin's slides from his vacation. But don't dare doze off. Gates has decked out this documentary series about African cultures both ancient and modern in the loosey-goosey togs of a personal travelogue. But he has a deeply serious purpose--as we see when he encounters the great-granddaughter of an African slave trader in Zanzibar. Offhandedly, he wonders aloud if her ancestors might have sold his ancestors. She agrees. The choice, she says, was to be a slave or a slave trader. And suddenly what seemed so casual is totally chilling. And when they shake hands and embrace--burying the past--this genuinely emotional moment...
  • When The Earth Moved

    How different was Galileo's time from our own? Dava Sobel spends a whole book counting the ways. As she demonstrated so delightfully with her first book, the surprise nonfiction best-seller "Longitude," Sobel loves the byways and oddities of history-- the discovery of longitude was pulled off by an 18th-century clockmaker. In "Galileo's Daughter," a briskly written history that reads like a novel, she plunges into a 17th-century world where gravity had not been discovered, thermometers had not been invented and women could be consigned to convent life simply because they weren't marriageable. Retelling the story of Galileo's famous battle with the Inquisition over geocentricism, she brings it to life by concentrating on the everyday--his professional feuds, his own sincere religious beliefs and--most important--his intense relationship with his eldest daughter, a cloistered nun. The result is no textbook-sterile debate between science and religion over whether the sun revolved...
  • Helen Hunt's Mystery Date

    Helen Hunt and Robert B. Parker play well together. Sitting on the sofa in her production company's office in West Hollywood, they make nice about each other nonstop. "I fell in love with his books," says the Academy Award-winning actress. "Helen is a good kid," responds the creator of the Spenser detective novels. "And I can call her that because I have kids older than she is." The 36-year-old Hunt and the 67-year-old Parker do look like a mismatched set. But they both know what they want, and right now they both want "Family Honor," Parker's new novel about female gumshoe Sunny Randall, to be a smash. Turning to Hunt, Parker says, "Did I tell you Sunny hits the Times best-seller list at No. 14 this Sunday?" "Holy s--t," she exclaims. "That's incredible," sounding like a kid who just found out she gets to have chocolate cake for breakfast.You have to understand: Helen Hunt is Sunny Randall. Or she will be. So far Sunny is merely the protagonist of Parker's 34th book. But he created...
  • An Immigrant's Tale

    The big question for Frank McCourt's fans has always been, how do you follow a triumph like "Angela's Ashes"? That memoir, McCourt's first book, won him a Pulitzer Prize and millions of readers. Does anyone think that " 'Tis," the newly published sequel, could possibly be as good? The answer is a clear-cut yes and no. " 'Tis" is no "Angela" when it comes to drama and tragedy--there are no dying babies in this book. But "Angela's Ashes," for all its virtues, was a relatively straightforward tale of survival in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. " 'Tis" is more complicated, and much more ambitious. It takes up where the first book left off, with McCourt's arriving in America in 1949, and it, too, is a memoir. But there the comparisons stop. McCourt found his unique voice in his first effort. The second time round, he successfully tackles the much more difficult job of finding himself.Superficially, " 'Tis" is the classic immigrant's tale. As a dockworker, a soldier, a student on the GI...
  • Magician For Millions

    Judging by the millions of readers he's bewitched so far, Harry Potter is indeed a very powerful wizard. The entire Newcombe family, for example, lies under Harry's spell. Lizzie and Laura, 8-year-old twins, listen to their parents read from J. K. Rowling's books about the bespectacled sorcerer's apprentice every night. After they've gone to bed, their brother, Jimmy, 10, grabs the book and reads himself to sleep. Catie, their mother, thinks Harry and his fictional friends make excellent role models. And Jim Newcombe, an advertising executive, is such a fan that he couldn't wait for the third installment, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," to be published in this country early next month. So, like a lot of other Potterites, he ordered the book on the Internet from England, where it appeared last month. And for his 44th birthday, he took the whole family to their local library in Lake Forest, Ill., for a book-group meeting that focused on Harry's exploits at Hogwarts School...
  • Disaster Chronicles

    It was a dark and stormy night. Except when it was a dark and stormy day. In the world of nonfiction adventure literature, there's always bad weather. From the slopes of Everest to the troughs of 60-foot waves, journalists and adventurers have been busily grinding out accounts of frostbite and shipwreck, and readers can't get enough. Since the mid-'90s publication of "The Perfect Storm," Sebastian Junger's tale of a fishing boat lost at sea, and Jon Krakauer's instant classic about climbing Mount Everest, "Into Thin Air," the best-seller lists have been flooded with tales of adventures gone bad. The big action this summer is in sea disasters, ranging from Gordon Chaplin's "Dark Wind," in which he has to watch while a typhoon drowns his lover, to no fewer than four books about the 1998 Sydney-to-Hobart yacht-race disaster where six sailors died. Water also figures in Richard Bang's forthcoming "The Lost River," about a lethal rafting trip in Africa, and in September Modern Library...
  • Our Man In Havana

    Even in Havana, where grinding poverty and surreal beauty go hand in hand down every street, where mint condition '50s sedans oddly complement the dilapidated buildings with their bubble-gum colors and laundry flying from every window--even here, the Palacio Viena stops you in your tracks. A dark, almost sinister building in the oldest part of town, the Palacio was once a grand hotel. Now its giant front door gapes like the maw of a cave. Terra-cotta vines choke the rococo facade. "This was one of the first things I saw when I started coming down here in the early '90s," says novelist Martin Cruz Smith, standing in the dusty street, staring up at the building. "It struck me as enormously evocative of some past glory," said the 56-year-old writer. "Cuba is an island floating just out of reach, like a dream you had and you remember bits of that dream and you want to get back to it." ...
  • The 'Buena Vista' Gang Stays Social

    Anyone lucky enough to attend the 1998 Carnegie Hall concert by the Buena Vista Social Club knows why musicians in Cuba are treated like royalty. The 30 musicians onstage that night were aristocracy in action. German director Wim Wenders's documentary "Buena Vista Social Club," opening June 4, captures some of that magic. The best thing about this uneven movie is that it gives the music a context: seeing the players at home in Cuba, you understand this musically drenched culture a lot better. But the real gold for any fan of the 1997 million-selling album "Buena Vista Social Club" is the splendid solo albums released recently by members of the club, including Eliades Ochoa ("Sublime Illusion") and Barbarito Torres ("Havana Cafe"). Best is Ibrahim Ferrer's self-titled solo album, capped by a duet with Omara Portuondo on "Silencio." This is haunting stuff.
  • Visible Once Again

    After novelist Ralph Ellison's death in 1994, his widow led John F. Callahan, Ellison's literary executor, into the writer's study. She showed him the hardbound notebooks, the manila folders, the computer disks, the hundreds of notes scrawled on the backs of old bills and magazine subscription forms. She was offering him a glimpse of a novel that Ellison fans have been awaiting since the Truman administration--the manuscript Ellison had been working on for 42 years, ever since he had published his groundbreaking first novel, "Invisible Man." Callahan remembers that there was enough material there for three or four books. But his calculations were cut short when Fanny Ellison asked the $64,000 question: "Does it have a beginning, a middle and an end?" In other words, is it a novel or not?The short answer is a qualified yes. Next month Random House will publish what it is calling Ralph Ellison's second novel, "Juneteenth," and because it has Ellison's name on it, it is a bona fide...
  • Touched By The Angels

    To understand Jan Karon, you have to know about livermush. Livermush is a western North Carolina ... um ... delicacy, a sort of down-home pate forged out of pork liver, bread crumbs, sage and a few other odds and ends, and fried on the griddle. Karon loves the stuff and mentions it every chance she gets in her five novels about the fictional town of Mitford. About the size of Blowing Rock, N.C. (population: 1,800), where the 62-year-old author lives, Mitford is kind of like Andy Griffith's Mayberry, but from Aunt Bea's point of view. Quaint? A little. An idealized picture of home, untroubled by crime, traffic or any of the other plagues of big-city life? Certainly. And, Karon insists, as real and palatable as livermush. "This is my culture," she brags. "I'm proud of it."And why not? Her portrait of a world where people still go to church and bake cakes for their neighbors has made her a fortune. Karon is one of a number of writers, including Iyanla Vanzant and Anne Lamott, who have...
  • A Highly Unorthodox Debut

    Nathan Englander grew up in what he calls "a little Jewish biosphere." The tightknit Orthodox community on New York's Long Island was also "right wing, xenophobic and anti-intellectual," according to the 29-year-old author. There he received "an old-style shtetl-mentality education" with an unvarying message: "You are an Orthodox Jew, and if you are miserable then you should be a miserable Orthodox Jew." Bit by bit, between adolescence and adulthood, Englander, once devout, lost his religion. At the same time he discovered writing. It was, he says, his way out of his claustrophobic world.It also became his obsession. By the time he finished graduate school, Englander was writing all day, six days a week. Since last summer, he's been the talk of publishing for the reported $350,000 advance he received for his astonishing debut, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (205 pages. Knopf. $22). That's an unheard-of sum for a collection of stories by any writer, let alone an unknown. "It's so...
  • Energy And Elegance, Musical Milestones

    Starting early and finishing late, violinist Yehudi Menuhin had one of the most distinguished careers--certainly the longest--of any musician in this century. Born in New York in 1916, he began as a prodigy, taking up the violin when he was 4 and making his concert debut in 1924 in San Francisco at the age of 7. Ecstatic reviews sealed his fate and foretold his future. He would tour, performing (often with his two piano-playing sisters) and conducting, for the rest of his life. When he died in Berlin last week at 82, he was, fittingly, in the middle of yet another concert tour.His performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto at Carnegie Hall in 1927 made him an international celebrity, proving in the bargain that not even the crustiest old pros were immune to his musical charm. When New York Philharmonic conductor Fritz Busch first heard that his featured soloist was 11 years old, he muttered, "One doesn't hire Jackie Coogan [the child movie star] to play Hamlet." But when Busch...
  • The Poet Lariat

    Larry McMurtry casts a cold eye on the runty mesquite and the oil rigs that pock the plains around his hometown of Archer City, Texas (population: 1,918). But then his big Lincoln crests a ridge, the scrub gives way to beautiful rolling country, and McMurtry smiles. "This is the prairie the way the buffalo would have seen it," he says. "This is the way it looked when my father was born in 1900." Jeff McMurtry was one of the last men to make a living purely out of ranching. The younger McMurtry worked for his father as a cowhand until he was 22, but "I never aspired to be a rancher," he says. "I never really liked it. I knew, and my father knew, that it wasn't going to last another generation. He just barely survived doing the work he wanted."Herding words instead of cattle, the 62-year-old McMurtry has become Archer City's most famous son. The writer's 22 novels have made him famous, garnering critical acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize for the phenomenally best-selling "Lonesome Dove." ...
  • New Fire From The 'Ashes', 'Angela's' Entourage

    Frank McCourt casts a quizzical eye over the slums of his youth. Or rather, a more-than-reasonable facsimile thereof. The "slum" is a movie set for the film version of "Angela's Ashes," McCourt's best-selling memoir of his "miserable Irish Catholic childhood" in Limerick in the '30s and '40s. Ironically, Ireland is so prosperous these days that when the filmmakers searched for a slum like the one McCourt grew up in, they couldn't find one standing in Limerick--or anywhere else in Ireland. So they wound up building their own on a vacant Dublin lot. Now, on a wet December morning, workmen are painting the gray walls even grayer and roughing up the concrete. What are they doing, McCourt asks a foreman. They're "distressing" the buildings, he's told, in an effort to age them. "They're distressing them," he chuckles. "Christ almighty, this is a book about a slum, and look at what's going on. There's an industry built around it."But while McCourt is plainly disquieted, he is not surprised...
  • New Fire From The 'Ashes'

    FRANK MCCOURT CASTS A quizzical eye over the slums of his youth. Or rather, a more-than-reasonable facsimile thereof. The ""slum'' is a movie set for the film version of ""Angela's Ashes,'' McCourt's best-selling memoir of his ""miserable Irish Catholic childhood'' in Limerick in the '30s and '40s. Ironically, Ireland is so prosperous these days that when the filmmakers searched for a slum like the one McCourt grew up in, they couldn't find one standing in Limerick--or anywhere else in Ireland. So they wound up building their own on a vacant Dublin lot. Now, on a wet December morning, workmen are painting the gray walls even grayer and roughing up the concrete. What are they doing, McCourt asks a foreman. They're ""distressing'' the buildings, he's told, in an effort to age them. ""They're distressing them,'' he chuckles. ""Christ almighty, this is a book about a slum, and look at what's going on. There's an industry built around it.'' ...