“Part of life is a quest to find that one essential person who will understand our story. But we choose wrongly so often. Over the ensuing years that person we thought understood us best ends up regarding us with pity, indifference, or active dislike.”—Jonathan Carroll
“Wouldn’t it be great if at difficult times in our lives we were able to turn to younger versions of ourselves and ask them for help? For example, you’re frightened of something now because you’ve learned from past experience that there are good reasons to be scared. So you turn inward and ask 27 year old you to take over now. Because at 27, you were afraid of little in life (for better or worse). 27 year old you had a sureness and confidence that for many reasons you lost along the way to today. Or you meet someone wonderful, but in the past you’ve been hurt so many times that you’re wary and cynical of love and becoming involved again. But 19 year old you wasn’t; they believed fully in the magic and infinite possibilities of new love in a way you haven’t for years. If you’ve lived a long enough time, you have been many people, both strong and weak. Somewhere in our being those people must still exist. Many of them were optimistic, bulletproof, trusting, or stone-cold sure of what they were doing. They sincerely believed life’s possibilities were limitless and user-friendly. Scared, confused, depressed, cynical, apathetic—whatever negative frame of mind you might be in now, there *were* times in life when you were just the opposite. How great it would be if we could turn to those other versions of our self and say you can handle this situation better than me. Please take the wheel now and drive this rough part of life’s road.”—Jonathan Carroll
“You can’t ‘face your fear’ as is so often lamely suggested by pundits and gurus. Because fear doesn’t have a face, anymore than it does a telephone number. The only thing you *can* do with fear when it insists on coming along for this or that part of your ride, is to try and keep it in the backseat and never *ever* let it take the wheel.”—Jonathan Carroll
We were each other’s big, real hope and luckily recognized it fast. When good fortune pulls up in front of you too quickly, it can make you suspicious. You hesitate before getting in. But both of us had been through enough lonely times to know there were only so many chances at contentment with another person. In other words, don’t think too long before acting.
In his ‘Letters to a Young Poet,’ Rilke copies down one of his correspondent Kappus’s poems and sends it back to the young man, saying, ‘And now I am giving you this copy because I know that it is important and full of new experience to rediscover a work of one’s own in someone else’s handwriting. Read the poem as if you had never seen it before, and you will feel in your innermost being how very much it is your own.
For some reason, the idea of this great man hand-copying a fan’s poem and sending it to him has always touched me deeply. What generosity! Who would ever think of doing that?
But then I met her, and she took much of what I was or believed and, putting her own stamp on it, handed it back to me as if I had never seen it before. Perhaps that is what love is—another’s desire to return you to yourself enhanced by their vision, graced by their handwriting.
“Remember this: The world doesn’t need anything from you, but you need to give the world something. That’s why you’re alive. If you kill yourself now, you’re proving the majority right— you’re no different from the billion other skulls lying under the ground. But give it something, no matter how short or long-lasting, and you’ve won”—Jonathan Carroll
No matter how many books an author writes, there is at least one among them that is their signature work. There is no predicting when that book will arrive—at the beginning, middle or end of a career. It is often not even up to the writer—at some point it just comes out of them and defines or announces what the artist believes about life, death, love, God—all the big matters. Of course readers debate which it is—War and Peace or Anna Karenina? The Brothers Karamazov or The Possessed? The Great Gatsby or Tender is the Night? But what I find most interesting is which book an author thinks is their signature work. Which one they want carved on their gravestone as a summation not only of their career, but of what they have seen and come to believe about life and how it functions? The answers can be surprising. I once asked a very famous and prolific author what she thought was her signature book. She asked if I meant her favorite. I said no, the one that essentially combines everything you’ve been trying to say your whole career. To my surprise she immediately named an early novel most people hadn’t read and those that did weren’t very impressed. She went on to great fame and fortune but to this day in her mind, that rather short early novel says it all.
For many years I thought FROM THE TEETH OF ANGELS was my signature work. I rarely re-read my books but for a number of reasons I did ANGELS recently in two long intense sessions (I’m a slow reader). It’s been almost six thousand days since I wrote the novel but by and large, I still hold with what it says about life, love, and what we can do when death comes whispering. I’m not sure anymore if it will end up being my signature work –there are still a few things I would like to say about how the big clock ticks. But if for some reason I don’t wake up tomorrow and they decide to put “He wrote FROM THE TEETH OF ANGELS” on the stone, that’ll do.
I grew up in a town about an hour from New York City. It was in the Hudson Valley right next to the river. When we lived there most of the residents were either Irish or Italian, descendants of the workers who had built the New York Central railroad and eventually settled in the area. I gather the town is very chic now because of its proximity to Manhattan. Houses that once sold for barely five figures are now seven and more. But my memories are of a gritty, mostly lower middle class burg where there were two restaurants (both red sauce Italian) and the only places to take a date were either the run down movie theater that never seemed to change its feature or ‘Scappy’s Harmony Inn’ bowling alley.
Most of my friends had last names that ended in either “I” (Fanelli), or “O” (Costello), with an occasional “Newman” or “O’Connor” here and there. The boys were tough and the girls budding dreamboats who led us around like puppies on leashes, that is when we weren’t brawling with each other or getting in trouble with the police.
But there was one guy (there’s always one guy, you know?) who had all the others beat in terms of scariness: Johnny M., a friend of my brother. I only knew him as a sweet, generous, always ‘on’ guy who was funny and nice whenever my brother allowed me to hang around with them. But Johnny M. was also a red zone psychopath who scared the total bejeesus out of everyone, and I mean everyone—even adults in town. He was constantly doing things that were either nuts, dangerous, or scary as hell. He robbed the local VFW of all its guns, was reputed to have burned down the house of one of his enemies, once used a beer opener on an opponent’s face in a fight. Stuff like that.
When I began writing VOICE OF OUR SHADOW I knew I wanted to write about my old town and Johnny M who, by the way, was eventually killed in a shoot out with the police in the middle of our quiet little town just after he had kidnapped a girl and was trying to make a getaway. True story.
VOICE OF OUR SHADOW isn’t true, but Johnny and the town are—I’ve just changed the names and features around a little bit.
“At the end of their relationship in one of those last, invariably futile conversations that accomplish nothing other than making things sadder and more bitter, she said “Maybe we just loved each other too much.” He fired back “We didn’t love too much; we were obsessed with each other and obsession always ends up stinking.””—Jonathan Carroll
“She described this new man she’d just met in such glowing over the top terms that he sounded like one of those ‘concept cars’ manufacturers display at auto shows. Beautiful and sleek, they’re always loaded with the latest eye candy and innovations. But rarely if ever are they put into actual production. Great to look at but you never see one on the road”—Jonathan Carroll