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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Review of John Zunski's Shangri-La Trailer Park

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Have you ever marveled at how Coltrane can take squeaks and squeals, seemingly discordant explosions of sound, and roll them out into an experience of sublime musical beauty? That’s how Shangri-La reverberated in my senses. More than the sum of its parts, the story takes some pretty distasteful dysfunction squealing and squawking its way through to another plane – an ethereal co-ordinate where the dream world and the consciousness fuse into a continuum.

I hate the gratuitous violence and sadism that has become a mainstay of our present day entertainment. I hate most what it speaks about the depravity of our tastes, the lows of human desire unplugged; the ancient beast in us fed the raw bloody feast of its nature. But gratuitous shock value is not what I found here – not once all the parts of this literary fusion had been put into place. As when listening to a masterful improv composition, one knows in the end that not a single false note has been played.

Not for everyone’s taste, Shangri-La Trailer Park is going to upset some people. This is the raw of life with no candy coating to get it down. Beware, though. These characters may capture you even as the repulsion towards them makes you want to put the book down. There’s no doubt they are real – maybe that’s the hardest pill to swallow.

As the trailer park occupants go about their painfully dysfunctional lives, the protagonist, Maistoinna, a Blackfoot from the north country of Montana, operates on a different plane. Fully modern, armed with all the smart talk and flippant slang he needs to keep trailer park culture at bay, this quirky anti-James Fenimore Cooper NDN has his act together as he communicates with his bear clan spirit guide with all the playful familiarity of a family member.

John Zunski is a fine word smith, and a composer of beauty from the rough stuff of life.

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Now, I would like to welcome author John Zunski.  He's here to answer a few questions for us.  Thanks for being with us today, John.

Thank you for having me.  Nice to be here, Georgia

John, on Jodie Brownlee’s blog, Dr. Niamh Clune said that you have the ability to tune a word until it resonates. Please share with us how you achieve that. Does it come out like that the first time you transcribe it from your muse, or do you have to go back and add the special touches to your wording? 
Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost right word was like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. Do you consult a Thesaurus to find the exact word that will fit?

Remind me to thank Niamh for her kind words. The question reminds me of the old joke, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice… Practice… Practice… I wish words would slide out of the dictionary and fall into their proper place within an arrangement, but where’s the fun in that? I love the challenge of orchestration; I have a masochistic tendency to agonize over words and spend an inordinate amount of time searching for the right one(s). That’s the artist in me, if I tried to play guitar my fingers would get stuck in the strings, if I tried to paint, well, I can’t draw stick figures. But with words, there’s time and a delete key. If a word doesn’t resonate, it’s to the recycle bin. Do I consult a Thesaurus? You bet I do, I love thesauruses – when I bought my first one, I remembered thinking that I must be serious about the writing neurosis. For me, a correctly placed word resonates like a musician striking a perfect note. Musicians, writers, we’re all storytellers - whatever the discipline, I’m of the opinion that it’s an accomplishment to tell a story, it’s bliss to tell a story beautifully.

Well said.  Do you ever get writer’s block? If so, what is your method for overcoming it?

When I feel blocked up, experience tells me the story hasn’t percolated in my subconscious long enough. I’ve learned to give myself space and time. That doesn’t mean I don’t write, I simply switch gears, and work on a secondary project. Another idiosyncrasy is I don’t listen to the radio while driving. Instead, I entertain myself with details of whatever I’m working on. For me, my plots are often more engaging and I don’t have to endure commercials.

I'll have to keep that in mind next time I'm blocked.  

Stephen King, in his “Memoir of the Craft”, On Writing, says that writing is telepathy. Could you remark on that concept in regards to Shangri-La Trailer Park?

On Writing is my bible and I wholeheartedly subscribe to King’s theories, especially that of the archeological dig. Do I really believe that stories exist in the ether and it’s the writer’s job to transcribe them? No, I don’t, but it’s a neat metaphorical jujitsu trick. I’ve found that if I believe that I’m unearthing a preexisting story, it somehow frees my mind of the burden of creative responsibility. I don’t get wigged out thinking that I’m responsible for everything. I lie to myself and say that it already exists and I simply have to uncover the story. What a great way to quiet the nagging voice of self-doubt. That being said, the theory doesn’t absolve me from the responsibilities of research. In regard to Shangri-La Trailer Park, that meant learning about Blackfoot culture, diction, and legend. Every story I conjure, I immerse myself in a topic that I know nothing about and try to master it well enough to tell a convincing story.

Sounds like a lot of work goes into your novels.  In interviews at the beginning of your tour, you expressed a bit of anxiousness about how the detailed rape scene would be received. How has the feedback you’ve received so far affected that concern?

Actually, I haven’t had any negative feedback… yet. But, it’s very early in the game. I do think, the warning that I plastered in the blurb deters many who may find it a deal breaker. I don’t believe in placing a superfluous word in a sentence so why would I place an unnecessary scene in a story? The scene is designed to demonstrate the perpetrator’s psychotic tendencies and allow the reader to build anger and resentment towards him.
My major source of angst is alienating those who have read Cemetery Street and are expecting Shangri-La Trailer Park to be similar. That being said, they are similar in that both will test readers - Cemetery Street will try a reader’s heart; Shangri-La Trailer Park will try a reader’s mores. In the end, if a reader passes both tests, they will be rewarded with memorable stories.

I have a feeling your readers are going to follow your talent no matter what genre you choose to explore.   Thanks for being on with us today and wishing you much success in all your endeavors.

My pleasure, Georgia. On my blog, there's a button where you can listen to my last radio interview.  It was on Blog Talk.    http://www.johnzunski.wordpress.com/

We'll have to take a listen to that.  Folks, this is John's last stop on the  
In case you've missed some of the stops and would like to go back and read more about this fascinating artist, I'm including a list here of some great interviews he's had along the tour.  
11/14/11 Interview with John Zunski

11/16/11  John talks about his other book, Cemetery Street

11/19/11 Meet and Greet

11/20/11 Interview

11/24/11 Guest Post   John’s Theories about 2012