ABOUT THIS BLOG:

ABOUT THIS BLOG: Much like myself, this site has worn down with many of its features no longer functioning. If you have questions (or answers), feel free to contact me: @WillTinkhamfictionist (Facebook) or @willtink (Twitter). Thanks!

IF I LIE IN A COMBAT ZONE

IF I LIE IN A COMBAT ZONE

NOW AVAILABLE!!!

Ordered to inspect a suspected Viet Cong tunnel in November of 1968, Private Walt Whitman von Funck crawls inside and falls in love. And rips a hole in his foot. IF I LIE IN A COMBAT ZONE finds Zow spending eight months nursing him back to health, while her brother and grandfather conduct midnight raids and accumulate prisoners, including a general. ¶ During his convalescence, Walt and Zow wed; theirs is a love story that defies race, religion and military red tape. Upon his return to Chu Lai Air Base with his pregnant wife and six prisoners, Stars and Stripes declares Walt a hero. Awards follow. And plans for a Medal of Honor ceremony with President Nixon. ¶ Till a U.S. Army doctor declares the foot wound to be self-inflicted. ¶ Hailed, then jailed—repeatedly—Walt becomes a favorite of the anti-war crowd and a thorn in Nixon's side. Walt accepts offers to speak on college campuses. Protests involving gunfire and bombings become routine. It's almost as if they are targeting him.

About Me

Will Tinkham has published nine novels. IF I LIE IN A COMBAT ZONE follows FALLING DOWN UMBRELLA MAN, THE MIRACLES, THE CARY GRANT SANATORIUM AND PLAYHOUSE, THE GREAT AMERICAN SCRAPBOOK, THE ADVENTURES OF HANK FENN, BONUS MAN, NO HAPPIER STATE, and ALICE AND HER GRAND BELL. He lives and writes in Minneapolis, MN. His short fiction has been published on three continents and he long ago attended Bread Loaf on a scholarship. An actor of little renown, his credits do include the Guthrie Theater and Theatre in the Round. @WillTinkhamfictionist on Facebook, @willtink on Twitter

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Part VII: My Bread Loaf Experience 1982

 

(This is the final installment of my series on a hitchhiking trip from CA to VT and the Bread Loaf Writers' Workshop back in 1982. Chronicled here before I forget it entirely.)


Okay, I began Part VII of this series but soon realized I'd already written it. Back in 2011. My second post for this blog. It covers the conference itself. As far as the hitchhiking goes, aside from the two rides listed in this re-posted piece, the rest of the trip was uneventful. So I give you the final installment as I'd written it eleven years ago. 

Thanks!


Friday, January 21, 2011

On Meeting John Gardner

[Wikipedia: John Champlin Gardner, Jr. (July 21, 1933 – September 14, 1982) was an American novelist, essayist, literary critic and university professor. He is perhaps most noted for his novel GRENDEL, a retelling of the Beowulf myth from the monster's point of view.]

It was the spring of 1982 when I received a phone call from the Bread Loaf Writers' Workshop asking if I'd accept a scholarship to attend their conference that fall. The call itself was a shock and came just in time for me to escape a nasty roommate situation. They asked, would I be arriving by car, bus or plane?

"On foot," I replied. "I guess I'll be hitchhiking..." I lived in San Jose, CA. The conference is held in Middlebury, VT. I was in no hurry. I had little money, no place to live and plenty of time. It took two months. (If you hang around this blog long enough, I'll likely tell the hitchhiking story.)

Twenty-five young writers received "working scholarships" that year. The "working" was waiting tables, something I'd never done before. They asked for a volunteer to take the children's table in the corner; they said the few children that had been dragged by parents to the conference always sat at that table. This seemed about my speed. The first night the table was empty and I happily ran food and bussed tables. That night a rather drunken John Gardner was one of the opening night speakers. He addressed the crowd with a succinct: "If you're not writing politically, you're not writing shit!" and stomped out of the hall.

The next day's conversation obviously centered around Gardner's "speech." That night I was in the kitchen, helping out where I could, preparing for the dinner meal, when a fellow waitperson rushed into the kitchen. "Carolyn Forché and her people are at your table!" she screamed. I protested that it said "children only" right on the table. "Tim O'Brien's at your table!" another voice called out. That can't be, I demanded as the kitchen door opened and someone cried: "John Gardner and his entourage are at your table!"

The children's table had become the big shots table (along with jokes about it still being the children's table) but that was the least of my problems: John Gardner was my "reader" for the event and had left a note in my box—along with the stories I had submitted—to meet in a few days and discuss my work.

Arriving early for our meeting, I found a University of Minnesota wrestler named George seated on the very couch I was to meet Mr. Gardner at. "I have a meeting with John Gardner," George said. When Gardner arrived he apologized for the mix-up and asked George to return in twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, I thought. I hitchhike across country for an hour-long meeting with this guy and all the bastard gives me is twenty minutes. He took the stories from me—he'd made no notes on them—and proceeded to give me detailed critiques on each of the three. From memory.

He pointed to one story and said: "I bet you'd get some laughs if you read this one in front of a group." I explained that I had read it the night before at the scholarship winners reading and, yes, it got some laughs. "Sorry I missed it," he said, looking sufficiently contrite. He looked at his watch and I could see that my twenty minutes were up.

But there was no George in sight and, to keep things rolling, I said the first thing that came to mind: "So, what about the 'you're not writing shit' speech?"

"What's been the hot topic all week?" he asked.

"Your speech," I admitted.

"Exactly," he said, and still no George. After a pause, Gardner asked: "Where you from?" I said San Jose, then mentioned the two-month hitchhike. This seemed to impress him more than my writing. "How old are you?" he asked. I said twenty-five. "That's a good time to be published," he said and pointed to one of my stories: "Lop off the last line of this one and I'll publish it in my magazine, MSS." About then George arrived.

I got a ride to Wisconsin from a fellow waiter and a lift from Minneapolis to Wyoming for a friend's wedding. I was back in San Jose by September 15, when the paper ran the story about John Gardner and his motorcycle crashing over a cliff the day before.


Thursday, September 1, 2022

Part VI: New York City, Stamford and Boston

 

(Part VI of my series on a hitchhiking trip from CA to VT and the Bread Loaf Writers' Workshop back in 1982. Chronicled here before I forget it entirely.)


New York City was a blur of late nights and waking to 90 degree/90% humidity afternoons. I slept on Kevin's couch. He went by Kevin Calhoun at the time and had a band called The Neighborhood. I went to several of their practices during my week-long stay.





The Neighborhood had a gig the last night I was to be in town, so I was given a task of handing out free tickets for the show. As I recall, the band got $1 for every freebie used. I handed out hundreds as I walked the streets. For my efforts, I got free drink tickets.


One night while Kevin worked, I decided to splurge and take in a show at the Peppermint Lounge. The Undertones, I think, or maybe Split Enz. Easy to mix up 40 years later but, either way, it was sold out and I stopped into a bar next door. There was hardly anyone in the place, just a lovely, young woman and a drunk guy harassing her. She beseeched me to pretend to be her boyfriend. We kept the charade up till morning. đŸ˜±


Tim Carr, A&R guy and so much more, got us into Danceteria for free one night-to-morning. That was wild—and very hazy by now. I'd last seen Tim when he was caddymaster and gave me good loops back in 1975.


A good crowd showed up for The Neighborhood's gig. My effort with the freebies was appreciated. The band was great. I played roadie after the show, loading their gear onto a flatbed truck—no sides, just flat. I spent a terrifying ride back to their practice space trying to keep their gear—and myself—from sliding off while a crazed saxophone player drove like a maniac through whatever neighborhood we were in.


Next stop: a train station to meet a friend of my brother's, Jerry Parker. The drinking started at the station, continued on a train, and I remember waking up on the floor of a Stamford, CT motel. From there we drove to Boston to meet up with Jerry's boss and attend some sort of festival on the street. It turned out to be a contest between Jerry and his boss on who could spend the most money—and who could drink the most. I woke up the next morning on the boss's floor.


Jerry dropped me on a highway destined for Vermont, Boston at my back and NYC already a fuzzy memory. Ahead was a “working scholarship” at Bread Loaf—waiting tables—and finding out what John Gardner thought of my work. Gardner, eminent teacher and author of Grendel, had received three of my stories and we would have an hour-long meeting during the conference.




I waited on a highway that no one seemed to travel. We of the wait staff were required to be there a day early, checking in at 4pm. I began to fear I'd be late. Finally, a car pulled over. A traveling salesman, just beginning his vacation. His son had attended Middlebury College, where Bread Loaf was held. He had fond memories of fishing the streams in the mountains south of Middlebury with his boy. I had the unsuspecting man just where I wanted him.


If I got him waxing nostalgic about the boy and the fishing, I could get him to detour through the mountains and maybe I'd get to the college on time. I had him point out the location of their favorite spot on my map. What kinda fish ya catch? How old was your boy? Gee, that musta been great!


He fell for it. We took a nice ride through the mountains. He pointed out this stream and that cabin. “Heck,” he said finally. “We're not far from Middlebury now. I wouldn't mind taking another look at the campus.”


He knew exactly where I needed to go and dropped my there at 4 o'clock sharp. A fellow waitperson came down off the porch to help with my pack. “Nice of your dad to drive you here,” he said. “Where you from?”


“San Jose,” I said. “Not my dad. Just some stranger.”

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Part V: Nine-Hour Trip from Philly to NYC

 

(I prefaced Part I of this series by saying I may not get this done before the 40th anniversary of my hitchhiking trip from San Jose to Bread Loaf in Vermont, which I'm chronicling here. That anniversary has arrived. My last installment was over 16 months ago. Hey, I had a novel to write.)


Okay, now it gets weird. I'm on a roadway with no shoulder, behind me is a strip mall that seems to run all the way to New York City, across the road is a beautiful, hilly, wooded area. I'm in PA or NJ. Who knows, for sure? I'm standing on a sidewalk with my thumb out trying to get the attention of rush-hour traffic commuters who have nowhere to pull over even if they want to pick me up. I've been standing here for hours with my chances of making New York City by nightfall slipping away.


Behind me, I hear the crunching of tires stopping in a parking lot. A fat man's sweaty face shows in the driver side window. “Nowhere to pull over on this road,” he says. I don't know if he somehow saw me from a distance or passed me earlier and doubled back. I didn't much care.


“It's the only road I got,” I said, climbing in. He immediately starts in on his own hitchhiking story—they all got 'em—only his is different. He's twelve and a station wagon full of guys pick him up and ultimately gang rape him. He tells it vividly. They leave him in his shame and the next morning he's hitchhiking again and the same station wagon pulls over. They apologize and promise to not do it again. He accepts the ride and gets raped again. Fool me once...


Of course, I'm feeling pretty sorry for this poor sap, though his tales of subsequent therapy sessions grow tiresome. Suddenly he swings a left up into the picturesque hills. “I have to take a leak,” he says after I question the detour.


Now, short of jumping from a moving vehicle, I have no escape. He turns up a path and further back into the woods. He finally parks. I don't mind saying, I'm scared. “This is where the gays hang out,” he says and exits the car. There's a shack—outhouse—but he walks past it and out of sight. He's fat and, at 25, I'm still in pretty good shape, so I'm not too worried about him—unless he returns with others set on retribution for the gang rape twenty-some years earlier. I'm checking the door handles as he returns, having taken longer than one would to piss, though not long enough to establish any sort of romantic relationship back there. And, thankfully, alone.


That's his story. Here my memory fails, but somehow I end up on a ramp to nowhere overlooking the Holland Tunnel with the sun beginning to set.

 


What the hell're you doin' up here? Nobody gonna pick you up here!” a man calls out, pulling over to pick me up.


“You just did,” I say, throwing my pack in the backseat and climbing in.


Dismissing that, he asks: “Where you headed?”


I point to the NYC skyline and say: “There. Specifically St. Mark's Place.” I mention the name of the restaurant my friend Kevin Hazlett works at.

                                                    © photo by Paul Wright This is Saint Marks Place as it looked in November 1982.

He puts it in gear. “I'm gonna take you to Staten Island,” he says. I protest. He goes on: “I'm gonna drop you at a bus stop that goes directly to the Ferry, which is free going into the city. Get off the Ferry and there's a subway station right there. Take the subway to Sheridan Station, walk up the steps and you'll see your buddy's bar right across the street.”


Again, jumping from a moving vehicle is not an option. The fellow drives like a madman to Staten Island, telling me all the way about the two women he was with the night before, how much coke they did, how much liquor they drank, and how much sex—and at what angles—they enjoyed.


He was wrong about the bus and I had no change. Driver drops me at a stop with a bodega for change and the correct bus heading for the Staten Island Ferry. I enjoy a nice boat ride, get off and buy a token, next train's mine. I jump off at Sheridan Station, walk up to the street and before I can sit at a sidewalk table, Kevin is out the door with a Beck's Beer on his tray.


“How was your trip?” he asks.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Two things

 YouTube vidy of my reading a couple weeks back at Magers & Quinn:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV-J00OamnU


And, Amazon's got a relatively new feature for a series that is much nicer than their Author Page:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09FFDLBRD





Saturday, August 7, 2021

On Ethna McKiernan

Last night I attended a book launch for my friend Ethna McKiernan's latest poetry collection. It was much more than that.




I met Ethna back in 1989 when Jeff the Cabby decided we should meet. Turned out we were both in the same issue of a magazine that'd just come out. I was immediately intimidated by Ethna's success. We hit it off anyway, and she invited me to join a writing group she headed up. The group met often at Irish Books & Media, which she owned. I suppose that wonderful thing lasted 4-5 years before my drinking made me uncomfortable in the mostly-sober group and I walked away.


A pandemic-era stage had been built outside Celtic Junction and last night I watched Ethna slip from a wheelchair onto a regular chair during a very nice reception that preceded the reading portion of event. For my part it mostly involved watching a photoshoot of the McKiernan family and seizing an opportunity to run up and say hi to my friend.


I quit drinking in 2006 and finished my first novel—started and workshopped in that writing group back in the early '90s. I reconnected with Ethna. She consented—offered?—to read the manuscript. I remember her telling me it would be an “important book.” Can't be right all the time... She invited me back into the group. Shipping costs, she said, had forced her to give up her business. She would soon begin doing outreach for the homeless—checking camps and underpasses to make sure her clients were safe.


Four poet friends of Ethna's joined her on stage and read a couple of poems apiece from her new book, Light Rolling Slowly Backwards.


In May, I had nearly finished my ninth novel. It's heavy on Walt Whitman and—needing a poet's eye to see if I'd done it right—I asked Ethna if she would read it. She graciously agreed and, forty pages later, emailed me back with mostly positive thoughts, some negatives, and an apology for not being quicker to respond: “I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in November so my energy ebbs and wanes.”



They brought out a music stand and adjusted the microphone so Ethna could read. She read six or seven poems, a little shaky, though very emotional—and felt by all.



Yes, more than a book launch. A celebration of a life that still leaves me intimidated. A celebration of a friend.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

If I Lie in a Combat Zone

 

September 22, 7pm at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, Uptown Minneapolis:

reading/launch of If I Lie in a Combat Zone, a novel by Will Tinkham



It goes like this:


Ordered to inspect a suspected Viet Cong tunnel in November of 1968, Private Walt Whitman von Funck crawls inside and falls in love. And tears a hole in his foot. Zow spends eight months nursing him back to health, while her brother and grandfather conduct midnight raids and accumulate prisoners, including a general.


During his convalescence, Walt and Zow wed; theirs is a love story that defies race, religion and bureaucratic red tape. Upon his return to Chu Lai Air Base with his pregnant wife and six prisoners, Stars and Stripes declares Walt a hero.

Till a U.S. Army doctor declares the foot wound self-inflicted.


Hailed, then jailed—repeatedly—Walt becomes a favorite of the anti-war crowd and a thorn in the side of President Nixon. Walt accepts offers to speak on college campuses. Protests involving gunfire and bombings become routine. It's almost as if they are targeting him.


Far from just another love story, If I Lie in a Combat Zone provides a fictional glimpse into child-actor Brandon deWilde's (“Come back, Shane!”) portrayal of Walt on Broadway, soldier-songwriter John Prine testing out tunes for Walt and Zow on a flight home from Germany, Joe Biden's first Senate run and Donald Trump's initial venture into housing discrimination.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Part IV: Chicago & Philadelphia via Green Bay

 

(Part IV of my series on a hitchhiking trip from CA to VT and the Bread Loaf Writers' Workshop back in 1982. Chronicled here before I forget it entirely.)


Don't recall many specifics about my stay in Minneapolis—just another trip back home. I did run in an old friend, John Hazlett, who mentioned that his brother Kevin was living in New York City. He sets things up so that I could spend a week on Kevin's couch. This was significant since I had a place to stay near Chicago and a place to stay in Stamford, CT, which would be my last stop before reaching Bread Loaf. A week in NY made my schedule complete.

While home, there was a letter from Bread Loaf informing me that my first two choices to read my work, John Irving and Erica Jong, had to cancel. (Irving had to shoot the Garp movie.) I opted for John Gardner or Tim O'Brien, who I had been reading on the trip.

I made Chicago in less time than you could drive it as every ride happened before I could even set my pack down, none of the drivers stopped for gas or food, and next thing I knew I was in Glen Ellyn—a suburb right on the train tracks where Din Din had relatives who had stayed with us in San Jose.

I stayed with them over the weekend. Took the train into Chicago on Saturday, wandered around and was surprised to find a massive beach. Of course I knew the city was on Lake Michigan but I just didn't associate Chicago with beaches. There, I sat in the sand near a lovely young woman in a remarkably skimpy bikini. In time, I mustered up the courage to speak with her.

I asked her a stupid question as to the whereabouts of a street that turned out to be the very one I'd crossed to get there. She pointed out her boyfriend, shamelessly flirting with another woman at the water's edge. My new friend claimed to be a model and a fledgling actress, and offered to show me around town—to get even with her boyfriend, no doubt.

As we prepared to sneak away, the boyfriend returned, nixing that plan. I wandered aimless about town and took the 6:00 train rather than the one at midnight.

Monday morning, the woman of the house had to go into Chicago and offered me a ride. A bit unnerved by the rush-hour traffic, she ended up dumping me smack in the middle of a snarl of highways—forcing me to make a dash for the nearest ramp and legal hitchhiking ground.

A car pulled in front of me. “We gotta get you off this road, bub,” the guy said as I climbed in. “Cop just pulled someone over back there and you'd be next.”

I thanked him for looking out for me, and he left me at the top of a ramp. A more legal place to be—or so I thought. Some time passed before a police car pulled over. “You gotta be thirty feet off the road's shoulder,” the cop said.

I peered down into the ditch—some twenty feet deep—at the ramp's edge. “Nobody'll see me down there,” I said. He said he'd be back in a half-hour and I better be gone. I wasn't.

Upon his return, he pointed down the highway. “There's an oasis about a mile down the road,” he lied. Five miles, easy. Maybe closer to ten. I had to ask directions several times. I recall climbing a fence and wading through a small stream.

Finally the oasis came in sight: a huge truck stop with restaurants and always a Howard Johnson. While sizing up the trucks parked there as possible rides, I spotted a guy exiting the Howard Johnson restaurant and walking toward me. “How far are you goin'?” he asked.

New York City,” I said.

He stopped in his tracks. “Oh, sorry,” he said and turned back.

How far are you goin'?” I called after him.

Atlantic City,” he replied. I kid you not.

I think we can work something out,” I said, picking up my pack and following him to his car. He was from Green Bay and wanted to spend his 21st birthday gambling in Atlantic City. Alone. His first trip out of Green Bay. Good luck...

Most people picking up hitchhikers are looking for someone to talk to or someone to listen to. Not this guy. Not Green Bay. I started out telling him about my run-in with the cop and my trek to the oasis. Didn't even get a smile or a shake of the head. I told him of the guy with the machete and the limo ride. T thought playing poker on a Nevada highway might spark a gambling conversation. Nothing. Green Bay never said a word that didn't pertain to the business at hand. I guess I must've driven some, we never stopped except for gas.

Liberty Bell - Wikipedia

Somewhere in Pennsylvania, Green Bay declared: “I want to see the Liberty Bell.” He had maps and guidebooks and I tried to navigate us there. At least we were talking. But we never found it. Drove round and round Philadelphia but couldn't find the damn bell. He was dejected but I had to tell him I really needed to reach New York before it got dark.

Green Bay had no business alone in Atlantic City. I could only hope—for his sake—that he couldn't find a casino either and turned back for home.

Next up: My Nine Hour Trip from Philly to NYC