"Is a man who does what he must
but feels no pleasure, any less of
of a man than one who's happy?"
-John Patrick Shanley, Wild Mountain Thyme


Book Search


The Hippy Site

Rare Books

Seattle Book Fair


Once the scorn of serious publishers, self-publishing has blossomed into an industry accounting for over $1.2 billion in annual sales. With an increasing number of companies offering self-publishing services, and the added convenience of doing
it all online, the self-publisher is a growing force in the literary marketplace. Like e-books? Then there's a good chance you've read - or will read in the near future - a self-published title.

An Album of Jacques Drapeau's Paintings of Dinosaurs
by Jacques Drapeau
$13.00, 22 pp

Northwest artist Jacques Drapeau has an eye for the whimsical. A chemical engineer by trade, he is self-described as the boy who never grew up. As a child he was fascinated by trains and dinosaurs, a fascination he fortunately never lost. In 1994, at the age of 45, he began dabbling in paint, and has never looked back.

Drapeau's paintings in An Album of Jaques Drapeau's Paintings of Dinosaurs are the product of a wild imagination. Its pages contain twenty-two dino-themed reproductions depicting everyday situations. The cover art is a scene right out of Hometown, USA. Casually, a couple converses over cheeseburgers in a diner not unlike thousands of others scattered across North America, with a twist: Dinosaurs just oustside the window. The Juxtaposing of the unexpected with the everyday occurs throughout Dinosaurs. Do dinosaurs go to the vet? Do dinosaurs enter rodeos? Do T-rexs roller skate? Yes, yes, and YES. At least in Drapeau's world they do.

While Drapeau's scenarios would ordinarily spell certain doom for his human subjects, his vibrant use of color plays against the danger, producing in the observer a heightened acceptance of a fantastical reality where no permanent harm can come. He makes it safe for us to look. Like Wyle E. Coyote, no matter what threat the dinosaurs pose, we're certain Drapeau's humans will live to see another day; face another dinosaur; ride another barrel of TNT. They're cartoons in which all the characters are made of rubber.

As a painter, Drapeau's style is uniquely refreshing. Think: the drawings of Gary Larson's Farside comics crossed with Paul Gauguin's color palette, and you've got it. It's the perfect combination to bring his world of whimsy to life. A world full of danger, but safe. A world that's dark, but filled with color. A world, fortunately for us, he forgot to grow out of.

Mary, We Never Knew You
by James Ganong
K. Pillman Publishers, 1982
ISBN: 0-9608620-0-5
$6.50, 246 pp

To look at Mary, We Never Knew You, one wouldn't think it was self-published. It's done professionally with all the bells and whistles of standard publishing. It even has an ISBN. If not for my having been working in a bookstore in 1982 where I met the author as he was peddling his self-published accomplishment, I'd never have known K. Pillman was a phantom.

Private Dick
Told from the perspective of Clayton Fisher, a private eye who likes to yuck it up by handing out business cards with the pseudonym Sam Spade (the detective immortalized by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon) printed on them, Mary is a mystery spanning the west coast from San Francisco to Seattle. Fisher's a man's man with all the machismo of a bullfighter; a misogynist with all the charm of a bull. And chicks dig him.

      "[Seattle] is a city of water and hills, on the order of San Francisco, only with a northern bleakness and grayness that San Francisco could never tolerate . . ."

The crux of the story is: Mary goes off to school. Mary doesn't come home for Christmas. What's up with Mary? Roy Magruder (Mary's father) hires Fisher to find out. In Fisher's mind, it's a babysitting job, until he gets to Seattle and finds things radically askew. What follows is not so much a whodunnit, but a why'd they do it and with whom?, which Ganong gives us ample time (and indication) to figure out before we're midway through the book.

Ganong borrows a number of surefire elements to move the story along: sex; mistaken identity; sex; dumbass criminals; sex; identity theft; sex; he even deploys a body double. While they help, they don't make up for the author's failing to keep the crooks - or at least their crooked natures - hidden from the reader, and the novel suffers for it. Where is the element of surprise? As is, the story lacks that "Ah-ha!" moment, and the crooks come across with all the dimensional intrigue of cardboard cut-outs culled from a musty theater lobby.

Public Prick
While the process of telling a story in the first-person - particularly a detective story - is a tried and true method, 246 pages is a lot of time to spend inside the head of a bourbon-swigging chauvenistic prick like Fisher. Fortunately, Ganong is good enough at his craft to coax some occasional eloquence from his private eye, interjecting brief reprieves from the monotonous machismo without entirely corrupting the tone of the beast:

    Seattle stretches out along the cold uneven shores of Puget Sound, a city washed hard and clean by the rain, but not spotless and shining by it, with tall buildings rising in the mist to the north and shipyards and factories smoking on the plain and along the waterways to the south. It is a city of water and hills, on the order of San Francisco, only with a northern bleakness and grayness that San Francisco could never tolerate and a natural ruggedness and greenness that San Francisco could never have.
Though Mary may have its obvious failings, when it comes to Seattle's weather, Ganong nails it time and time again. From the mists that soak the city with nary a drop of rain, to the downpours that leave the streets scrubbed, empty and silent, he's spot on. He perfectly captures the spirit of the first sunny day after a long rain spell when the Emerald City's residents spill outdoors, unwitting accomplices in a mass resurrection event:
    There were people on the sidewalks walking at a leisurely pace, almost strolling - a lot of people . . . I looked up at the sky. All I saw was blue. The sun was shining . . . The air was so clear that you wanted to sing.

While Mary's not exactly a sunny tale, and has a few weaknesses, overall it's not bad. Some parts (dare I say) are even captivating. If you don't mind a mystery lacking in nuance and depth of character, you can't go wrong giving the novel a read-through some typically soggy Northwest day. But don't expect to find Mary; she remains as phantomlike as her story's publisher, no matter how many times it's re-read. Mary, we never knew you, and we never will.

posted 05/02/23