Category Archives: DAVID LESTER ART

Normal History Vol. 332: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

“How many folks here have been engaged in social change work and have experienced either themselves or other people burn out? Holy, a lot of people.” – Harsha Walia, from the video “Connecting The Heart And Mind”

“Nobody’s Asking” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 331: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

To fine tune the query letter (see this), I posted it in a query critique forum online. I’d used the same method for my previous novel, Obliterating History—a guitar-making mystery, domination & submission in a small town garage back in 2011 and found it to be useful (and a bit painful). The very first comment I got on Obliterating History was from a guy named Pete who informed me that the Martin guitar company doesn’t make an electric guitar (“mansplaining” was selected for the New York Times‍ ’​ 2010 word of the year list). I informed Pete that Martin did, at one time, make an electric guitar. I was polite, but firm. I didn’t want to apologize or make it all fluffy—”Oh gee, sorry Pete, but I think they may have, but I could be mistaken”—to avoid any backlash for telling Pete he was wrong. W-R-O-N-G. If Pete wanted to tell me straight out that Martin didn’t make an electric guitar, then I, as a woman and a musician and a Martin guitar owner who has since visited the factory in Nazareth, Pa., was going to simply say, “Martin did, for a few years in the 1960s, make electric hollow-body guitars.” I included a video of the guitar, but I think that set the tone of the thread. Pete was fine with it, but I think I got the rep then-and-there for being an upstart noob unable to bow to the wisdom of the forum regulars.

Later I got some other guy telling me my title was “disagreeable.” He said, “I don’t think it reads right, in fact, I’m not sure if it makes grammatical sense.” I told him I found it most agreeable and thanked him for his comment. A woman (who writes books with large sailing vessels on the cover that get reviewed on sites like Historical Naval Fiction and HeaveHo.com) took up the cause.

“Jean, if something isn’t agreeable to multiple readers, it doesn’t matter if it’s agreeable to the writer. Agents, like us, are your readers.”

Oh dear, thought I. On so many levels, I am not on the same page as these folks (mostly writers of genres I don’t read: thrillers, romance, sci-fi, etc.). I thanked her for her comment (one of her books is actually called The Fortune—can you think of anything more boring and less Googlable?), but as I continued to thank people for their negative observations (mostly about the title), I was just fanning the flames.

Another woman (with a haircut I could none-too-easily take advice from) said, “I’m afraid I agree with the others about your title. It needs to be reworded to make sense, although I’m not sure you could ever connect all three of these things into a coherent whole.”

Who knows? Maybe a publisher will want the title changed, but I think the hubbub was more about the title’s meaning than the actual length of the thing (please insert your own dirty idiom here).

Anyway, that was back in 2011, and in 2014, I was inordinately happy to post the news that I had signed with an agent using that title and basically the query that people said would never work. No one commented on that news, but that post did get me into a secret society, one where agented authors wring their hands, announce their successes and compare notes, but I can’t say as I find it any more comforting or useful than dodging shrapnel out in the public forums.

The book is still “out on submission” (I think that’s the term) to publishers.

“Current Of Agreement” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 330: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

Here’s the query I mentioned previously.

Understanding that you represent literary fiction, I hope you will consider Holding Up The Falling Snake Sky (complete at 94,800 words).

Art museum curator Nadine MacHilltop doesn’t like Martin Lewis, but she loves his bold, political paintings. When Martin reveals that he’s a narcissist, Nadine’s controlling nature kicks in big time. Having grown up with a narcissistic father, Nadine understands the risks of befriending Martin. She’s committed to keeping her distance while she organizes a solo exhibition for him, but Martin isn’t easy to control.

While visiting Martin’s island studio to select paintings for the exhibition, Nadine meets Martin’s eccentric psychologist, who she impresses with her uncanny ability to interpret abstract paintings. Nadine is convinced that she has discovered the cure for narcissism, even though it is widely regarded as an incurable personality disorder. In her blind rush to claim notoriety, Nadine’s focus shifts from Martin’s paintings to the talk on narcissism she intends to give at the art opening.

When an invitation to the opening is inadvertently sent to a group of environmental activists, they see an opportunity to protest a coal mine threatening to pollute local shellfish beds that supply oysters to Japan. The activists make a video using photographs of Martin’s paintings and post it on a Tokyo TV station’s website. After the video goes viral, a team of Japanese journalists flies to Vancouver to find the enigmatic painter. The journalists burst through the door of the museum, interrupting Nadine’s searing portrayal of Martin as a selfish man who lacks empathy, leaving the audience wondering if Martin is a heroic political artist or the evil manipulator Nadine describes.

“Ribbon” from Flood Plain (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 329: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

I recently changed the title of The Black Dot Museum Of Political Art to Holding Up The Falling Snake Sky and wrote a new query for it. A query is a very specific piece of work that you send a literary agent who then, ideally reads and loves the book, signs you up and tries to sell the book to a publisher. Publishers don’t typically want to hear from authors, so the agent is required. The agent contacts various editors who work for the publishers. The editor reads the book and reports back to the agent.

Four of the songs on the most recent Mecca Normal album, Empathy For The Evil (M’lady’s Records, 2014), are directly out of Holding Up The Falling Snake Sky.

“Odele’s Bath”: Martin’s mother grew up poor on a farm in New Brunswick.

“Maisy’s Death”: Odele’s mother’s life as a farmer’s wife and a painter.

“Art Was The Great Leveler”: how Nadine’s parents got together.

“Normal”: Nadine’s brother would have preferred that their family was normal.

“One More Safe” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 328: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

In the middle of June, David and I went to a Lt. Frank Dickens and Gretchen Snakes show in a small cinder-block room in an industrial part of Vancouver. I walked to Dave’s, and we took the bus from there. While we were waiting for the bus, two guys around our age recognized us.

“Hey, weren’t you in a band?” the one guy said.

“We’re still in a band!” I said. “Mecca Normal.”

The one guy said, “I moved here in 1986.”

I said, “That’s the year we released our first album.”

I was looking at them trying to think how they’d have looked back then. I didn’t recognize them at all. I was wondering what show they might have seen, wondering if that was the last they’d heard of us: some random show in the ’80s.

“More More More” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 327: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

[continued from last week]

An excerpt from Holding Up the Falling Snake Sky, a novel (literary fiction) by Jean Smith

In what she told Griffin was “a stroke of unmedicated genius that Einstein himself would be proud of,” Odele had stretched garden netting wall-to-wall across the ceiling and cleverly slid all her mother’s snake paintings under it, facing down. Griffin wasn’t sure that having paintings on the ceiling was such great an idea until Odele admonished him for never having heard of the Sisdean Chapel.

“It’s dead classy, Griffin. Which is maybe why you don’t know about it!” she’d said caustically, hands on hips. Griffin had shrugged and wandered off recalling the only piece of advice his father had given him on marriage. Pick your battles, son. Pick your friggin’ battles.

His vision nearly always blurry with tears, Martin’s brain created a watery writhing as his eyes darted fearfully from snake-to-snake. Crying on his back with his arms flailing, he exhausted himself holding up the falling snake sky with his pudgy splayed fingers.

Fearful in his baby-mind that they’d close his drawer to stop his crying, he was terrified that there would be snakes there too. The idea of being inside the dresser, knowing the snakes were above him and not being able to see them, left him in a frantic state, a muddy-purple conundrum of needing to see the snakes he never wanted to see.

“Narrow” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 326: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

An excerpt from Holding Up the Falling Snake Sky, a novel (literary fiction) by Jean Smith

Martin Lewis was born in 1956 when his mother Odele was 34 years old. Continuing part time at the drug store, Odele left her husband Griffin to look after the baby, to change diapers and put him down for his naps in the top drawer of a pine dresser in the living room, and when Martin cried, Griffin carried him the four blocks to the drug store, holding the squalling mass away from his body, like a bowl of soup or something else he didn’t want to get all over his vest. Odele took the baby into the storeroom and gave him his bottle, but neither formula nor her attention stopped the crying. Where once there was the sound of Odele’s laughter alternating with the squeak of the greeting-card rack, there was now a baby wailing well beyond what anyone considered normal. Customers frowned and looked over the tops of their glasses to tsk-tsk the inappropriate nature of the Lewis’ arrangement. To them, it almost went without saying that the combination of a working mother and a father so obviously inept at childrearing were the root of child’s distress.

The couple consulted Dr. Spock’s Common Sense Book Of Baby And Child Care and heeded advice to not pick Martin up every time he cried. They left him to stew in the top drawer of the dresser, squirming so intensely that Odele feared he’d manage to wiggle out and land on the floor. Griffin tried to appease her by moving the baby down to the third drawer, claiming he was “as snug as a bug in a drawer,” which irritated Odele.

[to be continued]

“Fan Of Sparks” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 325: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

An excerpt from Holding Up the Falling Snake Sky, a novel (literary fiction) by Jean Smith

Nadine was reminded of Trevor’s incessant jealousy, always thinking some guy on the street was looking at her. The first time it happened, she felt flattered. She knew she shouldn’t, but she did. It had been a long time since men paid attention to her in the street—she was in her 50s for god’s sake. She was happy with how she looked, and actually, it was a relief to not have random men saying stupid things to her. Smile baby.

Nadine got a tremendous amount of satisfaction in striding down the street without being taunted by men. She was an observer, comfortable in her own skin, looking directly at men without them reacting to her. They were looking elsewhere—for women they could more easily intimidate. No more whistling from construction sites where men were basically donkeys lugging stuff around in the rain. They needed to make someone else feel shittier than they did, so they picked on women passing by, calling out clichés to diminish, frighten and anger them. The men themselves were safe behind scaffolding or on the other side of a muddy hole in the ground—cowards. Bus drivers, mailmen and storekeepers didn’t whistle and say nice ass to her, but give a guy a hard hat, a nail gun and something to hide behind and they’d be spouting the same crap. “The big secret about men,”thought Nadine, “is that they are mostly cowards who can’t navigate their way through anything important or difficult without resorting to lying and manipulating.”

“Armchairs Fit Through Doorways” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 324: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

An excerpt from Holding Up the Falling Snake Sky, a novel (literary fiction) by Jean Smith

The word “claustrophobic” felt like the tide coming in at Tin Can Beach on the Bay of Fundy where, as a boy, he’d built barricades out of old tires, chunks of cement, waterlogged plywood covered in frayed fiberglass and anything else he could haul into position to try and halt the slow-but-steady rise of the world’s highest tides. By the time he was old enough to disappear for the day, he’d walk the 20 minutes from his family’s small, second-storey apartment in a dilapidated tenement building on Coburg Street in Saint John, straight down Charlotte and across the vacant land where locals dumped broken furniture and yard trimmings punctuated with the odd box of old magazines and newspapers.

On one occasion, while Martin was dragging a tattered blue tarp into place, he saw an eel measuring about a foot-and-a-half swimming anxiously along the perimeter of his barricade, no doubt looking for a crevice to squeeze into. Martin spontaneously looked up, as if the eel was a reflection of something above him. The seamless blue sky and the idea of the eel being able to swim over the top of his construction as soon as the water was high enough triggered Martin’s claustrophobia. He felt every drop of the world’s water rushing in his direction while the eel twisted aggressively, popping its snake-like head out of the water to assess both Martin and the obstacle. In Martin’s mind, the snake fish was after him and on the wide open beach, everywhere was too far for him to run. As the water rose up towards his ankles he couldn’t do anything to stop the eel.

Wrenching a chunk of cement out of the barricade he stumbled backwards, landing hard on his right side. The side with the limp. He hated it when his mother referred to it as your limp or his limp.

Martin can’t participate in PE today because of his limp—she’d print on the back of a piece of cardboard she’d torn off the top of a corn flake box or whatever was handy, sending him off to school before he could find the words to say that a limp was a symptom and not an actual…

He jumped up, grabbed the chunk of cement and positioned himself on a half-sunk truck tire to wait for the eel to get close enough for him to drop the chunk of cement on it. To crush it. He stood motionlessly until his thin, freckled arms began to tremble. The wind whipped his overly-long, mid-summer hair into his eyes. In his peripheral vision, the long blades of grass that lined the shore hissed as they slithered together—they themselves were not so far from the snake-shape that loomed nearby, defying him. Killing the eel was the only solution, but the eel was long gone.

“This Is Different” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

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Normal History Vol. 323: The Art Of David Lester

Every Saturday, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 31-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

[continued from last week]

Martin pushed back the sleeve of his rain jacket and looked at his watch—9:40 a.m. “Mike’s probably jealous because I’m submitting a painting to a museum,” Martin thought, trying to recall if he’d even asked Mike about his painting. Maybe that was it. He hadn’t played the game properly. He’d forgotten to ask Val about the garden and Mike about his painting. “Damn!” thought Martin. “I’ll call him later, ask him about his painting and let him know I’ll be on the 7:30 p.m. ferry. What’s he going to do? Say no?” Martin chuckled, happy to have solved the problem. Mike can deal with Val. She’s his wife. Maybe there’ll be leftovers.

“Horse Heaven Hills” from Jarred Up (K, 1993) (download):

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