Thursday, November 19, 2015

Marlon L. Fick's "THE NOWHERE MAN" He's a real Nowhere Man/ Sitting in his Nowhere Land/ Making all his Nowhere plans for nobody . . .

Christal Cooper

Marlon L Fick’s The Nowhere Man

He's a real nowhere man
Sitting in his nowhere land
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody

Excerpt from The Nowhere Man
Written by John Lennon
Performed by The Beatles

       The Nowhere Man follows the life and travels of an American novelist, Bolivar Collins, from his youth to adulthood through the later half of the 20th Century, a time of war and political turmoil.  Socially awkward and introverted, Collins looks for answers in books of philosophy, trying to understand the chaos around him and the chaos he feels.  When he cannot find explanations for the mysteries of human behavior, human sexuality, love, war, etc., he attempts to apply philosophical explanations, which in turn results in black irony.  Rapid changes in settings -= from the Untied States, to France and Spain, then to Gabon, the Congo, and Zaire, then to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Mexico – echo Collin’s own evolution, while eternal forces beyond his control place him directly in the path of history:  the man, who began as a bookish adolescent, is compelled to participate in the Nicaraguan Civil War, presumably, as “a spy.”  Caught between allegiances – the Untied States vs. his family, now Cuban – Collins becomes a fugitive, wanted by the FBI and CIA.

This past fall of 2015 Jaded Ibis Productions published Marlon L Fick’s novel The Nowhere Man.

Fick has written four other books: the short story collection Histerias Minimas by Fuentes Mortera: Mexico City, 2000.

Poetry collection El nino de Safo by Fuentes Mortera:  Mexico City, 1999;

Selected Poems by Fuentes Mortera: Mexico City, 2000

Poetry Collection The River Is Wide: Twenty Mexican Poets, by Albuquerque: UNM Press, 2005

        Fick, who was living part time in Kansas City, Kansas, started the historical and philosophical novel The Nowhere Man in 2005, after he was awarded the National Endowment of the Arts for his poetry. 

       “I finished the poetry project before the NEA money came, so I decided to try my hand at the novel form.”
       The next five months he wrote with pen and notebook at his desk from 9 a.m. until 10 to 11 p.m. at night in the quietest of environments, where not even a mouse is allowed to squeak, and only took breaks to drink coffee and nibble at sandwiches his wife would place at his desk, sometimes not noticing the sandwich until hours later.

       So, with this book and with the other books too, I have generally lost a lot of weight due to writing. I lose myself and forget to eat.  I wrote approximately 700 pages in the first five months. My wife was so frustrated that she went down to our house in Mexico City to get away from my writing (for about three months).  With first drafts, it’s a race with memory, right? You have to remember what you wrote on page 15 when you’re writing page 150.”

       The Nowhere Man’s main character Bolivar Collins is on a journey to find answers to every aspect of his life:  sexual, political, philosophical, and spiritual.  In the process, Collins, similar to Sophia in Jostein Gaarder’s Sophia’s World, considers all forms of philosophy and settles on Cuban politics, but still, in the end, finds that his most faithful companion is the muse within him – the writer.

“The initial idea had something to do with where the novel starts—during the end of the sexual revolution, my own awkwardness at that time and my propensity to live in books more than in the world. As Stevens said, “the problem with my life is that it has been more about places than people.” The same is probably true for me.

However, I was aware, even in the 70s, of horrible things going on in places like El Salvador.  In later drafts, I began to use the places I know firsthand as a template for settings.  Hence the Congo, Cuba, etc….”

       Fick had a group of 12 readers read the first draft:  eleven readers loved the manuscript, but one reader detested it. Unfortunately, Fick listened to the one reader over the eleven readers, and left the novel untouched on his desk for two years, which was enough time for the wounds from the harsh critic to heal and he wrote more drafts. 

       After writing three drafts by 2009, he met a Cuban writer who had an inside knowledge about Castro the man and about Cuba’s role in Nicaragua.

“As a result of knowing her (in Mexico City) I re-drafted the novel two more times and ran it by her to check it. I wanted Castro to be utterly believable.”

He sent it out to Jaded Ibis Productions, founded by publisher Debra Di Blasi.  Di Blasi got in touch with him in December of 2011 to accept The Nowhere Man.  

And it was Di Blasi’s idea to have two editions of The Nowhere Man – the black and white edition that is not illustrated, and the color edition that is illustrated by Cuban-American artist Christian Duran.
       “Christian and I have never met.  We have talked on the phone quite a bit. He asked a lot of questions, concrete kinds of questions—like what specifically does the dog’s breed look like.” 

       The Nowhere Man is considered a fiction novel but at least half of it is based on fact, and Fick and Bolivar Collins share some of the same experiences. 

“I think most novels are concomitants of things that happen to us or to someone we know. They’re reconfigurations.  Castro and Ortega are real people, of course. The political turmoil was real.

There are places where I did weave myself into all that in a fictional way.   Fact—About half the time I was making fun of my younger self. I feel like I lost an entire decade (ie the 80s zoomed by) when I had my nose in books by Kant and Hegel and Heidegger.” 

Like Bolivar Collins, Fick was also a deep thinker – and he started writing by the age of 6, which he attributes to the books his mother and father would read to him as a child.

“Instead of regular kid books, they’d read poems by Langston Hughes, Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost.  I sensed the words were physical from the beginning. It felt like a great dance going on in my head—hey, bop/ re-bop/ mop/ yeah!”

       After he received his B.A. in Philosophy from Kansas University he entered the Peace Corps and taught in West Africa.   He also received his MA in Poetics from New York University, and his Ph.D. in English from the University of Kansas.

In 1997, at the invitation of Octavio Paz, he moved to Mexico City, Mexico where he maintains a home there today with his wife the Spanish painter Paquita Esteve.

 He also lived in China, but presently lives in Arizona where he is the Associate Professor of English at Navajo Technical University.

He is presently writing the sequel to The Nowhere Man, titled Rhapsody in a Circle. 

“Marie Ella is based on an actual person I knew in West Africa. The real Marie and I were never married; in fact, she was a fellow teacher working at the same school. I found her mysterious though, and the physical descriptions are much like the real Marie. She did not have any ties to Mbutu in Zaire whatsoever.”

Marie Ella and I are spending the weekend at the beach.  It’s good to be out of the jungle for a while.  I am sitting on a fallen okoume tree on a beach this afternoon reading Portnoy’s Conplaint under some palm trees that lean at sharp angles west over the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s an overcast July day and Marie Ella has gone shopping in Old Akene.  I get no more than a few pages and can’t remember what I’ve just read.  But I remember remembering:  tall, undernourished Marie Ella turning, walking slowly, gracefully in that ancient African way, slow and as graceful as a black, elegant wasp trailing its long legs through the air, as if to say my people have been here for thousands of years, what we have known we have known for thousands of years, and this has taught us no to be in a hurry.
I thought about how beautiful she looked sleeping.  Her skin is so dark that she disappears on a moonless summer night more quickly than my whiteness, but in the tiny burst of a match to light the kerosene, her limbs shine like Japanese lacquer. . . mon petit chou, porquoi tu ne peux pas dormer, viens tu mes bras. . . the pink underside of her hands, pink of her inner lips, such a whiteness in her teeth.  She wore a small gold cross around her neck.  At night, she took off her large man-framed, thick glasses and her eyes suddenly shrunk back to a normal proportion. 
The drums and ululations began around dusk somewhere past the beaches reserved for the half-naked French women. When Marie Ella returned from Old Akebe, she brought tortoise ova, built a fire beside a beached okoume log, wrapped the ova in tinfoil, and buried them in the coals to broil. As the fire licked its way further into the side of the tree, we took off our clothes and went swimming. The water here is body temperature, womb temperature, and we wrapped our legs and arms together like a couple of male and female twins. I did not want to leave the water, ever. I remember knowing the world has not heard from me for so long, the world has forgotten me as if it had ever known me or ever would.
Pages 81-82

“The CIA did contact me, however, and they did in fact ask me to “listen” for them. I told them to go to hell.  All this was just prior to the civil war in Zaire—at a cost of 2 million lives.  It is also true that I was very ill and had to be medevac’d out of the jungle.”

Eventually I got out of the water.  As usual my footprints disappeared behind me in the waves.  I was taken, seized from Africa by invisible claws and quickly condemned to spending much of my life longing to return.  After several months of dysentery and malaria, a pontoon plane landed on the Ogoue, down river from my village where the river was wide enough for the landing.  The elder and his oldest son paddled me down to the plane.  In my delirium, sweat, bloody shorts, I mediated a heated argument between a group of rabbits and porcupines.  The rabbits argued that they were more delicious in peanut sauce and red pepper than the porcupines, and the porcupines were about to throw their quills when I assured them both:  they were both equally delicious, and arguing that it was precisely because our lives are so short that they should stop to consider how best to lead these lives, as all of us would soon be simmering in a cooking pot, like me. I’m simmering in a cooking pot and brokering a peace between animals and still I don’t know its malaria and bloody dysentery.  The next solid thing I knew, from the shared world of common reference, was of being in a hospital in Paris. 
Pages 82-82

The most compelling excerpt to write was when the main character Bolivar Collins is wounded during the attack on Corinto. 
“When I wrote this, I had not personally experienced war, so I did quite a bit of research, talking to vets, talking to active soldiers, Nicaraguan refugees…” 

       I leaned Zapata’s gun against the stone.  Exhausted, I took off my boots and my socks.  In one of my socks I dropped in three bullets for good luck, one for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Amen.  I tied the sock, tied the boots together, and rested my head on the boots.  I don’t know how long I was asleep.  Gunfire and bright flashes from flares awakened me.  I slid my ammunition sock into my left pocket and slipped on my boots.  Then I peered out at the city around me.
       A third of the houses and buildings were demolished by bombs.  I could also see American made tanks perched on the hills on three corners surrounding the town.  There was a sudden scream of air, a sound I remembered from Africa, fighter jets swooping down to strafe the city.  They were F16s and they left vapor trails as they shot back out of their dives and tilted east into the sun, toward their aircraft carrier somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.  I thought about food and wanted to sleep and maybe I prayed.  If I did, the prayer was interrupted.
       The helicopter hovered so close that I could see the pilot.  He looked more like a fly than a man.  With bulbous black sunglasses, I took him for a fly.  I didn’t think.  I just aimed and fired.  Through my sites I saw his head fling backward and now the co-pilot fumbling for control.  The Apache spun around the way maple leaf wings twirl and fall.  It crashed into the gazebo, exploding and sending large pieces of metal and mushrooms of fire into the Tule trees in the town’s square.
       Then over the hills that surround Zelaya, I counted three more helicopters on the horizon.  They drew my attention away from the tank on the northeast corner of the plaza and the Contras taking up positions along the pillars of the tower’s center and arcade.  More helicopters – Apaches.  You think of the strangest things.  I accidentally stirred up a family of red hornets in a sand box on the family farm.  I was about Sophia’s age . . . I was dragging a toy tractor and plough through the sand, getting the sand, the earth, ready for the winter freeze.  After several direct hits, my grandmother brought out a gallon of red diesel to douse the sand box.  Then she drove me to the hospital.
       In a few seconds that seemed like forever in a memory, another one hovered.  It only occurred to me later that the fly was a man, the fly and his crew were men . . . maybe from Kansas or Missouri.  In my dreams I jumped out of the tower before the tank shell or whatever it was blew the town apart, and I landed hard against the flagstone tile roof between the weeds that were growing there and rolled head over feet off the cathedral until the bones in my body crashed some fifty feet below.  
Pages 165 and 166

Photograph Description and Copyright Information

Marlon Fick
Copyright granted by Marlon Fick

Photo 2
The Nowhere Man – illustrated edition with Christian Duran
The Nowhere Man – black white edition

Photo 3
John Lennon’s handwriting of The Nowhere Man
Public Domain

Photo 4
Illustration from Page 16 of The Nowhere Man
Attributed to Christian Duran
Copyright granted by Christian Duran and Marlon Fick

Photo 5
Jaded Ibis Productions web logo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 6
Jacket cover of Histerias Minimas

Photo 7
Jacket cover of El nino de Safo

Photo 8
Jacket cover of Selected Poems

Photo 9
Jacket cover of The River Is Wide: Twenty Mexican Poets

Photo 10
Marlon L Fick trout fishing in Tetons Wyoming.
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick

Photo 11
Laura Chavez Fick, Pythia, and Marlon
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick

Photo 12
Laura Chavez Fick and Marlon loading the camper
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick

Photo 13.
Jostein Gaardner
Attributed to GAD
GNU Free Documentation License Version 1.2

Photo 14
Jacket cover of Sophie’s World

Photo 15
Wallace Stevens
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 16
A billboard serving as a reminder of one of many massacres that occurred during the Civil War in El Salvador.  The Castilian inscription to the left reads, “They tore out the flower, but the roots are returning among us.”
Attributed to Dave Watson
Public Domain

Photo 17
Marlon L Fick in March 2008.
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick.

Photo 18
Marlon L Fick, in Cuba, standing next to a boat by his own name in 2001.
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick.

Photo 19
Fidel Castro speaking in Havana in 1978.

Photo 20
Jaded Ibis Productions logo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 21
Web photo of Debra Di Blasi
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 22.
The black and white edition of The Nowhere Man

Photo 23
The Illustrated edition of The Nowhere Man

Photo 25
Illustration from page 68 of The Nowhere Man illustrated edition
Attributed to Christian Duran
Copyright granted by Christian Duran and Marlon L Fick

Photo 26
Marlon L Fick diving in Cuba, 2001
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick

Photo 27
Castro and Ortego

Photo 30
Immanuel Kant
18th Century Painting
Public Domain

Photo 31
George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel in 1831
Painting attributed to Jakob Schlesinger
Public Domain

Photo 32.
Martin Heidegger
May 10, 1960
Attributed to Willy Pragher

Photo 33.
Marlon L. Fick, age 4
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick.

Photo 34.
Langston Hughes
Attributed to Carl Van Vechter
Public Domain

Photo 35
Carl Sandburg
Attributed to Al Ravenna
Public Domain

Photo 36
Robert Frost
Attributed to Fred Palumbo
Public Domain

Photo 37
Marlon L Fick in 1985 as a New York University Graduate student
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick.

Photo 38.
Octavia Paz in 1988.
Attributed to John Leffmann
CCBY 3.0

Photo 39
Marlon and Paquita Esteve
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick

Photo 40
Navajo Technical University web logo
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law

Photo 41
Marlon L Fick trout fishing in Tetons, Wyoming in 2010.
Copyright granted by Marlon L Fick.

Photo 42
Web logo for the illustrated edition of The Nowhere Man

Photo 43
Jacket cover of the illustrated edition of The Nowhere Man

Photo 44

Jacket cover of the black and white edition of The Nowhere Man