Two new novels and a new poetry collection — all three published in the space of only a few weeks: not bad for Corey Mesler, co-owner, with his wife Cheryl, of Burke's, the venerable, independent Memphis bookstore in Cooper-Young.
Those books, fresh on the shelves, are the novels Following Richard Brautigan (Livingston Press) and The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores (Bronx River Press) and the poetry chapbook The Tense Past (Flutter Press).
The first book follows a young poet guided by the spirit of his literary hero, writer Richard Brautigan; the second concerns a case of dueling identities (plus a big castload of Arkansas townspeople and their sexual misadventures); and the third book — that poetry collection? Its appearance was news to its author. As Mesler said in a recent interview: "The Tense Past came out two weeks ago. I didn't even know that was happening until a few weeks ago. I'd sent the manuscript to Flutter Press and forgot about it.
"It's kind of crazy," Mesler added, on the subject of three new titles in less than a month. "I think I've overexposed myself. I'm afraid people are tired of hearing about my new publications. I don't know what to do about it."
But he does. He'd like to stress to those who read his earlier novels that these latest two are easier to get into.
"My first two books were experimental, and I think I put off a lot of readers that way," he admitted, with a laugh. "But I was trying to teach myself how to write a novel. I didn't know how. I didn't know if I could. What I want to emphasize is that both these new novels are conventional in narrative. I taught myself how to do that — I hope."
As for Following Richard Brautigan, he wants it known too that Mesler and Brautigan, who was the rage in 1960s, go "way back," back to when Mesler himself was in high school.
"He's one of those authors you come to when you're young, like the Beats," Mesler said. "But Brautigan was special, delightful. He can be simplistic sometimes, but he can also write that simple perfect sentence that you sit back, think about, despite the quirkiness and oddball narratives."
Writing The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores was something else entirely.
According to Mesler, the book is first and foremost a comedy and more than a sex novel. But as he said, "It does have a lot of sex in it, which I hope I've made cartoonish, funny — in the Southern spirit of outrageous small-town half-crazed inventions."
More than that, he's created a whole town and populated it, Robert Altman style.
"I've never worked on that scale and didn't know if I could," Mesler said. "But I think it came off fine. I let some friends read the novel in manuscript, and one of those friends, who'd criticized me for the overerotic writing in my earlier books, put my mind at ease: 'This book is just damn funny.' That's what I wanted to hear."
You want to hear Corey Mesler discussing and reading from Following Richard Brautigan and to watch painter Rebecca Tickle's accompanying artwork? Go to the video produced by Tickle at YouTube. And watch for Corey Mesler's booksigning at — where else? — Burke's Book Store in early May.
Appetizers, drinks, music, art, and last, not least, writers reading: It's all on tap — and it's all free and open to the public — when The Pinch, the nationally recognized, biannual literary journal, featuring fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, art, and photography, celebrates its spring 2010 issue.
Produced by the writing department at the University of Memphis and drawing on national and international contributors, The Pinch (previous incarnations: Phoenix, Memphis State Review, River City) is one of the oldest literary journals in the country. The party for the latest issue runs from 7 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 20th, inside the Wright Carriage House at 688 Jefferson.
Pianist Greg Taff will provide the music. Artist Tray Drumhann will provide the visual art. And as for writers, the readers are as follows: poets Sandy Longhorn and Meryl Natchez (third-place winner for the journal's 2009 prize for poetry); Joshua Schriftman (creative nonfiction); and Dan Piepenbring (first-place winner for 2009's fiction prize).
For more information on the Pinch party, contact Sarah Grace Wilder at 678-4591 or visit thepinchjournal.com.