Tag Archives: novels

Other People’s Books–#1: Only Shot at a Good Tombstone

I’m going to take a break from my regularly (or irregularly) scheduled discussions of my books and make some recommendations in the next few posts about some “indie” books that I’ve read, and loved, in the past year or so.  I’ve mentioned a few here before, but they’re worth mentioning again. (And there’s still time to get them as holiday gifts; I assume that they’re all eligible for the Amazon “MatchBook” promotion, which allows you to buy the Kindle version of a book for a significantly reduced price–usually 99 cents, and in some cases free–if you buy the print version.  One for you; one for a reader you love.)

The first book I’ll mention is Only Shot at a Good Tombstone, by Robert Mitchell.  I LOVE this book.  Robert is one of the best writers I know; he loves Kerouac and Salinger and Joyce and Steinbeck, and it shows.  Tombstone is definitely (and refreshingly, these days) not a light, frothy beach read; it requires a reader’s attention, and rewards it. Yet it’s unfailingly entertaining and thought-provoking and just downright wonderful (did I mention I love it?).  I was thinking just last night that it’s a book about a hero’s journey, albeit a decidedly unconventional one.

Here’s the review I wrote of the book a while back:

“As I read Only Shot at a Good Tombstone, I kept thinking about how I could possibly describe it to anyone else. On one of my Goodreads updates early on, I said something about how reading it was a little like getting on a ride at an amusement park, and having no idea what the ride would be like, and then finding yourself “hanging on for dear life” as the ride takes you to all kinds of unexpected places. I stand by that description.

If you’re the kind of reader who needs a conventional story-line, unfailingly upstanding and “respectable” characters, and tidy answers in order to enjoy a book, OSAAGT probably isn’t for you. There is no real discernible “plot” to the book; it simply follows a protagonist known only as the “young man” through a couple of days as he wanders around the smog-choked, chaotic city of L.A, allowing himself to be drawn into one tableau after another. But if you can just allow yourself to be led where the young man takes you, and keep in mind that “real life” doesn’t have any particular plot either (except, perhaps, in retrospect…perhaps), and tends to be more of a long series of encounters that are defined in large part by what you make of them, you should be able to really enjoy the ride.

It’s those “encounters”–each one elegantly detailed and engaging–that make up the book. What binds them all together and keeps the book from being nothing more than a random, piecemeal–albeit remarkably literate and well-written–gathering of scenes, leading nowhere, is the world-view and unfailing humanity of the “young man.” Although a self-described “freak”, his (and the author’s) compassion for every lost soul he comes across during his wanderings (one of the things that he considers “freaky” about himself is his ability to see the beauty in just about everyone), and his easy willingness to care in an unassuming way for others, allows US to see the characters in his world–and, perhaps, our own–as real, significant, and deserving of our attention. Each one of those characters, and his or her circumstances, is fully drawn and remarkable, and each tableau draws the reader in and turns pre-conceived ideas about “types” inside out, so that, perhaps, when she closes the book and goes out into her own world, she will be forced (in a truly positive way) to look beyond those types out there as well. And that can only be a good thing. (I found the character of Harold, a Jesus-like kind of “street prophet”, particularly affecting.)

But there is nothing “boring” about the book, and the author is not trying to hit the reader over the head to make a “point” (although the book is anything but pointless). Every story and encounter is fascinating and often haunting. Only Shot at a Good Tombstone is by turns funny, heartbreaking, illuminating, profane, “obscene” (but not gratuitously so), cynical, shocking, and just plain sweet. As in life, there are no easy answers, and no tidy conclusions, and each situation and character we meet will be affected by what we ourselves bring to it.

Yeah–I kinda loved this book. It’s one of those good, “old-fashioned” books in which the writer can actually write, and thinks deeply about what he’s writing, and is willing to take all kinds of unconventional chances (and has the talent to do so). I believe that it’s what we used to call ‘literature.'”

OK.  Go buy the freakin’ book! 🙂



In Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, there are six poems that I wrote about David in the mid 1990’s.  They were, I believe, the first poems I’d written in several years, and I don’t think I wrote very many, if any, other ones until just a few months ago.

Although I attended NYU’s M.A. program in Creative Writing/Poetry (typically for me at the time, I never actually wrote the thesis), and used to run around Manhattan wearing black and doing poetry readings, and aspired greatly for many years to becoming a “famous poet” (and of course it would be pointless to be anything but a hard-living, tragic one), I always secretly felt that I was a bit of a fraud–there was very little poetry that I actually liked, and I tended to prefer fiction (and photography, and painting).  But people seemed to like what I wrote, and I’ve always been a sucker for compliments, so for a long time I kept at it.

I composed my first poem in Provincetown, Massachusetts when I was about six or seven. I remember that my mother and I were playing Scrabble on the beach when the inspiration hit me.  It went like this:


Cape Cod is the place to be.

It is the place for me.

I like it because we go fishing there, 

but I hate the smell of the sea air.

OK–I did get somewhat better at it as the years went by.  The poem, as I recall, led to my first experience of censorship.  I brought it in that fall to my first-grade class.  The teacher seemed to like it a great deal, and she wrote it out for the rest of the class to see on a big easel at the front of the room.  However, she insisted on changing the word “hate” to “can’t stand.”  I believe that I was at least slightly outraged.  It totally blew the meticulously worked-out meter, for one thing.

Since publishing (finally) Holding Breath, I’ve been a little at a loss as to what to do with myself creatively. With some encouragement from my new friend David Biddle (who, like me, attended Reed College, and who is the author of the astonishingly creative and possibly life-changing–particularly for music-lovers–novel, Beyond the Will of God: A Jill Simpson Mystery), I wrote two new poems a couple of months ago.  I will probably post them here soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d send y’all to another blog of mine in which at one point a few years ago I managed to post many of the poems I’d written up until that point (there’s also the text of a letter I wrote to President Obama about needle-exchange funding; it seemed to be in keeping with the themes of some of the poems).  Some of the poems from Holding Breath are included.  Here’s the link:


I’ll be interested in hearing how you think they compare to the “Cape Cod” poem. 🙂

David Biddle’s book, Beyond the Will of God: A Jill Simpson Mystery, is available here:


My memoir, Holding Breath: A Memoir of AIDS’ Wildfire Days, is available here:


Amazingly Good Novel, Free For a Limited Time

One of my absolute favorite “indie” novels (in Kindle format) will be free on Amazon for a few days, starting today. It’s called Only Shot At a Good Tombstone, and it’s by Robert Mitchell. You can read the description and reviews (including mine), and download your free copy, here:


You’re welcome. 🙂

P.S. Reviews are really helpful to indie writers–it’s the only way that good books can really start to be appreciated by a wide audience. So, if you do read Tombstone, please try to leave even a quick review/rating on its Amazon page, and/or on Good reads.com.

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