Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Paul Watkins' daughter (Claire Vaye Watkins)
has weaved a collection of short stories,
into a new book Titled "Battleborn".
Claire Vaye Watkins is a Nevadan whose fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Granta, Ploughshares, One Story, The Paris Review and elsewhere. She holds a BA from the University of Nevada, Reno and an MFA from Ohio State University, where she was a Presidential Fellow. Watkins' collection of short stories, Battleborn, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books. She teaches creative writing at Bucknell University.

"For writer Claire Vaye Watkins her life has been lived in the shadow of her father, Charles Manson’s right-hand man, but in her debut story collection she breaks free to capture the American West with beauty and power. She speaks to Claiborne Smith about her hunger for Nevada, her mother’s death, and her fiction."  Claiborne Smith

"Battleborn, is a remarkable debut of short stories". Jenny Shank 


The following was written by  on July 30, 2012

Joan Didion writes in her essay “The White Album” that the cultural paranoia known as “the Sixties” had ended — or rather been fulfilled — on August 9, 1969. That night, four members of Charles Manson’s “Family” broke into 10050 Cielo Drive and stabbed Sharon Tate Polanski, eight months pregnant, a total of sixteen times. Shortly after, as Paul Watkins and other members of the Manson Family watched a television report of the murders, somebody turned to him and said, “Wouldn’t it be somethin’ if old Charlie did that?”

Paul Watkins had been just out of high school when he joined the Manson Family. He was a former class president with a handsome face, and a smile sweet enough to recruit young girls to the commune. After the Manson murders, Watkins would ultimately testify against Charles Manson. He would outlive the Sixties. He would become president of the Death Valley Chamber of Commerce, appear on CNN, raise two daughters. On his deathbed, he would tape a video for his daughters, beginning with, “Here I am, my girls. I want you to know how much I loved you. I want you to know who I was.”

This is not the story his daughter Claire Vaye Watkins tells in “Ghost, Cowboys,” which opens her sweeping debut story collection Battleborn. Instead, “Ghost, Cowboys” explores the stories from Death Valley as a whole, in which her own family history plays only a small episode.

The narrator begins her story in 1859, when a man named Charles Fuller builds a toll bridge that was to become Reno decades later. Then, the narrator flashes forward to 1941, when George Spahn converts his ranch into a lucrative movie set. And yet again to 1968, when a group of ten hitchhikers offer George to “help” with chores if he gives them permission to “camp out” in the empty set buildings. Two of those ten are the characters Charles Manson and Paul Watkins.

Continued...
For more on Watkin's book, "Click" Below:
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Kimchi writes:
I've always liked this tribute video, that the Watkins girls did for their mother.  It also includes rare photos of Paul too!
video

At this point, the narrator reveals herself to be the writer’s fictional namesake. The character Claire Watkins lives alone in Reno after both her parents have passed. She lives a mostly stoned, humdrum life, save for the various movie producers who seek her out for her thoughts on a possible Manson movie. They take her out to dinner, and the dinners often go like this:

“How are you?” they say.
“I’m a receptionist,” I say.
“Good,” they say, long and slow, nodding as though my being a receptionist has given them everything they came for.
It isn’t a stretch to say that anyone familiar with the Manson Family legacy is also wondering how the daughter of Paul Watkins is doing. Battleborn is the answer to that question: she became a storyteller.

2.We tell ourselves stories in order to live. That line, which opens Didion’s essay “The White Album,” may very well serve as the epigraph for every story in Claire Vaye Watkins’ collection. The stories include a wild teenage girl who drives to Las Vegas with her best friend to find a group of collegiate boys to sleep with; a false prophet who lies to keep from losing his brother, an emaciated 49’er, to gold rush fever; a group of jaded hipsters who roam the deserted graveyards of Virginia City.

Each of these stories, set in a different part of Nevada, feature vagrants — whether traveling to Nevada in search for gold, or attending an out-of-state college — and the shameful stories they tell to themselves and the people they love. As if Watkins’ prose embodies the desert landscape of Nevada itself, the stories are stony, unkind, and harsh, though never unattractive. And as I read through the collection, I kept asking myself why I didn’t find her stories unattractive.

“Rondine Al Nido” confronts the reasons why one is drawn to the dark and the morbid. We’re first introduced to a couple who takes to candle-lit confessions in bed after sex. The man, a former social worker, tells her about the cases he’s seen: the father who made his son live under the floorboards of their porch, the snack bar employee who lured a retarded girl into the men’s bathroom with a lemonade. The woman, a typist, tells him about the terrible things she’s done: the tropical lizards she begged for, then abandoned in a field once she bored of them; the wretched, ring-wormed boy she asked to meet her for a kiss at the flagpole, and how she laughed when he actually showed up.

Beneath these confessions runs a spiritual undertow — that salvific beauty can arise when brutality is brought to light. It’s the same masochistic quality I find in the female gothic writers that precede her, such as Flannery O’Connor, Mary Gaitskill, Alice Munro.

Here, Watkins describes the couple with emotional acuity:
It will be as though she’s finally found someone else willing to see the worst in the world…For the first time in her life, she will feel understood.

While Watkins exposes her characters’ darker moments, she also indulges in the need for cinematic escapism. In “The Past Perfect,” a story previously excerpted in The Paris Review, Watkins tells of a twisted, tragic love triangle.

The story opens with an underage Italian tourist who frequents a brothel as his missing friend starves to death in a desert. As he waits for results from the search teams, he falls in love with an escort, a former gymnast who plays up the “good girl” look amongst her bustier counterparts. Meanwhile, the brothel’s gay “madam” watches their relationship form as he’s unable to prune his own growing feelings for the Italian. All of this is rendered with references to film noir tropes, and the pacing is as entertaining as a Hollywood classic.

Not every story is as gripping. “The Archivist” ultimately gets swallowed up by Battleborn’s more obvious showstoppers. “Wish You Were Here” could easily stand out in a different kind of collection, but following “The Past Perfect,” it feels off-beat. However, the collection does exhibit an ambitious diversity as a result. The final story “Graceland,” which in part explores the suicide of Watkins’ own mother, is quietly devastating in all the ways that “The Past Perfect” is flamboyant. All of her stories left me feeling purged and oddly cleansed, easily making Battleborn one of the strongest collections I’ve read in years.

11 comments:

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

I must say...
She's not too tough, on the eyes!

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

“My father first came to Death Valley because Charles Manson told him to", Claire wrote in 'Granta' in 2009. “He always did what Charlie said; that was what it meant to be in The Family. The desert my father knew then was a place of dune buggies and doomsday, a wasteland accessible only by four-wheel drive, where even Helter Skelter couldn’t find him. He was in Death Valley during the Tate-LaBianca murders and he fled here again, afterwards.”

Watkins writes about the West as a gift her father gave her (“it is the only thing that satiates my hunger for him,” she wrote), but to write about it, she had to leave it. I asked her why she uses the names of actual places in her stories—why describing Nevada evocatively isn’t enough (take, for example, the Cherry Patch Ranch, the brothel 70 miles outside Las Vegas Watkins uses as the setting of one of her stories). “I was really, really homesick,” in Ohio, where she attended graduate school in creative writing, she says, “and I would Google Earth shots of Nevada. I was maybe a little afraid of forgetting Nevada—‘What was the name of that great brothel?’”

Claiborne Smith

MrPoirot said...

Claire plays a haunting piano/vocal tribute to her deceased mother.

Paul died before the internet which was a great loss to history for Paul was the most open and honest about what happened that ended the revolutionary 60s era which affects us all still today.

There are many respected bloggers today who poo the Helter Skelter motive yet is this prophecy of race war that forced Paul Watkins to flee the hypnotic grip of the 20th centuries' most powerful mind controlling cult leader by escaping to the ore strewn peaks of Death Valley rather than follow a demonic philosophy of Manson's predicted armageddon.

Had Paul survived till now it's no doubt that he would have shed much light onto what remains an enigmatic mystery that defies description even though there are dozens of books on the episode in history. When Paul Watkins died it only reintensified the Manson mystery.

Today there are few who were a part of the Manson era who dare to speak the truth. Most who do talk claim memory loss or fear prosecution for there is no staute of limitations on murder and many Manson members were involved in the periphery of the TLB, Hinman and Shea murders. One careless slip of the tongue could land any of a number of former Family members in prison even now.

Paul Watkins death was histories loss as well as Claire's loss.

Kimchi said...

I always liked this tribute the girls did for their mother-rare pictures of Paul too..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GS4BGEcC5fc

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Thanks Kimchi!

I put the video, on the thread.

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Hey Poirot!

Lynn said...

If you have not seen this story, it's a great read by Martha Watkins- also mentioned Paul's illness...search on this page for Spike and you can find the story (it's about midway down)

http://www.srdogs.com/Pages/sdrl.s2.html

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Wow... great find Lynn!

It took me a second... he's actually the second "Spike!! LOLOL

sunset77 said...

I have to say that YouTube video was very good, I'd never seen it. Like many other things around this case, it was also very sad.

I must admit I'm not very familiar with Paul Watkins. He can be seen in at least 1 of the Hendrickson films, I think Hendrickson mentions the incident where Watkins is burned in Mark Ross's van. Speculation surrounds that incident, whether he had a candle, was smoking marijuana, or someone tried to kill him for snitching.

I ran across a book written by Watkins on a website one night, but it was too late at night to read, and I didn't look it back up.

It's always been my personal belief that anyone even remotely associated with Manson at Spahn Ranch that escaped with some semblance of their life still intact, was very lucky indeed.

LynyrdSkynyrdBand said...

Sunset said:
"It's always been my personal belief that anyone even remotely associated with Manson at Spahn Ranch that escaped with some semblance of their life still intact, was very lucky indeed".

I agree.

As I always say:
"There are no winners here".

To come out the other side of a multi-faceted tragic ordeal like this, with your freedom, your life, and your sanity intact... is quite a blessing.

Unfortunately (in Paul's case) his health failed him... but, what ya gonna do?
He left a couple nice daughters behind... so, that's cool.

rfoster1 said...

Very nice. Thanks for posting that.