Monday, October 12, 2009
I was glad to revisit Misery for our horror genre readings course. It's been several years since I first read this novel, and I was interested to see if it still held the same morbid fascination for me now as it did when I was a teenager.
Read the rest...http://blogs.setonhill.edu/MattDuvall/2009/10/number_one_fan.html
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Warning – this post might include inadvertent sexism and/or stereotyping.
Not too long ago, my husband and I talked about writers writing protagonists of the opposite gender. This probably stemmed from the fact that Matt's current works involve female protagonists. I stated that I believe it is easier for women to write as men than vice versa. Matt replied, "It is both socially and craftily harder for a man to write as a woman than it is for a woman to write as a man." (Yes, he made up the word craftily).
For an example, we talked about Stephen King and his wife, Tabitha. In Tabitha's book, The Book of Reuben, she writes a very strong male protagonist. However, Stephen King, doesn't manage to grasp the female perspective as well (for a good example, see A Bag of Bones).
Personally, I don't even think Shakespeare could pull off a good woman. Take for example Othello. Desdemona was such a doofus!
The reason I believe this (I won't presume to state why Matt thinks this) is because women are more emotionally complicated than men. True, some male authors manage quite well to write from the female perspective. Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, Nicholas Sparks (though I can't stomach his books!), Phillip Pullman and others had believable female characters.
Yet, oftentimes when I read a man writing for a woman, the woman seems to come off as either too emotional or not emotional enough. Men either don’t seem to grasp the complexity of a woman or they over think that complexity.
However, when I was thinking about this, I realized there is one genre where it seems that male authors are more able to get away with (or better skilled at) writing women. That genre? Fantasy, of course!
So, this got me thinking. Are fantasy writers considered better at writing women because we will allow more latitude with women in fantastical situations? Since the female protagonist in a fantasy is not quite of the world we know, do we not expect that females emotions to be like a woman in this age?
To answer this question, what better book to look at that Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment, where every character is a woman?! I will admit that Pratchett might be a bit better off in the challenge of writing women since his women are pretending to be men, but...
When I first started reading the book, I immediately felt a little uncomfortable with Pratchett's description of Polly/Oliver. Why? Because of how he described her flat chest. The only emotion Pratchett gave Polly was "sheer annoyance that a haircut was all she needed to pass for a young man. She didn't even need to bind up her bosom..." (1). Women with small chests feel one of two things – pride for that chest, or self-conscious inadequacy. Polly should have felt that annoyance that she could pass off as a man because of her chest. However, unlike Pratchett described, she should have kept feeling that way for quite some time.
I got over this, though. I believe I got over this because Polly doesn't live in a world where normal things are happening. Of course she shouldn't feel normally, right?
It's even harder to try and claim that some of the other women are acting like women because, really, what experience do we have with vampires and zombie-like things? How can any reader complain that Maladict(a) and Igor(ina) aren't acting like real females of their species should be?
The question then remains, when we suspend our disbelief of what should happen in a fantasy world, do we often suspend our disbelief of how a woman should act and think? I think we do.
So, for any of the men out there who would like to write female protagonists – your best bet is to put them in a fantastical situation.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Friday, September 11, 2009
I don't believe so.
So I blog for fun. I have two blogs now, soon to be four. Though I imagine I will be doing more re-posting from blog to blog to steal time back for my "real" writing in the future. I do enjoy getting my thought out into the interwebz for anyone to read. I'm not 100% anyone DOES read this but I plug on despite that. All in due time, right?
In any case, I could stop in order to focus on the elusive Great American, award-winning, novel that somehow hasn't managed to write itself despite how brilliant I am. Well, brilliant, I may be, but motivated? That's another story.
Whether it's a distraction or the push I needed, blogging has brought the joy back to writing for me. And that, for now, is what makes this worthwhile. So for the moment, I guess this is up there on the priority list.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
In her book Sexual Anarchy, Elaine Showalter contends that Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde is actually describing "the nearly hysterical terror of revealing forbidden emotions between men....a case study of male hysteria" (107). She goes on to further state her case, citing the use of the word "queer" (112) and the way the "male homosexual body is also represented in the narrative in a series of images suggestive of anality and anal intercourse" (113).
Showalter's assertions are interesting, and should remind us as writers that while we may think we are just spinning a simple tale of multiple personality disorder, our readers will bring their own ideas to the story. They may end up reading things we did not write, or may sense a subconscious subtext that, real or imagined, we did not intend to include. However, in this case it seems that Showalter may be over-reaching in her analysis of the story.
First, Showalter begins by suggesting that the author may have been gay. She writes that "Stevenson himself was the object of extraordinary passion on the part of other men" (107). While she does go on to say that "Stevenson's real sexuality is much less the issue in Jekyll and Hyde" (107), she implies that the book is a way for him to explore his own conflicted personality and most secret desires.
Using this logic, however, Stephen King is (or at least wants to be) a mass-murderer, Jennifer Cruisie has had sex with legions of men (doubtful), and Mark Twain was a racist. Likewise, even if the book is a discourse on homosexuality, it doesn't automatically follow that Stevenson was gay.
Showalter cites examples of the personification of homosexuality in Jekyll and Hyde--"Hyde travels in the 'chocolate-brown fog' that beats about the 'back-end of the evening'; while the streets he traverses are invariably 'muddy' and 'dark,' Jekyll's house, with its two entrances" (113) is, to Showalter, the most explicit example of a man's body.
I had never noticed these things before, but after the Showalter article I started seeing homosexual references everywhere. Stevenson writes "the stick with which the deed had been done...was...rare...wood" (34). When Utterson and Enfield encounter Dr. Jekyll at one point, they have a conversation where Utterson tells Jekyll "'You should be out whipping up the circulation like Mr. Enfield and me'" and Jekyll replies "'I should like to very much; but no, no, no, it is quite impossible; I dare not'" (Stevenson 52). Near the end, "where Jekyll perhaps might have succumbed, Hyde rose to the importance of the moment" (Stevenson 95).
It is interesting how a work of fiction may have many interpretations, and how, once exposed to a certain point of view, the reader may begin to see evidence supporting that particular interpretation. For example, some reviewers feel "the relationship between Jekyll and Hyde is also characterized as almost a father and son relationship, and reflects further ambivalence on Stevenson's part towards living in a house purchased for him by his father" (Danahay 129). At the time of its publication, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was "quoted widely in sermons...as an example of the dangers of sin and vice" (Danahay 134).
So, is Stevenson's book rife with homosexual imagery? In an effort to study reader expectations, I picked a sampling of books from my own shelf and inspected them for passages that could be construed as relating to homosexuality or the human body. Here is what I found. Charlotte Bronte swings both ways in Jane Eyre. Early on the narrator says "to-night I was to be Miss Miller's bedfellow; she helped me to undress" (Bronte 42). Later, though, Jane's attention turns to "Mr. Brocklehurst, buttoned up in a surtout, and looking loner, narrower, and more rigid than ever" (Bronte 59).
Despite Dumbledore's predilections, J K Rowling mostly focuses on hetero (if somewhat underaged) desires. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, "Hermione grimly" tells Harry to "'Watch your frog, it's escaping'" (Rowling 374). Harry realizes too late that "he was indeed squeezing his bullfrog so tightly that its eyes were popping" (Rowling 375). However, there are a few homosexual images, as Hermione has "suspected this ever since Filch accused you of ordering Dungbombs" (Rowling 374).
Even Elmore Leonard can not resist including homosexual images in his writing. In Leonard's The Hot Kid we find this very revealing passage: "'Yeah, picking nuts. But he's always let me have my head'" (171).Obviously, these examples are very contrived and almost (or extremely) silly. However, they do prove that we as readers can inject almost any context we wish into a book, and then find the evidence to support our claims. It is important to look at ourselves and our own prejudices when we are examining writing. The danger of reading too much into a work is that we will be unable to convince others when we have valid points. For example, while Showalter probably has many good and interesting ideas, I will view any literary criticism of hers with suspicion in the future.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Dover Thrift Edition. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications Inc., 2002. Print.
Danahay, Martin A. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. 2nd edition. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2005. Print.
Leonard, Elmore. The Hot Kid. Paperback. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. Print.
Rowling, J. K.. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Hardcover. New York: Scholastic Press, 2003. Print.
Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle. New York: Viking, 1990. Print.
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Travels with a Donkey. Art-Type Edition. New York: Books, Inc., Unknown. Print.
Monday, September 7, 2009
As I read David Punter's analysis of Robert Bloch's Psycho, I found many valid points in his discussion of the novel. I found some things especially interesting. One of the things that stood out to me was Punter's note that "...it is a double death which is referred to, the deaths of a man and a woman; although the deaths do not actually occur simultaneously" (Punter 96). I can see how the original murders - those of Norman's mother and her lover - connect in the murderers mind with these two later murders.
And that's when I got to thinking. Does it have to be this way? Did Bloch have to think all these things, to plan all these deeply insightful journeys into his pyschopath's mind?
Or did Bloch one day just sit down at his typewriter (that's what they used to write with in the 1950's, right?) and say, "Man, wouldn't it be great if there was this guy who killed these people dressed up in his mother's skin?!"
I had these same thoughts when reading The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and discussing the possibilities of homosexual undertones in the story. Why couldn't Robert Louis Stevenson, gay or straight, just write a great story about a guy who managed to split himself into two personalities, one good and one bad?
Why do we search for hidden agendas and not just proclaim the beauty of a great plot?
Am I thinking this just because I don't have veiled meanings in my stories? If someone were to read my work, would they wonder about latent lesbian tendencies or how well I delved into the psyche of a Regency era woman? Would it matter if they did? Heck, I might actually be flattered that they did - and then I'd run with it and say that was exactly my intent.
I know that Plato and Fish and Wolff have all debated literary theory before me, but I still wonder when plot is more than plot and words are more than words.
What makes it not enough for a writer to simply tell a good story? Is there something wrong with the reader if he or she tries to dig up a meaning behind the words?
What makes us as readers search for hidden meanings? Are we scared that someone like Bloch might tell a story of a shower-time decapitation without having multiple layers of psychoanalytical meaning?
What would happen if all the stories we read were just that, stories? People would have to look at themselves, then, for the reaction a story created.
I think that's why we love to give deeper meanings to works of art. If Stevenson didn't intend to put homosexual allusions in his story, then that means there is some part of us that sees those images in the text. That's what scares us. It's okay if an author put something in his or her story. It's not okay if we take something out of the story.
Especially in horror fiction, if we see our own meaning in a story, it means that we can relate to the story. To relate to a horror story is... well, it's horrifying! No one wants to admit that they could understand why someone would have a sexual relationship with a lock of hair.
So, I say to you, we need to look for the deeper meanings in literary criticism. It is clear that David Punter had mother issues. In fact, more than that, he struggles with his sexual identity. Because of how his mother treated him, he wants to turn himself into a woman, though he struggles with how to become a "young girl with beautiful breasts" (Punter 95).
Punter, David. "Robert Bloch's Psycho: Some Pathological Contexts." In American Horror Fiction: From Brockden Brown to Stephen King. Ed. Brian Docherty. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990. 92-106.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
The Thin Man turned and walked into the darkness. with every left step, he bent at the waist and with every right step he straightened. Mitch thought it strange at first but as they continued through the void, he grew used to the shuffle and snap of those steps.
"Where are we going?" Mitch asked after a very long period of silence.
Thin man's upper torso snaked around, his head the last thing to turn. "Hold up the orb."
Mitch held it in front of him. Initially, when it had been shoved into his hand, it had glowed brightly. Not long after it dimmed to a dull glow.
"You have to be thinking of light for it to glow."
Mitch glanced at the orb. It seemed silly to think the orb into lighting. He shrugged. This moment was as ridiculous as any other moment since walking through the cellar door. He imagined the green light he witnessed earlier filling every dark space around him and baring every wall, crack and crevice of where ever he was standing.
He glanced at Thin Man, disbelief and distrust evident throughout every part of him.
"You have to do more than imagine, little man. You have to believe the light is there for it to work."
Mitch scoffed. Belief? That was the best Thin Man could think up?
"Close your eyes," he hissed. "Close your eyes and imagine the light. Open your eyes knowing the light is there and it will be."
Mitch sighed, impatient, but then did as he was told. He closed his eyes, held the globe high, imagined the green light emanating around him and opened his eyes believing it was there.
Mitch looked around him at a long hall filled with doors. In front and behind him, the hallway seemed to have no end and no beginning, though in theory, he came from the beginning when he entered this place. "So now what?"
"Now, we pick a door."
"What's in all these rooms?"
"Places, people. Much like yourself, little man."
Mitch felt a tingle at the back of his neck and behind his ears. Something about what Thin Man said didn't sit right with him but he wasn't sure he wanted to know what was wrong in light of everything that had happened to him.
"So where are we now?"
"Now? We're no where now. We're in a long hallway with an infinite number of doors that lead to all kinds of places. Right now, we're in limbo, we're in the void, the abyss. Nothing happens here, except waiting and indecision." Thin Man's eyes darted left then right. He snaked a finger into Mitch's collar and pulled him close. His hot, fishy breath invaded Mitch's ear with every word that he whispered.
"You never know what you'll get when you open one of these doors. Some say there are stairs that lead to other floors but I've never found them. Other's say you can find your happiest dream here or your worst nightmares. Still others say you can find your way back to where you came from. But I never have."
Mitch stared straight ahead. Stairs? Where was he? With each passing moment, he grew more curious about this place he discovered. More curious, and more concerned. What if he never found something good here? So far, this place had been...uncomfortable. What if it got worse?
He would find the stairs. He would find the best doors in this place. And eventually, he would find his way home.
He walked toward the door in front of him and placed his hand on the shiny brass knob. As the door cracked open, he saw the most blinding light at the opening. The door, once cracked, sprang open, the white light spilling into the hallway. Mitch stepped through, pocketing his green orb.
Behind him, the door cracked shut and when he turned around, the door was gone.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Sunday, August 9, 2009
Last week, I posted the introduction to my latest tome, The Everyman's Guide to Dress T-Shirts. This week, I present chapter one to the Interweb community. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, but most of all, I hope it will bring you a fuller understanding of the universe.
Chapter One: Definition by Negation
The concept of a dress t-shirt is unfathomable to some. Most people will experience extreme doubt and confusion when first exposed to the principles in this book. Are dress t-shirts real? Will I ever be able to identify them on my own? And will they really change my life?
I am here to tell you that the answers are yes, yes, and YES. But to ease your entry into the dress t-shirt waters, I will start you off slow. First, we will define what is NOT a dress t-shirt, for the highest presence is absence.
We will start off with an easy one: the tank top (figure one). Despite what you may have heard at the laundromat, a tank top is not considered formal enough for anything more than a holiday picnic with family and close friends.
The next one is a bit tougher. What could be more formal than a tuxedo shirt? With ruffles? What about a ruffled tuxedo t-shirt?
Unfortunately, this is a trick question. A true dress t-shirt does not feel the need to represent itself as anything OTHER THAN a t-shirt. A true dress t-shirt stands proudly on its own and states, "I am here. I am a t-shirt. And I am business casual."
I know by this point your head is reeling. You're wondering if you will ever get the hang of this dress t-shirt thing. I'm here to tell you, you will. Believe in yourself, believe in your clothes, and use the information in this book, and all will be well. All manner of things will be well. But to avoid driving you into sensory overload, I will give just one final example. This is the most common mistake the dress t-shirt rookie is likely to make. And that mistake is:
Wearing a dress t-shirt that is, literally, a dress. Ask yourself this question: would I have to hike my t-shirt up to do any of the following?
- Sit down
- Retrieve my wallet/keys
- Use the restroom
- Walk across a large puddle
If the answer to one or more items is "yes," then you are not wearing a dress t-shirt. You are wearing a t-shirt dress. And you desperately need to purchase another copy of this book.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Why a dress t-shirt?
Walter walked into the party and surveyed the crowd. The stereo was blasting classic Kool and the Gang, while a Lothario in leather chaps chatted up a beautiful red head in the corner. Walter noticed, only too late, that he was severely under-dressed for this soiree. His wife, Thelma, had tried to warn him, but he had ignored her advice--at his own peril, as he now realized. If only Walter had been able to read...
The Everyman's Guide to Dress T-shirts
What man has not found himself in a predicament such as Walter's? A place and time where a tank top is too informal, but a polo is overkill? The answer is: no man, except perhaps for George Clooney (and there is mounting evidence that he is a cyborg--see Appendix A).
This book is designed to help you obtain, organize, and fully utilize dress t-shirts. The truths are harsh, but the payoff is immeasurable. I'll be glad to hear your success stories (and believe me, a dress t-shirt is every man's secret to success), but due to the overwhelming number of responses I am sure to get, don't be offended if I don't respond to you personally. Please, use the information in this book for good and not evil. This is your guide into the glamorous world of...dress t-shirts.
The door slam echoed around him. Mitch froze. His lungs leaked air in a slow, steady wheeze until empty; his mouth worked the air like a fish pulled from the water. It was as though he'd forgotten how to breathe. A darkness--darker than closing his eyes or his bedroom in the dead of night--surrounded him and pressed in on him. Panic wrung the last of the oxygen from his lungs as his lips puckered in response.
Then, a hefty slap to his back caused Mitch to sputter and cough and finally, breathe.
"Here," hissed a voice next to his ear. Mitch felt something smooth and round being shoved into his hand and jumped. A shiver climbed his spine as the area around him began to glow. "A green orber. Hmmm..." the voice whispered again.
Mitch glanced behind him and saw a very tall and very thin man. His lanky looks didn't stop with his body and, in fact, were more pronounced in his face. With a chin and cheeks sharp enough to cut glass, Mitch wondered how his skin fit over his bones. Then, the thin man's mouth stretched into a grotesque smile revealing small childish teeth, all perfectly strain and abnormally white. Mitch stepped back, stepped away from this man--he wanted to run but had no where to run. He didn't even know where he was since he clearly was not in the cellar anymore. Or was he?
"Stop," Thin man said, the smile wiped from his face. His hand cut the air as he gestured behind Mitch, beyond the green glow. "Nevo is there. You don't want him to know you're here. He wouldn't like it."
"Who is Nevo? What are you doing in my cellar?"
"Shh. Nevo is the keeper and this isn't your cellar. But you already know that." The gruesome smile returned and he crooked his boney finger. "Come."
Mitch hesitated. He knew better than to go with strangers.
The thin man turned away. He walked with a see-saw motion towards the edge of the light. "You have nothing to return to, that is, if you could return." His hissing whisper turned into wheezing laughter.
Mitch held the orb in front of him and spun around in a slow careful circle. Nothing. As far as his eyes could see there was nothing but blackness. Sounds started emerging from around him--clicking, breathing and rustling.
Thin Man's disembodied head appeared in the ring of light. "You'd be better off with me than one of the others."
"Others?" Mitch asked, his voice timid and squeaky.
"Oh yes. They wait there for me to leave you." His hand came from the darkness and pointed behind Mitch. "Do you want me to leave you here then? Or will you come with me?"
He knew going with Thin Man was not a good idea but he was sure staying would be equally bad. The rustling and breathing around him had become louder almost drowning out the loud beating of Mitch's own racing heart.
He glanced around him one more time before walking into the darkness. Thin Man's raspy laughter echoed against the surroundings as the other noises settled into a hush. Mitch had made his choice. Now he had to live with it.
Friday, July 31, 2009
If I could have dinner with three people, living or dead, for the purpose of discussing my upcoming MFA degree at Seton Hill, I would choose Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, and DH Lawrence. I’d like to meet Sylvia Plath, because I’m basing my thesis project on her poem, “The Thin People.” Many literary critics have conjectured about the meaning of the poem. Is it about women who want to be fashionably thin? Is it about television and media making our attention span short and thin? Or is it possibly about the people who were in interment camps in Nazi Germany? I would love to hear her interpretation of that poem (if she would care to tell me). I’d also like to meet the person behind the strong, gloomy and beautiful poems and short stories she wrote. I’d be curious to meet someone who, fifty years after her suicide, still has books and articles written about her life. Perhaps I’d like to reach out and help her to not commit suicide, tell her that if she hangs in there, things will get better.
Her command of language is an inspiration to me. And from her experience at Cambridge, Plath would know about the value of education. Plath was her own doppelganger: the society deb in evening gown and pearls who smiles out at us from those long-ago dinner party photos, and the bipolar, macabre surrealist who (shortly before her death by suicide) wrote the darkly beautiful book of poems, Ariel. I’d like to know what inspired her and what advice she would have for me.
While I was in grammar school, Ray Bradbury’s writing made me realize that magic exists. I’ll forever remember stories of a time machine safari, an April witch who inhabited the body of a young girl one fine spring night so she could experience the pleasures of love, a race of people who live for only ten days. He inspired me to write my first stories, which were at that time science fiction. Now everything I write is an attempt to capture the sinister enchantment I first felt in reading his stories. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could make my readers feel the same way? He transported me to other worlds and not just in physical location, but to a land of limitless possibilities.
Bradbury’s advice about developing a literary career would be invaluable to me. In his book, The Zen of Writing, he tells us that we have to do everything with excitement, do everything because we love it, to write about things that we either love or hate, grab the intensity and use it in our writing.
My third guest would be DH Lawrence because of the beauty of his prose. At an early age, his writing inspired me to love literature. What in his life caused him to have the outlook that love is everything? What inspired him to write Lady Chatterly’s Lover? What makes his writing so smooth and beautiful? To be able to evoke such emotion in the readers is my goal. I admire the intensity of Sons and Lovers, and I aspire to that level of emotional authenticity. Parts of his books are gritty and detail the lives of such persons as miners in the early 1900’s. He explores the every day emotional cruelty that people inflict on each other. The deep point of view he has of these characters is no doubt due to the area in which he grew up, but he writes about lords and ladies and lowly gamekeepers with the same sense of reality. I’d like to hear about what he encountered during his writing career, what he learned, what he would do differently.
Lastly, it would be interesting to see how they would interact at dinner? Would they all be reticent writers who don’t say much? Would one person dominate the conversation? Would Sylvia arrive in a shirtwaist dress and pearls? I think what they have in common is that writing wasn’t cerebral for any of them; it was a visceral experience that they all felt very deeply. I’d like to understand how they were all able to write with such power and passion.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
Sunday, July 19, 2009
This is a review of a book I truly love and think others would appreciate, too.
I’m always drawn to stories about parallel dimensions, and for that reason, The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas really caught my attention. Though the book is categorized as mainstream literary, it very much has science fiction and fantasy elements. This mind-meld of physics, metaphysics and literature is one of the few books lately that I’ve read obsessively to the end.
The voice of the narrator, Ariel Manto, grabbed me right away. She is a thirty-something Ph.D. student with a dysfunctional family background and a penchant for kinky, self-destructive sex. She loves obscure literature and philosophy and is doing graduate work on a little-known author named Thomas E. Lumas. As luck would have it, one rainy day she runs across a book of his, The End of Mr.Y, which is supposedly cursed. Ariel snatches it up using her expense money for the entire month and holes up to read the Victorian-era missive in her seedy cold-water flat. Though she is fearful of the curse that promises death to anyone who reads the book, she very much relishes the danger. Thomas does a wonderful job of letting the quirky and witty Ariel gradually unfold for us as the story progresses.
Ariel has already proven that she has an addictive personality with her chain smoking and sexual compulsions, so, naturally when the book tells her how to enter an alternate dimension called the Troposphere, she jumps at the chance and right away becomes completely addicted to it, much to detriment of her life and physical body.
Through the Troposphere, Ariel is able to enter into the minds of other people and animals. During her first time in that parallel universe, she enters into the mind of a mouse that is caught in a trap beneath her kitchen sink. She gets in touch with its anguish and suffering and on her return to her normal dimension, immediately finds it under her sink and releases it into the wild. After that, she has quite a bit of empathy for the suffering of animals, which figures into the resolution of the plot later on.
Complications arise when she begins to be followed by a couple of CIA agents who intend to use the Troposphere for their own evil purposes, which will end up with the enslavement of mankind. Since Ariel knows about it, she’s a dead duck. Her love interest, a celibate ex-priest, who is the opposite of what you’d expect for the kinky Ariel, helps her out in her endeavors. The odd ending is anything but predictable.
I found Ariel’s theories about the origin and workings of the Troposphere fascinating, but I’m kind of an alternate-reality geek, so others might find it a bit tedious. In this book, the alternate reality functions very much like a video-game with a console that comes up at crucial decision times, but one could surmise that the alternate reality somehow speaks to each person in a way he/she can personally understand.
Thomas has a wonderful way with language. Some of my favorite quotes from the book are: "… the sky is the color of sad weddings." And as a book lover I could relate to this quote: "Real life is regularly running out of money, and then food. Real life is having no proper heating. Real life is physical. Give me books instead: Give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book; I'd give anything for that."
The End of Mr. Y is truly imaginative and weaves interesting theory in with the narrative. This is a smart book that completely engages the emotions, senses and intellect. It is definitely one of my favorite books of the past few years.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Some helpful rules for better writing:
1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.
2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.
4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
5. Avoid cliches like the plague. (They're old hat)
6. Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
7. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
8. Be more or less specific.
9. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.
10. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.
11. No sentence fragments.
12. Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
13. Do not be redundant; do not use more words than necessary; it's highly superfluous.
14. One should NEVER generalize.
15. Don't use no double negatives.
16. One-word sentences? Eliminate.
17. Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
18. The passive voice is to be ignored.
19. Never use a big word when a diminutive one would suffice.
20. Use words correctly, irregardless of how others use them.
21. Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."
22. If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: Resist hyperbole; not one writer in a million can use it correctly.
from http://www.basicjokes.com/djoke.php?id=3065 (accessed July 14, 2009)
Monday, July 13, 2009
The first was a small one--that I could write a story with a thriller aspect despite the fact that I don't really read thrillers or mysteries in general. Will it be easy? I imagine some aspects will be and others will be quite difficult. That is a challenge I want to take on and I will succeed.
My next realization makes sense but a part of me is crying a little inside. My beloved hero is going to have to be my creeper stalker guy. I would love to make him the love interest but he makes much more sense as a potential killer...now to figure out if he is too obvious as the threat.
My first day on my trip and I've been productive....not in pages, but in thought. Okay, so it's not as good as actual page count, but it's a start. Cut me some slack. I've been up since 3 am. I also discovered a few other things about my other characters and decided writing this book set in Minneapolis wouldn't be so bad after all. All in all, I'm pleased with my progress. Tomorrow, you can expect a page count.
PS: I'm about 8 hours from DC. If someone would be willing to let me crash in their hotel room I would be willing to make the drive.....
Edits done, cover spec sheet finished, last run-through on a pdf version of your manuscript and a jpeg of your cover art. Yes, it looks fantastic. Then silence and you wait.
One day, you find a box by your front door and when you open it, you discover paperback versions of your manuscript, complete with the awesome cover art you had very little to do with. You open a copy and sniff the pages (yes, you do, you know you do) because somehow, after all this time, you can't believe you're holding your manuscript in book form. It's real. You flip through the book, recognizing those great phrases, those cool scenes, the wickedly fun characters. This is your baby come into reality.
There's part of the set-up. I've left out all the promotion and marketing you've done so that a million people know your book is available.
This past Saturday, I was at Sherlock's Books & Cafe's Craft and Musicfest (down in Galloway, NJ (20 minutes outside Atlantic City)), selling my two books, not unlike many fairs and cons where I've sold my book. As is customary, someone walks by, sees me, sees the book, and asks if I wrote it. I said yes and they made a comment about how impressive it is that I've got two published books when they didn't think they could even write one. They bought the book, I signed it and off they went.
There are more times than not, when I forget how incredible writers are, myself included. Here are people with the perseverance to not only sit down and write a book (or short story or novella), but to go back and edit it (again and again), then to submit it for someone else to see in hopes of publishing it so many more people will see it.
Because I love storytelling (my chosen method is the novel), it comes easy to me. Yes, writing can be laborious if you consider it work and not playing in your passion, but the end result, the moment we hold that finished manuscript and realize "I did this", we know it was all worth it. I know for some, writing is difficult, and at times, it is for me. There is so much to remember, both in the technical aspect of writing and also the craft. Characters, plot, tension, dialog...so many elements.
But all that stuff is for the revision process. The first draft for me, is pure fun. Watching the world come into being, watching characters become more than words on a page, watching places that don't exist become real...can you have more fun than that and still be legal? You have to be able to allow yourself a crappy first draft so that you can get it all down. I know, some will edit as they go, but for me, that path loses the spontaneity of creation. Also, I've known people who edit to death and never get beyond chapter one.
But I digress. It's easy for me to lose track of myself. I work full time, I'm married, with a house, a lawn, two cats, and all the things that make up being an "adult" in 21st Century America. So the writer part of me can get shoved aside without a second thought. But when I'm at a fair or a con selling my book or just talking writing with my fellow writers, that writer part is front and center and there's nothing more exhilarating than me saying to someone "Hey, take a look, I made this" and them holding my creation in their hands and saying, "Sure, I will" and they give me money, I give them a signature and off they go.
Now go write. There are a million stories waiting to be told.
Peace,Gary . . .
P.S.: Even more exhilarating than the sale? Having a reader write me and tell me that they loved the book, or, as one reader told me, he has mild dyslexia and hasn't enjoyed reading until he picked up my book and he couldn't wait to start on the next one.
A: I can't tell whether you mean "change a light bulb" or "have sex in a light bulb." Can we reword it to remove the ambiguity?
Q: How many editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one. But first they have to rewire the entire building.
Q: How many managing editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: You were supposed to have changed that light bulb last week!
Q: How many art directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Does it HAVE to be a light bulb?
Q: How many copy editors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: The last time this question was asked, it involved art directors. Is the difference intentional? Should one or the other instance be changed? It seems inconsistent.
Q: How many marketing directors does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: It isn't too late to make this neon instead, is it?
Q: How many proofreaders does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Proofreaders aren't supposed to change light bulbs. They should just query them.
Q: How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: But why do we have to CHANGE it?
Q: How many publishers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Three. One to screw it in, and two to hold down the author.
Q: How many booksellers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: Only one, and they'll be glad to do it too, except no one shipped them any.
Q: How many agents does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: We're sorry to say your bulb doesn't meet our needs at this time.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I'm always interested to hear how and why people publish the way they do. Ask your published friends and tell them to stop over with their answers.
Gary . . .
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
According to Thesaurus.com, these are all synonyms for SUPPORT.
Since returning to my everyday routine, I've been thinking more and more about a writer's support structure and I've been wondering about the challenges each writer faces. I can speak to my own issues with consistency and drive, my seemingly (but improving) lack of support from friends and family and what I do to combat those issues. And I will speak to them.
To my fellow bloggers and our small and growing readership, I ask for advice or for you to commiserate with me on this topic. What kind of support structure do you have when it comes to writing? How does it affect your writing or your drive to write?
For the past week, I've been waging a battle with my husband. He wants me to succeed as a writer, but (I don't think) doesn't understand what I need from him. I want to be clear; I'm not using him as an excuse for not getting my pages completed--that is entirely on me. I would, however, appreciate a little understanding that life cannot go on as it has the last four years. Since graduating I have not completed a single work of fiction. Not one. I have not written a short story, I have not finished a novel, I haven't written a single sentence that has contributed to a story arc that has come to any sort of conclusion. This is my opportunity to change it. I am recharged with purpose--a purpose that is slowly being siphoned away from me every day.
I've considered support structure as both an excuse and a reason. Do I use his lack of enthusiasm for my “calling” as an excuse to let it slide away? I have a social life, a full-time job, a pet, a husband, a family—I have demands on my life. When it is easier to not write than to write, is it fair to say that all or none of these are more important than this dream of mine? Shouldn’t I be making every effort to make this dream come true even if it is at the expense of all things listed above? If I am struggling with understanding the balance, is it fair for me to expect my husband to know where the line has been drawn?
So what is support structure? I guess it depends on the person you’re looking at to shoulder your writing burden. For my husband, I would hope he’d take a look around and think, “What can I do to enable my wife to write?” This burden is large, I do admit. My expectations for him range from helping me clean the house so I don’t look at it and think, “I need to clean the toilet, we have guests coming over” or “ I can’t think much less write when I have dog hair tumbleweeds rolling across my living room floor”. And I’m not even mentioning the dishes or laundry. I know he wishes for my success but doesn’t see his role in all this.
Are they excuses? Without a doubt. My specific needs require these excuses to be taken away and I’ve been asking for help. Asking and asking with no results. Even a regularly loaded Caribou card and a push out the door would be beneficial. But then, I can’t even get him to read a simple page long blog post. Can you hear the violins swelling in sympathy?
What about the secondary support—friends and other family members? They should be your biggest fans, right? Hmmm. I spend my free time, mostly, with a certain “type” of individual. What these people are or are not is not as important as the fact that they are not readers. I don’t think someone needs to be a writer to understand writing, however, I believe a person needs to at least be a reader to “get it”. Though my family reads, they aren’t readers—with exception of my sister and maybe my mom when she has time. And most of my friends don’t read. They know HOW to read, but they don’t do it.
Impressions are everything, are they not? I have always been under the impression that my parents and sister view my writing as something new I’m just trying out because I’m bored—as a hobby (I hate that word). Actually, they regard the visual arts I produce with more respect. Whenever I talk about writing around them, they seem bored and I feel like a two year old who just did something precious and received a pat on the head for my efforts. They mean well, they mean to be supportive and maybe it's a lack on my part. I'm not getting what I need and I don't know how to communicate that to them.
I have experienced similar reactions from friends. I guess I’m more forgiving of their bored attitude because they aren’t my family. They choose to spend time in my company and while they should care about what makes you tick and what you’re passionate about…sometimes they only want to hang out with someone they kind of like. And I understand that. Of course I’m speaking of the majority. I do of course have friends who read often and discuss books and writing with me. I do have friends who write—okay, one friend—and it has helped.
Will my expensive writing education will only be rationalized when I become a published author? Will the general disinterest in my writing from those around me make me less inclined to share my success with them? Well, yes. It already has. Is this a problem from a marketing standpoint? Absolutely. If I don't share, how can I get those guaranteed sales when I do get published? Why should I only be allowed to share the wins but not the struggle or the losses? Is this a greater example of American competitiveness as a whole or simply my personal experience?
One last paragraph rife with questions to wrap up this rant of mine. What is the solution to creating a support structure? If telling isn’t enough—and it never is in any context—how do you show would-be supporters what you need from them? Or how do you find the motivation despite them? What keeps the keyboard clicking? How DO you keep going without your own personal cheer squad in your corner?
I don’t know the answers.
In the end, I know there is only one person responsible for getting it done. That’s me. This year is my year to prove to myself I can do it and to hell with everyone who pats me on the head. But I do long for something better than this.
Thank you for reading my rant.
Monday, July 6, 2009
What makes more sense is that too many people have come to believe they can't be successful because other people have told them so. This is not to suggest that if we ignore all those naysayers and wish hard enough, we'll make tons of money and our names will be on the tips of everyone's tongues without doing the work and putting ourselves in places to be successful. It's more than that.
All through our lives, we hear other people's beliefs about everything. Some we reject outright, while other beliefs we take a look at and try on. If they fit, we may keep them, or we may discover after a while that they're just smoke and mirrors and we get rid of them. When we take other people's beliefs and agree with them, they become part of our subconscious, our habitual mind. Years of repeating other's beliefs change us to be different people than who we would've been had we rejected those beliefs. One day we wake up and discover we're a patchwork of other people's desires, beliefs, and laws. What happened to the us we used to know?
We're still there under all that mental and emotional debris. We start clearing everyone else's laws and beliefs out of our heads and hearts and discover our authenticity, who we truly are, who we were meant to be. We catch glimpses of our truths, buried under all the thoughts we've created to solidify other's beliefs. Keep digging and don't stop.
It is not impossible to change what we believe about ourselves and life. It is simple, but not easy. Those other thoughts (driven by the ego) will keep trying to re-insinuate themselves into our minds, try to keep us from being authentic, try to tell us we can't succeed at our deepest dreams and desires because They told us we can't.
I have come to believe in my own success. Why not? If I don't, who will? I hear the naysayers chanting their beliefs and beating their drums of fear, but I realize that they speak only for themselves and not for everyone. I cannot change them, nor should I try, nor do I tell them the mystic truth: Success is yours if you want it bad enough. They need to find out on their own or, sadly, maybe they never will. But in the meantime, I have new beliefs to live by.
Again, this isn't some magic trick or wishful prayer. I write, I believe, I create situations to reach my goal, I act as if my dreams are a reality already, and let the Universe take care of the rest. If it is meant to be, it will.
I'll let you in on a little secret: Back in June I wrote a check and post-dated it for Christmas 2009. I'll let you know what happens.
Gary . . .
Sunday, July 5, 2009
One of the reasons I am continuing my graduate studies in writing popular fiction is to satisfy the creative urge and intellectual curiosity within myself. The dinner guests must also be people who would appreciate hearing about this undertaking, who would understand and possibly even challenge my ideas and ambitions. The possibilities are endless
I considered Jesus, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the whole "water into wine" thing. But this seems like an obvious choice, and might be judged unimaginative by my peers. Plus, it makes the rest of the choices much more awkward. Who deserves to be at a dinner with Jesus, and yet won't pick a fight with him? And how do I go about steering him toward my educational career for our dinner conversation?
From a creative standpoint, a master artist such as Jackson Pollock might be good. I think we could talk about deconstruction, defying traditional forms, and blazing your own path. At the same time, he was known for being a loose cannon. I don't want my dinner marred by an unexpected scene.
Of course, as a writer you'd always like to talk to those who influenced you the most. I study martial arts, and the belt ranking system denotes "one who comes before." As soon as you are higher than a white belt, you are a teacher to those who are lower in the ranking system than you are. As a writer, my primary literary influence--the "black belt," if you will--was Stephen King.
Again, I face my own indecisiveness here. Sure, Stephen King is my all time favorite writer. But what about Stephen Dobyns, whose novel The Wrestler's Cruel Study combines philosophy, pro wrestling, and humor into a perfect reading mix? What about Frank McCourt, or Faulkner, or Salinger, or Hemingway? Heck, what about Don Pendleton, whose Mack Bolan series filled my teens with such bloody action joy?
And what about judgment from my peers, since writing is so subjective and there are so many divergent opinions on who is the greatest? What if people ridiculed me because I didn't pick Shakespeare, or Chaucer?
Even more dangerous, what if I found out that my heroes had clay feet? What if Edgar Allen Poe were an insufferable bore, a socially awkward nerd who couldn't carry on a conversation with a drink coaster? What if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to seduce my wife, or Jane Austen collapsed in a hysterical mess in the corner and dessert was cold before we could eat? What if they told me to give up my dreams, or turned out to be racists, misogynists, or worse?
So, I had a list of those I could not invite, due to my own peculiar idiosyncrasies, even though they would be interesting people who would appreciate my pursuit of more writing education. But who could I invite, given that I want a predictable and entertaining party, where we can talk about writing and education but not get too serious or have the night drone on for five or six unendurable hours?
Then it hit me, as I stared at my collection of videos and DVDs. There are three people who enjoy creativity, humor, and entertainment. These are all an integral part of popular fiction, and contribute to my desire to continue learning more about the craft of writing. I also know, based on such short films as Three Sappy People and An Ache in Every Stake, that these three can really liven up a stuffy dinner. So, the three people I would invite to discuss my education are Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Shemp Howard--better known as the Three Stooges. They took their craft, but not themselves, seriously. We could talk writing until it got boring, and then we'd wing some cheesecakes at each other. What could be better?
If I were able to invite these three to dinner, we'd have much to discuss. First and foremost, I would thank them each for their individual contributions to my academic career path.
Margaret Callaghan was the author of the first romance book I fell in love with. It was titled Substitute Husband. I read this book when I was 16 years old, working part time at a nursing home. Before this time, I never knew the world of pure romance novels existed. These books became an obsession for me, and since then, I've devoured thousands of them.
After college, when I was looking at graduate schools and came across Seton Hill University's program in Writing Popular Fiction (WPF), I was thrilled to see that I could specialize in romance fiction. It seemed almost too good to be true that I could get a master's degree focused on the genre I loved. If it had not been for that one book by Callaghan, I would not have been able to connect with the program that encourages my love of and practice in the romance genre.
Julia Quinn serves a similar role as Margaret Callaghan does. Currently, Quinn is my favorite author. I've read almost all of her books (her current book, What Happens in London, is on my reading pile). She writes Regency romance with humor and wit, and I am aspiring to make my current work as intelligent and amusing as hers. My dream is to one day be printed by her publisher, Avon. I would enjoy telling her about the WPF program and my goals for it, and then hearing her thoughts about the program and my career.
Finally, before I could even thank Margaret Callaghan or Julia Quinn, I would need to thank the third dinner guest, Johannes Gutenberg. Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. Because of him, the publishing industry is what it is today. All writers owe him for our modern ability to mass produce books.
I would like Gutenberg to see what his invention had done, how it has affected everyone in the world. From the mass production of the Bible, to the rapid distribution of category romance novels, people the world over have benefited from the ability to quickly acquire printed text.
These three people have shaped the way my world revolves around the printed word. Gutenberg has given me the printed word, Callaghan introduced me to a loved genre and Quinn created a type of writing that I would love to emulate. To be able to thank them and share with them about my academic plans would be the gift of a lifetime. No, wait. They've already given me the gift of a lifetime – and I will use it in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
We've heard a lot about marketing ourselves before we're published. Many people point to such websites at Kelly St. John's (http://www.kellystjohn.com/TheCall.cfm), which was super popular before she was published. Is this something with which we should concern ourselves? Should I try to get as many hits on my website as possible? Thoughts?
Off to celebrate the 4th... Hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Here I am. A storyteller, a literary magician, ready to show you tales from my imagination, dark and sinister. It's what I do. It's in my blood and in my soul. This is my exhibitionistic streak. I do it on paper.
Okay, I regale people with songs and music as well. I play guitar and sing. But that's a different story all together. That's purely for entertainment value. I play, you relax, you smile, sing a long, and we bring a little peace into the world.
But the writing. You get to see a piece of me, what's blossoming in my soul and my imagination, you learn about who I am with each word you read. In a way, you know me more intimately than the folks who know me, because they only know what I reveal. But what I reveal in my words is from the soul, deeper than just surface dialog.
And I take you away for a little while, bring you into my worlds, negate time until you're lost in the tale and then . . . magic. You're with me in the darkened room with some thing close by or a stranger watching you with wicked intent. Do you know them? Familiar but yet . . . then they're gone and you're . . . alone? Maybe. Welcome to my worlds. Come in and play and let the magic wash over you. Get lost in here for a while. I've have such wonders to show you!
But don't worry, you can look away any time you like, return to your world where it's all safe and warm and . . . or is it? Maybe the magic's seeped out and now everything around you is a little different. Noises that were familiar are tainted, shadows are more than what they had been moments before.
Just put the book down and go to sleep. The magic stays with you, doesn't it. Isn't it wonderful? Hide under the covers and feel the nostaglia of your heart racing like when you were a kid. Delightful, isn't it?
Thanks for coming and being a part of the show. You can try to brush the magic off, but it'll stay with you. Rejoice in it while you can. And don't worry. I'm right here waiting for when you want to come back and feel the magic once more.
Gary . . .
Monday, June 29, 2009
Yet we do it.
There’s truly a sense of exibitionism that imbues the organs of a writer. To lay bare the bones of your very existence for the world to see and to judge and then perhaps to be rejected by the established judges of the profession. Sadomasocism at it most acceptable.
Hours spent mining the cobwebbed corners of your psyche. Days suffering over revisions… Did I use that word too often? Is that verb to passive? How do I show the violence life subjects me to in so many supple sentences? How to bleed on a page without bleeding out? It’s vampirism, pure and simple. I am a gimp for the masses, though they don’t yet want my blood. Still I do try to bleed for them.
I hack at my veins with my pure white Mac, dribbling bits of myself into the cup that is Microsoft word. “Drink me,” I proclaim to the editors sifting through the slush pile that must be gelatinous and rank with the devotions of so many writing Renfields.
Some have tasted my prose and declared it to thin for their hearty appetites. Guess I should eat more iron with my verbs.
Click here to read a new Shadow Cat Review by Manic Readers. I’m also pasting it below.
Manic Readers Review
by Zoe LaPage
Isabelle is an art historian who has come to the Loire Valley in France to do a major restoration at the Chateau Limoges on a Francious Clouet mural that is covered in plaster. While out on a stroll on her first night she is attacked by a panther and saved by her neighbor Jules Valdrome, who happened to be in panther form when the attack occurred.
Later, Jules saves Isabelle again when she is attacked in her bedroom by a Rogue, an evil vampire werecat. Isabelle then learns that Jules is a Favres, a good werecat. While doing the restoration work on the mural she goes through a series of puzzles that reveal the secrets of the werecats. She is soon involved in a battle between good and evil.
With the help of Jules and his brother, Isabelle must find a way of defeating the Rogues before they begin their war on humans.
I enjoyed reading Shadow Cat by Zoe LaPage. It was different with fascinating historical art details coming from the unveiling of the mural with a different blend of cultures and references of the werecats. Isabelle finds she will do anything for Jules. She goes from being a vegetarian and coming to terms with eating meat to killing her enemies. Isabelle is surprised to find out that she is the key to unlocking the secrets of the goddesses and the werecats. Jules finds out that Isabelle is his love, will do anything to protect her and knows that he needs her help along with his brother to beat the Rogues. There are parts of this book that have you laughing as well. LaPage draws you into the book along with her characters. I will be looking forward to reading more books from Zoe LaPage.