Using Books to Escape a Horrid Summer

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Tent blowing away in a summer storm.  Image Source: Yoga Mobility

Apologies for not posting as the past few days were the perfect end to an absolutely horrid summer for me (and by perfect, I mean utterly devastating for me as a human being and as a person).  Rather than coming online to vent my spleen (to use an old outdated expression of anger), I decided just take a couple of “mental health” days and refrain from posting for a couple of days (would that online Trolls would do the same thing and internet trolling would be a thing of the past).  I won’t go into details, but just reread my post on Sometimes the Bear Gets You and multiply it by a factor of 50 and then you’ll have some idea on why it was probably a good idea to step away for a couple of days.

Anyway, moving on, my library books happened to be due this week, so I stopped by and saw all of the changes that have occurred in the 4 years since I became a teacher and a PhD student.  It really is incredible!  One of the librarians, when I told her about my horrid summer, said to just put it out of my mind and to focus on my upcoming tasks, so I decided to take her advice.

To that end, I’ve checked out two books: The Green Rider by Kristen Britain and J.R.R. Tolkien, A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter.   Now I’ve checked out these books before but there is a story behind each of them.

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Book Cover: Young Lady on a Horse.  Image Source: Goodreads

I tried to read The Green Rider by Kristen Britain before when it was first released, but abandoned it shortly after I started reading.  I think it was because she does a lot of POV switching early in the book (I can’t remember if this is her first novel or not–I’ll have to research it), but at the time, I was a beginning writer and the advice to stay in one POV was ringing in my head and it drove me nuts that an author could get her book published while ignoring this “basic” rule (of course, I could be misremembering and this might not be the reason at all–hey, cut me some slack, it’s been a LONG time, but my best recollection is this is the reason why I stopped reading).  As both my school’s starting time and my library’s loan period is about the same time (3 weeks) I’m going to (in the short period before school resumes) try to read it again and see if I can stick with it long enough to finish it.  I’ll report back on my progress here.

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Book Cover: Tolkien seated beside a tree.  Image Source: Amazon

The second book I picked up is a biography on J.R.R. Tolkien that I’ve read before.  Last summer, when I started the PhD program we had to pick an author and do an in-depth study on him/her.  I wanted to pick Tolkien, but I was talked out of it by well-meaning (but ultimately flawed) advice: i.e., even though he’s deceased, the amount of editions in print and the amount of scholarship would be overwhelming.  So I picked Langston Hughes, an author who I’ve done a little bit research on and who seemed to fit the bill for the class (I wanted to do David Eddings as a 2nd choice, but there was almost NO research on him at all, which would have made finding 50 critical articles a near impossibility).  However, here’s what I (re)learned from that experience–I have to follow my OWN heart, otherwise it all goes wrong.  Langston was manageable, but uninteresting.  I struggled to complete the assignments because I wasn’t invested in Langston’s life and works as I had been as an undergraduate.  I had moved on as a person/scholar and I didn’t really have the zeal to do a critical study of him.  This is the “kiss of death” for a scholar.  If you’re going to spend all that time working on a project, you’d better make doggone sure that you’re interested in it.  I’d learned this lesson before by taking a graduate Shakespeare class at UTC.  The class wasn’t the one I had planned on taking that year, but a friend told me to take it and it (much like this summer) didn’t go nearly as well as I had hoped.  I learned then to trust my own judgement and not the judgement of others, a lesson which I forgot, (and had to re-learn) from my disinterest in Langston’s life and works at MTSU.  So, in honor of such a crappy summer, I’m going to reread Tolkien’s biography to hopefully remind myself that it is MY opinion that matters in deciding matters about MY life.

 

 

Finished–The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams (Book Review)

The Heart of What Was Lost_Amazon

I finished The Heart of What Was Lost (THoWWL) by Tad Williams over the weekend.  I’m going to give a short review today and I’ll probably paste and cut this review on to Goodreads.com (which also reposts my blog, so if you’re seeing this blog there, you might get a “double post”) and LibraryThing.com

Final Grade: B+ (or 4 stars out of 5)

Having read the Memory, Sorrow, Thorn Trilogy late in high school and early freshman and sophomore years in college, I always hoped Tad Williams would return to the world of Osten Ard and tell more stories in this world.  However, after George Lucas’s Prequel trilogy and seeing the mess made by sequels of my other favorite stories (for instance, the original Karate Kid sequels, Alien 3 and up, Terminator 3 and up, and Jurassic Park 2 and up), I slowly soured on the idea.  So, when Tad announced he was returning to Osten Ard, I was filled with both excitement and trepidation.

THoWWL is a short book, by Tad Williams standards, but it contained a story that seems to function in two ways: a coda for the original series and a prologue for the new series.  It functions as a coda as it picks up directly after the events of To Green Angel Tower and tells what happened to Isgrimmnur and his warriors.  At first, I didn’t think I would like the (I think) new characters of Endri and Porto as their banter seemed forced, but as the story went along and their complications grew, I warmed to the pair.  The same is true for the Norns, Viyeki and Yaarike, in that it took the complications of the plot for me to truly like them as characters.  The first third of the book, I didn’t like so much, but after the introduction of the Norn General, that is when I feel the book hit its stride and the relationships between all of the main players really coalesced into a strong narrative.  I can say truly that by the end, I was totally invested in the outcome of the Endri/Porto and Viyeki/Yaarike storylines.

While the action isn’t necessarily on the same scale as in the main MST books, I feel that the action that is there is great and more than appropriate to help change the characters in meaningful ways.  A cousin who has also read the book remarked that she saw this much like a World War 2 narrative following a “band of brothers,” and I can definitely see echoes of this in the storyline.  It is a shorter, more compact, and more empathetic look at the nature of war than most fantasy novels give us and I, for one, am grateful that the characters took center stage over the action.

Having finished this first book, I can say that I’m excited that Osten Ard is back and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, The Witchwood Crown.

Book Haul for April 2017

 

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I love books and I love reading.  I love going to bookstores and libraries and just walking down the rows of books, pulling out books that look interesting, reading the blurbs on the dust jackets and the backs of the books.  However, I don’t love the modern incarnation/conception of libraries and bookstores with their focus on book “communities,” reading “clubs” (aka reading “circles” or “groups”), and focus on other non-narrative media (movies, audio, and even video games are fine for me because of the narrative aspects of those media, but when start moving into toys, and food and beverages, that is where I lose interest).  However, I discovered that if I’m able to get to the bookstores/libraries early enough in the day, I can recapture some of that joy in cruising the aisles in order discover that special book that I can lose myself in.  So, I thought I write this week’s blog entry on the four books that I bought recently at a used bookstore.  I don’t know if this will become a regular feature of the blog, but it seemed like something fun to write about.  I bought two fiction books and two non-fiction books this time around.

TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT (Book 13 of the Wheel of Time Series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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I have read this book before.  I have completed the entire Wheel of Time novel series having started reading them way back as an undergraduate when I started my college career at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (UTK) before I transferred to U.T. Chattanooga (UTC) a couple of years later.  This series is one that I found with help from a friend from high school who was also attending UTK  (An aside: quite a few of us actually ended up at UTK, especially in that first year and we often talked about cool Fantasy novels that we were reading).  I read this book about a year or two after it was published.  I didn’t read it initially because I concerned about Sanderson’s (or any other writer’s, for that matter) ability to successfully conclude the story that Jordan had been working on for so many years.  However, after reading an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) of Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, I felt confident in Sanderson’s approach that I went ahead and finished the three books the Wheel of Time Series.

WRITING FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION: HOW TO CREATE OUT-OF-THIS WORLD NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES by Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, and Jay Lake & the Editors of Writer’s Digest.

Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

Source: Amazon.com

This is one of those books that I simply couldn’t resist based on the cover and the title.  I try to buy only one book in each genre (in this case, how to: writing), but I simply couldn’t help myself when I saw it.  It covers a lot of material that I already know and/or have in other forms somewhere else, but I”m super interested in transitioning from short form Fantasy and Science Fiction into long form Fantasy and Science Fiction and I’m looking for any tips and techniques that I can find to aid me in my process.  It also has a very comprehensive “reference” section that relates to various historical elements that might be useful to a Fantasy writer, in particular and I just couldn’t resist.  I don’t think it will be as helpful to me as the other book on writing that I bought (see below), but it did have a dragon on the cover.  Note to future authors: if you want to pique my interest, just put a dragon or a spaceship on the cover.

BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens

bleak houseOkay, so this is one of those books for “school.”  My program has a fairly exhaustive list of famous/important literary works for incoming PhD students to read and take a test on.  Now I’ve already taken (and PASSED! 🙂 ) this exam, but I the idea of a list of important literary works is a “challenge” that I really want to undertake.  So I’ve made it my goal to finish all the books on this list.  I actually downloaded the audio version of this book to listen to on the drive to and from school, but I really do follow the story better when I can read it, rather than listen to it.  So, I decided to buy this copy and read it during my “downtime” between classes, waiting in lines, etc.  I’ve read Dickens before, but not this specific book, so I’ll be interested to see if I like it as I do all of the other Dickens novels that I have read.

WRITING THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Albert Zuckerman

Writing the blockbuster novel

Source: Amazon.co.uk

This is another book that I’ve read before–I read it at the Chattanooga Public Library long before I started working there.  It didn’t really make all that much of an impression on me at the time as I was primarily interested in learning “short story” writing.  I wanted to learn how to write short form fiction before stepping up to the “big” works of novels, screenplays, and the like (graphic novels, while around, were not really viable options at that time).  Now, however, I think that I’m ready to learn the lessons of novel writing.  I especially love the fact that point number on the dust jacket in the inside cover is “how to develop and use an outline.”  Anyone following the conversation that I had two weeks ago with a blog commentor named Tom Cordle will appreciate the fact that I like outlines to guide my stories into rough draft stages.  Outlines make sense to me where as just jumping in blind does not.  I can’t tell you how many novels that I have “in my mind” that did not make the translation onto the page because I did not complete a strong outline/rough draft.  I’m hopeful that this book will allow me to produce an outline for a novel over the summer and (fingers crossed) a rough draft for it by Christmas of this year as well.  Well, I can dream big, at least.

Well, that’s it for me.  Here’s hoping you have wonderful, book-filled, week.

 

Project Shadow Update

This will be a shorter post–work has interfered with both my personal life and writing life, and I’m struggling to catch up.

PROJECT SHADOW

I’ve completed the 1st scene (out of 3), but I plan on the 2nd scene being the longest.  I have a roadmap (loose outline) for the whole story, now I just have to find the time to write it as the deadline is looming (2/15/16).

I am off on President’s Day, but I’d really like to have it done by Friday (2/12) so that I can give it to my Beta readers.  Two scenes in one week, though, is a tough ask.  We’ll see what happens.

SUBMISSIONS

I’ve been more conscientious about submitting.  I’ve made a list of publishers/markets for the stories (about 5-8 markets) and I have ALL my stories out to 1 market at a time.  When any stories come back with a rejection (3 this week), I wait until Saturday night or Sunday night, look at the guidelines for the next market on the list, prep the submission, and send it.  When I run out of markets, I’ll simply make a list of 5-8 more.

I’m also trying to be more conscientious about following up with markets that have had my stories beyond their stated time.  I don’t want to pester the markets, but if they had it longer than a specified time and they say to ask, then I’m probably not going to wait until my buffer time (which was a long 120 days, or 4 months) before I inquire about it.)

DIANE DUANE – GAMES WIZARDS PLAY

Games Wizards Play

Finally, one of my favorite authors has released a new book this week.  It is called Games Wizards Play and it is Bk. 10 in her Young Wizards Series (which is my favorite series and one I discovered as a child).

Now this is book 10 in the series, so if you haven’t read any of the books, I would NOT advise you to start here.  Rather, start with book 1, So You Want To Be a Wizard.  It starts off quite a bit as a children’s/YA book, but “grows up” pretty quickly and the resolution and ending is one of the strongest that I’ve ever read.

Like all series, I like some books more than others, but I spent all of last year collecting copies of all 9 books to add to my classroom library.  This year, I think I’m going to try to collect them all for my own personal library–starting with this one!

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So, in preparation for the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie releasing soon, I went back and finished watching my 6 disc set of Star Wars Blu-Rays. I’d started watching them way back at the start of school, but I’d fallen away from them. I went from 1-4 (using Lucas’ numbering scheme), but needed to finish 5-6 (The Empire Strikes Back & The Return of the Jedi) for the uninitiated. Over the past two weeks, I finished these two movies and they rekindled my love for all things Star Wars and Science Fiction and Fantasy in general.

Child of Star Wars

I saw The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) first when I was a child. Heresy, I know, but when Star Wars came out, I was only 4 years old and my parents didn’t think that I would like it. As a matter of fact, we weren’t much of a movie going family per se. That changed in the early 1980s, when my preference for all things Sci-Fi & Fantasy began to emerge. My mother and stepfather took me to see ESB and I was immediately hooked. So much so, that they took be to the bargain theater the next weekend to see SW and the X-Wing trench run had me talking about it that entire summer.

When I was a kid, my grandparents used to subscribe to an oversized magazine called Life and in it, there was an extended interview with George Lucas. It talked about his early life, his car accident that nearly cost him his life, the movie American Graffiti and his making of Star Wars. I remember devouring that article.

In one interview, not sure if it was the one I mentioned above, Lucas mentioned that he kept the subtitles in his movie because he wanted to inspire kids to read. He wanted them to be so fascinated by the visuals that they would want to learn to read the text to figure out what they were missing in the scene. Or so was the gist of what I remember from the interview. I already was reading and reading well, but what Lucas’ movies did for me was show me that there was a niche of media available to me that focused on the futuristic and the fantastical. I began to search out those avenues wherever I could find them–in the library, on TV, in games (the Atari 2600 & Commodore 64 were my console and “PC” respectively).

Lucas took, for me, what was simply a preference and turned it into a passion. I can (& will) read non-genre works, but given the choice between a contemporary work or a genre work, I’ll almost always choose the genre (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) work.

Creating Science Fiction and Fantasy

Like many creators, I want to create my own works because (except for a few exceptions) people don’t seem to be writing the kind of things that I want to read/watch anymore.

I recently tried to read a fantasy work by an author whose cover art and cover blurb looked promising. When I started it, however, the F-Bomb was littered all through it. It completely turned me off–there’s no way that a “fantasy” milieu would use a vulgarity like the F-word in the same way and context that we would in today’s society, but that’s exactly what happened in the story. It was as anachronistic as playing the song “We Will Rock You” at a joust. At least the movie A Knight’s Tale used that ironically, but the author didn’t seem to even know how anachronistic his use of the word was. Its always dangerous trying to pretend to know the mind of an author, but it was almost like he thought, “Hey, this is how my friends and I all talk to each other, so sure, its okay that my characters in my fantasy novel talk this way too.” Um, no, it’s not okay. Even in Sci-Fi, if you’re going to use vulgarities, you need to take into account how the language might have shifted over time in your universe. Just shoving a contemporary vulgarity into your story because we (as a culture) use it now is, in a word, lazy. I loved Stephen King’s Dark Tower series for a while, but the vulgarities (among other things) eventually drove me away. King thinks we Americans talk like that, but in reality, we don’t (or at least we don’t in contexts that King writes about). In public spaces, we tend to moderate our vulgarities. It is only in small groups or online where anonymity reigns do most of us seem to cut loose.

Another area that I’ve talked about is the rise of the “Anti-Hero” in Fantasy. I stopped reading much of the Sci-Fi written in the 90’s because there was an “anti-Star Wars” reaction where everything had to be dark and gritty. The same movement is happening in Fantasy at the moment (the rise of Game of Thrones is evidence of this phenomenon). I’m beginning to read more Science Fiction now because it is more in-line with my own tastes due to the resurgence of military Sci-Fi at the moment.

I’m hopeful that the Force Awakens heralds a resurgence of the type of Fantasy and Sci-Fi that I personally like. Perhaps then, my stories will be able to find an audience and I’ll be able to read/watch more of the media in the genre that I love. I suppose only time will tell.

Potpourri ( . . . a little bit of everything)

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So this blog post contains a little bit everything (hence the title).  I will try to keep this post shorter than normal; it (hopefully) will be just an update post.

WRITING

I was really happy with the way “Here Be Monsters” (HBM) turned out.  I haven’t heard a response from the 1st market that I sent it to yet, but having the setting allowed me to focus on the characters in a way that I haven’t been able to since “Dragonhawk” (DH).  I actually like HBM a quite a bit more than DH although they have a lot in common.

READING

Finished “Conquistadors” (finally) after struggling to read it all summer and fall.  I shouldn’t complain because it gave be the initial idea and setting for HBM.  I loved learning about the Conquistadors and the Aztecs, Maya, and Inca.  It’s just that I’m so stressed from teaching that it is hard to pay attention to an in-depth non-fiction work. For the past couple of years, I usually read Fantasy (David Eddings, Brandon Sanderson, and Diane Duane) or Science Fiction (David Weber, Elizabeth Moon) in order to “de-stress.”

Picked a new “history” book from the back of the Conquistadors.  It is the Condottieri. Hopefully, lightning will strike twice and I’ll be able to find an awesome story from this time period.  I just ordered a used copy from Amazon.com today.

REVISION

I plan on revising Rocketman for my next project.  It will follow the same 3 act structure (beginning, middle, end) as HBM, but I think I need a short half a page prologue/epilogue to completely get it where I want it.  I think I’ve settled on an epigraph to highlight the theme.  More on this later.

SCHOOL

I really want to see if I can raise my game and go back to school.  I’d like to perhaps teach in Higher Education and for that I’ll need a PhD.  I’m going to apply to PhD programs this year in hopes that I will be accepted.  Much of my “free” time will be spent studying for the GRE and preparing applications for various schools, so my writing output will be reduced temporarily as I try to accomplish this goal.

NEW STORY

The creative process will not wait, however.  I’ve begun to write down ideas for my next story.  I don’t have a title yet (although I have a tentative grasp of some of the characters and some of the plot.)  All I can say at this point is the inspiration that inspired me to start planning out the story.  One was a dream that I had last night with a gunslinger.  The other was a phrase that I wrote down about a month ago while still working on HBM: “Jedi Gunslingers.”  More on this later!

That’s all I have at the moment!