Thursday Quotables: Yes, More Tad Williams

Good morning and happy, happy Thursday! Today’s blog post is linked to Bookshelf Fantasies again, and this time, I get to talk about a good quote in something I recently read. Yes, it’s The Dragonbone Chair, but since I just finished it a couple of days ago, I think it’s still safe to share from it. This quote is about a third of the way in, and one of the Holy Men in the book is explaining a saying in their religion to a non-believer.

“If your enemy comes to speak bearing a sword, open your door to him and speak, but keep your own sword at hand. If he comes to you empty-handed, greet him the same way. But if he comes to you bearing gifts, stand on your walls and cast stones down on him..”

I hope everyone’s having a great day out there. What are you reading? Writing? Eating?

 

Character Tuesday: The Villain Next Door

Happy Tuesday, happy third day of the year. Today, I’m starting my own Book Blogging meme, at least on this page. I call it Character Tuesday. Write about one to three characters that you like or don’t like, in fiction. There will probably be a theme but not always. The only other rule is that I want to keep it constructive; in other words, if I say something bad about how a character is written, I’m going to say why. If anyone else wants to play along, I’ll set this up like a regular blog-along for everyone.

Today, I’m going to talk about villains in books, and what makes the truly good ones. Well, bad ones. Whichever adjective you care to use. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’m writing a villain myself. Yes, my book has a Dragon, and an enemy general, and a few sadistic killers in it, along with monsters, demons, and even a lawyer, but I realized that those kind of villains aren’t the ones I remember the most from my reading, and that’s probably because those aren’t the kinds of villains I encounter in my daily life.

These three are examples of what I’m talking about. These aren’t the boogeymen, the wights, the dragons, the unrestful dead. These are people who could run into every day.

Dolores Umbridge

sonrisa_de_umbridgeA lot of digital ink has been spilled over exactly why she’s such a memorable villain, and some people, including your not-so-humble blogger, think that she’s the most frightening villain in the series, even though her death count is much lower than any of the Death Eaters. The most frightening thing about her, though, is that she’s completely and totally believable. Most of us aren’t going to run into dark wizards throwing Cruciatus curses at us, but we will probably deal with someone who has power over us, power that we can’t do anything about whether we want to or not. Even worse, the Umbridginian Villain, even more than your average evil fantasy bad-guy, does not think that he or she is doing anything wrong. Everything she does is what she thinks will keep people safe. Whether it’s effective or not isn’t the point. The point is, individual rights have to go by the wayside when the Organization (whether Hogwarts, Public High Schools, or the Department of Homeland Security) has other concerns like keeping its subjects safe, exactly the way it thinks its subjects need to be kept. This is the villain who will punish a student for what he said in class, not because it’s a lie but because it will scare other students. These are the people who implement security theater throughout the country, and respond to reports that it might be ineffective by adding even more theater instead of actual security. (A true Umbridginian, though, would prosecute the people complaining about it, discouraging others from complaining.)

Phoebus

phoebusNow we’re getting away from the bureaucratic villains and into something different. I can only barely begin to describe how much I loathe Disney for how they treated this character. In the book The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (which is just as good as Les Miserables, though it doesn’t have anything about dreaming a dream and such) the action is put into motion by Phoebus. Everything bad happens because Phoebus is a spoiled wealthy knight who gets what he wants. And when the crap hits the agitator blades, he ducks out of the picture, ignores everything going on because of what he started, and STILL winds up with a happily-ever-after for him. (He’s about the only main character in the book who gets one.) He’s the kind of person the Psalmist was talking about when he wrote Psalm 73, AKA When Good Things Happen to Bad People. If I could somehow enter the pages of a book and slap the nosehairs out of a character, it would be him.

So, you can imagine how I felt when I saw a commercial for the then-upcoming Disney treatment and I realized that Phoebus was rewritten to be brave and ultimately, the hero. I might have screamed a little. I haven’t much been able to enjoy Disney cartoons since.

The Chief, AKA Sharkey

SPOILERS FOR ANYONE WHO HASN’T READ THE LORD OF THE RINGS. THIS WAS NOT IN THE MOVIES.

(Here, look at the picture of a dog and his puppy, posted by /u/emoposer on the subreddit /r/aww)

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Alright, for those of you who have read LOTR, I’m going to talk about the second-to-last chapter, “The Scouring of the Shire.” Every time I reread this book (I think my last rereading was my fourth) I like this part more; indeed, it’s thick enough in concept and character to justify a complete novel of its own. Even before we learn who The Chief is (which actually kind of disappointed me, and I would have liked it better had he just been a regular man who saw an opportunity and jumped at it) we see what happens when there’s a power vacuum during a war or other disturbance. A group of men took advantage of Frodo’s absence, made inroads into the community by offering money and power, and soon (within a year or two, perhaps) were running Hobbiton like it was their own person fiefdom. It’s a shocking bit of realism, probably informed by what happened in a lot of cities and countries after World War II, and it’s again an example of casual greed and opportunism doing as much damage as intentional evil and destruction. It’s the most underrated chapter in the book (I’ve rarely heard people complain about its omission like they will about missing Tom Bombadil) and yet, one of the most relatable to our own world.

So, those are my villainous inspirations. Now I need to go back to my notes and work on one of my own.

Tell me about your favorites in the comments, or write a post and link back. I think this is a conversation worth having.

My Happy Old Year in Books

Hello everyone, and Hoppy Gnu Ear to all of you. I hope you had a great one, or at least a good one. I hope you had plenty of books and tea and experiences that you can talk about for years to come. Me? I had a bunch of good things… got married to a wonderful woman I’ve been friends with since we were in 8th Grade Art together, became a step parent to two awesome kids who sometimes act more like me than I do, got to travel all up and down the east coast and help my wife and family with our business, got to write, got to see some amazing friends, and I restarted my blog… productively, I think. Bad… well, aside from bi-polar depression (which is mitigated by the weirdos who’ve kidnapped me into their family) I feel kind of bad for one failing. Every year I pledge to read at least 52 books. This year, I only read…

51

Never mind that I also read over 200 pages in a non-fiction book that I didn’t finish, 800 pages in War and Peace, and I’m over 500 pages into The Dragonbone Chair. Never mind that if you average the 51 books I did read, I read an average of 453 pages per book… 480 if you add in the two books I’m reading. I seriously considered (a) spending all day today reading the last 300-plus pages of DBC just so I could say I finished it, or (b) pulling out one of my novella collections (I have several, including one of classic novellas and two of golden-age science fiction novellas) and reading one of those just so I could say I hit 52 friggin’ books. Instead, I decided to (c) get some father-daughter time for a couple hours at the game store. (She likes browsing games and figurines and other such things; I needed to have her there as a chaperone to make sure I didn’t buy anything.) And then, instead of spending the evening speed-reading (which is unenjoyable at best, really), my daughter, wifepartnerlove, and I continued on with our mission to beat the Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle Deck Building Game. (Awesome game, by the way… highly recommended.) We had to play it twice, too, since we lost in quite the epic fashion the first time. But, we have one more part of the game to beat (there are seven parts, one for each of the books) and then we can start replaying it. Now I’m sitting here, mildly upset in the part of my brain that likes to categorize everything, and yet I wouldn’t give up what I did today (or for the most part, what I read) for the world.

Anyway, here are the best books I read this year, in no specific order.

BEST BOOK TO READ DURING A COLD RUSSIAN WINTER, EVEN THOUGH I READ IT IN GEORGIA (NOT THE FORMER SOVIET REPUBLIC, EITHER), : The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In addition to some stunning and prescient discourses on faith, religion, ethics, and revenge (at one point, a character comments on how good it feels to be offended about something and thus predicted social media over a century before it arrived) the book has some of the best starkly-drawn characters I have ever encountered in a book. Also, while it’s mostly obvious who committed the crime, by the time I got to the end, I didn’t really care who did it and was just glad that someone did.

BEST BOOK I BOUGHT OFF AN AMAZON KINDLE SPLASH SCREEN ADVERTISEMENT: Bloom, or, The Unwritten Memoir of Tennyson Middlebrook Martin Kee

I rarely buy books off of the ads on my Kindle, but the few times I have, I’ve been impressed. This counts as one of those impressed times. The book was also published independently (I believe it might now have been picked up by a mainstream publisher) and gives me hope for my own writing. The book is a mix of folklore-style mythmaking (which holds a special place in my heart), horror (which holds a special place in the heart I keep in a box under the bed), and science fiction. I will also say that there are a couple well-done pleasant twists here and there that make the book memorable. I could see myself reading it again some time soon.

BEST ROMANCE: Voyager (Outlander #3) — Diana Gabaldoon

If you haven’t read the other two (#1… excellent; #2… well, it tied up a lot of loose ends and wasn’t bad, at least), well, don’t worry that I might spoil #3 (possibly the best so far) for you. I will say that it’s the best story of the bunch, and even though there are a couple of plot holes big enough to sail a ship through, I DIDN’T CARE. Also, while reading one scene in a diner where Rena Partnerlove and I were having lunch, she informed me that I was unconsciously rubbing her knee under the table. Ms Gabaldoon’s a hell of a writer, that’s all I’m going to say.

BEST SCIENCE-FICTION CLASSIC THAT EVERYONE SHOULD READ, EVEN IT (ESPECIALLY IF) THEY DON’T READ SCIENCE-FICTION: The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin

This is the sixth book of hers (I think) I’ve read, and it’s easily the best. It’s a portrait of a co-op utopian society and its interactions with the oligarchy it left years and years before. While the book definitely comes down on the side of the co-op society, it also does a very good job of pointing out flaws and potential pitfalls that are usually ignored in such political science fiction books. (Likewise, while the oligarchy is shown as the villains, after a fact, they don’t come off as cartoonishly evil.) I read the “Earthsea” books at least twice before hitting twenty (starting with The Tombs of Atuan during quiet bits in 7th grade band class when I didn’t have to play) so it’s safe to say I picked up this book as a fan. But this book… this book is a pure masterpiece.

 

BEST HORROR NOVEL THAT STILL CREEPS ME OUT, EVEN THOUGH I’M JUST TYPING THE TITLE RIGHT NOW: A Head Full of Ghosts — Paul Tremblay

This book showed up on a list of under-the-radar horror novels, and while there were a couple that I’d read, this one was completely new to me. In some ways, it’s a book that could only have been written in the last ten years… a middle-class family with recession-era money problems has a daughter they think might be possessed, so they let a reality TV company film her exorcism. Perhaps because it’s laced with such modern concerns, though, I wasn’t prepared for its attacks in a few dark, primordial places in my mind. It’s definitely a book that I thought about for months after I turned the last page.

So, those are my five books that I wish to share with you for the year. Next week, I’ll be writing about neglected authors, favorite characters to hate, and book-related news, good and bad. Please feel free to stop by the comment page and let me know what you’re reading, what you’re writing, and how things are going.

Book Beginnings: What Should I Begin?

Good morning and welcome to the blog. Writing so far is going well, and my characters finally decided to stop being coy and tell me the rest of their story. Or at least, they’re telling me the next part of their story, which is good enough for right now, though I might have to start asking leading questions and nagging them here in a chapter or three.

As I do on a lot of Fridays, I’m taking part in Book Beginnings over at the excellent Rose City Reader blog. Also, as I do on a lot of days, I’m doing something a little different. I’m about to finish The Dragonbone Chair, and I’m still working through War and Peace. I need another book to begin, and, well, also as I do on a lot of days, I’m not sure which book to begin. So, I’m going to post three opening paragraphs and see what you think I should pick up next.

King’s Shield, Sherwood Smith (Book Three of Inda)

inda_3This isn’t so much a “Should I read this?” as it is “Should I read this now?” I absolutely loved the first two books of this series… the characters were fresh, the politics was interesting and intriguing without being at any point boring, and, well, as a sailor, I loved reading a fantasy novel that took place out to sea. Here’s the first sentence

After nine years of exile, Inda was going home.

I was going to include more, but some of my readers are also reading this series, and while the first line isn’t too much of a spoiler, the next paragraph most certainly is. As someone who spent seven years away from his country, though, I have to say that those nine words carry a lot of emotion and import. I do want to charge on ahead with this book, but I’m just about to finish up an epic fantasy (and I’ll want to read the sequel to that, a book I should have read twenty-five years ago) and, well… here are the other two I’m considering.

Interference, Amélie Antoine

interferenceI picked this up on Kindle’s summer sale, and it’s been hovering around my library page for six months. I’m a fan of thrillers (especially after reading long works of classic literature or non-fiction) but I know very little about this one. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Gabriel will worry, of course. He’s always worrying about me, wondering if I’m okay, hoping nothing has happened to me. He’s not an anxious kind of person, though. It’s just that I’m his whole world and he’s terrified of losing me. He puts up an aloof exterior to hide his vulnerability, a bottomless pit of anxiety that probably wasn’t there before he met me and came to are about me. I love Gabriel, and I love that he loves me. I love how he makes me feel about myself, and I love knowing that he’s nothing without me.

And… on to the third.

The Strangled Queen, Maurice Druon (Book #2 of The Accursed Kings)

17624063I’d heard of this series in college when I was studying history, but I never got around to reading it until years later, when HarperCollins billed it as “The Original Game of Thrones.” Having recognized a lot of the machinations behind the Hundred Years’ War in the pages of those books, I was intrigued, and flew through the first book in two or three bus commutes. It was straightforward, dramatic, and fun, though I wished it had been a little longer. Just after finishing it I bought the second book, but it’s been sitting in my library for 26 months or so. Here’s the beginning:

On the 29th November 1314, two hours after vespers, twenty-four couriers, all dressed in black and wearing the emblems of France, passed out of the gate of the Château de Fontainebleu at full gallop and disappeared into the forest. The roads were covered with snow; the sky was more sombre than the earth; darkness had fallen, or rather it had remained constant since the evening before.

Of course, the downside to peeking at the first pages of all three of these books is that NOW I WANT TO READ ALL THREE OF THEM! I will pick just one, though, and I’m welcoming any and all comments.

This weekend, I’ll have my review of the best books I read this year, the ones I wished I’d read, and possibly a bit about all the book-related news we had over the last twelve months. Until then, have an awesome day, and read on.

 

 

The Friday 56: The Dragonbone Chair

Today’s posts are going to be a little lighter than usual. I’m spending today and probably tomorrow preparing my end-of-year in books review, and also trying to push further ahead in Part Two of my book project (which is finally yielding its secrets to me, though it’s making me fight through every rank and take every trench). Also, Rena Partnerlove is reading Part One, and while I know I still need to fix a lot of things, her initial reports were favorable. At least, she didn’t need a vomit bucket.

Over at Freda’s Voice, they host a fun bit called “The Friday 56.” Go to page 56 of the book you’re reading, post a few sentences. That’s it. I’m finishing up The Dragonbone Chair right now, and since I already know I’ll be recommending this to everyone and their cousins (in other words, for those of you with cousins: please forward my review when it comes out this weekend) I’m posting an interesting page from the first part of this book.

Before he could bring the face around to look at it once more, Malachias suddenly put both hands in the middle of Simon’s chest and gave a surprisingly hard push. He lost his grip on the youth’s jerkin and staggered backward, then fell on his seat. Before he could even attempt to rise, Malachias had whisked through the doorway, pulling it shut behind him with a loud, reverberating squeal of bronze hinges.

Simon was still sitting on the stone floor — sore knee, sore rump, and mortally wounded dignity clamoring for attention — when the sexton Barnabus came in out of the Chancelry hall to investigate the noise. He stopped as if stunned in the doorway, looking from Simon bootless on the floor to the torn and crumpled tapestry in front of the stairwell, then turned his stair back to Simon. Barnabas said not a word, but a vein began to drumbeat high on each temple, and his brow beetled downward until his eyes were the merest slits.

Simon, routed and massacred, could only sit and shake his head, like a drunkard who had tripped over his own jug and landed upon the Lord Mayor’s cat.

Between reading this book the first time in late 1990 and reading it now, I’ve since read the Gormenghast books twice, and I think I enjoy the scenes in the castle more because I can see the influence Mervyn Peake had on Mr Williams’s writing. And like all skilled and talented writers, he works his influence in gently, like an accent, and not in bold strokes with a sharpie across the face of one’s own painting, hoping that a loud caricature of Gandalf or Steerpike will attract readers and not just amuse critics.

Have a fun and exciting morning, and I hope you have good tea, a good book, and a good day.

Words, Glorious Words

Today’s post is a little later than I like them to be. I got a late start on the laptop today because I had to spend my morning writing time out on the patio with the cat. She likes to lay outside when it’s nice, or when it’s not nice, or really, whenever she can tell I’m about to settle down to something inside, and she refuses to let me rest until I go out with her for at least a little bit. Then I had to run a couple of errands for our family business. Also, I slept til 0900, and that was mostly because I stayed up wayyy too late last night, but that’s another story.  Perhaps because of the mild discombobulation I endured this morning, I’m trying something a little different. Instead of blogging about books or writing or the insanity caused by too many books or too much writing, I’m going down a level in complexity and writing about three words… two favorites and a new (to me) word. I’m doing this in conjunction with Wondrous Words Wednesday over at the Bermuda Onion blog. If you like words… and I suspect that since you’re reading them, you do… you should check the site out.

Defenestrate (dē-ˈfe-nə-ˌstrāt) transitive verb —

  1. 1:  a throwing of a person or thing out of a window

  2. 2:  a usually swift dismissal or expulsion (as from a political party or office)

I first encountered this word while reading Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir Prozac Nation around the time it came out. I can’t remember the exact passage, but apparently, Ms Wurtzel was quite the fussy baby, and at one point, she said her father called her mother and said that if she didn’t come take their baby off his hands for a little while he was going to defenestrate her. I had never encountered the word before, but it sounded like something nasty and horrible. When I found out that he was saying “I’m about to toss this bundle of shrieks out the window” I felt a sudden rush of joy at how wonderful my language was… that it actually had a word for such a thing. It’s still one of my favorite words, and I’m always happy when I have a chance to use it. Well, as happy as one can be when talking about windows and things (or people) being thrown out of them.

Absquatulate  (ab(zˈkwächəˌlāt, abˈsk-) intransitive verb
  1.  slang: decamp<a frontiersman preparing to absquatulate and head for the wilderness>

  2.  slang: abscond<the cashier absquatulated with the funds>

I learned this word from my sister Mandy while we were hiking from Georgia to North Carolina along the Benton MacKaye Trail. (Similar to the Appalachian Trail but not nearly as civilized. Great place.) Often, when we were getting ready to leave, she’d sling her pack on her back and say “Let us absquatulate.” It took me a while to pick up what she was saying over the sound of my bones and muscles creaking (walking a couple hundred miles with a 50 pound pack stresses your body in ways you might not even know exist) but I fell in love with it. It’s almost as much fun to say as pasta aglio e olio (garlic and oil… more or less pronounced “Ollie-Oh-Eee-Oh-Lee-Oh,” though I learned in Italy that one shouldn’t yodel it, no matter how tempting it is to do so) and it just so perfectly defines the act of getting one’s tail in gear that I try to teach it to as many people as I can.

Voluminous (\və-ˈlü-mə-nəs\)
  1.   consisting of many folds, coils, or convolutions :winding

  2.  a:  having or marked by great volume or bulk :large<long voluminous tresses>; also:full<a voluminous skirt>b:numerous<trying to keep track of voluminous slips of paper>

  3.  a:  filling or capable of filling a large volume or several volumes<a voluminous literature on the subject>b:  writing or speaking much or at great length <a voluminous correspondent>

Notice how I didn’t spell this “Vol-Um-Ni-Ous?” Until last week, I didn’t. I’m mildly dyslexic, something I was never diagnosed with as a child since the stereotype is that ‘dyslexic = illiterate.’ I suppose it often does keep people from learning to read, but perhaps because I don’t have it too seriously, and because my eyes usually mix up the middles of words and not the front or back (something countless email forwards and viral Facebook posts like to point out doesn’t always affect reading comprehension) no one ever noticed. (Though my Mom did tease me when I told her that a baseball player I liked, “Steve Gravey,” was about to bat, and there are other stories about that kind of lexical misreading in my past.) Fast forward to now, many years later, to a moment just a week ago when I’m proofreading a chapter and trying to figure out why my spell-checker kept flagging ‘volumnious.’ I’d used the word, I’d read the word, I knew damn well it was a word! Then I decided to look it up. Well, I suppose I could spin this as a story about how one can overcome one’s handicaps (“Dyslexics of the world, untie!”) but since my condition is fairly mild, I would feel weird talking about it that way. So, I’m just going to say that the English Language is wonderful, and even if someone like me mixes up the letters in the middle of a word, people can still understand what you’re saying.

That’s all for today. I’ll be here Friday with Book Beginnings and maybe Friday 56, along with news about Part Two of my book (which I can now describe without (very much) profanity) and anything else that catches my eye in the world of those of us who hallucinate while staring at dead tree pulp. Saturday will see my end-of-year review of the books I’ve read, and I’ll try not to put you to sleep with that.

 

Monday Memories of Memory

It’s Monday. We made it through the holidays, though to be fair, our small, mostly-self-contained family usually does that pretty well. Let’s see if I can make it through a day of writing as well. I did a few errands and such first, and the most important of these was perhaps sitting in Coffee Culture in Gainesville with Rena the Partnerloverperson, drinking a peppermint white mocha and plotting out my writing for the week. (Well, the UPS store was closed, because apparently, 26 December is ALSO a holiday… God forbid federal workers don’t get a free day off if Christmas lands on a weekend. And Rena seemed to recall that she had wanted to call the UPS store that was holding our package and see if they were open. She also seemed to recall that I had said, quite loudly, “Of COURSE they’re open. UPS isn’t a government organization.” Buying her the Nutcracker Latte at the coffee shop down the road was my way of saying “I’m sorry, don’t hate me.”)

Today, I have 2000-3000 words to write and I think I might be able to make it through. I feel like there’s still a little bit of a block there, but I can see daylight through it, and I’m sure that once I pick up a few of the rocks and shift them around, I’ll be able to find the story thread where I left it and follow it into Chapter Eight and beyond. So before I strap on my industrial-strength thinking cap (complete with ergonomic neck support, environmentally safe padding, and a headlamp capable of seeing into all realms of the Aether where my Muse and her friends are wont to hang out) I’m going to tell you a little bit about what I’m reading. I’m cross-posting over at The Book Date this time, another blog that I recommend you check out some time.

This week’s book is somewhat of a reread. Back when I was in bootcamp, 26 years ago, I found myself with a little bit of time to read. We’d graduated about ten days early because of the Christmas Holidays (our Graduation day should have actually been the day after New Years) but we still had to stay there until our eight weeks were up. (That was an early lesson in Navy organization and the Sacred Rite of Following the Schedule, Even if You Had Doubled Up and Got Everything Done Early. Fortunately, things got a little better after that.) (A little.) (Very Little.) Anyway, a friend of mine had the Tad Williams book The Dragonbone Chair with him, and since I was even more a devotee of epic fantasy fiction than I am now (now, I read other types of fantasy and weird literature) I jumped at it and devoured the book. Not literally, though I might as well have. It was different from a lot of post-Tolkien literature I’d read, in that the author spent a lot of time just exploring and playing in the world and the folklore of the place (much like Tolkien) and the quirky-but-made-to-seem-normal people that inhabited it, rather than just throwing a quest or a dragon or a villain at the Chosen Farmboy, and the introduction of far-north mythology also tugged at my brain and told me that this was something special.

I absolutely loved the book, its characters, and its imagery, and a few months later, during my tech school training and before shipping off to the West Pacific, I picked up the sequel, Stone of Farewell, as soon as it was out in paperback. I never got around to reading it, though, and I’m still not sure why. Perhaps it was the Gulf War getting in the way, or the mix of bipolar and my lack of adjustment to Navy life that kept me from ever cracking its covers. Eventually, I gave the book away to a shipmate who had read the first one, and while I remember staring wistfully at the third book when it came out, and frequently told myself that I needed to revisit Osten Ard someday, I never did, until now, some twenty-six years later. During the few months of researching northern German and Lithuanian and Slavic mythology for my own book, Tad Williams’s book kept showing up as a good example of a modern interpretation. The bittersweet guilt that I kept feeling at never having finished the series became nigh-unbearable. Once I started my project I finally broke down and ordered the first book for my Kindle, and I tell you, I am so happy I did. The things I remember… long passageways, strange yet lovable characters, dangerous magic, and especially the healthy skepticism of the main character, are all here. I’m not flying through it as fast as I did in Boot Camp, but part of the reason for that is that I’m trying to savor it a little, taste it, roll each scene around on my tongue before swallowing. I only have vague memories of the book as well, and often, I only recall something as it’s happening. (Once, I realized that a scene I’d recently thought about, involving Doctor Morgenes and Simon as Simon sets off on his travels, actually came from that book; I’d retained a stark image of the scene but could never recall the book it had come from.)

The lesson here is that it’s never too late to go back to a book you loved, and the sooner you do it, the better you’ll feel. My recommendation is to look for a book you started years ago, and give it another shot. Perhaps you stopped reading because you just couldn’t connect with the plot, or you couldn’t find the sequel when it came out, or your cat ate it. For whatever reason, pick it back up, get it out of the library, do something to get it back in front of your eyeholes, and see if the book speaks to you this time.

Book Beginnings: Italian Casual Surrealism

Today, I’m finishing up the editing of Part One of my fiction project, figuring out where the hell I’m going with Part Two, and preparing an article for Reddit’s r/fantasy subreddit. I’m also ignoring the cat, who is currently telling me that I need to put the laptop down and cuddle with her. I really need to focus on the former tasks, but she just went from giving me cute, warm, and fuzzy looks, to turning off “Ms NiceKitty” and indignantly glaring at me because I’m at the other side of the writing room and clearly, I need to be next to her. The hardships a writer deals with, I tell you…

Today’s Book Beginnings post, hosted over at Rose City Reader,  isn’t about a book I’m currently reading (those would be War and Peace, and The Dragonbone Chair, both recommended, both subject to review soon). Rather, it’s about a life-changing book that I’m browsing again for a regular feature about underrated or underread writers. Here’s the first line, in Italian….

Stai per cominciare a leggere il nuovo romanzo Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore di Italo Calvino. Rilassati. Raccogliti, Allontana da te ogni altro pensiero. Lascia che il mondo che ti circonda sfumi nell’indistinto.

…and here is the first paragraph, in the English Translation by William Weaver:

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.

The book is If on a winter’s night a traveler. Here, Italo Calvino shows himself to be a talented writer and skilled craftsman at the pinnacle of his career. He’d become famous in the 1950s and 1960s with books like The Baron in the Trees (about a noble son who decides to stop putting up with his family and carves a new home for him at the top of a tree) and Invisible Cities (a masterful short book that imagines different worlds and realities throughout time… if you’ve read Einstein’s Dreams, you’ve read that book’s grandson) but this book is, simply, a love letter to readers. The book itself is about your quest to read the book you’re holding, navigating misprints, quirky bookstores, and all manner of inconvenience. Just buying the book requires a near-military operation where you, the reader, have to make it past

…the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you… among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written… but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Just slipping into it is like the feeling you get when you’ve wandered a foreign country for months; the people you meet are nice, and you’ve had great experiences you wouldn’t have had otherwise, but when you suddenly run into someone from your home town, speaking your language, your brain explodes in a frenzy of happiness, laughing, and pure undiluted joy. I liked this book so much that, before I’d finished Chapter 2, I bought Adrienne’s Italian in 32 Lessons so I could, one day, read it in its original language, and I’ve since read it the way he wrote it, along with several other books and stories by him. I was also led to other Italian fantasists like Stefano Benni, Umberto Eco, and even an independent writer of modern sword, sorcery, and adventure fiction with a heart, Davide Mana.

All because of an affectionate note, written in another language, by someone who spoke my language like no other writer ever had.

To Do Today:  I have 8000 words of manuscript to go over and edit because DAMNIT, I told myself I would be done with Part One by this week, and Friday Evening counts as ‘this week.’ I also have to start on Part Two… writing by the seat of my pants might work for getting a project started, but at this point, over a hundred pages in, I need to have a map of where I’m going.  Otherwise, I’ll be sitting at the keyboard, driving around the story in circles, ignoring my frustrated Muse as she keeps telling me “Rerouting… Rerouting…” and getting absolutely nowhere, slowly. I might even get a chance to indulge in my other arcane art, where I get to turn obscure incantations, unusual symbols, and arcane formulae into moving dots and lines and collisions on a screen. Merlin, eat your heart out.

Shelf Control: War and Peace

Yesterday was one of those horrible/ wonderful days in the life of a working writer. For the last week I had been struggling with organizing Part One of my project and plotting out Part Two, and after six days I felt like a mountaineer who had spent all that time climbing to the top of a ridge, only to look down and realize that I was actually on the top of Crapbucket Mountain, and the view was more crap, and I was really only a foot or so off the ground, and not a mile or more. But, for various reasons (most of which are unfit to print in a blog written for the sane and well-adjusted) I kept on going, and a series of revelations Monday and Tuesday helped put me back on track. Monday evening, I realized that I didn’t know the answer to the question “What happens if they fail?” Every author should be able to answer that, I think, and I think I’ve been guilty of not answering that in the past. Today looks to be a good day of inserting a few pages in Part One that answer that question, and moving on with Part Two. If you come back here Friday and my post is written backwards in crayon, that means I failed.

The other thing, perhaps the main thing I’m going to talk about today, is my reading. Bookshelf Fantasies hosts a weekly discussion called Shelf Control, and as someone who really only has shelf control because he travels with his family for the better part of the year, I highly recommend it. I’m kind of cheating, though. Instead of writing about a book I own, haven’t read, and want to read, I’m going to write about a book that I own, started reading, stopped reading, and now want to pick back up and finally finish. That book is War and Peace.

warandpeacemaudeThis is my second-and-a-half time attempting to read this. I’ve read much longer books before (Remembrance of Things Past, Joseph and His Brothers) and I’ve read nearly everything by Dostoevsky, so I’m determined to make it through this one. And it’s not a question of the writing being difficult of boring… I can’t speak for the Russian original or other translations but this is remarkably clear and concise writing. But, a few weeks after I started this, we moved to our winter digs in Florida, and I started writing a novel, and I got distracted by another book I’m reading, and I set this down somewhere in the middle of Part Five, in the ‘Peace’ section. (There are a couple. The book should probably be titled “War and Peace and War and then More Peace, but WAIT! There’s WAR!!!” but I can imagine that Tolstoy’s editor wouldn’t have liked it. Today, and every day til the end of the year, I’m picking it back up, finding out how everyone deals with the uneasy peace of failure and impending war and invasion, and getting this off my list.

If you haven’t read it, I heartily recommend the book. Some parts are a little simplistic, some parts are predictable (and not just because we know who wins) but the characters are very accessible and it’s still fun, for some reason, to watch them do the worst possible thing they can do, and then deal with the repercussions they KNEW were probably going to happen anyway. Tolstoy also does a very good job of describing PTSD and battle shock, and if you’ve ever served in the military, or know someone who has, you’ll relate to what he says. It may be a famous classic work of literature, but it’s also famous and classic for a good reason.

That’s my post for today. It’s time to dive back in the trench and fire away at this thing until I either have good copy or I pass out from a tea overdose. I’ll be back Friday with a book review and more news from the front. Stay safe.

Bed Making and Other Composing Techniques

To paraphrase Mark Twain, I’m a writer, and I’m manic-depressive… but I repeat myself. I don’t think there’s a requirement for a writer to be bi-polar or clinically depressive or any other mental illness that requires us to spend a lot of time huddled in a blanket fort and threatening to Taser the face off anyone who bothers us (and in my case, that would be my face more than any other), but it does seem to go hand in hand. I think it’s because we as humans like to be entertained, and when you spend as much time alone as a depressive person does, whether by choice or because you can’t bear to move from your spot no matter how much you want to, you have to tell your own stories.

Sometimes, when I’m at the bottom of a supremely low period, like I was yesterday (and like I suspect I might still be) I wonder how I ever get anything done, but I still manage to push through, day after day, in my journal at least, if not in my manuscript and any current programming project. My journal might be nothing more than me complaining about how I not only suck, but my pages of complaints aren’t even written very well, but I still manage to get things down. I know from bitter experience that if I don’t write something every day, I wind up in an endless feedback loop. Being depressed about not writing for a day makes it harder to write the next day, and if I succumb and take two days off…

This post is about a few things, including my return to blogging, my announcement of a new book project, and my pledge to fill people in on it, along with blips and blurbs about what I read, what I hear, and what I do on those days I decide to leave Fort Blanketopolis, but it’s also about how I learned my Mom was right. If she’s reading this, this is where she says “Oh, that’s nice, he’s writing fiction again,” but I do mean it this time. My Mom, a German immigrant who was born a few years after the war and came to the US just in time to experience Patti Page once she knew enough English to sing along, is a lot of wonderful things. And I really hate to indulge in a stereotype, but one set of genes my Mom got were the ones that dictated order and routine. Apparently, she liked those genes so much she decided to keep them all to myself and decided not to pass them down, and I spent a good part of my childhood arguing about how my clothes didn’t need to be folded, my room was okay as long as nothing was crawling around, and as long as my books were in order, nothing else had to be. I couldn’t see the point of a lot of the things she had me do, since everything was just going to get messy and disordered again. For example, I *DID* think it was nice to crawl into a made bed at night, but was it really worth spending a few minutes doing that every morning, especially when those few minutes took away from the little bit of reading I got to do before the bus showed up? I didn’t think so.

Fast-forward to me now, after serving twenty years in the Navy (where everything had to be in its place, but for a good reason: if something wasn’t, it could fall and trip someone on a damage control party or a firefighting team, or float away during flooding, or hit someone in the head, or in some way cause all manner of horribleness to happen) and I’ll admit to liking things in something resembling order. And I do like having a wide uncluttered workspace, since I know how easily I can get distracted. (Plus, I have long arms, and they need room.)

But, since moving into our new place a month or so ago, I’ve discovered the joy of bed-making as therapy. Originally, I started doing it because we had very little in our room at first, and I liked the idea of seeing everything straight and simple and in place; I wanted to preserve the way it looked when we first moved in. But even now that we’ve settled and arranged all of our things, I still find myself pulling down the covers, pulling up the sheets, and making the bed look decent, and I can’t do much else now until that’s done. Even yesterday, when I had trouble doing anything except for staring at the ceiling and wishing my brain would shut up and let me read, I had to make the bed. And after I did that, I was able to sit down and at least write four or five pages on my projects. I’m next to positive that the three or four minutes of routine activity helped jostle my working brain loose from the crowd he’d been hanging out with (the “I suck everyone hates me” brain, and the “read another chapter/ blog post/ funny comment on Reddit” brain are two particular friends of his). And that part of my brain has been responsible for me having a 110-page Part One of a novel, and is pushing me forward on the rest of the book, too.

So, thanks Mom. You were wrong about a few things, like how you think lamb is disgusting and mayonnaise is delicious, but you were right about this.

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