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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?

 

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.

Mostly Back

As the title says, I am. For those of you interested in my personal life, I’m nearly packed out of Atlanta and mostly moved in with my fiancée and her family, and posts will shift to a semi-regular status, starting with today’s upcoming review. For now, I’m going to make another cup of tea and see if I can make a large set of words sound like a good review, even though I have a few critical things to say about it.

Tell Me Something Tuesday: Feeling Frustrated?

Today is Tuesday, the first day of the last month of the first quarter of the new year. I’m a quarter through a long chapter (I’m expecting it to be 40-ish pages… I might have to split it in two), and I’m about to go on the road to Atlanta for a couple of days. This means I lose my morning writing time, though I still have to get out five long pages or so… perhaps I can compose notes in the car, or take a long lunch.

Over on Rainy Day Ramblings, they’re hosting Tell Me Something Tuesday, where you answer their question of the week. This week’s question is a simple one:  Have you become frustrated with certain genres?

Yes, I have.

A year or so ago, I read an article that said that, on average, women were more impressed by men with well-kept beards than men without. It wasn’t much of a difference, but it was there. The corollary to their findings, though, was that as beards became more popular, they had less and less of an effect until finally, they would actually lower the average woman’s opinion of a man.

That’s how I feel about Grimdark Fantasy.

I remember exactly where I was (Learning Resource Center… shipboard public computer room and library… onboard USS Chancellorsville, 5 December 2005) when I read a certain scene in A Storm of Swords, the third “Game of Thrones” book. (Honestly, I think the HBO title works better for the series as a whole than “A Song of Ice and Fire.”) I remember being refreshed but mostly frightened when I realized that, unlike in a lot of fantasy novels, my favorite characters were no longer safe. I was used to them either surviving no matter what, or having a dramatic death at the end. But in these books… and in many others that I read after…  characters could die for stupid and pointless reasons. That made the book that much more realistic, and I began seeking out this kind of fiction.

It’s been ten years. How’bout we go back to fairy-tale and legend-inspired fantasy for a bit? Or magic realism? Or books where flawed characters still manage to do the right thing, despite temptations to do what comes naturally, instead of evil bastard characters who accidentally do something right?

Of course, I’ll still read this kind of fiction, if it’s good, and, well, part of the reason it’s so big is that people are buying it. But my advice to writers (including myself):  Grow a beard, metaphorically, and write something magical. Not dark and torturous with excessive realism and violence and pointless destruction.

Enough for this morning. Inspirational quotes and more agony over my book writing process to follow.

 

 

Snowstorm Books

There are a lot of reasons I moved to the south. Waking up to a half-inch of snow, 30-40 KPH winds, ice, and freezing rain, are not among those reasons. However, I have been soup simmering on the stove, a mug of tea on the table, and a stack of books. Up for today:

The Brothers Karamazov: This has been on my list for years, ever since the first time I read The Idiot (not about politics, surprisingly) in the mid-90s and was told that Karamazov was Fyodor D’s best. Finally got around to starting it when the weather started taking a bad turn, and let’s just say that listening to a family of assholes argue about what Christianity means to them is a perfect companion to the wind and rain outside. More posts about this wonderfully, beautifully horrible book a little later today.

The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman. Her book The March of Folly, about military stupidity in the face of blinding fact,  was one of my favorite books in college. This book is about the first month of WWI, and it reads like a novel. Especially, it reads like one of those slow train-crashes of a novel where you can see everyone doing the exact worst thing in the worst fashion to have the worst possible collision with their enemies. She adds in all of their thoughts and feelings about how the military intelligence of the time was stupid because it told them things they didn’t want to hear. I’m trying to read this without hearing Kaiser Wilhelm II scream “Inconceivable!” in his best Wallace Shawn/ Vizzini voice every time he learns new information, but I’m failing.

The Light Bearer, Donna Gillespie. This showed up on a thread in r/AskHistorians, one I’d discovered while looking up reviews and criticism of the Tuchman book. Historical fiction is perhaps my second favorite form, after any kind of speculative fiction, but I’ve also been burned out by a lot of it, recently. A hundred pages in, it seems pretty decent. She dances dangerously close to a few well-worn clichés but still keeps the story fresh and fun.  Already, I like how the magic/ religious system of the Tribes is shown to be both a positive and a negative influence in their lives, rather than just:

  • A beautiful, incomprehensible system that the modern ugly civilized world  can never truly comprehend, or never wants to, since it belonged to the Unwashed Savage; the last light of a dying age that was wiped off the face of the universe so Man could have Gadgets and Convenience;
  • A horrible, twisted system of control that kept the people of the Earth from advancing, and was only used so the Patriarchy could RUIN EVERYTHING.

Unfortunately, I know enough of the setting and time of the novel to know that it’s not going to have a happy ending, or at least not many of them, but I’m still interested in it.

Up on Deck: Caliban’s War, James S. A. Corey, and Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor.

Suggestions welcome

We’re Moving!

Not that this blog has been a hotbed of activity, but I still have some plans for it. That said, the plans I have will easily fit on a smaller blog, so at the first of the year, Stark Writing Mad will be living at cjcasey.wordpress.com. I have a feeling things will work out better for the blog over in their community.

As for this site, I’m turning it over to my private work… namely, the programming and design work that I’ve been doing and am expanding, by myself and with my girlfriend/ partner/ companion’s family. There are a lot of changes going on in my life right now, positive changes (including the strange possibility of me spending part of the year back in Florida again) and this blog and website will reflect that.

New posts tomorrow over at the new home. See you soon!

 

Flash Fiction: Shaggy Cat Story

Sharpclaw Invincible opened his eyes. He could smell them in the air again, already.  This was the earliest they had woken him up in a long time, but he couldn’t afford to roll over and go back to sleep, no matter how warm the Human was today. He grumbled and meowed a little, and then stretched and jumped off the bed.

Some mornings they made it easy for him, but he didn’t think today was going to be one of those days. The bedroom was a cacophony of scent and smelled of sleep, food, and Human. Whenever it didn’t clean the room, Sharpclaw had trouble telling if there was anything in the room he should worry about. This morning, the cloud of smell coming off of the pile of laundry nearly obliterated his nose, but after he stepped on the dirty clothes a few times and pawed at them, he couldn’t find anything hiding that he needed to destroy, so he padded away into the kitchen. There was no sense in just sitting around licking himself if there was food to be eaten.

There was still a little of the crunchy food left from dinner, and he started munching on that, after getting a drink from the dog’s water dish. For some reason the dog’s water bowl always tasted better than his. He was pretty sure it was a conspiracy, and if the Human were smart enough to understand, he would have long since talked to it about that. On the other hand, he’d seen what the dog did to the litterbox, so he didn’t really think he had anything to complain about.

He had just about finished eating when he saw a flash of violet out of the corner of his eye. He kept chewing but he was alert, and he slowly moved his head until he was almost looking straight at the purple urple. At the same moment, he smelled another one behind him, coming in through the window, one of their usual bolt holes. They were being smart this morning. Send in a distraction, and then while he was busy, bring in the main attack force. The last time they had gotten through his defenses, they had probably done the exact same thing.

He continued staring at the purple urple crawling through a crack in the baseboard, and then, without so much as a twitch, he jumped straight back and landed on the one behind him.

It screamed, a horrible high-pitched squeal that was almost too high to hear, and wrapped its whipsaw tail back and forth, trying to get a grip, but this was not Sharpclaw’s first trip to the litterbox. The new one stared in horror as he made quick work of the intruder and kicked what was left to the side of the room. Then he raced forward and attacked.

When he’d finally taken care of them, and two of their friends (he’d had to race clear across the front room to grab one before it escaped) he could hear the Human up and making noise in the bedroom. He caught his breath and walked over in that direction. Just before he got to the bed, a scent of purple urple hit his nose, and he realised that he still had some of their blood on his fur. The Human never seemed to notice, but Sharpclaw still thought it was safest to wash it off anyway. When he finished, the Human was sitting up in the bed, holding one of its books, and looking at him.

“You woke me up, Billy,” it said to him. “Sounded like you were running the triathlon out there.”

The noises didn’t mean much since it spoke such a primitive language and was obviously handicapped in its ability to speak a proper tongue… imagine, having only two paws to gesture with, and no tail! But he jumped up on the bed and sat next to him, anyway. It took one hand off its book and ran it idly down Sharpclaw’s back.

When he’d first moved in with this Human, he hadn’t realised how bad an infestation of purple urples it had, and it didn’t even seem to care. He was a little lax at first about killing them all, but when a group of three or four made it to the Human one morning, it was sick for over a week. Sharpclaw had to suffer through late or missing meals, a dirty floor, and being almost completely ignored by it before he realised that he couldn’t let any of those evil demons through. It was a hard job, but it was nice to have food and a roof, and a warm place to sleep.

The smell of purple urple hit his nose again, and he whipped his head around. One had gotten through, or hidden, or ran too fast for him to see, and now it was slithering around and up the Human’s arm. Luckily, he had seen the critter when he did, and one quick bite at it ripped it in half and sent it back to wherever they came from.

“Ow, Billy!” the Human said, and rubbed his arm with the hand that held the book. “Fine, I won’t pet you then.” He didn’t sound too mad, though, and Sharpclaw was able to finish washing himself in the warm spot on the bed.

It was going to be a good day.

 

 

How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?

This is a neat infographic from Personal Creations. Not much more has to be said about it, though if anyone has comments, please feel free. I personally estimate 50 pages an hour when I’m deciding how long it will take me to read something, though I can skim/ review half again as fast. I think I used to be able to read faster, but I also know I get more enjoyment out of my reading than I used to. I’m not quite as compulsive about it as I used to be, either. Once there was a time where if I were trapped somewhere without a book I would actually start to panic a little. Now, I just sketch down story ideas.

Also, what books/ series would you like to see on here? I’d ask for Infinite Jest (counting the footnotes, and time spent going back and forth to them… by the way, that’s one of the few books I’ve bought in paper and e-book format, and I can definitely recommend the e-book over paper copy, mostly because of its hypertext format but also because you don’t have to read the footnotes in their 8-point type) and Remembrance of Things Past, though I’m not sure either of them really qualify as ‘popular.’

Here it is:

How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?

 

Inspiration Tuesday

Well, I have a few things to talk about for Inspiration Tuesday, today. First, I’m at work trying to keep the rash at bay but otherwise doing alright. I’m next to positive that it’s not contagious; I think my guinea pigs… err, roommates would have noticed by now. Still not sure what’s causing it, and the itching is only getting worse. In fact, the picture below, blatantly stolen from Weird Tales’ Facebook feed…

…is an example of how I’m afraid I’ll look after I’ve scratched my face off completely.

Inspiration has been showing up in the strangest places, lately, not just below the rock in my back yard where the writing Elves usually hide my week’s worth of ideas. This week’s story is about a street magician, and it’s a fantasy story in the sense that I always wanted to be at least a sleight-of-hand artist, if not a magician, when I was younger. (By younger, I’m including last Friday, when I found three balls of about juggling size and decided to show off to the cat. She still won’t speak to me.) And even though my efforts to learn to palm cards and double-deal and produce coins led to nothing more than my own image in the mirror doubling up and laughing at my practice, I kept trying, and kept thinking about it. A few days ago, a regular character strolled on to my stage, one with a rather tragic story that he was trying to escape from, and in her attempts to give him a backstory, my Muse found my old copy of Huggard and Braue’s Expert Card Technique and, well, poof, my character was made flesh.

In a way, I suppose it is like stage magic. I clasp my hands, smile, proclaim to the audience that I have nothing up my sleeves or between my ears, and then out of nothing, a group of people are walking and talking and sharing their stories with the rest of the world. Maybe I did learn sleight-of-hand after all.

Though I still would love to do a good Four Aces trick.