Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Ignorance May Be Bliss...

I've only met one 'well-known' author in my life. I've met several smaller authors too, who I consider to be as equally successful if in less public ways. The author I met, though, was Brian Jacques, children's author of the Redwall series, and a hero of mine growing up. I read every book of his I could get my hands on. I still daydream about finishing off the collection, now that he's passed, just so I can have it for my nieces and nephews, or possible children of my own.

He was everything I hoped he'd be. A kindly old gentlemen with a michevious twinkle in his eyes that befitted his more lop-eared characters, and he told tale after tale of getting into trouble in his youth, like the time he and a friend (sibling?) snuck into the theater and threw a cat down into the audience from the balcony. He teased me when I handed him my favorite book, Taggerung, because it already had my name scrawled into it in a childish font. "This book already has a name in it!" he exclaimed, before signing it with a smile.

I still have that book, and those memories. My sister, my friend, and I sang him a version of one of his songs in a book, about pudding, and he seemed delighted. It was something I won't forget anytime soon.

But what happens when you meet an idol of yours, and they're not all you thought they'd be? What if the reality of their character destroys the image you had of them? What do you do then?

Margo Rabb of the New York Times wrote in her article "Fallen Idols," that she had discovered unpleasant realities about a favorite poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, and his character. In the end, she says that she wishes "she hadn't." She ran across the poet's biography online and discovered that he was, as she puts it,
"a selfish, sycophantic, womanizing rat"
Not the most glowing of endorsements. Do we feel crushed when we discover someone we thought was so nice is actually not as shiny and pretty as we thought? Do we shrug it off as reality? Do we even go searching? Perhaps we, as invested writers, should avoid learning about authors in a form of self-preservation. Rabb quotes Laurie Anderson, who
"feels that biographies can make authors lose their luster. 'A book is like sausage,' she told me. 'You love the end product, but you don’t really want to know how it’s made.'"
I for one enjoyed immensely the biography of one of my favorite authors, J.R.R. Tolkien. It was an intriguing history about an intriguing genius who created the backbone of modern-day fantasy. I felt closer to the author after reading it, even a little bit.

But what if he had been a horrible person? Selfish, jealous, greedy, lazy? Would I have felt poorly about him, about his books, about myself for being 'taken in' by a self-induced glaze of authorly glory?

Perhaps we put too much of an author's books onto their character, forgetting that the two don't necesarilly go hand in hand. Rabb agrees, saying,
"Falling in love with a book is a unique and sometimes strange experience; it’s not hard to make the leap from adoring a novel to adoring its creator."
 Author Justin Cronin agrees, saying about authors (and about himself) in general,
"When you read a book, you spend hours in intimate contact with the mind of another person — it’s an intense, but one-sided relationship. If any reader knew who we really were, it’s guaranteed they’d find us disappointing." 
It's like the celebrity crush, as Rabb puts it, or the Facebook syndrome. You feel so much closer to a person who you actually have no clue about. And having that closeness broken hurts.

Sometimes, however, it's good to remember that our idols are real people too. Some people, Rabb says, enjoy discovering the bad sides of their favorite authors, because it helps them with their own failings. Or maybe they're just reality-tv-watching readers who love the dirt. I like dirt, but usually the kind with it.

In the end, it's important not to fan crush on an author because their book is so good. When you read something, you don't know anything about the author. You know something about their imagination, which may be a whole lot nicer than they are.

Rabb concludes by saying that,
"Writers and their books will always be inextricably connected, but the relationship between them isn’t simple."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Yes, I know, it's Thursday, not Wednesday. All I can say in my defense is deadlines and Tumblr. Not my Tumblr, of course, but someone else's. Which took up about four hours. Which is also why I will never get a Tumblr. You'll never see me again.

So you may have seen on my blog-page yesterday the post from NPR-- the Must Read Science Fiction list. How many can you score? It's a neat little interactive page where you can click on the books you've read, and it'll count them up for you. That way at the end you can know how many you've read. Every 25 reads gets you a gold star for being so literarily awesome.

It has a great list of books on there, and I was surprised by some of the contents of the list. My two favorite authors Robin McKinley and Lois McMaster Bujold were included, and while Bujold is undoubtedly a science fiction author, McKinley deals more in the fantasy realms, and her book Sunshine was listed here-- a vampire novel that is far from Twilight. It's the story of a girl nicknamed Sunshine who lives in a recovering, paranormally-war-torn world and works in a bakery...until she's snatched by vampires.

The thing I love most about Sunshine, beyond its obvious good writing, its well-paced plot, its detail, and its spunk, is that the vampires are more traditional. They're ugly. They're absolutely terrifying. They are the ultimate predators of the human race and turn all people who see them into the immediate staring deer in the headlights. But it doesn't matter, because if they want you, they can make you come to them by sheer power of suggestion and illusion. If you look into their eyes, you're a goner.

I wouldn't have thought it to be science fiction, though. Perhaps paranormal fantasy. But I suppose it could also be paranormal fiction, as well, and it's based in a present-day if urbanly fantastical world. Still, I was pleased and surprised.

Other books on the list? The Once and Future King, The Lord of the Rings, The Foundation Trilogy, Ringworld, and The Left Hand of Darkness.

I was sorely tempted to 'count' those books towards my score that I hadn't read yet but had discussed extensively with various members of my family and the science-fiction fan crowd. Also those of which I've read a book from the series if not the book in question. What's my score on pure honesty? A round, pleasing, single-gold star 28.

If I count everything else? 35.

Out of 100, I'd say that's not bad, but I clearly have a lot of reading to do. And that's what got me more excited about this list than anything. I have a list of about 75 books that I've never read before that are considered the classics of the genre. It's like Christmas come early!

So what am I doing here? I gots readin' to do!!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again...

Next week starting Tuesday I'm getting back into the writing world...

Why have I been on hiatus so long? Well, with graduation, moving, starting a new job, all the little adjustments that come along with that, and then also a series of art comissions, I've had very little time to dedicate to anything else. I have more free time on my hands but more to fill it with, in a way, simply because every day is kept so full. Also, starting a new workout regimen has not helped in the 'free time' area. Gym three times a week means that's two hours less to spend on writing three times a week.

But all of these are merely excuses, and now that the art is at least done in the major sense...I still have two paintings to do, but who's asking...I will indeed plunge into the world of vocabulary and character development on Tuesday.

I don't know about any of the rest of my writer friends, but no matter how well I know the story in my mind, any break of time that lasts for more than, say, a week always requires at least a week of catching up. Next week I will be surprised if I write word one beyond edits. I'll be too busy reading what I have written, in order to catch up with my characters and get back into the voice of the story. Nothing is worse than a book that changes voice halfway through. Readers everywhere will wonder, what, did this author move and paint a lot between writing these sections?

Yeah. Like that.

It's amazing the mind's ability to remember, but also the mind's ability to forget, especially in regards to what it has created. It happens quite often that I'll read something I've written-- usually something I am very impressed with at the time-- and have no recollection of writing it. Maybe I have a super hero identity that even I don't know about. A super hero writer! I am AuThor. Beware my mighty pen!

Or keyboard. My handwriting is so bad that I almost never hand write my work anymore, unless I have an idea that just can't wait while I'm out and about. I used to carry a notebook with me wherever I went just so I could suddenly burst into random fits of prose. Alas, that was long ago, and my mind is often preoccupied with other things.

I wish there was a way to get back that initial rush of creativity when I first started writing. I had a period of perhaps three, four years where every spare moment was imagining new worlds and tales and characters-- followed by hours and hours of every-moment-counts writing.

But I digress. It takes a lot of stretching and verbal readjusting before I'm ready to write again. I will likely have to reread everything that I've already written before I'm even remotely prepared to pitch into finishing the chapter I had left half-undone before taking my break. But once I'm done with that, the book will be halfway finished.

And this is it, people. I think this will be 'the One'. I have of course written copious short stories and poems, and I have my Trilogy which is my brain baby, and I still want to see it published someday. But this one I think will be the breaker. I've never heard of anyone doing this before, nor exactly in this way, and it's by far the best writing I've ever done. So I'm really excited to finish it and get it sent out there!

So why is it taking me so long? Sigh...well, you know what they say about patience. It's a virtue isn't it?

Speak not the word slothfulness. It's not the same thing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Barnes & Noble, We Have a Problem?

With the recent decline in the Nook industry (ammounting to a fiscal loss of $475.4 million dollars)and the seemingly fatal economic status of bookstore chains everywhere, the resignation of Barnes & Noble's CEO William Lynch on July 8 seemed to be the kill-stroke for the last national bookstore chain in the US.

However, Bloomberg News and reporter Matt Townsend seem to think otherwise. Apparently there has been a quick reorganization in the management works, resulting in the rise of Leonard Riggio, the company's founder, as executive chairman. Townsend reports in his article "Bookstores Not Dead Yet as Riggio Bets on Barnes & Noble" that the chain may be showing signs of wear and tear due to the recent publishing hurdles and economic strains but is in reality far from throwing in the towel.
In fact, Townsend reports that
"analysts including David Strasser of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC say predictions of the bookstore’s demise are greatly overstated. The retail division’s profits are actually growing."
Not in the Nook section, apparently...but how is that surprising? With competition from and the iPad and Kindle, far more successful eReading platforms by far, the Nook doesn't really stand a chance. And when eBooks are falling off the sales as well, there's little that can be said for Barnes & Noble's electronic platform. Analyst Michael Norris of Simba Information Inc. makes the important point that just because eReaders are selling and popular does not necesarilly mean the same for eBooks. About
"half of iPad owners and 25 percent of Kindle Fire users didn’t read an e-book last year."
Only so many people are going to buy eBooks, and they are going to do it with the more successful eReader. Either because the fad is dying or because people just love the more traditional means of reading (both have been seriously contemplated and even admitted to be factors in the market), eBooks are definitely plateauing. However, eReaders are still being given as gifts, especially considering they can be used for so many different purposes. And once an eBook had been acquired, many readers will not go farther than that, and simply be content to carry around their personal library without every expanding the electronic selection. This speaks volumes of papery goodness for physical books and bookstores. EBooks only make up 20% of the total book market, and the rise is slowing down. According to the Association of American Publishers,
"e-book sales rose 44 percent to $3.04 billion after more than doubling the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers."
Going from a 200% rise to a 44% rise? I'd say that's cutting back.
Despite all of this, David Strasser claims that
“It’s not anywhere near the end of Barnes & Noble the bookstore.”
Whether you're interested in buying a book or just visiting, bookstores are a great hangout and meet-up place for people who want a quiet, literary atmosphere to get away, read a book from the shelf, and smell the coffee and glue from the thousands of pages of collective hard- and paper-backs on wooden and plastic shelves. And Barnes & Noble is a nationally recognized chill-spot. And whether they went to the bookstore just to relax or not,
"many people who frequent Barnes & Noble leave with a book, especially cook books and ones for children."
It's just good marketing. Get someone to come in, and more often than not they'll leave with something. It's what free samples and trial periods and guest memberships are all about. Get someone in the door and you can hook them. Norris again quotes,
“Print books still have value...People still buy millions of them to give as gifts. That tells me print isn’t as unhealthy as people think.”
 95% of Barnes & Noble's locations are profitable, and only 2% of its stores closed in the last year. The chain has customizable stores for each locale and settles into the community, holding popular book-release midnight parties, author signings, sales, and more. Even more locations help schools raise money and host storytellings and poetry readings. And their coffee shops are to die for. Hooray Starbucks.
All this to say that Barnes & Noble would have to really take a downturn further than people think it has in order to tank entirely. Changes will need to be made, updates and evolutions to be taken, but the last American bookstore chain is safe for now.
Original article at:
To contact the reporter on this story: Matt Townsend in New York at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

From Master Shakespeare to 'Just Bill'

Someone is willingly 'sparks-noting' Shakespeare.

Well maybe that's too harsh. Maybe I'm just a Shakespeare 'purist'. Maybe I think modernising the language of Shakespeare in any way is a crime against the art. I've seen plays produced where the setting and scenario were modernized, and those were fine for me. Modernize the language, however, and you lose me entirely. Shakespeare isn't Shakespeare without his language, his words, his turn of phrase. His stories are hilarious, challenging, dark, dramatic, powerful, romantic, yes all of that-- but the language is what carries them and fuels them. Take them away, and you have a lesser creature entirely.

I do feel positively towards expanding the Shakespearean readership and exposing more young folks to the great plays of Sir William than would otherwise be able to simply because of the language barrier, but this makes me cringe...

The Hogarth Shakespeare project is going to proseify Shakespeare, hiring various authors to turn the Middle English iambic pentameter and poetical lines of play and dramatic speech into non-verse form. This project will see
"commissioned authors writing prose retelling of the Bard's plays. The first two authors slated to do retellings are Anne Tyler, who will be tackling Taming of the Shrew, and Jeannette Winterson, who is doing The Winter's Tale."
The project is international, with authors coming from Canada, Spain, South Africa, and India, including two already selected to join in: Anne Tyler is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author with several films adapted from her works, which most recently include The Beginner's Goodbye and Back When We Were Grownups. Jeannette Winterson is a British writer and creator of such titles as The Lion, Unicorn and Me and The Daylight Gate.

Hogarth claims that the retellings will
"be true to the spirit of the original dramas and their popular appeal, while giving authors an exciting opportunity to reinvent these seminal works of English literature."
In my very humble opinion, this statement is a contradiction already. If you're changing the very medium by which the story is being delivered, you are changing the spirit of the original dramas. If you are reinventing them, you are not staying true. It's like the difference between a land car and a jumbo jet going cross-country. You get to the same place, maybe, but I'm sure the people at the end of the road would have different things to say about their experience. Say someone who spent five hours in first class as opposed to five others cramped in a Ford Focus for two weeks.
The titles are scheduled to come out in 2016 to coincide with Shakespeare's 400th death anniversary.
Does this seem ironic to anyone else? Or is that just me talking?
Perhaps I'll be wrong. Perhaps these stories will be just the thing to bring back the Bard. But in my opinion, Shakespeare doesn't need a new haircut. He is thriving in theaters across the land, being interpreted and performed as closely as possible to the way he always has been. My favorite theater, personally, is the Shakespeare Tavern. I have not seen a play there that didn't render me speechless with some overthrow of dramatic emotion, and always in the original language, setting, and style as the Bard meant.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it.