Thursday, March 26, 2015

Chronological Controversies in Fiction

I was reading Neil Gaiman's new novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, today.  In the book Neil referenced C. S. Lewis's Narnia series of books, and as often happens when I read, this sent my mind off on thoughts of my first experiences of reading those books.  This led to additional thoughts on the internal chronology of book series versus the order of their writing/publication. 

For some reason, I never got around to reading Narnia as a child or teen, which is surprising for several reasons.  The foremost reason is that I was (and still am) a great lover of Tolkien, and I knew that he and Lewis were friends and often shared their works in progress with one another.  So I'd obviously heard of Narnia, but for whatever reason, I didn't get around to checking it out until I was an adult, and was making the attempt to read a broad swash of fantasy literature to broaden my own knowledge of the genre.

When I decided to start the Narnia series, I didn't really think much about the chronology of the series, I simply went to the bookstore and bought the Narnia book that had a large number one on the cover, which surely was the book one should start with, no?  This was of course the one called "The Magician's Nephew."

I read the book and found myself a bit disappointed.  It really didn't do much for me, and thus I didn’t follow up with reading the other books for quite a while.  My experience with TMN led me to believe the Narnia books just weren't all they were cracked up to be.  There was also the strange feeling I had while reading TMN that the author assumed I knew more than I did about the world of Narnia. 

A few years later the first of the Narnia films was released:  The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  I saw the film and quite enjoyed it, but I wondered why this one was made first, and not TMN.  My thought at the time was that perhaps they'd taken what was the best of the books and made that movie first.  Of course, this wasn't the case.  What they'd done is taken the first book that was written and published in the series and made that the first film.  I acquired that book and read it, finding it much better, in my opinion, than TMN.  I almost felt I had been ripped off by the publisher listing TMN as the first book.  Sure, the events of that book took place at an earlier time than TLTW&TW, but it was actually the sixth book written.  Not only does this sixth book seem to assume the reader has some knowledge of the first five, but reading it first takes away some of the charm and delight of reading TLTW&TW first, when we have no idea what the wardrobe does, and we discover Narnia slowly and with subtlety. 

I've since learned that there is something of a controversy among Lewis's fans over the order in which the books should be read.  Well, put me firmly in the camp of original writing order.  I find this applies to most if not all other series of books and films that I've enjoyed.  Take for example the Star Wars films.  I believe that now that six of them have been made, George Lucas has stated that viewing them from one to six is appropriate, as he as somehow retconned the whole of the story into something he calls "The Tragedy of Darth Vader."  To me, and to the nine-year-old me that watched Star Wars many times in the theater in the summer of 1977, this is utter bullshit.  Introducing a new viewer to the series with that god-awful mess of a film called The Phantom Menace not only risks turning them off with a far lesser product, but it takes away the power of the earlier (though chronologically later) films as they slowly reveal facts (Such as Darth's relationship to Luke) that are the ultimate moments of those films. 

Another series of books that I was quite fond of as a child, and still continue to revisit from time to time, is Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series.  These books now number more than twenty, with more coming, as her son Todd has taken over the helm of writing them.  I read the first six books when I was a kid in the early '80s, then additional ones as they were published.  Since the books jump back and forth through Pern's several thousand year history over the course of many volumes, I could see that a potential controversy similar to the Narnia series could develop.  Does one start reading with the later volume Dragonsdawn, when the colonists first settled Pern, or with the first book in the series that McCaffrey published, Dragonflight?  The author herself weighs in on the matter.  On some of the cover pages of the later novels a blub by McCaffrey states:  The author respectfully suggests that the books in the Pern series be read in the order in which they were published

I couldn't agree more.  Readers deserve to discover the wonders of a rich speculative world by way of the same path that the writer did.    

Friday, February 14, 2014

Finally, A New Post

Just checked my writing blog and realized it was painfully in need of updating.  Last entry: back in March!  Sorry, I’ve been quite remiss in keeping it up. 

I have been writing.  Mostly work on a novel, hence the dearth of short stories this year, though I did manage a few pieces of flash, most of which are up over at Every Day Fiction.

Update for 2013.  My word totals were a little under my goals (which is 1K words a day).  I ended up with 259,000 words for twenty thirteen.  Not bad, but I should be able to manage more.  But, with the novel writing, I’m doing a lot of revising, so that kept the word totals down. 

The biggest thing on the writing front for Two-Ought-Thirteen was I got the chance to attend the Summer Writing Program at Yale last June.  Not only was it quite a cool experience to spend a week attending Yale, but the program was taught by my favorite writer, John Crowley.  Getting to meet John and work with him one-on-one on my writing was quite a thrill for me.  I can’t tell you how much I am in awe of this man and his writing ability.  I hope just a little bit rubbed off. 

The little town of New Haven, CT was the locale of the program, and it was a cool little town.  The Yale campus was interesting, as it isn’t cordoned off by itself like a lot of universities, but it sort of just permeates the town, with lecture halls and student residences mixed in on the streets with restaurants and other businesses. 

My favorite of these other places was a little cigar bar called the Owl Shop.  It’s an old guard cigar store that’s been around since the ‘30s, and it’s the only place where you can get a drink AND a smoke in town.  Smoking, outlawed everywhere else, is allowed in the Owl Shop as their license is grandfathered, or whatever you call it.  Anyway, it was pleasant after class and meetings each day to stop by and have a beer and a nice cigar in a cool old environment. 

So, to sum up, Yale was cool.  I met some cool new writing friends, got to know John Crowley, and enjoyed staying in the rather castle-y student dorms and eating in the Hogwarts-y Yale dining hall. 

The novel I’ve been working on is a new one, different from the ones I’ve got in my ‘in the works’ section here on the blog.   I still work on those from time to time, but this new one is an expansion of the short story I wrote for the Yale Workshop, called ‘The Fairies of Maine.’  (Since I was working with John Crowley, I couldn’t resist writing a fairy story of my own)

TFOM takes place during a single week in June in the fictional town of Brandywine, Maine.  (The week of Midsummer’s Eve, no less)  It follows the varied and diverse lives of five people who stay at the Brandywine Inn for that week, and their subtle interactions with the world of Faerie. 

So, that’s about all for now.  Hopefully, I’ll have some interesting little tidbits to keep the blog fresh this year.  For now, back to the writing grindstone.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Impressions: Hawaiian Dawn

An excerpt from my journal, March 23, 2013.

It is early on a Saturday morning in Waikiki, Hawaii.  I’ve come out on the balcony while night still holds sway, the ocean and starless, cloud-filled sky black as squid ink, blacker still when contrasted by the gentle, incoming breakers that almost seem to glow a spectral white in the lights of the many hotels.  I’ve been lulled by the sound of those breaking waves all night, and have slept well for it.  It is a calm, placid sound, a distant whisper from the world ocean. 

I was awakened by the sound of laughter.  Some women were frolicking in the night surf, shouting, ‘Oh, that’s cold,’ their voices mischievous and teasing.  My mind’s eye visualizes them, and this is enough for curiosity to drag me from bed to the balcony window.  I look for them, but they are gone.  Oh well, they’re probably better as an unseen memory anyway, for in my dreams they were beautiful Polynesian maidens, out for a late night skinny dip. 

As I sit out here, dawn slowly begins to blue the sky and sea with subtle temerity.  It is as if she slowly shaves away onion-thin layers of the blackness, revealing at first only the darkest of blues and grays, which grow a little bit lighter with each passing second.  At first the sea and sky are indistinguishable, a single dark nothingness.  But as the light grows, slowly, ever so slowly, the horizon resolves itself into that razor-straight line of reckoning that has called to the hearts of travelers and explorers since time immemorial.   

A few minutes pass.  Dawn comes more quickly now; she adds subtle complexity to her empyrean palette, colors an artist might call cerulean, celeste, Prussian blue, cobalt, ultramarine, lapis lazuli, Davy’s grey.  Between this mottled, sea and cloud-formed canvas is the air; the rich, clean, fresh morning air--an air which almost seems to resonate with a faint electricity in a way that can only be found in the morning, before the sun fully rises.    

Dawn and dusk are both times of great beauty, and they are similar in that they are a transition between two states, a thing that exists only in passing, a realm that can be chased, but alas, never caught.  Both dawn and dusk are subtly different incarnations of twilight, each with their own job to do, and each with their own effect on me.  I see dusk every day, and always cherish the feeling it inspires in me.  Dawn is a much rarer thing for me, not being much of an early riser.  So for today, this morning, it is a pleasant thing to be greeted by dawn, and in her tropical livery to boot!  For dawn is a time filled with promise, and it is like a promise both long held and diurnally fulfilled.   

More time passes, and the world is fully awake now.  The beach is filling with strollers, combers, joggers, and a few fishermen who have set up shop at the end of a small jetty.  My little private dance with dawn has come to an end.  But, as promised, I know I’ll meet her for many more, and each will have their own unique beauty.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vonnegut and the Future of Books

I’ve been reading a lot more lately--a thing which I challenged myself to do when I got back from Worldcon last September.  Any good writer will tell you that a writer needs to read as much as they write, for it is in this manner that the brain feeds itself so that it can then regurgitate that input into what one hopes will be wholly better output. 

It was of course reading during childhood that fueled my interest in writing, so I’m glad to be back going at it whole hog again.  Reading is one of the genuine pleasures of life, and it rounds one out in so many ways.  Since the new year, I’ve been managing to read about two novels or collections a week, which is a better pace than I’ve ever managed, and I hope to keep it up throughout the year. 

One aspect of this ‘great pleasure’ is the discovery of the little bits of insight that an author has woven into their work.  Some do this more than others, but there is almost always a little of it there.  One of the best writers in this capacity is Kurt Vonnegut.  It’s hard to read one of his works without having little delightful ‘ah ha’ moments over and over again.  I came across a (for me) particularly good one in the current novel of his that I’m reading:  Bluebeard

It deals with the status of the ‘average quality’ artist and their place now in a world ruled by mass media and global communication.  I’ll let Mr. Vonnegut take it from here:

“I was obviously born to draw better than most people, just as the widow Berman and Paul Slazinger were obviously born to tell stories better than most people can. Other people are obviously born to sing and dance or explain the stars in the sky or do magic tricks or be great leaders or athletes, and so on.
I think that could go back to the time when people had to live in small groups of relatives -- maybe fifty or a hundred people at the most. And evolution or God or whatever arranged things genetically to keep the little families going, to cheer them up, so that they could all have somebody to tell stories around the campfire at night, and somebody else to paint pictures on the walls of the caves, and somebody else who wasn't afraid of anything and so on.

That's what I think. And of course a scheme like that doesn't make sense anymore, because simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but the world's champions. [italics mine]

The entire planet can get along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets drunk at a wedding and tapdances on the coffee table like Fred Astair or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him or her an 'exhibitionist.'
How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her the next morning, 'Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!”
                                                                   -Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard, Page 76

This brought to mind a feeling that I’ve had ever since I first put pen to page many years ago and aspired.  There are so many others out there, so many voices in the worldwide fugue of art, all crying out their tales, their songs, their brushstrokes, their unabashed creativity--how will one insignificant little voice be heard?  Does it deserve to be heard?

On the surface, that can be a little depressing.  But I also find solace in this situation.  Yes, for the bulk of the five and a half centuries since the printing press was invented, only the greats have risen to the top.  (Well, mostly greats...there is certainly pulp in those bestseller lists as well).  But this is a wonderful thing.  It’s a wonderful thing for me, as a reader, because I get to be exposed to those works that in any other era of human history I wouldn’t have been.  It’s also great for me as a writer, and for the same reason.   Having the opportunity to read these ‘champions’ is the best of all possible schools for a writer.  One can learn a lot from Mr. Vonnegut, or Mr. Shakespeare, or Misters Hemingway, Steinbeck or Faulkner.  If I had been born in the dark ages or earlier, the best I could have hoped for was whatever grade of tales the local village teller was telling, or perhaps the Latinate ramblings of a half-illiterate parishioner.  So yes, this is the best of all possible times to be a reader, but also a writer as well.  Thank you, printing press.  Thank you, mass communication.  And yes, thank you, internet.
Ah, the internet.  A two-faced beast if there ever was one.  In some ways liberating, giving a voice to all, yet in others, perhaps, the death-knell to traditional publishing.  This has many writers, both well-established and would-be, shaking in their Birkenstocks. 

We are liberated in many ways because we can blog, we can self-publish, we can even give away our hard-fought words for pennies, or even nothing.  But this strikes many, including me, as a dismal way to do business.  Because writing is one of those strange beasts that is both art and a business, at least if one wants to be a published, working author.  Borders is gone.  Barnes and Noble is on life support.  Mom and Pop booksellers are dropping like flies in a cloud of internet DDT. 

But, somehow, the art survives.  These things have all happened before.  They said television would be the death of movies.  They were wrong.  They said the VCR would kill the whole industry, but it merely created a new market for the material.  So, will the internet and digital publishing kill that wonderful avenue that has existed for centuries for writers to survive and profit from their work?  In some ways, it will, and it has.  Midlist authors are having trouble making ends meet, and their plans to retire on their back catalogues have gone by the wayside.  But I believe books, traditional books, will always survive.  I think we are merely in a great transition in this industry, and whatever shakes out will ultimately form itself into something that is sustainable. 

So, where does that leave the one little voice crying out into the worldwide fugue?  Well, I’ll answer that by stating that I believe that there are more writers working now than at any time in human history.  And I chose to believe that this is a good thing.  For the writer that works hard and never gives up, there are still many avenues available to success.  The important things are, like I just said, to work hard and never give up.  And the most important thing is to write.  If you truly love doing this--if you truly love putting butt on chair each day and weaving words into something you find beautiful, they you are already a success, for a love of your art is the most essential of all things an artist must possess.  The rest will work itself out in the end.  It always does. 

Monday, December 31, 2012

End of the Year Update

Well, here we are on the final day of 2012, and I find I’ve been sorely overdue for a blog update, so I thought I’d do one in the form of a year-end progress report. 

My word totals this year finished out at just over two hundred thousand, about half of what I did last year.  I attribute this to several factors:  Spending more time researching and world building for the novel, reading more, and a bit of burnout that set in toward the end of the year.  But I’ve had a good rest over the holidays, and I think I’ll be ready to hit it hard again the first of the year. 

I still think I’ll try to get back to my thousand words a day goal, at least for the foreseeable future, as it is doable, and tends to keep me sharp.  I do think I need to come up with some new story/plot generators, as some of the older methods that I’ve mentioned here in the blog have started to falter. 

Other than writing, as I mentioned, I did start reading more heavily in the last couple months of the year.  I’d decided that I hadn’t been reading enough, and a writer really needs to be a reader as well, practically constantly, so I knocked out twelve novels as of today, including a reread of some old favorites like Tolkien and Crowley’s Little, Big, as well as some new stuff and some Kurt Vonnegut that I hadn’t read before.  I think in the new year I will keep up the reading, trying to allow an hour or two each morning so I can knock out 50-60 pages or so.  Then I’ll spend the afternoon writing. 

My submissions also dropped off in 2012.  In ’11, I pulled off 100 subs, but of course I had a pretty large back catalog I was drawing from, and I also had a lot of flash and shorts from the 400K words I wrote last year.  In 2012, I managed 27 subs, with eleven sales, so a pretty good ratio.

One thing I did a lot of this year was flash fiction, which I enjoy, and will continue to do, but I really want to try to get more work in the 4000-6000 word range in 2013, and with these pieces try to crack more pro markets.  So the sales may fall from what I’ve been doing, but ultimately I think it will be more satisfying in the long run.  I think a good plan will be to devote a week or so a month to writing a short of this length, and the rest of the time I can work on the novel.  That should give me a shot at twelve decent length stories for the year, as well as progress on the novel. 

So, that’s about it.  Time to hunker down and try to add at least a thousand more words or so to those 2012 totals.  Happy New Year!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Heading to Middle Earth

I’m currently on a vacation of sorts, in a much-loved realm, though I haven’t left home. 

I’m talking, of course, of the pilgrimage I take to Middle Earth every few years, in the form of re-reading my favorite novel, The Lord of the Rings.  (and yes, though it is call a trilogy, or even THE trilogy, it is really just one long novel)

I first read TLOTR in the autumn of ’81, at the start of eighth grade, at the impressionable young age of thirteen.  My sister had been hounding me to read it for a couple of years, telling me how much I would love it, but for some reason I put it off.  I was more into straight science fiction—my head was caught up with rocketships and aliens.  But, as summer was slowly waning I was finishing up Anne McCaffery’s original Dragonrider’s of Pern series, and I found it one of those books that I didn’t want to end.  And while it was billed as science fiction, it certainly had a fantasy feel to it, so perhaps a grain of interest in that ‘other’ speculative genre was planted, and perhaps I had that with me a short while later when I was perusing the stacks at my local used bookstore.   It was there that I came across the Hobbit and TLOTR books.  There they were; battered, dog-eared mass market paperbacks with those wonderful 1970s era covers (painted by Tolkien himself—they’ve always been my favorite, and what I’ve always felt were the ‘proper’ covers for the books).  

My hand moved forward, and I picked them up and bought them.  Later, with the darkness of an early autumn night, I read those famous words: ‘in a hole in the ground lived a hobbit...’  I was hooked.

TLOTR was the first real work of fantasy that I’d ever read, and it remains the best I’ve read, and my favorite.  Tolkien’s garnered quite a few imitators over the years, and I’ve read most of them, and they pale in comparison to the rich, deep, majestic world Tolkien created. 

I began the habit of rereading TLOTR every couple of years, always in the fall, for these books just have an autumnal feel to them.  I find I never tire of revisiting the world and the characters; each read brings new discoveries along with the joyous reliving of favorite scenes and passages. 

When the Peter Jackson film versions came out, I certainly enjoyed them, and I’ve watched those several times over the years, but they can never replace for me the reading of the novel.  For one thing, the movies, by necessity, speed everything up, and one of the great pleasures of visiting Middle Earth is to enjoy its coziness and its scenery.  I will readily admit that it is a slow moving novel, but I think in this case that is one of the reasons I like it, because in its indolence is the time to enjoy the beauty of Tolkien’s language, and the world that he painted with those words.   (In the books, I'd forgotten that over seventeen years pass from Bilbo's 111st (eleventy-first!) birthday party to when Frodo leaves the Shire)  Tolkien was a great lover of nature, and this is reflected in his prose.  One really feels each tree leaf and blade of grass as the Hobbits walk through the Shire, or each drop of rain as they lounge around Tom Bombadil’s house on Goldberry’s Washing Day. 

In the House of Tom Bombadil—heh, speaking of slow sections of the book, this is a chapter where even such a slow tale as TLOTR has come to a grinding halt.   It is no wonder they left it out of the movie.  But, I’m glad they did...not because I don’t like the chapter...I happen to love it.   It may be my favorite chapter of the book, and I really can’t explain why.   There is just something so absolutely charming about Bombadil, and something so dreamy and comforting about his home in the old forest.   It both opens a longing in my heart and satisfies it at the same time...I could dwell here in this place for a long while.  So yes, I’m glad they left it out of the film...the movie could not do it justice.  And so it remains a little treasure to be discovered over and over again, only in reading the book. 

I’ve just finished that chapter, and it inspired me to write this, as I wanted to linger in the world of Tom and Goldberry a little longer, before we set out for the barrow downs, and Bree, and what lies beyond.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Just a quick update to inform that I arrived at Worldcon in Chicago yesterday.  WorldCon, for those who don’t know, is the World Science Fiction Convention, this year in its 70th iteration.  It’s actually my second WorldCon, (I went to Lonestar Con 2 in San Antonio back in ’97), but it’s my first to attend as a writer. 

As I’m still relatively new to the game, I only had one panel appearance, which was yesterday.  I had a story come out in Daily Science Fiction’s Year One Anthology, so I was asked to participate in a reading/signing supporting the book.  I have to say it was an honor to get to read some of my work at a venue such as WorldCon, but I was also a bit nervous, so I’m sort of glad it’s over.  Now I can simply enjoy all the overwhelming craziness that is WorldCon. 

More soon...