Tag Archives: books

NaNo – National Novel Writing Month

For the last several years I have flirted with participating in NaNo and every year (especially last year as I was finishing school) I forget until the middle of November (or the third week of February) when it is a little too late to start.

I am sure Stephen King could wait until November 23rd and then start but…

While I have notes and stuff all over the place of ideas and such, I have been sort of in limbo since finishing school so I have nothing mixed to put in the pot. I literally just remembered two hours ago. This is going to be fresh off the flesh of my forebrain.

It could also be terrible! But, hey, let’s play!

I have read a number of “articles” (i.e., blog posts about people I do not know and a few who are admittedly not writers) that try to dissuade people from participating in this event. They say that it is artificial, social media oriented. First it is artificial in that you don’t, in the real world, bust out a 50,000 page novel in a month that is ready for market. Nobody says that either. What the contest is (and it is with yourself, not others) is for you to put down 50,000 words of a novel. It is a writing goal within a month’s timeframe.

That part is not artificial and there is a real world parallel called the deadline. Most writing programs nowadays have little widgets or windows where you can enter daily and project target goals. NaNo merely makes the same thing into a public spectacle. In reality, you are still stuck there, alone, in front of your computer with a goal to achieve. There is nothing artificial about that. It is better to look at NaNo as a public event where you can make a very good headway on your writing project. That’s all. You may have December thru next October (or beyond) to continue writing your project, rewrite it, edit and reedit it, etc.

The social media complaint is just dumb. It is 2017, authors have to promote and their personal means is largely social media.

Another complaint is the high failure rate of participants getting to the goal of 50,000 words in a month. So what? The failure rate for restaurants in the first year is 90-95%. Does that mean you should not open up a restaurant? Maybe a lot of people find out they actually don’t like the process. Maybe a lot of people learn they can’t produce that fast. You know, some authors (and you can look this up, there are a number of them) only write a novel once every several years, some go a lot longer. Maybe November isn’t a good month for them to have started such a project (it is the beginning of the holiday season after all).

The failure rate can be broken down by the expectation of the goal. 50,000 words in 30 days breaks down to 1666 words a day. Let’s say you devote four hours a day during November that works out to a little over 400 words for each of the four hours. Given that there are 60 minutes to an hour, that breaks down to about roughly seven words a minute.

That isn’t too bad and is probably in the ballpark of what the average paid writer does.

The lamest complaint I heard was that it produces a lot of crap (even the NaNo site itself says you’ll likely produce a lot of crap). Most of what I write is crap. But far be it for me to volunteer to be the standard, most writers I’ve read who have discussed their craft say most of what they produce is crap. You just don’t see that in the published work. Or, to be fair, they try not to let that be in their published work.

The familiar scene of the writer sitting at his typewriter in a battlefield of crumpled paper at his feet testifies to that. You know who wrote those scenes? Writers.

Some people talked of it as if it spelled the death of literature (as if we weren’t postmortem already). Does it? Let’s say of the supposed half million people that participate (number from 2015) 99.999% of it is crap written by people who should not write. Let’s remember, Random House has no obligation to publish any of this stuff. Is it perhaps worth it so that some 16 year old kid somewhere finds that, having participated, he has found his calling and produces great work later?

Can’t paint? Don’t go to art class then. Writing is for writers and if you are not already a writer, then don’t bother. I say stuff it elitist snob. It is completely harmless. Even if, and I would suspect there are some, you were only to participate once every year with no expectations of ever publishing something (you just enjoy the activity, the sharing, whatever) what of it?

Some people poo poo anything.

And I should actually start thinking about a project!

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IT – Postscript

SPOILERS!

I finally finished IT by Stephen King tonight. Took almost a solid month. But at 1477 pages that is about four regular sized novels in a month so… not bad.

First the bad. I could have done without the chapter with the prepubescent gang bang. I think King must have put a giant rail up his nose that night. The kids lost in the underground sewers after thinking they have defeated IT but they have lost their “magic” upon defeating their foe and cannot find their way out of the maze of tunnels. So Beverly, eleven years old, suggests a different sort of magic. And coaxes her six male friends to take turns fucking her one by one. This serves as the reinvigorated magic that leads them out of the sewer system.

I am not joking. Oh sure, he makes it sound “nicer” than my brief description and uses the word ‘love’ and I suppose they all loved each other in their child-like ways.

But dude, these are eleven year-olds! Six boys taking a ride on single eleven year old girl. One of them is actually mature enough to achieve orgasm. And I had to read how sticky and sore Beverly’s thighs were.

That’s fucked up right there. I could have done without that.

The theme is both in the vein of C.S. Lewis and King’s familiar refrain of the importance of friendship and love (which would have stood perfectly fine without the kiddie orgy I talked about above). The Lewis vein is basically the kids defeated IT as children but did not destroy it. They defeated it as children open to magic. However, twenty-seven years later IT has healed or reawakened and by a promise they made they are sworn to come back to their small Maine town of Derry to try and destroy it once and for all. But now they are of middle-age. Can they destroy it now that their childhood magic has left them?

This plays out as best as one can do I suppose. What really worked for the book is the length, so you really got seeped into the town, the history of the town (all tied, in the crazy King way, with the clown Pennywise) and each of the characters. Also the multiple storylines that converged on the climax and the multiple storyline/time shifts so you were following two or three separate storylines paralleled decades apart. I read on Amazon reviewer complaints about this and that it was confusing and messed up the story. Stick to Green Eggs and Ham, kids. That was easy to follow and added tension.

I also liked the way he made the time shifts flow into one another. So, perhaps a chapter ended by one of the characters in 1958 calling, “Eddie!” and the next chapter, starting with Eddie turning around but in 1985. It was not time-travelling merely shuffling between two different points in time. I liked that.

Along with such books of his like Christine and The Tommyknockers King repeats his thematic accent on the importance of friendship and the pain of its loss. Here the touch was bitter sweet because (SPOILER!!) the loss was through amnesia after the defeat of IT. I also like how the amnesia was so woven through both timelines that when the final forgetting and the loss of the friendships started at the end it seems natural, inevitable, and, therefore, sad.

It was a good, long read. You have to be a reader of faith however because the journey is long. I have faith King would pay me off and he did. Even if he turned my stomach with the kid sex thing.


Addendum to Prior Post and more IT

Despite my prior post denigrating much of the 20th century literature, I must say that there is much that I did like. This didn’t really occur to me until further into the day after my doses of caffeine started to kick in. But most of what I did like was the second half of the twentieth century, the first half I still regard as pretty sad.

As a lifelong bibliophile who goes through books like Michael Moore goes through buckets of KFC, I simply forget a lot of what I have read. Because even more than the stories themselves, with exceptions, I enjoy reading as an activity.

I dislike intensely the icons of the early and mid twentieth century. Hemingway bores me to tears, as does Steinbeck and Lewis – Sinclair, not C.S. Even Ayn Rand (who I was an ardent fan of for years) is of this strict realism school. Her saving grace from the world of boredom was her attempt to produce the ideal man – indeed The Ideal.

So I did like Rand, and I still think that The Fountainhead was an excellently written book even if full of some heinous ideas (and some good ones). So there is her. And I like Flannery O’Connor. I remember liking Aldous Huxley’s After Many a Summer quite a lot. That book, however, was not full of your run o’ the mill characters, nor was the plot. There was some Australian author who I liked also from the mid 20th century whose name escapes me at the moment. I liked Margret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. I am sure there are others I am failing to drudge up.

But there was little that compared to 19th century literature. Much like painting and art in general, it just wasn’t as good. No one compared to Hugo and Dostoyevsky, nor Dickens or Austen. It is like van Gogh to Caravaggio – I mean, come on.

For the most part. But I am of the opinion that the twentieth century belonged to the genres. That is where the imagination, the speculation, went to live. And I got more reflection out of Frederik Pohl’s The World at the End of Time than in most anything else of the twentieth century literature I read.

That said.

I will sometimes scan reviews of books I am about to read or am in the middle of reading for curiosity at times. And I did that with Stephen King’s IT. Five star reviews I never read, what one loves another can hate. I always go for the one star reviews.

Among the complaints is that it is too long and that King goes into too much detail. It is a 1200 or so page book and at page 133, he is not yet done introducing the cast of characters. Not that there are an overwhelming number of them, nor is the character sketches entirely deep, but King likes to put a lot of concrete detail about one’s youth, family, childhood traumas, and what is in one’s medicine cabinet (not the most telling detail, but it can tell something, no?). It took about twenty pages to get done introducing one character only to have him slit his wrists in the tub upon receiving the phone call. Bye bye.

Now despite this it is Stephen King, people. He is my guilty pleasure read because I like horror and you can slam through one of his books (no matter the size) pretty quickly. After reading some esoteric chapter on ancient Jewish conceptions of the afterlife, or trying to figure out some Lafferty story I just read, King is a relaxation. And he has a way of connecting with a reader that almost never fails. They are usually through common human bonds that only a misanthrope would fail to register. I mean his book Christine (and for that matter, The Tommyknockers) is about friendship not really about some demonically possessed car.

But I cannot believe some people simper that the book is too long and King doesn’t “get to the point.” These kids (and I suppose they must be of the iPhone generation) would never be able to read, for instance, the unabridged Les Miserables. I think, if memory serves, there is even a thirty-some page description on glass manufacturing in it that has no bearing on the story itself. I think there were quite a few asides in there like that that I skipped over after awhile. Or the two and a half page paragraph, or seventeen pages of description (talking of books in general back then) with absolutely no dialogue.

They couldn’t do it. Could they keep reading long enough for Raskolnikov to commit his heinous crime? Or how about all that book that comes after? How boring! Oh shit, How about The Idiot? What the hell is that about when you are on page fifty? Anybody?

Tolstoy’s War and Peace? They would glaze over by page six, “Oh dear God! Will a Transformer please show up or something! I’m so bored right now!”

If Stephen King is too long and plodding for you, put down the book, go watch the movie. Leave the reading to the readers.


Still in the Grave and Summer Vacations

I am still reading Lafferty’s The Elliptical Grave. It is slow going. One, I really had this amped up in my mind. Two, this is one of his later books which consists mainly of dialogue and some pretty bizarre action. It seems to belong to a family of later Lafferty works like East of Laughter, Aurelia, and Serpent’s Egg. They are, all four of them, very similar in a lot of ways.

They are sort of like carnival philosophical dialogues if Augustine liked to write such things while slightly high on peyote. While the characters and the action are as some distorted, highly stylized cartoon/animation, the subject matter (both overall and in dialogue) center on technical theological and philosophical points. And on a first reading you can only get a flash – hold it – is he actually talking about eternity and the concept of time in relation to resurrection?

This is certainly NOT one of the Lafferty novels to start with. If one starts reading Lafferty from here, they probably won’t get very far. Better to start with the pretty straightforward Past Master.

I’m three weeks into The Elliptical Grave and I’m not sure what I am reading.

No news on the writing front, although daydreaming never stops. I am covering summer vacations at present and only have one day off at a time. And, being too old for the job, it usually takes a significant part of that day to recuperate to functionality!


Father Elijah

father-elijah-2

Father Elijah

This is my first overtly Christian (actually Catholic) novel. Although I have always considered Crime and Punishment to be overtly Christian.

It was a great read. I had been afraid I was going to be in for a corny Left Behind type book. Well, I’ve been told the Left Behind series is corny.  I’ve never read it.

One thing off the bat. I have a pretty sharp eye for proofreading errors. I have never read a cleaner book in my life – not even close. My eye did not catch a single error, not one. And errors usually jump out at me in size 48 font like a loud honking car horn. So kudos to Ignatius Press for that job. Sometimes it is hard to take books at all seriously when it seems it was brought to me by the second grade class of Gump Elementary. No offense to those kids, just to the adults who should go buy some red pencils and get to work!

Going with my usual policy of giving away no spoilers:

The book is surprising deep on both a moral and theological level. It is very dialogue heavy (one drawback of the book is the dialogue can go back and forth without narrative for such a length that you can lose track of who is speaking to whom) but most of these discussions are discussing eschatology or some point of theology or a character’s struggle with temptation., etc.

There is a long conversion scene of a wicked old man that takes place in a dank apartment in Warsaw that was so finely done it etched itself upon my mind.

The book is a thriller but not an action and flimsy quip style thriller.

You are traveling in the world of Catholic priests, bishops and cardinals, and one Pope who practically stole the show. I looked around, “where is this guy at?”

You will enter a world that is pretty foreign unless you are a Catholic, and even then (given some Catholics I have heard about) probably altogether unfamiliar. I learned more theology in this book than in most of my other reading. Although I had read it elsewhere, this book made it clear what accepting Christ and picking up one’s cross means.

You accept your cross even unto death.

Needless to say, there are not many Catholics let alone Christians out there. Not at that level at least.

In Father Elijah you will be traveling with men that take their cross even unto death. And some that do not or will not – they serve a different god.

The book harrowingly mirrors certain aspects of the Catholic Church as a whole at this time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

 

 


New Acquisitions

Someone please stop me!!

First pick-up was:

I love C.S. Lewis’s work in general and his theological work in particular (although do I prefer Chesterton over Lewis? hmmm). And how can I pass up a book that contains an essay titled “Fern Seeds and Elephants.”

Second Pic was:

This is from 1954 and is pre-Vatican Two. It has some lovely (and some rather homely) art in it and a wealth of information on many things Catholic: stations of the cross, extreme unction, baptism, the thingamabobs that make up a priests “uniform”, etc, etc.

In the Missal (a thing I still find hard to penetrate conceptually) they give you the years 1954 thru 1972 instead of using a generic system by which you identity which of the possible fourteen calendars you are in for any possible year, say 2017? Can you imagine someone throwing this set out and getting a new one in 1973 because they ran out of years?

Ah, and the smell of the set. That old book smell. I don’t know what it is. Do books that come out now end up with that smell? Is it the ink? This is a closed box set so the aging of the pages and ink and binding is somewhat preserved in a hermetical atmosphere and the tones are that much more sweet. You can’t get that out of a digital book. And they will always be at a loss for it.

But it proves a nice thing to begin the day looking them over.

But as it is I am four weeks into N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God and I am only on page 67. My reading slows to an absolute crawl during allergy season and my waking hours are usually less than sleeping hours.

Of course a crawl is about 200 pages a week, but it has been all fiction as I can’t attain the level of focus required for Wright’s subject at this time. I hope the Cottonwood clears up by next week.

Interestingly, my wife has just recently started to suffer from seasonal allergies and she is hating it. “This is what you have been living under all these years?! I feel as if I’m having a stroke!”

Yeah, love, it sucks big time.


Bishop Robert Barron, Popularity, Blog Stats, Father Elijah an Apocalypse

I have noticed that I have provided links to two of Bishop Robert Barron’s articles or videos in the last month or so. I have noticed that those links have not been used. Even when yesterday’s post would have been better understood with the requisite background. I believe that is because most people’s thought nowadays are “Priest? What the hell do they know?”

Hilariously, I have seen this said about love or relationships – what would a priest know about it? After I clean my pants from laughing too hard I would say – a lot than you would think.

Now, the “logical” thing for me to do, given modern ways of thinking, is to look at my stats and say, “hmm, this Barron guy isn’t very popular with my audience such as there may be (Hi Mom!), he will have to go.”

But, unless you are new here, I detest modern ways of thinking. So, I am going to bump up my links, weekly, of related topics Bishop Barron covers. I may even see if I can find an esoteric blogger of Christology.

Heh heh heh, my thinking may seem to not make sense, stand on your head and it will be clearer…

Sometime in the whirlwind that was early last year Mr. Wright at his blog was praising a book he was reading during Lent instead of what he was supposed to be reading for Lent. I have a strange memory where I will remember such a thing as such a post, what was said in it and the comments, and the book author and title.

So, last Thursday I was back at one of my old haunts Half-Priced books in Bellevue WA (East Side!) and came across the title sitting on top of the Hindu section under “religion.”

I am hoping it is a good read and not a Left Behind clone. Not that I’ve read the latter and not that I will – yuck. I think I have read every sort of genre out there except this one. And yes, I have read Westerns. Alright no Romance novels… But what man has?


Yet Another Acquisition and Tommyknockers Knockin’ at my Door

This one I had to get because, at the time, it was the only available copy on the internet and I already had number two. You never know if the one on the internet is the first of forty to show up tomorrow or the only one that is going to show up for forty years. So I bit.

I have to put a temporary halt on book buying. I can no longer even pretend that I am keeping up. Hell, last Friday I decided to reread The Tommyknockers by Stephen King on a whim.

Not totally a whim. It is one of my favorites. For one it was the first book I read in my very first place on my own. No television. Just beer and piles of books. And that was when I could read for 6 hours at a spin. Now I have to start fighting a nap within a half hour. That may be because I wear x3 magnification and hold the thing up to my face.

No television, no internet, no computers. Ah, those were the days, brother, those were the days.

Another reason I like it is it is a good story. Stephen King said in an interview it was his least favorite book and he doesn’t remember a lot of the writing. It was at the height of his drinking and cocaine days. And there are places in the book where you think, “ah, man, this was an eight-ball night for him for sure.” By this time he was a lot like Lucas I would imagine – editors as yes-men.

King’s strongest story-telling has always centered around friendship and this one is no exception. That, and the man knows the throws of alcohol abuse – quite intimate on that he is.

Anyway, it is one of my favorite science fiction / horror stories. Those are two genres that haven’t always mixed well, or believably. This one is a gem in my book. Love it. And it’s fast too. There is no hidden symbolism in King’s work, no meta-anything – just straight forward storytelling, contemporary Americana, and some shots of terror.

Hey, I just started a book called The Resurrection of the Son of God – go look up the table of contents. I need some rest after some of my reading!


STORMBRINGER

I am only about halfway through this book but I feel safe in calling this one. This book is stupid. The writing is inept while at the same time having pretension. I wish I had written down some of the stupid phrases I have read in this work so far. At one point Elric stands up from a sitting position followed by the phrase “his eyebrows lifted.”

What? his eyebrows lifted him out of his seat? His eyebrows lifted why? In relation to what event?

In another scene two warriors are having a discussion about a runesword. The main character, Elric, holds out his hand – “Give it to me,” Elric said quickly.

And then they proceed to stand there and talk a while longer. Why did he have to say “Give it to me,” quickly? It is out of place, there is no action requiring him to ask for it quickly. He just stands there holding it for a few more minutes of conversation.

The book is full of such disjointed, out of context writing.

It is also the sort of work that could not be put into film unless all parts were acted out by drunken cross- dressers. No one else could pull such laughable melodramatic seriousness. And the action, first this and then that, the world ends if you do this, the world will end if you do that. Literally the world will end. Within the first 20 pages we are buzzed into a full blown world war and extravagant backstory of Elric’s warrior ancestors and the rule of Chaos and blah, blah, blah.

I will finish it. It is not a hard read, and the book doesn’t let you vest any emotion in any of the characters so you slam through it. Can’t remember a character (ah, and it comes with numerous lands, people and gods that share a single characteristic – goofy names that are hard to retain or pronounce, and they are made up so you can’t go look in the dictionary) who cares! Just pay attention to the albino hero, Elric. He will succeed or he won’t – screw it on to the next book!

Not bad if you know you are going into pretty much worthless cheese.


THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S. Beagle

Finished this gem last night. I am a little old to have been reading the book but I thought I had a gap in my reading of fantasy classics. It wasn’t until near the end that it flashed upon me that I had already read this work as either a child or young teenager.

On another level the book is suitable for adult reading as well as it deals in subject matter that would be lost on children or even most young adults. It deals with the eternity of beauty, the ephemeral status of things that pass, what it means to be a hero (and the book gets it head on). A lot of themes almost passed me by as I was not expecting the book to cover any deep territory. They had almost passed me entirely by before I thought, “Wait a minute, this guy is saying something more here!”

The book ended on a sort of melancholy note (at least for the unicorn) as the unicorn had tasted the pain of mortality, of want and of loss and would therefore never be the same as she was before. The before state was of an immortal, unchanging perfection. From here you can see the philosophical and theological themes at work in the story.

The book was a delight to read. And was certainly what I needed after sailing aboard Lafferty’s ARGO. Not that I didn’t enjoy that thoroughly, but they make you work your ass off on that damned ship!