Category Archives: Thoughts on Writing

Hey. I’m still Alive.

It’s been about eight weeks since I’ve posted last, which is way too long for me. I’m used to posting (or try to post) once a week, but life got busy. It always does. I won’t bore with you details, but I can tell you that I have been reading and watching movies and writing, and these accounted for some of my time away.

This blog is to catch up on my August and early September and let you all know what I’ve been reading.

Books:
Part of the reason for so few posts in August was because I couldn’t finish several books in a row. This rarely happens, because I’m something of a completionist, as in; even when the book is bad, I tell myself I MUST finish it to properly have a perspective on it and “bitch.” Alas, there were books in August that I couldn’t review and spent a lot of time wasting by reading 1/3 or 1/2 of it, throwing it across the room, and picking up something else. Usually my batting average is better than this. I read a lot of killer books over the summer, but right at the end, I had the great misfortune of picking a few crappy ones in a row. They are as follows:

IN ONE PERSON by John Irving
Man, did this one piss me off. Over one hundred pages in, I finally had to give up on it. It went into a scatter-brained area of transgender  and sexual identity confusion, areas I’m mature enough to handle and appriciate, but it was executed in a crappy way. It was all over the place, the narrative and plot, well, I couldn’t find one. And I pressed on thinking that maybe I had been reading too much Y.A. and my ability to digest more complex adult literature had waned, but that was not the case with this book. I don’t know what he was trying to say with it, and with so many hundreds of pages, and it being one of his shorter ones, I can confidently say I am not a John Irving fan, though everyone in the literary sphere calls him one of America’s greatest living writers. I just don’t see it. Maybe it was true three decades ago. Not now.

STORY OF BEAUTIFUL GIRL by Rachel Simon
A huge, huge let down. By the premise, it sound like an award worthy book, but this was another one that took way to long to get going, the structure of back and forth story telling of multiple plots was strange, and the dialogue and character descriptions never felt real. Just, overall, one to be avoided. I’m particularly mad about this one since I had heard the author being interviewed on NPR, and they made it sound phenomenal. The commentator went as far to say that it was the most touching and powerful book he had ever read in his life. I found a lot of clunk and filler. Maybe there was something magic past page 90, but I’ll never know. I’ll wait for the movie.

NOW FOR SOME GOOD NEWS:
My book haul from two months ago clearly stated that I was hitting up three other books as well; Seraphina, Partials, and The Night Circus. I can honestly say that, while it took me a long time to read, The Night Circus was one of the best books of 2011, and in hte top 10 of books I’ve personally read in 2012. It deserves all the praise for world building and creative atmosphere it has recieved, even though the ending DID leave us all wanting more. It’s not to be missed, and just for the journey, has some of the most beautifully descripted settings I’ve ever read, and I usually hate books like that. Please, visit this world!

On another note, Partials by Dan Wells is a Y.A. sci-fi that is almost not a Y.A. book. It’s long, it mature, it deals with a lot of human issues as any sci-fi should, but its peaks and valleys and pacing was not consistent. This was a 7/10 for me, but I can see people giving it a 6 or a 9 also, just depending on what other books you’ve read before, and likely, also how old you are. There were some setting issues where I had a hard time visualizing the space the world inhabited and there was some unique dialogue involving biological and military terminology that were either true-to-life but a tad confusing nonetheless, or was made up B.S. that people who are actually in the hospitals or the army are going to be able to shake their head at. Whatever the case, if you like future dystopian, we built clones of ourselves and now their rebelling kind of stuff, (and we need to help each other or “we” and “them” are all going to die out, check this one out.

Lastly, Seraphina: nothing to report here yet since I read other books instead of this one, but I’m going to read it before the new year.

Here’s a brief list of books I read since I’ve posted last and their grades according to me. I’m not reviewing each one since I wanna move forward and get into the Fall. In the future, I’ll be more on top of things.

  • BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY by Sepetys (3/5) * why do we not know this history *
  • AMY AND ROGER’S EPIC DETOUR by Matson (4.25/5) * sweet, and now I wanna travel *
  • THE GIVER by Lowry (3/5) * What’s the big deal? *
  • DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? by Dick (3.75/5) * Better than Blade Runner *
  • READY PLAYER ONE by Cline (4.5/5) * Favorite Adult Fic List for Me *
  • THIS IS NOT A TEST by Summers (2/5) * huge let down *
  • A MOSNTER CALLS by Ness (4/5) * Sad, heavy, sad, and sad *
  • EVERY DAY by Levithan (4.25/5) * Y.A. Top 10 this year *

So, I’ll be posting more in October, and rock on.

MH

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Personal Updates, Thoughts on Writing

“Delirium” by Lauren Oliver: a book review and YA Marketing Rant

REVIEW:
It’s a bit better than the usual 3 stars, but really isn’t quite a four.  This has all the elements of being a very exciting story, but sad to say, it isn’t. The last fifty pages lift it from a two star, barely, but can’t save the entirety of the book. First of all, it’s simply too long for what is in here. The storyline isn’t bad, but it’s far too minutely descriptive and all I can think is, well, this is going to be stretched out to fill three books so, of course, it’s overly descriptive. Something has to fill all those pages. Too bad it isn’t the story, but street by street bicycling and walking or running. And the sights and smells over and over and over. There are some things that are described in almost the same way several times. This is unneccessary. And while we’re on the subject of unneccessary, I know that Lena is five foot, two. I got that the first time I was told and it didn’t need repetition. It was not in need of repetition. Or to put it a little differently while still giving you the same information again: it didn’t need repeating. This whole story could have been tightened up and more than likely the whole proposed three installments would fit within the pages of one book. I get it, I really do. Why write one book when you can hook readers into three? I mean, it’s three sales, three times the money, so kudos to the author on that, but the story really needs to be strong enough to make readers keep coming back for more. And, as usual, it ends on something of a cliff-hanger so, as a reader, I’m left disappointed.

Young Adult Publishing RANT:

The truth is, and I won’t list them all here, but I have 6 YA books behind me on my shelf I have to read and they are all the first installments of series that have begun in the past three years or just came out. Another 4 or 5 I’ve read recently. My concern is that these authors and their little game may be a terrible money making art and nothing more, and while there are good series out there that make sense to be SERIES, some publishers are asking these new, starry eyes, late-twenty-something authors who live in San Francisco or NYC to spread too little butter over too much bread. It’s getting to the point that if you want to buy that new book you’ve heard so much about, you have to find out who the author is, when the series started and play catch up. At the rate first time novelists are releasing now, in five years or less, the shelves will be a mess in libraries and book stores every where trying to finish up sagas and trilogies and people will be scrambling to keep them straight and everyone will be sick of the same forty or so authors digging into our pockets with the same drivel. There will be nothing fresh in a few years because it will be “the decade of series’ completion”.

I just hope some of these authors are worth it and give us good story arcs over a few books and move on. It’s near impossible to find good stand-alone YA novels today, except for John Green, I can’t think of one big name off the top of my head that is not involved in some trilogy or worse. I can only hope I am wrong and that three or more novels I read costing me between 10 and 20 bucks is a story worth finishing, because, you know, we just haaaaaave to know how it ends, right? Fuck.

I won’t even get into the discussion that every other YA novel I read already has a movie deal in the works for 2014. Thanks, Hunger Games. Geesh. Seriously, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Childrenis slated to be directed by Tim Burton, and I’ve also heard Divergent by Veronica Roth could get the Hollywood treatment; and possibly Legend by Marie Lu is going to be a mini-series or an animated TV show. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is also rumored to start production in the coming year. Movies are being based off YA books and adult novels like never before (look at The Help, 127 Hours, Water For Elephants, and Nicholas Sparks novels).

Snazzy titles, slick covers, big margins, 12-point font! Curse You, YA!

3.25/5

MH

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Thoughts on Writing

Brain Droppings: When the Last Page Turns

Books don’t come with one idea, they come with a few.

They are not always designed around one theme or focused on one lesson which everyone should get. Sometimes (often) people take different things away from the same book. Furthermore, sometimes authors approach the art of writing with no intention of preaching any number of ideas or arguments, but are honestly trying to find meaning for a question themselves. They say, “What if this happened to characters like this? What does that say about human nature or just this character or me?”

The point is: post-reading discussions or research sessions can and should be an integral part to deepening a relationship and comprehension of a novel for readers looking for the fullest experience. Too many individulas read books—partially or fully—and never utter a word about the book to anyone. Alone, we are all but one mind. Alone, fun and pleasure stop at the last word of the final sentence. A community never blossoms.

Between reading group participation and utilizing websites dedicated to discussion, review and analysis, there’s no reason to not dig deep into something a reader enjoyed. In our time, right now, we are wholly spoiled with access to information, through each other and the internet, to grow as educated, curious beings, who sometimes naively (but always rightly) believe true personal growth and learning can come from something as insipid and questionable as fiction.

Beautiful.

click and check it out...

I bid you good day, sir.

MH

Leave a comment

Filed under Brain Droppings, Thoughts on Writing

“The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes: a book review

Finally, an award-winner appealing to more than solely the scholarly writers, socialites, and hipsters of the reading community.

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I’m surprised this poetic and heavy little book is not being talked about more considering its inclusion on many Must-Read lists of 2011—nationally and internationally. Included on these lists have been the likes of Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding”, Franzen’s “Freedom”, and Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot.” While all of these novels are intelligent and technically sound, which will really stand the test of time? Only “The Sense of An Ending.

The others are uneven from cover to cover, arguably over-written, stumble over their own enigmatic styles, and in some cases are simply unremarkable. Self-aware, post-modern yarns put a particular idea (often abstractly) under a microscope, and if you have the patience to get to the last page and the final words, you might have the energy to comprehend and appreciate what you just read. They are books about “how” the story is told more than “what” the story is telling.

Luckily, Julian Barnes doesn’t do this like other best-sellers. If only they knew: life isn’t crafted to perfection. Too much wit and technical crafting is a death sentence to many readers’ enjoyment of the story. Connecting to those types of characters can be difficult. Many hyped literary books that are so critically-acclaimed are often not what you would call everyday books for everyday people.

“The Sense of An Ending” is that book however, saying huge things with simple sentences.

So what is it exactly about Barnes’ 163-page novel that earns such high praise? It’s about the human condition. Aging. Memory. Mistakes. Life, death, and things everyone can relate to. We all have our imperfect memories play tricks on us, which is exactly what this short novel touches on in a devastating way. Elegant and thought-provoking, we follow Tony Webster in London through his life. Book one, the teen years. Book two, his old age. It is thought-provoking, character-driven, and emotional. I doubt anyone considering themselves an adult could avoid connection with some aspects of this book. It’s one of those haunting books about suicide, philosophy, and relationships, guaranteed to echo in your head for days.

While the first part is better than the second, it is only slightly so, and I think the point of the change in tone is to reflect the now older narrator and his uncertainties. While not a perfect book, it’s darned close. This coming-of-age feels so much like a memoir it is almost doubtably fiction. Metaphorical and superior to many books from last year, it is well worth the time of anyone who grew up in the 60s or 70s, but is also relevant to other generations as well.

4.5/5

(for fans of Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day”)

MH

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Thoughts on Writing

“As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner: a book review

After skimming the last half of “The Marriage Plot” by Eugenides and flat-out quitting “A Farewell to Arms” by Hemingway around page 88, I needed a break from the “taut and boring” (Hemingway) and the “over-written pretentiousness” (Eugenides). I thought my first taste of Faulkner would be at least interesting and something I could respect, despite the horror stories from many I went to college with and my English teacher wife. All had promised me it was a droll, confusing, aimless, under-developed mess.

I needed a good book. I haven’t finished a whole novel in weeks.

So how was my experience?

Final Word:

I get it, but I hate it. I’m not pretentious enough to lie to the scholarly-types and tell them I like it to seem smart. Just… no.

A short novel that should have taken me two days took nearly a week. I quit it twice, then walked away, and finally came back to finish it. I still skipped some horrendously confusing pages. Full disclosure: I probably read 75% of it, and that was really, really, pushing it. I checked the plot points on several site and read reviews afterwards and, yeah, despite my honest curiosity to complete the book, grasp it, and strain my ability to appriciation new things, the plot just didn’t come across clear at all. I missed a good third of what the hell was going on and who was related to who. Though I only read 3/4 of the book, there was a lot that I read twice! It took entirely too long for no good reason for certain elements of this story to come into focus. The plot description of the book on Wikipedia is clearer and carries more impact and theme than the book.

This was a rushed and unimportant diarrhea blast of story, one that only bloomed in the last 50-some pages of an already short novel. It felt like it took forever to slog through. Written in under 8 weeks in 1930, “barely altered from the first draft” according to Faulkner’s own mouth, this is one of the most renown books ever. Ever? I guess this was a brave and risky milestone for a guy who happened to do something with formatting and style that had never been done.

Okay. He pioneered it. Great. Still bad.

I might, MIGHT, dabble in “The Sound and The Fury” from some morbid curiosity — the novel I’ve been told was the “true” masterpiece. “As I Lay Dying” was simply his most “accessible.” (What?!)

Both are difficult reads. Don’t tell me they aren’t. It would be okay if the content was remarkable or awe-inspiring. Maybe for the time, but a lot has been written in 80 years, buddy.

My two cents: 2/5

MH

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Thoughts on Writing

On the Value of Writing Honest Fiction

(a look at how adding real life experience to fiction affects you and me)

an essay by Matthew Hughston

 

Possibly the scariest thing about writing is the fear that someone may discover something about you that you did not want known. Do the fanatics and scholars not mince over works by Fitzgerald and Plath and Hemingway and Shakespeare in an attempt to better understand the author?

All thoughts, themes, and situations a writer creates must bloom from somewhere, and often times they are not disguised that well—especially if you know the writer. Sometimes the plot or themes are not connected to the author’s experiences at all, yet sometimes a scene or a certain type of language convey to the reader this thought:

“This author must have really felt this or been there. You can’t make this stuff up.”

If it truly is “made-up,” then so expertly creating depth and illusion should be a pat on the back for superb writing; on the other hand, if “true” it is a testament to the idea that some complex emotional and situational elements in writing simply must come from the “human experience.”

Think of two song writers for example—singing of a broken heart. One has never had his heart stomped on while the other truly has. Which writer do you believe would strike a chord in you? Can you even tell if they’re both really good? What is fiction and what is not? Does it really matter so long as it is done well? You can rack your brain trying to figure it out.

So what is safe to publish? Should it matter? Who will be reading it? And am I doing myself a disservice by attempting to mask a story; change a name or age, alter a situation, or flip-flop the sex of a character as if that will actually distance my life from the character’s lives? How much “me” do I put in? Can you tell?

I think I should not fear such works. I believe that the true fiction writer must be bold and unapologetic even in the face of examination and retribution from his or her peers. It could be seen as selfishness, but many of the greatest writers placed real people in their lives into their books, and they certainly weren’t always kind or “pretty” reflections. Sometimes they were true, sometimes exaggerated, but always dynamic and made the story better.

In the end, many people will never be given the opportunity to throw their hat into the ring with the great figures of the past. Many will not find or earn the possibility of having parts of their life’s work remembered; unless your name dons a University’s library, or has a city park dedicated in your name, or is immortalized on a plaque at the base of a beautiful piece of modern architecture.

Perhaps the common man will have verbal stories passed down the family line for a generation or two. Maybe if you are a tycoon, or a war hero, or some silly twice-removed relation to a president. But then and only then will your name survive the coming generations.

How many generations of people will care about some old relative from 90 years ago?

But writing or being an activist or musician; these are the things that just might survive the generations. They just might reach out beyond the bloodline and impact the populace in unimaginable ways. Many authors, artists, and public figures meet the end of their lives feeling they were a failure to a public that seemed not to care, but sometimes decades later the impact and legend truly take hold. Look at Plath, Fitzgerald, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Aldous Huxley—all of their works initial met with trepidation, sometimes years, sometimes decades, but the world came around eventually.

Of course it is a bit conceited and self-centered (even self-aggrandizing) to want immortality, and I am not advocating to attempt such feats, but the people on this planet who can leave something behind should make it worth leaving behind. Maybe then their words will have a chance. For some this means constant exploitation to those around them and over-dramatization in their art or music or novels. And for others it is shameless honesty and reflection in hopes that people will learn from their conquests and mistakes. Perhaps from molding a fiction from a reality, the impact will be more relatable and visceral. We are simple animals at our core.

In the end, it may not matter much. The people who will read this long after I am gone may not know the difference between the make believe and the truth. They may ask: “Did it come from his experience or was it made up?”

In that regard, you could argue that the people who made everything up in their art form and found long-lasting success made out the best. After all, they did not have to deal with the fallout and reactions from the people in their world when they were alive, asking “how could you write such a thing?” or “did you really mean it when you said…” or “if you really feel this you need help!” or even “is this character supposed to be you? Supposed to be me?” Perhaps the liars and the dramatizers have the right idea. They made it all up—and anything they have inside themselves is left alone, only to be shared with whom they want and at their discretion.

But the honest writer—the writer who puts small pieces of his or her heart into the story, the one who really shares a secret they should perhaps not share, or a tale that is spun from reality but only barely spun—are those writers braver and worth more reflection? That is arguable. Clearly, I like to think so. And therefore, my experiences with life continue to pour into my works.

I know no other way.

It may sound that I am aiming for immortality, or that I feel my work should one day be more important solely on the basis that it came from some truth, augmented or otherwise. But what if that truth is weaker than a better writer? What if the wholly fictional fiction is better than my “truthy” fiction? Which body of work should be held to higher renown? Should not the best piece, regardless of how it was written, be loved and acclaimed? If so, it matters not where the story or themes bloomed from.

And so in a selfish way, perhaps putting so much of one’s self out there, at their own expense and other’s expense, is a poor decision. Furthermore, what is it we are looking for? What’s the reason? What do we all get from it (the writers and the readers)? Why write? Why read? How sorry can a writer really be about offending the living people who took shape in one’s fiction if immortality awaits? In any event, one can always deny that an episode in a book occurred from first-hand experience, right? Who would know?

When it comes down to it, any artist should make art for the maximum impact by any means necessary, and I hope that I am doing it right. Though other artists may know another way to express themselves or grasp for immortality, I do not know another way to write. And is immortality truly the primary goal? I think not.

But what then?

Judge me if you must, but know at least I was brave enough to share, and for this act perhaps the people absorbing my work may grow in some way. Perhaps I, for sharing, will grow too. If I didn’t hope for this, why would I write at all?

Nothing sounds more rewarding than impacting at least one life. My own or yours.

1 Comment

Filed under Thoughts on Writing