Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Silkworm, a review

Reading Robert Galbraith's (J.K. Rowling's) The Silkworm made me think about writing and publishing. It isn't that the material is thoughtful--the narrator is very distant. It makes you wonder if the author shared the views expressed. Here is a quote from The Silkworm:

"With the invention of the Internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani."

In case you don't know (I didn't), Michiko Kakutani is an award-winning book reviewer. What the quote is saying is that with the advent of the internet, people with blogs (cough! like me) and people who like to comment in those comment-boxes, can add their two cents about any book. The choice of "subliterate cretin" in the quote turns it into a very nasty critique of you and I.

Ouch! Zing!

Here is the thing though. If that quote had come from a John Steinbeck book, then I would know the author was taking a shot at me, since Steinbeck wasn't shy about criticizing the society/culture he was a part of (see The Grapes of Wrath).

But the quote came from a Galbraith-Rowling book... And in this age, that means the author may or may not have meant it. What's more, those words would be meaningless if Robert Galbraith didn't double as ultra-famous J.K. Rowling.

Don't believe me? Consider the following statement from a newspaper review, which discusses the enormous amount of one-liners in Galbraith's book that deal with the state of the British publishing industry.

NY Times reviewer: Do these observations (about publishing) take on more weight when we know that the writer is a superstar female author rather than a semi-obscure male one? I think they do. 

Or in other words, what's important is that a famous person wrote that, not the comment itself.




Author: Robert Galbraith
Genre: Mystery

Premise: Cormoran Strike must solve the disappearance of author Owen Quine.


Oh, where to begin... For the sake of brevity, I will go over the biggest issues I had with this book.


Is Cormoran Strike's sidekick a four year old? In this book, Robin comes off as waaaaay too needy. She wants Strike's approval and attention so much that it becomes annoying from the first few pages. Another thing is that Robin's relationship is too clearly going to go to hell in the future; there is no question about this, which will then lead to a type of relationship with Strike.

The relationship she has with her fiance is also problematic. The guy is an arrogant douche. How have they been together for as long as they have been in the story?

The Plot

Old Cormoran gets a visit from Mrs. Quine during which she convinces him to help her find her missing husband--a has-been writer on the brink of publishing a "controversial" manuscript for a new novel called Bombyx Mori. I liked the idea of a book within a book, but... Bombyx Mori is the kind of book where a fictional character neatly substitutes for a person in real life aaaaaaand, revelations are made about the personalities/lives of said persons. It's symbolic.

Okay. That a deviant would want to kill a writer to keep him from making damaging revelations to the public makes no sense at all. I mean, with a book that is as symbolic as Dante's "Divine Comedy," why would anyone bother? This is the information age. We kill each other over more important things, like the color of one's sneakers. Hell, if The Silkworm were set during Dante's time, it might have made sense as a motive.

So, that Cormoran would entertain the notion doesn't make him look very bright. I could not get around this, nor any of the lawyering up that the potential killers (publishing industry types) did when they found out about Owen Quine's manuscript.

That brings me to a big plot hole in the novel. There is this scene where publishing industry types are talking to lawyers to prepare themselves for the libel suit they plan on launching against the publishing house that puts Bombyx Mori in bookstores; they have read the manuscript and see its evil. Supposedly, Quine's manuscript is harmful enough to sue to keep it hidden. Yet, later it is revealed that the controversial information in Bombyx Mori is readily available to anyone looking for it.

So, why were the publishing industry types angry enough to sue? What was the fuss? It doesn't make sense. Would Lady Gaga sue a writer if they had a character in their novel who was just like her in every way, but then it was revealed that this character was secretly a man? The rumor of Lady Gaga being a man has made its rounds through the internet.

The paranoia over Bombyx Mori is unjustified. Maybe, if Owen Quine had been working on a memoir where he tells all about the people he knows...then, that would have justified the character reactions in The Silkworm.

I won't reveal what the ultimate reason for murdering Owen Quine is, but it left me with more questions than I cared to have after finishing a book. Consider this: If you're trying to murder someone, would you put them in a sling and slowly lower them into a pool filled with sharks? Sounds fun, but in this world, you would have to buy the sharks, the sling, use someone's pool, etc. That's just too elaborate and increases your chances of getting away with it--which is what most killers want to do.

The killer in The Silkworm goes all out, leaving me to wonder why a simple bullet to the head wouldn't have done the job?

As it is, the plot is just goofy.

Its Philosophy

The Silkworm makes a number of comments about the publishing industry...but it says nothing about it. The book has no philosophy; it just strings together commentary about it.

That quote I showed at the beginning of this post about readers with blogs reviewing books, well that isn't exactly a new sentiment. That's been a common thought since the onset of the web log. And that goes for the other thoughts in Galbraith's book, my favorite being about the number of writers today: "We need [more] readers...fewer writers."

The comments aren't even comments at all; they're things that its characters say.

What's the difference?

I mentioned Steinbeck because the narrator of The Grapes of Wrath makes critical statements about aspects of the current society. In The Silkworm, the characters make the critical statements, which amounts to not making statements at all. This is because a writer must remain true to a character's personality. You couldn't write about Nazi Germany without some of the Nazi characters making negative comments against Jews. This doesn't mean the author hates Jews. It just means the characterization requires this.

The overall effect of The Silkworm is confusing. What's the fun of all this commentary if it's regurgitated from the internet?


Cormoran Strike is still pretty cool.


I'm going to re-read the Harry Potter books. My memory cannot recall this many disappointments in those books. The Silkworm goes right up there with The Cuckoo's Calling, a place far lower than the lowest of the Harry Potter books. I will leave it at that.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas gifts!!!!

Ho! Ho! Ho!

I am in an exceptionally good mood thanks to an unexpected gift this holiday season. Now, usually my gifts range from dress shirts to cologne, but what this year brought was beyond measure.

A little background first.

Below is the scale of financial ability that most people fall into:


Wealthy is highlighted because, well, let's face it, this being the land of opportunities we all strive to get there. Certainly, if you're a writer, your fantasies will revolve around that!

Now, for the past--oh, I don't know--most of my life, I have been in the category below:


Yes, poverty sucks balls. They don't call us starving artists for nothing. I can show you photographs where I look like a Zulu tribesman (someone's description of me). Very sad, but hilarious stuff now that I no longer look that (cough) skinny.

During the holiday season last year, I got a gift from the family that drew me very slowly out of poverty so that now I am square in the middle of:


Decent! I could get a brand new car and pay rent and what not (real rent). I was so happy! I had limited means to continue to publish my work on my own, but I made do. I was inspired by J.K. Rowling to keep going because she was in the same category as I am when she wrote that first Harry Potter book.

It was difficult to believe that I was finally out of Survival Mode.

But now... What's the saying? You open Pandora's Box... and you discover Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

So... last year I solved the Physiological and Safety needs. That made me feel great, but it opened the door to a number of other needs I had no idea I had--some awakened by my encounter with my Josephine. I'm an introvert. I dislike being around large groups of people. Therefore, I'm usually alone. Was that all because I was in Survival Mode? More to ponder.

This has also made me cautious of success. What needs will I unearth if I ever become wealthy? Scary... Well, thanks to this holiday season, I again moved up the ladder of financial ability. In January, I will be here:


Good! That gives me options. It takes more weight off my shoulders. Part of the reason that Ascension took so long to write this year was that I was working so damn much. I have no social life other than to fawn over my Josephine (who is now taking a healthy turn ignoring me).

Even that doesn't bother me now. I'm in such good spirits. My new needs will probably revolve around more quality "me" time. That is if I can ignore the other needs.

But I'm becoming an optimist. I will interpret this turn of events as the Universe giving me more than a fighting chance. It's giving me a golden opportunity to rise. This all depends on how I manage my new-found assets.

Now, I know I said this before when I got my second job. But back then, I hadn't anticipated my old car breaking down so quickly (my experiences with that car can best be described by the song "Piece of shit car," by Adam Sandler).

One thing I'm doing is taking a week vacation during my birthday, the first of many.

If I play my hand right, by the end of 2015, I will be here:


And that's where I want to be.

Oh, and yes, I will be writing. Let the writing begin.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Josephine, Josephine!

The Past:

The name Josephine has roots in the past. Imagine this:

A boy in a classroom stares at the most beautiful girl there, whose name is Josephine. This girl has long, chestnut hair, with honey colored eyes; if you could have asked the boy what he liked most about her, it would have been her eyes--he has a taste for the exotic even at this early age. Her elfin features and light colored skin make her stand out from the group of culturally diverse students.

This boy's sister is next to Josephine talking to her, trying to convince Josephine that her brother is a great guy and would make an even better boyfriend than the ones she has had so far (a large number for a girl this age!). She has almost succeeded, which is obvious by the flirty smiles Josephine gives to the boy, and the not-so-subtle way in which the girls point at him. But let me back up a bit.

It is the end of the sixth grade and the Southern California summer is not as potent as it has been in recent years. The school environment is beginning to change. This is a subtle change that will blossom in Junior high school and take full effect in high school.

The change is from child to young adult.

In this Los Angeles School District classroom there is a teacher that wants to make this change as smooth as possible. She is arguably one of the better teachers in this middle school and is known for inspiring students with a gentle, but stern disposition. The children love her.

Today, being the last day of the school year and of middle school, she allows them a party to celebrate their coming graduation. When I say "party" I don't mean anything wild; the teacher ensures that all activities are kept innocent. Maybe things are a bit too innocent.

Outside, a pair of trouble makers wander through the hallway, obviously ditching the last day. The teacher notices them and when they peek through the door, she asks if they don't want to join the party. She would prefer them being in a safe environment to wandering the hallways looking for trouble (they will get in trouble anyway in junior high school and high school).

Like the other boys in that classroom, the two troublemakers wander over to a table where Josephine and the boy's sister sit and continue to talk. The girls have qualms about the two outsiders, but allow them into their table. And for the remainder of the hour, the four have a hushed conversation that the boy cannot hear.

The effects are painfully obvious to the boy, however. As the troublemakers talk to Josephine, that smile she wore for the boy dissolves. It becomes a flat line and then a frown. The honey colored eyes now eye the boy differently, with disdain. And the boy's sister is clearly upset, on the verge of tears.

What I have not told you yet is that the troublemakers know the boy from the previous year, where he and they disliked each other; the boy is too smart and unusual for them.

The boy never finds out what the conversation is about. Eventually, the troublemakers leave to introduce chaos in other places.

Josephine never approaches the boy and he never sees her again in junior high, high school--ever. At home, his sister never talks about that day nor what the boys told Josephine to upset her; the boy's sister never will mention it and will surely forget it in time, so that even if he asks her later in life, she will not know what he is talking about.

But the memory of this event is forever branded in the boy's soul.


The Future:

In the fiction, Tommy and Me, the name "Josephine" belongs to a character that never appears in the story. She is mentioned by one of the other characters; to him, the name serves to remind him of a type of a very specific type of woman. She is a Josephine as much as she is Josephine. In the story, one of the characters will have come across a young woman named Josephine when he was just a young man himself. The experience he had with this young woman shaped the idea of the Josephine in his head and in the novel.

The Josephine as a type of woman has some of its roots here in this essay. It discusses the types of women who are single when they ought not to be, and why they are so.

Basically, a Josephine is a woman who has a lot going for her (looks, job, a healthy number of men interested in her) but for whatever reason(s), she is single and is in no rush to change that. Why is it that these men aren't good enough for you, Josephine? Why????

In the fiction, my goal is to make the "why" as obscure as possible. Hell, it's fun watching men trying to figure women out, especially one as confusing as the Josephine type. However, the temptation of most modern fiction writers is to try to explain why.

This would change the Josephine into an objective. The hero of the story would have to help the Josephine of the story overcome whatever forces shaped her into a Josephine. That would be the plot of a nice romance comedy, actually.

But to do that would diminish the potency of Josephines worldwide.


The Present:

I made a very tough decision about my Josephine yesterday. Ignoring her was very difficult; every minute was like gouging out one of my eyes. It is part of a tug-of-war we're playing. I ignore her and she ignores me. She won. She can ignore me the longest.

Josephine! Josephine!

You are both a muse and a beautiful distraction. My writing hasn't been right since I met you and yet I would not give up the pleasant memories I have of you. Luckily, I have the ability to turn my pain into fiction.

But enough of that rant...

Later this week, I will review The Silkworm, and discuss my 2014 goals, which were these:

  1. I would like to finish and publish The Wizards.
  2. I would like to finish and publish Ascension.
  3. I would like to draft The Phantasms of the Present.
  4. I would like to draft The Sprite II.
  5. I would like to do more than Self-publish.