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:

POOR----DECENT----GOOD----WELL OFF----RICH----WEALTHY

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:

POOR----DECENT----GOOD----WELL OFF----RICH----WEALTHY

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:

POOR----DECENT----GOOD----WELL OFF----RICH----WEALTHY

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:

POOR----DECENT----GOOD----WELL OFF----RICH----WEALTHY

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:

POOR----DECENT----GOOD----WELL OFF----RICH----WEALTHY

And that's where I want to be.

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


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LC / LA




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.



LC






Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Goodreads challenge!

So...tired...eyes...sore...

At the beginning of the year, I thought I would be doing a great deal more work than I ended up doing. That included reading. Every year, Goodreads.com asks if you want to challenge your reading prowess by setting a goal.

I said, yes. I will read 50 books by the end of 2014. I was doing fine thanks to the recent discovery of audiobooks, which makes reading less of a pain on my eyes. But around October-November, I ran into complications with my Josephine (the name "Josephine" represents a type of woman, not an individual named Josephine--I will explain in more detail later). My reading challenge suffered as a result...

Let me tell you something about that, fellow men: A woman's time is never free. It doesn't matter who the woman is or what your relation is to her. Spending time with her, moping about her, being obsessed with her, or just plain talking to her... It is going to COST you...

It was only until the end of November that I tackled the Josephine problem (I'm mostly ignoring her now) and was able to get back into reading. With four weeks to go, I had twelve books left to read. And so, I got to reading...

I'm up to 48 books out of 50. The last two will likely be The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith and The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan. I am going to review Galbraith's book later this week when I finish, more than likely Sunday (today is Thursday).

***

Catching up on the reading challenge gave me some breathing time away from my work. Since the start of this year I have been at it nonstop. At least now I'm hungry for it again. Yesterday, I almost spent the whole day revising chapters of Ascension.

The absence has been healthy. Well...now I have an addiction to Pusheen the cat that I fear is incurable. Damn that cute bastard...

Oh, here is what the old version of the cover of Ascension looked like:


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The artwork is by Ravven. Unfortunately, with the changes in the book, I will have to commission her to do another cover reflecting the changes. :(

LC








Monday, November 17, 2014

The Causal Angel, a review...

The past two weeks have been less productive than I would have liked. My Josephine (more on that name) is giving my imagination too much to process. Most of its creative power is going to the current situation. The only silver lining is that these experiences will fuel the fiction that will become Tommy and Me, which I'm working on after The Wizards...

The Wizard of Santa Monica is coming along though. It's not the pace I would like, nor is it the quality I would like. However, if there is one thing I am proud of it's that I'm an excellent revisionist.

***

"The enemy is death." That is an idea that resonates throughout the novel. It is interesting that while the characters certainly are "alive", theirs is not the kind of living that we would identify with here in our century. This novel does a good job of bringing otherworldly science and our own theoretical physics into one sphere that is not very understandable!

However, if you can get past that, then the confusing science creates a mesh of world-building that seems almost mystical.






Overview:

Author: Hannu Rajaniemi
Genre: Science Fiction

Premise: The legendary thief, Jean LeFlambeur and a young Matjek Chen must overcome numerous obstacles to rescue Mieli from the Zoku and prevent the Sobornost and the villainous All-Defector from finding the Kaminari Jewel (which grants certain individuals the power to change the universe).



What didn't work for me:

This novel could have done more philosophically. The Causal Angel is a very thin book, compared to the other two, so I thought it had space to muse on certain philosophical issues. The main question of identity is never really delved into.

Really, when you exist alongside other copies of you, what are the consequences for your identity? Are you still you if there are fifty of you walking around and more of you can be created? If the Self becomes digitized, is it still 'Self' or 'Community' since the information that makes up 'Self' is no longer unique? Is your humanity just a collection of quantum states that can be copied and recopied? And what about the question of Nature vs. Nurture when there are multiple copies of you that are you, but with new and unique life experiences to shape them?

All of that could have been looked into. Rajaniemi plays with some ideas and the plot occasionally wanders into that territory, but for the most part it is left untouched.

A consequence of not truly exploring this issue is that it made the ending feel like a cheat. I won't say what the ending is, but it leaves open the possibility of more Jean LeFlambeur stories, though I'm not sure if I can invest in the character if a new copy can continue on with the series...

It's a shame.


What worked for me:

Everything else worked for me. Some of my favorite elements were these:

There is this tease in the beginning where young Matjek Chen reads the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia and complains that everyone dies. So, I thought, they are all going to die by the end of the book. But that's part of the playfulness of the story: If you can self replicate or be 'saved' like videogame progress, can you truly die? And what's more, young Matjek Chen is horrified at his older version's infamous accomplishments and by the fact that he will become that when he's older. But will he become the very thing that horrifies him as a child? Who knows. This is a digitized human.

The world, as always, is a pleasure to explore. This time the action takes place in a number of environments like deep space and several planets, like Saturn. Though the focus of the world-building is spread apart, you never truly feel like you've been cheated. There is enough here to give a satisfying setting for the story and plenty of room for it to grow (oh, vast amounts!).

The Kaminari Jewel is an element of the book that truly belongs in a Fantasy novel. Yet, the author manages to keep it in the realm of theoretical physics and quantum mechanics. Unless you study the things the author has studied (and understood it), the science will be confusing. This was a negative point in the last review, but this time it works to the novel's advantage. The jewel itself is a pseudo-magical artifact that grants unimaginable power. The mystical texture comes from the confusion the reader will likely experience when the narrator explains the science behind the jewel.

Here, I also wanted to note that the storytelling is a Science Fiction take on the old way of telling stories, the serials of old where the main character did not have to develop permanently, only as long as the adventure lasted. Rajaniemi adds a twist. His main character learns things, but he is just a copy of a Prime version. Each new copy (for future adventures I'm guessing) will start from scratch without the benefit of the previous version's experiences. Whether or not the Prime learns from his copies is left a mystery.


Overall:

This possibly could have been a longer work with more of the great things that made the previous two installments memorable.

It did feel a little light in content, but that helped since the science fiction exposition can drain you substantially if you read it for long periods of time.

If you're a hardcore Science Fiction fan and have an Engineering degree or have studied physics, etc., then you will get more out of this than most readers who have not. I'm almost tempted to read about this stuff even more just to see how that layers the story.




LC

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Beyond Ascension...

At last, Ascension went down... the Rough Draft anyway. I still have to work it to go through Revisions 1, 2, and 3 before Editing it.

And now, I get that period where nothing is certain. I miss my characters, but in order to forget them I have to create something new. The novelty of the new project will keep my mind away from dark places. The pain will be my muse. 

Already, I have next year's projects in line. One is obvious since I've mentioned it already: The airport story; the romance that uses LAX as a setting. 

The others are completely new. I've decided that 2015 will not be a year of sequels. Sure, I get to finalize the two novels in the Elohim Trilogy that I wrote this year, but not draft anything else.

It is this freedom that has me happy. Next year I come out of my hole again and I will shop around for ways to get others to read my stuff. Using what I learned from Absolution in 2012, getting The Wizards and Ascension out there should be a different experience altogether.

I have learned from the mistakes I made and will improve my methods accordingly.

***

It's National Writing Month! I'm not crazy enough to write an entire novel in one month; my hands will hurt with arthritic pain. However, I can finish my mini novel, my novelette about that wizard that comes from Santa Monica. That's right, I'm going to put the Wizards to sleep by re-writing the Wizard of Santa Monica

Also, I'll be gearing up to write the airport story before the end of November and into December. 





Art by Celairen 2014





LC

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Knuckle brawl!

The revolving door of the airport...everyone leaves through it. And I don't mean just passengers. The turnaround rate for employees there is much higher than other places. So, that makes finding friends a little difficult. Despite this, I'm succeeding...at losing friends.

***

Okay, that first part was from a different post about everyone leaving. Everyone left. Moving on. The battle to finish Ascension this month is heating up. Yesterday, I sat in one place until I finished the chapter. I'm close to the end now and this really should be the easiest and funnest part of the novel: The climax. I like the fast action and revelations of this portion of any book. Writing it is no different.

Other things are pulling at me though. First, I am infatuated with someone from work and that is taking up an enormous amount of brain power. The real problem is that I am working on Tommy and Me, the short story that takes place in that airport. Well, it's not a short story anymore... There is so much material that it couldn't possibly be a short story and I don't want to produce a novella nor any in-betweener. If it's going to be long, then it may as well be a novel.

But Tommy and Me is about romance in that work place, a premise inspired by a true life story I heard at LAX about two people who met there and fell in love. All of that romance thinking has me all messed up.

And the dark, adventurous plot of Ascension is fighting the comical and romantic musings in Tommy and Me.

Grrrr! To finish Ascension I have to watch dark things and listen to darker music. Thanks True Detective and Stabbing Westward.



LC




Monday, September 22, 2014

Looking back at August...



I don't remember August being this hot...

But it likely was. I forget many things now, like writing new posts for this blog. It's not a priority right now. I would honestly spend that time writing. And there's the other thing...

I'm slowly, but surely, getting a nagging monkey off my back. By the end of next month, at latest, I will be rid of it. This has nothing to do with my work, but it is taking a toll on it.

And, I think that next month I will be done with the draft of Ascension. This is an estimate based on what's left to do and my current weekly progress. So, I peeked forward into November and December and saw "The Wizard of Santa Monica" and "Tommy and Me."

This last week in September, "Tommy and Me" threatened to overshadow my other projects; for a while I contemplated turning it into a novel too. It has become a sort of quest, much like "The Wizard of Santa Monica." Together, they are two of the most difficult fictions I've come up with. But I think I finally got it this time.

And I think that will round me out for the year.

***

Ah, August. I won't be done with the actual writing of Ascension until the end of October, but it was in August that I went over the middle hump and worked out the last of the issues of the novel's story.

It's funny the way the writing turned out. I was sure that I would finish a draft of Ascension about a year ago, and a year ago I was sure I would have a draft finished in 2012. I page through my notes constantly and wonder at how different a novel it might have been if I had completed it during either of those two years.

But, enough musings about that...

I also had time to commission promotional artwork for the book. Here is one of the "bad guys" the dead detective will have to face:


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The artwork is by Celairen, who is also doing a few more pieces for Ascension.



LC

Monday, July 28, 2014

Knock on metal...


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I have been working on my novels. It just doesn't show...

***

The other day I got an email at work about the upcoming Local Author's Fair at the Palos Verdes Library. It stunned me because at the end of the last one, back in September of 2013, I swore I would have The Wizards and Ascension complete! As it is, I'm going to be about halfway through Ascension by the end of this month (knock on metal). And I've yet to knock out The Wizard of Santa Monica, the last Wizard story.

This month I did some free form on an imaginary project with no real plot, just mostly world building. I might have mentioned this earlier, if so just ignore me (as you usually do). But there is a sense of freedom to it. Free form is without structure. The project, even if imaginary can go in any direction.

At the same time, I've been going back and forth between what I have so far in Ascension and what's already in Absolution. I'm thankful that I read the Mistborn trilogy, as it did give me "tips" on how to approach certain material, particularly the world-building exposition. Many thanks to Mr. Sanderson.

Reading the third book in his trilogy made me wonder how understandable other books in similar trilogies are to someone who hasn't read the first book. To see how understandable they are, I will read the third book of a Fantasy trilogy without the benefit of the first book.

Aside from that, it looks like July has come and gone. I'm about halfway done with the manuscript, though to be honest, I expected the halfway point to come at 40,000 words for a total of 80,000 words (a good rough draft length). 45,000-ish words is a bit lengthy. That will put the final draft at about 100G.

But, I think I've bored myself enough with this post. It's time to get back to work and get to the halfway mark...

Knock on metal.



LC


PS: Artwork by Ravven Kitsune 2014, all rights reserved.








Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer!

Summer is here! There is a drought in California! We're all going to drown in dust!

***

My June goals were apparently too ambitious and I didn't meet them. Boohoo. I'm still very chipper since I got two monkeys off my back that had been there since last year. And, I did add about 10,000 words to the manuscript, while pursuing a nice plot element in the story.

July already feels more carefree. I bought a fan today that will keep me from melting during the following weeks and into August. With that, I think getting Ascension done will be easier. Also, not having to worry so much will help a ton more.

Thursday will be the first writing day for this month. The goal for that day is to un-fu*$% the mess I made in the manuscript during July. After that, it's a simple matter of following the outline.

During June, however, I made efforts to free up my creativity with writing exercises. I gripped an idea and delved into it. For me, that usually means world-building for a completely different project, something that has no relation to anything I'm working on. Part of the advantage of that is that my conscious mind takes up the exercise while my subconscious mind works on current projects. That went well and I developed ideas I might pursue in the future.

Some July goals:


  1. Read five more books.
  2. Continue to chip away the plot problems with the Ascension manuscript.
  3. Add 15,000 words to the Ascension manuscript in addition to the 10,000 words I failed to write last month.
  4. Focus on "Tommy and Me."


My goals for this month center on Ascension. I'm ready to finish it.

***

My reading has taken center stage. I think it's because in previous years (and for a long, long time) I've focused on reading things for school. With school gone, I can go back to reading for recreation. Add my new found love of audiobooks and the sum is I'm recreating a lot, two books at a time. This isn't a negative thing since reading helps me get in touch with stories from a different angle.

I finished Brandon Sanderson's The Well of Ascension. Damn, that man can twist up a plot. Nearing the end, I thought the novel would suffer from a too-long resolution, but that was when Sanderson twisted the knife and left me bleeding. I bought the last part of the Mistborn trilogy today and will start on it ASAP.

I'm also in the middle of an audiobook version of Pullman's The Golden Compass, which is from the point of view of a child. The story is well-crafted, if not a bit excessive with its plot points (there are recognizable layers of plot that cover the entire series and just the novel itself). I'm enjoying it well enough and will seek out the second chapter in the trilogy.



And now, I'm done.


LC



Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thoughts about magic systems and laws...

Mistborn: The Final Empire

I unfairly judged Brandon Sanderson before I read any of his books. Those laws of magic he made up seem constrictive and should be examined by writers interested in magic systems. This has nothing to do with his ability to tell a story nor with his writing abilities. After reading Mistborn: The Final Empire, I had to admit that he can spin a yarn.

Mistborn is excellent on many fronts. This should come as no surprise years after its release. It is because of this fact that I didn't go ahead with a review; like Harry Potter, it is near-universally accepted as an example of a good novel.

The one aspect of it that was bumpy, as far as the reading experience for ME went, was the tutorials on how to use Allomancy.

I've mentioned this before, but I thought it was an interesting enough topic to explore further. Why does an author feel the need to explain away the magic system, giving it rules that help define how it functions in the story? That's part of the answer, I think, that it helps the author make sense of it in his/her story.

**NOTE: I refuse to say that it will help the reader because there is no telling, with 100% certainty, what will help that diverse group of men and women called "the reader."

***

Brandon Sanderson's First Law of Magics


Brandon Sanderson helped me out a little by putting his thoughts on the subject. He has laws of magic, which I commented on in the review I wrote for a different book (The Night Circus).

Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

Just as a side comment, the statement doesn't make any sense to me. I think I know what he meant, but what is written doesn't say it.

Let me break down the first law:

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to

To me, this speaks of an experience that most writers of Fantasy and Speculative Fiction in general can relate to. Building a functional system of magic or creating rules for how the super-natural will interact with the known laws of physics is necessary to help resolve conflict, as well as help other elements of fiction: setting; characterization, etc.

Since Sanderson focuses on conflict resolution, I will too.

The next part of the First Law is:

how well the reader understands said magic.

This is the part that doesn't make sense to me. When he said, "An author's ability to solve conflict with magic," I took it to mean during the writing process. The manuscript isn't complete. The writer must find a way to have the magic system/world building help resolve the conflict that rises from the story. So, the law should say:

An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how functional the writer has made said magic system.

In other words, a poorly created magic system will have no believable boundaries; the wizard/practitioner will have unlimited access to the supernatural without either limits or unsympathetic constraints. There's also the random solutions, which bring to mind the deux ex machina weakness that is often a cheat to conflict resolution; the gods come down to slay the dragon for you, very nice of them.

Yet Sanderson isn't writing his laws for writers exclusively or readers exclusively. This is what I think his First Law of Magics meant:

Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: The effectiveness of a character's ability to solve the story's conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the author introduces said magic (its rules and limitations) as the plot develops.

This makes more sense to me because it throws the full burden of solving the conflict on the author and keeps away the reader's ability to understand (since this varies per reader) off of the equation. It also says that an author, when he/she chooses to introduce a detailed description of the rules and limitations of the magic system, must have skill in writing exposition (discourse meant to introduce information to the reader).

Why is that?

The chapters I least liked about Mistborn: The Final Empire were the ones where Sanderson gave tutorials on Allomancy. These were heavy in exposition: discourse and were like lectures. The information mostly came from the mouth of one of the characters, Kelsier, aimed at his pupil, Vin.

Compared to the exposition chapters in other novels, it is well handled. Brandon Sanderson knows how to inject this subject matter much more effectively than other writers. But do you notice how much exposition is required to properly introduce a rule-heavy magic system?

Big deal. Once it's introduced, the author need not worry about it. Right?

Suppose I picked up a copy of a Fantasy series' second chapter (or third). Do you assume that the readers coming into it have read the first chapter? No author (myself included) will say yes to that question. What we assume is the opposite: The reader coming into a series' subsequent chapters probably did not read the previous chapters. That means you will read book two or three of a series and get information that was already presented in book one, like why a character has a nickname, their tragic childhood history, etc.

For magic systems that require a large amount of exposition, this presents a new problem.

I'm currently reading the second chapter in the Mistborn trilogy and actually want to see how he handles the redundancy problem of exposition.

Redundancy problem of exposition? Oh, you've noticed this little issue... The lecture chapters I mentioned above cover a ton of material. The problem arises when subsequent installments of the series (and it's always a series) must reintroduce said material about the magic system.To not reintroduce the material risks alienating anyone who didn't read the first installment. To do it poorly creates messes.

I remember reading The Name of the Wind and thinking the exposition was on the heavy side when introducing the rules of "sympathy." After reading The Wise Man's Fear, my perspective changed; the exposition chapter about "sympathy" was overly dense to the point where it didn't make sense to me. The author tried to solve the problem of redundancy by cramming all the exposition into a single tutorial chapter to one of the characters. It was akin to getting a lecture on the whole of physics in a one hour period.

It's a tough choice: Redundancy or alienation?

The right answer is... There are only preferences, no right answers. And like I said, I want to see how Sanderson handles this problem.

But the question I have is, why explain the magic system to such a degree?

I give the answer using Brandon Sanderson's original words: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic...

If a writer wants to solve the conflict with magic, it behooves him/her to introduce guidelines that will make the resolution of said conflict satisfying. No cheats. If you say your wizards can't use magic during the day, then having one of them using his power at noon in order to save the world will be a cheat...

Well, what if the conflict in your story doesn't need to be solved with magic?

***

Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings

I think we all know about this inconsistency in Tolkien's trilogy: Why didn't those giant birds just take Frodo to Mordor? There are a number of explanations to this, but the one I think sums up the most logical of these is: Tolkien just doesn't bother with a tutorial with how the magic works in the trilogy.

Let's suppose Tolkien had said, "And the Great Eagles, messengers of  Manwë, were at the whim of that great being and could help only for certain distances and never to resolve the conflicts of the inhabitants of Middle Earth..."

Then, the following question would have been: Who is Manwe (with the funny dots in the name)? Tolkien, of course, would have had to explain who this being is/was and what its role in Middle Earth politics is/was. For that matter, why not explain the mechanism of how Gandalf was reborn as the White? Or why Gandalf and Saruman didn't just make their own power rings? Or why didn't the Elves just make a power sword or shield to counter the power of the One Ring?

And that would have led to further explanations about the role and powers etc. and a long list of issues not pertinent to the One Ring and the quest to destroy it... Tolkien exercised incredible restraint in the amount of details regarding the magic of The Lord of the Rings.

But did LoTR need a tutorial? It's just not that type of story. The main conflict cannot be resolved with magic (beautifully illustrated during the Council of Elrond). If you notice, Gandalf's role during the multiple battles is small; he never decides the ultimate outcome. In fact, it is the point of LoTR that the role of magic and its representative agents diminishes at the dawn of the Third Age.

It is because of this theme in the novels that I'm hesitant to say that Tolkien kept the magic tutorial out of the novel in order to add a sense of mysticism to it, to make it magical. The novels don't need the magic tutorials since the system won't solve the conflict.

I've also said that this is true for the magic system in the Song of Ice and Fire series. G.R.R. Martin doesn't need to give a tutorial since the novels focus on the inter-human struggles of the Stark family and the Seven Kingdoms. There is magic, but it is part of the setting mostly or used as a symbol of power; the dragons are too small to defeat an army (at this point), but they let the powers-that-be know that Dany is a true Targaryen heir.

***
Overall...

I think some authors create a complex magic system to be original. My guess is that still others just like the challenge of devising a series of rules that govern the supernatural; that is my reason.

Overall, I do think that Sanderson's Mistborn: The Final Empire is an excellent novel. I'm currently chewing on his second Mistborn novel and can't wait to see how he handles the series redundancy issue. It will help me on my own novels, especially since I'm writing a sequel right now.



LC









Saturday, May 31, 2014

May gloom...

This hasn't been a happy month. Thanks to a 100 degree heatwave, I got very sick.

As far as writing goes, it went well. It was very satisfying working on the variety of stories I was working on. "Tommy and Me" is a short story (novelette) and The Phantasms of the Present is a novel. It's nice to have that level of diversity. In June I'll be working on a screenplay (just to write something other than prose).

Sadly, as well as the writing went, it wasn't well enough. I went two steps forward and took one big step back.

The damned Wizard of Santa Monica.

Thinking and rethinking about it made want to dismiss it first, then rewrite it...again. So, now it's scheduled for a rewrite. Not all of it, just most of it. Sigh...

One of the great Truths of writing, I suppose, is that the gap between initial idea and completed manuscript is the same length tens of thousands of rewritten words.

Ascension is going well at least, as well as the other stories I'm working on. The difficult part is resisting the urge to throw myself at the words. It helps that I can visualize the monster.

Displaying ascensionreal.jpg

Art by Celairen 2014

No, that's not a zombie. I do play with the idea of zombies in this book, though. It's nice to visualize the characters. I think I'll commission a portrait of Detective Adams. Already, this month I also received the cover art for The Wizards, which looks great! Thanks Ravven.

The wonders of this age never cease to amaze me.

And now for some June goals:


  1.  Write 20,000+ words of Ascension, which will bring me to the halfway point of the novel. 
  2. Get at least halfway through "Tommy and Me"
  3. Write a chapter or two of The Phantasms of the Present.
  4. Outline The Wizard of Santa Monica. 
  5. Read another five books.



LC

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mid-May, the wind blows...audiobooks!

It's 100 degrees Fahrenheit in downtown Los Angeles.

Outside of the library it is in the mid 90s. There are several problems with that. The most important is that Starbucks likes to turn up the frosty air when it's hot outside so that the temperature difference between inside and outside is about thirty to forty degrees.

I coward away from the place since it earned me a nice head cold. I'm at the library now, waiting to go to the airport. It's nice having the option to haunt a location where nothing is expected of you. Give me a clean, well-lighted place and I will rebel in the emptiness. No sense of accomplishment. No egotistical drive to get more. Bliss! There is comfort in the lack of responsibility. And I need to feel comfortable. I am no one. Deadbeat son of the Middle Class, why do you see the stars in the ground below you? Louis Corsair, you are a ghost without substance!

While here, and without body or form, I browse the collection of audiobooks; I'm hooked now and need a fix. I do note the differences between this format and written fiction. I enjoyed Gone Girl (in audiobook format) thanks to the performance the readers gave. This made me somewhat guilty at first, since I chickened out of reading the actual book. Yet, there is more to consider here.

A decent reader will bring life the many characters in a story. This adds a dimension of creativity not in the written novel. And this means that the successful audiobook must have a reader that complements the variety of styles in the written book.

Not all readers are adept. For example, I'm reading Ford County (audiobook) and the reader is John Grisham. He...probably should have let someone else read it. The performance is not the best. That doesn't mean that John Grisham can't read (obviously he has to read his work). But Grisham isn't a professional audiobook performer.

Also, the best of readers won't make a unlikable novel better. Consider the case of The Black-Eyed Blonde. The reader was great! Kudos to Dennis Boutsikaris, whose work I now look for when browsing audiobooks. Sadly, Mr. Boutsikaris' talent couldn't save the story... The novel didn't work for me.

It makes me wonder about a number of things. One of the critiques a friend of mine received during a brutal workshop session was that his reading of the story he wrote was too much a performance. He wasn't letting the reader invent the voices in his head; he read the dialogue of one of the characters with an accent meant to be annoying.

And I agreed with the workshop leader then and I still do. But I do enjoy the audio performances of certain professionals. I wonder if in the future there will be a market of writers writing books meant to be performed, similar to stage plays (which are the children of poetry) and screenplays (the children of stage plays). Why not? Before television killed the radio serial, it had a decent audience.

The audiobook, in my opinion, is the descendant of the radio serial. Except now we get to pick the pace the serial goes at.

But here I have mused far too long...


LC


PS: I met my too-easy writing goals already! I'm doubling down on them. The reading will require some will power, unless I only chew on audiobooks.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

April, 2014

The current heatwave in Los Angeles is nothing to laugh about. I wouldn't care except I now sleep during the day because I work late. Sadly, at around 10 AM it is over 80 degrees in my bedroom. It is impossible to sleep. And so, I prepare for work.

I think on an average night, I walk about a quarter of a mile at the airport. Sometimes I walk more, especially when I have to stay late or overnight. The only limit to how much I can work there is the amount of punishment my body can take before I fall down and die.

In the city that is LAX, I am an usher. More often than not, I am a sheepdog and you are my sheep. I gently remind you of where you need to go and how to get there. Sometimes I yell, but only when the volume level of the airport is higher than average (or when you piss me off). You bleat and I come running. Naturally, whenever a writer compares people to sheep, it is negative (not enough individuality in sheep I guess).

This is different than the library, where I exercise different muscles. It's a curious thing.

***

I wish I could say that I took April off, but I did not. I've been working on The Wizards, specifically on The Wizard of Santa Monica, which I had to re-write. Also, there are a number of little things that took my attention. I finally got a grip on a short story I have been wanting to write since 2005. I also wrote a chapter of The Phantasms of the Present.

What I wanted to do that I didn't get done was re-read what I have so far on Ascension. Now, I want to say that The Wizard of Santa Monica is in a decent enough draft-form that I can leave it alone, but I can't. It bothers me to leave that undone like that when I'm so close to putting it down. I may have gotten a bit ambitious with that one since it is now over 18,000 words long and growing.

To be honest, it's liberating to write something different, not Fantasy. The quality I like most about Mystery writing is having to build a puzzle backwards. With Ascension, I've learned some lessons, both from my successes and failures with Absolution and from the current Mystery novels I've been reading. All in all, Ascension should be a different type of challenge for me.

***

It has taken two weeks to finish this post. The good thing is that it is warming me up for what comes next. I'm very pleased that I have some things in order, not all, but that is what the rest of this month is for.

So, here's to May. Cheers!

May Goals:

  1. To warm up, draft 5000+ words of Ascension
  2. Finish the chapter I had been working on for The Phantasms of the Present.
  3. Take a bite of the short story I finally worked out in my head.
  4. Read five or six books (audiobook rocks!).
  5. Finish my research on the Kabbalah and the Sefirot.


LC

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Cuckoo's Calling, a review...

Nothing gets me in the mood to write a mystery more than reading a few good ones. I picked several that have been top sellers this year and in recent years. One of these, the one I'm reviewing now, is the work of J.K. Rowling, who wrote the magnificent Harry Potter Series. I remember fondly staying up late to read them (I came across them when she had written most of them already).

I binged. There weren't enough hours in the day. I had to absorb each Harry Potter book, follow each new storyline, discover new magic... My eyes literally hurt when I finished book five. Luckily, book six and seven had yet to be finished and I got a much needed break.

And then it was over... J.K. Rowling is not Rick Riordan, who continued the story from his first Percy Jackson Series. When The Casual Vacancy came out, I remember wanting to read it. But I didn't for whatever reason. And then came Cormoran Strike written under a pseudonym (kinda like me).

It was too good to be true. J.K. Rowling writing a murder mystery! So, I read it.

***

Overview:

Title: The Cuckoo's Calling
Author: Robert Galbraith
Genre: Private Eye / Murder Mystery



Premise: Private investigator Cormoran Strike is hired to take a second look at the apparent suicide of supermodel Lula Landry.


What didn't work for me:

There are three elements of a mystery novel, especially those mysteries involving Private Investigators, that help me enjoy it: The Detective; the modus operandi of the detective (or how he/she conducts business); the mystery / crime. When these elements are well executed, then I tend to enjoy those novels more. Poorly done...

So, how did J.K. Rowling (Galbraith) do? Let me address my grievances about those elements.

The Detective's detecting...

Pertaining to the way Cormoran Strike conducts business I was less than impressed. My logic is that J.K. Rowling is no stranger to writing mysteries. The Harry Potter books always had some little mystery for Harry and friends to solve; these were very catchy and brought life to the magic books.

So, I was confused why Cormoran, an investigator trained in the military, would turn to Wikipedia and Google at times to verify information. Now, granted, the subject of the investigation was a popular figure in life, but still... Some of the clues he gets come directly from unreliable articles he finds on the internet.

For example, one major clue comes from an article, which quotes an unidentified character during the funeral of Lula Landry. Cormoran decides this mystery person is important and tracks them down. Cormoran never questions the authenticity of the article; he just takes it as fact...

There are also complaints that this book has a sloooooooooooow plot, which is fairly accurate. The reason for this is that Cormoran's style of detecting is not very exciting. He has two modes: Internet and interview. So, for most of the book Cormoran interviews person after person. This is not so different than other novels of this type, but when I say interview, I mean interview. The subjects of his queries are brought to Cormoran with very little work done by the detective, thanks to the influential nature of his client. And he sits with them. And he asks his questions. They answer, even the uncomfortable questions that the police didn't think to ask.

Maybe if Cormoran had a bone of cunning, the smallest shred of it, then it would have made the interviews more rewarding. There were several times where he could have been clever and bypassed the my-client-is-influential-so-you-must-talk-to-me problem. For example, he has to find a person at a rehab clinic and straight out tells them that he is a detective looking for a person that had spent time in that clinic. He could have instead said that he is the washed out son of a famous rock star (technically true) and needed some time in the rehab center. Deception. It never crosses Cormoran's mind. How does he get the information he wants? A kind staff member at the rehab center decides to help him by neatly recalling all that he knows...

The mystery...

One thing that has to make sense to me when reading a mystery novel is why the police were unable to solve the crime in the first place (if a Private Eye is involved). If the detective is an actual police detective, then the problem never comes up. If the crime involves the supernatural, then it is easy to see how regular police detectives could fail to solve it or come to completely false conclusions.

In the case of Lula Landry's suicide, the problem was that the police labeled it a suicide from the very first chapter and stuck with it.

That bothered me, especially when we meet these policemen later in the book. They seemed too cartoonish to be real cops; and they had to be drawn that way for them to miss some of the clues they missed in Lula Landry's case.

You have to have some respect for police procedures if the mystery takes place in this world, and especially so if the mystery takes place in a city like LONDON!



What worked for me:

The Detective...

I like Cormoran Strike as a character. He is not the typical superman that sometimes haunts mysteries and thrillers. J.K. Rowling drew his shortcomings, physical and spiritual, in a realistic way.

At first, Cormoran comes off as a character that has traits meant to differentiate him from the other characters in the book (in an absurd way). So, he is big and tall, has a prosthetic leg, is mixed race, etc. etc. That was a turn off since Rowling has a knack for drawing characters with memorable physical traits (lightning-shaped scar, hint, hint).

As the story goes along, Cormoran's foibles, his inner flaws start to show. He has a foolish attraction to women who are beautiful and abuse him. He lets them because he doesn't think he deserves to be with them. The other side stories, his mother's murder (which likely will haunt the seven books Rowling plans to write about him) seemed interesting enough to want to know more about.

And sure, his detecting method is as exciting as watching a snail race, but he grows on you the way that Columbo does. In terms of personality, the two detectives are similar. They are not Sherlock Holmes and they know it. Their strengths come from what they see in others. And once they bite onto a suspect...

Overall, Cormoran Strike comes off as a humble, though flawed piece of work that is just enough a person, a real person, to follow for more than one book.

The Mystery...

Hard to believe this can be something that worked and didn't work for me. The mystery element worked for me in a meta level, as a teaching tool. It is a splash of ice cold water that wakes you up.

The novel is one of a line of old-fashioned detective stories that were once plentiful but have been replaced by thrillers and modern mysteries (like Gone Girl). There is the traditional ending, where the detective spills his guts about how he figured things out. This one has less action than most, but it still follows the formula.

The typical exposition at the climax, the looooooooong detective's logic that goes on for pages, was what got me. It read...antiquated, dated. That is a hard pill to swallow when you're planning to write something like it in the near, near future. The Cuckoo's Calling definitely shows that the whodunit has wrinkles along its aged skin.

On another level, I like to think that J.K. Rowling will push past this first awkward attempt to write an improved Cormoran Strike mystery. I have faith that she has that much talent.



Overall:

This mystery has a slow, slow pace that rewards a bit in its climax. Maybe cutting about a hundred pages would have helped sharpen the dull edges. But the real treat here isn't the detecting or the tragedy of Lula Landry (I could never truly understand her). The real treat is the J.K. Rowling narration and its protagonist, Cormoran Strike.

The narration reveals some of what must be J.K. Rowling's thoughts on her fans and her fame. It is interesting to read.

He makes the fiction work. She makes the narration do more than tell a story.





LC

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Ocean at the end of the Lane, a review...

I saw the size of Neil Gaiman's new book, The Ocean at the end of the Lane, and thought it would be an easy read. Because of its size, I decided to get it in audiobook format (also, Gaiman voiced the edition I got). And, I had just finished reading Holes, a book that also has a young protagonist. This way, I could compare techniques.

It turned out to be a wise and enjoyable decision.

No one ever read to me when I was a small child, but I got hints of what I was missing while listening to this audiobook. I'm familiar with Gaiman's work; I loved his "Sandman" series (like many, many others).


***
Overview:
Title: The Ocean at the end of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy / Urban Myth



Premise: A middle-aged man returns to his childhood town and rediscovers a forgotten adventure from his youth that involved magic, otherworldly creatures, and a young woman named Lettie Hempstock.


What didn't work for me:

Very few things didn't jive with me while reading (listening) to this novel. For one thing, Gaiman constantly reminds the reader that his protagonist is "just a boy" or "seven years old." Really, I got that the first time you said it Neil. There was no need to repeat it every chapter (no exaggeration). After a while, I started to laugh at that because it reminded me of "The Wonder Years" and the way the narrator always declared, "And then, it happened..." in every episode. It always happened to Kevin once an episode, this important event.

The reason Gaiman does it so much is to put some emotional emphasis on the situation. For example, when the 7-year-old protagonist sees his father having sexual intercourse with another woman, he doesn't understand it even while he describes the act in terms that he knows: Father was hugging the woman from behind and kissing her, etc. Of course, the older adult protagonist understands what is going on, but back then, "he [was] just a boy of 7."

For my taste, doing it less would have been more potent.

What worked for me:

I think if someone else had written this book they would have been tempted to pile on a hundred more pages. But being just shy of two hundred pages works well for this book. Mr. Gaiman presents a succinct and controlled text, without needless secondary plots or excessive description; I'm thinking of The Night Circus in particular. Gaiman's book has a fast paced plot that doesn't feel hurried.

And honestly, I'm looking at the girth of some of the books I have to read (including The Cuckoo's Calling) and they're intimidating.

The other element of this novel that worked for me was the mythical tone throughout. This is a fantasy that takes place in modern times, but it feels older, like it could easily be a medieval work. Gaiman makes use of what I can only call magic without the cliches of modern Fantasies (Urban Fantasies). There are few recognizable tropes here, like bindings, but aside from that, the world and its creatures is the brainchild of the author.

Yet, these strange occurrences and practices come wrapped in a contemporary setting. The prologue and epilogue are brief, but potent. What the characters reveal about the protagonist at the end is very compelling and just sad.

It is rare and refreshing to come across this type of Contemporary Fantasy today, an irony since this seems to be the generation of contemporary fantasies.

Last but not least, what worked for me is the way Gaiman plays with the formula of this type of novel. This is not the first novel I've read where the protagonist, as an adult, looks back at some period of his/her life that was awe-inspiring and meaningful. In The Ocean at the end of the Lane, Gaiman's protagonist looks back but not to reminisce. The memories are so terrifying that he either has blocked them or they have been blocked for him using supernatural means. This leads the adult protagonist to question the validity of living.

In the end, he's not asking whether his life was worthwhile. The protagonist questions whether living at all was worthwhile; his current miseries make him question the worth of living.

Overall:

The main character of this book recounts memories, which have been altered, with a sort of dread that fools you. At first I thought he was going to recount events that he was wistful about (as many books that have similar framing devices do). But it feels like he wants to remember these events because they are somehow more horrific than what his life has become.

And so, a short review for a short book. It's very enjoyable.

If you're a fan of Neil Gaiman you'll automatically pick up on his wit and bits of wisdom. This one is not too heavy on either (Anansi Boys is a little heavy on the comedy).


LC





Thursday, April 3, 2014

March Tally...

So... March came and went.

The only thing I failed to accomplish before the end of the month was the four entries about writing for this blog. That bothers me little since I wrote them, but don't like them enough to publish them; they need further development.

But... I acquired a vehicle. I (cough) finished a draft of The Wizards. And I read 3 books; Holes ended up being the last book--since Cormoran Strike's story is dragging and the The Book Thief just isn't holding my interest (Neil Gaiman's new book turned out to be an excellent read, which I will review soon).

What helped me achieve my book reading goal was rediscovering the audiobook format. I experimented for a bit and was happy that I could tolerate listening to short books. Longer books and books that are experimental just don't digest very well. I will be listening to Neil Gaiman's Anansis Boys next, while continuing to page through J.K. Rowling's mystery book.

This is a short post to help me enjoy my days off before I get into Ascension. I'll be writing the review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane next.


LC

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Week 2 and 3...

I actually made progress on The Wizards. Part of that progress dealt with deleting things from the short story collection rather than finishing anything; The Wizard of Long Beach is a nice story that fits poorly with the others--I will keep it around for future use (along with The Wizard of Skid Row).

But The Wizard of Hollywood is drafted. I spent a day longer than I had to in order to finish it, which was unavoidable. At least I got something done.

What's left for this month is The Wizard of Santa Monica. The story is the longest in the collection and will probably top 17,000 words (of which 11,000 are done). Hooray! Two weeks left in March to do that and read one book.

***

Car Buying in America


Dealer 1:

"You're credit is not so great, sir."

"I...yes..I made some mistakes when I was younger, but I've learned from them..."

"But some of these accounts went red a few months ago!"

"Technically, I was younger a few months ago than I am today..."


Dealer 2:

"Do I get a seven year, 100,000 mile warranty from carmax?"

"Uh...no...(sighs) We offer a 90 day warranty..."

"Can you certify that the vehicle is in top shape?"

"We inspect it. Our mechanics do."

"..."

"..."

"So, what carmax can certify is that someone definitely owned the vehicle before me..."


Dealer 3:

"So, that 2010 Honda Civic is $7,999, minus the $1500 down payment in my pocket?"

"Yes, sir! We aim to please here."

"That sounds pretty good! What will my payments be?"

"$250 a month."

"What? For how long?"

"48 months..."

"That's $4000 more than the original price!"

"Yes, sir, but the licensing, taxes, paperwork, etc. etc... you see how that accumulates? Not to mention your credit score is very low... And those nice rims it has...they're alloys. Very shiny. And that sound system! (whistles) Top notch."

"And if I don't want the rims? Can you put plain ones?"

"You would have to bring your own."

"And if I don't want the stereo?"

"We would charge you to take it out..."





LC

Monday, March 10, 2014

Ask the Dust, a review...

Rocky start for a Monday, but at least I finished out some errands, including this one:

***

"Ah, Los Angeles! Dust and fog of your lonely streets, I am no longer lonely..."

That quote from Ask the Dust appears in my novel, The Quantum of the Past. The funny thing is that I had not read the novel at the time I added it.

And I continuously heard about John Fante and Ask the Dust from one of my writing teachers at Long Beach State, Stephen Cooper; he is the author of a Fante biography called Full of Life. The man even made us an offer that was difficult to refuse: Read Ask the Dust and if it did not thoroughly entertain you, he would cover whatever money you spent on the novel.

He believes in it that strongly. I bought my copy off the ibookstore and set to reading it much later. To be fair, I don't want my money back. Ask the Dust is a novel that tries you though. It is set in Los Angeles during the Great Depression and some of its sensibilities tug at you. It is a novel full of life that I hated and loved at times.


Overview:

Title: Ask the Dust
Author: John Fante
Genre: Literary



Premise: Colorado writer, Arturo Bandini, has come to Los Angeles seeking to make a name for himself and be regarded as a "Great American Writer." Along the way he comes across a woman, Camilla Lopez and falls in love. What follows is an episodic tale of hope and victory tainted by loss; every cloud has a silver lining, true, but it is also true that every well-earned victory has the stink of death.



What didn't work for me:

I remember watching that movie called Limitless, in which an uninspired writer gets the creativity bump that he needs by ingesting these pills that stimulate his brain. Naturally, the writer protagonist had a hot girlfriend who is successful (because professional women who have it all love losers). And in the end, he succeeds to publish a masterful book, runs for congress, and keeps his hot girlfriend... Yes. Yes.

Watching Limitless was a horrible experience. It was less painful watching the last twenty minutes of that Japanese movie called Audition.

For me, there is no worst protagonist than a writer protagonist. Every book and movie that has one always seems like the wet dream of the writer(s) who compose them. They are written manifestos, their way of giving the finger to anyone who disagrees with their simple ideas about writing in general; because their writer protagonists are geniuses comparable to Faulkner and Shakespeare and we ought to listen to these wise fictional men/women.

ugh...

Ask the Dust has a writer protagonists. That turned me off badly right from the start. But I will go into this a little bit more below and why it wasn't a total deal breaker.

Aside from the writer protagonist, the other thing about the novel that made me not love it as much was its episodic nature.

What was it about the early to mid Twentieth Century that inspired writers to produce novels like this?

I'm talking about novels like On the Road, Naked Lunch, etc.; these are novels heavily based on the experiences of the writer. There must have been some belief that writing inspired by actual events would generate the most significant literature. I think they call that, "writing what you know." Or in this case, "write what you've lived."

There are sections of Ask the Dust that are completely random, like the episode where Arturo's neighbor takes him to a farm where they steal a calf that the neighbor later butchers in his hotel room to make steaks. Oddly funny. But why?

I understand that a plot in serious, literary works is almost a useless trifle, but random events beg the question, why?



What worked for me:

Okay, so Arturo Bandini is a writer who succeeds at having his novel published. I almost gag at that, but there are reasons it was palatable in this novel.

For one, Arturo suffers from a writer's version of Bipolar disorder. Oh, if you are one of us writers, you know what I mean: Days of loving your work to the point where it is ridiculous; hating your every sentence because who could possibly relate to any of it, you're a sham, a wannabe, worthless.

Bandini is also Italian American, leaving him the victim of prejudice and a target for such names as "wop" and "dago." There are instances where Arturo is called those names and where he calls other minorities by similar names ("greaser" is used often by him). That means he suffers from low self esteem and compensates for it by issuing out the same monstrous hatred others have shown him.

He wants to be the Great American Writer, but is unsure if he fits in America.

That he is so frail and foolish made the writer protagonist thing palatable. A big plus is the characterization of the editor, Hackmuth.

Arturo Bandini worships this editor because, in his fantasy, he discovered him; the writer even has a picture of the editor in his hotel room!

And though Bandini gushes praise for Hackmuth's genius as an editor, Hackmuth hardly shares that enthusiasm. Actually, Hackmuth is very cold, only having a few lines of actual dialogue aimed at Arturo in the form of short messages he mails; the big news regarding Arturo's novel come in the form of a telegram that hardly has a sentence.

It's beautifully done, balancing the megalomania of Bandini.

And the love he has for Camilla! It makes and breaks Bandini, leading to one of the most memorable novel endings I've had the pleasure of reading in a while. Really, the ending makes you choke up.

Another element well executed is the take on Los Angeles. Bukowski, the famous poet inspired by Fante, said this was his favorite Los Angeles novel, with good reason.

This is a time capsule of Los Angeles as it was during the Great Depression. It doesn't try to bore you with too much local color anecdotes, but it includes valuable information in the form of action. For example, there is an excellent episode added that deals with an earthquake and its aftermath. Fante describes what the emergency response system was like in those days and how news spread, mostly through rumor (since there was no Twitter). And there is also the specific neighborhoods used, like Bunker Hill, which were vastly different than they are now.

In all, they paint a Los Angeles that is different than the one I live in, but eerily similar.



Overall:

Although the episodic nature of this novel put me off a bit, I learned a few things about the nature of writing from the writer protagonist. It is difficult for some readers to understand just how much we invest into our writing, but I think anyone who reads Ask the Dust will get a fair idea.

Overall, that is why this novel was thoroughly enjoyable: It is a scary look at writers. And any writer who tells you that they have never experienced the things that Arturo Bandini experienced in the course of the fiction is not a writer at all.





LC

Saturday, March 8, 2014

End of Week 1...

This week, I tackled two of the three books I wanted to read: Wizard of the Pigeons; and Ask the Dust. Also, I finished the ebook conversions for The Quantum of the Past: A Fantasy.

So far, so good.

I want to read more contemporary fiction to get a feel for what's out there. In light of that, I chose several titles that are, for the most part, popular fiction books. I'm starting with And the Mountains Echoed (a heck of a novel title if I ever heard one!) and The Book Thief (which may or may not appeal to me, depending on how much the author wanted kids to like it).

Those are two literary novels, which follow the heels of Ask the Dust.

I'm also going to read some fantasy books, both for adults and for younger audiences. That new Percy Jackson series seems appealing; although I have to confess the first one was a good ride, but that was all. It just didn't have the magic of the Harry Potter series (literally and spiritually). That has five books in it, I believe, with the last book coming out later this year, so I won't have to wait long if I get into it (somehow, it has reviews on goodreads).

There is also the Septimus Heap series, which is finished. That has very good reviews and has even been compared to the Harry Potter series. It has seven books, a total that will help my goodreads reading goal of 50 books this year. I'm cautious about it, though. Hopefully, the first book, Magyk, will grab me.

Yes, yes, I'm also trying the other books J.K. Rowling wrote: The Casual Vacancy, The Cuckoo's Calling, and The Silkworm.

The sad thing is, I'm not very excited about any of these reads. They're things to do. The best I can hope for is that Hannu Rajaniemi's The Causal Angel (out in July of this year) is as decent as the other two books in the series.

***

This coming week, I will tackle The Wizard of Hollywood. And also, I will write a review of Ask the Dust.




LC




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Saturday, March 1, 2014

March goals!

As far as fulfillment goes, this year has yet to bring me any. The disastrous months of January and February have removed the floor from under me. Well, I'm not having any of that, so this month is catch-up month.

I realize now that part of the problem is that I have yet to finalize my older projects. This means finishing the ebook versions of The Quantum of the Past: A Fantasy. That's one thing. The other thing is not getting ahead of myself and doing stupid things, like spend time and money on items that will not be needed until later in the year (hopefully).

Add to the way I've been giving in to defeatism regarding a number of things and it's not healthy. I'm lazier now and sleep too much; so what if I go to sleep past one in the morning every day? I should be up by 8.

And so, it is time to remember that once, a long, long time ago I was a military man with much discipline. I will need that discipline to carry out my goals for this month. Damn it, I will get them done or die trying! No compromises now. These things must get done in March:


  1. Finish the ebook versions of The Quantum of the Past.
  2. Finish a rough draft of The Wizards. This includes:
    1. A rough draft of The Wizard of Hollywood.
    2. A rough draft of The Wizard of Long Beach.
    3. A rough draft of The Wizard of Santa Monica.
  3. Read at least three books.
  4. Write more in this webpage about writing (at least 4 posts).

Ah, see, that's not so bad, especially since I've been reading two books already. Ha! Corsair, you cheat, you!

Also, this month I'm going to acquire a vehicle which will serve me for the better part of the next two years. And I may or may not have to explore my employment possibilities; just taking a peek out there, nothing more (I had to add that last part so that Bartholomew, my co-worker, doesn't get nervous).

I'm very excited. It's do or die month here in the Forgotten Realm.



LC

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wasted February

My car died a few Fridays ago. RIP. Cause of death: Unknown. The autopsy revealed no oil in the engine compartment even though I had added three quarts a few weeks earlier; I think I would have noticed a massive leak like that. Or not. I lack a talent for working with cars.

Fortunately, I had just renewed the registration for the year...

This threw off my schedule. Time was wasted. Too much time. I hate wasted time.

***

If you're a writer, you should own at least one old car that gives you headaches, just like you should have at least one low paying job where you interact with people. Customer service jobs are great for writers.

Ha! Look at you, Corsair! Giving advice like a Stephen King! Next I'll post a list of do's and don't's for "writers."

But these past few weeks were a nightmare. I don't like riding the bus in Los Angeles. There is something about cruising through gang country in a thinly-shielded public-service vehicle that brings out all of my military training. It makes me tactically anxious.

I borrowed a car instead, until I can purchase my own vehicle, but I like that as much as borrowing another man's woman; sadly, I know what that's like.

My February is wasted. I think I have so far written more in this post than I have fiction. Now, I sit with my thumbs wrestling each other, waiting for things to settle. It's the type of waste that stings you because you want to do so much.

Let March begin! End horrible February!


LC


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Night Circus, a review...

Some books challenge me so... I struggled to finish Melville's Moby Dick and McCarthy's Blood Meridian (I had to stop and start reading it several times). With Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, it was the same; I started two times before I went into it. Unlike the other novels I mentioned though, every time I picked up Morgenstern's book, I felt like I was trying to chop down a tree with a pair of nail clippers.

This is not a negative thing at all, especially since the writing had its moments of bliss. It's just a shame there was sooooo much of it. But more on that in a second.

***

Overview:

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Genre: An interesting mix of Fantasy and Historical Fiction



Premise: At the end of the 19th Century in Europe, two ancient "Wizards" agree to train apprentices with the intent of pitting them against each other. These apprentices, Celia Bowen and Marco H. try to outdo each other using a magical circus (Le Cirque des Rêves / the Night Circus) as a platform for their displays.


What didn't work for me:

The novel has about a hundred extra pages that it fills with description and unnecessary secondary plots.

If anything will be said about The Night Circus is that it is very descriptive. One of the things it tries to do is describe, in 2nd person point of view (you see this, you hear that, etc.), the act of walking into the circus and seeing the many things it has to offer. These sections are wisely separated from the narrative, but there are chunks of description that serve no purpose.

In particular, there is the description of a dinner at the home of this character named Chandresh, where the founding minds of the Night Circus first meet. The author establishes, in great detail, what these dinners are usually like (dishes, ambiance, drinks, deserts, etc.). Then, she goes into greater detail about what the dinner that night consists of (dishes, ambiance, drinks, deserts, conversations, etc.). It is a feast of information that hits all the senses, some of which appears again and again when the author describes dinners that this character hosts during other occasions.

Now, this is just my preference, but I DO NOT read books to marvel at the writing style. To me, it is like reading a poem for its plot. While the writing cleverness or beauty is always something that's enjoyable to find, it becomes annoying when excessive.

Aside from the orgy of description, the other reason the novel felt long is that there are too many unimportant character arcs to follow. The main focus of the plot is the competition between the two students, which develops into a romance (but you probably figured that out).

But M. Morgenstern also follows the story arcs of characters that add little to the plot, like the clock-maker, Herr Thiessen, who becomes so in love with the circus that he starts a sort of journal that influences others to share their experiences with the circus; they eventually become a fan group.

The other unnecessary story arc was the one dealing with Bailey and the twins born in the circus, Poppet and Widget. Given all the attention the author pays to Bailey, I expected his story to blend in with the overall story a bit smoother than it did. As it is, the author literally tells us that Bailey is there to end the story, "not destined or chosen" to do so; it is just a random way to end the novel's "Wizard" competition. Before even knowing that, I tended to dislike the chapters dealing with Bailey in general because they take place in the future (1900s). This is jarring early on while the main action takes place in the late 1800s.

And while the characters of Bailey, Poppet, and Widget are interesting, there are ways to have done this to not be such an inconvenience. Imagine if Wuthering Heights was written with chapters from the characters of Cathy 2 and Hareton being thrown in while the action with Heathcliff and Cathy 1 was still taking place. Morgenstern might have used Bronte's book as inspiration and it would have turned out more pleasant, though the addition of Bailey would still have been jarring.



What worked for me:

1) This is a magnificent Fantasy.

The two "Wizard" masters represent two very different ways of doing magic, which they pass on to the two protagonist students, Celia and Marco. The world building is kept subtle, but effective, giving The Night Circus a truly magical foundation to build on.

There is a choice an author makes when writing a Fantasy: 1) Explain the magic system to make it seem more believable / scientific; 2) Leave out most of the specific details of how the magic works to add mysticism or mystery. The differences between the two options is vast, as are the opinions about them.

Or they may be subtle. The two series that come to mind are Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time and George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Jordan delights in giving a magic system with rules, while Martin leaves them out, focusing on the political machinations of his characters.

Brandon Sanderson has written "laws" that describe similar things. In his first law he would call choice #1 "hard magic" versus #2's "soft magic." Of course, it helps to note that his laws are preferences that define his fiction. I'm partial to reading about magic that isn't spelled-out with specific rules; to enjoy a magic trick, I don't need to know how they do it.

But as authors we do have a very big imagination and with enough time we can create silly laws for just about anything. Hell, I can come up with a Law of Magic Systems: Any magic system in fiction, no matter how sophisticated, is based on bull-shit logic (magic isn't real!!!!!!).

Fortunately, Morgenstern doesn't overdo the magic in the book. There are enough details to let me know that she understood what was going on. There was never the dreaded the deus ex machina (with the magic at least). The problems in the book are ultimately solved by the characters, not by magic. The main characters must accept that magic, though wonderful and powerful, is not a tonic.

It is always a treat to see an imaginative mind's take on mysticism and the author of this book doesn't disappoint. Marco's magic and Celia's magic are polar opposites (almost), but as the story goes, the systems merge and become new. There is just enough detail to understand what is going on without the nuances of rules of magic.

I won't say it fills you with "a sense of wonder." It goes beyond that. At times it is haunting and dark, frightening. At other times it is surreal, venturing into the extreme ends of the weird. It doesn't just give you magic acts, it questions what magic is and how it is influenced by our cultural expectations, which is something that I'm trying to do with The Wizards.

2) The main characters are...likable.

I don't know how long it has been since I read a novel that had a main character I could root for. Celia and Marco are in a set of circumstances that are beyond their control; it is an especially nice touch to make them seem free. They are excellent characters that I wanted to succeed. The revelation about the nature of the game later on just made me root for them more. Yes, romance develops, but the author handles it without the explicit (and obligatory) "juicy" details found in trashy Romance novels.

Even with The Hunger Games (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I wasn't interested in Peeta Mellark surviving the games.

***I just realized that I haven't rooted for a main character in a fantasy/science fiction novel in a long time...Katniss was the last. How long ago was that?***

This is an important element in any novel. I think the reason I enjoyed the Harry Potter books so much was that Harry was such an easy character to follow. He wasn't some bad-ass hunter. He was just a kid trying to get along. The human element in the character of Harry Potter was enormous.

With Celia and Marco, there is a genuine frailty that is very human. Celia is never over the tragic death of her mother and the disappointment of her father, which color her personality. Marco is an orphan clinging to a cold, ancient wizard for a father. The only warmth they find is within each other. They are uniquely matched, chaos and order.

3) The circus is the protagonist of the novel.

Although there are too many secondary and tertiary story arcs in this novel, some of them help to define the circus as more than a setting. The author follows the lives of not just the magicians dueling, but also the characters affected by the duel; the carnies and the founding members of the circus. They are as trapped as the main characters and worse off because they have almost no understanding of what is going on. They notice they age much slower than they used to and that they are in a stagnated state of being (spiritually).

In particular, the lives of Chandresh (the brain behind the Night Circus) and the Burgess sisters are well done. Chandresh, who is an innovator and pioneer, must deal with a lack of ideas as a result of the binding spell that falls over the circus. Marco, one of the main characters, erases his memory whenever he gets too close to the truth.

Tara and Lainie Burgess are sisters who enhance the designs of others with their own flair. But the circus consumes them (I won't add a spoiler of how).

That the author gives an enormous amount of time to these side-characters shows that she meant for the novel to be decentralized. The end result is that the Night Circus is the protagonist of The Night Circus. This is well done, like a good binding spell.


Overall:

The biggest compliment I can pay Morgenstern's The Night Circus is that I will visit it again in the future, along with Morgenstern's other fiction.

When the focus was on Celia and Marco, and those directly affected by the circus, the novel was great to read. At other times it dragged on with too much description that tried to give a first hand account of what it was describing; the author has to trust that the reader knows about these things, like caramel covered popcorn.

But, no novel is perfect.

And this is Morgenstern's debut novel.


LC