Books

3 Things Stephen King’s On Writing Taught Me

One of the problems beginning writers have is everything about creative writing seems so mysterious. There’s a blank page. You’re expected to put words on it so that your would-be reader has something to look at. That much is clear. That much we understand. A beginner may have a great premise—a scene they play on repeat in their head, an entire world they are filling with characters and adventures. Maybe they’ve even written it down.

But at some point, there seems to come the big question: what next?

How do you go from premise to story? How do you make a character relatable? How do you make sure that anyone will care? More to the point, how do you make sure that once the muse has arrived, she actually wants to stick around? How do you not start but finish a story?

Writing is hard. There are so many intricacies. Description. Dialogue. Narration. One scene alone does not make a story, and even the best premises can fall short when fleshed out.

Stephen King’s On Writing is one of those creative writing guides that tops nearly every reading list, but I only recently read the book. If you’re looking for a kick in the ass—someone who can pull back the curtain and reveal that it’s only old man Oz pulling the levers—then I recommend you stop putting King’s book off for another day. Crack open that spine and get ready for the world of creative writing to get a little less mysterious (but no less magical).

Here are just a few things the book has taught me.

Book Adaptations: Are Television Series the New Cinema?

American Gods

As many of you have probably noticed, there have been several book adaptations made into televisions series or miniseries of late and I am LIVING for them! In fact, I have noticed that overall fan reactions and critic reviews tend to look favorably on adapted television series. This has launched a property scramble among television stations and independent streaming services to create shows centered around the many books that we love. And while this is still a relatively new pop cultural trend, it does seem to be a profitable one. So what is it that causes serialized book adaptations to be more successful than their cinematic predecessors?

NOTE: There are some spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t binged or read American Gods, The Handmaid’s Tale, Game of Thrones, or Anne with an E, be aware that I’m talking about them here and highly recommend you check them out.

1. Minor characters you secretly wanted more of are further developed:

Fan-fiction has often been devoted to the development of those side characters you were craving more of before they exited the story, either of their own violation or in a body bag. Series adaptations, however, are playing with this idea to elongate the show and keep the bucks flowing in. This is probably most noticeable in the American Gods and The Handmaid’s Tale series. Mad Sweeney, the down on his luck leprechaun, got more screen time than book time and was received incredibly well by fans and critics alike. He gets to go on his own road adventure with other minor characters, Laura Moon and Salim. And while I’m not a huge fan of Laura Moon’s fleshed out character in this series, some did find her likable. Critics, apparently, enjoyed her apathy.

Ofglen’s expanded storyline.

The second property has created quite the buzz given our current political climate and the additions made to this story have proven to be welcome ones as well, namely the development of the original “Ofglen” and her story. She is made a more complex character by being a lesbian, or “gender traitor,” in an environment that is incredibly homophobic and religiously influenced. Fans were stricken with grief to discover that Ofglen underwent female castration. The lines still haunt me to this day: “you cannot desire what you do not have.” Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, is also more colorful as the true antagonist of the show, helping to create the laws that currently oppress the women of Gilead. I find myself hating her more than I do the Commander at times.

Summer 2017 Reading List

Summer officially arrives on June 20th, but I like to plan ahead. With college now two years behind me (yikes!), I’ve finally remembered what it feels like to read for pleasure. Not because my professor said so, or, you know, because the book has their name on it. The act of it feels like being reunited with an old friend—we’ve picked up right where we left off. I have a lot of reading to catch up on, and there’s no better time to do so than summer. Here are the books on my summer 2017 reading list.

 

Lucky Boy

Author: Shanthi Sekaran
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Solimar (Soli) Castro Valdez is eighteen when she leaves Oaxaca, crossing the US/Mexican border and landing on her cousin’s doorstep in Berkeley, California. Silvia, her cousin, is a housekeeper for the well-to-do Cassidy family. By the time Soli arrives, she’s also pregnant. While motherhood wasn’t the plan, her baby boy, nicknamed “Nacho,” keeps Soli grounded in this foreign world. When she is arrested and detained, Nacho falls into the custody of the foster system and, inevitably, under the care of Kavya Reddy and her husband, Rishi.

Kavya is a chef at a UC Berkeley sorority house. In her mid-thirties, she’s unexpectedly beginning to feel the pull of motherhood. When fulfilling this desire proves to be more challenging than she expected,
it takes a strain on her marriage. With Nacho suddenly thrust into Kavya’s life, she attempts to become the mother she always dreamed of being, even if that identity is wrapped up together with someone else’s child.

An emotional journey, there are no villains in this story, and there are no heroes. Sekaran gives a human face to the timely topic of illegal immigration.


Fever Dream

Author: Samanta Schweblin
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Release Date: January 10, 2017

Schweblin’s novel is difficult to describe. Translated from Spanish into English by Megan McDowell, Fever Dream is a story of a young mother, Amanda, dying in a rural hospital, and the young boy, David, sitting by her side. Together, they attempt to weave together the events that led to Amanda’s illness, and the result is a haunting, dream-like narrative “where souls shift from sick bodies to healthy hosts and poisonous toxins seep under the skin upon contact with the grass.” And while David is not Amanda’s son, the two have met before.

At their vacation home, Amanda and her daughter, Nina, encountered David’s mother, Carla, spinning tales of her son on more than one occasion. Their eventual, frightening introduction causes Amanda to throw Carla and David out of her home. Not too long after, the three women meet again. In her hospital bed, Amanda tries to put the fragments of her memories back together, how that reunion led her down this path. Readers will begin to question how reliable a narrator Amanda actually is.

Book Abandonment, and Why It’s Okay

Bookshelf

Readers often feel a sense of guilt when abandoning a book. It could be simply that we’re not quitters, determined to finish a project or task no matter how unenjoyable. We’ve committed to this book, checked it out at the library or paid good money for it at the bookstore, and we are damn well going to finish it. Even if it’s the last thing we do.

Maybe we’re also competitive or, if you will, gluttonous. We want to read as many books as we can get our hands on. We’ve told ourselves we were going to read X amount of books this year (I’m currently behind on my personal 2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge). If we can simply push through this book, it’s one more toward that goal, but in doing so, we end up slowing ourselves down.

The reasons we choose to give up on a book vary. It’s naive to assume that because you like a book everyone else you know will too. Reading is subjective. Sometimes your favorite blogger or Goodreads reviewer will fail you.

Here are a few reasons it might be time to let a book go.

Harper Lee On Book Introductions

President George W. Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to author Harper Lee during a ceremony Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, in the East Room.

This summer I decidedly drove to Northern California to spend some time with my family and simultaneously tutor my younger sister. Surprisingly, my sister has been excited about studying at home and continues to show eagerness in most of her subjects.

When I arrived, my mother handed me an impressive copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a Barnes and Noble hardcover classic edition with olive and violet images pressed into the leather-like texture with silhouettes of Atticus, Scout, and Jem.

It’s been quite some time since I last read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and it has been a reanimating experience while I annotate and rediscover all the details that make this novel an all-time classic.

While I spend my time rejoicing in my revisit of the novel, there is something in this edition that I have never noticed in my prior experience. Before the first chapter begins, there is a foreword which states:

Please spare Mockingbird an Introduction. As a reader I loathe Introductions. To novels, I associate Introductions with long-gone authors and works that are being brought back into prints after decades of interment. Although Mockingbird will be 35 this year, it has never been out of print and I am still alive, although very quiet. Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. They only good thing about introductions is that in some cases they delay the dose to come. Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble.
 
Harper Lee, February 12, 1993

To Read or Not To Read: Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman

Back when Harper Lee announced her new book, Go Set a Watchman, this blog talked about the controversies around the release of the book and the common fears (and failures) that came with sequels released so long from the original work.

SetAWatchman

What we mainly focused on was how this shouldn’t be the case for Go Set a Watchman because, according to Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman was actually the original book she tried to get published, only to have her publisher say something like “Hey, I dig these characters, and I’d like to hear about the girl’s life growing up.” This statement is what drove Harper Lee to write the prequel to Go Set a Watchman, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The book has been out for a total of six days, and the controversy around the timing of the release has not died down yet, but another controversy has popped up.

It seems that everyone’s favorite lawyer and father, Atticus Finch, comes off as a racist.

For some, this is a big surprise.

For others, this revelation actually wasn’t all that surprising.

And, honestly, all of these controversies don’t seem to be hurting book sales.

But, here’s the question: Is the book worth the read? As in, is it any good?

Book Series To Hold You Over Until George R.R. Martin’s Next A Song of Fire and Ice Book

Are you anxiously awaiting the next installment of A Song of Fire and Ice? I’m not here to give you spoilers or speculate on cliffhangers. Instead, I want to give you books to fill your need to read this summer. If you like books that come in a series, like the five (and soon to be six, we hope) that are part of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, then hopefully you’ll find one or more of these book series below enjoyable and entertaining.

Image from Goodreads.Com

Wayward Pines

If you like the suspense of the A Song of Fire and Ice series but want to move out of the fantasy realm, the Wayward Pines trilogy might just be something you’d enjoy reading. And, if you’re a fan of being able to both watch and read the same story lines, this book series has just been turned into a T.V. show that airs on Fox.

This three-part series, written by Blake Crouch, Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town, are as thrilling as they are engaging. Secret service agent Ethan Burke finds himself in Idaho for a simple mission that quickly devolves into a car accident, a stint in the hospital, and a town that won’t let him contact the outside world. As the series progresses, the town becomes more controlling and Ethan must find a way out beyond the electric fence to the family he left behind.


Image from Goodreads.Com

The Legend of Drizzt

If you love the fantasy, magic, and lore of A Song of Fire and Ice, then the Drizzt books set in the Forgotten Realms, written by R.A. Salvatore, will bring you plenty of enjoyment.

The Legend of Drizzt trilogy tells the story of a Drow, also known as a dark elf. Drizzt Do’Urden was a prince in Menzoberranza, the vast underground city of the Drow. To get ahead in this world, in this city, one has to be bloodthirsty, unprincipled, and downright vile. Drizzt finds himself to be none of these things and flees his home. To escape the underground world and find light, Drizzt must face many things that lurk in the dark, but most of all, he must learn to survive the solitude he is surrounded by to find his way above ground.


Kindle Unlimited: Is it worth it?

This blog has often talked about the advantages of ebooks and ebook devices, like Amazon’s Kindle, and highlighted the disadvantages of such devices, and publishing for such devices, as well.

I’m torn. I love books – all books, including ebooks, because I love to read. Reading a physical copy of a book, for me, is just as good as reading an ebook. But I do see a distinct advantage in ebooks, and that comes in the form of volume. I can carry around a device that gives me access to the 300+ books in my elibrary without having to lug the physical weight around of those 300+ books. I know, I don’t READ 300 books at once, but I like reading multiple books at once and having a Kindle allows me to do that in an easier format than, say, just carrying around 5 books with me everyplace I go.

Image from Amazon.Com

Amazon.Com is offering a services for fans of ebooks called Kindled Unlimited. This service has been available for a few months now, and I thought it was about time to try it out and review it. Here are some of the basics Amazon boasts, if you’re unsure of what the service offers:

* Over 800,00 books for subscribers to choose from.
* Unlimited listening to thousands of audiobooks.
* The ability to read and access these books from any device with the Kindle app installed.
* All for the low, low price of $9.99 a month.

After having Kindle Unlimited for two months, I have to say that some of these claims, outside of the prices, are more true than others.

Summer Reading for Children: A Great Time to Build Empathy

School’s out! And that means that hordes of children (they come in hordes, right?) will be running free for the eight (or more) hours a day they used to spend in school.

There are lots of things to do with kids at this time. You can send them away to camp, if you can afford it, or enroll them in some day camps in your area that have them do arts and crafts. The older kids can get jobs, and the younger kids can be those babysitting jobs the older kids get.

I know on my summer break, coming from a socioeconomically deprived family, I never experienced any sort of children’s camp myself. Instead, I watched a lot of T.V. and read a lot of books. One of those was probably better for me than the other.

A recent study came out that found that reading helps build empathy. This isn’t anything new to us humanities majors and graduates, but this study by Stanford University tested that hypothesis and gave quantifiable evidence to what was a qualitative observation.

One great service we can do for our hordes of children is to help them build empathy. Empathy is not only the ability to recognize, respect, and reciprocate the emotions of others, but it’s what psychologists call a “pro-social” behavior that helps our society, overall, because a society that cares for and about each other is the way a society is supposed to function. Just look at the roots of the word: soci, Latin for us, partner, or comrade and ity, a Latin suffix that is used to abstract nouns to express a state or condition. So, by that breakdown of the word, society is the state of being us – partners or comrades.

There are many great books out there that will help kids build empathy. What I’m listing today would be great for 8-12 year old kids. Instead of watching strange things on YouTube (which is what my 9 year old Godchild does constantly) or Netflixing (yes, it’s a verb now), kids can pick up these books (hopefully willingly, but if not, bribery is always an option) and build their empathy skills up instead.

Freak the Mighty

I remember reading this book in either the fourth or fifth grade, and it made me cry. This book is the story of two boys – one, a slow learning giant and one, an extremely bright child in leg braces. These boys become unlikely friends, and, well, darn it. I’m going to tear up again. This book shows the power of unlikely friendships and the value we each have as a person – big, strong, and slow or small, weak, and smart as well as everyone in the middle.

Game of Thrones: Is Going Off Book Going to Ruin The Ending?

Everyone’s favorite adaptation is five episodes in and running out of source material. This season, as everyone is well aware of, the show is going to go off in its own direction and go off-book.


 
While the series is very loosely based on the War of the Roses which started in England around 1455 with the House of Plantagenet and the houses of Lancaster and York claiming rights to the throne of England, it’s hard to say that the books are supposed to have the same ending as the history they are based off of. So how can the show creators go off script if they aren’t sure how the book series is supposed to end?

Well, G.R.R. Martin told the show’s creators the ending he has in mind. This is where the problem arises—at least in my mind. If the creators know the ending and G.R.R. Martin hasn’t yet written the character’s paths to that point, the show gets to do the path-forging. This in itself isn’t bad, but what happens if G.R.R. Martin and the show create two different paths for the same ending?