The Importance of the Writing Heart

Writing HeartThere is this truth around writing that we all can’t put our finger on. It’s enigmatic, elusive. But this “thing” can make a story or destroy it; it can change a letter from something that is thrown away or kept; and it is what makes an e-mail readable or spam.

Let me break this down in a different way.

As a book reviewer, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a lot of contemporary literature. And many times, these works will be by academics with amazing degrees and resumes. No one can deny these books are well-written, with a well-developed vocabulary and well-crafted plots. Yet, as a reader they don’t stick. I have no emotional attachment. It is like finishing a dry work assignment, not a work of art.

Recently, I had the same feeling reading Purity by Jonathan Franzen (you can read and hear my review here). No respectable reviewer will deny that Franzen is a good writer. He is, but his writing always misses something for me. And while I can respect the talent, I rarely remember anything after that last page is turned, almost relieved I got to the end of another gigantic tome.

So what do the academics and authors like Franzen miss?

Technically, they would argue nothing. They checked all the boxes that should make a work successful. Critics and publishers will agree. I might even agree! But it doesn’t change the fact that something was lacking and it is something behind the words.

I’m talking about heart.

Heart is the one thing that truly can’t be taught in an English or writing classroom, but it is also the most important thing a writer will need. And if used right by a writer, it can change opinions, stir a reader to act, and even make people cry or laugh. It is what takes a jumble of words and turns them into a message.

When writing has heart (be it in fiction, nonfiction, or even in marketing or business writing) it can move mountains. It can stir donations, create movements, and make art that truly will live after a writer has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Heart is the one thing all great writing share in all genres and styles. And yet, while we all have emotions, why is it so difficult for so many of us to call upon this organ? Continue reading

New WKAR Book Review: Quicksand by Steve Toltz

Current StateToday on WKAR’s Current State, I reviewed the new novel by Steve Toltz, Quicksand. I hope you like it!

You can listen to my review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-steve-toltz-s-quicksand

If you would rather read my review, you can do so below.

Hey, did you know Current State has a podcast? If you subscribe, you can download episodes and segments (and you can find me every other Thursday). Here is a link to find it on iTunes- https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wkar-fm-current-state/id594609653?mt=2

If you want to check out Quicksand, you can find it on amazon here. If you want to check out my other book reviews for WKAR’s Current State, you can do so via links on this page. Continue reading

Five Things I Am Into Right Now, February 2016

Sherlock Coloring BookHi readers! It’s good to be back. Sorry about the dust. I’ll try to clean up around here in a bit.

I’ve been off for the month, working on my latest novel, but now I am back and…

What is the deal with coloring books? Okay, this is a tangent, but recently I bought a coloring books for adults, based on the TV show Sherlock and I find it all very calming.

There I am, right next to my kids (while they work on their superhero or Little Pony books) and I am coloring a picture of a corpse hiding in some weeds. My daughter asked me “Who is that?” I replied, “Someone sleeping.” That was a lie, it’s a dead body! Yet, there I am coloring a picture of it. I’m feeling calm from doing it. It’s a freaking dead body and I am lying to my daughter too and I’m calmed by this and…

Okay, I really missed having this blog! Let’s see what else?

Oh, I introduced my eight-year old son to Monty Python! We watched Holy Grail. And, yes, I did fast forward through the naughty virgins scene, but the rest he ate up. Ever since then he has been quoting the film back to me, asking “Dad, do you remember when King Arthur asked if the monster was behind the bunny?” or “Flesh wound? He said it was just a flesh wound!” I can’t stop smiling about it. My son fits so nicely into my Monty Python world. Next up Flying Circus. Man, he is going to love the Spanish Inquisition. And spam! Who doesn’t love spam?

Man, did I miss venting here about things.

Deep Breath Scott, get your head back in the game and focused. Now here are the five things I am into right now. Enjoy! I’m off to color questionable scenes with Monty Python playing in the background. Bliss! Continue reading

NEW WKAR Book Review: The Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman

Current StateI loved the original run of The Sandman by Neil Gaiman and I couldn’t wait to talk about it and Overture (the new chapter in the adventure) on Current State.

You can listen to my review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-neil-gaimans-overture

If you would rather read my review, you can do so below.

Hey, did you know Current State has a podcast? If you subscribe, you can download episodes and segments (and you can find me every other Thursday). Here is a link to find it on iTunes- https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wkar-fm-current-state/id594609653?mt=2

If you want to check out Overture, you can find it on amazon here. If you want to check out my other book reviews for WKAR’s Current State, you can do so via links on this page.

I hope you enjoy my review of this fantastic series. Continue reading

The Winter of Urgency: A Writing Update

Even Superman writes!Hi everyone,

So… where do I begin?

I am working with an agent on my new novel and right now we are the midst of the editing process.  I would be the first to argue of the importance of editing. If I only get back grammar corrections, my initial reaction is usually, “What happened?” I like to be challenged as an author, I like to redefine and finetune a work. And my work is always, always better for editing.

That is where I am right now with my new novel and I need to give it my full attention. My belief is that when this book comes out in the future (and I’m sure it will), you will see how special this work is (and it is very special to me).

I’ll be still doing the book reviews and sharing them here. I might write the occasional brief update or thought if something catches my fancy, of course. But for right now this book has to have my full writing attention.

Give me the rest of January. I’ll see you in February.

-Scott

New WKAR Book Review: The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

Current StateToday on WKAR’s Current State, I was really excited to share a great new novel with the listeners (and you!). It is The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman.

You can listen to my review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-alice-hoffmans-marriage-opposites

If you would rather read my review, you can do so below.

Hey, did you know Current State has a podcast? If you subscribe, you can download episodes and segments (and you can find me every other Thursday). Here is a link to find it on iTunes- https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wkar-fm-current-state/id594609653?mt=2

If you want to read The Marriage for Opposites for yourself (and I do highly recommend it), you can find it on amazon here. If you want to check out my other book reviews for WKAR’s Current State, you can do so via links on this pageContinue reading

Thoughts on The Winds of Winter

winds-of-winterAre there spoilers at this point? No! Read away!

On New Year’s Day, George R.R. Martin dropped this literary bomb on his readers (here).  Boom! And you can still feel the aftereffects of the explosion reverberating over the comments and fansites even today.

Yes, the next novel in his A Song of Ice and Fire series will not be out before the next season of Game of Thrones. Which means the show will pass the book, spoiling what George had planned to do in the rest of the series.  Jon Snow, your death secret is about to come out!

Let me get this out of the way… I never saw the book series as perfect. I know, I know, heresy! Blasphemy! String this guy up and call in the silent sisters to take away the corpse! But the fact is that while I found the first two books very solid, things started to come apart for me during the third book and then came the mess that was the fourth book (let’s not talk about it… okay, we probably will in a bit). The fifth book tried to recover the problems, and it was fun to read the first time, but when you finish the giant tome, you realize how little went on for so, so, so many pages.

Okay, I got that out of the way.

Now, I’ve read all the books, including his giant history about the world of Westeros. AND I’ve given people copies of the books and DVDs of the show for presents. Heck, just this Christmas I gave my dad an Iron Throne Christmas ornament. (Thank you Target for finding such a unique way to celebrate the holidays!) So it’s a love-hate relationship. I truly respect the creativity behind the series, and his surprises get me each time, but I also question a lot of the storytelling decisions he takes, especially as he continues to expand his world beyond the lands actually threatened by the terrors behind the Wall. Continue reading

New Year’s Resolutions 2016

HeadSo my 4-year old daughter has been playing mind games with me.

She found this old stuffed dog toy and decided to name it after a beloved pet I had ten years ago. Really, I’m not sure where she heard the name “Cratchit” before (and, yes, if you are taking note I had a dog named after Bob Cratchit from A Christmas Carol)…. Deep breath, Southard… My daughter, for some reason I can’t explain, stole the moniker and christened this toy with it.

Now here it where it gets a little creepy… like from a psychological thriller creepy. She keeps asking me questions with it like:

  • “Why have you forgotten about Cratchit? He didn’t forget about you.”
  • “Don’t you care about Cratchit anymore?”
  • “Do you want to hug and kiss the dog, daddy?”
  • “Tell Cratchit how you missed him. Here…”

It is totally messing with my head! Cratchit was a great dog! That cocker spaniel lived an amazing 15 years and was a good friend. He is gone. It’s just a stuffed toy… just a stuffed toy. No, I don’t want to hug the toy… Okay, maybe I do…

Where was I?

This website began as a New Year’s Resolution and I’m enjoying keeping it going. (I hope to still be doing two or so posts a week, but things might get busy with the note I mention below). So that is an easy resolution to keep.  Here are some others.

Be more present.

This one is a little more difficult for me. I’m one of those kind of people who are always in their head. Sure, I can have a conversation with you, but there is a good chance I am working through something with my writing or thinking about the new Star Wars film (which was awesome, by the way), etc. I’ve always been that way. And it’s probably not something that others will notice, because I am not “away” or staring off into the distance.  I’m just a person with multiple thoughts at the same time, all the time.  Well, with my kids growing up so fast around me, I want to change this about myself. I want to learn to be more present. Here. Now. If I am playing with them, I want to try and be fully in the moment. Honestly, this might not be something I can change about me, but it is something I want to try doing.

Finish the new book.

So last year I completed a draft of my new novel. For the last month I’ve been working with an agent and we are fine-tuning it. I am really proud of the book, but this will take some time. I truly think it will pay off for the readers. It is a very unique read and I can’t wait to tell you more about it. Seriously, it is very, very good and I think you will like it.

Have less crutches.

What I mean about that is I go to a lot of comfort things in my life. Certain foods for when I am writing (pretzels or Red Vines), soda for the morning, favorite lunches for bad days, favorite dinner for good days, etc. Comfort things are fine but sometimes it feels like we can go overboard with it. So what does that mean? I want less comfort?… Hmmm… maybe there might be a better way to describe it. The fact is I feel like it helps push me, forces me to seize the day more, accept more the things around me (good and bad). Yeah, I guess I want to seize this year.  So 2016 will be mine. (You can have the next one.)

Honestly… Happy New Year! 

Books 2015…. and one last review! Salman Rushdie’s Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights

BooksIt’s almost 2016 and I am feeling a little guilty. See, I got a copy of Salman Rushdie’s latest offering (Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights) back in the late summer. I read it over a week, wrote my review and… sat on it.

I didn’t review it in the Fall or Winter. And here it is, almost 2016 and I can’t look at my copy The Satanic Verses without feeling a little ill.

So why the hold up? Well, I only do two reviews a month on WKAR’s Current State and I like for my reviews to stick (You can find links to all my reviews here). In other words, I want them to feel important. I want to take on the bestsellers, celebrate new authors or works I found, say something maybe about the Michigan literary scene or literature in general (I love taking on a classic). And this book didn’t inspire me. There was just something I always wanted to say or review more.

I had some great reads over 2015! I loved Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, adored In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume and recommended The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman to everyone I know. I also was dismayed by the mess that is Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last and couldn’t get rid of my copy of Above Us Only Sky by Michele Young-Stone fast enough. And don’t get me started on the heartbreak that was Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I’m still recovering from that publishing error.

So to take care of my Rushdie guilt, I have decided to just post my draft of my book review here. This is me, cleaning my reviewer palate and preparing for the new year ahead. You can read my book review below. (And Happy New Year!) Continue reading

Christmas 2015

SantaHere’s the thing I discovered this holiday season…

There aren’t any new original Christmas books being written. When I started doing the book reviews for WKAR, I had this dream of discovering a new holiday tale each year and that plan fell apart pretty darn quick.

Starting in October, I began checking out new releases for possible reviews and everything seemed to be romantic comedies, all dreaming of being a mediocre Hallmark special. (Of course, if they are all mediocre how does that scale really work?) But you know my gut feeling is that all those relationships that begin like that over the holiday season don’t last after the book ends and the tree is put away.  Yes, Hallmark romantic-comedy fans, I’m saying it- they will all be broken up by summer. Bah Humbug!

So here is the challenge to everyone reading who is a writer: Come up with a new holiday story. It can’t be a variation on something we have seen or an adaptation or a re-imagining, it has to be an original take. Something that adds to the holiday season. I want something new and something daring and something that taps into the warmth that is supposed to surround the yuletide season. The gauntlet has been thrown down and if you can pull this off, book reviewers (and readers) will thank you for years to come.

Now here are some of my favorite holiday posts I have done in the past that I think you will get a kick out of this holiday season.

Why the Littlest Angel is the Worst Holiday Story… Ever.  And I still stand by this statement. Here are my reasons why we should all forget this tale and stick it under the bed with the angel’s box of favorite things.

Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I am really proud of this review I did a while back for WKAR. You can listen to my voice (and my attempt to channel Dickens) or read it via the link.

Writing a Good Christmas Story: Four Things to Consider. For those thinking of taking on my challenge, here are some writing pointers that will help you on the mission.

Kris and Me. I know I shared this original Christmas short story already once on the site this season, but I am proud of it. You should check it out. (And Hallmark channel, you can reach me via my contact info listed on my “Man Behind the Curtain” page.)

Neil Diamond’s “A Cherry Cherry Christmas” is the Worst Christmas Song Ever! A Holiday Musical Rant. One last post for the Grinch and the Scrooge in all of us. And this song doesn’t get better with time. Now I’ve just got to get around to creating a rant about “Last Christmas” by Wham! Yes, that song deserves it.