My Writing Resolutions 2017

luke-handIt is really easy to complain about 2016, but with 2017 here now, I can’t help but be more concerned.

If 2016 is the Star Wars of bad years, this could be the sequel. And the sequel was more intense, right? Han got stuck in carbon freeze. Luke lost a hand…

There! Right there, is my image of what 2016 was.

Luke without a hand. The problem is we all have more limbs left to get chopped.

Get your lightsabers out, people! Here comes 2017!

Here are some of my writing resolutions for the next year.

  1. My big hope is to find a path to getting my most recent novel in readers’ hands. I’m really proud of this book and have spoken to agents and smaller publishers about it. Hopefully, something will happen. It’s hard not to write more about it here. I would love to talk about the plot and the characters, but I have to keep it under wraps until a plan is in place. All I can say is that it will be a very unique literary treat and I look forward to sharing more about it.
  1. Last year I began a writing project on my site. Uses of This World is my retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet but set in 1920s Europe. (You can read the completed chapters that make up Act I here.) I’m really proud of it and I plan to work on Act II over this year. One act a year feels about right and keeps it from distracting me too much from other writing and projects. If you haven’t checked it out, you should. If anything it is very different.
  1. I haven’t been on WKAR’s Current State in quite some time. I did like doing the book reviews on the radio show and it was a good 3.5 years. (You can read and listen to my book reviews here.) I also think it was inspiring for me as writer to be reading so many books a year (and sometimes a bad book could be more creatively energizing for me than a good book, if you can believe it). I hope to do the occasional book review on this site until I know what is going to happen with my more professional book reviewing in the future. Does anyone know how to reach Fresh Air with Terry Gross? LOL.
  1. I need to decide what I want to do with this site. Sometimes it is hard to find the inspiration to say something unique here. I blame the last year, life stuff, and the election for drawing this writing “depression” out. And when I was inspired to write, it felt more important to work on my current book and the efforts to get it out there. I need focus and so does this site.

Overall, it’s an odd feeling for me looking forward to this year. Usually, I have a good plan for what I want to do in the next year and where the world is going, and I can’t say for certain about any of that right now. I will say that I have become a monthly contributor to the Natural Resources Defense Council. They are one organization putting up the good fight to protect our planet, for climate change is real. You can sign up here, and I recommend you do too. Or find a different cause you care about and help. There are a lot of great options from Planned Parenthood to Everytown for Gun Safety.

The fight for 2017 and our country’s future is only beginning.

Boy, that was dramatic of me. Hmmmm…. I need something more positive to say to end this post…. Oh, I am seeing Hamilton this year! That is cool. (Sorry, you can’t come.)

Good luck to all of us this year!

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Book Review: Burr by Gore Vidal

BurrA new book review today! This time I am taking on the classic work of historical fiction, Burr by Gore Vidal. If you love the musical Hamilton, you will love this book.

You can check out my other book reviews (both for WKAR’s Current State and this website) here.

If you want to check out Burr for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Burr by Gore Vidal

Historical fiction is a dangerous genre.

In the wrong hands it can change a person’s perception of a real event or historical figure, tainting the truth for readers and the public. Debates and controversies in our world have been created out of less! But in the right hands it can inspire a reader to see something from a new light, possibly break out of their normal mindset. Easily the most dangerous, and possibly exciting, historical fiction I have ever read is Burr by Gore Vidal. In it, Gore Vidal tries to make a hero out of Aaron Burr, one-time vice president and killer of Alexander Hamilton.

HamiltonI discovered the book when my family (including my kids) became obsessed with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s fantastic musical, Hamilton. While Hamilton puts many of the heroes of the American Revolution in the wonderful glow of the spotlight; Gore Vidal instead adds a lot of filters and a smoke machine. In Burr, Vidal seems to take a glee out of spoiling our history and understanding around the American revolution. This is not your normal 1776.

In Burr, George Washington is an incompetent general more worried about his image and politics as compared to victories. Alexander Hamilton is shady and driven by power. Even French military hero Marquis de Lafayette comes out as a little bit of a buffoon. Only Aaron Burr steps forward as a hero, and possibly the true father of our country.

Aaron Burr is the voice of reason and all of the decisions he makes are for the good of the country. He rarely thinks of his own self-interest, as he weaves each of his plots that he is certain will help grow the new country he loves. Everything seems to make sense from his perspective, but history will never know.

The novel Burr is told through the voice of Charles Schuyler, one of the few fictional characters in it. He spends his time hobnobbing with the political elites, dating questionable women, and meeting with important members of the New York literary circle, including Washington Irving. Charles is determined to write a book on Aaron Burr and is able to get him to open up and share his experiences. It is through those recollections that both the book and the character do not hold back. For Aaron Burr has a strong opinion about everyone in our revolutionary history and few walk out of his recollections unscathed.

I can’t help but imagine Vidal smiling throughout the writing of this book. Most of it seems to be built out of the rumors and gossip of that period as compared to what our historians will focus on. It is because of this fact that I find the book so dangerous. Yet, even I, a fan of nonfiction and Ken Burns documentaries felt a sense of horror and scandalous pleasure in the reading of it.

Even without Vidal’s wonderful writing, Aaron Burr is a fascinating and complicated character just waiting for a novelist’s pen. Besides the duel with Hamilton, he was once tried for treason, was quite the lady’s man, and was almost President of the United States. The question though is he an American hero? Vidal tries to present him as one and I can’t help but think the idea is a little… well… brilliantly dangerous.

Halloween Redux

HalloweenI’m one of those nuts who thinks of Autumn as his favorite time of the years. Maybe this is a last gasp of Marching Band nerdness (Go Vikings!), but I look forward to the falling leaves, the smells, and the sheer panic we feel around our political system every two to four years. Ahhh… Fall.

My kids really want to get more Halloween decorations for our house, but I’ve never been impressed by the market. Usually everything seems plastic and loud. And I’m definitely not the type of guy to have anything giant and inflatable on my lawn. My line about this kind of stuff is Wayne Manor. “What would Alfred allow?” I ask.

The answer is usually not much.

Over the years I’ve written a bit about this holiday, which you can check out below in the links. I’ve also had the pleasure of reviewing some Halloween and horror stories on WKAR Current State. I thought I would include them as well if you are looking for something a little spooky to read this year. Also, they are fun to listen to because in a few of them I try (badly) to do a scary voice. Who doesn’t need a good and embarrassing laugh from time to time?

Boo!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Favorite Book Review Discoveries

Books! Everywhere! Books!One of the cool things about doing the book reviews for WKAR’s Current State and this website is when I discover a book or author that might have slipped through the literary cracks if it wasn’t for that review copy in my hand. A little bit of an unexpected treasure. And some publisher just sent it to me? For free? Sweet…

While I don’t love writing a bad review (even though I can have an eerie Dorothy Parker-esque talent for it from time to time), writing a good book review is a lot of fun. Many times, it is difficult for me to edit the review down to the necessary length. I’m gushing about the book, and I want to gush more. It’s a gush-tornado!

Here are seven books I’ve done over the years that I recommend you check out (and the links to my reviews):

 

 

The Classics I’ve Reviewed

Books
So, things have been… distracting.

For the last year, I’ve been working with an agent on my latest novel (which I still can’t talk about here). I really hope we are close to locking down the book soon. Whatever the case, I can easily promise it will be ready before the next book by George R.R. Martin.

Anyway, all of that jazz has distracted me from this website. And it might distract me for a little while to go (including my work on Uses of This World). So until I can find time to write something new here, I’ll be sharing something from time to time. Bear with me, this will all pay off in the long run, I am sure of it.

I’ve had the pleasure on WKAR to review quite a few classics on their morning show Current State. I love classic literature so these were the moments I savored like a great meal. The kind of meals with a half-dozen courses and they give you a nice mint at the end.

I hope you will check out (and enjoy) these reviews:

 

 

 

 

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

Banned Books Week (Sept 27 – Oct 3)

BBW-logoWe are in the midst of Banned Book Week, that time each year when readers and authors alike scan articles and essays about attempts to ban books from libraries and schools over the last year and wonder “What the heck is going on here?”

I’ve had the pleasure for the last three years of doing the book reviews for my local NPR station (WKAR) as part of their show Current State, and each year I try to take on another book that has faced the always surreal argument for censorship.

  • This year I reviewed The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. You can listen to my discussion or read my review via this page.
  • Last year, I reviewed Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You can check that our here.
  • During my first year as part of Current State, I discussed the importance of this holiday and why we need to reflect on it via this audio essay.

I’ve also snuck in over the years other authors that have faced censorship, including (with links) Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Judy Blume, Harper Lee, and J.K. Rowling. In the future, I will be reviewing Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, so this is not slowing down for me anytime soon.

I hope you enjoy checking out some of these book reviews and try to read something a little controversial this week.

New WKAR Book Review: We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

Current StateI was on the radio again! This time on WKAR’s Current State I reviewed We Are Not Ourselves by new author Matthew Thomas.

You can listen to my review online here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-we-are-not-ourselves-matthew-thomas-wkar

You can also read my book review below.

If you want to check out We Are Not Ourselves you can find it on Amazon.com here. You can check out my past reviews via this page on my site.

I hope you enjoy my new book review! Continue reading

Snapshots of Decades: A Birthday Blogpost

Super BirthdayTurning 41

It’s my birthday and I am reading Stephen King again.

I do the book reviews for my local NPR station and I knew I would have to take on this very popular author at some point. After a year and a half and over 30 reviews the moment had finally arrived. A copy of his newest novel landed on my porch from his publisher (three weeks before its official release). They want my review. So be it.

I had an aunt growing up that was obsessed with Stephen King. My aunt in some ways was a King creation waiting to happen. She had fiery red hair; a loud, almost shrieking voice; and many of us kids were scared of her. When she got mean, she got really mean. I always did my best to avoid her, never spending the night at her house, trying to avoid being in the same room with her for too long. My aunt would spend her days either on the phone (always complaining), chewing gum or drinking Pepsi (she drank a lot of Pepsi), and reading Stephen King. When I was in 7th grade, she, for some reason, noticed me and gave me a pile of her Stephen King books to read.

I was not impressed and told her as much when I returned the pile a few months later. Rude of me? Yeah, probably.

We spoke even less after that.

Yet, here it is, 28 or so years later and I am once again reading King and I feel like it is a time capsule to that old me, right then. Mainly, it’s because King sounds exactly the same. His voice/prose hasn’t matured, even the plot and characters feel the same as those other books. I’m guessing for many of his fans (including my aunt) it feels like returning to a home.

For me, I see the cobwebs and I wonder why no one has done any cleaning… Continue reading

The Madness and Joy in Blogging, Writing, Etc., Etc.

WindOne of the perks of running your own site is that you are your own boss. And how strict you want to be with yourself is your decision. Some are mean with themselves. Me? I’m an old softie! Do I want cookies? Sure, here you go…

I once wrote a post that gave some advice to bloggers on topics and what not to do. One of the points in the “What not to do” category was to discuss how tired you are. Frankly, everyone gets tired, and writing about being too tired to write really doesn’t make sense. So my advice was to take a breath and come back when you have something else to say.

Now me? I’m not saying I’m tired, but definitely something is going on with me creatively. The winds are shifting and on Sunday I decided to throw my cards into it and see where they land.

1. Originally my hope was to share a book over the summer, but I don’t know if that is going to happen now. I mean, I’m happy with the first draft but honestly, my creativity is really interested in another work. I went out this weekend to work on the planned book, but I ended up spending most of my time working on the new book and giggling my way through it.  Continue reading