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:

 

 

 

 

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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.

My Ten Favorite Books: In My Head…

BooksBusy editing… busy reading… busy reviewing… and it’s summer.

Oh, I’m still here, just locking down my new book. And the new Harper Lee is out today (wow, it is sooo weird to type that). and I need to read it fast for my book reviews.

But I haven’t forgotten about this site! No you guys are still in my heart and head, so I thought I would share a quick list.

If you ever want to get into the head of an author ask them their 10 favorite books. Nothing will give you a better insight into their mind and creativity. So here is mine…

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Easily, one of the few perfect novels in literature. Not a word out of place.

2. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut- My favorite from one of my favorite authors.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald- Great to read, better to read aloud.

4. The Abortion by Richard Brautigan- The obscure work in the list. Love this book and the bookstore in it (which would be called in today’s world “Amazon.com.”)

5. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury- Beautiful, beautiful…

6. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis- When I was a kid and I visited new houses I would check every closet for Narnia. (Honestly, I still do that from time to time.)

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee- You read this, right? Kind of a big deal in American Literature, especially right now (new book and all).

8. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf- A huge influence on how I set up family scenes and develop characters.

9. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens- This is a story stolen by the business of Christmas, but once it was just a wonderful novella. Well, it still is and it is great.

10. Middlemarch by George Elliot- A literary epic, grand and at the same time filled with wonderful little moments and characters. Also one of the most beautiful endings.

Now I’m off to read this new book by Harper Lee (again, crazy we get to say that).

Writing a Good Christmas Story: Four Things to Consider

Santa Checking His ListI totally get it.

Each year the media world is starving for new holiday stories. They want them for the bookshelves, for the TV screens, and the cinemas. So why wouldn’t any struggling writer (which is 98% of us) not want to give the old Santa Claus an adventure or two?

It pays the bills and, maybe, you will unwrap the golden present. In other words, create a holiday tale that becomes a classic, one that audiences return to yearly… which can also pay the bills yearly as well.

The problem is that for all of the attempts to make that blessed holiday classic it so, so rarely happens. Most holiday tales disappear at the end of the year. The books and the DVDs end up in the bargain bins, and the TV specials and movies are shown at random times in the early morning (if they are shown at all).

Recently, I reviewed a new collection of holiday short stories called My True Love Gave to Me (edited by Stephanie Perkins). My review will be on WKAR’s Current State later this month. I don’t want to say too much about my review here, but the book, in the end, just left me feeling sad.

Not exactly a Christmas feeling, I know, and probably not the one most of those contributors were hoping for. But it is a common feeling for me each year as I dare to check out the new holiday samplings from my fellow writers.

So why is it so difficult to write a good Christmas story? Basically, it is because most holiday writers seem to forget four important stocking-stuffing-ho-ho-ho points. These points are what separate the classics from… well… anything on the Hallmark Channel. Continue reading

New WKAR Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Current StateI am back on WKAR’s Current State with a new book review! This time it is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

You can hear my review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-donna-tartts-goldfinch

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

The Goldfinch can be found on amazon.com here. You can check out my other book reviews for WKAR’s Current State via this page on their site and the links on my page here.

I hope you enjoy my new book review! Continue reading

My Lost Years in Trucking (Part 1)

TruckingFor two years I had the awful song “Convoy” stuck in my head. I hummed it as a I went into work, sometimes sang the chorus out loud on the drive home, and had even been known to mumble it under my breath while walking down hallways.

[On a side note, did you know the creator of that song is Chip Davis? For those that don’t recognize that name, he went on after that success to create Mannheim Steamroller, which was formed on the bad notion that 80’s synthesizers would sound great with classic old instruments like a harpsichord… and then put it to the test with Christmas music. It’s astonishing the amount of musical torture that man has to answer for once he makes it to the pearly gates.]

My wife was in graduate school, and it fell on my shoulders to pay the bills and the rent. We had just moved back to Michigan from Los Angeles. On the day we arrived back in my home state there was a major power outage throughout the region. I made a joke to the movers that our return must have caused it. The movers actually believed me (thinking I did something with a plug, I guess) until I explained it was a joke. That failed joke moment, as well as the power outage, were both foreboding signs for the two years ahead that my wife and I should have taken.

While I thought having an MFA in writing from one of the best writing schools in the country was pretty awesome, most businesses didn’t agree with me. Actually, I could see the expression of confusion cross over employer’s faces each time it came up and I had to on numerous occasions answer the question, “Why are you here?”

A very good question, Mr. Employer!  Of course, a better question I have tried to answer since then is where does such a person with such a degree belong at all? Continue reading

“Bad Christmas Songs, Grinches, and Accordions!” My Christmas Blogposts

It Looks So Innocent...So last night my wife and I were woken up by a bright light and then a bang. Then there was silence and darkness…

Yup, we are one of the lucky people who lost their power in the big ice storm of ’13. The rest of our evening was spent huddled in our living room listening to branches falling from the giant tree outside our house. To emphasize the lack of power one of the branches decided to take out the wire as well connecting our home to the grid. Merry Christmas!

Anyway, I’ve snuck onto a computer to share some of my holiday posts. Writing about the holidays is always one of the things I get a kick out of doing on the site, and I do everything from comedy to serious topics. For me, fighting the cold, it’s nice to know people are still checking out my writing while I am living the life of a hermit… in my own freaking cold home.

New WKAR Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Current StateJust in time for the holidays!

Today on WKAR I take on one of the greats, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

I’m really proud of this review and I hope you will check it out. You can listen to the review here:

http://wkar.org/post/book-review-charles-dickens-christmas-carol

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

This was my twelfth appearance on Current State and you can hear/read my other reviews via this page on my site or on the Current State site here. I have reviewed other classics as well as contemporary books.

I hope you enjoy my book review… and Merry Christmas! Continue reading

The Summer of the Doctor: Introducing My Wife to Doctor Who (Series 1 & 2)

TARDISLet me begin by saying my wife is rightfully a little annoyed with me. I almost ruined a family tradition.

She is a teacher, and during her summer break we like to have themes for our TV watching. For example, last summer was the WA summer (which meant we watched nothing but Wes Anderson and Woody Allen films); the summer before that was Agatha Christie (David Suchet is a genius!); and before that- Charles Dickens.

For this summer it was to be the summer of the Doctor. Yes, Doctor Who, and I am talking just about the new series run of Doctor Who, starting with the 9th Doctor.

For years, we have had friends recommending we take on the series. And we even had tried before, watching random episodes to see what we think (we both had nightmares because of “Blink”), but it was not something we had taken serious… until this scheduled summer. Summer 2013- the summer of the Doctor.

Yes, that was the plan- starting with episode 1 and taking on each and every one of them together… Well… Until I very selfishly ruined it. Continue reading

The Others and the Extras: The Importance of Secondary Characters

A Minor CharacterOh, the lament of the poor minor character!

Pushed to the sidelines, knowing full well that they are not the focus of the story.

Love is probably not in the cards for them. They are the ones injured in the line of duty or acting as living joke. Characters created merely to be a soundboard for the main characters, or something for the reader to compare the main character to in the universe of the story. A tool, nothing more.

It would be a thankless life, I am sure, if they were real. Probably spent at the refreshment table, trying not to fall asleep as they wait for their big moment in the sun. And then the scene arrives, there are a few quick jokes, maybe a heart-to-heart and then they are back at the table, once again snacking on one too many cookies.  Waiting… always waiting.

Everything about the secondary character revolves around the main character. An existence built solely around another’s experiences. Even if a secondary character dies, it is a moment for the main character to reflect upon their own life decisions… unless they are an evil secondary character than usually they are left on the floor somewhere, discarded, a bloody remain for someone else to find later (but we never read about or see that bit in movies or television).

Yet, for me, the secondary characters are important; because like a missed plot point, an awkward description, or a writing oops, they have the power to rip me out of a story, leaving me on the sidelines of a tale just like them. Continue reading