The Five Books That Made Me

CompassOur lives are filled with landmarks. And just like the sites that dot our landscape, these moments dot our lives, creating the definition of who we are. For me, I can see them like a map spread out in front of me from movies to TV shows to experiences to relationships to plays to books… oh… a lot of books.

I was the kid who would come home with a pile of library books each weekend, who later would take his bike out to only ride to libraries, having three in my vicinity to choose from with a separate card for each. If I could have had a collection of cards with aliases I would have done it. See, I would lose summer days just wandering through the aisles like visiting old friends, allowing my fingers to grace along the covers as I walked past, secretly hoping that a book would reach out and grab me.

I always get a little sentimental when a book is released (A Jane Austen Daydream). I can’t help it. This is a new kind of landmark; I’m adding to my own landscape now. And if I am lucky my work might find its way on to another’s map. See, that is the thing for me. It’s not about money, it never was.  It was always about the love of a good yarn, with surprises and new adventures.

When I look back at my life there are five books that stand out the most in inspiring me.  This is not to say they are my favorites, or what I consider the greatest works; no, not at all.

They are just the ones that grabbed me just when I needed them to. Continue reading

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Our Dangerous Fixation With Genres

Revolutionary SnoopyThe writing world is full of factions.

Each of these factions, have their own heroes (or leaders), their own book clubs, their own book dealers, their own sites, their own rules, their own readers, etc.

Sometimes I like to imagine them as armies, each with their own distinct style and strengths and weaponry.

  • The romance army is nothing more than a collection of men with long flowing hair and amazing abs. There is a good chance that their swords might be a phallic thing though, consider yourself warned.
  • The paranormal army is made up of brooding men who may be vampires… or werewolves… or zombies… or ghosts. Whatever the case, they are dreamy.
  • In the YA ranks you will find confused teenagers with an overwhelming sense of destiny. They will be looking for something and once they find it, watch out.
  • Yes, the scifi army is full of little green men, but over the course of the battle we will all learn something about humanity back here at home.
  • And you do not want to see the horror army. Seriously, just turn and run!

The funny thing is that it is more than the publishers and bookstores that have latched on to the use of factions or, more accurately, genres to organize our art. We writers do it as well as so many of us proudly declare which army we fit into. Our people.

Twitter is full of writers that introduce themselves first by name and then by their genre. And the funny thing is when you search through their followers as well as those that they follow, they are also of the same genre. Their army, their rules…

Join us. Continue reading

Book Review: Summer Morning, Summer Night by Ray Bradbury

Since the passing of Ray Bradbury, I’ve been re-reading his books (or reading ones for the first time), trying to find a lost classic, a gem I had not discovered before.

So far I have reviewed three of his books (Something Wicked This Way Comes, From the Dust Returned and The Halloween Tree). This review is on Summer Morning, Summer Night, published in 2008.

I have attempted to write this review three different times. Frankly, this difficulty is because I am uncertain what kind of a book Summer Morning, Summer Night by Ray Bradbury is exactly attempting to be.

  • Is it a sequel to the great Dandelion Wine and the embarrassingly bad Farewell Summer?
  • Is it a collection of unpublished short stories?
  • Is it new work?
  • It is old work?
  • Is it an insight into Ray Bradbury’s notebook? A collection of unfinished ideas and unused snippets?

The frustrating answer is yes and no to all of my questions.

The best way I have discovered to explain this book is to think of your favorite CD. You know how artists will sometimes include an additional CD in a boxset? It might include demos, songs that were cut from the album, and early versions of the songs you love? Well, in many ways, Summer Morning, Summer Night is that additional CD for Bradbury, and like one of those collections there is good and bad, and a little of everything within it. Continue reading

Book Review: From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

When Ray Bradbury died Entertainment Weekly listed some of Bradbury’s books that their readers might not have read. These were not the classics, but more like hidden gems for readers to discover. From the Dust Returned was one of the books listed, which is what drove me to pick it up.

From the Dust Returned is the story of a house filled with ghosts, the undead, and other supernatural creations. There is one human living with them, a young orphan boy named Timothy, and it will be his fate to write about them.

For me, upon my reading, I had two reactions. First, I am not sure why Entertainment Weekly listed this as one to discover. I could have easily named a handful that would have fit more perfectly into that distinction (Did they just call the publisher? Did they just Google?). The second is the untapped potential for the work, leaving me with the feeling I read the shadow of a good book; not the good book itself.

Ray Bradbury stated that he had spent fifty years working on this book, but with an imaginative mind like Bradbury I really have no idea what that means. He was always creating, always generating works. Chances are, for me, when a book is not being moved forward it is for a good reason, I am waiting for that lightning bolt to truly ignite the creation with a Frankenstein scream of “It’s alive!” Continue reading

Book Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

I first read Something Wicked This Way Comes while as a teenager. I was going through a massive Ray Bradbury kick, and I was devouring his books like many do pizza. Something Wicked found its way in between some of his other works in the monthly large pile I got from my local library, and I must admit at the time it didn’t make a dent on me.

It didn’t emotionally touch me as Dandelion Wine or inspire me like The Martian Chronicles or R is for Rocket. I can clearly remember spending most of my time reading it comparing it in my mind to the movie version by Disney I had seen a few years earlier. Yet, when people talk about his classics, especially after his death, Something Wicked is always discussed; so to honor the great man I decided to reread the book again.

Something Wicked This Way Comes is the story of an evil carnival that invades the town of Green Town, Illinois (A town that will not sound unfamiliar to readers of Mr. Bradbury). Two boys, Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway, are the only souls in the town that are able to see the carnival for what it is, a place of evil magic and sinister characters. It is after the carnival workers (under their leader the illustrated man, Mr. Dark), realize the boys are on to them that things start to become more intense.

Something Wicked has an interesting history to its creation. It first began as an abandoned short story, then Bradbury turned it into a screenplay after being inspired by Gene Kelly.

No, I’m serious. Continue reading

Ray Bradbury

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer.

-Dandelion Wine

I apologize if this sounds overly dark, but the last of my childhood writing heroes is gone.

One by one, as I get older and older, they slip away. I remember when I heard of Kurt Vonnegut’s passing. I was backing up my car from the driveway… and it was a normal day, nothing special about it. It all felt so very bland. And all they had to say on Morning Edition was “So it goes” and I knew what they were about to say. I parked my car in front of my house and hung my head. It was about ten minutes before I restarted my car and the rest of my day felt slow.

Growing up though Ray Bradbury always felt like more than just an author. He felt like a mentor, a friend; and with his vast library of work, He always felt “available” to me—if that is the right word to use—because there was always something new to discover. Continue reading