Talking About Miss Austen

From PersuasionThis week I had the pleasure of speaking to English classes at Aquinas College (Grand Rapids, MI) about my novel A Jane Austen Daydream. The classes were assigned to read my book… and after reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  So there is a tough act to follow and literary pressure for you!

It was a fun experience for me and I decided to capture one of my discussions as an audio recording. This is the first 20 minutes or so of the class.

In this recording you will hear me discussing the inspiration behind my novel and the experience of writing it (mostly fear).  Understandably, there are SPOILERS in the discussion if you have not read the book. Also, I am quite the fast talker.

Again, I would like to thank Aquinas College, the incredible Dr. Brent Chesley and his students. It was quite an honor! Thank you!

A Jane Austen DaydreamPublished by Madison Street Publishing, A Jane Austen Daydream can be purchased in print ($13.46) or as an eBook for the outrageously low price of $3.99 for Kindle. You can find it on Amazon here (http://amzn.com/B00CH3HQUU).

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The Writing Rule I Hate

Broken PencilI need to begin with Diane Rehm.

See, one of my little obsessions is The Diane Rehm Show and I listen to her about four to five hours a week. I even get the podcast, and when I am helping one of my children to fall asleep, usually I am listening to her take a caller on my phone’s headphones. And, to let you in on a secret, when I play “interview” in my mind she or Terry Gross are the ones asking the questions. I’m not the only person who does this, right? You are out someplace and suddenly an interview forms in your head. Before you know it, you are saying aloud: “Well, Diane, when I first came up with the idea…”

Okay, that might have been too much information. Moving on!

Anyway, a few years ago she had on a popular writer. I can’t remember who the author was, but this author’s ego was proudly on the march. You would’ve thought she had written the next Ulysses and to add to the size of her enlarging head a caller called her, praised her, talked about how much she loves her books and then asked her what her advice would be for a new writer.

The author replied that the golden rule of writing is “Write what you know.” She then went on to explain why this rule is so important and as I began to roll my eyes and prepared to finally turn off the episode, Diane did something utterly amazing.

The grand Mrs. Rehm interrupted the author and debated the author on that rule. She asked how could that be true. JK Rowling, for example, doesn’t know any wizards and has never been to Hogwarts or have magic (Yes, Diane referenced Harry Potter!). If Rowling only wrote what she knew we wouldn’t have that wonderful series, Diane argued.

If I was in the studio that day I would have given her a hug and a kiss. Continue reading

My Favorite Literary Oddities

What a weird pictureOn June 11, my new book MAXIMILIAN STANDFORTH AND THE CASE OF THE DANGEROUS DARE will be released via amazon.com in eBook and print. Currently, there is a book giveaway going on for the book on Good Reads which you can enter here.

To help prepare for the release of this odd and playful book, I thought it would be fun to write on some of the influences for the novel.  This week I discuss three writers who gave me the courage to attempt the mad surprises that come in this new novel.

There should be a warning that is given to every future English Major. It should be in bold lettering with a dark-foreboding red hue.

WARNING: This major will impact how you read and enjoy books forever.

We all scamper and leap into becoming English majors because of a love of books, imagining afternoons in classes playfully discussing our new favorite classics. The ultimate book club! Surrounded by like-minded, educated readers debating and then debating some more the next day. All that is missing is the secret handshakes, but a big part of that dream is true… What is glaringly missing in the scenario though is the in-depth analysis that comes along for the ride.

When you are an English major you are taught to deconstruct a book down to its essence, find new ways to interpret a work (maybe related to the author’s biography or the history of the time, etc.); whatever the case, when you are done with a book, it is never the book it once was to you at the start. Over time, this kind of investigation will become part of your reading makeup.

You’ve seen too much! The wizard cannot go back behind the curtain, you know it is a silly old man now! Every book is a future study, even when you don’t mean to do it. And soon you may even begin to forget what it was like to simply open a book and enjoy the tale. Continue reading

Writing About Genius: Discussing Authors on a Blog

I tolerate Garrison Keillor, but I am not sure how much I like him.

While I am impressed that he can write a two-hour show each week (and that is an accomplishment, make no mistake), I never found his fiction to be very good– comforting, yes; good, no. When planning for a trip to Italy with my wife, I picked up a bunch of his novels for all of the driving from tourist site to tourist site.  Well, on day two of the trip, I gave his books to another traveler, and picked up some new books at a bus stop… Yeah, that says everything right there.

So why do I bring up Mr. Keillor? Frankly, I don’t think he helps the image of English majors and readers on his show. English majors (and I will include librarians with us since they get attacked as well) in his opinion seem to always live a life of illusion, false grandeur.  Making us almost something to be pitied or laughed at… and they laugh every week.

Yes, English majors really don’t serve much of a purpose in the economy, no business manager has ever demanded an HR department to hire a new English major. When it comes to the American dream of moving up ladders and finding success, English majors are on the outskirts; because, honestly, our dreams are different. Continue reading

I get James Joyce… Well, no, not really

James Joyce is the Mount Everest for English majors.  We don’t want to climb the damn mountain but if you want to be a real mountaineer, well, you have got to climb that damn mountain.

That is how I see James Joyce and his library of creations.

I heard it once argued that if it wasn’t for the demands of the English college classroom Joyce would not be in print today. I was initially stunned by that concept, but as the years progress I begin to believe it more and more.

He is not someone who people pick up for a little “light” reading, and his characters and plots are not exactly the most moving. Yet, what Joyce does have is incredible creativity on the page, with language, characterization and, of course, his influence on stream of consciousness as a writing style.

I don’t want anyone to think I am dismissing Joyce. Hardly, I think he should continue to be required reading for English majors and writers (especially those that want to do something artistic and new as compared to pulp everyday fiction which flood our bookstores each year).  He is the granddaddy of avant garde writing, especially around modern literature. I get all that… It’s just I find him… well… boring and frustrating.

Yes, if asked to describe Joyce I would probably use words like “influential” and “modern” and “avant garde,” but in my heart I would probably be screaming “too smart for his own good.” Continue reading