I Want to Tell You a Story … Cassandra on the Island

I want to tell you a story.

Let’s begin like this- I wrote a novel for my thesis when I was working for my Master’s at the University of Southern California and I made the head of the department cry.

I had few interactions with this professor. I like to think he liked me, he personally asked me to take a few advanced courses and met with me now and then to discuss agents and my writing, but we were of different worlds. How else do you explain the meeting of a poet and a novelist? We use the same words, but for a novelist it is about the meaning, where for the poet it is about the music beneath it.

To graduate, I needed people to sign off on my thesis. I had one from a fiction professor (I can’t remember his name now) and the head of the department promised to be the second… and he delayed… and he delayed.

I was working on campus, which was fine for me since I didn’t have to drive anywhere and there was a Carl’s Jr on campus and I was a little addicted to their crispy chicken sandwich (I don’t need to say more about that here). But on this day, instead of waiting in the outrageously long line of students and eating that awesome sandwich, I decided to bother the delaying professor. He was in his office and knew why I was there when I walked in. He didn’t make eye contact with me and promised to start the book that afternoon, shrugging me off.

I had to accept that answer and leave.

That night I received a call after 9 PM. It was him and he was crying. He kept saying the word “beautiful.” He talked to me about the book for over an excited hour, asking about why I did certain things, what they meant. He was figuring out different tricks I did in the writing in between his emotional outbursts.

It is not often a writer gets to speak to a moved reader the second after they finish their book, but I was having that experience here, and it was with someone that surrounds himself with books and writers! This is legit, right?

He wasn’t planning to read the book straight through, he said. He was planning to finish, maybe skim bits. He skims, he said. He skims most books from students, he said… but here he didn’t. And once he started he couldn’t stop.

He told me what he loved, what made him laugh and what made him cry.

He asked if he could share the book with others, and I said that was fine. He said I didn’t have to worry about my thesis, and he couldn’t wait to buy the book in print… and then he was off the line.

Now… let me be clear… I’m not telling you this story about a crying professor to brag. I’m telling you this because it was the first time I truly felt like a novelist. Continue reading


New WKAR Book Review: Kurt Vonnegut’s Novels 1976-1985

Current StateI got to do something really fun today on WKAR’s Current State. Well, fun for me. I got to talk about one of my all time favorite writers!

The Library of America has been re-issuing Kurt Vonnegut’s library and in this installment I am talking about the new Volume 3, Novels 1976-1985.  You can listen to my review here: http://wkar.org/post/book-review-kurt-vonnegut-novels-1976-1985

You can also read my review below.

If you want to pick up this book, you can find it on amazon.com here. If you would be interested in hearing/reading more of my NPR book reviews, you can do so via links on this page.

I hope you enjoy my thoughts on one of the literary legends. Continue reading


Non-Ghost Believer

GhostSome people don’t believe, others do, I’m somewhere in the middle but leaning heavily much more to the “no” side. Not a full-time denier but someone who believes he has reality on his side. And I can roll my eyes and yawn with the best of them.

Yes, I may watch the occasional special on a cable channel (I’m not recording them on my DVR or anything), but I would probably turn the channel after getting the gist of the ghost.

“Beheaded… yada yada… tragic lover. Got it. What else is on?”

Consider: If there were ghosts, the south would be filled to the brim with the ghosts of slaves; Germany would be unlivable because of the ghosts from the Holocaust; and every battle field (from Gettysburg to Iwo Jima) would need barriers to keep us living people out. And it would completely change the funeral home business.

I live in a house where someone died. They died in the same room I sleep in each night! Who knows, I might even sleep on the very spot that he took his fated last breath. Yet… I got nothing.

So why is it I can still be scared or hypnotized by the idea of a ghost? Heck, when I saw Paranormal Activity I was up for days, every bump was enough to wake me up fully.

“This is ridiculous, Scott,” I mumbled to myself again and again. “This is absolutely ridiculous. There is no such thing as ghosts. No such thing… What was that noise?!” Continue reading


New WKAR Book Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Current StateToday, I am back on WKAR’s Current State with a review of the new novel by Dave Eggers!

You can listen to my review of The Circle on WKAR’s website here:


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

The Circle by Dave Eggers is available on Amazon (in both hardcover and eBook) via this link or at any local bookstore.  And you can check out any of my past radio appearances and book reviews on this page on my site.

I hope you enjoy my new review! Continue reading


Five Things I Am Into Right Now, October 2013

HalloweenEvery year around this time I always wish I had musical talent. Why? Because Halloween is a surefire money opportunity for a creative songwriter.

See, across this country, from kids to adults, people have Halloween parties, but there is no real Halloween music to play. Oh, there is “Thriller” by Michael Jackson and the awful “Monster Mash,” but what is there after that? Dance remixes of famous horror movie themes?… That’s not good enough!

And that is when an enterprising music genius steps in.

You make a CD that is family friendly, has some fun danceable tracks (maybe comes with its own dance move), add enough references to Halloween memories to stir a heartfelt response (think any classic Christmas song, most are built around memories) and you will be cashing a big check once a year for decades to come.

Sadly, I don’t have music talent and the extent of my songwriting skills only brings up corny titles like “I Want My Mummy” and “Do the Frankenstein Shuffle.” That is just embarrassing. It is even more embarrassing because I am literary enough to know Frankenstein is the doctor not the monster.


Here are the five things I am into this month… 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


Missing My Vonnegut Moment


There is a piece of family mythology that I might have made up.

My grandmother was friends with Kurt Vonnegut’s first wife’s college roommate. I know that is not much, but here me out; there is a chance that my favorite writer (the genius behind Slaughterhouse-Five and others works of literary greatness) might have been aware of my family.

Why is this important? Well, in 1999, Kurt Vonnegut released a book of his uncollected short stories (Bagombo Snuff Box). Many of these stories were uncollected for a good reason; being the product of a struggling writer just looking for a sale in the booming short story market of the 1950s. Yet, there is one story in it of particular importance to me.

It is called “The Runaways” and it stars a family named the Southards.

Now, I know there are other Southards out there in the world. Heck, I’ve even found other writers out there with the same name as me (first and last), but with that slight connection, who is to say he might not have remembered meeting my grandmother by chance at that dorm room before a date (and my grandmother was quite the looker then) or had seen her referenced in a letter? Whatever the case, before anyone else does, I am staking my claim:

The great Kurt Vonnegut was inspired to use the name Southard in that story because of my grandmother.

There I typed it, and because it is the internet (and there are no falsehoods on the internet) and Vonnegut is no longer around to argue about it, it must be true.

So it goes. 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