What I’m Reading and Why, v3

Writers have to read.  It’s not a chore.   Chef’s taste food; athletes watch footage of other athletes; cars get waxed.

The Story of Ireland: A History of the Irish People

by Neil Hegarty

A project I’m working on requires that I become a connoisseur of Irish history and society.  As someone who has always loved the lore and mystical nature of the average stories of Ireland that are tossed around somewhat casually, I am beginning to be in true awe of how for granted the world (and especially the United States) seems to have taken this island of people.

I had always had this idea that Celtic culture and religion had begun there.  In reality the island served as the perfect geographical location to collect all of the good aspects of historic European culture and (mostly) repel all of the negative aspects.  Who can resist the story of how cattle barons got rich and thus became Irish nobility off the backs of traders supplying the Roman army with their tons of leather?  Suffice to say that Vikings and Normans, while certainly ancient invaders, also became settlers and, along with the trend, melding with Irish-ness and further shaping the culture.  Talk about a melting pot!

I’m further enjoying the overlap this book has to the BBC produced, 5 segment special on Irish history hosted by the author.  I can read more of the book and then watch the segment covering those bits on YouTube and viola! it stays in there.

I’m careful about relying on one source for my information.  While this book and the corresponding documentary collection are very comprehensive and informative, I will also seek other sources for my information.  Bottom line here is – if you are Irish American, or even if you are not, there is much to be loved about an island nation that formed from our best qualities as humans and actually SAVED civilization as we know it through it’s academia and careful recording of history while the rest of Europe was burning heretics and killing knowledge.

 

Foundation

by Isaac Asimov

I’m a science fiction fan.  Bradbury and Asimov are not foreign to me.  So how did I miss this?  I came across an estate sale recently where the deceased was obviously more of a sci-fi fan than I.  There were complete series of Orson Scott Card, and alas, all the series of Asimov.  The Robots were all there.  I bought them all.  Even the set of Fantastic Voyage books made an appearance.  I bought them too.  Now, I was aware of the Foundation trilogy, but for whatever reason, had never cracked it open.  What I didn’t realize was that he was enticed to write three additional books in the series later in his life.  So I got to work trying to figure out what order the books were in to make sure I didn’t miss getting one of the pieces.  This is where the trouble started.

foundation bookThere were actually one book to each story present but for the price of 50 cents per paperback, I could get the one book that housed the initial trilogy all-in-one for just that.  Duh.  Except … the cover of this one (unlike the cover graphic I have snagged for this article) listed the trilogy contrary to the order I understood from the other books.  It listed them as:  Foundation, Second Foundation, and Foundation and Empire.  As you can see from the graphic to the right, the actual order is different.  Without internet to research my treasure trove, I scratched my head and made my purchase.

I couldn’t wait and started reading Foundation as soon as I got in the truck.  Thanks my lovely driver!  It wasn’t until I got home and researched that I discovered that he wrote the three follow up books out of order and was floored, once again, by his skill and capacity.  I gave the idea of reading them in actual chronological order a very brief consideration, but decided to stick to the order they were written.

Aside from the sheer enjoyment, I’m reading Foundation because I want to study one of the great masters of world building, to learn how he imagined and threaded together contrived history married with cutting edge science truthes into the magic of science fiction where, indeed, the reader becomes so enmeshed that they could easily live there themselves.

 

 

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What I’m Reading and Why, v2

Writers have to read.  It’s not a chore.   Chef’s taste food; athletes watch footage of other athletes; cars get waxed.

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

It occurs to me as a writer with a full time job that short stories may be the way to start.  I was fearful after I read a preface by Stephen King in one of his short story collections (“Until Sunset” I think).  He said short stories are a totally different creature than books and left me with the impression that it would be hard to break out of one mold (that of a short story writer) to become another (author of a novel).  So I delayed, dabbled, delayed some more.  Then I started reading this book.

I didn’t realize it was a collection of short stories when I started.  It may be possible that the stories will overlap somehow as I read more.  I’m less than half way through this book and so thrilled at the way it allows the author to flex more than one writing muscle.  The first story tells of a pair of girls who live in swamp lands and have been left alone for a time.  I could state its storyline follows that of the children of Alligator wrestlers but that wouldn’t even cover it.  Besides, you’d miss out on the sister’s jaw dropping relationship with the ghost/demon, and then might abandon it altogether for fear it’s a paranormal story when, in fact, it is not.  My favorite story tells of a camp for youth who suffer from a myriad of sleep disorders (some that will make you want to google them to see if they are indeed real).  I could state that the campers must band together to solve the mystery of a serial sheep killer, but you’d probably mistake that to mean this is full of cliches and a “cute” story.  It is not on either of those counts.

My point here, and I do have one, is how lovely it feels to dip my feet in, and even at ankle deep, this author has shown me how refreshing it can be to shift gears, change paradigms, and even genres, all within the same book.  My fear erased, I will honor the summer and start writing some shorts!  While I’m at it, I’m definitely adding some of her other books to my reading list: Vampires in the Lemon Grove, Swamplandia, and Sleep Donation.

 

Writing Mysteries

by Sue Grafton (Editor), Michael Connelly, Tess Gerritsen, Tony Hillerman, Sara Paretsky, Fay Kellerman, Ann Rule, Linda Fairstein, Jonathan Kellerman, John Lutz, Nancy Pickard, Jan Burke, Barry Zeman, Lawrence Block, Laurie R. King, Margaret Maron, Loren D. Estleman

WritingMysteriesCoverI know what you’re thinking – “Who are these people and why should I care?”  If you’re a mystery writer and this is, indeed, what you were thinking, you might want to consider writing for dairy ads.

Yes, it’s true!  In just one book you can have the mentoring of all those mystery writers.  Sue Grafton edited it and each chapter speaks to a different aspect of the genre.  I’m reading this book because, to not read it and go on writing mysteries would be like the child who pulls away from his parent and says, “No!  I can cut my own food!” and then progresses to let fly everything on the plate.  My favorite sections so far have been Faye and Jonathan Kellerman’s piece on research and Julie Smith’s on “Background, Location, and Setting.”

I hope you’re listening – mystery writers – this book has it all.  From dialogue and perspectives to short story mysteries and YA, you’ll find some inspiration or new information here.  The only thing better than reading this book would be to sit in my writing tank while listening to this as an audio book being read by each of the contributors.  Wait.  Is that too creepy?  Did I cross a line?  #authorgroupie

 

For the Birds

“Owls have a peculiar knowing way, a strict sense of personal space, a connoisseur’s restful delight in their food, a certain repose, a remarkable capacity for necessary aggression.”

Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds by Lyanda Lynn Haupt

When M read this to me recently, I thought, “What a great character sketch!”  The style and flow of this sentence (and believe me, the book is full of them) makes me involuntarily smile as I pick each phrase apart and apply it to a person.  I make plans for pouring this sentence (like a syrup) into my morning writing, infusing that delicious penchant for a chapter’s worth of information in such an adorable little package … and then realize I have gotten lost in its magic and am going to be late for work.

This is why reading, on a voracious level, is so important.  I have accepted (to some degree) that I will not be able to read everything I want before I die.  Even if I lived to be 110 years old, I would not be able to accomplish this feat.  But think about this.  Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds was published by Sasquatch Books in 2001 and won the 2002 Washington State Book Award, yet I would have missed it if M wasn’t a bird crazed darling who decided to read it.  Further, author Lyanda Lynn Haupt has apparently been a prodigious writer since then, receiving another award for a book called Crow Planet, and putting out a more recent delicacy – The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild last year.  I mean, with writing like this, I now feel obligated to add every one of her books to my reading list.

As a very analytical person, I have taken a step back from my fascination to write this piece and to ask you, “Am I overboard here?”  Sure – it’s just a sentence.  Maybe I could just read the one book and pat myself on the back as a writer, telling myself “Due diligence,” and all that.  “We must read as much as we write.”  This has never seemed like a chore.  It seemed like selection of reading material was like a builder planning and acquiring supplies … prioritizing those areas where the absolute best must be purchased, and compromising where less expensive materials will do to make sure the finished product is better than the last one.  “Trash in trash out,” must equate to “Artistry in artistry out,” I surmise.  It’s a sentence.  I ask you once more, “Am I overboard?”

What I’m Reading and Why

Had an idea for this series while talking to friends yesterday.  Almost every author advising new writers agrees – you must read as much (if not more) than you write.  That wisdom makes perfect sense to me, so I follow it.  For the sake of getting more things posted while still working my insanely demanding job, I intend to run this series whenever I finish a book and start into something new.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I just finished “The Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova.  Upon first cracking it open, I was impressed by the style and flow.  I have no doubt it reads like Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” intentionally.  I say that, but you should know that it is a more modern account and is really about several historians as they search for the truth about Vlad “The Impaler” and his dark legacy.  As such, it balances light with dark themes and lures you into a more “historical fiction” style of the Dracula legend.  Unlike other vampire stories, this book is a serious literary contribution.  There are the elements that make the reader stay hooked and coming back for more (character development, mystery, adventure, romance), but without the “teenager with raging hormones,” stamp of approval.  You will not find a group of readers in “Camp Paul,” versus those in “Camp Rossi.”  For that, I am very thankful. 

This is Kostova’s first novel!  Oh, please let me be as blessed!  Reader BEWARE – if you have no patience for long books – this one is 704 pages.  That’s nearly twice the page count for the average reader of fiction.  Oh, please let me be as prolific!

I didn’t choose this book, it chose me.  I was in between pages that held my interest and it grabbed me out of the e-library stacks.  I stayed in it because it made me feel like a scholar in the Oxford library wiping dust from an ancient volume bound in worn leather.  I hope to improve my skills in imagery having put this one in my bank.

The Shining by Stephen King

Immediately after finishing this one, I started on an older book, Stephen King’s, “The Shining.”  I have never watched the movie rendition of this book other than the occasional Jack Nicholson “Redrum” clips.  Not a fan of King’s books until recently, this is probably because I had no idea he had more than just gore and horror.  It wasn’t until I read his book, “On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft,” that I got curious about some of his other offerings.  I picked up “The Dead Zone,” and then “The Body,” “11.22.63,” the “Dark Tower” series … well it’s just that now I’m hooked.  I have always been a student of sociology and psychology – in awe about how just a single synapse could be the difference between monsters like Ted Bundy and people like Oprah Winfrey.  Stephen King does “Psychological Thriller” like nobody’s business!

If you want a writer to take you on a journey of escape, while still rooting you in some lessons about people and relationships – Stephen King is your answer.  Just a few pages into “The Shining” and I’m reeling at how effortlessly he tells me the grisly detail of how this guy (a dry alcoholic) broke his baby boy’s arm … and then pages later makes me empathize and still see this guy and his family in human terms.  In the world outside the pages, it would be so easy – common, in fact – to write this guy off for the asshole he appears to be.  When Mr. King writes it, you have to really try hard to demonize him and the family that chooses to stay with him.  “Life has to go on for these people,” King says with the story, “Put their shoes on and deal with it.”

That’s what I love about his style – he finds unique situations, often times rooted in gut-level reality, and he doesn’t dismiss truth for the sake of entertainment in these stories.  If I could emulate only one writer – it would currently be Stephen King.  I’m reading him because I’d like to be able to infuse his style into my mysteries.

I won’t even go into the typical King spin that grants someone in the story a unique but stigmatizing power (like reading people’s minds) and how that tickles my fancy.  Read it yourself!