Newest Me

So moving forward I will be posting some of my thoughts on writing and the things I am reading here. Normally, I will do so one at a time, but I have a couple of reviews stored up.

Today is your twofer.

Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris

This story made me feel like I was back in fourth grade during story time, which is a good thing. It isn’t an intellectual story full of abstract ideals or PhD level dissertations on magical theory, but what it does do is tell a solid story about characters that are distinct and identifiable. By the end of the story I couldn’t get the idea of lemonade on a hot afternoon out of my head and so in honor of this story I had to make myself a couple of adult lemonades with some oven baked fried chicken with a side of Asian influenced coleslaw. (Recipes to follow)

We move into Midnight, Texas alongside Manfred Bernardo, phone and internet psychic extraordinaire. We never really learn why Manfred moved to the middle of nowhere beyond some suggestion he needed somewhere new. That fogginess is par for the cast of Midnight that includes a vampire, witch, and an assortment of other oddfellows that may or may not be supernatural. It is certainly possible the origin story is more clear in the Harper Connelly series where the character originated, but I have not read that series, though that may change. The central axis of the story is the missing girlfriend of one of the longtime residents and the mystery that unfolds from there. Suffice to say there are hints of romance, fantasy, and mystery tossed in for flavoring. Harris manages some very slick point of view transitions, sometimes too slick, as the break in storytelling was sometimes like missing the baton pass in a track and field event.

I’ve had very mixed feelings in the past about this author, but if what you are looking for is some good old-fashioned west Texas characters then this may be for you. It is true that the characters aren’t always as complex as they could be and the characterization of the gay and minority characters wasn’t very progressive, but given the fact that I know a gay couple that runs an antique store and I certainly wouldn’t mind owning one I can’t be too upset. I’ll leave it to you to decide how you might feel about this little piece of Texas.

Adult Lemonade*

*This is only for those of you of age.

1 Shot dandelion wine

8 oz Lemon-lime soda

1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or more, as I like my drinks pretty tart)

Over Friend Chicken

Chicken thighs (I went ahead and made the frozen bag from Trader Joe’s and we’ve used the rest for chicken tacos)

6 cups Red Curry & Pepperoncini flavored Kettle Brand chips

½ Cup Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce

2 Tablespoons Honey

1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

I used a food processor to decimate the chips and then used them as breading for the chicken, the bits that fell off onto the pan tasted like the best fried potatoes ever. I dredged the thighs in the combined chili sauce, honey, and olive oil before putting them into the chips and then popping them in the oven for about 17 minutes (give or take based on your oven and fear of salmonella. 165 degrees being the suggested internal temperature to avoid food borne pathogens.)

&

The Devil’s Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth

As much as I love all the derivative fanfiction that makes up stories about Heaven, Hell, angels, and such it is hard for most to pull off a take, message, or staging that hasn’t been done better. Clive Barker jumps to mind and Faith Hunter for her Rogue Mage Series. Before you get too sad though, I think Unsworth did a great job.

Hell is a place of crippling hope and uncertainty, where there is enough of each to keep you going, but only until the next demon comes along and wants some lunch. Thomas Fool is an Information Man, one of Hell’s bureaucrats punished with investigating Hell’s endless murders, rape, and violence. Most of the cases end up stamped DNI, Do Not Investigate, just one more crime in a place full of sinners who can no longer remember their sins and where the path to Elevation is obscured by bureaucracy and random chance. Into this mic Thomas is tracking down a killer that rends the souls from the flesh, something clothed in flame and old. Relying on Gordie and Summer, fellow Information Men, to help him track down a single killer in a place where souls are fished out of an endless sea and life comes and goes cheap isn’t easy.

Hell’s Bureaucrat would probably be a more accurate title, but Unsworth does a good job producing red herrings and introducing a cast of characters that are more complex than their jobs or situations require, but in a way that draws you in further and doesn’t distract from the plot. I have to say that the twist at the end was not one I saw coming, which is always a pleasant surprise. This isn’t a feel good book or ending, but there are some deep thoughts about the trials of modern society and questions raised about where we are going underlying the realities of Hell. I don’t think the book is heavy-handed though and handles the question of Hell and its sinners with new and interesting twists while leaving you with complicated feelings about the whole mess.

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Where in the world is…

Welcome to the re-designed me. You may have noticed the new layout and picture already. Unless of course you don’t read it on the website, in which case, you didn’t. For serious.

The picture is one I took while looking out over the southernmost point in all the U.S. There is a plaque and everything.

I have been thinking a lot recently about how to set goals and live up to them. What jobs or careers might be more meaningful to me personally while I work on writing in my free time. What combination would keep me going indefinitely.

I have so many ideas of what I might like to do and no real notion of which of them might end better than the next. So I guess the question is how far am I willing to go? To the ends of the earth.

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Movie as a Guide to Storytelling

How many of you have read or tried to write a screenplay?

I did, or do. Depending on how broadly you want to consider the timeframe. I have a couple of projects I would like to complete and several other ideas that are percolating in my brain drip, drip, dripping into the pot that will make up an actual idea.

The reason I bring this up, is that trying to write a screenplay cemented a couple of very important skills in my head. Dialogue and scene set-up.

Find a copy of a screenplay for one of your favorite movies, the screenplay is just as impressive as the film. You can see it come to life on the page.

Wouldn’t it be great if all your book ideas were not only published but also made into movies? I am sure we like to dream it so. One way to do that is make sure you have a very visual friendly writing style.

Writing screenplays made me realize just how important good scene details can be to setting your writing apart. There are writers who leave a lot of the physical details to the audience to decide both in terms of background and physical action. They focus on emotions, scenery, and dialogue. I enjoy those things too I just find that even trying to write ten pages of a screenplay will make a big difference in how you approach your writing.

Visualize.

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Writing V Reading

The court is still out as to what I prefer. I love reading and really falling into a story. Characters I will never meet, but get to know more intimately than my closest family. Worlds I will never step foot on but are full of beauty and tragedies all their own.

But with writing I get to craft and shape each of those things. Take the world and people’s lives in direction they may have never taken. I can explore and idea through a person or live wildly and vicariously through my characters.

I can turn society on its head with words. The dream that took me down this path to begin with.
I feel like I can’t do one without the other. Just the exposure to the creative works of others gives me the energy to bury myself in my work. It helps me recognize my own flaws and build on them. It lets me know what is out there and what people are thinking and feeling about even more than what they are buying.

I think if you write what is in people’s hearts and minds it will sell. Today I finished a dashing new author who I will talk about later this week. Or newly published, at any rate.

I know some people are very much against reading the work of others, especially while they work on their own pieces, but I couldn’t do it. I don’t always devour 7 or more books a week. Sometimes I even go a couple of weeks without reading a book, but not often. I can’t afford a world devoid of the art of the mind.

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Earthling Hero

First off, I apologize for the delay.

I have been debating with myself a lot on both the utility and purpose behind doing reviews. I also wasn’t sure what kind of methodology I wanted to use in judging them.

The long and short of it is this – I want to spread the word about books people should read. I don’t want to hate on an author I don’t like because someone else may find a book very fulfilling.

Now let me actually get to the meat of the review.

I thoroughly enjoyed Anita’s book. I thought it was smart and funny, with a male middle grade protagonist that smart boys can identify with.

I like the personal touches that shout Anita to me, like the tortilla making scene. I thought that bad guys were the right combination of threatening and bumbling that enable the good folks to prevail.

On a technical note the spacing on my nook was kind of wonky, but this is something I have heard a lot about and seen before. Natasha Fondren, author and ebook coder, talks about this quite a bit on her blog. Apparently this is a common problem with ebooks and has to do with the way most programs code it instead of just hand coding it like she does.

Besides not being long enough for me (since I am an epic fantasy/ sci-fi fan) my only thought was that sometimes it wasn’t over the top enough to me. Meaning there were passages that felt more serious and adult and then would fall back to a middle grade humor. I say go for the gusto. I think if the writing and plot are smart it will shine.

Anita is a good author with solid prose and a great grasp of characterization. I hope she continues to publish or epublish her books so I can keep up with her.

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Two Spirits

Due to the pending federal shutdown, which for those of you who don’t know means I may be going without pay here soon, my writing schedule has been thrown a bit askew.

I very much plan on reviewing Anita Laydon Miller’s Earthling Hero, tomorrow, but wanted to bring you something entirely different tonight. Before I get into why this is very important to me, let me share this link – Two Spirits.

I saw this documentary tonight and it moved me.  It moved me as a creative endeavor and it moved me on a personal level.  About 1 year after the Matthew Shepard murder in Laramie, WY a young Two Spirit, or Nadleeh, person named Fred Martinez was brutally killed in Cortez, CO.

He didn’t receive the attention because he was non-white and poor. He wasn’t traditionally attractive, though I think that is too narrow a scope to view people in.  Fred Martinez was killed because he was different and I think it is our responsibility, as humans, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

I feel education is the first step. So please watch and share the trailer and ideally watch the documentary.  There is more to gender and sexuality than most people feel comfortable thinking about, but we shouldn’t be. 

To me this is just as important as the fight against bullying.  If anything, I feel like this gets closer to the root of the problem.  This documentary will be airing on PBS on June 14.

I wanted to touch on briefly the salient points for me (in no real order) –

1) Dedication to an idea – the creator of the film went to great lengths to take a story and transform it into something that was both educational and inspiring and there is not enough that can be said about that level of dedication to your craft.

2) Strength of people like Ru Paul or Elton John, or the queers who decided they had enough at Stonewall.  Strength doesn’t have to be pretty or poised.  It doesn’t always have to speak with words, sometimes it yells.  This is true of the riots in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere throughout the world.  I can never do enough to honor the spirit of strength that resides in these people.  I am envious of their strength, but also rejoice that it exists.

3)The creativity needed to from whole cloth create a world and races, interactions, emotions and laws of physics is compelling and astounding. The ability to do so outside the social norms we are familiar with is epic, but to me…to be able to take a real person and make them into a story.  To transform something everyday into something legendary, that is vision.  That is the kind of vision that to do and do well is rare. 

I am in awe.

I am not in awe because this documentary led me to new ideas or was better than other documentaries I have seen, but because it is on a subject that needs more exposure.  It exposes the grief of a mother to do so, but she wants her son known.  Let his name and the names of other countless children be screamed from the top of every building until we remember why we should build and create and not destroy.

Go hug a tree.

That is all.

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Book Review – Remember the contest I won??

So, I mentioned before I won a free book. That book was Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz.

Before I get into reviewing that book I wanted to preface it with something.  Because it feels like most days I am writing to and for myself I can’t help but to be myself.

Meaning?  Well, if I am going to work on developing my voice and building an imaginary following then I would like to do so from a very honest place in my dark soul.

Let me start the review by saying I think it would be well worth the purchase and is a very thoughtful piece that captures that sense of summer and freedom that many of us feel growing up.  I think it also pretty accurately explores the complicated relationships many of us have with siblings and parents alike.

Consider what I say next with a grain of salt and the understanding that I point it out as much for my benefit as a writer as anything else.  Every piece of writing can be made stronger. 

Writing is complicated and depends a lot on nuances of message and target audience.  Sometimes there is a conflict between what I want to convey and what I think people will understand or take away from the words I use. 

This book was the best and worst of undergrad memoirs to me.  It went on and on with endless Camus quotes, which are great and fill out many pages, but were not always strictly necessary.  Nor were they always the best of quotes for the situation.  The reason I point this out is two-fold. 

The first is simply that I think as writers we get wrapped up sometimes in our own enlightenments and want to share it.  I am fine with that.  I almost felt like the book was proselytizing on Camus’ behalf and that to me goes too far.

The second is to point out my bias.  I think life and philosophy are deeply personal and shaped by our experiences.  My experience with most philosophers in terms of writing and those obsessed with them is that they enjoy hearing themselves think out loud far too much. Shove a sock in it Camus and let me hear the ocean.

My other hurdle in this book was hurting for hurting’s sake.  Call it the rage of emoism or the need of a younger generation (or any generation) to prove their raison d’être.  I don’t believe in it.

Life is full of enough true strife that tossing in a tragedy, one of many, more than two-thirds of the way through a book is silly.  You don’t have time to adequately address it when it is life altering and I feel like the story would have been just as strong or stronger without it. Now, I am not saying it wasn’t realistic or even possible, just a bit much.  It borders on that life is sometimes stranger than fiction because I know people who worse events have happened to.

And my last thought on the piece is that no matter how much I enjoyed it, and I did, I feel like this is a perfect example of my earlier discussion on the lack of connection to reality some authors and many movies have.

How many people have beach homes? How many kids have no concept of what use a summer job might be?  Also I believe it is ironic when one family decides another is pretentious because of their name when obviously both families are pretty pretentious. See beach house comment above.

That being said, I still think it is a very good book and definitely worth reading. So do it! Stay tuned on Thursday for a review of the phenomenal Anita Laydon Miller’s    Earthling Hero.

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