My Latest Obsession: The Verse Novel

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Obviously I’m familiar with the concept of narrative poetry.  Just like many others I was forced to study Homer’s epics in various literature classes over the years. I’ve also attempted and failed several times to tackle Dante’s Divine Comedy. However, the modern verse novel doesn’t seem to have the same notoriety. In fact it wasn’t until recently that I even knew they existed, much less read any. Now I can’t seem to get enough of them.

The most interesting thing I found looking into the genre is that it appears to be a growing trend in young adult literature. In fact, that’s where my obsession began. I happened to pick up a used copy of Ellen Hopkins Crank. When I bought the book I had no idea that it was actually targeted towards teens. I was a bit surprised because of the very adult topics and it’s graphic depictions. It tells the story of a young girl’s addiction to crystal meth. However, being written from a teenagers point of view and the simplistic style of the poetry, I can see how it appeals to younger readers. Hopkins has published several more verse novels including sequels to Crank. All targeted at teens, they take on difficult subjects such as sex trafficking, drug addiction and mental illness. Her simplistic poetry style makes it a pretty easy read.

The next book I enjoyed was Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. Another YA book highlighting a difficult issue that can face teens The main character Will is dealing with the grief of his brother’s violent death. The narrative takes place as he descends the elevator of his apartment building on his way to get revenge. On each floor he meets somebody that was part of the cycle of violence that led to his brothers death. The story is incredibly gripping, and I’m fairly certain I finished it in one day.

I promise this is the last YA book. Sister Slam and The Poetic Motormouth Road Trip by Linda Oatman-High was actually my least favorite so far. It definitely felt more like a book intended for a younger audience. It’s a lot lighter in tone and theme. At first I wasn’t sure I would like it at all. It seemed very juvenile, in style and content. It’s a bit silly but that ended up making it a pretty fun read. In it we meet two recent high school graduates who dream of becoming famous slam poets. Their road trip begins with a poetry slam contest in New Jersey and the adventure continues to New York City. The story itself is ridiculous but the rhythm and rhymes really pulled me in.

My latest read was one of the few adult verse novels I could find available at the my library, The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. Just looking at the first page I realized this was going to be very different. The YA authors played around with form and style. And for the most part, excluding Sister Slam, were written in free verse. Golden Gate on the other hand is written in a consistent form of sonnets in iambic tetrameter with a set rhyme scheme. It makes it no less enjoyable to read, but due to it’s style and much longer length it definitely not a quick read.  I’ve rather been enjoying the slower pace of action. The novel mainly revolves around John and Liz, a couple who met through a personal ad. The narrative then follows a eclectic group of characters connected to the couple.

I’d love to hear back about your opinions on verse novels. I will be on the lookout for new reads in the genre. Actually I already have my next one picked out Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. It’s about a pack of werewolves in LA, a supernatural horror verse novel. Now that sounds interesting. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any recommendations.

 

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Words As Weapons

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I know Seether has a lot of critics, mainly because of their unoriginality. And even I have to admit when I first heard this song I thought it was a remake because it sounded very familiar. But I’m still a fan. Maybe they do borrow some elements from older songs but they usually are pretty original with their lyrics. This song in particular includes a part that I think most writers can seriously relate to.

“All I really want is something beautiful to say
To never fade away
I wanna live forever”

In fact that’s likely the exact ambition and motivation for many writers, past and present included.

In case you are wondering, “Mad World” would the the song that it’s eerily similar to. They aren’t exactly identical, identical but they are close enough that I really did think it was a cover.

But that wasn’t really my point here it was simply an observation about he lyrics themselves. Please feel free to comment with any thoughts, I’d love to hear what you think.

Book vs Movie: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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I have to admit I wasn’t too thrilled with either the book or movie adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. Mostly I’ve heard of it referenced in relation to other similar dystopian future novels featuring an authoritative government and a controlled passive citizenry. I never really saw the appeal, although I did recently read 1984 and liked it. In Fahrenheit 451, the story is centered on Montag, who’s job as a fireman is to burn books. Inevitably, conflicted about his work, he steals and hides books from the homes he’s sent to. I liked the story, it was okay and the ending was really good. But as Montag begins to read through the books he’s hidden, much of the text ends up being quotes from classic works of literature. Not only does it pull away from the story it started to feel like a chore to read.

On this rare occasion I actually preferred the movie to the book. Except for the one major issue. The movie really emphasizes the lack of text and reading in this world and maybe takes it a little too far. Their newspapers are depicted as pages of pictures only and even work personnel files are simply pictures of the worker at different angles. So how in this world where there’s no way to encounter words does Montag, of all people a fireman, even know how to read. The book doesn’t portray the world as completely lacking the written word, just no books. That makes it much more believable than the movie where there is literally not one written word in this society.

Ignoring that it was a good movie. I enjoyed watching it more than I enjoyed reading the book. Best scene had to be the guys flying around on jetpacks. The movie was made in 1966, so their idea of what the future would look like and the effects to create it are pretty damn funny. They made some minor changes to the story, and the ending was slightly different but it was a pretty good adaptation of the book.

 

Book vs. Movie: The Girl On The Train

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I’d like to say that I went into this with a fresh unbiased perception, but the idea to even read the book and watch the movie was because of what I’d heard about them. While I’d only heard good things about the book, the movie was often criticized. It’s pretty common for readers to dislike and slam movie adaptations. In some cases the criticism is well deserved but many times it’s simply because of deviations from the source material. There’s also the simple truth that it’s pretty much impossible to encompass a novel into a feature length film.

In this case I think the biggest problem is that the story isn’t as exciting or interesting if you already know the ending. The book was suspenseful because it centered around a murder mystery. Personally, I loved the book. It’s a little bit of a slow start but once I got started I finished it in a matter of days. It was structured perfectly to build up to the climax. The changing point of view and back and forth through the timeline helped build the suspense.  The reader is kept in anticipation, while slowly unraveling the chain of events that led to Megan’s murder. It’s told at an excellent pace, revealing just enough to keep you interested while still leading to unexpected twists.

As for the movie, after reading the book the whole mystery aspect is lost making it harder to capture my attention and the suspense of the story. However, I do think the movie could have been better. It didn’t really maximize on the suspense aspect of the story. In the opening scene we already know most of the details of Rachel’s past. In the movie the story seems to go too fast. I also think the structure of the story didn’t translate well on the screen. The nonlinear structure and changes in point of view worked well in the book, it lent to the mystery, dropping clues here and there. In the movie it just didn’t have the same effect. I think one of the biggest problems came at the climax of the story. In the movie it was very abrupt and I didn’t see as much of the foreshadowing we got in the book. I suspect if hadn’t read the book first I might have enjoyed the movie a bit more. Attempting to put my bias aside, I still have to say that the movie could have been better.

Dark Tower Movie Review

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The Dark Tower movie has taken a lot of criticism, even before the movie came out. Many fans didn’t understand or want to accept that the movie would not be an adaptation of the books. In fact, the movie is rather an extension of the story, similar to the comic books. They build upon and extend the world and characters created in the book series. While the comics have taken us back into Roland’s past, the movie is moving it forward. I can admit the movie could have been better, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the worst reviews would have you think. Many of those bad reviews are too heavily comparing it to the books. It seems many expected it to be an epic fantasy but instead it was more action oriented. Shedding those expectations and taking for what it was, it was pretty good.  It wasn’t great but there were some things I really liked about it.

We’ll start with casting, Idris Alba was a great choice for the gunslinger. He’s not what fans pictured physically but he totally embodies the persona of the gunslinger. He easily gives off the stone faced, tough-as-nails seriousness of Roland. He also has his moments of very deadpan humor. While he’s the hero of the story, you’re still not sure whether he’s really a good guy. Then there’s Matthew McConaughey’s sleazy Man In Black/Walter. It works for the character, he’s evil in a very nonchalant way. He casually kills people as if dismissing them by telling them to stop breathing. He also appears to enjoy taunting Roland. I loved when he projected himself to Roland in the gunshop. I was happy to see the infamous Black 13 and the other Wizards Rainbow pieces appear in the movie. It was one of several references to the book that only fans would catch or know the significance.

There was also the horn in Roland’s bag, visible in a few different scenes. A indicator that this must be Roland’s next go round after the series ended. The books left off with him starting the journey to the Tower, this time with the horn he’d previously left behind. There was also the repeating of the number 19. I like the way they depicted the abandoned portal/doorway terminal when they were in Midworld. The portholes were nice, a cool way to depict the science fiction technology. The Dixie Pig was much different than the book, but it was pretty awesome. Instead of just a restaurant with the tunnels underneath, it’s was like a gauntlet spiraling down to the tunnels. It makes it look more dangerous and grittier. I was glad to see Sayre make an appearance in the movie. I’d have liked to know who some of the other bad guys doing Walter’s bidding were supposed to be. The effect on some of the lowmen/can-toi was pretty cool; the slit in the neck, extra space around the eyes and the sagging cheeks on some was sick looking. They also include hints at larger aspects from the book if you paid attention. Lastly, I’m sure you’ve already read about the nods to Kings other work.

There were also some significant changes to the story. We saw more of Jake’s parents, especially his mother who was almost nonexistent in the books. I like Katheryn Winnick, she’s great in the small screen time she has. I though it was interesting that switched up some of the details of his home life before crossing worlds. It worked okay and was totally plausible in the Dark Tower world. in the realm of possibilities for the Dark Tower’s logic. They also twisted the story of Walter’s attack on the Tower. In the book the psychics attack the beams, in a process that’s enjoyable and pleasurable, while living on an idealistic campus. In the movie, they live in the shadow of a dark ominous building where kids are strapped into a machine to directly attack the Tower with their psychic power. A process that appears tortuous. It makes the story a whole lot darker.

As I said this was more of an action movie than anything else. It was short and the pace was incredibly rushed. There wasn’t much character development and it rushed through events without much story. We meet Roland and Jake, get a few flashes of their past, but never get enough to really care about them. We know Roland lost a battle and Walter killed his father. But, what happened? When was this battle, where, for what exactly? Did Walter command an army or did he kill them all himself? What about his world, what happened to it? He delivers the famous line, the world has moved on, but nothing else. Same for Jake, we are left with so many questions. They show us the news clipping about his father’s death, but never followup. An additional thirty minutes or so to flesh out their stories and see them bond could have made a dramatic difference. I think a great way would have been to include a scene of them by the fire one night telling each other just how they ended up where they are. It’s a familiar scene from the books, especially when character’s stories first intersect. That’s the other thing the movie is missing, the Dark Tower series is one huge story told in a lot of smaller stories. The theme of stories within stories comes up throughout the series. Most often characters share their story while sitting by the fire at night. It would have easily given viewers more story and included a common element from the books.

Overall, I didn’t think it was a terrible movie. I wasn’t expecting it to live up to the books. I went in with an open mind and wanted to judge it as a stand alone movie. It was entertaining and I was happy to see how they included references to the larger story. I could see it was close to being a really good movie but just lacked enough story. I’m sure most fans will not be happy and those unfamiliar with the series won’t care about the characters. But it’s got some pretty good action scenes and was fun to watch.

 

 

 

Prompt: What Up With This Sign?

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What happened here?

I came across this sign on one of my morning walks. I couldn’t help stop and wonder how this sign ended up like this. So many questions. Was it put up that way? Did it fall? Did somebody do it on purpose? Why hasn’t it been fixed?

Help me come up with some theories. Write a story explaining how, why and maybe even who would do this.

streetsign

I’d love to see what you come up, your story below in the comments.

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When a Prompt Just Isn’t Enough

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There’s no denying the usefulness of writing prompts. They work great as a quick warm up to get your creative juices flowing. I’ve use them to generate new ideas when I have no idea what to write. I can’t count how many of my stories and poems that started as a response to a prompt. Even if you already have a project in mind they can give you a starting point, which for many people that’s the hardest part.

I have a number of writing prompt books, but have started to find them pretty boring. They’re all pretty much the same and usually very simple. I find myself spending more time looking for a prompt than I do actually writing. Lately instead of simple books of prompts I’ve been going for ones that include more involved exercises. While they can include simple prompts they also include activities that are more interactive or push you to find inspiration in new and different places. I’ve listed a few of the books I’ve found especially helpful below.

The Writer’s Lab: A Place to Experiment with Fiction

At first look this doesn’t look like a book for adults, but when you’re getting creative age doesn’t matter. I think this book would be incredible for people of all ages. It includes a range of different exercises, and some of them seem a little childish, but it’s an absolute gem when you want to get the creative juices flowing. They’re fun, different and get you thinking in different ways. I highly recommend it.

 


Now Write!: Fiction Writing Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers

This is just one in the series of Write Now books, all focused on particular genres. I love the way this book is set up. It’s broken up into sections focusing on different aspects of the writing process. The essays offer advice and lessons on a specific concept and an exercise that puts it to use.

 

The Artist’s Way

So this isn’t exactly a book of writing exercises, it’s not even focused on writing, rather it’s focused on expanding creativity. I include it because the exercises and writing tasks help open your mind to finding inspiration in new and different places. It might not directly lead to any new writing but the affirmations and reflective tasks can cause an attitude shift making it easier to focus on projects your already working on.

 

These are just a few I thought of immediately. I’ll update or post a longer list sometime soon.

If Rushdie Can Do It So Can I

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I was first introduced to Salmon Rushdie’s writing in a college course where I read Midnight’s Children. I was immediately a fan. Since then I’ve read several more of his books and attended readings and speaking engagements. I’ve always believed the old adage of learning how to write by reading. But it always felt like a very general concept until I started reading Rushdie. I feel like I’ve learned more casually reading his work than I ever did studying other writers in depth in school. I will likely go on to write more about the things I’ve learned from him and his writing. For now I want to discuss one of the simplest things that has impacted my writing.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Rushdie’s writing is how much he includes from his own life in his fiction. Some of these things are very clear, like basing a major character in Fury on his then wife Padma Lakshimi. But other’s I only realized after reading his memoir, Joseph Anton. Reading it I found several instances of people, events and even dialogue that was very similar, if not exactly the same, to what I had read in his fiction. For example when he relates telling his father he is going to be a writer. Clearly disappointed his father says, “What am I going to tell my friends?” A line that appears in The Satanic Verses. 

There are many more examples, he specifically points out experiences and the stories inspired by them, and characters based on those close to him.  He seems to have no problem using his life and those around him as source material for his writing. This is something I have always struggled with. I never felt right including people or events from my life in my writing and avoided it at all costs. Part of it was insecurity, I don’t even like writing about myself in nonfiction. But really it was self doubt about my ability as a writer. It seems too easy to fictionalize elements of my life and take myself seriously as a writer. I also worried about what other people would think. Like I wouldn’t or couldn’t be considered a good writer if I couldn’t come up with everything in a story from imagination.

It seems like a silly thing to think now. Who exactly would even know how much of what I wrote was real or made up. Well I guess my family and friends, but how many of them are even reading my writing anyway. Inspired by Rushdie I’ve learned to let go of these irrational fears. There is no reason I can’t include elements from my life in my writing. It’s more than likely to improve my writing if I draw from real world experiences and people. And I have had some experiences that would make some pretty interesting stories.

 

Back to Class: Poetry Exercises

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With all the different writing classes I’ve taken over the years, I’ve somehow never taken one on poetry. Which is interesting because my love of writing started with poetry. I very quickly realized it was pretty bad though. In my humble opinion I’ve improved a lot, mainly through reading more poetry and a few instructional texts. I still feel that some more instruction and education on the craft could definitely help me. So I enrolled, for free of course in Sharpened Visions: A Poetry Workshop, an online course conducted by California Institute of Arts.

I’m up to the third week and so far it’s really gone down to the basics. Even with the instructional texts I’ve used in the past, I skipped over a lot of the beginning stuff. I skimmed over a lot of it and skipped almost, if not all the exercises, to get to the parts I thought were really interesting.  Participating in this course, I’m more committed to actually putting in the work, which means doing all the exercises even if they seem juvenile. Here’s a couple I’ve completed so far:

Week one–Poetic Lines

This exercise was for the lessons on lines. The following text was presented in a block of text I had to add in my own line breaks.

tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace

from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time;

and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.

out, out, brief candle! life’s but a walking shadow,

a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage

and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot,

full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The piece is an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Check it out, my version made the lines just a bit longer.

Week Two-Abstraction and Image

For this exercise we were supposed write a poem describing an object. The instructions said to be as literal and vivid as possible, and not to use any figures of speech. Not sure how vivid my image is but I like it. I’ll likely keep working it and who knows where it might end up.

 

Clear glass heavy in my hand.

Filled with dark liquid and ice

popping ever so often

as the whiskey melts it down.

A sip, cold

goes down with a slight burn.