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.

 

The Tower’s Coming

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I’m pretty excited about The Dark Tower movie. I realize it’s not an adaptation of the books, that would pretty much be impossible. Unlike most people I’m saving my criticism until after I see the movie. But judging from the trailer, released this past week, it looks pretty good. It’s been over a decade since the final book of the series was published and more years than I’d rather say since I read the first book. Needless to say my memory of the story was a little fuzzy. So I thought it’d be fun to reread the entire series before seeing the movie.  In addition, I was basically a kid when I first read it. (Seriously, I started reading adult books at an early age, and Stephen King’s were among the first.) I thought it would be a different experience reading it as an adult, and also back to back. While the first three were already published when I started and the fourth came out about a year later, I still had to endure the tortuously long wait for the last three.

I wasn’t much surprised by the first book. While I may have forgotten details, I knew most of the basic plot. The biggest difference this time around was the “Hey Jude” reference. I only had a vague idea of the song when I was a kid. This time around I could not get it out of my head. Moving on to the later books, I was surprised by how much of the story I didn’t remember. I really can’t believe how much of the books I forgot, like the cliffhanger with Blaine, the entire Susan Delgado story line, main character deaths, and the actual ending to the entire series.

While my memory of reading it the first time was fuzzy I do think reading it all back to back was a very different experience. For one I really was so immersed in the world of the books I had moments where I caught myself thinking in Mid-World speak. I was also able to catch a lot more of the minor connections. I likely didn’t catch the references to other stories he wrote because I hadn’t actually read them yet. But the time between books in the series kept me from catching connections within the story. I’m sure there’s lots of things I missed the first time around. Some were minor and I’m already having trouble remembering them. One that stayed with me was the changes in the way time moved in Mid-World. I realized the changes reflect the character Stephen King’s progress writing. The first few books were written over a span of many years, that’s when time in Mid-World had slowed down. Later in the series time speeds up. Those books were all published much closer together and the journal entries of King’s character discusses the freakish speed of his writing pace for at least one of these later novels.

The last thing that struck me in a different way was King inserting himself into the story. When I first read it, I thought it was very strange and kind of narcissistic. But also it seemed almost like he just ran out of other ideas. I realized now that it really couldn’t have gone any other way. In fact, I started thinking that it was set up from the beginning to go that way. I felt like through out the books there were hints that the characters and worlds were a creation of someone’s mind. For example, Eddie Dean’s Co-Op city being in Brooklyn. (Another detail I didn’t catch as a kid, this time around I kept thinking that couldn’t be right.) The books specifically point out he’s not actually their creator or Gan itself, simply writing the story he hears in the song. But it is possible that because he writes them they exist, a power similar to Patrick’s, instead of drawing things into existence he writes them.

I’d love to hear what you other Stephen King and Dark Tower fans think. Comment to let me know if you’re looking forward to the movie, when you last read the books or any other thoughts you have.

 

 

What is the Kafka myth? 

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Before I even moved in September, I located the nearest public library. Luckily, it is within walking distance. It was one of my the places I visited after the move. Since I’ve gotten a card I’ve tried to visit every couple of weeks. On one of my first visits I found the book, Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes. I actually haven’t read much of Kafka’s writing, but Metamorphosis is one of favorite books. I found it in my high school library and loved it so much it became the topic of an English paper. For which I read The Trial and compared the two stories. I didn’t know much about Kafka or even his significance in literature at that time. It seems my ignorance might have been a blessing.

According to Hawes, much of what we think we know about Kafka is not actually true. Much of what people think they know about him is actually part of a constructed image he refers to as the K-myth. Mainly this mythology promotes the idea of a poor, lonely, writer who suffered working a bureaucratic job. It goes into greater detail about so called facts about the writer and his work. Thankfully, most of which I had never heard. Hawes alleges, the less you know the greater chance you’ll enjoy reading Kafka. Below I’ve listed a few of the ones I found most interesting.

  • Kafka was poor. Okay so he did work a bureaucratic job that he wanted to leave. But being poor was not the reason. The author points out he made much more money than the average worker. Not only that he lived with his middle class family most of his life, owned a business with them, and was paid for his writing.
  • He was ignored by contemporaries and unknown in his lifetime. It’s hard to be unknown when you are publishing stories in prestigious journals. He was also in the same social circles as his contemporaries. In fact they arraigned for him to be  awarded the prize money for an award given to another writer. He may not have been world famous during his lifetime, but he was well known in his city’s cultural society.
  • His work is based on his experience as a Jew and Jewishness is vital to understanding his writing. I’m not sure something like this should be said of any writer ever. But the author also points out that Jewishness wasn’t actually a large part of his life. Why then would it take up so much in his writing.

Where Has My Love For Bookstores Gone

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I remember loving to visit different bookstores when I was younger. I had a few in particular that I loved to visit often and I could spend hours wondering around. Not just the small bookstores either, Barnes & Noble was like heaven for me. But recently I’ve realized that almost every time I go in a one I can’t wait to leave. I noticed the change a while ago at Barnes & Noble. It was right about when they made it easier and more comfortable for people to sit and read in the store by adding chairs. (Most likely to stop people from sitting in the aisles reading, which I never understood.) I’m not sure why but the whole ordeal annoyed me and the stores always seemed so much more crowded.

But even in small bookstores these days I just don’t enjoy looking around as much as I used to. I wonder if it’s actually the stores themselves or the actual reading materials that they carry. They don’t give me the same feeling of peace and solitude, I just feel uncomfortable. But it could just as easily be that there’s nothing in the stores that actually captures my attention. I do admit in the rare occasion that I find a used bookstore, I tend to linger much longer.

But then again it could just be me. It has been a long time since my high school days when I spent the most time in bookstores. I’ve found a lot of different and I guess more exciting ways to spend my time.

Battle lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War

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A little over a week ago I attended a reading and discussion at the Greenlight Bookstore with the authors of Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, Ari Kelman and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Though it wasn’t really what I was expecting I really enjoyed it. I found the event on the Poets & Writers local app, listed as a creative nonfiction talk. The book in comic form consist of 15 chapters that open focused on a single object, and then open up to a larger story covering the war and later reconstruction from different perspectives. Since there’s very little text they were able to read two chapters from the book before discussing the writing process and taking questions.

They began with Chapter 2, which discussed the conflicting nature of a country founded on freedom but allowed slavery. It reviewed legislation that attempted to control the spread of slavery and protect the rights of slave owners. Discussing the clashes between abolitionist and slave owners that ultimately led to the war. Chapter 5 began with the image of a bullet and described how new technology changed warfare and more severely wounded soldiers. Focused on one dying soldier it outlined how the new bullets combined with lack of medical technology led to more deaths than previous wars and introduced women’s role in the war as nurses tending to the wounded.

Both the writers were entertaining and gave a lot of insight into the production of the book. Describing how they collaborated by Ari, the historian, emailing Jonathan a small synopsis of each chapter to be sketched out and scripted. It seems a lot of detail went into ensuring the accuracy of the stories and the images. They incorporated real stories from diaries and historic documents from the time. Jonathan also had to do research for the visual aspects, which luckily there were a few sources, including photographs and sketches. He also found that reenactors where very helpful.

As they spoke you could see that they seemed to complement each other well. They both seemed to have a vision of bringing to life the story of the war that most people never learn about. Ari said when they began, he told Jonathan he didn’t want Lincoln to appear in the book. Jonathan responded by saying he didn’t want anything people knew about in it.

I have to say for somebody that usually has little interest in American history I think I’d actually really enjoy this book. Unfortunately, due to my lack of funds I was unable to purchase my own copy. But I might have to pick one up in the future.

Fitting Poetry In Everyday

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For the past year or so I have wanted to get back into writing poetry. However, it’s been a while and I feel kind of rusty. I figured the best way to get back into the flow would be to read more poetry. In high school I took a great deal of interest in poetry reading and writing, but eventually my excitement for poetry faded. I decided to move on to other types of writing and never seemed to find my way back. Other than one or two, I can’t really name poets that I like, inspire me, or that I want to aspire to. To get myself going, I asked around members of online groups for others favorite poets, especially contemporary ones. Armed with a list I hit up the library checking out more than I could carry. I resolved to read at least a couple of poems everyday. However, it was a task I found in reality was just not happening.

I realize now that in the past I had lots of free time on my hands. At lunch during high school, I would frequently visit a neighborhood bookstore buying anthologies of poetry for a dollar or two. I’d spend the rest of my break sitting around reading them. Then I had days where I would just wander around the city finding hidden secluded places to read. I’m pretty sure those days ended right after high school granWith all the demands on my time now I can’t even remember to pick up a book of poetry most days. Plus the fast pace of life and trying to keep up with several commitments at once I feel like I don’t have time for it either. I’ve always had this perception of poetry reading as a leisurely activity that needs to be done with no distractions. But my world will always be filled with distractions and I’m not going to be living the life of leisure anytime soon.

Luckily, I think I found a way to get past all of this and get in poetry everyday. I signed up for daily poem emails, one from the Poetry Foundation and the other Poetry.org. Now everyday without thinking about it I am reminded to stop for a minute and read a poem. It may be rushed some days, a quick scan as I clean out my inbox for the day, but at least it’s in there. Usually I’ll save the ones I like in a folder, hopefully to go over again later. One of the best parts of the emails is finding writers that I may have never thought to read or even heard of.  Most of my adult life now I’ve let poetry take a backseat to higher priority obligations, but it’s something that always comes back to mind as something I should have always put more effort into. I know poetry may never be a profitable endeavor but that has never been the purpose of it. I just enjoyed it.

First comic convention

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So I haven’t written on here in a long time. Life’s been I would like to say crazy but in reality it’s been pretty boring. Well not that I haven’t been busy or anything just nothing too exciting going on. Same old stuff as usual, school, work, life. Still looking an internship so I can finally be done with school. Finally found a part-time job. Other than that haven’t been up to much and haven’t really worked on anything worth writing about. However, I did attend my first comic book convention a couple weeks ago. So I thought I’d write a quick little something.

I’ve been into comic books since I was in elementary school but had some long gaps in time where I’ve gone without them. I jump off and on to the bandwagon every now and then when something catches my eye, for example of course now The Walking Dead and I went through a Darkness phase for a long time.

This was a small affair. Nothing close to the legendary Comiccon but it definitley got me excited for it. So for those that don’t know comic book conventions are bunch of tables with different comic stores selling all their crap in one place. The up side is you can find almost anything you want and can get some really great deals. The down side is going through all said crap. It’s really not very exciting at all and truthfully can be quite boring. Oh and all the walking around is extremely exhausting. But there were some really cool things to see in general. There was some amazing artwork on display from different artist. Of course this is the year of the zombie so everybody had zombie everything. One table had movie posters, book covers, etc all zombied out, it was actually really nice but they cost $30 bucks way too much for my cheap self. And the cutest thing was a little kid dressed up as Spiderman.

But I had a great time. Come on shopping and looking for deals that is what I live for. So happily I was able to get a fat ass Captain America book. (Yes I like Captain America) I also got a couple of The Darkness one off books for a buck each and a comic about Jack the Ripper. Oh and an extra bonus I got to meet Henry Winkler a.k.a. The Fonz. (yeah I have no idea why he was there either)

 I’m pretty sure this is the beginning of an expensive new habit.

Heavy Metal Horror Anthology Ebook

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Heavy Metal Horror ebook cover

Excerpt from She Isn’t Real by Me, published in Rymfire books Heavy Metal Horror Anthology Ebook.

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They were in Park Slope and she led him up the avenues towards Prospect Park. He wondered where exactly it was that she lived. As they walked he tried to make small talk. Actually, he was babbling as a result of being a little drunk, nervous and insecure. He was amazed that she seemed perfectly sober. Meanwhile, he could barely walk straight.

“So how long have you lived around here?”

“A very long time. You know, we’re not too far from the park, I say we take a little detour and walk through the park for a bit. I just love walking through it at night and haven’t done it in a while.”

“Well, I guess we could. Don’t you think that’s a little dangerous though? I’ve heard a lot of stories about people being mugged or even killed there even in broad daylight.”

“Awww, you scared? Don’t worry I’ll protect you. Trust me I think I’m a more dangerous than any criminal you’ll find there.” She teased him, as they reached the park and turned into it.

“No I’m not scared, but I’m not stupid either and don’t like to attract trouble.”

“Well in that case you shouldn’t have started talking to me in the bar.” She whispered as they headed toward one of the wooded areas.

He started to get a little nervous. He thought, Oh great, I knew this was too good to be true.  She’s a little wacked.  Of course that’s my luck. Well that’s not always a bad thing and it’s not really that dangerous, is it?

As they walked deeper into the park it got darker and creepier. Jack started to get a little nervous and scared. “Maybe we should head back. I can barely see right in front of me. I’m not up for getting lost in the park in the middle of the night.”

“Don’t worry I know the park real good.  I’m in here all the time, we won’t get lost.”

“I thought you said you hadn’t been in here for a while.”

“Did I? Oh well maybe it hasn’t been that long.”  She smiled but this time it wasn’t the sweet smile he had seen on her all night, there was something odd about it. He also thought her voice seemed to have dropped a couple octaves. “If you want, we can stop here for a second and just talk. There are a couple of benches over there.” She said while pointing out into the darkness.

Before he could even respond she hooked his arm, pulled him hard and started leading toward the benches. They got to the benches and sat for a minute. Then without a word Liz hopped on Jack’s lap and kissed him. Then she ran her tongue down along his neck. As they are kissed he felt like they were being watched. He even thought he saw somebody walking in the shadows a couple feet away. He quietly freaked out but didn’t want to seem like a complete pussy so he kept it to himself. All of a sudden he felt her bite his neck, hard, really hard.

To find out what happens you have to order the ebook.

Order your copy here http://rymfireebooks.com/HMHorror.html

Blood & Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel By Peter Krass

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Blood and Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel

Jack Daniels is a favorite drink of mine, so when I saw this book it piqued my curiosity. I thought, “Jack Daniels was a real person?” Turns out the author is often asked this same question by friends he explains in the introduction. Well to answer the question yes the man behind this fine whiskey was indeed a Mr. Jack Daniel himself. A young boy from Lynchberg, Tennessee, who worked his way from a farm hand to one of the most successful distillers in America.

If your looking for tales of the wild west or an elicit bootlegger, you will not find it here. Jack youngest of ten siblings, and the runt of the family, was an orphan by the age of fifteen. Taken in by neighbors he worked hard as a farm hand then later learned the art of distilling whiskey from his caretaker and mentor. Jack Daniel is described as being a pillar of the community and a hardworking, honest, giving, southern gentleman.

The writer explains that not much is known about the actual man, there isn’t much in public records about Jack Daniels and even to his ancestors he is somewhat more of a myth than a real man. Therefore much of the book reads like a chapter in American history. Luckily though there are random interesting anecdotes and facts thrown in that keep the story interesting. For example, where the name Old No. 7 came from, similarities between Jack and one of his biggest competitors now Jim Beam, and the battles with the prohibition forces through out his entire career.

I would highly recommend this book to any history buffs. Personally, as much I like history I’ve never been a fan of American history, so there were many times where I became bored and frustrated while reading. However, I am glad I pushed past it and was able to finish it. 200162856-001Now I feel like the next time I pour a glass I’ll appreciate it that much more.

The Book of Dahlia By Elisa Albert

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In The Book of Dahlia, Elisa Albert introduces us to Dahlia Finger, a 29 year old slacker from a broken, over-privileged family. Living in a Venice cottage purchased by her father she spends her days smoking pot and watching the same old movies over and over. Her biggest concern at the moment is awaiting the results from the GRE; she took them in the hopes of going back to school even though she had no clue what to do with her life. Then it happened, the moment that would change her life forever, a near fatal  seizure. A symptom of a terminal brain tumor in Dahlia’s head.

With the help of “The Book”, a self-help book for cancer patients, she recollects various moments of her life that may hold the answer to why her. We follow Dahlia as she tries to comes to terms with her life, disease and her overwhelming sense of doom from a death sentence. Meanwhile,  everybody around her tries to keep a positive attitude for her.

The book was extremely hard to put down but at the same time at some points was hard to read. As I read I couldn’t help but feel for Dahlia and relate to many of the struggles she has as a child, teenager and later as a slacker graduate with no direction. I can easily see why this novel was one of Entertainment Weekly’s top ten fiction picks last year. The sarcastic wit and sadistic humor make it an easy read while the powerful subject matter makes you truly rethink your own mortality.