books

People Are Strange

I finished reading Catcher in the Rye, and I gotta say it’s an odd book, a quirky tale. Holden Caulfield is by no means your average teenager, but he is not an alien, either; so many people hate Holden, y’know, something I don’t understand.

The argument, I believe, is that the only people who can relate to him are mentally unstable. Okay, so Mark David Chapman reads it, then, what, people are blaming the book? Isn’t that a fallacy, or at the least, one of those conclusions people create that make no friggin’ sense?

I liked it. I really did. I liked that goddamn book.

See, look, now I’m speaking like Holden Caulfield: it’s a spiral, I tell you, and it keeps going downwards. Pretty soon, I’ll be wearing a deer hunter cap and chain smoking cigarettes.

People are strange, though, y’know. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from that book, it’s that people are strange. There’s no logic to it–you can try computing an equation all you want, and nothing’ll come of it but a tired mathematician. Call someone else for that, by the way, ’cause I suck at Math.

There’s strange people at work. at the store, at the intersection right before you turn onto your street. They’re everywhere, man; a bunch of weirdos doing their best to give off an aura of normalcy.

The other day, I saw one in Wal-Mart, word of honor! He had on this bulky cloak and a purple scarf; I also think he was wearing sunglasses…at night. Ah, of course, it didn’t register at first, but now I realize he was an avid Corey Hart fan. Nevermind, dude wasn’t strange, just misunderstood. Then again, I doubt 80’s rock was understood even when it was popular.

You can disagree with me if you want, and I’d like that, truly. You go ahead and think Sunglasses Man was strange, I’m not judging, only writing a blog post about the whole thing.

Yeah, he was strange, but not as strange as Holden. That’s where I think Catcher in the Rye is most effective–its depiction of the ultimate, angsty teen has yet to be rivaled. Could you argue James Dean got close in Rebel Without A Cause? Sure, but ask yourself: would there be a James Dean without a Holden Caulfield?

I dunno, haven’t studied enough of that stuff. Gimme an answer, and I’ll praise you.

Let’s think a moment now. We’ve established people are strange, but we don’t know which people. Is there a certain minority devoted to strange folk? is it why we have all these cults? or is it what we’re denying–we’re all strange in our own freaky way?

Gee, interesting concept, huh? It’s like none of us are the exact same, because that would be super boring.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

Photo Cred: Wired Reader

Alex Schomberg

Does Genre Fiction Get A Bad Rap?

So, is it just me wondering this, or are there a bunch of you curious about the same thing?  Genre Fiction. This is Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Horror, you name it; it’s everything except Literature, and it doesn’t look like its reputation in the the writing community has become any less infamous.

I’m a writer and a reader. I love all books, be they The Silence of the Lambs or Tess of the Durbervilles. ‘Course, the quality wanes in some books, and in others, it surpasses my expectations, but, man, that goes for everything on the planet.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that Literature often criticizes Genre Fiction for not having enough beautiful, inspired prose, while Genre Fiction complains Literature can be boring as hell.

I can see both sides of the argument, and I understand them. They’re rational, for one, and, well, you’re not gonna go to Tarzan of the Apes looking for artful sentence structure, and Tom Wolfe’s writing is not so heart-pounding and adventurous, as it is introspective and inspiring.

The conflict; however, boggles me. Most genre fiction is influenced by classic literature.

We wouldn’t have I Am Legend without Dracula.

We wouldn’t have Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone without The Fellowship of the Ring.

We wouldn’t have Jaws without Moby Dick.

See, comparisons are scattered all over history, but most times, people forget to look.

It’s all art, right? At the end of the day, man, they’re just stories written for different purposes, drawing out different lives and scenarios, putting characters against unimaginable conflicts, hoping they’ll survive.

Books are great. Art is great. Literature and Genre Fiction are great.

Yes, they’re separate in structure and character and conflict and other writerly mumbo-jumbo, but they are connected through the art of writing; and since both are written–well, there’s one comparison.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

Photo Credit: Alex Schomberg

 

Novels Are Tough

Well, I finally finished writing it. It’s simple now, right? All I have to do is send in the manuscript to a publishing company, say, “read my shit,” and it’ll be accomplished, right?

Riiiiighhhht?

God, talking to you guys is like talking to a brick wall. Seriously, do you need some water? Are your throats parched? Worst. Audience. Ever.

I was saying–look at that, you threw me off track. Novels are not an easy task, and I learned that the hard way, having written two in almost under a year. Young amateur like me, I thought, “boy, oh, boy, I can’t wait to get these ideas down on paper!” And it’s not a bad idea, just a lot of time to work on one book over another.

It’s like a coin flip: you have to decide which one you want to complete first, usually that is the one with more promise–the one with a story that makes you sob whenever you read a particular scene. Hard choices, I tell ya, not one of them is easier; however, it is so worth it.

Novels fulfill you in some crazy writing way, as if Buddha and Gandhi had a brain child, and it was the nirvana that comes from scrawling all those thoughts down on paper, or laptop, or tissue/napkin–hey, it happens. You put so much of yourself into the darn thing, once you’ve finished it, a piece of your heart has broken off and is left in the book forever…or, until you rewrite it, again and again and again and–

Actually, I never get it when people are always complaining about how many rewrites they have to complete. Average Joe says he has to do seven rewrites. How in the holy hell is that possible? Then Average Joe’s cousin, Simple Bob, talks about his eleven rewrites! Oh Lord, get me an oxygen mask–I’m running out of air because I’m screaming my lungs out!

I could not stand it if I had to rewrites over the number three, maybe that’s just me–and yes, it probably is just me. Please excuse my out-of-this-world perspective; it’s only a little  strange, like me, in general.

But I’ll let you all get back to your reading and writing and eating and shi–whoah, let’s not go there, shall we? Getting a tad tipsy, aren’t we? Been drinking too much off the water fountain?

How about we get that book published, then you can go crazy.

Unless I already am crazy…

Think daily,

A Southpaw

This Time I Confused C.J Box

A week ago–don’t ask me why I didn’t inform you guys earlier–I met a writer named C.J Box, an interesting dude. Have no idea if any of you have heard of Mr. Box, let alone read his books. Honestly, until then, I had not read one either, so…joke’s on me. Ha ha. Funny.

I was invited to an award luncheon by my local library. The primary reason: I got third place in a mystery story contest. Fun stuff. Anyway, got there, met some folks–isn’t that awkward table talk just the best?–and ate a tasty salad, a tasty chicken, with tasty potatoes and green beans; and, oh, don’t let me forget the delicious chocolate something that looked like a cake, yet tasted like a fondue. I got full pretty fast–but, I am a runner, so…

The luncheon was created around two artists receiving awards, one of those being C.J Box, and the other a kind, local artist by the name of Charles Rockey, who is also a spectacular person, and I love his views on what art should be. It was a meeting of the minds, in other words.

So, get this, I show up to the thing, thinking, “okay, not the only teenager here–won’t be that awkward;” and, lo and behold, there is nothing but a mass of middle-aged men and women putting their fancy fur coats on the coat rack and fawning over the stack of C.J Box books. Then there’s me, a bearded teen in an enormous leather jacket, with a book in one pocket, and two bouncy balls in the other. I smiled at people. Those same people smiled back–some rolled their eyes after smiling, but that’s not the point.

For the most part, I stood around, humming to myself, until the doors opened and we were allowed to go take our seats in the ballroom. A bunch of kids and a few adults sat beside me, and we talked. Thankfully, the awkwardness died out around minute fifteen of companionship. All of the kids were writers who had placed in the contest, but I cannot tell you how the adults got there. I never did ask.

Rockey ended up being sick, unable to show himself, but he made sure a two dimensional bust of himself was present. His daughter shared his words, and they were quite touching; for, to have that feeling of sensing great artistry is hard to come across sometimes. By the way, his book of drawings and stories–a work of fifteen years–was selling for 250 dollars.

Us writers had a chance to talk to C.J Box before he spoke his piece, so, me being me, I went up ready to ask him a question. After we took a picture, he shook my hand and said, “Now, did you have something you wanted to ask me?”

I said, “Are you a plotter or a pantser?”

He squinted a moment, opened his mouth as if to speak, closed it, and said, “A plotter or a   what?”

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a pantser is someone who uses no plans to write stories, but goes with the flow, as they like to politely say. I have confessed to being one myself, since I hate planning out stories.

He told me he outlined every aspect of his story; and, inside, I was wondering how someone could pull that off without getting bored of the story. I spend around four to five months on a novel, and that is without planning. How on Earth can a person plan as long as it takes to plan, then actually write the thing down, and add in a few rewrites afterwards?

Now, I know some of you are shaking your heads at my close-mindedness, but you gotta remember that I’m a teenager, and it is hard to come by these things adults call brains sometimes. I mean, do we have to get a surgeon in here? Feeling empty!

Mr. Box had some great advice in his talk, so I told him after the luncheon had ended and  he was signing my book at his tiny table. I think I was the second to last person in the line. See, I had been smart and waited for all the other guests to get their books signed in the beginning–how’s that teenage brain working now, huh? He said the expected good luck and all that jazz, but he had one more tidbit I thought was hilarious.

Want to know it? Do you really?

Get ready for 25 years of hell.

And I thought, “Buddy, I’m already going through it.”

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

 

 

 

Meet My Cousin: William Shakespeare

OMG! William Shakespeare and I have the same first name–what magic is this? Does that mean we have the same haircut, same beard, same way we put toilet paper on the bathroom roll? Ahhh! I have to reach out to him–have to tell him that we’re practically brothers–

What’s that?

Word has…it has just come in. I apologize, folks; but William Shakespeare is…dead. If you’ll excuse me, I–I have to go shed a few tears and waste three dozen boxes of Kleenex. I’ll be back with a carton of Rocky Road and a plush teddy bear holding a heart.

[Ten hours later]

Well. I have come to the realization that perhaps William Shakespeare and I were not brothers. We were; in fact, cousins from my quadruple ten thousandth–don’t know if that’s a real number–aunt, who was one billion times removed from his great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

I don’t want to think about how much time we lost in connecting with each other.

Oh, the possible memories I could be having right now:

  • Me and Shakes–that’s his pet name–reenacting the death soliloquy from Hamlet.
  • Me and Shakes laughing at the absurd actors who joined his plays.
  • Me and Shakes petting chickens who ran amuck in old England.
  • Me and Shakes watching Breaking Bad, which is Macbeth as a TV show.
  • Me and Shakes tasting all of those tasty shakes at Sonic–then me making fun of him.

Shakespeare, the fun we could have had! Why did you have to leave so early, why; even when you knew I was going to be born in the next ninety hundred something years? I would have acted out all of your plays for you–if only you had stayed alive!

It’s happening again. A breakdown. Everyone leave me in peace, or you will see tears flow as you have never seen them flow before.

Goodbye, cruel Kleenex box with your tissues that scratch the bottom of my nostrils.

Goodbye, plush Shakespeare doll sitting in my closet because it’s where you can find the most artistic inspiration.

Goodbye, all who laughed at me for proposing we had the same name, and who now continue to laugh because I am referring to you in bold text and italics, meaning I am extremely upset and wish you to go away and find solace in a tattered copy of a Shakespearean play.

Goodbye, farewell, adieu, adieu–

But, one more thing before I bust into the Sound Of Music. It’s a question I’ve been contemplating for some time–it is quite the bother, and it goes like so:

To be or not to be.

That is the question.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

Something’s Rotten In The State Of Literature!

Say hello to literary fiction:

This is Hemingway; Dickens; Thackeray; Melville; Dostoyevsky; Shelley; Hawthorne; Wilde ; Joyce; and a bunch of other people whose books have become the gospel of literature. When folks talk about literary merit they are referring to the novels and short stories which have won the acclaim of critics.

Repeat that? Won the acclaim of critics? Boy…they must be skilled–hard enough time it is to work a compliment out of them on a piece of popular fiction…mainstream.

Allow me to introduce popular fiction:

This is King; Koontz; Rice; Rowling; Straub; Dickens–he’s a special guy–and the names written on the novels advertised on the shelves at Wal-Mart. They are good stories: each one–not every one–has well constructed characters and conflicts. Their entertainment value is never-ending.

The problem?

According to literary fiction…popular fiction is trash; it is crap.

That teen vampire novel you finished reading? Crap.

Every dystopian young adult series, excluding The Giver? Crap.

The wonderful wizarding world of the boy who lived? Crap.

Anything not written with symbolism, profound themes, and/or meaningfulness in relation to this whirling torpedo we call life is utter crap; as somewhere along the literary historical timeline one person set a divider between the world of entertainment and the world of meaning.

But the popular writers have their two-bit, as well: apparently all literary writers are snobs who care for nothing but the works which inspire in them eternal meaning–I have used that word a lot; but it is the premise of many a good piece of literature. They like commenting on how those writers never frequent their genres…save for a good laugh at its quality.

The separation is uncanny. Can we not write together?

[Commence playing Why Can’t We Be Friends? by War]

You should; however notice I never said unbreakable divider.

We are all writers here. We are all chasing after ideas–sometimes those ideas can be considered insane; take Poe for instance, he was a creative genius with some questionable ideas. And we have all dreamed of seeing that brilliant letter declaring our acceptance into the publishing realm.

I see it as two children bickering on the playground. The one with the wide rimmed glasses and dress pants is insulting the child wearing Hammer pants and mismatched socks; and the Hammer pants child is criticizing the effort at tidiness taken by the other. Such a battle has no worth to sustain its longevity. Let the kid wear his darn Hammer pants; sure they went out of the style in the 80s, but Shakespeare has been out since the Renaissance.

Put simply: we need to move past those artificial barriers and focus on the real reason for writing, which, as we all know, is enjoyment. We need to go to our writing sanctuaries and write because we love doing so; and then perhaps the desire to criticize will be drowned out by quiet restfulness.

While all books are not to be read under the same light, all books should be read.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

Oh Faulkner, You Writer Genius, You…

I have finally come to a point at which my eyes can read this text without seeing a bunch of scribbly scratches. Granted, I am sitting a foot away from my laptop. Dilation can mess up a good night of reading and writing; and it can give you bowling balls for pupils–score some  strikes with these puppies…

When not handicapped by dilation; however I divulge in the classiest of literature, the creme de la creme of writing–the works of William Faulkner. Did you know he is called the greatest writer of the twentieth century? I mean, Hemingway was good, but…I guess no one likes him.

Recently I have started reading  As I Lay Dying, disputed to be his most popular and symbolic work; aside of course from The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! This is turning out to be a faithful claim. The story is entertaining–it is also quite sad–and the characters are diverse.

Allow me a little aside to mention the extra detail put into these characters. As it is told from multiple first person perspectives the story is separated into three or four page chapters in which the characters–each with their own writing style–describe the conflicts. You catch that? Each character has their own writing style, their own favorite words. And their personalities are brilliantly sketched out through their usage of Southern dialect, such as in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and stream-of-consciousness description.

With that stream-of-consciousness technique comes mild confusion when first experiencing this novel; know you will become lost in the beginning chapters and be forced to read a lengthy passage a second or third time for understanding. That, and the descriptions and the dialogue tend to mix, making for a puzzling shift between perspectives.

As well there are at least seven characters, seven characters with difficult names switching   perspectives at random moments in the story; so if Leo Tolstoy is your favorite writer, then this novel is a guaranteed hit.

Always the thing to draw from Faulkner is his writing style because it is so ruggedly refined. When reading you can tell he created the voice so frequently imitated by Twain and Steinbeck; and it is mastered in As I Lay Dying. The Southern family sounds like a Southern family; the setting looks like a Southern background.

Be sure to pick him up if you have the chance.

And if you have the chance, or the choice, never get dilated. It feels like meat patties on the eyes.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

What Makes Detectives So Enticing?

The other day I was reading over my mystery novella and while I encountered for the fourth time the central detective–the guy is a class act smart ass–I wondered why his snappish personality stuck out more than the rest of the characters. By fictional nature detectives are ofttimes those arrogant people who no one wants to engage in conversation in fear of coming across as unexperienced and, well, dumb; but maybe I am only thinking of Sherlock Holmes. What a prideful–oh, never mind, he stole the words already.

But why are they such charismatic strangers?

Phillip Marlowe comes first to mind. The slumming star of The Big Sleep is a one of a kind wordsmith; he knows so many ways to twist a simile that your mind gets as rattled as a pissed off rattlesnake. Second to his creative skills are his tricks with those dangerous ladies of Hollywood–in The Big Sleep alone he flirts with three dames, all of whom entangle him in near death situations (good thinking, Marlowe), but do eventually bestow upon his sarcastic lips a smooch.

For Marlowe it is easier to tell: he is after all the dirtiest detective in Hollywood; and everyone knows what dirty laundry lurks behind those towering white letters–his unwashed underwear from three weeks ago.

Then you come to someone like Sherlock Holmes, who is the best wisecrack in the biz; if not for his spectacular observation skills he would be starting laughing fits along Baker Street all evening long…and perhaps a gun shot or two, because, c’mon, it’s Sherlock Holmes–who doesn’t want to silence his jabbering mouth?

Answer: John Watson, his one true love.

Aside from Watson; however Holmes falls short of Marlowe in the affection department, but makes up for it using his unique charm: informing the women of his dreams of their imperfections and, sometimes, old flames which they have not yet blown out.

If any ladies wish to contact Mr. Sherlock Holmes for this special treatment, then kindly visit 221 Baker Street. The door will be open and he will be waiting.

It seems the endearing quality in these literary investigators is sarcasm. Who knew they could be so good at talking? It’s not as if they interview witnesses or anything…

Think daily,

A Southpaw

Least Miserables Book Ever… Just Kidding. It Sucks.

Do not read Les Miserables if you are afflicted with any of the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Deriving Humor From the Pain of Poor People
  • Zero Tolerance For Sometimes Pointless Tangents From the Story
  • Hairy Mustache
  • Hungry Stomach
  • A Tendency to Kick Baby Unicorns

I am dead serious, people. This book is classic because of its depressing storyline–well, and the play and movie it spawned…but mostly the storyline. You will leave each reading session thinking to yourself: why am I still interested in reading about this poor neglected child, or even that saintly criminal who hates himself every single chapter? What’s that? Take a break and learn about the Battle of Waterloo? Okay, why not?

My God, there are also times when I question my patience with some writers, specifically Victor Hugo and his tendency to drag on about things which do not directly relate to the storyline but for a snippet at the end of a section. Granted, he was born into a literary family, and all know with literary families there is going to be heavy doses of symbolism or deeper meanings in their works. And he was in the French Revolution–anything to take time away from there was crazily sought after.

But if you do enjoy books about the struggles of poverty stricken families–cough cough, sadist–and you can stand long trips into other realms of Paris and the warlike atmosphere, like me, then Les Miserables is your book.

And quit kicking those baby unicorns.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

 

Talking Like A Sailor–Not Swearing

One of the things I love most about Moby-Dick is its realistic dialogue: while reading of the endeavors of the crew of the Pequod and the ballistic Captain Ahab you feel as if you are stowing away inside the ship and listening to the commonplace interactions between sailors–except there are no rats, nor are there leaks…unless you like to read in the bathtub.

The words they use sound lifelike–granted, sailors have a special lingo like that of businessmen: instead of data they say stowage; instead of bathroom they say poop deck; and while these words are enjoyable they are nothing compared to a good ol’ Aargh! or Shiver me timbers! 

But I am talking about whaling sailors, not cartoonish pirates. Here’s looking at you, Blackbeard.

Ahab is by far the most articulate individual aboard. Whenever he comes into the next chapter a shiver runs down your spine–and as you change your drawers you hear aloud his insulting orders towards Starbuck–hey, isn’t that the coffee place?–and Stubb.

My favorite line is from Ahab: “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.”  To me that sounds supremely badass. I picture a muscle bound Ahab with a gold casing on the tip of his peg  leg soaring on a white whale bone sled towards the jeering sun. Not enough badass? Give him a harpoon gun fueled by the blood of Moby Dick that fires high velocity water torpedoes. And a dragon–put a dragon at the front of the sled.

I am reasonably sure there are sailor dictionaries out there in the wide world of this-book-is-random-but-it-is-still-loads-of-fun-to-read sections. If I checked out the comedy section in Barnes and Noble it would likely be stowed between a copy of training a crocodile to drink tea and the Klingon dictionary–my uncle can converse in the language.

Take this as a book recommendation. Go find a copy of Moby-Dick to educate yourself in the cultured dialogue of whalers, if not to savor the knowledgable bits on the actual topic of whaling. Herman Melville knew his stuff…

Think daily,

A Southpaw