Books and Reading: My Best Reads of 2013

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Being an English  Literature major means that I’ve begun to read some very interesting novels.

My World Lit professor this past term was very fond of European avant-garde works. We read a lot of banned books and fiction written by authors who went against convention, and in some cases, the party line, to tell their stories. I want to share a few of my favorites with you.

  1. The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov.
    • This novel features the devil in Moscow. A thinly-veiled satirical critique of the arts society in Marxist Russia due to Lenin’s rule of “creation for support of the Communist Party” which discouraged anything that wasn’t pro-Communist. This novel is a hoot: it features not only the Devil, but his comrades are a shady jester, a human- sized smart-mouthed cat, and one of the creepiest and weirdest thugs (Azazello, the fanged man in the bowler hat) that I’ve ever encountered in fiction. True to much modernist fiction, there are subplots a-plenty, including one of the writer’s account of Pontius Pilate, a black magic theater which goes awry, and a love story between a married woman (the Margarita) and an author placed in a mental asylum for “going against the grain” (the Master). Margarita will do anything to return to her lover’s side, including making a deal with the devil. A funny and insightful novel full of hidden symbols that expose the hard life for artists in Soviet Russia.
  2. We. Yevgeny Zamyatin. 
    • Thought by many scholars of European literature to be one of the precursors to dystopian fiction, and inspired other books in the genre, such as 1984 by George Orwell. I read this book for my research essay in World Lit on the advice of my instructor, one of the professors I came to admire my first term and who came to know me well enough to know that I would like this bizarre, futuristic science fiction story. We is such a critical expose of Soviet Russia that the book would not be published there until the 1960s. The story takes place in the One State, ruled by a totalitarian figure known as the Benefactor, and aided by a KGB-type secret police called Guardians. The citizens are known ciphers and given a combination of letter and numbers for names. Imagination and dreams are considered mental illness and individuality is punishable by forced lobotomization or death. The protagonist, spaceship engineer D-503, finds himself in turmoil after meeting the revolutionary woman cipher I-330, whom he is sexually obsessed with, despite her rebellious ways. I have to say this is now one of my favorite science fiction books of all time.
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque.
    • One soldiers intimate account of the horrors of World War 1, this novel was one of the first books targeted in Adolf Hitler’s book-burning campaign after he came to power. It was banned in Germany and elsewhere throughout its history of publication, sometimes for the rough interpretation of war and for language that today we would consider mild. Still, you won’t view war the same way again after reading this novel.
  4. Steppenwolf. Herman Hesse
    • A truly bizarre novel that serves as a critique of the bourgeois society. One of the many novels I read that focused on individuality and freedom of expression. Reading this novel is a treat that has to be experienced. Harry Haller calls himself The Steppenwolf, a wolf of the Steppes, a self-styled gloomy loner who is uncomfortable in society, yet suffers from intense loneliness. He believes that if he can’t find an end to his suffering before he reaches middle-age, he will commit suicide. Then he meets an oddball assortment of characters that put on a Magic Theater just for him (with the warning “Not for everybody. For madmen only”), to show him how to not take himself so seriously. Does it work? Read the novel.
  5. The Street of Crocodiles. Bruno Schulz. 
    • A  beautifully surreal, magical, and bizarrely painted portrait of childhood and memory. The ugliness of industrialization is the underlying message in this Polish masterpiece. This is not a long book, a little over one hundred pages, and if you needed to teach a lesson on what an unreliable narrator is, this is your book. Told through the eyes of a little boy, this story follows his life with his merchant father, who is dead at the end of every chapter yet alive again at the beginning of the next one. It is a tale of trauma and grief seen through the memory of a child. It is a weird, and wonderful little book.
  6. Ragtime. E.L. Doctorow. 
    • Doctorow gives us an unabashed glimpse of life in 1920s America. Early labor movements and American socialism are covered, as is the topic of race relations and the mistreatment of African Americans. Unfortunately, the film is not as good. It focuses on the racial story, but sidesteps the struggles for worker’s rights and the early feminism of characters like Emma Goldman. Nothing wrong with telling the racial story, but the other elements of the book make for a much more complete account of the complexity of the era and its subcultures, early activism and immigrant flavor in a burgeoning melting pot.
  7. Ferdydurke. Witold Gombrowicz. 
    • By far one of the strangest books I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot of strange books this past year. This is also a rare book, you might be able to get a used copy from Amazon, but you’d spend less for a new one. The plot of Ferdydurke (Polish literal translation: Thirty Door Key) is the main character’s denial of adult responsibility and the return to the devil-may-care individuality and irresponsibility of youth. The story begins when 30-year-old Joey is “abducted” by his former schoolmaster and sent back to school. He boards with a socialite family and becomes obsessed with the wealthy daughter. He has various absurd and fantastical adventures with one of his classmates. All in an attempt to deny responsibility. This book is full of funny weird prose, and plots, subplots and insanity. Two seemingly unrelated stories are tucked in, chapters 4 and 5, about  A Child in Filidor, but looking beneath the surface of them, they definitely are part of the whole. This  book wants to kick you in the ‘pupa.’ What does that mean? Read it.
  8. Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. ed Mark C. Carnes. 
    • When you watch a Hollywood film that is “supposed” to be about an actual historical event such as Patton, Bonnie and Clyde, or Glory, how do you know if what’s on the screen is what really went down? This book of essays by historians, which was sort of a textbook used in my Film and American History class, explains the importance of knowing the difference between historical fact and creative license. Each essay breaks apart a historical film and tells you what really happened and what the producers added for “entertainment value.”

I recommend these books to any reader’s “to-read” list.

What good books have you read this past year?

2014: The Year of Getting Serious Again

Happy-2014-free-wallpaper

First, to Everyone who reads this, Happy Holidays! I wish that all of your wishes come true during the next year and that you live life to its maximum capacity. Always.

This past year has been rewarding and challenging. I graduated with my associates degree, lost one job and got another with the same employer (lost student assistant job at St. Petersburg College when I graduated and got hired back on a few months later as an OPS writing tutor), started new university to go for the bachelors degree, moved into a new apartment  in the downtown area, and gave up my car (it was a piece of shit anyway) for the benefit of walking for exercise.

I was busy writing many essays for my junior year at the University of South Florida, so my creative writing efforts suffered a little. But those essays helped me improve my writing, and I hope all future academic witting will do the same.

For my resolutions in 2014, I don’t have many. I’m keeping it simple and doable.

  1. Continue to improve my health by walking. School and grocery is within walking distance from me now, as well as many other activities and entertainments that the downtown St. Pete area has to offer.
  2. Write new stories. Turn on my creative juices and get them flowing whenever possible. Write for fun, but also write for publications. Poems, too. I want to write some more poetry in 2014.
  3. Submit stories and poetry to major publications and journals. I’ve already started on this one. I’ve submitted my previously unpublished award-winning short story Parker’s Pygmalion to Glimmer Train literary magazine and three unpublished poems to Northwestern U’s Tri-Quarterly journal. I’ve started some fantasy and sci-fi stories that are pretty good so far, I just need to finish them and get them out into some slush piles. I will also continue to try and get some previously published stories reprinted.
  4. Keep my magazine going. My side-project as publisher and editor of the spec-fic ezine The Were-Traveler has taken a toll on my sanity this year. Finding time to read and respond to stories while reading 2-3 books a week for lit classes has been very challenging, but I have no desire to stop doing it now. In fact, I’m even more determined to make it work. I may ask for help along the way, but I’m definitely keeping it going. I nominated 3 stories to Critter’s P&E Readers Poll and wish I could have showered other writers with that kind of love and recognition. I’m still trying to find all those yearly award venues out there, where I can give my authors the cred they deserve. If any of my readers have recommendations, please let me know.
  5. Keep my sanity at school, work, writing, editing, publishing. This is a given. I must maintain a sensible balance to this crazy happening that is my life. Need to breathe a little in between and enjoy other things, too. Relax, take deep breaths, meditate.

That’s it. I’ll probably add goals as I go along through the first part of the year, but this is enough to start with.

I hope all of your goals for the coming year lead to success and happiness.

About Time…and the lack thereof…

cropped-blue-keyboard-lrg.jpgIt’s been a good long while since I’ve written a blog post. I wanted to maintain regular posts after graduation from SPC, but then life started throwing me lemons and rather than make lemonade, I decided to become even more gloomy and depressed than I had been already. I lost my air conditioning during the hottest part of the summer in my little mobile home. I began my first semester at the University of South Florida by taking two long bus-rides to the St. Petersburg campus and then home again, leaving in the morning to get to an early afternoon class and night when I arrived back home—me being too tired to do much of anything. My old Macbook died before I could transfer over files and documents from it, so I lost a lot of writing I’d done. I managed to have most of my “Quellseek” novel on flash drive, so a major crisis was diverted there. All-in-all, when I should have been celebrating after getting my AA degree, crap started hitting the fan as they say, and I didn’t enjoy either the summer I had off, nor the thrill of starting a new university. School has also been a challenge. I’m either reading or writing (academic papers). I haven’t written a poem or a creative piece, or a blog post—not counting the editorials I do for the issues of The Were-Traveler—in a long time now.

Sorry to contradict you, Stones, but Time has not been On My Side lately.

I put some of my saved cash aside and managed to get into a nice little apartment three blocks from both campus and the local grocery chain store. I have my own little den, where I study and do my academic writing. I got rid of the car that was costing me too much time and money, and moved to walker’s paradise of Downtown St. Petersburg. I’m already losing weight from all the walking I’m doing.

School is still an enormous pressure, but I already feel better…less depressed and more energized and focused.

Even better news is that the Muse has been visiting me with ideas again. I’ve started no new stories or worked on any older stuff (rescued from the flash drive) as yet, but I feel confident that I will soon. I’ve downloaded some images to start doing writing prompts on this blog again, and I will post one very soon.  Also, there may be another cause for celebration here very soon, but I can’t spill the beans on that yet…not until it’s official. I anticipate that news to come within the next week or two.

While the struggle to manage what little time I have for my own pursuits continues, I have been setting new goals with plans for life and writing. They are:

  1. To continue working on “Quellseek: Army of Empaths.” I was lucky that I only lost one chapter when my old computer died. And I remember much about the chapter I lost, so rewriting shouldn’t be too hard. But, I need to DO IT!
  2. Two ideas involving the future of animal intelligence have shaped themselves (sort of) into story plots. One will be called Eros and Mathilda and will focus on two couples: one human, the other chimpanzee. The primate cousins have had their intelligence raised, at a cost. NOTE: this is not Planet of the Apes type story. The other story also involves a primate, but it’s not the focus of the story. This story, untitled as yet, is a futuristic carnival in which the animals are more intelligent than the humans. The primate in question, for example, is a 2nd half of a hurdy-gurdy duo who has just joined an animal performers union. Yeah, it will be just a little bizarre.
  3. Poetry. In one of my upcoming terms, I hope to take a poetry writing class. I would like to improve my skills in writing poetry.
  4. Get my literary short story, Parker’s Pygmalion, up on Smashwords or Amazon. Somewhere. Anywhere.
  5. I need to submit some stuff. Somewhere. Anywhere. I’ve focused the last year on publishing and editing The Were-Traveler. I need to spend the coming year getting my own work back out in the markets. In order to do that, I need to…
  6. Write. WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Then write some more.
  7. Get through my first term at USF. Survive. After term, go to Sake Bomb and have a sake or two. Or three.

I have other goals, pertaining to my new apartment and new life in the downtown. The ones above are what I need to work on to get the creative juices flowing again.

Look for more posts soon. I will try to avoid long disappearing acts. I promise, I will try.

 

2013: Adaptations

© Redshinestudio - Fotolia.com

© Redshinestudio – Fotolia.com

Here we are, this year coming to a close and staring down the barrel of a new one.

2012 was a great year. Many good things happened. I won some awards both for academics and for writing. I didn’t publish as many short stories, but I feel like the ones I did publish were better stories. I got paid for my first story, Nowhere Land, and that story got some great reviews. I had my first reprint: my story The ABCs of the Apocalypse was reprinted in The Best of Friday Flash, Volume 2. I had a vampire story, The Bloodletter’s Tale, published in the Flashes in the Dark e-zineI have a story called The Apprentice’s Mother, being published in the Sunday Snaps anthology soon.

I ventured into journalism, writing a story for the school online newspaper about President Obama’s visit to one of our campuses.

I was nominated by my school for the All Florida Academic Team. I had a short story win two academic awards.

I did not do everything I planned to do in 2012. I’m still working on getting my book of short stories finished and out there in the world.

That being said, my list for 2013 contains some items of old business.

There are also some major changes in store for me in 2013, some life adaptations that I’ll be making. But as a friend of mine, Sophie Solitaire once told me: “You have to adapt or you will die.” Sophie is a character in my post-apocalyptic story Sophie Solitaire: Confessions of an End-Time Girl. 

2013 Goals:

Writing/Publishing Goals:

Kill the Crow — Get the stories that are going in it finished, get them all assembled in anthology format and find beta readers for the book. Find out how I can publish to both Smashwords and Amazon. If anyone reading this can help me with beta reading or publishing suggestions, please comment. I need all the help I can get.

Quellseek: Army of Empaths, Book 1 — This is the novel I started for NaNoWriMo this year. I want to finish it and let it sit for a bit before I start editing. I’ve also begun note-taking and planning the second book of the series: Blood War. 

Blood War: Army of Empaths, Book 2 — The second book of Army of Empaths. I won’t give too much away, but Quellseek ends with some cliffhanger stuff. I want to start work on Blood War right way, while the momentum and juices are still hot and flowing.

Army of Empaths, Book 3 — I want to begin planning what’s going to happen in the 3rd book while I’m writing the 2nd book, taking notes as I go along on anything that might be a loose end that would need wrapping up. We don’t like loose ends.

Short stories  — I’d like to get some short stories written, I don’t know if I’ll have time. If I get invited to write another eMergent story, I’d definitely say ‘yes.’ I love working with Jodi Cleghorn and the eMergent crew.

I’m also planning a children’s fantasy about a dragon princess, but it’s just in the beginning/tinkering stages right now. And I’m playing with the idea of putting  a volume of poetry together.

The Were-Travler My first year as a fiction magazine publisher went pretty smoothly. Ever since the mag was listed on Duotropes, the submissions have been pouring in. It may be that I’ll need someone to help me with it eventually, but I’m having a lot of fun with it and definitely plan to keep it going.

Academic Goals:

Find a new school. In May, I will receive my Associates degree. I need to make up my mind about what university I’m going to attend to get my Bachelors. I need to make this decision soon. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve applied for some scholarships, we’ll see what happens. 

Awards. I’m trying to get another short story ready for Phi Theta Kappa Regional Awards for this year. I’m also entering a poem.

Survive Spanish 2. I need to pass this class in the Spring. It will count toward my BA. I haven’t been able to practice my Spanish much since I took Spanish 1 in the summer, so this will be hard. I may have to get a tutor. 😦

This is what I hope to accomplish for 2013. If I can achieve a fraction of it, I’ll be happy.

I wish everyone a successful and happy new year ahead!

NaNoReMo: The Classics and the Frugal Reader

It's National Novel Reading Month!

A Twitter writer friend, John Wiswell, had the awesome idea of reading classic books for NaNoRemo: National Novel Reading Month. A bunch of us have jumped on the wagon and are perusing lists of classic books and trying to decide what to read. We’re tweeting our progress with the hashtag #NaNoReMo.

What constitutes a classic? Here’s a list to help: Modern Library 100 Best Novels. Thanks to Danielle La Paglia for the link.

I’ve seen film adaptations of several of the eBooks I downloaded, but have never read the actual books. I’m determined to rectify that, since more often than not the book is better than the film. I’ve already started my NaNoReMo with Frankenstein. I may try to fit The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in as well, since some of the other participants are going to be reading it. Reading classic fiction can be hard, especially fiction that falls under the “literary” umbrella. Participant Tony Noland recommends two websites to help with reading a challenging book: How To Read a Difficult Book and Tough Tomes. Of course, if you’re not enjoying any book, don’t torture yourself. There’s nothing more agonizing than trying to plow through a book you’re not connecting with.

A great way to join us in NaNoReMo is through Amazon’s free eBook Kindle store. You don’t need a Kindle to download Kindle books. You can download the Kindle app to your PC, Mac or phone. I have Kindle on my iPhone 4. I have always had it and don’t really see the need to purchase a Kindle. My phone goes everywhere I go, so I can read anytime I like. Amazon has an iPhone app for its Kindle Store, too, so getting new titles is as easy as tapping the screen. I know free eBooks don’t have the best formatting, but they’re FREE! And when you’re a college student like I am, on a shoestring budget, FREE is GOOD. I can look past crappy formatting for now. But we all have different preferences when it comes to reading eBooks. If you have a hard time dealing with formatting issues, please see the section below on Project Gutenberg.

Amazon Kindle Store: Some of the classics I downloaded for FREE on Amazon’s Kindle Store:

  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Around the World in Eighty Days, by Jules Verne
  • The Book of Dragons, by Edith Nesbit (started reading it before deciding on NaNoReMo)
  • The Devil’s Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce
  • The Empty House and Other Stories, by Algernon Blackwood
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells
  • A Journey to the Center of the Earth, by Jules Verne
  • The Land That Time Forgot, by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  • The People of the Mist, by Henry Rider Haggard
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

Project Gutenberg: Another great site to get free eBooks for your Kindle app (as recommended by Sonia Lal) is Project Gutenberg, notable archive of public domain fiction. I visited the website last night and joyfully discovered that they have a mobile site…in beta testing, but I downloaded it to my phone desktop, anyway. It works sort of like Amazon’s Kindle Store. Sonia tells me PG’s formatting is better than the Amazon freebies, so that’s worth noting. I downloaded two books from there: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Illustrated), by Edwin A. Abbot and The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, just to test it and they do look great.

If you know any other websites that have free classic eBooks, please let me know in the comments section. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about the subject of frugal reading again soon.

With all of these choices for reading, there’s no reason you can’t join us for NaNoReMo.

C’mon, join the Classical Movement!

Some Thoughts on Thought-Catchers

Journals are cool. Just ask any writer.

Yeah, we all have our computers, iPads and PDAs. Almost all electronic devices these days have note-taking apps…and if not there’s a good chance you can download one for your computer or phone. 

Sure, all that technology shit’s pretty awesome. But we writers still enjoy walking into a coffee shop, ordering some java, and whipping out our beautiful journals to write in while we enjoy all that public ambience.

Why?

Because we feel like sex-on-wheels when we write in a journal in public, that’s why. Hemingway wrote in a journal. And PAPA was SEXY!

But there’s more to journaling than lookin’ Old School Cool at the local Starbucks.

Journaling…writing stuff on paper, can actually help jump start your creativity when you’re stuck in the Ninth Circle of Blockage Hell. Ray Bradbury wrote a whole section on brainstorming (writing thoughts down on paper as quickly as possible) in his book “The Zen in the Art of Writing.”

Sometimes a journal for me is a thought-catcher. I think of stuff and I want to write it down. I brainstorm for new ideas.

Sometimes a journal is a story bible and can be a very straightforward, non-pricey item. And as a college student practically living on financial aid, the less expensive the better.

Note: Click on any of the images below to view in larger detail.

First up: Papa’s Pride: I love my Moleskine. They’re not cheap, but Jesus they’re beautiful! This is the notebook Hemingway used. I use the softcover one because I like the way it feels in my hands. I take it with me whenever I go to restaurants or cafes, even if I end up taking a story bible. You never know when a great idea is going to come surfing in…hanging ten on your brainwaves. Writer Journaling Rule #1: Be prepared. Here’s my moleskin:

Hemingway Special

Can’t afford the $18 price tag on one of these babies? Don’t feel bad. I can’t often get a Moleskine myself. That one was a gift.

Next is a shot of an el cheapo faux leather bound journal I bought before I got the Moleskin. It’s pic is featured with a screenshot of a story I actually wrote in it. I bought it at the Dollar Store…for a dollar. Yup. Times are hard, and I’ve been in the 99% my whole life.

Dollar Deals and Steals

This journal still finds its usefulness. This is the thought-catcher I use when I want to do a quick on-paper brainstorm or, as you can see from the accompanying page, when I’m blocked and want to get unblocked by writing a story longhand. I’ve only done that a few times. I’m getting too fucking old…my hand cramps when I write for long periods of time. Then again, I’m a lefty, so writing longhand is not something I enjoy a whole lot anyway.

WIP: "Found Object"

Next up is another cheapie, but a goodie. My Story Bible. I use a Story Bible when I’m working on a Big Project, like my first e-books (coming soon, stay tuned :)), my novellas, or my novels. I plan them using a regular notebook. But not just any old run-0f-the-mill notebook will cut it with me. It has to be a Mead. Preferably one of the smaller ones (6 x 9 1/2) with the pen-loops…but they stopped selling those (bastards), so I’m back to getting the wire ones. I love Mead notebooks as Story Bibles. They are divided in sections (if you get the 3-or-5 subject ones) with file pockets. You can tuck a lot of research away in those puppies. Here is a shot of my Story Bible for the novel I’m researching right now. I’m writing down my ideas for plotlines and character outlines in it:

Mead Five-Star 6 x 9 1/2 5-Subject

This is the Story Bible I’ve had by my side for about six months now. I haven’t got it anywhere near full yet, but it’s well on its way to helping me sort out what will be my next Big Work-In-Progress.

QotH Story Bible

I hope you enjoyed the methodology behind my journaling madness. Please visit the other writers participating in the Scribbles Blog Hop. I’m sure their own journaling experiences are as unique and wonderful as mine.

Happy Journaling!

This post is part of  the “Scribbles Blog Hop.” A bunch of crazy writers got together to blog about our journals. Click on the links below and you’ll be taken to the other websites in the hop. 

Danielle La Paglia: http://daniellelapaglia.wordpress.com/

Anne Michaud: http://annecmichaud.wordpress.com

Marianne Su: http://mariannesu.com/blog/

Victoria D Griesdoorn: http://www.vdgriesdoorn.com/

Ren Warom: http://renwaromsumwelt.wordpress.com/

J.A. Campbell: http://writerjacampbell.wordpress.com/

Tammy Crosby: http://tammywrites.wordpress.com 

Chrissey Harrison: http://chrisseysgreatescape.wordpress.com

Nathalie Westgate: http://nataliewestgate.com

Tony Noland: http://www.tonynoland.com/

Larry Kollar: http://farmanor.blogspot.com/

#SHORTADAY: Day 1…and What I Plan To Read

Participate in #SHORTADAY!

Day 1 of my #SHORTADAY Challenge is here. I have decided to read one of the most reprinted stories of all time: “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, by science fiction great Harlan Ellison.

This is a perfect story for me to kick off #SHORTADAY with. It’s only a couple pages long, and it is an award-winning short story. It won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 1966, and the Nebula Award in 1965, which is the year I was born. My birthday is Sunday, so expect to see maybe another classic by Ellison on that day as well. I’ve already read I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream. It’s in the top five on my list of all time “must read” science fiction stories. I may read it again on Sunday, or investigate one of the other stories I have from his collection I’m reading: Alone Against Tomorrow.

Some folks have asked about the list I’m working from. It’s huge. I now have over 100 stories to choose from, enough to do three months worth of #SHORTADAY reading. Let me get through my one-month challenge, and we’ll see if I can manage more reading time. I have decided to post a few of the stories that I know I have to read for this:

That covers a few of the stories I definitely want to read for #SHORTADAY. And I’ve by no means mentioned them all. I’m going to try and read a little speculative and literary fiction from all publishing venues: indies and traditional.