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 We is such a critical expose of Soviet Russia that the book would not be published there until the 1960s.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?

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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.

 

Looking Behind and Looking Ahead

megrad2

Graduation from SPC on May 4, 2013

I have not made a post in quite some time. I apologize. When you’re a college student/author/publisher/editor/part-time employee it’s hard to find time to blog.  I am enjoying a nice summer break, though, so I hope to be able to catch up on my posts.

First, let me catch you up on the recent past. After a grueling spring term, I graduated from St. Petersburg College with my Associates of Arts degree on May 4th. It may not seem like a very significant accomplishment to some folks, but it means the world to me. I am an older student (47…not afraid to say it) who was told in high school by a guidance counselor not to waste my time with college. I wish he could have been there as I not only proved that it wasn’t a waste, I did so by graduating summa cum laude with a 3.95 G.P.A. and by being a finalist for one of SPC’s most prestigious academic honors, the Apollo Award. I didn’t win, and that doesn’t matter. Just to be considered for it is a huge accomplishment that will no doubt have a lasting effect on my life.

Ahead lies my goal for a BA in English Literature. I’ve chosen to remain in this area and transfer to the University of South Florida—St. Petersburg campus. I’m not quite ready to move out of Tampa Bay or Florida yet. The St. Pete campus of USF is gorgeous. It sits right on Tampa Bay with lovely water views from nearly every building. I’m looking forward to starting my classes in the fall…one of which includes a literature class on the occult. Hell yes!

Now for the present and future of other aspects of my life.

This summer while I am off I have many goals. Here are a few.

  • Employment. I lost my student job at SPC, so I’ve been working on updating the resume and creating a portfolio. I hope to use it to land my next job.
  • Writing. I have lots of writing goals for this summer.
    • More Blog Posts. That’s a priority. Need to get back into writing more frequent updates and doing the writing prompts again.
    • Parker’s Pygmalion. I’ve decided to upload my Phi Theta Kappa award-winning short story to Smashwords as a free e-book. I have to start doing this indie thing soon anyway, and this is a good story to start with. If it works out, I will likely add it to Kindle on Amazon as well.
    • Kill the Crow. I’ve begun putting the stories into one document. I still need to finish writing and editing a few of the tales for the book, and get it formatted for publishing. Once  that’s done, I will upload it to Amazon…maybe Smashwords again, too.
    • Quellseek: Army of Empaths. I have people who will murder me if I don’t finish this novel,  so I’m working on it. The biggest problem I’m encountering is that the plot bunnies have tortured me with another great idea, one which I’ve started the research on already.
    • The Dragon Siblings. See above. I’ve got Phandara and T’kanyae (a.k.a. Kane Anthony) Morphyrades story starting in my head and I’ve begun a research project on it involving (fictional and real) sorcery and alchemy.  I don’t even have a title for this yet and have no clue about the scope of it, because Quellseek and that series MUST come first. The tale of Rafael Errick, Emory Atarem, Marta Sanis, Alverin Ness, and Wellynd Niles/Well-and-Truly must be brought to a close and that could take 2-3 years to tell it all. The Dragons will happen at some point, though. They’ve sort of already happened in some pre-cursor/same multiverse short stories.
  • Publishing and Editing. 
    • The Were-Traveler. Yes, I also edit and publish a speculative fiction magazine. It’s a rewarding venture I dove into like a madwoman and for the moment I’m enjoying it. Not quite ready to give it up yet. I recently posted the descriptions for up-and-coming issue themes. I’m looking forward to some of the upcoming themes. I may have to pen something myself for the Lovecraft/Poe issue. So tempting.

Life is going to be a challenge for me once school starts again in August. I have decided to attend USF full-time, which means I will have even less time for the other parts of my life than I do now.

Going to do as much this summer as possible…got to get it while the gettin’s good.

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!

Quellseek Excerpt: from ‘A Visitor in the Night’

Excerpt from Quellseek: Army of Empaths. From the end of Chapter 9, A Visitor in the Night (Wellynd Niles, POV). Wellynd wraps up his visit to Bon Pelees Atarem, a strange stopover even for a spy. He received a visitor to his room which left him disturbed (and not a little frustrated!) and saw a curious sight in the early dawn, a person sneaking out of the keep instead of into it! In this excerpt, Wellynd ends his visit by giving Pelees a revelation. 

“Thank you for delivering your message and may all the Unnamed see you home in safety. Doralinda made you up this bundle of food for your journey.” Pelees handed him a packet wrapped in linen.

“Thank you, my lord. A fine woman, your serving lady.”

Pelees looked surprised. “You were speaking with her yesterday.”

“Yes. I was getting a bottle of ghurzin from your storehouse. She is very concerned for you, my bon. As are we all.”

Pelees looked angry. “She spoke out of turn, I fear. I shall have to chastise her.”

“Don’t. Please, my lord. She spoke only out of her worry. She suffers greatly.”

“I know,” Pelees nodded. “She was very attached to Nissen. It hurt her when he quelled my poisoning.”

Now here’s a chance for me to do some good on this visit, at last,’ Wellynd thought.

“Is that what you think, my lord? That she loved your Quell?”

Pelees screwed up his eyes, not comprehending his guest’s meaning. “She must have…the way she cried when he died.”

Wellynd Niles put his heel to his horse and started to trot away, following his other guards and Wallis who were already leaving the stable. Then he stopped and turned to regard Bon Pelees Atarem thoughtfully.

“Hmm…yet her meander was the first one to leave Blackened Falls when you were poisoned, before your Quell was even feeling the full effect of it.” He grinned. “Well…I’ve heard it said love is blind. It must be stupid as well. Beg pardon, my lord. Thank you for your hospitality. Until we meet again.”

Then Wellynd Niles spun his horse around and headed out of the stable, leaving the Bon gaping after him in confusion, before Pelees could feel the full measure of the insult and call him back to have him flogged.

© Astrid Gast - Fotolia

© Astrid Gast – Fotolia

Quellseek Excerpt: Natural Son

One handsome masculine male with nice eyes

Image courtesy of dundanim.

Excerpt from my work in progress novel, “Quellseek: Army of Empaths, Chapter 12: Natural Son:

You are lucky,” Pelees began. “You’ve not had any part in the troubles. You’ve had no Sanis or one of their knights popping out of the bushes to put a blade to your throat. You haven’t had to marry one of them to try and forge a truce.”

“Thank the Thousand! I don’t want a Quell wiping my ass,” joked Alverin. “And the truce is a gods-damned farce. You know that, right?”

“Nobody knows it more than me, brother. I wish I’d been born the bastard.”

Alverin’s smile slid into a bitter, sour frown and his eyes grew dark. “Don’t wish for such a thing. I would not wish it on my greatest foe.”

“I can think of a few foes I’d wish it on. Father should ask the king to give you his name…that’s been done before. With some of Rauling’s whelps.”

Alverin laughed. He knew Pelees was serious, but he could not stay so depressed in his brother’s company. “You love me not, brother. All I want is a quiet, simple life. I have no ambition. As a bastard, I don’t expect to be a great force in the world. I leave that to you, my Bon brother.”

Quellseek Songs: Alverin Ness (Dare You to Move)

One handsome masculine male with nice eyesAs part of my writing process for my novel Quellseek: Army of Empaths, I’m seeking out songs that I can use to inspire my muse before we sit down at the laptop to write. I’m going to be using songs that I associate with my POV characters.

I have to admit it. I had a hard time finding a song for Alverin Ness.

He only has two POV chapters in the novel, but his character will have tremendous impact on future events in the story.

Alverin is the natural son of Manyx Atarem. Manyx is a known philanderer, but the only bastard child he’s ever acknowledged is Alverin.

Alverin lives mostly with his mother in a small village outside the Hungry Hills, where he has to contend with people looking down on him and (what he really can’t stand) his mother.

Although he is the son of a Bon noble, he has never been involved in the blood feuds that exist between the noble families, particularly the one against Atarem and Sanis. As a bastard, he’s always been beneath everyone’s radar. Not worth the time or effort it would take to kill him. So, he’s never had to have a Quell (physical empath bodyguard)…something for which he is thankful.

He’d like nothing more than to remain in his village with his mother, marry the girl he has a crush on and have a quiet, simple life. He gets to see his father and half-siblings when he visits Hook Harbor.  Even his father’s wife, if she treats him a little coldly, is not mean to him.

He likes his life the way it is.

But everything is about to change for Alverin Ness and his whole world will soon be turned upside down. He will face challenges and danger as finally, after fourteen years, people have the Atarem Bastard in their sights.

As his chapter opens, Pelees has come to escort him to the court. Bon Manyx wants the family united at the side of his friend, the ailing King Eggar. The last time Alverin saw his brother and father was at his brother Evander’s funeral pyre. Now he must go to the court, where all the Bon families of the kingdom are gathering to attend the king on his deathbed. He is not looking forward to being in the presence of the other noble families, most of them enemies, who have nothing but contempt for the Atarem Bastard.

So what kind of song did I choose for this unfortunate boy facing a world of challenges that he must either rise to or perish?

I chose Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move” because to me it says that from his birth and throughout the battles to come, Alverin Ness has to step outside of himself…and become more than what he is, or his enemies will destroy him.

“Welcome to the fallout
Welcome to resistance
The tension is here
The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be”

-Switchfoot