Just Because You Can Write a Novel, That Doesn’t Mean You Should

When I was 21 I started writing a novel.

Well, by “writing” I mean I bought a fancy moleskine and nice pens and wrote down little vignettes of no consequence while riding the bus back and forth to class. Clever quips, character sketches, you know, the annoying shit that makes a person feel creative without actually doing anything, ever.

It was about a young 20-something guy who dated an overbearing, controlling girl who didn’t “get” him. During the novel he found the girl of his dreams, learned to love himself, and, I’m not even kidding, the denouement involved him decorating his bedroom with posters of the bands he loved. Because he was apparently not allowed to do that before?

He was also an English major who looked and sounded exactly like me. It may or may not have been autobiographical. Worst of all, its working title was Strong Enough to Break, which I stole from a documentary about Hanson.

It went nowhere. As in, I never even wrote a first sentence. But had I been disciplined, I would have actually written that piece of shit. That thing would have existed, for no other reason than the fact that I was obliviously miserable in my relationship.

Continue reading “Just Because You Can Write a Novel, That Doesn’t Mean You Should”

5 Authors Who Changed My Life

These aren’t necessarily my favorite authors (although several are) or the authors I read the most (although several are), but they’re authors who have had a profound impact on my life.

The Author I Have to Defend

Christopher Moore. Moore is an author many refuse to take seriously, which I get, to some extent. There’s no denying that he wrote the line “Blessed are the dumbfucks” in a book about Jesus. Yet, at the same time, he’s a soulful writer with an alarming humanity: “There’s a fine edge to new grief, it severs nerves, disconnects reality–there’s mercy in a sharp blade. Only with time, as the edge wears, does the real ache begin.” Don’t let titles like “Island of the Sequined Love Nun” or “Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” scare you away. He’s been compared to Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, for crying out loud. There are writers who make you laugh, and there are writers who make you think. Moore is one of the rare few who does both.

The Author Who Matured Me as a Reader

John Milton. In my first year at Saint Mary’s University I took a fantastic Literary Traditions course from the wonderful, inspiring David Heckerl. (It’s amazing what a good professor can do for you.) In our first semester we tackled Paradise Lost and it, quite literally, changed my life. I was set to be a kinesiology student when I enrolled at St. Mary’s, but at the last moment I switched my major to English (to the confusion of many). I never once regretted that decision, in large part to Paradise Lost. Once I read Milton there was no turning back. Most professors will tell you who to read. Heckerl, through Milton, taught me how to read.

Continue reading “5 Authors Who Changed My Life”

Finding My Father, One Book at a Time

I was a year old when a man fell asleep at the wheel, blew a red light, and t-boned my father’s car as he was driving through an intersection. The man, who was almost 90 years old, died instantly. My father, meanwhile, broke two cheekbones, his right wrist, and lost about 75% of his right kneecap. He also cracked his forehead on the steering wheel–resulting in a gash that required more than 40 stitches to close–and the resulting head trauma left him in a coma.

Despite giving him about a 10% chance of living, doctors operated on his broken bones over the next few days. Steel pins were placed in his wrist, a false kneecap–held together with a copious amount of wiring–replaced what had been lost, and his jaws were wired shut. He would stay that way for the next six weeks. His face was so swollen, my mother tells me, that she couldn’t even see his ears.

By the end of the week he had come down with pneumonia and was placed on life support. Eventually, his right lung collapsed.

But then my mother felt him squeeze her hand.

A devout, devout Catholic, my mother had been praying to God, for 10 days, in hopes that he would give her husband back to her. Her prayers, it seemed, were answered. Albeit, with cruel irony.

My mother ran out of the room screaming to the nurses that her John was awake. A nurse came in and squeezed his hand three times. He squeezed it back three times. She leaned down, and said to him, “Your wife is here. Say something to her.”

He smiled and turned his head. He looked my mother in the eyes, and said, “Fuck off.”

Continue reading “Finding My Father, One Book at a Time”

If You Didn’t Like This, Try This (YA Edition)

Book recommendations are usually given based on books that readers like.

You’re a fan of Stieg Larsson? Read some Jussi Adler-Olson. You enjoy a little (or a lot) of Robert Jordan? Read Tad Williams.

If You Like This, Try This is, not so coincidentally, today’s Bout of Books prompt. But since everyone else is doing that I thought I’d try something a little different.

Book recommendations rarely come as a result of what readers don’t like. But disappointment can be fertile ground. If a reader shows interest in a particular genre or style, there’s something that’s drawing them in. Quite often, though, they pick the wrong book (i.e. the “it” book at the moment) as a test–a book that doesn’t speak to them for one reason or another–and they swear off the genre altogether.

For that person, no one was there to talk them off the ledge. Had someone suggested something in the same vein, something with that same spark that drew their attention in the first place, then that’s one reader saved.

With that in mind, I’m going to suggest a few titles for those who have waded into YA but found it a little lacking. Maybe you loved the easy language and edge-of-your-seat pacing, but wanted something a little riskier, or a more sophisticated romance, or harsher consequences.

Whatever the case, if YA hasn’t done it for you I’m here to suggest a few alternatives that might provide what you’re looking for.

Continue reading “If You Didn’t Like This, Try This (YA Edition)”

Review: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

I wonder if all of history was as muddled as this? The chroniclers of future years, if there are any, will only be able to guess at what a mass of contradictions we were, who lived in such times.

It’s been 23 years since Tad Williams released—and 13 years since I’ve read—his epic, genre-defining Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. It’s been well publicized that it was a major influence on George R. R. Martin, and it stands alone as my favourite work of fiction. After more than two decades of poking and prodding by his fans–“What’s the deal with the prophecy surrounding the twin children?!—Williams finally decided to return to the world of Osten Ard. But not in the way anyone would have expected.

Before the sequel trilogy debuts in June—the ominously titled The Last King of Osten Ard—Williams released (on January 1st) The Heart of What Was Lost, an almost-novella that comes in at just over 200 pages. For a writer whose hallmark is 800 page behemoths (the final volume of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was split into two volumes in paperback due to its massive size), this is a stark, energizing departure.

Continue reading “Review: The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams”