Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hidden Leaves

Funny how things (might) work out.

Few years ago, I was an undergrad taking Contemporary Ethical Issues, a class I didn't care about and barely passed. I spent most of that class (re)reading books like Frankenstein and the Hagakure.

Flash forward a few years, and I'm standing in front of that very same room, lecturing on the Hagakure to a class of (seemingly) fairly involved and interested students.

I don't ascribe to any religion. And yet, I'm certainly not an atheist. So what the fuck am I? I ask this periodically. I don't accept words like "agnostic" or whatever other categories there may be that might fit me. But there are times, like today, that everything seems premeditated, nothing seems irrelevant, or maybe the better word is accidental. The question goes unanswered, as always.

Nothing ever ends. It's not good or bad, necessarily. I'll continue to barely keep my head above the rising tide of quizzes and exams (this is my second and last semester as a grader, small good it will do me in the fall) while I fight tooth and fingernail for every last scrap of creative time I can get. This vast, vast summer is approaching, and for now it remains completely open. For better or worse.

Sure would be nice if someone could buy something and leave me some positive feedback.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012


How could they kill Casey Jones?!

They say your perception of time changes through life. Time seems to move slowly when you're young and gradually speeds up as you get older. Seems true enough to me. I recall many times when I was a kid that time seemed to crawl forward: school, birthdays, Christmas, vacations. Excitement is one thing.

So maybe as you get older, you just don't have anything left to be excited about. Not sure I buy that wholesale, but there's certainly less than there was before. I feel caught between the two: time moves both fast and slow.

I have about three or four irons in the fire, so to speak. An idea I think might make a good short film, adapted from a story I'd been writing. And a short story. And some other ideas, nebulous, in the ether, what have you.

But then, there's everything else. Thankful as I am for all my opportunities, it's getting difficult to squeeze everything in. Grading online, I only recently learned, is incredibly time consuming. This is probably my second and last semester as a grader.

I'm a better teacher than I was (probably not saying much), probably because I'm far more loose and prepared than I ever was before. It's fun. But time-consuming.

Then there's the move. We're about 6% through all our stuff? That might be an optimistic estimation, but there it is.

And classes. I don't read any more, did you know that? I don't read, and yet I read more than I ever have in my life. Something like 4-6 or more books a week. I managed to squeeze in a few books over the holidays, just for fun. That's over now, to be sure.

So, the theme. There must be a theme. Time. There's a chronic shortage of it in my 'verse right now. And that's probably as it should be. But lack of time becomes preventative at some point, keeps me from doing things I really want to do. Like say, acting in a play. Writing fiction. Reading books. If you know me, you know I like my time. I like those days (not minutes, not hours. A drop of water isn't a lake. Neither is a puddle.) where I can let the mind range free. Instead of the wild, I'm in the proverbial mental slaughterhouse. For the umpteenth semester in a row.

My grandmother asked me to paint something for her. Haven't had the time.

Elias Koteas I am not.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Gertie Poole

I’ve had an embarrassingly easy and lucky life so far. None of my close family members have died, so far the closest thing to a death in the family was when our golden retriever Buster died. Hopefully it stays that way for a long time.
My first experience with death was when one of my best friends, Thomas Vance, died. Died isn’t the right word, he was killed, struck by several cars while walking onto the onramp for I-95, only one of which bothered to stop. It’s hard for me to talk about all the ways his death affected me when I think about his family. They’re some of the nicest people I’ve ever met, so I consider it wrong for me to go on about my experience. They were his family, I was just his friend. It’s enough to say that even today I’m horribly shocked and distraught about what happened to him. I’ve thought about him every day since my friend Mike called me at work and told me what happened.

That was my first real experience with death. I just recently had my second.

I met Gertie Poole while I was working at Borders bookstore. Gertie came in to do a signing. Authors usually came by on peak days like Saturday or Sunday, stay for an hour or two then leave. But Gertie did two signings every week, Tuesdays and Fridays, and would stay for around three hours. I think I spoke to her first.

She was a publishing fantasy author, I couldn’t help admiring her. Here was a person who didn’t just talk about writing, she did it, lived it. When we talked, she was kind to me. I don’t remember how I learned she was blind, it wasn’t as obvious as you might think. She walked without a cane, mostly unaided. It never bothered her, wasn’t even a nuisance, as far as I could tell. She did what she loved to do. Clich├ęs aside, she inspired me to write.

That was when I stopped talking about writing and started writing. Gertie agreed to read and critique my writing. I had my first publication not long after. I owe Gertie for that and for my subsequent publications. That was my routine, write something and mail it to Gertie. She had some program read it to her, and then she’d mail me her comments. I started looking forward to her comments; partly because she was insightful, in part because she was one of the only writers I knew who would actually give me feedback. She did it because that was the kind of person she was.

Eventually I read her book Realm, which was published locally. The polite and dishonest thing to say here would be that her book wasn’t my cup of tea. The truth is that I had to struggle through it. I thought that the writing was sloppy, the characters were one-dimensional, and so on. I made a few oblique and unhelpful comments about her book that she could probably tell were dishonest. I couldn’t tell if she could tell. She never changed, gave me the same warm smile. We were good friends. I even got in trouble at work a few times for talking with her too much. The two of us must’ve looked funny together, a twenty-one year old and a woman in her mid fifties.

Once I got my life together, I quit Borders and went back to college. I graduated not too long after, was on the Dean’s list every semester with mostly straight A’s. I kept getting published, won some awards and contests. At some point in our correspondence Gertie told me she had brain cancer. I wasn’t prepared for that email, I don’t know how anyone could be. I sent an email back, linking shocked and apologetic and remorseful words into a few bumbling sentences. I felt like I had when Tom died – like an intruder, some idiot who’d stolen hours of her time from her family. I thought it was best to go away, so I did. That was the last time we spoke.

Every few days or so after that email I ran google searches on her name. A few weeks ago I read her obituary. Is there a difference between vehicular manslaughter and brain cancer? Stupid question. The more I think about Gertie now, the more I realize how extraordinary she was. No, that’s probably a trivial way to describe her. We always build palaces and shrines of someone when they pass. I knew Gertie as a writer, a reader and a friend. When I think about her in those terms, I feel ashamed.

Sure, maybe I can dissect her writing and trash it, find a million flaws in it. What kind of publisher would print this? What kind of writer?

A purer writer than me.

Someone who wrote because she loved to tell stories, the stories she had in her heart. That was my perception of her. Her book, Realm, drips with the kind of raw enthusiasm that’s inimitable. Something that’s probably lost in some of my own fiction, which is sometimes overwrought.

I think back on when I read Realm. I was stupid, immature, cruel, nearsighted. I’ll probably never have the generosity or clarity of purpose that Gertie had, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

30 Days of Video Games

If you're into this sort of thing. Friend me, if you'd like to read. Here are the "days".

Day 1 – Your very first video game.
Day 2 – Your favorite character.
Day 3 – An underrated game.
Day 4 – Your guilty pleasure game.
Day 5 – Game character you feel you are most like (or wish you were).
Day 6 – Most annoying character.
Day 7 – Favorite game couple.
Day 8 - Best soundtrack.
Day 9 – Saddest game scene.
Day 10 – Best gameplay.
Day 11 – Gaming system of choice.
Day 12 – A game everyone should play.
Day 13 – A game you’ve played more than five times.
Day 14 – Current (or most recent) gaming wallpaper.
Day 15 – Post a screenshot from the game you’re playing right now.
Day 16 – Game with the best cut scenes.
Day 17 – Favorite antagonist.
Day 18 – Favorite protagonist.
Day 19 – Picture of a game setting you wish you lived in.
Day 20 – Favorite genre.
Day 21 – Game with the best story.
Day 22 – A game sequel which disappointed you.
Day 23 – Game you think had the best graphics or art style.
Day 24 – Favorite classic game.
Day 25 – A game you plan on playing.
Day 26 – Best voice acting.
Day 27 – Most epic scene ever.
Day 28 – Favorite game developer.
Day 29 – A game you thought you wouldn’t like, but ended up loving.
Day 30 – Your favorite game of all time.


Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My fantasy must reads.

If you aren't a fantasy fan, what the hell is wrong with you?

Joking aside. This is a brief list of the fantasy novels which I consider to be among the "must read". Sadly, I've yet to read every fantasy novel in existence, so there are probably a few outrageous omissions. Still, I'm fairly well read in what is one of my favorite genres, so here goes.

Goes without saying, really. If you want to talk about some of the things that make up the genre today - worldbuilding, settings, tropes, everything - you have to start with Tolkien. Or, at least, you should. I'll be the first to admit that the books drag in places. The first time I read them, I was far more interested in the journey of Frodo and Sam than I was with Aragorn's adventures with Gandalf and the others. For some reason, the Voice of Saruman is among my favorite chapters of any books, ever. Go figure.

Pretty much everyone will point you to Tolkien when it comes to fantasy, but less seem to remember Robert E. Howard. It almost makes more sense to start with Howard at a young age - his stories are easier to read, move faster, contain both awesome action and some truly fantastic writing. Tower of the Elephant is the story where I always thought Howard's real imagination shines through. A must read.

Goes without saying at this point, really. Just a fantastic series, made of all the things that make fantasy so much fun to read. Now, if he would only finish it. I can praise Martin to the moon and back here, but that's been done about a million times on other blogs, so I'll spare you. Martin is good, great, even awe-inspiring, but there are other great books out there. Some of the others, I'd argue, are even better.

For example: I'd probably say Name of the Wind is a better book. Patrick Rothfuss is, bottom line, a phenom. He's at least as good a writer as Martin, and I'd claim that he's easily a better storyteller. Kvothe comes to life in his series in a way that none of the characters of Martin's series do. Except maybe Tyrion. A must read.

Okay, so Winterbirth isn't exactly the most enthralling or eye-catching book on this list. But it's a damned good series and, behold!, the author does not suffer from diarrhea of the mouth. The series is finished! How many fantasy series can you say that about?

I'm quite convinced that most of the people reading this blog have probably never heard of Banewreaker. I'll level with you, it isn't the best written series (2 books only). The characters are pretty forgettable, the world is somewhat shallow. But the way the author plays with fantasy conventions, subverts expectations, and simultaneously hearkens back to Tolkien's works makes it a great read. It deserves to be mentioned, despite the fact that the protagonist/antagonist main character is named Tanaros Blacksword.

It's a blatant crime that more people haven't read Bakker's series. Any description of the series I can articulate would be inadequate, so I'll simply say that it continues to blow my mind, every time I pick it up.

Just to round this list out, here are some of the books purposefully omitted based on my personal taste. Yes, I've read these books I didn't finish the Wheel of Time Series, but I simply refuse to bull through another 7 books to scavenge for some barely enjoyable prose. Mostly, I hated these books.

Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings.
Kevin J. Anderson's The Edge of the World.
Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time Series (or, if you want to be picky, The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising, as far as I got)
Russel Kirkpatrick's Fire of Heaven Trilogy.

To round out the list even further, here are just a small few of the books I confess to having not finished or not gotten around to yet, but plan to read someday

Wizard's First Rule, by Goodkind
The Imaro stories by Charles Saunders
Gardens of the Moon by Erikson

So, here's the list. There are plenty of other fantasy novels I enjoyed, some by Raymond Feist, David Gemmell and others. Some just don't fit into the epic fantasy category exactly, like The Gunslinger or Dune or what have you, but they're still among my favorite books, um, ever.

Thanks for reading. Maybe someday I'll compile a sci-fi list.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Speaking of.

Just recently finished Peter V. Brett's book, "The Warded Man". Christ, talk about one of the most lifeless books I've ever read. Talk about shapeless characters, pathetic worldbuilding, laughable dialogue, you name it. The aggravating thing is that the novel seemed to start off promising enough. I was ready for a story crafted with love and care comparable to The Name of the Wind series, or the depth and competence of Brian Ruckley's Winterbirth trilogy. No such luck, I'm afraid.

Last entry, I wrote about the tendency to judge books by their covers, or by their first several hundred pages. The pendulum swings both ways, I'm afraid. Several books come to mind: The Way of Kings, Across the Face of the World, The Edge of the World, The Warded Man, others. All great covers, all horrible books. Judge books by the authors, I suppose, rather than their covers. But even by that standard, it'd be wrong to judge George R.R. Martin by Nightflyers or Armageddon Rag, or Scott Bakker by Neuropath. That's not to say Nightflyers or Armageddon Rag or Neuropath are good or bad in their own right, just that an individual book might not be the best gauge of an author's ability. I hope anyone reading my writing wouldn't judge me by something I'd written three, two or even one year ago. Anyway, take a look at the covers in question.

Don't take my word for it, judge for yourself. The way I see it, there's just too much good stuff out there to waste time at the bad. But the only way to really know is to read the good and the bad. Buyer beware, at least.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Judging Books

(pic unrelated)

We all do it, "judge books by their covers", as the cliche goes. The specific book I'm thinking of is Pat Rothfuss' "The Wise Man's Fear". I'd prefer to refrain from a full-on review, and save that for another time, maybe another website. I didn't so much judge the book by its cover, rather, I had judged the book by its first, say, 200-300 pages. It's a species of the cliche, without a doubt, something I've been doing more and more of these days. I can only blame books like Russel Kirkpatrick's "Across the Face of the World" trilogy, novels that I read cover to cover, to the detriment of my faith in the fantasy novel as a source of entertainment. The bottom line is this: I loved "The Wise Man's Fear", and Pat Rothfuss is an incredible writer. The problem is that I've done this to several other novels, set them aside after several hundred pages. Ilium by Dan Simmons comes to mind, I know I'm probably missing out on something special there. I'd also done it to the Scott Bakker books, specifically "Prince of Nothing". Yet something kept bringing me back, I stuck with it and ended up loving the books. So there it is. Read books cover to cover.

We do the same sorts of things in real life, judging pretty much everything by momentary glimpses. I'll admit that what I'd heard about a certain UNF professor crafted my opinion of them before I'd ever met them. I'll also admit that I was dead wrong. How often do you ever hear people say (or read them write) "I was wrong". I love saying it- I'm dead wrong about so many things. Anyway, I'm now enjoying this class more than dozens of others I've taken, and I have a new appreciation for this professor. Don't listen to others - make your own opinions, as much as you can, no matter what it is.