Saturday, May 27, 2017

A Bookshelf of Inspiration

Reading has been a major inspiration for me throughout my life. Not only an inspiration for my own writing, but for life in general, for whatever philosophy I claim, for my career in academia, for the way I try to treat others. It would require many blog posts to list all the books and stories that have influenced me, but I can show you pictures of those works that have stuck with me the longest and which I continue to this day to pick up periodically and peruse.

First up are three books that reflect both my love of nature and of beautiful writing. All of these are nonfiction. The Snow Leopard, by Peter Matthiessen is my favorite work of all time.  I have multiple copies, and keep one at home and one at school. Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez is hallucinogenically beautiful. And Walden, by Thoreau! Nuff said.

Next, I didn’t discover Fitzgerald’s translation of Homer until college but when I did, I fell in love and memorized long sections of it. Some of those I still recall.  I didn’t discover The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers until grad school, but when I started writing Chambers’ work was right there with me, particularly a section of flash pieces called “The Prophet’s Paradise,” sections of which I also memorized.

Inspiration comes for me from every kind of work and every type of writer. The opening to Jitterbug Perfume is just about the most perfect piece of writing I’ve ever seen. House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday beings with another of those hallucinatory passages that fires my imagination. And Teot’s War by Heather Gladney is a gorgeously written fantasy novel.

Ernest Hemingway is the only writer with two books on my inspiration shelf. The Short Stories contains some absolute jewels of Hemingway’s work, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis MaComber,” among them. But the piece simply headed by “Chapter V” on page 127 is a thing of beauty.  A Moveable Feast is not on my shelf because of particularly beautiful writing, but because it contains the best advice on writing and on being a writer that I’ve ever read.

Finally, we have two very different types of works. Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of the Species” is one of the best written scientific arguments ever produced, and it certainly helped inspire in me an interest in science and reason. The other book here, which you can’t see the title on, is a near polar opposite to Darwin. It is the Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. I thought I disliked poetry until I read this book late in college. This made me realize that I wanted a sense of poetry to be at the heart of everything I did.

So tell me, what books have inspired you?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Summer Book Project

Every summer when I'm off teaching I tend to take on a project related to my books. In the past, this might just mean a good cleaning. Sometimes it means rearranging my shelves. Sometimes I get all my boxed books out and go through them for gems before reboxing them. This year I'm doing something different, and probably more time consuming. I'm going to take photographs of my entire collection, at least of the ones I've read.

I see people posting pictures constantly on facebook of their books and I never had any to post. I"d have to download a pic from the net if I wanted a cover image for this blog. But now that's going to change. I'll have a complete photo record of all my books available to me to post. Since I do various articles on books as well, this will also be helpful there.

Although this has already proven to be time consuming, I'm really having fun doing it. My books still bring me pleasure in so many ways, even if I'm not reading them at any given moment. Here are some pics I've taken so far. I'm sharing a lot more on Facebook.

1: I am the only person I know who collects Ken Bulmer, a British paperback writer who penned 100s of works under many different names. Here are some books under a few of his pseudonyms:

And here is my favorite anthology of all time. Maybe more than any other, this one made me want to write interplanetary adventure fiction!

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Bane of Kanthos

I'd originally planned to put this up officially for Forgotten Books Friday but I got busy and have been thinking about my son's wedding, which is coming up tomorrow. Anyway, I recently heard about this book on facebook and ordered a copy. I was pleasantly surprised. There is a newer kindle edition of this work but I read the original 1969 edition, which was part of an Ace Double with Kalin by E. C. Tubb. I'd already read Kalin in another format.

The Bane of Kanthos is a sword and planet novel, in the tradition of ERB's Barsoom series. An earthman is transported to what appears to be an alternate world via passage through a black gate. He discovers that the world is at risk from a great, reawakened evil, and that he is the only one who can save it. There are staunch allies, nasty villains, and a beautiful warrior-princess. All these tropes are familiar, but I enjoy them. What raised this book a little above the standard level for me was the fine writing. I thought the author's word usage and prose choices were excellent ones.

On Goodreads, there is an indication that the author, Alex Dain, has planned to write more stories about this world. The kindle edition is listed as: Book 1 in the Chronicles of the Gates. However, the kindle edition was published in 2013 and nothing new has appeared from Dain since. That would seem to make it unlikely that he is going to continue the series, although I'd certainly be interested in a sequel.

Even if nothing else appears in the series, I still think this one is worth a read for fantasy fans, particularly fans of sword and planet fiction.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Writing: Organic versus Manufactured

I had a discussion with a friend about writing the other day that I thought might make a worthwhile blog topic. It has to do with the differences between a piece of writing that grows organically and one that is constructed instead. Here’s my thoughts.

For me, poetry and flash fiction (750 words or less) usually grow organically. What I mean is that I have a seed of an idea, start writing, and let my unconscious guide me through. I don’t plan it, although oftentimes in revision I’ll make conscious changes to improve the piece. This is not, however,  the way, I write short stories, anything over 1500 words. Short stories are “constructed.” They are manufactured.  Although, if I do my job well the seams and welds in the story are invisible to the reader.

Now, my short stories often start out organically. They begin with a germ of an idea and the first 500 to 1000 words are often written straight out of that germ. But short stories have to have plot, and the unconscious typically only generates simple, straightforward plots. Those stories have already been told too many times. By the time I’m a 1000 words into a story I’m already engaged in the conscious work of building the piece to meet specific goals.

An analogy is this. A poem or flash fiction piece—at least for me—is like a wild fruit tree springing up seemingly out of nowhere. A short story is a carefully pruned and constrained fruit tree that has had many new limbs grafted onto it for specific reasons. Even the first 1000 words get this treatment. And I don’t just go through pruning and grafting once, but many times. The original seed is usually so hidden by the additions that it is scarcely noticeable

“Conscious” writing is immensely harder than just letting it all flow, but it does have its own rewards. One is that you have, in fact, built something with your own two hands.  And the final product is no longer all about  the writer.  It’s at least as much about the reader, if not more.  I believe this is one reason why it’s both difficult and dangerous to draw conclusions about writers themselves from the stories they construct. Just because a writer explores a negative theme does not mean that he or she is drawn to that theme. A writer’s characters and plot twists do not necessarily reflect the writer’s personal feelings and fixations.  Speaking for myself, although some part of me is in every story I write, I am not those stories.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Picking up on the Blog Again

Since my summer has begun, I'm hoping to pick up a bit on this blog, which I've neglected for quite a while. As per my usual, it'll mostly have to do with writing and reading, with occasional asides into whatever strikes my fancy.

On the writing front, I have a western novella about 3/4s done called "The Scarred One." Had to put it on hold during the school year, but now I'll try to get untracked on it. I've got quite a few completed stories that I need to submit, including two about the sword & sorcery character of Krieg. And I'm still considering self publishing a set of horror stories based on my dreams. I have about a dozen of those finished.

I'm working on a vampire story right now that I'm enjoying, and have opening scenes on several other tales that I don't know what to do with. Lately I've been working on a lot of poetry, partially because it takes less time and I can squeeze out a few moments from work here and there to commit poem-icide. Several of my poems appear in the latest issue of The Horror Zine. Thanks to Jeani Rector.

So, it is with good intentions that I post this blog. Let's see if that holds up through the next few weeks!