Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters – a review

August 24, 2012

Right up front here, this is going to be nothing like the recent review of Ishiguro’s A Pale View of Hills. I didn’t keep what was essentially a reading journal with this. I read the biggest chunk of it the other night between midnight and 330am and it’s really just an addictive read. Reading the back cover, it says it is the first part of atrilogy, and it mentions that everything is happening on the brink of apocalypse, giving it a scifi vibe, but it’s not a scifi novel. It’s a mystery novel, a detective pot boiler, and it’s a helluva lot of fun.  That’s something else I want to get out of the way right at the beginning, it’s a great read, it’s a fun read, I can wholly endorse it if you like detective/mystery stories.

That’s also not what I really want to talk about.

While I said it’s not a scifi novel, it is a scifi novel. In their own ways, I think the majority of detective novels are really scifi novels. Whether they have a glaring scifi element, such as an asteroid hurtling towards Earth and all of the social upheavel going on because of it, or if they don’t have any glaring scifi elements. While reading The Last Policeman, the novel that kept coming to mind was Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn. In each work we are plunged into the head of a detective who is maybe not the brightest flashlight we could pull out of the drawer, but by the end we find them the most reliable.

They are also aliens in their own worlds, as most great fictional detectives are. Even if you remove the End is Nigh plot device Winters uses, his lead detective is still a duck out of water. He doesn’t fit with the other detectives, he doesn’t really fit with the rest of society that he interacts with, everyone just sort of accommodates each other as best they can and try to make the most of it. We see the same thing with the lead character in Motherless Brooklyn, the tourrettes inflicted Lionel. His mental condition sets him apart, makes him alien to everyone else. Sherlock Holmes? He was certainly a bit of an odd-duck, too. As was Hercule Poirot.

If anything, this is part of the wonderful versatility of detective fiction and how it can approach scifi. In scifi, the alien is almost always the other character. They might be protagonists, they might be antagonists, that doesn’t really matter. But they are almost always the other. What detective fiction can do is make the alien the primary point of view, give us a set of eyes to look through that we don’t really get a chance to see otherwise. It allows us to see our own world as the other, as the alien, because the alien’s point of view has become our own.

Okay, back to Winters’ The Last Policeman. It’s a good read, check it out, and there is even some mention of moon bases. You might or might not be better off sitting down at midnight to devour it, though. Here’s the B&N link.

Book Links 8-10-12

August 10, 2012

It’s funny how my collection of book links fluctuates from day to day. Looking at my list of recent posts, it’s clear that I don’t get a lot of interesting links every day, but then a bunch just suddenly show up. anyway, here’s the links.

Lauren Passell has 8 ways reading makes you a better dater. I have to agree, reading is a healthier hobby than blow. A helluva lot cheaper, too.

PW has a couple of articles today that I liked. Chelsea Cain offers five tips for writers, while Vincent Lam offers some advice on how to write about your family.   My best advice for writing about your family is to just not tell them about it and hope they never find out.

Writer’s Digest has the 21 Key Traits of Best-Selling Fiction! Applied carefully, I can see how at least some of the traits can be helpful. However, part of me reads that list and can’t help but think it’s the checklist carried into the filming of every Transformers movie, and I would like to think we all aim a little higher than Transformers. unless we’re talking about the cartoon from the 1980s. That rocked.

Finally, The Millions has some professor type people throwing down on what they think is the best novel by Charles Dickens. this made me feel soooo litararily ignorant. Reading Bleak House just got scribbled into my day planner next to getting new car insurance and cooking supper. It’ll fit in that forty-five minute spot, right? Right?

bad poetry

May 11, 2010

been writing a lot of poetry lately and a lot of it is just plain bad. Not sure why. What I’m writing about is good, but the words I’m using and how I’m using them, well, not so good.

It’s frustrating to have the words come but to have them be all of the wrong words. The wrong form. They may as well not show up at all at that point, just more editing later, but they ring the bell and I open the door and before I know it the damn things are littering the page and I don’t like them hanging around, sitting on my furniture, drinking my beer. It’s mine. I don’t want to share with them. Go. Just go.

On top of that, I haven’t been able to get moving on the novel re-write and the more I work on it the more dissatisfied I am with it anyway. I’m going to want to re-write it a third time.

On the plus side, the landlord finally turned the heat back on as Cleveland has been slammed by another cold snap. So the apartment is comfortable to sit in and not get any work actually accomplished in.

What is a short story?

January 19, 2010

I recently started work on something temporarily titled “The 40,000th Day Event.” It’s going to be a short story centering around a visit and old man gets in his nursing home. The idea is just one of those cute little things I occasionally have and decide to run with. Unfortunately, I’m running into a problem that I think I have ran into in the past, and that’s  the boundary between a “short story” and a “prose” piece. This is something that came up in the last writing work shop that I had, where a little piece about an interaction between a man and a woman in a bedroom after sex was well liked by everyone but the professor asked the question: is it a short story or is it a prose?

And I didn’t know. I didn’t really care. And, in all honesty, I’m not sure I care much now beyond the fact that I’d like to submit this stuff and get it published. And I wonder if other readers will have a similar problem with it. Is it a short story or is it prose?

Does it matter?

Rubbertop Review – submissions

December 7, 2009

Rubbertop Review is a journal published by the University of Akron that focuses on contributions from residents of Ohio.  They accept Fiction, Poetry, and creative non-fiction (was there a time where non-fiction was just non-fiction?) and their deadline for submissions is February 1st.

For more information, including addresses to send work to and guidelines for work submitted, check out Rubbertop Review’s website.

Chapter Seven

October 7, 2009

I’ve never re-written a novel before. I’ve writtten a couple of novel length pieces that have just sort of vanished over the years and that I’ve lost interest in but I’ve never really seen a project through to it’s true end. So the work I’ve been doing lately is rather new to me.

And dreaded.

The entire concept of editing and re-writing has been largely foreign to me for most of my life.  Reports and essays for school were always just scratched out and handed in with no real revisions and no appreciable proof reading (the fact that I did well in school is something that still amazes family and friends). The same with fiction, poetry and anything else I wrote for fun or entertainment or assignment. I would have an idea, I would put the idea onto paper, it would be done and I would move to the next idea.

This has produced a lot of surprisingly solid work, some of which I even still enjoy reading.

But it has also produced a lot of stuff that I have felt was half-formed.  the problem has always been that I haven’t had the ambition, or plain blue collar fortitude, to sit down and truly re-write any of it.

There was also a bit of artistic arrogance to it that, before, might have been thought of as artistic principle. It was that the first take is usually the most honest and true to a vision and that altering whatever is written is destined to move the piece ever further from its most natural beginnings. And this might be true. After all, there is nothing to definitively say that it isn’t, but it is also something that likely requires an incredible amount of natural ability, of intense training in this form or, most likely, a combination of good helpings of both. I don’t believe I have either of these things, at least to the degree that would be required to pull off such a style.

So I stepped timidly into the world of re-writing with my short fiction, poetry and prose. and I couldn’t help but admit that it made my work better.

I also couldn’t help but admit that I found it all sorts of difficult, time consuming, and physically and mentally taxing. It wore me out. it still does. And it’s gotten twice as difficult with the novel.

Knowing how much time and effort went into the initial conception of the idea, there is a part of me that hates to admit how much work some sections need. And a larger part of me that simply does not desire to sit down and do this work.

luckily, the novel started off easily. The opening chapters required little work and I was able to breeze through and feel pretty good about it. I should get through this in no time, I thought, and then began setting all sorts of entirely unrealistic time lines for myself.

then I hit chapter six and things stumbled a bit. I wanted to change one  aspect of the chapter and this change forced me to re-work roughly the first half of the chapter. It was rough but I got through it and I felt the stronger for it.

And then came chapter seven. Chapter seven is a place where I introduce a new character/story line and it was something that I felt I had botched almost entirely with the first draft. But it was still something that needed to be salvaged in some way for the rest of the novel to work.

Figuring out how to salvage the basic character/store line was the easy part. Coming to chapter seven and actually seeing all of the work laid out before me was the beginning of the difficult part.  the entire chapter needed re-written from the ground up. Even the names were changed to entirely put the past mistakes behind me. Not only was I altering something that I had spent much of the past few years on but i was entirely changing it. I don’t want to say I felt awful doing it, that wouldn’t be true and it would be an overstatement. Closer to what i was feeling was probably a certain deflation. After all, spending so much time on something only to re-read it later and realize I had botched the entire thing  is a pretty big kick in the knee.

With a 1500 word sprint today, though, I got it done. Chapter seven is behind me and I’m now feeling pretty good about it. Not just the chapter itself, which I think is vastly improved over what it had been before, but about finishing the chapter at all.  I know I will have future chapters that will require similar work but, having gotten through this one, the chapters to come seem less daunting. Now it is a case of having been there and done that and knowing I will get it done again.

All writers likely go through something similar, most probably at a much earlier stage than I, but it still feels good. It feels as if I have cleared a hurdle placed before me and the track is now opening up a bit allowing me to just run instead of maneuvering over, around and through obstacles. Now for Chapter Eight.

You Should Write About Storms

September 21, 2009

it’s funny what can jog your memory. I was sitting on the front steps of our building with my g/f and the neighbor’s kid, waiting for the school bus, when he asks me if I write books. I joke back that I write books badly and chuckle when the conversation quickly shifts to the ever worsening weather. I mention in passing that I like thunderstorms, the darker, louder, windier the better. Then the kid says I should write about storms.

I’m not sure if the kid was joking or not. It was flat in tone and, with the right inflection, I could easily see it being a weird little jab at my “being a writer.” But it got me thinking about maybe writing about storms. What they could symbolize, how they could be worked into a story, etc. etc. etc. when I realized that I had already written about storms!

It was just a short story, with kids and an apocalyptic storm that fell disaster upon them – a real Stephen King Special – but it was something that I had really enjoyed when I had finished with it but which had been lost in the shuffle since I wrote it. It also made me think of the another little horror story I wrote for a fiction course I took a couple of years ago when I was pursuing my PhD. It was a little vampire tale with all sorts of sexual allusions and innuendo but it, too, had been lost to time and to the refuse of my harddrive.

While I enjoy both stories, it makes me think of the fight between being a REAL Writer and being a Genre Writer.  As a young child, I had been a big reader and writer. An only child, living in the middle of nowhere, it was really the only option before the proliferation of the internet and cable/satallite television. Unfortunately, it was a habit that elementary school fairly drummed out of me. What really drew me back into the fold was genre writers; it was Stephen King and Michael Cricton. Enjoying reading again was something they jointly gave back to me.

But, despite my debt to them and the great amount of joy I got and get from their work, why don’t I take my genre works more seriously? The two little horror stories I wrote I enjoy immensely but they haven’t been something I have given the sort of importance I give other works – despite the fact that they may be two of my better crafted works.

So what does this mean that I have sort of, maybe, kinda turned my back on a type of fiction I enjoy? I may have slipped into snobbish elitism, the inevitable result of too many lit courses and too many encounters with other would be Serious Writers. Or maybe my tastes since my re-introduction to the writing world have gradually widened to the point where I simply write what I want now and try to ignore having my work split into categories while also being aware that to be published within a genre has a definite risk of pigion holing me in that genre for eternity. After all, I still find copies of Motherless Brooklyn tucked away next to Amnesia Moon in the sci/fi section.

And I’m still thinking about writing about a storm.

Half Price Books in Mayfield Hts – Store Review –

August 13, 2009

Yesterday my girlfriend and I were out and about and looking for a cheap place to buy some books. So we made the drive up to Mayfield Hts to check out the Half Price Books up there and see if we couldn’t finish shopping for her school books and pick up some stuff for ourselves.

For anyone not familiar with Half Price Books, it’s a national chain that deals in used books, movies and music. If you’re looking at paperbacks, the general rule is that they will be half off the cover price while the hardcover books are discounted a bit more steeply. They also have various clearance racks and special savings nooks where they have placed books they want to move a bit quicker or just get out of the store.

If you’re looking to sell them some of your old books or whatever the process appears to be pretty simple. You take your stuff to the appropriate counter (in this case, it was against the right wall when you walk in), someone looks it over and makes a cash offer which you can either take and go or put towards future purposes at the store.  I haven’t went to sell any books to them, so I can’t say exactly how fair their system is, but it seems straightforward enough.

Looking at books is easy and enjoyable. Aisles are wide, the place is very well lit, and it is very well organized. It’s a large chain store and it’s maintained that way. If you’re a fan of little “mom and pop” used book stores with musty smells of old books lining beaten shelves, this is not the place for you. If you want a (much) cheaper alternative to Borders and want to keep the nice “big store” amenities, you’re built for this place.

Getting to the store in Mayfield Hts is incredibly simple. If you’re coming from the east, just get on Mayfield Rd and keep going. If you’re coming from the south, all you have to do is hop on 271 and get off on Mayfield Rd. exit. It’s right off 271 on the southside of the road in a large shopping plaze with many other fun stores and a handful of places to eat. It could be an easy place to make a day of it.

Half Price Books

Bookstore Review: Encore Books

February 4, 2009

Recently had the opportunity to check out another useed bookstore in Toledo, Ohio. It’s called Encore Books and it’s off Heatherdowns in a little strip mall that is most widely known as the former home of House of Golf.  On the exterior, it’s pretty easy to find and the parking is ample since the strip mall is fairly small  (in other words, there isn’t much else around there that would draw a lot of people).

Upon entering the store you are greeted by a familiar site at used bookstores: piles of books everywhere. Here the problem is compounded a bit by the fact that the space itself isn’t exceptionally large. the combination of a lack of actual space with how space intensive a bookstore is (those things take up an unexpectedly large amount of room very quickly), makes the space allowed for walking seem very very tiny. At the time I was in there with my girlf friend there was just one other couple in the store and we still ran into eachother a few times.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad or uncommon thing. Unless you happen to wander into a used bookstore that is fairly well established within a community, which usually means it does a fair amount of business to have stayed in business longer than five years, I have found most used bookstores to be a bit on the cramped side.

Unfortunately, the tiny space was further hindered by a somewhat haphazard organization. The fiction was in two spots and the floor space was somewhat haphazardly divided up with standing racks and shelves.  Looking at the various racks and stands, I think they were put up from a feeling of necessity – the nature of a used bookstore results in a crapshoot assortment of whatever people bring in. However, some of these might have been better off left in the box rather than forced onto a shelf.

The selection itself was fair. They had a lot of the expected stuff from Grisham to King to Rice, etc.  Oddly enough their scifi/horror racks seemed quite a bit larger than the rest of the genres/literature. And there were very few of the larger format paperbacks that have come to dominate conventional fiction publishing. This is also means that you’re less likely to find that new work of fiction that’s been in paperback for just a few months. You might luck out and find it, but I think it’s unlikely at this store.

It also runs into what has become a pretty common irritant for me: variable pricing. I still don’t understand why all used bookstores, especially if they aren’t dealing in rare/collectible books, don’t move to a set pricing scheme. It makes it easier on the customers and easier on the people who work there.  there’s just no sense in going through and individually pricing a bunch of john grisham paperbacks.

In the end, it’s not a bad little store. If you have the time, and you’re in the area, you may as well check it out and see if you can’t find a deal. However, if you’re looking for something specific and/or new, I think you’d have better luck trying a couple of the other used bookstores in the area.


Encore Books

4400 Heatherdowns Blvd # 5
Toledo, OH 43614
(419) 389-1155

The Evolution of the Paperback

December 17, 2008

Paperback books are beautiful things these days. Their covers are stiff and thick, their coverart has clearly had some real effort put into it to make it look modern and relevant, and the general quality is very good. Unfortunatley, they’re also called Trade Paperbacks and cost $14-18 a pop.

I think my generation has been the one that has straddled the the transition for Literature from the basic paperback to the trade paperback. I think I remember seeing the change begin in earnest about ten years ago, as these large, obviously well-made books began creeping onto bookshelves amongst their smaller, flimsier brethren. Where this happened first was The Classics, thier status amongst the other books apparently lifting them to higher quality stock.

I also remember noticing the clear price difference between the conventional paperback and the Trade Paperback.  Where I could grab a copy of Breakfast of Champions for $5 in the standard paperback, the Trade Paperback wanted to pry $15 out of my wallet. but I guess that’s the price you pay for Classics.

And now it’s the price you pay for Literature. I got a couple of Borders gift cards through my credit card company last week and, coupon in hand, ventured into Borders to get a “free” book. Well, as free as having used my credit card for hundreds of dollars of purcases so that I could use my Reward Points for a couple of $25 gift cards, at any rate.

I picked up The Last Town on Earth, a debut novel by Thomas Mullen. This in no way is to reflect the quality of the novel. I haven’t read it yet but I bought it so I clearly think it’s something that at least stands a chance at being pretty good.  But it also cost $14. With my coupon, it took the cost plus tax down to just under twelve.  And we wonder why it’s hard to get young people interested in books. I’m betting price has a reasonable hand in it as they make movies look affordable.

And we’re starting to see the Trade Paperback drift into the genre sections as well. Phil Dick and Ray Bradbury were among the first of the genre writers I remember seeing with these big, sturdy editions of their classic work. And now I’m seeing William Gibson’s Spook Country retailing for $15 (though, kudos to Amazon for having it and many other books on significant markdowns). 

For all of the talk about the RIAA pillaging music fans with ridiculous prices on CDs and deserving to be similarly plundered by filesharing programs, I can’t help but think that the publishing companies have followed a similar path. The covers might be a little nicer and the books a little bigger but I’m not sold on these developments requiring a $10 price hike over the more conventional paperback. And I also wouldn’t hesitate to just buy a conventional paperback if given the choice.

But we’re not given that choice and I have to wonder if the prices are not hurting the growth of the book industry. While once someone becomes a reader they are probably hooked for life, and will continue to buy (and gripe) regardless of the price,  I have to think it turns away potential readers. I also wonder if it doesn’t limit the possibilities for success of new writers. If someone is on a bit of a budget and they have a choice between the new novel from a writer they’ve read and enjoyed or a new novel from a new guy, I’m betting the old and familiar usually wins that tug of war.

And maybe I just miss the days of being able to buy a good book for $6.