Welcome to whatever is on my mind!

Some people use the term "nonsense" but I prefer to use the phrase "uncommonly sensed" because it's more reflective of creative types.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Discovering Philip K. Dick

I wasn't a big reader of science fiction, so I’d never read Philip K. Dick’s work, despite having seen Bladerunner over a dozen times. However, I recently watched the Amazon series The Man in the High castle, and while I loved the first season I lost interest during the second season. That’s when I asked the age-old question: How much better was the book?

We all know that movies and TV series almost always fall short of the books upon which these are based. A visual medium has some advantages over the printed word, but it also has limitations. A picture is worth a thousand words, but the printed word has the ability to provide insight into the cognitive depth of the characters. This is where the Amazon series fell short for me: it began with an alternate reality in which the characters discover the possibility of an alternate reality that is our current reality.

If this sounds a bit like reality inception, that’s because it is - but this concept alone isn’t what made the book more interesting. The characters’ psychological responses to the threat (or promise) of a different reality and the conjectures they make on the plausibility of our current reality are fascinating. This provides insight into the subjective nature of perception, especially when it comes to politics. It’s more than a simple picture of what things would look like if Hitler had won WWII. This books explores human nature and our psychological defenses. In other words, it’s the human, rather than scientific, element that makes the book speak to us.

I have since finished both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became the movie “Bladerunner”) and The Man in the High Castle, and am starting on Ubik, considered by many critics to be Dick’s masterpiece. I have a lot of respect for Philip K. Dick as a writer after reading these books. Even if you don’t think you’d like science fiction, you might want to sample a bit of this author’s work. It’s worth your time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Letters to a Young Writer


Colum McCann has put together a collection of essays advising would-be writers. In an age where anyone can publish, this book addresses the serious writer and not those who engage in the profession as an endeavor to earn a fast buck. This book is about the craft of writing and the process of creation. It’s not about getting rich quickly.

Sure, we’d all love a best seller. However, financially motivated art often lacks the substance needed to draw an audience. This book is about the process which may or may not result in financial gain. If you have the disease of writing it is in your blood and you will seek to cultivate it more or less like an addiction, rather than an occupation. There is no way not to write if it’s within you. The worst part is that simply scratching down words isn’t enough: those of us with the writing bug must also continually seek improvement. That’s where this book comes into play.

A good part of writing is finding the connection with readers, and that only happens when we’re engaged and willing to be exposed in order to establish this relationship. McCann addresses this in his essay “The First Line.” He advises that each story should open with a natural flow, without forcing too much information upon the reader too quickly. Think of it like a first date: the goal is to incite interest but not to overwhelm or frighten the reader. This is the art of pacing or as McCann says, “achieving a balance.”

The book addresses the rules of writing by stating that “there are no rules,” but when the author states that you can dispose of grammar only when you know these rules he is really saying that you must understand this agreement of structure between the writer and reader before making the decision of when to ignore it. It’s like knowing when to use slang and when to avoid it. Once you know the purpose of these rules you can make a more informed decision about how well your piece fits into - or needs to be free from them.

This book was outstanding and one of the best I've read concerning the art of writing. It encourages creative types to get out of their internal vortex and to see their work from the reader's perspective, which is essential for gaining an appreciative audience. It also covers topics such as writer's block (which he refers to as "The terror of the white page"), why we tell stories, and handling critics. The essays are short and filled with bits of wisdom and insight that can assist writers at all stages of a career.

If you loved Stephen King's "On Writing" then this book is definitely for you. If you’re very new to writing and looking for practical advice on how to get your published, then the book isn’t for you. However, if you know that writing is your calling and there’s no way to avoid it - this is highly recommended reading.

Letters to a Young Writer is releasing on April 4, 2017.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: The Pier Falls

If I were to compare the craft of writing to the field of architecture, I’d say that Mark Haddon is like the Frank Lloyd Wright of the literary world. His writing is modern and graceful with some experimental elements, but it’s always structurally sound and high quality. Haddon is most well known for his 2003 book The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, but he’s been publishing his work for over two decades and has a number of titles for both adults and children. His latest book is a collection of short stories called The Pier Falls and Other Stories.

The issue with many short story collections is the lack of relationship the stories have to one another. Sometimes I feel like a shopper at a bargain bin when I read these types of books, wondering if the contents of the bin even came from the same source. However, this collection holds together through several underlying themes, as well as the consistency of the writing. Haddon takes the reader to an equilibrium on the edge between mythology and modernity, showing the transcendence of the human experience through his characters. There’s a rational-spiritual dichotomy peeking through the prose at numerous points, but the text always feels real.

Because these are short stories, a number of different themes are explored in different settings. For example, in the title piece The Pier Falls the author explores tragedy by showing us both the horrible and the absurd manifested side by side as a pier collapses into the ocean. Individuals grasp for life or succumb to death as a Strauss recording continues to play over loudspeakers during the event, reminding victims that life will waltz on with or without them.

In the story The Island, we’re given a re-telling of Ariadne’s final days on the island of Dias. Unlike Homer’s Odyssey, this version is in first person and we get to hear Ariadne process the events leading up to her death as she struggles for survival.

The theme of Loneliness also comes up in several of the pieces, with each story examining a different facet of it. We see the complexity of human relationships as circumstances and situations molds these bonds. A particular experience may have a lasting impact which can bring people together or tear them apart from one another or themselves.

In The Woodpecker and The Wolf a woman goes to space to escape relationships, but then becomes pregnant. The space mission encounters troubles and the woman watches the other astronauts perish, including the baby’s father. The struggle for survival and the new life for which she now feels responsible causes her to reassess her relationships and what she valued in them.

Diazepam makes an appearance in several of the pieces, acknowledging our modern tendency to self-medicate. This theme of self-medicating is explored more fully in the story titled Bunny, in which a morbidly obese man feels that his hunger and disappointment are more painful than the consequences of his overeating, and so he eats. Lots.

Haddon is a modern writer that I strongly recommend to many would-be writers. His style is modern, functional, and graceful without being ostentatious. His work definitely falls under the label of "literary" and shows remarkable facility to move back and forth between verb tenses keeps the reader centered on the story without feeling the jerk between past and present. His characters are complex but not over-explained or overtly obvious. The plots are cultivated in such a manner as to appear natural and yet perfectly manicured at the same time. Writing should always reflect life, but literary writing uses language and plot structure to explore it more fully. Haddon accomplishes that in these stories.

Several of the pieces in The Pier Falls have been previously published in literary journals, so if you’re reluctant to plunge into the whole book you can find a few of these stories online. Whether you read a sample of these stories online or purchase the entire book is up to you. Regardless, I encourage individuals looking for some great modern fiction to read them. The writing feels effortless, as good writing should, but afterwards it also causes me to marvel at how well it’s put together. It’s the sort of book that easily gets me on the train without me first asking where it will go or when it will arrive. I know that I’ll enjoy the ride, and the scenery will be worth my time.