"I may not know how to fly but I know how to read and that's almost the same thing."-- Gregory Maguire, Out of Oz

"...while finding true love was one of the most splendid things that could happen to you in life, finding a friend was equally splendid." -- Felix J Palma, The Map of the Sky

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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z = Zombies

Z is for Zombie! I want to end A-Z Challenge with a look at a popular modern day obsession: the reanimated corpse!

It's really bizarre. At least with vampires you can point and say: thats a metaphor for something.  But more often than not zombies are rooted deeply in science fiction than entities of fantasy; they were once human, then by disease or scientific hubris, (occasionally by miracle and magic) they died, and then tried to eat someone. It's impossible. It can't happen. But we can't stop asking: What if? What if the dead rose up to wage war against the living?

 In Max Brooks's World War Z, he examines the zombie apocalypse from a pessimistic but eerily realistic viewpoint. You see the confusion in the initial stages of the outbreak, the fear of citizens and the people who will try to profit from that fear. You see government reactions across the globe, as they struggle to contain the outbreak and later, their people.

 The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant, introduces zombies as an obstacle course for political bloggers who are about to discover the conspiracy that destroyed life as everyone knew it, the conspiracy that will continue to destroy unless they can survive long enough to blow it wide open. There's something endearing about these characters; they speak to modern day phenomenon of tech-addiction and vaccine fear, while embracing a future where the dead are never far away.

 Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist, is one of the rare instances where no explanation for the zombie uprising is given. Its not about the dead, or even the Undead, it's about the living. It examines the moral implications and the emotional obligations of what it would really mean if your loved ones returned from the grave. How far will the living go to protect the deceased?

If you're looking for metaphor and meaning in zombiehood perhaps the lesson taught is this: No matter how bad the dead behave, the living can always behave worse. And isn't that a frightening thought.

Got a favorite Zombie novel?
Why do you think we love zombies?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y = Young Adult

Young Adult Fiction, is fiction written and/or marketed to adolescent readers, between the ages of 12-18 -- although advanced readers may have been reading these well before 12.

For me, Young Adult maybe the most important literary category; while picture books introduce us to words, introduce us to morals, its not until YA that we really start to understand how powerful words are and what you can do with them. And what we read in that formative, angst-filled, and confusing time period can shape how we view the world.

 The Sight by David Clement-Davies, is probably the first book I put my hands on after I ventured bravely from the children's section at my local library. I couldn't have been 10 yet. It was a shock to my system, this fantasy world where wolves waged a war of good versus evil, nurture and nature. Where an evil she-wolf wants to enslave her species to create an army to overthrow man...and the wolf pack that will fight for freedom. I just enjoyed the ride, but I came away with an understanding that being good was key, having faith in something greater than self was important too. I understood the importance of family, friends and love. I was too young to analyze, what I now know to be themes: underlying messages in the story. I absorbed them even if I couldn't name them.

 Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, was set in my hands by a middle school teacher who noticed me. "The main character reminds me of you," she said. The main character was Melinda Sordino; she didn't have friends and she refused to speak even when spoken to... I was quiet, I had trouble fitting in, and I struggled to hide from those who would make life harder. But this wasn't just the story of someone who didn't fit, someone who struggled with loneliness and depression, and couldn't always speak up... This was the story of a sexual assault victim. 9 times out of 10, fantasy uses good and evil as plot devices; this was my first look at how contemporary young adult fiction could be used to teach kids about a serious real life problem. I was aware of the birds and the bees; it hadn't occurred to me that someone might put their hands on you without permission. Suddenly I was seeing an ugly part of life: a victim blamed, left afraid, struggling to name what happened, and ultimately fighting to find her voice. 

YA is a powerful thing; an author has the ability to help form a still developing mind. A book built for entertainment can still broadcast a message, whether the author intended it to or not... Which is why I beg authors to think deep about their words. To quote Spider-Man: With great power, comes great responsibility.

Do you have a favorite/influential YA novel from your past?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X = Xanadu

Xan·a·du (noun) used to convey an impression of a place as almost unattainably luxurious or beautiful
I'm rather pleased with myself for finding a X word and figuring out a literary tie in. Given the definition of Xanadu, I wanted to pay tribute to stories with impossibly beautiful settings described in extraordinary detail.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is at the top of the list. Welcome to a circus, each room uniquely enchanted with the magic of warring magicians. You can smell the carmel popcorn, taste the excitement in the air...Erin Morgenstern left no sense deprived of fantasy experience, in her debut novel.

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin is a story of good and evil, true love, and miracles, passing down through the generations in an unforgettable snow-covered New York. You can feel the cold on your cheeks, feel the burn of grief in your heart in this story of love and redemption.

 Palimpsest by Catherynne M Valente; a seductive and imaginative story of a parallel world that can only be found by the unhappy souls who've managed to have a sexual encounter with someone who'd already been there. See an impossible world with trains that breathe and insects built in factories; feel the anxiety as desperate people cling to hope of something more...

Got a favorite beautifully imagined book?

Monday, April 27, 2015

W = Wide Awake

Today, I want to talk about books that keep you up all night. I'm talking about those books that make you say, "Just a few more pages..." And then sometime around 2:30 AM you close the book that you've just finished, glance at the clock and realize, "Aww, crap it's late!" And then no matter how hard you try you still can't fall asleep because you're thinking about that book and that ending.

 We've all had those books. Much like book quotes, the story that stands out to the individual might not be the story that stands out to the crowd. But in that book that you can't put down, there's an edge of suspense that appeals to you personally and it pulls you in and forward.

And I don't know where I'm really going with this train of thought beyond: those books are fantastic! Those blue rings under your eyes from those books are less fantastic.

It's sort of grand that someone could write a book as if they knew exactly the kind of story your soul would need and it wound up in your hands at exactly the moment you need it... But nobody really needs zombie face.

 Do you remember the last book that kept you up past your bedtime?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V = Vampires

They're undead, they feed from the living. They scare us, they seduce us. They can save or condemn us. And whether your favorites are good or evil or somewhere in between, there is no denying that despite the hundreds of legends, myths, monsters, and all around paranormal and supernatural tales, there is something about the idea of vampires that human beings cannot let go.

So what is it about vampires? Are they a cautionary tale, showing us the price of living forever is too steep to live with? Does it speak to a primal fear of a pretty face hiding a deadly secret? Or the burning curiosity of needing to know more about the dark and mysterious forces of nature surrounding us at any given moment, dictating whether we live another day or die alone in an alley?

Whatever the reason, you can't escape vampires. They've been in books for decades. They conquered movie theaters without even trying. Now they've made themselves quite at home inside your television. Vampires aren't going away.


 Why do you think vampires are so popular? Who's your favorite creature of the night?

Friday, April 24, 2015

U = Upcoming Features

I'm inventing a theme for Sunday. I have not yet decided whether or not it will be a permanent fixture, but right now I like the idea of it and I'm going to see how it goes. 

My first short story collection ever reviewed on this blog was by Scott F Fitzgerald and there was a problem. How do you review one book when it's full of many stories? I wound up trying to do both: review the book as a whole and acknowledge each individual story inside. This made for one long ass review.

 So instead I thought: why not review each individual story as an individual and then upon the books completion review the book as a whole? That way short stories have short reviews and the book review looks a little bit less like pretentious word vomit.

 So when the A-Z Challenge is complete, I will be starting Short Story Sunday. It will feature the first story of the following:

 Second order of business: when the AZ Challenge draws to a close, I will be shutting off the Anonymous comments and turning on word verification. It's nothing personal I just hate spam. So if you'd like to comment in the future, please sign in.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T = Tranche De Vie

Tranche de vie is a French phrase that means "slice of life". In literature it refers to a storytelling technique where a character does seemingly arbitrary everyday things in a plot with little or no conflict.

This is a weird literary device, and I don't see it used a whole lot. I think most modern writers learn young "must have plot" and not necessarily "must-have theme". Plenty of stories are meant to be enjoyed and not necessarily analyzed. But on the rare occasion tranche de vie pops up, I get to ask the fun question: What does it mean?

Sometimes it means the story is incredibly well-thought-out; the author is using an arbitrary and otherwise dull moment in a person's life to illustrate a point. Sometimes it means the opposite: the author simply got carried away and had no point except that he didn't know how to end one scene and move onto the next.

 If little else, tranche de vie offers an opportunity stop and think, to  complement or critique.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S = Science Fiction

S is for science fiction and all its glorious nuances! Science Fiction is imaginative fiction that often deals with futuristic societies, technologies and discoveries.  Popular themes include time travel, space travel, extraterrestrial life, and parallel universes. Unlike fantasy which requires readers to suspend disbelief in the supernatural, science-fiction usually offers logical and scientific explanations for how impossible things are made possible. Sometimes Science Fiction even inspires real life inventions!

  Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction in which the world as we know it has been devastated and changed by war, pandemic, or some ecological  or astronomical event. It's known well by it's currently popular sub genres, dystopian and Utopian. Dystopian which depicts a futuristic society where you wouldn't want to live... And Utopian which depicts a futuristic society where everything is peaceful and you might want to live there; except in Utopian is usually some devastating plot twist where you find out why peace isn't always better.

 Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton is a classic example of scientific innovation gone awry. Scientists in science fiction are constantly creating, mutating, and designing must have products and creatures that turn around and bite humanity in the ass. Sometimes literally.

 The Map of Time by Felix.J Palma, is both steampunk and speculative fiction. Steampunk is one of my favorites, it usually involves clockwork in steam powered inventions sometimes but not always located in historical locales. Speculative fiction usually takes ( not always) place in the past and examines "what if this happened?" And "how would it affect the future?"

 And I can't leave out alien invasions that would just be crazy. The Host by Stephanie Meyer is the science-fiction romance, young adults safe, and light on the science bit, but I didn't like Enders Game by Orson Scott Card and War of the Worlds by HG Wells felt a little on the nose. People have been planning for hostile invasion by aliens longer than people have been planning for the zombie apocalypse and let's face it: we're really excited about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse.

 As for my claim that science-fiction inspires real inventions the iPad was first seen on episode of Star Trek. The technology in Jurassic Park is being used by zoos to resurrect endangered species. Jules Verne imagined the submarine before it was invented.

 How do you feel about science-fiction place in our world?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R = Realistic People

Today I want to talk about some of my favorite contemporary stories. No witches , wizards, time travelers,no vampires, aliens, or zombies or anything else like that. I want to talk about realistic fiction  and characters that are just like you and me, except maybe more entertaining.

 I adore Ursula Under by Ingrid Hill. It's about a little girl who falls down an abandoned mine shaft and the miracle of her existence. It's not just about the little girl, it's about her ancestors who nearly didn't live, who nearly didn't conceive children of their own. How a chance survival affects the future.

 The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. The best part about this story is that I could look at these characters and point to their mirror image in my own town. The busybodies, the teenagers who think they're so smart, the moms who don't know when to grow the hell up, the power-hungry and the downtrodden... The town of Pagford is at war over whether or not they should expand to include a nearby ghetto.

 A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice. This story is lumped in with GLBT genre which I don't appreciate. Because to me you don't have to be gay to understand the story, I don't think it's really about that. The main character is gay. What spoke to me isn't the main character sexuality but how the people in the story view him and how he views himself. This is really a story about what it's like to be different and learning how to live with that against a backdrop of humanity who might never accept you. You don't need to be gay to understand what it's like to be bullied, to understand how as children growing up sometimes means growing apart.

 Do you like contemporary fiction? What's your favorite?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q = Quotes

Quotes are often personal things; a sentence here, a passage there. They might have a deep philosophical message or just be a beautifully crafted sentence that you could never forget.

“For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” 
-- John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

“Music explains itself...It is the road and it is the map that shows the road. It is both together.” 
-- Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man's Fear

“Before cruelly vilifying them from a great height, the mudslingers at newspapers and journals should bear in mind that all artistic endeavors were by and large a mixture of effort and imagination, the embodiment of a solitary endeavor, of a sometimes long-nurtured dream, when they were not a desperate bid to give life meaning.” 
-- Felix J Palma, The Map of Time

“Every hour wounds. The last one kills.” 
-- Neil Gaiman, American Gods

“the love had grown cold, and in the night he heard it whistling through the chambers of his heart like a lost and gently crying wind.” 
-- William Peter Blatty, The Exorcist

Got a favorite quote to share?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P = Pleasure and Pain in Reading

It drives me crazy when I hear people say, "I don't like books...Reading is boring." I have a suspicion this stems from how we're taught to read as children. We go from having cute picture books and silly rhymes read to us by the people we love, to school where the teachers pick out the most brutal and boring and occasionally upsetting books and force children to read them for grades.

I love books, but I remember reading in school and it sucked. Bad things were constantly happening to people and animals... I didn't like that. The writing was so dull, I'd rarely make it 3 pages in to find out what horrible thing was happening in fiction this semester.  I remember my mother yelling at me, "How can you be have an F on a book report! You read!" 

That's true. I read. I never left the house without a book, and that was before I was ever enrolled in school. I didn't have a security blanket, I had a security Where the Wild Things Are (and a pretty tattered lion rattle). After school became a thing I had to do, I still read. Before school, during recess, at dinner, under the blanket with a flashlight... but never the book assigned.

So now I wonder about what exposure to books book-hating-adults had before they were adults. Did reading start at home? Did it end with school? And why are schools allowed to pick such dreadful reading material? And why didn't the parents, having seen their kids starting to hate the written word, never go to a library to find the right book?

I still won't leave the house without a book, you know? I still read before sleeping, with my morning coffee, during road trips, in between chores, in waiting rooms...the idea of hating books is foreign to me. I love them so much. 

So what happens that so many people strive to avoid books forever, once they're free of academic institutions? Why are so many academic institutions failing to teach kids the most important thing about books? 

Books aren't just for teaching; they're for enriching life. Good books are like  good spouses: They're there, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer...

What are your thoughts on the issue?

Friday, April 17, 2015

O = Offensive Storytelling Tactics

Today I'm talking about literary pet peeves; those little things that shouldn't ruin your day but inevitably drive you crazy!

Love at first sight. Not the cutesy fairytale kind, where the author wants to save space and get to the point, but the other kind: The kind where the main character goes, "Oh my God, he's so hot! I'm in love...because he's hot!" Bitch, please. If that's you're only reason for loving him, you need help. I've met pretty faces, nice abs, and soft hair... I understand the appeal, I do. But if the pretty face belongs to a jerk, no amount of manscaping or money is going to impress me. I have little respect for women characters who don't know the difference between love and lust. I especially don't like this concept in young adult fiction. Is that what we ought to be teaching kids? How important looks are to a relationship? Needless to say, I avoid most contemporary romances.

Failure to world build. You see this in badly written sci-fi and fantasy novels. The author has this great and elaborate idea for a story and character and just starts writing. And why not? The concept is solid, right? But a concept isn't everything. Characters need motives and they need to fuel those motives with history, preferably their own, otherwise why are they involved? And you can't just say a civil war is taking place, you need to say what the people are fighting over, what they hope to achieve by fighting. And no, you can't just have a sorcerer cast a spell and save the day because he's magical; every world, even imagined ones, have to have rules: things that can be done, things that can't. Actions need corresponding consequences. If the author doesn't know the answer to "why?" and "how?" he or she can't reasonably expect an audience to know...the audience isn't telling the story.

Editless novel. This drives me crazy. I know not everyone who writes is topping the sales list, editors are pricey, but come on. An author should never ask for money for a book that is full of grammar and spelling errors. Why don't Indie's handout a half dozen manuscripts to any educated humans in their life and say, "If you've got time, can you highlight everything that's wrong with this story?" Independent authors are turning into Yard Sale authors: "Please, won't you buy my unloved junk?" And I've read a few good ones, don't get me wrong... But so many are bad, that it gets awfully easy to start stereotyping. That makes it so much harder for the good ones to get noticed. Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit.

Do you have any literary pet peeves?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N = Neologism

Neologism, is a new word or phrase -- or new meaning for an old word or phrase --that enters into commonly used vocabulary.

This is a word I think every modern day human being should know, as it is basically the evolution of language! And we're seeing language evolve faster than ever as the digital world grows and people look for more effective ways to communicate with each other... But this is a book blog (blog is a neologism!) not a communications seminar.

Neologisms are commonly found in fantasy and science fiction to help readers dissociate from the world they know and believe in a world they don't know. Obviously, not all words found in fictional worlds are going to be accepted in ours, but some take off.

For example, most people understand 'chortle' is another word for 'laughter', but this word didn't exist until Lewis Carroll wrote Through the Looking Glass. Books that contain themes of totalitarian governments and anti-utopian societies are often called 'Orwellian' after George Orwell who penned 1984. There's also a concept called 'catch-22' where an individual can't escape from or solve a negative situation due to a set of rules that conflict with each other. This neologism is based on a novel by the same name, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

I also think it's interesting to note that in the world of pscychiatry, neologisms are considered normal in children, but can be a sign of mental illness in adults... It's a fine line between imagination and hallucination.

Ever invent your own word? Got an example of a neologism?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M = Malapropism

* What is it?

Malapropism, is the use of an incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound. It is a form of wordplay.

* Why is it used?

Malapropism, can be used for a few reasons.

One reason is just because it's funny. A character saying a word with confidence, when the audience knows it is the wrong word, can be comical.

Another reason is to show a character's state of mind; stress, confusion, or in Jack Sparrow's case, drunkenness. The character is flustered, knows the word he wants to say, but says the wrong one instead.

A third reason, is use by accident or ignorance. The speaker simply doesn't know he or she is using a word incorrectly. The word they use sounds similar to the one they want to use. They know the definition of the word they want to use, but they don't know the word that matches that definition.

The third example of malapropism is especially hilarious, when used by real life politicians!

Got any favorite examples of malapropism?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L = Library

What is a library?

A library is basically the nexus of the universe. It's where ordinary citizens can go and be transformed into Time Lords; see what happened, what's happening, what could happen. See every dream and every nightmare ever pulled from the minds of mere mortals.

Just pull a portal off a shelf and go to Hogwarts, Narnia, or Middle Earth; go to 1922, 1590, or 3306. Go watch Hitler commit crimes against humanity, watch Monet create a masterpiece, or visit with your favorite Intergalactic Queen... What ever adventure you desire can be located at a library... Unless it's in your head, then you need to write it down and add it to a library.

Some libraries can be quite beautiful, like this one in Austria's Melk Abbey.

Some can be very large, like Trinity College Library in Ireland.

Or oddly shaped like Stockholm Public Library.

Some can be built for comfort and accessibility like Prague Public Library, Oklahoma.

What libraries, big and small, all have in common: You go there, to go elsewhere.

*Please note: I am not responsible for your failure to portal jump.*

Monday, April 13, 2015

K = Kids in Literature

Today, I want to acknowledge kids in literature. Regardless of genre, the right child character, used just the right way, is effective at enhancing a storyline.

Few things are rarely as horrifying as a child; the epitome of vulnerability one moment and then the next, innocence corrupted to the point you have to wonder whether or not they were ever innocent at all. 

 Few narrators can better tell a story about right and wrong, life and death, fiction and reality, than a capricious child who hasn't yet allowed himself to understand the differences.

 Few ideas can spread hope like the story of an orphan naively clinging to courage, no matter its cost.

 And few characters are so eager to guide us on an adventure, as a curious child looking to have one of her own.

Here's to all the fictional children of the literary world, the ones who terrified us, taught us, inspired us, and led us.

Got a favorite literary child?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

J = Jerks in Literature

Not to be confused with B-day, today I want to acknowledge that not all main characters have to be nice or even likable to be considered the main protagonist. You can have a miserable person as a protagonist and it doesn't necessarily make it the story of an anti-hero.

Let's start with a classic: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Ebenezer Scrooge, is a man so unpleasant 'Santa Claus' (God or Fate) sent 3 (4 if we count Marley) ghosts to haunt him into death or redemption. The story, despite revolving around an angry, greedy old man, hasn't been out of print since its original publication in 1843.

There's also The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The story is about Quentin Coldwater (teen wizard) who is never happy. No matter what he gets, he always wants more, and when he gets more, that's not good enough either.Although I personally found the book as unlikable as it's protagonist, the story became a NY Times Bestseller and an internationally best-selling novel.

And I wouldn't be caught forgetting Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon. Why bother pointing to one character--Jaimy Gordon spread the misery around in this one. Tommy Hansel is a scam artist trying to rip off a low class racetrack by bringing in a better class of horse. Then you've got his girlfriend Maggie in love with the horses more than the man who owns them. And just about everyone who is involved with anything at this particular track knows exactly what Tommy is up to...after all, they're crooks too. And don't get me started on the treatment of horses in this story...it's like PETA's nightmare. But this book despite the cast of damaged characters still earned a National Book Award.

So I guess my point is this: A character who is "nice" and "respectable" and "likable" doesn't always matter. Sometimes what matters is the story that supports the main character's existence, even if he's a total jerk.