With a nod to Matthew MacNish’s Facebook post on his most influential books from at least 10 years ago. Piece of cake for the first five but not so easy from there-after. They’re in order of how they came to me. First five today – the rest later in the week.
1. The Gods of Mars/The Warlord of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are the second and third books of the John Carter of Mars series. I found a beat up hard cover copy of these in a two-book special issue on a dusty, lonely shelf in my seventh period study hall in 8th grade. It was the only study hall I ever took. I loved these books so much I took the hardcover with the Frazetta art on the front home with me. When my friend Joe died at the end of that year in a terrible train accident a small part of me thought he died because I took the book. I could come up with no other reason for losing my best friend. It has haunted me. Over the years I collected each of the Frazetta covered hardbacks in the series combing through used bookstores everywhere I went for those special editions with the line drawings illustrating the text. Frazetta did the covers for all Burroughs’ books in the 70s so I read everything he wrote, even if he wrote them all during the early 1900s.
2. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. They are all one to me emotionally. The year before Joe died we read these one after the other. I still remember reading the Bridge at Khazadoom chapter in the car with Joe and my brother on the way to the community pool. We didn’t want to leave the car until we finished that first book.
3. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Nobody has ever captured the thrill of getting a new pair of sneakers on the first day of summer the way he did. I love lots of Bradbury books but this one was just about growing up, nothing more and nothing less and it was magnificent. His voice is so distinctive and poetic. I don’t write like him but I aspire to have a voice as singularly unique and an imagination as full of wonder. I got a lot tied up in him.
4. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman. This was the most powerful fantasy novel (and it is one long epic novel told in three parts) I’d read in a long, long time and I read it just before my son was born and before Harry Potter turned up. And it’s YA. And I cried at the end and stared at the ceiling afterwards examining the cracks and wondering about the world. Damn.
5. A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald. I started reading the Travis McGee series when I was in Honduras as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The PC library was four shelves of worn paperbacks sitting in the shade by the nurses office in Tegucigalpa. I don’t remember which number book this was for me but it’s the fifth in the series and I’d read a few before this one came along. As a writer this book blew me away because the mystery was cleared up half-way into the book. I was young and naively thought genre books like mysteries always followed a pattern. I had at that moment a blinding realization – that I didn’t care that the book had stopped following the pattern and that was because I enjoyed the main character Travis McGee so much I was willing to go anywhere plot-wise with him. He tore the genre formulae apart. Genre didn’t have to follow formulae. With a good character in hand you could do just about anything in any genre. I always tell writers to read Macdonald’s Travis McGee series. He was a master of genre fiction. You also watch him grow as a writer as the books were written over a twenty-year spread. Check out McGee, the dames who come to him looking for help and his houseboat The Busted Flush somewhere down the coast of Florida. Don’t forget the rum.
This is the second time I’ve completed the A-Z Challenge (Thank you Matt from the QQQE for putting me on to the possibilities), blogging 26 letters of the alphabet this year on swordplay. It’s hard to believe the month passed so quickly. It’s my son’s 11th birthday tomorrow and I’ve finished just in time to plan his birthday party – an ode to Ratzo part IV. It’s a long story and you could check on my Dad-dito blog for more info but suffice to say I’ve got some work to do. Puzzles to make, dangers to create, some script and storyline to ponder for my son and five of his friends.
What was it like to blog the whole month of April on the A-Z? Exhausting and exhilarating. The word discipline comes to mind also. Hard work. A kick in the ass, also. This year I visited more blogs than last year, though it was much harder to do as the month went on. A good start helped. I pre-wrote the first five posts – that helped me to blog-hop the first week. The whole experience has put a smile on my face.
What’s amazing to me is that I also got some work done on my next novel. Sometimes other writing gets in the way. Other times it acts as a motivator. I’ve read a few good books also that I’ll talk about in May – a bit of non-fiction, a bit of fiction.
I am tired. Some of that is spring and a giant ahhh of exhalation.
It’s time to press on with my WIP.
The offer of help to anyone who needs it on swordplay in their writing is still open. I’m no fencing master, but I’ve learned a thing or two about blades and such over the last 30-years and how to put them into words that paint pictures and tell stories.
Two weeks have passed and I still haven’t written a blog post. I have been working on my book though, so that is something. Still, there’s time and distance to look at the experience and that, also is a good thing. So here are some thoughts on the A-Z challenge and blogging in general.
- Blogging is hard work. I don’t care what anyone says. It is writing and it is challenging, and it takes time and it is hard work. I know if I followed my wife’s suggestion and wrote short that I would be a better blogger but I tend to write long and meander. It is not a good blogger habit. So for 26 posts I tried to meander less and work quicker. When I was lost in side bars, side tracks, asides, and digressions I tried to find my way home and back to the point as quickly as possible.
- If was impossible for me to visit three blogs a day, much less five. I might have averaged out about 1 a day. It is only because I write slow and meander (see bullet one). But I did see 26 new blogs and found some great ones to follow. The blogging community is an eye-opening, huge group of absolutely crazy individuals with fascinating opinions and stuff (read – all kinds of shit, good shit and bad shit and all kinds of shit that’s in-between) to share with the world. My favorite blog to look at was Kristen Pelfrey’s, not because I found her blog during the A-Z challenge as I’d read her blog before… but because I found myself compelled to follow her post by post whenever I checked in on her work. She is a woman passionate about writing, about art, about learning, and about her angel potatoes. Each of her posts was a gem and worth going back for a second read.
- Choosing a theme was a good idea for me. My Greek theme played out well in helping me to structure my posts and give me a hook so I meandered less and actually, more than less, found a point to talk about. But… some letters were hard to come up with post for ( those with no Gods or Heroes or creatures beginning with the letters like Y, W, F and others). I find, though that constraints can sometimes be great creative devises. If I had left myself an open field to work with for each post I might have spent many more hours staring at the screen and imagining myself to be Stephen King (has anyone read his new Dark Tower book? I have to get that – I digress…). When I performed improvisational comedy with KLAATU my favorite improvs were the ones with more constraints. Free-form always troubled me. I liked a space to work within rather than the whole universe. It’s a different kind of creativity and one I work well with.
- I really enjoyed writing the posts. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment as I worked my way forward. Some of the pieces I wrote even ended up having some meaning to me and perhaps others – though more than anything I feel like I write to myself when I blog. I wonder if others do the same?
Finally there is the case of one Mathew MacNish, blogger extraordinaire, and the master of the QQQE. I tried the A-Z challenge because he was one of the masterminds in charge and if he was involved it meant I should probably give it a try. Mathew is a butt-kicking blogospherical expert and he hasn’t led me wrong yet. Plus he’s a friend and those two things together work magic.
On another note I read a bunch of wonderful books over the month that I’ll mention in future posts. But I will say that at least one was an adult novel and another, not the adult novel, my son can not read. On second thought my son can’t read either. Even though he’ll use his tried and true leverage, “But I read The Hunger Games” on me. It won’t work. Nope. Not this time. I will not fold for the YA book was brutal B R U T A L brutal.
And finally, I’m going to White House on Wednesday. Seriously. I am. I have a meeting with some colleagues about a project I’ve been involved with and we’ll be sitting down with Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) members in the White House, on the other side of the wrought iron fence – a place I’ve never been and never thought I would go. The experience relates to writing in a very distinctive way. My day job (running a training institute at a non-profit that works in the fields of AIDS and Drug Treatment amongst other issues) is challenging and hard but also interesting and provides me opportunity to do work that I think is important in helping others. As a writer it’s good and bad to have a job like this, good because it’s good to work at something you care about. Bad because it can suck all your time and energy away from you. What’s the best job to have if you’re a writer? More on that another day.
For now, I’ve meandered enough and need to find my way back home. Now… which way was it?
Here are three blogs I follow:
Question two from CWPost students.
How do you start a blog?
This was asked by an older adult (not a younger 18-21 adult) returning to school and clearly enjoying herself. So she wanted to write for herself – “I like writing,” she said – “and knew there was this thing called blogging and wanted to know how to start one. “Can you keep your blog private or does it have to go out to the world and can you just ignore twitter and Facebook and stuff like that in your blog?” If I could ignore twitter and Facebook I believe I would but they are necessary tools of the trade. Blogging on the other hand is both fun and stretches writing muscles.
But seriously, when she asked me this question all I could think of is that I am so not the guy to answer these questions. Although I’ve started four blogs in my life so far and written for an equal number of other blogs, I’m not an expert in any way shape or form on blogs. I’m not disciplined enough (though I’m getting better) to write every day on mine, and I struggle with writing short rather than long. So I’m going to direct you to some great writer’s blogs and a blog on blogging that gives you a primer on how to start at the end of the post.
Matthew Rush’s The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment – because he has a number of great posts on blogs in general and how to use them for marketing. He also runs an incredible clinic on writing query letters.
Andrew Smith’s Blog Ghost Medicine because he has this terrific voice, keeps his entries short and weaves an ongoing narrative each and every day. Oh yeah, and he’s a great fiction writer to boot.
Cheryl Rainfield’s blog because of all the cool things she does on it with video’s and photos, and contests. And she’s a great fiction writer also.
How to write a blog that People Want to Read – it’s from about.com so it has to be good.
How to write great blog content – from Problogger (how can you go wrong with a name like that?).
How to Create a blog in 4 easy steps – again from about.com and very helpful/practical.
WordPress linkbecause I use them and I like them. Click the button that says get started here…
What I told this woman was the following. First I said you don’t have to pay attention to twitter of Facebook if you want to just blog for yourself. Second I said there are things called privacy settings that you can use so you blog only for yourself and no one else can or ever will see your work if you don’t want them to. Then I said there were two blogging programs to look at -Blogspot and WordPress and that although I’d used both I liked WordPress more because for me it is more intuitive and easier to use. She had tried Blogspot also and didn’t like it so she was excited at each of the concrete answers I gave her. I told her to follow their tutorials – they walk you through the process. That’s really all I’m qualified to say about blogging. Really.
But here’s what was so cool about talking to this lovely woman. She wanted to exercise her writing muscles. She wanted to see what she could do. It’s the kind of response to writing that is so hard to get from most people because I think most look upon writing as a chore and not a pleasant one at that. Writing is so much a part of the way I express myself I almost forgot about this aspect of writing. This woman had just discovered writing as an act of self-expression and it had turned her on. How cool is that?