Category Archives: Musings

What Is Reading?

A Tale of Two Cities, Four Ways by Linda Gardner (grandgrrl/flickr.com)

Whether I’m flipping paper pages, scanning through an ebook, listening to an audiobook or reading into a mic, reading a book is reading a book. Or is it?

As much as anyone, I live through words. I’ve been a professional actor. I’ve edited books. I’ve written them. I’ve narrated audiobooks. I’ve designed ebooks. It would be reasonable to say my life centers around words — that my life centers around reading.

But what does that mean?

My earliest memories have to do with books: being read to by my parents, reading along to picture books narrated on scratchy 45s, hiding under my covers with a flashlight and The Hobbit or Encyclopedia Brown. Many of my dearest adult memories are book related: reading the same copy of Ender’s Game side-by-side with my soon-to-be-wife; reading Where the Wild Things Are to my first-born and realizing that I remembered every word, having not seen the book in twenty-five years; reading all seven of the Harry Potter books (and many others) aloud to each of my daughters.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about what exactly reading is — Continue reading What Is Reading?

Inauguration Weekend: Ritual and Renewal

Here’s a thought that first occurred to me on the third weekend of January four years ago, and that feels all the truer to me now:

I love that presidential inaugurations now take place the day after MLK Day. Not only does it make for a lovely four-day weekend for some schools, but we have created a secular ritual of loss and rebirth that satisfies my mythically-oriented but ultimately agnostic soul.

Think about it: every third Monday of January, we here in the US celebrate the life of man who called to the better angels of our nature, and who died in the struggle to get our nation to live out its creed—that all men are created equal. Every Martin Luther King Day, I listen to King’s speeches—the “I have a dream” behemoth, the “I have seen the Promised Land; I may not get there with you” Pisgah sight—and they fill me with both great hope and a great sense of loss. I cry. Every damned time. It’s pathetic. Only it’s not.

Then, every fourth year, on the third Tuesday in January, we indulge in the audacity of our on-going revolution, an exercise that embraces the idea that not only are we all one nation together (whatever our differences), but that we can, will, and do work continuously to make ours a more perfect union. Continue reading Inauguration Weekend: Ritual and Renewal

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Risuko
Risuko

Ken Schneyer tagged me for this meme in his own post last week.

I’m a bit late posting this… Been madly finishing work on an audiobook and trying to care for my very flu-felled wife. But here’s my response!

What is the title of your book?

Risuko. That’s Japanese for “Squirrel,” which is the protagonist’s nickname.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A couple of places:

First of all, I read an article about a war widow in sixteenth-century Japan who set up a  school (of sorts) that trained young girls to be kunoichi  (female assassins, spies and bodyguards), all under the guise of being shrine maidens (miko) — something like the Shintō equivalent of novice nuns.[†] I’d always been fascinated with the Japanese Sengoku (civil war era), so when I read that, I thought, Wow! There’s a story someone should write! A while later, I had an image of a girl climbing a tree… and realized that someone should be me.

The other thing that got this started was reading the Harry Potter books with my kids, loving them, and thinking, Now, what about these has to be fantasy? As I’ve been writing Risuko, my intent has been to write a story that feels like a fantasy — but isn’t. Continue reading The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

Crazy Is as Crazy Does – Madness and Narrative

Silver Lining Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook

My family watched Silver Linings Playbook last night. We all really enjoyed the dark romantic comedy, but I couldn’t shake some misgivings.

Talking afterward with my eldest daughter (who’s just finished taking a college Intro to Psychology class), I realized that part of the discomfort I was feeling had to do with the portrayal of the mental and emotional states of the two main characters, Pat (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). As Sasha pointed out, the two actors give fine, nuanced performances, but really, even given what little I know, their portrayals of two characters struggling with heavy-duty psychological issues had very little to do with clinical psychology and a lot to do with storytelling convention and narrative design. As we talked about it, I had this epiphany: in any story, madness (like magic, murder, etc.) is first and foremost a literary trope rather than an expression of objective psychological reality. Continue reading Crazy Is as Crazy Does – Madness and Narrative

Bending the Story without Breaking It: Prophecy and Time Travel

Prophecy and time travel - Hourglass by Rachel Caitlin (TrueLovesKiss) on flickr.com. Used under a Creative Commons license.

I was just reading a really fun time-travel story (Heather Albano’s Timepiece), and a thought that had been bouncing around in my head for a long time came clear to me: from a purely narrative point of view, time travel is prophecy’s long-lost (and possibly evil) twin.

Don’t get me wrong — they’re clearly very different plot devices, and stories that include one or the other tend to play out in somewhat different ways. But they do essentially the same thing to and for a plot. They bend narrative logic so that it can snap in interesting and unexpected ways. Continue reading Bending the Story without Breaking It: Prophecy and Time Travel

Review: Cold Days Holds ‘Em

Cold Days by Jim Butcher - see jimbutcher.com

I’ve been reading fantasy adventure novels for a long, long time. When you read a series of books by the same author, it’s hard not to expect the stakes to get raised with each title: new thrills, new surprises, new tie-ins with earlier plots.

If you read enough books by the same author, there comes a point where you find yourself beginning to wonder if perhaps, this time, the writer is bluffing — that s/he has pushed the stakes so high (yet again) that the hand the writer’s holding — the story s/he’s written — can’t possibly support the kind of rash bet s/he’s just made. As a reader, you sigh, swearing you won’t get suckered in yet again, but hey — you’re reading this book because you want the author to win that bet. So you call the bluff. Continue reading Review: Cold Days Holds ‘Em

Review: Cold Days Holds 'Em

Cold Days by Jim Butcher - see jimbutcher.com

I’ve been reading fantasy adventure novels for a long, long time. When you read a series of books by the same author, it’s hard not to expect the stakes to get raised with each title: new thrills, new surprises, new tie-ins with earlier plots.

If you read enough books by the same author, there comes a point where you find yourself beginning to wonder if perhaps, this time, the writer is bluffing — that s/he has pushed the stakes so high (yet again) that the hand the writer’s holding — the story s/he’s written — can’t possibly support the kind of rash bet s/he’s just made. As a reader, you sigh, swearing you won’t get suckered in yet again, but hey — you’re reading this book because you want the author to win that bet. So you call the bluff. Continue reading Review: Cold Days Holds 'Em

The End Approacheth… and Recedeth: Apocalypse as Myth

La Mojarra Inscription - Mayan Long Count Date

The world is coming to an end.

Perhaps it will be on this year’s winter solstice, when the Mayan calendar says that the current pictun or aeon will end, and the universe will be obliterated and reconstituted– as it is supposed to have been seven thousand years or so ago. (Like Hindus, Buddhists, and many physicists, the Mayans believed that history moved in cycles rather than a straight line.)

Or perhaps it will be in five billion or so years, when the sun goes nova, burning the earth to a crisp.

Or perhaps it will be some other form of metaphysical or manmade apocalypse.

What is certain is that the idea of apocalypse — the myth of the word’s end — exercises a real, enduring power over the human imagination. Not a year goes by when some would-be prophet or other begins counting down to doomsday. Continue reading The End Approacheth… and Recedeth: Apocalypse as Myth

The Power — and the Study — of Myth


Angkor Wat

In the latter half of the 20th century, mythologist Joseph Campbell’s vast body of work — from “The Hero With A Thousand Faces” in 1949 to the broadcast of “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers” just months after his passing — resuscitated interest in comparative mythology, revitalizing the study of the field that Campbell called “the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.”

However, that interest hasn’t necessarily translated into formal acceptance on college campuses. “Academia doesn’t seem to know what to do with mythology,” says Stephen Gerringer of the Joseph Campbell Foundation. Continue reading The Power — and the Study — of Myth

Writing the Inevitable but Unexpected

A novel never sleeps.

We’re on vacation. As my family plays, I’m working on yet another round of rewrites for a young-adult novel, trying to add a scene about half of the way through.

This has had me thinking quite a bit about the idea of justification—not as in left, right, and center, but as in setting up a scene properly so that a reader neither feels as if it came out of nowhere nor as if it was far too long in coming. Getting it just right is obviously every storyteller’s goal, and one of the more challenging aspects of storytelling. Aristotle said that the end of an effective plot must be “unexpected but inevitable.” I’d say, though, that the same can be true of any good scene, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to mess it up in one direction or the other.

The reason that I’ve had this on my mind, other than my on-going story addiction/obsession, is that the last two books I’ve emerged myself in were Victoria Roth’s Divergent and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones.

Continue reading Writing the Inevitable but Unexpected