Escape

I hate three things about the photo above.

1. The first line.
I can handle reality. So can you.

Sure, sometimes reality sucks ass, but it’s not beyond what you can deal with. The very notion that readers are people who simply can’t stomach the stark truth of the “real world” is, in a word, insulting. It’s also not true.

See #2.

2. The juxtaposition.
The quote implies the idea of dealing with the real world and escaping through reading are opposing ideas. It’s as if the message is you can do one or the other. Not both.

On the contrary, in my experience fiction tends to provide both escape and instruction. I’ve learned some of life’s deepest lessons by meshing a story up against my own history. Just a couple of weeks ago I had an epiphany while reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Great book. Buy it now.

My point is, reading isn’t the opposite of dealing with the real world. Yes, it’s a form of escape, but it’s also a kind of refueling. It will leave you better equipped to deal with the crap you wanted to escape from to begin with.

3. The look.
Hey, I like aesthetics, and that’s one ugly picture.

On WritingI stray from time to time.

While I advocate reading fairly often, there are times when I go through droughts, myself. Sometimes it’s because I’m stuck in a book I’m not really enjoying, but too stubborn to put it down. Sometimes it’s because I finished a book I liked so much that I’m kind of pissed it’s over. Like I’m boycotting everything else. And sometimes I just get busy.

But I always come back.

I started The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making two nights ago, and it’s simply captivating.

I don’t think I would have liked it as a child. The language is rich. The descriptions are thorough and well-worn. The creative elements are dark and mildly off-putting. But as an adult, I dig on this story. A lot.

Reading something I like invariably makes me want to write, which is a good thing. Unique books like this one also remind me that there’s room in the world for every kind of story.

I also find myself remembering that even a pastime, something done for purely for pleasure (like reading), takes effort. If I don’t make time for it, it won’t happen.

But the pay-off more than makes up for it.

So, dear reader, what are you reading these days? Are you between books? Jump back in there!

And if you’re reading something particularly amazing, tell me about it in the comments.

On WritingLast week I rambled on about my love for Halloween, as well as the value of an unleashed imagination. It reminded me of something.

When I was in college, a friend and I had this game we liked to play. We’d sit on the back porch and think of movie titles and then try to come up with synonymous equivalents that were unrecognizable. One of our very best was this: “Concerning the Events of the Last Thermal Season, I Am Aware“. And, of course, the sequel: “Concerning the Events of the Last Thermal Season, I Remain in a State of Awareness“. (Follow the links if you’re coming up blank.)

The game was simple enough, but it provided us with hours of entertainment. Not only that, but it pushed my mind to keep a strong connection to that part of me that gets off on word play. It was the writer in me having a bit of trivial fun, and let me tell you, that’s not to be understated.

Like any art, it’s easy for writers to lose touch with what first drew us to our craft. Most likely, it wasn’t the desire to compose the next great American novel. Not in the beginning. No, when we first fell in love with fiction, we fell in love as readers. Really, we were just having fun. Some story caught us by the imagination and took us for a ride. We liked it so much that we not only wanted another turn, we wanted to create wild rides of our own, as well. We wanted to give to others what had been given to us.

Unfortunately, the nature of writing can be such that we turn inward. Writing is a solo task for the most part. As a result, sometimes we forget to maintain our connection with our first fiction love–the fun.

Don’t do that.

I strongly encourage serious writers to be serious about enjoying fiction. Not just because it will make you a better writer (it will), but because it will make the entire process far more fulfilling.

Your imagination isn’t a workhorse. You’re not plowing a metaphorical field. No, the goal is something more along the lines of a magical nighttime flight on the wings of some mystical creature, soaring through the air, dodging trees and skyscrapers, feeling the wind in your face as you hold on for dear life, elated and terrified at the same time. I don’t think there’s any way to tap into that kind of excitement if you’re not having a good time. I just don’t think it can be done.

So play word games. Rename movies in your mind. Take up crosswords. Download one of the 734 puzzle apps based on language. And read. Read for pleasure, and do it often.

If you can’t have fun writing, don’t do it. It’s not worth it if it’s just a chore. But if you can have fun while producing fiction, everything about your life will be better for it.

I recently finished David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas, a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying read. The book was breath-taking, complex at a level that would be hard to put into words, and still somehow accessible. If you’ve not read it, get on that.

Back in 2012, a full two years before reading the book, I saw the movie. Generally, I try to avoid watching a movie before experiencing the book, but I was excited to see something new from the Wachowskis, so I saw it. Sue me. Granted, my feelings about the movie might have been different had I read the book first, but I loved it, too. Visually, it was a masterpiece. The themes were intricate and intriguing. I found it to be entertaining and thought-provoking.

But I’ve talked to fans of the book who felt very differently about the movie.

Mostly, these are the kinds of people who also flipped out about the Lord of the Rings movies omitting Tom Bombadil and other such nonsense. I know. That sounds harsh. Or worse, it sounds like I haven’t read the LoTR books (I have) or don’t understand the significance of Tom Bombadil as a character (I do).

I don’t mean to come off too heavy-handed about this whole thing, but a fundamental flaw exists in the minds of too many readers when it comes to their favorite books being translated to the big screen. Namely, it’s this: readers tend to want (a) every detail from the book captured in the film and (b) for those details to perfectly match their expectations based on their personal experience of reading the book.

That’s crazy.

No film maker can live up to those expectations. It’s not possible. The best, the very best, any screenplay writer and director can do is try to capture the most significant details and preserve the themes of the original work. Almost as good, the film might also explore those themes in a slightly different way, which makes it possible for the movie to have a different meaning or evoke different emotions when compared to the book.

It’s all art. The point of it is to tell a story. Hopefully, a compelling story that pulls the audience in.

Now, I’ll be the first to argue that the stories we tell matter. The messages matter. That said, I think it’s high time we get a little more realistic when it comes to seeing our favorite books adapted into films. Things are going to change. It’s pointless to go on a rampage identifying every detail that shifted from one format to the other. Instead, I think it far better to judge each work separately, on its on merit.

By that criteria, I’d argue that both the book and movie forms of Cloud Atlas were good, though certainly different.

How about you? Have any thoughts on books made into movies? Please feel free to share them in the comments.

On WritingIt’s funny. Reading is, more or less, a solitary endeavour. Granted, you can read out loud to someone, so it can be a group activity. (If you’re a parent, it can be a powerful thing to share with your kids.) But, the vast majority of the time, reading is something we do solo.

Writing’s the same way.

And yet, there’s a real sense of community among readers (and writers). Just a few days ago, I was at brunch with some new friends. These are people I hardly knew prior to sitting down to eat. (They all work with Nimue.) We started with no real points of connection. The conversation was the sort you’d expect with people you don’t know–fairly tame chit-chat.

And then someone mentioned a book.

I didn’t know these people were readers. I watched, very nearly drooling, as they got animated. They were clearly passionate about their fiction, and, lo and behold, their tastes ran parallel to mine. First, it was Game of Thrones. Then someone mentioned The Dresden Files. When Nimue said, “You should tell them about Lonely Werewolf Girl,” I disregarded any effort to chew with my mouth closed, launching into a full-bore plug for my favorite book with glee.

It was magical.

If you’re a reader (or writer), and you’re not currently connecting with other readers (or writers), then you’re missing out. You’re missing out on good recommendations of books you wouldn’t know to read otherwise. You’re missing out on the fun of talking about your favorite parts of shared fiction experiences. And, most of all, you’re missing out on the energy and excitement of a collective love of the story.

You almost certainly know other readers. Start talking to ’em. If you don’t know other readers, consider joining Goodreads, the social network just for bookworms. Reading may be a solitary activity most of the time, but a significant part of the fun of being a reader is sharing those moments of magic with others.

Yes, there really is a community of readers, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Stand Up

Writing should say something. It should mean something. Every story, no matter how wild, creative, weird or unusual, is more than just characters and a plot. There is a message in all fiction.

I believe that, with all my heart.

Stories say something about the nature of humanity, hopes, fears, expectations, dreams, desires and deliverance. Through fiction, we address the complexities of equality, gender roles, ethics, societal health, philosophy, religion and the concept of legacy. Every character speaks for real people. Every plot is a proclamation. There are no tales void of implication. It all says something.

Of course, not all writers consider the message of their stories, so there are a lot of stories out there with weak, even questionable, messages. I think that’s a shame, in part because as much as you might want fiction to be pure entertainment, that just isn’t possible. There’s always something being said about life. It’s also a shame because a lot of readers gobble up those weak, questionable messages without realizing they’re doing it.

If you’re a writer, I encourage you to think about the message your story carries. Does it flush with your values? Does it match how you see the world? Is it a message you’d speak without the story? If not, why is it in the story to begin with?

Are you happy with what you’re saying about what makes life worth living? About what it means to be a healthy, well adjusted male or female? About what’s right and what’s wrong?

It takes more work, in a way, to be mindful of these things as you write, but once you see how there’s a message in every plot twist and woven into the dialogue of every character, it gets easier. And, your fiction gets more rewarding.

What’s your message? What are you saying about the world through your stories? And, just as important, what do you want to say?

I haven’t written a review in more than three years. Partly, that’s because I inadvertently picked an internet-based fight with a self-published author a while back, and reviews of her books (sort of) led to the tiff. (I’ve since removed the posts in which I flayed her, so don’t bother looking for them. My positive reviews of her books, however, remain up because, whether I like her or not, I enjoyed her books.)

That said, I feel I should be sharing some of the good stuff I read with you. Good writers read, and if I come across something worth recommending, I should pass it along.

Lonely Werewolf GirlI bought a copy of Martin Millar‘s Lonely Werewolf Girl for one reason and one reason only: because there was a quote on the back of the book from Neil Gaiman who seemed to have enjoyed it a great deal. “If it’s good enough for Neil,” I told myself, “it’s good enough for me.”

Boy, am I glad I got it.

I’ve mentioned it before in a quasi-review after I read it the second time. Since then, I’ve read it a third time and am currently contemplating a fourth. Yes, it’s that good. In fact, if asked to name my favorite book, a question I’m always hesitant to answer, this is the book I’ve named for the past few years, and for good reason.

I hate spoilers, and you won’t find me dropping any here. For that reason, it’s genuinely hard to say much about the book. I really don’t want to give any plot element away. I will, however, say in general terms what I love about it, and about Millar’s writing.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read another author who so seamlessly intertwines the absurd and serious as well as Millar. Among his fairly large cast of characters is a fire elemental whose love for fashion runs so deep a good looking pair of heels can (and does) bring her to tears. I laughed out loud, quite literally, at her antics again and again. Then, Millar would shift gears, smoothly pulling me back to a more serious element of the story line. Within the span of a few pages I might laugh until there were tears in my eyes, then find myself on the edge of my seat, concerned for the life-and-death well being of a loved character, and then plunge into real, honest-to-God philosophy as I considered the underlying causes of anxiety, fear, happiness and hope.

And he did it all without ever giving me whiplash.

It’s a stunning ride. Yes, there are werewolves, so if you have hangups with fantasy this isn’t going to be the book for you. (Of course, if that’s the case, one wonders how you ended up on my site…) However, if you’re looking for something new and different and thoroughly wonderful to read, you can’t go wrong with this book.

Below, I’ve included the summary from Amazon. There are no spoilers, and it’ll give you a general idea of what the book’s about. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

From Amazon:

While teenage werewolf Kalix MacRinnalch is being pursued through the streets of London by murderous hunters, her sister, the Werewolf Enchantress, is busy designing clothes for the Fire Queen. Meanwhile, in the Scottish Highlands, the MacRinnalch Clan is plotting and feuding after the head of the clan suddenly dies intestate. As the court intrigue threatens to blow up into all-out civil war, the competing factions determine that Kalix is the swing vote necessary to assume leadership of the clan. Unfortunately, Kalix isn’t really into clan politics — laudanum’s more her thing. Even more unfortunately, Kalix is the reason the head of the clan ended up dead, which is why she’s now on the lam in London…

This expansive tale of werewolves in the modern world — friendly werewolves, fashionista werewolves, troubled teenage werewolves, cross-dressing werewolves, werewolves of every sort — is hard-edged, hilarious, and utterly believable.

When We Stop Reading

The day could come when it will seem an act of rebellion to be a reader. The idea that the novel is a dying art form has been debated and discussed for a while now. People fall on both sides of the debate, and I see validity in both arguments. For myself, I’m not even close to ready to give up on books as a medium, but I am concerned about the decline in leisure reading.

I’m concerned because it impacts us all, as a culture. I’ve said it before and I intend to keep saying it–we need to read. Not just writers, but everyone. There is a special brand of magic to be found in books that cannot be captured in film, theater or any other story-telling format. That doesn’t mean other mediums are lesser, just different, and I believe we get something valuable from all of them.

The problem with pushing people to read is that so many of us associate reading with school. When we were kids, we had about the same affinity for homework we’d have for a nice, moist petri dish of the swine flu, and reading was always a part of homework. That negative associate sticks, and it’s a bitch. Some of us were lucky enough to naturally enjoy reading (making grade school book reports a breeze), and some of us have since had positive experiences with fiction that have all but undone the horrors of assigned reading back in the day.

Some of us still loath it.

Telling an adult who’s never read a book for fun that they should give it a go comes off like telling an adult to give brussels sprouts another try. (I’ve fallen for that one. They still taste like ass.) It’s easy to get a non-reader to agree that reading is a noble pastime. Getting them to do it is the hard part.

I wish I had an answer to that dilemma. I don’t. I have no idea how you convince a non-reader to convert. Not only is there a potentially negative associate, but there’s also the whole time thing. You can watch a TV show in 30 minutes. Got a couple of hours? How about a movie? Books simply take more time. That alone gets in the way for a lot of people. It’s the one-two punch of carving out time to read (of all things) and the lack of instant gratification, of which our culture is a stalker-level fan.

What I do know is that those of us who are readers need to keep it up. Once in a while, the simple act of reading will convince a non-reader to check out a book. Plus, authors kind of need readers to make a living. In this digital age, going all analogue for your downtime is rebellious, but it’s a sweet rebellion.

So, mention particularly good books to friends, even if they aren’t readers. Occasionally give books as gifts–what a wonderfully devious trick that is. And most of all, keep making the time to read, yourself. You’re better for it, and you get to think of yourself as a geeky rebel. That’s never going to not be cool.

Must ReadThe honest truth is this: sometimes I’m nothing more than a broken record. When I feel something is important, I’m apt to campaign for it again and again. Today’s topic is a perfect example.

I’ve written a number of posts designed to push writers to remember to read. It’s a vital part of the writing process. If you want to be a good writer, you have to love reading, and you have to be a reader. There isn’t any way around it, but there’s more to it than that.

While there are a number of compelling reasons for a writer to read, I agree with the quote above. Reading isn’t just important for writers. It’s important for everyone.

Sadly, we live in an age of instant gratification. I know more than a few people who can’t be bothered to pick up a book. “Why would I?” they ask while I recoil in shock. “If a book is any good, they’ll make a movie out of it.”

True, though “they’ll butcher it by making a movie out of it” would be more accurate 90% of the time.

But the point is well taken. If reading is only about entertainment, there are other, easier, less time consuming options. Why not just watch a good TV show or head to the movies? Last week I argued for the value of fiction and why we need it in our lives. Film fills that need, at least to a degree, so why insist that people need to read? Is it really all that different?

Yes, it is.

Reading engages your mind in an entirely different way. It forces you to imagine the scene instead of being hand-fed it. It expands your vocabulary, teaches you everything from trivia to life skills, lowers your stress level and even gives your brain a workout. If you’re not reading, you’re missing out on a lot.

To many non-readers, however, the prospect of reading sounds like yet another annoying chore, which is precisely why (as I mentioned last week) it’s vitally important that we have a ridiculously wide variety of fiction readily available. If I meet someone who says they’ve never enjoyed reading a single book, ever, I always say the same thing: “You just haven’t found the right book yet.”

It annoys the piss out of them, but it’s true. There’s a form of written fiction out there for everyone, and everyone, writers and non-writers alike, should find the type of book that gets them excited and read.

As a writer, you should be encouraging others to read. Pragmatically, it just makes sense. Every time you convert a new reader, you’ve expanded your potential fan-base. But getting someone else to read does a lot more than that. It enriches lives in real and powerful ways. Hopefully, you’ve experienced that very effect. It’s likely one of the reasons you want to write.

Don’t forget to pass what you know along–that reading both is fun and life-changing.