Category Archives: Books

Anita4

Hate-Reading Anita Blake

It’s not the longest book series in the world. Discworld topped out at 45 books. Those The Cat Who… books number in the 30s. The Dray Prescot series consisted of 53 books written between 1973 and 1998, which is amazing for a series I never know existed until browsing TV Tropes this afternoon. But at 24 novels, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Vampire Hunter stands as one of the longest-running book series and certainly the longest one I’ve read. Even if I’m just hate-reading them at this point. Continue reading

TheNightCircus

The Night Circus

There’s two books from the last ten years I recommend to everyone looking for a good read. One is 2007’s The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. The other is 2011’s The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Today I’ll be focused on the latter, mostly because Lionel Shriver’s material isn’t quite geeky enough for Dorkadia. (Also her writing, although brilliant, is bleak and depressing as hell.)

The Night Circus was recommended to me by someone whose opinions I highly respect. I was living in Korea at the time, and English-language books were both a bit difficult to come by and hideously expensive. A friend sent me a care package that included this book, and not having any knowledge of what was to happen I devoured it over a week. While my copy was sold several moves ago, I recently picked it up at the library and am happy to say the re-read is just as satisfying.

The main characters of The Night Circus are Celia Bowen and Marco. Celia is the only daughter of Prospero the Enchanter, the greatest living magician of the time (late 1800s). At a young age, Prospero enters Celia into a magician’s duel. Her opponent is unknown to her, chosen at random by Prospero’s advisory, Mr. A. H. As she grows up, Prospero teaches Celia how to be a great magician, in his own, cruel way.

Fast forward a few years to Marco, the assistant to famous philanthropist Christoph Chandresh Lefèvre. Lefèvre desires to open a great circus, and Marco assist him in auditioning acts. When Celia petitions for the illusionist job, Marco is startled, for now he knows. Celia is his adversary; Marco was the one picked by A. H. to battle her. Only neither Marco not Celia know the rules of the game, nor what will determine the winner. All they know is the location of their battle: the Night Circus, Lefèvre’s mysterious circus that only opens from dusk till dawn, where illusions seem more real than anything imaginable.

The Night Circus has the lyrical nature of the debut novel it is. The chapters are interspersed with inner chapters describing a trip through the circus in first person, While the novel jumps back and forth in time, Morgenstern gives the reader enough anchors to keep us following the narrative. Originally a NaNoWriMo project, the finished project is well-paced, filled with interesting characters and unique voices. While some of the elements are a little too twee at times (the deliberately vague and wholly unnecessary chapter titles for example), Morgenstern wraps up the story deftly, with all plot threads explained by the end of the book. I’m looking forward to reading more from her.

But until she publishes her second novel, there’s always re-reads of The Night Circus. Always more tents to explore.

tl;drs

Quick summary: When she was a little girl, Celia’s father, Prosper the Enchanter, pledged her to a wizard’s duel. As she gets older, Celia trains for the battle, although her father refuses to tell her the rules, the win condition, or who her opponent is. The Night Circus is the battleground, although the combatants fight with tents and dreams, neither knowing how the game is supposed to end.

Recommended if you like: Period pieces, the works of Edward Gorey

Better than I expected? Morgenstern puts a great deal of depth into her characters, making it hard not to feel for them.

Worse than I hoped? Designer nitpick: while most of the book is beautifully designed, the accents sometimes get lost in the text. This is most noticeable with Christoph Chandresh Lefèvre. The grave accent on the ‘e’ gets lost in the preceding ‘f.’ Every single time. For a book with wonderful endpapers and attention to detail, the typesetting upsets me.

/esoteric rant

Would it work better in a different medium? The Night Circus would make a wonderful 6-12 episode miniseries and I’m sad it hasn’t been done yet.

Verdict: One of my favorite stories of the last five years, I recommend The Night Circus to everyone.

Related Reading: New York Times book review

6359434

Way Too Late Reviews: …And Another Thing

Continuing a beloved book series after an author has passed away is a tricky thing. Compare the post-Ian Fleming Bond novels to the 14 entries in the Dune franchise. Critics may appreciate the new work, as in the case of Kyle Mills, who continued the Bourne series after Robert Ludlum’s death. Or, they may decry the new work, as they did for Before Watchmen.*

Eoin Colfer had big shoes to fill when he was tasked with continuing the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. Douglas Adams’ unexpected death in 2001 left the Hitchhiker’s series on a very somber note, far removed from the whimsy and lighthearted comedy that was the series’ trademark. How to continue the story when the last book ended seemingly moments before the Earth’s destruction? Would fans appreciate the new work, especially considering reviews for the 2005 movie (including my own) were so mixed?

Thankfully, Colfer exceeded all expectations with …And Another Thing. Picking up moments after the events of Mostly Harmless, Author Dent, Ford Prefect, Trillian and her daughter Random, the stalwart characters of the series, are staring down certain doom…again. Through a series of improbable events (but probable and acceptable deus ex machinas) Arthur and his friends are rescued…again, by Zaphod Beeblebrox, now ex-President of the Galaxy. Their rescue allows the group to embark on a series of wacky adventures…again.

While the opening may sound derivative, this isn’t your father’s Hitchhiker book. Colfer shows off his flair for plot after the first rescue, sending our heroes in different directions, but toward the same goal. Where many of the Hitchhiker’s books jumped from plot point to plot point at random, Colfer weaves a tight story, saving the narrative buckshot for Guide Notes, clever asides that round out Adams’ universe without taking attention away from the main story. Colfer also uses every opportunity he gets to call back to the original Hitchhiker books, meaning fans of the series will be reintroduced to such characters as Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, Thor the Thunder God, and of course, the Vogons.** Colfer isn’t content to take a nostalgia shower either; there’s enough new and memorable characters to keep the book feeling fresh.

…And Another Thing is Colfer’s first book for adults and it’s a great effort. I’d be happy if he would write more Hitchhiker’s books. New entries into the exponentially inadequately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy would take my mind off the fact I have yet to finish the Hitchhiker’s video game. (And by finish, I mean get out of the Vogon ship, which is barely a fifth of the way through.)

tl;drs

Quick summary: Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, and the rest of the Hitchhiker’s crew wake up from an artificial reality to discover a) they’re not dead yet and b) the Vogons are trying really really hard to change that. Narrowly escaping the destruction of Earth (again), Zaphod Beeblebrox then goes on a quest to recruit Thor, the Thunder God, in an effort to kill Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged. (This will become more clear, or less muddled, as you read.)

Too many writers? Just the one. Having never read Colfer’s Artemis Fowl series, …And Another Thing has piqued my curiosity.

Recommended if you like: Smashing your head against a lemon that has been wrapped around a large, gold brick.

Better than I expected? Colfer deftly mimics Adams’ tone while at the same time telling a much more coherent story.

Worse than I hoped? The novel contains more than its fair share of the letter Z. Which is just silly.

Would it work better in a different medium? I’d watch the hell out of an animated Hitchhiker’s series.

Verdict: Colfer is a worthy successor to Adams and stokes my need for new Hitchhiker’s material.

Related Reading: Literary Afterlife: The Posthumous Continuations of 325 Authors’ Fictional Characters by Bernard Drew

Related Listening: I highly recommend the …And Another Thing audiobook, narrated by Simon Jones (Arthur Dent in the original Hitchhiker’s radio play and television series.

*Guide Note: We’d like to point out that the author of Watchmen, Alan Moore, is in fact, still alive.

**Another Guide Note: But no Marvin the Paranoid Android. I’m on the fence about this. On the one hand, he’s a beloved character and his absence stands out, especially considering all the other characters Colfer brings back. On the other hand, Marvin is a one-joke character and insufferable git.

buffy-season-8-comic-book-tpb-8

The JCU: Joss Whedon’s Comic Universe

Nerds know heartbreak. Our favorite TV shows get cancelled (Star Trek), beloved characters die (Terminator), beloved comic properties turn to shit on screen when artistic vision clashes with the movie business (X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3)It seems like there’s a hundred ways to ruin a geeky property and only a handful of ways to get it right. When properties go right they endure (Star Wars episodes 4-6), but wrong turns can derail franchises just as quickly (Star Wars episodes 1-3).

Joss Whedon knows a thing or two about heartbreak, both causing it and enduring it. He’s killed our favorite characters without mercy, seen his dialogue get whittled away to nothing and had more television series cancelled than I will ever have produced. What I admire about Whedon is his tenacity, and his ability to keep trying in the face of adversity. Movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer not a financial success? No problem; take it to TV. Fan-favorite series Firefly gets cancelled? Show up the TV executives with the amazing film Serenity. Keep canceling TV series, one after another? Hmmm…

Thankfully for fans, Whedon doesn’t let a thing like cancellation keep him from realizing his vision. Beginning with Buffy, Whedon continued his properties in comic-book form. Not just one-offs, the following four series continue the events Whedon started on TV, and offer closure for those of us wanting to know what happened to Angel after the series finale, or just what a Dollhouse movie would look like.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

btvstimelifetpb

Of the four series listed here, Buffy is my favorite. I came in to the TV series in the first season and have rewatched the series several times. I could probably sing all the lyrics to the “Once More With Feeling” episode if I tried…although some of the time signatures are quite complex. With Seasons 8 and 9, Whedon examined the aftermath of the Buffy series finale. What new Big Bad would emerge once the First as defeated? Which characters would live and which would die? Would Buffy ever find love?

Buffy Season 8 (and indeed all the titles in the JCU) is helped by the limitless nature of comic books. Comics don’t have to wait for an actor to be available, or re-cast the part. All characters from seasons 1-7 are fair game for inclusion. With no budget to worry about, action sequences can be bigger, stakes can be higher, and enemies can be more outlandish than ever was possible on the small screen. This unlimited potential allows for some of the best moments in Buffy Season 8, but limitless can also be a weakness. Sometime I felt like the series was relying too heavily on established characters, instead of creating new ones. The problem with relying on established characters is their tendency to become caricatures of themselves; two characters in particular (Warren and Amy) start out as menacing, but gradually descend into a Punch-and-Judy couple. Minor quibbles aside, Buffy Season 8 is a great addition to the Buffy canon.

Angel

angel-after-the-fall-comic-book-issue-09-cover-mq-01

Oh Angel. So broody, much dark. Angel had some of the best character development of any of Whedon’s series, and the best character arc in the form of Wesley Wyndham-Price. Starting off as the ponciest of ponces on Buffy, Price migrated to Angel and began a downward spiral the likes of which I had never seen on TV before. Only Gul Dukat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went through more character transformations. The man behind Price, Alexis Denisof, was a joy to watch, and I love seeing him pop up in other Whedon projects, from Dollhouse to The Avengers.

Angel: After the Fall picks up several months after the final events of the Angel TV series. Los Angeles has gone to Hell…literally. Angel continues to battle Wolfram & Hart, Spike continues to not give a damn about anything, and Illyria continues to inhabit Fred’s body. Like Buffy Season 8, Angel: After the Fall brings back characters from all seasons of Angel. It also continues exploring Angel’s dark themes. Wesley and Gunn faced some heavy trauma at the end of the TV series, and as the comic opens, neither of them is particularly happy about it. Angel: After the Fall is a bit better than Buffy Season 8 at bringing in fresh new characters and is a great continuation of the events of the TV series.

Firefly

SerenityTPBCover

I’m the worst kind of nerd: one who doesn’t really care for Firefly. I’ve seen the series through once and never saw the reason behind the rabid devotion to the show. While the characters were intriguing, I disagree with my fellow nerds that the show was perfect. I felt that the series needed a few more seasons before it would achieve perfection. Sadly that never happened and Fox left us with a single season that only hints at what could have been.

Enter once again Whedon’s tenacity. Not only did fans get a feature-length movie that provided some kind of closure to the series (the amazing Serenity), but we also got a comic series to bridge the events of Firefly and SerenityThose Left Behind is the Chasing Dogma of the JCU: a way to explain how the characters got to where they were at the beginning of Serenity and serving as another way to interact with these characters that so many people fell in love with over such a short time. Worth a read.

Dollhouse

18404

My indifference for Firefly is only matched by my adoration for Dollhouse. This show blew me away; it was so high-concept it was almost doomed from the start. I loved that Whedon was able to explore the themes of mind control and men and women’s bodies being used by the wealthy without resorting to perversity every episode. There was so much to explore about that universe that I was crushed when the show was cancelled after two seasons.

I recently found Dollhouse: Epitaphs at the library, a continuation of the Dollhouse series that serves as a bridge between the two Dollhouse season finales, when all goes to hell with the Doll technology. Despite my love for the TV series, I have mixed reviews about both this comic and the plot line it follows. I would have liked to see a few more seasons of Dollhouse before the show runners decided to cut loose with the mind-wiping technology. I don’t feel like I got enough time learning about the universe before it went to shit. Out of the four series, I recommend this one the least.

I’m a big fan of expanded universes and continuing story lines, whether it’s Season 8 of Star Trek: The Next Generation on Twitter or Eoin Colfer writing another book in the ever-inaccurately named Hitchhiker’s trilogy. While I’d much rather see Joss Whedon’s work on TV, I’m sated by each of his comic-book series that continue the story. Comics can sometimes do things TV can’t, and Joss’s overall supervision means the books don’t stray far from the vision. One bright spot: if Marvel: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D ever does get cancelled, its origin in the comic-book universe almost guarantees that the story of Agent Coulson won’t end anytime soon.

UnholyNightLand32912

Silent Night, Unholy Night

Just who were the wise men, really?

Sure, I knew the story. I was raised Lutheran. Three wise men appear in the middle of the night, offering gold, frankincense and myrrh to Joseph and Mary to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus.

But what happened next? It was a question I never considered until picking up a copy of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2012 tale Unholy Night. But it’s a valid question. For all their importance to the story, the wise men don’t get much of a backstory. Where do they come from? The east. here do they go? Home. (Man, if the Bible weren’t filled with tales of blood, murder and deception, it’s be boring as hell, being light as it is on exposition.)

So Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which proves my theory earlier stated about how idiots will buy tho things nailed together that have never been nailed together before) did what early Christians, second-century Christians and King James failed to do: fill in the wise men’s backstory. Unholy Night tells the tale of Balthazar, a thief from Antioch who runs afoul of King Herod. While escaping Herod and the Judean army, Balthazar joins up with two other criminals, Gaspar and Melchyor. Together the three criminals escape Herod’s clothes, making their ay to Bethlehem, where they meet up with Joseph and Mary in the famous manger. Balthazar takes it upon himself to protect Joseph and Mary’s child after witnessing the Judaean army slaughter infants on King Herod’s orders. For the rest of the book the fugitives try to stay one step ahead of King Herod, Augustus Caesar and Caesar’s enjoy, one Pontius Pilate.

Unholy Night was a fun read, and very quick. It’s one of those novels you can read while commuting to and from work. While I didn’t think Pilate had to be in the story, it was nice to get a different perspective on the rest of the biblical characters, especially Herod. After two thousand years and the establishment of many religions based on its tenants, it’s easy to forget that the Bible is also a story or people. Grahame-Smith humanizes the Biblical characters as much as he can. With Jesus a mere child in this time frame, Grahame-Smith can focus on the adults, which to does to great effect. With Unholy Night, Grahame-Smith shows he’s more than the one-trick pony that spawned an industry of classic/horror mashups, like Little Women and Werewolves, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters or Android KareninaGrahame-Smith had nothing to do with the genre he spawned; by the time it got popular he had moved on to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire HunterUnholy Night continues his trend to stay one step ahead of being typecast in a particular genre. I’m looking forward to what he writes next.

tl;drs

Blank is a blanker version of blank: Unholy Night is what Exodus: Gods and Monsters would have looked like in print.

Recommended if you like: Alternate history tales; taking liberties with Biblical narration

Better than I expected: The main character Balthazar is compelling, for a likable criminal.

Worse than I hoped: Not sure Pontius Pilate needed to be in the story; his inclusion seems like an easy addition of a familiar name instead of a genuine character.

Unholy Night would work better as a(n): I could see it as a movie, easily. Grahame-Smith’s novels have a style that adapts well to a visual medium.

Verdict: Unholy Night is a breezy little alternate history tale that takes a well-known story and spins it on its head.

2013-03-14-heart_shaped_box

Way Too Late Reviews: Heart-Shaped Box

One of my favorite things about discovering good art (whether that’s movies, music, or games) is when good art leads me to more good art. Such was the case with the recent movie Horns, which I reviewed back in October for Dorkadia. Horns was based on the second novel by Joe Hill, the eldest son of Stephen King. After I saw the film I wanted to read the book it was based on, so I checked out my local library. While they didn’t have a copy of Horns, they did have Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, so I picked it up.

I was not disappointed.

Heart-Shaped Box is the story of Judas Coyne, an aging heavy-metal musician with a taste for the macabre. Long past touring (and dealing with his own personal demons, which include the deaths of his former band members) Coyne spends his days on his ranch with manager Danny and live-in not-quite-girlfriend Georgia, surrounded by his dogs and his collection of occult memorabilia. When Coyne receives an email about an online auction for a soul, he can’t resist and buys the suit supposedly containing the dead man’s soul. (The suit arrives in the titular heart-shaped box.) Coyne is unprepared when he realizes that not only does the suit actually contain the dead man’s soul, that soul is unhappy and bent on revenge.

One of the things I loved about Horns was the portrayal of the main character, warts and all. In Horns we’re supposed to be rooting for Ig Perrish, only Perrish is such an unpleasant character rooting for him is difficult. Hill uses the same technique here. While Coyne is supposed to be the good guy, he spends much of the story being indifferent-bordering-on-viscious to everyone around him, be they his longtime manager, short-time girlfriend, or family member. Coyne is filled with so much hate, and he spews it out so indiscriminately that’s hard to root for him. He’s a fully realized character, whose journey is ultimately satisfying in spite of his flaws. Strong characterization is a hallmark of Stephen King’s books, and it’s nice to see Hill take those best parts of his father’s writing and update them. While the book is a little slow in places (the last third of the story is one long road trip and I can only read so much about people driving from Point A to Point B) the horror is genuine, and several times in the novel you’re wondering who will be left alive, if anyone.

I can think of no better praise for an artist than to want to consume all their art, which is how I feel with Hill. I’ve watched a movie based on one of his books and read another of his books, but it’s not enough. There’s more content to explore and I won’t stop until I’ve read through Hill’s entire canon. Like a rock star ending a song on a high note, Hill’s novels leaves me wanting more. Can’t wait for the next trip to the library.

tl;drs

Blank is a blanker version of blank: Heart-Shaped Box is like a horror version of The Osbournes.

Recommended if you like: Stephen King novels, strong characterization

Better than I expected: Judas Coyne is such a fully realized character. While ostensibly the protagonist, he’s also a miserable excuse for a human being, making rooting for him…interesting.

Worse than I hoped: The middle drags on a bit, although on a whole the book is a pretty quick read.

Heart-Shaped Box would work better as a(n): movie? It’d be nice to see the script get out of development hell. I even agree with Hill’s assessment of casting Russel Crowe as Coyne.

Verdict: Solid first novel from the man with a pedigree in horror.

VP

Viable Paradise

This October, I was fortunate enough to attend Viable Paradise XVIII, an annual workshop meeting in Martha’s Vineyard for the XVIII-th time. We twenty-four happy aspiring authors, fragile and vulnerable manuscripts in hand, landed on the island to have our brains pulled out of our skulls and submerged in a briny solution of pure liquid sci-fi/fantasy, while capricious writer-deities poked us with sticks and giggled. On the other hand, there were pancakes and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Or, to get less colorful – we critiqued each other’s manuscripts, and had our work critiqued by spectacularly accomplished authors and flat-out legendary editors; we wrote new work inside and outside of our comfort zones; we sat and took notes as some of the best in the business explained how to not only write speculative fiction, but how to survive writing speculative fiction. And when we weren’t doing that, we sat around talking about the books and stories and author-cheats we loved.

There was also drinking. Like, a lot of drinking.

So that lasted for a week, and then I was dragged kicking and screaming back to Real Life, and since then lots of people have asked me the obvious: how was Viable Paradise? And I haven’t been able to satisfy them with a coherent answer; if I was a good enough writer to really answer that question, I would be telling you this from atop a mountain of cash and precious gems. On my boat. On the moon.

How was VP? I can’t really answer that question; I can only let a series of impressions and anecdotes and half-remembered images permeate everything I talk about. And they will, constantly, for which I apologize; I in fact began writing this in my hotel room as sort of a last will and testament in the event that I am so very obnoxious that my friends and loved ones and coworkers all get together and murder the shit out of me.

I could tell you:

outline

Photo by Chris Gerwel. Untimely demise by me.

-That before I even started, I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it, and my friends and family did everything short of reverse-burgling me and leaving money by my broken windows to ensure that I could, for which I thank them tearfully and completely and not as often as I should.

-That I actually died on the first day, which explains a lot about my experience.

-That Viable Paradise possesses a crack team of global superheroes, whose superhuman efforts saved the physical and mental health of our helpless writer-lambs more times that I can count; I refer of course, to the staff of VP 18, to whom my gratitude is endless and bottomless and should in fact extend to buying their damn books, because these miraculous creatures are, when they’re not emergency coffee deliverers, successful authors in their own right.

–That if in New England, in the dark of night, you follow a large bearded man with an oracular voice to the shores of the Atlantic to look for glowing lights, you actually might not be in a Lovecraft story, marked for unspeakable tentacular death.

-That then again, you might be.

-That said oracle, the great Uncle Jim MacDonald, has an inexhaustible store of Cool Facts; that I might be able to tell you some of them but not all of them. Because we’d be here for days, in which event we’d be enlightened, but probably unemployed and houseless.

-That Scott Lynch called me a motherfucker, an experience in no way diminished by the percentage of Earth’s population sharing in it.

-That Elizabeth Bear, in addition to all her other multifarious gifts, knows all the best drinking songs.

-That Dr. Doyle is a psychic of the deep subconscious, and after every conversation with her about one problem with your book, you will suddenly realize that you know how to fix the other problem with your book.

-That Steven Gould’s mild-mannered façade hides a deadly ability and ruthless willingness to skewer one’s story to the heart in bare seconds, and that that is also a façade for the spirit of a just and merciful wizard-king.

-That the government of New Zealand sent a highly trained assassin to kill Fran Wilde for stealing a twitter handle from their government, masquerading as a student; but he double-crossed them and brought his manuscript instead.

-That on the very first day of the workshop, a fellow student discovered a plot hole in my manuscript big enough to drive a bus through, and on the second day, Steven Brust drove that bus through it and fixed it up behind him.

-That I had absolutely no idea how to do a proper critique, and left a revolting paucity of notes and comments, and still feel really bad about it, and fellow students, if you received a crit from me I am so sorry and please email me another one of your stories so I can do it right.

-That there is no feeling like recommending a book to the authors and editors that you admire and seeing the expression of a reader of books who is genuinely interested in this one.

-That if I ask an author, or an editor, or a wizard-king, for help with an issue, they will spend some time talking about that issue, and much more time talking about their disastrous attempts to quit their day job, or Marx and Engels’ letters on the Civil War, or Lithuanian vodka commercials, or how fundamental a debt is owed by fantasy to Glen Cook.

-That the first half of those conversations helped me become a better writer, and the second half of these conversations…also helped me become a better writer.

-That the experience ended Saturday morning and it took me until 6 PM on Sunday for my hangover to subside enough for me to eat a real meal, and VP 18 was considered a studious, well-behaved class.

-That after nearly making it to 30 without any bad ideas permanently affixed to my skin, I am strongly considering a VP tattoo, proving that it is either a great idea or, even better for a writer, a very convincing-sounding bad idea.

writerstears

Courtesy of VP 17. Delicious, and full of adverbs.

-That VP XVII’s class are the most amazing strangers in the world.

-That VP XIX’s class, which is an entity not yet realized, are the worst assholes in the world and I will murder you all, I’m so fucking jealous, my god.

-That we had people with PHDs, and college dropouts (me); we had a gentleman (and I use that word literally) in his fifties, and a 22 year-old freak of nature, and all stops in between; we had not one, but two neuroscientists; we had people from all over the world, people whose families come from all over the world, men and women, all along the sexuality spectrum; and every single one of them was a goddamn good writer and no two wrote the same.

-That I can write a story in a public space, in a strange environment, getting steadily drunker and drunker while Uncle Jim regales me and my fellows with filthy jokes about pinnipeds – which means that I can write a story anywhere.

-That upon rereading that story the next morning, just because I can do this thing doesn’t mean I should do this thing ever again.

-That VP exists at the particular intersection of “can” and “shouldn’t” in which is found enlightenment.

 

class

Photo by Lauren Roy. Look at how nicely we’re lined up for our inevitable demise.

…and so on. I could keep telling you things forever, and if you let yourself get cornered at a party without an exit strategy, I might. But you may note that none of these things have anything to do with actual writing advice; there are two reasons for this. One, of course, is that VP is a writing workshop which takes a spectacular deal of effort on the part of the instructors, and the staff, and yes, the students, to make happen. It would be disrespectful to all involved for poorly translated copies of the wisdom contained therein to start popping up on the internet in deep detail. The other reason is that the joy and terror of Viable Paradise is the process of learning it, the moment where you hear a Dirty Writer Trick and realize so that’s what George RR Martin was doing or are admonished against a bad habit that you didn’t even realize you possessed but the shedding of which will improve your story immeasurably. If I told you the secrets, I would be cheating you of the opportunity to discover them.

And of course, none of these lessons and facts and anecdotes, singular or in their whole, are the point. The point is that  if you want to write for a living, and you think you might be serious about it, you should go to Viable Paradise, because you will be serious about it when you come back. And when you come back, then you will have your own list of things that you can tell me. And many of them will be as nonsensical and anecdotal as many of these are to you, but on the deeper, numinous layer, we will both understand one another perfectly.

I have been melted and poured through the crucible and forged anew. I have been folded, spindled, crumpled, and pressed back into place, magically free of crinkles. I have been shredded, re-spiced, reheated, and served as a whole new meal. I have drunk the mead of wisdom and I didn’t even to give up an eye to do so – cheap at twice the price! I have been to Viable Paradise, and nothing about the written word will ever be the same again.

So.

Your turn.