Happy Halloween Reading

Each year, Halloween gets me to thinking about the broad range of actual horror within the horror genre. What scares one person can make another role their eyes. What gives me nightmares (anything with snakes on people) might be an amusement to another reader. The "best all time scary story" has got to be one of the most subjective lists anyone is every going to attempt. That said, here are my tops in three categories:

Non-Fiction: Helter Skelter, The True Story of The Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi - Bugliosi may go over the top of the facts in his attempt to paint the Manson clan as evil incarnate, but it wasn't a very high leap. This is the book that convinced me that very bad things can happen to good people by pure random chance.

Short Story: The Lottery by Shirley Jackson - for pure creepiness, I don't think this story can be beat. You have no idea what's coming the first time you read it, and when you do know what's coming the story is even more horrendous.

Novel: Ghost Story by Peter Straub - this is everything a scary story should be in my opinion. It's got the foreboding thing down pat, ghosts with attitudes, and characters who aren't so stupid that you don't care that they're being haunted. This is one of only a handful of books I've ever read that had me hearing things and sleeping with lights on in my own house. (Straub's website is one of the most fun sites by an author that I'm aware of, too!)

I'm sure there will be other "best" lists published today, but one of the better ones I've found so far is seven years old. As I don't think there's been any truly classic horror published recently, I'd recommend this list from CNN if you're looking for some more great scary recommendations.


My P.O.V., literally.

Today I start the rebranding of my blog. Considering its rather narrow and infrequent content before, it shouldn't take much to change things around.

I've been reading some discussions on other blogs about mission statements and statements of purpose, something I know that is a great way not only for others to see what you're aiming for, but more importantly, so you know what you're aiming for. A lot of writing coaches preach the gospel of not only putting your goals in writing, but clearly defining the benchmarks that determine if you're working towards those goals or not. In the coming weeks, I hope to do just that sort of thing - get those plans and "I'm going to do X,Y,and Z before the end of the year!" out of my head and into the virtual permanent record of the internet.

But first (ohhh, I am so good at those "but firsts!"), I thought I'd share what my actual point of view is - my view from my desk. This is where I do 100% of my creative writing, and about 90% of my blogging. And in doing this, I introduce the theme of my Sunday posts: My P.O.V. Sunday will be a photopost day of things I've seen that affect me personally. My lack of photography skills will be further proof that words really are the correct medium for art, but I'm going for expression and maybe explanation here. Mundanity will occur more frequently than exceptionality, but that's why it's my P.O.V.


Book Reviews

51. How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table by Russ Parsons - A fact filled skim of where and when our fruits and vegies are at their best, along with some classic recipes for showing off the flavors. As we become more aware of the high price of eating healthy (environmentally and economically), it only makes sense to try to get the most for your dollar and your carbon footprint. Unfortunately, Parsons just scratches the surface on all the types of food that fill the produce department and farmers markets in this country, perhaps because there's no getting around the fact that unless you live in Florida or California, you're going to have a very limited diet if you want to eat locally year round. If you are buying food that's travelled across the continent to get to your plate, Parsons tells you what to look for and how to keep it from turning to green mush in your refrigerator.

52. The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan - A family of two girls and two boys takes their minor quirks and turns into full blown disfuctionality after both parents die. Told from the point of view of Jack, the second oldest, the story covers about three years of a downward spiral that no one seems to notice, even though there is some interaction with world beyond their house. Jack feels no conscious judgment about what they have done and what they do, leaving it up to the reader to fill in the emotions. The book is only 150 pages long, but this early novel of McEwan's is what he writes so well - incredibly personal stories told with so much detail you can almost smell the characters. (Quick question for anyone reading this that has read the book - what was up with Tom? Was there a medical reason for his immaturity, or was it all psychological?)

53. Fool Moon: Book Two of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher - There's a bit of a "hollow man" thing going with Harry Dresden in this volume of the series, with him taking quite a beating (more than once) but still he keeps charging on. Well, it is sci-fi, right? Ignoring that aspect of the story isn't too hard though, because Butcher invents a whole new species of werewolf, one that doesn't have survival as its only purpose in life. These werewolves are environmentally and socially conscientious. Makes a lot of sense for an animal that's endangered and lives in a pack, no?

54.Sin In The Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America's Soul by Karen Abbott - This book tells the story of the infamous Everlaigh Club, one of the most exclusive and well known brothels in America in the early 1900s. Intertwined with its story is the story of the two sisters who owned and ran it, and how reformers and politicians won the battle against sin in Chicago's Levee district. In an attempt to balance the story, there's a little too much about the "good guys", and quotes and antidotes are sometimes repeated for no reason, but it's a very interesting read if you're into Chicago history or the recent history of whore houses.

55. Later, At The Bar by Rebecca Barry - A novella about the clientele at a small town bar set in rural New York told as a collection of short stories makes for a very pleasant read, once you get into the book. The first few chapters had the feeling of a group of wacky original characters in search of story, but eventually the lives and the plots of the short stories begin to overlap, and you'll have finished the book before you know it. I'm giving bonus points to the author for having one of her fictional characters suffer the very non-fictional consequences of a life spent drinking like a fish.


Man Booker Prize awarded, but there's better news than that!

The winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize was announced today. It's Anne Enright's The Gathering, which I haven't read yet, but do have on order from my local library. It sounds like a good book and I'm looking forward to reading it.

But what's the better news? Everyone might end up being able to read all of the Man Booker shortlist books for free, online, if the Booker Prize Foundation gets their way. According to The TimesOnline, the good people at the foundation are negotiating with the publishers of the books to put the books, every single word, online for worldwide download. I think that's a very cool thing. Inevitably, there's always one of these books each year that doesn't get published in the US, and the current pound/dollar exchange rate has completely stopped my purchases of books from the UK. I hope that they're successful with this plan.


Books vs. The Environment - Don't make me choose!

I love books. I love to read them, touch them, smell them. There is no me without books. As an author, I hope to someday be the cause of yet another real and actual book to enter the universe. But my love of all things book related comes with a twinge of guilt. These wonderful gifts of written communication that make the world what it is and what it will be chew up acres and acres of trees and gallons of petroleum in order to be printed. Then there's the delivering of the books, whether it be to a home or a store or a library. Of course this devouring of resources is for a good cause. And there are many, many consumer products that have a more negative impact on the environment. But I'll never be responsible for giving birth to one of those products. We could all switch to digital readers, but until someone invents one that has all the positives of a paper book, I don't see that happening. What's a writer and reader of print media with an environmental conscious to do?

Well, it turns out, an author can do quite a bit. Treehugger.com has quite an interesting list of things to ask for when it comes time to the nuts and bolts process of publishing a book. It doesn't have to be a choice between print or not to print, a book can make a smaller impact on the environment and still make its way into the hands of an appreciative reader.

Readers can do their bit too. Make your book purchases count. Once you're done, pass a book on. Locally, nationally or internationally, someone will want it. Adopt A Library.org is a great place to start looking, if you don't already know of an organization that can use your old books. Recent US postal fees have made shipping books internationally much more expensive, but there's a movement afoot to restore the M-bag shipping rate and let Congress know that getting books to those that need them might be a better use of funds than, oh I don't know....occupying a country that doesn't want us there.

If you've only got a few books that could use a new home, there's Bookcrossing.com, the "pay it forward" method of book recycling. You don't have to join the group to be a part of the process, but it does have some great hints on where to leave books, and it's kind of fun to track a book's travels.

Last but most certainly most, in my opinion, there's always the option of borrowing a book from your local library rather than buying it. You won't reduce the number of books printed and you're not supporting the author, but you can have the warm fuzzy feeling of knowing that the book you're reading is getting maximum use for its environmental footprint. I'm a huge supporter of public libraries, and even at the cost of someday selling a few less books, I'll always champion their cause. There are many things that come before me being wealthy and keeping the earth healthy is one of them. Besides, libraries buy lots and lots of copies of books. As long as my book is out there, somewhere, I'm published. I don't have to kill a rainforest to do it.


Blog for the environment!

As you can see by the little banner at the right,

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day (or this one for when the other goes away)

I'm particpating in Monday's Blog Action Day. I may not add much to the number of people reading the posts, but it's all about single voices joining together, right?


I have a new favorite quote.

Being a word person, I of course appreciate the magic of a well turned phrase. But beyond the perfectly arranged sentence, there are those phrases that hit you at just the right time in your life, and you take them to your heart and keep them there to use as nutrition for your soul. Then your life changes, or you change, and another quote comes along and replaces it because you can't live on one inspiration your whole life.

Here is my new mantra:

The miracle isn't that I finished.
The miracle is that I had the courage to start.

I heard this yesterday on television, while watching the Chicago Marathon. An amateur runner used this to describe how is able to run. You see, this man wasn't the conventional marathoner - he was a large man. And he used to be much larger. A few years ago, he'd gotten the usual bad news that comes to the morbidly obese, and decided to do something about it. (I identified with that too, I'll admit. Life is short, but I'm trying to not make it shorter with bad choices.) Along with a trainer, he took up running, and now this man, who by any standards is still obese, runs in marathons. Amazing.

Unfortunately, I did not catch the name of the man being profiled, but I did catch the quote, which I suspected wasn't original to him. I was right. The original smith of that perfect little "each journey begins with one step" phrase was John Bingham, a couch potato turned fitness and motivational guy. I haven't had a chance to poke around his website yet, but judging from the front page, he's a guy who understands that inertia can a seductive little bitch.

And that's why I love this quote. It sums up how hard it is to ignore all those little voices that stop you from doing whatever is it that you want to accomplish that you've never accomplished before. It is easier to not write. It is easier to not pay attention to what I'm eating. It is easier to stay at the computer than go out for a walk. Because doing what I'm doing is no risk, I know the results. Taking the first step, having the courage to commit to begin, not knowing if I'll succeed? That's what really takes courage.


What not to say when you can't think of anything to say

I've been doing a lot of browsing around the world of blogs, trying to get some inspiration on what I'd like this blog to be. Right now, it's a resting place for my mini-reviews, but those could go somewhere else. What do I want under my own, real name? Ideally (which is based on idea, so I might have already made my choice, eh?) I'd like it t be about my writing life, but I'm just not ready to take that leap yet.

What I have found is here interesting post about what not to blog, from ProBlogger.net. I have to admit, lists sound like a great way to go, and it never occurred to me that you could blow your entire wad with one long list. Good to know.

What also never occurred to me is that the case of the blogger who was an overnight success in the blog would, then had nothing left to write about. That's equivalent to the one hit wonder rookie novelist, and I would guess just as rare. Does anyone really? make the front page of Digg the first time out, then have nothing more to say? Hell, at least talk about what that felt like...there's a whole new topic.


More Shilling for NoBloPoMo

A LOLCat. Why did these things ever escape Livejournal????? I still think NoBloPoMo is a good thing, even if I question the artistic judgment of TPTB.


I've Never Been Much Of A Joiner

If there is a genetic marker for being a hermit, I'm sure I have it. I am a natural loner, and most of the time, I'm quite happy that way. (I guess I wouldn't be one if I wasn't happy, would I?) But, as much as writing is a very solitary pastime, if I go on the way I am I am never going to finish anything. I need to put something out there, and I need someone standing over me to make me do that. So, as you can see by the little badge to the right, I have joined the November-National Blog Posting Month ...ehhh, festival? No, I know that's not right, but it sounds more fun than "You must post to your blog every single day for the entire month, no days off, no exceptions", doesn't it? I think so.

You might be wondering why I don't sign up for the Novel Writing Month wingding (those "happy names" are sticking with me). After all, do I not fancy myself a novelist? Unfortunately, NaNoWriMo carries a lot of negatives in my mind, none due to anything that it actually stands for. I think it's a great idea. I wish I could do it. But every year, I think about all the fanbrats that I know from my years in fanfiction that get involved, and I want no association with that group. Then, I think about how I'm serious about my fiction writing, and a forced march is not how I want to accomplish it. I know there are very talented writers who participate in NaNoWriMo, and I say Huzzah! for them. Me....I just can't join that one.

So, why NaBloPoMo then? Easy. It's not about the novel. It could be about the novel, but I can transgress. Transgress while I still am being more disciplined than normal. I may write some of my "writing exersices here", I may think out loud about something I'm having trouble writing, or I may go off on a rant about adjusting to my partner now being a telecommutor and how that's changing my creative life as well as my family life.

So, I've joined NaBloPoMo, I intend to complete the task, and I still keep a level of independence from falling "rules".