Saturday, April 26, 2014

Quotes about writing

"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn."
Anne Frank
"There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."
— W. Somerset Maughan
"I know I was writing stories when I was five.  I don't know what I did before that.  Just loafed, I suppose."
P. G. Wodehouse
"Write a short story every week.  It's not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row."
Ray Bradbury
"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood.  I'd type a little faster."
Isaac Asimov
"It's doubtful that anyone with an Internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction."
Jonathan Franze
 "I think 'write what you know' is the single worst piece of writing advice.  Instead, write what you're really interested in.  Write what is going to keep you awake at night; write what you don't understand; write to figure something out.  Good novels are journeys into the unknown, for their authors as well as their readers."
Toni Jordan  

“People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy… and I keep it in a jar on my desk.” 
Stephen King

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” 
— George Orwell

"This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important."
Gary Provost

Monday, April 21, 2014

Quotes about reading

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."
Frederick Douglass

"There is no future for e-books, because they are not books.  E-books smell like burned fuel."
Ray Bradbury

"Read to your heart's content. Though if you are a reader, the heart is never content."

"There are worse crimes than burning books.  One of them is not reading them."
Ray Bradbury

"Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936), English writer, as paraphrased by Neil Gaiman

"The paperback is very interesting but I find it will never replace the hardcover book – it makes a very poor doorstop."
Alfred Hitchcock

"A library of mostly unread books is far more inspiring than a library of books already read."
Gabe Habash

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

You'll scream too

As a kid I loved ghostly mysteries.  My favorite series was Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators which featured three boys – Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw, and Bob Andrews – who formed their own detective service and solved mysteries in Southern California.  They'd go into haunted buildings and face scary situations but the ghosts were never real in the end.  But it was great fun and I still enjoy the books (although now I don't have kids young enough to read them with).  But I just found a new series that reminded me a little of those books, except in this one the ghosts are not only real but they're a "Problem."

The Problem began about 50 years ago when ghosts and hauntings became much more prevalent and dangerous.  For the most part only kids can see them so agencies employing the young have sprung up to deal with hauntings.  Lockwood & Co. is different because there are no adult supervisors – just Anthony Lockwood and George Cubbins.  Except for burning down a client's house, they're fairly good at what they do.  Lucy Carlysle, the newest member, can't see the ghosts as well as the others but she can hear and feel them much better.  But when they're called on to deal with a "cluster" of very dangerous ghosts at Combe Carey Hall, one of the most haunted houses in England, they just might be in over their heads.

Lockwood & Co. The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud  is a well-written book and Stroud has a great way with words.  (I loved this quote about George when Lucy first meets him: “His face was uniquely slapable – a nun would have ached to punch him – while his backside cried out to heaven for a well-placed kick.”)  The characters are interesting, the story is compelling, and the suspense is palpable.  It's a bit intense toward the end and I found myself unable to put it down (reading more than half of it at once), but I think it's appropriate for middle-school kids and up.  I'm not usually one to guess an ending ahead of time but I thought it was a bit predictable.  Nevetheless, I'm enthusiastically recommending it and already looking forward to reading the second in the series when it comes out.  (I received this book from Amazon Vine.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ungrateful children

YA books (which generally means middle school and teen) are really big right now.  Some are being made into movies (not always with success, however) and even though many adults (like myself) have always preferred them, more are reading them with less embarrassment.  (For the record, I still feel self-conscious if I'm reading one in public, however.)  But a lot of YA books fall into a couple of categories: paranormal (vampires, werewolves, fairies, and even mermaids) and dystopia (futuristic-ish, but with society falling apart like The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.).  We've definitely seen too many paranormal stories*, but now some readers are wondering if dystopia has run its course and maybe there aren't any fresh ideas anymore.  The 'world-building,' after all, tends to sound alike at a certain point.  But what if the world was limited to one home?  There are challenges with such a limited setting, but it can be pulled off quite well if the author is talented (if you've ever seen Hitchcock's Lifeboat you might understand).  At any rate, that's the premise behind Engines of the Broken World by Jason Vanhee (which I received from Amazon Vine).

The winter is getting colder and 12 year-old Merciful Truth's mama just died after a long illness. Her 15 year-old brother, Gospel, says that they can't bury her because the ground is frozen. The minister tells them it's not right to leave the dead unburied and castigates them for being ungrateful children to the mother than birthed them - but he's just a cat. And as the storm worsens and the world outside shrinks they can't possibly dig a hole, so they put her under the kitchen table. But then Merciful hears the lullaby her mother used to sing to her before the sickness got too bad... and it's coming from under the kitchen table.

This is an incredibly creepy story with a very twisted world - and I'm still mystified by the minister. Vanhee tells the story with cleverness in the voice of Merciful, with - I think - an Appalachian dialect and feeling, and I found it nearly impossible to put down, finishing the last couple hundred pages in an evening. However, not being able to put down a book might make it "compelling," but doesn't necessarily mean it's an enjoyable read. It's a bleak and lonely world, and although Vanhee skillfully wrings every last drop out of a small and limited setting and brings characters to life (in more ways than one!) with amazing "voice," I just found myself reading to finish and be done with it. It's certainly a well-crafted story and I "liked" it, but I wanted to like it more than I did. Still, if you want a really creepy "end-of-the-world" tale and don't mind a stiff dose of darkness, you might find yourself clinging to this one right to the last page.

*Incidentally, some are speculating that "ghost stories" may become the "next big thing," which is what my novel turned out to be - and I hope so.  I'll post a ghost story next week.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Miasmas – or – just take the handle off the pump

We live longer now than we used to, you know?  One thing I've learned from books I've read is that cancer probably appears to be increasing because people live longer, and cancer is mostly a disease of older people.  But we're living longer in part because we're much better at preventing and treating other diseases – diseases that used to kill lots of people – like cholera, which you rarely hear about anymore.*  Now we understand what causes those diseases and how they spread.  Before scientists had powerful microscopes and understood the role of germs, the theory was that most illness and even epidemics were due to "miasmas," which is a Greek word for polluted or unhealthy air.  After all, a truly awful smell can affect both your nose and your stomach if it's strong enough, and might even inhibit your mental capabilities.  

But in 1854 a cholera epidemic broke out in the Soho area of London and affected both upper and lower-classes of people, and both clean and filthy houses.  But two people who spent a great amount of time visiting those afflicted in the area – without becoming sick themselves – were able to pinpoint the cause of the problem.  One was an English physician named Dr. John Snow.  He visited the houses affected and concluded correctly that the water from the Broad Street pump was the culprit. Even though not everyone was convinced, the pump handle was removed and the epidemic died out. The Reverend Henry Whitehead also visited those afflicted and was able to prove Dr. Snow's conclusion, even tracking down the exact source – both the individual and the defective sewer that had leaked cholera into the water supplied by the Broad Street pump. 

The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic--and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson was incredibly fascinating.  The detail of how Dr. Snow came to his conclusion and how Rev. Whitehead proved and tracked it back to the source; the descriptions of how cholera is transmitted and what it does to the body; and the explanations of how it affected the city and those who suffered had me hanging on every word.  If Mr. Johnson had stopped there I'd be singing his praises, but... the "ghost map" comes up in the lengthy conclusion and epilogue when he compares the mapping efforts by Dr. Snow, the Rev. Whitehead, William Farr, and others with today's disease tracking methods.  Unfortunately, he strains credibility by stretching this idea further into Google and Yahoo maps for coffee shops, etc. then goes on a rant about the "population explosion" and the benefits and problems of densely populated cities. In fact, while the idea of urban environments is a thread throughout the book, he tries to analyze their value as a solution to global warming against potential nuclear disasters and terrorist attacks (with a lengthy discussion of Sept 11).  While I highly recommend the history in the book, the author's attempts to apply the lessons (however tenuously) to several modern-day concerns was dull and I found myself wishing the book would just end.

So, watch what you drink and skip the epilogue.

* Although cholera is unheard of here in the U.S., it still affects 3-5 million people worldwide and as many as 130,000 die each year (2010 estimate), primarily in developing countries.