Oracle Night by Paul Auster

If you’ve never read Paul Auster, be warned that his work is always a little surreal.  His novels read like a mixture of fantasy, mystery, and a ghost story.  Pay attention to the details because some of them will weave their way deeply into the story and some are loose threads.  The random encounters are rarely random, and even if a character seems like he hasn’t changed and/or made any kind of journey, you as the reader certainly will.

Such was my experience as I read Oracle Night.  I could tell you the jacket flap details, but it would be much more fun to tell you it’s about a writer who writes a story about a man reading the work of a long dead writer who wrote about a man who has the ability to predict the future.  If it sounds crazy, that’s because it’s a Paul Auster novel.

Still, don’t allow that to deter you from reading about writer Sidney Orr and his mysterious blue notebook purchased from M.R. Chang’s Paper Palace or about Sidney’s wife, Grace, and the nature of their relationship versus hers with fellow writer John Trause.  Factor in Jacob, John’s drug addict son, and Nick Bowen who manages to lock himself into Ed Victory’s underground bunker (The Bureau of Historical Preservation), and Lemuel Flagg, a British lieutenant blinded in World War I who has the gift of prophecy, and you’re in the multi-layered world of Paul Auster.

Some of my thoughts as I read Oracle Night included:

Every writer’s nightmare and every writer’s dream:  to write words that actually come true or at least predict the future.

What are these worlds that writers create?

Do we live in the present with the future inside us?

Are we creating futures as we write?

Is the pen truly mightier than the sword?

Such are the questions Auster’s work provokes every time I read it.  I can also recommend Travels in the Scriptorium, The Book of Illusions, Augie Wren’s Christmas Story, and Man in the Dark.  If you need a point of reference, readers of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Shadow of the Wind will probably enjoy Auster’s novels as long as they keep in mind that he will take it to the next level of wonderfully bizarre.

Good Question

Last week I read an interesting post, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, from fellow writer S of JSMawdsley. My initial reaction was one of surprise quickly followed by familiarity and finally relief. What S had written struck a chord with me because so many times I’ve wondered why I’m doing what I’m doing with my writing.

My surprise came from the fact that so many writers play it close to the vest never revealing that the writing life isn’t going exactly as they had hoped. S put all her cards on the table by admitting that she wasn’t having fun and planned to rectify the situation by only writing what she wanted to write.

I am familiar with her desire to maintain a quality blog as well as working myself into a tizzy over what to write. When S said she’d give half an hour every two weeks to writing posts, I thought either she’s committing blogging suicide or I’m insane for overworking it. For me, the fear on this subject stems from being told I must have an author platform to market myself prior to publishing my book. This is such a distraction and takes away from my writing time.

By the end of S’s post, I felt encouragement knowing that I am not alone in my concerns. If she can refocus herself by only writing what she loves, so can I. I’d rather be ruled by my passion for writing than by my fear of falling social media stats.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you are a writer, you’re not alone. In fact, musicians, photographers, painters, dancers, and all those who create art, it’s time to wrest your craft back from the hands of those who are more concerned with profits than they are with the creation process. Take inspiration from each other and step back to reassess when things go askew. Rediscover your passion, and then go forth and create.

A Soldier’s Story – Omar N. Bradley

a-soldiers-storyA Soldier’s Story by General Omar N. Bradley is one of the most profound books I’ve ever read.  My friend and fellow writer, William Alford, loaned Bradley’s autobiography to me as a source of research for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles.  My research required a closer look at World War II, such as those provided by doctors and nurses (And If I Perish, Heroes From the Attic), but I still read Bradley’s account of the war, and I am extremely glad I did so.

He prefaces his autobiography with the inscription, “To those soldiers who must often have wondered WHY they were going where they did.  Perhaps this will help answer their questions.”

I believe Bradley answered these questions truthfully and without the ego that might have come from a lesser man achieving such rank and accomplishing what Bradley did.  As for the tough issue regarding loss of life, he explained how every move made by troops was analyzed and not conducted until the loss was the lowest number possible.  The decision to go ahead, shouldered by Bradley and other men like him, was not taken lightly, and it is not one I would ever want to have.

There are many who would argue that the war was unnecessary, but I concur with General Bradley:  the evil that swept through Europe wasn’t going to go away on its own.  Even with the combined forces of the Allies, the battles were not easily fought or won.  Perhaps unavoidable would be the better word choice in regards to World War II.

Bradley was against actions such as taking a site simply for the prestige of location.  Yet when other commanders’ egos swelled, he remained cordial with them even while strongly disagreeing with their decisions and/or actions.  He went so far as to put his career on the line to get the truth out to the American public regarding one such instance.

Further testimony to Bradley’s humility and strength of character are his accounts of his friend, General Patton.  Bradley spoke frankly about the times Patton overstepped his bounds, yet he never criticized in a way that tore Patton down.  When Patton was placed under Bradley’s authority, the two men worked together quite well and held each other in high regard.

Bradley includes comments from Prime Minister Winston Churchill that are chilling predictions come true.  Considering that the conversation took place in 1945 and wasn’t published until 1951, when Churchill says, “There may come a day when we shall walk into a cabinet room, break the glass over a switch, dial to the nation to be bombed, and push a button to declare war,” I can’t help but wonder if this technology was in place long before we were aware.  More unsettling are Churchill’s words, “But we shall never sit by and permit a minority to force its will upon a helpless majority anywhere,” which speak to the current world situation.

The book concludes with the end of the war in Europe, an occasion that was no doubt worthy of celebration, but I was left with a feeling of melancholy that I could only attribute to the realization that the type of patriotism displayed during World War II no longer exists.  Still, I believe that Bradley’s explanations successfully bridged the gap between those in command and those in the field.  I highly recommend A Soldier’s Story as a worthy read.

None For You!

none-for-youIn an effort to stave off the dumbing down of the English language, today’s The Weight of Words focuses on the versatile word none.

None can have a plural sense as in not any as well as a singular sense, not a single one. When followed by of, you need to assess the object of the preposition (the noun in the of phrase). If the object of the preposition is singular, then a singular verb is in order. If the object of the preposition is plural, one has some flexibility with verb choice. Mostly, but not always, you will use the plural verb.

For example:

None of the cake was eaten. (Cake is singular, so use a singular verb.)

None of the puppies were sleeping. (Puppies is plural, so use a plural verb. However, with English, that ever-fickle mistress, when none denotes not a single one, it is also correct to say, “None of the puppies was sleeping.”)

Confused yet?

When writing your sentence, remember there is an implied noun that answers the question, “None of what?” Again, if that noun is singular, none requires a singular verb. If that noun is plural, it is up to you as the writer and the sense you are trying to convey in your sentence that determines whether or not none requires a singular verb or a plural verb.

For example:

None was eaten. (None of the cake was eaten.)

None were sleeping. (None of the puppies were sleeping. But you as the writer may prefer was as in, “Not a single one of the puppies was sleeping.”)

Somewhere along the way, the myth that none is solely singular appeared. Not only is this incorrect based on what I presented above, but it’s up to you, dear writer, to decide if your context is singular or plural. Now you have the information required to defend your choice.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

mary-shelleys-frankensteinI recently read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a requirement for my classic literature book club. It was my first time reading the book, and I looked forward to it. As I approached the story, I knew better than to compare it to the Boris Karloff version of the movie by the same title. I’ve only viewed portions of the movie, and from what I’ve seen, I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss anything.

Of course, there was the Kenneth Branagh version of Frankenstein that I watched years ago. I recall the movie seemed classier, and it had Mary Shelley’s name in the title, so perhaps it was more closely linked to her original tale. Prior to reading the novel, my only other experience with Frankenstein was during my senior English class in high school. The teacher mentioned that Mary Shelley wrote the story as part of a competition with her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and friend, Lord Byron, to write a ghost story. From Mary Shelley’s efforts, the novel was born.

With all this build up, I launched expectantly into Shelley’s biography at the beginning of the book. She had an unfortunate life full of tragedy and was a husband stealing adulteress. I kept in mind that the last fact should have no bearing on her writing. I did, however, tuck away her comment that people often asked her how a young woman could have written such a tale. I didn’t find it difficult to believe that a young woman wrote the book; the novel gushed on and on with a relentless amount of filler. In tone and passion, it matched the sappiest of poorly written romance novels. Truly, Mary Shelley had written a horror novel.

I suspect Mary Shelley’s overinflated belief in her ability to write was influenced by her sphere of acquaintances. Her parents were prominent writers and philosophers (her mother died shortly after Mary’s birth but left behind quite a legacy), her husband and friend (Lord Byron) were well-known writers, so why not give it a whirl herself? I must admit that Frankenstein is the only work by Mary Shelley I’ve read, but based on what I encountered, I am not motivated in the least to seek out her other writings. Feminists everywhere are probably damning me right now.

Led around by the nose is the phrase that kept coming to mind as I read the book. Mary Shelley obviously had a point she wanted to make, but she didn’t allow her readers to arrive at this point on his or her own. Victor Frankenstein was meant to be disliked and the monster pitied. I believe her intent was to make us wonder who the real monster was.

I kept hoping that Mary Shelley would raise the Creator vs. Creation issue because I would have enjoyed arguing that subject as I read. After all, Victor Frankenstein as the imperfect Creator would have made for a wonderful debate. Instead, we’re given a pathetic, weak man who repeatedly saves his own life over those he claims to love. I still don’t know why he suddenly rejected his own creation. We’re expected to suspend belief and simply accept that he did.

As for the suspension of belief, prepare to do so over and over and over again. The most unforgiveable place I found this to be true was in the mary-shelleys-frankenstein-2creation of the monster. Mary Shelley didn’t do her research as far as I’m concerned. She didn’t provide any method of preservation or refrigeration for the body parts and briefly mentions decay. Still, we’re expected to believe that Frankenstein built a human in a rented room in the middle of town. She glosses over the part where the creature is brought to life by having Frankenstein refuse to tell Captain Walton how he did it to prevent the sailor from making the same mistake. As a writer, I know that’s a major faux pas. Perhaps it was more acceptable when Mary Shelley wrote.

It’s a toss-up who fluctuated more in character: Victor Frankenstein or The Monster. Frankenstein’s resolve wavered every time he decided he was going to deal with his creation, and right on cue someone he loved would die by the monster’s hands because Victor’s spinelessness reasserted itself yet again. It was dangerous to be loved by this man, and I do not buy into the belief that he was helpless to stop the monster’s rampage.

The monster was intelligent enough to grab clothes upon fleeing Frankenstein’s rooms, learn language and reading in about a year, quote Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” but couldn’t discern his own feelings or come up with better plans for inserting himself into society. From the last two incidents, we’re supposed to believe the monster was a victim.

And when, exactly, did Frankenstein’s creation become a monster? In my opinion, it was when he refused to extend the grace he sought from humanity. In his unjustifiable rage, he lashed out not only toward those whose company he sought, but he hurt innocent bystanders as well (ex: burning the cottage punished the owner when the creature was rejected by De Lacy, Felix, Agatha, and Safie.) I could not find him pitiable, and it was not his right to act accordingly.

I could continue with issues such as why the monster possessed supernatural strength, how the scenes were predictable, the presence of too many coincidences, and how the character arcs read more like character cliffs. Since I haven’t read what the feminists believe Mary Shelley’s intent was for her novel, I’ll not enter that debate.

Instead, I’ll sum it up with the question of what makes a classic. If shock value for the era in which a novel was written qualifies, then a certain book in fifty shades is destined to become a classic in about one hundred years. Or does a book become a classic by the fact that it was written by an anonymous author who turns out to be the opposite sex from what we expected? All this did for me was present Mary Shelley starring in the role of Victor Frankenstein. (If you’re going to write an opposite sex character, try to make them masculine or feminine as is required of said character.) Don’t forget popularity and sales; they lend high regard for a book in the opinion of many people these days.

I’m not sorry that I read Frankenstein because now I can say I know for myself, but I cannot recommend the book as either well-written or worthy of being called a classic.

A Day in the Life

img_20160922_0851090761So the top portion of my uniform is back from the laundry. I sure hope they removed all the cat hair this time. I adore my cats, Henry and Simon, but let’s face it, they leave quite a bit of hair in places they shouldn’t. Like my couch and my uniform. It’s a good thing they’re light-colored cats or it would really show up! But I hear the laundress is an amazing woman. I believe she’s a writer, too.

a-day-in-the-life-2Anyhow, I have to don the bottom part of my uniform because I have to stop working for a few moments to take the kiddo to school. For some reason, he doesn’t appreciate my choice of uniform pants. I tell him he has no sense of style. He rolls his eyes. What can you expect from a teenager? He comes home from school, wipes out the food in our cupboards like a ravenous locust, and has the gall to look at me in my uniform and say, “You haven’t showered yet?” The ingrate. Does he think all this writing happens by magic? And what does the kid have against the Autobots?

a-day-in-the-lifeAt least I can stop by the refueling station for some gas after dropping him off. I know some people prefer that pricey fuel with the fancy green mermaid on the cup, but I find my favorite establishment brews a tasty cup of java juice. Besides, I don’t require all that frou frou stuff to keep me going. The grittier the brew, the better the writing I always say. And depending on how good they did with mixing the perfect balance of coffee and cream will determine if I visit my other favorite libation in the evening to keep the writing going.

Now the really hard part starts: tending one’s social media without getting sucked in to cute kitten videos and all the political garbage flying around. Ten minutes is what I usually allow myself which means I’ll be on Facebook and Twitter at least an hour. My punishment is to stare at a blank screen for the rest of the day as I try to come up with blog posts, short fiction, and another chapter in my current WIP. One of the benefits of being a writer is that you get to use cool acronyms like WIP, POV, and MSWL.

img_20160812_185540197So here I sit. Instead of fascinating storylines that will keep my readers riveted, all I can think about is the ten years’ worth of scrapbooking I need to do in time for my kid’s Eagle Scout Court of Honor. See how I worked a little shameless bragging in there? Another cool part of being a writer. Then there’s the weeding I need to do in the flowerbeds all the while knowing I won’t get to it until next spring when I plan on tearing them out anyhow, all the folding I need to accomplish because I was ill this past week and chores stacked up, decisions about what to make for dinner, wondering who will show up to Critique Group tonight, and my book club selection I need to finish reading. I need a nap.

img_20160906_081749882Time to throw some glitter at the screen and hope the writing fairies show up. Or I could text my mother to see if she’s up. There’s a good chance that making contact with her early in the day will result in an invitation to breakfast. The best part is that I can wear my uniform over to her condominium association because no one over there cares what I look like when I arrive. Got to love the elderly and their screwy sense of fashion! Of course, Mom’s place is the black hole of comfy-ness, and I’ll waste the entire morning over there, accomplishing jack squat toward my writing. Perhaps I’ll just raid the kitchen for some cashews and press on.

Being a writer may sound like an easy job. After all, the uniform alone is a major plus. But imagine giving yourself really hard homework for the rest of your life. Not only do you have to create the task, you have to provide the solution. There are days you love it and days you wish someone would have hit you in the head with a ball bat or at least warned you what it would be like. It’s an addiction, and no matter how long a break you give yourself, you always come back to it. It is a vicious cycle, and the doubts and fears can pop up at any time even when you thought you’d vanquished them two years ago.

And yet, you can’t help but create, and when you remember that you’re part of an amazing group of people known as The Creatives, which also includes artists, musicians, photographers, etc., it helps you get through the long, dry spells of no ideas and rejection letters. Take comfort in the fact that unlike many people who only wished they had taken up the pen, you actually did. When querying feels like you’ve placed your beautiful baby in the public view and begged for someone to tell you everything that’s wrong with it, remember that you had the guts to query in the first place. You rock. I rock. Heck, we’re all pretty amazing when you get right down to it. If me telling you that isn’t enough, take it from people who have been where we’re all hoping to end up. (Writing Inspiration)

Now, go forth and create. I have to get back to staring at my blinking cursor.

Welcome to my Author Blog

Welcome to my author blog, Friend. I am so pleased you found me.

I’ve been hanging out here for two years with an amazing group of followers. It is because of them that my blog is going strong, and I want to take this opportunity to say, “Thank You!”

The overall purpose of my blog is to familiarize you with my writing, most specifically my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. I am currently seeking representation for my manuscript. In the meantime, I’m working on my second novel as well as a collection of short stories.

Following me is quite easy. Just click the +Follow button hovering in the bottom right hand corner of the screen or take advantage of the sign-up directly on the Home page. In addition to my blog, there are various ways for us to become better acquainted. I can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

I sincerely hope you’ll join us. I look forward to getting to know you better.

HL Gibson, Author

Poison by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer

PoisonSusan Fromberg Schaeffer’s novel, Poison, is a brilliant work of fiction; it is how all novels should be written. Poison explores the themes of love, greed, desire, human strengths and weaknesses, peoples’ perceptions of each other, and how we are molded by these perceptions. The author allows us inside the heads of a wide cast of characters and gives the reader the opportunity to decide who is good or bad, right or wrong. You’ll find yourself comparing the characters to your own friends and family all the while claiming, “I would never act like that.” The stream of consciousness style gives the reader the delicious, wicked sensation of reading someone’s private correspondence or diary. The letters between several characters heightens the experience.

Ms. Schaeffer employs the scenario of a death and a will like a bomb to set off a series of explosive events. It’s a situation many readers will find familiar. Like watching a slow-motion train wreck, one cannot turn away from reading the disastrous accounts of the characters’ lives. Your allegiances will shift throughout the book.

Poison is not a beach read. It is not for readers who want to plow through a book or those who want to be told everything up front with lots of action and a singular POV. But if you are willing to allow the story to unfold, the characters to develop and evolve, Poison will prove to be incredibly satisfying. I truly believe the novel will appeal to the intelligent reader whose mind can juggle multiple POVs, information given out of chronological order, and backstory appearing right up to the conclusion. It may sound like utter chaos, but I found Poison to be remarkably well-structured, one of the best works of literary fiction I’ve ever read.

Three’s a Crowd

Three's a CrowdTwo words that are similar are enough to drive this writer crazy, but when there are three that actually give me pause concerning spelling, definition, and usage, well, that’s when the ole Google search bar gets quite a workout on my laptop. Today’s The Weight of Words focuses on eminent vs. imminent vs. immanent.

And by the way, I don’t really use my Google search bar to look up words. That’s what Grammarist is for. Per the website:

Someone or something that is eminent is of high rank, noteworthy, distinguished, or prominent. An accomplished world leader and a respected intellectual, for instance, are eminent.

Something that is imminent is (1) very near or (2) impending. For example, when the weather forecast calls for a 100% chance of thunderstorms, we might say that storms are imminent.

Something that is immanent exists within or is inherent to something else. The word is often used in reference to spiritual or otherwise nonmaterial things. For example, a spiritual person might say that God’s power is immanent to the natural world.

Though the three adjectives are not exact homophones, they are similar enough to engender occasional confusion. Immanent in particular is very often used in place of imminent in popular usage, and imminent and eminent are also frequently mixed up.

Clear as mud? Now go forth and use them!

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 15

Two days ago I started reading a novel by an author whose previous book I enjoyed. Admittedly, I only had one book by which to judge her writing, but since I absolutely fell in love with the story, I trusted that I would like other books she wrote. The first novel I read by this particular author was set in medieval Japan, a favorite era of mine, which scored the book high marks right off the bat. I didn’t have to labor at all to find the exciting parts as the writing was excellent and the story captivated me. Again, this alone shed a positive light on the second novel even though it wasn’t about Japan.

Writer's Soul 15Many years had passed between reading the two novels, but I had high hopes for the second one. The second book started slowly with very little dialog and page long paragraphs composed of rambling sentences from multiple POVs separated only by commas. It took some effort to follow whose thoughts were being expressed. But I’m no quitter. If I could read José Saramago’s The Double which has enormous paragraphs with only periods and commas even when it’s dialog, and ended up being one of the best books I ever read, then I could finish this book.

One of the first things I checked was where in the lineup of publication this particular book stood. It’s number fourteen for the author which is quite impressive. There was a reason to keep going. If publishers believed the novel worthy of printing, then I should probably press on. I mentioned this to my husband, and it generated a question we’ve debated before. Is there a certain place in an established author’s career when no matter how mediocre the book may be it will still be published based on his or her prior success and/or reputation?

I’m tempted to read this author’s first and second books. They were published several decades ago, and I wonder how the writing may have evolved over time. Is it better, worse, different? Was the author simply trying something new, something she always wanted to do but didn’t dare attempt until she was established enough to trust that her work wouldn’t be rejected? Or does this later book reflect the change in tastes among readers?

In either case, I’m going to be fair to this author and finish the book. There have been less than five books in my lifetime that I was unable to finish. Also, I’m willing to allow an author some grace as she builds up to the pinnacle of the story. I trust that fourteen books later, this author knows how to write worthy of my attention. There are slight mysteries and questions that have been posed, and I cannot set the book down without discovering what they are.

I mention all of this to lay some groundwork for the real issue I want to discuss. It has to do with query letters, synopses, and first page or chapter critiques experienced by new authors. If the book I’m reading was a first novel, without an established reputation backing it, to be judged only on a query letter, synopsis, or first chapter, regardless of how brilliant those items may be written, it would be rejected outright.

A person simply cannot focus on a tiny glimpse of someone’s writing taken out of context and judge whether or not the entire work is worthy of publication. And yet, this is exactly what it done during pitch sessions at writing conferences and in agents’ offices on a daily basis. How much brilliant writing is bypassed because an agent, editor, or publisher wasn’t aware of all the narrative forces driving the story as it unfolds to reveal its true shape?

I fear that what I’ve termed ‘fast-food thinking’ has negatively influenced the art of writing and publication of said writing. Everything in life takes place at the speed of light so that our desires receive instant gratification. Just as quickly, we move on to seek the next tantalizing thing without ever realizing that we aren’t truly satisfied. The more we seek, the more things need to be supplied to fulfill the vicious whims of demand. And if you are the person who can do it bigger, better, faster than anyone else, you’ll probably be the one to make boat loads of money. So what if quality suffers? Well, that’s the problem I’m leading up to.

Let’s step back for a moment and analyze why this fast-paced process isn’t working. Let’s start with the writing. Great writing takes time, and if people have bought into the lie that time is money, then great literature is in more danger of becoming obsolete than even I thought possible.

There has to be a better way.

Writing is a major investment of passion and time. It doesn’t follow cookie-cutter formats and spew out copycat books, it doesn’t happen to make the writer rich, and it doesn’t exist for the express purpose of becoming a movie. Writing can be summarized for book flaps and reviews, but if that was all it took to satisfy a person, the writing wouldn’t have become a book in the first place.

It’s time to trade in ‘fast-food thinking’ for ‘stop and smell the roses reasoning.’ If anything worth having is worth waiting for, then I propose allowing this lesson in patience to be applied to how books are evaluated. Furthermore, as a society, we must no longer tolerate being spoon fed our entertainment especially where books and/or writing is concerned. Readers must also slow down and appreciate the treasures they hold in their hands when they read a book.

Of course, I’m open to suggestions on how to make this process work better, not just easier. In doing so, we’ll not only rescue writing from being destroyed, we’ll stop this process from encroaching upon other forms of art.

Write Happy!

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