The Benefits of Daily Reading

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

– Stephen King

Hey, King said it best.

Recently, I was asked by Carmen Jacob of UpJourney for my opinions on the benefits of daily reading, as someone who reads quite a bit. It’s a cool article, with thoughts from 26 daily readers from various walks of life, including authors, speakers, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. My answer is the third one down, but yes—the whole piece is worth adding to today’s daily read. Check it out:

The Benefits of Reading (According to 26 People Who Read Every Day)

Quick Reviews of the Last 5 Books I’ve Read

As much as I love analyzing stories, it’s sometimes a challenge to take the time to do a detailed review of every single book that I read; last year alone, I read over 100 different books, and while this year has been a bit slower it’s still over the 50 mark.  That said, I thought it might be fun to do a quick overview of the last five books I’ve read, with my thoughts on each:

51SwzqF6QVL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

Chimpanzee – Darin Bradley – With the USA’s millennial generation currently drowning in student debt, this book, much like the Circle,  is a dystopia perfectly crafted for our time. There’s some interesting science fiction ideas in here, but what really matters are the big themes, which are masterfully plotted and executed.  Chimpanzee is one of the leaner, meaner and more interesting dystopic books in some time.  (And by the way, what a great cover!)

2001__a_space_odyssey_book_cover_by_skumpf-d4kyi24

2001: A Space Odyssey – Arthur C. Clarke – Not going to get into the whole book vs. movie debate, but I will say this: the book doesn’t get nearly enough credit.  While the movie’s genius is in its openness to interpretation, the book’s genius is found in its specifics. Exploring the beginnings of humanity and ending with its possible future in a realm beyond understanding, it doesn’t get much more epic than this.

odd

Saint Odd – Dean Koontz I was surprised by just how much I loved the initial Odd Thomas book. Odd himself was a quirky, likeable character, and his town of Pico Mundo felt real. That said, I haven’t been as fond of the direction the series took after that point. I really enjoyed the third book, Brother Odd, but the other ones took a track that was different than what I expected–not necessarily bad, just different–and I missed the Pico Mundo town folk from the first and second book. The Annamaria storyline never quite clicked for me. Saint Odd brings us back to Pico Mundo, and in many ways back to the beginning of the series. Interestingly, what’s strange about Saint Odd is how small the scale is; whereas the previous books have been building toward some sort of epic, metaphysical conclusion with the fate of the world hanging in the balance, Saint Odd never quite goes there, and delves into the supernatural far less than its predecessors.

Overall, I have mixed feelings, but my affection for the Odd Thomas character is no less strong, and it’s both enjoyable and saddening to accompany Odd on one last journey back to Pico Mundo.

coates

Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates – A brilliant, heartbreaking and vulnerable piece of writing that may very well revolutionize the conversation on race in the United States.  I’ve been reading Coates’ articles in The Atlantic for some time, but this book takes is writings to an entirely new level.  Probably one of the most important works of this year.

kiterunner

The Kite Runner Khaled HosseiniOkay, I’m really floored that I didn’t read this sooner. One of the most profoundly emotional stories I’ve ever read, this is a brave story written by a writer who truly knows its subject matter and has something he wants to say to the world. Can’t recommend this enough.

So now, fellow readers, how about you?

What’s the last book you read?

The Proof has Arrived

Though Pale Highway is still a little ways from release day, the first prototype copy of the book finally arrived on my doorstep yesterday, direct from Red Adept Publishing. It’s impossible to describe what a cathartic feeling it is to see the story fully realized; what was once just an idea in my mind is now a physical object, a gateway to a world that has moved beyond the grasp of its creator and will soon belong to the readers far more than it belongs to me.

Out of everything that I’ve ever written, Pale Highway has been the story that has impacted me the most. It’s truly amazing to be able to share it with the world this way, and I can’t wait until it’s finally available for others.

pale_proof

DFW on “fiction”

dfw

I don’t think I’m talking about conventionally political or social action-type solutions. That’s not what fiction’s about. Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being. If you operate, which most of us do, from the premise that there are things about the contemporary U.S. that make it distinctively hard to be a real human being, then maybe half of fiction’s job is to dramatize what it is that makes it tough. The other half is to dramatize the fact that we still “are” human beings, now. Or can be.

– David Foster Wallace

The Never-Ending Line

He was an artist with no name. When your work speaks for you, who needs a name? The unnamed artist’s tool of choice was charcoal, for its unique ability to smoothly blend dark and light together. That’s what he liked about it. Its mysteriousness, its messiness, the way that the black smudged into muddled shades of grey.

On the day that he started his masterpiece, the unnamed artist prepared for several hours. He stared at the white paper before him. The charcoal sticks were lined up alongside it, symmetrically. Everything was perfect and untouched.  He wasn’t nervous in the least; he was ready. He began by drawing a solid dot in the corner of the page, to mark the beginning.

From that dot, he drew a landscape. Everything was connected in one long, continuous line of charcoal. That was the challenge he’d set forth on, that day: to create an entire world in one line, never separating from the paper’s thin surface, never lifting his hand.

Mountains, oceans, forests, volcanoes, all of it. One line.  Continuous.  Connected.  Looping back toward the center, he drew a hunched over figure. This figure didn’t look quite right, so he edited it to look a bit more, well–what was it?

Oh, it was a human being. Of course.

That was good, but it wasn’t enough. A single human? No, it was lonely.

He drew another figure beside it. Two human beings stood out in the center of the paper, as if they were the only thing that mattered. They were prominent, the most important piece of the drawing–but they were still connected to the unbroken line. Trapped. Up until this point, he’d been in control of the picture. However, any artist will admit that, at some point, one loses that control. In order to succeed, the art must take on a life of its own. The artist stopped and waited for this to happen, tensely pressing his hand against the paper, unconsciously smudging it.

It didn’t. The figures were still connected to the line, and they looked miserable about it. The unnamed artist struggled to fix the problem and disconnect them, but it was too late. You can’t erase charcoal.

He started drawing again. He drew large crowds of people to accompany them, but each one was equally miserable, equally stuck. He couldn’t draw them separately from the line—to do so would be to betray the entire philosophy that had created the drawing—but he wanted them to separate themselves from it, to actively pursue freedom.

They continued to be stuck, and they became miserable. They became angry. They hated him for creating them. They denied his existence. The most livid looking ones became smudged beyond recognition.  In his head, the artist could hear their voices. They demanded answers. They wanted easy solutions. If they didn’t get these things, they loathed him for it, screamed at him. The drawing he’d worked so hard on became painful to even look at. All he could do was accept the tragedy for what it was. He slowly accepted the idea that maybe he just had to walk away from his artwork, put it away, never look back.

He noticed something.

Without realizing it, he’d drawn one of the figures separate from the line, completely by accident—and that lone figure was smiling. Unfortunately, the figure didn’t see the artist. It was looking for him, sure—but in the wrong direction.

But that didn’t matter, because it was smiling, and it was guiding the others in a new direction toward the corner of the page—the place where it could escape from its white prison, leap out into a world beyond its initial understanding, and find independence. It forged its own path. Others followed. Other unique characters appeared, inspired by the first one, and they created their own directions, their own paths.

The figures weren’t doomed. Deep inside, they knew what the right choice was. They knew how to escape from the continuous line. Even if the smiling ones couldn’t see him, they weren’t content to sit there and brood. They wanted to do things. They wanted to create lines of their own. They wanted to strive for truth and self-create their own individual destinies. The artist knew that someday, they’d find their way off the page. Today just wasn’t that day.

The unnamed artist put down his charcoal. He smiled to himself, and he waited.

The Eye-Dancers

eyed

As my previous posts have probably made clear by now, I’m a devoted fan of comic books, superheroes and science fiction. So when I first came across Michael S. Fedison’s YA novel The Eye-Dancers, a book that so affectionately wears its comic book loving heart on its sleeve, my interest was piqued.

The Eye-Dancers begins by introducing us to Mitchell Brant, a self-conscious fourth grader with parents on the cusp of divorce, a box full of Fantastic Four comics, anxiety problems around girls and a compulsive lying habit. He’s an average kid with average luck, but this is swiftly thrown into disarray when he suddenly begins experiencing terrifyingly lifelike dreams of a ghostly little girl with spinning blue eyes. He’s not the only one; his two best friends, Joe and Ryan, are having the same nightmares. Banding together with their brainiac classmate Marc Kuslanski, the seventh graders form their own sort of makeshift Fantastic Four and set off on an adventure that will take them beyond the confines of this universe.

ff

The science fiction ideas here are interesting—parallel realities and the multiverse are pretty familiar subjects to most comic readers—but as a whole, Fedison focuses on the development of his four lead characters. Each of the boys has a unique personality, with unique fears and anxieties.  Whereas most YA books tend to focus on high school angst, Fedison instead makes the choice to set his story right in the boys’ middle school years, which gives it an entirely different tone; middle school stories, as a whole, are less about anger and more about pained unsureness. Whereas high schoolers are marching toward the cusp of adulthood and looking forward, middle schoolers are standing right at the exit door of childhood—and looking back, worriedly.

interstell_1

There’s a cheerfully adventurous, Stan Lee-era comic book tone to this, but like the best comic stories, it’s tempered by melancholy, sadness and redemption. Similar to the classic 90s TV series Quantum Leap, the science fiction elements are here mainly to advance the story, and not so much as the focus.

But what really makes The Eye-Dancers special is its innate likability. The book is clearly a labor of love, written by a writer who is putting all of his favorite things together into one one work, toiling away out of pure passion, telling the exact story that his heart wants him to tell. After reading The Eye-Dancers, it’s impossible not to cheer him on—and to hope that he has more books waiting in the wings.

Review of Blood for the Sun, by Errick Nunnally

The traditional werewolf legend is so firmly ingrained in our collective psyche that even the youngest children can recite the tale by heart: a full moon appears in the sky, a man howls…and by the light of that moon, he is transformed into a creature that stalks the wilderness.

We all know the deal. It’s a staple in horror fiction and spooky campfire stories, alike.  So why are werewolves so overlooked?

Right off the bat, I’ll admit that the werewolf is probably my favorite of the classic supernatural monsters—but I’ve found most media portrayals of them to be fairly lacking.  Lazy werewolf depictions are a dime a dozen, and this has resulted in an overall lowering of the werewolf’s standing in the great monster pantheon.  Though werewolves certainly have the potential to become the new mainstream monster any day now – like vampires paved the way for zombies, zombies will eventually be usurped by a new big bad– werewolves are generally given the shaft.  All too often, werewolves are relegated to being boss-style monsters, minor henchmen, or sometimes the pawns of vampires.

Really, werewolf mythology has been badly in need of an update for the last few decades, ever since An American Werewolf in London shook things up back in 1981.

An American Werewolf in London

Cheese!

But how does one approach werewolves in a whole new light? Is it possible? Is there still fresh, untapped blood in the legend?

After reading Errick Nunnally’s debut novel, Blood for the Sun, the answer is a resounding yes.

Blood for the Sun is the story of Alexander Smith, a werewolf—in the novel, referred to as a shapeshifter—of 140 years, who is now suffering from a supernatural mental ailment that causes him to continually become disoriented and/or lose pieces of his memory. Struggling to overcome the hungry carnivore inside him, Alexander keeps himself focused by tracking down the murderers of children and bringing them to justice. But when his investigation of one such murder leads him down the trail of a vast supernatural conspiracy, Alexander’s response will decide the fate of the world.

wolf2

What immediately draws the reader into Blood for the Sun is how unique it is. Set in contemporary Boston, the book creates a world that believably sits right underneath our own. Though it uses familiar themes and mythological creatures, Nunnally’s take on them is intriguingly off-kilter, and all of the disparate elements of this new world fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Tired concepts are given new life. Shapeshifters are portrayed as the pack animals of the supernatural world; animalistic, hungry creatures barely contained within the body of the human being they occupy. Vampires are slick, wiry and reptilian, followed around by fetishistic followers. Wizards and witches are curious scientists with disturbing addictive tendencies. There’s even a fascinating take on the idea of dragons, a concept which rears its head in several of the book’s best scenes. Of course, the running thread through all of this is Alexander, and he proves to be one of the more interesting antiheroes in recent memory.

Errick Nunnally.

Errick Nunnally.

At the beginning, Blood for the Sun has the tone of a noir detective story with a dark supernatural bent, and this is what hooks us. Alexander is very much the grizzled veteran of the streets, and his narration forms a perfect introduction to the world that Nunnally has created. But as the story goes on, it evolves to be much more than that, with influences as far and wide as ancient Mayan mythology, horror, fantasy, superheroes and martial arts. Noir suddenly gives way to urban fantasy, and by the novel’s conclusion the story transports us to the realm of metaphysical science fiction.  It’s a thrilling ride from start to finish.

Somehow, it works. The concoction is expertly brewed. Blood for the Sun is a thinking man’s page turner, and leaves one breathlessly anticipating a sequel.

Joseph Pinto’s Dusk and Summer

“I lost my father between dusk and summer.
Perhaps he left me long before I care to admit, long before he refused his last meals, long before his spent eyes flickered like candles behind cracked panes of some forlorn, abandoned house. Before his neglected muscles jellied into the folds of his stark white hospital sheet, and the rise of his chest grew shallower and weak. Maybe it was plain selfishness on my behalf; sitting at his bedside all those times, soothing his ears with encouragement as I squeezed his hand, desperate to impart the very courage and determination he had infused into me over my years. Even as he relied on me to raise a flimsy plastic cup of ice water to his parched lips. Had I become too scared to realize or just too blinded to ask: whose fight did this now become?”

dusksummer

Great writing always comes from somewhere genuine inside the author.  Influences are numerous, of course; a novel could be born out of something beautiful, something sorrowful or even something ugly,  but the best writing is always a reflection of one’s truest self.  For novelists, the keyboard is the translator of the soul’s voice. As George Orwell once famously said, “good prose is like a windowpane.”

From the very first page of Joseph Pinto’s Dusk and Summer, quoted above, the reader knows that he or she is in for something heartfelt—and breathtakingly real.

Even if I hadn’t read that Pinto’s novella was inspired by his real life, it would have been obvious from the outset. I understand it completely, having gone through similarly heartwrenching experiences; I understand the place where this story is coming from, and why it needed to be told.  The emotions stirred up are passionately real, and Dusk and Summer is sure to create a stirringly empathic response in anyone who has ever lost a parent. The mix of emotions is not saccharine, but amazingly genuine.  The sadness, the anger, the guilt, the unrelenting feeling that now, out of nowhere, the person who gave so much to you needs your help—and there’s no way you can ever fully repay them.

la_hermosa

In the novella, the protagonist goes off on a strange journey at his father’s request. He ventures out to the beach, where he rediscovers his father’s past—uncovering a fascinating and mythological being that his father kept secret for all of his years. This magical presence integrates perfectly into the story, fleshing out its meaning and representing all of the magic that good parents give to their children, the magic that many hope to someday transfer to their own children.

And as the protagonist must go off and discover his past, so must all children.  When the time comes, when parents cease to be icons and are revealed for the real, flawed people they truly are—this is when true understanding can finally occur. Dusk and Summer is a deeply authentic novel, with a beautiful message that won’t be soon forgotten.

Hey, what’ve I been up to?

So, other than currently levitating somewhere between Mars and Earth while my astral projection explores Pluto, where have I been?  What have I been up to?  Quite a bit, actually.  I’ve spent a lot of time down in the Earth’s core, recently; in addition, I recently was bitten by a radioactive spider, struck by gamma rays and spent a weekend at some weird place called Crystal Lake, where hockey masks are apparently not too popular.

cof_deathwish

The writing life is always a busy one.  As a writer, so much of one’s life is spent engaged in the most introspective activity imaginable – sitting alone in a room, reconstructing one’s most private thoughts – and somehow, while all of one’s writing projects are going on, the writer must also find time to experience life to the fullest – because that’s where writing inspiration comes from, of course! – and so one must regularly go out into the world, have new experiences, meet people, understand the fabric of society, the backbone of society, the guts of society, and all that other good stuff.  In addition, the writer must also go out and promote their work, although doing so is a challenge, since it requires a skill in extroversion that might initially be foreign to the introverted writer.  After a few runs, though, you slowly get the hang of it.  It’s actually pretty fun, and interacting with your readers is really one of the more amazing  experiences a writer can have.

So now, my friends, let me give you guys the update of what exactly I’m working on.

Since The Cage Legacy was finished, I’ve been privately slaving away here at the keyboard, actively developing multiple new novels.  I’m crazily enthusiastic to share these stories with you guys – when the right time comes.  I’m the sort of person who gets my work done way ahead of schedule.  I like getting a lot of work completed and packaged before I fully reveal my hand…so when it comes to writing, one might say I’m a bit of a workaholic.  This work ethic can get exhausting at times, but I do absolutely love writing, so it’s a very satisfying form of exhaustion.  Much better than other forms of exhaustion, anyway.

horseface_marv_mcd4

So, without spilling too much, these are currently the three main projects that I’m actively developing:

Novel #2: Working on getting this one published. It’s insanely tempting to tell you guys all about this one – it’s an extremely exciting project, for me – but I’ll hold back, for now.

Novel #3: I’m currently editing this one, right now.  I can’t wait to share this one, as well.  It’s a pretty offbeat story, for sure.

Novel #4: First draft complete!  Looking forward to editing this one, sometime soon.

Since The Cage Legacy was released, I’ve often been asked – whether by emails from my readers, real life acquaintances and/or online contacts –  what I’m working on now, or if I have any other books coming out.  Ideally, this blog will explain things in a way that both answers the question, and more importantly, simplifies my often confusing and complicated answers.  From this point forward, I’ll try to use the above three “working titles” whenever I refer to one of my upcoming novels-in-progress.

Cheers!

1174748_10151543220437644_1960063243_n