The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

What Do I Read For?

book lights illumination

While I was reading this last bunch of books, I left a few unfinished. Strange thing is, I’ve been trying to “unfinish” more books. It’s a combination of Sunk Cost fallacy and obligation (for instance, if my wife’s reading something for her book club). Some I’ve stopped because they were boring. Sometimes I just didn’t relate to the material. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay was the book that made me realize everyone has a different motivation for why they read, and what mine is.

I don’t read to learn or experience diversity. I don’t read to see other worlds than my own, either on my planet or imaginary. Those are nice benefits, but it’s not my primary motivation.

I read to feel less alone. All my favorite books have been about people like me.

John Green said “I read because I am trapped in my one brain in my one body in this one place and I read to escape that prison.” Now you could interpret that to mean “I read to experience diversity” or “I read to live other lives” or “to see worlds other than my own”. But for me, I realized, it means I read to be less lonely with others.

I feel like I am a person who has few other people like him out there in the world (see “The Inability to Make Friends” and “The Inability to Make Friends Part 2“).

I read to know there are other people out there like me who feel things like I do, in strange ways like I do, who see what’s wrong and right with the world in the same way I do. My favorite books are “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” and “You’re Never Weird on the Internet” and “Jumper” and “Looking for Alaska” and “Eleanor and Park” and “The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To“. I like the books where I wish I was friends with the characters. So we could be less lonely together. I call this the “Fade to Black” effect.

Metallica - Fade To Black

In 1984, Metallica released a song called “Fade to Black“. You probably know it. If you don’t, it’s a heavy metal power ballad. Pretty melancholic, pretty lugubrious, with lyrics revolving around death and suicide. The producers didn’t want them to release it as a single–they thought it was too depressing and would cause deaths.

But it had the opposite effect. Hearing about someone feeling the same way, going through the same thing you are, for some reason that makes you feel better. Maybe it’s because you don’t feel so alone.

“It’s a suicide song, and we got a lot of flak for it, as if kids were killing themselves because of the song. But we also got hundreds of letters from kids telling us how they related to the song and that it made them feel better.”

-James Hetfield

And that’s the reason I read. Trying to find someone out there, even if it’s fictional. If you don’t have any friends in real life, you have to go to fiction. Paul Theroux said “fiction gives us the second chance that life denies us.”

The Year in Reading

anime reading

So this time around, I set goals at the beginning of the year. I wanted to be more picky about what I read–read more good stuff, not just what I feel obligated to. Less long books, less mediocre books, more newer books, more “try before you buy”, and learning when to walk away. So how did I do? 

Favorites

Of course you’re going to see John Scalzi and John Green on this list, so let’s get The Collapsing Empire and Turtles All the Way Down out of the way off the bat. We can add Eliza and Her Monsters in that list because it seems to be cut from the same cloth.

Except for Scalzi, no science fiction books flipped my cookie this year. But for fantasy, I discovered Ella Enchanted and The Shamer’s Daughter. They weren’t super-fantastic life-changing “now I know what it’s all for”, but it’s always nice to find high fantasy “swords and sorcery” that’s not imitating J.R.R. Tolkien or full of jargon or needs the twelve other books to be read first.

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal was by far the funniest book I read, and maybe the most meaningful. If you’re going to make me understand Christ and Christian mythology, you’re going to have to put that dog medicine in some peanut butter. And Lamb is both chunky and creamy. … this got weird.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Life Fully Loaded by Hannah Hart gave me the same good memoir feelings that Lindsey Stirling and Felicia Day gave me. And she’s had a rougher life (although I’m not trying to rank anyone’s pain). I’m amazed she writes with the same panache and positivity in her videos. 

The Hatorade 

These are the books at which I whip my hair back and forth. (“No, sir, I do not whip my hair back and forth at you, sir, but I whip my hair, sir.”) I looked through my list and noted the ones that gave me a pit in my stomach.

I was not a fan of Scrappy Little Nobody. Anna Kendrick promoted the shit out of it on Twitter, and while we all love this pixie-like sass-master, there just wasn’t anything inside to care about. I still resent her for pushing out a book when nothing’s happened in her life. It’s not an age thing: Hannah Hart and Lindsey Stirling put out memoirs of way more substance and gravity. Lesson: don’t write a life story if your life isn’t that interesting.

Wizard’s Bane was just badly written. Good concept, poorly executed, probably written by a neckbeard raffling off some wish fulfillment. Kingdom Keepers was the same way–the literary version of those Disney direct-to-video sequels. It felt like some putz churned out 80,000 words of garbage so it could connect with a bunch of Disney Parks merchandising.

The rest were female-oriented YA–like All the Bright Places, 13 Treasures, This is Where It Ends, and The Selection. Their biggest flaws were the teenage cliches and bad takes on “issues”, capitalizing on keywords for the back cover copy. Hot take junk like suicide, gothic mansions, and “how do I know if I’m in love?” 

Other

I think Geek Love was the longest book I finished in 2017, but I read most of it in 2016. The same thing happened to The Elven. Technically I finished it in 2018, but it was January 3rd. Officially I can’t count it as a 2017 book, but I read 97% of it in that year, and it took about 18-19 hours. Since I had to stare at it on my “currently reading” widget for three months, I think of it as a 2017 book. Fata Morgana was pretty long too.

This year I left twelve books in the dust. I consider that an accomplishment. I’m a bit of a completionist and have a bad habit of finishing things I start, even if they’re not good or it’s not fun. That’s a habit I need to break. I need to bring joy back into my life, both in reading and writing. And if it’s a drudge, then why am I doing it?

And of all the books I left unfinished, I don’t regret a single one. I’ve got plenty of stuff on my to-read, I’m not going to waste my time on books that don’t deliver on their promise. 

Conclusion

This year I want to read shorter books. I need to be more discerning about the length of things I read. I hate saying that about books–because something’s long doesn’t make it bad. But I want to read more books this year–different and varied authors. And that’s hard to do when you’re stuck in one book for three weeks. I need to learn how to tell good stories quickly and sharply. I think that’s the way the industry is going, giving shrinking attention spans.

I completed 36 books in 2017. This year, I set a reading goal, my first one, for 40. Quite doable, I’ve done it before, but my “totals” are declining each year. Can’t keep letting that happen.

All the 2017 Reviews
January – February
March – April
May – June
July – August
September – October
November – December

The Books I Read: July – August 2017

bookshelf books

norse mythology neil gaiman
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I expected this to be like Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. And I got what I wanted. It’s a tightly paced retelling of the old Norse creation myths. Problem is, there aren’t many of them. I suspect that’s more to do with lack of surviving source material, given what Neil Gaiman says in the foreword. Maybe a long time ago there were scrolls and scrolls of Loki and Thor stories. Now all we’ve got are comic books. And if you’re any fan of Marvel’s interpretations, this is required reading.

The nice thing is that the re-tellings are up to date. I expected something Shakespearean or textbook-dry, like Hamilton. But the narration feels like an old storyteller sitting down by the fire, telling yarns to the grandchildren. The details behind Ragnarok and Fenrir and Loki are fascinating. It’s funny and suspenseful and creative. There are one-liners and drama and character flaws & flawed actions. It’s flavorful.

If you haven’t picked up Neil Gaiman before, this might be a good one to try. The content doesn’t consist of his usual dreamlike, abstract faire (that I’m not too fond of either). And you can tell it’s material he’s passionate about.

tough shit kevin smith
Tough Sh*t: Life Advice From a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good by Kevin Smith

One night, before going out, Kevin Smith asks his wife “Can I stare at your asshole while I jack off?”

So depending on your reaction to that line, you can judge your potential interest in this tome.

Kevin Smith is, uh, an interesting fellow. Well, what I can I say? He was one of the voices of a generation. You look at the nineties and people think Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and Kevin Smith. The guy is, at heart, a storyteller. I could listen to him talk about Superman and the Giant Spider all day.

And that’s what this book is. You get to hear how he met his wife, the making/publication of Red State, the Southwest “too fat to fly” fiasco, the up and down relationship with The Weinstein Company. The nice thing about Smith is he’s able to admit his wrongs and justify his rights. He never assumes he’s the smartest guy in the room and always gets feedback on if he’s showing his own ass (because that’s easy to do when your content consists of stinkpalming stoners and Carlin-esque religion satire).

The book is equal combinations of crudeness and heart, black humor and childlike wonder. It’s a good book for insight on the Hollywood scene, especially for potential indie film-makers. And it gives more inspiration that “you can make it” than “this is how to make it” (which is really all luck more than anything).

the killer angels michael shaara
The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Sharra
(unfinished)

I might have finished if I hadn’t realized there were SparkNotes for it. Also a movie. Also, I didn’t care enough about the characters to know if they lived or died. And these are real characters that I know if they lived or died (spoiler: they all died… eventually).

I put it on my to-read list because I heard that this is the book that inspired Joss Whedon to make Firefly. Well, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity. But when I got to 40%, I realized I had gotten everything the book had to offer. The prose is dry and the characters read robotically. Maybe that’s to do with their military upbringing, but it’s hard to sympathize with the team that’s not fighting for the right side, even if they may or may not “believe” in that side’s cause (which is stupid, but I’m digressing).

If this was meant to teach me about war novels, I learned that they are boring. The plot is mechanical. Arguing about strategy–“take that hill.” We took that hill. Our guys got shot. We shot their guys. Argue, argue. Decide on more strategy. It’s how I imagine Warhammer novels are.

And then there’s the constant self-doubt of anyone in power. I imagine that’s true, but it gets annoying to constantly read about. The historical factor isn’t enough to pull me in either. Plus I know how it ends. So what did I come here for?

terry pratchett going postal
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

The city government grants a con artist a second lease on life if he can get the post office up and running. The mail system’s fallen into disrepair since the clacks (a telegraph/semaphore system) went up. But the evil business that owns them has been embezzling and employee safety has paid the price. So it’s David vs. Goliath as the thief has to figure out not only how to eschew his criminal background, but also how to deliver floors full of letters as he avoids the shadowy businessmen.

This is an adventure story. It’s not dissimilar to any other Pratchett – if you’ve read one of them, you’ve know what to expect. And this won’t convince you otherwise. I picked it up because it’s the highest rated/ranked Discworld novel in the series, and thought I should read this if not any others.

I consider Pratchett to the be the fantasy equivalent of Douglas Adams. That means events take a backseat to world-building and situation-explaining. Plot pacing is sacrificed for humor. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Written humor is hard because you lose all elements of timing. So if you can get a chuckle out of anyone, you’ve accomplished a great deal. And this got several chuckles from me.

The key negative is the unlikable characters. The con man doesn’t really want to be there. The government is forcing him in this job on threat of death. His chief ally at the post office is an old man who’d rather see tradition served than do any work. Plus a young man who might be autistic (he collects pins and goes into fits when routine is broken). No one is particularly charming, but Iron Man seems to get away with it. The other problem is too many subplots, due to the too many characters, which is par for the course in Discworld.

It’s a book of contradictions, but a solid four stars.

13 treasures
13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison
(unfinished)

It’s full of cliches. The story makes a promise in the first chapter that doesn’t get fulfilled or hinted at for the next four or five. Which means it’s a cheat.

This girl is apparently the one who can see fairies and thus under their constant threat (because she could reveal their existence). This means a bunch of hijinks that can’t be explained has already happened and the mother has no choice but to send her troubled child to live with her grandmother in the country. There’s a neighbor boy who’s kind of annoying, weird neighbors, parents who don’t understand, falling in love with a library, and a witch who gives her a trinket for no reason. Didn’t I see this already in Coraline?

There’s more narration than dialogue. No one has any personality. The character makes no connections or relationships in this new setting. Events happen without being rooted in some cause. The protagonist has no “save the cat” moment. She’s a whiny inactive protagonist. And lots of telling. There’s even a gypsy woman (and I thought that term was racist).

This is just some thirteen-year-old’s badly conceived fantasy.

the rest of us just live here patrick ness
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

All the characters here are broken. And thus, interesting. But this is not a fantasy novel. This is a standard YA novel with real-life problems. Non-real elements are minor and don’t affect the plot.

Something’s going on in the background of said plot. Something “Harry Potter” or “Buffy” involving a Big Bad and Apocalypses. But that’s not what the story is about. This is about the extras that end up in the B-roll, when the cameras pan over the ambulances. Who are those people?

One is gay. One is going to a war-torn third world country after graduation. One is a recovering anorexic. And one (the main character) has a compulsion disorder. There is magic in the world, but no one is using it. No one wants to. They’ve seen what happens to the kids who do. They’re stressing about college, graduation, dating, whether he-likes-her-but-does-she-like-me. It’s nice to see a deconstruction of the hero’s journey, but hard to do well. This one does. The style reminds me of John Green writing a Harry Potter background character or A.S. King (“Please Ignore Vera Dietz”).

stephen king just after sunset
Just After Sunset by Stephen King
(unfinished)

I read the first six stories. Only one provoked any reaction from me, thus I put it down. They’re all typical Stephen King — overwritten and full of generic description. I think he’s said everything he’s needed to say, and now he’s repeating himself.

Plus the thing about short stories is that they never seem to matter to the world within. They’re never important or epic. There’s no point to invest in one because it’s gone as soon as you do. They’re just slices of life.

They’re also not scary. He’s gone from tangible horror to the existential slipstream hypnosis or something like that. There’s a Family Guy joke where King’s publisher is asking for his next idea. King looks around the office and grabs a lamp. “For my next book, um… this couple is… um… attacked by, um… a lamp monster! Oooh…” There is LITERALLY a story like that, but it’s a stationary bike. “Ooh, look at the scary stationary bike. Ooh, you don’t know where it’s taking you. Ooh, is it making you hallucinate or is it real?” Please.

i hated hated hated this movie roger ebert
I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie by Roger Ebert

I enjoyed “Your Movie Sucks“, and thought this one would be even better, because it might include more movies I’m familiar with. But that’s not the case. It cuts off in 1999 and includes a ton of stinkers that I don’t remember at all. (There’s even a review of a MST3K movie, I thought that was a neat anachronism.)

This one seems to lack the vitriol that the sequel had. Probably because Ebert hadn’t reached peak cynicism yet. I thought I’d enjoy hearing his witty evisceration of my nostalgic classics, but those were few and far between. It’s too bad you can’t buy just the reviews of the movies you want to read about.

the long way to a small angry planet becky chambers
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

I cannot remember why I put this on my to-read list. It’s like a combo of John Scalzi and Leviathan Wakes. The characters are colorful, like a readable Firefly, but painted with a comic book brush. So they’re actually happy–not sullen or brooding or grimdark. That’s weird to me, but welcome. But after I finished, I was of two minds about it.

One one hand, it’s amateur hour. The entire middle could be removed without affecting the plot. Each chapter is episodic and self-contained. Some characters get a lot of screen time. Others you forget are there.

There’s an illusion of consequences to character actions… but nothing really happens. For example, the main character has a “the liar revealed” moment, and it affects nothing because everybody is so nice. No one dies. No one loses an hand or a mentor. Nothing changes anyone or anything. Nobody gets to say “Man, I regret doing that thing” or “I was wrong to do that”.

Finally, the “episodes” get transparently political. There is one that’s an immigration allegory. One that’s a LGBTQ rights allegory. One about religious freedom.

On the other hand, these are fun characters. They’re enjoyable to be around. They’re funny and smart, they don’t make stupid decisions. They’re practical and don’t fall into space opera tropes. It’s a little like Star Wars if it was created by the person who wrote My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s not morose empire drama. But I don’t think I’ll read the second one.

My New Reading Policy

clyde south park i would be so happy

So after looking over my past logs for books (two years really), I realize there’s a reason my yearly rate is on the decline. And it’s not just because of new comics. It’s because I’m reading too many bad books. For 2016 my scoring average was 2.93. That means I read more books that I scored below average than above. This scoring should be at four. It’s not like I grade on a curve. There’s no reason I couldn’t have an entire year of five star books.

So to that end, I’m going to be a bit more picky about my selections. Too many times I’ve been fooled by classics that turn out to be antiquated and overwritten “post-modern literary” tripe. Most of the time I get my selections from my role models, whenever they happen to tweet about what they’re reading. People like John Green, Rainbow Rowell, Mike Krahulik. Sometimes I hear about an interesting concept, like a robot detective. Sometimes it’s a memoir from someone I like. Sometimes it’s a book I feel like I should have read. But now we’ve got some more rules before anything makes it on the “to-read” list.

Books will get minus points for being:

  • More than five years old, with each subsequent year increasing the minus on a graduated scale. Anything written earlier than 2010 gets scrutiny — I won’t know how to write for today if I’m reading for twenty years ago.
  • Too long. Hard to tell because page count doesn’t necessarily equal number of words. But my Kindle has a reading speed monitor and can tell me how long it’ll take to finish something.
  • Less than a 3.9 rating on GoodReads, correlated with a graduated scale of “number of reviews”. In other words, just because everyone else has read it doesn’t mean I should.

Also, I must read a sample of the book before committing. Too many times I forget I can just quit a book and fall to “time-sunk fallacy”. Maybe it’s because if I don’t finish it, I don’t feel right in writing a review for it and can’t add it to my tally. Or it’s “I’ve gotten this far, I may as well finish it at this point”. No! No! Stop that. Bad boy. Quit the bad books. Have a more discerning palate. If you want to stop in the middle of Wuthering Heights because it’s boring, then do it! I don’t care if people think less of me.

Maybe it’s because I never hear of authors telling the truth about books they read. They always gush or say “I ate up everything written by him/her”, like authors need to like everything. Like how actors never say so-and-so was hard to work with or whether the movie they’re in is any good or not.

This means there’ll be a new category in my “The Books I Read” feature — sampled. This is like “unfinished” but in this case, I read the sample and decided based on it whether or not to put it on the “to-reads”. I’ll explain my perceptions of the book, but I won’t be posting the review anywhere, since it’s not fair to judge a book based on a sample IMHO. *

Finally, going to try and avoid non-fiction. Not because non-fiction is tending towards badness, but because it’s not doing my fiction any favors when I’m reading exclusively on one subject. It’s hard to think of ideas for a fantasy-monster story while my mindset is in military women. Also, I’ve just read so much of it this past year I can take a break.

Now, given the criteria above, please understand: I’m not saying there’s anything WRONG with these kinds of books. This is for me and me only — your experiences no doubt vary. But I keep falling into these kinds of books and they’re starting to feel like “reading jails”. No matter how many pages you read you never feel closer to finishing, whether it’s because it’s long or hard to parse or full of fantastic language that slows down the plot. I need to have a higher standard for myself — or at least a fresh start — or I’m going to start hating reading.

*I have no idea how book reviewers do it. I read as fast as I can, but it takes me eight hours to finish a best-seller.

Quick Overview of My Reads for the Year

unhappy teenager reading

I hope whoever was in charge of 2016 got fired. For 2017, either you’ve got expectations set really low or are hoping high, thinking nothing can be as bad as that dumpster fire. But one always measures the future by calculating the past. And I calculate mine in books.
So remember last year when I resolved not to read so many bad books? Yeah, that didn’t so much happen. Even the book I’m reading now — “Geek Love” — it’s a good book, but it’s just so long. I’m skipping it to read comic books or play games, just because I’m bored of the world. The writing is fantastic, glorious, stupiferous. The story is full of interesting characters and events and plots and WTFs that I love. But it’s just so long.

Last year I read only 34 books. Now, it’s not like I stopped reading. But I did increase my comic book content this year. She-Hulk, Powers, Deadpool, and a bunch of the classics I missed out on. Still that’s no excuse for grinding on my whetstone.

My average rating for 2016 was 2.9. That means I rated more books under 3 stars than above. That means I probably read MORE bad books this year than good ones. I think it’s because, especially for classic books, I have too high of a threshold or tolerance or attention span. Must be tempered from all those Star Trek Pocket books I read as a teenager. I read a lot of long ones too: “A Discovery of Witches”, “Leviathan Wakes”, and “Wool”.

Most of the time it’s curiosity or obligation: “A View from the Cheap Seats” by Neil Gaiman because it’s Neil Gaiman, the second book in the “Peculiar Children” series because I read the first, “A Discovery of Witches” because my wife loves it, three of those Disney Gothic YA novels (“The Beast Within”, “Poor Unfortunate Soul”, “A Frozen Heart”), “The Book of Swords” trilogy because I had started them ten years ago but never finished. “Friend” because I thought robots and resurrected girl with super powers would be awesome. Le sigh. It was not to be.

So this means two things. I’ve got to lower my threshold for quitting books. I fell bad about it because I’m an author myself. But if I keep up at this rate, I’m going to start resenting the act of reading.

And I’ve got to up my average publication date. Too many old books that should stay lost to time. Yeah, they may be classics. But they don’t help me with my writing career. They don’t help me understand what’s being written in MY time. In MY realm of publication. What editors/agents today are looking for.

The Year in Reading

books in trash

Another reason I feel like a loser in my writing life is that I’m just not reading anything good.  Either I’m bad at picking books or my reading eye is past its prime.  It’s not that I’m jealous of the people who write crappy books and get published.  It’s that nothing is giving me that spark to create, that joy that reminds me of what a wonderful thing books are, and how I want to be a part of that community.  Last year I only had two five-star books.  One was a comic series (Y: The Last Man, for those who care).

This year I definitely had more five star books.  But there were more disappointments.  Like The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer was supposed to be a Best of 2014 book and it was horrible/offensive to my senses.  The Maze Runner was all shock value and no substance.

Books I was looking forward to disappointed.  Like Armada, the follow-up to Ready Player One.  It was less than a sophomore effort.  I called it “dull and disappointing” with implausible characters and no tension.  My first non-Tiffany Aching Terry Pratchett novel, “Guards!  Guards!” I had to force myself to read.  It was so long and meandering and too opaque when it came to what was going on.  Others were rereads from my youth that weren’t as fantastic as I remembered.  I had to lower the ratings of “The Phantom Tollbooth” and “Matilda” because I couldn’t honestly stand by my judgement.

But I did have some surprises.  We Were Liars, what I thought was going to be a Gossip Girl kind of novel was my biggest page turner.  I finally figured out the big deal behind Holes, and Felicia Day knocked my world around.

I read more non-fiction.  Eleven this year compared to eight in 2014.  Fewer classics too — just “The Great Gatsby”.  I wonder if this is an indicator of my overall reading feelings this year.  Maybe I have a better chance of getting that “feeling” if I read more fiction.

Anyway, next post, you’ll get my best and worst of the year.

Submitted for a Local Reading

Lynne Cheney public reading

Related to the meeting I talked about last time, I signed up for an “author’s fair” reading. I’m no stranger to public readings of my material. I used to do NOTA readings in college (NOTA stands for “None of the Above” and was the school’s literary club/magazine). Those took place every month or so, and had the classic college feel of guys with beards and plaid, mimicking Kerouackian rants and girls with haikus about their kitty. And I did a phone-in reading for “Influx Capacitor” in Big Pulp.

There’s no guarantee I’ll get in, but judging by the last meeting, I doubt there will be that many who submit.  Also, I’ll be doing a reading from Merm-8, even though it won’t be published yet.  I hope that won’t be a problem, given that I won’t have an actual book to promote at the time.  I do have short stories though.

It’s sponsored by the library, and they are only taking submissions for 16 readers. I’m sure the only people who will be there are other readers. Maybe their families. It mystifies me who’s interested in local authors — the material they write has nothing to do with where they live. Harlan Ellison had to live somewhere. Does Maine still call Stephen King one of their local authors to do library readings?

Obviously, I’m not comparing myself to Stephen King. I’m just saying, I think books go beyond locational standards. That’s what’s great about them. I read a book, I can’t tell if the author’s male or female, black or white, foreign or domestic, unless I look at the author’s information. Who’s J.K. Rowling? I don’t know. S.E. Hinton? Shrug. J.D. Salinger? Got me*.

Unlike movies where there’s always issues with white-washing and gender (like Thor or misogynistic Michael Bay movies) I can focus on just the story, just the escape. What does it matter where the author came from? Especially a place like Minnesota where adventures and characters are pretty stable. Not like New York or Moscow.

*I do actually know who those people are, and their genders and places of origin.

My Big Pulp Reading

pop art reading book phone

On Sunday, I participated in a teleconference for Big Pulp, which was an author reading for their latest magazine, which I have a story in. It was an entertaining experience, and mildly exciting. It’s nice to hear one’s contemporaries — to hear what they’re writing, what people are writing about and how they react. In college, I used to participate in NOTA (my college’s literary magazine) readings, which will surprise anyone who knows me.

It wasn’t a big crowd, only 13 call participants. And if you can’t see faces, it’s hard to know how people react. It’s more than just the story, it’s also the way you read. If you read too fast, too monotone, too quiet. Lots of things can go wrong. I myself found, as I was reading, lots of things I could have improved on the story — make the writing tighter, go further with the time travel differences.

Fortunately, I’ve got two advantages. One is I have some slight nerve damage in my face so I had to have speech therapy as a a kid. As a result, I speak a little slower than normal naturally. I don’t know how much slower, it’s a different perspective between my own head and “out there”. Two, I read to my kids all the time, so I’m practiced. Although, they don’t really give feedback. Plus, I often find myself drifting off during the two hundred and fifty-sixth iteration of “Corduroy”, so I hope that’s not showing through.

Oh, Corduroy.  Will you ever find that button?

Anyway, I thought I’d mention that as a waystation in my quest to become an author. It’s always important to get your name out there. And maybe someone will remember me as that guy with the weirdly high male voice who read that funny story about the multiple time travel futures that’s not as original as I thought.

It’s Difficult To Read and Not Write When You Have a Bunch of Ideas

I’m trying to get back into reading again. Not that I ever stopped reading, but before I was reading two books at a time. Recently, I’ve been at one book. This was because I was writing a few short stories during time I was supposed to be reading. And I was doing that because I did not want to interrupt writing Mermaid Story.

I found it difficult to jump back to passive reading when I was having so much fun writing. This is the catch-all that writers have to watch out for. If you want to be a writer, you must be a reader. There’s no author out there who’s doesn’t also talk about the books he/she is reading. John Scalzi, Jim C. Hines, Neil Gaiman, Cory Doctorow are just the names off the top of my head who report on what their reading with regularity. And I’ve gotten lots of good recommendations from them.

You’ve really got to spend as much time reading as you do writing, if not more. I don’t know why this is, but it is. Like me, you probably want to write more than you want to read. Just like one would rather paint than look at a painting. But you have to look at that painting to A) see how other people do it B) see that it’s okay to make mistakes and not always follow the rules and C) get ideas.

You see someone’s painted sunflowers, so you probably shouldn’t paint sunflowers, because they already did it. But they painted those sunflowers really badly. You could do so much better. If it was you, you’d paint the sunflowers with darker lines and at night and add some people in the background. So maybe you should try to paint some sunflowers. See how they turn out. You don’t have to worry about it being original, just do it in a different way.

Where am I at? (For the 0 people who care)

Short stories: I’ve finished Fairy Kingdom and sent to to Flash Fiction Online. We just passed the min time for expecting a reply, so hopefully I should know something soon. Revising White Mage story was a pain in the ass, because of all the restructuring, and I’m wondering whether I improved the story or nerfed it. It feels like its less than it was now, but maybe that’s because there’s too much here for a short story. I’m working on Vampire Family story now, which is getting too mixed for me to figure out what to do. And Avatar continues to languish in Hub-land.

While I’m on the subject I just want to say that I really hate writing short stories. I wish someone could tell me how to make a short story writer out of a novel writer.

Black Hole Son: Draft 2 is done, and now ready for the door open. I’ve printed out a copy to give to my wife, and two people on Critters have volunteered to RFDR it. This makes me happy (but it also likely means I’m going to get an influx of information that will just confuse me and nerf the story like White Mage Story). I hope most of the feedback is technical. Also I found out there’s some book called “Deader Still” that also uses “object memory”, only they call it (and I don’t if this is the technical name) “psychometry”. Nothing new under the sun.

Other: It’s time to start researching for Mermaid story. Problem is, the library has none of the books I need for this. And this is a major metropolitan area. It makes me disappointed – I thought the library had a good selection. Besides that, reading lots of Gaiman lately – Graveyard Book, Sandman, Fragile Things.