The Unexpected

Have you ever experienced a story that left you utterly lost? As in, you don’t remember what your perception of life was before experiencing it. Where you can’t stop thinking about the characters and what happened to them. Have you experienced a story that meant more to you than you thought originally possible?

I think some of the stories that hit us the hardest are the ones we never saw coming. By this, I mean the stories we knew little to nothing about but gave it a shot because something drew us to it, and before the end we realize too late that it wove itself through our muscles and bones and became as important to us as the air we breathed. At least, for a little while. The obsession fades usually after a few days but we will always recommend the story to our friends and maybe re-read, re-watch, re-listen to the story so we can experience it all over again. But it won’t be quite the same as that first time. Every re-experience is just a reminder of how it left us both empty yet fulfilled. We are just a story junkie chasing that first high.

Not the best analogy, but I think you get the point, and I hope you know what it is I’m talking about. Stories have power. They can make us question things and help us grow. They can teach us new things or make us question old things. They can do all of this across one page or an entire series, within one episode or even within five minutes of a movie (think of that scene from UP, you know which one I’m talking about). We are drawn to stories because we want to experience something. The type of story I’m focusing on is the one that comes out of left field to completely knock you off your feet. The type of story that is the reason I write. Even if I write 100 books and only 3 pages perform the magic I am talking about, then it will all be worth it.

There are several stories I can think of that left me catatonic. Simply sitting there, somewhat withdrawn into myself, wondering. Just wondering. Sometimes about the characters or what happened to them or sometimes about what my life is and what more I can do with it. I would love to hear what stories have affected you in this way. Please, leave a comment or send it to me from the contact page.

Stories like this don’t come around often enough for my liking. Maybe once or twice a year if I’m lucky, but I recently experienced one that I wanted to talk about before my obsession with it faded. There are many reasons I enjoyed this show (yes, it’s not a book this time). The show is a Netflix original called Violet Evergarden.

One thing I absolutely enjoyed and will enjoy for probably a long time is the soundtrack. I think I first heard of this show because it popped up as a suggested soundtrack to listen to online. I listen to a lot of orchestral soundtracks. I didn’t listen to this one until after I watched the show and now I own the soundtrack and am listening to it right now as I type this post. The second thing I found drawing me in was the character and the world she inhabits. The setting is a post-war era similar to maybe the 1920’s. The show takes place in a fictional world but it has a feeling similar to what I imagine life may have been after World War I. Our main, title character was a war orphan who was trained and treated as a weapon through the end of the war. The story picks up after the war has ended and Violet sets off to learn what happened to her commanding officer and what his last words to her meant. In her journey, she becomes an Auto-memory Doll, which is someone employed to write letters for other people and help them say what they cannot seem to put into words. Many of the people cannot write themselves. All the letters are written on a typewriter (which has me dusting off my old typewriter that was given as a gift many years ago). Her character development is enthralling even though most episodes are independent stories that build her experiences. Again, the soundtrack is amazing and music adds so much to shows and movies. The animation (did I mention it is animated?) is gorgeous. The entire show is well paced and I found myself watching several episodes at time and finishing the short 13 episodes within one week. The show gave me a feeling of nostalgia. Of a time simpler to the world we live in and the busy hustle and bustle of our technological world. That alone was worth the watch for me to be honest.

Nothing is better than finding a story this way. Unexpectedly and leaving you hopeful. Giving you an experience you will never forget. One you cherish and want to shout about so everyone else can feel how you feel. But of course we don’t because that is rude and you know that builds expectations which then hinders the story for others. You have to let others find it on their own. I know I gave away a lot about the show I just wrote about and I’ll apologize to you now if that gave you expectations for it, but I won’t really mean it because you may not watch it regardless or you may watch it now because I wrote about it and it caught your interest and you may not have heard about it otherwise.

The unexpected story is what we hope for when we give a book, show, or movie a chance without knowing anything else about it. I encourage you to go out and find something you have never heard of that sounds interesting and give it this chance. It may become a treasure to you. Yes, there are plenty of other stories your friends are recommending, but go out there and give the unknown a shot. You may find yourself recommending it to your friends, and fervently.

With that, I dedicate this post to the unexpected. May we all find such stories when we need them. To remind us that there is something out there we may have forgotten, or to remind us of what we dream to be.

Two Years Online

My second webiversary came and went and I almost missed it. I’m only a week late but I wanted to write a post about my blogging career. Last year I described what had been going on in my life on and offline with the main focus being on my writing. Here I go again.

To start, I spent the entirety of 2018 writing a minimum of two posts a week for this blog. One flash story and one book recommendation every week with a few random microfiction stories and personal posts thrown in. I am happy to say I persevered with that schedule and did not miss a single week. I got engaged and married last year. We did a little traveling to England (where I got to drink a beer in a pub frequently visited by J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis at Oxford) and Ireland (where much fun was had). I continue to work a full-time job that greatly cuts into my writing times.

Unfortunately, I did not have any stories published last year but then again I didn’t submit many to even be considered, which is why I’ve switched things up this year. I have foregone my weekly posts to focus on writing short stories to submit for publication and I hope to get at least five stories published this year. I really want this blog to turn into a history of my writing career. I want this for several reasons. One: so I can look back on it and see how my writing has progressed and how I achieved my dream of becoming a published and hopefully full-time writer (once I have achieved and maintained it). Two: so others can see my progression as well and hopefully use it as an example or for inspiration to achieve their dreams. To show fledgling writers (like me at this moment) that hard work and perseverance are key to getting published. Things don’t just magically fall into place. Let this blog be a glimpse behind the scenes of a writer’s career.

Since I’m on the topic of beginner writers, I recommend a few things that can help get through the self-doubt and start your own progression. My first suggestion is get a good group of friends that love to read and write and meet with them to discuss your own writing. A good writing group can do wonders. If you don’t have this (like myself), then I suggest finding a good writing community through the wonders of the web. I know for a fact that Twitter has an excellent writing community that is supportive and inspiring. You get to see what everyone else is working on and what they are struggling with (which often is something similar to what you are experiencing). You’ll get to ask questions and see different things going on. It’s like a giant, fun, friendly group of writers who help each other even though we don’t know each other, and you’ll find writers who are just starting out or have published many books. If you are just starting out, you can find me there @YarberWrites. I’d love to be your friend. My second suggestion is to just write. Write as much as you can and about whatever you want. The more you write the more material you will have and the more practice you will get. No one has to read it if you don’t want them to. My third suggestion is start a blog (like this one). You’ll be surprised how much it can help to write for an audience (even if there isn’t one when you start). I’m happy to say my list of writer/blogger friends has grown to more that I thought possible when I first started. Writing blog posts is great experience and helps in many ways when it comes to writing. You get practice and interaction with viewers, and it helps you get past the fear of putting your writing out there. Believe me, I had that same fear. It still comes around here and there, but most readers are great supportive people.

Back to some updates. I am no longer on Patreon for various reasons (mainly I didn’t think it was the right platform for me), but I have gotten back on Goodreads after creating an account and forgetting about it for several years. I have a new goal to read more than I have been and I thought Goodreads would help me with this since you can track your progress and create reading goals. You also get to see what all your friends are reading as well. I’d love to be your friend on this platform as well. Just click here and add me.

Though I may be posting less this year, I plan to post a couple times a month at least. Many will be book recommendations and others simple updates like this or discussions about authors or other topics. I may post a story every once in a while but I’m working on getting my work out there for publication in literary journals. I believe this is my next step in my writing career. I hope you don’t mind.

I hope you are working toward your own dream and are taking steps forward to make it happen. I also hope (since I’m biased here) that you are reading fun things and learning other, new things. I have no doubt you can achieve your dream. It may take time and a lot of effort, but you can do it. I’m much farther along toward my goal than I was two years ago. You got this.

Happy Reading.

The Eye of the Sibyl

Today I am recommending The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick. This is the second short story collection by Philip K. Dick that I’ve recommended. The first was The Philip K. Dick ReaderI didn’t know it when I picked this book up, but apparently there are six “Collected Stories” of which this and the Reader are two of them. If I’m completely honest with you, I think the Reader is a better collection than Sibyl, but that is really only my opinion and my overall opinion is that Philip K. Dick is an excellent author. So I think if you like his style or prose or concepts then you’ll like this collection just as much as any of the other ones.

I’ve technically read more collections of short stories than I have novels by Dick now, which is a bit surprising even to myself (though I’ve plenty of his books on the old TBR list). The opening story in this collection is “The Little Black Box” which was later used in his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the only novel of his I’ve read so far). There is a “Notes” section in the back of this collection that have comments by Dick himself regarding most of the stories contained within. His notes about “The Little Black Box” talk about how he thinks the short story does a better job regarding the initial idea than how he uses it for in the novel.

Other stories in this collection include “The Faith of Our Fathers” and “The Pre-Persons” both of which apparently caused quite a ruckus when they were first published. “The Pre-Persons” is a story that covers the ever taboo subject of abortion in an elaborate lens of absurdity. It was published in 1974. In Dick’s notes on this story, he explains how he received hate mail and even the “nastiest letter I’ve ever received” but he was also unapologetic for the story itself. He wrote about what he believed and though he was sorry it upset people (topics like these always upset someone) he wasn’t sorry for writing it.

I never would have known that “The Faith of Our Fathers” had anything reference to the Cold War or was written when hallucinogenic drugs were first being used in experiments. This story was written in 1966. Well before my time and over 50 years ago from today. Reading it today doesn’t seem like many of the concepts are strange considering what has occurred in the past 50 years. Dick says he “[doesn’t] advocate any the ideas” in this story (from his notes in 1966), and he even goes on to say he actually regretted writing this one (from his notes in 1976). A strange stance from a writer’s perspective but maybe I’m just saying that because I’m still new to this writing game. I’m sure much can be said about regret but we won’t dive into that here.

I hate to admit that one reason I picked up this collection was for the title story “The Eye of the Sibyl.” I was already a fan of his work, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to the title of this one story. The reason is that I first heard of Philip K. Dick in a strange way. I heard one of his books referenced in a show that I really enjoy called Psycho-Pass. In the show there is a central system called the Sibyl System that effectively governs the people. Of course the story turned out to be quite different but I’m always fascinated when I can find allusions to other artists in works that I enjoy. I also discovered William Gibson from the same show. It may show my age that I did not know of these authors previously, but there is no shame in admitting how you learned of something. Especially since you may have missed it otherwise.

I could go into why I think Dick’s work is so fascinating to me, but I think I’ll save that for its own post. Until then.

Happy Reading.

Rashomon & Other Stories

Today I am recommending Rashomon & Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. This collection holds six short stories by Akutagawa. The title story “Rashomon” has become widely recognized because of the movie of the same name first released in 1950. However, the movie follows the storyline of a different short story titled “In a Grove,” which is also found in this collection. Akutagawa was considered the “Father of the Japanese short story.” Many of his works have inspired movies and he wrote well over 100 stories before his untimely death in 1927 at the age of 35.

The six stories in this collection are: “In a Grove” “Rashomon” “Yam Gruel” “The Martyr” “Kesa and Morito” and “The Dragon.” I first encountered Akutagawa’s work during my MFA program. We read “In a Grove,” which I think is the stronger story in this collection. It is a great example of Akutagawa’s work and sets the tone for many of the other stories. It is also a great example of what fiction can do and I recommend it to all writers who may be unfamiliar with his work. After all, it is used in many educational settings and has inspired several movies with it’s simple yet complicated storytelling.

These stories are not traditional stories that follow a structured plot and have happy endings. The main characters tend to be the forgotten or downtrodden who are overlooked or mocked despite holding high positions. Though I wasn’t alive at the end of the 19th century (though I did get to see the end of the 20th), I can see through these stories the strife Akutagawa felt during his own time. I believe a great short story keeps you thinking long after it ends. Most of these do just that. Despite their often strong critique of humanity and status quo, some of them end with a tinge of hope.

Some of these stories may not sit well with you. Others may make you wonder what times were like 100 years ago, and yet others may make you see that certain societal problems have existed for a long time. These six stories span roughly 100 pages and can be read all at once or picked up here and there. This may be outside of your usual reading bubble, but that’s a good thing. Give it a try. You may love it or you may hate it. You will probably learn something nonetheless.

Happy Reading.

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Today I am recommending Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir by Stan Lee and Peter David and Colleen Doran. This memoir is a brief overview of Stan Lee’s life and his work in comics. I say brief because it touches on key moments without delving into anything beyond a the surface. The book is actually a graphic novel which adds a nice touch considering the topic of the memoir. The pages are beautifully illustrated and the setting of Stan on stage delving into his story really makes you feel like you could be in an audience experiencing it alongside other fans.

When I said this was a brief memoir, I meant two things: you can read it easily in one sitting (due to the graphic novel format), and you only get the basic information without too much detail (probably also due to the format). It’s great if you don’t know much about Stan Lee (real name Stanley Lieber), but if you are looking for an in-depth look into his life, I suggest waiting for a full-on biography that will surely come out within the next few years. There are other biographies already out there if you don’t want to wait.

This book/graphic novel is a great introduction to Stan and how he came to be the icon he was. It also provides a great “history of comics” and details about how certain characters were created and interesting tidbits about certain processes and others who were in the field. If all you’re looking for is a little more information about the man himself since maybe you only know him by his many cameo’s in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), then this is the one for you. I’m certain several events mentioned in this memoir are shaded with a little bias. This is both a good and bad thing. The good being there is no negative views of any events mentioned though I’m sure there were some interesting discussions regarding business deals. This I view as good because it makes the memoir available to even kids. The bad I think would be the overall removal of any negative experiences. Something that is far from real life. The few mentioned are quickly passed over.

Since the MCU has been blown into epic proportions that have reached millions of people worldwide and brought superheroes once again into mainstream pop-culture, I wanted to learn more about the iconic man who spent his life laying the groundwork for this incredible adventure.

Overall, I enjoyed this memoir because it has a lot of information and I learned several things, but I will probably be looking forward to an in-depth biography when I want to know more about Stan the Man.

Happy Reading.