On Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff AuthorTobias Wolff is one of my favorite writers. Specifically, he is one of my favorite short story writers. I consider him one of the greatest American short story writers of all time. I of course would be more than happy to hear who your favorite shorty story writers are since I love discovering new writers. If this post is the first time you’ve heard of Tobias Wolff, then I hope you read some of his work and come to enjoy it as I do.

I first discovered Tobias Wolff in a college course. If I remember correctly, the first story I read of his was “Bullet in the Brain.” I recently discovered that this story was made into a short film, and there is a recording online of it being read by Tobias himself. This story remains one of my favorites and it is a great introduction to his work. It may also be the best known of his short stories because it is often used in classrooms alongside several others he has written such as “Powder,” “Say Yes,” or “In the Garden of the North American Martyrs.” There is something about Wolff’s stories that capture what I like to refer to as human moments. He is able to weave a story together that could seemingly be about nothing in particular, but then can also be read as a revelation about a core element of human nature. Enveloping an entire species and capturing it within a single moment. His stories often linger with you afterwards and prompt an introspection of our own lives. He often pinpoints moments that define, in a that single moment, the entirety of a character. It is this aspect that I admire to great degree, and I aspire to write stories that have similar moments the readers keep with them. I think any fellow writers can learn a lot about the craft from reading his work as well.

Wolff’s works include several collections of short stories, a novel (Old School), a novella (The Barracks Thief), and two memoirs. I’ve written book recommendations about several of these. His memoir, This Boy’s Life, reveals much about himself through the lens of his childhood. It was made into a movie not long after it was first published. His second memoir, In Pharaoh’s Army, provides a description of his time in Vietnam during his military service. I found the man himself as interesting as his writing. I even built up enough courage to write to him. It was my first and only time (as of this writing) that I’ve written to a writer who I admire. This was about three years ago now. I wasn’t sure what to say, so all I ended up saying was a general thank you for his work and an offer to buy him a drink if was ever in my area. To my surprise, he responded with equally kind words.

There are several interviews with Wolff that you can find online. I recently found one by The Creative Process that I found really interesting. They have interviews with other artists as well. I learned a few things on this site as well, like Tobias Wolff taught George Saunders and was rewarded the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama.

I don’t have any fun stories about gong to see him or things that have happened to me while reading his works. I haven’t really found many people who have read his works or at least have talked to me about them. I know short stories aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but every so often I can convince someone to try one and I usually recommend one by Tobias Wolff. I do remember one occasion where I did have a coworker/friend read “Bullet in the Brain.” The story itself is quite short but has incredible impact. He loved it and agreed with my initial comments I used to try and “sell” the story to him. Those comments being that Wolff’s stories have an unclear but substantial human moment. It’s hard to describe but easy to understand once you’ve read the story. If you want ever want to pick up a collection of his, I definitely recommend Our Story Begins. It has 31 short stories including several I have mentioned above.

I would love for the chance to meet Tobias Wolff one day. But if that never comes around, I know I can always pick up a collection of his stories, flip to any title, and be reminded once again what any amazing, intricate, and simple thing it is to be human.

On J.K. Rowling

JKRowling_2016GalaJ.K. Rowling. One of the biggest literary success stories of the past 25 years if not of all time. I don’t think it is much of a surprise that she has been a big influence in my life since she has influenced hundreds of millions of people around the globe with her immensely popular series Harry Potter, but she is an inspiration beyond her writing as well. Before I get into the details of why and how she inspires me, let me herd an elephant out of the room.

I think there is a cliche response associated with aspiring writers that has been based on J.K. Rowling’s success. When someone says they are a writer, or want to be a writer, the response sometimes given is “So you want to become the next J.K. Rowling, huh?” I think this has become too common and is actually detrimental to many of these writers for several reasons. One, they probably don’t want to be the next J.K. Rowling because what they write is completely different and they want to carve their own path and be recognized for their own merits. Two, the question itself is often asked in a snarky way which shuts down any chance of the writer sharing their dreams, goals, and stories with those who ask it. They feel like that initial response tells them that they aren’t good enough because it is a direct comparison with one of the masters of the craft. If you have experienced this response before, I hope you read the rest of this post because I think it will enlighten some things about J.K. herself, help you no longer consider that question an apathetic response to your dreams, and possibly provide the perfect response to such questions.

The question above does give credence to J.K.’s success (J.K. Rowling’s full name is Joanne Rowling. She uses the “pen name” J.K. Rowling where the K is an honorific for her grandmother’s name Kathleen). I think her story of rags to riches has become fairly well known, but I’ll give a brief summary here just because it is insightful. J.K. was a single mother on welfare when she began writing Harry Potter. The book was rejected by 12 publishers before getting picked up and published. These books, along with the movies, made J.K. Rowling a billionaire. That’s right, with a B. She is also one of the few people, perhaps the only person, who has gone from billionaire status to millionaire status by charitable giving. Her recent “net worth” is just shy of one billion dollars. I remember hearing her story about how she started her charity, Lumos, to assist orphaned children. She was reading a paper and saw a story about orphaned children and thought, as many of us surely have, that someone should be helping these children. Where most of us would have left it at that and continued on with our lives, she had a second thought which was a realization that she was in a place that would let her personally offer help because she had the funds to make a big difference and help address the issue. This led to the creation of Lumos. I haven’t followed the charity too closely but I hear great things from time to time about what they are doing. I did buy a pair of shirts for myself and my wife for a Lumos fundraising event (I haven’t written my international bestseller yet, but every little bit helps). I just think it is fantastic that she has taken her success and used it to assist others. I think this shows more about her character than her writing ever could.

I read a brief biography on J.K. when I was maybe twelve years old and the only thing I really remember from it was that she was on a train headed somewhere and was looking out the window (maybe at some cows?) and the name Harry Potter simply popped into her head and she knew she had the character for her book. She had known a family with the last name of Potter earlier in her life but the name that has become infamous simply came out of the ether, as most ideas do, and simply struck her and inspired her to start writing his story. She wrote the name on a napkin if I remember correctly to make sure she remembered it.

I grew up with Harry Potter. Literally…okay not in the actual literal sense as I didn’t go to Hogwarts with him, but I grew up alongside him in a way that made if feel like I went to Hogwarts with him. I’ll date myself here, but I was six years old when the first book came out in 1997. One of the only memories I have of being read aloud to as a kid was my mom reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to me and my siblings. I think my mom had won the book at a raffle or something because it was the first book in the series we had. I eventually got the first book and began reading through the series myself. I also had to wait for each book to come out because she was still working on them. The third book may have been out at that time because I remember waiting for the fourth. I ended up reading the first four books four times before the fifth book came out. I remember going to get the book when it came out too. We ended up getting it from Costco of all places and I remember there just being a pallet of books, a literal pallet full of just copies of the new Harry Potter book, sitting near the entrance for people to pick up and it seemed like everyone coming in was taking one. Then I waited for the sixth, which I read in three days, and then I waited for the seventh. Both of which were picked up from another pallet-full of copies. I remember I didn’t read the seventh right away for some reason, but I did read it not too long after it came out. Nearly ten years after the final book came out, they came out with a print edition of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play that had become a big success. So, in 2016, almost 20 years after the first book, I found myself going to a Barnes & Noble for a midnight release party of a Harry Potter book. I went by myself but ran into some friends. We bought copies and went home. I went to bed, but I woke up the next day and read the play straight through (plays are often much quicker reads than books) in a handful of hours. I met up with the same friends I ran into later that day and we talked about the book/play since they also read it straight through. We liked and didn’t like various things, but we mainly just happy to have more of the story we grew up with.

I remember waiting in line for the first Harry Potter movie. I was nine or ten years old. They would rope off an area and you could wait in line to get into the theater. This was before theaters had assigned seating or the ability to buy tickets online. We got there early and were one of the first in line for the opening night and it was a magical experience seeing it for the first time. They had started making the movies before the books were all released, but the movies did get released not long after the books were released. The last book came out in 2007 and the last movie came out in 2011.

I remember seeing the sixth movie when I was at college getting my undergraduate degree. I went to a decent sized university in a smaller town and they had a fairly new theater built which held a total of ten screens. Of course, me and some friends bought tickets for opening night. The theater was running the movie on all ten screens. I worked at a movie theater back home when I wasn’t at school so I knew a bit about how things worked, and I think I remember this theater saying they only had one copy of the film. This was when they had actual film, everything wasn’t all digital yet (do I sound old yet? haha), so they rigged it up, which they were actually outfitted to do so it wasn’t a questionable type of rigging, where the film would start on one projector and then go along pulleys to the next projector and so on and so forth until it went through all of them. The result being that one theater would start the movie and the tenth would start the movie only a mere few minutes later. It was crazy. So they had the film in all ten auditoriums so when you went in, they tore your ticket, and you could go to any of the auditoriums you wanted. It was a one night show of only Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Many of my friends had re-read the book prior to seeing the movie. I had not. They ended up not liking the movie much, because they had the book fresh in mind, but I enjoyed it quite a bit since I had decided to keep a little distance between the adaptation and original content.

I was actually working, physically, at a movie theater when the last movie came out. I had recently won an “employee of the month” award or something similar and one of my rewards was to pick my schedule for two weeks. Luckily for me, the last day I was able to pick my schedule was the opening night of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I would have felt bad taking the whole day off since it was going to be insanely busy, so I set myself to work from 12pm to 8pm. I had bought my tickets for the midnight show, the earliest it was shown back then (I can hear my bones cracking in my old age). I came into work and there were people already lined up since 9am. They were seeing the special double feature of the sixth and seventh movies that would then show the new movie at midnight, but I was surprised to see people waiting in line that early. Anyway, I’ll avoid the hellish work day I had and just say that I made enough popcorn to feed a pod of whales for a year. I got of work at 8pm, ran home and showered in an attempt to remove the smell of popcorn from myself, and then went right back up to get in line and watch the final, amazing experience of a generation. I still remember hearing that line “Always” in the theater and feeling the entire audience’s reaction. It was simply incredible. Movies are somewhat heightened when in a packed theater full of dedicated fans. I was really into films back then and I do recall that J.K. had let Alan Rickman know about Snape’s relationship with Lily very early on in the film series. He was the only one who knew until that final scene so he could have a driving motivation for his character. He wrote a letter about it when the films were completed and you can find it online. It is quite touching and hints at J.K. fully understanding of the story even though only three books had been completed when she told him the little secret that would become a huge moment.

A few final things about Harry Potter before I move on to the real focus of this post, the one behind the stories. A study was done titled “The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice” which showed that reading Harry Potter actually makes people more empathetic. This is fantastic and shows how stories can influence people. Think of a few stories that have really gripped you. Can you imagine yourself without ever having experienced them?

There are theme parks entirely dedicated to bringing the world of Harry Potter to life. I still need to go to the bigger, more in-depth park in Florida, but I went to the one in Los Angeles a few years ago and had a blast. I bought a replica of Sirius Black’s wand since he is my favorite character in the series. I also bought a set of wizard robes. Ravenclaw robes since that is my “house.” A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on their sorted house. J.K. herself is a Hufflepuff.

Harry Potter was so successful that J.K. thought that anything she wrote afterwards would be impacted by simply having her name on the cover, that an expectation would be placed on the story before people even knew what it was, so she adopted an actual pen name of Robert Galbraith. She did publish a handful of books under J.K. Rowling, but she has a few successful series under her newer pen name, specifically the Cormoran Strike novels which are also now a TV series. I think the Robert Galbraith pen name was quickly found out to be J.K. Rowling, but she still uses the name today for some of her series. I think she has broken out of the shadow of her first success and continues to write new and interesting stories to find newer successes. She loves what she does and continues to find new audiences. She didn’t let herself get stuck in the expectations of others. She has always paved her own way. This is why I think she is a great role model.

I think her influence on me was not just the story that gripped the world, but the fact that it came into my life at the right time and has had a lasting impression. This is another aspiration I have with my own writing. To become a positive influence to a younger generation. To help kids experience stories that awe them and hopefully encourage them to become better people and believe in themselves. I’m not limiting that to those younger than me actually. I would love for everyone to have these reactions. I haven’t had the “so you want to be the next J.K. Rowling” response in a long time. I think I got it more when I was younger and the Harry Potter movies were still being released, but I’ve finally found an answer besides shutting down and thinking I could never be that successful, which then turns into believing I’ll never be successful with that comparison. My answer now is “No. I could never be J.K. Rowling. I don’t want to be. I’m going to be the first Ryan Yarber.”

On Philip K. Dick

Phil K Dick AuthorI’ve recommended a few books by Philip K. Dick (PKD) on this blog. In one of them, if I remember correctly, I mentioned how I first discovered his work. It was a very strange, roundabout way that I think is ironically fitting. Before I “discovered” who he was or what work he had done, I had already been exposed to several adaptations of his works. Many movies and shows have been based on his short stories and books. Perhaps you have seen some of them without realizing who first created the concept or idea. Many adaptations take many liberties that stray from the original story, and movies based on short stories obviously had additions, but at the core they are influenced by PKD’s work. Here are a few adaptations:

Movies:

  1. Blade Runner (1982) & Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
    • Based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  2. Total Recall (1990 & 2012)
    • Based on the short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966)
  3. Screamers (1995)
    • Based on the short story “Second Variety” (1953)
  4. Imposter (2002)
    • Based on the short story “Imposter” (1953)
  5. Minority Report (2002)
    • Based on the short story “The Minority Report” (1956)
  6. Paycheck (2003)
    • Based on the short story “Paycheck” (1953)
  7. A Scanner Darkly (2006)
    • Based on the novel A Scanner Darkly (1977)
  8. Next (2007)
    • Based on the short story “The Golden Man” (1954)
  9. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
    • Based on the short story “Adjustment Team” (1954)

TV Shows:

  1. The Man in the High Castle (2015-present [2019])
    • Based on the novel The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  2. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams (2017)
    • Episodes based on the following short stories:
      • The Hood Maker (1953)
      • The Commuter (1953)
      • The Hanging Stranger (1953)
      • Sales Pitch (1954)
      • Exhibit Piece (1954)
      • The Father Thing (1954)
      • The Impossible Planet (1955)
      • Human Is (1955)
      • Autofac (1955)
      • Foster, You’re Dead! (1955)

If you have seen any of these movies or TV shows then you have experienced PKD’s work. Perhaps, like me several years ago, you had no idea that this man was behind a piece of work you have seen before. So I guess you can say I first discovered/realized PKD the author around 2015 when one of his novels was mentioned by a character in a show I really enjoy. I discovered William Gibson from the same show. The show, an animated science fiction, dystopian future story, is called Psycho-Pass. The novel mentioned was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which subsequently became the first book of PKD’s that I read. I have read a few collections of short stories, the transcription of his final interview What if Our World is Their Heaven?, and I still have much of his work still to read. After all, he wrote 36 books and 121 short stories.

What I like about PKD’s work, especially the short stories, is that after I finish reading the story, I am still thinking about something. Many of his stories are centered around an idea or a social commentary that get my synapses firing and sometimes prompts me to have ideas of my own that I could use for stories. I can’t tell you which ones, but I know that a few stories I wrote for this blog were influenced in this way. Some of his stories were about social issues back between the fifties and seventies, but most are still relevant today. I remember reading a story about abortion around the same time new abortion laws were being made in several states in the U.S.. Not every social commentary story is that prevalent. Some are and some touch on lesser topics that are still relevant.

Another thing I find fascinating about his work is that much of his work is already dated in some way. The events in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? happen in 2019. Obviously things turned out quite different (we still don’t have flying cars for f**k’s sake), but science fiction is never about “predicting” a future. It’s about talking about the current moment in a different perspective. This is why PKD’s stories are still fascinating and fun to read. I once referred to his work as “nostalgic science fiction” and I think that is still accurate. His stories are dated not only because they dated themselves by using futuristic dates that have come and passed, but because they cover topics that were prevalent at the time they were written. Topics that did not persist as the years passed. So even though the stories are futuristic they are also historical, and I think this adds to the magic of them.

There is no doubt that PKD writes an excellent story. Hollywood wouldn’t be using them if they didn’t think their adaptations would make a lot of money. I really enjoy reading them because I think the old adage “The book is better than the movie” rings true with probably every adaptation of his work. Granted, I haven’t read or seen them all, but the few I have lead me to hold strong to this assumption. I will be honest here though. I watched Blade Runner after I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and I was thoroughly disappointed with the movie. This statement I’m sure will open a can of worms with those who love the movie and will try to defend it. I think the book was way better. I did enjoy Blade Runner 2049 despite its slow pacing, but that’s enough about the adaptations.

I will say that some of his stories have not aged as well as others and some are simply odd or outright goofy, but most are thought-provoking and meaningful. I have come to hold PKD’s works as essential additions to my little, personal library. He was an interesting man as well from what little I have learned about him. Most of which I learned in What if Our World is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick, the transcription of his final interview. I randomly came across this book in a Half Price Books store and bought it along with a collection of PKD short stories. I had no idea the book had existed before then, but it caught my interest.

The interview was conducted three months before PKD died of a stroke in March of 1982 at the age of 53. He died before they finished filming Blade Runner, but he was able to see parts of the set and was really excited about the movie. It was the first film adaptation of any of his work. I also learned from this book/interview that PKD mainly read non-fiction. He taught himself Latin so he could read the bible in the original Latin because he wanted to see if anything had been lost as the book was translated throughout history. He read less and less fiction as he got older until he only read non-fiction. He also wrote books and stories extremely fast and sometimes at the cost of his health. He would shut himself away for days or weeks and pound out a full manuscript usually in about ten days. He often wouldn’t eat much during these projects and once mentioned mainly consuming only painkillers and alcohol for days at time. I was afraid this interview may prove to be one of those “never meet your heroes” kinds of thing because we often hold our heroes on a pedestal and can get a shock when finding out they are not anything like we believed, but I don’t build pedestals too high (I hope) and always remind myself that everyone is human. Anyway, I was glad to find out that this interview revealed a lot about the person I knew little about outside of his works and I was interested in almost everything that was said. 

What if Our World is Their Heaven? also includes the description of the book PKD was working on before he died. A book that was never finished, but the concept and outline he provides in this interview makes me wish he had finished it. Then I remind myself that I’m lucky to even have the description he provides. The book would have been called An Owl in Daylight if my memory serves me right. It was a conceptual novel that was quite fascinating and involved extraterrestrials and life-after-death and religion and mixed them all together into a simple yet complex and thought-provoking story.

I think his stories greatly influenced the progression and possibilities of science fiction as a genre. His stories continue to get adapted into film and I think his work will persist and continue to influence people for many years to come. I sometimes imagine how I would be today if I had discovered his works earlier in my life. Perhaps they would have simply been another log in the fire that is my aspiration to become a published writer myself. I definitely hope that I can write some stories that are as thought provoking as many of his are. I also hope to influence and inspire others as his stories have influence me, and obviously the many people in the film industry. He may have passed away much too early, but he left us a large collection of great stories with which to remember him. I’m just glad I discovered them. They will likely remain on my shelf, even after I am gone, to be enjoyed by those who come after.

On Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman AuthorNeil Gaiman. What can I say about Neil? Well, a lot, so hold onto your butts because I’ll likely be zigzagging across topics as I talk about how Neil has influenced my life. First, let’s give a brief description of the man himself, or neilhimself as his Twitter handle is aptly named. Neil Gaiman was a largely successful writer by the time I discovered who he was. He began as a journalist. Then he worked in comics and then in fiction and then television and film and pretty much any creative field you could imagine that involves putting words on paper at any stage. This is a slight exaggeration of course and his career did not simply go in that order or that easily. To put it simply, Neil has never been limited by one genre, subject, or medium. His stories vary greatly from kids books to mythology to religious satire to nonfiction. He has been immensely successful and rightfully so. He can be considered a celebrity author. Someone whose name is larger than their works. Someone whose careers have exploded and grown to a size where a large portion of the human population would recognize them or at least one of their works.

I discovered Neil’s work long before I discovered who he was. I was a fan before I knew where to direct my appreciation. I honestly can’t remember when or where I first discovered who Neil was as a person, but I think the first work of his that I ever came across was the movie adaptation of his book Stardust. I did not see the movie in theaters. I think my family had rented it (which is somewhat an already dated subject since everything is streamed nowadays, but to my credit it was a dvd we rented and not a vhs at least). Anyway, I absolutely enjoyed the film for various reasons. It has a great cast, possibly my favorite role by Robert De Niro, and it is infinitely creative and quirky and just downright fun. I never knew the movie was based on a book.

The first book I read by Neil was, if I remember correctly, The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It came in out in 2013 but I think I picked it up around 2015. I picked this book up because I was looking for a shorter book to read it seemed interesting. It was at this time that I first discovered Neil as the person behind the books, and also when I realized that he wrote Stardust. I enjoyed The Ocean at the End of the Lane and was definitely ready to read more of Neil’s work but I did not dive in, as I have done with other authors I like. There was something different about this author. I strange draw that pulled me in but didn’t make me want to dive down the rabbit hole.

I once talked about Neil on this blog about two years ago when I was first getting started and trying to figure out exactly what this blog would become. I’m really happy with how it has turned out with the book recommendations and my own stories that I share and now this section where I discuss those who influence me. Even back then, after I had read his recently published Norse Mythology book, I couldn’t help but maintain that feeling of reserved admiration. I began becoming more interested in the man instead of his works. In my defense, if such a thing is needed, Neil is an extremely interesting person and an absolute joy to listen to. And this is where I veer off on a few tangential stories. Please indulge me.

The first is the most recent. I only just began my journey into audiobooks. I don’t know why I hesitated but I just enjoy having a physical book in my hands and reading the words. The first audiobook I ever tried, which convinced me I could enjoy this medium, was Neil’s The View from the Cheap Seats. Again, it greatly helped that it was read by Neil and he has a lovely British accent that you can just listen to all day. The View from the Cheap Seats is a collection of nonfiction that covers many different topics. Ironically enough, I had bought a physical copy of this book when it was first published in 2016. I remember the day specifically. Early in the week it was to be released, I had seen on Twitter that Neil posted a list of independent bookstores in America that would have signed copies of this book. I checked the list and found that only one store in my state would have such copies. To my very exciting surprise, that particular bookstore was just down the road from the university where I worked. So, when the day came for the book to go on sale, I took an early lunch and went down to hopefully pick up a copy. I remember finding out they were only to receive ten signed copies and I was lucky enough to get one. Ironically again, I did not read the book in its entirety until I listened to the audio version. Life can be funny sometimes.

I’ve heard the story of how Neil met Diana Wynne Jones a few times. I think once was in the audio book and another may have been in an interview I watched online. It was such a chance meeting and one that grew into a great friendship and I often imagine myself becoming friends with Neil, and other authors, in a similar way. He is at a hotel bar sitting alone probably working on something and I find the courage to introduce myself and tell him I enjoy his books and we become great writing friends. A fledgling writer can dream of such influential encounters. Though this may never happen (nothing is impossible), I did get a chance to go see him in person. I never got to speak to him directly or even get within 100 feet, but I was able to sit in the same room as the man and listen to him talk about a great many things and read a few things from his published works.

There is a story about this encounter too because it was not easy getting into that room to see him. The event was first publicly announced perhaps six months to a year before it was to happen. I discovered it on Twitter (a really handy platform). It was to take place at Kansas University. I kept checking every few months to see if tickets were available and wasn’t entirely sure it was going to take place because it wasn’t officially posted on the site. Eventually it was and they announced the event was going to be free. Even better, right? It was free and anyone could pick up free tickets, limit of two per person, if they picked them up from the Lied Center of Kansas. The problem was, though this was the closest he was to come to my home town, at least to my knowledge, it was still nearly 4 hours away. Tickets were to be released on a weekday. I thought of taking off work to drive up there and grabbing a few tickets then driving all the way back to make it to work for the next day. Eight hours of driving for a few tickets. I almost did it. But first I talked to every one of my friends who lived in Kansas City, which was about 45 minutes to an hour away from the center. None of them could get the tickets due to work obligations and that they couldn’t make it up there in time even after they got off work because the center would be closed or the tickets would be gone. I think the tickets did “sell out” that morning. Well, to my luck again, I also have family who live in that area and my aunt knew some people who lived near the center. Her friends were able to snag a few tickets for myself and even a few extra so I could bring some friends. So I had the tickets. But of course the event itself was an evening event. On a weekday.

An Evening with Neil Gaiman to call it exactly as it was publicized. I took a half day off work, hopped on the highway with my mom accompanying me and letting me get some sleep for the long day ahead, picked up my father-in-law halfway there, stopped at my aunts to pick up the tickets and drop my mom off to hang out with her brothers, then drove the rest of the way to the center where I would meet my other friends before going in (they ended up arriving a bit late but I got them their tickets and all was well). Anyway, the event starts at 7pm, or 7:30pm, I can’t remember exactly, and we sit and listen and have fun until around 9pm or 9:30pm. Again I can’t remember because it was some time ago. Afterwards, I had intended on hitting the road to get back home so I could work the next day. I found my friends after the event and we hung out and caught up since we hadn’t seen each other in awhile. While we chatted, the line to buy books dwindled and we hopped in line to make a few purchases. I hadn’t planned on buying anything since I had brought a large bag of his books I already owned in the small chance he would have done any signing. But there were pre-signed copies for sale. I really hoped to snag his new book Art Matters, illustrated by Chris Riddell, which was set to release the very next day. This was November 2018. A signed copy would have been great, but I had pre-ordered the book so I was already getting a copy. When we arrived at the register, only a few copies remained and I picked up signed copies of a few books I already owned. These were Norse Mythology (I did like the paperback version anyway, my first copy was hardback) and American Gods in paperback which I also had originally in hardback. This copy had the television cover on it though. My friends and I paid for our books and my ever patient father-in-law was hanging about having discussions with strangers and waiting on me. I said goodbye to my friends and set out on the ride home. First to pick up my mom, then to drop off my father-in-law, then finish the drive that ended with me getting into bed close to 4am and having to be at work the next day at 8am. Needless to say, I was very tired that next day, but it was worth the experience to see someone you admire.

I bought my father-in-law a copy of Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I had not read the book yet at the time but knew the premise. He had bought me The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which I had recently read and therefore thought he would enjoy Good Omens. I was right. I went on to read the book as well not long afterwards. The weekend the television adaptation of that book came out, he was in town visiting and we binge-watched all six episodes and loved it. I might even like the adaptation better than the original book, but they are each great and compliment each other in ways that make the experience of each version collectively greater.

When it was announced that Neil was doing a Masterclass, a program I had never heard of previously, I of course found out about it (probably from Twitter) and my amazing wife bought me an all-access pass for my birthday. I of course took his course first and liked it and I have started taking other writing courses on the platform and am learning great things and discovering other authors and areas to learn more. I’ve learned about and discovered many different authors and books from Neil. Many simply from him talking about them. Many books I have gone on to read while several remain in my to-read pile.

Neil Gaiman has been a large influence in my creative life. Especially for only being a part of it for a handful of years. I imagine he will remain an influence throughout my life. I have yet to get through his collective works. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface. Regardless, I am extremely grateful to him. He is a phenomenally nice, genuine person. Though I have never known him personally (I still hold onto the hopes of meeting him one day), I know enough about him from stories by other people, and through interviews and his Masterclass and stories of his interactions with fans, to know that I would probably admire him even more for having met him. It is strange to be influenced more by the man than by his works, especially in this field and when not knowing him personally, but nonetheless this is the case with this particular author. I have deep respect for him and always wish him well. I hope you can discover him and come to enjoy him in your own way if you have not done so already.

On Patrick Rothfuss

rothfussworldbuildersPatrick Rothfuss is the author of The Kingkiller Chronicles series, which I would say, in my honest opinion, is the best epic fantasy story written in the past 20 years. I know there is a lot out there and maybe a few can refute that claim, but I have not read or heard about any of them. And I can always go back to the “well-written” aspect of my claim. These books are extremely well-written and I found myself impressed with the wordplay and structure as much as the story itself. Before I start fawning over the work, let me tell you about the man behind them.

I first discovered Pat (as many of his fans call him) about two and half years ago when I happened across a video on Twitter. I had just started a Twitter account and was kind of looking around and learning the ropes and discovering the amazing writing community on there. Ironically, I let those on Twitter pick my next post for my On Authors section and they chose Patrick Rothfuss. The video was actually promoting another book by another author who I hate to say I had forgotten until I began thinking about writing this post about Pat. I actually saw a book by this author on display and it helped me remember. Her name is Sabaa Tahir and her books are now, as they should have been, on my TBR list. Anyway, the video was Sabaa and Pat simply sitting down and having a chat and answering some questions in what is probably the most laid back and fun “interview” that I have seen by a writer (or pair of authors). I remembered hearing the name Patrick Rothfuss coming up here and there, mostly on Twitter. I watched this video and thought: Wow, this guy seems super cool. I’ll look into what he has written and check him out. 

So about six or eight months go by and I get more reminders about these books (I did follow him on Twitter after all), so I pick up the first one. It is not a small volume. I start reading it and am unsure for the first few chapters but it is setting up the world the story inhabits so I stick it out and fall right in. I literally fell hard into this book. I devoured it, and the sequel, in less than a month. All while I was working on my MFA and working full time. The first book, The Name of the Wind, was released in 2007 and clocks in at just over 250,000 words. The second, The Wise Man’s Fear, came out in 2011 and was just under 400,000. A third book is still in the works as of now but there are a few supplemental works that go along with the main story. These include A Slow Regard of Silent Things which is a novella about the beloved, innocent, and mysterious character Auri, and “The Lightning Tree” which is a short story about Bast, a scoundrel character that you like but are a bit wary about. I quickly read these two additions as well. There is nothing quite like A Slow Regard of Silent Things either. It is of course dependent upon the knowledge of at least the first book of the series, but it could possibly be read on its own. It may be a bit confusing that way though. Either way, it is endearing and…well…quite unique.

The Kingkiller Chronicles jumped way up on my list of favorite reads. Pat’s books are the first I’ve bought specifically for the purpose of giving away just to introduce friends to his work. I joined a Facebook group of fans and they all love these books probably more than me. Some have read the series dozens of times. I’ve only read through them once but will be re-reading them when the third book is announced to come out. These people love Pat and some have even seen him at expos and events and they all share their love of the story and it is just a fantastic group to be a part of even though I don’t participate much. I just love seeing all the stuff they talk about and the group keeps everyone informed about related news.

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The first book recommendation I wrote was for The Name of the Wind and it was a grossly underwhelming recommendation. I updated it to slightly amend that negligence, but it will always fall short. It does have a bigger version of this picture (right) which I bought from Litographs. It is made from the entire text of the first book. All 250,000+ words. Yeah, that picture is made from the words of the book (see below). It goes pretty much floor to ceiling but it’s awesome. I had to build the frame specifically for the poster. I think I may have gotten a link to it from the Facebook group. Anyway, it is always great to find fellow fans.20180107_165630.jpg

 

Now, there are some people who have been criticizing Pat for how long it is taking for book three to come out. I wrote a post that will be up soon about “fan etiquette” that discusses the last season of Game of Thrones so I won’t go into my “be a good fan” speech here. Instead I will simply say that I understand their frustration but I also understand Pat’s situation. His first book became a bestseller, and rather quickly. He even talks about writing sequels in the video above with Sabaa. He is a thorough writer and I do not mind waiting for book three or anything he works on for that matter. He is incredibly talented and I have an inkling that book three will be even larger than book two. It will probably destroy its readers emotionally as well. As good stories do. Book three does have a supposed title which is The Doors of Stone. Pat says he will provide us the book when it is ready. I can’t wait but I will, patiently, as should everyone.

Pat does a lot outside of his writing as well. He streams videogames and interacts with fans and talks about the world he built. He has even done a video of pronunciations of words, names, and places in his books. These pronunciations are also included in the 10th anniversary edition of The Name of the Wind. The video is actually hosted on the Youtube page of the charity organization he is a part of called Worldbuilders. They have some awesome things that they sell to raise money for their charity (I think Pat’s streams also are often for this organization; I’m not sure since I’ve only seen tidbits). I bought a few mugs from Worldbuilders that were replicas from an important tavern in the books. It is called the Eolian. The mugs are well made. I encourage you to check this charity out since they have a lot of cool, nerdy stuff from a lot of other series, writers, and talented people. They do a lot of cool things to help make the world a better place too. Speaking of talented people, Lin-Manuel Miranda is actually working on an adaptation of The Kingkiller Chronicles for television. Rumors are that it will actually be a prequel (?) to the first book. I’m not sure about the story, but I’m sure it will be great to see this world created for the screen which is always a hard thing to do.

On to the reason I started this little series, or section, of my blog. What does Patrick Rothfuss mean to me? Well, he means quite a bit as I’m sure he means a lot to others who are fans of his work. He is not just an author who wrote a story I can lose myself in though. I don’t know him personally or know much about his personal life as I do other authors, but unlike several other authors I have been influenced or inspired by, he is alive and well and actively participating in the world. It is easier and less intrusive to learn about the life of someone after they are gone. However, I am okay not knowing personal details. Especially about people still rocking it. For me, Pat is an inspiration for my own aspirations. His mastery of storytelling is something I can aim toward. He does great things outside of his writing as I hope I can or am doing.  I hope one day I have a chance to meet him. Perhaps if I get off my butt and finish a few books I might get that chance. If not, I’ll always have his books.