Bricks on the Shelf

I think we all have at least one, massive book we’ve wanted to read but just haven’t started because it would be a commitment. Below are five books that fit this description for me. These are books I want to read, but just haven’t done so yet because they can double as a door-stopper.

It by Stephen King

ItI’ve always heard this is a great book. I have watched the new movie adaptations of this book and I did like them. I also have already had several parts of the book spoiled (primarily the most disturbing parts) from discussions about what wasn’t included in the movies. I think this has contributed to my stalling on actually reading the book, but I will get around to it one day.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Count of Monte CristoI first discovered The Count of Monte Cristo after seeing the 2002 movie adaptation, which I greatly enjoyed. I picked up a copy of the book a long time ago but just haven’t brought myself around to reading it yet. I know I’ll enjoy it as I already consider the story one of the best ‘revenge’ stories out there.

 

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Atlas ShruggedHonestly, I can’t even remember what drew me to this book it has been so long since I picked it up. I think I had just discovered Ayn Rand and wanted to try some of her work. I’m sure the mythological reference also drew me in, and the fact it is considered a great novel in general, though I have heard it is a little tough to get through. Her other, large novel that is said to be great is The Fountainhead which a friend of mine did read and really liked. I may try that one if I like Atlas Shrugged.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite JestI’ve only read a little of David Foster Wallace but I want to read more, and supposedly Infinite Jest is one of his best works. It’s apparently a bit unconventional in structure but a lot of people seem to love it. Since I’ve liked what little if read of David Foster Wallace, I figure I’ll like this one too.

 

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don QuixoteThis book I want to read mainly because it has been referenced in several shows I like, but also because I know it has influenced a lot of writers and their work. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve watched a show or read a book that was influenced by this book. The main one that comes to my mind at the moment is the show The Newsroom starring Jeff Daniels.

Book Series for the Long Haul

I figured now is as good a time as any to recommend a few longer book series to help us all pass the time while we try not to think about the state of things. Don’t worry, all series on this list are completed so you don’t have to wait for the next one.

It’s always good to get lost in a book. Admittedly, most of these series fall into either fantasy or science fiction, but I have read them and greatly enjoyed them.

The Wheel of Time

The Eye of the WorldThe first series I thought of was the one I read last year and may be the longest I’ve ever read. The Wheel of Time is fourteen books long (fifteen with the prequel) and each book averages at about 800 pages. This epic fantasy series was incredible and I consumed it all in about 9 months. The first book is The Eye of the World. If you decide to dive in, there is a great community of fans on social media sites (at least there is on Twitter) and Amazon is currently adapting it into a television series. I also tracked my way through this series as I was reading it, so you can read my reactions and thoughts on each book after you read each installment to see if we had the same thoughts about the events. You can find my posts on this series on my list of Book Recommendations above.

 

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyIf you a prefer a more whimsical read, then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams may be for you. This series of five books is an absolutely absurd story filled with space travels and nonsense that is joyous to read. Yes, the premise does include (spoiler warning even though the book starts with this) the destruction of Earth, but the journey afterward is a funny exploration of the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.

 

The Riftwar Saga

Magician Raymond E Feist

The Riftwar Saga was written by Raymond E. Feist and begins with The Magician. As you may have figured out, this series is a fantasy series. It consists of four core books but there are several other books the extend the story into The Riftwar Cycle. I’ve read the core series and only a few of the books that take place immediately after the main four. I greatly enjoyed them and hope you do to.

Dune

Dune

Dune by Frank Herbert is one of the best science fiction books I’ve read in the past several years. Admittedly, I have only read the first book. The series extends beyond the first novel (which can be read as a standalone book if you prefer) to include nearly 20 books in total. The first six were written by Frank Herbert and make up the core books. The series was extended by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. A new film adaptation of the original book is being made and should be coming out within a year (I think the original date was this December).

 

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving CastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones is a trilogy aimed at younger audiences, but that just means anyone can read it. I again have to admit I’ve only read the first book of the trilogy, but this was because I did not know it had sequels until recently. I am definitely going to read them. There is an animated film adaptation of this first book made by Studio Ghibli that is an excellent watch. They do change a few things (as usually happens with film) but it is a great supplement to the book.

 

The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the RingsSince I think the Lord of the Rings series/trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien has become one of those stories that people will claim to have read but have never actually read, I thought it would be a great time for many people to actually read it. Of course, the movies are phenomenal and do a great job of adapting the series for the screen, which is why I think many people have not actually read the books. There are quite a few differences between the book and screen despite the scripts sticking really closely to the source material. There is much more to Tolkien’s universe as well if you like this series. Outside of The Hobbit which preludes this trilogy, there are supplemental books that expand into areas well outside the main story-line for any who are interested.

 

Harry Potter

Harry Potter

It’s always a great time to re-read Harry Potter. Or finally read it. The series is great and you can even reward yourself by watching the movie adaptations alongside your read-through.

 

The Murderbot Diaries

Okay, this last one is simply a guilty-pleasure recommendation that actually breaks my rule. The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells is not yet completed, but the fifth book comes out next month. The first four books are novella-length, so the series isn’t terrible long, but I think the introverted Murderbot is just a great, fun character who tries to interact with humans a little as possible.Murderbot Series

Isolation Update & Quarantine Activities

I surprisingly have not posted in a while despite being cooped up during these crazy times. I am officially working from home for at least the next several weeks and I thought I’d share a bit about how I keep myself entertained.

20200324_095258.jpgSince I am still working, the only additional time I now have for other interests is taken from my lunch hour and the lack of commute time. I don’t really miss commuting to work (even though I did turn that into a positive chore by using the time to listen to audiobooks or Ted Talks). My wife and I are staying home as much as possible and everything has been going great. She recently convinced me to shave my beard since she has never seen me clean-shaven. We are both impatiently waiting for it grow back. The cats are loving having us home all the time. Honestly, I think I am the new favorite piece of cat-furniture.

To be honest, for good or bad, my lifestyle has not changed much since locking myself away. I miss hanging out with friends, seeing my family, going to movies or out to eat, and a bunch of other things of course, but life goes on.

 

So what have I been doing to stay sane/entertained?

Well, I’m continuing to read a lot. My book-buying habits that border on tsundoku are proving most beneficial during isolation. I have plenty that have been in my TBR pile for a long time and I currently don’t have the option to go buy more books so I can focus on the books I have and need to read.

Tsundoku

Though I am working on the books I own, it is nice knowing I can still remotely access books from my local library. I have not done so yet. However, this does not mean you can’t. I use the Libby app which lets you access audiobooks and e-books. So if you are staying in and need a new read, see if your local library can be accessed via Libby or a related resource. My uncle is sending me a copy of Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, so that will show up in a few days and be added to my large stack of books.

I have finally gotten around to editing this blog. At least, all of my stories and book recommendations. I am about 3/4 through this process and have a little less than half of the stories remaining. Anything titled A-R has been completed. I hope to finish the rest this week. Feel free to peruse what I have. Hopefully my stories can entertain you for a little while. All of the book recommendations are done and (hopefully) no longer have minor typos. I have also re-assigned them for easier access and better “related post” suggestions. Once I finish editing my blog content, I plan to focus more time on actually writing some new stories and working on my book. I still hope to have a completed manuscript by my next birthday (February).

Outside of writing and books, I have started a replay of one of my favorite videogames; The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I haven’t found a game that a lot of my friends want to play online, but I still speak with them every so often when we are online at the same time.

I’ve been watching some shows. I still watch a show every Monday with a friend. We are just watching remotely via video. My wife and I plan to watch the second season of Altered Carbon at some point. We have plenty of options when it comes to movies and television. I plan to take more courses on MasterClass, which is having a two-for-one sale on their all-access pass. Find a friend and check it out if you’re interested.

We have been cooking a lot more. This is great because I am eating a lot less fast-food, take-out, and larger meals. I doubt I’ll lose any weight since I cannot go to the gym during this time and I still like to eat cookies or ice cream every so often, but my cooking skills now have their time to shine and I can be creative with what I make. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m not a bad cook. Yes, I know I can workout at home, but I know I won’t. However, I will likely do some yard-work as the weather finally warms up.

Luckily, technology has, for good or bad, made things much easier to find entertainment or connect with friends during these weird times. Work still takes up a decent amount of time, but I’m lucky that I still have a job and can work remotely.

I hope you are safe and well, and responsibly avoiding unnecessary public interactions. I hope we can all return to a form of normal when this all passes and I hope that it passes before too long. For now, we will just have to do what we can to minimize risk and look out for each other. Remember to breathe and know this too shall pass. I think this whole thing is helping us realize what is important, and hopefully we can make positive changes when this all ends.

Now, what have you been doing to keep yourself busy? Do you now have more time than you did before? If so, what cool things have you been doing (or what have you been doing instead of the cool thing you still plan to do)? I’d love to hear what you have been up to.

5 Books About Writing

I am a writer and therefore will every so often pick up a book about the craft. Below is a list of books about writing that I have read over the past several years that I found informative, inspiring, and insightful. I could give entire lectures about writing and all the different things I’ve learned through a formal education and my own individual studies, but I’ll save that for the classroom. For now, I hope you consider these books if you are a writer, if you like interesting things, or if you simply like any of these authors in particular as most of the books listed include biographical content. This is not surprising because writing is a very personal thing and everyone has their own approach and methods, which is why I picked up bits and pieces from most of these books to build upon my own habits.

About WritingThe newest book on the list is About Writing: A Field Guide For Aspiring Authors by Gareth L. Powell. This little pocket book is filled with insights about everything from beginning the writing process to how to build a following and market your published book. It has a bunch of useful tips about social media, outlining a novel, tips for attending conferences or conventions, and overall how to be a present-day author. Gareth is a powerhouse of positive energy and I highly suggest you follow him on Twitter for daily inspiration. I also recommend keeping this book on hand to pick up from time to time and review whatever part of the writing journey you are currently on. One thing I’ve taken into my own practice is Gareth’s suggestion about how to outline a novel. I may end up tweaking it a bit to better suit my needs, but it is proving immensely useful so far.

On WritingThe second book is the first book on the craft of writing I ever read and the first book I had read by this author. The book in question is one of the most popular: On Writing by Stephen King. I picked this one up shortly after finishing my undergraduate degree and felt the need to keep educating myself on the craft. Admittedly, it has been a minute since I’ve read this book, but I do remember a lot from it. First, this book is split basically into two parts. One half is focused on King himself giving some background to his journey as a writer and the other half is about the craft. Both are incredibly interesting and worth your time. One thing I have always kept with me from this book is King’s habit of always having a book on hand no matter where you are. I’m not sure why this particular thought stuck with me, but he was right that you should always keep a book on hand because you can get reading in with all the “in between” time we have in life. Waiting in line for coffee? Read a few pages. At the doctor? Read some more. Nowadays you can do this with your pocket computer if you prefer an ebook and have the willpower to stay off social media. Physical books don’t have distracting apps. I think I may need to give it another read soon since I have grown a lot as a writer and a person since I last read it.

Elements of StyleNext is another “classic” on the craft and another small, pocket-sized book. The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This is a craft book specific to the actual grammar and syntax and overall use of language and it is useful for writing in general and not just creative writing. It is a great book that can help you bolster your writing and form good habits, but like all the others, it isn’t a rule book. It may be the closest thing to one, but writing is again personal and you have your own style. This is simply one of the better resources to help you stay away from rookie mistakes and improve your prose. I think King mentions this book in his own and had some comments about Strunk and White’s thoughts about adverbs.

Zen and the Art of WritingThis next book I happened to discover while perusing the shelves of my local library. Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. This book was such a fun find. I was surprised to find so many great essays about writing that were simply inspirational. I plan to get a copy of my own to have on hand because you can pick this book up and read any essay and get that spark to start a story or continue whatever you are working on. He has such a great way of reminding you what a joy and privilege it is to write. Any self-doubt will disappear as you read. He definitely puts the zest and gusto into his thoughts about the craft. Bradbury wrote one thousand words every day since he was a kid. I’m hoping I can build a habit like his, to write every day so I am always progressing toward my goal of finishing a novel or short story. I’m still working on this though. I don’t need a thousand words. For now, any amount will do. I just need to build the good habit.

ReflectionsReflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne Jones is another collection of essays. This collection contains a large amount of biographical content about Diana and several essays repeat the same small tidbits about her life as they were written over the course of her career. She led a very interesting life and had some strange things happen to her. You’d almost think she were truly a witch. A good-natured one though. Did you know she had C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as professors? It does contain a lot of practical advice about writing, the market, agents, editors, and publishers. However, a lot of what she is describing is from a few decades ago and much has changed since then. I’ve no doubt some of the changes were due to her influence. Many things haven’t changed much at all unfortunately. The literary landscape may have changed since the writing of the essays, but she has plenty of relevant information in this book, especially about writing for younger audiences.

I have many more books on the craft I still want to read and many more I’m sure I will discover in the future. The next on my list I already have lined up and plan to start soon. Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. I also want to read Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood. If you have a book about the craft of writing that you like, let me know with a comment. I’d love to find more. Perhaps I’ll write another list about another set of books on writing. For now, I’m going to get back to work by sticking with Rule #1 from Neil Gaiman’s 8 rules for writing which is simply: Write.

8 Rules of Writing_Neil Gaiman

My First AWP Conference Experience

This past week I attended my first writing conference. The AWP Conference was held in San Antonio this year (AWP stands for Association of Writers & Writing Programs). There was a concern about travel and a confirmed case of the COVID-19 virus in/near the city just before the conference was set to begin. This ended up causing a lot of people to withdraw from the conference. It was my first time, so I did not know quite what to expect. Many of the panels I wanted to attend ended up being canceled. There were plenty that weren’t and the cancellations actually allowed me to attend the book fair more often (which I am really glad I did). Before I vomit my entire experience onto the page, I’m going to give it a bit of structure.

I was hesitant to attend the conference. Not so much because of the virus though (which has become a large concern). I was hesitant because I wasn’t sure if I really belonged with this particular group of people. But how could I not be sure I’d fit in with a bunch of writers? I am a writer. Well, even within the world of writing there are cliques and niche areas and different conferences for different types of writing. AWP consists, in my opinion, largely of academic writing, poetry, nonfiction, and reality based fiction, historical fiction, and pedagogy. I like to write a lot of speculative/science fiction and fantasy. Both of which still hold a stigma within the writing world despite becoming massively popular. So I wasn’t sure if I’d fit in with this particular crowd. I’m happy to say that I was wrong…mostly. There was very little at the conference specifically toward genre fiction, but I was surrounded by writers. Many of whom loved science fiction. Most did not write it themselves, but they appreciated it. I mainly wanted to know what it was like being in a building with thousands of other writers. I met many cool people and ran into a few former professors of mine. Admittedly, I did have a second reservation about going to this conference. Part of not knowing what to expect included not being sure if there would be a lot of academic snobbery or large egos. There were a few, but there were many more down-to-earth people who enjoyed all different areas of writing and entertainment. It’s really a great crowd of people.

Being my first time, I did over-prepare a bit. I built a schedule of events that had me in panels all day long. There were so many that it was hard to just pick one for each time slot. I really enjoyed most of the ones I did attend. There were a few that were canceled and I knew about ahead of time, which let me go to a second-choice panel, while others were canceled without notice. But again, this let me attend the book fair which I will talk about shortly. What I didn’t realize when making my schedule, was that most seasoned attendees only go to maybe three panels per day instead of a full five. It can be difficult and tiring attending so many but I wanted the full experience. The panel topics ranged from starting a project to teaching writing to what to do once publishing your book and everything in between.

The off-site events that happen in the evening are often sponsored/hosted by literary magazines or writing programs and often include a reading of some sort. These are really fun, relaxed events and great ways to meet new people. I highly recommend them even if you end up burning the midnight oil. The conference is three days and you need to make the most of the entire experience. My last day, Saturday, I attended an event described as simply “come have a drink and talk about books, no readings, etc.” and of course I was in. It was hosted by the Ashland MFA program and I met many of the current and prior students who are a fantastic group of people. This ended up being one of the highlights of my trip.

The book fair. The AWP book fair is an incredible experience. From talking with people there, I came to realize that this particular conference was about 2/3 of the previous year and many people talked about how it was much more relaxed and friendly. Apparently things can get a little overcrowded and everyone was enjoying not being packed in the aisles and actually having time to have actual conversations instead of passing comments with attendees. The book fair holds a ton of literary journals from all over the country, writing programs, publishers and writing services (such as editors), among many others. I bought a set of metaphor dice which I thought was a super cool idea and I look forward to using them. Most journals and books are discounted from normal prices and you can get great deals on subscriptions as well as books. I met Ted O’Connell at a publisher’s booth that was selling his debut novel K. I’m looking forward to diving into it. I also met an upcoming historical fiction novelist, AJ Wells, who is currently finishing his masters degree in Alabama (I can’t remember which university, sorry AJ). Keep a look out for his work in the future. In a nutshell, the book fair is probably the best part of the conference and you can spend all day in just that area. There is a day pass for the book fair on Saturday only, so if the conference is held in a city near you, definitely hit up the book fair to see all the cool stuff. The pass is usually $5 and it is definitely worth it.

There is so much to talk about but at the same time it’s difficult to describe such an experience. I am glad I attended. I will be attending next year since it will be in Kansas City, which is not far from where I live. Next year will also give me a better idea of what a full-fledged conference looks like (hopefully). It was definitely a silver lining that it was a smaller conference for my first time, but I’m interested to see it in full force. Even though it was a great time and I was surrounded by fellow writers, I still felt a little out of place. I did go by myself and I think going with a friend would greatly improve the experience. Overall, I believe it was a good step for my introverted self to go. I would recommend any writers who have not gone to see what it’s about at least one time. At the very least, I was inspired to keep working on my writing and I look forward to the day I get my first book published.