The View from the Cheap Seats

neil-gaiman-the-view-from-the-cheap-seatsThe View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman is a book of selected nonfiction that is, simply, a delight. I picked this book up when it was first published. I’d come across one of Neil’s tweets that listed all the independent bookstores in America that would have signed copies of the book upon release. I scoured the list and found there was one bookshop in my state, the state of Missouri, that would have them, and to my outstanding luck it was just down the road from where I worked. The bookstore, Main Street Books located in St. Charles, would receive 10 copies. The day it came out, I took my lunch hour a bit earlier than usual, and went down to see if I could grab a copy. My luck held out and I nabbed one of the few. I was uncertain how many other fans may have been privy to the information of first edition signed copies of Neil’s new book. I wasn’t sure if many people in the area were Neil Gaiman fans. After purchasing my copy I remember wondering these things and, if my memory serves correctly, I spread the word so people knew. I brought the book home with me after work and subsequently read the first handful of pages, about 50, and for some reason did not pick it up again.

Until two weeks ago when I was about to catch a flight home from a vacation in the Dominican Republic. I had a paperback book I’d been reading on the vacation and on the first flight back, but the second flight would be dark and my eyes wanted a rest from the dry, circulated air of the airplane, so I downloaded the audiobook of The View from the Cheap Seats from my library back home through the convenient app. The audio-book version is read by Neil himself. This was my first audio-book experience and I’m glad to say it may have been the perfect introduction for me to this format. I listened to the book for the entirety of the flight home. I began listening to it on my commute and sometimes while at my desk working. I recently finished it, while doing yard work, which is why I am writing this recommendation. Or rather, I am recommending this book to you now not simply because I finished it, but because I think it is a great book and it is filled with fun and is extremely informative.

This book is filled with material that spans decades and talks about a great many things. It talks about writing, writers, music, books, people, the importance of art, the importance of genres and different types of storytelling including comic books and film. This book is filled with Neil’s experiences and his experience. There is a lot to be learned.  A section of this book contains a plethora of introductions. Introductions that were written by Neil for other books. Introductions that will inevitably provide you with a decent amount of books to add to your list to read, as I have added to mine.

Neil talks about a great many people in this book. Well, he had talked about them a long time ago originally and the pieces of writing were chosen to be included in this volume. If I had read this book back when it was first published, I would have known about Gene Wolfe long before I first discovered him. I have not read any of Gene Wolfe but his books are now on my list, and I am looking forward to reading them. I hate to say I first discovered Gene Wolfe when news of his passing was released a handful of weeks ago. Reading about who he was and what he wrote made me fond of this man I never knew and, now, will never know. I read an article that Neil retweeted claiming it was a good article about Gene. I wish I would have known about him earlier. He lived only a few hours drive from where I live now and I’ve already daydreamed my way into a world where I read his books long ago and fell in love with them and actually made a trip to meet him. Something I’ve never done. I’d be hesitant about doing so even in the dream, but he would be nice as so many have said he was.

One of the things I think I’ve learned from this book is to go out and make more connections with people. Neil tells stories of how he first met many authors who would become lifelong friends, and I am inspired to get out and make some friends of my own. I lack friends who write and I want to have more discussions about writing and I want to have even more discussions about life from the ever-observant type of person who is often a writer. Neil’s story of meeting Diana Wynne Jones seems to be mere happenstance, but what an incredible chance it was and even more incredible how quickly they became friends. I first discovered Diana Wynne Jones after finding out the Hayao Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle was based on her book of the same name. I quickly read the book and loved it and added many more of Diana’s books on my list to read. Even so, Neil gave me another book of hers to add to my list. One I’d never heard about until he talked about it in this volume.

He talks about many people he has met throughout his life and he talks about books that inspired him and he really talks about the books that influenced him as a boy. He talks about his journey into becoming a writer of fiction that began in journalism. He talks about how he wrote Good Omens with Terry Pratchett by mailing each other floppy discs and calling each other over the phone. Much of what he talks about is nostalgic. Things he discusses have changed since he first wrote about them. The world is much different now that it had been back then. He talks about changes occurring in the comic industry well before comic-book movies became a worldwide phenomenon. The book is not outdated by any means. It is filled with life and love and stories.

There is much to learn from this selected nonfiction. There is much fun to be had. It is inspiring whether you read it in print or listen to Neil’s melodious voice read it to you. It doesn’t matter if you yourself are a writer or not. I dare say it is interesting even if you aren’t even interested in books. This volume is filled with experiences. Yes, many of which mention books and are related to story-telling, but he talks about music and people and things he believes in. These writings are themselves stories, and collected in a way to become something even more.

Happy Reading.

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.

Getting Lost in a Story

I think many of us can agree that being drawn into a story is one of the greatest experiences we can have, and we have all had this experience at least once. I’m not talking about the “can you believe what Jan did this time?” kind of gossip story. I mean the stories that change us. The ones that last. That we connect with and cherish, oftentimes, for the rest of our lives. I’m also not just talking about books. I’m talking about stories in whatever form they may come. A movie, a TV series, a videogame, a podcast, etc. I’m talking about a story that grips you so tight you can’t even remember that the rest of the world exists. A story that you may develop a somewhat unhealthy obsession for (it’s the rest of the world that doesn’t understand). I want you to think about one of your favorite stories and consider why you like it as much as you do.

I’ll be talking about several of my own favorite stories, but before I jump in, I also want to touch on the phenomenon known as over-hype. You probably have experienced this as well. When your friends (and probably the internet as well) think that this one story is so good that everyone should experience it and all they do is talk about it and hound you about why you haven’t watched/read it yet and that you are missing out on a life-changing experience, so then one of two things happen; you watch it and think it is just “meh” because it was talked-up so much that it could never have lived up to the expectations your friends created, or you decide never to watch it on principle because apparently the entire world is obsessed with this story and you want to be one of the few that has never seen it just so you can shock people with your lack of social assimilation, but you then wait the appropriate amount of time where people stop raving about it so you eventually watch it because it’s supposed to blow your socks off but your expectations are still way too high from all the hype and you have self-imposed ideals about how this story should be the best ever written or you will only talk how you don’t understand why everyone liked it just to squeeze the remaining shock value about how you are unique for going against the grain.

Okay, rant aside, I think we all have been on both sides of these conversations at some point. The reason I bring this up is because stories have power we can’t explain, and that power mostly comes from us. Some stories get world-wide acclaim while others a “cult” following and probably a great many more are lost in the sea of available stories out there, waiting to be discovered as the treasure they are. I am currently reading a book that I think may have been over-hyped for me. I understand its appeal and do not dislike it, but I am not going to jabber about it with everyone who loves it as I often do about the stories I greatly enjoy.

Some of the best stories, or those that affect us the most, are those we happen upon ourselves without knowing anything about them. My most recent experience of this was in March of 2017. I was new to Twitter and was scrolling through things and found this video of an author being interviewed about her new book. She was being interviewed by another author and they were simply talking about books so of course I was interested. I remember they both seemed like great people. The interviewing author was Patrick Rothfuss. I had heard his name before, but knew nothing about his books. I continued to know nothing about them but I eventually picked up his first novel The Name of the Wind, and I absolutely loved it, and the sequel, and the related novella. I am patiently waiting for the next book. I read all of his works within a month (which is quick for me considering their size) because I could not put them down. I enjoyed the story so much it was all I could and wanted to think about. I later came to find out that thousands of others had the same reaction. Many have read his works several times over. I will definitely read them again and they will remain on my bookshelf all my life for myself and others to enjoy. I’ve also gone beyond recommending this book and given a copy or two away to friends. I try to think I showed great restraint by not over-hyping this book to them so they could enjoy it in their own way. Most of them have and being able to share the experience of the story makes us better people.

Not only does enjoying the same story make it easier to start a conversation, it also opens up our understanding of other people. After all, friendships are often built on common interests. Studies were conducted that showed evidence that reading Harry Potter instills empathy. The article “Why Everyone Should Read Harry Potter” discusses these studies and their relation to empathy.

Vezzali [stated] that fantasy may be especially effective in assuaging negative attitudes because the genre typically doesn’t feature actual populations and thus avoids potential defensiveness and sensitivities around political correctness.

I think that getting lost in stories, not just Harry Potter, does make us more connected and increases our ability to understand others. Stories can be an entirely new experiences that show us things we’ve never seen and makes us see, feel, or think about things we never had before. They takes us to far away places and on grand adventures.

These types of stories are not limited to any one medium. I am a gamer as well as a book fiend. I often say I play too many videogames because I need to write more to create my own stories, but I grew up playing videogames and have formed bonds through them. One of my all-time favorites is the Legend of Zelda series. These games often follow the same outline, but they are all fun to play and have interesting characters. They often tackle serious themes about life. The series entry Majora’s Mask tackles the theme of death and loss. Connor Worley wrote and excellent article about this titled “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask – A Story About Loss.” A recent YouTube video by Good Blood titled “Ocarina of Time – A Masterclass in Subtext” argues that the Ocarina of Time entry is the saddest of entry in the franchise (I promise not all of these games are sad, but stories must have conflict to entertain us). Ocarina of Time has its own history in the world of videogames and has fallen victim to over-hype over the years, but it stands as one of the best games of all time not only because of the story, but how it changed the world of videogames as a medium. It was innovative for its time and remains on a pedestal in many gamer’s hearts. Each entry in this series holds new surprises and more things to love. I’ve read many supplemental materials just to get more information about this world that was founded back in 1986 and the characters that have been introduced through its long history.

The Mass Effect series is another videogame franchise I greatly enjoyed. I first played it well after it became a huge hit and the third installment was set to release. I love science fiction and loved these games. Getting to explore an entire galaxy and defend it from invading, sentient robots bent on mass genocide was a blast. The characters were interesting and well-developed, your choices impacted the story-line, there were consequences for your actions. The time invested was a personal journey through the landscape of a fictional world. I was changed from that experience because I learned things about myself and I was able to use the experience to see this world differently. Most art has something to say about the world we live in. The Bioshock series is another story that I often remember and go back to.

Another aspect of falling in love with a story and its characters is the attachment we grow toward it. Many avid readers have their favorite books and authors, and I believe most of us bibliophiles have multiple copies of the same book in different formats, editions, or simply get new copies because the current one is falling apart from use. The same goes for movies and videogames. I have a few HD remakes of videogames and extended or director’s cut versions of films I return watch again and again. I also admit I have different editions of a few series simply because I am both a collector and love the story so much I like different copies. I have several editions of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and two editions of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

We grow attached to these stories and cherish them. They are a part of us. They have changed our lives to a point where we can’t remember what we were like before experiencing them. Stories make us better people. They make us experience the entire range of human emotion, and they make it easier for us to understand each other. What are some of your favorite stories? Why do you think you like them so much? Think about how those stories impacted your life beyond the page or the screen. Have you made friends from them? Argued about them?

What stories have changed you? What stories will you tell? When you are gone, what stories will you leave behind? After all, in the end, we are each of us only stories.