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Book Review: City of Sand

This was my first experience reading Robert Kroese. For some time, I’ve been meaning to read The Big Sheep, but I cringe at the $12.99 ebook price. Generally, I won’t pay more than $7.99 for an ebook. Buying ebooks opened a world to me beyond my small town library due to the low prices: I’ve been able to read a lot of fiction this way, while not stealing from my children’s dinner plates.

Or at least I read them up until about a year or two ago. After that, I just bought them but found I couldn’t get past the first few pages. I don’t know why. Have I become impatient? Has fiction changed? No good answer. Reading solely nonfiction doesn’t quite fill the soul’s need for stories, though. So I continue searching for fiction that will engage me.

Little by little, I’m finding some good reads again. City of Sand is among them. I found it on my Kindle — don’t even remember buying it. However, I’ve become so skeptical of my ability to enjoy fiction that I just ignored its presence until my insomnia was so intense that I clicked on it.

I read it in a few hours. Now that I’ve wasted most of my projected blog word count telling you why I won’t buy expensive books and complaining about fiction (and/or my new inability to focus), I’m going to quickly explain why I liked City of Sand. A. It was a detective novel that B. turned into science fiction (those are my favorite genres) that C. piqued my interest because it was philosophical and a little weird. Think Man in the High Castle weird.

I’m not off in thinking that it’s Philip K. Dick weird, either. He reveals that he had intended for it to be a “Chinatown as told by Philip Dick” in the afterword. In other words, what we have here is a hard-boiled, weird, philosophical science fiction book. Could there be any better fusion of elements?

I didn’t have any serious issues with the plot or writing; I really just enjoyed the read. At first, I thought the detective noir tone was a little forced, but I ceased thinking that as the book picked up speed. And the ending could have been really bad. I’m just stating a fact, a kind of warning. Somehow, the author pulled it off. Some people won’t agree with me, but there are all manner of people who disagree with just about everything I say.

If Kroese’s other books are of this vein, I’ll have to read them, too. There’s one called Schrodinger’s Gat* that I might enjoy.

*I left out the umlaut because I’m too lazy to html it in. Or as friend Jay DiNitto said, “To umlaut or not to umlaut, that’s the question.”** I doubt those were his exact words, but it raises one’s fame status marginally when one is misquoted.

**I wrote a book with an umlaut in the title and would add it in or leave it out at my leisure; hence his response. As I’m not just editing in Sigil, but rewriting whole chapters there, I find myself annoyed at myself for all the obvious reasons. Btw, the main character also has a tilde in his name. ä ñ — … is no way to write a book. Those will show up as the characters instead of the html entities in my blog post. Oh, never mind.

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Pulp vs Literary: there is no opposition

Even the cover is philosophical.

I admit I waded my way through a creative writing program. For the most part, I hated it. I took the bare minimum classes required and spent the rest of my time studying history and Spanish. Not every writing class was terrible all the time. I had one redhead professor who was quite likeable, in fact. And I had a few face-offs with the ones who annoyed me. But let me be honest — I never once had a face-off with a math professor. Well, there was that one time… Okay, so I had some interesting moments with math and science professors, too. Math professors can be a bit misanthropic, but I can deal with curmudgeonly misanthropes. Re math, I earned my grades without opinionated comments critiquing the manner in which I produced the answers.

Writing professors are a type. Instead of misanthropic, they’re prone to being elitist. Unless they’re being intentionally ironic, they’ll never treat pulp fiction with the same kind of profound analysis as they will literary fiction. These elitists sometimes get published. Occasionally, their books hit bestseller lists, but more often than not, they get stories published in literary magazines nobody reads, or they write prize-winning memoirs and/or novels (usually with the denotation “A Novel” to remind us what we’re reading) that sell a few copies before falling into obscurity. There is a divide between what is “profound” and the pulp that will sell on the market.

It wasn’t always this way, though, was it? When thinking about the history of novels, as in, what we think of as novels today, literary and pulp have both managed to stand the test of time. Growing up, I read Dickens and Lovecraft; Hemingway and Brackett; Cather and Bradbury, along with (Edgar Rice, not William) Burroughs and Chandler. I read them because they were recommended to me by people I respected. They were recommended because they’ve stood the test of time to one extent or another. Obviously, Dickens’ novels have proved their worth throughout two centuries, while Brackett’s have, at this point, merely managed to outlive the author.

In light of the lasting nature of both pulp and literary, why is one valued at the university level and the other not? I know — I know. Snobbery. Snobbery for characterization, introspection, reflection. Literary work is deemed more philosophical, a necessary analysis of humanity, society, and its foibles. I would like to suggest that pulp has its own philosophy, and that this philosophy is intrinsic to the story: the archetypes are reflections of who were are inside without ever having to be introspective about it, and the stories of heroes fighting against evil are reflections of what our souls need. Traditional pulp is a reflection of our inner selves (outward looking in), while traditional literary is a reflection of the inner self’s effect on the outside world (inward looking out).

Because they are both honest, albeit different, ways of telling the human story, I don’t view them as being in opposition to one another. With one big exception. Going back to my days slogging my way through creative writing classes, I have to admit that something shifted in literature at some dismal point in the 20th C, when the literati sort lost their faith. They became cynical. They gave way to nihilism. They went modern, then postmodern, then post-postmodern, and then gave way to irony.

As I said earlier, Unless they’re being intentionally ironic, they’ll never treat pulp fiction with the same kind of profound analysis as they will “literary” fiction. There’s a good reason for that. When nihilism takes hold, and nothing means anything, then concepts like hope, joy, and heroism mean whatever they want them to mean. Archetypes don’t matter. Honest reflection doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, which is why skewing the narrative to be ironic or cutting edge has become the new benchmark for success. It makes a pretense at being introspective, but the reflections don’t ring true.

Still, they call it literary and call it good, as though they are gods of their own creation. No, there’s really not a “versus” between pulp and literary. Rather, the opposition is between what is real and meaningful and what isn’t.

There are many, many good posts on pulp fiction over at Castalia House, which have inspired me to add my post-creative-writing-slog thoughts on the subject. Thanks for reading my contribution.

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A Year In Review: Goodbye to 2016

  • Europe’s The Final Countdown played as midnight rolled over into the new year
  • I thought I would edit my book The Minäverse in earnest, being that it was The Final Countdown; it was going to take a month
  • It took a year
  • Instead, I racked up client work like raindrops falling from the sky in my childhood town of Portland
  • Meanwhile, the election charged ahead, with Trump’s antics creating an election season like none I’d ever experienced in all my years of voting
  • I shut off Facebook for my own sanity and never really missed it, although I miss chatting with family members I rarely see; I kind of wish other modes of communication were still the fashion
  • My second child reached the age of adulthood and left the nest
  • I began to see white butterflies everywhere; if I went for a walk, white butterflies would follow me; one day, when I sat on my porch, dozens flew back and forth past me and around me; a pair of white butterflies visited my workplace, and I could see them outside the window for weeks
  • I had another birthday, on which day of celebration, I was startled to see the apparition of a bear outside my bathroom window; my husband suggested perhaps I’d glimpsed into the Shadow Realm; this could be true of the butterflies, as well (see The God Cup for more info on white butterflies)
  • Brexit happened, and I was impressed the British had sought independence; not that it’s any of my business, but I was sorely disappointed in them when they joined the EU
  • I got tired of my (non client day job); I looked for other jobs; I got promoted at my job and liked it 100% more than before
  • I gave up client work almost entirely, except in very particular cases
  • I went back to the town I officially call home in order to vote, as I was still registered there; Trump subsequently won the presidency, albeit not in my blue state, where Gary Johnson took about 10% of the vote; hey, people here really liked him as governor and seemed not to notice he’d turned into a raving lunatic since those heady libertarian days
  • I ached to finish my  book; I kept finishing and then not being finished again (I still want to go over that last chapter one more time; I’M SORRY, OKAY?!)
  • Meanwhile, pretend Russians threatened to take over America, while Putin no doubt rolled his eyes in the privacy of his home — or threw things; one can’t really say what Putin does when the camera isn’t watching
  • And Europe continued to be invaded by refugees and/or terrorists, as did the US
  • A loved one ended up in the hospital right before Christmas (no details, as I don’t have the right to discuss others’ lives on the internet)
  • Instead of going out and chopping a Christmas tree in the forest, as we usually do, we purchased a tree from a lot; it’s a Douglas Fir and quite possibly the most beautiful tree the kids have ever decorated
  • My family drove out to be with us, and Christmas was good
  • New Year’s Eve was mellow, with enchilada style casseroles, sparkling cider, and classic Tom Clancy films
  • As the new year rolled over, Alphaville’s Forever Young played from the station that my husband quickly turned on after the credits rolled for Patriot Games
  • The Final Countdown to Forever Young? I’m not sure what to think; I’m still thinking about it to be honest; one could take it a myriad of ways
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Is Twitter Still Worthwhile as a Social Media Tool?

I probably will never return to Facebook, but I was trying Twitter out because I can follow anyone without having to be “friended” or followed back by them. This makes it a somewhat interesting venue. However, it’s become another censoring cesspool, just like Facebook. I followed a handful of spec fic authors I like, such as Brian Niemeier and Nick Cole, only to read that these two aforementioned authors had been shadow-banned. I went to Niemeier’s Twitter page to see that he had retweeted my tweet about his Dragon Award win (or liked it, don’t remember which), and had followed me back. I hadn’t received any notifications from him, nor had I seen any of his tweets in my feed. For the record, I don’t miss notifications because I don’t get very many. I don’t have enough followers, follow enough people, or really interact that much with other Twitter users to get more than a couple of notifications a day.

Today, when I saw one of Niemeier’s tweets retweeted (I’d never seen the original), I went to his Twitter page and retweeted the same tweet, calling out Twitter for their shadow-banning (shysta, that last sentence sounds ridiculous). After my tweet received more likes and retweets than almost any I’d posted, I had a strange progression of events: I was suddenly followed by a couple of Twitter marketers and then began to see Niemeier’s tweets in my feed. Does this give rise to all kind of conspiracy theories on my part? Sure, that there are people monkeying with Twitter, which isn’t exactly earth-shattering. And they’re no doubt monkeying to their own detriment, which is why they have to occasionally try to convince us we need them as a marketing tool.

Look, I’m at the point where social media is more than a little off-putting. Okay, it always was a little off-putting. But it’s even more so now. I don’t know if Niemeier was ever officially shadow-banned (Nick Cole, for his part, largely stopped using Twitter), or if Twitter is simply playing the compartmentalization game that I saw occurring on Facebook. Facebook keeps people in little boxes. I was in a box where I rarely even saw my own husband’s posts. My husband, in case you’re wondering, is an unapologetic conservative libertarian, just the kind of person the big Zucker hates.

I’m not declaring anything new or making shocking allegations the world isn’t aware of already. We already know the conversation is being controlled in social media. As someone who would still like to publish at least one more book and find new authors to read (where do you think I discovered both authors I mentioned in this piece?) or even new editing clients (I’m torn about that last one, but I MIGHT want to), I can’t completely tear myself away from social media. We’re living in a world that is no longer brave or new, and it’s tiring after a while. I’m not sure how much energy I have left for all of this nonsense any longer. There has got to be a better way, a Phoenix that rises from the ashes of the crapstically controlling internet spaces. A part of me doesn’t care, though, and would rather ride my bicycle around town and go to the library, where I’ll be lucky if I find new authors I want to read. And then the part that DOES care regains energy from the anger at not finding the books I desire.

Books=information and ideas. Even fiction offers information and ideas couched in story form. This is not the area where I should be dropping the ball and losing my will to care. But that doesn’t mean that I have to remain in the mire of Twitter, any more than I had to remain in Facebook land.

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A Man Without Arms

NMALBbunyan_dennis

Now, there’s a lumberjack.

Not that long ago, I took a short writing holiday in Albuquerque when I had to travel there for other undisclosed reasons. I was supposed to finish my book entitled The Minäverse. I didn’t. When by “edit” one means write the whole damn book from scratch again, finishing becomes a task that is forever on the edge of the mirage horizon. But while I was there, the gravitational pull literally sucked me over to the May Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant I frequented for the nearly twenty years I lived in close proximity to the Duke City.

My book has a twisted sports theme. Balls, being dangerous, have been outlawed in primary school sports, and there’s a conspiracy afoot that professional ball players don’t actually have them…or use them, I should say. If that symbolism isn’t 100% obvious to anyone who has his head half in the gutter, I don’t what is. Balls, however, haven’t been outlawed in society in general. Balls are simply highly suspicious. Arms have been outlawed, or regulated to the point that there’s little reason to try to obtain one.

To sum it up, kids don’t have balls, adults are highly unlikely to use them, and a baseball bat is the most dangerous weapon the average joe has easy access to, if by easy access one means he has only to fill out the fronts and backs of fifty sheets of mandatory paperwork asking him important questions, such as, has he engaged in porn, hetero, or gay sex in the last thirty days; does he want to; how many meds is he taking; how many does he want to access through the Homeland Security protocol for all meds to all citizens all the time. As I’ve been rewriting and deleting my first chapter all day today, I had a sudden flash image of the May Cafe.

It was one of those moments of quantum access into my own subconscious. If you don’t know about quantum magic, I’d suggest looking into it. That aside, the May Cafe has been guarded for years and years by a twenty-seven foot lumberjack, complete with beard and very, very big axe. Recently, the lumberjack lost his axe and arms in a storm. Nature defeated the giant, as Nature is wont to do. Sadly, and I’m sorry, Nature, the image of the lumberjack is greater than you are. Suddenly, I imagined a refurbished lumberjack rebuilt in the image of my hero, who is a New Mexico native, very large — though twenty-seven feet tall is pushing credulity — and the type of guy for whom shaving is a wasted effort, as he always has a 5 o’clock shadow.

So now it’s nearly midnight mountain time, and I haven’t rewritten the last spate of words I erased. What a crappy day. Honestly, it wasn’t bad, as it was my day off, and I had a nice walk with the dog and kiddos. Also, I wasted some pleasant time putting together an image of a hippy-looking Jesus surfer riding the Hawking radiation right out of a black hole to contribute to this nerdgram before I smacked myself out of it. But still. The angst. I can’t get over the angst of my never-finished book. At least I have a lumberjack in my head, though. At least that.

without arms

Oh my good Lord, he doesn’t have any arms.

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