NaNoWriMo: Because Why Not?

I haven’t successfully finished Nanowrimo since 2012. No big deal, I don’t have to hit the milestone of 50,000 words for it to be a fruitful endeavor. Nanowrimo has been a useful motivator, and I’m grateful for that much. It’s a common banner under which the many come to encourage each other. It carries a notion that for this period of time our craft isn’t solitary, as the act is rooted in community. We leave the islands behind, and indulge ourselves in this choir. It is an exercise in writing that offers an attainable goal, if some pieces are assembled beforehand. Yeah, I believe in having a plot beforehand. Don’t worry about me… you do your thing.

Now I write year round. November is unique in that it offers the start of crappy weather before the seasonal depression really kicks in. Staying inside is still tolerable as the season inches ever close to bitter cold. It’s a good time to write.

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Though I’ve only hit 50k once I have participated in Nanowrimo to some degree every year since 2011. Some years have been easier to make the time than others. Creative writing took a backseat during my time as an English major. Other circumstances have complicated getting in a proper writing session, as life tends to get in the way. That’s fine. Your work isn’t going to fizzle out if the numbers get away from you. Don’t go in with the mindset of defeat, but don’t stress yourself out over this.

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This year will be my first Nanowrimo as a father. I work a full time job that eats an hour and some change of drive time a day. This isn’t going to be easy, but I’ve got a plot, some characters, and chapters mapped out in such a way as to facilitate a story. I’m excited about the narrative approach, and intend to see it through regardless of how November plays out. This project will be my first time playing with fiction in a way that isn’t grounded in purely realistic fashion. As Flowers With Frost will play with the supernatural, and if I don’t jump any sharks I’m confident in a draft of potential quality (pending a few rounds of edits, of course).

Be confident that it can be done. I don’t necessarily believe in you, because I probably don’t know you… but I’m often willing to root for the underdog. My rhetoric doesn’t fully enable you to believe in me. That’s okay, too. We’re in this together, and I wish you the best. Reach out to me. My Nano name is Sellout. I can pretend to know what I’m talking about, or you can send me general hate mail. Either way, let’s do something this November.

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Kill ‘Em All: Book Review

Steven Stelfox returns in the new John Niven novel, Kill ‘Em All. It’s been twenty years since the rampage that takes place in the pages of Kill Your Friends, and if anything Stelfox is all the more sordid and bloodthirsty. Monetary success has driven him beyond excess, and to new lows at every pass. He muses that the world is, “A place where ambition still outstrips talent… Where the kind and weak are ripped apart like loaves of bread” (327). He admits early on that regardless of what’s to come he will not grow from the experience. His heart isn’t in the right place, if there’s a heart at all.

The year is 2017. Trump is taking office in the opening pages while Stelfox is presented with a job opportunity. He has settled into the luxuries of light retirement, with the occasional gig as a consultant for music industry big wigs. On this occasion a pop star is being blackmailed for his activities as a sexual predator who preys on children. With the dawning of the era of ‘fake news’ Stelfox takes control of the situation, spins it into something much darker, before he burns everything to the ground… all while making himself a profit.

I don’t want to give much away, so I won’t. Kill ‘Em All is the most wretched fun I’ve had in a long time. Niven never disappoints, and Stelfox is his most satirical creation, a modern vice figure who tells the audience just enough to keep them guessing. It’s blatantly offensive. I can’t recommend this book to everyone. It’s not for everyone. But if you’re looking for something ugly I’d start with Kill Your Friends, then move on to Kill ‘Em All.

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Beatrix and the Wooden Dagger: What’s Up With the Prop?

What’s the deal with the wooden dagger? It doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, so why is it in the title? What does it have to do with the story? The answer has to do with medieval theatre and use of props in character development. Characters in the medieval morality plays were often named for traits they were meant to embody. The vice figure was one of comic relief, meant to tempt and bring folly towards characters of virtue or other such positive traits. The vice often turns to the audience, and delivers lines by breaking the fourth wall. This brings about an inclusion so that the audience is in on the misdeeds.

They would carry a wooden dagger on stage. This prop was meant as a direct gesture to inform the audience, ‘Hey! I’m the villain.’ By the Renaissance, Shakespeare had dropped the prop, but perfected the role of vice in Richard III and Iago of Othello. These characters turned to the audience, told them of the intent, and then turned back to the story world with their malice in practice. A contemporary version of this that has resonated with audiences would be comic book antihero Deadpool, or average politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards.

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That’s my aim with Beatrix. She’s an antihero of sorts, who wants to fill you in on her thoughts and intent as she does whatever her wretched heart desires. The book consists of five stories that span over the course of her life, and plays with time. It’s framed with bits of the thriller, cultural satire, and dysfunctional family drama.

That’s the deal with the wooden dagger. I framed this character after the many vices I’ve come across, and hope to turn you off to humanity with her antics. If you’re still with me, give it a shot! 

As always, thank you for your time.

The Devil’s Lieutenant: Book Review

Best consumed in one sitting, The Devil’s Lieutenant by Shervin Jamali isn’t for everyone. It’s violent, full of foul language, and plays with time in such a way as to leave the reader dizzy… so it’s right up my alley. It’s a good verses evil story where the main character takes up arms for the devil in an attempt to save his family. I kind of saw where it was going before we got there, but I’m a sucker for stories that have the devil among the cast. Too much description and I’ll give it away, so I’ll leave it with the notion that I had fun with this quick adventure. I felt that the ending pulled the rug out from beneath my feet, which in this case didn’t leave me satisfied, but it seemed the most reasonable way to go without a conclusion that went full tragedy. If Jamali keeps with the craft he’s going to write books I want to consume.

 

I did find a singular word that felt out of place in terms of editing, but aside from that it was a solid read.

 

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Cat’s Cradle: Book Review

Vonnegut is one of those authors I’m surprised was never assigned during my time as an English major. I did spend a good deal of time studying Renaissance drama and folklore, but I thought my time in classes that emphasized novels of the 20thcentury would’ve provided me with the likes of him and Atwood. As with Atwood, I would delve into their works after my time in the classroom.

Cat’s Cradle entertained, as I found the ride to have gone through unexpected turns. Even with science as an underlying subject I wasn’t expecting the sci-fi elements that emerged later in the book.

The juxtaposition of science fiction elements with the political/religious commentary allowed for some delightful satire. Some of my favorite passages involved the folly of American prejudice as human condition, and capitalism gone too far. One such passage reads,

“I guess Americans are hated a lot of places.”

People are hated a lot of places. Claire point out in her letter that Americans, in being hated, were simply paying the normal penalty for being people.” (98)

Another passage that caught my eye…

“The hand that stocks the drug stores rules the world. Let us start our Republic with a chain of drug stores, a chain of grocery stores, a chain of gas chambers, and a national game. After that, we can write our Constitution.” (285)

The book contains casual racism and sexism, which I’ve come to expect from male authors of that era. If you can get past that it’s a brilliant read. Much like Atwood, I’ll be reading more Vonnegut.

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Sharp Objects: Book Review

Gillian Flynn delivers with her debut novel. Sharp Objects stands on its own as a solid literary thriller. I read Gone Girl at the height of the film’s popularity, and after this book it’s safe to say I’m a fan of Flynn’s work. This novel is a story about a damaged journalist working in Chicago who is sent back to her small town to write on the murders of two young children. Wind Gap is the kind of town where the population consists of those who couldn’t escape after high school, so our narrator, Camille, visits a past that still haunts with vibrant life.

To save on travel costs Camille stays with her family, a group wrought with dysfunction. She has a teenage sister she hardly knows, and a stepfather who exists in the background world. Her relationship with her mother consists of a great cold distance where affection has lacked for the better part of a lifetime. When Camilla’s mother reacts to the murders with emotion it is interpreted with resentment,

“Every tragedy that happens in the world happens to my mother, and this more than anything about her turns my stomach. She worries over people she’s never metwho have a spell of bad chance. She cries over news from across the globe. It’s all too much for her, the cruelty of human beings.”

It’s written with wit and insight, and flows with ease. Flynn has the chops to keep me coming back. I’m hoping to check out the film rendition at some point. Flynn recently tweeted out that there’s a book on the way, so in the meantime I’ll be looking forward to that.

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Frankenstein in Baghdad: Book Review

I came across this novel while browsing in a bookstore, without any real intent to make a purchase. When I came across Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, I was unfamiliar. The title was enough, and I read the synopsis. Then I bought it.

In 2004 a junk dealer collects body parts he finds in the street. War has decimated the community, and often people are destroyed by means of explosive violence. Our junk dealer, Hadi, creates a full corpse of miscellaneous body parts as a symbolic offering to no one in particular. The body becomes animated by supernatural means, and is burdened by the need to seek revenge on each ‘criminal’ responsible for each individual body part that makes up the monster. The premise is morbid, but powerful and thought provoking.

Saadawi offers a vivid community composed of those burdened by the war, and those taking advantage of it. There’s a full page that lists the cast of characters at the start of the narrative. An elderly woman of Christian faith believes the monster to be her son, having finally returned home after leaving for war twenty years prior. The junk dealer is an alcoholic storyteller, so the detailed confessions to his audience are received with entertained dismissal. A real estate agent takes advantage of people abandoning their properties, as the chaos of war makes it easy to claim their assets. There’s a full society in the cast, showing the beautiful and wretched range of human dynamics, burdened by the anxieties of war. He writes a universal truth with lines like, “the tragedies we’re seeing stem from one thing-fear” (123).

The monster is complex, and changes over time. It speaks well, and in tones that change. In the beginning the monster believes in a purpose, for, “He was a composite of victims seeking to avenge their deaths so they could rest in peace. He was created to obtain revenge on their behalf” (130). The monster states that, “there is a moral and humanitarian obligation… to bring about justice in this world, which has been totally ravaged by greed, ambition, megalomania, and insatiable bloodlust” (143). As the monster attains justice, or exacts revenge, the body part that corresponds with the deed decays at an accelerated rate. In order to maintain the self and momentum, the monster replenishes the body parts with other body parts, placing itself into a violent loop. The monster becomes conflicted, and is concerned about each new part; are they innocent enough to merit revenge? The answer doesn’t matter, as the monster continues to do what it does.

The monster is deemed a criminal, and all sides vilify the other as the source. Authorities make chase, but even with mystical astrologists, the monster remains elusive. The chase is compromised from the start, as the cost of ego cheapens life.

I enjoyed this book. Dark themes, and social commentary on a place that is not my home offers insight to the plight of others, set to a backdrop of the wretched and fantastic. Frankenstein in Baghdad is worth the read, if you can stomach it.

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