I wanted to write one last blog before the end of the year, so in the spirit of our shrinking 2018 timeline, I’ll make it a quickie.
First, for those of you who love short fiction as much as I do, my last literary journey of the year is Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World. It’s a fabulous short story collection filled with quirky characters in search of their own perfect worlds. The stories are often as odd as the people who inhabit them. I love how creepy the author makes me feel inside my own skin as she explores the inner workings, troubled minds, and secret longings of her characters. Fans of the bizarre hiding inside realism will quiver with joy.
This month, I invite you to celebrate your sense of wonder with one of the best books I’ve read all year, Jeff VanderMeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. In fact, it took me all year to read it. Not because it wasn’t wonderful. It was! But rather, it’s one of those books that taps so deeply into the creative process you’ll want to read it slowly, in bits and pieces, and not necessarily in chapter order. This book is far more than an instructional manual for writers. Its highly visual presentation celebrates the writer’s wandering and wild mind and our need, as imaginative thinkers, to be both artistically free and disciplined. In keeping with the holiday season, I’ll call it a nutcracker for the analytical brain. A great Christmas gift for yourself or the creative writer in your family. Or me, for that matter, since I borrowed it from a friend, and now I have to return it. Interesting note: By the time I finally finished reading the book, the publisher released a revised and expanded edition.
(Rating: Delightfully Mind-Blowing!)
Upstate NY is a Great Place for Stark Landscapes and Bleak Stories
I oughta know. I grew up there. And Christmas is a fine time of year to perseverate over God, religion, faith, what we believe in, and why we believe it. So, in the spirit of self-examination, I’m recommending a super depressing little indie drama called First Reformed, released earlier this year, starring Ethan Hawke and Amanda Seyfried. I loved the way the movie began as one thing, stumbled into something weirdly awkward, and then rolled headlong into the entirely unexpected. Hawke plays the reverend Ernst Toller, a deeply troubled man, running away from his tortured past, only to discover that his past and God are both conspiring to destroy him. It takes a perfect storm of inner and outer conflict, and a fair bit of coincidence, to trip this guy’s wire, but it’s a helluva trip. This is not a holiday movie by any means, but I invite you to take a step back from the consumerism of the season and watch this film. Think about where you fall on the spectrum of hope and despair, which I think is what this movie is really all about. You can view it for free on Amazon Prime. Interesting note: Don’t be too disappointed that Hawke’s stylish movie-poster goatee does not appear in the film.
If you’re a true coffee lover like I am, I’m sure you get a kick out of discovering new brews. Nothing goes better with reading and writing than a good cup of java. In November I foundWicked Joe, a family owned coffee company that appears to be both socially conscious and Earth friendly. They offer several varieties. I tried their Wicked Italian (naturally!)—organic fair trade, whole bean, dark roast—and brewed it French press style as recommended. (Rating: Delish!)
While enjoying Wicked Joe’s delizioso Italian dark roast, you might as well pair it with some savory Jewish folk tales.Jonathon Keats delves into ancient Jewish lore in The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-Six. You won’t need a course in Judaism 101 to get a kick out of these short fantasy tales of unruly magic and the truly bizarre. Just an open mind, a vivid imagination, and a willingness to suspend all manner of disbelief. (Rating: Great fun!)
No book could be more timely than Omar El Akkad’sAmerican War, offering a speculative glimpse into the next American Civil War (circa 2074). What will become of our society if we can’t put an end to our anger, hatred, and divisiveness? Akkad’s extrapolation, frightening as it is, is probably not the worst case scenario. If you’ve been following the decline of American politics and civil discourse lo these recent years, this novel won’t make you feel any better about it, but it’s a thought-provoking journey nonetheless. (Rating: Go there if you dare!)
October gave me two great books. First, hats off to Mary Shelley and the 200th anniversary of the novel Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus. If you haven’t read the book in a long time, get the recent Penguin editionthat reprints the original 1818 text with a new intro. Then, as a companion piece, watch the National Theatre’s live stage play on the big screen,Frankenstein, 2018 Encore. I saw it with friends at The Little Theatre during my visit upstate. You might need to hunt around for a theater that’s showing it, but it will be worth the effort. Promise!
I became a Michael Connelly fan a few years ago, and he’s now my favorite working writer of detective fiction. I’ve been knocking off his books in no particular order. I recently readThe Concrete Blonde,a Harry Bosch novel, the third if you’re counting (originally pubbed in 1994). It’s one of the best I’ve read in the series so far. If you aren’t familiar with Connelly, check out his work, and read this exquisite feature piece in The Guardian.
One final note to my cherished few readers. Here are the ordering and social media links for the Nov/Dec F&SFwhere my Italian folktale “The Baron and His Floating Daughter” appears. It’s a great issue. Enjoy!
Happy to announce that the 2018 Nov/Dec issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction has landed, and my story is in it. I’m thrilled to be among some of the finest short fiction writers in the field, including one of my personal favorites, Jeffery Ford. Special thanks to editor C.c. Finlay and all the readers who love the short form as much as I do—and still don’t mind reading stuff in print. : )
September 2018 has given me two great books to remember. One of them,Annex, is by my super talented science fiction pal Rich Larson.
The yoga book from DK has some surprisingly good vegetarian recipes and dietary advice in the back, along with tips on breathing and meditation. Like most yoga books I find, I try not to let all the poses I can’t do depress me. : /
Thanks to my pals in Bee Cave, Texas, just outside Austin, for hosting a weekend write-in. Great friends, food, wine, conversation, time and space to be creative, and several glorious days with nothing to think about but a few of my favorite things in life. Photo snapped at the Grove Wine Bar & Kitchen in nearby Lakeway. Love you guys!