What Are You Reading?

If you’re like me, you probably have a shelf (or a Kindle, or a Nook) piled to the brim with books waiting to be read. The whole point is, of course, to actually read them. In the spirit of furthering that goal, here are three titles I’m currently reading in a frantic (though ultimately futile) effort to complete my own ever-expanding to-read list.

Snowblind, by Christopher Golden

SnowblindSynopsis from Goodreads:

The small New England town of Coventry had weathered a thousand blizzards…but never one like this. Icy figures danced in the wind and gazed through children’s windows with soul-chilling eyes. People wandered into the whiteout and were never seen again. Families were torn apart, and the town would never be the same.

Now, as a new storm approaches twelve years later, the folks of Coventry are haunted by the memories of that dreadful blizzard and those who were lost in the snow. Photographer Jake Schapiro mourns his little brother, Isaac, even as—tonight—another little boy is missing. Mechanic and part-time thief Doug Manning’s life has been forever scarred by the mysterious death of his wife, Cherie, and now he’s starting over with another woman and more ambitious crimes. Police detective Joe Keenan has never been the same since that night, when he failed to save the life of a young boy . . . and the boy’s father vanished in the storm only feet away. And all the way on the other side of the country, Miri Ristani receives a phone call . . . from a man who died twelve years ago.

As old ghosts trickle back, this new storm will prove to be even more terrifying than the last.

My thoughts so far:

I’ve been making a concerted effort to experience new authors. I stumbled on this one in another blog (sorry, I forgot to keep track of where) and decided to give it a spin. I’m about a third of the way through, and so far it’s gorgeously written. Christopher Golden has a fine-tuned mastery of the English language. The characters are well developed; in fact, I would say that the plot is, in large part, driven by them. The story is pretty intense, and so far has kept me engaged and wanting to know more.

Certain scenes are infused with more sexually explicit detail than I would think necessary to further the character development or the plot. But on the positive side, I have to say that Golden seems to understand human sexuality well. It’s more than just the mindless gratuitous sex that sells books; it’s underscored with depth and meaning. In the case of two individuals in particular, the connection between physical and emotional intimacy is well established, as well as the powerful bond that cements the relationship between man and wife in an otherwise tumultuous relationship.

I’ve seen other reviews criticize the pace of this book right around where I’ve left off, asserting that it’s too slow. We’ll see what I think when I’m finished. But as it stands now, I love this one and can’t wait to get to the end!

Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre — his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman’s noose, Aleister Crowley’s childhood chessboard, etc. — so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it.

The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker’s sanity.

My thoughts so far:

I wrote about this in a blog detailing five new books I planned to read in the new year.

It’s a little rough around the edges, and I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a literary masterpiece. But my overall impression is that it’s a solidly constructed book, and there are moments where Joe Hill (actually Stephen King’s son, Joseph Hillstrom King) really shines as an author.

In particular, Hill’s description of Craddock’s ghost is both terrifying and original. The scribbled out eyes, the stop-motion movement and the way in which he bends Jude toward his will make for an engaging read. Jude is a complex man. He’s done some pretty terrible things, but he’s conflicted about them. He’s used women in the past, and to a certain extent is using his current girlfriend Georgia (nicknamed after the state from which she came), but he also cares for her and strives to protect her.

At the half-way point, I’m going to say the investment has been worth it. Each new chapter refreshes and deepens the faith I have that this story will end well (“well”, of course, does not imply “happy”…) When I’m finished, I’ll write a review to let you know if that faith was warranted.

The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Inspired by the W.B. Yeats poem that tempts a child from home to the waters and the wild, The Stolen Child is a modern fairy tale narrated by the child Henry Day and his double.

On a summer night, Henry Day runs away from home and hides in a hollow tree. There he is taken by the changelings—an unaging tribe of wild children who live in darkness and in secret. They spirit him away, name him Aniday, and make him one of their own. Stuck forever as a child, Aniday grows in spirit, struggling to remember the life and family he left behind. He also seeks to understand and fit in this shadow land, as modern life encroaches upon both myth and nature.

In his place, the changelings leave a double, a boy who steals Henry’s life in the world. This new Henry Day must adjust to a modern culture while hiding his true identity from the Day family. But he can’t hide his extraordinary talent for the piano (a skill the true Henry never displayed), and his dazzling performances prompt his father to suspect that the son he has raised is an imposter. As he ages the new Henry Day becomes haunted by vague but persistent memories of life in another time and place, of a German piano teacher and his prodigy. Of a time when he, too, had been a stolen child. Both Henry and Aniday obsessively search for who they once were before they changed places in the world.

The Stolen Child is a classic tale of leaving childhood and the search for identity. With just the right mix of fantasy and realism, Keith Donohue has created a bedtime story for adults and a literary fable of remarkable depth and strange delights.

My thoughts so far:

Like Snowblind, I discovered this one in a blog. Again, I forget where (I’ll try to be better about recording these things for future reference.) I don’t have many thoughts yet, as I’ve only completed part of the first chapter.

As of now, I’m intrigued by the premise. The notion of a fey plot to replace a human child is something I’ve encountered before in  Tithe, by Holly Black. The chapter I’m reading at the moment is written in the first person, from the point of view of the changeling who took Henry Day’s place. The language is in the flowing flowery style of a fairy tale, a deviation from many of the other books I’ve read. Though I enjoy the gritty realism of authors like Stephen King, a well-written storybook fantasy is an enjoyable and welcome change of pace.

What about you?

What’s on your to-read list? And what are you reading right now? I’d love to hear more about your current literary exploits in the comments below.

What should I do? I need your help!

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Right. So here’s the deal.

Since October of last year, due to full-time work, my writing and other obligations, I’ve only managed to post one blog per week. For now and the fore-seeable future, I’ll have to stick with that schedule, but I’d like to experiment by trying out other smaller activities throughout the week.

That’s where you come in.

What would you like to see? This blog is as much about you as it is about me. I’m open to pretty much anything; I want this to be a time of exploration, of experimentation and creativity. I’ve got a few ideas of my own (some of which I’ll share in the comments if we can get a conversation going.)

Let’s see what we can come up with together!

A Real Magic Power That You Possess

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The casting of spells is pretty standard fare in fantasy. We read about practitioners of magic, people who have the power to shape the world through the mere utterance of sacred words. Battles are won. Fortunes are found. Lives are forever changed. We find ourselves intrigued, and we idly fantasize about what it might be like were we to possess similar powers.

What if I were to tell you that you do? What if I were to tell you that there are certain words which, when spoken, have the power to change the world?

Words are powerful.

It’s through words that the will exerts its influence over the world. Words, effectively organized and strategically expressed, grab hold of our hearts and persuade us to act in accordance with their desires. Words are forces capable of extraordinary things. They unite people with a common purpose. They give birth to nations and empires. They give wings to scientific and technological breakthroughs that sweep the world, curing diseases and raising the standard of living to new and unparalleled heights.

Can one voice really change the world?

It always starts with a single individual, calling out into an ocean of other voices.

Uttered in isolation, the words wander in the midst of chaos, searching. They soon join with others who are sympathetic to their cause. These other voices soon conform to the will of the original, so that what was once a solitary sound is now a chorus. This chorus continues, tumbling like an avalanche, picking up other voices along the way. Soon these words, originally uttered by a single person, become a deafening maelstrom so fierce in its power that they become difficult or impossible to ignore.

Even words that don’t spread far beyond your circle of influence are capable of great things. Carefully crafted words forge enduring relationships. They give birth to friends, families and communities. They have the power to build people up, to encourage and inspire others in pursuits that, despite your own limited influence, nevertheless have the power to transform the world in unexpected ways.

But words have a dark side.

Like any great and powerful force, words can be used for good or for evil. Words have sparked war and genocide as often as they have inspired peace. They have oppressed as often as they have sought freedom. They have driven people toward suspicion, hate, persecution and murder as often as they have urged tolerance and mutual respect.

With great power comes great responsibility.

We must take great care in what we write and in how we speak. We should avoid gossip, slander and bigotry. We must strive always to tell the truth, to put what we have to say at the service of others. Words uttered in anger and self-interest have the power to destroy lives, relationships, families, communities, even the world as we know it.

Conversely, words uttered with sincerity and loving conviction, with a purpose ordered toward the common good, they have the power to build people up, to heal relationships, to instill fresh ideas and a renewed sense of purpose in a world that has been made better for the presence of your own unique voice.

How will you use this magic power?

The world is full of voices, some changing things for the better, others changing things for the worst. You can use your powers for good or for evil. Which will you choose?

If Your Life Is A Story, How Do You Make Sure It Has A Happy Ending?

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There’s a reason stories resonate so strongly. They reflect real life in profound and mysterious ways. They teach us about ourselves. They teach us how to live. It’s in fantasy that we find ourselves, that we discover the meaning of our existence. Is it any surprise then that your life should actually be the greatest story of all?

In the grand sweeping epic that is your life, you’re the main character. Your story is an account of your progress as you gradually develop into the man or woman you were created to be. It’s about your struggles, your victories, your failures, your desires, your hopes and your dreams.

Like all tales, yours has a beginning and an end. And perhaps it’s the ending that concerns you most of all. Who will you have become when the last page is turned? Will you be a hero or a villain? Will you have lived a life worth living? Will your story have a happy ending, or will it be a tragedy?

It’s up to you.

You have the power to be whatever you want to be. Life isn’t just something that happens to you. You might be a character, subject to the mandates of your story. But you’re also one of your story’s authors. The choices you make shape and mold you as a person.

Of course, circumstances beyond your control will always, to some degree, dictate the course your life will take. But your story isn’t about that. It’s about who you are. Who you are is determined not by the things that happen to you, but by how you respond to them. You choose whether to react to conflict with anger or patience. You choose whether to react to fear with courage or cowardice.

You might be one of the lucky few whom fortune and fate have favored in abundance. Or, your life might be a roiling cloud of doom and gloom. But it’s how you react to the cards you’re dealt that will determine the outcome of your story.

If you’ve been blessed with good fortune, will you share it with others who are less fortunate, or will you squander it on yourself? If you’ve been downtrodden and forced to suffer for most of your life, will you allow that experience to serve as the crucible in which the impurities of untested human nature are burned away, making you wise, empathetic and caring beyond your years, or will you allow yourself to be consumed by jealousy, bitterness and hate?

Your choices will determine whether you were the hero or the villain. Your choices will determine whether or not you lived a worthy life. Your choices will determine whether your story ends in happiness or tragedy.

In the end, there’s only one person responsible for the kind of ending your life’s story will assume: you. So make it a good one.

Book Review: The Dream Runner

Synopsis from Goodreads:

What if you could order a custom dream? Any kind. Dark and twisted, sweet, sensual, or redemptive. For the right price, a dream runner will deliver one to your doorstep.

Jesse Davison skipped town the week she turned sixteen, with nothing but the clothes on her back and her father’s vintage Indian Scout motorbike. She swore never to return to the town where in one night of tragedy she lost everything she ever loved.

When news of her estranged mother’s death calls her home, she hopes for some time to sort out ten years of tangled emotions. But Jesse’s job doesn’t exactly allow personal days. She’s been forced into service as a runner by the Dream Merchant to pay back a debt for her own dream of revenge, and there are always orders to fill.

Struggling to figure out her mysterious inheritance is more than enough to get a girl down, and things get even worse when the man Jesse loathes—ex-boyfriend Will Alderson—shows up. But she soon discovers the person she’s been running from might just be the one she should be running towards. Too bad she’s been dreaming of killing him for the past ten years.

This is the first installment of a series called The Dream Wars. It’s pretty short, weighing in at only 81 pages ( or 1036 Kindle locations.) It’s not a bad book. It’s a little rough around the edges, and could have benefited from more thorough editing. But on the whole, it was decently presented, and the technical problems I encountered were insignificant enough that they didn’t hamper my ability to enjoy the story.

The existence of a merchant who constructs custom dreams in exchange for an unnamed price is a fun topic to explore. As is the case with many modern fantasies, The Dream Runner is an intersection between magic and technology, between the natural and the supernatural. The Dream Merchant (described by the main character Jessie as female, though whether or not she actually is, or even if she has sex, is anyone’s guess) is an otherwordly entity, yet she relies on a young woman who rides a motorcycle for delivery of her product, and uses an ordinary cell phone to communicate.

A few times, Schafer really outdoes herself with vibrant descriptive detail. In particular, her account of Jessie’s interaction with the Dream Merchant is mysterious and beautiful.

Early on, we encounter a young woman named Mia, a recent widow and single mother. A victim of abuse, we assume when Jessie delivers a dream to her that its purpose is clear. But halfway through the book, there’s a startling twist, and we discover just how wrong we were.

The Dream Runner ultimately concludes with a satisfying cliffhanger, rooted in an unexpected surprise. It’s a great way to engage the audience and to encourage them to continue with the series.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your tastes), the entire book is dripping from head to toe with cheap supermarket romance. Implausible encounters with Marsh, the sexually charged real estate agent who handles Jessie’s property when she returns to her home town, and with Will, her former lover, made me think at times that the author might secretly be a horny teenager in disguise.

The characters were also a little under developed, and at times cliche. I did gain some valuable insight into who Jessie was and why I should care, but it just wasn’t enough. The people in the story were like colored in two-dimensional figures. They might’ve been better for having been colored in, but they were still only two-dimensional.

In the end, while I don’t regret having read the book and wouldn’t say that it was bad, I probably won’t continue with the series. As a short standalone book, I feel I got my money’s worth. But I just don’t see this one as a long term investment. If I were forced to transform my subjective feelings into an arbitrary quantitative value, I would probably give this one three out of five stars.

How Is Fiction Like Telepathy?

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Words are powerful things. They whisper to us in the darkness. They seduce us. They cast a glamour over us, drawing us into their web with promises of beauty and escape. There they ensnare us, hold us captive, take control and have their way with us, until at long last, they’ve made us hear and conceptualize all of what they were summoned to express.  Fiction in particular exercises a singularly unique species of sorcery, one that most of us are powerless to resist.

What is this strange and exotic magic?

Stephen King, in his book On Writing, compares the art of storytelling to telepathy. He says that “all the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but[…]writing offers the purest distillation.” Though his comparison is primarily tongue and cheek, it nevertheless makes a very compelling point.

Stories are a means by which the thoughts in one man’s mind are transferred to another. If, as an author, I were to write about a chair, the instant those words reached your eyes, you would suddenly share my vision, a vision that previously existed only in my mind and which only I could see.  This is, arguably, the mind’s most magical and mystifying skill of all, to be able to communicate, through mere symbols and sounds, thoughts of all kinds — sensory stimuli, emotions and dialog — as well as to be able to receive, decode and reconstruct perceptions from those same symbols and sounds when sent by someone else.

Of course, words are not alone in their expressive power. We have drawings, paintings, photographs and movies, all of which communicate senses, emotions and ideas just as effectively, though in different ways. However, words are alone in their ability to convey a common message, while at the same time allowing for infinite variation in the way that they’re perceived. Everyone sees the same photograph or the same painting. But the sights and sounds that are conjured by one’s mind in response to the words of another always belong entirely to the receiver.

Returning to our previous example, what does the chair I told you about look like? What color is it? What kind of material is it made of? Everybody sees a chair, but nobody sees the same chair. As the author, I can further refine my description. I can tell you to imagine a red wooden chair. But what shade of red is it? What kind of wood is it made of? I can continue to describe the chair in ever increasing detail, but no matter how many words I use, I will never be able to communicate with any real precision the image in my own head, nor will anybody else share yours. The story is mine, but its incarnation belongs entirely to you. This is something that no other medium can accomplish.

The next time you pull out a book and prepare to lose yourself in its dusty ink-bound secrets, you would do well to stop and reflect on what you’re about to do. Understand that you’re about to link mind to mind with the author, living or dead, that a communication is about to take place. Reflect on the power of those seemingly innocuous symbols that are imperfectly stamped upon the pages you hold in your hands and rejoice that you have been endowed with such a profound gift.

Do so in earnest, each and every time you prepare to read, and I promise that your life will never be the same.

Book Review: Doll Bones, by Holly Black

Doll Bones CoverSynopsis from Goodreads:

Zach, Poppy and Alice have been friends for ever. They love playing with their action figure toys, imagining a magical world of adventure and heroism. But disaster strikes when, without warning, Zach’s father throws out all his toys, declaring he’s too old for them. Zach is furious, confused and embarrassed, deciding that the only way to cope is to stop playing…and stop being friends with Poppy and Alice. But one night the girls pay Zach a visit, and tell him about a series of mysterious occurrences. Poppy swears that she is now being haunted by a china doll – who claims that it is made from the ground-up bones of a murdered girl. They must return the doll to where the girl lived, and bury it. Otherwise the three children will be cursed for eternity…

I picked this one up after reading this review. I promised the blogger who wrote it that I would eventually get around to writing my own. This is the result.

As I always do when I review a book, I like to point out both the positives and the negatives, because I believe that even a good book isn’t perfect, and because I like to present a balanced and thorough analysis.

Let’s start with what this book does right.

For one thing, it’s gorgeously written. Black has a gift for turning a phrase. The words she uses and the way she uses them frequently take my breath away. Occasionally, Black peppers her language with words that are a little complex for a middle grader, words like kleptomaniacal. I think this is a good thing. It’s not heavy handed, but comes up in the text organically, and it forces kids to do some research and to build their vocabulary.

Black does a remarkable job of describing the roleplaying of Zach, Alice and Poppy from their perspective, and of elevating mere child’s play to an elaborate ongoing act of talented and inspired storytelling. Just as in reality, the two in Doll Bones are one in the same.

True to Black’s other work, Doll Bones deals with dark themes like death and supernatural angst. But it does so in a way that remains accessible and palatable for children. This is important, because while we must allow children to face and learn how to cope with the consequences of life in a broken world, we must also tread lightly and be very careful not to unduly frighten and depress them.

Dysfunctional family life is a central theme, and serves as a backbone in the development of the book’s main characters. Poppy’s parents have thrown their arms up and decided to let their kids do whatever they want. Zach’s dad selfishly left him and his mother to make a living for himself, only to barge back in on them when it didn’t work out, just as they were adjusting to life without him. Alice is being raised by an overly strict grandmother, who won’t allow her to do most of the things an ordinary child in junior high should be allowed to do. The various dysfunctional dynamics of these three families are all too common in today’s world, and are undoubtedly relatable to many of this book’s readers.

Black captures beautifully the inevitable and often painful realities of growing up. Zach’s ever-growing discomfort over his playing with action figures at an age where such things are frowned upon by his peers is something that both children and adults can identify with, as well as his father’s misguided attempt to help him “grow up” by throwing his action figures away. There’s also a very tangible (and sometimes painfully awkward) tension that arises between Zach and the girls now that they’ve grown to an age where they begin to notice each other in new and different ways. This tension comes to a head about two thirds or three quarters of the way through the book, and adds a nice sub-plot to the story.

The “epic quest” that the children undertake is as much a product of their ongoing fantasies as it is about laying the doll to rest. In fact, more than once, Poppy’s veracity concerning the spirit of the doll is called into question, yet they choose to press on even in the face of extreme difficulty. The lure of an adventure, however risky and terrifying, simply proves to be irresistible.

Now, what about Doll Bones don’t I like?

For one, the plot suffers from too many implausible scenarios. At the beginning of their quest, Zach, Alice and Poppy board a late night bus. I would, at the very least, expect the driver to ask them how old they are. But he says nothing, and the children are allowed to go on their merry way. Later, desperate to cross a river so they can complete their quest and give the doll a proper burial, they steal a dinghy. Miraculously, Zach is able to sail it, despite the fact that he’s had no prior training, and that his only knowledge of sail boats comes from books. When it eventually capsizes in the presence of a barge, nobody on the other boat stops to ask if they need help, despite the fact that they can clearly see there are children on board.

I’m also put off by how abruptly the story ends. As a reader, I feel a little cheated. Some lingering mystery can be a powerful thing, but there are too many loose threads that should have been tied up. To be fair, it’s a difficult tale to conclude properly. Without giving away the ending, it’s clear as we reach the final pages that the kids have gotten themselves in pretty deep; some extremely skillful cleanup would be required to pull it off successfully. I think ultimately, the task proved too difficult, and that Black chose to end the story a little early instead.

Overall, this book is well worth the investment. It’s beautifully written, mysterious and true to life. It successfully handles a dark theme with the delicate care required for children’s literature. Though it isn’t perfect, I would definitely say that the good outweighs the bad, and would, without question, recommend it for both children and adults.

What Can Fantasy Teach Me About Reality?

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Who doesn’t love a good story?

Fiction is an indispensable part of the human experience. Without it, the world would be a dreary place. Imagination is essential for one’s sanity and happiness. But we always go into fiction with the understanding that what we’re experiencing isn’t real. Though we choose to suspend disbelief, there’s always that part of our brain that maintains the distinction between reality and fantasy. A vast unbridgeable chasm exists between the two: one is real, the other is not.

You might reasonably ask yourself, “what can fantasy teach me about reality?”

Fantasy teaches us about real people.

Though fictional characters are spun from the thread of dreams, their underlying natures are based on real people. Authors must always draw from a massive catalog of real-life experience; if what they want to write about can’t be found within its pages, it must be labeled as unbelievable and cast aside.

Fantasy is, in fact, an exhaustive study of humanity. It offers lessons from three unique angles:

  1. We learn about the characters. We’re privy to their thoughts, we observe their actions and we witness the ways in which they relate to others.
  2. We learn about the author. The way a storyteller’s characters think and act is a reflection of the storyteller himself. They can teach us about his cultural heritage, his upbringing, his prejudices, his interests, even how he might have gotten along with others. An artist’s creation is as much an expression of the artist as it is of the art itself.
  3. We learn about ourselves. Given that a realistic fictional character is based on authentic human nature, and that we are in fact real people, it stands to reason that we would find ourselves at least partially reflected in their image. We experience bits and pieces of ourselves in the characters we encounter, and we have the benefit of an outsider’s perspective. As a result, we discover more of who we are.

Fantasy teaches us to appreciate the extraordinary within the ordinary.

All good fiction no matter how whimsical is rooted in reality, because we can only relate to something that aligns with our understanding of the universe and how it works. There might be magic, but that magic is always governed by rules, and the basic laws of nature, though extended, always remain backward-compatible with our own. People don’t walk through walls or breathe under water unless they possess special powers, and in such cases they are the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, we take reality for granted. Because it’s something we interact with every day, because it’s no longer new as it once was when we were children, we disregard it. Thankfully, fantasy reorients our perspective.

Free from that thin veneer of mundanity that ordinarily coats the surface of reality, we’re involuntarily struck by the raw beauty we encounter in the world of our dreams. We take these experiences with us and assimilate them into who we are. Gradually, we become accustomed to seeing things through the lens of childlike awe. Eventually, without ever realizing what’s happened, we rediscover the extraordinary that lies hidden just beneath the surface of the ordinary.

We become sensitive to the great emotional epics that play out within the confines of real relationships. Our hearts are smitten by the jaw-dropping beauty that manifests itself in real landscapes. We become aware of the magic that’s existed all along, operating under the name of Science. We become sensitive to a hidden splendor that’s always been accessible to us, but was until recently outside our once narrowed field of vision. Imagination is like a mirror: the mystery and wonder we encounter in fantasy is reflected back onto our perception of the world, flooding it with new light so that we can see the world anew.

Fantasy teaches us to accept difficult truths.

There are uncomfortable realities we prefer not to think about. We’re faced daily with poverty, hunger, war, mental illness, even the evil within ourselves. Life is much easier when we allow ourselves to forget that the world is a dark place. As a result, we erect mental walls when sensitive topics are broached. Our eyes glaze over and we assume the mental stance of a three year old, covering his ears and singing “la, la, la…”

Reading fiction is one way to become more receptive. Because stories aren’t real (at least on the surface), we have a much greater tolerance for controversial ideas. We open the gates and we allow the author’s beliefs to make a home inside our hearts.

Because good fiction is grounded in reality, it’s inevitable that we begin to apply these beliefs alongside our own. Like Inception, the ideas communicated through stories bubble up into our conscious minds as if they were our own. In this regard, artists wield a very real and profound power over the rest world, and therefore have a grave moral obligation to always tell the truth.

Fantasy teaches us how to approach and solve real problems.

Simply put, fantasy makes us better problem solvers. We observe how different kinds of characters respond to adversity, learn from them and apply what we learned to our own problems. Fantasy teaches us to be creative, to think “outside the box,” to be more adaptable.

Neil Gaiman cites an interesting example. In an article for The Guardian called Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming, he writes:

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Conclusion: Fantasy is reality remixed.

Fantasy is only fictional on the surface. Humans may be capable of imagining things outside their immediate scope of experience, but they can only do so by forging new connections between existing ideas. Like so many songs on the market today, stories are nothing more than reality remixed.

If it’s not real, it won’t make sense. If it doesn’t make sense, we won’t connect with what we’re reading. And if we don’t connect with what we’re reading, we’re going to get frustrated and put the book aside.

In order to concoct convincing tales, authors must resort to unabashedly plagiarizing reality, and in the end all they can do in their never-ending quest for originality is to hope and pray that they were clever enough not to get caught.

Why I Write

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Why do I write?

Writing isn’t easy, especially for those of us who work full-time in a completely unrelated field. You come home from work exhausted. Those very rare moments of explosive inspiration aside, you have to force yourself to sit down and work some more, when all your body really wants to do is eat and go to sleep. You have to face the demons of self-doubt, which hover over your shoulder in the darkness, whispering that you’re not good enough, that you’re a hack, that today is the day everyone will discover you’re a fraud. You have to recognize that you will fail, and you have to do it anyway.

You then have to be brave enough to confront the crap you wrote the next day. You have to take this rough source material, this hunk of dark grey clay forged from the jumbled stilted dreams of the insubstantial mind, and mold it into something half-way decent. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After the number of revisions rivals even the number of stars in the galaxy, you have to break out of your shell and share your work with others. You have to not only accept but embrace rejection. You have to allow your heart to be broken, and then you have to pick up the pieces and try again. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

If you intend to publish, your not even close to finished. If you go the traditional route, you still have to send out hundreds of query letters to agents, be rejected over and over again, and hope that at least one will take an interest in your work. And whether you go through traditional channels or self-publish, if your book is to have a prayer of succeeding, you’ll still have to hand your work off to an editor, who will point out all the many things that are wrong that you didn’t catch in the first bazillion and one revisions. You have to revise. You have to revise again.

After all this, there’s nevertheless the very real possibility that nobody will want to read what you spent months or years writing. Bookstore shelves are littered with books that will never be purchased, books which will be returned to the publisher for a refund, books written by authors who will never have an opportunity to publish again. The Amazon Kindle store is bursting at the seams with self-published titles that will all suffer a similar fate. And if your books do sell, they likely won’t make anywhere near enough to financially justify all the blood, sweat and tears that went into your writing.

Why would anyone subject themselves to such a torturous and thankless routine? I can’t answer for all writers, but I can answer for myself.

I write because that’s who I am.

It doesn’t matter if I have an audience of one million, one thousand, one hundred, one or even zero. I write for my Creator, the author of the cosmos, because it’s what he called me to do. I in turn write for myself, because it’s my purpose, because composing new stories is what fulfills me as a human person. I feel compelled to write, even when it hurts, when I’m busy, depressed or lacking inspiration. It’s built into my DNA. It’s written indelibly upon the mandates of my soul.

I write because it’s in our own pale and imperfect reflections of the universe that we come to know and love the universe itself.

I write because beauty is important to me. I know that nothing I create will ever be perfect, but I strive for perfection anyway.

I write because I’m haunted when I don’t. The days I spend away from my notebooks and computer are days that I feel anxious and restless. Ideas back up in my mind like a clogged up sink, and their continually increasing weight begins to burn my soul like wild fire. I eventually have no choice but to huddle up in the dark after hours and yield to this all-consuming force.

I write because I have a passion for creating things. I liken the difficulties encountered when crafting a new tale to the pangs of childbirth. When the pushing is over, when you’re finally laying down in bed exhausted, sweat beading on your forehead, when the challenge of giving birth to an idea is finally over, you can at last gaze upon the child of your mind with stupid giddy love and wonder. It doesn’t matter that your child isn’t perfect, because the child is yours and you love it anyway.

In short, I write because I’m a writer. In the end, that’s the only reason that should matter.

Friday Freewrite

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What’s Friday Freewrite? Find out here.

Climbing. Searching. Always seeking, never reaching. I lift my eyes, wretched creature that I am1, shielding my vision lest my eyes be blinded by the searing fire of distant perfection.

I’m nothing but chaffe2. I’m nothing but ore; gold riddles my innards, but only sparsely.

Yet, let me be smelted. Let me burn in your fire, so that I may be pure, so that what is gold is3 within me may sparkle and shine with the radiance I have longed so much to see.

Footnotes

1. At the time I wrote this, I was waiting inside a church to go to confession.

2. Should be spelled chaff.

3. Even though I’m not supposed to pay attention to structure while I’m freewriting, when I have a very concrete idea in my head that I want to flesh out, I do usually briefly backtrack to make tiny corrections that would otherwise obscure the meaning of what’s trying to come out of my head.