I don’t listen to the radio as much as I listen to podcasts, but most of my favorite podcasts are derived from public radio, so NPR is dear to me. And they are piling on some major bonus points. Having polled readers for their favorite horror novels and stories, judges who are well-known within the horror fiction community sifted through the results and whittled them down to an expertly curated list of one hundred! Find them here and figure out what you need to add to your reading list. I’m happy to say that one of the works I nominated made it to the list: “The Repairer of Reputations”, which is one of my favorite short stories and the first in Robert W. Chambers’ unforgettable classic collection, The King in Yellow.
A tribute to found-footage style horror films like The Blair Witch Project, the story is presented as a thread of emails among filmmakers and a mysterious horror film group calling itself Pine Arch Research, which is “based—locally.” A representative of the aforementioned group emails filmmaker Aly Duarte an invitation to submit work to the Pine Arch Collection, a horror film series to be later uploaded to YouTube, “Cult status guaranteed.” Initial footage shows Aly’s house in a fog with strange black arms reaching up to her bedroom window. Aly is spooked by the invasion of privacy, but like any not-famous artist, she is flattered by the solicitation for her work. She passes the email on to her friend and colleague at Georgia State University, Bobby Power. Bobby is also wary of their tactics but is intrigued until seeing the video, which gives him an understandably dreadful feeling.
The results are finally in for Best Author in WV Living‘s Best of West Virginia 2017. First I want to say thank you to all my fans who voted for me. In the end, I didn’t win, but I think everyone will agree that the winner was totally deserving.
Congrats to Scott McClanahan! His book Crapalachia has been on my TBR list for a long time. (I haven’t gotten around to it yet as I have recently been focusing primarily on the works of WV writers Davis Grubb and Denise Giardina—I haven’t even read any Lee Maynard yet … )
Scott’s new title, The Sarah Book, released this past July by Tryant Books, was picked as one of the Best Books of 2017 by LitReactor, as well as one of the Best Books of 2017 by NPR. To be honest, when I saw his name on the ballot, I didn’t honestly expect any other result. I mean, the guy was interviewed by Rolling Stone, for crying out loud! What an honor for West Virginia to have such a highly acclaimed author representing our state.
For the rest of this year’s Best of West Virginia, go to https://www.wvliving.com/bowv17/ (shout out to the Davis/Thomas/Canaan area where I grew up, pulling in multiple awards!), and don’t forget to follow WV Living on Twitter and Instagram.
I’m getting close to the end of my current WIP’s first draft. I had hoped to have a 70,000 word manuscript to edit by the end of this month, but the story is starting to wind down already, and at this rate I’ll be happy to get to 60k (the final version of When the Watcher Shakes is somewhere around 60k words, in case you were wondering). That’s all right, since it’s still in the novel-range, but it’s still probably going to be on the short end, and I had hoped to bring something a little heftier to the table next summer for those of you that read through WTWS in one day.
I don’t want to give too much away this early, but a character in my new book (currently untitled) identifies a lot with her literary hero, Edmond Dantes. But it had been so long since I’d read The Count of Monte Cristo that I decided I needed to go back and reread Dumas’s famous and influential work again.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it is wayyyyy long. The copy I own is just over 1,200 pages (I’m currently looking down the home stretch at page 1,040). And the print is not very large. I remember loving this book and tearing through it when I first read it, I think the summer of ’08 or ’09. And I guess you wouldn’t say that I’m slouching in pace this time, either. But there is just so much going on in this book. I think it suffered from being written as a serialized piece; it’s like every three chapters he pulls yet another plot point out of thin air to work into the story, like a J. J. Abrams TV series stretched longer than its run should have lasted. I often find myself thinking, Oh come on, why didn’t Dumas just name this guy the Count of Deus Ex Machina? Also, the Count doesn’t really become a very likeable or identifiable character. If I didn’t feel like I needed such a thorough refresher, I probably would have given up by now.
On the other hand, this book is, of course, a classic, and there’s a reason it has stood the test of generations. Every night before I go to sleep, I reluctantly but faithfully return to this improbable tale, and somehow I still usually find myself stretching my bed time for “just
ten twenty more pages.” Convoluted as the plot gets, Dumas does seem to keep track of most of it and tie it together completely as he goes, if not always believably. And there is some imagery in this book that just can’t be beat. Edmond’s escape from the Château d’If is one of my favorite scenes in all of literature (Yeah, sorry, no spoiler alert–it’s been 172 years, you’ve had time–besides, at that point you’re only like 2% into the book).
But it turns out that I might just finish The Count at the same time as, or maybe even prior to, the finishing of my rough draft. It would be pretty cool to finish on the same day. My main takeaway from this experience? I wish I could write as fast as I read.
I found an old box of discarded books and fished out Eight Modern Essayists, edited by William Smart, noticing George Orwell in the Table of Contents.
Orwell is one of my favorite writers (in fact, his 1984 greatly influenced my direction in writing When the Watcher Shakes), but I had not read any of his nonfiction. Being a writer, I was immediately drawn to “Why I Write”, which I would recommend to anyone wanting to understand more behind the man and his work. However, I loved “Politics and the English Language” even more. In it Orwell decries what he sees as the English language’s decline into unintelligible jargon and vague, nonsensical circular sentences. His purpose is to show how we obfuscate our language in “defense of the indefensible” by softening starkly dishonorable politics with “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” As our expression becomes lazy and vague, he argues, so does our thinking, which leads to even more lazy writing and speech, and so the cycle spirals downward.
While Orwell is primarily addressing political writers here, and not necessarily fiction authors (“I have not here been considering the literary use of language, but merely language as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought”), his condemnation of unclear writing and advocation for concrete, precise language is gold for any writer, whether he be a journalist, essayist, or novelist. He kicks the writing crutches of jargon, dead metaphor, pretense, and passive writing out from our feet and tells us to learn to walk on our own effort, because that is the only way we’ll reverse the destructive cycle.
After going into detail on weak kinds of writing, he gives some basic rules to writers to help cure our disease:
- Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do.
- If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
- Never use the passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I would quote more excerpts but I’m afraid I would only end up copying the majority of the essay. Fortunately, you can read the essay in its entirety online. I guarantee it will improve your own use of language, and if you can do that, he says, you may also improve your and others’ thinking.
I have such a massive stack of “To Read” books that if I take the time to read a book more than once, it means I really, really love it. I read Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina for the first time last summer. It was probably the best book I read all year. I read it again at the beginning of this year, and it was even better on the second go. (Cool note—someone is adapting this for a musical which they hope to get on Broadway). Storming Heaven was written and published before I was born—how did it take me more than twenty years before I’d even heard of it?
Ever since I was assigned to read Orwell’s 1984 in high school, dystopian fiction has been one of my favorite literary genres. With The Hunger Games and Maze Runner series having captured American pop culture’s admiration, dystopian lit (or, at least, YA dystopian) is now a favorite of many others.
Before YA Dystopian was as big as it is today, M. T. Anderson wrote Feed, published in 2002 by Candlewick Press (in 2012, they released a newer edition, pictured below, which I have not read–as far as I know, all they changed was the cover).
When people ask me for my favorite books (or when I volunteer the information unsolicited), some are surprised when I suggest Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. They are even more surprised when I tell them it is probably one of the most unexpectedly profound books I’ve ever read.