The Power of Character — A Response to the Responses to The Red Wedding

Spoilers here. If you haven’t finished A Storm of Swords, or the third season of Game of Thrones on HBO, don’t read.

Stories are idealistic by nature.

That’s a generalization, obviously. But boil a story down to its skimpies, and what are you left with? Conflict and resolution. In real life do all conflicts have resolutions? I don’t believe so, but that’s a long, winding path with lots of gnarly tree roots and overturned bricks and I don’t want to take it right now.

Most of the time, what is needed for the conflict to be resolved? Well, primary characters remaining alive is usually helpful.

Yep, you guessed it. I’m talking about Season 3 of A Game of Thrones/A Storm of Swords. More specifically, I’m talking about fictional characters and just how flippin’ fantastic they can be.

You’ve by now seen the Internet, littered with the ravings of froth-mouthed fans, outrage and bewilderment and heart-squeezing agony coalescing into a tasty soup of hatred for George RR Martin. What cast the spark onto this haystack of fanaticism? Death did. Seemingly gratuitous, fountain-neck bloodspray death.

So what? This what:

People are going to actually miss the characters who died. Those characters meant something to the viewers and readers of the series. Real life people shed tears on Sunday night. Dinner plates dropped to carpets and the cat stuck his paw in the meatsauce. Watchers and readers held their heads in their hands. They punched fussily at the air. They buried their faces in cartons of comforting Edys.

Then, they turned to their keyboards and vented like balloons coming untied.

Real people acted this way. Because of things fictional people did to each other.

Is that awesome or what? The power of story, man. The power of character.

It’s frustrating. I understand that. When we settle down to take in a story, regardless of medium, we expect the idealism that I referenced earlier. We expect a modicum of it, at least. It’s not an active expectation. We don’t crack open the first page, or flip to our channel of choice, and say, “I can’t wait to experience this story and its idealistic conclusion!” We’re simply conditioned subconsciously forecast it.

George R.R. Martin, for better or for worse, skirts this. Okay, understatement city. He strings idealism up by its nuts and clubs it around with a war gavel. A war gavel covered in spikes. And iodine.

But Martin’s killings of primary characters aren’t mere shock-shots. He’s not killing just to kill. Martin possesses a meticulous devotion to the grim realities of Westeros. That can sometimes suck. Sucking is the nature of grim realities. Perhaps you read novels or watch television because reality sucks enough as it is and you don’t need to tune into a show or open a book in order to see people die who don’t deserve to die.

But when you do, you find people you care about. Even the ones you don’t like you care about. It is an amazing thing, the strings of empathy that someone who does not truly exist can tie around your heart. By opening that book or tuning into that show, you’re allowing those strings to settle there.

And you didn’t know it when you first opened Game of Thrones, or watched as Episode 1 of Season 1 came through the tube, but the man who holds the end of those strings in his hands is a ruthless bastard.

That’s the risk you took. You opened your heart and mind to him, and he manipulated it, and then he crushed it. Again. And again. Sorry about it. But, in the same way you find forgiveness for someone close who has wronged you, you’ll love George again. You’ll come back. Because his characters make you feel.

And feeling is good.

That said, after watching a few of the reactions from around the web…it’s probably okay to remember, after a time, that fiction is just that.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Writer’s Digest Conference

Perhaps motivated by this thoughtful, cogent, and inspiring blog post by a fellow convention-goer, I thought it was perhaps time to, you know, write something. Nodding like a good little word-disciple each time someone wiser and more profound than I (looking at you, Don Maass) makes a resonate suggestion has my neck sorer than staring up at the Manhattan skyline while the authentic New Yorkers stream ‘round me like a river past a big, stupid, tourist boulder.

I could listen to Don Maass, and all the other fine speakers here at WDC, until George RR Martin finishes Winds of Winter approximately fourteen years from now. But you gotta get some words on a page, y’know? And being surrounded by you undulating crowd of scriveners has got me all riled up. Besides, by the time that book comes out my nosehair will curl and dangle like Hasidic payos ropeladders.

I’m not thoughtful like Justice, though. Or inspiring, really. And if I’m cogent we’ll call it temporary conference osmosis. So now that I’m duly disclaimed…

Conferences are funny as shit. Think about it. A bunch of introverts plucked from the smelly comfort of their writing dungeons, served chicken or turkey sandwiches and apples and ushered into little rooms where we socialize like timid co-eds at a middle school dance right after the DJ put that god damn Savage Garden song on. I wanna stand with youuu on a mountaaiin. And Chuck Sambuchino is probably the guy tapping the pretty girl with freckles you like on the shoulder and dropping her into dip so suave she may as well have been a friggin’ Tostito. (Chuck Sambuchino, in this hypothetical reality, is one tremendously sophisticated seventh grader, and probably with a grease-slicked moustache.)

We all want to be here. We’re all glad the other writers are here too. But we’re also all here for ourselves, and after the forced removal from our scribely turtle shells, seeing other writers in the flesh is a little surprising.

There’s no way that guy is writing hard sci-fi. His neckbeard is like six degrees of grime shy.

And that woman is pitching a memoir? About what? The trying and toilsome journey of waiting for her pink-painted rhinestone-studded fingernails to dry this afternoon? PHAW!

How ‘bout that gal with the tattoos, ripped jeans, and undeniable air of brooding self importance. Can’t wait to find out in what city her urban fantasy is set! What’s that you say? She writes literary fiction? No shit…

[All characters are purely facetious, and any resemblance to you exists entirely in your imagination.]

Okay, I’m making light and oversimplifying our most vapid thought processes, which— good little humans that we are— have all been told to settle down by our more reasonable selves, coaxed out of the cobwebby recesses of our internal recluse haven for the special occasion of this conference.

But really, it’s kind of great. We’re each compelling in our own reservations, our judgments, our pre-conceptions. We’re like pieces swiped from different puzzles, then tossed into a single frame and told to fit. Some of us are corner pieces, sitting and waiting for counterparts to come, some of us like middle pieces, blindly groping around the puzzleboard until we find somewhere we can at least pretend to fit until the actual right piece turns up, and the displaced piece goes to join the motley pile of rejects. Ultimately the puzzle comes together, and it doesn’t display anything in particular. Pieces are jammed together, knobs and colors bent and overlapping, holes in the middle, the whole thing warped and displaying nothing in particular.

But when you take a step back and look at it, it’s kinda cool. You could probably get it into MOMA if you tried. Or at least on the wall of some dirty-footed hippie college house.

The Sheraton is teeming with creativity, overflowing with ideas. The aspiration of the attendees and the inspiration of the speakers has us all bursting at the seams with such renewed enthusiasm that the guy who wrote the psychological analysis of Charlie Sheen’s mating preferences, protocol, and procedure, is willing to chat with the young lady who created the superhero that finds lost socks, and returns them to their rightful dryers by night, never seeking the glory she deserves for her heroism, only knowing the good she has done.

I’m glad to be part of such an eclectic band of misfits such as we— The Chicken-or-Turkey-Fed Knights of Conference East— and I hope every last fuckin’ one of ya’s finds a success this weekend, whether it be a request from an agent, a handshake with a someone you’ve long respected, or finally mastering the wobbling in your knees, marching over to the agent table, plopping yourself down, and telling— nay!— showing them your story!

(Drops mic.)

(Picks mic back up and hurls it through a nice arched window, which did nothing to deserve its sad fate.)

(Raises arms and basks in the rally cries of The Chicken-or-Turkey-Fed Knights of Conference East.)

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Two Kings and a Cripple: A review of The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, as told by his characters.

DISCLAIMER: There be spoilers within. Spoilers of the “aw, fuck, that was a pretty huge spoiler” variety. Spoilers that would be on par with, say, Bilbo has nothing in his pocketses, or, Luke Skywalker’s father is a mechanically engineered sith lord. 

So, again, SPOILERS. If you have not read Joe’s trilogy, or if you plan to, do not read further. Important things will be ruined for you, and that is not my aim.

Also, I hope Joe doesn’t mind that I borrowed his characters for this bit of fun. 

Sand dan Gloka shuffled into one of Adua’s many parks. The grass, once long and lush, was trampled and covered in ash. Tree limbs had fallen, and bits of building littered the stone pathways winding around a pond, water muddied with scum. Or blood.

Glokta used his cane to push aside a broken windowsill, probably once attached to a house two roads over. He hobbled past what appeared to be a crushed Gurkish head, bits of black hair still sticking out in places, and sunk into the familiar hold of a wooden bench. Ah, benches. I adore them with the very fervency I hate stairs.

He was just about to stretch out the twisted muscles of his leg when Logen Ninefingers, the Bloody-Nine, King of the Northmen lumbered into the park, one hand scratching at his crooked lump of a nose, the other worrying at a thick sheaf of yellowing paper. Logen spotted Glokta and stomped over to him. “Luthar here yet?” he growled.

Before Glokta answered, a rustling of leaves came from behind him. He thought of turning around to discern the source, but didn’t much care to struggle with the shrieking pains through his neck and back that would come with the motion. Certainly King Ninefingers can deal with any uninvited guests. And if he cannot, ah well. Death will be a finer thing than waking up in my own filth every morning.

But death did not come, and Ninefingers expression did not change from the worried frown.

“Ah, lovely morning,” Jezal dan Luthar, King of the Union, swept past Glokta. “No more attacks in the middle of the night. No more blood and spilled guts.” Jezal took a deep breath of air, and scratched absently at his crotch.

Only dust, Your Majesty. Dust, ash, and mourning. But I venture that I know what has your spirits high this morning. “And you now have somewhere to shove your royal shaft when it grows eager.” Glokta jabbed his cane at Jezal’s hand rubbing between his legs.

The King looked down at his hand, and had the good grace to at least redden at the ears. “Yes, my marriage has become more…congenital. I suppose I have you to thank, Glokta.”

Glokta gave a toothless leer, and this one was with genuine humor. “I believe you mean congenial, Your Majesty.”

“Er, yes. Congenial.” Jezal gave an uncomfortable pause. “How is your own new marriage?”

“Ardee West is far more apt at cleaning the shit from my bedsheets than I have ever been. And thanks to the generosity of one very clandestine banker who is known by many names, she will have a great deal to gain when I perish.” And sleeping in the contents of my own bowels must surely be speeding up the process. “So that is to say, we are both much improved in…unique ways.”

Jezal blinked. Logen continued to worry at the papers he held, which Jezal seemed to notice after a moment. “So you read it then?” He pointed at the messy sheaf.

Logen nodded. “And you?”

Jezal confirmed, and the two kings both turned to the cripple. Glokta reached inside his coat and produced an identical sheaf to the one held by Logen and— by the funny bulge in his coat— Jezal as well. Glokta tapped a finger weightily on the first page, upon which THE LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS had been embossed in black.  “So, gentleman? What did you think of our story?”

___

“Puts the hair on my neck on its right fuckin’ edge,” growled Logen. “Someone out there knowin’ all my details and thoughts and such. Thought I was alone with Ferro down in that crevice in Aulcus. I didn’t much like the words this guy used to describe us, uh, exploring each other’s regions either.”

“Indeed, we are but slaves to the author’s diction,” agreed Glokta.

Jezal scratched the back of his head, and stared at the ground for a good while before grinning up at Logen, jaw now all twisted like he’d taken a good punch, which Logen reckoned he sure as shit had. “I miss Collem West more than any man I’ve ever known, but damn if I’m not piss pleased he never got his hand on these.” Jezal’s grin turned suddenly to a frown. “You don’t think West knew this Joe Abercrombie character, do you?”

Glokta arched an eyebrow. “I can look into it, if it pleases Your Majesty.”

Logen didn’t give Jezal time to answer. “Reading this damn thing made me wish I never learned my letters,” he shook the manuscript angrily. “I don’t much like the feelin’ of being in your futile body, cripple.  Especially learnin’ your mind’s as ill as your limbs, you sick fuck.” Logen swung his attention onto Luthar. “And you Jezal, thinking you’ve had some grand change of character. Mayhaps you’re a better man now, but it takes more’n a busted jaw to knock the vanity from a person.”

“Yes, yes, we’re a dark set, aren’t we?” Glokta lazily drawled. “Well, maybe not all dark. We’ve got our bright sides too, eh? That’s what made us so compelling. I daresay Luthar, you’re a more well-rounded individual than ever I thought. And Ninefingers, seems even lumbering oafs as yourself have a capacity for extreme emotional intelligence.” The cripple stabbed the ground with his cane and laboriously worked his way to his feet. “We’ve been on a long journey together, it seems, even when we weren’t so very close together. And we’ve all grown in our own ways, and so have all the people around us, if Mr. Abercrombie’s words can be trusted. Indeed, I found the people I read about— even the one’s I have known and hated— to be likeable in their own ways.” Gloka licked his gums. “I even rather enjoyed the way I was portrayed. Perhaps there is something valuable in a dose of self-loathing. Very droll.”

“I dunno,” Logen interjected, narrowing his eyes. “This Abercrombie seems to know an awful lot about this world and its people, not excludin’ myself. He’s got a good understandin’ of love, and knows just as much about hate. That’s the type of man that I got trouble relatin’ to, and I don’t much like havin’ trouble with anything. What kind of man knows about leadership but also of betrayal and treachery? What kind of man has got a knowledge of how to swing a blade clean through a man’s skull, but also knows the way to silvertongue his way through a room of politicians? What kind of man can let his heart be warmed with humor and awe, just to turn around and close it off with cold-blooded ruthlessness?” Logen ground the heel of his boot into the earth, feeling the tips of his ears growing red. “And what the fuck kind of man understands the workings of a woman’s mind, ‘cause this Joe Abercrombie seems to know it all pretty good.”

Jezal looked back and forth from Logen and the cripple, leaning uneasily on his case. The King reached into his coat and pulled out his own manuscript, and thumped it with the back of his other hand. “You know what the most damning part of this whole thing was?”

“Pray tell, Your Majesty,” Glokta sweetly crooned.

Seemed to Logen that Luthar’s eyes lingered on him for a moment longer than normal. When he spoke it was with weight. “I couldn’t tell for the life of me which ones of us were heroes, and which were scoundrels.”

“Perhaps it is that we are all part hero and part scoundrel, Your Majesty,’ Glokta knowingly proffered.

“It just all seemed so obvious at the time,” Jezal ploughed on. “There is good and there is evil. There is magic and there is mystery. There is passion and there is hatred, and there were lines separating each from the other. Those lines, I think, are not as visible as I once thought.”

Glokta nodded slowly at this, a soft squelching sound coming from his mouth as he sucked at his gums. “A valuable lesson for a King,” he said. “Indeed, Your Majesty. This Abercrombie has entitled the final third of our trials and tribulations ‘The Last Argument of Kings’. To what argument do you believe he refers?”

___

Jezal didn’t like the way Arch Lector Glokta looked expectantly upon him, leg as useful as a frayed rope, head vaguely resembling a dried out prune. Wasn’t he the King? Shouldn’t he be the one leering expectantly at people.

But truth was, Glokta’s question was one that had kept Jezal up at night. Well, kept him up after Terez had dismounted from him, leaving his prick sore and chafed, but that was better than being blocked up. The thought that he was making to shoot the Union’s next king into her was a darker one than he would have thought, but most of Jezal’s thoughts were dark these days. He supposed that was what a man gets for walking away from a cards table and a mug when he damn well could have stayed.

But before all that, Jezal hadn’t much of an argument about anything besides having to take responsibility for more than the task of taking pretty drunk girls from one point to the next, preferably his bed.

He had an argument now.

“Our land is vast and unique, each offering personality. Each with its own set of ideals, all impacting the next. I used to think that only great people did great things. Now I know that all is not as it seems. Men who seem great, are perhaps not. Women who are little more than beggars in the street, perhaps are. Small actions may yield massive results, just as massive actions may be futile. The world has been every bit a character in our story as any of us. The things we have done have been important, but that is not to say that the things we will do will be the same. I think I have learned through it all, to not judge a book by its cover.”

“Well I should hope not,” Glokta said, again tapping the first page of the manuscript, ripped at the edges, worn at the center, ink dried in a sloppy drip from the title. “As this plain little piece of paper does not very well tell our story, does it?

Logen grunted that No, it does not.

“No,” Jezal agreed. “And what a story it has so far been.”

“Indeed,” said Jezal’s Arch Lector. “I must concur. Compelling, full of things I love and of things I hate. I daresay, if I wasn’t so embarrassed to have the more abominable details of my very abominable life revealed, I may even recommend it to a friend.”

“It’s a damn good story,” Logen admitted. “You have to be realistic about these things.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mike Wise Proves He’s a Douche, Again.

Mike Wise is a sports journalist for The Washington Post.  A sports journalist who I have never been able to get a proper read on.

Last year, after making a once-in-a-blue-moon appearance at a Washington Capitals game, Mike wrote a piece about the team that I fervently disagreed with. I felt it to be shallow, and obviously written from the perspective of an under informed journalist who had a deadline to meet, and was covering the team simply because they were the only thing on the journalistic menu that night. No passion, no vigor. Just flat words, designed for controversy.

Mike had the good grace to defend his article to me via Twitter, which I appreciated, regardless of our differing views. In the weeks that followed, he wrote several pieces that resonated soundly with me. They were full of wonderful, emotional writing, with compelling perspectives and sound research. Granted, none of this writing was about the Caps, but still it cemented my respect.

Then today happened.

After Wednesday practice at Redskins Park, Robert Griffin III took the podium for his weekly press conference. But this time around, the anticipation was greater than usual. After all, the star quarterback missed last week with an injury. The team has fought its way to the division lead and holds the inside lane to the playoffs. Most expect Griffin to take the field this weekend against the Eagles, but the Redskins have remained competitively coy regarding their quarterback’s knee.

Wednesday marked the first time Griffin spoke to the media since the Redskins’ victory over Cleveland three days ago. The press conference was a light-hearted one, as Griffin fielded questions about his knee, and though his answers were thinly veiled— not revealing details— it quickly became apparent that he expected to be back under center for this Sunday’s game against Philadelphia. Reporters asked about Griffin’s playoff optimism. They asked after the team’s 3-6 start, and Griffin’s thought process as a captain as his team faced that adversity. They asked about fellow rookie Kirk Cousins’ performance against the Browns, and they asked about his silly haircut (which Cousins himself addressed during a presser of his own).

That’s when Wise decided to pipe up, affecting the lofty mood of the media room  with jaw-clenching awkwardness like a process server showing up at the door with a subpoena.

“You had to, um, unfairly negotiate some racial, um, barrier landmines lately,” Wise led into his question. “Have you thought about, um, what it’s like to play for a team named the Redskins, since many American Indians believe the term to be derogatory?”

The question was approximately as relevant to that moment as Mark Hammill after Return of the Jedi.

Wise was referring to now-suspended ESPN anchor Rob Parker’s statements that, among other things, Griffin is a “cornball brother”, and because he has a white fiancé, is not “down with the cause”, like other African Americans.

As Wise clumsily stumbled over his own question, Griffin’s eyes widened, likely realizing where the question was heading. Griffin is, of course, as silvertongued an athlete to ever grace the Washingtonian area. But to this spectator, his visage seemed to channel the following sentiment: Is this guy really about to ask me this fucking question?

Griffin smartly brushed the loaded question aside, stating that he wasn’t qualified to speak on the topic and quickly moved on to the next reporter’s attention.

But one has to wonder, what the hell was Mike Wise thinking? He’s been one of The Washington Post’s most public, successful sports journalist since he was brought on in 2004. Since then, the Redskins— easily the most visible franchise that the paper covers— haven’t exactly had their way with success. They’ve made the playoffs only twice in that time, and have squandered their draft picks, wrongly utilized their free agents, and kept the NFC East cellar wrong for most of that time. But after drafting Griffin III in April, the Redskins are now 8-6, having won five consecutive games, and with two weeks left in the season are primed to win their division for the first time since 1999.

But instead of running with the Washingtonian excitement, Wise chose an attempt at furthering his own tired narrative. Wise is an admitted supporter of changing the team’s name, which has been in place since 1937. Wise has written in the Post about the name on multiple occasions. A quick Google search for “Mike Wise on Redskins name” turns up articles from 2005, 2009, and 2011. Who knows how many other articles full of recycled content slipped through that search query? Apparently, in the midst of the most impressive regular season run the Redskins have put on since Wise began covering the team, he still cannot dream up an original narrative. One, perhaps, that he did not write about last season.

Besides, what did he think Griffin was going to say? The following is my interpretation of Mike Wise’s daydream as swung his car into the Redskins Park parking lot, meticulously rubbing sunscreen lotion on his head.

“Robert. You were brave and heroic in the face of unwarranted criticism this past week. Do you have any opinions on the origin of the name Redskins— a title that I, you should know, actively oppose!”

Robert cranes his neck and takes Wise into his gaze, admiration and respect glinting in his suddenly somber eyes. “I am so glad you asked me that question, Mike Wise. And before I answer, I would like to compliment your pate, upon which the sun glints majestically, as if you are its golden child, sent forth to ask this very question. Yes, my opinions on the name of this franchise are strong. I am well researched, and have spent much time meditating with the chiefs of the offended tribes. My passion is so deep, demanding so much of my cerebral capacity, in fact, that my knowledge of the playbook has suffered. If the name were changed, my mind would be free. Never would I have scrambled on a 2nd and long to Haloti Ngata’s side of the field if we were simply called the Washington Mikewises!

In fact, I urge my fans— the very people of Washington— to embrace now that which they have given exactly zero shits about before— Mike Wise’s completely exhausted extolling of his own views through a national publication.

Oh, shit. Maybe the daydream ended a bit before that last part.

I’m not the only one who thought Wise was out of line today, and he faced a select few of his critics on Twitter today. One fan told Wise he’d be better off leaving racial issues out of the press conferences and focusing on football. Wise responded by sarcastically responding, “I should have asked him if he would be okay playing for a team called the Blackskins,” as if this response was at all pertinent to the inciting comment. It was not the only time Wise used this seemingly irrelevant response to fans that questioned his motives.

Regardless of the controversy regarding the political correctness of Washington’s team name, which has not changed a damn since Wise wrote about it in 2011, 2009, or 2005, it’s clear the journalist was pushing his own agenda, and was hoping to use the hyper-media conduit of Robert Griffin III to power his own opinions.

Anyone who gives a damn in this town will listen to every word out of Griffin’s mouth. Unfortunately for Wise, Griffin identified him for what he was: a pot-stirrer who spends more time tweeting fake news stories than generating compelling narratives about the teams his audience loves.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

After reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, I’d never leave author Scott Lynch alone with my girlfriend. If he’s anything like his characters— and certainly a small piece of each lives behind his eyes— Lynch is too cunning, too charming, and too ruthless by far. Perhaps I’ve spent overmuch time between the front and back cover of Lynch’s first story set in the vaguely-Italian renaissance city of Camorr, but I have no doubts that the second I turned my back to the man, he’d make off with my money, my liquor, and my lady.

Locke Lamora is a thief. But he doesn’t just pick pockets, cut purses, and pluck fruit from market stands. Those, perhaps, were the easy pastimes of a young Lamora, balancing the intricacies of robbery with his learning of the alphabet. The Lamora we spend most of the book with, aged at least to the point where he can appreciate a woman’s figure over a glass or six of beer, is a thieving mastermind, “earning” his fortune by concocting elaborate hoaxes and relieving Camorr’s nobles of their gold a la Danny Ocean.

But Locke might be in over his head when one particular hoax takes Camorr’s most powerful people into its shadow.

Story Structure

Lynch, using a variety of storytelling methods, did an excellent job of keeping the reader on his or her toes. Not once through 720 pages did I feel I was swimming through the pages. The chapters were broken into short vignettes, and were separated by interludes used to create backstory, illuminate character, and worldbuild. These interludes read like short stories planted in the thick of the novel, and worked wonderfully to keep the pages flying from right hand to left.

Because of this method, the reader is given something of an unorthodox chronology. Sometimes a character flaw or strength is revealed right before it becomes relevant. Other times a vignette planted early in the book will come up and resonate soundly in the middle of a big-scene climax. This is not done clumsily. It is masterful, and the fact that Lynch was only a year older than I when this was published baffles me.

Mystery

The solving of a mystery is generally used as a manner of establishing closure at the end of a story. Whether the mystery is the main plot, or a bit to the side, its resolution is integral. In The Lies, mystery is used a bit differently. Mystery, alongside character development, drives the first half of this novel. But alas, Locke Lamora is one inquisitive, guileful son of a gun, and no mystery will go 350 pages unsolved!

But where does Lamora get his guile from, but from his creator, Mr. Scott Lynch? In the solving of the initial mysteries of Camorr, Locke find himself amidst a conflict so deep-rooted (and well-covered by the vignettified glimpses of Camorr past) and emotional that the first half of the book suddenly seems like child’s play. What does that do to the reader? It makes them check the time, grimace because they know they have to be up early, then resolve to make the coffee extra strong in the morning as they flip to the next chapter.

Resolution

There’s a road we’ve all traveled one too many times: the highway to disappointment at the end of a book. Forgive me for rehashing the painful journey, but it goes something like this: a novel sucks you in; you’re pleased with the story, the characters, everything. You clutch this book like a lifeline into the wee hours every night for a week. Then the ending falls flat and you’re left with a feeling similar to when you cook all day, then when it comes time to eat it you’re no longer hungry.

Lies doesn’t do this. Lynch’s ending is compelling, explosive, and satisfying. It leaves no burning questions, is laden with emotion, and compels the reader to hold the book in his hands for minutes after reading, the circuitry in his brain firing away, but only able to mouth one word: “wow.”

Why You Should Read This Book

Because it’s awesome. Because it’s beautiful and ugly, humorous and solemn, ruthless and compassionate. Because Scott Lynch is liable to do to the genre what Locke Lamora did to Camorr (guess you’ll have to read to find out!)

But mostly you should read it because it’s a wonderful work of fiction that gave me deep satisfaction as the back cover creaked closed.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Cure for Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block is the common cold of inkslingers everywhere. We’re all susceptible to it, it can strike at any time, and we’ve each got our own grandma’s-cure for it: fire up Chopin’s Mazurkas, light candles enough for a séance, or take the cap off your whiskey bottle (a remedy this writer approves of most singularly)— whatever.

But there’s only one surefire way to knock that Writer’s Block down, and I’m going to do you a kingly favor and tell it to you right here, at the beginning of the blogpost, before that X up there— you know where— ominously grows in appeal.

The cure to writer’s block is to write. Profound, huh? The cure to cancer is to not have cancer!

I’ll explain.

Via Write About Dragons— the website upon which you can find an entire semester’s worth of creative writing classes taught by the indomitable Brandon Sanderson— my favorite author gave some walloping, in-your-face, change-the-way-I-will-approach-writing-forever advice.

Now, if you’re in the habit of taking advice, applying it, and then finding it to be profoundly effective, it probably comes as no surprise to you that Brandon’s advice was simple.

Here, I rehash it for you:

Some days writing feels like forcing an unfortunately-shaped stone covered in broken glass and iodine through your intestinal tract and, well, out. Other days, the writing comes easily as a tenth-beer piss, and the flow is full of wondrous, imaginative things. Then, when your draft is finally finished and you go through for first edits, you won’t be able to discern the writing that felt like steroidal constipation from the writing that flew from your fingertips in streams of liquid diamond.

In summary: no matter how hard or easy writing is at the time, by the end the product of those two states is indiscernible.

Those, obviously, are my words. Mr. Sanderson is a bit more, ah, silvertongued than I. I was halfway through my manuscript when I received Brandon’s advice. Afterwards, I forced myself to write a set amount of words each day. Some days self-doubt and misery were my only friends. Others, I stood in front of my mirror and practiced my Hugo Award acceptance speech. But at the end, just as Brandon said, the writing was— for the most part— homogenously smooth, and anything rough was easily edited.

So, write. If Writer’s Block is a wall, a word is a hammer. A hammerblow creates a chip. The chip turns into a chunk, into a hole, into a fissure. Eventually that fissure becomes wide enough for you to insert your word-made detonation device, and blast that Writer’s Block into orbit (but not Orbit the publisher. They’d be pissed)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

I Love Ochocinco, and You Should Too

I loved Chad Johnson when he was in Cincinnati. He electrified a team that, before his emergence, I wouldn’t have given two shits about. But Ocho, as he is now affectionately called, was a walking, ball-hawking, shit-talking entertainment mobile. It got to the point where people thought he was showing up on Sundays simply to get his nameplate on camera and further his class-clown image, complete with funny dances, and touchdown antics that drew the ire and iron hand of the league.

As I’m planted in the heart of Ravens country, most around me thought Ochocinco was another incarnation of Terrell Owens, complete with a boundless ego, a selfish-temperament on field, and a preference for cameras and microphones over endzones and first-down markers. But to me, TO and Ocho were so very different. Ocho knew how to mix work and play. His work ethic was legendary, but the fun he had on the field was genuine. Now, I don’t personally know the guy, but I enjoy following him. Television, Twitter, Facebook, you name it. And from what I’m able to tell, Ochocinco on the field is a reflection of Ochocinco off the field.

But alas, as all good things are wont to do, Ocho’s career waned. His production dwindled in Cincinnati. He found a spot in New England, and then most recently in Miami.

What happened then is well documented, largely in part due to HBO’s Hard Knocks. After coming into camp in great shape, and impressing all the coaches, Chad had a run-in with the law, resulting in divorce, and being cut from the team.

It’s here, as Chad Johnson was put before the biggest obstacle in both his professional and personal lives, that I truly began to understand why I love this guy so much.

This won’t be popular with some people, I know. The allegations surrounding that event are muddied, but somewhere in the swirling speculation is the truth. For those who don’t know, Ocho’s wife filed a domestic violence charge against him. He was arrested, and the next morning was cut from his team.

It would have made sense— perhaps it would have even been prudent— for Ochocinco to lie low, to get off Twitter, and gather his life back around him. But that’s not Ocho’s way, and it’s been in the wake of this challenge that his openness with the public has most paid off.

At first glance Chad might seem like any other newly-made bachelor.  He tweets a lot, eats a lot, and talks a lot of shit on the Xbox. But most newly-made bachelors don’t have 4 million Twitter followers interested in their well-beings and livelihoods. Now, without a team and without a wife, Ocho is more open with his fans than ever before. Instead of ducking under the relative protection of wealth and fame like most in Chad’s position would probably do, a more-vulnerable-than-usual Ocho opens his arms to the public, and bears the repercussive brunt of his actions.

He talks with fans— on a public forum, for all the world to see— about his current situation. He tells them what he plans to do, if not exactly how he’s going to do it: he’s going to get his wife back, and he’s going to love her up. Perhaps its not the stuff of a Hollywood scripts are made of, but this a modern love story far more compelling (and real) than Edward and Bella or Christian Grey and whatever-that-bitch’s-name is.

In the meantime, Ocho embraces those who mean the most to him: his fans. He flies to their cities to take them out to lunch. He gives out his personal Xbox tag so that he can play video games with them. He regularly tweets his exact location, so that anyone nearby can drop by and say “what’s up.”

I’ve been watching sports my entire life. Chad Johnson is the most honest, genuine athlete I’ve ever followed in those 25 years. For a man of Chad’s influence, genuinity is more difficult to achieve that people give credit for. Though the allegations against Ocho are ugly and public, I find it admirable that this genuinity has stayed in tact. Ocho doesn’t wield it as armor. Instead, he’s taking his armor off, and letting the real world have a whack at him. And he’s letting all of us watch, to see that he’s a stronger man than we think.

To me, this isn’t the behavior of a man with his head in the clouds. Though Ochocinco clings to charisma and odd humor that made him so loveable to begin with, he’s a humbled man, and this NFL-fan can’t help but root for him. I, for one, wouldn’t mind him dropping by Washington, DC to catch a few balls from RG3.

How ‘bout it, Chad?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy

Before I begin, let me disclaim myself by making known that I adore J.K Rowling. The gorgeously realized story of Harry Potter gave me hours of joy, and the secret land of magic hidden in the folds of tedious London lives on in my imagination.

But Rowling wanted The Casual Vacancy to stand apart from her previous work, so, unlike most reviewers, I will refrain from drawing those inevitable comparisons.

The Casual Vacancy was admittedly not what I expected. But that’s my own fault. I neglected my due diligence in learning about the book before purchasing it. As far as I was concerned, J.K Rowling wrote it, and I owed it to her to give it a shot, so I happily gallivanted to Barnes and Nobles and made them take my money. What I did know about the story, was that a character’s death whipped Rowling’s small, fictional London-suburb town— called Pagford— into a paroxysm. That was the utter extent of my knowledge. As such, my uninformed and conclusion-jumping mind immediately thought Rowling was putting a murder mystery out into the world. Oh, fuck yes.

Nope.

By the time I was 100 pages deep, I knew just how wrong I was. It was not a murder mystery at all, but rather a poor- yet- spirited attempt at literary fiction.

The plot is thin: the dead dude held a vital role in the village’s simple government, so the town splits into liberal and conservative factions and clamors for the empty chair. Centered around this so-called conflict, Rowling puts us in the scheming minds of Pagford’s citizens, and we follow the minutiae of their banal lives in painstaking detail. In most successful literary fiction, here resides the meat of the story. The narrative is not about plot, but about the growth and revelations of the characters. Here also resides Rowling’s failure.

The story is 500 pages. Through the first 480 of them, Rowling’s characters don’t change. Howard Mollison begins as a fat, narcissistic fuck. On page 480, Howard Mollison is still a fat, narcisstic fuck. Gavin Hughes begins as a miserable, self-loathing lawyer. On page 480, Gavin Hughes is still a miserable, self-loathing lawyer. So on and and so forth, rinse and repeat for two handfuls of suburbanite characters.

Then, in that final percent of the novel, after a flurry of long-awaited significant transpirings, many characters have a mind-blowing revelation of self-growth and realization that is, presumably, supposed to give the reader a sense of closure. There’s no gradual change in the characters’ personal outlook, nor are any particularly compelling or impactful events planted along the storyline.

My bedside lamp hummed late into the night each time I picked up The Casual Vacancy, but only because I adopted the unambitious mantra, Something will happen next chapter. I was right, eventually, but it took the whole book.

Things weren’t all bad, though. During the slow trudge through Rowling’s wasteland of unlikeable characters, she exhibited a skill that we well know and love: the ability to bring to life the confused workings of an adolescent’s mind. I was most interested in Stuart “Fats” Wall— Rowling’s reincarnation of Holden Caulfield, complete with a foundationless obsession with “authenticity”— and his best friend, Andrew Price.

Though Rowling’s teenagers are mostly exploration vehicles for the harsher realities of muggle life— domestic abuse, addiction, betrayal, failed romance— they are each more real, more genuine in their motives than Pagford’s frivolous adults. As readers we are treated to Rowling’s familiar (but now more visceral) take on teenage friendship, sex, drug use and familial pressure. Rowling’s teenagers carried the narrative. This is her gift, and if I came away with anything from reading The Casual Vacancy, it was that Rowling still has it.

At points, however, it seems that Rowling has taken her newfound status as an “adult” novelist, tied it to the end of a 50-foot pole, and waved it for all the world to see. I know what pornography looks like, Mrs. Rowling, and I didn’t particularly need the image of “puckered buttons of anuses” put to mind. Yes, prospective readers, this turn of phrase came to you from the creator of such words as “Hufflepuff”, “butterbeer” and “Crookshanks”.

All said, this reader applauds Rowling for writing the book she wanted to write, but also hopes she sticks to her strengths next time around.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Standing on a Soapbox

Opinions are like assholes. You know how the rest goes.

But whatever genius first uttered that profundity did so before Facebook or Twitter. Before the exposure of instant-updates to the lives of every person you’ve ever brushed elbows with in line for the bathroom at Starbucks (you later viewed captioned, in sepia pictures of this line).

You probably see where this is going: because of social media, the opinion-y stench of your status updates is skunksprayed onto the public. Predictably, election season fed this issue like bacteria feeds infection. We’re all guilty of it to some degree, and there’s nothing to apologize for. We’re entitled to our own opinions, and that’s a beautiful thing.

What’s intolerable, however, are the mindless, vacuous stances taken in the spirit of a socio-economic chameleon. You know the person. They pick a candidate and root for him like a sports team, who they don’t know the names of any players.

I’m 25 years old, and this was the first election cycle that I followed with a cogent understanding of social, economic, and foreign issues. Not all, but many of them. Because most people in my social circles are of an approximate age with me, I believe this fell true for many of them as well. So, to a degree, I understand the ignorant spouting of the past three months.

But with that understanding comes a request:

Now that the election is over, don’t crawl back into your Halo-helmet of apathy. If you felt a single fiber of passion about an issue, follow it. Learn your beliefs and research them. It’s OK to have different views than the people around you. To me, in the context of America, “freedom” means our ability to be individuals. Don’t take that freedom for granted. By lapping up the crumbs from the views of your family and friends like a dog under the dinner table, you’re wasting your American privilege.

You’d be surprised how quickly you can tune yourself into the world’s important issues. Close the Farmville window for one second and browse the daily news for fifteen minutes. When you’re driving, maybe give the Nickelback and Toby Keith a break, and see if anything on public radio catches your fancy. Listen to the news, to the human interest stories, to the obscure feature about a thriving Chicken Sexer who dreams of moving from Mexico to the Chicken Sexing pinnacle of the world, Salisbury, Maryland.  Get off the treadmill of self-absorption, pay a bit of attention to the world outside your hamsterball, and learn.

It is my honest hope that four years from now, people I know will have more concrete foundation for their beliefs, and spew less spineless inanities: “Thank God there’s no more Barack! Now he’ll have plenty of time to hang out with his choom gang LOLOL” or “I can’t stomach the thought of Marco Rubio leading this country, with his charming smile and knowing eyes!” In four years, when it’s again highseason for skunkspray, voice your opinions with the conviction of informed belief— not a wire-thin affiliation with a party you’ve camouflaged into and don’t fully understand.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Dangers of Critique Forums

The Internet is an indispensible resource for writers. You got a question? Somewhere out there, off one of the information superhighway’s many exits, is your answer, probably in the form of a blog post, a message board thread, or a quote made by a liberally absinthed writer of a century past.

With the rapid surge of social media usage in our culture, many writers, editors, or agents are easily accessible and often ready with advice for bright-eyed young penmonkeys. That’s the shiny, newly-polished side of the coin.

The dingy side, the one so caked with grime you can’t even make out the year of minting? Critiquing forums.

The Internet is rife with them, some more populated than others, all offering essentially the same thing: an outlet for you to dump your slaved-over writing into  a writhing pit of self-proclaimed prosewizards.

Query letters, synopses, sample chapters. Put ‘em up, and let the raging red-ink-wielding mobs knock ‘em down. The idealistic chronology of how these things work goes something like this:

1)   Finish your future bestseller— it’s a shoe-in for a Hollywood blockbuster— and start your campaign to obtain Olivia Wilde’s phone number, who will be wondrous as your provocative female lead.

2)   Realize that before you make the call, you should probably earn the interest of an agent or editor. So, you swallow your pride and put your query, synopsis, or sample chapters online to be critiqued.

3)   The Internet plies you with copious amounts of its sage advice, which you painlessly apply to your query/synopses/manuscript. Now its time to finally ring Olivia Wilde, open a Swiss bank account, and begin preparing your acceptance speech for the Best Book Ever award. Said speech will, of course, be submitted to acceptancespeechcritiques.com.

Oh, wait. There’s the problem. The Internet is full of idiots. It’s is a self-righteous echo chamber. Everyone’s an expert, and the reason they’re giving their enlightened guidance is because they expect your’s in return. That’s the unspoken etiquette: crit for crit (which, in practice, usually becomes shit for crap).

But usually doesn’t mean always, and that’s where you— the writer—  come in. Amidst the latrine trenches of useless critiques, there will be bits and pieces of advice that you really should use. But sometimes those anecdotes are difficult to identify, like a silver dollar that’s slipped in with your mountainous and inexplicable collection of ringtabs, pridefully pulled from every soda or beer you’ve guzzled for a decade.

When you’re tightening up your story, and then getting ready to send it out to the world, trust is your most valuable weapon. Trust in yourself. If you try to take every bit of advice that’s slung at you from behind the Internet’s veil of anonymity, you’re going to make your work worse. It is your work, and it is your job to determine what it needs.

Have faith in your own intelligence. Just because HorseLover87 told you that your query needs more horses does not mean your query needs more horses. Your story is about vodka-slugging sugar gliders, so MAYBE it needs more vodka-slugging sugar gliders. That’s up to you.

Just remember, you wrote your novel, your query, your synopsis. Don’t let a faceless stranger make you feel they need to be changed. Weigh each piece advice you receive, put it through the rigorous gauntlet of your own careful consideration, then discard or apply as you choose. That’s the only way to get anywhere, and feel good about where you got.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment