Book Review: The Five Times I Met Myself by James Rubart

Not too many mid-life crises come with adventures in lucid dreaming, tantamount to time travel. 52 year-old Brock enjoys and suffers the rare experience of playing out alternate timelines in his life, based on a series of pivotal choices. It seems an impossible turn of events, but then, Brock is not dealing with the disappointments and regrets of life on his own. As a man of faith, his first and last thoughts run to the promises of the Christian faith. That cornerstone anchors and guides him through an unbelievable journey of self-discovery and painful transformation.

Despite the compelling premise, this book was a struggle for me. To all appearances, I meet more than one of the intended markers for the book’s audience (educated, church-going, middle-aged, Christian), but I failed utterly to connect with the characters. Details that did not matter to me even the littlest bit (like the particular brand and style of one character’s putter) crowded out the details which would have actually kept me interested in the story (like the particular “lucid dreaming techniques” employed by the lead character).

It is entirely possible that the challenges I faced in finishing this novel were of my own making. It seems other readers sailed through these pages of mostly dialogue and introspection, rapt and fully satisfied. But for me, the dialogue was painfully stilted, which was rough since it made up so much of the book. Almost all exposition took place in conversations of the infamous style known as, “As you know, Bob“. And while every novel absolutely does not need to be a thriller, this one lacked any truly consequential conflict.

In short, not my favorite.

 

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

642 Tiny Things to Write About: Day 3

Merry Christmas, folks!

We’re back with another Tiny Things Thursday! Pick up your own copy of 642 Tiny Things to Write About and join me in these delightful runs at flash fiction. Be sure to post a link in the comments if you join in!

For today’s challenge, I’ve added my own stipulation that the answers take the form of a drabble. I’ve adjusted the definition of a drabble just a bit to say that it must be EXACTLY 100 words in length. And off we go!

Write about a time you broke…

A bone:

My favorite bone breaking tale is of Coach Sizemore and the Broken Elbow. He was determined to teach me basketball, bless his soul, and would allow none of my teenage awkwardness or lack of talent to divert him. So he tossed me the ball during practice, told me he was going to guard me one on one, and I was to drive the lane to make a layup, no matter what. I drove the lane. He guarded and aggressively egged me on. And I knocked that honorably discharged, twice-my-size gentle giant so hard to the ground, he broke his elbow.

A heart:

Stefan (pronounced Shhhhtefan) told me I was like a pearl wrapped in shards of glass. Lovely, he said, but requiring careful handling. Then he asked me to marry him. He was tall and handsome and sweet, with an unfortunate German accent (just isn’t as sexy as the British or South African accents), and he looked bright-eyed and hopeful as he awaited my answer on the rain-slicked basketball court of the school we lived in that summer during a one month internship. I smiled, thanked him for his sort of kind words, and declined. He nodded like he’d expected as much.

A law:

I have a problem and it’s my sister’s fault. My sister has a habit of pinching leaves off of succulent plants. It’s a small kind of thievery, one that goes completely unnoticed, but since you can grow a full plant from a single leaf, she’s pretty much shoplifting. So it’s her fault that I started “pinching” rocks from public parks for our garden border. It’s a victimless crime. But my mom says that it’s an embarrassment and the bottom of my stroller is getting  worn where I stash the stolen stones. I have a problem. And it’s my sister’s fault.

A promise:

There is something I have learned never to promise. It is the oldest promise I can remember and one I’ve broken time and again. I’ve lived on three continents, in nearly a dozen cities, in perhaps twenty different homes. And each move has meant the passing of a season, the end of a story, the death of a network of relationships. I am too nomadic, too invested in the next bend in the road to commit to the unending and rewarding labor of staying in touch. So “I’ll stay in touch” is now a promise I know not to make.

Nothing to it…

  
Aside from signing an agent and finding a publisher for my debut novel, my goal for this year is to publish three short stories in three literary magazines so that I can start to build my portfolio as an author.

Just a couple of weeks into this new season, it has already been a stretching and challenging experience. 

  1. Finding the literary magazine that is the right fit for my style and taste, as well as appealing to a broad enough audience to be recognizable and respectable… That’s no simple task. For now, I’m aiming at open submission calls from smaller anthologies. Not only do I stand a better chance than I do with, say, The New Yorker, these calls often come with specific story ideas or requirements. That’s a great way to get ideas as I start building a short story portfolio for the first time. 
  2. Short Stories are very different animals from Novels! That doesn’t take much explaining. Obviously, they’re very different. But in the same way that pushing through to the finish of my first novel taught me a host of lessons otherwise impossible to learn, so it is with the construction and refining process of short stories. It’s a highly spcialized genre of story telling. 
  3. I’m finding, all over again, that writing is my life’s work. Published or not, commercially successful or not, I love to write. Short stories are a great way to remind myself of that since reaching “The End” comes so much more quickly than with a novel. (Although the final draft of short stories can be just as long in coming since every. single. word. counts.)

Off to the holidays, then back to the drawing board with the next round of query letters. 

The adventure continues!

Book Review: On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee

It’s perhaps more laudable to simply keep heading out into the world, than always tilting to leave one’s mark on it.

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Sixteen year-old Fan had no intention of sparking a movement on the day she left the SuperCorp run city of B-More for the untamed “counties” of a post-apocalyptic United States. Or, at least, we don’t think she did. She set out in search of a boy she loved. He was taken from her, secreted away like a small animal in the clutches of a bird of prey, and the ripples of his disappearance faded too quickly as the community of B-more fought to maintain normalcy, productivity, harmony. So Fan left, navigating the treacherous counties, folding open the stories of those she met, diving the murky seas of high society life in affluent charter villages. And everywhere she went, Fan catalyzed quiet revolutions. Shifts in perspective. Blossoms of hope and fire for change. As for Fan herself, she had eyes only for the road ahead, for the honor paid to lives lost and gained, for the future.

This delicately woven story illuminated Asian culture in a way I didn’t know was possible. As a Korean American, Chang-rae Lee sees the world from the perspective of a third-culture kid: one foot in Asian culture, one in Western, not fully belonging to either. It may have been this background that equipped him so well to tell the dystopian tale of Chinese workers in a post-apocalyptic US. Who else, after all, would have thought to make the narrative voice speak as “we”, the voice of a community? What really brought this novel home, was his mastery of language, of how to weave life into each page and draw the delicate strings of theme and character through to the final page.

I loved this book. It surprised and affirmed and challenged and overwhelmed me. It made me revisit my own writing, strive to raise it to a higher standard. It taught me to understand and love Asian culture and my own “third-culture kidness” more deeply.

After reading On Such a Full Sea, I’ve added every one of Chang-rae Lee’s books to my list of books to be read.

I highly recommend that you do the same.

What Am I

Priestess of the invisible,

Believer in things unseen,

Seeker of hope unlooked for,

Companion of constant change.

Rain on the screen and screened.

I thirst,

Sense the warm pressure of blood in my shoulders,

Pressing onward, pressing outward,

Warm and rising to the rhythm of my labors,

Bound tight by my enclosing frame,

Guarded by my instincts and by pain.

I am a lifebringer and an abetor of many a death.

Delicate and rushing,

Oozing forth and gushing,

More familiar with my parts,
Than the chambers of my heart.

Put water in a glass, it becomes the glass.

Put a soul in a body…

642 Tiny Things to Write About: Day 2

We’re back with another Thursday Tiny Things writing prompt!

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This week’s inspirations:

1. Boil down Hamlet, Shakespeare’s longest play, to a tweet (140 characters).

   
 

2. Now tweet the plot of the original Star Wars.

   

3. Tweet the story of your life.

   
 

4. Tweet your day, so far. 

  

Share your responses in the comments below!

A Refresher Course in Reading: 2015-2016

I’ve been working through an enormous reading list for the last couple of years, based largely on the BBC’s list of top 100 books .  About a year ago, I got stuck on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I’m no novice reader, but I cannot seem to make my way through that book. I don’t like the style, the tone of the story depresses and annoys me. I know. I’m a barbarian. But in 2016, I’m getting back to reading.

I’m going to aim at books in and around my genre of writing, all published within the last five years. I’ll get back to my list of classics, eventually.

Maybe when my kids go to college.

For now, I’m going to aim for a modest list of 50 books. Over at Herding Cats, this is described as Level 4 “Taking a Swim”. I hope/plan to add to this list as the year goes on, but I’m going to set a minimum of 50, to start.

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The first to make the cut, in no particular order, are found on my Goodreads 2016 Challenge List:

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2016

I’ve already started in on this list, so keep an eye out for reviews and ratings every week. Here’s to reading and writing and reading some more!

Review: Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman

Well, Neil Gaiman has done it again.

Trigger Warning is an eerie, irreverent, occasionally shocking bouquet of absolutely wonderful stories and poems. He took his title from the psychological term which has grown so popular of late. A “trigger warning” is a caution to any passersby that the contents of the upcoming experience could remind them of past traumas, deep fears, and generally unsafe places. That’s a pretty accurate picture of what it’s like to wander through the stories of Mr. Gaiman’s imagination.

I wonder, Are fictions safe places? And then I ask myself, Should they be safe places? 

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My first exposure to Gaiman was through some of his films (Coraline, Stardust, the wonderful, delightful, totally original Mirrormask, etc.) and I was not surprised to find that I loved his books even more than the darkly whimsical movies that came from them. Trigger Warning made me stop in my tracks and say “whoa…” out loud more than once. It has made me dream of wandering through the gray, misty landscape of the Isle of Skye. I’ve been lost in the stark, burnt out remains of the Lunar Labyrinth. And I now listen to the howls of wolves very differently.

The short stories and poems of this collection varied widely in length and style, but Gaiman’s signature lilt of melancholy amusement and morbid beauty ran throughout. A few, like “Click-Clack the Rattlebag” and “Feminine Endings”, left me a little more wary of the weird, wide world. Still, not a single story left me disappointed.  

I always recommend Neil Gaiman. He’s not for children, mostly, or for the faint of spirit. But if you’re willing, if you’re able, he will lead you to places in the realm of Faerie that will press new perspectives upon you, for better or for worse. And he’ll do it with inimitable style.

Other titles I’ve read and can recommend by Neil Gaiman:

I’ll have a review coming soon on Anansi Boys!

642 Tiny Things to Write About: Day 1

Get your own copy of 642 Tiny Things to Write About and join me in my Tiny Things Thursdays adventures! Be sure to comment below and leave a link if you join in.

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Write yesterday’s fortune cookie. It got everything wrong.

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Write last year’s fortune cookie. It got everything right.

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Tell me, what do your fortunes say?

To Celebrating the Small Things

When I received my first rejection email a couple weeks back, I was fine. Better than fine, I was motivated. It just made me want to get as many queries out there as I could. Cast a wide net. Work off the assumption that I’ve got a good book and someone out there will want to represent it.

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When I received my tenth rejection email, I was… fine. Until I read a little further and found out that the agent had loved my story idea. She just didn’t like my writing.

It didn’t draw her in the way she had hoped it would.

So, obviously, I should never write again.

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But then.

Oh then, I got an email from an agent I hadn’t even emailed yet. They were on my list. They were coming up next, in fact. But someone passed my query along to them and they wanted to read more. They asked for a few chapters. They opened a door!

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That one correspondence trumped all the rest.

It may amount to nothing. I may have to query another hundred agents before I find the right fit.

But a door opened. Just a smidge.

And THAT is something worth celebrating.