Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Giacchino's Rogue One: A Soundtrack Story

Many people were understandably upset (myself included) when we learned that John Williams would not score Rogue One, though he thankfully remains committed to Episode VIII, and we assume, IX. After all, there has never been a Star Wars installment without Williams, from the familiar fanfare to the trademark themes and leitmotifs. But Rogue One always set out to be something different, not part of the trilogy proper, but an addendum, showing us the behind-the-scenes work that led to the heroics of Luke, Han, and Leia. To add to our collective confusion, the composer tapped to provide this installment, Alexandre Desplat, was replaced at the last minute with the uber-busy film composer, Michael Giacchino, fresh off his magnificent score for Doctor Strange. If we believe the press, Giacchino had a mere four weeks to score the entire film—no laughing matter for an epic that spans over two hours of screen time. However, I wonder whether or not that was simply to lower expectations for the score and deflect criticism of a non-Williams work? Either way, what we hear in the film—and on disc or MP3—are simply the notes, no matter how they were composed. After all, Mozart wrote the famous overture to Don Giovanni in the hours before its first performance, and his even more famous Symphony No.36 in a week. So why not a film score in four? 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Musical Mount Everest: 36 Hours and 104 Symphonies With Joseph Haydn

One of the most daunting tasks in classical music is navigating the symphonic output of Joseph Haydn, the so-called “father” of the symphony. For most composers, the symphony is the most august, serious, philosophical statement one can make in music. A symphony is like a four-act play, with each act/movement capturing something of the struggle of being human, or of contemplating the divine. Even a light-hearted symphony is written ‘big,’ for the gargantuan modern symphony orchestra (often over one hundred players strong) and made to sound like the entire universe is singing. For this reason, many composers wait until middle-age to tackle a symphony, if only because the greatest composers are in their rear-view mirror, seeming hoarding the best themes, structures, and innovations. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

FREE to Download this Friday-Saturday: The Count of the Living Death

This Friday-Saturday you can download my second novel for FREE, a comic gothic-fantasy novel following the exploits of a pampered count, an eccentric magician, a no-nonsense countess-to-be, a mysterious half-brother, and a menacing chest which hides unspeakable terrors under three magic locks. It's not quite as serious as it all sounds (or is it?), and it makes for a quick, enjoyable read, especially for those who enjoy books like The Hobbit, The Princess Bride, and the great comic-Gothic book that started it all, The Castle of Otranto.

Click on the link to download the book on your Kindle or Kindle app: https://www.amazon.com/Count-Living-Chronicles-Hildigrim-Blackbeard-ebook/dp/B00FQ6711Y/ref=pd_rhf_gw_s_t_1

Or, click "read more" below to sample the first three chapters...

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Revolutionary Rhino of Venice

In 1751, the Venetian painter, Pietro Longhi, created one of his most unusual works: a painting of fashionable spectators gawking at a rhinoceros. In an age before zoos (or at least humane ones), Europeans had little opportunity to see the wondrous diversity of biological life, relying instead of fanciful books by unreliable travelers. So you can imagine their delight to see a real Indian rhino in the flesh, part of a tour that was sweeping across Europe. The rhinoceros in question made quite a footnote in history: her name was Clara, captured as an infant by a Dutch captain in 1738. He took care of her for a time, but eventually sold her to someone with an entrepreneurial eye. Clara made the grand tour of Europe, spending several months in all the major capitals. By the time she made it to Venice, Clara was nearing the end of her life, though her final stop would be in England, where she died in 1758. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

You Are What You Read: How The Power of Myth Showed Me The “Penultimate Truth”

In my Critical Responses to Poetry course, we were discussing theories of identity in literature, and how literature not only expresses/records the world around us, but consciously shapes it by the very act of description. That is, people read these works and then imitate them, making a second-hand version of life into a performance of life itself. In Chapter 8 of his book, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, he writes,

“Literature has not only made identity a theme; it has played a significant role in the construction of the identity of readers...Literary works encourage identification with characters by showing things from their point of view. Poems and novels address us in ways that demand identification, and identification works to create identity; we become who we are by identifying with figures we read about” (113). 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Debt of Authorship: And Who Has To Pay?

What does an author owe to his or her readers? A book, certainly. But beyond that, does the contract between writer and fan demand any further obligation? For example, what about a real name? We all know that many authors opt for a pen name, some as simple as J.K. Rowling, while others create a completely false identity to throw off the scent in case he/she has a respectable day job which might be threatened by purple prose and exotic sex scenes. And some authors, of course, switch genders in the fear that boys won’t read books by girls—or vice versa. At the same time, it’s become customary to feature a glossy head shot of the author on the back flap of the book, assuring us that the author has brains and looks. Who wants to read a book by a total fright, after all? 

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Cutpurse Code is Free to Download this Thursday-Friday

My novel, The Cutpurse Code, about a bunch of would-be thieves in a Europe that never was, is available to download for free from Amazon this Thursday-Friday. It's my first official novel (of 4), though the last one published since I was scared to read it again after all these years. After a few months of revisions I decided to publish it along with the others, mostly to see if I could get a few readers. No one had even seen this work before I let it go (which is a very scary thing). I've gotten some good reviews on Inkitt (where I published a few chapters simultaneously), but only one brief review of the book on Goodreads (which said "good, but hard to get into" basically). So anxious to see if I can scrounge up a few more readers to see if the novel needs more work, or is ready to carve a small niche for itself in the vast ocean of indie fantasy novels.

Here's the link for the book, and the blurb and First Chapter follows below as a preview. Download it for free if it interests you, or pay a whopping 99 cents once the sale ends! Here's the link: https://www.amazon.com/Cutpurse-Code-Joshua-Grasso-ebook/dp/B01ETWWL0G/ref=pd_sim_351_1?ie=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B01ETWWL0G&pd_rd_r=QBMGAXTP4F5PPY29XK4S&pd_rd_w=6j0cJ&pd_rd_wg=wiqua&psc=1&refRID=QBMGAXTP4F5PPY29XK4S

Monday, September 19, 2016

Where Did the Scores Go? Can Movies Survive Without Music?

As a life-long fan of classical music from all periods, I’ve always been drawn to film music—and indeed, I inherited my love of classical music from film music. I cut my teeth on John Williams’ scores for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T., which provided me the basic musical vocabulary for encountering and appreciating composers such as Strauss, Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Sibelius, Schoenberg, and so many others—and some without ‘S’’s. The richness of the orchestration, as well as the glorious melodies that seemed to emerge from the characters’ own thoughts and situations, moved me to the core, and helped me ‘see’ similar psychological richness in abstract music such as a four-movement, hour-long symphony. In fact, film music made me question whether there really is such a thing as ‘abstract’ music, since everything has its own story—you just have to find it (for yourself, mostly). Moving from film music backwards was probably the best musical education I could have received, and I attained it early: the first music I ever purchased (or had purchased for me) was the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back in the very early eighties. A handful of years later I was listening to The Rite of Spring and Shostakovich’s Fifth. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Do Great Books Grow Old? Or Do We Just Forget How To Read Them?

A few days ago, the BookBub blog posted an article entitled “12 Books We Should Stop Making High Schoolers Read”, which you can find here: https://media.bookbub.com/blog/2016/09/01/books-we-should-stop-making-high-schoolers-read/

On the one hand, I’m sympathetic to this list, since I teach high school students—that is, high school students who suddenly find themselves first-year college students at a small regional university in Oklahoma. They haven’t magically transformed from twelfth grade to year one of college; they’re still the same students who (largely) don’t like to read or write, and (mostly) have avoided reading as much as possible. When ordering books for a prospective class, I always think, “oh, can they really read book X? Isn’t it too hard? Will they stick with it? Can I possibly make them see the big ideas here? Shouldn’t I try something easier or more modern?” So on the face of it, this list is an honest admission that students hate reading, so why not at least try to meet them on their own terms? What’s wrong with switching out Moby Dick with The Martian? (though I’ve got to think alliteration had something to do with this switcheroo, since they have almost zero in common). If high school students bitch about reading A Tale of Two Cities, why not substitute I am Malala, a non-fiction book by a brave woman who is admittedly not a writer and had a professional writer help her along (which doesn’t exactly compare to Dickens, one of our greatest writers of novels). But hey, if it gets students reading, why the hell not? Reading is reading, and all reading is good. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Heralding Hanson's Symphonies on Amazon

Review of Howard Hanson: Complete Symphonies by Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle SO: https://www.amazon.com/Hanson-Complete-Symphonies-Gerard-Schwarz/dp/B01HNSJ9QM/ref=sr_1_1?s=dmusic&ie=UTF8&qid=1472933634&sr=1-1-mp3-albums-bar-strip-0&keywords=hanson+symphonies

I own all these recordings on the original cds, which are scuffed up and barely play without skips and distortion, so it was wonderful to see them repackaged in a bargain set like this. Schwarz's recordings of Hanson are glorious and first turned me onto this glorious repertoire 20 years ago. Thanks to a generation or two of Serialism and its numerous proponents, great composers like Hanson were basically blacklisted from concert life, their works seen as quaint, reactionary throwbacks to an earlier age. Yet Hanson went on composing (as well as teaching future generations of musicians), developing in his own, quiet, original way based on the models of past masters. While Hanson might fit strangely in the hierarchy of 20th century American composers, he will be welcomed by anyone who enjoys the work of Samuel Barber of Nicholas Flagello. Yet to my mind, Hanson is the greater master, as he unapologetically wrote in an "old" style and found so many new things to say. His Seven Symphonies are minor masterpieces just a step behind the great Seven of Sibelius (whom he is musically a student of), and his musical thumbprint is recognizable after a handful of notes. The combination of distinct melodies, superior craftsmanship, and dazzling orchestration, mark out Hanson's music every time. Hanson's music speaks of wide-open vistas on the Northern plains; of long, forgotten struggles among people who were often serious, but never sober; and of a boundless optimism that may have immigrated from another land but remains firmly, and defiantly, American.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Seven Voyages of Sibelius: An Appreciation of His Symphonic Cycle

About a hundred years ago, when symphony orchestras still drew large—and young!—audiences, Sibelius’ music featured on many programs, particularly his series of romantic-modernist symphonies. Not since Beethoven and Brahms was a composer’s voice so naturally attuned to symphonic thought, yet without making the listener feel the heavy lifting of contrapuntal development and sonata form. Like his contemporary, Gustav Mahler, Sibelius began with both feet planted firmly in the late Romantic period, yet with each symphony, he ventured further afield into the thickets of Modernism—on his own terms. Sadly, though his music is still often played by orchestras around the world, the average listener knows little of his music beyond orchestral hits like Finlandia, Valse Triste, or an excerpt from a longer suite, The Swan of Tuonela. His symphonies are often seen as derivative of Brahms or Tchaikovsky by some, while others find them too thorny or difficult (particularly the later ones). Many people would much prefer to hear something more familiar and toothsome and call it a night. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

From the Vaults of the Imagination: The Forgotten Short Stories of Clark Ashton Smith

Clark Ashton Smith is a name that exists at the periphery of science fiction and fantasy lore, a name often evoked but rarely read. He is sometimes dismissed as an imitator of Lovecraft; at other times, as a writer whose exotic, hot-house prose often carried him away from his subjects. Yet the titles of his numerous short stories are too tempting to leave to second-hand wisdom: works like “The City of the Singing Flame,” “The Dark Eidolon,” and “Ubbo-Sathla” remind me of long-lost AD&D campaigns and hidden, forgotten evils buried in the appendix of the Fiend Folio. There’s some truth to this, as without Clark’s stories, so much of the modern fantasy mythos would cease to exist. Along with Lovecraft and Tolkein, Smith’s stories were mined for their outlandish visions of Atlantean worlds and unspeakable terrors. What others left behind was Smith’s unique language—he is unparalleled as a crafter of prose in fantasy writing—and his ability to create tension and twist endings. Smith excelled at the short story, and a 10-page tale from Smith often contains more beauty, wonder, and mystery than many a thousand-page tome making lavish promises on its book jacket. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Fiction of Real Life: Shostakovich’s Testimony

One of the most fascinating literary documents of 20th century music has to be the alleged memoirs of Dimitri Shostakovich, known as Testimony in English translation. The book has inspired intense debate since its publication in 1979 (when the USSR remained firmly in existence) with a reputation that has waxed and waned ever since. The story is simple: Solomon Volkov, then a young musicologist in Leningrad, befriended the great composer Dimitri Shostakovich. Over  period of time they became more intimately acquainted, and according to Volkov, Shostakovich began reluctantly revealing details of his private life and thoughts. Volkov recorded these in succeeding interviews, until Shostakovich became more loquacious, eventually writing out long passages himself. Volkov smuggled the manuscript out of the USSR with the promise not to publish them until after the composer’s death. Shostakovich died in 1976, and Volkov found eager interest in the West for the uncensored memoirs of a much-loved and much-persecuted Soviet composer. 

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Doodling On Your Drafts

A book is a precious object. Though mass-produced, each one is unique, with its own slight imperfections, all the more so if purchased used. What book lover hasn’t delighted in the unique smell of a book: the deep, husky smell of a used book, or the sharp, bright smell of a book straight off the press? Furthermore, books can be easily personalized by the reader: his or her name can be inscribed at the front, pages can be dog-eared or marked up, or they can become notepads, recording forgotten phone numbers and irrelevant doodles. They can be given to friends or passed down through the generations. To place books in a bookshelf is no different than placing original artwork in a frame. It’s meant to be admired and observed as well as read. Books are objects and adornments; they are some of the most original works of art. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Art For the Sake of Sanity

Artists have always held a precarious position in society, being seen paradoxically as truth tellers and outright liars. Plato feared the power of poets (writing in The Republic) and most totalitarian regimes target artists and writers exclusively as ‘trouble makers’ and dissidents. In Soviet Russia under Stalin, the arts were ruthlessly manicured by cultural watchdogs so that no artist could apply a single brushstroke or write a single word without looking over his or her shoulder.

Monday, June 20, 2016

FREE for 2 days: The Winged Turban

Please download, share, read, and review my novel, The Winged Turban, which has been floundering on Amazon since September. I'm desperately trying to get some reviews for the book, since without reviews, no one really sees the book--or if they do, they figure it's just some silly self-published book (which it is, but still...) 

Click here for the Amazon page and preview the book, or simply roll the dice and download it for free: https://www.amazon.com/Winged-Turban-Joshua-Grasso-ebook/dp/B015DQEHMW?ie=UTF8&qid=1466427087&ref_=la_B00FQLZER2_1_4&s=books&sr=1-4

Friday, June 17, 2016

Be Derivative and Find Yourself

Here’s the best writing advice I can offer any writer just starting out: be derivative. Don’t try to “find your own voice.” Don’t think about world building or unique characters or unknown alien races. Don’t develop your own plucky narrative style that announces ‘you’ on every page. And don’t do something shocking to set the world on fire. Instead, do  what your favorite authors do. Mimic their style, their characters, their narrative, even their plots. Don’t steal—and definitely don’t plagiarize. But emulate, copy, pose, ape, and mimic. There will be time to be original and groundbreaking later. However, if you really want to be a writer (rather than someone who just sells books) you have to go through the all-important stage of mimicry necessary to create great art—or just books worth reading. It’s the most important way to “write what you know.” You know? 

Saturday, June 11, 2016

"To Work In Silence and With All One's Heart"

In 1908, one of the world’s great writers hit a creative dead end. Willa Cather, a fledgling short story writer, helmed one of the largest literary magazines in New York, McClure’s, yet she couldn’t write a novel. Even her stories tended to be accomplished, yet derivative imitations of the bestselling novels of the day—tales of high society romances and artists suffering for art. As an editor she knew what sold, and knew—apparently—what people wanted to read. However, when she wrote those very things, tailored to audience expectations and critical approval, the result never caught fire. She had written some excellent short stories (“A Wagner Matinee” being one of the best), but she couldn’t extend the material; the situations and characters were often second-hand, cribbed from Edith Wharton and Henry James, among others. It bored her to even think of it! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Writers Are Not Heroes

Writers are not heroes. No matter how many works they write, or how many people they inspire, they remain utterly and tragically earthbound. Meet a writer and you’ll see what I mean. Now I’m not talking about your average writer with a dream to write a novel and who blogs about the process every week. I mean the kind who really makes it, whose very lives are seemingly carved out of granite, making them statues to be adored or worshipped. People who go by a single name and who could sell books on their reputation alone (and indeed, sell books even when they no longer care about writing them). The ability to take words, the same words we use every day, and fashion them into something astonishing, remarkable, emotional, and otherworldly...only a modern-day Prometheus could do that.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Isn’t Every Book About Writing?

Soon after graduating high school, I started writing my first novel, ready to take the literary world by storm; I don’t even remember a thing about that novel today—not the story or characters or even what made me think I could write a novel at 18. To fuel my resolve, I landed a job at a local bookstore—a B.Dalton, for those of you who remember chain bookstores. I assumed that being surrounded by books and readers would whip me into a inspirational frenzy, or at least inculcate me with some award-winning ideas simply by stacking the shelves. Surprisingly, few people came into the store looking for books, exactly: most wanted magazines, or crossword books, or calendars. Others wanted “that one book...by the one guy...you know, who was on that one show a few years ago... you know!”

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Building the Bildungsroman

In a sense, every novel is a “coming-of-age” novel: a hero or heroine emerges from youth, or humble beginnings, or sheltered wealth to glimpse a new world of frightening possibilities. The journey that follows always changes the protagonist, introducing him or her to people on different stages of their own journeys, some already beaten-down, warning the protagonist to turn back while he/she still has a chance. Others point the way forward, offering time-honored wisdom which bears fruit in subsequent chapters, and might eventually save the character’s life. We love to watch fictional characters grow up, since they can test the waters and make mistakes (in fact, conflict consists of repeated mistakes). And when they succeed, we can imagine ourselves reaping the benefits—we just have to follow in their wake. They make it look so easy, after all! 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

College Satire: Student Discovers Semi-Colon

LexingtonKY--Jessica McClure, freshman General Business major, stumbled upon a secret previously known only to the inner circle of the grammar elite: the mysterious semicolon.  Once believed to simply make a smiley face wink, a select few realize that it also combines two independent clauses together when a period seems too abrupt.  However, Jessica’s knowledge of the semi-colon bypassed the usual protocols from the Elders of Composition; instead, she merely noticed in on her keyboard one day and, as she likes to say, “starting using the shit out of it.”

Monday, May 9, 2016

Is Fantasy Color Blind?

Racy Shakespeare

As late as the 1980’s, performances of Shakespeare featured white actors in every role, even roles where racial difference was clearly marked in the script: Othello, Shylock, Cleopatra, even Aaron the Moore (a rather sadistic character in Titus Andronicus). Blackface itself persisted well into the 20th century, tragically captured on screen in Laurence Olivier’s 1965 performance of Othello—complete with eye-rolling and other ‘racial’ histrionics. Only recently has it become common to find biracial casts of Shakespeare’s plays, and not just Antony and Cleopatra and Othello, but even relatively “white” plays such as As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet. Traditionalists bristle at these changes, since a black Romeo would never woo a white Juliet in Renaissance Verona...though the case could equally be made that the originals would be far more swarthy than your typical Anglo-Saxon! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Download a New Fantasy Novel: Shakebags & Co.

Read Shakebags & Co. here: http://www.amazon.com/Shakebags-Co-Joshua-Grasso-ebook/dp/B01ETWWL0G?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

About ten years ago I wrote my first novel as a way of relieving stress from writing my PhD dissertation. Honestly, I wrote a few pages of one and then wrote a few pages of the other. Needless to say, some of my dissertation--on 18th c. travel writing and piracy--wound up in the novel, and a little of the storytelling aspect wound up in the dissertation. When my mentor asked me during my dissertation defense what aspect of the work I was most proud of, I said, "I liked being able to tell the story of the people and the literature they created." Her response: "that was the least successful part of your dissertation." Ouch. Nevertheless, I still defended successfully, though I hope that the novel is by far the better work, since I've spent the last few years writing and re-writing it, trying to get it to sound less 'academic' and more entertaining. 

Once I obtained my first academic job, I submitted the novel to more publishers and agents than I thought humanly possible. All of them passed on it, most of them not even bothering to respond to my query (typical). My initial response was to destroy it as a youthful transgression, but since I was 30 at the time I wrote it, that doesn't hold much water. So I put it aside, wrote other works, and gradually forgot all about it. But last year, bolstered by the modest success of my other works, I decided to dust it off and read it from beginning to end. I was not happy with the work as it stood, so I re-wrote large chunks of it, made the characters a bit more interesting and distinct, and slightly changed the ending. I think it holds up as a fun, quick read with a few ideas to chew on. I had no plan to publish it, however; I instead submitted it to a few more agents and entered it into two novel-writing contests. Though I got some genuine interest among readers on Inkitt, the contests rejected it and the agents ignore me once more. 

So now I offer it for 99 cents on Amazon as a Kindle download. If you like the exploits of thieves in a quasi-18th century setting, wizards, intrigue, cabals, and mystery, I know you'll like at least some of this work. And if you read all or part of the work, please give it a review, since that's the only coin that has any value in the indie publishing world.

You can sample 15 chapters from the novel on Inkitt for free here: http://www.inkitt.com/stories/13041

Or, you can download it for 99 cents here: http://www.amazon.com/Shakebags-Co-Joshua-Grasso-ebook/dp/B01ETWWL0G?ie=UTF8&*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Naked Art of Excess

In John Berger’s groundbreaking 1972 book on art and culture, Ways of Seeing, he tackles the always-controversial subject of the female nude. Yet not every nude is ‘nude,’ so to speak, as some of them seem quite comfortable in their own skin, while others seem on display, as if their very nakedness is a form of dress. As Berger explains, “to be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in other to become a nude...Nakedness reveals itself. Nudity is placed on display. To be naked is to be without disguise” (54). 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

What Was Genre Before It Was Genre?

[This article was also published on Inkwell, the official blog of Inkitt.com: http://www.inkitt.com/blog]

What do you call ‘science fiction’ before anyone had imaginatively traveled at light speed? Or ‘fantasy’ before Dungeons and Dragons had rolled a single die? Though these categories command impressive real estate in bookstores/websites today, at one time they didn’t exist until an intrepid author—often called a madman or fool—dreamed them up. One of the first works that we now consider science fiction, The War of the Worlds, came into being in 1898, the fourth in a string of classic novels by H.G. Wells. While the novel can now seem a bit dated, its events run-of-the-mill to a cynical filmgoer, imagine what the imaginative landscape looked like in 1898: aliens had never invaded the Earth, robots had never considered if they were human or not, ships had never traveled through wormholes (or, for that matter, across the sky), and the internet would have to wait for the invention of personal computers—almost a hundred years distant. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Falling In Love In Fiction

In Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel, Drama (2012) Callie is in love with a fellow ninth-grader who never seems to notice her. After they share an awkward kiss (largely to console Greg, who is recovering from a breakup), the boy spends the rest of the story avoiding her, since he sees her more as a ‘friend’ than a potential love interest. By the end of the novel, after Callie is disappointed in yet another boy—who turns out to be gay--Greg appears with a change of heart. Walking her home in the moonlight, they stop on the same bench where they shared their first (and only) kiss, and he says, “I didn’t realize that the girl I should really have been with was right before my eyes. Will you give me another shot?” Callie is confused and outraged, and comically resists his epiphany with the words, “Are you for real?” The frame widens: we zoom into his wide-open eyes, expressing desperation and desire, as he says “Don’t be confused…be my girlfriend.” He then leans in for the kiss…

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Can the Novel Speak Every Language?

[Also published on The Inkwell, Inkitt.com's literary blog: http://www.inkitt.com/blog

We’ve all eagerly awaited the movie adaptation of a beloved novel, only to leave the theater deflated. What happened? How could that novel, which we imagined so clearly in our heads, fall so utterly short of reality? Where were the characters, the dialogue, the excitement, and that one scene? They cut it out of the movie! When people pompously assert that “the book was better,” perhaps they’re not being so pompous; perhaps they’re merely stating the simple fact that a novel does what a novel does, and a movie does it differently. Artistic forms require translation, and like translation, something is gained and lost when you move from one form/language to another. A novel is a literary construction bound to specific rules, customs, and histories. When you write a novel, you don’t just write a story any more than you speak a universal language; to write a novel is to slip into history, using the tools bequeathed you by generations of writers and slipping into a familiar ‘character’ that we know from any one of a thousand books. No matter how unique your literary voice, a novel is still a novel, and needs to sound like one...and everything we write is a version of every one we’ve ever read, to a greater or lesser degree.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Free this Wed-Thur: The Count of the Living Death

My first novel, The Count of the Living Death, is free for download to Kindle devices and apps this Wednesday-Thursday. The book has been lightly re-written and some small errors fixed, so now I'm hoping more people find their way to it. It was first published in Fall 2013, and since then it has been downloaded thousands of times (if only it had thousands of reviews!). Feel free to check it out and write a brief review if you can. The Count is a Young Adult Fantasy book in the spirit of The Princess Bride or Robert Aspirin's humorous fantasy novels, though it has a slight touch of the Gothic as well. That said, it's pretty tame with no sex or bad language, and even the macabre parts are suitable for younger ages (10 and up). 

The link and a brief blurb about the book follow:

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Count-Living-Chronicles-Hildigrim-Blackbeard-ebook/dp/B00FQ6711Y/ref=pd_rhf_gw_s_t_1

Count Leopold always wondered about the strange chest sealed with three magic locks. His father warned him never to mention the Box—nor pry into the secret chamber where it was kept. Now the Box has begun speaking to Leopold, begging him to find the key and undo the hateful locks. If he does so, it promises him to fulfill his every desire, even offering him the hand of the forbidden—and forbiddingly named— Lady Mary Bianca Domenica de Grassini Algarotti. However, before unfastening the third lock he catches a glimpse of something unspeakable inside—and turns to the only man who shared his father’s secret, the legendary Conjurer-Magician, Hildigrim Blackbeard. A man who, if the stories are true, will exact a terrible price in return for his service.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Plagiarism and Persona

Everyone is a version of someone else, who themselves are copies of a copy of a copy. To create a persona is less an act of creation than of conscious theft. Even the word persona comes from the Latin word for stage masks worn by actors in a comedy of tragedy. We are all players, cobbling together a role from various plays, characters, and writers. Imagine, then, the difficulty when a writer (who is composed of various ideas and performances) sits down to write a story, which is also an act of persona. A story inhabits the world of a specific genre or style, borrowing the signposts and characters from other writers who have contributed to it, and then has to create a distinctive language which, however original, still has to sound authentic.   

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Reading on Both Sides of History

[also published on The Inkwell, Inkitt's literary blog: http://www.inkitt.com/blog]

Literature—and all art, for that matter—is like the face of the moon; always changing, always presenting a new face for the reader. It changes within our own lifetime, as a book read as a teenager no longer looks the same at thirty-nine. Imagine, then, the changes over a hundred years or more, when not only ] the readers but the society itself ‘grows up.’ Some works age well, being passed from one library to another, while others become shameful reminders of old ideas, old worlds, and old thoughts. Something of this latter aspect is conveyed by the author Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea) in a letter to her editor in 1966, about one of her favorite novels, Jane Eyre. Rhys grew up in Dominica, and outsider to mainstream British life, a fact echoed in almost every book she read as a child. As she explains,

“I came to England between sixteen and seventeen, a very impressionable age and Jane Eyre was one of the books I read then. Of course Charlotte Bronte makes her own world, of course she convinces you, and that makes the poor Creole lunatic all the more dreadful. I remember being quite shocked, and when I re-read it rather annoyed. “That’s only one side—the English side.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Catching Literature on the Wing

[This article also appeared on Inkwell, Inkitt.com's literary column, which you can read here: http://www.inkitt.com/blog/]

In his essay “Reading and Writing” (2000), the Nobel Prize-winning author, V.S. Naipaul, discusses his place in the grand tradition of literature, following in the footsteps of the great immortals of literature—a daunting task even for the writer of A House for Mr. Biswas and A Bend in the River. As he explains,

“All of us who have come after have been derivative. We can never be the first again. We might bring new material from far away, but the program we are following has been laid out for us. We cannot be the writing equivalent of Robinson Crusoe on his island, letting off “the first gun that has been fired there since the creation of the world.” That is the gunshot we hear when we turn to the originators. They are the first; they didn’t know it when they began, but then…they do know, and they are full of excitement at the discovery.”

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Review of The Winged Turban from Kindle Ninja Book Reviews!

Check out this great review courtesy of the Kindle Ninja, a champion e-book reviewer who previously reviewed (favorably!) my second book, The Astrologer's Portrait. This time around, he did a 'conversation review' along with another accomplished fantasy writer, Leisl Kaberry, author of The Titanian Chronicles. Click on the link below for the review--it's an entertaining read in its own right, and you don't need to know the book to appreciate (but there aren't any major spoilers, either, so it won't ruin the book, either). Thanks again, Kindle Ninja!

Saturday, February 27, 2016

To Live For the Words: A Response to the Debate of Story Vs. Style

If you ask most people why they read, they will invariably respond, “I like the stories,” or “to lose myself in a good book,” or even, “to meet interesting characters.” Each one, however, seems to suggest that the essential quality of a book is its story, the escapist factor that would make sitting in isolation for an hour or more an inviting prospect. It’s amusing to think about: reading is staring at marks in a book over and over again, while sitting still, and trying to block out the surrounding world—an almost impossible with 2016 racket. And yet these little marks can make an entire world rise beneath our feet, carrying us to far-away places, or transforming our perspective of the work-a-day world. Each one increases our collective wealth, so we horde them like a treasure-mad dragon, salivating over each bauble, even if we’ve polished it a thousand times.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Musical Authorship--or What If They Didn't Write the Notes?

What does it mean to compose a piece of music? Does it mean that that composer in question personally wrote—and orchestrated—every bar? Or what about a melody he/she composed that is then arranged by others? If a composer leaves a work in fragmentary form, and a second party comes in and completes it, even composing new music, is that piece still by Composer A—or Composer B? Is that really a collaboration, or a completion? In short, what truly constitutes authorship in music? This is a difficult question, particularly in the world of classical music, when works are often completed by students and colleagues, or in the world of film music, where orchestrations are farmed out to studio hands, so the composer can dash off multiple scores at once. While we like the idea of a single composer, often this is hardly the case, and a single piece of music might go through multiple hands over decades and centuries. Consider a piece that survives 300 years and is then “edited” by a musicologist: is that an act of co-composition, particularly if the piece is tailored to appeal to modern audiences? In the same way, what about Mozart;s re-orchestration of Handel’s Messiah for an 18th century audience? Is that a new opus by Mozart? Or when Mahler did the same for Schumann’s symphonies? Similarly, if you quote parts of a piece in your own work—say, Strauss’ Metamorphosen, which quotes  Beethoven’s Eroica—does Beethoven get credit (even if he wouldn’t want it)?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Can Women Order From the Menu of Fiction?

Shortly after the publication of Jane Austen’s novel, Emma (1815), the greatest English writer of the day, the now largely-forgotten Sir Walter Scott, wrote an unexpected review of the work which brought her attention and acclaim. Though he praised the work on the whole, he hastened to add that,

"The author’s knowledge of the world, and the peculiar tact with which she presents characters that the reader cannot fail to recognize, reminds us something of the merits of the Flemish school of painting.  The subjects are not often elegant, and certainly never grand; but they are finished up to nature, and with a precision which delights the reader” (1815).

Thursday, January 14, 2016

“Punished For the Loveliness of Summer”: Willa Cather’s My Antonia

In Book II, Chapter 6 of My Antonia, Jim, the young protagonist, is fighting against the cold winter wind which has just overtaken the land. As he reflects,

“The pale, cold light of the winter sunset did not beautify—it was like the light of truth itself. When the smoky clouds hung low in the west and the red sun went down behind them, leaving a pink flush on the snowy roofs and the blue drifts, then the wind sprang up afresh, with a kind of bitter song, as if it said: “This is reality, whether you like it or not. All those frivolities of summer, the light and shadow, the living mask of green that trembled over everything, they were lies, and this is what was underneath. This is the truth.” It was as if we were being punished for loving the loveliness of summer.”