Goals? What Goals?

Writing, by pdsimao, © 2007

Writing, by pdsimao, © 2007

If you came here after reading my earlier entry, you might notice a bit of irony. If you haven’t read it, please take a moment to go back and read that post. I’ll wait here while you do.

Welcome back. As you can see, the plans I made well over half a year ago have all come undone. You’re probably wondering what happened. I’ll offer a short explanation, and then try to salvage the year by putting forth a couple of new goals.

Where Have I Been

A couple of months before I wrote that last post, I had experienced some medical issues. For several years now I have dealt with a condition called dermatomyositis. It’s a nasty autoimmune condition at attacks my muscular system. As a bonus, it comes with some ugly skin issues as well.

Over the past couple of years, it had been held in check. I wasn’t one hundred percent, but I was functional. Around November of last year, it started coming back. It got so bad that at the end of March I checked myself into the emergency room. I won’t go into details, but from the emergency room I went to a skilled nursing facility, and there I stayed until the end of July.

Needless to say, I’ve been distracted. The problem is, this is mainly just an excuse. Yes, the condition is serious—and had gotten very serious—but to be honest, it should not have prevented me from writing. It’s difficult to type, and writing longhand is even more so, but I can do it. On top of that, I invested in dictation software that should remove the restrictions on typing that I just mentioned.

So there you have it. The last ten or twelve months have been difficult, but they should not have kept me from writing. At the very least, I could have posted to this blog regularly. And if not, at least more often than once in nine months.

Where Am I Going

Even though I don’t believe the previous goals I set were particularly ambitious, I’m going to take it easy on myself for this year’s remaining three months. At the top of my list is to post to this blog regularly. I’m going to begin with once a week, and then increase that if it feels comfortable. I don’t really have a shortage of topics to blog about, so this won’t be too difficult. The trick is to just get back into the habit of daily writing.

The next goal is to continue working on The Unseen. I’m not going to make finishing the first draft a goal for this year, but I don’t see that as being too unlikely. The point is to simply return to a routine of writing something every day. It’s been neglected for too long now.

Finally, I would like to produce at least one short story and make it ready for publication. Actually selling the story and having it published would be even better, but the goal is to simply finish something.

As far as non-writing goals go, I have a lot of work to do bringing my health back. I am not as physically functional as I was a year ago. I’m working with my doctor, and hopefully some physical therapy is in my future. I intend to spend a good amount of time on trying to rebuild my physique. By this time next year, I would like to get back into a kayak. We’ll see.

Now Get Back to Work

So there you have it. When I look at the list I just made, it seems like a lot. That’s mainly because I haven’t been doing much lately. That’s going to change. In the meantime, I will be posting again soon. But now, I had better get back to work.

Thanks for reading.

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Goodbye 2013, Hello 2014

I’m looking forward to the new year. This is mainly because, as a writer, 2013 was for the most part a bust. Without exception, I kicked every writing goal I set for myself to the curb this past year. So in this light, 2014 is guaranteed to be a success. Right?

I know it’s dangerous, but I’m going to set some of my goals down here for all to see. Accountability and all that. So without further procrastination ado, here they are.
Continue reading

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Book Review: Stories from the Underworld, by Johanna K. Pitcairn

I am weird. I enjoy what I do. There’s nothing better than this. Such a beautiful gift. I live far away from people. Kidding. New York City is an exquisite playground, but you knew this already. It’s really easy to deceive people into believing I’m such a nice and helpful neighbor. I like to have my little secrets. They’re mine… forever. I don’t even need a photo album. I can remember each of them so vividly. Ah… Let me contemplate this for a second… Yes. That’s right. Perfect.

from “Open Letter to a Kindred Spirit,” by Johanna K. Pitcairn

Stories from the Underworld, by Johanna K. PitcairnStories from the Underworld is a collection of tales that share a sameness of setting and mood which I found immediately engaging. There’s a perception of New York City’s atmosphere that permeates every story, and even those that don’t explicitly take place there are influenced by it in some way or another. There’s a dark and gritty feel to every sentence, as if each word was pulled from a dark and damp alleyway in the dead of night. The stories will shock you, and maybe even surprise you with a twist or two.

The Good

The tales within Stories from the Underworld run the gamut in genre from horror to suspense to near-future dystopia. Despite this, there seems to be a continuity linking all of them together—the characterization of the setting. It is consistent and realistic, and becomes the cord linking the collection together, even though one story may take place in a disabled subway car while another plays out in a wooded battlefield in the near future. The characters all seem to either be trapped in the city or in the process of escaping, physically or psychologically.

Some of the stories are graphic, others are subtle. One or two of the stories seem to end abruptly—but at just the right time. Most are first-person accounts from a female point of view, but not all. If there’s a common thread linking all of the tales together aside from the setting, it’s darkness and a sense of foreboding. These are not happy stories at all.

The Bad

There’s not much to say here. The stories are well written and engaging, and there was nothing to distract from that. With such a wide variety of tales it’s possible that not every one will appeal to each reader, but that’s a matter of taste rather than quality.

The Ugly

The copy of this book I read was an independently-produced Kindle version. As such there were little or no distractions from the reading experience stemming from formatting or presentation. In fact, I have read some professionally-produced e-books from established publishers that have had more issues than this one.

Conclusion

I’ve never been to New York City, but we’ve all read books and seen movies or television shows set there. I even know a few people who’ve lived there. Just like every large American city, be it New York or Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco, Boston or Dallas, Atlanta or Detroit or Miami, perceptions can vary wildly, and I can say that I myself have been presented with a confounding number of different versions of New York. In Stories from the Underworld, Johanna Pitcairn presents a view of her city that is dark and mysterious, and not a little perilous for those who lack the necessary survival instincts. Additionally, she is able to convey a sense that, once entered, the darkness of the city can never truly be escaped, regardless of how far one may roam.

If you enjoy your tales dark and chilling, this book is an excellent choice. I give it four stars.

4 Stars

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Book Review: A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner. And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from. There is no doubt that Marley was dead.

from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

I wasn’t going to do it: I wasn’t going to post yet another book review. That was until my daughter brought home a copy of A Christmas Carol and Other Stories from her school library. She knew I had enjoyed the one Dickens novel I had previously read, Great Expectations, and thought I would enjoy this one, too. And it didn’t take me long to decide that the review of a good Christmas ghost story would be appropriate for this website at this time. So, this is my Christmas gift to you.

There probably aren’t many who aren’t familiar with the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and his encounters with ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, but just in case, here’s a summary.

Scrooge is a cold man, hardened by years spent in the accumulation of wealth. One Christmas Eve, feeling particularly cantankerous on the cusp of his least-favorite holiday, he is visited by the ghost of his old partner Jacob Marley. He has come to warn old Ebenezer of his impending fate: to spend eternity bound by the figurative chains he has fashioned for himself during his life. He then tells Scrooge to expect three spectral visitors, who each in turn take the old miser on a tour of Christmases that were, are, and might yet be.

The Good

A Christmas Carol and Other Stories, by Charles DickensI haven’t read a lot of Dickens; this is only the second of his works that I have taken the time to enjoy. I’ve heard a lot of people complain of his wordiness and dry prose, but I have no complaints. First, the quote above shows, he can ramble, but it’s usually in the interest of absurdity (again, see the quote). The opening lines immediately recalled a particular Monte Python skit for some reason, but that’s beside the point. Secondly, I don’t find his prose any more dry than his contemporaries; less so, in fact.

What I learned from this novella (it’s just over 100 pages), as well as Great Expectations, is that Dickens was a master of characterization; it’s no wonder many of his characters have become icons of personality. The names Oliver Twist, The Artful Dodger and Fagan, Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim, all conjure impressions of familiarity. As a writer, I find that the author has a lot to teach in this area.

For all of this, the themes of this story made the greatest impression. The theme of generosity vs. materialism is clear, showing the joy that comes from a generous heart, even in those who are impoverished, juxtaposed with the discontent and loneliness that comes from a miserly heart and a constant pursuit of wealth.

Underlying this, though, is the simple message that it’s always possible to change one’s heart.

The Bad

I love it when I can’t find a thing to write here.

The Ugly

Or here.

Conclusion

When I decided to read A Christmas Carol, my first thought was that it might not hold my attention having seen so many screen and stage adaptations. After reading the opening sequence quoted above, however, I knew I was in for an thoroughly entertaining experience.

I found that the greatest thing about reading this story, though, is becoming reacquainted with the timelessness of its themes. They are, in fact more timely than ever, considering today’s obsession with both materialism and the shunning of the word “Christmas” in the name of being politically correct. In the case of materialism, this tale unashamedly proclaims the cliched message, “it is better to give than to receive,” and does it in an unforgettable way. And in the case of political correctness, A Christmas Carol firmly reveals the truth: Christmas is about loving and giving, about peace and goodwill, and about sharing of hearts; and by these qualities it transcends culture and faith and race and nationality.

It’s on that note, and in that spirit, that I wish all of you a merry Christmas. Oh yes, I also give this story five stars. 5 Stars

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Status Update: The 2012 Eclectic Reader’s Challenge

Book reviews are about all I’ve posted in the last few months, and here my first non-review post in a very long time is about–book reviews. Even though it appears as if I have reviewed far too many novels lately, I can say that, as far as the 2012 Eclectic Reader’s Challenge is concerned, it hasn’t been enough.

If you don’t know–or don’t recall–what the Challenge is, it’s simply this: Read a book in each of twelve different genres, then publish a review. Simple, right? One book and review a month. Well, I fell a little short.

Here is a list of the represented genres, the books I had planned to read, the ones I actually read, the rating I gave, and whether a review has been published for the novel.

Genre Book Planned to Read Book Read Rating Status
Science Fiction Seven Point Eight: The First Chronicle, by Marie Harbon same 3 Stars
but see the review for explanation
Read and reviewed
Non-fiction Immediate Fiction, by Jerry Cleaver none n/a Not read
Horror Reunion, by Jeff Bennington same 3 Stars Read and reviewed
Classic Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley same  3 Stars Read and reviewed
Literary In Memory of Greed, by Al Boudreau Life of Pi, by Yann Martel 5 Stars Read and reviewed
Thriller/Suspense BoneMan’s Daughters, by Ted Dekker In Memory of Greed, by Al Boudreau n/a Read, not reviewed
Crime/Mystery Chasing Amanda, by Melissa Foster same 4 Stars Read and reviewed
Fantasy A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin Bonded, by Mande Matthews 4 Stars Read and reviewed
Young Adult The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins same n/a Read, not reviewed
Romance Bonded, by Mande Matthews Why Men are from Earth and Women are not from Venus, by Mark Laverdiere n/a Begun but not finished, not reviewed
Historical Hadn’t decided n/a n/a Neither read nor reviewed
My favorite genre (horror) Blood Skies, by Steven Montano n/a n/a Neither read nor reviewed

So there you have it. I intend to post a review for The Hunger Games before the end of the year, so watch for it soon.

The following year I intend to write and publish one book review a month. I already have a short list of those that will appear here–some have already been read and are just waiting for me to write it up. With very few exceptions, the books I review will be within the horror/supernatural/paranormal/suspense genres. There are currently one fantasy and one science fiction novel on the list.

If you have any suggestions, or are an author with a book you’d like reviewed, let me know in the comments section and I’ll add them to my list.

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