Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's A Different Time: Today's Disrespect of Intelligence

Concord Days is an interesting little book, if you're interested in the Alcott family, or the Transcendentalists, or about how an intellectual thought in New England circa 1870, and a little before. It was originally published in 1872. The one I read is a reprint of the original, and therefore a little hard on the eyes, since the original wasn't perfectly printed to begin with. It's got pages that were unnecessarily bolded and overinked, and other pages where the print is slim, and under-inked. Some pages were in the middle. Alcott was not as heavily published as were his popular daughters, and this shows. He was highly influential, especially in education, and highly respected by his Transcendentalist peers, but this does not necessarily translate into sales.

You would probably have to have an interest in one of the above things to get something out of this, but it's a quaint little hardcover book, and it's an honest writing of the thoughts of a smart, influential guy in Concord, MA and environs, including Harvard, southern to central NH, and...well, that's about it.

Amos Alcott was the father of Louisa May Alcott and her sisters. They had an interesting family and a curious dynamic. The family lived in poverty for a long time, until Louisa May started writing every single thing she could think of and the money started pouring in. (She wrote a lot more than Little Women. She wrote under many different names, fiction and nonfiction, and her first big successes were with novels of passion and of heaving bosoms, and the like. Picture a woman writing Harlequin Romances who one day wrote a classic about smart, independent young women and a quaint family life, and that's her.) Even after that, the family was more than happy to have their patriarch remain essentially unemployed, which allowed him to become a man of letters and thought, and to be respected as such. As I mentioned, this does not always translate to books sold, or to profitable lectures. But this was an altruistic family, and the mother and daughters were seriously happy to be the breadwinners as the father wrote letters in his study, and education tracts to pop-up education and lifestyle start-ups, all of which failed.

Maybe it was the time. In his journal you would see a lot of ideas about Pliny, Aristotle, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Goethe, Greeley, Plato and others. He writes about people you may not know, such as Phillips, Berkeley, Boehme, Carlyle, Landor, Pythagoras and Plutarch, and Swedenborg. He was known amongst his contemporaries, so his portrait of Hawthorne is correct. (He was as nervous and depressed as others say he was. Hawthorne would literally run away from a conversation.) He was spot on about Thoreau, who was apparently a bit of a respected drifter who didn't actually drift, but looked and acted like he did. Thoreau tested his friends, but he was not short of them. He seems to have been the type of guy who you respected for being so independent, so non-9 to 5, but whom you also wanted to tell to stop being such a bum and to get a damn job.

Alcott had the ability (and the time) to just read and write and think, without anyone telling him to get a damn job you bum, which makes me jealous as hell, though I wouldn't necessarily want to write about what he wrote about. He was amongst the last of the wave of privileged guys who would write about Ideas, with a capital I. He wrote about Morality, Virtue, Ideals, and the importance of one to be able to lecture well, and to be talented at smart conversation. This simply doesn't happen anymore, and it got me to wondering why.

I decided it was because my generation, and certainly the one after mine, has grown up with the idea that something is how it seems to me, but I understand it may not have the same seeming to someone else. In other words, we don't believe in universals anymore. (I know that's a universal, but let's accept the paradox and move on.) It also seems to me that nobody is renowned or respected for his intelligence anymore. Outside of luminaries like Hawking and Spielberg, who are extremely well-respected, if you are an extremely intelligent and intellectual person, but work 9-5, you'd better keep your mouth shut about it, lest people roll their eyes about you and say out loud that they don't have as much time to be smart as you do--the insinuation being that you're apparently smarter, but still somehow lesser, than they. Pointing out their latent insecurity does not help the matter any.

Sounds like personal, bitter experience, doesn't it?

Alcott was apparently one of those guys, but was well-respected, sought after, and appreciated for it. Such is simply not the case anymore. Period. He would not be so treated today; I guarantee it.

But I would also feel uncomfortable writing about Virtue and Morality these days. It is a different time. It's not the fault of political-correctness, exactly, as much as it is an ingrained understanding of the fallacy of universals. Morality for me, in suburban-hell New England, and Morality for the poverty-stricken of Ferguson, Missouri, for example, are probably two different things. Or, in other words, Yes, it's wrong to steal, but when you're starving and nobody's hiring you, you break a few universal rules every now and then. What's more Moral: to watch your children starve, or to steal some food for them?

And, yes, you have to be a man of leisure to have the time to contemplate Morality and Virtue and to write about it. I'd love to have that time, and I don't fault those who have it. For me, when I come home from work, I'm exhausted, mentally and psychologically, if not physically, and it's all I can do to write my short stories and novels and to send them out. I don't have a household of daughters supporting me financially and emotionally, and I'm not sure I'd let them if I did.

It's a different time.

Does it have to be? I don't know. I'm assuming I have more time (though it sure as hell doesn't seem it) to simply read as often as I do, and to write as many book reviews and blog entries as I do, and to write everything else that I do, and I've been told more than once (always with bitterness) that it's because I don't have a large family to support. I acknowledge this, as it's not wrong, though I could do without the tone that often comes with it. Not having a huge family is of course a choice as well.

And here we come back to Alcott. It's a different time. For the better, or not, I don't know.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Prince



I'm not one to get choked up about the passing of celebrities. The bottom line is: I don't know them. I don't feel that I do because I've listened to their music, or seen their movies--or, in the case of Prince, both.

But the passing of Robin Williams and of Prince have jolted me a bit, and I don't know why. Yes, I was a big fan of both at a critical time. I was aware of both when I was about 12, which I guess is when you consciously become a fan of somebody's, and when you decide to stick with them.

Maybe I connected to both of them in ways that I still don't quite get. I don't know. But I've been saddened a bit by the passing of both; I didn't know them, but somehow I guess I felt I did. I've been a bigger fan of others who've died, and I haven't felt the same about it. Inexplicable and depressing.

Signs You're Gettin' Old

--You read an article about seven necessary exercises for men and you read this, "Functional exercises train the muscles that are used for everyday activities like mowing the lawn..." and you think, Damn it, mowing the lawn IS my exercise.

--Followed immediately by: Now it's an everyday activity I need to exercise for?

--You put two bricks into the ground to complete a planting barrier, and then surround a plant with six more bricks that you basically just stomped into the ground, and you think that's a good day's work in the sun.

--And it's just in the high 40s. And it took just half an hour.

--You wake up the next morning and your body is a tad sore from this "rigorous work."

--You appreciate sitting in the sun--in a room in your house that gets a lot of sun.

--And you appreciate this room, like you never knew it got so much good sun.

--Because you didn't know, though you've lived in the house for almost five years.

--You realize you're as old as your father was when you thought he was old.

--Your doctor says, "We need to think about your prostate."

--And, "When was the last time you had your cholesterol tested?"

--After hearing this, you feel your blood pressure spiking and you're grateful they've already done that test.

--You monitor how much coffee and water you're drinking, so you don't have to do #1 when you know you'll be in the middle of something important.

--Like, going to see a movie. Or "working" outside.

--You're seriously considering fiber bars and cranberry juice.

--You find yourself typing articles about what gettin' old feels like.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dracula

If the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys got together with a Victorian expert and a diehard fan of everything vampire, and then they all read Bram Stoker's Dracula together, they would write The Annotated Dracula, by Leslie Klinger. As it turns out, Leslie Klinger is all of those types of people, as well as an extremely intelligent and philosophical guy. It reads like you and Klinger got together and read every single word of Dracula (not an easy task), which has something to say on almost every single page.

You'll learn more than you thought possible about Victorian England. You'll learn more than you ever wanted to know about the railway schedules for almost every train in England and Europe. (I'd forgotten how much train travel there was in this book.) You'll also learn much about specific London streets and whereabouts, as well as about Carfax, Parfleet, and many other places in England. You'll learn the rivers, streets and locales of Buda-Pesth (I did remember that this was--and maybe still is--the original spelling of Budapest. But now I know why it is.) You'll learn everything you'll ever want to know about everything vampire and Dracula--including the surprising fact that the original Count had no problem at all walking around in the daylight. (That's a movie construct, mostly from 1922's Nosferatu.)

You'll see all of the discrepancies, minor (none of the journal and diary dates jive) and major (I did remember that Stoker had his characters give poor Lucy many blood transfusions--without concerning themselves with blood type. Even as a kid I knew you can't do that, as you can't empty and change a person's blood like you can a car's oil. But blood transfusions were a relatively new-ish thing in 1897, and Stoker took a chance and threw it in there.). Many of these discrepancies, like how there seems to be a full moon every single night, and how one train in Varna couldn't have gotten someplace as it says because it would actually take a lot longer, you could probably do without. But it's like MTV's Pop-up Videos: if you're in the mood for such arcania, you'll love it, if for no other reason than to just pass the time. (You don't watch Pop-up Video to learn something, do you?) Anyway, if you don't enjoy that kind of quaint nothingness, you probably shouldn't be reading this.

I'd read Dracula twice before, but I wanted to read it again with somebody who knew a lot about everything Victorian, as my current WIP partially takes place in 1890s New England. (Not the same, I know, I know.) But I wanted a feel for the time. And Klinger is an expert on everything Victorian, as he has also written a book that annotates every single Sherlock Holmes short story and novel that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote. Klinger did the same for Poe, too, but of course Poe was of an earlier time. (These books are all on my list of things to do.)

The constant sidenotes don't deter from the actual reading of Dracula, though someone who's never had to read scholarly things with a ton of footnotes, endnotes or sidenotes may take awhile to get used to this. I read the book and stopped to read the notes every time a little number appeared, and never got sidetracked. Some of these notes are short, some very long, and often there are consecutive pages of notes without the novel, to get caught up with itself. And the print of these notes are not the super-small letters you may remember from the glosses of your collegiate or academic days, so they're fine to read, without straining.

My one caveat is that Klinger uses a conceit that all of the characters are real people, and that the discrepancies are an intentional attempt to hide the truth that they don't actually kill Dracula at the end, and that he lives to fight another day--in tons of other books, movies, comics, graphic novels, etc. You get the idea. Occasionally this conceit did stay me, and I swiftly moved on over such notes. Klinger did this in his Annotated Sherlock Holmes as well, and I wish he hadn't done so here, but how else can you do this kind of thing and yet make it different from all of the similar annotated books of Dracula out there? (Yes, there are several.) Klinger also had to convince his publisher to print such a book as this, and I guarantee this conceit was in his pitch. Otherwise, it may have come across as yet another glossed scholarly work, and who the hell wants to publish or read another one of those? (Well, okay, I read a lot of the scholarly articles Klinger cites in his bibliography, cuz I'm cool like that.) Still, you've got to make it different, and you've got to make it interesting.

So I forgave Klinger this trespass (and I skimmed over many of those annotated conceits) and I read it to enjoy all of the other notes--plus the book itself. Don't forget about the book! It was still as clumsily written as I'd remembered it, and yet it was still as effective as I'd remembered it--sometimes in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way. (Everyone interrogates Renfield as he's dying, and then they all leave him to die alone on the floor as they--finally!--run to Mina's room.) And, yeah, Dracula, as it turned out, was hiding in the building next to Seward's asylum almost the whole time. Whatever.

So if you like Dracula, the book, or the movies, or the Victorian Era, or if you're in the mood for a MST3K riff on all of these things, then this is the book for you. It also comes with the famous short story, "Dracula's Guest," that looks like an early attempt at a Dracula chapter, but not a "missing" or edited-out chapter, like you may have heard. There are many more discrepancies between novel and story than similarities, and it wasn't published at all until after Stoker died, which means it probably was never supposed to see the light of day. (See what I did there?) He published a few books of collected short stories, so if he'd wanted to publish it, he would have. This story looks like a discarded draft of a chapter that was going to show part of Harker's journey to Transylvania, but it's obviously not necessary, and Harker himself is never mentioned in it, so you should enjoy it as a separate story. It's still cool, as "The Dead Travel Fast," is still there, and it's still creepy enough.

Overall, highly recommended, especially in an appropriately-nerdy, have fun as you learn kind of way. And there's nothing at all wrong with admitting that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Alexia Chamberlynn -- Book Launch: Martinis with the Devil





I'm very happy and super-excited to have my friend and fellow-scribe Alexia Chamberlynn as a guest blogger today, so we can talk about her newest novel, Martinis with the Devil, Part One.

Alexia says that Martinis is free for a couple of weeks at Smashwords and B & N, so please read our short interview below and snatch it up! Here are some links:

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/622489


B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/martinis-with-the-devil-part-one-alexia-chamberlynn/1123516459?ean=2940152918359


Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Martinis-Devil-Part-Zyan-Star-ebook/dp/B01CXT1RR0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459961280&sr=1-1&keywords=chamberlynn


Let's start with a few words about your book. What's on the book flaps?


When offered a job on the Holy Representative’s special security team, bounty hunter Zyan Star couldn’t be less interested – until she finds out it’s her most hated of exes that they’re trying to track down. He broke her heart and dumped her, which in turn led to the loss of her soul at the hands of an immortal soul thief. Now she too exists on a diet of souls, with the occasional martini thrown in for good measure, and she’s had over two hundred years to fantasize about revenge. She just didn’t quite imagine it playing out alongside the emissaries of Heaven.

Working with Eli, the uptight angel that heads up the HR’s security, is just about as much fun as Zy expects. He of course wants her vampire ex brought to justice through legal avenues, which is very inconvenient and incredibly boring. As she dives into the case, however, she realizes there’s more at stake than her plot for payback. Like, the free will of mankind, and preventing the minions of hell from taking over the sovereign dimensions.

This job is going to push her to the limits of her abilities, and there’s just a slight problem with that: the powers she’s suppressed for centuries after losing control of them are exactly the powers she’s going to need to save the HR, end her millennia-old ex and stop Lucifer’s little plot to join the party and invade Earth.

Savior of humanity? Not so much. Or so she thought.


Heartbreak, martinis and revenge! Niiiiiiiiiiice! That's how it should always be! Now about you.What would your book's author blurb say?


Alexia lives in Florida. When she's not writing or reading, she can be found playing with horses, drinking wine, traveling to the next place on her global wish list, or maybe doing yoga. She is represented by Sandy Lu of the L. Perkins Agency.


When did you start writing?


I started writing stories when I was about five and never stopped. At around ten I submitted my first story to a magazine (Ranger Rick!) and got my first rejection. At twelve I attempted my first novel, which was about horses.


Good call! I sent a crappy poem to the New Yorker when I was about ten so I could get the first rejection out of the way! What kind of stuff do you like to write?


Fantasy, specifically contemporary or urban fantasy. It’s my favorite thing to read and write, because I absolutely love magic and the fantastical. I like to be taken on an adventure outside the usual realms of possibility. Being struck with inspiration for a new story, and then entering that raw, creative stage of the first draft. Anything is possible, and it’s just the best feeling ever. Some people are scared of the blank page, but I love it. Writing is magic.


Definitely. It keeps ya sane. What do you do when you're not writing?


I have a horse, and I train with him (he’s still young). I also do yoga, and I like to walk, and occasionally jog. Also a big foodie, so trying new recipes is fun (and drinking wine while I’m cooking!). Traveling is also a big love of mine. And reading, of course.


I love reading, too. Fiction is a great teacher, and a great escape! Who are your favorite authors?


Neil Gaiman is my current favorite. I also love Maggie Stiefvater, Erin Morgenstern and Laini Taylor. My early inspirations were Tolkien, Tad Williams, Tamora Pierce, Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman, and then a bit later Laurell K. Hamilton and Tanya Huff.


My first story was "A Christmas Carole," which was really a holiday card for my Mom, named [see title], one Christmas when she was really sick. I was seven, so I can't vouch for the quality! What inspired you to start writing?


I didn’t have that one defining moment that writers talk about. I’ve just always loved books and written my own stories. As I mentioned above, it was young, around when I was five. The first thing I remember writing was a story about a girl getting a pony for Christmas, which I wrote to manipulate my parents!


Hey, I hope that worked and you got that pony! Now--vampires! What's your favorite thing vampire?


My first foray into urban fantasy was through Laurell K. Hamilton and her Anita Blake vampire hunter series. I also loved Buffy. I mean, she's so fun. That's one thing that I like about Zyan is that she's fun. Not too serious, not too dark. She doesn't take much seriously. I also loved the first Underworld movie.


Yeah--Kate Beckinsale kickin' butt! Speaking of that, your heroine, Zyan Star, has a kickass job--a bounty hunter! What's the most kickass job you've ever had?


Hmmm. Probably my most kickass job was as a horse trainer and equine massage therapist. Of course, being a writer is pretty kickass. You get to create worlds, breathe life into characters, and hold the balance of good and evil in your hands :)


Very true. Okay, to finish up: Drinks and Devils. Besides Satan himself, what other badass would you like to have a drink and a chat with?


Probably Death. I mean, what an interesting job! I'd love to find out more about it.


Okay, now the drink. My favorite martini is boringly traditional: Ketel One, dirty, with olives, rocks on the side. What's yours?


I like flavored ones. Probably my favorite is a key lime martini (maybe because I'm from Florida). I've also had really great creamsicle martinis and a chocolate/butterscotch one that was to die for! Basically, dessert in a glass, but with a kick :)


Thanks, Alexia!


If bounty hunters, angels, vampires, heartbreak, martinis and the Devil--all mashed together in an urban fantasy romp--sounds good to you, please get a free copy (available for the next few weeks) of Alexia's book, Martinis with the Devil, Part One, available now at the following links, provided again below for your convenience:


Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/622489


B & N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/martinis-with-the-devil-part-one-alexia-chamberlynn/1123516459?ean=2940152918359


Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Martinis-Devil-Part-Zyan-Star-ebook/dp/B01CXT1RR0/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459961280&sr=1-1&keywords=chamberlynn