Books and Reading: My Best Reads of 2013

358709

Being an English  Literature major means that I’ve begun to read some very interesting novels.

My World Lit professor this past term was very fond of European avant-garde works. We read a lot of banned books and fiction written by authors who went against convention, and in some cases, the party line, to tell their stories. I want to share a few of my favorites with you.

  1. The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov.
    • This novel features the devil in Moscow. A thinly-veiled satirical critique of the arts society in Marxist Russia due to Lenin’s rule of “creation for support of the Communist Party” which discouraged anything that wasn’t pro-Communist. This novel is a hoot: it features not only the Devil, but his comrades are a shady jester, a human- sized smart-mouthed cat, and one of the creepiest and weirdest thugs (Azazello, the fanged man in the bowler hat) that I’ve ever encountered in fiction. True to much modernist fiction, there are subplots a-plenty, including one of the writer’s account of Pontius Pilate, a black magic theater which goes awry, and a love story between a married woman (the Margarita) and an author placed in a mental asylum for “going against the grain” (the Master). Margarita will do anything to return to her lover’s side, including making a deal with the devil. A funny and insightful novel full of hidden symbols that expose the hard life for artists in Soviet Russia.
  2. We. Yevgeny Zamyatin. 
    • Thought by many scholars of European literature to be one of the precursors to dystopian fiction, and inspired other books in the genre, such as 1984 by George Orwell. I read this book for my research essay in World Lit on the advice of my instructor, one of the professors I came to admire my first term and who came to know me well enough to know that I would like this bizarre, futuristic science fiction story. We is such a critical expose of Soviet Russia that the book would not be published there until the 1960s. The story takes place in the One State, ruled by a totalitarian figure known as the Benefactor, and aided by a KGB-type secret police called Guardians. The citizens are known ciphers and given a combination of letter and numbers for names. Imagination and dreams are considered mental illness and individuality is punishable by forced lobotomization or death. The protagonist, spaceship engineer D-503, finds himself in turmoil after meeting the revolutionary woman cipher I-330, whom he is sexually obsessed with, despite her rebellious ways. I have to say this is now one of my favorite science fiction books of all time.
  3. All Quiet on the Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque.
    • One soldiers intimate account of the horrors of World War 1, this novel was one of the first books targeted in Adolf Hitler’s book-burning campaign after he came to power. It was banned in Germany and elsewhere throughout its history of publication, sometimes for the rough interpretation of war and for language that today we would consider mild. Still, you won’t view war the same way again after reading this novel.
  4. Steppenwolf. Herman Hesse
    • A truly bizarre novel that serves as a critique of the bourgeois society. One of the many novels I read that focused on individuality and freedom of expression. Reading this novel is a treat that has to be experienced. Harry Haller calls himself The Steppenwolf, a wolf of the Steppes, a self-styled gloomy loner who is uncomfortable in society, yet suffers from intense loneliness. He believes that if he can’t find an end to his suffering before he reaches middle-age, he will commit suicide. Then he meets an oddball assortment of characters that put on a Magic Theater just for him (with the warning “Not for everybody. For madmen only”), to show him how to not take himself so seriously. Does it work? Read the novel.
  5. The Street of Crocodiles. Bruno Schulz. 
    • A  beautifully surreal, magical, and bizarrely painted portrait of childhood and memory. The ugliness of industrialization is the underlying message in this Polish masterpiece. This is not a long book, a little over one hundred pages, and if you needed to teach a lesson on what an unreliable narrator is, this is your book. Told through the eyes of a little boy, this story follows his life with his merchant father, who is dead at the end of every chapter yet alive again at the beginning of the next one. It is a tale of trauma and grief seen through the memory of a child. It is a weird, and wonderful little book.
  6. Ragtime. E.L. Doctorow. 
    • Doctorow gives us an unabashed glimpse of life in 1920s America. Early labor movements and American socialism are covered, as is the topic of race relations and the mistreatment of African Americans. Unfortunately, the film is not as good. It focuses on the racial story, but sidesteps the struggles for worker’s rights and the early feminism of characters like Emma Goldman. Nothing wrong with telling the racial story, but the other elements of the book make for a much more complete account of the complexity of the era and its subcultures, early activism and immigrant flavor in a burgeoning melting pot.
  7. Ferdydurke. Witold Gombrowicz. 
    • By far one of the strangest books I have ever read, and I’ve read a lot of strange books this past year. This is also a rare book, you might be able to get a used copy from Amazon, but you’d spend less for a new one. The plot of Ferdydurke (Polish literal translation: Thirty Door Key) is the main character’s denial of adult responsibility and the return to the devil-may-care individuality and irresponsibility of youth. The story begins when 30-year-old Joey is “abducted” by his former schoolmaster and sent back to school. He boards with a socialite family and becomes obsessed with the wealthy daughter. He has various absurd and fantastical adventures with one of his classmates. All in an attempt to deny responsibility. This book is full of funny weird prose, and plots, subplots and insanity. Two seemingly unrelated stories are tucked in, chapters 4 and 5, about  A Child in Filidor, but looking beneath the surface of them, they definitely are part of the whole. This  book wants to kick you in the ‘pupa.’ What does that mean? Read it.
  8. Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies. ed Mark C. Carnes. 
    • When you watch a Hollywood film that is “supposed” to be about an actual historical event such as Patton, Bonnie and Clyde, or Glory, how do you know if what’s on the screen is what really went down? This book of essays by historians, which was sort of a textbook used in my Film and American History class, explains the importance of knowing the difference between historical fact and creative license. Each essay breaks apart a historical film and tells you what really happened and what the producers added for “entertainment value.”

I recommend these books to any reader’s “to-read” list.

What good books have you read this past year?

2014: The Year of Getting Serious Again

Happy-2014-free-wallpaper

First, to Everyone who reads this, Happy Holidays! I wish that all of your wishes come true during the next year and that you live life to its maximum capacity. Always.

This past year has been rewarding and challenging. I graduated with my associates degree, lost one job and got another with the same employer (lost student assistant job at St. Petersburg College when I graduated and got hired back on a few months later as an OPS writing tutor), started new university to go for the bachelors degree, moved into a new apartment  in the downtown area, and gave up my car (it was a piece of shit anyway) for the benefit of walking for exercise.

I was busy writing many essays for my junior year at the University of South Florida, so my creative writing efforts suffered a little. But those essays helped me improve my writing, and I hope all future academic witting will do the same.

For my resolutions in 2014, I don’t have many. I’m keeping it simple and doable.

  1. Continue to improve my health by walking. School and grocery is within walking distance from me now, as well as many other activities and entertainments that the downtown St. Pete area has to offer.
  2. Write new stories. Turn on my creative juices and get them flowing whenever possible. Write for fun, but also write for publications. Poems, too. I want to write some more poetry in 2014.
  3. Submit stories and poetry to major publications and journals. I’ve already started on this one. I’ve submitted my previously unpublished award-winning short story Parker’s Pygmalion to Glimmer Train literary magazine and three unpublished poems to Northwestern U’s Tri-Quarterly journal. I’ve started some fantasy and sci-fi stories that are pretty good so far, I just need to finish them and get them out into some slush piles. I will also continue to try and get some previously published stories reprinted.
  4. Keep my magazine going. My side-project as publisher and editor of the spec-fic ezine The Were-Traveler has taken a toll on my sanity this year. Finding time to read and respond to stories while reading 2-3 books a week for lit classes has been very challenging, but I have no desire to stop doing it now. In fact, I’m even more determined to make it work. I may ask for help along the way, but I’m definitely keeping it going. I nominated 3 stories to Critter’s P&E Readers Poll and wish I could have showered other writers with that kind of love and recognition. I’m still trying to find all those yearly award venues out there, where I can give my authors the cred they deserve. If any of my readers have recommendations, please let me know.
  5. Keep my sanity at school, work, writing, editing, publishing. This is a given. I must maintain a sensible balance to this crazy happening that is my life. Need to breathe a little in between and enjoy other things, too. Relax, take deep breaths, meditate.

That’s it. I’ll probably add goals as I go along through the first part of the year, but this is enough to start with.

I hope all of your goals for the coming year lead to success and happiness.

Six Degrees of Thankfulness…

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula)

Image courtesy of © mch67 – Fotolia.com

Another Thanksgiving has come and it’s time to evaluate the months gone by and give credit where it’s due.

It’s been a year of triumph and failings…I’m equally grateful for the failings because they’ve helped me to learn and grow.

Here’s my list of thankfulness:

  1. My friends. Especially you, Kathy, who helped me transition in my move from my old decrepit mobile home to my  chic antique apartment closer to school. You not only helped me to move, you provided me with lodgings at your place before the move, when I lost my AC in the trailer and was too hot to study and read material for my classes. Also, my former boss at St. Petersburg College and friend, Jessica, who helped in the move and provided me with a great reference so I could get re-hired at the college in my current position as writing tutor. My friend John, for walking me home from my night classes. Linda, former co-worker, for encouragement and coffee. My online friends, those of you I have not met, you are the best friends in the world for encouraging me. You don’t know what your support means to me. You keep me going.
  2. Chance encounters with friendly strangers. As an introvert (Jungian type INFJ, I just discovered), I don’t find talking to strangers to be that pleasurable, but I find myself doing it more often than you’d think for an introvert. I remarked to a lady at the store while picking up my pre-cooked turkey breast that I was up to my eyeballs in work for school and I could kick myself in the ass sometimes for going back to college at my age. She said “I did it, too. You can do it. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep moving forward.” I don’t know who she was, but I needed to hear those words just then. So, thank you, Kind Lady.
  3. My health. Rotten as it is, I’m still alive. And there’s cause to believe it is getting better. I moved downtown not just to get closer to school, but also to get closer to shopping and all the other great things downtown has to offer. Downtown St. Petersburg is a very walkable city. I gave up my car and moved here in order to get into better shape. It’s working. Just two days ago I wore a pair of jeans that would not fit me three months ago. So yes, body, thank you for being patient with the abuse. I promise to do what I can to make it even better.
  4. My education. I know I’ll be paying for it eventually in student loan payments, but I am thankful to be learning more and more each day. I’m thankful to have the open and free use of my mind and imagination. Sadly, we have seen just this past year that there are unfortunately places still on this earth in 2013 where a woman can’t receive an education. As troublesome as America can be sometimes politically, I’m still glad I’m here. I earned my associate’s degree this year and am now working on the bachelor’s. Upward and onward. Keep moving forward. That’s the plan.
  5. Family. I know I don’t see them a lot, but I’m still glad they are there. Soon the Xmas cards will start coming and I’ll be reminded of them. I’m friends with my Aunt Leona on Facebook, so I keep in touch with her rather closer than anyone else. They are on my mind all the time and I miss them, the ones still here and the ones departed. I love and miss them all.
  6. Writing. I haven’t been writing a lot of stories lately, but boy, I’ve been writing academic papers every week. I’ve had to begin to comprise a portfolio for some of my academic work, which I may share with the online world once it’s all set up. I’ve gotten some inspiration from the Muse for some poem and short story ideas,so maybe I’ll try penning one when this  term is over.

I know there are other things I must be thankful for, but it’s going on noon on this chilly Thanksgiving day, and I have essays to write and a meal to cook and enjoy.

I wish all my friends and readers out there a very Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Chanukah, and Happy Holidays ahead in December!

About Time…and the lack thereof…

cropped-blue-keyboard-lrg.jpgIt’s been a good long while since I’ve written a blog post. I wanted to maintain regular posts after graduation from SPC, but then life started throwing me lemons and rather than make lemonade, I decided to become even more gloomy and depressed than I had been already. I lost my air conditioning during the hottest part of the summer in my little mobile home. I began my first semester at the University of South Florida by taking two long bus-rides to the St. Petersburg campus and then home again, leaving in the morning to get to an early afternoon class and night when I arrived back home—me being too tired to do much of anything. My old Macbook died before I could transfer over files and documents from it, so I lost a lot of writing I’d done. I managed to have most of my “Quellseek” novel on flash drive, so a major crisis was diverted there. All-in-all, when I should have been celebrating after getting my AA degree, crap started hitting the fan as they say, and I didn’t enjoy either the summer I had off, nor the thrill of starting a new university. School has also been a challenge. I’m either reading or writing (academic papers). I haven’t written a poem or a creative piece, or a blog post—not counting the editorials I do for the issues of The Were-Traveler—in a long time now.

Sorry to contradict you, Stones, but Time has not been On My Side lately.

I put some of my saved cash aside and managed to get into a nice little apartment three blocks from both campus and the local grocery chain store. I have my own little den, where I study and do my academic writing. I got rid of the car that was costing me too much time and money, and moved to walker’s paradise of Downtown St. Petersburg. I’m already losing weight from all the walking I’m doing.

School is still an enormous pressure, but I already feel better…less depressed and more energized and focused.

Even better news is that the Muse has been visiting me with ideas again. I’ve started no new stories or worked on any older stuff (rescued from the flash drive) as yet, but I feel confident that I will soon. I’ve downloaded some images to start doing writing prompts on this blog again, and I will post one very soon.  Also, there may be another cause for celebration here very soon, but I can’t spill the beans on that yet…not until it’s official. I anticipate that news to come within the next week or two.

While the struggle to manage what little time I have for my own pursuits continues, I have been setting new goals with plans for life and writing. They are:

  1. To continue working on “Quellseek: Army of Empaths.” I was lucky that I only lost one chapter when my old computer died. And I remember much about the chapter I lost, so rewriting shouldn’t be too hard. But, I need to DO IT!
  2. Two ideas involving the future of animal intelligence have shaped themselves (sort of) into story plots. One will be called Eros and Mathilda and will focus on two couples: one human, the other chimpanzee. The primate cousins have had their intelligence raised, at a cost. NOTE: this is not Planet of the Apes type story. The other story also involves a primate, but it’s not the focus of the story. This story, untitled as yet, is a futuristic carnival in which the animals are more intelligent than the humans. The primate in question, for example, is a 2nd half of a hurdy-gurdy duo who has just joined an animal performers union. Yeah, it will be just a little bizarre.
  3. Poetry. In one of my upcoming terms, I hope to take a poetry writing class. I would like to improve my skills in writing poetry.
  4. Get my literary short story, Parker’s Pygmalion, up on Smashwords or Amazon. Somewhere. Anywhere.
  5. I need to submit some stuff. Somewhere. Anywhere. I’ve focused the last year on publishing and editing The Were-Traveler. I need to spend the coming year getting my own work back out in the markets. In order to do that, I need to…
  6. Write. WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Then write some more.
  7. Get through my first term at USF. Survive. After term, go to Sake Bomb and have a sake or two. Or three.

I have other goals, pertaining to my new apartment and new life in the downtown. The ones above are what I need to work on to get the creative juices flowing again.

Look for more posts soon. I will try to avoid long disappearing acts. I promise, I will try.

 

Writing Prompt #56: On the Rooftop

Image by © Aaron Kohr - Fotolia.com

Image by © Aaron Kohr – Fotolia.com

Author confession time.

I’m not crazy about heights. This sort of view would  freak me the hell out. Just looking at this image makes me uncomfortable.

This week I’m offering up my acrophobia for your writing pleasure.

Come up with a tale or poem about this view…what is going on here? A jumper? Lovers enjoying a balcony scene a la Romeo and Juliet? It’s up to you.

Happy writing!

“The Apprentice’s Mother” Published in Sunday Snaps Anthology

ColorPF5.500x8.500.indd

Sunday Snaps front cover via Chuffed Buff Books.

My latest short story “The Apprentices Mother” appears in the anthology “Sunday Snaps” published by Chuffed Buff Books. Sales from the book will go to benefit the Canadian Red Cross Homecare Services.

Susan May James of Chuffed Buff Books is the creative force behind the inspiration for “Sunday Snaps.” It got started when she started posting photos on her website as writing prompts. The image below served as the Muse for my story.

door knocker

Image courtesy of Susan May James.

Here’s the cover blurb for the project:

“This colourful and quirky collection contains short stories, flash fiction, vignettes and poetry of various styles and genres. It developed over the course of 52 weeks in 2010/2011 whereby a series of ‘Sunday Snaps’ were posted online as a creative writing exercise. Writers were invited to use the snapshots as inspirational writing prompts. The result: an eclectic assortment of light-hearted comedy, romance, dark tales, tragedy, slice-of-life stories and expressive verse. While the spires of Milan Cathedral and a café in Toronto provide the backdrop to romance, elsewhere a marriage is arranged, children grapple with loss, and a woman rushes to the side of a life-long friend. With a bit of French cuisine, a spiteful kitty, a mother’s pact with the devil, a birthday kiss and a dash of supernatural revenge, this unique collection offers a tale for all! Stories and poetry by: Sam Adamson, Kim Bannerman, Cath Barton, Dominique Boller, Juliet Boyd, Jodi Cleghorn, Sandra Davies, Miriam Dunn, Rebecca Emin, Annie Evett, Stacey Faulkner, Wendy Ann Greenhalgh, D A Volpe Herskowitz, Stephen Hewitt, A J Humpage, Steve Isaak, Mandy K James, Susan May James, Maria Kelly, Mari Lee Kozlowski, Lisamarie Lamb, Shannon Lawrence, Tyrean Martinson, Tony Noland, Linda Olson, Roslyn Ross, Tony Schumacher, and Ren Thompson. Proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to Canadian Red Cross Homecare Services. For details on the Canadian Red Cross, or to donate without purchasing a book, please click: Canadian Red Cross Homecare Services.”

You can order the print edition from Amazon.com at:  http://www.amazon.com/Sunday-Snaps-Susan-May-James/dp/190885801X/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1368636263&sr=8-3&keywords=Sunday+Snaps.

And you can get it from Amazon.ca at http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/190885801X/sr=8-1/qid=1368636517/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&qid=1368636517&seller=&sr=8-1

If you’re in the UK, it can be found at Book Depository…they offer FREE WORLDWIDE delivery: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/Sunday-Snaps-Stories-Susan-May-James/9781908858016

Also for readers living in the UK, it can also be ordered online at Foyles for in-store pickup or for delivery: http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/sunday-snaps-the-stories,james-susan-may-9781908858016

And, of course, It can be ordered from the Chuffed Buff Books website – http://www.chuffedbuffbooks.com/bookshop/sunday-snaps-the-stories/.

Susan May James from Chuffed Buff Books has said that the kindle edition is in progress and will be available in the future.

Looking Behind and Looking Ahead

megrad2

Graduation from SPC on May 4, 2013

I have not made a post in quite some time. I apologize. When you’re a college student/author/publisher/editor/part-time employee it’s hard to find time to blog.  I am enjoying a nice summer break, though, so I hope to be able to catch up on my posts.

First, let me catch you up on the recent past. After a grueling spring term, I graduated from St. Petersburg College with my Associates of Arts degree on May 4th. It may not seem like a very significant accomplishment to some folks, but it means the world to me. I am an older student (47…not afraid to say it) who was told in high school by a guidance counselor not to waste my time with college. I wish he could have been there as I not only proved that it wasn’t a waste, I did so by graduating summa cum laude with a 3.95 G.P.A. and by being a finalist for one of SPC’s most prestigious academic honors, the Apollo Award. I didn’t win, and that doesn’t matter. Just to be considered for it is a huge accomplishment that will no doubt have a lasting effect on my life.

Ahead lies my goal for a BA in English Literature. I’ve chosen to remain in this area and transfer to the University of South Florida—St. Petersburg campus. I’m not quite ready to move out of Tampa Bay or Florida yet. The St. Pete campus of USF is gorgeous. It sits right on Tampa Bay with lovely water views from nearly every building. I’m looking forward to starting my classes in the fall…one of which includes a literature class on the occult. Hell yes!

Now for the present and future of other aspects of my life.

This summer while I am off I have many goals. Here are a few.

  • Employment. I lost my student job at SPC, so I’ve been working on updating the resume and creating a portfolio. I hope to use it to land my next job.
  • Writing. I have lots of writing goals for this summer.
    • More Blog Posts. That’s a priority. Need to get back into writing more frequent updates and doing the writing prompts again.
    • Parker’s Pygmalion. I’ve decided to upload my Phi Theta Kappa award-winning short story to Smashwords as a free e-book. I have to start doing this indie thing soon anyway, and this is a good story to start with. If it works out, I will likely add it to Kindle on Amazon as well.
    • Kill the Crow. I’ve begun putting the stories into one document. I still need to finish writing and editing a few of the tales for the book, and get it formatted for publishing. Once  that’s done, I will upload it to Amazon…maybe Smashwords again, too.
    • Quellseek: Army of Empaths. I have people who will murder me if I don’t finish this novel,  so I’m working on it. The biggest problem I’m encountering is that the plot bunnies have tortured me with another great idea, one which I’ve started the research on already.
    • The Dragon Siblings. See above. I’ve got Phandara and T’kanyae (a.k.a. Kane Anthony) Morphyrades story starting in my head and I’ve begun a research project on it involving (fictional and real) sorcery and alchemy.  I don’t even have a title for this yet and have no clue about the scope of it, because Quellseek and that series MUST come first. The tale of Rafael Errick, Emory Atarem, Marta Sanis, Alverin Ness, and Wellynd Niles/Well-and-Truly must be brought to a close and that could take 2-3 years to tell it all. The Dragons will happen at some point, though. They’ve sort of already happened in some pre-cursor/same multiverse short stories.
  • Publishing and Editing. 
    • The Were-Traveler. Yes, I also edit and publish a speculative fiction magazine. It’s a rewarding venture I dove into like a madwoman and for the moment I’m enjoying it. Not quite ready to give it up yet. I recently posted the descriptions for up-and-coming issue themes. I’m looking forward to some of the upcoming themes. I may have to pen something myself for the Lovecraft/Poe issue. So tempting.

Life is going to be a challenge for me once school starts again in August. I have decided to attend USF full-time, which means I will have even less time for the other parts of my life than I do now.

Going to do as much this summer as possible…got to get it while the gettin’s good.