A little past the halfway point of the month, I’m pleased with my progress. An embarrassing amount of stuff has been removed from the room. Some of it books that went into another room. Some of it trash that is still being dealt with. A lot of it needs shredding. And I do mean a lot; there’s no way I could do it with my small shredder at home, so I’m taking it with me to work in small batches and dropping it into the shredder bins at work.
What remains in the room has been put into strategically placed themed piles.
For instance, the computers, the printer, all the cables, keyboards, mice, and other assorted computer-related equipment are all in one corner. The read books are all stacked together. All the souvenirs from cons are together. The bags are all together. The notebooks are all together. The desk toys are all in the same box.
And the Pisa-esque, somewhere-between-two-and-three-foot tower of past critiques perches precariously at the precipice of the portal.
Perusing that will be the most time-consuming part, considering some of it is a novella I wrote, had critiqued, and then promptly lost off my hard drives. But once I transcribe whatever commentary I choose to keep from critiquers long past, the gods of recycling will receive them as my tribute.
I still gotta find places for all this stuff, mind you. But the paper is a huge part of it. And I’m making major inroads on it.
There are also an awful lot (most of a seven-foot shelf) of computer books that are now obsolete. Those probably need to either go away entirely or be donated or rehomed to someone who will use them. Anyone want a Visual Basic 5 book? SQL 6.5?
It’s actually getting harder and harder to FIND things to disposition because at this point “disposition” means “find a permanent storage solution,” and I’m not quite to that point, yet.
As for the other goal . . .
It’s getting there, I think. Every time I run across a scribbled note for the novel (series), I transcribe it in one place and toss the original. I have quite a file of ideas I forgot, a good number of which are really great ideas that I’m going to work in as I write my outline and refine it.
I know the endings of all three books. And the beginnings of two of them. I know a good deal of what’s going on in the world of my story, and realized that I’ve been ignoring a whole category of conflict that, in retrospect, I’ve been just stupid to ignore. I know the motivations of two of my bad guys.
Now I just need to come up with some more case characters and secondary characters to play in my world. The Magical Crimes Unit is a new division, after all, and has to share space with the other FBI agents, some of whom aren’t as friendly as others.
Internal strife. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
And lastly, I’ve cut severely back on my YouTube viewing. I don’t think I’ve watched a single video in about a week. I’ve read, I’ve listened to podcasts, and I’ve wasted time on the Internet in other ways, but I’m definitely scaling back on YouTube.
Onward and upward!
Last night, I was up fairly late catching up on a podcast and some YouTube channels. When I went up for bed, I kept my self-promise to disposition at least one thing in the office. Since I wasn’t leaving again until the morning, I decided to shuffle some things around that I knew would either be staying in the room or staying in the room until later. Call it “consolidation” of similar items.
I moved all of my old computers into one corner. With the old printer and the old speakers, and stacked old keyboards and mice nearby. Shuffled a bunch of boxes of photos to one place. Stacked back editions of magazines together. Stacked books I’ve read together.
Then I came to this box that I knew hadn’t been opened in quite a while, if ever. I think it has been in the room since I moved in, and has had stuff stacked on it since.
Upon opening it, I immediately recognized every item inside. Stuff I haven’t seen since probably 1999 when I moved to Georgia from Alabama.
Without even having to go through each of them laboriously, I knew I had found:
- A spiral-bound notebook from 1983 containing a travelogue I wrote while on a trip to England and France (graduation gift from my parents). Pictures from that trip. Souvenirs from that trip.
- A spiral-bound notebook I used to carry around in high school (ca. 1980-1983) and in which I hand-wrote stories in pencil. It has several in there that I had thought long lost. For the good of humanity, they shall remain so. I was amazingly, overwhelmingly, stupendously fond of utilizing really overly dramatic and annoyingly overabundant abverbs and adjectives back then.
- A spiral-bound notebook containing story notes from a novel I have had in my head since I was about eleven years old, and which eventually became my (unfinished) NaNoWriMo novel for 2008, The Third Prophecy.
As an aside, judging from the writing, I probably should have been writing the story as a screenplay. I did things very cinematically, starting the story with a wide, exterior establishing shot, then zooming in to a medium distance, and finally into a close-up of the character starting his action. That it took me five pages to get there is a testament to how far I’ve come since then.
- World maps I drew of my sci-fi/fantasy world(s) from the larger universe surrounding The Third Prophecy. The alphabet I came up with for the language spoken by one of the races on one of those worlds. Notes I wrote for the sounds of that language and several more. A few rudimentary words in said languages. The numbering system used by the race that speaks one of those languages. (Have I mentioned I was a huge Tolkien fan?) Pseudocode for a computer program to create random words for said language. (Somewhere there exists a program I wrote that, given any number, generates the words to say it in this language. Have I mentioned I’m a huge geek?)
But the pièce de résistance was another spiral-bound notebook in which I had done my “first sentence” exercise from 1995 until I got my first Franklin Planner. Archived in this notebook are probably hundreds of first lines of stories that were never intended to be written. Just looking through them reminded me how creative it felt to do that.
But if I start that again, where to put it? My planner? Evernote? Dropbox? Google Docs? Scrivener? Somewhere else? Heh! The same notebook, nearly ten years later?
Anyway, I look forward to going through these old treasures and finding a proper place to put them. Perhaps the recycle bin is best for some of it.
NaNotWriMo seems a lot easier on the brainpan to try to decipher than my earlier choices for what to call this month.
I’ve kept up with my plan. Every time I go upstairs in my house (where the master suite, including my office, is located), I disposition at least one thing in my office. It has even resulted in me bringing things in from outside the room, but it’s because the things I’m bringing in are part of a set of things that need to be in that room (e.g., writing books). It’s all about the ensemble, see.
Anyway, I can now actually see the top of my desk. As it turns out, there is one under there! And it’s brown! And covered with glass! Hmm. Very dirty glass. I’ll clean it later. It’ll probably get worse again before it gets better (flat surface = a place to put things that are being ‘dispositioned’).
And as far as the other thing goes — the outline — I’ve been making copious notes (in longhand; there’s just something more . . . real, I guess? . . . about making notes by hand instead of typing them). Defining world events and potential conflicts, characters and their flaws, looking for conflicts between and among them. On the way to work this morning, a gaping hole in my world design opened up and let me peer into its abyss. So I have to come up with something to plug that.
Or, alternatively, find a way to fold it into my world in a way that complements what I already have.
But at least that’s progress. I’d rather see those holes now than when my alpha readers get hold of the book and say, “Dude, really? I could drive the Death Star through this hole.”
The vast majority of clutter that’s in my office, by the way, is — get this — old critiques! It’s where I’ve handed out 1500-word segments of my stories to my Tuesday night group (The Forum Writers Group, a.k.a. The Fountain Pen 2.0) and have received back written comments. There are stacks of these going back . . . longer than I’m willing to admit, really.
Although one bonus of that is that I now have the complete text of a novella I somehow managed to completely lose from all my electronic storage. As much as I would very much like to use this as an excuse in support of paper-hoarding, I know that it’s a bad thing.
The recycle people are not going to know what’s going on at my house for the next three weeks.
I’ve also started looking at comfortable chairs for the room. Ideally, I’d like a nice, leather chair-and-a-half with a small end table and lamp so I can sit in there and read. There’s plenty of room if I get rid of the old computers (plural) and rearrange the room slightly.
But I won’t be getting any of that until the room is done. And rearranged.
Whoa, Nellie! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. :) The current light sage color that was perfect in 2001 is too pastel for me, now. I think I’d like a dark mocha. Make it more of a man-cave. With, like, six windows. :-/
What goes with dark, hunter green carpet? (Not my choice; the people who sold the house left me dark, hunter green carpet in that one room.)
A few days ago, I went to a Chinese buffet near my office for lunch. It’s not what I’d call great, but it is fairly good and filling. They have good peanut butter chicken, hot and sour soup, broccoli chicken, garlic and zhà cài (榨菜) green beans, chicken on a stick, and mashed potatoes.
Hey, don’t judge me. Good mashed potatoes are a thing of beauty and one should not look a gift potato in the eyes.
OK, that really took an odd turn.
. . . Where was I?
Oh, right. After I was done, the server brought a fortune cookie. I opened it and got what you see to the right.
Seems like even the cookie is judging me. :)
Since I decided not to write (or edit, as one friend suggested) a novel for NaNoWriMo, I’m trying to figure out what to call November. PeNoNotWriMo sprang easily to mind (Personal Novel NOT Writing Month).
But given my “goal” (for lack of a better word) of making my home office a place where sane people (such as myself) want to be, I might call it “MaMyOffLiMo,” or Make My Office Livable Month. :)
It’s a working title. I’m sure I’ll come up with something far better the instant I press “publish.” :)
Anyhoo . . . one way I’m going about this is that every time I have to go upstairs for whatever reason — laundry, bathroom, book, brushing my teeth, etc. — I go into my office and disposition one or more items of clutter. Disposition means that if I lay my hands on it, I have to decide — then and there — what to do with it: keep it, store it, toss it, donate it. “Keep” means it stays in that room. “Store” means it either goes into storage in that room or another room. “Toss” means it goes either in the trash or in the recycle bin. “Donate” means that I’ll either donate it to Good Will (or someone like that) or find a friend who might want it. Hey, Geoff or Phil, need any airplane propellers? (It’s an extremely inside joke.)
Hint: It’s mostly going to be ‘toss it.’ Probably about 80% of it.
So far, I’ve moved two stacks of read books out of my office and into the “library,” which is one of my guest rooms. Which currently has a whole separate issue with clutter which I can address at another time. One of which is insufficient shelf space for the books I have.
There are old computers (plural) in my office that were last useful when Windows 95 was new. I have floppy disks. Actual floppy (5.25″) disks. I have manuals for electronics I last used when I lived in another state (15 years ago).
It’s time. Oh, yes, it is very much time.
I sincerely doubt I will be posting pictures, because the clutter is pretty horrible and I’m embarrassed by it. But one way or the other, I’ll post a picture at the end of November. There. I’ve said it in public. And now it’s a commitment.
I might have some sub-goals once I’m able to picture the room as it will be instead of as it is.
I haven’t talked about NaNoWriMo at all, this year. Each year, since 2008, I’ve participated religiously, writing anywhere from 50,000 to 122,000 words in the space of thirty days.
But this year . . . I don’t know. I’ve already proven to myself six times over that I can do exactly that — write a bunch of words in one month. And that’s great. It is. It means that when I put my mind to it and have a road map to follow, I can produce like crazy. But more importantly, here is what I’ve shown myself.
- During NaNoWriMo, I write a lot of words, and sometimes I like those words, but — well, take last year, for example. I wrote > 50,000 words during November, sure. But they were throw-away words. All of them. I’ve since re-structured the entire world of that novel and invalidated every single syllable I wrote last year. All the main characters are now different. The “plot” (such as it was) is different. The world is different.
- Even while writing last year, my heart wasn’t in it. I wrote maybe two chapters worth of actual novel . . . and the other 48,000 words were about the murder victims and the murderer as children, and what led to the crimes. I abandoned my characters shortly after their introduction because, frankly, the story wasn’t at all exciting to me. It bored me so much, I couldn’t even interest myself. (Hence the restructure of the world I mentioned earlier.)
- I have written almost nothing since last November. And in 2013, I wrote almost nothing after NaNoWriMo 2012. Aside from some flash pieces in January and February — for the Codex Weekend Warrior, another timed writing event — I have worked on some stories I already had in the works and half-heartedly pushed a pencil across paper a few times, making notes about my novel series, trying to excitify it to at least regain my own interest.
- I’m afraid that what I’ve managed to do is train myself that only November is for writing (with a tiny bit in January and February), but I don’t have to do it any other time. At Viable Paradise in 2012, we were cautioned about that. To avoid tying writing to other habits. One instructor quit smoking and found that he could not write anymore because he had mentally tied writing with the ritual of smoking. Give up one, the other goes, too. He had to start smoking again in order to get back to writing. November, I’m afraid, has become that, for me.
I haven’t even tried to come up with an idea for something to write. People keep asking me, “Hey, what are you working on for NaNoWriMo, this year?” and I’ve been vague and noncommittal about it. I’ve had several glimmers that forced themselves on me while I was driving or in the shower or just dropping off to sleep, but those are the desperation ideas that mean my brain is humoring me by coming up with ideas at times when I can’t do much about them.
And as much as I’d like to blame how busy I am at work — and I am very busy — I can’t. I’ve made time in the past for NaNoWriMo, even if it meant getting up at 5:00 AM or taking long lunches to write. Even if it meant taking time at Thanksgiving away from my family to write. Even if it meant missing things because I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t make my word-count for the day.
But only during November. Come December 1, I go back to my normal habits.
So, the conclusion I’ve come to is that as much fun as I have had in the past doing NaNoWriMo, and as much as I’d love to have that enthusiasm right now, I just don’t. And therefore will be sitting out this year.
I’m hoping that I’ll motivate myself to at least use the month to come up with something of an outline that will help me regain my enthusiasm for this project. I want to love it, again. I want to look forward to writing it.
Also, I don’t really have a comfortable writing space. Work is out, my living room is hard because there’s usually other distractions. My home office is a place that no sane person would want to spend any time in. (Which, by the way, still leaves me out. I’m pretty sure I’m still sane. Probably.) Perhaps I’ll use November to rectify that and turn my home office into a writing retreat. (Anybody got a flame thrower and an industrial grade paper shredder they’d let me borrow?)
You have no idea how much it actually pains me to sit this year out, but I think it’s the right decision. I stopped going to two of my critique groups because I just haven’t written anything, and the constant reminder of that whilst reading other people’s work was, frankly, depressing. I purposefully didn’t go to any conventions or writing seminars or anything of that sort this year, because if I’m not writing, then there’s no need to pretend otherwise. Why spend money needlessly?
It was an attempt to light a fire under my butt to get me writing. Instead, all it did was de-habituate writing even further.
So that banner up there is a lie. It says “NaNoWriMo 2014 Participant.” But I’m not a participant. I’m a spectator, this year.
Good luck, everyone, on your NaNoWriMo endeavors. I hope you all fly past the goal and keep going into the future.
To reiterate, my “goals” (such as they are) for NaNoWriMo are:
- do some sort of outline for at least the first novel, if not the first few in the series
- turn my office into a place where a sane person (such as myself) would actually want to spend time, and make it conducive to writing.
I think this is probably the best thing I’ve read from Mur Lafferty, and I’m a fan of her work, anyway. Who knew that a book about a book editor putting together a travel guide for New York City could be interesting?
Well, I mean . . . it’s a travel guide for, you know, monsters. Except they don’t like that term. It’s kind of insulting. They prefer ‘coterie.’ And they are anything from dragons to fae to vampires to demons, and everything in between.
Where do dragons sleep when they visit New York City? Where should zombies eat? And what about visiting incubi and succubi? All these are answered in the book.
But, of course, the book wasn’t just ‘Zoë sits at her desk compiling a book about New York City,’ because that actually would be pretty boring. She works with a couple of vampires, an incubus, a succubus, a death goddess, a water sprite, three zombies, a dragon, and a construct (think Frankenstein’s monster). And there are no sexual harassment laws or health insurance. Still, it’s a good enough job.
But then there’s a zombie uprising because someone is poisoning their food supply, and the Public Works Department (the coterie police force) are suddenly having to battle all kinds of problems. Something big is about to go down in New York City. And to top it off, it looks like someone (other than / in addition to several of her coworkers) is out to get Zoë.
Being a book editor is dangerous business when you’re food to a good number of your coworkers.
Highly recommended. As much as I hate to use this phrase, “It’s a fast-paced tour-de-force that will have you on the edge of your seat.” :)
View all my reviews
I encountered another one of those things that made me take a moment to step back and say, “Wait a second. That doesn’t make any sense.”
If you don’t recall, I talked about one such thing in an earlier post.
This one is much shorter, and came from both an old pulp story I was listening to on a podcast and some old movies I’ve seen. This is one of those, “Did people ever really talk like this?” things.
The scene: Two people are talking. One of them (BOB) is a crook or dishonest in some way. The audience either knows or suspects this. The other (ALICE) is an “investigator” or another crook. Alice is trying to convince Bob to go along with something, whether it’s telling the truth (if Alice is an investigator) or another con (if Alice is a crook).
Alice makes her case.
Bob (reluctantly) agrees to go along with whatever scheme Alice has presented, starts to walk away, then turns and says, his voice dripping with suspicion, “Say . . . this isn’t some kind of trick, is it?” (Sometimes, it’s “trap” instead of “trick.”)
Alice responds, “Of course not,” and possibly follows up with, “Would I do that to you?”
Of course, whether Alice is an investigator or a crook, there is a better than even chance that it is some sort of trick. And the audience is fully aware of it because the audience is very smart.
I mean, seriously, what would make Bob ask Alice that? It’s a nonsense question with no chance of any answer other than “no.” Whether that “no” is a lie or true depends entirely on Alice’s character.
So why ask it?
I finally thought of a reason for film. In print, the reader is able to get into the mind of the character, but the POV character is almost certainly not going to be Bob, but Alice.
I think maybe having Bob ask that question is a lazy attempt by the writers to give the readers / viewers a peek into Bob’s internal monologue that we couldn’t otherwise see. To let us know that Bob isn’t a total stooge. He knows there’s a chance he’s getting himself into more trouble, but the only way for the lazy writer to let us know this is to have him just come out and ask. For him to willingly go along with whatever scheme it is without question would be to show he’s kind of stupid.
That’s all I can think of, anyway. The other alternative — that he’s asking it because he’s an astute observer of people and can tell when they’re lying and is asking it to force Alice’s inevitable reaction to let him know with certainty what her intentions are — isn’t something I think the pulp writers or screenwriters did, unless Bob was the POV character, in which case he’s asking it for devious reasons.
What do you think?
- Can you imagine the story if Alice stopped, blinked, and then slumped and said, “Yeah, Bob, it was. But you caught me.”
When I first created this site, I liked this theme I’m still using. It’s called “Structure,” and the logo they had by default was a block-capital S and T connected by the T’s crossbar. I thought how neat it would be to have my own logo in a similar style. I got an icon designer application and spent far too long (probably close to three hours) drawing a 32 x 32 pixel icon, literally pixel by pixel. If you look at the tab on your browser where you’re reading this, you should be able to see that icon. It’s a light gray capital “W” superimposed on a black capital “W”, slightly offset to the lower right.
But I’ve wanted something better since then. Because ugly. Because lack of graphic design talent. Ideally, it would replace or augment the image at the top of the page where it says “WriteWright The blog of Gary D. Henderson.” Ideally.
The other night, I had a new contact through the “Contact Me” widget and went to that site to deal with it. They were encouraging me to upload my business’s logo. The desire to have my stylized W/W icon/logo hit again, so I spent a couple of hours trying to find sites that would allow me to design logos.
Did I mention that I suck at graphic design? I mean, like really. I have a certain amount of artistic ability (I took art classes for years, and didn’t suck too badly), but I stopped trying to develop it when I discovered computers when I was a junior in high school. (Making a computer jump through logic hoops I designed seemed more fun (and easier, and faster, and more rewarding) than drawing, painting, etc.)
I found quite a few sites out there that allow one to design a logo for free. They usually have a selection of “clip art” one can choose from, and then text can be added. I went through quite a few of them, poking at them to see if they had anything I didn’t hate. (Started off on the right foot, at least. “Didn’t hate” instead of “liked.”)
I was surprised when I found something on every site I tried. I stopped after five. Below are my results. Some sites allowed me to download the design; for others, I had to take a screenshot and clip the image. Which is why, for instance, one of them has visible grid lines and a couple more look a bit rough.
That won’t be the case in the finished logo.
While most of them allow you to design the logo for free, if you want to actually use it, of course, you have to pony up. What I don’t know is what “should be” a reasonable price would be for something like that.
So I thought I’d put the potentials up here to see what people think. Because with the whole ‘suck at graphic design’ thing I have going.
I’m not attached to any of these to the point that I couldn’t just delete them and move on. But these do represent what I thought looked best from the alternatives each site offered me.
This was the first site I tried. As I flipped desultorily through many uninspired suggestions of clip-art, this one popped up randomly, and looked enough like my original vision that I took notice. It was originally in shades of sickly green, but one of the options they allow is to change those colors, so I did just that. I like the monochrome look I’ve selected for this site, so I stayed with blacks and grays. I would probably play around with colors a bit more and dump the text entirely.
This one is arguably the closest to my original concept, although I’m not overly fond of the font. (I think it’s the curviness.) But it is the only font they supplied where the W allowed an exact overlap, with all the widths and the angles lining up. I know because I tried every single font I didn’t hate.
On this one, I don’t think I got the colors exactly matching, but the concept I was going for is obvious. Again, it kind of goes with the “W” theme, closer to the first design than my original idea, but it’s kind of appealing, to me. I like the ‘rite’ and ‘right’ added on this one, and would probably keep the text.
Total departure. This site didn’t have any “W” designs that weren’t hideous, but instead of ditching it altogether, I decided to flip through the hundreds of clip-art images they had to see if any of them called to me. They had a whole section for “writing and writers” and the quill pen is a natural enough association that I went with it. Others that drew me were a stylized pen nib, and a pencil reminiscent of the LiveJournal logo. (Neither of which is shown, because ultimately, I got tired of designing logos. Also because the pen nib design could be taken as a stylized depiction of cleavage, which is probably the point.)
Is the quill maybe a little too cliché?
Finally, this one is back with the overlapping / nested “W.” The original colors were somewhere in the puce range, but I switched to graytones. Again, I would probably dump the text. This one has a certain . . . “Art Deco”? . . . look that I like. But is it too much like the Volkswagon logo? :)
I did a Google image search for “W” logos. There are a lot of them. Some of them are close to some of the designs above, but then there’s only so many ways you can twist a “W” and have it still recognizable as a “W.”
Anyway, you tell me. I lack the graphic design skill, and frankly, they’re all kind of blurring together at this point. Does anything stand out?
There’s this meme going around where people are encouraged to list the ten books that changed their life.
Well, a friend of mine (Terra LeMay) decided to change it to “ten pieces of fiction” because short stories, novelettes, novellas, flash, drabbles, etc. can also be transformative.
My problem is, I simply can’t limit it to ten. On my list of novels, alone, it comes to thirteen. With five more short stories.
So I decided to just toss out the rules and do it my own way. So here is the quasi-meme, “Ten or More Pieces of Fiction That Changed My Life.” With the life-changingness interpreted rather liberally. And in no certain order.
- It by Stephen King (1987)
This was the first book I literally stayed up all night to read (18 straight hours) because I literally could not put the thing down. Literally. It was super-glued to my hand. (OK, not literally.)
I had never seen the story-telling technique he used in this book where each alternate chapter was set in either the present or twenty-seven years in the past, when all the characters were children. And the chapters were from alternating POVs as well. I learned a lot about that type of story-telling from this book.
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (1950)
I don’t list all seven of The Chronicles of Narnia or count all of them as a unit because it was reading that first one that made me want to live in a fictional world and have the story never, ever end. It was one of three books that lit the spark of writing in me.
As an aside, I still want to live in Narnia.
- 1984 by George Orwell (1950)
I was well into my adult years when I first read this, even though I was already very into dystopias. I was blown away by it. My mother got to gleefully say her “I told you so”s because she kept trying to get me to read it as a teenager, but it was Old™ and therefore Not Worth My Time™
Irony Alert: take a look at the publication dates on most of these books. I’m just sayin’. :)
Winston is a very good unreliable narrator, too, which adds a nice touch.
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Pretty much the same thing. I read it way later in life than I should have, but it’s one of those books I re-read periodically because it’s just so wonderful.
It makes the list because of how well it holds up for something written so long ago.
- The Shining by Stephen King (1977)
This was the very first “adult” book I read. I was in the sixth grade (age 12) and the book had just come out earlier that year. A friend in my class had read it and made it sound deliciously frightening. Up until this time, all the “horror” books I had read purported to be True™ or Based on Actual Events™. (I was heavily into ghost stories and aliens and Bigfoot and the like.)
I got it from the Eutaw Library because I was pretty sure there was no way my mother would let me buy it if she knew what it was about. Shhh! Don’t tell her. :)
I still get chills when I think about the scene where the topiary animals are chasing Danny Torrence.
- The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (1937)
What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said? It got me interested in epic fantasy, fat books with a lot of pages, and conlangs (constructed languages and alphabets). (I guess those things have been said, but I repeated them anyway. Because I’m a rebel!)
- The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear by Oliver Butterworth (1960)
This one requires a bit of explanation. I read it in either fifth or sixth grade as part of my teacher’s Individualized Reading program. We would read books from her carefully selected classroom library and then take an oral test on it to prove we’d actually read it. We’d get points based on our knowledge and the reading level of the book. We had to read a certain number of points for each six-week period of the school year.
While I was reading this book, I was relentlessly harassed by the other boys in the class for reading a girl’s book. But it was good, and I didn’t care, and I finished it and enjoyed it, and got my points. I guess it taught me that just because a book is aimed at a target audience doesn’t mean others won’t or can’t enjoy it, too.
- Storm Front by Jim Butcher (2000)
I read a selection of a story I had just started writing in my newly joined critique group. Someone told me that my story and the style I wrote in reminded them of The Dresden Files‘ author Jim Butcher. I’d never heard of him or the series, so I picked up the first book and started reading. It introduced me to the entire genre which I’m now hopelessly in love with: urban fantasy.
And also, I want to be him when I grow up. That there’s already a him and that he’s younger than me are irrelevant.
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1973)
Another book written “for” girls but which I enjoyed immensely. Introduced me to tesseracts and was one of three books that lit the spark of writing in me.
- The Old Powder Line by Richard Parker (1974)
Also read as part of my teacher’s Individualized Reading program, I think it was the first book I had read where time travel was a major component of the story, and it dealt with sticky issues like what happens if you go back in time to before you were born.
- Dixie North by Herbert Burton (1976)
This one also requires a bit of background. My mother used to be the director of several things (over time) in the Hale County, Alabama education system. Sometimes, this led to her getting book samples. Sometimes, she brought these home to me. Sometimes, I actually read them. This may have been the first piece of fiction I read entirely voluntarily for pleasure. Plus, it was written by an author from Alabama. Who knew that famous writer-type-people could be from Alabama? It’s also one of the books actually aimed at boys, which is probably why I read it in fifth grade, just after it was published.
- Below the Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (1975)
To this day, this remains one of the pieces of fiction that my mind goes back to, randomly, from time to time. Such a wonderful story set in an imaginative world. Science fiction, probably mostly for girls, but we come back to that whole ‘audience’ thing.
One of the three books that lit the spark of writing in me.
- The Demu Trilogy by F. M. Busby (1984)
Once more, this requires just a small amount of background. I used to make lists of books for Christmas and birthdays that my parents would distribute to people who wanted to get me something I’d actually use. But this one time, my mother just happened to be walking through a book store, saw this book cover with a cool spaceship and alien worlds on the cover and thought, “I’ll bet Gary would like that,” so she got it. I was in college by this point. I read it . . . and it blew my mind. I’ve read it over and over. It’s just so wonderful. It’s an omnibus collection of three novels and two(?) novellas that ‘fill in the gaps’ between the novels. The ideas presented in this book are just . . . my head just . . . I have no words.
And here are the short stories.
- “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury (Colliers, May 6, 1950)
- “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury (The Saturday Evening Post, September 23, 1950 as “The World the Children Made”)
- “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March, 1954)
- “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin (Astounding Magazine, 1954)
- “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1949, as “The Naming of Names”)
Each of those stories was mind-blowing to me. I read most of them while I was in middle school. They were in my Literature textbook (I believe), and like most kids that age, I read the entire book before school started.
What? You mean most people didn’t do that? What was wrong with them?
Anyway, the stories all stuck with me for years after I read them. I didn’t remember their names or the authors, but was able to find them later by asking a lot of questions online and running across them in anthologies and the like. Now, I’d just Google ‘em, but at the time, there was no Google! I know! How did we live?
Anyway, I hope that didn’t bore you too much. If nothing else, it gave me a nice distraction from a frustrating day of debugging code that should work but refuses to. Because it’s clearly sentient and hates me.