Auld Lang Syne

Well, it’s 2013 now, and the old year has passed away.  That means it’s the time of introspection, reflection, and thinking about goals, plans and dreams.  So I’ll be getting to those posts in the next couple weeks, as I find the time.

But first, it’s become something of a blogging tradition, for me, to talk about how my Christmas Holiday went, what I got and what I did.

As with last year, I didn’t get a lot this year that was writing-related, which is fine.  I didn’t get any new games this year (neither of the tabletop variety nor of the video or computer varieties).  Last year I got two new Zelda games, and I’m still working my way through the first of those two games.  (As I mentioned then, I learned pretty quickly to ration my video-gaming time in order to make time for writing.)  Given that basic fact, I wasn’t hoping for nor expecting any new games this year (and told Dear Wife as much before the holidays).  On the other hand, I was hoping for both books and music.  On the books front I got a paperback box set of the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull.  I’m already about a quarter of the way into the first book of the series.  It’s light reading, Middle-Grades or YA stuff, but it’s fun and entertaining so far.  (And it was the perfect palette-cleanser after the book I’d just finished, but I’ll talk about that next time when I do my 2012 Year-in-Reading Review.)

Music-wise I got a few new soundtracks: the Danny Elfman “Batman” soundtrack (which created what is, for me, the sound of Batman, the excellent Christopher Nolan movies notwithstanding), and the “Superman Returns” soundtrack (which wisely, in my opinion, is built around the main Superman theme originally written by John Williams), the “Gladiator” soundtrack (which is a great sound for writing to) and to my utter delight the new “Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” soundtrack.  (Last year I gushed all over the trailer for the Hobbit movie, which I have seen and greatly enjoyed… and ever since then I haven’t been able to get the Lament of the Dwarves out of my head.)

Little B.T. has been at least as big a fan of the soundtracks as I have, though his top two preferences are for the “Superman Returns” and “Batman” soundtracks.  He asks for them almost every day.  As for why?  Well… I’ll get to that, I will.

I also scored a digital photo frame for my desk at work.  That’ll be cool once it’s loaded up with some pictures of Dear Wife and B.T. (and eventually of V.R., which is to say the coming baby brother).

One member of the family has a real talent – I should say Talent with a Capital-T – for quilting, and both Dear Wife and I got hand-made, personalized quilts.  Mine is a lovely and wonderful motley of blues, greens, browns and golds.  It is a work of art, and I like it quite a lot.  Plus, it’s already come in handy as the temperature in the house has been sometimes colder than I’d prefer.

But the single most awesome and incredible Christmas present this year I actually opened on Christmas Eve, a day early because Dear Wife was afraid it would get overshadowed.  There’s a story behind this, of course.

You see, as part of our ongoing Home Project, one thing we’ve done is to set up a craft-room of sorts.  In theory this will also someday house the office, so that it is a joint Office-Craftroom, but for now only the craft-room part of it is set-up.  Therein is now enshrined Dear Wife’s hand-me-down (but still quite excellent) sewing machine, and she has taken up learning to sew as another of her slate of crafty and creative hobbies.  (Dear Wife is a creative person at heart, although she’s told me before that she’s not creative, but I take as evidence the numerous creative activities which she has shown an interest in and chosen to pursue.)

And predictably, Dear Wife decided to use her new creative outlet to create Christmas presents.  The story as I understood it was that she was making a door-frame puppet theatre for B.T. to go with some puppets we were getting him, as well as a few other sewing-based gifts for other relatives.  And this story wasn’t exactly untrue – she did create the puppet theatre, but that project took substantially less of her time than she had led me to believe.  Because somewhere in there, she was working on one of the most awesome and geeky and loving gifts that a geeky dad could want.

A pair of matching father-and-son Super-Capes.

Behold:

The super-capes come complete with super-cuffs and super-masks to protect our secret identities.  All three pieces are reversible, on one shide bright and shiny red with the Superman shield symbol emblazoned on the cape, the other black and green (for father and son, respectively) with custom-designed super-emblems reflective of their wearers.  (Mine is a D with a lightning bolt for Super-Daddy.) 

B.T. and I both love this gift.  And it ties in perfectly with those soundtracks I mentioned.  Because what happens when B.T. asks to put on the Batman or Superman soundtracks, which he does almost every day since Christmas?  This is coupled with a request that we each put on our super-capes and costumes and fly around the house being… well… Super.  (Fighting evil is a secondary aspect of our adventures.  Mostly, we just fly.)

As a fairly geeky dad, can I just say?  Flying around the house with a Super-cape?  Pure Awesome and Joy.

So that was my Christmas, and that’s at least part of an explanation for why I haven’t posted recently.

The Holidays, Family, Games, and Time Well-Spent

As pointed out last week, the Holidays are a terrible time for my productivity.  But they’re great for just about everything else that I value in my life.

I love my family, and I love just relaxing and spending time with them, and playing around.  In the grand order of how important things are to me, family-time ranks above writing-time.  And there was a lot of it to be had these holidays past.  Already, I miss it dearly.

In the few days leading up to Christmas I spent a lot of time just hanging out with family (plus one day laid up due to the aforementioned food poisoning).  I did quite a bit of reading (including two fascinating articles, one on Göbekli Tepe and one on the fight against increasing desertification, and both of which were great fodder for story ideas) as well as the first third of David B. Coe‘s The Children of Amarid.  There was also a lot of playing with my son B.T.

B.T. has increasingly become the source of my greatest joy in life.  His verve and energy and enthusiasm for just about everything is infectious.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the things that excite him.  Right now that’s trains, planes, and automobiles (in that order) especially, as well as a goodly number of animals, and of course whatever Mommy and Daddy happen to be doing.  He loves books and being read to. And he’s become a non-stop talker.  (Interestingly, as his vocabulary has exploded, the ability of Mommy & Daddy to understand him has decreased; this is due to his toddler-speak pronunciation.  He pronounced relatively few of the words he knows accurately.  The ones he uses most frequently we’ve learned what he means, but the new ones he adds each day continue to elude us, and by “us” I mostly mean “me”.)

Then came Christmas, and more time with the family. Continue reading

Merry Christmas & A Holiday Haiatus

I just wanted to pop in here and wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannakuh, or a Joyous Holiday of Your Preference.  (We celebrate Christmas in the Casa Chez Watkins; so I mean no offense to those who celebrate elsewise in this season by leading off the blog post with wishes for the same.) 

I don’t expect in the next week or two to be posting often at all, as the Dear Wife and I and our family are currently busily-engaged in our annual festivities.  So if you don’t hear from me again before the advent of 2012, well, take this as a Happy New Year post as well.

Holiday Fun: The Gingerbread House Cometh

These are fun: a series of Gingerbread creations in the shape of icons from Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction.

My favorites (with added points for technical accomplishments): the Gingerbread Burrow and Gingerbread Hogwarts, but they’re all quite fabulous.

A Writer’s Christmas

Image of The Towers of Midnight

My Shiney new copy of the latest in the Wheel of Time series

Last year after Christmas, I talked about all the wonderful books I got as gifts for Christmas.  Last time I managed to do this within a few days of Christmas… but I was on a blog-free binge for the holidays this year.  Still, I wanted to talk about some of the things I got this year, because they’re very exciting!

Unfortunately, of the four books I got as gifts last year, I only had sufficient free time to read one of them.  And this year, I only got one novel to read for Christmas.  But it’s a doozy.
Get this: Dear Wife knew that The Towers of Midnight, the latest in the ongoing Wheel of Time saga, a book series of which I’ve been a great fan, was coming out a month or two before Christmas.  So I wouldn’t have been surprised to get this book for Christmas – especially considering I’d utterly failed to provide my wife with a viable wish list, this was one of the few things I knew she’d be aware of. 

But that’s not the half of it.  Somehow, Dear Wife was also aware that although the author, Brandon Sanderson, would not be visiting our own neck of the woods any time soon, he would in fact be stopping on book tour near her old stomping ground, where her parents still live.  And so, my Dear, blessed, wonderful Wife somehow convinces her father to stand in line at a bookstore near him for something on the order of two hours to get a copy of this book signed.

And thus it was signed.  To me.  With a message wishing me good luck with my writing.  And I have photographic evidence.  Behold: 

Signed & Personalized Copy of Towers of Midnight

It's signed to me. 🙂

It reads “For Stephen – Keep writing!  You can do it!”  Now, I know that Mr. Sanderson doesn’t know me from Adam, but still, the sentiment was very cool.  And even if Sanderson doesn’t really know me enought to care whether I succeed or fail at writing, the signed book is in its way a wondeful way to motivate me to keep working towards that goal.  

Additional Signatures in my copy of The Towers of Midnight

Harriet and the Mystery Signer, also starring My Thumb!

But wait!  There’s more!  It’s also signed by Harriet McDougal, the widow and editor of series author Robert Jordan, and still a third signature by who I am told is Robert Jordan’s daughter (but I’ve been unable to independently confirm this; in fact my attempts to verify it suggest rather that this signature may belong to Melissa Craib the founder of the Wheel of Time fan community called Tar Valon.net).  A cool gift?  You bet!

Of course, I immediately abandonned other books I’d been slowly working through in my little spare time to dive into this new shiney – knowing, as I did, that with the start of the new (and final) semester coming my reading time would drop to virtually zero very soon.

But Dear Wife wasn’t done with me, yet.  She also knows well that I carry around with me, nearly everywhere that I go, a small notebook in which I record ideas and thougts for stories as the occur to me.  I’ve filled several of these over the years, and the current edition is a spiral-bound Mead Five-Star notebook that’s about a third full.  Apparently, Dear Wife believes that my thoughts are worth more than mere spiral-binding, because her next gift was a fabulous-looking hand-tooled leather-bound journal book featuring an image of the Tree of Life embossed on the cover.  What’s more, this fabulous leather-binding is interchangeable: once the notebook is filled, I can purchase replacement notebooks to slip into the leather cover.  Very soon… I’ll be taking my notes in real style.  As you can see, this thing is a real beauty.

My new, embossed cover leather-bound journal featuring an image of the Tree of Life

Now that's a stylish-looking Notebook!

I’m still contemplating how I want to use this, actually.  My current notebook, as I said, is only a third full.  But I really want to start using this awesome notebook.  Still… I don’t want to leave off in my current notebook with so many pages empty.  That’s not an efficient use of space.  So I’ve toyed with the idea of starting something tangential in this book – like perhaps a narrated history of the world of my long-gestating novel.  Or… I’ll just wait until I fill my current notebook and then make the switch.  I’m just not sure yet.

I also got a couple more book-and-writing related gifts from family that I thought I’d share: one is The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy, a book that’s kind of a mash-up of Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy and Terry Brooks’ The Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference – at least if the Amazon description is to be believed.  I perused the table of contents, and it looks to be a rather interesting guidebook.  Many of the suggestions and details are things I’d already thought a lot about (being afflicted, as I am, with Worldbuilder’s disease) but there were some ideas in there that I hadn’t considered noted in the table of contents that I’ll have to peruse more carefully.  Regardless, this is a handsome book that I look forward to delving into (after I get more time to read and write, again, after graduation).  It looks pretty useful, and fun to read, besides.

Finally, I also got another writing book, The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans.  Content-wise, there’s a lot of overlap with the Writer’s Digest guide book.  But this book also includes two features that make it useful in its own right, I think.  The first is a section on the business-side of writing fantasy and science fiction for a living.  It’s not a long section (and probably therefore not a deep section) but I hope to find some useful advice for an aspiring speculative fiction author there.  The second is a short story by R. A. Salvatore, of Drizzt fame.  This story’s not a Drizzt story (I’ve sneaked enough of a peak to know that), and it’s included as an example of something a little more “non-traditional” in the fantasy and science-fiction genres.  Which is kind of a good idea; they say the best way to learn how to write great fantasy and science fiction is to read great fantasy and science fiction.

So, all in all, a very productive, and very writerly Christmas for me.  There’s something in the wind for 2011… I can feel it.

How about you… did Santa bring you any wonderful books to read or anything fun and supportive of your writing?

Christmas Greetings

It’s that time of year – even the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Being as it’s Christmas Eve Eve, I’m just stopping by to say Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to friends, family, loved ones, the blogosphere, the internet, and the world in general.  I’ll be spending the next couple days deeply imbedded with the family, enjoying all this holiday has to offer and celebrating B.T.’s first ever Christmas with copious photographs to be used as blackmail and/or insurance at a later date.

I’ll not be back online at least until after the aforementioned merry day.  Chances are 50/50 that I’ll be back some time during the week next week with a word or two here or there. 

So, to you and yours, Good tidings we bring, to you and your kin

Author’s Note: Oops… my bad.  This was supposed to post on the 23rd… Oh well, happy day-after-Christmas everybody.

17 Days and Counting

I have a special treat for you all today, a guest post!  I’ve mentioned her here before, but the illustrious Dear Wife would like to address your attention today.  So, without further ado, I’ll turn you over to her:

It’s less than three weeks until Christmas, which means that I’m scrambling to write a Christmas letter and print cards for our friends and family.  This year, I plan to print our photo cards at www.shutterfly.com.  We used Shutterfly to print BT’s birth announcements earlier this year and they turned out wonderful!  We recently had some amazing family photos taken by a friend and I can’t wait to show off BTs cuteness and our growing little family in our Christmas cards from Shutterfly.
 
I love Shutterfly’s Christmas photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery/christmas-photo-cards) and other holiday photo card (http://www.shutterfly.com/cards-stationery) designs for this year.  Also, now that I have oodles of cute baby pictures, I’m considering using Shutterfly to create a calendar (http://www.shutterfly.com/calendars) with some of my favorite photos.  I’m also eying some of the other photo gifts contemplating which I like most.
 
Back to our Christmas card – each year we’ve been married I’ve written a letter updating family and friends on the big happenings in our family during the year and mailed off the letter, a photo card, and brief personal notes to our friends and family.  It’s also a nice way to briefly document our year and I’ve been saving a letter and photocard each year and plan to put them in a scrapbook.  It will be nice to be able to flip through to see how our family has changed. 

Ten Books That Moved Me

 So, apparently there’s this game going on in the “blogosphere“, started, as I understand it, by Tyler Cowen on the blog “Marginal Revolution“: name the 10 Books that influenced your view of the world.  I first saw this on the blog of T. S. Bazelli, who’s commented here a few times.  So, at first I had a bit of trouble with this.  I didn’t come up with ten, right away.  It took a little thinking about it, but I did come up with ten.  And the list is a little surprising to me: they’re not all fantasy and science fiction novels (in fact, there’s comparatively little science fiction at all, which may make sense considering I’ve read very little sci fi as compared to fantasy), though they almost all are.  Further thought caused me to consider a few others that impact that list – additions I’d make or possibly substitute if I wasn’t going with the first ten influential books I thought of.  So, here they are:
The Book of Three Cover

The Book of Three

  1. The Chronicles of Prydain” by Lloyd Alexander: starting with The Book of Three and concluding with The High King.  Originally published in the 1960s, and the conclusion of which is a Newbery Award winner, these are books written and intended for a children and adolescent market, and that’s the age at which I discovered them.  I’ve blogged about the influence these books had on me before.  Suffice to say, I’m not certain I’d be a writer today – or an aspiring author, rather – if not for these books.  If everything else in my life were stripped away, this still lies at the heart of who I am, and it is these books that started me down that path.  The final book, if I had to choose, is of particular note in my memory.  The books concluded with such a tangible bittersweetness that writing that emotion has been a sort of quest of mine ever since.

    Picture of an Open Bible

    An Open Book of Scripture

  2. The Bible and other books of Scripture: In some circles (including among many of my friends), claiming the “Bible” or any other book of scripture as one of your biggest influences is by definition a cliché.  The fact is, through most of my life, I’d read and had read to me bits and pieces of the Bible, but I’d never read the whole thing.  Still, I was taught about its importance and preeminence among books, just as a matter or religious instruction.  However, when I was about 19 years old and in college, as I was finding my religious beliefs challenged in unexpected ways, I undertook to read the book, from cover-to-cover as part of a separate religious-studies class looking at a different religion from my own, at that time.  What I discovered there was interesting and exciting.  It challenged some of my long-held beliefs, re-affirmed others, and made me think more about the nature of christianity than I had before.  Was God, for instance, a benevolent and merciful being?  The Bible doesn’t always suggest that he is!  And yet, it concludes with a resounding affirmation of those very traits!  What to make of all that?  In the end, it lead to a profound shift in the direction of my life.  I can honestly say, were it not for that change, I would not be where I am today, I would not have met my wife, and I would not now be bringing a new life into the world with her. 

    The Lord of Rings in Hardcover

    The Lord of the Rings in Hardcover

  3. The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien: starting with The Fellowship of the Ring, of course.  These are the books without which no list of “the most influential books” is truly complete, making it a cliché of its own.  But, of course, there are reasons the books are so influential.  It’s hard to imagine a world without these books: half of popular entertainment and pop culture would be radically different if so.  But this is about the personal influence these books had on me.  As a writer, this can’t be understated.  Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain books were what made me a writer, but it is these books that made me think more deeply about my writing.  I find myself turning time and again to the indices at the back of The Return of the King, and to companion books like The Book of Lost Tales and The Silmarillion for inspiration in the way that I approach writing fantasy and world-building.  I find Tolkien’s influence in my work so strong that I have come to consider that “novel-I’ve-been-working-on” (cue obligatory reference to “blathering”) not so much a novel, or a pending novel-series, but a work of Mythopoeia.  While it is, perhaps, pretentious, that is nonetheless my aspiration – and why I’ve put the book aside until I can develop my skills as a writer sufficiently to be able to tackle such a daunting task. 

    The Hobbit Cover

    The Cover of "The Hobbit"

  4. The Hobbit, also by Tolkien: Another publisher of such a list might classify this as part-and-parcel with “The Lord of the Rings”, but I have to list them separately.  Even before I eventually read this book – which is a children’s book, as opposed to a work for adults such as “The Lord of the Rings” – stories from The Hobbit formed the backdrop of my childhood (along with other tales).  Before I ever read the book, I’d seen the Rankin/Bass animated version of it.  As a story of heroism and adventure, it sets a very different mood than the later books, and have different inspirations. It was only later, with the writing of “The Lord of the Rings”, that Tolkien tied the world of The Hobbit together with the world he’d been creating since his youth that we see in The Book of Lost Tales and The Silmarillion.  It’s another part of the mythopoetic process that’s well worth reading. 

    The Cover of "Dragons of Autumn Twilight"

    The Cover of "Dragons of Autumn Twilight"

  5. The Dragonlance Chronicles” by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman: which begin with Dragons of Autumn Twilight.  Long before I discovered Role-playing, or took up “adventuring” in Dungeons & Dragons, I read the Dragonlance books.  And those books were perhaps the first books that nearly brought me to tears because of the death of a character (I won’t share which one, so as not to spoil it).  It was heart-wrenching.  Of course, that’s besides the epic scope and incredible fantasy-milieu at the heart of these books (and the companion series, The Twins chronicles; read those two trilogies but the rest of the “Dragonlance” books, most by other authors, are extraneous to these two series).  Again, really, these books skew to a slightly younger audience, but they’re still fantastic, in my opinion, and were the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between Weis and Hickman that continues to this day. 

    The Cover of "The Eye of the World"

    The Cover of "The Eye of the World"

  6. The Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan: which begins with The Eye of the World.  For all its flaws and detractors, “The Wheel of Time” has earned a place as one of the best epic fantasies every written, and this is especially true if we narrow our focus to the first three books of the series.  These books are among the most thoroughly-researched and richly-detailed fantasy books I’ve ever read, and even during the long slog in the middle, I always found myself eagerly anticipating the next book in the series (when I started reading them in High School, there were six of them).  Even the flaws – and yes, even an ardent fan of these books such as myself must admit that there are flaws – are a source of inspiration to me: I ask myself, as fabulous as Robert Jordan’s books are, what did he do wrong?  And how can I avoid those mistakes in my own writing?  In a future blog posting (after I finish reading The Gathering Storm), I will likely go into greater detail about the series as a whole, what I perceive the flaws to be, and how this all influences my writing. 

    The Cover of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"

    The Cover of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"

  7. The Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling: which begins with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as per the U.S. title.  These books changed my opinion of YA literature (or at least of YA fantasy and science fiction literature).  I had staunchly refused to read the Harry Potter books, believing them to be a fantasy-light that was unworthy of the attention of someone like me who was interested in serious, adult fantasy (such as the “Wheel of Time” books above); and I held out reading these until after the first movie came out.  Of course, I had to eat my words: these books are really well-written and enjoyable, regardless of what age you are when you read them.  In retrospect, it was silly, naive, and frankly stupid of me to hold the books in such contempt: some of my favorite books were written for the juvenile market (see “Chronicles of Prydain” above).  Can you spell hypocrite?  Regardless, I also learned a thing or two about writing fantasy by seriously considering just what made these books so darn popular in the first place (and by extension, caused Ms. Rowling to become the richest woman in England).  One part of the answer, I surmised: the role relationships between characters play in these books.  I also discovered, after reading these books, how annoyed I was at the U.S. title-change.  It smacks of pandering to the lowest-common-denominator, or of assuming the general stupidity of the American reading public.  The fact is, Ms. Rowling obviously did research on folklore and mythology in writing this series, but you wouldn’t know it by the American title: there’s really no such thing as a “Sorcerer’s Stone”.  But the British title has it right: there’s loads of interesting things in folklore and mythology about a “Philosopher’s Stone“.  

    The Cover of "1984"

    "1984" with the same cover as used in my High School

  8. 1984 by George Orwell: 1984 is easily the best book I have ever had to read for school.  It’s also the most darkly chilling, and most culturally, socially, and politically relevant I’ve ever had to read.  Basically, if you didn’t have to read it in High School like I did, then you should go read this book right now.  Seriously.  I mean, how do you even know what the rest of us are talking about whenever we snidely suggest that “Big Brother is watching you”?  Anyway, 1984 is the science-fiction (yes, it’s science fiction, even if they made you read it in school and even if Orwell didn’t know he was writing science fiction) dystopian-future magnum opus from before dystopian future sci-fi was the cool thing to write, and is the touchstone from which all other dystopian futures ultimately draw their inspiration.  And it is a book that continues to warn us against the dangers that lurk in our futures – dangers of our own making and born of our own complacency. 

    The cover of "A Wizard of Earthsea"

    The Cover of the same edition of "A Wizard of Earthsea" as was owned by my parents

  9. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le GuinLe Guin’s books are deceptively simple to read, and belie their deep exploration of complex themes.  My parents had a huge collection of books from my childhood, and buried in that collection was a box-set of the first three Earthsea books.  Pressed into the pages of the books were dried flowers: flowers I can only assume were given to my mother by my father.  I did my best to take care not to damage the dried, pressed flowers when I read these books.  I included these books on my list because I think there’s something deeper or more meaningful here than in many of the other fantasy and science fiction books I’ve read.  Also, I think Ms. Le Guin’s campaign to protect her copyrights from corporate take-over are worthy of note. 
     
     

                                                                  

  10.  A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
    Cover of "A Thousand Splendid Suns"

    Cover of "A Thousand Splendid Suns"

    This is a very surprising, non-speculative fiction item on my list.  Dear Wife very much enjoyed The Kite Runner by the same author, which she had read before we met, and when she got her hands on this sophomore novel by Hosseini, she convinced me to read it to.  Later, we saw the film version of The Kite Runner.  These stories were deeply disturbing and eye opening, and reading A Thousand Splendid Suns gave me a new understanding of evil that goes beyond the simplistic sense most often understood in fantasy fiction.  And it made me ponder such a situation in which “the good guys”, as my preconceived notions understood it, existed in a world where there were no “good” options, where every choice, every action conceivable would lead to more death, destruction, and evil, no matter what the intentions of “the good guys”.  Indeed, I was forced to ponder a world in which “the good guys” were a force for evil and ill in the world, simply as a consequence of their existence.  That is a stark reality to face, and it is one that A Thousand Splendid Suns made me face.  Also, this book has a fabulously enticing title!  

Honorable Mentions 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: At once instructive, iconic, enduring, and immortal.  Plus, it’s about my favorite time of year!

 Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson: Adventure! Treasure! Pirates! And a boy in need of a father.  A bildungsroman that still delights young readers to this day.  This book is beyond being a mere classic.  Plus, may I say that this book began my love affair with maps?

 The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells: Veritably the grandfather of science fiction (alongside Mr. Verne, the genre’s other grandfather).  As far as I know, it’s the first time aliens invaded and conquered Earth, and also the first time they were a metaphor of something deeper.  What I read was an illustrated, abridged version for children, at a fairly young age.

 The 1,001 Arabian Nights: While I’ve never read them, the existence of this book nonetheless has a profound impact on my world, and my conception of a heroic tale: from the voyages of Sinbad, to the tale of Aladdin, to Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, these are adventures and stories that were a part of my childhood and formed the backdrop for my early development as a writer.

 Fairy Tales: From Mother Goose to the Brothers Grimm and everything in between.  My childhood was steeped in fairy tales – many of them from children’s books recounting the tales in question.  Others came from movies and television, still others were related as bed-time stories. 

 Wikipedia: It’s not a book.  But it is my one-stop-shop, where all of my more in-depth research begins.   (Which is to say, I know Wikipedia’s not where my research should end, but it’s a great place to begin!)

Happy reading!

The Christmas (Book) Haul

I did a tidy business this year for Christmas, with respect to books.  I received four books as gifts, starting with The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson.  I also picked up Mistborn and Elantris, also by Brandon Sanderson, and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.  (Besides that, I also got a hot chocolate pot with frother and a cold-weather running outfit, among other things, which I’m also excited about, but they’re a little beyond the scope of this blog.)  My son, meanwhile (though he has yet to leave the womb), got a shiney new copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

I’m very excited by this bounty of books.  I’ve not been reading nearly as much as I’d like this past year or two, due in large consequence to my MBA program eating most of my free time for a hearty breakfast.  I enjoy advancing my education, but I do miss leisure reading.  Most of these books aren’t new – the newest, The Gathering Storm, was released in October of this year – so any reviews I do on them will hardly be timely.  But I’ll probably post my thoughts once I am able to delve into them.

Of these novels, Elantris is a stand-alone book, while Mistborn is the first book of a trilogy and The Name of the Wind is also the first in a series.   The Gathering Storm, on the other hand, is the twelfth book of the long-running “Wheel of Time” saga – so a review of this book is of limited worth outside the context of the series as a whole.  If you’re already a “Wheel of Time” fan, you’re already familiar with The Gathering Storm, and there’s a fair chance you’ve read it already, so any review, positive or negative, is unlikely to have a substantial impact on your likelihood of picking it up.

This all got me thinking about the tendancy for fantasy novels, in particular, to come in a series of books, and of the trend in mainstream fiction, generally, either toward or away from serials and series.  It gives me a wonderful opportunity to segue into another short essay on the topic of novel series and serials, critiquing the pros and cons on the matter, and perhaps providing a little food-for-thought for other aspiring writers.  Stay tuned tomorrow for my short essay on novel series.  Until then, happy writing.

Happy Holidays

Today is Christmas Day, and so to those who keep this day, I wish you a Merry Christmas.  To those who do not, I hope your Holiday Season has been a joyful one thus far, and that throughout this festive and holiday-filled season you will have found or will yet find time to give thanks for your families and the loved-ones in  your life, and to enjoy their company.  For those who are separated from their families by whatever circumstances may be, my heart goes out to you.

To all: Happy Holidays, and Happy Writing.