Books I Read This Month - December 2010

Hello friends! Welcome back! I got a new layout. What do you think?

How were your holiday breaks? If you got one, that is.

Due to some what of an epiphany I had during my nice little week off, I think I will be moving to Monday, Wednesday, Friday, if any of my twenty-five followers care. Starting in the new year, that is. Call it a resolution. I have decided to really get my writing habits down, since I've been slacking over the past few months and blaming it on writer's block, which is a condition that is totally made up. Making time to write everyday is a difficult task, but writing is my favorite thing to do in the whole world (besides reading maybe) and I get really frustrated with my life when I don't do it. So there. I am making a big shift away from wannabe writer to professional writer. But not "professional" per se. Because I probably won't make any money off of it for many years. But you know what I mean.

I suppose this means Story Saturday is discontinued. That's okay; I didn't really think that was a great idea anyway. But if I write something I think is worth sharing, I will definitely post it for you wonderful people to read!

Alright. Enough about that.

My friend Aleeza wrote a great blog post last week about being a Pakistani-American. You should head over and read it if you have the time. It is very insightful.

Now for the real post.

I've decided to start this new thing. On the last post day of every month, I will discuss the books I read that month. Pretty simple and pretty fun. Maybe you guys will learn about some new books and find something up your alley to read. Yup. Here goes.

P.S. I read a lot.

The Forgotten Man - Robert Crais
I had to write a report on this for that detective fiction class I told you all about. It was pretty good, very suspenseful and a quick read. The writing wasn't that great though. There were some spots that seemed like the editor might have missed, but overall, it was an okay book. Enjoyable for a fun read but not for its literary value.

The White Cheyenne - Max Brand
A western, not something you see around very much these days. It was published in the 1930s, and I have to say it was pretty entertaining, though the plot was slightly difficult to follow. That could be because I was ready it kind of quickly and not very thoroughly...

Finnegan's Wake - James Joyce
I really I have no idea what to say about this one.

K-Pax - Gene Brewer
I saw the movie for this first, and I have to say, it followed the book pretty well. The book is probably better though because the acting in the movie was not very good, except for Kevin Spacey, who was absolutely brilliant, as always. This book and the movie are very entertaining and intriguing. It goes in depth in pondering the way the human mind works. I would recommend this book, as well as the movie, to all of you. It's definitely not on my top ten favorites, but it's still really good. I think the author might be a little nuts though. This is a fiction novel, and he used his own name for the name of the main character, a psychiatrist. It's creative, and maybe he based the character off himself, but it seems like kind of an iffy thing to do. It's like a Kurt Vonnegut type of thing, only the author is the main character instead of an observer. Not sure what that says about this guy's mental health... But I guess it's reasonable; lots of writers are kind of crazy.

The Boat - Nam Le
This book is a collection of short stories. The author was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia. The diversity of the stories is amazing. Two took place in Vietnam, one in Australia, another in Tehran, one in the U.S. and the last one took place on a boat in the middle of the ocean. I would recommend this book to you guys. The writing is beautiful!

The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway
This book, as you know, is really famous. Hemingway received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 (I think). I've also read For Whom The Bell Tolls, and I have to say I liked that one better than this book. Still really good, though, obviously.

Watership Down - Richard Adams
Sorry, talking bunnies just aren't my cup of tea.

The Identity Man - Andrew Klavan
This book was a nice change of pace compared to others in the genre of crime thriller fiction. The writing was spectacular, very different from other quickly-written, fast-paced page-turners. I could tell that the author spent a great deal of time sorting through his writing, forming the prose so the syntax reflected the tone and the theme of the novel. The theme was another very interesting thing about this book. "Identity like stain." Places and the characters' races are never stated out right, but through the writing, the reader can just tell who, what, and where. There was a scene where the main character was watching some black and white movies, and the author did not give the titles of the movies, but by the description, I could tell what they were and why the author chose to use them. The whole book was like that. I would definitely recommend this book to you guys. The author, Andrew Klavan, had one of his novels turned into a movie and directed by Clint Eastwood, so you know he's good.

Freedom - Joseph Franzen
There is a lot of hype about this book. It just came out this year. And I can see why everyone liked it. First of all, it was the first book the author published in a long time. And secondly, the writing and the plot and the characters were great. Franzen has a similar writing style as David Foster Wallace, who was awesome. Have any of you guys read this new book? Do you think it deserves all the hype it got?

I'll see you all next Monday on my new schedule!

Peace, Aimee

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

This was my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month, and all around I was completely unsuccessful. I think I went a good four days writing 2000 words a day, then got a week behind a decided to quit. I don't have any good excuses really, except I was kind of busy, though I'm sure there are more people who succeeded, yet were much busier than I was. I am going to spend December and January, and probably much of February writing the first draft of my new novel, which has a completed outline and about 4000 words. It's an idea that's been bouncing around in my head for about a year, and it's sort of a science fiction romance type of thing, a genre that is WAY outside my comfort zone.

So there's my little update. Here, I have complied a list of the top ten things I learned from participating (or not) in NaNoWriMo, some of which I already knew.

1. Writing is hard. It takes a lot of discipline to get to your word count in only 30 days, while simultaneously battling your inner editor.

2. Having so many people around participating in the same thing is very encouraging and makes it so much easier, plus it's fun to have competition.

3. When you don't meet your goals, it's very discouraging, yet it makes you more determined to do better next time.

4. After giving up and taking the rest of November off from writing is very cleansing. Stepping back from writing and just doing the regular day to day things gives a new perspective on writing and what it means to you. You should try it sometime.

5. Sometimes outlines bog you down rather than help you. I think that is part of the reason why I quit part way through. I think I'll give the seat-of-your-pants thing a try after I'm finished with the first draft of my next novel.

6. When faced with the decision to quit or keep going on something that gives no rewards whatsoever, it is actually much more difficult than you'd think. Even though you're not losing anything, you still feel disappointed.

7. If you are given a deadline, your writing usually sucks. This is another reason why I quit. It was probably a mistake for me to read through what I had written so far because I suddenly got writer's block and couldn't finish since what I wrote sucked so badly. Just writing the first draft then going back and reading later is the best way to go, unless your plot is ridiculously complex and you can't risk making continuity errors. This is what I did with the last novel I write. I got the whole first draft down without reading it because I knew I would get nervous and stop if I did. Unfortunately, I have not had the change to read it yet, as I took November off from my writing. I'm definitely going to get to editing that, probably when I've finished this new novel.

8. Not every word you write counts. Though each word takes you closer to your goal, not every word is going to stay where it is once you've finished. Odds are that when November is over and you decide to edit this short, sucky novel you've written, you're going to rewrite most of it. This is something I should have realized earlier on. Maybe then I wouldn't have given up. It's not like you're obligated to publish the thing right after you've written it.

9. When put under pressure like this, you learn a lot about yourself and your writing. In the four days that I participated in NaNoWriMo, I thought I could definitely do it, but then the weekend came with lots of distractions, so I got behind. But when I was on a roll, I really had faith in myself. I did learn, though, that when I write very fast like that, my plot sucks. It's something that's fixable though. And the story I chose to write in November was an idea that I'd had for a while but hadn't gotten around to writing. I thought it was great and clever, but once I started writing, I realized it wasn't, which is probably good for future reference.

10. Writing is fun! But I knew this already. That's why I do it, of course!

Peace, Aimee

The Battle Between Light and Dark

Here it is, as promised, the essay I wrote last year about the book The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and how it compares to the television show LOST. On Saturday, I will be sharing the first part of a short children's fairy tale I wrote, and I will be posting the second part next Saturday, so after that I will do two regular posts in a row on the Saturdays, since this is a lot of my writing all at once. I'm writing this little introduction very quickly, so pardon me if it is not phrased very, um, coherently. So yeah. Here is that essay. I hope it makes you want to, if you have not already, read the book and watch the show, and I also hope that you understand my insights about corruption of power, the strength of love, and privilege of choice.

The Battle Between Light and Dark

In Joseph Conrad's novella, The Heart of Darkness, a man, Charles Marlow, embarks on a journey to a company's Inner Station in Congo. As he travels down the Congo River, he meets many of his shipmates — natives, savages, cannibals, pilgrims alike — who all admire the ambiguous Mr. Kurtz, leader of the Inner Station. Marlow's sole mission is to reach this mysterious man. All the while he must interpret rumors, avoid arrow attacks, and discover the truth of light and dark, good and evil. This story appears to have influenced the television series LOST, which follows the exploits of a group of survivors of a plane crash on a mysterious island. There, they — including a man, John Locke, who has been healed from paralysis by the island’s extraordinary powers — meet strange people who are keeping dangerous secrets, especially the truth behind the omniscient leader and protector of the island, Jacob, and the Smoke Monster, which shreds people who it deems useless in the game of fate. In LOST, Locke desires to discern the significance of fate versus free will, which is akin to good versus evil and light versus dark. The omnipresent battle between light and dark is symbolic in both LOST and The Heart of Darkness, taking precedence over the many other uncanny similarities.

Both Marlow and Locke have a different world view than their accompaniments. The pilgrims, as Marlow calls them, only have one motivation: to collect ivory for money in their own self-interest, whereas the plane crash survivors just want to live. However, Locke and Marlow are wise and understand that there is more to their situation than it seems. Since he is healed after the crash, Locke concludes that it is their fate to be stranded on the mysterious place. He is driven to understand how he was healed. When the natives of the island, which the survivors call the Others — akin to the restrained cannibals and savage natives in The Heart of Darkness — reveal that Locke is meant to be the new leader, he seeks out Jacob with the sole purpose of discovering the truth. Locke's search is quite similar to Marlow's search for the truth from Kurtz. As the pilgrims around him continue to hoard ivory, Marlow discerns that he must speak to Kurtz. When he finally reaches the man, after the boat sinks and native attack him with arrows — events which also occurred on LOST — he learns that Kurtz is dying of a terrible illness and that the natives blindly follow him. Eventually his illness, both of his disease and of his corruption, consumes him. He dies repeating the words: “The horror! The horror!” His last words signify that he realized his corruption of power as he looked into his heart of darkness. Jacob too is faced with an immense darkness. After Locke reaches his hideout, Jacob is brutally murdered by the Smoke Monster’s influence, leaving no one there to protect the light at the heart of the island from its wrath. In both of the leaders’ deaths, though caused by dark forces, a light is shed on the truth. However, the truth is only revealed to Marlow and Locke who fully understand and appreciate its importance.

Not only are Marlow and Locke similar, but many other characters from LOST resemble those from The Heart of Darkness as well. The Smoke Monster only becomes a monster once he attains power. Before he was corrupted, he was only a man, known as the Man in Black. He, both as the monster and the man, has a similar demeanor to Kurtz. They both desire the powerful light and both suffer a horrifying fate. The Man in Black is dehumanized, transforming into the Smoke Monster. Kurtz dies in vain, realizing that his efforts had destroyed the lives of dozens of people. The "advisor" Richard Alpert bears a striking resemblance to the Russian, who respects and follows Kurtz's orders. The Russian states, “I am not so young as I look,” and Richard does not age, which is a gift from the powerful Jacob. Both men, loyal to their leaders, after making certain Marlow and Locke meet them, escape the dangers of the treacherous jungle: Richard from the Man in Black and the Russian from the manager. This selfish, intimidating man, the manager of the Central Station, and the bug-eyed manipulative leader of the Others, Benjamin Linus, both have control over their subjects and resent those above them. Just as the manager plots against Kurtz, Ben, under the influence of the Man in Black, stabs and kills Jacob, unaware that he is the evil Smoke Monster. Their devilish and sly yet pitiful character, not solely their actions, defines their similarities. Yet another striking pair is the fireman and Desmond Hume. Underground, Desmond pushes a button every 108 minutes for three years because he is told and he believes that it prevents the end of the world — actually it prevents the light from being released into the world — just as the fireman is instructed to watch “should the water in that transparent thing disappear, the evil spirit inside the boiler would get angry through the greatness of his thirst, and take a terrible vengeance” (Conrad 61). These characters, in addition to Marlow and Locke, tie the television series and Conrad’s novella together all the more clearly and contribute greatly to the theme which resonates throughout both: good versus evil.

At the heart of the island, there is a bright, warm light, which Jacob explains is inside every person. He and the Man In Black have conflicting views about peoples' reaction to it, just as Marlow and Kurtz disagree about the corruption of power. Furthermore, the seventeenth century philosophers, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke argued about human nature in the same way. The LOST character's namesake, John Locke believed that people are naturally good and will fight for the good of all people, whereas his opponent Thomas Hobbes argued that that people are selfish. Joseph Conrad took this age-old argument and materialized it into Marlow's story. Kurtz attains this power, this "light," and becomes corrupt, greedily attempting to gain more control. In his death, he realizes this "horror" of how people selfishly scavenge for power, just as Hobbes asserted. However, when Marlow is enlightened, he is humbled, taking Locke's approach and protecting people from the truth. The Locke of LOST looks into "the heart of the island" and sees that "it is beautiful," believing that he and the other survivors are there for a reason: to protect this beautiful and powerful light. And he is right. Guarding it is Jacob's job. He and the Man in Black had argued for decades over whether the truth really needed protecting. Furious at the Man in Black's attempts to free this light from the island, Jacob throws him into the heart of darkness, where he suffers "a fate worse than death." This fate is the same as Kurtz's. Once he obtains this light from the heart of the island, the Man in Black becomes the Smoke Monster, destroying all those who come between him and his desire to leave the island. LOST, The Heart of Darkness, and the philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke are all connected by their symbolism of darkness as the desire to control one's own fate and the fate of others, and light as the truth that this obsession, which ironically makes people out of control, must be prevented. The battle between fate and free will, which is omnipresent in the television series, does not necessarily have a winner. Each person has a little bit of free will, a little bit of control inside of them, and they always want more. Jacob, Marlow, and Locke understand this, while Kurtz and the Man in Black spiral out of control once they obtain this power.

Jacob loses his battle with the Man in Black just as Kurtz loses his battle to his illness of corruption. John Locke and Charles Marlow both find the light that shines somewhere in the heart of darkness, and they try to protect it. Their companions aid them and hinder them, even those who appear for only a few pages or episodes. The coincidences are overwhelming, but one thing is for certain; the self-knowledge that Marlow and Locke receive at the end of their long journey is exactly what they need in order to fight the evil forces that appear to have overridden the good ones.

Setting Goals But Never Reaching Them

Stephen King says he writes 2000 words a day, no less, no more, no matter what. Walter B. Gibson in the 1930s and 40s wrote 15,000 words a day for The Shadow pulp magazine. Setting goals in writing is a great way to get things done.

I have tried many different methods of writing: simple outlining, in depth outlining, seat of your pants writing, and so on. But I never really got much writing done. In writing forums online and in writing books almost everyone says that the best way to write is just that: write. By writing every single day, lets say 2000 words each day, you can finish the first draft of an entire novel in about three months. Using my I-don't-feel-like-it-today-but-the-next-day-I-write-like-5000-words method, I have never finished an entire first draft. After a year I get stuck at 40,000, which is the farthest I've ever gotten, though it's technically finished; it has a beginning, middle, and end, fully developed characters, and all those other things you need in order to have a completed novel. No matter what I do, I always end up with a novella-length draft that's just the bare bones of a novel, and then I get sick of spending so much time on it and move onto something new.

This happened to me three times before I decided to do something about it. Starting with my most recent project, I decided to write 2000 words every day, and I would finish the entire first draft by the end of October. So far, it hasn't really worked because I keep falling back into my old pattern, which wasn't really a pattern at all. Now I have two chapters left, and it's only 40K. Well there are still 11 days left in October.

I wanted to finish by the end of October because in November, I am planning on participating in NaNoWriMo for the first time. I've never written a novel 50,000 words long, let alone in only one month, so this is bound to be a challenge. I am going to take this challenge and try my hardest to do it the best I can. I have the time and I have the inspiration, but I'm not sure I have the will.

Setting goals in writing is the best way to write. If you have to goal (word count or time frame) in mind, then you'll probably never finish. However, you must also have the perseverance, the thing that I presently do not have, and reach your goal. Hopefully I will finish my first draft by the end of October, though it definitely will not be 72K, which was my goal. It will probably only be 50,000, but I can always edit later, after November. Wish me luck, and good luck to you, my writing friends!

NaNoWriMo website

Peace, Aimee

The Package

I would like to share with you a piece that I wrote in a creative writing class last year. Each sentence begins with a letter of the alphabet, in alphabetical order, so, obviously, it has twenty-six sentences. Enjoy!

The Package

After his face off with Lowry, James was rattled and believed that it was entirely his fault. But even before the incident, he knew that something sinister was looming.

Cruising around in his Camaro, the cliche wind blowing through his cliche surfer hair, curious James, both his hands still firmly on the wheel, snuck a glance into the leather bag on the passenger seat. Daisies sprouting along the side of the road glared at him, warning him not to let his curiosity grip him any more than it already had. Even the puffy white clouds in the sky, cheerful and innocent, stared him down, less naive than that inquisitive young man. Feeling the hot rays of the sun on his back, James ripped his eyes away from the package and forced them to watch the road. Gravely, his curiosity ate away at him. His eyes darted back and forth between the bag and road. Inside that bag, he imagined, could be anything: money, a secret message, a bomb. James shuttered at the thought. Kicking himself for accepting the mission, James began to sweat. Lowry was definitely the type of man who would want to transport bombs. Men of his stature always had sinister plots churning away in their minds. Never would James have taken this mysterious package from Lowry, at least not before the tricky man had blackmailed him.

On the dirt road now, James wished he had driven his truck. Pelting rocks, he worried as dust swarmed his nose, could ruin the new red coat of paint on his Camaro. Quickly, the road narrowed into a bumpy track, like a twisting hiking trail through a dark forest. Red and orange flowers and possibly poisonous berries engulfed his car, and the towering trees loomed over him. Swallowing the nervous glob that had formed in his throat, James gave up. The curiosity had killed the cat, and he killed the engine, stopping in the middle of the unpaved road. Unbuckling his seat belt, he leaned over and peeked inside the bag. Venomous shock overtook him, and he tucked the malicious object back into the bag and slammed the accelerator, hoping to finish this chore quickly and quietly so he would never have to deal with Lowry again.

When he saw Lowry standing on the side of the road, where he said he would be, James was overcome with fear.

X-ray eyes that Lowry character had.

"You opened it, didn't you? Zero chance you're getting out of this one unscathed."

Hey There!

So this blog had gone into hibernation for the past, oh, I don't know, two years. But it's up now, and I'm starting from square one. Here's a little about me, which I hope you will find interesting, or at least interesting enough to become a follower or leave a nice comment just saying hi.

My name is Aimee. I am a college student (cough, cough, community college) in the United States, who is simultaneously looking for a job (somewhere, anywhere!) and working on writing a novel. I've wanted to be a writer since I knew how to write. It's my dream. I've written many short stories and submitted things to some contests, but so far I haven't had any luck. It's a tough business. I finished my first novel a few months ago and am in the revising process, which is progressing very slowly. I am also working on my second novel, which is progressing much faster than the first. Besides writing, I spend my "free" time playing the guitar, studying chemistry, reading, and just hanging out with friends. Side note: I am studying chemistry because I am working toward becoming a pharmacy technician; writing doesn't pay much when you first start out, and to be brutally honest, it never pays much, unless you're Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. Okay, end side note. I am also somewhat of a peace activist. I am part of a peace club at my college, and I have been strongly supporting the International Day of Peace, 21 September, for the past few years, though mostly by word of mouth. Since Peace Day pretty much came and went for me this year (as it is also my sister's birthday) I am planning on spending the entirety of this next year spreading the word and organizing an event for Peace Day 2011. I will be posting on this blog, all about my efforts in peace and writing, so please follow me and enjoy the ride.

Phew. Okay, I think we're off to a great start. Now, why don't you tell me a little about yourself?

Peace, Aimee