Category Archives: recommended reads

A Podcast of Inspiration and Encouragement for Writers (Barbara Abercrombie Interview)

We’re talking with Barbara Abercrombie, author of A Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement.

It definitely is a great book for anyone interested in writing. I know that I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was a privilege to be able to talk to her about it.

This is the second part of the transcript. If you missed Part 1, you can go back and read it now. You can also download the entire interview as a free podcast, or stream it with the player below. Enjoy!

Barbara Abercrombie teaches at the ULCA Extension Writer’s Program and we are picking up our conversation about teaching writing.

Chase: “If someone wants to write, you can’t simple say, ‘Here’s how to do it.’”

Barbara: “As a teacher, all I can do is bring in wonderful writing as examples. I always start each class with reading a poem, whether they like poetry or not. Some students just look at me cross-eyed like, ‘Oh my, what have I gotten myself into? She’s gonna stand up there reading poetry’ but I love poetry. I read them one poem at the beginning of each class. One of the most exciting things that I’ve had as feedback from students is that they’ve started reading poetry and started appreciating it. I think to write prose, studying poetry is very, very helpful and inspiring,

I don’t think there is any cut and dried way to teach writing. It’s giving people prompts, introducing the notion that there really are no mistakes in writing. You are writing your way into whatever you have to write. And like you were saying before, some people don’t necessarily want to become writers, they just want to write. And that is wonderful too. If you have a journal and you just want to keep track of your life, I think everybody should do that. There are so many other opportunities for people to write, like whatever your interest, you could create a blog and write in that every day or once a week.

There is also self publishing. It’s amazing and it has changed so much in the past ten years. You can write stories about your family, you can write your autobiography and you can publish it for your family. There are lots of new opportunities for people who want to write but nit necessarily become writers.”

Chase: “I have to find another quote. I took so many notes in this book. There it is. It’s from Day 78 – Dimes in Ivory Soap. There’s an anecdote about your family finding dimes in bars of soap. We don’t need to spoil that story for anyone listening but basically, if you don’t write down your stories, they’re gone. I think that is your point here, that we can write journals and we can write down these stories.

I’ve been reading up on Indian Residential Schools this summer. A lot of people who went through that experience didn’t want to talk about it because it was painful, but it’s starting to get written down now. There are some stories available now and I think that is very important to have those narratives out in the world so when the Elders pass away, we still have their stories behind them.

Barbara: “You can have videos and photographs and albums, but if people don’t write down the stories, they are gone. I think stories are valuable and precious. I encourage everyone to write down their stories and to keep track of their lives. It’s important.”

Chase: “Not only our own lives. In Day 306 of A Year of Writing Dangerously, you mention how we can borrow other people’s stories.”

Barbara: “Right, the stories you hear. I used to think of it as stealing but I think of it as preserving stories now. You know what, Chase? It takes energy to do it, to write down the stories. It also takes the realization of the importance of it. Going through our lives, we all tend to think as our lives are so familiar to us, we think, ‘Who would ever be interested in that, or in that detail? Why is that important?’ But if you write stuff down and go back to it, even if it’s just a year later, it’s astonishing and you do realize the value in all those details of your life.”

Chase: “I find writing helps me to remember. I don’t have such a good memory. But I write things down. I used to journal a lot more than I do now. My blog has kind of become my journal and every month, I actually look back to what I was writing last month at that time. It really is an interesting observation every time. It helps me remember some things I probably would have otherwise forgotten just because I wrote it down and I published it on a blog.”

Barbara: “Exactly. I’ve been keeping my blog, Writing Time . typepad . com for six and half years now. I go back to some of the old posts and it’s like I’m reading it for the first time.”

Chase: “That’s very cool. Nothing New Under the Sun. Day 51. This is one of the interesting things you do in the book too, you have a little anecdote or story or piece of advice. Every day takes up a page in the book. Some of them are only a paragraph and some are four or five paragraphs long. But at the end of each entry, there is a quote from another author or writer. It’s really interesting. I like to watch Book Television just to see what the authors are saying but I don’t often read a lot of writer’s quotes. It’s nice to see those in the book.

In this one, in particular, Paul Hogan says, ‘Everything has been said; but not everything has been said superbly, and even if it had been, everything must be said freshly, over and over.’”

Barbara: “Isn’t that wonderful? I love that quote too. It’s so true. There is nothing new under the sun. It’s a paradox as our stories are very similar but the details of our stories are different and new and fresh. In that section, I was quoting a student who was always emailing me. At that point, it was about Nora Ephron who just passed away a couple weeks ago, and she felt that Nora Ephron had highjacked all her material to write about.”

Chase: “You can still explore themes that have already been written about and explored. I love comic books and if you think about it, Spiderman has been out since the 1960s, but there are literally thousands and thousands and thousands of Spiderman stories but they still come out with a brand new one every week.”

Barbara: “Isn’t that amazing?”

Chase: “So, just because something has been said, it shouldn’t scare writers away from tackling that subject as well.”

Barbara: “Exactly.”

Chase: “Day 178 The Duty of Poets and Writers. I like this, ‘The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.’

That quote reminds me of Joseph Gold’s Read for Your Life: Literature as Life Support System. Are you familiar with that book?”

Barbara: “No, I’m not. I’m gonna take a note of it. I love that title!”

Chase: “It’s great. He uses books in his therapy sessions with patients and they can learn a lot through other people’s stories about their own experience. He believes that reading helps us in all aspects of our lives. Stories help us reorganize thinking, help to resolve problems by reviewing situations from a different viewpoint. Reading gives us more insight into those things.”

Barbara: “That’s fabulous. As soon as we are finished, I am going to look that up on Amazon. I believe that so strongly.”

Chase: “Yeah, it’s a great book. The same day, in your book, Day 178, the quote under that entry is, “Certaintly morality should come first for writers, critics, and everybody else. People who change tires. People in factories. They should always ask, is this moral? Not, will it sell?” and that’s from John Gardner.”

Barbara: “He was such a moral writer too. It’s so true. At the writer’s program at UCLA, I teach creative writing and most of my students are really serious about exploring their lives and putting something important down on the page. The screenwriting classes are very different, I think. And I don’t mean to make any mass generalizations here, but people are thinking more about breaks and making money, etc, etc. I don’t want to put screenwriters down because I know some very serious ones.”

Chase: “Writing novels is different from writing screenplays as well.”

Barbara: “Totally”

Chase: “I write both, but I let things develop organically. I know that there are certain beatsheets and things you can get when writing a screenplay that say, ‘This should happen on this page,’ and like you said before, some people can write with those kinds of plans but I feel it handcuffing. I also don’t think each story needs to follow that rigid path. Like you’ve mentioned it the book, there really aren’t any blueprints to writing.

But, I read a book entitled Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. He’s got a blog called Story Fix and he says that there are Six Core Competencies. He’s basically saying these six things need to be in your story and that you should block them out and you should figure out where they are. I read it, but I much prefer as a manual for writing Stephen King’s—“

Barbara: “His memoir book. It’s about his writing life and—“

Chase: “It’s called On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

Barbara: “That’s a terrific book. I love that!”

Chase: “It certainly is, but I’ve been wondering a lot lately about my process. I keep reading blog post after blog post where it says we should plan out our stuff or we’ll have to write draft after draft to fully flesh out material that should have been in our original plan. It’s really been conflicting me lately, like am I writing wrong?”

Barbara: “You can’t write wrong, Chase. There is now way to write wrong. I think you are going to write draft after draft no matter how you start. I’m always reading those books and those blog posts like ‘5 things your story should have’ or ‘10 elements you need to tell your story.’ And they never work for me because I have to get into the story and find that for myself. It’s not like baking a cake where you are going to have a little of this and a little of that, where you are going to preheat the oven, and sift the flower. I think writing is an incredibly messy process and you just can’t be afraid of the mess to get into it.

Here’s an example. I have a grandson named Axle and I have a photograph of him at age 2 and he’s painting. He’s doing a painting that I have hanging in my house right now. He is covered in blue paint. He has blue paint up his nose and in his ears. And he’s created this beautiful painting out of the blue paint. I think that’s how we write. We gotta get into the blue paint and eventually we’ll create something beautiful.”

Chase: “Going back to what we were talking about earlier about being moral with our writing. These blogs posts that are ‘5 Ways to Write’ and ’10 Scenes You Must Have.’ Those kinds of posts sell. I don’t know why but anything with a number in it.”

Barbara: “That’s true. When I do writing articles, I always do that. I always put numbers in and push eberything into the numbers, but then you take the numbers with a grain of salt.”

Chase: “Another thing that really annoys me about Internet copy is stuff like ‘The Batman Guide to Writing’ or “The Eminem Guide to Writing Children’s Books.’ They put stuff together that doesn’t match at all and then they take some mythology from it. People searching will stumble across it and they’ll read it because it seems weird but to me, it doesn’t seem honest.

That’s one of the reasons I like your book because you say, ‘It’s messy, get in there and do it, and don’t be afraid’ and you give us all sorts of inspiration. Morally, I think that’s the better way to go.

I am so glad I got this book.

How can people find out more about you if they want to get in touch with you?

Barbara: “I have a website and I have a blog They can email me through my website or make comments on the blog.”

Chase: “This is your fourteenth book and I hope writers go and pick it up. Your fifteenth book is another one that writers are going to want to get as well. It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks a lot.”

Barbara: “It’s been a pleasure talking to you too. And by the way, you have the coolest name, Chase March. I love it!”

That’s concludes the interview. Please download the podcast for free, stream it with the player below, and share it on Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else you hang out online.

Thanks for listening! 

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Write Dangerously with Barbara Abercrombie (Author Interview and Podcast)

Chase: “All right everybody, this is Chase March and I have Barbara Abercrombie on the phone, author of A Year of Writing Dangerously:365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement.

Download the podcast of this interview for free, stream it with the player below, or keep reading the transcript.

I think this is a book that a lot of writers will be able to enjoy. You’ve broken it down so there is an entry for every single day of the year. They are vignettes or advice and things for writers. So how did you go about compiling this?”

Barbara: “I got the title first and I loved the title, and then I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it. A friend of mine, who is a writer, who has published a number of books said, ‘You’ve got to do it day by day. I’d buy a book that had something day by day.’

It took me a while to find the voice for it. This is my fourteenth book and every book I write, it’s always a struggle – How are you going to tell the story? What voice are you gonna write it in? And it was just fun because I’m a literary groupie really, and there are a lot of anecdotes of writers in the book. And so I just sat in my office and read memoir and read biographies of writers. Then I used a lot of my own experiences too as a writer.

Chase: “That’s pretty cool how you were talking about finding voice because there is an entry in there, # 8 The Voice that Chirps and Chips and that talks about the negative voices, and I’m sure all writers have this, and even people in their regular lives. The quote reads, ‘We’re so good with negative voices: You idiot, what kind of an idea is that? Who do you think you are to be writing a book?’ The thought goes on that you can actually not listen to those voices.

Which reminds me of another book I just read, Maestro’s Stick to Your Vision. He’s a rapper from Canada here and he talked about how you could trick your brain. Every time you have one of those negative thoughts, you can replace it with a positive though, then you are tricking your mind by deleting the negative thoughts and inserting the positive thoughts. He said that you don’t even have to believe them, just as long as you do that, you will start to believe them and ‘Boom, you’ve tricked your mind.’

Barbara: “I think that’s really true. I really do, or you just tell yourself to do the work. Do the work, don’t judge yourself, write, and once you get into the writing, that’s the way to get that voice to shut up. I think everybody has a negative voice on their shoulder that kicks in every once in a while. The trick is, of course, to shut it up and to replace it with a sweetheart voice that says, ‘Just do the work. It’s okay. Keep going.’”

Chase: “Which reminds me of Day 11 in A Year of Writing Dangerously. “… you don’t have to ‘like’ your own writing. You don’t have to be calm and self-assured. In fact, it’s better if you’re not. It keeps you honest.” I think that is what holds some people back. They’re afraid that their writing isn’t good enough, but as long as you do the work, then you can try to put that thought aside.”

Barbara: “You know, it’s impossible to judge your own work in the middle of it. Fortunately, I don’t know too many people who just love their own work. They just do it because I think they are insufferable probably. But you are struggling to create something. It’s a work in progress and it’s hard to write. You just can’t judge it.

I also say, ‘Put it away. Don’t ever throw it out! Put it away, come back to it and you’ll find something in it.’ I also tell my students, ‘Whatever you write is important because maybe it’s not what is gonna stay on the page but by going through your writing, you are getting to what you need to write and will write eventually.’’

Chase: “That’s very cool. I’m a teacher as well. I’m an elementary school teacher. You teach creative writing at UCLA.”

Barbara: “I do, and the writer’s program which is part of extension, which I love because I get all ages, people, from 18 to 90. My oldest student was 87. It’s such a variety of people. Many of them wanted to be a writer or started writing in school and whether the mechanics of life, they didn’t have time to do it, or a teacher said something snarky and they got scared and stopped. It’s exciting because everyone comes to class with a dream and I think they’re easier to teach than children, which I’ve done also.”

Chase: “I was an English major so I was dissecting books in my undergrad. I really wanted to be a writer but the fact that I was looking going through all these books and looking at such minute things such as imagery and symbolism, and I thought, ‘There’s no way I can do that!’ It scared me from actually writing for a while.”

Barbara: “I think that’s true of a lot of people. I went to one year of college and I was a drama major. And then I quit and went to New York to become an actress because I realized that I had always wanted to be a writer but I always thought it would be too hard. Acting seemed much more easy than writing, and I was right. It took me ten years to go back to it after my first career.”

Chase: “The weird thing is, I found that when I started writing, I always grow my story, kind of organically and let it see where it goes and just write, kind of without a roadmap. You talk about that with the headlight analogy a lot of writers know about in Day 254.”
Barbara: “I love your expression, ‘grow your story’ because that’s really what happens. I’ve never heard it expressed that way before. But stories grow and you don’t know where they’re going. There are some writers who block everything out and it works for them. I don’t know many writers like that.

And I don’t know where what I am writing is really going to go. Even this book, I wasn’t sure of the voice or the tone, or would it have an arc. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I never know what I’m doing when I start a book. But that’s why it’s exciting to write because you are figuring out what you really think and believe.”

Chase: ‘It’s like we are exploring the unknown and we’re actually coming into things. When I get an idea,  it takes a while before that idea sort of cooks in my brain before I’ll start writing it. And then when I do start writing it, I’ll write something weird and I won’t even know why, some little detail, and I’m just typing as fast as I can. I like to get the first draft out quickly. And then further into the story, I’m surprised to find out why I’d said that little thing in Chapter 1 and this will happen in Chapter 10 and I don’t know how this happens. Am I planning in my head? I don’t know how that works exactly?”

Barbara: “I think we just have a huge well of creativity, and knowledge, and experience, and feelings, everybody does, and when we write, we’re letting this out. And I think we don’t necessarily know it ahead of time intellectually. As a teacher, I do a lot of five minute writing exercises in my classes because people don’t have time to think.

If you throw them an idea to write about and say, ‘You have five minutes to write. You can’t stop moving your pen.’ They are always astonished at what can come out of them. They will be reading something they’ve wrote in five minutes and they will start to cry and they’ll say, ‘I don’t know where this came from’ and they are surprising themselves. I think the surprise element of writing is wonderful and exciting and it happens if people allow it to happen.”

Chase: “I definitely agree. And that is something you can do with every age group. I’ve done it with primary students just be asking them for a word. I write the words on the board and we have about four or five of them and I time it. I actually write with them and then we share all of our writing afterwards. It really is a great experience, like, you say, it unblocks some of that negative thought or ‘Oh, I don’t know what to write’ because you just have to do it. ‘Who cares, let’s just go. Start.’”

Barbara: “Exactly. My next book is called Kicking in the Wall and it’s 365 Five Minute Writing Prompts based on that theory. What happens is, that you get out of your own way when you do a five-minute exercise. If you tell someone to write about horses, you have fifteen minutes, people will start agonizing over what they know about horses, or they don’t know about horses and they’ll start thinking. The trick is with the five minute time limit, they get out of their own way and simply write. It’s very exciting to be in a classroom and see that happen.”

Chase: “I was reading Day 19 and you talk about how you were going to be interviewed and how standard practice was to give the interviewer questions to ask because most interviewers rarely read the book. I read your book cover to cover—”

Barbara: “Bless you.”

Chase: “—with a pencil in my hand, and I thought, ‘What? People don’t read the book?’ This is the second interview I’ve done for a book and I read both books cover to cover.”

Barbara: “You are rare and wonderful, Chase. It’s much appreciated too.”

Chase: “I love reading and I love writing. I’m probably doing more reading than writing right now, which is a shame.”

Barbara: “I always tell my students, ‘This is how you learn how to write’ and they take out their pencils like I am going to say something really profound.  And I say, “1, read. 2, write.’ You have to read. I think writers go through periods where they read more than write and then you write more. Reading is such an integral part. I don’t know why anyone would want to be a writer if they didn’t love reading, do you?”

Chase: “People write for different reasons. I think some people write because they have a story, some people write because they think they are going to become famous, and I think some people write just because they have good taste in stories. I think I read that in your book. I have so many notes here on it.”

Barbara: “It was Ira Glass. He says, that we get into creative work because of our good taste and one of our problems is that our own writing doesn’t live up to our good taste. I just found that quote recently when I was writing the book and I love it. It’s quite profound. The better our taste is, sometimes the harder it is to write. It never really lives up to the writers you just idolize. But, like I say in the book, if you love writers and you love to write, to just be part of literature and being part of the community of writers, I think it’s a pretty happy life to do that.” 

Please come back tomorrow to read the conclusion on this transcript. In the meantime, download the podcast for free or stream it with the player below. 

Read Part 2

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2012 – The Year of the Book

I am continuing my mission to document every single book that I read over the course of the year. Here are the latest editions to an already large list.

Fanstatic Four by J. Michael Straczynski and Mike McKone

This is the first story arc by the new creative team behind the first family of super-heroes, The Fantastic Four. Straczynski has long been one of my favourite writers, whether it be in comics or in television, he always delivers a great story.

This trade paperback contains issues #527-532 of the on-going monthly comic book series. After that many stories having already been published, it is hard to believe that a writer could come on board and add something new and exciting to the origin story of the superhero team, but Straczynski does just that. I won’t spoil it for you here, but I will give you a little background information just in case you have only seen the films.

Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Susan Storm (Invisible Women) are now married and have children. They and the other two members of the Fantastic Four live in the open without having secret identities in the Baxter Building.

That’s all you need to know to enjoy this story, the great writing, and the amazing art. It is well worth your time. I really enjoyed reading it.

I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

This is a memoir, of sorts, by Justic Halpern. He is the creator of Sh*t My Dad Says, which started out as a Twitter feed and quickly became a phenomenon developing into a book and a television series. While this isn’t a particularly inspiring or hilarious book, the introductory story really caught my attention. It’s mostly about his awkward teenage years that of course include the observations and witty comments of his father.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

This is a non-fiction text about the spread of ideas, products, messages, and behaviours. Gladwell notes that these things can sometimes spread so quickly that they practically become epidemics. He explains how this has happened with examples from all sorts of realms and with the help of three specific types of people.

I must admit that I actually listened to this book instead of reading it. I love bringing an audio book along for the drive whenever I have to take a long trip somewhere. Gladwell makes some really interesting observations in this book and talks specifically about why certain things “stick” while others are simply forgotten. If I had of been reading it, I probably would have marked down all sorts of passages to share with you. That’s the only flaw of listening as opposed to reading. Perhaps I will have to revisit this book in the future for just that reason.

Happy Reading

What I Talk About When I Run

Cover of "What I Talk About When I Talk A...
Cover via Amazon

I am a middle distance runner. I normally run anywhere from 5 to 10 kilometers at a time. I keep a pretty fast pace and have a long stride. As such, I can run a kilometer in about four minutes and a mile in about six. I can maintain that pace for about forty minutes.

I have thought about running a marathon before but it always seemed a little bit insane to me. 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers would take a really long time to run. It wouldn’t be able to keep up my usual pace., I imagine that if I trained hard for it, I could probably keep a 6 minutes pace per kilometer and that would take me over four hours to run.

That seems nuts to me. I have respect for long distance runners and it was interesting to read this book. For me, running is usually fun. There are days when it is tough but typically I enjoy myself.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a memoir by Haruki Murakami. I have to admit that I didn’t actually read this book. I listened to the unabridged audio recording instead. I love audio books. The only problem is that if a passage of the book really speaks to me as I am driving, I can’t just stop to take a note. I can’t bookmark a passage for later. I just need to keep driving.

In this book, Haruki Murakami relates what it is like to run a marathon. If I knew where this specific passage was in the audio book, I would transcribe it here for you. But since I don’t, I’ll just share what I remember of it. There is a point about three quarters of the way through a marathon where a runner can start to hate everything. Haruki uses language in a brilliant way to really describe his thinking process during the tough part of the run.

“Of course it was painful, and there were times when, emotionally, I just wanted to chuck it all. But pain seems to be a precondition for this kind of sport. If pain weren’t involved, who in the world would ever go to the trouble of taking part in sports like the triathlon or the marathon, which demand such an investment of time and energy? It’s precisely because of the pain, precisely because we want to overcome that pain, that we can get the feeling, through this process, of really being alive–or at least a partial sense of it. Your quality of experience is based not on standards such as time or ranking, but on finally awakening to an awareness of the fluidity within action itself.” 

I can’t imagine putting myself through that much pain. It was really interesting to experience a marathon form the author’s point of view. Perhaps one day I will run one. I just don’t have any desire to do so right now. I think I’ll stick to my middle distances.

Here is one of my favourite quotes from the book,

“I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.”

I feel exactly the same way.

I will keep putting on the miles and keep reading.

Here’s a list of what I’ve read so far this year. 

Recommended Read – The Book Thief

When I was getting close to the ending of The Book Thief, part of me wanted to put the book down, and not because the story didn’t hold my interest. Quite the opposite actually. I had really been enjoying the story and the great writing style. I enjoyed the first person narration from a very unlikely source. I loved the pacing of the tale and how he let it unfold. I wanted to stop reading so I could prolong my experience of this book.

Have you ever read a book that you didn’t want to end? One that, as you got closer to the last page, you were already starting to mourn that you would no longer be able to continue reading it? Well, that was my experience with this book by Markus Zusak.

The story is narrated by Death and it starts in the late 1930s in Germany. Death comes to take a young boy on a train. In the process, he is quite taken by her sister and it is her story that he slowly unfolds for us in the course of this novel.

The young girl is “The Book Thief.” She is completely captivated by words and steals her first book at the funeral for her brother. Someone had left behind “The Grave Digger’s Handbook” and the sight of the book just sitting in the snow was too compelling for her not to take it. This starts her love affair with books and the written word.

The novel deals with the Holocaust in a very real and honest way. Death lets us know that he was very busy during this time. However, he is a sympathetic character. He isn’t malicious, he doesn’t collect the dead like they were trophies or like he has an insatiable thirst for it. He goes about his business and notes the colour of the world as he scoops up and carries the souls of the dead with him.

I love how, as he narrates the story, he sometimes gives us glimpses of what is to come. It’s a very effective device that frames the chapter and scenes to come. I’m not sure how the author pulled this off so well. It is something I will have to study in further detail.

This book is amazing! I highly recommend it!

I am continuing to document every book that I read over the course of the year. You can find the complete list here, along with links to each post I have written these books.

Happy Reading!

Latest Reads of 2012

I love to read. I always have, but this year I have decided to actually keep track of everything I read over the course of the year. So far I have read 28 titles. That includes graphic novels, memoirs, novels, and some teaching material.

It’s time to add to the list and bring the total up to 32.

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

This is a novella written by the suspense and horror master, Stephen King. The narrator of the tale actually addresses the author several times over the course of the book. He’s basically telling Stephen King about the 1957 season of the New Jersey Titans and the fictional catcher known as Blockade Billy, the first major league player to have his name erased from the history and record books.

There is a bonus story included here as well.

Green Lantern: War of the Green Lanterns

I really like the way the Green Lantern graphic novels are put together. So far, this is the seventh one I’ve read this year and I appreciate the way they have incorporated not only the monthly Green Lantern series but also the other monthly titles such as The Green Lantern Corps and The Emerald Warriors.

This book has some pretty shocking events in it. I didn’t think they’d be able to keep upping the momentum after the Sinestro War and The Blackest Night Saga but they actually did. Can’t wait to read what comes next.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This is a powerful story that I highly recommend. I saw the movie first and was completely blown away by it. I probably wouldn’t have picked up the book without the local librarian telling me how it was so much better than the movie.

I think both versions are worth your time. The movie did an excellent job of telling the story of the small Mississippi town in the 1960s, but the novel gets into much more depth of the racism that was common in the deep south at the time.

The tag line to the film says, “Change begins with a whisper” and if this story really is just a whisper, I hope it will spark some real discussion about these issues. We need further change even today some fifty years after this story is set.

Air by Geoff Ryman

Air, simply put, is the Internet beamed directly into people’s brains. A small village in the fictional country of Karzistan is chosen for the inital test of the service. Mae’s life and her entire village is forever changed as a result of the test.

This science fiction story has won several awards. It feels very real. The thought of the entire world being connecting thorugh a wireless Internet right in our minds is terrifying. A lot of people in the village are opposed to the entire thing, but Mae sees that it is inevitable and she does her best to prepare her village for what is to come. The year between the test taking place and the inevitable launch of Air is quite the story and Ryman weaves a compelling tale that touches on quite a few different issues. It would be a great book to study in book groups or in university.

More books

Ender’s Game Prequel Rocks!*

Orson Scott Card created one of the best science fiction series of all-time with the novel Ender’s Game. The first book was absolutely amazing and it was hard to believe that he could top the success of it, but he did. The second book in the series, Speaker for the Dead, is just as brilliant and my favourite tale in the series so far.

The latest edition to the Enderverse, as it is affectionately known, is a prequel to the original novel that started everything off. Surprisingly though, Card has not delivered this story to us in novel form. Instead, he has chosen to share this tale in comic book form.

Graphic novels are nothing new to Orson Scott Card. He has written Ultimate Iron Man: Volume One and Two. Several of his stories have been adapted to the comics medium as well, including Red Prophet and most of the Ender’s Game series of novels.

Now, for the first time ever, he is releasing an Ender’s Game story in comic book form. I really like comic books and think this was a good way to present his story to a new generation of fans. It’s hard to believe but this timeless science fiction series is almost thirty years old now.

The Formic Wars: Burning Earth starts with a group of space miners. They are harvesting minerals from asteroids quite some distance from Earth. When they notice a strange space craft moving at near impossible speeds, they discover that aliens are heading directly towards Earth. They are the first line of defence and the only ones who can give Earth a fair warning of what is coming.

The tale is incredible well done and has me wanting more. It’s nice to see that there is one character from the original novel in the series as well.

If you are interested in the series, I highly recommend you check out the audio books of the original series. They are done with full-cast narration, sound effects and music, and they really bring the story to life.

It’s nice to see Card working with different formats and mediums. I know that a feature film is also in the works. All I know is that he tells great stories and I am a huge fan on his work.
* Did you notice the pun I included in the title of this post?

I’ve done a lot of reading this year and I’m keeping track of every title on this blog. Next week I will post a complete list (which I will continue to update)

Superheroes, Time Travellers, and Fairy Tales (Graphic Novels Have it All)

I am continuing my mission to record every book I read over the course of this year. So far, you have seen hip-hop memoirs, novels, and the  first batch of graphic novels.

I love that you can get graphic novels from the library. Here are the latest ones that I have borrowed.

Doctor Who – The Ripper

This is the first graphic novel with the new cast. The artists have done a great job at bringing these characters to life on the page. I could actually hear Amy Pond, Rory, and The Doctor as I read the dialogue.

The first issue of this four issue collection is a humourous tale about spam email coming to life as holograms. I really got a chuckle out of it. The next story deals with Jack the Ripper and in true Doctor Who fashion, he isn’t exactly who the police think he is. Overall, it was a pretty good read and I hope to see more adventures with Amy, Rory, and The Doctor.

Green Lantern – The Sinestro Corps War

Sinestro was once the greatest Green Lantern of them all. He didn’t agree with The Guardians, an ancient race who created the Green Lantern Corp to help protect and keep balance in the universe, and tried to change the nature of the corps. He was ultimately banished from the Corp but now he has returned with even more power than before. He started his own corp and named it after himself. These new lanterns are powered by the emotion of fear and wield the power of yellow.

Sinestro wants to establish order in the universe but thinks the best way to do it is by ruling over all with fear. The war between the Green Lantern Corp and the new Sinestro Corp is a huge one that spans the galaxy.

You should read this one before The Blackest Night Saga that I wrote about last month. I read the books out of order simply because I just pick up whatever interesting books happen to be at the library at the time. That being said, this book really does stand on its own, so you could read it anytime.

Fables – Rose Red

I absolutely love this series. It deals with the fairy tale characters we all know and love but it has them living in our society in the present day.

This fifteenth chapter in the series focuses on Rose Red. She is Snow White’s sister and the current leader of the Fable community. This story reveals some of her past with her sister and sets the stage for the ultimate battle of good vs evil. The Fables have an unlikely ally against the sinister Mister Dark and their battle is epic.

Well worth reading. I’ve written about the series before and highly recommend it.

Daredevil – Born Again

This one is from my personal collection and it’s one of the most iconic Daredevil stories. I hadn’t read it in years but felt like I had to revisit it last week.

The Kingpin hides behind his legitimate businesses while secretly controlling the crime in the city. For years, Daredevil has been trying to take him down. But when the Kingpin discovers the true identity of Daredevil, he uses his power and influence to slowly undermine every aspect of Matt Murdock’s life.

Matt’s life falls apart all around him and he has no idea why such bad luck has fallen upon him. He is driven to near insanity by the Kingpin’s subtle plan. It’s brilliant plan except for one thing. You’ll have to read it to find out though.

Star Trek: Assignment Earth

This graphic novel finally brings to life the vision Gene Roddenberry had for a spin-off to the original Start Trek television series. The Season Two finale that aired in 1968 featured a mysterious character by the name of Gary Seven. In this book, we learn more about who he is and what his mission on Earth is all about. I wish this book would have given us a little more of his backstory and perhaps more of a tie-in to Star Trek: The Original Series. It’s pretty much for die-hard fans only.

Maestro Inspires and Entertains

Maestro Fresh Wes is a hip-hop pioneer. He was the first Canadian rapper to have a Top 40 hit and was the biggest selling hip-hop artist out of Canada prior to Drake. Even people who don’t consider themselves to be rap fans are familiar with his work. “Let Your Backbone Slide” still bumps at parties and clubs all over the world.
You might know him as an actor as he has been in countless movies and television shows. I am really enjoying his portrayal of the cool and popular teacher on the CBC series, Mr. D.
Wes Williams can now add one more title to his resume, author. Stick to Your Vision: How to Get Past the Hurdles and Haters to Get Where You Want to Be is more of a self-help book than a hip-hop memoir but for those of us familiar with this iconic rapper, we do get some great personal stories from his long and illustrious career.

Maestro came out the gate strong with his debut album but never managed to achieve the same level of success with his follow up albums. It didn’t stop him from trying, branching out, and continuing to create art whether through music, film, or television. He’s definitely had his share of ups and downs and he uses these stories to help inspire us readers to stick to our own vision.
The book is named after his hit single, Stick to Your Vision. YouTube won’t allow for emebedding of the video but you can go here to watch it.
This is another one of my favourite videos. It’s called “Hard to Be Hip Hop” and it is a duet with fellow Canadian rapper Classified.

You might want to check out the other hip-hop memoirs I’ve read this year as well.

Happy Reading!

A Novel a Month

I am continuing to document everything I read over the course of this year. So far, I have grouped my posts by theme; Hip-Hop Memoirs, Graphic Novels, and now here are the novels I have read in addition to The Hunger Games . . .

School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Lillian’s restaurant isn’t open on Monday nights. Once a month she uses that time to run a cooking class for beginners. This novel focuses on one of her classes. We see eight students from very different walks of life brought together for this unconventional cooking school. Lillian shares her love of cooking and is a patient and kind teacher who helps her students learn not just about food but about life.

I must admit that I picked up this book for two reasons. As a writer, I am interested in arena stories, stories where a group of characters come together due to the setting of the book. I want to write a story that takes place in one specific spot and thought this might inspire me to do that.

The second reason, I chose to read this book is because I really don’t understand the fascination with cooking. I know how to prepare a few meals and pretty much stick to those same ones over and over again. I don’t seek out new recipes or new foods. I tend to enjoy plain and easy meals. I thought by reading this I might get an appreciation of the art of cooking and see the joy some people find in it.

I wasn’t overly impressed with the book. There are some beautifully written passages and poetic metaphors but I didn’t feel that these characters were brought together for any larger purpose. The novel is more like a set of short stories. We take turns diving into the characters lives as each chapter focuses on one particular student.

Winter Town by Stephen Edmond

I knew I had to read this book when I read the inside jacket cover . . .

Told from two perspectives, this funny and honest novel . . . is a uniquer combination of text, comic strips, and art. It’s an indie movie in a book, perfect for the inner outcast and lovelorn nerd in all of us.

I love how the first half of the book is told from the boy’s perspective and how part of his thinking process is shown through his use of comic strips and sketches. We learn a lot more about his friend / girlfriend when the perspective changes for the second half of the story.

It’s a compelling story and a beautiful book.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I have been a fan of the work that Neil Gaiman has done in comics and graphic novels for a long time now. I had heard of this book and the animated film that it spawned but hadn’t paid either of them much attention. That was a mistake. This book is captivating and I found it really hard to put down.

It tells the story of a young girl who travels through a mysterious door to discover a brand new world on the other side. Things seems remarkably similar but different and interesting all at the same time. She then discovers that she has “another mother” and “another father” and that they want her to stay with them forever. Coraline has to fight “with all her wits and courage to save herself and return to her ordinary life.”

It really is a great read and although it seems similar to Alice in Wonderland or the Narnia series, it is original and wonderful executed.