Friday, May 28, 2010

Not-So-Serious Fridays

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Hey all. I decided to take a break from posting story chapters on Fridays and have opted instead to try new approach to breaking into the weekend. Most days I post articles about books, writing, and other things in the news that relate, but I figured that this Friday I’d take a time out from all the intensive, critical thinking I usually indulge in and instead just have some fun. Hence, my first “Not-So-Serious Friday.” Below I’ve posted my No-So-Serious Friday quiz of the week, in which you can compare your favorite characters from literature and pop culture. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your three-day weekend!

Not-So-Serious Pop Quiz

  1. Which vehicle would be your ideal ride?
    1. The Dolorian from Back to the Future – Late for work…I don’t think so.
    2. The Millennium Falcon – She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts.
    3. Shadowfax – One horsepower and can cross Middle Earth in a single chapter.
    4. That really fast snail from Never Ending Story – It’s a fast snail…come on!

  1. What setting in a book would you most want to visit?
    1. Willy Wonka’s Factory – Just avoid the edible lawn darts.
    2. Munchkin City in Wizard of Oz – Be the tallest in town.
    3. Utopia – Try perfection, just for a day.
    4. Mars – Breathing optional.

  1. Your ideal sidekick would be?
    1. Chewbacca – Who needs a gun when you’ve got a wookie?
    2. The Seven Dwarves – Strength in numbers.
    3. Odo the Shape-shifter – Handy getting into places and also can be used as a table.
    4. Long John Silver – Good with a knife, but easy to outrun.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Translating Books into Film


Lots of novels are made into film every year, some successfully and some not so much. But the book industry definitely drives at getting novels into film because despite box-office numbers just having a book made into film seems to boost actual books sales at Barnes and Noble or Borders. So I suppose my question today is, what’s worthwhile about making a book into a film anyway?

I know plenty of you can probably think of a film off the top of your head where they remade a book you loved and then destroyed it onscreen. A pretty typical scenario it seems these days. But I think that there’s room to see both the pluses and minuses of translating a novel into film. On rare occasions, some films actually improve the book itself. For instance, Ernest Hemingway considered To Have and Have Not to be one of his worst books, but when Howard Hawks rewrote the plot and cast Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the film he created a blockbuster on the silver screen. Another example, would be James Fenimore Coopers’ The Last of the Mohicans. An intriguing storyline, but nonetheless it can be torture to read through as the chapters drag on at times without purpose. But when made into film (particularly Daniel Day-Lewis’ version) it turned out to be a cinematic masterpiece. 

Of course, many good books have been ruined in film as well. Michael Crichton’s Lost World and Jeff Shaara’s Gods and Generals were both spectacular books, but when translated into film it was as though the directors hadn’t even read the novels in the first place. In fact, contemporary Postmodern literature actually seeks to write books that cannot be translated into film, just as abstract artists of the early twentieth century sought to create paintings that could not be mimicked by the advances in photography. Likewise, authors such as Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, and Salman Rushdie now write novels that emphasize the advantages of the written page, and purposely try to create a text that cannot be translated into film. At least not easily.

Honestly, I’m not sure I stand firmly on one side of this debate or the other. Which is better, to create books that purposely scorn filmmaking or to generate plotlines that apply to both the world of film and literature? It’s funny how a film can effect peoples’ perception of a book. Look at how many J.R.R. Tolkien books sell in the bookstores since the success of the Lord of the Rings films. I think Tolkien’s books were definitely good enough on their own, but I also love the movies. So where do you stand? Do books still have a secure place in the ever evolving world of cinema and film? Or do they have another destiny altogether?   

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Favorite Author

This week I wanted to do a tribute to probably one of my favorite authors of all time, Lawrence Durrell. Over the last year or so, I’ve been surprised that many of my fellow book-lovers out there had not heard or even read any of Durrell’s work. In a way I’m not surprised because he’s not usually taught in school (I myself didn’t run across his books until I found one in a bookshop during grad school). But for his sheer writing ability, his prose, and his style I have absolutely no qualms about comparing Durrell’s books to Shakespeare, Dumas, or even Homer. He’s that good!

If you’re a newbie to Lawrence Durrell, start with one of his best novels ever…Justine. It’s the first of four novels collectively known as the “Alexandrian Quartet” and is his most famous and best written collection (in my opinion). Justine in of itself is mesmerizing on its own, but what really makes it magical is if you read the entire collection. The first three books of the “Alexandrian Quartet” are not sequels, but “sibling” works. In other words, it’s the same story told from three different perspectives. You read the first book, thinking you have a pretty good idea about what’s going on, and then you get into the second and it turns out that the protagonist in the first novel was being completely misled by multiple other characters and much of what appeared simple was in actuality much more complicated. The fourth book is an actual sequel of the same events.

Briefly, the story is set in Alexandria, Egypt just a year or so before the outbreak of World War II. The main character speaks in a first-person narrative, reflecting on events not as they happened, but as they first became important to him. He gets caught up in a series of complicated love affairs and friendships, amidst a backdrop of darker motives that involve murder and espionage. The plot alone sounds melodramatic, but what really makes this book shine is the language and style with which Durrell writes. For a further description on the quartet, check it out on Wikipedia.

Other great books by Durrell include a series of five novels known as the “Avignon Quintet,” which takes places in Provence, France. Much of Durrell’s work is drawn from his own extraordinary life experiences. Preferring to refer to his nationality as “cosmopolitan” rather than British, he lived abroad in Greece, Egypt, France, Argentina, Yugoslavia, and India just to name a few. He worked in the British Foreign Service at various posts throughout Europe and although he rarely had a fixed home, he and his family lived for many years on the Mediterranean island of Corfu in Greece. He was also good friends with Henry Miller (who wrote Tropic of Cancer). Over the course of his long life Durrell wrote dozens of novels and other works that include poetry, drama, travel books, and essays. So checkout one of his works today, and see what surprises are waiting for you just around the corner!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why the BBC Rocks

With so many things happening in the news today and so many conflicting points of view, I find it difficult sometimes to trust anything I hear on TV. But this week I’d like to put a plug in for my number one source of news that gives me that often elusive combination of quality reporting and comprehensive world coverage…the BBC. And with networks in America and throughout the world you can now watch the BBC on even the most basic cable programming in almost any location.

I love to get my news from the BBC because they often carry stories that you won’t hear on any domestic news channel. On any given day you will hear top stories from North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa along with any other breaking reports from around the globe. Unlike local or domestic news stations, the BBC gives me a real worldview in their coverage, not simply telling me what happened in my own country or what the weather I can see outside the window is. In addition, I feel like I get a real balanced perspective, unlike some other networks (Fox News…ahem), from people living around the planet.

What really intrigues me about the BBC is that despite being a British based broadcasting group, they present the news from a truly global perspective. They don’t simply report what happened in Britain or how British citizens abroad might be affected by something, but instead they view the whole human race as a single people, regardless of nationality, creed, or political bent. Now of course, every reporter has his or her own biases, but what really helps the BBC stay honest is that fact that so many people from so many walks of life watch their programming and provide feedback. There are people in France who learn English by watching the BBC, and viewers in Australia that blog with watchers in Hawaii about the news they glean from the same program. The BBC has a long history as a voice of knowledge, debate, and reason dating back to when Churchill and De Gaulle used to broadcast messages of freedom and resistance to Nazi occupied Europe. So if you’re looking for more than just a puppet show about politics or gossip about Paris Hilton, checkout the British Broadcasting Corporation on the web or on your local public broadcasting channel!

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Civil War Comes Alive!

I just finished a weekend of Civil War reenacting up at Sacramento’s Gibson Ranch. If you’ve never been to one of these NCWA (National Civil War Association) reenactments, picture a town full of Yankees, Rebs, and Civilians decked out in 1860s costume with people portraying actual historical characters from the Civil War. Union and Confederate encampments full of period reenactors take to the battlefield twice a day to put on an authentic reproduction of an actual battle for the public. If you’ve never been I strongly suggest you checkout one of these living history days that take place around the state throughout the spring, summer, and fall. I serve in the northern army, but you can come and take part as a soldier or civilian from the North or South, or simply enjoy the spectacle as one of thousands of spectators in the public audience.

I do these reenactments because it’s a great opportunity to not only study history, but to really “live” it, so to speak. It’s one thing to read about the American Civil War, but it’s something else entirely to stand beside roaring cannon, rattling muskets, and smell the air thick with black gunpowder. People really make an effort to portray their roles accurately, wearing replica uniforms, actually carrying 1860s-type muskets, and bunking in Civil War era encampments. We even eat the same era food rations! My unit, the 71st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, is but one of the many Civil War regiments that actually had soldiers from California serving in their ranks during the war.

I’ve found Civil War reenacting to be an invaluable experience with regards to researching and writing my newest book, The Long Defeat. As a Civil War era novel, I include many of my own first-hand experiences in the lives of the characters in my story, both North and South. It’s really helped me to add a more personal, human element to the text, providing authentic content where the traditional history books leave off. Reenacting continues to inspire me and provides me with the opportunity to meet a variety of great people from all walks of life. If you are interested in seeing the NCWA in action, checkout our next event in July at Duncan Mills. You can learn more at the NCWA official website or just ping me directly for more information.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Get Paid to Write?


Sure, writing is neat and all, but what application does it have in the real world? Ever hear this foolishness from someone before? Well, if you majored in English, History, or pretty much any liberal art in college you probably are all too familiar with this attitude. To all my fellow book enthusiasts out there, I know you need no explanation. But the core of that dogged question still remains, can you survive simply on writing…particularly in this economy?

Yes, yes, and yes. The reason I bring this up is due to the fact that when I talk to younger people I know who are starting off in school or have to choose a concentration in college, they keep asking themselves what major will provide a job with a viable paycheck. I understand the motive here, but I fear that this outlook can create some dangerously backwards thinking. Lots of book-lovers out there may shy away from studying things that really interest them, like English, History, etc. for this very reason. But what I really wanted to do today is to highlight and praise all the avenues out there for people interested in making a living writing. I know a lot of people on this blog and on other sites I follow where I’ve met tons of great people whose primary occupation revolves around writing.

Now I’m not saying you’ll turn into a millionaire, but writing can still pay the bills. I myself work as a Technical Writer, creating documentation for processes and procedures within a larger company. You can work for a corporation doing this or freelance, but either way I know lots of fellow writers making their way in the world by happily putting their writing skills to use.

You can also teach, both publicly and privately. I know some great writers who teach every level of public education, but also writers who teach seminars and train other employees how to apply critical thinking skills in the workplace. Many companies hire such people.

There are so many other occupations that all revolve around writing. Editors, both freelance and for every kind of corporation, from travel publishing houses to newspapers to blue chip companies. Journalism and freelance writing also keeps writers in the black with many online websites and established media groups paying writers to work up new stories for them every week. The list goes on and on: advertising, sales, marketing, law, customer service, etc. All of these branches of the working world contain specialists who actually get paid to write!

I suppose what I’m really trying to do with this blog post today is offer hope. To all those readers and writers out there looking for a day job that won’t suck their souls dry. Something that will enable them to be a not-so-starving artist and afford them the necessary room in their lives to continue nurturing their creative and literary endeavors. I know that both for my pocketbook, but more importantly--for my self-esteem, it helps to know that even while I do love fiction writing more than tech writing, I can still say that I do work as a writer. So don’t give up on your writing, your reading, or your creativity. Pick a career that appeals specifically to you.


Monday, May 10, 2010

An Almost ‘Yes’

In addition to the professional editing my manuscript of The Long Defeat is currently undergoing, I have partials (short sample versions) of the book out with several literary agents right now. Many of the agents I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference back in February have still kept in touch and maintain various degrees of interest in the condition of my novel as it continues to progress through the final stages of reediting. I recently just got another response back from an agent who I’ve met and really liked. What I received from her I would term as an “almost yes.”

     Now you many inwardly wonder why I should even differentiate the not-so-subtle options of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses I could receive from an agent. Allow me to briefly explain. Most times manuscripts get rejected right off the bat, in fact you usually don’t hear back directly from an agent but instead get a form letter that can be pretty impersonal. Sometimes you simply hear nothing back at all. However, there are many progressive stages towards getting closer to that final ‘yes.’

     This most recent agent explained that she had to reluctantly pass on my book, not because of any faults with my novel, but because she already has so many client obligations. She told me that my novel was strong, the writing good, and the story compelling enough that I should continue to pursue seeking representation for it. In addition, she added that if for any reason I don’t find a literary agent for my book by the end of the year I should re-contact her again because she doesn’t like having to pass up an opportunity to represent a good book when it comes her way. In addition, she provided some great feedback and a personalized response that was really encouraging.

     Getting personalized replies from agents that work for reputable literary agencies usually means that you’re on the right track. My main goal is to keep as many possibilities open as I can. Generating interest in my work and finding agents who want to know how my efforts in getting my material published are progressing are all things that I take as a good sign. Other agents have also read partials of my manuscript and have requested to see more once I have the entire story finished with the professional reediting process. In the meantime, I continue working hard to complete all the edits on my book and reach that day when I will hear a definite ‘yes.’ With this latest encouragement I will definitely keep on trying and remain perpetually and diligently optimistic.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Red Hero: Chapter 5

So, one of the primary critiques I've gotten so far is that these chapter posts may be a little too long. As a result I'm experimenting today with a shortened version (about half as long). Going forward I'll try breaking each succeeding chapter into halves and see if that helps make the story more readable in a blog format. For those of you catching up, you can checkout the previous chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4. Hope everyone has a great weekend and a fun Mother's Day!


House of Orange

Maelstrom Valkyrie

            Altitude: Space
            Reserves: Unknown (currently under tow)
            Speed: 3 hyper-knots
            Location: Deep Space (between Asteroid Belt and Jupiter)

The mutiny begins today.
            For two weeks you’ve helped bring the maelstrom’s systems back online, turning wrenches, rebooting panels, carrying over foodstuffs from the Takara. Pushing Venusian bodies out the airlock. The Blight proved fatal in every instance. Except possibly for the one who had jettisoned in an escape pod. These off-worlders, you think to yourself, they come from such clean, antiseptic, sterilized planets. Wouldn’t last a day in a Martian encampment in the open field without vaccinations and shots.
            Think of all the times you’d spent in the open air back in Memphis. Going on hikes as a kid, listening to your echoes in the canyon walls, sometimes trekking all the way down to Piraeus. A tiny port on the Hellas Basin, from there you’d sail on the Aegean, crewing on clippers as a summer job, sometimes fishing, sometimes transporting cargo. You imagined yourself like your ancestors back in the days of Ulysses, glimpsing knots of twisted olive trees that grew along the crumbling coastline. Those were the days.
You’re opening crates in the hallways right now. Your immunity to the Blight has ensured you daily access to the stealth-cruiser. The three Reds in sickbay also work with you, their experience on campaign during the war also makes them resistant to the disease. In only two weeks their flesh grafted completely over their new mechanical limbs. These Europan doctors really know their stuff you think to yourself. On Mars amputees simply had to do without. You vaguely recall first learning the Martians’ names by reading their sickbed placards. They labor beside you now, hauling heavy containers labeled HMS Takara: Rations. A pair of lanky, buzz-cut men, Tang and Dao, and a stout, tan-faced redhead, Sioux. Their newly grown arms and legs still appear noticeable, the freshly developed muscular tissues bulking and firm from recent use. Apparently, these replacement limbs could grow in stronger than their natural counterparts.
            The Shogun Miranda had deployed the trio claiming exercise was good for their refurbished muscles. Yesterday, her medics developed an antigen to counteract any lingering contagion aboard the Valkyrie, but the Shogun forbid any of her crew to use it, instead opting to test it on herself first. Only her bodyguard, Maori had disobeyed. The two of them now inspect the last supplies brought over from their vessel, helmets off, their lungs clearly adjusting to the maelstrom’s air filters with no ill effect. Only the six of them are now on board, 4 Reds and 2 Whites. Good enough odds as they’ll ever be you think to yourself.
            The three other Martians are already in on the plan and in position. Tang and Dao cover the exit, pretending to dawdle with the last sealed crates beside the airlock. Sioux bottlenecks the corridor to Engineering on one side as she works with a wrench; you block the route to the bridge while at a panel workstation. All three Martians had been regular militia, only seen a few battles, but enough to have lost friends and lost their homes. They had immediately agreed to your plan when you suggested it to each one in private a few days ago. Your status as one of the last CarbiƱeros already has them in awe of you. You glance at each of them from the corner of your eye. Miranda and Maori don’t even notice, their attention focusing solely on a manifest list of the inventory scattered throughout the corridor.
            You remove your revolver, cocking the gun a few paces from Maori and Miranda.
            I’m sorry ma’am, you start, but you better put your pressure suits back on.
            What? Miranda begins. Red, what are you doing?
            Call me Ares, Captain Geronimo Ares now.
            Captain?! Maori growls, swiftly unsheathing his blade. Mistress let me lock up this Red scorpion in the brig where he belongs.
            Sioux steps forward now, hefting a large monkey-wrench in her hand. Dao unsheathes a bowie knife and brandishes a pipe of scrap metal. Tang blocks the airlock beside him, revealing a sawed-off from beneath his vest. Miranda and Maori, with his sword drawn, rapidly discern this encirclement. Leave it to these brigands to conceal arms from us, the bodyguard seethes. I warned you mistress, treacherous by nature.
            Miranda, you begin.
            Shogun to you, Maori butts in.
            You saved my life back in the Belt you continue without hindrance from her bodyguard. Your people healed my fellow compatriots here, and for that I’m grateful. But this is a vessel of our enemy, and so long as our home world remains occupied those of us still free will continue to resist and remain free. Now you must go.
            Just because you want to commandeer the most powerful starship in the system doesn’t mean you can she replies with a hand on her hip. The only reason this vessel moves at all is because the Takara is towing her, albeit slowly. Command functions on this cruiser still remain locked-out to us.
            Not anymore you grin. Engines! you shout out commandingly.
            The whir of machinery chugs through the deck plating beneath your feet, the pumping hum from the stern corridor and the electric buzz of circuitry vibrates throughout the ship. Maori leans towards the nearest panel. They have full power he remarks with astonishment. A feeling of elation pricks the hairs along the nape of your neck as the vessel comes to life. You raise your voice once more with luster. 
            Helm. Navigation. Weapons!
            Your voice commands register on displays throughout the ship. Peering down the hallway towards the bridge you see the piloting controls light up and the lowering periscope for warhead control. Venusian codes are virtually impregnable, the Shogun begins. How did you gain command control?
            You simply reply with a wink. Wouldn’t believe you if you told her anyhow.
            Took me almost two weeks, you smile. We have no quarrel with you, your voice growing serious again, but our enemies are out there and we aim to fight back.
Your stubbornness is almost admirable the Shogun replies unmoving. But I have trusted you at great personal risk to both myself and my people. I am not leaving.
She stands directly before your gun unflinching, her own sword not even drawn. You crease your brows, unable to hide your befuddlement at her resolve. Maori raises his voice, Madam we must depart from these barbarians he pleads. Casually, but with great composure Miranda activates her wrist-communicator.
Shogun to HMS Takara she begins.
She’s trying to warn her ship Sioux steps forward with her large wrench in hand.
Miranda raises her palm and Sioux halts. Takara here, a young ensign’s voice replies on the com. We’re reading a power surge and weapon displays onboard the maelstrom, do you require assistance mistress Shogun?
Lay in a course for Europa, the Shogun commands. Master Maori and I will remain aboard the Valkyrie and rendezvous again in a few weeks. In cooperation with the Reds we are now in full control of the maelstrom.
Mistress, you want us to leave you here? the youth’s voice questions.
Ensign Kobiashi, your Shogun has just given you a direct order. Take the Takara home, and await further instructions there. The ensign replies in the affirmative. Over and out Miranda concludes.
What are you doing? Dao demands from beside the airlock, still held at bay by the reach of Maori’s large katana.
We will crew with you, not as combatants, but as observers Miranda begins, her voice brooking no tolerance for argument. Seeing as you have already assumed command you may determine our course, but we will rendezvous with the Takara sometime this month in Europan orbit. Should we fail to make this meeting I can assure you half the Europan fleet will scour the system looking for us.
Still wanting to introduce your Holy Mother to some real Martians? you reply.
Indeed the Shogun replies. You need a navigator as I doubt any of you have deep space experience with large vessels, so to make sure we don’t jump into a moon or an asteroid I will perform this function while aboard.
My lady, Maori whispers to his Shogun. This plan is too much a risk to your person. Surely someone else…
Maori, Miranda begins in a whisper you can still hear. This is the rarest vessel ever constructed, I’ve never seen a stealth ship up close; almost no one has. We don’t even know what it’s composed of. This is a rare opportunity. This technology could benefit our entire people. And with such a warship clearly in Red hands we can either risk possible animosity with an undetectable warship that could launch warheads at Londinium itself without ever being detected or we could make a potential ally out of these people instead.
After a pause, her bodyguard slowly nods his head in submission to his Shogun. 
Still kind of creepy having a ninja on this boat, Tang points at Maori with his small shotgun.
Maori’s a good cook Miranda smiles at you. You grin back.
Fine, we vote you begin. Crew agrees, then you sign our round robin. Reluctant, but unanimously they add their names to the scrap of paper in ink. Geronimo Ares. Jadzia Sioux. Buford Tang. Kropotkin Dao. Shogun Miranda. Master Maori.
The Bushido bodyguard lightly cuts his palm with his katana before wiping it clean and returning it to the scabbard. Tang and Dao give twin wide-eyed expressions. Maori briefly states that once his sword is fully unsheathed it must always draw blood. To do otherwise would be dishonorable.
So where we going? Tang asks, tucking his sawed-off into his belt.
You glance round at the others, holstering you revolver. Into the dens of our enemies you begin. But first we’re going to need a bigger crew.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Got an Interview

Fellow writer and blogger, Meghan Sullivan, interviews up-and-coming authors on her website every month or so in order to keep her pulse on the writing community, particularly with regards to historical fiction. And this week, she asked to interview me! Needless to say, I was excited, because Meghan offers up some really insightful questions to her interviewees and has a genuine knack for getting to the heart of a story. If you haven’t seen her blog yet, checkout Ancient Musings, it’s worth a good read. I’ve posted the bulk of her interview below, but you can also go directly to her site for the complete experience. Thanks again Meghan!

1) Who are you (Intro)

I’m Mark Noce. I work as a Technical Writer at Google by day and as a novelist by night. I write mostly historical fiction, although I do write in other genres for fun, and I currently have several literary agents interested in a novel I’ve written set during the American Civil War entitled The Long Defeat. To learn more, checkout my blog here.

2) Tell us about your book THE LONG DEFEAT.

At the height of the American Civil War, the destinies of two men are set on a collision course when they and their comrades meet under a flag of truce, only to later find themselves facing one another again on opposing sides of the battlefield. The Long Defeat chronicles the personal stories of a Northern soldier, William S. Book, and a Southern Confederate, Nathaniel Saxon. William S. Book of Boston embodies the Northern man of industry and progressiveness; Nathaniel Saxon of New Orleans represents the Southern soldier of culture and tradition. The novel revolves around these two diametrically opposed protagonists and several of their fellow comrades-in-arms who convey their thoughts and fears in letters written to mothers, wives, and other women back home. Each chapter is written in a third-person objective style and concludes with a letter written by one of the primary characters in the novel. Written from epistolary perspectives, these men describe hard marches, severe hunger, brutal battles, even more brutal hospitals, prisoner exchanges, and even death. In addition to this novel being a historical fiction, I have also gone to great lengths to ensure the authenticity and historical accuracy of the campaigns and armies portrayed in The Long Defeat. For those of you who haven’t had a chance yet to read an excerpt of my book, just give me a ping and I’ll email you a copy.

3) How did you come up with the title of your book?

Oddly enough, my title has a The Lord of the Rings origin. I’ve always liked Tolkien’s concept of “the long defeat” whereby even those supposedly victorious in a struggle still end up ultimately defeated by the destructiveness of war and conflict. In the end, I really like the title because it gives a sense of how in war, in a civil war in particular, both sides are defeated. I also found numerous references throughout Civil War regimental journals of soldiers who spoke vividly on this recurring theme of defeat even in the midst of victory.

4) What is it about the Civil War that fascinates you?

I’ve been a big civil war buff since childhood. As the saying goes, when the civil war bug bites you at that young an age…its terminal. I’ve been to the battlefields, watched movies, and read books on the subject for as long as I can remember. I think what really hooked me was how personal the Civil War comes across even after almost 150 years. People went to war with their brothers, cousins, friends, and neighbors together, in the same regiments. In the border states, sometimes against their own family and neighbors. It was before the mechanized age, before planes and nukes, so the men had to face each other down rifle barrels paced only a few hundred yards apart. You saw the man shooting at you and the man you tried to shoot back. Well, sometimes anyway. Even the causes for the war were very personal. You went because your own farms and fields would soon be invaded by opposing armies, because your livelihood did or didn’t depend upon slaves, because you didn’t want others to call you a coward. It was a very emotional conflict and I think that still resonates in American society to this day.

5) Have you visited any of the places that appear in your book?

Just about all of them. I’ve spent time in Boston, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and battlefields across Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. I like to revisit places in different season too, in order to get a different feel for a place. My first trip to Gettysburg as a kid is probably one of my most memorable, and many of the places I visited then eventually featured in my novel years later.

6) Who is your favorite historical figure during this period?

My interest is usually in the unsung, social history of every day people. My main character, William S. Book, is actually inspired by the real life story of a Massachusetts man named Benjamin F. Cook, from Gloucester who served with the 12th Massachusetts and later wrote a regimental history describing his experiences. But I suppose if I had to pick someone famous from the era, I’d say probably generals like Grant and Chamberlain from the North and Lee and Jackson from the South, simply because their actions and decisions had such widespread effects upon not only the men at the front, but people’s perception of the war back home.

7) What is your favorite Civil War book/movie/game?

Best civil war book is tough, for me it’s a three-way tie between The Red Badge of Courage, Gods and Generals, and of course, The Killer Angels. For movies, I certainly like Gettysburg, Glory, and Cold Mountain. As far as games go, I’m not sure, but I am an active civil war reenactor, so if living history counts as a game, then reenacting is where it’s at.

8) What other moments in history are you interested in writing about?

Tons! The American colonial period, Slavery and Piracy in the Caribbean, Italian Renaissance, French Resistance during WWII, ancient Polynesia, the Viking age, Medieval Japan, Celtic cultures in Wales and Ireland, Upper and Lower Egypt, and aboriginal Australia just to name a few.

9) Any WIPs you can tell us about?

I’m blogging chapters about an online Sci Fi story for fun right now. With regards to historical fiction, however, I’m looking into more American topics at the moment, probably either frontier life in the 1700s or maybe even more maritime activities set earlier. It just depends where my imagination takes me!

10) Anything you'd like to mention to all the readers out there?

If you’d like to learn more or would like to share your own writing/reading endeavors with me just give me a ping. I always like to meet new people and hear their thoughts. You can usually find me at my blog here. I like to include input from my followers into my writing and also sometimes conduct fun contests online too. Just drop on by. Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Support Independent Bookstores!

I just watched this great special on TV about the history of independent bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it got me thinking about what makes these disappearing bookshops worth saving. I think that one of the things people seem to love the most about independent bookshops is the atmosphere, the fellow booklovers who haunt its shelves, and the unique selection of rarer books. Some of my favorite shops are also historical landmarks in their own right, such as the famous City Lights bookstore in San Francisco, where Beat Poets used to hang out, and Kepler’s in Menlo Park, where even the Grateful Dead used to take time out of their day to go and read books. No matter how busy my schedule gets, I like to make the trek to both of these book Meccas as often as I can.

There are of course so many great independent bookstores around the world, from the famous Powell’s Books in Oregon to the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris. But you may ask yourself, why go to an independent bookstore nowadays? The Barnes and Noble, Borders, and Waterstones of the world provide me with huge selections. With just a few clicks I can find whatever I want on, and you can still borrow books for free at the good old-fashioned public library. So why the need for independent bookstores?

I know, it’s a loaded question. Why the need for poetry? Why books at all? What do we need art and beauty for in the world anyways? But my fellow booklovers already see the futility in such questions. It’s not something easily explained, nor is the aura of the quintessential independent bookshop.

Despite the rapid modernization of the world and all its changes, I think that there’s still a place for independent bookstores, and a need that they fulfill for the community. Many such shops, even famous ones like Cody’s Books, have gone under in recent years and every year more and more independent bookshops fall by the wayside. So what can you do? Do you have to spend all your hard earned cash to keep these businesses afloat? Of course not. Independent bookshops have always been more than a place of commerce. They provide a place to meet, where likeminded people can discuss and revel in what really matters to them…books! The intellectual freedom and emotional stimulation denied oftentimes by the rest of society whether in work, school, or elsewhere is not only allowed in a bookstore, but is protected, encouraged, and praised.

Of course buying books helps, but I don’t think throwing pennies at the problem is the solution. Independent bookstores are meeting places, gathering nodes where the underground pulse of the book-loving world runs strong. There are lots of easy ways you can help these wonderful establishments survive and even thrive while at the same time enriching your own life. Meet up with friends, have coffee there, trade in some old books (at used stores), or just hang out. Be creative about it! Even if you don’t buy something one day, one of your friends or coworkers you meet up with might. It's a community place, and a bookstore’s well-being is directly tied to the well-being of its local community. So go checkout a famous independent bookstore or find a new hidden gem of a used bookshop somewhere that you haven’t visited before. Look around, and who knows, maybe you’ll find what you’re looking for.