Monday, August 30, 2010

Impressionists Exhibit


On Saturday I went with my wife and some friends to the newest exhibit of Impressionist artwork on display at the San Francisco De Young museum. Needless to day, it was a great treat to see all of these spectacular paintings up-close-and-personal without having to make the journey to France to see them. We saw masters such as Pissarro, Sisley, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, and, of course, Monet. The museum had so much great art on display from so many artists that I’d need an entire page just to list them all.

Some of my favorites definitely included Monet’s work. I’ve been a big fan since I visited his home in Giverny about five years ago. In addition, however, I was pleasantly surprised by artists such as Sisley and even Pissarro who I had previously not known much about. What really intrigues me about the Impressionist artists is their break from the traditional, pre-photographic era paintings that sought to simply duplicate reality or provide an idealized form of mythological beasts or holy angels. The focus on everyday life and the feelings and intuitions that go into it are hallmarks of Impressionist art. 

Ironically enough, the term “Impressionist” originated with an art critic at the time who meant the word disparagingly when describing this new form of painting. Not losing a beat, the new artists took up the name with defiance, labeling themselves gladly with a term that was originally mean to be derogatory. There are so many wondrous facets of art to enjoy and imbibe, and it would take me hours to merely go into the basics of it. So, I suggest you go check it out for yourself, either at the De Young Museum or if you are further afield, checkout what art is nearest to you. Whether in Paris, France or Paris, Texas there’s plenty of good art out there to go around.      

Friday, August 27, 2010


Ok, it’s Friday, and with my head filling of thoughts of the weekend my musings tend to grow more random by the moment. But bear with me, I have a random idea just for you. I’ve been writing some poetry lately just for kicks (trust me, novels are still my forte and after a week or two of writing poems it becomes self-evident even to me). But I keep toying with an idea for poetry based on a mix of ancient Greek lyric poetry, Japanese Haikus, and the Western Imagist movement of the early 20th century.

I thought of poems from archaic writers, like Sappho and Archilochus, and how their poetry has such a fresh, modern bent to it, but part of this is due to the fact that what little of their work we have survives in fragments. So, in a way, time and fate has made their poems more terse and to the point than they probably were originally. But I thought to myself, what if you did this to a poem intentionally, i.e. purposely made it fragmented, as though portions were missing.  

For instance, something like “Autumn woods…wines stains…on the bone moon.” Something that not only keeps to a minimum of words, but implies a loss of meaning as well in the open spaces. I’m probably not the first person to think about this concept, so if anyone wiser than me (and there are many of you) would care to enlighten me on the subject I’d greatly appreciate it. Anyway, just some more ponderings from my mind as we get into the weekend. Have a good one! 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


My wife recently started journaling again and, frankly, it’s an ability I wish I had. Keeping a journal has something of a mystique to me, probably because everyone from famous writers to ordinary citizens turn into introspective artists and keen social critics as they detail their daily musings. It’s a place for simple and true writing, without the categories or constraints imposed on most other forms of writing, such as novels, poems, plays, etc. You can even draw pictures and sketch in your journal!

Needless to say, I’m not very good at journaling. I’ve tried. I really have. Okay, well maybe just a bit over the years. I usually get distracted or completely forget about it in a few days and that rather defeats the point of keeping a journal. Oddly enough, however, I really like the concept of journaling in terms of fictional narratives. I like reading the journals of characters in stories probably more than I do “real” people. Of course there are some great travel journals out there as well, from modern day authors all the way down to the time of Melville or Homer.

I’m trying to decide whether it’s worth taking up the torch again to trying journaling myself. I’m not out to publish any of it, like Virginia Woolf, but at the same time I’m not sure what to put down. Diaries and journals are so private and everything I write always has an audience in mind. Is it a good idea or would I just be talking to myself? Food for thought.

Monday, August 23, 2010



Nope, I’m not asking about your stress levels here. Instead, today I’m bringing up tense in writing, particularly with regards to fiction. Why do we always seem to write in the past tense? Sometimes people employ the present tense in short-stories, although I’ve rarely even heard of using future tense. But it begs the question, why do we choose the tenses that we do?

I’ve experimented myself, particularly with using present tense in writing and I have found that I like it quiet a bit. It adds an instant tension by bringing things into the here and now. The only drawbacks I found was that with the historical fiction I write a past tense tends to give a better vibe as the events portrayed often happened long ago. Also, for better or worse, the publishing market seems to frown on present tense (at least as far as I can tell). As much as I like experimenting, it seems that that type of experimentation definitely isn’t rewarded in the marketplace. 

But let’s forget about all that money mumbo jumbo for a moment and concentrate just on the pure love of art. What do you think about utilizing tenses on the written page? Should everything always be in the past tense? Do the present or event future tenses have a place in fiction? I ask sincerely because I’m trying to get at the heart of this matter myself. So, what do you think?  

Friday, August 20, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

It’s Friday! Which means the weekend and hanging out and movies and no work (hopefully). Last weekend I saw the new film Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and if you haven’t seen this film yet, this weekend is your turn to go and check it out. Now, I will warn you, it may take a bit for you to get the kind of humor in this film, but if you give it a chance I promise you won’t be disappointed.

When I saw it, I admit that for the first twenty minutes or so I wasn’t quiet sure what to make of it. But its mixture of comedy and creativeness really shines through as the film progresses. What I particularly found intriguing about this movie was its creativity, both cinematically and in terms of its revolutionary script. Like the Matrix, I can’t quiet explain to you what this movie is about…you simply have to go see it for yourself.

Definitely more geared towards couples and movie nights with friends, I would suggest this for anyone who likes pushing the boundaries of film, but also likes to just watch something fun and have a good time. Mainly, I want you to go see this film just to swap jokes with you from the movie (I’d do it now, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you). So if you haven’t seen this cool new flick head out to the theatres tonight or this weekend and let it put a smile on your face. Ciao!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Haikus are Hard

Okay maybe simply writing a few phrases and calling them a poem isn’t too hard, but I’m finding that making a decent haiku isn’t exactly a piece of cake. Why am I trying to create a piece of Japanese poetry? Well, it all has to do with a contest a fellow blogger of mine is conducting on her site.

Haikus have a rich and varied history, ranging from ancient Japan all the way to modern day poets and authors. Jack Kerouac, for instance wrote a famous haiku back in his San Francisco beat writer days:

Snow in my shoe
Sparrow's nest

I don’t intend to wow anyone with my poem, but I’d still like to take a good crack at it. Fellow blogger and author, Stephanie Thorton, will be accepting submissions from other writers and bloggers and will post the best haiku on her blog in early September. You can join her contest at Enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Getting the Band Back Together


This weekend I jammed for the first time in a long while with my good friend and former bass player of my old college garage band. Seeing as I cleaned out the garage in my house for the first time in a while it seemed like a good excuse to get the band back together. We’ve come a long way from teenagers toying with rock star fantasies, and now play for fun and for the thrill of making music together.

Although songwriting and crafting a novel may not necessarily seem like the same thing, I do feel that they are related. Most of my creative endeavors go straight into writing books nowadays, but I feel it’s important to always keep as many facets of art in one’s life as possible. Much of the material we play comes from what we wrote in college rather than now, but it’s the continued act of collaborating together that makes music a nice addition to the other passions in my life.

Right now my bass player and I are attempting to convince our awesome drummer to buy a new set again and setup shop in my garage. After all, just because we had to “grow-up” and get jobs doesn’t mean we still can’t have fun. Aside from this core trio of our group, we’ve also had some great instrumentalists come and go over the years, especially a good guitarist friend of ours living down in L.A. right now. Although I write with the pen/computer more now than a guitar, my Fender Stratocaster and my bass player’s Danelectro still offer a creative outlet in which to expand our mind and enrich our lives. Who knows, maybe someday (in its own way), playing in a band will be something worth writing about in a story.    

Friday, August 13, 2010

Steal into the Garden

I’ve been in a bit of a Thoreau mood lately as my summer garden comes closer and closer to fruition. When I blogged about spring planting back in April, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many fellow writers and book-lovers out there also turned out to be avid gardeners and nature lovers. Guess the two go hand in hand.

It’s Friday, and I usually like to give lighter updates when the weekend is upon us, and what better way to enjoy time off than by indulging in the produce of summer. My sunflowers already average about 8 feet a stalk and I’ve probably brought about a dozen pumpkins into the house in the last few weeks alone. The tomatoes are still on the way and I’ve sewn a new crop of lettuce too. This year I’ve given a try at growing ruby sweet corn, and my 6 and 7 foot high stalks should provide me with plenty of ears within the next month or so. All perfect for that summertime barbeque or just having an evening meal in the yard.

Perhaps the thing I really love most about gardening is its ability to center me and focus on what really matters. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day grind of work or school or other responsibilities. But whatever man-made rules society creates about money and other elements of the “real world” I know that the simple, quiet growth of my plants stems from the source of all things that actually matter. And besides, on a nice summer day it’s a great place to read a book! So take it easy this weekend and enjoy a couple days off.   


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Gift You Take with You

One of the things that sticks in my mind from school is a professor I had who could recite volumes of his favorite poetry verbatim. He would recite Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats at the drop of a hat and his face would glow with warmth and excitement. Another teacher of mine from grade school told me about an elderly man he met on an airplane once who just began spouting poetry from his youth with such emotion and accuracy that my teacher was in awe of him. I’ve often wondered about this aspect of poetry, not only reading it, but memorizing it, truly imbibing the essence of a poem until it flows from your own lips effortlessly. So I’ve tried in the last year or so to do some of it myself.

You may wonder, what’s the point? Well, poetry is not dead. In fact, dropping some Yeats poetry in a pub in Dublin is the quickest way to get street credit in the Emerald Isle. Those Irish know how to venerate their writers! No joke, I actually know someone who saw two guys in a Dublin pub get into a fist fight over whether Yeats was the greatest poet that ever lived or not. I’ve memorized some Yeats, Shakespeare, and even a little Whitman, and have been enriched by it ever since.

It’s definitely not a piece of cake, and if you really love a poem, you have to use it in your everyday life. Like language, if you learn it now and don’t use it later you’ll gradually forget about it. It may sound strange, but many a mantra of a Shakespearean sonnet or a line from Whitman has gotten me through a rough day at work or an unsavory chore at home. So give it a try. Writers write, they read, and they can even recite. It’s a gift you can take with you anywhere at any time at any age. What poetry will you commit to memory?

Monday, August 9, 2010

A New Novel


Strike while the iron is hot. It’s cliché, but true. When inspiration strikes it rarely chooses a convenient moment or consults your current schedule. I’m enthusiastic as ever about promoting my civil war novel, The Long Defeat, and continue to pitch it to agents as well as consider ways to continue to rewrite and improve the manuscript. Nevertheless, I find myself already writing a new novel and am somewhat unable to stop myself. I’ve heard other writer’s at conferences talk about always having one book nearly finished and another on the way, so I hope this flurry of writing I’m involved in now is what they were talking about.

I’m about five chapters into a new novel, which my wife (who provides a healthy mix of encouragement and literary criticism) has refused to let me stop until I finish this story. It’s still a bit rough and I’ve rewritten the first chapters a few times already, but I’ve created an outline and think I can have a decent first draft of this novel finished in the next few months. I don’t even have a hard and fast title yet for my new work, but I’ll give you the gist of it and perhaps later down the line some of you can suggest what you think would be most fitting.

Essentially, this new historical novel revolves around a family of seven children living on the frontier in colonial Virginia. Due to extenuating circumstances, both their mother and father are away when the French and Indian War breaks out. The children soon find themselves isolated on their tiny farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, cutoff from not only from their parents, but the rest of civilization. These seven siblings, ranging in ages from age 4 to 16 must strive to survive in the wilderness amidst the backdrop of wandering settlers, runaway slaves, and bands of Indians. The two eldest children in particular, Joshua and Sarah, find themselves at odds with one another in their new roles as surrogate father and mother, threatening their family’s well being as much as the poverty and starvation they face. To top it off, unbeknownst to the children, a French officer and his men hunt for the little family on their farm in the wilderness, bearing a personal grudge against them. I’ve set the novel in the year 1756. In the weeks to come, I’ll let you know as soon as I have more of this tale fleshed out and put down on paper. Thanks for reading!  

Friday, August 6, 2010

Update with Agents

Now that I’ve had my civil war novel, The Long Defeat, professionally edited and polished I have been shopping around with various literary agents for the past several months. Needless to say, it’s a long process, but there have been a few lights at the end of the tunnel so far. I’ve had the privilege to get my manuscript submitted to several interested agents, some of whom liked it enough that they requested the entire book and read it, which may not seem like much at first, but considering how many hundred submissions an agent gets a day it’s a big deal if they take the time out to read your entire manuscript.

Unfortunately, even in these instances I have gotten close, but still no cigar. Some agents have cited that they are too busy with other clients and a few have said they liked my book, but felt it was too short. The reason for this being that in the historical fiction genre, apparently longer length novels sell better. So some agents have actually suggested they might be interested again if I extended my book another by 20,000 or 30,000 words. That’s almost 50% more than I have written in the story right now, so it’s a tall order and one that will take some time to match.

In addition, I’ve already started writing a new book, which I’ll blog about later next week. I guess I’ve got my work cut out for me, but so long as I can keep a few agents interested hope remains. Another agent even liked The Long Defeat at its current length, but requested that I make some additions that emphasize female characters, which is also a big selling point with publishers as women buy far more books than men. I know it may all seem like pure business and no creative heart, but it’s something worth contemplating for those who really want to take their written work the whole way. I’ll keep you posted and in the meantime as I’ll pretty much be doing things as usual, lots of writing and even more rewriting.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How Small is Your World?


Last night I pulled out the telescope to do some stargazing and afterwards I flipped through an astronomy book to look some things up. So what does this have to do with writing a novel? Bear with me; I’m free associating a lot this week. I spotted Andromeda, so I looked up information on galaxies. Turns out our galaxy is over 100,000 light years long, 20,000 deep, with about 100 billion stars in it. Andromeda is even bigger. But this is small potatoes. Our local cluster of galaxies consists of 30 such galaxies, and next to it is a larger strain of over 3,000 galaxies. That’s right, over 3,000 galaxies with an average of 100 billion stars a piece, and this is but a tiny droplet in the vast ocean of the larger known universe. Does your head hurt yet?

Now when we write books we have all of space and time to choose from and we can make the setting of a book anywhere at anytime. This begs the larger question, how big or small a world do you wish to create for the characters in your story? Some novels have sweeping epics that cover the ancient Aegean of the Odyssey or the Russian steppe of War and Peace. Others make a microcosm of the universe in a fixed location, such as James Joyce’s Dubliners or in the poetry of Emily Dickenson. Obviously, both extremes have their advantages and drawbacks, all depending upon what an author wishes to convey to his or her audience.

So what do you think? I say this to both writers and readers of all genres, because I think the scale of a story’s setting truly effects everything in print. Are the settings you prefer ones that involve a vast, intricate system (i.e. Tolkien-esk) or do you favor the smaller microcosm settings in novels where everything boils down to a single city or town or even a single house? Let me know.   

Monday, August 2, 2010

Debate on POV

My wife and I went to the Giants game last evening (where they swept the Dodgers by the way!) and while there I got to thinking, like I do, about books and the POV (point of view) of characters in them. Hold on, let me explain. Fans follow a myriad of ballplayers, teams, and even umpires along with statistics, etc. Now in books we have multiple characters, both minor and major, that we as readers follow throughout the rising tension and climax of a story. One of the debates amongst authors, agents, and publishers revolves around how many perspectives should exist within a book. Some writers like just one perspective (i.e. their protagonist) and other authors prefer multiple points of view in their books.

Last Friday I got some great feedback on this blog, on facebook, and in emails from a bunch of you regarding your thoughts on writer’s conferences, which it turned out a lot of you seemed to like the West Coast ones you’ve been to in the past. Today I’d like to venture a little deeper into the actual art of crafting a story and ask your thoughts on POV. I have my own opinion on the topic, but I’ll hold off on giving it just yet as I’m curious and open to other ideas. How many POVs do you like in both the books you read and the ones you write?

I’ve heard different reasons for going one way or the other, as I’m sure you have. One publisher told me once that she thought Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain had too many perspectives although the majority of the novel revolves around primarily three characters. Others I know love some sci-fi books, such as Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy where each novel has an incredibly diverse set of POV characters to the point that singling out one character as the hero is a matter of debate. Then again Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandrian Quartet usually only has one primary POV throughout the novel, although there are creative ways of getting other perspectives even in a primarily single-person POV story. So what do you think? How many is too many or too few? When you pickup a book from the shelf or grab a classic/favorite novel, how many character POVs do you like to experience?