My Tombstone: He died doing what he loved, waiting for Kvothe to get to the point.

As I’m sure you’ve guessed by the title of this post, I’m reading (listening actually) to The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Before I press on here, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is a disorganized bit of observation by a reader and also a struggling writer. I do not make any claims that I am better at the craft than Mr. Rothfuss. The story isn’t bad, nor is the writing, I just find myself a bit annoyed.

It may be that you loved or are in love with the book. Excellent. I’m glad you connected with this. I’m afraid I’m struggling. Even though some of his language and descriptions are lovely and make me wish my tongue contained a quarter as much silver, I am now on chapter 51 and asking myself, “When the bloody hell is Kvothe going to get to the point here?” Again, the setting is wonderful as are the excellent descriptions. It’s case-study in description in prose for someone attempting to produce a commercially viable work of speculative fiction. Again, though, I say, is this book going anywhere? This alone is a pretty annoying, but what’s more annoying is that a single, very popular and well regarded book can contain so many of the things people tell authors not to do.

I spend a lot of time trying to improve my craft. I do want to get published some day and can’t get there without improvement. It’s also true that I’m incredibly hard on myself and sometimes just find it easier to say, well, that didn’t work, did it? Nobody can tell you your work is a pile of thoroughly unsalvageable garbage quite like you can. However, in listening to this book I’m finding myself faced with virtually every piece of advice I’ve heard being completely ignored. Some of these tidbits of advice, such as the use of dialog tags and adverbs, I’ve come to regard as absolute nonsense advice. I feel that reviewers point to these as problems, but really it’s just the smoke. The real fire is elsewhere in the writing. I also once got advice to the effect of ‘watch out for passive description’ in a short story that used it once. The Name of the Wind use it in near equal measures to more active descriptions.

I’m not really sure what the point of all this is, except to say that I’m struggling as a writer right now. I’ve hit a moment where I’ve convinced myself the work is absolute trash. The only solution for me is to understand how to improve. Then, when I go to examine other writers’ work, I’m presented with this sort of thing – A never ending story, with lovely descriptions that manages to break every damn rule of thumb for good practice I’ve been acquainted with. It brings to mind the question, are there any actual guidelines to follow? Is there really a way to get better or am I just stuck trying different things until I find my voice? Anyhow, I’ve got no answers or even conjecture on the matter. I’m just annoyed.

Also, I’ve been working on the Name of the Wind for days, listening while I drive, cook and even for two days while I worked on one of those metal earth models. There is no end in sight and I really don’t know if I have it in me to finish.

Advertisements

A Real Ending – Thoughts on Terry Pratchett’s last Novel

Today on my commute home I finished Terry Pratchett’s final book, The Shepard’s Crown. As it happens, this is only the 3rd one of his books I’ve read (or listened to as the case is).

Uh, Dave?

Yes?

You claim to be a fantasy writer and you’ve only read 3 of Terry Pratchett’s books?

Uh, yeah, I’m ashamed to say that yes, just the 3, and I listened to them on Audiobook, actually. To put a slightly finer point on my deep and utter failure as a human being, I only just picked one up by random accident. My wife just happened to go out and grab a random audio book and loaded it up on my iPod a couple of weeks ago.

Really though, I don’t want to talk about how I somehow made it nearly to the age of 40 without ever having picked up one of his books. What I really want to talk about is the book itself. I suppose it would have been easy enough to type a paragraph into Goodreads, but when I finished this book it demanded that I do more, say more. As you’ll see shortly I didn’t, but I wanted to say slightly more than a routine review might cover anyhow.

The Shepard’s crown is among dozens set in the Diskworld universe. It’s part of the Tiffany Aching series. I think it’s important to note that not only did I not know it was his final book when I started reading it, I wasn’t really aware that he very probably knew it was his last book. From the very outset, the book has a much more somber tone than the previous one in that series. I felt vaguely sad and reflective from the get-go. A key character dies very early in the book. It’s not a violent death, but the sort of death that perhaps any one of us might hope for. At home, after a good long life and with friends to mourn our passing. It’s written in such a way as to be just a departure to a new land rather than anything particularly final, though it’s that too.

The theme of dying and new beginnings, and in particular, new beginnings someone might not be around to see, is present throughout. It’s a slightly melancholy undertone across the whole thing, but far from ruining the story, it gives it emotional punch without being overdone. The end of the book basically gets to the point of: Life goes on, but without you and someone else will be there in your place and while that’ll be different, it’s okay. In a lot of ways, I felt that this was a commentary on Pratchett’s own departure. I mean, even after death he’s not only spinning quite a lovely yarn to readers, but also inspiring writers. That said, at no point did the book have a ‘feel sorry for me’ vibe, it was more of a, this is how it is and nobody likes it, but that’s the way of things so let’s get on with it.

While it’s true that the book isn’t quite as polished as the previous in the series, and there are a few clear loose ends, it’s every bit as good. One of the key items I was expecting to be wrapped up wasn’t, but I also wasn’t surprised to find that Neil Gaiman commented on this specifically, and that comment can be found on Wikipedia. When you run short on time, sometimes things get missed out. However, if I don’t read another one of his books, I still feel sufficiently satisfied that a slightly uneven final work can be forgiven. After all, even with some awkward transitions and a small missing element at the end, it’s still a much finer piece of work than so many other books you might compare it to.

For me, what makes this book all the sadder is that it marks the ending for a truly remarkable writer. I heard about his passing last year, but I didn’t really realize what that mean to the world. I do now and I’m not happy about it. Not at all. I feel both smarter and inspired to be a better writer after just having listened to what he’d written.

In the end though it’s an extremely fitting final book. It may be that this is why his estate has said they won’t be publishing any posthumous works, after all, why would you continue to pile more stuff on the ice-cream once the cherry has been placed?

Review – Book 2 of Embracing Entropy

You know what I never do? Review a book. Mostly, it’s because I generally suck at it. I want to say things like: Read it, you’ll like it. That’s not a review. I’m also one of those jerks that usually gives books I like 4-stars, with a few exceptions. I mean, like, Harry Potter, yeah, 5 stars, but most everything else I like – 4 stars. It’s just how I think. As a writer, I know nobody wants to see that, they want to see 5 stars. With that in mind, I read a book over the weekend that I want to talk about. Yes, I gave it 4 stars, and I like it and think you should read it. The book I want to talk about is a novella, Wish for survival, by Jessica Marie Baumgartner. It’s really the middle part of a trilogy of novellas that have been turned into a book Embracing Entropy which was released today (03/15/2016). I haven’t finished the 3rd book, yet.

I did a couple of brief reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, about the book itself, to be honest, these reviews are only a little bit more informative than: read it, you’ll like it. I’m not going to directly re-hash those because this blog is supposed to be about writing, and one really interesting thing about this book is the writing itself. Don’t get me wrong, the story is good too, and if you want to read it for just the joy of reading a good book, do that.

First off, it’s in first person present tense. If I were forced at gunpoint, or knife point, or just asked politely to choose a single piece of writing advice to dole out it would probably be: “Don’t ever, ever, ever write a book in first person present tense”. However, and this is truly interesting, Jessica M. Baumgartner pulls it off. It works. Why does it work? I don’t know for 100% sure, but I’ve got an opinion, but first another observation. The book isn’t just a series of events that builds to a climax where, against all odds, the hero pulls off a win. I mean, it is that, that’s what books do, but what I’m trying to say is that it’s from a completely different angle. It’s for this reason, I think, that it works. So what is the angle?

As a reader, you experience events through the ‘right now’ emotion of it more than a description of events that have already occurred. Thinking about first-person past tense, I’d argue that the focus on emotion wouldn’t be nearly so complete and might even be a little distracting. This style gives the flow a slightly clipped, raw feel, where the reader is bouncing through the emotions of the main character, it’s a bit like each event being a slightly larger wave crashing into the reader.

In spite of the unusual approach, the story is engaging and doesn’t prove a difficult read, it reads quite as well as anything else. As with so many cleverly constructed books, I did find myself stopping to ask: “What about…?” This happened to me when I read the Martian. For the first pat of the book, I found myself being not super impressed, until I realized that the writer was being intentional and, in fact, it was all very well done.

For most of us (writers), having a reader stop to ask a question is a bad sign. You don’t want that. In this case, I think that’s the point, perhaps not intentionally, I don’t know, but the reader isn’t meant to know the answers to a lot of questions. The main character doesn’t know the answers to the questions we’re asking, she’s asking the same questions, or would be if there weren’t more important things to think about. We’re supposed to be experiencing her part of the story through her feelings and the narrow band of what she can see. By the end of the book, I reached the point where I realize that the questions I was asking myself: Why are the bad guys attacking? What do they look like? What sorts of weapons are they using? didn’t matter. What really mattered was what the main character was feeling, the immediate need to resolve the right now concerns. Who cares about the motivations of the bad guys when a close friend might be dead? Does it matter what they look like if there’s no future for the children? That’s what is important in the moment, not motivations or the mechanics of the enemy weaponry.

See that? It’s the right now that’s important, and that’s why this story could pull off the first-person present tense, and actually, in order to have the same impact and feel, it almost has to be written from this perspective. We as readers are meant to be standing in the moment where we’re blind to so many of the events going on outside the direct sight of the main character.

So, from that perspective, I’d recommend reading this one. Not just because the story is solid, but because the execution of the story is unique and compelling.