Saturday, April 23, 2016

What Was Genre Before It Was Genre?

[This article was also published on Inkwell, the official blog of]

What do you call ‘science fiction’ before anyone had imaginatively traveled at light speed? Or ‘fantasy’ before Dungeons and Dragons had rolled a single die? Though these categories command impressive real estate in bookstores/websites today, at one time they didn’t exist until an intrepid author—often called a madman or fool—dreamed them up. One of the first works that we now consider science fiction, The War of the Worlds, came into being in 1898, the fourth in a string of classic novels by H.G. Wells. While the novel can now seem a bit dated, its events run-of-the-mill to a cynical filmgoer, imagine what the imaginative landscape looked like in 1898: aliens had never invaded the Earth, robots had never considered if they were human or not, ships had never traveled through wormholes (or, for that matter, across the sky), and the internet would have to wait for the invention of personal computers—almost a hundred years distant. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Falling In Love In Fiction

In Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novel, Drama (2012) Callie is in love with a fellow ninth-grader who never seems to notice her. After they share an awkward kiss (largely to console Greg, who is recovering from a breakup), the boy spends the rest of the story avoiding her, since he sees her more as a ‘friend’ than a potential love interest. By the end of the novel, after Callie is disappointed in yet another boy—who turns out to be gay--Greg appears with a change of heart. Walking her home in the moonlight, they stop on the same bench where they shared their first (and only) kiss, and he says, “I didn’t realize that the girl I should really have been with was right before my eyes. Will you give me another shot?” Callie is confused and outraged, and comically resists his epiphany with the words, “Are you for real?” The frame widens: we zoom into his wide-open eyes, expressing desperation and desire, as he says “Don’t be confused…be my girlfriend.” He then leans in for the kiss…

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Can the Novel Speak Every Language?

[Also published on The Inkwell,'s literary blog:

We’ve all eagerly awaited the movie adaptation of a beloved novel, only to leave the theater deflated. What happened? How could that novel, which we imagined so clearly in our heads, fall so utterly short of reality? Where were the characters, the dialogue, the excitement, and that one scene? They cut it out of the movie! When people pompously assert that “the book was better,” perhaps they’re not being so pompous; perhaps they’re merely stating the simple fact that a novel does what a novel does, and a movie does it differently. Artistic forms require translation, and like translation, something is gained and lost when you move from one form/language to another. A novel is a literary construction bound to specific rules, customs, and histories. When you write a novel, you don’t just write a story any more than you speak a universal language; to write a novel is to slip into history, using the tools bequeathed you by generations of writers and slipping into a familiar ‘character’ that we know from any one of a thousand books. No matter how unique your literary voice, a novel is still a novel, and needs to sound like one...and everything we write is a version of every one we’ve ever read, to a greater or lesser degree.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Free this Wed-Thur: The Count of the Living Death

My first novel, The Count of the Living Death, is free for download to Kindle devices and apps this Wednesday-Thursday. The book has been lightly re-written and some small errors fixed, so now I'm hoping more people find their way to it. It was first published in Fall 2013, and since then it has been downloaded thousands of times (if only it had thousands of reviews!). Feel free to check it out and write a brief review if you can. The Count is a Young Adult Fantasy book in the spirit of The Princess Bride or Robert Aspirin's humorous fantasy novels, though it has a slight touch of the Gothic as well. That said, it's pretty tame with no sex or bad language, and even the macabre parts are suitable for younger ages (10 and up). 

The link and a brief blurb about the book follow:

Link to Amazon:

Count Leopold always wondered about the strange chest sealed with three magic locks. His father warned him never to mention the Box—nor pry into the secret chamber where it was kept. Now the Box has begun speaking to Leopold, begging him to find the key and undo the hateful locks. If he does so, it promises him to fulfill his every desire, even offering him the hand of the forbidden—and forbiddingly named— Lady Mary Bianca Domenica de Grassini Algarotti. However, before unfastening the third lock he catches a glimpse of something unspeakable inside—and turns to the only man who shared his father’s secret, the legendary Conjurer-Magician, Hildigrim Blackbeard. A man who, if the stories are true, will exact a terrible price in return for his service.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Plagiarism and Persona

Everyone is a version of someone else, who themselves are copies of a copy of a copy. To create a persona is less an act of creation than of conscious theft. Even the word persona comes from the Latin word for stage masks worn by actors in a comedy of tragedy. We are all players, cobbling together a role from various plays, characters, and writers. Imagine, then, the difficulty when a writer (who is composed of various ideas and performances) sits down to write a story, which is also an act of persona. A story inhabits the world of a specific genre or style, borrowing the signposts and characters from other writers who have contributed to it, and then has to create a distinctive language which, however original, still has to sound authentic.   

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Reading on Both Sides of History

[also published on The Inkwell, Inkitt's literary blog:]

Literature—and all art, for that matter—is like the face of the moon; always changing, always presenting a new face for the reader. It changes within our own lifetime, as a book read as a teenager no longer looks the same at thirty-nine. Imagine, then, the changes over a hundred years or more, when not only ] the readers but the society itself ‘grows up.’ Some works age well, being passed from one library to another, while others become shameful reminders of old ideas, old worlds, and old thoughts. Something of this latter aspect is conveyed by the author Jean Rhys (Wide Sargasso Sea) in a letter to her editor in 1966, about one of her favorite novels, Jane Eyre. Rhys grew up in Dominica, and outsider to mainstream British life, a fact echoed in almost every book she read as a child. As she explains,

“I came to England between sixteen and seventeen, a very impressionable age and Jane Eyre was one of the books I read then. Of course Charlotte Bronte makes her own world, of course she convinces you, and that makes the poor Creole lunatic all the more dreadful. I remember being quite shocked, and when I re-read it rather annoyed. “That’s only one side—the English side.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Catching Literature on the Wing

[This article also appeared on Inkwell,'s literary column, which you can read here:]

In his essay “Reading and Writing” (2000), the Nobel Prize-winning author, V.S. Naipaul, discusses his place in the grand tradition of literature, following in the footsteps of the great immortals of literature—a daunting task even for the writer of A House for Mr. Biswas and A Bend in the River. As he explains,

“All of us who have come after have been derivative. We can never be the first again. We might bring new material from far away, but the program we are following has been laid out for us. We cannot be the writing equivalent of Robinson Crusoe on his island, letting off “the first gun that has been fired there since the creation of the world.” That is the gunshot we hear when we turn to the originators. They are the first; they didn’t know it when they began, but then…they do know, and they are full of excitement at the discovery.”