Tag Archives: books

I’m out of words, I’m just going to draw things #1

14 Nov Concert to support the Metropolitan Orchestra of New Jersey, November 13, picture drawn by Alexandra Hanson-Harding.
Concert to support the Metropolitan Orchestra of New Jersey, November 13, picture drawn by Alexandra Hanson-Harding.

Concert to support the Metropolitan Orchestra of New Jersey, November 13, picture drawn by Alexandra Hanson-Harding.


It has been almost a week since the election of Donald J. Trump. My reaction changes day by day. Currently, I have reached the nonverbal stage. One way in which I, personally, am very fortunate, is that I am well adapted for hopeless situations. That is one of the gifts of having been relentlessly for five years when I was growing up.

The bullying started when I was eight years old and my family moved to the suburb of Wilbraham, Massachusetts. The school officials thought that anyone from the “big city” of Springfield had to have an inferior education. So even though I had been in the gifted program in Springfield (my mother tells me), they put me in the equivalent of the special education class in Wilbraham. The teacher was cruel and abusive. She gave me an F right away because we didn’t learn cursive until 3rd grade in Springfield and they learned it in second grade in Wilbraham. She screamed regularly. Kids on the playground told me I was “retarded.” The next year I was tested and put back into the gifted class but by then it was too late. I was a very small, sensitive, and dreamy girl, the type who spent hours imagining how fairies eat, but zero hours imagining why people wanted to be mean.

Hmm.  Not long ago, a woman I know knew a writer who was writing a book about people who were bullied. She asked if the writer could contact me, and the writer did. I thought for a long time if I would answer. It seemed very rude not to, but somehow, whenever I thought of saying anything about what happened during those five years, I felt the strangest feeling, as if I were clutching my stomach and as if my hands were flying up to my face at the same time, and thought, No. No. No. I never actually answered her.

But as bad as bullying was, I did get one benefit. Resourcefulness. To distract myself, I learned. I read. I learned new facts and with them created new stories in my mind as it floated above my unpleasant reality. I also loved drawing.  It became a habit and a pattern to escape into reading and drawing, to learning and to observing, when I had the least power.
When I was weak, these habits were an incredible solace. And at times when I was more powerful, it turned out that those things were quite useful as well. It was a silver lining to the unnecessary  pain to which I was subjected.

Gosh, I don’t know what brought that to mind this week of all weeks.

At any rate, this week–until just now, apparently–I feel as if words have just failed me. It’s a good week to return to habits I developed in a time when I felt helpless. So here’s something I drew yesterday. We went to a concert at the Milburn Public Library to support the Metropolitan Orchestra of New Jersey. It was a beautiful concert of Mozart and Brahms, and another solace for a sad and beautiful day. We saw the big lovely moon when we drove home. And I was with my beloved husband. This election is bad. But music is good. Love is good. The moon is good. And art is always good.





135 Journals Interview: Meet Kid/YA Author Timothy J. Bradley!

4 Nov
Timothy J. Bradley

Timothy J. Bradley uses illustrating as a way to get a feeling for the books he writes.

Recently, I reviewed a quirky and entertaining book called Infestation. (check out: https://135journals.wordpress.com/2014/08/20/135-journals-ya-and-kid-book-club-infestation-by-timothy-j-bradley/) This book made me realize just how much I didn’t know about huge mutant ants–a shameful knowledge gap, I know! Writing the review gave me the opportunity to communicate with Infestation’s author, and he kindly agreed to answer some questions about how he writes (and illustrates) and what inspires him. Read the interview below to learn more.

Infestation cover

Infestation (cover design by someone else) is about Andy, a boy who is sent to a very strange reform school with an outsized insect problem.

  1. It seems in the book as if each of the main characters has a weakness that turns into a strength. For example, the main character’s roommate’s love of blowing things up comes in handy. Is that true of all the characters? Will it show up in future books?

Yes, I tried to give each of the characters some kind of talent or interest that ended up being a benefit to the group of boys in some way. I think that people in real life are like that—we all have hobbies or interests, and it’s fun when we get a chance to put that part of our personalities to good use. In Pyro’s case, it’s probably the only time in his life that blowing things up could serve a constructive purpose! I definitely would want those character attributes showing up in future installments, and more as we find out more about them all. Right at this point in time, INFESTATION is a stand-alone adventure, although I certainly left the door open to possible future books (I’ve thought a lot about what would happen in those, and they’d be a blast to write and draw). INFESTATION has been nominated for the 2014-2015 Massachusetts Children’s Book Award (I’m pretty sure it’s the only book with giant, mutant ants), which might spark some interest with a publisher.

  1. How did you get the idea for Infestation?

I was a big fan of monster movies when I was a kid, especially the “giant bug” films, which were made in the 1950s and 60s. When I started writing fiction, I thought it might be fun to write a story that was an updated version of one of those 1950s “creature features”. One thing I knew I had to do is to come up with a logical method for actually making a bug really huge—in real life, bugs can’t grow beyond a certain size because their muscles wouldn’t be able to move their limbs. Muscles attached to an exoskeleton aren’t as effective as muscles attached to an internal skeleton (like we have). Once I thought of a plausible way to accomplish that, the rest of the story just fell into place.

  1. How long does it take you to write a book, and how do you do it? Do you have a special place where you work or a special schedule?

Typically, what I’ve done is to let things percolate in my brain for a while before I actually sit down to start writing. I also spend a couple of weeks nailing down the plot and significant story events, sketching up lots of thumbnails of things from the story. Once I actually start writing, it might take 2-3 months to generate a first draft. Then I send it out to an editor, and usually do several rounds of rewriting and revising.

I have a studio at home that I use to write and draw, but I can be creative anywhere—it’s something I had to master when I worked as a freelance artist. I don’t have a set schedule—I’ve always been pretty disciplined about taking advantage of little bits of time here and there to write. I usually spend a lot of time during the day thinking about the part of the story I’m working on so that when I am able to sit down and write, I know pretty much what I want to accomplish.

Soldier Class ant illustration by Tim Bradley.

Soldier Class ant illustration by Tim Bradley.

  1. You said you liked horror movies from the 50s. Can you tell us more about that and what they were like? What interested you about them?

My favorites were the ones that at least attempted to have a thin layer of science attached to them, along with the explosions and destruction. I also really disliked if the “monster” was obviously just a guy in a rubber suit (like “The Thing From Another World”). I really liked any kind of dinosaurian-type monster (like the original “Godzilla” movie), or stop-motion animation creatures. But my all-time favorite monster movie is “THEM!”, which was about giant ants in the New Mexico desert, mutations from the original atom-bomb tests. The creatures in the movie were life-sized “robotic” ants that looked pretty good—remember that this is waaaaay before computer graphics had been invented. Not only were the creatures great, but the story was well-written and very compelling. So when I decided to do an updated version of a monster movie, I put in plenty of nods to that movie (the setting is one of them).

  1. Did you study bugs in high school or college? Were they a special interest for you? Are the facts about bugs in this fictional story accurate? If so, why did you think it was important to be factual in a fictional story? If they are accurate, what kind of research did you do? And was doing research fun or was it torture?

I’ve always been fascinated by bugs—they’re so different from us, yet, if you go far enough back in time, there is an ancestral creature that gave rise to both arthropods and us. I have always found that mind-blowing. Although I never studied insects in any formal way, I did do a lot of reading on my own, and I watched the bugs that lived out in my back yard when I was a kid.

The insect information in INFESTATION is accurate—I’ve always enjoyed stories where the adventure aspect is balanced with a helping of actual science information, sort of what Michael Crichton was so good at. I had written a nonfiction book called PALEO BUGS: Survival of the Creepiest, which contained information about prehistoric insects. The research I did for that book involved traveling to the London Natural History Museum, and having a paleontologist walk me through their amazing fossil insect collection. All that information helped when I was writing INFESTATION. I also read a bunch of book from my local library, and did some research on the internet. I actually find researching a book a tremendous amount of fun—I end up learning so much about a topic as I go.

Illustration of a running mutant ant by Tim Bradley.

Illustration of a running mutant ant by Tim Bradley.

  1. Did you also like to read when you were a kid? What are some of the books that influenced you most? What about as an adult?

I was a voracious reader when I was a kid, and I discovered many of my favorite authors at the little library in my town. The books that influenced me most were Rendezvous With Rama and 2001: a space odyssey, both by Arthur C. Clarke, The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury’s collections of short stories. I still love to read as an adult—my favorite authors now would be Connie Willis and Robert Charles Wilson, as well as Michael Crichton.

  1. Do you have another job outside of writing, or is that your full-time job? How did you break into publishing? I know it’s a tough field!

I do actually have a full-time job—I am the in-house illustrator for Teacher Created Materials, an educational publisher in Huntington Beach, California. I write at night and on weekends, for the most part. Getting a book published is a challenge, for sure, but I think what I have in my favor is that I’m pretty disciplined about getting things done, I’m not afraid of putting my work out there (my years spent as a freelance artist made me used to doing that), and I’m pretty tenacious. I don’t give up on something easily, which is good, because it can take a long time to break in. I’ve been pretty fortunate so far, and it’s been a tremendous amount of fun. Breaking in was just a matter of continually knocking on doors—sending out queries, following up, all the nuts-and-bolts that have to be done in order to get a publisher to read your work.

  1. If you were to offer kids advice about how to become a writer, what would you say? What helped you?

I would say to go for it, but realize that writing, (or art, or music, or any creative endeavor) is a lifelong journey. It’s more important to enjoy the work itself (and it is a tremendous amount of work), and not worry about making it big as an author. It’s a very competitive field. Patience and perseverance are essential qualities for a writer. Also, I think it helps to read a lot, and try to figure out why a particular author’s work appeals to you.

  1. What are some other things that fascinate you?

Anything with a high weirdness factor. Zombie ants, parallel dimensions, black holes, prehistoric animals, other planets, future spacecraft, robots…yikes, there’s a lot of stuff. It’s all great source material for the type of stories I liked as a kid, and that I write now.

10. Why do you like writing for kids?

I think I enjoy writing for kids for 2 reasons. I think there’s a part of my brain that has never matured past the age of 8, and “8 year-old Tim” still gets excited about some crazy science story in the news. The second reason is that I remember vividly how awesome it was to discover a book that really reached me. I still enjoy finding a great book as an adult, but the sense of having these huge ideas that I had never thought about leap off the pages of a good sci fi novel was a very powerful force when I was younger.

I have the third book in my “Sci Hi” series, called TIME JUMP, coming out in November [ed. note: It just came out on November 1], and I have started working on a new middle-grade, illustrated, sci fi novel called EXPEDITION, which mixes my interest in natural history with my fascination with robots. I am very excited about it—I think it’s going to be a fun read (and I can’t wait to work on the illustrations!).

Covers that Tim designed for some upcoming books

Covers that Tim designed for some upcoming books.

(Oh,  I also forgot to ask where you live, at least in a general sense, and if you have kids, and if so, if they like reading your books). Are you familiar with the Southwestern setting because you have spent time there, for instance?)

I grew up on the East Coast, north of Boston, but I currently live in Southern California (I love the sunshine and palm trees!). I have a wife and a college-age son who is interested in a lot of the things I am, which is really fun). I use both my wife (who also writes for children) and my son as “sounding boards” for my ideas. My wife is great at spotting where I need to add description or character development, and my son has a nicely warped sense of humor, which can lead to some interesting points of view. I couldn’t have accomplished the work I’ve done so far without them.

Writing Prompt: Did you get any ideas from Tim to spur your creativity? What inspires YOU?

135Journals Book Club: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

2 May


A circus in the 1890s (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons).


Erin Morgenstern conjures up a magical world within magical worlds in this inventive but accessible treat of a book. Set, mostly, in the 1880s-1890s, it is about Celia, a girl from New York, and Marco, a boy from London, and the terrible deal that is made by their guardians—that the two will have to use magic to compete with each other until one wins. What this means is a mystery. But this book is full of mysteries. Celia will perform as a brilliant illusionist in a very different kind of circus than the garish spectacles one usually sees. It is designed all in shades of black, white, and gray. It has a magical clock. It appears and disappears with great suddenness. And it is only open at night. Fans of this circus, called reveurs, start to follow it around, and dress in shades of black, white and gray with something red, so they can recognize each other. This strange landscape is richly detailed, and the reader can feel as if she or he herself is walking around eating one of the chocolate mice with licorice tails and feeling about the look and feel of this strange landscape

One of the things I noticed is that there are many story lines, and many characters, and yet, though the book shifted rapidly from one character’s experience to another, I didn’t feel lost. Every individual was quite distinctive. One reason for that is probably that they each had roles to fulfill—from Isobel, the fortune teller, who was in love with Marco, to the young twins Poppet (who got glimpses of the future) and Widget (who got glimpses of the past) , to Celia’s semi-disembodied and highly critical father, who used to slit her fingers to train her to use her mental powers to heal the cuts. For a long time, Celia does not know who her opponent is, but they collaborate on one mysterious tent, taking turns on trying to outdo each other with strange effects, such as a room where patrons walk through snow or a labyrinth that goes in all directions. But as the competition becomes more intense, so do the stakes. The path to discovering why they are on this path and what they should do about it is as labyrinthine as their tent.

One thing I did notice in this book is that the author made no attempt to make the characters sound as if they were living in the 1890s. Their speech and manners were completely modern. Their names are not reflective of the era, either—Tara and Lanie, for instance. I found it slightly annoying that a German character was named Friedrick, when the German name is almost always spelled Friedrich. I was surprised that no editor or copyeditor fixed that. However, that is a very small complaint.


I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Night Circus—normally I hate circuses, with their crowds and spectacles. But the author used her own magic to conjure up a world that was compellingly interesting, and I too felt the power of her ability to be an illusionist in her own right, transporting me to a world that existed only in our shared imaginations.

And, oh, fellow writers, here’s a few interesting facts about the author: She’s also an artist. And she’s been doing National Novel Writing Month since 2003. According to Publisher’s Weekly, (http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/interviews/article/47866-first-fiction-2011-erin-morgenstern-high-wire-act.htm) lthe author said, “I never really planned what I was going to write beforehand and in 2005, when I got extremely bored with my novel-in-progress, I sent all my characters to the circus. For the two subsequent Novembers, I wrote pages upon pages about the circus, and then spent a few years turning it into something book-shaped. It is perhaps both a blessing and a curse that fictional worlds spring into my mind nearly fully formed and it takes quite a while to sift through everything to find the story.” She also has an entertaining website/blog: http://erinmorgenstern.com/


Writing Prompt: What is a book that transported you to another world?

135 Journals Book Club: Notes on the journey of reading Proust (The First Six Percent)

25 Apr


Marcel Proust at age 15 (1887). I am so digging the bowtie. Definitely know what to give my boys for Christmas now. From Wikimedia.

Guess what I have on my Kindle Fire? That’s right, seven volumes of Marcel Proust’s strange and magnificent Remembrance of Things Past, or as it is now more accurately known, In Search of Lost Time (active, not passive, get it?).  I got it for free, and as it has long been one of my ambitions to find out what is so important about eating madeleines and to understand what the BFD is about M. Proust, I am actually starting to read it. This is going to take a while. I have read approximately a kajillion pages and my Kindle informs me that I have read six percent of the Seven Volume set, and only have 36 hours and 15 minutes to go. You would think that someone who had read six percent of something would not feel qualified to write a review. That is true. I am writing a qualified review. Because even at six percent, I feel as if I have learned a lot of things about writing, thinking, and the importance of detail.

 Fight now I will tell you what I’ve learned. The play-by-play, as it were. The narrator of the first book, Swann’s Way, is a high-strung, sensitive boy who dreams of being a writer, but doesn’t know what he wants to write. The first scene of the book is about his intense desire to have his mother give him a good-night kiss while she is busy entertaining their sophisticated and wealthy neighbor, M. Charles Swann. M. Swann has had an “unfortunate marriage” and the narrator’s family haven’t seen much of him recently, certainly not with his wife and daughter (especially because the wife is having an affair with someone else). But he is a lovely and generous man. The boy, remembered by the man he becomes, is semi-aware of the goings-on of the wealthier members of the town of Combray, the country village where the family has their second home, and where all of the action in the first six percent of the book takes place. A number of other characters are introduced—sickly Aunt Leonie, who enjoys lime-flower tisanes (and the narrator loves watching the lime expand in the water), the regal Guermantes family, an earthy and devoted maid, Francoise, and others. Throughout the pages, the narrator wonders about the nature of memory, the importance of small and specific moments. He includes lengthy descriptions of how


This is not a conventional book. His pages are not filled with dialog. But there is something compelling about this delicate boy who is constantly seized by violent awareness and sensation. He is almost skinless. The play of wind, the sight of flowers, afflict and attract him with an exquisiteness that is also painful. So do his own imaginings.


The power of beautiful things afflicts him. But it is those remembered things that have the most power. He says that nothing in the present can ever be as beautiful as those remembered things. That no flower will ever be as beautiful as the flowers he saw when he went on walks around the village of Combray with his father. And even then, at least on one occasion, he finds a kind of desperate relief from this sensitivity and observation by writing.


The memories of the past make me think. They make me want to write. It makes me want to remember exquisite moments.


The second part is about Charles Swann’s rather seedy romance with a floozy named Odette. Can’t say this stretch is giving me goosebumps the same way the first part did. But I have faith that things will come together.


And in the meantime, I will try to remember that even the most simple moments can seize you with a kind of violent beauty when they are remembered.


Writing Prompt: Oh please. You know what this is going to be. What is a haunting, excruciating moment you remember from your childhood?

135 Journals Book Club: The Little Guide to Your Well Read Life, by Steve Leveen

13 Apr


Here’s Virgil having a nice little read in a fifth century manuscript (Wikimedia commons)

This thin book was a fascinating find. If you are a fan of libraries, there is a section of books at the very beginning of the Dewey decimal system that are about . . . books! This one is not about WHAT books you should read, but about how you can grasp more pleasure out of the books you DO read, and how to find the kind of books that are going to bring you the most benefit. The author emphasizes very strongly that a good book is a book that’s good for YOU to read, that serves YOUR interests and preferences. As he notes, enthusiastically, his book is a guide for readers “who want more in their lives. It will show you how to do a better job finding books you love, how to read more of them, how to retain more from them, and as a result, live a larger life.”


To do so, he suggests that readers create lists, either in a notebook or on the computer. One list would be a “List of Candidates”—types of books you would like to read. That can move from books you’ve personally craved reading to books that are recommended to you (he suggests noting the source and reason why) by friends, and also suggests that you make headings for books that are in interests that you have—maybe you always wanted to learn more about birds, or how to be on time, or how cars work, or France. You may not know the best books to read on the subject—yet—but you have a frame of reference for exploring. As you poke around in a bookstore, library, or online, you may start to find the classics of the field. I recently had that experience when I was writing a book on racial profiling and the justice system. Other books that I leafed through repeatedly mentioned The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Alexander’s book was excellent, thorough, original, and extremely useful to me, but I would not have found it if I had not already been searching for books on the subject. He also mentioned that some libraries have Reader Advisory librarians who remember the book that was on the tip of your tongue; i.e; “Who was that writer who was in France and always thinking about cookies?” Why, that would be Marcel Proust, the librarian might say.


Another section of his book is devoted to “seizing more” from your reading. He advises looking over a book superficially, checking out the back and front matter, skimming briefly, before digging in. And, if you don’t like it, stop reading. He gives an anecdote about Scott Eyman of the Palm Beach Post, who gets about 300 books a week—and reads and reviews 2 or 3—and who has a 50 page minimum. You, too, could have a fifty page minimum. Or five page minimum, for that matter. “Why squander books that don’t speak to you?” he asks.


In addition, he suggests buying copies of books because you can write notes in the margin. He believes that looking up words you don’t know will enrich you. And to keep a reader’s journal. After you read a book, give it a little time to cool and to think about it.


He has a number of other useful suggestions in this small book. I know that I was especially inspired by the idea of making up a wish list of books on the basis of subjects that struck my fancy, and of keeping a list. It also made me more determined to write in books, or, if they are library books, to take notes. Because books DO enrich life. And it’s nice to have a reminder how to give them even more power to do so.

And by the way, Mr. Leveen has his own website about the book with more information: http://www.yourwellreadlife.com/


Writing Prompt: What books do you want to read?

135 Journals Book Club: Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

7 Apr


The All-female  scribes of the fantasy kingdom of Alethkar probably wrote like whoever wrote this page of the famous German epic, the Nibelungenlied. (Wikimedia Commons). I dare you to prove they didn’t.

I haven’t really read much fantasy in my adult life, except for Harry Potter. I guess I didn’t see the point of reading about some made up world—this current one seems to have enough geopolitical controversies and points of interest that I can’t even make sense of IT, never mind deal with a whole new world. Also, these novels all look the same on the covers, and they also look really fat. Am I up for 1,000 pages of fake medieval epics when there are actual real ones I could read?

The answer, I am surprised to say yes. I have to say I did fall in love with the TV show Game of Thrones. Somehow I felt willing to engage with all of the different kingdoms and who among us does not love Khaleesi? There are even BABIES named Khaleesi. http://www.dailydot.com/lifestyle/americans-name-daughters-khaleesi-game-thrones-daenerys/

Hey, you could do worse. It’s better than say, “Mildred.” The Sexposition is also awesome. I love when some highborn lout is simultaneously quaffing a golden goblet of mead and vigorously disporting with some barechested wench and a herald comes in and says, “M’lord, the enemy is approaching on the western front!” It’s just so efficient, like brushing your teeth, eating a Hot Pocket, and taking your shower at the same time.

So,  I have opened my eyes to the possibilities of the fictional worlds of fantasy. My eyes were opened further when my son Moses explained why he loved the book The Way of Kings. I asked him why and he said that it was long enough to allow slow character development. You see a character in action, and his or her actions can seem odd, yet intriguing at first, hinting at a deeper story, and while there is plenty of action on the surface, there are also complex undercurrents that have to do with their past lives as well, which come out later, in a natural, unfolding manner. He also liked that characters made mistakes and had to try many different approaches to get things right. This is a wonderful quality in fiction writing and in life. For example, one of the three main plotlines is about a character named Kaladin, sometimes called Kaladin Stormblessed, a low-ranking nobleman from an obscure part of the empire of Alethkar, who keeps going through all kinds of dangers but never gets seems to get killed. He spends much of the book as a prisoner assigned to move portable bridges for soldiers to cross chasms to fight their strange enemies, the Parshendi, who have the ability to grow their own armor. Kaladin has failed to keep other of his colleagues alive in the past, but throughout the book, he struggles to find a way to keep the men who work on Bridge Number 4 company together and to help them survive—something that his training as a surgeon’s son has taught him. But it is interesting to see how he has to win over hearts and minds and bellies (apparently, I learned from a Talks@Google Lecture, stew is something of a meme in the fantasy world—apparently there is no rough heart that can not be tamed by a hearty bowl of stew—and this book is no exception. Once all the men eat stew together, they are best buds) of the bridgemen.

Another plotline involves a young noblewoman named Shallan Devlin. There are different kingdoms and I am amazed at how the people of different ethnicities actually do have names that sound as if they come from a certain place. In this world, Shallan has come to a famous city to try to study with a famous scholar, Jasnah Kholin, sister of the Alethi king, Elkohar. In this world, only women are scholars, and they are the official scribes (sometimes they write side notes to each other which they do not report to men—a nice detail). But as much as Shallan wants to become the devotee of the scandalously atheistic scholar Jasnah, she also has a more devious mission—she has to come steal a magic orblike object called a fabrial, which can hold the power of storms, that she knows the woman possesses. That is because her father was a bad man who died and she needs it to save her family. She admires Jasnah, she loves her family—instant conflict!!

The third major player is Highprince Dalinar Kholin, father of two princes Adolin and Renarin, who has strange visions of a lost world and a message—“Unite them!” that he can’t ignore. Even though he was eager to fight the Parshendi in the past, he is now feeling that something is not right now—and that something is connecting him to an unexplained past.

Of course, there are the typical plot devices one sees in many good books. Time to gather up recruits for the army? Have the cruel overlords choose take Kaladin’s goofy little brother, Tien. So Kaladin, who has been training to be a surgeon like his dad, joins up too, to protect him. Kinda like Katniss in Hunger Games. But whatchagonnado?

Some of my favorite features of this world are “spren”—it’s sort of hard to explain what they are because they come in all kinds of different manifestations. They are in a way forces of nature, such as hungerspren, painspren, windspren, etc. A very unusual windspren named Sylphrena takes an interest in Khaladin and encourages him in his darkest moments. The main animals that are farmed are crems, which are like large crustaceans. They mainly pull things. Nobody seems to think they’re delicious. They ain’t no lobstah dinner.


Another benefit to reading a fantasy book is that one gets some delightful new swears to add to one’s vocabulary. For example: the word “Storm” is used in many different contexts. “Storm it!” “Cremling!”

Also, I now insist that Moses calls me “Your Brightness,” as I feel I am a member of the nobility. Insisting is not the same as getting. But at least he laughs.

Now, according to the Stormlight Wiki, (http://stormlightarchive.wikia.com/wiki/Stormlight_Archive)

this book weighs in at a hefty, a mighty, a staggering 389,544 words. And yet, this is supposed to be the first of ten books. Will I be along for the ride? Storm it! I may have to pull up to the fire and eat many bowls of stew, but it is possible that I will not be able to resist the many unfolding mysteries of this strange and lively world. Especially since Moses just ordered me of Brandon Sanderson’s book number 2, Words of Radiance.


Writing Prompts: Have you ever tried any fantasy novels or other unfamiliar genre? What did you think?


New York on $7 a day, 22,000 steps, and a Moody Norwegian Novel on Playaway: A Review.

18 Oct

Okay, so on a Wednesday I go to Montclair Library and I’m looking for a Playaway. A Playaway is the bastard lovechild of a walkman and a transistor radio, by the way. They’re these little gadgets that just have one book on them and they’re about the size of a deck of cards. But it’s kind of handy sometimes. However, they don’t work reallllly well and they always have a used AAA battery in them that dies the minute you get it. Like, analogue to the max. Also, I swear to god, Montclair made their choices of what books to get on Playaway by coming into my house and looking on my bookshelf and saying, oh yeah, Emma, we should definitely get THAT, and isn’t Alexander McCall Smith a cozy writer, so we should get one of those, because she has that, too. So basically the few books that were left were a little offbeat. I chose the award winning (what award I do not know)Per Petterson’s “meditative” book called Out Stealing Horses. And I listened to it on a day when I could find neither my wallet nor my cell phone, only had seven bucks, a couple of bus tickets, and a metrocard with about 7 bucks on it. And I had four important appointments, three of them in New York City. Wow, my day is going to SUCK, I think, as I throw two bananas and a diet coke in my backpack for lunch and So, I thought, this is going to be the perfect chance to listen to  a book that’s about some old Norwegian guy who lives alone in the woods.

So I go to my first appointment, an eye doctor, and we haggle for 10 minutes about whether I can just bring my insurance card the next time or make a different appointment because I realllllly have to make the 11:30 bus. But before she can call the insurance company and try to verify whatever (even though I offer to pay in check for now), she has to have a nice long Jersey-style conversation with some other woman about the “venues” they’re trying to book for their wedding. By the way, she’s only trying to book venues where they do one wedding at a time. Finally, she made a long call to the insurance company that I didn’t ask her to do, “I’ll pay with check! Really! Or I’ll bring my card tomorrow!” until 11:20 [she just glared at me when I would hiss ‘really! I can come back!’ and then I said, “I’m going to have to leave now.” And she said “The doctor can do the appointments in 10 minutes.” And I said okay. So fifteen minutes later we both ascertained that my vision is wretched—big news– and I ran out of there and it was my lucky day because I drove home, ran to the bus stop, and one appeared immediately. I started listening to the book. A moody Norwegian guy who lived alone in the woods. It was okay for him to live alone in the woods. He liked being alone. Ever since his wife died, all he wanted to do was eat buttered bread and think moody thoughts. He met his neighbor who lost his dog and it brought him back. Did he know this guy from another life? The guy tells him he wouldn’t kill another dog even though this dog was being a bastard. He killed a dog once before. And it was sad.

Then I’m in New York, pacing up and down on the subway platform. Will I get to Dr. #2 on time? I pace back and forth, trying to up my steps on my pedometer (daily goal 10,000 steps) and watching the beautiful multicolored humanity waiting for the bus. Rack up 1000 anxious steps. Moody Norwegian harkens his mind back in alternate chapters to various adventures of youth. Raking hay back in the olden days. Logging. Milking cows with a fetching milkmaid.

I get to Dr. number 2, whose office overlooks the remains of the World Trade Center. That new building, the Freedom Tower or whatever, is shockingly tall now. It used to be so depressing to look into the pit. Change medications by infinetisimally small degree. Then, to save on Metro card etc, have nice long walk from Chambers street up to 46th street (3.6 miles)

More youthful adventures, alternating with unexciting present day reality of old man, like, how he’s going to find someone to plow his driveway this winter. As I pass a million interesting sights going up Broadway, they all turn into a colorful blur as I listen. On the way, I eat my two bananas and drink my lukewarm diet coke. They are delicious.

 His father would take documents to Sweden during World War II, rowed by a similarly fetching wife of some other guy. Young moody Norwegian also finds her fetching. Is something going to happen?. I finally see one thing I actually remember as I reach Times Square: a guy dressed entirely in an outfit made of candy necklaces, including a necklace and a hulu-like skirt. I am now past 12,000 steps on my pedometer. Yay!

Physical therapy session is draining, physically and emotionally. Go to McDonalds and use up most of my bucks. Listen to return to present day. Old moody Norwegian pats his dog Lila and drinks some endless amount of coffee. Remembers stealing a horse with his friend, though I’m not sure why.

I take the subway from Port Authority to health support group even though I am so tired I could croak. Sit through it feeling sick. Luckily, another woman has a problem and I know the absolute perfect solution for her. Really, if everyone followed my advice, what a beautiful world this would be. Oddly, other woman doesn’t like my brilliant plan, but I am still astonished at my own deep wisdom. For other people. Also, I get that there is one little nugget in my advice to her that I can use for myself (it’s about rearranging your life in very specific ways to make the best use of your talents and minimize stuff you hate when you have limited energy). Take subway back uptown in the dark, dash up several flights of stairs to bus, wait, listen more. Admire the fact that I have now broken 19,000 steps—almost nine miles—oh yeah, you GO girl. It is almost ten o’clock. Beautiful woman has nervous guy she’s rowing across river. He is making too much of a racket. The Nazis finally figure out what’s going on . . . they race for the river . . .  

The bus comes. I sit down with a sigh, lean my head against cool glass. The playaway stops. In its little screen it says something like “nt wrkng.” No shit, Sherlock, I think. I try putting in another battery. It’s been a long time since I used devices with freaking batteries. But no dice. Whatever I do, as I sit next to Mr. How Can I Explain Anything in Urdu On my Cellphone If I don’t Do It At the Top Of My Lungs for the next half hour, I can’t get the $#*@()_)@#$*_ playaway to work.

So, in short, that is my review of Out Stealing Horses. I have not a clue why moody Norwegian guy was stealing horses. I don’t know what he came to understand. I read the back of the Playaway cover and this is what it said:

“67 year old Trond Sander lives a life of seclusion, tucked away in a faraway part of Norway. After a chance encounter with his only neighbor, Trond . .  is flooded with memories of 1948. Only 15, he joined his bet friend Jon in a horse stealing prank. But what Trond didn’t know was that Jon was running from an unspeakable tragedy, and the horse thievery was his unspoken farewell . . . .”  


WHAT? 1948? I don’t remember any freaking 1948. I don’t remember why he stole the freaking horses. I guess I am the perfect person to give this review because I certainly am not going to give the end away. Now this is going to torture me. For a long time I was like, well of course you’re depressed, you’re living by yourself in an icy wasteland, dude. But then, given the fact that I barely noticed the amazing visual enticements of New York for hours and hours of walking, subway-ing, bus riding and the like while I inhabited this moody world, I guess I actually did get involved with the book. AND, I finished the day with 1. More than a dollar left and 2. Walking 9.76 miles and 22,415 steps.

Writing Spark: Do you ever listen to books instead of reading them? Do you think it’s the same thing or different?