10 Quick Questions with Me, by G.R. Matthews

Exile AMZN-EPUBFellow author, #SPFBO contestant, and Fantasy Faction staff writer extraordinaire G.R. Matthews graciously interviewed me for his blog feature 10 Quick Questions with Indie Authors.  Go check it out.  You won’t be disappointed.  It’s full of jewels like

GMA:To steal (paraphrase) from Rod Stewart, what do you wish that you know now, you knew when you started the journey to a finished and published book.

I wish I knew that the only way to do your best writing is to free yourself from self-doubt, imagined readers’ expectations, and any personal rules about what you “should” be writing.

Good luck with that, by the way. Let me know if you figure it out. Drinking seems to help.

and

I should point out that I’m something of an unreliable narrator when it comes to this type of question.  My answer is entirely true—today.  Tomorrow it might be something entirely different.  But these three are undoubtedly on my all-time top ten.

I also realize that two of these (all three, really, since I view the Sprawl trilogy as one big novel) are in fact trilogies, not single books, and thus my answer is somewhat non-responsive.  But this is my island, and I am claiming it and declaring myself its sovereign, and I’ll be damned if I can’t bend the rules a bit.

The Stone Road by G.R. MatthewsAlso do check out Geoff’s own novel, The Stone Road, available in paperback and Kindle formats.

It’s national #readabookday, so go read a book.  Either of ours will do.

A Life in Books

Long_Room_Interior,_Trinity_College_Dublin,_Ireland_-_Diliff

It occurred to me recently that one’s personal library truly does tell a story all its own.

While cleaning out two storage units I rent and consolidating them into one, I ended up throwing out a lot of junk.  What I didn’t get rid of was books–hundreds of them, stored in cardboard boxes and stacked three-high against the corrugated aluminum walls.

Before my wife and I had our son, we used our third bedroom as a library.  It was wall to wall books, the combined collections of two people who spent most of their lives to that point reading.  The catalog was eclectic, including everything from Tolkien to Judaism for Dummies.  There were shelves of crumbling paperbacks and long runs of pricey, leather-bound special editions.  Every book I had purchased from middle school onward was represented in there, somewhere.  Together we amassed an impressive collection of non-fiction on the Middle Ages, which still fills up two shelves in our living room, next to a beautiful set of the Harvard Classics bound in crimson leather.

Guests would often come to our house and remark on the titles they’d read on the spines: Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky, or The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris by Andrew Robinson.  The entirety of the Harry Potter series and A Song of Ice and Fire, in hardcover.  An ancient, used set of the works of Plato.  Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis.

We had to put the bulk of it in storage to make room for the baby, which I certainly don’t regret; the trade-off was more than worth it.  But there is still, in the back of my mind, the lingering desire to put them all together again someday, to have a true, permanent library, organized as I like it.  I would spend days organizing it by subject and author, then police its stacks with fascist vigilance.

Seeing all those old books in their boxes in storage, however, brought to life old memories in an almost Proustian way.  There was the French paperback copy of La Philosophie Dans Le Boudoir that I borrowed from a French Literature professor in college and never returned; there, the flaking, yellowed original copy of The Dragonbone Chair that had helped me fall in love with epic fantasy as a middle schooler.  Or the tattered paperback loaned to me by a former acquaintance that I never read and refused to search for after we had a falling out, his name and phone number still written on the inside cover.  (Never loan books, they say.)

The point is, a book you own tells a story of where you were in your life when you bought it, or borrowed it, or stole it, as it were.  And of course, when you read it.  It’s like that scene from the film High Fidelity, based on the excellent Nick Hornby novel of the same name (ironically, I can’t remember whether this scene is in the book).

The main character, Rob, is reorganizing his record collection autobiographically, which he illustrates with this example:

“I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howlin’ Wolf in just 25 moves.  And if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

It’s that, exactly, that I’m talking about: looking at these objects, these individual collections of thoughts and feelings and ideas, and remembering how they made you think, and feel, and ideate.  And if you have enough of them, it tells you the story of your life.

Having a massive collection of books is really the worst kind of egotism, if you think about it.  It’s saying, here is my life.  Look at it.  Appreciate it.  Read its headings and titles.  See how I represent myself to myself, and to those I invite into my tangible memory palace.

Happy Thanksgiving

This year, I am thankful for opportunity and knowledge, for art and life, as every year.  I am thankful for the public school system, for teachers and medical professionals, for flannel toddler jammies and organic free range turkey.

I am thankful for wine, and family, and butter.  I am thankful that I live in a country that allows me the freedom to both enjoy the trappings of a holiday while intellectually disagreeing with the moral rectitude of its history.  I am thankful for the teaching justice of diversity, and for the enduring power of friendship.

I am thankful for books, and the smell of leaves on the grass, and for the music of the seasons.  I am thankful for Roomba vaccum robots, which entertain cats and children alike.  I am thankful for the Internet, font of dubious curiosities that it is.

I am thankful for New England and its rolling, new-ancient realms, for the scent of brine on the seashore and conifer in the mountains.

I am thankful for brotherhood, and equality, and artisan jams.

I am thankful for the Cheese Shop of Salem and autumnal adventure, and for the quiet tenacity of the 99 percent.  I am thankful for steampunk serials and glitchy code, for Ikea furniture and bar carts, for self-watering planters and Cook’s Illustrated and shallow field camera lenses.

But mostly I am thankful for him, and for her, and for us.  Always.

Top Ten Things That Are Annoying the Shit Out of Me Right Now

10.  This fucking Boston heat.

Because fuck, man.

9.  Donald Trump.

Because what the.

8.  Styrofoam packing peanuts.

Because the fact that they’re bad for the environment only exacerbates how fucking annoying they are.

7.  Squirrels ripping open my trash bags and dumping styrofoam packing peanuts all over my lawn.

I’m this close to buying a gun.

6.  Baby Boomers.

Ugh.  I mean, present company excluded and everything, but ugh.

5.  Mac OSX Migration Assistant.

14 fucking hours?  Are you fucking kidding me?  Are you for serious right now?  What the fuck is a Thunderbolt cable?

4.  The word “fleek.”

This post is on fleek.  But fuck you for thinking so.

3.  Comcast.

Are you Comcast?  Are you Xfinity?  And now you have the NBC peacock logo over your name…who can keep up with this shit?  What is the name of your fucking company?  And why is my bill so goddamn high?

2.  Restaurant owners who yell at toddlers.

No.  Just shut–just stop.  Just stop.  No, nope.  No.  You’re wrong.

1.  NBC canceling Hannibal.

The show was just starting to get really good, and they go and pull it.  WTF.

1980s Fantasy Movies That Influenced A Young Me

342613Gather around children, and let Old Nuncle Jim tell you a tale.  Selfie sticks down.  Turn your phones on vibrate.  Pass me my beer and turn that Queen album back up.  Ahem.  That’s better.

There was a time, long before iPhones, long before the Internet, prior even to the advent of the DVD and stadium seating in movie theaters, when fantasy movies were not the big budget blockbusters they are today.  Before Peter Jackson was ordained from on high to grace us with a (relatively) faithful, three-film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, fantasy as a genre in Hollywood was pretty dead.  The 1990s in particular was a drought of fantasy so extreme that people did crazy things, like listen to Limp Bizkit and dance the Macarena (Wikipedia those if you have questions).  There weren’t even any good B movies; the fantasy movie-going public were left with pitiful dregs the likes of Dragonheart, Kull the Conqueror, and Encino Man.  (Just kidding about that last one.  Encino Man is a documentary about Pauly Shore.)

But let’s go back a decade, to a more magical time: the 1980s.  Yes, that one, the one you know from theme parties and Taylor Swift’s new album.  The one with music made by people older than your parents.  This was Nuncle Jim’s early childhood, a time of Transformers and Capri Sun and Ronald Reagan.  People still smoked cigarettes indoors, back then, and there were payphones.  There were actually quite a few fantasy movies made during the ’80s.  It was a good time for fantasy, in the sense that at least it was getting made.  This was probably due both to legitimate popularity (a lot of modern classic fantasy novels were written or begun in the 1980s), and the fact that Hollywood still made movies that weren’t expected to make $1 billion internationally.  Like I said, it was a different time.

And in addition to all the wonderful books Nuncle Jim read, there were lots of wonderful (and not so wonderful) movies that he watched that influenced the geeky course of his life going forward.  And if he’s being honest, he probably owes just as much to these pulpy, low-budget films as he does to the books he’s read.  So here’s a list of the ones that stand out in Nuncle Jim’s memory.

I will now end this belabored narrative device and switch to the first person, so as to list the influential movies in question, which are listed with a short explanation in no particular order.

Continue reading

The Line Between Opinion and Morality

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing gay marriage nationally whipped the Internet into a rainbow-colored whirlwind of hope and love.  Supporters, gay, lesbian, and straight alike flocked to computers and mobile devices and the streets to share links and proudly display rainbow flags and profile pictures.  History was made.  It was a victory for the United States and humanity.  But even amidst all the celebrating, it was hard to ignore the ever-present voices of discord.

Leading up to this decision and certainly after it, the question (now answered) of whether to support same-sex marriage has been a divisive issue.  Everyone knows someone who opposes the idea for one reason or another.  The most obvious examples of this are the conservative Christian zealots, who express hatred openly.  I think reasonable people everywhere can agree that people who spout hatred are wrong, whatever their intent or denomination.  More subtle and ultimately more manipulative, however, are those who ask us to “respect their opinion” as they respect ours.

Certain opponents of marriage equality try to cast the issue as merely one of opinion, rather than a moral difference.  You’ll be able to recognize these people easily, because they are typically the first to speak out against equality while at the same time claiming that, as Christians, they love everyone.  It’s just that, for them, God defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.  It’s not that they have any problem with gay people (not that there’s anything wrong with that), it’s that God says (let’s not even get into where or how he supposedly says this) these people are unnatural and, based on the particular sect to which they adhere, may or may not be going to hell.

These supposed Christians then go on to say that this is merely their opinion.  That they respect others, and expect theirs to be respected in return.  That they have the right to believe their own religious beliefs.  That any negative response accusing them of intolerance is an attack against religion.

How to respond?  Hmm.  Let’s see.  How about…no.  I mean, hell no.

The fundamental disconnect, here, is that these people see the issue of marriage equality as merely a matter of opinion.  I see it as a moral issue.  They don’t get, or refuse to acknowledge, that for most of us, the belief that gays and lesbians shouldn’t be allowed to marry is actually offensive.  That it’s the same as thinking that Jim Crow laws should still exist.  That’s right, Christians, that’s exactly what I’m saying: being against gay marriage is the same thing as being a racist.  It’s the same kind of moral choice.  They don’t believe this; they see themselves as having the moral high ground.  So when supporters of marriage equality do get offended, the religious get offended back, and accuse us of attacking them.

Let me state things plainly, just in case I haven’t been clear enough: the belief that marriage should be a right reserved to heterosexuals is morally wrong.  It’s akin to racism, sexism, or any other type of bigotry.  And despite what certain Christians–Mormons, for example (we’ll leave the question of whether Mormons actually are Christians for another day)–will have you believe, it is okay to disapprove of people who think this way.  In the same way that it’s okay, if not morally obligatory, to oppose racism, it’s okay and morally obligatory to defend the rights of gay people.  In other words, if you’re against equality, I don’t respect your opinion, and I don’t have to.

That’s what great about this country, at the end of the day.  We can all have our own opinions.  Even opinions that are intolerant and wrong.  But make no mistake: the fact that you have a legal right to believe anything you want, no matter how stupid, doesn’t require others to respect that opinion.  Especially when the opinion in question is morally abhorrent.

Which is not to say that I condone hatred or intolerance of those who believe stupid things.  I don’t.  I’m just saying that people with opinions that a majority of society now finds morally reprehensible shouldn’t expect to be patted on the head for expressing them.

Respecting the opinions of others, respecting difference, is important, but there’s also a line that must be drawn.  I will respect your opinion that Michael Bay is a fantastic movie director, even though I find his films vapid and ridiculous, because  nobody’s life or rights or well being is in question when we discuss film directors.  I won’t respect your opinion that gays or lesbians deserve less than equal rights than heterosexuals, because that opinion is harmful to others.  I may defend your right to have that opinion, but I won’t respect it, and we won’t be friends.  Them’s the breaks, kids.  Opinions have consequences.

Religion in ‘The Book of Ever’

Richard Wright, the author of Native Sononce said:

The more closely the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imagination as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts. Reluctantly, he comes to the conclusion that to account for his book is to account for his life.

Where does the writer end and the writing begin?  To some extent every artist puts some of himself, of his or her own life, into his work.  Sometimes this is intentional.  More often, it is an unavoidable side effect of living and being an artist.  It’s certainly true for me.  I’ve discovered that writing is an intensely personal process for me: my ability to write successfully, such as it is, is intimately tied to my own life experience.  As Wright says, imagination serves as a glue and emotion as a designer, but the stuff of writing is memory and observation.  I suspect this is true of most writers.

It goes without saying, therefore, that there is much of me in my first novel, Exile: The Book of Ever.  In some ways, that reflection is literal: the book is set in New England, where I grew up and still live.  In other ways–in most ways, really–that reflection is thematic.  And one of the major themes of the novel is the question of faith.

The main character, Ever, is a young woman who grew up in a deeply religious community, one who managed to survive the apocalypse by remaining insular and holding true to a firm set of beliefs.  During her journey through the story, she often relies heavily on her faith in God to make decisions and maintain hope and determination.

More than a few readers of Exile have commented (with uniform courtesy and general acceptance) that they were surprised by the religious elements of the novel.  The simple presence of a religious theme seemed unexpected to them.  This isn’t surprising to me, and in fact is comforting in a way: I didn’t write the book for a religious audience, and as I’m currently not religious myself, I wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a Christian writer.  I was pleased and flattered to see that my intent had, for the most part, succeeded: readers seem to see Ever’s faith as a part of her character, a driving force and a motivation.

Another theme of the book, and one I hope I conveyed adequately, is that all is not as it seems: that our reality is, in the end, defined primarily by our current perception and understanding, and that these things naturally change as we go through life.  Ever has faith, but by the end of the novel, hopefully it is clear that her exposure to the larger world and her experiences in it have begun to change her.

Faith is a journey that has no end except death, at which point, hopefully, our questions are answered one way or the other.  I was raised Roman Catholic.  I went to Catholic school for 13 years.  For most of my young adult life, I identified as an atheist.  Over the last few years, that atheism grew into something I like to call, tongue firmly in cheek, spiritual agnosticism.

I’m in the process of writing up an account of my long, strange, spiritual trip, but here’s the punchline: about a year and a half ago, for a variety of reasons, I decided to join the Mormon Church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).  I was baptized, attended for over a year, and went through their temple ordinances.

I am no longer a Mormon (thank all of the many, many Mormon gods, thank Krishna, thank Christ).

Why?  The short answer is because, at the end of the day, I couldn’t force myself to knowingly participate in a cultish church whose doctrines are not only intolerant but batshit insane.

Religious belief for me is a bit like an electron: hard to pin down, and changed innately by the act of observation.  If you asked me what my religious beliefs were, I’d say that the most accurate description of me would probably be that I’m an atheist.  But it’s a bit more complicated than that, and as soon as I define it the questions return to swirling around in their cloud.  Suffice it to say for now, however, that my long-held, shortly-retired, recently-reacquired viewpoint on organized religion is generally negative.

I think my readers are going to be very surprised by the direction Ever’s spiritual journey takes in The Book of Ever.

Only My Camera, Like, ‘Gets’ Me

Like every teenage girl in the process of discovering herself and flowering into womanhood, I’m going through a photography phase.  All images taken with a Canon 70D and processed in Lightroom.

The Art of Remodeling

“Do construction workers feel this tired every night?” I asked my wife, after the fourth straight day of installing our new kitchen.

No, I haven’t disappeared into the dark, dripping wilderness–well, actually, I sort of have.  I’ve taken a couple of weeks off to remodel our house, which includes assembling a certified shit-ton of Ikea furniture and installing a bunch of cabinets.  Oh, and then there’s the flooring that came yesterday, and the plumbing work for the sinks….

Taking a break from writing does have its upsides.  For one thing, 12 hours a day with a drill set and a measuring tape do give the mind time to wander (except when I have to do math, which requires painful, brain-numbing focus that leaves me wanting to take a nap).  A major plot element of The Book of Ever crystallized for me while doing my weekend warrior thing, which will speed along the writing of the two sequels to Exile.  For another thing, 12 hours a day on one’s hands and knees, drilling, hammering, sawing, measuring, and lifting gives one an unprecedented appreciation for the comparatively luxurious idleness of a day spent writing fiction.

One also begins to appreciate odd things that might otherwise go unremarked upon.  The peaceful, quiet companionship of the few solitary wanderers who populate Home Depot on rainy Tuesday nights.  The compelling satisfaction of realizing that one might be ready for a larger toolbox, that the poetic process of acquiring tools over a lifetime of home ownership has reached the end of its beginning.  The realization that one is no longer entirely unskilled at home maintenance and repair–that one knows how to patch a hole in a sheetrock wall, and how to install a faucet, and how to mill out a replacement part for the Ikea base cabinet that one broken by kneeling on the wrong part.

There is lots of writing not being done, and lots of episodes of Arrow building up in Netflix, and Guardians of the Galaxy is just waiting, temptingly, on On Demand.  But it will wait.

Life goes on, gentle readers; make sure to have a hammer handy.

Interviewed by C.A. Guardiola

A Twitter friend of mine, C.A. Guardiola, recently invited me to participate in an interview for an author spotlight on his blog, Write Away.  His questions were very thoughtful and interesting, and it was a pleasure to talk with him.

So it’s time to spin the dial and let the arrow land on a fellow writer who toils ceaselessly for love of the craft: the author of YA, fantasy and pretty much anything that he finds interesting: James D. Cormier.

I met Jim on Twitter a few months ago and followed him into that hell of an alternate universe called Ello, where we are still slogging through the mud trying to convince ourselves that it’s Normandy on D-Day instead of wet sand in the see-saw area of the local park.

You can read the entire interview here.