Tag Archives: reading

Friday Update Bonus: Saturday Night Special – Happy End of the Year Report

So, 2016 is finally over. Hooray!

To celebrate the passing of one of my least favorite years in a long, long time, I would like to point you in the direction of the header where you might see the tab “My Books” awaiting your attention. Doesn’t that look nice and official up there?

Now, look a little closer. If you hover your mouse over the tab, you’ll see a dropdown menu cascade before you. In that tab, you’ll see a list of all of my currently available e-books. You may also notice that some of those titles have right-facing arrows beside them (looks a little like this > ). Note: For you phone readers, you may have to click on the three lines beside the magnifying glass to see what I’m talking about.

A couple of those title selections have had arrows there for months and months, but perhaps you haven’t noticed until now. Those arrows, if you see, point to sample chapters for the matching books. For nearly a year, the only books you could sample were The Computer Nerd and Teenage American Dream (in “Future Books”), and only the first six and five chapters respectively.

Well, as a belated Christmas present and in celebration of 2016’s much anticipated exit, I have not added anything to The Computer Nerd (sorry, keep reading to find out why), and Teenage American Dream remains unreleased, but I have added the entire stories of not one, not two, not three, but eight of my current e-books to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, each for free, and each completely. All you have to do is select the chapter or part you wish to read from the submenu marked “Read (Title),” or access the store page for that book and scroll down to the bottom, and follow the chapter links to read the stories in their entirety. If you’ve ever been on the fence about reading these books before, now you can test drive them to your house and back risk-free.

And, if you’d like to download the official e-books for your phone or e-reader from the store of your choice, you can still do that. Those links are open. Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Inktera have them available for free. Amazon Kindle has them for $.99 each, though I’m pretty sure it’ll price-match Apple, so I think you can get it free there, too, even if it doesn’t say you can (I’m basing this on recent sales reports). Basically, there’s no reason not to check them out, now that you can have free access to them whenever you want and wherever you are. Want to read at the beach this January? You can do that! (Yes, I know it’s not the right season for that, but I live in South Florida, so every day is a beach day for me.)

The titles you can now read for free in their entirety here at Drinking Café Latte at 1pm include:

  • Shell Out (2015)
  • Eleven Miles from Home (2015)
  • Amusement (2015)
  • When Cellphones Go Crazy (2015)
  • The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky (2015)
  • Lightstorm (2015)
  • The Fallen Footwear (2016)
  • Waterfall Junction and The Narrow Bridge (2016, two stories in one)

I will also likely make Cards in the Cloak and The Fountain of Truth available here for free in the near future. But Cards in the Cloak is almost the length of a novel, with the first chapter in need of a slight rewrite, and The Fountain of Truth has one section that I’ll need to split into pieces, which I haven’t figured out yet, so it will take a little more time to get those online. Keep an eye open for them.

Regarding The Computer Nerd, I am still contemplating the possibility of changing its title and relaunching with a new cover, new first chapter, and a few other changes in 2017. So, I don’t foresee the Drinking Café Latte at 1pm version of the story (in its entirety) going live before then. Again, stay tuned for updates.

Finally, Christmas is over and I did not finish Snow in Miami in time. Rather than rush and release a terrible version of the story, I decided to hold it back for now, until I have a draft I’m happy with. I’ll release it as part of Zippywings 2016, hopefully at the end of February, and I’ll likely release the standalone version next Christmas, hopefully with a companion book. I was too swamped with other things this year to really focus on any one story for long. Plus, I want to launch books a little smarter in the future than the way I’ve been doing before. That said, 2017 will probably yield low in my slate of upcoming books, but I do hope to start releasing new titles after April (when I finish the CPT class I’m taking on Saturdays).

So, that’s your end of the year report. Hope you have a happy start to 2017. I know I will. Thanks for your readership. One of these days I’ll get my mailing list up and running so that you don’t have to stumble upon each update here. For now, keep watching Facebook or Twitter for updates, or, if you hit the subscribe button below, you can get updates in your mailbox. It’s the best way to find out what’s new. You can also send comments whenever you think I’m taking too long to do anything around here.

Happy New Year!

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 1): The Importance of Literature

“The Importance of Literature”

Writing has been my passion since I was 13 years old, and I started not because I had some lofty ambition to become a best-seller, or even publicly known, but because I had an active imagination that was best expressed in words. I didn’t know how to make video games at the time, and my toys, which I was outgrowing, did not inherently create the explosions I had seen in my mind, or any “automated,” interactive, constructive, or destructive scenarios I wanted to play out. Because I wanted to tell stories somehow, I figured writing was the best way to go, if not the only way.

And the crazy thing about that is, at the time, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading.

Whether it deserves it or not, I blame the education system for the latter issue. In junior high and high school (actually, my junior high had become an official middle school the year I reached eighth grade, so I’ll say middle school and high school for this point), I was forced to read books that were written decades earlier, addressing topics I had neither knowledge nor interest in learning about. One in particular, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, I had to read twice, once in eighth grade and once in ninth. I didn’t enjoy it either time, and was notably upset when I was told to read it a second time. In tenth grade, I had to read Nectar in the Sieve, which bored me so much that I never finished it, even for a grade. Granted, I’m sure I would appreciate both books more today, now that I’m a 40-year-old adult who doesn’t need explosions to enjoy a story (even though it still helps), but I still would never automatically gravitate toward either.

The stuff I read in high school that I could read again and enjoy today include The Great Gatsby, which I believe is the book I’ve read more times than any other and will probably read again because it’s so freaking good (I honestly need to read all of Fitzgerald’s works to truly appreciate his genius, I think), The Catcher in the Rye, which was my favorite at the time, but has since been supplanted by Mr. Gatsby and friends, and To Kill a Mockingbird, which was just a brilliant piece of writing through and through. Each of these books had an important place in 1990s high school literature, establishing a foundation for society and whatnot, but none of them had ever turned me on to reading.

It took Alex Garland’s The Beach to get me to see that novels could actually take place in the modern world, present universal truths relevant to today and tomorrow, and still be interesting, and ultimately to get me interested in reading more books.

It was not an easy thing for me to become a regular reader of present-day fiction. It took me months to finish reading The Beach, and the only reason I bought it was because I had flipped to a page where the main character was talking about Super Mario Bros. I was impressed that someone had thought to bring pop culture into fiction, and I wanted to support any book that considered me its ideal reader. Kamala Markandaya, the author of Nectar in a Sieve, clearly wasn’t aiming to capture a 15-year-old boy who still watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Saturday mornings. I’m sure Markandaya had a compulsive urge to write the novel and knew that there was an audience for it. Maybe it was unfortunate that some educator believed I was that ideal audience. But, for as much as I appreciated the effort, The Beach didn’t captivate me the way it probably wanted to. Well, it did at first, so that’s not a fair statement. But it lost momentum for me when I realized I was basically reading Lord of the Flies (another classic) in a modern skin, which ultimately didn’t appeal to me. If I were to read it again today, now that I’ve built up my reading experience to sustainable levels, I might enjoy it much more. Might.

However, what it did accomplish initially was to break the wall that Nectar in a Sieve and required reading like it forced before me. Even though it wasn’t the book that turned me into an avid reader, it did give me cause to explore other titles. I think it was Tunnel Vision by Keith Lowe that finally got me to take reading seriously (even though MTV published that book, and I don’t believe it was ever one to be taken seriously), and that encouraged me to look up the author who wrote the book that the John Cusack movie I had seen in college a couple of years earlier was based on, even though I didn’t like the movie as much as I’d wanted to but was curious about the book that inspired it, since I knew it was based on a book, and that, of course, was High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, who became one of my favorite authors, as About a Boy is in my Top 10 favorite novels of all time (up there with The Great Gatsby and Syrup by Max Barry), and definitely the right one to discover, even if his latest, Funny Girl, isn’t particularly great.

I write all of this to express the importance of not just of reading, but to love it, and to find works that allow you to love it. By finding and reading books we love, we can develop a healthy reading habit that can carry us through the rest of our lives, and teach us things along the way. Right now, I’m reading The Martian by Andy Weir, and even though I lost my taste for science fiction back in the ‘90s, this book reminds me why I don’t have to eschew it completely. It’s so good, and I daresay its goodness has much to do with its relevance to what I know and understand and enjoy. Ready Player One is another one that straddles the lines of sci-fi, pop culture, adventure, and pure entertainment, a book that I absolutely loved and absolutely would’ve missed out on had I not refined my taste for reading years earlier, in spite of the damage that high school literature had caused me during my formative reading years.

That said, the books that reached me did so because they touched on a point of personal identity that other books like The Good Earth could not do. This isn’t to say that I think The Good Earth is a bad book. Not at all. It’s a classic for a reason. I’d even consider it a valuable resource if I ever wanted to familiarize myself with early 20th century Chinese dynasties. But, as of now, as it was back in high school, it’s not my thing.

However, families are relevant, and family sagas are universal, and that’s what The Good Earth ultimately is written to be, so there’s probably much to glean from it that’s relevant to all of us, and I just didn’t know how to appreciate that as a 14-year-old who looked forward to watching whatever was popular on Saturday mornings back in 1990.

I started writing my first major story, City Walker, the same school year I had to read The Good Earth the first time (1989-1990). It was an action-packed random events story about a man looking for a television repair shop. If I had been well-read, even as a 13-year-old, I would’ve realized that I was writing a meandering story that had no sustainable plot line. But I was watching a lot of television in those days, and I knew what made a story worthwhile, even then, and I knew as I was writing it that what I was writing wasn’t anything particularly good. Even when my English teacher offered to read it whenever I’d finish it, I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t show her. Thinking about it all these years later, knowing all that I know about story now, I can safely say that what I had written over the course of two years was not a story, but a series of pointless events. But they were pointless events that allowed me to get my worst ideas out of my system. They also allowed me to develop a cast of characters that I actually did like, and wanted to see more of. This lead to me writing an updated version of the story as a screenplay a few years later. It still wasn’t good, but it was better.

Literature didn’t teach me structure, not as I understand it today, but it did teach me value. I knew from the books I didn’t enjoy that the story I was having fun writing was not great. Perhaps that slaps the face of anyone who has ever said, “If it feels good, do it.” No, you really shouldn’t, not unless you’re going to learn from it, and sometimes what you’ll learn is that you shouldn’t do it, even if it feels good. I didn’t enjoy The Good Earth when I read it, and come to think of it, I don’t recall enjoying The Great Gatsby the first time I read it, either (the fact that I love it now tells me that I should reacquaint myself with the classics, now that I’m at a point in my life that I can appreciate them). But it did teach me the idea of scope. It did teach me that actions have consequence, and that even characters we don’t like can still be memorable. I don’t remember a lot of the things I’ve read in my life, but I can still remember vividly how poorly Wang Lung treats his wife, and how creepy it is that the grandfather wants the warmth of the baby to help him sleep at night, and how systematic O-Lan’s birthing ends up being each time her water breaks and she heads into the bathroom to deal with it. Oh, and the fact that I remember these characters’ names also says something about it. I didn’t like it. But I sure as heck remember it. I vaguely remember the characters in Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia (they’re dinosaur detectives disguised as human, if I recall), but I don’t remember much about the story itself. Bits and pieces. Of course, weirdly, I enjoyed Anonymous Rex far more than I did The Good Earth. I wonder if I did simply because it was unconventional and not at all the kind of book my Honors English teacher would’ve assigned me in eleventh grade English. Or, maybe because I didn’t have to read it, I decided that I wanted to read it. All a bunch of maybes.

Ultimately, if we want to write, we need to read. In the years I wrote stories without reading other people’s published stories, I had a lot of fun, but I also wrote a lot of crap and didn’t learn anything. These days, I learn plenty. More on that next time.

Next Week: “The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear

Ready Player One: A Book Review

March 24, 2014:

The other day around lunchtime, John, my oldest and closest friend, who I’ve known since I was five, sends me a text message telling me to screw off and follows it by calling me an a**hat. I laugh because I know he’s not serious. But I understand why he’s calling me that. Three months ago, when I visited him and his family for the first time in two years, I had brought him an early birthday present, a novel I had read in 2011 called Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. It’s a book I had greatly enjoyed and something I thought would be cool to discuss. Because we’re both nerds for eighties nostalgia, I figured it would be as much up his alley as it was mine. And I was right. He told me to screw off because he had already read four chapters and it was only lunchtime.

Here’s the thing: John doesn’t usually read. For him to read anything, it has to have stats, a score sheet, and take less than five minutes to finish. In the old days it had to be bought from a rack, come with a glossy finish, and feature a dude holding a ball of some sort. Nowadays it has to be something he can read online. The last novel he read was whatever he was forced to read in high school. He does not like reading. It makes sense then that I had done something to violate his way of life. It was not as simple or quick as watching a movie.

It began innocently. He was about to sit down when he noticed the book sitting not far from him. He had a few minutes to kill, so he picked up the book to see what it was about. He got to the end of the first chapter and said, “Oh yeah, I gotta see where this is going.” So, he went on to Chapter 2. Then the third chapter. Then the fourth chapter. Then he cursed at me in a text message. Then he went on to read the next three chapters.

Over the course of just a few days, he texted me updates on what he was reading next. After he had finished reading Level Two (the book’s second act), he called to talk about it. I promised not to spoil anything. He told me his theories. He focused primarily on a sequence when the hero plays a perfect game Pac-Man. He wanted to know if the reward the hero wins has any effect later in the story (but he didn’t want me to actually tell him; he just wanted to know). A couple of days ago, he finished the book. He loved it. It was pretty much the only thing we had talked about in the last week (with just a quick mention of a PS4 peripheral that reminded him of the book).

If that’s not endorsement for Ready Player One, then I don’t know what is. If you’re a reader, and you love the eighties, and you like video games, and love adventure stories, and get a kick out of puzzles, and dig pop culture, and like movies, and like stats and score sheets (oh yeah, this book has those, too), and love suspense, and hate corporations, and love comeuppance to those who deserve it, and I could go on, then this is the book for you. If a nonreader can’t stop reading it, then you know it’s good.

Of course, I can’t end this review without mentioning a few of his criticisms, and there were criticisms.  Two chapters focus on a romantic subplot. He almost put the book down there. There’s also an atheistic diatribe early in the book that leads nowhere (meta!) that is there for no other reason than to express the author’s religious views (I assume it’s his view, for the hero never speaks of it again). It doesn’t really do anything for the story. In a particularly tragic event, the hero gives very little emotional investment to the impact it leaves. People basically die, important people, and to cope, the hero goes back to playing his video game. My friend had a hard time swallowing that. And for a book about eighties video games and general pop culture, there’s a shocking absence of Nintendo references. I pretty much felt the same way about these lingering issues, too.

But the few criticisms take little away from the overall quality and excitement of this novel. If you can’t take the word from a nonreader that this book is awesome and necessary, then you have unrealistic expectations for your literature. You should change your standards right now.

Find Ready Player One here: http://www.amazon.com/Ready-Player-One-Ernest-Cline/dp/0307887448/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395638848&sr=1-1&keywords=ready+player+one

On a related note, I had once recommended my favorite book, Syrup, by Max Barry (who was one of the author endorsements for this book), to a coworker, who in turn recommended it to another friend, who picked it up while he was waiting for his wife to finish cooking dinner, and read the first chapter, and kept reading, missed dinner, missed bedtime, and didn’t stop until the next morning when he had finished it.

Let this be a lesson to everyone: Never pick up a recommended book when you have other things to do because you might just lose track of time and find yourself reading on through your alarm clock. If your friend thinks you’ll like something, trust him on that.