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31 Days of Spoooktacular: The Gauntlet

Way back in the beginning, you may recall that I said that 31 Days of Spoooktacular was part of how I planned to force writing to become a habit for me. Writing has always been something I do sporadically, intermittently and with no true pattern. Even over the course of this year, where I’ve given myself the goal of writing ten entries a month, which I have done so far, I don’t evenly space those entries throughout the month. Usually they’re all shoved in at the end of the month and then I go on another, three week long sabbatical.

But with 31 Days of Spoooktacular, you get one entry a day, every day, for 31 days. And that’s great for me and great for you and everyone is happy, except for people who aren’t so interested in me writing about horror day in and day out. But, if you remember, I said that in order to successfully form a habit, you have to do it for around 70 days. I need to continue to write every day for another 30 days (and some change) before it becomes rigidly locked in as something I just do as an impulse.

It just so happens that there’s an event for the entire month of November that dovetails so nicely with my needs. That’s right, I’m doing NANOWRIMO. Again. But this time, I’m picking up that gauntlet and I am slapping NANOWRIMO in the face with it. I am going to write a 50,000 word novel and then some. The way I see it, I’ve been in training for NANOWRIMO this whole month, a light workout to get me into shape for what’s to come.

And by the end of it, I’ll be the better for it, I think. I’ll have mastered a skill that has eluded me almost my whole life; the ability to stick with something through to the very end. I’ll work on a project, sometimes very close to the ending point and then just sputter out, within spitting distance of the finish line.

But not this year. I can feel it. I have the idea that I want to write about. I have the tools to write it. And here, on October 24th, I think I’ve managed to prove that I have the ability to sit down in front of the computer everyday and put words to screen and keep going long after the point in which I should have stopped.

I have never written a novel, though I have tried. For me, just finishing one, even it’s terrible, will be a triumph of sorts. I’m looking forward to the challenge.

31 Days of Spoooktacular, for all of it’s goofiness and beer tasting and horror conventions, is just the beginning.

-D-

PS Check out my profile here and cheer me on all next month. Or not. It’s fine.

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The Death of a Year

Let’s see if I can remember how to do this.

We’ll start with an opening sentence and take it from there.

Oh hi! I don’t really know if there are people who still read this. It’s been about, oh, two months since I last updated. I’ll make the assumption that everyone who reads my blog assumed that I had died over that little break. Well, I’m not dead. Far from it.

I’m here to do what’s likely to become the annual tradition around here. I’ll weep about my failures over the last year and make promises to do better next year.

Actually, you know what, let’s do this up right. Let’s not talk about failures. It’s boring, it’s whiny and no-one likes reading that. Let’s do the opposite of that. So here it is. My top five list of awesome shit that I did.

5. I killed three bookstores and a nationwide bookstore chain in the process. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Dylan, that’s…not such a good thing.” But it had to be done and I made sure it gone done smoothly. No one died, product got sold and there are people all over the city with Borders bookcases in their homes cause I did my job like a ninja. A retail ninja. And I did while remaining sane.

4. I submitted a whole crapton of stuff to be published. None of it got published, but that’s not the point. After a few years of sitting around and not doing anything with my writing career, I actually got out there and started things up again. It’s awfully hard for me to get going once I’ve stopped doing something (see: this blog), but by God, I did it.

3. I read a metric-crapton of books. For those of you who use Imperial measurement, a metric-crapton is a lot of books. Every book I read helps me be a better writer. You know what else helps me be a better writer?

2. I started writing stories again. I hadn’t written a new piece of fiction in almost a year and I finally got back up on that horse. But! The biggest piece of news from the previous year?

1. I self-published a book. It’s still there on Amazon and for even cheaper now. You should go buy it if you haven’t done so already. And, if you want it in paperback, then, holy crap, you have that option now too. There’s people out there, right now, reading my work. Bam.

So that’s sounds like a pretty well seized year. Sometimes I’m pretty bummed about how a year went and I’ve been feeling that a little bit the last couple of weeks. But, you know, looking at that list there, I think I can live with how 2011 went. I’m ready for even bigger things next year.

Just…please, no more store closings.

Dylan

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Book Review: Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

In recent years, young adult fiction has morphed from Fear Street thrillers and gothic romances into books that transcend age. From books like The Hunger Games to The Book Thief, young adult books have attracted the notice of critics and people way too old to be shopping in a section that also peddles Gossip Girl novels.

I myself enjoy the Chaos Walking Trilogy and Leviathon and recommend them to people who like dark science fiction and steam punk, respectively. I also fervently recommend Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. I’ve mentioned Mieville before and he’s one of my favorite writers. He’s a bit tricky to recommend whole-heartedly however. His writing style can swing wildly between the gritty and fantastical, the hyper-descriptive and the dry and monochromatic. Most of his books end with the reader being both depressed and in awe.

Un Lun Dun is less depressing, but just as fantastic as his other works. It’s Mieville playing nice. While there are moments of darkness and despair, for the most part Mieville is not trying to crush all of your hopes and dreams. What he has done, however, is create a fantasy work that is fundamentally about thumbing your nose at convention.

And this isn’t just the theme of the novel, although Mieville is less than subtle about his anger at politicians and the businesses that drive them. The very structure of the novel tweaks the nose of every fantasy trope. Everything from the protagonist to the central quest she embarks on is a big wet raspberry at the cliches of the genre. The hero isn’t what you expect, the villains are monstrous in surprisingly realistic ways, and the world they inhabit is an original and novel place.

This is a good place to start with Mieville, a way to see his extraordinary imagination at work with less of the nightmare-tinged despair of Perdido Street Station.

A billion stars or something.

Dylan Charles

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Where did all the bookstores go?

Bookstores, the ones built of brick and mortar anyway, are in serious trouble. The two big heavyweights, Barnes and Noble and Borders, are suffering and they’re struggling to survive.

Given that Amazon.com now sells close to 50% of all book sales in North America, it looks like the only place someone might see Barnes and Noble or Borders in ten years will be online, if at all.

Big name bookstores are looking less and less viable, at least, in their current incarnation.

This really isn’t news for anyone who’s been paying attention. Online bookstores, which cut overhead costs and cut book prices, and the popularity of ereaders are doing their damage. What’s shocking to me is how little emotion I feel about it.

It is sad that these stores are in trouble. I don’t want to see them go out of business, if only for the sake the employees who work there, but that’s about the extent of my emotional involvement. I believe it’s inevitable that the brick-and-mortar megabookstore will cease to exist at some point. Over the next ten years or so, they’ll exist in a very limited capacity, dotting the landscape like aging woolly mammoths.

The bookstores that will survive, I think, are those locally owned, used bookstores. They peddle in wares you can’t so easily get and they offer people the ability to browse in a more visceral way. That might be enough to keep them going.

My apathy comes not from a hatred of books. I love books. I want people to read lots of books, all the time. Society needs books and ideas and the written word to stay healthy. But, to that end, anything that gets people books is a good thing. Anything that makes the process easier and quicker is a good thing. Online bookstores mean you can find what you want quickly and get it (eventually). Ereaders cut that time even shorter.

There are changes, big changes coming to the book selling industry, but those changes are the result of more efficient systems taking their place. It’s not the death of books or the death of bookstores. It’s just the next step in their evolution.

Dylan Charles

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Major Diskovery

I haven’t been to a used bookstore since I left Durham. I used to go to Nice Price Books when I lived down there, but lately I’ve been deprived. I missed the smell of old books and browsing through stacks, not knowing what I’m going to find. That’s the major appeal of a used bookstore: you don’t know what you’re going to find there. Books over a hundred years old, pulps from the ’50’s, that one VHS tape that you have to have even if you don’t have a VCR anymore; it could all be there, so long as you take the time to look.

So I went looking for one in the stupidest way possible: I opened the door to my apartment, picked a direction and started walking. An hour later I was in Oak Square and standing in front of Diskovery, which promised CASSETTES, RECORDS and USED BOOKS. Glory be praised, I had found a used bookstore and it’s the best bookstore EVER.

When I walked in, I quailed at the sight of so many books. There were shelves crammed with books. Books were piled knee high on the floor. There were boxes of books stacked on other boxes of books with piles of books on top of the boxes of books. The shelves were packed full two books deep. There were pulps and new hardcovers and old hardcovers and Starlogs and so much vinyl that I developed a vinyl allergy on the spot.

I picked my way past the books, trying not to knock over the piles and I saw a glass case filled with cassette tapes. I noted this, stepped forward, paused and turned back. There was a cat sleeping with the cassettes. Nonplussed, I continued deeper into the store, only to find my way blocked by another cat. I scratched its head and it let me pass.

There was so much to see that I know I missed three quarters of what’s actually there. It’s a store filled to the brim with books and it’s even organized, though not labeled. I would bump into a section and realize I was in true crime or religious studies or music.

I need to go back. I MUST go back. It’s right on the 57 line in Oak Square. Go check it out if you’re in the area.

Dylan Charles

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Book Review: Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

It’s been a while since I’ve read any new science fiction, meaning anything written in the last twenty years. Usually I just stick with Neal Stephenson, with occasional flirtations with folks like William Gibson and Orson Scott Card. Most of the time though, I stick with the old timers: Bradbury, Asimov, Heinlein, those guys. They’ve got brand name recognition. Delving into science fiction unguided leads to reading stuff, like Island of Fear.

So Chasm City was an unknown for me; I had no expectations about quality. Luckily it turned out to be extremely well-written.

The science fiction that resonates best with me is the kind that uses these fictional worlds to examine humanity. It’s not the tech or the aliens or the newest pop science ideas crammed rudely into the plot: it’s how the author imagines people responding in these strange new worlds.

For Mr. Reynolds, people act, more or less, as they always have. It doesn’t matter that (for the very rich anyway) immortality is a distinct possibility. It doesn’t matter that near-light speed travel is a real thing or that nanotech is commonplace. People are still people and the technology has little to do with it. His cast of characters would fit into any time period, in spite of their genetic modifications or extra long lifespans.

They’re a wide collection of ne’er-do-wells, heartless bastards, desperate poor, cynical optimists and bored aristocrats. Reynold’s future is not exactly hopeful but nor is it apocalyptic. Humanity is surviving, as it always has. The only thing that has changed is the location.

Chasm City also spends a fair amount of time talking about memory and its effect on personality. What truly makes up a person? Are they just the accumulation of their memories or are they more than that? It’s a topic that authors like, say, Philip K. Dick have talked about at length. But Reynolds put together an even more intricate scenario than even Dick, a plot strand that’s almost hard to track at times, which is fine by me.

Everyone has something to hide and everyone has secrets, the main character having the most to hide, even from himself. Figuring out the main character’s past and not quite knowing the main character’s past was done so well and added so much to the general theme of the book, that it didn’t strike me till just now how big of a cliche it is to have a mysterious past.

I’ll be going back to the rest of the series at some point, I think. Mr. Reynolds has shown me that the genre still has more to offer.

Dylan Charles

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