Looking for Alaska. A book review.

I promised to review the last of John Green’s books left for me to read (ironically, his first). I finally finished Looking for Alaska, yesterday. You can find the other reviews at the links below this one.

Looking for Alaska, like many of John Green’s books, is a young adult book featuring a number of quirky high-school characters, a love story (unrequited love, in this case), a tragedy and a mystery. Telling you any more would ruin the story, and I want to steer clear of spoilers.

Looking for Alaska

Pudge is a socially-isolated boy who is sent to boarding school in Alabama, where he meets his short but smart roommate ‘the Colonel’, part-time rapper Takumi and the love of his life: sexy, enigmatic, adorable and frustratingly annoying Alaska Young. They get up to all sorts of antics that expand Pudge’s horizons and broaden his understanding of friendship and existence.

Green likes to write from life, and most of these characters appear to be based on himself and his school classmates (right down to Green’s love of famous last words). There are a number of glaring similarities to characters from his other books, and after reading every book he’s written in a short time frame, I find that they suffer from ‘too much of a good thing’ syndrome: while I loved the book overall, the characters were a little passé. Having said all that, if I’d read this book before his others, I might not have felt this way. The ‘mystery’ of the third act was also incredibly obvious and left me wondering how bright these supposedly smart kids actually were.

If you’re a John Green fan you’ll love Looking for Alaska. Or you’ll find it a bit too similar to his other works. Either way, I love Green’s writing and look forward to his next effort.

 

* For reviews of Green’s other books, click on The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns and Turtles All The Way Down, An Abundance of Katherines

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A Poor Poet’s Cause

I’m putting together a book of poetry to self-publish, hopefully before Christmas. I’m working on whittling the two hundred plus poems I’ve written over the last nine months down to about fifty, as that’s the general size of most poetry books. The book will include some poems I’ve published on this site and new work not yet seen.

Why self-publishing? Whilst self-publishing your own novel can negatively impact your chances of getting signed to a publisher (unless you’re a particularly high selling self-published author a la E L James or Amanda Hocking), self-publishing a book of poetry should have no negative impact at all. But, why, I hear you say? Let’s face it, poetry, even when it does sell, generally only has small print runs. In other words, it’s probably not going to make or break your career unless you’ve already won a Pulitzer for poetry or something.

I know Amazon allows you to self-publish for free, but that means you’re restricted to the Kindle platform, and I want broader distribution on multiple platforms, so I’ll be going with either Bookbaby.com or ebookit.com. I just need to check out the reciprocal tax agreement between Australia and the US, to make sure I don’t get additional tax withheld by these American-based companies.

Because I’ve left this all a bit late (as usual), my book of poetry may not see the (blue) light until early next year. Either way, at least it’ll be out there at a low and reasonable price, available to all.

I’ll keep you up to date on how it’s progressing. I hope that you will support this poor poet on his journey to further obscurity.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

In The Winter Dark. A book review.

I read a lot of books, but don’t often get the chance to post a book review. Then along comes a book that stuns me into submission, like a two-by-four wielded by some grinning, dream-fisted maniac.

“If only we hadn’t had so many things to hide, so many opportunities for fear to get us.” Tim Winton’s In the Winter Dark is a short (132 pages) suspense novel. It’s about an aging couple and two strangers, who live in a country valley where their farm animals are being mutilated by an unknown agency. All four are brought together by circumstance for the first time; all four hold dark secrets that are played out slowly and succinctly, a tragedy in the making.In the Winter Dark

As with Winton’s other books, it is superbly written and paced (for more about Breath, click here). His prose is like liqueur: it’s smooth and warm and something to be experienced patiently and magnanimously. There is no rushing a Tim Winton book, even when the suspense is building and you can’t put it down. Unlike some novels, which can be overbearing to the point you skip sections parsimoniously to move the story along, Winton’s stories make you savour every moment. Every turn of phrase and piece of imagery is like dark chocolate, melting insipiently on the tongue and in the brain.

The theme of cats as a symbol of our darkest secrets and fears plays a big part in this book. I’m not going to spoil the story, especially one that demands so doggedly to be experienced.

Beg, borrow, steal (or better still, purchase) a copy of In The Winter Dark. If you love a thriller and love masterful writing, this is the book for you.

Cheers

Steve 😊

The Novel-writing Locomotive.

My novel is (once again) back on track.

How many times have I said that? It seems every time I slip the rails I have some new excuse (for a list of the latest ones, click here). Coupled with my short attention span, my novel-writing train has jumped the tracks every few weeks, as if it was passing regularly back and forth over the NSW/Queensland state border where the rail gauge changes*.

My rescuer (or track repair crew, depending on which metaphor you prefer) is my delicious new iPhone (even though it’s not edible, it’s the next best thing. If they introduced edible iPhones I’m sure I’d be first in line to buy them and ravenously consume them**). I’ve downloaded MS Word onto my phone (which is an iPhone 8 ‘large’. Or ‘big’? Whatever they call the giant version. I personally like iPhone ‘humongous’, but that sounds both compensatory, and a bit too Mad Max, I suspect). I’ve moved my novel’s Word files to the cloud and now I can write anywhere. Yes, even in my favourite writing venue, the water closet***.

I admit this is not particularly innovative—I’ve been writing poetry this way for months, using the notes facility on my phone which auto backs up to iCloud—but I just wasn’t managing my time effectively enough to write on my laptop (I use it for my uni work, but I generally need a break afterwards. A looooooong break. Longer than a Kit-Kat, anyway).

So, I’m back to writing in small doses (that’s generally how I best interact with anything and anyone—you can only take so much manic or morose Steve at a time. That includes me dealing with me). And small doses is better than no doses.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

PS Why use Word on iPhone in place of Apple’s Pages or a writing-specific app? Because I already started my novel in Word, it retains all the formatting without having to convert it between apps, and it has a neat little ‘fit-to-screen’ word wrap button that Pages doesn’t. Technical Steve 😉

*Yes, in Australia we have different rail sizes. Yes, it’s stupid.

**Mmmmmm…I’m patenting that scrumptious idea.

***Dunny, loo, crapper—to all you uncultured larrikins.

The Great Australian Novel. A pondering.

So, what exactly happened with the writing of my great Australian novel (and I use the term ‘great’ very loosely)?

I don’t have writer’s block*. I know a lot of writers suffer from this, and I am always sympathetic (did I say sympathetic. Sorry, I meant uncaring and sociopathically lacking empathy), but not me. Actually, I tell a lie—twenty years ago, in my first novel, I wrote my protagonists into a corner I couldn’t get them out of. It took about ten years to resolve (hey, it was a very tight corner). So, George R R Martin, I get where you’re coming from. But finish bloody Winds of Winter, already!

I’m not suffering from a paucity of time, although I assure everyone who’ll listen that I am. Don’t you realise how difficult life can be for a lazy, sociopathically uncaring, student? This morning I noticed my toenails had grown out to about an inch. The nail clippers were sitting on the table just out of reach. You can guess how that story ended. I think from now on my preferred footwear will be thongs (flip flops, not g-strings), rather than shoes. No reason. Loose rubber slip ons are just very stylish.

I’m still motivated to write. Admittedly, I tend to write more poems then anything else. I haven’t actually written any of my novel for about a month. Let me point out that I do have a very short attention span. If I was to have a competition with a gnat, the gnat would win. But as insects go, gnats are THE most attentive insects in the animal kingdom. Of course I may have read that while I was sleep-deprived and brain-addled at 3:00am. Or maybe I just made it up.

The ideas still flow—sometimes they don’t stop, streaming forth like water from a broken pipe neglected by council workers checking their Facebook timelinesI recently had to (yes, HAD to) get myself a new iPhone 8, ostensibly for the bigger storage capacity (I use my phone to store ideas and write on the run. And on the toilet). Oh, alright, I just wanted a shiny new phone. Yes, now I’m more broke than I was before. But: shiny new phone! (“My precious,” he says, stroking it adoringly in a disturbingly Gollum-like voice.)

My commitment is still strong, despite my ongoing depression. Did I tell you I suffer from depression? “Only about a thousand times,” says regular reader with not much better to do, rolling your eyes. I guess I better tell you again, then. I’m like a roller coaster: manic high days and abyssal troughs. High days, I can’t stop talking. Low days, I’m a puddle. Today, I’m marginally angstified. (Yes, I just made up that totally and awesomely significant new word. I’m waiting for my new urban slang dictionary prize in the mail.)

I’ve been thinking about writing other stories. The torrid and passionate affair I’ve had with my novel still burns bright, but I find myself drawn to shinier, prettier things (and chocolate). Is it a victim of mid-life crisis, my ravenously short attention span, or my ongoing sociopathic egomania? Or all three? I may have answered that question already, but I’ve forgotten what I wrote previously. (Damn you, short attention span!)

If I start writing another novel I know I’ll neglect the other**. But maybe that’s what I need to do. Maybe my current novel isn’t any good. (My only slightly bruised and sociopathically egomaniacal ego refuses to believe that. It’s currently screaming at the wall: “you’re too good for this place!” I think it might be a bit deluded, as well. Now it’s rubbing ice cream all over its face…)

My excuses (uni, dating, music, reading, working out, movies, blogging, D&D, laying about avoiding cutting toenails, etc.) have become my crutches. I can barely move without them. (Perhaps I could invest in a better metaphor—a wheelchair, maybe. Then I could pretend to motivate myself to move a little faster.)

In the end, I guess I could have been writing my novel if I hadn’t written this post. Am I just delusional? Or is that my sociopathic egomania talking? I’ll ponder it while I eat some of this delicious ice cream that somehow got smeared on my face. Mmmmmmm….now, what was I talking about again?

Cheers

Steve 🙂

*Unlike many writers, I’ve rarely suffered from this. If writer’s block was a cold, I’d be interminably hot and sweaty most of the time. 

**Like my previous unfinished novels: they wait politely and patiently, trying to catch my eye. Unfortunately, they don’t realise that I’m very short sighted—literally, not just figuratively. 

Novel Daze

My novel is back on track!

Rather than follow the advice of one of my previous blogs, and do it in bite-sized chunks (read about it here), I decided to devote myself to writing as a full-time job. As I’m a full-time student, I ironically have some time on my hands. I’ve shuffled my schedule (it’s not hard to shuffle nothing) and arranged my time so that I work on my novel every week day, for about 4-5 hours. Today was my first foray, and things are going swimmingly (that’s an old-fashioned expression, noobs).

I’m feeling a bit better about myself, I have a direction (one could almost say a purpose, but I’m not ready to believe that yet), and I have a better excuse not to work for a living (whereas before I had no excuse at all). My creative muse is flowing. I’m enjoying writing and I still have time to update my blog (yay!).

Now I just have to see how long it lasts (nooooo! The first wave of cynicism…).

In other exciting news (or average news, take your pick), I’ve nearly finished Madeleine St John’s novel The Women in Black, an Australian classic about five women who work in the ladies frock section of a department store in 1950’s Sydney. It’s required reading for one of my uni subjects, and it’s a riot. I’ve never read any chick lit before, but it’s fun. Check it out, it’s available through Text Classics from book shops, The Book Depository, or Amazon.

Fun fact: My mother remembered attending the same Sydney boarding school as St John and her sister. Yes, at the same time.

Cheers

Steve 🙂

Waving, not drowning. Just watch out for the sharks…

(‘So, what are you up to, now,’ says Alpha Girl, glancing over my shoulder at my laptop screen. ‘Blogging? Online dating? Writing recipes, or whatever it is you do all day on that thing?’

‘I’ve started writing a book,’ I say. ‘I’m trying to be a writer. It’s about time I started.’

‘A book,’ she says, with an air of incredulity. ‘You’re writing a book?’

Sometimes its exasperating having to justify everything I do to her, but I’m used to it by now. I guess I blow off a little steam in my response.

‘Yes, a book. I intend to be a writer and writing short stories, novels and blogs is part of that. I know you look down your nose on the things I do because you consider them unimportant, but they’re important to me. I know you probably think I’m wasting my time, and maybe I am, but if I don’t try I’ll never know if I can do it. I have time on my hands and now’s the time to do it, rather than stagnating and wonder ‘what if’ for the rest of my life. Happy?’

She steps back. The silence hangs heavy. ‘What?’ I say. ‘Are you going to tell me to stop wasting my time and get a real job?’

For a moment, I could almost believe she’s hurt. Her mouth is a thin line. ‘I was going to say good luck with it. I’ve read your blogs, and you’re obviously passionate about writing.’

She leaves the room, leaving me feeling like more of a tool than I usually do.)

 

I’ve started my novel. I’ve written unfinished novels in the past, but my intention with this one is to actually write an entire book. Maybe I’ll toss it in the trash at that point, but I have to write it, anyway. I would like to try to get it published.

I read some good advice in a book I’m reading, The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing.  In one of the many essays, Bill O’Hanlon advises to write in small increments. This ensures that you write every day and that you can fit writing into your busy schedule (yes, I have one of those. In between uni work and sitting around, that is). O’Hanlon also comments on overcoming the mental barriers associated with big and daunting jobs, using a process called ‘externalising’.

Externalising is taking the unhelpful inner voices (you know the ones – am I good enough? Why is everything so hard? Did I leave the gas on when I left the house?)  – the one’s that affect motivation – (okay, so I meant that, not the gas thing) and begin to consider them as external.

One of the examples O’Hanlon uses is: ‘I self-sabotage by telling myself I’m not a good enough writer to get published’. He suggests to think instead: ‘self-doubt is trying to convince me that I’m not good enough’. The change, he suggests, helps you to challenge negative thoughts, rather than allowing them to undermine you. This works for all things, not just writing.

O’Hanlon has written 28 books, so I can’t really argue with him. It’s one way he managed to overcome his own self-doubts as a writer, along with some other Jedi mind tricks he discusses in the essay.

So, I typed my first chapter with a newfound sense of confidence, clear headedness and purpose. Maybe this is what I was meant to do. Maybe this is my true calling.

Time will tell.

 

(I find Alpha Girl in the kitchen, making herself a huge, multi-layered sandwich.

‘Sorry if I lashed out earlier,’ I say. She turns to face me, a tight smile pinching her features.

‘I was going to say what you said, about getting a real job,’ she replies. ‘But then I thought to myself, maybe I shouldn’t shoot you down over this.’

I’m not sure how to respond. Is this a trap, another mental mind game wrapped in duplicity and deceit? I swallow involuntarily.

She turns her attention back to her sandwich. ‘I like seeing you all insecure and confused. It makes it all worthwhile.’ She turns back, the malevolent glint in her eye has returned. She tears the sandwich with razor teeth, chews and swallows, like a shark consuming a dolphin that’s irritated it for too long. ‘And I still think you should get a real job.’

I’m imagining the dolphin’s death throes, the water permeated with blood and pieces of frayed meat. The shark tears and tears, and it’s sinking into the red-hazed waters, plummeting deeper and deeper…)

 

Yes, my spelling is English, not American. So stop wincing every time you see an ‘s’ instead of a ‘z’, or a ‘u’ in ‘Humour’.   

To find out more about Bill O’Hanlon’s books and methods, visit http://billohanlon.com/

To find out more about ‘The Complete Book of Novel Writing’, visit http://www.writersdigest.com/qp7-migration-books/novel-writing

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