I love books.
From the time I first picked up a battered copy of The Hobbit to the time when I discovered a deep affinity for science fiction when I first read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, books have been the center of gravity that my life has orbited around. I spent five years studying English Language and Literature at the University of Michigan for that very reason, learning how to grapple with the difficult ideas that literature often forces you to face.
Books are more than just literature, though. They’re more than just allusion and framing and metaphor. They’re human, and because of that, they represent us. Our hopes and aspirations. Our fears and malevolence. Sometimes it is easy to forget that books are more than just bound pages with ink. They’re the voices of people echoing through time. Who was the first person to tell the epic of Beowulf? How many times did the words “Hwaet! we Gar-Dina…” pass between the lips of a poet, strumming an Anglo-Saxon lyre, while people huddled around a fire, captivated by the stories of a Geat who defeated a horrible monster and later became king of the Geats?
We’ll never know, but these questions have always inspired me. I learned how to read Old English and that act, inspired by images of a tradition of poet-actors who passed the story down orally, opened me to more worlds of thought than I could ever have imagined. Kennings, which are particular to Old English, helped me to see how flexible language can be. Why adhere to a rigid understanding of words and definitions when our language was so adept at using words like heofon-candel, or sky candle, to mean sun?
There aren’t many ways to see just how powerful Old English is when spoken anymore. I was lucky enough to come across two videos by Benjamin Bagby, the opening lines of Beowulf and the battle scene with Grendel, which do a magnificent job of showing how the epic poem might have been performed.
Books are also physical. Holding a copy of an old book and feeling its weight is, to a bibliophile, an affirmation of life. The smell of the fragile, often yellow pages invokes a sense of wonder. We want to collect the books we love. I tend to collect different editions and printings of the same book if I can find them. Some time ago I started to catalog my books so that I could keep track of the different editions.
One of the things that’s absolutely wonderful about cataloging books is that not only does it allow me to show off a huge stack of slips that detail the books, but it also allows me to feel and hold each one. I have to open the book to get the information to put on the slip for the catalog, so even if I never get around to reading it (I do have a life outside of books and I do enjoy living it) I can take the time to appreciate it. The picture above and to the right is from a copy of David Starr, Space Ranger that I had recently purchased. Little things like these old order forms make me smile.
One of the drawbacks with book collecting is space. I have personally cursed the laws of physics more than once over the years as bookshelves were filled to capacity and storage containers to bursting with books. So now they exist wherever I can find room for them: under the bed, in multiple closets, and in various rooms.
Despite the lack of space for the books, I don’t ever imagine I’ll stop collecting them. Every time I go to a bookstore I have to stop myself from grabbing up stacks of books (lest I drive myself into bankruptcy) and carting them to the counter. Collecting books isn’t just a hobby or a passion, though. In many ways it is like the accumulation of money; a kind of cultural and intellectual currency to expand the mind and enrich the soul. They allow you to connect and communicate with people that may be long dead, adding their ideas and perspectives to your own.
The search for books is the search for knowledge. Fiction can teach us about the perils and pitfalls that we must face by our nature as humans, just as nonfiction can guide our learning on history and science. We become more than what we were after we learn. We improve ourselves and we pass that on to those that come after us. And that’s the open secret we bibliophiles know. Books, like ideas and knowledge, are precious.
So what’s all this business about “Fictional Heuristics” and why should I care?
Well, gentle reader, I’ve decided to start a new blog that is separate from this one to post my fictional work. I thought about just posting it all here, but after consulting a few people I decided it would be wiser to create a different blog. I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a semi-regular fictional series just for the internet and I already have a rough plan about what that would be. I think with a new blog that would be easier to realize.
Of course, this just adds another layer of work on top of all of the other projects I’m doing. A little crazy and reckless, yes, but in the end I just want to dedicate as much time as I can to this work because I love doing it.
I hope that you take the time to check it out because the primary motivation behind this enterprise is to improve my writing ability. And, of course, the only way to do that is to stick your neck out and hope that you can find people willing to critique your writing and give constructive criticisms.
I’d really like to become part of a larger writing community as well, because I like to help people improve their writing and I’m a fairly decent editor (having a degree in English and all). So lets see how this whacky experiment works out on Fictional Heuristics and whether or not I’ll actually manage to make my posts here more regular.
I snagged a questionnaire about writing from Jodie Llewellyn and thought I’d fill it out myself. It was actually really fun, and I got to take pictures and share them here. Well, here it goes!
1. Typed or Handwritten?
I have piles of notebooks and binders filled with handwritten manuscripts and story ideas. In fact, I used to do a lot of my writing during class in high school and even when I was in college, and I never carried my laptop around with me to class. I never broke the habit of writing in notebooks and I still do it.
I also have a Remington Rand Noiseless Model 7 typewriter that I’ve traced back to the 1930s, but that was just an amateur investigation. I love this typewriter; it makes me want to type noir hard-boiled detective fiction with it as I sip on brandy and slowly work my way through a cigar. I have a number of short stories I’m working on that were typed from that typewriter.
Once I’ve gone over those typewritten drafts with a red pen, I usually type them up on my laptop. I’ve got a hard drive full of stories that I’m constantly backing up so I don’t lose any of the stories. Sometimes, if I feel a story is finished, I’ll print it off and put it in a special binder I keep for finished stories.
2. Cursive or Printed?
It’s really a mix of the two. When I write by hand, I’m usually writing in frenzied chicken scratches that looks like a mix between cursive and printed. I’ve been told it is impossible to read, and I’ve even lost points on handwritten essay questions on exams in classic civilization and English classes, but I can always make it out.
3. Show us your favourite pen.
I don’t really have a “favourite” pen so much as I do a collection of writing and drawing utensils that I use when needed. I usually just pick up standard Bic ballpoint pens when I buy them, so nothing too special. Here’s a few of the utensils I use most often.
4. Where do you like to write?
Anywhere, really, as long as there’s a steady surface. Most of the time I write in an office with a great desk. It has a great view of the back yard that’s really nice to look out on a warm, rainy summer day (especially with a nice breeze). The desk has a desktop computer that I can use to listen to science podcasts (like the Star Talk Radio Show with Neil deGrasse Tyson) or other things while I’m working. The room also has a really comfy couch for when I feel like I need to lie down and decompress, or read to take my mind off the stresses of writing.
5. Who are your five favorite authors in terms of authorial style?
Hm. This is a tough question, honestly. The first, and obvious, one would be Douglas Adams. I absolutely love “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. After that I’d say Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Scott Lynch, and this last one will be a bit out of place compared to the others, Alexandre Dumas.
6. What are you your three favourite books on writing?
This is an excellent question. I still hold fast to “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White, even though I have a few problems with it. There’s another I have buried in a pile of books I can’t find right now that is really, really great for writing fiction. It gives pointers on how to plot, and the best strategies for starting a story. I also like a book called “Western Wind” because it systematically explains different kinds of poetry with several great examples. I’d also like to mention a book called “Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye” because it’s an invaluable resource for CNF writing.
7. Have you ever competed in NaNoWriMo?
Twice, actually. The first was in 2012, and the last time was last year. I’m still working on both of the novels (life got in the way) but I’m very hopeful one will be finished in the next couple of months.
8. Have you ever won NaNoWriMo?
Both times I competed I won. You can find a link to my profile in my links. It was really hard work, and it’s really hard to catch up when you fall behind. November is a busy month for me because I have three birthdays on the same day, as well as my own six days later.
9. Have you ever had anything published?
Not yet. But I don’t usually write with the goal of being published. Perhaps I’ll try to see if enough people like my novel and go from there.
10. What projects are you working on now?
I have a lot of different projects, one which I’ll talk about in another post. The novel I’m working on is “The Rebel Thief,” plus I have a number of short stories and essays that I’m trying to write. I like to keep busy.
11. What is your soundtrack to writing?
Man, this question. I have a lot of different music that I love to listen to. A lot of it is classical music. Beethoven is a favorite. But I also like to listen to songs like “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, and “Kara Remembers” from the Battlestar Galactica Season 4 OST.
12. Do you have a writing pump-up song?
Yes. But don’t laugh.
It’s the original vinyl soundtrack. Amazing sound.
Well, now that the questionnaire is wrapped up, I’ll get to the other things. I had an extended absence from posting on this blog for various reasons, but I do have a lot of ideas about things to write. I’ve been collecting posts from my Facebook feed that I put into a file called “Amusing Internet Bullshit” that I might write a bit about. Some of the things people believe without checking the facts are pretty amazing. Zero-point energy, myths about HIV, all kinds of things.
Anastasia Klimchynskaya has started a great new blog called “Monitoring the Media” where she writes about the media and how it plays into her passion for literature and science fiction. She has a lot of great ideas that she’ll be developing and posting as time goes on, apart from the things she’s already posted. The writing has a bias to Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but that’s not really a bad thing. Anastasia has a lot of interesting things to say about both fictional works.
Yeah, I am completely aware the title is lame. That’s half the reason I decided to go with it. If I can’t be lame for the sake of being lame every now and then, what’s the point of pretending to be anything but lame?
I am also completely aware that previous sentence made little sense.
That’s actually how I feel about Christmas, though. I don’t think it makes much sense sometimes. I am an atheist, which might come as a big surprise to some of the family I have that might read my blog by accident. To some this means that my celebration or participation of Christmas is pretend or, at best, disingenuous. “Put Christ back in Christmas,” they say. “Jesus is the reason for the season,” the rhyme goes.
Perhaps this is one perception, or reason, for participating in Christmas. I rather think that it is almost entirely secular in the United States, at least in popular culture. Sure, we get the hymns about Jesus like “Joy to the World,” but I’m not sure how a pine tree and Santa Claus is part of any modern religious tradition.
I see Christmas as a time to spend with family. My uncle and I drink Cabernet Sauvignon as we banter about politics, history, or other esoteric subjects. My cousins and my great uncles will come around to chat, play a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, or just gorge on the mountain of food my grandmother cooks, somehow managing to produce food enough for a small army. And that means more to me than any rendition of “Silent Night” ever could.
So, in some respects, I feel like I’m pretending when I celebrate Christmas. A good chunk of my family doesn’t know I’m an atheist, as far as I know. I have no problem going through the motions of some religious rituals, like when my young cousin wants to pray before a meal, for the sake of group cohesion. I don’t think this is hypocritical of me because I liken it to my grandparents nodding politely as they listen to me talk about some new scientific discovery, which they invariably have no interest in.
So perhaps I celebrate a holiday that doesn’t mean for me what it means for my family, and in doing so, I’m making a decision to pretend. Maybe I’m doing it out of a mutual respect for my family that they return in their own way.
Well, with that out of the way I’ll get to other things. I probably won’t be writing again until after Christmas (and maybe even the New Year) so I’ll try to get a lot of things out of the way. First of all, the Doctor Who Christmas special will be coming up on Christmas day, and I’m excited about it. I don’t have anything to say about it that isn’t self explanatory in the trailer. Perhaps later I’ll spend some time putting together a more intellectual argument about Doctor Who.
I have also found a very interesting blog called ERV run by a virologist. It can be pretty esoteric, so if you’re not interested in this topic it probably isn’t for you.
This is a bit of old news, but I want to briefly touch upon this list of free science books. It provides an amazing resource for anyone interested in pursuing independent amateur studies of sciences ranging from physics to chemistry.
Related to that, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers free online courses across a variety of subjects. MIT OpenCourseWare is definitely worth checking out. I’m hoping that other colleges will offer free online classes for anyone with an internet connection as time goes on, not just because higher-education is prohibitively expensive, but because knowledge should be available to everyone.
David Brin, one of my favorite sci-fi authors, offered advice for writing your first novel: write a murder-mystery. I think it’s fairly good advice, especially, as he notes, for science fiction writers who might get caught up in the technology or the gadgets that attract people to science fiction and forget to write an actual plot.
And, finally, this article by Stephanie McDaniel, entitled “Where a Hugo Award–Winning Author Goes to Read, Write, and Relax in Chicago,” is a quick, fun read.
Well, that does it for now. I’m going to be working as hard as I can to finish up the rough draft of my novel so I can let it sit for a bit and work on some short stories. See you after Christmas!