sunday special: so how’s it going

So how’s it going?

I mean this series, for you.

I’ve done three weeks’ worth, now, and they’re each more connected to the next than I’d originally anticipated.

Seems like it’ll be a bit more novelesque, or a serial story like Dickens used to do.

The beauty of this format is that you folks can weigh in immediately on what you like or don’t.

Of course, I can’t make any promises ’cause changes might not happen. Change will — change is inevitable. The evolution of this format is one of the things I’m most excited to observe even as I participate.

So what I’m getting at is if you like these stories, or don’t, or only kinda do like some of ’em sometimes, then let me know! All I can do is respond to the chems in my brain and the words of others — be they typed or audible. Maybe there’s a third option, too. Felt?

sunday special: a couple of extemporaneous book reviews

Hey folks,

This week I read Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, a weird and exciting mix of Lovecraft and Camus. A novel of exploration, tension, and transformation, it comes in at a tense 200~ pages. So gripping was the story that I finished it in a day. Our protagonist, known only as “the biologist,” is opaque and unknowable — perfectly befitting the warped world of Area X. I highly recommend the book — the recent film adaptation, not so much.

Beyond that, I also read CP Boyko’s Novelists, a collection of short stories united in its exploration of various (fictional) novelists and their peculiarities. The book is funny, biting, and sharply written — in particular I found many of his similes exceptionally apt. The book is short, also — around 200 pages — and seems to get better and better as it goes. The final story, about a ludicrous literary prize selection committee, recalls 12 Angry Men, and reveals that many of the stories in this volume take place in the same persistent universe. Great book, would recommend.

Sunday Special: Nanowrimo 2017

Well folks, it’s over: my very first Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) experience has come to a close. I penned the final 1,000 words on November 30th, which brought my final total to just over 53,000 for the entire draft one manuscript. My first novel.

I tackled the project on a whim, deciding to attempt the challenge in the evening hours of October 31st. Heedless of potential complications in my already-busy life, I hastily drafted a beat-by-beat outline, according to the Save the Cat structure, from Blake Synder, which is both popular and reviled in Hollywood at present. As such, the structure is intended primarily for feature-length screenplays; all the same, I adapted it for the meta-structure of the novel. The plot is straightforward, to say the least, conforming to standard 3-act structure throughout. Thus, the outline was completed.

From there, I outlined each day’s work with another tool: Dan Harmon’s concept of the Story Circle, which was conceived primarily for recurring television episodes. All the same, I used the Story Circle to plan each of the 30 days’ worth of writing. I divided the eight segments of the Circle by the 1,667 word target for the day, which gave me a basic layout for events, and helped to drive inspiration when I was stuck. I found I could usually squeeze out a few more words to reach the next milestone, which kept me on track.

As a result, I hope the draft is decently strong, structurally, and offers a rollercoaster effect in the reading, where challenge is routinely met and conquered as the stakes of the piece grow.

Of course, this is all merely hypothetical: I haven’t read a word of the novel yet. I’m letting it stew, now, backed up and safe, while I address my chronically-neglected blog. As the holidays really get into gear, I’ll come back to the draft, and give it a read. Already, I have in mind a subplot I’d like to weave through the main story, which would strengthen one of the principals significantly, while also adding as much as 30,000 words to the total draft. This idea will also stew, and I’ll consider it for January, when I anticipate beginning my next major project.

If you have any questions about Nanowrimo, please leave a comment!

Ink and Mescaline: A Review of Hunter S. Thompson’s ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.

This is the perennial drug book. There aren’t many of us that haven’t used or abused a drug or two in our day – in fact, complete puritanical abstention is looked upon as perverse and enigmatic. Picture the general reaction when one admits they don’t drink, for instance. Trust in that individual seems to diminish immediately, somehow, as though the sharing of an intoxicated state is a particular type of social engagement. Still, all but the most intense drug users pale in comparison to the hyper-drugged Raoul Duke & Dr Gonzo of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It’s the sheer spectacle of the off-the-wall depravity coupled with the brilliant blade-of-the-tongue wit of the protagonists that gives this novel it’s immediate and long-lasting fascination. It is as potent today as it was when it was published in 1971.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit the extent of my own drug experience. I drink liquor occasionally; generally whiskey, or rum, sometimes. I smoke marijuana when the mood takes me. I’ve never smoked a cigarette though I’ve had tobacco in joints (perhaps those more educated in the parlance could explain if this is indeed a ‘blunt’? It’s my understanding that that particular term implies a cigar paper but I’m unsure). I tried mushrooms once when portaging in Algonquin Park but beyond a shiny sense of joy I didn’t get anything out of them.

This seems like an unnecessary and perhaps too-personal revelation to preface a book review. Perhaps so. But Fear and Loathing is not an ordinary book, so the rules must be amended where necessary. With all of that pseudo-legalese dispensed with, let’s get onto the review.

The strength of the book rests squarely upon Thompson’s inimitable prose style. He characterizes himself and his associate, Dr Gonzo, as fast-talking, quick thinking psychopaths with little if any regard for the consequences of any particular action. Thompson himself, as alter-ego Raoul Duke, is at times wild and devil-may-care, and at others, cautiously, almost sorrowfully introspective. The tone can vary widely from one passage to the next, but in the distinctive authorial voice it never feels contrived. Most often, though, Duke is demonstrated to be a cunning aficionado of the Drug Culture, who sees his assignment to Vegas as the perfect chance to flow through the sedulously curated drug-kit in an unbroken chain as he and his attorney search the city for the American Dream.

It’s debatable as to whether they find it, but that’s beside the point. We’re along for the ride like a nervous hitchhiker on an empty desert road, witnessing the endless carousel of empty people and empty promises through the fractured lens of Duke. It is a revealing journey, and I saw myself bitterly refracted in its jagged edges that constitute this book.

Is it all glitz and glorification, though? All acerbic wit and wry observation in Magical Drugland? Thompson is constantly showing us scenes of danger, of violence, of illness and terror. He is more or less in control, most of the the time, a steady hand at the prow during these high-tension moments to which the ‘regular people’ fully succumb. Dr Gonzo, too, is rarely shaken, though he too is volatile and unpredictable. The repartee between Duke and Gonzo is thrilling, because we’re ‘in on it’ – we understand the rapid-fire con game that is their default method of interacting with the public. To an outside observer, though – the public, in this case – things might look quite a bit different. There is also the decrepit conditions in which they live, described in lurid detail.

I think the reason it works is because of who these two particular people are. They’re brilliant con-men, at heart, and the dedication to drug use is just part of the experience. The less able-minded could not handle the situations and mental states in which Duke and Gonzo routinely find themselves. A lesser mortal might be subject to consequence, arrest, or a toxic event – not so our doctor of journalism and his erratic attorney.

My girlfriend raised an interesting point when we discussed this book tonight. (She had read it just prior to me, and we had both watched the film together before I read the book.) This discussion came mid-review so bear with me! She suspects Duke and Gonzo do find the American Dream – that by the end, they’re the material embodiments of it. Their will and whim is their only guide; some vague, impersonal entity is footing the bill (if it’s being paid at all) and they always see another day dawn.

In this light, even the unfortunate ramifications (Gonzo puking out of the car repeatedly, for instance, or the brutal come-down from a cocktail of pharmaceuticals) aren’t negative, they’re part of the experience.The self exists as it does for as long as it does and every up and down goes along with that. Duke and his attorney ride the wave time after time, brushing up against disaster before wit and dumb luck spring them to safety to do it all again after a quick black coffee and a hit of mescaline.

Of course there is also the topic of Ralph Steadman’s illustrations. They’re stark and powerful glimpses at a twisted nightmare world with slashes of blackest ink on white. They couple well with the narrative, lending it a much more menacing atmosphere than the often jocular prose would suggest. It’s an excellent pairing the book would palpably lack were they missing. (They also seem at least partly intended to increase page count. Fear and Loathing is a brisk read I went through over a weekend of work and homework.)

So in conclusion, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a highly recommended read. From the insightful, acerbic lament for the lost ideals of the Sixties, to the often hilarious, inexplicable dialogue, Hunter S. Thompson has created a seminal work of outrageous and introspective fact-based-fiction.

-LB