Showing posts with label discussion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label discussion. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

"PICTURE THIS" Book Blogging #1 ~ The Sliced Reviewer

Picture this, book bloggers (in my Sophia Petrillo voice)...

A book you liked or loved and shared more than likely won't land the same adoration by some in your audience. On the flip-side, there are some who may like/love it the same as you. Regardless, the same principle applies to yourself, even when the former situation sneaks up and hurt your feelings just a little bit.

But think about it, pussycat. It’s fair to say we’ve all tried recommended books by book bloggers. And it's fair to find ourselves of the opposite opinion about whether we liked the book or not. Sometimes you like a recommended book from a book blogger, and sometimes you don’t. It's all par for the course in this “business”. Right?

And yet, despite all that jazz, as a book blogger an audience member's dislike of a book you loved and shared on your platform sometimes stings. As it has a personal touch to it. And–if you choose to sit in it–it ruffles with your “credibility” as a reliable book reviewer.

You still with me here, pussycat?

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year Reflections | A Walking Child

I was thinking about New Year's resolutions when I realized I have a small aversion to space-less tasks and obligations.  Especially those ridged and timed, as opposed to flexible.  I think it has a lot to do with my mother trying to raise me.  To mold me into a strung and responsible person (her own secreted concerns included).  However, I grew responsible at the cost of keeping everything–including my feelings/emotions–walled to myself.  And responsible in the sense that during my 20's, I had a hard time saying no to unwanted commitments.  
So as a child I suffered a little; unable to just be me because of someone else’s idea of how I should be.  And the same came true as I grew and became angry at myself, people, and my stifling environment.  I’ve gotten better at being who I am and sharing it.  Especially in the past three years.  I came from a wearer place, so the second I hit thirty, I didn’t have emotional space for the baggage from myself and most certainly others.  There were things I needed to do and express.  Things I needed to achieve for myself.  Things I needed to reach in others.  No more emotional drainage.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Cashier Confessions | WEEK 2

Here we are with WEEK 2 of my "Cashier Confessions" (formerly "On Break... Motivate") series.  This week I talk about sharing your ambitions with co-workers.  Should you share them?  Or should you not.  I lean toward no.  Be discerning if you feel the need to.  Or move in silent.  I also talk about being grateful for you job underneath your own terms and not the fear others slip into your mind frame.  It's perfectly okay to want better and to feel it.  By Thursday I wanted to talk about arguing with co-workers.  So not necessary, but often we find ourselves in those situations.  If you know you deserve better and strive for it outside of your 9-5–let your co-workers have the place.  And Friday I leave the work week encouraging everyone to take pride in having a vision.  Because many people don't.  

Monday (12/7/2015)

Wednesday (12/9/2015)

Thursday (12/10/2015)

Friday (12/11/2015)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

3 Ways of Making Character

Buffy, the Character Bible
What makes a compelling character?  And how can an author write one?  These questions are on my mind recently, as I find myself slipping in and out of a summer reading slump.  Seriously, I'm finding it hard to connect with books/characters as of late.  Especially after having this whole Martha Grimes hangover from reading the incredibly character purposed Hotel Paradise.  Then again, part of my reading slump comes from marathoning shows (including America’s Next Top Model) on Hulu, and replaying a few video games.  That’s neither here nor there, though.  So nonetheless, why is it that you can read about ten pages before you put a book aside for something else?  And what is it about characters that hook you to a book so that you don’t turn away?  Questions and more questions.   I want to share a few of the things I believe make a character worth diving into without the obstruction of time and outside distractions.

1. Battling Interests

I believe the first element that makes a great and compelling character comes by providing the character battling interests–or values. I love stories where the protagonist steps on stage filled with his or her own values and assurances, only to have those things about him or herself tested by some sort of moral choice. I saw that recently in Ha Jin’s The Crazed where a young Chinese graduate (during the late 1980s) battled with his dreams of becoming a Chinese scholar, but questioned his choice in accordance with the way his country needed activist to bring about democratic change. The tensions in the book lie mainly in his theorizing the consequences of either path.  And his theorizing is further complicated by the pressuring influences outside of himself (such as family and friends).

So, he could easily keep a low profile with a guaranteed (or even passive) existence as a scholar underneath China’s communist control.  Especially considering it has been a governing force all his life. Nevertheless, China’s government snuffs and even imprison those expressionists who push the use of foreign influences.  So what good would it do for him to be a scholar limited to the conceptions of his own country? This is a battle of interests, and in turn, drives the character. A character faced with plenty of opposition, but knows that eventually he or she has to make a choice.

2. Testing Principles

I don't like when authors make a character’s decision come easily to them, and when there is no clear and direct result to their choice. Sort of like that instant-love connection you sometimes get in romance novels, which is probably why I don’t read many of them.  I get annoyed when there is little to know stress or testing used to move a character to his or her choice. Even worse is when there are no real stakes to be had. The thrill is when an author provides a character with high stakes, then doubles the consequence.

If I’m reading a mystery novel, I want to know how far the detective would go to bring about justice. Would ruining his or her reputation be the risk? Or can a case only be concluded with the vengeful murder of its culprit? As for a romance, I would like to know how far the couple would go to stay together. Would they be ostracized from their families? Would they lose the respect of their friends? Or would society have an influence in their resolve to be a couple? Things such as that bring about testing the principles of characters.

3. No Pain, No Gain

The reason I gave up the series :(
Deus ex machina is Latin for “god from the machine." It’s used in the literary sense to describe an author who uses a quick, abrupt means of interference to solve a problem within a novel. Needless to say, it’s frustrating when an author does this. You usually see it when an author builds up some solid tension, then completely loses its release for whatever lazy or uncunning reason. See, it just doesn't pay when something swoops in out of God knows where and saves the day. The result is a cheapened and transparent experience for the reader. And I’m one to distrust the author's direction the minute I spot this kind of authorial ploy.  I’ve even stopped reading some series where books upon books of conflicting back-story is resolved with a single button and a puff of smoke (here‘s looking at you J. D. Robb).  The fact is that a character isn’t convincing without pain. Life isn’t convincing without pain (much to my chagrin).  Nevertheless, like life, character is about how the human spirit is capable of pulling itself off the floor in its final hour. No pain, no gain. So the best characters are always backed far into corners with no foreseeable way out but through their own resourcefulness.

Something that immediately comes to mind in reflection of this topic is actually from Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Season two, episode 34. Buffy is battling her former lover, Angel (technically Angelus), for the season finale. They clash swords for a minute or two, taunting just a little along the way. He’s evil again, and she’s already made the decision that if she can’t save him, she must kill him. They're close to the wire, and Buffy begins to lose the battle when Angel disarms her.  She appears defenseless. 

When he raises his sword for one finishing sweep, he taunts: “That’s everything. No weapons. No friends. No hope. Take all that away, and what’s left?”

Angel jabs, and Buffy pulls a bare-handed blade block.  Her response to his question: “Me.”

Suddenly, she’s out of her corner and kicking Angel’s ass back before eventually sending him to hell, which subsequently saves the world. A high stake for her indeed, because no one will ever know that she scarified her lover to save the world. Nevertheless, my point is that nothing came to save Buffy in that final moment but herself, her spirit, and her palms.

Needless to say those are only a few things that I believe creates a compelling character–gray areas and such aside. So answer me this: what makes a compelling character to you? Who is a character you can admit that causes you to keep reading a book even if the book isn’t all that great? What do you prefer in a character–or what should come first in a character to you? Should a character be someone you can relate and identify with? Or is it better to have character fresh and new, yet someone you can learn something from in relation to his or her story and the proceeding choices that makes it (sort of like asking are there any villains whom you like)?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

March Mystery Madness: Survey Says

March is over.  It’s been a solid month filled with icky weather, but some outstanding books to pull me through the storm.  As you know I dedicated the month of March to catching up and clearing the mystery books/series off my shelf--the majority of them at least.  I want to move up at least one book in each series, and for the most part, I succeeded.  Cleanly I might add.  I stuck to my commitment book by book, except for an unfortunate few that I'll name later.  Now it’s time for me to reveal the verdicts on my readings, considering most of my progress with these series were stalled between 5-2 years.  Included in the verdicts is my version of ratings--in the form of "Brooklyn Heads" for that extra creative juice.  I want to thank those who have commented on my March Mystery Madness video, shared their favorite mysteries, and etc.  Much, much appreciated.  If you've read any of these books, also share your opinions below.

The Flower Master by Sujata Massey

“Life in Japan for a transplanted Californian with a fledgling antiques business and a nonexistent love life isn't always fun, but when the flower arranging class Rei Shimura’s aunt cajoles her into taking turns into a stage for murder, Rei finds plenty of [the] excitement she’s been missing.

Unfortunately too many people have a reason for committing the crime--her aunt included.  While struggling to adjust to the nuances of Japanese propriety, trying to keep her business afloat, and dealing with veiled messages left under her door, Rei sifts the bones of old skeletons to keep her family name clear--and her own life safe from an enemy with a mysterious agenda.  If Rei doesn't want to be crushed like fallen cherry blossoms, she's going to have to walk a perilous line and uncover a killer with a dramatic flare for deadly arrangements." ~ The Flower Master blurb

I breezed through this book; hooked the second I got through the first chapter.  However, I remained upset that I didn't continue the series two years ago, having been burnt by the second book in Massy‘s series, Zen Attitude.  Seriously, The Flower Master sat on my shelf for two years!  I could’ve been at least seven books deep into the series by now, had I continued.  Nonetheless, now that I'm done with The Flower Master my commitment to Massey’s series is so real.  And so strong as I browse Amazon for The Floating Girl--book four in the series.  I wouldn't say that Massey’s mystery set-up is out of this world in The Flower Master.  It was certainly stronger here than in the previous book.  Nonetheless, it’s not necessarily the mystery that causes this series to glow.  No, it’s Massey’s system of introducing and acknowledging traditions centered within Japanese culture that makes this series stand out; and the un-bustled parts of Tokyo in which she explores her murders.  

Nonetheless, The Flower Master took the histrionics behind Japanese flower arrangement, as well as today's modern approach, and wrapped a cryptic revenge murder around it.  And the pages are thick with the entrapping details--expressed between characters and lite exposition--that unfold throughout the reading.  Now, I will mention that sometimes Massey's scenes and character choreography were off.  That might seem trivial to some, but when I read I put my trust into the author and her ability to carefully paint and direct a scene.  Nevertheless, some online reviewers’ complain of Massey’s knowledgeable understanding of Japan and Japanese culture alongside their personal definition of the subject.  Forget all of that, I say.  I held on to Massey's words on the subject and flew through Rei Shimura’s third mystery with glee.  I couldn't be contained.

Deadlock by Sara Paretsky

"Deadlock, V I Warshawski's second case, involves the huge Great Lakes shipping industry.  Once again the subject is murder--this time the "accidental death" of Boom-Boom Warshawski, an ex-hockey star and V I's beloved cousin, who fell--or was pushed--off a rain-slicked pier on Chicago's busy waterfront.  Convinced that Boom-Boom was in fact killed because of information he had uncovered about criminal doings on the shipping lines, V I begins a long and frustrating search for her cousin's murderer.  In the course of an investigation that takes her to a remote Canadian port city and a calamitous trip on a sabotaged freighter, V I finds all too many possible candidates for the killer, including a grain company executive involved in extortion; and rivals heads of two shippers, one of whom is being blackmailed for his criminal past; a hockey player whose specialty is graft; and Boom-Boom's lover, an icily beautiful dancer with expenstive taste in men and merchandise."

Let me be real in stating that Deadlock’s themes of freighters and shipments spread itself just as convoluted as the insurance scam in V. I.’s previous book/case, Indemnity Only.  And while that is all somewhat insufferable to the reading experience, what I will also frankly state is that I'm a step above becoming enamored by V.I. herself.  She pulled no punches in Deadlock, reaffirming that she’s a strongly-crafted and capable character.  She definitely goes a lot harder than her counterpart in hard-boiled detective fiction, Kinsey Millhone.  So whether V.I. is struggling to control a wire-snipped runaway car, or holding on for her life as explosives detonate in the engine room of an occupied freighter, she recapitulates that women P.I.s can go a tab or two above men.  Naturally, I love all of femme maven excitement, enough so to move into Paresky’s third V.I. book, Killing Orders.  Nonetheless, as I mentioned earlier, the problem I had with this book is that I didn't understand a damn thing surrounding its setting and theme.  Consisting of freighters, wafts, and the elevator lay of the Port of Chicago, I was mostly lost Deadlock's set-up.  Paretsky's system just wasn't clear to me.  Had I lived in Chicago I may have struggled less to absorbed Paretsky’s detailing--but I don’t.  Never even seen the Port of Chicago until I had to pause my reading to do a quick Google Image search on my phone.  So while all that screamed for a proper visual, Paretsky’s run down on shipping rates, private papers, and contracts between suspects kept me further in the clouds.  

Additionally, it didn't help that I found myself mostly confused between the numerous introduction and motivations of the men involved in this business, particularly when one is a killer worth concentrating on.  I still pushed through for the gold, mostly driven by the murder mystery and action scenes.  A splash of softhearted scenes related to the victims also encouraged me to move forward.  Nevertheless, it was only toward the end that all of the convoluted set-up finally began to make some sense.  Once I shut the last page, that’s when I exclaimed, “I GET IT NOW!”  I will be continuing this series after that year long hiatus between the first and second book.  On the third go-round I'll try harder to "get it" in the early quarter of the book.  Especially now that I have a better grasp on Paretsky's style.

Real Murders by Charlaine Harris

"Lawrenceton, Georgia, may be a growing suburb of Atlanta, but it's still a small town at heart.  Librarian Aurora "Roe" Teagarden grew up there and knows more than enough about her fellow townsfolk, including which ones share her interest in the darker side of human nature.  With those fellow crime buffs, Roe belongs to a club called Real Murders, which meets once a month to analyze famous cases.  It's a harmless pastime--until the night she finds a member dead, killed in a manner that eerily resembles the crime the club was about to discuss.  And as other brutal 'copycat' killings follow, Roe will have to uncover the person behind the terrifying game, one that casts all the members of Real Murders, herself included, as prime suspects--or potential victims..." ~ Real Murder blurb

Let me go ahead and get this part out of the way: I did/do not like Aurora Teagarden.  Unfortunately, you can't get away from her, considering the books are told through the first person via her snarky perspective.  I can't pinpoint the gradient in which I did not take to her character.  Maybe it was because her mother owned the apartment complex that housed a number of the supporting characters--giving Aurora reason to look down on the cast Harris created.  I just know that my dislike of her had a lot to do with how she viewed the supporting characters.  Her view of them had this unpleasant, impatience taste to it.  For a character described as plain looking--of an extreme librarian quality--Aurora housed a high opinion of herself.  Especially in concerns to others.  

Furthermore, she took it upon herself to snoop into everyone else’s business, granted she's an amateur sleuth solving a murder.  However, with that snooping lie more of this hint of self-righteousness she sometimes exuded.  I remember reading Aurora’s antics and aloof disposition toward others, wondering to myself “just who the hell are you to think that way.”  I saw this to a degree in Harris’s other first person protagonists from her numerous series.  However, something about Aurora, with her plain clothes and large glasses, just rubbed me the wrong way.  At least that’s what I was left feeling, which consequently takes a chunk out of my verdict for the actual mystery.  

Oh, and I wasn't exactly won over by the fake charm Aurora shined over her younger brother from her father’s current marriage (her parents divorced; her father re-married).  Aurora's attitude was as if the boy was a burden to look after.  However, later he became the catalyst to the events that took place (in watered-down fashion) toward the final reveal.  As for the mystery element, it was cozy with a touch of bloody, but nothing outstanding or even witty.  I know that's not much, but it was hardly what I was left with the minute I closed the book.  There's a wonder why it took me from January 2010 till now to start this series.  Seeing that I already own the first four books, I'll give the series a further go in the hopes that maybe Aurora will chill on the subtle bitch-mobile.  Insecure much?

Concourse by S. J. Rozan

"Bill Smith has been hired by an old friend to investigate the killing of a security guard at the Bronx Home for the Aged.  Going undercover, Smith wades out into a sea of violence and lies washing up against the old brick building.  When a second murder is committed, Smith knows that there's a method to the madness.  With the help of bright, young Chinese-American investigator Lydia Chin, Smith uncovers a web of corruption that's found a home in the Bronx.  Now he has to figure out who will die next." ~ Concourse blurb

Certainly one of my favorite reads of the month of March.  Concourse delivered.  For the sake of sounding cliché… it did so in spades.  I sit back and wonder why was I really so hesitate to read the second book in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mystery, after devouring the first book two years ago.  It wasn't so bad uncovering a mystery in Bill Smith’s perspective, partly because Rozan did (but at the same time did not) paint Bill Smith underneath the gossamer of your average male P.I.  His voice had a very reasonable ting to it, that I liked instantly.  He wasn't overtly cynical or a masculine brute.  

The mystery was packed, and somewhat twisted, but the delivery was nowhere near as convoluted as what I experienced in the two Paretsky books I've read.  I think most of that is in part to Rozan’s writing, which is very clear and succinct.  Each measure and beat of her words and sentence all seemed to fall right into place.  I barely stumbled over the text to devour her point.  This helped in the immersion, in turn guiding me through the offering of her mystery.  Tie those elements to the emotionally driven motivations of her characters (between justice and greed) and here I was closing the last page with a grin plastered all over my face.  Needless to say, I'm anxious for the next book, Mandarin Plaid.  Concise is the magic word here.  Concise with all the right ingredients for a great mystery.  I'm only sorry that it took me so long to warm up to Bill Smith.

Takeover by Lisa Black

"In the tradition of Kathy Reichs and Jeffery Deaver, a talented novelist introduces a gutsy forensic investigator caught in the middle of an explosive crisis.
Early one Thursday morning, forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is called to the scene of a gruesome murder. The body of a man has been found on the front lawn of a house in suburban Cleveland, the back of his head bashed in. Although it's not the best start to her day, Theresa has been through worse. What unfolds during the next eight hours, though, is nothing she could ever have imagined.
Downtown at the Federal Reserve Bank, her police detective fiancé is taken hostage with six others in a robbery masterminded by two clever criminals. When she arrives at the scene, Theresa discovers that the police have brought in the city's best hostage negotiator: handsome, high-profile Chris Cavanaugh. He hasn't lost a victim yet, but Theresa wonders if he might be too arrogant to save the day this time around.
When her fiancé is injured, she seizes the opportunity to trade places with him. Once on the inside, she will use all her wiles, experience, and technical skills to gain control of the situation. But what initially appears to be a bank heist turns into something far more complex and deadly, and Theresa must decide how much more she is willing to sacrifice in order to save the lives of innocent people as well as her own." ~ Goodreads
In all and total fairness, I should not be providing a verdict for my experience with Takeover by Lisa Black.  Why?  Because I only made it to page 30 before I knew--deep in the craw of my reading spirit--that it wasn’t going to work.  However, since I plugged it as a book involved with my March reading, I feel the next to explain why.  It was boring.  The main character, Theresa, was uninteresting and detached.  Within those 30 pages I never gathered exactly why I should stick by her.  The set-up involving a murder and a bank robbery was kind of sped, while monotonous in its delivery.  Black's speeding pace could have been spent fleshing Theresa out a little more.  Also, the writing was without color to me.  Heck, I would even stay to a startling degree.  I was four mystery books deep when I realized Black’s voice/syntax read like an a-type narrative.  Every word seemed meticulous and in place.  No banter.  No wit.  No clever passages.  No sense of creative abandon and risk.  I’m more than positive that a little more color will come out of the next book.  But concerning Takeover, I just didn’t feel inspired to finish it.

Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown

"Small towns are like families:  Everyone lives very close together... and everyone keeps secrets.  Crozet, Virginia, is a typical small town--until its secrets explode into murder.  Crozet's thirty-something postmistress, Mary Minor "Harry" Haristeen, has a tiger cat (Mrs. Murphy) and a Welsh corgi (Tee Tucker), a pending divorce, and a bad habit of reading postcards not addressed to her.  When Crozet's citizens start turning up murdered, Harry remembers that each received a card with a tombstone on the front and the message "Wish you were here" on the back.  Intent on protecting their human friends, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker begin to scent out clues.  Meanwhile, Harry is conducting her own investigation, unaware her pets are one step ahead of her.  If only Mrs. Murphy could alert her somehow, Harry could uncover the culprit before another murder occurs--and before Harry finds herself on the killer's mailing list." ~ Wish You Were Here blurb

I knew like I knew like I knew that this was going to be a good, cozy mystery.  The receipt says I bought it 7/2/2012 and here I am finally giving this book the chance it deserves.  I’ve turned my back on a lot of books, but this one was destined to be read and enjoyed.  It’s almost spiritual in its explanation.  Nonetheless, I’ll first admit to what halted me from diving into my first Rita Mae Brown mystery back in 2012.  See, Wish You Were Here introduced too many characters too quickly; and it didn’t help that each and every one of them had off-beat names, causing you to pause and recount what name matched what character.  Yes, Brown's name-game can work instantly for the rapt reader, or a reader familiar with Brown’s technique (through her non-mysteries) of employing unique character names in her books.  

However, it didn't seem worth the trouble when the narrative is tied to the first person, and that a sliced portion of this off-beat named cast was destined to die any way.  Essentially, these names probably deserved a proxy name come publication, while letting the author indulge in her cleverness from the desk.  But that’s neither here nor there considering Brown’s been publishing since the 70s.  Nevertheless, after 100 pages or so, I got the hang of it.  With all that aside, I loved this book because of Brown’s “creamy” writing.  No, seriously.  That’s how I envisioned her use of words and language.  She has a certain je ne sais quoi with words and their unfolding in concerns to her plot.  This made for a comfortable and alluring read.  Aside from the revealing narrative between the cat and dog duo, Mrs. Murphy and Tucker, Brown’s ability to knock sleeves of information about characters without the reader really knowing it had me in wonder.  In wonder as in I sometimes wanted to put the mystery aside to explore a full on character portrait instead.  Let me provide an example from page 33:

“Did Susan do this for Ned?  In the beginning of the marriage, yes.  After five years and two kids she had felt she was losing her mind.  She balked.  Ned was rip-shot mad.  Then they got to talking, really talking.  She was fortunate.  So was he.  They found common ground.  They learned to do with less so they could hire help.  Susan took a part-time job to bring in some money and get out of the house.  But Susan and Ned were meant for each other, and Harry and Fair were not.  Sex brought them together and left them together for a while, but they weren't really connected emotionally and they certainly weren't connected intellectually.  They were two reasonably good people who needed to free themselves to do what came next, and sadly, they weren't going to free themselves without anger, recrimination, and dragging their friends into it.”

Like, I’m sorry.  But that was one amazing passage to me.  That’s how you bring just enough information to provide a background for a character and disguise him/her from the rest of the crowd.  And it’s just enough information--as I mentioned--to leave you wanting to explore it elsewhere, while remembering that it just might provide itself as a hint to the mystery.  The second Mrs. Murphy book, Rest in Pieces, is shipping my way as we speak.

Sadly, my reading of Frankie Y. Bailey's Death's Favorite Child did not proceed forward.  Unlike Takeover, I have even less to say about it at this point.  The fact is that after Rita Mae Brown's Wish You Were Here, I developed a taste for something else in the mystery genre.  So I ended up with Elizabeth Peter's Crocodile on the Sandbank and will share my verdict on it later.  Nevertheless, the month of March made for a huge success.  I've caught up on mystery series that I stopped reading years ago--and enjoyed them all.  I've come to realize that some stayed on my shelf too long, and some needed to be remove long, long ago.

So what is your take?  Read any of these books?  Liked them?  Hated them?  Would you like me to provide clarity if necessary on my verdicts?  What did you read in the month of March?  Share you responses below!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Father Poe & Dic Dupin

1860s portrait by Oscar Halling
When I was too young to know any better, it didn't register to me that American writer, Edgar Allan Poe, is considered the originator of the mystery genre, or detective fiction.  When I was first introduced to his works, back in those ghastly (notice the word choice?) early middle school years, I instantly connected his creativity to that of Gothic horror and swirls of nasty, black ravens perched on iron fences.  The connection appeared that lucid, until I got the chance to dig deeper into his short stories as part of a high school theatre assignment.  Even then nothing about his short stories resonated with detective fiction in my hormone congested brain.  No, it wouldn't be until I became an adult with the taste of hard-boiled P.I. novels, soaking in the plethora of capillaries underneath my tongue, that I made the connection.  So while I do have my specific flavor (my love of female leads...) and a set of caveats (...where romance is handled judiciously), mystery fiction was in my bloodstream by then.  So one college-aged year I had to give Poe a suggested third look; naturally, with Poe’s 1841 short story, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”.  As I close in on my March Mystery Madness readings, I thought it made sense to revisit and write a short post on this peculiar--yet eye-opening--story.

The "Rue Morgue", lead my Poe's mostly observant-style narrative, introduces us to the extraordinarily keen first sleuth of the literary world, C. Auguste Dupin.  Nope... not Sherlock Holmes, though apparently Doyle bit some of Dupin's flavor to construct Holmes.  Nonetheless, after pages of crowded exposition, servicing Poe's commentary on analytical thinking, the "Rue Morgue" opens with Poe and his French pal, Dupin, having an unhurried stroll through Parisian streets.  Having met and become acquainted with Dupin in the past (through the mutual taste in a library book), Poe arrived in Paris to spend time with the friend that he soon describes as having a "diseased intelligence" and "rich ideality".  Dupin demonstrates those two expressions during their stroll, astonishing Poe with what he first took as Dupin reading his mind.  I won't spoil the fun of witnessing Dupin at work on a bawling Poe.  However, it's not until the two come across a local newsletter that Dupin's "intelligence" and "ideality" skills are truly demonstrated, giving mass to his literary role as the first literary detective written.  

Pausing in their stroll, the two peer through said newsletter that details the locked-room double murder of two women--mother and daughter--in an apartment not far from the city.  It appears that the mother was thrown through an open window, her head nearly severed upon landing.  Whereas the daughter was beaten, then in a puzzling manner, partly stuffed head first up a chimney.  Short of consumed by the horrific details (particularly in relation to the 1800s time period and the conception of murder itself), Dupin's calculating mind doesn't go without notice to Poe as Dupin's practicable questions about the murders stir.  As used in the actual text, Dupin takes note of the mentioned clews, which appears unforeseeable by the Paris policemen investigating the case.  Their dumbfounded response to the murders further interest Dupin in striking a possible conclusion.  

The following day, Poe and Dupin obtain more details concerning the double murder as the daily newsletter lines up a list of individuals who reported to the scene within the time frame of the murders and its unveiling to the immediate public.  As the newsletter keys into the nationality, language, and witness statements of the listed individuals, Dupin ruminates on each statement and whatever inconsistencies he notices.  Finally, Dupin decides that the best way to assist the police in finding the culprit is for him and Poe to pay a visit to the apartment where the murders took place.  So on leads Dupin's need for explaining "the nature of inductions" involving the murders and the clews scattering the wrecked room.  And that is just what he does as Poe follows Dupin in his investigation.  So as not to spoil anything, I'll leave it at that.  However, be ready for a surprise, delivered by Poe's crafty writing.

Following “Rue Morgue” were two other short stories featuring Auguste Dupin.  Those were “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter”.  Combined, the three are known as “The Dupin Tales”, and are acknowledged as the beginning of classic detective fiction.  As mentioned, Poe's Dupin character is the influence behind Sir Arthur Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.  Nevertheless, both applied the staple elements to solving literary murder.  And while those staples have transformed today, I believe a cunning eye, deductive reasoning, scientific hypothesizing, and sleight interrogation skills never changes.  It all originated with Poe's Dupin and his linchpin locked-room mystery that makes “the impossible made possible”.

"He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole.  Thus there is such a thing as being too profound.  Truth is not always in a well.  In fact, as regards the more important knowledge, I do believe that she is invariably superficial.  The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.  The modes and sources of this kind of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies.  To look at a star by glances--to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the start distinctly--is to have the best appreciation of its lustre--a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it."

This quote is Poe's "simple" way of illustrating how to the truth behind any murder mystery is always on the surface, and something I would hope to keep in mind if I ever got the opportunity to craft my own as eloquently.

Have you experienced "The Dupin Tales"?  What was your take?  Or favorite of the three short stories?  

Also, while he was short-lived, do you think Dupin would've made for some heavy competition with Sherlock Holmes?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Thinking Punch

Let’s repurpose this for a minute as I ponder why I've always loved learning Japanese, as well as why I find it frustrating but loving.

Everyday interactions activate an individual’s language and critical thinking skills.  We communicate through language skills, interpreted through talking, listening, writing, and--my favorite--reading.  They combine to keep language whole within the definitions of those who speak them.  However, as languages are diverse, critical thinking skills in each element of communication increases in the wake of language exchange.  As we learn new languages we have to apply critical thinking to interpret pieces of the opposite language.  It is these pieces that we manage to interpret, which builds within the vocabulary of our respective language, and must have its context within communication diagnosed for our understanding.  Simply put, we comprehend the meaning of a foreigner’s statement through the interpretation of one word.  This process is activated by critical thinking.

Nevertheless, we gather the diversity of other languages through teaching.  The standard of teaching does apply critical thinking; however, it becomes initiated through processes consisting of creative, procedural, and often specific and direct means.  Practical ideas from teachers merge into each process, and the student learns the language through his or her learning regiment.  Whereas the student may not pick up on every word, those taught become better able to find his or her interpreted counterpart throughout communication with another.

According to Behruz Lotfi, Habibollah, and Mohammad: “the main aim of second language education along with other pedagogies is to produce and create creative and critical learners… it proved necessary to give a detailed explanation about the concept ‘critical thinking’, and then, critical thinking activities, and that how using them helps learns integrate language skills.”

Behruz Lotfi, Habibollah, and Mohammand believed strongly in the ability to integrate language through the use of critical thinking.  As learning language diversity tends to active our productive and receptive skills, the access to those pieces of words produced by critical thinking molds a student to real-world communication outside the classroom.

Language can empower and limit the expression of our thoughts in various ways.  Because learning a language activates both critical thinking and creative participation, it is a process that engages expressions and thoughts.  We learn through our individual and personal processes, each seen differently throughout taught piece of active learning.  As our thoughts connect with learning new languages; learning languages builds inner confidence by expanding our awareness and knowledge of language and different mechanisms of communication.  The process also allows one to discover where his or her gaps in learning are; therefore, students can tackle their weaker points to further increase their ability and self-assurance.

Furthermore, languages empower our expression of thought as it stimulates our learner’s minds, causing us to be receptive to assimilating culture expressions.  With that knowledge of culture do one’s worldly sensibilities expand, producing worth within the self-aware.  Nevertheless, while language has the potential of expanding one’s confidence and self-worth, being unreceptive to differences languages can limit a person.  Diversity is ever present in a person’s daily existence, and to only acknowledge what one has known from birth often leads to discouraging expressions of thoughts, which usually becomes viewed as owning prejudices against others.

Because critical thinking consist of branching concepts and ideas produced to give meaning and definition to a statement or question, its ability to persuade others lies in the careful examination of the subject.  Evidence, fallacies, and reasons become produced because of critical thinking and its use to persuade others.  Because critical thinking requires conscious thinking the proficiency needed to persuade another must be clear with each avenue of reason presented strongly and with evidence.

Language does much more than help us communicate; it activates every aspect of our thoughts, emotions, and practical thinking.  With the addition of critical thinking, languages helps individuals approach learning and acceptance of others, whether it is through narrow reasoning or vastly broad ones.


Kirby, G. R., & Goodpaster, J. R. (2007). Thinking: An interdisciplinary approach to critical and creative thought (4th ed.).Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Behruz Lotfi, G., Habibollah, M., & Mohammad, D. (2010). Using critical thinking activities as tools to integrate language skills. Sino-Us English Teaching, 7(4), 33-45. EBSCOHost.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Throwback: Glass Menagerie

Dramatic plays reveal themselves to be illustrative examples of how humans interact, and express themselves through life.  They are plays that provide understanding and meaning behind the actions of humans and their reasoning.  It is plays, such as “The Glass Menagerie,” by Tennessee Williams that provides a powerful view into the human condition.  The play employees many straight-forward lessons on life and existence through the behaviors of the characters; however, it is through William’s strategic use of symbolism and imagination that those actions blossom the true meaning behind what it means to fail an escape from reality.

One of William’s employed strategies is within his lead character.  Tom Wingfield’s memoirs assist in the driving of the story.  It is a memory torn between truth and hazy truth.  This immediately marks him as an unreliable narrator, even as he addresses the audience to his thoughts.  However, forever undependable does his actions appear child-like, and a contradiction to the story.  One moment Tom is expressive in his potential to be free, another moment his thoughts are reality based.  An example of this divide becomes illustrated by Tom’s relationship toward his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura.  Tom loves them; however, there are moments in which his apathy toward them is severely evident.  As the narrator, Tom’s double-sided attitude symbolizes the theme behind the play (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1247-1288).

According to "Jahsonic: Unreliable Narrator" (1996-2007), “An unreliable narrator is a character who may be giving an imperfect or incorrect account, either consciously or unconsciously. This can be due to that character's biases, ulterior motives, psychological instability, youth, or a limited or second-hand knowledge of the events. The author in these cases must give reader information the narrator does not intend she may deduce the truth. This process creates a tension that is a central force behind the power of first person narratives, and provide the only unbiased clues about the character of the narrator.”

An unreliable narrator like Tom becomes a literary convention to the story.  Tom’s difficulty in accepting reality, and his need to escape it, only isolates him from others.  Although other characters in the play suffer from this challenge, it is Tom who is employing this fully before the audience.  Drawing into his isolation does not stop Tom from interacting with the real world, as he is, among the other characters, one who functions in the real world via his job and communication with others.  Nevertheless, Williams provide a solid piece of symbolism in Tom’s dualistic, unreliable struggle, in the form of how Tom uses different forms of music and entertainment to escape his reality (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1247-1288).
Tom drinks, which furthers his unreliability as he relay his memories to the audience.  He also uses movies and dancing to relieve himself of his mother’s frustrations.  Though he uses many areas of escapism to clear himself of reality, William’s clearly portrays symbolism and pieces of imagery in Tom’s affinity for fire escapes.  This is a clear presentation of symbolism, considering Tom seeks an escape from reality.  The fire escape relates itself to smoke; however, it is also an escape when the “fire” gets hot in reality.  It is also an item used to foreshadow upcoming events, and place another reality-based issue into Tom’s consciousness in the case of leaving his family.  Tom’s mother offers her strategically placed ideal on the fire escape by stating: “A fire-escape landing’s a poor excuse for a porch” (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1263).  This means there is no comfort in escape.

Nevertheless, it is Tom’s use of alcohol that relates him to his father, as alcohol, and the fire escape both play symbols in his father’s connection to his son after he himself escaped his own troubles.  The fire escapes allures to Tom’s desires to escape reality, just as his father did.  It becomes tempting for Tom to remove himself from his incarcerate of home and work by simply fleeing through the fire escape (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1247).
Imagination and Escape

As an unreliable narrator does the honorable proposition and success of Tom’s escape becomes troubling, this concept done effective by Williams use of opening Tom‘s imagination toward the audience.  This reveals the moral factors that trouble Tom and his need to escape, not his physical status.  Though it becomes clear that Tom holds indifference toward his family, he remains dedicated to them.  This unreliability reveals that if Tom were to escape, he guiltily would remove himself from his dedication to his family, causing them emotional turmoil.  Williams leave Tom’s potential escape to the imagination of the readers.  Through Tom’s unreliable, sensitive contemplations can one only guess if his actual escape would prove fruitful to his desires toward freedom.  He can escape; however, he cannot escape his love for his family as guilt would make him a fugitive, following him at every turn.  Williams illustrates this at the end of the play by revealing Tom’s imagination as, “The cities swept about me like dead leave, leaves that were brightly colored but torn away from the branches.  I would have stopped, but I was pursued by something.  It always came upon me unawares, taking me altogether by surprise.  Perhaps it was a familiar bit of music.  Perhaps it was only a piece of transparent glass--Perhaps I am walking along a street at night, in some strange city, before I have found companions” (Barnet, Burto, & Cain, pp. 1287-1288).  Eventually it appears that Tom’s only escape is via his imagination, which plays a powerful too in the meaning of William’s play.

Every reader of the play is troubled with their own unreliable thoughts as individuals seek acceptance and stability in their lives, teetering on the need to remove themselves from their comfortable reality.  It is imagination that tends to lock individuals in their realities, as other obligations assist in this prison.  William’s portrays this struggle of character effectively in Tom’s desires to be free, but yet stay loyal to his comforts.

Barnet, S., Burto, W., & Cain, W. E. (2011). Literature for composition: essays, stories,
poems, and plays (9th ed.). Boston: Longman.

Jahsonic: Unreliable Narrator. (1996-2007). Retrieved from 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Last Thoughts on "A Thousand Lives"

I almost didn't make it through this book, deciding that maybe it was too dark and truthful to read.  Much of that trepidation was brought to me after my first reading session, having had a nightmare related to the Jonestown event afterwards.  Nevertheless, I proceeded forward with reading A Thousand Lives, and the experience got easier.  So much so that in the middle of the book my sadness slipped away in place of an absolute, running inquisitiveness for how this ugly event unfolded.  And Scheeres didn’t seem to hold back--according to my intelligence on the subject.  She revealed a mountain of startling information/back story on the Jonestown event that had me scratching my head and sparkly-eyed at the same time.  It’s also interesting that the more I read it, the more I saw parallels between Jim Jones’s ill-intended actions surrounding the Jonestown community, and Mao’s actions over the larger-scaled China.  Toss in a few shared terms like “communism” and “socialism” and I was sold by the connection my feelers kept picking up--having experienced reading Jung Chang’s Mao: The Unknown Story a month previous.

My current dilemma is that I don’t know exactly how to tackle this surfacing of thought diligently.  Or without branching into another web of topics concerning the two.  What I’m pondering sounds both sensitive and insensitive.  So much so that I just want to disregard the entire subject.  Still, it’s clear to me that Jones and Mao used politics and lies to reign on their followers.  They practiced some intense chicanery.  They purged their many enemies and rivals without too much hesitation.  They used the power of hunger and defeatism.  And they repeatedly pounded their maniacal-based mantas to subjugate their defenseless crowds.  In the end many wearily walked into their deaths, after living with the broken hope for change promised by their leaders.  And both leaders' imploded on themselves in the end.

This is me keeping much of my troubling thoughts simple.

Nevertheless, through my reading of A Thousand Lives, I kept asking myself what everyone else may have asked themselves: “What would I do in this situation?”  Then I would ask myself do I know of anyone in my life that would be susceptible to something like Peoples Temple's (Jones’s organization) religious doctrines?  Or not so religious... as apparently seen.  

Would I have fought or spoken up come Jones’s final speech, much like Christine Miller did?  Nonetheless, a speech where Jones pushed and encouraged the sacrificing of the Jonestown community behind his contemptible lie that a war was about to storm the township after the murder of Congressman Ryan by his own men?  What ways would I have ran if I could run, just as some survivors did?  Would I have managed like the brave Leslie Wilson and her child, along with a handful of others who escaped into the jungle the morning Congressman Ryan stepped into Jonestown?  Would I have spoken up to leave with Ryan, just as Tommy Bogue and his father did?  Would I have been slick and brave like Stanley Clayton, who managed to slip pass the armed guards surrounding the perimeter for defects?  Or would I have been like the elderly African-American woman named Hyacinth Thrash, who followed her sister to Jonestown?  Hyacinth had a body so worn that she stopped attending the pavilion meetings in Jonestown (partly because she disagreed with Jones's message).  Her staying in her cottage this one night saved her life.  She hid underneath her bunk when the last of Jones’s men went about shooting other individuals who did not report to the pavilion to drink the poison.  While I couldn't recall her name, Hyacinth’s story as a survivor was one that I could remember after watching a documentary on the event years ago.  There was a “she is the woman they were talking about” moment as I read her piece on surviving.  

Nevertheless, the biggest question I kept asking myself was would I have ran if I saw my family die before me?

Even as I write this I get a little emotional at the thought.

Therefore, I will close this out by not only declaring that this book was an eye-opener, but that it also reminded me of how good it feels to be grateful to have those that I love still in my life.  And if I should take one thing from this book to keep me going, it would most certainly be the courageous story of the few Jonestown survivors.

What would you have done?  Hard to really answer, right?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Guest Post: Nathaniel Sewell on Writing "Fishing for Light"

My inspiration for writing Fishing for Light
Have you ever walked about a museum and stopped and closely examined a painting and admired the brushstrokes, the colors, and the hidden symbolism? For example, I love Salvador Dali’s masterworks and his surrealism. In fact, there are several that inspired me to write Fishing for Light. I have sat down and marveled at The Ecumenical Council, The Hallucinogenic Toreador, and of course, the Clocks. Perhaps these links to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida will be helpful:
The last link is for, Galaciadalacidesoxiribunucleicacid or ‘Homage to Crick and Watson’ that was the one that hit me emotionally the hardest. If you read the painting’s description, the key for me are the last words, “all who suffer”. The reason is I have a strong interest in the science of Epigenetics or how life choices, our environment and trauma alter our genetic code.
My first novel, Bobby’s Socks was a tough story about child sexual abuse and the epigenetic link to suicide. As you might imagine, I know what it feels like to be traumatized. But I prefer to laugh, be weird, so Fishing for Light is a satire. The common link between the two novels are the main characters; they had a life trauma, Bobby was attacked, and Eddie the sudden death of his father. That is not funny.
But what is satirical, is that 21st Century society was swirling around Eddie. Now that idea can be wacky, and surreal. Why? Because Eddie was unaware that he had magic DNA, and he was destined to fight Professor Quan’s accidental creation, the evil Ms. Prosperina! But the life trauma, it altered Eddie’s destiny, and switched on the wrong gene instructions. So Professor Quan and Captain Lovins have to fix the problem because Ms. Prosperina intended to alter humanity in part by expanding her Starry Eyed Coffee Hut empire. By the way, that’s why you should always drink your coffee black.
I think I should share some of the novels hidden themes, it might improve the reading experience. I created a triad, Eddie represented a son and the Millennial Generation, Professor Quan represented a father figure and personal responsibility and Captain Lovins, a NAVY SEAL, was the defender of the weak and in the military, they are referred to as, ‘ghosts’. And it is important to note, SEAL’s live by a code, I recommend you look it up and read it. So we have a father, son and ghost for those who recognize a Christian theme. But I also have Buddhism and Hinduism references hidden within the story.
And Ms. Prosperina, a Chimera, she represented that hidden government and the organized conspiracy slithering into every aspect of society, even down to inventorying our base DNA code, so she can control humanity. If you think that is a crazy idea, I recommend you read my blog post - and she had the power to shape-shift into some really nasty religious symbols. She even quietly helped fund a secret IRS unit that was trying to track down Professor Quan. Her name, Prosperina, came from Greek and Roman mythology, and the tale of Pandora’s Box. After Pandora opened the box, what got left inside? Hope. And of course, Professor Quan and Captain Lovins stole the Hope Diamond. He needed it for his experiments.
Yes, I have a lot going on within the story on purpose, remember, this is a satire and one of my influences for writing Fishing for Light was Salvador Dali. I think good literature is about an issue beyond us. I think art should move our emotions and trigger us to stop and think about this world we live. And to wonder if there is a higher power beyond us that we cannot see, but only sense. But then again, Professor Quan does find pure love, but think about it, to have love you also need to have hope. Right?

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