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Ach, the Liebster Award!

Clipart: Emily McRoberts from Clker.com

Thank you to Adam at Write Thoughts for nominating me for the Liebster Award!  It is like a blogging chain letter of sorts that asks of the recipient a bit more than the conventional chain letter. I’ve responded to a similar award back in 2015 that was set up a bit differently from this one. This will be the last time I participate in this sort of thing. If any of my readers receive such a nomination and think of me for their list of nominations, please just skip me! I would like to keep this blog focused on the Perceval novels, writing issues and interests, classical music, and the occasional book or movie review.

The Rules.

Say thank you to the person who has nominated you for the Award.
Answer the 11 questions the person has asked you
Nominate 11 people (comment on their blog to let them know)
Ask the people whom you have nominated 11 questions

Adam’s Questions for his nominees:

1. What is your favorite book, or if you prefer, your favorite author? I really don’t have one favorite book or author. There are certain authors whom I read faithfully because of the high quality of their prose, plotting, character development, story, and dialogue. Those writers are: P. D. James, John le Carre, Daniel Silva, Madison Smartt Bell, Virginia Woolf, Connie Willis. and Ursula Le Guin. I just added Connie Willis to this list, and if you were to ask me this question a week from now, the list might be a little different.
2. Is there a country you have always wanted to visit, if so where? England. I’ve been to the other countries on my list: Russia, Austria, Germany, New Zealand. I’ve been to Northern Ireland and traveled through London on my way to various places, but have not stayed to actually visit England. I’d also like to return to Finland.
3. What do you enjoy about blogging? When I began blogging, I was extremely nervous about putting myself out there on the internet.  Who would read my posts? Would they like my ideas? Would they read my Perceval novels?  The first few months were a bit nerve-wracking. It’s been nearly 10 years now, and I find that I enjoy getting the ideas for posts, thinking about, exploring and researching those ideas in order to write about them, and then seeing if anyone responds. I love hearing from people so it’s been especially fun when readers leave comments and a conversation has ensued.
4. What’s your preferred writing space? I write at my desk in my living room. The desk faces the wall between the kitchen and the hall that leads to the front door. Behind me is the living room and its windows. I see the windows reflected in the large picture that hangs over my desk.  At least as much as I can see between the multitude of colorful post-its that I’ve stuck to the picture with notes to myself.
5. How do you find inspiration? In life.  In people.
6. What do you like to do for fun when you need a break from writing? Since I’m writing all the time even when I’m not at my desk, it’s rare for me to completely separate myself from it. However, I love movies, theater, and classical music concerts, spending time with friends, and walking around the lake that’s a block from where I live.
7. What started you down the road of writing? I honestly do not remember if there was one spark that got me going. I read voraciously all through elementary school, and I wrote plays and short stories starting in sixth grade. I do remember that one story in particular started in my mind when I was doing my lunchtime stint as a safety patrol kid outdoors and noticed the grill on the storm drain that ran along the curb. I’ve written about that here.
8. What’s one story you keep recommending to others? I do not have one story or book that I recommend to others all the time. I usually recommend authors, or sometimes a book I’ve recently read that impressed me.
9. How do you keep yourself motivated? It can be especially tough when life keeps butting in! I think about the characters. They keep me motivated.
10. What superpower would you choose and why? So, is this a trick question? The geopolitical situation right now is in crazy flux. Russia continues to try to reassert itself as a superpower. China is rising into that status but isn’t quite there yet, especially when they have some interesting issues with other countries that don’t bode well for China to become a superpower.  The US is definitely enjoying a decline in influence in the world, especially after last year’s election. However, the US still has the economy, military and weaponry to remain a superpower. The other countries are in an increasingly stronger position to challenge that status. I live in the US, so I suppose I’d choose the US, but honestly, I’ve lived in Europe and almost prefer that way of life.
11. What four people would you invite to a dinner party; contemporary, historical, or fictional? Ludwig van Beethoven, J. S. Bach, John le Carre, and Queen Victoria.

My Nominations:
I hope you all will respond, but from my perspective, it’s not required at all!

My questions are the same as Adam asked me:

1. What is your favorite book, or if you prefer, your favorite author?
2. Is there a country you have always wanted to visit, if so where?
3. What do you enjoy about blogging?
4. What’s your preferred writing space?
5. How do you find inspiration?
6. What do you like to do for fun when you need a break from writing?
7. What started you down the road of writing?
8. What’s one story you keep recommending to others?
9. How do you keep yourself motivated?
10. What superpower would you choose and why?
11. What four people would you invite to a dinner party; contemporary, historical, or fictional?

 

 

Poet Richard Carr

I have written reviews of Richard’s poetry books at this blog. Now, you can read an interview with him entitled “Richard Carr’s House of Poetry” at Nancy White’s WordPress blog.

For aspiring poets and lovers of language, it’s a worthwhile read. If you’re not yet familiar with Richard’s work, check it out using the link on my blogroll.

Marathon Novels

Why do some novels endure for decades or centuries and others burst out as blockbusters then disappear? What makes a great novel, great?  Is there a formula?  Will J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels stand the test of time?  What are some examples of novels that are classics and great?

Whew.  I’m not certain that I’m up to writing about great novels, but I want to give it a try.  First of all, I believe great novels transcend individual literary taste.  A great novel tells a compelling story that applies not only to the individual but the human condition in general.  It’s not preachy but has a message or theme that’s clear.  Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina’s message is the very first sentence of the novel: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  That begs the question: Are there really any happy families?  Tolstoy then proceeds to illustrate this theme in a compelling story of one woman’s struggle to find happiness.  He explores human passion, deception, betrayal and loyalty in the stylized society of 19th century Russia, giving the reader a tapestry of the time and culture as well as showing that wealth has nothing to do with happiness.

Character plays an important role in making a novel great.  Where would To Kill a Mockingbird be without Atticus Finch, Scout and Jeb?  Or Moby Dick without Captain Ahab’s obsession?  Or the Harry Potter novels without Voldemort and Dumbledore, Harry, Hermoine, Ron and Draco?  The protagonist needs to not only be memorable but flawed, human in a way that most readers can identify with.  The antagonist, as important as the protagonist, also needs to be human (when a person), a worthy adversary.  Characters develop and change in great novels; and by identifying with them, the reader learns something about people or him/herself.

Great novels respect narrative structure and momentum with clarity and a steady pace.  By respect, I mean that the author has given the story a clear structure that serves as a seaworthy vessel in which the reader can journey through the story.  Three-act dramatic structure is the most common, but there are others that can be as effective while reflecting the story’s theme or an underlying conflict. The protagonist drives the dramatic momentum forward while the antagonist or other characters try to derail it.

Back in high school, an English teacher told us that there are only four conflicts in literature: human vs. human, human vs. self, human vs. nature, and human vs. God.  Oh, but the possibilities contained in each!  Great novels have great conflicts.  The characters pull in the reader’s emotional involvement, making the conflicts the reader’s also.  How people create and resolve conflicts reveals their characters, and it’s the same in great novels.

Memorable settings that reveal the human in the time period of the story and the location help make great novels great.  Harper Lee’s Alabama in the 1930’s is an essential element of her story and contributes to characters’ behavior and beliefs.  What would Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain be without the physical landscape and the Civil War?  The descriptive passages in great novels beg the reader to linger in them and a huge reason is….

Language.  Great novels showcase language, challenge the reader as Cormac McCarthy did in The Road.  Not much happens in that novel, but his descriptions and the language he uses reveal a great deal about humans and the human condition.  The conflicts in that novel are both overt and covert — other people and nature are the overt ones, and fear, hunger, commitment and memory are the covert.   The man and boy struggle with each throughout the story.  Harper Lee’s language in To Kill a Mockingbird is conversational, a story-telling voice that mimics Scout’s voice but is the adult looking back.

What’s the formula?  It is the same for writing any novel, but I think great novelists fear nothing in the writing, especially not emotion.  What may set a novel apart could be the emotional element — the characters’ emotions, the conflicts’ emotions, the emotional attachments and identification with the settings and time periods, the beliefs and behaviors with the readers’ emotions.  Unfortunately or fortunately, there’s no way to standardize that into a formula.

I’ve intentionally not mentioned book sales…..

Published!

“Time” magazine published a letter to the editor in their October 3, 2011 issue that I wrote. Thank you, “Time”!

Reading as a Writer: “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”

This year, I’ve been working my way through J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. I thoroughly enjoyed the first three novels. Rowling’s imagination in creating her wizarding world in such fun and wacky detail inspires awe and respect.  I have seen all the movies.  Perhaps it’s accurate to say, however, I’m not knowledgeable about all things Harry Potter.  I’m reading these books as a writer.

 

I’ve just finished the fourth, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Once again, Rowling has maintained her Hogwarts world and given it a darker, more paranoid aspect.  Because I was already familiar with the story, I just sat back and immersed myself in that world, enjoying Harry’s adventures and trials.  I loved the imaginative and original detail from the owl post (and owls with individual personalities), to living paintings, weird creatures, and Mad-Eye Moody.  The heart of Rowling’s novels, however, are the characters and their relationships, their loyalties, and Harry’s story.  She writes from Harry’s point of view, which can be claustrophobic at times, but also ratchets up the suspense.  The reader knows only as much as Harry.  I really admire and respect the world and characters Rowling has created, and it’s abundantly clear from the first three novels that she can write well.

However, Goblet of Fire was bloated with digressions and at least one subplot which did nothing to move the story forward, reveal character or both.  When I saw the physical size of the book, I was astonished.  The bloating made for slow reading, too, without the crisp pace in each of the three previous novels.  Since I’m in the middle of my own revision work on Perceval’s Secret, perhaps I’m especially sensitive to things like word choice, digressions, and flubs.  Some examples of things that leaped out at me:

POV issue: This could also be “word choice.”  An example in chapter 17 of the difficulty…”Karkaroff’s face was burning.”  If Rowling had written this from Karkaroff’s POV it would be fine, but it was from Harry’s POV.  “Burning” is a physical sensation that only Karkaroff could feel, not Harry, so how could Harry know that the man’s face burned?  From Harry’s POV it would make more sense as “Karkaroff’s face, the color of fire, looked as if it burned” or something like that.  These issues are subtle and infrequent, but they leaped off the page at me and made me stop reading.

Consistent character action/detail: The single example that I can remember is a whopper.  When Harry, Hermoine and Ron visit Sirius at the mountain cave, he changes from his dog form to human form out of sight, and he’s dressed before they see him again.  But in chapter 36, Sirius begins as a clothed human when Harry first sees him in Dumbledore’s office.  Dumbledore asks him to return to dog form in order to stay with Harry in the hospital wing.  Sirius obliges.  But what happened to his clothes?  No mention of them.  If he’d still worn them, someone would have commented about a dog wearing human clothes, right?  But no.  During a serious and important meeting in Harry’s hospital room, Dumbledore asks Sirius to return to human form.  Oh. My. God.  He does and I started giggling.  Poor Sirirus!  Standing there buck naked in front of Hermoine and Molly Weasley!  Where are his clothes?  But no one remarks on his nakedness.  He then returns to dog form and leaves.  But this flub was horrible to me — it made me laugh at an extremely serious point and took me right out of the story.

Unnecessary subplot:  Rowling juggles an awful lot in this book, keeping up with relationships formed in earlier books, dropping more clues for who’s an enemy and who’s a friend regarding Voldemort, the connection between Harry and Voldemort, and so on.  She adds the subplot of George and Fred Weasley’s bet at the beginning with Ludo Bagman.  This subplot ends up revealing character — Ludo’s and Harry’s.  But the Rita Skeeter subplot?  I believe this was totally unnecessary and most of it could have been left out.  Rita interviewing Harry in the broom closet works well.  I understand how Rowling used Rita to add tension and adversity from Draco Malfoy and his gang, but Harry has more than enough to deal with.  Having said that, I enjoyed how Hermoine finally got the better of Rita.

I concluded that Rowling’s editor failed to serve her or the story well with the work on this novel.  I hope Rowling had a stern talk with that editor or even sacked him/her and got a better one for the next novel which I am really looking forward to.

Some miscellaneous questions about Harry and his world:

Why isn’t Harry angrier at the Dursleys for the way they treat him?  Especially after he sees how other kids live.  I’m happy Harry is a good boy, but even good boys are human and subject to resenting that kind of treatment.  The times he seems to retaliate are by accident rather than intent.

Why don’t the Dursleys treat him far better after he begins his studies at Hogwarts?  Rowling mentions that they fear him and his abilities with magic but they continue to treat him badly.  I’m surprised they wouldn’t be nicer to insure they won’t get zapped at some point in the future.  People like the Dursleys tend to think that way, don’t they?

Finally, I expected there to be a class at Hogwarts called “How to live in the Muggle World” or something like it.  For the kids with no experience in the Muggle world, like Ron Weasley for example, they have problems operating in the Muggle world.  It would make sense that there would be a class for 4th year students and up.  Maybe in the next book….