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Category Archives: Personal

Ten Written Works That Changed My Life

As an author and academic, the written word has had a tremendous impact on my life. I spend most of my time, both at work and at home, dealing with the written word in its various forms, whether through writing, editing, or reading, in fiction and non-fiction. As such, it should come as no surprise that certain specific works I have read – whether they be book series, novels, nonfiction books, essays, or short stories – have resonated with me or otherwise drastically affected either how I saw the world, how I interacted with it, or how I lived my life. In keeping with the current trend of making lists, I wanted to then offer you all a list of the top ten written works that have changed my life:

1). The Grey King by Susan Cooper
When I was but a wee lad, my mother read this book to my brothers and me. Though it is the fourth book in Cooper’s Dark is Rising quintet, it was by far her favorite of the series, and at the time one of her favorite books. This book changed my life simply because it is the first book I have a clear memory of reading (or hearing), and it was got me hooked on reading non-picture books. I am certain I read other books when I was younger, and I even remember many of them. However, it is upon having this book read to me by my mother that I got hooked on the written word, and understood how powerful books can be when combined with your imagination. Plus, it’s a great book and part of a great series (I went on to read all five books), and I actually made friends by introducing them to the themes of this work!

2). The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
I read The Lord of the Rings at a very young age, and it remains the first book I actually read on my own (I have no idea why my parents let me do this). It also introduced me to high fantasy, and opened my eyes to the power that world-building can have. I think I can trace my own obsession with world-building as a writer (and reader) back to the influence of The Lord of the Rings. While I have mixed feelings about the writing and characters (and plot), the world of the The Lord of the Rings was the first immersive world I experienced other than this one.

3). The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
Rest in Peace, Brian Jacques. I had the pleasure of meeting him once when I was small, at a book signing. I was too shy to speak to him, but all I remember was a laugh, him commenting on what a nice boy I was, and a signature in The Legend of Luke. I still have that book, which remains one of my most valued possessions because it showed me that authors are people. It was the first experience I had meeting a famous author, and it made me realize that there a person behind the words, and worlds, that I was reading about. Redwall as a book series was also the first extensive series I ever read, and the rodent main characters – and my love for them – were what inspired my mother to make me try the Skaven race in the tabeltop game Warhammer, which had an enormous impact on my lifecourse, as it turned me into a gamer and roleplayer. Thus, I really think I can trace back my earliest desires to write back to Redwall and its introducing me to the world of gaming, as well as of showing me that authors are real.

4). The Dune Series by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson
Dune was the first science fiction novel I ever read, and I still consider it one of the best, if not the best, novel ever written. It turned me onto the dark path of science fiction, from which I never recovered. I did not want to read this book at first, as I thought it looked boring and stupid, but both of my parents forced me to read it. After a chapter, I was hooked. By the end of the novel, I wanted more, and I began reading the rest of the series, including the prequels and sequels (well, most of them, anyway). Dune sparked my first interest in questions about humanity, and not only what it means to be human, but what it means to have a human society. Perhaps here I found my earliest interest in the social sciences, my other passion.

5). The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
If Dune was my first science fiction novel and series and introduced me to the genre, Hyperion was what kept me interested. To my young mind, Hyperion was everything Dune was, and better, because it was shorter and (at the time) it seemed to me to have such a great sense of scale. I read Hyperion and its sequels before finishing the Dune books, and so I was able to achieve a sense of completeness in it before I ever got that same sense from DuneHyperion was also a beautiful story, in a way that Dune isn’t (Dune is brilliant, but I wouldn’t call it beautiful), and made me rethink the ways in which I saw the world. It instilled in me a sense of wonder and awe (which my cynicism eventually shattered), and also showed me what happens when power is used to destroy mankind’s potential futures. It was Hyperion and its sequels that made me think about what it meant to be human on an individual scale, and what it meant to truly live life, rather than just experiencing it. The Hyperion Cantos remains one of my favorite book series, on par with Dune in many respects, and it introduced an element of humanism into my own thoughts – and eventually, my writing.

6). The Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Well, this item certainly changes the tone of the list. The Manifesto of the Communist Party, or The Communist Manifesto, is the first piece of non-textbook scholarly work I remember reading (in freshman year of high school), and it has stuck with me. I have read it countless times now in my work as a sociologist, and while other examples of Marx’s work may illustrate the Manifesto‘s ideas better (The German Ideology and Capital come to mind), the Manifesto remains the best concise work of what Marxism is. While I don’t agree with everything Marx said, a lot of what he did say rang true with me, and it was after reading The Communist Manifesto that I began not only to see better my own role in society, and my class’ role in history, but that I also began to think, for the first time sociologically. As I am now pursuing a PhD in Sociology, the importance of this work should be rather self-evident.

7). Democracy for the Few by Michael Parenti
This was the textbook for my introductory sociology course at university. While I credit my interest in sociology to a certain amazing and influential high school teacher, it was this sociology course on “social problems” and this textbook that cemented my interest in sociology, and led me down the path I am now. This book is what kept me in sociology after Marx’s Manifesto and my high school teacher introduced me to it. Written by a journalist, this book was the first to open my eyes to all of the problems in contemporary American society, and what drove me to want to try and alleviate some of those problems (hubris, I know), and what kindled my interest in sociology as a discipline and a way of looking at the world. I still have this textbook on my bookshelf, and I maintain that, while maybe a bit dated, it is one of the best introductions to what the social sciences can offer society at larger ever written.

8). “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft
While by no means the first work of horror I ever read (Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” or “The Tell-Tale Heart” win that prize), H. P. Lovecraft’s famous short story has been by far the most influential piece of horror in my own life. One large part of this is because this was the first story by H. P. Lovecraft I ever read, and another part of it is that in it I found an expression of my own growing cynicism, first implanted in me by reading Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The cosmic standpoint offered in this short story – and in most of Lovecraft’s work – actually made me feel better about my own nihilistic views (at the time), which had come to replace some of the humanist values instilled in me by Simmons’ Hyperion. In particular, the opening passage of the short story still resonates me, and it is sometimes a viewpoint that I still espouse:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism.

Aside from this, H. P. Lovecraft has had a tremendous impact on the themes in my own writing, perhaps more so than any other author.

9). There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

Another work of nonfiction, this book was written by a journalist who followed a family living in the Chago projects for several years, and coupled this work with interviews about the family’s past and, eventually, with work he did revisiting the family many years later. This book is a visceral account of black poverty in modern America, and is hugely eye-opening for a middle-class white American like myself. Other books about race and class could have been hear as well: Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton’s American Apartheid and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow spring to mind, but both of those, while sound sociological analyses and eye-opening in their own right, lack the imagery and visceralness of There Are No Children Here. This book really made me think about race, class, violence, and poverty in a way I had never thought about before. [Interestingly, I have yet to find an account of gender inequities that had a similar impact on my life].

10). 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
This is by far the most recently read book on this list; in fact, I only read it a few months ago. Despite this, 2001: A Space Odyssey has significantly changed my understanding of the larger universe in which we live. While previously, Lovecraftian themes of insignificance and horrible truths dominated my thoughts, Clarke approached the problem of significance in an entirely different way. Like Lovecraft, he believed that mankind was ultimately insignificant in the cosmos, and 2001 clearly demonstrates this. However, for him, this insignificance is a beautiful thing, not a horrifying one, and somehow he manages to inject a human element into an enormous universe. The universe isn’t horrifying; it’s beautiful. The passage in which Clarke describes the ship’s passage over Jupiter in 2001 is one of the nest descriptive passages I’ve ever read, and simultaneously puts humanity in their cosmic place while urging them to step beyond it. 2001: A Space Odyssey combined the humanism I took from Hyperion with Lovecraft’s cosmic despair and allowed them to both live side by side in me, and gave me a burst of optimism to temper my pessimism.

So there you have it; ten written works that changed my life! Feel free to comment with yours, or of course, to try and read some of the ones I listed above!

And some honorable mentions:

The Uplift Saga by David Brin
American Apartheid by Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton
Selections from the Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
“Bureaucracy” by Max Weber
The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2014 in Personal, Philosophical Musings, Readings

 

Excuses

Hello everyone; it’s been a long while. I’d like to say that there was a good reason for my (very) extended leave of absence, but there really isn’t. Over the past year, I’ve mostly had my head down in my undergraduate thesis, and once that finished in May, I spent the summer preparing for my upcoming doctoral program in sociology. I’ve always found it difficult to write when I am stressed or otherwise preoccupied by other things that need doing; it’s my greatest flaw.

So, while I’ve gotten some writing done, it hasn’t been nearly enough, and I began to doubt if I really want to be a writer. After a long period of soul-searching, I decided I still do want to be a writer, but also many other things. A writer is not an all-exclusive thing to be, and I’ve been in the mindset that it should be for a long time, which has been making it hard for me to get the motivation to actually write something. As I worried about and prepared for my doctoral program, I felt like I was betraying myself. Now, however, I have come to terms with my probably future as a writer and a sociologist, and I will do both.

So, I have no excuses for my lack of updates, or my lack of writing. I hope to fix both in the upcoming months, assuming my program will give me the time (and if not, I’ll do my best to make time). I will stop making excuses to not write (oh, I’m too stressed to write well! Oh, I don’t feel like it. Oh, I’m not a real writer so why bother?). I will just start writing again.

Part of my problem with regards to writing of late, other than the excuse-making and stress, has been a lack of inspiration. Inspiration is by no means necessary to start writing, but I’ve been less than inspired by my stories as of late. As such, until I can get fully involved with them again, I am starting a new project that I am very, very excited about. I am leaving the world of the Juxian Mythos – spending so much time in that universe I was beginning to find stifling and was hampering my creativity (though I still love it and will return to it many times) – to instead work on a science fiction novel (or maybe more than one depending on length) tentatively titled Sundering Stars.

The planned novel will deal with themes of genocide, humanity, auto-evolution, alien life, and godhood. It might be a bit ambitious for one such as myself, but I’m going to give it my best! Wish me luck, and I hope to soon be updating both this blog (and EsoTarot eventually) more often, starting with my thoughts on Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders and more about inspiration and Sundering Stars.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2013 in Personal, Writing

 

#Writemotivation Check-in, Kreativ Blogger Award

Well, things are not going well in the #writemotivation department. I haven’t been able to find the time to just sit down and write a good chunk of material ever since I finished off “The Woodsman”‘s first draft and finished off a Herenna chapter in Tal’kan. University homework and other obligations just seem to keep coming out of nowhere, and unfortunately demand to be done first. I’ve managed to grab a few spare minutes a day to get a few words in, but nothing significant as of yet. This semester has been brutal.

Hopefully, though, I’ll be able to finish off another chapter in Tal’kan today; at least, that’s my goal. We’ll see how that works out.

In other news, Lissa Clouser has given me a Kreativ Blogger award. Thank you very much! I really appreciate it. As part of receiving this, I am supposed to thank her (done, but thank you again!), list seven interesting things about myself, and nominate seven more people. I will be more than happy to list seven interesting things about myself, but I’ve always felt awkward nominating other people for things like this, so I will refrain from that bit, but will give shout-outs to the following awesome people. If they want to post seven facts about themselves, they may, but this is just a list of seven awesome internet people with fascinating stories, ideas, and interests:

1. Jacob G. Adams
2. K. T. Hanna
3. Rebekah Loper
4. Dionne Lister
5. Alessandra Hinlo
6. Jamie Dement
7. Dyadic Echoes
(8.): Thomas James Brown

So, then, onto seven facts about me!

1. I have been playing percussion – including mallet percussion, timpani, concert percussion, drum set, and Bodhran – for almost twelve years. My specialties are drumset and Bodhran (for those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s a traditional Irish drum that you play vertically with a stick called a tipper; here‘s a picture of my teacher with one of his).

2. I also play the Tin Whistle – I’m teaching myself, and so am moving forward relatively slowly. It drives everyone within fifty feet of my insane when I start playing.

3. I am extremely picky about what music I listen to, and primarily listen to symphonic metal (favorite bands being Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Rhapsody of Fire, Luca Turilli, Stratovarius, and Avantasia). I also listen to folk metal (such as Eluveitie, In Extremo, and Turisas), and other good metal acts (Lordi, Rammstein). I am also a huge fan of progressive rock (Rush, Kansas, Transatlantic, Jethro Tull, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Liquid Tension Experiment), and classic rock (Supertramp, Blue Oyster Cult, UFO). And, of course, I also love traditional Irish Music (Lunasa, Solas, The Chieftains, Danu, Eliot Grasso, Gaelic Storm, Beoga, Bothy Band, Cherish the Ladies, and more)

4. I am an occultist, and am rather proficient at reading Tarot cards, and am in the process of teaching myself Astrology and Geomancy at the moment. Runes/Futhark is next on my list. If you ever want a reading, drop by my EsoTarot blog. My favorite Tarot cards are the Hanged Man, the Devil, and the Nine of Swords (Cruelty).

5. I don’t watch that much television or movies, but when I do, I watch mostly science fiction shows and Disney. My favorite shows are Babylon 5FireflyFarscapeRed DwarfDoctor WhoTorchwoodCrusadeTaleSpin, Wolf’s Rain, Claymore, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Phineas and Ferb, Psych, Eureka, and The Guild. My favorite movies are Princess Mononoke, How to Train Your Dragon, The Great Escape, Titan AE, Anastasia, Tangled, The Road to El Dorado, Groundhog Day, Hercules, The Lion King, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Whisperer in Darkness, The Hobbit, The Last Unicorn, Wall-e, and Up.

6. I read almost exclusively science fiction and horror. My favorite authors are H. P. Lovecraft, Dan Simmons, Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Tamora Pierce, Lois MacMaster Bujold, and Terry Pratchett. My favorite book series of all time is Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos.

7. I study History and Sociology. In Sociology, I focus my studies on social inequality and diversity, and in History my focus is on the medieval Middle East, particularly on Iran. I will (hopefully) be writing a thesis next semester on the Great Saljuq Sultanate.

Lastly, I wanted to just do a Lucky Sevens thing with my own manuscript Tal’kan: going to the seventy-seventh page of it (I’m only on page 78 right now!), going to line seven, and then copying the next seven lines. So here it is (it makes absolutely no sense out of context, I realized):

“Think you can spare something for your poor old daughter?”

 He tossed her one of his projectiles. “I expect it back without a scratch.”

 Herenna saluted.

 “Good. Now let’s get out there and kill some druids!”

 Herenna needed no other urging, and she and her father joined the oncoming tide, leaving Herenna’s companion to guard the machine. By then, the bubble had reached the edge of the hill.

So, that’s that! Hopefully I can get something done today!

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Personal, Writing

 

House of Leaves

It is far too early in the morning as I am writing this, but I cannot sleep. I will try again after writing this.

I just read Mark D. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and was profoundly affected by it, more so than any other thing I have read in my life. I don’t even want the book near me. It terrified the daylights out of me, and struck a nerve deep within my heart that I didn’t even know existed.

I must confess, I didn’t read the entire thing. I doubt anyone has. It is ergonic literature, meaning that part of the art form of the book is in its layout, with text spaced oddly, upside down, and sometimes illegible. I was forced to read this book for my Monster Theory class, and so did not feel compelled to read the entire thing, so I skipped most of the notes on Johnny Truant’s story, skipped the appendices entirely, and focused almost entirely on the focus of the piece, the Navidson Record. Maybe if I had read the other parts of the story, the impact of the book would have been mitigated (in some instances, the fear was definitely lessened by the odd manner of storytelling; in other cases, it greatly increased), but somehow I doubt it.

The book is about many things, and like the titular House, everyone probably sees it differently. To me, it was about the horror residing within the unknown within ourselves. The House was a very deep allegory to the subconscious and the hidden depths within us to me. I am writing a paper on the Theban Sphinx for that same class, so perhaps my interpretations of her as the guardian of forbidden Human knowledge about themselves is affecting my interpretation, but there seemed to me to be many parallels between the Sphinx and the House; the Sphinx asked a riddle about the nature of man, and the House itself was a riddle about the nature of self.

When confronted with the House – and therefore the question of who you really are and what you mean – there are different reactions. Most notably, Navidson himself perseveres and confronts himself, and his wife does the same, albeit less blatantly, and together they reach some form of closure. Holloway, the hired explorer, on the other hand, goes mad and runs away from himself after shooting (accidentally) his assistants, and takes his own life in the end, unable to deal with himself.

The yawning empty abyss of the house, its labyrinthine, ever-changing corridors, and the sense of being lost within one’s own self and one’s own world hit me on a level I cannot describe. Call me a wimp, a coward, or whatever you will, but that book did something profound to me, and I am terrified of the abyss that it opened before me.

If you want to, give it a try, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. I don’t want to be near even the physical copy of that book because of what it recalls in me. It is sitting way outside my room right now. I don’t want to go near it.

I am just not ready to face myself.

 
 

An Update on The Libel of Blood and Dark Aeons

Hey everybody! I know I haven’t been in around in a while (again), for which I apologize, but life decided to punch me in the gut and I’ve been scrambling to get my breath back. As such, there have been far fewer posts here than I would have liked, and I am behind on many things.

Firstly, Dark Aeons is still being edited (many, many thanks to Jacob G. Adams for helping me out so much here), but hopefully will be out by the end of May at the latest (I’m hoping for the end of April, but we’ll see).

The Libel of Blood‘s text is still finished (I haven’t regressed yet), and is currently still waiting on its cover art from the amazing Sarah Kindler. Unfortunately, she has also been punched in the gut by life (in the form of pestilence), and so is still working on the cover. Hopefully this won’t take that long, and once that’s done, whenever it may be, The Libel of Blood will come to an online bookstore near you!

Also, I would like to take this time to point you towards my side project Astral Tide if you haven’t already looked at it; a free online web fiction series set in a Lovecraftian post-apocalyptic collapsing universe. Intrigued? Good! We just started our second series: Astral Tide.

Ta-ta for now!

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2012 in Personal, Writing

 

#WriteMotivation!

So, I’ve had a bad week, month, day, life, whatever you want to call it. My writing has ground to a standstill for various reasons (university being one of them), and I want to kickstart it into gear again! As such, I am trying out K. T. Hanna’s #writemotivation (see this page for more details)! Essentially, as far as I understand it, a group of like-minded writers are gathering together on the interblogoworldwidenetosphere to encourage each other to meet personal, reasonable, self-set goals, using Twitter and blog posts. A simple yet brilliant concept, and actually much like National Novel Writing Month (which I am an avid devotee of/Municipal Liaison for), except personalized, with a different community, and far less stressful!

My personal goal for the month of March – when I shall be participating – is to finish my short story “The Woodsman,” and then write 8,000 words a week in my novel Tal’kan, for a total of at least 32,000 words written in it this month! That should give me a push to come closer to finishing it (it currently sits at 30,000 words; I hope to more than double that!).

So, let’s see how this goes! Good luck everyone participating, and I hope you’ll wish me luck too!

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Personal, Writing

 

I’m Still Alive!

Hey! Sorry for the lack of updates again, but exams and papers have taken over my life. Fortunately, I am free this Friday, and I will begin to write again in earnest, starting with finishing my edits for The Libel of Blood. Mr. Jacob G. Adams (blog here!) has also been kindly editing stories for Dark Aeons for me, and his comments have been insightful and very helpful! I have been surviving most of my time by playing Dr. Lunatic: Supreme With Cheese Nonstop and by reading short stories when I can, including recently a delightful novella entitled The Cowboys of Cthulhu by David Bain (site here!); well worth the read!

Until I can get back to writing, good luck with life and don’t die!

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2011 in Personal, Readings

 
 
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