A Light in Dark Places

Today, during my lunchtime Netflix viewing, I watched a Hugh Laurie film called Mr. Pip.

It was a good film. I know this because it made me cry repeatedly, and as we all know this is the most accurate measure of a film’s quality.

Anyway, among being about a war, it was basically a story of a young girl, and how her introduction to a Dickens novel (Great Expectations) not only changed her life, but may have even saved her and given her a fuller, more nuanced lens to consider and examine the world. It helped her go from being a girl to being a woman.

Those of us who love literature have a book we can point at, not necessarily as our favorite, but as a book that changed our life, the way we look at it, the way we live it. For me, I’ve made no secret of this being Anna Karenina, but this film got me thinking.

There’s a mixed view in the community of writers on how much to consider the reader when writing. Obviously, when creating art, you have to just be a vessel for what is inside of you to be shared. On the other hand, if you’re trying to create work that will be published, you have to consider your audience and ask questions about theme and maturity level of the reader.

But what about creating life-changing work? Do we ask ourselves those kinds of questions, or is that something that happens through our art if we do our best and have a spark of luck?

Obviously, I don’t have answers for these questions, but they’re floating around my head nonetheless.

Cheers,

C

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What I’m Doing Now: Annual Update

Hello, everybody!

I’ve outlined all my blogging for the year, and that includes my new concept of making this an annual blog update. Since I recently updated everyone on what I’ve been up to, I’ll keep this a brief overview. You’ll be hearing more about other features of this blog very soon, and regularly.

So, I’m still working on my Masters, still blogging, still writing, still editing. All that jazz.

I will say that I made a friend in one of my recent classes who took a look at my manuscript for The Death of a Billionaire, and apart from loving it – and not being able to relate to the main character – she did say, quite aptly, that my dialogue all sounds alike. I have a terrible habit of all the speech sounding like my speech, which works pretty well for a lot of my characters, but definitely not all of them. So that’s something I’ll be focusing on in this round of edits, which Natalie says should be close to the end. I’m very pleased about this.

Drafting of Chasing the Imaginary Octopus has begun in earnest, and In the Dark and Dank and another as-of-yet untitled piece are also in the drafting stages.

Also, my fan fiction writing has really taken off. I’ve resolved to schedule a chapter a day. I can definitely write that much, and it keeps stories flowing in spite of my busy life flooded with schoolwork. I’ve been updating Faithful, so my ASoIaF fans are pleased. And Craving Comfort has gotten a couple of updates as well. I’ve begun scheduling into August based on reader reviews and favorites and follows, so I may finish scheduling there rest of the year in the next month or so.

As far as reading is concerned, that’s coming on slowly. Still doing my annual re-read of Anna Karenina. Classes slow that sort of thing down, regrettably. But I’ll be keeping you all updated on my reading with a new feature: every time I finish reading a book that isn’t one of my textbooks, I’ll have a book review prepared on this site by the following Saturday. You’re welcome. 😀

I think that’s about all for now, but I’ll be speaking to you all soon!

Cheers!

-C

What I’ve Been Doing Lately

As promised in my recent apology, I have a lot to catch you all up on, so this post is intended to update you all on relevant updates in my reading/writing/other work life.

Let’s start with reading, shall we?

I am still working on my annual re-read of Anna Karenina, so I haven’t ready anything new lately, but I did acquire lots of new books. 😀 Natalie Cannon and I went to Portland for a few days with friends and our first stop (literally) was Powell’s. They all bought a few things. I bought *cough* five Tolstoy books, the final book in Wheel of Time, and FINALLY my own copy of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Lots of books, right? Forty bucks.

Not that I really needed more books I don’t have room for, but I guess I could always, idk, not wear clothes. I’ll think of something.

As far as writing, I have a few really interesting things to report.

My murder mystery, currently titled Death of a Billionaire, has gone through some editing and revising, and it’s recently been sent back to Natalie for another look. I’m also going to send it off to a couple other readers for thoughts on the genre, since it’s not Natalie’s cup of tea. So that’s coming along nicely.

I also have another project in the works that I’ll be doing a couple of posts on. I suppose it could be easily explained away by saying it’s based on the Beatles, but that’s not really the point of it. It’s an exploration of iconic music culture, and what that does to the fans, the artists, and those close to the artists (friends, family, etc.). The Beatles are my primary template, but I’ve got lots of artists in mind, and most characters have several people they’re composites of, plus a healthy helping of my own invention. I’ll explain further in future posts.

In the rest of my life, not too much has been going on, but I’ll do a quick update on the highlights.

I’ve been doing some substitute teaching, working on a Masters so I can teach English. My day job of choice. I’ve also been writing a blog for the local theatre, which I mentioned previously.

Fan fiction has been taking lots of time and energy. I’ve updated a lot of different things since I last posted here, but my primary focus is still Craving Comfort, which will likely reach 100 chapters in the next month or two. It’s likely to pass 400 reviews in the next couple of weeks because of a new reviewer I’ve picked up. I’m very proud of this piece, and how people have responded to it.

In exploration for my massive Star Trek fan fiction project, I have also been watching all of Star Trek. I’m in the middle of Deep Space 9 and Voyager at the moment. I’m struggling to bond with Voyager, honestly (it’s coming in tiny pieces), but DS9 was an instant connection, and the love affair has not wavered. Easily my favorite of all the Star Trek work thus far. The only thing it doesn’t have is Data, but I guess they can’t have everything.

So that is my life at the moment. Not especially glamorous, but I feel like I’ve been pretty productive, and that’s what makes life happen. Regular steps forward, never letting yourself take too many steps backward, never too long of a rest.

Cheers,

C

Sunday the 23rd of June

After arriving in England the other day, I was far too exhausted to actually write. I’m still finding it hard, but more due to the much-increased sluggishness of my computer, so I’m writing these out on paper first to ensure that they posts get done.

No pictures for today, I’m afraid, but I plan to take some throughout.

I woke up about 6:30 GMT this morning, took a shower (LOVE having my own bathroom), and made myself an egg for breakfast. I then checked emails and read Anna Karenina until about eleven, when I decided I needed a nap, still tired from the day before.

I got up about 5 minutes to noon and made my way to the kitchen for the flat meeting. Met a Dutch boy (Hereto called ‘F’) and a girl from UC-Irvine (henceforth referenced as ‘T’).

After the meeting I decided I needed to eat before doing anything else. I went grocery shopping, got some things for lunch and dinner, and then went to the buss, rode into town, and bought a cell phone, a coin purse, and a couple of basic clerical things I hadn’t thought to bring with me.

When I got back, T and I decided to go into town after her class tomorrow and do a bit of exploring. Then I had dinner and socialized briefly with F and his friends before finishing Anna Karenina and attempting to Skype my mother.

As much as I do love my computer, I am fully aware of the state of this one… REALLY BAD.

In other news, a second chapter to my infamous fan fiction, The Forbidden Fruit, has been posted. I meant to have it done earlier, but travel seems to have taken a greater toll on me than usual.

I’m going to begin organizing my thesis in earnest and going over some secondary sources next, although not as quickly, given that I am also going to have studies and activities here. That’s about all I’ve got for today, hopefully more tales on the morrow.

Cheers,

C

I’m SO Sorry!

First of all, let me say that I apologize for my blogging absence, but I’M BACK! I’m on summer break, so here’s an update on what I’m up to so you can get caught up on my pathetic life.

I’m going to be working on my senior thesis starting… right about now, actually. If I’ve not mentioned it before, I’ll be looking at religion in Anna Karenina, specifically Levin’s religious and spiritual development. I’ve got a few sources, beyond the book itself, and I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

“Soon” was published in the Scripps College Journal and “Hunting Plums” has been sent off to a magazine for consideration. Editing is in full swing, and my next novel, Children of Conflict, is in process.

As far as Fan Fiction, I’ve got about a million things going on, but here’s my priorities: editing “And They Lived Happily” and “Kiss & Tell”, Finishing “All I Wanted Was You” and “The 74th Hunger Games”, Completing the character profiles for my Amy/Sirius series that I SHALL NOT LEAK info about, and Finish the outline I’ve started for my Love Actually sequel piece that I have no working title for.

As far as my novels and novellas are considered, novellas are on hold for the moment in favor of short stories, which are blossoming in my brain at a rate they never have before and will be much more efficient to work through and attempt to publish, which is an important consideration with graduate school looming on the horizon. Novels are in progress, as mentioned about Children of Conflict. To the Death is in edits, and even some sections of extensive re-writes. I need certain scenes to be more fleshed out, says Natalie, and she’s right. So I’ve contacted a few of my military-associated friends who know much more about preparing for combat than I do and they’ve agreed to answer my questions as they arise in sifting through this massive amount of material they’ve already given me for consideration.

Be prepared for me to start spouting acronyms instead of actual words. My brain’s already spinning.

I’ll also try to keep you updated on my search for graduate schools, my GREs, etc. Even my packing for the UK. People discount too often all of the little, important things involved in being and becoming a writer, like the day-to-day, the fact that I’m drinking three cups of tea a day and having to actually remind myself to shower before sitting down in front of my notes and getting lost in writing. Every little bit matters.

I PROMISE to be better. Thank you for putting up with me thus far, and hopefully we’ll have many lovely adventures together, including my being in Brighton when the Royal Baby is born! 😀

Cheers,

C

My Annual Rereading of Anna Karenina

Every year I reread the wonderful novel that is Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy. Every time I come across different things within the book, different details that capture my attention and imagination, and this year was certainly no exception. I’m going to share some of my annual insights with you, my lovely readers, and this year I’m focusing on religion and morality within the text, particularly in the last two chapters of the book.

Let us begin with a bit of backstory on Levin’s religious struggle. He is an athiest who rationalizes every action of his life in an attempt to find truth, and when he marries the love of his life he finds that while she cares not about his religious issues (for she has faith that he will find his own way in time through her loving kindness), he’s very disturbed that he cannot at the time of their wedding, align himself with her religious beliefs, and spends much of the rest of the book trying to understand the beliefs she holds so dear.

My first passage begins with Part Eight, chapter twelve (p 719 in the 1995 Norton Critical Edition), where Levin has just been told something very important about goodness that sends Levin into a great string of epiphany:

To live not for one’s needs but for God! For what God? What could be more senseless than what he said? He said we must not live for our needs – that is, we must not live for what we understand and what attracts us, what we wish for, but must live for something incomprehensible, for God whom nobody can understand or define. Well? And did I not understand those senseless words of Theodore’s? And having understood them, did I doubt their justice? Did I find them stupid, vague, or inexact?

No, I understood them just as he understands them: understood completely and more clearly than anything in life; and I have never in my life doubted it, and cannot doubt it. And not I alone but every one – the whole world – only understands that completely. Nobody is free from doubt about other things, but nobody ever doubts this one thing, everybody always agrees with it.

And I sought for miracles, regretted not ot see a miracle that might convince me! A physical miracle would have tempted me. But here is a miracle, the one possible, everlasting miracle, all around me, and I did not notice it!

Theodore says that Kirilov, the innkeeper, lives for his belly. That is intelligible and reasonable. We all, as reasoning creatures, cannot live otherwise. And then that same Theodore says that it is wrong to live for one’s belly, and that we must live for Truth, for god, and at the first hint I understand him! I and millions of men who lived centuries ago and those who are living now: peasants, the poor in spirit, and sages, who have thought and written about it, saying the same thing in their obscure words – we all agree on that one thing: what we should live for, and what is good. I, and all the other men, know only one thing firmly, clearly, and certainly, and this knowledge cannot be explained by reason: it is outside reason, has no cause and can have no consequences.

If goodness has a cause, it is no longer goodness; if it has a consequence – a reward, it is also not goodness. Therefore goodness is beyond the chain of cause and effect.

In this discovery, Levin believes he has found not only the intrinsic proof of God’s existance, but also the means by which he can be instantly a good man. His life is changed in his mind, from this instance of understanding. And so we begin his complex and quick journey to true spiritual understanding. This passage speaks for itself, so I will go immediately to the next.

At the beginning of the very next chapter, Levin thinks of his sister-in-law’s children, and how they like to play with their food. Their mother explains to them that they are destroying that which others have so carefully worked to prepare for their nourishment, and the children do not understand because they do not waste the food, merely have a bit of fun with it before it’s eaten. Levin finds a way to equate this to his own spirituality:

I, educated in the conception of God, as a Christian, having filled my life wiht the spiritual blessings Christianity gave me, brimful of these blessings and living by them, I, like a child, not understanding them, destroy them – that is, I wish to destroy that by which I live. But as soon as an important moment of life comes, like children when they are cold and hungry, I go to Him, and even less than the children whose mother scolds them for their childish mischeif do I feel that my childish attempts to kick because I am filled should be reckoned against me.

This recognition of childishness before good, that all mankind is truly childlike in their treatment of goodness and morality, is an insight I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with, and the metaphor is one that can be understood and agreed with by anyone who remembers what it is like to be a child at all, whether through their own memories of experience, or because they have been around children recently, as had Levin.

After he realizes that he has been a child in his resistence to faith, Levin then considers the teachings of the Church.

‘But can I believe in all that the Church professes?’ he asked himself, testing himself by everything which might destroy his present peace of mind. He purposefully thought of those teachings of the Church which always seemed most strange to him, and that tried him. ‘The Creation – But how do I account for existence? By existence! By nothing! – The devil and sin? – And how do I explain evil?… A Savior?…

‘But I know nothing, nothing! And can know nothing but what is told to me and to everbody.’

And now it seemed to him that there was not one of the dogmas of the church which could disturb the principle thing – faith in God, in goodness, as the sole vocation of man.

This coming to peace with his feelings about his faith and the church are then so exciting to Levin that he believes his whole life has changed. He is a new man, and he will be a much better person from now on. Or so he thinks.

Levin realizes after several events that the gaining of faith and the realization that he believes in God will not completely change his life simply because they’ve happened. He is still the same person and he will still, therefore, make many of the same mistakes. This is all delinated in the final two chapters of the novel:

This new feeling has not changed me, has not rendered me happy, nor suddenly illuminated me as I dreamt it would, but is just like my feeling for my son. It has not been a surprise either. But be it faith or not – I do not know what it is – this feeling has also entered imperceptibly  through suffering and is firmly rooted in my soul.

I shall still get angry with Ivan the coachman in the same way, shall dispute in the same way, shall inopportunely express my thoughts; there will still be a wall between my soul’s holy of holies and other people; even my wife I shall still blame for my own fears and shall repent of it of it. My reason will still not understand why I pray, but I shall still pray, and my life, my whole life, independently of anything that may happen to me, is every moment of it no longer meaningless as it was before, but has an unquestionable meaning of goodness with which I have the power to invest it.

This tidbit is not only something that reminds me of how silly people can be when they come to some great revelation about something in their life, thinking that everything will suddenly change (when it never does), but it also reminds me of a very important thing I read in my German history course last fall. Italian Holocaust survivor Primo Levi in his novel I sommersi e i salvati (translates as The Drowned and the Saved) discusses how the people who coped the best with the horrors of their lives were the the ones who had faith in something. It didn’t really matter what religion they had, or even if it was a religion of sorts, but even faith in science could keep people sane in a chaotic hell like concentration camps in Poland.

So even though Levin will not be perfect flat off, as he realizes, he’s also found a faith in something, something he flounders about trying to find throughout the novel, and so he will be better equipped now to handle the ups and downs in his life.

And that’s what I learned this year! Now I’m off to read it all over again and take notes for my thesis next year (which you’ll all get to hear all about).

Cheers,

C

Translations: Why Language in Schools is Important

So, this isn’t so much a pitch for languages in schools, but more WHY YOU SHOULD ALL GO LEARN A FOREIGN LANGUAGE, at least to the point where you can read a book in another language. You might not be debating philosophy in it, but be able to read and understand a foreign language. Here’s my story of a practical reason why….

As I have mentioned maybe a million times at this point, I am a college student. As a college student, I am writing essays on stuff and doing research and whatnot. I have this handy-dandy book on Cheri Samba that I got years ago that has some of his art works as well as an interview done in French, with English translation alongside it. I’m using this as a source for one of my papers, and it’s great. I’ve used it for various presentations in French class throughout the years (If you’ve got a presentation that works, why change your approach? Just change the presentation).

I’ve read the text, of course, but I’ve never looked at it so closely as I am right now, looking for textual evidence for my essay. It was when I was doing this, comparing the French interview transcript to the English translation when I decided that there were spots I wanted to use where the translation didn’t sit well with me, and I would have preferred a different word choice in the English. Since I’m doing my paper in English, not French, the words I write in English are what really matter. SO, I’m translating all the French quotations myself, using the English as more of a guideline as I read through quickly to find the bits I want to use and re-translate.

Will this likely to be something you’ll do some day? If you’re getting an advanced degree in English, I wouldn’t doubt it. In fact, most Masters programs in English REQUIRE you to take a foreign language so that you’re proficient enough to do your own translations (a couple of years worth of college-level language for the ones most people choose). Unfortunately, by the time you get to that point your language learning capacity is a fraction of what it would have been if you’d started learning the language when you were younger. I started with Spanish and French in grade school, so I can pretty much read any novel in those languages that you put in front of me, although my speaking leaves something to be desired. It’s not quick as it is in English, and my plodding through Don Quixote de la Mancha in it’s original language is much slower than my whizzing through A Song of Ice and Fire in it’s original language. But it’s still a very useful skill. It’s nice not to read the footnotes to decipher the French terms in Anna Karenina, even if my Russian isn’t up to snuff for reading that in it’s original language. Someday, maybe.

The long and short of it is that all writers should be at least familiar with other languages, because you never know when the urge to read Goethe in German will strike. Or not.

Cheers,

C