Thursday, May 28, 2009

POV & Edgar Allen Poe

THE WRITING GREEK apologizes for the ongoing technical difficulties ... and excuses … err, uh, general lack of May blogging. In truth, I’ve decided to cut back on blogging as it is rather addicting and time consuming. Fear not, blog friends, I still love you and will visit you – just not every moment of every day. It’s not that my writing dream has been derailed. In fact, in pursuit of more literary smarts, I’ve been tackling GRAPES OF WRATH and OVID and have even mixed in THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE while on blog hiatus the past couple of weeks.

On to business (correction – writing!) -- One of the books I’m currently reading is a 2008 book by Alicia Rasley titled, POINT OF VIEW. Ms. Rasley studied Edgar Allen Poe’s POV for her thesis and talks about him in the book’s opening. She asks the question, “How did he make a narrator’s voice sound both rational and insane? <…> When did the narrator start lying to the reader?”

Ms. Rasley goes on to say that few critics understand Poe’s POV approach and that these few were writers themselves. She includes Dostoyevsky in this bunch. There’s lots to glean from my last couple of sentences, but the main thrust is that: (1) above average POV authors spend time studying the best and (2) these folks don’t limit their character to their own experiences.
Anyone have any authors that they’d recommend studying for POV?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


“Old California, in a bygone era of sprawling haciendas and haughty caballeros, suffers beneath the whip-lash of oppression. Missions are pillaged, native peasants are abused, and innocent men and women are persecuted by the corrupt governor and his army. But a champion of freedom rides the highways. His identity hidden behind a mask, the laughing outlaw Zorro defies the tyrant's might. First published in 1919, Zorro has inspired countless films and television adventures.”

That lengthy opening is the publisher’s blurb for THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO. As with every first Monday of the month, welcome to another edition of the Book Review Club. And, being that we’re The Writing Greek, Zeus’ immortal Olympians have agreed to again assist us. Hades actually contacted me earlier this month as soon as he heard I was doing Zorro. I didn’t realize Hades and Zorro had much in common, but apparently, Hades is a big Zorro fan. He also mentioned something about justice and punishing evil doers.

Side note – Hades wanted me to fly to L.A. (where he lives and Zorro is set), but I bravely told the Lord of the Underworld that I have to work on Wednesdays. Hopefully, he’s not mad at me. That’d be bad, right? Okay, here’s a recap of our conference call:

Me: Hello, Mr. Hades. Did you enjoy THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO? I loved it.

Hades: Does your opinion matter? Look, mortal, Johnston McCulley’s novella sold over 50 million copies. 50 million. FIVE-OH. Bob Kane based Batman on THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO’s main character. As a tribute, Kane’s original comic even has Bruce Wayne’s parents returning from seeing a Zorro movie when they are attacked by robbers. Yes, Zorro is practically mythical.

Me: Novella? Batman?

Hades: Yes, and before Zorro was put into a novella, it came out in five issues of “All-Story Weekly,” a pulp magazine. In fact, Johnston invented several other characters over the years, eventually totaling over a thousand stories. These included Thubway Tham (the lisping comic pickpocket), Black Star (a "gentleman criminal"), and the Crimson Clown (who carried a gas gun).

Me: I’ve never heard of Thubway Tham (really??) or the other two. How come Zorro to make it big?

Hades: The (ah-hem) immortal Douglas Fairbanks came across the novella while on his honeymoon. He brought it to Charlie Chaplin and his other co-investors. Together, they released “The Mark of Zorro” as the first movie for their new company, United Artists. Zorro proved immensely popular and spawned additional books and films.

Me: No doubt McCulley selling the rights to Disney in the 50’s is what led to THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO having been bought by 50 million people. I mean, do you think it sold that many on its literary merit? Zorro owes its popularity more to those Guy Williams’ TV movies, right?

Hades: Insolent mortal! Listen as I read an excerpt from Zorro’s excellent first chapter –

Outside, the wind shrieked and the rain dashed against the ground in a solid sheet. It was a typical February storm for southern California. At the missions the frailes had cared for the stock and had closed the buildings for the night. At every great hacienda big fires were burning in the houses. The timid natives kept to their little adobe huts, glad for shelter.

And here in the little pueblo of Reina de Los Angeles, where, in years to come, a great city would grow, the tavern on one side of the plaza housed for the time being men who would sprawl before the fire until the dawn rather than face the beating rain.

Sergeant Pedro Gonzales, by virtue of his rank and size, hogged the fireplace, and a corporal and three soldiers from the presidio sat at table a little in back of him, drinking their thin wine and playing at cards. An Indian servant crouched on his heels in one corner, no neophyte who had accepted the religion of the frailes, but a gentile and renegade.

For this was in the day of the decadence of the missions, and there was little peace between the robed Franciscans who followed in the footsteps of the sainted Junipero Serra, who had founded the first mission at San Diego de Alcála, and thus made possible an empire, and those who followed the politicians and had high places in the army.

[I cut Hades off]

Me: That’s a long –

[Hades cuts me off]

Hades: That, mortal, is only the book’s beginning. Well written, THE CURSE OF CAPISTRANO gets only better as it goes along. Set in Spanish California, the military mistreats the poor while the wealthy dons do nothing to uphold justice.

Me: I read the book, Mr. Hades. Luckily, Zorro defends the poor.

Hades: Ah, but the book also deals with the most idle of the young dons, Diego. Diego’s fiery father, Don Alejandro, orders him to marry. Diego approaches Don Carlos’ daughter, Lolita, but his wimpy demeanor and lack of romantic spirit leave Lolita wishing for more from her suitor.

Me: If I recall right, that villainous Captain Ramon and then Zorro also begin courting Lolita. Lolita favors Zorro and even tells him, "It is not as if you were an ordinary thief. I know why you have stolen - to avenge the helpless, to punish cruel politicians, to aid the oppressed. I know that you have given what you have stolen to the poor."

Hades: That’s fine to say, but don’t give away anything more. People need to read the book for themselves. Look here, mortal, my cell phone minutes are about to run out. I must leave you. Farewell. Persephone will be waiting for me, you know.

[End of call]

Uh, not really. But, well, Hades just up and hung up. Immortals – hmpf. I suppose that’s a sign we should close out. Before going, I have to mention that it is not until the CURSE OF CAPISTRANO’s end that Zorro’s true identity is revealed. Lolita decides who she really loves. I won’t say anything more for fear of spoiling the great ending for any that have not seen the movies.

A couple of housecleaning items:

(1) Check out the superb Nostalgia League for an e-copy of the book as well as some nifty Zorro trivia (it’s where I learned about Thubway Tham).
(2) Special thanks to Barrie Summy for hosting the Book Review Club. Click on the logo off and up to the left for more reviews.

Alright, I’m signing off, singing as I go – “Out of the night, when the full moon is bright, comes a horseman known as Zorro …”

Friday, May 1, 2009


First, I dug out a weblink for you that I had spotted last week while perusing the paper copy of the Wall Street Journal -- “How the E-Book Will Change the Way We Read and Write.” In it, author Steven Johnson outlines a future with more books, more distractions -- and the end of reading alone. Sounds grim, but it’s an interesting read.

Next, I happily announce that CANDIDE is dead, err …, uh, finished… oops, I mean, read (at last). After sludging through that time-honored classic, I couldn’t wait for something light-hearted and entertaining. Plus, I needed something fun after a rough, busy past couple of weeks. I wasn’t disappointed with my choice. Using my birthday B&N gift card, I had eagerly (after seemingly months of waiting) ordered blogging friend PJ Hoover’s young adult book, THE EMERALD TABLET. It arrived on Monday, which as PJ informed the blog world, is her birthday. That has to count for something, right?

THE EMERALD TABLET dropped me right in the midst of a charming, but not so typical, Virginia family. A mirror talks and young twins play with flying cars! Poor Benjamin immediately learns that he’s not human. Worse, his mom tells him that Lemurian teens (think Atlantis) must attend Lemurian summer school. Summer school? Poor guy. Benjamin begs not to go but undergoes a change of heart upon arriving. Fans of HARRY POTTER and PERCY JACKSON will enjoy reading thirteen year old Benjamin’s exploits. He discovers more about his true Lemurian identity and tackles a secret quest that will literally determine the world’s fate.

From telekinesis to tele—'this' and tele—'that', the EMERALD TABLET immerses you in a world where two super races are at odds. Benjamin and his “alliance” of likeable young teen friends must rely on one another to fulfill an ancient prophesy. At the same time, they still must pass their summer school exams and navigate an unfamiliar world and tackle typical teen troubles.

Fun facts and trivia fill THE EMERALD TABLET where floors are named after i squared and the Greek eternity symbol decorates the page numbers. I loved it all, finishing it in two after-work evening sittings. Like Benjamin, I was sad to see summer school conclude as it meant that he had to return to Virginia, but like him, I was comforted in knowing that he’d be back next summer.

I’m now a big believer in Benjamin and can’t wait to see how he fares in Book 2 (NAVEL OF THE WORLD), which, incidentally, can already be pre-ordered. Based on its Delphi title, the Writing Greek looks especially forward to it. Anyhow, congratulations to PJ Hoover on a fabulous debut book!

Next week, I’ll share with you the other book I ordered from Barnes & Noble. Hint: think “Z”. Any guesses?

Monday, April 27, 2009

CANDIDE, A Rusty Medal

It’s rather hard to believe that I’m still on CANDIDE. Voltaire’s work, I fear, has taken a turn for the worse. Well, actually, it hasn’t taken any sort of turn which is why it and its predictable nature has grown tiresome as I come to its end. I did want to share an excerpt from Chapter 25 with you.

Let me first mention that for the past year, I’ve been trying to read several of the “classics.” Admittedly, some have been more enjoyable than others. With each, I sought to learn some tidbit to improve my writing. A few great works, admittedly, bordered on the tedious. Despite its outstanding start, I now lump Candide (written in 1759) into this latter category, which is why I find this particular excerpt so amusing. In it, young Candide has asked the noble Venetian, Pococurante, about his vast library. Pococurante criticizes all the “classic” works such as those by Milton, Cicero, and Virgil. Anyway, here’s what Pococurante says about my esteemed Greek poet:

"Homer is no favorite of mine," answered Pococurante, coolly, "I was made to believe once that I took a pleasure in reading him; but his continual repetitions of battles have all such a resemblance with each other; his gods that are forever in haste and bustle, without ever doing anything; his Helen, who is the cause of the war, and yet hardly acts in the whole performance; his Troy, that holds out so long, without being taken: in short, all these things together make the poem very insipid to me.

I have asked some learned men, whether they are not in reality as much tired as myself with reading this poet: those who spoke ingenuously, assured me that he had made them fall asleep, and yet that they could not well avoid giving him a place in their libraries; but that it was merely as they would do an antique, or those rusty medals which are kept only for curiosity, and are of no manner of use in commerce."

Some of you will probably give a hearty amen to Seignor Pococurante’s appraisal of Homer, one of my favorites. In fact, no one on this blog will hold that against you (wink, wink). As for me, I laughed when reading the second paragraph, if only because I wonder what Voltaire would think if he had known that the same would be said about his satire 250 years later?

Do you have some books that are just sitting in your library for show? Perhaps, these form our literary, rusty ‘badges of honor.’ We proudly set these conquered trophies aside in a place of honor on our bookshelf to let everyone know that we did, in fact, survive reading Voltaire, Milton, etc.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More on Chapter Headings

The boys of the family (2 grandfathers, 2 uncles, and 2 kids) braved ominous black skies this past weekend to tackle the first ever annual manly man family camping trip. We lucked out with the storms all passing over and leaving behind 70 degree, perfect camp weather.

Tossing rocks into Lake Ray Roberts highlighted the trip for my two nephews. The photo above shows me teaching the two little guys a thing or two about rock throwing. Personally, I loved the campfire – making it, the cooking, and (authors will appreciate this) storytelling.

As the night turned late (i.e., past nine o’clock), we played the story game where everyone takes turns saying a sentence. Let’s just say that I’m glad I didn’t have to follow my 5 year old nephew. His storytelling strength definitely lies with the ability to change the pace. Every story needs a cheetah that appears and punches a dragon in the nose, right? Well, feel free to use that in your WIP.

In other news, I really enjoyed reading everyone’s comments on the last post, especially since chapter titles are something I’d not considered before. I like what PJ and David expressed. In short, the chapter titles need to suit the book.

Both Voltaire and Rick Riordan use titles that matched the voice of their overall story. Good titles not only do this but also usually serve a purpose in that they heighten the anticipation, building suspense and foreshadowing what is to come.

Please, no snide remarks on my own modest blog posting title today. After all, I’m still recovering from the weekend camping trip.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chapter Headings

Do you put any thought into your story’s chapter headings? Some authors prefer to just use numbers with no heading. I do like chapter titles, but mine tend to happen rather haphazardly. Usually, each one comes about during the WIP with just enough brief description for me to remember during editing what went where so that I can find what I’m trying to fix.

If you’ve read any of Rick Riordan’s PERCY JACKSON books, you know that Mr. Riordan puts some thought into his chapter headings. For instance, the first chapter in his first book of the series is titled, “I Accidentally Vaporize My Math Teacher.” Enough said, right? Well, all his chapter titles are that clever.

Perhaps, Voltaire inspired Mr. Riordan. What? Although, not quite as outlandish, Voltaire does make use of the lengthy chapter title. Check out the first six chapters:

Chapter I: How Candide Was Brought Up In a Magnificent Castle and How He Was Driven Thence.
Chapter II: What Befell Candide Among the Bulgarians.
Chapter III: How Candide Escaped From the Bulgarians, and What Befell Him Afterwards.
Chapter IV: How Candide Found His Old Master Pangloss Again and What Happened to Him.
Chapter V: A Tempest, a Shipwreck, an Earthquake; and What Else Befell Dr. Pangloss, Candide, and James the Anabaptist.
Chapter VI: How the Portuguese Made a Superb Auto-da-fé to Prevent Any Future Earthquakes, and How Candide Underwent Public Flagellation.

That last one seems as long as the chapter! In other news, I’m taking two of my nephews (age 5 and 7) camping tomorrow at a nearby state park. It should be fun as neither one has ventured into the great outdoors before. We’ll hopefully get a good campfire and load up on s’mores. The younger nephew is the one I took to the zoo last weekend. Pray that he overcomes his concern (i.e., sincerely terrified fear) that a bear is going to get him, or I’ll be faced with a sleepless night.

More on titles next week. Have a good weekend!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Music John

The last post ended with the KISS acronym – Keep It Simple Stupid.

“Simple is better,” they say.

It reminds me of my friend, Music John, making me listen to the CD he’d produced after graduating from a well known music school and explaining to me all the intricacies of this and that musical feat that he had wrangled into it and him bitterly complaining that it was much more musical than the simple songs that played on the radio, that trash. I did think he had a pretty song, but it wasn’t anything catchy or something I’d listen to again.

Where am I going with this analogy? Writing for the masses (not the critics) is like this -- the untrained brute puts together a coarse, poorly written novel stated in simple terms because that is all he knows. It stinks and its poor quality is apparent to all. The well-schooled but equally ignorant writer employs techniques and forms and grammar and uses every effort to comprise a novel, honing each technique into place. Alas, it’s unwieldy and fails.

The master author takes effort, too, but having honed his writing skills, employs ‘writing techniques’ so that they appear seamless to the reader. These are never noticed and because of that everything appears simple. It’s like the song on the radio – sure it sounds simple and only uses 3 chords but that’s the real beauty of it. All apologies to Music John. K-I-S-S.