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?