Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part II)

•May 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

graveyard

Part II of my short story, Memoir of the Living Impaired, is now available on my website.

In Part I, a father died unexpectedly and shunned the afterlife to stay behind to look after his young son, Jason, and wife, Laura. He quickly learns that being a helpless bystander in his family’s life is a torture he never could have imagined, and his presence in the household is preventing his wife from moving on.

In Part II, a new man enters Laura’s life and a teenage Jason falls in with the wrong crowd…and our ghost father is helpless to do anything about it.

Check it out: Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part II)

Part III will appear in June.

Diversity in Literature

•April 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A lot has been written about the lack of diversity in literature (especially YA books).

Because of this, there has been a slew of “issue” books that have been released the last couple of years to offset the deficit. Most people see this as a step in the right direction. Books about being gay or books about being Muslim in America or books about being autistic or books about being deaf. People view this as progress.

But is it?

When I first started teaching 10th graders, the curriculum at the school was chosen specifically to cater to our large Latino population. We taught novels with Latino protagonists that were about being Latino in Latino families. And…the kids hated them. Especially the Latinos. The problem wasn’t that the protagonists were Latino but that the books just weren’t very good. Students in my 11th and 12th grade classes (also heavily Latino and non-white) were much more into the classic books that we read where the protagonists were more traditionally white European types.

The difference had nothing to do with the ethnicity of the protagonists. It had to do with the quality of the books. In the classic books, the race of the protagonist never came up. It was never an important part of the novel. In the 10th grade books, the race of the protagonist was a constant discussion point and it obviously burned the kids out.

So here’s my challenge: Can’t there be books with diverse protagonists (transgender, Latino, African-American, disabled, autistic, whatever) that AREN’T about being transgender, Latino, African-American, disabled, autistic, whatever? That needs to be the next step in the “diversity in literature” discussion. Just write compelling stories where characters who just happen to be whatever and its’ not a discussion point. I want to read a really great book and learn on page 56 that the protagonist is a gay, autistic Muslim and have those things affect the rest of the story 0%.

If my students have taught me anything about how best to approach diversity it’s to…not. They don’t focus on it. Race doesn’t define them. They are more than their ethnicity. In the end, they’re all just teenagers trying to figure life out and that’s the same whether they’re white or black or brown or whatever.

Instead of obsessing about diversity and making sure everyone has a book that speaks specifically to them, let’s focus on telling good stories. Yes, let’s have diverse characters in those stories, but the best stories are about being human. They shine a light on the human experience that we can all relate to. Let’s have more of that because that’s something that doesn’t speak to a certain demographic; that speaks to all of us.

Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part I)

•April 12, 2017 • Leave a Comment

RIP_jpeg

I’m trying something new with my online story for this month. Last year I had this idea for a short story about a recently-deceased father who shuns the afterlife to take care of his family…and comes to regret the decision. A writing prompt I stumbled upon read “Write about your greatest fear.” The worst thing I could think of was having my children be in danger and being helpless to do anything about it. That’s how Memoir of the Living Impaired was born. It was going to be super sad but contain some dark comedy to balance it out. So I started writing it not quite sure how it was going to turn out.

Well, it turned out pretty good but there was a problem. My short story was really, really long. Like, really long. Like 12,000 words long. After edits, I got it down to 9000 words but that was as far as I could go while maintaining the emotional impact of the story. Needless to say, it was nearly impossible to find a venue willing to publish a story that long and it wasn’t long enough to turn into a novel.

So I decided to keep the story for myself and print it on my website in three parts. The first part is available now and then the next section will appear in May and the finale in June.

If you want to have the feels, check it out! Just follow the link below and come back in May for Part II.

Memoir of the Living Impaired (Part I)

Science Fiction and Social Commentary

•March 9, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I just finished reading Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s one of the early science fiction works that’s often credited with heralding in the science fiction genre as serious literature. In the novel, a Martian is brought to Earth to learn the ways of Man and ends up founding his own religion until he’s murdered as a martyr (oops…spoiler alert). The novel isn’t as widely read nowadays, but in the 60’s it flourished since it tackled commune living, free love, minimalism, and the rejection of conservative American values.

The reason I love sci-fi novels is that there is no better stage for social commentary than the realm of aliens and spaceships and time travel and laser guns going pew pew pew! Sci-fi has always been a bit silly. People from other worlds and robots and space monsters. But the ridiculous nature of science fiction also makes it fertile soil for commenting on our social norms in a safe setting. Some of my favorite works of literature are dystopian sci-fi novels.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 warned us about the rise of television and the dumbing down of America as literature decreased in popularity. He also correctly predicted the rise of censorship and the inventions of the flatscreen television and headphones. In fact, the dude who invented the Walkman based his idea off of Bradbury’s description (Guess he wasn’t paying attention to the book’s message).

Orwell’s 1984 warned us about totalitarian governments and the rise of “surveillance states” where Big Brother is always watching. Big Brother was also the first to tout “alternative facts” as it manipulated information to control its citizens. I’m sorry to say our world looks more like 1984 than ever before. We became exactly what Orwell warned us not to.

Aldous Huxley may have been more accurate than any of his fellow writers with his predictions in A Brave New World. It isn’t threats and violence that the Powers-That-Be use to enslave us but pleasure and distractions. iPhone anyone? Netflix? Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition? We’re too busy having fun to worry about the world burning all around us.

Science Fiction gets away with social commentary because it warns us about what could happen if we continue down the path we’re on. Unfortunately, more often than not, these authors become prophets as the human race time and time again refuses to heed their warnings. We turn their fiction into our reality.

In that long tradition of science fiction and social commentary, I’m currently working on a science fiction novel that sees a man accidentally travel into the future where Trump’s evil clone and Walmart have teamed up to take over most of the United States. Hey, give it 50 years. You’re gonna see it happen…

Creating Realistic Writing Goals

•January 31, 2017 • Leave a Comment

January is the time when everyone creates unrealistic goals for themselves that they’ll utterly fail at in February.

 Writers are no different. Every writing career is in full bloom in January. Novels are destined to be written, short stories destined for publication, hour upon hours of time in front of the laptop waiting to be logged. It’s all going to get done and it’s all going to be perfect.

 And then it’s not.

 Novels are left unfinished, short stories rejected, laptops abandoned for…well, ANYTHING besides writing. Probably funny cat videos on YouTube or endless Facebook stalking. After all, that kid who sat behind you in 8th grade bio isn’t going to stalk himself.

 Now there’s not much I can suggest about finishing that novel because that’s just a matter of will power and logging writing hours comes down to creating a writing schedule and sacrificing pretty much everything else in your life (or at least everything that isn’t breathing), but earning writing credits through publication is another matter.

 If you want to get published, there’s one simple lesson you must learn: You must learn to fail. Failing is a highly underrated skill. Everyone can do it, but not everyone can do it well. The bottom line is that, as a writer seeking publication (literary magazine, novel publication, whatever), you’re going to fail. You’re going to be rejected. You have to be strong enough to absorb the blow and keep fighting. If you’re going to be an expert failure, however, you have to learn not to only accept failure but CELEBRATE it!

 Every year I make a goal to earn a certain number of rejections. Usually my minimum is 50. That way each time I’m rejected, I’m actually succeeding because I’m moving closer to my goal. The funny thing is that usually my tsunami of rejections is interrupted occasionally by an acceptance here and there. Pesky things, these damn acceptances. Don’t they know I’m trying to FAIL!

 That’s the trick then. Setting a goal for a certain number of acceptances is a lot of pressure. Failure, though? That’s something we can all do. So get out there and fail your ass off!

Bulletproof Tiger

•January 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

My latest online story, “Bulletproof Tiger” is now live on my website. This one was born from my Bulletproof Tiger Theory that theorizes that life would be better if humans weren’t on top of the food chain. We wouldn’t have time to worry about insignificant bullshit like car registrations and who was supposed to do the dishes and which celebrity you never met overdosed this week.

It’s an absurdist piece that’s more philosophy than anything else, but I think it does its job. Enjoy!

Bulletproof Tiger

 

2016 Troxellian Literature Awards (The Results)

•December 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The year 2016 may not have been great for celebrities NOT dying, but it was another good year for literature. It’s time to announce the winners of the 2016 Troxellian Literature Awards! The nominees were posted in a previous post. All winners were chosen by me and the results are based on nothing more than my whims and fancies. Novels and graphic novels are fair game in all categories as long as I read it within the calendar year. Here are the awards!

The “WOOHOO” Award

This award goes to the book that I had the most fun reading during the year. And the Troxell goes to…

Old Man Logan by Mark Miller

For the second year in a row this award goes to a graphic novel, and I suspect it usually will since graphic novels, by nature, are just more fun than basic books. I loved Old Man Logan. I always enjoy non-traditional approaches to the superhero genre. Is there a better set-up in all of comics? Here’s a story that takes place years after the Bad Guys have beaten all the good guys in the Marvel Universe. There’s an old pacifist Wolverine, President Red Skull, and an in-bred Hulk family. What more could you ask for?

Honorable mention: Malice Chris Wooding

The “HULK OUT!!!” Award

This award goes to the book that pissed me off the most because I was expecting it to be good…and then it totally wasn’t. And the Troxell goes to…

Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

Last year Philip K. Dick won my most prestigious award with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I proclaimed that I had found a new favorite author and looked forward to reading his entire collection. Then I read Man in the High Castle, an alternate history tale where the Axis Powers win World War II…and that was pretty much the end of the love affair. I loved the concept, but it was boring and totally forgettable. I was all excited because I was going to watch the Amazon show after finishing the book and blah! I no longer like Dick…wait…

Dishonorable mentions: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The “AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT!” Award (formally the Tap Out award)

This award goes to the book that I quit reading the fastest. And the Troxell goes to…

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

I had heard nothing but good things about the Uglies YA series. It was even on a short list for the sophomore curriculum at the school where I teach. Geez, did we dodge a bullet! The concept sounded cool (a society where teenagers are all made to be beautiful on their 16th birthday), but the writing was total rubbish. Just a total paint-by-numbers plot with cardboard characters. I made it through two chapters. Then I decided, much like that woman from the famous internet video, “AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT!”

Dishonorable Mention: Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden

The “‘Didn’t See That Comin’” Award

This award goes to a book I enjoyed way more than I expected to. And the Troxell goes to…

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Every year I try to read at least one Stephen King book. I love his early work, but then there’s a steep drop-off once he hits his Alcoholic Phase. This year I decided to spend my summer tackling his monstrosity, Under the Dome. Like most of his work, it was overly long and full of cardboard cut-out stock characters, but you know what? I really enjoyed it regardless of its flaws. It’s a cool concept (place a clear dome over a small town and see what happens) that plays out well, and, even though I hated the ending (The whole time I kept saying “Please don’t be aliens, please don’t be aliens…) I enjoyed my reading experience. Watchmen gets the honorable mention only because I’ve read it previously but I loved it as much as the first time. Awesome stuff.

Honorable Mention: Watchmen by Alan Moore

The “Gonorrhea” Award

This award goes to the book that I read the PREVIOUS year that has stayed with me two years later…much like an STD that just won’t go away. And the Troxell goes to…

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This is kind of cheating because I teach this book now so I had to reread it again this year so of course it stayed with me because it literally stayed with me. Still, it’s a great read and I dug even deeper into it the second go-around. I also read Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and that was solid, too. Sherman Alexie is good stuff. Can’t wait to read him again next year!

The “Fountain of Youth” Award

This award goes to the best YA book I read this year. And the Troxell goes to…

Malice by Chris Wooding

Since I teach high school teens I’m always looking for books for young gentlemen who tell me with such pride that they HATE READING. Usually the book that I can recommend to those readers wins this award. This year it goes to Malice, which is this really innovative series that is part novel, part graphic novel (My two favorite things! Combined!). It’s about a young gentleman who finds this cursed comic that traps its readers inside its pages. Then he has to get out! Lots of action and adventure. Cool concept. It works.

Honorable Mention: After the Snow by S.D. Crocket

The “THAT’S THE STUFF” Award

This award goes to the best book I read during the year that was the equivalent of literary heroin. And the Troxell goes to…

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

I’ve wanted to reread the entire Lord of the Rings epic for a while now. The last time I read it I was in my early 20s hiding in the storage room of The Dollar General with the book because I could not put it down. This year I was working on an epic quest novel so it gave me the perfect excuse to read the entire epic all over again. I knew Lord of the Rings would win this award back in March because, seriously, what’s going to be better than Lord of the Rings? It made the whole thing totally anticlimactic. I’m forcing myself to choose only one book so I’m going with Two Towers. Fellowship is a lot of set-up and really by the time I got to Return I was worn out so Two Towers gets the duke. I don’t think I have to explain why Lord of the Rings wins. Best underdog story of all-time. Best epic quest novel of all-time. The whole thing was really unfair to everything else I read during the year soooooo…

The “WOULD HAVE WON THE ‘THAT’S THE STUFF’ AWARD IF I HADN’T READ LORD OF THE RINGS THIS YEAR”Award

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? by Peter Hedges

I’ve always loved the movie. I showed it at the end of last school year after my sophomores had finished reading Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Since there’s no movie for that novel I showed WEGG? to go along with the special needs theme. It was way better than I remembered. Then I found out there was a novel. So I read it. And it was amazingly awesome. It was everything that’s great about the movie and so much more. The characters are more fleshed out and the plot more complex. It’s sad, it’s funny, it’s simple mid-America literature. I love the struggle between obligation and self-actualization. Certainly something a lot of us can relate to (especially the parents/writers out there). If you’ve never read the novel, I highly recommend it.

So there you have it! Another year in literature. If you’re looking for trends, I suspect dystopian literature is going to be very big in 2017 with Trump taking office. To another great year of great books!