Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Hold my Mule, Whilst I Rant

Folks I’ve read some books in my time. I’ve read some good books. I’ve read some bad books. I’ve read some books that made absolutely no impression on me at all. But yesterday was a first for me.

Yesterday I read a book that wasn’t there.

Okay, well technically I didn’t read it. Or maybe I unread it. Anyway, this book that I unread wasn’t called The Witch and it wasn’t written by Lev Grossman.

I know that by this point you’re looking at me like I’ve gone off the deep end, so let me explain.

A while back I read a book by Lev Grossman called The Magicians. Overall I thought it was a good book. It deconstructed ideas found in the Narnia books as well as breaking down the notion of a magical school popularized by Harry Potter. More importantly it played with the idea of magical power leading to emotional stagnation through boredom.

But. It ended on a decidedly downer note, with the protagonist slowly dragging himself out of depression and finally agreeing to go back to the magical land of Fillory with his friends.

Probably the best scene in the whole book was somewhere in the middle when the protagonist meets up with one of his former friends who didn’t pass the exams to enter into magic school. Her memory of the exam was supposed to be suppressed, but she’s started to remember and is trying to learn the craft magic on her own.

The scene is effective because of her desperation. She is a woman driven mad by something she has seen but that no one else believes. And when she finally faces off with the one person who can validate her experience he shrugs her off and walks away.

At that point the story completely forgets she exists until the very end where some of the protagonists friends pop up and happen to mention, “Oh yeah, we met your old friend, and now she’s a hedge witch. Wanna go back to Fillory and be a king?”

And that’s it. The book ends there. And the sequel, The Magician King opens with the characters from the first book already on the throne in Fillory bored out of their minds again.

*takes deep breath*

DOES. NOT. HAPPEN!

The trials of a young woman trying to learn to be a witch on her own in a world that doesn’t believe in magic? The things she learns that go outside the borders of what would have been taught in a formal schooling setting? The main characters’ path to the throne? You think you can just kill it with a summary? You can’t just summarize all that stuff!

Well, obviously you can. But there’s a whole book in there.

Let me reiterate. An entire book’s worth of material is just skimmed over so that Mr. Grossman can get his characters onto the thrones in Fillory.

I understand that you can’t go into detail about every single character’s backstory. But the witch character had pathos. Her frustration and building insanity from trying to learn magic the hard way spoke to me. And Mr. Grossman thinks he can get away with telling me, “Oh yeah, she’s developed a lot as a character now, moving on with the real story” and get away with it.

But he can’t. This is one of the worst examples of telling over showing I have ever seen. And it infuriates me all the more because I can see all that that story could have been. I can see the interactions between the characters and their trouble accepting a woman who has no formal training. I can see the protagonist from the first book slowly overcoming his inner darkness. I can see all of it.

But the book isn’t there. The Witch doesn’t exist. Instead we jump straight into The Magician King and it looks like its going to cover the same “power leads to ennui” message that the first book dealt with already.

If it wasn’t a library book I would have thrown it across the room. Since I can’t do that I’m doing this instead.

Pardon my ranting, but I really had to get this out.

Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. Maybe you’ve read a book that made you want to pull your hair and and fashion it into a rope that you could then hang yourself with.

Commiserate in the comments ya’ll. I’m all ears.

Lady Gaga and the Zen of Weird

Lady Gaga is ugly.

Which is an okay thing. Really, it is. Not everyone was born beautiful. In fact, in a way, it’s inspiring. Because if you think about the rest of the women in the music industry you’re going to come up with a whole pile of gals whose talent is riding on the coattails of their sex appeal.

That isn’t to say that Lady Gaga doesn’t have sex appeal. But it’s a different kind of sex appeal. She draws people in by being completely and inscrutably weird.

And the thing is, I’m not even sure its real. Every time I hear about this woman making some bizzare fashion statement, wearing a dress made out of the bodies of still-living iguanas (give it time; it’ll happen) I think to myself, “That woman is a genius,” not because I think that she’s making a brilliant fashion move, but because I understand she’s making a brilliant career move.

Weird sells.

And since I’ve got a certain vested interest in what sells, I sit up, pay attention, and start taking notes.

Which brings me to the topic at hand. A few days back Chuck Wendig made a post about how writers should try to be more like rock stars. And then, less than a week later, he issued a disclaimer which basically said, “Ha, ha, just kidding guys, maybe don’t take things so seriously, yeah?”

And while I understand what he was doing with the disclaimer, I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. I think he was right the first time. Writers should be more like rock stars.

Why?

Because there are eleventy-six billion of us on Twitter alone. We’re drowning in a sea of #amwriting hashtags and “Got my wordcount goal today. Hooray for me!” Tweets. There’s nothing wrong with that, per say, but if we’re going to make an impact we have to do something to stand out.

And yes, before you say it, I know that writing a good book is the most important thing. But it isn’t the only thing.

Because writing a book is about telling a story. But turning yourself into a rock star is about becoming a story.

People want to know an author’s story. They want to know that J. K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter in some coffee shop. They want to know that Stephen King threw out his first draft of Carrie and only kept working on it because his wife liked it. They want to know that Stephanie Meyers is really an alien from Raxacoricofallapatorius cloaked in human flesh.

So get out there and be at least a little weird. Make some crop circles. Do some graffiti. Make a drunken death threat against your mayor.

Get noticed. Give people a reason to care. Become your own rock star.

People will say, “Oh yeah, that’s that book by Joe Schmoe. He’s the guy who lit himself on fire and swan dived off Niagra falls last year.”

People will also say, “You mean there’s actually some dude named Joe Schmoe? Far out, man. Far out.”

And no, I’m not kidding.

(Except maybe about the death threat thing. Don’t do that.)

Search Term Bingo: Round 3(ish)

I was feelin’ kinda down about what I wanted to post about today, so I’ve decided to change it up a bit. Instead of a depressing and introspective look at how the world has changed for writers spun off of the story about Steph Swainston deciding to quite the high pressure job of being a writer and turning to teaching of all things (not that I’m against teaching, but I don’t think you’re going to find it to be a low stress alternative to anything) I’m gonna dip into the search term stack and do another fun and exciting round of Search Term Bingo!

the lexicographer’s dilemma jack lynch,is it any book?

You caught me. It turns out that The Lexicographer’s Dilemma is, much like the NASA moon landing, the death of Elvis Presley and the so-called “Civil War” was nothing more than a hoax perpetrated by the internet itself. Pay no attention to my review of said book. Ignore the Amazon page that lists it. And if you should happen to see it on the shelves of your book store…then you will know that you have finally and truly gone insane. Please consult you psychiatrist.

baby book reviews

I can see where you’re coming from with this. Frankly parents today just can’t know what they’re getting into when they pick up a cardboard book with pictures in it. They don’t have the time to leaf through fifteen whole pages of The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar or Where the Wild Things Are to determine if their offspring is being presented with wholesome and compelling fiction. That is why I’m introducing a new segment of this blog where I will review baby books based on the deep questions of story, character, and how well the pages of the book hold up against saliva and tiny teeth.

free download a prairie home apocalypse or: what the dog … by albert berg

Really? I mean really? I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about people  trying to steal my work until I got to the big time. I guess I thought wrong. And if the book pirates come for me? Ladies and gentlemen, I do not want to sound melodramatic here, but I could stand to loss tens of dollars per quarter. The threat of book piracy is very real my friends. Very real indeed.

the name of the professor of bleach?

Dang, man, I didn’t even know they had classes. I’ve just been mixing it with water and adding it to my whites loads. Are you saying you can actually get a degree in that stuff? Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be so skeptical. “Albert Berg, Professor of Bleach” does have a nice ring to it.

normalcy harry potter fanfiction

Yeah, man, yeah. That’s what I’m talking about. It’s like, Harry Potter is this guy, but…get this, he’s not a wizard. And he doesn’t have any powers. And like…he works at a grocery story where nothing ever happens. And then…oh you’re gonna love this, one day he gets into an argument with a customer and he gets called into the office and, okay we’re getting into extreme territory here, but bear with me, what if he gets reprimanded? And then he has to be nice to people because he’s afraid of losing his job. Man, what was J. K. Rowling thinking? This is where it’s at. That’s some serious narrative tension right there.

what does the song the song “the sow took the measles” mean

To really understand The Sow Took the Measles, you must first grasp the early deconstructionist elements present in the mind of the American pioneer. This is not simple a song about the loss of a pig and the ways in which the remnants of the pig are remade into various and sundry useful items, but rather it is a deep metaphor for the loss of the sense of safety the pioneers embraced and the new sense of self they were able to forge from the ashes of their own past.

And that’s about all I think we can stand of that. Incidentally if you were looking for a depressing post about how the world of writing and publishing has changed, check out Chuck Wendig’s blog for today. Because, man, he really know how to get you down.

Where Have All the Good (Young) Men Gone?

I don’t know if you’ve heard it yet, but there’s been something of a buzz going around the internet about YA books lately.

(Apparently YA stands for “Young Adult”, and not “Yankee Angler” as I had previously supposed. This might explain why my previous attempts at writing YA literature failed so miserably.)

The buzz started as a low thrumming sound surrounding this article published by the Wall Street Journal which implied that maybe YA books had become too dark over the past few years. The buzz increased to a cacophony when Chuck Wendig released his tiny leather winged minions to roam the Twitterverse with his message of “Hey, adolescence is very likely going to be the darkest time of these kids lives, why shouldn’t their books reflect that?”

For what it’s worth I’m sort of in the middle on this issue. I think that writers should be able to write what they want to write and parents should be able to draw the boundary lines for their children and have the intestinal fortitude to enforce those lines. Stop trying to get the school to do your dirty work for you, parents (a mantra that applies to far more than this.)

But that’s not what I want to talk to you about today. I think in all of this hullabaloo about darkness in YA we’re missing a far more vital problem.

This problem can be summed up in this one picture:

Look at that picture. Look at it long and hard.

This is a picture I took of the book nook at the Wal-Mart where I work. This is the entirety of the YA section. This is the place where Wal-Mart consolidates all of the most popular books in the nation into one tiny little microcosm of the book selling industry.

Notice anything strange?

Not yet?

Keep looking….there! See it?

There’s no books for dudes! Not one!

Now I’m not saying this is Wal-Mart’s fault. They’re just buying the books that are big sellers. But what’s up with this? Why aren’t my slightly younger brethren sinking their teeth into daring accounts of manly exploits in fantastic places with the same ferocity as the females our the species seem to bestow on brooding tales of dark romance with forbidden creatures?

Have all the men migrated to their game consoles to control space marines with their thumbs, leaving behind the kinds of stories with “words” and “pages” to be completely overrun by the fairer sex? I don’t know. And frankly maybe this isn’t a new phenomenon. But it doesn’t seem like so long ago, that Harry Potter (Harry not being short for Harriett in this case) enchanted the world with his wizardly exploits.

I’m not trying to be sexist here, but the inequality of the situation astounds me. Because if guys aren’t reading when they’re young, then what’s the likelihood they’re going to start later?

I don’t have the answers. Maybe you do. Please to leave a comment and enlighten me with your wisdom.

Harry Potter Fan Fiction Changed My Life

Sometimes it’s easy for my to look at myself in the mirror and say, “What are you doing here, Albert? Writing? Blogging? You really think anyone cares about any of this? You’re not telling anyone anything they don’t already know. You’ve got diddly. Oh, and by the way, you need a shave”

But when I get discouraged sometimes it helps me to remember why I started writing in the first place. Last week, I talked about the moment that I realized that writers, all writers, were normal people, just like me, and if they could do it, I could do it too. But I didn’t tell you about how that moment happened.

Back then, I was a nobody working away at my local Walmart (I’m still a nobody working away at my local Walmart, so let that be a lesson to you about following your dreams.) I had just temporarily  transfered to the Hardware Department, where I was learning to mix paint from the lady who worked that department normally. And at some point between talking about paint and plumbing she happened to mention that she was a writer.

“Oh, yeah?” I asked. “What kind of stuff do you write?”

“Harry Potter fan fiction mostly,” she told me.

“Is it any good?” (Yes, I know. I am the soul of tact.)

“Why don’t you go to the website and see for yourself?

So when I got home, I did. And it was good. I went into it thinking I would find all kinds of misspellings and tortuously constructed sentences, but instead I found a story that was just as well written as some of the books I had on my shelf at home. It was a moment that changed my life.

I went back to work the next day gushing to this woman about writing and books and about how stunned I was at how good her writing was (still the ever-tactful one, that’s me.)

She shrugged it off, and said, “It’s not that big a deal really. You could do it.”

“But I don’t want to write fan fiction.”

“So write your own story.”

So I did. There were a ton of false steps and bad starts, but I finally got my head around the process, and over the course of several months I pounded out my story from beginning to end. I went back to that woman so often for advice and encouragement I’m surprised she didn’t lose patience with me and tell me to take a hike. But she didn’t. In fact, we’re friends to this day.

So when I say to myself, “What am I doing? I’m just a peon at Walmart with his little blog, and his stupid stories,” I think back to the moment I was inspired to start writing. Imagine if that woman had said to herself, “This is stupid. It’s just a knockoff fanfic. No one’s ever going to care. I’m quitting.” If she’d done that, I might never have gotten my start in this wonderful and crazy world of writing.

So I keep going, if for no other reason than that I might encourage you the same way she once encouraged me. If I can inspire even one person to throw themselves into writing, body and soul, I will be able to say that I accomplished something meaningful. And that is as good a reason as any to write.

Stories that Stick

When I was a kid, my dad read me this poem out of a book.  You’ve probably heard it before.  The opening line goes, “One bright day in the middle of the night, two dead men got up to fight.” Ringing any bells? I thought so.

The thing that really stuck with me about that poem, was the fact that everything stuck with me about that poem.  I’m not kidding.  After hearing it one time I was able to recite it back verbatim.  Now, I’m no memory wizz.  Far from it.  In fact it took me nearly two months to learn my new address after the last time I moved.  But that one little ditty has stuck in my mind like glue to this day.

Why?  Well, you can probably give some of the credit to the rhyming scheme.  It’s always easier to remember poetry than prose.  But I’ve tried and I still can’t get past memorizing the first few lines of “She walks in beauty like the night,” so there must be something deeper at work here.

I think the answer is in the nature of the poem itself.  It’s all about opposites.  Night and day, dead and alive, etc.  It’s the contrast between the concepts that makes the poem memorable.  Or to put it another way, opposites stick.

Why should you care? Because as a writer, you’re going to need to make something stick in your readers’ minds; you’re going to want to create characters and situations that will linger long after they’ve finished the book.

Great fiction from all eras of literature makes use of this principle.  Take a look at some examples off the top of my head.

Harry Potter: a boy goes to a school (boooring) to learn to become a wizard (awesome!).  If you’ve read the books you know how well J. K. Rowling combines the boring and familiar elements of school with the fantastical elements of the wizarding world.  And it sticks.

Dexter: A serial killer (evil) works to bring other killers to gruesome justice (goodish). Of course there are other great things about the show, but all the best parts focus on Dexter trying to find the balance between the evil inside him and the mission for good he has taken for himself.  And it sticks.

Robin Hood: A thief (bad) works to bring about social justice (good).  And that one has stuck for hundreds of years.

Wildclown: A private detective (serious) has to dress like a clown (funny).

Zombies: Do I really need to spell this one out for you guys?

There are all kinds of ways you can apply this principle.  Malcolm Gladwell’s non-fiction books are a complete joy to read because he sets up something everyone takes for granted and then carefully shows why it was wrong.  He gives you the perfect contrast between assumption and reality.  And it sticks.

It can even help you in your blog writing.  For instance you might create a blog that starts off talking about a children’s poem and transitions into talking about creating memorable characters and situations.  And, hopefully, it sticks.

Don’t go overboard with it.  You really don’t want to end up with zombie-pirate-ninja-robots in your story.  No, no, you don’t.  I see that gleam in your eye, and it isn’t going to work.  It would be completely ridiculous story, don’t be a fool. Don’t….no don’t you open that word processor.  Come baaaack!

Okay, well for those that are left, I was trying to say that what you need to do is create one memorable thing for your story, one kernel you’re going to wrap this concept of contrast around.  It can be a character, it can be the story world, it can even be an integral part of the way the book is plotted.

It doesn’t have to be complex.  In fact I would argue that when it comes to contrast, simpler is better.  And if you do your job right you’ll create something that will stay with your readers long after they’ve finished the last chapter.

Create that kernel of contrast, and your work will stick for years to come.